Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission011

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Dramatis Personae

Protagonists

  • James Darkwood, Poltergeist
  • Annie Harper, Metamorph (revenant)
  • Craig Forrest, Skinrider (hue)
  • Tom Knox, Haunter
  • Frank Nosrav, Mindbender

Supporting Characters

Orpheus

  • John "Blink" Carruthers, Wisp
  • Adrian Challis, Wisp
  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • James Darkwood, Poltergeist
  • Kate Dennison, Banshee
  • Craig Forrest, Skrinrider (hue)
  • Matthieu Kerekov, Banshee
  • Chet Mason, Skinrider
  • Hoyt Masterson, Haunter
  • Mitch, a technician
  • John Reeve, Skinrider (hue)
  • Zoë Vitt, Poltergeist
  • Shelley Young, Haunter (spirit)

Brooke House

  • Lo-Jack, Wisp (hue)
  • Mona, Banshee (spirit)
  • Various ghosts

Other

  • Gary Burchowsfky, drug dealer
  • Hyde, Jason
  • William Knox, unknown shade (hue)
  • Ike Mortenson, drug supplier
  • The Suit, Reaper-class spectre
  • A forensic technician
  • Club bouncers
  • Various clubgoers
  • Various gunmen
  • Various NextWorld operatives
  • Various paramedics
  • Various spectres


Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions

It’s Wednesday: there are ninety-nine days to go. The morning light filters into the warehouse, finding some of its inhabitants rather more well-rested than others. Mitch and Hoyt are up at the crack of dawn, going through all the checks and preparations that have to be completed before slow-freezing Hoyt. Various people stop by to wish them luck. Most of the wishes for good fortune are aimed at Hoyt, as he’s the one actually taking the risk. (Unless you count Ben’s -- presumably -- jest that if Hoyt ends up dead, Mitch will end up with Ben’s fist in his face. Repeatedly. Oh, how they laugh. Well, Ben laughs. While throwing a friendly arm about Mitch’s shoulders. Okay, perhaps more neck than shoulders. And perhaps more firm than friendly. Ah, the exuberance of youth. And muscles. The poor technician seems a trifle apprehensive for some reason. No doubt he’s merely concerned about the risks inherent in the procedure he’s about to perform.) Ben’s method of wishing Hoyt luck is to pick the man up and parade him about the warehouse.
      “Hey, Tom,” he says, careening in his general direction. “Let’s give Hoyt the bumps to celebrate his success.”
      “Errr, no.” Tom is quite certain about not wanting to get involved in such shenanigans.
      “You’re no fun, Copper.” Ben’s enthusiasm seems undampened, prompting Annie to say, wincing:
      “Put him down before you break him.”
      “Unless you want to have last night’s dinner all down your nice white vest, I suggest you listen to the lady.” Hoyt’s voice is muffled, but he somehow ends up back on his own two feet pretty damn sharpish.
      “Wuss,” says Ben, cheerfully slapping him on the back.
      “You’re just jealous because he won the coin toss.” Annie looks like she doesn’t know whether to be amused or horrified. She shakes her head, muttering something about “testosterone poisoning”. Things quieten down somewhat after that, as Mitch and Hoyt start making the final preparations. In what seems like a lifetime or no time at all -- depending on who you talk to -- everything is ready. Ben ‘helpfully’ assists Hoyt into the cradle and, after making sure he is settled, strapped in and connected up, Mitch presses the button.

It’s going to be a long, slow process. Most people start to wander away once Hoyt’s drifted into unconsciousness. Ben leaves the warehouse without bothering to tell anyone else where he’s going. This isn’t exactly unusual for him. The rest of the living (or, more properly, the rest of the embodied) congregate around the tiny kitchen area for breakfast. Annie takes the opportunity to inform everyone who doesn’t already know it that there’s a spectre running around who looks exactly like her. (Craig’s response has opened her eyes to the fact that this is a security issue.) There are a few questions, mostly from James and Tom. (Tom already knows this, but he’s apparently thought of more questions in the meanwhile.) No one seems thrilled at the idea that all spirits could have evil twins wandering around.

Tom -- who is apparently just full of questions this morning -- decides to try to get more information out of Shelley about her attempt to chase down the broadcaster of Radio Free Death. (Well, he comes up with a list of things he still wants to know, and mentions that it’s probably worth trying to ask Shelley some more questions. Annie responds with: “Well volunteered,” thus keeping her resolution not to ask any more technical questions of Shelley if she can help it. Not that she’s still smarting about the put-down. [1]) Tom brings up the IM client on the laptop, and everyone who’s interested crowds in behind him to read over his shoulder. Shelley seems to be fairly happy, judging from her liberal use of smileys. Expanding a little on what she said last night, she says that the thinks the broadcaster may actually be the voice of the city. Or the voice of the Wired. At any rate, he’s in -- or moving through, or has been in -- the whole system. She hasn’t managed to track down him (his mind, or self, or whatever they want to call it), but she knows he definitely was concentrated in the Fox News computer network last night. He might still be there. (It’s not clear whether Shelley’s “clarification” actually helps or just confuses them.) They speculate that perhaps it was this mysterious individual who rescued the Orpheus spook forum, as Shelley can confirm that it certainly wasn’t her. (She had already been captured by the time it appeared.)

Frank has a suggestion to make: he thinks that they should try to get in contact with Beta crucible. This idea is initially met with some doubt, but he goes on to say that, specifically, he wants to push Beta crucible into going after NextWorld. Not only should this reduce their cop and FBI agent kill rate (which they can then claim credit for with Osorio) but it should hopefully seriously inconvenience NextWorld. At the very least, it might distract them for a while. The question in: how can they persuade Beta crucible to do what they want? Getting them to want to do it isn’t necessarily the problem: Pretorius and his cronies must be smarting at being caught completely off-guard like that. (Annie -- who, together with Craig, probably knows Beta crucible the best -- thinks that being out-manoeuvred probably bothers them more than the attack itself.) So, why haven’t they done so already? Two likely reasons: resources and information. There’s not much they can really do about the first. However, thanks to Mathieu (the former NextWorld spook), they might be able to address the second. NextWorld will probably have made changes after his defection, but hopefully some of his information should still be valid. Tom suggests using the forum to pass it onto Beta crucible. According to Shelley, there have been hits from Baltimore IP addresses, so it seems likely one or more of them is actively checking the site. It’s starting to look like they have something approaching a plan. Tom volunteers to write the message without even having to be prodded.

Continuing his pro-active and talkative streak, Tom says that they need to set up drop-points by the sewer exits, for when they need to make a quick (or at least discreet) getaway. He suggests that Matthieu be the one to go out and buy what they need, as he’s the only one of them not being hunted by the FBI. (He’s being hunted by other people of course, but at least his picture isn’t being flashed on the television.) Matthieu seems amenable to the idea but would prefer to have back-up, so James offers to project and go with him. His ulterior motive is that he wants to pick up a shotgun, but Matthieu doesn’t have a problem with that. It seems that they’re going to get on just fine. Since the impromptu meeting seems to be adjourned, the two of them set off on their quest. Annie projects and heads over to Brooke House, which is about an hour away from the warehouse.

Now that everyone else has gone their separate ways, Frank approaches Tom with a request:
      “Do you know if there’s an empty warehouse around here?”
      Tom looks at him askance. “Why?”
      “I want to try some experiments. This place is just too crowded and noisy.”
      “Fair enough.” As it turns out, Tom doesn’t actually know where the nearest empty building is. He’s willing to help Frank look, though, and even to assist him with his experiments. The two of them project and start their search. On the way out, Frank manifests and snags a pair of the anti-spook cuffs, using his illusion horror to conceal both them and himself from any passers-by. (It also conceals him from Tom, but that doesn’t seem to concern either of them.) After a few minutes of searching, they find one that appears to be unoccupied. There is a slight problem, however, in that Frank can’t just walk through the door with the cuffs. Fortunately, it’s a problem easily solved. Tom Inhabits the door and, after disabling the security alarm, opens it. The two of them enter the warehouse. Once inside, Frank and the cuffs reappear. He hands them to Tom and asks him to put them on him. Raising his eyebrows a little, Tom does so. Frank concentrates hard, trying to do something. Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to work. All that happens is that the cuffs grow painfully cold against his gauze. He has Tom take them off again so he can try another experiment, but it isn’t obvious what he’s doing or what the result is. Tom notices that Frank seems to be concealing something in his hand, but he can’t tell what it is other than that it’s a small object. For the time being, he says nothing. Frank tries one more experiment, this time, he creates an illusion before having the cuffs put on so he can see what happens to it when they click shut. As they do so, it disrupts his concentration and he has to struggle to maintain the illusion. However, he does maintain with nothing more than the metal becoming uncomfortably cold.

When Tom takes the cuffs off for the last time, he nods towards Frank’s hands.
      “What have you got there?”
      “Nothing.”
      “Are you sure?”
      “Yes, look.” Frank opens his hands, trying to spin an illusion to conceal what’s within them. Unfortunately for him, Tom sees straight through it. Frank is holding an hourglass made of gauze. It’s oddly organic in appearance, and dull black sand drifts slowly from top to bottom as Tom watches.
      “Where’d you get that?” He doesn’t say anything about Frank’s attempted deception.
      “That’s confidential.” Tom raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t press further. The two of them head back to their bodies.

When Annie gets to Brooke House she bumps into Lo-Jack, who seems pleased to see her. After they exchange greetings, he says:
      “Mona would like you to stop by and see her, if you wouldn’t mind.”
      “Sure. I was going to pay her a visit anyway. Is she in at the moment?”
      “Yeah. She’s in her office.”
      “How are things here?”
      “Better.” He smiles. “It feels like the life is starting to come back.” They chat for a few minutes and then go their separate ways. As she walks through the building, the change in atmosphere is almost tangible. There is a new lightness in the air: hope, perhaps? Whatever it is, it feels good. When she arrives at Mona’s office, she pokes her head through the door to see the woman talking to another ghost. Spotting Annie, she holds up a hand to indicate that she’ll be with her in five minutes or so. Annie nods, and then withdraws into the corridor. She decides to go and see Kate while she’s waiting.

When she emerges into the attic, she finds herself in the middle of a war zone: Kate and Chet are having a… disagreement. A rather spirited disagreement. In fact, she’d go so far as to call it a full-blown argument.
      “Stop mothering me, Chet!” Kate is saying. “It’s a fucking ’phone call, for fuck’s sake. It’s not like I’m trying to run a marathon or something.”
Unsure whether she wants to get caught in the middle of this, Annie hesitates in the doorway until she spots Zoë waving at her. She sidles around the edge of the room until she’s close enough to talk to the injured woman without disturbing the combatants.
      “Hiya,” she says softly.
      “Hey Annie.” Zoë smiles, but it’s a washed out shadow of her usual exuberance, and there are dark circles around her eyes. “I don’t suppose you brought popcorn, did you?”
      “I’m afraid not.”
      “Pity. This kind…” Her words are interrupted by a fit of coughing that shakes her whole body. Annie starts to put her hand out to steady her, and then remembers that she’s immaterial.
      “Are you okay?” ‘What kind of a question is that? She obviously isn’t.’
      Zoë feebly waves away both her hand and her concern. “I’m fine. Don’t fuss. I’ve bounced back from a lot worse than this before.”
      “Yes, but…” ‘You had proper medical care. You weren’t on the run from the FBI, contract killers and worse.’
      “But nothing. Stop fussing -- you’re as bad as Chet and Ben. And everyone else.”
      “They only fuss… We only fuss because we care. We’re worried about you.”
      “I know, and that means a lot, but…” She sighs, and her breath catches in a way that makes Annie frown. “Anyway.” The tone of her voice says this topic is closed for now. “As I was saying: this kind of spectacle really needs popcorn. Or scorecards. Preferably both.”
      “You need to calm down.” Chet is saying. His voice, in contrast to Kate’s, is low and even. It is showing signs of stress around the edges, though. “If you get too worked up, you’ll end up hurting yourself. Again. Remember what happened the last time you pushed yourself too hard?”
      “One ’phone call. That’s all. Even prisoners get that much. One damned ’phone call. I wouldn’t need to get worked up if you’d listen to fucking reason!”
      Annie winces as Kate launches into a scathing attack on Chet’s appearance, personality, habits and ancestry, concentrating instead on Zoë. “How are you feeling generally?”
      “Well enough to be up and about.” Annie raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t call her on the obvious exaggeration, if not outright lie. “But I don’t think I’ll be pestering Chet about it again just yet. Probably best to let him recover from Kate’s assault first. If this round ever comes to an end.”
      “Have they been arguing for long?”
      “The whole damn time, off and on.”
      “What’s the problem now?”
      “You, actually.”
      “What? Me? Why?” Annie looks confused.
      “Kate woke Chet up in the middle of the night to demand her mobile back. He confiscated it when she was sending text messages instead of going to sleep. She said she had to talk to you right away, but he refused point blank, saying whatever it was could wait for a few hours. When she wouldn’t leave it alone, he threatened to sedate her. He really meant it, too.”
      “I bet that went down well.”
      “About as well as you’d expect. It shut her up for a bit, but she started in on him again a little while ago. It kind of went downhill from there.”
      “What a surprise.” She sighs. “Well, I need to talk to Kate, so I suppose I’d better stick my head into the lion’s den before he really does sedate her. Wish me luck.”
      “Good luck.”

Annie stands up. Chet is talking now, Kate glowering at him like a small thundercloud.
      “Kate, you are pushing yourself too hard. You were shot in the chest. You need proper medical care. What you’ve got is me, a cold attic and a rapidly dwindling pile of drugs. Some of which I am this close” -- he illustrates his point by holding up his thumb and forefinger barely a millimetre apart -- “to using to keep you either unconscious or sufficiently out of it that you can’t do yourself any more damage.”
      “It’s just a…”
      “It’s not about the ’phone call. It’s about you being too damn stubborn to rest like you need to.”
      Since both of them still seem completely oblivious to her presence, Annie interrupts before Kate can launch into the tirade she’s obviously gearing up for. “Umm, hello?” Both of them turn to look at her, making her feel rather like a deer caught in the headlights of an eighteen-wheeler.
      “Annie! Thank fuck you’re here! Tell this mother hen to stop fussing over me.”
      “Someone needs to look after you. It doesn’t sound like you’re doing too good a job of looking after yourself.” It’s obvious from a cursory glance that Kate isn’t in the best of shape. She’s almost as pale as Zoë, looking gaunt and frail. Annie turns to Chet. “I’d like to talk to Kate for a while, if you think she’s up to it.”
      “She isn’t, but she’ll only work herself into even more of a state if I say no, so go ahead.” He shakes his head. “See if you can talk some sense into her while you’re at it.” Without giving the indignant Kate a chance to reply, he goes over to check on his other patient, pulling the makeshift divider across for privacy. (The divider consists of a sheet flung over a cheap plastic washing line. It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing.)

Kate closes her eyes and swears under her breath. Making a mental note of some of the more inventive phrases, Annie waits until she seems to have finished before asking:
      “What’s up?”
      “Aside from Chet being a tyrant, you mean?”
      That’s a kettle of fish she doesn’t want to open just yet, not while Kate’s still so riled up about it. Maybe later, when she’s had the chance to calm down a little. Okay, a lot. “Why did you want to talk to me?”
      “Oh. Yeah, right.” She takes a deep breath, reaches for a cigarette packet that isn’t there, swears, takes another deep breath and then starts. “I had a Forebode vision last night. A dream.”
      “Was Teresa there?”
      “What? No. It…” She stops; peers closely at Annie. “You had one too?”
      “Yes.”
      “Tell me about yours first.” Annie does so, focusing on the memory so she can be sure she doesn’t leave anything out. When she gets to the clock and the numbers, Kate frowns thoughtfully. “That’s… interesting. Very interesting. What happened next?”
      “I woke up staring at my bedside clock.” A tight smile. “It was exactly 3:18am.”
      “Huh.”
      When she doesn’t say anything straight away, Annie prompts her with: “Your turn: I’ve shown you mine; now you show me yours.”
      “Ha.” Kate looks amused. “I think I’m a little old for you, Kid. And straight.” The grin melts into a frown. “My vision. Right.” A deep breath. “It was different to yours, but that same number turned up in it.” She closes her eyes in concentration. “I saw a child in a hooded red cloak. She was walking along a path, filling a basket with roses she picked from tangle of bushes growing alongside it. The thorns were making a bloody mess of her hands, but she didn’t even seem to notice; just kept right on picking them and laying them down in her basket. She counted them out as she did so: three-hundred and sixteen, three-hundred and seventeen, three-hundred and eighteen.” She opens her eyes again. “That’s when I woke up. I didn’t have a clock nearby -- Chet took my fucking mobile off me; can you believe that? -- so I don’t know what time it was. It was still dark out, though. Could’ve been about the same time as you.”
      “What do you think it means? What do you think they mean?”
      “No fucking clue as yet. I have to think about it.”
      “Maybe we can discuss is with… Oh shit.”
      “What?”
      “Mona’s waiting for me. She said to give her five minutes or so, and it’s easily been twice that. I’ll be back in a bit.”
      “I’ll just sit here and twiddle my thumbs then, shall I?”
      “I’d rather you start that thinking you were threatening to do. You’ve had more experience of this kind of analysis than I have.” Her tone sharpens, sounding not unlike Kate’s when delivering one of her stinging lectures. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself and start putting the pieces together.”
      Kate looks like she’s about to respond with anger, but then shakes her head with a wry grin. “You’ve obviously been spending too much time with me, Kid.”
      “Obviously.” Annie returns the grin with a brief smile of her own before continuing with: “Anyway, I doubt I’ll be that long. I’ll bring Mona up here and introduce the two of you, if she’s willing. She’s an experienced Foreboder -- getting another perspective might help.”
      “Fine. Go on, then.”

Mona is on her own again when Annie steps into her office. She seems relieved to see her.
      “I’m glad you came back,” she says softly. “I was just thinking about coming to look for you.”
      “Umm, sorry about that. I went to talk to someone, and ended up getting a little distracted. I wasn’t intending to take so long. Sorry.” She doesn’t know why she’s feeling so nervous. Maybe it’s because this is the first time she’s really spoken to Mona since they escaped that awful trap.
      “That’s okay.” Mona also seems nervous. Something, anyway, and maybe for the same reasons. “I wanted to say thank you. For getting me out of that… Out of there.” She pauses, but before Annie can respond, continues with: “And for teaching Lo-Jack and the others how to pass spirits over. It’s meant a lot to them. It means a lot to me.” She smiles, and Annie finds herself smiling in response.
      “You’re welcome on both counts. I’m glad I could help.” Almost to her surprise, she realises that she doesn’t regret what happened to her. Saving Mona more than paid for all those deaths she went through.
      “I didn’t even realise that anyone else could learn to pass ghosts over. I thought it was just something I could do.”
      “If I’d realised they didn’t know, I would have tried to teach them sooner. It’s something we’ve… Something Orpheus has known about for a little while.”
      “It must be nice to have someone to teach you things like that. A whole organisation, no less.” It isn’t clear whether Mona’s feeling wistful or resentful.
      “Well, most of it wasn’t around when I died.” It’s funny -- she can talk about that now without the familiar pang in her chest. When did that happen? “It came along afterwards.” There’s no need to mention that she helped to develop a lot of it. “But yes: it’s good to have support. And somewhere to go back to.” Somewhere to call home.
      “Even if we all die alone.”
      “Yes.” ‘Two moments of understanding in as many days.’ Or the same day, depending on how you want to look at it. ‘What are the odds?’ It’s almost a shame to break it, but she did come here for a reason. “Anyway, I wanted to talk to you…”
      “Oh! There was something I wanted to talk to you about, as well… But you go ahead.”
      “Kate -- another spook -- and I both had visions last night.” Seeing the expression on Mona’s face, she stops. “You too?”
      “Yes.”
      “What was it?”
      “Tell me yours and -- Kate’s, was it? -- yours and Kate’s first.” Annie fills her in on the salient details and she frowns. “Neither of those match mine, but they might still be connected. I saw…” Her eyes grow distant. “I was in the middle of a crowd of people. They were screaming. I was screaming. And running. We were running from a white-robed figure on a jet black horse. It -- he? -- drew a sword, sweeping it through the crowd as he rode. Wherever he went, people died. They fell bloody and twitching to the ground, and when they fell they revealed in their midst a large white chess piece: a bishop. That’s when I woke up.”
      “Do you know what time it was?”
      A head-shake. “I’m afraid not. Just sometime during the night. Is it important?”
      “Maybe. I don’t know. Probably not.”
      “They must be connected. It’s too much of a coincidence otherwise. What do you think they all mean?”
      “I’m not sure yet. I was hoping… Will you come upstairs to meet Kate? Maybe if we put our heads together, we can work out what’s coming.”
      “Yes. Alright. Now?”
      “If that’s okay?”
      Mona nods. “I don’t have anything else planned right now. And I think I’d like to meet some of your friends.”
      “Can I ask you something before we go up?”
      “Sure. What?”
      “Have you ever seen another spook who looks exactly like you? A doppelganger?”
      Mona frowns. “Yes.” She wraps her arms around herself, shivering as if cold. “I… She was there at the tower.”
      “Oh. I see.” It’s obvious that Mona doesn’t want to talk about it, and Annie thinks she knows exactly why. Being tortured by her mirror image isn’t exactly one of her fondest memories either.

Annie introduces Mona to Kate, Chet and Zoë. Fortunately, Kate seems to be in a much better mood than she was earlier. It probably helps that she’s got something to occupy her mind: something she can usefully do. At Annie’s prompting, Mona goes over the details of her own vision and then the ghost, the projector and the revenant put their heads together to try to work out what it all means. The numbers are obviously important: a count, perhaps? They all agree that it’s unlikely to be a date. The visions all felt too immediate, too imminent. It’s doubtful they’re referring to an event as far ahead as the eighteenth of March. Death features strongly in two visions, and the fact that all three women saw something probably means that the event is a large or significant one.
      “So, lots of deaths happening soon,” says Kate. “Fuck, sometimes I hate this allegorical shit. Why can’t we have a nice, straightforward date, time and location?”
      “Sometimes it’s more literal than this,” says Mona.
      “Yeah, but that doesn’t help us now.”
      “Where do we even start looking? How do we narrow this down?” Frustration fills Annie’s voice.
      “Well…” Kate frowns. “The spectre sightings. Do we know where they were?”
      “Only what you told me: the city somewhere. Do you think they’re related?”
      “It seems likely. More to the point.” Kate smiles bitterly. “What other leads do we have?”
      “Good point.” Inspiration strikes. “The parties.”
      “What? What parties?”
      “In honour of all the ‘hauntings’. Some of the local clubs are holding a spook night. Lots of people hoping to see ghosts or just to have a good time. Either way, it’s going to be big.”
      “When?”
      Annie thinks for a moment. “Friday.”
      “That has to be it. Has to. Are these clubs all in the same place?”
      “No.” Annie shakes her head. “They’re all over the city.”
      “Then we need to narrow it down. Try to get an idea of what’s going to happen.”
      “I’m not walking forwards.” Mona’s voice is quiet, but determined. “I’m sorry, I can’t. Not if there are monsters… spectres involved.”
      “I can…” Kate starts to say, but Annie interrupts.
      “No, you can’t. You’re in no fit state: the last time nearly killed you. You can’t do this.” She takes a breath. “But I can.”

