An adventure hook for The Esoterrorists, by Adam Gauntlett
Who, or what, killed Larry and Paula Charters aboard the Nautilus Cruise Line ship Festival Allure?
Friday 8th June, Death (suspicious): Larry Charters, found in Ocean View stateroom, apparent suicide (overdose, prescription medication). Death (homicide) Paula Charters, found in Apollo Deck Sports Park 0340 hours, violent assault. Incident passed to local authorities, Bahamas, for further investigation.
This report, with a copy of security footage taken on the night of the incident and other evidence, is forwarded to Ordo Veritatis by an unnamed whistleblower, presumably one of the Festival Allure’s crew. After some initial study, the information is added to OPERATION VENICE BEACH casefile and assigned to the agents for follow-up.
The security footage (video, no audio) shows the approach to the Apollo Sports Deck, 0252 hours to 0259 hours. The sports deck, and its approaches, is off-limits to staff and passengers after 2000 hours, and the doors that lead there have keycard only access exterior, with emergency push-bar exit on the interior side. Judging by the footage, the door used was propped open, which suggests planning.
The footage shows Paula Charters entering the approach at 0252 hours. At that time she shows no panic or alarm. She carries an open bottle of champagne and two glasses, and by her gait and behavior is probably intoxicated. At 0257 she is alerted by an unknown event, possibly a noise, and looks behind her. Whatever she sees causes her to run, and she leaves shot at 0258. At 0259 the feed is cut off.
Initial report from the Bahamian forensics team indicates Paula died from repeated sharp force trauma, chop wounds, delivered by an implement similar to a kitchen cleaver. All such implements found in the Festival Allure’s kitchens have been taken for examination.
Reports from the Festival Allure’s security team suggest the likely avenue of investigation is the husband, a chef in a New Orleans restaurant, who, it is suggested, committed suicide after killing his wife in a drunken rage. No weapon has been found; the security team thinks it was thrown overboard from the couple’s Ocean View stateroom. Core clue, Electronic Surveillance: if so, there ought to be footage of Larry Charters returning from the Sports Deck to his stateroom after 0259, but there is not.
Finally, there is a brief section of footage shot by persons unknown, taken by a UV smartphone camera. It shows the same section of approach corridor Paula ran down. There are trace signs of some substance that shows up in UV light all along the corridor, as if someone covered in that substance ran down it, touching walls and door handles as they went. There’s not enough here to determine what that substance is.
The agents’ backstory is that they are Federal agents carrying out preliminary investigation to determine whether Larry Charters can be linked to a string of offences in Louisiana and Texas.
The agents may use Cop Talk, or Bureaucracy, to lean on the Bahaman Police via the American Embassy.
Larry suffered bruising indicative of a struggle before he died. It is likely he was force-fed the pills. The pills used were not his prescription nor his wife’s; the pills belong to an Ocean View passenger two staterooms away, who was unaware they were missing. The injuries done to Paula indicate a left-handed attacker with considerable upper body strength. Larry was right-handed. Both Larry and Paula have trace elements of an unknown substance on their bodies, which can be seen under UV light. The substance has been sent to local labs for testing, but the Bahaman Government is very keen to end the investigation as soon as possible. It doesn’t want to upset Nautilus Cruise Line; tourism dollars are at stake. The Government will brush all this under the rug and ensure the lab ‘loses’ its samples, unless the agents intervene. If saved and sent to the OV for analysis, the report comes back within 24 hours: fungal substance, indicative of Glistening infestation.
Potential ally: Michael Digson, honest cop, wiry, greying, suspicious dark eyes, Athletics 8, Scuffling 6, Surveillance 6.
Security: Deliver The WOW
Guest Security Supervisor Dennis Anand and his team will only cooperate on sufferance; they work for Nautilus, and Nautilus wants this kept out of the media and as far away as possible from the US Federal Government. This is because the Government is considering changes to the Death on the High Seas Act that would be very disadvantageous to cruise lines, and Nautilus doesn’t want to give Federal agents any ammunition that a Congressman or Senator might use to harm them. Agents with Law realize this and can use it to Intimidate Anand. Without this, the security team nod politely and do very little.
Anand and his team stick to the Nautilus-approved story, that Larry killed Paula and then himself. Larry must have fixed things so they could get onto the Sports Deck after hours, probably using a wedge to keep the door open.
