Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission006

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Dramatis Personae


Protagonists

  • Frank, Unknown Shade
  • Annie Harper, Unknown Shade (Ghost)
  • Tom Knox, Haunter
  • Teresa Reilly, Banshee


Supporting Characters

Orpheus

  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • Kate Dennison, Banshee
  • Annie Harper, Unknown Shade (Ghost)
  • Chet Mason, Skinrider
  • Hoyt Masterton, Haunter

Other

  • An ordinary young couple and their four year old daughter
  • A couple of police officers


The Taste of Ashes

Frank arrives at the ranch. There are three other people there in addition to Chet and Kate: Ben, Blink and Hoyt. That isn’t many. Chet hasn’t managed to get hold of anyone else (apart from Teresa and Tom, of course). Presumably, the other survivors -- and they all really hope there are other survivors -- are either in custody or in hiding somewhere else. It… isn’t good. By this time, it’s sometime in the early hours of the morning. Even Kate and Chet are exhausted, and the people who were actually caught in the attack are all but dead on their feet. No one’s really in the mood to stay up talking, so everyone but Chet -- who remains awake to keep watch -- turns in for the night. None of them get a particularly good night’s rest.

When Tom, Teresa and their bodyguard arrive at PDX, the news is full of the attack. The three of them watch it on a screen in one of the lounge areas. A reporter is interviewing Jesse Osario, who says that the perpetrators seem to be a rogue faction within Orpheus itself, and they have some leads on their identities. This appears to be the cue to play some grainy security camera footage showing a white van driving up to the gates of the Orpheus building. Although the picture is blurry and hard to make out, they instantly recognise the four heavily-armed individuals that get out: it’s Chet, Kate, Tom and Teresa. Just to remove any doubt, Jesse names them all. He says that they are to be considered armed and dangerous. Members of the public shouldn’t try to approach them, just report any sightings to the police. In addition, he is trying to track down any other Orpheus employees whose whereabouts are currently unaccounted for. Anyone with information should contact the police.

Tom and Teresa don’t know what to think. They were in Portland and the other two were at JFK Airport when the attack was going on. It’s obviously a frame-up. Presumably NextWorld want to get their hands on the only projectors who weren’t onsite at the time. If they’ve been keeping the building under surveillance, they probably saw the four of them leave and not return. The bodyguard, who has been growing steadily paler during this news report, says he has to go to his family: they might be in danger. He wasn’t in the camera footage, so NextWorld were probably only after projectors and hopefully won’t bother going after him. If that really is the case, there’s no point in dragging him along with them. They warn him to be careful -- as an Orpheus employee, the FBI will probably want to get their hands on him, even if NextWorld don’t -- and go their separate ways. Teresa informs Kate about the news broadcast, camera footage and the fact that she’s now a wanted criminal. Kate swears. Profusely.

Tom and Teresa retrieve their car and drive to Chet’s ranch, setting off at about the same time as the people at the ranch are settling down for the night. They have the radio on and, much to their surprise, manage to catch a Radio Free Death broadcast. This normally goes out sometime between eleven and midnight. Either tonight’s is several hours late, or this is an extra (emergency) broadcast. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the subject appears to be the attack on Orpheus. That’s what it sounds like, anyway. The broadcaster’s voice is strained and urgent, and urges the survivors to: “Just keep running. They’ll never stop chasing you.” They don’t find this particularly reassuring.

As Frank is drifting off to sleep, something odd happens to him. It’s as if he’s starting to sense emotions from the people around him as they slumber. From Ben, the overwhelming sensation is one of anger. (This comes as no great surprise.) From the others, a mixture of shock, confusion and fear. Chet is out of the room and everyone else is asleep, so he projects. When he does so, this empathy -- or whatever it is -- seems to become stronger. He decides to experiment. Going over to Hoyt in gauze form, he concentrates on his emotions, filtering out the others. The link strengthens, and Frank is abruptly somewhere else. After a moment’s initial shock, he figures out that he’s somehow entered Hoyt’s dream and is experiencing it from the dreamer’s point of view. He is in a car and the police are chasing him. No matter what crazy stunts he performs, what risks he takes, they still keep coming. He simply can’t shake them. One of his tyres blows out, and fear is icy cold in the pit of his stomach. A tree looms in front of him, but he’s moving too fast to stop… And Frank is abruptly back in the room.

Blink is the next test subject for what seems to be his new Horror. His dream is a confused welter of images, which eventually stabilises into a crowd of people. No, not a crowd: an audience. He is on stage, juggling. But he keeps missing the catch. The audience are jeering; laughing at him, and he is so very, very afraid. Frank tries to change things so that Blink catches everything; so that he juggles impossible things and the crowd love him for it. He concentrates, putting real effort into it… but nothing changes. Instinctively, he can sort of feel how to grasp the threads of the dream but he just can’t seem to get any traction. After some more experimental tugging and a little thought, he comes to the conclusion that simply grabbing and yanking isn’t the right way to go about this. It doesn’t seem to be about brute force and control, but about subtlety and suggestion. Rather like his ability to create illusions. Keeping this in mind, he tries again. This time, instead of trying to impose change from without, he concentrates on the connection with Blink and makes suggestions, directing him to concentrate on the items he’s juggling; to worry only about catching them and not what the audience think. For a few moments, nothing seems to happen, but then Blink stops missing the catch. The passes become more and more complicated, more difficult, but still he manages it. This time, it seems to have worked.

Now that he seems to be getting the hang of this, Frank focuses on the fear. With one of the distractions lessened -- and now that he’s becoming more familiar with both the Horror and Blink’s dream -- he manages to clarify the emotion. It doesn’t seem to be fear of failure, but fear of dying. The balls represent Blink’s tumours; the cancer that’s consuming him. Leaving that for the moment, Frank turns to the audience. It’s entirely made up of women. Some of them look like Teresa, but he doesn’t recognise any of the others. He suggests to Blink -- or, possibly, his subconscious -- that perhaps the audience isn’t really booing him after all: they’re actually cheering him on. And that’s what happens. Having done enough experimenting for now, Frank leaves Blinks dreams -- achieved by simply desiring to do so -- returns to his body and goes to sleep.

At this point, it isn’t clear what effect guiding someone’s dreams in this manner will have on them. It certainly seems to have the potential to affect or influence them, albeit over time rather than immediately. Perhaps its main strength is as a method of gathering information: simply guide the target’s dreams towards a particular topic and just read the results like an oracle. Unlike with Puppetry, Frank seems to retain the information once he withdraws from the dream, and the subject doesn’t seem to be aware of the intrusion.

The night passes without incident, both at the ranch and in the car. Tom and Teresa arrive at the ranch at about six o’ clock in the morning. Ben is the only one awake, having sent Chet to bed not long ago. He asks after Zoë, and seems relieved to hear that she’s safe and doing well. Teresa asks if he’s okay, and he says he didn’t really get hurt in the attack. He is angry about not being able to “do anything”, though. Not being able to project and access his Horrors makes him feel helpless. After speaking with him for a little longer, Teresa and Tom go to sleep. They’ve barely drifted off when Ben wakes them to say that cars are approaching.

