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Delta Green - All Part of the Job

Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 3c

Dolf jogged at a quick pace and checked every alley he found. It didn’t take long for him to discover a particularly filthy and miserable-looking man slumped against a wall. He wasted no time producing the pipe from his plastic bag. He offered the man $100 to smoke what was in the pipe, no questions asked.

The man may have been a junkie, but to his credit, he still balked at the offer. It was only momentary, and the promise of money won out over the potentially dangerous mystery high. Couldn’t be too much more dangerous than some of the stuff he’d done. The man asked for the money upfront, but de Jaager countered with an offer of half in advance, and half after. Dempsey would undoubtedly disapprove of the delay for negotiation, but de Jaager felt the man might be too sketchy. He handed over the pipe, a $50 bill, and a Bic lighter.

The man eyed the residue on the pipe and searched the Dutchman’s face for any sign of trickery. Seeing only impatience, the man shrugged and took the biggest hit he could. Dolf nodded and thanked the man as he traded the second $50 bill for the return of the pipe. He told the man to keep the lighter.

He had enough time to jog halfway back to the Talbott before a scream from the alley drowned out the light traffic on State Street. He felt a sharp pang of guilt, but he didn’t let it slow him down. If Dempsey were still alive, he’d be in desperate need of medical attention. Dolf yelled in a loud whisper to ask the Irishman if he was still alive. The response over the earpiece was hushed and delayed.

“Aye. I’m still alive. Not going to die without a bottle in my hand. I think the thing left. I’m heading down to the lobby. Get me to the hospital.”

Dolf decided not to mention what he’d done, but he did tell Dempsey he’d have the Cherokee running. He also asked Clark not to move from the camera feed. That suited the DEA man just fine. Crack went another can of Red Bull.

The hotel lobby was empty, and the clerk at the desk was preoccupied with stringing together a chain of paperclips, so Dempsey made it out to the vehicle without causing a scene. Dolf drove to the hospital and stopped in the ER drop-off zone. It was probably for the best if an Irishman walking like a broken Slinky arrived without an escort. Besides, there was blood all over the front seat of a rental vehicle. They couldn’t possibly return it that way.

Dempsey shambled through the doors and down the hall to the ER desk. The nurse on duty was quite professional, and she didn’t so much as flinch. Then again, it was the graveyard shift at a hospital in Chicago. He probably wasn’t even the worst thing she’d seen that night. He was able to fill out the paperwork well enough to be admitted, and the nurse assured him he could take care of the rest of it after surgery. Two orderlies helped Dempsey onto a wheeled bed and took him down the hall. He tried counting the ceiling tiles as they passed, but he only made it to five before losing consciousness.

Dolf looked online for an all-night auto detail shop and decided to go with The Guild of Mute Mechanics. They sounded like they could keep a secret, and they were open at all hours. He paid the $400 in advance and handed the keys to a fair-skinned man of indeterminate ethnicity, and then he went across the street to a diner designed to look like an oversized train car. He drank an hour’s worth of coffee while watching out the window. As soon as he saw the Cherokee appear in the parking lot across the street, he threw a few dollars on the table and left.

Once back at the hotel, de Jaager told Clark everything that had happened before falling over on his bed and immediately passing out. Clark tossed an empty can on the pile, opened another Red Bull, and kept working. Spider J had gotten what was coming to him, and Dempsey had taken the heat. Maybe it was the Red Bull, but Clark almost felt like he could fly.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 4a

Thomas Edison would take six half-hour naps throughout the day, and Leonardo da Vinci slept for 20 minutes every four hours. Nikola Tesla slept for two hours every night. If they’d had Red Bull, they might not have slept at all, and then Carl Clark wouldn’t consider them lazy amateurs.

When de Jaager awoke around lunchtime, Clark had just finished his forensic analysis of the laptop hard drive. The computer appeared to have been used solely for surveillance camera feed monitoring and storage. Over the past few days, there had only been two visitors; the Hispanic woman and an African American woman who kissed Spider J when he opened the door.

Clark ran the faces through every database he could. The Hispanic woman remained unidentified, but the other woman was Tanyika Tillerson. She was unemployed and was not known to have any involvement in drug trafficking other than the fact she seemed to only date people who did have such involvement. Her last known address was Room 412 at the Talbott Hotel.

All three agents had lunch about the same time; Dempsey got Jello and what the nurse swore was Chicken Cordon Bleu, and de Jaager and Clark headed to a place called Leng in a neighborhood controlled by the local Tcho-Tchos. Leng was a restaurant which served traditional dishes from all over Asia. Clark knew the place because the owner had been a person of interest in a DEA investigation years ago. It was the same investigation where he had met Spider J, though this wasn’t the place.

The restaurant was busy but not packed, and the staff was an assortment of many different Asian cultures. They all looked the same to Clark, but de Jaager could easily tell the Japanese from the Laotians, the Chinese from the Vietnamese, and the Tcho-Tchos from anything else. The Tcho-Tchos were notably smaller, and they just looked … off. It was hard to explain, but there was something about them that didn’t seem natural.

The Tcho-Tchos at the restaurant seemed to be working in a management or security capacity. They watched everything without expression, except for two who spoke Aklo in hushed tones closely enough that de Jaager could hear. He was able to make out phrases and words well enough to infer the rest of the conversation from context. The two were concerned about the Reverb-related disappearances of so many drug dealers, but it wasn’t because the Tcho-Tchos were doing the smuggling or manufacturing. They didn’t seem to know who was behind the recent resurgence of Reverb, but they wanted whoever it was to die in the second-most terrible of ways. Evidently, the most terrible way would be for a dog from somewhere called Tindalos to come for you. That was probably the invisible razor-tiger which mauled Dempsey.

It sounded like the Tcho-Tchos had nothing to do with Spider J’s Reverb operation, so the agents finished lunch and headed out. The next stop was the police station to talk with Detective Johnson. The detective wasn’t in much of a talking mood, but he was able to tell them where they could find the last known Reverb dealer in Chicago, Bad Luke. As it turned out, Bad Luke was likely to be at the Tan ‘N’ Wash near their hotel, but he always had a few armed thugs with him. Detective Johnson said the best way to get a word with Bad Luke would be to identify themselves as law enforcement; his men wouldn’t shoot. They thanked the detective for that handy piece of information and headed to the Tan ‘N’ Wash.

The detective was right. Bad Luke and three armed guards were out front just standing around. They evidently didn’t see the sign in the window which said ‘No Loitering Allowed.” Dolf waited in the Jeep while Clark went to talk with Bad Luke. The thugs stiffened as he approached, and their hands moved closer to openly-displayed pistols. Bad Luke only smiled. It was Luke’s turn to stiffen a bit when Clark showed his DEA badge.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 4b

Clark eased the tension by promising he only wanted to talk. He was investigating the disappearances of Reverb dealers, and he had some information Luke needed. It wasn’t the sort of thing they could talk openly about, but if Luke would just follow him over to the Cherokee … Maybe it was something in Clark’s voice, maybe it was the expression of genuine concern on his face, but Luke trusted him enough to follow. No, you know what? It was probably the traces of glitter in his hair and the fact Luke’s men had guns ready. That was more likely. Either way, Bad Luke followed and got in the back seat.

Clark and de Jaager told him what had happened to Roofie in a locked cell. The same thing had happened to Spider J in his hotel room. Luke was the last one, and the same thing was probably going to happen to him, too. The dealer took the news remarkably well. He’d heard rumors from people he trusted, so he was prepared to believe the agents. Reverb was a big money maker, but it wasn’t worth being ripped to oblivion. Besides, Spider J was the source. With him gone, it wasn’t like Luke could get more. Or … could he? No. Clark let him know in no uncertain terms that Spider J’s contacts were not going to be made available. Luke shrugged. It was worth a shot.

One more thing. Clark wanted to know where Spider J mixed the Reverb. That, Bad Luke didn’t know. He would meet Spider J at the Talbott for all their transactions. He kept it all in a black duffel bag, and the bag was never out of reach. Clark and de Jaager shared a quick, quizzical glance. There was no bag in Spider J’s room. The Hispanic woman hadn’t left with one either. They thanked Bad Luke for the talk and wished him the best of luck.

After the dealer went back across the street, they were going to stop by the hospital to check on Dempsey, but they quickly scrapped that plan. Dolf had been watching the live feed from the security cameras, and he saw Ms. Tillerson enter Room 412. The new plan was for de Jaager to call Dempsey to check on him while they headed back to the hotel. The hospital said Dempsey had checked himself out as soon as he saw what they called chicken.

As it turned out, the Irishman was waiting for them in the hotel lobby. The thousands of tiny nicks on his face and hands were bright pink, but he otherwise hid his injuries well. Dolf was in a hurry and either missed Dempsey or ignored him on the way to the elevator. With two quick bro-nods, one upward and the other directional, Clark both acknowledged Dempsey and told him they were headed to the elevator. The implication was that he should follow.

In the elevator, Clark and de Jaager briefed Dempsey on the situation. Spider J’s girlfriend was in his room, and she might be the only person who knew the dealer’s operation well enough to give them something to go on. Dempsey asked if they had a lead on the invisible dog, but the other two just shrugged.

