String Theory

Moving on to the Big Leagues

Scarlet interrupts Dr. Gerhardt’s excited speech as dozens of rats begin to pour into the room from holes in the walls and floor. On the wall, a monitor shows a half dozen thugs rushing towards the safe house door.

“Where’s the roof exit?” Nasir asks Hank, the safe house’s owner.

Hank leads the way to the hatch. The team scrambles to roof. John lingers at the back, batting away the rats as they leap up on him. He reaches the top of the safe house with a few scratches and a disturbing image of a massing pile of rodents in his mind.

On the roof, the agents race across a few short gaps to a rope ladder leading to their car. Most of the rodents fails to bridge the space between buildings. A molotov cocktail tossed by John disperses the rest.

A minute later John curses Guy for taking so long to get dinner as he starts the car. The rest of the team buckles their seat belts as he rapidly accelerates out of there.

Then there is a crash on the roof.

John slams on the breaks and woman in threadbare clothing crashes on the hood. Long dirty hair obscures her face but she hisses and sinks her claw-like fingers into the hood of the car.

From his position in the front passenger seat, Nasir grabs John’s shotgun and unloads into the vampire. The buckshot rips the creature’s face to shreds but does little to slow it down. As she begins to climb forward, Scarlet sinks a tranq dart full of antibiotics into it while Hank fires meaninglessly with his 9mm.

The woman grabs the jagged edges of the windshield and rips it open. A cool mist of antibiotic solution strikes her face, raising a ghostly smoke from the tar-like goo oozing from her wounds. The vampire recoils, sliding half off the front of the car.

As Hank continues to fire uselessly, Nasir pulls his tranq gun and injects another dose into the monster. She screams, releasing a cool smoke from her mouth.

John hurtles down a street lined with parked cars. He swerves and crashes, crushing the woman between the car and another vehicle.

As the team recovered from the sudden stop, the vampire pulls her head up from the hood of the car. With one last grunt of effort, she peels the car off of her and tosses it and the agents across the street.

They tumble upside down, dizzy but unharmed. She stumbles into the street, screams, and decays into a pile of dead rats.

Thirty minutes later and a few miles away, Scarlet finishes patching up John’s scratches. Nasir makes a call to their recent friend, Feinberg. The favor he asks is a large one but she agrees.

Several hours later a jet not officially belonging to the CIA lands in Vancouver. Aboard are the agents including Hank and the doctor. Skirting customs or indeed any official record, they find a safe location and catch some much needed rest.

The next day, Scarlet goes to work on surveilling the Panacea Pharmaceuticals R&D facility. Security is tight with twenty ex-military guards on staff, many former members of Overwatch. They protect a compound nestled in the woods north of the city. The head of security is a Mr. Glass.

One building in particular looks suspiciously isolated. Forty staff work there and she picks out three scientists who work at the suspicious building: Victor Nichols, Jeffrey Benson, and Hazel Soriano. All specialize in the study of antibiotic resistant organisms.

Entry is controlled by key card and retinal scan, difficult but not impossible to break. Scarlet hacks the corporate headquarters and arranges entry identification for the team.

Scarlet and Nasir arrive separately as visiting scientists while John poses as a new guard. Guy waits in reserve. They gather by the isolated building and bypass the security measures before passing through a decontamination chamber. Once inside, they don hazmat suits and head for one of the lab terminals. Only one scientist, Victor, is in at the moment and he is hard at work.

Scarlet breaks the firm’s password protection and accesses the main server. She copies all the research data, noting the presence of many antibiotic resistant diseases in this lab as well as samples of many strains of bacterial plagues.

John however spots something more interesting. The floor in this building is raised, suggesting something lies beneath it. With a little search he and Nasir uncover a trapdoor leading down. They recover Scarlet and head down but not before Nasir notices Victor watching them carefully.

Down below they find a dimly lit space filled with drums incubating some dark liquid. Peering closely it almost seems to move on its own. Scarlet flags hidden security cameras. She hacks into them and brings up footage from the facility’s records. The lines bypass the guards and go direct to the head of security.

The last entry of interest shows Mr. Cook, the CEO, being dragged by Glass and another man to a large tub two weeks ago. Inside a black tar-like substance flows like it was alive. They tossed him in and it forces itself inside him! Cook is now a vampire!

John injects antibiotics into a tub to kill the vampire plague but it has no effect. He grits his teeth, pulls out his bag of thermite powder and gets to work.

As they prepare to exfiltrate, guards move into the upper level. Mr. Glass consults with Dr. Nichols and then directs his men to train their guns on the exit.

John hastily constructs an IED and plants it directly beneath Glass’s feet.

A loud moment later, the team emerges from the rapidly burning basement into a blood splattered hall. John squints through the smoke, spying the panicked scientist still safely in his lab. Then he notices a bloody hand pulling a charred, shattered, but very much active Mr. Glass. The vampire hisses a threat as it pulls itself upright on the bony splinters of its legs.

John scoops up an assault rifle and unloads into the monster while Nasir and Scarlet fire a shotgun blast and antibiotic dart respectively.

As the antibiotics begin to dissolve him, Glass lunges forward and clamps his fangs on John’s throat. Gasping for air, the former soldier lifts the broken vampire up and tosses it into the burning subbasement. Glass howls a final time as his withered flesh is consumed.

The agents manhandle Victor into following them outside. He stammers that Glass and the others had threatened his life.

As guards and staff mill in confusion about the fire, a helicopter flies out from the forest, touching down briefly to pick up the ex-spies. In the cockpit, Guy whisks them away to safety.

A few hours later, the team arrives at the remote doorstep of John’s friend, Arthur Miller. They find John’s old army buddy a little paranoid but helpful. They catch their breath, patch up their wounds, and reload their weapons. Arthur agrees to look after Hank and the two scientists while John and the others finish this mission.

As Scarlet reviews the data they stole, she gets a call from an asset of Rosa’s. They arrange a dead drop. Before heading out, she briefs the team on the vampire’s weaknesses, detailed in Panacea’s files: internal doses of salt, antibiotic aerosol and injections, fire, and direct exposure of the black ooze within them to ultraviolet light. All these can all kill the vampires. And Cook is immune to at least the antibiotics.

The message Scarlet gets from Rosa describes how the intel tying the agents to the Riyadh attack traces back to Uzbekistan, in a semi autonomous region near Aral Sea. The agents recall the Soviets based a biowarfare program on an island out there. Clinching the connection are records on Panacea’s servers showing that Mr. Cook has arranged a private jet to Uzbekistan tonight!

The agents put a plan into motion. Infiltrating the airport ladened with supplies (including their new countermeasures), they surprise the pilots of Cook’s jet and replace them. They stow the unconscious men where they won’t be found for a day and wait.

Cook boards on time and they take off with Guy following the flight plan to the letter. Once over Siberia, he announces that magnetic interference from exceptionally strong aurora’s is causing a momentary communication blackout. He also indicates that if Cook looks out the right side of the aircraft he can see the northern lights.

They cut off the wifi and phone.

A moment later, the team bursts into the cabin. John opens fire on Cook with a blast of rock salt. As the monster rocks back in his chair in pain, Scarlet and Nasir hit him with darts full of Gerhardt’s serum. Instantly red glowing lines trace along Cook’s veins near the wound sites, quickly turning white hot.

Twin explosions rock the aircraft as Cook’s gut and left shoulder explode. As the agents take cover, the window next to the vampire blows open. Everyone’s ears pop as air pressure rapidly drops. At the controls, Guy steers them to a safer altitude.

As they regain their footing, John fires again. Scarlet shoots a dart into the twitching arm on the ground. Nasir kicks it into the monster where it explodes in a much smaller blast, scorching Cook.

Cook struggles to his feet under the blasts. He shakes it off and lurches forward, grabbing John and hurling him at the shattered window. The former soldier grabs the edge of the window as he flies out. Buffeted by winds and thousands of feet above the ground, he slowly begins to pull himself back inside.

Cook turns to the others. Rock salt protrudes from his face and torso. Black goo oozes from craters where his left shoulder and stomach once was.

As he snarls at them, the agents unleash the harsh glow of their UV lamps, focusing on his wounds. He topples back into his seat, the blackness within him turning to ash. In mere moments his body crumples into a charred corpse.

John crawls back into the plane and the agents lock themselves in the cockpit. Guy resumes the flight plan as best he can. The plane rocks with the added wind resistance.

