Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Player Stuff - Teresa - Diary - Entry Final

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Decision Time

I don’t know where to begin. So much has happened; so much has changed. And things might be about to change again, maybe forever. Maybe fatally, or worse. Yes, worse. This may be the last time I write here. It may not. Either way, I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper. My head is such a muddle right now; I just don’t know what to do. I have a decision to make, and no one can help me make it. This is something I have to decide on my own, but I can’t… I just don’t know what to do.

Some background. About a day and a half ago, Orpheus was attacked. (Has it really been so short a time? It feels like it’s been longer -- half a lifetime at least -- but it isn’t even a week.) NextWorld agents puppeted Orpheus security personnel to crash the New Year’s Eve party with guns and explosives. One of these unlucky people went off in the middle of the ballroom. Another one shot up the cradles before Annie stopped him. They had non-projecting soldiers as well, but they only showed up after the initial strike. Mopping up duty, I guess. To cut a long story short, a lot of people died. A lot. Most of us, probably. We still don’t know how many of us survived that initial strike, let alone what came afterwards.

I say ‘us’ but, well, I wasn’t actually there at the time, even though it felt like I was. Zoë had run into some trouble while scouting out a possible site for another branch in Portland, so Tom and I were flown out to assess the situation and deal with it as we saw fit. Actually, that’s not even really true: I wasn’t so much in Portland as several thousand feet in the air between it and New York. We’d discovered what seemed to be a gauze artefact out there, so I projected and hitched a flight back with it in tow. Kate was going to meet me at the other end so I could hand it to her and then ripcord, but things didn’t exactly go as planned. I was about halfway through the flight to JFK when everything went to hell.

There was an explosion; a big one. I just about ducked and covered without even thinking about it, but once the initial shock passed, I realised two things. One: the absence of screaming and rapid depressurisation meant that the plane hadn’t blown up. Two: if it wasn’t the plane, then I must have picked it up from one of the other two. Kate quickly confirmed that it wasn’t at JFK, so neither of us were amazingly shocked when Annie said she thought it was at the Orpheus building. I think my immediate thought was “Oh, fuck.” (What can I say: catastrophe obviously brings out my eloquent side. And horrified indecision apparently brings inappropriate flippancy. Who would’ve guessed?) Kate concocted some bullshit story about a Forebode vision for Chet, and they hared off back to headquarters. I was stuck on the plane with nothing to do but listen to Annie’s mind. That was… hard. Knowing what was happening -- that people were dying -- and not being able to do a damned thing about it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so helpless in my life. Not even when the Reaper almost dragged me off. Even then, I could do something; I could fight, I could make a difference. With this… All I could do was listen.

So, things happened pretty much as I summarised above. I saw it all from Annie’s perspective, of course. I could feel Kate listening in as well, but we didn’t really talk. We didn’t have to. The sheer level of shit the people back at Orpheus were in was very quickly very obvious. It was a professional operation. I mean, I’m no expert on paramilitary actions, but this was almost the textbook definition of ‘military precision’. They must have been planning this for a while. They knew everything about us: when to hit us, where to hit us, the exact layout of the place. (I wonder how long they’ve been puppeting Orpheus employees to gather all this information. But I guess that doesn’t really matter all that much at this point.) There wasn’t really much anyone could do to stop them. Oh, some of our people achieved minor victories, but not enough. Not enough to stop what came next.

Spectres.

‘Shadow class entities,’ if you prefer the official, Management-sanctioned term. Whatever you call them, NextWorld brought them to Orpheus. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. The NextWorld operatives in the ballroom showed absolutely no surprise when spectres suddenly showed up there. They even moved out of their way to let them ‘work’. It was obvious that they were expecting them to be there. For their part, the spectres just left them the fuck alone. The only ones they really paid any attention to were our people. It was our people they killed. Our people whose ghosts -- ghosts rising from the bodies of those that had already been blown to bits, or shot, or burned, or whatever -- were consumed by a moving cloud of darkness. And NextWorld, the stone cold bastards, just stood back and let them do it! Why? What arrangement did they make? What could NextWorld offer the spectres for their help in wiping us out? What? Although, having thought about it some more, maybe it wasn’t an exchange. Maybe they just shared a common cause: perhaps the spectres wanted this done for their own reasons. I don’t know. All I know is that killing us wasn’t enough. NextWorld let -- brought? -- the spectres in and then just stood back while they slaughtered the people who hadn’t been finished off in the first round. They let them feed on the ghosts of the dead. And then they let them… They let them take Annie.

That’s what this is about. Annie. She ran when the spectres showed up, just as I would have, or Kate. Not really thinking straight, just reacting on pure instinct. I think she was heading towards her rooms, but it was hard to tell. Somewhere in the bowels of the building, anyway. On the way there, she ran into another spectre. It was just standing there in the corridor, maybe waiting for her. I wouldn’t be surprised. We already know they can talk to each other -- perhaps one of the others saw Annie run and told this one. Hell, maybe NextWorld told her. It. Whatever. The spectres could have gotten enough information about the layout from NextWorld to figure out where she was going and intercept her. It’s not really important. This one looked like one of the creepy girls that seems to be so popular in various Japanese horror films. (Maybe these are the inspiration for that particular subgenre. Or maybe they just watch television. Who knows?)

