The First Murders Of 2020


ghost_icon.gif vf_shaw_icon4.gif

Scene Title The First Murders Of 2020
Synopsis Shahid Khan, on the job: I got this.

The Narrator: He did not 'got this.'
Date January 3rd, 2020

The City. It’s a mess. War torn zones, construction zones, exclusion zones. And now, poorly plowed streets. Had Shahid Khan thought too hard about it, he could imagine the dead world from whence he came, one killed off by Virus and Vanguard, one that lead to another brighter world, and then another war-torn wasteland, and yet another flooded by ocean water. And now this one, torn in two by fear and those vying for power and control, but with people still surviving, still making their lives and way through life. If Shaw thought too hard about it, there’s still reasons to fear, reasons to hide, as he had done on his homeworld.

Good thing he doesn’t think about it too much.

Instead, there’s only the present moment. His only current burden is the wrapped box tucked under his arm. His only worry, finding the person whom which should receive said box. Shaw has wandered through the snowy city, and thus far comes to a door in search of the recipient. Somewhere behind him at the street side, his scooter leans against a kickstand.

With an adjustment made to his hat bearing the Pigeon Courier Service logo to straighten it, he puts on an amicable expression and knocks politely.

Inside the pristine model house, Teodoro 'Ghost' Laudani is torturing a dude. Was torturing a dude.

Kind of. It's more like — intimidation. Not that he abides by the Geneva Convention, really, but you should be strategic rather than habitual about violating human rights, even when you meet criteria for psychopathy. He stops in the middle of scrolling through the pictures of the guy's kids on his phone, glancing back at the door. It's a good thing, that the gentleman currently duct taped to the chair doesn't try to move or scream. He does look terrified, big-eyed, silent. Means that Ghost is doing his job right. Cool. But just in case, he slaps the loose piece of tape back over the other man's face.

No one knows that they're here; no one should come here. The ghost goes to the door. (He absolutely should not do so.) (And yet.) He puts one pale eye against the peephole, studies the man on the other side.

Hm. Incidentally, a hottie.

Appropriately suspicious, Ghost slips out of his own body for a moment. He skips through the thickness of the door, and into the delivery man's skull, his senses. He can feel the fabric of Shaw's clothes on his body, the shape of the package under his arm, a single, career-appropriate weapon — and unmistakably, an inscrutable SLC-E gift of some fucking kind pulling him toward the man strapped to the chair behind Ghost. A scan beyond Shaw tells Ghost that no one else is here, or at least, not watching, not surveilling. The fuck is this? A bomb? Employers checking up on him? Why didn't he grow up to be a telepath?

Elmhurst, New York Safezone: A Model Home

8:03 PM

Ghost opens the door. "Hey, sweetheart," he says. He is a huge, handsome dirty blonde man in a utilitarian jacket, smiling like a snake charmer. "What can I do you for?"

Unbeknownst to Shaw, the Ghost traipses through the courier without so much as a peep. The one sense the young man has focused on is fading back to normalcy from its augmented state. Ghost knows that Shaw knows that the scents matching the Ghost's and the hostage's are what's drawn him here. He knows another scent too: fear. Or rather, sweat.

And what the tied up man's dribbled a bit down between his legs.

But that's merely catalogued and filed away, set aside to put on the friendly face of the package delivering Flock. "Oh. Hello," Shaw says, remembering to tip his hat and to pull up and back on the mouth corners even as his sight returns to him in a few blinks. More blinks than necessary, like he's coming back into focus. His visual focus becomes ruggedly handsome and blonde.

"Do… me?" Shaw echoes for a second as he blinks up at Ghost's smile. Confusion crosses his face, then realization - misinterpretation perhaps - dawns. "Nn, sorry sir I'd have to check with my wife first," he replies following a short beat of looking up and down the Ghost. If it were anybody else in the world, the pan might be insulting or objectifying. Coming from Shaw, it's an acknowledgment of existence and quality.

"But, that's not what I'm here for. Are you—" A check down on the package label. "Erik Townsend? Or if not, is he here?" Shaw maintains just enough distance to be at the edge of arm’s reach, but carries hope that he’s found his recipient as well.

People have probably said worse to Ghost, but he doesn't remember very well because he wasn't paying attention.

