Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Missions - Mission014

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Dramatis Personae

Protagonists

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

Supporting Characters

Orpheus

  • John “Blink” Carruthers, Wisp
  • Adrian Challis, Wisp
  • Ben Cotton, Poltergeist
  • Kate Dennison, Banshee
  • Craig Forrest, Skinrider
  • Carlos Hayaté, Wisp
  • Matthieu Kerekov, Banshee
  • Chet Mason, Skinrider
  • Hoyt Masterson, Haunter (hue)
  • John Reeve, Skinrider
  • Rory, ghost dog (Annie’s familiar)
  • Zoë Vitt, Poltergeist
  • Shelley Young, Haunter (ghost)

Bounce Night Ghosts

  • Michele Di Cipriani, Poltergeist (bright hue)
  • Anna Mureau, unknown shade (bright hue)
  • Various bright hues

Brook House

  • Herman, shade unknown (hue)
  • Mona, Banshee

The Di Ciprianis

  • Mr Di Cipriani
  • Mrs Di Cipriani
  • Césario Di Cipriani, Pigment-induced skimmer (P-Skimmer; unknown shade)
  • Dr Torelli, the family doctor

Independent Operatives

  • Frank Nosrav, Mindbender

Miscellaneous Spooks

  • A couple of P-skimmers


Mission Fourteen – Gangs of New York

Part One - Under the Influence

About eleven days after the group started taking it a little easy, Tom receives a phone call. Much to his surprise, the caller is Frank. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Tom actually answers it. He greets Tom, and spends some time being rather smug about not being on the run like the rest of the group. Casually, he alludes to his palatial surroundings, off-handedly dropping in a reference to the massage he’s just had. Eventually, however, he gets to the point:
      “I’ve come across a job you might be interested in,” he says. “And the client is willing to pay cash...”
      “Go on.”
      “The Di Cipriani family suffered a recent lost – their eldest son was caught up in the Bounce Night tragedy.” Presumably that means that he took some of the poisoned Pigment and died. “Since then, their younger son has claimed to have seen his brother.”
      “They’re being haunted?”
      “In a manner of speaking, perhaps. That isn’t the reason I was called in, however. Earlier today, the younger son was found unconscious, with a used syringe of Pigment nearby. The Di Ciprianis are very good friend with the mayor. They called him; he called me.” Frank always did have friends in high places. “I went around to their house to take a look and the boy is definitely projecting, but his gauze was nowhere to be seen. The doctor says he’s dying.” That’s what happens when a projector stays out of body too long: their meat sickens and dies. “This sounds like a job for Phoenix. What do you think? Obviously, time is of the essence.”
      “I’ll round up the others and we’ll head out.”
      “Good.” Frank reads out the address. It’s in Bayside, Queens – the good part of town. “They’re expecting you.”
      “So, what’s your cut?” Somehow, Tom doesn’t think Frank’s acting as broker out of the goodness of his heart.
      “Ten percent off the top, naturally.”
      “Ten percent of what? What’s the payment?”       “Is there really time? We can discuss this afterwards, surely.”
      “Just tell me the number.” Tom is already heading off to round up a team.
“Twenty-one thousand. Assuming you get the kid back.” [1]
      “Fine. We’re heading out shortly.”
      “Good hunting.”

Tom rounds up Annie, Craig and James and commandeers the new van. Annie brings Rory along. James, still sort-of wanted by the FBI decides to leave his body back at the warehouse and go in gauze. (He’s not on their most-wanted list any more, but they’re still after him for shooting one of their agents.) They arrange to meet Carlos en route, figuring his people skills might come in handy. (It might also be useful for their lone FBI-associated advocate to see what they do other than killing or running away from monsters.) Frank called at nine pm; it’s just coming up on ten-thirty when they reach the Di Cipriani’s residence. The house itself is very nice, set back from the road in its own, rather extensive, grounds. The road is barred by large, wrought-iron gates. Tom pulls up and presses the buzzer neatly mounted next to them. A few seconds later, a male voice crackles over the intercom.
      “Yes?”
      “This is Tom Knox. My colleagues and I received a call from Frank Nosrav.” He avoids announcing them as Phoenix, just in case.
      “Oh! You must be the specialists.” The speaker doesn’t wait for confirmation. “Please, come in.” The gates open up, and Tom drives up to the house.

