Friday, 17th April, 2009, 12:24 PM #491
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Dreams: Part 16 – The Horrible Truth
The other agents ran towards the Dreamweb facility.
“I saw the guards open the gate and let in a bunch of armed survivalist-types,” shouted Archive. “That’s when I came looking for you guys.”
“There’s some kind of interference,” shouted Hammer. “I can’t use cell phones or cistrons.”
Jim-Bean pointed at a blazing white pillar of light over Holly Lake. “You think that might be the reason?”
“Don’t look at it!” shouted Archive.
The bays of guard dogs echoed in the darkness ahead of them.
Hammer and Jim-Bean let loose, cutting down the dogs before they could close.
Automatic weapons fire sparked back at them in the darkness. The three agents took cover in the woods.
“Whoever they are, this was an inside job,” said Hammer. “There’s no way they could have gotten past the defenses so easily.”
“Guppy must be in the Dreamweb!” shouted Jim-Bean.
The beam flared and a long column of light swept towards them.
“Get down!” shouted Archive.
They flattened to the ground and the beam flashed overhead, sweeping the Dreamweb facility.
A series of horrible wails and shrieks rose up from the Dreamweb. There was some sporadic gunfire. Out in the Dinosaur Lodge proper, there was more screaming.
“Go, go, go!” ordered Hammer. They crouched over to the entrance.
The survivalists were all dead. Some had clawed their eyes out. Others had shot themselves or each other.
“What the hell happened?” asked Jim-Bean, stepping over a dead body.
“I don’t plan to find out,” said Hammer.
Klaxons sounded. Security curtains slowly descended all around them. The Dreamweb was locking down.
They made their way past dead and moaning bodies to the Dreamweb monitoring room. The normally transparent glass was covered by metal shutters. The monitors showed only static.
One man was slumped over the keyboard. Jim-Bean yanked him back by his hair.
The man’s head lolled, drool and blood dripping from his chin. His eyes were moist sockets of blood. Blood dripped down the man’s crushed fists, and Jim-Bean knew what he held there.
“The first rule of the Bringers of Sacred Light…” the eyeless man gasped, “is there are no Bringers of Sacred Light.”
“Where’s Guppy?” shouted Jim-Bean.
“The Light of Sacred Truth,” said the man. “The veil of earthly illusion is rent…I saw the ultimate dimension…monstrous horrific shapes, saw touches, saw tastes…saw all.” He expired on the spot.
“Now we know Guppy wasn’t crazy,” said Archive, pointing at the man’s nametag. It read: BUTTS.
“We have to get inside there.” Hammer pointed at the Dreamweb dome. “If Guppy’s the source of this, there’s only one way to stop it.”
“I’ll take a look,” said Jim-Bean. He concentrated…
Jim-Bean was walking through an alley, hurrying home. Looking across the street, he saw “El Caballo,” the Belize expedition van. What was it doing here?
By the side of the van Jim-Bean saw a pair of boots … his boots, still caked with mud, and suddenly he knew something was WRONG.
Looking up, a bat-winged shape passed against the stars, and Jim-Bean screamed as he realized that it was ALL WRONG! The hearing … the smugglers … there was something wrong about it … he couldn’t remember … then he realized he wouldn’t remember … the mind playing tricks … IT WAS ALL LIES!
Jim-Bean staggered into an alley, head reeling, when out stepped Kyle Woodson, spattered with blood, a huge hunk of his head missing.
“It’s all there…” he said in a gurgling, buzzing voice … an inhuman voice. “It’s all at El Cacao. You must go—“
Then his head exploded in a shower of gore and an alien Grey in a blood red surgeon’s gown leaped from the shadows. It raised a scalpel and lunged.
Jim-Bean fell backwards in confusion. Where was he? What the hell was going on?
The Grey moved supernaturally fast. It slashed once, twice, and Jim-Bean was forced to jump backwards each time. He finally hit the cold hard stone of the wall. He was at the end of the alley.
The Grey raised its knife, only to suddenly explode from a shotgun blast.
Guppy was standing there, shotgun still smoking.
“Where are we Guppy?”
Guppy, dressed in his usual clothes, looked around. “I think…I think we’re in my head.”
- EN World
- has no influence
- on advertisings
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Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Dreams: Part 17 – The Dream Dies
Caprice called for Jim-Bean and Hammer over the intercom.
Hammer ran over to the intercom button. Jim-Bean was comatose. “Hot Pants? Where are you?”
“I’m in the Datamaster computer room.”
“Open the Dreamweb up! Guppy’s trapped inside and Jim-Bean is comatose!”
