Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission008

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Dramatis Personae

Protagonists

  • James Darkwood, Poltergeist
  • Annie Harper, Metamorph (revenant)
  • Tom Knox, Haunter
  • Frank Nosrav, Magician
  • John Reeve, Skinrider (hue)


Supporting Characters

Orpheus Personnel

  • Frank, Unknown Shade
  • Adrian Challis, Wisp
  • John “Blink” Carruthers, Wisp
  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • Kate Dennison, Banshee
  • Craig Forrest, Skin rider (ghost)
  • Tom Knox, Haunter
  • Chet Mason, Skinrider
  • Hoyt Masterson, Haunter
  • Zoë Vitt, Poltergeist

Brooke House

  • Lo-Jack, Wisp (hue)
  • Mona, Banshee? (ghost)
  • Natalya, Banshee (ghost)
  • Various hues and ghosts

Mastworth Packing

  • Rick Addams (non-projector), hired thug for Mastworth Packing
  • Various living employees of Mastworth Packing
  • Hecate/Gwynneth, Wisp (ghost)
  • Not-Gwynneth, unknown shade (spectre)
  • Convergence, unknown everything (spectre?)
  • Various spooks and spectres

Other

  • Matthieu Kerekov, Banshee (former NextWorld spook)
  • Dr Jenny Walker, audiovisual analyst


Convergence

The Orpheus spooks move into the attic of Brooke House with the assistance of some of the resident ghosts. These act as lookouts so they can avoid the place's living inhabitants. (It's late afternoon, shading towards early evening, by the time they move in.) The building is rather run down, but well-cared for. All in all, it's better than the abandoned factory, the wasteland and the squat. (It's not as nice as Mol's house, of course, but you can't have everything.) Unfortunately, they are not alone in their new hidey-hole. A drone lurks in one corner of the attic, mostly lost in fugue. That wouldn't be a problem, except that every three hours or so she snaps out of it, screams horribly for a few moments and the sinks back into fugue state once more. When she's in fugue, her form is misty and hard to make out. During those moments of activity, however, she solidifies somewhat, and it's clear that she's been severely beaten. It looks like she was probably kicked to death. Her gauze has the faded, monochrome appearance associated with the ghosts of pigment users (known as hues). The first time she screams, they hope it's just a one-time occurrence. The second time, they decide that something must be done.

John gives lots of orders, telling people what to do left right and centre. It seems that death has made him even more of a control freak. For the most part, people just ignore him and continue with whatever they were already planning to do. James and Tom both suggest dispersing the drone. It would certainly be the quickest way of dealing with her, but there is another option. Annie projects and tries to sense the drone's tethers. She receives three images. In the first, a group of shadowy figures stand over her, surrounding her. The second is a needle sliding into her arm. The third is one she's seen many times before, with other hues: a vast sea. It isn't water; rather, it's made of some kind of thick, buoyant liquid. She floats within the endless ocean; warm, safe and at peace. As well as the three tethers, Annie also manages to sense that the drone is a Banshee. She relays this information to the others. The first image probably relates to the woman's killers: vengeance is a fairly common tether for murder victims. The third one isn't clear. The second most likely relates to her getting one more fix, although there's a chance it may be about kicking the habit. In any case, that one would seem to be the quickest and easiest to resolve. If it is about getting another hit, James can use Congeal to create a syringe. Although he can't create the drug itself -- or even something that has the same effect -- one of them could share vitality with her while injecting her. That should hopefully be close enough to resolve the tether. (Receiving vitality gives a buzz not unlike a drug-induced high, albeit a relatively mild one.)

Annie manages to catch the drone's attention, temporarily snapping her out of her cycle of actions so she can speak with her. The drone is scared and confused, and the first thing she says is: "Don't hurt me." After calming her down a little and reassuring her that she's safe here, Annie manages to get the ghost's name -- Natalya. Talking with her, it seems that she was a prostitute who was trying to earn money to fund her next fix. She was attacked by a group of 'customers' (or 'johns', as she calls them), but she doesn't know why they did it. Although she remembers the attack, she doesn't realise that they actually killed her. As she talks, she grows more and more agitated. She starts to mutter about needing another hit, and asks if Annie has any money she can give her. It definitely seems that the second tether is about her feeding her addiction. They put their plan into action, leading Natalya a block or so away from Brooke House so as not to risk drawing any trouble here. (The process of breaking a tether releases enough energy to generate a huge pulse.) As she is a Banshee, they need Kate to be there to do the actual severing. (Only spooks of the same shade type as a ghost can actually resolve one of its tethers. No one knows why this is.) James creates the needle, and Annie injects Natalya, infusing her with energy at the same time. James, Tom and Annie then funnel energy into Kate, who uses it to break that tether.

The process works, and a new awareness fills Natalya's eyes as she looks around, asking what's going on. Annie explains once more, but this time it seems to stick. She's still confused, but she's a lot more aware of herself and her surroundings than she was. It seems that she's no longer trapped by the cycle that's held her prisoner since her death. From speaking with her, it's clear she wants revenge on her killers (she says she wants to hurt them), which seems to confirm their theory about her first tether. They discuss finding these men so the tether can be resolved, but it's a near-impossible task. She doesn't really remember what they looked like -- or even how many of them there were -- know their names or know when it happened. It might be possible to find that last one out from the newspaper archives or police records, but only if it was actually reported. (There is the possibility of simply finding some people they don't mind hurting and telling her that they are the ones, but even that will require some groundwork if they don't just want to pick someone at random. They don't really want to do that.) In any case, they've managed to put an end to the three-hourly screaming fits. Tom and James decide that's enough for now, and help Kate back to Brooke House. (Even in gauze form, Kate finds it hard to move and needs help getting around, something that doesn't improve her temper any.) Annie stays with Natalya for a while longer.

Back at the house, Tom, James and John speak to Lo-Jack about the disappearances. He tells them that homeless people have been going missing from all over Harlem. That's not exactly unusual, but it's been happening is larger numbers than ever before. One group of people (roughly five or so) people are disappearing every few days or so. These disappearances always happen at night, and some people (including some of the Brooke House ghosts) claim to have seen black vans in the vicinity on the nights in question. Lo-Jack doesn't really know any more than that. Tom asks him about Natalya. He apologises for putting them there with her, but says there isn't anywhere else to put either of them. She disturbs the less-aware ghosts -- and the living pigment users -- too much if they take her out of the attic, and they don't want to leave her on the streets. They found her a few blocks away, and managed to rouse her enough to bring her in. Aside from that, they don't really know what to do with her. Tom says that Annie's trying to help her, but doesn't go into any details.

Annie gently breaks the news to Natalya that she's dead. She seems to take it fairly well, all things considered, and agrees to take Annie to the place where she died. It's a street corner not too far away from Brooke House. Even though it's still daytime, more or less, prostitutes are already gathered, plying their trade. The girls all look unwell, with the sores and emaciated appearance of long-term addicts. Death is not very far away from them, and the stink of despair and desperation lies heavy in the air. There are some ghosts around, all drones like Natalya, stuck repeating their last moments over and over again. They stay for a while, but Natalya doesn't recognise any of the men who come around. Annie talks to her, and she seems happy enough to talk about herself. She had a hard life, getting into drugs and then getting into the game to fund her habit. She used to have a pimp -- a man she calls Charlie -- but he let her go, saying she was too much trouble. That didn't stop her working, however. Annie asks her about the ocean that's one of her tethers. Natalya thinks it was a dream or something; she isn't sure. It felt peaceful, though, and she thinks she was happy there. Annie uses Wail to try to instil that same feeling of serenity, and it seems to work: Natalya relaxes, an expression of bliss upon her face. "That's it," she says. "It was like that." It only lasts for a few seconds, but Annie wonders if that will be enough to break the tether. She'd have to try it again with help from Kate and the others, though.

When Annie and Natalya return to Brooke House, the ghosts in the front yard -- there are usually one or two there at any one time -- look up and then freeze, their expressions stunned. One of them ducks inside, emerging a few moments later with Lo-Jack in tow. Lo-Jack comes forward to meet them.

"You… You helped her," he says, gesturing vaguely in Natalya's direction. She doesn't pay him much attention beyond an initial wariness. For all that she's now self-aware, she's still a drone, and she doesn't really pay much attention to the conversation.

"Yes," replies Annie, a little confused by the utter shock on his face and in his voice.

"You helped her," he says again, wonderingly. He looks from one of them to the other a few times, and then his gaze comes to rest on Annie. "How?"

Annie shrugs, a little uncomfortable under the ghost's intense regard. "We resolved one of her tethers, which gave her a little more focus and awareness. She's not all the way there yet, though. I want to help her some more; maybe even pass her over if we can. If she wants to."

"That's possible?"

She nods. "Yes."

Lo-Jack still looks like he's been knocked for six, but he's starting to recover some of his equilibrium. "How?" He listens with rapt attention as Annie explains, [1] his expression becoming thoughtful, maybe even hopeful. When she's finished speaking he asks: "Can you show us how to do this? Will you teach us?"

Annie smiles, hesitantly. "I can try."

Meanwhile, back in the attic, Tom, James and John are putting together a plan for trying to find out who's abducting members of Harlem's homeless population, a group at a time. People have been going missing all over the area. There's a lot of ground to cover, and not many of them to cover it with. They're going to have to narrow it down somehow. Working on the assumption that the abductors are using vehicles, they come up with the likeliest routes into and out of the area. (One or more vehicles is a reasonably safe assumption, since people are disappearing in groups. Whether or not the abductors are local is another matter. There are lots of abandoned buildings around here, so they could just have holed up somewhere local. On the other hand, there's a greater chance that someone might notice strange comings and goings if they stay too close to the place they're taking people from. It seems probable that they're based outside the immediate area, but close enough for it to be easily accessible. They presumably won't want to transport their prisoners -- or, pessimistically, their bodies -- too far.) Enlisting the help of some of the Brooke House ghosts, they set up a combination of surveillance patrols and observation points to keep an eye on the routes that they've identified. (The Brooke House ghosts are to be stationed in pairs in an effort to stop them drifting into fugue as they keep watch. As a further precaution against this, the people on patrol are to check up on them every so often.)

The next morning, Frank receives a phone call from Dr Walker, who has finished with her analysis of the footage he gave her. She would prefer to go over it in person but, when he hesitates, she says that she can e-mail the file to him instead. Not wanting to use his Orpheus e-mail address -- or a personal web mail address that can be connected to him -- he asks if someone has an anonymous address he can use. Annie volunteers one of hers. (It was convenient for her to set up an online persona or two that aren't connected with Dr Annie Harper, deceased.) Dr Walker says she'll e-mail the file to him right away. He projects and uses his Illusion horror to disguise his appearance so he can go out. Taking the subway, he travels far enough away that he isn't going to risk bringing the FBI -- or worse -- down on their heads, and then finds an internet café.

