Subsection: Tuesday 1 October 2019 Up Section: 1.04 The Road to Doomsday Subsection: Thursday 3 October 2019 

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Jade and Juan go back to the Volstead at lunchtime, and while they do indeed rotate the video in a day or two, they did have a “failed disc” which would cover the relevant period. Back at Jesus’ workshop, Natasha helps him get in the mood, and he pulls the controller and replaces it with a backup.
The woman arrives about ten or fifteen minutes before Cordelia does. Cordelia enters the bar, looks around and asks questions of a few people, finds the woman and gives her the envelope; the woman says something, and Cordelia sits down and they chat for a while. Half an hour later, they leave in company; Cordelia unlocks her bicycle and they depart on foot.
Jesus does his best to reconstruct the image of the woman; they have quite a bit of low-quality footage, which can be combined.
Natasha looks for Cordelia from her personnel file photo. There’s something shielding her, but she seems to be alive; perhaps somewhere south-west of the downtown area. She looks for the bicycle, quite distinctive on the security footage; that’s either shielded or not within a hundred miles. There wasn’t anything distinctive about her clothing. Her messenger bag is easier to trace, in the same direction, somewhere near the former naval air station Cecil Field.
Natasha works up some charms for breaking mind control, then they go out to the air station, now a mixed airport and industrial estate – and gets another distance and direction. They leave the airfield, and go for that junction between Florida 23 and Argyle Forest Boulevard; options are a mall, a new housing development, and swamp/forest land.
The housing development isn’t gated, though it has a sort of gate house that proclaims it to be Fox Creek. Natasha’s having trouble locking down the location, so tries to sense magic instead. There’s shielding round the whole development, but with no obvious physical anchors.
(17 June 2020)
Natasha does a more detailed analysis of this shielding. It looks as though it’s designed to stop magic from crossing it – by stretching the distance the magic has to cross to several tens of thousands of miles. It would probably react if one took a charm across it, though not to do anything autonomously; if someone were keeping an eye on it, they’d notice.
There’s no immediate reaction when they drive in. Searching for Cordelia again shows that she’s nearby. They go nearer to the candidate houses; shortly after they stop, a woman comes over from one of the other houses, and asks if she can help. She recognises the photo, and says that that girl’s staying with Marcie Donovan – and, since she evidently likes to gossip, tells Jade that there was something about an abusive boyfriend, though she doesn’t have any details.
Before they go over to the house, Natasha detects magic… and there’s rather a lot, most houses with one to three sources that are moving around like people. They go over to the Donovan place, and Marcie answers the door; she gets a few shades less friendly when they mention wanting to talk to Cordelia, but Cordelia herself comes out of the back of the house and says that she’ll talk to these visitors.
They mention Bob Balboni, and she looks surprised – “I thought I’d told him I was leaving”. As they continue to talk, Jade thinks that both Cordelia and Marcie are acting a little oddly; and Natasha detects a Crossroads effect on them, and on lots of other spots round here, possibly every person.
Cordelia writes a signs a note resigning from her job, for the group to give to Balboni. She mentions that she’s staying out of sight of “Andreas”, the violent boyfriend, and she might move down the state a bit. To Jade it all feels studiedly vague.
The group goes back to the car, and drives a little way away. Natasha reckons that everyone here is linked by magic, a mesh network with no obvious central node. As they get ready to leave, they notice that some of the children playing in the street are pulling a tyre-shredding spike strip across the road out…
Jade slips out of the car into a bush, and shifts. Another housewife comes out and says, in a friendly way, that she’s sure the group doesn’t want to leave just yet – “You really ought to stay around for a bit, and see what we have to offer”. There’ll be a service this evening at Julie’s house church: “She’ll be preaching, and things will make so much more sense then”.
As Natasha and Jesus aim for the back road out, there’s gunfire from both sides of the street – three-round bursts. Jade spots one muzzle through an open house window. Jesus drives defensively and evades further gunfire; another spike strip’s being deployed, but he’s able to get round it.
Jade sees search parties start to form; they’re not talking to each other, but they are cooperating, and she can recognise the guns they’re carrying as military rifles. Before they get to her, she breaks from cover and flees across the access road into the forest/swamp; they seem to lose interest immediately once she’s out of sight.
Jesus spots this from a drone, while Natasha drives back round to the airfield/industrial estate. Jesus loses sight of Jade and starts to search the swamp on foot, but Natasha can do a better job of finding her.
Jesus does further drone observation to try to work out just where the house church is; he gets sight of where people are going, but the drone is spotted and a rotor blown off (he’s just about able to crash it back where it can be recovered).
The plan is for Juan to sneak in, carrying (technological) bugs, since the magical barrier will probably respond to Natasha’s enchantment on Jade…
(1 July 2020)
While considering how he should look, Juan realises that he didn’t see any adult men among the residents on whom to base his appearance. He gets some clothes to let him look like a generic delivery person, and goes in on foot. The spike strips have been cleared away, and the place is back to its normal appearance. There’s tuneless singing audible from the house church, slightly louder on the left, which looks as if it might be a large room for entertaining; that one gets the first bug, the empty box goes on the doorstep, and the other bug goes on the window on the other side – which has food on tables, presumably for after the service.
There’s nobody around, so he picks up the box and starts to walk away. Nobody intercepts him on the way out. He tries to sense any weirdness about distances at the barrier, but his enhanced biological senses don’t spot anything unusual.
Jesus, listening in on the bugs, gets the sounds of a very conventional church service – it’s being led by a woman, and the sermon is on the general theme of protecting the home and getting your own house in order before you go out telling people what to do, but there’s nothing he’d consider immediately worrying. When they start singing, the listeners reckon there are perhaps 60-70 people.
Natasha’s aware of several ways of controlling someone’s mind, but most of them work better with a spoken substrate that tells the target what to believe, or at least nothing irrelevant.
Jade and Natasha both notice a familiar-sounding phrase, and checking back someone said the exact same thing about seven minutes earlier, with the same voice in exactly the same intonation. It’s not a loop; other people are saying other things around it. Jesus pokes a bit forther, and it’s not a loop; it’s a bunch of separate loops of different lengths, with branch points, and not at all obvious until you start looking. Hypnosis and reinforcement, perhaps? The actual phrases seem innocuous, though the team makes notes of them in case they’re recognition codes. They don’t ever seem to have the same phrase spoken by different voices.
There’s no discussion of people who aren’t there – men, for example. Jesus pokes the land ownership records, and all the names seem to be female – or at least not identifiably male.
Jesus wonders whether the worshippers are being tapped for magical energy. Natasha reckons it would be possible, though inefficient, unless they were actually aware of what was going on in some detail.
The team considers following some of the residents – adults or perhaps school-age children. Jesus parks a drone where it can keep an eye on both road exits.
Jesus looks through records of children, then digs back for fathers. About six months ago there seems to have been a sudden run of divorces, twenty or so in total, and the men chose to move to places like Des Moines, Flagstaff, and similarly distant locations. And there’s no obvious trace of them in those places. Going by the dates, all these divorces were entirely amicable and nobody contested anything. Six months ago, some of the houses on the Fox Creek estate were still being constructed, but quite a few had already been sold.
 Subsection: Tuesday 1 October 2019 Up Section: 1.04 The Road to Doomsday Subsection: Thursday 3 October 2019