Interlude 1

And when life's sweet fable ends,
Soul and body part like friends;

The sun sank slowly toward the earth. Barely visible through a haze of smog, its dying light shone over an industrial wasteland. The remains of a building, now nothing more than piles of rubble and debris, lay near the edge of the area, with abandoned construction equipment rusting around it.

A grey four-door sedan wound through the narrow "road" through the place, tires kicking up gravel. It came to stop near a white van, the only new- looking piece of machinery other than itself. Four people got out, looking around the scene with varying degrees of disinterest.

The largest was a man, at least 6 feet tall. His large build seemed ill- suited to the tailored dark blue suit he wore. He was bald; mirrored sunglasses covered his eyes. He looked over at the woman emerging from the passenger seat. She was a tall and pale, fine featured and lithe, with golden hair falling about a slim triangular face. Her eyes were deep blue. They were also cold, betraying no emotions. She wore businesslike clothing of a modest cut–a dark blue suit jacket over a white blouse with matching skirt, and black pumps. She nodded to the tall man.

"Mr. Hanes, if you would… there is no sense in taking too many chances, despite what the scryer said."

Hanes gestured to the other man, who was smaller but no less athletic. He looked to be the youngest of the group, perhaps in his 20s, wearing the same mirrored sunglasses as Hanes and a similar dark suit. He followed behind Hanes, scanning the surrounding area, one hand creeping toward his jacket and the bulge underneath. Hanes smirked. Trigger-happy punk.

Approaching the van, Hanes took a glance in the rear view mirrors… nothing. He gestured to the younger man to around to check the front anyway. Don't want him to go off and blow me away if the wind picks up suddenly, he thought, reaching out with a handkerchief-covered hand to twist the door handle. He stepped aside as the door swung open, using the door for cover. A wave of flies and stench flooded out of the dark interior.

Hanes frowned, looking in. "Jesus fuckin' Christ… our boy really did a number on these two," he muttered. Looking over his shoulder, he called to the women waiting near the car, "Looks clear, Ms. Karr." Up front, he heard the punk gag and retch. Wuss.

The blonde–Karr–approached with her companion, an almost matronly-looking woman, plump-faced, with a bun of brown hair and dressed in black skirt and blouse with a small bow tie, resembling a librarian with her wire-frame glasses. Karr peered inside as the older lady hung back and covered her face with a handkerchief.

There were two bodies in the back of the van. One, formerly a woman, lay belly-down in a growing pool of blood. Her face was bruised almost black, its former beauty lost in massive swelling. One eye lay glistening in the pool of blood, the other bugged from its socket. Her tongue lolled from her mouth. Near the back of the van lay the other body, a man, his face locked in a silent scream, hands clutching his head so fiercely that he'd torn strips of skin from his face with his own nails. Jacobi had always been weak, even in the end, it seemed, and had died much more quickly than Mason. Karr leaned in and inhaled deeply. Blood, the smell of bladder and bowels emptied in spastic death. No hint of gunpowder. Interesting. Kicking off her shoes, Karr climbed into the van, squatting over the female body.

Hanes glances at the older woman, and a mutual look of disdain passed between them. Karr seemed oblivious, pressing her fingertips to the corpse's cheek. Closing her eyes, she let her mind pass into the cold darkness of the Deadplane. The outside world ceased to exist, there was only blackness and a distant mental whisper. Mason… Mason… speak to me… be calm… and speak… She "touched" the shuddering soul of the dead telepath, and it recoiled! Mason sank into herself, her essence ravaged and broken.

NO… pain… hurts… Mason moaned into the darkness. Karr was confused; the pain of death should have faded by now, or at least not be this strong, even in the most hideous death. But Mason was a sensitive psychic, and trauma would affect her more deeply in life or death. Karr reached out and soothed Mason's trembling psyche, easing her into a state much like sleep, and beyond the lingering pain. Jacobi would likely be in the same state if not worse. There was another way, however. She could pull the truth from him. In his damaged state, it would be easy. Mason had been a loyal agent and skilled lover. Jacobi was a toad. Karr left the Deadplane.

Hanes cleared his throat. "Ms. Karr, we just got something in over the comms. Seems our boy was spotted in Hudson City's Freetown housing project, not far from here."

Karr sighed, glancing at Jacobi's stiffening corpse. Her fun would have to wait…