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  1. The kiss took Sophia by surprise at first, causing the girl to emit a squeak, but her eyes closed a little and she relaxed into the embrace, her arms going around Charlie in turn before the kiss broke. She looked up at him, then over her shoulder at the planning committee, then back at Charlie. "You trust these guys not to get you killed? I mean..." "Sophia, you saw us in action in the hospital That was us caught off guard, not expecting trouble, without a prior plan or a clue what we were up against, and with Bannon sporting a concussion. And like Devin would say - we kicked all kinds of ass." Charlie projected confidence - hell, he even felt confident. Compared to drooling nightmare hell-beasts, some mundane dudes with guns were childs play. "Now we're going in prepared. They won't know what hit them." Sophia examined his face, then nodded, eyes narrowing. "Okay then. Cajun." "Cajun?" "Cajun food. There's a fancy place in Great Falls - I'll text you the details so you can get us a reservation." She leaned up and kissed him once more. "That's for luck, and you'd better come back in one piece or I'm going after Jauntsen and Bannon with a fire axe." She glanced over her shoulder doubtfully. "Well, maybe Jauntsen. Not sure I'd be brave enough to go after Bannon." she added with a self-deprecating smirk. "He'd probably think you were flirting with him." Charlie grinned. Sophia repressed a giggle. "Jauntsen or Bannon?" Charlie waited a beat then said, in his best deadpan voice: "Yes."
  2. Literally thousands of pages of awesome game products—free or close to it. Plus squids, bats, flowers, Gustave Doré, and child vampires. It’s the Cypher Chronicles! The post Cypher Chronicles, vol. 8-20 appeared first on Monte Cook Games.
  3. Cook's misery was not at all abated when he glanced to either side of where he sat. Taggart looked as though only strict professionalism and discipline were keeping the special forces solder from leaping out of his seat and throttling Dr Cook with his shoelaces. Even the composed, elegant Ms Giles radiated anger from her dark eyes as they, like Autumn's, fixed on the wretched fellow. Taggart reached over and yanked a file from the stack in front of Cook, sitting back and opening it. "Courtney Adams. Not yet eighteen years old, I see. 'Subject exhibits symptoms of extreme antisocial behaviour and poor impulse control, including sexual mania, passive-aggression, panic attacks, mood swings, megalomania and narcissism.'" The major fixed Cook with a gimlet stare as he turned a couple of pages. "Subject showing very promising telepathic talents, capable of influencing emotional states and even affecting memories in tests." He snapped the file shut and all-but slammed it down on the table. "And you gave her the run of the project." It wasn't a question. "And you had her 'testing' these other minors." Ms Giles also stated. "How, exactly?" Cook shifted in his seat, then reached for the file Taggart had set down, pulling it in front of him and opening it. "We observed on Thursday morning that several persons of interest - labelled as such because of their involvement with the finding of Dr Kline's trailer-" "The trailer was Kline's?" Jason looked sharply at Cook. "And everything in it?" Cook merely nodded, and Jase looked down at Sean, both of them thinking about the micro-nuclear reactor and the radio, two devices apparently placed there decades before but in terms of advancement being decades ahead of even 2019. "It was his initial research station, back before we obtained funding." Cook cleared his throat. "And no, I've never been there. Etienne didn't know what it was you found when he reported it. Kline just said it was outdated, done with and closed down. Anyway... we observed that several of you were exhibiting powers that, as has been said, you shouldn't have exhibited. At least, not as a result of our work. Upon realising that our spy had been uncovered in that same meeting, we put into place several other steps to keep observation on the group. One of which was Courtney Adams, who was set the job of gathering telepathic information and lightly probe at the interpersonal bonds between you all. She was only supposed to feel out who felt what towards whom, where loyalties lay, and so on. Matters began to get out of hand on Friday, however, when she fixated on Jason Bannon and decided to test him in more extreme ways, trying to provoke emotional responses in some game of her own devising. That was not what she was ordered to do." Cook clarified, frowning a little. "She went well beyond what she was supposed to be doing, culminating in an attempt to force a confrontation between a member of the football team and young Mr Bannon, to push him into using his powers defensively." "Why?" Annette looked at Jason, frowning, then back at Cook. "Some kind of power game - apparently she sees Marissa Jauntsen as a rival and sees Jason Bannon as a useful pawn." "Pshh." Marissa snorted with elegant disdain. "Someone has a high opinion of themselves." She would have doubtless said more, but at that moment the door swung open and Courtney walked in minus her usual sway and bounce, her face drawn and weary but taut with anger as she stalked to the table. Cook went pale - okay, paler. "Sorry." the crimson-haired bombshell said without meaning it as she pulled out a chair, seating herself. "I was looking for the Greyhound terminal and must have gotten confused by hearing the sound of bus brakes squealing as I got thrown under one." She fixed her honey-brown eyes, currently hard as agates, on Dr Cook. "You are so totally fucking lucky I'm worn out from adjusting all of Sheriff Allister's poor deputies or I'd give myself an aneurysm reverting your toilet training level to five months old." "You should be resting." Cook started, but Courtney made a dismissive gesture as she reached for a coffee. "Why? So I can wake up in restraints and be cleared off to site C like Etienne?" she asked with a smirk. "Site C being the prison, or rather the complex underneath it. You didn't know that, Cookie Monster, but I did. Those toughs that Kline sent - not nice men at all, but not much in the upstairs department. Disciplined, but not strong or imaginative." She looked at Ms Giles and Major Taggart. "Cook is full of shit. At least about what my orders were. He specifically told me to push Jason to try and get an idea of the extent of his powers, and perhaps push him into an incident that would give the Project a chance to swoop in, clean up, and net themselves a Bannon." She glanced at Jason, her crimson lips thinning