The night of the Infinity Sanction:
Thinking over the intricate structure of the code within Infinity’s PDA, the Weaver recognizes familiar lines and symbols from fragments stored in the dust Dr. Ilyes brought to Jean. That sample must be connected to this device. If the strange material does consist of memories then whoever possessed this code in the past is also tied to the sample.
Daemon also takes a look, intrigued by a possible link between demons and pure information.
Then the Naturalist takes the PDA. It activates the identify routine and inputs itself as the target.
The screen displays “Scanning…”
A minute later it beeps. “Current Mission: Kill Cymbeline Hand in 4, 6, or 9 days.”
Nat hands the device back to Weaver quickly. The demon’s mind runs over the possibilities. It fell, it shouldn’t be part of the God-Machine’s plans, and it certainly has no intention of killing Cymbeline.
The following morning (Monday July 2, 2012):
This morning in trying to clear out some faded sports jerseys, the demon stumbles across several boxes of gay pornography. He should have expected it but didn’t think to look. He’s sure the Naturalist’s records didn’t include them. The question is what to do with the magazines?
The demon flips through the decade old stacks. In the end he finds a convenient dumpster and burns them. He does an extra hard scrub of his computer’s browser history for good measure.
That dealt with, the officer reports to work. Always looking to prove himself, the demon arrives early to the morning briefing.
Instead of the usual tidbits on local dealers and current neighborhood tensions, Lt. Lawrence arrives to inform them about the details of the latest missing child.
Three children have gone missing since mid June.
Aiden Hex disappeared first on June 15th, vanishing on his way back from school in Windermere. The son of tech investor Samuel Hex and former model Amanda Hex, he is 14, white, 5’ 4" with sandy blond hair and green eyes.
On the night of June 23, Peace Montaro was taken from her bedroom in Lake City. This 12 year old African American girl is 5" tall, with long curly black hair and dark eyes.
Yesterday afternoon Queue Johnson vanished from her front yard in Olympic Hills. Her father Karl Johnson remains a suspect. He has a history of public drunkenness and violence. Queue may have run away though that seems unlikely due to the details of the scene. She’s 7 years old with short blond hair and brown eyes.
At the moment the department has found no connection between the disappearances but it hasn’t been ruled out.
As Hunter ponders that, a disturbance absorbs all attention at the front of the precinct. There a small crowd has converged on a mysterious package without a sender or a recipient.
After people evacuate, the bomb team looks it over, and the dogs give it a sniff, the police discover that it only contains a few hundred photocopies of a missing person poster from the 90s.
The subject is Clare Smith, a teen who vanished from Bainbridge island in 1996.
Around 9 AM as each of the demons works through their morning activities, they feel a series of strains and cracks appear in their covers, as if a small group of people learned damaging secrets about them. Most spend the next hour looking over their shoulder or jumping at the least surprise.
Daemon focuses on researching what signals Infinity might have made in her last moments. He skips class and misses a raid as he falls into a rabbit hole of research.
The Naturalist meanwhile feels guilty for putting the people associated with its cover in danger. It takes some time puzzling out where the most glaring evidence of its supernatural might be.
“Have you heard about these temporary tattoos?” he asks.
“Something I noticed at a group play date this weekend. A couple of the older kids had them. Blue stars, Mickey Mouse, that sort of thing. Anyway the kids seemed interested in them. They seemed fishy. You never know what chemicals they put into those things. Anyway I thought you should know.”
“Maybe we can get them analyzed at the university or something. I don’t like the kids putting things like that on their skin. I met a woman recently whose son got sick from toxic dye in a t-shirt.”
“Really? Well if I get a hold of one I’ll do that. Let me know if you see the kids with any of those. We need to watch that.”
“Ok. I will, and thank you.”
Later that morning as the wave of compromises flow across Dorian’s cover, the Naturalist tries to piece together how this might have happened. What did the demon do to risk its safety?
But who is coming after them? Who would she trust? Someone local. She had many connections in the area. She invested a lot of time and energy in manipulating the ring and events in the city.
Sorenson? No. Whoever it is would be more active. They probably already know something about the God-Machine, the Dream Machine and the rest. Perhaps Daemon knows someone who fits the bill.
Several stories dominate the Slog’s newsroom that morning. Jane McCall discusses her upcoming report on drugs in schools and child drug dealers. Perhaps connected are the recent disappearances of three children in as many weeks. The latest was grabbed from her front yard yesterday afternoon. They’ve all come from schools on the more prosperous north end of the city so there is already a lot of media attention.
Other stories include the recent protests against the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace by local industry. Tyler Robbins wants to cover rumors of a modern day slaving ring. It seems like a wild goose chase.
Around midday, Accabish grabs a latte on her way into nearby Cal Anderson Park. The morning coolness is gone, replaced by a sticky warmth. She finds Mr. King sitting on a worn park bench, petting a small dark cat.
“Do they have things like our late friend on your world?” Accabish asks, settling in before asking her real questions.
“Oh, yes,” the gaunt man says, ruffling the cat’s hair. “Especially like her.”
“What about my companions?”
He hesitates. “I’ve heard rumors. I had assumed they were just about experimental prototypes from one of the other corps.”
“They don’t have the God-Machine at the home office?”
“I was-. My briefing stated that the God-Machine had made some incursions in the past. A few angels. Several secret facilities. The Syndicate purged them 11 years ago. Before we realized how we could use it.”
Accabish asks a few more questions, trying to pinpoint the historical divergence of that world. She files the idea of a world free of the God-Machine away for later. “Interesting. Anyway the item I wanted your help investigating involves a person from another world. Perhaps yours.”
“Who?” he asks, his brow creased in thought. “There are not many of us.”
“A woman. I know she’s from somewhere else because I saw the original die. She got involved in the aftermath of the job we did for you.”
Accabish quickly describes alternate version of Mercedes plus the differences Hunter related. 11 years. That’s an interesting coincidence.
