Aphelion Issue 235, Volume 22
December 2018
 
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Nightwatch:  Cardenio

 

by Kate Thornton

 

Nightwatch created by Jeff Williams

Developed by Jeff Williams and Robert Moriyama

 

 

 

Author's note:  Cardenio - one of William Shakespeare's "lost" plays – supposedly based on a fragment ('Cardenio's Twice-Told Tale') from the 1612 translation of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's 1605 work, "Don Quijote de la Mancha." Attributed in legend to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher (who collaborated on "Henry VIII" and "Two Noble Kinsmen"), it is said to have come into the possession of Luis Theobald who allegedly produced the play (in 1728) as "Double Falsehood."  A book recounting this, "An Agreeable Cheat" was written in 1984 by Breen S. Hammond.  In 1993 a noted antiquarian and handwriting expert named Charles Hamilton claimed to have found and authenticated the lost manuscript and published "Cardenio, or the Second Maiden's Tragedy" by William Shakespeare, John Fletcher and Charles Hamilton.  Scholars dispute nearly everything concerned with Cardenio, so the question of which play is the real Cardenio and whether or not William Shakespeare had anything to do with it is still the stuff of dreams.

 

 

I.  An Agreeable Cheat

 

It was pleasant in Georgetown in the early fall.  The leaves were just beginning to turn from green to light yellow, and the evenings had turned cool, with just a hint of the nip that would herald the reds and oranges of real autumn.  

 

Tom Weldon looked like a priest hurrying through the cobbled streets of the old part of town, past antique stores and little restaurants. His black suit and black tee shirt gave him the look of a well-fed vicar until you saw the Wild Turkey belt buckle, not a part of any known ecclesiastical outfit, not even Episcopal, not even in Georgetown.  Tom was solidly built, with a weightlifter's stocky grace, and was a psychologist, not a priest, although the parallels between the two professions occurred to him every time he passed Christ Church. 

 

He looked at his watch and turned to hail a cab.  He would be late for his dinner with Simon if he didn't get a move on.  The Cannon Moon Cafe was too far on foot and he had spent more time than he wished at the University Library. His practice in Arlington, Arlington Counseling Group, was now moderately successful and this success allowed him the time and finance to pursue more arcane endeavors.  This one involved investigating the origins of auditory delusions and had been suggested to him by a patient who insisted on making sense of the background noise in elevators.

 

His other arcane endeavors all involved Dr. Simon Litchfield.

 

Simon Litchfield was nowhere to be seen in the Cannon Moon.  Tom was disappointed until he remembered the little private room in the back.  He headed back toward the storage area and knocked hesitantly on an old wooden door.

 

"Come in, Tom," Simon's voice was almost a whisper.  "Close and latch the door behind you."  

 

Simon was seated at the single table, and the candlelight threw strange shadows on the rough-hewn walls.  The back room of the Cannon Moon was reserved for storage, spiders, gunpowder plots and Simon whenever he asked for it.   His khaki pants were still pressed and his tan safari jacket was open to reveal a glimpse of an old silk shirt, frayed a bit at the cuffs, but soft with time and care.  The glint of gold on his wrist was an expensive watch, but he didn't check it.  He seldom kept track of the exact time anymore. 

 

Another knock sounded. Simon unlatched the door for Gillian Eckelberry, the Cannon Moon's proprietress.

 

Gillian was a woman of a certain age, meaning that time could not dim the sparkle in her eyes, even if she needed a little help to keep the highlights in her hair.

 

"Here's your favorite wine," she said, holding out a bottle of Andreas Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  She deftly opened the bottle and poured half a glassful into the tall balloon on the table. Simon took his eyes off her long enough to savor the color, sniff at it and swirl it around a few times. Not the best idea with the Cannon's superb lobster bisque, but ideal with a steak.  It would be perfect in about twenty minutes, changing subtly throughout the meal.

 

Gillian, however, was perfect now – always had been, always would be.  Simon could smell her scent, an intoxicating mix of Norell cologne and lobster bisque.  She left the bottle and disappeared toward the kitchen.

 

Tom latched the door again.  Simon looked at his friend, Tom Weldon.  He had counted on Tom's help in the past, but this was different.  Simon's work at the Nightwatch Institute for Strategic and Economic Studies had taken him to some very unusual places, and in spite of his rather mundane-seeming profession of civil engineer, it hadn't been all dams, irrigation and power stations.  Well, officially maybe it had, but on a politically grand scale.