Evidence Collection, Cop Talk or similar notices that one of Anand’s team is missing. Security Guard Jennifer Yang is listed sick, though she isn’t in her cabin nor is she in the medical bay. Anand makes any excuse he can to explain away her absence, no matter how absurd. “Oh, you just missed her – she was here a minute ago,” even though there’s no way she could leave the room without the agents seeing her. Yang was the guard who first discovered Paula’s body. She ought to have submitted a written report, but that report is missing, as is all security camera footage for the Sports Deck approach.
Opposition: Dennis Anand, Glistening Slave, Athletics 6, Health 3, Infiltration 4 (increases to 8 with Master Access keycard), Scuffling 6, Shooting 6. Not all Anand’s team are Glistening Slaves, and can be persuaded not to follow his instructions, but only if Anand behaves erratically, or if significant pressure – Reassurance, Intimidation – is applied.
Ready To Take A Chance Again
The agents may try talking to the passengers, particularly those on the Ocean View deck where the Charters’ were staying. Reassurance, Flattery and possibly Flirting work best. Intimidation also works, but the passengers complain to ship staff, who pass on complaints to Security Supervisor Anand.
According to the passengers, the Charters’ were a happy couple who were having a good time. Paula attracted a lot of attention, particularly from one of the bartenders at the Tequila Bar. Larry liked playing on the Sports Deck mini golf course.
The pills used to kill Larry were taken from Fiona Nilsson’s Ocean View suite. She says she saw one of the Tequila Bar’s bartenders hanging around on the Ocean View deck, where he had no business being. She doesn’t know his name.
Tequila Sunrise & Whistleblower
The agents may follow up the bartender angle, or may try tracing Jennifer Yang.
The bartender, Richard ‘Ricky’ Ryan, has a sexual assault record. He’s worked for three different cruise lines and was fired from each, one step ahead of criminal charges. Law knows that cruise lines are quick to share information about criminal or sharp practice from guests, but never share employee records, allowing bad actors to skip from line to line without consequence. He works his regular shift at the Tequila Bar and, after hours, chases guests who catch his eye. Ryan is a Glistening Slave. He still has the cleaver he used to kill Paula.
Ricky Ryan, if Interrogated, admits he killed Paula and then Larry. His story makes very little sense; there’s no way he could have known Fiona Nilsson had the pills he needed to kill Larry, nor does he have the access needed to get past the card key system and into their staterooms. Yet Ryan has a Master Access keycard [Director: given him by Anand].
Opposition: Ricky Ryan, Glistening Slave, Athletics 8, Health 6, Infiltration 4 (increases to 8 with Master Access keycard), Scuffling 8, Shooting 4. When armed with cleaver, Damage +0.
Jennifer Yang is held in an unoccupied interior stateroom, portside, no porthole. She can be traced by following Anand, persuading uninfected security officers to talk, by using Data Retrieval to check which doors Anand has most often used his security card to access, or similar clever agent schemes.
Yang is being infected with Glistening, but the infection hasn’t progressed far and can be cured with a Difficulty 5 Medic test or a Chemistry spend. If found and cured, she says she’s distrusted Anand’s judgment for some time. She’s been conducting an investigation of her own, and is convinced that this can all be traced back to the disappearance of another passenger, Emily Alanis, eight months ago. Alanis was written off as a suicide who jumped overboard, but Yang thinks Alanis is still here. “I could hear her voice in my head.”
Agents who cross-reference the name Emily Alanis with other Esoterror incidents finds that Alanis was involved in Operation QUEEN PAWN, in which a Glistening outbreak was discovered in Tampa Bay, the home port of Nautilus Cruise Lines.
The Sessile, formerly Emily Alanis, is hiding down in the bowels of the ship, close to the HVAC system supply. Almost all the ship’s HVAC engineers are Slaves, and defend the Sessile if necessary. The Sessile spreads its spore puffs via the air conditioning ducts, but has only been doing so for a few days. It knew it could potentially reach the entire ship and crew this way, but wasn’t sure it would work. Its preferred method is the old-fashioned way, by touch. However it is reaching the end of its cycle and needs a new host. It wanted to suborn one of the passengers, someone who could go missing without too much fuss.
The whole incident arose because of Ricky. He was supposed to spread the infection through his job at Tequila Sunrise, but his natural inclination led him to chase Paula, with catastrophic results. The Sessile coached him on what to do next. The Sessile wants to get rid of Ricky, but daren’t do so now, when everyone’s watching.
If not stopped, the Sessile can spread Glistening infection points along the liner’s route, and everywhere the passengers visit or call home.
Veil-out may potentially involve quarantining the Festival Allure, which allows the OV to thoroughly disinfect the ship and its passengers.