Subsection: The Destiny Map Up Subsection: The Destiny Map Subsubsection: 26 March 2014 (fighting a cyberknight, and the world’s unluckiest ninja) 

5 March 2014 (in Atlanta, investigating two deaths)

We rejoin the team as they fly into Atlanta, with the aim of getting some idea of what’s going on in the rump United States and a vague rumour that something weird’s happening here.
In the news, there was multiple murder the previous night: William Barker, a well-known genealogist, his wife and daughter, and a man from the Nile Empire with no obvious connection to them, were all killed in the Barkers’ home. One policeman has said that he’s not sure how they were killed, “some sort of burn”, but Detective Carlson who’s in charge of the case is keeping everything quiet for now.
David’s held up with Immigration, something about his passport not being readable, so the rest of the team gets ready to head into town – but not before someone does an amateurish brush on Diamond. She snags him, and he starts babbling.
Seems that he and a friend were doing a bit of burglary this morning, on some guy who was a pretty snazzy dresser. They knocked on the door a few times, got no answer, and assumed he was out. But when they went in, they found the guy with a wire connecting his head to a computer keyboard; he seemed to be in some sort of trance. Diamond’s new friend got spooked and took off, but heard a huge bang behind him and saw bits of his mate flying through the door. He’s really not been having a good day. He gives Diamond the address, 1130 West Spring Street, on the top floor.
The team gets hotel rooms in town (and gets Barker’s address from the phone book), then heads for West Spring Street, getting the taxi to drop them a couple of blocks away – something he’s quite happy to do, since the area is “kinda rough for you guys” (the armoured dwarf notwithstanding). There’s no sign of anyone obviously keeping an eye on the place.
They enter, and head up to the third floor, looking for signs of carnage. There’s nothing obvious, but a single clang from the end of the corridor attracts their attention to the fire escape stair that’s just swung back into position. There’s a white man hurrying down the alley, carrying a briefcast; he has short-cropped black hair and seems reasonably healthy, but has no obvious distinguishing marks. Diamond opens the window and flies out to follow, but he gets into a car and drives off, and she returns to the group.
That does at least give them an idea as to which apartment they should look at, and Thorfin leans gently on the door, which springs open. Clearly, these people must trust their neighbours a lot. The door opens into a small entrance hall, with substantial blood spatter on the walls. Moving further in reveals a mostly open-plan apartment, with a corpse on the bed under an oddly-shaped crucifix; it’s been dead a few hours.
The corpse is missing most of its left arm, and while the team aren’t experts they reckon it might be the result of explosive damage. Blood tracks are consistent with his having been shot near the door, then been dragged over to the bed. The crucifix is made of circuit boards, and instead of nails the figure is held to the cross by wires that pierce its skin and then wrap round it. It isn’t obviously a bug, but the team treats it with caution nonetheless.
The apartment is otherwise pretty bare, though it’s clear that the occupant was fond of bleach. There’s nothing in the way of clothing or personal effects. Either he lived like a monk (or was a monk), or he’s cleared out.
Stephen goes to chat to the next-door neighbour, a somewhat vapid young white woman named Susie who’s happy to talk about “Pierre – he’s from France, you know”. It seems he moved in a couple of days ago, she went over to welcome him to the building, and they went out to a local bar last night. The description she gives is consistent with the man who left in the car (and not with the corpse on the bed), though apparently there’s also something weird about his eyes – they’re a bit too silvery. She didn’t notice any gunshots this morning. This isn’t the sort of neighbourhood where you do that.
Thorfin talks to the occupant of the apartment below, a black man who’s not happy to be woken; his neighbour, under Susie’s flat, is floating on a cloud of interesting herbs, but has seen Pierre once or twice. He remembers a “bangBANG” noise this morning (he played the record again and it wasn’t there), and the timing seems to match. Or maybe it was the spiders. Pierre always seemed to have spiders all over him.