Without waiting for a reply, Annie concentrates, summoning up what she’s come to think of as the shard of Teresa in her soul. It doesn’t happen the first time; she’s too afraid… Afraid of being trapped again. Of dying again. Or worse. This is the first time she’s tried to use Forebode since it happened. ‘I have to do this,’ she thinks. ‘I can’t afford to be afraid.’ This time, it works. Her guide appears, taking both of her hands and leading her forwards, through a door that wasn’t there before. It’s a classroom by the looks of it, and it’s filled with children. They’re chattering excitedly, anticipation filling the air like on the night before Christmas. And there does arise a clatter, when a man flings the classroom door wide open. He holds a hamper in his arms, and as the children cluster eagerly around him, he opens it to distribute sweets and treats of every description. The children take them, laughing happily all the while.
      “It’s the pigment,” she breathes. [2]
      “What was that?” It’s Kate’s voice. She’s back in the attic again, and she knows without a doubt what that vision means.
      “It’s the pigment.” Louder, this time. “Whoever’s behind this… They’re going to taint the pigment supply. And people are going to die.”
      “You’re sure? We don’t have a lot of scope for guesswork on this.”
      “It’s all guesswork, Kate. You know that. But this feels right to me.”
      “Well, that’ll have to suffice, I suppose.” Kate shakes her head. “I don’t envy you, Kid. I only wish I could help.”
      “I’ll tell the others. We’ll stop it. We have to.” That last she is certain of.

Mona walks her to the exit.
      “Do you do this kind of thing often?”
      “What kind of thing?”
      “Try to stop bad things from happening.”
      “Not generally. Not like this. Although it seems to be more common of late. And I think it’s going to happen more often in future.” She glances over at Mona. “I’ve only recently started to develop Forebode.”
      “The ability to see the past and future? You call it Forebode?”
      “Yes.” She tilts her head curiously. “What do you call it?”
      “Walking forwards. Or backwards, depending.” Mona shrugs self-consciously. “I’m not good at naming things. You should see what I used to call my pets.”
      Annie gives her a small smile. “It’s descriptive. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
      “Yes, well… I’m sorry I can’t help you more.”
      “That’s alright. It looks like you’ve got your hands full here.”
      Mona sighs heavily. “You can say that again. It’s going to take a while to put the heart back into this place. I’ve been away so long…”
      “You’re back now. And it’s starting to feel like a real community here.”
      “Yes, I suppose it is.” She smiles faintly.
      Impulsively, Annie bursts out: “I’d like to help. With passing over the ones that want to go. And there might be other things I can teach the people here. If they want to learn. If you want me to.”
      “I’d like that.” Mona’s smile lights up her whole face. “You’re always welcome here. You’ve already done so much for us. For me. I wish there was something I could do for you.”
      “Well…” She hesitates.
      “What is it?”
      “There might be something.”
      “Please, just tell me.”
      “You… You know that it’s possible to track someone through Forebode.”
      “Yes, I know.” Mona looks wary. “That’s how he… That’s how I ended up trapped.”
      “I think… Kate and I think it might be possible to stop that; to learn how to cover our tracks. Kate can’t project at the moment, so we need another strong Foreboder. The idea is that they would see if they can sense me when I’m walking forwards or backwards. If there is some trace or flare that it sends up, then I could try to conceal it. All they would have to do would be to try to sense me. I’d be the one doing the walking. Would you be willing to do that? I’d understand if you didn’t want to.”
      “No, it’s… I could do that.”
      “Are you sure? I’d still help out here. That offer isn’t conditional or anything.”
      “I didn’t think it was.” The wariness in her eyes softens, although she doesn’t smile. “And I’m sure. I… I don’t want to walk, but I can look.” More quietly, she adds. “I wouldn’t mind learning how to conceal my own traces in future.”
      “Thank you.” Mona’s agreement is a weight off her mind. “Do you have any idea how it might work? How someone could track a Forebode user?”
      Mona shakes her head. “No. I’m afraid I’ve never had much interest in metaphysics. I just want to help people.” And then it’s time for them to part ways. As they exchange goodbyes Annie can’t understand why her chest feels tight and her eyes seem to be burning with unshed tears. It isn’t as though Mona reminds her that much of Teresa. Hardly at all, really. As she turns away, and prepares to ripcord back to her body, she silently recites a now-familiar promise. ‘I’ll find you, Teresa. I won’t give up. I will save you from them. I swear it.’

James and Matthieu’s shopping trip passes without incident. When they have everything they think they need (including James’ shotgun), Matthieu goes to set up the drop-points and James ripcords back to the warehouse. Craig and Shelley are in the middle of setting up cameras and other electronic security measures. Mitch is hovering anxiously over Hoyt’s cradle, keeping a close eye on the displays. He seems rather on edge. John is keeping himself to himself. Frank and Tom have been back for a good while, and are both occupied with trying to learn or practice various abilities. (Tom has made no secret of his desire to master Deadwire as quickly as possible, and no one ever knows what Frank’s up to.) Shortly after James’ return (around midday), Ben also comes back and he’s looking completely frazzled.
      “That was an experience I never want to repeat,” he announces loudly. As sound carries well in the warehouse, and people are curious souls, various of the occupants wander out to see what’s going on. Tom is the first one to ask a question.       “What happened?”
      Ben seems only too happy to talk about it. “Annie suggested I start tracking back the supply of pigment, so I went to talk to some dealers. [3] I started leaning on one of them a little, trying to find out some info. Except it turned out that he had a friend.” He shakes his head. “It was a fucking spectre.”
      “Did it attack you?” The second question comes from James: no surprise that it’s combat-related.
      “Nah. Just stood there looking ugly. I didn’t let on that I’d seen it; just wrapped up the conversation real quick and then left. It didn’t follow me.”
      Tom looks thoughtful. “Do you think the dealer knew it was there?”
      “Doubt it. Got a definite bodyguard vibe from it, although all I know for certain is that pretending it wasn’t there when all I wanted to do was bust a cap in its ass was probably the hardest fucking thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t sign up to be no actor.” Another head shake. “I’ll be leaving that contact alone in future.”

Unfortunately, that intent lasts only until Annie gets back to tell them all that they need to stop someone doing something to the pigment supply that will result in a lot of deaths in two days’ time. Fortunately, that no one bothers to question her closely about how she knows this. Although they seem happy enough to accept that the knowledge came from a Forebode vision, they might be less accepting if they knew how much of it involves guesswork and a gigantic leap of faith. So, all in all, it’s probably a good thing that they don’t ask. After a brief discussion, they decide to rest for an hour or so -- many of them are running fairly low on vitality -- and then head on out. Ben will drive the van and James, Frank, Annie and Tom will go out with him in body. When they get to the dealer’s apartment, the four skimmers will project and Ben will drive back to the warehouse with their bodies. Once they’ve taken care of the spectre, Tom will Puppet him to find out what he knows. Where they go from there will depend on what they find out, but in general terms they intend to move on to his supplier and do the same (hopefully without the need to fight a spectre) until they get to the source. It’s a fairly simple, straightforward plan. So, what are the odds that something is going to go wrong?

The first sign that things aren’t going to go as hoped is when they turn onto the dealer’s street and Ben starts swearing.
      “Fuck! Shit! Shit shit shit shit shit! Motherfucker!” What he lacks in imagination, he more than makes up in emotion.
      “What is it? What’s wrong?” Frustratingly, none of them can see anything from the back of the van. It isn’t clear which of them actually asks the question, but they’re all thinking it.
      “Cop cars. Two of them. And a police cordon around the building. Crime scene tape and everything. We’re too fucking late.”
      “You think it killed him?” It’s the obvious assumption, especially for someone with Tom’s background. And, unfortunately, in this case “obvious” probably means “correct”.
      “Just our fucking luck.”
      “Are we still going in?” It’s no surprise that James brings up the practical considerations.
      “Yes. We still have to find out what we can.”
      “We might as well go with the original plan, then.” Tom shakes his head. “It’s just gotten either much simpler, or much more complicated.”
      “Fine.” Ben drives around the block slowly so his passengers can project and head for the dealer’s flat. As originally intended, he drives their unoccupied bodies back to the warehouse. It’s up to them to see what they can salvage.

It is, of course, the dealer’s flat that’s the centre of all the commotion. There is a bored looking cop standing outside and the door is sealed with police tape. When they get into the flat, they quickly realise that the forensics squad haven’t been here yet. They can tell this by the fact that there are no officers inside, and the dead body sprawled on the floor. James -- the only one of them with anything approaching medical training -- examines the body. Tom searches the apartment, Annie keeps watch for spectres and Frank is invisible. The corpse matches Ben’s description of the dealer -- something that doesn’t surprise them in the slightest -- and has no visible injuries. Rigor mortis has set in, but there is little to no lividity. In his inexpert opinion (his medical training is more paramedic than post mortem technician), the man has probably been dead for a few hours or so, but he isn’t certain. The dead man’s face is contorted in a rictus grin; a rather disquieting sight. As James is concluding his examination, Annie and Frank notice something strange. There seems to be some kind of a disturbance on the spiritual plane, located just over the body. Upon closer study, it becomes apparent to each of them that they’re looking at the rapidly fading traces of a dissipated ghost. The dead dealer’s? Did the spectre kill him and then dissipate his ghost? This all seems very strange. Both Annie and Frank mention their discovery to the others (Frank by way of creating a disembodied voice to whisper in James’ ear).

Tom doesn’t turn up anything of interest in the apartment, so James starts his own search. He discovers a concealed stash of drugs. The amount is consistent with the deceased being a dealer, but not a regional distributor. There is what looks like marijuana, cocaine and, of course, pigment. None of this is precisely unexpected. What is unexpected is the small gauze chess piece buried underneath them. It’s a white bishop. He shows this to the others, and Annie immediately starts to swear.
      “What’s wrong?” James asks, looking slightly puzzled.
      “In Mona’s vision, there was a large chess piece -- a white bishop -- at the centre of the carnage. Maybe it’s a calling card. Or a target. He’s been marked.”
      “But what does it mean?”
      “I don’t know.” She frowns thoughtfully. “James, do you think you could use Congeal to try to analyse it?”
      He looks puzzled. “What do you mean?”
      “Something like…” She hesitates, unsure how to put this into words. “Like how I used Flesh Flux to analyse Shelley’s gauze and work out which parts were her, and which parts were the machine. Congeal and Flesh Flux both let you shape gauze, so maybe you can do something similar.”       James looks extremely doubtful. “Maybe. I can try.” He does so, reaching into the object as if he were trying to shape a gun, or a piece of armour. His senses start to open up; he can almost grasp it. Almost… And then it’s gone. The white bishop starts to lose its structure, dissolving into a formless puddle of gauze which in turn evaporates to nothingness. “I think I broke it…”
      “Well… Thanks for trying.” So much for that bright idea. Although the object’s demise does yield one piece of useful information: it is possible to affect pre-existing gauze objects with this horror. While everyone’s wondering what to do now, Frank suggests that they take a sample of the pigment for further analysis in case it’s some of the tainted batch that Annie thinks is destined for the clubs on “Spook Night”. James bags some up -- using one of the zip-loc bags that the dealer has lying around in his apartment -- and uses Helter Skelter to drop it through the window into the alleyway below. (He checks first to be sure that there’s no one below who might see the small object fall.)

There is nothing here that sheds any light on precisely what happened to the dealer (whose name is, or rather was, Mark). They suspect that the spectre killed him, but there is no way to tell. Well, there is one. Hesitantly -- and after a great deal of soul-searching -- Annie suggests that she could use Forebode to look back upon his death. Since the event happened so recently, viewing it shouldn’t use enough energy to send up a spike. On the other hand, the horror isn’t without its risks. This seems as good an opportunity as any to tell to the others that using Forebode isn’t necessarily safe, so she explains what these are. They already know that looking at a spectre’s creation seems to open up a way into the land of the spectres, which the unfortunate Foreboder can be dragged through. More recently, Mona’s experiences have shown that other spooks can hunt someone down by following their tracks through visions. Put the two together and, well, if the spectre was involved in the dealer’s death, there’s a chance that it can either follow Annie along the connection, or drag her away through it. Neither of those possibilities particularly appeal, but she finds the second one absolutely terrifying. If it shows up at the apartment, the three of them might well be able to take it down. If it drags her away, though… It’s a risk. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to tell how much of one it is. While the others think about it, Annie tries to convince herself that she can do this. ‘I used it at Brooke House without any problems,’ she thinks. But that was different. That wasn’t a specific event where she knew a spectre was likely to be present. Tom says that it’s up to Annie whether or not she makes the attempt. ‘It’s probably safe.’ But she has no way of knowing that: there’s no way to calculate just how risky it actually is. ‘It has to be done. We need to know.’ The part of her mind that was raising objections is silent in answer to that one.
      After a moment or two, Tom says: “It’s up to you, Annie.”
      “Fine. Okay.” She takes a deep breath. “I’ll try it.”

At James’ suggestion, Frank takes the drugs and leaves, using Bedlam to conceal them -- and him -- from prying eyes. They want to make sure that they’re prepared to make a quick exit, just in case the worst happens. When everyone’s ready, Annie concentrates on summoning up her spirit guide. Silently, she asks: ‘Show me this man’s death.’ She doesn’t actually see Teresa appear, but suddenly the shade is standing over the body. Not looking at Annie, she reaches down as if to take hold of it. Instead, it’s as if she takes hold of reality itself, bunching it in her hands like so much cloth. With a sudden, violent motion she tears away the curtain of now so Annie can see what happened then. Just as she asked.

The dealer is convulsing on the floor, as if in the middle of a grand mal seizure. Bloodied spittle is frothing from his mouth and his convulsions are so violent that he has broken both of his hands in his thrashing. Something else breaks as Annie watches, the sound of it like the snap of a dry twig underfoot. This is undignified, unpleasant and above all messy -- definitely not one of the better ways to go. Annie is almost unable to tear her horrified gaze away from the spectacle: that’s why she nearly misses the spectre. For one heartstopping moment she thinks it’s seen her, thinks it’s reaching for her, but then she realises that it isn’t and it hasn’t. It’s standing over the dying man, leaning over him, right where Teresa was standing. It’s a wizened-looking thing, all gaunt hollows and sharp angles. In place of teeth it has jagged slivers of glass, and its fingers are hypodermic needles. As far as Annie can tell, it isn’t doing anything other than watching him die. Eventually -- a few seconds or so at most -- that happens, and soon after that his ghost starts to form. That’s when the spectre acts. Barely have the first wisps of gauze started to congeal into the outline of a man, when it pounces, tearing him to ribbons. And it doesn’t end there. Stabbing the stray scraps and tatters of gauze, it stuffs them into a suddenly gaping maw. It’s eating him…

      “It ate him.” Spoken in a hushed, appalled voice, those words are the first to pass Annie’s lips when she snaps out of her Forebode trance. It ends when the spectre finishes its meagre meal. Naturally such a remark requires explanation, so she describes what she saw to the others as best as she can. It may not be clear whether or not the spectre actually killed the man, but there is no doubt that it consumed his ghost: it obviously isn’t just a bystander. (And what were the odds of that, anyway? Not high, that’s what.) So, the vision didn’t tell them anything they hadn’t already surmised, but the confirmation is useful. And the exercise didn’t draw a spectre or lose them a team-member, so they’ve arguably even come out ahead of the game.

There is some discussion among the spooks left in the flat. They speculate that perhaps the dealer dipped into his own stash. Could the tainted drugs already be with the dealers? Maybe if they want to find out how these are going to get into the clubs, all they need to do is look for more dealers with ‘companions’ like this one. Tom Inhabits the dead man’s telephone and calls in an anonymous tip to the police, telling them that a bad batch of Pigment is just about to hit the streets and implicating the deceased. (Before he makes the call, there is some debate over whether he should go to find a public telephone or just use the one in the apartment. In the end, he decides that the worse that can happen is that the police will try to trace the call. No doubt they’ll be somewhat mystified as to how it could come from a dead man’s apartment when the guards outside the door saw no one go in. It might even encourage them to investigate a little more thoroughly. More likely, however, is the fact that they won’t even trace the call. Oh, well.)

James decides to remain near the apartment to see who comes a-calling. There’s a chance that some of the dealer’s contacts – or some of his customers, who might be able to lead them to more dealers – might stop by. Tom and Annie ripcord back to their bodies and fill Ben in on what they found out. He isn’t surprised to hear that the dealer is dead. The news that his ghost was eaten by the spectre does, however, give him pause for thought.
      “What does it need the gauze for?”
      “Pardon?”
      “It isn’t as though ghosts need to eat; although I’ve seen some of them try. And you don’t need to eat someone’s gauze to take vitality from them. So, why do spectres do it?”
      “I have no idea.” Annie’s gaze is distant as she thinks about that question. “Maybe they do need the gauze. Maybe they don’t replenish their vitality – or whatever it is that they use – the same way that ghosts and projectors do.”
      “So, what do we do now?” Tom is the voice of practicality.
      “Got some contacts among the street dealers. We could go and see if any of them have a spectre problem or a gauze chess piece in their stash.” Ben shakes his head. “Fuck knows how we’d try to tell them that they’ve got a bad batch on their hands, though.”
      “If you wanted to get a bad batch of drugs into the clubs so people were more likely to buy that than any untainted stuff, how would you do it?” Annie’s question is addressed to Ben, who’s the nearest thing they have to an expert on the subject.
      “Easy enough, if they control the source: just a matter of timing. Most dealers will have a pretty good idea of how quickly they tend to go through their supply, so will pretty much only have what they need. This event’s as big as it sounds, then they’ll probably have to order in more specifically. Spectre’s – or whoever’s running them – just need to make sure the last re-up is from the tainted batch.
      “What if they open it beforehand? Or don’t break into it during the spook night?” It’s unsure whether Tom’s cop instincts are twinging at all this evidence of Ben’s insider knowledge.
      “Didn’t say it was perfect, but it only has to work in most cases. They get enough of the, dealers to time it right, most of the buyers are going to end up with the tainted product. Maybe that’s all they need.”
      “I don’t think they need to kill everyone,” Annie adds softly. “I think they just need a particular number of deaths. Or ghosts, perhaps.”
Tom looks over at her. “How many?”
      “Three hundred and eighteen.”

Back outside the dealer’s apartment, James spots someone suspicious. It’s a young (student age), shifty-looking man, who looks like he’s obliviously heading for the apartment block. When he notices the cops, he turns around and hurries away, looking distinctly guilty. James pegs him for one of Mark’s customers. Figuring that he might know other dealers, he swoops in to possess the man and go through his memories. However, he’s had little practice at using Puppetry and doesn’t manage to anchor himself firmly enough. Frustratingly, the man’s memories are spread out before him, but he doesn’t have time to go through them. He barely has time to suppress the man’s consciousness and confirm that yes, his assessment was correct. Before his tentative hold fails, he makes use of what little time he has to take his host’s mobile ’phone out of his pocket and toss it to one side, just out of sight. He thinks it might be useful. When he emerges, he contemplates making another attempt. There is a complication, however: the first one used enough energy to send out a pulse, and he seems to have attracted something’s attention. It’s heading his way, and it looks a lot like the descriptions that Ben and Annie gave... With only the briefest of hesitations – how hard can a solitary spectre be, anyway? – he ripcords.

      “We need to go back to the flat,” is the first thing James says when he’s back in his body.
      “Why?” Ben and Tom ask the question simultaneously, Ben already starting to turn the van around.
      “What happened?” Annie looks James over, checking for signs of injury. He explains about the mobile ’phone, saying that he thinks it might be useful. None of them are particularly convinced, but they’re not that far away and there’s always a possibility it might come in handy. Besides, James didn’t mention seeing any spectres, so it’s not like it’s going to be much of a risk, right? As they’re approaching the area, James suddenly says:
      “Oh, yeah – there was a spectre.”
      “What?” Tom and Annie provide the interrogative chorus this time.
      “The one that you both described.” James indicates Ben and Annie. “It came back when I Puppeteered that man.” Silence is his only answer, if only because certain people are counting to ten under their breath so that they don’t say something that someone might regret. “But it should be okay, right? Spectres don’t usually attack people when they’re in the flesh.”
      “Not usually,” says Tom, cautiously. “It didn’t attack Ben.
      Annie finds her voice. “I’m not going,” she says grimly. “I’m not getting out of the van.” Luckily, no one tries to persuade her otherwise. Instead, Ben pulls up just around the corner, and James – wearing his trusty baseball cap of disguise + 2 – hops out. It takes less than a minute for him to snag the ’phone and get back to the van. He doesn’t see any sign of the spectre.
      Before setting off, Ben asks: “Anyone got anything else they want to do before we go?” No one says anything. “Good.”

James starts to look through the ’phone he acquired. Finding a Mark, he shows the number to Ben, who confirms that it belongs (well, belonged) to the dealer. There have been calls to and from that number, but no text messages. In total, there are about thirty names in his contact list. Unfortunately, none of them are helpfully titled “My back-up dealer”. James pokes at it for a while, and then turns to Ben.
      “Do you think you take a look at this guy’s text-messages and see if you could imitate his style?”
      Ben raises an eyebrow. “What?”
      “So we can try to find out if any of them are drug dealers.”
      “You’re asking me to do this.” It isn’t precisely a question, but the words are full of disbelief. “If only we had someone who could do this properly. Someone who was good at languages and knows how people on the street talk. Someone who could do that ‘linguistic analysis’ shit to figure out how he types. If only someone like that was sitting not three feet away from you in this very van. If only.” [4]
      Annie grins. “Apparently you have hidden talents, Ben.”
      “Yeah, I don’t need no language skills; just my massive talent at sarcasm. Par-lay voo spanglay.” In the face of Ben’s mockery James, perhaps wisely, stays silent.

In the meanwhile, Frank has been (quite literally) winging his way back to the warehouse. (He’s been learning Flesh Flux from Annie.) Perhaps aiming for the fallen angel aesthetic, he chooses black-feathered wings. If only there was someone who could see and appreciate his efforts. The journey takes him about one and a half hours, but he still beats the others back. His entrance is spectacular, heralded by a heavenly choir and bathed in glorious, radiant light (or, rather, the illusions thereof).Unfortunately, there are very few spooks around, and the ones are seem to be too busy to pay him much attention. (The computer parts that Shelley ordered have arrived, so all of her attention is focused on building and optimising her machine. The project is now almost complete.) Perhaps sulking, perhaps not, he re-enters his body and decides to rest while he waits for the others to return.

