Global Corporation tries to rebuild an ancient viking city with haunting consequences
|This month, the monthly meeting between the folks from Vineta proper and the execs from the Tell Corporation was brought forward by two and a half weeks and the reason was obvious to all. Actually, where most of the meetings were only populated with a few of the higher ranking people from the town, because of the general rule that the meetings were open for all with Vineta clearance, every seat was full as well as the standing room around the edges.
“The problem is that there is always an X factor in these matters. The rule that I have always followed when dealing with time is, if we find any trouble that is too great to deal with at present, and I pray continually that we all make our best attempt to deal with anything we encounter when and where we are, we move it into the future where either we might have the knowledge or technology to deal with it, or it may belong. We can invest efforts to find a solution in the hope that when it does cross our path again, he will be prepared. In psi, the future is where we put hell and when we arrive there, we hope that we have enough water to extinguish the flames.”
It seemed like the emissaries from the Tell Corporation were having trouble dealing with these temporal matter, either that or they were just playing devil's advocate. The only one who seemed to take it all in with a smile was William Devonshire. “So you think that we should push these ghosts farther into the future?”
Laura shook her head. Although William was speaking for the group, she was still going to make her best attempt to make sure that all of the members of the Tell Corporation understood just what she was implying. Of course she could understand their troubles and feel their confusion, but this didn’t alter the fact that for the past week, thousand year old ghosts had been slipping through the time stream and the Tell Corporation were either to blame or they had the resources to find out who was.
“No.” she said sternly. “What I am saying is that we are being very egotistical. The world cannot always be looked at from one’s own point of view, time doubly so. What you have to realize is that from the perspective of those living out the final days of Vineta, we are the ghosts of the future and for some unknown reason, we are beginning to appear in their present. How can we push them further into the future when we are the future.” At this, the people seated around the table began to understand her point of view and expressions of shock, fear and shame were trying to be either conveyed or covered up.
Douglas wanted to slink out of his chair and under the table. He hadn't said anything about his meeting with the specter in the torchlight and although it had seemed to help him and the ghost from the past, now, with all of this talk about temporal, his only thought was that he had told the ghost that his, and for that matter every free man in Vineta of the past's, savior, which they had been waiting for from across the sea was not coming, or at least that the entire city would be destroyed by the Christians by this time tomorrow, a thousand years ago tomorrow.
Laura went on and although everyone could see that she was feeling the tempest of emotion storming around her, he held herself immaculately. “Imagine, if you will, that out of nowhere, visions of people from the year three thousand, which you could not only see and hear, but because I am hear, grab hold of as well, began to just appear for no reason, and to add insult to injury it was in the middle of the worst weather conditions in a hundred years and the enemies of your God were doing a pretty fine job of wiping you out as well. You would think that not only was it the end of everything you know, but the end of the world as well. All we are doing, and pardon the French, is scaring the hell out of these people.”
The five men in their cobalt blue suits began to show their nerves for the first time since either Douglas or Richard had come into contact with them. The only one who held his ground was Henri Relinki. He simply kept his eyes, which seemed to take on an almost black hue, locked on Laura who returned his gaze with just as much steel as he was willing to invest. He only spoke one word and although he spoke it quietly, the silence in the room allowed it to be heard by all.
Without unlocking her gaze, Laura paused. If either to gather her wits or simply for dramatic effect, no one could tell.
“No, Hank. However much you might want to believe you are from a thousand years ago and you share the believes of the people from Vineta, you do not. Everyone in this room was raised with basically the same belief structure and not one person here has ever worshiped Thor or Odin. The word you are looking for is Armageddon.”
The weight of the steel which Laura had invested in this last point was enough to tip every scale in Europe. Henri could not keep his gaze. He broke the lock with a shake of his head and the wince on his face was visible to all, especially the other four members of the Tell Corporation.
“I think now you are beginning to see things as the really are.”
Douglas didn't know what to do but if there was a time to talk, he knew it was now. “Umm, can I say something?” Douglas said, raising his hand like a child in elementary school amid what seemed like a lighting storm.
