The Alms House

Twisted in flesh, twisted in spirit!
— Evocation to the Immortal Emperor

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Since it's getting close to nightfall, the acolytes decide to wait until the morning to go talk to anyone else. During Hernandez' watch that night however, his vox unit comes a live with static and a faint voice. He tries to propitiate the machine spirit, but the sound fades out. The rest of the night is uneventful.

In the morning the group heads for the trade market and find Sykes the Reclamator's booth. He is accompanied by two crudely augmented vermin hounds. They talk as they look at his wares; Calpurnia buys a stub pistol and some ammo for Lily. In addition, for the 40 thrones he charges, he throws in his story.

He is from Port Wander and came for the Coscarla District after the Blackout Fires in the hopes of finding good salvage. He's been right, but he feels it's now time to move on – things are just a little too weird here and getting weirder faster. He has seen those who steel people away at night. He says they're not ghosts but “humans” with glowing red eyes, and take mostly honest proles. They look like servitors, some with mighty vises for hands.

He won't tell them what his method of exit from the District is, but he agrees to take them with him if they are there when the time comes. Rollando and Calpurnia (good assessor, bad assessor) convince him to give them a call when he's ready, and promise to warn him of anything odd going down. They also pay him not to tell anyone else about the conversation.

Finally, they ask Sykes about Narco Boss Chord Luntz, who he mentioned is running scared. He used to be a drug kingpin in this little workers' hab area, nothing big. But about three years ago, Luntz started going bad, spending a lot more money, bringing in big guns and thugs, turning more into a bid drug lord. Yet he's not really as big a power in the Coscarla District as one would expect. Luntz does not own the Magistratum, more the other way around. As for the alms house, Sykes says he would never set foot there; he does not believe in anyone giving anything for free.

Next, Rollando feels ready for a drink, so they head for the Third Workers' Union, a bar installed by the Tantallus Combine when the place was going with the purpose of recovering as much as possible of the workers' pay as possible. The place is very run-down and dismal, filled by broken people and gangers. Everyone is staring at the newcomers, sizing them up.

Rollando walks up to the bar, while Aenid and Calpurnia scowl. After swallowing a wretched drink (and lizard), Rollando tries to strike conversation with the barkeeper. When that fails, he asks for Chord Luntz. The Boss will see them, but they have to leave their heavy gear behind. Not trusting that the equipment or Lily would be safe without supervision, Calpurnia stays behind while Aenid and Rollando go visit Luntz.

With minimal conversation on the subject of the District, Luntz sizes up his visitors. He says he's heard of their little run-in at the Coscarla Inn the other night. Since they can handle themselves, he asks if they'd be interested in a little extra money. He offers them 500 each to take out the guy called “The Surgeon” at the alms house (not Moran). He's bad for business, he's trouble, and he has some weird tech cult going on. Luntz has no access to serious tech.

Luntz says he did some work for The Surgeon, getting “chemicals” starting about three years ago – good deal, easy money, but then things escalated and disappearances became too frequent. He doesn't know why The Surgeon is located at the alms house, but he offers a pass key for the backdoor. He tells them to bring Calpurnia in for discussion and assures his visitors that he will protect Lily. Rollando is pretty sure Luntz is good for his word.

In the common room, Calpurnia gets a call from Baronet Rieksdag; he realized that the transit line to and from Coscarla has been cut; he and Purser Darl are outside the station in a shuttle in case they need to come to the rescue. But the communication soon breaks up.

Almost immediately, another message comes in from Rollando, calling Calpurnia in. They bring her up to speed and make an effort to look suitable venal, then take Luntz' offer. Luntz can offer no information on the inside of alms house but he admits to being scared of The Surgeon, the most augmented being he has ever met.

Before they leave (with Lily in Luntz' care), Calpurnia asks about Everd Zed but Luntz says Zed has recently found religion and is staying at the Templum. The acolytes decide they can use some prayer. The Templum is under the care of Father Fayban. Although it was one lit with electricity, it's now illuminated by hundreds and thousands of candles.

