2/5/2015

Jim: “You get into the weirdest situations.”
Jason: “Yeah, first you were showing a gargoyle Up, and now you’re headed to the kitchen of the Fairmont Hotel to find onions for your garden….”
Chris: “It actually doesn’t have to be onioins. Any member of the Allium family will work for what I’m doing.”
Jason: “…I haven’t the first idea what the hell you’re doing.”

***

THE VOID ENGINEER’S SHIP

Georgia and Jawahar are facing a room filled with two dozen armed men—

(Jason: “—And women. Mixed, I mean. Not two dozen men and two dozen women.”
Jim: “Wait, the men and women are mixed?”
Me: “Shouldn’t mix the genders, man.”
Jason: “Two dozen trans men and trans women—no, two dozen people—“
Kara: “I would go with hermaphrodites if we’re going with mixed genders. Possibly intersex.”
Jim: “I pictured them, like, in a blender.”)

–And as if that wasn’t enough, an immense armored robot, studded with weapons, clomps into view. Like the guns in the soldiers’ hands, all the weapons are pointed at her.

Georgia steps into the room, beaming. “So, I was actually here for the disembodied voice rescue plan, is that already in progress? Can I just join up?” Jawahar turns to her in disbelief.

“Quiet. You, Deviant, step inside,” the robot orders in a disjointed voice. Jawahar steps forward to join Georgia and the door whooshes shut behind them. A man in a jumpsuit with more bars on the shoulder than anyone else in the room slings his gun to the side and approaches them. “Name?”

Georgia answers first. “Well, I’ve always like Abigail, but I guess Alexander is also a nice name—“

Your name.”

“Oh, Georgia. What’s yours?”

The man glares. “Species?”

“That’s a very strange name, I’ve never met anyone named—“

Your species, Deviant.”

Georgia cocks her head. “…So that’s actually a curious question and I don’t fully know the answer to it, but I suspect what you’re trying to ask is, am I a vampire, and the answer to that is yes.”

Confirmed,” the voice from the ceiling says. The man nods, but by the look on his face, he’s not too surprised. “Look,” he grumbles, “We’re not the terrestrial management agency here, we don’t deal with your kind a lot.”

“Ooh, what kind of agency are you?” Georgia asks.

“You’ve never heard of us.”

(Jim: “The Hipsterites.”)

He scowls and stalks forward. “What are you doing on this ship? Bear in mind you’re in the company of one of our prisoners,” he jabs a finger at Jawahar, “So don’t tell us that you just wandered in.”

Georgia sighs. “So, I accidentally ended up on the ship of this mage guy, who was really unhappy about your ship being here. He did this thing that like disabled your ship, and we rowed over here in his rowboat, and we were going to loot and things, and then he abandoned me here. I rescued Jawahar and we were looking for that other voice to rescue him too.”

A chuckle passes through the room. “That wasn’t a prisoner, that was the ship’s AI,” the man says.

“Which ship?”

This ship, the Pythagoras. It sensed you lurking around the engine rooms and lured you here for us.”

“Oh.” Georgia stares thoughtfully at the ceiling. “How did it know I was a vampire?”

“Because you’re room temperature.” He resumes pacing. “So you randomly encountered a mage orbiting Jupiter, who rowed you over to our ship and abandoned you here?”

“Yes. He is not a fan of my employer, this other mage I’m apprenticed to.”

“Which other mage are you apprenticed to?”

“Dr. vonNatsi, esteemed Etheric mage of San Francisco.”

“Someone run that name,” he mutters over his shoulder. “And what mage did you…row over here with?”

“Professor Barnabas Chauncey Snodgrass.”

All the people in the room go still. Georgia doesn’t notice, soldiering on, “He didn’t seem to like you very much, which makes me inclined to like you, which makes me feel a little bad about stealing your prisoner….” She glances at Jawahar, who’s staring at her incredulously, “…But he seems nice too, so I’m a little torn on all this.

Silence in the room. The leader is the first to move, gesturing a woman with slightly fewer bars on her suit forward. “Take them to processing, if it’s still intact, and wait there,” he says, scowling at Georgia.

“So, actually, if there’s a way I could just get back to Earth instead, that would really be the most convenient for me—“

“We’re approximately two light hours from Earth at the moment, so if you don’t mind, well go with processing,” he sneers. “Or we could disintegrate you.”

Georgia hesitates, glancing at Jawahar. He shakes his head vigorously. “…Alright,” Georgia sighs.

Four men step forward to join the woman and escort them down the hall—(Georgia: “—That’s quite a nice gun you have there, feels very good when pressed against my ribs—“)—deeper into the ship, down a series of corridors she and Jawahar didn’t explore before. The ambient light becomes dim and flickery and scorch marks line the walls. In a couple places, panels have fallen off, exposing sparking wires and other conduits.

“So, did Barnabas come this way?” Georgia asks the woman as they walk.

“He blew the forward third of our ship off.” She glances at Georgia. “…Was that really Barnabas Snodgrass?”

“It was. He doesn’t really seem like a nice fellow.”

“He’s not.”

“What’s he got against you guys?”

“He’s a reality deviant, we’re the cops.”

“What’s a reality deviant?”

The woman snorts. “You’re a reality deviant!”

Georgia stops, forcing one of the men behind her to prod her forward again. “No I’m not! I’m a scientist!”

“Whatever.” The woman lets Georgia and Jawahar into a room set up with table and chairs and a bright light overhead. Standard interrogation setup. She and the men glare at them as the door whisks shut. Footsteps recede down the hall.

Georgia wanders the room, peering at the barren surfaces. “So what’s this about? Did they…’process’ you before?”

Jawahar sinks into one of the chairs, brown skin looking unnaturally pale. “Yes. But whatever they did to me won’t work on you, you’re not alive. You really don’t know where you are?”

“Nope.”

He removes his glasses with a shaking hand. “This is an Engineer’s ship.”

“Well, engineers build things, right?”

Void Engineers.”

“They build voids? Is that possible?”

“No. They engineer the Void. They map the Void and apply consensus to it. They root out the things that exist in the void that shouldn’t exist, like you!”

