III. Necromancers

 

The snow was thin on the ground, that cold January pre-dawn in 1943, but it was joined by a second layer of soft whiteness. The New York City Fire Department had arrived too late to save the mysterious warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn. A jerrycan of gasoline and a Zippo lighter had done the deed for the Civil War-era building that had faced out over the Channel for generations—and it was nothing more than soft white wood ash and collapsed walls of blackened brick.

 

Policemen and firefighters (and one or two inconspicuous federal agents) raked and shoved at the smoking remnants of the warehouse, but the blaze yielded few clues. All they knew was that someone had looted the chained-up, forgotten building, and then let arson cover their trail. They did not know what had stood inside the charred walls, but from the truck and car tracks that vanished away in the slushy streets, they knew it was long gone.

 

The crime scene was puzzling. Arsonists normally sought ample ventilation for the fires they set; this location showed the remnants of locked service doors and windows. Even the skylights’ locks were secured, from what little could be seen of them. The heat of the fire had melted away much of the telltale snow on the sidewalks and driveways, but traffic was nearly nonexistent before the fire trucks had arrived—and so it was clear that someone had worked at the warehouse during the night.

 

Police detectives and veteran firefighters deduced that the arsonists had entered the warehouse, taken its contents, and then sealed it up once more with fuel inside it. Some method, perhaps as simple as a cigarette flicked through one of the few small open windows, had ignited the whole place. Rental records were checked. It was found that although the renter of the warehouse was listed as “Alva Thomas Enterprises,” the landlord’s cancelled checks had a scrawled signature that read, “Nikola Tesla.”

 

But the elderly Tesla had died impoverished and alone, only days beforehand. Federal agents had already seized his estate and he’d been eulogized on the radio by Mayor LaGuardia—his funeral was planned for the very next day at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Could this possibly have been a secret laboratory maintained by Tesla in the midst of his lonely exile from the world of science and engineering?

 

There was nothing. No proof. The police had other work to do, and there was a war on. Only the federal agents would find any trail from that point, and it was one they would never reveal to anyone without just the right credentials. For the checks had proven legitimate; the warehouse had been Tesla’s rental, though strangely it had never had its municipal electrical supply switched on. And if certain files found by the government were valid, then Tesla had been developing technologies too fantastic to be remotely possible.

 

In the files, it was claimed that Tesla had developed a machine that would permit its operator to speak with and hear the voices of the dead. Tesla had theorized that eventually even televisual contact would be possible—and even more bizarre possibilities awaited beyond that. The authorities were unnerved by these incomplete notes and plans… and far more alarmed that some of the plans had been executed with a simple notation of “successful.”

 

And if they had been constructed and tested, these machines had vanished completely, into the hands of persons unknown.

 

“The story doesn’t end there,” Doctor Lang said, “but like so many unorthodox fields of study and development, the throughline of the tale becomes convoluted. Even tortuous.”

 

“They’re new to all this,” Lang’s supervisor said. “Tell it to them in broad strokes.”

 

Lang adjusted his glasses in the starkly lit room, his shadow towering on the walls. “The authorities didn’t realize at the time that they were investigating two separate sets of actions. There were the individuals who took Tesla’s work from his warehouse, and then locked it up once more. And then there were the frantic caretakers who arrived too late, left the doors and windows locked, and ran gasoline through a few vents with pumps and hoses. They never looked inside. They didn’t know they had already failed.”

 

The listeners were younger, hipper people than Lang or his supervisor, but they still had that unmistakable air of the academic and the engineer. They were studious, attentive, and watched Lang with clever, appraising eyes. One gestured—almost a classroom hand-raise, but not quite. Lang nodded. “Tesla’s friends thought they were saving his research from us. From those who came before us.”

 

“Yes,” Lang said, “exactly. It was amazingly fortuitous. The authorities kept the warehouse fire and robbery out of the papers, so they never learned what had actually happened. Most of our rivals didn’t know for decades, unless they were part of what we used to call The Web. That was before the internet, of course.” Lang forced a weak smile; his audience pretended to be amused.

 

“Things are easier now,” Lang said. “No real war, not like World War Two. No Cold War. But in those days, the pioneers in our field shared information any way they could, regardless of who worked for whom. This is how Tesla’s research ended up in a robust intellectual environment, along with that of our counterparts in wartime Germany and Japan and in Soviet Russia.”

 

“We’ve coordinated all the work as best we can: From New England to the Russian Institute for Brain Research, from OSS to our friends in Herr Bruch’s group at Peenemunde. We’ve updated from that point, and advanced these ideas further than anyone else. None of it was done in a vacuum, of course. Information may be shared in research circles as carefully as possible, but in the end, things leak out and independent science has its day, too.”

 

Their sponsor spoke quietly from his dark corner. “That’s how we came to know about half of you,” he said. “Your work, which clearly reflected our work. We saw your dedication and your inspiration. And now we’ve brought you on board.”

 

One of the listeners gestured. “On board for what? Funding? Data sharing?”

 

Lang looked to his sponsor and said, “Those things, and more. We have powerful friends with a great interest in our work. It must all be kept very secret, but it must be taken to new heights. You’re the kind of people we’re looking for. Exactly the… right stuff.”

 

The sponsor said, “We’ll find places for you in the right laboratories and testing facilities. Get you what you need. Put you together with others. And we will keep it as quiet as we can, with your cooperation.”

 

“The best any of us has done so far is to demonstrate the presence of an interface between a ‘soul’ and a material world… ‘radar for ghosts,’” a listener said. “And that’s not much. So why us?”

 

Lang leaned forward on his podium, a joyful, mad light in his eyes. “Because you made it that far on your own, and we can show you more. And then together… we attain the Sepulchral Ascendance.”