There was silence as Caprice tried it. “No luck. There’s an emergency security protocol in effect. I can undo it, but it will take time.”
“We don’t have much time…” said Archive. “That light is going to spread, and if it hits Bountin…”
“I’ve got an idea,” said Caprice. “There’s a door to your left.”
Hammer looked around. A sign on one door read: DREAMWEB CLEAN ROOM. Beneath it was a smaller sign: DO NOT ENTER.
The door clicked and something heavy moved within it. “I just unlocked it. There should be steps on the other side. Go downstairs.”
Hammer and Archive ran down the steps. At the bottom of the steps, directly beneath the Dreamweb itself, was a primitive but efficient laboratory set up around a weird device attached to numerous controls and monitoring instruments. The device consisted of a ten-foot in diameter circular platform with a hard, transparent surface, beneath which was visible a precise arrangement of glass lenses. A duplicate of the platform was suspended from the ceiling, and it was connected to the four chairs by finger-thick fiber optic cables. A bright light pulsed between the two platforms, illuminating the room with flickering shadows.
Around the platform and attached to it by curving plastic struts were four smooth-edged chairs with domed helmets, a bit like a salon dryer chair. The inner surfaces of the domes were also transparent and revealed more glass lenses within.
“The guy who developed the Dreamweb didn’t trust it completely,” said Caprice over the comm. “Fielding developed this Dream Imager as a failsafe. It will plug you into the Dreamweb directly.”
“Plug us in?” asked Hammer in disbelief. “Then what are we supposed to do?”
“Close the gate,” said Archive grimly. “Guppy has opened a portal to another dimension.”
“We’re not trained to do this.” Hammer strapped himself into the chair and Archive did the same. “Hot Pants, can you influence the Dreamweb from there?”
“I think so. What did you have in mind?”
Hammer closed his eyes as the machines whirred to life. “Guns,” he said. “Lots of guns.”
He was cut off as they faded into another dreamscape.They flashed through a tunnel of light. Then they were on the other side and…
They were in a cave, littered with bodies missing the tops of their heads.
“BE CALM. BE SILENT,” said a voice; a horrible whispering, buzzing voice. There was a shining metal cylinder sitting on the floor, connected by wires to a strange machine.
Guppy and Jim-Bean were there, in civilian clothes, unarmed.
The cavern wall rippled open and something entered. They couldn’t look directly at it, but it scurried towards them, pincers outstretched…
“Hot Pants!” shouted Hammer.
Glocks appeared in all their hands. The soldier caste Mi-go, the big kind with four claws, scrabbled towards Guppy.
Hammer fired. The bullets were real enough, tearing through the thing’s fibrous carapace. Jim-Bean and Archive joined in. Then Guppy. Finally, it lay unmoving.
Caprice’s voice echoed all around them. “You’re almost in the Datamaster’s Crystal Matrix. You just defeated the second firewall.”
“Guppy,” said Archive urgently. “I think you infected the Datamaster computer and it’s projecting your nightmares onto reality.”
“I don’t…” Guppy looked around. “I don’t think this is a nightmare. I think this is a…memory.”
“It’s tearing the veil between the two worlds,” said Archive urgently. “You’ve got to stop—“
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Dreams: Part 18 – The Truth Shall Set You Free
They awakened on a large table, eight feet square and made out of a dull, gray plastic. A huge cluster of tendrils, arms, and tubes sprouted out of the ceiling directly over the table.
They were all there, only younger: Guppy, Caprice, Archive, Blade, Jim-Bean, and Hammer.
The left-hand wall of the chamber consisted of some kind of cabinet with a transparent door. Inside, eight more bodies floated without visible support. Four were female and four were male. Tubes had been inserted for nutrients and waste, and their lungs and hearts seemed to be working normally. The skin color was normal. Their eyes were uniformly closed, as if dreaming. A grey-orange tube from the back of each head extended that led to the back of the cabinet and disappeared through a wall. A faint pink seam crossed each forehead.
The right wall was covered in tubes and strange machines, some of which were studded with lights. All of the machinery looked as much as it had been grown as it was made. All of it was of the same dull gray finish.
Another object like a desk extruded out of the back wall. On the ledge of it sat several curious devices and cylinders.
Two sets of cables connected a shiny new cylinder to one device.
Guppy sat bolt upright. The others were waking slowly. He looked closer at one of the females.
It was Rachel. Younger Rachel. Rachel from the past, back when they were dating, back when Guppy was lovesick over her and foolish enough to go on a dangerous expedition.
