Jason: “What are you gonna do?”
Me: “I don’t know why he doesn’t just get the fuck out of my house.”
Jason: “How you gonna get him out of your house? He’s a big fucking werewolf.”
Me: “I don’t know! But if I start stabbing him with silver, he’s not gonna leave.”
Jim: “Does the werewolf look like it’s going to attack?”
Jason: “Oh yeah. You gonna Full Brujah this motherfucker?”
Me: “Yeah, no, that’s not gonna go well.”
Jason: “Yeah, werewolves will Brujah more than you.”
Jim: “Fuller Brujah.”
With the taco truck loaded up, I’m finally ready to leave this fucking island. I take one last look across the tarmac and see Marcus talking to Helgi some yards away. Figuring I need to give formal goodbyes to one or both of them, I tell Slayer to stay with the truck and walk over there.
On my way, my phone rings. “Tom!” Anstis greets, brightly.
I scowl. “You sound rather cheerful for someone who just told me to fuck-off his boat.”
“The Semtex for Helgi, your share comes to $500,000,” he says.
I hang up the phone.
Marcus stares at me curiously as I stalk up. “What was that about?”
I scrub at my face. “I don’t fucking know….” My instinct is to just ignore this whole thing, but that damn pirate is getting way out of hand. Glancing at Helgi, I jerk my head and Marcus follows me a few feet away. “We were supposed to get the Semtex for Helgi,” I whisper, “And I kinda forgot about it amongst all the other shit going on, so—“
A smile tugs the corner of Marcus’s mouth. “So why is the pirate in a position to tell you that you have to pay $500,000 for it?”
I throw my arms out. “I honestly don’t know!”
The grin finally breaks across Marcus’s face. It’s more unsettling than his scowls. “A moment, please, Tom….” He walks back to Helgi. I follow silently.
“Helgi,” Marcus says cheerfully, “I have news for you. The Gangrel, your compatriot. He plans to sell you back your explosives. Or at least that’s my understanding. He just called us up and demanded half a million. I was just wondering what arrangement you’d come to, cause no one mentioned money to me.”
Helgi leans back and strokes his beard. “Nor to me…” he rumbles.
Marcus smiles again and shadows flicker around him. “What say we investigate this further….”
Anstis, meanwhile, is in his submarine, working on his ritual circle, ghouling his crew, and other chores to ensure the Twilight’s Fortune is ship-shape.
Suddenly, he’s hit with a Summons, a strong one. He can tell through the tingling urgency that it’s leading him to Marcus, but instead of heading out, he pulls out his phone.
“You called?” Anstis asks as soon as Marcus answers.
“I did. Helgi would like a word.”
Anstis frowns, perplexed by this new development. “Aye, they shall be delivered.”
“Yes, I think they shall, but he would like to have a word as to the means and wherewithals. As would I. We’ll see you back at the base.”
Marcus hangs up. Anstis stares at his phone a moment, then, grumbling, leaves his ritual-circle room and starts the climb out of the boat.
Marcus turns to me. “Tom, you can stay for this if you’d like, or you and your…servant…can go about your evening. We will talk more later.”
He meets my gaze. I nod slowly, then, bidding farewell to Helgi, return to the truck to get the hell out of here.
I make Slayer drive.
Georgia has been exploring the Chantry, eventually finding her way to a secret study hidden off of Max’s bedroom. In it, she finds whole shelves of magical grimoires, including the books with the information she needs to reset the wards. Using instructions in the book, she finds the ritual chamber with the circle. It’s huge, way larger than any teleportation circle she’s used before, and clearly is going to need a lot of blood to activate.
(Kara: “I have a thermos of blood!”
Jason: “You may need more. That blood isn’t fresh. The rituals are intended to be done with sacrificial victims.”
Kara: “I know. I know…. You’re determined to make me into a Tremere, aren’t you?”
Jason: “No, you’ve done quite well for that by yourself. …Also, apologies, but I think the microphone has difficulty picking you up if you’re sitting way over there.”
Kara: “Urg, but I’m by the fire!”
Chris: “We can move the laptop closer…but we wont have a table if we need to roll.”
Jason: “Rolling is going to happen eventually, especially when she springs the death-traps in the basement.”
Chris: “I’m more concerned about when she triggers the Make The Neonates Quarters Catch Fire Button.”
Jason: “There’s no—Oh, wait, of course there is.”
Kara: “Which is one of the many reasons Georgia is moving out of the neonate quarters.”
Jason: “And moving Bob into them.”
Kara: “It’s an upgrade for him!”
Jason: “It is an upgrade for him, cause there is also a Light The Ghoul’s Barracks On Fire Button.”)
Georgia will have to find buckets of blood some other time, though, because it’s almost midnight and she has a date with Dr. vonNatsi to go to Pluto (also, technically, an appointment with Rabenholz, but she completely forgot about that, so, whoops).
Georgia heads to the residential wing and finds Paul with Bob in Bob’s new quarters, hanging Ansel Adams posters on the wall. “Hey, how’s it going?” Georgia says as she enters. Bob jumps and drops the poster he’s holding.
“Good,” Paul says, “But some natural light would do well here.” He stares at the windowless stone walls. “Do you have a sledgehammer?”
“Uh, no. So, I was going to go up to the tower to see Dr. vonNatsi—“
Paul’s head snaps to her. “Are you going to Pluto?!
“Uh, that’s the plan. Did you want to come?”
His enthusiasm turns cautious. “Kind of…what are the odds of not coming back?”
Paul taps his chin with a rolled poster. “That…is something of a disincentive.”
