Delta Green - All Part of the Job

Nomessiah

Villager
The Bedford Project - Session 4g

Only, Atwood hadn’t made it out. The FBI profiler was struggling to stay awake while the Thing-That-Had-Been-Dunn towered over him. Without bending, it reached down to him. Its arm elongated impossibly, and just before it grabbed Atwood … eight … nine … ten!

Dempsey’s “Irish Coffee” bomb splattered the creature to all corners of the room. That was it. Even the shrapnel and acid weren’t enough to keep Atwood awake. In his final moment of consciousness, he could just barely hear Dr. Cherry laughing through the ringing in his ears, and he could taste metal.

The concrete tunnel was about 150 yards of acidic air and flickering florescent lighting. About halfway down the tunnel was another breached security checkpoint complete with unhinged and rusting doors, scattered rust and oxidized copper, and two blueish-skinned corpses. At the end of the tunnel were two more dead security guards with the usual signs of a failed gunfight. The bodies were slumped against the wall opposite a rusted mine shaft elevator. It was in rough shape, but it appeared operational.

Dempsey had a few reservations about using what was essentially just a rusted grate, corroded cables, and a pulley. Porter had even stronger reservations about heading back the way they came, so up they went. The elevator control was nothing more than three buttons on a box; one for each direction and one to stop.

The elevator creaked, and the gears ground, but it was apparent whoever had it installed wanted the best quality. Despite the sounds and a few stuttered jerks, the elevator ride was otherwise smooth. It came to a halt at the top to reveal an eight-foot square hole in the landing where a grated floor had rusted away. A steel door had been ripped from its hinges, and it bridged the gap. On the other side of the door-covered hole, the floor was concrete, and there were two more corpses who appeared to have been taken completely by surprise.

The air at the top was fresh, and the night sky could be seen through the open doorway. The storm clouds had dispersed. The small concrete building leading to the elevator was surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire, but a sizable hole had rusted away.

Porter and Dempsey paused for a moment and took deep breaths to clear their lungs and nasal passages. The Irishman looked back toward the elevator, but he didn’t have to speak. Porter was thinking the same thing. Atwood wasn’t going to make it. If they made it out of this town alive, they’d have a drink or two in his honor and then another drink or two for good measure.

The men could hear the sounds of whistles and cheering in the distance. That was a good sign, right? That meant the thing hadn’t collected its payment yet. All the same, Porter wasn’t confident, and his words implied as much.

“You know we can’t take that thing, right?”

“Aye. But we can’t just not try.”

“Maybe – and hear me out on this ‘cause I hate myself for thinking it – maybe we can just not try. Not saying those people don’t deserve to be saved, but there’s nothing we can do besides throwing ourselves at it.”

The Irishman frowned, but he nodded in agreement. Porter swallowed hard before he continued. Yeah, he didn’t like what he was thinking.

“It’ll probably all be over before we get there anyway. Maybe we just … you know, maybe we go the other way. We grab that chemical truck and ride it on the rims nice and slow. Not our fault we didn’t make it in time, right? Hell, we tried our best.”

Dempsey was quiet and solemn. He didn’t like the plan, but it made sense. And the NSA spook had an air of experience about him that lent strength to the idea. The agents headed around the HelpLink building to Porter’s rental car.

They sat in silence all the way out IA-2 until they reached the Brewster Pesticide truck. Both men knew the play, and neither felt particularly like discussing it until they had to. Dempsey would take the truck, and Porter would follow at a safe distance.

The pesticide truck’s engine fired right up, but rolling on six flat tires slowed things down. The Irishman didn’t particularly care about ruining the wheels or the road, but the last thing he wanted was a rollover in a 500-gallon chemical weapon. Still, if he had to go out, there were probably worse ways. Hell, for all he knew, this might be his origin story, and he could come out of the rollover with super powers.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
The Bedford Project - Session 4h

The drive back to Bedford was tense for both agents. While saving an entire town would be great, neither man wanted to get to the game too early.

As they reached town and neared the school, signs of the creature’s passing became more evident. All along Taylor Street leading toward the school, the creature had left a trail of incidental destruction. Cars had partially rusted, and in some cases, this had resulted in tires rolling away like tumbleweeds and gasoline leaking into the gutter. The street was mostly dark; the only light was coming from the moon, the stadium lights of the football field in the distance, and a few fallen street lights which were still operational but shining at odd angles.

Though he was pale even for an Irishman, and he was driving slowly, Dempsey’s knuckles were whiter than usual as he gripped the steering wheel tighter than his last bottle of Bushmills. It was difficult enough to drive a truck with no tires and full of deadly chemicals in the direction of the last place he wanted to be. Now he had to drive it through an obstacle course.

As Dempsey carefully navigated the debris scattered across Taylor Street, the stadium lights were a beacon in the relative darkness of Bedford. Just across the street from the school, a jet of water was shooting into the air where a fire hydrant used to be. Whatever Dunn had called down, it had made it at least as far as the high school parking lot. Several light posts in the parking lot had fallen, and many cars had been heavily rusted.

The Taylor County Corn Huskers team bus suffered worse than the other vehicles in the parking lot. To initial observation, it appeared the middle of the bus rusted away leaving two halves. The rear half of the bus had tipped forward leaving the rear emergency exit up in the air. The front half of the bus had done the same thanks to the weight of the massive engine.

No loud sounds were coming from the stadium; no cheering, no collisions, no whistles, no announcer … no screaming. Maybe it was all over? But the scoreboard indicated the Bedford Bulldogs were leading the visiting team by a score of 77 – 3 with 3:13 still left to play in the 4th quarter.

Porter pulled his rental car up next to the truck. The trail of rust and corrosion led straight to the stadium, and the turnstiles had rusted away, but there didn’t appear to be any bodies in the parking lot. Dempsey thought maybe that meant the thing had hit fast and taken everyone by surprise, but Porter pointed out the kid checking tickets at the gate and the people running the concession stand were gone. There didn’t appear to be anyone up in the announcer’s booth either.

The bee girl, then? Cherry had mentioned she could influence and direct everyone in town. Maybe she called everyone together and had them sit quietly while the thing ate? The thought sent shivers down their spines, but they agreed it was likely. Well, just as long as it was gone …

The parking lot side of the field was lined with a concrete structure for the home team’s fans. It was this structure which, until the turnstiles had rusted and corroded away, had guarded the entrance to the stadium. Metal bleachers for the visiting team’s fans lined the other side. Behind the west end zone was the field house with the announcer’s booth above it, and beyond that was the rest of the Bedford High School campus. Beyond the east end zone was a grass field and Madison Street. The entire stadium was enclosed by a chain-link fence.

Now came the tricky part. The truck had to get on the field. The only way that was going to happen was for Dempsey to take it around to Madison Street, and then drive it through the field and the fence. While he was getting into position, Porter would enter on foot. He didn’t want to be anywhere near the stadium, but someone had to be there in case the Irishman couldn’t finish the job.

Both men nodded respectfully at each other, and Dempsey threw the truck in gear. The wheels cried under the strain as he moved into position.