Clark knocked on the door, but he was met with silence. A second knock and he could hear quiet shuffling on the other side of the door. It took several minutes of reassurance and persuasion, but eventually, Ms. Tillerson let them in.

She was wary of talking to federal agents, but Dempsey told her they were with the CIA, and that meant they had no jurisdiction on U.S. soil. They couldn’t arrest her or Spider J if they wanted to, which they didn’t. They had some bad news about Spider. He was dead. The thing that killed him was … Ms. Tillerson cut him off.

“Wait. The thing?”

“That’s right. The thing.”

She asked if the thing was an invisible dog, and the agents all nodded. She knew about the hound? She didn’t seem to believe it, but she did know about it. Spider’s contacts in Tibet warned him some kind of dog from a place they called Tindalos might come for him if the stuff he was buying from them was improperly handled. They told Spider if the dog came for him, he should immediately meditate on either an empty void or a perfect sphere, and that might ward the thing off. If he was in a group, they should all meditate on the same thing, or it wouldn’t work.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Reverberations - Session 4c

Clark asked if it was Reverb he was buying in Tibet, but she shook her head. No. It was a dark purple flower they called Liao. Spider had been bringing it into Chicago and mixing it with MDMA. Clark explained that was 3,4-Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine, more commonly known as Ecstacy. Dempsey narrowed his eyes disapprovingly and called Clark a nerd.

Ms. Tillerson nodded. She said Spider J would mix a tiny bit of the Liao and some MDMA in gelatin capsules, and then he’d sell it to the dealers who had been disappearing lately. Clark asked where Spider J mixed the Reverb, and Ms. Tillerson said he had a small condo he used only for mixing batches of Reverb. She gave them the address but told them they wouldn’t find anything. Spider never left anything but the furniture there. The agents thanked her and asked if she had somewhere else to stay. She did, but she had no way to get there, so Clark offered to take her. Ms. Tillerson accepted a ride to a Burger King near where she was headed, but she didn’t want to show up with obvious cops. None of the men could fathom what she could mean by that. In their estimation, they couldn’t look less like law enforcement.

The agents dropped her off and headed to the address she’d given. On the way, they agreed to meditate on a perfect sphere at the first sign of glittering razors. The condo was the leftmost of four in the same building. It was thin, but it was two stories. The door was locked. The window next to it was locked as well, but it was poorly latched. Dolf jiggled the window a bit and loosened the latch enough to open it. He climbed in, closed the window, and opened the door from the inside.

There wasn’t much to the place, and Ms. Tillerson’s description was accurate. The bottom floor was a living room and kitchen. The living room held only a couch, coffee table, and 55” plasma television mounted to the wall. Dempsey took the kitchen while Clark headed upstairs. Dolf searched the living room.

Dempsey didn’t expect to find anything in the kitchen. As he searched, he recited the Old Mother Hubbard nursery rhyme with himself cast in the title role.

“Young Agent Dempsey went to the cupboard to give the poor dog a bone, but when he got there, the cupboard … was full of gelatin capsules and Yuban coffee?”

Clark shouted down the stairs that there were a bathroom and an empty bedroom with no furniture. Dolf shined his flashlight inside a vent near the ceiling, but it was empty. Or rather, it was empty until he looked away. Then his peripheral vision caught something shiny, glittery, and razory.

“Sphere!”

All three agents immediately dropped to the floor and sat cross-legged while meditating on a perfect sphere. Nothing happened, and nothing continued to happen. They weren’t sure how long they had to concentrate because they’d forgotten to ask.

It didn’t matter anyway. The sphere in Clark’s mind eventually began to expand and contract, pulsing to the beat of a random bit of house techno which popped into his head. It was still kind of a sphere, though, so maybe he hadn’t totally screwed them.

Clark’s pulsing rave sphere elongated into a puffy cylinder, and so he gave up. He imagined several more puffy cylinders, and then he watched as his mind arranged them in a vaguely humanoid shape and put a sailor’s suit on it.

“Uh, guys … I just want you to know that if the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man crushes this place, I …”

“Nice thinking, Ray.”

Dolf’s delivery was unamused, but it was evident he’d seen Ghostbusters enough times to quote it.

Dempsey opened his eyes and stood cautiously. He was done with this place, especially if a razor-marshmallow tiger thing was going to show up. They’d met their objectives, right?

Determine if the new Reverb has unnatural effects. Yes, it did. Find the source and cut off the supply. Check. That was good enough for the Program, and so it was good enough for the Irishman. The others agreed, and they left in haste. Back to the hotel to report their success to Voss, then they’d get a good night’s sleep and hit the airport in the morning. Goodbye, Chicago. You can keep the dog.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Observer Effect - Session 1a

Task Force 138 had reached consensus. They were done with Chicago. Morning came, and the city hadn’t been destroyed by the spongy, sweet physical manifestation of Gozer the Gozerian. That fact was, of course, bittersweet for the agents, but it meant they were still alive, so that was a plus.

Dempsey had wasted no time leaving the hotel in the morning despite the fact his flight wasn’t due to depart until 11:00 AM. He was at his gate and waiting by 9:15. It seemed there was no shortage of people wanting to leave Chicago, but for whatever reason, there also seemed to be many who actually wanted to be there. Maybe they just had connecting flights.

The DEA would likely want to know the situation, and so Clark decided to stay another day and write up some sanitized reports for the official file. He also practiced forming a perfect sphere in his mind, because he felt he might be right after Dempsey on the invisible razor-tiger’s hit list. He hadn’t shot at the thing, but he had been dosed with the Liao drug.

De Jaager’s flight was later in the day, and so he went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. He sat in a booth and turned the empty coffee cup he found there right side up to let the waitress know he’d be having some. It wasn’t because of the coffee – at least, he didn’t think so – but as soon as he had taken his first sip, he was assaulted by swiftly-vanishing memories almost like waking from a nightmare. He could have held on to the memories if he’d wanted to, but he felt it best to let them fade. Besides, the whole restaurant was looking at him.

Had he screamed out loud? The waitress seemed to think he had, and for a good 20 seconds at least. She was nice, but she looked worried. Dolf apologized.

“I’m sorry. It’s just that – how can I put this? – Well, I’ll just come out and ask. Did you give me decaf?”

The waitress stared in bewilderment for a moment before indicating that she had not. He had the regular, caffeinated coffee they always serve.

“Then it must be instant coffee.”

“No, sir. It’s Yuban.”

“Ah, then no flavor crystals … You know, I think I’ll pass on breakfast. Thank you.”
Dolf tossed a $5 bill on the table and exited as casually as he could. He couldn’t explain what had just happened, but he needed to tell someone. He went back up to the room only to find Clark had experienced the same sort of fading nightmare effect at the same time.

Clark’s phone rang. It was a Chicago area code, but he didn’t recognize the number. He was still a little out of breath when he answered. The woman on the other end asked him to attend a briefing at 3:00 PM. Without waiting for his confirmation, she gave him an address and hung up. Was that Delta Green? The fact de Jaager’s phone rang immediately after and showed the same number told them it was. After hanging up, De Jaager called Dempsey.

The Irishman confirmed he had been detained by TSA for screaming uncontrollably just as he was about to board his flight. He was fine now, and he thought he could still make his flight as soon as he answered the call coming in on the other line. De Jaager told him he and Clark would be seeing him at 3:00. Dempsey was confused until the woman on the other line told him pretty much the same thing. So … more Chicago. Excellent. Someone or something out there hated him with a passion. He was sure of it.

The agents all met at the address they were given. It was a plain office building much like the building where they’d had their briefing for the previous Op. There were two women waiting in the briefing room. The first was a quiet and businesslike Asian woman with an ID badge identifying her as Inspector Hua of the Department of Energy hanging from a lanyard. The other was a middle-aged woman with weary eyes. She introduced herself as Carpenter, their case officer for this emergency operation. It had been her voice on the other end of the calls that morning. Once everyone was seated, Carpenter began the briefing.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Observer Effect - Session 1b

“Thank you for coming on such short notice. As I said, this is an emergency, and you were the nearest agents. You will be heading to the Olympian Holobeam Array. It’s a new, high-tech physics lab not far from Fermilab, and it is run by a handful of academic researchers from MIT and the University of Chicago. The Array is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and a private consortium of donors and venture capital firms, most notably Olympian Advances, Inc.

“The Array’s website says it’s built to study the theory that space itself is a sort of three-dimensional hologram cast on a two-dimensional surface … whatever that means. The Program has determined the Array secretly uses technology derived from Air Force research programs defunded years ago. The Air Force projects were too dangerous to continue and were terminated, but during that process, certain elements were reclassified, privatized, and sold to some of the same donors who sponsor the Array. The Program has an interest in that technology.

“At 10:00 today, the Array went online for the first time. The history of the Array’s technology and certain other anomalies indicate an incursion of unnatural forces at the Olympian Holobeam Array. You will go to the Array, isolate it by shutting down its communications with the outside world – including cell phones – and stop the incursion.”