Shaw is some weird shit. Ghost takes the risk, the stupid one, sneaks into Shaw's head once again for an instant. It is stupid; it leaves his own body exposed for a moment, empty of senses, reaction slowed by the additional relay of having to see himself through another person's eyes. At least he still looks pretty. "I don't know an Erik Townsend," he says. He leans on the door. "You know, most messenger services leave an attempted delivery notice at the residence."

What if he has to kill this guy? Ghost knows, he should have looked further out. Checked if this guy is alone. He's gotten — sloppy, or some shit, the consequence of chronic boredom. He studies the way the man's eyes track through darkness. Telepathy? Not telepathy. On average, walking into a telepath's mind feels like leaning a long step into twelve feet of quagmire.

Ghost's fingers are clasped deceptively loosely on the opposite frame of the door. "And I'd appreciate it if you keep your voice down. It's a little late. What service did you say you represent?"

Some dozens of feet behind him, there's a tied up Erik Townsend-shaped man craning his head toward the doorway, with misplaced optimism.

The side trip taken back into Shaw’s senses reveals first hand he’s spotted movement behind Ghost. Dilated pupils catch the outline of Erik Townsend, but cannot confirm. Still if there is reason to worry, Shaw doesn’t display it yet.

He blinks back at the large blonde. “Sorry,” he apologizes quietly, “I’m from Pigeon Courier Services?” Lifting his hat off, he checks the logo on the front. It’s still there, he’s got the right cap on, so… “Most delivery services do leave a note, but at Pigeon we like to provide the extra mile for our customers. If we can, we’ll make sure your deliveries are on time and in the best condition possible!” The deliveryman stands straighter and puffs his chest, proud as a pigeon.

That being said, he leans a bit to the side for a better look at the tied up man. “Are you Erik Townsend?” he calls inside. Belatedly he remembers the request from before. “Oops. Sorry,” he says to Ghost again. Lowering his volume, he hiss-calls deeper, “Erik? Package for you?”

"…," says Ghost. He stares incredulously at the highly attractive side of Shaw's head as the man leans in to peek. Really? Perhaps it is just that fucking surreal, is why Ghost doesn't try to stop him. His bad luck. "…"

Followed shortly by Erik Townsend catching a glimpse of the Pigeon Courier's face and emitting a muffled, panicky MmmMRMRRRPRph, from behind his duct-taped mouth.

And abruptly, there's a callused hand wrapped tightly around Shaw's upper-arm. The ghost's fingers are very tangible, despite his codename, firm as steel cuffed around the other man's arm. And he has big hands, just like he has big feet, just like he has other anatomical features intended to sell this friendly (not actually friendly) joke (which isn't a joke) when he says, "I'm a male escort. He has a safety gesture he's not using, and you're terrifying the poor guy. Why don't you come on in?"

Too much strength behind the bicep bulging in Ghost's arm, as he muscles his new buddy into the model home. His free hand already angling to borrow the handgun that Shaw wears for protection.

Honestly, it's not Shaw's place to judge the proclivities of others. He's got a wild one at home too, after all. So his surprise becomes quite evident when Ghost's hand suddenly grips on his occupied, package holding arm, and whatever thoughts Shaw had considered voicing polite niceties fly off like the very bird on his cap's logo. He blinks up at the Ghost, rounded dark eyes staring at the man's chiseled, All-American features.

"I-I'm sorry?" Shaw says belated when he's accused of scaring the man tied in the chair, too late after he's across the threshold of the doorway. "But really I just need a sig—…" In being muscled in, he shuffle steps over the floor and grabs his free hand onto the burlier man's forearm that reaches across. Maybe he is aware of the targeted tactic of the other man.

More steadily, Shaw blinks again. More softly, Shaw requests, "Please let go of my arm."

Erik Townsend gets to witness it all.

This is a big problem for Ghost. Well maybe not big compared to apocalypses and so on, all things being relative, but it's still bad. Shaw getting handsy on him getting handsy means he's temporarily out of hands, once he has the other man inside. He uses his foot to shut the door with a resounding thud.

In the meantime, Erik Townsend is stressing out.

He starts out with a few bars of muffled mmMGmggh!!1eleven, but it dissipates into a querulous nnghghgh when he sees that each of the men have a hand on one another. Erik's eyes snap to and from Ghost to Shaw, reverse again. Then he fixes his eyes very sharply on Shaw in particular, and makes a gesture toward Ghost, his eyebrows cranked deep with alarm.