Porter crossed the parking lot quickly until he reached the turnstiles. No bodies, no sounds. As he moved slowly out of the tunnel and onto the track around the field, he became aware of a crunching sound under his feet. There were no cheerleaders in front of the stands, but right where they should have been were hundreds of dead bees; maybe even thousands. The NSA spook turned quickly on his heel - grinding a dozen or so bees to a pulp in the process - and aimed his gun up into the concrete structure. He didn’t bother to count the blue-skinned bodies littering the stands, but if it turned out to be the same number as the population the “Welcome to Bedford” sign boasted, he wouldn’t be surprised. It sure as hell looked like it could be 1,406.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
The Bedford Project - Session 4i

Porter gave a beckoning wave, and Dempsey threw the truck in drive. He managed to gain enough momentum through the field to roll over the thin metal fence surrounding the stadium, and he was able to maintain it enough to get through the other fence around the field.

The Irishman let the truck come to a rest at midfield on the home team side. To his right, he could see a pile of blue-skinned athletes and referees, and beyond that, metal bleachers with more bodies draped about. To his left, he could see the bodies in the stands of the concrete structure and Porter waving. Between Porter and the stands, he could also make out what seemed to be a dense, roiling fog of pale yellowish-pink seeping out of the stands and staying low to the ground. He jumped out of the truck and shouted for Porter to run.

That was the last thought he could spare for the NSA man for now. He had a job to do. Running around to the back of the truck, Dempsey began disabling all the fail-safes and planting explosive charges. They couldn’t kill whatever that thing was, but if all went according to plan, they could at least make it look like domestic terrorism rather than cosmic horror.

Porter didn’t even bother to look. He just ran. He ran out onto the field toward the truck and met up with Dempsey. Then both men ran toward the visiting team’s bleachers. The idea was to keep the truck between them and the thing. Then, when the creature was close enough to the truck, Dempsey would hit the button on the remote detonator. The explosives would open the tank and release the chemicals which the agents hoped would at least make the thing think better of remaining in Bedford.

They made it to the visiting team’s sideline and turned to wait. They could see the fog rolling onto the field. They watched as it closed in on the truck. Dempsey hit the button.

Nothing. He hit the button again, and still nothing. He hit it frantically several more times and still nothing.

Porter closed his eyes and took a deep, slow breath. He knew what he had to do. He knew he had to be the one. Of the two remaining agents, he was the older man, and he was the American. He loved his country as much as he hated his job. There was only one way this ended.

He gave the Irishman a nod and a tired smile before running full speed back to the truck. Back to the thing that killed Bedford. Dempsey let him go. Porter was a good man. He’d be sure to drink twice as much in his memory as he would in Atwood’s.

Dunn’s creature roiled beneath the truck as it seemed to wait for the fresh soul. It was futile, he knew, but Porter instinctively took a deep breath and covered his face with his shirt as he reached the truck. The thick fog seeped out and engulfed his feet. He felt the burn, and even though he held his breath, Porter felt the sting in his eyes and nasal passages. He felt his throat tighten around his swelling tongue. Any moment now, his stomach would turn black and force its contents up that tightened throat, but there would be nowhere for it to go. He would choke as the stomach acid forced its way up and out anywhere it could – eyes, ears, nose, mouth; he could feel it happening already. It would come out with explosive force, so he had to move fast.

Through blurred and stinging vision, he found the detonator. His knees were giving out, and he thought briefly that he could feel his soul being drawn out through his pores. He wanted to give Dempsey one final salute, but his knees buckled. On his way down, he slapped desperately for the button. A series of small detonations told him he had succeeded. He never felt his blue-skinned head hit the grass.

Dempsey saw the truck blow, and then he ran. He wasn’t much for quantum physics, but he’d heard of a guy and his cat. If he never turned to look, he’d never have to know. As he ran north down Madison Street, he heard the horn from the stadium indicating time had expired. Only in America could the home team be outscored by more than 1,400 and still call it a win.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Update: The Roll20 group has been assembled! Actually, it's been cobbled together from the remnants of my Alaska and Kentucky tabletop groups. Still, the result is the same.

Character creation and schedule arrangement will get rolling soon, and the first Roll20 session is set for two weeks from now, Sunday, August 26th. That means updates to this Story Hour will begin shortly thereafter.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Gotta love scheduling difficulties before the first game with new players. We managed to put a session together Sunday with two of the new players; one character started as Delta Green, and the other did not. Dempsey's player was on a fishing vacation, but he should be back next session.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Let's Learn Aklo - Session 1a

According to numerous studies, speaking two languages fluently has a profoundly positive effect on cognitive skills and health. How much smarter and healthier, then, might someone be if he or she spoke several languages fluently? If Dolf de Jaager is any indication, the answer is simple: Very. The Dutch American linguist was a software engineer for the U.S. State Department who not only spoke several languages fluently but also designed translation software. He was also an extraordinarily brilliant man by all accounts. Even the other members of The Collar Club, a group of people who call themselves furries and wear anthropomorphic animal costumes, would unanimously agree, Dolf was by far the smartest of their number.

Dolf was intensely curious and inquisitive by nature. He was never one to let a mystery go unsolved, and the FedEx package he found on his doorstep one Saturday morning in December provided exactly such a mystery. The sender’s address indicated, in his own handwriting, that he had sent it from the Old First Ward Community Center in Buffalo, NY. That was plausible since he lived in Lewiston, about a half-hour drive north of Buffalo, but he had no recollection of having sent the package or ever going to the Community Center. Neither did Leah, his significant other.

As it was a weekend, and this was an unusual occurrence, to say the least, Dolf brought the package inside and took it upstairs to his home office. He opened the box with a pocket knife from a desk drawer. The contents only served to encourage his curiosity. He found five rewritable compact discs in jewel cases marked sequentially in Sharpie, and the numbers were just as he would write them.

Below the CDs, he found a steno pad with notes in his own handwriting; notes he had no memory of having taken. The written notes appeared to be the sort which a person learning a new language might take; an English phrase on one side and (presumably) the translation on the other side. The notes identified the language as Aklo, but he had never heard of it despite his many years of language studies. He was able to identify specific grammatical patterns, and he felt sure that, given enough time, he could learn to read and write Aklo. As for speaking it … well, maybe that’s what the CDs were for.

Dolf popped the first CD into the optical drive of his computer. The disc contained a single 74-minute .mp3 file which he played. As he suspected, the recording was done in the same format as the written notes; English phrase, translated phrase. It was his voice speaking the words, but he was no longer surprised. He may have had no memory of taking these notes, making these recordings, or mailing this package, but he had had a long night of drinking a few days ago, so … maybe? He didn’t sound drunk on the recording though.

There was an intense blue flash from the tree line outside his office window, but when he looked, he saw nothing. Dolf let the CD play as he retrieved binoculars and his shotgun from the far side of the office. The gun was loaded with birdshot, so it was unlikely to be of much use against anything so far away, but he still felt better with it nearby.

He scanned the trees again, this time with magnification. Still nothing. Whatever it was had gone. He leaned the shotgun against the wall next to the window and returned to his computer. He flipped through the steno pad again. There was a web address written on the last page. It was for a company he’d heard of but never thought much about. The Modern Languages School of America (MLSA) was a correspondence school which taught foreign languages by CD, textbook, and postal exam.

