Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission013

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Dramatis Personae

Protagonists

  • James Darkwood, Poltergeist
  • Annie Harper, Metamorph (revenant)
  • Carlos Hayaté, non-projector
  • Tom Knox, Haunter

Supporting Characters

Phoenix

  • John “Blink” Carruthers, Wisp
  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • Craig Forrest, Skinrider
  • Chet Mason, Skinrider
  • Hoyt Masterson, Haunter
  • Rory, ghost dog (Annie’s familiar)
  • Zoë Vitt, Poltergeist

Brook House

  • Bill Knox, Banshee
  • Lo-Jack, Wisp
  • Various ghosts and hues

FBI

  • Special Agent Larsson

The Mole People

  • Alice, Wisp?
  • Various ghosts

Terrel & Squib

  • Carl Lindberg, salesperson (non-spook)
  • Miles O' Brien, programmer (non-spook)

Miscellaneous Living

  • Mr Knox, Tom’s father
  • Mrs Knox, Tom’s mother

Ghosts

  • Jane, shade unknown (hue?)
  • Kiss' victims, hues

Spectres

  • Béla Kiss, Jason
  • The Librarian
  • The Lovers
  • The Musician
  • The Suicide
  • Various gargoyle-things

Mission Thirteen - Further Investigations

Part One – Mirrors and Muses

Sunday afternoon is rapidly becoming Sunday evening when Annie, Chet and James start Carlos’ training. He manages to learn how to skim (probably just as well, given the dearth of sleeper tubes) and, as they surmised from his descriptions, appears to be a Wisp. (Certainly, he demonstrates an instinctive ability to use unearthly repose.) Blink is duly roped in to help out with the shade-specific training. Sunday night’s syllabus mainly focuses on the very basics: projecting, manifesting, dematerialising and vitality sharing and the rudiments of native horror use. This is much faster than they used to do it back at Orpheus, but then they don’t exactly have the luxuries they did back then: time, proper training facilities; a significant chance of living past the next day. Fortunately, Carlos seems to be a quick study.

After helping out a little with the game of ‘pass the vitality ball’, James decides to go a-scouting. Wisely deciding not to go solo, he finds a partner in crime: Hoyt. (Tom was his first choice, but the former cop seems to be busy with some project of his own at the moment. [1]) The two of them head off to poke around at the scenes of Kiss’ murders, starting with the first. James projects and takes a walk around the area. He finds nothing out of the ordinary (supernatural or otherwise) at the first and second [2] sites. At the third site though, he can hear melancholy music drifting through the air. He isn’t sure where precisely it’s coming from, but the house seems like a good bet. Sure enough, as he walks around, listening, he can tell that it does seem to be louder from the direction of the house. He remembers that this site is the one where Kiss left a human femur carved into the shape of a flute. The house itself is dark with the curtains drawn, and a quick circuit of the immediate area reveals nothing of interest: it’s time to go in.

James makes his way stealthily inside the building [3] and creeps into the living room, where the murder took place. Taking great care not to be seen, he carefully looks around. There’s nothing there. This is where the music seems to be coming from, but there’s no obvious source. What’s going on? A sudden sound: the creak of a floorboard, as if someone’s just stepped on it. His gaze snaps to the far corner of the room, where it came from, straining to see through the shadows, but there’s still no one there. No one he can see, anyway. Standing still, he simply listens, concentrating on what his ears are telling him. The music isn’t coming from one direction – the source is moving. At the same time, there’s the occasional creak and shuffle, as if someone is walking slowly around the room. Cautiously, he moves a little further in; closer to where the sounds seem to be coming from. Nothing happens. The sounds move towards him; slow footsteps coming closer and closer, only to move through and past. The invisible – and apparently intangible – musician continues their circuit of the room. And the music plays on.

As James ponders this conundrum, he catches sight of movement. There’s a mirror on the wall, and inside the reflection a shrouded figure paces a slow circle around the room, flute raised to where its lips should be. The room itself is still empty of anyone but James. Studying the mirror, it becomes clear that the reflection’s movements match the sounds he can hear. It’s as if they were right here in the room with him. This is... odd. He’s never seen anything like this before – never even heard of it – and yet, here it is. Also reflected in the mirror is a circle of twinkling lights, perhaps candles. The figure seems to be walking around the outside of it. James looks from mirror to the room and back again. Finally deciding what to do about this, he returns to his body and calls Annie.

Annie, currently out of body, feels her hip vibrate. [4] By the time she realises that it’s her phone ringing the call’s already gone through to voicemail, but she steps back into the flesh – and she still has trouble thinking of it as her flesh, at least for now – and calls James back. When he tells her what he’s found, she agrees that it’s worth investigating and asks Carlos how he feels about a little field trip. Initially sceptical, he eventually agrees to a little on-the-job training. From James’ report, it doesn’t seem like there’s any immediate danger, and it would be useful for him to gain some experience of investigating spook stuff. The two of them, plus Blink and Rory, head out in Carlos’ car. They park up near Hoyt, leaving him and Rory to look after the skimmers’ bodies while James, Annie and Carlos head off to the house.

James and Annie sneak inside the building. [5] Just over the threshold, Annie pauses to look in the hallway mirror. There are no shrouded figures visible there, but the reflection seems a lot darker than it should be. More worryingly, the mirror hallway is webbed with dark, glistening veins. Appalled, she points this out to James, who seems to take it in his stride. The living room mirror shows nine candles, arranged in a circle. Again, veins snake through the room. Again, the mirror-realm is clustered with webs and shadows; darker than it should be, especially considering that it has an additional source of light. The shrouded figure continues to walk and to play its melancholy melody, pacing slowly around the outside of the ring of lights. There is nothing at the centre of the circle, but the phrase that comes to Annie’s mind when she looks at this is: “not yet”. Looking up, she sees a thick, tar-like substance dripping with glacial slowness from the reflected ceiling. It is falling so slowly that not a single droplet has managed to detach itself from the oozing mass. Not yet.

Bored with waiting outside, Carlos enters the house. You’d think a glowing spook would find it difficult to move around unobtrusively, but somehow Carlos manages it. He sneaks so well that neither Annie nor James notices him enter the living room. The first they know of his presence in when he asks them what they’re looking out. Annie jumps about a foot in the air, letting out a startled sound somewhere between a squeak and a yelp. James manages to keep a better grip on his dignity, remaining completely impassive. [6] If Carlos is amused at his reception, he keeps it to himself.

With James’ help, Annie attempts to use forebode in a way she hasn’t tried before. Rather than trying to look back or forwards in time, she instead concentrates on its emotional sensitivity aspect, trying to get a sense of what the place feels like. To no one’s great surprise, it feels like spectres. As she concentrates, the music seems to deepen, other instruments picking up the melody. There’s a harp. She can’t see it, but she knows it has a frame of bone and is strung with ligaments and tendons. The notes drift like smoke through the air, describing a shape; a boundary. The boundary between this world and theirs? Whatever it is, it’s thinner here, and something’s slowly pressing through... Annie can feel the music trying to drag her under – not deliberately, but because that’s what it does – and she tries to break the trance. It’s an effort, but she manages it, returning to the real world to share what she found with the others. Carlos gives her a strange look, but seems to take what she’s saying at face value. The three of them decide not to try to attract the musician’s attention.

The next site – the one where the FBI agents died – is thickly coated with an aura of sadness. No, more than that: despair. It presses in on Annie and Carlos, although it does seem weaker than the resonance of the previous site. James simply strides through, oblivious. Inside the house – where this feeling is strongest – the mirrors show rooms thick with cobwebs and shadows. In the living room mirror, they see a floor covered with something dark and sticky. A shrouded figure swings slowly from a rope, which creaks audibly as it swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Its wrists have been slashed; the wounds black and crusted. The top of the rope disappears into inky blackness, so that they can’t see what it’s tied to. As she did last time, Annie opens her senses, and is suddenly overwhelmed by a crushing wave of despair. The pressure increases, becoming a knife-edge of pain, cutting her open. And as she bleeds, so does the world...

James and Carlos see Annie collapse before their eyes, gauze starting to fountain from gaping slashes on her wrists. [7] Carlos tries to staunch the wounds while James attempts to bring her round: both fail. She seems to be in a trance; completely unaware of her surroundings. Returning quickly to the car, James is relieved to see that her body is uninjured. With no other ideas, he slaps her. Back in the house, she wakes with a start, confused and disoriented. She starts to ask what happened, but then notices that she’s bleeding. Channelling vitality – and she’s lower on energy than she should be – she manages to flesh flux the wounds closed, but can’t heal them completely. She feels drained; as if she really has just lost a lot of blood. [8] Over the next few minutes the cuts do start to heal by themselves, but only slowly. The group reconvene back at the cars and talk about what just happened. As she recounts her experience to the others, Annie realises something: the ‘personality’ here felt very different to the other site. That fits with the idea of there being nine distinct entities. She relays that insight to the others. Blink is unhappy about the risks of her using Forebode like this, however peripherally, but doesn’t press the issue.

Since both of these sites turned out to be so interesting, the group decides it’s worth revisiting the other locations, starting with the first. Surprisingly, perhaps, they reach this decision with a minimum of discussion. The atmosphere of the place is the heaviest and most oppressive yet. As before, it feels like walking into a tomb; like the ancient, innumerable dead. The mirrors reveal a vast, shadowed library; shelves full to overflowing with books, scrolls and all manner of writings. A single, shrouded figure walks slowly between the stacks, pushing a loaded book-cart. It seems to be heading straight for where they’re standing... After a (very, very) brief discussion, they decide not to wait around to see what happens. Instead, they head over to the second site. Entering the house, Carlos and Annie notice that the surfaces they pass through feel oddly chill and clammy; almost slick. The sensation is... uncomfortable. James seems unaffected. The three of them hurry towards the living room, where looking for conveniently placed mirrors. The scene playing out in the reflected house would seem to confirm Kate’s suspicion that this site is connected with the muse Erato: a pile of bodies moving together, writhing together, making the beast with two, three, twenty backs. In short: an orgy. Even the briefest glimpse is enough to know that not all of the participants are human.

The intrepid investigators seem a little subdued by all they have seen, and Annie is certainly more than a little shaken by her near-miss. Also, it’s getting almost late enough to be called early. They decide to go back home (Carlos to his house and the others to the warehouse) so they can get some sleep. Things always look better in the morning, don’t they?

Eighty-one, no, eighty days to go until the apocalypse.


