Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission009
- James Darkwood, Poltergeist
- Annie Harper, Metamorph (revenant)
- Tom Knox, Haunter
- Frank Nosrav, Magician
- John Reeve, Skinrider (hue)
- John “Blink” Carruthers, Wisp
- Adrian Challis, Wisp
- Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
- Kate Dennison, Banshee
- Chet Mason, Skinrider
- Hoyt Masterson, Haunter
- Zoë Vitt, Poltergeist
- Mitch, technician (non-projector)
- Lo-Jack, Wisp (hue)
- Mona, Banshee (ghost)
- Dr Eduardo Fernandez, chief physician at Dormant Phoenix Cryogenics
- Various spectres
Shadows of Destiny
During the night after John’s rescue from the hands of the Mastworth spook researchers, there is a Radio Free Death broadcast. It talks about the disappearances, saying that they were being tortured, turned into zombies and used to make anti-spook items. The broadcaster seems particularly wound up by this subject, seeming to work some variant of the word “fuck” into every sentence; often multiple times. (At one point he refers to the Mastworth researchers as “those fucking fuckers”.) He thanks the Orpheus spooks for putting a stop to it, but doesn’t mention the name “Orpheus”, saying only “you know who you are”. He tells his listeners to get word to the Brooke House ghosts if they catch wind of anything like this happening again, because they can get word to the people who can do something about it. Finally, he wraps up by saying if there’s anything Radio Free Death can do for them, all they have to do is get word to him. Which is all well and good, but they don’t actually know how to get word to him. Still, he does seem to be remarkably well-informed -- maybe all they have to do is send the message through the ghost community. Even if he does have contacts there though, that doesn’t explain how he found out so quickly. It’s a mystery.
The day after Hoyt and Blink turn up with Zoë and Matthieu, Annie finally decides to try to see the future that Mona was looking at during her last trance. Despite the risk, it’s important than she find out as much as she can about the apocalypse. There’s also Mona: maybe she’ll be able to find her, and to bring her back. Whichever way she looks at it, this is something she needs to do. She tells Lo-Jack what she’s going to do, and then calls James. (He’s agreed to use the benefit of Helter Skelter so that she doesn’t have to spend enough vitality to send off a pulse. This is useful, because she doesn’t want to draw every spectre and spook for miles around.) Lo-Jack still doesn’t want her to tell anyone else about Mona’s condition, so she tells James only that she’s had hints of some apocalyptically bad event in the future, and she wants to try to find out more. They project and take up positions outside Mona’s office. (It might be easier if they were actually inside the office, but then James would see Mona. This should be close enough, though.)
James does his thing -- the effect of it infusing her with a driving anger: she will do this -- and then she does hers. Teresa is abruptly standing before her, close enough to touch. The sight of her is like a knife in Annie’s heart, but then that’s nothing new. Using the rage as a focus to push the distraction aside, she asks Teresa to take her to the last future that Mona saw. Teresa reaches out slowly, gently enfolding Annie in her arms. For a moment or two the tableau holds, and then without warning, the embrace becomes a choking headlock, Teresa’s grip as unyielding as stone. Annie is helpless to do anything as she is dragged forward and then thrown. She stumbles, somehow managing to catch herself, and then…
It’s dark. It’s cold. She’s all alone. There is an overwhelming smell of damp, and the steady trickle and splash of water fills her ears. She’s standing up to her thighs in it; her legs already starting to go numb from the cold. Realising she can’t just stand here for too much longer, she cautiously moves to the right, stretching out her hand until her fingertips brush against something. It feels like a wall, the bricks and mortar damp and crumbling. The wall curves, arching up above her head, out of reach, where it presumably becomes a ceiling. Moving to the left hand side, she finds that also bounded by a curved brick wall: this seems to be a tunnel. There are no ledges or walkways, just this endless stream of freezing water coming from somewhere up ahead of her. With little else to do, she starts walking forward, against the current, hoping to find either Mona or a way out. Her eyes don’t adjust -- there is no light for them to adjust to -- so she shifts her hearing into the sonar range. It works, confirming that -- despite the evidence of her senses -- she is present in gauze rather than flesh.
After walking for a couple of minutes or so, she sees a ladder bolted to the wall. She really does see it, as a shaft of light trickles down from above to illuminate the rusty metal. Shifting her senses back, she looks up to see a circle of overcast sky. She climbs the rickety ladder and cautiously peers out. A manhole cover lies on the ground, just in front of her eyes. Belatedly, she realises that the tunnel is probably a storm drain. It’s raining right now: not heavily, but steadily. The ground is damp beneath the manhole cover, suggesting that it was moved after the rain started, but there’s nothing to suggest how much time has passed since it was moved aside. Climbing the rest of the way out, she finds herself in a small alleyway. Roads pass it at either end, and she can hear the sounds of traffic in the distance. A sign proclaims one of the roads to be “Baxter Street”. It’s nowhere she recognises, but the skyscrapers looming all around suggest this to be a city somewhere: it could be New York.
There are a few people on the street, hurrying to get out of the rain. Annie is scanning their faces to see if Mona is amongst them when she hears the sound. It’s a choir of the damned singing a chorus of pain and despair: muted screams and hopeless moans over the abattoir sound of steel slicing into flesh. She doesn’t just hear the sound, she feels it; resonating deep inside her. It’s horrifying, nauseating, but at the same time it calls to her. It’s calling her home. For some reason -- she doesn’t know why -- it makes her think of Teresa. As she tries to make sense of these sounds, these feelings, something slams into her, the force of it shredding her gauze. There are long moments of pain as it tears her to pieces, and then there is nothing at all.
It’s dark. It’s cold. She’s all alone. There is an overwhelming smell of damp, and the steady trickle and splash of water fills her ears. A bone-deep shudder runs through her, and it isn’t just from the freezing water she’s standing in. She died; a death more complete than the one the bullets gave her. But here she is, again. At least: she thinks it’s the same storm drain as before. It’s hard to be sure. In any case, she can’t stand around here so she starts to wade forwards again. This time, she trails a hand along the left hand wall to make sure she doesn’t miss the ladder. It is there, with the manhole cover to one side as it was before. Climbing up, she heads out onto the street again and immediately recognises Mona. Calling the ghost’s name, she moves towards her. Mona looks up, puzzled. When Annie gets close enough, she asks: “Who are you? How do you know my name?” Annie introduces herself and explains that she’s been staying at Brooke House, and that she knows Lo-Jack and company. That seems to take a while to sink in. More to herself than to Annie, Mona murmurs: “It’s been so long… I’d almost forgotten Brooke House.” Before Annie can say anything else she hears that sound again, and hard on its heels comes a vast rumbling. She starts to turn around, but isn’t quick enough to see her death approaching. It doesn’t hurt any less the second time around.
It’s dark. It’s cold. She’s all alone. There is an overwhelming smell of damp, and the steady trickle and splash of water fills her ears. Forcing herself to move, she splashes through the water towards where she thinks the ladder is. This time she finds it by walking straight into it: there is no helpful shaft of daylight to warn her. There’s another difference: sounds; a scraping noise. Dim light starts to filter down, showing Mona standing on the ladder, having just pushed the manhole cover aside. She stares at Annie, who says:
“Mona?” She isn’t sure if Mona actually recognises her at first, but then the ghost speaks, her voice utterly shocked.