 

The Institute was privately funded, and provided the kinds of services the government could not. In addition to extensive global analyses and situation assessments, the Institute also provided hands-on recovery for war-torn areas, agricultural technology, and other engineering projects.  But there was another side to the Institute – a less public side.  The covert side of the Institute – the Lower Echelon - had sent Simon on more dirty, dangerous and fascinating assignments than he cared to remember.  Okay, some of them were best forgotten anyway, but all of them were important and used his unique skills.  It wasn't exaggerating to say he had saved the world once or twice, and not just by surveying dirt and building pipelines.

 

"Simon," Tom Weldon smiled. They had been through a lot together. "What's with the secret room?" 

 

"Tom," Simon smiled back but didn't answer.  "Have a seat and a glass of wine and tell me everything you know about Shakespeare."

 

"English poet, 1600's, plays and sonnets."

 

Simon laughed.  "Okay, now tell me what you know about Pico da Neblina."

 

"Brazilian mountain, Argentine and Colombian border, tallest in Brazil." 

 

"Very good."  Simon happened to know that Tom had once been on Jeopardy and had paid off a student loan with his winnings. "Anything else?"

 

"About Brazil?  Yeah, a few things.  I know Nightwatch has some interests there.  The rainforest is a hot topic all over, especially with the big pharmaceutical companies. Pico da Neblina National Park is in the northwestern corner of Amazonas, along the banks of the Negro River. It's a mature, undisturbed evergreen forest in one of the wettest parts of Amazonia.  NASA and LBA-Eco both have extensive field research projects in the area.  NASA you know, LBA is the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia, an international research initiative led by Brazil to understand the climatological, ecological, biogeochemical, and hydrological functioning of Amazonia, the impact of land use change on these functions, and the interactions between Amazonia and the Earth system, to use their own words. You know, how destroying the rainforest causes irreversible damage to the planet."

 

"Sounds like you know more about the rainforest than you do about Shakespeare," Simon said dryly, impressed with Tom's understanding of the Amazonas region.  Tom was right about Nightwatch's interests in the area, too.  Nightwatch had legitimate research projects in the area, some under contract to NASA. 

 

"Hey, I know a lot about Shakespeare, too," Tom protested. "But something tells me Brazil is more on your mind this evening. So what's the big deal at Pico da Neblina?  Got some wells to dig or pipeline to lay out there?"

 

"Not exactly," Simon replied as he sipped the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo appreciatively.  "Nightwatch was assisting at a village in the Pico da Neblina National Park.  Not really a village, more of an assembly of huts and sheds around a partially completed research tower. The LBA turned most of the data collection operation there over to Nightwatch some time ago.  The two fellows responsible for the major studies in that area were quite busy, so the Institute sent out a couple of data analysts and kept the local help.  Some of the Brazilian researchers from other field sites and the occasional NASA field worker dropped by up from time to time, but mostly it was just data collection and recording."

 

"So what happened?" Tom asked.

 

"The research station, village, whatever, disappeared three days ago."

 

"What do you mean, disappeared?"

 

"I mean it can't be found.  One of our data analysts, a woman, was at the site manager's station about a mile away when it happened. She said one minute it was there, visible from the window, and the next minute it was gone.  She called the site manager, a guy named Luis Camacho.  He was out at a different collection site at the time and drove straight back. 

 

"He picked her up in his vehicle and they drove to where they thought the tower should be.  Only no matter which road they took, they couldn't seem to get close to where it had been.  They drove around for about an hour, and finally returned to his station.  Camacho called Nightwatch for a satellite reading and the fun started when Nightwatch couldn't find it either. But it was nothing compared to the fireworks when NASA called --- even with their resources, they couldn't find it."

 

"What about the people – I assume there were people there? What happened to them?"

 

"We don't know," Simon admitted.  "There were two Nightwatch analysts, a Brazilian researcher and at least four or five indigenous people.  They disappeared along with the structures."

 

"Well stuff doesn't just disappear, Dr. Litchfield – it must go somewhere. I guess we're going to find out where?"  Tom leaned forward and grinned.

 

Simon smiled back.  "I was hoping you might join me.  I hope Stephanie can come along, too.  We're going to need her expertise.  And speaking of expertise, I want you there to interview the young lady who saw it all. Find out what makes her tick, and more important exactly what she saw."

 

For once, Dr. Simon Litchfield was going to take the initiative ask his boss for permission to mount a covert study. The prospect both amused and dismayed him.  Callow was an annoying twit, but Simon needed the Nightwatch's Lower Echelon's sanction for an operation like this.  And no one could know just why he was so interested yet – not even Tom.