Part Two – Roots

Earlier in the day, Tom makes a weighty decision: it’s time for him to visit his family. It’s something he’s been thinking about since they went on the run, and especially since Billy’s death. Now that he’s off the FBI’s most-wanted list and the group don’t seem to be in the middle of an immediate crisis, he finally has the opportunity to do so. Marshalling his courage, he makes the phone call. His mother seems torn between joy and distress, launching into such an incessant stream of chatter that it’s hard for him to get a word in edgewise. Eventually, though, he manages to break through. Mindful of security concerns – there’s a slim chance that NextWorld or one of their other enemies could be watching his parents’ house – he arranges to meet them at a restaurant for dinner. So far, so good. Now, if only the evening continues to go this smoothly...

      “You’re off to see your folks?” Overhearing him tell Craig about his little expedition, Zoë comes bounding over. [9]
      “Yeah. Heading out now.”
      “I’ll tag along.” She flashes him her trademark smile. “It’s safer if we go out in pairs and I don’t mind playing babysitter.”
      “I... don’t think that’ll be necessary.” Introducing Zoe to his parents is most definitely not what he had in mind for this outing.
      “Yeah, it is.” Her tone brooks no argument. She adds weight to the argument by linking her arm through his: ‘Just try and dislodge me’, says the glint in her eyes.
      “No, really,” Tom continues to protest, gamely. “It’ll be fine. Really.”
      “SOP says we go in pairs, Tommy boy. Anyway, you’re wasting time. Come on, let’s go!”
      “But I wasn’t going to go yet...” Tom’s protests fall on wilfully deaf ears as she starts dragging him over to her bike. [10]
      “Just you sit your butt down behind me.” She pats the seat reassuringly, but the action doesn’t seem to have the desired effect.
      “I don’t know...” Tom looks around, perhaps seeking allies. “Are you sure you should really be riding that thing yet? You’re still badly injured.”
      “Just a flesh wound. I’ve had worse.” Given all her near-death experiences, she probably has at that.
      “But,” Tom thinks frantically, “I was hoping you’d pay Billy a visit; keep his spirits up, you know. Distract him from wondering where I am. He’d only want to visit them himself, and I don’t think he’s ready for that, yet.”
      “I’m sure he’ll be fine – there’s plenty to occupy him at Brook House. Anyway, I’ve already met him; I want to see someone new. I need to get out of for a bit, Tom: being cooped up here is driving me crazy. It’s just so boring here. Nothing but the same old faces; the same boring physio exercises.” She pouts. “No one will let me have any fun.”
      “Fun!” Tom sounds quite indignant. “I’m not going to visit my parents for fun.”
      “It will be with me along.” Zoë smiles winningly. “Besides, I’ll make you look good.” She preens unselfconsciously.
      “Umm...”
      “Look: I’ll make this easy for you. You can ride pillion, I can ride in your car, or I can follow along behind you on the bike. One way or another, I am going with you. You just get to decide how spectacular it is.”
      “But what if I have to make a quick get away?” The protest is half-hearted: Tom knows he’s not going to win this one. He was doomed the moment Zoë got wind of an outing.
      “Even injured, I’m a fuck of a lot faster than you are, Babe.” After a little more back-and-forth, Tom reluctantly agrees that Zoë can come along. There’s a little more arguing about transport, but eventually they reach an agreement. They take Zoë’s bike out to a safe enough distance from the warehouse, and then call a cab from there to the restaurant. The bike ride is either ‘exhilarating’ or ‘terrifying’, depending on whether you talk to the driver or the passenger. Apparently, Zoë is making up for lost time. Nevertheless, they reach their destination in one piece.

The reunion probably isn’t quite awkward enough to make Tom wish for a NextWorld attack, or a sudden outbreak of spectres. Probably. His parents are, understandably, quite down. His father clearly has a lot he wants to say – such as how a son of his ended up on the FBI’s most-wanted list – but his mother shoots him a look every time he looks like he’s gearing up for one of his infamous tirades. When he suddenly bursts out with: “What the hell were you doing, Boy?”, she actually slaps him lightly on the elbow. Tom’s father subsides, spending much of the meal brooding silently. The conversation is actually mostly carried by Tom’s mother and Zoë, who is being remarkably subdued. Apparently, she really can be tactful and polite on occasion. Tom’s mother clearly assumes that she and Tom are an item, and does her best to be friendly and welcoming to the new woman in her son’s life. She even invites her out on a girls’ shopping trip. Zoë tries to politely demur, but Tom leaps in to say that she’d be delighted to accept the invitation. It’s his revenge for Zoë bullying him into bringing him along. If he’d thought it through, however, he might have rethought the wisdom of encouraging Zoë to spend time with his mother.

Tom is still sporting an array of injuries; something that causes his mother a great deal of concern.
      “Are you looking after yourself?” She asks worriedly, reaching a cautious hand out to one particularly colourful bruise. “Do you need to see a doctor?”
      “No, Mum, I’m fine.”
      “But...”
      “It probably looks worse than it is,” he says, firmly.
      “Tom’s been looking after me,” Zoë interjects, doing a surprisingly creditable – and, to Tom, disturbing – impression of someone who actually needs looking after. “I don’t know what we’d have done without him.” However strange it is to hear that from Zoë, her words manage to deflect the worst of his mother’s worry. From the ‘you owe me’ look Zoë shoots him, Tom is reasonably sure that was her intention.

Tom’s mother’s concern for her only surviving son doesn’t mean she’s willing to let him off the hook for his many shortcomings. She makes a point of telling him that his cousin Joe has been helping them out since Billy’s death, the unspoken part of that being: “because you haven’t been here”. He just nods in the right places, ignoring his mother’s subtle barbs and his father’s not-so-subtle ones. Just like old times. The meal continues without incident, and the conversation remains reasonably civil. When it’s time for Tom and Zoë to leave, his mother hugs them both, saying she hopes to see them again soon. Both of them. Tom voices vague, noncommittal agreement, stopping far short of anything like firm plans. It seems to be enough for the moment, though. The two projectors take a cab back to where they left the bike, riding – or, with Zoë’s driving, practically flying – back to the warehouse. Possibly not the most inconspicuous journey ever, but at least it’s late enough that there aren’t likely to be many witnesses.

Monday morning rolls around, as mornings tend to, reassuring everyone that the world hasn’t ended while they slept. At least, they don’t think it has. Working on the assumption that it hasn’t, James, Annie and Blink fill everyone else in on their experiences at the murder sites and then the group discuss their plan for today. That is to say: they come up with the plan for today. The possibilities for investigation include the Mole People, Ethan Torrence [11], and the Empire State building. After some thought, they decide to start with the Mole People. Craig goes off to City Hall to look up some plans: the Empire State building, possible tunnels under Newark Bay (one of the predicted murder sites) and disused subway tunnels.

Rather than wait for Craig to return with the plans, Annie, Tom and James decide to go on a scouting expedition to the subway tunnels, by way of the Empire State building. They collect Carlos en route. Hoyt is driving, and Rory is along to play guard-dog. When the group gets to within walking distance of the skyscraper, the skimmers project and Hoyt drives off with their bodies. As is becoming their standard operating procedure, he heads out of the immediate area and keeps moving, but stays close enough that he can get to them – or they can get to him – in an emergency.

There are no obvious spectres, spooks or other things that go bump in the night within sensing range, so into the Empire State building they go. As soon as they step over the threshold, Annie and Tom sense... something. [12] They’re not sure precisely what that something is, but it feels like something happened here; something big or significant. With Tom’s encouragement and James’ help, Annie uses forebode to try to look back at the event. She sees a tower of light; a bridge between heaven and earth. It looks a little like the Empire State building. There is a war in heaven, and the fighting spills onto the bridge, and through it, onto the earth. People are dying, their souls bring drawn away somewhere else. Somewhere not here. Wherever here is. The war continues, and in all the confusion, it’s impossible to tell which side is which, let alone which side is winning. And then, without warning, the tower is blasted apart. The sheer force of the explosion dwarfs the upcoming apocalypse, like a thousand Hiroshimas all condensed into one place; one moment. And then... darkness.

For the second time in as many days, Annie’s gauze form hits the deck. Not only does no one seem to be home, there aren’t even any lights on that the others can see. As Carlos and James try to bring her round, Tom inhabits a phone and calls Hoyt, asking him to pull over and slap Annie’s vacant body in the hopes that the shock will rouse her like it did before. Tense minutes go by and, after what feels like forever, she starts to stir.

Although confused and disoriented, the memory of what she saw and felt is burned into her mind, accompanied by the certainty that she just had a very close call indeed. She can feel it; the uncomfortable sensation that the event she witnessed was something that happened before the millennium. [13] And, if that’s the case, then she shouldn’t have come back. She should be dead, or mad, or just not there at all. But then, if that really was something from before, then neither she nor Tom should have been able to sense those echoes in the first place. That’s just not how it works. No one has ever reported sensing traces of any pre-millennial event, no matter how large or significant. [14] So, what just happened? What does this mean?

And why do there always seem to be more questions than answers?


Part Three – A Kiss is Still a Kiss...

It takes Annie a few moments before she recovers enough of her composure to tell the others what she saw in her forebode vision. The others look at her oddly. In the privacy of her own mind, she promises herself that she’s going to be more careful with the horror in future; maybe not even using it unless there’s a pressing need. It’s useful, certainly, but it’s also risky. What if she hadn’t come back that time? What if her gauze had bled out yesterday? She never used to be this reckless. And there’s something else she has to consider: it isn’t just herself that she’s risking. Pushing aside these disquieting thoughts, she joins the others’ discussion. None of them can shed any light on what she saw – other than it strongly suggests this place is worth investigating properly – so the talk turns to other things.

Now that they’re here, the Phoenix spooks can’t decide where to begin. Should they start with the basement and work their way upwards? Go straight up to the penthouse suite and then search from top to bottom? Which of the many lifts (over a hundred in total) should they take? How much time do they want to spend on this? The list in the foyer shows a few radio stations located near the top of the building (although there are more in the lower portion). The hundred and first floor contains the Terrel & Squib New York offices, which raises some interesting possibilities. Unfortunately, the corporate spooks are likely both to see them coming and to possess a means of dealing with them. As tempting a target as they are, the four of them aren’t really prepared to take on T&S right now. An observation deck takes up much of floor one hundred and two. It isn’t actually open to the public, but that isn’t exactly going to stop them. There is a public observation deck located on floor eighty-six. After a little (more) dithering, the intrepid scouts decide to intrepidly scout out the basement.

As it turns out, there are actually several basements and sub-basements to explore. Carefully, all senses alert, they make their way through the dark, cavernous spaces. Physically, everything is more or less as expected: the accumulated clutter; the scrawl of water and heating ducts; the small, subtle noises. Psychically, however... Well, perhaps they expected that after all. Annie and Tom sense it: [15] they both feel chills, as if some kind of psychic stench clings to the very stones and cement. The word that comes to mind is “lair”.