After a few moments, it becomes clear that the cars belong to the FBI. Waking everyone else, they quickly decide on a course of action. They can fight, but no one really wants to get into a confrontation with the FBI. Even if they won and managed to get away, it would hardly help their case. They can let themselves be taken, but then NextWorld would be able to pick them off at leisure. Finally, they can run. This is what they do, hoofing it out the back door and away into the woods. (There isn’t time to get to the cars.) Some people -- Tom, Frank, Ben, Hoyt and Chet -- grab guns and ammunition on the way. Kate takes the radio, so she can listen to Radio Free Death. All of the fugitives are very much aware that this is only a temporary respite. The FBI will be back with dogs, and they will certainly set up roadblocks. After a brief discussion, they come up with a plan.

They make their way quickly to a main road. Frank stops a truck by creating an illusion of someone in the road ahead of it. When it does so, Tom possesses the driver, keeping the mind unconscious so that he can puppet his body without the man being aware of what’s happening. This all goes off without a hitch, and the merry band drive away. They decide to head back for New York, figuring the risk of being caught is worth the chance to find out what happened, clear their name and deal with/take revenge on NextWorld. Before doing anything, however, they’re going to need somewhere to hole up. Tom has some ideas. The disused sewers in the area where they killed the Reaper are rejected pretty much out of hand because of Hyde’s presence in the area, despite Ben seeing it as an opportunity to deal with the Jason once and for all). The long-closed City Hall train station -- the place that Tom and Teresa had a minor confrontation with ghost of a homeless man -- is seriously considered, but ultimately rejected because they don’t want to risk the residents turning them in. (Even supposing they could make a deal with them to be able to stay there in the first place.) It comes down to a choice between two out of town locations: a derelict factory and a “haunted” wasteland.

The factory is reasonably close to a small village just outside the city, so they would be able to acquire supplies without too much difficulty. Also, there are transport links from there into the city itself. There is a risk, however, that it might be occupied. Also, if they were somehow tracked there, it would be difficult to run without being seen. People avoid the wasteland because of its reputation, and there are plenty of places to hide. (Ruined buildings, trees, valleys and holes in the ground, etc.) Even if they are tracked there, they could hold out for a while without being found, and might even be able to get away. The downside is that it is a long way out of town and there are no nearby villages: supplies and transport would be a problem. There is also the matter of the ghosts, if indeed there are any. (When Tom was with the police, he heard a story about a group of officers who were out in the wasteland searching for a missing child. A huge black dog leaped at them from out of nowhere. They shot at it, but it simply disappeared. More than that, when the forensics team went over the scene later, they found that there weren’t enough bullet holes in the wall, suggesting that the officers had actually hit something.) Eventually, they opt for the abandoned factory, at least as a temporary refuge.

Tom buys food and other supplies with the poor truck driver’s money, and drops everyone off near the factory. (They lug his body with them.) While they’re checking the place out and settling in, he drives for about an hour and then pulls the vehicle over to the side of the road. Lying down on the little bed in the cabin, he ripcords back to his body. (When the truck driver wakes up, he will simply have an unexplained hole in his memories. Tom hopes he just puts it down to a blackout attack or something, and doesn’t report it. The last thing they want is for NextWorld to be alerted to their method of escape.) A search of the factory finds signs that someone has been staying here, but not for quite a long while. There don’t appear to be any resident ghosts or spectres. Teresa uses Forebode to see if anything bad is likely to happen as a direct result of the group staying here, but sees nothing. Kate also makes the attempt, and reports that she can see no likely possibilities. All in all, it seems like a good enough temporary refuge.

All eight of them are still fairly ragged, so it’s time to eat and then get some much needed rest. As they’re eating, Kate turns on the radio so they can listen to the news. (Luckily, it runs on batteries.) There’s been a new development in the biggest story of the moment: Terrel and Squib’s Texan headquarters has been attacked. The “Orpheus Terrorists” are believed to be responsible. This is not good. This is not good at all. It looks like NextWorld really is taking care of the competition. Somehow, the projectors manage to settle down to sleep after that but they arrange to take turns keeping watch without any discussion.

Frank takes the opportunity to practice some more with his new Horror, but that’s not why Teresa and Kate share nightmares. Well, one nightmare: a dream of Annie. Except, of course, that it isn’t a dream. They can feel her, feel what’s happening to her; the first contact since she was taken by the spectre. It’s a relief, in a way, for it means she’s about as alive as she ever was. But it’s also bad, because the spectres are hurting her. She is chained in a desolate wasteland at the eye of the storm with nothing but the spectres and the pain. She’s losing hope, and they know that this is going to break her. If she breaks, she will be lost to them. Teresa thinks that they have days at most to get her out of there. (That they are going to attempt a rescue is simply taken as given. There is no way on this earth or beyond it that they’re going to leave her there. At best, they’ll bring her back; at worst, they might be able to end her pain.) Both of them try to get through to Annie, but she can’t hear them. Kate has some experience with lucid dreaming, but even she isn’t able to do anything. All they can do is experience it; endure it while it lasts. And when they wake up, they can no longer sense her.

After settling into the factory, the fugitive Orpheus employees manage to drift off into much-needed sleep. It’s still daylight, but it’s been a highly stressful and exhausting time. They set watches, just in case NextWorld or the authorities somehow manage to track them here. During Frank’s watch, he takes the opportunity to try out his “dream walking” (dream shaping?) ability. As he’s already taken a look inside Blink and Hoyt’s sleeping minds, he tries the rest of them in turn: he is successful with everyone but Ben. Tom seems to flit between general anxiety dreams (such as falling) and those that seem more directly inspired by the current situation (being on the run from the authorities in a totalitarian state). Chet is in the middle of a dense, lush jungle (presumably Vietnam), pursued by nebulous enemies. Teresa’s and Kate’s are the same. They are both dreaming of being chained in a ruined building in a grey wasteland; tortured by monsters while a storm howls around them. When he compares them, he realises that it’s not just that they’re dreaming about the same thing, but that their dreams are actually identical in every way. Not only that, in the time between leaving Teresa’s dream and entering Kate’s, a corresponding amount of time seems to have passed within it. Finding this somewhat curious, he pushes deeper into Kate’s dream.

In the dream, Kate is actually Annie Harper. Now that he’s immersed himself more in the experience, it becomes more obvious just how different this is to the other dreams he’s peeked into. Even though his experience of this phenomenon is limited, and he hasn’t had that much time to explore it, he can tell that this is a lot more ‘solid’. It is consistent, and the details don’t change when he looks away and then looks back. All in all, it feels rather real. Leaving Kate’s mind for the moment, he immerses himself to a similar degree in Teresa’s. She, too, is dreaming herself as Annie. The monsters -- spectres, he thinks -- are whispering to her as they hurt her, and will occasionally stroke her face or touch her gently, almost fondly. He tries to understand what they’re saying, but it’s in some strange, buzzing language that makes his head hurt. Expending energy to change it into a language he does understand doesn’t seem to work. He contemplates trying to change himself, but abandons that idea when he realises that it would involve making himself more like a spectre.