Their entrance, while considerably less impressive than his, apparently doesn’t go unnoticed. Barely has the door closed behind them, when a spectral Hoyt wanders casually out to greet them.
      “It worked, then?” Observes Ben.
      “Or it didn’t, and we’re looking at his ghost.” Tom displays the optimism for which he is known.
      “It did work,” says Hoyt, grinning.
      “Great!” Ben starts to clap Hoyt on the back, and then remembers not to. “Mitch say when it’ll be my turn?”
      “Not yet. I think he wants to run some more tests and do some calibrations first.”
      “And he probably wants to make sure Hoyt survives being thawed again.” Annie demonstrates a level of tact comparable to that of Tom’s optimism.
      Hoyt smiles wryly. “That, too.”
      “Yeah, well, don’t you dare go and fuck this up for me by dyin’.”
      “I’ll try.”

Frank comes out to join them. There is some discussion, during which it becomes apparent that it might have been more useful for them to grab the dealer’s mobile ’phone. Tom asks Shelley if she would be able to use Deadwire to jump into Mark’s ’phone, and retrieve all the stored numbers and texts from it. She agrees to give it a go. James warns her to be careful not to leave any traces. Her response to that is rather scathing (grandmother, eggs, etc. and etc.), which irritates him a great deal. She doesn’t seem to notice, pointing out to Tom that doing this will cause a spike. They decide to go out in the van, so she can do this while they’re driving up and down the Interstate. With luck, if the pulse does draw any spectres, they can be long gone before they turn up. (They take the laptop, rather than Shelley’s shiny new machine.) When they’ve left the warehouse, James wonders aloud:
      “Has she always been this rude, or is it just because of what she’s been through lately?”
      “Yes,” replies Annie.

A few minutes after Shelley dives into the Wired (or, given the situation, The Wireless), all the relevant information arrives at the disposable mobile that Tom designated for that purpose. Shelley returns just behind it. When they’re back in the warehouse again, she exits the laptop to say:
      “Give me vitality.” Tom obliges, and she dives back into her computer again. He starts to go through the numbers, calls and texts. Frank and James go off to rest. Annie takes over the laptop for a while and starts trying to get the word out to the club kids that there’s a bad batch of Pigment out there. She makes use of message boards, university mailing lists and anything else that she thinks will get the word out to potential customers. She considers trying to add photographic or video evidence of someone having a bad reaction to a tainted dose (fabricated courtesy of Flesh Flux and a camera ’phone), but Shelley points out that most people would probably just dismiss it as Photoshoppery. There is also the fact that Annie isn’t precisely sure how to fake such a reaction. In the end, she decides not to bother with trying to make it an illustrated account. She just hopes that this will be enough.

Tom works through the information from Mark’s ’phone. There were about thirty people that he regularly called or was called by. Through analysing the calling patterns, he narrows this list down to six likely candidates for the man’s supplier (or at least someone higher up the chain). There are no messages to or from any of these people; just calls. The names are:

  • Lesley Samuel
  • Gavin Pavlowski
  • Leanne Merith
  • Zipline (presumably a nickname)
  • Edward Lancaster
  • Parry Keith
  • Klaus (no last name)

      “Shelley – do you think you could get addresses for these people?”
      “Maybe. Give me vitality when I need it.”
      “Sure.” They go out in the van again, taking the laptop with them.

Back at the warehouse, Annie contemplates using Shelley’s computer while she’s out, but decides a incurring the Haunter’s wrath just isn’t worth the few extra minutes she could spend trawling message boards. Instead, she calls Kate to fill her in on their progress (such as it is). Rather than hearing Kate’s familiar dulcet tones, however, it is a male voice that answers with a brusque:
      “Hello?”
      “Chet?” Even as she asks the question, she remembers that he’d confiscated Kate's mobile.
      “Our security-minded friend would have your balls for using names over an unsecure line,” he observes. After a moment, he adds: “if you had any.”
      “You’re right.” And he is: she’s been on the receiving end of some of Craig’s infamous lectures before. He can be quite scathing when he puts his mind to it. She sighs. “I’m still having a hard time getting used to... all of this.” Being on the run would be bad enough on its own, but when you add in all the rest of it...
      “We’re all going to have to get used to it, Sergeant.”
      “Sergeant?” She sounds a little nonplussed.
      “Yes. Seems appropriate.”
      “Why?”
      “I hear you’ve been holding briefings. Telling people what to do. Sounds like a Sergeant’s job to me.”
      “But that’s not...” Holding briefings? Well, she has been telling people things they need to know; like about her double, and the imminent pigment-related deaths. But, even so: “I haven’t been telling people what to do.” Although he can’t see it, she glowers at the ’phone. “Who said that?”
      “Couldn’t say, Sergeant.” His voice is utterly deadpan.
      “Very well, Captain.” Since he’s being formal about this. “I would like to speak with...” ‘No names,’ she reminds herself. “With your most stubborn patient. Is she up to it?”
      “No.” Chet doesn’t even have to think about it. “Try again tomorrow.”
      Annie briefly thinks about insisting, but refrains. It’s not actually urgent, and they should have more information by tomorrow. Hopefully. “How is she?”
      He sighs. “Not good. It would be bad enough if she had proper hospital care, but as it is... She’s pushing herself too hard.” That certainly sounds like Kate. If only they had adequate facilities, it might not matter so much, but as it is... The thought reminds Annie of something she’s been considering for the past day or so.
      “Are your patients up to being moved?”
      “Maybe.” He sounds cautious. “Why?”
      “As you said: the facilities there aren’t ideal for invalids. I was thinking it might be worth acquiring something along the lines of a caravan or mobile home. It would be more comfortable for them and has the advantage of being mobile.” It would certainly be easier to heat than the warehouse, which is the biggest obstacle to moving them out of Brooke House.
      “Hmm.” He considers for a moment or two. “That could work. Get a large enough vehicle and we can use it for a mobile base; put the cradles on board. We can be ready to move at short notice. Go ahead, Sergeant.”
      “Yes, Sir.” It’s frighteningly easy to get into military mode when talking to Chet. “I’ll get, ah, the finance man onto it.” Their funds are running a little low at the moment, but if anyone can squeeze the necessary from somewhere – and make sure that the purchase doesn’t lead back to them – it’s John. ‘Speaking of the cradles...’ “By the way: today’s experiment was a success.”
      “Yes, I heard. Ben called with an update.”
      “Names on an unsecure line, Sir?” She comments softly, while thinking: ‘So he’s the one who’s been slandering me.’ Somehow, that doesn’t surprise her one bit.
      Chet harrumphs. “Memory isn’t what it used to be. You have to forgive an old man the odd slip.”
      The tiredness in his voice makes her feel a little guilty for pointing it out. “I’m sure you’re still sharper than the rest of us, Captain.”
      “Hmm.” He doesn’t sound convinced. “Anyway, it’s time for me to check on my patients.” That definitely seems to be a dismissal.
      “I’ll call back tomorrow. Give them my good wishes.”
      “Will do. Goodbye, Sergeant.”
      “Goodbye, Captain.”

As it turns out, Tom (and the laptop) aren’t actually gone all that long. Before Shelley disappears into the ether, she tells Tom, brusquely:
      “This might take a while. Go back to the warehouse. It’ll spike at the other end when I come back.”
      “Okay. Be careful out there.” But she’s already gone. While he waits, Tom finds somewhere quiet away from everyone else. Taking out his ’phone, he starts to dial a number and then stops, hesitating over the “send” button. His younger brother is a student at one of the local universities; right in the middle of the demographic being targeted by the spook night’s organisers. Tom doesn’t think his brother takes Pigment, but maybe he’d better warn him, just in case. Maybe... Making a decision, he hits the cancel button and puts the ’phone away. It’s too much of a risk. His brother will be fine: he doesn’t take Pigment. Anyway: they’re going to stop this. Right?

Shelley returns, demanding more vitality from Tom. In exchange, she gives him the list of addresses. Only one of them – Gavin Pavlowski – actually has a New York address, which simplifies matters somewhat. Tom tells Hoyt, Annie and Ben about this, saying that he wants to go and check it out later tonight. He also plans on recruiting Frank and James, but decides not to disturb them just yet. The plan is that Tom will possess Gavin find out everything he knows, preferably while he’s asleep so that he has no memory of it. What they do next will depend on what they find out. It’s essentially the same plan they had for Mark, before he went and ruined it all by dying. There is a distinct possibility that Gavin also has a spectre sticking with him (and, for that matter, a gauze chess piece hidden amongst his drugs stash). If that’s the case, then the plan becomes: take out the spectre, and then possess the dealer.
      Ben frowns. “We should check out the street dealers as well. Might not just be the clubs they’re targeting. I don’t want to go in there without back up, though.”
      “We can all go after we check out Gavin’s place,” says Tom.
      “Sure, but we’ll probably run into some Deadheads. [5] Any of them are jacked up; they’ll be able to see anyone in gauze.”       “And there might be spectres,” adds Annie, softly.
      “Maybe someone could go with Ben in the flesh, just to have a look around,” suggests Hoyt. “The rest of us could wait in the van until we’re needed.”
      Ben snorts. “Yeah, ’cause you’re all gonna blend in so well.” He looks around at the other three. “Gauze boy’s definitely out.” That seems to mean Hoyt. “Not you” – pointing at Tom – “you look like a cop. So does James; well, acts like it anyway. Frank...” A headshake says all there is to say about that option. “You...” His gaze falls on Annie, and he frowns thoughtfully. “You’d probably do. [6] I’d prefer to have a skimmer along, just in case.”
      “Don’t worry Ben; I’ll protect you.” It takes some effort not to smile, but she can’t help the amused glint in her eyes. Ben does not seem overly impressed.

They talk some more, going round in circles as they contemplate the difficulty of the task they’ve set themselves. How many dealers are they talking about – five, ten, twenty? Are all the clubs going to be affected? Is it just the clubs, or do they have to worry about other places as well? Who’s behind this, and what is their goal? How can they stop it? Just over a day to go, and they don’t know any of this, let alone have a real plan. They have to face up to the fact that it might not be possible to stop it completely. That isn’t going to stop them trying, though.
      “It would help if we could narrow down the target locations,” muses Annie, thoughtfully. “There just aren’t enough of us to cover all six clubs; not really.”
      Tom looks quizzically at her. “What do you suggest?”
      She shrugs. “Creative arson, getting Health and Safety inspectors to close one or more of them down, bomb threats... There are a few possibilities, but we’re going to have to move quickly.”
      “Arson?”
      “Yeah. We’d have to make sure there was no one inside at the time, though.” No one else really seems to know what to say to that, and the little group breaks up shortly thereafter.

They plan to set out at around midnight, so sometime between 9 and 10pm Tom and Annie decide to go and get some rest. They’re both running low on energy, and Annie’s been up since 3.18am (precisely). If there’s a chance of going up against spectres, it seems wise to be in good shape. As they’re going to sleep, Frank is just waking up, feeling somewhat refreshed after his nap. After Hoyt and Ben inform him of The Plan (TM), he decides to give his friend the mayor a call. Unfortunately, he seems to have picked a bad time, for Bloomberg answers the ’phone with:
      “Frank. Call me back later. Much later.” He sounds furious, and hangs up before Frank can even say anything. That did not go well. Frank still has a couple of hours to kill, and so decides to do something useful with them. After briefly contemplating playing around with his horrors (so many tempting, sleeping targets), he decides instead to go and scout out one of the nightclubs. A place called Limelight (housed in a converted church) seems to be the closest, and a combination of flight and the subway gets him to the area relatively quickly. (He goes for bat wings this time, rather than feathers; the overall aesthetic is “fiend”.) As he gets close to the church, he starts to feel... strange. There are chills on the back of his neck; icy fingers trailing down his spine. The sensation is rather unpleasant: something isn’t right here. He was already invisible and inaudible, but now he concentrates on making himself even more so, hopefully clouding even the eldritch senses that spooks and spectres have been known to display.

The inside of the club is crawling with spectres. That’s his first impression, anyway. Closer examination shows him that there are about eight of them altogether, two of which seem to be sticking close to living people. The people in question seem to be completely unaware of their hovering companions, obliviously continuing about their business. It does seem to be business, as it happens: after observing them for a while, Frank concludes that they are both drug dealers; a revelation which completely fails to astound him. He gets a good enough look at their faces that he thinks he could give a reasonable description, and would be able to recognise them again if he saw them. The other six spectres don’t seem to be concentrating on anyone in particular, wandering through the club seemingly at random. Neither they, nor the ones on bodyguard duty, seem to be exuding anything like the same kind of power and concentrated malevolence that he got from the Savile Row Reaper. From this, he concludes that they’re probably not Reaper class. Probably.

Frank ripcords back to his body and tells the others what he saw in Limelight. For reasons known only to him, he is vague about the numbers of spectres. At first, the only ones he mentions are the dealers’ companions, but Annie asks:
      “Did you see any more?”
      “There were a few wandering around.”
      “A few? How many?”
      “A handful.”
      “How many is a handful? Five?”
      “Something like that.”
      “So, we’re looking at seven or so spectres in total.”
      “Maybe less.”
      “Fine.” She takes a breath. “Do you know how powerful they were?”
      “Not Reaper class.”
      “Well, that’s something, I suppose...” Despite Frank’s inexplicable evasiveness regarding exact numbers, his information changes things. With very little discussion, they decide to pay a visit to Limelight instead of checking out the potential dealer Shelley and Tom identified from Mark’s contacts list.

Given the number of spectres hanging around the club, everyone agrees that they want to be somewhere else when they jump one of the dealers and his little friend.
      “After all,” says Tom, “even if we’re out of sight, we might well be spiking left, right and centre.”
      “And they talk to each other,” adds Annie.
      “The spectres?” Frank is interested.
      “Yes.”
      “They can communicate telepathically?”
      “They have a hive mind.”
      “When they’re close together, you mean?”
      “No: all of them.”
      “What, every single one?” He sounds a little sceptical.
      “Even the Lost Boys?” James, on the other hand, is downright incredulous, laughing aloud at the idea of something as pathetic as a Lost Boy being part of some great spectre collective.
      “Yes, and yes.” Annie certainly doesn’t look like she’s joking. “Every single one of them.”
      Frank is looking thoughtful. “So, they can all hear the others?”
      “They can, yes, but they don’t always pay attention to every little thing.” She looks towards James. “I doubt the big bads tend to pay much attention to what every little Lost Boy is doing, for example. But they are all connected, and in theory any of them can be aware of what any other one of them is experiencing at any one time. They can certainly communicate with each other through the link.”
      Tom goes straight for the practical consideration. “So we have to make sure we’re far enough away that they can’t just show up before we’ve finished with the one on the dealer.”
      “Yes.” After a brief hesitation, she continues. “There’s also a possibility that we might draw one of the spectres that was hunting Kate and Teresa and I; just like when the Reaper came after Teresa. If they’re still after me and if one of them is paying attention...” She shrugs. “We definitely need to move as soon as we’ve taken it down.” No one argues with that.

Tom thinks that they have enough people to effectively shadow one of the dealers Frank saw there, but splitting up to try to cover both is probably inadvisable. There is some discussion of possible approaches and tactics, and they talk about having someone (possibly multiple people) inside the club to warn those outside when their targets are coming out. (Identifying the targets should be simplicity itself thanks to their escorts.) Matthieu would be a good choice for this because his face hasn’t been plastered over the news as public enemy number one. He seems amenable to the idea, but makes a couple of suggestions of his own. They could set off the fire alarm, forcing everyone (including the dealers and their shadows) out of the club. If any of them are particularly light-fingered, they could acquire the dealers’ car keys and use them to identify which vehicles are theirs (if any). (If they just hand the keys into the cloakroom afterwards, the men will probably just assume they dropped them.) The ideas start to get complicated at this point. In the end, however, they decide to keep it simple: wait outside the club until one of their targets comes out, follow him home and cap the spectre before rifling through his memories. What they do then depends on what they find out. According to Tom, the dealers may well have stashes hidden somewhere outside the club. If so, they will come back to this every ten minutes or so to re-supply. (He thinks this is more likely than them carrying their entire night’s supply on them.) Ben adds that it isn’t exactly unusual for people to stand around chatting or smoking, etc. outside clubs. It looks like they have a plan.

Frank goes to bed. Tom, James, Annie, Matthieu, Ben and Hoyt head over to Limelight in their one remaining black van. During the journey, they refine their plan slightly. If they manage to locate a dealer’s stash they will take it, thereby forcing him to leave the club early (and, hopefully, to contact his supplier). Yes, this could backfire horribly, but they’re confident they can handle the consequences. There is no street parking near the club, so they have to pull into a car park a block or so away from it. Ben and Hoyt stay in the van, and everyone else heads towards the club, taking up positions where they can cover as many of the exits/entrances as possible whilst looking completely innocuous. It isn’t all that long before one of their targets comes into view. They have Frank’s description, but the real giveaway is the spectre trailing behind him. The man disappears into an alleyway across the street, emerging a few minutes later and heading back into the club. As soon as he’s out of sight, Tom casually goes into the alleyway and starts to search for a drugs stash. James covers him, just in case the dealer comes back out and tries to do something about it. Annie and Matthieu remain out front, keeping an eye out for the other dealer, spectres, or anything that looks like trouble.

Tom spends a good few minutes searching, but doesn’t manage to find the stash. Not wanting to be caught, he heads back out again and stands with Annie, as if the two of them are conversing. James moves off so that it doesn’t look like he’s keeping an eye on the alleyway. No more than five or ten minutes later, the dealer visits his stash again, spectre in tow. Once the pair of them are safely back in the club, James sidles into the alleyway to make a search of his own. He doesn’t think the bouncers see him: at any rate, neither of them says anything. His search is successful, and he discovers the stash hidden behind a loose brick in the wall. It consists of a large zip-loc bag containing a number of smaller bags of black powder; probably pigment. Concealing it about his person, he discreetly exits the alleyway and informs the others. Now that they’re moving onto the next stage, everyone apart from Tom withdrawing to positions out of sight of the club in preparation for shadowing the dealer.

Tom is acting as lookout. He doesn’t have that long to wait before the target comes out again and heads for the alleyway. Shortly after he disappears from view, there comes a burst of loud and heartfelt cursing and then he races out, wild-eyed and brandishing a gun. A couple are making out against the wall a short distance from the alleyway, too wrapped up in each other to notice him until his shoves the weapon against the man’s face and demands to know:       “Did you take it? Did you? Did you take my stash?” The man stutters something inaudible and the dealer grabs hold of the woman and pushes the barrel of the gun right into her mouth. “What about you, Bitch?” She chokes and splutters, tears streaming down her face. The man starts begging him to leave them alone, saying over and over again that they don’t know anything about his stash. Someone else notices what’s going on and starts yelling:
      “Oh my God, he’s got a gun!” This isn’t actually that common an occurrence for this area, so people take notice. There is a general panic, with people scrambling to get out of the way. The bouncers, however, are unfazed. One of them comes over and starts talking to the dealer. It isn’t clear exactly what he’s saying, but it’s obviously having an effect: the dealer is starting to look a little less wound up. The bouncer puts a hand on his shoulder and says something else, and the dealer steps back from the couple, taking his gun out of the girl’s mouth. He doesn’t resist when the bouncer promptly takes it off him. The couple takes that as their cue to scram. The danger seems to be over now, the dealer slumping wearily as the bouncer puts an arm about his shoulders and steers him towards the club. At a signal from him, the other bouncer ducks inside for a few moments, coming back out with a bottle, which he hands to the dealer. The dealer starts swigging liberally from it, muttering brokenly:
      “They took my stash, man. They took my fucking stash.” He starts to cry. Shaking his head, the dealer hands his gun back to him and he absently tucks it into his waistband.
      “Go home, Gary. Sleep it off. It’ll look better in the morning.” The bouncer gives him a gentle push and he stumbles off into the night, his spectre following along behind him.

Tom calls this in to the others. The dealer – “Gary” – doesn’t seem to be heading towards the car park, so Ben and Hoyt re-distribute the other three so they can pick up his trail. Tom, Matthieu, Annie and James shadow him through the streets, switching off every now and then so they can keep him in sight without him getting suspicious. Tom co-ordinates the exercise, which seems to go smoothly; neither their target not his companion show any sign of noticing them. Gary walks for about an hour, steadily drinking from the bottle and occasionally yelling something about: “Fucking thieves!” He is quite clearly drunk as a skunk. When he gets to the junction of 43rd and 9th, he starts to bend his steps towards an apartment block. Following him inside would be difficult to do without being noticed, so after a hurried consultation over cellphone, they decide to jump him before he gets inside. The plan is that Ben will grab the dealer while the skimmers take down the spectre: nice and simple.

Tom (the current shadow) ducks around the corner to get in the van. All the skimmers except Matthieu project, Matthieu intending to stay in body so he can use his ghost-shot-loaded gun if necessary. Hoyt takes over the driving and Ben, after shifting the skimmers’ bodies as far out of line of sight from the street as he can, moves to the sliding door. Once everyone’s in position, Hoyt drives towards the dealer, pulling up beside him just as the sound of the vehicle starts to penetrate his drunken haze. Ben throws open the side door and leaps out, tackling the man to the ground. At the same time, James Congeals a gauze gun and opens fire on the spectre. The bullets impact its chitinous carapace, spider-webbing it with cracks. Flames erupt from Tom’s gauze, flowing over him like water as he leaps out of the van and punches the spectre with a blazing fist.

The spectre blurs, its movements becoming jerky and syncopated like a film skipping frames. This makes it much harder to see; let alone target, and then it’s suddenly inside the van, sinking its jagged teeth into James’ gauze. Apparently, he got its attention. Annie is already drawing breath to Wail, but the shock of seeing it appear right there in front of her makes her react instinctively, drawing on something much deeper and darker than mere vitality as she screams. [7] The sound splinters into slivers of black glass which hurtle towards the spectre, but seem to leave it unaffected. [8] Matthieu raises his gun, but can’t get a clear shot: there’s too great a chance of hitting one of the others for him to take the risk. James, however, is close enough to it that this isn’t a problem for him. When he finally manages to free his gun from where it’s pinned between the two of them, he points it at his target and calmly pulls the trigger several times. The spectre’s chitinous armour splinters and cracks. It starts to pull away, but it’s too late: Tom’s already moving in to take advantage of the opening. His attack lands solidly, and then it’s all over: they’ve dissipated the spectre.

