Sunday, 10 September 2017

Down Among The Dead Men (Esoterrorists)

Another short scenario, this time for the Esoterrorists.

The scenario is loosely based on this news item. A family discovers an SUV, wrapped in plastic, buried in the back yard. It seems to be in excellent condition, and not - as first feared - a body dump. The vehicle was reported stolen, and at time of writing the most likely scenario seems to be insurance fraud, though it seems a convoluted way of going about it.

Word count: 2433.


The Briefing

Lead-out: Sheriff Berry, Fool's Gold, The Previous Owner

Ms Verity summons the agents to Shawnee, the capital of Pottawatomie County, Oaklahoma.

[Pottawatomie: mostly white with sizable Native American population, land originally given to Creek and Seminole after their forced removal from Georgia and Florida, main income retail sales & manufacturing, with agriculture a significant earner, cotton, potato, peach. Shawnee: competed with nearby Tecumsah for county seat designation, finally won in 1930, former railroad hub, current agriculture and industry hub.]

She explains:
  • A week ago local media station KFOR reported the discovery of a buried, brand-new SUV on the property of Lucas Earley.
  • The SUV was discovered as Lucas was digging a new track for ATV racing. He rents out part of his property to weekend joy-riders, and was improving the track.
  • The SUV is a 2003 model and apart from being buried is in reasonable condition, given the circumstances. No bodies were found.
  • Local sheriff Shandra Berry has told reporters an investigation is ongoing, with insurance fraud the likely cause of the incident. The previous owner of the property is the most reasonable suspect.
  • According to Ordo records the previous owner of the property, Rick Parsons, is a known Esoterror asset who escaped Ordo surveillance during operation ROCK DAWN in 2004. Current whereabouts unknown; may have died in 2005 mass immolation Bowie, Texas, but insufficient physical evidence to confirm. 
The agents are tasked with investigating the SUV and confirming whether or not it has any Esoterror connections. Their cover for the operation is that they are acting on behalf of the insurance company, GEICO.

Sheriff Berry
Lead-In: The Briefing

Lead-Out: Fool's Gold, The Previous Owner, Parasites.

If the agents follow up with Sheriff Berry, preferably using some kind of official channel - Bureaucracy or Cop Talk, 0 point spend - she confirms Ms Verity's account and says that forensic examination has shown the vehicle was modified, presumably by the former owner, removing the steering wheel airbag to create a hidden compartment. This was almost overlooked, as the 2003 model had an airbag problem, so the non-standard cover was taken to be a recall/replace issue. The compartment had small traces of what the Sheriff is guessing will turn out to be narcotics. If the agents don't use Bureaucracy or Cop Talk then they still get the clue, since it's a 0 point, but Sheriff Berry checks up on them with their presumed bosses at GEICO, which will cause trouble down the line. See also Official Business.

However agents who spend 1 point Pathology or 2 points Evidence Collection notice that a significant number of the Sheriff's staff have come down with a viral infection - coughing, red/runny eyes, sore throat, blood-flecked phlegm - which mainly affects those who've had first-hand contact with the SUV. The Sheriff thinks this isn't relevant, beyond making her job that much more difficult with a quarter of the department off sick, including all of her forensic support and the mechanics she had looking at the SUV.

In fact the infectious agent, if studied, most closely resembles a variant of the Dependoparvovirus genus, not normally associated with infectious diseases. These don't usually trigger an immune response, and are often used in gene therapy. In this instance someone has modified it for use as a bioweapon. See also Parasites.

Parasites (alternate)
Lead-In: Sheriff Berry

Lead-Out: The Previous Owner, Official Business

The virus discovered in Sheriff Berry is one of the Esoterrorists' failed attempts to modify an Outer Dark entity, in this case the Glistening (main book, p57). 

The intent was to cultivate a much more biddable version of the Glistening and introduce the infection via contaminated cocaine, which is why the SUV was modified with a hidden compartment. However the experiment was not a success, and instead of creating a Glistening the Esoterrorist cell merely made an obnoxious infectious disease. It knocks the host out for a few days, and it can be fatal in a very small portion of the population - less than .001% - but the spores are nothing like the Glistening and do not create sessiles or drones.

However they are enough like the Glistening to give false positives for Evidence Collection and Forensic Entomology. A 0 point spend with either of those indicates that the Glistening is present; only spending points demonstrates that there is no real infection.

