Supplemental Report 1: A New Arrival


Agent Cordero reporting here. I’ve arrived in Pannawau as ordered, and set up shop at the Fat Beaver Inn. Nice place. Nothing fancy, but homey. Good food. X-23 was right about that, at least.

Denise sends her regards, and will be back at HQ in the morning. Expected some friction there, but she seemed fine with it. Guess she’s a pro at heart. Haven’t seen X-23 yet. Denise says he’s out assisting with the manhunt for the Melmoth girl.

I’ll be curious to see that one, if I get the chance. Be interesting to gauge my resistance to pulling the trigger against that charm effect she gives off. Not that I’ll kill her without authorization. But, considering her current status, I’m getting my mind ready.

Stopped at the Alvin C. Melmoth Memorial Hospital on the way in, to establish my cover as a government medical examiner. The intel we dug up on this doctor that oversaw the Melmoth girl’s post-kidnapping care pans out with what I could get out of the staff down there. Not a staff physician, comes and goes on special retainer, usually only when one of the Melmoths or a close associate needs medical care. Just like everywhere else he’s turned up.

Pretty sure he’s part of the network. A puppet of Oscar Melmoth’s, only brought out when needed. No telling how many people he’s gotten into in this town alone. Can’t look at any of them without wondering if there’s snakes in their heads. Giving me the creeps.

Like this Sheriff Patton X-23’s so fond of. Denise introduced me to him when he stopped in for food between shifts on the manhunt. Solid, unimaginative military type. Cares about his town. Obviously a nice man. But was that him checking out my boobs when we shook hands, or a drooling old lunatic leering out through his eyes?

Sorry, sir. This town’s just giving me the willies.

Might have something to do with what happened on my way in. I took a wrong turn. Careless of me, I know. Won’t happen again. Anyway, I wound up on this… cow path that took me out to the lake. Beautiful country, I suppose, if you’re into that sort of thing. My GPS didn’t know where the hell I was, though, so I stopped to check an actual map. Always keep a map. First thing you taught me, sir.

So I was sitting there, trying to figure out how to get back to the main road, when I looked up and saw a bird sitting on the hood of the car. It was looking right at me. And it had human eyes.

It looked at my map.

It looked back at me.

I leaned out the window and shot it.

I didn’t kill it, don’t worry. I’ve read X-23’s elegiac poesies about the Wanageeska around here, and I don’t want to piss off the spirits. But I also don’t want one of them in my head. Somebody’s got to keep a clean mind on this thing. So I shot over its head, and it took off fast.

Still. It creeped me out.

I’ll be heading back to the hospital tomorrow, sir, to see if I can’t get a little deeper into the mystery of who’s been feeding the Osceola to the patients. I saw a couple of relieved expressions when I introduced myself today, so I’m hoping somebody down there will crack. Time will tell.

— Agent Valerie Cordero, signing off.


About Mark Brett

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One response to “Supplemental Report 1: A New Arrival

  • Mark Brett

    Cordero, you’ve got to stop leading with the gun.

    I know how big you are on mental hygiene. That’s why I sent you out there in the first place. With the possibility that X-23’s being compromised, I need a clear trained head. So if that was a Wanageeska manifestation you experienced, and you didn’t want the thing in your head, that’s fine.

    But on a case like this one, where you’ve got interest from both sides of the Wall of Sleep, you’ve got to remember the big picture. Was that thing Wanageeska or Ahtunowhiho? Did it want to hurt you or help you? Or was it just staring at you for no good reason? You don’t know. And now you won’t know because you shot at it.

    It’s like this one time, back in ’78. I was working a case in New York City. Rare thing. More used to tromping through the swamp. But this was one of those high-profile deals you get from time to time. Something called Aklo was making its way through the discos. Some kind of psychoactive cocaine, sending the rich and the famous into suicidal screaming fits. I had no leads, except that the stuff was being dealt out of a club name of Studio 51.

    Yes, you read that right. Place was a disco decorated around a UFO theme. My in was a fellow name of Rufus. Fashionable guy. Made Superfly look like a member of the John Birch Society. Anyway, we knew Rufus was dealing the stuff, but had no leads on his supplier. So it was Rufus I leaned on, and he snapped like a twig. Turned out that cool exterior of his was all show. Underneath it, he was a nervous wreck. He got into the Aklo because it was more lucrative than the hookers and blow he’d been dealing in before. But his bosses freaked him out.

    “Evil motherfuckers,” he called them. If you’ll pardon my French. And considering that I had a story about Rufus taking an arc welder to a girl who didn’t pay him his pimping fee, that’s really saying something. Anyway, Rufus didn’t have any names for me, but he was more than happy to give me their address. Almost seemed relieved to give them up.