The team leaves, and after a certain amount of discussion Diamond calls in an anonymous tip to the police, mentioning that she’s a Storm Knight.
Once they get somewhere they can hail a cab, they head off to Barker’s house. It’s a brownstone in a rather nicer area. There’s crime scene tape over the front and back doors, and a police car out front with two cops in it; as people skulk around, they notice another cop at the back, being a bit more subtle about his presence. Thorfin approaches the car: “I’m afraid I’m one of those Storm Knight weirdoes”. The cop isn’t willing to talk about the case, but points him to Detective Carlson, who’ll be at the station house – he gives him the address, quite close by.
Carlson is indeed there, and the desk sergeant calls him over. He’s unwilling to talk at first, and Thorfin gets the impression he’s being leaned on from above. When the team tells him about Pierre and what certainly appears to have been a murder in his apartment, he opens up a little; at least he’s prepared to leave the Barker file on his desk for a few minutes.
The cover sheet has a strange symbol, of a sun overlaid by outward-pointing daggers, and the words “PRIORITY CLEARANCE ONLY”. There’s a variety of information about the victims, including the name of the Nile Empire citizen: Mameluke Al-Mu’in, resident of Cairo. He’s visited Atlanta several times since the invasion, usually only staying for a day or two.
The coroner’s report states that the victims were killed by “very precise welding torch burns, which seem to penetrate in clean lines like a bullet”. It’s clear that this is nothing he’s seen before. There are also photographs; Diamond is sure this is nothing that Nile Empire technology would do (incinerate the entire body, sure; make a small neat wound, probably not).
Looking at the crime scene photos is puzzling: Barker and Al-Mu’in were killed near the middle of the mostly open-plan top floor, apparently Barker’s office. Access is by a spiral staircase that enters in the middle of the floor. But there are bullet holes (consistent with Al-Mu’in’s pistol, though that hasn’t been confirmed yet) and blood spatter on the north wall, whereas if Al-Mu’in had been firing at someone coming up the stairs his missed shots would have gone to the south-west.
The team returns to their hotel, which is also where Al-Mu’in was staying this trip. The police have already cleared his room, it seems (Carlson, telephoned, confirms this; he had light luggage, nothing of interest), and he didn’t make any phone calls or order room service; nothing to indicate a meeting. He just checked in yesterday afternoon and apparently went out that evening.
That night the team visits Barker’s townhouse again. Stephen and Thorfin stay a couple of blocks away, while Diamond descends on it from well above, staying out of the line of sight of any cops. She starts to force a window on the top floor, then realises that that’s been done before and it’s already loose. She enters a guest bedroom, and moves out into the open-plan area, realising as she does that she’s standing immediately between the taped outline of Al-Mu’in’s body and the blood spatter on the wall.
The office is a wreck, and she remains flying so as not to leave footprints or disturb the debris on the floor. She uses a torch carefully, keeping it low so as not to alert anyone outside. Files have been thrown about all over the place, though there’s nothing obviously missing. A floppy disc box stands next to the computer, but it’s empty. There’s no sign of any symbols of the Cyberpapacy, something she’s particularly keeping an eye out for.
She spots a glint of metal behind one of the filing cabinets; it looks like a star-shaped object, embedded in the wall. She grabs it, and even through her gloves it gives her a nasty shock, though that seems to be a one-shot capability; when she touches it again it’s inert. She stows it for later examination.
As she’s checking the middle floor (nothing out of place, though it seems that the daughter was shot while she was asleep) Diamond sees a figure moving up the stairs from ground level. It seems to be Pierre; they see each other at the same moment, and he starts to retreat. “Wait”, calls Diamond quietly. “So,” says Pierre, “I suppose you serve Wu Han?” “No,” replies Diamond. “Then die, heretic!”
 Subsection: The Destiny Map Up Subsection: The Destiny Map Subsubsection: 26 March 2014 (fighting a cyberknight, and the world’s unluckiest ninja)