This may make the agents panic, possibly even call in FEMA-level backup. This moves the action to Official Business.

Official Business (alternate, reaction)

Lead-In: Parasites, Sheriff Berry

This scene assumes that the agents do something to provoke a hostile reaction from official channels. This means either they aroused Sheriff Berry's suspicions, or they over-reacted to what they thought was a potential Glistening outbreak.

If the former, Sheriff Berry starts surveilling them, gathering evidence for what she believes may turn into serious, even Federal, charges. A lot of her people are off sick, so she's doing this solo and on her own time. Treat this as an increase of 2 Difficulty to any General test involving criminal or semi-criminal activity, eg Infiltration to break into someone's house. Failure in this instance means that she's watching the agents when they attempt the criminal activity, and interrupts them at a psychological moment - like when they're making what they think is a clean getaway. Fortunately the agents can get around her with generous (2 point minimum) point spends of abilities like Cop Talk. Intimidation is a very bad idea, and may lead to shooting.

If the latter, then Federal agencies have become involved. Now the agents have to worry about being picked up by the FBI, which means point spends for Interpersonal abilities (Bureaucracy, eg) increase by 1 point and Difficulty for General tests involving criminal or semi-criminal activity increases by 2. The Feds are watching. Phones are tapped, electronic communications are being monitored, rooms are bugged, nondescript surveillance vans are in position across the street, and so on. This probably isn't going to look good on anyone's final report. Point spends will not get around the Feds.

The Previous Owner

Lead-in: The Briefing

Lead-out: Solitary Confinement, Psychobomb

If the agents chase up the Rick Parsons angle, then they discover (core clue Cop Talk, Fingerprinting, Bureaucracy) that according to state and local records Rick Parsons fled the state back in 2003, one step ahead of an assortment of charges of which the most important are an assortment of federal firearms beefs. The ATF would very much like to know his current whereabouts. Ordo records suggest but cannot confirm his death in 2005; however at about the same time, a Robert Peters was arrested in Maryland for assault, and thanks to a less-than-spotless prison record he's still in an Maryalnd lockup. Fingerprint evidence and Evidence Collection strongly suggest that Peters is Parsons, operating under an alias.

He's also become one of the more important members - a lieutenant - in the prison's Dead Man Incorporated gang. His specialty is contract killing and he has a reputation for being impossible to kill thanks to his unique tattoos (-2 armor, magical ritual). He's been spreading the Esoterror message throughout the system since his incarceration, and he won't be happy to see the investigators.

Assuming the investigators get to see him (Law 0 point) then Interrogation (0 point) or similar shows he's surprised to hear his old SUV turned up. He thought that thing was gone for good. It was involved in some kind of Esoterror stunt, but he's not about to say what. Interrogation or Bullshit Detector (1 point) indicates he thinks he can work an angle, maybe use this information in some way, but it's not clear how. He does let slip that his brother will help him, but records show he has no brother. Perhaps he means a gang brother.

Paying attention to the other prisoners (1 point Streetwise or similar) notices that many of them refer to 'Loco' or 'Loco Man' in terms of reverent awe. Loco, they say, is an inmate, but he's not just any inmate: he's special.  He looks like a heavily tattooed George Raft, is an expert brawler and killer, and wears correctional clothing so perfectly clean and pressed you'd think he had a personal valet. He runs the DMI in this prison, and thanks to Peters he's well on the way to becoming an Esoterror asset. Upsetting him, or challenging him in any way, could lead to a riot. However judging by the artwork in his cell - drawn by Loco Man himself - he's a few steps away from summoning a particularly unpleasant Outer Dark entity - a Brutalizer. If the agents leave him alone, they're going to hear from this prison again soon. Antagonizing Loco Man leads to Psychobomb.

Investigating Peters' cell finds his carefully hidden (0 point Evidence Collection) ritual diary, in which his plans for this prison, and the plan to become a Discarnate, are carefully encoded (1 point Cryptography or Occult Studies), buried among a lot of uncoded stuff about his nightmares and other psychobabble. Information found here can help uncover his dig sites (cf Fool's Gold).

Ordo influence (Bureaucracy 0 point) can get Peters transferred to an Ordo facility, but before that happens he shanks a guard and gets himself put in solitary. See further Solitary Confinement.

