Global Corporation tries to rebuild an ancient viking city with haunting consequences
| Douglas sat with his desktop PC scanning for references to star charts. Not star charts of the present day, mind you, but those of a thousand years ago, when Vineta was at it's height. He had his reasons.
What he had done prior was to have scanned the image of the window, along with it's holes and as of now was overlaying pictures of the night sky on top of the image of the window which ironically covered both eras of time.
As clear as the sound of a church bell on a cold winters day, he saw it. The foot of Orion, or the Toe of Aurvandill, the name changed with whichever millennium he was choosing as his point of reference, fell perfectly into one of the two holes in the picture of the window.
It couldn't be possible could it? he asked himself. If so, they would have had to know a thousand years ago that we would be here now. Douglas couldn't believe it until he refreshed the image of the stars to reflect today's date. He actually saw the stars migrate as the page refreshed itself. He was in awe. Over one thousand years of procession, Rigel moved from one of the holes to the other.
“They knew.” he whispered to himself and then looking over his shoulder to the crate which contained the Staff of Thor. He knew what he had to do, but it didn't mean he liked it. Turning back to the computer screen, he slowly scrolled the minute counter, minute by minute, and watched the sky migrate around it's axis, trying to find the exact time when the star nested into it's hole in the window. It only took a few minutes before he had it.
Ten fifteen and everything lined up. “Well,” he sighed to himself, knowing where he had to be at ten fifteen on the night in question. “I don't know if it was because of my degrees and abilities in engineering, the fact that I'm exactly sixteen hands tall from sole of foot to center of eye, have only nine fingers or dumb luck, but we shall see just how much the people from Vineta knew.... as well as those damned men in blue.”
Most of the people in Vineta proper had already gone to bed. He had told Laura where he was destined but couldn't give her any of the details, simply due to the fact that, remembering what had happened the first time he had told her, she probably didn't want to know. He just wanted someone to be waiting up for him in case anything went wrong.
“Went wrong....” He repeated the words to himself feeling the nerves.
Standing in the center of the temple, he held the staff in his hand and looked at the patterns of grooves and divots in the floor. Then he understood. Taking the end of the staff, he traced the pattern on the temple floor until it came to rest at a depression near the center of the stone circle, which it slid into perfectly. “If I'm correct...” he said with a sigh. Rotating the staff on it's own axis, he felt it sink even deeper into the hole and lock. Now, the ring on the top of the staff directly faced the window which showed the image of Thor heaving the toe of Aurvandill into eternity.
“All right.” he said to himself and stepped up to the staff. The height was exact. He placed his right eye to the ring and looked at the window.
There it was. The three lined up. Rigel, the hole in the window and the ring on the Staff of Thor. He smiled to himself realizing that these wise men from a thousand years ago knew that he would be right here, right now, a thousand years before he stood where he was, right here, right now.
Suddenly, there was a brilliant flash of light in his eye and Douglas fell to the ground unconscious.
Douglas was shaking. Looking around as he woke, he knew he was in the “safe tent” but what he wanted right now was a cup of coffee and a cigarette.
Even after his first two sips of coffee he couldn't get control of his mind, and worse, he was having trouble getting his nine fingers to roll a cigarette. Laura was doing her best to comfort him but his mind was still in a flurry and she could see this. Sitting on the “safe tent” cot with his legs over the side, his foot wasn't tapping, but stomping. He was doing his best to concentrate on his still shaking fingers but even this was after the five minutes of pacing and realizing what he had needed was a cigarette.
“My nose was bitten off!” He kept muttering, using his right hand to rub his temples. “He grabbed my head and bit my nose off. I actually had to feel for it to make sure it was there when I woke up!”
Laura hadn’t even sat down yet. She just stood with a comforting smile on her face. Douglas looked up at her expecting…. something, anything, fear, confusion, just someone to share his loss with. The smile was all she offered and, unknown to him, it was what Douglas needed most. It hit him like a ton of bricks. At first, he didn’t know what to do and after a few minutes of staring confused into that comforting smile, he just broke into a nervous laugh.
“I guess it’s crazy, huh?” he asked picking up his coffee mug again.
“Not crazy, it’s the truth. That’s what’s inside.”
“Yeah. I just don’t know how a nose biting viking got inside.” Again, she just smiled. Douglas was at a loss, which was probably for the best seeing how pale and nervous he was.
“You know, I sort of expected this.” Said Laura sipping her own coffee. “What?” asked Douglas.
The two of them were now sitting at a small camp table, outside of the “safe tent” with a nearly full pot of coffee between them. The air was just beginning to warm with the sun rising behind them. “I hope you don't mind if I change the subject.” Douglas was on the last few yards of his emotional roller coaster so he did nothing but nod over his coffee mug. “Can I ask what happened to your hand?”
Douglas was taken off guard by this. Not because he had become used to it not being there, which he had, but because he had become used to people asking about it. Holding up his left hand, he turned it, first palm outward and then rotated it so that he was looking at his own palm. “It was when I was a service engineer with the nine one eight. We were sent in to rebuild everything the artillery had knocked over. I mean, in the jungle, most of what we were rebuilding was bamboo and elephant grass, but in the cities we would rebuild not only houses but bridges.... everything, really. The artillery were good at what they did so we learned to be as good as they were.”
Laura put on a curious look, more so than before. “So it was in battle?”
“Yeah,” said Douglas sounding heroic, “battle with a cinder block.” Laura couldn't help but cover her mouth to hide the giggle. Douglas smiled at her reaction. “Most of what we were actually doing was unloading cinder blocks off of trucks. Like a bucket brigade, passing cinder blocks from man to man. I was right at the back side of the truck. After about a half an hour of unloading and sweating, I think it was about a hundred and five degrees out there, I was getting a little tired and sloppy. One of the blocks slipped and I tried to catch it instead of letting it drop.”
Laura saw what was coming and winced.
“Yup.” Douglas just shrugged his shoulders. “I got my hand under it just in time for the corner of the block to land squarely on my knuckle joint. Popped it clean through, tore most of the flesh too. Never screamed so much in my life. Field doctor asked me if I wanted to keep it. I said “Of course, can you save it?” He said he could and then went off to look for a can to save it in.” Laura laughed at this but Douglas just shrugged again.
