Excerpts from the journal of Connor Galloway, an employee of Orpheus and member of Crucible 7.
Richmond Virginia, October 18, 2013.
After we admitted Lehto to his new room I excused myself from the others to head down to the gun range. Markus tagged along, looking forward to another session with Hollis. We were handed the same kind of 9mm pistol I’d used in my first lesson and as Hollis got Markus up to speed I let off some steam at the firing lanes. I think I was just looking for something else to focus on other than Lehto’s situation.
Once Markus had joined me and we’d been firing away for quarter of an hour I turned back to Hollis to ask if I could try something bigger. He seemed a little apprehensive, but once I told him I was sure he went back to being his usual excitable self. He strode over to a phone on the wall and punched in a number. After a brief exchange he told us to stay put and then disappeared out the door. A few minutes later he returned pushing a trolley. Flanking him was an armed security guard complete with tactical vest and an assault rifle casually cradled in his arms. He took a position by the wall and seemed a little bored by the situation. Hollis was the exact opposite as he began pulling out weaponry to show us. Semi-auto, full-auto, shotguns, rifles, you name it, he had it. “Where do you want to start?”
We took the cautious approach and started small, working our way up.
The work day was drawing to a close and the four of us were hanging about our office when Prator popped in to remind us about the party next week. He made sure we all knew it was black tie and even gave me a recommendation for a place where I could get a suit. “You guys all camping out here tonight?” he asked, “Cool, cool.” And with that he was off home like the rest of the employees.
I think Dan and Dahlia had been doing some research while Markus and I were shooting because as soon as the building emptied a bit they were keen to go investigate a new branch of the Church of the Sacred Mother. Apparently there were locations springing up all over the country, enough for the media to call it the fastest growing religion in recent history. At least we all agreed that avoiding Thaddeus Green’s congregation was probably a good idea for now.
We took the car out to a part of town called Willow Lawn and approached the community hall is spirit form. A sign outside bore the hand and heart symbol of the church and told us that mass was held on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Being a Friday night the place was rather quiet but a “Coping with Loss” class was apparently scheduled. We moved inside for a closer look.
The building was an old office, worn down by years of disuse. The inside was in the process of being cleaned up and a bucket of paint and a ladder sat halfway down the main hallway where someone had been working. Most of the lights were off and there was no one moving about the halls, but we could see that one of the rooms was in use.
We found the resident minister, Cash Dwyer, seated with eight others in a circle in one of the rooms. A table to one side held plates of small pastries and tea and coffee. As we entered one of the people sat there glanced up at us and we all noticed that he was a ghost, manifesting in order to join in on the group session. He clearly knew we were there but didn’t say anything. When it came his turn to speak he chose not to. When Cash spoke I noticed that he didn’t have the usual Richmond accent and Dahlia told me he was from up north.
When the session ended the ghost tried to keep himself engaged in conversation but kept casting anxious glances towards us. Markus and Dan eventually approached him and he excused himself before walking calmly toward the door. Dahlia and I gave him a wide berth so he wouldn’t be overwhelmed but Markus fell in step with him and Dan followed close by. In the short conversation that followed Markus passed us off as a bunch of ghosts who had managed to find some comraderie in one another. The ghost had found support at this class. Markus even asked how he was able to manifest which seemed to stir some sympathy in him. He told us to be careful because he had been approached by certain gangs attempting to recruit him. He even offered to talk some more if we should ever come back to the class. Although he seemed to have gained some trust in us he asked that we don’t follow him home. We obliged. It was time to visit Denny’s for some dinner.
While Dahlia and I ate, Markus and Dan discussed whether they would return to their bodies for the upcoming party. Markus had been projecting for almost two full weeks now and was pretty keen to spend some time back in his body. Dan on the other hand has been up and down a few times but still wanted to attend the party ‘in person.’ mainly so that he could, and I quote, “get smashed.” It will definitely be interesting to be able to spend some social time with these guys.
Alaskan Airspace, October 19, 2013.
In the middle of the night my room phone rang. It took me a few seconds to realise what I was hearing because I was staying in one of Orpheus’ dorm rooms and hadn’t even noticed the phone til then. I groggily picked it up and mumbled something into the receiver. It was Prator, and he sounded a little manic. “Is the whole crucible staying at the office?” and before I could reply he added, “Get everyone together and meet me in the lobby in fifteen.” Then he hung up.
I threw on some clothes and stepped out into the common area. Dahlia had obviously been rung as well as she soon emerged from her room. Markus and Dan, not needing any sleep, were lounged out on one of the couches watching Ghostbusters 2. I rounded them up and we made our way upstairs.
The light on the front door blinked green for a second and then Prator came rushing in. He motioned for us to follow him as he explained the situation.
“The cruise ship, Andromeda, has been badly damaged and is sinking off the Alaskan coast,” He led us down past the offices to the elevator and pushed up, “we know that David Clarke, an employee of Next World was on board to discuss a business deal with the Department of Defence. There’s a hell of a storm brewing over there and since spooks can’t drown we’ve been asked to head in and assist any survivors.” As we reached the top floor Prator had to provide voice identification to get us through the next set of doors.
“Your main objective is to get to the engine room and see if you can confirm the source of the damage. If it is not readily apparent then retrieving the crew chief’s log, from Deck I section 7, should help any later investigation. Your second objective is to locate David Clarke and retrieve any personal belongings. They will quite likely reveal details about the business deal. Finally, you are to aid any surviving passengers in escaping the ship.”
As we neared the end of the next corridor Dahlia stopped and confronted Prator. She asked him if we were being asked to steal from this man. Prator seemed slightly taken aback by the question, “Is there a problem with that?” When Dahlia argued that it was illegal Prator reminded us of what we’d done with Lehto and that we were already working in very grey areas. He also added that if Dahlia wanted to sit the mission out she was more than welcome to, but time was of the essence. She agreed to go along.