But the others. What were they doing here?
Archive, Jim-Bean, and Hammer sat up.
“Uh, if this is a memory, what are we doing here?” asked Jim-Bean.
“I don’t know,” said Hammer. “But I don’t remember this.”
“Me neither,” said Archive.
“I was in a boarding school for the psychically gifted in Britain.” Jim-Bean looked down at his hands. “Wasn’t I?”
Guppy was staring at Rachel. It was Rachel as he remembered her, before she cut her hair, still in the flower of youth. Gone were the lines of worry and sadness. She still had some weight on her, before her drug addiction turned her into a scarecrow.
The eye flicked open. “Hank,” her voice echoed in Guppy’s mind. “Hank, all I want to do is tell you the truth. That’s all I’ve been doing this whole time.”
“Rachel…” said Guppy. “Rachel, it’s all a lie. All this time you were dead. And I killed you.”
Rachel was fully awake now. She shook her head, still speaking to him from the nutrient bath. “No. No, the real Rachel was already dead. Freddy’s men killed her. She was trying to have you committed. She didn’t believe you. I took this form so you would listen…”
“To what?” Guppy looked around. “So much suffering, for what?”
“I am showing the others the realms beyond the first twenty five dimensions. You are my Chosen, you will serve me as my priest.”
Guppy shook his head violently. “No. No!”
Rachel’s gaze turned murderous. “I have given you a blessing, and yet you would still refuse me?”
Guppy pointed at Rachel. “I want you out of my head. Now.”
“Fool,” snarled Rachel, her form twisting and morphing. “You are in MY HEAD.”
Rachel’s head shrunk into her torso, eyes popped out along the length of her abdomen, and two massive arms exploded out of her sides, ending in powerful pincers. Dozens more tiny limbs sprouted along the length of her body. Her lower torso ended in a serpentine tail with a vicious stinger.
“What the hell is that?” asked Jim-Bean.
“I think that’s the Datamaster,” said Archive. “Whatever thing that’s been in Guppy’s head has infected the Crystal Matrix AI that runs the Dreamweb.”
“Hot Pants!” shouted Hammer, helpless. “We could use those weapons we talked about.”
There was no answer. The thing burst from its confines and slithered towards them.
YOUR FRIEND CANNOT HELP YOU NOW.
“No,” said Guppy. “But maybe I can.”
Guppy concentrated and Glocks flashed into everyone’s hands.
They wasted no time. Everyone pointed their weapons at the thing and fired.
Bullets ricocheted off its hide. It swept equipment aside with its huge claws as it advanced.
Guppy, Archive, and Jim-Bean kept firing. In the dream realm, they never ran out of bullets.
Hammer was in front. He ducked a sweep of its claws and then shrieked as a piercing pain tore through his back.
The thing’s stinger protruded out Hammer’s torso. He disappeared into his own nightmares and memories with a flash.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Dreams: Part 19 – Execution Scenario 2
“It’s time,” said the warden, accompanied by three corrections officers.
Hammer was too disoriented to stand up. Where the hell was he?
The officers helped Hammer to his feet and he began walking to the death chamber.
It was a small gray room with cinder-block walls and a large wooden chair in the center of the room. One wall featured a large plate-glass window, and Hammer could see three rows of folding chairs behind it, where some men and women in suits were scribbling notes or just watching.
Hammer was placed in the chair and his forearms, ankles, waist, chest, and head were tightly secured. A well-worn leather mask was placed over his face, leaving only his nose exposed. Then two electrodes were placed upon his body. The first was attached to a metal receptacle that was encased in a leather shell and rested on top of his head. The second was attached to his hairless right calf.
A sponge was dipped in water and placed on top of Hammer’s head, underneath the leather cap. He was now alone in the room; the guards and executioner had left. It was eerily quiet.
This was a dream. It was just a dream. He was in his own nightmare.
No, he was remembering. That’s right, he was remembering his stress test! This was OUTLOOK. This was his initiation. This was the Datamaster digging into its files and forcing Hammer to relive his worst nightmare.
It isn’t real. IT ISN’T REAL. IT! IS! NOT—
Hammer was back on the table in the chamber with lobster-like thing. Archive and Jim-Bean were gone. Only Guppy remained. The thing loomed over him.
Hammer raised his pistol, only to discover he had no pistol. He was back to square one, as if he had just joined the dream.
“This isn’t real!” shouted Guppy. “This isn’t the truth! It’s all a lie!”
The creature and the dreamscape tore apart, shattering into a million pieces.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Hammer blinked awake inside the Dream Imager. Archive was just getting up.
