12: Black Friday

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): October 4-7, 2002

Who Was There: George Phillapoussis (Storn), Jonathan Wertham (Matt), Mark Donovin (Eric), Yukio Ohta (Bob)

What It Was

While taking a stroll through the neighborhood, Mark is attacked and nearly killed by a venomous serpent man.. Jonathan returns from his meeting with Thomas Cartwright with knowledge about serpent factions, and possible links between the works of Tesla and Reich. And Cassandra Moon returns with news that dire threats are still laying siege to The New Inquisition. The Aces discuss this new information, and then take action, stealing the orgone engine prototype from the Princeton campus of the American College of Orgonomy. This proves to be easier than expected, but the engine itself raises many intriguing questions.

The Full Horror

It's a rainy day, and Mark has gone for a walk around the Renaissance neighborhood, when he gets a cellphone call from Carla. Carla is panicked-very unlike her-and she asks Mark where he is. When he gives the nearest intersection, she belts out a very typical "Fuck!" and asks him if there's a man in a black leather jacket nearby. This being New York, there is always someone like that nearby, but Mark notices one man in particular, looking his way and coming right for him.

The man attacks him with a large knife, but Mark dodges that easily. But then he's shocked to see the man's head snap forward and bite him on the arm. Mark gets a flash of the man looking like a man-sized serpent with patterns like a black mamba. He feels a searing pain in his arm, and in the short, brutal fight that follows, Mark is bitten three times more.

Mark finally manages to draw his SIG-Sauer 40mm and shoot the serpent man dead. With its last breath, it whispers, "You must be first; then we can take our time with the rest." Mark collapses on the curb, even as the serpent man begins dissolving into white goo and washes away in the rain. The streets are deserted, and this being Harlem, the cops aren't likely to show for a while.

Mark staggers back to the Renaissance. With Ken not there, George calls on Dr. Amir Hourani, who agrees to come out and help. Dr. Hourani gives Mark an antivenin, tells him to rest, and then leaves before the Aces can give him any details he'd really rather not know.

Worried there may be more attacks on the way, George calls Ken. Kaori answers the phone and says her brother is in San Francisco visiting colleagues. Last time she talked to him, he was fine. Then George tries leaving a message on Jonathan's answering machine, but to his surprise, he gets Jonathan instead.

Back from Walkabout

The Aces leave the Renny for Jonathan's apartment and find him there with a young woman named Tamara Westcott-blonde, cute, and like Jonathan, a student of the mysterious Thomas Cartwright.

Jonathan is cautious about where he's been, and what has happened to him, but he says he's also had to deal with serpent people. Cartwright has discovered that there are two factions of them-one black and one green-locked in a kind of civil war with one another.

It's not clear whether this is an age-old conflict, or something that began recently. Nor is it clear what either side expects to gain from winning it. But each side is seeking an ultimate weapon to destroy the other. The Blacks expect to find one in the work of Nikola Tesla, while the Greens are looking for theirs in the orgone experiments of Wilhelm Reich.

But Cartwright believes he has discovered something neither faction knows: the "cosmic rays" mentioned by Tesla and the orgone of Reich are, in fact, the same thing. The two factions are looking for the same weapon.

Cartwright also mentioned something else: the golden energy Jonathan and Cartwright can wield is true orgone, and it has beneficial, life-giving effects. But the mirror opposite of orgone is the electric blue energy that Mark van Laaden used against them in Grand Rapids. This is uranur, and it can harm a lifeforce in many ways.

Yukio suspects there may be a third, "white" faction of serpent people. He borrows Jonathan's laptop and begins to study snake-handling techniques.

Jonathan now realizes that the Contessa Catalina Saragossa, last seen in 1999 at the Everett Rolston auction ('Prelude'), was a Green. The serpents who attacked Ken's apartment in 2001 were from the Black faction.

Mark calls Carla to ask how she knew about the attack, but she insists she never called him. Mystified, and angry that she may have been hacked, Carla says she will run a full systems check. She also asks Mark to mail his cellphone to one of her letter drops, so she can run tests on it. She will call him when she has some idea of what is going on.

Cassandra Returns

The next day Mark gets a call from Latrell Dupree at the Renaissance. Cassandra Moon has turned up and wants to speak to the Aces. It's the first time she's been seen since the TNI lockdown. They arrange to meet with her at O'Malley's.

Cassandra seems more confident now, though she's worried by the dangers facing TNI. Alex Abel himself asked her to leave the lockdown and join with the Aces. The lockdown has him hamstrung. Even if he knew who his enemies were, he couldn't act against them without risking the entire organization. It galls him to admit it, but he needs the help of free agents, and the only ones he trusts are the Aces. Unfortunately, he's not sure yet what help he needs from them.

Cassandra was the obvious-and only-agent he could send to them. Abel trusts her, and she is the only TNI operative the Aces are likely to trust as well. But Cassandra now also needs their protection, so the Aces decide she should stay with Tamara at Jonathan's apartment, where his wards offer some protection.

