Launch Code 1
The "Tri-State Area" covers parts of New York, New Jersey, and western Connecticut that make up most of New York City and its surrounding area. Over twenty million residents live here. Many live in one city and commute daily to another. Adding in nearby parts of northern Pennsylvania, it can be argued that the Tri-State Area is the single largest urban agglomeration -- possibly the most diverse -- in North America.
Learned papers have been written as to how this area came to be so heavily connected, but for most day-to-day residents, the answer is simple: NYC is the most economically powerful city in the world.
And yet, for certain individuals ... those with unusual viewpoints or specialized knowledge ... something more created this geographic bond. Something deeper maintains that connection. It is a pulsing, living whole, vibrant, always growing, always changing. Where the Tri-State area leads, the rest of the world is likely to follow.
Which is why when certain small events come to the attention of Earth's Subtlest Heroes, each man feels a strong inclination to investigate quickly -- and bring his findings to the next meeting of The Trenchcoat Brigade!
Pick up next time with some of the party going to the Slavic Soul Party concert in a hole in the wall coffee shop tonight, and Nathan Bourne going to the "Language of the Birds: Occult and Art" event.
Clue for Nathan Bourne
Clue for Sahara
Clue for Psypher
Clue for The Shadow
In your job as a CIA Analyst, you are a master at gathering a lot of seemingly unrelated data points and turning them around in your head or on your screen until you spot a pattern. If it holds up to testing, if it is consistent with additional events, then you have something worth a closer look; all too often, an apparent pattern comes apart under meta-analysis, nothing but coincidences.
Then there are the times when your gut is just SURE that you have hold of something! But you simply do not have enough pieces to describe the pattern in words. Data is missing, crucial data.
You learned years ago to trust your gut.
Lately you have been double-checking the agent reports for anyone who ought to be seeing activity from AIM, or the Card Shark organization supposedly based in Baltimore. There's a cartel in Blüdhaven that bothers you, too - they're no match for established organizations in Gotham or Metropolis, much less the lethal crime world of Manhattan, but it is WEIRD for them to go suddenly completely boring in their movements and chatter.
What few threads, traces really, you have managed to spot all seem to be pointing at the campus of New York University. Oddly, all of their Greek letter organizations have quit using the open Internet, just this past week. You can find one public complaint about "the new router being a complete shit" but that should not stop the regular posts to social media about this party and that study event. Right? You even sent an agent over to get a direct look, but she spotted nothing out of the ordinary. Is the traffic being rerouted through the DarkNet? Why? What does that have to do with every copy of the movies "National Treasure" and the entire Sci-Fi Creature Feature section of the school's video library being gone?
Why did a bunch of charges to NYU student meal plans suddenly pop up on the Metropolis University computers?
You need something more than a SAFEGUARD agent, or a loaner from the FBI. You need the help of minds that look at the world from a very strange perspective. None are stranger than The Trenchcoat Brigade! They can brainstorm with you at the next team meeting.
Clue for Sahara
In general you encounter three kinds of library patrons: The ones that know what's up, know how to do their research, and barely talk to the staff except to request special loans or ask if you have better ideas than they on where to do research. The ones that either have no idea how to use a library, or else can't be bothered, but in either case they want you to hold their hands and shepherd them to the answer. Lastly, the ones in the middle -- they know how to look subjects up on the computer and print out results, they aren't entirely sure how the Dewey Decimal System or Library of Congress systems work but they can figure it out with some experimentation, only they're not familiar with the little tricks for finding additional resources.
Well, there's the fourth kind: people who are in the library because it's warm, dry, and quiet, and they can rely on not getting bothered for several hours while they are in their own little worlds. But those ones go out of their way to not encounter you at all.
Lately you have been noticing a variation on the third type: college-age patrons who are Up To Something. They have whispered conferences on how to go about their research project, because maybe one in five knows to look at the bibliography of one source and write down the relevant citations for possible additional sources. Half of them catch on quickly that if one book on a shelf has something useful to say, maybe they should look at everything else in that decimal range. One in ten or less has some idea of how to use the Periodicals section, particularly the archival area, and when a particular work is worth requesting from staff.
Mostly, you wind up reshelving stuff. That would be a shelver's job, except these young people keep putting their works back on their own, and not always quite correctly.
So you are spending a lot of your work time tidying the 200s, especially the 270s, the 290s, and 215. Is some group writing a comparative religions paper?
Except then you hear they pestered the Rare Books Collection for access to a lot of the ancient languages studies. And kept asking for pronunciation guides. Is some group trying to put together a dramatic religious rite?