“Well if they don’t want me to be here, they can just send me back to Earth,” Georgia says brightly.

“You don’t understand. You’re a reality deviant. I am as well. They don’t want either of us to exist.”

Georgia stops. “So they’re going to kill us.”

“That’s what they do.”

Georgia hesitates a moment, tapping the back of one of the chairs, then resumes pacing. “Well, I recommend we escape.”

Jawahar laughs weakly. “From a Void Engineers ship? I haven’t the first idea how!”

“Hmm. Well, lets see if my bracelet can pick anything up—“

(Kara: “—Wait, I lost the bracelet; I lost the hand!”)

Georgia stares at the stump of her wrist. “…Crap.”

Jawahar turns his glasses over slowly in his hands. “I’m surprised they haven’t killed us yet. Those were phase-plasma rifles, they’d incinerate you in one shot.”

“Maybe they liked us.”

He glares at her. “They’re Void Engineers, they don’t like mages and they don’t like reality deviants.”

Georgia sighs and sinks into a chair next to him. “So what kind of process are we going to go through? Is there like an interview, or a trial?”

“A trial? These are Technocrats, they don’t put you on trial!”

Georgia blinks. “I…don’t know what the Technocrats are either.”

Jawahar sighs. “The Technocrats cannot abide our existence at all. Were not guilty because we did things, were guilty because we exist. All of us. The mages, the werewolves, you. They don’t bother with your kind much because they’re busy with ours.”

“What about humans?”

“Humans are the Sleepers and they wish to keep them asleep. We cant have them awakening or they’d all be Willworkers, and who knows what would happen.” Jawahar chuckles, but the sound is more manic than amused. “They might stop watching reality television!”

“I…don’t think thats much of a danger.”

“They might start making reality television. Or, worse yet, they might start making television reality! That’s what the Technocracy thinks at least. Better to keep everyone ignorant and quiet.” He puts his glasses back on and leans foward. “But we’re not ignorant and we’re not very quiet so they don’t much like us. But I still don’t know why they didn’t just kill you.”

“Maybe they want me to escape….” Georgia looks at the door slyly.

Jawahar sighs and sits back. “I can’t envision why.”

Georgia gets up and starts pacing again. “Lesse…if I made a circle, and aimed for just outside the planet, on the dark side…”

“You can’t just take a circle, you’d have to pierce the Gauntlet. Even I can’t do that.”

Georgia recalls some of the things Snodgrass told her. “The Gauntlet is the envelope around the planet, right? So what if I teleported to the moon?”

“You’d incinerate in the sun.”

“What if I did it on the dark side of the moon?”

“Theoretically, I suppose….” His face turns thoughtful. “The moon is outside the Gauntlet, but its still millions of miles away, do you have that range?”

“I have no idea. It may require a boost of blood….” She eyes him, “…In which case, I’d be willing to take you with me!” She winks in a Georgia approximation of “lasciviously.”

“I haven’t the first idea how to survive on the moon. I’m just an acolyte, I haven’t even been promoted yet,” he mutters.

“Well, the other idea is to contact Dr. vonNatsi and have him come get us.”

“Who is this vonNatsi?”

“Oh, I thought I told you. He’s a mage, in San Francisco. I’m his assistant.” She beams, smoothing at her umbrella-suit. “He’s an Etherite.”

Jawahar frowns. “Does he have an ethership?”

“Oh, no no, we were going to go straight to Pluto.”

“But you came on an ethership!”

“No, I came on Barnabas’s ethership.”

He stares. “So you were telling the truth? Barnabas Snodgrass is really here? Oh dear….” He slumps back in the chair.

“What does that mean?”

“It’s a name most people around here know. The Engineers have been chasing him for a very long time.”

“Well, he’s a jerk. I hope they get him,” Georgia says forcefully.

“He’s far more than a jerk, he’s a raving maniac. All Etherites are raving maniacs, but this one is dangerous. How did you end up on his ship?”

“I was trying to get to Pluto, but Dr. vonNatsi obviously missed something on the machine, cause he didn’t follow me, and neither did Paul—“

“Who’s Paul?”

Georgia hesitates, her blood-bond suddenly fluttering. “…One of my associates.”

“Is he another mage?”

“No.”

(Chris: “He’s wealthy, so effectively he’s a mage.”)

Jawahar leans forward and clasps his hands. “So…you were on Snodgrass’s ship, and he brought you over here?”

“Yes.”

“And then just left you here?”

“Yes.”

“…You do realize he knew he was leaving you to die?”

“Yes. Like I said, jerk.”

He sighs. “Why were you going to Pluto?”

Georgia’s expression turns cagey. If Snodgrass and vonNatsi are already in a race for the Plutonian space whales, the last thing she wants it to add more mages to the lineup. “Oh, you know, just standard science material gathering mission…” she mumbles.

“I’m not a scientist, but I know that there’s nothing standard at gathering materials on Pluto at the behest of an Etherite,” Jawahar says, suspicion dripping from his voice.

Georgia rushes to re-steer the conversation. “Well I have to admit, I was pretty excited about the chance to go with him, cause I’ve never been to Pluto before. I don’t really feel comfortable teleporting us there without Dr. vonNatsi, and I’m concerned about taking you with me because I don’t know if you’ll be able to breathe.”

“I’m concerned about that myself, and I don’t know which shard-realm of Pluto’s we’d appear in. There are multiple Plutos, as there are multiple everything.”

“Is there one in which you could breathe?”

He bobs his head skeptically. “There might be. There’s also a multitude of ones in which I could not.”

“How do you pick the right one?”

“With a great deal of difficulty. And even if you pick the Consensus one, it’s going to be a very formidable place, even for you.”

She grabs her clothes proudly. “That’s why I have this suit!”

“That is a suit made out of umbrella fabric. I mean, I don’t mean to tell you your business, but Etherite materials tend to work best in the presence of Etherites.”

Georgia droops. “So we probably shouldn’t go to Pluto without Dr. vonNatsi.”

“Unless the alternative is to be incinerated here,” he groans.

“Well…I could try, but I might need some of your blood.”

Jawahar looks up with a pained expression on his face. “Is it worrisome that I’m considering it?”