apologetically. "That's what I wanted to tell you on Friday night outside Bunnees. But I couldn't, because this fuckbag would have found out and I'd have been disappeared." "What about the 'you're friends with the Jauntsens, and that's not good, join me and we can rule the galaxy' speech?" Jase asked, fixing her with a level gaze. Courtney shrugged, unabashed. "Totes sincere. As was my statement that I didn't orchestrate your junk being the subject of the school snapchat." She appraised him up and down through her lashes with a smile. "We can take that conversation up again after all this is sorted out, if you like. You've got potential." Her expression turned from sultry vixen to all business as she focused her gaze back on the three adults-in-charge. "For now, consider this my switching sides. Doctor Douche, I quit. Ms Giles, Major Taggart, assorted losers with powers - I'm now on Team You. Isn't that wonderful?" "Yay." Charlie uttered in a voice devoid of joy or excitement, the sentiment apparently shared by Taggart and pretty much everyone else present. Ms Giles was the only one who didn't immediately look at the telepathic redhead as though she were a scorpion in a skirt. "And what do you bring to the table, my dear?" "Everything Cook knows, unfiltered." Courtney shrugged. "To be fair, he's mostly told the truth. But those files there are the cooked books to trot out for inspection, for instance. The real files are on his computer." She fixed Cook with another glare. "If you'd been loyal, I would have kept quiet and gone along with the changing of the guard. For a man who was all holy about not having sex with me, you're certainly quick enough to try and fuck me when your neck is on the line."
  4. Smol point of order from Sean's "Telling Kat stuff" post - this line: Has been edited to remove the eggplant. So far as I'm aware, the only characters that knew what Autumn was looking at when she smacked into a door are Autumn, Jase and Clara. We now return you to your scheduled programming.
  5. Cook had been regarding the consternation and acrimony between the powered teens with a watchful eye, one hand still absently rubbing at his throat. With Autumn's words and Devin's affirmation, however, he swallowed as he once more became the focus of unfriendly eyes. His gaze flicked to Jason, who was possibly the only person in the room not looking at him right now, instead staring into the middle-distance expressionlessly, the gleam of his eyes dim and his focus apparently turned inward. "Doctor?" Annette's voice did not have the same inhuman iciness as the silent youth, but her tone and gaze were definitely frosty, as was Taggart's. "What is this about seducing a sixteen year old girl, and who is Etienne?" "He wasn't supposed to seduce her." Cook protested. "He was supposed to become close, but he was posing as a Senior when she was a Sophomore, for crying out loud. The idea was for him to act as a mentor figure for her... Dammit." He sighed, massaging his neck. "I should start at the beginning." "Do so." "Right. So, it was a couple of years ago. We found out that the Doctors Wright - both brilliant scientists in the field of genetics - were doing some work on and around the Blackfoot reservation. Some digging revealed they had obtained a grant and permission from the state health board to do an in-depth analysis of genes in the native American population and how those transferred through intermingled families with roots in Montana, with a focus on isolating genes associated with congenital defects, cancer, and the like." Doctor Cook glanced at the folders in front of him, obviously collecting his thoughts. "Doctor Kline, though, suspected they might have other motives and be perhaps trying to analyse the same thing we had theorised - a predisposition for paranormal gifts genetically present in the local populace. So he tasked me to gather intelligence covertly." "Tasked you?" Taggart asked sharply. "Intelligence and counter-intelligence was my responsibility. Why was the Branch not informed of this operation?" "Or the Society, for that matter." Annette Giles stared levelly at the now-sweating Cook. "Doctor Kline was very insistent that the intelligence be gathered covertly. He claimed that the Wrights may have friends connected to the Society, and be tipped off if proper channels were employed." The doctor stammered. "And you believed him?" Giles' raised eyebrow spoke volumes of her skepticism - apparently well-founded skepticism, as Cook said nothing and just looked down uncomfortably at his papers. "Totally fucking busted." Devin sneered, then "Pardon my French, of course." as Annette glanced his way with an air of patient reproof. She smiled slightly then looked back at Cook, her lips once more forming a straight line. "So... I hired a corporate intelligence specialist." Cook admitted, straightening his shoulders. "A civilian asset." Taggart said levelly. "An uncleared, unvetted civilian asset." "He knows nothing about the involvement of Aeon or Branch Nine. And his resume was solid!" The doctor said defensively. "Several jobs in Canada and the U.S, recently downsized, looking for work. And he looked like he could pass for seventeen to eighteen. So we cooked up a cover, inserted him into the school as a senior finishing his education in Shelly prior to interning at the medical center, and tasked him with getting close to the Wrights." "Specifically Clara." Marissa 's dark eyes were hard as she found a fresher target for her ire than the still unresponsive Jason. "A girl so lonely and buttoned-up she would qualify as vulnerable even if she wasn't a minor." "No statutory laws were broken-" Cook began, but was cut off by Cassandra. "Age of consent might be sixteen, but I'm pretty sure even if he didn't do the nasty with her before that, it still counts as 'grooming'." She shook her head in disapproval, even as several others present, the sheriff included, nodded in agreement. "And as I said, he wasn't supposed to get that close." Cook protested. "Jesus. He was supposed to be a star student that she would look up to, then become friends with. But something went wrong. He developed actual feelings for her. At first we decided-" "'We' being you and Doctor Kline?" Taggart's face was stony, but his fingers tapping on the table's surface betrayed his anger. "Yes. At first we decided that, so long as Etienne would still go through with the mission, that it could be a benefit. He snuck into the Wright's property several times, tried to break into their private lab building, but claimed he was unable to bypass their security. Then he and the girl broke off the relationship" Cook