“You… You remember?”
“No one else can.” They talk for a few minutes, Annie explaining how she got here. (Well, the fact that she used Forebode to try to see what Mona saw, anyway. She isn’t entirely certain of the how and why of it yet.) She’s starting to tell Mona what happened to her back in the physical world when that sound comes again. The rumbling isn’t far behind, quickly swelling to a deafening roar. The tunnel shudders and trembles until it seems that it will tear itself apart around them. Mona falls off the ladder, landing with a splash and a strangled cry. Annie is hit by chunks of falling masonry as she fights to keep her feet. Darkness falls again…
It’s dark. It’s cold. But… she’s not alone. Reaching out, she can feel the ladder and, next to it, Mona who -- from the splashing sounds -- is getting to her feet. They didn’t die this time. She didn’t die. The realisation that comes as something of a shock, despite the fact she’s ‘only’ gone through it twice . The experience has made something of an impression on her. Looking up, she can see that the solitary circle of sky has been eaten by something black and billowing. Even down here the air is thick with dust. She can’t really see it in the gloom, but she can feel it: choking her as she draws a breath; stinging as it swirls through her gauze. (Technically, she doesn’t need to breathe, but some habits are hard to break.)
“What… What was that?” Annie’s voice sounds hoarse to her own ears.
“You’ll see. Over and over again, you’ll see.” Mona’s tone is one of deep despair, and Annie has a bad feeling about her chances of getting out of this; of getting them both out of this. She suddenly realises that she can’t sense her physical body any more. She can’t even tell if her gauze body is here fully or if it’s still back at Brooke House, empty, like Mona’s. This… isn’t good. She might be trapped here, doomed to die over and over and over again, forever. Panic starts to well up inside her. To distract herself, she questions Mona some more.
“Why didn’t it go back to the beginning that time?”
“It only resets when you die.” If time is passing here at the same rate as in the physical world, then Mona has been trapped here for about four months, looping through the cycle too many times to count. That’s a lot of dying. Perhaps that’s why she sounds so listless and despairing. Even after talking with her for such a short period of time, it’s clear that she’s given up hope.
“Are we safe down here?” Presumably it was the initial blast, or shockwave, or whatever it was that tore her to pieces before. Apparently being down here provided enough shelter.
“Sometimes. Sometimes buildings help. It varies.” Mona’s voice starts to take on an edge of fear, dropping almost to a whisper. “There are other things, though.”
“What things?” Annie starts to ask, but -- as if on cue -- she can hear splashing noises from somewhere downstream. It sounds like a large group of people -- or something like that -- moving rapidly through the water, and they’re definitely getting closer.
“Oh God, it’s them. They’re coming.”
“What can we do? Is it safe to go up?” A quick glance at the open manhole shows that the black wind hasn’t thinned yet -- if it ever will -- and it doesn’t sound like they’ll be able to outrun whatever’s coming their way.
“Not again,” Mona sobs. “Not them, not again.” It doesn’t sound like she’s even aware of the question. That makes Annie’s mind up: even if it means being shredded again, she doesn’t want to meet them. She has a horrible feeling she knows just what they are… Grabbing hold of Mona, she bodily pushes her onto the ladder and tells her to climb. Slowly, shakily, she starts to do so, but it’s not fast enough. Annie has barely got onto the ladder herself when the wave hits. The spectres certainly feel real and physical as they drag Annie and Mona off the ladder. They swarm over the two women, a mass of tearing claws and biting teeth. There are too many to fight, and there’s no escape: there is absolutely nothing that they can do. Nothing except die. It takes much, much longer this time.
It’s dark. It’s cold. She’s all alone. Memories of terror and pain are raw and fresh in her mind, merging with those other memories until she can’t tell what’s real anymore or where she is. Maybe she’s back there again. Maybe she never really left. Maybe all that’s happened since has just been a terrible, terrible lie, or a hallucination, or a trick. Maybe any minute now they’re going to come back and hurt her again. And maybe it’ll be the one that wears her face, and knows her; knows her every fear. Knows how to make her scream. Someone’s screaming now, repeating the same words over and over again like an unanswered prayer: “Not again, not again, please don’t, please not again…” It’s her voice. She’s the one screaming. When she realises that, she makes herself stop and breathe. For a few moments, she just huddles there in the freezing water, pulling herself back together. It takes a few moments to get things straight in her mind and to remember that she isn’t the spectres’ prisoner any more. Teresa really did save her, and she came here -- in addition to looking for a way to avert the coming apocalypse -- to try to save Mona.
Since both of them died -- were torn to pieces -- events must have reset. She has to find Mona again. Struggling to her feet, she slogs through the tunnel until she runs into the ladder. “Mona?” The woman is sobbing quietly to herself. She rouses at Annie’s approach, and after a brief discussion they decide to try to wait out the next wave at the top of the ladder until the dust clears. Annie hopes it’s high enough that the spectres won’t notice them. She hopes that very much. Once the decision is made, they move quickly. Neither of them are sure how long it’s been since the beginning of this cycle, but they know they don’t have long. Sure enough, the screaming starts before they reach the top and the rumbling isn’t long behind it. The only thing they can do is try to hang on as the ladder attempts to tear itself free from the wall. Mona doesn’t manage it: the metal rung wrenches itself out of her hands and she falls, dragging Annie with her. Between the water and the shaking it’s a struggle to get back to their feet, so they’re still at the bottom when the spectres arrive. The dying isn’t any easier this time around.
Once Annie finds Mona again, they get above ground as quickly as possible. By unspoken agreement, both of them would rather have their gauze shredded by the killing wind than be caught by the spectres again. At least the former will be over fairly quickly. After climbing the ladder, Mona seems to go into shock. She wanders listlessly, dazed and uncaring. Annie tries to snap her out of it, but without success. She’ll passively follow orders and go where she’s directed, but that’s about it. They try to find a place to shelter, aiming for the nearest building -- a Chinese restaurant by the looks of it -- but don’t make it in time. They’re still on the street when the shockwave hits. The next time around, they do manage to get inside. When the blast hits the air quickly fills with choking, stinging dust, but the walls provide enough shelter to protect them from the worst of it. This time, they survive. For the moment.
Now she has a little time to catch her breath and take stock, Annie realises that she’s recovered the vitality she used a couple of iterations ago. That shouldn’t have happened. Perhaps as well as returning her to life, each new cycle resets her physical state to whatever it was when she first came here. She confirms this with Mona, who seems to be starting to recover a little more awareness. Talking with her seems to help, so Annie does so, asking her questions about this place, and about what happened to her. Mona tells her of the man she started to see in her visions; the man dressed in what looked like a prison jumpsuit.
“He could see me,” she says, keeping her voice low as if to avoid attracting his attention. “He was… He was hunting me.” A pause. “He trapped me here.” She was looking at points before the apocalypse she glimpsed, trying to find out the cause. As she wandered through one of them, she found her stalker. Or, rather, he found her. Before she could do anything, he shoved her and she fell. When she landed, she was somewhere cold and dark, alone. She’s been here ever since. At first she explored, trying to find out information, trying to change things; trying to find a way back. Perhaps she tried to do to much, wearing herself thin with the effort. As the months passed, she started to lose hope. She hasn’t been able to rest in longer than she can remember and, although her body is restored at the start of each cycle, all those deaths take a toll on the mind and soul. It sounds like she was about ready to give up completely when Annie arrived. That brief flare of hope she experienced when she realised that there was someone here who remembered is already starting to fade. “Now you’re trapped here too,” she says, dully.
