Sleep didn’t come easy to the group. For some it was the realization they had in their midst a psychotic murderer hiding behind the shield of being an anti-terrorist patriot, for others it was the potential for another beastie attack. And for Reggie, it was the dark thrill of the torture and the execution mixed with the challenge of eliminating those who weren’t true patriots and wanted to hinder his operation. So it was that Michael and Sonny heard the faint whup whup whup of one of the unmarked helicopters and saw what might have been a momentary shift in the sky marking its passing. Sonny was able to spot it with some confidence as it hovered over the ravine into which Reggie had kicked Jim’s body. It hovered there long enough to retrieve Jim’s corpse and probably the beastie corpses. It then gained altitude and hovered for a bit more. Sonny assumed it was watching their camp. Michael and Sonny shared this information with Deena and Max.
Eddie watched the group dynamics play out. By not throwing in his lot with Reggie and Samuel, he’d avoided risk of becoming an accessory. He didn’t feel comfortable standing against the two, though, as they had the sort of disturbing psychotic personalities he’d seen in a few cops in New Orleans. The thing is, those were the sort of folks you wanted at your side when there was a clear common threat. They were merciless and they were brave to the point of stupidity. They’d take the first shot and they’d be the first to get shot. Deena, Max, Michael, and Sonny all suffered from a serious case of decency. With whatever it was that was crawling all over the Montana mountains, hunting them, mercy and decency were dangerous traits. Unfortunately, by not siding with those he knew were right, he was now the odd man out—not one of the psychos and not one of the goody two shoes.
With dawn, the group decided to change its course and make for Superior. They were confident they’d lost Volsky and needed more resources to renew their search. As they adjusted course throughout the day, they occasionally caught the wind just right to hear the sound of mountain bikes and quite possibly distant gun shots.
That night, with the surprisingly dim lights of Superior visible below them, they set up camp in an easily defended spot. Each faction insisted on a representative per shift, Deena and Sonny sharing the first shift with Reggie, Michael and Max sharing the second shift with Eddie and Samuel. When Sonny slipped into an uncomfortable sleep, he was visited again by a dream.
In the dream, Sonny stood atop a mountain. It was a beautiful, pristine piece of nature. Birds chirpped, a brook bubbled, snow melted, a goat bayed, pine scent rode on a cool, gentle breeze. Clouds scraped along a distant peak and sunlight touched everything with each break in the clouds. A raven descended from the clouds and landed on Sonnyís shoulder. It watched him for a moment, eyes glittering with frightening intelligence. It then cocked its head towards a cave opening just ahead and flew towards it, landing atop the opening.
As Sonny approached the opening, a coyote padded out of the cave. Oddly its eyes didnít have the typical ìnightglowî of an animal in darkness. His education told him that was tapetum lucidum, a simple layer of tissue behind the retina that reflected light back through the retina. It’s what gave animals their good night vision. At the same time, he knew from his own upbringing that a skinwalker, a shapeshifter, would not have this eyeshine in animal form. A childís voice called from the cave, distracting Sonny for a moment. When he looked back at the coyote, he saw it was a man, a shaman, a skinwalker, eyes twinkling mischievously, giving off the eyeshine the coyote’s eyes hadn’t. The sknwalker peeled off the coyote skin, leaving him covered in tacky, congealing blood.
The childís voice called again and the shaman and raven looked into the cave then back at Sonny, heads tilting in unison. Sonny entered. The cave interior gave off a weak, eldritch, sickly green glow, just bright enough to reveal a floor covered in bones barely visible through ankle-deep fog. The source of the glow was deep within the cave. Sonny moved through the cave until he found Paul standing in front of the source of the glow, silhouetted in green fire that belched out the thick fog. Paul looked around in fear, head jerking, eyes scanning for some threat hidden in the fog. He suddenly looked directly at Sonny and opened his mouth to speak, stopping at the echoing of the ticking and clicking insect sounds. Paul turned and ran, disappearing in the glow. Echoes of the ticking and clicking grew louder, obliterating the caveís silence. Another sound joined the ticking and clicking, something hard to make out at firstóit sounded like a thousand feet marching in unison, almost machine-like. Strange shadows began to flash across the green light and Sonny saw movement in the fog. The raven landed on Sonnys shoulder and whispered into his ear in the voice of the old shaman Sonny had dreamed of beforeóìIt has already begun, brave. Is your heart pure? Will your spirit travel to the next life?î
Sonny woke. Despite the strange dream, he was calm. He thought of what he had seen and heard and of the raven’s question. The coyote troubled him. It was a trickster, one who could be petty and deceptive. Sonny wondered if Reggie was the coyote or if someone or something even worse was out there, manipulating and deceiving even Reggie. Paul’s fate seemed uncertain at best. Sonny wasn’t sure he could change that fate. After watching the guards for a few seconds to be sure everyone was alert, he slipped back into a peaceful slumber.