“Please,” said Jon Reinhold, thankful for the distraction, “if you think it will help.” Laura turned to face him and her eyes were nine millimeter pistols, loaded and aimed. Douglas was scared to say anything but he could see that she was releasing the power which she was holding as a steam locomotive releases it's pressure by blowing her silently screeching whistle. Although she was calm as Douglas had ever seen her, everyone within the room was on edge with an unnatural fear and she with her knowledge of Psi was the only one who could explain the reason, but no one was willing to ask her to.
“All right,” said Douglas, avoiding her eyes simply so he could speak. “now you all know about the two main attacks...” Douglas quickly checked himself, “crossings which have happened over the past week but I didn't tell you about two nights ago.”
If anyone one had not been paying attention to him before this, which was no one, every eye and ear was now wrapped. “I was walking on the beach, just to get some fresh air and I saw this light. It was in the tower, you know, out over the harbor.”
“So the window told the exact date that the door would open.” Said Douglas.
He, Laura and Winton all sat at their table in the canteen sipping coffee and tea respectively and eating a breakfast of bagels, muffins and fresh fruit. Laura finished chewing and wiped the corner of her mouth with her napkin. “I wouldn't use the term door, Douglas. From my experience, that's not how ghosts work.”
“But that's not the point, Laura, the point is that Richard was not the one responsible for the appearances at all. The door or portal or whatever you want to call it was going to open come hell or high water. I was the one who let them in with the Staff of Thor and even worse, I may have been the one to let them know that we would be here, now, with their city rebuilt. Richard is now on the other side of the Atlantic ocean when he should be here.” Laura looked at him accusingly.
“And why should he be here, Douglas? I mean, for the simplest reasons, why should the Tell Corporation justify having him of the payroll?” Douglas almost spit out the sip of coffee he had just taken. Awe struck by Laura's works, he looked over at Winton who was just rubbing his eyes as if to imply that he didn't want to be a part of the argument that was about to ensue.
“All right,” he said, knowing that Laura had seen Winton's reaction to her question, “I won't speak for Winton, but put it this way. Because he is my best friend and without him, it's like I'm missing an arm. I work better, I feel better and I can solve problems better with him. As of now, he isn't even allowed anywhere near the Vineta site, and I doubt if he would be allowed in Germany at all if the Tell Corporation had their way. That's why!”
“And it only gets deeper. I opened this door to hell and I feel like it's my job to close it again, but Richard was the one who always did the finishing work. I would give him the facts and, usually open the biggest can of worms I could find. He would be the one who put them on the hook and then we, together, would eat some damn good fish fries. As of now, I have a worm the size of New Jersey and no place to cast! These people are scared Laura, and, anymore, I think the men in blue are getting a little nervous themselves. It's Richard who can solve this, not me.”
Laura squinted her eyes at him, making the implication that his emotions might just be getting in the way of his logic. Douglas looked back at her with a stare that expressed that's exactly what he was doing, and no questions asked. Breaking the staring contest, Laura picked up her cup of tea and glanced over at Winton. His expression was simply one of honesty, a honesty expressing that Douglas and Richard had been friends for some thirty years and, yes, he could understand every word that Douglas was saying.
“So, it's that easy. He's your friend?”
“He's the closest thing to a brother that I ever had, Laura. We compliment each other.”
Laura took a deep breath, feeling the weight of Douglas' words, but before she even had time to exhale, Douglas was already making his point again. “And he is NOT the reason that the ghost's came back. We know this now and I am damn sure that the men in blue suits know it as well. The question is, why did they get rid of him? Was he getting in the way of their plans or was he getting a little too close to a secret that they were trying to keep? Something is real fishy here and I am wondering what, pray Tell, no pun intended, it was.”
The silence was now tense at the table, but it was only a minute before Winton spoke up. “You know, when you were telling your story about the tower ghost there?” It took Douglas a second to realize that Winton was doing what he did best, untying this knot. “Yes?” Winton just nodded.
“It was odd. I mean you haven't had a ring finger for, what, twenty five years now. It must have been weird actually touching something with what you don't have anymore.”
Douglas laughed at this detour away from the conversation they were all trying to get away from. “It was. I mean, if he wasn't a kind fellow, it would have probably been horrid, but because he was who he was, the feeling was, well, like a good memory. You know, remembering having a finger in the first place.” Both men light heartedly talked about this for a second, but the gears that made Laura's mind do what it did were beginning to tumble and it wasn't long before they had made a full cycle.