Laura smiled in her same comforting way. “So where's the finger now?” Douglas grinned at her and looked at her soft face. For a moment his eyes were lost in hers, wondering exactly where he had lost it too and wondering if she, with all her powers of feeling and soul actually knew where it could be. Shaking her stare, he just laughed. “Who knows? Maybe the crazy nose hungry viking stole it?”
That was when he remembered the pouch. The weight of it on his wrist as he turned to run gave him pause. Suddenly the eerie sensation that this may not be reality struck, almost as if he was experiencing deja vues or that he had dreamed this before, but as of now, he had no time to deal with the problem of it all being a dream. As of now, an armed Nazi storm trooper was in full charge and if didn't act, he would be dead.
He reached into the bag hung around his wrist and what he found was an old style world war two hand grenade. His eyes widened knowing he had the upper hand. Pulling the pin, he only had five seconds before the thing detonated. Looking at the German soldier, the Nazi looked back and realized what he was doing. He turned on his heels and began to run but it was too late. The grenade was already hurling through the air at him and actually bounce off of his back knocking him forward.
Richard simply grabbed hold of his helmet, covering his ears at the same time, and ducked down to shield himself from the... Clang Clang Clang!
He sat up from his cot in confusion. It must have been a nightmare, but it was so real. He felt ill. He didn't know what to do. But even so, what was that noise? “Bells?” he asked himself outloud. He listened a little harder. Not only bells, but it sounded more like a war. Not with guns and grenades, but with swords and fire.
Shaking off the sleep and the fear from whatever the dream he had had meant, he was quick to put on his jacket and a pair of shoes. Then he was out of the tent to see exactly what all this chaos was.
Douglas was the first to arrive. What he had heard woke him out of a dead sleep and because his was the closest tent to Vineta proper and more specifically, the Temple where everything seemed to be originating, he was there well before anyone else. He could not believe his ears. It sounded like an attack was being laid, complete with screams, the sound of buildings on fire, the clatter of swords and the tolls of a cloister. The enigma was that there was nothing there.
Douglas was sure it was a full scale attack. From where, he hadn’t surmised yet but in his sprint from his tent to the site of the temple he had assumed the worst, pirates or rivals of the Tell Corporation and his first thoughts as he ran were that he had wished the Wyvren had still been in dock to lay down some suppressing fire.... but as his eyes scanned the town, there was nothing there.
Arriving at the site, he looked around in a panic, everywhere, anywhere, but it was as it had always been. The only difference was that the screams and the alarm bell went on. This was insanity. He stopped at attention, alert and ready for anything and at each scream or clash of sword on shield he would spin to see the culprit only to be greeted by empty darkness.
After a few seconds of this madness, he knew that it was himself that was to blame and vowed to go see Mother, Laura and have his ears as well as his entire psyche overhauled immediately, but as soon as he turned toward her tent, the sounds of battle still in his ears, he saw Laura, dressed in a sweatshirt and night robe jogging out to meet him followed by a handful of others who also looked like they had been woken suddenly.
Before Douglas could say anything, Laura was covering her ears and asking “What are those bells and all that…”
Trailing off, Laura glanced around quickly at the church. “Oh Lord.” She said covering her mouth in shock. By this time, she was beside him. “Who are they?” she asked Douglas. Douglas turned to look in the same direction she was but saw nothing, but the noise went on.
“Who are who?” asked Douglas searching the darkness for any trace of what Laura was apparently seeing.
“The…” she began pointing at the Church but instantly recognized that Douglas could not see them. Turning to face him, she grabbed him by the shoulders and looked him squarely in the eyes. “Why are you out here?”
Douglas was shocked. “The noise, the bells! Can’t you hear them?”
Still holding his shoulders, she glanced over her shoulder at the church. Returning her fierce stare to him, “Yes, but don’t you see them?”
He stammered, “No.” still confused about what she was talking about.
There were six others who had arrived to where they were standing and it could be seen from their faces that they to were trying to make sense of what was happening. It was then that Laura noticed something that Douglas could not see. She quickly turned toward the church and stepping in front of him, spread her arms as if to defend him from some imaginary attack. Then, without thinking, she dug the toe of her, still untied running shoe into the earth and started to make a ring around the group of eight that had gathered. As soon as she finished the circle, she stepped back again to guard Douglas and as many of the others as she could span with her arms. Not sure what was happening, Douglas heard the grunting and heavy breathing along with a clink of sword and armor of some kind. He had no idea if it was a ghost, a demon or something within his own head, but in all truth, he was scared.
Keeping her eyes focused on whatever it was that was looming just outside the circle, she said calmly and quietly to the other seven people inside the ring, “They can’t touch us here. Just don’t step outside.” It was then that one of the others, an engineer which Douglas had been working with, Tom Grapht pointed back in the direction from which they had come.
“There are more on the way!” Everyone spun around in fear expecting more demons, but quickly realized that he was referring to the other workers from their camp. If any of the other seventy odd people from the camp were not racing out toward the construction site to find out what the ado was, they would be soon.
Laura was the only person who did not turn to look. Instead, she kept both arms spread and seemed to be locked into a staring contest with something the rest of the people could not see. Without daring to take her eyes away from whatever it was, she quietly whispered to Douglas, “Tell them to stay back. There is danger here.”
Douglas was not the only one to hear this and the group within the circle began cupping their hands over their mouths to form makeshift megaphones and relaying the warning to the others who were rapidly approaching. Conveying Laura’s warning to the quickly moving horde of bodies, if anyone did not hear, they certainly followed the lead of those who were closest and heard clearly. The entire mob stopped near instantly. The message spread like wildfire to stay away from the site and a pool of bodies formed a hundred yards behind the circle where Laura, Douglas and the six others were.
What this shouting did to the invisible adversary or adversaries just outside of their protective circle could not be clearly understood, but the results visible from Laura’s reactions were not calming. In fact, a screaming in a very old tongue, possible Polish, possibly Nordic, Douglas could not tell, seemed to be directed at Laura and although she tried to hold her own, Douglas could tell that he was under some sort of attack, if not physical then surely mental or spiritual.
