THE SPIDER IN THE WEB
Previously: What the Heck is Swat Kats?
Themesong: Every Breath You Take by the Police
The pamphlet rack had gained a “Coming Soon” section. It had posters for “Marvel” and “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures” whatever that was. There was also a pamphlet for “80’s Action Movie”, which I suspect I’d accidentally gotten stuck in for a brief period. Hmmm… interesting… Didn’t know if any of my friends were interested in going to either of those worlds even for the 1 Month or 1 Year at a time the pamphlets were talking about, but that was their own concern. Mine was the “GREAT DETECTIVE” Jump flashing on the Vending Machines of Destiny.
“Great Detective? As in Mouse?” I asked, touching the screen. Apparently not. This was more generic than that. Huh. Interesting. Detective work at the dawn of the 21st Century. Okay, whatcha got. Lyon, France. Huh. Well, why not. I like wine. I like cheese. Apparently Interpol is HQ’d there. 25 years old. Not bad. What we got for origins? Consultant? Hardboiled? Pro? None of them scream out to me… so let’s see what discounts they get. I know, I know, seems cheap, but nothing hard and fast says I have to conceptualize myself before making up my mind.
Well, I picked Consultant. After seeing the Perks, it wasn’t much of a contest. [100/900/1000] “Deduction may not be your day job, but it is your second life. People come to you with tall tales, problems, mysteries… and you solve them. Sometimes they pay… sometimes they owe you one. Expect weirdos.” Comes free with Got it Memorized, another eidetic memory perk, but this one records with a glance and enhances my memory storage. Comes with a delete function, should I need it. Nice and all, but wait till you hear what’s next.
The Look [300/600/1000] “The ultimate eye in single glance analysis, tell spotting and targeting. Muscle Reading, the ability to read even the most subtle of tells and clues of facial musculature. This is limited by my knowledge base, of course, and is not true mind reading, but it’s close. Post-jump, this will allow me to “focus” and fine tune my gaze for specifics.” Pair that with “Mental Palaces” [300/300/1000] “Mental Crime Scene Reconstruction and the last word in mind and memory. Can be used to run combat simulations or practices speeches. Drastically boosts my mental storage capacity. Post-Jump, it will allow me to pull a person into my head for up to a day, once a day. Time Freezes during that period. 24 hours, alone with someone inside my own head… and then they’re back in the real world and trying to explain why they’re bleeding.
Which is all pretty darn cool… but the best is yet to come. In the gear section we find the ultimate Consultant power… “The Hat” Absolutely free for Consultants. A stylish, every clean and in season hat for your head. Wearing it makes you feel clear-headed and quick-witted, as if I’d had a good night’s sleep. Oh, and everyone gets a Detective’s Notebook for free. Never gets permanently lost, damaged, or out of pages or ink. Comes with a magical index that updates automatically.
Let’s grab some Drawbacks and look into importing my crew. Mmm… police squad… interesting. Might be a lark… I’ll consider. Ooooh! Stupid Accent! I vant to Russian! Sure, why not. [+100/400/1100]. You’ve got Murder? Oh, of course! [+100/500/1200] Can’t have mystery without murder. Not Playing by Knox? Don’t get the reference, but a secret society to find and destroy? Yes please [+300/800/1500]. Companion Time.
Watson, I Presume [300/500/1500] is pricy, but hell, its Zane. Gotta have Zane. So what does Zane get for my 300? Background and age of my choice. Okay. Loyalty and an eternal bond guaranteed. Upgrade! Zane’ll have my back like I’ll have his. That’s a given. Ooh. Zane’ll be able to tell whenever I’m in danger or about to be in danger. Could be handy. And he gets… whoa… 1200 CP. Bazinga!
But the rest… need more… Meddling Kids… heh. Nice. [100/400/1500]. Some kids and a dog. 300 CP each. At least one must be an animal, at least one must be a human. Up to six total. Seven companions isn’t bad.
So… 400 left… Just Between You and Me [300/100/1500]: Why does everyone keep telling me secrets? Do I have that kind of face? People seem more likely to tell me things in confidence, even normally tight-lipped villains can’t help but spill to me.” That leaves 100. Might as well pick up the Looking Glass [100/0/1500], as it will reveal things that mortal eyes would not see. Where bodies fell, hints to the location of clues, secret doors… even ghosts. Helpful in the right circumstances.