After some discussion, Paul says he’ll go with her to the Tower at least to see her off. Georgia bids farewell to Bob, tells him she should be back by sunup, and he’s in charge of the Chantry while she’s gone.
A prospect which, secretly, unsettles everyone involved.
Paul and Georgia arrive at the tower just after midnight and take the elevator down to Dr. vonNatsi’s lab. As they descend, a smell gradually overwhelms them. A grassy, gassy, barnyard smell. The door opens on the lab, and they immediately see why.
Goats. Dozens and dozens of them, wandering in and around—and, in many cases, on top of—the lab benches, all with mouthfuls of cabbage.
Paul and Georgia enter cautiously, stepping around the goats. Dr. vonNatsi appears from around a corner—
(Jason: “—I don’t know how to explain this properly, but…Dr. vonNatsi is wearing an outlandish uniform.”)
It looks kind of like a spacesuit, but more the idea of a spacesuit. The sort of spacesuit you would design for a child’s Halloween costume, blown up to adult sized. And tie-dyed. He stops as he sees them, a fishbowl-helmet tucked under one arm and a piebald kid under the other, then dumps them both on a table and hurries over. “Ms. Johnson! Mr. Stewart!”
Paul scowls at the approaching visual cacophony and looks away, meeting the eyes of a nearby goat, chewing on a leaf.
(Me: “Aww, can they be Nubians? No, wait! Can they be the fainting goats!?” )
The goat stares back at Paul…then falls over on its side.
Paul rushes over to check that it’s still alive. The goat rolls its eyes at him, then resumes chewing. “Oh my goodness, are you ok? Doctor, is the goat ok?”
“Ja, zey do zis,” Dr. vonNatsi sighs. “It is ze breed. And ze cabbage. Zey are en efficient means of disposing ze cabbage, you see. Zey transform ze cabbage, which is negatively etherically charged, into goat meat, which is positively etherically charged, und into goat poop, which is neutral.” He hesitates, seeing their expressions. “Are you questioning my Science?!”
“So, are we ready for the Pluto expedition?” Georgia asks brightly.
vonNatsi cheers up immediately. “Yes! Ze expedition to recover the plutonian vale vomit!” His grin falters. “…Zere is a problem. Ze goats have not completed ze eating of ze cabbage.”
“Why don’t we just remove the cabbage?” Paul suggests, gently tugging one turtleneck sleeve out of a goat’s mouth.
“Nein! You do not understand the Science! It is not just ze presence of ze cabbage, it is the infectious taint of etheric energy that ze cabbage represents! Ve cannot just remove ze cabbage, ve must destroy ze cabbage completely!”
Georgia stares at the goats thoughtfully. “What if you transmogrified one of the deathrays so that it could remove the contents of the goats’ intestines—(Me: “Oh, god, because nothing will go wrong with that.“)—so that they feel hungry and eat more?”
vonNatsi strokes at his chin with one gloved hand. “Zis is a possibility….but ve cannot use ze contraetheric deathray. Zat vould be…bad….”
He glances furtively at the nearest goat, then covers its ears with his hands. “It is possible it vould result in the creation of the Omni-Goat,” he whispers.
Paul rolls his eyes. “What if we hired more goats and moved them in groups?”
vonNatsi gestures across the lab. “I have already rented all of ze civic goats, vere do you vant me to find more goats!?”
Paul gropes for his phone. “Let me make a call.”
Paul calls Gates, asking her to contact anyone in the Bay Area advertising goats for rent or sale and offer them $10,000 for their time. Gates is…more than a little perturbed by this, but after venting and ranting about the impossibility of it all, she agrees.
“Fantastic!” Paul says. “Tell them to meet me at Sutro Tower.
A long pause. “…You know I turned down Microsoft to work for you,” Gates adds.
Paul grins. “Yes, and how boring would that have been?”
WESTBOUND BAY BRIDGE
Slayer and I ride in silence as we approach the Bay Bridge toll plaza. My mind is busy processing the evening and everything Marcus and I talked about. Thinking of him, though, reminds, me, “Hey, son, what did Boss talk to you about?”
Slayer’s hands tense on the wheel. “N-Nothing, man, he just wanted to know stuff.”
I glare. “You’ll have to be a bit more specific there. I don’t think he wanted to know about your hobbies.”
“He just…he said he was gonna fuck me up if I did some shit, a’right? I’m not gonna do the shit!”
“You know,” he wobbles his head, “Fuck around, not do what you say, shit like that….” He’s still tense, though, and I get the sense this isn’t the whole truth.
I thunk one of my shotguns up on the dash. “Look, son, it’s been a crazy few nights. I went on a shitty cruise and a shitty tour of a castle, not to mention the shit on the Farallones and escaping through the internet, so I really don’t have time for this.”
He stares at the gun, eyes wide. “Man, I can’t!”
“What do you mean you can’t? Did he order you not to say something?”
“…I don’t remember, okay!” he bursts. “He looked me in the eyes and fucked around with some shit!”
I blink. That…actually does sound like something Marcus would do, and if he has a secret plan for something there’s nothing I can do about it anyway. I shrug and turn away, watching the marshlands speed past outside.
The truck starts to slow. “Um…we got a problem….” Slayer says, gesturing forward. The toll booth lanes ahead are all clear, but floodlights are set up on the far side of them, illuminating men in camo and ranks of humvees just like the one I stole. Curfew checkpoint. Fuck, I forgot about that shit.
I grab the shotgun off the dash and tuck it on the floorboard next to me. “Alright, we’re gonna play this cool.” I peer behind, making sure none of the gear in the back is visible either. “I’ll take the lead, just shut up.”