You get curious enough about their furtive behavior that you do a little detective work. The three people in this group most likely to direct the rest are not frequent patrons of the NYPL. You manage to wander by their worktable when all of them happen to be off browsing shelves, and quickly photograph the barcode on one of the books they brought in with them: this book is from one of the campus libraries on New York University. With this barcode and a few librarian-specific computer privileges, you are able to use the book loan system to get a peek at the borrower's records. He must be an Applied Physics postgrad, based on his book history.
What is an Applied Physics geek doing in a project to either create, or understand, some sort of ancient religious rite? That is not the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or South American engineering marvels? If it was a paper for a required liberal arts course, you would understand, but not working in this big of a group and not with all this secrecy.
You start to worry that one of these idiots will try to steal some of the reference materials. If you can figure out what they are up to, you can keep an eye on the hardest-to-acquire books in their interest area, and not give them reason to notice that they are under surveillance.
They come back several times over a period of four weeks, and their notions for how to conceal their work get fancy. So far, nothing stolen or damaged -- but after they photocopy something, or print from microfiche, they run off several pages of the phone book. Sure, they pay for every page, but they also trash those. Obviously they are filling up the buffer in expectation that the cache of their REAL interest, if any cache exists, will be flooded away.
The day comes that the Trenchcoat Brigade is going to be meeting. Normally you don't care, you're a Knight Vigilant, but you have worked with those guys a few times. You have to admit, they're better positioned to do sneaky investigations than your own team. Maybe you can get them to help with a little detective work before you bring this to your friends?
As you are getting ready to go to Dim Sum Go Go, a place you recommended to them for the next time they happened to be in New York, you run one more check on that postgrad. Yesterday he checked out archaeology books from the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut!
The more you find out, the more you have a bad feeling about whatever they are doing....
Clue for Psypher
You are still living off the official record, so to speak, but you are starting to feel comfortable in your adopted country. Always you are careful to observe more than you are observed, to notice small things as easily as large, and to think about what you see.
Just recently, just these few weeks, someone has been almost buying out the supplies of herbs and powders at apothecaries in cities around New York. Gotu Kola, the very dangerous and tightly controlled Iboga, turmeric (why??), yew bark (good Buddha that is poisonous!), eleuthero, and jiaogulan. Possibly others, but you are careful to not upset the apothecary whose less-than-aboveboard sales you are asking about.
In every case, the purchase was made by some earnest young people who are not Asian. Often they asked about other substances from the Mediterranean Sea, and once they had made their purchases they were directed to an ethnic Greek, Italian, or Spanish neighborhood within the city.
One of the apprentices in Newark, New Jersey mentioned that these customers had one of those long vehicles that has three or four rows of seats inside it, but is not a bus; they said that the back two rows were stacked with boxes, covered in those long narrow bedsheets that are sold to college dormitory residents. One of the boxes had a tear in it, and contained sort of disk-shaped white stone carvings that looked like the head of a curly-horned goat or a gazelle or something.
And the vehicle had a bumper sticker for "Slavic Soul Party" on the back. You did a little checking around, they are mostly a New York City band.
So you went to NYC, to Chinatown, and did a little asking around there. Eventually all paths led you to Apothecary Fu, a venerable elder with a hint of dragon lurking behind his eyes. He had not been approached by the people you seek; he sent you to Dim Sum Go Go, at a certain time on a certain day, to sit down at a certain table and introduce yourself to the other men there. They, like you, walk the hero's path - but in its shadows!
Clue for The Shadow
Metropolis is your home. Suicide Slum is your domain. But even a well-trained Masked Avenger with an excellent private library must maintain social contacts with others in the supernatural world. No one soul can stay on top of so many potential threats.
Which is why you have an uncanny feeling when a few of your "professional psychic" acquaintances start comparing notes on recent client requests. Sure, there is always the lot who want an easy path to money and power. There is always the group who seek the comfort and reassurance of knowing how their lives will bend before the moment arrives. There is always some idiot debunker trying to prove fraud among the legitimate talents, and there is always some idiot believer trying to learn by rote a shortcut to true knowledge. You keep track of these things in case someone truly dangerous ever starts trying to sort out the valid talents from the floofy wannabe's. You have on occasion even recommended that certain inquiries be met with that very disqualifying floofy nonsense. The world does not need a Lex Luthor or a Marc Spectre with a psychic under their control!
This one side conversation, this small burst: professional psychics are getting a lot of questions about ancient artifacts that granted mere mortals amazing powers. They are not going for the obvious ones. No one is asking about Excalibur or unicorn horns or the Holy Grail. No one asks about the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan. or Tizona and Colada, or the Seal of Solomon.