While this fight is happening, Ben subdues the dealer with ease, bundling him into the van. The man does try to escape, but between the alcohol and his relative weediness; it just isn’t happening. As Hoyt drives away – the van starts to move even as the last wisps of gauze are drifting away on a non-existent breeze – Ben one-handedly slides the door closed and then sets about taping Gary’s wrists, ankles and mouth. (Apparently, there was a roll of gaffa tape just conveniently lying around in the back of the van.) They decide to wait until they’re safely out of the area before Tom possesses their prisoner, just in case more spectres show up. In the meanwhile, they discuss their next move.
      “What are we going to do with him afterwards?” Tom wonders. “We don’t want him identifying us.”
      Annie considers. “We could kill him,” she says, matter-of-factly. Her suggestion hangs in the air for a moment or two. Matthieu is impassive. Ben, James and Tom just look at her.
      “Are we sure this isn’t the evil twin?” James says softly.
      “I don’t know,” Tom replies. Both of them seem to have forgotten that they’re in a small van, and she’s sitting right next to them. Frowning, she opens her mouth to say something, but Ben interrupts.
      “Shit man, fucker knows that if he even breathes a word of any of this to anyone, he’s gonna wind up dead. Slowly. You don’t fuck with the Blasphemers.” [9] As Tom, Annie and James are still projecting, Ben’s words are presumably the only ones the dealer hears (if, indeed, he hears much of anything at all at the moment).
      “Nicely done,” Annie says to Ben, forgetting whatever she was going to say to the other two. Hopefully, the dealer will just assume he’s gotten caught up in some gang business.

When they reach what they think is a safe distance with no sign of any spectres, it’s time for Tom to do his thing. He’s running low on energy, so Annie donates some for the cause before returning to her body. (James also returns to his body.) Tom manages to burrow deeply into his host, wasting no time in shutting off his consciousness and rifling through his mind. The unfortunate man’s name is Gary Burchowsky, and he’s a small time pigment dealer who operates mainly out of Limelight. There’s another dealer who works the club – presumably the other one that Frank saw – who he knows only as “Gav”. He doesn’t really know all that much about him. (This could well be the "Gavin" whose name Tom got from the dead dealer's contacts list. Or it could just be a coincidence.) Gary gets his supply from a man named Ike Mortenson. The way this works is that he places the order and then meets with Ike a few days later. He pays cash, and Ike gives him the key to a locker (often in a bus station, train station or the airport) containing his package. There’s actually a meeting arranged for noon tomorrow, in Central Park. Gary wants to make sure he has enough stock for spook night – he’s anticipating making a lot of sales.

Gary doesn’t actually use pigment himself, but he does take cocaine “to give himself an edge”. He’s on it now, as a matter of fact. This, together with the alcohol sloshing around his system, is making it a little hard for Tom to focus. He perseveres, however, and manages to find out some more information. There are a couple of people who buy a lot of pigment from Gary – they probably sell it on to their friends. One of these – his biggest customer – is a girl called Lauryl. This name seems familiar: there was a “Lauryl” in the contacts list of the student’s ’phone that James took. It’s possible that they’re one and the same, so it may be worth investigating her. (Speaking of ’phones – Tom takes Gary’s mobile so they can analyse the contents.)

Gary doesn’t know anything about the spectre that was following him around. He does have a stash of drugs in his apartment, so the spooks decide to confiscate that. If he’s re-supplying tomorrow it’s probably not tainted, but why take the chance? It’s also worth checking whether or not there’s a gauze chess piece hidden among his drugs. The meeting with Ike is heaven sent, so they decide to hang onto Gary for the time being and have Tom Puppet him to the meeting with the aim of getting into Ike’s head. If Ike has a spectre, they’ll have to deal with that when they get there.

It’s about 2am by this point: just over one and a half days to Spook Night and Ninety-eight days until the apocalypse. Gary doesn’t seem to know anything more of interest, so Tom (still wearing him), goes to search the man’s apartment. It’s rather nice, and features a large-screen plasma TV that Tom casts covetous eyes over. Despite the temptation, he focuses on the task at hand. He quickly and professionally tosses the place, taking only the money Gary was intending to use to pay his supplier, and his car keys. There are no more drugs in the apartment, and Tom can’t find a gauze chess piece or anything else out of the ordinary. He returns to the van. There is a brief discussion regarding what to do now. There is the address Tom got from the dead dealer’s mobile, and there are also the street dealers that Ben knows: they could quickly check for spectres. On the other hand, it’s gone two o’ clock in the morning and they have a busy day ahead of them: they could just go back and rest. In the end, that’s what they decide to do. Ike can probably provide more useful information than someone who may not even be a dealer; and there’s no guarantee that the street dealers are even likely to be involved.

Once Gary has been securely bound, gagged and blindfolded, the skimmers re-enter their bodies and they all drive back to the warehouse. Before they get there, they call Craig to check Gary out for tracking devices, but he can’t find anything. He shouldn’t be able to tell anyone else how to get here, or even who they are, so they return to base. It’s about 3am when they finally pull up inside the warehouse. To make sure that their prisoner doesn’t inadvertently see or hear something he shouldn’t, they leave him in the van all night, with someone checking on him regularly. Adrian volunteers for the job, and everyone apart from him and Annie goes to bed straight away. She stays up for an hour or so, using the internet to try to spread the word about the bad batch of pigment. By the time she finally stumbles to bed, she’s practically asleep on her feet.

At dawn, Frank wakes up feeling refreshed. Unlike many of the others, he’s had a full night’s sleep, albeit split into two parts. He asks John to accompany him on a little jaunt to a forensics laboratory, so they can try to get the possibly tainted pigment sample analysed. It’s the one they acquired from Mark’s flat.) Hoyt agrees to drive them out there. The forensics lab is the same one that Tom, Chet and Teresa acquired the spook-vision goggles and ghost-shot bullets from during the Magnox affair. The technician that John possesses to perform the analysis might even be the same one that Chet Puppeted on that occasion. The act of possession consumes enough energy to cause a pulse, and the pulse attracts a spectre. It just sniffs around a little before wandering off again, however. (None of them were really worried. Frank is in his body, John is in someone else’s body and Hoyt is in a vehicle.) John gets on with the analysis, but it’s going to take some time. The other two leave him to it, heading back to the warehouse so they can take part in crashing the dealer’s meeting with his supplier.

Hoyt and Frank pull up at about 10am. Ben is frying some bacon, and the smell fills the warehouse, drawing forth even the people who’ve been up most of the night. It sends Annie hurtling for the toilets, where she is very, very ill indeed. She’s been feeling ill for the past week or so – mostly nauseous, but also just generally off – but this is the worst it’s been so far. She makes a mental note to ask Chet to take a look at her and see if he can work out what’s wrong. Her symptoms might mean that Teresa’s body is rejecting her gauze, or it might just be an ordinary illness. She’s rather out of practice at recognising the second and completely out of her depth when it comes to the first. Being a unique case has its problems.

Everyone gathers to briefly discuss the plan for today. It doesn’t take that long to work out as they decide to keep it simple: Tom keeps Ike talking while the others deal with any spectres and Craig possesses the supplier as soon as he can. What could go wrong? The meeting’s in Central Park at noon, so they set off in plenty of time, Ben driving the van. (They’re using his van, rather than the remaining Mastworth vehicle.) Leaving their bodies in the back of the vehicle, the skimmers project once they’re in the vicinity. Tom Puppets Gary, James assisting so the act doesn’t send up a spike. Everyone who can – Hoyt, Craig, Annie and Matthieu – Inhabits an object on or about Gary’s person. Craig actually Inhabits one of the bundles of money that “Gary” is going to hand to Ike. If they don’t manage to grab him before he leaves, at least Craig will be able to bring him back (assuming they do manage to deal with the spectre). Frank conceals himself and James behind an illusion. They seem to be as ready as they’ll ever be. Once they’re out of the van, Ben heads for their pre-agreed rendezvous point (still within the park, but far enough away not to be seen). He’ll call them if anything goes wrong at his end.

Tom takes Gary and all his passengers to the meeting place, with the invisible Frank and James in tow. Ike is there already, and he has no trouble recognising the man from Gary’s memories. Plus, the spectre by his side makes him stand out a little. (It’s man-shaped, its body charred and twisted, with claws of bone protruding from its hands.) As they all move towards the supplier and his little friend, Frank notices something amiss. It isn’t unusual to see vagrants in Central Park, but it’s a little out of the ordinary for them to be armed. Once he glimpses the first gun, he starts looking a little more closely at the people hanging around, spotting two more “vagrants” who seem to be taking an inordinate amount of interest in this little meeting. He passes this information on to Tom and James, using a minor illusion to make sure that no one else can hear. Tom quickly (and quietly) briefs the others, saying that he’s going to proceed as if they haven’t noticed anything, but everyone should be prepared to bug out. None of the others are able to reply at the moment. They draw closer to Ike. Thirty feet; twenty; ten... Ten feet is when Gary’s head explodes.

The gunman took the shot before any of them could react, let alone even notice him moving. Blood, brains and... Gauze? Yes; blood, brains, and gauze splatter the grass as Gary drops like a puppet with his strings cut. Tom tumbles out of him, landing in an untidy heap next to the corpse. He lays there, unmoving, gauze in tatters: the shooter was using ghost-shot. Even as the realisation starts to dawn, the gunmen (there seem to be three altogether) are donning goggles that emit a familiar red glow. There’s no time to wonder who these people are and how they got their hands on anti-spook technology. This isn’t the time for questions: it’s time to fight!

The spectre drifts over to Tom’s unconscious gauze body, leaning over him and sniffing like a dog. They – fortunately – don’t get the chance to find out what it might have done next. Hoyt leaps out of the object he’s Inhabiting and charges towards one of the gunmen. As he runs, he burns; incandescent with the familiar magnesium-flare of Witch’s Nimbus. Channeling so much energy at once sends out a pulse that gets the spectre’s full attention. Its head snaps around almost faster than its body can follow; an effect that might have been comical in another context. Strangely, it doesn’t actually go after Hoyt, although it does watch him carefully as it drifts back to Ike’s side.

James suddenly appears as Frank drops the concealing illusion. (He reasons that James is about to do something violent that would disrupt it anyway.) Frank himself is still hidden. He doesn’t want to risk drawing the spectre’s attention if he can help it, which means he can’t channel a large quantity of vitality into powering an illusion to break the ambusher’s minds. But he knows there’s another way; the way that Annie and Kate told them all about, so they could use it in an emergency. Reaching deep within himself, he finds the darkness in his soul... And sets it free. The illusion he crafts feels different to all the other times: more powerful; more real. Even more than that; it feels good. In this moment, it feels like there is nothing he cannot do. Nothing at all. His target suddenly stands up, screaming in terror and panic at he fires his weapon at something only he can see. It’s fortunate that he doesn’t hit any of the Orpheus spooks, but Frank has already lost interest. That feeling is fading all too quickly. He looks for his next target.

As every bush seems to sprout a gun-wielding maniac and the bullets start to fly thick and fast, Ike does the sensible thing and dives to the ground, looking for cover. Craig seizes the opportunity to dive into him. Unfortunately, it means going past the spectre. Despite its apparent fixation Hoyt, the moment Craig makes a move towards Ike it changes its focus, swiping at him with its wicked claws and carving great gouges into his gauze. He doesn’t stop to fight it, sealing the rents with an almost casual effort of will as he dives past the spectre and into Ike. It howls in frustration, clawing at Ike’s body in a futile effort to get to Craig. Its claws pass harmlessly through the meat, leaving both of them untouched.

Bullets continue to fly. The two ambushers who aren’t currently shooting at shadows turn their attention to the more immediate threats: Hoyt and James. Seeing Hoyt streaking towards one of them – and it would be really hard to miss him – James starts to charge the other, using Congeal to pull a rifle from his forearm. Doing so sends up a spike, but the spectre is otherwise occupied. Perhaps unsurprisingly, each of the gunmen takes aim at the spook heading towards him, but both shots miss their targets. Kerekov, ever-cautious, lies low and scans the area for other shooters: there’s a reason the mercenary has survived this long.

Annie concentrates, and wings erupt from her back: razor edged filaments that shouldn’t bear her aloft but yet, somehow, do. Scooping Tom up into her arms, she flies back towards the van, intending to return once Tom is out of harm’s way and Ben knows what’s going on. The van is probably safe. After all, Ben would’ve called them if anything had gone wrong. It’s as she’s taking comfort in that thought that Gary’s mobile starts to ring. She’s well out of earshot by this point, though. The only one who hears it is Frank, and he’s busy. In any case, now isn’t exactly the best time to be taking a call...

Hoyt gets within range of his target, a crackling ball of flame already gathering in his hands as he manifests. The gunman is toast before he can even think about trying to get out of the way. James still isn’t close enough to the other one to use his rifle, so Frank seizes the opportunity with both hands. Channelling his dark side once more, he reaches out and twists the man’s mind just so... The gunman stands up, his weapon falling unheeded from his hands as he proceeds to scratch and claw at his skin, screaming all the while. He isn’t a threat any more. James, all Congealed up with no one to shoot, turns his attention to the spectre instead. Between his marksmanship and Hoyt’s fire, they easily dissipate it. As both ambushers are otherwise occupied – the one who was shooting at nothing is continuing to pull the trigger, seemingly unaware that his gun is clicking empty – this fight seems to be over.

Meanwhile, Annie reaches the van to find a situation in progress. One of the tyres has been shredded, and the vehicle is canted at an odd angle. Of slightly more immediate concern, perhaps, are the two gunmen advancing on the van. One is covering the other, who is moving into position to take a shot at Ben. This is... Not good. Carefully depositing Tom somewhere out of the way, Annie flies swiftly and silently towards the two men, heading for the one drawing a line on Ben. Both men are wearing spook-vision goggles, but their attention is on the van. With no noise to alert them – she hasn’t manifested yet – they don’t notice her approach. As she draws near, her arms split into a mass of tentacles and, at the last possible moment, she manifests. Before either man can react, she has her target securely in her multi-limbed grasp and is flying straight up with him. Once over his initial surprise, the man on the ground quickly re-adjusts his priorities, taking a shot at the person who just grabbed his partner. He just manages to clip her, but that gives Ben a window to open up with his own weapon. Several bullets thud into his chest before he can take another shot, and he crumples quietly to the ground. His partner isn’t long in joining him. When Annie reaches what she thinks is a suitable height (about forty feet or so ought to do it), she simply releases her grip and lets him fall. He hits the ground with rather more force than the other one did.

The whole thing is over within about a minute of the first shot being fired. Tom is badly injured, but still alive. Three ambushers are dead, and two are effectively incapacitated. The spectre has been dealt with. Ike is being possessed by Craig, and will be a valuable source of information (as will the two living ambushers). Additionally, they can take their attackers’ goggles and their remaining ghost shot. All in all, this looks like it can be added to the “win” column. That is: if they can get out of here before the authorities turn up...

The fight seems to be more or less over back at the ambush site. There are two gunmen still living, but they seem to be otherwise occupied at the moment. Craig [10] tries to call Ben, but there’s no reply. This is about the time that Annie is dropping off one of the ambushers, and Ben is giving the other one a case of sudden acute lead poisoning. He tells the other spooks that he’s going to walk casually away from the scene and meet up with them later. The authorities are undoubtedly on their way, and he’s the only one who has a body to worry about. He says he’ll keep trying to contact Ben.

Once the situation at the van has been wrapped up, Ben checks for more ambushers while Annie retrieves Tom’s gauze and tries to put it back in his body. She has no idea if this is possible, but she tries anyway. (James didn’t have any luck trying the same thing with her gauze when she was stuck in “Groundhog Day: The Apocalypse Edition”, but then she wasn’t actually in her gauze at the time.) As far as she can tell, it seems to work. By the time she’s done that, Craig has gotten through on the ’phone and is talking to Ben. She keeps an eye out for gunmen, spectres, the authorities, or anything else that looks like trouble for them. When they hang up, Ben fills Annie in on what happened back in the park, and Craig sends a text-message to the others saying that Hoyt is needed over at the van ASAP, as it’s in no condition for a police-chase. This is about half a minute or so after he set off walking. He heads off to the subway and takes an indirect route back to the warehouse, just in case anyone is watching. As far as he can tell, no one pays him any particular attention.

Hoyt races off towards the van as soon as he gets the message. After a brief discussion about what to do with the two surviving ambushers, Frank and Kerekov ripcord back to their bodies and – pausing only to grab the trusty roll of gaffa tape from the back of the van – return to the scene in the flesh. They pass Hoyt on the way. He dives into the vehicle as soon as he gets there, the bullet holes and shredded tyre repairing themselves as if by magic. It’s not a moment too soon: the police have finally arrived. They turn into the end of the road, all flashing lights and sirens. Hoyt perhaps very briefly considers the odds of his not getting caught if he goes into the park to pick up the others. Maybe he would risk it if he was on his own, but with the others... The van’s radio crackles into life, an approximation of his voice coming out of the speakers.
      “Annie, contact the others in the park. Tell them... I’m going to make a distraction. It should draw the police away and give them a chance to get out of there.” A pause. “You might want to strap everyone in.” Re-entering her body, she passes on the message and scrambles to secure Tom and James’ bodies as best as she can. She decides to stay in the back to stop them rolling around and slamming into the sides. Somehow, she has the feeling that they’re in for a bumpy ride.
      Ben has the same feeling. “Oh, shit,” he mutters, dropping into the driver’s seat and taking Hoyt’s advice. “You better not get us killed, motherfucker.”
      Hoyt chuckles. “Relax man, I know what I’m doing. Now hold tight!” With a screech of tyres, the van roars out just ahead of the police cars: the chase is on.

Kerekov and Frank have just returned to the scene when Annie calls with Hoyt’s message. James is keeping an eye on the two incapacitated gunmen. He’s already searched them for anything useful – chiefly weapons and ammunition – and has stacked his haul in a neat pile for the others to carry. The one who was shooting wildly seems to be starting to come out of it, but the other one is still in the process of scratching himself bloody. Taking both of them prisoner would be difficult (and they only really need one for questioning), so Kerekov calmly puts a bullet in the head of the first one. He binds the other’s wrists with gaffa tape. While the prisoner is still too out of it to struggle, the three spooks quickly hide the bodies in the undergrowth and gather up everything they think they might have a use for. Their priority now is getting out of here. James can just ripcord, but there are the other two and their prisoner to worry about. Kerekov’s face isn’t really known to the authorities, but Frank’s was recently splashed all over the news. Given the reason for his notoriety, they’re likely both to recognise him and to take a particular interest in bringing him down. [11]

By the time they’ve cleared their traces from the scene as best as they can, their prisoner is starting to emerge from his delusion. He starts to struggle, but subsides when Kerekov jams the business end of his pistol into the small of his back. Apparently, he doesn’t doubt Kerekov’s willingness to use the weapon. James ripcords back to his body, and the other two start heading deeper into the park with their prisoner as they work out what they’re going to do now. Kerekov has an idea. The ambushers were dressed like vagrants – Frank can do the same, and the two of them can just huddle under a blanket in the bushes, like so many of the homeless do in Central Park. If they’d thought about it beforehand, they could have stripped the clothing from one of the bodies, but they don’t really want to go back now – there’s no telling how long Hoyt’s distraction will last. Fortunately, there is a solution. As they still have Gary’s big bag of money, Kerekov uses a little of it to buy some random drunk homeless man’s jacket and trousers, and his rug/blanket/tatty piece of cloth for good measure. A little reluctantly, Frank dons the garments. They find a suitable spot far away from the scene of the ambush (luckily, Central Park is a big place), and make the prisoner lie down. Kerekov hands Frank the gun and says:
      “Curl up around him and keep this at his spine. It’ll keep him docile.” Frank does so, and Kerekov throws the rug over them both to conceal the weapon. “Just sit tight for a while. I won’t be far away. If there’s any trouble, I’ll come back.” All that’s left to do now is wait for a while.

In the meanwhile, Hoyt is leading the police a merry dance around the city. He actually seems to be enjoying himself. It’s a lot less fun for his helpless passengers, however, especially those unfortunately souls in the back. It’s bad enough for Ben, who’s in the driving seat. He very quickly gives up all pretence of actually looking like he’s controlling the vehicle, though, and just concentrates on hanging on for dear life, a constant stream of swearing bubbling from his lips like a prayer. James returns to his body just as they’re slewing their way around a particularly sharp bed, managing to wrench himself free of Annie’s – by this point rather shaky – grasp as he sits up. His catlike reflexes mean that he manages to get an arm up in time to stop himself slamming into the side of the van with breath-stealing force. Annie tells him to hold onto Tom, and starts fumbling with her mobile ’phone, quickly running through the list of people she can call to come and pick up the others. It’s a fairly short list: Mitch and Adrian are the only people back at the warehouse. Mitch needs to stay with the sleeper tubes, just in case there’s a problem, so it has to be Adrian. Even if he did have the late night/early morning watch last night. Whether Annie feels a certain malicious satisfaction at waking him is a matter that’s purely between her and her conscience. [12]

When he thinks he’s led NYPD’s finest around long enough, Hoyt shakes them off with ease. Before heading back to the warehouse, he pulls over somewhere out of the way and talks Ben through the process of changing the number plates. They take a circuitous route back to the warehouse. The rest of the journey is substantially more sedate, much to his regret and his passengers’ heartfelt relief. Adrian sets out for Central Park as soon as he gets off the ’phone to Annie. When he gets nearby, he parks up and rings Frank, saying:
      “I understand you need a taxi service.” They meet up in a car park at the far side from where the violence happened. The prisoner is unceremoniously dumped in the back with Kerekov and Frank watching over him. As soon as everyone’s settled in, Adrian drives off. It’s about one and a half hours since the first shot was fired.

By the time everyone has gathered back at the warehouse, it’s 3pm. Craig is the first one to arrive, followed a short while later by the group in Hoyt’s van. (His passengers are more than a little relieved to have their feet back on solid, unmoving ground again.) James examines Tom, who’s still unconscious. After poking and prodding at the patient for a little while, he says that he’s very badly bruised and there are signs of some minor cerebral haemorrhaging, but he should recover without hospitalisation. He’ll probably be unconscious for about a day, though. James doesn’t think it’s a good idea to try to bring him round, so they put him to bed and make sure someone checks on him regularly.

While they’re waiting for the others, Craig goes through Ike’s memories. [13] Ike gets his drug supply from a man he knows only as “Ray”. The shipments come in boxes, which he splits up and sells to dealers. There are about ten to twenty people he supplies regularly, only about four of which he’s actually sold product to recently. (Craig fishes out the contact details that Ike has for all twenty people. These are mostly just first names – or aliases – and mobile ’phone numbers.) He doesn’t know anything about the spectre or about a bad batch of pigment, and he didn’t know anything about the gunmen. The ambush was as much a surprise to him as it was to the Orpheus spooks. As far as he was concerned, it was just a normal meeting with a customer. He stashed the drugs he was selling to Gary in a locker, as usual, and was going to hand over the key and location in exchange for the money. All in all, it looks like he’s a relatively innocent party in all of this. He generally contacts Ray by e-mail. On the rare occasions when he actually needs to talk to him, he sends a message to that effect and is given a mobile number to ring. It’s a different number every time. This seems to be their link further up the chain, so Craig sends a message to Ray, telling him that he – well, Ike – needs to talk to him.

