Global Corporation tries to rebuild an ancient viking city with haunting consequences
Douglas’ cabin was small to say the least, but it had been one of the officer’s quarters when the ship was still in military service which meant that it was a full four feet longer than any of the construction crew's.
The narrow cot which he had been intended to sleep on but would have actually been more plausible as a carpenter's work bench flipped down from the wall by night. During the day, it was held vertical by small metal hook attached to the wall. Underneath this was a double long foot locker for his clothes and personals.
Other than this, the cabin's only outstanding features were the small sink and mirror in the far corner of the room, which, in truth, was not very far. He shared a bathroom with the four other cabins in the lower midsection of the ship, but he did have a personal porthole which looked out across the waves.
When he was originally shown his cabin by the Captain Smythe, he was told that the ship usually rode higher in the water, but due to the marble as well as some “more financially sound” cargo, he might get a little foam across his porthole if the sea decided to be disagreeable.
“If your stomach is not seaworthy,” he said, “I suggest you pull the curtain.”
After Douglas had put his clothing into the footlocker and his razor kit onto the small shelf beneath the small mirror mounted to the wall over the small porcelain sink (after bumping his knee, his hip and head, more than once, he began to think of everything within the cabin as small) he glanced at his watch. He was scheduled to meet Richard, Winton and Laura for breakfast within the hour. Flipping his cot down, he took his bedding off of the shelf and spread it out over the miniature sleep space. Well, if you are not willing to fly... he thought to himself,
The Wyvren was a military transport vessel dating back to the Second World War, but seeing that it had maintained it’s structural integrity, it had been purchased by the Tell Corporation and completely refurbished. All of the original markings that would had implied that it was a military vessel had been removed while all of the original defensive weaponry was still intact, although completely invisible to anyone who was not on board and more specifically, knew where to look. This was in case of a pirate attack and although Douglas and his three companions were surprised upon hearing this, all of them understood the Tell Corporations motives. It was during the tour of the Wyvren that the four of them, as well as the rest of the crew, were shown, not only the two well hidden, deck mounted fifty caliber pompom guns but also the swivel turret for the much large cannon, the details of which were not gone into, only the fact that it could accurately hurl a shell some five miles across calm waters, in case of emergencies.
“Emergencies?!” Richard asked, forgetting his tact for a second.
The main course for lunch on their first day on board the Wyvren was New England clam chowder. Seeing as Winton liked an early lunch, he was the first person in line at the ship’s galley. He and the senior chef had time to chat about the new kitchen help.
Apparently, upon being told to arrive early, he had made his best attempt to make a good impression, seeing that this was his first day on board. He had looked at the wrong cookbook. Not having looked at the senior chef’s bookshelf, he had done some searching on his own and found a cookbook in the bottom of an old filing cabinet which hadn’t been opened since, quite possibly, the first time the ship had been decommissioned, the cookbook or the filing cabinet. The amount of chowder he had made would have fed eighty five enlisted men plus officers and crew. Seeing as there were only sixteen people on board the Wyvren as of now, and this included staff, crew and the captain's dog, this mishap not only used up the entire ship’s stock of clams, half the milk and potato stock, but also earned the lad more time at the dish sink than in the actual kitchen for the rest of the journey.
“Then I guess I’ll have the chowder.” Said Winton with a grin.
“This chowder is very good.” said Richard picking another roll out of the basket to sop up the last of the soup from his bowl. “I may go back for another bowl.”
“There should be enough, but don’t count on stuffed clams for dinner tomorrow. There’s been a change in the menu.” Winton smiled as he raised another spoonful of the soup to his mouth. In fact, for every meal for the next eleven days, breakfast, lunch and dinner, Winton would always accompany whatever was on the that day's menu with a large mugful of white, creamy clam chowder. Douglas asked him about this on the second day as they sat down for a sausage and pancake breakfast.
“Winton, seriously?” said Douglas pointing to the weighted mug.
“Yeah. Have you tried it?” All three people seated with him groaned.
“But really,” he went on, “it’s not bad… and there is enough. Actually, too much. I figure, if I can help out, I will.” The other three left it at this, but every meal after this, they could count on Winton with his mug of chowder. After this, Winton had a running gag with his fellow shipmates. “Have you tried the chowder?” He would say with a smile only to be met by knowing groans.
The four of them had been aboard the Wyvren for almost five days when Douglas called all of them into his cabin for a meeting. They sat in Douglas' cabin... well not actually. There was enough room for three of them to sit on the folded down cot along the far wall. Douglas, who had called them to the meeting to discuss something he and Richard had been talking about since they were first introduced to the Tell Corporation and their intentions to rebuild Vineta, was left without a seat and had to stand.