At that point, Carpenter paused to hand out Department of Energy ID badges and two sets of keys. Each agent received a badge with his face and someone else’s name and employee number. They were also being provided with an unmarked DOE-issued sedan and an unmarked DOE-issued cargo van.

Clark took the keys to the van while de Jaager claimed the sedan. Dempsey announced he’d be in the van because he would need workspace during the drive. Clark immediately tried to trade vehicles, but de Jaager was already welcoming Inspector Hua to Team Sedan. Once the travel situation was decided, Carpenter continued the briefing.

“You have clearance under the cover of an inspection team for the Department of Energy tasked with reviewing the site and its records for wrongdoing. There may be specific documents or pieces of technology in the facility this clearance does not cover. You will have to make do. These cover identities were constructed in a hurry, borrowing names and employee numbers of retired or deceased DOE employees. They won’t stand up to sustained investigation.

“The Program has pulled strings in the DOE to classify the investigation such that no real DOE agent – let alone police or private citizens – can come near it without risking prison. Though, if an emergency at the site attracts first responders, there is no telling whether they will obey that restriction.

Carpenter gave the agents a cheap burner phone preloaded with a single phone number. They could use it to contact her if necessary, and they were to destroy the phone after the Operation.

As the briefing was nearing its end, music came from Carpenter’s pocket. Evidently, her ringtone was the first verse of the theme song from the television show American Dad. She was either a true patriot, or she had a sense of humor. The weary expression on her face implied the former. She answered the call wordlessly, listened for a moment, and then hung up.

“An unexpected power surge shut down power to the Array a few minutes ago. I don’t know how or why, but I wish you good luck.”

Carpenter allowed no time for questions as she gathered her belongings and exited the briefing room. A few short minutes later, the agents were on the road heading for the Olympian Holobeam Array. The drive wasn’t far, but thanks to traffic and construction, it took about an hour. On the way, Dempsey worked unsuccessfully on a batch of “Irish Coffee,” and Clark kept an eye out for razor-tigers and the Michelin Man in a sailor suit. In the sedan, de Jaager tried to engage Inspector Hua in conversation, but the soft-spoken woman wasn’t much for small talk. She was, however, busy researching the Array and Olympian Advances on her laptop computer, and she had found some interesting items.

The Array seemed to be run with a skeleton crew. For a project like this, there were far fewer staff than she would expect, and they were mostly high-ranking experts without a single intern to do the drudge-work. She had heard of the lead researcher, Dr. Jaime Campbell of MIT, too. Dr. Campbell had a reputation as a crackpot, but she had an extensive history of projects affiliated with the Air Force, and over the years, she had garnered extraordinary support from private-sector underwriters like Olympian Advances.

The sedan was in the lead as they turned off the main road and onto an unlabeled driveway leading into the woods. The onlyindications they were going the right way were the Google Maps application on de Jaager’s phone and the partially-obscured sign reading “Authorized Personnel Only.” Beyond that sign, the road wound back and forth through the woods for a hundred yards or so until it ended at a steel gate with a thick concrete wall on either side extending out into the woods.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Observer Effect - Session 1c

An external security kiosk stood outside the concrete wall. It was manned by a single guard – a fit Hispanic man in his forties whose name tag on his khaki uniform identified him as Officer Gonzales. The man smiled out from beneath a tan Stetson hat as he approached the sedan. He checked ID badges and returned to the security kiosk. A few moments later, the steel gate slid open. Gonzales gave the agents a thumbs-up.

Beyond the gate, a short drive through the woods led to a wide, paved clearing with a small, gravel parking lot to the right. There was a large, main building with another security kiosk outside the front doors, and beyond that was what Inspector Hua said was the Array itself. The Array consisted of a cluster of small, plain concrete buildings connected by an intersecting set of 60-foot-long tubes arranged in a ‘T’ shape.

The agents hadn’t noticed security cameras outside the wall, but inside, they were everywhere, and they were obvious. They decided to check in at the second security kiosk. This one had a bank of video screens, and as they approached, the woman monitoring those screens came out to greet them. She was in her thirties, and while she was polite, she wasn’t quite as cheerful as Gonzales had been. She identified herself as Officer Henson, and she checked IDs just as Gonzales had.

Once Officer Henson confirmed everything was in order, she told them where to find Dr. Campbell’s office. Dempsey and Inspector Hua followed the directions and entered the main building through the front door. Clark and de Jaager asked to see security footage for the day. Officer Henson made a quick call to Dr. Campbell’s office to clear the request before showing them to the security kiosk and the bank of monitors.

Even at 4x speed, a full day of recording from a dozen cameras would take more time and attention than they could spare, but fortunately for the agents, they could limit their search to the time between two specific points. They checked the grainy footage starting at 10:00 AM, and at the moment the Array was activated, every camera showed nothing but static for a few seconds.

To a less-tech savvy observer, it might be easily overlooked, but Clark and de Jaager were both computer guys. To them, the static stood out as strange. If the signal had been dropped, there would be no image at all, just blank frames. The static meant electromagnetic interference, but there didn’t appear to be anything strange happening at the time.

Once the video feeds resumed, everything appeared normal. There were static interruptions again at 11:05:47, 12:11:34, 13:17:21, and 14:23:08. The timecoding on the security footage evidently used the 24-hour clock. Each static interruption lasted for a few seconds each time. At 15:28:55 – while the agents were nearing the end of the operational briefing – the feed went black, but the black screens still showed the same static interference for a few seconds. That shouldn’t happen if the power surge had knocked out all the electronics and the cameras weren’t operational, and yet, there it was.

The video feed resumed at 15:50:58 when power was restored. At that point, the camera in the engineers’ office showed a man sleeping or unconscious on a couch. Officer Henson identified him as Dr. Takagawa, one of two engineers at the Array. One other thing stood out to de Jaager: someone was missing. Before the power surge, there had been eight people on-site, six staffers and two security guards. Now, there were seven.

Clark rolled the footage back to just before the power surge, paused, and counted. De Jaager was right. A woman was exiting the lab just before the surge, and when power was restored, she was gone. Officer Henson identified her as Dr. Helen Klinger and said she hadn’t seen Dr. Klinger leave. Dolf asked her to radio Gonzales at the front gate, and Gonzales said nobody had left the facility. That meant this Dr. Klinger was on the Array grounds in an inconspicuous place, or she had actually disappeared.

De Jaager thanked Officer Henson for her time and tried to keep her attention while Clark made a few quick clicks and keystrokes. He was able to find out the computer had a subroutine in its programming which would transmit the day’s footage to a particular IP address at midnight every night and then delete the oldest day of stored footage. It stored 72 hours of footage at any given time. Clark made note of the IP address, and then he, too, thanked Officer Henson for her time.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Observer Effect - Session 1d

While de Jaager and Clark were involved in what Dempsey called nerd work, the Irishman and Inspector Hua met with Dr. Campbell. The director of the Olympian Holobeam Array was a gray-haired African-American woman. She was as thin as a stick, but she seemed anything but fragile. Dr. Campbell was very businesslike in her demeanor.

Inspector Hua got right to the questions. How many staff were here today? All of them. This was the first day of operation, and it was far too important for sick days. There were three researchers (Dr. Campbell, Dr. Philip Black, and Dr. Helen Klinger), two engineers (Dr. Ishi Takagawa and Evan Kozac), and one IT support specialist (Jingfei Tsang). There was also a janitor who services the offices three times a week, but he was not scheduled for today.

What caused the power surge? Dr. Campbell had no idea, but it had to have been something outside the facility. In the hours the Array was in operation, had they learned anything? The Array had collected data, but it was too soon to know what to make of it, if there was anything of value to be learned from such a small sample. Tsang would be in the lab going over everything now. That was all Dempsey and Hua had for the moment, and so Dr. Campbell called the junior engineer, Evan Kozac, to show them around and assist them. Evan was a wiry man in his forties with nervous eyes, and he seemed to have a habit of humming to himself. The humming was a brief series of atonal, nonsensical notes, but they were consistent.

As they exited Campbell’s office, de Jaager and Clark met up with them. After introductions, de Jaager asked about the unconscious man in the engineers’ office. Evan explained he had found Dr. Takagawa unconscious in the Atrium of the Array shortly after the power surge. He had managed to bring the doctor back to consciousness long enough to walk him back to the office, but Dr. Takagawa was incoherent and passed out again.

Evan led the group to the engineers’ office where Dr. Takagawa still slept. De Jaager, who was no doctor, felt for vital signs and found nothing. He announced the man was dead, but Clark pointed out the slow, even rise and fall of the man’s chest. Okay. So, he wasn’t dead. That was good news.

Dempsey, who was also no doctor, examined the man. There was no evidence of injury; no blood, no swelling, no perspiration. Dr. Takagawa seemed to be resting peacefully, so Dempsey shook him gently. When the man didn’t wake up, Dempsey shook more violently and called his name. Still nothing.

Evan assured them he’d tried all of that, but Takagawa only woke long enough to stumble to the office. Dempsey wasn’t buying it.