“We don’t know that.” Even though a part of her mind is gibbering at the thought of being stuck in this place (this time?), Annie won’t let herself give in to panic. “If we work together, maybe we can make a way out. There has to be a way out.” Even she isn’t certain which one of them she’s trying to convince.
“Maybe.” But Mona doesn’t sound like she really believes that. She sounds like she’s just humouring her.
The wind is still howling outside, so they stay put for a little while longer. Mona tells Annie that this still seems to be New York, but sometime in the year 2004. When she got here, it was 2008. A number of cycles after that -- she isn’t sure how many -- it was 2007. Now it’s 2004. Out in the present, something’s changed, or is in the process of changing. Something is making the apocalypse happen earlier. This is most assuredly not good news. In previous iterations, she manifested and tried to warn people, but it didn’t do any good, not really. Perhaps one or two people lived who might otherwise have died if she hadn’t done anything, but in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t amount to much.
Eventually, the storm starts to quieten. The winds still howl, but they seem to have calmed enough not to be immediately fatal. Annie wants to go and take a look at the blast site. Mona refuses to say anything about what’s there, or even if she’s actually made it that far before. She certainly isn’t all that keen to go there, but then neither does she want to stay here on her own. In the end, she decides that she’d rather stick with Annie. “Besides,” she says, fatalistically. “Something’s going to kill us sooner or later, so it probably won’t make any difference in the end.” Annie doesn’t reply to that. When they leave the shelter of the building, the wind howls too loudly for conversation; not that either of them really feel like talking.
They force their way through it, towards where they think the explosion came from, heading into the wind. The air is still filled with choking clouds of dust. No, not dust: ashes. Even becoming immaterial doesn’t lessen the pervading, greasy, burnt stench. Nor does it stop the hot winds scouring their gauze, tearing off piece after piece after piece. It might not be immediately fatal but it still hurts. Walking through this for much longer is going to kill them. The only way they even have a chance of making it to their goal is to walk through buildings wherever possible. They try to make their way to the next block, but it’s dark enough that they can barely see their hands in front of their faces. Somehow, they go astray and spend a little time stumbling around. It’s too much time for Mona. One moment she is there, clutching Annie tightly by the hand, and the next she is simply… gone. She dies without a sound, the last of her gauze disappearing into the infernal wind. After a moment of indecision, Annie keeps going. If she doesn’t find shelter soon the same fate will befall her, and then she’ll have to do this again. Or find another way.
Close to the buildings, the ash-laden air is focused into a cutting stream, making the last couple of metres a harder slog than the entire rest of the journey. By the time she starts to think about trying another way in, Annie knows that she’ll never make it back through the wall of air. There is no choice but to go forward. Eventually -- it feels like it’s been hours since Mona was dispersed upon the wind, but it can’t be more than a few minutes -- her fingertips brush the wall. She’s already immaterial, so she starts to walk straight through it… And is enfolded by warm softness. After the constant pain of forcing her way through the wind storm, it comes as a shock. Dimly, she knows she has to keep moving, has to make it into the sanctuary and shelter of the building, but she can’t make her limbs work properly. A pleasurable, almost sexual feeling suffuses her wind-scoured body. It feels… It feels like someone is sharing vitality with her! And isn’t that… Could it be? Faintly, tenuously, she can feel a thread connecting her to… To her body? Her gauze? Hesitantly, she reaches for it with her mind, but it abruptly fizzles to nothing. Just as suddenly the warmth is gone, pain flooding back in its wake.
If a ghost could cry, she would be close to tears. To have the possibility of a way back dangled in front of her, only to be snatched away again; it’s just too cruel. A sudden thought -- that this is the kind of game they like to play -- brings a flutter of fear, but she forces that back down again, into the dark place where the memories lurk, waiting to fill her dreams. She has the uncomfortable feeling that there are more nightmares awaiting her if -- no, when -- she gets out of here, but that doesn’t matter right now. Someone just shared their vitality with her. Someone back in Brooke House? Is her gauze there, just like Mona’s? It seems likely. That means that the energy probably came from one of her crucible-mates. It’s what she told Lo-Jack and the others to do for Mona, working on the theory that it might act as a beacon, enabling her to find the ghost way home. Perhaps someone’s trying to do the same thing for her. Despite the lingering sense of loss -- one that, she tells herself, isn’t entirely rational -- she feels her spirits lift a little. They know something’s wrong and they’re trying to help. If they tried it once, maybe they’ll try it again. Perhaps she can use that faint, fleeting connection as a way back. It’s a slim hope, but right now it’s the only one she’s got.
Annie is lying on the floor just inside the building, apparently having just fallen through the wall. Even with the energy boost she’s still feeling fairly ragged, so rather than forging onwards straight away, she decides to take a few minutes to rest and recuperate. While she’s there, she has a look around the building, which mainly consists of offices. Some of these are occupied by people who are mostly huddled in groups and all in various stages of panic. The power is off, and the phones seem to be out. Someone has collapsed on the floor, and other people are frantically trying to find a trained first-aider, something they’re obviously not having much luck with. From the various worried conversations, they heard and felt the explosion, but don’t know what it was or where it came from. The air is hazy with ash, but it isn’t clear whether or not the office workers can see it.
A newspaper shows the current date as 3rd May 2004. Assuming she ever manages to return to her time, that gives them four months to try to stop this. That isn’t much, and it presupposes nothing else will happen to bring it forward. Right now though, she has more pressing issues. She’s fairly certain that she isn’t going to make it to her destination like this, and there’s no telling how long it’ll take for the winds to die down. If they ever do. A sudden idea sends her to search the office until she finds a subway map. After examining the map for a few minutes, she manages to work out that she’s in Manhattan, and pinpoint what she thinks are the nearest couple of subway stations to the storm drain. It looks like she should be able to follow the tunnels from there in the direction she thinks the blast wave came from. She doesn’t know how far away the blast site is, but -- maybe with Mona’s help -- she hopes she might be able to pin that down. When she’s reasonably sure she’ll be able to find her way to either of the stations, she takes a deep breath and heads out into the storm again. It isn’t long before oblivion claims her.
Once back at the storm drain, she spends one death actually getting a look at the explosion. (She hasn’t actually seen it yet, only the aftermath.) Sprouting a winged carapace, she leaps and scrambles up the side of the nearest skyscraper to get a good vantage point. It takes a good few minutes to get up there, so she’s only just gotten into position when it starts. First comes the screaming. Now she’s concentrating on it, she can tell that starts in the Northwest; a single note of pure agony. It’s quickly joined by similar sounds from the Southeast, Southwest, and then the Northeast. It’s coming from all around, the sounds combining into one symphony of pain. No one on the street below seems to react, so she presumes that it’s only audible on the spiritual plane. It hurts to listen to it: not physically, but emotionally; somewhere deep in her soul. Part of her wants to go to it, and part of her wants to run away as fast and as far as she can. She can’t tell exactly where those terrible sounds are coming from; only the directions.