They ran upstairs. Jim-Bean was there, opening the door to the Dreamweb. Guppy groggily disconnected himself from the myriad of wires entwining him.
“It is over?” asked Guppy.
“Yeah,” Caprice’s voice clicked over the intercom. “The light over the lake stopped. Everybody else is dead. I think it’s safe to raise the curtains.” The metal curtains covering the windows slowly winched upwards.
They escorted Guppy outwards. The entire facility was eerily silent. Piling into Jim-Bean’s car, they drove past the gate.
Jim-Bean’s cistron beeped. “Good news,” said Jim-Bean over his shoulder to Guppy. “You were telling the truth. SINNER triangulated the coordinates of the cell phone calls and we found a facility. It was deserted, but it was just like you said – traces of bomb-making material was on site…”
“He’s out,” said Hammer. “Let him be.”
Guppy was asleep, snoring with his mouth open.
“So Sprague tries to cover up Guppy’s breakdown. Warner finds out and has him assigned to his top secret OUTLOOK facility,” said Jim-Bean. “Guppy’s stuck in the middle of a tug of war. Fortunately for Sprague…well this happened. Warner takes another hit.”
“I’m still not sure if Guppy is crazy or not,” said Archive. “But whatever was in his head infected the Datamaster, which in turn infected the entire staff. We’re lucky we didn’t see experience whatever it was sharing with everyone else to make them go insane.”
“I think we did,” said Jim-Bean. “In a sense. We saw Guppy’s memories.”
Hammer shrugged. “Through Guppy’s biased perspective. We don’t know what’s real or what isn’t. Speaking of which…what happened to your accent?”
Jim-Bean blinked. He hadn’t realized he was talking without it. “I’m trained to speak in a variety of accents, you know.” He didn’t use his British accent then either.
“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” said Caprice. “If Butts was making bombs, what was he doing with them?”
He got his answer as a terrific explosion engulfed the battered remains of Dinosaur Lodge, igniting the landscape behind them.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Chapter 37: Angular Gods - Introduction
This story hour is a combination of “Fractal Gods” by Steve Hatherley from The Stars Are Right and “Angular Dreams” by Angus Boylan from The Last Province #1. You can read more about Delta Green at Delta Green. Please note: This story hour contains spoilers!
Our cast of characters includes:
Of all the scenarios we’ve played, this is probably the one I tinkered with the most. I took the elements involving Tiger Transit, Coca Loco, and the Tcho-Tcho from Delta Green: Countdown, mixed it with the previously alien-technology swiping of Centurion Computer Systems and Walter Morrow, threw in the Hound of Tindalos-summoning fractal virus, the virtual hangout of Lord Vapor from d20 Cyberscape, the Tick-Tock Man, Terrors from Beyond, a certain geeky damsel in distress…and by the end of it ended up with something that looks a lot like Tron.
- Game Master: Michael Tresca
- Kurtis "Hammer" Grange (Fast Hero/Gunslinger) played by George Webster
- Joseph “Archive” Fontaine (Dedicated Hero/Acolyte) played by Joe Lalumia
- Hank “Guppy” Gupta (Smart Hero/Field Scientist) played by Joseph Tresca (portfolio banking investing mortgage credit at creepyportfolio.com)
- Jim “Jim-Bean” Baxter (Charismatic Hero) played by Jeremy Ortiz (http://www.ninjarobotstudios.com)
The vibe I was trying to go for at the very beginning of the scenario was the same effect as The Ring: the idea that every television (or in this case, cistron) could be a gateway to another world.
Unfortunately, the scenario also looked a lot like the scenario just before it: trapped in another dimension? Check. Can a hacker modify what the agents inside experience? Check. Guppy the central role? Check. In terms of game mechanics, there’s not necessarily that much of a difference between a dream world and a virtual world. I didn’t realize the similarities until we were playing the scenarios back-to-back.
That said, this scenario was an opportunity for Guppy to show off his utility, prove he can still be a team player, and reconnect him with yet another ex-girlfriend. It will serve as a springboard to The Wild Hunt and At Your Door.
Defining Moment: Talk about your wrong number!
- The Stars Are Right!: Source of Fractal Gods.
- Delta Green: Countdown: For information on Tcho-Tchos and Tiger Transit.
- D20 Modern Critical Locations: Modern maps.
- D20 Cyberscape: The source of the Virtual Lounge.
- The Fractal Realm: RPG.net takes the Fractal Realm detailed in The Stars Are Right and expands it.