The group are met by an old man, clearly in a state of some distress. When he speaks, they realise that he’s the one who buzzed them through the gates. He’s also the person who’s hired them to recover his son. Apart from James, all the skimmers are there in body.
      “Come this way.” Di Cipriani wastes no time in leading them upstairs. “Dr Torelli is with him now.” He enters the room without knocking, revealing what seems to be a teenage boy’s bedroom. A middle-aged woman paces anxiously in the middle of the floor, casting glances over to the bed where a man – Dr Torelli – bends over the unconscious body of her son. She looks over as Di Cipriani leads the spooks in, hope blooming visibly in her eyes.
      “These are the specialists?” She asks, voice quavering as she clutches at him. Di Cipriani nods, returning her embrace absently as he turns his attention to the doctor.
      “Doctor...” It seems like he wants to say more, but the rest of his question trails off into silence.
      “Césario is still unconscious.” Dr Torelli glances around the room, addressing himself primarily to Di Cipriani, but including all those present and visible. “His condition is definitely deteriorating, but I don’t know how much time we have. This isn’t anything I’ve seen before.” Mrs Di Cipriani looks like she’s about to burst into tears.
      “When did you find him like this?” Tom looks to the parents. Di Cipriani answers him.
      “It was about seven-thirty this evening.”
      “I’m afraid we’re going to have to search the premises.”
      “Anything you need.” While attention is focused on Tom, Craig seizes the opportunity to dive into the boy’s body, sliding in so smoothly that there’s no reaction at all. The spooks continue to act as though nothing has happened.
      “When did you last speak with your son?” Annie asks softly.
      Mrs Di Cipriani answers her. “It was at tea,” she says. “That would have been... four o’ clock?” Looking towards a husband, she makes that last a question. At his nod, she says, again: “Four o’ clock.” This time, her tone is one of certainty.
      Carlos steps forward. “I’d like to ask you some questions about your son, if I may.”
      “Of course.” Di Cipriani nods. “What do you want to know?”
      “Perhaps we should retire somewhere more comfortable first?” [2] Both parents look torn about leaving their son, but Di Cipriani nods.
      “As you wish.”
      “We can use the living room,” Mrs Cipriani’s voice is hoarse from the tears that have left her eyes red and puffy.
      “Sounds perfect.”

Carlos and the Di Ciprianis head for the living room, where Carlos gently and tactfully asks them about their son. The boy is a seventeen year old high-schooler and his parents describe him as a ‘normal young man’. He has friends at school and the usual hobbies, with a particular fondness for baseball. That’s something he shared with his brother. Michele was a few years older than Césario, who idolised him. The two of them used to go down to the park together to play baseball, but their parents were worried that it wasn’t safe. To address this concern, the Di Ciprianis had a baseball diamond built within the grounds of the house, so the two boys didn’t have to go beyond the gates. It sounds like they had a fairly sheltered life; especially Césario. Michele had apparently taken to going out on the town and hitting the clubs with his friends. It’s clear his parents didn’t approve, but they don’t say whether or not they tried to stop him. They did put their foot down about Césario, however, saying that he’s much too young for such things. They want to keep him close, although it’s not clear how much of that is due to the recent loss of their eldest child.
      “He’s a good boy,” summarises Di Cipriani, spreading his hands helplessly.
      “He’s never taken drugs before, Mrs Di Cipriani insists, looking like she’s about to burst into tears again. “I don’t know why he’d do this.” Carlos decides it’s time to move on.
      “Césario claimed to have seen Michele, didn’t he?”
      “Yes.” Di Cipriani nods. “Yes, he did.”
      “He misses his brother.”
      “Did he say where he saw his brother?”
      “No, he didn’t tell us that. Only that he’d seen him.”
      “We talked to Father Vittorio,” Mrs Di Cipriani chimes in. “He talked to Césario about these visions. He... didn’t say anything else after that. We thought that was the end of it.”
      “Who is Father Vittorio?”
      “He’s the family priest,” answers Di Cipriani. “Do you need to speak with him?”
      “Perhaps.”
Di Cipriani scribbles something down on a piece of paper and hands it to Carlos. “These are his contact details. You can tell him that I sent you.”       “Thank you.”

Meanwhile, back in the bedroom, Dr Torelli is keeping one eye on his patient and one eye on the Phoenix spooks. He’s already made it clear that he’s not leaving the room, so they have no choice but to work round him. After a moment’s thought, they realise that they don’t actually have anything to hide here – the feeling is quite a novelty – so they just shrug and get on with it. James examines Césario for himself.
      “He’s probably been out of body since about six,” he observes “Gives us a place to start.” He and Tom both look to Annie, who nods: it’s time for forebode. Settling herself in a half-lotus position, she steps out of her body and orders Rory to stay on guard. With James boosting her [3], she concentrates on looking back at how Césario ended up going walkabout. [4]

Césario is sitting on the bed, holding a syringe. An uncertain expression on his face, he looks up at a very bright hue and asks:
      “Are you sure this is alright?”
      “Yeah, it’s great,” replies the hue enthusiastically. “Look at what you can do!” With a gesture, silver threads shoot from his hands and send a book flying across the room. “I’m telling you, it’s the best.” He’s a few years older than Césario and there is a clear family resemblance. This, then, must be Michele’s ghost. There’s another hue in the room, also very bright. This is a young woman, about the same age as Michele. She doesn’t speak, just watches as Michele continues to talk to his brother. “You can be free of the chains of the flesh,” he cajoles. “Free to do what you want. Powerful. You’re never going to want to go back.”
      “I don’t know...”
      “Just try it,” Michele urges. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. What have you got to lose?”
      “Well...” After a little more persuasion, Césario injects himself with the contents of the syringe. He’s just stepping out of his body when the vision ends.