The results of the analysis are interesting. First of all, there are inconsistencies in the footage that suggest it has been faked. (She discovered this by magnifying a selection of regions and looking at things like lighting, shadows and frame transitions in detail. There are enough examples of the light level being wrong, or the shadow angles and depth being slightly off, to suggest tampering.) That isn't the interesting thing, however. The memory cards Frank handed over also contain the results of the FBI's analysis of the footage, and it doesn't agree with Dr Walker's. Like her, they enhanced various regions to examine for discrepancies, saving the enhanced images as separate files. When she magnifies the same regions, there are inconsistencies between her images and theirs, which show no signs of the original footage being altered. So, someone's interfered with the FBI's analysis. More than that, though: it looks like whoever did it made those changes in real-time, while the analysis was being performed. (She doesn't think the files were simply altered afterwards, even though that would be a simpler explanation that someone having hacked into the system to dynamically change the output of their audiovisual analysis software.)

Frank passes on this information to the rest of the group. This is consistent with Craig's speculation that there is something -- or someone -- inside the FBI computer network. There is a problem with this, however: a spook Inhabiting a computer (or even an entire intranet) can only work within the limits of the system. To change an image or video file, they would have to bring up the relevant software to manipulate it, and what they're doing would be clearly visible on the monitor. There are no known examples of spooks being able to manipulate raw data 'on the fly' like that. It's possible that there are ways a hacker could do that using perfectly conventional skills, but none of the Orpheus projectors are computer-savvy enough to say one way or the other. Still, Dr Walker's findings are certainly good news.

The Orpheus spooks mostly spend their time training or on surveillance duty. The latter is mainly at night, since that's when the abductions seem to happen. Ben spends quite a bit of time away from Brooke House, making inroads into the shadier side of New York society. He's also specifically investigating pigment distribution and supply. Annie passes onto him the information she got from the Brooke House ghosts, including the fact that there are gangs with ghosts among their number. He says he'll keep an eye out for them. Frank suggests going back to investigate the Mayfair Green projects. (He believes that some kind of spider-like spectre may be responsible for the gauze webs he caught a glimpse of, and expresses a certain curiosity to see it.) The general consensus is that they do need to look into the area at some point, but they should deal with the missing homeless people first.

Frank isn't the only one of them who seems to have an interest in spectres. John wonders aloud if it's possible to become one. Apparently, he's not satisfied with being a Mirage class ghost (well, technically a hue). Annie takes exception to his musings, telling him that turning into a spectre would be a Very Bad Thing ™. Unfortunately, he takes all the properties she lists as evidence of their badass-osity, seeming to see it as an even more desirable goal. Or it's possible he's just winding her up. If it is the latter he succeeds admirably, for she becomes quite irate. (The topic of spectres is, unsurprisingly, something of a hot button for her. Being tortured by them has prejudiced her opinions somewhat.) When Kate hears what he's saying, she also adds her two penn'orth, observing that his eagerness is only because he hasn't really encountered them before. (The solitary Lost Boy he wiped the floor with a few days ago doesn't really count.) John also starts quizzing Annie about how come she's occupying Teresa's body. He doesn't seem satisfied with her previous, rather sketchy explanation and presses her until she fills in some more details. (Not many more details, though. It isn't something that she particularly wants to talk about.)

John, Tom and James discuss plugging the gaps in their surveillance net with cameras. Setting up a camera network, but distributing stand-alone cameras at key points and having someone upload the recorded footage to a laptop or something every couple of days might be feasible. James could probably set that up. Getting the equipment might be a problem, though. John suggests using the fake company he set up a few days ago to order what they need. They have the funds; they just need to set up a suitable shipping address.

Annie spends time with the Brooke House ghosts, teaching them about tethers and how to resolve them. Word has spread quickly, and all of the self-aware ghosts seem eager to learn. (Shortly after her conversation with Lo-Jack, various of their number kept approaching her to ask if what they'd heard was true.) The whole idea seems to give them a great deal of hope. They seem to pick up the basics relatively quickly, and some of them will soon be ready to try it for themselves. (Annie does warn them that the process uses and releases enough energy to generate a spike that will be detectable over some distance. She suggests they either try it somewhere away from Brooke House and leave the area as soon as they're finished, or post lookouts and ready themselves for a fight.)

On the second night of surveillance (the third one that they've spent in Brooke House), their efforts pay off. Tom and James -- who have are both out of body and manning observation points -- notice black vans. The one Tom sees is entering Harlem from the South-East. It's going too fast for him to catch up with it and take a look inside (not without spending enough vitality to trigger a large pulse, anyway), so he memorises the license plate and tracks it as far as he can. The vehicle that passes James seems to be leaving the area. He uses Helter Skelter to scrawl the license plate number on the wall with a piece of chalk. Both vehicles are black transit vans with their back windows blacked out. They have New York plates, which were issued in 2003 (so they're no more than about a year old). Some Brooke House ghosts also spot a black van, but they don't manage to get the license plate and they don't really know which direction it was heading. It's possible that this van may be one of the ones that Tom and James spotted.

The next morning, Tom and John (the former projecting, of course) pay a visit to a local office of the DMV so they can track down the owners of the black vans. It's likely to take a while, as they're going to have to wait until there's no one around to see information suddenly start flashing up on the monitor, so Tom tells John what to look for and then leaves him to it. At lunchtime, he Inhabits an unattended computer and pulls up the records. The vans were both bought new about nine months ago, when they were registered to a company called Ticktock Deliveries. Three months after that, the registrations were transferred to another company: Mastworth Packing. John looks up both of these companies online and finds out that they're privately owned business with the same address and CEO (a man named Henry Cochrane). Their start dates are around the same time that they purchased the vehicles. (Apparently the first one folded after three months, but he can find no further information about that.) Conducting all this research takes him the rest of the day, more or less.

Annie spends some time talking to some of the local homeless people who tell her that another group went missing last night. The location they give fits with where the vans were seen. She and James project and go out to have a look at the scene. James notices signs of a struggle and tracks indicating the presence of two vehicles. Annie doesn't really see anything of interest. As she looks around, she suddenly realises that someone's standing next to her. Expecting it to be James, it comes as something of a shock when she glances up to see Teresa looking at her. Before she can do anything, Teresa steps forward and looks directly at her. Annie starts to say something -- she isn't really sure what -- and then stops as something moves in the depths of Teresa's eyes. There are images -- blurred figures moving; a scene of violence. One group of figures attacking another? They wield weapons, perhaps clubs of some kind. Just as the scene starts to swim into focus it's gone, and Annie stands alone. James sees no one but the two of them.

After that disquieting vision, Annie heads back to Brooke House. James manifests and goes to visit a pawn shop where he can pick up a gun 'under the counter' to replace the one that he used in the firefight with the FBI. He doesn't want to risk the police or FBI linking that incident with any future ones he might be involved in. When Annie gets back to the house she discusses her experience with Kate, who speculates that it sounds like a Forebode vision. She adds that perhaps something of Teresa was left behind in her body when the two of them switched places and the link snapped. That theory just unnerves Annie even more, as does Kate wondering aloud whether that remnant of Teresa -- or whatever it really is -- might be her spirit guide.

To see if the occurrence was just a fluke, Annie goes out into Harlem and tries to do whatever it was deliberately. Specifically, she focuses on the question of whether anyone else is going to be taken within the next week. As she concentrates, she once more becomes aware of someone standing next to her. This time, Teresa doesn't just move towards her: she kisses her full on the lips. As she does so, the world reorders itself. Annie is now huddled in an alleyway, part of a group of people clustering around a trashcan fire for warmth. Hunger pains clutch at her stomach, and the cold eats its way into her joints, the wind knifing through the rags of her clothes. She is someone else; apparently one of Harlem's many homeless people. Two vans pull up and the back doors open. Four men emerge -- two from each van -- all of whom are wielding baseball bats. They start to lay about them with their weapons, attacking Annie and the others. She can feel the blows land -- can feel everything -- but there's nothing she can do to stop it: she has no control over the body she's in. All she can do is go along for the ride as one of the attackers drag her towards the van. There's an impression of darkness; the sound of screams from within, and then it's over. She is herself again, and she's alone. As nothing else seems forthcoming, she returns to Brooke House to share the results of her experiment with the others. (For some reason, the kiss does not make it into her account.) Kate notes that if this is Forebode -- and it seems to be, more or less -- then it isn't exactly standard, as 'normal' visions tend to be sight and sound only.

John tells Tom what he's found out, and the two of them go to check out Mastworth Packing first thing the next morning. The address is right in the middle of an industrial estate, and they locate the specific unit easily enough. It looks like a fairly standard and unremarkable factory building from the outside, and there are no signs of anything untoward. They weren't really expecting anything to stand out, but it's useful just to confirm that the address is genuine. There are a number of vacant buildings in the industrial estate, so John suggests they lease one through his front company. He finds an internet café and starts making the arrangements, using one of their anonymous mobile phones when it's necessary to actually talk to someone. In a relatively short space of time -- apparently, the people who own the industrial estate are really rather keen to get businesses in there -- he is able to collect the keys. Even though the main reason for leasing the building is so they can use it as a base for keeping an eye on comings and goings at Mastworth, he and Tom decide to kill two birds with one stone and order some equipment (cameras and a laptop) to be delivered here.

Once everything has been arranged, John parks himself somewhere he can observe Mastworth Packing's building, and settles down to watch. (Unfortunately, he didn't manage to lease a building with a line of sight on the target, so he just takes up a position across the road from it.) For the most part, he sees pretty much what he would expect from a packing plant: lorries drive up to the docking bay, are loaded with cargo, and then drive out again. There is something odd, though: the loaders are generally grubby and lifeless, their movements stiff and their eyes staring blankly. They seem to have no will of their own, simply loading up one lorry after another. The first word that springs to John's mind when he sees them is: "Zombies". It's not clear from his observations whether there is anything more to this than depression, demoralisation and despair, though.