Anyway, seeing this little girl just standing there took Annie by surprise. Without even thinking about it she came to a halt, and was promptly jumped by a NextWorld agent. This woman was someone she’d run into earlier and managed to inconvenience. (By ‘inconvenience’, I mean stop her reaching her target.) The stupid bitch was too busy yelling something about it being payback time to pay any attention when the girl told her to leave Annie alone. (And its -- her -- voice was just about as creepy as I would’ve expected, by the way.) The girl didn’t tell her again; just made a little gesture with one hand and the agent just went to pieces. It was like something just tore her to shreds and then vaporised the pieces. It wasn’t particularly quick and, from her screams, I’d guess it wasn’t especially painless. Can’t say that I really felt sorry for her, though. Even aside from the fact that she was part of the group that were attacking and killing our people, I was rather more concerned about Annie.

Once the minor irritation had been dealt with, she was the focus of the spectre’s attention as well. It -- she? -- smiled, and I swear the expression was just as joyous as any real child’s. It was really quite freaky. “Come with me,” she said, holding out her little hands. And Annie went. She couldn’t help herself. I could feel her screaming inside as she tried to turn, tried to run, tried to do something other than calmly walk towards her doom, but it was no use. The spectre was using some kind of horror, maybe something like Unearthly Repose. Whatever it was, Annie couldn’t fight it. She tried, she really did. Kate and I both tried to help her, to lend her strength, but it didn’t work. The spectre took her by the hand and led her towards what looked like a tear in reality; like the one the Reaper uses. Used. She must have made it when we were distracted by trying to fight the compulsion. They stepped through. Annie started to scream and then… Nothing.

It wasn’t just the scream that was cut off; it was everything. Kate and I didn’t… We couldn’t feel Annie anymore. We still can’t. Not while we’re awake. You see, she’s not dead. Discorporated. Whatever. Not any more dead than she was. They took her to somewhere else, somewhere familiar: a grey wasteland with a howling storm -- maybe it’s where we ended up before, when we tried that little experiment. I think it might be. Wherever -- whatever -- it is, I don’t think it’s part of the physical world. There’s a ruined building there, and she’s chained up inside it. Yes, chained. We used to think that was impossible, but it’s not. Not for them. She can’t get free, can’t use her horrors, can’t do anything. And they’re hurting her.

Every time we go to sleep, we’re there with her, feeling what she feels. Terror. Loneliness. Pain. Everything. It hurts. Oh God, it hurts. I can’t even begin to describe it. They’re torturing her so badly that… It’s really bad. Really, really bad. But it’s even worse because sometimes they stop. Sometimes they’re gentle and kind, and tender. They ease her pain, dry her tears, hold her close, stroke her hair, and… And then they start to hurt her again. It’s so much worse after those moments of kindness. Because she starts to hope; she almost starts to believe that maybe this time it’s stopped for good. But it never has. They never do. The pain always comes back. They’re not going to stop until they break her; maybe not even then. But the worst thing about it, the very worst thing, is that to them it’s all the same. The acts of kindness. The torture. It’s all the fucking same to them. They don’t even realise what they’re doing. Not really. It’s complicated, and I’m not sure how I know this, but what I saw there, through Annie, and what they’ve said and done and shown us; it all fits. They think… To them, this is what love is. Pain is how they show they care. We’re their sisters, and they love us. They want to help us and show us all just how very much they love us. And the only way they know how to do that is by hurting and breaking us so that we become just like them.

It’s horrifying.

Not that this makes a blind bit of difference to Annie. They’re still torturing her, and they’re still going to break her if we can’t get her out of there. I give her a few days more before she cracks, and that’s being optimistic. After that, she’ll be theirs. One of them. A spectre. It’s not a case of weakness -- Annie isn’t weak by any stretch of the imagination -- it’s a case of survival. She’s a survivor above all else, and the way she survives is to adapt. No prizes for guessing what that will mean for her. I’ve been inside her head for the past three months. I know her and I know this. But I think we still have a chance. Maybe. If we can figure out a way to get her out of there before she gives up, then we can save her. But I tried…

We tried to communicate with her, but we can’t get through. She just can’t hear us. We don’t know if it’s because they’re blocking her or because she’s just tried to close herself off. We don’t know where she is. We don’t know how to get there. We don’t know how she’s being bound or how to break her chains. We don’t know a goddamned thing of any use whatsoever! But I do know one thing: despite all the things we don’t know, I think I know a way to save her. I don’t really feel like going into the details of my whacky theory of why this should be possible right now -- Kate knows, anyway, and she didn’t seem to think it was entirely stupid -- but I think it should work. Which brings me to the dilemma I mentioned. You see, there’s a complication. (Isn’t there always?) I think I can get her out of there, but only by changing places with her.

