Tuesday, January 29, 2013

NYC CoC #13: Blackest Hills, Blackest Secrets

New York, December 11, 1923

New York City proved to be the tonic to the ails of the weary. Dr. Nathaniel Millheim had been six months removed from his last mind altering Mythos episode and was at the top of his game as a pulp writer. Steven O'Hara was now a professor of physics at Columbia University, getting research offers, and giving his dilettante wife Angela enough social calls to satisfy the needs of her inflated ego. Only Brian Nichols had had a brush with the unusual. The doctor tired of charlatans and had sent him to evaluate a spiritual medium who was better than advertised, with unintended consequences. Despite this shake to his stability, he maintained his role as the doctor's agent without any issue.

And then that damned telegram showed up at Steven's door.

It was from Kevin Norbridge, Director of Operations at NWI's Windy Point Mine.  Steven had been recommended by a number of sources to help the mine deal with a number of unusual circumstances.  Norbridge had arranged a time to call and when he did,  he mentioned a number of the miners had come down with a mysterious illness, and something more than scientific might be blame.  O'Hara and any associates of his who were willing to come up South Dakota to aid them would be well compensated.   Steven looked at the Christmas list his wife wrote for him and agreed on the spot.  Norbridge wired the money for tickets the following morning.

Steven gave the group the low down on the mission and some preliminary research was done.  New World International was a multi-national conglomerate located in Chicago with interests in most industries, primarily in mining, petrol, shipbuilding, and tech research. Nothing could be uncovered about the mine operations.

Outside of the purchase of some proper winter coats for a frigid trip to the Badlands, the group was on a train headed to Rapid City via Chicago.

The train ride into Chicago was pleasant, and to Milwaukee, relaxing.   The remaining stretch through Minnesota and South Dakota in an eerily empty car was unsettling.  All that was left in the lounge car was

Dr. Nathaniel Millheim: Parapsychologist and recent pulp writer
Professor Steven O'Hara: Professor of Physics at Columbia University
Brian Nichols: crooked bookkeeper and assistant to Dr. Millheim

Two gentlemen remained in the car with them:
Michael Dalcin:  struggling chef who had signed a contract with NWI to run the mess at Windy Point. 
Jeff McGranahan:  mechanic and truck driver out of Philly.  Also going to work at NWI.

They decided against advising them of the odd illnesses.

At the Rapid City station, they were met by Scott Wallace. It was a pleasant surprise for Steven, as he was one of his associates during the war.  What a geologist was doing with his research group, he couldn't remember, but he was a good fellow. He was now working as a supervisor at the Windy Point.

The investigators got the cab of the truck, while the new hires jumped in the covered back.  Wallace got the trio up to speed.   While the federal government had given the land to the Sioux, it had partitioned a portion of it to NWI for a mining lease.  Despite the whole "Despoiling Mother Earth" garbage they like to say, the Sioux weren't complaining about the jobs the mine brought to their community. 

Then the suicides happened. Eight in total, they were from the men you would not expect to succumb to such a thing.  Then the illnesses rolled in.  Six had been afflicted with some ailment which the camp doctor could not diagnose or treat.  The Indians started to quit en masse, with whispers of evil spirits cursing the site.  Wallace had remembered Steven's "unorthodox" ways to dealing with things, and decided to contact his parents for his information.

The remainder of the drive was uneventful, save the duo in the back occasionally seeing a lone horseman off in the distance, watching the truck drive by.

When they arrived at the mine, the whole facility was in an uproar, Director Norbridge was killed in his office!

Norbridge's body was seated at his desk.  His body was slumped back in his chair, with a surveyor's pick protruding from his forehead.  Dr Simmons, the camp doctor, mumbled something about murder and staggered out into the night, leaving the group alone in the office with at least a half hour before sheriff would finally arrived.  Besides the body of Norbridge, one thing stood out in the office:  a strange spiralling unsettling diagram drawn in chalk on the far wall.  Everyone else was taken aback by it, except for Steven, who could at best figure out it had something to do with atomic or quantum theory.  He had had enough trouble trying to explain a dimensional portal to his group, there was no way he was even going to attempt this one.

Sheriff Updike made an appearance, walked around the office, and declared it a murder, probably by those bloodthirsty Indians.  Even the new hires, who were still hanging around with the group, knew that looked fishy, even if they didn't know how.   Wallace put an armed guard at the door and found quarters for the group to catch some shuteye before they continued.  He also around Michael and Jeff to aid the group with anything they needed until they were finished here.

