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Thursday, 10th January, 2008, 09:44 PM #21
A deal with the devil, huh? It gets better and better."To the waters...and the wild...with a Faerie, hand in hand...for the world is more full of weeping...then you can understand."
Wanna rule a kingdom?
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Friday, 11th January, 2008, 04:04 PM #22
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
If you know anything about Stephen Alzis, you know that it's almost literally a deal with the devil.
And sadly, he's trying to HELP.
Friday, 11th January, 2008, 04:05 PM #23
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
Welcome to the Show: Part 3e – Jake’s Story
Jake had just finished putting the band's equipment back in their van when a Latino man with an unhealthy pallor followed him out of the club.
Jake turned to face him. "I prefer Blade. But yes."
"Yeah, I heard all about your television show, Mr. Ironshirt. I'd like to speak with you a moment, if you don't mind."
Jake took a deep breath. "It's late and I'm tired. You can catch me later at the next gig."
The man shook his head. "I wasn't asking you, Mr. Ironshirt." He fished a badge out of his suit pocket. "NYPD. Narcotics. I'm sure you can find the time."
Spider clambered out of the van, eyeing the man. "Go on, Jake. We'll be fine."
Jake sighed. "Okay." He turned back to the man. "Are you arresting me, officer..."
"Lieutenant Ramirez," he coughed. "No, I'm not arresting you, not yet. But it's urgent I speak with you." He pointed at a coffee shop that was still open at three in the morning. "Let's get some coffee."
They entered and sat down. The place was mostly deserted, with one waitress handling the few customers that had filtered out of Club Apocalypse. She came by and sullenly took their order.
"I've been tailing Mr. Alzis for some time. His Club Apocalypse is a front."
Ramirez leaned forward, the bright overhead lighting shadowing his sunken eyes. "Much worse than that, Mr. Ironshirt. Much worse. Mr. Alzis, and his compatriot Mr. Hubert, are part of a crime syndicate I call the Network. Like most syndicates, the Network has its fingers in drugs, prostitution, extortion...the usual. But the Network is different because it provides some very special services. One of them is favors. His Network specializes in the impossible. And I think you just received a favor from Mr. Alzis."
Jake's eyes narrowed. "Were you eavesdropping?"
Ramirez chuckled. "I wish. Club Apocalypse is impenetrable. But your band went downstairs on their first night. The Rising's just a bunch of kids. Mr. Alzis already has his own band, Charnel Dreams. I've been on the force long enough to look for the one thing that doesn't belong, and you are that one thing, Mr. Ironshirt."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that Mr. Alzis isn't interested in The Rising at all. He invited the band to Club Apocalypse because he wanted to speak with you. And Mr. Alzis doesn't just speak with anybody. He spoke to you for a reason. That's why we're having coffee right now, Mr. Ironshirt, because I want to know what that reason is."
The coffee arrived. Jake sipped it while he gathered his thoughts.
"It was about my son."
Ramirez took out a notebook from his pocket and flipped through the pages. "Alex?"
Jake nodded. "Alex."
Ramirez scanned his notes. "That's the boy you had with Christine Dee. Man, she was a looker in her day, huh? You two got involved when you were her bodyguard..."
Jake stopped drinking and placed his hands on the table, palm down. "You read a lot of tabloids, Officer Ramirez."
Ramirez shrugged. "I have a lot of time on my stake-outs. But I meant no disrespect. What the hell would a crime lord like Alzis want with your son?"
Jake shook his head. "I wish I knew. He wanted me to go see him. He even handed me a plane ticket..."
"A plane ticket?" Ramirez leaned forward. "Let me see it."
Jake fished the ticket out of his vest pocket and put it on the table.
Ramirez snatched it up. "This is good. I can trace this. If he bought it with dirty money, maybe I can figure out how the Network launders it--"
Jake yanked the ticket out of Ramirez's hand. "Not if it endangers my son."
A flash of aggravation crossed Ramirez's face, but he retained his composure. "No, of course not. I'm not married myself, but my brother is. Two kids, cute as pie. What did Alzis say about your son?"