#

VAL DU RHONE VINEYARDS

Sophia and I stare as the trees groan and twist toward us, some tearing their roots out to reach further. Down the road, we can still see the other werewolf, arm thrust out and growling as the branches slowly cut him from view.

I’m frozen, barely able to process what I’m seeing. “Girl…you got anything to deal with this?”

Next to me, though, her face is just as shocked. “Uh…you got any RoundUp?”

(Chris: “There is unrest in the forest, there is trouble with the trees. For the maples want more sunlight and the oaks ignore their pleas.”
Jason: “…What the hell is that?”
Chris: “Isn’t it Rush? Hold on…Ah, here we go.“
Jason: “…What the fuck is this!?”
Me: “Wait, maples and oaks don’t live in the same ecotone—“)

The trees are closing in in a circle, but beyond them I can see open air. I draw my sword and make a break for it, aiming for a gap between two. Sophia drops into wolf form and follows.

One heavy oak branch scythes down, cutting me off. I gouge it with the sword, expecting it to burst into flame, but strangely it doesn’t. The sword gets lighter, but I don’t have time to examine it closer before another swinging branch nearly takes my head off. I roll away and slash back. Even without flame, the sword cuts the wood easily, but it’s not enough to chop it down.

I can certainly outrun the trees if I can get away from this Whomping Willow shit, so I resume my original dash, toward the moonlit vineyard beyond. Branches flail at me, but they don’t seem to do much damage—

(Chris: “Man, hope they don’t have any sharp wooden objects.”)

Shit.

One of the trunks twists with an angry groan, and a splintered branch shoots toward me at chest level. I brace, ready to deflect it away—

BAM, a muscled, taloned arm tears it right out of the air. Sophia stumbles forward in full-werewolf form, snarling, gripping the writhing branch in one hand, raising the other to the sky. Fire instantly blooms at the tops of the trees, licking along the trunks and raining sparks below. An unearthly shriek rises and the trees flail faster, futilely trying to shake off the flames.

I don’t see any of this, though, because the heat and sparks have sent me into a blind panic, and I am now bolting across the countryside.

(Me: “…Well, at least we’re out of the tree.”)

#

MARK HOPKINS HOTEL

Rabenholz and Ricardo Clement finish their discussion over drinks at the Top of the Mark. Clement wishes Rabenholz a good night and excuses himself, leaving the older man staring out the window thoughtfully, swirling his barely-touched wine. After a few minutes, he calls for the concierge and stands up when she arrives.

“I require eight flower pots and appropriate soil,” he commands cooly, not even bothering a Dominate this time.

She blinks. “Eight…flower pots, sir?” She hesitates, but professionalism kicks in. “Um…what size?”

“Small. Maybe 15 inches in diameter.”

“I’m…not sure I can get those by morning….”

He hefts his cane and strides past her toward the restaurant entrance. “I trust your resourcefulness.”

(Jason: “…Do all your characters garden?”
Chris: “This will be darker, you’ll like where this goes.”)

#

VAL DU RHONE VINEYARDS

I finally come around, flat on my back and surrounded by rows of naked vines, and stumble to my feet to peer across the rolling landscape. I’m so far into the vineyard that the estate is out of sight, but in the distance I can hear howls and crashing. The sword is still in my hand, thank god, and now in the dim starlight I can finally get a clear look at it.

It’s some sort of crystal, translucent and visibly sharp. I peer at it curiously until another howling roar brings me back to reality. Shoving the sword through my belt, I start jogging…

Toward the sounds of battling werewolves.

After a few minutes, I stumble out onto a dirt access road and start running along that, cresting a rise to see…my humvee. Parked on the road in the middle of the vineyard, nothing visibly suspicious at all.

Which instantly makes me suspicious. I jog up slowly, ready to grab the sword again, but nothing jumps out at me, or explodes. Hesitantly, I sidle up and peer into the back. Relief floods over me. Vera is still there, and the shotguns, and all the Panzerfäuste. Feeling much more optimistic about this whole operation, I climb in to drive back to the estate.

The keys are gone.

“Fuck!” I grope around futilely, then get out and slam the door behind me, staring at the vines. Undoubtedly whoever moved the car tossed the keys out there somewhere. Sophia can maybe help sniff them out later, right now I should just grab Vera and a couple rockets to head back to the—

Something crashes from the darkness, smashing me back against the car. I stagger, dazed, and see a wolf roll to a stop in the dirt a few feet away. I curse and reach for my sword, then pause. The wolf is Sophia, and she’s unconscious.

Girl!” I fall to my knees to check her over. She’s breathing, but beat to shit, eyes blinking wearily from a half-caved skull. My stomach flips, but I remind myself that she’s healed from worse. After all, it’s not like the trees were made of silv—

I sit up. The shotgun shells, Sophia’s silver ones, they’re still in the car. I stagger back to my feet, but as I do, I see movement down the road. Not a tree, it’s moving too fast.

I run for the door, but it’s badly dented from my crash into it. Something catches internally as I grab the handle, preventing it from opening. Cursing, I tug and jerk, trying to knock it loose. Behind me I hear a howl, then a strange, extended guttural snarl, less like a threat and more like an undulating string of language.

Suddenly the vineyard echoes with sounds of snapping wood and wire. I freeze, a sickening suspicion rising in me, and turn slowly. All around me, the twisted vines are twisting more, pulling themselves off the trellises and reaching toward me.

“…Ah, son of a bitch—With one final wrench, the door flies open. In the gloom, I can see a shotgun tucked behind the driver’s seat, and the shells just beyond in the cupholder of the console. I grab the gun and reach for the shells—

Something wraps my ankle, jerking me off my feet and dragging me back. Gravel and dirt tear at my clothes. I roll onto my back to see a hulking mass of vines approaching fast and fumble with the gun. The silver shells are still in the car, but the rest of the guns were loaded with dragonsbreath….

I fire. Magnesium-hot spray fountains across the plants. A few of the smaller vines wither back, but the rest of them are old and thick like ironwood, and with no leaves to catch the fire rolls right off. More tendrils slap onto me, and beyond the heaving, botanical bulk, I see the other werewolf approaching, still gargling its strange language, one arm thrust toward me.