Safely within the confines of the camp, the group did something that normally spells doom in a CoC game:  they split up the party.  Nichols and Dalcin went back to the office to look over the journals and ledgers that Norbridge was going over before the attack.  The rest went to the infirmary to get a grasp on the illnesses and try to wrap their heads around the suicides.

Between the combined efforts of the bookkeeper and the chef, they could separate the blood soaked pages and determined that a significant percentage of ore that was being mined was never leaving the facility, yet it could not be accounted for. 

At the infirmary, the group to barely compose themselves upon watching these sick men also fall apart before their eyes.  Dr Simmons had tried everything he knew after fifty years as a country doctor, but nothing could so much as comfort them.  To make things worse, another five miners had showed up for sick call complaining about feeling achy and exhausted.  The only thing the fellas could ascertain was that the afflicted miners all suffered from nightmares and all of them were from one of the barracks.  They ripped apart the buildings but found nothing.

That night they got together at the office to try and piece this together.  Except for putting out a theory that Norbridge may have killed himself out of fear, there were few leads. 

The next day they paced around the motor pool and the storage areas. Except for finding some of the trucks out of place in the motor pool, they found no solid evidence.    Against the advice of Wallace, they got horses and decided to ride out to the Sioux Reservation to ask about the evil spirits.

Upon entering their lands, they were met by a number of heavily armed Sioux, that wished to do more harm than ask any questions.  Just as the investigators were about to turn away, very very fast,  a lone Sioux rode up, told the others that the investigators were invited guests and led them into their village.  They were led inside a small building where they were to the tribe's medicine man, Tommy Morning Star.    In a circle, Tommy spoke of a strange group of giant locusts who were there on the mine lands way before the Sioux even stood a foot on this land.  It took great sacrifice, and the combined effort all the people, but the Arikasia were sent scurrying underground.   Even the medicine men thought little of the trap creatures until the white men came to dig them up.  Tommy offered to teach a sacred song to the investigators to keep the creatures at bay, until they can find a better solution.  Dr. Millheim and Steven picked up the song, while the others couldn't even muddle through it effectively.  Jeff was even having doubts that anyone it this part of the country was even sane. 

The group trudged through the cold back to the mine, and they could see trucks leaving the facility, something that was not on any schedule.  They raced back to the motor pool, grabbed two trucks, and did their best to catch up to, and follow them. 

The trucks reached a far part of the property and the men in the trucks descended into an abandoned mine.  The investigators stayed out of sight until the miners returned a few hours later and drove back to the base. 

The group made some headway into the mine shaft, only to be met with a buzzing sound, followed by a swarm of giant 2-foot long locusts!  They dashed to one of the trucks and Dr Millheim barely find the breath to start the song.  To every one's amazement, the locusts stopped in their tracks, hovering a few feet from them.  As the singers regained their composure, their singing was louder and the locusts were pushed back further.    

Michael took the truck he had driven there, and floored it into the mine. With the giant locusts swarming the truck, Michael crawled through the back window of the truck, into the canvas covered back.  He hurried with the cases of dynamite he had tossed in the back as the locust wriggled their way into the truck.  Finally, the dynamite lit, Michael dove out the back of the truck and scurried on his hands and knees, barely reaching the outer edge of the song's effect before the explosion tore through the small valley.  The mine entrance was completely collapsed, and the few remaining locusts were easily rounded up by the group before they decided to return to the camp.

The lone truck rolled in before dawn, just in time for breakfast.  After getting the attention of all the miners, Steven and Dr Millheim did the song one more time for "entertainment purposes."  As the sang, nine miners began to writhe in pain, along with Scott Wallace!  Each fell to the floor of the mess hall, and one of the locusts exited their mouths!  Between the investigators and the miners, these rogue vermin were quickly killed.

Steven had ultimately figured out that the miners were suffering from something akin to radium poisoning, so Dr Simmons could do something for those with early symptoms.. Something seemed rather odd, though.  They had been mining a number of items, including pitchblende. Pitchblende was the most radioactive substance they had been working with, and even in large quantities, would not induce sickness.  Just what was in that locust cave?  It was probably better left a mystery, buried under tons of rock.

By the end of business that day, Wallace had contacted NWI headquarters and they had responded in kind. If questioned, headquarters would claim that Norbridge forced double and even triple shifts for the workers, and they lashed out in retaliation.    Wallace was promoted to director.  By evening the group had been paid (including a bonus for the new hires) and on a train back to New York.  The trio refilled their flasks with Canadian whiskey from the mine commissary and by Minnesota were trying to sort out what they were doing. Perhaps juvenile fiction and college seminars were far better than trying to combat these dark forces.  At least they would have some time over the holidays to think things through.

That's what they thought, at least.

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