A couple hours later and it is too much. Cracks trace along the inside and outside of the plane as it vibrates like a coin operated bed. The team don their parachutes and dive out over the Aral Desert.

They land safely amid the dusty salt flats. Donning their masks against the carcinogenic dust and retrieving their supplies, Guy leads them towards Aralsk-7 on the former island of Vozrozhdeniya. On the days long hike, they spot vast clouds of birds and flies but Nasir safely leads them past the spies of the Conspiracy.

They find the former bioweapons facility abandoned and eerily quiet. Rusted vehicles and decaying structures seem to be all that remains. Then Guy notices that the subsidence of the buildings is far in excess of what might be expected. There is a void beneath them.

“Hold on,” he says.

That’s when John hears it, the sound of movement from the buildings around them. He signals the others and they scatter for cover as a half dozen withered corpses emerge and encircle them.

With the monsters still distant, the team shoots doses of the serum in each, ducking as each explodes violently. In mere moments they are alone again.

Then the wall of a surviving lab crashes open as Serge Milic barrels straight into John. He unleashes a brutal attack at his former friend, pounding him into a rusted pickup. The spy tries to defend himself as best he can then bolts well out of range of his attacker.

Guy fires a dart of serum into Serge.

The vampire explodes in a huge explosion, consuming most of the nearby buildings in a ball of fire and concussive force.

Everyone scrambles for cover. Scarlet dives past a broken pickup as it is upended. Nasir buries himself beneath a pile of debris as the flames lap around him. Guy plunges through one of the structures as it is ripped apart around him.

As the smoke clears Guy finds himself alone. The ground quakes and then collapses beneath him, spilling him into a tunnel. He slides thirty feet before catching himself above a vast abyss.

A lake of black slime stirs beneath him. Tendrils rise from its surface and sniff the air. One twists in his direction.

Then a knotted rope cascades down to him. John and the others haul him up.

Faced with the enormity of the creature beneath them, only one plan makes sense. Guy pulls out a final mist machine and modifies it to use Gerhardt’s serum. He adds a timer, slides it down the tunnel and they begin running.

A half hour later the world’s attention is drawn to Uzbekistan as a nearly nuclear explosion destroys the last refuge of the Conspiracy.

The agents disappear in the smoke. Most launder their haul from the bank heist and live in relative luxury though Nasir continues to harbor hopes of coming in from the cold.

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Way Too Much Heat

Scarlet picks up the soaking wet Nasir and John from behind the hotel they dived into. Two hours later and well outside the city, Guy catches up to them on a dirt bike. Taking over from John he drives through the night along the desert roads, heading ever south. In the back Scarlett does her best to patch up the others. John remains a bit sore from where the bullet hit Kevlar but otherwise the team is healthy.

In the late hours of the night they reach a weak point at the border with Yemen. A platoon of green recruits question all travelers coming and going. Nasir takes the wheel and with the others donning burqas, manages to bluff their way across.

The team pushes on for another couple hours before arriving in a small dusty town. They secure a room to rest in with some handy American dollars and catch their breath. Scarlet sets up some security cameras in the car to remote feed to their rooms. She stretches her legs and then settles in to watch.

An hour later she spies a squad of soldiers moving to surround the building. Worse in the shadows of the building across the street, two werewolves lurk. She directs the others to pack up and recalling the command words from the files of Project Werewolf, hatches a plan.

John bursts out of the hotel before the soldiers can react. The agents race across the street and as the soldiers turn to attack, Scarlet shouts out “kill them” in German, gesturing to their attackers. The werewolves lope over and devour two of them in seconds.

As the remaining soldiers try to calm the beasts down, the team race through an alley toward their car. A figure leaps over the gap between buildings above them, firing once. The shot strikes inches from John’s head.

As they round the building to get to their car, a blond haired man jumps down from the roof. Scarlet recognizes the final surviving operative of Project Werewolf, Kessler. Without blinking, he fires at Guy, grazing his left knee. Without pausing, John picks the driver up and carries him to the car.

Guy puts his other foot to the metal as the team piles in and races out of town. Kessler jogs after them on foot for a solid minute before abandoning pursuit.

They head for the coast.

Hours later, Guy guides their freshly bought (if overly expensive) boat across the Red Sea. He steers towards the Zubair Archipelago.The rocky volcanic islands soon come into view.

The agents go ashore briefly, locating a couple vents. Into one they toss the Albedo. It melts and burns. The second one swallows the Nigredo. As the glass liquefies the dark liquid churs and seems to scream. Scarlet feels very cold and exposed out here. She urges the others back onto the boat.

Finally they beach their craft on a barren line of sand in Eritrea. Digging through their supplies they lay a trap for their pursuers. While Guy and Nasir build a crude shelter, Scarlet sets up a remote controlled sniper rifle atop a nearby dune. Elsewhere John plants mines keyed to a remote trigger.

Then they wait.

Kessler races across the sands under the cover of night. Scarlet tracks his progress on her camera and that of that of the werewolves and two soldiers trailing him. She lines up a shot on his head with her joystick and thumbs the fire button.

The blow sends him reeling. As he dives for cover the beach erupts in flames enveloping the two werewolves behind him as well. John grins at his handy work.

Guy and Nasir spring from cover to lob grenades at the survivors. The beasts and soldiers are ripped apart.

The team searches the charred corpses before finishing the job. Scarlet tosses a wrecked satellite phone into a backpack as the last of the remains burn to crisp.

Late the next day they sail up the Red Sea, putting in at an Egyptian town. There they claim to be a tour group. The authorities check their passports and welcome them back from their cruise. They grab a bus and ride north to the Mediterranean.

As they lunch in Alexandria, waiting for the ship to Italy, the team notice a pair of creepy men approaching them. Pale and thin they seem to move from the street to their table without crossing the intervening distance. Then Scarlet recognizes these corpse men. They are the same as the figure she encountered in Baghdad.

The pair raise their hands in a sign of peace. They claim to have a message from Dr. Dorjiev. The doctor congratulates them for their success and invites them to Dragovir Monastery should they believe they can destroy the leadership of the Conspiracy. Their message delivered the two depart as suddenly as they came.

The sea voyage begins well but soon John takes ill. The vampiric plague in his system activates causing an intense fever and horrifying dreams. Scarlet determines he isn’t in danger of becoming a monster, just dying or going insane. She nurses him back to health over the course of the two day journey. By the time they reach Italy, he has fully recovered.

They quickly make their way to Rome. Scouting out Pamela Stacy’s apartment building the agents quietly surveil her and the men watching her. They uncover four Eastern European men, one sporting Bratva tattoos, keeping an eye on her in shifts. Disturbingly though they identify the “homeless” man camped in front of her apartment as a scarred and broken Serge Milic.

Faced with another vampire, the team sources some gear to deal with it and its minions: silenced pistols, antibiotic filled tranq guns, and some aerosol deployed antibiotics.

Then they put their plan into action. John slips into the decaying hotel where the men live, killing two in their sleep. Then Nasir lures the others into an alley on their way home. John and Guy, disguised as rival criminals, shoot each in the back of the head before tossing them in a dumpster.

Then Scarlet calls up her old college friend Rosa. Now with the CIA, Rosa is interested to hear Scarlet’s side of the story about Riyadh. Scarlet promises to discuss it once they reach Florence. She asks her to ready the local safe house. She need to stow their mutual friend there for a few days. Rosa agrees to help her out.

Then they wait until evening. John takes up overwatch position, training a tranquilizer rifle on Serge from a nearby building top. Nasir and Scarlett sneak in the back way while Guy waits in the car.

Once up to the apartment, Scarlett quickly explains to Pamela that they are here to get her out of here. Her watchers are dangerous, Scarlet says, promising to explain more on the way. The airline analyst reluctantly agrees. The three of them, now burdened by Pamela’s well packed carryon, hustle out of the apartment building and into Guy’s car.

Once they pick up John, they race north to Florence. Along the way Scarlett tells her friend everything: vampires, werewolves, and her clandestine fight against them. Somehow Pamela keeps her composure and her faith in her friend.

Once at the Florence safehouse, Rosa takes Scarlet aside. She’s heard from her contacts in the CIA that Scarlett and her companions were involved in the attack on Riyadh. The evidence supporting this seems rather tenuous to her however. Rosa asks if Scarlet wants her to dig into this and find the real source of the intel. Scarlet tells her not to put her neck out but if she uncovers anything she’d be interested to hear it. In any case she needs Rosa to keep an eye on Pamela until the agents deal with the people after her.

