January 21, 1986 at around Eight PM.
NAQZ Checkpoint #1 sat in the abandoned remnants of what had been New Albion’s Bartlett Station before the quarantine was enacted. Not a quarter-mile away down the Blue Line was Government Center, which had always been a bustling hub during the day before DSI took it over. With access to the subway tunnels for both the Blue and Green Lines of the city’s metro, it made the perfect launching point for the Department of Scientific Intelligence’s troops.
Both areas, as well a most of the DSI staff, resided just outside the various fences that made up the walls of the New Albion Quarantine Zone. It was in one such residence- a break room in one of the city’s defunct municipal buildings, actually- that a staticy television was tuned to a syndicated broadcast on ABS:
THE MYSTERY OF AL CAPONE’S VAULTS
“Five bucks says there ain’t shit in there,” Arlo Wallace, Watch Captain said.
Oscar Scarlett, Ward Captain, said nothing but smiled to himself
when Dr. Ellen Cole slapped a five dollar bill down on the table. President
Adams’ face stared blankly up from the billface.
“Steamer trunks full of mummified circus curiosities,” the young doctor said as she stirred her coffee and looked to the TV.
“A couple racks of bathtub gin,” Dr. Hector Sinclair said, calling out from the doorway. He had a bundle in one arm that both pulsed and wriggled against his chest. “And, you know, the usual gangster whatnot.” He fished a handful of orgone from his pocket and tossed it to the table, where the yellow stones clattered alongside Dr. Cole’s bill.
As the numerous DSI employees (and contractors, in Dr. Sinclair’s case) watched the television, a few more of their number filtered in to watch the spectacle. Intercut with myth and history of the famed gangster’s exploits, the program’s host reported live from Chicago’s underground. Hotel sub-basements, decrepit subway tunnels, and sewer maintenance access chambers all supposedly co-opted by Capone and his gang to run their schemes.
The smarmy host pumped claims into what could have been squirreled
away in the subterranean alcoves- a level of smoke blown that was nearly
visible on the grainy feed.
“Lord, this Geraldo guy is a hack and a half,” Arlo said, his hands drumming on the table beside the growing stack of cash and Orgone.
“He’s no Queenie Cloud, that’s for sure,” Oscar said, his eyes narrowing. Beside the refrigerator, a cabinet door opened on its own. A plain black coffee mug slid forward, right out the cabinet and slowly but firmly lowered itself down to the counter. Not a foot away, a carafe of coffee pulled away from the percolator, lifted itself into the air and began a steady pour into the mug.
At this point, most of the DSI employees took notice. Hands dropped to pistol holsters and P7s’ charge-up triggers. The dull thrum of Drs. Sinclair and Cole’s power-gloves filled the room, drowning out the TV.
“It’s not a ghost,” Oscar said from his seat as he waved and waggled his fingers in the general direction of the disturbance. The Ward Captain would be able to tell, given just how many spirits haunted the edges of Government Center that were inside the NAQZ.
The room breathed a sharp rasp of relief when the rack of candy
canes over the sink began to shake, and then one lifted into the air. Its
wrapper unsheathed in one clean motion, and the striped mint candy dipped into
the steaming coffee.
Eyes went back to the TV, just as candy can began to stir in the cup at quick pace. Not a ghost, indeed. The program continued, Geraldo droning on:
“...he could be a genial, even charismatic guy, quick with a joke and generous with a buck. But dominant was his dark side, his attraction to physical violence, his quick explosive temper, his ability to commit cold blooded murder. He was of course, “Scarface” Al Capone, America’s Public Enemy Number One…”
Those huddled in the doorway to the breakroom skirted quickly to the side, and the looming figure of Dr. Towers entered. He said nothing, bypassed the tables, and picked up his cup of coffee from the counter. The candy cane had melted down a good deal, and the crook of it hooked to the edge of the mug.
“He was an occultist.” Towers said, his flat voice catching the attention of his subordinates. With a glance to the pile of loot on the table, he continued, “The vault will have a bunch of foreign antiques, some molding books, and some mutilated cadavers.”
“They have medical examiners with them, in case of that,” Dr. Cole said, not looking away from the TV.
“You putting into the pool, Doc?” Dr. Sinclair asked, his eyebrows wagging up.
“Uh, no offense, but he’s kind of got an edge on us,” Arlo said, looking to the coffee cup that had, moments before, poured itself. “Psychic and all.”
Towers said nothing and headed out, taking a long draw from the cup as he went. His employees continued to chatter, the echo of their voices dying down as he returned to his office.
An hour and a half later, as he sat at his desk and looked over the casefiles for the Cableman and the Wicked Stepmother for the hundredth time, Towers touched a button on his P7.
The small television mounted in the corner of the room came to life. The TV host, Geraldo, flickered into view, squawking an air horn at a dejected construction crew. Rubble lay at their feet, along with a few old, dusty bottles (and little else).
“It seems, at least up to now, that we’ve struck out...” the host said.
Towers furrowed his brow, his mouth cast to a thin, colorless line. Narrowing his eyes, the vein in his temple began to throb, and the case files and assorted ephemera on his desk started to shake as he concentrated.
With a sharp exhale, he let go of that concentration, and
everything in the room stopped shaking. Just outside the door, respectfully
raucous tones hushed as they passed Towers’ office. Still, their words made it
“...ha! Nothin’ but a pile of bupkis!” Arlo said, his words punctuated by the shuffling of money and orgone being stuffed into one of the pouches on his tactical vest. Their footfalls died off in the hallway, and Towers continued to stare up at the TV as the credits rolled.
He leaned back, pulled out the blocky cellular phone from the pocket of his lab coat. For just a moment, he hesitated on what number to call, and then punched some keys.
“Levi, turn on channel 4.” He waited a moment. “What’s wrong with that picture?”