After telling what the others what she saw – they seem unsurprised – Annie has Rory try to pick up a scent from the book that Michele threw across the room. The wolfhound seems to get something, taking off with a sudden purpose. Annie quickly re-enters her body and the three spooks follow Rory, who leads the little group to the road heading into town. The trail seems to come to an end there. After sniffing around for a little while, the dog sits back on his haunches and whines, clearly unable to find anything further. Maybe the targets hitched a lift in a car. It certainly doesn’t look like they were heading to the park.

Heading back to the house, Annie interrupts Carlos’ chat with the parents to take him aside and fill him in on what they found out. Using that information, he asks some more questions. The Di Ciprianis don’t know which clubs Michele used to visit, but he died in the one called Hush. The description of the girl Annie saw in the vision sounds a lot like Anna Mureau, Michele’s girlfriend. She also died in the Bounce Night tragedy. He speaks with them for a little longer, but they don’t seem to have anything else to tell him. Making his goodbyes, he rejoins the others. After a brief discussion, they decide to check out the Bounce Night clubs, just on the off-chance the hues are sticking to their old haunts (no pun intended). Tom quickly pops upstairs to tell Craig where they’re off to, and then they head out.

Checking each of the six clubs in turn takes about one and a half hours in total. Unfortunately, they find no sign of Cesario or the two bright hues. Tonight’s Radio Free Death doesn’t yield any relevant information either. Without any obvious leads to follow, Annie calls Brook House to see if anyone there has heard anything about a group of unusually bright hues. Mona comes to the phone.
      “I’m not sure if this is connected,” she says thoughtfully, “but a member of our community was attacked a couple of days ago.” She goes on to describe how the ghost in question, Herman, was minding his own business when he was jumped by a group of hues. They didn’t actually do all that much damage to him, apart from a bit of arm twisting, but they definitely did something. Whatever it was has left him weak and listless. He can’t remember many details of the attack itself – including how many hues there were – but even thinking about it seems to cause him a great deal of distress. Herman is currently being cared for at Brook House. Although he’s showing some signs of recovery, it’s likely to be some time yet before he’s back to normal. The attack happened near one of the city’s nightclubs, although not one of the Bounce Night clubs.

Now that they have somewhere to start, the spooks drive to the area where Herman was attacked so that Annie can use forebode to look back at the incident. [5] Concentrating, she sees a group of about seven bright hues emerge from the club. She recognises Michele and Anna among their number; presumably the others are also youths who died on Bounce Night. Maybe they were part of the same circle of friends while alive. Whoever they are, the whole group seems to be in fairly good spirits. A lone hue – presumably Herman – is shuffling along the street, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings. When the bright hues spot him, their expressions change completely. They become feral, predatory; and then they pounce. Pinning Herman down, they start tearing into the struggling, screaming ghost. As they do so, they start to change and mutate. Michele grows to be eight feet tall, muscles swelling and ballooning all over his body. Anna’s hair turns into a writhing mass of tentacles. The others all undergo similar transformations until it looks like Herman is surrounded by a group of spectres. Reaching deeply into Herman’s gauze, they start pulling something out and shoving it into their mouths. They’re... eating him? They don’t actually seem to be tearing out chunks of his gauze, though, but something else. Before Annie can study the scene closer, the vision ends.

Time to check out the club itself, which is called ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. (It’s not clear whether the target audience get the reference, but the décor certainly has an appropriately macabre theme.) If that’s where the gang tend to hang out post-mortem, it might be where Michele and Anna have taken Césario. It’s getting on for one in the morning now, so at least the queue isn’t too long. Tom joins the end of it, and is soon through the doors. As well as the bar, stage and main dance floor, there are also lots of little alcoves; perfect little shadowed hideaways. It might take a little while to properly case the joint. Stopping only to purchase a drink from the bar – camouflage – Tom makes a slow circuit of the ground floor, keeping his eyes peeled. [6] Near one of the alcoves, he spots two very faint gauze forms; not ghosts, but probably inadvertent skimmers off their heads on pigment. Tom’s seen p-skimmers before. It’s the other spooks that get his attention, however: a group of about seven or so bright hues, plus what looks like another p-skimmer. This one is standing a little way off from the main group, accompanied by one of the bright hues. It seems likely that these two are Césario and Michele, respectively. Michele is talking intently to the worried-looking Césario, occasionally gesturing towards the clearly confused p-skimmers. He seems to be trying to talk his brother into something, and it isn’t difficult to guess what. All the bright hues look human... for the moment. Tom doesn’t bother to try to overhear the conversation. Instead, he leaves to club and reports his findings to the others. Their target is here: it’s time to act.