As she talks, Mr. King’s face loses its already minimal humor. “That’s a very dangerous woman, a member of an anarchist organization known as Eris. On our side, her name is Mercedes Ferrara but she calls herself Lilith. We thought she or her fellow operatives were behind the interference we encountered here until we isolated this hacker Infinity.”
“What’s her connection to all of this?”
“She’s a survivor of the God-Machine’s last incursion. An operative that it tried to install in our world. We believe she might be still working for it. I have orders to capture or kill her.” He looks off across the path. “I’m surprised to hear she manage to make it to this world. Normal humans don’t usually survive the transit. Not intact.”
Accabish’s burner phone vibrates. A text from Weaver. “Prometheans don’t stay dead. Infinity may come back.”
The demon ignores it. She knew from the start it was her. A quick backtrace told her that the promethean wasn’t truly dead.
King’s information however fills in some gaps. There are multiple people being called Lilith. An ancient demon, Infinity, and Mercedes. Her alternate daughter likely was the one stirring up the local demons.
Returning to the office that afternoon, Priscilla’s secretary tells her that Lillian Shaw called. The private investigator requested a meeting.
Hunter considers its options. Officially the purpose of the briefing was to help him and the other officers keep an eye out for the missing kids. But aiding directly would be a good career move.
Hunter heads over to Lieutenant Lawrence.
“I’d like to help out on the case.”
“Thanks,” the older man says looking at some papers with a pair of detectives. “You keep your eyes open. Hopefully we can find some clues.”
“No I mean I want to help out directly.”
The Lieutenant Jack Lawrence turns to look at the officer. “David, right? I appreciate the offer but let’s leave this to the detectives for now.”
Hunter knows better than to press further and turns his mind to how he can help unofficially.
The sheets, now strewn about the lobby, tell the demon a few clues. Brunette, white, 5’ 1", and slightly overweight. Last seen by her family’s pier the evening of August 3rd, 1996. 16 when she vanished. She would be about 32 now. He has an address. The demon wonders if her folks still live there.
Hunter decides to hunt through the records for more clues. Less awkward small talk that way. Drawing on his cover’s academic training, the demon manages to search through the police files without leaving a mess. Thankfully someone digitized the records a few years back.
The files provide a lot more information but create more questions. Statements from friends, teachers, and classmates in Bainbridge describe a girl unlikely to run away. Where it gets strange are the notes on her extended family. Uncle Harry Smith doesn’t seem to exist. Her great aunt Beth has no last name near as he can tell. The company her father worked for never had a branch in Seattle.
Weirdest of all, Clare Smith’s address isn’t on the map. There isn’t space for it. Google maps shows the houses to either side, houses that show up in the crime photos, but not hers.
There are no records of her family after 1997.
The Weaver peruses the available resources it has on the supernatural. Admittedly it isn’t much. The public library opens in a couple hours so the demon contents itself with the internet and the increasingly eclectic selection of books at Adamant Technologies. The Deva Corporation contract helped the company in more ways than one, it muses.
The demon finds only rumors and hearsay. Legends tell of animate statues, reanimated corpses and machines in search of a soul. Powered by strange alchemical processes, these beings are perpetually on the move, feared and hated by those they encounter. Lightning seems to be involved in some of the myths. It powers them, heals them, resurrects them.
Resurrection. That which falls may rise again. They don’t stay dead.
The Weaver spends the rest of its lunch hour at the library, perusing the stacks for more information on the occult and finding what few books on the subject the library has to offer. The demon skims the original “Frankenstein” and a few other titles about things like mummies rising from the dead, creating golems, and what not. The Weaver sits back in its chair, considering how it might resolve this lack of information. It decides to discretely search local bookstores later. Perhaps they might have what it’s looking for.
It texts the ring knows that Infinity is not permanently dead.
As the Weaver puts its books away, it spots Melanie as she goes into the bathroom. Jeanette frowns with concern as she notices the bruise on the girl’s arm.
Perhaps the Weaver has let this go on too long. With five minutes before Jeanette needs to leave for work, the Weaver decides it can spare a little time to make a start on rectifying that abusive father-daughter relationship.
Jeanette follows Melanie towards the bathroom, producing a Styrofoam cup with ice in it from a pocket once it’s sure it’s out of sight of the security cameras. She pushes the door open, stepping inside and scanning the room for Melanie. The girl glances back from half way in a stall.
“I don’t mean to intrude, but I saw you on the way in and thought you looked like something was wrong. Are you alright?” Jeanette’s eyes go to the bruises on the girl’s arm.
Jeanette can see that the bruising is fresh, all around Melanie’s left arm like someone or something hit it several times.
“I’m fine,” Melanie sniffs.
Jeanette knows that she isn’t. She tries to talk to her but the tween shuts her out.
“That bruise does look like it hurts though.” She looks down at the cup in her hand as though she just thought about it before producing a small hand towel from her bag and taking some ice out of the cup. She wraps it in the fabric so that the ice won’t sit directly on the skin before offering it to her. “Here, this ought to help.”
As the demon wraps the bruises, the girl’s anxieties become clear. She’s afraid of her father hurting her. She’s afraid he’ll hurt himself drinking so much. Worse she worries he won’t come back from one of the jobs he does for “Big Freddy.” Jobs involving collecting debts. Finally the demon can sense a hope for something better, a job on the other side of the law, one which might one day pit her against her father.
“Thanks,” Melanie says. " You didn’t need to do that."
“Don’t worry about it,” Jean says. “There are some chairs in the break room if you’d like to sit somewhere a little more private. I know Kelly won’t mind under the circumstances and it’s got to be more comfortable than here in the bathroom stalls.”
She nods and follows Jeanette out.
The two find the break room almost empty. A balding librarian scowls at them before scurrying off to the stacks.
The demon finds Melanie somewhere comfortable to sit. The girl seems calmer once they are alone. In the warm light her bruises don’t even seem quite so bad. Or perhaps Weaver’s dab of medical training helped more than it thought.
Melanie seems less suspicious than the last time the demon made a deal with her. Instead her curiosity is the problem as she starts to ask some difficult questions. In the end the trust Jeanette has built up wins out and she agrees to sign the deal. Jean writes it up on some printer paper and the girl signs her name.