In return for their help, Abel has asked Cassandra to give the Aces some privileged information. While they were trapped in Winfield Hall, the TNI safehouse in New York-the installation the Aces found-was wiped out on August 19. The very next day, TNI lost a safe apartment in Prague. Abel was certain both operations were coordinated, so he ordered the lockdown. Since then things have been stable, but on two occasions, Abel sent out combat cells and both were wiped out.

George suggests reading his cards to see if they offer any guidance, but Cassandra says he shouldn't bother. "Every time I do one, I get the same result." She asks George's permission to take his cards and then after a quick shuffling pulls the first card off the top: the Queen of Spades. It's the card she always draws now.

Yukio can sense that Cassandra is touched by death. In fact, she is resonating with Toshigoku: the realm of slaughter, where warrior spirits who die senseless deaths continue to fight and die for all eternity. Her link to that realm is by association, and not direct, but it unsettles Yukio nonetheless.

Abel also told Cassandra to tell the Aces that the first group to burst into Ken's apartment the previous spring were TNI agents. At the time, Abel hadn't met the Aces, and he had no way to know what they intended to do with his son, Luther. This information means the Aces can now identify two of the three groups that invaded Ken's apartment that day.

Carla calls Mark to say someone did indeed hack her systems and must have used some electronic device to mimic her voice. But she can't find even one clue about who they were. Given how skilled Carla is with electronic surveillance, this is very disturbing.

Hoping to offer some leads, Carla mentions that she's come across references to a "Michigan group", and that a fake orgone box is said to be at a museum of quackery in St. Louis.

Meanwhile George calls Katsoulakis to ask about serpent people. He tells Katsoulakis Mark nearly died in an encounter with one, but the Greek exporter replies, "No he didn't. That's quite impossible. For the simple reason that there are no serpent people." Katsoulakis seems quite certain about that, but the Aces obviously have evidence to the contrary. That brings Katsoulakis around, but he's still dubious that the Aces could actually be encountering serpent people.

It's not really clear what the Aces should do, but Cartwright was certain the serpent people would soon try to steal the orgone engine from the ACO, and he strongly urged Jonathan to get their first.

Raid on the ACO

The following day, October 7, the Aces head for Princeton and case the campus of the American College of Orgonomy. The place seems very surburban, with plenty of SUVs and upscale cars in the parking lot and several soccer-mom-style visitors stopping by for massages, therapy sessions and workshops.

Tamara and Yukio go in for a tour of the place, and later report that there were no cameras or other signs of surveillance inside. Most of the doors were unlocked or ajar. They even passed by Paul Rourke's lab, and saw the orgone engine sitting right out in the open.

That evening, the only security is a standard alarm system on the doors and windows. That night, they return with masks and gloves. Unfortunately, Mark slips, and trips a silent alarm.

With no time to spare, the Aces slip in, and head directly for Rourke's lab. Rourke's notes are marked simply and plainly, for convenience. On a shelf is a complete and very well-worn collection of Reich's writings. The rest of the books in the lab are technical manuals devoted to things like stress tests and conductivity ratings.

The Aces carry off the engine (which weighs about 75 pounds) and also Rourke's laptop, which is full of relevant files. This is not a trivial matter because even a quick reading of some of Rourke's emails reveal a man who truly loves his work. Which means the Aces have carried away the man's life.

Examining the Engine

Regardless, the Aces soon have the engine back at their hotel room in Princeton. Tamara goes up to the engine, touches it, and stands there eyes closed for several minutes, having what clearly looks like a wonderful sexual experience. A golden glow of energy appears around her and the engine, and then finally fades. Tamara takes her hand away and says she feels wonderful: refreshed and "in balance."

The group beds down for the night. Mark stays in the room to guard the engine, and is surprised to find that the following morning he feels much better than he did, as if just being around the machine has helped to heal his wounds from the serpent man attack.

Amazed, the Aces get the engine back safely to Jonathan's apartment. There is no sign of their being followed. It seems they moved before any of the competition could get their act together to move first.

Back at Jonathan's place, George outfits one of the bedrooms with video and recording experiment. He then goes and touches the engine, followed by Mark, and then Cassandra. George and Cassandra have experiences much like Tamara's: while touching the machine, the feeling is intensely sexual, but once it concludes, the sexual intensity fades, leaving a general sense of well-being, satiation, and balance. Mark, unfortunately, doesn't seem to benefit in the same way from direct contact with the device, but he clearly gets some benefit from just being in its ambience.

George touches an electric light bulb to the machine and it does glow brighter.

He's feeling so pumped up by the machine that he heads out to the nightclubs that evening to release the pressure.

Despite their expectations, none of the Aces or their allies are feeling addicted to the machine. Its effects seem essentially benign. Amazed by these discoveries, the Aces ponder what they should do next.

After she experiences the engine, Cassandra sits with her head in her hands for a few minutes. Then she looks up and says she really is now in their camp, because there's no way she's going to let Alex Abel know about the orgone engine. He would only want to control it, and Cassandra has a feeling this is not the sort of thing that should be under Abel's thumb.

At the Aces' request, Tamara leaves a message for Cartwright on a prearranged answering machine. But she has no idea how long it may take for Cartwright to follow up-assuming he does at all.

Previous Recap | Next Recap | Updated 3/19/12, by the Croupier