Men wave us over the moment we clear the toll plaza. One soldier walks up, gesturing for Slayer to roll down the window. “I’ll need identification,” he says roughly.
Slayer looks at me. I clear my throat. “…Heeeeey, man,” I drawl in an accent that would make Cheech Marin wince. “Want…some tacooos?”
The soldier scowls. He turns away and gestures another man over, this one carrying an assault rifle. Slayer and I tense. I can just see the handle of my shotgun out of the corner of my eye. If I move fast, maybe I can grab it before—
“Identificación, por favor,” the second man says.
I glance at Slayer. “Umm….”
“Lo siento, amigo,” Slayer blurts out, “Estamos en nuestro camino a casa de un evento de comida en Oakland. Nuestro jefe tiene nuestros papeles, todo lo que tenemos es la materia en el camión.”
The soldier nods knowingly. “Ahhh, si….”
I stare as Slayer and the guy start blathering on in Spanish, fluent as a telenovella, their tone softening into gesticulations and laughter. After a few minutes, Slayer reaches into the back of the truck, rustles around in a cooler, and pulls out a pre-wrapped taco. He hands it to the guy, who smiles and waves us forward.
I’m still staring as Slayer turns back to me. “What the hell did you say, son?!”
He takes a breath. “I told them we were illegals. Told them we work for the mayor, cleaning his house. They arrest us, he gets pissed and comes down on them.”
Slayer drives the truck onto the empty bridge. After a long moment, I nod and clap him on the shoulder. “Well, good job, son.” He relaxes and flashes me a weak smile.
(Jason: “Slayer actually looks pleased with himself.”
Me: “Oh, well, can’t have that—“)
I reach down and squeeze his knee. “Yeah, you did real good….” I say with a wink. Instantly, his body stiffens and his eyes snap back to the road.
I lean back and put my feet on the dash. Yep, the night is getting better indeed.
Anstis flies back to the base. By now, everyone but Helgi, Marcus, and three of Helgi’s crew are left. Somehow, this is even more ominous than when there were dozens of people. Anstis lands, pops back into pirate, straightens his coat, and walks toward them.
“Captain,” Marcus greets him, “I hear we have something to discuss in regards to renumeration for a certain amount of Semtex.”
Helgi leans down, arms folded. “So what’s this I hear about a price?” he rumbles.
Anstis blinks. This…isn’t exactly a pleasant twist, but it’s nothing he can’t work his way out of. He draws himself up. “Tom and I agreed to acquire the Semtex for you. We each elected to select something other than the Semtex from the event, thus we are both responsible for acquiring the Semtex from Morgan. Tom’s share comes to $500,000.”
“And what was the cost to be to me?”
“Zero. That was what we agreed upon,” Anstis says emphatically.
Helgi strokes his beard a moment, then nods. “Very well. Have Morgan deliver it to my holding facility when he arrives.”
Marcus, however, is still glaring at Anstis suspiciously. “How is it that you came to leave that ship without the Semtex?”
Anstis glances at him. “I received other items,” he says flatly.
Marcus glances toward the bay. “Oh, I see you did, the problem is that still leaves us standing here with no Semtex and you with a shiny new boat.”
“The Semtex will be here in two nights.”
“Seems reasonable enough, and Morgan is a fairly trustworthy sort as pirates go, but the key point is fairly trustworthy.” Marcus paces slowly. “I believe the instructions were to bring the Semtex here and not leave it with Morgan. See, I could order Morgan to bring back the Semtex, but that would cost me in exchange.”
Anstis watches him pace through narrowed eyes. “Well, he is being paid.”
“Yes, one million dollars, is that right? I know where you’re getting the money, but where is Tom getting his?
Anstis shrugs. “I know nothing of Tom’s finances.”
“And if he doesn’t have the money?”
“Well then we’ll have to come into a different arrangement.”
“I suppose you might.” Marcus stops. “Was he party to this little discussion?”
Anstis looks him right in the eye. “I discussed it with him recently.”
“Really.” Marcus stares a long moment, then smiles. “Alright, well, Helgi, what say you to this? Two days more for your Semtex, but I feel we need some form of guarantee. I’ll tell you what, Captain. That’s a nice ship of yours, isn’t it?” Marcus glances at Helgi. “A nice…long ship.”
Anstis’s composure breaks, face falling in shock. Marcus chuckles and holds up a hand. “Now, now, I’m not simply offering it. It’s just collateral, until the Semtex arrives.”
“That is agreeable to me,” Helgi rumbles, grinning. “It’s been a while since I commanded a longship.”
Anstis stares, processing what’s just happened, then draws himself up straight again. “I will see that Helgi’s Semtex arrives,” he says.
Marcus smiles and leans forward. “…I believe you.”
Dr. vonNatsi rushes about the lab, gathering equipment necessary for the expedition, the most important of which is an etheric suit for Georgia as well. He doesn’t have any more tie-dyed models, but he presents some options to her. She chooses one made out of patchworked, layered triangles cut from the ribs of umbrellas. As she shrugs into it, he proclaims that he needs to adjust it for her vampiric nature, pins a set of plastic vampire fangs to the front, then steps back proudly with a, “ta-da!” gesture.
A chime echoes through the lab, apparently the doorbell. Paul volunteers to get it and takes the elevator up to ground level. He opens the door to see a hayseed-looking man with a large truck parked behind him, hands tucked in his overalls, chewing on a toothpick.
“Ya’ll looking for goats?” the man drawls.
“That’s right….” Paul says cautiously.