But what should they do?


Part Two – Taking Care of Business

It takes Tom a few minutes to get back to the others and tell them what he saw. They spend a good few minutes more before in discussion, trying to work out what to do. Annie has an idea: she can go in projected, but manifested; looking as much like one of the living as she can manage. Once she’s next to Césario, Carlos – boosted by James – will light up like a bonfire, hopefully getting the hues’ attention. While they’re distracted, she’ll grab the wayward projector, sprout wings and fly him back to the van. She strongly recommends that James and Carlos teleport out of there as soon as she leaves with their target. James and Carlos both disagree, but for different reasons. Carlos wants to try to talk to the hues; to try to persuade them not to attack anyone else. James wants to waste them. Annie shrugs.
      “I don’t particularly care what you do with them afterwards,” she says, “but they outnumber you, and they’re likely to be pissed off. Just be careful.”
      “We can play it by ear, I guess,” muses James. “If things turn nasty, we can pop out.”
      “Hmm,” is Carlos’ only comment.
      “If we do just bug out of there, though, we’re going to lose them.” James glances over at Annie. “Is there any way of keeping an eye on them afterwards?”
      “You could hide in the club instead of jumping out, and then follow them.” Tom and Carlos laugh. Despite apparently being quite good at it, James hasn’t exactly impressed anyone with his sneaking skills yet.
      “Ha ha. No.”
      “It’s a good idea,” says Tom. “The plan, I mean. Not James hiding.”
      James snorts. “You would say that – you’re not going to be one of the ones out there, taking the risks. Maybe you should join us. With you there, we could definitely take them.”
      “I’m driving!” Tom barely even waits for James to finish his sentence. To illustrate his point, he mimes turning the steering wheel, which makes the others smile a little. He makes a good point, though: someone has to be the getaway driver. Not to mention keeping an eye on Carlos and Annie’s bodies. James concedes the point.
      “Fine,” he says. “Be ready to go, though.”
      “Yeah, yeah. I know what I’m doing.”
      “We need to move.” Annie’s getting impatient. “They could have eaten those poor pigment-users by now. “If everyone’s okay with the plan, let’s go.”
      “Anyone want any vitality before you do?” Tom hasn’t actually projected yet this evening, so he’s still full of energy. The others quickly partake of his bounty, and then it’s off to the club.

None of the spooks seem to notice Annie approaching them. The hues don’t seem to have attacked the p-skimmers yet, although they are restraining them. Michele is still talking to Césario; apparently he hasn’t yet managed to persuade his younger brother to join in the feast. Hopefully, he’s not going to get the chance. As they can’t really talk to each other, or synchronise watches, the Phoenix spooks’ are timing their distraction and extraction mission by means of counting seconds. Carlos and James enter the club just behind Annie and then hang back around the corner, just out of sight of the hues. Annie has a count of twenty to reach the target, getting there just as it ticks down to zero: it’s showtime.

Carlos moves into view and lights up, boosted by James. As always, James manages to resist being drawn in by unearthly repose. The hues aren’t so lucky. Their inexperience shows as they all turn to look at the sudden flare of light, their faces turning blank and slack-jawed as they start to shuffle mindlessly towards Carlos. One of them – a slightly plump girl – stops mid-stride, shaking off the trance. James starts to move towards her before she can start rousing the others, but he’s not fast enough. [7] She turns to the hue next to her – who happens to be Michele – and shakes him vigorously. With a start, he snaps out of his daze. James fixes them both with a steely gaze.
      “Stay exactly where you are,” he growls, menacingly. “If you interfere, you die.” The two hues are visibly shaken. [8] Michele takes several involuntary paces backwards, away from James. The girl huddles close to him, almost visibly shaking.

The second countdown – only a few seconds, this time – reaches zero. James boosts Annie as she sprouts wings and makes herself a little stronger. [9] Unlike with Carlos, who he’s only worked with for a short time, he doesn’t need to be touching her to do so: line of sight is sufficient. The transformation takes mere moments: by the time it’s complete, she’s already making a grab for Césario. Getting close enough means blocking his view of Carlos – there’s no time to circle around behind him – but there’s no help for that. Speed is of the essence here. Césario immediately starts to struggle: even with the strength boost, she’s not sure she’s going to be able to hang onto him. She starts to wail softly; the boy’s struggles fading into slack-limbed lethargy as the calming melody wraps itself around him. [10] Still humming [11], she takes to the air, heading straight up and out. She dematerialises to pass through the ceiling, channelling a small amount of vitality into Césario so the strain of phasing through matter doesn’t shred his gauze. [12] And then they’re clear.