Shortly after nightfall, a black van emerges from Mastworth Packing's docking bay. It starts to head along the road, but instead screeches to a halt just next to John. Two men get out, both wearing what look like spook-vision goggles and carrying pistols. One of them carries a pair of handcuffs. It looks like John might be in a little trouble…

The fugitives receive some long-awaited good news: Hoyt calls Tom to say that he and Blink have caught up with Zoë. She's still recovering from her previous injuries, but is otherwise fine. Also, she has a new friend who apparently: "Knows some interesting people and is being chased by some interesting people." Hoyt thinks letting him keep company with them will be worth the risk. The merry band are still a little ways out, so will be in touch in a few days or so to arrange somewhere to meet up. (Both Tom and Hoyt are speaking rather obliquely, just in case anyone is listening in.) They're going to need to de-activate Zoë's chip before they even think about bringing her to Brooke House.

Ben continues to explore New York City's underworld. Occasionally he comes back bearing the marks of violence, but he always says the other guys had it worse.

"Sometimes," he comments, "you just have to smack some people around." He's found out that there is currently a (direct quote) "fuckton" of cheap Pigment currently flooding the drugs market. (He fails to clarify as to whether that's an imperial or a metric fuckton.) It looks like someone really wants to shift it. If they want to try to track the suppliers back, he reckons that they'd be able to take over from one of the smaller gangs and follow the trail from there. That proposal gets mixed feelings among the group. On the one hand, becoming a drugs gang isn't exactly what they set out to do. On the other, if they manage to get hold of some of the pure stuff, they might be able to help all the sleepers learn to project without the cradles. Plus, there might well be a connection between whoever's making this stuff and the various agencies with an interest in spook matters (such as the Marion Prison group and whoever's behind the hit on Orpheus).

While she's spending time with the Brooke House ghosts, Annie notices that the community seems to be in the process of fragmenting. Lo-Jack is doing his best to keep it all together, but he isn't really a leader. Even with the hope of being able to raise the drones to self-awareness -- maybe even pass over some of their number -- this is a dying community. Annie talks to Lo-Jack, and manages to get him to open up a little. He tells her that he wasn't so shocked at her being able to help Natalya because he'd never seen it done before. Mona -- the woman who set up this little community -- could do it, or something like it. (This name has come up in conversation with some of the ghosts when Annie was here as Sam, although none of them really went into any details beyond her name and the fact that she went into seclusion after some attacks.) He just didn't know that other spooks could also do it as well.

After some gentle prodding, he tells Annie a bit more about Mona. She used to work at the centre, when she was alive. She was upper-class and white; not the type of person you'd expect to find helping out in a place like Brooke House. And yet, she seemed to genuinely want to help the people who came here; to really care about them. It was during her wanderings through one of the poorer parts of town that she was killed: possibly an attempted robbery; possibly just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In any case, when she came back as a ghost, she returned to Brooke House to continue her work. Not all of the local ghosts took kindly to what she was doing, though, and there were attacks by some of the ones who'd kept their old ganger habits. There were also attacks by spectres (although Lo-Jack just refers to them as "monsters").

Sometime after one of the spectre attacks, she started going into trances. Lo-Jack is rather vague about what it was she was doing, but from other snippets and things he lets slip, it seems that Mona has an ability that's something like Forebode. In any case, she started sinking into trances for longer and longer, the other ghosts sharing their vitality with her so that she could do this. One day, she just never came back. Her gauze form is still there, but not her personality or mind. It all sounds very strange to Annie. First of all, she's never heard of anyone actually sinking into a trance when using Forebode, and visions only tend to last less than a minute at most. According to Lo-Jack, when Mona first started having visions, they only lasted up to ten minutes or so. After the spectre attack, she started to push it until she was regularly going into trances that lasted for a couple of hours or. (This was towards the end, and only with the others giving her energy.) With the last one, they started to worry after the two-hour boundary came and went, but they only really realised that she wasn't coming back after about a day. That was a couple of months ago, and her condition hasn't changed.

Annie manages to persuade Lo-Jack to let her see Mona. He's reluctant, but teaching them how to break tethers and pass over ghosts has earned her a certain amount of trust. He does swear her to secrecy, though, before agreeing. The room he takes her to is one of the staff offices. It was Mona's office, he tells her, back when she was alive. It's quite a stark and empty room, even though it's apparently still in use. This seems to cause Lo-Jack some distress, and he tells Annie that Mona had gone to some effort to make the place feel homely, with things like pictures, pot plants and a coffee machine. The other staff took them all away when she died, and he doesn't think that was right. There is another ghost in the office -- apparently, they usually have someone watching over her, just in case something happens. He looks concerned at Annie's presence, but Lo-Jack quickly explains to him that she wants to try to help Mona. That seems to settle him down a little. Lo-Jack says he'll watch her for a bit, and the other ghost leaves them to it.

Mona is in a corner, her form blurred and insubstantial like a ghost in fugue. When Annie looks at her, however, she abruptly comes into focus, seeming almost solid and physical. There is another figure standing next to her, and with a start, Annie recognises Teresa. It takes her a moment or two, however, because she looks… different. There are nails through her eyes, and rusty razor blades have been shoved under her finger nails. In general she looks far more gaunt, as though everything non-essential has been chiselled away from her, leaving nothing but skin and bones behind. She picks up Mona while Annie watches, frozen, turning to carry her away. And then, suddenly, Teresa is gone and Mona is back where she was, still blurry and insubstantial. Lo-Jack, noticing Annie's state of shock, asks her what's wrong.

"Did you see her?" She whispers.

He frowns. "See who?" That's answer enough.

Annie blinks a few times, recovering her composure enough that her voice doesn't shake when she says: "I thought I saw someone I knew. Know."

Lo-Jack looks confused, and seems about to ask a question, but she goes over to Mona and he holds onto whatever it was he had been about to say. That's just as well, because she really doesn't want to talk about what happened to Teresa right now.

When she touches Mona, the ghost's form becomes more substantial. (This is quite a common reaction for ghosts in fugue state. It seems to be something like a reflex reaction, with no conscious will required.) She studies her for a moment, noting that her death marks are very faint and that she almost looks alive. Between this, and what Lo-Jack's told her, it seems likely that Mona is a Mirage-class ghost, like her, John or Gwyneth. [2] (These are extremely rare, unless the person was a projector in life.) Annie concentrates, and shares some of her vitality with Mona, trying to see if the woman is still there, somewhere. It feels like the energy is sinking into a vast pit, or a deep well; flowing to somewhere very distant indeed. And yet, it does seem to go somewhere. It feels like Mona is somewhere far away, but there is still a connection between her gauze body and her soul. It occurs to Annie that this might be like what happened to her, Teresa and Kate when Teresa used Forebode to look at the moment of a spectre's creation. [3] On that occasion, their minds travelled whilst their gauze bodies remained where they were. There are some differences (the three of them collapsed, while Mona is still sitting upright and cross-legged, apparently her usual position for going into a trance), but what if Mona is in the same place they were? What if Mona is in the land of the spectres? (That possibility leads to conflicting emotions. On the one hand, if she is trapped in that place, Annie doesn't want to leave her there any longer than they have to. It's possible that the vision of a mutated Teresa carrying her off means she's likely to be trapped forever if nothing is done. On the other hand, if she is where the spectres are, they might be able to use her connection to go there and bring Teresa back. It's a difficult situation.)

Annie contemplates using Forebode to look at what happened to her. There are two problems with that idea, however. First, she would need to use enough energy to create a pulse. Second, if she was taken to the land of the spectres, looking at that moment might be like looking at the moment of a spectre's creation. For obvious reasons, she doesn't really want to do that again. She tells Lo-Jack what she found (omitting the possibility that Mona is quite probably being tortured by spectres), and says that it might be possible to bring her back. Not wanting to get his hopes up, she stresses that it's only a possibility, and says that she needs more information before she really knows one way or another. Lo-Jack thinks for a moment, and then asks if it would help for her to know more about what Mona was doing.

"It might," she replies.

He thinks for a few moments more, looking torn. Hesitantly, he says: "She probably wouldn't want me telling you this, but if you think it'll help…" He trails off.

"Go on."

"She kept notes." The words come out in a rush, as if he's hurrying to say them before he changes his mind. "She wrote down what she saw; what she was trying to do." He points. "They're down the back of that filing cabinet."

"Can I look at them?"

He nods, jerkily. Annie manifests as a capuchin monkey and fishes out the papers., starting to look through them. Lo-Jack leaves her to it, asking her to put them back when she's done, and not to tell anyone else about them. She agrees.

It takes some time to go through the notes. Annie has to manifest fully, as it's a little hard to turn the pages as a tiny monkey. Lo-Jack doesn't want her to take the pages out of this room, so she has to sneak in to go through them when no one's around. They contain details of visions that Mona has experienced. It's obvious just from a casual glance through that her version of Forebode -- if that's what it is -- is different all the others Annie's encountered. It's as if she's actually projecting herself into the future (and all the visions do seem to be of the future, rather than the past) for up to hours at a time. She can move her viewpoint around when she's there, and she seems to have an unprecedented degree of control over what, where and when she sees. The visions range from local occurrences, to events of world-shaking significance.

She starts off by detailing small events, walking around important parts of a person's life; moments of great joy or sadness, but nothing really significant in the grand scheme of things. A traffic incident is circled in red and noted 'Confirmed'. After these humble beginnings, the tone changes, becoming more intense. The visions start to become more apocalyptic. Pages of speculation (often scribbled out) and disjointed, re-ordered paragraphs replace the gentle flow of life. The first real vision is of darkness; a darkness that filled the city, even during the day. Walking the streets, Mona saw furtive forays of grubby survivors, raiding shops for supplies. Sometimes she saw the reason for their fear, as demons materialised around them and tore every single one of them to pieces. (These "demons", Annie thinks, are likely to be spectres.) The streets were completely bare of ghosts, as if they were the first victims of this new and hungry age. Following one group of survivors for a time, she found them hiding out in a subway tunnel. They shared food, but not words, as if they hoped that keeping quiet would ward away the attentions of the demons. Another group -- Mona in tow -- tried to escape the city, only to be attacked and die as they reached its boundaries. It appears that the city of her visions is a dark and jealous mistress, who does not suffer any suitor to leave her.

Mona becomes obsessed with discovering how this happened, and her next apocalyptic vision begins in a normal street. There came a rumbling that grew in intensity until it tore at her eardrums, and then a blast wave of purest black rushing towards her. The wave of darkness engulfed everything before it as, in the distance, a plume of black smoke rose in something approximating a mushroom cloud. She writes that she barely had time to scream before the wave reached her, choking her on poisonous fumes before it left her behind, tottering on her feet. The other people in the street weren't so lucky. Where they once stood, only black stains on the ground remained. She touched one tentatively, and it felt dead, like the life force had been sucked out of it. Looking around, the buildings had somehow been untouched by this ebony apocalypse. As she wandered around in the wake of the disaster, she saw that the city was almost deserted. The ones -- the few -- who survived the darkness seemed to have retreated into whatever shelter she could find. A few shell-shocked people emerge from the subway while she watched. Some of these were in tactical armour, carrying submachine guns and glowing red goggles. (Annie surmises that the latter are spook-vision goggles.)