Pondering this strange phenomenon, and trying to analyse it further, he concludes that the three women -- Kate, Teresa and Annie -- must be connected in some way. In essence, this is the same dream. If that’s true, he should be able to move from it into any one of their minds, regardless of which one he entered through. He tests this theory by trying to move into Annie’s dream. What happens next is… interesting. It feels a lot like projecting, even though he’s already in gauze form, as he seems to be forcing his way through a raging storm. Harsh winds blast him as he pushes his way through to… somewhere. Before he really has time to analyse what’s happening, he is solid again, just like re-entering his body. Except that he hasn’t. He is standing in a grey wasteland next to a chained figure, the ground solid beneath his feet. And the spectres are looking at him…

Without even thinking about it, he ripcords. Fortunately, it works. Unfortunately, he gets dragged through whatever it is that’s between here and there. First, the gauntlet of the storm, which shreds his gauze like a hail of razorblades. It hurts a great deal, but what comes next might be worse. Immersed in black sewer water, breathing filth, eating filth, feeling it seep through his pores and into his blood until it seems to congeal inside his heart and soul. It’s surrounding him, it’s inside him; it’s everywhere and he can’t break through; can’t breathe… He slams back into his body with a thump that would leave him gasping for air if he wasn’t already vomiting convulsively. There is pain, but he can’t focus on that right now. Somehow, he drags himself out of his sick-slimed sleeping bag and falls to his knees in a corner, retching violently.

Everyone is woken by the commotion. There is swearing, and a general demand to know what’s going on. Teresa’s medical training kicks in and she hurries over to Frank. He seems to have suffered a number of bruises and burst blood vessels, but there are no obvious wounds. He doesn’t seem to be bleeding out, burning up or turning blue, so there isn’t really much she can do other than make sure he doesn’t choke on his own vomit. After what seems like a long time -- presumably even longer for Frank -- the spasms eventually stop, and he slumps in exhaustion. Teresa hands him a bottle of water and tells him to sip slowly, taking slow, deep breaths in between. Someone moves his soiled sleeping bag away from the place they’ve chosen as a bedroom. A second examination of Frank confirms Teresa’s initial impressions: he hasn’t been poisoned and he doesn’t seem to be ill, but he does have unexplained (although not life-threatening) injuries. These resemble the type damage often seen on projectors’ bodies when they have been wounded in their gauze form. Needless to say, the others have questions.

The thing everyone wants to know is, naturally, “What happened?” Why was he projecting? Where did he go? How did he get his injuries? And so on, and so forth. Kate is the main interrogator, with most of the rest of them apparently being content to let her lead. Teresa chips in occasionally, the two of them making an effective double-team. (It’s a fairly standard good cop, bad cop set up. To no one’s great surprise, Kate is the bad cop.) Frank is less than forthcoming, apparently not wanting to reveal all about his new ability just yet. (The fact that he’s been walking through their dreams without permission might have something to do with his reluctance to tell all.) He says that he just had a nightmare, and pretends to be in worse condition than he really is, in the (vain) hope that they’ll back off and leave him alone. Unfortunately, no one’s convinced by his act and no one seems overly willing to take his first answer at face value. Kate harangues him, but Chet interrupts her, demanding to know just what he was doing sleeping on watch. Frank says he didn’t mean to; that he just couldn’t stay awake. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mollify Chet. It just seems to incense him, and he actually slaps Frank. (The blow stings, but isn’t really even hard enough to leave a bruise. The fact that Chet is seventy years old and not exactly in his prime might have something to do with this. Frank does notice that Ben -- who is also fairly angry and seemed about to take a swing at him -- backs off when Chet steps in, seeming content to glare and mutter.) Chet rails at him for a while, lecturing him about responsibility and telling him that if he doesn’t think he can do the job, then he should wake someone else. Frank needs to shape up; they could all have been killed in their sleep, etc. and so on. He is absolutely furious.

When Chet’s tirade is finished, Kate steps in again, telling him to cut the bullshit: it was obviously more than just a bad dream. She seems convinced that he knows more than he’s letting on. Teresa tells Kate to back off a little, and give the man time to breathe. After all, he’s just been throwing up for about five solid minutes. Taking Frank aside, she questions him somewhat more gently, while Kate makes suggestions through their mental link. Having decided on a story, Frank tells her that he was tired and he must have fallen asleep, after which he seemed to find himself somewhere else. He describes the place in her dream, including the fact that there were spectres there. (Teresa recognises it, but manages not to react.) When he noticed the spectres paying attention to him, he instinctively ripcorded back to his body, but had to pass through the storm to do so. The rest they know. Aside from the first part, he essentially tells the truth, albeit leaving out much more than he actually reveals. He speculates that perhaps he projected in his sleep -- kind of like sleepwalking. None of them know whether this is possible or not. Teresa questions him some more, trying to get a more detailed picture of what he saw and, more generally, what actually happened. Acting on a suggestion from Kate, she asks him to project, noting from the slightly withered appearance of his gauze form that he’s obviously expended some energy doing something. She doesn’t really manage to get anything more out of him, however. He returns to his body and tries to do something about his sleeping bag. Everyone else -- except Ben, who takes the next watch -- settles down to try to go back to sleep. (Ben -- and everyone who stands watch after him -- keeps checking on Frank, to see if he ‘sleep-projects’ again. He has a feeling it’s going to be hard for him to practice dream walking in secret from now on.)

At around 5pm, Chet wakes everyone up and asks if any of them have mobile phones. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most do. The reason he’s asking is that Craig Forrest just rang him -- apparently the spook security chief managed to get out alright -- and said that the FBI will be able to track them through their phones. In fact, they might already be on their way. Everyone immediately makes sure that their mobiles are turned off. Teresa projects and uses Forebode to see whether the FBI will be here within the next day. She sees a vision of someone throwing a grenade into the factory. Clouds of gas belch forth from it and they all fall to the floor, presumably unconscious. It’s dark when this happens, so that means there’s a strong probability that they’re going to be here within the next twelve hours. She relays this to the others, and there is some discussion about what they should do. Tom projects and takes a look around outside. He sees two cars, each with a single occupant, parked so that between them they can cover all the obvious exits from the factory. The men are clearly observing the place, and in a professional manner. If Tom wasn’t an experienced police officer, he may well not even have spotted them. They don’t seem to be doing anything other than watching, and they’re obviously not about to storm the place. It’s possible that they don’t yet know that their targets -- assuming that they are, in fact, after the projectors -- are actually within the building. He reports back to the others.

After some discussion, they come up with a plan. They gather up all their stuff and pile it in one corner. Everyone apart from Teresa and Tom crowds there with it. Tom keeps an eye out for anyone approaching the building. If they do, he is to tell Frank, who will then project and cast an illusion of a wall in front of them, hiding them from sight. Teresa manifests and changes her appearance so that she looks like an old homeless woman (and nothing like herself). Taking Chet’s phone, she hobbles outside, acting as if she doesn’t know the cars are there. She heads for a nearby gas station, loiters until someone leaves a vehicle open and unattended, then turns the phone on and throws it inside, out of sight. The hope is that the FBI will track the phone wherever the driver inadvertently takes it, and think that the fugitives are no longer in the area. (Their theory is that they have been tracked down to this general region and the Feds are staking out likely hiding places. Hopefully, they haven’t actually seen them yet.) With her part done, she returns to the factory and waits with the others. A short while later, the cars start up and drive away: it seems that their plan has worked.

They’ve gained themselves a little breathing room, but that’s all it is: they still have to leave here. The question is: where will they go. While they’re thinking about this, Chet relays the rest of his brief conversation with Craig. The ghost is currently in New York City and wants to meet up with them He gave a time and place, but if they can’t make it he’s arranged a sort of dead letter drop, involving graffiti left on a particular wall in the city. They agree that they want to try to meet up with him if they can, but they don’t know if they’ll be able to make the first meeting point. The discussion about where to go for the moment goes round and round for a bit, as they talk over all the options they previously rejected in favour of this abandoned factory. They keep returning to the other out of town location: the possibly haunted wasteland. The advantage and disadvantage of this place is its isolation. On the one hand, there’s no one there to report their presence and the authorities are unlikely to just stumble over them. On the other, it’s going to take them several hours to get into town, which will severely hamper their attempts to find out information, clear their names and achieve whatever other goals they set themselves. Not to mention getting food, water and other supplies.