There was no mention of Aklo anywhere in their catalog, but less than an hour ago, someone had started a thread for it on the MLSA forum. The user, MightySkag, posed a question in his initial post: “Anybody else out there interested in learning Aklo?” In the signature portion of his post, MightySkag indicated he also went by the name Heir of Tarzan, and he claimed to have been raised by apes to be the new lord of the jungle. It also stated his location as Buffalo, New York. Dolf created an account and posted a response. He told MightySkag that he, too, was interested in learning Aklo.

Over the next several weeks, Dolf and MightySkag made frequent posts, and a few others joined the thread. They were a varied group, and the only common threads seemed to be that they all lived in or around Buffalo and had received a package from themselves. Only Dolf and MightySkag seemed concerned about that fact. The rest were far too excited about learning this exotic new language.

Dolf had asked a few of his colleagues to look into the identity and background of MightySkag, but it turned out to be unnecessary. One of his coworkers was a big wrestling fan, and he immediately recognized the name. Charlie Skaggs was a professional wrestler based in Buffalo who went by the stage name of the Heir of Tarzan, and he had a match against “Savage” Sammy Sutton coming up. Dolf decided to attend.
 
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Nomessiah

Villager
Let's Learn Aklo - Session 1b

The fans were rabid in their excitement, but Dolf paid no attention to them. He was there for Charlie Skaggs. It was easy to see how Skaggs could use a ring name like the Heir of Tarzan. The man was big and built, he was of mixed white and African American descent, and when he climbed the turnbuckle, he could almost fly.

The match didn’t last long. After a brief back and forth to work the crowd up, the Heir of Tarzan sent “Savage” Sammy Sutton running across the ring. As Sammy rebounded and ran back, the Heir of Tarzan had made his ascent. He dove at his opponent, and his shoulder made solid contact. Sammy’s head whipped back. The man was unconscious, but it took a moment for his legs to get the message. The Heir of Tarzan took a knee in a prelude to the pin.

Dolf shouted “Go, Charlie” in Aklo, and that got the wrestler’s attention. The Heir of Tarzan pointed straight at him with a grin and a wink before pinning the comatose Sammy. The next match was between a 700-pound giant named Girth and a much smaller man in a gimp mask known as King Pain. Dolf wasn’t interested, but he held his position.

Once Charlie had cleaned up, he made his way through the crowd to where Dolf was waiting. The two men discussed Aklo briefly, and Charlie admitted he had seen a blue flash as well. They exchanged phone numbers and addresses, and then Dolf squeezed through the crowd on his way out.

The next six weeks passed about the same as the previous five had. The Aklo group on the AMLA forum was up to eight members, and they were all quite active. What the group lacked in numbers, they made up for with enthusiasm.

Winter was coming to an end, and the early-March weather promised great things for the spring. For the Aklo group, these great things were also heralded by a call to meet. Group member Willie Adams, a widower who had retired from both the Air Force and his own small business, proposed the idea on the forum. He would reserve a conference room at the Old First Ward Community Center in Buffalo, NY, and they could practice speaking for a bit before recording themselves for their postal exam. The other members thought that sounded delightful. Only Charlie and Dolf seemed to notice that was the same community center from which they had mailed themselves the packages in the first place, but even they weren’t deterred. This new language was far too fascinating.

Dolf had shared very little new information with the group over the past eleven months; he instead pretended to participate by parroting ideas others had previously put forth. He had noticed language markers linking Aklo to many otherwise-unrelated languages, and he guessed it must be some sort of precursor; an ancient ancestor of most – if not all – other languages. If he was correct, Aklo could provide the U.S. with something similar to a universal communicator.

Of course, he had another theory: It was possibly a nearly-impenetrable code, and this was all a test being administered by the Illuminati. If that was the case, he wanted to be the one to crack it. He wanted to be the first kid to decipher the Ovaltine Message of the Week with his decoder ring. When the doors to the chocolate factory were opened, he wanted to be sure he had his golden ticket. No way in Heaven or Hell was someone going to learn this Aklo stuff before he did.

There was more Dolf hadn’t shared with the group. He had written a program to search the internet for any mention of Aklo. Despite the fact he routed his encrypted signal through several proxy servers around the world, this immediately tripped several red flags in Delta Green computers and put him on a watch list, but he had no way of knowing that.

The program also turned up just what he was looking for. One particular website dedicated to Asian pornography had several mentions of the language in a members-only VIP section, but they were all old enough to have been archived. No way was he putting membership on his credit card, so he bought a refillable gift card.

Once he had access, he found every instance of the word. In every case, it was associated with some combination of the same twelve actors and actresses. They were some type of Asian, he was sure, but just specific ethnicity, Dolf had no idea. From the context, Aklo seemed to be their language, or at least, one of them. One of the actors had an Aklo phrase tattooed on his upper arm. It said, “Go, Bulls!”
 
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Nomessiah

Villager
Let's Learn Aklo - Session 1c

Dolf packed up his laptop and the package he’d mailed himself, and he set out for Buffalo. He wanted to arrive early so he could have time to get coffee somewhere in case none was provided. He was the first to arrive, but the room was already prepared. Several folding tables were arranged in a horseshoe shape, and Dolf chose a spot on one end with his back to the entrance. He would still be able to see the entire room thanks to a large mirror directly opposite his seat.

Charlie was the next to arrive, Dolf greeted him. As others began to file in, Dolf saw the blue flash again. This time, he got a good look. It was bright, but it was vaguely humanoid. It was on the roof of the office supply store across the street. Rather than call attention, he excused himself and made his way to the store. The employees were busy preparing to close, so they paid him little attention. No one seemed to notice as he slipped through the door to the stairwell at the back. He headed up the stairs and out onto the roof.

Nothing. Just an empty roof, a low wall around the perimeter, and an industrial air conditioning unit … which was just large enough for a person to use as cover. He readied his camera to capture video, snuck quietly toward the air conditioner, hit record, and whipped around. Dolf came face to (probably) face with what appeared to be a crouching man, except the man was made of bright, blue light.

In fact, he could see through the man if he tried, but it hurt his eyes to look directly at the man for too long. Not that the man gave him much chance. The blue figure was utterly motionless for a full ten seconds or so after Dolf popped around the corner, and then, in what seemed to be a much-delayed reaction, it ran for the wall. Tracers created a disorienting effect on Dolf, but he watched as the thing jumped from the roof to a tree much farther away than the software engineer would be comfortable jumping to.

Instead, he made his way back down the stairs, into the store, and then out of the store as quickly and inconspicuously as he could. Once outside, he was unable to locate the figure. He returned to the conference room to find the rest of the group enthusiastically making their recordings on their laptop computers.

Dolf took his seat and watched the video on his phone in slow motion. There were a few frames where the features of the blue figure were clear enough to make out. It bore a strong resemblance to one of the group members across from him; a former Navy SEAL named Anthony Hash. Dolf suppressed a shudder and emailed the video to his work address before deleting it from his phone. He then began his recordings for the postal exam.

It wasn’t long, however, before he saw the blue figure again. This time, he saw the reflection in the large mirror as the figure passed by the open doorway. The rest of the group was too engrossed in their work to notice anything else. The software engineer paused his recording and went to the lobby. There was no sign of the blue figure, but Dolf was sure it couldn’t have gone far.