Dropping the shotgun, I summon a concentrated burst of strength and tear myself out of the vines, grabbing the sword as I stumble free. The werewolf snarls and lifts its other hand, casting a concentrated column of fire directly at me. Flames pour off my leather jacket as I roll away. I gasp in terror but retain control, slashing at the vines to clear a way through, lunging directly at the werewolf.

There’s a brief moment of surprise on its snarling face as I slash at it, probably at the incongruity of a vampire shrugging off fire and coming in for a direct attack. It steps out of the way and swipes back, missing me just as closely as I missed it, then starts growling in its weird language again. Not wanting to see where that goes, I dump all reserves into lunging forward with full-force.

The sword plunges into its shoulder, instantly turning heavier as it morphs into silver. Hissing and a burning stench roll over me, followed by unearthly shrieks. It staggers away, drops down into wolf form, and bolts into the vineyard.

(Me: “Mother! Fucker! You keep making me spend all my blood on Celerity to fight the werewolves and then you send them away the minute I do!
Jason: “Because you hit them with silver swords that kick the shit out of them! Ooooh, I’m sorry you beat the werewolf, Colleen!
Me: “I run the fuck after him!!!!!”)

I race after it. Its gait is uneven, the shoulder-wound slowing it down, but the pitiful sight of a limping dog doesn’t slow me. Anger drives me forward—anger at being lured into a trap, anger at having my shit stolen, and a burning anger at their continued brutal attacks on Sophia. It sees me coming and tries to dodge, a whine escaping its throat—

—Right before I sever its spine in a single strike.

The wolf crashes to the dirt, dead instantly, and I stagger to a stop. It’s silent across the vineyard, no sounds of howls or wrenching wood, but no nighttime birds or natural noises either, as if the world is holding its breath, watching me. I crunch to the carcass and toe the body. The wound is black and burned, but fresh blood wells out and seeps into the ground.

Something in me writhes excitedly at the sight. One taste of werewolf blood was enough to send me through the roof with power, so two hits of it in one night might be enough to tear this whole damn place down. I could track down Jean to make him tell me what’s going on, make him pay  for setting the trap, leaving me and Sophia to die—

My bloodlust ebbs. Sophia…. I can’t keep drinking this stuff if I’m going to be around her. It’s probably pushing a line that she’s already uncomfortably close to, but most importantly, if this stuff is actually addictive….

I shudder, shove the sword through my belt, and walk back to the car.

#

(Me: “…Also, you know, I just realized: Dr. vonNatsi still needs werewolf bone, which Georgia can’t seem to get, but I’m fucking rolling in it right now, but I can’t give it to him cause I have no idea!”)

#

NOB HILL

Rabenholz leaves the hotel for a walk, and winds up down the hill at the Fairmont Hotel, also elegant but with an inferior view compared to the Mark Hopkins. He walks into their lobby, up to the man at the concierge desk, and dominates him.

I require the presidential suite.”

(And before you ask, no, I have absolutely no idea what the hell Chris is up to. This is obviously just the beginning of whatever plans he’s been working on for this character for months now, so here we go….)

The man stares back nervously. “I’m sorry sir, the presidential suite is occupied.”

By whom?”

“By Mr. Takahashi.”

“For what is he known?”

“I believe he is the North American director of Nikon.”

Rabenholz frowns, glancing at an antique clock behind the desk. It’s almost midnight. “Is he in right now?”

“I believe so, sir.”

Rabenholz gestures invitingly toward the elevators. “He will be overjoyed to see me.”

The concierge takes him up to the room and knocks on the door. After a few minutes, they hear someone shuffling their way to the door. An older Japanese man in a bathrobe opens it. “What is this?” he mutters sleepily.

Rabenholz steps forward. “Mr. Takahashi, my old friend. You must be delighted to see me.”

“Of…course,” Takahashi says— (Jason: “—in a Japanese accent I will not try to replicate because I’ll sound like a racial slur.”) “Won’t you come in?”

Rabenholz excuses the concierge and follows Takahashi into the room. They sit down and Takahashi orders a tea service. They make small talk, Takahashi yawning and slowly coming to his senses as they do.

Rabenholz twirls his cane. “Do you recall the worst mistake you ever made?”

Takahashi frowns. “Forgive me, I do not understand the purpose of your question—“

“Do not overthink my questions yet. Your worst mistake?”

Takahashi frowns, eyes remaining focused and clear. “I do not see how this is your business, sir.”

His will obviously strong, Rabenholz leans forward and works a stronger, more integrated Dominate, weaving memories of Rabenholz into the tapestry of his life, and he was often there to give advice in times of great need or uncertainty. Takahashi brightens and relaxes, realizing he is sitting with his old friend, and immediately catches Rabenholz up on the history of his family members since last they spoke. Takahasi asks Rabenholz what brings him to San Francsico and Rabenholz gives a similarly vague story to the one he told Clement, about new business enterprises.

The tea service comes. Takahashi pours for both of them. Rabenholz takes his cup and sips delicately. “How long are you in town?”

“I just arrived yesterday,” Takahashi says, admiring the aroma of the tea. “I’m scheduled to speak at a conference being held soon, at Moscone Center. Organized by one of the local tech companies, it’s about the future of optics, or something. They’ve been very vague on the details, but there will supposedly be a demonstration of some cutting edge technology after the conference has concluded. Will you be attending?”

(Jason: “…Oh god, I’ve set up a situation where one of your characters will try and take over the company of the other, haven’t I?”
Chris: “I am dreading the thought that I will have to be Paul and Rabenholz at the same time.”
Jason: “I will desperately try to avoid that. I will actually have rocks fall and everyone die.”)

“Alas, I will likely be indisposed,” Rabenholz says diplomatically.

Takahashi smiles knowingly. “Ah, well the heads of industry will be here from all over, many of whom may be interested in your local business enterprises. If you wish to come, just let me know.”

The conversation drifts from business to gardening, inexplicably. Rabenholz speaks of his favorite formal gardens of Europe, and Mr Takahashi describes the plots his wife keeps at their home in Nagoya.

