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Saturday, 9th February, 2008, 02:09 PM #51
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Welcome to the Show: Part 9 – Satan’s Playroom
They were all assembled in an austere waiting room: Hank, Jake, Jim, Joe, and Kurt.
It had been a rough week for all of them. They exchanged stories, although each edited out the details of what had really happened. Hank had been put in an isolation tank, and was only removed after he started having lucid visions of aliens stabbing him in the forehead. Kurt was forced to answer inane questions with a hypodermic needle pointed at his neck, inching closer and closer each time he got an answer wrong to questions that had no right answer.
Satan’s Playroom, they discovered, was a lot more realistic than any of them had thought.
An old man entered, his features hollowed and his white hair was slicked back. He had a short white beard and a gray moustache. He was dressed all in black and walked with the assistance of a cane. He was easily in his seventies.
Jim squinted at him. “Are you…?”
“That’s right, creampuff,” the man replied with his distinctive Scottish accent. “I’m ex-PISCES. And ex-SAS. So don’t expect any special treatment from me!”
“Uh, who is that?” asked Hank.
“My name, you inquisitive little bastard, is Jonathan Drake.” The man’s steely eyes were threatening despite his advanced age.
“I thought you were in prison?” said Jim, incredulous. “Something about stealing microfilm.”
Drake smirked. “That was thirty years ago, and I was in prison for about five seconds, until Majestic-12 decided to put me to better use. And it’s a damn good thing too, because someone has to whip your puff asses into shape. For better or worse, I’m your case officer. So you’ll be reporting to me, and I’ll be reporting back up to the Company. And for your sake, you’d better do well, because what you do reflects on me. Do I make myself clear?”
They looked at each other and nodded.
“Good.” Drake pressed a button on his cane and an alcove opened against one wall. “Here are your weapons and gear. Get used to them, you’ll be using them in the field.”
They grabbed their gear and suited up.
“So what are we doing, exactly?” asked Jim.
“Surviving,” said Drake. “This is an exercise in restraint and control as much as combat ability. The object of this session is to overcome your opponents without getting seriously hurt. I will be monitoring you and providing some... additional challenges from the room’s systems. Begin!”
The entire wall on the far side of the room slowly lifted up. They stepped out into simulated sunlight.
The room was as huge as a football field. A waterfall ran down one side to form a small pool. A raised cliff formed of faux rock defined one corner of the room. Two towers stood in the center, along with trees, rocks, and scrub. There was the false sound of birds playing over and over in exactly the same pitch.
“So this is Satan’s Playroom,” said Kurt. He loaded his Glock. “Let’s do this.”
“Do what?” asked Jim. “Let’s all think about this for a moment, shall we? What exactly are we supposed to do here?”
“You heard the man,” said Jake. “Survive.”
“Survive WHAT, exactly?” asked Jim.
“Is this sort of a last one standing thing?” asked Joe.
Suddenly, a dome punctuated by five holes down its center rose up from the grassy floor. Fwoosh! One after another, the holes lensed open and closed, releasing slow moving rockets that circled the room.
“I recognize those!” shouted Hank. “They’re heat-seeking missiles! They’re slow but you can outwit them!”
They dove for cover as the missiles suddenly locked on to each of them.
Hank jogged over to the tower. He waited by it as his missile turned towards him.
At the last moment, Hank dodged to the side. The missile tried to follow and exploded on the side of the tower.
“Like that!” he panted.
“Well, you all have a good time dancing with rockets and such nonsense,” said Jim, clambering up the other tower. “If you don’t mind I’m going to wait up here until this ridiculousness is over.”
Jake and Joe dodged and weaved to try to avoid the rockets. They ran straight towards each other.
“Look out!” shouted Hank.
The big Native American smacked into the hefty arcane investigator with predictable results. Their only saving grace was that their collision separated them just long enough for their two missiles to collide where they were standing, hurling both men into the dirt.
Jake shook his head to clear the cobwebs.
“Are you all right?” asked Joe.
“I’m—“ but that was all Jake got out. A pit opened up beneath him. Jake windmilled for a second before falling in. The pit lensed shut.
Kurt stood his ground, firing shot after shot at the oncoming missile. He dodged sideways just as it closed within striking distance…
Only to have a huge metal cage slam down around him.
“Damn it!” shouted Kurt.
On top of the tower, Jim was having his own problems. Metal tentacles unfurled from the ceiling, grabbing at him. He nearly fell off the tower as his missile struck, leaving the tentacles a sparking mess. Jim slid down the tower’s ladder and made for Kurt.
“I really don’t think this is representative of battlefield conditions!” Jim shouted at the ceiling. “In fact, I think this is all rather ridiculous.”