I asked about Next World and Prator told us that they were one of Orpheus’ business rivals, although one that was notorious for ghosting around laws. I also asked what we should do if we found David himself and was told that we should help him off the ship like any other passenger but still try and obtain his personal items or anything relating to his business. Satisfied that we were working against a corrupt company and being given the opportunity to help a lot of people I nodded my approval to Prator and looked around at the others. Dan and Dahlia both still seemed reluctant but were in it for the team I suppose.
With that Prator flung open the door to the rooftop and a blast of wind crashed through. A helicopter was already whipping the air, ready and waiting for us to board. We clambered on and soon found ourselves coasting over Richmond towards the airport. The company jet was once again waiting for us and we took off almost the minute we were all buckled in. Dossiers were waiting for us on our seats with all the mission details. Recalling how ineffective we’d been the last time we were tired on a mission Dahlia and I both decided that we would catch as much sleep as possible on the four hour flight to Anchorage.
Dan woke us when we landed and pointed out the window to where a coastguard helicopter was waiting for us. Rain pelted down on us as we ran from one mode of transport to another and in the distance a peal of thunder rang out. I hadn’t known what to expect when I had hurriedly dressed myself and now found that I was dressed rather poorly for such weather. The navigator on board confirmed that we were from Orpheus and asked if we could indeed leave our bodies. His reply when we answered was simply, “Alright… That does weird me out a bit. Well, strap in.”
As the chopper took off the ground below us was quickly swallowed by the night and we found ourselves surrounded by a darkness that was occasionally pierced by lightning. We knew we were closing in on the site but with no reference points beyond the chopper itself it seemed like we were hovering in the clouds.
Through the headsets the navigator told us that we would rendezvous with a coastguard cutter that was positioned near the Andromeda and from there we would make our way aboard. However once we got closer he received word that the strength of the storm had forced the cutter to bug out, we would be dropping from the helicopter directly onto the ship. Again the navigator confirmed that we would be able to jump down easily and I gave him instructions to hold the chopper steady above the ship’s deck for two minutes and then move out. I also made sure he understood that our bodies would stay on board the chopper. We were told that once we had landed they would drop a buoy with a flare gun attached and that we should use the flare gun when we wanted to be picked up.
We descended out of the thick cloud then and we could see small points of light in the darkness. A spotlight on the side of the helicopter crashed on and shone down on the Andromeda which listed on its side. As we drew nearer we could make out a dark mass beneath the water, it appeared that the ship had run aground on something despite the fact that we were miles out to sea. We made a circuit of the cruise ship and the navigator focused the spotlight on the life-rafts. “That’s weird,” he started slowly, “None of the life-rafts have been deployed, and I can’t see anyone on board. There was supposed to be seven hundred people on this ship…” It seemed we would have another mystery to look into.
We leveled out a mere ten metres above the aft deck and I gave the navigator the signal, “Two minutes!” Dahlia and I both projected and along with Dan and Markus we all jumped down to the deck below. Dan landed easily, his athletic prowess shining through, Dahlia and I hit the uneven ground and rolled slightly before catching our balance. Markus simply blinked down onto the ship. Soon after the chopper dropped the buoy and took off into the darkness.
On the deck the angle of the ship seemed much more dramatic and we could hear the metal groaning beneath us. She was listing far enough to one side that the swimming pool that lay between us and the nearest entrance had been emptied and refilled with sea water and a mangled cluster of deck chairs had collected on the lower side of the deck. The higher side of the ship was also being battered with waves and one out of every few that hit would send water washing over the rail to slide across the deck. Taking hold of the top rail we began to slowly make our way towards the entrance.
Just as we passed the pool a huge wave crashed into the ship and it was all I could do to hold onto the rail as I was momentarily blinded and bashed by the water. When the break had washed over us I instinctively blinked the water out of my eyes and then saw Dahlia. She had lost her grip and was sliding down the deck towards the dark eddying tide. The slick wood gave her no grip and every effort she made to stand up found her slipping further down. Without a second to lose I let go of the rail and skidded down towards her while casting my hand back towards Dan and Markus. “Grab on,” I yelled to everyone as I congealed a rope that snaked back up the deck to be caught by those still holding onto the rail. They caught it just as I reached Dahlia and got a hand on her arm. With the others bracing us Dahlia was able to clamber back up to the rail and I soon followed. Back at the top we tied the rope around ourselves the way climbers do to prevent any further falls.
We reached the entrance and entered a grand hall. It was an unsettling scene, mostly untouched by the weather but still slanted to one side. A grand piano was pushed up against one wall by a crowd of tables and chairs and the deep red curtains hung at an odd angle. Two wide staircases curved up to the mezzanine and everything looked shiny and comfortable but still deserted. The lights went out for a second before flickering back to life.
We caught our breath and I laid out our plan. We would start by investigating the engine deck, Deck I, since it was the lowest point of the ship. From there we would make our way back up to Clarke’s room on Deck C and then out. Hopefully by moving from lowest to highest we would be able to spend as little time as possible in the submerged levels of the ship. I could tell that Dahlia was still not happy about our second objective so I also added that if we left Clarke’s room til last we might just run out of time to get there and that wouldn’t be the worst thing. On top of all that, survivors are priority.
At that comment Markus pointed out what we’d all noticed. “We haven’t seen a single person from the hundreds of passengers supposedly on board,” then he added, “I’m starting to suspect this is a trap.”
“Well,” Dan offered as he donned his helmet and shrugged, “If this is a trap, we’re already in it.”