The four spooks proceed with caution, all of them dematerialised. (Making their way into the basement involved passing through a number of closed doors.) [16] After a few minutes of searching, Annie tries to walk through a support pillar, only to end up colliding with something that feels strangely solid. After a several confused moments of blind groping, she realises that it’s not the pillar she bounced off but, rather, something inside it. It feels like a body, curled up and embedded in the stone. She can feel long hair and some kind of material; clothes, presumably, and all of gauze. This is a spook of some description. She starts to turn, starts to tell the others she’s found something, but something grabs her. Startled, she jerks backwards, revealing the hand clamped around her wrist. As she prepares to break free, it suddenly releases its death grip, falling limply away. It’s little more than a claw: rotted skin and wasted flesh, all of it covered with black sores and pustules. ‘And that touched me,’ she thinks in revulsion, fighting the urge to try to wipe her hand clean. It doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything now, however. She watches it for a few moments more, but all it does is hang there. ‘Time to tell the others.’

The other three are huddled around another pillar, Tom reaching into it as he says: “It feels like a spook...” Apparently, Annie’s discovery isn’t unique. She quickly fills them in. Tom’s story is very similar to hers, with the exception that this one didn’t grab hold of him. “Still,” he observes,” I haven’t really prodded at it much.” James uses anathema to pull Annie’s find out of the pillar. The spook is revealed as a young-looking woman dressed as a thirties flapper. All of her skin is as rotten as her hand, the overall effect making her look almost more like a spectre than a ghost. Almost. It’s hard to tell, but there’s something that looks like a ligature mark around her neck; presumably a death mark. It looks like she was strangled, just like the victims of Béla Kiss. They know Kiss was seen in New York in the thirties, but does that mean this the ghost of someone who died seventy years ago? If so, this is the very first example of a pre-millennial ghost: a historic event indeed. The ghost in question just lies there, curled up in a foetal position. She doesn’t seem to be aware of her surroundings, or of any of them.

The skimmers decide to look for more interred spooks, splitting up into pairs to do so. (For some reason, no one seems particularly enthusiastic about exploring this place by themselves.) A few minutes of searching reveals another spook, and comparing its placement with the other two reveals that they seem to be located along a rough arc. Staying together this time, the Phoenix spooks walk around in a circle, using the arc as their starting point and guide. The strategy pays off, revealing five more ghosts sunk within walls and pillars. From the spacing, though, it seems like there is one missing: there should be nine to make up the complete circle. Somehow, none of them are surprised at this. There is nothing in the centre.

By the time they return to their start point, the woman Annie walked into is gone. Without the need for discussion, they start to search. As it turns out, she hasn’t gone far. Tom finds her, calling out to attract her attention. She fixes him with a dead-eyed stare as he approaches as non-threateningly as he can. He tells her everything’s fine and that he just wants to help. She starts moving towards him. “It’s okay,” he says, again, but to the others he whispers: “Get ready, just in case.” As the others make whatever preparations they think appropriate, Tom keeps talking to the ghost, keeping up a steady patter. “Do you remember your name? Where you live?” She doesn’t respond, still taking slow, steady steps towards him. When she’s close enough, she starts to reach out a hand...

Carlos bravely steps in, moving into the ghost’s field of view and clapping his hands sharply as he channels vitality. All eyes are drawn to him as he blazes like a bonfire, both with light and with the sheer force of his personality shining forth. In that instant, everyone looking at him – including the rest of the team – is awed by his sheer magnificence. [17] It certainly gets the ghost’s attention.
      “Do you know where you are?” he asks softly. She blinks at him for a moment or two.
      “Hello.”
      “Hello.” After returning her greeting, he repeats the question: “Do you know where you are?”
      “Are you an angel?” Her accent is strange. There’s a strong New York twang – she must be a native – but something seems a little off about it.
      “No,” he says, gently. “I want to help you, though. Do you know where you are?” She just stares at him. This isn’t the effect of his horror. At least, he doesn’t think it is. The ghost doesn’t really seem to be tracking properly. Perhaps she’s only a blip, or perhaps it’s the result of her, what? Hibernation? Imprisonment? When the silence stretches, Carlos decides to chance tack. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
      “An... An alleyway, I think.” She frowns, and then a look of absolute horror comes over her. “Oh, God. I was trapped in a barrel. I was trapped and I couldn’t get out!” She starts to panic.
      “It’s alright. You’re safe now.” Carlos has no idea whether or not that’s true, but it seems to get through to her. He continues to talk, keeping his voice low and soothing, and her budding hysteria starts to subside. “What’s your name?”
      “Jane.” She attempts a smile, but the expression looks more like a grimace. “What’s yours?”
      “I’m Carlos.”
      “Nice to meet you, Carlos.” The smile comes more easily this time, but it still doesn’t touch her eyes, which are filled with fear and confusion. Timidly, she asks: “Do you hear the whispering as well?”
      “What whispering?”

Jane clams up, her face going vacant and slack. Carlos doesn’t let her withdraw, though. He speaks words of comfort and reassurance, telling her that she’s safe, that he wants to help; that this is important.
      “If you’re sure,” she says, frowning. “It’s just... I don’t really know how to start.”
      “It’s alright. Whatever’s easiest for you.”
      “Well...” Jane takes a moment to gather her thoughts. When she speaks, her voice is halting and uncertain, and she keeps her gaze firmly on the floor. “It’s like... Darkness. Loneliness. I was alone so long. It was... I thought I was going to go mad. When the voices started, I thought I was mad. I tried to shut them out, but at the same time, I... I wanted to hear them. It was... They were all I had.” She closes her eyes for a moment. When she opens them, she glances at Carlos and then away, just a brief flick of her eyes. “At first I could barely hear them, but...” She shrugs. “They got louder. Or maybe I just learned how to hear them. I don’t know. It’s... There are lots of voices; lots of people all talking at once. It was just gibberish at first, but I think maybe I’m starting to be able to make some of it out. I’m not sure, but I think... I think they’re saying I’m not alone. I don’t have to be lonely.” She heaves a great sigh. “I’ve been alone so long...”
      “Well you’re not alone now,” Carlos says firmly.
      “How can I be sure?” Jane looks up now, her expression troubled. “I’ve hallucinated before. Maybe you’re part of the whispers too...”
      “We’re not.” Annie can’t help the outburst. What Jane’s describing sounds rather familiar...
      “Are you sure?” The ghost studies Annie as if seeing her for the first time. Maybe she is – Carlos was keeping her attention rather effectively. If this is the first time she’s registered that there are other people here, however, she isn’t showing any surprise. “You sound like you are.”
      “I’m not.” There’s an angry edge to Annie’s voice, but she makes herself calm down; bites back the harsh words she knows are driven more by fear than anything else. It’s not Jane’s fault she’s just articulated one of Annie’s greatest fears. “Don’t listen to the voices,” she urges the ghost. “They lie. What they offer is false. They’re... They’re not your friends.” Jane looks confused, and perhaps a little taken aback by Annie’s vehemence. To the others, however, it comes as no surprise. It’s up to Carlos to break the awkward silence.
      “Come with us, Jane,” he says softly, persuasively. “You’ll be safe.”
      She looks torn, and more than a little wary. “That’s what he said.”
      “Who?”
      “The man.” She describes someone who sounds a lot like Béla Kiss, confirming the group’s suspicions. “He... He’s the one who...” She can’t finish the sentence, but she doesn’t need to: it’s obvious that Kiss killed her and, presumably, the rest of the people entombed in this building. The Radio Free Death broadcast said it was happening again: apparently it was right.

Carlos persuades Jane to come with them. The group briefly wonders about trying to rouse some of the other ghosts, but they decide against it for now. There’s no guarantee that the others will be nearly so peaceable as Jane, and they don’t want to risk having a group of hostile ghosts to deal with, especially since they all look like they’re on the verge of becoming spectres. In any case, they can always come back later.

The attack comes as they’re passing the central pillar. There’s a blur of motion: a many-armed figure leaping at them. Carlos is the only one who spots this in time to react, but he’s too slow: [18] metal flashes, and Tom’s throat suddenly gapes open in an obscene parody of a smile. As the knife bites deep, he feels it drawing out some of his essence; his energy. [19] The attacker is Béla Kiss, of course. Carlos dives in, managing to grab the knife away from the Jason. [20] The others warned him about that knife after the last time. [21] All of that took barely a few seconds, but it’s long enough for the others to recover from the initial shock of the ambush: the fight is on. [22]

James, the first to recover his wits, uses anathema to send concussive waves of force racing towards Kiss. The silver waves hit, but the impact is swallowed by the aura of shadow that surrounds their target. Carlos attacks Kiss with his own knife, only managing to nick him but feeling the sudden, heady rush of incoming vitality. Apparently, not only does the drain ability function when the knife is wielded by someone other than Kiss, but it channels the stolen energy into the wielder. If there was time to think about it, and if he knew enough to worry about it, perhaps Carlos might have a few misgivings about possibly consequences of absorbing a spectre’s vitality. But there isn’t and he doesn’t, and now it’s Kiss’ turn. Unsurprisingly, his target this time is Carlos, who nimbly manages to evade the forest of hands. [23] Kiss manages to get a grip on the knife, however, and effortlessly plucks it from Carlos’ grasp. [24] At the same time, he grabs Annie and yanks her off her feet, swinging her at Tom. [25] Tom comes off the worst in that little exchange, dangling limply in Kiss’ grasp. He seems to have been knocked unconscious. [26] Annie dissolves into a swarm of rats. [27]

Since anathema was less than effective last time, James tries a different approach. He congeals an assault rifle and opens up on Kiss. Bullets rip through the sheath of darkness, tearing into the spectre’s gauze. James fires again, but the second burst goes wide and hits Annie, destroying some of the rats that make up her swarm. [28] Kiss flings her away from him and then turns his attention to Carlos and James: the real threats. Carlos instinctively tries to teleport [29] but isn’t quite fast enough, taking a scratch from the knife. The wound itself is fairly insignificant, but the blade draws off a small portion of his vitality. [30] Rather than trying to hurt James (yet), Kiss just seizes him instead. Annie, too far away to do anything useful just yet, starts scrambling back towards the combatants. It seems that Kiss has the upper hand for now...

