In Augustgrad, the rich literally look down on the poor from their fancy tall buildings on the central hills. Low Town, where Abdul lives, is even more rundown than the quarter Lilly and Imogen’s cheap apartment is in. They swing by said apartment before going to Abdul’s so that Lilly can pick up her shotgun and some painkillers, just in case.
Imogen tells Lilly to also bring the sensor goggles. In the relative security of their home, she tells Lilly that she thinks they may be dealing with another Earth ghost. “It’s possible these people aren’t being killed, they’re being reprogrammed with a different version of what happened. I don’t know exactly how brainwashing and psionics go together, but I think it is a possibility. Keep those goggles on hand.”
Lilly does not volunteer any information about resocialization. “Got it.”
“And on Chau Sara, too. It’s possible we’ll run into Neiman again. I think he was the one spying on Li June’s networks and on Saffron’s networks. He’ll know where that facility is.”
Imogen loads her own pistol. She does not know how well she would do in a fight with a ghost assassin, but she brings her psi-gauntlet along. If nothing else, it might be useful for picking a lock.
As the FRAWD agents approach Abdul’s practically derelict building, they catch sight of two seedy characters in the adjacent alley. It looks like a drug deal in progress. The kidnapping happened around 8 pm about a week ago. It has been a long time, but there might have been witnesses. Imogen heads over to talk to the locals, and Lilly sticks by her side, hoping her imposing height will dissuade anyone from violence.
The buyer walks off as Imogen comes down the alley. “Anything happen around here, say a week ago? At night?” she casually asks the man who remains. Her accent gives her away as not a local.
“Ain’t nothing happening around here,” the dealer replies. “Besides, I gotta get going.” He scurries off, setting the tone for the evening.
All the apartments in Abdul’s building are open to the exterior. From the ground, it looks like crime scene tape is stretched across his door. However, once they climb the rusty metal stairs to his level, they see it is just generic caution tape, probably put there by the landlord. There are bars across the window, so rather than try to jimmy it, Lilly turns her attention to the door. She probably could just slam it open, as flimsy as it looks, but there is no need to saddle Abdul with a broken door. She figures he has had enough rough luck lately. She crouches down to pick the lock and then draws her pistol. The door creaks open under her hand.
Lilly enters the apartment carefully, looking around for signs of trouble, and Imogen follows. Abdul does not have much; he was just getting back on his feet after the whole Rose mining slavery thing. There are some paystubs from a factory job, as well as overdue notices. The place is generally messy, but on top of that disorder there are clear signs of a struggle. Lilly sees splashes of blood and then finds a knife on the floor to match. It is not a high quality weapon, but it was sufficient to wound someone. While Imogen goes through stacks of papers, Lilly slips on her DORF goggles. There are no cloaked assailants lying in wait here, but she does see lingering evidence. Cloaking leaves a sort of signature behind, and with the goggles on, it is like looking at the room with a blacklight. Whatever lingering radiation there is appears to her as a sort of residue. That it is on the blade of the knife and not the handle suggests that Abdul did not go quietly.
“Yup, they were cloaked,” Lilly announces, holding out the knife.
Imogen looks up from Abdul’s letters. “Cloaked and stabbed?” Lilly offers her the goggles so she can see the evidence herself. Imogen hands them back after a quick glance and comments, “It doesn’t seem like anyone would have missed Abdul. He was on the outs with his wife over a terrazine addiction. Sounds like he wanted to get back with her, but she says she doesn’t want to hear from him until he is off it.”
“Man, he could’ve gotten that addiction in the mines,” Lilly says. “He wouldn’t have been the first,” she adds, thinking of the one protoss who was high. She wraps up the knife and finds a plastic grocery bag to put it in. The blood is a week old, but maybe Sunshine will be able to get a scent off it, she hopes. She gathers up a few more items: five credits he had lying around; the letters; a photo of Abdul and his wife from happier times. This way if they find him, he will have enough for a sandwich at least. He is lucky that his place has not been robbed yet, so maybe that caution tape has been good for something after all. Lilly puts the bag of Abdul’s things in her backpack and steps out onto the landing, intending to ask the neighbors some questions.