Joe took a step forward to help Kurt and heard a click. He froze.
A roar of flames encircled him. The fiery jets formed a cage of sorts. The heat was such that he flinched, shrinking towards the center of the circle.
Hank made it as far as the edge of the cage. “I can’t lift it!” he shouted after a moment of straining.
“Get a lever!” Kurt shouted back. “Something sturdy!”
Hank made for the ladder lying on the ground near the tower. It had fallen off from the impact of the missile.
He returned a second later as Jim closed. “Jim, help me!”
Jim jogged forward and then suddenly had his legs cut out from beneath him, disappearing into the long grass.
That left Hank. He came around the other side of the cage and dug into the dirt with the ladder.
There was a shriek of metal as something heavy whistled towards Hank. He looked up just in time to see a bell-like weight slam into him, knocking him unconscious.
The flame jets around Joe shut off for just the briefest of moments. He counted the seconds. Screwing up his courage, he dove through as the jets turned back on…
They scorched his pants and he dove into the water. He made it!
Joe stood up. Kurt was gone; the cage had sunk into the floor. They were all gone.
Joe caught a glimpse of something in one of the twenty-foot high towers. The missile that was aiming for Hank had torn a hole in it. It looked like a…leg?
The thrumming of robotics whirring to life reached his ears. Joe swallowed hard as a massive robot lumbered out of the tower. One arm bristled with two snub-nosed machineguns. The other was one long rocket.
The robot stumped towards him. Joe drew his Glock, but it was pointless.
The robot loomed over him. Its shadow blocked out the faux sun above. It aimed the huge missile at Joe’s head.
“Congratulations,” Drake’s Scottish accent came from a speaker on the robot’s head. “The only idiot to pass the simulation is the voodoo contractor.”
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Sunday, 10th February, 2008, 12:24 PM #52
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Welcome to the Show: Conclusion
They hobbled to the Academy’s central square. The missiles were concussive force, not fragmentation. The blades and spikes were blunt. The weights were made of Styrofoam. They were bruised, but they were alive.
To their immense surprise, every available active and retired op was assembled in portable grandstands. As they formed ranks around the Spire, General Steele stepped up to the podium and uttered the sweetest two words they ever heard.
The audience applauded thunderously.
An afternoon of speeches and pomp followed, but mostly they stood through it in a happy daze. Finally, they were led one at a time to the podium for a small but formal individual ceremony and personal congratulations from General Steele. The General also took the time to pen a hand-written letter to each graduating black op, commenting on their performance throughout the training, commending them on their particular abilities and expressing his confidence in their ability to perform in the tough times ahead.
They received a final furlough to another unnamed tropical isle, this time for a month. It was the last time they strung thirty days of leave together.
When they came back, Drake was waiting for them.
“In my day, training used to be lethal,” muttered Drake. “But we had to lower our standards for creampuffs like you.” He sighed. “You idiots will never make it in the field.” He grabbed a glass of scotch that was never far from him and swilled it.
“All right, here’s how this works. There’s two offices: C office in Connecticut and N office in New York. I know, the boys in research are real creative. Ironshirt and Gupta you two are C-Team. Grange and Baxter, you two are N-team. There will be others added to the team to replace casualties,” he said the word so casually that nobody reacted, “but that’s how we’re grouping you for now.” He indicated Joe with a nod of his head. “Fontaine here is a freelancer. I wouldn’t even have let him join you on these missions, but he’s the only bloody one to make it through Satan’s Playroom so I guess that’s something.”
He pointed at a pile of leather jackets. “These are all Dragon Skin armor jackets. I recommend wearing them in between missions, because you never know when you might encounter something unexpected.”
Kurt lifted up a Velcro patch on the back of the jackets. It read: CIFA.
Drake nodded at Kurt as he handed out ID badges. “You are all now technically working for the Counter-Intelligence Field Activity. In other words, you work for the Department of Defense.”
“Never heard of it,” said Jim.
“You wouldn’t,” said Drake. “CIFA’s official mission is to develop and manage counterintelligence programs and functions that support the protection of the Department of Defense, including counterintelligence support to protect DoD personnel, resources, critical information, research and development programs, technology, critical infrastructure, economic security, and U.S. interests, against foreign influence and manipulation, as well as to detect and neutralize espionage against the DoD.”
“How big is it?” asked Kurt.
“That’s classified,” said Drake.
“And the budget?” asked Hank.
“That’s classified,” Drake said again.
“What about…” began Joe.
“Please ask me another stupid question, so I can shoot you in the head right now and be done with it.”
Joe shut his mouth.