“Damnit! This man probably has a concussion. And even if he doesn’t, he obviously needs medical attention. You need to call 911 right now, and if you don’t, I will!”

Clark, de Jaager, and Hua all shook their heads as casually but forcefully as they could to remind him they didn’t want emergency services or first responders anywhere near this Op.

“Uh, or, you know … maybe we could let him sleep a bit and see if he wakes up on his own. But I’m watching you, Kozac. Something’s not right here.”

The other three agents spoke over each other in an attempt to redirect the conversation. Realizing it was better for one person to ask a question at a time – and better still for that person to be the one who had conducted an investigation like this in the past – Clark and de Jaager stopped to let Hua take over.

“Mr. Kozac, what can you tell us about the technology used by the Array?"

“Well, I could get killed for telling you this, but …”

Evan grinned to show that he was at least half-joking, but even still, he leaned forward conspiratorially and spoke in a hushed tone.

“In a nutshell, the Atrium’s lasers detect jitters in space-time, and the computer – we call it Dee – records the data and makes it comprehensible.”

“Can we see this technology and your computer, Dee?”

“Well, I’d be happy to show you around the Array and the lab, sure, but you can’t open up the laser array’s casing. The technology is extremely expensive, fragile, and precise. Also, Dr. Campbell says you’re not cleared for it. Same goes for Dee.”

Inspector Hua nodded in understanding. Dempsey, Clark, and de Jaager nodded to each other in the silent agreement that they were, indeed, going to be inspecting every inch of that laser and the computer.

Hua had another question. Once the Array had detected enough of these jitters in space-time, what use would that data be? Again, Evan started with his disclaimer about potentially being killed for telling them. He then explained it might be easiest to think of it as a very compact particle accelerator, but really, it caused quantum reactions that would fold and spindle space-time itself. Keying that beam to patterns of data detected by the Holobeam might open brief, controllable gaps in reality.

Inspector Hua nodded some more.

“Then, you might produce instantaneous movement or communication.”

Oh, good. At least someone here was following. Clark and de Jaager were both highly-intelligent and well-educated, but they weren’t physicists. They managed to catch the main idea, and when Hua gave her summary, they, too, nodded in understanding. Dempsey just shrugged and called them all nerds.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Observer Effect - Session 1e

The agents decided to let Dr. Takagawa rest for now, and Evan suggested passing through the lab before heading out to the Array itself.

The lab consisted of seven computer workstations. Only one workstation was currently in use. Jingfei Tsang, as Evan introduced her, was a Chinese-American woman in her thirties, and she seemed so intent on watching the data flowing across her screen that she failed to even acknowledge anyone else was in the lab.

Evan explained that Ms. Tsang loved the computer, Dee, like a junkie loved drugs. He gestured to indicate a well-ventilated cabinet near the woman. It certainly seemed unremarkable; a typical rack of processors and motherboards connected to several workstations.

Again, as Hua was the experienced DOE Inspector, the other agents let her start. Ms. Tsang answered questions without looking away from the monitor. She told them several interesting things. During the hours it was operational, the lasers of the Array didn’t jitter with purely random movement which would be represented by white noise when plotted as data on a graph and converted to sound, but with strange, unexpected pulses. She indicated the data streaming across her monitor as if that would clarify, but she seemed to be the only one who could make any sense of it.

Ms. Tsang continued to volunteer information, consciously or not. She had had Dee generate an audio feed from the data, and she gladly played the result. It was a strange and eerie series of atonal whistles of various high frequencies. It was the same pattern as the tones Evan hummed unconsciously, but the tones were much higher. These tones were also punctuated by very low-frequency pulses that were barely audible to human ears but rattled the computer’s speakers. Clark and de Jaager, who were watching the graphed patterns while listening to the audio, instinctively felt a connection between the two, and they felt a connection to an unseen and unknowable aspect of reality.

There was more. While the Array was offline, Dee was powered by the backup generator. The computer showed anomalous readings. The tones were gone, but the pulses were still there. They were much weaker, but they shouldn’t have been there at all. Ms. Tsang explained it meant either there were unexpected energy sources leaking into the carefully isolated sensors, or else the sensors were damaged and reading phantom signals – a point Evan strongly discounted.

Whatever the case, when graphed visually, each pulse looked like an energy signature that began slowly, in low frequencies, and rose in speed and frequency over the course of about one second, until it vanished. An audio representation, which Ms. Tsang was all-too-happy to play, sounded like a drumbeat that rose to a thin whistle.

De Jaager asked if the Array was still picking up the signals after its reactivation, and Ms. Tsang indicated it was. Oddly enough, they were coming more rapidly now than they were in the morning, and they had more energy.

While listening to the exchange, Clark tried to see inside the vents of the computer casing. It looked pretty standard – well, except for the obelisk. It was hard to see it through the vents, but in the center of all the computer parts was what looked like a deep black obelisk, about two feet tall and maybe six inches around. It was run through with veins of softer black where computer cables plugged in.

Clark gave de Jaager and Dempsey a directional bro-nod to tell them to take a look inside the machine while he took over questioning. He asked Ms. Tsang to tell him about Dee, and she was quite happy to do so. Olympian Advances had custom-built Dee to present data from elaborate physics experiments in a more-easily comprehensible form. Dee was a crystal-matrix quantum supercomputer. Data was stored in a crystal framework and retrieved by lasers. It was several decades ahead of state-of-the-art. In a way, Dee wasn’t just processing data; it was thinking. It was constantly updating and rewriting itself to adapt the Array to environmental factors and improve its precision and sensitivity. It was also a good thing it wasn’t connected to the internet, because if any computer could start World War III, Dee would be the one.

It all sounded like technobabble to Dempsey and Hua, but it made even less sense to Clark and de Jaager. They knew computers, and what Ms. Tsang was describing shouldn’t be possible. It just shouldn’t work. But Ms. Tsang was happy to demonstrate. She spoke into a microphone and asked Dee to explain several difficult things from engine tuning to baking a soufflé at high altitude.

The answers Dee gave were detailed and very clear, but it wasn’t enough to convince Clark. He asked if he could direct a question to Dee. Evan tensed up, and Ms. Tsang hesitated, but she was so proud to show off the computer that she allowed it. Clark’s question was interesting: Where was Dr. Klinger right now? Dee’s response sent a chill through the agents.

“Dr. Helen Klinger has decohered out of this reality.”

Right. Not dead. Not abducted by aliens. Didn’t step out for coffee. Decohered out of this reality. Pretty much any other response would have been preferable.

If Evan and Ms. Tsang had heard the response, they didn’t show it. Evan simply gestured to the door leading outside and to the Array while he hummed the same atonal notes as always.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Observer Effect - Session 2a

Clark and de Jaager stepped outside, and Evan followed. Dempsey and Inspector Hua remained in the computer lab to … well, they weren’t sure just yet. Inspector Hua felt interviewing the final remaining Array staffer, Dr. Black, would be good, and the Irishman wanted to blow something up. He had three doses of “Irish Coffee,” his term for the improvised explosives he carried. Those should be plenty to destroy a computer, and then they could all go home.

Evan led Clark and de Jaager across the asphalt to the Array. A portable clean room – a tent of thick, clear plastic sheets with a blower and filter to clean the air – had already been set up covering the door to the concrete hut which housed the Array’s laser. The engineer was positively beaming with pride as he opened the heavy steel door and allowed the agents access.

“This is it! This is where the magic happens!”

Evan closed the door behind them, and just as he did so, he, Clark, and de Jaager were all struck by brief but sudden vertigo. Along with that, the agents also had a fleeting sense that everything they were experiencing was unreal. It was hard to explain, but it was almost as if they were actors on a television show or characters in a novel; like their reality wasn’t real, or at least like it wasn’t the only one. Professor Pangloss and Candide would have agreed. Though if this truly was the best of all possible worlds, what sort of twisted and uncaring god would have them in Chicago for back-to-back Operas with no rest? Surely, Voltaire would have approved.

De Jaager felt an instinctive awareness of something pressing against the fabric of reality as if trying to force its way through the membrane between dimensions. Not only that, but he also sensed that this awareness itself somehow made a breach more likely. Rather than provide assistance to whatever terrible thing was trying to get through, the Dutchman immediately dropped to a sitting position and concentrated on a perfect sphere. No way was he letting Gozer take Chicago.

Evan raised an eyebrow and gave Clark an inquisitive look. Clark just shrugged.

“Mecca. Must be prayer time.”

That seemed good enough for the engineer. The Array staffers were actually very inclusive for such an exclusive group.

The men out at the laser Array weren’t the only ones to experience vertigo. Back in the computer lab, both Dempsey and Inspector Hua felt it, too. Ms. Tsang looked a little dizzy for a moment, but she never took her eyes off the monitor, and when the feeling had passed, she gave no indication of having noticed it. Dempsey’s bad feeling about this Opera was steadily getting worse. He didn’t understand all the science or technobabble, but he was sure everything stemmed from the talking crystal obelisk masquerading as a computer.