 

 

II. Double Falsehood

 

Callow had that particularly irritating look on his face when Simon and Tom took their seats at the library's big table.  The Popular Culture section of the Institute's library was Callow's usual meeting place.  While little could destroy Tom's good humor, Simon felt his stomach grab at the sight of his boss. 

 

"How do you do, Mr. Weldon," Callow said, as he failed to extend his hand. "I have heard quite a bit about you."  He wrinkled his nose as if he had heard only unsavory bits of gossip about Tom. He knew very well how useful Tom had been on the last Institute assignment Simon had taken.  

 

"And you, Litchfield – I still don't see why you think this Brazil business has anything to do with you or Weldon, here."

 

"Oh, come now," Simon retorted. "You know you need someone to go look at this thing. Sooner or later you're going to call for me so you can have the pleasure of sending me to one more Godforsaken piece of undeveloped dirt somewhere." 

 

Simon looked cooler than he felt.  His khaki jacket sported a crisp military press and the creases in the matching pants were sharp enough to cut. His hat occupied the chair to his left while Tom occupied the chair to his right.  Callow stood, or rather paced back and forth like a frustrated cat, keeping his position of power.

 

"All right, Dr. Litchfield," Callow leaned with both hands on the table, his face too close to Simon's for comfort. "You'll get your wish."  Callow allowed himself a smirk, "but you'll have to take the assignment on the Echelon's terms, not yours."

 

Simon held still, waiting for the bad news.  The Echelon's – or rather, Callow's – terms wouldn't be easy. 

 

"You can't take your friend to the middle of the damned rain forest, Litchfield. But you can go.  And I want answers within a week."  Callow straightened and turned his back to Simon, but the drama of the moment was ruined by Callow's cell phone.

 

"Callow. Yes, sir," Callow said into it.  "Yes, yes I understand.  No, sir, not at all. Yes, yes, that can be arranged."  He was scowling when he hung up.  "Here," he said abruptly, pushing a small envelope toward Simon.  "Take anyone you need.  Leave tonight."

 

Simon accepted the envelope and Callow strode to the doorway.  He turned back for a moment.  "I still want answers within a week, Dr. Litchfield.  A week."

 

Tom sighed.  "If I never work for anyone like that for the rest of my life, I'll be delighted."  He smiled and his blue eyes lit up.  "At least he doesn't like me, there's a plus."

 

Simon laughed.  "He was a bit touchy today, more so than usual.  There must be something about this Brazil thing that bothers him personally."

 

"Well, it sounds like someone higher up the food chain just gave you the assignment for real."

 

"Yes, a good thing in the short term, but it may be a long term regret."  Tom said nothing, and Simon's expression told him little. All of their assignments had been regrettable in one way or another.                

 

 

III.  The Second Maiden's Tragedy

 

Stephanie Keel wasn't looking for trouble, not that she would duck it if it came sailing toward her.  She was looking for an embedded code in the Institute's public website.  Hackers had become such a problem lately that she had recommended closing it down, but the brass on high was right – without its legitimate public face, the Institute could never operate below the radar in covert actions.  So the public website had to be maintained and she was next on the rotating roster.  Overqualified, yes – but all the Institute computer whizzes shared the small duties, too.

 

She pulled her athletic frame out of the ergo chair and stretched.  Her usual outfit of khaki cargo pants and vest was brightened with an electric blue cashmere sweater underneath and a blue and white bandanna holding back her black hair. It almost qualified as formal wear for her.  The pants pockets were stuffed with miscellaneous gear: tape, wire, pliers, CDs, paper, electronic gadgets and other bits and pieces of collected stuff.  She was too young to have been a MacGyver fan, but she was an unconscious daughter of the character, ready in a pinch to construct anything of out virtually nothing but pocket fluff.

 

As an integral member of Simon Litchfield's informal team, Stephanie had seen action in nearly every part of the world, setting up communications, breaking into electronic locks, downloading the secrets of madmen – all in a day's work.

 

She worked hard and played a mean game of racquetball, but her social life was non-existent.  If you asked her why that was, she was likely to give a flippant answer about the men she knew being either married or intellectually challenged.

 

It wasn't true about the twice-married but currently divorced Dr. Litchfield, but that didn't matter because it was just a convenient excuse.  The truth was much more complicated.

 

Her cell phone rang.  "Hello?"

 

"Stephanie, pack for the Amazon, we're leaving tonight."  Simon Litchfield's voice had its usual slightly arrogant tone, but it was also harried.  "Nightbird," he said before she could ask.  "I'll brief you in the air."