The noise of the barking warrior, as well as the alarm bells, was still clearly audible to Douglas and the sound of battle was ever present. No one knew fully what was happening except possibly Laura, and at present, Douglas could tell that she was beginning to grow scared.
At the same time, he was realizing why she had gotten the name “Mother”, for she was protecting the others around her from the unknown threat as if they were young chicks and there was a ravenous fox just feet away.
Again she spoke, still not taking her eyes from the darkness. “Douglas?” she asked calmly, in spite of the screaming apparently aimed directly at her.
“What can I do?” The nerves were clearly audible in his voice.
“I’m going to try something and I need your help.”
Douglas was actually at a loss and at this point had nothing to go on expect for his faith and trust in Laura. “All right, anything.” he said nervous but confident.
“I need your left hand.”
Without thinking, Douglas raised his hand, albeit slowly, next to Laura who was still locked into a face off with the ethereal. Realizing she was not willing to move her eyes even an inch, Douglas actually placed his hand into hers which was tense and still stretched out in front of him. He felt her fingers slowly wrap around his wrist and begin to tighten, and tighten some more. Douglas was shocked by the strength which Laura had in her arm. Her grip was actually painful, but through the pain, he made no sound. He was more in shock that when she had made contact, he started to see the shadow of what looked like a six foot warrior only inches from her face and matching perfectly the screaming barks which he had been hearing all along. The image was growing sharper as Laura pulled his wrist up to level with her face and extended it out toward the, now visible and frightening silhouette of this ancient specter. As she pushed his wrist forward, a fear at touching the thing grabbed Douglas and even though his first impulse was to pull back, Laura’s steel grip would not allow it.
What was she doing? Was it the presence of a man or was it the fact that he was without a finger? He did not know, but the most surprising part of this entire endeavor was when the ancient ghost, this ancient warrior caught sight of his hand and shook his head in shock. Douglas recognized this at the same time Laura did, even if the others in the circle were still oblivious. The shadow reached out it's own shadow limb to make contact with Douglas’ present tense hand and Douglas again became very nervous.
Of course Laura could sense this and had done all the mental calculations. Just as the figure reached out for the hand, she began to pull back within the ring. When the figure reached out, his hand was stopped short by.... Laura's magic. Although his expressions were invisible to Douglas, his body language gave away the fact that he was just as confused by the situation as they were.
Again a long series of screams and howls, but this time, the warrior from the past was the one that seemed at a loss. He threw himself at those enclosed in the ring but was somehow bounced back.
Either stupid or adamant, he raised his club. Laura was quick to calm Douglas. “We have him. He sees the shell and he doubts.” Douglas just hoped that Laura was as confident as she sounded because he was scared to death. The warrior dropped the club with all his strength. Douglas winced and two of the others who had seemed to notice the ghostly image covered their faces. Laura simply stood he ground as if made from a block of Vineta's own marble. With a loud crack, the club was wrenched from his hand by... absolutely nothing.
This is when the look of fear came over him. Not knowing what to do or what he was facing, he began to back up in much the same way a primate does from fire. The only thing that made him dare to near the circle again was to return to pick up his war club, but once it was in his hand, he was quick to slink away again into the clamor and darkness of the night.
Laura stood there for another full minute breathing deeply and never taking her eyes of the spot where the specter had appeared. Everyone within the circle was in shock of what had happened and if they had not been fully aware of the actual events, they certainly understood the terror of everyone around them.
Douglas was the first to speak up. “Uh, Laura? I can't feel my hand.”
The emergency meeting was held in the “safe tent” and everyone was present. All of the cots were full with two or three people seated to face Laura, who was standing at the front of the tent and doing her best to calm the people down. Most of the plywood floor as well as any room near the doorways were filled as well. “I don't know exactly what it was,” said Laura, trying to answer a volley of questions all at once, “but I will do my best to explain.”
The tent was not completely quiet for the simple reason of what had just happened. Laura had her hands full, to say the least, in just trying to deal with seventy five people who had just experienced what could only be described as “something that couldn't have happened” but everyone present had either seen, heard or felt the “couldn't have happened” happen and everyone wanted answers.
“What we are doing here, the entire Vineta Project is a real sore spot when it comes to ghosts.” Around the room, she and Douglas, who was in the front of the audience and there for her if she needed him, heard comments reiterating what Laura had just said. “Sore spot?!” “It's more than that. It's a ghost town.” “You call crazed vikings a sore spot?”
Laura could do nothing but agree with these comments. “Ghosts have no sense of time! They are lost on the other side of the curtain and they are looking for anything that is familiar to them. What we have just rebuilt is their home. It's possible that they believe this is where they belong.”
This time, the people in the tent did not have the snide comments at hand but instead were trying to take in Laura's words. Was it possible that they were the ones at fault?
There were still a few who had not lost their voices.
“Then let them have it. I didn't sign up to build a battlefield and I surely don't plan of hanging around in the middle of a war that I have no idea why it started.” This was the one thing that made Laura nervous, but it was also something she had been well trained in dealing with. A mob was an easy thing to control, as long as they knew you were the one in control, but she also did not plan on letting anyone present know this.
“I agree. You should leave.” She said this matter of factly, to the surprise of everyone present, Douglas included. “As well as anyone else who wants to. Tonight. In fact, right now. Within the hour. I can have a bus here to take whoever would like to go to Krakow to the train station. I can also have train tickets waiting when you arrive. I believe that thousand year ghosts causing an insane rampage fall within my jurisdiction and within my expense account.” and this is where she would have to roll the dice and hoped it came up boxcars. “So anyone who wants to hightail it can.”
With this, she simply turned from the crowd and asked Douglas to join her for a second. Before leaving, she made a comment to the chief medic to get her the numbers on how many were killed or injured in last night's chaos. After this, she and Douglas slipped out of the side of the tent.
“What was that all about? That wasn't like you.” Douglas was speaking in a whisper for the sake of not being overheard by anyone in the tent that they had just left.