shrugged. "The mission was pretty much a bust, then. Kline gave the order to terminate his contract, and I was about to when everything changed, and he attended a party thrown by the high schoolers on Reservation ground and witnessed strange things happening. That, plus his rekindled closeness with the Wright girl, made him of use again... until his cover was blown and these kids found out he was a spy." "We have our ways." Sean's girlish features were somber as he regarded the doctor he'd trusted most of his life. "Yes, you do." Cook sighed, rubbing his hand over his face, glancing Sean then at Ms Giles. "That was last week. Late last night, he comes into my office without knocking, wild-eyed and loudly telling me he quits, he's not going to do it anymore, and that we'd better leave Clara and the other teens alone. I didn't have a choice, then. I had to contain him." "Contain him how?" Taggart demanded. Cook shifted in his seat, and the Major leaned forward. "What did you do, Doctor?" "I... handed him off to Kline's men." Cook stammered, then spoke in a rush. "I didn't know what to do at first. So I pulled out the gun I had in my desk for - uh - protection." He glanced at at the still-motionless, inward-turned Jason for a moment, who didn't even appear to hear the words. "And brought him down here. I called Kline, told him what had happened, and he sent some people." "What people? Whose people were they?" "Some private security force. Uh... Doctor Kline has used them a couple of times for, um, off the books things. They bundled Etienne into an armored van and took him away." "Mercenaries. Doctor Kline is employing goddamn mercenaries on American soil as part of a black project." Taggart looked like he was fit to spit nails. "Where did they take him?!" "I don't know!" Cook nearly wailed. "I didn't want any of this. You have to believe me." "I should call my superiors and have you renditioned to a black site in goddamn Siberia for the rest of your natural life, you-" Taggart bit back a stream of profanity with some effort backed by solid professionalism. "Think. Did they say anything to each other?" Cook screwed up his face in thought, starting to shake his head negatively... then paused. "Wait... Wait! One of them had a blue shirt on under his jacket. It looked like the uniform shirts the guards wear at the prison!" He looked from Taggart to Ms Giles, desperate hope in his eyes that he'd bought a reprieve. "That's all I can think of, I swear!"
  6. In which Eddy, Dixie, and Matthew (with inadvertant guest host Danielle Lauzon) talk with some loyal Pathcast listeners! Eddy continues to breath Our audio quality is different from usual Danielle’s water pressure People getting kicked during the recording (Update: Turns out it’s a bug in the iOS version of the app, which we’ve brought up to Podbean.) Night Horrors: Spilled Blood is out! Navar is happy for Geist and Exalted Essence, and Dixie talks about Essence Adam is a long-time listener, first-time caller talking about the PAX Trinity pre-generated characters Hunter: The Vigil 2e on Kickstarter Occultists Anonymous asked about (non-existent) Mage book drama The realities of scheduling issues Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook reception TC: Aberrant status update The new Fire Emblem: Three Houses DLC! We need to play Mario Kart Altered Carbon Kickstarter 6 Underground, John Wick, Hobbs & Shaw, and Saint’s Row Lisa Thomas is amazing V5 Chicago Folios out to backers soon Contagion Chronicle update Lyshote called in to tell us they appreciate the podcast Post-episode stinger of banter from our pre-show LINKS Night Horrors: Spilled Blood: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/303157/Night-Horrors-Spilled-Blood?affiliate_id=548232 Hunter: The Vigil 2e Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/339646881/hunter-the-vigil-second-edition-tabletop-roleplaying-game Occultists Anonymous Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/occultists-anonymous/id1464410461 Trinity Continuum Core Rulebook: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/260788/Trinity-Continuum-Core-Rulebook?affiliate_id=548232 Trinity Continuum: Aeon: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/260833/Trinity-Continuum-Aeon?affiliate_id=548232 Altered Carbon Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/huntersbooks/altered-carbon-the-role-playing-game Eclipse Phase Second Edition: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/284022/Eclipse-Phase-Second-Edition?affiliate_id=548232 6 Underground: https://www.netflix.com/title/81001887
  7. Type: Features Author: Greg Tito and Shelly Mazzanoble Subtitle: Dragon Talk Banner: Text: This week, we're joined by Extra Life donor and Dungeon Master Nick Roth for news and introductions! Later In Lore You Should Know, we are joined by Chris Perkins to discuss the geography of Wildemount! Our special interview guest this week is Bill Allan (along with two of his students, Jordan & Jennie), a teacher at Lyons Township High School where he leads the media program, produces D&D with High School Students and is the official video crew (along with his students) at Gen Con & Gary Con! Dragon Talk is executively produced by Greg Tito, Shelly Mazzanoble & Wizards of the Coast. Show production by Lisa Carr & Ryan Marth of Siren Sound. Podcast recording, editing, mixing and mastering by Ryan Marth & Siren Sound. Dragon Talk: Bill Allan & LYSK on Geography of Wildemount Dragon Talk - 02/13/2020 By Greg Tito, Shelly Mazzanoble SEE MORE PODCASTS Podcast/Notes Here’s a guide to when each segment on the podcast begins: 00:00: Intro and news with Greg Tito, Shelly Mazzanoble & Nick Roth 12:06: Lore you Should Know with Chris Perkins 31:31: Interview with Bill Allan 1:29:13: Outro Stay Informed More Ways to Tune-In: Subscribe to the Official D&D Podcast on iTunes, on Google Play, or wherever you get podcasts. Watch Dragon Talk recordings live on twitch.tv/dnd Fridays at 12pm PT! More Ways to Play: Learn more about the Adventurers League here. More Ways to Become Involved: Find out more about the Guild Adept program here. If you’re interested in submitting your artwork to be considered for use with D&D, send five images to artdrop@wizards.com. About the Guest: Bill Allan Bill Allan is a teacher at Lyons Township High School for the media program. He produces "D&D with High School Students", and he and his students have also been the official video crew at Gen Con and Gary Con (where they produced the Dragon Talk livestreams with Greg and Shelly). They also have their own convention, Lyon Con, which is entering its 3rd year, and will be held