19: Dark Forest

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When It Happened (Chronicle Time): April 26 - April 30, 2003

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

What It Was

Responding to a call for help from the Reich Institute, George, Mark, and Yukio fly to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where they must cope with the Comte de Saint-Germain, a disastrous uranur experiment, and a horrific creature from a nightmare dimension.


Tamara is still plowing through the Tesla journals. She is starting to wonder if Tesla's 1903 experiments at Wardenclyffe really were a failure. Something definitely happened there, though even these secret journals aren't clear about it. It's reminded her of an interview he gave around that time, where he said, "The people about [Long Island], had they been awake instead of asleep, at other times would have seen even stranger things. Some day, but not at this time, I shall make an announcement of something I never once dreamed of."

While talking with Katsoulakis, George learns that Daria Zannakis has taken a sabbatical on the Greek island of Spetsai. Katsoulakis says he recommended she go so she wouldn't be in New York for whatever will happen. She plans to leave on May 20.

The Full Horror

The call for help from the Reich Institute is not something the Aces can ignore, but Donnelly's reappearance makes this an especially bad time to leave New York. Forced into a tight spot, the Aces decide to ask Jamal Rashid to help guard the Renaissance. They may not know for sure what he did back in 1976, but they decide he's earned the benefit of a doubt, at least for now.

Ken will stay behind, and with Jamal, Cassandra, Tamara, Latrell and the guards to back him up, the other Aces decide they can risk going to Michigan. With a cover story that they are hunters taking supplies to their cabin, George, Mark, and Yukio charter a Cessna Stationair from a New Jersey airport and fill it with hunting rifles and camouflage.

They leave on the morning of April 28, and have an uneventful flight to Ann Arbor Airport. By noon, they are back in the underground labs of the Reich Institute, sitting in the lounge across from Ken Inada and Bill Anderson.

The two men say they still haven't been able to make contact with the Houghton facility. The entire community, as well as Michigan Tech, is offline, which is worrisome considering the extraordinary resources they have there. Anderson actually managed to get a satellite retasked to survey the area, but nothing unusual turned up in the photos.

Anderson will keep trying to contact Houghton, but he doesn't think they should wait for that. He wants the Aces in the air as soon as possible, heading north.

The Aces agree to help, but only after they present some hard facts: The Institute's cover is almost certainly blown, and Thomas Donnelly might be planning to attack it soon. Anderson and Inada should shut down the Ann Arbor labs and relocate them to the Renaissance in New York. At least that way they can pool their resources and mount a joint defense. The two men are hesitant, but they agree to give this idea some serious thought.

Donovin and Anderson have a new understanding after this meeting. While doing a background check, Mark found out that Anderson has gone by the nickname "Bloodbath" ever since he got a team safely through a shootout with heavily armed survivalists ten years ago. Anderson is surprised when Mark calls him "B.B.", but he seems fine with it.

The Houghton facility's head of research is Seema Mukharji, an attractive Indian woman who grew up on the streets of Calcutta and became a crack-shot before she started her career as a talented physicist. The head of security is Jeff Haskins, who Anderson describes as young but smart and steady. Anderson then gives the Aces cover identities as FEMA agents to help them get through any roadblocks.

The Houghton facility specialized in the atmospheric effects of orgone. They've built several "cloudbusters" over the years, and Mukharji was hoping to test a new model when they went offline. Inada is worried the experiment may have gone wrong.

The Aces are on their way north when Houghton comes partially back online. Air-traffic control orders Yukio to land at Sawyer International Airport which is south of Marquette. The Aces charter a van to go the rest of the way.


They are driving through what passes for "downtown" Ishpeming, Michigan, when all three men sense something strange inside "Buck's Restaurant" on Main Street.

When they go in they find an older man sitting in a booth in a far corner. The other diners are keeping their distance, and when the three men look at him, they feel a sharp sense of vertigo, as if they were on the threshold of a bottomless pit beneath a limitless sky.

At first, the man isn't sure what language they are speaking, but then he says, "Ah, yes, English. It has been a while." He seems quite interested in the Aces, or as he calls them, "Katsoulakis' men."

When the Aces ask his name, the man replies that one must be careful about names-they give away more information than most people realize. He recites the Aces' names, and then stuns them by adding the names of the women who first made each of them aware of sex.

With a cryptic smile, the man says his real name would mean little to them, but that most people know him as the Comte de Saint-Germain.

"But now, children" he continues, "You should eat." Time seems to blink, and suddenly the waitress is at the table to take their orders. Then time blinks again, and she's holding their dinners. Only Mark, with his new-born Gift, is able to see time speeding up during each blink.

When the Aces ask what he wants with them, the Comte replies that he finds them amusing, and that he's curious about what they will do. He has no interest in being either their ally or their enemy, but he does have information and a gift for them. Mark interrupts, saying they aren't there for anybody's amusement, and he gets up to leave. But when the Comte says they will need his gift if they want to stay alive, George decides to hear him out.

"Something has come before its time, though one should hope its time will never truly come. But it seems it's now your lot to deal with it, and so you will have need of this."

Suddenly the Comte leans forward and taps George's forehead. George feels something ugly and sick, oily and black, slip into his mind. George can sense that it's knowledge, but it feels alive somehow, and he reels back from the Comte. After a few minutes he realizes the information is actually a spell of some kind.

Meanwhile, the Comte is continuing to speak: "We are coming to an interesting time, a time of two tribes. One tribe hopes to win you to its side. The other tribe hopes to bully you into neutrality. But neither side has noticed a third tribe, waiting and watching. This third tribe will let the others batter each other to pieces, so they can step in and take the world for their prize. You must remember this in the times to come."