He was just about to rig a dose of “Irish Coffee” to it when a blood-curdling scream echoed from outside the lab in the direction of the offices. He told Hua to keep an eye on Ms. Tsang, and he went to investigate. Dr. Takagawa had awoken, and he now stood on shaky legs in the hallway. Dempsey approached cautiously.

“Dr. Takagawa, what happened?”

“My eyes … Everything is going dark.”

For a Japanese man in his 60s, Takagawa only had a slight accent. He was visibly terrified. As his knees wobbled more and more, the engineer was forced to lean on the wall for support. Dempsey spoke into his sub-vocal mic to let the other agents know Takagawa was awake and his vision was fading fast. Clark responded that they were on their way. Evan remained behind to check on the laser, but he assured them he would follow in just a minute.

Whatever was going on here, Dempsey didn’t want to touch Takagawa, but he did want to help. He told the old engineer to follow the sound of his voice, and he backed slowly toward the computer lab. When Clark and de Jaager reached the computer lab, Dempsey had just backed in. He took a few more steps back, and Dr. Takagawa fell through the doorway and came to rest face first on the concrete floor of the lab.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Observer Effect - Session 2b

Ms. Tsang paid no attention to the collapsed engineer, so Clark paid all of his attention to her. The utter disinterest was appalling. Clark was a recovering bro, and where he came from, people were supposed to at least feign interest or mock.

Dolf rushed to Dr. Takagawa, and though the Dutchman had no practical medical knowledge, he moved to feel for a pulse. He stopped short, however. The fluids in de Jaager’s hand began to glow a faint bluish-white. As Dolf pulled his hand back, the engineer looked up at him with cloudy, unfocused eyes. As the man spoke, his saliva displayed the same faint glow as Dolf’s hand had.

“Please … A hospital, please … Call my wife and children …”

Yeah … de Jaager hadn’t been on the job long, but it had been long enough to know the engineer could never be allowed to leave or to talk with anyone outside the facility.

“Please …”

Nope. De Jaager drew his pistol and shot the crawling man between the eyes. Dr. Takagawa’s head popped like a cyst, splattering brain matter and faintly-glowing fluids all over. That was not like the movies; it was surreal and yet all too real. It was the right thing to do. It put the man out of his agony and secured a potential breach of the Operation.

Still, he had just shot a man. In the face. He even thought he could taste brain. Brain may or may not have sprayed into his mouth. Even if it hadn’t, de Jaager was pretty sure some of it had found its way into his nose and tear ducts. There might be bits of another man’s brain touching his brain right now in some revolting meeting-of-the-minds that probably wouldn’t even make it into a Lloyd Kaufman film. Of course, he knew it didn’t work that way, but Dolf wasn’t thinking straight at the moment. All he wanted to do was get away.

Clark had seen cold-blooded executions before. It was part of the reason he preferred to run surveillance rather than go undercover. Even when the victim had it coming, it wasn’t a pretty sight. Takagawa had to die. Clark knew that, but it didn’t make the situation easier. He tried to block out reality by focusing on the waves and pulses scrolling across Ms. Tsang’s monitor instead.

Dempsey wasn’t a fan of execution either, but business was business. Besides, Dr. Takagawa’s sacrifice provided the cover he needed to dose the computer, Dee, with “Irish Coffee.” As he slipped over to the rack of computer parts that housed the crystal obelisk, he told Clark to hold Tsang. Rather than do as the Irishman instructed, Clark instead looked up from the monitor with an inquisitive expression.

As Dempsey secured the explosive device to do the most damage to the computer, Ms. Tsang stiffened and then whirled in her office chair. She seemed to sense Dee was in danger, and so she leaped from the chair and tackled Dempsey. In the struggle, a button was pressed. A bomb exploded. Somewhere in the distance, a Dutchman screamed.

When the dust settled, and the ringing in his ears had faded, Dempsey stood and assessed the damage. He’d taken a gash to his shoulder, but he’d be okay. He couldn’t say the same for anyone else in the room. Tsang was dead. Clark was dead. De Jaager was dead. Inspector Hua was unconscious, but she was bleeding out and would probably die without medical attention.

Dempsey sighed and shot her twice with his pistol. Now, Hua was dead, too. And the computer … Dempsey sighed again. The crystal was still intact.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Observer Effect - Session 2c

Two figures appeared in the doorway, standing over the fallen Dr. Takagawa. It was Dr. Campbell and a man he didn’t recognize. Probably Dr. Black.

The two scientists stood in horror as they took in the sight. Dempsey just shrugged and used the hesitation to shoot them both. The man dropped, but Dr. Campbell was only grazed. She turned and fled for her office.

As Dempsey stepped over bodies and through pools of blood, he tried not to think about anything at all. Maybe the bomb was a mistake, but maybe Clark should have listened to him. Either way, his team was dead, and most of the Array staff were dead. He might as well eliminate the rest and go back to finish off that damned computer.

Campbell slammed the door to her office, and Dempsey heard the click of the lock as he reached it. That was cute. Locking an office door. These people may be smart, but they could have used some Active Shooter training. He put a round into the door just below the knob, and then he kicked. The door swung open in time for him to see Dr. Campbell duck behind her heavy wooden desk.

He could hear a desk drawer slowly slide open, but he didn’t have time for games. Three quick steps and he had a clear shot. Dr. Campbell never had time to grab whatever she was reaching for. Next was … Who was left? Just Evan? Dempsey stepped out into the hall and had only a moment to realize he’s forgotten someone - the security guard from the kiosk with the cameras. Officer Henson greeted him in the hall with a frown and three bullets. Maybe it was more than three, but three were all he lived long enough to count. Dempsey slumped against the wall and slid down as everything turned red and then black.

Moments later – or maybe eternities later? – the agents all screamed as memories faded. Clark and de Jaager were in the Array, and Evan had just closed the door. Dempsey and Hua were in the computer lab. They were all right where they had been when they’d felt vertigo.

Clark, Dempsey, and Hua let the memories fade like barely-remembered dreams, and they couldn’t fade fast enough. De Jaager wanted to let the memories fade, but something told him he needed to remember. He froze, staring at his feet and thinking. Remember. Remember.

And remember, he did. Only, he remembered so damned hard that he remembered things he’d tried to forget before. Yes, he remembered shooting Takagawa, and he remembered dying in an explosion … He had died. He had died in an explosion. Yet, here he was. And this wasn’t the first time.

Just after the team had wrapped up the Reverb investigation and were preparing to head home, they got an emergency call from Carpenter. They had a quick briefing, and they were sent to the Array at night. The staffers were already insane and murderous. Then, something broke through. Something vast, black, shapeless and mindless, but alive and potent, ripped a hole in the sky over the Array. Thunderous blasts and shrieks of power answered the feeble pulses echoed by Dee. The thing in the sky swept out and absorbed everything into itself.

And he “woke” screaming at 10:00 A.M., hours before, in the hotel restaurant, remembering almost nothing. He called in the barest details to Delta Green. The Program sent the team to stop the disaster — and they failed. Late at night, the great power behind reality broke through again, absorbed everything again.

And he “woke” screaming at 10:00 A.M., hours before, in the hotel restaurant, remembering almost nothing, not even the barest details. The Program sent the team to the Array again.


And now, here they were. Again. Only, this time they “woke” screaming already at the Array, already with the Operation in progress. They were stuck in Groundhog Day, but the timeline was accelerating. If they failed, they’d probably get another chance, but who knew how much time they’d lose. Eventually, failure would be permanent.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Observer Effect - Session 3a

This had to end, and it had to end now. Clark didn’t seem to remember what had just happened, but de Jaager remembered enough for the both of them. This time, he didn’t sit to meditate, and he didn’t wait for Dempsey to call.

“Come on. Takagawa’s awake, he’s going blind, and I have to give him something.”

Again, Evan raised an eyebrow and gave Clark an inquisitive look, and again, Clark just shrugged.

“He called his psychic this morning.”

That answer, too, was good enough for Evan. Clark and de Jaager hurried back to the Computer Lab, and Evan remained behind to tend to the laser.

Dempsey was in the process of prepping a dose of “Irish Coffee” when de Jaager and Clark entered and passed through the Lab on the way to the hall. De Jaager went straight for the engineers’ office, and Clark followed. As they entered, Takagawa was just starting to stir, and de Jaager put a stop to that. Two bullets to the face, and this time, he was careful not to let anything get in his mouth.

Clark was entirely unprepared. Dolf did say he had to give something to the engineer, but if anything, Clark was even more surprised than Takagawa. What now? Did de Jaager know something he didn’t? Was he next? Was he going to be called upon to uphold the Body Disposal clause of the Bro Code? Clark readied his gun. He wasn’t sure just what was going on, but he was willing to bet there would be more bullets, and he wanted to be on the shooting team.

Without eye contact, de Jaager stepped out into the hall. Clark followed him back to the computer lab. They entered just in time for another wave of vertigo and the accompanying sense that nothing was real, or at least, that everything that was real to them wasn’t all that was real. As vertigo faded, de Jaager could again feel something pressing against the fabric of reality. Clark, Dempsey, and Hua either didn’t feel it, or they were blocking it out. Either way, that was probably for the best.