As the software engineer nosed around the lobby and other two conference rooms, he heard a crash of glass followed by shouts coming from the direction of the Aklo group’s room. He rushed to see what the commotion was all about, and he was horrified to find out. Tables were overturned, laptops where smashed, and the big mirror on the far wall had shattered. Worse still, a few of the group members had retrieved particularly jagged shards of the mirror and appeared to be engaging in a rumble like something straight out of the West Side Story. Fortunately, there was a little less dancing.

Charlie Skaggs held his arms high over his head and roared at Lois, a 15-year-old Hmong girl who had been the last to join the group. Lois was frothing at the mouth and making threatening gestures with a shard of the mirror. The Heir of Tarzan grabbed another group member, Buffalo University Linguistics Professor Mabel Lively by the bun of her hair and yanked her back. He then lifted the woman effortlessly over his head and tossed her at the Hmong girl. Professor Lively was impaled on the mirror shard, and the girl was knocked unconscious. Another quick motion and Skaggs had snapped the girl’s neck.

Dolf fled outside and called the police. The local first-responders arrived a few minutes later, but by that time, there was no one left alive in the conference room. The only survivors were Dolf and a security guard who had put Charlie down. It also appeared the former Navy SEAL, Hash, had disappeared. Dolf gave his statement to the police, and they asked him not to leave the scene for the time being.
 
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Nomessiah

Villager
Let's Learn Aklo - Session 1d

Only a few miles away, DEA Special Agent Carl Clark was enjoying a visit with his cousin. Clark was from Virginia, and he was on vacation. Of course, he was also Delta Green, which meant he was never truly on vacation. His cousin was in the kitchen ordering a pizza for dinner, so Clark had taken the opportunity to check his email. As he was clearing his spam folder, a window popped up on the screen of his laptop. Clark knew his way around computers, and he had taken every precaution necessary to block that sort of thing. This pop up could only mean one thing: an Opera.

The message was nothing more than a television channel and a phone number. His cousin didn’t have a television, so Clark brought up the station’s live feed on his laptop. There was a press conference in progress, and Police Captain James Kerr was relating the known facts. A language studies group had reserved a conference room at the Old First Ward Community Center. There were multiple deaths. He could not comment just yet on numbers, causes, identities, terrorism, or anything else until a proper investigation had commenced and next-of-kin were notified.

Great. Some nerds got together, and things went pear-shaped. It was possible the Program would only need him to cover the bases and make sure nothing supernatural needed to be covered up, but it was much more likely they had a good reason to believe a cover-up was necessary.

He called the number. The number wasn’t familiar, but the voice on the other end was. It was his handler, a man he knew only as Agent Voss. After confirming that he had seen the news, Clark asked what it had to do with him. He was on vacation. Voss told him an informant on the scene, a firefighter named Sam Misner, had reported a possibly paranormal event. Clark was the only person with Delta Green clearance in the area, and so it fell to him to investigate. He was to survey the crime scene and conceal or destroy any evidence of the paranormal.

There was one known survivor who had recently tripped red flags in Program databases, a State Department software engineer named Dolf de Jaager. So far, de Jaager was not considered a threat, but his interests were suspicious and merited monitoring. He may be a potential recruit, or he may need to be put down.

Clark told his cousin he was going on a beer run and would be back shortly. He then made his way to the community center. Once on scene, he flashed his DEA credentials to the officer guarding the entrance. The officer nodded and stepped aside with only a caution that Clark should not disturb the crime scene while the investigation was in progress.

The conference room was a bloody mess. The bodies had been removed, but there were masking tape outlines and numbered A-frame evidence markers to show where each had fallen. Clark looked around but didn’t see anything unnatural at first; not until he saw sunlight in a large mirror shard. He took a knee and picked up the shard. It was definitely from a mirror, but no matter which direction he turned it, the reflection never moved. It was well past 10:00 PM, and yet the piece of mirror seemed to reflect the room at a point during the day. That was strange, but whatever. He figured the less he knew, the better.

He couldn’t let the Buffalo Police collect any of the shards, though; at least not any which were big enough for anyone to realize they weren’t quite right. He also couldn’t let them catch him disposing of them, but at the moment, the only other person who could see him was the guy Delta Green has told him to watch. As casually as he could, Clark began to break mirror shards into smaller pieces.

He then interviewed de Jaager. The software engineer gave a faithful recounting of the past twelve weeks, omitting only the parts about the glowing blue man. Like Charlie and Dolf, Clark also thought the FedEx packages sounded unusual. Still, de Jaager seemed relatively harmless for the time being, so Clark wrapped up his interview and investigation.

He placed a call to his handler and gave his report. Evidence had been contained, and de Jaager didn’t appear to be a threat. Voss instructed Clark to maintain a watch on de Jaager over the next few weeks. If the software engineer kept quiet about the event and still seemed harmless, Clark should make a recruitment pitch. In most cases, someone in de Jaager’s position would be allowed to remain oblivious if he could stay quiet, and he would disappear or be discredited if not. In this case, de Jaager was the only survivor of a group which had studied Aklo, a language the Program knew to be supernatural. He would be a strong asset.

Clark agreed, but he wasn’t doing anything further tonight. Tonight, he was on vacation. Tonight was for pizza, beer, and family.
 
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Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 1a

Clark watched de Jaager for about a month before determining the software engineer would be a good fit for the Program. The experience at the community center had unnerved de Jaager, but he handled it well. He had refused interviews with local and national media outlets, and he said nothing of the incident to coworkers or his significant other, Leah. He also refused to forget what had happened. Instead, de Jaager had continued his study of Aklo and was making progress. Either that burning need for understanding would make him a fine asset for Delta Green, or it would be his downfall. Probably both.

Clark had never given the Delta Green sales pitch, but de Jaager made it easy. There was a Special Access Program with black budget funding and a mandate to defend the United States against just the sort of thing which had happened to him? Where did he sign? There was nowhere to sign. In fact, there was to be no written record of the Program at all. Special access, and all that.

Dolf felt that was all he needed to know. Well, that and the secret handshake. Clark knew there was no secret handshake, but that didn’t stop him from teaching one to de Jaager. It closely resembled a game of Patty Cake with a thumb wrestling element near the end. For his part, de Jaager was sure Clark was messing with him, but he wanted to see how far the DEA man would take it.

That handshake was the last contact the two men had for the next two months. It was early June when Dolf got his first call. He was to attend a briefing in Albany, New York the following day.

He arrived at the ordinary, three-story office building about a half-hour early and sat in his car to drink his coffee and watch the people. A steady stream of people in suits arrived for what appeared to be just another day at the office. He didn’t see Clark in the crowd, but one man did stand out.

Damn, did he stand out. While everyone else was dressed for office work in midsummer New York, this guy was wearing a wool jacket and cap. The man was almost pale enough to hurt Dolf’s eyes from across the street.

With no Clark in sight and briefing time approaching, de Jaager headed into the building and found the room. Everything about the building screamed generic office building, and the briefing room was no different. It was an internal room with no windows. There was plenty of seating, a podium, a whiteboard, and a table with coffee and hot water for tea. The pale man nodded and introduced himself as Cualin Dempsey, CIA.