The Comte gets up and suddenly he's gone from the diner. Mark's Sight allows him to sense the Comte rushing by, though when he notices that Mark can see him, the Comte stops for a split-second and bows to Mark before disappearing down the street.


After a phone call with Anderson, the Aces head for the Ambassador Bar in Houghton where they meet Dr. Seema Mukharji. She's a very pretty Indian woman, dressed in a Tigers baseball cap, blue jeans and windbreaker. She's sniffing a little, and says she's just getting over an illness.

That's actually the reason she wasn't at the experiment site herself. Given the scope and uncertainty of the study, the researchers decided to conduct it ten miles west of Houghton. Mukharji was planning to oversee it personally when she got sick, so that job went to her colleague, Dr. Heidi Vohlman.

The Houghton facility has not been harmed. The power is out, but Mukharji expects it to return when the university figures out how to overcome the bizarre EMP the region suffered on April 26. Mukharji is certain the experiment was at fault, and she insists on coming with the Aces. There were six scientists running the experiment, and they were "her people." That's something the Aces understand very well.

Copper Ridge

They head southwest on M-26 for two miles before taking a westbound road into the heart of the old Copper Ridge mines. After only a mile, the land begins to change. The trees seem dark and strange, and there are hardly any birds or animals in sight.

After three miles, they come to a campground. George slows down when they see an RV that's slid off the road and a large bonfire in the middle of the campground. Ten adults and as many children are tending the fire. They seem to be working together, but there are no signs of affection, no indications of husband and wife, parent and child. Some of the campers are bringing small bundles up to the fire, but the Aces can't quite make out what they are. It's a disturbing, disquieting scene.

As George starts to drive on, Mark settles back and tries an experiment. He uses his Sight to imagine what might happen if they did stop to investigate. Suddenly he sees himself standing in front of a girl, only six-years-old and wearing a Spongebob shirt. She's holding a dead bird in her hand, which she adds to a pile of animals in front of the bonfire. And that's when Mark sees a large chunk of flesh torn from the birds body, and the girl's mouth covered in blood. Her mind is gone, just like her brother's, her parents' and the other campers. He wakes with a shock, back in the van, with the campers' screams of "Mother! Mother!" echoing in his mind.

The trees are growing twisted and bent, and their bark is blackened now, as if by fire. There's a disgusting ichor leaching from their trunks, and the nearby brush is withered and sick. The only animals in sight lie dead on the ground, and the air is choked with fog and miasma.

Eight miles from the highway, they come to a ranger station. This time they decide to stop for a closer look. Mark and Yukio go into the station and find the office in a shambles, as if madmen had torn the place apart. George and Seema stay with the van, and wonder where the rangers might have gone.

And then, as Mark and Yukio start walking back, screams erupt all around them. The three rangers, horribly twisted, their faces melted away, rush out from the woods. Stunned by the sight of these living zombies, and overwhelmed by the horror of the past few hours, Seema screams and runs from the van. Fortunately, Yukio is able to stop her and hold her tight, while Mark quickly takes down two of the rangers. The third rushes the van, and George slams him to the ground with an open drivers-side door. George tries to get the ranger to calm down, but there's no hope of that, and he's forced to slay the man with his knife.

Mommy Dearest

Finally after ten miles, the Aces reach the site of the experiment. The woods have become a charnel house, filled with dead and rotting animals, and trees with open sores leaking foul-smelling pus. Decay and fungi are spreading fast, and every pond and creek seems stagnant and foul.

Anderson's satellite photo showed nothing odd, but when the Aces reach the experiment site, they discover a blast radius that has leveled the trees for a quarter mile. The ground in the blast area has been tossed and torn, and the Aces find themselves on a bluff twenty-feet above the center of the clearing. From here they can see the aluminum building that housed the researchers during the experiment. The front wall has been punched in, and the roof and part of the side wall have been torn open, as if by some enormous creature.

They go down to the building to look for survivors, but all they find are five strange cloths. Then Seema realizes that these are all that's left of five of the scientists. Their skins have been turned inside out and scraped clean. Unable to bear the horror, Seema has a meltdown and falls to the ground, crying, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" to the last remnants of her colleagues.

The Aces are not surprised when they hear sounds of something coming. They first hear the sound of a monstrous baby crying, and then a thunderous keening. A wave of stench, as if from an open grave, washes over them. And then they hear the creature's heavy steps pounding the ground.

Moments later, the trees begin to twist and wither right before the Aces' eyes, and a monstrous creature bursts from the woods. It has three legs, and its enormous tentacles wave like the branches of a tree. In one of its tentacles, they can see the body of the sixth scientist, just as another tentacle scrapes it clean. The creature moves fast, covering the quarter mile of the blast site in less than a minute.

George knows the ritual will take five minutes to cast, but Mark and Yukio buy him some time. Yukio drives the van at the creature, and then bails out, while Mark makes the shot of his life, sparking the gas and turning the van into a fireball as it slams into its target.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to hurt it much, and the creature is nearly on George, when he begins casting the spell. Fortunately, the spell halts the creature in its tracks. When it ends, there is a blast of white hot light, and a sharp crack as a portal opens and the creature is hurled back to the dimension it came from.

The danger gone, the Aces help Seema back into the van, and let Anderson know by cell-phone that they'll be taking her back to the Renaissance for the time being. Anderson wishes they would let the Institute take care of her, but he has to admit that no one could help her more than Nemura Kentaro.

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