He jerks his thumb at the truck. “I got some goats. But…I want to know what ya’ll gon’ do with my goats.”
Paul doesn’t know much about goats, but he sure knows a lot about corporate misdirection, which is to tell just enough truth so the lies seem plausible. He takes a deep breath. “This is a broadcasting tower, but also a research facility, and one of the previous researchers had some personal issues, and…well, while people were out for the long weekend, he filled the place up with cabbages. I have no idea why. Anyway, this location isn’t permitted to throw away that much organic matter, and we can’t operate the research we need while the cabbages are there. So we need the goats to eat the cabbages.”
The man stares, shifting his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. “…Ya’ll want my goats to eat ya’ll’s cabbages?”
At that moment, Georgia appears behind Paul, dressed in her technicolor science suit. “Oh, are the goats here?”
The man shifts his stare to her. “What in the hell are you?”
“Georgia!” Paul says nervously. “What are you wearing? Is this left over from the cabbage prank?”
“Oh, did you tell him about the cabbages?” Georgia turns to the man. “Yes, we should only need them for a couple hours, there’s not that much cabbage left, and we should be able to do plenty of Science after that.”
The man is silent a long moment, toothpick dangling forgotten. “…I’m gon’ need payment in advance,” he says finally.
“You take a check?” Paul asks.
The man takes another long look at Georgia. “I’m gon’ need cash.”
Unfortunately, not even Paul walks around with 10G’s in cash on-hand, but luckily he has a plan.
Once the payment is delivered, Georgia takes the goats downstairs while Paul hangs out with the guy, making polite conversation about the state of modern goat husbandry.
(Jim: “Ooo, can we hear this entire conversation for Colleen to write up later?”
Chris: “Oh, yes!”)
Paul rocks back on his heels. “So, do you have more than one goat breed, or do you focus on just the one?”
(Jason: “…Fuck you, I draw the line somewhere.”)
Georgia brings the new goats down, and for the next hour, they wander the lab, munching all the cabbage they find. Dr. vonNatsi mingles through the herd with some sort of geiger-counter looking thing in his hands, muttering to himself. Eventually, he throws up his hands triumphantly and declares the etheric levels stabilized enough. Georgia calls Paul down and they help Dr. vonNatsi shoo the goats out of the experiment room he has set up for the transportation
“I have inputted the coordinates very precisely,” he says as he flips switches and dials. “They vill take us directly to ze planet Pluto. Und zere ve shall acquire the Plutonian vale vomit.” He beams at her. “Und zen ve shall return to zis tower und finalize ze golem project before Professor Snodgrass!”
Georgia nods enthusiastically. “And you will finally have your revenge!”
An evil smile spreads across his face. “Ja…I…vill…have…my…REVENGE!!!” he shouts, fists thrust to the ceiling. Lightning and thunder crash through the lab. Paul and Georgia jump, then do a double-take as they remember they’re underground—
But Dr. vonNatsi is back at the dials. “Now, ve must be very careful. Ze translocator cannot project both of us at once. Ve must do zis one by one.”
“I will go first,” Georgia offers.
“Excellent!” vonNatsi claps. “You vill be ze pioneer for Science!”
“Do I need the colander on my head?”
“It is not a colander! It is an etheric cerebral transducer! And…yes.” Dr. vonNatsi produces the colander from a pile of equipment and thumps it onto Georgia’s head. Once he’s shuffled her into position, he backs up to a corner of the room, taking Paul with him. He settles his goggles over his eyes and grabs a lever. “FOR SCIENCE!!!!” he shouts and throws it.
There’s a muffled poof, and Georgia is gone.
Dr. vonNatsi nods and turns to Paul. “Ve must vait for the emitter to cool, und zen I shall follow and meet her on the planet Pluto.”
But he may be waiting for awhile…cause Georgia’s not on Pluto.
(Jason: “And do you know why she’s not on Pluto?”
Kara: “Cause…she’s a vampire?”
Jason: “No, he included that in his calculations.”
Kara: “He…didn’t calculate that the planet was moving?”
Jason: “No. His calculations were to send you to the planet Pluto, but there is no planet Pluto anymore, there’s a dwarf planet Pluto. Consequentially, his calculations were wrong and did not take you there.”
Kara: “So…where is Georgia?”
Jason: “Yeah, about that…we’ll get back to her later.“
A car arrives to take Marcus back to the city. He opens the door but doesn’t enter, instead staring flatly at Anstis. Anstis stares back. After many long seconds of this, Anstis grumbles and gets in the car.
“So, Captain,” Marcus says as he climbs in after, “Looks like you have a few more days on shore. Don’t worry about your boat, Helgi knows how to handle his craft.”
“I’m hoping your man Morgan is reliable as you indicate,” Anstis grumbles.
“Well he’s a pirate, Captain, I think that’s a subject you know something about.”
“We too can be men of our word.”
Marcus nods and gestures for the car to drive on. “I have found that, in the past, Captain. Whatever your extracurriculars might be, that’s something worth savoring. That said, I’m concerned about your associations with the Giovanni.”
Anstis scowls and turns to the window. “As am I.”
“And yet you’ve maintained them.”
“Well, it’s not in one’s best interests to offend them.”
“That is most certainly true, but it doesn’t extend to having to do their bidding. The Giovanni aren’t that strong in this city, I’m surprised you found them at all. Or did they find you…?” Marcus trails off thoughtfully, then shakes it off. “I suppose it doesn’t matter. What have you contracted to offer them?”
“I have to hunt down some intruder from the East.”
Marcus sits up. “A Kuei-jin?”