Weaver decides to walk Melanie home both to make sure she is alright and to mark where her father lives. Those mob connections could be useful.
Jeanette arrives at work about 20 minutes later than originally planned. She surprises Scott Liles when she gets in the elevator behind him.
“What happened, was your car towed?” he remarks snidely.
“I left my phone at the place I got lunch,” Jeanette explains, “I had to go back and get it and they had it in the lost and found by the time I got back to my seat. It was a little frustrating for a bit there.”
“But I found it, eventually.”
The rest of the day passes uneventfully.
Cymbeline texts Atticus at noon. “Staying out late with Karen to study for the PSAT.”
The Naturalist runs over what it knows about this young woman. Determined yet shy.
Even with her destiny aborted, she still strives to succeed. Still conflicted about her lost destiny. She wants to rediscover the passion that drove her those short few days when she sought her dark fate. Dangerous but also potentially useful. She also wants to excel at the PSAT clearly.
This morning though..she also wanted to learn why Mr. Roberts the library janitor seemed so helpful recently. Who is this man and what are his intentions?
A short while later another more sinister text arrives from Weaver. “Prometheans don’t stay dead. Infinity may come back.”
“What if we like bury the pieces across the world. Like in the movies?” he writes back.
Hundreds of documents and links litter Daemon’s computers, decorated by his current obsessions.
In one diagram, he maps most of the complicated ownership network for the Pentex-Cheiron conglomerate.
Another document details a timeline:
- 1893: A house is built at 613 South Washington Street by Mr. Samuelson.
- 1900: S. Westergard purchases the house and moves in with his wife.
- 1922: Mrs. Westergard dies of heart failure.
- 1940: S. Westergard’s daughter (age 27) disappears from census records.
- April 12, 1942: Adam Freud, the future Ambrose Grant, magician and world renowned psychic is born. He lives at 611 South Washington street.
- 1956-8: Adam spends time at Hillcrest Mental Health Center.
- 1960s: 613 South Washington street and its owner slips from official record.
- 1972: Ambrose Grant builds Ashwood Heights at 611 and 615 South Washington.
- May 8th, 1989: Grant vanishes off the coast of Oregon in his private yacht. He is presumed drowned. He is survived by his ex-wife Doretta Teesdale.
- April 12, 1992: Doretta Teesdale dies from falling down the stairs.
- June 2, 2010: One of a Kind Investigations is paid six figures for unspecified services.
- June 5, 2010: Keystone Pharmaceuticals arranges for the transport for a large amount of material from somewhere in Yesler Terrace.
- June 6, 2010: Verdant Technologies begins its program to unravel the mystery of the Dream Machine, a computer built sometime in the 70s but which contains more complex components inside it.
- November 27, 2010: Aura of forgetfulness fades from Yesler Terrace.
- June 24, 2012: Keystone Pharmaceuticals purchases Ashwood Heights and the property between the two structures that make it up: 613 South Washington Street.
Daemon runs through its resources. Jabberwoky (a.k.a. Elma Thomas) recently developed just the supernatural talent the demon needs.
He contacts his lieutenant. “I need you to go past 611 through 615 South Washington. Tell me what you see. Be careful and don’t talk to strangers.”
The program has resisted superficial analysis. To learn more he realizes he needs either to conduct potentially dangerous surgery or find someone or something that could dig deeper into its secrets magically. The latter sounds more rewarding.
Daemon opens a channel to Reactor. “I have a code that might give us an opening.”
“Not exactly sure but it is powerful supernatural software. I need help decoding it.”
“Decoding the code or decoding the magic?”
“Not exactly my area of expertise. I know a guy however who could. He’s pretty busy these days but I could see if he’d be willing to help.”
Then there is Bainbridge.
Named second best place to live in the United States, remote but close enough to commute to the city, and deep under the God-Machine’s thumb.
Originally a logging and shipbuilding town, it remained mostly rural until the 1990s when the technology boom increased the population by an order of magnitude.
That seems to be when things changed. A string of child abductions plagued the area throughout the 90s and early 2000s. No connection was ever made between the incidents and few children were found. Add in the high number of child deaths of a variety of common ailments and he could see why they saw so few kids during their visit. All of this tapered off several years ago, before it might have attracted more attention.
A ring known as the Legion colonized the region a few decades ago but no one has heard from them since the turn of the century. The demons in Seattle feel that something is just wrong about the place. From his connections, Daemon knows of only one other demon who has visited Bainbridge recently.
That demon is the disturbing figure known as the Mutilationist.
Daemon determines how to get a hold of her. He’s heard the demon owes the Erasers, a small agency that does counter-surveillance and disappearances for demons under angelic attention. They charge steep prices but the Daemon has aided them in the past. A quick secure call later and he’s put in touch with the reclusive Temptor.
“Are you looking to peel back the skin?”
Daemon ignores the comment. “I want to talk about Bainbridge.”
“I know. It’s begun again. I can meet tomorrow. In person. At the Olympic Sculpture Park under the Eagle at 2 PM.”
That evening Jabberwoky reports back. “It was strange. I could see two apartment buildings back to back. But when I turn my head to one side, I could see this really old house in between them. The front porch was all torn up. Broken windows, no front door, and all of the siding torn off. Upstairs looked intact though. Old, gray but with unbroken windows. The yard was all withered and dead. It felt really creepy so I left in a hurry. I didn’t sense any sign of the enemy though.”
Daemon realizes that most of the day is gone. There are a series of messages on his phone from the rest of the ring.
That afternoon a furtive conversation unfolds.
“Prometheans don’t stay dead. Infinity may come back.”
“What if we like bury the pieces across the world. Like in the movies?”
“I think we should burn Infinity,” Nat adds. ”Inform every contact we have of what she tried to do. Inform them she doesn’t stay dead. Spread word she doesn’t honor the implicit compact of secrecy. Even if we can’t kill her, she’ll have no friends.”
“Can we box her up in parts? Can she regen limbs?” Hunter asks.
“Weaver, any thoughts?” Nat queries.