Shortly after hitting the trail he next morning, the group ran across Volskyís tracks. The tracks were a couple days old, meaning he must have driven and climbed almost non-stop and had his path laid out for him. There were signs of the mutant tracks, but mostly moving away from rather than in the direction of Sheep Mountain. Once again, during the hiking, they heard the occasional echo of automatic gunfire. As they traveled, they had the sense of a lot of movement in the woodsóthe occasional branch snapping and other noiseóeven though there were no animal sounds. They also ran across a slaughtered and savaged ram. Distinctive beastie gore, still relatively tacky, coated its horns. Even though they could have feasibly reached Superior by pushing hard and hiking into the night, the group decided not to take that approach, instead keeping an eye out for an easily defensible position to make camp around three in the afternoon. The decision paid off.
With twilight slipping into dusk, the group’s dinner was interrupted by Volsky and a horde of the beasties attacking. Volsky seemed human still, any transformation undetectable in the heat of battle, but the beasties left him unmolested, treating him as one of their own. A government helicopter came over a nearby rise, searchlight washing the scene in white. Agent Cal Prineau directed the chopper down, frightening the beasties away. Although Volsky had been felled in the battle, his corpse wasn’t among the beastie corpses. Eddie, Max, and Sonny made a quick sweep of the area but found no sign of Paul. The group piled into the helicopter.
As the helicopter lifted off, a near speechless Agent Prineau finally asked Deena what the hell was going on. He couldnít deny what he’d seen. He just didnít have an easy time coming to grips with it. As the chopper flew away from the scene, Prineau took a radio call from the pilot. He told the others they were being directed to set down on I-90, outside Superior.
A few minutes later, the surreal scene of Superior played out below them. Police lights flashed in the night at either end of the city. Small fires burned within the city itself. Flares were the cityís only lights. Soldiers move about in the flarelight. Apaches and Blackhawks hovered over the city and occasionally lit areas up with floodlights. Squads of soldiers move inside the lit areas. Everyone was in NBC gear. Southeast of town, a makeshift LZ hosted a few other helicopters. There was a hastily-erected decontamination facility, almost a miniature city of white plastic tents, huge fans, MEP-012A mobile power generators. MPs manned the security perimeters outside the city, Humvees with MGs lined up behind concertina wire barriers. Humvees patrolled the area opening onto Lolo National Forest to the west, assisted by observation helicopters (OH-6As and RAH-66 Comanches). It was an impressive show of force, especially the mythical Comanche helicopters (since the program had been killed long ago).
Their helicopter was directed to land in the LZ by a crew chief in NBC camouflage. A trio of folks in white biohazard suits came out of the decontamination facility as the helicopter landed. When the helicopter settled to the ground, everyone was asked to quickly follow the trio. One of the trioóa 30ish redheaded woman with bright green eyesóasked if anyone was feeling unwell (headaches, nausea, cramping, sensitive joints, fatigue, ringing in the ears, bloody urine). She went from person to person and shone a penlight into their eyes as they made their way towards the entry building. She singled Michael out due to the way his pupils responded to the light. This turned out to be the result of back-to-back-to-back concussions.