“I could tell something was bothering you.” said Laura.
“Of course you could.” said Douglas with a grin. Laura just smiled knowingly. “It's like this.” said Douglas. “How many of you have seen the painting “The Temple of Vineta”?” Douglas knew that Richard had of course but was directing the question more at the other two. Both Laura and Winton glanced at each other questioningly. From their puzzled expressions, Douglas and Richard could tell that neither had heard of the painting, much less seen it.
“No?” He did not wait for a reply because, honestly, this was the answer he had been expecting. The reason Richard, Winton and I are here at all is because of the marble floor which supposedly belongs in the temple.” At this, Winton interrupted.
“They actually have a picture of it?” Douglas pointed at him to let him know that he had hit the nail on the head.
“The temple, yes. The floor, no.”
Winton's expression changed to one of confusion and then he glanced over at Richard. Returning his attention to Douglas, “Wait a minute, you just said...”
“I know what I said.” Douglas stepped away from the sink against which he had been leaning then, realizing that there was no room in the cabin to pace, returned to his position at the sink. “They do have a picture of the temple. Even though it was painted before the advent of perspective, it still shows the floor and it's design. The irony is that the floor in the picture is not our floor.”
It took Winton a second to realize Douglas' meaning. First, the look of shock overtook his face and then, as quickly as it had arrived, it was replaced by an expression that conveyed Winton's search for a reason. “So what was that whole business with the receipt and Von Braun?”
Laura, who had been listening intently, did not realize the weight that Douglas' accusation was carrying, mainly due to the fact that she had not been an employee at Statesmorrow University. What she did recognize was his meaning and the weight with which it had hit Winton. She was the first to speak up.
“I don't want to imply anything. That's not what I do. It's always been my place to find out where the pieces fall and then try to reorder them so they fit into the puzzle. What I want to know is, what do you three know about the Tell Corporation and why do you think they are doing what they are doing?”
By this time, Winton had worked out a few reasons in his head. “Richard?” Richard, who was in the same position that Douglas was, metaphorically speaking, turned to Winton. “Richard, how much did they pay for the college?” Seeing where Winton was going, he just nodded expressing that it was more than he wanted to say out loud. “All right.” said Winton, now that he had some support for his logic. “You don't just go buying a University on a wild goose chase. Are you sure the painting wasn't right?”
It was a cloudless night upon the Atlantic Ocean. The stars were out in number and shining brilliantly without a moon to dampen their luster. Douglas had raised the hood on his overcoat and was seated in a wooden folding chair on the bow of the ship. Originally, he was destined for the galley at the aft to refill his coffee cup when he ran into Laura. She had been getting a cup of tea for herself and Douglas asked her if she would like to join him on deck. After promising to be up in five minutes, she returned to her cabin to get a sweater. Arising, he took another chair from the rack and unfolded it next to his own and returned to his seat, lighting a cigarette and looking at the water and the skies, both a deep midnight blue speckled with wavy points of silver.
Douglas was making an attempt to locate the third of four stars mentioned in an old Egyptian legend when his thoughts began to drift to the question of if the vikings of Vineta had any of their own star pictures or legends to go along with them. He was surprised by Laura’s silent approach from the rear. “Ah, Mother, how are you enjoying the journey?”
Douglas said this as a joke although he still hadn’t gotten used to using Laura’s alias. Even if it had been posed as humorous, this was lost on Laura who had been using the name for so long. It no longer phased her.
“Actually, quite well. The only trouble is that I miss my record collection.” Smiling at Douglas, she sat down in the seat next to him and he once again returned his gaze to the skies.
“You can log onto any radio station you like on your lap top. The satellites should be even more accessible over the water.”
“Where’s the romance in that?”
This took Douglas off guard. Not the mention of romance, but more the idea of not using a computer to listen to music. “Hmm, I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Again she smiled at Douglas, but this time it was lost on him because his eyes were fixed on the stars.
“I hadn’t assumed you would have. You’ve been an independent for quite some time.” Douglas again returned his eyes to her. He didn’t take this the wrong way. Actually, he didn’t take it to mean anything more than the words that were spoken.
“Yes, for twenty two years now. I hope it hasn’t affected my soul too negatively.” Douglas put on a sly grin for he knew that Laura was the premier Psi expert in the United States, if not the world, although this fact was not widely publicized.
“So when are you going to let your guard down and remember why you invited me up here?” Douglas didn't have an answer for this and actually, he didn't notice but Laura did, that it was at this point that his foot began to tap slightly on the deck. He simply raised his hand and pointed at the three stars in the belt of Orion. “Can you see the star on the left of that trio? You know that I can think of four different names for that one star from throughout history, from the dancer to the third of the bear hunters who fell of the edge of the earth.”