“I have an idea. Now these ghosts....”
Winton shook his head, hoping that his side track would have gotten them clear of this melee of emotion. “What can we do to stop thousand year old ghosts?”
“You just answered that, Winton. We can touch them.”
The three of them were now in Douglas' tent, preparing for the work ahead of them. “This time, Douglas, you can't be seen.” Douglas pulled the hood up on his black sweatshirt. Winton couldn't help but grin as he handed him the tin of black grease paint. “Shine, Mister?”
Douglas just took the tin and the rag. “All over my face?”
Laura didn't say anything about the paint, but instead went on with her instructions. “Now, if this works, and there are still a thousand things that could go wrong, I don't know how it will effect... time.”
Douglas began to smear the grease. “Richard would have.”
“Well Richards not here. I am, and I'm all you've got!” This was the first time either of the men had heard Laura raise her voice and looked at each other questioningly. Apparently this was weighing rather heavy on her nerves. It may have also been that motherly instinct, once again, shining through. “Now this priest won't be an amputee, so touching him might not work, but there should be some sort of contact. You just have to believe it.” Douglas just nodded as if he were back in the military.
“And give me that tin. Your supposed to be invisible, not a clown.”
Winton, Laura and Douglas stood in front of the Temple of Vineta in a small circle. Douglas had is cigarette and his cup of coffee, and was analyzing the black lip marks on the white foam. The other two just stood there going over the details once again.
“I'll try to put you in the place and time you need to be to fix this, but it isn't like just dialing a phone.”
Douglas just smiled at her and Winton. With the grease paint in the darkness, his teeth and his eyes were the only things which could be seen. “I believe in you.”
Laura smiled back. “Thanks.”
Winton couldn't help but speak up. “Now, I don't know about you two, but I'm not a viking. If this whole thing is about believing it will work, let's say we say a prayer and get some help from whoever is willing to offer it.”
Laura kept her smile and Douglas nodded to Winton realizing just how good an idea that would be. After a few short words of hope, thanks and a request for protection and success, they all shared an amen.
“All right,” said Laura, “It's time we took this entire temple for a little ride.”
Douglas stood at the rear of the platform, behind the wooden altar and waited. In all honesty, he probably shouldn't have been smoking in the temple, but he wasn't going to let something as small as rules let his tapping foot give him away. He kept his hand cupped over the red glow of the cherry so as to be completely invisible... and waited.
Ten minutes, fifteen... three cigarettes. He was about to light his fourth when it happened. There, across the temple from his, the door opened, or at least that's what it sounded like. In through the doorway, which didn't honestly open, came a figure carrying in one hand, a hanging candle and in the other, the staff of Thor.
This is it, thought Douglas to himself, consciously keeping his foot in check. The old figure shuffled up to the platform where Douglas was hidden, but he couldn't take his eyes off the Staff of Thor.
Douglas stayed frozen, like a shadow among shadows. It took some time but the figure methodically lit one candle and then another until there were seven lit around the circumference of the raise platform. Douglas recognized the huffing and puffing. He quickly glanced at the old fellow's hand to realize just who it was.
“Now let's see.” The old fellow said to himself. He pointed to the window and then ran his foot across the floor to find the correct hole for dropping the staff into. “Now that fellow said a thousand years. Time, time, time. Which would be the right hole?”
Douglas knew that the time was now, if ever. Slowly, quietly, he stepped up behind the fellow. Douglas bent down and, batting the bottom of the Staff with his left hand, it missed the hole which the old fellow was intent on sinking it in.
“Yes. That should do.” He said to no one in particular, thankfully for Douglas. It was then that it all fell into place. “What star is that?”
Douglas had done his job and backed up quickly but quietly to the rear of the platform. “No, no. That shouldn't be there.” The old priest looked again, this time with his left eye and saw another, different star through the window. Not Rigel, or the toe of Aurvandill, but the dog star, Sirius.