 

She closed her phone. The Amazon – okay – cargo pants, khaki vest and a supply of tee shirts should do it. And a poncho.  Nightbird was the Institute's jet reserved for urgent use.  She wondered where it would land – the Amazon wasn't known for its high-tech airports. She hurried off to pack. 

 

Stephanie kept a small but brightly-lit apartment just blocks from the Nightwatch Institute. 

 

The living room looked more like the console room of a security company, with eight monitors in a rack, several processors and drives and a plethora of high tech gadgetry.  A neat workbench sported several expensive pieces of test equipment, a micro-soldering station, pegboard storage for dozens of small tools and a power strip labeled in different voltages.  A curved desk with three keyboards, several telephone jacks and a television set completed the equipment.  The only adornment on the walls was a pair of racquets hung next to the door, ready for the next game.

 

Across the small room were a battered loveseat, coffee table and floor to ceiling bookcases filled with books. A handsome telescope on a polished wooden tripod was aimed out the small window toward the night skyline.

 

The kitchen was just a cooktop, microwave and minifridge occupying the wall in the living room right next to the front door.  An alcove led to the bedroom, small, tidy and completely antiseptic, with less style and personalization than a mid-range hotel room. The old dresser was bare on top, with drawers of plain lingerie, thermal socks, and a couple of racquetball outfits.  The closet held a collection of cargo pants, tee shirts, sweaters and boots.  A lone and aging black cocktail dress hung like an outcast at one end, dusty matching pumps camouflaged by darkness in the corner.

 

The bathroom was just as utilitarian – no perfume, makeup or bath oil - just plain soap, shampoo and a comb.  It could have been a shared latrine in an Army BOQ.

 

 Anyone breaking in to Stephanie Keel's apartment would have guessed it was the lair of a post-adolescent geekboy with spare change.

 

Anyone breaking in while she was there would have been seriously injured, thoroughly interrogated and filled with extreme regret.

 

Stephanie was better at technology - computers and gadgets, as Simon said - than anyone else at Nightwatch.  Her natural intelligence, inquisitive mind and excellent training kept her in demand for all sorts of projects. She could take her pick, and it was no secret that she loved the high-stakes, dangerous jobs with Dr. Litchfield.

 

If anyone bothered to investigate her private life, they might have discovered that Stephanie Keel didn't have a private life, and hadn't had one for almost five years.  But they probably wouldn't have discovered why.

 

****

 

The drone of the Nightbird was reduced to a pleasant hum in the passenger cabin.  Simon, Tom and Stephanie sat at one of the cherry veneered work tables, belted into the plush swivel seats but otherwise as comfortable as in any office.  Stephanie had her high power laptop out and was pulling up information on LBA-Eco.

 

"So what's so important about this disappearing village that you begged Callow for a chance at it?" she asked as her fingers flew over the keyboard.

 

"I never beg," Simon replied with a sniff. "I merely requested."

 

"I was there," Tom reminded him.  "You begged."

 

Stephanie grinned.  "So, come on – what is it?"

 

"I have to start at the beginning," Simon said uneasily,  "and there are a few, uh, details, I may skip. But please hear me out." He looked down at the envelope in his hands.  There was the slightest tremble.

 

Stephanie stopped typing.  This wasn't the confident and sometimes even arrogant Dr. Litchfield she knew.  Tom looked at his friend with keen interest.

 

"A long time ago, in 1605, to be more precise, a Spanish writer who had lost the use of his left hand fighting in a war wrote a magnificent account of the futility of war.  This account had many stories woven through it, including one about a man who overthrows a king in order to woo the king's lady. The lady chooses death over the tyrant, and he ends up wooing her corpse.

 

"Later, so legend has it, another man wrote a play based on this rather gruesome tale.  Or maybe he didn't – there's some dispute.  Maybe someone else wrote the play, if the play was written at all. Or maybe it was a different story altogether, the story of a man who tries to prove his wife's lack of fidelity by having his best friend try to seduce her."

 

"Like Cosi Fan Tutti?" Tom inquired, then reddened.  He wasn't prone to blurting out his knowledge of opera.  Must be the altitude, he thought.

 

Simon nodded, still looking down at the envelope. "Yes, similar stories abound in art everywhere, including opera – mistaken identity, tragic circumstances, death to all in the end."

 

"What's this have to do with a missing village in Brazil?" Stephanie asked.