February 22-23, 2020. You can find Bill on: YouTube: @billallanworld Your Podcast Hosts Greg Tito Greg Tito has had weird and long career as an Off Broadway stage manager, a playwright, a theater carpenter, a secretary, an RPG designer, a games journalist, and now a PR/Marketing person. He has loved Dungeons & Dragons ever since 1985 when he found an old copy of the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide on his brother’s bookshelf and he honed that love of fantasy storytelling in the dark streets of Sasserine by way of the Upper West Side gaming group he joined in 2004. He moved his family (wife + two young kids) to Seattle in 2015 to work on D&D and he’s never looked back. Twitter: @Gregtito Shelly Mazzanoble Shelly Mazzanoble will always play a magic-user. There. She said it. Enough pretending to want to break out of her comfort zone. She’s a magic-user. She’s also the brand lead for Avalon Hill and loves talking about that one time she played Diplomacy and SOMEONE (okay, it was Ben Petrisor) stabbed her in the back and took over her beloved Russia. If you enjoy tales of sorcery, board game upheavals, and reasons her 3 year-old is crying (HINT: She tried to make him eat a Nutella crepe), find Shelly on Twitter and Facebook. Facebook: shellymazzanoblewriter Twitter: @shellymoo Publication date: 02/13/2020 Tags: Features Podcast Texture banner: Show Black text:
  8. The effect on Ms Giles was sudden as it was noticeable. The air of ease even when discussing serious matters disappeared and she leaned forwards, hand outstretched. "Can I take a closer look, please?" Cassie stood, moving to lean closer and holding her phone out. If the Aeon woman took note of the caution, she didn't show it, her eyes widening as she stared at the smirking face of the Man in Black before she sat back in her chair, looking as though she had seen a ghost. "You recognise him?" Cassie stated rather than asked, even as Taggart looked at the face on the phone with no recognition in his own expression. Annette Giles nodded silently, appearing to be processing some chain of thought, then spoke. "When was this taken?" "Friday night." Cassie replied. "Here in Shelly, outside the diner." put in Autumn helpfully. "What the hell does it mean?" Ms Giles asked no-one in particular. She seemed visibly agitated, pushing away from the table and standing, pacing a few steps, then turning and pacing back. "Have any of you spoken to him?" "What do you know about him?" Jason asked, eyes narrowing as they regarded Ms Giles. "That he's a harbinger." The woman said as she sat down again, recovering some level of composure. "So far as we know, he's not what we would call 'evil', but his appearance does herald change, upset, and chaos. He's popped up here and there throughout Aeon's records, and his appearance is always considered to be a sign that things are about to get very weird and very dangerous. Which is not to say he himself is malevolent - the few times he's ever deigned to speak with members of Aeon he's been civil, if cryptic in the extreme." "Does he have a name?" Jason pressed quietly. Ms Giles shook her head slowly. "Only false ones. Marquis d'Ys is the oldest one we've found, linked to a description from records of one of the Society's ancestors - records made in the 17th century. Since then he's shown up in records as 'Monsignor Tatterdemalion' during an incident in Italy. 'The Ragged Man' during the 19th century in Spain. One of our members called him 'Mr Crow' during a sighting in Depression era Chicago, and he was seen in several places in short order during World War 2. He then popped up again in Dallas right after JFK was shot. He's our oldest unsolved mystery." "I aim to cause upset to the established order." Jason quoted. "That's what he said to me when I asked him what he wanted." "But which order?" Annette asked rhetorically. "Kline's? Crossroads? What game is he playing?" She picked up the coffee Devin had procured for her and took a sip, frowning in thought.
  9. "The last photograph we have of him is about ten years old, and I don't have a copy with me. Major?" She looked at Taggart, who shook his head. "I've never even met him, only spoken to him on the phone. He spends most of his time at Site B. To the best of my knowledge, he's not left that compound in years." The major plainly wasn't happy with what he was hearing. "Under the arrangement we have, my personnel aren't allowed here or at Site B unless there is an alert." "Yes. Site B. It does seem to keep coming back to that, doesn't it?" Giles looked thoughtful, then glanced at Charlie. "The other experiment we were running was at Site B - which is the thing I think you should know about, and want to tell you about, but need to get approval to discuss with you. Even for me, there are boundaries to my remit." Her lips thinned in mild frustration. "What I can say is that - from what I know - it shouldn't have had the effect it did." "You may speak with Dr Cook if you wish." Annette nodded at Sean. "I understand that you have a lot to discuss with him personally. As for the identities of the test group..." she frowned. "You understand I am not happy with divulging that. These other young people are, I believe, unaware of you and are likewise entitled to their privacy. They are also considerably less advanced than all of you in terms of ability." "That as may be." Jason stated, speaking up from the end of the table. "But the Dark feeds off Shine - what we call our powers - which is why it attacked us here. If these other kids Shine too, they are in danger, and their deaths will strengthen that which we're fighting against." She considered for a moment, bright eyes on Jason's face, then regarding the others similarly before sighing. "So far as I am aware, there are four 'successes' for Project Proteus. A telekinetic called Tawny Roberts, a cyber-empath called Todd Asper, a psychometrist called Cody Sikes and a telepath called Courtney Adams." "Do they know of each other?" Jason asked immediately as several of the Fellowship muttered and exchanged looks. Annette shook her head. "According to the reports filed, they are unaware of anything except their own limited ability. The Adams girl is the strongest amongst them - Cook reports she's capable of reading and influencing emotions, as well as scanning thoughts and even accessing and changing memories, though doing so is difficult and causes her pain. Its possible that she knows more simply by reading Cook's mind, though. The Roberts girl is the least developed - she regards her gifts as frightening and tries not to use them, resisting cooperation with Cook's tests."