Anstis frowns. “Kuei-jin?”
“Kindred from the Far East. They are not particularly well-inclined toward us. I have met them once or twice, but I know very little about them, Captain, and I know very few who know any more. Why did they ask you to slay one?”
Anstis scowls. “I made an error.”
“How did you make an error that put you in the service of the Giovan—“ Marcus cuts off, sudden comprehension dawning on his face. “—Oooh. That’s quite an error, Captain. I knew your tastes ran that way but I didn’t know they were that…rarified.” He chuckles. “I understand their inclinations then. I have very little guidance to offer you in regards to a Kuei-jin. Do you still intend to go through with this?”
Anstis glares, realizing his carefully-maintained facades are collapsing around him. “As best I am able. I’m told they are difficult to find.”
“Oh, very difficult to find, particularly in a place like this that’s already overrun with the supernatural, but they’re not unknown in these parts. There used to be quite a few around California, I hear. There may be some who know better than I or you what they can do. I doubt any in the city, but possibly down south. I’m not tremendously well-connected with the ground-level Sabbat out here but that Liedesdorff fellow may know someone. And I believe he owes you a favor.”
Anstis’s sour expression turns thoughtful. “The Kuei-jin in question has not been seen in over a century.”
“She may be dead. It’s not the first time that tumult has come to this city. But if the Giovanni believe she is alive, then it’s likely to assume she is.” He shakes his head. “They are strange creatures, even by our standards. Cathayan, so they think differently than we do. I don’t know their full capabilities, but I know that the one that tried to kill me was very good.”
“Did you end him?”
“I did. Quickly. I deemed it unwise to dawdle. I wasn’t sure which of my tricks would have an effect but, as it turns out, a sword to the neck was sufficient.” He taps the glaudius strapped on his back and grins.
Marcus falls silent as they reach the bridge toll-plaza, Dominating their way past the national guard checkpoint. Once they’re under way again, Anstis speaks up, “Will your client, Tom, hold up his end of the bargain?”
Marcus gives him a Look. “If you’re asking him to provide you with half a million dollars, I doubt very seriously he’s going to be able to pay you. I’m somewhat surprised you convinced him to agree to such a term in the first place.”
(Jim: “…Great, how am I going to word this….”
Me: *glares* “Yeah. How are you going to word this?”)
Anstis is quiet a couple moments before responding. “Tom agreed to be half responsible for bringing the Semtex back, and he chose other recompense.”
Marcus stares. “You didn’t ask Tom about the million, did you?” he says slowly.
Anstis just grins.
Marcus sighs and rubs his temples. “I forget sometimes that not everyone has my experience with your lot. Tom will not be able to pay you half a million, and you know that as full well as I do, Captain. What in the world do you think you’re going to hold over him? He’s a Brujah with a short temper and a very large amount of firepower. You really think calling that particular debt in was going to go well for you? You’re right, of course, that he does need to hold up his end. But his renumeration wont come in the form of money. You’re the one with the gold. Morgan will be expecting prompt payment, I would suggest having all of it on-hand. If I have to purchase that Semtex and your head, I’m going to be very unhappy.”
Anstis grumbles, then fishes around in his coat, pulling out the bank card Marcus gave him. “How does this work?”
Marcus sighs again and turns toward the lights of the approaching city. “It would be complicated to explain, but I can make the arrangements. Come with me back to the Pyramid. I’ll give you the cash in a form Morgan will accept. I believe you’re owed at least that much.”
Slayer pulls the taco truck up in the drive of our house. Wordlessly, I get out and open the back to start unloading gear. My old Asian lady neighbor is staring at us out her kitchen window, her scruffy rat of a dog growling in her arms. I ignore her as I pull out Vera and stalk inside.
I take a few moments taking stock of the armory as Slayer brings in armloads of Panzerfäuste. Boxes of ammo, that extra not-magical Tremere sword, the SAW I haven’t gotten a chance to play around with yet, plenty of stuff for a party.
As I leave the room, I pass Isabella’s painting hanging in the hall. I stop, Marcus’s words about my sister springing painfully to mind, and stare at the faded watercolor. I need to do something about that whole situation, and soon, but I have no idea where to start. Maybe I can get in contact with that other one, Fatima, again. Maybe I can work something out with—
I hesitate, realizing something: the painting is crooked, but I distinctly remember straightening it before I last left.
“Slayer….” I call softly. “Did you bump—” A shiver suddenly spiders its way up my back as I realize someone else is in the house.
There’s a crash in the armory room and Slayer sticks his head out. I hold up a fist to silence him and draw my magical sword, listening.
(Jason: “FYI, the sword currently isn’t set to anything.”
Me: “SET SWORDS TO SWORD!”)
Padding back down the hall, I make my way through the ground floor, checking the living room and the kitchen—(Me: “I check the fridge for cabbages.”)—but finding nothing. My subconscious, though, is still tingling, so I carefully head upstairs.
At the top landing I face two bedroom doors and a bathroom, all closed. Slayer peers up at me from below. “Sit,” I whisper, pointing at him, then slowly open the first bedroom door. Nothing. I check the bathroom next to it. Also empty. Which of course could only mean that—
A shape suddenly bursts through the last door and bolts down the stairs, so fast it’s no more than a blur. It knocks me aside, and as I scramble back to my feet I hear a shout and sounds of struggle. I brandish the sword and run down, but as I reach the bottom I stop.
Two wolves, wolf-wolves, are battling in my living room, snarling and snapping at each other’s necks. They thrash around, trying to find a good angle on each other, crashing into walls and through my shitty thrift-store furniture. Finally they get a lock on each other’s necks and the growling and thrashing increases.
