The Coldest War

The Girl from Masada

Mizz Stockton, realizing that Rhyme’s Cygnet Committee was growing in size and influence, decided to offer them better living accommodations in return for their aid in “keeping an eye out” for those who mean the tower harm. Things in the Committee seem to have shifted somewhat during Rhyme’s recent absences. Mice and Amy have integrated well, and Cali’s influence has grown significantly.

The Scrounger interrupted Mizz Stockton, however, with intriguing news. He/she had been scouting the grounds of the University, keeping tabs on the Academics in lieu of recent… changes in the relationship between the two groups, when he saw a strange sight. Out of the crumbled ruins of Clark Hall, a crazed woman emerged. She was clearly driven made by something, babbling, and fleeing, but the odd part was that she was dressed in high-tech military-grade combat armor, fatigues, a state-of-the-art assault rifle, and other gear. The Scrounger knows quality stuff when he sees it, but the uniformly high quality of the mysterious soldier’s equipment, coupled with the soldier herself, piqued his interest. He tracked her, avoiding the occasional errant bullet she sent at shadows, until he could ambush her and knock her out. He had her in a dark closet elsewhere in the building.

Mizz Stockton interrogated the crazed woman, whose name (according to the patch on her fatigues) was Specialist Jackson. Jackson was mostly incoherent, but it became clear that she did not believe she was alone, and made reference to “Specialist Beckett” and other references that led Mizz Stockton to believe that wherever this strange woman came from, there was at least one more like her, somehow in the ruins of Clark Hall. The Scrounger pointed out that if they were to find this potential trove before the Academics, they should leave soon. Mizz Stockton grabbed a half-dozen Have Rats and led them by circuitous byways through the tangled, overgrown campus to the crumbled ruins of the derelict Clark Hall, looking to all the world like a valueless pile. It was clear, however, that Specialist Jackson had pushed her way through the rubble and brambles, and so they retraced the route. They descended down a crumbled concrete stairwell to an old security door that looked for all the world like an innocuous maintenance closet (except for the curiously high-tech remains of a card scanner with keypad and thumb sensor). The door had been opened with an automatic weapon. Within was a dusty, decaying laboratory filled with high technology, and on the floor was slumped an unconscious woman in fatigues, armor, and weapons similar to Specialist Jackson. Of most interest, however, was the strange stone arch dominating the room. It seemed to be made of a sort of basalt with a silvery sheen, and the posts and lintels of the “door” were at odd angles and proportions. All manner of derelict machinery was hooked up to this empty arch.

Mizz Stockton roused the woman, who by her name patch was Specialist Beckett. Beckett seemed to have weathered whatever trauma drove Jackson mad. Although she was still fragile, and seemed to have lost most of her memory, she seemed capable of reason and thought. Her weapons were taken by Fleece and Mizz Stockton insisted that they depart before Academics found them. They did so while the Scrounger concealed their passage to hide this hidden mystery from discovery. Despite running into an Academic patrol on the way back, Mizz Stockton was able to bullshit her way past and brought Beckett to The Librarian.

It became clear that the two Specialists were not only not from around Seattle, but that they had never before set foot in the “real world.” Their trauma was the result of sudden exposure to the Madness, leaving the open question of where, exactly, they were from and who they represented. Fragments of memory would occasionally float to the surface of Beckett’s mind, or dribble from the babbling lips of Jackson. They seemed to remember the United States of America, they remembered the notion of “Russians,” and various other fragments of memory from before the Madness descended.

Mizz Stockton took both of them to an isolated basement room, set a guard on them, and found Silver to bring them some comforts while they adjusted to their situation.

In the Supper Club, Silver and Mizz Stockton discussed the strange newcomers while Rhyme and Dustwich alternated entertaining the crowd. Sunny loitered while Firestone took advantage of a gap in Rhyme’s performances to have talk about how his mechanic apprentice, Chin, was slacking off in favor of mooning after Rhyme. Rhyme took the opportunity to inspect Firestone and noted that while the Silence Fruit addiction had not wholly waned, Firestone was doing much better.