  10. "Aeon took over funding the overall Project in the 90's, following the discovery of... the thing I can't yet tell you about but really want to." Ms Giles smiled a little ruefully. "Before that, it was being sponsored solely by Branch Nine and U.S. tax dollars. Please understand, our primary interest was not the eugenics aspect of the Project. In fact, one of the conditions for our sponsorship was that element of the project to cease expansion - which again makes it even more puzzling how those of you here gained powers. We were content to allow Kline and Cook to observe what they had set in motion, and to act as damage control to limit the scope of their interference. Simply exposing them and shutting things down would have done nobody any favors, so we tried to maximise the good that could come of what had already been done." She exchanged a meaningful glance with Taggart. "Major Taggart here replaced the old head of security at our insistence some years ago. We don't always see eye to eye with Branch Nine's way of doing things, but in this they have been largely cooperative. The mass surveillance was deemed 'necessary' due to the fact that any random person might generate paranormal abilities, and so left in place." She made a face. "Distasteful, but not un-useful. If it hadn't been for that, the Project would not have learned of you all, which means the Society would not have learned of you either." "You realise we're not really considering that a bonus." Jason said in a soft tone that sent warning tingles down the backs of his friends, one or two of whom glanced at his cold gaze and expressionless face and wondered if that tone had been what Liam Day had heard. Annette seemed to catch the hint of unvoiced menace, nodding soberly at the lean youth. "I assure you, we don't want to control or poke and prod you. We are fascinated by the sheer level of what we've seen, far beyond anything in the Society's records, but that does not overrule our regard for your personhoods. As I said, as of today we simply want to help you deal with the menace that seems to haunt Shelly, and then we shall observe from a distance and otherwise leave you alone - at least until you graduate high school." "What happens then?" Cassie asked. Annette smiled warmly in answer. "Probably an extended hand to join the Society, if I know my people. What I can say is that, at the most basic level, the Society will fund your way through college or such further education as you wish to undertake, pay you a stipend, and largely allow you to live your own lives in exchange for, once in a while, being alerted to something strange that might suit your talents and personalities." She glanced at the Major. "Branch Nine will likely make you an offer too. The point is that you can choose either or neither, as you wish. We will protect your autonomy in that regard." Her tone was firm on that point. "Returning to the matter of Crossroads - we've tentatively linked them to human trafficking, organ-legging, blood diamonds, cutting-edge high-tech weapons research, custom pharmaceutical research into mind-altering substances, several ethically questionable PMCs, and even fomenting civil unrest in third world nations." She sighed a little in frustration. "All very tentative, all very nebulous, nothing we can prove. Everything illegal usually done through shell companies and several layers of cut-outs protecting the main body of the corporation. The last time we got close to something they were doing in Bangladesh, they wiped out an entire R&D building using some kind of seismic device to trigger a localised earthquake. Everyone inside died, along with a couple of hundred in the surrounding neighbourhood. Are they capable of immoral and illegal genetic research? Definitely. Which makes me suspicious that Doctor Kline has two paymasters." Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "When was the prison built?" "1999." It was Sheriff Allister who spoke up, his face somber as he did so. "Over the on-record protestations of many of the city councillors and the then-sheriff. But the state government rubber-stamped it." "Hmm. So roughly five to six years after we took over and started restricting the scope of Kline's activities." Annette Giles' eyes were flinty now. "That seems an unlikely coincidence."
  11. Rather than looking guilty or annoyed, Ms Giles looked pleased, smiling a little at Cassandra. "The prison, nothing. But you said 'Crossroads', which is a name I've come across before. Would that be Crossroads Incorporated?" "Yeah." Cassie said, nodding. "You've heard of them?" "I know of them. Safe to say that they are of interest to the Aeon Society. We've bumped into them tangentially in other parts of the world, always up to morally questionable activities - yes, more morally questionable than what we're doing here, before you ask - and always close to strange goings on. We're still not entirely sure what their aims are. We've also lost several associates who have tried to infiltrate their upper echelons." Ms Giles frowned a little, taking another sip of coffee. "I confess their presence here is a little surprising. I am curious now whether Dr Kline might have been playing the pipes for two masters."
  12. "The prison?" Ms Giles looked at Cassandra askance for a moment, then threw a questioning look at Taggart, who shrugged and shook his head. She looked back at Cassie. "It doesn't seem the prison is anything to do with our presence here." Nobody missed the emphasis of the word 'seem', or the way the woman's perfectly manicured fingernails tapped thoughtfully on the Starbucks cup, her gaze curious. "But I've been an associate - not 'employee', thank you - of the Society long enough not to dismiss strange things as coincidences." Her gaze refocused on Cass again. "Other than its location, what is drawing your attention to the prison?"