No, these clients have asked whether the Clue of Ariadne still exists, and if so, does it still have its power? What of the poison Circe made for Scylla's bathing spot? One wanted a reference to someone who had for sale several authentic (but not necessarily intact) Zuni fetishes. Another wanted to know if the Ring of Gyges was real or an invention of Plato, and what did it look like?
This is weird. And spread pretty randomly around Newark NJ, Metropolis and Allentown in Pennsylvania, and Stamford in Connecticut. Why are more people from NYC not chiming in?
Why is this happening at all?
When even The Shadow does not know, it is time to consult with your very own team of Masked Avengers!
- PPZ a.k.a. Psi Phi Zeta
Among local Greek organizations associated with Campaign City colleges and universities, Psi Phi Zeta ( Ψ Φ Z ) has a reputation as The Most Tight-laced, Boring Frat Ever. They don't have scandals. They don't have wild parties. They don't have nerve-wracking Rush Week traditions. They don't raid the Dean's office or play pranks.
They are "staid" if you talk like they do.
"Lame" to everyone else.
Something mysterious has lit a metaphorical fire under them. Members are making inventive, amateur forays into several metahuman fields at once. Some research ancient legends of artifacts that granted godlike powers. Some visit Chinatown, asking specific questions about rare, old herbal remedies. Some seek out psychics for very unusual queries. And some ... some make suspicious purchases on the black market. Not just the latest edition of Silent Dreams, either, now called Star Gate.
Start the session out with the meeting at the Dim Sum Go Go restaurant. They are at a round table near the back third of the room. It is loud and crowded, There is a pot of tea in the center of each table, green tea in the case of the heroes' table. Wait staff push carts loaded with color-coded dishes around, stopping occasionally to offer fresh food to each group of diners.
I am sure someone will check in various methods available to them. Nobody working for the restaurant gives two damns about them, as long as they pay their bills and don't break any dishes. Everyone here is what they appear to be. Non-Asians are a minority among the customers but not a severe one, so the heroes do not stand out if they just "fly casual".
I am hoping a good chunk of the session will be taken up by comparing notes, doing some more small investigations, and following up on the clues to the frat house. I'll go with any reasonable way of finding it -- guaranteed success IF two or more teammates work together on the clue, roll at least 1 RAP on a clue difficulty 7 if someone is soloing.
Sahara has seen some of the miscreants directly. If he comes up with a hella good reason, or if he and the others work together on little details he didn't realize he noticed, he can come up with the idea that they were part of a fraternity, and that the middle letter might have been the Greek "phi", a circle with an I superimposed over it.
His Applied Physics student is Robert Y Megalos.
Shadow and Psypher have talked to people who have seen the PPZ frat boys directly. Between the two of them, they might come up with a composite description - the problem is, they can't get a description of a SINGLE INDIVIDUAL. We have the band sticker, which is one avenue for investigation, but there's a certain uniformity of polo shirts and high-tech sunglasses. Few of these men look at all athletic, but they have very strong hands.
Maybe they'll go out and interview some party kids just off campus. This could be a good chance for a run-in with The New Purple Gang.
- If Sahara is there, add Tar Pit meeting a NY gang to set up a one-off Keystone deal.
- Whoever it is, they are actually gathering resources and rushing some deals to completion because they want to get out of town. They don't know what is going down, but they know one of the organized crime metahuman groups is going on vacation for a month, and whatever is worth them suspending regular business, this gang doesn't want to get caught in the middle of it.
- if somebody detectives their way to 5 RAPs or more on a roll vs 8/8, the metahuman crime guys dress well. They wear suit vests, like bartenders at those really fancy nightclubs? Only these have little yellow hearts on them that glow under a blacklight. There aren't many of them, and they have an accent like they're from Philly or something. You know. They say "wooder" instead of "water". Not Boston or Jersey, that's for sure.
- if somebody detectives their way to 5 RAPs or more on a roll vs 12/12, being PERSUASIVE or Charismatic instead of SCARY, this particular gang member thinks the REAL problem is the latest round of the metahuman drug is too cheap for good business. Steel Breath, Silent Dreams, whatever, now we got "StarGate" on all the uni campuses and it's supposed to give you a new view of the universe. So it's probably a psychoactive or something? Because MDMA is not going to lose its market share any time soon, anybody knows THAT, why somebody gotta keep trying to invent the wheel here? Stupid college chemists, man, I heard that's how the Scarecrow got his start down in Gotham.
It is possible the team will make it to searching the PPZ frat house. The best way to do that will be Batman style, sneakily, using flashlights unless they're in interior rooms with the doors all shut. If they make it there, grab the other document with the list of what's on which floor. I don't think that will be tonight though.