The others return at about this point and are filled in on what’s been discovered so fare. The prisoner – now blindfolded – stays in the van. They need to question him, but Craig doesn’t really want to relinquish hold of Ike until he’s spoken with Ray (assuming that the supplier gets in contact sometime soon). There aren’t any decent Puppeteers currently conscious and in residence, so they can’t just have someone possess the man. Frank, however, offers up an alternative. He has discovered that when another spook uses a horror on someone, he can use the information gathering aspect of his Dream-shaping horror on the target to a limited degree. Apparently the use of power lets him “piggy-back” onto the signal somehow, so he can lightly dip into the subject’s thoughts. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, but there is unfortunately no time to study it further at the moment. Instead, they put it to practical use.

Annie projects and targets the prisoner with a low-level Wail (urging docility). Latching onto this, Frank concentrates on the question of who the man works for, receiving a brief image of the NextWorld logo. No one is especially surprised by this revelation. Further probing uncovers a memory of the NextWorld agent’s sergeant receiving a ’phone call. After hanging up, he told his men:
      “We’re going to Central Park. There’s a meeting happening there between two men; one white and one black. The white guy is probably being ridden or accompanied by spooks – possibly both. Take the spooks down. They’re probably projectors, so try to track them back to their bodies and take those out. If anything goes wrong, pull back to the safe house. The Baltimore team are on their way back soon, and...” Annie and Kerekov give Frank some more vitality so he can continue skimming the operative’s memories. This time, he tries to find out why NextWorld have a team in Baltimore. He sees a briefing room; recognises N’Kejeda among the people present. The person giving the briefing says that some Orpheus personnel have gone to ground in New York City, but a particularly dangerous group have apparently holed up in Baltimore. [14] Most of their operatives will be heading out there to deal with them. A skeleton crew will remain behind in New York to monitor the activity of the Orpheus agents there. When Frank relays this to the others, Craig adds that there was an explosion in Baltimore a couple of days ago: a bomb was used to blow up a van, killing everyone in it. (Craig’s been keeping an eye on the news.)

Kerekov suggests that Frank look for details about their fall-back position and/or local base. It turns out to be in a residential area: house number 1003 on 107th Avenue. Various people ask Kerekov questions about NextWorld’s practices, and what the Baltimore team is likely to be made up of. He says that it’s probably a mixture of projectors and support personnel; almost certainly including the majority of their heavy hitters, a category that includes N’Kejeda. When asked about his N’Kejeda’s horrors, Kerekov answers, simply:
      “He possesses people.” Looking through for more information in their prisoner’s head, Frank comes across a memory of him being possessed by N’Kejeda. Specifically, N’Kejeda is using his own hand to hold a knife to his eyeball. It isn’t an especially pleasant memory. That seems to be all they can get until either Craig or Tom is able to use Puppetry on him. Moving out of earshot, the group discuss what they’re going to do with him afterwards. They contemplate giving him over to the FBI in an attempt to get them to go after NextWorld. Annie points out that killing him is always an option. After all – they don’t want him leading anyone back here. It isn’t like he’s seen the route or anything, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do them harm. The matter remains unresolved for now.

Frank calls John to find out how the pigment analysis is coming along. Apparently – real life being unlike CSI – it isn’t actually finished yet. The drug is definitely pigment in some form or another, but he doesn’t yet have any data about other components, or anything else. He says he’ll be in touch when he knows more. Apparently, he’s keeping his host on his feet with strategic applications of caffeine, and will continue to do so until the analysis is finished. “Ike” gets a message back from Ray, with a mobile number to contact him on. Before calling, Craig asks Shelley to trace the call (using Deadwire to travel along the signal) and find out where it’s coming from. If she can – and there isn’t a spectre within her field of view – he would also like her to try to get a look around at the other end, both to get an idea of what it’s like and to see if there’s anything there that will help them to find out who Ray is. Craig makes the call, saying that he needs more product. (Shelley does her thing while they talk.) Ike did receive a shipment only recently, but Craig tells Ray that demand has been higher than usual and he wants to make sure he has enough for Friday. Ray is surprised, but agrees to sell him more. They arrange to meet in the fish market at 7pm tomorrow. (According to Ike’s memories, this is their usual meeting place.)

Shelley pops out of the ’phone again just before they hang up, and the first thing she says is: “I need vitality.” Annie and Frank oblige, and she fills everyone in on what she found out. She didn’t see a spectre, so she jumped out at the other end to have a look around. Ray’s full name is Raymond Latoure, and he appears to be a commodities trader in the city. He is in what seems to be his office, and there is even a secretary outside. The address is printed on the business cards that are conveniently out on his desk, in plain sight. They discuss paying him a visit, preferably without his knowledge. Craig rifles through Ike’s memories again, going deeper. He finds a couple of interesting blank spots. Ike thinks that he just slept through his alarm clock (eventually getting up at 11am today, and 1pm yesterday), but Craig thinks there is a good chance he was actually possessed during that time. A glance through the call log on his mobile ’phone supports this, showing that Ike made a number of calls when he was supposed to be unconscious. He rang seven individuals over both blank periods; all regular customers. It doesn’t seem unlikely that the calls could be related to the tainted drugs.

Craig starts making ’phone calls. Quickly establishing that the individuals in question have just bought shipments from Ike, he tells them he’s discovered they’re from a bad batch and will need to take them back. Although they’re initially reluctant, the dealers become a lot more amenable when he says that he’ll give them their money back. (It’s only Ike’s money, after all.) He arranges the meetings for as soon as possible. As he’s ringing around, the others briefly discuss their options. Despite the fact that Mitch hasn’t yet tested the tubes’ defrosting procedure, the advantages of having another projector probably outweigh the risk that the procedure might prove fatal. However, this is really something that should be decided by the candidates. Adrian, Ben, Chet and Blink have a talk, and Chet immediately volunteers to be the next subject. Blink and Ben protest, but he pulls rank on them. Mitch protests – preferring to wait until Hoyt has been defrosted – but is overridden: Chet goes into the cradle. It will take about five hours to cycle him down (assuming it works at all).

Craig heads out to reclaim the bad drugs from Ike’s customers. Ben, Hoyt and the active skimmers accompany him just in case it goes sour, keeping watch from a distance. (In between meets, they rest as much as they can.) As suspected, the dealers are all accompanied by spectres. When the drugs are handed over to Craig, they leave their targets and start following him around. The first time it happens, it’s a little disconcerting. The second time, it’s a worry. By the time he’s trailing seven spectres, this is starting to look like a significant problem. He stashes the drugs packages in various lockers around town, but the spectres stay with him. This is going to make leaving Ike a little risky. Understandably, he doesn’t really want to lead the throng back to the warehouse. He rings Ben to suggest an ambush. After some discussion (Ben relays information to and from the others), they settle on a plan. Choosing an area in Central Park as the killing ground, Kerekov and James load up their rifles with ghost-shot. The idea is that Craig will lead the spectres to the ambush site and they start picking them off. Projectors will accompany the snipers, just in case they get the spectres’ attention. It’s around midnight when Craig’s finished collecting and stashing drugs, so Chet is ready for action. He accompanies Kerekov, lightly possessing him so as to remain out of sight of the spectres. Annie Inhabits a small item carried by James. Frank makes himself invisible and follows Kerekov, while Hoyt stays back at the van with Ben and the skimmers’ bodies.

The Orpheus spooks get the show on the road. Perhaps feeling a little like the Pied Piper of Hamelin (except with spectres, rather than rats or small children), Craig leads his little parade out into the killing ground. He spots a man walking towards him; just another one of the park’s many homeless people by the way he’s dressed. Craig moves to one side, but the man follows, even when he starts to back away. At this point, Craig realises that the man’s eyes are completely black, and those stains on his clothes aren’t dirt... They’re blood. And then something clicks into place in his mind: this is Hyde! [15]

Bringing his ’phone up to his mouth, he starts to tell the snipers to shoot, but Hyde is already lunging for him, pulling out the butcher’s knife he was concealing in his coat. He plunges the blade deep into Craig’s stomach, driving it upwards with enough force to lift him up off his feet. Kerekov and James both open fire. Their bullets strike Hyde fairly solidly, but the impacts don’t even seem to rock him backwards. He ignores them to twist his knife deeper into Ike’s guts. The shots get the spectres’ attention, however, and four of them start heading towards the snipers (two for each of them). That leaves three to surround Craig; four if you count Hyde. Fortunately Hyde’s knife seems to be just an ordinary blade; it isn’t made of gauze or anti-spook material. Although it leaves Ike in a pretty bad way – almost certainly dying – Craig’s gauze remains unaffected. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valour, he leaps out of his host and makes a run for it. The three spectres dive at him. One of them manages to bite him, but its razor-sharp teeth just glance off his gauze. Another wraps a spiked tentacle around him, shredding him a little, but he manages to break free and keep running. They give chase.

James and Kerekov immediately start shooting the spectres that are coming for them. The spectres are actually using cover, so Frank creates the illusion of cover for one of the pair heading for Kerekov. The spectre thinks it’s hidden, but it’s actually directly in Kerekov’s line of sight and he gets a good shot at it. It doesn’t survive to reach him. Over at the other side, James manages to reduce one of his hunters to a mere wisp of its former self. Annie remains in hiding for the moment, waiting to see if the spectres actually pose a threat to James. (They’re not known for being able to interact particularly well with the physical world.) Unfortunately, they do. The one he’s almost dissipated bursts into flames and materialises right next to him. He just manages to get out of the way of the worst of it, but his hair and clothing start to burn. Annie takes this as a sign to intervene. Leaping out of whatever object she was Inhabiting, she Wails at the spectres. She manages to completely shred the burning man – probably a Frightener – and damage the other one a little, getting its attention. It bends to touch the ground, and black metal spikes burst forth, impaling Annie.

Back at the other group, the one surviving spectre reaches Kerekov and dives into him, only to bounce back out again. Kerekov shoots it, shoots it again and then shoots it some more. Frank does something ineffable, and it falls over; still intact but apparently unconscious. Chet immediately leaps out of Kerekov, shoots it several times and then kicks it in the head just to be sure. The spectre dissipates. Somewhat irritatedly, Frank tells Chet that it wasn’t a threat any more. The ex-army man doesn’t seem especially repentant.
      “Now we’re sure it isn’t,” he replies.

Annie continues to Wail, but the spectre just seems to shrug off the sound. It gestures, and more spikes come out of the ground, tearing ragged holes in her gauze. In the meanwhile, James has taken the opportunity to beat out the flames. Since the spectre doesn’t seem to be paying him any attention now, he takes aim and calmly fills it full of holes. The spikes dissipate as it does. All four of the remaining spectres have now been dealt with. The other three are nowhere to be seen, as they’re off chasing Craig. Ike and Hyde are also gone. There is a blood trail leading to the nearest sewer entrance, but no one seems particularly inclined to try to follow it in there.

With the aid of Juggernaut, Craig manages to lose his pursuers. He Inhabits a public telephone to call the others, and they come to pick him up. The main topic of conversation is: what was Hyde doing there? What are the spectres up to, and what is their connection to NextWorld? Who are what had possessed Ike and used him to distribute (presumably tainted) drugs? Annie thinks she can use Forebode to try to answer that last question, but will need to go to the location – inside Ike’s apartment – to have the best chance of success. She suggests that Frank, Kerekov and James project and accompany her inside. She doesn’t really want to go in there on her own, and skimmers can at least ripcord if everything goes horribly wrong. Chet seems somewhat amused at Annie making suggestions – she isn’t giving orders, despite what anyone else might suggest – and refers to her as “Sergeant”. She doesn’t seem overly impressed with the nickname. After a couple of hours rest to recover from wounds and regain spent energy, the four skimmers go into Ike’s flat. Annie concentrates, and sees a vision of a vaguely man-shaped thing diving into the sleeping Ike’s body. It’s blackened with frost-bite, and oddly bloated; its eyes are completely black. If that isn’t a spectre, then she doesn’t know what is.

As it’s now a silly hour of the morning, they decide to return to the warehouse and get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. As everyone’s going their separate ways, Annie takes Frank aside to ask him a favour.
      “Do you think you could stop me having nightmares?” She doesn’t really look at him as she asks the question.
      “Maybe. I can certainly try.” He pauses. “How long for?”
      “Tonight and tomorrow. Just two nights.”
      “Okay.”
      “You’ll do it?” She isn’t sure how she feels about that. On the one hand, a night where she doesn’t end up back with the spectres again sounds like heaven. On the other, it’s someone in her head. But she wouldn’t ask if she wasn’t desperate.
      “I’ll try.”

Everyone except Frank (and whoever’s drawn this watch) turns in for the night. Frank projects and waits for Annie to fall asleep so he can take her nightmares like he agreed to. After projecting briefly to share vitality with him, she settles down and tries to sleep; using what she remembers of Kate’s brief meditation lessons to sink quickly and deeply into REM sleep. After waiting a little while to be sure she’s far enough under, Frank enters her dreams. He starts with a light touch, increasing his hold a little at a time (so as not to send up a spike) until he’s all the way inside her sleeping mind. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she is in the middle of yet another nightmare. Before doing anything, however, he watches for a while to see how it enfolds. [16]

Jagged spikes sprout from ash-dusted earth: a forest of glass that stretches as far as the eye can see. Annie is trapped in the forest, held fast by the thorns that pierce her gauze. Her twin is by her side, as she so often is in these dreams – in these memories – but this time is different. Her mirror image is now a mirror in truth: crucified in the forest of glass just like she is. Face to face, they hang there above the ground. Somewhat incongruously, a little ghost girl plays at their feet, crooning lullabies to the headless doll she cradles in her arms. The girl is often nearby; was often nearby, playing with her dolls (or blunted scalpels, or rusty razor-blades), snuggling up to her (putting out her eyes, taking a finger or two, or three) and calling her “Auntie” (putting her back together so they can do it all over again). And she knows what’s coming now, even though this isn’t the way it happened. Not quite. The spikes are new, and look like the ones the spectre hurt her with earlier this evening. Except that those were metal and these look like the same black glass that Terrel & Squib make by torturing ghosts to death. But the part of her that knows this is locked away tight, like the part that knows this is just a dream. All that leaves her with is a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach: she knows this is going to be bad.

Annie tries to struggle; tries to pull herself free, but the spikes hold her too well. If she struggles too hard she knows she’ll tear herself apart, and so she stops. She’s not yet so far gone that final death is a viable option.
      “Don’t fight this,” says her double, softly. “Don’t fight us, sister.”
      “I’m not your sister.” She would say more, but then she realises that the singing has stopped. The girl – ‘the spectre,’ she reminds herself – has set the doll aside and is now seating herself before the harp of bone and sinew, raising her hands to the strings.
      “It’s time,” she says, in her high, childish voice. She smiles at the two of them with an expression of innocent glee. “This is going to hurt, Auntie.” With that, she starts to play.

Notes fall like rain, forming a melody of such beauty that it would make an angel weep. It seems oddly out of place amidst the starkness of the glass forest. Annie can feel the music wrap itself around her as if it has weight and presence, playing over her skin like a gentle summer breeze. That gentleness, like its beauty, is a lie: it isn’t so out of place here after all. The first cuts are little more than scratches, barely even breaking the skin. She’s had worse pushing through bramble bushes as a child. But the music continues, flesh parting before its onslaught as it cuts into her again and again. They’re not just scratches now, and new wounds are opening so quickly that the individual sensations blur into one constant, overwhelming haze of pain. And this feels real; completely, physically, utterly, horribly real; just like it did before, just like it will again and it hurts... She’s not too sure when she starts to scream.

Her double is screaming too, the same wounds blooming on what’s left of her skin. Mirror images. It starts to happen: the thing Annie was dreading more than the pain. She can feel the connection between herself and her twin, can’t focus her will through the pain to try to block it out. Worse, the shared agony makes it stronger, binds them so that the boundary starts to blur and she can’t quite tell where she ends and the other begins. Which one of them has closed her eyes? Which one has torn one shoulder free with her involuntary thrashing, shredding it badly in the process? She isn’t sure any more, and the realisation terrifies her. She clings desperately to that emotion, because she knows it belongs to her and not the other. It helps her to shore up her crumbling defences.
      “Stop fighting us.” Her twin’s voice – her voice – but inside her mind. There’s another sound beneath it, a continuous low buzzing that makes her feel sick to her stomach. “Let us help you. It will be so much easier if you just stop fighting.” It will; she knows it will. She doesn’t think she can hold out much longer. She knows she can’t hold out forever, and the spectres aren’t going to stop until they break her. No one’s coming for her; no one even knows where she is. Terri and Kate are silent, no matter how much she screams for them. (Alas she’s too distracted to appreciate the irony of that: after months of wishing them out of her head, she would kill to get them back again.) Any way you slice it, this is a hopeless situation. But she can’t – won’t – give up. She doesn’t say anything – at least, she doesn’t think she does – but the message apparently gets through. “Oh, Annie...” The voice in her head sounds disappointed. “You know you can’t win.”
      “Don’t care. I’m n... not giv... giving up.”
      Silence from the other, like the calm before the storm. A gathering of forces, and then: “Join us.” Words like knives over the distant sound of drums.
      “No.” The drums are closer now, their familiar, hated rhythm gripping the heart she doesn’t have and forcing it to dance in time.
      “Join. Us.” The buzzing at the edge of her mind starts to grow louder, resolving itself into the murmur of countless voices, all saying the same thing. It presses down on her mind, squeezing until she’s sure something’s going to break.
      “N... No.”
      “JOIN US!”

Frank decides that he’s seen enough. Concentrating, he reaches into Annie’s subconscious and guides it from nightmare towards something else, something positive and affirming. [17] As he concentrates, the landscape changes around him. Light and life and colour flood into the glass forest, sweeping away the spikes and the spectres as if they’d never existed. Now he’s standing in the middle of a real forest; a rainforest by the looks of it. Annie is much younger here – no older than ten or so at the most – and she has two small boys in tow. They seem to be intent on exploration, following a meandering route with many detours to poke at various interesting-looking things. From the chattering and the laughter, they’re having a great deal of fun. There’s a clear family resemblance between the three children: Frank can tell that they’re siblings. The boys are Andrew and David, Annie’s younger brothers and, at the moment, her charges. She’s supposed to look after them while her parents are away. For now, that mainly consists of fishing them out of the holes (and the odd river) they somehow manage to fall into and helping them down from trees they insist they can climb. There are dangers here, but she knows enough to avoid them: nothing is going to threaten her brothers while she’s here. Two years from this moment and they’ll be dead; ten years from now and so will she, but right now she’s ten years old and she has her whole life ahead of her. And she’s happy. [18]

Frank, on the other hand, is not happy. He’s actually quite wary at the moment, having just sensed something amiss. Concentrating on the dream, he discovers the source of his unease: someone else is here, hiding somewhere nearby. Determined to ferret out the intruder, he scours the area until he finds them. Reaching out with his mind, he dissolves a nearby hill to mist, revealing the slim, oriental-looking woman standing within it. She doesn’t fall, and he realises that a portion of the hill still remains beneath her feet. The small disc of earth hovers in mid-air, easily supporting her in defiance of anything so trivial as gravity. (Well, this is a dream-realm, after all.) Clearly, she has some dream-shaping skill of her own. For a moment or two they look at each other, neither of them saying a word. She quirks an eyebrow at him.
      “Well,” she murmurs, “I think turnabout’s fair play.” With a gesture, a gust of wind suddenly blows Frank backwards and high into the air. It looks like the fight is on.

Wings erupt from Frank’s back and his headlong tumbling turns smoothly into a controlled dive, aimed straight at the woman. He moves fast, but so does she, blinking away at the last moment. The sudden weight on his back tells him exactly where she is now; from the feel of it, she’s actually standing on his back. How she’s managing to keep her balance he doesn’t know.
      “Who are you?” She says. Despite the howling winds, he can hear her perfectly: this is a dream after all. He rolls and flips, managing to dislodge her.
      “No, the question is: who are you?” As he speaks, he spins a net from dream-stuff, placing it directly in her path. She flings out a hand as she falls towards the net as she falls, and when her fingertips brush its threads, both woman and object disappear. Before he can track her down, she’s there in front of him, net outstretched between her hands.
      “Thank you for your gift,” she says, returning it to him with interest. She manages to entangle him, but he dissolves into a swarm of insects and simply flies through the gaps. Something odd happens to his perspective, and then he realises there’s just one of him again and the net has become a glass jar, sealing him in. Well, as the lady said: turnabout is fair play. A moment’s concentration, and now he’s the one holding the jar, and she’s trapped inside it. She doesn’t try to reverse his reversal, but instead makes the jar spin, trying to fling him off. Exerting his will, he slows the jar to a stop, and that’s when she apparently decides to concede the contest.

Frank is still wary, perhaps expecting a trick, but he doesn’t continue the offensive. He eyes the woman cautiously. She returns the favour, studying him through the glass of the jar.
      “Hmm,” she says, thoughtfully. “From what you were doing, I’d say you must be one of Annie’s friends.” Is that familiarity in her voice? Has she been here before? She was obviously watching long enough to see what he was doing. Her presence here raises so many questions, but she hasn’t even answered the one he actually asked her yet. Nor does she intend to, apparently, for with her next words she completely changes the subject. “You’ve done a good job working out who your enemies are, but there’s someone you’re not accounting for.”
      “Who?”
      “Terrel & Squib.” He frowns, but before he can ask for clarification, she adds: “They’re the ones who make the pigment.” On that note, she disappears again. This isn’t like her other vanishing acts: she actually doesn’t seem to be in Annie’s dreaming mind any more. Frank casts his senses around and manages to pick up a trail. Actually, he manages to pick up several trails: there seems to be a network of golden threads leading from Annie’s dreams to... Elsewhere. One of the threads is still vibrating with the after-effects of the woman’s passage, so, casting caution to the winds, he follows it. Hurtling along as if shooting down a zipline, he realises that he can’t maintain his grip for long. The thread slips through his fingers, the sudden jolt sending him tumbling out into the physical world. It’s barely a fraction of a second after he set off, but he has the impression of a great distance travelled. Once he’s gotten his bearings, he realises that he’s somewhere very familiar – only a short distance away from Brooke House. Curiouser and curiouser. There is no sign of the rabbit he’s chasing, however, no matter how hard he looks. It seems that this particular trail has gone cold. With little else to do, Frank ripcords back to his body.