With their issues in Italy dealt with, the team prepares to visit France before heading to Vancouver. They plan to investigate Panacea Pharmaceuticals. They know the company is involved in genetic and disease research, supposedly in a quest to cure death. One of their R&D facilities looks suspiciously protected.

But first they need to talk to Dr. Gerhard. Hank calls Scarlett to let her know that the doctor has developed some sort of revolutionary weapon against the Conspiracy. They arrange to meet in Paris.

They find Hank and Gerhard safe and healthy. The doctor excitedly relays his findings. He’s found an antibiotic compound that reacts energetically with the proteins within the bacterium’s cell walls, resulting in a violent release of energy. Simply put, it causes them to explode. He can’t be sure of the exact size of the explosion but it should exceed the power of most modern grenades.

As John struggles to follow the doctor’s jargon laden speech, the others notice men gathering outside and the squeaking of rodents pushing through the walls. They are under attack!

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Old Ghosts

Guy weaves the van through Beirut while Scarlet patches up the old spy, Nicky. Riffling through his pockets, Nasir finds a wallet and directs them to Nikolai’s address.

They find a fairly bare apartment, decorated with orthodox crosses over the doors and windows and a few faded pictures. Guy looks around while they make the old man comfortable. He mumbles in his sleep but doesn’t wake.

The driver finds a pile of folders inside a hidden space behind an air vent. Most of it confirms what they already know: Nikolai is a former KGB spook working for Arkady. He has been watching Philby’s grave for decades. One interesting piece of evidence they uncover however is a set of negatives showing the removal of Philby’s corpse.

While Nasir and Guy develop the photos, Scarlet checks John for signs of infection. What she uncovers is unsettling. The former soldier has contracted a dormant form of the vampire contagion. She confirms the rest of the team is clean.

Nasir shows the blown up photo to Guy. The worldly driver identifies the tribe extracting Philby’s remains as members of the al-Murrah, currently located in Saudi Arabia.

On the news, reports of a wild animal attack and the deaths of 3 to 4 people are the only clues to what occurred in the cemetery.

As they watch the program, Nicky wakes up. Groggily he thanks the team and offers to help fill in any missing pieces. One new clue he offers them is that an Arab boy has recently shown unusual attention to the graveyard in the past week. He describes the teenager to them: tall, thin, always on his phone but not really listening to his music.

They soon spot the youth and hack into his communications. He is getting regular text messages from a handler. They seem very interested in the agents’ doings, specifically what happened in the cemetery and if they obtained a certain item. Scarlet soon triangulates the source to a villa near the border between Greek and Turkish Cyprus.

Guy locates a boat at the harbor that wouldn’t be missed for an overnight excursion and they prepare to pay this mystery person a visit.

That night Guy steers the vessel silently up to the wooden pier. The team quietly ascends the chalk cliff and slips into the decaying mansion. While most of the structure appears abandoned, the kitchen shows signs of at least one person living here.

Nasir snaps a picture of the map of Saudi Arabia laid out on a table. Several locations are marked in the deep desert. Upstairs they find a single room locked and in use. They decide not to confront their pursuer. Instead they plant bugs around the house and slip back to Beirut.

Early the next day they identify the handler as Menena Chakroun, queen of thieves. She makes several calls to contacts around the region, trying to determine if the DOD, the Conspiracy, or the agents have obtained the two halves of Philby’s plot: the Albedo and the Nigredo.

The team arranges a flight to Riyadh, operating under their cover identities. Nasir decides to resurrect his Saudi prince, seeing as he is only wanted in Austria. Somehow he, Scarlet and John (both presenting themselves as unassociated historians) get through security unmolested. Vino Romeo, Guy’s location scout cover, however gets special treatment by customs. As he leaves the airport he also spots some officers tailing him.

The driver allows them to pull him over on the way to the city. The officers begin to search the car and harass him, except for one nervous looking man. Guy notes down the policeman’s name and then launches into a tirade as Vino, effectively scaring the corrupt cops off with his Hollywood connections.

Guy catches up with the others and relates the incident. They decide to find out who is behind this. Scarlet researches Officer Ahmed and then Nasir intercepts him on his way home that evening. As they discuss figs at the market, the spy intimates how much he knows about Ahmed. He then reassures the scared officer that he isn’t after him. Ahmed confesses he and his comrades have been taking bribes from a powerful criminal group. They have their fingers in everything here. Nasir thanks him and gives him a burner phone should he need to contact Ahmed again.

After that Nasir and John visit Haroun al-Murrah, current leader of the al-Murrah tribe. Haroun graciously welcomes a visit by a member of the royal family. Nasir explains he is doing research into some of the early history of the kingdom and has questions about an object that was moved by the tribe. This sparks Haroun’s memory and he relates a story from his youth.

His father took him on a trip to the deep desert, something one of the other tribesmen called the Hajj Shaitan. His father referred to special object in cave out there, the other Kaaba. With some cajoling, he and Nasir work out its location on a map.

Scarlet uses some satellite photos to more precisely map their destination. It is worrisomely close to one of the marks on Menena’s map. Nasir purchases some 4×4s while John gathers vampire hunting materials as well as the supplies needed for the long journey.

The trip into the desert is long and lonely. Two hot days and a cold night wear on them as they slowly approach a weathered outcropping,

They find a shaft sunk into the rock, worn smooth by centuries of sand or perhaps desert Bedouin. John drops a flare revealing hundred of bones lining the cavern floor: goats, camels, other animals. And human bones.

He fishes in their supplies for packet of blood. As it hits the cave floor, a pale white thing scrambles over the bones to lick up the splattered red liquid. Bony and misshapen, they can only guess that this is what remains of Harry Philby.

Nasir loads a dart gun with antibiotics and fires. The dart sinks into the creature’s hide. It snarls at them, scratching at the cave wall uselessly for a moment before returning to the blood.

The agents look down into the growing gloom. Guy and John walk to the vehicles and pull a 5 gallon tank off the back of one of the 4×4s. They pour it down the cave, splashing Philby liberally as the creature carefully sucks up every drop of blood. Then they drop a second flare.

The vampire screams in pain as the fire consumes its flesh. It runs in circles surrounded by fire. Eventually it leaps out of the pool of fire and into one of the many tunnels exiting the charnel house floor. The fire gutters out after a couple minutes.

John and Guy look down the smoky hole for a long minute. Then the two spies slowly and reluctantly climb down. They carefully explore the cave, searching for signs of the vampire or its remains.

Then they hear it. Turning their flashlights backward they spy the almost skeletal charred creature racing towards them. They fire but in a fraction of a second it pushes John out of the way and digs its fangs into Guy.

John pulls himself off the ground to watch in horror as the creature’s hide begins to regenerate with fresh blood. He levels his assault rifle into it as Guy fires repeatedly with his pistol. What was once Philby stiffens and then collapses to the ground. A dark slime oozes from its wounds and into the earth. The pair spy the thick crystal vial still secured about its neck and wrench it off. Then they hurry back to daylight.

Scarlet patches the pair up and they head back through the desert.

The next day as they pass over another dune in the vast desert, the sound of rotor blades emerges from the north. In mere moments, a heavily armed helicopter swings over them. The voice ofLieutenant Colonel Benjamin Weddle, Scarlet’s former commander, commands them to surrender or else.

Weddle promises to spare their lives in exchange for the Nigredo. He also informs them that his employers already have the other half of the plague. Nasir has a sinking feeling as he envisions his beach home burning in Karachi. Faced with no option, they give it up to the two men Weddle sends down.

Then Weddle orders them away from their vehicles and opens fire on the 4×4 with the helicopter’s machine guns. Then he leaves the agents there to die.

Guy shrugs and explains the backup vehicle is stowed a few hours walk away. The team rescues what supplies they can while John directs them through the sands.

A day later the team, sunburned and thirsty slip back into Riyadh. Scarlet helps patch them up while Nasir contacts Ahmed. The police officer reveals that they were bribed to let the passengers and contents of two private planes slip through customs uninspected last night. They headed for the Kingdom Centre, a 41 story skyscraper adorned with an elegant skybridge between the twin peaks of its roof.

Scarlet hacks the building’s computer systems, giving them access to video surveillance and the elevators. She notes that some sort of experiment is being set up in the skybridge. Notable guests include Joe Lisky, members of the WHO, Weddle, and the vampire Simon Thronradel. Two strange blurry figures appear on camera as well. One might be Dr. Dorjiev.