Father Fayban reeks of booze but greets them pleasantly. They make a donation for a candle to be lit in Saul Arbest's name. Hearing this, Fayban's assistant Zed freezes; Rollando prevents him from fleeing. They get him to spill the beans. The night Saul disappeared, they were both drinking at the Union and Saul got into a little scuffle with a ganger. After he got cut a bit, Saul insisted on going to the alms house to get stitched up; the light was still on. Zed went home, but Saul (he says) was never seen again. That was weeks ago, before the disappearances really started stepping up. Zed has been Father Fayban's acolyte since, and they light a candle for each disappearance. They are hundreds and hundreds…

The agents pray for a while for the Emperor's inspiration. Father Fayban is the only survivor, all the other priests were killed in the Blackout Fires. He leads the acolytes in prayer as they ask for a sign. Suddenly, the ventilation fans kick up and blow out every single candle! The acolytes rise, tell Father Fayban and Zed to light the candles again, and head out into the night.

They make their way in the darkness, headed towards the alms house – the one building that remains lit, on its third floor. The building is imposing but has seen better days. As they pass the hostel, they can see and hear that something with glowing red eyes is going around the place methodically, as screams periodically issue.

The backdoor of the alms house is made of two metal loading doors with a slit for a passkey. Aenid goes in first to scout and discover that they lead into the kitchen area – which looks very unsanitary. There are stacks of protein crates, fungal medium, military rations (the latter in the only clean spot), and a couple of shabby-looking servitors. From one of the doors leading out, Aenid notices a distinct smell of blood. The door unlocks readily, and the room is filled with metal canisters; it smells like an abattoir. Aenid opens a container; inside is a thick-clotted liquid that does look like blood.

Next, she moves into the refectory. Along one wall is a large mirror that seems in surprisingly good shape. She continues on and locates the stairs going up, leading all the way to the third floor to a somewhat abandoned Medicae ward. The lights flicker and pulse, and on the far side is a big iron door that looks fairly recent. The old doors it replaced are leaning along the wall. About 20 blood-stained gurneys are lying around and eight or so are occupied by hideously, sacrilegeously mutilated bodies. There are jars of organs, chemicals, etc.

The iron doors open and Aenid barely has time to hide. A creature of nightmare walks out; it looks like it was grown out of a vat and some of its parts were replaced by spare limbs, festooned with tubes. Aenid gives the signal on the vox unit for her team mates to come in. The creature's mouth opens unnaturally wide and his long tentacular tongue, equipped with a miniature chainsaw, starts cutting into a body to remove an arm.

Rollando and Calpurnia quickly make their way in and up the stairs, then hide. The creature does not spot them, and turns to leave the room. Calpurnia decides to shoot the thing without further ado! Rollando follows suit, wounding the thing. Aenid shoves a gurney forward to wedge the door open. The thing turns around and comes shrieking out towards Rollando and Calpurnia, unhinging his jaw to reveal the chainsaw.

As Calpurnia fires another shot, Aenid jams the door open and sees the room beyond. It's a mad laboratory filled with ominous equipment and a tank filled with whitish fluid and a writhing mass. In the center is an operating table with a live subject and a being who can only be The Surgeon. With him is another misshapen assistant which shrieks and rushes to try to shove the gurney out of the door.

Rollando shoots at the first assistant again and blows it to disgusting smithereens. A sort of mechanical spider leaps off the back of The Surgeon and attacks Aenid, wounding her. The Surgeon turns and activates a trap door, falling through the floor.

Calpurnia's shot bounces off the metal spider. The second assistant pushes the gurney out of the way and charges towards Rollando and Calpurnia. Aenid shoots the spider point-blank, blowing it to pieces. The second assistant attacks Rollando, without success; Rollando shoots back, putting a hole in the creature but without stopping it. A couple more hits from Calpurnia and Rollando splatter it at last.

Calpurnia hurries over to help Aenid, gets a look at the laboratory. An investigation of the facility reveals that the mass in the large tank is a far larger version of the xenos life form which Medicae Sand. Behind the mirror was a sort of scanner that was probably checking the people coming to the alms house. In a ledger, she also finds a list of names and serial numbers matching the scanner recordings and the canisters in the other room. The blood and organs are used in the food processors to feed the people who eat at the alms house.

The vox unit crackles to life – Sykes announces: “I'm leaving! Meet me in the market square, and you'd better hurry. Those things the red eyes are going crazy, they're poisoning people!”

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