Meanwhile, James has been building up juggernaut, just in case things turn nasty. It doesn’t look like he’s going to need it, though: the only two bright hues not currently under Carlos’ spell are terrified of him. He takes a slow step towards them, and they involuntarily skitter backwards.
      “Don’t try to come after us,” he says, his voice low and threatening. “Let these people go” – he gestures to the two hapless deadheads, who are ambling dazedly towards Carlos with their former captors – “and don’t try to attack anyone else. We’ll be watching, so behave.” Michele and the girl continue to cower. Carlos thinks briefly about trying to talk to them, but then dismisses the idea. After James’ little chat, there’s no real point. “Let’s go,” James says. Carlos drops the unearthly repose and, with a boost from James, storm-wends the two of them back to the van. Annie and Césario get there shortly afterwards. Tom hits the gas, and then they’re away.

Césario, no longer under the calming influence of Wail, is starting to ask questions.
      “Who are you people? Where are we? Wasn’t I somewhere else? Where’s... Where’s Mikey?” He seems extremely confused, probably due to the pigment in his system.
      “It’s alright,” Annie tells him, soothingly. “You’re safe. Your parents hired us to find you. We’re taking you back home.”
      “But who are you?”
      “I’m Annie.” Tom and James also introduce themselves, first names only. No one mentions Phoenix.
      “I don’t know you people. I was... Where was I? Take me back.”
      “Your parents are waiting for you. They’re very worried, and they’re missing you very much. You want to see them, don’t you? Don’t you at least want to let them know you’re okay?”
      “Mum and Dad are worried? I don’t want to... They don’t need to worry. You can tell them I’m fine.”
      “They’d rather see you for themselves. You can understand that, can’t you?”
      “Yeah, I guess.” He frowns, chasing after some elusive thought. “Who are you?” The conversation goes around in circles. Annie talks to him all the way back, keeping him calm if not particularly coherent. Fortunately, he doesn’t turn violent or try to break free – he’s just disoriented.

They drop Carlos off en route, as he has places to be. [13] (Given the hour, it’s possible that the place in question could simply be his bed. It wouldn’t exactly be unreasonable.) When they arrive at the Di Cipriani estate, the butler lets them through the gates. Tom heads into the house in his body, followed by Annie and James. The two of them are in gauze, and are shepherding Césario between them. By the time they get there, the butler has summoned his parents.
      “Well?” Di Cipriani demands. “What have you found? Can you help my son?”
      “I need to go to his room. Right away.” Both parents look like they want to ask questions, but they acquiesce without a word. The three of them hurry upstairs. Annie and James are already heading that way so they can put their charge back into his body where he belongs. As luck (or timing) would have it, they succeed just as Tom and the Di Ciprianis come through the door. Craig is unceremoniously booted out of the body when the rightful owner takes possession. Césario gasps, his eyes snapping open as he sits up... only to promptly fall unconscious again.

Dr Torelli immediately rushes over to his patient, checking his vital signs. The Di Cipriani’s hover worriedly, looking as if they want to do something, but have no idea what. After a few moments, the doctor looks up. He seems relieved.
      “This is a good sign,” he declares. “Césario stopped deteriorating over the past few hours, and I think this is an indication that he has begun to recover. For the moment, the best thing I could prescribe for him would be rest.”
      Craig shakes his head. “The kid’s still in a bad way,” he tells the other spooks. “I think you got him back in time, but it’s hard to be sure. Let’s hope the doctor’s right.” James examines the boy for himself, as much as he can, and he concurs with Dr Torelli and Craig.
      “He’s going to be bruised for a while, but he should recover. Physically, anyway.” There’s no telling what his little out of body experience might have done to his mind. “But what if Michele and the rest of them come back for him?”
      “We might have to get him away from here for a while,” Annie observes. She tells Rory to keep guard over Césario for the time being. It’s not much of a solution, but it’s better than nothing.