A short while later the inquisitor replies. “I need to find better information to be certain of specifics regarding the other things, but cutting her off from the community seems like a good start in case she ever does rise again. She certainly can’t be trusted. Based on what I’ve found so far, it seems like some part of her would have to exist to permit regeneration, somehow, but I don’t know enough yet to be able to say how that works. I will keep you posted as I learn more.”
“"Accabish,":https://theunusualsuspects.obsidianportal.com/characters/accabish can you reach out to them?” Nat asks.
“Put the regen part in a box too small to regen in,” Hunter suggests.
“We need to learn more about how it works before we act to try and combat it,” Daemon points out. “What if doing these things makes it easier for her to come back?”
“Burning her is an option if we are willing to burn our current covers as well,” he continues. “As far as we know she can’t become someone new.”
“Well we know we shouldn’t use electricity,” Nat comments.
Accabish mulls over her meeting tomorrow as she reviews the growing chain of messages.
“There’s been a development,” he says slowly. “Her body is rapidly mouldering away. I’m afraid we won’t be able to learn much from it. I’m preparing what remains for transport back to my superiors. Perhaps they can uncover some clues.”
“Thanks, keep me informed.”
Accabish texts the others. “The body itself has mouldered. That seem to be the reverse of regeneration. What makes us think she will reconstitute?”
“On my part, suspicion, hearsay and paranoia,” Nat admits.
Over the ring’s chat, Daemon asks, “Weaver, perhaps we can work together on the research? I can help speed things up in that regard.”
The other demon replies quickly. “I certainly won’t say no. Your assistance is more than welcome.”
That evening Daemon assembles his cultists online and coordinates them with Weaver as they pursue their research on prometheans and their capabilities. From ancient Greek myths to cutting edge AI research, from anonymous Youtube videos to heavily redacted government records, the assembled team scours the internet and whatever library resources they have available.
A rough outline of facts emerges.
These creatures are rare. Most of the accounts document a one in a lifetime encounter with one or perhaps a small band of these beings. Somehow they can find each other though. It is rumored each is created by another of their kind or a single obsessed person. Corpses, statues, even robots have be brought to life in this way. However these creator-creation relationships always sour.
The stories are full of people turning against prometheans. Perfectly normal people turn into hostile mobs when these reanimated corpses are around. Jealousies, hatred, and fears boil to the surface. Meanwhile the region around the promethean becomes twisted, blighted and hostile to all life.
It seems these artificial forms of life are powered through processes best described as alchemical, using a force known as Azoth.
In terms of their abilities, promethean seem uniquely hard to kill, able to withstand incredible damage and even returning from the dead. One record describes such a monster being reduced to ashes only to being reborn from them the next day. Prometheans appear to be able to reconstitute themselves from the smallest fragment of remains.
Through alchemical processes, they can control electricity, manipulate emotions, and transform their bodies. Some have inhuman levels of strength and speed.
Most prometheans talk about seeking to become human, claiming their unnatural and unloved condition as a curse. They sometimes say angels guide them along this pilgrimage. The strange beings they describe do not fit with the God-Machine or its tools.
The names of only a few of these creatures have been recorded. Besides the legendary Frankenstein, they learn of a walking disaster area named Varney, the sinister sounding Doctor, and John Smith, a Promethean who supposedly dedicates himself to eradicating dangerous supernatural creatures.
July 2, 2017 8 PM
Atticus’s phone rings. The Naturalist ducks into a nook in its apartment before answering.
Cymbeline’s breathing is fast and loud on the other end. “I think, I think Karen is dead! I don’t know. There were these stickers on the desk and I rubbed them off and then…I don’t know…I touched Karen and she fell on the floor shaking. She’s, she’s not moving….what do I do!?”
The demon hears the fear in her voice as well as intense guilt. What could she have done? She’s just human. Then the Naturalist recalls her stigmatic capabilities. Did she use an Embed?
The Naturalist crouches down in the kitchen, out of sight of the windows. “Okay. I know you are scared, and that is fine. But take a deep breath. What did these stickers look like?”
“But K-. Okay Okay.” A couple quick breaths comes across the phone. “They were, I don’t know, stars. Blue ones. Should I call 911? Karen needs help.”
“We need to determine this is something the police can help with first. Otherwise it could cause her more problems. Where are you?”
Nat’s eyes turn cloudy and a tracery of blue light covers Atticus’s skin. The demon watches Cymbeline remotely as she cradles her phone while crouched over her friend. Karen doesn’t appear to be breathing. Next to her four desks huddle next to each other like a makeshift table. A half dozen books lie scattered across it.
“I’m, I’m at school,” she says. “On the second floor. In Ms. Peach’s classroom.”
“OK. What makes you think this is your fault? What specifically happened?” The demon pours more power through its fragile cover. Wisps of fiber optics dot Atticus’s otherwise bald head.
“I-I don’t know!” She takes another breath. “We were just starting to study. There were these stickers on the desk. I scratched them off and- and then I felt sick. Like I was going to barf and fall over at the same time. I grabbed Karen and-and-and I-it was like I gave it to her. I don’t know. She collapsed and started shaking. But she’s stopped. Oh-oh, Karen don’t be dead.”
The demon’s milky eyes watch her stroke Karen’s head.
“OK. We call the police and we tell them everything except that you ‘passed’ it to her. I can’t promise you everything is going to be okay. I can tell you that whomever put those stickers there is at fault.” He pauses. “I’ll be by your side soon. I’m coming.”
“Okay, okay. Thanks Dad.”
The Naturalist of course knows the phone numbers of all of its children’s school officials. A moment later Principal Jenkins picks up. Some quick words and dropped names later and the very advancement conscious administrator is on his way to help.
A minute later, so are the police and paramedics.
Nat texts Cymbeline that Jenkins is on their way. Than the demon closes its eyes, scans a location near the school and vanishes.
The Naturalist’s eyes adjust as it leaves the well lit house and appears in the grassy nook between the science labs and the gym. The glow of street lights shines over the school from the street. Orienting itself, the demon realizes Peach’s classroom is on the opposite side of the wing next to it.