“It’s classified, all right? The point is that CIFA is your gateway to legitimacy. When the s**t goes down, you use your CIFA badges. But not everyone responds well to government intervention. You need to keep your head down sometimes, so use your CIFA authority sparingly. It will help you deal with police and such, but it doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to go shooting up the place. Do you understand?”
“Good. You will be given a van that will carry your weapons and supplies. Local law enforcement does not look kindly on walking around with machineguns, so I recommend you be discrete, even with the van.” He nodded at Jake. “Ironshirt’s the best driver, so it’s your baby.”
Jake allowed himself a slight smile.
“Don’t get too happy about it, chief,” snarled Drake. “You’ll find driving a van full of ammunition isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
Jake stopped smiling.
“Here’s the most important part of your equipment, the Cistron.” Drake pushed another button, and a pile of handheld computers slid out from a tray. They looked like a combination of an iPhone and a Palm Treo. A wireless headset accompanied each of them.
“These babies are cell phones, MP3 players, text messaging, Web access, email, Bluetooth connectivity, a global positioning system, and two-way video. It’s shock proof, waterproof, and EMP resistant. This is your access to Blacknet, our secure database, and how you will make your mission logs. It’s how you will keep in touch with each other and with me.”
“Does it play games?” asked Jim.
“Yes, wiseass, but it’s been disabled,” said Drake. “And before you ask, it also tells time via an atomic clock, so you better never be late.”
They picked up their Cistrons.
“And finally, I need your code names.”
Everyone looked at Drake in confusion.
“Code names? Jesus, what’s wrong with you people?” Drake patted his chest with his cane. “Here’s a hint. My real name isn’t Drake. In fact, this room is the last time we’re ever going to refer to you by your real names. It’s for your own protection. So let’s start with you, chief.” He poked Jake in the gut with his cane. “You’re Blade.”
“Yeah,” was all Jake said.
“And you?” Drake asked Joe.
“Archive,” he said immediately.
Drake arched an eyebrow. “I see you’ve thought about this.” He turned to Jim. “And you, wiseass?”
“Jim-Bean,” said Jim.
“That’s very creative. But since you’re such a screw up already, I suppose anyone killing you would be doing me a favor. Fine, Jim-Bean it is.” He looked at Kurt.
“Hammer,” he said after a long moment.
Drake rolled his eyes. He turned to Hank. “That leaves you, creampuff.”
“Guppy,” Hank squeaked.
Drake blinked. “What?”
Jim-Bean burst out laughing. “Oh my God…are you serious?”
“Yes! What?” Hank looked around. “You know, Hank Gupta? Gupta? Guppy!”
Drake slapped his forehead. “You idiots aren’t even going to survive your first mission.”
Monday, 11th February, 2008, 11:37 PM #53
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Chapter 1: The End of Paradise
This scenario, “The End of Paradise,” is from the D20 Call of Cthulhu rulebook. You can read more about Delta Green at http://www.delta-green.com. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!
Our cast of characters includes:
- Game Master: Michael Tresca
- Joseph “Archive” Fontaine (Dedicated Hero) played by Joe Lalumia
- Jim “Jim-Bean” Baxter (Charismatic Hero) played by Jeremy Ortiz
- Hank “Guppy” Gupta (Smart Hero) played by Joseph Tresca
- Kurtis “Hammer” Grange (Fast Hero) played by George Webster
- Jake “Blade” Iron Shirt (Strong Hero) played by Matt Hammer
I was really jazzed about playing this adventure, because it took place in an old creepy movie theater. I saw the Blair Witch Project in one of these old, musty-smelling theaters; it was torn down shortly after we saw the movie. I had my special effects and music all queued up and ready to go.
The problem is that the scenario focuses on one building. And as is the typical result of any haunted house-style scenario, smart PCs will eventually decide to burn the place to the ground. Because the structure is inanimate, it can’t really “go on the offensive” until the plot dictates it should. So that forces the GM’s hand: either have the events slated for the haunted house happen when the PCs attempt to blow things to bits, or else they manage to avoid the climax by doing the smart thing and torching the place.
Since this scenario involves Yog Sothoth, I decided I had carte blanche to play fast and loose with the timeline. In addition, I wanted the PCs all together for the final battle and one of them was in the hospital. By moving time around, I was able to ensure that everyone was present for the big finale.
The problem was that the big finale is almost impossible to predict or avoid. Or to put it another way, this scenario railroads the crap out of the PCs. In writing this story hour, I discovered that the obvious thing to do (investigate how Mary hurt herself by investigating the scaffolding) is expected to be the SECOND thing the PCs do after they visit Mary in the hospital. This makes no sense; sticking to my rule that things should happen TO characters rather than hear about them from NPCs, I had one PC suffer the same fate as Mary and then go to the hospital…then all the disturbing events at the hospital happened to him.