(No, this didn’t happen real-time, thank god.)

With the tea finished and/or gone cold, Rabenholz finally thanks his “friend” and excuses himself for the evening.

He returns to the concierge desk and asks the man to call the concierge back at the Mark Hopkins, asking if she’s tracked own the flower pots he asked for yet, with some liberal Dominate to ease the process. She reports that she is still working on it but should have everything by morning.

Rabenholz nods and taps his cane against the floor thoughtfully. “Where do you suggest I might find onions at this hour?”

(Jim: “…You get into the weirdest situations.”
Jason: “Yeah, first you were showing a gargoyle Up, and now you’re headed to the kitchen of the Fairmont Hotel to find onions for your garden….”
Chris: “It actually doesn’t have to be onions. Any member of the Allium family will work for what I’m doing.”
Jason: “…I haven’t the first idea what the hell you’re doing.”)

#

VAL DU RHONE VINEYARDS

By the time I get back to the humvee, Sophia is back in human form and back on her feet, but leaning against the car woozily. The entire side of her face is five shades of bruised, a few bones probably still broken. She blinks at me as I walk up, one eye not focusing properly. “Oh, girl….” I hiss, reaching out instinctively.

She smiles weakly. “It’s fine, just…give me a minute….” As I watch, the bruises start to fade. Just to be safe, though, I remove the still-silver sword from my belt and toss it a few feet away.

She stares at it. “What happened….?”

“He’s dead,” I mutter.

“Dead? Oh my god, Tom…you killed two werewolves?

“Yeah. Maybe I should start putting kill-stamps on the side of the car.”

“Well, they were Talons, but….” She trails off and shudders, looking at the vines, now quiet. “What was all that?”

“You’re asking me!?

She glares. “I don’t do this stuff!”

“Well you have as much experience in it as I do, now!”

She sighs and stands up, now looking almost completely healed, and tugs at the dented doors. “Is the car alright?”

I groan as I pick up the sword. “Yeah, but the keys are missing. Any chance you know how to hot-wire it?

In response, she rolls her eyes at me. In any other situation, I’d snap back with snark of my own, but right now I’m just glad to see her spirits back. She pulls out her phone, smirks at me, and presses something on the screen. Instantly the humvee chokes to life.

I nod in approval and smile. “Great, let’s go.”

“Go where?”

I heft the sword and my grin widens. “To finish our interview with Jean.”

#

THE PYTHAGORAS

The door to the interrogation room opens and the captain-looking man with all the bars on his fatigues walks in, armed with a sidearm like a miniature version of the strange rifles they had, and carrying a sheaf of paper files in his hands. He sits at the table, spreads the papers out and flips through them silently.

“Hello!” Georgia says.

He lets her greeting hang on the air a few moments before looking up. “So. Barnabas Snodgrass blows half my ship up. Boards it. Takes my cargo. Gets back in his ship. And leaves behind a vampire.”

She glances at Jawahar, who has now gone stiff and pale again. “I didn’t know about the cargo bit, or the blowing up bit, but that seems to be the gist of it.”

The captain sighs. “So we got a couple of problems. The first is, how in the world do I know that that’s true?”

“Well, maybe a truth serum, or some kind of mind reading?”

“Mind reading is something his kind does.” He jerks his chin at Jawahar. “We do science.”

Georgia gasps. “I do science!”

“I seriously doubt that.” He looks down and flips a page. “So, since I can’t read your mind and rip the information straight out of you—because, I assure you, I would have—I’m reduced to asking the question again. Why in the world did Barnabas Snodgrass leave me a vampire?”

“Because I’m the apprentice of his rival?”

“Yeah, you mentioned.” More pages turn. “Dr…vonNatsi?”

“Yes. N-A-T-S—“

“What’s his real name?”

“That is his real name,” Georgia says firmly.

The captain’s eyes narrow. “No one has a real name of Natsi.”

It’s…older than the N-A-Z-I party.”

He stares at her a moment, fingers tapping the desk. “O…kay. So you and this Natsi—“

von-Natsi.”

“—how did you wind up with Snodgrass?”

“Well, we were on our way to Pluto—“

“Stop, stop stop.” The man holds up a hand. “Why were you on your way to Pluto?”

“Oh, you know,” Georgia says breezily, “Just your typical science-materials gathering mission—“

“As it happens, I do know, cause I’m a Void Engineer and you’re not, so why don’t you tell me why you were going to Pluto precisely?”

Georgia hesitates, then sighs resignedly. “We were going to get whale vomit from the Plutonian whales.”

The man goes still. “…What?”

“Whale vomit. And now because this whole thing has happened, Barnabas is probably going to get there first—“

He leans across the table. “Barnabas Snodgrass is trying to get his hands on Plutonian ambergris? That’s raw quintessence, what does he need it for?”

She shrugs. “Probably to make a golem.”

“Golem? Any two-bit Hermetic can make a golem.” He flicks a glance at Jawahar. “Why does he need ambergris for that?”

“So he can make a better one?” She shrugs again. “It’s possible he only wants it cause Dr. vonNatsi wants it. I also kind of suspect he just likes killing things.”

The captain stares at her a long moment. She returns his gaze calmly. He glances over to Jawahar again, pressed against the back of his chair, as if trying to physically remove himself as much from the conversation as possible. The captain sighs, closes the file in front of him, scoots the papers away, and folds his hands on the table. “So heres the situation. Do you mind if I speak with some candor?”

Georgia smiles. “I would appreciate that.”

“Under ordinary circumstances I would incinerate you.”

The smile falters. “Oh…”

“You’re a reality deviant who boarded a Void Engineer ship under the flag of one of our major targets. The reasonings for executing you aren’t very important at that point, I wouldn’t even have to fill out paperwork. I could still do that, but that doesn’t get me what I want, which is to not be sitting in the middle of space, dead and unable to move.”

Georgia considers this. “I am also sitting in the middle of space dead, but I can move, see?” She smiles and waves her arms.

“You’re real funny. Anyway, Snodgrass and his ship blew mine straight to hell. We weren’t expecting an ethership of that firepower out here, we weren’t expecting an ethership at all.”