Mrs Di Cipriani bursts into tears at Dr Torelli’s news, smiling as she sobs.
      “Oh thank you, Doctor,” she chokes out. “Thank you.” Her husband sags momentarily with relief, but quickly recovers his composure.
      “That’s excellent news,” he pronounces. “Thank you, Dr Torelli. I want to know the moment he wakes up.”
      “Of course, Mr Di Cipriani.”
      Di Cipriani turns to Tom, his demeanour all business. “I need a report, of course. Shall we step into my office?” Tom follows his lead, Annie and James trailing along behind him. Craig stays behind with Rory to keep an eye on Césario. It doesn’t seem likely that the bright hues will return here so soon, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. Di Cipriani eyes Tom thoughtfully as he sits down behind his desk. “What happened, Mr Knox?” Wishing that Carlos was here, Tom decides not to go into any detail about the night’s activities. He simply tells Di Cipriani that they managed to track down and retrieve his son’s spirit, which had managed to slip loose from his body.
      “Césario should be alright now,” he says, “but it’s going to be a problem if he ever takes pigment again.”
      Di Cipriani doesn’t give him the chance to say any more. “My son doesn’t take pigment!” he roars indignantly, apparently having forgotten about the syringe and ampoule he found next to his son.
      “Perhaps he got it from Michele.” Tom is trying to be tactful, but this suggestion goes down about as well as mentioning pigment in the first place.
      “Michele did not take drugs!” Di Cipriani glowers across the desk at Tom, his demeanour saying that he will not be contradicted. Tom sighs inwardly, reminded of a thousand conversations with the parents of kids he’d hauled in on drugs charges when he was a cop. Maybe it’s time he started acting like a cop now.

Gently but firmly, he sums up the evidence for Di Cipriani – the presence of the drugs; the fact that they’ve seen this before with pigment users. He lays everything out, concluding with:
      “I know you don’t want to hear it, Mr Di Cipriani, but Césario has a drug problem. He probably hasn’t been using for long – perhaps it started because of his brother’s death – but pigment is extremely addictive. People can and do become hooked after their first time. Left to his own devices, your son is more than likely to use again. If he does, he might not come back.” [14]
      Di Cipriani frowns thoughtfully, considering. Cautiously, he asks: “What do you suggest?”
      “Césario needs to go somewhere else for a while. This environment is associated with the circumstances that led to his drug use. Removing him from it will disrupt the cycle of addiction and give him the chance to get his head straight. I also recommend counselling. We have a trained therapist on staff, so that’s something we could provide. I would have to consult with my colleague first, however, to see what she suggests.”
      “What’s the name of your colleague?” Di Cipriani picks up a pen, looking up expectantly.
      “Teresa. Dr Teresa Reilly.” Tom has to stop himself giving Annie’s name. As far as the living world is concerned, she’s Teresa. The good thing is that Teresa really is a licensed psychiatrist, which seems to be the kind of thing that someone like Di Cipriani will probably want to check.
      “You can start making the preliminary arrangements. I’ll get back to you tomorrow morning with my decision. If we decide to go ahead with this, I’ll authorise the expenses and instruct my accountant accordingly.” Opening a desk drawer, Di Cipriani takes out a business card and hands it to Tom. “His contact details are here. You will need to speak with him regarding payment for today’s job. We can discuss the rates for your counselling services if I decide use them.” That seems to be a dismissal.

The next morning, bright and early, the group start researching possible places where they can take Césario. They need a place where Michele won’t be able to find him, which eliminates any of the Di Cipriani’s properties from consideration. They look at posh hotels in the city, country retreats and places by the beach, but eventually settle on a cabin by a lake. Tom’s just finished getting quotes for a week’s hire plus transport there and back, when Di Cipriani rings: he wants to hire them to counsel his son. He doesn’t even pause at the cost, simply telling Tom to invoice him for all reasonable expenses. Naturally, his accountant will require receipts for everything. He wants them to begin as soon as possible; that day, if it can be arranged. Tom says he’ll see what they can do.

After some brief discussion, they decide that the party will include Annie (who will be counselling Césario), Tom (to drive and because he knows about pigment addiction) and James (combat support). Chet decides that this little trip will make a perfect holiday for the worst injured of the group. He declares that Zoë and Kate should accompany the expedition. They don’t make any arguments. Zoë is packed and ready to go in record time. With liberal abuse of the new company credit card, the group manage to hire the cabin for a week, starting from today. They also rent a people-carrier. Tom calls Di Cipriani and they make arrangements to pick up Césario in a couple of hours.

The people-carrier pulls up to the Di Cipriani estate. (The two invalids aren’t accompanying the group for this leg of the journey. Their presence might be a little difficult to justify to the person bankrolling their little jaunt.) James and Tom load their client’s luggage into the vehicle – his things take up more space than the others’ bags put together. Dr Torelli hovers disapprovingly as a marginally conscious (but very, very dazed) Césario is brought out: it’s clear he doesn’t think his patient should be moved just yet. Annie does her best to mollify him, stressing that she (well, Teresa) is a qualified medical doctor as well as a psychiatrist, and consulting him regarding Césario’s physical condition. He seems a little happier as he hands over Césario’s medication. In a relatively short space of time, they’re ready to go.