The chorus builds to a crescendo and then the sky splits open, forming a tear a couple of thousand feet up. Something comes through, plunging towards the ground too fast for her to make out what it is. She has a vague impression of a vast dark shape, possibly pointed -- perhaps a spear or a pillar? Whatever it is, it’s easily the same size as one of the skyscrapers. It slams into the ground with the force of an explosion, throwing up a plume of dust -- like an inverted mushroom cloud -- that rapidly obscures it from view. The blast wave races along the ground, spreading out in all directions from the point of impact. The people on the streets below are simply swallowed up by it, but she can’t tell what becomes of them after that. It seems to pass through the buildings, leaving them untouched, although the impact did seem to shake them. It rapidly reaches Annie’s position and she tenses, expecting to be shredded again. It comes as something of a shock when it just seems to pass her by, leaving her gauze more or less intact. Apparently, the wave-front -- and the bulk of its force -- actually passed beneath her. Relief flowers briefly within her, only to wither on the vine as the winds start to rise, bearing their burden of ashes high into the sky. Just like her previous trek along the ground: it isn’t enough to kill her outright, but it does kill her. Eventually. Only afterwards does it occur to her that she could have tried to shelter inside the skyscraper.
Annie and Mona set out for what Annie thinks is the nearest subway station. She doesn’t know exactly where it is, so they have to hunt around a little. They just catch sight of it just as the shockwave catches up with them. The next time around, though, they manage to get inside. The power is off and the emergency lights are just starting to flicker into life. There are people down there, panicking, wondering what just happened. Like the office workers, they seem to have heard and felt something. Someone wonders aloud if it’s a repeat of 9/11, and that triggers a realisation for Annie. The impact site -- it could actually be Ground Zero, the former site of the World Trade Centre. It’s in the right direction (towards the South) and if she remembers rightly, about the right distance away. That’s both good and bad news. Good, because it means she now knows which station they need to exit the subway at. Bad, because as far as she knows, spooks can’t get anywhere near the place because of the spirit storm that’s raged there since 9/11. She decides to set out anyway, intending to reassess the situation when she gets a bit closer. Mona seems to have sunk into malaise once more, and is just following Annie’s lead. (Annie does feel guilty about leading her into danger like this, but at the same time she doesn’t want to leave her here. She thinks it’s better for them to stick together.)
They find the right tunnel and start walking, sticking close to one wall and holding hands so they neither get turned around nor separated. It’s absolutely pitch black down here, so Annie shifts her senses again, using sonar to build up a picture of what lies ahead. After a couple of minutes of walking, she stumbles as the familiar sensation of sexual warmth fills her. Again, she tries to reach for the faint connection and again, it fades before she can grasp it. Mixed feelings war within her, but she seizes upon the fact that they didn’t give up, clinging to it like a drowning woman to a lifeline. She tells Mona what just happened, and the news seems to rouse her out of her passive state. Thinking about the Brooke House ghosts doing the same thing for Mona, she asks if she’s noticed anything like that. Mona frowns. “Maybe,” she says. “I don’t really remember.” She shrugs. “It’s been kind of a blur.” There isn’t really much Annie can say to that, so she returns her attention to the problem of how to get out of here.
When her comrades share their vitality with her -- assuming that’s what’s happening -- the connection between her gauze and her self becomes strong enough for her to sense. The problem is that it just doesn’t seem to be strong enough for her to use it to pull herself back into her gauze. If only there were a way of strengthening it… She has an idea. When Teresa used Forebode to view herself, she felt echoes of what her past or future self was feeling. It seemed to form a temporary connection between them. Annie doesn’t know if her flavour of Forebode does the same thing, but then she did seem to inherit it from Teresa. Also, the scenes she views feel… real. The next time her comrades share vitality with them -- and she has to believe that there will be a next time -- she could strengthen the connection by using Forebode to view her gauze, in the present. If Mona lends her assistance with the Forebode -- thereby forming a weak connection between the two of them -- she might be able to pull both of them out of here and back to where they belong. Hope flares hot and bright. This is largely hypothetical, of course, but according to everything she knows the theory is sound. This should work. It will work. It has to. She tells Mona, and the two of them resolve to make the attempt when the next opportunity arises.
As they converse -- and Annie puts together her plan for getting them out of here -- they continue walking through the tunnel. About ten minutes or so into their journey, Annie hears a sound from up ahead. Lots of sounds, in fact: like a group of people heading towards them at great speed. Mona doesn’t hear anything, but that doesn’t necessarily reassure her. Mona doesn’t argue when she says they need to find somewhere to hide. They start to look for -- or, in Mona’s case, feel around for -- a niche or space that they can duck into to get out of the way of what’s coming, but there’s nothing but blank, unyielding tunnel wall. As their search gets more and more frantic, the sounds come closer and closer and closer until there’s no more time. The figures -- the spectres -- fall upon them from out of the darkness, laying ungentle hands upon them. She expects to be killed again, just torn to pieces then and there, but that doesn’t seem to be what these ones have in mind. Instead, they start to drag the two spooks away. She panics, lashing out with everything she can, trying to take them down; trying to get away. It’s her worst fear, her nightmares made real; but there are too many of them. She can’t fight them all… From behind her, someone (Mona?) screams -- the familiar sound of Wail -- and it’s like she was caught in the killing wind. In the last moment before oblivion claims her, the only thing she feels is relief.
Her body starts moving almost before her mind registers the fact that she’s back in the storm drain again. She starts calling Mona’s name even before she gets to the ladder, almost frantic at the thought that her saviour might still be in their clutches. After what Teresa did, she swore to herself that she wasn’t going to let anyone else sacrifice themselves for her, not again. Not ever again. But then the reply comes -- quavering and hesitant, but still there -- and she knows that, one way or another, Mona got away from them too. The question is, did she escape in time?
“I… I couldn’t let them take us. I’ve been there before. I couldn’t let them take me there again. It’s better to die.”
“Thank you.” Annie doesn’t ask what would have happened to them if the spectres had succeeded in dragging them away. She doesn’t want to know. “Did you manage to… to get away as well?” The silence stretches so long that she starts to fear what the answer will be, but then Mona whispers:
“Good.” She’s never heard of anyone being able to use Wail on themselves before, but then: why would they attempt it unless they were desperate?
The next time they make it into the tunnel, they make sure they keep track of wall niches, platforms, and anywhere else they can hide out of the path of the spectres. Despite their precautions though, the next time they run into them, they don’t manage to make it to safety in time. It’s alright, though: Mona kills them both before the spectres can drag them away. The time after that, they just go a little way into the tunnel and then hunker down in one of the niches, waiting for the spectres to pass them by. After that, they proceed cautiously. It’s good that they do, because there are more spectres up ahead. Mostly, they manage to avoid the larger hunting parties. Unfortunately, the ones that wander around singly, or in smaller groups, are harder to hear. Turning a corner, they find themselves face to face with some of these. The spectres are faster than they are, but still not fast enough to stop Mona taking both of them out of reach.
Much to Annie’s surprise, the two of them actually make it to the nearest station to Ground Zero next time. She was starting to think that they were going to be trudging through the tunnels forever. Or at least until they manage to get back to Brooke House. As she thinks of that, she starts to try to work out how long she’s been here. It’s hard to calculate exactly, but she thinks it’s on the order of around three hours or so. If they weren’t so close to their goal right now, she’d be tempted to give up and just find somewhere to wait until they can try to get out of here. But since they’re so close, she doesn’t want to just abandon the quest. Maybe this time they’ll make it.