Now, for the team. Those Meddling Kids will be Yoiko & Ryoga, a pair of Drop-Ins, 18 & 20 respectively. Yoiko, never more than a passing hand at Martial Arts, gets Rough & Tumble, which makes her tough enough to put down a drunk Gorilla and strong enough to haul it out onto the street. Considering she was already Hibiki Strong, that’s a nice boost. Give her Fuzzy Thinking (not that her logic isn’t already Hibiki Screwy) so she can get a bit of Lateral Thinking, and toss in Infinite Patience so she won’t get bored or tired or slowed by boredom. For her brother, who desperately needs a clue, let’s give him Infinite Patience too, as well as making him a Blunt Object (not that he isn’t already). That makes him immune to seduction, manipulation, or malicious trickery, packed into a hardier head with stronger mental defenses. He’s pretty oblivious, might as well play to that. And we’ll give him Harmless Enough so people don’t worry about the building destroying martial artist lurking in the background… blowing 10 foot holes in a wall because he can. We’ll call them the Stakeout Squad… even had that printed on the covers of their freebie Notebooks.
Uriel & Bao-Feng could use some time together, so let’s team them up too. Make them Hardboiled. The Brute Squad. That gives them both Rough & Tumble, something Uriel could use and even Bao could use a little bulking up. Boy is fast, and cunning, but he’s not a bruiser, he’s a Warrior-Scholar. And in that vein, let’s give him Fool Me Once, help him learn more from every attack. Uriel’s commanded armies his entire life, but from afar. Let’s give him some Time in the Army. A lot of it. Enough to take down more than ten men in a fist fight without breaking a sweat. Give Bao some competition. Make them 24 and spend Bao’s last 50 CP on the Blacklight Torch which shows any biological traces… and if there aren’t any, shows evidence of them being erased. And they each got a Hip Flask that could contain an infinite amount of one liquid (at temperature no less), and (up to once per week) stop a fatal blow against them.
That just leaves 2 slots. Need an Animal. Already brought 4 humans. Let’s bring an Alien. Ziggy & Dyna. Call this team Pokenose. Leave Ziggy as an animal, that means Drop-In. Give him Rough & Tumble, Harmless Enough, and Blunt Object… he’s a good ferret. Give Dyna a Profession background. That gives Infinite Patience free. Let’s give her Profiler, someone should know how to do that. I can read people, but I don’t understand them. Someone should. Good thing the Notebooks are self-repairing, Ziggy’s already eating his. Dyna also picked up the Blacklight Torch to go with her shiny new Badge, which would not only be recognized pretty much everywhere the law was, but would allow her to interrogate anyone once per day.
I considered spending for Zane, but decided that, as my partner, he should get to pick. I would have gone with Professional for him. He went Hardboiled. He even got a Fedora and Trenchcoat out of the costume closet… then wore them in first his Lucario form, then ruined the coat by trying it in his Krogan form. While I restored the coat with Bastion Tech, he made his choices. Of course, as a Hardboiled Detective, he got Rough & Tumble free. He also grabbed Trust Me I’m a Detective (100), Got it Memorized (100), Lockjaw (300), Temp Noir (300), and Spirit of the City (300).
TMIAD will allow Zane to project an aura of confidence and competence and, as he put it, “One of us should look professional.” I hit him and he laughed. Got it Memorized you already know, but he took it because “All this stuff we’ve been through is getting complex and hard to keep straight. You’ve got all these plans. Sometimes it’s hard keeping up. Also I keep learning stuff about worlds we ain’t goin’ back to. Might as well dump useless info, right?” I humphed. The idea that there is such a thing as useless info baffles me. Everything is useful in the right context. The secret is just to… compartmentalize that information until you need it… but you want to be careful doing that. Ideas resonate with each other. Victoria is awesome, but she can’t look at a flower and a list of tax codes and a swatch of fabric and create the history and economy of a fictional land… or tell you what a murderer had for breakfast that morning.
