Excerpts from the journal of Connor Galloway, an employee of Orpheus and member of Crucible 7.
Alaskan Airspace, October 19, 2013.
Descending into the bowels of the cruise ship began to feel like deja vu. The first four floors, all belonging to passengers, looked identical if you ignored the large lettered sign which told us what deck we were on. From the stairwell we would see long hallways, with doors either side, that stretched down towards the front of the ship. We made of note of Deck C, where David Clarke’s room was located, and carried on down.
The fifth floor we visited, Deck G, was partially submerged and water was trickling out of doorways and dripping from the roof. If the constant groaning of the ship wasn’t enough of a reminder that we needed to hurry that sight brought it home.
We looked down the flooded corridor and all stopped in our tracks as we spotted a figure standing maybe fifty metres away. The lights flickered out and a moment later when they sprang back on the figure had moved closer. I could make out a female face framed with long brown hair but the girls body was slightly bloated from water. She was a ghost.
The lights flickered once more and Markus, getting fed up, lit up the corridor with a red glow from one hand. The girl approached quickly looking more distraught than angry. She didn’t have the cold black eyes of a spectre. “Help me,” she pleaded, “We have to get out of here, they took everybody!” From behind me I could hear Dahlia begin to softly sing and I saw the terror on the girl’s face subside. As her mood changed her bloating also seemed to fade away and as we talked she returned to a healthy looking body. She was quite young, maybe 20, and judging by her clothes and jewelry looked like she came from a wealthy background.
We asked her what had happened and were somewhat displeased with the news. It seemed that spectres had appeared on the ship and had rounded everyone up in common areas before slaughtering them. Somehow this girl, Taylor, had managed to flee. She begged us to go back up on deck but I insisted that we needed to get to the engine room first. She asked if she could stick with us and fell in step with Markus at the back of the group.
Descending to the next deck was an interesting task. Sinking down into the water required a bit of trial and error but it became quickly apparent that we could all will ourselves to float or sink. It was almost as if we could ignore the water and it didn’t affect us but if we focused on it then it would start exerting its presence.
The bottom two decks finally took on a different look, although not an entirely welcoming one. They were obviously meant for crew’s eyes only and as such they were all bare metal and exposing piping. The white walls swayed in the water and the sound of the ship’s hull echoed from all around us. We soon found our way to the engine room, turning the wheeled handle of a watertight door and swinging it out towards us in order to enter.
We walked out onto a catwalk that overlooked all the machinery and Dahlia sat down to forbode and discover the cause of the damage. As she meditated I looked around the room at the twisted metal and shattered glass. A black smudge burnt into the floor of the room seemed to be the epicenter of the chaos and I pointed it out to Markus. “Strange,” he said, “it looks as if there was an explosion due to engine failure but I the burn mark is in the wrong place. The blast originated from the middle of the room…”
Dahlia snapped back awake and confirmed Markus’ suspicions. She had seen one of the engineers in a side room, a duffel bag at his side. “You’ll take care of them?” he had asked an unseen person. Dahlia described a shift in the shadows of the room as a voice responded, “Yeeeessssss.” The engineer had fiddled with something in the bag before striding back into the main engine room. No sooner had he dropped the bag in the middle of the floor than it exploded, sending nearby workers flying. As they bounced of instrument panels that were now flashing red the shadows in the room seemed to become solid.
We’d learned that foul play was afoot, and it was time to get out before the spectres came back. But it turned out that that was just wishful thinking. As we made our way back up the catwalk we heard a series of knocks run down the length of the ship, starting ahead of us and moving towards the back wall of the engine room. We turned as one and saw a waterlock door across from us begin to move. The wheel shuddered into motion and turned. My tattoos glowed dimly in the water as I congealed a sword into my hands and assumed a defensive stance. I could sense that the others were preparing as well.
We were in no way ready for what emerged from that door. As the wheel clicked into place the heavy metal was tossed aside and a wave of dark shapes burst through. Spectres of all shapes came swimming towards us. Some had serpentine tails where their legs should have been and swam towards us with alarming speed. Others were more humanoid, but still bore long claws and mouths full of spiked teeth. As they pushed into the room we gave up the thought of fighting and turned to run. Markus and Taylor were the first out the door followed by Dan. As I reached it I grabbed hold of the metal, meaning to swing it closed on our pursuers, but when I turned back to look I saw Dahlia bracing herself on the catwalk.
She let out a mighty wail at the oncoming swarm and I watched as the shockwaves flew out from her mouth to send the first wave of spectres reeling. The ones at the front were torn to pieces while others were simply flung back into the seething mass to be trampled. Somehow the water in the room had been pushed outwards as well creating a bubble of air in the centre of the room. As it collapsed it swept more spectres off their feet. Even through the chaos I could still make out the door on the other side of the room and it’s yawning opening was black with bodies.
I yelled at Dahlia to run and began to shut the heavy metal door. She made it through just as a couple of spectres were gaining on her and I slammed the door shut. A black skinned hand thrust itself through at the last second and was severed by the weight. It floated upwards, disintegrating, as the beasts began to slam into the door. It was all I could do to stop them pushing it open but Dan and Markus were suddenly there. Turning the wheel they closed the door and Dan reached up to an emergency locking mechanism which he switched on. We stepped away from the door as the spectres began to crash into it with full force and knew that it was only a matter of time until they got through. Markus gave us all a look and pulled Taylor over to the group as we gathered close.