“Neither was I.”

“I can imagine. We have no communication, we have no engines, we have no weapons, and we’re basically going to lose everything else once the batteries run dead. Our capacities to restore these things are somewhat limited at the moment. So I’m taking the risk that incinerating you might not be the best idea at the moment.”

Georgia nods sagely. “Also, I might use up your batteries.”

“…There is that.”

Georgia folds her hands on the table across from his. “How can I help?”

“Well…I’m not sure. But from what we’ve gathered, you practice some sort of low sorcery.”

Georgia nods seriously. “Yes, I would classify myself as a sorceress.”

“A sorcerer like you has access to a quintessal source independent from the power sources on this ship.”

She blinks. “I…believe that.”

“So I need to know what kind of capacities you’ve got and if I can use them to get us the hell out of orbit of Jupiter.”

She considers this, glancing at Jawahar. “I do find this a bit amusing, consider that you want to arrest me for doing magic and then kill me.”

“I don’t want to arrest you for doing magic, I want to arrest you for being a vampire.” He sneers. “You power yourself by drinking the blood of people.”

“Well you want to arrest him for doing magic,” she counters, pointing at Jawahar.

“One thing at a time.” The captain’s face darkens. “You’re a vampire, you derive your quintessence by converting human blood, which you devour to fuel yourself and maintain your existence. At what point did that become so normal as to avoid comment?”

“Well, people eat cows and other animals—“

People are not cows,” he snaps.

“Okay, well…that’s…just, like, your opinion, man….”

(Jason: *long glare* “…Careful, man, there’s a beverage here.”)

Georgia sees his—and Jawahar’s—face and sighs. “Well, look, people in India believe that cows are just as worthy as people, and they wont eat cows, but other people on the planet do eat cows. So if you don’t eat people, but I do, how come you’re the one who has the moral high-ground?” She pauses, waiting patiently in the ringing silence. “Also, we don’t eat them to their death, that’s really frowned upon.”

The captain’s eyes narrow further and he flicks some papers. “Yeah, cause all the reports I have on your clan are that you’re exceptionally ethical in your practices. Are we going to resume this conversation where you talk me into shooting you? Or shall we discuss how you might be useful to me?”

Georgia thinks for a few moments, then sighs. “I could probably teleport myself and a small number of beings to the moon. Earth’s moon,” she concedes.

“We’re not going back to Earth. If Barnabas Snodgrass is going to Pluto, then Pluto is where we are going.” The captain leans forward. “He cannot collect the Plutonian ambergris. The last time he got his hands on that much raw power, the result was Tunguska.”

“I…don’t know what that is.”

Look it up,” he hisses.

Georgia gropes at her suit, pulls something out, and frowns sadly. “My phone’s not working.”

#

MARK HOPKINS HOTEL

Rabenholz arrives back at the Mark Hopkins carrying a bag of onions from the Fairmont kitchens, as well as a six-pack of bottled water he picked up from a corner store on the way back. He meets the concierge and asks if anyone else of note is staying at the hotel. She lists a bunch of names and room numbers. Rabenholz memorizes six of them, then sweeps away, dumping all the water from the water bottles out in a planter as he goes.

(Jason: “…What the fuck are you doing…?”)

Ignoring the late hour, Rabenholz goes up to the first of the rooms, knocking smartly on the door with his cane. He hears shuffling and a muted male voice approaching. “Yeah…? Who is it?”

“Law enforcement, please come to the door. I have a few questions,” Rabenholz rumbles commandingly.

“You know what fucking time it is, buddy?” the man shouts back, but doesn’t open the door. “Let me see a badge!”

(Jason: “You need eye-contact to Dominate.”)

Rabenholz hesitates, then peers through the outside end of the peephole.

(Chris: “So, you know how you can see a little bit if you look the wrong—
Jason: *grumbling* “Yeah, yeah, Dominate away.”)

Please cooperate, sir,” Rabenholz commands. The man grumbles and opens the door, instantly falling under Rabenholz’s spell..

Rabenholz drinks from the guy, but instead of swallowing, he spits it out bit by bit to fill up the bottle. The man is woozy when he’s done, so Rabenholz helps him to a seat on the bed. He makes up a glass of sugar-water from the coffee service and hands it to him, ordering him to drink. With that he leaves, going to the next room the concierge listed.

(Jason: “Oh, Jesus, and you repeat?”
Chris: “Yes.”
Jason: “Well if you don’t mind, were going to abstract this policy and, given that you have all the fucking Dominate in the universe  and these are a bunch of exhausted, confused mortals, one way or another you talk your way into each of their rooms and take their blood—”
Chris: “And give them water before I leave!”
Jason: “—And give them water before you leave, until you have filled all six of the bottles.”)

Rabenholz returns to his room and stashes the filled bottles in the mini-fridge, then paces to the window to decide what to do next. There’s still a few hours till sunrise, and since it seems he’s not going to get the gardening supplies he needs this night, he considers other things on his to-do list. One glaring item is the appointment he had with Georgia, the new city Regent, the one she  mysteriously and rudely stood up. He decides to track her down instead and leaves the hotel to find the Chantry, which he knows is somewhere in the vicinity of Russian Hill.

#

VAL DU RHONE VINEYARDS

The estate is deceptively calm as we pull up, the landscaping still lit, the fountain still tinkling. The front door, though, is closed, and the heavy oak doesn’t budge, even with Sophia and I shoving at it.

“Stand back,” I mutter as I overhand the sword and plunge it into the wood. Magnesium-hot flame bursts along the length and it slides in like butter. More fire licks the wood as I cut a hole large enough for us to enter, then kick it in, stepping through once the heat dies down.

“JEAN!!!” I shout to the empty foyer, stomping through, glaring at the shadows formed by the ornate furniture and art lining the walls.

I turn to Sophia, standing inside the smoldering doorway, clutching her shotgun close. She shrugs. “I wouldn’t come out with you looking like that.”

I catch my reflection in the mirror over a hand-carved side table. She’s right, what between the dirt and the blood and the flaming sword I’m a little imposing. I smirk. “If you don’t come out, we’ll light more things on fire!” I shout.