As Silver left to bring comforts and supplies to the Specialists, Mizz Stockton and Cass had a chat while Shazzy sidled up to Rhyme to discuss… dark and enigmatic matters. Apparently, Shazzy sees much promise in Rhyme, seeing a person who “shines like a candle” attracting the attention and intentions of all manner of “powers.” Shazzy claimed that he could teach Rhyme to… direct that attention a bit better, claiming to be a “sorcerer” of some talent. He claimed that this is what the Refined were… those who saw the world for what it was, and embraced the reality of the various incomprehensible powers that infested it. When asked point-blank which power they served, Shazzy indicated that their “patron” was called the “Black Pharaoh.” Upon hearing that name, Rhyme opened her senses to the Madness and saw an extremely powerful vision of the Pharaoh that gave her much to contemplate.

Silver, upon returning, noted Shazzy and approached. He seemed perfectly polite to her, and invited her to be one of the first to enjoy the pleasures of his new establishment.

As the evening wound down, and the Supper Club emptied of all but the most persistent drunks and hedonists, the club was suddenly attacked! Or, rather, the plan Silver had set in motion to fake an attack to draw out whichever mysterious enemy was behind Balls’ mercenaries was enacted. Rhyme, Absinthe, and Sunny, in disguise, smashed some things up and Rhyme stabbed Silver in a manner to produce a convincing quantity of blood, but not seriously hurt her. The three fled before Dustwich could arrive, not wanting the ruse to be seen through immediately. Needless to say, the employees of the club acted like a kicked anthill. Dustwich and Kitty chewed out Absinthe (who had since ditched the disguise) for being “knocked out on the job” while Mizz Stockton rallied the Have Rats to find those responsible. Silver was rapidly transported to Cass’ infirmary. Cass was in on the scheme, and made appropriate noises about how badly wounded Silver was while Mizz Stockton, after putting on a good show, let Dustwich and Kitty in on the scheme as well.

Rhyme hid under Silver’s bed while Sunny paced in the waiting room. Just before sunrise, Twice showed up at the clinic. This was somewhat unusual as the waifish girl lived in terror of Spider and never left the back rooms of the Supper Club. She asked to see Silver so as to express her condolences, but there was something odd about her behavior. Cass wasn’t sure exactly how to react to her, getting a weird emotionless vibe and a seeming lack of actual volition behind her request and seeming desire for physical contact with Silver. Twice was eventually let into the back room where she sought to take Silver’s hand in an apparently comforting gesture. Cass dissuaded her whereupon she sought to kiss Silver’s forehead. Silver opened her eyes and asked her what was going on. She leaned in for the kiss anyway, which Silver ultimately permitted…

Silver’s mind was opened to the Madness. She saw a galaxy infested with illness, but with nuclear fire seeking to cleanse it. Suddenly she WAS that galaxy, and the pain subsided.

Cass forcibly pulled Twice away from the gasping, stiffening Silver, only to notice that the superficial wound was entirely gone. Not even a scar remained. Twice suddenly blinked, clearly not knowing where she was or how she got there, and panicked, fearing she had killed Silver. Sunny and Rhyme took her back to the Supper Club where she trembled and claimed that Spider had somehow taken over her body. It seemed exceedingly strange that he had used that opportunity to heal Silver and not harm her in some way, as he had not been notably friendly to her in quite a while, but considering she IS his best customer, some sense was made of it. It did cause the others some consternation to see the very real demonstration of Spider’s unnatural control of Twice, even after she fled from him.

Without Sunny and Rhyme on hand, Cass sent for Firestone to help guard Silver. A few hours later, two well-armed slabs of meat who named themselves “No One” and “Of Consequence” arrived claiming to have a message for Silver. They were put off by Cass, and they seemed perfectly content to wait until the tower collapsed from age. Sunny returned and used her wiles to distract them for a bit, but ultimately they were permitted into Silver’s room, with Cass, Sunny, and Firestone present. Their message was a blunt one, indicating that Smog was threatening Silver, that if she didn’t leave Mount Safeco, “next time would be worse.” The two mercs were clearly paid to lurk around the Tower and wait for word that Silver had been attacked and, if she survived, to deliver this message. They apparently were not aware that Balls and his mercs had been bought off. They cheerfully delivered the message and wandered off to have sex with Sunny

Silver’s ploy was successful. She discovered that Smog, an old enemy of hers, had been behind the aborted attack and that Shazzy and Spider, although certainly somewhat nefarious, were not actively plotting her downfall.

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