Having now felt the knife’s bite for himself, Carlos grabs for it again. He doesn’t manage to wrest it away, but he at least prevents Kiss from using it on him, or on one of the others. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that Kiss is without options. He reaches for Carlos, who teleports again and is, again, too slow. Hands wrap tightly around his neck and Kiss starts to strangle the life out of him. [31] Meanwhile, James is managing to prevent his captor from using his mass as a weapon. Struggling free of Kiss’ grasp [32] he opens up again with the gun, but to no great effect. Annie finally returns to the fray, swarming all over Kiss and tearing at him with her rat teeth and claws. For all the notice he takes of it, she might as well be doing nothing at all. [33]

Changing tactics, Annie starts scrabbling for Kiss’ head, trying to obstruct his view. It seems to bother him about as much as her teeth and claws did, which is to say: not at all. [34] James keeps firing: a burst of sound and fury that, ultimately, signifies nothing. Kiss’ response, however, signifies pain for James as the knife bites deep into his gauze, wounding him and siphoning off some of his vitality. [35] Things are just going from bad to worse. It’s looking unlikely that the Phoenix spooks are going to win this fight. With this in mind, James tries something completely different: he uses anathema to pick up Kiss and hurl him far away from them. It’s quite an impressive throw, sending Kiss flying through the basement’s far wall. [36] That will only grant them a momentary breathing space, however: he’s going to be back in a few seconds at most. [37] They’re not likely to win this fight. Bluntly put, Kiss is kicking their arses seven ways from Sunday. They need to get out of there before he catches up with them again. Luckily, there is a way.

Merging back into human form, Annie quickly tells Carlos how to use his newly-demonstrated storm-wending horror to get all the Phoenix spooks, plus Jane, out of there. [38] Trusting his instincts, Carlos concentrates... and in the blink of an eye, they’re all outside the Empire State building. They’re not out of the woods yet, though. Annie spots movement: something is moving rapidly down the outside of the building. There are several somethings, and they look like gargoyles. It isn’t clear whether the creatures are heading for the group, but they can’t afford to take the chance. Annie points them out to the others, who agree that they need to move.

They head for one of the pre-arranged rendezvous points. James carries Tom and Carlos leads Jane, who seems rather confused by everything. She does occasionally seem to pay attention to her surroundings, though, as evidenced by her occasional exclamation of wonder at all the skyscrapers and cars. It’s not surprising: if she really was killed in the nineteen thirties, New York is very different to how she must remember it. Annie quickly looks the ghost over, seeking any beacons or connections that might allow Kiss to track her down. There isn’t anything that she can sense. [39] Once back at the car, they put Tom back in his body – something they seem to be getting a lot of practice at lately – and James assesses his medical condition. He’s very badly hurt, but his injuries don’t seem to be life-threatening. James doesn’t think that they need to take him to a hospital. No one else was anywhere near that badly hurt.

Now that the immediate crisis seems to be over, there is something they have to decide: what are they going to do with Jane? Carlos seems to have built up a rapport with her, so Annie talks him through the process of sensing her tethers. Channelling vitality, he concentrates on Jane and opens his mind to receive a single, clear image. He sees Jane as part of a nonagon; one of nine pillars supporting a tower of light. That’s all the vision reveals. He relays the information to the others and then attempts to share vitality with Jane. She seems a little startled – although not exactly displeased – and says:
      “Sir, I normally charge for that!”
      Hoyt looks amused. “Maybe the two of you should retire somewhere more private.” He smirks suggestively at Carlos, and then his expression sobers.
“More seriously, senors and senorita, where to now?” It’s a good question: where are they going to take her? Where is safe?

But then, is anywhere safe any more? For any of them?


Part Four – A Little Light Conversation

      “We could take her to Brook House, suggests Annie. She keeps her voice low as the subject of the discussion is standing nearby. She needn’t have bothered: when Jane notices the Phoenix spooks at all, she only has eyes and ears for Carlos. There is a brief discussion and the group decide to go with Annie’s suggestion. They do briefly consider the tower, but Brook House has the advantage of being favourably disposed towards them. The same can’t really be said for the new residents of the tower. (There’s also the fact that, given all their talk about demons, they might take one look at Jane and decide to disperse her out of hand.) Once the decision has been made, Hoyt drives them to their destination.

As soon as they’re close enough, Annie projects and heads in. It’s probably wise to give the spooks of Brook House a little heads up before bringing in two strangers. The lookouts draw themselves up at Annie’s approach, but relax when they recognise her. Returning their greeting, she asks if Mona’s available.       “She’s with someone at the moment,” says one of the hues. It’s pretty much what she expected. Even with Bill here to help, there are still enough ghosts in need of counselling to run Mona ragged. “Lo-Jack’s around, though,” he offers helpfully.
      “Thanks.” She smiles. “I’ll go and find him.” It doesn’t take long for her to locate Mona’s trusted lieutenant: all she has to do is look for the centre of the chaos. That’s where Lo-Jack can generally be found. He isn’t really a leader, but he’s very good at dealing with disputes and generally being the social grease that keeps the sometimes fractious Brook House community ticking along smoothly. He’s busy at the moment, so she hangs back and waits for him to finish dealing with the current crisis before approaching. It looks like a couple of angry ghosts are engaged in some kind of territorial pissing contest. Wryly, Annie thinks to herself that even though they don’t actually have testosterone any more, that isn’t stopping them acting as though they do. Her anthropologist’s eye notes the gang tattoos: rivals carrying a grudge into death, by the looks of it. Lo-Jack works his magic, however, and despite the passion of the conflict, the emotions don’t boil over into violence. The ex-gangers don’t exactly kiss and make up, but they do go their separate ways with nothing more than glares and insults. The crowd of spectators starts to drift away, some of them seeming oddly disappointed that there was no fight to witness. There are an awful lot of them. Come to think about it, there were a fair number of spooks just roaming through the building and its grounds: this place really is bursting at the seams. No wonder Mona wants a new location to decant some of the residents into.

Lo-Jack spots Annie as she starts heading over to him.
      “S’Up Girl,” he says, grinning. The grin turns into a frown as he gets a good look at her. He whistles. “You look like shit.” [40]
      “Thanks.”
      “What happened?” He studies her, seeming concerned. “You need help? The rest of your posse okay?”
      “We ran into a bit of trouble with a spectre.” Lo-Jack shoots an alarmed glance towards the door. “Not here,” she hastily reassures him. “Across town. Tom’s badly hurt, but James thinks he’s going to be alright. The rest of us didn’t take more than a few bruises. This” – she gestures towards herself – “looks a lot worse than it actually. I look like shit because I used a lot of energy.” Not that it did any real good, of course, but Lo-Jack doesn’t need to know that. “I was actually pretty lucky.” ‘Just the one friendly fire incident,’ she adds silently.
      “Well, good.” Lo-Jack shakes his head, dreadlocks swinging. “Sounds dangerous out there.”
      “It can be.” If you keep kicking over anthills, she supposes, you’ve got to expect to get stung once in a while.
      “How’s Tom?”
      “Still unconscious. James thinks we should let him sleep until he comes around by himself; says the rest will do him good.” A thought occurs to her. “I should let Bill know. He’s probably going to want to see him.”
      “I’ll take you to the kid.” He starts to head out into the corridor, but she doesn’t follow.
      “Wait a minute. Let me tell you why I’m here, first.”
      A quick flash of teeth as Lo-Jack grins. “My charm and good looks?”
      “That too,” she smiles back. “There are two people I’d like you to meet. One’s someone we’ve just started working with – seems like an okay guy, and since he’s hanging round with us quite a bit you’re probably going to run into each other sooner or later. Thought it would make things easier to get the introductions out of the way now.”
      “Any friend of yours is a friend of ours,” he says generously. [41] “Who’s the other?”
      “Another stray, I’m afraid.” She hesitates. “This one’s special.”
      “Ain’t they all?”
      “This one more than most. We think... She seems to have died some time in the thirties.” She pauses to let the enormity of that sink in, but Lo-Jack seems unimpressed.
      “Huh. Don’t know no ghosts who been around more’n a few years.”
      “No one did, not until now. We didn’t think there were any ghosts around from before that.”
      “But you think this one is?”
      “Yes.”
      He shrugs. “Well, it’s a thing, but it ain’t a big thing. Might be some curious folk buzzin’ round her with questions, but we ain’t gonna get hysterical about it. None of us here are really into the whys and wherefores a’ the whole ghost biz. We’re more into just learnin’ how to deal with it.” He seems to be quite phlegmatic about the whole thing. “We’re kinda bursting at the seams here, but Mona doesn’t want to turn anyone away. We can cope with one more stray.”
      “There’s more than that, though. We got her away from that spectre we were fighting earlier and there’s a chance he might come after her.” Annie takes a deep breath. “This one’s a bad motherfucker, Lo-Jack. We’ve gone up against him twice now, and each time we’ve ended up having to run for it. If he comes here...” She lets the sentence trail off, unsure now whether this was such a good idea.
      “We can look after ourselves.”
      “But...”
      Lo-Jack holds up a hand, interrupting her protest. “Chick needs help, yeah?”
      “Well, yeah.”
      “She in a bad way?”
      “Yeah. She’s pretty messed up.”
      “You got anywhere else to take her?”       “No.”
      “You think Mona’d be cool if I told her I’d sent you packing?”
      Annie smiles faintly. “I suppose not.”
      “She’d be righteously pissed off, is what she’d be. Girl, trust us: you came here for a reason. We can deal. Just chill, a’ight?”
      “Alright. Thanks, Lo-Jack.”
      “You’re welcome.”

Annie disappears for a few minutes, returning with Carlos and Jane in tow. Lo-Jack is waiting with the lookouts so there aren’t any misunderstandings. His eyebrows climb almost to his hairline when he sees Jane, but the only thing he says about her condition is:       “You really weren’t kiddin’.” Jane certainly does look messed up. Introductions are made. Jane is drifting vacantly again, not really taking in anything about her surroundings, but Carlos seems to make a favourable impression. Whatever thoughts he has about this place, he keeps them to himself. Lo-Jack finds a place for Jane – a small, out-of-the-way room that already has several occupants. None of them react to the new addition, or to anyone else. “One of the zombie rooms,” Lo-Jack explains. “We try to keep the quiet ones together. At least they ain’t likely to turn on each other, or go wandering off.” He shudders. “Gives me the creeps, though.” Some of the more compos mentis ghosts have the responsibility of keeping an eye on the ones who can’t look after themselves. Lo-Jack finds the one in charge of this bunch – he’s looking in on one of his other groups – and tells him about his new charge.