Lockjaw and Temp Noir are a pair. The first gives Zane undying determination and makes his mental defenses and stubborness increase by an order of magnitude… ouch. Post jump it will allow him to pass that on to others for a day at a time. The second sharpens animal instinct, making threats, clues, and cues pop out at Zane, giving him 10x faster reaction speeds and more than doubling the amount of damage he can take. During the jump it’s only activated by the smell of blood or by active danger. After the jump, no limit. Apparently it also gives him an internal narration… but in his own gravelly voice. Zane’s explanation of why he took them is “Because I’m Awesome.” so there you go.
The last, Spirit of the City, sounds like something out of the Spirit Movie. Gives him an emotional / mental / spiritual link to the chosen city. One city per jump. I asked “Why? We have maps.” “You saw the Spirit! The City is hawt!” It said I might get to meet her!” Riiight. That’s Zane for you. Heavy Metal Hound Dog forever. I just know he’s going to knock up a city at some point and then we’ll have a suburb following us around calling him papa.
We take a few days, relaxing in being ourselves before we divide up for the mission. We all know going in that people are going to die. But people die all the time. Nothing we can do to stop it. Just have to find the evil organization stop them. Probably won’t stop the flood of bodies, but should be interesting. We rig up holographic / solid light projectors all over the warehouse, giving it an illusion of being outside, rig the AC units to simulate a breeze, hook up a olfactory synthesizer to randomly run through different terrain types, all of them pleasant.
Then we get started on a project that’s long overdue. We build warehouses inside the warehouse, building up. We’ve got the room, might as well use it. We get six stories up in one quarter of the massive space before we run out of stuff to store in The Stacks. The garage is on the bottom floor, of course. I haven’t got any proof, but I suspect the warehouse is probably a hypercube. That should mean it’s also got 200 feet of third dimensionality… as the ceiling never seems to come any closer. Well, we’ll see. But for now… insertion. Time to get more supplies.
Lyon isn’t bad in summer. We drop in pairs, but we’re all in the same block of flats. A PI Firm across the hall from a Consulting Detective? Madness. Team Stakeout live upstairs, across the hall from Team Pokenose. Apparently I own the building. “Smoke & Mirror Consulting” on the front glass. I’m Juno Smoke, Zane’s Zane Miroux. Heh. Someone’s got a sense of humor. I step outside, looking at Bao & Uriel’s business. Seven Swords Investigations? I think about that for a second, then nod. Bao-Feng’s name can be read as Precious Sword, and Uriel is Septim VII. Seven the 7th. They come out wearing Herringbone suits and Bao says, “Smoke I presume?” I nod. “He’s Miroux.”
We make introductions, Dyna still hasn’t chosen a gender, so her form is as androgynous as it was back in Nerima. Ziggy is one huge ferret, but most people won’t give him more than a glance. The Hibiki’s are speaking at each other in French and giggling like morons. Which they pretty much are, but they’re my morons.
We get our first case in hours. It’s a locked room murder. The Police are stumped. Everything is as expected. Then things go off the rails. We get a second locked room murder across town, exactly the same MO… exactly the same time of death. And a third one in Dardilly, and a fourth in Saint-Priest, and a fifth in Givors, and a sixth in Bagnols… by the end of the day we have 13 nearly identical locked room murders spread out all over the Rhone-Alpes region, all committed within 20 minutes of each other. The newspapers go crazy. It’s a cult, it’s a conspiracy, it’s aliens!
Turns out it was a very clever and frustrated insurance adjuster and 13 desperate families. The “victims” all had some reason to think their families would be better off without them, and so they’d each used the same method to kill themselves, a method that would, with the right staging, look like murder, at which point their life insurance would pay out several times over… and the insurance agent would get a cut for providing the method. I convinced the company to pay out (at the normal rate) arguing they wouldn’t like the lawsuits that would follow. The Lyon Surete called the deaths a suicide pact, and closed the case.
That was the first 4 days. The pace of death did not slow, nor was that the last of our insurance fraud cases. In one case, a sequence of nearly 20 suspicious deaths finally led us to the Case of the Domino Murders. It was insane. B murders A, C murders B, D murders C, and so on. Sure, O murdered both K and N, but that was the basic pattern. And why? Because U was married to… dun dun dun… an insurance adjustor. Each of the murders, each arranged to look like an accident, set off a chain of inheritances, and never with the murderer benefiting from the murder they committed. It was brilliant, depraved, and insane. And at the end? U was the final recipient of the cascade. She knew nothing of the plan and her husband, the weasel (and not in a good way) ran for it and died in a car crash. Sure, the car crashed into Petra, but what can you do. Mega Metagross beats Fiat any day.