In other visions, Mona saw people dying amidst darkness, flashing lights and loud noise, thrashing violently and foaming at the mouth. (Annie wonders if this could be people overdosing on Pigment, either in a nightclub or an ambulance. These could also be people who've inadvertently projected while high on Pigment, and been attacked.) She also writes about places she refers to as "dark cathedrals" arising in the city; places she seems afraid to describe, let alone to really approach. They called to her in her dreams, drawing her closer like a siren. In some of her visions, she witnessed souls being dragged into them. What happened to them next she doesn't know, but their screams of torment rang in her ears and seemed to pierce her very soul. She seems fairly certain there it was not just one cathedral that she saw, but many, although she doesn't know where or when they will appear.

It looks like she saw the attack on the Orpheus building. (It isn't actually labelled as such, but it's obvious from the description. She talks about people exploding, someone shooting people in tubes and even the spectres. Interestingly, she mentions some spectres that Annie didn't see, and there is no mention of the little girl who took her.) It is during this vision that she first spots a man dressed in prison clothes, calmly surveying the scene. (From the description, Annie thinks that he might be Harper Forrester, one of the alleged Marion Prison fatalities.) After that, he appears again and again. Soon, she writes that she can't enter a trance without seeing him. He's never the focus of the event, but he's just there, watching. She becomes convinced that he can see her and is hunting her down. More and more, she spends her time looking for a way out; a way to avoid the man. And then the notes stop.

Annie has a lot to think about. She considers trying to use her developing Forebode ability to try to see the events that Mona writes about for herself. If what she saw is truly the future, then they need to know as much as they can so they can stop it from coming to pass. It's not something she can do without help, though. With no idea of the correct time-frame, she would have to power the attempt with enough energy to cause a spike large enough to call every spook for miles around. That is: unless she enlists the help of someone with Helter Skelter. At the moment, James is the only one matching that criteria. She asks him if he would be willing to help her with a Forebode vision, and he seems willing enough. The two of them are both down on energy from their shopping trip, however, so they decide to rest for a little while to recover. (On the off-chance that they do draw something nasty, Annie wants them both to be ready for trouble. She still hasn't decided if she really wants to go ahead with this, however, as there's a risk the same thing that happened to Mona could happen to her.)

As it happens, Annie doesn't get the chance to try her experiment that day, as there is the little matter of keeping watch on the place where she saw people being abducted from in her vision. After some discussion, James heads over to the site earlier in the day to hide some handcuffs, so they have a way of restraining the kidnappers. He locks one loop of each set around a drainpipe or something similar, and conceals them underneath newspapers, cardboard boxes and other litter. The van that Tom saw entered Harlem at about 1am, and it was at roughly 2am that James saw one leaving, so they decide to stake the area out form 12 until 4am. The time passes fairly uneventfully, and they see no sign of the vans.

The next morning, Tom projects and returns to the Mastworth Packing plant to meet up with John, but he's not there. Tom looks around the industrial estate -- taking to avoid Mastworth's security cameras, just in case -- but there's no sign of the ghost. A small pile of delivery notes is starting to mount up on the doormat of their warehouse -- evidently, John wasn't there to sign for the packages, as he'd said he would be. Tom returns to Brooke House and tells James and Annie that something's wrong. Annie suggests that she can try to look back to see what happened to John, so all three of them project and head for the industrial estate. With Tom's help (using a side-effect of one of his horrors to make it easier), Annie concentrates on looking back at the previous night. Catching sight of movement in the window, she looks up to see Teresa -- who looks alive and healthy, rather than the gaunt and bleeding version she saw with Mona -- pointing at a spot in front of the packing plant. When she looks at that spot, there are two figures moving around, perhaps struggling with each other. Their heads are distorted, glowing red, and there is a black shape behind them that might be a van. One of the figures is holding what looks like a pair of handcuffs.

When it's over, she relays what she saw to the other two, leaving out the part about Teresa. However, Tom asks:

"Do you always see her?" It seems that he actually saw Teresa as well -- probably because of the connection that formed when he gave his help -- although he didn't see any of the vision itself. His question takes Annie a little by surprise.

"Every time so far," she replies, hesitantly.

"Do you think it's really her?"

"I… No. I think it's just something -- a part of her -- that got left behind. I think that's why I've suddenly developed Forebode."

"Who are you talking about? What do you mean: 'her'?" James expresses his frustration with their cryptic comments, so they briefly explain who they're talking about and why.

Returning to the reason they came out here in the first place, they decide that John's probably been captured by people from Mastworth Packing, which is obviously just a front for something nefarious. The obvious thing to do now, then, is to mount a daring rescue. Since it seems likely that anti-spook technology was involved -- the red glow could signify spook-vision goggles -- a certain degree of caution is called for. The three of them return to Brooke House and make plans. That night, the three of them, plus Frank and Ben, head out to the industrial estate in the flesh and hole up in the warehouse that John rented. Ben is to play babysitter for the others while they're projected. He happily takes custody of James' weapons (something that James isn't too happy of them) and says he'll take good care of the toys. "Just like I'll take care of your bodies." For some reason, that doesn't seem to fill certain of them with confidence.

First of all, they need information about the layout of the place. Annie projects, manifests and uses Flesh Flux to appear like a perfectly mundane -- if slightly lost -- bat. She does a quick fly by, and then reports back. Although she wasn't able to see inside the building -- the windows are all frosted and the skylight is too dirty to see through -- she has noted the rough positions of the CCTV cameras. There are nine cars in the car park -- five more than Tom saw when he was here earlier -- which suggests that there are a number of people inside. It would be helpful to have a look inside to see exactly what they're up against, so after the others replenish her energy somewhat -- this is likely to take a lot -- Annie heads out again. She turns into a rat to cross the distance from the warehouse to the packing plant and then, under cover of the shadows (and, hopefully out of sight of the cameras) dissolves into a mass of spiders to creep under the door. Once inside, it's back to rat form to scurry around and see what she can see.

Even though it's late at night, the machinery is still running. Various goods travel down chutes and along conveyor belts, where they are packaged by a shambling workforce. These people stare blankly ahead, no signs of intelligence or awareness on their faces. They do their jobs with repetitive mechanical actions, moving like robots or well-trained animals. Many of the workers have visible sores and open wounds, and they could be poster-children for the zombie apocalypse. There is no smell of rotting flesh, however, and there are troughs of water and food (a slurry of some kind of meat and rotting vegetable matter) at one end of the room, together with what looks like a communal sleeping area. These things suggest that the workers are still alive. There doesn't seem to be anything else of interest in this room, but there is a small door at one corner. It's back to the creeping doom -- well, the spider horde -- to get under it.

Annie sees a couple of men watching what looks like a bank of security monitors. They seem alert but bored, consistent with something having happened the previous night. The images have a faint red tint, possibly indicating that the cameras record in spook-vision. (The cameras themselves didn't glow red.) There's another door beyond the security office, which she also ducks underneath. This leads into an office, complete with desk, computer and a man sleeping in the chair. The computer monitor is currently displaying a screen saver. Annie quickly Inhabit's the computer -- which, fortunately, is still logged in -- and rifles through the e-mails, forwarding anything that looks interesting to an anonymous web mail address. There's one in particular that catches her eye; a report of some kind talking about some kind of processing procedure. [4] Presumably this is how they've made obedient little workers out of abducted homeless people. There is also mention of a "special specimen" that they've managed to capture -- presumably this is John. The report is addressed to someone referred to only as "Doctor". Time is short, so Annie checks the "Recently Used Files" list and starts forwarding anything that looks interesting. The man in the chair wakes with a start, perhaps at the sound of the keys tapping. She freezes, but he doesn't seem to notice anything amiss. He turns the computer off and heads for the outer office to chat with the security guards. (They call him "Sir". He calls them "Jed" and "Sam". When he asks them how it's going, they say it's been quiet.)

Annie seizes the opportunity to leap out of the computer, shift into the form of a rat and then hide under the camp bed in the corner of the room. When the boss finishes chatting, he comes back into the office and stretches out on the bed. As soon as it seems safe to move, Annie dissolves into spiders again to slip back out into the main room. There is one thing she hasn't yet examined, so it's back to the rat again (she's getting very low on energy now, with only enough left for a couple more shifts), for a quick scuttle over to what looks like a vehicle lift. There's only one visible floor to this place, so the only place for the platform to go is down. It seems likely that's where they deliver their cargoes of people for "processing". It's also where they're likely to be holding John. Annie returns to the warehouse to report her findings to the others. (Frank may or may not cackle with glee when he hears about the sleeping man. Or it may only be with his inside voice that he crows about there being a target for his dream-shaping whom he can drive insane. [5])

So, it looks like rescue party will be going (deeper) underground…

Once Annie returns to report her findings, the would-be infiltrators discuss possible options. After surprisingly little dithering (for them), they decide to go with the direct approach: de-materialise, walk into the building as close to the vehicle lift platform as they can get and then drop down into the underground level. Chances are high that they'll be spotted, but they intend to be moving fast enough to have made it all the way in before the alarms go off. All they have to do then is grab John and get out. The simplest plans are the best. It's highly likely that there'll be additional complications, but they'll just have to deal with them as and when they arise. They decide to wait until the vans have left for the night, to reduce the number of potential hostiles in there. While they're waiting, they rest to regain some precious energy. One o' clock rolls around and there's been no sign of the vans. Apparently, they're not going out this night. The group decide to go in anyway. At Ben's urging, they pile into his van before projecting so he can make a quick exit with their bodies if necessary. And then it's showtime.

The four of them move as close to the factory as they can while staying out of sight of the cameras. They use another one of the buildings as cover. Frank uses his illusion ability to conceal himself and James from view, and the two of them simply stroll casually up to the factory. While they're doing that, Tom Inhabits a pebble and Annie, manifesting as a bat, flies up to the roof with him. They drop down into the building (taking very light injuries from the fall) at more or less the same time as the other two walk through the wall, and then all of them drop down through the platform of the vehicle lift. (Neither pair can see the other: Frank and James are concealed by Frank's illusion and Annie was a very small dark thing against a dark background at night. To try to make sure they all enter the building at roughly the same time, they agree that Annie and Tom should drop through the roof about a minute after Frank and James vanish. It seems to work reasonably well.)