They quickly put together a plan. John and Nasir will slip inside, exchange the Albedo and Nigredo for fakes, and then escape. Guy will cover their escape and destroy their enemies by stealing a helicopter from Overwatch and destroying the skybridge.

The first part goes flawlessly. Nasir leads John through the lower levels in disguise, slipping past some Bratva spotters. With Scarlet’s help they avoid the patrols and pass through the upper floors. Meanwhile Guy gains access to the hanger and hotwires the helicopter.

John and Nasir don new disguises before entering the sky bridge. Nasir enters as just another lab technician and slowly works his way over the machinery near the Albedo and Negredo. John mingles with the other bodyguards.

In addition to the half dozen techs and three bodyguards, the walkway is occupied by Weddle, Lisky, Dorjiev, some African WHO officials, and the vampire..

Dr. Dorjiev turns to John and quietly expresses his surprise at his audacity. Then the doctor turns and remarks that Simon has noticed Nasir.

Simon hisses, “you,” as he reaches for Nasir.

Panicking Nasir unloads a canister of aerosol antibiotics around himself. Simon reaches into the mist but pulls his hands back quickly in pain.

As everyone else begins to react, John reaches over to Dorjiev and quickly snaps the old man’s neck. The doctor looks more disappointed than surprised as he falls to the ground. His body crumbles and vanishes.

While the guards maintain some composure, Weddle and the noncombatants freak out. As they flee, Joe pulls out a pistol.

Meanwhile across the city, Guy powers up the helicopter, crashes through the hangar door and tears cross Riyadh for the Kingdom Centre.

John spots one of the bodyguards training a pistol on Nasir. He fires and wings the man. Grtting his teeth at the pain, the bodyguard returns fire. As his shirt reddens with blood, the other bodyguards grab John, trying to drive him to the floor.

Nasir stumbles back from the vampire into the counter holding the Albedo and Nigredo. He crashes to the ground trying to grab hold of them. In the confusion the Albedo seems to roll away. Nasir rolls over Nigredo in hand as Simon snarls and pounces on him.

The vampire pushes through the mist, which emits a painful hiss as it contacts his corrupted flesh. He grabs the vials from Nasir’s hand, stomps the spy into the ground and then with superhuman speed and strength hurls him through the glass window and off the 41st story of the skyscraper.

Guy brings the helicopter level with the skybridge, glancing once at the figure falling away from the building. He lines up a shot on the vampire and opens fire.

Inside John bolts as the machine guns riddle Simon. Without pause he leaps through the broken window, removing his coat and using his wingsuit to follow Nasir as he steers his wingsuit for a nearby pool.

Then hundreds of crows pour down from the roof to collide with the helicopter. Diseased carcasses splatter as they hit the windows and blades but somehow Guy maintains control long enough to fire the rockets.

The skybridge explodes in fire as Guy fires again and again, demolishing the upper stories of the structure. Shattered glass and burning steel crashes down on the streets and buildings below, adding to the carnage. Hundreds die in what will be called Saudi Arabia’s 9/11.

Guy tears off for the desert, ditching the craft once clear of the city. He scrambles into his escape car and disappears. Elsewhere Nasir and John dry off, stowing the real Albedo and Nigredo safely away as they plan to rendezvous with Scarlet.

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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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Storming the Castle

As Scarlet patches up John’s bites, the team hashes out a plan. The safest route into Project Werewolf’s facility is the secret passage under the castle. If they are lucky no one has been in there in centuries. If not it is still likely to be poorly guarded. Once they sneak in, they’ll plant explosives, copy the contents of the internal servers, and then demolish the structure. They can mop up the survivors afterwards.

Scarlet compiles reports on bird die offs and then charts a course to a CIA cache site that Guy is fairly sure is intact. Luckily this time he is right. Armed with explosives, weapons, armor and night vision goggles, the team waits until dark and then heads into the woods a few miles from the castle to destroy Project Werewolf for good.

In the thick undergrowth, John picks out the moss encrusted stone door hiding the tunnel. As they lift the slab a red light blinks within. Thinking quickly Scarlet rewires the motion detector to read as an equipment malfunction. With no time to spare, the agents hurry down the corridor.

John leads the way through two miles of earthen tunnel and quietly past two more motion sensors before reaching a steel trap door. Disabling the electronic lock, John slowly lifts the hatch to find himself into a darkened surgery room.

A faint line of light emanates from a doorway while another door on a different wall is visible under the enhancement of his night vision goggles. Cat-like they creep into the room. Glancing between their choices, the team move as one to the darker exit.

The door opens easily, revealing a room lit by a few LED lights and filled with the quiet beeping and wheezing of the medical equipment. Two patients lie comatose in the large room. A single door leads out of room in the same direction and perhaps into the same hallway as the door in the surgery room. Scarlet moves to the nearest patient, a woman missing much of her lower limbs. She focuses a flashlight on her chart.

The placard reveals she is Sergeant Karen Byrne, a soldier in the U.S. Army. The chart describes the extensive damage she suffered from an encounter with an IED. Karen’s only been here two days.

John asks if they can save her. Scarlet explains that her vitals are low but possibly. Then she moves to the other patient.

Much more extensive life support surrounds the man with multiple bags of saline and something else dripping into his system. His chart identifies him as Johnny Dixon, codenamed Quist, and describes his resuscitation after being poisoned and shot to death last month. This was the man they killed in Zurich. The corpse they sent to Gomez. No one has a problem leaving him behind.

Suddenly they hear the sound of someone tapping in a code for the door into this room. Scarlet ducks out of sight as John and Guy flank the door. A middle aged man in a labcoat enters. He glances at Quist then almost before he can react John drops a garotte around his neck.

The man scrambles for something on his belt while his other hand struggles with the piano wire. John slams him into a wall, stunning him long enough for Guy to lift the small electronic device. The doctor manages to get his hand under the wire. He begs for his life, promising information about the installation and his work.

They pull him inside and close the door. Under the glare of a flashlight, they realize they’ve captured Dr. Gerhardt, Project Werewolf’s lead medical scientist. They secure and interrogate him, obtaining a rough layout of the lower levels, the location and code to the server room, the position of the werewolf pens, and who else is on base. John gags him and puts him and Karen in the surgery room, planting a remote detonation bomb on the doctor should he run.

Outside they hear the sound of people patrolling. After the footfalls recede, John and Scarlet look out the exit into the long white hall that stretches through the castle dungeons. A single camera watches the hall between them and the server room. John directs the hacker to follow her as he slips over to the door and keys in the code.

Once inside, Scarlet connects to the server, overpowers the security and copies the internal files. From personnel listings she find that the project is run by a Director Andrew Peirce in Washington. She also confirms that the werewolf agent Talbot is on sight, sitting in his room upstairs. Two agents are missing, presumably investigating the faulty motion sensor. She also comes across records suggesting Kessler is out hunting for them with a few men and werewolves. She loops the security cameras and prepares to lead the team in placing the charges.

John and Guy get to work while Scarlet directs them around the patrols. As they work on the last charge, her attention is drawn to the camera in Talbot’s room. The blank faced man sniffs at the air. Scarlet quickly types some commands, locking his door. The operative tugs at the handle then snarls into his comm, “We have intruders.”

Then he knocks the door off its hinges.

Scarlet shouts at the others to go as she closes her laptop and runs to the tunnel. John and Guy are only moments behind her as they hear crashing up above as the werewolf barrels through security doors.

John hoists Karen on his shoulders while the others push Dr. Gerhardt down through the tunnel. Talbot crashes down into the dungeons, quickly tracking their scent to the operating room.

Then as they clear the extent of the castle walls, John detonates the explosives.

Rocks crash down on them as the tunnel fills with dust. One large stone knocks Dr. Gerhardt to the ground. Scarlet pushes off the debris and rubs her raw shoulder before checking him. His pulse is steady. John places Karen on the ground. Dust coats her blank eyes.

Guy shouts and points into the darkness. There, emerging from the wreckage, is Talbot.

The werewolf operative lurches forward, bloodied but unbroken. Scarlet and Guy raise their dart guns and fire. Then a louder thump fills the tunnel as John unloads his grenade launcher into him. The tunnel shakes as Talbot is messily removed from this world.

The agents retreat a safe distance down the tunnel where Scarlet patches up the team. Carrying Gerhardt, they head for the exit.

As they approach the exit, Scarlet works out where the final guards might make their ambush. John tossed up a smoke bomb and then throws a grenade in what he considers a likely direction. As the explosion shakes the wooded terrain, the agents crawl out of the tunnel under the cover of smoke and a rain of blood.