It isn’t what you think. (‘You’ being anyone who might be reading this, on the off chance that someone might be. I figure it’s not impossible, especially if I do go through with my crazy-arsed sort-of plan.) This isn’t a case of sacrificing myself to save her. Well, not just. If I’m honest with myself -- and I generally try to be -- I have to admit that I feel kind of responsible. If I hadn’t decided to repeat that experiment, and gotten her and Kate involved, then we wouldn’t have mind-linked and got the spectres’ attention. But that’s really by the by. If I do this, it will be because I think I can achieve something that she can’t. She was dragged kicking and screaming. I’d be going in with my eyes open, knowing what’s waiting. It will make a difference. And there’s another thing: I can use this insight or understanding, or whatever you want to call it. It’ll give me an edge. She can’t. Even if I manage to get it through to her, she just doesn’t have the training that I have. Sounds arrogant, doesn’t it? But it’s true. I know my strengths. I know hers. And I can do this.

There’s another thing I can do. I can help them. Those poor, broken thing. The spectres. I think I can fix them. Potentially. I think I have a chance, at any rate. And I… And I want to. It sounds crazy, even to me. I mean, they’re monsters, right? The things they’ve done, the things they want to do -- how can I even think about forgiving them? But they’re victims too, in their own way. They’re so very badly broken. How can I hate them now I know? It feels right to want to help them. I don’t think I can explain it in any way that makes sense. Not to anyone else. Kate says she understands, but she doesn’t. Not really. And if she doesn’t, then how can I expect anyone else to? But it’s not important that anyone else understand it: it only matters that I do. This is my decision to make, and mine alone.

So what do I do?

I can’t pretend I’m not afraid. I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified. What if I’m wrong? What if the pain just overwhelms me? What if I’ve miscalculated, and we both end up stuck there? What if I’m wrong about them, and they just like hurting people? What if… So many ‘what ifs’.

What do I do?

What?

It’s later now. Things are a little clearer in my mind. I used Forebode to answer some questions. (Only three, though. They were the only three that seemed important in the end.) The first two were straightforward enough: would we both end up entangled there, and would my body die as a direct result of the switch? (I didn’t see much point in asking whether or not it would work in the first place, because if I’m going to try it, I’ll do so even if it doesn’t look like it’s going to work.) For the first, I saw the imagos for myself and Annie tangling, and then separating again. I think that’s good. If we stayed entangled, I think that would mean that we would both be trapped there, so separating again is good. I hope. The answer to the second surprised me. If my link to my body is severed -- as I think it would be -- then it would die within the next day. But that event just didn’t show up in the lines of probability. It’s odd. Maybe it means that Annie and I will truly swap places. Maybe she’ll be connected to my body enough to sustain it. I don’t know. This is all new and uncharted territory, as Kate said.

Oh yes, I asked Kate’s advice. She’s been doing this longer than I have, after all. Forbode, I mean: not contemplating throwing herself to the wolves, sorry, spectres. She suggested another question, which hadn’t really occurred to me: would my actions make a difference? The obvious question, really. I looked about a year ahead. I wanted to look further, but the energy that would take would have made such a huge spike that it would have drawn every ghost and spectre in about a half mile radius. A year is bad enough (about three hundred yards’ radius, give or take), but Kate and I figured the lot of us could probably handle anything that came a-calling. Besides, it would be good know if there’s anything nasty in the vicinity, and at least this would be in something approximating a controlled manner.

So, I asked the question, and I got an answer. I saw a great sea, a storm, a breaking wave. In its wake was left nothing but death and destruction: extinction, the end of everything. That was one future. But there was another. In that one, there came a single clear note, and the wave turned in on itself. It still broke, and there was still death, but it no longer had unity and a strength of purpose. Where there was one, there were now many, interfering, struggling, getting in the way. And there was hope. That’s how I choose to see it, anyway. It’s enough, I think. I think…

If I’m honest, I was going to do this thing from the moment I thought of it. All this has done is make me more determined. Now, with what I’ve learned, I have to do it. I have to. How could I not?

I guess this is goodbye. It’s the only one I’m saying. I thought about it; thought about telling the others what I’m going to try, but what would be the point? Tom, my partner in crime. John, who might’ve been something special, despite all my best efforts. All the rest of them. I can’t. They wouldn’t understand. They might try to stop me. It’s better this way. It is. I only wish… I just… It’s better this way. I only wish I could have seen my family again. They must be going out of their minds.

There isn’t a lot left to do. Kate has shared her energy with me, to replace what I used in asking my questions. She’s going to tell Annie why I’m doing this, why I’ve done this. And she’s said she’ll pray for me. That means a lot to me, because it means a lot to her. So all that’s left to do is fall asleep. To sleep, perchance to dream. And then we’ll see.

Remember: this isn’t a sacrifice. I’m going to make a difference. And I will come back someday.

Goodnight. Wish me luck.

Prepare for the oncoming storm.

Oh, and go kick NextWorld’s arse. Show them what a mistake they made in picking on Orpheus. You know you can.