Ben suggests that they could always lose themselves among the various street gangs in New York City. Even though some of them would stick out like sore thumbs, he seems confident that he can get them in and he doesn’t think the gangers will turn them into the authorities. But it won’t be easy, and that it won’t be anywhere near as comfortable as the lives that some of them are used to. They would have to stake a claim to somewhere or other -- probably by taking it from someone else -- and then they would have to fight to keep it. This would undoubtedly involve doing some very dodgy things, probably up to and including killing anyone who tries to mess with them. His suggestion hangs in the air a moment while the others consider it, but the general consensus is that this isn’t what they need right now. For the moment, all they want is a place where they can hole up and just stay put for a couple of days. They need a chance to gather themselves and decide what they want to do next. Then they can work out where they want to stay in the longer term. In the absence of any better suggestions, the projectors decide to move to the wasteland.

At one point during the discussion where to go from here, the possibility of splitting the group up arises. As people argue back and forth, talking about options and how their skills and horrors can help, Kate interrupts with a loud: “The hell with it.” When she has everyone’s attention, she tells them about the mental link between herself, Teresa and Annie. The only one that really seems surprised is Ben. Frank knows from his poking around in their dreams that there’s some kind of connection there. Everyone else knows about their experiment, and apparently Ben is the only one of them who hasn’t really noticed that they’ve been acting differently -- and occasionally displaying knowledge of things that they shouldn’t -- ever since. It’s not necessarily that they had figured out exactly what was going on; it’s more that they knew something was, and this new information explains it. While they’re digesting that, Kate goes on to tell them about their new ability to power horrors by drawing on their ‘dark sides’ (for want of a better term) rather than by spending energy. The others seem interested, and some of them ask questions.

Kate’s revelation isn’t quite apropos of nothing, but it does come a little out of left field. It isn’t news to Teresa, though, as Kate has previously raised the idea of telling the others with her. Her reasoning is that it -- and the other abilities they seem to have gained from their encounter with the spectres -- may well be useful in the current situation. Not to mention the fact that it saves having to concoct some story for how they know what’s happening to Annie. Teresa agreed with her reasoning and her conclusions -- it’s something she’s also been thinking about. Apparently Kate has decided that this is as good a time as any. Once she starts talking, Teresa chips in to add details where necessary. The two of them gloss over much of it, keeping quiet about the experience itself. They also contrive to make the link sound much neater than it really is, not mentioning anything about the fact that they were pretty much entangled in each others’ minds at the beginning. Teresa adds that, since Annie was taken by the spectre, they are only aware of her in dreams and don’t seem to be able to communicate with her. She says that the spectres are hurting her, and they need to get her out of there before it’s too late. Unfortunately, they don’t actually know where ‘there’ is.

Now that they’ve decided where to go, they need a way to get there. It’s several hours drive away from here, to Tom and Teresa project and go to look for a car. They split up to search the nearby residential streets, agreeing to meet up after about an hour. They are hoping to find one where the owners have gone away for the holidays, as they can steal it and have it not reported missing until they get back. Unfortunately, they’re out of luck: all of the houses within their search radius seem to be occupied. It’s time for plan B. They find a people carrier, and Tom checks out the house, which contains a young couple and their four year old daughter. The mother is making dinner while the father is stretched out on the couch, keeping one eye on the television and one on the girl. Tom puppets him and gets up, telling the mother that he’s going out to get some beer. She tells him to be back for dinner, which will be ready in about ten minutes. Tom knows he’s going to be away for several hours at best. Despite not having Forebode, he senses that there may be some domestic unrest in this couple’s future.

Tom picks everyone up and drives them as close to the wasteland as he can get, which is still some way out. There used to be a factory on the site in the thirties, but it’s been abandoned for decades. The ground has since been reclaimed by nature. There are gullies, ditches, debris, the remains of buildings, stands of trees; and then the site merges into true countryside. Even if the Feds track them here, they could evade capture for quite some time. Unlike their previous refuge, it’s not really possible to surround the place. The abundant cover and lack of a surrounding cleared area means that they should be able to slip in and out with no great difficulty, even if the site is under observation. As the others lug their things -- and Tom’s unoccupied body -- into cover and scout around for a suitable campsite, he drives back to where he obtained the car. In some vague attempt at a cover story, he stops a little way from there and changes one of the tyres, puncturing the old one with a screwdriver.

When he enters the house, he is met by his host’s wife, who is absolutely livid. She demands to know where he’s been all this time. The off-license is only a few minutes’ drive away, and he’s been gone easily four hours. He says that he had a flat, but she snaps back that it doesn’t take four hours to change a tyre. And even if it did, he could at least have rung her. Or even answered his phone when she tried to ring him, fearing that he might have had an accident. (Tom switched the man’s phone off when he set out.) Tom doesn’t really have an answer for her, so just mumbles something about being tired. He heads upstairs, and she follows him, still yelling. He lays down, pretends to fall asleep -- it doesn’t stop her tirade -- and then ripcords. As he snaps back to his own body, his puppet wakes up. The last thing he senses from the man is a confused wondering about how he got to bed, and why his wife is so angry with him.

The group separate and spend some time scouting out the area -- Teresa and Blink disappear off together -- before setting up a campsite in one of the many gulleys. It’s cold enough that they decide to risk a fire. Blink offers to share a sleeping bag with Teresa, for warmth, and she accepts. Grinning wickedly, Kate makes the same offer to Tom and, much to her surprise, he accepts. (Knowing that he finds her extremely intimidating, she was just intending to make him squirm. She doesn’t have any objection to sharing with him, though, as the extra warmth will certainly be welcome.) Ben says: “Fuck. Right. Off.” -- pointing at Chet, Hoyt and Frank in turn -- “Since both the women have been taken, I’d rather freeze.” No one seems particularly bothered about this. Chet and Hoyt agree to share, which leaves Frank on his own. (Perhaps the lingering odour of vomit might have something to do with that. He tries to clean himself and his sleeping bag off as best as he can, but it’s not easy with only bottled water. Unfortunately, they can’t really afford to just throw it away.)

As it’s only been about seven hours or so since they woke up, they sit up for a while, discussing what they’re going to do next. Tom points out that they’re going to have to get money and supplies. He suggests Inhabiting cash machines and getting them to spit out notes. Or possessing people and stealing from them, but this is likely to draw attention if they keep doing it. (From a moral standpoint, most of the group find the latter more objectionable than the former, in any case, as it’s individuals that will be suffering.) Everyone agrees that they need to move closer into town as soon as they can, as the sheer isolation of this place didn’t really hit them until they came here. It’s a half hour hike just to get to the road, and then it’s another hour or so by vehicle to get into the city. There’s no running water, and there are no villages nearby: this is not going to work for more than a couple of days. Ben reiterates his idea about hiding on the streets, but it meets a mixed reception. Unfortunately, no one has any brilliant insights about where they can move to.