As automatic fire sprays from the trees, the team moves and fires back. After a fierce firefight, the gunfire stops. The smoke clears revealing the final agent face down in the mud.

A few hours later, Guy drives them over the border into France. Scarlet provides him an address to an old friend from her days at Overwatch.

A few days at Hank’s safe house and the agents feel hail and healthy again. Dr. Gerhardt eagerly tells them all he knows about “Them”, the plague bearing vampires that run the conspiracy. They use human and animal corpses as vehicles. The real monsters are the black goo within, a colonial slime mold of plague bacteria. He has worked under them since his time in the Soviet biowarfare program.

He tells them that the only person who never showed any fear around them was a man called Dr. Dorjiev. The short nearsighted man had worked in the program since the 60s, focused mostly on psychic research. Unfortunately Gerhardt has no idea where he is.

Even worse, the morning news includes reports of the tragic death of Director Peirce in a traffic accident. The conspiracy is cleaning up loose ends. They will undoubtedly be after Gerhardt as well.

The agents consider this new information and decide to put Gerhardt to work developing an improved antibiotic weapon against the plague bearers. They leave Robin behind to mind him and head out to collect Nasir on their way to Baghdad. Whatever the conspiracy is after there can’t be good.

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Blood Opera

The team sets up a fake ownership trail for the van that ended in the Danube two nights ago hoping the authorities follow it to their enemies instead of them. Guy meanwhile checks out an old cache site only to discover that the CIA cleaned it out months ago.

As John sleeps off the bruises from the day’s excitement, Guy busies himself building a modified humidifier to disperse antibiotics through the Vienna State Opera building. Scarlet comes back as he finishes up loaded with supplies taken from a local hospital. Guy fills the device up with the stolen antibiotics and heads for the opera. In the dark hours of the night he installs it in the ventilation system.

The next day, Nasir slips in as an usher and makes his way backstage. As he nears the pyrotechnics, a security guard accosts him. The guard asks for his badge. The spy pats his jacket before explains he left it at home and quickly concocts a story about what he is doing back here. The guard, mollified, lets him finish his business. Alone at last, Nasir compromises the pyrotechnics and immediately vacates the building.

As the opera house opens, Scarlet clicks through the security feeds at the team’s hotel room. Nasir and Guy wait in a freshly lifted van a few blocks from the venue. Inside Volkov receives forged orders to include John and Feinberg in the security detail. She storms off to talk to Moscow about this intrusion into her domain, leaving Popov in charge of Shevlenko. He stations the new bodyguards outside the Russian delegation’s box along with the towering Kaminski. Shevlenko simply gives them a knowing look.

Scarlet spies the vampire, Simon, attempting to enter the opera house. He sniffs the air and quickly steps back out. He calls someone and a half hour later Bratva thugs have the place surrounded. They wait and watch.

Eventually the opera reaches its climax. After failing to obtain the required sacrifices, the villain of the piece is struck by lightning…which lights a third of the stage on fire. Luckily no one is injured but the audience quickly make their way to the exits. Scarlet helps guide the team through a tight passage where they peel off the giant bodyguard Kaminski.

As they near the exit, John turns, grabs the nerdish Popov and hurls him into Shevlenko’s nurse. Feinberg leads Arkady outside with John right behind them. Guy pulls up in front just as Popov comes sprinting out of the theater. On the street four stocky men race towards them.

John leans out with a machine gun and lays down suppressive fire on the goons. They scatter or fall behind as Guy drives off. A solid thump however announces that Popov managed to jumps on board.

As he shoots through the tight streets of Vienna, Guy glances at his mirrors. Two cheap cars race after him plus something on foot far faster than than any mortal. Ahead the road swings past the river and a flock of geese. He swerves into them, sending a swarm of feathery bodies upward to distract his pursuers.

As bullets ping off the back of the van, Nasir and John unload their guns into the side door. Their work is rewarded with the sound of Popov falling off onto the hard cobblestone steps. Then both tires are punctured by automatic fire.

Guy tightens his grip on the wheel and drifts the van into a controlled collision with some metal posts. Glancing back he checks that everyone is unharmed. Arkady breathes heavily as the Bratva forces pull up behind them. Then something lands on the roof.

With a squeal of tearing metal, the side door goes flying away from the vehicle. Simon dives down and pounces into the van.

His face contorts with pain and anger as thin smoke wafts from his orifices and skin. In a blur, he reaches out, grabs Feinberg and hurls her thirty feet onto a muddy patch of ground. He slams John into the roof of the van before tossing him outside as well. Arkady slinks back into his seat as the monster moves forward.

John manages to grab the van on his way out and lands just outside. Spotting a half dozen thugs approaching he liberally sprays the area with bullets. As they retreat to the safety of their vehicles, Nasir and Guy sneak over to a nearby jeep and hotwire it.

As Simon reaches for the old man, Feinberg shouts “stop!” as she presses her gun against the back of the head. The vampire grabs Arkady’s sleeve.

She fires, spraying the black innards of the vampire across the interior of the van. They sizzle in squirm in the mist.

He twists around, a violent exit wound streaming dark goo down his face. He roars at her, a gory tentacle shooting from his mouth. She ducks, the black mass passing through where her head was a split second ago. As she recovers the tentacle loops down around her neck and lifts her from the ground, choking her.

John turns and targets one of their prepared canisters of compressed gas mixed with antibiotics. A blast of medical mist shoots out, scorching the tendril. Simon hisses but holds on.

Then the car hits him.

The jeep rolls over the vampire and knocks Feinberg free. Holding in her ribs she crawls to the vehicle as Arkady slips out of the van and into the jeep. Nasir drops some smoke grenades covering the extraction. The thugs fire wildly in their direction as John gets on board. In the thick mist the bullets somehow miss everyone.

Suddenly shots ring out from behind the thugs as a bloody and disheveled Popov stalks up the road. As Guy throws the jeep into the gear, the surviving Bratva goons unload into the bodyguard. The agents don’t stop to save him.

Guy smashes through a fence hoping to dislodge anyone hanging on. But a few minutes later, the sound of tearing metal alerts them to trouble. Nasir unloads one of the mist canisters into the jeep. A single bloody hand claws out of the floor and grabs Nasir before a second blast sends it and Simon tumbling onto the streets.

Looking back they see the battered vampire picks himself off street. He looks in their direction and then walks off.

Wincing as she props herself up, Feinberg makes the call to the embassy. Guy pulls the jeep discretely through the Vienna streets. Nasir and John breath a little easier.

Arkady gasps and clutches his chest. As the team moves to help him, he waves them off. “No I must tell you what you need to know. What They are after.”

Slowly he wheezes out the details of the plot concocted by Harry Philby, father of his friendKim Philby. Using a binary agent Philby infected the Saudi royal family with a vampiric plague, one that would place them under his control. Something went wrong. Harry died. The first half of plague was buried with him. His son kept the activating agent in a vault at the Koernersbank in Beirut and tried to sell the plot to the Russians. Now the conspiracy wants to use it take over Saudi Arabia and its vast oil holdings. He chokes out some coordinates to a secret cache, something that may help them. Then he blacks out.

Scarlet breaks in over the comms and starts ordering John through the steps to save Shevlenko’s life. Fifteen minutes later, the team drops Feinberg and the weak but breathing defector off at the embassy before vanishing into the morning fog.

A day later they assemble at the coordinates Arkady gave them. A small group of Sassafras trees sit there. Amid their roots, they find a metal box with documents detailing Arkady’s Middle East work. Clues point to the Iraqi National Museum as well as a possible asset in Beirut.

Robin listens to the operation details and then asks the difficult question. “Nasir where did the item Shevlenko said was in the vault go? The vial filled with the activating agent?”

The Pakistani spy pauses for a moment before explaining that he has hidden it. Under pressure he says he’ll give a sample to Scarlet for analysis. Somewhat mollified, the team makes arrangements to return to Germany.

On the way, Scarlet takes a look at the sample. It seems to be a culture medium tweaked for some variety of bacteria. She tests it against samples of the black goo they obtained in Serbia. While those bacteria grow well, it is clearly not a match.

Once in Germany, they check surveillance on the castle. Everything seems the same. John contacts Colonel Drake to see what developments have occurred with Dr. Gomez. Drake says that the body they sent opened up some new insights. He invites them over to the base where he has hidden medical lab set up for her and Quist’s corpse.