The two men took their seats as another entered. The newcomer was tall and athletic with short hair. He wore a neatly-tailored blue suit.

“The name’s Voss. I’ll be your handler for this Operation. It’s just the two of you for now, but a third will be briefed separately and sent after as soon as he’s cleared. I’ll get straight to the point: Reverb. The DEA is investigating a network of otherwise unrelated gangs engaged in smuggling and drugs. DEA auditors reconstructed some of the network’s financial books from interviews and uncovered financial records. This audit found a disturbing pattern of mid-level ‘employees’ – dealers – vanishing without a trace. A common factor seems to be involvement with a hallucinogen called Reverb, but this drug doesn’t seem to be a part of the network’s activities. We don’t know if these dealers are all in hiding, or if the organization is cleaning house.”

Dolf was new to all this, so he sat quietly and listened. Not Dempsey. The Irishman interrupted the briefing several times to ask questions which Dolf was sure Voss would have gotten to in time. Did the Program care about some drug dealers in … Where were they going? Chicago, and no. The drug dealers themselves weren’t the focus; they were the catalyst and the lead. Then, the Program wanted them to get a hold of some of this Reverb for sampling? Yes, and no. Program chemists had no samples of the new Reverb for analysis, but they might be able to confirm if it bears any relation to the original.

Original? Dempsey was lost, but Voss assured him that if he’d only sit back, shut up, and listen, he would be fine. In the 1990s, Reverb was connected with Chicago Tcho-Tcho street gangs. The Tcho-Tchos, Dolf explained, were a people from somewhere in Southeast Asia. He didn’t know much other than what he had been able to piece together from his research on Aklo, but the impression he got was that they were bad news. Voss confirmed Dolf’s impression.
 
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Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 1b

“The Tcho-Tchos are a corrupted people. Don’t trust them. As for Reverb, it didn’t just get people high. It exposed them to unnatural forces. Your assignment is to confirm whether this new Reverb has unnatural effects, find the source, and cut off the supply. DEA Spec Ops Agent Carl Clark is currently on assignment, but he is being pulled. He will meet up with you as soon as possible. Clark will be your contact with the DEA in general and the DEA auditor specifically. Mr. de Jaager, you are vital to this Operation due to your knowledge and understanding of the Tcho-Tcho language. Mr. Dempsey, you are being assigned for your … rather unique set of skills. The two of you and Agent Clark are being designated Task Force 138. You’ll likely be working closely with each other on future Operations.”

Voss slid a Visa card out toward the agents, and Dempsey quickly grabbed it. The card had a limit of $5,000.00. If more was needed, Voss might be able to get additional funding. Flight, rental car, and hotel reservations had already been made.

To no one’s surprise, Dempsey had a few questions. Voss had short answers.

“First class tickets?”

“No.”

“Are we getting a BMW?”

“No. A Jeep Cherokee. You will be moving around some of the shadier parts of Chicago, and you’ll be expected to keep your rental from being stolen or stripped.”

“Okay. That makes sense. Are we in the Ritz-Carlton or the Waldorf Astoria?”

“Neither. You have a single room with two beds and a foldout couch at a Motel 6.”

Dempsey glanced at the Visa and then looked over to de Jaager with a wink. Dolf shrugged.

With the briefing concluded, the two men headed for the airport. On the way, they discussed their qualifications and their strategy. Anything shady and drug-related, Dempsey would handle. If the Irishman didn’t get them all killed, Dolf would handle the Tcho-Tchos. It was foolproof!

So, where did they start? Dempsey said the best way to find a new drug on the street was to find a source of marijuana. Once they’d bought enough, the dealer would open up about other opportunities. What they didn’t use themselves, they could use to bribe the drug users they would need to interview.

Dolf was a little skeptical, but the Irishman seemed to think he knew what he was talking about. In that case, the question was still the same. Where did they start? The first combination tanning salon/laundromat they could find. All the best drugs came from tanning salon/laundromats.

Task Force 138 landed at Chicago O’Hare a little before noon. Dempsey took the opportunity to mention how nice it was to see an Irishman’s name attached to the busiest airport in the world, and de Jaager took the opportunity to point out that Butch O’Hare was from St. Louis, and O’Hare was closer to 5th or 6th busiest. Atlanta, Beijing, Dubai … probably Tokyo and Los Angeles, too, were all busier.

The Irishman shrugged and led the way to the rental car counter. Once they’d collected their gear and luggage, they loaded it all into the Jeep Cherokee and headed out. Dolf wanted to drop everything off at the Motel 6, but Dempsey was driving, and he wanted to get to work. They drove around for nearly an hour. They passed by several tanning salons and several more laundromats, each with someone out front who could easily have sold them something illegal. Dempsey was adamant they find a combination tanning salon/laundromat, however. Eventually, they found what they were after: Tan ‘N’ Wash.
 
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Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 1c

It wasn’t the most inviting building, as the bullet-damaged fake brick façade could attest, but it did meet both of Dempsey’s criteria. And the scrawny white kid in the Jim Croce t-shirt out front was their guy. Dolf waited in the Jeep while Dempsey went to make the buy and get some information. The initial marijuana purchase was fast and effortless, and that opened the door for further talk. Dempsey wasted no time asking about Reverb, and that seemed to catch the kid a little off guard.

Dempsey seemed every bit the dumb tourist, so the kid figured he was harmless. He said he didn’t sell anything harder than what Dempsey just bought, but if anyone could point the Irishman in the right direction, it would be High Sally. High Sally didn’t use Reverb as far as the kid knew, but she knew everyone. She could usually be found behind the Salvation Army next to the Tan ‘N’ Wash over on Fulton Street. Dempsey thanked the kid and returned to the Jeep to fill in de Jaager. Another tanning salon/laundromat … Maybe the Irishman did know what he was talking about.
The kid’s directions were excellent. Once they’d found the Tan ‘N’ Wash, Dempsey had no trouble finding High Sally. As before, de Jaager stayed in the Jeep.

Dempsey confirmed that the pale and obviously high woman he was talking to was indeed High Sally, and then he told her the kid at the other Tan ‘N’ Wash had given him her name. He asked if she could point him in the direction of some Reverb, and High Sally said she wasn’t sure if she’d ever heard of that but maybe if she thought about it … or more to the point, maybe if she had a few portraits of U.S. presidents done up in a beautiful monochrome green …?

Dempsey gave her the last $60 in his wallet and the bag of marijuana he’d bought from the kid at the other place. That seemed to help a little. High Sally was now able to remember how Reverb dealers had been going missing lately. She was pretty sure there were a couple who were still around, but just what their names were or where they could be found … Dempsey told her to hold that thought, and he grumbled all the way to the nearest ATM. Then he grumbled all the way back.

When he returned, he gave High Sally another $60. That brought back the names. There was Roofie and Bad Luke. To her knowledge, they hadn’t disappeared. Roofie was Rufus LaRoyal Brown, and Bad Luke was Lucien Riggs. As for where Dempsey might find them … she was trying to remember. Dempsey narrowed his eyes and handed her the rest of the cash he’s pulled from the ATM; $140. Ah, there. That was better. High Sally paraphrased William Blake.