The conversation moves onto goals: what do they want to actually do? Everyone agrees that merely running isn’t enough. The obvious thing is to clear their names, and to make sure that NextWorld are no longer a threat. So, how do they go about that? They need information, for a start. Frank mentions that he knows some people who might be able to help with that, and who he trusts not to turn him in. Teresa points out that they know where one of NextWorld’s projectors lives (Marcus N’Kejeda, the ex-army man who was involved in the Magnox case, and who took part in the attack on Orpheus). He’s bound to know something. Ben and Chet (in particular) are also keen to obtain some revenge for all the people who were hurt or killed by visiting the same upon him. Teresa says that they have to rescue Annie from the spectres: if they don’t do it soon, it will be too late. Ben says fine, but where is she? How do they get there? Unfortunately, neither she not Kate can answer those questions.

Another important goal is finding out what’s become of the rest of Orpheus’ people: both the ones that managed to get away, and those that ended up in custody or in hospital. With regards to the latter, they’re going to be sitting ducks for NextWorld. They may already have been taken care of. Clearly, they have to find out where the survivors are and get them somewhere safe. It’s possible that Craig may have some information about the fate of the surviving Orpheus personnel. They just hope it’s not already too late. Teresa raises the possibility that they might want to think about making contact with Jesse Osario -- the FBI agent in charge of the case -- and trying to get him on their side. If they can convince him that they are victims in all of this and that NextWorld are the real culprits, then that will help them greatly. It remains to be seen, however, whether that will be possible. Even if it isn’t, finding out what the FBI team actually knows would be useful.

The discussion continues into the night. Nothing is really resolved about longer-term objectives, but they all seem to agree that ‘questioning’ N’Kejeda seems like a good start. They still need to make concrete plans, but at least they now have a clearer idea of what they are hoping to achieve, in addition to staying alive and free. Planning will have to wait for the morning, but they turn in knowing that things are going to change.

Kate has the first watch. Everyone apart from her and Teresa is asleep. Teresa is still awake because she’s had an idea about how to rescue Annie from the spectres. There’s just one slight problem with it, which will become apparent later. [1] Kate is aware of what she’s thinking through their mental link, but says she can’t really offer any advice: whether or not to make the attempt is a decision that Teresa will have to make for herself. Before deciding one way or the other, Teresa projects and uses Forebode to answer some questions. The answers to the two main ones she thinks of seem promising, or at least not actively off-putting. [2] She asks Kate for her help in thinking of more things to ask. Kate points out the obvious one: “Will my doing this make a difference, in the long run?” The only trouble is that finding out about a long enough time period to be useful will send out a pulse, which could draw any nearby ghosts or spectres. However, this is important enough for Teresa to want to take the risk. She briefly contemplates rousing the others to warn them, but Kate says not to bother: she’ll be keeping an eye out, and will be able to wake them quickly enough if necessary. Besides, it would be useful to know if they are sharing this place with any potentially hostile entities, and they might as well find out in this relatively controlled manner. Teresa asks her question, the pulse goes out, and she gets her answer. [3]

Everyone except Chet wakes up when the pulse goes out. There are a few sleepy demands to know what’s happening, and what that was. (Or, as Ben so eloquently puts it: “What the fuck is going on?”) As Teresa is clearly projecting it’s fairly obvious who’s responsible, but she doesn’t exactly try to hide it. After taking a few moments to sort through her initial impressions and exchange a few silent remarks with Kate, she tells them that she was taking a look into the future. She apologises, and says she didn’t mean to wake them up. Hoyt and Blink both settle down and go back to sleep. Ben asks what she saw. She says that a storm is coming, and it’s bringing death in its wake; “it feels like the end of everything.” Ben mutters something along the lines of “could you be any more vague?” and says that unless the end of the world is happening in the next five minutes, he’s going back to sleep: they can talk about it in the morning. Frank asks about the storm, but she says that she needs to clarify the vision for herself before discussing it in any more detail. This seems to be the cue for everyone else to try to go back to sleep again.

Frank -- whose lawyer sense is apparently tingling -- has a feeling that something’s up, and there’s more to this than meets the eye. He only pretends to go back to sleep, secretly staying awake to keep an eye on Teresa. She has a short conversation with Kate but, unfortunately for Frank, it is conducted mentally, rather than out loud (one of the benefits of their link). After this, she re-enters her body and settles down to sleep. [4] After about quarter of an hour or so, however, she apparently gives up. Sliding herself carefully out of the sleeping bag -- and Blink’s embrace -- she goes to rummage through her handbag for a few moments, returning with a notebook and pen. (Teresa sporadically keeps a diary, something that may or may not be known to her colleagues.) After scribbling furiously for about half an hour or so, she tears out some pages and folds them in half. After writing a word on the outside, she hands the pages to Kate, who shoves them into a pocket. [5] Suddenly, Teresa hugs Kate tightly. “Thank you,” she says, quietly. If Kate says anything in response -- either to the words or the action -- it isn’t out loud. Getting back into her sleeping bag, Teresa snuggles up to Blink and apparently makes another attempt at slumber.

Frank continues to keep watch. It seems that his instincts were right, for something certainly seems to be going on. He has the feeling that whatever it is isn’t over yet. His vigilance is rewarded when, about fifteen to thirty minutes later, Teresa projects. Moving a short distance away from her slumbering body, she glances over at Kate, who also projects. Frank sees her gauze form wither slightly, while Teresa’s -- whose was withered from using energy to drive her earlier use of Forebode -- returns to the picture of health. It’s obvious that Kate is transferring vitality to Teresa. When they’re done, Kate returns to her body. With a last look at Kate (and another towards her and Blink’s sleeping bag), Teresa closes her eyes and concentrates. For a moment or two, nothing happens, but then her gauze ripples and flows. It remains in flux for a few moments, and then settles into something that looks a lot like Annie. Exactly like Annie, in fact. Kate watches this happen (as does Frank), but says nothing. She doesn’t seem surprised. The transformation doesn’t stop there. Holding her arms out as if being crucified, Teresa shudders as wounds appear all over her body. She’s saying something now -- whimpering, really -- but none of it is intelligible. There’s a long moment like the very last instant before a storm breaks; a sense of forces held poised, waiting… And then the moment shatters. [6]

Kate jumps a little, looking startled. Teresa [7] falls forward like a puppet with its strings cut. She lands heavily, but starts scrambling upright straight away, looking wildly around in panic and confusion. When her gaze lights upon Kate, she freezes, staring. “Who are you?” She says, voice filled with suspicion. “Where is this?” (Frank observes that Teresa has copied Annie’s voice, as well as her face.) Kate stands up and Teresa backs away from her. “It’s me: Kate.” There’s a cautious pause. “Don’t you recognise me?” “I know who you look like, but you can’t be her. You’re not. It’s just another trick; another lie!” Teresa’s face crumples in distress then, and it’s obvious -- as it has been since she started to speak -- that something is very wrong here. “Why are you doing this?” The question is almost a wail. Kate looks like she’s about to say something, and then stops, looking puzzled. “I can’t hear you any more,” she says, half to herself. “I never… It’s been so long. I guess I’ve just grown used to it.” The other woman, though, is already talking over her. “Of course not. I haven’t been able to hear them since you brought me here. You know that!”