- The Ring: The Fractal Gods virus spreads through phones instead of televisions, but you get the idea.
- Virtual Insanity: by Jamiroquai.
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Angular Gods: Prologue
It was night. A storm was beginning outside, but the agents were fortunately in a warm place.Futures made of virtual insanity
now always seem to be governed by this love we have
for useless, twisting, of our new technology
Oh now there is no sound, for we all live underground
--Virtual Insanity by Jamiroquai
Jim-Bean handed Guppy his cistron and Beretta. "Welcome back."
Guppy squinted at Jim-Bean. "Thanks, I think." He was still getting accustomed to life as an agent. They were at the apartment rented in New York City as their temporary base of operations. Guppy scanned his thumbprint. It read: ON PROBATION.
“I’m sure it’s temporary,” said Jim-Bean.
Archive smirked. “Just like my ‘Friendly’ status that Hammer applied for, right?”
There was an awkward silence when Hammer walked into the kitchen. Hammer was somewhat responsible for putting Guppy on mental health leave.
"How you feeling, Guppy?" asked Archive warily.
"You mean the visions?" Guppy said with a slight smile. " I feel much better actually. Better than I have in years. The migraines and the nightmares stopped."
"Maybe the Dreamweb really did help," said Jim-Bean.
More uncomfortable silence.
Hammer's cistron rang. He jumped at it.
“Hello? This is Walter Morrow! I was told to contact you if I saw anything suspicious and I think something really strange is going on."
"Morrow?" asked Hammer. "From Centurion Computing Systems?"
Morrow had been released through use of the COCKTAIL, a chemical concoction that caused memory loss. As a Grey plant, Majestic-12 was using Morrow as a sort of catch-and-release program. To do anything more drastic might jeopardize the Accord and let the Greys know that Majestic was on to their meddling in the private sector.
“There’s a project I was working on before the--the incident with the PlayPal: PROJECT RELISH. It was taking place in one of the basement labs of our military hardware development center, but I’ve been denied access for security reasons. James Morton and Lisa Patterson, my colleagues, have become increasingly hostile and almost threatening. Several employees were electrocuted in what they’re calling an industrial accident. Yet,” Morrow sounded very tense, “the bodies were savaged, not burned, and the room it happened in contained nothing more than a few computers. You’ve got to help me!”
"Calm down," said Hammer. "Tell me where you—"
“I overheard Lisa saying it was, 'Mh’ithrha’s will,' in reference to the accident. What the—“ The phone went dead.
The storm grew worse. The lights flickered and the echoes of thunder grew louder.
"Since when does Morrow call us?" asked Jim-Bean.
Before Hammer could answer, his cistron rang again. He picked it up.
There was a long pause followed by a series of fast beeps and clicks, like an incoming fax only faster. When it stopped, all the lights went out. The apartment fell silent and dark, save for the glow of their cistrons.
"I don't like this," said Hammer.
His cistron displayed a series of jagged fractal-like images in a hypnotizing, nauseating, series of purple and blood-colored tints. Jim-Bean stumbled around in the dark.
"You okay?" asked Guppy.
"Just feeling a little…" gasped Jim-Bean. "Weak."
"It's draining his psychic energy," said Archive urgently. "Shut it off."
The fractals on the cistron suddenly changed, taking on a more tortured, angular look. The spiral effect became less and less distinct until it appeared to be a long, writhing tunnel. Odd text, possibly Arabic or Greek, sped across the screen, appearing and vanishing far too quickly to be read.
"Shut WHAT off?" asked Hammer. "I'm not even sure what's going on!"
"It's casting a spell!" shouted Archive. "Shut it off!"
Hammer placed the cistron on the kitchen counter and backed away from it, drawing his Glocks.
Something shot from the back of the screen to the front where it crouched, staring outwards, lashing at the glass, distorting the screen as it howls through the speaker. It had a lean, painfully thin canine form, its skin a coruscating sea of cyan and violet, reflecting the room on its shifting eyes and flanks, all sealed and coated with a dripping blue ichor.
Archive picked up the cistron to smash it, but a bolt of light shot from the screen into the corner of the room. In a flash, a dog-like thing was in the apartment.
Bluish pus coated the long, lean hound. The flowing, dripping integument gives the hound a half-formed appearance. Before Archive could complete the throw, it lunged at him.
Archive was knocked over as the blue, dripping hound pinned him. His companions all fired at it.
The guns sparked in the darkness. The bullets fired into the thing and through it, moving in slow-motion like a bullet-time effect out of the Matrix, punching out the other side without inflicting any damage.