Now that Jane’s in safe hands, it’s time to go and see Bill. Lo-Jack leads them to where the former psychology student is working with some of their other new arrivals, and then goes to talk to Mona. After a minute or two, Annie manages to get Bill’s attention. It’s a few minutes after that before he actually has enough of a break between crises to come over to them.
      “Annie, Carlos,” he greets them, looking worried. (Bill has met Carlos once before, briefly: the night that Phoenix brought the tower down.) “Is everything okay?” He looks around, as if expecting to see someone else.
      “I’m afraid Tom’s been hurt,” Annie says softly. “He’s going to be alright,” she adds hastily, trying to forestall the panic that flares in Bill’s eyes. “James says he just needs to rest.”
      “Where is he?”
      “Out in the car. He’s unconscious at the moment, though.”
      “Nearby?” Bill is already starting for the door: seeing Tom’s condition for himself is clearly more important than being able to talk to him.
      “A few blocks away.” She gives him the rough location of the car, and he hurries off.
      “Thanks,” he mutters, as he races away. In his haste, he almost runs straight into the returning Lo-Jack, barely even acknowledging the other spook as he breaks into a run.
      Lo-Jack frowns after him for a moment before turning to face the others. “He off to check on his bro?”
      “Yes.”
      “Poor kid.” He shakes his head. “Anyway, I managed to catch up with Mona. She’s busy at the moment, but she says she’ll ring later.” (The Phoenix spooks previously left a mobile phone here so they can contact or be contacted by the Brook House ghosts relatively easily.)
      “We’ll be on our way, then.”

Before the Phoenix spooks and Carlos go their separate ways, Annie tells him about the FBI computer system being compromised. When he asks how she knows, and what exactly she means by ‘compromised’, she keeps things vague, making oblique references to supernatural means of gathering information. Until she has the chance to consult with the others, she doesn’t want to come straight out and say that Craig discovered an intruder in the FBI system when he poked around there to find out what they knew about the Orpheus incident and its aftermath. Carlos realises that she’s keeping something back, but doesn’t press for more details. He includes her vague warning in his next report to Special Agent Larsson, who is less than impressed.

The main order of business for the rest of the day is rest. Various people – most notably Tom – have injuries to recover from, and everyone who was involved in the Empire State building debacle is extremely low on vitality. There is just one remaining loose end to tie up this night: the final murder site. The last killing – if it happens – is due to take place at midnight. As the last one didn’t happen (and the one before was actively prevented by Phoenix), this probably won’t either, but it’s still worth confirming. At about one o’ clock, Annie and Carlos meet up and drive out to check out the site. As far as they can tell, everything is quiet: there is nothing to indicate that a brutal murder took place an hour earlier. It looks like this particular ritual has been halted in its tracks, at least for now. But what are the spectres going to do next?

The next morning, Annie takes Chet aside and tells him that she thinks it’s time she had an ultrasound to confirm (or refute) the pregnancy. He agrees, and suggests she’d be better off just making an appointment with a doctor, rather than having him possess an obstetrician. She finds a local clinic and, using an assumed name, makes an appointment for next week (the earliest they could fit her in). That still leaves the matter of how she’s going to pay for it, but she has just over a week to try to work something out.

Some of the Phoenix spooks get together with Carlos to discuss what to do next. Paying another visit to the Empire State building is right out until they can go in at full strength and mob-handed. Chasing down Ethan Torrence is a possibility, and one that Carlos seems quite keen on (especially when he is told that they have a possible lead on his whereabouts). Walters is presumably still at large in Chicago but, like Kiss and the Empire State building, that’s something that’s going to have to wait until they’re back to strength. Instead, they decide to focus on something they intended to do on Monday, before their plans went to pot: the mole people. If they can make contact with them, maybe they’ll be able to locate this mysterious ‘Alice’ person and find out what she knows about the murders. Craig’s visit to City Hall paid off, and he brings out copies of the relevant maps and plans of New York’s labyrinthine underground tunnel network. There are no tunnels marked beneath the underwater murder site, but there are some nearby. Perhaps there are some unmarked branches, or maybe Kiss has been doing some digging? There are a number of disused stations on the subway system, but they decide to play it safe and start with the one beneath City Hall. At least they know that one’s occupied. Admittedly, they didn’t get the friendliest reception last time, but with Carlos on board to smooth the way, they can hardly do any worse.

They wait for Tom to come around before heading out to see the mole people. He wakes up around midday, and James pronounces him fit to project. He quickly rings Bill – Annie tells him that his brother was worried – and then it’s time to set off. Hoyt drives Tom, Annie, James and Carlos out to City Hall. They project, and he drops them off and drives away. Getting into the disused station is a trivial matter, and they’re soon making their way through the gloom of the subway. A faint glow up ahead of them turns out to be the light from a fire in an old washroom off the platform. They can see a group of people – five or six living, two dead – huddled around the trashcan fire. The two ghosts bristle when the spooks come into view.
      “Who are you?” It’s a demand, rather than a question. “What do you want?”
      “This is our patch!” adds the other. They’re clearly gearing up for a fight.
      “We don’t mean any harm,” Carlos soothes. He works his magic, calming hostile ghosts down. When it looks like the immediate threat of violence has been averted, he says, cautiously: “We’re looking for someone.”
      The two ghosts share a glance. “Who?” The word is loaded with suspicion.
      “Alice.” That provokes a definite reaction, both of them staring at Carlos in shock. Eventually, one of them shakes himself out of his daze to mutter:
      “There are a lot of Alices.” He pauses for a moment and then, in an unconvincingly casual tone, asks: “Where did you hear that name?”
      “The radio.” They seem to accept that without question.
      “Who are you?” asks the one who seems to have taken on the role of spokesman.
      “We’re Phoenix.” Carlos doesn’t feel the need to add that he has another allegiance.
      “You got any proof?” Carlos looks to the others, eyebrows raised enquiringly. Annie steps up to join the conversation.
      “What kind of proof would you accept?” As they look blankly at each other, inspiration strikes. “Brook House will vouch for us.” The name seems familiar to the ghosts. They mutter among themselves for a few moments, and then one of them speaks up.
      “Come back tomorrow.”
      “What time tomorrow?”
      “Just tomorrow.” It looks like they’re just going to have to wait and see...

Part Five – Just Like Old Times

By the time everyone’s back in the car and safely in their bodies after their little excursion beneath City Hall, it’s about two o’ clock. Since much of the day still remains, they discuss how they can best use it productively. There is Ethan Torrence and, for that matter, the rest of the Marion Prison spooks. James suggests Mayfair Green, possibly not seriously given they’re still under par and the spectres may still be in a state of alert. (That raises another point: it seems that the car bomb didn’t so much as make the local news. This is more than a little odd.) The murder sites still need to be cleansed somehow, although they may want to spend more time on working out the details of how to attempt that than they did with Ground Zero. Bringing the tower down doesn’t seem to have been a bad thing overall, but that doesn’t mean they want to risk any more unexpected side-effects.

Despite all the many possibilities, the conversation keeps coming back to the Empire State building. Specifically, they are wondering about the gargoyle-creatures and Terrel & Squib’s office on the hundred and first floor. The T&S office is fairly new, as the corporation were only starting to set it up shortly before the New Year’s attacks. It might be worth taking a look around to see if any of their more unsavoury projects are being carried out there. Of course, the problem with doing any poking around there is that, in addition to the likelihood of T&S having potent anti-spook defences, there is also the risk of running into Kiss again. After some going round in circles, James – who’s quite keen to check out the T&S office – suggests Annie does some aerial scouting. She has the best chance of not being noticed, and can always fly away (or ripcord) if something goes wrong. Keeping her misgivings mostly to herself, she agrees to make the attempt.

Doing her best impression of a perfectly ordinary, living pigeon, Annie takes a closer look at the outside of the hundred and first floor. [42] The windows are all black-tinted and reflective so that she can’t see through them. There seems to be something strange about the fittings. Comparing them with those of the windows on other floors, these are bigger and bulkier, with what looks like motors inside, attached to the windows. There are no cameras that she can see, and no sign of any gargoyles. Returning to her body, she shares her meagre findings with the others and they discuss what to do next.

It’s time for some old-fashioned investigation. Tom starts by doing a CV search, cross-referencing mentions of T&S and New York locations. (While he’s doing that, the others continue Carlos’ projector training.) His search turns up one hit: a salesman called Carl Lindberg. He’s currently a vendor for T&S, selling pharmaceuticals to doctors. (T&S is still, first and foremost, a pharmaceutical company. The spook stuff is strictly a sideline.) It seems that he’s currently seeking other employment in the same field, requiring a fairly typical salary for someone of his age and experience. Looking up his address is a trivial exercise. As a mere sales rep – assuming that’s all he is – it seems unlikely that he’ll know anything about any secret projects. On the other hand, he’s unlikely to have any anti-spook security. He can give them information about the internal layout of the offices – including whether there are any ‘off limits’ or high security areas – and he might be able to point them towards someone who has the information they want. It looks like they’re going to pay Carl a visit...

They wait until night before heading over to Carl’s Manhattan apartment. As the man is falling asleep, Tom possesses him (with help from Annie, James and Carlos) and puts him under. [43] It seems that Carl has heard rumours of spooky happenings at T&S, but doesn’t really believe them. The New York office consists mostly of pharma sales reps, plus a small human resources department and some administrators. The facilities themselves have just undergone a major refurbishment. The sales reps were told not to come into the office for a couple of days while the work was completed. The windows were changed (with new ones installed over the old ones), cameras were installed and an area was sealed off so that it can only be accessed by swipe-card. He doesn’t know any of the people who work in that area: they’re all new, and they tend to keep themselves to themselves. His manager isn’t involved with that area; he just deals with the sales reps.

Tom digs deeper into those of Carl’s memories that relate to the secure area, looking for any details that Carl doesn’t consciously know he remembers. He’s in luck: Carl once shared a lift with one of the new employees, and managed to catch a glimpse of the name on his ID badge. The man was called Miles O’ Brien, and apparently Carl is a Star Trek fan. The name stuck in his mind. Tom is reasonably confident that they’ll be able to track Mr O’ Brien down easily enough.

There are a few other pieces of information he wants from Carl before letting him go, though. Office hours tend to be 8am to 8pm, although of course the sales reps are often out and about visiting surgeries. There’s a metal detector in the building foyer, and a team of security guards. In addition to these, the T&S floor has its own security team with twenty-four hour coverage. The guards are provided by Night Hawk Security, a private firm that was taken over by T&S. He’s never seen any security guards enter the sealed area, which takes up about a quarter of the floor and has an entrance near the lifts. There are always a couple of guards stationed at a desk between the lifts and this entrance. He thinks that there must be toilets and kitchen facilities inside the secure area, since the people who work there don’t seem to come out to use the shared facilities during the day.

Carl hasn’t had any recent medical procedures, nor does he have any particular health issues. He sometimes feels short of breath, but puts it down to a combination of stress and city living. From this, it doesn’t seem likely that he’s had any chips implanted, or has ever been given any projector drugs. He doesn’t actually know anything about projector drugs, dealing only with the more conventional, medicinal kinds. That seems to be everything of use, so the spooks return to their bodies and briefly discuss what to do with the information. James observes that, no matter how good their security systems, they probably haven’t sealed off the water and sewer pipes. He suggests that Annie could turn into a rat and scramble up the sewer pipes into one of the toilets in the secure area. She isn’t overly impressed by the idea, but agrees to consider it if they don’t come up with a better alternative. It’s not so much the thought of using the toilet as an entry point that she objects to but, rather, being stuck in there on her own.