  13. Ms Giles raised a petite hand, asking for forbearance. "Please, Mr Jauntsen, isn't it? I will answer questions about the Project as much as I have the leeway to do - and I assure you, that is a lot of leeway. The unfortunate business with the dimension incursion earlier might have been the result of something we were doing - but it was entirely in the wrong place, as the only experiment that might trigger a dimensional upset was taking place nearly one hundred miles away. From what I understand, something commandeered the energy of that experiment and moved the focal point from there to here, as well as resizing said focal point from twenty square feet to encompass half of this town." "They phreaked you?" Sean spoke up, his eyes narrowing. As multiple sets of eyes turned his way, he explained. "With a 'ph'. It's when you spoof a network to ride along and make a call on someone else's bandwidth." He sat down at the table roughly at the mid-way point, keeping his composure though inwardly shaking his head at the combative, hostile tone that the Jauntsens and Bannon were taking with the Project people. Surely they must know something about what they were doing and what was afoot, and even if they didn't they could still be useful, dammit. "Exactly, yes. The energy of our experiment was 'phreaked' and used to create this dimensional incursion. At least, that's the best guess of a team of quantum physicists. From Dr Cook's reports, it seems you all have some experience with who or what is capable of such a feat. We do not, however we do have roughly a century's worth of experience with all manner of strange phenomena." "And who is we?" Cassie piped up, settling in next to Autumn. "Miss Allen, isn't it? Off the record, please." Ms Giles smiled a little to soften her words. "The Project started as a Pentagon initiative to create enhanced human beings, initially at least, but over the last three decades has come to be a joint operation being carried out by a directorate branch of the U.S government and a private foundation - the Aeon Society, with the Society taking the leading role in financing and providing expertise and Branch Nine providing security and official sanction to operate on U.S. soil." She glanced at the Major. "Major Taggart here heads up that that arm of the Project, whereas I speak for the Aeon Society. As to what we are doing..." She pursed her lips, regarding them all. "The Aeon Society was formed to explore, seek out, and catalog the weird, the wonderful, the bizarre and the strange. Sometimes said strange is too dangerous for the world, in which case we work to contain it, lock it away, or keep knowledge of it from the hands of short-sighted individuals who will see only the opportunity for power and not heed the dangers. For a century now, we've helped advance humanity by those discoveries which we have shared, and protected humanity from annihilation a couple of dozen times at least." "Bold claim." Marissa said, staring hard at the woman, who shrugged slightly and smiled, her manner not condescending so much as warmly self-assured. "And utterly true. I hope to be able to prove it, but that can come later. Branch Nine was created after the second World War for much the same purpose, only with less of a focus on study and more of a focus on containment and elimination of threats." She sipped her coffee, made a face and then set it to one side. "The strange, bizarre and weird the Society encounters falls into two categories. The first is more mundane - at least on the surface - ancient texts, hidden histories, ciphers inscribed on tablets thousands of years old, scientific advancements that are tantamount to massive leaps, secretive cults: things which can be termed 'human mysteries'. The second category..." she spread her hands, indicating the assembled teens "...falls under the heading of what the Society's scientist types term 'aether manifestations'. People with talents that go beyond unusual into straight out unbelievable. Dimensional and temporal anomalies. Strange creatures from legend or nightmare. Signs of alien visits-" she held up a hand again. "-as hard as it is to believe, yes." "Not really." Jason said with his habitual unruffled tone. "No harder to believe than monsters and mind powers." "Quite." Annette smiled at him, the pleasant expression bouncing off his immobile countenance and cold gaze. Undeterred, she carried on. "The Society made a report on this area of Montana over eight decades ago, noting an unusual quality to the place - an aether fluctuation much higher than normal. A follow-up was planned, but then the second World War happened, then the Cold War, and other things became more important like preventing nuclear armageddon. Until the 80's, at least, when a scientist named Dr Kline also discovered Shelly's strange qualities." "That would be the 'Doctor' that Dr Cook was talking about?" Sean asked, receiving a nod from Ms Giles. "Okay, fine. So what is 'aether'?" "It's what our scientists call the fifth fundamental force. As I understand it, conventional scientific wisdom allows that there are four quantum forces: gravity, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces, which together go towards making everything that exists. The Society's scientists discovered early in the 20th century that there was a fifth such force, and termed it aether. It exists along with the others, but stands out either very rarely in certain artifacts with strange properties or, more usually, in pockets dotted here and there around the globe. These pockets are usually tiny, at the largest perhaps half a mile in diameter." She paused for effect. "The one here is much larger and more extensive, at least a hundred miles across, stretching from Shelly across the Blackfoot Reservation all the way to Glacier National Park. The level of aether fluctuation is also much, much higher than anywhere else that we know of on the planet. Anyway, back to the story." Privately Jason, Sean and a few others mused that 'aether' would be what they had termed subquantum energy, or Shine. It seemed that the Aeon Society's scientists had not yet considered that there might be another layer of reality beneath the quantum. "Doctor Kline was a scientist attached to Branch Nine, but he also worked for the Pentagon. He was loosely tied to the MK-Ultra programs of the 60's, but his particular project was not shut down when the rest