Among the candles, the priest backed up and shuffled around the stage in confusion. “No, no. It can't be that simple, but yes, if that is what the fellow said, I will definitely have to make note of this.” Then, as Douglas tried to slip out of the temple unnoticed, the temple priest erupted in laughter. Douglas froze. “I have to wonder now if Thor ever had a dog. Ha, ha, ha.” This was the laugh of a viking and a hunter and somewhere deep in Doulgas' heart, he knew that things would be alright.
It was a private meeting this time.
“Why did you let Richard go?”
“Because, as you said, it was his treatment of the situation that caused the presence of the ghosts.”
“But you know that that is a lie.” Laura Meade was one of the only people who could face the executives of the Tell Corporation on somewhat level ground. “You had not given me all the information. I was using all the information available to me to answer the questions which you had asked. Is it possible that Richard could worsen of the rift in time? Could it be possible that he is using outside psychiatric help? You knew the answers you were looking for. You were keeping information hidden and now it is costing the entire project.”
“What exactly are you referring to?”
“What I am referring to is that the reappearance of the ghosts was predicted a thousand years ago and you knew all about it. I am also under the supposition that the entire Vineta project was solely for the purpose of bringing that prediction to fruition.”
The executives of the Tell Corporation had known that their secret would return to haunt them eventually and now that time had come. Yes, what Laura Meade was implying was the truth and the five men in their cobalt blue suits were having a little bit of trouble hiding the fact that, although they were the only ones who had been aware of the information, that they were, in fact, aware of the information at all. This time it was not William Devonshire who did the speaking but Vincent Harlino.
“Miss Meade, you must remember that, although you are the foremost Psi specialist in the world, it is also true that the Vineta project does not require your presence.” The sound of the whip that he was making an attempt to crack was almost audible. Laura simply caught the end of it halting Mister Harlino in his tracks.
“It damn well does. You find a thousand year old legend that will open a doorway to hell and you think you will make some twisted Euro Disney out of it? But your plan backfired didn't it? The nightmares, the stupid assumption that an honest and good culture of people that is about to get wiped off the face of the earth in the name of religion will be a “fun little show” for you and maybe you can make a few bucks in the process?” “You know you need me. When you realized that this might just be a little over your respective heads, not just anyone with a degree in metapsychology could fix the problem. You, Vincent,” Hearing his own name made him twitch, “must remember two things. First, it isn't the schooling that makes me who I am. It's the streets of Detroit where you found me. It's the gang wars and drug trafficking that I have to deal with on a day to day basis. I see people who are so far disconnected from the real world that vikings from a thousand years ago seem like my sister. I've seen things that you,” and then she turned her attention to the other four men seated at the table who were trying to maintain their countenances, “I see things that you people in your lofty offices and your parliament meetings don't believe are real. Don't believe that the world could be foul enough to spew into existence, but it does and they do.”
“People with bleeding chest wounds who can't feel the pain because of the crystal meth. People who will kill a seventy year old woman, just to get back in the state pen because they are better at swapping cigarettes than they are at watching their CD's mature. I am the one who has to bring them back into our world. I am the one who has to teach them that rape and killing for street credentials are not worth while. I'm the one who, when they come off the dope and realize that, yes, they did kill their mothers, that is all right and the drugs just aren't worth it.”
“If you think that there are first year college grads who will come and solve your little specter snafu, well call them, because you and I know why you asked for me by name. But what you didn't realize is that I would have the help of the most intelligent problem solvers I have ever met, one, namely Richard Crenlish, whom you got rid of because he was getting a little too close to your precious secret. But now it's too late. I know your secret and,” she glanced at the clock on the wall, “it is my belief that the rest of the Vineta project knows it as well. I probably shouldn't mention this but, by now, you can look up the danger that the Tell Corporation had put the world in on the Web. If you know what you are doing, it isn't tough to put a few key search words in a title and have it around the globe in an hour.”
The five men all looked at each other nervously. Their first though, and Laura could read them as plainly as the headlines on the front of any Detroit Newspaper, were to start an Internet scan and close down any bad publicity as quickly as they could, but as of now, they were locked into this inquisition and could only sit nervously like guilty school boys, listen to the clock tick away the seconds and feel the spiderweb of their own guilt spread out across the globe.