“Do you want my honest opinion?”
“Yeah, and I think they do to.”
“They can stew for a second. I have given them the three things they need. A person to blame, for the time being, me, a way out, free of cost to them and completely on my hands and third, time to realize who is offering it to them. With luck, by the time we get back in there, they may be willing to listen to suggestions other than trying to start another riot tonight.”
Douglas took time to think about this with his eyes squinted at her. It took him a second. “No. That's good.” Another pause. “That's real good. So, what is your honest opinion?”
“I was scared.” And with this, she threw her arms around him and hugged him. Not knowing exactly what to do, he did what came naturally. He hugged her back. They stood there for a second, both nervous, Douglas realizing for the first time exactly how much of an ordeal it had been for, not only Laura, but for himself as well. He thought he heard her weeping.
In was more than a minute before either of them loosened their grip and when they did Laura was quick to wipe her eyes.
“It's all right. I was scared too. You were amazing.”
Sticking out her chin, she straightened her back and took a deep breath. “Now I couldn't let an entire camp of scared historians and engineers see that, could I?”
“Don't worry.” said Douglas. “You did fine.” This time Douglas reached out and Laura did not resist.
Once again, Laura regained her wits. “Douglas, you told me you didn't see the ghost outside the circle we were in. Now that doesn't mean that anyone else didn't but what it also means is that I was the one with the clearest view of all.”
“Yeah, but I heard it and he was screaming at you like... like the fellow in there said, like a crazed viking.”
“Douglas, I've seen PDS before. I've also seen battles between street gangs over turf, drugs, you name it. Remember where I came from.” Douglas thought back to when he had first met “Mother” Laura Meade in downtown Detroit.
“All I am saying is that when I looked into his eyes, whoever he was, I saw that he was afraid.” Douglas was taken back.
“Yes, the viking. He didn't know what was going on any more than we did and I think if he had had any choice in the matter, he would not have been here with us. None of them would have. It wasn't intentional. Something called them back from the past to be here with us and I don't think that they had any knowledge, or for that matter any desire, to be here.”
Douglas was taking all this in and starting to realize what Laura was talking about. “So they weren't attacking us?”
“More specifically, they weren't attacking our Vineta, no. The odds are more likely that we were crossing over into their's. Now I'm not saying they weren't attacking because that certainly was a war party but I will tell you this, we weren't supposed to be there.”
“I think the fact that we weren't supposed to be there is the most understated thing you have said all night.”
Laura went on. “For now, I think we should get back inside before they have too much time to think about it. The real question is, what caused seventy five people to fall backwards a thousand years through time?”
As Laura stepped back into the tent, all Douglas could think about was the three, the toe of Aurvandill, the hole in the window and the Staff of Thor. “I think I might know.” He whispered. She didn't hear him.
When they had stepped back into the tent to deal with the crowd, Douglas realized that he hadn't talked to Richard since this had begun. He looked over the crowd for Richard's face. He had seen him before they had stepped out but as of now, he was no longer in the “safe tent”.
Hmm. Before Laura could begin, Douglas turned to her. “I have to go find Richard. I'll be back.” She smiled at him a little nervous. “All right. I think I can handle this for now.” With a comforting smile of thank you and take care, Douglas walked back out of the tent.
Richard looked nervous. “Douglas, this is getting weird. I think I need to call someone.”
Now Douglas' ears were on alert for anything out of the ordinary. He had learned from his first experience with the ghosts of Vineta that his eyes were not as open to the other world as Laura's or some of the other members of the reconstruction project were but his ears were apparently more acute to it's terror.
He had hardly had time for Bill to walk down the hallway and out the main door before his paranoia started playing games with him, or was it the ghosts up to their tricks. Shaking his head, he realized that this was no time to let his senses get away from him. Closing the door and walking back to his bed, he sat down on it's edge and sleepiness near overtook him again.
No, he thought to himself. It couldn't be like this. Laura had given an order and it was his duty to follow. All right. What exactly had Bill said? He had as much time as he needed to gather his essentials and get out, as long as he told Christian that he was next in line. Fine then, that was exactly what he would do.
Standing up once again, he walked around the room thinking what were the most essential things he would need for the night. The list he came up with included his cigarettes, his toothbrush and nothing else, and actually he hadn't found the need for a toothbrush that great as long as he had a piece of string and a doorknob. He stopped. He must have been more tired than he realized. He had never been an early riser and he knew now that he was still in the grip of the sandman. What would Laura take if he were him?
He looked around for any family photos or reminders of those closest to him and realized that Laura was the closest person to him, minus Richard and Winton. He was wondering about this when he realized what he really needed was a cup of coffee to wake up. Okay.
First things first, let's get out of these pajamas. Douglas went over to the dresser and began to gather the clothes that he would need for his return trip to the camp when, once again, the paranoia crept up on him. What was it that Laura had been worried about? As he took his pocketed khaki shorts and his blue teeshirt out of the antique wooden dresser, he was quick to remove his pj's and put on his normal day's outfit but the thought of the ghosts of Vineta would not leave him.
He would need his notes, so after he had dressed, leaving his clothes folded on the bed, he went to his desk which was positioned under the window, he grabbed any papers which he thought would be pertinent to the project and rolled them up in his hands and, grabbed his black shoulder bag and stuffed them inside.
Still groggy, Douglas made his way down the main flight of stairs which eventually led to the great hall, black bag over his shoulder and running his hand along the tapestry covered walls thinking primarily about where he could get his hands on a cup of coffee. After a minute or so, he reached the base of the staircase and was surprised to hear voices. Perking his ears, he walked down the last few steps and began to cross the beautiful antechamber to one of the far oaken door. He couldn't make out any of the actual conversation but the voices he heard were not those of any of the members of the Vineta project. They seemed too savage, too unruly, almost as if.... Oh, no, he thought to himself. Piecing two and two together, he realized this is why the people were being woken up. Douglas knew that he would have to pass through that doorway to exit the castle, which is what Bill had instructed him to do but he wasn't expecting this. Stopping, Douglas took out his tobacco pouch and quickly rolled himself a cigarette.