Cautiously emerging from the station, they see that the storm seems to have died down enough that they can press through it. If Annie’s estimate of the distance is correct, they’re going to take some damage, but they shouldn’t die before reaching their goal. (It’s strange, she thinks, that somewhere along the way she’s gone from horror at the thought of dying, to calmly factoring it into her plans. Well, certain types of death anyway. She doesn’t think she’s likely to become blasé about death by spectre any time soon., and the fact that it’s only temporary makes a huge difference. If it was a permanent death, she’d be fighting tooth and nail to stay alive, come what may. Even if dying would be easier.) Unfortunately, the plan is complicated by the fact that there are spectres wandering around. Some of them seem to have struggling, screaming figures in tow… Avoiding these adds to their journey time, lengthening it to the point where Annie is beginning to wonder whether they actually will make it after all. If they end up having to do this all again, she thinks she’s going to cry.
Mona doesn’t make it, flensed away to nothing without even so much as a whimper. Annie perseveres, driving herself forward solely through force of will. So intent is she on pushing through the storm, through the pain, that it takes her a moment or two to realise that it’s stopped. The air, though still hazed with ash, is calm: she seems to have reached the eye of the storm. Perhaps this is what it’s like back in the present, and taking the subway would get her past the spirit storm to see what lies at the heart of it. Maybe. That’s a matter for another time, however. A few more steps and she’ll actually be able to see the impact site; she’ll have made it to her goal. Dodging a few more groups of spectres, she rounds a corner and there it is.
There’s a tower, or maybe it’s a bridge. One end is buried deep in the ground, piercing the heart of Ground Zero. The other disappears into the remains of the rift -- a puckered scar in the sky -- presumably anchored in whatever lies on the other side. The tower is a baroque, black metal affair, all spikes and ornate scrollwork. There are more spectres, clustered around the base, swarming all over it: more than she’s ever seen before. They converge upon the tower from all directions, and they all have struggling, screaming ghosts in tow. These, they bring to the tower to be impaled upon its many spikes and protuberances; gauze stretched by racks until it covers the metal framework like a skin. There is a lot of area to cover, and it looks like they’ve barely started. It’s going to take thousands of deaths; maybe even thousands of thousands. Would this have been hers and Mona’s fate if the spectres had managed to drag them away? A slightly sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, Annie resolves that if it looks like one of the spectres notices her, she’s going to turn and run as fast as she can into the storm. If she’s really lucky, maybe it’ll rip her to shreds before the spectres catch up with her. If not, maybe she can manage Mona’s trick of turning Wail upon herself. If that doesn’t work, well, she doesn’t want to think about that possibility.
The tower dominates the scene before her, but she eventually manages to drag her gaze away to look at the area around it. There are greasy smears on the ground at its base, some of which look an awful lot like the distorted outlines of human forms. The rest of the buildings in the area are still intact, but it looks like they’ve been shaken about a bit. The tower is definitely buried in the ground, so it’s obviously a physical construction, at least in part. Maybe it’s a manifested gauze artefact of some kind? Or maybe… Maybe it’s the ghost of a building; a skyscraper: one of the twin towers. Could it be? It would be a fitting monument. All that death; for all those souls gone screaming into the void. A fitting monument indeed.
Her eyes stray to the tower again. It’s hard not to look at it -- the structure dominates the landscape. Something about it makes her feel dizzy and off-balance, as if she’s poised at the edge of a vast, deep pit, about to fall. It’s like the screaming, or when the spectres’ voices were starting to bleed into her mind. As she looks, her attention is caught by one of the many spectres swarming over it. This one is standing a little apart from the others, perhaps giving orders. He has scalpels for fingers and hungry pits for eyes. His body is so emaciated that he’s little more than a skeleton clothed in skin. And yet, somehow, he looks familiar… It’s Dr Mark Velvet, the man in charge of the Mastworth research facility. The one whose ghost Gwyneth chained and dragged away, screaming. What is he doing here? Why does he seem to be in charge? Did the Orpheus spooks help to bring this event forwards? If they had stayed, if they had fought the spectres and stopped them from claiming Dr Velvet, would it have hindered their plans? There are too many questions. Too many questions, and not enough answers. But there don’t seem to be any more to be found here. Maybe if she gets a closer look at the tower… No. She can’t do it. She just can’t bring herself to go any closer to that thing.
As there seems to be nothing more she can do here, she turns around and walks back into the storm. It’s the quickest way to get back to Mona, and even the certainty of a slow death by the killing wind is better than the possibility of being dragged away by the spectres. The wind starts to whittle her gauze away, and then a wave of pleasurable warmth rushes into her. The thread of connection flares into life again, the strongest it’s been yet, and she knows she could use Forebode right now to make it strong enough. She could leave this place, and go back to the real world. But that would leave Mona here. Even if she came back again -- even if she could make herself come back -- there’s no guarantee that she’d be able to find her. There’s no guarantee that it would be the same. There are no guarantees at all. This might not even work, but if she’s going to make the attempt, she has to do it now. Starting to focus her energies, she concentrates on summoning up the shard of Teresa that seems to have lodged inside her soul, framing the request that will let her view herself, back at Brooke House… And then she stops. She lets the gathered vitality, and this chance at escape, just slip through her fingers. There’ll be another chance; a way for both of them to get out of this nightmare of a place. There has to be. The thread fades away to nothing. The last of the warmth fades with it, leaving her cold and alone as she walks deeper into the storm.
After she meets up with Mona, the two of them run to the skyscraper that Annie used for a vantage point. They want to get as high up as they can to wait out the storm. As far as either of them have seen, the spectres seem to stick to ground level and below, so they’ll hopefully be safe from them for as long as it takes. However long that’ll be. The blast wave hits, and the building shelters them from the worst of it. All they have to do now is wait. So they wait. And wait. It feels like an hour or more goes by, long enough that hope starts to fade. Long enough that they think that maybe Annie’s companions have given up on her. But then she is enveloped in warmth, and she can feel the connection. She calls to Mona, telling her that this is it; this is their chance. The two of them entwine their hands and concentrate. Annie feels Mona’s awareness acting as a shield around her own, pushing aside distractions and irrelevancies until all that’s left is what’s important; what matters. Letting her sharpened instincts guide her, she summons her guide and asks, simply: “Take me back to my own time. Take me home.” Teresa takes her and Mona’s linked hands, leading them over to the window. Annie wonders if she’s going to see herself reflected there, but Teresa apparently has something different in mind. She steps right through the window, her grip like iron as she drags them with her. All three of them fall, but only two of them hit the ground. There is a moment of agony, and then everything goes black.
Back in Brooke House: James sees Teresa throw Annie forwards and then disappear. Annie hits the ground hard and doesn’t get up again. She just lies there, limp and still. James tries to rouse her, but she seems to be very deeply unconscious. When she doesn’t come around after a few minutes, he picks her up and carries her upstairs to the attic. Chet, tending to Kate and Zoë, looks up as he comes in: “What’s happened?” Frank and John some over to see what’s going on. As James tells them what he knows (which isn’t really that much) he carries Annie over to her body and tries unsuccessfully to put her back into it. Chet examines both her physical body and her gauze body, but he can’t tell what’s wrong. Apart from the fact that she won’t wake up, she seems fine. Unfortunately, Kate -- who, after Annie, is the expert on spook physiology -- is still out of it from a combination of her injuries and the drugs.