“Mother-fucker,” I mutter. Not sure what else to do, I go into the kitchen, get a large pot of cold water, come back out, and toss the whole thing over both of them.
They howl and break off. The larger one—an ugly, scarred, reddish-colored brute—whirls on me and growls. The noise alone sends bolts of terror through me, but I hold my ground and lift the sword. “Who the hell are you?” I ask.
The growl deepens, vibrating the floor. I glare. “You don’t want to see what this shit can do, son. Who the fuck are you?”
It explodes up into full-on werewolf form, tall enough to hit the living room’s cathedral ceilings, bigger than Sophia, bigger even than Stormwalker. I sigh, sword drooping. “Seriously?”
Its lips pull back from three-inch fangs. “Leeeeech,” it hisses.
(Me: “Where’s Slayer?”
Jason: “You don’t know. You didn’t see Slayer, you just saw two wolves.”
Me: “Yes, but he’s a Gangrel, and he’s lame enough to have his animal form be the default.”)
Out of the corner of my eye I see the other wolf huddled up against the mantle, staring open-mouthed at the monstrosity in the middle of the room. I roll my eyes and am about to make some sort of bad dog-pun when my phone buzzes. Keeping my eye and sword on the werewolf, I grope for it one-handed.
“Tom!?” Sophia’s voice answers.
“Heeeeeey, girl,” I mutter. Above me, the werewolf’s breathing increases.
“Are you anywhere near the house?” she gasps.
I sigh. “Yeah…”
“Don’t go there, they’re waiting for you!”
“…Oh, I know,” I say with forced cheerfulness.
A pause. “…Oh, shit! Tom, get out!!!”
“…Yeah…I’ll call you back.” I put the phone away. My sword is still leveled at it, and it’s still staring at me, breath heaving like a steam engine, long jaw dripping saliva onto my carpet.
(Jason: “What are you gonna do?”
Me: “I don’t know why he doesn’t just get the fuck out of my house.”
Jason: “How you gonna get him out of your house? He’s a big fucking werewolf.”
Me: “I don’t know! But if I start stabbing him with silver, he’s not gonna leave.”
Jim: “Does the werewolf look like it’s going to attack?”
Jason: “Oh yeah. You gonna Full Brujah this motherfucker?”
Me: “Yeah, no, that’s not gonna go well.”
Jason: “Yeah, werewolves will Brujah more than you.”
Jim: “Fuller Brujah.”)
The werewolf snarls and lunges, swiping at my head with shovel-sized talons. I duck and it takes a two-foot chunk out of the wall behind me. It strikes again with the other hand, this one raking across my shoulder and down my left arm, leaving trails of agony. I stumble back, sheltering that arm, then pour my concentration into slashing forward with the sword as fast as I can.
A streak splits its chest with the ease of butter, the edges curling and blackened. A sick stench washes over me, followed by a bellowing roar that climbs into the ultrasonic. Blood pours down its chest and splatters as it jerks about. Before I can strike again, it stumbles back and crashes through my front window. I hurry after just in time to see it drop down into regular-wolf form and streak off into the night.
I stare out the shattered window a long moment, then glance to the next house. My neighbor is still there, staring open-mouthed, cradling her dog close. She meets my eyes, then gropes for the blinds, snapping them closed.
I sigh. So much for my better evening….
“Slayer?” I call as I crunch back into the living room. He’s still cowering against the fireplace, looking even more terrified than the Pomeranian rat next door, but he’s still alive, so I ignore him as I search the rest of the house. By the time I verify that everything is clear, Slayer is back in human form, sputtering in terror and groping at the deep gouges across his face and chest.
“Meh, it’s not that bad,” I mutter to him, pulling out my phone to call Sophia back.
“—TOM!?” she answers.
“Yeah, sorry about that, he just left.”
“…What do you mean, he left!?”
I peer out the window. “Well, I mean he spouted blood all over my new house and removed the front wall on his way out.”
“Did you kill him?”
“No, but I might, replacing that window won’t be cheap.”
She sighs. “Count your blessings, Tom, that was a Talon.”
I wrack through my limited werewolf knowledge. “…The assholes in Marin? What the hell they doing here? I’ve barely even been here the last few nights!”
“They can smell your taint on the building!”
I stare out at the neighborhood. “But why the hell was he smelling my building in the first place? I’m out in the middle of nowhere!”
“He was looking for you in particular. Tom, you killed a werewolf!”
I roll my eyes. “That was months ago!”
“They don’t forget these things, Tom!”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” I grumble. “So…what’s the plan?”
“You gotta get out of there! He could come back with six more!”
I thump my head against the wall, knocking off a chunk of drywall. “But I got all my shit here, girl!”
“Well, you got a car?”
I glance at the taco truck, miraculously untouched. “…Kind of,” I mutter. “I don’t think it’s big enough to carry everyt—“ I hesitate, something occurring to me. “—Hey, can you track that humvee I was using earlier? The one you rerouted the GPS on?”
“Hold on….” A brief silence. “…Yeah, it’s still down by the lake.”
“Okay….” I drum my fingers against the wall. “…Okay. Keep the national guard from tracking it, we’re gonna move locations. Slayer!”
He stumbles over, still holding his face. “Yeah?”
“Stop picking at it, you look fine. Where’s the next safehouse?”
He stares at me. “The what?”
A dreading suspicion settles over me. “…Remember I asked you to set up a network of locations? For situations just like the one which we are presently finding ourselves in!?”