"He told me to be a good father. Said he doesn't want Alex to grow up to be like him."
Ramirez nodded. "So weird Uncle Alzis shows up one day, gives you a plane ticket, and wants you on the first plane back to California." His eyes were wide and bloodshot. "I've never seen this kind of behavior before. Do you know what this is?"
"Alzis is AFRAID of you. And Alzis is afraid of no man." He took a long sip of his coffee. "This is too big to pass up." Ramirez flipped through his notebook. "You lost custody of Alex a few years ago."
"So what are you going to do? Fly back and tell the lovely Ms. Dee's bodyguards to let you see him?"
Jake bit his lip. He didn't know either. "I think I have to speak with her."
"You do need to speak with her, I agree. But according to my research, part of the reason for the custody battle was your drinking problem..."
"I haven't touched a drink in two years," snarled Jake.
Ramirez kept speaking. "...and the fact that you couldn't hold down a job. What would you say, Mr. Ironshirt, if I told you I can offer you that job?"
Jake grappled with his emotions. Did he just hear him right?
Ramirez waved the waitress over. "We'll take the check."
"A job. A job that pays good money. A job that will help you gain visitation rights to Alex. And a job that will guarantee he's protected round the clock."
"I'd say sign me up," said Jake. "What are you offering?"
The waitress came over with the check and two mints, one blue, and one red.
"I spiked your coffee with a sedative to keep you calm, Mr. Ironshirt, so hear me out." Ramirez smoothed out his tie. "I work for an organization known as Majestic-12. We are a clandestine taskforce that deals with the elimination and obscuration of preternatural phenomena that pose a threat to our citizens and their country. Threats like the Network, who is into far worse things than anything you can imagine. I believe you'd be an asset to our organization, Mr. Ironshirt. If you're interested, take the red mint. If you're not, take the blue mint and we'll forget this ever happened."
Jake looked down at the two mints.
"You covering the check?" he asked.
Ramirez laughed. "Of course."
Jake took the red mint.
Friday, 11th January, 2008, 04:53 PM #24
Superhero (Lvl 15)
Ok, I see. You were wanting to work Project Pi into your ongoing Modern scenario in a concise, logical manner without obliterating your entire party. Well, well, that might be a little tricky, but you can pull it off. I can offer a few suggestions:
1) Easiest way, the PC's stop the mad scientist from opening the gate. That's as closest as you'll get to "winning" that scenario. Cthulhu won't wake up, and the heroes just have to blast their way back to the sub.
2) It's just a Star Spawn being cloned, not the Big Guy himself, so taking it down will be possible, although difficult.
Nice adventure, btw.
Sunday, 13th January, 2008, 11:39 PM #25
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
I agree, a Star Spawn is a good alternate solution. I'm just concerned that it still takes nukes to stop the thing, which pretty much ends the scenario. It could be a good ender for the campaign though...hmmm.
Anyway, thanks for the compliment! Now back to our regularly scheduled programming..
Sunday, 13th January, 2008, 11:40 PM #26
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
Welcome to the Show: Part 4a – Hank’s Story
SAMSON, CA -- Bringing up the past made it inevitable.Hank woke up screaming, struggling in the restraints on the bed that kept him from hurting himself.Soon, Hank Gupta was trudging through the jungle again, sweating like a pig, the mosquitoes swarming around him. Paulito was up ahead, thrashing wildly with his machete, while the survey team trudged on behind. Hank topped the rise and gasped as he looked on the ceremonial center of El Cacao.
The plaza was clear of undergrowth and the stone temple at the far end looked almost restored. Something was wrong…it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Someone had already excavated there.
Then Hank felt a chill, and suddenly Paulito screamed and fell to the ground as bullets tore through him, a misty cloud of blood hanging in the air. The men rushed out from the temple, shouting in Spanish, the sun gleaming off of their rifles. Hank shoved Rachel to the ground and dove after her. Two more died, students this time.