Lighting it, he drew a deep lungful and exhaled slowly. “It's too early for this.” he whispered to himself. Deciding that it would probably be best to find out exactly what was happening, he quietly walked across the stone floor and up to the closed door which separated his from the sounds of the.... Douglas didn't exactly know but he had his hunches.
From what he could make out, it sounded like whoever was on the other side of the door were making some sort of war plans. Picking out a few details, he recognized the names Canute and Swyen Forkbeard from the hard words the men were throwing back and forth at each other, Douglas realized that there was some sort of schism between the people who were talking, a disagreement of some sorts. Yes, the battle was coming and all should either leave now or prepare for war. No, there was no reason for worry. They had been left alone this long and with Canute as King of England as well as governor of Vineta, he would not allow attack against his native people.
Standing with his ear against the door, he was doing his best to make out the specifics when he was struck in the side of the head by that very same door. He didn't say anything due to the quickness with which it had happened but when he regained his wits as well as his balance, he looked up to see a face peering through the crack in the door. It was Laura.
Before he could say even her name, she raised her finger to her lips and Douglas knew better than to say anything. He simply gave her a hard look and rubbed his temple. Realizing that he was not damaged at all, she gave an expression which crossed a laugh and her apology. Douglas couldn't do anything but smile tiredly. Gesturing for him to follow, she opened the door wide enough for him to step through. He followed.
Laura held the candle and although Douglas assumed that it would only help the ghosts notice them, it seemed to have the opposite effect. With his eyes glued to the meeting table where the ghosts of the ancient vikings were shouting, pounding fists and trying to be heard over each other, Douglas kept his hand on Laura's elbow and the two of them inched along the far wall to the egress. Both Laura and Douglas were careful not to make a sound. The other individuals in the room were certainly not making the same attempt.
It seemed ages until they passed through the far door and into the cool night air, but once on the far side, Douglas took another drag from his cigarette and breathed a sigh of relief. “I'm glad we're out of there.”
“I have to go back.”
Douglas at first was surprised but after a second's thought, “You've escorted everyone so far, haven't you?”
“I'm the one with the candle.” She smiled confidently.
Douglas gave her a confused look. “Yeah, I was worried about that. I thought it might have attracted their attention.” Laura's smile turned into a look that said more than enough.
“They are from a thousand years ago. I can't be sure why sometimes they can see us but I do have an understanding of what makes our presence a little more non-obtrusive to them. You didn't want to be seen, did you?” Laura asked honestly and playing enough for Douglas to realize how good at what she was doing, she was.
“Of course not.” Douglas answered quickly.
“I didn't either. That's the first step. I'll explain more later. For now I have to go back for the others. You did give them the instructions?”
“I did. As clearly as Bill gave then to me.” Laura grinned in the low flicker of the candle.
“That's all I wanted to know.” Blowing out the candle, Laura cracked the door.
“Hey, don't you need that?” Laura smiled mischievously and disappeared back into the door.
It had been six days since Douglas had been back to the tents due to the fact that a twelve foot long, posh feather bed as apposed to a too short, too hard military issue cot effected his mood in the mornings. He couldn't put his finger on exactly why, but it did for some odd reason or another. Either way, the ghosts of Vineta had cut his posh stay all to short.
Before he returned to his tent, he was going to talk to Richard about the night's events and try to straighten then out. Richard would have nearly as good a handle on the subject as Laura did, and even if he didn't, he would at least be good company until the sun rose.
When he reached Richard's tent, the front flap was open. He stuck his head in with a smile. “Couldn't sleep either?” He asked, but when he realized that there was no one inside, and even more so, that none of Richard's possessions were inside, he began to get nervous. “Oh no.”
“Richard, we have had some interesting findings as of late.”
Richard was already suspicious concerning why he had been called directly to the Tell Corporation headquarters for a meeting with the heads of the Vineta project and now that he was here, things weren't going any better. Not specifically because of the people involved or the place he was in but because of the gut feeling he was having. Nothing other than instinct was telling him that things were not going his way.
He remained silent, waiting for Jon Reinhold to go on. “Now, if I'm not mistaken, most of your work concerning the Vineta project has been with acquisitions. Is this correct?” Still saying nothing, Richard simply nodded. “Very good. Now according to records, you have been working with us, on and off, for four months most of which has been spent between projects, back in the states with your wife.” Another nod. “Can you tell us, Mister Crenlish, what these projects with the Tell Corporation have been?”
Richard cleared his throat. “Um, of course. The first was the marble floor and the journey on the Wyvren and second was the acquisition of the stained glass window for the temple of Vineta.”
The five members of the council looked at each other in agreement. “This is what our records show as well. Now,” There was a pause while Jon exchanged folders. Once the second folder was open in front of him, he began again. “What would you say your mental state has been throughout your work with the Vineta project?”
This caught Richard off guard. Was that what this was all about? “I would say that it was on par, minus a few bad dreams, but from information from not only Douglas Howe but Laura Meade as well, I believe she also goes by the name “Mother”,” Again there were nods around the table. “it has been the same with everyone involved in the project.”
Richard was not expecting any of this and now, something besides instinct was beginning to grow. It had been the same as the first time he had met these men from the Tell Corporation in their cobalt blue suits. It was fear. Although it was not as severe, it was definitely present and it had just reappeared. “Mister Crenlish, how do you know Mister Simon Garner?”
Richard adjusted himself in his chair. “Um, he's an associate. I talk to him once in a while. Why?”
At this point, Jon Reinhold nodded to Vincent Harlino.
“He has a doctorate in psychology, doesn't he?”
Once again, the members of the council looked at each other with subtle nods.
“Mister Crenlish,” at this time, Vincent handed an eight by eleven photograph from a folder he had in front of him to Henri Relinki, who was already rising. Walking around the table, Henri set the photograph on the table in front of Richard. “Do you recognize this?” asked Vincent. The photograph was of a small leather pouch which Garner had given to Richard to help him combat his nightmares. “I do.”
“And Mister Garner gave this to you?” asked Vincent.