“There, now. It’s like the doors of perception have been cleansed.”

The reference went straight over Dempsey’s head. So, too, did the implication that a druggie in a Salvation Army lot in Chicago might be more widely-read than he was.

He didn’t care. Locations. Did she know where Roofie and Bad Luke were? She did. Roofie had been arrested earlier that morning on charges of heroin possession with intent to sell. Dempsey could look him up at the station down the street. The Irishman briefly contemplated hitting High Sally and taking his money back. Okay, and Bad Luke? Bad Luke was usually at the Tan ‘N’ Wash on Ashland Avenue.

Dempsey thanked High Sally for her time and returned to the Jeep. High Sally thanked Dempsey for his cash and returned to her Hunter S. Thompson novel.

Again, Dempsey related the information he’d learned, but he left out the bit about getting taken for $260. Dolf nodded as he considered the leads. His suggestion was to get lunch, head to the Motel 6, and see just when Agent Clark was going to arrive. If they were going to have a talk with Roofie, a DEA agent would make things a lot easier.
 
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Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 2a

Dolf called Agent Clark and gave a quick, sanitized synopsis of the current Opera and requested assistance. Clark had already been contacted by the Task Force’s handler, Voss, and he had been pulled from his assignment. He was already booked on a flight to Chicago and would be there before dinner time. That was good enough for de Jaager. He and Dempsey had a late lunch, and de Jaager passed the time by researching mentions of Reverb in old news stories.

Once Clark had arrived, de Jaager and Dempsy gave him a more detailed briefing. The next step seemed to be an interview with Roofie, so they made their way to the precinct where the drug dealer was being held. Clark showed his DEA credentials to the officer at the front desk who then called for a Detective Johnson.

Clark and Johnson spoke briefly and reached an agreement. Clark and Dempsey would interview Roofie in Interrogation Room 1 on an unrelated matter, and de Jaager would observe and film the interview from behind the one-way mirror. In exchange for privacy, the agents would gladly turn over any names or leads they gained. Of course, Roofie knew his rights, and so he might not be willing to say anything without his lawyer present, but the DEA agent was confident he could get the dealer to talk freely.

Detective Johnson had Roofie moved to the interrogation room and left the agents to their work. Rufus LaRoyal Brown, aka “Roofie,” was a tall, African American man, but slumped in his chair as he was, he was unintimidating. Clark introduced himself as Agent Plant and was about to introduce Dempsey as Agent Bonham, but the Irishman interrupted with a cover of his own: Tate. Clark shot Dempsey a quick glare. Did he mean Page? Did he not understand that when you choose a cover identity, it should be the name of a rock star?

Agent “Tate” took over the interrogation from there, and he didn’t waste any time before throwing out the word Roofie seemed to feel was coming: Deal. If Roofie answered their questions about Reverb, they would do their level best to get him released.

Not good enough. Roofie sat up straight and leaned forward with his hands folded on the table. An ear to ear grin spread across his face.

“Reverb ain’t illegal. Look, man, they got me in here on heroin charges. Heroin! I don’t mess with that, and they know it. But you. You can get me out of here. You’re the DEA, man. Flash that badge of yours and take jurisdiction. Trust me. Detective Johnson gets off on that sort of thing.”

Dempsey doubled down on his offer. They couldn’t get him released unless his information checked out, but if he would give up some names that turned out to be good, he’d be out on the streets tonight. Again, not good enough. Roofie seemed to feel he had the upper hand.

“I’ll give you the name of the guy I get my stuff from, and I’ll tell you where he is. Then you walk me out that door and tell Johnson he’s got nothing.”

“Sure. You give us that, and we’ll walk you out the door.”

“Guy named Spider J gets it to me. He’s got a room long-term at the Talbott Hotel.”

Neither man noticed Clark go stiff at the mention of Roofie’s source. He knew Spider J. Spider J was Jacob Simmons, a 32-year-old African American veteran of the U.S. Army. He was a former contractor with the heavily militarized security firm Academi which had previously been known as Blackwater. Simmons had done two tours in Afghanistan before being court-martialed for suspicion of smuggling. The charges didn’t stick, and so he received an honorable discharge.

He was also the man responsible for the incident which put Clark in Delta Green’s sights. Clark was running surveillance for a DEA operation targeting an opium smuggling ring. Spider J got spooked and slipped out the back. Clark hopped out of the van to intercept him, but Spider J threw a pinch of something right into Clark’s face. Not long after that, the hallucinations hit, only they weren’t hallucinations. At least, Clark was confident, some of them were honest to goodness visions. He was placed on extended medical and psychiatric leave, and that’s when Delta Green had contacted him. Spider J had dosed him with something they called the Liao drug, a powerful hallucinogen with unnatural properties. The psychiatrists thought he was crazy, but the man from Delta Green believed him. More importantly, the man from Delta Green could get him out and back to work.

Dempsey nodded to Roofie and let him know they’d be back for him if the information was good. Roofie’s eyes narrowed. He was mad, but he didn’t lose his composure or his smile.

“That wasn’t the deal, man, but you know what? I don’t care. You’ll be back in twenty minutes. You ain’t gonna find Spider J at the Talbott.”

Dempsey didn’t listen. He walked out. Clark decided to follow up.

“Why won’t we find him there?”

“He’s not there under his name, man.”

Clark sarcastically feigned surprise.

“You mean, he didn’t check into a 4-star hotel under the name Spider J?! We’ll find him. I know his real name and his aliases.”

“He ain’t there under those either. His girl pays cash for the room. You want to find him, you need her name. You want her name, I walk out that door. That’s the deal.”
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 2b

Clark wasn’t in the mood to be pushed around by a smalltime dealer. He repeated Dempsey’s words: “We’ll be back for you if it checks out.”

The agents stopped at the front desk to let Detective Johnson know they could have Roofie back and to ignore him if he mentioned anything about a deal. Clark gave Johnson his card in case he needed anything. He told the detective Roofie had named Spider J as his source, but he left out the part about where he could be found. Detective Johnson was pleased enough with the new lead.

Clark used de Jaager’s laptop and his own DEA login to access the NCIC, the National Crime Information Center. Spider J had never been arrested, but he had been investigated, so there were plenty of photographs.

On their way to the Talbott, the agents discussed their leads and their strategy. They had the name of a source, and they knew where to find him – sort of. Dolf would get a room at the Talbott and then sit in the lobby watching for Spider J or anything suspicious. Meanwhile, Clark and Dempsey would check out a popular but shady nightclub called Studio Overground for anyone who might know about Reverb.

First, though, Clark needed to get ready. It had been months since he’d been to a nightclub. He was what he called a recovering bro, and the nightclub scene brought all fratty bro culture screaming back. As Dempsey drove, Clark hopped into the backseat of the Cherokee and put on his cargo shorts, sandals, and oxford shirt being careful to leave the top three buttons unbuttoned. By the time they arrived, his hair was adequately spiky and stiff enough to hold his sunglasses. Dempsey rolled his eyes and asked if Clark was supposed to be Abercrombie or Fitch.

