Author Topic: Chapter 18  (Read 1389 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 18
« on: June 09, 2022, 11:00:22 PM »
Chapter 18

In her mind, Petra had envisioned Timber Creek as a grim and terrible place. Its walls and floor were worn with age, and dotted with the occasional bloodstain. Its staff was abusive and vulgar, shoving mentally ill people from useless therapy session to shock treatment rooms, to a pharmacy where they were kept in a drug-induced haze. Didi was no doubt trapped, not just by her own fear of delusion, but in a hellscape shaped like an insane asylum.

The fact that Timber Creek at least looked like a civilized place did little to allay her fears. After a Veil operative opened the door for her to come here, Petra looked around with increasing anxiety. Where was Didi? Was she all right?

When she gave Didi's name to the front desk, the woman behind it asked her relation to the patient. All Petra could say was that she was a friend.

"I'm sorry," the young woman said after looking over the chart. "Miss Halstaff isn't allowed visitors at this time. I can take a message for her if you want."

Petra shook her head after a moment. "Could you just tell her Petra stopped by?" She tried to give the impression of a friend who was concerned but unwilling to press the issue, and asked where she could find the bathroom.

On her way down the hall, Petra caught sight of a hallway door, thankfully with a lock on it. It was probably just a janitorial closet or something, but it would be enough. She made sure the receptionist saw her leave through the front door.

A few minutes later she stepped out of that janitorial closet and retrieved her key. It was business hours during the day, so it was unlikely another woman walking around the place would draw much suspicion. Petra conducted her search systematically, going up floor by floor.

She found Didi on the second floor, near the elevator. When Petra slipped inside and closed the door, the older woman sighed at her. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised you could get in here despite my instructions."

"I'm just worried about you, Didi. That's all. What are you even doing here?"

"I'm the one who's worried," she sounded resigned. "I went almost three days without seeing you, and now here you are again. I was hoping that meant I was making progress."

"Towards what? Keeping your friends out of your life?"

Didi wasn't even looking at her anymore. She was just staring out the window over the miniature park encircled by the building. Petra moved over to her, and put a hand on her shoulder. "Talk to me, Didi. Why did you check yourself into this place?"

That got a response. Didi glared at her, standing up from her chair and moving away. "You want me to spell it out for you? Fine. When we were in Seattle, before I lost time, I heard the guard. He saw us and followed us, but he didn't say 'stop'. He said 'arrĂȘte'. That's French."

"So? Maybe he's French."

Didi grimaced. "I called my Interpol friend the next day. He said there was a break-in at the museum in Marseille, in the archive room underground. At the exact same time we were in Seattle. Two women were spotted there by the night shift guard. They got away without a trace, but nothing was taken. That's when I started to realize just how bad things have gotten. Things up until Seattle were implausible, but not impossible. After that point though, they went straight to crazy-town. And so did I."

This was the worst part. Petra couldn't tell her the truth, not without putting the Veil at risk. "You're not alone," she said softly, trying to be comforting.

"But that's just it! I thought I was hallucinating the guard, and the journal, and the whole Seattle trip entirely, because of how impossible it all was. Then I realized I've been sick for much much longer. I am alone, because you're not real either!"

Petra didn't know what to say at first. It was natural for Didi to feel like she was seeing things, but to include Petra in that delusion? "Of course I am." She reached out and grabbed Didi's hand, holding it tightly. "Does that feel fake to you?"

Didi shook her head. "People can hallucinate touch just as easily as sight and hearing. No, it's the only explanation that makes sense. Here I am, investigating a seemingly impossibly old man, and then suddenly this woman stumbles into my path. Someone who's doing the same investigation, and actually believes what I have to say? Someone who helped me run down other possibilities, and never expressed doubt in the idea? Obviously I was lonely, and I dreamed you up to keep me company."

This was worse than Petra had feared. Not knowing about the Veil was one thing, but questioning the reality of people in your life?

"I should have known I'd end up like grandpa," Didi went on wistfully, looking back out the window. "He lived with dementia for years, and mom insisted we take care of him instead of sending him somewhere. You know one day he was nearly hit by a car in the street in front of our house? He said he was chasing down Tyler, his dog. He did have a dog named Tyler, but it had died almost forty years earlier!"

"I'm real, Didi. I'm here with you." Petra held onto Didi's arm, even as she tried to pull away.

"No you're not. You're just my loneliness cropping up again. These past few years looking into my father's theories, I've sacrificed my chance at a normal life. I should have been working, meeting people. Maybe starting a family. I wasted my time, and now it's too late. Even their anti-psychotic drugs didn't keep you away, did they?"

Petra started to object but then her fingers felt something strange, and she looked down at Didi's arm. Previously hidden by her sweater were long, red lines on her wrist, parallel to the bones. There were more on the other arm! "What the hell is this?" She demanded, lifting Didi's arm up to her face.