At this point, Richard knew the jig was up even though he did not know why or how. He knew something was wrong and that he was at the receiving end of it. He had the option of fight or flight and he chose fight.
“You've already talked to Simon, so why don't you just let me know why I'm here and quit beating around the bush.” No one spoke. Instead all five sets of eyes just focused on Richard a little more intently. The pause went on and for the first time, Richard heard the clock ticking away the seconds.
After nearly thirty seconds had passed, Vincent again spoke up. “Alright. Yes Richard, we have talked to Mister Garner and it would seem that he has assisted you in some psychological troubles you have been having.” Richard was still not settled and the angst was now becoming visible.
“He's my shrink. That's what he's supposed to do, right?” Again a pause.
“Richard,” Vincent said finally, “it seems like the methods used by Mister Garner, although effective, conflict with what we involved in the Vineta project would consider healthy.”
“What do you mean? He helped me stop the nightmares. I'm sleeping better than I ever have. How can that conflict with your plans?”
“Richard,” this time, it was William Devonshire who spoke up. “Yes, he helped you. The problem that arises is that you are not the only person involved with the project. Not only on a physical plane but in a psychological one as well, Vineta is a sensitive project. You should know this better than most. You have been in a closer proximity with Laura more than ninety percent of the others on the site as well as globally. Our only wish was that you would have taken your troubles to her first.”
“Oh, now I see.” said Richard sitting back smugly. “You don't want your peas touching your potatoes. If anyone else does a better job than your precious “Mother” then you shut them down.” Now Richard had them on the run and kept his smile. The five members of the committee didn't flinch.
“Do you remember when the ghosts first began to appear?”
“What do you mean, the nightmares that have been waking up the people on site? No.”
Mister Devonshire rolled his chair a little closer to the table and, himself, exchanged folders. He spoke before opening the new one. “It was the exact same night as your fiasco with the leather pouch.” Richard just laughed at the accusations.
“And you are saying that there is a connection? That's nonsense. If you could give me reasons, I might say that your argument holds water, but as of now, you have no right to...” It was then that Mr. Harlino cut him off.
“According to Misses Meade,” Vincent's voice was now much louder than before and came out like the strike of hammer on anvil, “you and Mister Garner are directly responsible.” Richard did not say anything. Not because of his lack of confidence, but because of his fear. Apparently this fear was like a dog which the men in blue kept on a leash and they had just let out the chain more than Richard felt comfortable with. Richard's only option was to remain silent. Vincent simply nodded. “In most cases, the magic you used, and I am not afraid to refer to it as magic because Misses Meade has said that this is the way most people can best understand the ethereal issues which are at foot, would have worked instantly. Now I am not being bigoted, but I am using information I have been provided by the top ranking Psi expert in the world. Due to your dealings with Mister Garner, the power you used to defeat your nightmares acted more like pebble dropped down a well as apposed to a slap on the surface of a pond. The records we retrieved from Mister Garner's notes clued us in that your nightmares involved aspects of the second world war. Now I cannot vouch for Mister Garner or if he would have reacted differently if he knew the specifics of our project, but what he gave you was a time bomb, and from the descriptions of your nightmares, literally. I am not referring to a bomb which is waiting to go off. I am referring to a bomb which works through time, at least it did while you were on the Vineta site. The entire town which we have rebuilt was the temporal corridor which your bomb traveled back through.”
“Why do you think, Mister Crenlish, that your dreams were in reference to the second world war as apposed to the eleventh century, as everyone else's were?” Richard was lost by this. This was not what he was expecting at all. Time bomb and temporal pathways? He had no idea. “I don't know. I literally have no idea.”
“If you would like the truth Richard, you are using the same table for problem solving which we as a corporation are. Vineta of the eleventh century is a place in time which we have deemed as worthy of rebuilding because of, not only it's religious, but it's geopolitical location as well.” Vincent waited for any comment by Richard but could tell that none were coming. He went on. “Vineta, or the modern areas located in the Oder delta near the islands of Rugen, Usedom and Arkona was a hot seat during the last years of World War two. Nazi research on the V-1 and V-2 rocket bombs as well as the starts of the Nazi's nuclear project. If we do come across any negative temporal anomalies, this is where we channel them, it is the positive which we focus into Vineta of the eleventh century. Somehow, your psyche was not able to cross over this era of fear. Just as the Nazis did not survive through this short period in history, thanks be to God. We do not know why, Mister Crenlish, but for you to be an effective part of our project, your dream self needs to be much more long lived. Your dreams seem to be as short lived as the Nazi's reign of terror during world war two was. If you had talked to Misses Meade, she would have suggested a different solution to the problem.”
“Richard, I, along with the other members of Vineta project believe that it is time to end our professional relations. I do not believe you will be having any financial difficulties in the foreseeable future so we wish you the best and our only hope is that the Vineta project will not leave a bitter aftertaste.”
Richard Crenlish did not know how to act. Was he being fired? In his entire career he had never been fired from anything. He was speechless.
“So, what is this?” he asked in more of a stammer. Vincent looked over to William, who simply raised his eyebrow and returned his attention to Richard. “Sir, since you were never an actual employee of the Tell Corporation, this is not a termination and please do not consider it one. You must simply consider it an end to your association with us. Thank you for your work and I wish it had gone more smoothly. I'm sorry and goodbye.”
The past three weeks had been stressful for not only Douglas, but for everyone involved in the Vineta project. It did not seem like the ghosts appearances were in random pockets anymore but more like their two crossings, so far, happened at key points pertaining to the events which led to the destruction of the city.
Where had Richard gone? Why now, when things were all coming untied? He knew that the Tell Corporation was to blame. What he didn't know were their motives. What were they hiding up their sleeves?
Just to regain his sanity for a short time, Douglas had taken a walk to the shore for the sake of getting some fresh air and enjoying the moonlight. Cigarette lit, he slowly strolled along the sandy beach listening to the calming rhythm of the waves and, once in a while looking up as the moon showed it's face between the quickly moving clouds.
For some of the time, he would think if it would be better to have someone to talk about the events of the past few weeks with. Of course he would like to talk over the best solution for the problems which were haunting everyone's dreams and, anymore, their waking hours, but, all he could do was simply try to not think about it. Just let his mind try to calm itself and unwind, like tonight.