Morning comes around and people start to stir, hunting breakfast. Frank sleeps through the commotion, having gotten to bed somewhat later than everyone else. Annie, on the other hand, is one of the first to be up and about, having actually gotten a good night’s sleep for the first time in a while. Clear-headed and maybe even hopeful: she could get used to this. Unfortunately, she still feels like her stomach is trying to make a break for freedom. She decides to give breakfast a miss, instead taking Chet aside and to ask if she can draw on his medical knowledge.
      “What is it, Sergeant?”
      “I think I’m ill.”
      “What are your symptoms?”
      “Mostly nausea. It’s been going on for about a week now, mainly in the mornings. I actually threw up yesterday, and I’m generally feeling off.”
      “Hmm. Not much to go on. Could be food poisoning. Could be pregnancy. Could be some kind of bug. Symptoms are fairly non-specific.”
      “I know.” She sighs. “I’m just worried that the body might be rejecting my gauze, or something like that.” As an afterthought, she adds: “Pregnancy’s unlikely, unless it’s an immaculate conception.”
      “Do you think you’ve been projecting in your sleep?”
      “No. At least, no one’s mentioned anything about seeing me wander around in my gauze in the middle of the night.”
      Chet harrumphs. “Not enough information to say, then. I’m not a doctor, and your situation’s fairly unique. I’ll add anti-emetics to the list of things to pick up on the next pharmacy run.”
      “Thanks.” She starts to head off, but then remembers that there was something else she wanted to ask. “By the way – do you think Kate’s up to a ’phone call?”
      “Maybe. What’s it about? How long is it likely to take?”
      “I said I’d keep her apprised of what we found out, but I haven’t had the chance yet.”
      He considers for a moment. “All right, but don’t wear the General out.”
      “The General?” Annie is amused. “You gave her a rank higher than yours?”
      “Seems appropriate.” He shakes his head. “Fairly certain that’s how she sees it, anyway.”
      “I can see that.”

Annie returns to her cubicle to make the ’phone call.
      “Kate here.”
      “You got your ’phone back, then?” She was half expecting to hear Blink’s voice on the other end, so it’s something of a relief when she doesn’t.
      Kate snorts. “The good captain finally condescended to return it to me.” Her voice has its familiar acid edge, and she sounds somewhat more focused than she did a few days ago.
      “How are you feeling?”
      “Like shit, generally. Probably about as good as I’m going to get for the foreseeable future; at least until this bullet hole heals up. At least it doesn’t feel like my head’s full of cotton wool any more. Blink isn’t dosing me up as much as Chet was.”
      “He’s probably more afraid of you than Chet is.”
      “I should bloody well hope so.” The indignation in her voice makes Annie smile a little. “Anyway, what do you want?”
      “Just to let you know what we’ve found out so far.” She fills Kate in on the events of the past few days.
      “Interesting.” Kate digests the information in silence for a few moments, and then continues. “So, we’re facing two groups of opponents here: spectres and humans. We can’t really predict what the spectres will do, so we have to concentrate on the humans. What are they going to do now?”
      “They’re not just going to give up.”
      “No. Assuming this is something important, they’re going to try to find a way to go ahead.”
      “They’ve just lost a significant portion of the tainted drugs. At least, we hope it’s significant. Maybe they’re going to have to reschedule.”
      “They’ve probably spent a long time setting this up; I think they’re probably going to try to salvage it. If you’re right and they do need the ghosts, then they’re going to need the pigment. They... Shit.”
      “What?”
      “You said Hyde took Ike. If one of the spectres can possess him, they can make contact with his buyers and just sell them more pigment. Assuming that they have access to more of the tainted stuff.”
      “I think we have to assume they do.”
      “Yes. So, the dealers are probably low right now, and they’ve got their money back. If Ike can convince them he’s just got hold of a new shipment, they’re not going to turn him down.
      “You’re right. It’s going to take them some time, but...”
      “But it’s time they’ll spend if they want to pull this off at all.”
      “It took Craig about eight hours or so to meet with all of Ike’s recent customers. If the spectres started first thing this morning, then they have the time. Shit.” Annie thinks for a moment. “We could try to hit the dealers, but that’ll take a while, and will probably involve fighting our way through spectres.”
      “That’ll alert the rest of them; they’re almost certainly keeping watch for you by now.”
      “What if we were to stop the event from taking place?”
      “How?”
      “A bomb threat, a traffic accident, burning the clubs down or... No, better idea: cut the power. Hit the local substation or transformer, or whatever it is. We could black out the whole of Manhattan. If there’s no power, the clubs won’t be able to open.”
      “Hmm. Interesting idea. The subway probably has its own power supply, so people will still be able to travel, but it should put a significant crimp in their plans.”
      “We can hope.”
      “Of course, they’ll probably try to get the power working again.”
      “Yes, which means we’re going to have to guard it.”
      “The question is: do we want to stop this, or do we want to try to find out more? And maybe weaken their forces?”
      “What do you mean?”
      “We could split our forces; have some people trying to snatch the drugs. Or we could concentrate on dealing with whoever comes to fix the power supply.”
      There’s a pause, while Annie thinks about that. “That’s a tricky one. I think... I think it would be better to concentrate our forces, and try to get to the people behind it, but...” She sighs. “What if this is the last batch they need?”
      “If that’s the case, then it might already be too late.” Kate’s voice is quiet. “I think we have to assume there’s still a chance, or we might as well just give up.”
      “I’ll discuss this with the others.”
      “Can’t have your cake and eat it, Kid.”
      “Maybe not, but it can’t hurt to run this by someone more tactically minded than either of us.”
      “Go on, then. Leave the invalid to her rest.” There may be a certain amount of bitterness in the last words, but Annie ignores it.
      “There is one more thing...”
      “Yes?”
      She doesn’t want to do this, but she doesn’t have a choice. “Has Adrian spoken with you recently?”
      “No, why?”
      “Oh, uh...”
      “Spit it out,” Kate says, impatiently.
      “He, ah, said I should talk to you.”
      “Why?”
      Annie’s voice drops, until she’s practically muttering the words. “He thinks I’m cracking up.”
      For a moment or two, the only sound from the other end is Kate’s laboured breathing. “Why does he think that?”
      “I don’t know.” Before Kate can reply, she continues: “Anyway, the Captain said I wasn’t to tire you out, and I need to talk to the others.” She’s half expecting Kate to object, but all she says is:
      “Okay, then. Let me know how it turns out.”
      “I will. Goodbye.”
      “Goodbye, Kid.” As she hangs up the ’phone, Annie feels a mixture of relief and worry: that was almost too easy...

Everyone gathers around for a discussion and planning session. Tom has finally recovered enough to wake up of his own accord, although the impressive array of bruises he sports might cause him to wish he was still unconscious. [19] The others quickly fill him in on what he missed yesterday, and then they start to make plans for tonight. Annie passes Kate’s thoughts about what the opposition are likely to be doing with Ike. The others agree that this makes sense. Craig points out that he did have spectres in tow when he stashed the tainted drugs he bought back, so they know where they are. The keys to those lockers were in Ike’s pockets. This means there’s no need for them to get their hands on a new shipment of drugs: all they have to do is go retrieve up the previous one. Craig says they could try to get the drugs before the spectres do, but the group consensus is that it’s probably already too late. Not only that, but there’s a significant risk that they’ll just walk straight into a trap. Annie asks Shelley if she could check whether Ike’s mobile has been used at all since last night.
      “Yes,” she says, via IM. “Will take a few hours.” She disappears off to do that. At least, that’s why they assume suddenly stops responding. (Or she could just have gotten bored. It wouldn’t be the first time.)

The big question is: can they actually stop the spectres? They have to assume that the drugs are still going to be in circulation. They could hit the dealers; try to recover the bad pigment, but that will take time. It would also mean fighting the dealers’ spectre bodyguards. If the spectres call for back up, the Orpheus spooks could end up being overwhelmed very quickly. So, hitting the dealers doesn’t seem to be the ideal solution. There are other possibilities, but most of those require time or manpower and resources that they just don’t have.
      “So, we’re looking at tactical solutions,” Annie summarises. No one disagrees, so she continues: “We could knock out the power. There must be a substation or transformer or something supplying the local grid. If we take that down, we could black out the whole of Manhattan. That should stop them.” They consider the idea.
      “We shouldn’t need to black out all of Manhattan,” points out Frank. “Just a few blocks would do it.” None of them really know that much about power distribution, but this seems to make sense. They just need to know the location of the substations that cover the relevant areas.
      “That information’s publicly available in City Hall,” Craig says, “if you know where to look.” That’s how he got the information about the warehouse pipes and power lines, and the local sewer network. “If we’re going to do this, I can Puppet someone to go and look up the information.” Talk shifts to the practicalities of how to take down a substation, or transformer, or whatever it is that they need to hit. The general consensus seems to be that Inhabit is the way to go, possibly aided by a healthy dose of Witch’s Nimbus, just to be sure it’s down.

Chet clears his throat. The sound isn’t loud, but it gets the others’ attention. They quieten down to let him speak.
      “If we do this, the spectres and their allies are going to defend the substation. They’re almost certainly going to come after us in force. Some of us may well die.” Silence follows his words, stretching out until it’s broken by Tom.
      “If we don’t stop the spectres, lots of people are going to die. And from what Annie said, if enough people die, something really, really bad is going to happen.
      “The end of the world as we know it,” Annie confirms softly.
      “How many people?” Trust a lawyer to focus on the details.
      “Sorry?”
      “How many souls do they need?”
      Annie replies without hesitation, the number etched indelibly on her mind. “Three-hundred and eighteen.”
      “And how do you know?”
      “The Forebode visions and the prophecy on the tablet.”
      “What do they need them for?”
      “I’m... Not sure exactly.” Her brow furrows in thought. “In the... Future... I saw, they were stretching ghosts over the tower that came through at Ground Zero. Maybe they need them for that?”
      “This was after it came through?” Asks Tom.
      “Yes. And these were ghosts they gathered there, not ones they brought with them. In any case, I don’t think three hundred would be enough to cover the whole thing.” It was a very large tower. “So, they must need them for something they have to do before they can bring the tower through.” She thinks a moment. “The prophecy talks about a return: ‘she will come,’ it says, ‘heralded by a choir of three hundred souls.’”
      “Who will come?” Frank, again.
      “I don’t know. I haven’t finished translating the tablet yet.” A memory surfaces; one of the ones she’s been trying not to think about. “They – the spectres – talked about someone they called ‘Grandmother.’ They said she was coming back. Maybe that’s who the prophecy refers to.”       “Grandmother, huh?” Tom’s voice is dry. “I take it she’s not likely to be a kindly old woman handing out cookies...”       Annie smiles wryly. “Ah, no. I doubt it.”
      “Do we know how many souls the spectres have so far?”
      “No.” She shrugs helplessly. “There’s no way of knowing how many times they’ve done this. Not-Gwynneth’s harvest in Chains; the deaths near Powell’s in Portland. Maybe even the missing children where you fought the Reaper.”
      “So, these could be the last ones.”
      “They could be.” She sighs. “Does it matter? We going to try to stop this, aren’t we?” No one disagrees.

Returning to the practicalities, they talk about other alternatives to causing a black out. Anything that will get the clubs shut down should work.
      “What about a bomb threats?” Suggests Frank. “Fires? Impromptu health inspections?” Of all of those, the bomb threats would probably be the easiest to pull off. Burning one or more of the clubs down means actually going to the location. The presence of the spectres makes going there in gauze form a risky proposition, but NextWorld’s involvement makes going in the flesh almost as dangerous. Plus, there’s the small matter of being wanted by the FBI. Setting up a health inspection (and possessing the inspector to ensure failure) would probably take too much time. They decide it’s worth having Craig make the trip to City Hall anyway. If they have the location of the substations, then taking them out is always an option, even if they decide to go with another plan in the end. As he’s leaving, a thought occurs to him and he turns back to the others.
      “What if the enemy have a seer? Someone with Forebode? They’ll know we’re going to hit the power station.” He’s right: if one of the opposition has that ability, then they can look forward to see if their plan goes off as intended. If they see that the area is blacked out, then it isn’t exactly a stretch to deduce that the Orpheus spooks are going to hit the power supply. The NextWorld ambush certainly implies that the enemy has some means of knowing or predicting their movements. This is going to complicate matters. Craig heads off for City Hall as the rest of them consider how they might compensate for this particular wrinkle.

      “What if we plan to do something else?” Asks Frank. “Concentrate on something like, say, investigating Mayfair Green instead. We could switch at the last minute.”
      “It doesn’t work like that,” says Annie. “As far as I can tell, it’s based on probabilities. If we plan for something else, but really intend to hit the power, then the blackout will still show up.”
      “Two plans, then.” Chet’s voice is brusque and clipped: the military man taking charge. “The power station can be the obvious one. Say, we’ll go ahead with that unless we meet resistance. It’s what we intend, so that’s what a seer will pick up. But we have a contingency plan as well: something subtle. Something not easy to see the effects of.” He tilts his head, looking enquiringly at Annie. “That work, Sergeant?”
      She nods thoughtfully. “I think so.”
      “We can fuck with them even more than that,” interrupts Ben. He leans back in his chair as everyone looks at him. “Pick the time of attack at random; draw cards or some shit like that. If we don’t know what time we’re going to be there, how are they going to?”
      “Thats... An interesting idea,” says Annie. “It’s a good one, I think. We’re going to be limited to a particular time-frame” – too soon and they’ll have to hold the substation against the opposition for too long; too late and people will already be at the clubs – “but we can randomise things as much as we can.”
      “We could randomise things even more and go and investigate Mayfair Green while they’re distracted,” suggests Frank. “They won’t be expecting that.” No one really takes his suggestion seriously: stopping the spectres’ plans for Spook Night is their priority at the moment.

For the contingency plan, Chet suggests getting people into the clubs. Puppeteers, Inhabitors or someone who can hide from view would be ideal. They could hit the fire alarms: get everyone out of the clubs. Maybe that’ll hinder the dealers from plying their trade. However, that’s far from certain, and unless they actually do start fires (a risky proposition given the innocent bystanders; to say nothing of the spectres themselves) there’s nothing to stop people from re-entering the clubs afterwards. After some thinking, they come up with another idea: instead of hitting the fire-alarm, why don’t they hit the dealers’ stashes? They’re not going to be able to resupply at this late stage.
      “The problem with that,” Tom says, “is that they’re not all going to hide their supply outside. Some of them are going to keep it on them.” Inspiration strikes. “Why don’t we just hit the dealers; stab them or something?”
      “What, kill them?” Asks James.
      “No, just wound them. They’re not going to keep selling drugs if they need medical attention.” It’s a plan. It’s a good plan. More to the point, it’s something they can do.
      “Craig, Tom and I can Puppet people,” says Chet. “Frank can hide someone more combat-capable: probably James, since the two of you have trained together. That’s four clubs covered.” There are six clubs. He considers the dilemma for a moment. “You and you” – to Frank and James – “can take two. Go for two close together. Hit the first one fast – get there before it opens and pick ’em off as they come through the door. Second’ll take longer, but you should still have enough time. Three’d be pushing it.” He turns to Annie. “You can manifest to take the last one.”
      Her eyes widen. “What if the spectres see me? What if they recognise me? As far as I know, they’re still hunting me.” They’ll come for her. They’ll chain her and hurt her again, and this time there’ll be no one to save her. Does he know what he’s asking?
      “As long as you maintain a high level of vitality, they won’t notice you. You have a particular talent for appearing alive to other spooks. [20] Besides, can’t you just change your appearance?”
      “Yes, but...” He’s right, she realises. What he’s saying makes sense, even if her first instinct is refuse outright. “Fine. I’ll do it.” It’s not like there’s really a choice, after all. The would-be infiltrators draw cards to determine which clubs they’re going to. They decide to distribute the skimmers’ bodies between both vans, Ben driving one (with Kerekov providing spook back up) and Hoyt (with Adrian in the driving seat for appearances’ sake) driving the other. They’ll head into the area, drop off their passengers and then drive around randomly for a while. They need to stay close enough that they could get there if needed, but they don’t want to end up being targets. Choosing routes at random (possibly with the aid of cards or dice) should hopefully minimise the chances of someone being able to use Forebode to predict where they’re going to be.

While they’re waiting for Craig to return, they plan how they’re going to take out the substation. After spending a while discussing the merits of a small, stealthy, surgical strike versus an all-out assault, they settle on the former, with Tom and Frank making up the team. Frank can invisibly scout the area first. If everything looks good, Tom can approach under his concealment. Hopefully, Craig’s information will help them to work out which parts Tom needs to Inhabit and break. If there is trouble, they can move to Plan B: infiltrate the clubs. Chet observes that the opposition might attach bombs to the substation, probably coupled with sensors designed to detect an Inhabit attempt. If the bombs are loaded with anti-spook shrapnel, they could shred Tom the moment he tries to jump into the system. It’s something they’re going to have to watch out for.

Frank receives a ’phone call: John’s finally finished analysing the tainted pigment sample. According to the readouts (and his host’s knowledge), the drug is contaminated with strychnine. The poison causes muscle convulsions, eventually leading to death through asphyxia or simply exhaustion. John says that his host isn’t exactly a doctor, but a quick trawl of the internet suggests that muscle relaxants might help to treat the symptoms. He asks if Frank needs him to do anything further. After thinking for a few moments, Frank asks him to e-mail a copy of the report to the police commissioner, BCCing in as many different newspapers and media organisations as he can think of. If the commissioner does something about this, then it might disrupt what’s going to happen. If he doesn’t, then the media will crucify him when the shit hits the fan. (It isn’t clear what, if anything, Frank has against the police commissioner.) If anything like this happens again, then it might make it easier to prod the authorities into taking action. John says he’ll return to the warehouse once he’s done. It’s going to be difficult to cover up the blank spot in the forensic technician’s memory, so they decide not to bother. When all’s said and done, what will an investigation show up? Only that someone used him to analyse a drug sample and then get the word out that it was contaminated. Those are hardly the actions of ruthless murderers. Maybe it’ll do them some good in the PR department. Once the immediate crisis has been dealt with, it’s probably worth trying to follow up on this. Annie spends some more time trying to get the word about the tainted drugs out to the students, adding the new information about the strychnine. She doesn’t think that’s going to necessarily deter addicts or regular users, but hopefully first-time and casual users might think twice before indulging tonight. At the moment, it’s pretty much the only useful thing she can think of to do.

Shelley returns with the unwelcome news that Ike’s mobile has, in fact, been used since Hyde took him. That means they have to assume the dealers have got their drugs back. Craig e-mails copies of the relevant plans through shortly after her return. It looks like they’ll be able to knock out power to four of the clubs by taking out one substation. Hopefully, that will be enough to put a serious crimp in the spectres’ plans. When he gets back to the warehouse, some of the skimmers replace the energy he spent. The assault team (plus those with tactical training) are poring over the plans he retrieved, refining their planned approach. They fill him in on what John found out about the strychnine, and how John is sending the report to major news organisations. He swears softly, and tells them that for the past week or two, various local news websites have been flooded with crazy-sounding messages about the evils of drugs. (Some of the messages wouldn’t be out of place amongst Roy Berkeley’s ramblings.) He didn’t put two and two together before now, but that was probably done by the opposition to stop Orpheus using mass media to get the word out. The general public would see it as just another scare story. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much they can do about it at this late stage. Despite this news, Annie continues to work on the student population, figuring it can’t hurt to make the effort.

As they’ve just about finished with their planning, Chet suddenly frowns.
      “Thought of a problem with the clubs,” he says. “We’re not going to be able to carry knives in with us. Taking the dealers down unarmed is going to be a lot more noticeable.”
      “Oh.” Tom thinks. “We’ll have to smuggle them in beforehand, then.” After some discussion of how they can do this – the spectres are a problem for anyone going in gauze, and finding someone to possess might take too much time – he has an idea. “Frank and James could go in,” he suggests. “James is a Poltergeist – he could carry the knives without needing to manifest. He could just open a window or something to get them inside. Frank can keep them both hidden from the spectres.” James and Frank seem amenable to the idea, although Frank points out that this is pretty much going to completely run him out of vitality. Fortunately, there is a solution to this: the other skimmers can take it in turns to keep him topped up, and then all of them can rest to recover what they’ve used. If they spread the expenditure between enough of them, they’ll have plenty of time to recover before this evening. Also, if they’re ferried around in the vans – since there’s no real point in wasting time wandering around Manhattan on foot – they can return to their bodies between clubs to reduce Vitality expenditure. They do this thing. It all goes smoothly enough, and they return to the warehouse to rest up before the evening.

There is one factor the group haven’t really taken into account: a complication. They still have a prisoner to question. They were intending to have one of the Puppeteers go through the NextWorld operative’s memories, but the planning has taken up so much of their time and attention that they still haven’t gotten round to it. Given how late in the day it is, whoever does it is still going to be on significantly less than full power when they set out this evening. Given what they’re likely to be facing, this is hardly ideal, so they decide against it. There is also the fact that they don’t want to leave a potentially dangerous prisoner here while all the combat-capable individuals are elsewhere. Although Mitch is good at keeping an eye on the Sleeper cradles, they don’t think he’d be the best person to act as guard, which leaves them with a problem. As they discuss what to do (Kerekov points out that they could just kill the man, even though it means they wouldn’t get any information from him), Chet hits upon a solution: he will possess the man and use him to get into his target club. They will need to acquire some suitable clothes, of course, but one quick shopping trip addresses that issue. Now they really are all set.

Soon enough, it’s time to let the cards decide when they’re going to make the run on the substation. It needs to be some time between 8.30 and 9.30pm if they’re going to stop people getting to the club. As fate would have it, they end up aiming to get to the substation at 9.10pm. Frank makes the initial pass on his own, scouting out the area as they agreed. (Everyone else is split between the two vans, waiting to provide back-up if needed.) As he looks around, he spots someone on the roof of a nearby building. Closer inspection shows it to be a man with a gun, wearing goggles with a familiar red glow. Luckily, Frank’s invisibility seems to be doing the trick, for he is allowed to proceed with his inspection unmolested. He finds three more snipers, either on the roof of the substation itself or on other buildings close by. All of them have a good line of sight on the substation itself, as well as various approaches to the structure. Four snipers wearing spook-vision goggles (and with high-power rifles that are, presumably, loaded with ghost-shot) would seem to constitute a reasonable definition of trouble. Frank reports his findings back to the others, and they unanimously decide to go with Plan B. They do make one change, however: Tom pops out to Inhabit a public ’phone box once they’re out of the area. He calls the police, doing a good impression of a panicked citizen as he tells the operator he can see a man with a gun sitting on the roof of a building. He stays on the line long enough to give them the address, and then yells: “There are more of them! I think they’ve seen me!” With that, he hangs up.