Laura stayed quiet for a time and let Douglas' attention drift back. Finally, “I heard recently that they have begun taking commercial flights into outer space. I mean, it still costs quite a bit, but think of it, actually being in outer space.” Douglas cocked his head and took a sip of coffee.
“It's ironic, isn't it?” Laura squinted her eyes trying to contemplate his meaning. “How so?”
“Well, here we are in the middle of the Atlantic, destined for a city from a thousand years in the past and on the other side of the world, they are performing miracles like commercial space flights that seem as if they could be from a thousand years in the future.” Laura laughed quietly.
“Yes, but it's all happening today, in fact, right now.” This one took Douglas a few seconds to wrap his head around.
“Hmm.” He said this in more of a huff than a thought. “I'm a history professor and a romantic at heart. I guess the world is just moving to fast for me. That's why I like the idea of a city from a thousand years ago.”
“Well,” grinned Laura, sipping her tea through the rising steam, “you really aught to show it more, I mean the romantic part.” This time, Douglas understood exactly what she had just said, but the only reaction he could muster up was to turn and look at her curiously. There it was. Right there and then, in the pitch black of night he could see it. To him, she looked as midnight blue as the sea and as blazingly beautiful as the stars. He nor Laura noticed that his foot had stopped tapping.
Within the past hour, everyone on board the Wyvren had either gone to their cabins or met in the galley to wait for the worst to pass. Luckily, the coffee mugs were weighted or else they would have long ago fallen off the edge of the table due to the leaping and tossing of the ship over the rocky water. If it was not from port to starboard, then it was from bow to stern and what the Wyvren was being submitted to now was worse than anything they had come across over the past ten days upon the open ocean.
“I don't even think Winton could stomach a bowl of chowder through this storm.” said Richard.
Richard, Douglas and Laura were seated around their usual table. On the other hand, Winton had returned to his cabin to, as he said, pack up the last of his belongings but it seemed that he wanted to be alone to either pray or try to sleep. Both were good options in the midst of the ocean's wrath.”Who was it who didn't want to fly?” Laura asked Douglas with a cocked eye. Douglas was quick to reply even though he was gripping the edge of the table.
“And if Winton were here, he would back me up on this.” Suddenly a very sharp hole in the water leaned the ship and Douglas had to make a quick grab for his coffee mug just prior to it's drop of the edge, even though it was weighted.
“Oh, really?” said Richard, half sarcastically but half through fear of the storm outside. Douglas ignored this.
“These things really should be magnetic.” He said this more to himself than to the others and realized that his nerves were beginning to show. How long would it be before they reached the Oder Delta?
It was then that Marlowe entered the galley through the main hatch, taking hold of the frame to steady himself. “See,” said Douglas with a smirk, “even old sea legs is having trouble.” Before the other two could comment, Marlowe spoke up.
“I just came from the Captain's ready room. Even though the storm gets worse as we get closer to Vineta, were going to head straight into it for the sake of making landfall as quick as possible and getting you land lovers back on solid ground.” This was met by a combination of cheers and groans but all of this was cut off by a wave of Marlowe's free hand. “We are confining all of you to either the galley or your quarters. A member of the staff will be assignment to keep a head count on all of you. If you even go to the bathroom, you will check out and back in. Is that understood? This is the kind of storm that people can get lost overboard in. It won't happen on my watch. Any disagreements?” Everyone who had been listening just looked around at each other in surprise and fear not having realized how severe things were. From the silence, Marlowe assumed it was understood.
“All right then. All staff, come see me for your head count assignment.” As the ships officers began to pool in on Assistant Captain Marlowe, one of the people seated at another table spoke up over the audible storm outside. “So how long before we reach Vineta?”
Marlowe gave a cocked grin. “Weather allowing, we should be there within two hours. I am going to talk to the Captain about letting you folk on deck for the final approach. That is if this storm quits kicking. The entrance to the harbor is quite a sight and I would hate to have a little wind and rain stop anyone from seeing it.”
As the Wyvren neared the mouth of the Oder River where the crew had been told that construction had already begun, Winton, Richard, Laura and Douglas, along with all of the other civilians were on deck looking out across the water toward the entrance to the man made harbor. It was all gray and the dampness and fog were as thick as Winton's clam chowder. If any of the crew weren't wearing thick black slickers, then they were bundled up in warm sweaters or overcoats, most with the hoods pulled up, to keep out the cold wind which cut through them as it blew up off of the choppy water.
“I'm not seeing anything. How close are we to the shore?” Winton was nested tightly between Richard and Laura and doing his best to keep his hands warm with his steaming mug of Earl Grey tea. Marlowe was a few yards further back along the edge of the boat and either barking orders or asking about their bearings, but had overheard Winton's question.