He gapes at me. “Man! It takes fucking time to set that shit up!”
“And what the fuck have you been doing!?”
“Running around doing your fucking shit!!! Going out to fucking islands and stealing fucking taco trucks and meeting fucking Helgi Isarnbjorn!!!!!”
Urg. He’s an asshole, but he’s not wrong. I wave him down. “Okay, fine. Go clean out the armory and start loading up the truck.” He scurries down the hall. “…And wrap my painting, carefully!” I call after him.
“Tom?” Sophia’s voice drifts from the phone. I bring it back to my ear. “Where you going to go?”
“I don’t know. I seem to be out of options here. Got any ideas?”
A pause. “…I’ve got one, but you’re not gonna like it.”
I sigh. “I don’t like a lot of shit that’s been happening.”
“Remember that place up in Marin? The place…we don’t go?”
She can only mean one thing. “The place I met Boss?”
“Yeah. Cascade Canyon”.
My stomach churns briefly at the memory of firefights and death and my first encounter with the shadows. “Boss isn’t even there anymore, you’re saying you guys still don’t go there?”
“Well, the Talons don’t exactly read the newspapers, you know.”
(Me: “That’s…a rather anachronistic euphemism for a teenager.”)
“They don’t…follow…Reddit—(“—dammit, I don’t know!—”), and they’re not exactly looking for him anyway.”
I groan and rub my face. Setting up camp in the middle of werewolf territory doesn’t exactly sound like the best idea, but I gotta admit, no one would expect it. “Alright. We can be up there in the next hour or so.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you there.” She hangs up.
Slayer passes me on his way to load the taco truck up with the Panzerfäuste he just removed from it no more than five minutes ago. I wave him down. “Slayer, go down to the lake and see if you can dig the humvee out of the weeds. Bring it back and load it with anything that doesn’t fit in the truck.”
“Okay….” He glances down the street nervously. “Why don’t we just put everything in that car?”
“Cause we’re gonna take both of them. Caravan style. I’ll drive the humvee in the lead and if anyone stops us I’ll say I’m escorting you home.”
“Where the hell we going?”
I smile. “Remember when I said we could go wherever the hell we wanted? Well, right now, looks like we’re headed straight to the middle of werewolf country.”
The sudden white of Slayer’s face is the exact same shade my carpet used to be.
GEORGIA’S UNKNOWN LOCATION
Georgia slowly comes to her senses…in a chair. A tall, leather, wing-backed chair, set in a room lined with wood panels and a polished wood floor. A marbled fireplace sits across from her in a wall covered in hunting trophies, their glassy eyes reflecting the light of the fire. More trophies—not all of them familiar animals—line the rest of the walls, as do a few guns of various sizes. Georgia stands up, stares around, then makes a beeline for a set of mahogany bookshelves behind her. She’s flipping through a leather-bound, illustrated collection of Jules Verne stories when she hears a door opening behind her.
A slender man stands in the doorway, with impeccable posture and tailed evening-wear. “Excuse me, madam,” he rumbles in a toffee-rich British accent. He walks into the room, sets a cylinder into a gramophone in the corner, and cranks it until classical music bursts forth. He bows formally to Georgia and leaves the room without another word.
Georgia stares. “…Well, that was quite odd,” she mutters. This isn’t what she was expecting Pluto to look like, but she can only assume this is the right place. She takes the book with her back to the chair and sits, expecting Dr. vonNatsi to show up at any moment and explain what’s going on.
Minutes pass, though, without sign of the mage.
After half an hour, the formal-dressed man returns, bowing again as he enters the room. “Excuse me, madam, the Master requests your presence.”
Georgia blinks and rises to her feet. “Ah…lovely. Will you escort me?”
“Very good, Madam.” The man offers an arm and leads her out. In contrast to the opulence of the room, the hallway outside is lined with metal, dark and riveted. Distant noises echo along its length. The man walks confidently, though, so Georgia follows trustingly. In a few spots, the hallway opens up into a catwalk. Georgia peers over the railing but all she can see below is darkness.
They reach a door, indistinguishable from the rest they passed. The man opens it and gestures her through with a bow. Inside, she finds another wood-floored room, with with low, exposed-beam ceilings. The three walls facing her, though, are open, exposed to the elements.
But the elements on the other side are stars.
She’s so swept with the view that it takes her a moment to notice the rest of the room. A long table stretches its length, set with chairs and loaded with a rich feast. At the head of the table is an ornately carved chair, larger than the others, but empty at the moment. Behind that, a few steps lead up to a raised dais, and mounted in the middle of that is what looks like a ship’s wheel. A man dressed in starched khakis is standing at the wheel, back to her.
Georgia curtsies. “Good evening, sir.”
The man turns, revealing massive, mustached-sideburns, and regards her through a monocle. He stares a moment, then huffs once and sweeps over to sit in the carved chair, clapping his hands. The tuxedoed man appears and pours him a glass of wine. Georgia hesitates, waiting for a cue, then goes and sits herself at the far end of the table, directly facing the large man.
He takes a long sip of his wine then sits back, swirling it like a brandy sniffer as he studies her. “Mmm…. Vampire?” he rumbles with a deep voice like the walrus he resembles. “Most unorthodox. How came you to be here, I wonder? Were you sent by the Bosch?”
“Um…probably not? I was sent by Dr. vonNatsi…?”
He sets his glass down and sits forward. “Dr. vonNatsi…. The teutonic fool. You were sent by him? I think not!”
Georgia glances around, finally putting some things together. “…Are you Professor Snodgrass?”