By the end of the first year, I was beginning to know what Sherlock must feel like. Interpol and Surete were calling all the time, and when they didn’t for some reason it was always some bizzarity involving missing laundry, a string of tire thefts, and every store in the city being sold out of dried oregano or something. The cases were a bewildering variety of insane, insanely creative, creative… and downright brutal at times.
My first job out of the Lyon area came 16 months in. My fame had grown and Interpol called for my help when it became clear a serial killer from Italy had entered France. He’d started in Rome and moved up the coast, beating women to death with his fists every step of the way. By the time he entered France, the death toll was 21. The police issued advisories against being alone in public places at night. Didn’t stop Jekyll as the papers were calling him, forgetting that Hyde was the murderous brute.
His targets were young, attractive, 16-28. Always wearing a tight top, always wearing a short skirt, always wearing heels. A 2 Euro coin, always Italian, was laid over each of the victim’s eyes. There were no other commonalities. Straight, Gay, White, Black, Asian, Christian, Muslim, Jew, in public, in their homes, in an office. Always after dark, always alone, always every nearby security camera broken with the heavy brass head of a walking stick.
We finally caught Jekyll in Barcelona. We jumped ahead of him, setting a trap in Las Ramblas, the long shopping and walking arcade that the city is famous for. Each of us that could were dressed to match the profile, even Dyna with a little padding in the right places. We walked and shopped and tried to pretend we were having a good time. Five nights we waited. Then Yoiko got tapped. It wasn’t pretty. She’s the least experienced of us, but she was strong and tough and all she had to do was keep him busy until we got there.
I am beyond fast when I need to be. But Ryoga blew past me like a freight train. The man, 6’8”, 320 lbs of raw muscle, tried to fight. He didn’t stand a chance. Ryoga threw himself between Jekyll and Yoiko, taking a hammer blow that could and had broken skulls with a single blow to the back of the head. The blow barely registered on Pigboy. Yoiko safe, Ryoga turned and rushed Jekyll… his leading blow shattered the murder’s ribcage like it was glass.
I considered letting him die, I did. But I’d spent too long as a doctor and there was a patient in need that I could save. It’s funny. I’ve killed both before and after and even as S’Janus. Done so without hesitation. But I’ve never made my enemies suffer. Jekyll was crazy, dangerous, but he wasn’t my enemy. Just a man dying in the middle of the street. I dropped us into the Medbay of the warehouse, sedating the man. I fixed most of it, leaving him with some cracked ribs and the mother of all bruises, then did a complete scan… and winced.
He had a huge tumor on his amygdala. I considered removing it. I did. I had the knowledge and the technology… but I couldn’t. It was unethical and if I did, he’d never be able to stand trial. I brought him back to the real world as the policia were showing up, turned him over to them for extradition, then we went for Tapas… it was Las Ramblas after all.
It took 3 years for the organization to rear its head, 3 years in which more and more cases were showing up where the culprit had neurological damage, tumors, or abnormalities. What had been a few cases at first began tickling the doctor in me. After the fifth, I exhumed or kidnapped (briefly) each of the previous perpetrators and subjected everyone of them to an exhaustively thorough scan. Someone was doing this to them. But who? And Why? After returning them from where they’d come from, I charted their lives as much as I could. And I continued to do so with every such case. By the end of the 4th year I had 19 cases of my own, plus another 54 from around the globe.
I began backtracking through the medical publications, looking for key phrases in neural science and medicine. Google’s a fine search engine, it really is, but Victoria is better, and Vivian (When she can be pulled away from mass media) is beyond that. Then again, both are from centuries in the future, with processing time and power that is to the computers of the 2000s what they are to an abacus. They were intuitive systems, able to understand what they were reading and search through publication backlogs far faster than even an entire planet of doctors could generate them.
A doctor would have missed the clues. A detective would have failed to understand the science. I was both. But finding the papers I’d known were there was just the first step. Now I had to find the doctors who were running the experiment. Because that’s what this was. 82 murderous psychopaths, spread across the planet, over 500 dead. And who knew how many more I didn’t know about.