Robin and Nasir opt to sit this one out, leaving John and Scarlet to conduct the meeting. The Colonel leads them into a darkened warehouse, where a single lamp illuminates a makeshift lab. A body lies beneath a white sheet. Confused about where Gomez is, Drake invites them to look at the lab while he hunts her down.

Scarlet approaches the table, a growing dread building within her. The body is female. Pulling back the sheet, she finds a very dead Dr. Gomez. Growls comes from the darkness around them as Drake’s voice echoes over the intercom.

“Sorry. You know how it is,” he explains. “I have kids.”

“No I don’t!” John shouts as the growls grow closer and yellow eyes glint in the dark.

Scarlet digs in her bag, pulling out a grapple gun. As she shoots it near a high window, John moves to intercept the werewolves.

They blur out of the darkness but he weaves between them as Scarlet slowly rises upward. He stays below her warding them away as they circle him. One claws his arm while the other pounces on his leg as he is distracted. He kicks it off and grabs Scarlet. Pulling himself to safety, he begins to swing the line. Below the monsters jump and snap at them. Then the two spies smash through the high window to safety.

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Out of the House of Ashes

As the ambulance pulls away from the hotel grounds, Scarlet tags it with a tracker. She and Guy then follow from a discreet distance while the rest of the team joins the other guests inside while security figures out what just happened.

The tracker shows the van racing along the Danube before finally leaving the road and diving into the river. Guy pulls up to the twisted railing with the police sirens still many minutes away. Scarlet dives in to see what can be salvaged. among the debris and remains, she pulls out a keycard for Hotel Centrale.

She relays this to the others who realize an operation like this would normally include a fifth member, a cleaner to remove all evidence after the rest of the team was done. That person might have more information for them.

However with most of the team still trapped at the party, Scarlet and Guy go off on their own to scout the Hotel Centrale. A card reader tells them to look at room 204. Surveillance turns up no signs of life or movement inside the hotel room. Scarlet does spot a wastepaper basket on the balcony still smoldering with destroyed papers.

Feeling safe from enemy action, Scarlet tries the room. Inside she smells fresh antiseptic. The room has been thoroughly if quickly cleaned. A phone book has been left out and a page marked inside shows a list of financial firms. Scarlet recognizes one as CIA front: CJH Investments. Guy comments that he’s even met Selig, the contact there. They make plans to visit first thing in the morning.

After regrouping at their hotel, the team reviews their plans for the next day. In addition to CJH Investments, Nasir has a meeting with Arkady Shevlenko. Then Robin discovers Anton has reached out them. The scumbag wants to trade information on the Conspiracy for protection. They sit on that intelligence for now.

That morning they enter CJH Investments shortly after it opens. Spotting a nervous woman in the lobby, they guess she’s the one that they want. Nasir and John convince her that they want to help and can be trusted. She reveals she is a CIA agent named Lynne Feinberg, that her operation was blown and that she’ll talk more after her meeting. But the team gets their meeting first. Selig after ascertaining that John is part of the DOD, reveals that Lynne’s operation was not sanctioned. she’s been burned by Langley.

With that revelation, Lynne puts her hopes and trust with the team. without Shevlenko she has no chance of being reinstated and without help she might not last the night. She tells them that their leader Charlie Green had originally looked at grabbing Shevlenko at the opera on the last night of the conference. They have a safe house outside of the city from which they planned to escape the country. Lynne’s job was to get his granddaughter Anna to America. She has plane tickets and passport. The girl is supposed to arrive that afternoon.

The agents agree to help and split into two teams. Robin and Nasir will deal with Shevlenko. the others will join Lynne in intercepting Anna at the airport.

As they leave the building the team notice several local toughs tailing them. They duck into a shop and Nasir quickly disguises them. As they slip away, the master of disguise bumps into the leader of this gang and lifts his phone.

A quick scan reveals that they were sent by the Lisky Bratva. Someone named Werner has been complaining about “Simon is hungry” and the need for a fresh shipment from Odessa. In the chat, he wishes Uncle Joe or even creepy Dorjiev was here to handle Simon. also on the phone they find a landline for an apartment block in the redlight district. Robin scouts it out before the meeting. The brothel is a fortress and capable of keeping all sorts of things in the bricked up basement.

Nasir and Robin meet with Shevlenko at 2 PM. Recalling their earlier meeting, Nasir conducts most of the conversation in Arabic under the guise of needing to use more technical terms. Shevlenko somewhat more at ease hints that there might be eavesdropping, referencing a lamp. Robin picks up the cues and turns on a jamming device.

Once able to speak freely, Shevlenko instantly warms to the idea of a second escape attempt provided his granddaughter is protected. Nasir says they’ve got it covered. Shevlenko explains he knows the Conspiracy’s plans, plans told to him by Kim Philby before his death. Kim also gave him an amulet that thus far has kept them at bay. Its power is fading however and he fears the monsters plan to get his secrets by force. Nasir outlines their plan to extract him at the opera and then tries to slip him a burner phone. As it tumbles to the floor, he covers up the slip up and in the process of picking it up, slips it into the old man’s pocket. With Shevlenko’s promise of intelligence once rescued, they move to the next step of their plans.

At airport, the team notices several thugs lurking by the baggage claim. They also note Shevlenko’s assistant, Zhenya Mihaylov, making his way to Anna’s gate. After some quick discussion, they decide to ambush her in the baggage area. Scarlett hacks the airport computers and flags the thugs as suspicious individuals. As airport security herd them away, Anna arrives with Zhenya. Lynne and Scarlett intercept them and convince Anna that they are really here to help her. Lynne presses the tickets and passport into her hand as Zhenya begins to raise a fuss.

Meanwhile security begins to move in on John, recognizing him from reports in Zurich. He quickly collects the others. Before disappearing into a crowd of German tourists, Scarlet presses a burner phone into anna’s hand and pushes her back to security. With Anna safe they escape the airport.

That night they decide to set up a meet with Anton. While Guy and Scarlett work on an aerosol dispersal system for antibiotics, Robin rigs a local cafe with cameras and bugs. Then she messages Anton, giving him the meet site. He gives a counter offer but she replies, “Nice knowing you.” Hurriedly he agrees to the location but she gives no sign back.

The next day Robin waits in the back of a store a few blocks away, ready to pursue on foot. She watches the electronic feeds from there. John and Guy wait in a car a block in the other direction. Scarlet works remotely from their crummy hotel. Nasir meanwhile continues to attend the conference.

As Anton arrives, they easily spot the thugs, as well as the Russian prison tattoos hidden beneath coats and long sleeves. They shadow Anton closely who looks sickly and dying. Scarlet notes the marks on his wrists and the makeup covering bruises on his face. Anton waits an hour, growing more and more anxious with each minute. When a pair of men come to collect him, his shoulders slump as he accepts his fate. They escort him to a car.

As Guy moves after him, a shot rings out. The sniper round cracks the windshield and hits John next to his heart. Only the kevlar keeps the damage to cracked ribs. Guy goes evasive and tears out of there as another shot shatters the back window.

Robin meanwhile flags a cab and trails Anton, at least until it’s obvious that he is headed for the red light district and the Bratva’s brothel/fortress.

That night Nasir’s cover is burnt when the police discover a kilo of heroin in his hotel room.

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The Escape

Guy pulls into the small alpine village as the sun begins to hit the snowy mountain tops. Lawson sits up stiffly while Scarlet examines the bandages. The inside of the van smells of blood and old money. In the back lies “Smith”, the deceased werewolf, now wrapped in several layers of sheets. A quick look at his phone tells the agents he was really Quist, another of the CIA’s agents.

Nasir helps the team with their disguises and they head into town to buy some skis and hiking gear for the next leg of their exit from Switzerland. Italy and possible safety lies only a few miles away.

The ski shop is open early, full of just what they need to get across the snowy forests and slopes. As they finish picking out gear, the TV above the counter reports on the recent theft and the incident at the hotel. A series of grainy security footage, faked by Scarlet, fills the screen. Then it flips to several much more accurate sketches. A sleepy police officer in the men’s clothing section scrutinizes the team. Guy heads for the counter and distracts the pretty young clerk with some compliments on their selection while Scarlet and Robin conspicuously sneak into the back. As the officer heads to investigate, John materializes behind him and knocks him out with a single deft strike.

The three drag him into the back room and take his radio. They regroup with the others outside the store and head for the wilderness. Guy builds a makeshift sled for the corpse and they head for the border.