If Gozer the Gozerian wanted Chicago, he’d have to down a shot of Dempsey’s “Irish Coffee” first. The Irishman had just finished placing the charge when Ms. Tsang blindsided him with a vicious snarl. The woman had torn herself away from her monitor with such speed and force that neither de Jaager nor Clark could react in time.

Dempsey was tackled. A button was pressed. A bomb exploded. Somewhere in the distance, a Dutchman screamed.

Moments later, the agents all screamed as memories faded. Clark and de Jaager had just stepped into the computer lab from the hall, Inspector Hua was standing against the far wall watching Ms. Tsang who, for her part, didn’t seem to notice she had screamed, and Dempsey had just finished planting a charge of “Irish Coffee.”

As Ms. Tsang turned from her monitor, de Jaager emptied the clip into her back. She fell lifelessly to the concrete floor, face first, just like Takagawa had when de Jaager had killed him the first time. Dempsey and Hua blinked in surprise, but Clark had just seen Takagawa eat two bullets as he was waking up. He had to do something about de Jaager, or everyone was going to die. He raised his gun and pointed it at the back of the Dutchman’s head.

Before he managed to pull the trigger, he heard footsteps from the hall. Dr. Campbell and another man were rushing to the lab, so Clark shot them instead. He still had no idea what was going on, but at least he was doing the shooting.

Dempsey ignored all the shooting; he’d process it all later if necessary. He indicated he had two more doses of “Irish Coffee,” and de Jaager told him to set one up in the atrium with the laser. De Jaager led the way.

Clark paused to catch his breath. He could sure use something to calm his nerves; a beer, a Rum and Coke, a Red Bull … He heard more footsteps in the hall. Officer Henson ran in from the security kiosk outside, pointed her gun at Clark, and yelled for him to drop his weapon. There had been enough shooting, but it sure seemed like that was the only way out. Must be a Chicago thing.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Observer Effect - Session 3b

While Clark was assessing his quick draw chances, he thought he saw – no, he did see – two people appear out of thin air behind Henson. The first was a wild-eyed and wild-haired woman in a lab coat, and behind her, a man in loose-fitting khakis and a collared shirt with a tie but no jacket. The man carried a pistol pointed down and away but ready.

The man seemed only momentarily surprised by his newfound situation. He lunged forward and locked his free arm around the wild-eyed woman’s neck while he aimed and fired his pistol at Officer Henson hitting her between the shoulders. Officer Henson fired at Clark and his him in the chest. Clark fired at the man who shot Henson, but he hit the wild-eyed woman between the eyes instead.

The man dropped his now-dead human shield and fired again. He hit Officer Henson as she was falling to the ground, and then the next round put Clark down.

With de Jaager’s assistance, Dempsey found the best position for the Atrium’s dose of “Irish Coffee.” They exited the concrete hut and headed back toward the main building. The Irishman held the remote detonator over his head and angled it behind him. He pressed the button with a dramatic exaggeration.

The man who had killed Clark had just stepped out of the main building as the atrium exploded in a concussive shower of concrete and steel. Again, he was unfazed by the situation. He calmly walked forward with his pistol angled down and away. Dempsey and de Jaager both drew their guns and held them in the same manner, stopping about 50 feet away. The newcomer stopped as well and called to them.

“I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but it looks like we’re on the same side. That’s some nice work, but I don’t think taking down the laser is gonna be enough.”

Dempsey scoffed. Of course, it would be enough. The laser was what was causing … well, whatever bad thing was happening. He wasn’t too clear on that point, but he did know the laser had to die. The computer, he could take with him and destroy later. Dempsey’s responded by paraphrasing what President Reagan had called the nine most terrifying words in the English language.

“We’re from the government, and we're here to help.”

The newcomer nodded and cracked his neck like an action movie villain before a fight.

“Yeah. Me, too. You can call me REDLIGHT.”

REDLIGHT was Captain Cramer Gump, INSCOM “Black” Ops. REDLIGHT had also been dead for more than two years. His cell leader had sacrificed him to a wendigo in the middle of a cold, Alaskan winter. None of these men knew that, however. De Jaager and Dempsey were involved with the legitimate Delta Green program, and this REDLIGHT came from a reality where his cell leader, ROSE, hadn’t sacrificed him. She had sacrificed REAPER instead while REDLIGHT passed the time in a remote cabin with RICHARD.

Dempsey felt there was something a little off about this REDLIGHT guy. Whatever it was, the Irishman didn’t trust anyone who hadn’t been in the briefing room that morning. Hell, he wasn’t sure he even trusted the people who were in that room.

He raised his gun as quickly as he could, but Dempsey hadn’t counted on the possibility the man they faced was no more than a human brain in an alien-engineered body. REDLIGHT had shot them both dead before de Jaager could even shout for Dempsey to stop.

After an indefinite period of nothing, Dolf screamed. He was in the restaurant on the first floor of the Talbott Hotel, and he had just finished his first sip of coffee. Everyone was staring at him. This all seemed familiar, and he didn’t like it. Something told him he needed to remember, and something else told him to forget. He’d taken advice from the wrong shoulder before, and he usually knew the difference. Forgetting seemed like the right choice, and so he let the memories fade.

Clark screamed as well, and at the same time. He, too, was back at the Talbott Hotel, and he was staring at the paperwork he’d been filling out regarding the Reverb investigation. There were rapidly fading memories or dreams, but they involved math, so he let them go.

Like the other two, Dempsey has screamed, but he was about to board a flight at O’Hare Airport. After reassuring the TSA officials who responded to the disturbance, he boarded and found his seat; First Class, seat 4A. The man in the seat next to him looked tired and just a little off. He was dressed in loose-fitting khakis and a collared shirt with a tie and no jacket.

As the Irishman leaned his seat back, the other man warned him the flight crew would only make him put it upright again before takeoff. Dempsey narrowed his eyes with a sneer, and the other man shrugged.

“Suit yourself. But as long as we’re going to be on this flight together, we might as well talk. You can call me REDLIGHT.”
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Future/Perfect - Session 1a

One year. Well, not quite one year, but summer had transitioned through other seasons and the northern hemisphere once again prepared for its arrival. In Chicago, Task Force 138 had failed many times to save the world, and each time, the world had ended. The world in which the agents now found themselves was the real world as far as they knew. To them, they had successfully stopped the resurgence of an unnatural drug and headed home. The memories of their many failures at the Holobeam Array were sealed behind the deepest doors their minds could create. They were nightmares. Sometimes, they were half-seen flashbacks, which only self-medication could ease. But the world – this world where the Holobeam Array had never existed – went on. It survived by virtue of not needing Task Force 138 to save it.

The agents had returned to their homes and jobs. They forgot – as best they could – about Chicago, about the Program, about each other. Well, de Jaager and Dempsey forgot about the others. Despite his best efforts, Clark couldn’t forget Dempsey. Someone that pale and always dressed in heavy wool no matter the temperature might be memorable, but that wasn’t why Clark found it hard to forget. Instead, it was because Clark worked for the DEA. Evidently, the Irishman had decided to embark on a cocaine binge that would make Rick James jealous, and he wasn’t always as subtle as he thought.

More out of a sense of self-preservation than adherence to the Bro Code, Clark spent several hours from June through April covering trails that would lead to Dempsey because those trails might link Dempsey to him.

The rise of The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant kept de Jaager busy. There was always demand for advances and refinements in linguistic software engineering, and there was nothing quite like national security to drive that demand ever forward.

Of course, no matter how they struggled to forget, to immerse themselves in their jobs, to better (or worsen) themselves, Delta Green always called again. The Program did just that the on a Sunday afternoon the following May. Something wasn’t quite right in California, which might be an enormous understatement, but it could also be applied to any other state. This particular something, however, dealt with what the FBI had designated a serial killer. Details would presumably be in their briefing at the Bakersfield, California FBI office in the morning. Special-Agent-in-Charge Kevin Slater ran the field office, and he had Delta Green clearance.

The sky over southern California was a beautiful, deep blue without a cloud in sight. Thermometers everywhere boasted a perfect 72 degrees. Of course, it was only 8:30 AM. The forecast called for temperatures to hit the mid-90s; not record highs, but high enough to make everyone with a desk job appreciate their lot in life.

Special-Agent-in-Charge Slater had the weary look of a man just short of retirement. Whether or not that was the case, and despite the recent Bureau-wide relaxation of the dress code, SAC Slater was still sharply dressed in a black suit and tie. As Clark and Dempsey arrived, Slater waved them toward a room he called his Sea Cabin. Clark guessed the SAC had been in the Navy, but Dempsey was pretty sure the man just liked pirates. As the agents grabbed coffee and took seats around the long wooden table, the stance Slater took at the podium – hands behind his back, chest out, feet shoulder-width apart – supported Clark’s theory.

SAC Slater got right to the briefing. He took a manila folder from the podium and dropped it on the table in front of the agents. Clark opened it and examined the contents while the SAC explained them.