As they drop down into the lift well, a black glass-like barrier starts coming down around it. They dive underneath it, easily making it into the underground complex before it reaches the ground. (They realise that this may well seal them inside, but they came to get John and the expedition is rather pointless if they don't even make it to where he's being held. Getting out again is a problem they can deal with once they've achieved their objective.) Quickly looking around, they see a warren-like maze of small rooms -- possibly cells -- to the right of them, some sort of conveyor belt affair to the right, and a couple of large rooms up ahead.

Ghosts are chained over the conveyor belt and objects are moving along it, passing through them. They scream silently, agony in their eyes, as their gauze is shredded again and again and again by the moving objects. All of the ghosts are looking faint and wispy, and some are barely even there any more. The cells to the right are sealed with more of the black, glass-like substance. Through this, the shapes of figures can be made out. With a closer look, it becomes apparent that these are ghosts. Many of them are chained like the ones over the conveyor belt, but some aren't. These ones have holes in their gauze that resemble stigmata. Some of the cell's occupants look mutated and misshapen, but it isn't clear whether or not these are spectres. All of the cells the group can see are occupied. Most only contain one ghost apiece, but some seem to have more than that.

The group split up to cover more ground. Or possibly to do more damage. Annie studies the chains holding the ghosts above the conveyor belt, looking for a way to free them. James goes over to examine the cells while Tom and Frank head for the far end of the corridor. The large room directly in front of them is sealed with a barrier that seems to be several times thicker than that of the small rooms. They can make out a number of figures moving around inside the room, but it's too thick for them to make out any details (such as whether they are physical or gauze). The two black vans are parked in a little bay to the left of that room, at the far end of the conveyor belt. There are more black-sealed rooms to the right of the large one, but they can't tell what's in them without going closer. This corridor terminates in what looks like some kind of high-tech control room. There's certainly a lot of fancy equipment there which, again, they can't really tell much about without going closer.

There are no sounds of people, but the underground complex is far from silent. There is a constant rattle and hum of machinery: air-conditioning, the conveyor, various ineffable devices. That's probably why it takes a moment or two for them to register the clicking sounds of cell doors unlocking. As the black-glass panels start to swing open, a voice comes over the tannoy: "Drones: capture the intruders." At the command, ghosts start to emerge from the cells, heading towards Tom and Annie. By the time they stop coming forth, there are easily ten of them clustered in the hallway. (Frank and James are still concealed by illusion, so Tom and Annie are the only ones they can see.) Battle is joined.

James Congeals a gun from his gauze (sending out a pulse of energy) and shoots twice, dispersing two drones. He becomes visible as he does so. Tom hurls a fireball at another one, taking it out, and Annie Wails, doing some damage. The group of drones split up, three of them going after James and four after Tom. (Annie is not amazingly disappointed not to be considered a major threat.) James opens fire on the ones on him, dispersing two and reducing the last to little more than wisps of gauze. Another fireball strikes its target, and then Tom becomes a magnesium flare as he lights up with the burning aura of Witch's Nimbus, sending out another pulse of energy. The drone that James wounded grabs him, holding on tightly. Annie turns and swipes at it, claws of jagged and twisted bone extending from her fingertips to rend its gauze, dispersing it. (James, despite his complaining, was in no danger from her attack. None at all. Really, you'd think an ex-SWAT guy would be a little more phlegmatic about such things. There was miles of clearance.)

In the meanwhile, Frank has been searching for John. He explores the corridor to the right, looking into cells and other black-sealed rooms, confident in his ability to remain unseen to pretty much anything. That is: he's confident up until he peers through the glass of one of the larger cells. There are multiple very deformed spooks moving around in there. One turns to face him, and then all the others do, in eerie synchronicity. This comes as something of a shock -- no one is supposed to see him if he doesn't want them to.

The voice comes over the tannoy again, sounding somewhat more frazzled than last time. "Oh shit. Uh, release the Convergence. And release Hecate. Release Hecate!"

The door in front of him clicks open. The spooks start to swarm out of the exit, not just normally, but on the ceiling and on the walls as well. Frank starts to run, but another figure walks around the corner, a distorted figure with long, dank hair. Her face begins to glow, drawing Frank into it's hypnotic colours, but he manages to wrest his attention away and just keeps running.

The fight continues. The spooks have a sneaking suspicion that the questions they of what those names might refer to is just about to be answered. Nevertheless, there is still a little mopping up to do. James disperses one drone (his fifth; not that anyone's keeping count) and injures another. Tom hits one with a lightning bolt (possibly feeling like a little variety), injuring it. He then backs off a little to let the last two approach him, letting his aura shred them. That's the last of the drones.

Frank comes barrelling round the corner, but no one can see or hear him. If they could, perhaps Annie and Tom might not turn to look at what was coming. As it is, they do. They see a figure with a shining face, and then… nothing. In what could be the next act of a comedy of errors, James also turns his attention to what's coming around the corner. He sees the broken figure of a woman -- a ghost -- skin blackened and burned, bones twisted at odd angles; one eye hanging down onto her cheek. This is presumably the one called Hecate. She turns her face towards him… but he manages to somehow keep his mind free of the hypnotic trap. That's when he sees the dark shapes following her. It isn't clear how many there are, or even what they are. Humanoid, perhaps (at least once upon a time), but every single one of them is mutated and mutilated. Nails barbed wire and rusty razor-blades pierce swollen flesh and there are ragged holes where eyes should be. Split and shredded tongues protruding from lipless ruins of mouths. They skitter across the tiled floor like insects, moving as a single organism. This group, then, would likely be the Convergence.

Keeping his cool, James raises his gun towards Hecate. The only thing that stops his hand is when she says "Please don't." "Stop." he orders. She does so, tilting her head to look at him. "Let them go," he gestures at his friends. "I can't," she says in a voice as broken and lifeless as her body, "If I do, I won't be able to hold the children either. They lack restraint." They are following her; moving when she moves, stopping when she stops. Her words could be true. On the chance that they are, he refrains from filling her full of lead (well, gauze) and considers other options. While he's considering, he asks her who she is, how she got here and what her intentions are. She considers a moment, and then says: "She says I was called Gwynneth." Someone captured her and brought her to this place. She doesn't know who they are, only that they hurt her. All she wants to do now is take the "little lost ones" and leave.

Annie and Tom, moving like sleepwalkers, are slowly walking towards Hecate. Or, rather, Gwynneth. Still keeping his weapon trained on the ghost -- he's still considering just opening fire -- James moves towards Annie and shakes her. As soon as he swings her towards him so that she can no longer see Gwynneth, Annie snaps out of her trance with a start, and asks what's happening. James tells her that she looked at "that woman over there" -- gesturing -- and then froze. Unfortunately, Annie instinctively looks in the direction he's pointing… and is immediately entranced again. Cursing, James wakes her up again. This time, he turns her to face away from Hecate first. Tom, alas, is still blazing merrily away with Witch's Nimbus, so they can't get close enough to him to wake him up.

James fills Annie in on what she missed, while Gwynneth and her brood just stand there. When she hears the name, Annie realises why woman looked familiar. She's never met her before, but Tom and Teresa have: this is the same ghost that was haunting Jayne Jonestown. [6] Carefully not looking in her direction, Annie says: "The exit is that way." She points. "There's a barrier up at the moment, though, and I don't think we'll be able to pass through it." Gwynneth looks lost. She leads her charges towards the exit, carefully turning away from Tom, the only remaining entranced spook. As soon as he can no longer see her face, he snaps out of it. Annie and James fill him in.

What the reaction to all this within the glass compound is, no one knows. Reading the body language as best as anyone can, it would probably be unprintable. Apparently, whatever they were expecting, it wasn't this.

They test the barrier, and find that it is, as they suspected, impenetrable to gauze. Tom powers down his aura and manifests so he can take a look at the security system. After some fiddling around, he manages to override the lockdown and raise the barrier. He also frees the ghosts chained over the conveyor belt (there are three of them). As soon as there's a clear escape route, Gwynneth starts to head towards it and then stops. "You should leave now," she says. "She says that others will be here soon." It seems she means that spectres will be turning up imminently. Annie speaks with her for a short while, telling her that she doesn't have to go back to the spectres, but Gwynneth will not be persuaded. She says that they're -- well, she's -- all she has left. The last thing she says to Annie is: "Teresa sends her greetings." Before she can respond, the black figures scramble up the vehicle lift and out, pulling Gwynneth along behind them. There is no more time for questions.

It doesn't seem like they have much time, so they quickly search the complex and find John locked up in one of the cells. Tom opens the door and removes his chains. He seems quite pleased to see them. There isn't really the time to question him about what happened. While they were searching, they came across something interesting: a room full of sleeper tubes. There are forty of these, and they are all occupied. It looks like they've found the rest of the missing homeless people. This casts the 'ghosts' they've seen and fought in a new and disturbing light in that they're obviously not ghosts at all: they're projectors. But they don't have the time to investigate further right now.

Frank -- who is still concealed from view -- notices that one of the black vans is occupied. Investigating further, he finds a man hiding in the back. He alerts the others, who go over to take a look. John recognises him as one of the thugs who grabbed him, and decides that he wants to get some answers and some payback. Possibly not in that order. He possesses the man and tells everyone to get in. (They bring the spooks that they managed to free from the conveyor belt.) After going up in the vehicle lift, he drives out through the loading bay, not taking the time to actually open the bay doors first. As they tear around the carpark, they see the Convergence clustered around Gwynneth and another figure, a shadowy double of Gywnneth, only with dark pits for eyes. Not-Gwynneth. Gwynneth and her double embrace, and start to merge as the van races out of the carpark and away.(The presence of Not-Gwynneth comes as something of a surprise, because Tom and Teresa dispersed her some time ago. Apparently she came back. This is unfortunate news, both because she's still around and, if she can come back, other spectres might be able to. Perhaps they haven't seen the last of the Reaper after all.)

As they drive, Annie Inhabits the John's host's mobile phone and calls Ben, telling him it's time to leave. (They think he -- and their bodies -- will probably be safe from the spectres where they are, but why take chances?) Rather than going back to Brooke House, they drive around for a little while -- just in case anyone's following them somehow -- and then find somewhere to park up so John can rifle through his host's memories. Ben was going to head back to Brooke House with their bodies, but Annie asks him to rendezvous with them first, so they can transfer the rescued spooks to him. She asks him to ask Lo-Jack to look after them for the time being. While he's there, they fill him in on what happened and he decides to stick around for the interrogation. (Incidentally, Ben tells them that he didn't feel and of the energy spikes they caused. It seems likely that the black-glass substance blocks the passage of spook energy as well as gauze.)