When the train pulled into Krakow station, Winton and Laura were excited at the return of Richard Crenlish, but Douglas was on pins and needles. Glancing into the windows as the train slowly rolled to a stop, they eagerly tried to spy his face. What they didn't realize was that Richard was just as anxious as they were to see his old friends and was already waiting on the train's stairs. When he did step off, all three were already there for him with huge smiles and hugs.
Smiling his warm, familiar grin, he extended his hand to Douglas for a shake. Instead, Douglas simply grabbed him and pulled him close. “It's good to have you back.”
Richard grinned. “Well, I can see you've missed me.”
“It's worse than that,” said Douglas not able to take off the smile, “I've had to figure and refigure this place out with only Winton for help, no offense intended.” He turned to Winton with a smile.
“None taken.” Turning to Laura, “You don't realize how difficult it is to deal with those high ups without someone who understands their attitude.” All four laughed. In turn, Richard shook Winton's hand and then turned to Laura.
“As beautiful as ever I see.” He said leaning in and kissing her on the cheek. “And it is certainly good to have a man of manners back among us. So how is the west side of the Atlantic doing these days?” “I have a few stories to tell you, and I'm sure that you have a few of your own, but I am excited to see Vineta again after the castle has been finished. Maybe we can tell them as we get a little further down the road.”
“We were wondering why you couldn't come back sooner.”
“Well, that's the reason.” Said Richard to all their surprise. “For the past month, since Laura's meeting with the executives, they have actually had me working on the refit of the Statesmorrow Church floor, and let me tell you, it's beautiful. Although it's not a thousand year old marble, it is four hundred year old French hardwood and I'll be honest, I think it gives the place a much warmer feel. The design, the artistry.” The rest of them were amazed by Richard's tale and for good reason. “And I don't know how they found something that fit to those exact dimensions, but they did.”
Winton shook his head comically. “You don't know how the Tell Corporation found something.... anything?” Again a warm laugher filled the car.
“And...” Richard said leaning in close as if to share a secret. The other three followed his lead and leaned in a little bit closer. “I have heard rumors that the Tell Corporation is getting in touch with a few of the other members of the Board of Trustees concerning an offer to sell them back the University. Now I can't be sure about price but, just through the grape vine, I've heard it's about two thirds of what they bought it for. Now how's that for an apology?”
“It's good to have you back, Richard.” said Laura with a grin. “And I heard that I must thank you and whatever hacker you found to spread a few bits of rumor and hearsay across the Internet to shake up those men in blue.” Winton, not so quietly, coughed and raised his hand a little.
“Well, I should have guessed.”
“And Douglas,” he said finally turning his attention to his oldest friend, “You must tell me how you figured out how to get rid of those pesky Vikings.” Douglas gave a quite laugh that showed that the question and, at that point any question from Richard, was appreciated. “Well, let me tell you.” And he did.
“Do you mind it I sit in?” Douglas asked.
Douglas put on a smug grin. “You give me the time and try to keep up.” Walking over to the percussionist who had been mostly occupying himself with chimes and a wood block of some sorts, Douglas asked if he could use the tambore. The fellow just gestured that, if he knew how to use it, he was welcome.
Not only were Winton and Laura impressed by Douglas' boldness, but Richard, who was on his second scotch and had done his fair share of urging Douglas to go up there, smiling and was wrapped by this new change in the line up. Douglas said something in band rhetoric to the musicians which was as foreign to the audience as the ancient tongue of the vikings, but the musicians all seemed to understand. Then, with a nod to the other percussionist he began a slow rhythmic beating with the long wooden stick.
The beat was almost hypnotizing in the ancient hall of the castle and the members of the party grew quiet until all that could be heard was the slow dum, dum, dum and the crackling of the fire. Joined by the sound of a iron tolling and small silver chime, the sound of water flowing over the stones of the Oder river was brought into the minds of those listening.
The Vikings had always considered music magical and with Winton's comedy, Laura's presence, which was always magical and the triumphant return of Richard, Douglas understood exactly why. Nothing could have made this night better.