What with all the shouting and commotion, some of the others are starting to stir. Tom sits up, as do Chet, Ben and Hoyt. (Ben is royally pissed off, and looks like he’s about to tear someone a new one for disturbing him a second time. He subsides, though, when he sees what’s going on, contenting himself with a small outburst of profanity.) Frank sits up as well, acting like he’s just been woken up like the others. There are general mutterings of: “what’s going on?”, “what’s up now?” and similar, but as neither of the women at the heart of the disturbance seems to be paying attention, the mutterers mostly just watch the spectacle playing out before them. It all becomes clear with Kate’s next words, however. “Look, Annie,” she says, and her voice is probably gentler than any of them have ever heard before. “You’re not there any more. You’re safe: Teresa got you out. This is somewhere outside of New York City, and we’re the ones who survived NextWorld’s attack and got away without being taken into custody.” An echo of her usual sarcastic tone returns as she continues. “Oh, by the way -- we’re on the run and wanted by the Feds. Welcome back to the real world.” Annie digests this for a few moments, looking uncertain. “It’s not true,” she whispers. “It’s not real.” But she doesn’t seem nearly so sure about that, and with a little more coaxing from Kate, she seems to accept it. At least for the time being. Perhaps her resistance finally falters when Kate says: “Kid, if they were going to try to convince you that one of them was me, do you think they’d be acting nearly this sympathetic to you? I haven’t even called you a narrow-minded, ivory tower academic once in this whole conversation!” Everyone has to admit that she has a point.

Annie seems somewhat calmer now, although still a little skittish. A thought occurs to her, and she glances around at the spectators, looking puzzled and slightly alarmed. “Where’s Teresa?” She asks. The question hangs in the air for a moment. Kate sighs heavily, sounding very, very tired all of a sudden. Looking only at Annie, she says: “She took your place. It was the only way to get you out of there.” Annie is more than a little incredulous at this, and calls Teresa an idiot, among other things. Kate explains that Teresa didn’t just do this to save her -- she thinks that there is something she can achieve there, with the spectres, and that it will make a difference. Frank and Tom join in the conversation at this point, asking questions. Annie repeats her opinion about Teresa being an idiot, and states that they have to get her back. Kate agrees, but points out that she doesn’t know how.

As well as not being able to sense each other, neither of them can sense Teresa. Comparing notes, they realise that they both felt something snap when the switch happened. Perhaps that was their connection breaking? If the process put it under too much strain… The two of them concentrate on searching for the familiar feel of it, wondering if it may only be weakened or blocked. Unfortunately, neither of them can find any trace of it. Annie, however, finds something else: a new connection that looks not unlike a silver cord. She doesn’t quite know what to make of this. Telling the others about it, she tries to follow it back to see where it goes. Giving it an experimental tug, she suddenly finds herself being dragged along. Almost as soon as the ride starts, it’s over, and she lands with a jolt that would knock the breath right out of her if she had any. Except that she does, now. With a start, she realises that she’s inside a body for the first time in two and a half years. But she seems to be restrained, and someone else is pressed up against her…

All the watchers see Teresa’s body sit up and start frantically trying to scramble out of the sleeping bag. Blink wakes up, saying “Teresa?” in a sleepily confused voice. Annie freezes and shakes her head. “N…No…” She whispers. Seeming to wake up and focus pretty quickly, Blink asks cautiously if she’s possessing Teresa’s body. She looks helplessly at Kate, who sighs and takes Blink off to one side. A few moments later, everyone who’s awake hears him say: “But she wouldn’t do that without telling me!” Kate sighs again and leads him even further away from the others. After a little while longer, she comes back on her own, saying that Blink wants to be alone for a while.

Tom asks if Annie can project, but she says that she doesn’t know how to. (She wasn’t a projector in life, and a ghost obviously has no need of the technique.) Kate walks her through the process, and she manages it without any trouble. Following Kate’s guidance, she also manages to enter the body again without pulling on the cord. (Apparently that caused her to ripcord. What she learns now is how to simply step back into it.) As far as anyone can tell, it’s as if she is now a projector, and this is her body. (Her gauze form still bears death marks, however.) Apparently, she and Teresa really have switched places. She surmises that, when the two of them merged and then separated, the cord somehow got tangled up with her gauze, but she needs to know more about what Teresa actually did before she can speculate with any confidence. There is a little more talk, but people soon decide that they want to try to get some more sleep before the morning comes. Annie unzips Blink and Teresa’s sleeping bags and moves them apart. Kate offers to use hypnotism to help her fall asleep (as it’s something she’s not done since she died). She accepts the offer, but says that she wants to walk around for a little while first. (Both the body and the freedom are going to take a little getting used to.) When she comes back about quarter of an hour or so later, Kate makes good on her promise and Annie is soon out like a light. Blink returns after a while, and curls up in his own sleeping bag.

Tom has the next watch. With the exception of Frank, everyone else is sound asleep. Annie is whimpering slightly, apparently -- and completely unsurprisingly -- caught in the grip of a nightmare. Frank decides to experiment with his new horror again. He steps out of his body, pretending to sleep-project. Tom also projects to try to shake him awake, but he continues to feign sleep. Tom is convinced by this, and returns to his body to keep an eye on the situation. Deciding for some reason that Annie will make a good test subject, Frank starts ambling towards her. (He seems to need to make contact with his target’s physical form before he can enter their dreams.) Tom forestalls him by the simple expedient of waking Annie up. Unfortunately, her first response on surfacing from a horrific nightmare to see two shadowy figures looming over her is to scream, and then to try to run. She doesn’t yet have full control of Teresa’s body, so it’s more of a totter than a run, with a couple of falls here and there. Tom goes after her, and manages to calm her down before she can do herself an injury.

In the meantime, Frank tries his luck at getting into Chet’s dreams while Tom is distracted. Tom, however, returns before he can manage it. Waking Chet up, Tom explains that he thinks Frank is projecting in his sleep. Chet suddenly grabs his cane and swishes it sharply through Frank’s gauze, which stings somewhat. Having no other option, Frank ‘wakes up’. Other people are also waking up (again) with all the commotion, and soon everyone is gathered around and asking to know what’s going on. Chet asks Frank what he remembers, and Frank pleads ignorance. Unfortunately -- and really rather surprisingly for a lawyer -- he isn’t all that convincing. Kate and Chet are especially suspicious, and Kate asks some probing questions. This time, however, there is no one here to play the good cop to her bad cop. Frank is extremely evasive and Kate grows more and more bad-tempered until she finally snaps and asks point blank if he’s a NextWorld agent. He seems a little taken aback by the accusation. She points out that he’s fairly new to Orpheus, so he could be a plant. All that sneaking around and dissembling could have been an attempt to possess each of them in turn and find out what they know. Maybe he’s feeding information to their enemies. Who knows? He denies it, but she’s all out of patience. After ordering him to get back into his body, she tells Tom to Puppet it so they can find out once and for all what’s going on with him.

Before doing anything, Tom asks Frank if he agrees to this. After thinking about it for a few moments, Frank gives his consent. Perhaps he realises that this is the only way any of them are actually going to trust him. Whatever his reasons, he obligingly vacates his body once again to make it easier for Tom to Puppet it. (Kate wanted Frank to go back into his body to make sure that all his memories were there in the meat before asking Tom to poke around there.)