Inside the first tent, everyone was asked to strip and toss all belongings into a box then to push the box into a slot in the wall. The boxes had barcodes and matching tear-away barcode slips. The corridor off the first room was a misting shower. A recording told everyone to close their eyes and hold their breath throughout the decontamination. It was a mildly discomforting process, complete with stinging, cold fluids and a pungent medicinal aroma that left an almost drowning sensation in the sinuses. Following the shower, the voice told them to proceed into relatively gentle roller brushes just like at a car wash. A bank of ultraviolet lamps lit them up as they moved towards another set of showerheads. Anyone who had come into direct contact with infected fluids or who
was wounded by an infected had visible glowing spots at contact points. The recorded voice asked them to return to the first shower. Following that, another mist of water rinsed them off. A dressing room awaited with clean white cotton surgical outfits.
The trio in biohazard suits followed a similar process that cleaned the suits and scanned them for breaks. Accompanied by two MPs, the trio were waiting for the group in a room filled with tables and chairs, a TV set, books, game machines, movies, etc. beyond the changing room. They led the group into a corridor off the room that opened onto a small conference room. It was a tight fit, but there was a metal folding chair for everyone at the table. The tall, silver-haired man of the trio walked to the end of the table and picked up a manila folder.
A tall, middle-aged man in the same white surgical outfit as the PCs entered the conference room. Clearly impatient and quite full of himself, he whispered something to the silver-haired uniformed man who led the biohazard suited trio then looked at the group.
He started by apologizing for all the inconvenience but explains it was a necessary precaution. He said it would be clearer once the briefing was done. He introduced himself as Shelton Francona, an OHS liaison with Special Operations. He introduced the trio: silver-haired military lead Colonel York, the nurse as Major Gore, and the head of security, Captain Moreland. Francona explained they were facing a potential national security crisis, although the thought they’d managed to control it at great loss.
Francona said it was fortuitous theyíd managed to recover such important people from the search for Paul Talbot and that Reggie may have already revealed some of the sensitive elements of the Talbot situation. He said even Agent Cheney wasnít privy to all the details, which only then being released to OHS. At that point, he handed the briefing over to Colonel York. Colonel York opened the manila folder and set out a handful of photographs, including Ayman Abu Aita and his three comrades killed in the mountains (Abdel Aziz, Nasra Hassan, Farooq Kathwari). There were several other Middle Eastern men in the photographs, as well as two Western men and an Indian or Pakistani woman. Colonel York explained that the photos were of an international terrorist operation known as The Black Dagger, with ties to Chinese and Russian intelligence. They had infiltrated several organizations, including al Qaeda, and operated on a scale much broader and more diverse than any known terrorist organization. They were funded directly by many of the oil families and indirectly by unwitting rival organizations. The organizationís composition was largely Saudi, but it had membership from most of the Middle East and Africa, as well as Europe, the USA,
Nearly eight months ago, Black Dagger (or belati hitam, its Indonesian name) came into possession of most of the components of an advanced biological warfare weapon. Dr. Hassan Atwa and Dr. Mark Stoltz were believed to have been working on weaponizing the components for the last three months somewhere in the greater Los Angeles area. A special Delta Force detachment had been tracking belati hitam for the last five months. Delta had assassinated four of the key members in Cairo, Damascus, Istanbul, and Paris. Unfortunately, there were still three senior members at large.
Given their experience with belati hitam and the Talbot situation, York told the group he wanted them to hook up with his forces in L.A. He explained that Talbot’s technologies were believed to be key to the terrorist plan for weapon delivery. He pointed to the creatures the group had encountered in the Superior area (and to the Superior outbreak) as the cost of the bioweapon. He warned that the bioweapon could lead to the destruction of all humanity.
The group’s belongings were returned to them. Their clothes had been burned out of necessity. An unfortunate side effect of the decontamination: all their electronic devices had been degaussed. Deena’s evidence implicating Reggie in Jim’s murder was gone. Even without the evidence, she talked to Prneau and Colonel York about the murder. York was clearly displeased.
Session Four End
The game opened with Agent Prineau contacting FBI HQ and was told to have Deena work with York’s team. Francona directed Reggie to do the same. Samuel made a few calls and was told to cooperate with the belati hitam hunt). Michael was also allowed to cooperate by the Forest Service. Since the belati hitam were apparently involved in the Talbot situation, Eddie and Max and by extension Sonny were obliged to join as well.