Inside, Studio Overground was dark, and the dancefloor was packed with people dancing to old hip hop and pop rock. Dempsey recognized some of it, but Clark could sing the words to everything from Coolio, Run-D.M.C., and Beastie Boys to Third Eye Blind, Maroon 5, and Nickelback.

Dempsey sat at the bar while Clark mingled. After an hour or so, they had two leads. A waitress and a kid in his early 20s had talked to each other for a couple minutes, and they had mentioned Reverb. Dempsey flagged down the waitress and pointed to a random appetizer on the menu.

“I’ll take one of these, and I was hoping you could get me something special that’s not on the menu.”

The waitress winked and said she wasn’t that kind of girl, but she’d be happy to get his fried spinach. She seemed surprised. Nobody ever ordered that, but then, Dempsey was quite obviously not from Chicago.

Dempsey whispered loudly enough for her to hear over Salt-N-Peppa. What he meant was, you know, something like Ecstasy? Oh, well, in that case … She wasn’t that kind of girl either. When she came back with his fried spinach, he asked about Reverb. Now, she did know about that.

She said it didn’t just get you high; it made time stretch, and it felt like you repeated the same instant over and over. It also made physical activity like dancing much more intense. She didn’t have any to spare, but if Dempsey wanted some, the guy she got it from would probably be in soon. His name was Roofie.

Dempsey thanked her and went for a piece of whatever appetizer it was he had ordered, but it was already gone. Clark had eaten it all, and to make it worse, he got glitter in the ranch dressing. It was probably time to meet back up with de Jaager anyway.

On their way out, Clark’s phone rang. Detective Johnson had something the DEA boys might want to see. Clark asked if Roofie was okay. The answer was a nervous laugh followed by a curt ‘no.’ The two agents hopped in the Cherokee and sped to the precinct.

Detective Johnson was visibly shaken but holding together well. He thanked them for making it so quickly, and if he noticed the glitter on Clark’s hastily donned suit, he ignored it. First thing was first: the cell. The bars of the cell had been bent outward like something the size and mass of a small truck had hit them. The mattress had been flipped and shredded, and the concrete of the walls and floor had deep gouges. It was like an animal the size of that hypothetical small truck had scratched deeply into the cement.

But there was no Roofie, and there was no blood. The detective confirmed Roofie had not escaped, and he waved them to his office. He shut the door, closed the blinds, and hit play on the digital playback of the closed circuit television security footage. Roofie had been lying on the mattress with a smile on his face when he appeared to hear something from the corner by the toilet. He sat up and looked, and then his eyes went wide. He screamed, but whatever he was seeing wasn’t showing on the video feed.

Suddenly, Roofie’s body was lifted into the air like a doll. If there was indeed something in there with him, whatever it was, it tossed him around like he was a pillow before shredding the meat from his bones. Blood, flesh, and bone went in all directions and none all at once. Nothing made contact with a surface, however; it all vanished into thin air, piece by piece, drop by drop, and splinter by splinter. In about twenty seconds, the cell was demolished, and there was no longer any trace of Rufus LaRoyal Brown.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 2c

Clark only flinched and shuddered as if he had been watching a movie. Dempsey became visibly angered and muttered something about how it was just like his brother trashing his room all over again. Clark didn’t ask. Whatever it takes to cope …

Johnson didn’t watch. When it was over, Clark said the words the detective was hoping he would.

“Of course, you realize I’ll have to claim jurisdiction for the DEA on this one. I’ll need that video and your word there are no copies. And no one mentions this until my investigation is complete.”

Detective Johnson was only too happy to turn the case – and the explanation – over to the DEA. Clark and Dempsey left to meet up with de Jaager and let him know one of their leads had vanished. Fortunately, they still had others. The kid at Studio Overground might still be there, and he might want to talk, Spider J was supposedly staying at the Talbott in a room paid for by his girlfriend, and to their knowledge, Bad Luke hadn’t yet disappeared.

Clark was tempted to go back to the nightclub, but he really didn’t want to get his bro gear on again, and he’d used all his glitter on the first run. Instead, he would get another room at the Talbott and then take a self-guided tour of the building. Dempsey and de Jaager could take the club.

Once Clark had checked in, he began to walk the halls on each of the Talbott’s sixteen floors and the stairwells between them. Fortunately, he only had to go as high as the fourth floor before he found what he was sure he was looking for. Someone had installed small wireless cameras in inconspicuous places in the hall; two overlooked the hallway itself, and on was pointed directly at Room 412.

Now, the question was whether the occupant of Room 412 was paranoid and rich or if he was paranoid, rich, and tech savvy. Clark went back to his room and powered up de Jaager’s laptop. He connected to the hotel’s Wi-Fi, and from there, it was a simple matter to find all other devices connected to it. He determined there were the three cameras he’d seen in the hall and one other.

Whoever had installed the cameras had neglected to change the default password, and so with a few keystrokes, Clark had a live feed from all four cameras. The fourth was overlooking the fire escape. The cameras weren’t recording directly, though; they were transmitting. That meant he couldn’t watch anything but the live feed without access to the device to which the cameras were transmitting. He could, however, start a recording of his own.

Once he had that in place, he called de Jaager. Nothing was panning out at the nightclub. Dempsey had come on too strong and spooked the kid. They were headed back to the Talbott.

The agents decided to settle in for the night and get some rest. Dolf took the first shift monitoring the video feed, and Clark took the second. Dempsey refused to do his share and flopped onto one of the beds. The night was uneventful until partway through Clark’s shift. At around 3:00 AM, the cameras picked up a woman exiting the elevator on the fourth floor. The footage was grainy, but she seemed to be Hispanic and in her 30s or 40s.

The woman stopped in front of Room 412, placed her right palm on the door, and bowed her head. She seemed to mutter something, and then she disappeared. A few minutes later, she reappeared on the fire escape seemingly out of thin air. She had something like a briefcase or laptop in her hands which she tossed into the alley below. Then, just as she had appeared, she disappeared. A moment later, the woman appeared once more in the hallway and headed for the elevator.

Clark wasn’t sure what he had just seen, but it was a live feed, so the footage hadn’t been edited. He had been knocking back the Red Bulls like water, so he was sure he wasn’t just tired. He woke de Jaager and showed him the replay. The software engineer confirmed he saw what Clark saw.

On his way out of the room, Clark shoved Dempsey hard enough to wake him up. He pointed to de Jaager and then headed for the alley. The Irishman rubbed his eyes, yawned, and moved to get a look at the replay of the video feed. After seeing it once, he went to check the lobby.

In the alley, Clark found the remains of a laptop computer. It appeared to have been sturdy, but a four-story drop onto concrete caused significant structural damage. Clark was confident; this wouldn’t be his first time salvaging a hard drive from a laptop. He gathered up the pieces. While he worked to pull what he could from the drive, Detective Johnson might be able to pull fingerprints from the case and keys.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 3a

Something had happened in Room 412. Hispanic women didn’t just teleport into and out of hotel rooms to destroy laptops. Dempsey figured it was just a Chicago thing. Whatever the case, they needed to know what happened in there. The laptop hard drive might give some answers, and since Clark was going to be playing with computer stuff anyway, he could also watch the camera feed. Dempsy and de Jaager would handle the breaking and entering. The earpieces from Clark’s kit would allow the three to stay in contact.