“Clifford Potter, age 68, was a retired steelworker and local treasure-hunter over in Furnace Creek. His mutilated body was found March 5th less than a quarter mile from the ruins of the old Hughes Electrodynamics plant. Cause of death was blunt and cutting trauma, and time of death was placed between 6:00 PM and 8:00 PM. It was ruled a homicide by the county coroner, and a nearby Bobcat light construction vehicle was tentatively identified as the murder weapon. Potter had rented it at his own expense, and he had been digging around at the abandoned lot for some reason. The local investigation dried up after about a week.”

Furnace Creek. Dempsey didn’t like the sound of that. He’d packed nothing but heavy clothes, and he was pale, even for an Irishman. After the past year, Clark wondered if Dempsey was actually just clear and full of coke.

Slater dropped another manila folder on the table and continued.

“Lorraine Minor, age 36, was reported missing in Furnace Creek on the night of April 24th. Her body was discovered by Furnace Creek Sheriff’s Deputy Lucas Androzy. The deputy was drawn out into the desert by a gathering of buzzards. Ms. Minor had to be identified through dental records. There wasn’t much else left. Even parts of her skeleton were missing.”

The picture in Potter’s folder was a black-and-white portrait. The photograph of Ms. Minor was in color and showed her in the desert with her arm around the waist of another woman. The file identified the other woman as Ms. Minor’s partner, Emily Warren.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Future/Perfect - Session 1b

Clark and Dempsey agreed that a Bobcat light construction vehicle made an odd choice of murder weapon, but they weren’t sure how that caught the Program’s interest. They didn’t wonder long. SAC Slater unlocked and opened a briefcase at the base of the podium and produced a thick, leather folder tied closed with a leather strap. He dropped it on the table just as he had the manila folders, but this one landed with a solid thud. Despite the heavy sound, Clark found only a single 8x10 color photograph depicting what looked like a burnt orange-colored wallet with featherlike buds sprouting from one end.

“After the second victim was found, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department asked for help. I assigned the case to Agent Grunberg, and he found that stuck to the underside of the construction vehicle. He sent it to the nerds at the Program lab in San Diego, and all they could come up with was that it came from some kind of unknown bird. Now, I saw that thing, and it didn’t look like it came from any bird I’d ever seen, so maybe the nerds are right. They usually are.”

The SAC took two black wallets with badges and FBI credentials from his inside jacket pocket and gave them to the agents.

“As far as anyone knows, you’re FBI from Washington, D.C. until this is handled. If that’s not good enough for someone, refer them to me. Grunberg and I are in the Program, so anything and everything can be run through us. Just keep it quiet. The boys at the home office in Sacramento might look in at any time. Check out an SUV and get moving. I want daily reports, and if they’re not in person, you’d sure as hell better use some codes.”

That seemed to conclude the briefing since SAC Slater then took back the photograph of the feathery wallet and locked it in his briefcase once more before exiting the room unceremoniously.

The 4-hour drive from Bakersfield was uneventful, and the agents arrived in Furnace Creek at about 1:00 PM. It was hot, but it was going to get hotter. Many people might secure lodging immediately, but not the agents of Task Force 138. According to the sign as they entered, Furnace Creek had 24 residents. Dempsey suggested a revised population of 22, but the sign did look old and sun-bleached, so it might no longer be accurate. Regardless, there were three campgrounds, two small hotels, and a bed and breakfast, so they didn’t consider lodging to be their biggest concern. That distinction fell to lunch, and they had just passed a place offering fry bread tacos and shaved ice.

Once lunch was behind them, the agents felt they could concentrate on work. The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office was in Independence, but there was a small station in Furnace Creek. The building wasn’t large, but it was economical in its use of space. Sheriff Alfred Mann was at the Furnace Creek station when the agents arrived. He was big and burly, but he seemed friendly enough. He expressed appreciation that the FBI had agreed to take over the investigation. His office wasn’t equipped for this sort of thing, it was just himself and Deputy Androzy, murders just didn’t happen around there, etc …

The sheriff informed the agents Deputy Androzy had handled the Potter investigation, and when the deputy had found Ms. Minor, they turned everything over to the FBI. He referred them to the deputy for any questions. The sheriff’s office would assist in any way they needed but would otherwise stay out of the way.

Clark thanked the sheriff for his time, and the agents went to speak with Deputy Androzy. The deputy was young, and while he wasn’t exactly eager to assist the FBI, he was willing to do what he could. Something in the deputy’s manner led Clark to wonder if that willingness to help would persist after the sheriff went back to Independence.

Deputy Androzy had the case file ready and on his desk. It contained crime scene photos which were clear but still obviously not professional. The photos from the Potter scene showed a body shredded and mangled near a construction vehicle in a cleared area surrounded by debris and the ruins of a building. The photos of the Minor scene showed a few broken and shattered bones scattered across a small patch of desert.

He told the agents what he knew. Potter was a local treasure hunter who had taken an interest in the old Hughes Electrodynamics plant a couple years ago. He would rent the Bobcat from the Furnace Creek Gas Station for days at a time, and he would come back with truckloads of brass, bronze, and copper. He swore it was like a gold mine, but no one seemed to be interested.

Jarvis Greene was the one who found the body. His grandfather, Montgomery Green, owned the gas station, and Jarvis worked there. According to Jarvis Greene, when Potter failed to return the Bobcat on time, he called and received no answer. He went to Potter’s house, and again, no answer. It was when he went out to the old electrodynamics plant that he found the body.

Emily Warren was Lorraine Minor’s girlfriend, companion, partner … Deputy Androzy wasn’t sure what the polite term was, but the other residents just referred to them as “the lesbians.” There was nothing disparaging meant; it was just the most accurate way the Furnace Creek residents had to describe them. The women were actually very well liked. They were artists; Warren was a painter, and Minor was a sculptor. Ms. Minor had recently begun working with what she called “desert wood” sculptures, and she would go out in the evenings to collect materials. She had gone out on the night of April 24th, but she never returned.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Future/Perfect - Session 1c

The agents thanked the deputy. As they were leaving, Deputy Androzy asked them if they had any ideas and where they thought they might go next. Dempsey wasn’t about to give out any information. As far as he was concerned, everyone was a suspect. Clark wasn’t sure he wanted to give out too much information either, but he didn’t want to draw suspicion for lack of cooperation. He said they planned to check out the Bobcat at the gas station and take a look at the rental records to see who had been using it lately. Androzy nodded and added that he checked the rental log as part of the Potter investigation. Only Potter had rented it in the last couple years, and he’d been doing so a lot. He didn’t know if anyone had rented it since it had been returned to the gas station following the investigation.

The Furnace Creek Gas Station was a rickety two-story house with a gable roof. The front half of the first floor had been converted into a store. Two old gas pumps sat out front on simple concrete blocks beneath a sun-bleached Coke sign and faded ads for long-forgotten products.

Inside the store, the agents noticed a strong smell of marijuana. A young man with dreadlocks leaned back in his chair behind the counter. His feet were propped on the counter next to the register. He smiled and nodded at the agents when they entered. His smile disappeared instantly when the badges came out. Dempsey waved a hand to calm him.

“Don’t worry kid. That’s not why we’re here. I think that’s legal here anyway.”

Clark shook his head and indicated that, while it wasn’t legal recreationally, he was sure the kid had a prescription. Anyway, as Dempsey had mentioned, that’s not why they were there. They were investigating a couple murders, and part of that investigation involved an inspection of the Bobcat construction vehicle and the store’s rental log.

The rental log was nothing more than a few sheets of paper on a clipboard hanging on the wall behind the counter. The young man handed it to Dempsey. Just as Deputy Androzy had said, the log showed only Potter’s name appeared on the first couple pages of the log. Dempsey nodded and handed the clipboard back.

“Thank you, Mr., ummm … What did you say your name was?”

“Jarvis. Jarvis Greene. My grandpa owns this place.”

“Jarvis. You’re the one who found Potter’s body?”

The man nodded as he showed the agents to the concrete pad where the Bobcat was parked. Clark began inspecting the vehicle while Dempsey continued the conversation. The young man’s answers matched what the deputy had told them. Dempsey mentioned they might need to speak with the owner of the gas station at some point, and Jarvis said that should be fine. His grandfather was very old, however, and he spent most of his time upstairs where it was air conditioned. It would take him several minutes to get downstairs, so the agents should call ahead before they arrive.

Clark was no forensic scientist, so he wasn’t sure what to make of the splatter patterns, but there was still a significant amount of dried blood on the underside of the vehicle as well as traces over the front left. There was also a transparent film spattered lightly in various places and more heavily concentrated near the engine. Again, he was no nerd, but he did know a thing or two about mechanics. That fluid which left that film when it dried wasn’t any fluid which should have come from the Bobcat.

Dempsey wasn’t sure what to make of it either, so he scraped some of the film into an evidence bag before Clark could recommend latex gloves. Maybe the guys at the lab would know more. The agents thanked Jarvis for his cooperation and headed back to the car.

They could see how a trained deputy and a coroner might not be able to envision the murder, but the agents had perspective in the form of a photograph of a burnt orange-colored chunk of leather with featherlike buds. Once back in their car, they discussed their theories.