He stands slowly, radiating the regal weight of mountains. “I…am Professor Barnabus Chauncy Snodgrass, the Fourth. And you are the associate of an impudent man who would impinge upon my rights as an Englishman! Most unorthodox!” He sits down and takes another sip of wine. “And who might you be?”
“My name is Georgia.”
“Georgia….” He grumbles to himself. “A Colonial?”
“No. I am currently residing in the colonies, I suppose, but I do not originate there,” Georgia says.
“Then from whence hail you?”
Snodgrass sneers. “An Italian. Reginald, lock the silver. “
“Very good, sir,” the butler-looking man drawls.
Georgia looks around. “Oh goodness, you haven’t any werewolves on board, have you?”
Snodgrass glares at her over his wine. “Most unorthodox.”
Georgia sighs. “Well, it’s obviously a mistake that I’ve come here, I’m quite sorry to have interrupted your dinner—“
He grumbles. “Entirely unreasonable.”
“—Indeed, terrible inconvenient for you, and I’m very sorry.”
“As one ought to be. There are no manners in these days.” He sputters to himself. “Germanic science. Poppycock.”
Georgia cranes around to peer at the door in the only wall behind her. “Curious that no-one arrived after me….”
“I should imagine not! This is not a low brothel to accommodate such impudent plebeian funk!”
“Of course not, I was implying no such thing. I was simply wondering whether you in all of your magnanimity had happened to scoop the other erstwhile travelers out of space the way I can only assume you scooped me.”
Snodgrass sputters. “Absurd!”
Georgia sighs. “I will take that as a no.”
He stands, waving his glass. “You have stowed aboard my vessel! This is Her Majesty’s Ethership Harumph. God save the queen!” He raises his glass to toast, then realizes he’s alone. “Oh my dear, you have nothing to toast with. REGINALD!”
“Very good, sir,” Reginald drawls, appearing suddenly at her arm. “Will you have A-negative or O-positive, madam?”
Georgia blinks up at him. “Um, would it be possible for me to taste the vintage first?”
“Of course, madam.” He rolls his sleeve and offers his wrist. “A-negative, madam.” Georgia stares. He waits a moment, then continues, “Or, if you would prefer, the O-positive….” He rolls up his other sleeve and offers his second wrist.
Georgia pats his arm gently. “I…am actually quite full right now, but thank you. I appreciate the gesture.”
“Very good, madam.” Reginald nods and steps back, unrolling the sleeves.
Snodgrass, meanwhile, quaffs his wine and sits back down. “Now, my dear, you may inform me why you boarded my ship.”
“As I said, it was a transportation error that brought me here. I was attempting to visit a planetary body, and there must have been some kind of error in the machine. Which is very uncharacteristic of Dr vonNatsi, to be honest, he is a fine scientist—“
“He is a charlatan!” Snodgrass bangs the table. “A teutonic menace!”
“That may be true, but he is still a fine scientist.”
“Bah!” Snodgrass sneers. “Parlor tricks for the amusement of children. And he would send you to a planetary body?”
“Well, that was the intent, but if he hasn’t shown up….” She stares around at the transparently missing walls. “…Where are we?”
“On my ethership! The HMES Harumph, God save the queen!” Snodgrass lifts his glass for another solo-toast.
“Ah, yes of course, but where is your lovely ship at the moment?”
Snodgrass stares at the stars, then sighs and gestures lazily. “Reginald, my charts.” Reginald brings over an antique looking ship’s chart and spreads it on the table, moving much of the feast to do so. Snodgrass leans over and peers at it through his monocle, then grumbles and stabs a finger at the chart. “We stand at approximately nine furlongs from the transverse orbit of Jupiter, which you should see momentarily from the starboard side.” He gestures. Georgia turns, then gasps lightly as a massive swirling marble of gold and cafe-au-lait appears in the starfield, gradually eclipsing the entire right side of the room, casting warm light on the entire interior.
“Ahhh….” Snodgrass sighs and sits back in his chair. “A fine sight. Almost makes one wish to recite Shelley…REGINALD!”
“Very good, sir.” From the side of the room, Reginald clears his throat and begins reciting poetry.
(Chris: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.”
Jason: “Is that Shelley?”
Chris: “Was it not?” )
“Yes, lovely….” Georgia turns away. “I don’t suppose you have a phone I could borrow?”
“Oh, no, a telephone!”
He grumbles and lifts his glass. “Colonial nonsense!”
“Alright, well, in lieu of that, then, have you a transporter?
He gestures at the wheel behind him. “This ship is a transport! It will take me directly to the location of the whales.” Suddenly he hesitates, his expression turning coy. He puts down his glass and leans forward. “Do you know the whales? Have you seen them?”
“No….” Georgia says, carefully not mentioning Dr. vonNatsi’s interest in them.
Snodgrass turns and stares at the abyss. “In the dark…they wait there….”
“What kind of whales?”
“The great whales. And I shall hunt them!” He bangs the table again.
“Don’t you think maybe we should be conserving megafauna?” Georgia asks slowly.
He stares. “Conserving megafauna!? MOST unorthodox!”
“Aren’t they endangered?”
“In danger from whom?”
“From hunters like yourself.”
A slow grin lifts his mustache. “There are no hunters like myself….” He stands and walks to the window, silhouetting himself against the light of Jupiter, and gazes a long moment before continuing. “Mark my words, Ms. Georgia, I shall find the whales, I shall hunt them, and that teutonic menace will see the error of his putrid, unorthodox approaches. Or my name isn’t Barnabus Chauncey Snodgrass the Fourth….”
END OF NIGHT