Nat spends a minute focusing on composing itself as Atticus. The unnatural enhancements of its demonic form fade and he strides into the school with purpose.
He sees the strobe of the ambulance’s red lights from the hallway window as he reaches Mrs. Peach’s classroom. Jenkins is already inside, doing a passable job of consoling Cymbeline.
Cymbeline throws herself into his arms when she sees him, shaking and sobbing.
Atticus holds her tight. He presses his head into the her hair, and he whispers. “It’s okay. You did the right thing. You took the right steps.”
As he holds her, the EMTs arrive. Though they try for ten minutes, Karen does not revive.
By that point the police also have arrived. The principal does a good job of reducing the focus and strain on Cymbeline. She holds up well, giving a statement minus the supernatural element.
Along the way the demon retrieves the mental recording it placed on Cymbeline that morning. It confirms what she told it on the phone. She scraped off some of the stickers and began to suffer from some sort of poisoning or overdose. Then she grabbed Karen and the effect transferred the effect to her.
The police take a sample of the stickers, jot down Cymbeline’s description of the events and conclude by asking her to come down to the station tomorrow to give a formal statement.
Atticus calls a cab. He asks Cymbeline to wait in the hall a moment. He then quietly suggests that Jenkins have the stickers tested independently, suggesting Adamant Technologies as good place to try.
Jenkins nods, still numb from his call to Karen’s parents.
Nat is quiet for a moment. “Let me know if you need help. I need to take care of my daughter. I’m sorry for your loss principal.”
Later once they are home, Nat leads Cymbeline to her room and guides her to her bed. The teen, distraught and drained, slips quickly to sleep.
The Naturalist texts the ring at 9 PM. “We have a problem. Someone has created stickers that make people sick. Cymbeline peeled one up today, and she almost died. Her friend Karen did expire, and it was almost instantaneous. It was recommended to the principal that he send a sample to Weaver’s lab. Also he’ll help keep things quiet. We may need someone else within the police to keep an eye on things.”
A few minutes later the demon adds, “Also… John reported to Jenny that there are temporary tattoos going around that parents are worried are dangerous. This has suspicious similarities to the t shirt incident we resolved. “
“i can keep my ears open,” he writes back.
The demon thinks back. Drugs are always an issue in a big city. His bosses did instruct them to keep an eye out around the schools several times. He hadn’t asked follow up questions though. No signs of gang involvement.
Unfortunately all she can make out is a dark haired woman in a leather jacket and dark slacks wielding a sawed off shotgun and carrying a leather satchel. After she reaches the crowd Mercedes melts away, vanishing from the surveillance footage.
According to Hunter, the shotgun is a modified Remington Model 870. The police are still running the serial numbers. If it turns out to be from this world perhaps that will yield some clues.
Over the next couple days, Accabish canvasses the neighborhood, questions her contacts in the police and scrutinizes the evidence.
The modifications on Mercedes’s shotgun appear crude and hasty. So it probably isn’t something she brought over from the other side. When the serial numbers come back it might unlock part of her path.
No cars appear to have arrived or left after the incident so the woman must have been on foot. Accabish maps out the likely public transit paths and calls in some favors to look at the security cameras. She finds a hit at the very end of a bus line. She was at the Northgate Mall. And she wasn’t alone.
The pictures show her talking to a young black man in a hoodie and fancy glasses.
Accabish doesn’t know who he is. But she plans to.
July 3rd, 2012 10 AM
The Naturalist sits next to Cymbeline in Atticus’s car, a beat up Civic. Outside police officers, concerned citizens, and less desireable denizens of the criminal justice system make their way in and out of the precinct.
The teenager looks at the demon with damp eyes. “What if they ask about how Karen died?”
As the demon considers its next words, its phone vibrates. Dorian’s phone. Caller ID says the number belongs to One of a Kind Investigations.
Then Jenny’s phone vibrates with a text.
The Naturalist takes a deep breath. It reminds itself that “your current life is the face you wear”, and it allows the concern it feels to show through. It’s weird how over time when you practice self control you have to remember to show your hand.
“If you can get away with holding back, then hold back,” it tells her. “But if they pressure you, tell them the truth. Remember the words ’I know it sounds crazy.’” The Naturalist is quiet. “I love you. I am horrified you have to deal with this.”
Cymbeline’s fragile smile gives way to something firmer. “I love you too, Dad.”
She gives Atticus a hug and heads to the precinct to give her statement. The demon watches as she heads up the steps past a trio of black birds fighting over a piece of newspaper.
The Naturalist looks at Dorian’s phone. The call has gone to voicemail. Jenny’s phone shows a text from John.
“Hey are you okay? I just got a call from a private investigator. He said a stalker following one of their clients might be interested in you too. They want to get a hold of you so I gave you their number. Let me know when you get this.”
The demon listens to the voicemail next. It strains to hear as a couple argues loudly from two parking spots over and the birds caw at each other.
“Hi, this is Robert Mill of One of a Kind Investigations. There’s a woman we are investigating for another client who you might have encountered at Moe’s. I’d like to ask you some questions about her. Could you give me a call back? I’d like to meet you to discuss it. My number is 555-4352. Thanks.”
The Naturalist frowns. Part of it, the former angel, wants to wipe every trace of Infinity from existence for this infraction. Death, simply, wasn’t far enough. The more reasonable side of it just wants this resolved.
First, The Naturalist texts John. “In a webinar, will call you when I’m done.” The Naturalist, easily distracted, eavesdrops on the couple’s conversation. It is strange to be arguing so vehemently outside a police station.
It watches them as it sorts out the next move. If the investigator knows what it is, then the meeting with Dorian will be a trap. If he doesn’t, then the meeting is an opportunity to fix this situation.
Nat texts the ring. “This is going to be a pain. A man named Robert Mill is pursuing both Jenny and Dorian. Dorian is a problem easier resolved. I tried to keep Jenny out of this, but Infinity has really made that hard. Dorian is meeting him in a public place. Anyone have more info about him?”