The possessed man is called Rick Addams and he's worked for the company for about nine months. (John and Tom know from their research that it was set up about nine months ago. It looks like this man has been in it from the start.) The boss is a man called Henry Cochrane, and he's the man Annie saw in the office upstairs. He's worked for Henry before, mainly as muscle. Henry's worked for a number of shady companies, doing various shady things. His work seems to mainly involve acting as a fixer, and he often operates in the third world. (Managing a spook research facility seems a little outside his normal area of employment.) Rick was hired to grab homeless people and ghosts off the street, and bring them to the factory. He found Gwynneth wandering around Queens, looking lost. (As that's where the Orpheus building was, it seems that she was trying to take Tom and Teresa up on their offer of sanctuary.) Abduction expeditions usually consist of both black vans, each with two men in them. They've never really needed anything more than that, as their targets don't tend to give them too much trouble. John was probably the most challenge they've had in a while.

The reason Rick was hiding in the van was because he didn't make it into the panic room (the one barricaded behind the enormously thick black-glass shield) before the barrier came down. (Unsurprisingly, someone hit the panic button when the rescuers dived into the building.) He was hoping that whoever it was wouldn't see him. This seems to be about the limit of his useful information. He doesn't really know anything about the rest of the operation. John goes through his pockets, finding a taser and a gun. From Rick's memories, he knows that this is anti-spook gear.

There is some discussion about what to do now. Everyone is agreed that they want to go back and loot the facility. At the very least, working cryo-tubes will effectively double the number of active projectors they have. The main question is: how long do they wait before going back in? None of them particularly want to run into spectres, but if they leave it too long, the place may already have been cleared out. As they're debating this, Annie uses her developing Forebode ability to see what's likely to happen if they go back after sunrise. As she concentrates, she catches a glimpse of a figure through one of the windows of the van and then Teresa is abruptly inside, reaching for her hand. When they touch, the two of them are somewhere else. They are inside the factory, and they are all alone there. The machinery still hums quietly to itself, but all of the cell doors are open and there is blood everywhere. It spatters the walls and pools on the floor, forming long streaks where it looks like someone tried to cling onto the tiles as they were dragged away. Whoever it was did not go peacefully. There are no bodies anywhere: just the blood. Annie just about has time to see that the cryo-tubes still nestle snugly in their frames before she is yanked back into the van.

Annie tells the others what she saw, and they decide to go in just after sunrise. The projectors return to their bodies. Rather than going back to Brooke House, they decide to spend the night in the black van. It's not very comfortable, but it'll save them time and maximise the amount of rest they can get (and, therefore, the amount of vitality they can recover) before going back into the factory. John is going to have to stay awake anyway if he wants to keep hold of his host, so he will keep watch. Ben takes the ghosts to Brooke House and gives them into Lo-Jack's care.

The next morning, Ben meets up with the others. They move into the back of his van and project. John drives the black van to the factory -- entering the building through the hole they made on their way out -- while Ben heads to a designated rendezvous point. The factory looks much as it did in Annie's vision. There is one small setback, though: the platform of the vehicle lift has been torn in two. Fortunately, Tom is able to Inhabit and repair it so they can get the van downstairs. Whilst this is happening, the incorporeal James hunts through the factory above. It is devoid of life and bodies, but blood covers the floor to a one inch level. Near the security office, he finds a few bullet holes in the wall. A very few. Hunting around a bit more, he manages to find a box of 9mm ammunition in the factory, he begins the slow and annoying task of dragging it across the floor to the van using Helter-Skelter without any use of energy.

The Orpheus spooks ‘liberate’ as much equipment as they can from the Mastworth Packing plant. There are forty Sleeper tubes altogether, and all of them are occupied. Assuming that each of the drones here corresponded to one of these people, most of them are dead by now. The ones that they released from the conveyor belt still be alive, but none of the Orpheus spooks have enough experience with cryo-tubes to make any sense of the read-outs. Although it would technically be possible to use Inhabit to keep the tubes powered during transit, it substantially increase the amount of time they need. Given the low odds of any particular tube's occupant still being alive, they decide not to take the risk. (It takes two people to lift each cryo-tube.)

After loading the two black vans with as much stuff as will fit, they drive their haul to the agreed rendezvous point and transfer it to Ben’s van. He drives the first load to their warehouse and then returns for the second lot. (It's a bit of a convoluted way of doing it, but they don't want to just drive the black van to the warehouse in case anyone sees. As it is, the warehouse is a little close for comfort. As soon as they can, they're going to hire premises elsewhere and transfer everything there.) By midday, they’ve managed to acquire four sleeper tubes, the hard-drives from all the computers they can find and as much anti-spook gear as they can get their hands on (two panes of black glass, a couple of boxes of bullets, a couple of tasers, a box of manacles, two headsets and four CCTV cameras). They decide not to risk spending any more time poking around here, and hole up in the warehouse to examine their new stuff. [7]

John puts Rick (the hired thug he’s currently possessing) on a bus heading to some random destination, leaping out of him once the vehicle is under way. (He’s been keeping the man’s mind unconscious for the duration of the possession, so he doesn’t know anything about them.) Annie stays behind to keep an eye on the building. (She Inhabits the window of a nearby warehouse, approaching from the far side and taking care to stay out of sight of Mastworth’s security cameras.) After a couple of hours of waiting, Annie sees two more black vans pull up. Some men get out and enter the building. They’re dressed as workmen and carrying toolbags, but they look like people trained for and expecting trouble. A couple of hours after they enter, a lorry pulls up and people start loading it up with equipment. It looks like they’re going to be there for some time, so Annie returns to her body.

Everyone who’s interested -- pretty much all of them -- examines the security camera footage from the previous night. When Annie and Tom dived into the factory -- the other two were invisible at this point -- an alarm sounded downstairs. Everyone in the underground research facility piled into the panic room. Rick didn’t make it in time, and was trapped outside when the thick black-glass barrier came down. He ducked into one of the black vans, presumably hoping that the intruders wouldn’t notice him. The next part unfolds as they remember. (Interestingly, when Gwynneth used Unearthly Repose it appeared to have an effect on the cameras. The picture is granular and distorted whenever she is visible and using the horror.) When Gwynneth and the “Convergence” head outside, the group look at the footage from the external cameras to see what happened next. The spectre they’ve christened “Not-Gwynneth” appeared, seeming to merge with Gwynneth until only one entity remained. The image briefly dissolves into static, and more spectres are visible in the car park when it clears. Those that witnessed the spectres taking part in NextWorld’s attack on the Orpheus building recognise the rolling cloud of darkness. There is also one that looks like the victim of a car accident, and another that resembles a giant, gelatinous figure, as well as some other unpleasant looking entities.

The whole group -- including Gwynneth and the Convergence -- entered the ground level of the factory, the Convergence simply flowing through the walls and spreading out into the room. There were an awful lot of them. The security guards -- who’d been watching events on the security cameras -- opened up with their (presumably anti-spook) guns, but the battle was short-lived: they died. Henry Cochrane and the zombies were also killed. (Gwynneth and another spectre manifested to kill Cochrane and the security guards.) The zombies all left ghosts, most of which were absorbed by the rolling darkness or eaten by the Convergence. Gwynneth’s face started to glow at this point, suggesting she was using Unearthly Repose again. It’s unclear what she was trying to do, as the cameras apparently shut down at this point. The ones in the basement must have be somewhat more resilient, as Gwynneth’s earlier use of Unearthly Repose only distorted the image, rather than taking the cameras completely offline.)

As the violence above ground continued, it left a lot of bodies. Before the cameras cut out upstairs, the footage shows the giant spectre move over these one at a time. It seems to have been absorbing them into its flesh; something the watchers have never even heard of before, let alone seen. Once absorbed, the shapes of the bodies can be seen pressing against its skin; still intact. From the camera in the lift room, which is out of sight of the massacre and still online, the giant destroyed the platform of the vehicle lift, simply taking hold of it and tearing it in two. Some of the bodies it absorbed fell out during the exertion -- confirming that they were still intact -- but it simply flowed over them again to reabsorb them.

The spectres next entered the basement level, smashing open the cell doors without too much difficulty. Some of the spooks inside were absorbed or eaten, but by no means all of them. The ones mutated enough to be considered spectres themselves simply joined their “kin”. The chained spooks were gathered up by the giant spectre -- it took hold of their chains to drag them along with it -- and taken upstairs. All the cameras in the building flicker and go offline for a second or two, and then he returned with Gwynneth, alone. Once all the imprisoned spooks had been dealt with, the spectres turned their attention to the panic room. They tried to break through the black-glass barrier, but to no avail. Even the giant’s mighty fists couldn’t so much as dent it, and it seemed to have grown in strength as it absorbed more bodies. Contact with the material seemed to disperse the energy of their attacks, and their gauze.

The people inside visibly relaxed at the spectres’ failure to penetrate the barrier, presumably believing that they were safe. One of them -- the guard at the room’s control panel -- even started to doze at his station. There was one man that didn’t relax, however. If anything, he was exhibiting signs of stress. After a few minutes of getting increasingly twitchy and on edge, he pulled a patch out of his pocket and applied it to his arm. Settling down as if to sleep, his tension eased noticeably and he projected. Naturally, he didn’t leave the compound. The stalemate lasted for about half an hour -- staff trapped inside, spectres patiently waiting outside -- and then Gwynneth stepped forward, her face starting to glow. Closing her eyes, she started to slump, her posture mirroring that of the sleeping guard. After a few moments, she opened her eyes again and reached forward. The guard mimicked her movements, flipping a switch on the panel before him. The barrier started to rise. The people inside the compound tried desperately to get it closed again, but they were too late: the spectres flooded in and everyone died. When the projector’s ghost formed, Gwynneth wrapped gauze chains around him -- it isn’t clear where she got them from -- and dragged him away. Although the recording has no sound, it’s clear that he was screaming.

The Orpheus spooks turn their thoughts to something slightly less depressing: what to do with their new stuff. Now that they have some sleeper tubes, they need somewhere to install them; preferably somewhere not in the same industrial estate as the place they acquired from. This is a job for Money Man! (Or, John, as he is more conventionally known.) With all their recent expenditures, they can’t really afford to splash out on a high-end facility, so he looks at somewhere more affordable prospects, locating one in an industrial estate towards the outskirts of the city. It’s close enough that they can get from there to the city without too much inconvenience and (importantly) leasing it is within their means. He uses his financial knowledge to cover their tracks so that no one will connect the two leases to each other, or to the group. Once they have the lease (and, importantly, the keys), they transfer everything to those premises. (All the equipment they ordered has since been delivered.) The other thing they’re going to need before they can use the sleeper tubes is knowledge of how to use them. To that end, John looks up cryogenics companies online (using their shiny new computer). The nearest one is a company called “Dormant Phoenix Cryogenics”. The group discuss possessing one of their technicians to acquire the technical knowledge they need.