Frank projects and tries to go into her dreams. He tries with both her physical body and her gauze, but she doesn’t seem to be dreaming. In fact, he can’t sense her mind at all. He doesn’t know if that’s normal for someone who’s projecting, or if it’s because of whatever happens to her. In any case, he pokes around a little more, eventually managing to find a faint trail or thread that leads somewhere else. It’s very faint, though, far too faint to follow. He keeps an eye on it for a little while, and notices that the other end of the thread isn’t fixed. It seems to be looping around in a regular pattern, each cycle taking about five minutes to complete. Acting against type, he shares this information with the others and they speculate that perhaps wherever she is, she’s reliving the same events over and over again. Considering the scarcity of the available facts, their speculation lies remarkably close to the truth.
While Frank is concentrating on tracking the thread’s cycle, James tries infusing Annie with some of his vitality. Although she grows noticeably brighter, it doesn’t wake her up. He starts to wonder about other ways of shocking her back into her gauze, perhaps literally: he does mention electrocution. He also talks about choking her, or at least cutting off the blood supply to her brain for a little while. Despite the way it sounds, there is some method to his madness: his suggestions are based on the theory that rendering her body fully unconscious might drag her spirit back into it. Chet (rather tactfully for him) suggests that perhaps trying something like that -- especially when they don’t know what’s happened to her -- might be just a tad risky. James isn’t happy with that, but doesn’t press.
Frank suggests that he could try to go to wherever Annie is, similarly to how he manages to get to her through Teresa’s dreams when she was with the spectres. He might even be able to be able to take others with him. The problem is that they don’t know anything about where she is, or what dangers might be there. They might get trapped as well. They need more information. John possesses Annie’s body and goes through her memories, trying to discover specifically what she was doing. He finds out about Mona, and about the coming apocalypse, relaying this information to the others. They speculate that perhaps that’s the event she’s reliving over and over again, which of course is what’s actually happening to her. Digging around a little more, he turns up Annie’s theory that giving vitality to Mona at regular intervals might act as a signal flare, helping her to find her way home. He passes this on to the others and they decide to try that with Annie. It seems to be their only real option at the moment and besides: it can’t hurt, right? James agrees to be the donor, infusing some of his vitality into her gauze at hourly intervals. While they wait for something to happen, Frank keeps an eye on the thread he thinks might lead to Annie’s mind. John stays in her body, to monitor and -- if necessary -- maintain it.
Time passes: about four hours, to be (relatively) precise. One moment Annie is lying there, deeply unconscious, the next she -- her gauze body, at any rate -- is sitting bolt upright, staring wildly around the room. Not even seeming to register the fact that her body (well, Teresa’s body) is occupied by someone else, she fixes upon James -- the nearest person to her -- and demands to know how long it’s been. He tells her she fell unconscious about four hours ago, and then starts to ask her what happened and where she’s been. Either ignoring him or just not hearing the question, she leaps to her feet and rushes out of the room. John and James wonder what’s going through her head. John declares that if she cares about whatever it is more than getting her body back, he’ll just hang onto it for a while longer. It’s not even really hers anyway. (He’s finding being in a female body quite a novelty. It’s perhaps a good thing that he isn’t alone with it.)
Frank, curious to find out what’s gotten Annie in such a state, makes himself invisible and follows after her. She heads downstairs at speed, desperate to find out if Mona came back with her, or if she’s still trapped, doomed to die over and over again. Bursting through the office door -- the invisible Frank hard on her heels -- she looks around to see Mona standing there, looking confused but really there; her gauze not an empty shell any more. They stare at each other for a moment or two, and then both start talking at once. Mona is dazed but relieved, unable to believe that she’s finally free of that nightmare. She gives Annie her heartfelt thanks, in response to which Annie shrugs awkwardly and mutters that she wasn’t going to leave her there. She isn’t good at accepting thanks.
What Mona wants more than anything right now is to rest: this will be the first time in four months that she’s been able to do that. Annie asks if she wants any company -- perhaps Lo-Jack or someone else from Brooke House. A little hesitantly, Mona says she would like to see Lo-Jack. Annie says goodbye and goes to fetch him. He’s with some of the other ghosts, so she takes him aside to speak with him privately. (She thinks it’s probably better not to spread the news about Mona’s return until she’s feeling a little more up to dealing with others.) Now he’s looking her expectantly, she feels suddenly tongue-tied. How does she break the good news to him? In the end, she just blurts out:
“Mona wants to talk to you.”
He stares at her blankly for a moment. “What are you…?” His eyes widen. “You mean she’s back?”
“Yes.” Annie smiles, genuinely happy for what feels like the first time in a long time.
“She’s really back?” Lo-Jack looks like he doesn’t quite know whether to believe what she’s saying; whether he’s hearing things or it’s just a cruel joke at his expense.
“Yes, she’s really back. I wouldn’t joke about something like this. She wants to see you.”
Lo-Jack starts to rush off, then stops; looks back. “Thank you.” He starts to smile himself, his whole face lighting up. “Thank you so much.” He sets off again.
“You’re welcome,” Annie says softly to his rapidly retreating back. Her smile lasts a few moments more, and then melts into a sigh. She’s not looking forward to telling the others that she’s seen the end of the world. Or at least of New York.
She trudges back up to the attic, Frank still following her invisibly. The others turn towards her as she walks in, so to forestall the inevitable questions she asks some questions of her own: what happened to her gauze, what they did; that kind of thing. And, now that she notices, who’s in her body and why. They tell her what they know and what they did. When she hears that they shared vitality with her, she tells them that’s how she got back; thanks them. And then she tells them what she saw: the rift, the tower, the blast wave, the spectres, Dr Velvet. All in all, they take the news relatively well. Chet asks questions about where things happened, or will happen: he says they might be able to stop it from coming to pass. They know that the future can be changed, after all. Even if they don’t manage to stop it, at least they know enough to prepare for it. Perhaps they could build a bunker or something, seal themselves in; wait out the worst of it or mount a counterattack. Either way, knowing what’s to come gives them options they wouldn’t otherwise have. The others start asking more questions, pressing for more details until she snaps, shouting at them that she died there. Blasted by the shockwave, torn apart by demons: she died, over and over again. (Frank’s ears perk up at the mention of the spectres, but as he’s still invisible no one notices.) After what she’s just been through -- on top of everything else -- she’s on something of a hair-trigger at the moment. With an effort, she brings herself back under control, thanks John for looking after her body and says she’d like it back now, please. He obligingly vacates. After replenishing the vitality he used in the process of possession, she sinks back into it.
