String Theory

Treason in Blood

Scarlet does some last minute research on Gertrude Bell while Guy and John pack their bags. The National Museum of Iraq may have been looted but some clue to the diary’s location might still be there. She careful plots a course to avoid interactions with Overwatch. Her old employers still work in what was the Green Zone and she suspects her whistle blowing is not remembered fondly. Nasir calls and plans to meet them in Iraq.

Half a day later the team arrives in Baghdad. At the museum, Scarlet introduces herself as an interested historian. Gossiping with the researchers there she learns that Mohammed al-Kirkuk knows much about the period she’s interested in. She also learns he has a secret patron and an obsession with the occult.

The team watches al-Kirkuk for a couple days, noting the western agents trailing him and the street urchins that watch him pass. The fact that he seems jittery and using KGB evasion tactics seems only normal, though he appears only roughly trained at it. The team decides to not to spook him further.

Scarlet arranges a meeting with al-Kirkuk at his office. With some honeyed words, she manipulates him into talking about his research. He lets slip that Gertrude Bell might have had a secret diary, one containing sensitive matters she didn’t want to share, even with her own family. Mohammed suspects her true impressions of Harry Philby might be hidden in it. Unfortunately it has been lost, he explains.

Outside, Guy and John spot two suspicious (and armed) men entering the museum. John warns Scarlet over the comms as Guy drives around to the back. Scarlet drops her cover and tells al-Kirkuk that someone is coming to kill him. Terrified he lets her lead him out and down the hall. As the intruders turn the corner, Scarlett opens fire, covering their escape. The academic shows unusual athleticism as they race out of the building with enough time to lock the door behind them. The two jump into Guy’s car and out into the streets of Baghdad.

Once in relative safety, al-Kirkuk tells them everything he knows. Overwatch hired him to look into anything to do with Philby, the occult and the early days of the Kingdom of Iraq. Several weeks ago he discovered the existence of the Bell diary. He hasn’t been able to retrieve it but believes it is held in one of the Mukhabarat archives (having been seized from the museum during the coup of 1968 and then moved after the old archive was destroyed in 1993). The team sneaks him into a secure hotel and tells him to wait until they’ve left the city with the book.

They find the archive housed in a decaying warehouse. Easily avoiding the poorly paid security guard, they slip inside via the broken window. Scarlet and Nasir work together to sort through the primitive organization scheme. As they proceed deeper into the stacks they pass boxes of old tax forms, police case files, and a row of severed hands.

Then John and Guy stop them. A sound like bodies hitting the floor came from several rows over. Cautiously they flank the likely source.

The row is empty. Large crates stenciled with National Museum fill the shelves. Blood spatter decorates one. Acting on a hunch, Guy looks up.

The driver begins firing into the roof. John tags something with his shotgun as Scarlet joins the firefight. Nasir meanwhile hurries over to check the box. Inside he finds a pair of dead Westerners. He grabs the sparse contents of their pockets and a shoe with a hollow heel. Then he notices, too late, the bomb under the crate.

Fire envelopes the stack, blowing Nasir through the shelves behind him and into the next row. The others duck out of the way. Remarkably no one suffers significant harm. Then the thing on the ceiling drops down and pushes the burning shelves over.

Nasir scurries to safety while their assailant grabs Guy and hurls him into the fire. The driver bounces against an box of asbestos tiles. Frustrated the corpse-like thing then smacks Scarlet back several feet.

Guy and the others continue to fire into the monster. Scarlet watches as the withered husk of a thing takes a shotgun blast to the chest with only minor damage. Nasir stumbles into him in some sort of attack but the creature brushes him off and flees.

As the team begins to race after whatever it was, Nasir calls them off. He holds up an aged book: Bell’s diary.