"That was attempt number one. I can't afford to stay here much longer, and I won't be a burden on my mom and sister, the way grandpa was on us. Don't worry. It didn't hurt much."

Those marks were only a few days old! "Why would you do this? If you thought I might be gone for good; if you thought you were getting better, then why did you try to kill yourself!?"

"Because you're not my only delusion." Didi pointed over at the lamp next to her bed. "The lights started flickering as soon as I got here. I told the nurses, and they said nothing was wrong. It only flickers when I'm alone, anyway. I didn't know what it was at first, but then I realized: it's grandpa. He taught me Morse code when I was little, so we could flash messages to each other. This is him, telling me that I'll be seeing him soon."

No! It was the fades, messing with the electrical system! Why bother just killing Petra's friends when they could torture them into losing their sanity? Petra didn't know if this was Greed, or Rage, or the Despair fade who survived, but it didn't matter. The effect was the same!

"I think I'll try pills this time," Didi went on conversationally. "I made a new friend down the hall who said he could help me. He's not on suicide watch, so he can get all the meds I need to do it."

"Stop this, please!" Petra said desperately.

"Don't worry, I set my affairs in order first. I even wanted to put you in my will, but that wouldn't make much sense. You're a good delusional friend, Petra. I just wanted you to know that."

To hell with this. She couldn't let a good woman just throw her life away, no matter what the reason. "Listen, you are not crazy." Petra held up her transport key. "I can prove it!"


It was several hours before she got back to the island. Petra felt drained beyond reason, though obviously not for physical reasons. At least Didi was doing better now. She could take comfort in that.

Petra had told her almost everything, including a primer on the fades themselves. She had demonstrated the key's uses as proof, and made damn sure Didi understood that all she had seen in the last few months was because of the fades and not some predisposition towards dementia. She'd hedged around the Veil itself, making references to 'people who deal with fades'. Hopefully that would be enough for Nick and Darius, when she told them what she'd done.

The control room was mostly empty at this hour, but Doug waved at her from the far side. "Hey," he said happily as she approached. "Where have you been? A lot's been going on here."

"Hi," she said suspiciously. "I was just back in Vancouver, taking care of a few things."

"Darius told me about your idea. Turns out you were right. There was a measurable change in Chuck's voice on the recording. When we compared it to his voice in person, the audio analyzer could tell the difference. We can now tell if someone is possessed by a fade, just by hearing them speak! It was enough proof that Darius finally let Chuck and Colin go."

"That's great! I'm so relieved." Petra had been wondering if Chuck or any of the other magicians would ever see the outside of this facility again.

Doug nodded. "Yeah, we've been busy making contact with Ortiz and the others using that Hart's Blood protocol. We explained things to Colin, who explained things to them. As of about an hour ago, the 'rival organization' is gone. The Veil is whole again!"

"I'm glad. The last thing we needed was for this controversy to continue." Especially given the new controversy that she had just added to the mix.

"Anyway, Nick wanted to see you as soon as you got back. I was told to bring you to the analysis room where they're coordinating the, uh, reintegration I guess you could call it."

Doug led the way downstairs, to a section of the Atoll Petra had never actually entered. Data analysis from sites all around the world was a massive undertaking, especially without reliable computer access due to the REMP. There were stacks of boxes filled with files lining one wall in the room, and a bunch of people surrounding a table in the middle. Darius and Nick were on one side, talking with Chuck and Colin further down. Andy had her usual place next to the door, but even she looked uplifted.

Petra rounded the table and hugged Chuck tightly. "Congratulations on your name-clearing," she said into his shoulder, and he shook a little as he laughed.

"Thanks. I hear I have you to thank for most of it, actually," he said after letting her go. "Good catch with the recording idea." He stepped back a pace. "This is Colin."

The thinner man gave her an apologetic smile, and shook her hand. "I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused, ma'am," he said with a soft British accent.

"Don't worry about it. You were acting under orders, and neither of you are responsible. I'm just glad you're out and about."

He gave her a stately nod. "As am I."

"I know we're all feeling relieved about this turn of events," Darius cut in from his end of the table, "but we still have work to do. About an hour ago our office in Vancouver got a message over their secure internet line. It was text only, without an email or messaging header. It could only have been sent by a fade."

Everyone looked at him curiously, even Nick. Apparently this was news to him as well. "The sender wants to meet with us, tonight," Darius went on. "He claims to be Despair himself, and says he wants to discuss terms."

Petra looked at Nick. "Darius and I didn't tell anyone but Morty what we had discovered. There's no surveillance that works here on the island. The only way this fade would know to use that name is if he has outside information. Is it possible this is actually the same Despair from back in the middle ages?"

"Doubtful. It's more likely one of his subordinates. Fades gain the title of their superiors when those superiors lose interest in being in charge. Or are killed in this case," Nick added thoughtfully.