Ghost smiles plastically. (All-Italian.) (Somewhat American.) (Whatever, he's international.) He releases Shaw's arm, making a production of it, palm up in surrender.

Thus released, Shaw takes a couple steps back from Ghost, despite it meaning he’s deeper inside the house. It does also mean he’s that much closer to Erik, that much closer to getting the signature he needs. Perhaps that’s a different doggedness to be admired. “Thank you,” he says to the Ghost, his head bobbing in gratitude and adjusting his hold on the package. Everything about Shaw has gained a touch of wariness for the burlier male, but still nothing screaming of thoughts towards violent self defense.

But then again, there’s now a potential witness. And a handgun between them.

Making mental note of the position he’s in, Shaw side-shuffles over towards the tied up Townsend, still trying to keep an eye on Ghost. When he nears Erik, at least within a more conversational distance, Shaw dares a look away from the ‘escort’ and over the man’s condition. Maybe to see how rough the guy likes it. But actually, to take a moment to take a deep scent confirming sniff of the man he’d been tracking down. Caught up in the scent-sations, a log of the Ghost’s odors along with something of a snapshot of the interior of the dwelling. A recognizable small window of opportunity presents when Shaw focuses on his augmented sense, as the rest of the world drowns out in blackness.

Shaw doesn’t seem to be concerned about Ghost in that moment of sensory intake.

And that's when it becomes awfully clear: Erik smells of all terror, and no lust. Which is

an alarming piece of information, probably, in combination with the obscure location. Shaw has seen enough shit to know when shit is going down. Reality slides into place, a cold feeling in his gut that isn't greater than the feed through his enhanced senses, but sharpens the experience of it into brutal clarity. He comes back into himself just in time to see the muzzle of a pistol eclipse the vision in his right eye and

Elmhurst, New York Safezone: A Model Home

Time: 5 minutes ago

Ghost opens the door. "Hey, sweetheart," he says. He is a huge, handsome dirty blonde man in a utilitarian jacket, smiling like a snake charmer. "What can I do you for?"

The sense of deja vu is


But here Shahid Khan stands. Package under one arm, gun snug against him. The street is quiet behind, and the model home that holds his client is identical to the one he could have sworn he stepped inside but a few minutes ago. There is no shadow of knowledge on the face of the man standing across from him, and there is no pain in Shaw's head, his eye. Crickets pop in the background.

Fear. It smells like salt, urine, stagnant water. Like darkness and gun oil. Like the dark point of the muzzle of a pistol aimed into the right eye.

And the very opposite of it comes in the form of Shaw's widened eyes blinking owlishly up at the handsome dirty blonde. He can't stop himself from reflecting upon those perfectly proportioned teeth and eyes and nose.

"Do… me?" Shaw reaches up his free hand, adjusting his cap bearing the Pigeon Courier Services logo, and from it the Ghost can see the buttoned strap of an occupied shoulder holster. "Ah, that's not exactly…" The lack of unproductive conversation trails away the longer he stares.

Then like a popping cricket, he shivers, clears his throat, sets a hand over the package. It's a reminder. He has a job to do. "Are you Erik Townsend? This package, it's for him." Fingertips drum on the cardboard, dark brows lift in expectation.

"I don't know an Erik Townsend," the ghost says, instead of, for example: I already told you that.

Aren't you supposed to be dead?

Any number of imaginable responses to this unimaginable situation. No, Ghost and his aquiline nose and his fair skin and his dirty blond hair look like they're no wiser to the chronology of Shaw's recent… hallucination, was it? Ghost is doing now what he had before, invisible to Shaw's special perceptions, sneaking into the other man's head, checking out his senses, but incapable of observing the peculiarities of Shaw's thoughts. "You know, most messenger services leave an attempted delivery notice at the residence.

"And I'd appreciate it if you keep your voice down. It's a little late. What service did you say you represent?" Ghost does a sexy lean on the doorframe.

The Sicilian time-traveler is being so boring, predictable right now, and he doesn't even know. He would be offended if he did. Behind him, in the half-dark, Erik Townsend is beginning to give into the temptation to lean in his seat which, unbeknownst to Shaw on multiple levels, is different too. But Shaw gets a hint. Behind the muscular horizon of the ghost's shoulder, there's a flicker in the darkness. Movement.