Annie returns to Brooke House and talks to Lo-Jack, giving him a summary of what they found at the plant. He is stunned that someone has been experimenting on the living and the dead like that, and is very glad that particular operation has been shut down. When Annie says that they’re going to try to find the people behind it, he offers the help of himself and some of the other Brooke House ghosts in dealing with them. She thanks him for his offer. The spooks they freed from the conveyor belt are still unresponsive, but Lo-Jack and his people are looking after them as best as they can. While she’s there, she checks up on the tablet and on Mona. Both of them are still there, and appear unchanged. Annie shares some of her vitality with Mona again and tries talking to her, but there is no response. She suggests that the other Brooke House ghosts do the same thing regularly, in the hopes of strengthening Mona’s connection to the “real” world. It’s the only way she can think of to try to stop her drifting away.

The computer hard-drives they retrieved from Mastworth Packing contain a lot of data: it’s going to take them several days (at the very least) to go through it all. The bulk of the information they come across seems to relate to the five-stage “processing” procedure that the report on Cochrane’s computer summarised. The aim of the first stage appears to have been to perfect the creation of sleepers. The cryo-tubes were built on-site and are very much prototypes, with abducted homeless people being used to optimise the freezing process. The first stage experiments were started about nine months ago (when the company was registered) and initially used only a handful of abductees at a time. These were just frozen down and then revived again. Of the subjects in the first few batches, only a very small number actually survived the procedure. These were put under again. After about a month of refining the freezing and revival protocol, mortality was down to 50%.

At this point, the researchers started to inject their subjects with a drug compound before putting them under. In the notes, it’s referred to only as “P1354” with no mention of the formula. (It appears to have been shipped in from another site -- from the notes and the camera footage, they seemed to receive regular deliveries.) When the subjects injected with P1354 were frozen down, they started to project. The spooks were captured (using restraints like the ones the group found) and led to cages for stage two processing. After a further two months of refining the Sleeper protocol, the mortality rate for this part of the process had been reduced to less than 1%.

Once they had reliable method of creating projectors, they moved on to the second stage of processing: brainwashing the spooks they’d produced. The aim of this appears to have been to make them pliable, obeying their controllers commands without question. This was achieved by torturing the subjects using methods (apparently developed elsewhere) specifically tailored to gauze physiology. These primarily involved repeatedly passing objects through them (using the conveyor belt in the basement) and preventing them from entering fugue state. The combination of pain and sleep deprivation eventually broke the spooks’ will and stripped their sense of identity.

The company brought in an expert to oversee the second stage processing: a man referred to as Dr Mark Velvet. Annie recognises the name: a psychologist who was stripped of his license for “unethical practice” and “failing to ensure the good health of his experimental subjects”. Specifically, he ran a version of the Stanford experiment in which a number of the participants suffered nervous breakdowns and long-term mental damage. (All in all, it looks like they picked the right man for the job.) He seemed to come in about once a week to personally take part in the subjects’ “conditioning”. Looking at the corresponding CCTV footage, they realise that Dr Velvet was the projector whom Gwynneth chained and dragged away during the spectre attack. Before interacting with the subjects, he would lie down in the panic room (referred to as the “safe room” by the researchers), apply a patch to his arm and then project. From the subjects’ reactions, he apparently had the ability to create illusions, which he used as another method of torture.

The reports note that one of the side-effects of second stage processing was the development of “mutations” in a proportion of the subjects. Once a subject reached a certain level of mutation, their bodies would die and their ghosts would be refractory to processing. These were considered “uncontrollable” and would either be shipped to another holding facility, or used for what was called “advanced” or “stage four” processing. (The images of the so-called “mutated subjects” look a lot like what the Orpheus spooks would call spectres.) Mutations were generally considered undesirable side-effects, as they restricted the usefulness of the subjects. The researchers were losing about a quarter of their subjects to mutation, which they seemed to consider acceptable.

Occasionally, when multiple spooks reached the mutation threshold at the same time, they would form a “Convergence”. Their minds would merge together to form a collective, as demonstrated by the fact that they would move and act as one entity. Study of the Convergence formed a sub-project separate from the normal processing route. (The records seem to suggest that either this phenomenon has never been observed at other sites, or that it tends to involve different types of subjects. It isn’t clear which.) The researchers note that the state of Convergence persisted even upon separation of individuals. Further processing of individuals has been unsuccessful, and they lost five subjects in the last attempt. (There is mention of one of the members of staff -- a Mr Williams -- being hospitalised as a result, but it isn’t clear what happened. He was expected to recover.) Apparently acting upon a suggestion from Dr Velvet, the researchers attempted to “harmonise” additional subjects with an existing Convergence, with some success.

The researchers note the capture of an unusually powerful ghost a couple of months ago. (This was clearly Gwynneth.) Dr Velvet personally took the time to “process” (i.e., break) her. Once suitably conditioned, they gave her the designation “Hecate” and used her to perform unspecified tasks. Whatever she was used for, her performance was apparently entirely satisfactory, up until New Year’s eve. At this point, she became unstable and stopped responding to her handlers’ commands. Instead, she seemed to be acting upon instructions only audible to her. (It’s unclear whether this was connected to the spectres’ actions and the attack on Orpheus, but the timing seems unlikely to be coincidental.) Re-processing had no discernible effect on her (other than to degrade her form somewhat), so she was confined and studied. She had been marked for advanced processing.

The third stage of processing involved defrosting the subjects who had been successfully broken to test whether their conditioning still held. These people were the “zombies” that Annie had seen in the ground-level packing plant. From the notes, the processing held adequately and the subjects could be used for manual labour with little difficulty. The only real problem was that they lacked the free will to take care of themselves, and unless specifically ordered to eat and sleep, for example, they would work themselves to death. The researchers had been working on improving mortality rates.

Stage four (also called “advanced”) processing was an alternative route to stage three and was initiated by Dr Velvet. Rather than returning the conditioned spooks to their bodies, they were instead used to imbue objects with anti-spook properties. Repeatedly passing an object through a spook apparently infuses it with gauze: this was what the sleepers chained to the conveyor belt were being used for. To fix the desired property in the item, the spook used to infuse it must be dispersed at the end of the process. A single spook can be used to imbue a number of objects in this way. The procedure wasn’t actually developed on this site, but somewhere else. (It’s clear from the information on the hard-drives that the company behind this research is operating multiple sites.) They noted that, while spooks of any shade could be used to imbue any type of object, it was more efficient to use specific shades for specific types. For example: Banshees were best for cameras and other sensors, Poltergeists for bullets and restraints, Skinriders for body armour and Haunters for the black-glass barriers and tasers. By using that scheme, they could create more imbued objects per spook, and the items would be more powerful. Additionally, the greater a spook’s luminosity (i.e., the higher its vitality), the more items it could imbue.

Once the advanced processing techniques had been refined to a suitable level of efficiency, the plant shifted its focus away from scientific research and towards the mass production of imbued items. Research was still conducted, but was generally slanted more towards discovering methods of improving the manufacturing process. A great many more subjects were needed, so the frequency and scale of the abductions were stepped up. Stage four processing also served as a disposal route for spooks that were considered to have no other use.

The reports refer to stage five processing, but this still seems to have been at the pilot stage. It’s possible that they were planning to incorporate it into their routine procedures at some point, or it might have been intended for use at other sites. The experiments involved only one spook, and it was someone that the Orpheus spooks know: Shelley Jackson, a member of Delta crucible. (She was killed during the attack, but left a ghost. Craig saw her briefly when he went back to the sites, but she raved incoherently at him, shouting “they came through the wires” before diving into a computer and vanishing.) The camera footage shows a black glass cylinder being wheeled into the facility about a week and a half ago. Inside was a chained and obviously terrified Shelley. Dr Velvet took a particular interest in her, tormenting her with illusions. He managed to break her in about half a week.

Once the researchers were satisfied that the conditioning would hold, they repeatedly passed computer equipment through her to imbue it with her essence, and then destroyed it. (This was different to the stage four processing, when it was the spook that was destroyed, rather than the object.) The intent of this appears to have been to create a “ghost” of the computer equipment that became part of Shelley’s gauze. From the notes, this procedure had been attempted before without success, but this time it worked. (The researchers speculated that their previous subjects simply weren’t powerful enough to sustain the gauze version of the object.) The CCTV images show bits of wire and circuitry embedded in Shelley’s body, with no clear boundary between them and her. It looks like the computer really did become a part of her.

The reason for using computer equipment was apparently so the researchers could experiment with methods of controlling spooks remotely. She was the only success to date. Other spooks seemed to lack the cohesion to sustain any such changes. Additionally, Shelley demonstrated the ability to travel along power lines. The researchers gave her the designation “Hermes” and report successfully using her to complete some external assignments. The nature of these assignments is not specified. There is an entry in her file noting that she was shipped to a secondary test facility.

John looks through the company’s financial information, hoping to be able to find out who’s behind them by following the money trail. It certainly looks like a lot of money has been thrown at the operation, but it’s been funnelled through various accounts in the Cayman Islands. Someone who knows what they’re doing has obviously taken great pains to ensure that the money can’t simply be followed back to the source. That said, John is confident that he will be able to track it back eventually; it’s just going to take quite a bit of time.

Looking at the company’s outgoings, one thing stands out: a large payment to an “E. Torrence”. There are two interesting points regarding this payment. First, the date corresponds to when Shelley was delivered, suggesting that there might be a connection. Second, Annie recognises the name: there was an Ethan Torrence among the inmates believed to have died in the Marion Prison fire. Curiouser and curiouser. John digs deeper, discovering that the Torrence account is an online one that was set up by Henry Cochrane on the same day that the payment was made. Money occasionally goes into it -- both from Mastworth and from other sources -- but goes out much more frequently. Withdrawals have been made from cash machines in a number of major cities, but mostly in New York. Oddly, withdrawals in different locations (whether different places in New York, or different cities) are have sometimes been made within moments of each other. As only one card seems to have been issued for the account, this is rather strange. (Possibly one or more spooks with Inhabit are involved; or just one that can travel along the power lines like Shelley. There were the unidentified spooks that Craig spotted entering the wreckage of the Orpheus building, but not leaving.) As well as cash withdrawals, the account has seen some payment activity, generally to pizza delivery companies, “massage parlours” and similar local shops and service providers.