He had gotten a cup of coffee from the canteen before he started for the beach. Actually, it had just been closing and he had to ask Mitch if he was willing to make a fresh pot for him. The late night cook had had no problems with this and now he was taking his last few sips of cold coffee and thanking Mitch for his generosity and extra work. It was that cup of coffee that did it.
As he tipped his paper cup up to take the final pull of coffee, his eye caught something. Something he was not expecting and he knew should not be there. From out in the harbor, just about where the wall surrounding the harbor ended and the open sea started, there was a light. It was only there for a blink, but Douglas was certain it was there. It was that clear.
Lowering his cup and stopping his forward movement, he kept his eye trained on the spot where he first saw the light. It was a handful of seconds before he saw it, but it flashed again. It wasn't so much a blinking but more of a firelight flickering in the wind. Again, he began walking but never let his eyes waver from that spot. Again... and again it appeared. Sometimes it was clear, others it was more of a reflection of the water or the tower. That had to be where it was coming from.
Taking another drag from his cigarette, Douglas thought about who would be out in the far harbor towers at this time of night. He didn't come up with an answer. Making a quick mental calculation as to how long it would take to reach the tower from where he was, he figured it would be at least worth checking out. If it was anything unorthodox, he would go notify someone in authority and if it was something worthwhile, he might just join the festivities.
Of course he was nervous. Within the ten minute walk his mind had begun to play tricks on him, and remembering the events of the past two weeks, for good reason. He moved slowly along the stone walkway which circled the harbor looking at the waves on one side and the other, but his eyes always returned to the light which was near the harbor's mouth. Rolling another cigarette, he lit it and kept on moving.
When he got within a hundred yards of the tower, he could tell that it wasn't a party. He heard nothing and that nothing was even more eerie than the light which he could still see bouncing off the water. He perked up his ears a little more, having learned to trust them over the past few nights but still all was quiet.
“All right,” he thought to himself, taking a long drag off of his cigarette, “if this is something strange, I can't turn back now. I am going to get to the bottom of this, come devil or the deep blue sea.”
He walked up to the ancient wooden door and put his ear against it. From inside, he heard the shuffling of... something and the sound of a torch burning into the night. So there is someone in there. All right, he said. Grabbing the handle, he pulled the door open just wide enough to slip inside, and that's what he did.
Douglas did not know what to do.
He stood in awe of the light, which seemed to be the head of a torch, burning brightly, but not connected to anything. It just hung there about a foot over the table and cast it's otherworldly light through the window and out across the open waters of the Baltic sea. The ghost torch which flickered above the antique wooden table made him freeze in his tracks, but what truly scared him was the disembodied sounds of someone which were echoing in the room around him. His first impulse was to go and get someone who would know how to deal with this kind of thing. The first name that popped into his head was Laura's. Slowly, he began to back peddle toward the door but before he could reach it, something which surprised him even more happened.
Beginning with the sound of wood sliding across the stone floor, much like a chair being pulled away from a table, the breathing which was not connected to a body let out a huff of exhaustion and then, into the aura of the ethereal torchlight, a face appeared.
Douglas' eyes widened and he could think of nothing else to do but to light another cigarette. The face which he was seeing was one of an old man with a gray muff of stubble and long shaggy hair which hung over his eyes. The face did not appear to be angry or vile in any way. It simply seemed to be nervous, on edge, as if waiting for something. Not able to shake his eyes from the face which had appeared from the darkness, Douglas fumbled in his pocket for his tobacco pouch and his rolling papers.
As he did this, the face began to grow clearer. Before, it was just a dim outline at the edge of the light being emitted by the torch, but now, it was a full head and torso which appeared to have taken a seat and put his elbows upon the table, with his arms crossed in front of him. With another heavy breath, the specter reached inside his coat and retrieved a small carved pipe and a leather pouch of something that was not tobacco. Douglas could clearly see the figure as he packed the pipe, but as he sat back in his seat, he faded again, but not totally. What was clear was the hand which reached into a tall ceramic cup and, drawing out a long piece of straw, lit the end a brought it close to his face to light his pipe.
For this entire time, Douglas had been blindly rolling a cigarette, which he had no trouble doing due to his years of experience, but due to his awe and his shaking hands, when he reached into his pocket to pull out his lighter, his fingers slipped and the lighter clattered to the stone floor. The sound of metal on stone echoed around the room and rattled his nerves. Before he could bend over to pick it up, he froze in his place because of what could not possibly be happening. The ghost, which had been reclining in his seat at the table sat up as quick as a shot and looked directly at him. It had heard him and now it was staring at him.
“Who is it?” Asked the figure whose face was now completely illuminated by the torchlight. Douglas was steel. Can he see me? He thought to himself.
“Who's there?!” the specter asked again, this time sounding much more stern. Standing up from his seat the figure pushed back his chair with his calves and walked around the table to where he had apparently seen Douglas. To Douglas' shock, once the figure was outside the scope of the light, he vanished completely, but the sound he was making did not. Douglas could still hear him.
The sound of footsteps crossed the floor to where Douglas was standing but there was nothing making the sound. Douglas expected something like a nudge from this invisible intruder or at least an icy breeze which would send chills through his spine but there was nothing. It was only the sound of leather soled shoes as they padded across the floor and the heavy breathing of someone who smoked too much of whatever had been in the pipe. The sound of the steps made their way over to the door and he heard the sound of a door, the door behind him, swinging open. Douglas, although petrified, made the conscious effort to look over his shoulder, but nothing was happening. The door was still closed.
After a second, he heard the sound of the door swinging shut quietly and the footsteps returned to the table. Douglas calmed a little, but just a little.
“I really need to take it easy on this stuff. This is getting eerie.” Although the fellow was speaking in a foreign and ancient language, Douglas had studied enough with Laura and Winton to make out most of what was being said and what he heard, he couldn't believe. He almost laughed when he realized that it might not be this ghost who was doing the haunting but he who was haunting the ghost.