After a quick regroup in their room, Dempsey was set to take the elevator down to the fourth floor, but de Jaager suggested the fire escape. Room 412 was on their side of the building, so they’d just have to go down three flights. Also, given it was 3:00 AM, it was probably darker outside than in the hallway.

Clark cracked open another Red Bull and waved them off without looking. Of course, the fact Spider J had dosed him with pure Liao drug only a couple years earlier had nothing to do with his staying in the room; he had work to do. Not just anyone could be trusted to monitor four camera feeds while performing forensic analysis on a damaged hard drive. Dolf could, and he could do it every bit as well as Clark, but that was beside the point. Clark had already settled in the chair and opened a Red Bull.

The Irishman and the Dutchman stepped out into the fire escape while the American sat at the computer with a case of energy drinks. Dempsey felt sure there was a joke in there somewhere, but there was a job to do. Breaking and entering. Good work if you could get it.

The blinds were drawn, but the window to Room 412 was unlocked and open slightly. The room was dimly lit, but the early Chicago morning was darker. Through the gap in the blinds, they could just make out a large African American man slumped in a chair. The agents readied their guns. Dempsey could hold his own in a bar fight as long as he only had to look after himself, and de Jaager wasn’t exactly a 98-pound weakling, but this guy was former U.S. Army.

Dempsey quietly slid the window up far enough that they could fit through. He made no announcement before stepping in and holding the man at gunpoint. It was Spider J. The drug dealer didn’t seem surprised. In fact, he seemed a little out of it. The glassy eyes and the pipe in Spider J’s hand prompted Dempsey to state the obvious. The dealer was high.

Once Dolf was through the window, he, too, pointed his gun at Spider J. Dempsey ordered the man to put his hands in the air, but Spider J only smiled and said something about a reptilian in a silk robe and a dinosaur out the window.

He didn’t resist when Dempsey handcuffed him or when de Jaager took the pipe from his hand and placed it in a plastic bag. Dempsey checked the dealer for weapons but only found empty shoulder and ankle holsters.

The agents began searching the room for a stash of Reverb or Liao. While they looked in cabinets, under beds, and between mattresses, Spider J’s demeanor took a turn. He began to babble something about pulsing lights and energies intersecting. Dempsey and de Jaager had a little trouble following, but it sounded like these energies were full of malice; like the vision he was describing was of the essence of evil.

The agents continued to toss the room looking for drugs.

Spider J held up his still-cuffed hands with his pinky fingers together like the American Sign Language sign for ‘book.’ He deliriously described two surfaces converging, and … something coming out of the line where they met. He sounded terrified.

“It’s … It’s like all the evil of the universe. It’s concentrated. It’s alive. It’s … It’s hungry.”

The agents continued to toss the room looking for drugs.

Spider J shrieked.

“No, no, no! No! It sees me! Why? Why can’t I come back to myself? Please!”

Dempsey continued to toss the room looking for drugs. Dolf paused and raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, God! It’s in my brain!”

Spider J rose into the air, lifted by the same invisible force that had lifted Roofie. Just like Roofie, Spider J’s body was shaken back and forth like a doll in the teeth of a giant, invisible, rabid dog. Blood and flesh scattered in all directions, winking out of existence just before hitting a surface.

Dempsey continued to toss the room, but now he was looking for a fire extinguisher or something else he could use to reveal an invisible creature. This guy called himself a drug dealer, and yet he couldn’t be bothered to have several bricks of cocaine the Irishman could slap together like chalkboard erasers?
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 3b

In a matter of seconds, Spider J was no more than a rapidly splintering cyclone of bone fragments. That was good enough for Dolf; he was willing to call this avenue of the case closed. Unfortunately for Dolf, as soon as he turned away from the swirling carnage, he saw it. Looking directly, it was invisible, but in the peripheral vision, he could see it. The thing was composed of a seemingly infinite number of sharp, glittering fragments of space and time which moved, rotated, swirled, shattered further, and reformed. It was like the mirror shards from the community center had risen up to form a vague dog- or cat-shaped creature with no real structure of its own; only distorted reflections from all angles and directions at once.

The software engineer let out a very unmanly yelp before running for the door to the hall. He slammed the door shut behind him. It may have been preoccupied and possibly too large to fit, but there was no sense giving that thing a chance to follow. As for Dempsey, he had hands. He could open the door himself. The real question was whether or not the Irishman was smart enough to run. Three gunshots in quick succession told Dolf all he needed to know about that.

Dempsey had fired at the invisible creature that was destroying Spider J in the bloodiest possible way. No sooner had the gunshots faded than what remained of the drug dealer hit the floor. Dempsey could feel whatever it was studying him. There was no way he could have missed, but he had missed. Maybe a full retreat was in order. He turned toward the window, but that proved to be a mistake. Just like de Jaager before him, he saw the beast.

The Irishman wasn’t sure from where he pulled the instinct, but something told him to duck and roll backward at the same time. As he did, he saw a thousand razors of distorted space dart toward where he had been only a moment before. He didn’t get away clean, but he wasn’t sharing Spider J’s fate just yet. He had avoided the worst of it, but the shards had still nicked him in thousands of tiny multi-directional cuts like a head-to-toe shaving accident. As he rolled to his feet and ran for the door, Dempsey stumbled. It felt as if even the bottoms of his feet were covered in tiny cuts.

Dempsey fired twice more before slamming the door behind him as he made it to the hall. Dolf winced when he saw the Irishman, but neither man spoke. Instead, they ran for the stairwell and took the stairs down as quickly as they could. They had just passed the second-floor landing when Dempsey saw the creature again. It shot out of the angle where the two walls met like water forced by intense pressure through a tiny crack. Dolf didn’t see the beast, and so he ran straight through it. He paused only briefly, making damned sure not to look when he heard Dempsey make the same shrieking cry Spider J had made. Then he continued down to the lobby and out the front doors. He had a plan, and he hoped Dempsey would survive long enough for it to work.

Dempsey watched de Jaager run straight through the creature as if it wasn’t even there. Hundreds of shards stretched from the thing like an octopus growing new tentacles. Once again, they darted for him, and this time he wasn’t so lucky. He felt the razors slice his flesh from everywhere at once, and he could see pieces of himself carved away in chunks and strips.

He made a desperate lunge for the door on the second-floor landing a few steps above him, and he was able to turn the knob. As he flopped into the second floor hallway, the wood chipper scene from Fargo played through his head. Wasn’t it a character named Carl that got put through that? And yet the Carl in his group was nice and comfy with his laptop and Red Bull. The Carl in his group should have been the one raiding Spider J’s room anyway. The Carl in his group was no Steve Buscemi for damned sure. Screw you, Carl. This mess should be you.

Dempsey played dead. He had no idea if the creature would be fooled, but the three surprised and horrified hotel guests in the hall were. They screamed and ran, leaving Dempsey like a pile of roast beef in his own blood. It seemed Chicago had its pros and cons: Fire a gun five times in a nice hotel, and no one investigates; get shredded by a giant, invisible razor-tiger and fall into a pool of gore, and no one helps. On the bright side, he had lived long enough to have that thought.
 

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