(Jason: “Yeah, but if he comes out, you’ll light him on fire.”)

“…It’s not gonna be you!” I add. Still no response. Sighing, I walk over to the table and slice it in two.

Arrêtez! Arrêtez!” a voice shouts, echoing sourcelessly. “It was not my fault! I had no choice!

“Oh, so, what, you were just following orders?”

They were werewolves!!

“I know, and they’re now dead all over your property, so, you’re welcome!”

He pauses. “…You slew them?”

“Yeah, two. One’s in your basement, and the other’s out in your back-forty.”

“…But you are with a werewolf!”

I glance at Sophia, who looks back with an expression caught somewhere between pained and bemusemed. “She’s my intern, I already said.”

“You do not have an intern who is a werewolf! I am not stupid! You are Tom Lytton, you are Slayer of Werewolves!”

“Yeah, I know, and I did, so what do you want from me?”

“GO AWAY!!!”

Not before I finish my investigation. I jab the sword into the floor and fold my arms.“Why are you dealing with these assholes in the first place?”

“No…no, they will kill everyone, do you not understand!?”

“So why are you still here talking to us?”

“Because they needed my help! They needed to find things! They came and they made me find things!”

“What things, a nice B&B for a Sonoma weekend?”

“No…” the voice groans. “They wanted the statue.  I told them I did not have it, but they said if I found it for them they would not kill me.”

That’s what he said before, but it’s still not adding up. I roll my eyes at Sophia and walk to another wall, lifting my sword to plunge into a painting—

“NO! Arrêtez! What do you want?!

“None of this is making any sense you frog-sucking bastard!” I shout. “You say the Talons want to kill everybody and had no reason to keep you around after questioning, but they didn’t kill you!”

“Maybe they would have, I don’t know!” He sobs. “What was I supposed to do? What would YOU have done!?”

“Uh, killed them, like I just did!

“YOU can kill them! You are Brujah! You are big man with the sword! I AM FRENCH!!!!”

“And so, what, they came to you cause they’d assume you’d just surrender?”

French curses roll through the room. I smile. We may not be getting somewhere, but hey, at least we have fun. “What else did the Talons talk about when they were lurking around your basement?”

“I don’t know! They spoke their loup talk! Only one spoke some English.”

Which reminds me, “Why did you freak out when I said Sophia’s name?” I ask carefully, glancing at her.

“Cause I heard it before. From the werewolves.”

She tenses, pulling her gun closer. “Why are they speaking her name?” I ask.

“I don’t know. They spoke it while they were growing their talk, but I could hear that word!”

A hunted look crosses her face. “I mean, they knew my name, but….” she whispers.

I lean toward her and lower my voice. “Well, you’ve gotten in fights with them before.”

“But not like this….” She shudders and falls quiet. I look around, thinking, and see our reflection in the mirror on the wall:  A tall, battered young man in leathers and guns, and an equally-battered girl in thrift-store chic and a baseball hat. A strange pairing even if we were just the humans we appeared to be. “Do you think they already suspected you were associated with me?” I ask.

“Maybe. I guess I haven’t been very subtle, and you’re, you know….” She looks at the sword. “…Not.”

“That’s why we make such a great team.” I grin and clap her on the shoulder, turning back to the room. “Jean, you got anything besides wine to drink around here?”

The voice answers quaveringly, “I have…a herd, yes, why do you want them?”

“Because I just fought a bunch of werewolves and I’m a little thirsty!” I snap, then pause. I haven’t ever really talked about blood in front of Sophia before, but when I glance at her she’s studiously looking elsewhere. “…You got anything…chilled?” I shout carefully.

The voice grumbles. “In the kitchen.”

We find our way to the winery kitchen, which, unsurprisingly, has a large wine rack covering nearly an entire wall. “Third row,” Jean’s voice mutters through the room. “It is not merlot.”

I pull out one of the bottles, snap off the neck, and drink. It’s stabilized with some sort of preservative, and definitely not as good as the fresh werewolf blood, but it will do. I finish it and start grabbing more bottles off the rack. “Consider this my consulting fee!” I shout.

I hear rustling behind me, and I turn to see that Sophia has come up with a handful of cheese and baguettes. She’s eyeing the rack, though. Not the blood bottles, but the regular bottles higher up.

I grin. “You want any of this?”

Her eyes go wide. “Do…you think I can?”

“Pretty sure you’ve earned it.” I wink and pick her out something nice. “Besides, I didn’t get a chance to sneak you a drink at the bar.”

(Jason: “She’s liking this. So far it’s a good night! She ain’t dead, she beat the fuck out of a vampire or two, she got free dinner, the Talons tried to kill her and failed, I mean, good shit!”
Me: “Yep! It’s been a nice gal’s night.”)

While Sophia finds a canvas shopping bag to load up our swag, I turn to address the shadows of the room. “Alright, well, we need to go. If you have more problems with werewolves, fuck you. Oh, yeah, and who are you going to tell about what happened here?”

There’s a hiss. “Putain…. Nobody. I shall tell nobody.”

I laugh. “Yeah, no. Wrong answer. You tell nobody about her, but you tell everyone else from here to fucking Solvang about the dead werewolves on your property and who put them there!”

More French cursing follows us as we exit the kitchen and head back to the front door. ‘They will hang your bollocks from the rafters!” Jean shouts.

Sophia steps carefully through the cut in the door. Before I follow, I spread my arms to the empty foyer. “I’d like to see them try!”

“…You shall,” Jean’s voice hisses as I leave the hall.

(Me: “…Real-life me has had too much wine to care.”)

#

SAINT IGNATIUS CHURCH

Ecstasy floods through Anstis the moment the fangs pierce his neck, sensations the likes of which he hasn’t felt in centuries—

(Me: “Wait, I thought bites caused pain for us, but not mortals….?”
Jason: “No, it causes pain for you if the attacker has that flaw. Or is a Cappadocian.”
Me: “But when Accio bit us, it hurt.”
Jason: “Yeah, what do you think Accio had? Accio was an Abyss Mystic, they pick that up. If you look it up, in some of the earliest stuff, the instant you use it you get that flaw forever. It’s why Marcus didn’t go too far into Abyss Mysticism.”
Me: “ABYSTISCISM!” )

—But he fights off the bliss enough to realize what’s happening to him. Anstis pops his claws and slashes back into the attacker embracing him from behind. The man releases him as the claws dig in, and Anstis twists and hurls him overhead to the floor.