He crawled for any kind of cover and looked up to see Bret Hauk take a hit in the shoulder. Bret fell, screaming madly.
As Hank reached the trees and looked back for Rachel, a realization hit him. He could hear the shouts, the screams of the dying, the frantic clamor of the birds, even the ragged gasps of his own breathing…but not the gunfire. He stared at one of the men, watching the muzzle flash from his rifle, and realized that it was utterly silent.
He wondered why, but then he was suddenly seated before the review board, the people who were reviewing the incident. They were going through their final statements and a sound reached Hank, like dripping water.
He glanced up from his folded hands, looking for the leak.
It was Dr. Nowlan—a stream of blood was leaking from his ear into his glass of water, the red blossoming through the still liquid.
Hank gasped. They were all bleeding from their ears and looking down at his suit, saw that he was too.
Hank leaped to his feet, overturning the table before him.
A small, spindly figure rushed into the room dressed in surgical scrubs stained blood red. It had a huge head, almond shaped eyes, and tiny slits for nostrils and a mouth. It ran at Hank with a speed belying its size and jabbed a bright scalpel through Hank’s forehead—
When Hank realized where he was, he took a few deep breaths to relax. He would see Dr. van Dyson tomorrow. He would make everything better.
Tuesday, 15th January, 2008, 12:45 PM #27
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
Welcome to the Show - Part 4b – Hank’s Story
“Now, tell me about 1994.”
The good doctor Petroff van Dyson turned on his video camera. Hank Gupta hated that thing. The little red dot glared at him like an angry eye. A television screen, facing away from Hank, was broadcasting his every facial feature.
Van Dyson’s office was decorated in southern California’s typical High Sierra look, reflecting the natural surroundings of the clinic. Spanish artwork and wall hangings accented the tasteful, though not indulgent, furnishings.
Very well. He would explain it again.
It was the summer of 1994, Belize. The University of Pennsylvania, in cooperation with the Programme for Belize, sponsored a field season in the northern part of the country. Hank, along with about sixty other people, went along. The expedition was directed by Dr. Paul Hughbanks, who wanted to complete a new survey of a large, empty stretch of northern Belize, as well as conduct several excavations.
The season was very unlucky, with equipment failures, transportation troubles, and logistical mishaps from the very beginning. After a particular nasty stomach bug swept through camp, the season finally started to look up when a survey team heard rumors of a large, unregistered site in the nearby jungle, a place called El Cacao. There was no record of it, and nobody had ever excavated there or even surveyed the place. Dr. Hughbanks leapt at the news, hoping that a major find might turn their season around.
The only voice of protest raised was Kyle Woodson. Kyle pointed out that the group had no permits to dig at El Cacxao and that drug smugglers were supposed to be lurking in the area. Hughbanks would not be dissuaded, however. He assembled a survey team, and set out on the long hike to El Cacao. The team got to the ruins, only to find that they weren’t deserted…
“No, it wasn’t deserted,” said van Dyson. “The police reports indicate you encountered a large band of cocaine smugglers that were camping among the grounds. Then what happened?”
Hank hesitated. “There was a…misunderstanding. Four students died. They chased us all the way back to the camp.”
“Who chased you?”
Hank lowered his head.
“The Grays,” he whispered.
“The Grays?” asked van Dyson. “Do you mean the aliens?”
Hank spoke slowly at first, and then it came out in a rush. “I keep having dreams. Dreams of bleeding from the ears. And there’s these…aliens, with scalpels. One of them leaps out of a pantry, wearing a funny pink outfit and surgical mask. It plunges a scalpel into my forehead…”
“But that’s not what the report says,” said the doctor. “Dr. Hughbanks lost his tenure, his job, and any chance of ever doing archaeology again. But no mention of Grays. There were sixty witnesses with you, Hank. You said so yourself. Don’t you think someone else would have mentioned aliens?”
“I…I don’t know…”
“We’ve been over this. It’s been nearly a decade since the incident and you’re not making much progress.” Van Dyson pulled out a pen from his front pocket. “We’re going to have to up your dosage…”
Hank shook his head. “No more drugs.”