The six infiltrators are dropped off within reasonable distance of their targets. The Puppeteers start looking around for suitable hosts. Tom – who has drawn Aria – settles on someone who looks a lot like him, but has the build to win a physical altercation, if necessary. He eases into his host slowly, so as not to cause a spike, and then joins the queue. It takes him about forty-five minutes to actually get inside. Annie manifests in the van – she’s going to have to carry money with her so she can get into the club – and is dropped off by the end of the queue. Her target is Downtime. (In the end, she only makes minor changes to her appearance, as anything more drastic would require more energy to effect and maintain. Not knowing exactly how long she’s going to have to stay out here, she doesn’t want to risk ending up looking like a dead-girl-walking half-way through the night. Hopefully, the small changes will suffice.) She left it a little later than Tom, so her queue is somewhat longer. It’s an hour and a quarter before she reaches the doors. Craig hits Chains, starting out with a pretty young thing situated conveniently at the front of the queue. Once inside, he uses her to entice a staff member into a back room, managing to jump into the new host without being spotted by any of the spectres. Simply telling the confused girl that she passed out and he brought her in here, he heads out into the main part of the club. Chet manages to get there early enough to end up near the front for the queue for Village Underground. The seventy-odd year old ex-army man isn’t exactly hip to the clubbing scene, but no one’s really paying any attention to him and he gets inside without any trouble. Frank and James, being invisible and immaterial, can just walk straight into Limelight.

Once inside their respective clubs, everyone collects their weapons and starts hunting dealers. Frank and James simply wait by the entrance, and James dispatches their targets as they come in. It isn’t as if they have to worry about being seen by the bouncers, after all. The others don’t have that luxury. Craig and Chet do quite well for themselves, Craig taking advantage of his staff uniform to take dealers aside, and Chet just being very, very good at taking someone down quietly. Annie manages to stab one dealer, but all the people crowding Tom’s are making it too difficult to get close to any of them.

It’s around midnight when the first people start keeling over. Expecting this, the Orpheus spooks who are in a position to do so (everyone except Frank and James) start ordering people to call 911, instructing them to tell the paramedics it’s strychnine poisoning. The people in Limelight are fine – none of the dealers actually got the chance to do any selling – but Frank and James haven’t reached their second target – Hush – yet. They arrive while the panic is underway. Frank tells James there are things he wants to do here, and it will be easier if he doesn’t have to conceal two people. James ripcords back to his body. (There doesn’t seem to be a great deal for him to do here anyway – taking on the spectres single-handedly was never part of the plan.) The rest of the spooks stay around to see what happens next, doing what they can to ensure that the paramedics know that they’re dealing with strychnine poisoning.

What happens next is that people die. The paramedics save some, but not all of them, and the ones that die leave ghosts. That’s when the spectres spring into action. There are about six or so in each club (not counting the ones with the remaining dealers, who look like small fry in any case). About half of these resemble giant pairs of hands. They are roosting in the rafters, looking for all the world like deformed giant bats. When the first ghosts start to form, they dive, scooping them up and flying away with them. While they’re gone, the ground-bound spectres start to herd ghosts, corralling them into one place so that, when the Hands return (empty-handed), they can more easily scoop up another load. Meanwhile, back at the other clubs, it’s starting to look like there is nothing else the spooks can do. The paramedics are doing everything they can, and as for the dead, well, there are an awful lot of spectres wandering around here... Tom ripcords back to his body. Chet and Craig walk their hosts to a safe distance and then leave them, making their own way back to the warehouse.

Annie thinks very hard about ripcording, but then changes her mind. She doesn’t want to leave these unfortunate souls to the spectres’ tender mercies; not if she can help it. Being careful to stay out of sight of the spectres as much as she can, she starts to Wail softly at some of the ghosts, deliberately not infusing the sound with energy. She’s hoping that the merest push at their emotions will be enough to panic them into running away from here. How hard can it be, considering what’s happening? Unfortunately, too many of them just aren’t aware enough of their own selves, let alone their surroundings. The ones that are just seem to be stumbling around blindly, unable to find their way out. This isn’t working. The situation calls for more drastic measures.

Back in Hush, Frank has a plan. Still concealed under the cloak of his illusion, he sprouts wings of his own and lifts silently into the air. Heading out into the night, he waits until some of the fliers emerges, and then follows along behind them. Even though he thinks he knows where they’re taking their cargo, he wants to know for sure. It doesn’t take long for his suspicions to be confirmed: they’re heading for Mayfair Green...

‘It’s a calculated risk,’ Annie tells herself, trying not to think about what happened the last time she mis-calculated a calculated risk. Cautiously, she heads towards her target: a clump of ghosts corralled by the spectres on the ground. They’re just standing where they’ve been put, too confused and unaware of their surroundings to even realise the danger they’re in. A couple of spectres lurk nearby, keeping an eye on them. The rest are busy herding more ghosts into the clump. The only good thing about the ghosts’ docility is that it’s likely to make them easier targets for Wail; the reason Annie is going for them and not the spectres. Coming to a halt as far away from them as she can get and still be in range, she takes a breath and Wails, channelling energy into the shrill, piercing note. The urgent sound drives through the ghosts’ confusion, filling them with panic and the overwhelming need to get out of there, to get away. They start to run in all directions, not caring who or what gets in their way; even trying to go straight through the spectres. Annie sees one ghost make a clean get-away, escaping into the crowd before its captors realise what’s going on. She doesn’t really see what happens next, because that’s when the spectres notice her.

Three on them are on her before she can so much as blink. They move fast, leaving her no time for her to ripcord: all she can do is react. One of them lunges at her, raking her gauze with the roofing nails driven through its hands. Just a glancing blow, luckily, but the other two are already following suit. One swipes at her with wicked claws, even as the other bites down with a mouth full of broken glass. She tries to twist out of the way, but they’re surrounding her and there’s nowhere to go and if she tries to ripcord they’ll shred her [21] and they’re going to shred her anyway unless she does something, but there’s nothing she can do...

Annie finds herself channelling energy, not really knowing why, but blindly acting on instincts she didn’t even know she had. Something happens, but it happens too quickly for her to process how it feels and then her vision is simultaneously split and multiplied, her self distributed between lots of small flying bodies. It’s so distracting that it takes another moment for her to register the fact that the spectres’ attacks have passed harmlessly [22] through the... Swarm of wasps? Well, that explains the compound vision, if not how this has happened. With an effort she gathers her scattered wits. The spectres don’t seem to be giving up and wandering off, so pulling herself back together here – even assuming that she can – would almost certainly be a very bad idea. Can she ripcord like this? She has no idea. She doesn’t even really know what’s just happened; only that it probably saved her life (or, perhaps, her unlife).

She tries to fly away, but bits of her don’t seem to be co-operating. As she struggles, she catches sight of what’s happening to the rest of the ghosts she tried to stampede. It looks like their guards are trying to corral them again, but they’re fighting tooth and nail not to be recaptured, apparently still driven by panic. They struggle so desperately that the spectres start shredding them to pieces: apparently they would rather dissipate them than let them get away. Annie feels the sting of guilt – even as she tells herself that final death is better than what was waiting for them – but then forces her attention back to the task at hand. Co-ordinating this many bodies is hard work, especially when she has the undivided attention of three spectres. It doesn’t look like she’s going to be able to get away from them any time soon. ‘I guess I’ll just have to risk it.’ Mentally crossing the fingers she doesn’t have right now, she tries to ripcord.

Over in the club Aria, Tom is also in the process of ripcording. Slamming back into his body with the usual bruising force, he tries to sit up, but can’t. No, it’s more than that: he can’t do anything; not so much as blink an eyelid or twitch a finger. Hard on the heels of this realisation, another comes crashing in: this body isn’t his, and it’s dying. It is convulsing and thrashing, muscles spasming uncontrollably and painfully. As his head whips from side to side, he catches brief, blurred glimpses of his surroundings. He’s in what looks like a warehouse. There are other people around – lots of people – and some of those are also thrashing about on the ground. There is a general feeling of panic, which seems to be coming from within as well as without. Tom realises that he can sense his host’s mind: no real thoughts, just emotion. He tries to calm him down a little – this is definitely a male body – but with only limited success. It’s hardly surprising – death is not very far away. Just because he’s survived the death of one host doesn’t mean he can survive the death of this one, especially when he doesn’t know how he got here in the first place. A little desperate now, he tries and fails to step out of this body. Attempting to ripcord proves similarly unsuccessful. He is trapped here, in this dying flesh. In this meat. He feels his heart grow ever more erratic, juddering until it seems like it must surely leap right out of his chest. There’s a moment of relief when it stops, quickly followed by panic when it stops completely. Stops dead. Breath falters, vision fades to black and then... He dies.

‘It worked?’ Annie is almost surprised to find her gauze once more clothed in flesh, only allowing herself to feel relief when she opens her eyes to the familiar sight of the inside of a van. ‘It worked!’ Apparently, it is possible to ripcord when one’s gauze is split into a couple of hundred wasps. That may be a useful thing to know. After confirming (as best as she can) that all of her mind seems to have come back, she cautiously sits up and looks around. (Fortunately, the van is travelling at a relatively sedate pace. They’re not actually being chased by anyone at the moment, so there’s no point in drawing attention to themselves by careering around the streets of New York City at speed.) Frank and Tom’s bodies are still apparently unoccupied, so she’s obviously the first one back. Kerekov doesn’t acknowledge her return, but Ben, quickly glancing over his shoulder at the movement, says:
      “Welcome back, Blondie. How’d it go?”
      Annie sighs. “A lot of people died. I got one dealer, but it wasn’t enough to stop the tainted drugs getting out. People were dropping like flies.”
      “Shit.” Ben doesn’t say anything for a moment or two, then asks, abruptly. “What happened with the spectres?”
      “They’re taking the ghosts.” She’s trying not to think about what might be happening to them. “There were some winged spectres hanging from the ceiling – looked a lot like giant pairs of hands. They just swooped down and picked them up. The ones on the ground started herding them into groups to make it easier. The ghosts mostly just went where they were led, or prodded. Some got away in the confusion, but...” ‘Not enough,’ her shrug says.
      “Shit,” he says again. “Any of the fuckers see you?”
      She nods, then realises he can’t see it and says: “Yes.”
      “You okay?”
      “Yeah.” Well, she’s about ready to weep for the ghosts’ fate, but physically she’s fine. “That’s what ripcording is for.”
      Kerekov surprises them both by actually speaking. “Did the spectres see you when you were fully powered up?”
      She turns to look at him. “No.” Guessing at the reason for his question, she continues: “We can continue to assume they won’t notice high-vitality spooks, although I would recommend keeping out of visual range where possible.” Kerekov acknowledges this with a nod.
      “So, what did you do?” Ben asks the question.
      “Hmm?”
      “How did you get the spectres’ attention?”
      “Oh.” It seems somewhat reckless, now that she thinks about it. “I tried to scatter some of the corralled ghosts.”
      “Thought you weren’t supposed to do anything visible, Blondie. Shit, you didn’t even want to go there in the first place. What made you decide to do a crazy-ass thing like that?”
      “I had to do something.” The edge in her voice stems from frustration and the belated reaction to being jumped on by three spectres. Deliberately softening her tone, she continues: “I wanted help some of them escape, at least.” She thinks that’s pretty much killed the conversation, but after a minute or so, Ben abruptly asks:
      “Did any of them make it?”
      “One, I think.” A bitter smile. “The rest got shredded when they tried to run straight through the spectres. I don’t know if how many others got away. Not many, though.”
      “Oh. Fuck.”
      “Yeah.” And that really does kill the conversation.

There’s a sense of movement – flying, perhaps, or falling – and then the light is drawing him forward. It rushes closer, but something pulls him up sharply before he can reach it, dragging him back towards the physical realm. It doesn’t feel like a choice; it feels like a chain. Is this because of the pigment? The warehouse solidifies around him once more, except that this time he is in his gauze, and he can feel the tug of the apparently delayed ripcord. Looking down at the body that was his prison, he is shocked to recognise his brother’s features. His brother’s corpse. His brother’s ghost standing dazedly nearby, unaware of the spectre bearing down on him. At the edges of his vision, he can see shapes that look like more spectres – lots of them – and then everything goes black.

Frank follows the flying spectres and their cargo, now certain that they’re heading for Mayfair Green. Along the way, he takes advantage of opportunities to drop any stragglers, putting them to sleep so that they drop their passengers and fall to the ground. They won’t necessarily be out for that long, but it should hopefully be long enough for the ghosts to get away. In this manner, he manages to free three ghosts before they reach the edge of the projects. Like before, he sees what look like the strands of a web running through the area. Unlike the last time he saw it, however, the web is alive and pulsing. Frank follows the little procession into one of the buildings; not one of the apartment blocks, but a separate structure. It’s more of less in the centre of Mayfair Green, set a little apart from the other buildings by means of a small courtyard. From the looks of it, and its position in the centre of the rough square marked out by the apartment blocks, it is – or was – probably the local church and community centre: a place for people to come together in worship and to connect with their fellows. In a way – in a twisted sort of way – it still is...

Tom sits bolt upright, not really noticing the pain of slamming back into his body. (It really is his body this time.) He looks at the others without really seeing them; still dazed from what just happened to him, and from what he saw.
      “My brother,” he says. “They’re going to take him.”
      “What?” Annie and Ben ask the question simultaneously. Tom hurriedly explains what just happened to him, concluding with:
      “I have to get back there.” The only problem is, he doesn’t know where “there” is. Annie says she’ll see if Shelley can find out the location of Tom’s brother’s ’phone. If she can narrow down the possible locations, that should help. The only problem is that will take time. Mention of Shelley gives Tom an idea: he’s been trying to learn Deadwire from her; maybe he can use it to leap into his brother’s mobile ’phone. He isn’t going to be able to take anyone with him for back-up – and there were a lot of spectres in the warehouse – but it doesn’t matter: this is his brother. Only just remembering to warn the others – and to tell them his brother’s mobile number – he projects, concentrates, and disappears.

The spectres don’t just drop their cargo once inside the building. They keep going, heading for the inner chamber (probably where the services were held, back when this was a living community). Frank follows them towards the open door and then stops dead as soon as he sees what lies within. Whatever this place might look like on the physical plane, to ghost-touched eyes it is a scene out of nightmares. There are ghosts embedded in the walls, their faces – or what’s left of them – contorted in expressions of terror and pain. Even as he watches, he sees a spectre cementing in another thrashing, struggling victim. The spectre looks a little like a humanoid pig with trowels for hands. Its skin is pocked and dimpled with what look almost like wounds; or would, if they didn’t keep opening and closing. No, not wounds: mouths... There are a few of these “workers” distributed around the chamber, all busily constructing. Another spectre, a different type, waddles over to one of them. It has to waddle – its body is swollen and bloated like that of a giant, well-fed tick, looking just about fit to burst. Leaning ponderously forwards, it opens its great maw and vomits forth a stream of gauze-stuff into one the worker’s many mouths. The worker doesn’t pay it any attention, apparently focused on its task. When this is done, the “processor” – skin flapping loosely over its newly shrunken frame – wanders over to where the hands are setting down the new “material” for processing. Apparently, Ben was right about the spectres needing the gauze...

The three spooks in the van feel a pulse when Tom vanishes. Ben hits the gas, taking a few random turn-offs to put some distance between them and the location of the spike in case anything comes to investigate. Annie rings Shelley, who says it will take her a few minutes to track down the ’phone. Somewhat acerbically, she observes:
      “Good job I built myself a backdoor into that system. I’m certainly getting plenty of use out of it.” She doesn’t acknowledge Annie’s goodbye. After a few minutes, Annie gets a text message with a very rough location: it looks like Tom’s brother is somewhere near the docks. They head in that direction: maybe they’ll be able to narrow it down once they get closer. And if Tom does call for back-up, they might actually be able to get there in time.

Tom’s first real use of Deadwire seems to go off without a hitch. As soon as he channels energy, he finds himself inside a mobile ’phone. Cautiously, he takes a look around from within. It doesn’t look good. According to his rough count, there are about a dozen spectres in the warehouse, and one of them is carrying a scythe. Is it another reaper? It’s certainly not the reaper: this one is dressed in a crumpled suit rather than robes, and looks like a very badly beaten black man sheathed in blue fire. [23] It still looks like trouble, but something else gets Tom’s fully attention: his brother is being carried off by one of the winged spectres. Without thinking about it, he lightning-bolts the thing from inside the ’phone, without even channelling vitality. [24] This is new, but he doesn’t really have the chance to think about it right now. The spectre drops his brother, but the lightning bolt seems to have gotten the Suit’s attention.

Tom leaps into another ’phone just as the Suit manifests, swinging his scythe at his previous position. The body of Tom’s brother is immediately burned to ash. The people near the Suit catch fire, their screams echoing through the large space as they run around trying to put out the flames. Tom spots another spectre heading for his brother and zaps it. He doesn’t manage to drop it, but he does manage to distract it from his brother as it focuses its attention on him instead. The Suit, however, reaches him first and the scythe bites deep into his gauze before he can leap away. It hurts...

Back in the van, Annie and Kerekov see a dark stain bloom on Tom’s front, spreading out as the blood seeps through his clothing. Annie leaps up to take a closer look, freezing when she sees the wound. It looks nasty – a deep slash crossing his chest and stomach, oozing blood. ‘At least it’s not pulsing,’ she thinks. She knows that would be bad, but that’s about the limit of her medical knowledge. Should she put pressure on the wound? Leave it to stop of its own accord? She just doesn’t know what to do. Helplessly, she looks towards Kerekov.
      “Do you know anything about first aid?”
      “I’m not a medic.” That would seem to be a no.
      “How about you, Ben?”
      “What?”
      “Do you know any first aid?”
      “No – why?”
      “Tom’s bleeding.”
      “Fuck. Is it bad?”
      “How should I know? It... It looks bad.”
      “Fuck,” he says again. “Maybe cover it with something?”
      “I guess.” His shirt will do – it seems to be fairly good at soaking up the blood. “We can keep an eye on him in case it gets worse, or in case he gets any more injuries.” After all: what else can they do?

Despite the pain – or maybe it acts to spur him on – Tom leaps again, aiming for the nearest ’phone to his brother. Leaping out, he channels vitality into Juggernaut. The Suit starts to head in their direction, but Tom just picks up his brother and runs for it. He doesn’t even bother trying to get to the door, but runs straight through the wall. Luckily, his brother seems to be too dazed to struggle. Some of the other spectres follow him outside, but he keeps running. And running, and running. By the time his supernatural speed boost wears off – after about quarter of a minute or so – he thinks he’s outdistanced his pursuit, but he still keeps moving. It’s more like staggering at speed now, but he doesn’t want to stop – can’t afford to stop, not yet. He has to get his brother away from the spectres: that’s all he’s focused on right now. So he just keeps going.

That little scene with the processor and worker spectres is repeated throughout the chapel. Frank doesn’t exactly have the time to do a head-count, but there are easily a handful of the workers, with about the same number of the flying hands and a couple or so less than of the other type. And then there are the others: a group of five standing around a structure in the centre of the room. These don’t seem to be involved in the construction effort: perhaps they are overseeing the work. They are different to the rest: dressed in robes and, even for spectres, there is something oddly inhuman about them. It isn’t that they are particularly deformed, or mutated, or twisted: they are just somehow... Wrong. They stand in a circle around a structure woven of silver mesh, not unlike the web of a great spider. This particular web seems to have caught a juicy fly or two, for there are two figures strung up within it. Familiar figures, both of them; there’s no possibility of error. They both look like Teresa.

This puts an interesting spin on the situation. Frank studies the scene before him, considering his options. There are a lot of spectres here. This many spectres might have fazed someone less stoic, but not Frank. He trusts in his illusions to keep him safe. He’s shielded from sight, sound and even otherwise senses: what are the chances of one of the spectres being able to penetrate that? It’s only when the great jaws close around his upper thigh that he realises that there are some that don’t need to. There are those that can sniff out their prey, like fetches. That’s why fetches tend to make good guard dogs...

Now that one of them has rather pointedly got his attention, Frank notices the pair of fetches guarding the entrance to the inner chamber. [25] They – and the pain – are occupying the bulk of his attention right now, but he does notice something else. All of the spectres in the room beyond have stopped what they were doing and are standing perfectly still. They’re all looking directly at him. Rapidly running through his options, in the end there’s really only one viable course of action. Doing this from inside the mesh might be a bad idea, but he doesn’t have a choice right now: he ripcords.

Frank’s body sits up part-way and then collapses again. It looks like he’s made it back, but he seems only barely conscious, responding to Annie’s questions with incomprehensible mumblings. Like Tom, he’s injured; blood oozing from a shallow cut across his throat and another, deeper one across his chest. [26] Neither of them seem immediately life-threatening, and at least he’s back in his body now, but there’s still Tom to worry about... Annie calls Adrian.
      “Is James back?” She asks, without preamble. (His body is being carried in the other van.)
      “Yes,” he says. “Why?”
      “We might need his medical skills.” She explains the situation.
      “We were just on our way back,” Adrian says. “Do you want us to rendezvous, or do you think they can wait until you return to base?”
      “Tom isn’t back yet,” she says tightly. “And he might have a passenger, so he probably won’t be able to ripcord. We need to wait out here.” She thinks for a moment. “Can you put James on?” She describes the injuries to James as best as she can and asks what he recommends. In his opinion, neither of them sounds like they’re in critical condition, so they can probably wait until they get back to the warehouse for treatment. When he passes the ’phone back to Adrian, she says: “I’d prefer you to remain in the area. Don’t meet up with us yet, but stay close enough that you can get here if Tom takes further injuries. We’re heading for the docks.”
      “Very well, Child. We’ll be nearby if you need us.”
      “Don’t call me ‘Child’,” she growls.
      “As you wish, Annie.” The smile in his voice doesn’t improve her mood. She doesn’t know why he seems to be trying to piss her off, but it’s definitely working. [27] “Goodbye.”