Something like a shadow, twisting in the empty air.


Somehow, the disappointment in Shaw's tone doesn't sound in the least bit discouraged. But he still presses on, confused yet faithful to the cause of his task, the oddity of his manner covering for the oddity of feeling like he had been doing this just moments ago.

Shaw checks his watch. He thinks he's discreet about it.

"Pigeon Courier Services, sir," answers said deliveryman with a nonthreatening smile. "We offer stand out service in the Safe Zone by making sure the packages passed into our care get to their destination." A part of that statement feels heavy with the implication of the means of transport. Perhaps, by any means necessary.

A blink, and Shaw spots the movement in the darkness behind. Another blink, and he focuses a supernatural sight in such a way upon the shadowed figure. Another blink, and he's breathing in again, senses readjusting to normalcy. "If you don't mind, maybe I could ask the gentleman behind you?" As normal as one can assume of an Evolved deliveryman who just won't quit.

Ghost's smile is rigidly benign, very white, every tooth perfect. Below, in the ''''discreet'''' periphery of the courier's eye, Shaw's watch reads 8:04. 8:04 is the timestamp on strange, fluid shadows rippling where there is no object there to project them.

("I'm a male escort," the ghost is saying in the background. So familiar. "He has a safety gesture he's not using, and —")

Though of course, the moment Shaw shifts his eyes back to them, the twisting shred of blackness is gone.

Erik Towsend in his chair, however, is not. The man's eyes are big in his head, panic showing in spots of sweat standing out on his forehead, purple crawling up his neck. Indeed, his reaction seems somewhat more severe even than it had been in Shaw's odd sense of deja-vu. MMmmgh, Erik says. He jerks his head at — something, just out of sight, the recesses further inside the room. He stares hard at Shaw. Then at Ghost. Then jerks his head again, so violently that the chair stutters on its feet.

The ghost falls silent, his brow furrowing. His own hand starts to coast lightly into the air behind the small of Shaw's back, where his gun is hidden. He does not go for Shaw's arm.

8:04, noted. Doesn’t seem unusual for Shaw, but for the accompanying odd sense of deja vu following him around like a stray puppy. He can sense himself leaning, his curiosity for the sound of the muffled Mr. Townsend’s protestations piqued.

“What’s his safety gesture?” blurts Shaw offhandedly before he even feels the urge to stop himself from asking. Dark eyes swing back to the Ghost, staring right at the big blonde’s lighter eyed gaze. “How does he signal if he can’t move his hands or feet?”

The query is genuinely innocent. Naive. No doubt a fault in the ways of a grown adult man regarding another who has a third tied up and struggling in the shadows.

What is his safety gesture. Ghost's brow furrows. "Two thumbs down," he says, his tone off, a little, not convincing at all, but it doesn't really matter, probably, because the ghost has at this point arrived at an inexorable conclusion. The job has gone sideways. The fork in the path is only this: shoot now, or shoot later. And while this young brown creature is a delectable thing, there are… well, there isn't really a satisfying conclusion to that thought.

Snck. The ghost's fingers close around the handle of the weapon snug against Shaw's side. He pulls it free of its holster in one clean movement, unsafeties it in the same single motion. Suddenly, the muzzle is cold against the barrel of Shaw's body.

Erik Townsend is giving zero thumbs in any direction. He's fucking panicking. And oddly, he seems more distraught about something inside the doorway, just past Shaw's line of sight, rather than the gun shoved into the poor courier's ribs. He stares at Shaw, and gestures again with his head, violently. Stop getting shot, the gesture says. Look at this! Erik Townsend is a very inconsiderate man with little if any respect for people who are in the midst of getting shot.

"Sorry," says the ghost. Maybe he even is, a little. He pulls the trigger.


And this time, there's pain. The kind that spirals and drags, spits white sparks and seems surreal; not like the deja-vu at all.

"That doesn't seem like a very good safety—…"

8:04 was the time. Shaw barely latches to that fleeting thought as the next series of motions results in the sight of a very close neck musculature and strong jawline, then the dig of his pistol into his ribs. Shaw catches the distress from Erik, turns to stare up at the Ghost, and the dawning horror of betrayal barely makes a sound.

No sound that isn't immediately overridden by the sound of a gunshot.