Then as Dorian, the demon texts Mill to schedule a time to meet him at Moe’s.
Daemon gets back to the Naturalist quickly with a short dossier.
“He was looking into Weaver a week ago,” he explains.
The Naturalist splits its attention between the files and the couple.
“I thought you were done with that shit!” she yells at him.
“I just needed something-”
“You need rehab,” she says. “I’m not bailing you out again.”
The demon’s eyes scrolls over the document. The information confirms what the demon suspected.
Robert Mill, age 33, employee of One of a Kind Investigations for the past 7 years. Mill originally joined the company as an IT specialist. He acquired his detective licence in 2006. Most of his work was unremarkable. Then last year he was treated for animal bites. Deep ones. A few months later he was arrested after discharging his gun in a threatening manner outside a nightclub. Someone squashed the charges.
A second file includes a summary of One of a Kind Investigations. They have an ex-Seal sniper named Vittorio Vitacelli on staff. The firm’s founder, Frank Brooks, went missing for three weeks and returned with severe memory loss. Shortly after Frank’s release from Hillcrest Mental Health Center, he reported shooting an intruder. No body was found. The company’s current owner is Lillian Shaw, a former cop turned private detective who became famous after rescuing a millionaire’s son.
Daemon’s assumption is that they are a group of monster hunters.
Outside the couple reconcile, stumbling back to whatever place they call home. A black bird lands on the dashboard and caws at the Naturalist. Its eyes blink like camera shutters and it flutters onto the concrete below.
A text appears on Dorian’s phone. Mill has agreed to the meeting.
Then Jenny’s phone rings. It’s Mill again.
Atticus exits the car. He gets close enough to get a good look at the couple, but doesn’t let his gaze linger for too long.
The demon takes a good long look around.
That Promethean is a real bitch. Hunters. It is not just Jenny Nat has to worry about, but the kids. The demon needs to get Jenny some space. It needs to build a larger network.
Nat relaxes fractionally once it is sure none of the hunters are around. The Naturalist slips a wallet from its magical leather bag and calmly jogs toward the couple.
Nat slows. Its eyes focus on each of them a moment. The woman just wants some stability, it knows. She wants to help but might just accept a bad situation. The man probably is using drugs to deal with his pain. He doesn’t think things through often but keeps a cheerful disposition.
Atticus speaks confidently. “Excuse me sir, I think you dropped this.”
“I did?” He asks, patting his pockets. “No, I still have mine.”
A black van passes by as the woman says, “I suppose you could turn it in at the station.”
The Naturalist tips his head to the side, and looks at the man with the recognition. “Oh… well… I’ll go do that. I have to head back that way anyway.” He looks down as he puts the wallet away, and then he looks back up. “Have we met somewhere before…?”
“I’m Atticus,” the demon says extending his hand.
The man tries to place Atticus before shaking his hand. “I don’t think so.”
“I’m Jim,” the man adds.
“Carol,” the woman interjects.
Nat shakes Jim’s hand, and then Carol’s. “A pleasure. My apologies to both of you. I thought we may have met at a…meeting.”
Carol elbows Jim with a smile. “I thought you didn’t go to those.”
“I went to the first couple.”
Atticus smiles lightly, and he feigns embarrassment. “I have missed a few recently myself. Things have been better recently, but I suppose we never know when it won’t.” He looks over his shoulder. “I do have to go. My daughter will be out shortly, but…” He looks at Jim a long moment. “Do you want the card of a group I’m familiar with?”
Atticus hands them the card and pitches his special recovery group.
Carol says she’ll drive Jim over at the next meeting. The man just smiles and nods. The black van drives past again going the other way.
Daemon digs into the computers of One of a Kind Investigations. He finds six people on the payroll. For the past year they’ve been working a large number of mundane cases, searching for a few missing people but mostly watching cheating spouses and locating absconding debtors.
Daemon looks closer. Their computers are all new, purchased in the past year and scrubbed as recently as last month. Did some other hacker mess with them in the past?
Trawling their emails he sees references to some sort of stand alone system for their sensitive files. Gaining access he realizes will require a more hands on approach.
He also locates a list of external experts the firm uses. Two in particular work closely with the team: Dr. Sorenson and Dr. Ilyes.
Daemon quickly spots the spelling discrepancy between Sorensen, the “retired” hunter, and Dr. Sorenson, a psychiatrist working at the Hillcrest Mental Health Center. The demon recalls there used to be an important piece of Infrastructure beneath the old asylum.
Dr. Ilyes was the scientist consulting with Weaver’s cover. Apparently he is an CSI whose hobbies include studies of cryptoparasites. His website is rather fascinating.
On an older computer that one of the investigators, Vito, keeps at his home, the demon finds a series of old files. From time stamps and the internal dates, Daemon guesses this was transferred from Robert Mill’s system in February of last year.
Scanning through them he realizes they are diary entries made by Mill after and during the various supernatural investigations the firm did. He discovers the team visited the creepy house Jabberwoky saw and were perhaps responsible for some of the damage. That house might be the epicenter of the Memnovore activity in the city.
These hunter appear to have eliminated the supposedly dead Ambrose Grant, the currently incarcerated Jarette Costa, something named Community, and an Isabel Westergard (perhaps the daughter of the old owner of the house) in the course of their investigations.
They also were in contact with Infinity.
She wanted the doll they found at the house. They seem to think it was a powerful magic item. Infinity also apparently obtained tapes from the team that contained something important.
Finally Mill references a ‘key’ to some sort of ‘door’. This seems intimately tied to Mill, the doll, and that house in some way.
Hunter sits in his patrol car sipping some coffee. A half eaten sandwich lies in the next seat as he scans the nearby school yard.
Another shudder runs through Hunter’s other cover. Somewhere someone learned some weird fact about Joseph.
Just then his attention is taken up by a girl moving slowly along the fence separating the street from the school. Her carefully braided hair and soft features exactly match Peace Montaro, one of the missing kids. The 12 year old’s brown skin shines in the summer light.