Tom enters Franks body and rifles through his memories, summarising the relevant bits for the others. When he’s talking about Frank projecting into Teresa’s dream, Annie remembers that she saw him, briefly. He appeared next to her, only to vanish again when he got the spectres’ attention. When they realise what this means -- that he managed to not only get to where Annie was, but to get out again -- both Kate and Annie become a little heated; Kate especially. Annie starts to say that if he’d only said something sooner, then Teresa might not have trapped herself there. Kate interrupts Annie, rounding on Frank in utter fury. She yells that he stood by and did nothing while Annie was being tortured, preferring to leave her there in pain so he could keep his little secret. (Annie flinches slightly when Kate talks about what happened to her, then turns and walks quietly away into the night when the tirade continues. She doesn’t want to hear this right now.) Frank protests that he couldn’t have helped her anyway -- he couldn’t take on all those spectres by himself. Just going through the storm nearly tore him to pieces. Kate says that’s not the point, and that if he’d told them then they might have been able to figure something out. The point is that they didn’t have the chance. She asks him a few times if he realises what he’s done, but he still protests that he couldn’t have done anything that would have made a difference. They seem to be talking at cross-purposes. From what he’s saying, he appears to think she’s angry with him for not making a suicidal attempt to take on four spectres by himself. She’s saying that he should have told them about his new ability when he realised what he’d seen (presumably when she and Teresa said that Annie was being tortured by spectres, and they could sense what was happening to her in their dreams).

In any case, Kate eventually runs out of steam. She sighs, and says something along the lines of: “Well, it’s happened, and we can’t change it now. But it might still be possible to save Teresa, so let’s put our heads together and see what we can do.” She asks Frank some technical questions about his ability -- which he answers as best as he can -- and whether he would be willing to try an experiment tonight (he is). Glancing round, Kate -- who seems to have taken charge all of a sudden -- asks Tom to go and bring Annie back. Leaving Frank’s body, he re-enters his own and walks away. Annie hasn’t gone far, and after asking if Kate and Frank have finished arguing yet, she comes back with him. (Someone fills him in on what he discovered in Frank’s memories, as a Puppeteer loses all memory of anything they find out while Puppeting someone when they leave their host.)

Kate explains that she wants Frank to try moving from her dreams to Annie’s, which should be a whole lot safer than trying to go to Teresa. Both parties agree. There being no time like the present, Kate uses hypnotism to help Annie fall asleep -- as she did earlier -- and then settles down herself. Frank projects and enters Kate’s dream. She is sitting on a plush sofa, apparently waiting impatiently for him. As he looks around, she says: “Are you here yet, Frank?” He doesn’t answer her, but steps out a moment to see if he can bring someone else with him. It works, and he returns with Tom in tow. Kate is still waiting, tapping a foot in irritation. Suddenly, she looks up and says: “So you are here. Finally.” She looks around, but doesn’t seem to see them. It’s clear that she has some experience of lucid dreaming, however. Concentrating a moment, he makes Tom visible within the dream and starts to experiment with what else he can do here. While he makes small changes like causing a plate of sandwiches to appear, Kate and Tom exchange a few words -- she wants to know what happened when Frank brought him here -- and then Tom tries to see if he can affect anything. (He doesn’t seem to be able to.)

After a few minutes of experimenting with making small changes, Frank looks for the connection that was there the previous night. Something goes wrong -- he’s not sure what happens, but the dream starts to crumble around them. He leaps out, dragging Tom with him, and as they emerge into the physical world, they see Kate sit bolt upright, wide awake. All three of them agree that was a most unsettling experience -- it feels like they’ve just had a very narrow escape. After a little discussion about what could have happened, they try some more experiments, both in Kate’s dreams and in Annie’s. (Annie is dreaming of being tortured by monsters, but as far as Frank can tell, it’s just an ordinary dream this time.) Although Frank gains an understanding of what he can do with his dream-shaping ability, he can’t find any trace of the connection, and he isn’t able to transfer himself from one woman to the other, like he did before. Eventually, they call it a night. (Everyone else turned in while Frank waited for Kate to fall asleep. Technically, Tom is supposed to be on watch now, but he seems to have forgotten that little detail.)

Sometime later, Tom wakes up from a cold, uncomfortable sleep. Kate’s bony back is pressed up against him, but he’s still freezing. Chet has the watch, and he looks up to see his mentor expertly stripping, cleaning and reassembling his gun. Unable to fall asleep again immediately, Tom watches. Something feels a little off about this: about Chet, and about the way that he’s handling the firearm. Tom knows Chet well enough to realise that something’s going on in his head, and it’s likely not good. He gets up and goes over to stir the fire. Chet greets him, and they make small talk for a bit, tough-man style. Something is clearly weighing heavily on Chet’s mind. Tom brings up the subject of the future, and Chet mutters something about not being able to keep up with the younger ones while they’re on the run like this: it’s not an old man’s game. (Chet is in his seventies. He is in relatively good condition for his age, but he’s still an old man.) Tom tries to reassure him, but it doesn’t seem to work. Chet says, bluntly, that he isn’t any use if he can’t project, staring at the gun. Tom suddenly realises that he’s thinking about killing himself, probably figuring that he’ll become a ghost -- since Chet doesn’t seem the type to just want to end it all.

Tom tries to bring up the subject indirectly, by reassuring Chet that he still has a great deal to contribute to the group. After a little verbal tiptoeing around, Chet confirms his suspicions, adding that death isn’t as final as it used to be. They talk about it for a while, Tom trying to talk his mentor out of doing anything rash. Chet points out that there’s a good chance that one or more of them will die before this is over, anyway. If he dies in action, so to speak, there will be a few moments -- while his ghost is starting to form -- where he will be disoriented and vulnerable. If the enemy move quickly, they can take him out completely, in one fell swoop. If he ends his physical existence in a controlled manner and in a safe place, then he will have time to adjust. In the long run, it will actually be safer. He’s obviously given this a great deal of thought, and Tom’s arguments against it don’t really seem to convince him. However, he says that he hasn’t decided yet, and will leave it for a few days at least. Tom has to be satisfied with that. They talk for a little while longer, and then Tom turns in again. The rest of the night passes relatively uneventfully.


Footnotes

[1] Firstly, even though it feels like Annie has a physical presence where she is, she’s still a ghost. Whatever laws that place has that allows spirits to interact with it as if it -- and they -- were physical, it still seems to be a spiritual realm, rather than a material one. That said, the chains that hold her in place -- and stop her using her horrors -- are a very real problem. It might not be possible to actually break them from outside. More to the point: if it is possible, Teresa can’t think of a way to do it. Wail might shatter them, but the only connection she has to the place is through Annie. If she uses that to try to project herself there, she thinks she’s going to end up projecting herself right into the bindings, and subject to the same limits. That is: no using Wail, or any other horror.

The second point concerns the mental link -- or, more properly, the web of mental connections -- between Annie, Teresa and Kate. Each one of them is connected to the other two. These connections are obviously not physical in nature, because Annie’s a ghost who doesn’t have a physical body. As far as Teresa can tell, all three positions in this web of connections are equivalent: none of their links are stronger or weaker than the others, and none of them seem to have any distinguishing features. So, if all of them are equivalent, it may -- theoretically -- be possible to switch around which of them occupies which position without changing the nature of the overall construct.

The mental link is obviously still in place, but apparently only active while they’re asleep. (If it had been broken completely, they wouldn’t be able to connect with Annie in their dreams.) Proceeding from the assumptions above, if there was a way to -- at least temporarily -- ‘fool’ whatever it is that connects them, it may be possible to exchange any one of them for either of the other two. As the chains don’t seem to be what’s blocking the connection during the day -- or, more to the point, they certainly allow passage of sensory information at least some of the time -- such an exchange should bypass the bindings completely.