As the pan pipes and the recorder began to play a haunting melody over the slow, soft pulse, the people who were with their special ones pulling each other a little closer and those who were not, thought about their own with a little sadness. Douglas had foreseen this and knew that this would be the effect of the ancient instruments in this mystic place. So, just as he had warned the other musicians in his jazz jargon, he stopped. Everyone was caught off guard and jarred out of their respective trances in wonder. That is with the exception of those in the band who were keeping time with him. Then with a sudden one, two, one, two, three, four, he erupted into a beat which was just a hair faster than that of “The Flight of the Bumblebee”. The entire band broke into a reel which actually caused the audience to laugh, gasp and begin to dance simultaneously and instantly. Douglas himself had to laugh as well when he was met by the smiles of not only the other musicians but Laura, Winton and Richard.
“You didn't know Douglas was a drummer?” asked Richard with his hand on his old friend's shoulder. Laura simply gave a look as if she was impressed.
“I knew that Douglas was always nervous enough to tap his foot.”
“That was just so he didn't get rusty.” said Winton with a laugh. In fact, all three men all laughed at this. Laura laughed as well but it was more in surprise.
“Is that why you tap your foot? You know, I always assumed it was a nervous tick.”
“And I'm guessing that if I look through your notebooks, I could find your hypothesis on how to cure it.” Again a laugh, but they could tell from Laura's reddening cheeks that Douglas had struck the nail on the head which made them laugh all the more.
“Well, I would like to thank you for the concern,” Douglas said making a half hearted attempt to sound chivalrous, “but, no, it's not a side effect of the angel dust I did in the dark nineties,” Douglas cocked his eye at the others in the group just to make sure that they weren't taking him too seriously, “or a side effect of any series of ghost attacks which I might or might not have seen rising out of the time fog over the past six months. It was simply my inherent internal rhythm coming out and as I have always said, if the beat is there, let it out. It can only help.”
Laura smiled at him, along with the other two who had countless stories about the arguments he had had with Statesmorrow's marching band leaders in the past (but that's another story).
“You know,” said Laura with a coy smile, “I think that is good advice. If you know how to keep time better than the Swiss, then do it. Who knows?” Laura looked as if she was going to go on but Douglas interrupted before she had the chance, “Now I know that you are the leading psi specialist, but as you have recently learned, I have my own tricks and I do them in my own time.” Laura smiled at his play on words. “I have been wanting to do this for the longest time and I figure I better before you figure me out completely.” Saying this, he leaned in close and kissed her.
After a few short seconds, which may have been very long, Douglas sat back with a grin that showed hope and a boyish confidence backed by all the weight of his age. Laura took a breath and covered her breast with her hand in a Victorian style, but her smile showed that the kiss was not uninvited.
Winton and Richard were taken off guard by this but, to be honest, not entirely shocked. Grinning, Winton said, “Uh, I believe I saw Henri over by the fireplace and there were a few things I wanted to ask him.” Both Douglas and Laura could tell by his grin that he was playing devil's advocate. Richard only got as far as taking a deep breath as if he was about to say something when Douglas interrupted. “And I believe that Henri might have an apology for you, so now would be a good time to go and talk to him. Go on. Shoo, shoo.”
The grin on Richard's face said volumes but he simply made a comical bow which reminded Douglas of James Packard. Turning quickly, Richard was off after Winton like an obedient dog.
Now, left alone, Laura smiled at Douglas like a young girl. “That was a wonderful surprise.” Douglas could say nothing. Still confident, he just grinned coyly. “Now, I don't want to sound overconfident, but I was wondering when it was coming.” Douglas fained shock but then put himself in check. Quickly returning from his childish confidence, he was once again the same Douglas he had always been but now with something more.
“I don't know?” said Douglas, thinking for just a second about his desire for not only a cup of coffee and a cigarette, but then again, thinking about the kiss. “Maybe you were just hoping it was coming at all.”
With this, Laura was truly surprised. “Well, I was going to kiss you again but now, I'm not sure I can get around your ego.” Douglas and Laura both laughed at this but Douglas realized that he had done nothing wrong. Leaning in close again, Laura closed her eyes. Quietly, Douglas said “Remember? I kissed you the first time. I'll worry about getting around my ego.” With her eyes closed, Laura smiled and Douglas leaned in the rest of the way and their lips met again.