It was the first time I’d been Stormwended and Markus’ descriptions of what it was like had not prepared me for the real deal. I guess I’d seen him do it so many times, so casually, that I figured it wasn’t a big deal. To be fair I was barely conscious during the jump but I’ll try to recall what it was like. I felt like I’d been plunged into freezing water and when I reached out to touch the warmth of the world there was a sheet of ice in the way. I could sense Dan, Dahlia, and Taylor beside me and as I searched for Markus I could feel him pulling us all along. It seemed to me like he was swimming and pulling us through that cold water with him. “Almost there,” he said through clenched teeth and I could tell the effort of dragging us with him was immense. Then I sensed a ray of heat somewhere up ahead, a crack in the ice, and Markus was leading us toward it. As the warmth washed back over us we materialised in the hallway of Deck C.
The ship must’ve been sinking quickly because Deck C was now buried knee deep in water. We got our bearings and ran down to David Clarke’s room. Flinging open the door I immediately spied a briefcase floating in one corner and rushed over to grab it. It was the kind with a pair of combination locks so I figured we’d have to crack it open later. I tossed the case across the room to Dan and said, “Get everyone up to the bridge, the highest spot you can find.”
“What about you?”
“We don’t have time to go get the flare, I’m heading back to the chopper.”
Dan simply nodded and with that I ripcorded out.
I was once again pulled backwards, as if by puppet strings, out through the side of the ship and up into the clouds. In an instant I was sitting back in the chopper and coping with a splitting headache, the downside to ripping back to my body. The navigator seated across from me was talking to the pilot, “What do you mean another chopper? Is Orpheus sending in another team?” Then he noticed I was awake and let out a shocked gasp.
“We need to get back to the ship,” I told him, “The others will be waiting at the bridge.”
As we once again neared the Andromeda it was a completely different scene. The ship was now mostly submerged and the flashes of light coming from the deck were no longer being caused by the failing lights. As we flew over I could make out a squad of four men dressed in black and wearing red glowing night-vision goggles. They were firing on an approaching horde of spectres that was flowing out of the great hall and to my surprise their bullets were actually killing them. The men moved very professionally, firing in short controlled bursts and using hand signals to perform a withdrawal towards the upper rail of the ship. Hovering above them was the other helicopter, black and unmarked.
Then the navigator turned on the spotlight and we saw the rest of my crucible. They had made their way up onto the bridge but were being chased by spectres that were leaping up the catwalks and decks towards them. We lowered the winch towards where Dan, the only one of them who was manifested, stood. He clutched the briefcase in one hand and wrapped that arm around the cable as he stepped a foot into the stirrup at the bottom. With his other hand he reached back and took hold of Taylor. Markus blinked aboard and Dahlia ripcorded back into her body as I shouted, “Go, go, go!” As Dan and Taylor were lifted off the ship the first few spectres reached the upper level. One of them sprinted towards the edge and with no thought to it’s own safety it leaped for Taylors dangling foot. It missed by what looked like a few inches and fell, bouncing off railings and windows to lie motionless on the deck below.
With the others safely on board we all turned our attention to the squad of armed men. They had backed up to the raised edge of the ship’s deck and were pressed against the rail. As we swooped around the ship and swung the spotlight over them we knew that they were dead. The back side of the ship was covered in climbing spectres and as they broke over the top they took the men by surprise. We could only watch as the men were torn to pieces. First in physical form and then when their spirits emerged still fighting and were swarmed again.
Back on the plane home I tried to get the briefcase open and after a few minutes I asked the others for help. By inhabiting the lock Dan had it open in seconds. I must be tired because I really should have thought of that. Inside we found technical documents and diagrams for a new technology called ‘Ghost Shot’ which is a type of ammunition that can hurt ghosts. If that is was the men back on the ship were using then we know it works. It seems that Next World was trying to sell the technology to the Department of Defense. There were even Next World memos stating that the only clear way to prove the technology’s usefulness was a national tragedy.
Anyway, I got Dan to lock the briefcase once we’d all had a look and I’d taken some photos. It might be wise to pass this on without Prator, or whoever, knowing that we saw what was in it.
Now I can’t sleep. At least I’m making good use of the flight time to fill out the ol’ journal. Markus and I have been discussing just what the fuck we think happened on that ship. He has suspicions that Next World orchestrated the whole thing in order to prove the effectiveness of their new bullets. Saving the Next World employee and the representative from the Department of Defense with the new technology would sure prove its usefulness. I’m not so sure however. The setup was too perfect to be believable.
As far as I’m concerned the professionals we saw were probably a retrieval team, sent to get back the exact documents we now have in our possession. Those men had no idea what they were getting into so I have a hard time believing that they were in on the whole thing. I think there’s something bigger out there. Something that manipulated the engineer into destroying that ship with the Next World tech on board. Something that didn’t want those bullets being manufactured. Something that brought the spectres to the buffet.