As they push through the snowy forest, the radio crackles to life. The police found Officer Hall and based on their purchases have an idea where they are headed. The agents and thieves pick up the pace. Sliding down a steep slope, they come to a partially frozen river. They cross quickly hoping to disguise their trail along the way.

Using the radio they monitor the police’s slow progress. Guy sets up a false trail in the woods as well as some snares and then leads the team to an Italian village across the border where he has another truck handy.

Guy drives them to a smuggler friend of his. There they make a arrangements to deliver the corpse to Germany and Doctor Gomez. After splitting the loot roughly with Menena and Lawson, they thank them. Keith let’s Robin know he owes her one for pulling him out of that ambush. After Menena leaves, Nasir slips the vial she stole from him at the bank back into his pocket.

Next the team decides to lay low. Scanning news reports on bird die offs, the team evades any zombie crow surveillance as they slip into Croatia. There they spend a week on the beach while the news outlets move on to the next story.

The agents also put out feelers through the black market for someone that can liquidate their stolen goods. They get the name of Hans Schmidt. The quiet man offers them 10% to take it off their hands. They decide to wait on the money until they need it.

John checks his voicemail and receives a disturbing message. His apartment in D.C. is being fumigated due to an infestation of rats infected with the plague. He realizes with dread that the conspiracy knows who he is.

Their vacation complete, the team heads to Germany for a surveillance operation on the CIA site. Watching the the ruined castle, they count over a dozen men, mostly green agents, at the base. A small medical staff supports Dr. Gerhardt. A supply truck visits a couple times a week. They manage to grab a list of goods being delivered. Based on that they suspect a dozen large “animals” (or more likely surgically modified soldiers) are held there.

The upper level appears to be prefab structures with narrow halls and electronic locks. The subterranean levels remain a mystery but seem substantial. They identify three entrances: the front door, an electronically locked grill just outside the walls, and, based on historical maps, a secret tunnel that exits into some woods two miles away.

They spot Gerhardt smoking outside several times a day. Guy suggests delivering a poisoned supply of his favorite brand.

As they consider that possibility they review the contents of Philby’s box. They suspect the Kipling’s novel might be a book cipher but without more information it is worthless. The letters suggest Kim Philby was looking for something in Iraq. An analysis of the photos suggests Philby and his son were tracking spies. All of them are now dead except for one: Arkady Shevlenko. That name matches some of the chatter they intercepted from the Black Sea Bank’s “security”. They decide to look deeper into him.

Robin complains none of this material worth the effort the Conspiracy put into obtaining the box. Nasir deflects that criticism and pushes the team to investigate Shevlenko.

Digging deeper into his background suggests that if anyone alive knows what the Philby’s were up to it would be him. The suspicious death of his son, signs in the Lennart’s files that Shevlenko might be leaking intelligence to the CIA, and the possible poisoning that led to his heart condition lend weight that there is more to learn here. Plus he is in Vienna right now for a trade conference.

The agents head for Vienna. Guy watches his staff and picks out his security detail: the secretary, the pretty nurse, the overworked assistant, and the obvious bodyguard. Robin recognizes the secretary, Volkov, from an earlier career. She knows Volkov appreciates professionalism. Guy also snaps a picture of an amulet that Shevlenko always wears. Scarlet identifies it as of Levantian craftsmanship and that it is several centuries old.

Nasir meanwhile pulls strings through his mining executive cover to get an invite to the conference. He snags Shevlenko’s schedule in the process, planning to intercept him at the reception at Hotel Europa. Before the reception he takes in the old spy’s talk, picking up clues in the talk that Shevlenko knows about vampires as well. He also notices that Shevlenko’s handlers don’t know Arabic, unlike the old man.

At the hotel, John poses as Nasir’s bodyguard while Robin works as arm candy. Outside Scarlet mans the communications with Guy waiting as an escape driver.

Nasir manages to engage Shevlenko in a conversation, plying him with drinks. The old man seems barely interested but perks up when Nasir enquires about the amulet and hints about vampires. They arrange a meeting and then Shevlenko leaves to get some air.

As the party spills into the gardens, Robin spots a Dracula wanna-be in the crowd. She snaps a picture and Scarlet identifies him as Sergei Rachov, a member of the Lisky Bratva. But she sees something else in the photo, a sickly youth who she suspects is a vampire.

Robin decides to check and also test one of the weapons they’ve devised on him. Slipping next to a waiter, she slips a syringe of antibiotics from under her dress and doses the champagne glasses. Then with a little flirting she sends the servant in the direction of the supposed monster. He takes a drink but as he sips, he begins to retch, hurling the glass away. He lurches off to the barn at the far side of the gardens, hacking all the way.

The team trails Shevlenko. As the old man sends one of his handlers back to the hotel, a strange static intrudes on their communications. Scarlet notices cell signals being distorted as well. It has CIA fingerprints on it. Shevlenko looking tired and weak sits down. Another handler hurries to get some paramedics, leaving the nurse and bodyguard. As the old man clutches his chest, four suspicious seeming paramedics quickly arrive. Outside, Guy notices the first handler occupied by the valet. Just as John and Robin realize this is a CIA extraction team, the vampire strikes. In seconds the four agents are reduced to bloody messes as Shevlenko looks on in horror. The nurse shields the bodyguard from intervening.

The monster grabs the bodies while the agents make themselves scarce. Loading them into the “ambulance”, he rides off into the night.

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The Heist

Having traced the supernatural sniper that shot at Robin to the Black Sea Bank’s security team, the agents tap their phones. Their security expert, Marko Shwetz, has a series of calls from a number located in Vienna. Aside from cryptic comments along the lines of “Shevlenko is in hand”, they also learn that the bank and therefore the Lisky Bratva seek a specific box from the vault, one that belongs to someone called “Philby.”

Scarlet gets a call from her old college friend Pamela Stacy, who is now an airline analyst. They reminisce about old times but Scarlet detects an undercurrent of fear in her friend’s voice. Pamela reveals she’s been followed for the past week by Russian thugs. Also a sick homeless man keeps appearing wherever she goes. Scarlet makes plans to meet her in Italy once her work in Switzerland is done.

Robin then reaches out to Keith Lawson, the man she saw with Menena Chakroun. He’s obviously part of this rival band of thieves. But Robin has worked with him before. He’s Mossad.

Keith hints at his mission: to collect files and records dealing with Nazi war criminals from the bank. He has no problem splitting the cash. He also lets her know about the rest of the team. Massimo Florin, the master safe cracker, is in it for the money. Menena says she is as well, but he suspects she has another angle.

Via Keith, they arrange a meet with the thieves in the backroom of a restaurant. After a sweep for bugs, Menena lays out her plan and how Mr. Smith, the thief who died, was supposed to help. Robin and Nasir point out that they have already completed those steps. The two groups decide to combine their resources and plans. Robin mentions Philby. Most of the thieves know nothing about it, but she can’t get a read on Menena.

A couple of days later as the bank shuts down for the day, Nasir bumps into Jean Montavan as he leaves the office. Keycard in hand he joins the others as they wait for nightfall.

Once only the night watchmen are left, the thieves as well as Robin, Nasir, and Scarlet zipline onto the roof. John and Guy wait outside in the getaway vehicle. Massimo cracks the door and they slip in.

Robin and Scarlet sneak past the security cameras to the server room. Once there, Scarlet hacks the computers and makes the cameras work for them. For the next few hours the guards only see looped footage.

With relatively free rein, Nasir, Menena and Massimo head to the manager’s office to grab the keys. Massimo cracks safe and Nasir spots an alarm on the key carasol. If more than one box key is taken at a time, the alarm will sound. Nasir disables it and they bag the hundreds of keys.

Nasir heads to the records room. He finds Lawson finishing up his own research. Nasir tracks down Philby’s box as well as a few other boxes from the same era.

The team then heads for the basement. They use Jean’s keycard plus the code Nasir saw earlier to access the basement, don heat suits to bypass the heat sensors and then use the vault key and the code Nasir spied to unlock the vault door.

Once inside Menena slowly disables the motion sensors. Then they start looting.

First to be packed away are the millions in diamonds and cash from the Black Sea Bank. They also snag some internal papers but choose to ignore the sealed cooler box. Nasir unlocks the Philby box and unloads its contents including a strange vial of red liquid. The others puzzle over some art and other valuables. Nasir finds lists of German names and addresses in one box which he lets Keith take after checking with Robin that he’s a Nazi hunter. In another box, Keith unloads a suitcase of Nazi gold. As a final odd piece of loot, Nasir grabs an antique pistol loaded with silver bullets.