The group flew to a reserve base near Barstow, CA, hopped onto a very uncomfortable C-130, then flew out to Edwards AFB and transferred to a couple Blackhawks. They took those to Fort Irwin. The fort was little more than a sprawling stretch of moving and static lights. The choppers landed at an outlying area with a single, one-lane road. Several desert-themed Humvees marked the packed earth parking lot. The fenced-in compound consisted of four buildings. Lieutenant Colonel Camby greeted the group, welcoming them to the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade. He explained that he headed up the 309th Battalionís Counter-Intel group out of Fort Huachuca, AZ. Colonel Camby escorted the team into the main building and handled some other introductionsóCaptain Severin, Lieutenant Platt, MSG LaGrange, and SFC Noodleman. He explained these were his main operational team and that theyíd be running the operation in Los Angeles. He said he had another seven soldiers already in-theater.
Colonel Camby cut right to the chase. The material shown: photos of the terrorists, with three of them (Ayman Al-Liby, Ali Mugniyah, and Dr. Mark Stoltz) mapped on the greater Los Angeles area based on sightings, credit cards, or cell phones. The intelligence was solid, mostly from the FBI. Colonel Camby explained that the operations team was inserted the second Paul was kidnapped, where they supplemented FBI operations. Captain Vogel assumed control of that operation at 1600 hours earlier in the day. The FBI still had six agents assigned to support.
Belati hitam had Ali Mugniyah (French) and Dr. Mark Stoltz (American) in the U.S. for a reason. It was believed Fahid Mohammed Ally Fahil, one of the most senior members of the organization, was also in-country or arriving soon. It was further believed ìUrbanî—a critical member known only by his code name—may also be coming into L.A. (and may have been in Superior), and thereíd been a sighting of Dr. Hassan Atwa in England, so he may be en route to L.A. as well. This would be an opportune time to finally shut the Black Dagger down. It was likely the team transporting Paul Talbot was Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Mughassil, Muhammad Al-Yacoub, and Mustafa Mohamed Msalam, as theyíd operated in the U.S. before. Finally, Zehra Sheerazi, a Pakistani woman, was in the U.S., hitting up on some of her financial supporters. The FBI also believed three former KGB agentsóAleksandr Semichastny, Vladimir Bazarov, and Leonid Shelepinówere assisting Black Dagger in L.A. The plan was to fly the team into LA X the next morning and have them on standby should someone get a sighting on the Black Dagger. If the group could identify “Urban,” the rest of Black Dagger can be removed. If not, the Black Dagger will need to be taken alive.
The next morning, their Blackhawks set down in an area at LAX designated for them and everyone hopped out. There were cars waiting for them. The military folks were in civilian garb. Everyone was put up at the Radisson Hotel at Los Angeles Airport on Century Boulevard. They had adjoining and cross-hallway rooms. Captain Vogel promised to stop by a couple times a day. The group was also allowed to visit the operations roomóone of the rooms that had been converted into a 24×7 surveillance and intelligence analysis center. The operations room was full of cutting edge gearócomputers, hi-res IR cameras, etc. A bank of six monitors ran 24×7, and two of the intelligence team constantly reviewed communications on their laptops.
On the third night, Vladimir Bazarov was sighted at the AMC Avco Cinemas on Wilshire Blvd. Ali Mugniyah was sighted 17 minutes later. Captain Vogel asked the team to head to the area and watch for any sign of “Urban” while he alerted the Delta team..
Getting to the site through LA traffic was tough, even as close as they were. As the group made its way north and the traffic thinned, they spotted something interestingóa car with three Arabic or Indian men in it and a light-skinned boy with the same haircut as Paul Talbot. The car exited off 405 onto Santa Monica Boulevard, heading into Westwood. The group followed, pushing their vehicles hard and barely avoiding accidents. They eventually chased the car to the Whole Foods Market on Gayley, finding it abandoned. The group ran into the Whole Foods Market and began searching inside. They ultimately spotted the terrorists and a brutal gunfight ensued with several civilians being gunned down. Reggie ended up shooting one hostage in the leg to get a clean shot at the terrorist holding her.