Although they didn’t enjoy the showdown, my brother liked the horror elements, especially the creepy film stuff (he and I both have this fear of creepy old films for some reason, I blame our dad’s love of old Sci-Fi). Was it successful as a story? Read on to find out.
Defining Moment: The defining moment in this scenario was when Guppy flipped out in the hospital. That wasn’t a failed sanity check; Joe just role-played his character logically.
- Call of Cthulhu D20: The source of the adventure, "The End of Paradise."
- Beside You in Time: By Nine Inch Nails.
- World of Darkness: Asylum: I'm amazed that Arkham Asylum has never been fully detailed, considering the amount of insanity in Call of Cthulhu. The World of Darkness supplement is the next best thing.
- Necronomicon Project: To Call Forth Yog-Sothoth: This scenario doesn't really detail what's in the dreaded tome to summon Yog-Sothoth, so a little Googling on the Internet turned up this gem. It also helped explain why Yog-Sothoth manifests in the form it does. I tweaked one of Yog-Sothoth's "globes," Vual, whose "form is of a dark cloud and he teacheth all manner of ancient tongues" to be a "dark mass" that "speaks all manner of tongues" -- or in modern parlance...movies.
Tuesday, 12th February, 2008, 12:50 PM #54
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
The End of Paradise: Part 1 – Opening Scene
ARKHAM, MA -- It was daylight, but the sun had been absent, shrouded in clouds. The Paradise stood on a dirty street. Across the road sat a car with no tires, cryptic orange graffiti scrawled on the back window—probably just a police marker that the car needed to be towed, but it was hard to tell.I am all alone this time around
Sometimes on the side I hear a sound
Places parallel I know it's you
Feel the little pieces bleeding through
--Beside You in Time by Nine Inch Nails
Archive stepped out of the passenger’s side of the van. “For some reason I was put in charge of this mission. I’ll provide the cover.”
“What do we have on this place?” asked Hammer, all business.
“Built in 1892 by the wealthy Allen family, the Paradise Theater was a showplace for stage acts, the finest venue in town,” said Archive. “When the attractions of vaudeville began to fade in favor of those of the silver screen, the Allens decided to convert the Paradise into a movie theater. From 1928 on, the Paradise showed films. It eventually became too costly to maintain, and in 1974 it closed. A local arts group, Metro Arts, bought the theater from the Allen Foundation and began renovations…”
“And we’re here because…” asked Jim-Bean.
“We already went over this in the mission briefing,” said Hammer in irritation. “Mary Green, a Majestic friendly, was painting a ceiling in the main theater space one evening and fell from the scaffolding. She broke her left leg, arm, and pelvic bone and suffered a mild concussion.”
Archive nodded. “Mary told her handler that the Paradise is haunted.”
“Haunted?” Jim-Bean rolled his eyes. “We’re ghost hunters now?”
“It’s not the only time there was a ghost sighting,” said Archive. “Harry Samson, a janitor at the Paradise from the sixties told a reporter that he used to hear strange things moving around in the walls and floors all the time.”
They passed the abandoned car. Guppy peered into it and promptly gagged.
“What is it?” asked Blade. He peered over Guppy’s shoulder.
A dead dog lay in the driver’s seat, erupted belly roiling with maggots.
“What?” echoed Jim-Bean.
“Nothing.” Blade shrugged. “Just a dead dog.”
As the team walked up to the Paradise, the baroque façade was darkened with grime, but the marquee was clean, the neon crisp and alight, letters placed to form a message: PARADISE IS COMING BACK. A woman on a ladder held a piece of plastic formed into the THE, and she carefully placed it above the other words.
“Hello!” she climbed down. She was a compact woman with deep-set green eyes, freckles, and long brown hair, wearing blue jeans and a flannel shirt with the sleeves pushed up to the elbows.
“Hello,” said Archive. “Are you Sara Landry?”
Sara smiled. “Yes, that’s me. I’m head of Metro Arts.” She looked at the marquee and nodded. “It’s a sign, don’t you think?”
Archive forced a smile. “We’re with the National Trust for Historic Preservation,” he said. “We’re investigating the accident involving Mary Green.”
“Ah yes, that,” Sara shook all their hands. “Very unfortunate. I suppose you want to inspect the place?”
“If you don’t mind.”
Sara led them through the front doors and into the lobby. “Feel free to look around, but don’t fall off anything!”