Van Dyson peered at Hank over his glasses. “Now Hank.” He put one hand on Hank’s knee. It was all Hank could do to avoid jerking back from him. “Your father committed you to the Van Dyson Center. Nobody else would help you, remember?”
After his breakdown in the Army barracks, Hank’s father sent him to the Center, in Samson, California, for experimental therapy. It specialized in the study and treatment of schizophrenia. When the military booted him mid-tour, Hank had nowhere else to go. Van Dyson’s published notes “You Are I,” promised free treatment for subjects experiencing schizophrenia. And his father liked free.
So here he was, having private sessions with Dr. Van Dyson, the darling of daytime talk shows everywhere.
“The kinds of drugs I’m prescribing are very expensive. Your insurance won’t cover it.”
“I don’t have insurance,” said Hank meekly. “Not anymore.”
“Exactly my point.” Van Dyson flashed him a brief smile. “Look, it’s clear you experienced something very traumatic. I would normally diagnose you as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but your history seems to indicate you suffer from schizophrenia. Remember your uncle Ben?”
Hank struggled to nod. Van Dyson’s patronizing tone was getting on his nerves.
“I never said uncle Ben was schizophrenic.” It was short for Benali. His uncle used to claim the world was going to end around the time of the new millennium. He said that demonic forces were at work, trying to rule men’s souls.
“No, you didn’t.” Van Dyson allowed himself another brief, secret smile. “Your uncle Benjamin claimed he was getting messages from spirit guides. Have you ever read “The Demon Haunted World” by Carl Sagan?”
Van Dyson resumed writing. “Sagan essentially states that one man’s demon is another man’s alien. Superstitions change with the times, Hank. Now I’m going to give switch your prescription to LY2140023. It targets the glutamate receptors of the brain rather than dopamine and has few side effects.”
Hank hesitated. “But Uncle Ben…”
“Failed to take his psychiatric medications,” snapped van Dyson. “He committed suicide by taking an overdose of pills at age 56.”
“But my father said he died from a heart attack.”
Van Dyson sighed. “You were five years old at the time. If I had kids, I might obfuscate too.” He tore off the sheet he was writing on. “Here’s your prescription, we can mix it right here at the Center. I’ll give it to Hector and he’ll be sure you fill it out.” The doctor paused. “There’s one thing I’ve been wondering, Hank.”
Hank had started to rise. He froze. “Yes?”
“Why did you travel to Belize? You’re not an archaeologist. Your major was in engineering, if I remember correctly.”
Hank straightened. “That’s correct.”
“So why did you go?”
Hank’s lips became a thin line. He didn’t so much as refuse to answer as hesitate for a very long time.
Van Dyson chuckled. “It was a woman, wasn’t it?”
Hank eyed the camera, but he nodded.
“Who was she?”
“Rachel. Rachel Hayward. We met at the University.”
Van Dyson stood up. “Ah, the course of love never does run true.” He looked down at his notes. “I don’t know her, but I know you, so I can guess how things went after you witnessed the murders. You couldn’t stand to be together because it reminded you of the incident.”
Hank nodded. He had joined the Army after that.
“I’m so sorry, Hank.” Van Dyson glanced at his watch. He rose to his feet.
Hector Simone, a graduate student at the University of California, opened the door and waited patiently for Hank. They had been through this routine before.
“We’ll talk about her more next session,” said Van Dyson. “In the mean time, I want you to practice the mental exercises we talked about.”
“Yes, doctor,” mumbled Hank.
As Hector closed the door behind him, he caught an odd exchange of glances between graduate student and doctor.
Thursday, 17th January, 2008, 12:44 PM #28
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
Welcome to the Show: Part 4c – Hank’s Story
The Van Dyson Center was a modern three-story facility in the low mountains northeast of Samson. It rested in isolation, on a large tract of tree-dotted land owned by the doctor. The Center was reached by a private road that wound through the occasional stands of trees and over shallow, usually dry, creek beds. The wilderness was a place of serenity, a place for healing, for rest.