    At first, though, it looked like he’d snookered me. I staked the place out for a few hours, and it seemed abandoned. No signs of life whatsoever. But before I went back and made good on my threats to Rufus, I decided to go in. Have a look around. Rufus had told me this was where they were manufacturing the Aklo, and I wanted to see if maybe they’d just moved the operation elsewhere.

    They hadn’t. They hadn’t, and I knew it the minute I slipped in the back door. It was the smell. Like burning crickets. Only I didn’t smell it so much as I heard it. My brain lurched, and I tasted unholy black. Threw up right there in the doorway. Felt the sound of it splattering on the concrete.

    Extreme synesthesia reaction. You kids are trained to deal with it today, but back then I had to wrestle my perceptions back in line through sheer brute force. Took a few minutes. So it was lucky for me that warehouse was as under-guarded as it was. If they’d had more than a couple of gun-toting deaf-mutes on the place, I’d have been ventilated, and you’d be having this conversation with old Bob Williams or somebody.

    But that’s not how it happened. So I pulled myself back together and came out the other side in one piece. Now, I should have turned around right then and called for back-up. But I was pretty shaken up. Not thinking clearly. I was still seeing noises and smelling colors. Scared and confused and barely holding it together. And that’s when I started leading with the gun. I had it in my hand before I knew it was even there, and that made it a lot easier to pull the trigger than to ask questions.

    The downstairs was just as deserted as I thought it would be, but that didn’t matter. I could tell the action was happening upstairs in the loft. That burning cricket smell was deafening. A cacophony, getting thicker the higher I went. By the time I got to the top, it was bleeding out into my other senses. Crowding the edges of my vision in floating waves. Rubbing up against my flesh with dry, rustling wings. I even finally started to smell it, and that almost made me hurl again. But it was the sight of the room itself that sent me over the edge.

    In front of me were two long wooden benches, on which were rows of small black children. They were working with this sort of crazy fever. Wouldn’t stop, even after… Well. We’ll get to that. But they wouldn’t stop.

    On one side the kids were hunched over, with their heads over their laps, each of them holding a beat-up metal bowl. Their mouths were open, and they were screaming. Screaming out that burning cricket language at decibel levels fit to burn your nostrils. It came vomiting up out of them in chitinous pebbles, right down into those bowls.

    The kids on the opposite bench all had gas masks padlocked to their heads, I guess to stop them breathing the fumes. When a bowl filled up on the other side, they’d grab it, switch it out for an empty, and go to work with a pestle, grinding those vomited-up pebble-words into a fine powder. When they were done, they’d empty the bowl into a chute between their legs, dumping the powder into a heated boiler under the bench. You could smell a sort of crackling sound coming from it. But by then the screaming kids had filled another bowl, and the whole thing would start over again. Never stopping. Never. No matter how much I wanted them to.

    The air was thick with dust and smoke and noise. Alive with color and sound. And on either side of that horror show were those two deaf-mutes I told you about. Big suckers, both of them, wearing surgical masks and armed with blackjacks and .45 Magnums. Not that they got the chance to use them.

    They didn’t hear me coming up the stairs. They couldn’t. Didn’t even know I was there. But my gun was in my hand, and I was of a mind to use it. So I squeezed that trigger, and kept on squeezing it. Until the guards were down. And the pestles had fallen. And the screaming had stopped. And I was alone. And the room was at peace.

    There were twelve kids in the loft that day. Orphans and missing children, all of them. I don’t know why they refused to stop. And I don’t know that I could have done any better by them than I did. The Agency ruled them clean shots. Extenuating circumstances, they said. Interference from beyond. A mercy, my boss called it. But I can still recite their names and ages to you, and tell you where they sat on the bench.

    We put together whatever explanations we could out of forensic evidence. Autopsies revealed that somebody had burst the guards’ eardrums for them, and cut out their tongues. That knocked out two of their senses and crippled a third. Guess it cut down on the sensory confusion. But we never knew for sure. Never caught the people behind the operation, either. Aklo disappeared from the disco scene, and we never heard tell of it again. But nobody faced justice for it. And all because I lead with the gun.

    It’s a necessary tool, Cordero. It’ll protect you when you need protecting. But you’ve got to know when to use it, and when to keep it in the holster. Or you’ll end up a sad relic like me, boring junior agents with war stories.

    Alright. End of sermon. Good work at the hospital today. Getting the locals on your side is always a good first step. Let’s hope it pays off.

    – Chief Bill Roberts, signing off.

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