Shaw - to what little credit can be given in the moment - does not drop where he stands. He lurches back and to the side, eyes round to whites, for those moments, breathless in shock. Then, finally, flight kicks in. His brain screams silently down the nerves and he can feel his legs moving like molasses, hands dropping the package bloodied at the corners with tiny spatters of his life liquid.

Why he thinks going to the tied-up Erik Townsend is the right direction is anybody's guess. Shaw stumbles into home, picks a few paces before finding a spot on the wall to lean on. To slide down and leave a streak of red as he goes.

Inside Shaw's head, the room starts to go black. Spots and neon streaks. Erik and the ghost are dying down into a strange roar in the background.

He's dying.

But something about the darkness is incorrect. Not all of it; for some of it is definitely just normal dying, his brain giving up, blood pressure dropping out from under him. Limbs getting cold. Neurons firing off their last parting shots. Erik calls the ghost a monster, Ghostie doesn't care, is muttering about how Luminol ruins lives, but to his left, definitely, to his left

The darkness warps and stretches. Flickers and folds in on itself. Exposes a seam, like someone cut a gash through the fabric of the space, and inside there is neither light nor darkness, really, but something in between. Something that makes Shaw's guts hurt to look at, even as each cell in his body drifts beyond pain.

And he thinks he sees, somewhere in the mesmerizing nothing, or perhaps merely in the disorienting blackness around it: a human figure.

Elmhurst, New York Safezone: A Model Home

5 minutes ago

Ghost opens the door. "Hey, sweetheart," he says. He is a huge, handsome dirty blonde man in a utilitarian jacket, smiling like a snake charmer. "What can I do you for?"

Shaw's no stranger to having his senses black out. But it's usually of his own volition, and not accompanied by searing hot pain followed by wet, creeping cold. He hasn't felt that for two timelines.

And then it's gone again, and reality snaps back into place and into focus upon the handsome visage of a rugged, strong chin, an appealingly shaped nose, clear blue eyes with a hint of green that match perfectly with his skin tone.

A faint throb of his ribcage flickers then fades into a ghost of sensation. The ache isn't unfamiliar, but still a mystery. Shaw finds himself inhaling testingly as he stares up at the Ghost. "Evening, sir. Could you please…" he finds himself smiling amicably and his routine turning over, until his body shivers and the feeling of goosebumps raise under his jacket coat. Shaw adjusts his hat.

And really it's his fault for looking towards a shadowy spot just off the bigger man's shoulder, and the inexplicable unsettled feeling of dying moments before returns as a gut-churning gurgle of his innards. "Um… Actually. If you could please pass this message on to Mr. Townsend to pick up his package at the Pigeon Courier Services shop. We're also located in Elmhurst, so he could come by any time between 6 and 10." The action of tearing off the 'Sorry We Missed You!' slip and handing it off to the Ghost feels remote controlled. Whether or not the slip is received, though, Shaw slides a pace back in retreat from the threshold and the oddest deja vu feeling.

Ghost's expression turns quizzical. His face is utterly empty of cluepons. He has zero cluepons. He does not know what he should be cashing. His narrative of reality has absolutely no hint that there are such things as living darkness, or the eerie thing-that-isn't-a-thing that thrives between.

He takes the slip of paper in that blank way that one gets hornswoggled by a particularly overzealous mall floor shop person. He raises his eyebrows, and opens his mouth to say something smart, possibly in Italian but

Shaw is already backed off into the darkness. And not even the secret-piercing nature of his power, reaching through the air and into the chamber of Shaw's mind and senses, reveals anything to Ghost that offers insight into his behavior, which is odd but certainly preferable to a further intrusion. Ghost salutes into the cool dark, and calls out after the man:

"Five stars, Pigeon Courier Services."

And he sees no unexpected shadows, when he turns back, shutting the door behind him. Perhaps they were never there at all.

NYC Safezone - Elmhurst: Pigeon Courier Services Shop

Time: 3:00PM, two days later

Only a couple of days later, Mr. Townsend does show up for his package. Clutching a slip. Nervous and twitchy, but otherwise mundane. He receives in a box: three generous bottles of maple syrup from his mom's friend's maple tree farm in Vermont. Light amber. Goes well on waffles. You can't buy this shit just anywhere in post-war New York, these days.

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