Dempsey suspected Potter and Minor were killed by a harpy. Clark had only heard that term when a former supervisor would complain about his mother-in-law, and he wasn’t sure how she’d be involved. The Irishman clarified that a harpy was a mythological creature that had the head and body of a woman and the wings and talons of a bird.

Clark felt that was the most ridiculous explanation he’d ever heard, and he countered with his own. Weresnakes. The murders happened at night, and snakes were common in the area. The photograph they saw was obviously a scale – never mind the buds. Deputy Androzy also seemed pretty interested in where they were going and what avenues they were planning to investigate. Clark suspected Androzy was a member of a … werewolves would have a pack, werelions would have a pride, weresheep would have a herd … What would weresnakes have? Well, it was something to look up once they got settled into their room. They drove off toward the Sunset Bed and Breakfast, arguing the whole way over who had the worse theory.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Future/Perfect - Session 2a

“A knot.”

Dempsey tossed his bag casually in his room and peeked his head into Clark’s room to see what his partner was talking about.

“I would have figured you for a Velcro man.”

Clark looked up from his laptop. He had wasted no time unpacking. He had questions which only the internet could answer.

“No. I mean a knot is what you call a group of weresnakes. Well, it’s what you call a group of snakes, so it stands to reason it’s what you’d call a group of weresnakes.”

Dempsey wasn’t so sure. A knot seemed like a rude thing to call a group of creatures that could actually be tied into one. He’d sure never call a weresnake that to his face, but he would have no problem encouraging Clark to do it.

“I’m pretty sure a group of snakes is called a nope.”

“You’re thinking spiders.”

“Well, I am now. Thanks.”

Clark was all too happy to have helped. Despite the fact it was the hottest part of the day in the hottest part of the world, the agents decided they could unpack later. They were burning daylight. Clark refilled his canteen with Red Bull and clipped it to his belt. On their way to the SUV, they gave a polite wave to Mrs. Bradley, the elderly woman who ran the Sunset Bed & Breakfast with her husband. Mrs. Bradley returned the wave and reminded them dinner would be at 6:30 sharp if they were interested.

Because Deputy Androzy was a weresnake, Clark reasoned, he probably didn’t do a particularly thorough job in his investigations. He had given them the keys to Potter’s house, but Clark figured there would still probably be something to find there. Maybe they should also take a look at where Potter had been digging at the old Electrodynamics plant. Dempsey was pretty sure interviewing the lesbians should be the first order of business.

Lesbian, singular. Clark had to remind Dempsey one of them was their second victim. Okay. That particular interview moved down his list a couple notches, but the Irishman still felt it was an angle they needed to cover at some point. Clark agreed.

Potter’s house was on the northwestern edge of town. It was almost as far to the center of town from his home as it was the ruins of the Hughes Electrodynamics plant. His closest neighbor was about a quarter of a mile in the direction of the town.

The house was a lime green, single-story building with a gabled roof. They had keys, but the agents decided to do a quick sweep around the perimeter first. The windows were locked, and the blinds were down, but it didn’t seem like anyone was inside.

Around back, the agents found the wooden doors of a root cellar. The doors must have been installed in the past few years because they showed little sign of weathering. They couldn’t open the root cellar since it was held shut with a padlock.

They decided to come back for the root cellar after checking the house. Dempsey would go in through the back door, and Clark would take the front. When they were in position, they each counted to three before opening the doors, entering, and coming face to face with each other. Evidently, the two doors were directly across from each other on opposite sides of a well-kept living room.

Like the living room, the bedroom and bathroom were also tidy and free of anything resembling a clue. The kitchen was the only room in the house with a lived-in feel. Where the rest of the house might pass a military inspection, the kitchen was merely neat. On the table, Clark found an old boom-box, two books, a pair of lead-lined leather work gloves, a small black device like a remote control with a digital display, a notepad, a Master Lock key, and a series of twenty-four cassette tapes.

Dempsey went through the refrigerator and cabinets, but he found only canned and boxed food. He shrugged and sat at the table.

Clark picked up the first tape. It was hand-labeled “Monty Interview – 1 of 24.” He put it in the boom-box and pressed play. The agents listened to the tapes while they examined the rest of the items.
 

Nomessiah

Villager
Future/Perfect - Session 2b

“We talkin’ about Hughes?”

“Yeah, Monty, if that’s okay?”

“Sure. Why the Hell not? He said people would talk about him someday.”

“Did he?”

“Sure. Said he was going to change the face of the Earth with what he was working on down at the plant. You know what? I believed him.”
The gloves were heavy and lined with lead. They were covered in red dirt that didn’t match the surrounding desert. Dempsey pointed out they were the sort of gloves an X-ray lab technician might use to handle radioactive materials. That would explain the remote control. It was probably a Geiger counter.

“Did you ever see what went on below the plant?”

“Nope. I never did. He never really went down there either. He just stayed in his office – the Bathysphere, we called it. It was all decked out strange. I heard it cost a couple million to put it together. It was hermetically sealed with big rubber-lipped, cast iron doors like a damned battleship.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. It was all lit by those klieg light jobbies; you know the ones? Man, it cooked in there, 110 degrees, sometimes 120 easy. He liked it. Hell, he loved it. He just sat at this weird desk and drew his plans and cooked. No one but me and him could stand it. I was in the South Pacific for a chunk of time, you understand; Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands … Even I found it uncomfortable after a while.”

“What was he working on?”

“I don’t really know; except he said it would change the world. The man worked freehand, from memory, just drawing out things that looked like blueprints from scratch – I mean with a damned pencil and some paper, and that’s it. He just sat there and rattled it off like he was doing crosswords.”

“What did it look like?”

“They’re hard to explain. Oh, he wrote in this weird code. It looked like math; like symbols. Then he’d redo the whole thing in English when it was ready to be built.”

“So you don’t think English was his main language?”

“I don’t know. He looked white. He looked like he was from Europe or something. He seemed normal, but once or twice I heard him speak in this language …”

“Can you describe it?”

“Well, it sounded like some sort of South Seas lingo. Like something from New Guinea, or something. I heard some in the Corps, you understand.”

“Did he know you overheard him?”

“Once.”

“Did he ever say anything to you about it?”

“Yeah. He said to forget it. He said he could speak twelve languages; that it was a gift. He could write in them, too.”
The books were textbooks, and they looked well-used. The titles didn’t help Clark’s growing unease; Radioactivity and Geology: An Account of the Influence of Radioactive Energy on Terrestrial History, and Radioactivity and Its Measurement. The books did fit the emerging theme, however.

“So, his personal habits, they were strange?”

“Well, if he had any personal habits. He never slept. I only caught him dozing once. The guy only ate vegetables; only specially prepared stuff. It was flown in every morning by courier from Los Angeles. He’d only eat it if I washed it by hand. He knew when I didn’t do this. I don’t know how.”

“So, he was odd?”

“Odd ain’t the word. But he was a good boss. Then again, I was used to the Corps. Anything seems good after the Corps.”

“So, he was a good boss?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Do you think you could go into that a bit more?”

“Sure. Don’t get me wrong. He hated everyone; all the guys who worked for him. He never once said a kind word to anyone. Conversations with him were always about three sentences. He’d ask you a question, you’d answer, and then he’d berate you. But he was always right, and he rewarded loyalty and consistency. I had that stuff down from training. I did everything he asked down to the letter; by that time it was second nature.”

“So you think he liked you?”

“Nah, he tolerated me. You understand?”

“Did he ever go outside?”

“Once or twice that I seen. He wore these old goggles – Bakelight goggles with black-out glass – when he went.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. He could see just fine in the dark. He walked around after hours, sometimes, in the rooms surrounding his office, in the dark.”

“So, he wore them whenever he was in sunlight?”

“Yeah. He liked the heat, he liked the lamps, but something about the sun bugged him. Not his skin; just his eyes.”
The notepad was battered and swollen as if it had once been water-logged but had since dried. The poor state and legibility of the writing supported that assessment. Potter had taken hundreds of notes, but hardly anything was clear. There were what appeared to be measurements of distance as well as cryptic phrases like “… machine parts: gold, silver …” and “… be radioactive …” The last page of the notebook showed a simple drawing of what looked like an odd pool with sockets – sockets evidently measuring precisely 2.718 inches by 2.718 inches – in the border. There were wavy lines drawn in the center.

“So, he didn’t like blood? You said something about that earlier?”

“Yes. I cut myself once while preparing his lunch, and when I walked into the Bathysphere, he got up and started screaming at me. He was really, really mad. Really PO’d. He stood away from me like I was contagious.”

“What was he yelling?”

“For me to get out. To come back later. That he wasn’t hungry. That my blood made him sick.”

“So you were bleeding a lot?”

“That’s the thing. I didn’t bleed hardly at all, and just on one finger I wrapped in gauze.”

“So, he saw the bandage.”

“Nah. I had the hand with the cut on the door. He couldn’t see it.”

“Then, how did he know?”

“I think he smelt it.”
 

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