The man grins knowingly as he climbs slowly to his feet, vitae dripping down his face to his starched linen shirt. “I see the streaks on you, brother. I can taste it too.…”

Anstis snarls and lunges forward, slashing with his claws. They catch the shirt but glance away from his chest, skittering off some sort of light mail underneath his clothes. The man grins sickly. A knife appears in his hands, plunging toward the pirate’s chest. Anstis dodges at the last moment, catching nothing more than a nick on the neck. He growls and circles for another strike….

…Until he suddenly feels woozy. A burning sensation spreads from the cut on his neck, boiling through his veins and collecting in his heart. Anstis stumbles back and meets the strange man’s eyes. “You will stand down,” Anstis growls.

The man slows, lowering the knife, but Anstis continues to watch him warily. “Who are you?” he asks.

“I am the Chosen One.”

“Chosen by whom?”

The man grins a blood-soaked grin, spreading his arms. “By God. And all the devils of Hell.”

Anstis frowns and glances around. “You mentioned there was another. Where is she?”

The man continues to smile, one thumb sensuously stroking the handle of his knife. “She is mine, brother. My blood flows through her, and I alone shall reclaim it.”

At this point, between the adrenaline and the fighting and the poisoning, Antis’s meth-buzz is starting to wear off. He stares at the room around them, the candles and the chains, then growls and levels a claw at the man. “Stay here,” he orders.

(Jim: “…And I run upstairs and get the fuck out the building.”)

#

THE PYTHAGORAS

The captain and Georgia discuss ways she can help them all escape the dying ship. It’s tricky business, what with the amount of blood necessary to transport over two dozen Void Engineer crewmembers, not to mention the fact that Georgia is working on a limited knowledge base for this entire process. On top of this, the Void Engineers are hesitant about having to work with the vampire in the first place.

Georgia soon gives them explicit reasons why.

Eventually, though, the captain and his crew tentatively agree to let her try to make a circle to Pluto, and indicate they might even let her survive in exchange for keeping Snodgrass away from the Plutonian whale vomit.

The captain pages for someone to collect astronomical charts of Pluto, then leans in toward Georgia again. “If we don’t end up on Pluto, if we wind up in some damn vampire cave, you will die before you realize we’ve decided to kill you.”

Georgia hesitates. “Okay, that…seems fair. But after this is all over, I would like to go back to Earth. Not incinerated.” She pauses again. “Also Jawahar doesn’t want to be incinerated either.”

The captain grumbles and knocks for someone to open the door. “I’ll see what I can do.”

He leads her and Jawahar out of the interrogation room, through the ruined ship, to a mess-hall room cleared of tables and chairs. More crewmembers are there, some injured, most armed, lining the walls and watching them suspiciously.

“How many people are we taking?” Georgia asks, returning their stares.

“You’re looking at it. This is all that’s left.” He hesitates.  “…I hope…we haven’t been able to get to all the decks.”

Georgia scans the room, estimating about three dozen people, and nods. “Good, that is a lot fewer than what I was fearing.”

The captain glares. “Well it was a lot more a few hours ago.”

Georgia starts to make the ritual circle using bags of transfusion blood they provide, ignoring the crewmen’s’ grimaces as they hand them over. She also borrows some blood to regrow her hand, similarly ignoring their horrified expressions.

As she announces she’s almost finished, some of the crew disappear and come back with light spacesuits, which they hand out to all present, including Jawahar. One man offers one to Georgia, but she just stares back. “I have one,” she chides, tugging at the Etherite umbrella suit.

Finally she’s ready. The humans all suit up and Georgia gestures them into the circle, stepping in to arrange them in a pattern—(Kara: “I put them in the shape of a pentagram, just to mess with them”)—and tells them to hold hands.

With everything ready, Georgia kneels down to touch the blood on the floor. “FOR SCIENCE!!” she cries, and activates the circle.

#

RUSSIAN HILL

Rabenholz is walking through silent streets, looking for the Chantry, when he suddenly gets the sense that he’s not alone. Something is watching, hidden in the shadows. Not supernaturally hidden, just skulking through the gloom. Rabenholz quickens his pace and ducks into an alley, watching the street outside. Nothing passes but lamp-lit fog.

Something skitters behind him. His cloak swirls as he whips around, extending his mind to grab onto a small shadow at the other end of the alley and drag it toward him. The small shape flies forward and drops to his feet.

Rabenholz frowns. It’s a kid….

(…Ha, no, it’s not Marcus.)

The boy, a black kid about seven or eight, stumbles to his feet, panting and staring up at Rabenholz wide-eyed. Rabenholz’s cool gaze pierces his aura, revealing that the kid is a ghoul. His fear in him blooms brighter the longer Rabenholz looks at him.

“Whom do you work for?” Rabenholz asks, voice resonating impressively in the darkened alley. The boys lips move soundlessly a moment but he doesn’t respond. “Answer me,” Rabenholz commands, “Truthfully, holding nothing back.”

The boys eyes widen. He takes a shuddering breath, then whispers, “…Gnaeus Perpenna Vento.”

Rabenholz frowns. He’s heard that name, some Roman vampire of considerable power, but from what he recalls he’s supposed to be dead. “Why were you following me?”

“He told me to. Earlier tonight. Said to find you and tell him where you were.”

“And have you told him?”

“No.”

Rabenholz stares down the alley a moment, mentally retracing his steps. “Where did he give you these instructions?”

“I…I don’t remember.”

“Do you remember anything else he’s had you do?”

“He…made me find other people. Follow them. He sends me to find them so he can…drink them.” Tears leak down the boy’s face.

Rabenholz leans forward. “And what will he do to you if you don’t find me?”

At that, the boy bursts into choked sobs and collapses to the littered ground.

END OF NIGHT

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