On Wednesday morning, people busy themselves with training, researching, investigating and however else they feel they can productively pass the time. Tom finds a Miles O’ Brien listed as living in an apartment in Brooklyn. A little cross-referencing connects him with T&S: it looks like this is their man. There isn’t anything they can do about it just yet, however, as they have an appointment with the mole people. They aim for about the same time as yesterday: around two o’ clock. Heading down to the abandoned station again, they notice that there seem to be a different group of living people in residence at the moment. The two ghosts, however, are the same. As they spot the little group, Carlos is hastily pushed to the front to do the talking. He hails the ghosts. They return his greeting in a reasonably friendly manner and he lets them take the lead. [44]
      “Brook House say you check out,” one of them states, without preamble.
      “Good,” replies Carlos. “Do you know Alice, then?” The ghosts look at each other, their expressions conflicted. Before Carlos can say anything more, however, a female voice comes from behind them.
      “I’m Alice.” A figure steps into view, glowing gently. She’s clearly either a Wisp or just a spook who knows unearthly repose. Not missing a beat, Carlos inclines his head in greeting.
      “Nice to meet you, Alice. I’m Carlos.” He holds out his hand, noting that her clothes are old; she seems to be dressed like a flapper. [45]
Shaking his hand, she looks enquiringly at him.
      “So, you wanted to speak to me?”
      “Yes. There was a message about you on the radio.”
      “Hmm. So it seems. There was a message about you as well.”
      “Apparently we’re famous.” Getting down to business, Carlos asks Alice what she can tell them about the recent murders. She tells him that number of “unfortunates”, as she calls them, have been killed in horrible ways. She doesn’t know who the culprit is, but one group of murders happened in the tunnels (“our tunnels”).
      “No one goes there now,” she finishes.
      “Will you take us there?”
      She seems to have been expecting the question. “Yes. It will take a while, though: the location is some distance away.”

The little group set off. Neither of the other ghosts accompanies them, just Alice. Carlos strikes up a conversation with her as they make their way through the dark tunnels, trying to find out about Alice. She seems happy enough to chat with him. As they suspected from her attire (and manner of speaking), she last walked New York as one of the living sometime in the nineteen thirties. She was a bright young thing – a society girl – who had the misfortune to become the prey of someone that, from her description, sounds like the living Béla Kiss. Kiss grabbed her off the street, taking her to a basement with eight other victims. He strangled them all. When she says this, Alice’s expression turns vacant, her voice becoming distant and dreamy.
      “Time passed. It felt like I was being stretched so thin. It hurt. That’s all there was for a long, long time. And then something happened.” Her gaze focuses again, fixing on Carlos. “When I came to, I was back in the basement as you see me.” She gestures towards herself, clearly indicating her deceased state. “I made my way into the tunnels, where one of the unfortunates was able to see me. I had nowhere else to go so I stayed with him, protecting and helping him. When he died, I started to help others. I have tried to make this a safe place.” Alice is in much better condition than Jane, both mentally and physically. She is clearly in full possession of her wits, and is roughly aware of what year it is. No visible stains are evident and, apart from the faint ligature marks on her neck (her death mark) she looks completely human. In answer to Carlos’ questions, she says that she looks a few hundred living people and about ten to fifteen ghosts, in total. She makes sure that no one – living or otherwise – harms her charges. “Most ghosts don’t bother us down here. A few have tried, but we drove them away.” She doesn’t seem to make a distinction between ghosts and spectres.

As they walk, Annie and James try to pay attention to where they’re going, hoping that they’ll be able to find their way out again if necessary. Annie soon gets hopelessly confused, but James thinks he has a good idea of their route back to the surface. [46]
They pass through lots of different types of tunnels: sewer pipes, subway tunnels, hand-carved passageways of uncertain age and purpose. It seems that underground New York is more extensive than they’d imagined. It should be possible to traverse the whole city through the tunnel networks...

After a couple of hours of walking, they reach the murder site. As well as the familiar barrels, a woman’s head has been nailed to the ceiling with a railway spike. A man’s hairy finger has been affixed to her lips. There are five barrels, and five scarred hues. Annie and Carlos both hear faint music.       “Do you hear that?” Annie asks Alice.
      Alice cocks her head, listening. “The chanting?” [47]
She frowns. “I’ve heard something like that before. It was coming from the Catholic church on the corner of Fifth and First.”
      “When was this?” She’s expecting Alice to say during one of her rare expeditions to the surface, but the ghost’s answer takes her aback.
      “Back in my old life.” That is interesting. Maybe it’s connected to the previous ritual: could that place be one of the first dark cathedrals? They’re going to have to investigate further...

Annie examines the inscriptions carved into their gauze: they look like fragments of a musical score, a different fragment for each ghost. Choosing one, she tries to sense his tethers, getting an image of the same storm from before.
      “I wish I could help them,” she murmurs.
      “So do I,” replies Alice. Annie has an idea. With James’ help, she uses flesh flux to try to heal one of the ghost’s scars. Playing it safe, she channels as much vitality as she can without causing a spike: according to Alice, strange things have been seen wandering these tunnels, especially since the murders. After a few moments of concentration, the marks fade, leaving behind only faint surface scars. The attempt seems to have worked, but she has no idea whether or not it will be permanent.

After a brief discussion, they decide to try to lead the ghosts (very weak blips) away from this place. The easiest way to do this is for Carlos to use unearthly repose. The ever-useful James helps out, easily managing not to be entranced by the horror himself. [48] Everyone else is careful not to look. The effect of the horror lasts for about an hour, and they manage to get nearly two miles away from the site in that time. (The journey includes a few necessary pauses and detours to round up blips that have gotten left behind or stuck behind a corner.) Carlos can feel the power starting to wane. He lets it fade completely, and the blips come out of their trance. They start moaning and screaming again, as they were doing before, milling around. Two of them seem to be trying to make their way back to the site, but keep getting stuck. The other three just appear to be wandering around aimlessly. The one Annie healed is part of the latter group, and his wounds are starting to reopen. James takes hold of one of the blips that seems to be heading in the direction of the site, restraining him. The blip’s screams immediately take on a new, desperate pitch and he shrieks and shrieks as if in agony. James quickly lets him go, and his distress subsides.

The group discuss what can be done for the hues. Tom mentions something about putting them somewhere out of the way where they can be available for experimentation, which neatly antagonises Alice. With an edge to her voice, she states that she will not allow them to harm anyone under her protection. James tries leading one of the randomly milling ghosts in the opposite direction to the site, but the hue doesn’t seem overly distressed. He doesn’t really seem to react at all. This suggests there is a difference between the two groups. Maybe distance weakens the connection.
      “There’s a simple way to test whether it’s the distance,” observes Alice. With that, she and one of the blips – one trying to make his way back to the site – abruptly vanish. Apparently, she used storm wending to teleport the two of them somewhere else. Not knowing when – or if – she’s coming back again, the others try to retrace their steps to the exit, ghosts in tow, following James’ lead. They haven’t gone very far when Alice returns, alone. “That seemed to work,” she says.
      “Where did you take him?” asks Carlos.
      “A safe place he can’t wander away from.” That likely means it’s an enclosed chamber of some kind. “He isn’t showing any signs of distress, so it seems that the connection’s broken.” She takes the rest of the blips to the same place, and then escorts Carlos and the Phoenix spooks back to City Hall station. Before they part ways, she says that she will put the word out among her people that the Phoenix Group are to be given access to the tunnels. She says that she would like to see Carlos again, although certain other people – namely Tom – have the impression that their welcome has worn a little thin. Annie requests – and is given – Alice’s for a chat sometime soon: Annie, as always, has questions to ask.

Now it’s back to the surface and back to their bodies. By the time they get back to their respective homes, it’s coming up to ten o’ clock. Just enough time to get a good night’s rest. They have the feeling they should make the most of this opportunity while they have it. After all: who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Part Six – More Loose Ends

Thursday morning is grey, cold and damp. It’s the kind of day that reminds a person being on the run isn’t a game for the old, or the infirm, or the injured. Perhaps that’s why, for the first time, the group start to seriously consider the possibilities that not being on the FBI’s most wanted list can afford them. Maybe they don’t need to live like fugitives any more. They can become legitimate again: set up the Phoenix Group as a proper business; earn money so that they can afford to live somewhere that isn’t a warehouse. Except that James is still on the wanted list and, anyway, they have other problems to deal with before they can really afford to become visible again.

The two main threats to their continued existence are NextWorld and the Black Net (or, more properly, whoever was using the Black Net to put contracts on their heads). If they stick their heads up, it seems likely that one or both of these are going to come gunning for them. The spectres are another problem. They don’t think the spectres are likely to actively launch an attack on them but, well, they did before. Unfortunately, taking out the spectres is a little beyond their capabilities at the moment. Instead, they discuss the problems they actually stand a chance of being able to do something about. Although the discussion goes on for a little while, however they don’t come up with a solid way to neutralise these threats. It may be possible to combine one of these with ingratiating themselves with the FBI – something it can’t hurt for them to do, even if they are generally no longer that organisation’s most wanted – by offering their services in the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the Black Net. Maybe that’s a possibility they can raise with Carlos. (And hey, if they get taken on as consultants, maybe they can even earn some money out of it.)

Speaking of the FBI, they need to start working out how they can get James off the hook with them. It won’t be easy – the Feds don’t tend to be very forgiving towards people who shoot their agents. There’s the self-defence angle, obviously: every Orpheus employee taken into custody has wound up dead. If James and Tom hadn’t sprung Adrian, he’d surely have been killed: information about where he was being taken was all over the Black Net. It’s clear that the FBI has been compromised. Unfortunately, if James approaches the FBI to make his case, they’re going to lock him up. He can’t afford to be vulnerable like that and the group can’t really afford to lose him. (Of course, if he was taken into custody, they might be able to use him as bait to draw some of their enemies out into the open. A trap like that tends to be awfully dangerous for the bait, however...) Perhaps if they had something to trade to the FBI, they might be able to negotiate an agreement regarding James; but what do they have that would interest the Feds? There’s always the spook in the machine: if they can deal with it (preferably while proving to the FBI that they’ve been compromised), would that be enough? It’s something they’re going to have to think about.