Tom drives, detouring to pick up Zoë and Kate before hitting the freeway. Césario settled into sleep again before they even set off, but a couple of hours into the drive he starts to wake up. The first words out of his mouth are:
      “Where am I? What’s going on?” Looking around at them all, he demands: “Who are you?” Annie does the talking, explaining that his parents have hired them to help him with his pigment problem. His eyes narrow suspiciously. “You don’t look like counsellors,” he mutters. “You could be anyone. You could have kidnapped me.” It’s a valid point. The Di Ciprianis are certainly rich and influential enough to be targets. “Where are we going? Take me back home!”
      “Your parents feel that it would be best if you spent a little time away from your home environment.” He opens his mouth to ask another question, but she continues over his interruption. “It’s only for a week,” she says. “We’ll be staying in a lakeside retreat.”
      “Where’s my phone?” A quick search through his pockets tells Césario that he doesn’t have it. Angrily, he demands: “Give it to me!”
      “It’s somewhere safe. You can have it back at the end of week.”
      “Why did you take my phone?”
      “For the duration of the counselling, it’s best that your contact with home is limited.” That’s what the idiot’s guide she’s been leafing through said, anyway.
      “I want to talk to my parents.” He crosses his arms and glares at her, all anger and hostility.
      “When we get to the cabin.” Annie’s voice is gentle but firm. “We’re not far away now. There’s a landline there.” They don’t particularly want him to have access to a mobile phone, just in case he has some way of leaving a message for his brother, or in case one of Michele’s little gang has deadwire. They don’t think the latter option is particularly likely, but why take the chance? Césario protests but, short of physically wresting a mobile away from one of them, there’s nothing he can do. For a moment or two, he looks like he’s seriously contemplating violence, but then he subsides, angrily muttering some very uncomplimentary things in Italian. Annie decides not to reveal that she understands him.

A few miles go by in silence, and then Césario says:
      “Why does Dad think I need counselling, anway? I don’t need counselling. You must have conned him or something. How much is he paying you for this?”
      “What happened last night, Césario?” Tom’s question catches the angry teenager off guard.
      “What?”
      “Do you remember last night? The club?” He pauses for emphasis. “Your brother?”
      Césario is so startled that he forgets to sulk. “No one believes I’ve seen Mikey.” He sounds lost and forlorn all of a sudden; a child struggling with grief and confusion.
      “We do,” says Annie. Césario shoots her a look filled with suspicion and disbelief. She decides to take a chance. “He came to you last night, didn’t he?” When he continues to stare at her, she describes what she saw in the forebode vision. Unfortunately, she doesn’t get the reaction she’d hoped for. [15]
      “Were you spying on me?”
      “No, we...”
      “Then how do you know that? How could you possibly know that?”
      “After you took the pigment, your parents hired us to find you. You could say we’re specialists.”
      “But I didn’t go anywhere!”
      “Your body didn’t.” For a moment he looks like he’s going to say something else, but he just subsides into sullen silence. The rest of the journey passes uneventfully.

As soon as they reach the lakeside cabin, Césario renews his demands to contact his father and is allowed to use the landline (under supervision, and with Tom dialling the number for him). The apparently heated conversation doesn’t improve his mood at all, but he does seem less convinced that he’s been kidnapped. Over the next week or so, Annie convinces Césario that he did project and that pigment is extremely dangerous. He accepts that he could have from staying out of his body for too long. She also talks with him at some length about Michele, managing to persuade him that the hue is just an echo of his brother; that it isn’t really him. After that, he seems less inclined to want to join Michele.

Tom and James ask the spooks back at base to investigate the bright hues, with a view to possible fumigation. Hoyt checks out the nightclub, discovering that there have been a lot of drug overdoses there lately. The result of the bright hues preying on hapless (and helpless) p-skimmers, perhaps? Whatever the reason, the police took a rather dim view of it and recently raided the premises. The raid did not go to plan: several officers were injured and one was killed. Hoyt thinks it sounds like spook activity. Armed with this information, Tom talks to his contacts within the NYPD, managing to convince them to let Phoenix deal with the problem, free of charge. If they’re happy with the job, then they can call Phoenix in the next time they come across something like this, reducing the risk of losing officers. [16] Blink also talks to the club owners, making the same offer. He’s fairly convincing, and the club owners end up paying a thousand dollars for the job. It’s a relatively small amount, but at this point the reputation is really more important than the money. If they do well, this could lead to more jobs in future.

Tom learns from his police contacts that about five offices were involved in the disastrous raid on The Pit and the Pendulum. There was a rowdy crowd that night, but nothing they couldn’t ordinarily handle. One officer’s weapon discharged, shooting him in the foot. Reacting to the sound of the gunshot, the other officers drew their own guns. They’re not precisely sure how and why it happened, but it seems that a number of them suffered accidental weapon discharges and one officer ended up shooting one of his colleagues. In the midst of all the confusion – people were definitely running and screaming by this point – a rig fell from the ceiling, landing on one of the officers. Later, the investigation team found a message scrawled in his blood. It said: “Don’t come back, you ‘fuking’ pigs.” Apparently, the writer wasn’t exactly top of their class for spelling.