The computer hard-drives hold one last piece of useful information: a saved file of address labels. These correspond to a factory just outside of Albany, and the volume of labels suggests that shipments are frequently sent from here to there. This alone makes the place of interest, but the group speculate that the Albany location could be the secondary site referred to in the reports. The evidence is only circumstantial -- they know that packages of imbued items are regularly sent there, and these are the only address labels to fill an entire page of the file -- but it is relatively compelling. Between this and the financial information, they have some solid leads to follow up on.

As well as analysing the data on the computer hard-drives, various people take the opportunity to do some training. James starts to learn Puppetry from John, and Frank develops Flesh Flux under Annie’s tutelage. After a couple of days of training and analysis, Hoyt calls Tom to say that he and the others (Blink, Zoë and Zoë’s mysterious friend the possibly ex-contract killer) will be arriving in New York in a couple of hours. Tom arranges to meet up with them by a subway station on the outskirts of the city (and, more importantly, nowhere near Brooke House or either of their warehouses). It actually turns into something of a group outing, as Annie, John, James and Frank tag along as well. Those with bodies all project, as none of them really want to risk potentially walking into an ambush while in the flesh. (Frank makes himself invisible before setting out, just in case. In case of what isn’t clear, but then he’s secretive like that.)

The meeting happens without incident. Zoë and Blink are in quite bad shape, she because it’s only been just over a fortnight since she was badly mauled by a spectre and he because he’s been without his anti-cancer drugs and under extreme physical and mental stress for that length of time. Zoë is wearing a baseball cap, slumping down in the back seat both to try to keep out of sight and because that’s all she has the energy to do. (Not that she’d ever admit that, of course.) The edge of a piece of tinfoil can be seen poking out from under her cap: a low-tech, non-horror temporary solution to the problem of her chip. After greetings have been exchanged, Tom deals with the chip somewhat more permanently.

Hoyt gives the floor to Matthieu Kerekov -- Zoë’s friend -- saying that this is his show. Kerekov (who can obviously see and hear the projectors) opens with the revelation that he used to work for NextWorld. This doesn’t precisely go down well. Annie asks if he was involved in the attack on Orpheus, but he says that he wasn’t, adding that the attack was the reason that he and NextWorld parted ways. That buys him a little time, and so he starts his story at the beginning. The head of NextWorld is -- or, rather, was -- an English expatriate named Sir Alfred Jennings. When someone -- Kerekov claims not to know who -- tried to hire NextWorld to take out Orpheus, Jennings didn’t want to take the contract. He thought it was a zero sum game that would end up coming back to bite them. However, not everyone agreed with his assessment. Specifically, an influential man called Kerpov thought they should take the contract, and he had the support of most of the projectors. He took over NextWorld in what Kerekov calls “a very Russian way”. Kerekov -- who claims to be loyal to Jennings -- got out ahead of the inevitable purge.

Naturally, people are curious as to the circumstances that caused his and Zoë’s paths to cross. There is also the not-inconsequential matter of what it is he wants. The former is relatively straightforward: as a former gun for hire, he had a BlackNet account, and saw the Orpheus contracts there. He was in Portland at the time, so Zoë was the easiest one to make contact with. At that point, he had a vision that if they stayed in Portland they would die (he’s a skimmer, and apparently a Banshee), so they left post haste. Zoë said she had friends in New York, so that’s where they decided to go. As for why he made contact in the first place: he wants to join forces with the Orpheus survivors. NextWorld are after him, and he figures he’ll have a better chance of survival with allies like them. As far as anyone can tell, he seems to be sincere. When Annie asks him point blank why they should trust him, he points out that he could have easily led them into an ambush. NextWorld now has anti-spook technology: the fact that they’re projecting wouldn’t necessarily help them. It’s a good point. It doesn’t mean he is on the level, of course, but -- after the inevitable discussion -- they decide to give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment.

So they only compromise one of their bases, they take Kerekov to the new warehouse. He seems quite impressed, especially when he sees the sleeper tubes. (He -- like all of NextWorld’s projectors -- is a skimmer.) Now they’re off the streets and out of sight, they question him more closely. The contract is obviously something they want to know as much about as possible. Unfortunately, he doesn’t actually know that much about it. Jennings obviously did, and presumably Kerpov does. Possibly some of NextWorld’s accountants or administrators know who actually placed it, but that information doesn’t tend make it to the agents. What he does know is that whoever hired them didn’t just want to take out the other projector companies: they wanted everyone who could see ghosts to end up dead. This includes mediums, paranormal investigators, pigment users; the lot. (Checking the obituaries, it does seem like there have been a larger than expected number of mediums dying lately. These deaths seem to be generally attributed to accidents or natural causes, but if NextWorld are behind them that’s not exactly surprising.) He doesn’t really know any specifics about the Orpheus attack, other than that it was to happen. The fact that spectres were working with NextWorld seems to surprise him -- he’d never heard of such a collaboration before, and the possibility certainly hadn’t been mentioned to the operatives when he left.

Questioning Kerekov more generally about his background and NextWorld, they find out that he’s originally from Liberia. He was in the army special forces, and then drifted into mercenary work, which was when NextWorld hired him. All those brushes with death made him a good candidate for becoming a skimmer, and he has managed to learn Wail and Forebode. (Although, he admits, neither of those are especially potent.) At the time of his departure, NextWorld had fifteen projectors and one hundred non-projecting soldiers. Kerpov is from Soviet Russia, where he took in charge of one of their cold war psychic research program. This is the source of the methods NextWorld use to produce skimmers. Kerekov is based in Texas, as was Jennings. (Jennings owned an extensive estate there.) The two of them set up NextWorld together, although Jennings actually ran the company. N’Kejeda, as Tom discovered, was ex-US military. He was recruited in 2001 as part of a drive to get more of a foothold in the American market. The blonde woman who attacked Annie (and was messily torn apart by the spectre) was an ex-GRU agent called Valerie Mirokova. She was recruited through Kerpov’s contacts.

When they’ve finished questioning Kerekov (at least for the moment), everyone except John returns to Brooke House. (He stays behind to keep an eye on their guest.) Tom goes in the car so he can direct Hoyt, while Annie and Frank make their own way back. (It would be quite a tight squeeze otherwise.) Now that they have the warehouse, some of them decide to decamp there from Brooke House. (It’s certainly easier to get in and out of than the rehab centre, as they don’t have to try to sneak their way past staff.) Chet and his patients (Kate, Zoë and Blink) remain at Brooke House, as does Annie. Everyone else moves to the warehouse. (Ben still spends most of his time out on the streets, however.)

When Kerekov sleeps, Frank seizes the opportunity to rifle through his dreams. (Annie suggests that he take a look to see if the man can be trusted, but he was already planning on doing so for his own reasons.) Kerekov’s dreams seem to revolve around trying to avoid being killed. Given that he’s on the run from NextWorld, that’s not exactly surprising. Frank looks for emotional blackmail material, but there doesn’t seem to be anything much: Kerekov’s biggest tie was to Jennings. Now Jennings is gone, he’s pretty much just looking out for number one. He does seem to have become fond of Zoë, but Frank isn’t sure what that actually means. As far as he can tell, Kerekov isn’t intending to kill them or turn them in. If he thinks being with them would endanger him, then he’d leave them without a second thought; his own safety is paramount. There are no indications that this is all some elaborate ploy to infiltrate and then betray them, however. Frank tries to deepen his feelings for Zoë.


Footnotes


[1] There are things that keep a ghost tied to this world rather than passing on. These are called tethers, and are usually focused around something they feel they need to do, or something that's so important to the person in life that they just can't leave it behind in death. (The 'unfinished business' that comes up so often in ghost stories.) It's possible to sense a ghost's tethers and to receive flashes of insight (usually in the form of visions) into what they might be. If they manage to achieve their goal, or complete their unfinished business, etc., a spook of the same shade type (Banshee, Wisp, etc) can use some of their energy to break this tie. Having tethers resolved like this tends to make a ghost more aware of themselves and their surroundings. When enough of them have been resolved -- sometimes all of them, sometimes less that that -- they will pass over. No one knows where they go, but everyone who's ever been involved in passing a ghost over has reported sensing feelings of peace and happiness when it happens. This is also true for resolving tethers, but the feelings are much less intense. In either case, the process releases energy which replenishes that used to break the tether.[Back]

[2] Gwynneth is the ghost haunting goth rocker Jayne Jonestown. See Mission Three, The Party Spirit.[Back]

[3] The incident that led to the formation of the mental link between the three women. See First Interlude.[Back]

[4] The report:

Report for Week ending Jan 16
Stage 1:
Stage 1 mortality statistics down to below 1%. Dr. Feinstein is confident that in another month, the protocols should be 
sufficiently refined to use elsewhere.
Stage 2:
Processing protocols continue to seem to be fully effective. Mutation rate amongst subjects is holding at 25% for initial 
processing, 
rising with time. No further convergences have been observed since last report.
Stage 3:
Processing appears to be holding in these subjects. Longevity is greatly reduced, with proper nutrition and training to prevent 
mortality due to exhaustion.
Stage 4:
Advanced processing continues. Production is meeting targets in all areas.
Stage 5:
Subject Hermes has been exceeding expectations in tests, and has successfully fulfilled some initial external assignments.
Subproject 1:
Convergence has been maintained, and persists even with separation of subjects. Mutation rate has stabilised, with little further 
change. Processing so far has been unsuccessful, with the loss of five subjects. Mr Williams has been hospitalised, but is expected 
to recover. Your suggestion has proven useful – additional subjects have successfully harmonised with proximity, though care has to 
be exercised in isolating them.
Additional Notes:
An interesting specimen has been obtained. Do you wish us to proceed, or do you want to intervene personally?

[Back]

[5] This only really makes sense if you know that Frank's player keeps cackling about all the evil things he's going to do to drive PCs and NPCs insane. Kate has been a particular target of his vitriol ever since she yelled at him. All these comments have -- either fortunately or unfortunately -- been out of character, so the only real in-character reason we have for suspecting him of villainy is the fact that he's a lawyer[Back]

[6] Mission Three: The Party Spirit[Back]

[7] Given the technology in evidence, Terrell & Squib are likely candidates to be behind this operation. Previously they weren't known to have any Sleepers (the spooks they have on staff tend to be ghosts), so it makes sense that they'd start looking into developing the technology. With Orpheus out of the picture, they would effectively dominate the market.[Back]