Annie and Kate put their heads together to try to come up with a ritual to cleanse the murder sites of the spectres’ taint. Given the unexpected side-effect of the last one, they really want to make sure they get this right. Bringing the tower down doesn’t seem to have been an unequivocally bad thing, but they don’t necessarily want to bring anything else through from the other side. They don’t think they’re on as strict a time limit as they were with the last one (although they still don’t want to leave it too long), so they can afford to do their homework. They’re working on the principle that they can use wail to neutralise the sites’ resonance. As each ritual murder seems to be based around a corruption of one of the nine muses, they should be able to use the associations of each particular muse to tailor the cleansing to each site. (Countering despair with hope, death with life, and so on.) Over the course of the day, they start to pull something together that seems to make sense. [49]

James and Tom drive out to take a look at Miles O’ Brien’s apartment. For their first pass, they go in physically, parking the car a couple of blocks away and taking a slow walk around the apartment block. [50] This seems to be a lower end neighbourhood: not a slum, but definitely not rich, although there are signs of some gentrification. The population seems to be predominantly Hispanic. The apartment block itself has three floors, with two flats on each floor; O Brien’s is number 2B. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of security. The only camera they see is the one next to the buzzer by the front door, so the people in the flats can see who’s buzzing them. Returning to the car, Tom projects and goes to take a closer look at the flat itself. James drives around the area, keeping an eye on his body and trying not to look suspicious.

Tom dematerialises and steps through a side wall into the apartment building, which looks just as unremarkable on the inside as it does from the outside. He makes for O’ Brien’s flat, checking for internal security measures as he does so. [51] He doesn’t spot anything, so he goes ahead and peeks through the door. Nothing jumps out at him, so he goes all the way through and cases the joint. [52] First impressions suggest that this is definitely a bachelor pad. It’s extremely messy, with partially-eaten pizzas discarded around the floor, unwashed dishes in the sink and dirty (or possibly clean-ish) clothes scatted hither and thither. There are no obvious threats, especially since he can’t catch anything in gauze form. The only thing that gives him pause is the webcam attached to the computer, which is switched on. Luckily, he spots it before coming into its field of view.

As the computer is what Tom is really interested in – aside from the man himself, who clearly isn’t home at the moment – he uses deadwire to leap into it through the power lines, therefore avoiding the camera altogether. Simply getting into the computer only requires him to channel a small amount of energy into the horror [53] but, once inside, he has to burn some more [54] so that he can interact with its memory. Skipping over the gigs of porn, he takes a quick look through the hard-drive, trying to get a feel for whether or not O’ Brien uses this for work. It seems to be almost exclusively a leisure machine, and is currently downloading various media files of dubious legality. Checking through the history of recently visited pages, Tom finds O’ Brien’s Yahoo Mail account, which conveniently happens to be logged in. Wading through the spam, mailing lists and other irrelevant stuff, he comes across a couple of mails in which O’ Brien mentions his job. He complains about being forced to up sticks and move to New York, but gloats about being assigned to a “Special Project ;-) ;-) ;-)”. Without mentioning anything in the way of hard details, he tries his best to make it sound mysterious and cool, describing it as: “Real Gordon Freeman stuff, if you know what I mean”. That seems to be everything of interest, so Tom deadwires out to the rendezvous point to wait for James.

On the way back, Tom fills James in on what he found, and they both agree that it’s worth returning tonight, when they can interrogate (in a manner of speaking) the man himself. James picks up a newspaper and skims through it, looking for anything related to spooks or to the FBI. [55] Bounce Night and Kiss’ murder spree are still fairly big news, but they’re old news to the Phoenix spooks. James quickly reads them anyway, but there doesn’t seem to be anything new. Of more interest is a small article tucked away in the middle of the paper, stating that another spook agency headquarters has come under attack. The details are sparse, but it seems that NextWorld’s Texas office – their main site – has been burned to the ground. For some reason, this news does not inspire any sympathy. They wonder if it’s Beta Crucible’s handiwork. On the off chance it is, when they get back to the warehouse Tom posts a congratulatory message on the spook forum. It says: “Way to go, guys. See you in the next world.”

Carlos thinks about tying up some loose ends. After some consideration, he decides to chase up the Ethan Torrence lead. The Phoenix spooks have passed all relevant information on to him so he can do just that. Looking through the notes, it seems that someone has been using the ‘E. Torrence’ account to order pizzas from a particular chain. Orders have been placed in a number of cities, but the majority were in New York. There are also payments to a number of ‘escort services’. Carlos decides to start with the pizza place. [56] The freckle-faced girl on the desk is no match for his persuasive skills (a mixture of charm, flirting and outright bribery), and is willing to look the other way while he searches for the information he wants. [57]

It looks like Torrence has been placing orders under his own name. He’s quite the repeat customer, but there doesn’t seem to be any particular pattern to the orders. The pizzas were delivered to a penthouse apartment in Manhattan. That seems like a good place to start, so Carlos bids the girl goodbye and goes to search through some records. [58] Unfortunately, he can’t find anything that relates to the apartment. The records of ownership should be there, but they’re not: maybe someone’s trying to conceal who owns it. All he really manages to discover is that the penthouse is fairly swanky, and is in a nice neighbourhood. Giving up on investigation for the day, Carlos hits the gym.

Night falls: it’s time to go and see what O’ Brien knows. Ben – who is now a skimmer, as is Hoyt – drives Tom and James over to the flat, and watches their bodies while they project and do their thing. They wait until O’ Brien seems to be drifting off to sleep, and then James helps Tom to puppet him. A quick shuffle through his memories tells Tom that O’ Brien is a programmer for the spook side of Terrel & Squib’s operations. He’s not one of the chief geniuses, but he is part of the team working on the secret project. His specific role is to write ‘control code’ for something he thinks of as a gate. Tom looks for more information about both the control code and the gate.

It seems that T&S, as well as being able to ‘break’ ghosts to their will, have developed a way of using signals to control these now-docile targets. O’ Brien writes – or, used to write – the code for the control impulses (or, control code). He used to work at the facility based at the site of the old chemical plant (the one Shelley was taken to, and subsequently rescued from), which is where most of the research goes on. Among the employees it’s referred to as ‘Ghost Town’, and most of the actual ‘ghost-breaking’ is performed there. He never really had anything to do with that part of the operation, however. He was transferred to the New York office specifically so he could apply his code-writing skills to the special project.

Looking for information relating to the gate brings up a memory of a man called Akambe. This is the only name O’ Brien has for the man, an African scientist based at the New York office. According to the researcher scuttlebutt, Akambe theorises that ghosts are some kind of transitional state, half-way between two worlds. He hopes to use that property to try to drill through into the other world; the one that lies beyond this one. His work involves trying to create some kind of ghost-based technology that will allow him to do that. (This would be the ‘Gordon Freeman stuff’ O’ Brien mentioned in his e-mail, then.) Tom and James don’t need forebode to have a bad feeling about this. It’s a pity O’ Brien doesn’t know how how much progress the scientist has made towards his goal, if any. Still, this is clearly a man to watch. Tom manages to find a memory of what Akambe looks like: maybe they’ll get lucky and spot him heading into or out of the building one day.

Next, Tom investigates what his host knows about the gargoyles. He learns these ‘augmented sentries’ – as T&S refers to them – were developed by a woman over in Ghost Town. O’ Brien didn’t actually work on these, as they are controlled a little differently to the more usual kind of ghost. As sentries, they need to be able to act on their own initiative to respond to threats, so simply issuing direct orders is less than ideal. Instead, they are governed by a feedback-based semi-intelligent system. They seem to be part of the security system at the New York facility. O’ Brien is aware that there was some kind of alert the other day (the little encounter with Kiss) and that their sensor systems registered an energy spike. The gargoyles went out and, as far as he knows, all came back again shortly afterwards. He doesn’t know if they found anything, or how the gargoyles are activated. Tom digs for more information about how the gargoyles are made, but that’s beyond the scope of O’ Brien’s expertise. All he knows is that sometimes ghosts break ‘oddly’. The results usually have to be either put down or processed into something else.

More generally, Tom wonders what O’ Brien thinks all of this is for. He doesn’t really know – or care – but has the fuzzy idea that this ‘blue sky’ research will eventually be used to mass-market ghost-technology, thereby netting T&S a sizeable profit. He doesn’t really have anything to do with the sales side, however, and hasn’t the faintest idea if, how and when the merchandising is going to work. The security vetting process is, unsurprisingly, rather intensive, and O’ Brien was required to sign countless non-disclosure agreements. There was also an extremely thorough medical, part of which was performed under general anaesthetic. This little tidbit sets off alarm bells. Tom has James check the back of O’ Brien’s head and neck for any indication that anything has been implanted there. [59] There isn’t anything obvious, but then Tom remembers that the chips implanted in the people used to attack the Orpheus building were actually located in the spine. James checks and, sure enough, there is a small scar near the base of O’ Brien’s spine. According to his memories, he has regular medical check-ups, just like the Orpheus routine. Perhaps that’s when T&S uploads the data from his chip (assuming the scar means that he has one). His next medical is due in a couple of weeks. Tom and James start to discuss the possibility of doing something with the chip (using inhabit), when a quiet sound stops the conversation dead: someone’s just opened the apartment door... [60]

James quickly (and quietly) tells Tom to stay in O’ Brien’s body and check out the door before diving across the room and into a wardrobe. Completely ignoring that suggestion, Tom leaves his host and drops down through the floor. [61] As he does so, he sees two figures come into the room. Their eyes glow with the familiar red haze of spook-vision goggles and they’re carrying submachine guns... but then he’s out of there. He doesn’t know whether or not they saw him, but sticking around doesn’t seem to be the most sensible thing to do right now. He rounds a corner, then quickly ducks back again as he spots two more figures neatly silhouetted against the front door. Fortunately, he sees them before they see him. [62] From their outlines, they’re armed and equipped like the men upstairs: looks like he isn’t going out through the front, then. Luckily, he has other options. Not wanting to aggravate his injuries any further by the stress of a ripcord, he simply deadwires into the power lines and, through them, back to the warehouse. [63]

James doesn’t have Tom’s problem with ripcording. He could just bug out of there from the wardrobe, but he wants to get a look at the intruders before he leaves. Being careful to keep out of their line of sight, he makes his way around behind them, studying them for a moment or two before ripcording out of there. As he’s quickly filling Ben in, there’s a message from someone back at the warehouse saying that Tom made it back to the warehouse and would like his body back, please. Now they know they won’t be needed for an extraction operation, Ben and James are free to leave the area. They take a circuitous route back to base, where everyone is talking about the incident. It seems that T&S not only chip their important employees, but they have them rigged to alert them to any unexpected spook activity. This is worrying, but at least they know now. They’re just fortunate that it didn’t do anything nasty like set off a trap for them. Somehow, though, they have the feeling that they won’t be so lucky next time. Maybe they should leave T&S alone for a little while; let them settle down a bit.