While the drama unfolds at Brooke House, Tom -- who has moved into the new warehouse -- projects and goes to check out Dormant Phoenix Cryogenics. It seems to be a fairly well-outfitted place, with luxurious fittings and state of the art equipment: they’re clearly doing alright for themselves. There doesn’t seem to be any anti-spook security that he can see, nor are there any signs that it’s a spook research facility masquerading as a cryogenics company. He has a look around where they keep their cradles, and is somewhat surprised to see a veritable host of spooks wandering around. None of them seem to have any death marks, and none of them show any particular awareness of themselves or their surroundings. Certainly, none of them seem to react to Tom’s presence. Maybe they’re from the people in the tubes, but he can’t tell whether they’re ghosts or projectors. There are a few technicians wandering around the place, checking readouts and doing technician-type things. He manages to find the facility’s chief physician, a man called Dr Eduardo Fernandez, and follows him around for a little while. The man seems to know what he’s doing, and Tom thinks he’s a good candidate for possession. Following him back to his home after work, he finds that Dr Fernandez lives in a rather nice bachelor pad. Better and better: not only does it look like there isn’t anyone to miss the good doctor, Tom would quite fancy living the life of Riley in this place for a couple of days. He goes back to tell the others that they have a target, and to discuss how they’re going to do this.
The next couple of days pass relatively uneventfully. People continue with their training, research, data analysis or whatever they consider is the best use of their time at the moment. Ben, Hoyt, Blink and Adrian disappear off together for long stretches of time without offering up any explanation. (It isn’t exactly unusual for Ben to disappear off, and everyone else is too wrapped up in what they’re doing to really notice or ask questions.) John finishes going through Mastworth’s financial information, and following the money trail. Although there are a fair few twists, turns and double-blinds along the way, it eventually leads him back to Terrel & Squib. Similarly, the Albany site is also being funded by Terrel & Squib. All in all, this isn’t doesn’t come as a massive shock to anyone, but it’s nice to have confirmation. Not that it’s really anything they could take to the police or FBI.
Annie works on trying to translate some more of the tablet, but doesn’t really get anywhere with it. Figuring out Ancient Sumerian from first principles isn’t the easiest of tasks. On John’s suggestion, she also spends some time researching legends and prophecies about the end of the world, looking particularly for mention of dark towers and swarms of monsters dragging away ghosts. There are a few mentions of towers, but nothing that really seems to fit what she saw. The only thing she comes across that seems to be at all relevant is a Mayan prophecy that the world will end in 2012, on December 21st. Maybe back then, it would have done, but things have happened since.
She has been thinking about talking to Kate about her experience earlier that day. Although Annie knows a great deal about horrors generally, Kate has a much more intimate knowledge of Forebode and how it works. Plus, she has a lot of experience at interpreting visions. She might be able to shed some light on what happened. Fortunately, she’s in one of her lucid phases: the painkillers are just starting to wear off, but it isn’t yet time for her next dose. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these phases also tend to be associated with a significant increase in crankiness. After a little dithering, Annie approaches her.
“Good afternoon. How are you feeling?”
“Fucking terrible. I’m sick of being flat on my back and I could murder someone for a cigarette.” Kate’s gone from smoking like a chimney to complete cold turkey: it certainly isn’t helping her mood at all. “How are you?”
“Fine. I’m fine.” It’s a blatant lie, of course, but Kate doesn’t call her on it: she must be feeling bad. “Have you got a few minutes to talk?”
Kate starts to make an expansive gesture and then stops, wincing, as it pulls on her wound. “I’ve got nothing but time at the moment. Fire away.”
“I wanted…” Now she’s got Kate’s attention, Annie isn’t entirely sure what to say. “I wanted to talk about Forebode.” “What about it?” The words are jagged with pain and irritation.
“Just that it doesn’t seem to work the way we thought it did. There are dangers. Something happened. I just…” Annie is having to struggle to keep her composure, and to keep the panic at bay. Jumbled memories start to crowd in on her.
“You did something stupid, didn’t you.” It’s a statement, not a question. Oddly enough, the caustic tone gives her something to focus on; helps her to keep herself together.
“No.” A pause. “I took a… calculated risk. It was an experiment.” Another pause, slightly longer this time. “It didn’t quite turn out as I expected.”
“As I said.” Kate continues without giving her the chance to reply to that shot. “So, what happened?”
Annie explains about Mona, and about her visions of the coming apocalypse. (The word has already started to spread through the Brooke House ghosts that Mona’s back. Between that and John looking through her memories, it isn’t exactly a secret any more, so she figures she can talk about it. And she really needs Kate’s insight.) She doesn’t go into too much detail about the actual content of the visions -- for one thing, Kate’s getting impatient with what she calls her “waffling” -- just that Mona saw something bad coming, and wanted to find out more.
“Her version of Forebode is different to any I’ve ever heard about. She doesn’t just catch a glimpse of the future; she actually seems to send her consciousness there: it feels completely real to her. Even before this, some of her visions had lasted for hours at a time. The last time, though, she just didn’t come back. That was about four months ago.” She takes a deep breath. “I found out about this last week.”
“And then you did something stupid?” Kate asks.
“No! As I said, it was a calculated risk. If the end of the world is coming -- and from what she wrote in her journal, that’s what she thought she saw -- I needed to know more about it. We needed to know about it.” Another deep breath. “So I looked at the future of her visions.”
Kate narrows her eyes. “You wanted to bring her back, didn’t you?”
“Yes. But that wasn’t the only reason. I…”
“So, what went wrong?”
“I got trapped there. Like… Like she did.” She expects Kate to interrupt again, but all she does is gesture for her to continue. Her expression is unreadable. “I didn’t just see a vision: I actually went there. Like Mona does every time she uses Forebode. It felt real. All of it.” But she doesn’t want to think about that, so she continues hurriedly onwards. “I couldn’t feel my body, or my gauze. It was stuck here, like Mona’s. Oh! I found her, by the way.” Kate doesn’t look surprised. “She told me… She’d been seeing a man, in her visions. A man dressed in what looked like a prison jumpsuit. Probably another one of the Marion Prison lot. He wasn’t actually part of the scenes she saw, but he seemed to be moving through them like she was. She was convinced that he could see her, and was hunting her, and apparently she was right. That last time she went walking in the future, he found her. She just turned around and he was there. Before she could do anything he shoved her backwards, and she fell. She fell through the vision, ending up in the place where I found her and unable to sense her gauze anymore. She was trapped.”
“Did you know about this man before you decided to try using Forebode?” The words are spoken in a mild tone, Kate’s expression still unreadable: definitely a bad sign. Still, she answers the question.
“Yes. She wrote about him in her journal.”
“And you looked at the future she’d been viewing?”
There’s a pause, during which Kate levers herself awkwardly up into a sitting position. Annie starts to try to help her, but she waves her impatiently away, wincing and swearing. Once she’s settled herself again, she looks Annie straight in the eyes.
“And you’re honestly trying to tell me you were surprised that you walked straight into a trap? Come on Annie: she starts seeing this man in her visions -- even says she thinks he’s hunting her, for Chrissake -- gets stuck shortly thereafter, and you don’t think that maybe looking at what she saw might possibly be the dumbest action in the entire history of dumb? What the hell were you thinking? You already know using Forebode can be risky! You know what happened when Teresa looked at that spectre. You of all people should have known better than to rush blindly into a situation that was clearly bad through and through. A blind man could have seen it. What the ever-loving fuck was going through your head? Have you got some kind of martyr complex? Are you really that eager to sacrifice yourself for someone else? Do you think doing that will somehow balance out what Teresa did for you? Do you…”
She keeps talking, but Annie stops hearing her. The blood is rushing to her head, and her hands are starting to curl themselves into claws. How dare she say that? How could she even think it? It isn’t true. It isn’t. Annie wants to shut her up; to make her just stop talking; stop saying those things. It would be so easy right now. Kate’s an invalid: between the pain and the drugs, she wouldn’t be able to stop her. Chet and the others are on the other side of the partition, no doubt carefully not paying any attention to this little discussion. They wouldn’t see or hear anything; couldn’t get here in time if they did. All she has to do is… No! This isn’t right; this isn’t her. What is she thinking?