Wednesday, 13th February, 2008, 12:56 PM #55
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
The End of Paradise: Part 2 – The Basement
Jim-Bean crept down the steps, flashlight in one hand and pistol in the other. He swung it around the room.
The basement was a large open space that was once quite beautiful, but had long since fallen into moldy ruin. There was still an old bar, with some ratty couches and chairs. At some point after the theater closed, it was apparent one of the exit doors had been jimmied open. The walls were covered in graffiti, and the carpet smelled of urine.
Metro hadn’t done much except get the furnace working and reroute the electrical wiring to new boxes elsewhere in the building. The old circuit board was a big wooden slab about eight feet tall by six feet wide, covered with large throw switches and dials—it looked like it came straight from Frankenstein’s lab.
Jim-Bean focused the flashlight’s beam on the bar again. Sure enough, he made out the faint impression of a door behind the bar, plastered and painted over.
“Hello, mates? I think I’ve found a door.”
Jim-Bean listened. Nobody responded.
“Right, got to do it myself, then.”
Using a multi-tool at his belt, he cut open the plaster and forced the door open.
“Anyone? Team?” Nothing but silence.
Jim-Bean shrugged and stepped into the room.
Decades of dust filtered down through the ceiling boards, coating the area in a fine gray powder. The door opened into a small area blocked off by what Jim-Bean at first took to be mist. They were actually three fabric screens that stretched from floor to ceiling. They were made of a thin, gauzy material and were stretched taut.
As soon as he stepped inside, Jim-Bean felt a slight shift beneath his feet. He had triggered a pressure plate. Jim-Bean froze. The last time he triggered a pressure plate, a blade nearly cut his legs off at the knees.
A loud whirring sound started up as three old sixteen-millimeter projectors began operating. Suddenly, there were moving images on the three fabric screens, projected from behind. The imagines in grainy black-and-white depicted a crowd of men dressed in suits, all wearing masks of blank faces with no eyes or mouth. They were standing in the same basement; clearly, three cameras rolling simultaneously in the doorway shot the footage.
The men simply stood there, staring at Jim-Bean. Projected, they formed a nearly continuous image with only a slight stutter that betrayed the loop.
Jim-Bean noticed gaps between the three screens and slipped between them. He saw the three projectors first; each placed some distance behind its corresponding screen. All had power cables running up into the ceiling. The images they projected appeared on the backsides of the screens as well, since they were translucent.
The three projectors were mounted on top of massive wooden thrones, covered in gold leaf and blanketed by dust. Each was elevated on a dais about eight inches high. A mural showing the night sky as seen from the roof of the Paradise covered all the walls and ceiling.
The floor was decorated with a forty-foot-diameter circle of inlaid marble, within which were a number of twisted sigils. The floor was stained in numerous places.
Jim-Bean kept his pistol at the ready. “Great. This is the part where the creepy movie ghosts come out of the film and eat me.”
He moved around to the backs of the thrones. There was a latch.
Undoing each latch in turn, they yawned open to reveal a small alcove beneath the seat. Each contained a human skull, a candle, and a trumpet. The central throne also contained a handwritten book.
Jim-Bean holstered his pistol and flipped the book open with one hand, the other focusing the flashlight beam. It seemed to contain rituals and prayers to a deity known as The All in One and the Key and the Gate.
“When thou would call forth The All In One, thou must waite until the Sun is in the Fifth House with Saturn in trine,” Jim-Bean read aloud. “Then enter within the stones and draw about thee the Circle of evocation tracing the figurines with the mystic scimitar of Barzai. Circumambulate thrice widdershins and turning thy face to the South intone the conjuration that openeth the Gate…” He looked up as the projectors ground to a stop.
The images on the screens inexplicably persisted for another few seconds. Just as they faded away, all the men in the crowd lowered their masks.
A wretched scream from upstairs pierced the gloom. It sounded like Guppy.
Jim-Bean ran out of the room.
Thursday, 14th February, 2008, 12:55 PM #56
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
The End of Paradise: Part 3 – The Ceiling
“Hi,” said one volunteer, a friendly young fellow. He shut off the vacuum he was pushing around. “My name’s Jack McGowan. Up there is Kris Nichols.” Kris waved down from the scaffolding. “You guys must be here investigating poor Mary’s accident, right?”
“Yeah,” said Hammer. “Ms. Nichols, do you mind coming down from there?”
Kris made her way down from the scaffolding forty feet up.
As Hammer and Blade interviewed the two volunteers, Guppy felt a strange pull towards the scaffolding. He started to climb it.
Blade looked up. “Be careful, Guppy.”