The question to be consider is: How might such an exchange be brought about? How could the links be fooled? Fortunately, Teresa already has an answer for that. When she uses Flesh Flux, she knows that she somehow alters her mental landscape to align with Annie’s. She knows from experimentation that she can use the horror because she can access Annie’s mental construct for how it works. (In fact, she hasn’t yet managed to use it before making that first mental shift. Simply constructing her own paradigm for it based on her observations doesn’t seem to have worked.) The insight that strikes her is that, if she can become enough like Annie to use her horror, it might be possible to take that likeness even further, to the point where she can actually merge with her. With enough control over the process, she can make sure that the two of them switch places. When they separate again -- assuming that they can, of course -- Annie should be back in the material world, and she should be there, with the spectres. (She does briefly consider that it she might be able to just pull back and drag Annie out of there, but she has a strong suspicion that the nature of the binding means that no more than one of them will be getting out.)

There’s more to it than just getting Annie out, however. When she was experiencing what Annie was going through, Teresa realised something about the spectres. She realised that they don’t see what they’re doing as torture: to them, pain is how they express love. (That’s the short version, anyway.) Unfortunately, this realisation doesn’t really help Annie. But Teresa is a different matter. With her training and skills, she could use this to get through to the spectres, maybe even to fix them. The strange thing is that, despite what they’re doing to Annie, she really does want to help them. Annie is going to break within the next couple of days, but Teresa figures that she has a better chance. Not only will she be going into this with her eyes open, but the insights she’s gained into the spectres means that she has a chance to do something valuable. Even so, it’s a tough choice. That’s why she decides to answer some questions with Forebode before making her decision. [Back]

[2] The first is: “Will we both end up trapped there?” (She looks over a relatively short time-course for this one, as, if she’s going to make the attempt, it will probably be in the next hour or so. She doesn’t bother asking whether or not it will work, as she’d try it even if she got a negative.) In answer, she receives a vision of the imagoes that represent herself and Annie entangling, merging, and separating again. She takes this as a good sign, hoping it means that at least they both won’t end up trapped there. Her second question is: “Will doing this result in the death of my body over the next day?” (If she does manage to change places with Annie, she figures there’s a good chance this will sever her link to her body, ultimately resulting in its death. She knows she can stay out of her body for about fourteen hours or so before it will die. ) Much to her surprise, she gets a negative. (That is: that event doesn’t look especially likely over the time-frame she specifies.) She speculates this might mean that she and Annie switch places all the way, and Annie ends up connected to her body. Or it could end up possessed, or it could be something else entirely. There just isn’t enough information. [Back]

[3] There is a dark sea and a howling storm; water driven to massive waves. The waves break, and cover the land in death. There is the certain knowledge that this is the end of everything. But something changes: a single, pure note rings out, shattering the wave. Where there was unity, there is now dissension; where there was one, there are now many. The wave turns in on itself, losing its strength of purpose as it separates. There is still death, but not extinction: there is -- this is -- hope. As far as she can tell, the first is if she does nothing; the second, if she tries to save Annie. It’s not exactly crystal clear, but that’s her instinctive reading of it. She was already leaning towards making the attempt, but now she feels like she doesn’t have a choice. [Back]

[4] Obviously, Teresa has no intention of actually going to sleep at this point. After allowing enough time for everyone she disturbed earlier to have fallen asleep again -- she judges than about an hour or so ought to do it -- she is going to make her attempt to rescue Annie. She doesn’t want to have to field any awkward questions from the others, as this isn’t something she plans on discussing with any of them first. It’s not just that they might try to stop her -- it’s that she thinks it will be even harder to actually go through with it if she has to say goodbye. It’s difficult enough without. Back

[5] It’s a letter for Blink. He and Teresa seem to be in the process of restarting their relationship, and even though she doesn’t think she can face saying goodbye to him, she wants to leave him something. At the very least, she wants to explain why she did this without talking to him about it first. [Back]

[6] In her mind, Teresa builds constructs that represent herself and Annie, studying them to map out the changes she needs to make. Holding onto the imago of that map, she sinks into the state of mind that she needs to use Flesh Flux. This isn’t deep enough for her purpose -- as she already knew -- but it’s a place to start. She knows how she needs to change, and she’s now sufficiently malleable in gauze and in mind to be able to do it. The outer transformation acts as the catalyst for deepening the inner one, and the process starts to gather momentum. The connection suddenly seems to flare into life, growing stronger as she deliberately opens herself up to the sensations being transmitted through it. There is pain, and a great deal of it, but she doesn’t try to block it out. Instead, she concentrates on it. It’s like the dreams that aren’t dreams, but there is one important difference. With the one core of her self that remains, she pushes forward, deeper.

It feels like she’s dissolving -- the fibres of her being unravelling into so many tangled threads -- but she presses on. It almost feels like she’s falling, and she couldn’t stop this now if she wanted to. A single, pure note fills her mind, resonates through her entire being. It seems to be coming from everywhere and nowhere; within and without. Without willing it, she finds herself humming it, unable to stop if she wanted to. There is an odd echoing at the edge of her senses, as if she’s seeing with two sets of eyes, hearing with two sets of ears. There is resistance now, something here with her, another tangled mass. Threads knot and snarl. As the threads knot tighter, the dual sensations start to merge. Herself and the other are falling into each other, mingling and joining, becoming solid again… Without quite knowing why, she gathers up her strength and pushes the presence away, pushes it back towards something... Something… Somewhere… She can’t quite remember. Threads tear, bits of her staying with the other, bits of the other staying with her, but they start to separate. As they move apart, the ever-growing tension suddenly spikes, something screaming as it’s stressed to its limits and beyond, and suddenly it’s all too much. Something twists and wrenches and tears and suddenly… snaps. [Back]

[7] This is, of course, not Teresa but Annie. The exchange has apparently been a success, and Teresa is no longer in the land of the living. So to speak. From Annie’s perspective, it’s possibly been a few days since the creepy little girl spectre led her through the portal to the storm-lashed wasteland. She isn’t entirely certain about the amount of time that’s passed, as it’s been rather difficult to judge. She’s spent most of it being horribly tortured by spectres. (Occasionally, they stop hurting her for long enough to perform some startling act of kindness, but they always go back to causing her pain.) By this point, she can feel herself starting to give way, her mind beginning to melt around at the edges. She is starting to hear their voices all the time, now. From the beginning, she’s been able to hear any one of them when they address her specifically. The language isn’t any of the ones she knows, but she can understand it all the same. For a little while now, though, she’s been aware of a constant droning chatter -- the spectre hive mind, perhaps -- and its tendrils are starting to work their way into her mind and soul. This is the point at which Teresa tries her intervention.

Even though Teresa and Kate have been experiencing what Annie is going through while they sleep, she hasn’t been aware of them at all. As far as she knows, she’s completely cut off from them. The first sign she has that something strange is going on is when a sound cuts through the pain and the fear, making her whole being resonate. With that note comes an odd doubling of sensory information. Every sound has an echo, every sight a blurred after-image, every cut or blow a second spike of pain. The effect rapidly intensifies, and then the dual inputs start to merge. Before the merging is complete, something takes hold of her and -- so it seems -- bodily flings her away, somewhere else. All of this is happening far too quickly for her to try to react. Like Teresa, she feels the tortured screeching of a system under pressure, and when the inevitable break comes, the sudden release of tension catapults her forward.

The next thing she knows is that she seems to be somewhere else, and she’s falling. It doesn’t even occur to her that she might have been rescued, so when she sees Kate, she just assumes that the spectres are playing with her mind again. She can’t help but wonder what new thing they’ve found to torment her with now… [Back]