With the sound of the chair sliding across the floor, once again the face appeared in the flame. Douglas stood in awe of all of this for a time. Finally, he mustered up the courage to say something.
“Who are you?” Again the ghost sat upright and looked in his direction. Douglas saw him use his finger to clean out his ear and shake his head.
“I need to talk to the monk who I got this plant from.”
Douglas didn't understand exactly what was happening but decided that it was time to make his move. Bending down, he picked up his lighter and then walked over to the table.
At the sound of the chair being pulled out, the specter looked across the table at him and nearly fell over backwards. “By Odin's eye!” he said in shock, staring at Douglas. “Who are you?” Douglas looked directly into his eyes and couldn't help but smile.
“I would like to ask you the same thing.”
The fellow across the table from his simple put his face into his hands, rubbing his eyes and began to mutter some sort of prayer. As he did this, Douglas got a clear view of his hands in the light. The ancient specter was missing a finger. More specifically, the ring finger from his left hand. Shocked, Douglas began to understand. Again he spoke up. “I don't know who you are or what you are doing but I need you to look at this.” Douglas held up his left hand into the light of the torch. The ghost across the table, which at present seemed more scared of Douglas than Douglas was of him, spread out his fingers so that he could peek through and caught sight of what Douglas was showing him. Douglas watched the expression of fear on the specter's face melt away into an expression of both confusion and understanding all at once. Looking at his own hand, he held it up to Douglas' across the table from him. Douglas' hand was extended far enough across the table so that the ghost would have been able to touch him, if there had not been a millennium separating the two of them. The old man made an attempt to press his palm against Douglas' but, although visible to each other, their hands passed through each other's like light passes through water. That is, with the exception of where either of the two men's ring fingers had once been.
To Douglas, all of those legends about having ghost feelings in a lost digit came suddenly into reality as he felt the finger that was not there press firmly against the specter's missing digit. Although he did not know how or even if the other fellow had felt this but, once again shocked and afraid, he pulled his hand back. From the ghost's reaction though, Douglas assumed that he had felt the same thing.
Odd as it may sound, this connection seemed to give the two fellows some sort of understanding for each other. It seemed that the fellow's fears, although still present, had abated enough for him to talk to the vision of Douglas which was certainly from somewhere outside of anything he had ever experienced before. “Who are you?”
Douglas grinned. “As far as I can tell, I'm from a thousand years in your future.” The ghosts eyes widened.
“By Thor, did the Jomsburg soothsayer send you?” Douglas didn't catch this.
“I'm afraid I don't know a Jomsburg. I just want you to know, you, whoever you are, that you are a ghost to me.” The fellows face now made a quick series of changes. First, a look of deep though, secondly into a question mark better than that of any actor and then into a wide, gap toothed grin, and lastly into a outright laugh. Douglas couldn't help but mirror the fellows emotion and began to laugh as well. After a few seconds, they both breathed deeply and began to calm down but couldn't help but smile at each other.
“I knew this was a gift from Valhalla.” He said looking at his own hand. “The instant I lost it; I was sharpening my sword, there was a clap of thunder that would have rattled your teeth. Thor was sending me a message. So you are from Asgard?” The fellow asked, now wrapped by Douglas. Douglas thought about this for a second and wondered about the penalty for impersonating a god.
“You could say that. I'm from the future. That's all I know.” The specter gave him a cocked smile and looked at the pipe which had, for the past few minutes, been lying on the table. Again picking it up, he looked at Douglas and gave an expression which conveyed that whatever it was in the pipe he was smoking had been worth the cost he had paid. Drawing a long lungful, Douglas laughed quietly to himself. Then remembering the cigarette which he had set down on the table when he had sat down, picked it up and with steadier hands this time, lit it.
The face across the table looked like it was going to ask what the small cylinder Douglas was smoking was but instead decide to take another pull from his own pipe. After a long exhale, Douglas grinned and asked, “Can I ask what the year is?”
With a smile, “It's two hundred and fifty nine years since Harold Bluetooth was exiled hear from across the sea by his renegade son.” Douglas did a quick mental calculation. He had studied the history of Vineta when he had first found out about the project from the Tell Corporation. “Harold was exiled in nine hundred A.D. That means it's eleven fifty nine.” Douglas now realized when he was, or at least what exactly was causing these ghosts to again rise. This was the year which the entire city of Vineta was destroyed at the hands of the Danish fleet. The fellow from across the table gave him a questioning look. “Eleven fifty nine what?” Douglas didn't understand the question. “Anno Domini. The year of our lord.” Again the fellows face was a blank. “Who is your lord?”
“Jesus. The Christ.” The fellows face fell. “The Christ? You aren't from Jomsburg. Who are you, sent from Valdemar den Store? A clever ploy to make allies with the Christians?” The fellow was trying to justify his thoughts but Douglas could tell that he was ill at ease with this news.
Now Douglas was at a loss. “I don't understand. Who is this Jomsburg?” A look of shock took over the fellow's countenance. “Jomsburg is the refuge of what true warriors are left from the great army of Harold and Stybion. It is they that this torch is for. They will come from across the sea and deliver us from these sieges by the Christians. They have been a pox on us, trying to cover every sign of the native gods with their cross.”
Douglas didn't know what to say. He had never heard of this Jomsburg, Harold or Stybrion and didn't realize the difficulties these native vikings were facing at the hands of the Christian crusaders. Apparently they were just as strong in the north as they were in the crusades to Jerusalem.
“I don't know. They very well may come. From my knowledge, this is the very year that this entire town is sunk under the sea.”
With this, the ghost seemed elated and wasn't hiding it. He showed an expression stemming half from smug scoff and half from nervous anxiousness “That's why I am here. I am here tonight to signal the watchmen to lay a siege on this city that may very well destroy all that we have built just to prove to Valdemar, the false king of the Danes, that there are still forces which appose him.”
“And I am here,” said Douglas with a understanding nod, “to let you know that the battle which takes place between your Viking Warriors and the Danish fleet does such a fine job that it is a thousand years before anyone can put all of the pieces back together again.”
The old fellow looked at him curiously. “A thousand years, eh?”