A spiral, fang-tipped tongue punched a perfect hole in Archive's arm. He managed to shove the thing off of him.
The hound turned to face Jim-Bean, who backed out of the room, still firing.
Then Hammer was in its path. Trained in dealing with attack dogs, Hammer let it bite the back of his forearm and took a careful shot aimed between its eyes with his free hand. But the hound's tongue tore a seeping blue hole through his forearm and nearly reached his face.
Hammer fell back, helpless to do anything but keep the thing's tongue from punching a hole through his head.
Another pistol sparked, and this time it shivered and disappeared in a blue haze. It was Archive's pistol that did the trick.
The lights flickered back on.
"What WAS that?" asked Hammer, rubbing the blue hole in his forearm. It was painless. He could see right through to the other side.
"A Hound of Tindalos," said Archive. "They're predators. They generally only notice humans if they cross the boundaries of time and space."
The other agents looked at Hammer. He had already sent a message to himself from the future.
"Guppy, can you—"
"Already on it," said Guppy with a smile. "I triangulated the call. He's in Partridgeville, Massachusetts."
Hammer patted Guppy on the shoulder. "It's good to have you back. Let's go."
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Angular Gods: Part 1 – On the Morrow
The sleepy old colonial town of Partridgeville was small and decaying, and had a New England air about it. There was a village green, narrow winding streets, clapboard cottages, and a white-steeple Congregational church. Out from the center of town, the streets broadened and straighten, and the yards were deep and shady. Out even further were housing developments and a shabby industrial area.
From the outside, Morrow’s house looked perfectly normal. It was a small, two-storied, country house with what appeared to be an attic, and was made from stone with a thatched roof. A van was parked outside. There was no sign of movement about the place, and all of the curtains were drawn closed, except in the attic where it looked as if the small gable windows had been painted over. The garden was well-trimmed, with several small rose-beds and a tall hedge enclosing it from outside observers.
“Phone line’s been cut,” said Hammer, pointing at where the wires would normally connect to the house.
They made their way inside, pistols out. Guppy disabled the alarm system and then unlocked the door.
Inside, the house was well-made, with thick stone walls and new wooden floorboards. All of the rooms combined to create the image of someone who was intensely house-proud, but at the same time loved old worn and used furniture. There were numerous antiques about, many of a simple, pine design. All of the floors were carpeted, and all the rooms were based around a central chimney which had fires in each of the three main ground floor rooms.
The entire house was curved. All the interior walls, windows, and furniture were formed without angles. It gave the normally rustic house a retro space-age look. The filling material was not part of the house proper, a sort of filler foam that clashed with the otherwise attractive home.
Archive looked around. “This is…this is very strange.”
“Spread out,” said Hammer. “Jim-Bean, Archive, see what you can find. Guppy, you’re with me.”
Jim-Bean called into the comm. link from downstairs. “Just a bunch of PlayPals networked together in the basement.”
“Playpals,” said Hammer. “The same kind Tucker was trying to find at WeeBee Toys.”
“The Navi chip,” said Guppy. “The same kind of chip that ran the Dreamweb. The Crystal Matrix AI created by the Greys…”
“Destroy them,” said Hammer.
“Already did,” reported Jim-Bean. “Going upstairs next.”
Hammer stopped short at Morrow’s study.
The study was a mess, in contrast to the rest of the house, with files scattered all around the twin desks, coffee spilled across reams of computer paper, and a chair pushed over onto its side.
“Someone’s been in his study,” said Hammer. “It looks as if someone was either searching for something or was surprised and subdued after a brief struggle.”
The main desk was dominated by a PlayPal 611. The vast majority of books in the book cases were scientific journals, computer manuals, with the occasional out of date local paper or copy of MUFON. On the desks themselves are much the same thing, as well as a large number of fact files on CCS products such as all their new hardware lists, peripherals, and the like.
“Jackpot,” said Hammer.
There was a stamped package addressed to Morrow, posted four days before the night of the storm. Hammer tore it open. It contained a DVD and a note. Hammer read it to the team.
“Looks like a warning from Wang-Li Gi, Morrow’s coworker, talking about a conversation with some sort of alien intelligence.”
“Warning about what?” asked Guppy.
“An experiment that CCS was conducting without Morrow’s knowledge: PROJECT RELISH.”
Guppy pulled out a portable DVD reader and plugged it into his cistron. Then he pushed the disc into the player and hit play.
There was a crackle and hiss of a tape as it started, then dropped into the sounds of people moving about a room. In the distance, a humming could be heard, along with several muffled voices talking in whispers.