 

"The play was lost, with several other works by the same gentleman, but enough of his work survived to make him immortal in the literary sense.  So scholars have searched for centuries for the lost works.  Some of them were probably destroyed by the author as inferior," Simon continued, "some were probably used to wrap fish or light fires.  But at least one was probably hidden because of the information it contained."

 

Simon opened the envelope and pulled out a few pages from it.  The handwriting was small, birdlike scratchings written with a real fountain pen.  The paper was yellowed and cracked, the edges crumpled and torn.  "The lady in Cervantes' tale was called Celinde Gryphius – and in this envelope is a letter faxed to Nightwatch from Celinde Gryphius."

 

Stephanie sat very still, the color draining out of her face.

 

Tom leaned in closer. "No kidding? Well, it looks old, but not that old."

 

"Too right," Simon agreed.  "This Celinde Gryphius is the Nightwatch data analyst who survived the village disappearance. When I saw her name on the report, I knew I had to investigate this one. You see, Gryphius is not a common name.  In fact, I have only known one other Gryphius, and it was he who caused me to research the name in the first place.

 

"Stephanie, my dear," Simon said gently.  "I know it is your story to tell or not as you see fit.  If you don't wish to discuss it, I can give Tom a general outline and we can still pursue our mission.   If you wish to back out, it is a little late, and I credit you with more courage and determination than that, but Nightbird can take you back on the return trip if need be. I am determined to see this thing through for my own reasons."

 

Stephanie shook her head and Tom was shocked to see the glint of tears in her eyes. 

 

"No. It's time I got over it anyway, don't you think?" she asked.  "I mean, I know I'm not the only girl in the world to get taken by a smooth talker."  She blinked and put on a rueful smile.  "Besides, it's just us."  She hesitated.

 

"Look, Steph, …" Tom began but Stephanie cut him off with a scowl.

 

"No – I said I'd talk.  Look, I've spent five years getting over it, okay?"  She took a deep breath.  "Five years ago a man named William Gryphius wormed his way into my life and promised me the moon.  Well, I was young and stupid and believed him.  One thing led to another and …"

 

Tom braced himself for the sad but common tale.

 

"…he ended up keeping me a prisoner in an underground vault for nearly four months.  I had my first contact with the Nightwatch Institute when a team was sent in to destroy his vault and I got rescued along the way.  Simon was on the team, it was our first meeting, although I don't remember too much of it.  I spent the next two months in a hospital and several months after that in therapy.  When I recovered, Nightwatch offered me a job and here I am."

 

Simon looked away.  He knew the parts Stephanie had left out of her brief narrative.  He knew what the monster Gryphius had done to her, both to her body and to her mind.

 

"I'm sorry, Steph," Tom said gently.  He was horrified.  He hadn't expected anything so violent or destructive.  "What happened to him?"

 

"I killed him," Simon said simply.

 

Stephanie, who had never killed anyone, winced. She carried Simon's guilt as her own.

 

"But our mission here is with Celinde Gryphius," Simon reminded them. "Stephanie, there is no one more skilled in identity searches than you, but I hesitated to ask you to perform this one.  On the other hand, we really need to know if this Gryphius is, as I suspect, related to that one."

 

Stephanie fought an involuntary urge to vomit. She suspected there were other prisoners in the underground vaults, but after her recovery, she put the past firmly behind her and never once looked back into the darkness.  She threw herself into her work and never again felt truly comfortable with anyone but her teammates. And she had tried hard to forget the monster Gryphius.

 

"Okay, Simon," she said.  But it wasn't okay, not really.

 

Tom leaned over and put a meaty paw on her strong hand. "I'll help, Steph – in any way I can."

 

She smiled weakly and withdrew her hand. "What's in the letter?" she asked crisply.

 

Simon smoothed the sheets.  "There are two items in the envelope," he said.  He didn't mention the full printout on Celinde Gryphius that Nightwatch had provided. "This appears to be a fragment of a poem – copied, perhaps, or hastily jotted down from memory."

 

"Virtue and cunning were endowments greater

Than nobleness and riches: Careless heirs

May the two latter darken and expend;

But immortality attends the former,

Making a man a god. 'Tis known I ever

Have studied physic, through which secret art

By turning o'er authorities, I have,

Together with my practice, made familiar

To me and to my aid the blest infusions

That dwell in vegetatives, in metals, stones;

And I can speak of the disturbances

That nature works, and of her cures; which doth give me

A more content in course of true delight

Than to be thirsty after tottering honor,

Or tie my treasure up in silken bags,

To please the fool and death."