Hunter exits his patrol car and walks calmly toward the child. Behind the chain link fence the school yard is empty, the other kids gone for the summer. A car drives past a distant intersection but otherwise the Hunter and the child are alone.
As the demon steps in front of the girl, her distant gaze snaps to him.
“Excuse me young lady, is your name Peace Montaro?" he asks, smiling.
“Yes,” she says, returning his smile. He eyes focus on his badge. “I need your help. I must get to Stone Way and 38th.”
The oddly focused eyes and strange calm remind Hunter of his past. She might be drugged but the last time he saw faces like hers was with child soldiers in Africa.
“Young lady, where have you been?” he says keeping his concern to himself. “Your parents have been very worried about you.”
“I’ve been,” she says before her voice breaks up in static. “Away.”
“I see. Can you tell me what you need to go to Stone Way and 38th for?”
Her eyes flash blue. “I need to find Ms. Storm.”
“Ah and who is Ms. Storm?” he asks.
“She’s,” she pauses. “A bad lady. Which way is 38th and Stone Way?”
“I’ll take you in a minute, but only if you can tell me why you need to see Ms. Storm if she is a bad lady.”
The girl breaks out into a grin. “She needs to be punished.”
“She does, does she? What has she done wrong?”
“She didn’t do her job.”
“And what was her job?”
“She-,” the girls starts, emitting another burst of static, “-failed to disband the Cult of Eight Feet.”
“Well, if anyone is going to do the punishing, don’t you think it should be the police?”
Peace turns to the south west. “I need to be going now. I know the way.”
As she starts walking away, Hunter grabs her hand. "I’m sorry young lady, we have to take you home.”
She stops looks back at her hand for a moment. Then she yanks. Hard.
Hunter barely keeps his balance. “Come now, young lady, it’s time to go home.”
As he tries to pull her to the car, her face scrunches up. “I need to go!”
Before he can react, her hand and arm shift and transform. A row of blades embedded in flesh emerge from her slender arm as it changes into a nightmarish biomechanical chainsaw.
Hunter snatches back his bloody hand, pouring aether through his cover. Hydraulics bulge from inside his uniform and a red glow traces along his body. He steps back and pulls his cell phone.
He sends a message to Ms. Storm. “Your cover is blown. I am doing what I can to control the situation.”
Peace begins to stride away confidently. Then she stops and turns, her eyes glowing red. “Mustn’t leave witnesses.”
“Ditch the 38th and Stone Way site,” he adds as the child approaches him.
He tosses aside the phone and rushes her. He grabs the blade limb. With his greater mass and increased strength the demon pins the blade to the ground. Grit and debris is kicked up as the blades cut uselessly into the asphalt street.
“Peace, please get a hold of yourself,” he tells the child.
The demon hopes to snap her out of it. Instead he sees no humanity left in her snarling face, her childish features now just a mask for the machinery beneath. He tries to smash her head into the street but she slips under his grasp and wrests her arm free.
Hunter quickly takes stock. Even with her impressive strength, the demon is stronger and faster. She’s better armed for now. She might have some tricks up her sleeve but in raw ability the advantage is his.
He decides his duty is to end her ‘suffering’. He lets his cover slip away, dark skin replaced with gold fur. As his claws emerge, she manages to slip away, desperately putting distance between them.
Hunter charges, his claws scoring her small frame. She staggers, blood and circuitry oozing from her wounds before toppling over dead.
“That was…faster than I expected,” he mutters as he approaches the body.
He detects no pulse or other signs of life. A few sparks fly from the exposed wires.
The tread on her shoes appears fresh and unworn. She hasn’t walked far. Her red backpack holds some lunch and a stuffed bear. The thermos inside is warm. He guesses she’s been wandering around the neighborhood a few hours after being dropped off by someone or something.
The demon retrieves his phone and taps out a message to the ring. “Missing children being turned into demon hunters. Warn others."
Hunter retrieves a body bag and stuffs the remains in the truck before resuming his human form.
He texts Weaver. “I killed an angel. I have secured the body. Do you want to take a look?”
“Of course I would like to see it,” the other demon replies, quietly grateful Hunter did not just dump it in the bolthole.
After a late night of research, the Weaver finds the routine of work reassuring. Since they completed the big contract, Mike has been offering the firm’s chemical expertise to a variety of different companies and individuals.
Around 10 AM, Mike swings by its end of the lab. “I’ve got a quickie analysis project. Jean can you take care of it?”
“Hey, what about me?” Scott calls from the hall. “I can get it done.”
“It just a simple chemical analysis, Scott. No offense, Jean’s the fastest chemist on staff and I’d rather not spend a lot of time on a knock off drug for high schoolers.”
“It seems unnatural how fast she gets those tests done,” Scott snarls.
Mike stares down the hallway for a moment. A door closes a moment later, probably Scott’s.
“Anyway, can you look at this?” Mike says.
“Why certainly, I’ll get right on it,” Jeanette assures her boss.
The Weaver analyzes the drug once the mortal distractions are away, working with mortal skills and equipment. At its base the compounds resemble LSD and presumably would yield similar hallucinogenic experiences. But the demon discovers a lot of more complex chemistry involved. Suspiciously complex chemistry. Perhaps sufficiently complex.
The demon switches tactics and begins to analyze this as if it were the product of infrastructure. Cross referencing the compounds with the still incomplete research that Daemon liberated from Keystone Pharmaceuticals, the Weaver can see similar but much more advanced lines of chemically induced psychic activity.
Too advanced for even Keystone, this drug seems likely to create an intense connection to another person, tied to the trace amounts of their blood in the drug. Weaver isolates the blood for later work.
The demon also locates trace amounts of contaminants, likely from the manufacturing site. Contaminants that are all too recognizable. The same toxins and chemicals that it worked with before it fell.
The Weaver runs over where those chemical traces could have come from. The original producer shut down due to legal troubles. They lost their lease and the original dye machine was sold off or moved.
But ‘Jerry’ was selling knock offs not long ago, T-shirts that had to be made with same device. Finding Jerry should lead the demon to the Infrastructure behind this mess.