“The system is on-line and running, doctor,” said a woman with a French accent. “We should have fully tapped the subjects in less than thirty seconds.”
An old man’s soft voice responded, “How are they holding up?”
“I think that’s Lisa Patterson.” Guppy scanned the note. “The man is James Morton.”
“At present, just as expected,” said Patterson. “Heartbeat down, along with blood pressure, and reduced brain activity, just as in the previous trials. The tapping method seems to create a form of tiredness that can’t be explained by the presence of fatigue poisons. It…wait. The PlayPal is up and ready. At your command, doctor.”
“On my count?” asked Morton. “What will see this time, eh? ‘The glory of Him who moves all things soe’er impenetrates the universe, and bright the splendor burns, more here and lesser there. Within that heav’n which most receives his light was I, and saw such thing as man nor knows, nor skills to tell, returning from that height.’”
“I’m sorry, sir?” asked Patterson. “I didn’t catch the reference.”
“Never mind Lisa,” said Morton. “Just do it now.”
“Yep, that’s Lisa Patterson,” confirmed Guppy.
There was a series of rapid clicks and an increasing hum, like enraged mechanical bees, until suddenly a vast roar broke the cacophony, along with the creak and groan of metal under stress. From far off, someone gasped, and a dreadful hissing was audible, broken by the noise of something lashing back and forth. After a moment of this, a mechanical voice spoke.
“WHO ARE YOU THAT YOU SHOULD DARE TO SUMMON ONE SUCH AS US THROUGH THE ANGLES?”
“Forgive me, Lord, if I have caused affront, but I had wished to speak to you as seeker to boon granter,” said Morton.
“BOON GRANTER?” said the mechanical voice. “YOUR SPEECH IS AS MUCH AN AFFRONT TO US AS YOUR THREE-SHAPED FORMS. WE SHALL TEAR AND REND WHAT REMAINS…VIRGINAL WITHIN YOU, LITTLE SHADOW.”
“God, that face, it’s like –“ began Patterson.
“GOD?” asked the voice. “YOU SPEAK OF OUR MASTER? OR DO YOU TALK OF WHAT YOU GROUNDLINGS HAVE MADE IN YOUR TEMPLES AND OFFERED PRAYERS TO? THE CREATOR WAS MADE IN YOUR IMAGE?! SUCH ARROGANCE! TO THINK YOU TIME-BOUND CREATURES ARE THE SUM OF ALL! YOU ARE NOT. YOU ARE THE SCUM ON THE SURFACE OF THE DARKNESS, THE (pause) FUNGI WHICH NEEDS TO BE SCRAPED CLEAN BEFORE THE POOL IS CLEAN AGAIN.”
“So you have a master?” asked Morton. “One who lies at the heart of the angles?”
“OUR MASTER IS NOT FOR ONE SUCH AS YOU TO HEAR OF. NOW RELEASE ME!”
The sound of metal being stressed increased and more roaring was audible.
“HOW CAN YOU CONTAIN US? HOW DARE YOU? NONE OF YOUR SORCERERS HAVE DONE SO!”
“Man must not rashly scorn science, eh?” asked Morton, bemused. “Simply choose and read with care to find true power, which lies in the grapes surrounded by thorns. Well, I have plucked the grapes, and they lie within my hand, as do you. Now, we do not bind one such as you without a gift. They lie there, enthralled at your presence. Their…virginal limbs, as you put it, are yours, in return for answers.”
There was a strange noise, like mechanical laughter. “THEN OFFER THEM TO USE AND WE SHALL SPEAK FURTHER, OF TIN’DALSOS, YOUR LIVES, AND OTHER BLOODY THINGS.”
The tape ended.
“Whoever Wang-Li was,” Guppy held up an employee data sheet. “He’s dead now.”
The data sheet contained a complete listing of all twenty-three CCS employees, from the janitor to James Morton. Three names, Wang-Li Gi, Edwin Walker, and Alexander Holcroft were scored out, with the words DECEASED written by them. Eight of the names were starred with an asterisk stating, “Access to military room granted. Why?” It was accompanied by a set of security passes all stamped with a digitized picture of Walter and all bearing the CCS logo.
“We found Morrow,” said Jim-Bean. “You’d better take a look at this.”
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Angular Gods: Part 2 – Hanging Around
Hammer and Guppy came upon a swinging body, hung from the stairs. It was Morrow.
He was naked, with a full beard and shoulder length hair, both gray. His long fingernails hadn’t been cut in weeks.
“We found this note taped to his chest.” Jim-Bean handed Hammer a note. “It’s addressed to somebody named Melissa.”
