Sunday, 16 September 2018

Deadlands - The Asylum pt1

This is a chapter in our Deadlands game, told from the perspective of my character, Solomon Blackbird. For the story so far, check out the index.
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When we come to rest that first night into our journey back to Perdition, we stop very near the shore. Tesla collects one of his pylons and awkwardly jumps from the boat. He's been subdued (for him) all day, but it's only now, watching him wade to the beach, that I realise how aged he looks, since that fight with the shadows. He sets up a pylon more or less in the surf. Carson picks it up and gently moves Tesla along the beach away from our camp, and inward away from the tideline. I hide, just in case, but this time Tesla's using his pylon's power on himself.

We make good time over the next few days. By Tuesday, Chin's thinking we might reach Perdition that evening, several days early. I'm still feeling exhilirated by this bit of good news when Carson pipes up: there's a trail of bubbles that seems to be following us.
Chin's eyes widen as he takes a look. He races to the controls, saying it looks like water dogs. I don't have time to ask what they are before, ghost rock boiler screaming, he throws the boat into top speed - just in time to avoid a column of water that erupts where we were seconds before. It crashes back down, creating a wave that races toward us, faster than we have time to brace for. The boat shoots forward faster as it hits; the jolt of the impact throwing me and Tesla into the water. For a heart-stopping moment, I think the others haven't noticed, or that Chin won't risk coming back for us, but the waters calm once more and Chin turns the boat to us. I join Tesla in the engine room until I'm dry.

As hoped, we reach Perdition before dusk and hide the boat in our usual cave nearby, laying low there until Friday, when we make our way into town at dusk. The Fallen Angels saloon is busy when we reach it, and we have to wait for a table and food, which we're just finishing as Sam and Lacy show up just before midnight. It's still very busy, a noisy environment where we feel safe from being overheard.

Sam explains he's leaving the Maze soon, but has some loose ends to tie up first. He'd like our help with two of his former agents (Fidel Salazar and Lonnie Bruce) that he'd had committed to a mental asylum after things they'd seen in the Maze. The asylum's on a mesa not far from Perdition and run by a Dr Sanderson Petersen on an altruistic basis - that is, patients are committed free of charge, with the running costs met by donations. Committing them had seemed like the right thing to do at the time, but following his incarceration on the Rock, and rumours he's heard of Petersen's methods (more torture than therapy), he's not so sure any more. He'd like us to get them out and onto a train heading East. Failing that, he wants us to get eyes on them to confirm whether or not they're even alive, and gives us a photo of the pair.

Tesla starts asking how much we'll be paid. Carson and I talk over him: this kind of task is too important to be paid for. All the same, Sam insists on paying our bar tab for the night, and reminds us he already owes us a significant favour: this is a second we can call in.
The following morning, Chin and Carson head out to investigate the path to the mansion, leaving Tesla and I in Perdition where we're somewhat less likely to draw attention. I ask around, trying to find more about the asylum's reputation, and particularly the rumours Sam hinted at, but no one wants to talk to me. Tesla, meanwhile, beelines first for the library, then the Epitaph office. He finds a little more: as Sam said, it's run freely for most patients, though there are a few who pay. There's no stories of people leaving, no news from anyone who's been inside. It feels odd, but doesn't mean no one leaves, just that no one's writing about it.
Chin and Carson return in the evening. It looks fairly normal: a fence surrounds the mesa to protect from falls, and they saw patients gardening under the supervision of orderlies.
We return as a group the next day, discusses plans as we travel. It's decided Tesla will go in as though looking for work as a mechanic, with me as his assistant, figuring the other two will be better at getting us out if we get in trouble than we would if it were them.

Once we're near enough the mesa for the house to be clear, I take a photo with my spirit camera and set about developing it as the others prepare lunch. To begin with, the image seems normal, the landscape forming as I'd expect... but as the fence becomes clearer, it glows redder and redder, and the building never becomes more than a shadow filled with faces - one looks like Rev'd Blackwell, and as I recognise him, the image catches fire. I yelp and back off, but the fire doesn't spread further and extinguishes as soon as the photograph is ash.

Despite the unsettled unease this leaves me with, Tesla and I head in as planned. There's a path winding through the gardens and orchards, with (as the others saw yesterday) patients tending the plants overseen by orderlies. A woman in a starched nurse's uniform bustles out to meet us and leads us to a waiting room as Tesla explains our cover story. She leaves us in the small room to fetch Dr Petersen.