The building was in the shape of a V, arms opening to face a small parking lot. Within the clinic’s three floors were facilities for sixteen patients, including areas for creation and visiting as well as therapy rooms, a nurse’s office, a kitchen, and various storage and maintenance rooms.
Hector shuffled Hank down the hallway from Van Dyson’s office. He hated the long walk. The rec room was at the end of the V. Hector would deposit him there while he got the new medication. Inside, patients, along with orderlies, milled about. They watched television, played checkers, stared out the window, or sometimes stared at nothing at all.
Hector left him, and a scruffy-looking young man sidled up to Hank.
“Hullo Hanky,” he sneered.
“Hi Damon,” said Hank. He disliked Damon Newcomb but had no reason to. Beyond the fact that the man called him Hanky, it was more a general vibe of hostility that Damon radiated. Damon was a failed academic and it was perhaps that fact that bound them together.
“Did you see it?”
Hank rubbed his forehead. He dreaded this part. All the patients knew he was in a session with Dr. van Dyson. And each had their own special question.
“No, Damon. I didn’t see his cane.”
Damon looked shocked and disappointed. It was a testament to his insanity that he was able to muster the emotion every single time Hank met with the doctor.
“You’re sure? You’re sure he didn’t conceal it? Like, maybe as an umbrella or something?”
“I’m not sure,” said Hank. “But it wasn’t laying around if that’s what you’re asking.”
Damon chuckled. “I like talking to you, Hanky. Your accent cheers me up.”
Hank rolled his eyes. His Indian accent wasn’t so thick that was he was incomprehensible. But then, Americans had problems with accents.
“I like yours too.”
Damon sniffed. “I don’t have an accent.”
An older man with unkempt hair interrupted them. “Stop bothering the poor boy!” he shouted at Damon. “Can’t you see he’s been through enough?”
Damon shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever you say, Uncle Mal.”
“I’m not your god damn uncle either!” Mal wagged a finger in Damon’s face. “Just because I’m older than you…”
One of the orderlies looked over. Mal lowered his finger. Damon just smiled at him.
Mal grabbed Hank firmly by the shoulder and steered him out of earshot. “You’ve got to get out of here, my dear boy.”
Hank rubbed his forehead. He liked Mal, but his constant paranoia was tiring. “I didn’t see any knives or forks in there either.”
Mal looked offended. “I’m not talking about Damon’s damn cane this time, Hank. I’m talking about…” he lowered his voice. “Cannibalism.”
“So you’re saying Dr. Van Dyson eats his patients?”
“Shhh!” hissed Mal.
“Like in Silence of the Lambs?”
Mal’s face twisted in aggravation. “I know how it sounds. But you know what?” He glared at Damon across the room. “I’m crazy enough to know I’m crazy. The Doc thinks he’s sane. That makes him worse.”
Hank nodded. “I’ll try to remember that.”
“They’re planning something, Hank. You mark my words.”
Hank forced a smile. Mal’s paranoia was getting worse. “I’ll try to keep an eye open.”
Mal’s face softened. “You don’t believe me.”
“No, it’s just that—“
Mal held up a hand. “That’s okay, that’s okay. You’re a good boy, Hank. You’re saner than the rest of us in here, including the Doc. You shouldn’t be here. You should be outside.”
“But…it’s so hard…”
“Oh, I know.” He patted Hank on the back. “I know it is. But life’s not like those comic books you’re so fond of. Life’s hard. Don’t worry; you’ve got skills to compensate. You’re the only one who doesn’t call me uncle in this joint, so that’s something.” He smiled.
Hector returned, interrupting the exchange. “Come with me, Hank.”
The other patients scattered like roaches at Hector’s approach.
They made their way out of the rec room towards Hank’s room.
Hector sighed. “Damon still nattering on about that cane, huh?”
Hank nodded. “Still.”
“We’re going to summon the Daemon Sultan!” shouted Damon at Hector, as if he had been insulted. “Just you wait!”