With several of their own already down or seriously injured, the group wasn’t ready when an SUV screamed to a stop outside and three men hopped out. The men were the former KGB assassins: Vladimir Bazarov, Aleksandr Semichastny, and Leonid Shelepin. The ensuing gunfight led to even more civilian deaths. Ultimately, Reggie sneaked out, hopped into the SUV, and drove it into the store, crushing one of the assassins. While everyone else sent lead flying, Max followed the last terrorist out to his escape vehicle and took him out. He realized too late they didn’t have Paul at all, but a similar looking kid.
Session Five End
The game opened with ambulances hauling away the dead and wounded. Most of the group’s wounds were bruises and one or two minor rib breaks, with their vests having absorbed the worst of it. A couple required some outpatient surgery to stitch closed wounds. They left the hospital sore and weak. They were given a few hours to grab a bite to eat and pop some aspirin then brought in for a debriefing. After the debriefing, Reggie and Samuel received phone calls.
Deena made it back to her room and found an email from her brother Sam. Sam wanted help getting his TSA application through. Getting on with the TSA would be a great stepping stone for law enforcement or the Guard. He just needed her to pull a couple strings.
Eddie received a call from Jason Talbot. He wanted to know what Eddie had on Paul. Was he alive? Dead? Jason sounded stressed.
Reggie’s call was from Neil Bonn. Bonn was in the mid-level ranks at the OHS. He asked to meet Reggie in six hours in the LA X parking garage. He emphasized the meeting was very important. Reggie agreed to the meeting.
Samuel’s call was from Agent Walt Sellers. Sellers told him to tell no one else of the call. He asked for an evaluation of Deena and Reggie. He also asked for confirmation SGT Jim Fairfax was killed. He gave Samuel directions to a McDonald’s on Wilshire and told him to order a Quarter Pounder value meal and sit at the table closest to the Playlaynd. Sellers then hung up.
Bonn was clearly very cautious and worried when he met with Reggie. He told Reggie something was terribly, terribly wrong. He was flying to Seattle for an emergency meeting with some senior defense contractor executives, but before he left, he got wind of the shootout in L.A. He couldnít believe what was going on. Message traffic was clamped down and most of the folks in the organization canít get even a whiff of whatís really happening, but Bonnís contacts tipped him off to some still accessible data.
Before the data was removed from the database he was accessing, Bonn discovered that Vladimir Bazarov was a CIA agent. So was Ali Mugniyah. Theyíd been deep undercover for a few years now, mostly operating a sting to uncover illegal weapons sales. Bonn knew Bazarov when he came over to the Americans. They went through a lot of CIA training together. Bazarov was a bitterly anti-Muslim, anti-terrorist type who lost many friends and family in Afghanistan and Chechnya. He doesnít consider America perfect, but he thinks itís the least of many evils. Thereís no way heíd be tied in to something that would justify connecting him with wiping out Superior.
As for Belati Hitam, Bonn was pretty sure itís the front created for the sting operation. He heard from someone some months back that some of the big names in the organization were authentic terrorists recruited to lend the organization credibility. As far as he could tell, the organization scored a pretty significant weapons buy several months back and the CIA planned to shut them down with a series of arrests. Bonn thinks the arrests were what was going on in L.A. He couldnít get confirmation, but it sure looked like it. He couldnít make sense of Reggieís involvement in what amounted to a violation of the (Posse Comitatus Act). The actions themselves made no sense—why was the Army interested in foiling a CIA operation?
