Erebus. While the fourth member of the team, Dirk Smeil, is on special assignment, the remaining three are relaxing in their own ways. Dr. Black and Captain LeBlanc are in a lounge, reading (Wittgenstein and a Wolverine comic, respectively), while Evans is lurking in the science laboratory, observing the Erebus Anomaly.
The Anomaly convulses. Observation's psychics foresee a disaster. The team have a Countdown - the nexus is in a small town in Minnesota. Less than twenty-four hours to go.
En route, Jane Salis infodumps on the team via their headsets. There are three other JANUS teams already operating in the United States, following up lower-priority potential threats. The FBI and other intelligence agencies are on high alert, as information suggests a potential terrorist strike on the continental US, possibly by domestic terrorists as opposed to foreign powers. Ever since JANUS failed to predict or stop 9/11, the organisation has had very poor relations with Homeland Security and other elements of the US government.
Looking through records, the one possible lead is a man named Larry Kalakstein, who was arrested several years before for illegal possession of weapons and supporting terrorism; he is tagged as low-threat according to the FBI, but it's a place to start. On arrival in the small town of North Branch, the team first get their bearings by visiting a diner and arguing national stereotypes with each other. Both Black and the psychic Evans try to use their paranormal abilities to detect unusual activity, but they find nothing.
Salis reports that Observation is 'getting angsty' and that the nexus seemed to be oscillating between North Branch and somewhere just north of town, but they won't be able to pin down the disaster area until closer to zero. Oh, and ten hours to go.
The team heads to Larry's little shack. Remote viewing and hacking give them a good idea of what's going on inside - Larry's on a White Supremacist chatroom, bragging about how everything is going to change and how he's involved in something big. They observe him for a while, but Larry's not giving anything away. The team storm the shack and capture Larry.
While Evans connects Larry's computer to his JANUS box so that Jane Salis and the support hackers can take a look, and LeBlanc secures the shack (and deals with Larry's drugged guard dogs), Black produces a scalpel. 'I'm a doctor' he says calmly, as he levitates the scalpel over Larry's eye. 'I know how to avoid killing you.'
Two leads. Firstly, Larry has been trying to ingratiate himself with a local group, led by a man called Martin Ziegler, Jr. There is a compound outside town that is connected with the Zieglers. The team also discovered that Larry was a volunteer in the local nursing home.
Salis warns them that Observation is still picking up two potential crisis points, and that there are less than seven hours to go. The compound is nearly an hour's drive outside North Branch. They have to move, now. They decide to investigate the compound instead of the nursing home.
The compound is located well off the main road. It's moderately well fortified, and there are several cars outside. Time ticks away as the team observe the compound. Evans views the inside, and sees Martin Ziegler and half a dozen others looking at a blueprint. It looks to be an electrical system of some sort. What's electrical around here? They ask JANUS, and Salis finds a substation a short drive from the compound. Blowing up the substation wouldn't do much, though. The team have Salis do a bit more digging into the Ziegler family background. Ziegler's father, Martin Sr, is still alive - and in the local nursing home. He's also a WWII veteran with outspoken views about how America has become decadent and corrupt in the last few decades. They also find out that another Ziegler, a teenage girl named Dorothy, died in mysterious (spontaneous combustion) circumstances ten years ago.
They phone the nursing home and ask for Martin Ziegler, Senior. He's out today, apparently - his grandson, Grey, collected him a few hours ago. Checking Grey Ziegler's records show a few suspicious and unusual incidents - it looks like the Ziegler kids have some psychic abilities.
Evans suggests that an electrokinetic like Black could use the substation as a power booster. Black dismisses the suggestion, but admits that a sufficiently stupid group could try that. Less than five hours to go, and Salis warns that Observation are 'getting iffy' on that countdown. A minority of the psychics are estimating only an hour to go, not five. It's time to act. Storming the compound could be difficult - not only are they outnumbered, but some of the people there could be psychics. The team has called in support, but it won't be here soon.
LeBlanc removes a heavy black case from the back of their car and opens it. It's a rocket launcher. He targets the room where Evans viewed Ziegler and co, and pulls the trigger.
The compound explodes. The few survivors are stunned and easily dealt with - but Salis comes screaming over the JANUS boxes, shouting that the Countdown just dropped to less than an hour. The substation is definitely a nexus, though, and the second nexus is moving north towards the team and the first nexus. They phone the school, and discover that Grey Ziegler is absent. Checking around, they find that one of Ziegler's followers lives within earshot of the compound, and must have alerted Martin Sr. In the absence of other options, the team heads to the substation to ambush the surviving Zieglers.
LeBlance takes up a position with a sniper rifle, overlooking the approach road, while Black and Evans flank the main entrance.
Fifteen minutes to global catastrophe.
Evans spots a car approach. It stops. A man gets out. Well-dressed, anonymous, forgettable - but Evans remembers seeing him somewhere before. Buried memories start to resurface. Before being recruited to JANUS as a psychic, Evans worked in the Pentagon... and this man... ordered him to do...to spy... he gets a flash of a symbol, an anchor in a compass...
Another car roars up the highway. There's a young man with intense eyes at the wheel, and a craggy-faced older man sitting beside him. They're approaching the turn-off for the substation.
The man from Evans' past takes out a small electronic device, waves it around, then looks worried and gets back into the car. He turns it around and starts to drive south, back towards town. Evans calls out to LeBlanc, who fires and takes out the car's wheel. It spins into a ditch. The well-dressed man crawls out and ducks into the cornfield.
The Zieglers' car races towards the gates of the substation. LeBlanc winces, then triggers the buried claymores.
Salis shouts that Observation thinks that one Countdown just stopped, or vanished, or something - Erebus is in uproar.
A helicopter comes low over the cornfield to pick up the stranger. Evans looks on helplessly for a moment - then Black arrives, and telekinetically bends the helicopter's blades. The chopper drops out of the sky, and the stranger surrenders.
The wreck of the Ziegler's burning car scrapes to a halt a few feet from the gates of the substation. The Countdown is over.
Back in Erebus.
According to the stranger, his name is 'De Gama' and he works for some group called the Navigators. He will say no more, and his mind has been hardened against psychic intrusion. Interrogators are at a loss, but they will continue to investigate. The helicopter was hired by a group called 'Columbus Technologies', continuing the theme.
The Ziegler plot, which was apparently to use Grey's electrokinetic ability to burn out the United States electricity grid, thus plunging the nation into a chaos from which a new and better order to rise, has been foiled. The Zieglers had informed other right-wing groups about their plan, without letting them know the details. The FBI had picked up on the activity of the other groups, but not the core threat. Score one for JANUS.
In Erebus, Black finds the bookmark in the volume of existentialist philosophy, and returns to his reading.
Evans examines the gadget that De Gama had, and discovers it to be a psychic detection device. De Gama, it seems, was recruiting psychics for these Navigators.
And LeBlanc, who killed seventeen people yesterday because a room full of psychics told him that the world would end if he didn't, gets very, very drunk.
A bit darker than anticipated, from the torture of Larry to the 'we don't have time - take them all out with a LAW rocket' bit at the compound. Probably as dark as it's going to get, in fact, at least in terms of the characters' actions.
The capture of De Gama was unplanned. I expected them to run into him earlier, in town (he picked up their use of psychic powers in the diner, and was one step behind them for much of the day). His capture was a combination of a very lucky shot to take out the tyres, and nesf's character being willing to spend most of his magic points on one blast to bring down the helicopter.