The team assembles at the regional office for Verdant Technologies in Chicago. Mason Olsen looks to see two of his team members absent. In their place he finds Conrad Lee, the former team leader; Jerry Sheen, a transfer from sales; and Mary Goodwin, a specialist in cryptids. He notes with alternating approval and disapproval that Richard Brian and Dorian are still on the team.
Mr. Samson comes in and briefs them on their mission. 3 days ago, a Caucasian man in his mid 40s was found by the side of Interstate 75 near Cincinnati by the state patrol. A vagrant named Michael Soares, his death has been ruled suspicious by the authorities. During the autopsy at Sky Health Hospital, the technician in charge, Dr. Carol Gregory, uncovered traces of an unusual parasite in the subject’s blood. Also a large amount of the subject’s brain was missing without any signs of external trauma.
They are informed that Dr. Gregory is an employee of Weild Health Care, a subsidiary of Weild Holdings. This report was intercepted and forwarded to the head branch. Cross referenced with similar cases on file, head branch determined there was a 87% chance this could be a nascent outbreak of Cerebraraneae Greenberga, or CA-B. Local reports have been falsified to buy time but the team needs to move on this immediately.
When asked about the disease, Mr. Samson tells them that the infection detected has been designated of the genus Cerebraraneae, essentially a microscopic type of spider which lays its eggs in the brains of mammals.
The commonest variety, designated CA-A, is relatively harmless. Common symptoms include headaches, itching sensations, nosebleeds, and irritability. Most cases end once the life cycle of the parasite is complete, a process which takes several days or weeks. At which point the host is induces to bite or otherwise exchange bodily fluids with another potential host. In a small percentage of cases, this leads to cerebral hemorrhaging, causing brain damage or death.
A treatment has been developed which cures the disease in better than 98% of cases. If need be the team will supplied with this after their mission is complete.
Strain CA-B has only recently been identified. There have been two known outbreaks before this one: Norfolk, VA in 2007 and Seattle,WA in 2010. Both cases were contained.
Strain CA-B causes a mutation in the life cycle of the parasite. In the majority of cases, this merely leads to the death of the host. In a minority of cases the parasites begin to feed off each other and the infected subject’s brain, causing the death of the host and the creation of a single large spider. They have yet to obtain a live specimen so the full properties of this creature are unknown. One recorded case suggests the spider can animate the body after death, serving as a surrogate brain.
From research obtained from the CDC, the treatment seems to be effective against strain B as well though at a lower level of success.
There is a strain C, though only one person has ever been confirmed infected by it. It seems more intense than Strain B but its full properties are unknown. Genetic studies on the remaining samples suggest it may be that strain B is simply a hybrid of Strain A and C. If they find any subject showing signs of unusual infection they are to secure them at once.
Their mission is to travel to Cincinatti and see what else Dr. Gregory has uncovered. Then they are to locate where the subject was infected and obtain a live sample of the parasite.
If they encounter examples of late stage infection, they are to secure them at once. Bonuses will be provided. Once they have secured the infected, radio HQ. The samples and the team will be recovered by private helicopter.
The trip to Cincinnati is uneventful. Arriving late in the afternoon, they stop at their hotel first to freshen up. Then they head to meet Dr. Gregory.
The hospital is a dreary and overworked building. The morgue is cluttered with corpses. Dr. Carol Gregory is an attractive dark haired woman. Sheen in particular flirts with her as they hear her findings. Beyond what they already know she gives them directions to where the victim was found and that Soares was known to hang out by the railroad tracks. The officer who found him was a Lt. Matthew Johns.
The team visits the site of where Soares was discovered. There are no many clues there but they manage to follow his path through the scrub partway to the railroad tracks. It seems he was becoming increasingly disoriented as he neared the spot where he eventually succumbed.
Their next stop is where he use to live. They talk to the local homeless, arranging to have an ambulance arrive as part of their cover as giving out free flu shots. Mary focuses her efforts on the local teens. she learns they’ve been recently chased off by the rapid security at a nearby mall. The mall is essentially closed but the security who works there seems paranoid about anyone getting close.
The rest of the team talks to a man who is upset at Soares for stealing a job he hoped to get at the mall. They convince him there is a threat of disease and he fills them in on what he knows. He hands them the flyer the recruiter was handing out. They send him to the hospital to be checked out with a free meal and warm place to stay the night.