 

The small audience muttered among themselves for a moment, then one asked: “You seem to want us to ask, so—what is this ‘Sepulchral Ascendance?’”

 

Lang grinned widely, switching on a video projector. Dead grey static fizzed on the blank wall behind him. “I could lecture you on the topic for hours,” he said, “but perhaps we should let our keynote speaker clarify it for you.”

 

The static began to warp and rot into the semblance of a man’s gaunt face, hollow darkness where his eyes should be.

 

“Doctor Tesla, if you please…?”

 

 

 

 

Necromancers are a human faction that seeks hidden knowledge in the name of power. Despite their magical-sounding name, they have developed a bizarre and very dangerous form of technology that straddles the so-called boundaries between physics, magick, telepathy and spirituality. They are eclectic and apolitical, recruiting their membership from academia, fringe lunatics, corporate research, medical facilities, government programs and anywhere else they can find likeminded persons.

 

Not content to merely hunt for the great techno-occult artifacts of the past, the Necromancers build on certain dark creations of eccentric genius Nikola Tesla and many other influences since then. Names and titles like Velikovsky, DARPA, K. Kent, The Sleep Experiment and others dot their files. Their “necro-tech” now does much more than merely communicate with lost souls. With great risk, it permits the Necromancers to call the dead, command them, and even force them to reanimate dead tissues. Their experiments push endlessly at the boundaries of the Land of the Dead… bringing terrible dangers to the world of the living.

 

The exact origin of the Necromancers is not entirely clear. There are those who believe they are an offshoot of the Slayers, while others believe them to have begun as hirelings of a formidably rich Victorian-era tycoon who was insanely afraid of death itself. Perhaps they are both. It hardly matters, as they are now more dedicated to their tasks than to any particular organizational culture.

 

It is known that the Necromancers have a wide variety of sponsoring factions, all of whom have some nodding acquaintance and tolerance for one another. In one place it may be a multinational corporation, in another a secret faction of the government, in still another it could be a little-known academic bequest. However a given Necromancer or group of Necromancers may carry out their research, there is always a loose network of “helpers” that watch over them and give them assistance.

 

The Necromancers have a collective goal known as The Sepulchral Ascendance. It is based on a simple idea, expressed generations ago in a song from a classic film: “…life is short, but death is long.” Knowing that death is not the end, but merely a gateway to a different world, the Necromancers wish to perfect their control and then open the gateway to a dead Earth—one over which they will be the absolute masters.

 

Unfortunately, there are other factions with their own agendas in the way…

 

 

 

 

 

Vampires

Vampires are among the most fascinating creatures to Necromancers. Undead spirits embodied in flesh that does not decay, Vampires are walking conduits between the separate worlds of life and death. Studying them, and ways to guide their behavior, is a very worthy—if risky—goal for a Necromancer.

 

 

Blood Dolls

Corrupt but useful pawns of the Vampires, Blood Dolls are merely humans that have become addicted to the influence of the undead. They’re often targeted for false-flag recruiting so that they can be used to gently guide Vampires into the right place at the right time.

 

 

Unquiet Dead

There are many sorts of dead spirits, with or without bodies, which return to plague the living through the agency of undeath. Most are secretive and avoid contact, but the proper application of Necro-Tech can force them to show themselves and then to do other useful things.

 

 

Loa Masters

Dangerous fanatics of the Voudoun religion of the Caribbean, the Loa Masters are sworn enemies of the Necromancers. These occultists see their own way of life as “natural” and “divinely ordained,” and the Necromancers as profane (some say “Babylon”) and horrifying. Their adeptness with magic and their powerful spirit allies make them incredibly deadly foes. Necromancers are advised to take two steps when dealing with these rogue spiritualists: First, kill them, and second, take the necessary steps to drive their dead souls as far from the earthly realm as possible. This last is vital, for if a Loa Master’s spirit lingers, it may carry on a campaign of revenge from beyond the grave.

 

 

Cultists

Various dangerous religious and mystical cults exist in the world, allying themselves with non-human spiritual entities sometimes called elementals, daemons, gods, entelechies or other presences. The secret network of Necromancers is alarmed by the presence of non-human forces in the world (the Sepulchral Ascendance is meant for human spirits, not for ageless faeries and dream-shades!) and promotes a fluid strategy in dealing with their human Cultists. If a common ground can be set out for both sides, then uneasy alliances (or at least peace agreements) may be reached. If no common ground is possible, then the best choice is to lead other factions—such as Slayers—to the Cultists and let them destroy one another.

 

 

 

Slayers

A rabble of killers and stalkers that has always been with humanity, from the days when they sat alone at the edge of the cave-fire and watched for eyes in the night, to these times when they worry over the signals from radio telescopes. Violent, bloody, psychologically unbalanced by the horrors they’ve seen, endured and authored—Slayers are almost too dangerous to work with, but if Necromancers keep their true nature hidden and work through go-betweens, Slayers can be unwittingly helpful. On the other hand, if Slayers discover a Necromancer research site, they must be eliminated as quickly as possible, before they carry out their “heroics.”

 

 

The Lunar Covenant

A collection of seemingly human bloodlines that actually carry a pre-Adamite corruption of mortal nature—hereditary shapeshifters that routinely transform into wolves, tigers, all manner of dangerous beasts and vermin. Wasting their existences on concern with “natural cycles” and “universal harmony” (as if such things were anything other than navel-gazing and vegetating), the Lunar Covenant is merely a free-floating overlay of potential violence and meddling in the world. Not worth eradicating but too hazardous to completely overlook, the Covenant must be discouraged from adopting hippie-ish New Age crusades against Necro-Tech and the Necromantic agenda. Like the undead and the things the Cultists worship, these creatures have weaknesses that cleverer people can exploit against them.