The carvings in the ceiling were similar to those in the lobby—figures from fantasy and mythology. However, these carvings were much less pleasant. The faces were leering. Some scenes suggested the aftermath of rape and torture, but never clearly enough to be definite.
“Have you had any weird experiences?” asked Hammer. “Anything out of the ordinary?”
Kris and Jack exchanged glances. “I heard a hum coming from the ceiling when I’m up on the scaffold,” said Kris. “I don’t know what’s causing it.”
“I’ve heard it too,” said Jack. “It comes and goes in a cycle, like an air conditioning system.”
“But there’s nothing in the theater that should make that sound,” added Kris.
“It’s almost like breathing,” said Jack with a laugh.
Guppy heard it too. It did indeed sound like breathing. It was very faint. He couldn’t identify the source, except that it seemed to come from beyond the ceiling in a general sort of way.
He looked closer. A nearby scene of a Bacchanalia was hinged—it was some sort of small door.
“Did you hear that?” asked Blade.
They strained to listen. There was music, playing very faintly. It sounded like an orchestra playing the popular classical tune “Carmina Burana.”
Kris shrugged. “I can’t hear anything. It’s probably Robert playing his boom box somewhere.”
“Who’s Robert?” asked Hammer.
“A new volunteer who showed up recently,” said Jack. “He comes and goes as he pleases.”
Guppy looked down. The others were talking, engaged in their conversation.
The scaffolding wasn’t directly underneath the panel, but he could just barely reach it if he leaned out with his fingertips. It took some poking and pulling until he found the catch: the empty eye socket of a dead nymph contained a switch. With some further effort, Guppy pushed the switch and the panel opened upwards into the ceiling.
Guppy looked up through the panel.Hammer and Blade were startled by the sound of a trapdoor slamming above them. There was a distant scream, and then a slam a moment later as Guppy appeared bent across the theater seats, covered in a viscous slime.He was somehow looking down at the theater below. It was as if the panel held a mirror, or there were a second Paradise built upside down on top of it.
But it was no reflection. The Paradise that Guppy saw was full of people. The seats were covered with writhing bodies issuing a howling scream, illuminated by the flickering light of a film projector.
Ghastly music played, music that Guppy recognized: it’s what he thought was the “Carmina Burana.” But it wasn’t. The music was strange and alien, deep and resonant, and only the barest melodies had any resemblance to what Guppy thought he heard below.
The movie screen was a jumble of shadows and light, amorphous shapes that suggested tentacles, mouths, and eyes, but never resolving into anything definite. As the crowd screamed, the floor began to sink into a vortex and the entire theater collapsed into an abyss. The shapes on screen emerged from the abyss, wallowing up the audience...
“Oh my God!” shouted Kris. “Call an ambulance!”
Friday, 15th February, 2008, 12:55 PM #57
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
The End of Paradise: Part 4 – Visiting Mary
The ambulance drove Guppy to the Arkham Hospital. Blade was in the ambulance with him until they reached the hospital. The police, who were getting suspicious with all the accidents at the Paradise, detained all of his comrades.
A nurse wheeled Guppy into a room. “We’re a little crowded today,” said the nurse, “so you’ve got a neighbor.”
Mary Green was lying in bed, her body connected to a traction apparatus to help her pelvic bone set properly. Her arm and leg were in casts, and there were bandages on her head. Her eyes were bruised. She was attached to a pulse monitor and other medical instruments that constantly beeped and whirred.
The beeping from the machines increased suddenly and a buzzer sounded. Mary cried out briefly and then her face went slack. The noise from the machines was terrible, a cacophony of electronic sounds that made no sense.
Two nurses and a doctor rushed in. The staff began emergency procedures and went straight to defibrillation. As they used the paddles to jolt electricity on Mary’s body, the lights in the room went out with each burst.
As the lights flickered and Mary’s body spasmed, the television shorted out. Images of a ballet dissolved into static, and the sound of a film projector came through. Then the screen showed the hospital room, as if a camera were mounted inside the television.
Guppy saw himself in bed, and the pulsing lights. A blurry figure stood next to Guppy, with indistinct hands stroking his face. Then the screen exploded in a burst of electricity, sending fragments of glass blowing into the room.
“We lost her,” said the doctor. “Time of death, 2:17 p.m.” He gestured at the television and told the nurse, “Get Robert to fix that damn thing.”
Guppy’s fellow agents entered the room.
“Did you see!” shouted Guppy. “Mary just died!”
The doctor, who was about to leave, turned back. “Mister Gupta, please calm down.”
“No!” shouted Guppy. “The lights! The television…and then a man was stroking my face…” He tried to get up, winced, and fell back down.
The doctor swore. “I don’t have time for this.” He whispered to the nurse, who left to follow his orders.