Saturday, 19th January, 2008, 04:29 PM #29
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
Welcome to the Show: Part 4d – Hank’s Story
As they entered Hank’s room, Hector closed the door. His demeanor changed.
“Now Hank, I want you to listen to me very carefully. Because there’s a video camera on us, I’m going to keep my back to it. But the camera can see you, so you have to remain calm. Okay?”
Hank swallowed hard. What the hell was going on?
“Sit down on the bed please.”
Hank stiffly reclined onto his bed.
Hector rattled the bottle of medication in his hands. “First, I want you to know that I believe you. I think something did happen in Belize that you’ve never quite recovered from.”
“Second, because of that experience, I am authorized to extend an offer to join a very elite organization.” Hector held up one hand to forestall any other questions. “Hear me out first.”
He handed Hank a plastic cup of water and two pills on a napkin.
“Majestic-12 is a clandestine taskforce that deals with the elimination and obscuration of preternatural phenomena that pose a threat to our citizens and their country. We believe you would be a valuable asset in maintaining the veil of secrecy necessary to keep society whole, and an important ally in the battle against unknown threats. Look down at your drink.”
There was a blue pill and a red pill on the napkin.
“If you find this prospect appealing, take the red pill and papers will be arranged so you’re transferred out of here. If not…then simply take the blue pill and you can resume treatment with Dr. Van Dyson tomorrow.”
Hank stared at Hector. Was this a hallucination? Had he finally snapped? Or was Hector really the agent of some shadowy organization, here to rescue him?
He thought of Mal’s words. Maybe he really didn’t belong here.
Hank took the red pill and washed it down with water.
“Good,” said Hector with a smile. “According to the camera you’re just taking LY2140023.” He reached over and folded the blue pill into the napkin and put it in his pocket.
“What if I took the blue pill?”
“The blue pill was the medication Van Dyson had prescribed for you.”
Hank was starting to feel a little woozy. He laid back on the pillow.
“But that’s not LY2140023?”
Hector shook his head. “It’s a high dose of chlorpromazine.”
Hank felt he should be alarmed, but he wasn’t. He felt as if he was floating. “You mean thorazine?”
Hector nodded. “The doctor’s drugging all his patients tonight for something…I’m not sure what. I would normally have slowly introduced you to the idea of joining Majestic-12, but circumstances have forced my hand.” He patted Hank on the shoulder, looking to the camera just like a doctor reassuring a patient. “Good luck, Hank. I don’t think we’ll see each other ever again.”
“Thank you, Hector,” Hank slurred. Then all was numb.
Monday, 21st January, 2008, 02:57 PM #30
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
Welcome to the Show: Part 5a – Joe’s Story
NEW ORLEANS, LA -- Albert's was a five-star Cajun/French restaurant on the 11th floor of the Westin Canal Palace. Far below the floor-to-ceiling windows, the Mardi Gras parade blared and boomed, growing in volume as the evening commences.
Dr. Volk was running late. One of his shirttails was hanging over his belt, his tie was askew, and his face was flushed. He plopped down, panting, and lay his briefcase by his side.
"Mr. Fontaine, I presume." Volk shook his hand. "Thank you for seeing me on such short notice."
Joe Fontaine adjusted his own tie. He wasn't fond of monkey suits, but X-investigations insisted he dress the part. Work in New Orleans would raise the profile of the company.
"That's quite all right," said Joe. "You mentioned something about anomalous seismic activity?"
Volk nodded. "Could you order for me? I'm in a bit of a rush and I want to get my papers together."
Joe blinked. So much for having the dinner comped. He waved a waiter over and ordered alligator in sauce piquant for himself and sautéed frog legs for Volk. Just to teach him a lesson. Judging from Volk, he probably wouldn't notice he was eating Kermit.
Volk spread out seismic data from his team's journey to Tonga. The table was fortunately large enough to accommodate Volk's research, as the place was fairly deserted and probably had been that way after Hurricane Katrina.