It isn’t like they don’t have anything else to do... [64]


Footnotes

[1] When a player is absent, their character tends to be unavailable as much as possible: carrying out surveillance, helping out at Brooke House, sleeping, pulling guard duty back at base, etc. It’s easier for the GM not to have to worry about playing someone else’s character. [Back]

[2] The player actually botched the [Perception + Awareness] roll at the second site, but the GM ruled that nothing immediately bad came of it, because there wasn’t really anything feasible and interesting. Random spectres turning up every time someone botched a roll to notice stuff would just get silly. [Back]

[3] This was quite a momentous occasion, being quite possibly the first time that the player has actually done anything other than fail or botch a [Dexterity + Stealth] roll. He actually has quite a large dice pool for this roll; he’s just been incredibly unlucky so far. If only any of the other PCs were present to witness his triumph. Or, rather, to not witness it. [Back]

[4] Skimmers are always aware of their bodies, at least dimly. If something happens to their flesh, they generally sense it. At the extreme end of this phenomenon, wounds suffered by the body also appear on the gauze. [Back]

[5] James’ player succeeds at yet another [Dexterity + Stealth] roll! Calloo, callay, oh frabjous day. Ahem. Carry on. [Back]

[6] No rolls here. Just different character reactions. Apparently, Annie isn’t too concerned about her dignity. [Back]

[7] This is, apparently, one of those rolls where getting lots of successes isn’t necessarily a good thing. Perhaps doing this wasn’t the most sensible idea ever. In my defence, though, James was egging her on. She’s also very, very curious and really wants to be useful to the group. I think she’s going to start to rediscover her survival instinct after this, though. [Back]

[8] She came out of the experience down a point of [Vitality], presumably because of the gauze she lost. Gauze tends to dissipate once separated from the spook in question, so she couldn’t just reabsorb it. [Back]

[9] In theory, it’s now standard operating procedure to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back if you have to leave the warehouse. That way, if anyone does go missing, we know when and where to start looking. [Back]

[10] She left it in long-term parking at the airport when she went to Portland, so it didn’t end up buried in the rubble of the Orpheus building. Ben and Hoyt went to collect it for her when their names were taken off the FBI’s most-wanted list. [Back]

[11] Ethan Torrence is one of the Marion Prison twelve. He possessed Carlos for a couple of hours on the day after the Phoenix spooks brought the tower down. [Back]

[12] I got a bonus to the [Perception + Awareness] roll to detect this because of Annie’s forebode. Tom’s player just rolled well. James’ player was absent this week, so the GM didn’t bother to roll for him. It was assumed that James remained blithely unaware. [Back]

[13] The first foreboders soon discovered that using the horror to try to look back before the millennium was a very, very bad idea. Initially, they just met with resistance. Three of them – two Orpheus sleepers and one independent ghost – tried to push though it. The ghost didn’t come back at all, leaving behind its empty gauze. It isn’t known what became of the gauze afterwards. One of the sleepers died. The other one was driven completely mad and, as far as anyone knows, is still locked up in the asylum they were committed to. [Back]

[14] So, really, this wasn’t such a stupid, foolhardy activity after all. Really. [Back]

[15] A [Perception + Awareness] roll. (Awareness is the supernatural sense talent.) [Back]

[16] A [Perception + Investigation] roll, to represent the fact that the group are actively looking for anything out of the ordinary. Annie and Tom both pass. [Back]

[17] The Wisp horror unearthly repose can be used to just give a bonus to the character’s [Charisma], without entrancing the target. (Entrancement is a different use of unearthly repose.) [Back]

[18] I think there was a [Perception + Alertness] roll here, which only Carlos’ player passed. This was effectively a surprise round, happening before the group rolled initiative, so only the attacker and Carlos got to act. I don’t think Carlos’ player got to roll initiative, because he was reacting to the attacker’s action. Fortunately for us, the GM ruled that the attacker only got one of his many, many possible actions in this round. [Back]

[19] Tom took 2 levels of bashing damage and lost 1 vitality in that attack. [Back]

[20] Carlos’ player split his action, using one on the disarm attempt and keeping one back for a dodge in case Kiss attacked him. [Back]

[21] Carlos didn’t actually take part in the last encounter with Kiss as that was before he became a skimmer. He was watching some of it from afar, though, and asked the group lots of questions about it afterwards. The knife was definitely something that came up in conversation. It made a particular impression on James, for some reason. [Back]

[22] Initiative time. [Back]

[23] Again, the player split his action so as to have one available for a dodge, should it prove necessary. [Back]

[24] Carlos doesn’t have another action left to defend against Kiss’ disarm attack. [Back]

[25] Kiss possesses a horror similar the Skinrider ability juggernaut, which he can use to give themselves extra actions. That’s why he was doing about a bazillion different things on his turn. He didn’t seem to exhibit this ability while inside a body, and it isn’t known whether it’s a general capability of Jasons. [Back]

[26] Tom was still recovering from previous injuries. He took a lot of damage from that last hit; enough to take him to [Incapacitated]. Annie managed to soak the damage she would have taken from the collision. [Back]

[27] Swarm queen is a great horror. Among other things, it makes Annie harder to damage, which is why activating it is usually one of my first actions in a fight. [Back]

[28] James had two attacks. The first succeeded rather well, but the second was a triple botch. As Annie was in the line of fire, the GM ruled that the bullets hit her. After soak, she took a grand total of 2 levels of bashing damage. It could have been much, much worse. For one thing, the bullets could have hit Tom, who might well have been killed. [Back]

[29] This is his first use of storm-wending, the second-tier Wisp ability. The player has already paid the points for this horror, but hasn’t had the opportunity for the character to express it until now. [Back]

[30] Carlos loses 1 point of vitality. [Back]

[31] Carlos takes 4 levels of bashing damage. [Back]

[32] James uses 2 actions to break free, succeeding on the second attempt. [Back]

[33] Both James’ and Annie’s attempts did zero overall damage to Kiss. I don’t remember if that’s because they failed to hit, there were no successes on the damage rolls or all damage was soaked. [Back]

[34] The manoeuvre is a failure, but not a botch. [Back]

[35] Failed attack, failed dodge roll. We weren’t exactly covering ourselves in glory that night. [Back]

[36] Strength 12. Really rather impressive. [Back]

[37] Another use of his juggernaut-equivalent horror is to make himself run very fast. It would let him get back in the fight again by the next round. [Back]

[38] I had to make a [Charisma + Occult] roll to convey all the relevant information before Kiss returned. [Back]

[39] The GM didn’t tell me the difficulty of the [Perception + Awareness] roll, but the dice showed a lot of very low numbers. It wasn’t a botch, but I rather doubt it was a success. Oh well.] [Back]

[40] Although she didn’t take much damage in the fight, Annie’s vitality is currently very low. The lower a spook’s vitality, the more they look like a corpse. I think she only had a couple of points left at this point, so she looks really, really bad. [Back]

[41] The part of Lo-Jack is being played by Tom’s player from more or less this point onwards. Since Tom was going to be unconscious for about a day or so, the GM thought this would help to make sure that the player still had something to do. [Back]

[42] [Perception + Awareness] roll to notice supernatural stuff – fail. [Perception + Alertness] roll to notice mundane stuff – probable pass. [Back]

[43] You can only puppet someone when they’re awake. However, even if you put them under straight away, they’re still likely to remember the disorientation of you taking control. If you get them just as they’re falling asleep anyway, they probably won’t remember it as anything out of the ordinary. Tom’s player did well enough on the roll for this to have control of Carl for as long as he wanted, and to have access to all his memories. [Back]

[44] Carlos’ player got 5 successes on his roll to make a good impression. The ghosts like him. [Back]

[45] A successful [Perception + Etiquette] roll. [Back]

[46] This was a [Perception + Survival] roll, which James passed and Annie failed. It should be noticed that Annie actually has the [Survival] skill, while James doesn’t. [Back]

[47] Everyone made a [Perception + Awareness] roll. Annie and Carlos just about succeeded. Alice succeeded fairly well. [Back]

[48] I don’t think he’s ever failed his [Willpower] roll to not be entranced by someone using unearthly repose. [Back]

[49] The GM made a secret [Intelligence + Occult] roll for Annie, with a bonus to represent Kate’s involvement. I have no idea whether or not it was successful, although I know it wasn’t a botch because I spent a Willpower point on it. (It’s only a botch if there are one or more 1s on the roll, but no successes.) I guess we’ll find out when we attempt the ritual. [Back]

[50] [Perception + Security] rolls from the pair of them. [Back]

[51] Another [Perception + Security] roll, with one success. [Back]

[52] Can you guess what type of roll this requires? Two successes this time, though. [Back]

[53] 2 vitality. [Back]

[54] Another 2 vitality. [Back]

[55] A straight [Wits] roll, on which he got 2 successes. [Back]

[56] The player retroactively spent points to get a 2-dot private investigator’s licence (a background that reduces the difficulty of relevant rolls, since it seemed like the kind of thing Carlos would have. [Back]

[57] This was a [Charisma + Investigation] roll at [Difficulty 5], thanks to the PI licence. Carlos’ player managed to get 6 successes. [Back]

[58] Since this involves research, rather than talking to people, it was an [Intelligence + Investigation] roll at [Difficulty 4]. This didn’t quite go as well as the last one, with the roll garnering no successes. [Back]

[59] A [Perception + Medicine] roll for James, on which the player got 1 success. [Back]

[60] A [Perception + Alertness] roll, which they both passed. [Back]

[61] Each player got one pre-initiative action. As James’ action was to hide, he didn’t have to roll unless he wanted to come out and join in whatever was about to go down. Tom, however, had to take two actions to get away from the scene, so actually dropping through the floor required an [Initiative] roll to see if he could get away without being interrupted. Luckily (for him), he got to go first. [Back]

[62] [Perception + Alertness] roll to spot them before they spotted him. [Back]

[63] If someone is already injured – like Tom – taking more damage on top of it resets the healing time. Ripcording automatically does the character one level of bashing damage, so it’s in his interest not to do that unless absolutely necessary. [Back]

[64] With that, and by mutual agreement, we now move into downtime. Various people – mainly Tom – need to recover from injuries, and there are a number of things people want to do that are going to take time to deal with (researching, investigating, surveillance, training, building up allies; that kind of thing). Importantly, downtime means experience points, which mean more stuff. We used to get eps at the end of each session, but it started getting silly when sessions covered only a few hours or so of game time. I think it makes more sense to do it this way, but it’s difficult sometimes balancing the need for downtime with the awareness that the more time passes, the closer we get to what may or may not be the end of the world. We think we’ve probably headed off (or at least delayed) that disaster, but you can never be sure. And the more time we spend doing our own thing, the more time our antagonists get to deal with their own plans in peace. [Back]