“What happened?” asked Hammer.
“Miss Green here just passed away,” said the doctor patiently as Guppy’s struggling became more frantic. “Your friend has been under a lot of stress. We’re just going to give him something to calm him down.”
The nurse returned with a needle. The doctor pierced the IV with it and injected a clear fluid.
Hank slowly calmed down until he was just mumbling to himself.
Archive leaned close to listen. He patted Guppy on the hand. Then they all left.
“What did he say?” asked Blade.
“Not sure.” Archive frowned. “But it sounded like: I didn’t fall down, I fell up.”
Saturday, 16th February, 2008, 02:12 PM #58
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
The End of Paradise: Part 5 – Arkham Asylum
Archive typed on a laptop as Blade drove the van back to the Paradise Theater.
“According to Blacknet, Metro Arts’ financial support for the purchase of the Paradise came from Richard Jacobs, a local philanthropist.”
“Richard Jacobs?” said Hammer. “Never heard of him.”
Archive tapped more keys. “There’s a few media clips on him. He was an anonymous orphan, born sometimes around 1930 and raised by the St. Matthew’s Orphanage. He got a job as a bank teller, became a manger…the rest of his career is a string of financial successes, mostly in real estate development. Jacob never married and has no children.”
“Didn’t you mention an Allen Foundation?” asked Jim-Bean.
“Oh, right.” Archive clicked through a few more pages on Blacknet. “Let’s see. Robert Allen’s grandson, George, started the foundation in 1953 to manage their real estate and charities. George died in 1968 and left it to his daughter, Jessica, who died in 1983. The latest trustee is Richard Jacobs.” Archive’s eyes scanned the screen. “Here’s something interesting. It looks like the Allen Foundation had an earlier incarnation of sorts as the Labib Home for Children, a small private orphanage started by Ibn Yassin Ibrahim Labib in 1891. In 1937, it ceased operations and the staff and children were transferred to the much larger St. Matthew’s Orphanage…”
“The same orphanage Jacobs was raised at,” said Hammer.
“I’m telling you, the book here details it all,” said Jim-Bean. “There was a bar down in the basement of the Paradise. Who puts a bar in the basement?”
Archive spun the laptop around so Jim-Bean could see an old black and white picture. “That’s because the Paradise Theater was the Sound and Light Club for most of the 1930s. In 1936, police raided the club on suspicion of kidnapping. But they never found any proof and the case was dropped.”
“That doesn’t explain the weird movie ghosts behind the bar,” said Jim-Bean.
Archive nodded. “The Sound and Light Club began as a social club for Freemasons in 1900 before it eolved into a private club for businessmen and politicians. In the 1940s, it sponsored an annual carnival to raise money for children’s charities. It was based in a variety of locations throughout downtown Arkham.”
“How close were they to the Paradise?” asked Hammer.
Archive tapped more keys. “All within six blocks.”
“What about the book?” asked Jim-Bean.
Archive hefted the book. “Mostly, it talks about a deity known as The Key and the Gate. He seems to have globes, thirteen in number, that are his servitors and do his bidding. Most interesting is Vual, who takes the ‘form of a dark mass and speaks in all tongues’…maybe an allusion to movies.”
“I’ll show you the room,” said Jim-Bean. “You’ve got to see it. It’s freaky down there.”
“We may want to make a detour first,” said Archive to Blade. “I just found the address of the only surviving member of the Sound and Light Club.”
“Where is he now?” asked Jim-Bean.
A dark expression came over Archive’s face. “Arkham Asylum.”
Sunday, 17th February, 2008, 02:29 PM #59
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
The End of Paradise: Part 6 – Frank Long
The Arkham property was absolutely enormous. Visitors were met by its twelve-foot high wrought iron gate above which was worked the name “Arkham Asylum.” To the right of the gate modern signage gave directions to the main facility, as well as Maxwell Gymnasium and the athletic field. Vehicles entered the facility through the gate, from the south, along a wide cobblestone driveway with two lanes that looped around in front of the asylum’s East Wing. Overgrown hedges of flowering quince speckled with bright red flowers in the spring border both sides of the driveway. The roundabout circled an old reflecting pond that was thick with algae and mud.
Throughout the day, the east, west and hospice wings of Arkham Asylum cast a long shadow over the property. Despite the renovated masonry, regular repainting and the addition of new wings, the buildings seemed menacing.
“This place creeps me out,” said Jim-Bean.
“We won’t be here long,” said Archive. “Try to focus on the mission.”
“Yeah, sure. We’re just in the world’s worst sanitarium and you’re worried about the mission.”