“The answer might be in the wall safe we found in his bedroom.” Archive came out of Morrow’s bedroom. “But we can’t open it.”
Hammer nodded at Guppy.
“On it!” chirped Guppy. He disappeared into the bedroom.
Hammer scanned the note. “Blackened cities, twisted shells of buildings. Tortured souls penned for the spheres to feed on from between the planes. What does: Chu htn llo han zob kzad mean?”
“That’s a Tindalosian chant!” began Archive but it was too late.
Hammer saw hideous visions of an alien universe and a swirling mass of iridescent spheres. He blinked, stunned by the sight.
“What did you see?” asked Archive frantically. “What did you see?”
“Another place. Old…it’s hard to describe.”
“But it wasn’t an ocean, right?” asked Archive.
Hammer shook his head.
Archive relaxed a little. “Good. If you had a vision back far enough in time, the Hounds of Tindalos can track you back to here. Don’t…” Archive put one hand on Hammer’s shoulder. “Don’t read out chants in the future, okay?” He was sweating.
“Yeah,” said Hammer, shaken. “Sure. Let’s see what we’ve got in Morrow’s bedroom.”
This large bedroom had a picture on one wall of Morrow. A much younger Morrow stood in front of a plane with the words, “Air America,” scrawled on one side of it. A second picture showed Morrow, a bit older, with four young dark-skinned Asian boys. A third picture was actually a magazine cover: CENTURION COMPUTER SYSTEMS ACQUIRES TIGER TRANSIT.
Jim-Bean sniffed the air. “You smell that?”
Archive took a deep breath. “Rotting meat,” he said quietly.
“Guppy, Jim-Bean, you two work on that wall safe. Archive, you’re with me. Let’s go find out what’s in the attic.”
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Angular Gods: Part 3 – Sacrifices Must Be Made
As Hammer opened the door, his nostrils were assaulted by the smell of rotting meat and the faint buzzing of flies.
“Got the safe open,” said Guppy over the comm. There’s a diary.”
“What’s it say?” asked Hammer. “We’re entering the attic now.”
“Someone named Cho Chu-tsao introduced Morrow to Blink,” said Guppy. “He made her his personal assistant. Then he signed proxy votes of Tiger Transit over to Matthew Lewis, making him Chairman of the Board and CEO. Sounds like he was addicted to the stuff.”
The attic was entered via a very steep staircase that led from the upper landing. Hammer and Archive ascended the stairs. The smell became progressively stronger and stronger until they stepped out onto a confined area, a room piled up to the sloping rafters with sheet-covered crates.
“Something went wrong,” continued Guppy. “Morrow took something new from the tcho-tchos, a more pure version of Blink. His mind went back, far back. Then he says something followed him to the present.”
Archive nodded. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
After exploring for a few minutes, they found a clear space and in its center, a sheet covered in odd scorched holes that seemed to form some sort of circle.
“It was Cho who had the house remodeled to remove all angles,” said Guppy. “Morrow hung on to his majority stock and if he died, Cho wouldn’t get any – he still had his ex-wife, Melissa, in his will. He wanted to transfer majority stock to somebody named Sang, but didn’t think it was safe. It looks like Morrow killed himself to screw everybody, and called us in the hopes that we would follow the trail back to CCS’s new headquarters.”
“Sang’s one of his four foster children,” said Jim-Bean. “He’s the one missing an arm in the one of the pictures on Morrow’s wall.”
Hammer knelt down to take a closer look. “The blood spatter pattern looks as if it were splashed over a figure lying on the sheet.”
Next to the mark was a long, bloodied knife with a curving wooden grip. Above it hung a large sheet, tied up to contain something, which dangled from the ceiling. Its bottom half was covered with blood.
“He asked Morton to look into controlling the thing that pursued him, on the side. He says the other tcho-tchos were visiting frequently and there were odd smells coming from upstairs…”
Just then the bag, soaked with blood, burst. Writhing maggots and reddish-brown organs spattered to the ground.
“Sacrifices,” said Archive, holding his nose. “They were trying to placate the Hound.”
“And instead it got sent to us using some virus program?” asked Hammer. “We’d better report this to Sprague…” he attempted to connect to Blacknet but his cistron was unresponsive.
“SINNER locked down Blacknet,” said Guppy. “Standard procedure for a security breach.”
“What can get through Blacknet’s defenses?” asked Hammer in bewilderment.
“Magic,” said Archive.
“Guys,” reported Jim-Bean urgently. “You’d better get down here. We’ve got company.”
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