Inside the apartment, Imogen slides a small vial that she found hidden under the mattress into her pocket. It contains a purple liquid and similarly colored fumes. Whether it came from the drug dealer down in the alley or not, she does not know, but she is fairly certain that it is terrazine. She joins Lilly, and together they knock on a few doors. They only get an answer at one, an elderly woman who wants no trouble. All she will say is that Abdul was a nice man and it is terrible what happened to him, but she will go no further than that.
Lilly stands on the landing outside Abdul’s apartment and looks down at street level. There is not much to the railing, and she thinks the deli down below would have a clear line of sight to his door. The place looks like something of a convenience store as well and advertises late hours, so there is a chance it was open when Abdul was taken. Lilly points it out to Imogen, and they head down.
There are no customers at Reggie’s Deli, just an older white man behind the counter with a bad cough and a receding hairline who Lilly presumes to be the owner. He asks what he can get them, and Lilly explains that they are friends of Abdul. “We heard he was taken, and we’re looking into it. We’re just trying to figure out if anybody saw anything or has any clues.”
Imogen lets Lilly take the lead on the questioning, since there is no need for them to dissemble here. She tries to implement what Malorn taught her, to access the shopkeeper’s surface level thoughts. It is so much harder out here in the real world with strange minds, and she cannot read anything. Lilly has more luck, though.
Reggie pours a couple fountain drinks and offers them to the women, then tells his story. “Abdul was a good man, came by every now and then. Told me he was rescued from a mine by a tall woman. Maybe that was you? Anyway, I saw what happened that night.” His voice drops in shame. “I was too scared to do anything. From my perspective, what happened was, I see Abdul’s door open. Then I hear some sounds of struggle, and I start to wonder what’s going on.” He coughs a bit, then continues, “A few moments later, I see Abdul getting dragged out, but he’s not getting dragged by nothing! Just… by his collar. Nothing’s dragging him, but he’s getting dragged. I hear some words, in some kind of accent. And there’s blood: he’s bleeding, and something else is bleeding on him too, but I don’t know what. Something… something messed up.” Reggie looks away, nervously. “Some kind of ghost. I don’t like it.” He takes a moment to collect himself, then continues. “I don’t want no trouble with any of that, you know, if there’s a ghost.”
“I hear you,” says Lilly.
“He… he definitely got dragged off by a ghost,” Reggie asserts. “Not a good time.”
“So did you hear what they said?” Imogen asks.
“It was hard to make out the guy’s thick accent. It was something like this.” Reggie continues in a mangled Earth accent, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you, but you’re going to make a good test subject.”
Imogen lets out an aggravated sigh. This is exactly what she was worried about.
“I don’t know what that’s about,” Reggie says, coughing again. “I don’t know if I want to know what it’s about.”
“Fucking scientists,” Lilly mutters.
“Whoever it was hauled him away, up to the roof. Must’ve had a ship or something there and flew right out. Didn’t see the ship. It was probably cloaked, too.” He shakes his head. “It’s a terrible, terrible thing. If somebody gets hit in gang warfare, at least you understand why and what’s going on. If someone is just a random victim, it’s sad, but it happens. But targeting this guy for some kind of experiment? Abdul did nothing wrong; he was a good man. He was just trying to get back on his feet.”
“Yeah,” Lilly says sadly.
Before they leave the bodega, Imogen buys a pack of cough drops. The shopkeeper thanks her for her purchase, and she tosses them back to him. He tells her he appreciates the gesture but explains that his lungs are too far gone for them to be of much help. He spent many years working in the Kel-Morian mines, and the city air here in Augustgrad is also not the best.
“Abdul was a nice man,” Reggie reiterates. “I’m sorry you had to find out that this happened to your friend.”
“It’s a damn shame,” Lilly agrees.
“If someone gets taken by a ghost, I don’t know what the hell there is for people like us to do. We just gotta try to remember him as the good man that he was,” Reggie concludes, and the two women leave.