With an obvious target, Olsen does some research. The mall was built prior to the recession and has seen all of its anchors leave one by one. Completely vacate since last year, it is still being maintained and guarded in the hopes of getting new clients. He gets a map for the three story high structure as well as the four story parking garage and incomplete four story hotel. He also calls the local manager, a Ms. Shaw, and arranges for a tour next day.
That night they stake out the building to get an idea of the security and any other useful information. There seem to be 8 security guards, recruited from the local destitute. They seem to live on sight in the hotel. Sleeping in shifts they work out their routines. Sheen has strange erotic dreams of Carol except she is part spider. Dorian dreams of being trapped in a web. Brian uses his Devil’s Eyes to look at the aura of the guards. They have religious devotion and a deep desperation about them.
The next morning, Mary and Olsen visit the mall. They run into some guards and then shown to Bob, the head of security. The overweight man, cheerfully shows them the facilities. As they walk around Mary thinks she can hear spiders in the ducts. At one point she sees a mannequin behind some blinds. It is wrapped in spider webbing and seems to struggle for moment. Then she blinks and it is gone.
Olsen asks Bob to see the heating and cooling machinery. Reluctantly he leads them downstairs. While Olsen occupies Bob, Mary hangs back. Examining some discoloration on a pipe, she momentarily gets her hand stuck. As she pulls it free she finds spider webbing stuck to her hand.
Then she hears a clicking noise from the darkness. Turning around she sees a massive scorpion thing with a human head where its mandibles should be. She snaps a picture and sends it to the team before fleeing. Conrad and the others rush to rescue her. She just reaches a door outside when the stinger slams into her throwing her out of the building. The team arrives as it slinks back into the darkness.
Olsen by this point is outside being shown the AC units. Bob realizes they lost Mary and gets nervous. As he radios his guards, the team calls Olsen. they explain the situation and Olsen tells Bob that Mary has already left. He thanks him for the tour and says he will be in touch.
As they race to the hospital, Brain is able deal with the poison. They find a doctor who will keep quiet and Mary is patched up. As she rests, they plan their strike for that night.
The Mall is fairly quiet that night. By the time Mary rejoins them, one team of guards has already gone to sleep. Lee uses his rifle to take down two guards before they can react, clearing access to the hotel. They ties up the drugged guards and sneak inside.
On the first floor they find Ms. Shaw tangled up in webs. She’s been kept here as a prisoner. As she struggles to escape they sedate her and cut her down. From the piles of food containers and the stink of refuse, she must have been here for months. Brian detects a second aura about her head. She’s infected.
They upstairs for now. Ambushing the two guard sleeping they quickly overpower them and tie them up as well. On the next level they find dozens of people hanging mummified in webs. Some are still alive. Brain presses his ear to a wall and hears movement upstairs. they leave the victims for now and head up.
On the 4th floor they find more victims, including one which has fallen to the floor. Suddenly Brain is hit by a glob of boiling spit. As he falls over in agony, they see a female form crawling across the ceiling covered in brown hairs. It launches another glob at Olsen, burning his legs.
The team holds together though and goes through with the plan. Lee throws a net over it while the other wrestle it to the ground. Then Mary ties up. As they step back from the angry beast, the “victim” they saw before launches herself at Brian. Revealing the glossy white mandibles inside her mouth she bites down on Brian’s neck, injecting a paralytic poison.
The rest of the team retaliate, tearing away its hide and revealing a chitinous armor. The monster rips into Brian and lets him seemingly lifeless form crash to the ground. Lee’s knife seems to be the only thing hurting it while the first figure tries to escape. Mary drugs it while Sheen keeps it grappled.
The Spitter slows its movements as the drugs take effect. With one foe out of commission, Sheen joins the fight against the mimic. Lee meanwhile takes a nasty bite from the creature before slicing into it again. Dorian manages to crack its chitin with his brass knuckles and Sheen smashes its head open on the floor. It dissolves into a swarm of spiders which he hastily bats off of him.
Olsen meanwhile stops Brians bleeding and slows the damage of the poison. The team makes a strategic withdrawal taking the specimen and 7 survivors they found including Ms. Shaw. They radio the chopper and fill in HQ about what happened.
In the days to come they learn that the monsters have fled the mall and that no further victims were found alive. They also learn that Carol Gregory is missing and signs point to her having been killed the day before they arrived…