“We have to be close. The navigation station we have set up in the castle had a solid high frequency lock with our ship's computer about an hour ago and, as of now, it is doing most of the steering. About ten minutes ago I heard the engines shift down into docking speed, so were within a league.” Everyone on deck had their eyes locked on Marlowe but his eyes never left the brine and fog.
Not to let on that he was the poster child for land lovers everywhere, Richard turned to Winton and asked quietly, “How far is a league?” Winton chuckled quietly to himself.
“I'm pretty sure it's three miles.”
“Three miles?!” asked Richard in a voice not so quiet.
“That's the thing about a boat carrying three thousand tons of marble. It doesn't exactly stop on a dime.” For the first time, Marlowe had taken his eyes off the water and was looking down the chain railing at Richard with a smug grin as he said this. “We don't want to have a fender bender between a sixty year old boat and a eleven hundred year old boat house, do we?” Richard winced.
“Winton, next time, remind me to keep my voice down.” By now, all three of them were laughing light heartedly, Marlowe as well.
“Is that it?” asked Douglas pointing off the bow of the Wyvren. He had been a few yards closer to the bow than the other three and although a few yards doesn't make much of a difference on the water, he was a little more anxious than the others to get his feet back on solid ground. Although most of the trip had been rather calm, the last two days had weighed quite heavily upon his nerves. The fog was immense as they all looked through the gray. About two hundred yards ahead of them rose out of the water what might have been two giant stone towers about the same height as the highest antennae on the Wyvren.
“I do believe that that is it.” said Marlowe with a smile and he was quickly off to the helm to find out exactly what the computer had planned for the last short leg of their journey.
Everyone on deck kept their eyes focused on the space between the side of the ship and the stone pillar as the Wyvren gently slid past. Sometimes seeming like inches but never more than two feet, the ships motion on the choppy water was enough to put everyone on decks nerves on edge. If Douglas, Richard or Winton had taken a second to look up, they would have seen Laura alternating between sneaking quick glances and covering her face, waiting for the ship to pass the ancient gates.
Once the bow of the ship had passed the towers, Douglas was quick to cross the deck to get an accurate estimate of the actual clearance Captain Smythe and the ships navigation system had to work with. To within one foot, the port side was just as close at the starboard. As soon as Douglas leaned over the chain railing, he had wished he hadn't and stepped back with a wince. Once the others realized just where Douglas had gone, they all followed and their reactions were just as dire. Also, if things could be more frightening, it was just then that they all heard something that did not sound good. Everyone on board not only felt the heavy clunk of the gears shifting deep within the diesel engines but they heard the engines begin to turn faster. Was the ship actually accelerating? They watched in fear as the towers started to speed by just a little more quickly. The looks they passed between one another are difficult to describe, conveying everything from fear, the sentiment that something had gone terribly wrong to the suggestion that the captain had lost his mind.
Grabbing hold of Douglas' arm, Laura closed her eyes. Nothing could have possible made Laura more nervous at that point than the ship acceleratingly, but on the other hand and although he was surprised by the feeling, nothing could have made Douglas feel more confident. It had been a long time since he felt... well, whatever he was feeling right then. Maybe it was pride, maybe it was machismo, but with Laura so close, it certainly was a welcome feeling.
“Come on. Lets go inside and get a cup of coffee.” He whispered to her. “I'm a little nervous myself.”
“Why the devil did you speed up out there? Were you trying to cause an accident?!” The seaman's question was reinforced by all of the others present and it only helped to prove the point because it was coming from someone in a uniform.
“Yeah, what was that all about?” Richard spoke up in agreement. “I though you didn't want a fender bender.”
Marlowe just grinned knowingly as the crew vented their fears. Not saying a word, he calmly waited until the accusations ebbed and the people started to realize that he must know something that they didn't.
“On white water you have two options. One, you can let the sea take you where it wants you to go or, two, you can tell the sea where you are going and no questions asked. It was pushing and we decided to push back. You have a lot more control of a boat that's moving in the direction you are headed than to the side. Once the bow was through, we knew we had a straight shot. We weren't going to let the ocean nudge our tail into one of those towers.” And now to lighten the mood amongst all those frayed nerves, he posed the next statement as a innocent question. “You're not the kind of guy who slows down when the elevator door is closing, are you Richard?”
Everyone in the galley looked at Richard with light hearted smiles and all those who had been on deck realized the sailor's camaraderie which the two had apparently forged and were smiling.
“All right, but the next time you are riding on my elevator, I don't want to hear a peep out of you until I've safely docked you on your floor, whether I speed the car up or not.” Marlowe gave a heartily laugh which was echoed by the others.
“It's a deal.”