It was easy to see how Arkham had acquired the reputation it had, hearkening back to when it was first constructed. Beyond the hedges were large, poorly-kept lawns, terminating at the property’s walls to the east and the facility’s athletic field to the west. Structurally, the facility was a jigsaw tangle of architectural elements — from the gabled windows and stone façade work crafted in the 19th century to the poured concrete and bland architecture of the late ’60s. The main entrance, leading into the East Wing, sat directly ahead of any visitors, decorated with the images of the Six Saints of Arkham.
The interior of the East Wing was quite a contrast with its exterior. The main lobby was a blend of high-tech medical sheen and antique architecture. Throughout the entire first floor of the building, the floors were hardwood that gave way to brown marble tile in the lobby and at places where hallways intersect. Facing the entrance was a U-shaped, wooden information desk with racks of monitors, keyboards and file cabinets behind it. Above the information desk hung a massive chandelier.
The rooms where patients were housed differed little from other institutional quarters. Each room had a pair of metal-framed beds with foam mattresses, and a single window protected by simple white blinds.
The staff directed them to Frank Long’s room, a withered little man sitting alone in the chair in his room. One of the orderlies stood by, arms crossed.
Jim-Bean flashed his CIFA badge. “This is government work. Why don’t you go get me a soda or something?”
The orderly’s brow furrowed. “Hey, you can’t—“
Blade intervened. “I need to interview you about Mister Long, if you don’t mind.”
The orderly muttered something but allowed Blade to lead him away out of earshot.
Archive leaned down to make eye contact with Long. “Mister Long, do you know anything about the Sound and Light Club?”
The old man suddenly became animated. “Sound and light, sound and light. That’s what movies are made of! Sound and light, yes. Movies on the screen, the silver screen, movies in your head, the silver head.”
Archive and Jim-Bean exchanged glances.
“So you were a member of the Club?” asked Jim-Bean.
“The club, yes, the club. Not a club. No, no. A church. Yes, a church. A church not made with hands. Look ma, no hands!” Long held up his hands and laughed.
“Do you know anything about the Club’s connection to the Paradise?” asked Archive.
“They say it’s coming, Paradise is coming,” replied Long. “I’m due. I’m owed. I paid my owes. I’m first in line. I’m last to stay. I can’t wait. Paradise is coming.”
Jim-Ben twirled his index finger at his temple and mouthed “nutter” to Archive. Archive sighed.
“Mister Long, do you know anything about the Key and the Gate?”
“It’s not a rest home,” said Long, voice rising. “No rest. No rest at the gate. He’s the key and the gate, you know. The sound and the light. All in one, like my Swiss Army knife. All in one!”
“Yeah, that’s great…” Jim-Bean turned away. “Let’s get out of here.”
Long stared at Jim-Bean with suspicion. His face hardened. “Heathen! Meddler! Steal secrets from an old man? I can see through your face, your lying face!”
He leaped out of his chair, tackling Jim-Bean.
“Christ, the nutter’s gone barmy!” shouted Jim-Bean, struggling to keep the old man from clawing off his face.
The orderly rushed over. “I think you better leave.”
Monday, 18th February, 2008, 01:34 PM #60
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
The End of Paradise: Part 7 – The Loading Dock
“Everybody out!” shouted Hammer.
The volunteers at the Paradise looked confused.
“Take a coffee break,” said Jim-Bean. “There’s a Starbucks a block from here.”
Sara looked flustered. “You’re not shutting us down are you?”
“Not yet,” said Blade.
“Look.” She handed out tickets. “You’re all invited to attend opening night.”
“It will have to pass inspection first,” said Archive seriously.
“Of course, of course! But we’ve invested so much money and time…I’d hate to see all that work wasted.”
“So would we,” said Hammer. “Now if you don’t mind, we’d like an hour to inspect the place.”
Sara nodded, unconvinced. “Of course.”
As the volunteers left and the double doors in the lobby slammed with a note of finality, Hammer locked it behind them. “Now, let’s find out what this place is really about. I’ll check out the stage, you guys check out the basement.”
They split up. Hammer slipped behind the stage curtains. It was pitch black. There was no light, except what leaked in around the curtains. He could see a large sliding door. A flickering light in the doorway caught his attention.
Drawing closer, Hammer could see a dim image: a dark space walled by curtains. Beyond the curtains was a flickering light that seeped in at the edges, like that of an old movie. He took another step forward…
And bumped into a smooth, unyielding surface of polished glass. The dock door had a massive mirror propped up against it.
Hammer looked over his shoulder. He heard the sounds of a crowd outside.
“Who the hell is making all that noise?” He ran out to investigate.