"As can be clearly seen, the seismic activity is of a distinctly regular nature. The pattern does not resemble that of a natural quake. Instead, it is very similar to the tremors associated with sub sea demolitions. Had I thought to enlarge the originals earlier, I might have been suspicious of the activity before going to Tonga."
Next he revealed a processed image containing a strange signal response from his own survey data in Tonga. "This signal here is of the normal non-anomalous Tongan Trench wall. This here is of the area near the origin of the tremors. Notice the giant scale of the anomaly. I suspect that the body of material generating this sensor response is highly ferrous. That is, I think there something very large and made of metal in this region. I would say it is on the order of a fifty- or seventy-five-story building, something along that scale."
"Dr. Volk, I'm not entirely sure I understand what this has to do with X-investigations..."
"My graduate assistant, Theresa Kent, was piloting a mini-sub off the trench at about three thousand feet. She was testing equipment when she fell ill. At least, I thought she fell ill. She recently explained to me that she had seen something horrible during that first dive at sea."
Joe leaned forward. This was getting interested. "What did she see?"
"She spoke about something huge. That it looked straight at her. The only coherent descriptions of what she saw was glowing behind its eyes."
Joe folded his hands. "That's it?"
Volk raised a hand. "Please, hear me out. During my original work at the Tongan site I came into contact with a boat, the Proud Ariane, under the registry of a Mr. Jean LeGoullon of LeGoullon Enterprises. The ship is a marine salvage-type vessel. It was anchored in the area throughout the time that we conducted our study. I feel certain that somehow this LeGoullon fellow and the boat are involved in this. I'm not sure exactly what they're doing there."
"What do you think they're doing?" asked Joe.
"I suspect they are constructing some sort of modular deep sea exploration environment, or perhaps undertaking a mining operation."
Joe sighed heavily. What a waste of time. Volk didn't notice.
"At any rate, they should not be blasting at such a depth in one of the subduction trenches of the Pacific Rim. I feel compelled to inform this LeGoullon fellow of the dangers, both to his own crew and to the local inhabitants of Tonga. I've a meeting with him in a few minutes, as a matter of fact."
"Look, Dr. Volk." Joe leaned forward as their dinner arrived. "X-investigations is an occult and paranormal investigation firm. I'll need to talk to Miss Kent. The rest..." he waved it off. "The rest is more suited for a Navy SEAL team or something."
"Of course, of course. " Volk picked at his frog legs, then checked his watch. "I'm sorry, I have to cut this short." He half-rose to shake Joe's hand. "I'm late for my appointment already with LeGoullon Enterprises. Miss Kent is staying at the New Orleans Hilton. You can follow up with her there. Now if you'll excuse me..."
Joe nodded. He was glad to see him go.
Joe waited a moment for Volk to leave, then walked over to the window. He was much more interested in Mardi Gras festivities than the ramblings of a boring professor.
The parade was passing just outside the main entrance to the hotel. A moment later, Dr. Volk appeared in front of the restaurant. He paused briefly to look both ways over the crowds and then descended down some stairs to his left into the street. At the same moment, a huge dragon float was passing by. The hair stood up on the back of Joe's neck. Something was wrong.
The head of the float bobbed stiffly this way and that, and occasionally a little puff of steam escaped its mouth. As it passed Dr. Volk, the head bobbed quickly towards him and then away again.
Dr. Volk was gone. Joe looked around for him.
He spotted a pair of legs protruding from the mouth of the dragon.
The illusion dispelled, Joe saw the float for what it really was: a great viperine creature, with a curiously distorted head, grotesquely great clawed appendages, and black rubbery wings of singularly monstrous dimensions.
Joe ran for the steps. He huffed down all eleven stories and ran through the Westin's lobby out into the street.
The float was visible in the distance. Joe started to run after it but paused as he saw the lights and torches dim near the float. A heavy shadow flapped up the side of a distant building and disappeared into the night sky.
Somebody screamed as a pair of legs flopped wetly to the ground.
And suddenly, Joe knew he was exactly the right person for the job.