of the highly questionable experiments were stopped. Firstly, because his experiments were not inhumane, and secondly because it was ruled that his project was in the national interest." "He wanted to make super-people?" Cassie guessed. "He wanted to create the genetic conditions whereby enhanced humans could be naturally born and reared, rather than try to crudely force such evolution through similar means to the shut-down projects. The Kline Project really started with the grandparents of the test group, most of whom did not even know that they were part of the experiment." She paused for a moment. "I should say at this juncture that no-one in this room is part of the test group. None of you were supposed to turn out different, and how you did is something we are still working to figure out." "Anyway, somehow Kline stumbled across the discovery of aether- Wait, that's not altogether fair. Kline is a brilliant scientist, but his background is in genetics, not quantum physics. How he discovered aether and found this place is something of an accident to hear him tell it: A series of eureka moments. He noted that perhaps this environment as well as the hereditary traits he was cultivating would trigger the evolution he was seeking." Ms Giles spread her hands in a 'and there you have it' gesture. "And so Project Proteus was formed, initially under the direction of Branch Nine. Until the 90's, when black budget funding cuts threatened the whole endeavour. The director of Branch Nine reached out to the Society, with whom they have a tentative alliance, revealed what was afoot, and asked for help." "We agreed, not least because of our records of Shelly and the area being anomalous. We also wanted to see if Kline's theories, which seemed sound, would bear fruit. Which they did, after a fashion - even if it was by accident." She smiled at the Fellowship. "We also made another discovery within the high-aether area, which quickly became a separate project - more on that later: I do need to get extra clearance to discuss it but I think, perhaps, you might be able to help us with it. Focusing on Proteus, though..." "You young people are not part of the test group, and yet exhibit power and ability far beyond those who are. I understand that trust is scant right now, and won't ask for any leaps of faith. You know now the history of the project, and I also believe you know more about the strangeness around Shelly than we do. So I'm making an offer of aid. You mentioned horrible dangers and face-eating peril." Her lips twitched in a smile at that. "I want to better understand, so perhaps Aeon can give you the tools you need to deal with the threat if, as you say, you are the only ones who can. Before we get to talking seriously about the exchange of information and aid, though, I'd like to give those present a chance to speak, ask questions and so on." She sat back, bright dark eyes watching everyone's faces. "I got a question." Devin grinned slowly. "What restaurant do you want to go eat at when we go out on Friday?" Annette tilted her head slightly, smiling sweetly at him. "Oh, that rakish assurance and charm must have the girls flocking to you, Mr Jauntsen-" "Devin, please." The teleporter interjected, placing his hand over his heart in a courtly fashion. Marissa rolled her eyes so hard there should have been a rattling noise. "Devin." Annette Giles nodded. "The first problem being, Devin, that your charming sister distinctly mentioned you having a girlfriend-" "Who, her? Whatshername? I dumped her by text like five minutes ago." "Which leads me to the second problem." Annette looked sorrowful, though a spark of mirth danced in her eyes. "I don't go for fickle men." "Oh, Lona!" Devin nodded, a soulful expression in his eyes. "We're like two halves of the same being. I could never see myself with anyone else. She's the only one for me. Not even looking at other women in porn, and lemme tell you that gets weird." Ms Giles laughed, a warm pleasant bubbling up of good humor before she composed herself and glanced at the others present. "Does anyone else have any questions?"
  14. "Jauntsen." Sheriff Allister was no stranger to being irritated with Devin, but never had anyone seen him angry. It was not a comfortable sight, especially as all six feet and change of him was sufficient to make Cade look slender by comparison. "If you think for one second that I had anything to do with the utter... fuckery I've witnessed today, you're even dumber than you look." He took a deep breath, calming himself with some effort. "My deputies have all had their damned minds scrambled-" "Just their memories of the last couple of hours restructured." Cook put in with a certain level of aplomb that bordered on smug. Allister whirled on him, pointing a finger. "You said I was being left alone due to my son. You've still not explained what the hell is going on! Or why he was covered in ice, or he changed shape, or why he was throwing lasers around, or what the hell those creatures were!" "That's what we're here to do." Taggart said with a certain level of discomfort, plainly not happy about anything to do with this situation. "If everyone would just sit down and calm down-" "Have you been doing experiments on these kids?" Gar Bannon asked, coming up behind the chair Jase was seated in to stand beside him, Hank Graskle in tow. "Did you do something to my son?" Hank was studying the two Airmen at the door, then Taggart, then the other two at the head of the table with a professionally assessing air. "Gentlemen!" Cook raised his hands placatingly. "And ladies. Please. Sit down and we shall answer as many questions as we reasonably can." The strange woman was silent and composed, ignoring the adults speaking and instead watching the antics of Devin with what seemed to be faint amusement, then regarding the other teens, and then finally the jade-eyed, silent youth still sitting still in the chair at the far end of the conference table, his gaze steady as a laser beam as he watched the trio across from him. Sheriff Allister stared at Cook for a moment, then at the door, then at the others present. Finally, with a muttered 'Fuck' he pulled out a chair and sat at the table. Gar and Hank likewise pulled out seats and sat flanking Jason, their gazes distrustful and wary. Cook glanced at the other teens present, obviously waiting to see if any of them were likewise going to sit.