The case was an Onion Source. Every mystery had layers, every layer was more likely to make you cry than the last, and once you peeled all the layers back… there wasn’t anything at the center. I lept from Onion to Onion, allowing Zane to be my voice as it was easier just write notes half the time rather than listen to the complaints that my Estonian accent was hard to understand. Plus I kept having to explain that I wasn’t Russian. Finally, I learned a word; Anansi. I learned it from a dying man in Port-Au-Prince.
Anansi is an Ashanti trickster god, a folktale out of Ghana that’s spread to the Caribbean and even parts of the US, one that often took the form of a spider. So someone was claiming to be a hidden spider, a trickster… but also one interested medicine? I found it on my second websearch… after I’d inserted periods. It wasn’t Anansi. It was A.N.A.N.S.I… the Advanced Neural Analysis and Networking Sciences Institute.
Know how easy it is to make a global conspiracy of sadistic doctors your enemy? One phone call is all it took. I asked the coroner in Lyon if she’d ever heard of ANANSI. She promised to look into it. A day later she was dead. A stiff had had its belly filled with aerosolized fugu toxin. One cut and it filled the lab, killing my friend, her assistants, a hapless EMT, and two police officers.
I found the killer, and for the first time in my life, let a man die screaming. He wasn’t the last. His screams led to to the next, and the next, and the one after that. Normally in these stories, there’s an unwritten law that says that the Detective is the good guy. I wasn’t the good guy. I was a problem solver. Locked room murders? Hah. I showed ANANSI locked Building, locked compound, locked vault murders. One by one, I dismantled their organization. I wasn’t capricious. I wasn’t kind. They gave up their secrets, then they died. If they died before they gave up their secrets… well, that’s what resuscitation is for.
They’d wanted to play god. They learned first hand how an Avenging Angel works. I left behind no traces that anyone of that time and place could have hoped to detect. My final count wasn’t high. It was, by a strange coincidence, 83. When the last of the butchers of ANANSI was dead, the spider well and truly squashed, I locked myself away for a month and read and reread every paper they’d dared not publish, all their data. I studied it all, committed it to memory in a dark wing of my Mental Palace. Then, like the men and women who’d created it, I destroyed the last remaining copies.
The science had been sound, if the methods soulless. They hadn’t been hacks. They’d been monsters, but monsters with skill and vision. Their work was unpublishable, evil, disgusting, but it could save lives, make things better for many people. I built the first Adaptive MMI prototype in that month. I used their science, then released the technology to every university on the planet, without patent. I did the same with the Neuro-Cancer vaccine and the Neural Net mapping hardware.
I still solved cases, but with ANANSI gone the murders were getting routine. I let Zane handle a lot of them, being the sidekick for once. Especially if it was in Lyon. Zane and the City were one. Lyon is more than 2000 years old. The spirit of the city is an old Roman gentleman, a patrician. He reflects the spirit of an ancient and vibrant city, one of the largest in France, rich with French Cuisine and French innovation. He’s a detective himself, and a cook, and a technologist. Ancient and modern, brilliant and wise, subtle and sometimes silly. Plays a mean game of 3-D chess. Also pretty damned good at Halo. Likes playing Sorcerers.
What? You thought I’d give up Role Playing just because I live in interesting times? Not hardly. Poirot plays Whist or Bridge, Marple gossips, House and Holmes do drugs… I play games. Plus, I have a perfect memory and a holotable. My adventures are a thing of beauty. Okay, yeah, it’s harder running games with this stupid accent, but my friends (and the city) have all learned to understand me.
By the end of the decade, I’d grown pretty bored of the routine. I imagine it was the same for Sam Waterston or Angela Lansbury. Only so many dead bodies you can look at, only so many cases before they begin to become old hat. More than once I walked into a room, glanced about, then walked out again, having already solved the case. I once solved a case over the phone just from the police report. And so it was, that once more we stood on the beach, waiting for time to end. I wasn’t sad to see the end of this jump. It had had its moments, some real challenges, but by the end of it I felt like I was waiting for the Murder of Roger Ackroyd, just growing mallows in my garden and mostly retired. Of course, I’d already turned to the dark side, become the killer, but if anyone was on that case, they’d have a hard time finding me. As time froze, my friends and I stepped through the door, letting it close behind us.
Next: World 12 – Sentai Special