"Regardless of who it is, they know a great deal about us," Darius said grimly. "The message said to bring a portable EMP generator, so we don't have to worry about being attacked by other fades, and to bring a willing human host. Apparently this fade can't take normal shape like the others, and needs someone to talk through." He nodded at Petra, who felt a moment of pride at her accomplishment. Morty had hinted that a fade in that condition might not be able to survive for long outside of a human.

The whole room was quiet for a short time. Petra doubted anyone here wasn't curious about what this Despair fade had to say. "Would it be safe for the host, though?" Nick filled in her thought before she could say it. "We can use the EMP to send other fades away, but for all we know it could tear the human up on the inside before leaving!"

"When it took me, I only lost a few minutes of memory," Chuck said slowly, and Colin looked sick at the thought. "If this fade wanted to cripple the Veil, wouldn't he have harmed me physically before leaving me? If he could, I mean. If there is a risk, I think it's minimal."

"I volunteer," Doug said from the door.

Petra turned to face him, but he continued before she could ask him why. "I know I'm a screw-up here," he added quickly. "I overthink things, and make mistakes. I'm not good at making snap judgements and deciding what to do quickly like the rest of you. I'm just not that useful to the Veil, but this is something I can do to help."

"You're one of us, Doug. That's all that matters," Darius answered. "Unfortunately, you can't help in this case. The message specifically asked for a woman as a host. Apparently this fade is female. I never spoke to any of the Despair faction back in the day," he shrugged, "so I can't confirm it."

"Darius and I can't be possessed, because of what Morty did to us," Petra added, and looked back to the door.

Andy looked a little pale, but she nodded tightly. "I would never order any of my security people to do this, regardless of gender. I volunteer, but if you see any funny business at that meeting, you hit that EMP and blast that thing out of me, got it?"

"We will," Nick assured her, and the rest of the room made noises of assent as well.

"Very well," Darius said to the room. "The meeting is set in that battery factory where you were first attacked, Petra. It's possible this fade was responsible for the attack as well. We have ten hours to make all the arrangements and scout the area. Chuck, I want you to keep working on your magic detection device. I know Colin and the others have already told us about the magic they used during their 'mission' in Germany, but it's possible Despair uses her own magic and it might be helpful tracking her down. Nick, Andy, I want you two to work with Colin and finalize the reintegration of the Veil. Doug, get back to the control room and keep an eye on things up there. Petra, come with me."

The others got to work immediately, as Darius led her down the hall. As soon as they were out of easy earshot, he turned to her. "I won't be attending that meeting. I want you to go in my place."

Whatever Petra had been expecting, it wasn't that. "I don't think that's a good idea. You know a great deal more about Despair than I do. Everything I've learned has been from history lessons!"

"That's part of the problem. Despair knows me as well. She knows I was there when her faction was destroyed. I may not have pulled the trigger, but I might as well have been aiming the gun. We don't need my presence there, not when you're available to take my place. I'll stay in the Vancouver office, listening in on coms and watching if she tries to pull anything."

His logic was pretty ironclad, but Petra still didn't like it. He looked determined though, and she doubted she could change his mind. "All right, I'll do it. Andy has to be there too, but I think Nick and Chuck should come along to advise me. In fact I insist on it."

"Agreed. After the meeting, we'll need to speak to some of the fade leaders and tell them what's happening. If they don't know already. Then, in a few days, we'll go to Morty's and he can complete the transfer from me to you."

He said it matter-of-factly, as if he was just making a haircut appointment, but Petra couldn't ignore the statement's importance. What was it with her and suicidal people today, anyway? "No way," she grabbed him by the shoulders. "You have at least two weeks left, old man. Maybe more. You're not checking out early, do you hear me?"

"It's time, Petra. The most important parts of your training are done. The rest is procedural, or operational, which Nick can help you with. You've met the fades and interacted with them as equals. The leaders did have fears about you, but those fears are dissipating. Your instincts about Chuck's innocence, and who our enemy really is, were spot on. Most importantly, you've earned the respect of the Veil personnel. You encouraged Doug when he needed it, and worked with Andy professionally. You stepped in when Nick and Chuck couldn't trust each other. Even Colin, who until recently saw you as an enemy, looks up to you now!"

Petra wasn't sure about any of that really, but he was just standing there, looking at her with pride. "I'm.. not ready, Darius! I don't think I can do this job like you do!"

"Of course you won't. You'll have your own way of doing things: your own style distinct from mine. I didn't think I was ready either, back when I started the Veil. There were so many different factions each with their own agenda. They all had so much fear of Morty and by extension, me. I could never have predicted that we would forge a lasting peace at the time, nor that the Veil would become such a useful tool in keeping that peace." He put his hands on her shoulders this time. "We aren't called upon to do the tasks that we can, Petra. We do the tasks that we must, so that we grow as we succeed."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 12:27:19 AM by Daen »