“Are you even listening to me?” The question breaks through her horrified introspection.
“No,” she says, quietly, and then: “Shut up, Kate,” when Kate looks like she’s going to bitch at her some more. Much to Annie’s surprise -- and, perhaps, Kate’s -- she actually does so, although she doesn’t look happy. “Of course I knew it was a risk. But I thought a trap designed for Mona and her version of Forebode wouldn’t be able to hold me.” A quiet sigh escapes her lips. “I was wrong. I made a mistake and…” And I paid for it, is what she was going to say, but she bites the words back. “I know better now,” is how she finishes the sentence instead.
“Good.” Kate looks at Annie as if seeing her for the first time, studying her until she starts to become uncomfortable under the scrutiny. “How did you get out?”
“The others shared vitality with me. That strengthened the connection between my gauze and myself, briefly. Once I realised what I was feeling, and what it meant, I figured out a way to use it. The next time they did it, and then Mona helped me use Forebode to view my gauze in the present. I was hoping it would strengthen the cord enough to pull me back, and if Mona was part of the process she would be pulled back with me. Apparently it worked: we both woke up in our respective gauze.” “Convenient.”
“I guess.” Although it certainly didn’t feel like anything of the sort at the time.
“So, what did you see? What was it like?”
“Bad. It was bad.” That doesn’t even begin to describe it, but she does her best to try to convey the future that she saw. Fortunately -- or not -- the events are still fresh in her mind, so she can give Kate all the details: the chorus of screams, the rift, the tower, the spectres and Dr Velvet. Kate is worried. She’s also pissed off -- mainly that she’s probably going to finish healing just in time for the end of the world -- but she’s mostly just really, really worried. She asks questions -- lots of questions -- many of which Annie just doesn’t know the answers to. At one point, though, Kate stops her to ask:
“What do you mean: ‘next time’? Did the event keep repeating?”
“How? Did it just get to a particular point and then start again from the beginning?”
“Something like that.”
“But it sounds like each iteration doesn’t necessarily reset at the same point. Why would that change? Could that have something to do with the fact that it’s been moving forwards?”
“No, well, maybe. Probably not. It…” Her voice drops, making her next words almost a whisper. “It reset when we died.” Kate raises an eyebrow. “You’re going to have to explain that one, Kid.”
“There isn’t that much to explain. When I first got there, I woke up in a storm drain about five minutes or so before the screaming started. I was above ground when the blast wave hit. Afterwards, I woke up in the storm drain again.” She shrugs. “I got caught by the blast wave the next time, too. At first I assumed it just reset when the blast wave hit, but Mona that told me it was our deaths that triggered the reset. It… wasn’t the safest of places, and I soon found out that she was right. I guess I’m lucky that death there wasn’t as final as it should have been.”
“Bullshit. Want to talk about it?”
“No. Let’s just try to work out how we can stop it. And how we can protect ourselves while using Forebode.”
Kate frowns. “No fucking clue about the first one; not yet. Maybe see if you can match up where the screams were coming from to places here in the present? Could be that has something to do with how the rift is opened. Looking at Ground Zero itself is going to be tricky. Not sure I’d want to risk even going there by subway. Obviously talk to Mona, see what else she might have noticed. Information is what we need right now.” She closes her eyes and sighs heavily. “God, I feel so fucking helpless right now. Knowing that this is coming, but not knowing how we can stop it. Just when I thought we were starting to make some progress.”
“Chet says we can at least prepare for it,” Annie offers. She knows it’s not much, but at least it’s something they can do. “He’s talking about building a fortified bunker, possibly using some of that anti-spook black glass stuff if we can get some more of it. It wasn’t… There were survivors. It’s not all hopeless.”
“I know, but… Oh, fuck it: no use whining about what we can’t do, I suppose. At least we can get on with the things we can do. So: Forebode.” She taps a finger on the ground, considering. “The spectres grabbed us through it. Mona thought this man was tracking her through her visions. Maybe using it sets off a signal flare that other spooks can see if they know what to look for. We need to check that: if it’s true, maybe we can find a way to hide it. I’m afraid I won’t be much help with the practical side of that, but we have you and Mona. Do you think she’s a strong Foreboder?”
“I… don’t know. I think so. She certainly had some powerful visions, and she’s definitely a Mirage-class ghost.” “Fine. In which case, I suggest you use Forebode and she can see if she can sense you. If she can, then work with her to hide the signal until she can’t sense you any more. Hell, if we know what to look for, maybe we can use it to track down the bastard that trapped her.”
“Maybe. I hope so: I want to ask him some questions.” I want to hurt him, Annie thinks. I want to kill him. And she doesn’t feel bad about that at all. “He might be able to tell us more about what’s going to happen.”
“We can hope. So, what are you waiting for? Go and get started: it’s not like we have a great deal of time on our hands.”
“Ah, Mona’s resting. She hasn’t been able to do that in four months. And she’s been through a lot. I am not going to go barging in on her right now. I know time is of the essence, but this particular thing is going to have to wait until tomorrow.”
“Oh. Well, fine. Just go away and do something, then. I’m tired and cranky and I want to rest. I’ve had enough of talking for the moment.”
“You’re always cranky.” Annie manages a faint smile. “But I’ll stop bothering you for now. Want me to send Chet in with more drugs?”
“Abso-fucking-lutely.” And that’s the end of the conversation.
There is a lot of discussion about what they want to do next; what should be there priority. Frank wants to investigate the Mayfair Green projects, looking for the spectre he thinks might make its lair there. They think this might be a good proving ground for Kerekov, to assess both his loyalty and his usefulness. There is the second Terrel & Squib research site, where Shelley Jackson might be a prisoner. They have leads from previous Radio Free Death broadcasts, at least one of which relates to one of the allegedly dead Marion Prison inmates. Whole Earth Enterprises is something they never really followed up on, and there’s the “E. Torrence” bank account. And then there are the sleeper tubes they got from Mastworth. In short, they have so many choices for what to do next that they end up paralysed with indecision and unable to decide what they should do first.
Their deliberations are interrupted by the triumphant return of Ben, Blink, Hoyt and Adrian. It’s a triumphant return, because they’ve been busy. It turns out that Hoyt knows one of the Orpheus cradle technicians: a man called Mitch. He knows that Mitch has family who live locally, and Ben has managed to track them down through the contacts he’s been making and, from there, get in touch with the man himself. The short version is that he agreed to help get their sleeper tubes up and running in return for protection and being able to hide out at the warehouse. Unsurprisingly, none of the Orpheus spooks have a problem with that. At least that helps to solve the problem of what to do next. All the various matters they have to deal with would be made that much easier with the addition of more projectors. Now they have relevant the expertise on hand, it makes sense to get the tubes working before doing anything else.