Finally, he handed Reggie an envelope. Inside were photographs. The photographs showed a man Reggie had never seen before standing in a lab, the same man leaving a building with the logo of BioVault, and the same man shaking hands with Jason Talbot. There was also a photograph of the man, a woman, and the kid the group rescued from the terrorists in the Whole Foods store. Bonn said the man was Dr. Adrian Klassen. Dr. Klassen was one of the foremost authorities on viral biology. He did a lot of work for the Army in the late 1990s, all of it classified and contained only within Army systems. He said Dr. Klassen worked out of Phoenix today, ostensibly as an independent researcher. Dr. Klassen had recently concluded a contract with Logicwyrx, a contract funded through an Army project that is somehow off the books. As far as Bonn can tell, Logicwyrx is in deep with the Army, deeper than anyone was letting on, and Dr. Klassen maintained ties with or simply never quit working for the Army. Klassenís operation in Phoenix was BioVault, a private corporation majority owned by Klassen and Jason Talbot, owner of Logicwyrx. Bonn believed BioVault is an Army operation that pretended to have civilian customers. Bonn also believed BioVault was the key to whatever was going on. The company operated under the radar. he offered a final item of interest: there were several folks within OHS who had been flagged for observation by the FBI. Reggieís name showed up on the list. So was Shelton Francona’s, something of a dirtbag muckity muck.
As Samuel ate his quarter pounder meal, a very pretty young woman with a little kid walked past. The kid grabbed some of Samís fries and drooled all over them before dropping them on Samuel’s pants. The woman apologized, frantically wiped Samuel’s pants, and pulled the child away. After leaving the McDonald’s, Samuel realized the woman had stuffed a fairly hefty cell phone into his pants. Samuel assumed it would be an effectively “clean” means of communication to trusted folks within the CIA.
The group reconnected. Samuel provided a few nuggets of information from an anonymous source. Reggie shared his paranoid take on what he’d been told and combined it with Samuel’s selective intelligence release. Despite their misgivings about Reggie and Samuel, the others decided to bail on the belati hitam operation. They proceeded to Phoenix to check on Biovault and Dr. Klassen.
BioVault seemed fairly typical for a biological research facility, if a little heavily guarded. Closer observation caught a civilian-garbed Captain Moreland—the “head of security” in the Superior clean-up operation—visiting. Moreland took delivery of a plain semi-truck (driven by a couple of guys that just seemed to be special forces types). Moreland drove a beat-up SUV ahead of the semi, heading north, to Flagstaff. The group decided to split up, some tailing the convoy, some doing a bit more detailed reconnaissance of BioVault.
The team that stayed in Phoenix ended up getting admittance into BioVault. Samuel managed to get a date with Dr. Klassen’s extremely cute executive admin for later that night. The team planned how best to exploit the young woman. Samuel already had his own plans (for once, they didn’t involve high-powered rifles and brains splattered on a wall).
The group tailing the convoy eventually saw them park at a huge, abandoned warehouse. Minutes later, the convoy crew exited in a plain-looking Humvee convoy. The tailing team followed. The convoy headed up to a remote, off-site meeting point where helicopters picked up Moreland, his two drivers, and the cargo. The tailing team tracked the helicopters from a distance, trying not to stand out too much. They finally lost them out near Humphrey’s Peak.
The team in Phoenix tailed Samuel and the pretty admin around the city as they had dinner then went dancing. After dancing for a few hours, the admin invited Samuel back to her place. Back at her place, Samuel waited until the young woman excused herself to slip into something more comfortable then dug through her purse to steal her BioVault ID card, which he planned to toss through the glass door to Michael. On his way to the door, though, Samuel saw forms moving furtively through the shadows. He radioed a warning to the team and turned the houselights off.
Samuel sneaked out of the house and the others drove their rental car up into the yard, rescuing Samuel from certain death. As the car sped away, the team at Humphrey’s Peak called in to repeat their bizarre find. Everyone agreed they should head to Humphrey’s Peak as Phoenix had jut gotten too hot. They collected everyone’s gear and headed out of town as fast as they could.
At Humphrey’s Peak, the group reconnected. After a bit of discussion, they agreed they should investigate the area along the peak. They switched into field gear—backpacks, camouflage, weapons, water and food, etc.—and headed up into the light forest. A few hours into their travel, they suddenly found themselves surrounded by black-suited men armed with large batons. The men ordered them to surrender. Reggie and Samuel decided not to and opened fire.
The black-suited men closed, wielding the batons with brutal effectiveness. Once Samuel nearly killed one of the men, the brutal became even more emphasized. Reggie and Samuel each received a few extra strikes for their efforts. Finally, the group was bound and taken up the rest of the way to a stretch near the top. There, a door opened in the mountain and they were escorted within.
Session Six End