Psychobomb (alternate)

Lead-in: The Previous Owner

The Loco Man runs the DMI in this prison, which means that he runs the narcotics and smuggling rackets. Upsetting him leads him to start a riot, with the aim of shanking one or more investigators.

It starts with a fight between two inmates unconnected with DMI, in a room or corridor close to the investigators' current location. They're drug addicts acting under orders. The fight quickly escalates, and when guards intervene with chemical agents, baton and hard foam rounds, the prison erupts. Two guards are quickly taken prisoner, and the fighting gets totally out of control. The riot lasts for forty minutes, and only ends after the guards start using live rounds.

In the confusion, Loco Man and N=P number of DMI hard men seek out the investigators, attacking with razor blades, shivs, metal pipes and a four-shot homemade pistol. They want the investigators dead. If possible, Loco Man will capture one for a blood sacrifice, a made-up ritual he's basing on the things Peters has told him. The sacrifice won't do anything except weaken the local Membrane.

Solitary Confinement (alternate)

Lead-in: The Previous Owner

Lead-out: Fool's Gold

This scene occurs if Peters knows the Ordo has caught up with him.

Peters figures he's going to end up in an Ordo cell, and doesn't like the prospect. He immediately attacks another inmate, hoping to be put in solitary. This plan succeeds, and the prison warden isn't about to let him out again without Federal level clearance, which means 2 points Bureaucracy or 1 point Law.

However Peters has other plans. As soon as the door slammed shut behind him he began pouring accelerant, and by the time the investigators catch up with him his cell is ablaze. Nobody knows how he got the accelerant or a source of ignition in the cell, though Bullshit Detector or Interrogation 0 point tracks down the guard who helped Peters pull it off.

Peters' charred body is almost unrecognizable. In fact, an autopsy shows that the dental work isn't Peters', and 1 point Forensic Pathology discovers that his fingerprints have changed as well. It shouldn't be possible, but Peters somehow switched his body for someone else's - another prisoner. Peters is nowhere to be found, certainly not in the prison. Investigators who remember the briefing note about the mass immolation in Bowie, Texas may wonder if this is the same trick.

Fool's Gold

Lead-in: Solitary Confinement, Parasites, Sheriff Berry

Lead-out: Endgame

This scene assumes the investigators either go to the place where the car was found, investigate the car while it's at the impound, or both.

The 2003 model SUV is in remarkable condition, given that it's been buried for almost a decade. It doesn't run, but with cleaning and some very minor restoration it could be made usable. It's a standard model, with some modification (cf Sheriff Berry). However there's something about it that makes people very nervous; Stability 3 test to work on it or be near it for longer than a half hour. This is because, before he buried it, Peters/Parsons went to a great deal of trouble to make it suitable for use as a Discarnate host (cf main book p55-6). He just didn't go that final step, because before he could get started the Ordo closed in and he had to make a break for it.

This is also why Peters/Parsons went to such lengths to bury it. Investigating the dig site (core Occult Studies) notices that, at the bottom of the hole, there's a space in which the ritualist is meant to commit suicide, providing the spirit to power the Discarnate.

In theory the investigators can short-circuit this plan by having the SUV crushed or otherwise destroyed. However if Peters/Parsons realizes that the SUV has been uncovered, then he escaped - Solitary Confinement - and quickly made his way to another suicide spot, hidden on the vast extent of his former property. There he completed the ritual, and the Discarnate is now active.


Lead-in: Fool's Gold

Either the investigators alerted Peters/Parsons, and therefore the Discarnate is active, or they did not.

If they did, then the house Peters/Parsons lived in is now a Discarnate killing machine, and its first victim is either Sheriff Berry or the people who now live on what was Peters/Parsons' property. It then targets the investigators. In this version of events, the SUV is almost as important to the Discarnate as the cultist's corpse, and destroying the SUV reduces the damage done by traps. Where a discarnate normally does (13-N) damage to a victim, it now does (9-N).

If they did not, then shortly after dealing with the SUV - presumably destroying it - Peters becomes aware of what they've done. He stages a prison break with (N= 0.5P) DMI goons, and tracks the investigators down if they're still in Pottawatomie County. His first victim, as above, is Sheriff Berry or the people on his property, but he'll definitely want revenge on the players. As an ordinary cultist Peters/Parsons is much less dangerous, but he will have had time to steal a shotgun and a couple pistols or knives for his DMI buddies. In this version Peters/Parson still has his damage reduction, but no other magical abilities.

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