Eventually, Tom thinks he’s run far and fast enough: it’s time to contact the others. He finds a public telephone and Inhabits it – putting his brother down first – so that he can tell them where he is and arrange a pick-up point. It doesn’t take them long to get there. Finding the right area is easy in the end – they can just follow the sound of sirens. While they’re en route, Annie lets Adrian know it’s safe for him to head back to the warehouse. Tom is keeping an eye out for their van, and simply leaps inside with his brother as they slowly drive past. Gently putting the ghost down, he sinks back into his body and sits up.
      “Everyone,” he says, quietly. “This is my brother William. William, this is... These are my friends.” Annie nods at the hues, but he doesn’t really seem to notice. No one really says anything – there doesn’t really seem to be anything to say. William seems confused; not really aware of his surroundings.
      “Tom?” He asks, in a quavering voice. “What are you doing here? I don’t... I don’t feel right. Oh God, I think I’m going to...” The ghost suddenly jerks forwards, making wet retching noises, but all that comes out of his mouth are little wisps of gauze that quickly fade away to nothing.
      “It’s alright, Bill. You’re safe now.” Tom hovers near his brother, worriedly. He’s looking a little shell-shocked himself.
      “I don’t remember... I got sick. It was...”
      “It was the drugs, wasn’t it? The pigment?”
      Bill’s eyes widen, and he stares at his brother in a panic. “You’re not going to take me in, are you? Not your own brother? You can’t... You...” He hesitates, brow wrinkling in a frown. “But you’re not a cop any more... Are you? I thought...” His frown deepens. “Hey, weren’t you in trouble or something? I don’t remember...” And he drifts off into his own thoughts again.
      “Bill?” Tom leans forward. “Stay with me. It’s okay. You’re okay. It’s all going to be alright.” It isn’t clear which of them he’s trying to convince.
      “Liz!” Bill tries to stand up, looking around in a panic. “I have to find her.” He starts fumbling around in his pockets. “My ’phone – I can’t find my ’phone. Can I use yours? I have to call her. She wasn’t feeling well. I have to make sure she’s alright. I have to...” His face just crumples. “Where’s Liz?”
      “Calm down, Bill. Just... Just calm down. Who’s Liz?”
      “She’s my girlfriend. From college. She was at the rave with me, but she wasn’t feeling well. She... She... People were getting sick. There were... I saw...” He leans forward again. “I think I’m going to be sick...” He tries unsuccessfully to throw up again, wiping his mouth with a trembling hand as he slumps back, afterwards. “I’m not feeling so good,” he says, in a small voice.
      “You’re going to be alright,” Tom says, mechanically. When Bill subsides into blankness again, he edges round towards Annie. In a low voice, he says: “Can you talk to him?”
      She shoots him a panicked look. “What do you want me to say?”
      “Can’t you tell him he’s a... Can’t you tell him about his new situation? You’re used to talking to... To ghosts. Aren’t you?”
      “Most of the ones I’ve spoken to have been dead for longer. Most of them knew they were ghosts. I can’t...” She takes a breath. “Kate’s the counsellor: she’s experienced at helping post-life entities come to terms with their situation. I can try to keep him calm, but I’m really not the best person to tell him that... To break the news.”
      “Tom?” Bill’s voice sounds panicked. “Where are you?”
      “I’m here. I was just talking to Annie. It’s okay. I’m still here.”
      “I thought...” The ghosts stops, looking puzzled. He seems to have lost his train of thought. Looking over at Tom, he smiles suddenly. “Is that your girlfriend? She’s hot. [28] I knew you’d do alright for yourself. I should introduce you to... To...” Panic takes hold of him again. “I have to find Liz! She wasn’t feeling well. I have to find her.” He stops. “I feel sick.”
      “William Knox, you get ahold of yourself!” Tom uses his best police voice, hoping he can snap Bill out of this loop and get him to focus a little. “What would Dad say if he saw you like this?”
      “You can’t say anything to Dad; you can’t. He’d kill me! Don’t tell him, don’t...”
      “I’m not going to tell him. It’s okay. Calm down.” Bill eventually subsides, although he chews his lower lip nervously and whispers. “He wouldn’t understand.”
      “We still goin’ back to the warehouse?” Ben’s voice breaks in. “’Cause we’re coming up to the turn-off.”
      “No. Take us to Brooke House.” Tom’s voice is quiet, but firm.
      “You sure?”
      “Yes.” Maybe Kate can help his brother. At the moment, it’s the only thing he can think of.

The journey to Brooke House is an uncomfortable one. Frank occasionally moans and mumbles in his semi-conscious state. Bill keeps insisting that he has to call Liz. Tom keeps trying to keep him focused and together, but it seems to be a losing battle. When he isn’t talking to his brother, he fills the others in on what happened to him in the warehouse. None of them are particularly happy to hear that there’s another reaper – or, at least, a Reaper-class spectre – in town.
      “You still need medical attention,” says Annie, as talk of the spectre reminds her of Tom’s injuries. For his part, he was only peripherally aware of the pain, focused as he is on his brother right now.
      “Call Chet,” says Ben, hearing this. “Get him to meet us at Brooke House. He probably wants to check on his other patients, anyway.”
      “Good idea,” she replies, doing just that. Chet says he’s just been picked up by the other van, and he’ll get them to take a detour. James can move into their van and take a look at Frank on the way back to the warehouse. It sounds like a plan.

As they’re drawing up near Brooke House, something happens. There’s a sound, like a chorus of screams. All of the spooks hear it, even Frank in his semi-conscious state. It’s coming from somewhere close by. The sound goes on for a few seconds, and then is abruptly cut off. At the same time, there’s a, well, more of a feeling than a sound; the sensation of something tearing. And then it’s over, as if nothing had ever happened. The spooks in the back of the van look at each other. (Bill doesn’t, but he seems largely oblivious at the moment.) Even Frank seems to rouse, briefly.
      “Did you all feel that?” Asks Annie, softly. It’s a redundant question, because she can tell by their expressions – well, all except Kerekov, who’s fairly inscrutable – that they did. “It feels like... Like the vision I had. The apocalypse.”
      “Is it happening now?” Tom’s voice is sharp with an emotion that might be panic. It’s hard to tell.
      “No.” She frowns. “This is... Smaller.” A quick glance through the window reassures her of something before she continues. “There’s no blast wave. It isn’t happening yet, but maybe they’re bringing something else through.” It was familiar in another way as well, she realises; at least the screaming was. When she dissolved into a swarm of wasps earlier this evening, she heard a similar sound. Not screaming, exactly, but there was a similar resonance about it. Like the difference and similarity between screaming and normal screaming. In his current state of awareness, Frank also has a flash of recognition. When he travelled along the golden thread from Annie’s dream, in pursuit of the fleeing intruder, there was a sound not unlike the screaming. It’s curious.
      “Where was it coming from?” Asks Tom. Comparing their impressions, he, Annie and Ben work out the direction. Annie frowns.
      “What’s there? Anyone know?”
      “Yeah,” says Ben, grimly. “Mayfair Green.”
      “That’s where... They were taking... The ghosts.” Frank’s voice is weak. “Mayfair Green. It’s where... The spectres... Were going.”
      “What?” Tom and Annie ask the question simultaneously, but Frank has apparently lapsed into unconsciousness. They won’t get anything further from him just yet. Silence falls over the van for a few moments.
      “I’ll go and take a look,” says Annie, abruptly.
      “Are you sure?” Asks Tom.
      “We need to know what’s happened.” Before she can change her mind, she lays down and steps out of her body. Glancing around at the others, her gaze settles on Kerekov. “Can you share some vitality with me? I don’t have enough for a shape-change.” He doesn’t look happy about it, but he acquiesces. “Thank you.” He doesn’t acknowledge her thanks. Tom opens the back door for her so she doesn’t have to waste energy walking through it. Looking back at him, she says: “I think I’m going to stay at Brooke House tonight.”
      “We’ll take your body with us,” Tom says, before she can ask.
      “Thanks.” With that, she channels vitality into the necessary transformation. On the spur of the moment, she decides to see if she can replicate her feat of earlier. ‘Not wasps, though; they couldn’t fly fast enough. Something bigger, that flies at night...’ Tom and Kerekov, looking out of the van, see her outline blur, and then break apart into a colony of bats that take to the night sky as one. ‘It worked!’

The others aren’t waiting long before Adrian’s van pulls up nearby. James goes to check on Frank. Chet – after his host is suitably restrained, gagged and blindfolded – steps out and goes to talk to the Brooke House ghosts so they can clear a path for the living. When the coast is clear, Tom leads Bill while Chet carries Annie. The two vans head back to the warehouse. Inside Brooke House, the ghosts are standing around in groups, talking excitedly. From the sounds of it, they sensed the disturbance and they’re wondering what it is. Tom catches a glimpse of Mona, gathering ghosts together and telling them to stay inside. She’s obviously trying to stay calm for her charges, but is looking extremely shaken. The small group of Orpheus spooks – plus Bill – go up to the attic room. Kate is still awake. The red glow of her cigarette is the first thing they see when they step into the room.
      “Shouldn’t be smoking, General,” Chet says, disapprovingly. Once he’s carefully laid Annie’s body down, he turns to frown at her.
      “Night like this, I damn well deserve a cigarette.” Turning on the small lamp next to her, she peers at the others, her gaze hovering curiously on Bill before she leans back to take them all in. “It didn’t go well, did it?” It’s more of a statement than a question. Tom and Chet fill her in on what happened in the clubs; Chet examining and patching up Tom as they do so. Her only response is a weary sigh. She takes a couple more long, slow drags on her cigarette, and then nods towards Annie’s body. “Where’s she?”
      “Scouting out the source of the recent disturbance,” answers Chet, having been filled in by Tom.
      “I was going to ask if you’d noticed that.” Kate’s gaze lands on Bill again. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” she says.
      “This is my brother William. Bill.” Bill looks up as Tom mentions his name, apparently in one of his phases of awareness. “He was in a club earlier this evening. He wasn’t feeling well.”
      “Nice to meet you, Bill. I’m Kate.”
      He nods confusedly, muttering something that might be: “Nice to meet you,” in return.
      “Can you come over here for a moment, Tom?” Tom acquiesces, crouching down next to Kate. Much to his surprise, she hugs him tightly. “I’m so sorry, Tom,” she whispers in his ear. “I’m here if you need anything.” Letting go of him again, she sits back and looks over at Bill. “Come over here and let’s have a look at you.” Bill looks to Tom for guidance, only moving when his brother nods. “How are you feeling?”
      “I don’t feel well,” Bill says, looking worried. “I think I’m...” Abruptly, he doubles forward and retches again, directly over Kate. She jerks back, then settles down when she realises he’s not actually throwing up anything, still looking faintly revolted. “I’m sorry, Ma’am,” Bill gasps, when he’s done. “I’m so sorry.” He looks like he’s going to try to clean up after himself, but looks confused when he can’t see any mess.
      “That’s okay,” she says. She talks to him for a few minutes, managing to calm him down. Tom chips in here and there, but seems content to let her do most of the talking. Bill starts looking increasingly dazed, and eventually just says:
      “I’m tired, Tom.” Yawning, he looks longingly at the blankets Kate’s wrapped up in. “Would you mind if I just laid down on some of those blankets for a while, Ma’am? I know you’re an old woman, but I don’t need many...” Tom winces in anticipation of her response, [29] but all she says is:
      “Go ahead, Kid.” She lays out a blanket for him. He tries to wrap it around himself, looking confused when he can’t seem to pick it up.
      “Must still be high,” he mutters to himself. In the end he just gives up and stretches out on top of it (well, actually through it, but he doesn’t seem to notice). It doesn’t take long for him to pass into fugue state.
      “You should turn in as well,” Kate says to Tom. “You look like shit.” She throws him a blanket. He catches it and nods – he certainly feels like shit – wrapping it around himself and stretching out.
      “Going to take your own advice?” Asks Chet.
      “Course not. Thought I’d wait up until she gets back,” nodding at Annie. “See what she’s found out.”
      “Only if she isn’t too long,” he admonishes.
      “We’ll see.”

In the meanwhile, Annie wings her way to Mayfair Green. She starts to feel like she’s getting the hang of co-ordinating multiple bodies. There are somewhere between ten and twenty of them, and she seems to be able to spread them out over ten feet or so before she starts to have problems controlling them. Maybe that’s something that will improve with practice. About a block away from Mayfair Green, her sonar picks up something in the air ahead. It seems to be some kind of barrier: a wall, perhaps? When she gets closer, however, she can’t actually see anything; there’s just the sonar shadow. Making a circuit of the area, she notes that it seems to go all the way around. Moving a slowly as she can, she tries to fly through it – bats aren’t exactly built for hovering – and does so without meeting any resistance. It doesn’t feel like there’s anything there at all, material or gauze. Cautiously, she continues onwards. There is movement on the ground: a man and a woman, running as fast as they can. Both of them are blood-spattered, carrying hastily-packed suitcases strewing their contents behind them. Their eyes are blank and staring. A police car sits canted at an angle, lights flashing, front doors open and no one inside. No police officers even in sight. Something is clearly very, very wrong here.

There are lights on in some of the apartments, so she swoops in to take a closer look. When she draws near to the buildings, she sees that they are coated in some sort of black substance. It’s thickly crusted over the bricks, slightly translucent where it covers the windows, and when she gets close enough, she can see that there are faces in it. The faces are frozen in expressions of terror, forever silently screaming. It makes her skin crawl. There are what look like veins beneath the surface of the black substance, and occasionally lumps of something pass through, their passage visible by the bulges they make.

As she’s studying this in horrified fascination, she sees a small object fly out of one of the windows, landing with a thump on the windscreen of the police car. Dropping down to take a closer look, she realises that it’s a severed human foot. Not sure whether she really wants to see what’s going on, she peers through the window she thinks it came out of. An old woman of sixty or so wields a bloody knife, cackling with deranged glee. The recipient of her attentions is an older woman – probably in her eighties – spread out on the bed. She still struggles feebly, even though she can’t draw breath for a scream. Even though blood spurts from the stumps where her feet and one hand used to be. The knife comes down again as Annie watches, a hand following the foot out of the window. She thinks about trying to end the poor woman’s suffering – it’s the only aid she could offer – but it’s clear she’s not long for this world any way. With a heavy heart, she turns away. The next window she peers in reveals a man who looks more or less normal until he turns around to reveal the all-black eyes of a Jason. Those eyes narrow as they look right at Annie, the mouth widening in something approaching a hungry grin. As soon as she realises he’s seen her, she ripcords.

      “Welcome back, Kid.” It takes a moment for Kate’s words to register as Annie sits up, head pounding from her second ripcord of the night. There’s a reason why skimmers aren’t supposed to do this multiple times in succession. Glancing around, she confirms that she’s in the Brooke House attic. As well as Kate, Chet is sitting nearby – a sensible precaution given that Frank and Tom have both sustained injuries while skimming this evening. He starts to come over, but she waves him back.
      “No injuries, Captain. I’m fine.”
      “What did you find out?” Impatience sharpens Kate’s tone. “What did you see?”
      “It definitely happened at Mayfair Green.” Annie describes what she saw there – adding what Frank said about the spectres taking the captured ghosts there. Chet and Kate are both frowning by the time she’s finished. Chet doesn’t object when Kate lights up another cigarette.
      “Do you think that black coating was what they brought through?” Chet’s voice is even more brusque and clipped than usual.
      “It’s possible. It certainly looked like a gauze substance, rather than a physical one. I didn’t try to touch it.”
      “Good,” say Chet and Kate, together. Chet harrumphs. “Well, I’ll leave you two ladies to sleep. I’m going to keep watch.” Apparently, he doesn’t trust that task to the Brooke House ghosts. “Good night.”

When Chet has wandered off to check the far corner of the attic, Kate turns to Annie and says:
      “You should do what the old man says.”
      “In a minute. There’s something I wanted to talk to you about first. Quickly.”
      “Spit it out, then.”
      “Something odd happened to me earlier this evening...” Annie tells her about her new ability, including the fact that she managed to repeat it with a conscious effort of will.
      “Interesting,” says Kate. “Your third tier ability, do you think?”
      “I think so, but there’s something else.” She tells her about the sound she heard the first time, the one that reminded her of the screams. Or vice versa.
      Kate frowns. “Interesting,” she says again. “What do you think it means?”
      “I don’t know. But I’m worried....” She hesitates for a moment, and then continues. “I’m worried that it might be some kind of legacy from the spectres. Something they’d use, like channelling our dark sides.”
      “Maybe,” says Kate, “but it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve ever heard about one of them using. I think we’d have to study it.”
      “Yes. I was planning on experimenting with it a little when I work on Forebode with Mona.”
      “For now, though, you can get some sleep.”
      “Actually, I’m pretty wide-awake at the moment. I thought I’d see if Chet wanted me to take the first watch so he can get some rest.” She doesn’t want to sleep. Sleep is where the spectres lie in wait for her, and Frank isn’t here to chase them away this night.
      “You need to sleep.”
      “I had a good night’s sleep last night.”
      “Probably the first one in ages, then.”
      Annie rolls her eyes. “Now you’re exaggerating.”
      “No I’m not. Have you even seen your eyes lately? There are enough bags to fill all the carousels at JFK. Teresa won’t thank you if you give her new wrinkles.”
      “That’s a low blow, even for you.”
      “If it gets you to take notice, it serves its purpose. You haven’t been sleeping properly. Chet says you’re sick – you’re not going to get better if you stay up.”
      “Oh, he said that, did he?” So, someone else has been telling tales on her. Can’t anyone keep their damn mouth shut?
      “He’s worried about you. I’m worried about you.” A pause, and then: “Adrian’s worried about you.”
      “You’ve talked to him?”
      Kate smirks at her. “Well, you made me so curious, I just had to. What else is an invalid to do but talk to people?” Her smirk broadens at Annie’s glower, but then her expression sobers again. “Now go to sleep.”
      “You’re not my mother,” Annie mutters, feeling – and sounding a little – like a sulky teenager. ‘Why can’t they just leave me alone?’
      “Goddess knows I’m old enough to be.” She is at that, Annie supposes. Not that it helps. Knowing that Kate isn’t going to give up, she sighs heavily, throwing her hands up in a gesture of surrender.
      “Fine. You win. I’ll go to bed. But you need the sleep more than I do, old woman.” She feels better at Kate’s glower, smiling sweetly as she adds: “And don’t set yourself on fire with your cigarette.”
      “Ha! Don’t try to teach Grandmother to smoke, Kid. I’ve been doing this since before you were born.”
      “Goodnight, Kate.”
      “Goodnight.” Once she’s settled herself down, Kate clicks the lamp off and darkness settles over the attic. The last thing Annie sees as she drifts unwillingly off to sleep is the red glow of the cigarette.


Footnotes

[1] Annie is used to being one of the smartest people in the room and, often, the smartest person. (She has an intelligence of 4 and maxed out ratings in her relevant profession skills; she went to university at sixteen.) She isn’t used to being made to feel stupid, and she really doesn’t like it. The experience of dressed down by Shelley is probably going to stay with her for a while. [Back]

[2] I freely admit this is a complete leap of faith on the part of the player, but it does seem to fit. I could be completely wrong. Annie, however, is convinced that her interpretation is right. [Back]

[3] Actually, this isn’t strictly true. Annie just pointed out that if they got their hands on some pure pigment, they might be able to help the sleepers to project without the tubes. Ben was the one who said he’d work on cracking the supply chain. It’s not like she held a gun to his head or anything, or pushed him into anything he wasn’t already going to do. But he’s going to blame her anyway. Typical. Although Annie wasn’t actually present in that scene, her player might possibly have gotten a little indignant at hearing her blamed in absentia. Maybe. Just a little. [Back]

[4] Dr Annie Harper, noted anthropologist and language expert, is trained in linguistic analysis. She has a great deal of experience in mimicking different behaviours and speech patterns, and is good at fitting in with pretty much any culture or strata of society. [Back]

[5] Slang for Pigment users. [Back]

[6] See footnote [4]. Her appearance is fairly striking, but her ability to change her body language and speech patterns is good enough to overcome this. It’s all about the attitude. [Back]

[7] Channelling Spite, of course. It’s something she swore she would never do unless absolutely necessary, but I figured being suddenly face to face with a spectre in close quarters was going to hit her panic buttons. She gained three points of temporary Spite for this (in addition to the seven permanent points she already has), which is almost certainly going to come back to haunt her. In future, the GM has said he will let me make a Willpower roll for her to resist the instinct to draw on her dark side when I think it's appropriate. [Back]

[8] No successes at all on the roll. Can you believe that? She gains Spite points – which she really can’t afford to do right now – and her attack does absolutely nothing to the spectre. Sometimes, the dice just hate me. [Back]

[9] The Blasphemers are an influential New York gang. They run several smaller gangs on the seedier side of town and are one of the major movers of Pigment in the area. Several ghosts are known to be among their number. [Back]

[10] As Tom is currently out of action, Tom’s player has taken over Craig until he recovers. [Back]

[11] Someone (or something) who looked a lot like him was caught on CCTV in the FBI canteen shortly before one of the agents in there drew his weapon and started shooting people. He is thought to have used his spooky spook abilities to cause the incident.[Back]

[12] She hasn’t forgiven Adrian for telling her that she’s cracking up, not to mention bullying her into getting counselling from Kate. [Back]

[13] A Puppeteer doesn’t remember anything of their host’s memories once they leave their body. This means that they either have to tell someone else what they discover there – or write down the relevant points – before leaving. They remember anything they do while possessing someone – it’s just the host’s knowledge that fades. [Back]

[14] This must be Beta crucible. “Particularly dangerous” is a good descriptor.[Back]

[15] Hyde is the Jason – spectre-possessed human – who killed Beta crucible’s skimmers while they took on the Reaper. [Back]

[16] When in someone else’s dreams, Frank doesn’t sense anything of what they’re thinking or feeling. He can watch what’s happening from a third person perspective, like being inside a virtual reality simulation. To gather information, he can guide them towards a specific topic, and see what comes up: this doesn’t give him mind-reading or empathic abilities. [Back]

[17] He doesn’t control the form that the dream takes. Rather, he provides a direction that his subject’s subconscious mind interprets as it will. He can, however, change details on an individual basis (like creating specific objects, or subtracting a person, for example). [Back]

[18] Three points of Willpower back instead of one. Frank rocks. Annie really, really needed that. [Back]

[19] Being shot with anti-spook bullets last night shredded his gauze enough to knock him unconscious for nearly twelve hours or so. [Back]

[20] I’ve invested points in a passive Flesh Flux ability masking the usual tells that would give away a manifested spook. As long as Annie remains on seven or more Vitality, other spooks will perceive her as a living person. The only give-away would be if one of them touches her, because unmanifested spooks can’t interact with the physical world. [Back]

[21] Ripcording takes a certain amount of concentration (or, in mechanics terms, a full action), so she wouldn’t have been able to dodge the attacks. Being hit by three spectres could be really rather bad for a person’s health. [Back]

[22] I actually made the dodge roll, but the GM decided it would be more interesting if she managed to evade the attacks by spontaneously developing her third tier Metamorph ability (which I’d already paid the experience points for). It’s certainly given her something to think about. [Back]

[23] From the description, it seems to be the same spectre that Frank saw on his previous jaunt to Mayfair Green: the one he hasn’t told anyone else about yet. [Back]

[24] One of the benefits of using Deadwire is that it apparently lets you use Witch’s Nimbus for free whilst inside your target device. Also, since Deadwire is active for a scene, you can leap from one device to another with no additional vitality cost. Tom is about to make use of this. [Back]

[25] Why yes, somebody did botch their awareness roll. [Back]

[26] Apparently, the webbing cuts through gauze if you ripcord through it, and the injuries this causes are transferred to your body. In this respect, it’s like the storm he ripcorded through after finding his way to the land of the spectres. [Back]

[27] Actually, he probably isn’t trying to do anything of the sort – that’s just how talks. She’s not inclined to view Adrian in a favourable light right now, however. Rather petty, it’s true, but there it is. [Back]

[28] Appearance 4: apparently it can get even a confused ghost’s attention. [Back]

[29] All the players winced as well – Kate’s irascibility is legendary, and more than one of the PCs have fallen foul of her sharp tongue before. [Back]