  15. "Wstgphrl." Autumn murmured as she squinted slightly at Cassie's waggling digits. Aware even in her dizzy state that this was not the most scintillant of dialogue, she licked dry lips and tried again: "I would if they'd stay still long enough." As enough strength returned for her to move her head, she turned it to watch Jason stand, seeming to unfold endlessly upward from the couch to tower above her as he turned and looked down, twisting his torso and leaning this way and that, a smile curving his lips at not just the absence of pain, but the presence of enormous well-being and energy, as though he'd slept a solid eight hours and gotten a massage. His emerald eyes seemed to glow from within as they met hers, and the lean shape of him bent to rest a slender hand on her pale brow. "Is she okay?" Cassie repeated, looking at Jase, whose eyes were narrowed slightly in concentration as he examined Autumn, taking her pulse for a count of fifteen before he nodded slightly. "She pushed herself a little." he replied, glancing around and calling a couple of sandwiches, a candy bar, a can of soda and a packet of chips over, the foodstuffs floating across the room and coming to rest on the redhead's lap. He felt good, full of restless life, as though the boundless vitality of the girl had somehow been shared with him. He took the soda, popping the tab and placing it in her hand. "Drink and eat." he urged her quietly, his gaze calm as it examined her face. She obeyed, raising the can of Dr Pepper and taking a sip before making a face. "Blegh, warm." she complained. Jason exchanged an amused glance with Cassie, who smiled a little despite the worry etching her brow. "She'll be fine." he said, reaching out and tapping the can's rim. Autumn was aware of the metal cooling in her hand, water condensing out of the air onto the side of the can as its temperature lowered to refrigerated levels. She took another swallow, sighing contentedly this time. "You could have just taken the pain away, you know." he told her. It wasn't an admonition, she grasped. Merely an observation, laced with a hint of a question. "We're better off if you're at your best." she murmured back, smiling a little as she noted the pink line where his lip had been split bloody. "And besides, I wanted to see if I could." "Good enough." he replied with a grin that crinkled the corners of his eyes and warmed their glacial centers, nodding slowly in answer. He straightened up, turning to the others as Autumn took a bite of a sandwich. "Marissa and Devin are right." he said, pacing over to the conference table and pulling out a chair at one end, seating himself there. "We have to be ruthless when it comes to the Project or indeed any outside authority figures. I'm not suggesting we stab them in the back just to do it, but we should force the people we work with to earn trust and loyalty, the hard way, and never trust the organisation as a whole. This is a black ops rogue government operation - we don't know how much blood is on their hands from people who have trusted them. So long as they are of use and don't get in our way, we can work with them so far as I'm concerned." "I like Sean's refinement of Devin's plan, too. Allude to weaknesses, then let them scramble to find them. Play below par, to use a golfing term - don't let them see what we're fully capable of." Jase went on, appropriating another can of soda, chilling it, then popping the tab. "You froze a monster the size of a horse solid." Charlie put in. "That's a pretty big demonstration." "And not even close to what I'm capable of." Jason responded immediately with such composed certainty that Charlie blinked, remembering the flash of insight he'd had the day before. Sophia squeezed his hand, frowning at the lean youth's apparent arrogance. She opened her mouth, wanting to say something to prick his bubble- And then the doors swung inwards and people bustled in. First were two Airmen, dressed in fatigues but armed only with sidearms, currently holstered. They scanned the room and then moved to either side of the doors, obviously mounting guard. They were followed by two more Airmen, also armed, only these were also carrying pots of coffee and fresh plates of sandwiches, pastries and snacks which they set down, along with a stack of styrofoam cups and packets of sugar, before heading back outside. Next to enter was Sheriff Allister, his gun, radio and hat removed and eyes snapping with annoyance in his otherwise composed face. Spotting Cade, who was standing as he recognised his father, the big man crossed the room in three strides and pulled his son into a hug before stepping back, his hands on Cade's shoulders. "You okay?" he asked, regarding the tall athlete with stoic concern. "I'm fine, Dad." Cade replied, only a little embarrassed by the paternal affection and more relieved that his father seemed well. "We're all fine too, bee-tee-dubs." Devin piped up from where he was sitting slouched in a chair, still texting with Lona. It said something about the moment that not even the Sheriff looked exasperated at the usual Jaunt-isms, instead just nodding as he looked around the room at the others present. His eyes narrowed a little at the sight of Graskle, then narrowed further at the sight of Jason calmly sitting at the bottom end of the conference table, watching the goings-on with his usual expressionless mien, but the burly sheriff said nothing for now. Finally Doctor Cook, Major Taggart - now in just fatigues and with his nameplate showing, and a brunette woman wearing a dark blue suit that Marissa's expert eye judged as being worth the annual salary of a middle manager entered the room. The two men seemed to hang back for a moment as they reached the other end of the table from where Jason was seated, glancing at the dark-haired woman, who calmly took a seat to the left of the 'head'. Taggart took the seat to the right, leaving Cook to settle (somewhat uncomfortably judging by the look on his face) at the head of the table, facing Jason Bannon's green stare. "Doctor." Jase said with a trace of wryness in his tone. "It seems we're a little late for our four o'clock meeting." Cook smiled wanly before busying himself with the files he'd brought with him, waiting for the Airmen standing guard to shut the door. When they had, taking up positions against the wall either side of it once more, he cleared his throat. "Ahem. First, to reassure all of you: Your parents have been told you are fine, and are just being screened for bio-contaminants before we release you. Which should be soon." He said with a quick smile, glancing at Taggart and the dark-haired woman. Taggart merely nodded brusquely, the woman on the other hand seemed to be intently studying the teens, her expression one of pleasant blandness under an arched eyebrow. Cook gestured to the coffee on the table. "Please, everyone, help yourselves to coffee and donuts. We do have a lot to discuss, after all. So we might as well be comfortable." "On that note," Taggart interjected. "It's probably one of you that is responsible for the music currently flooding our surveillance system, so I'd be grateful if you could stop that. It's not like you need the privacy now."
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