After analyzing the compounds and setting the compounds aside for future analysis, the demon reports to the client the relevant factors that a normal chemist would have been able to pick.
As the demon heads back to the car, it realizes Cymbeline should be back by now. Nat glances back at the van. The dark windows hide the driver but the demon notes the license plate number in case. Then it continues toward the precinct.
The Naturalist makes its way inside but still doesn’t see its daughter.
An officer moving a box full of forms brushes past Nat.
“Are looking for something?” She asks.
Atticus looks around a moment, and then eyes the officer. “My daughter. She came to give a statement. Her name is Cymbeline. She should be done by now.”
The demon looks at its phone and then the officer. "Could you please see if Cymbeline Hand signed out?”
“Sure, just wait here. Won’t be a moment.”
A minute later she returns frowning and scanning the room. “She didn’t sign out. We have officers looking for her.”
“Thank you. Excuse me, I need to use the restroom.”
The demon goes into the restroom and locks itself in a stall.
The demon pours aether through its cover and Atticus’s eyes cloud over.
The Naturalist’s vision fills with a soft snow, the color of a winter sky. In between the tumbling chunks of gray, the demon makes out the interior of a van or ambulance. Pushing through the jamming field, Nat recognizes Cymbeline on a stretcher.
A sandy haired man in damp sweat pants pulls a needle from her arm. “Injection complete.”
His companion on the other side of him looks at a beeping device. He absently scratches the back of his head where a white liquid feeds in via a plastic tube. “Interference. 93% probability from a defective servitor. It is scanning us.”
The first man draws a thin knife from the medical kit beside him. “Incoming?”
The demon scrutinizes its targets, scanning the interior and spotting two more men up front. Nat encounters an odd resistance. The static obscuring its vision hides these men’s desires from it. It encounters the same bland emptiness.
“Not yet,” the first man says.
The Naturalist decides to act. It sheds its cover as Atticus taking on the form of the glorious angel it once was.
Its senses extended the demon perceives the coils of angelic power around the van. An unusual numina has been used to ward the space from extradimensional intrusion. Teleporting in will be difficult.
The men each have been affected supernaturally to make them pliable and obedient. It seems to be concentrated in the liquid feeding through the tubes in their heads.
Their minds are icily calm. They must deliver the target to the pier for transport. They don’t know where she is going. Under the flat thoughts the demon detects a current of euphoria.
The Naturalist manipulates its burner phone in its inhuman hands. It messages Daemon. “Agents of the machine have kidnapped Cymbeline. I need to act before they get her to port. Can you provide support? Need to shut down their vehicle.”
In his dorm room at the University, Daem snatches up his phone. “What are they driving? Are you nearby?” he texts.
“Some kind of large black van. I’m in the bathroom of the police precinct. Their cameras should have picked it up. Thinking of doing something stupid but not sure how else to stop them.”
Daemon logs out of World of Warcraft. “I can stop the van but I would need to be touching it. It is possible I can track it on a camera and reach it through the network then teleport onto it. But I would be totally exposed.”
Daemon considers their options. “That’s a stretch though. Do you know where it’s headed? I am more likely to get the boat locked down in red tape by the port authority.”
“Too dangerous,” Nat replies, his panic subsiding. “They know about us. Can you make the police realize they took her? Maybe I can try to cut them off at the port.”
“You can always call the cops if you want them involved,” Daemon tells the other demon. “Is that what you’re looking for though? That’s a lot of heat and attention.”
“I’m in the station now. They kidnapped her right from here. They injected her with something, and they are driving. The vehicle and the people are under the influence of an angel, blocking my powers including teleportation. Not sure if there is a way of helping her.”
Daemon queques up some command line windows. “Do you have a plate number? We could track it and get ahead of it. Is the angel in play?”
“212 AMW. Not that I can sense.”
Daemon quickly uses an old backdoor into the DMV. The plates are registered to a bakery called Angel Cakes on the north end of the city.
Then he switches tactics. His fingers sizzle along the keyboard. Daemon quickly accesses the city’s traffic system, hurriedly adapting a pattern matching algorithm to handle the images. He spots the van a few blocks from the waterfront in the Industrial District. Traffic is moderate with the influx of the lunchtime crowd.
Daemon texts the Naturalist. “The van is at 1st and Wall Street. I’m working on slowing it down. Do you have any other assets available for recovery?”
“I haven’t texted the others. I do not.”
Daemon accesses another part of the traffic system. A few lights malfunction leading to accidents and near misses. Traffic snarls, pinning the van in gridlock two blocks from the water’s edge.
“The van is locked in gridlock at Wall Street and Western Avenue. I can keep an eye on it remotely. Can you take it from here?”
The Naturalist focuses on its vision.
Inside the van, the Naturalist watches the men talk.
“Should we move on foot or risk waiting?”
One of the men upfront lifts up a strange device made of crystal and wire. He tunes it and touches it to his temple.
“We are to abort,” he announces. “Inject her with the catalyst. Then everyone proceed with Directive 5.”
The demon pulls an alien looking gun from his bag. Then he vanishes.
The Naturalist materializes within the van, the weapon pointed at the man crouched over Cymbeline.
The man ignores the demon and inserts the needle mere seconds before a bolt of blue tears a chunk of his shoulder off. The other men draw thin knives.
As the man struggles to complete the injection the Naturalist fires again. This blast craters his chest. He collapses on against the side door.
The other men glance at the half empty syringe and nod. They place the knives at their hearts and press down
The Naturalist looks over the gathering of corpses around it.
Daemon watches the traffic cams.
The van rocks for a moment. A flash of blue lights the interior for a moment though the tinted windows makes it hard to see anything. There is a second flash.
“Something is going down inside the van,” he texts the Naturalist.
“Daemon please free up traffic. I’m bringing the van to a place to dump,” the demon replies.
“I’ll do what I can about the traffic.”
As traffic slowly eases, Nat sends off a few quick messages. He thanks Daemon and then asks, “Could you please see if Hunter is available to meet me with a vehicle? Also if Weaver could meet me in the hideout?”