The team drives quickly through the ruined edges of Baghdad while Scarlet pages through the notebook. Someone has been through the diary before them, marking pages referencing the supernatural and Harry Philby. In one section Bell relates a visit by Philby where he brandished an amulet. The description resembles the vial Nasir grabbed from Kim’s bank box but filled with a different darker liquid. Philby claimed he would be buried with it. Recalling how he died in Beirut, the team makes plans to head for Lebanon. Scarlet isn’t able to pick up fingerprints from the diary but does find some fibers from a glove and traces of an expensive women’s perfume.

Nasir looks over what he rescued from the box. The Westerners carried no identification and their phones were generic burners. The shoe however reveals a secret compartment containing a SIM card. Scarlet breaks the encryption and they decide to call the single number on it.

After a series of clicks and whirrs, they are connected. The voice which answers however belongs to John’s old mentor the Chess Player. Former DOD agent struggles to control his rage while Nasir talks to the old man, feigning being part of the plot. The Chess Player quickly sees through the ruse and guesses who they might really be. He invites them to a meeting at the Kit Kat club in Beirut in two nights.

The team arranges transport to Lebanon, bribing their way across the border. With most of a day before the meeting, they consider their options. They decide to check the location of Philby’s grave first.

The records office seems organized and airy after Baghdad. They get some help from a friendly local named Nicky. An aged retiree, he is well versed in several languages and seems to know a lot about the area. He also mentions other visitors earlier that morning.

Thanking Nicky they then scout the Kit Kat club. The site appears secure and easy to escape from if trouble comes up. They decide to send Nasir and Guy to talk to the Chess Player with John on standby and Scarlet running surveillance.

At the meeting, they encounter the Chess Player with his companions Mr. Black and White but no other muscle. While Black doesn’t like them, the Chess Player tries to be friendly. He jokes about their code names and asks if there is a Tuck. He also regrets that his involvement was revealed the way it did and explains that he and his group are aligned against the Conspiracy. He offers to fix any problems they have, like getting back in with their old employers, in exchange for Albedo, the half of the Philby plot that they obtained. Nasir and Guy defer, explaining they need to talk to the rest of the team. The old man understands and offers that they join them at the cemetery that night. They say they will consider it and leave.

The team falls into a tense discussion as each puts forth whether they trust the Chess Player and how they feel about possible next steps. John wants to be sure of his old friend’s motives but puts his faith in the United States government. Guy and Nasir point out the U.S.’s failings and also discuss how dangerous this whole project has become. Scarlet would rather just expose everything to the world.

Ultimately John decides to join his mentor at the cemetery, hoping to get him alone long enough to determine his true allegiances. The others watch from outside. A half dozen thugs protect the entrance while another batch join the Chess Player and Mr. Black at the grave. Scarlet scans the nearby buildings, eventually locating Mr. White in his sniper’s perch.

As the DOD group dig up Philby, Scarlet spots someone sneaking into the graveyard: Nicky. She warns John but too late. Mr. Black shoots the interloper. The confusion however gives John the time he needs with the Chess Player. While his mentor convinces John that he is fighting the good fight, the ex-spy detects that his superiors are less devoted.

Then the diggers uncover the remains. Scarlet zooms in on the grave. She radio’s John. Those are not bones of an old man. The gunshot wound to the skull doesn’t match Philby’s poisoning/heart attack. As the Chess Player pulls a box from the dirt, John steps away.

The box opens, releasing a black mist over the entire cemetery. Painful black boils erupt on all exposed skin. Half of the men begin frothing at the mouth, clawing and biting at each other. John resists the reddening of his vision and flees the scene of madness.

Scarlet hacks into Mr. White’s comm as she watches the sniper track John through the graves. She tells him to stand down and points out that the mist came from his boss opening the box, not John. He lets him escape for now.

Guy flicks on the mist machine in the getaway van as first Nicky and then John stumble inside. John’s skin sizzles as it hits the mist but otherwise he seems fine. The old man bleeds badly and mutters about Arkady, the KGB and how some Arabs took Philby’s body. Nasir guesses this means Philby’s old allies moved his corpse and planted the trap. They quickly race away.

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