      “So, do you want us to wait for you?” Hoyt asks after Tom has relayed his findings.
      “What do you mean?”
      “When we deal with this ghost gang. Do you want a piece of the action, or are you happy to leave it up to us homebodies?”
      After briefly consulting the others, Tom replies: “No, that’s alright. Knock yourselves out.”
      “I’ll let you know how it goes down.” Hoyt sounds positively cheery when he signs off, apparently buoyed by the prospect of a spook fight.

True to his word, Hoyt calls back once it’s all over. Apparently the fight itself was something of an anticlimax. The posse consisted of him, Chet, Ben, Craig, Kerekov and Adrian. (Blink is overdue for a little time out of the tank – staying in there too long is bad for the health – so Adrian has taken his place.) Tracking down the hues was child’s play, as they hadn’t strayed too far from the club. Once the team had located their targets, Ben used anathema to boost them all (he’s recently mastered it) and then they all piled in. The hues never even knew what hit them. Within a few seconds, it was all over bar the celebratory beers: all seven hues dispersed.
      “They went down like chumps.” Hoyt sounds like he’s grinning.
      “Great,” says Tom. At least they know Michele and his gang aren’t going to be coming after Césario again.

When the week is up, Césario is delivered back to his anxious parents. Di Cipriani seems pleased with what they’ve achieved, indicating that he’ll put in a good word for them and their services. All in all, this was a job well done.


Footnotes

[1] It was a [Manipulation + Streetwise] roll to get Frank to tell him how much the Di Ciprianis are offering. Tom’s player gets 2 successes. The players all suspect Frank of lying, either about the total amount, or about his cut. Unfortunately, Tom doesn’t really have time to argue it out with him. [Back]

[2] There was a [Charisma + Etiquette] roll to see what sort of impression Carlos made on the Di Ciprianis, and how willing they’d be to talk to him about their son. The player got 2 successes, which seemed to translate to quite a favourable response. [Back]

[3] With James spending 1 vitality to activate Anathema’s benefit, Annie only had to spend 1 vitality to get a 5 vitality effect. Although she only needed to look back a few hours, the boost means that the vision lasts longer (although the clarity is dependent on the number of successes). [Back]

[4] It’s a [Perception + Empathy] roll to use forebode. I got 4 successes, which means clear vision and sound. [Back]

[5] 2 successes on the difficulty 6 [Perception + Empathy] roll. [Back]

[6] 3 successes on a [Perception + Alertness] roll. [Back]

[7] Somebody rolled a 1 for [Initiative]. That still put him on 10, admittedly, but it just wasn’t fast enough. [Back]

[8] 4 successes on a [Charisma + Intimidation] roll. Yep, those hues were intimidated. James was aiming to stop the two of them waking the rest of their little gang by scaring them into doing nothing. [Back]

[9] Flesh flux works by allowing a spook to express one or more stains; even ones she doesn’t have. Annie is doing two things here: expressing a stain which lets her grow wings (flight) and boosting her strength by +1. There is a cheaper version of the stain that simply transforms the spook’s arms into wings, but that’s not ideal for this situation. Annie needs her arms to hold onto Césario. [Back]

[10] I spent a [Willpower] point on this, because I really didn’t want to botch. Including that, I got 7 successes on the [Charisma + Empathy] roll to calm him down. It caps at 5, but it still wasn’t bad. If he’d been any calmer, he’d have been unconscious. [Back]

[11] Wail lasts a number of rounds equal to [Vitality] spent + 1. I think I spent 3 points or so. [Back]

[12] Unless they’ve dematerialised first, a spook loses 1 point of [Vitality] when they pass through a solid object. Dematerialising costs 1 [Vitality] and lasts for a scene. [Back]

[13] Carlos’ player wasn’t present for this session, so the GM had him be absent for as much of it as possible. It’s easier than playing someone else’s character. [Back]

[14] Tom isn’t lying, but he is being a little creative with the truth. It seems likely that Césario only took pigment because Michele told him it could free him from his body and allow him to join him. On the other hand, pigment really is as addictive as Tom claims, and first-time users frequently do go on to become regular users. That’s even without the added pressure of encouragement from a dead sibling. Tom’s central point – that Césario’s troubles aren’t over yet – is sound. [Back]

[15] Yeah, I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea. I was hoping it would startle Césario out of his hostility and convince him that we really could help him. That’s not quite what happened, though. [Back]

[16] Now that the group are no longer heading up the FBI’s most wanted list, they can once more approach contacts and allies without fearing capture by the law. There’s still NextWorld and BlackNet to worry about, however, so they don’t want to stick their heads up too much. [Back]