Suitably laidened, the thieves and agents escape out the side door and into the night.

They head for the safe house at the airport hotel without any trouble. Just as they reach their room however, Robin spots a soft glow under the door. “No one but us know about this room,” Menena says.

Leaving the others, she pops open the door to the adjacent room, swings onto the balcony. Inside she observes someone fiddling with a phone in the dark while seated at a desk. She relays this to the others and slips inside.

The others knock at the door. The surprised man types something on the phone and calls them in. In the light of the hallway, they see Mr. Smith, the supposedly deceased pickpocket. He laughs about being dead and demands the vial. Nasir plays dumb while Robin tries to slip behind Smith.

“Boring,” he replies as he turns to swing at Robin with inhuman speed.

Robin dodges back. Smith leaves a fist sized hole in the wall. As they tussle, a sniper round cracks the glass balcony door. Massimo drops to the ground, dead.

Realizing she’s up against something like a werewolf, Robin pulls a beta blocker syringe and jabs it into him. Smith cries out in pain as his face melts into some other person’s.

Guy hears approaching footsteps from the door and fires at the first goon to come through the door. As the thug topples back into the hall, Nasir unloads the antique pistol into Smith. The silver bullet digs into his flesh which breaks out in hives.

Scarlet and Menena fire at the remaining goons while Keith grabs one and dents him into a wall. One of the thugs tosses a gas grenade into the room but Nasir dives for it and hurls it out the now broken balcony doorway.

Smith moves like a blur, smashing Robin into a wall and then that scratching his finger tips across her skin. As venom burns through her flesh, a second sniper round takes Keith in the leg. He grunts and falls to his knees, choking the life out of one of the goons before the other thugs pepper him with bullets.

As Keith bleeds out on the floor, Robin pulls the curtains closed to thwart further shots and keeps her distance from Smith. Guy pulls out a dart gun of beta blockers and shoots the inhuman Smith. Smith begins to sweat as the second dose cripples his system.

Smith swings at Robin again but she deftly dodges out of the way. As he curses at her, Guy puts a second dart into him. Suddenly he grabs his heart as he crumples to the ground. Nasir strides up and puts a silver slug in his brain.

Menena shoots and drops another thug, leaving only one in the doorway. As the survivor scrambles back into the hall, he spots John racing to the rescue. He screams into his walkie-talkie for backup as he retreats away from the team.

John smashes open the door to the stairs. Footfalls echo up from below. He pulls the pin on a grenade and hurls it at the first goon to come into sight.

The hotel shakes as the reinforcements meet their makers.

The ex-soldier emerges back in the hall as the rest of team dumps Smith’s corpse in a laundry cart. Scarlet stabilizes Keith and she and Nasir manuever him into the servant’s elevator. Taking the cart and their loot with them, the agents plus Menena grab Guy’s prepared van and flee before the authorities arrive.

As they hit the winding roads outside Zurich, three police cars race to intercept them. Guy guns the surprisingly powerful engine and drifts the van around corners to opens up a gap. John takes pot shots at the tires of the pursuers, puncturing one.

The police car crashes into a guard rail on a switchback before they hit a relatively straight path down the mountain. Guy avoids some early morning bicyclists and a slow truck, allowing the remaining cars to regain some ground.

Guy skirts a truck loaded with chickens hoping to get it to crash and block the road. The driver resists his intimidation, clipping the van before being rear ended by a police car.

With one car in pursuit, Guy spins the van around and waits until the police is almost on top of them until tearing off in another direction. Before the cops can recover, they disappear into the hills.

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Tracking Control

The team puts together their plan to abduct Dr. Gomez and learn what she knows about the surgically created monsters the Conspiracy keeps sending after them. Robin will infiltrate her home and subdue her. Nasir will then help move her into a waiting truck below, disguised as a washing machine delivery person. John will drive the truck and hang back as support while Scarlet watches remotely. They will transport her to secure an isolated self storage cubical for the interrogation.

Scarlet hacks Gomez’s phone. She gets her schedule, clearing the way for the abduction that evening. However she also detects and trips some state of the art CIA security software. Luckily she is able to spoof her location.

Robin slips into the apartment on the third floor during the day, waiting in a closet. Gomez arrives home and does her normal evening routine. But something triggers Gomez’s suspicions. As she retreats from the apartment, Robin rushes out and injects her with a sedative.

Gomez shakes off the effects and wrestles free. As she makes a break for the balcony, Robin tags her with a taser. The doctor stumbles onto the balcony and manages to swing down the level below.

Robin alerts the others and stays to take care of Gomez’s evening call in. John brings the truck around to ambush the doctor but she lands on top of it.

He starts forward hoping to knock her loose. She does lose her grip but tumbles to her feet. Nasir jumps out and fires his Taser, missing her.

John chases her down on foot. He tases her again before taking her out with a haymaker.

The men drag her to go to a secure location while Scarlet helps Robin complete the call in with some voice scrambling software.

At the interrogation, John poses as a U.S. official. Scarlet patches Gomez up and then leaves her to his probing questions. Gomez maintains her innocence but ultimately coughs up information on the headquarters for the operation, a ruined castle a few hours drive away.

They learn this is a CIA operation to fix up and enhance crippled and dying soldiers. Gomez is unaware of the full horror of the program. She does however tell them about Special Officer Steven Lynch and Doctor Gerhard as well as the details of the upper levels of the castle.

Robin recognizes the second name from her “second life” in espionage. She helped extract him from Russia’s biowarfare program, only to see the doctor and his Nazi based research disappear into American hands. Lynch is also a known operator, a former field agent benched after damage to his knee. He might have been John’s equal before the “accident”.

Once they have gotten everything from her, John calls up an old friend, Phil Drake, to debrief her while they move on to their next operation.

Robin suggests they let the CIA operation stew for now. The team heads for Zurich and the bank heist Robin has been planning. If all goes well this should fund the rest of the operation against the Conspiracy.

Once in Zurich basic surveillance turns up the external security systems, the daily routines, and the identity of the security team (SBS). Scarlet inserts a breaker switch to cut off the SBS in case an external alarm is triggered.

Nasir meanwhile impersonates a Saudi prince and opens an account at the bank. Jean Montavan happily shows him around, allowing him to scope out the internal security and the vault. He also notes the combinations to the basement and vault locks.

On the way out he notes someone watching from across the street. She disappears but they peg her as a possible thief. Based on his description the team determine she is Menena Chakroun, the so-called Queen of Thieves.

The team works on their plan. Nasir will snag Jean’s card the night of the theft, then they will sneak in with the cleaning crew. Once inside they will build a false wall and hide until everyone but the night guards leave. Scarlet will hack the central servers to loop the security feeds. They will break into the manager’s office where the keys are stored and retrieve them. Then they will slip down to the basement, use heat suits to get past the heat sensors, avoid the pressure plate and open the vault. Moving very slowly to avoid the motion sensors they will then rob the place starting with the money the Black Sea Bank is bringing in.

As they prepare, the agents notice another problem. Black birds and crows seem to be following them everywhere. Robin tranquillizes one and brings it back to their hideout (a hotel room) for study. Scarlet however discovers the bird is some sort of zombie, infected with the same bacteria that oozed out of Serge Milic. They cage it then seal it up once they realize it is sending out pheromones to communicate with its free brethren outside.

The team decides to break camp. John creates some noxious chemicals to cover their tracks and then they move location, leaving the bird behind.

Later as Robin and Nasir head back from a shopping trip, Nasir’s wallet is stolen. Spotting the thief as he doffs his disguise, Nasir chases after him, disguising himself as he goes. He quickly closes the gap, following the thief through a department store and into the back parking lot. Robin heads around the store to cut him off after buying a moped off a local.

The thief reaches his car just before the grab him. Then he goes up in smoke as it explodes.

As a crowd of onlookers watch the blazing wreckage, Nasir spots Menena and another man in the crowd. Robin recognizes the man from her earlier work: he’s Mossad. Nasir follows after them.

Then someone shoots at Robin! She spots the sniper in time to avoid the shot and then races up to the building top as he or she escapes. Robin tags the heavily clad sniper with a tracker and then alerts the rest of the team.

Scarlet tracks the signal as it fades in and out strangely. Eventually it settles where the Lisky Bratva have made camp. All camera footage along the route shows only blurs where the sniper should be. She’s not sure if there is just one or several of the “blurries” in town.

Meanwhile Nasir waits at a bar down the street from the flop house Menena and her team are hiding at.

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