There's a few chairs, and an empty desk. There's a second door in the wall opposite the one we entered by, but no windows. The only light is from the ceiling - bright enough it must be powered by ghost rock. The only sound is Tesla's shuffling and muttering, and my pacing - I've never experienced silence like this. I don't know how long we've been here - Tesla's watch has stopped. The tingling undercurrent of claustrophobia is getting stronger and stronger - I throw open the first door to see that night's fallen! We look at each other and head to the other door. There's a corridor lined with other doors - but as soon as we step into it we're back in the garden as though we'd step out of the door we'd entered by...

That's when the matron returned with the doctor. We returned to the room: he set behind the desk and talked with us, subtly guiding the conversation with Tesla until he'd blabbed his whole life story, including his plan not only to meet the person he'd named himself for - some scientist I'd never heard of - but also subsume his identity. After doing that, he wants to return to England to resurrect his dead parents! I'm frightened but not surprised when they take him away, dragging him through the other door and down that corridor of doors. 

At least they let me go. I walk as quickly as I can, following a roundabout route to return to the camp where I expect to find Chin and Carson, but they aren't there. I steady my breathing, mutter the Lord's Prayer and Psalm 23 to try and stay calm as I start a small, hidden, smokeless fire for the comfort it'll give, and head away to set and check snares in the hopes of having some food - as afraid as I am, it doesn't overwhelm my hunger and I focus on the task of skinning the scrawny rabbit to try and control my rising panic. I'm jittery, anxious, and nearly jump out of my own skin when Chin speaks. I speak quickly, tripping over my words as I try to tell him what's happened, only to have Carson appear, gun in my face, demanding I drop my knife! Tears prick my eyes as I do so, raising my hands to the air and looking round like a trapped beast. That seems to reassure him somewhat and he lets me tell them what happened, eventually putting his gun away.

"We should just leave him. Get on with the glyphs."

My back's to him - I've turned to retrieve my knife to finish preparing food - so I'm not sure if he sees me stiffen. I know he's anxious about the task, but... I turn back, slowly, keeping the knife where he can see it. "We can't. He's our friend."

"Yeah, but what he said. That's pretty crazy. Sounds like it's the best place for him."

I can't deny that what Tesla had said had frightened me, but not as much as the thought of leaving him. "Maybe you're right. I mean, I think he needs some kind of help. Just, not there, right?" His face hardens; I can see Chin setting to side with Carson so speak quickly. "And it's not just Tesla. It's Sam's friends too. We can't let Sam down. And this place - it isn't right," I can hear the wheedling desperation in my voice, "if we can get to the bottom of it, and, and fix it somehow. That's got to help slow the Reckoners down, right? That's got to matter, hasn't it? It's got to help."

"Fine," I think the snap in his voice is because he knows I'm right, "Chin and I'll sneak in tonight, look for them all. You stay here, guard the camp."

I try to hide my relief at that. I know it's mostly that they're much better and sneaking around than I am - I'm more likely to get caught, so they'd rather I wasn't there, but staying here and not having to see that place in the dark is all I could have asked for. I nod, start roasting the rabbit.

We eat in uncomfortable quiet, then they head out. I muse on Carson's reluctance to save the day: I think he's anxious about the glyphs, more anxious than he's prepared to admit. He's the one who's going to die in that hall, as the flood comes in. I shudder at the resurrection of my own doubts, remind myself that floods are God's cleansing weapon. Innocents will die in this endeavour, and I hate that, but many more will be saved, just so long as we succeed. No wonder he wants to get everything sorted in plenty of time. It's a lot of weight to carry. 

I reach for the spyglass to see how they're getting on, before remembering Carson still has it. The stars are bright above me: I snuggle deeper into the blanket and sigh, restless and worried. Sing a hymn, something half-forgotten from my childhood. The panic has burnt out, leaving ashes of anxiety. I'm not sure how long they've been gone. There's no lights in the grounds or the buildings. I'm holding my breath and I'm not sure why. Start to breathe again as I look away, back out into the desert.

I think I need to go up there.

All the same, I take as much time as I can packing the camp away, hiding it so only someone who knows where it was could find it again, protecting our scanty possessions. Bank the fire so it can be recovered later and light a lantern from it.

I made my decision, but still hesitate to walk away from the safety of the camp and towards the threat of the asylum