 

"Well, it sounds old," Stephanie said.  "But I don't know what it means. Should be easy to find, though."

 

Simon pulled another piece of paper out of the envelope. "This is Celinde Gryphius' initial statement in her own words."  He passed the statement to Tom.

 

Simon removed the final piece of paper from the envelope.  "We have one more problem out in Pico da Neblina," he said.  "In addition to the entire village vanishing, a Dr. Finley St. John was sighted in the vicinity a week before.  Apparently he is of interest to the Institute and we are to find him and bring him back."

 

"Who is he?" Tom asked. 

 

"I'm not sure," Simon admitted.  "I was rather hoping Stephanie would help us out on that one, too."

 

"You got it, Boss," she said, pulling her laptop toward her.  "Anything else?"  Some of the old spark came back into her face as she began typing on the keyboard, and the ghost of a smile played around her lips.

 

"No, Stephanie," Simon said, "that should do it for now.  By the way, we'll be landing in Sγo Gabriel da Cachoeira, in the Pico da Neblina National Park.  There's a good-sized airport there.  Our NASA contact and someone from the LBA will meet us.  I understand it's about 78 degrees Fahrenheit and raining."

 

 

IV.   By the Suggestive Light of a Candle

 

The smell of Amazonia hit them the moment they stepped out onto the tarmac, an aromatic mixture of vegetation, mildew, flowers, jet fuel and moisture.

 

The airport was a simple affair: a landing strip and runway big enough to accommodate a heavy jet, a large tin-roofed cinder block building with open windows and a control tower with blinking lights.  A Land Rover careened right up to them and a pale man in a Seattle sombrero waved.

 

"Hey!  Dr. Litchfield?  Hi!  I'm Kevin Brady, NASA."  A tall, thin young man jumped out of the vehicle and opened the tailgate.  "Here, you guys can store your stuff in the back."  It was pouring.

 

Tom and Stephanie climbed quickly into the backseat and out of the rain, which beat down heavily.  This was not a "soft" day, as Simon had heard a misty, drizzly day in London described once.  This was real rain, coming down in streams. He held his hat on with one hand as his cape whipped around him and hoisted himself up into the front passenger's seat.

 

Kevin started the engine and splashed through a large puddle.  "Carlos Vieira from LBA was supposed to come with me, but he got held up at one of the sites – he'll meet us up at Luis Camacho's place.  Get comfy, it's a long drive."  Camacho was a Nightwatch contract employee, site supervisor for the area.

 

There wasn't much to see out the rain-streaked windows, and they all knew they would get a chance to become acquainted with Amazonia soon enough. Tom Weldon tried to meditate to the sound of the rain and Stephanie had her eyes closed, recovering from the emotional trauma she had just put herself through.  It was good to have the comfort of solid Tom Weldon close by, although she didn't want any of his professional poking around in her psyche.

 

"Tell me about your work here, Mr. Brady," Simon prompted.

 

"It's Dr. Brady, but call me Kevin.  Everyone here's a Ph.D. of some sort, so we don't stand on ceremony.  In a nutshell, I monitor several sites in the Pico da Neblina area to make sure NASA's interests are represented and the money is being spent properly.  Carlos, the LBA guy, actually runs the research end of things, manages the research teams, monitors the data, does the transmissions and things."

 

"So where were you when the village, um, disappeared?" 

 

"Well, we can pinpoint the time pretty well through satellite photos – you know, one minute we saw it, the next minute we didn't – so I know exactly where I was.  I was up at Luis Camacho's place. It's the only place for miles where you can feel like you're actually in a real house instead of a research hut."  Simon knew from her statement that Celinde Gryphius had been in the same place at the same time.

 

"What was going on at the site?"

 

 "Just the usual – recording rainfall chemistry, measuring rates of smoke transfer from the understory to the upper troposphere, measuring carbon dioxide fluxes, looking at remote sensor readings, defining aerosol properties, all interesting stuff related to the importance of Amazonia to the planet's chemistry as a whole."

 

Simon Litchfield could see beyond the ecological importance of such information.  There were plenty of strategic applications as well.  "And LBA's role? " he asked.

 

"Well they own the place," he answered.  "Without Brazil's cooperation, the scientific community goes nowhere here.  But it's more than that.  Brazil is unique, the site of the world's oxygen replenisher, pharmaceutical storehouse, everything.  This research is Brazil's ticket into the major players in the world's economic and political markets.  And it really might end up saving the planet from global warming and ultimate annihilation."

 

"What about Pico da Neblina in particular – anything different about that site?"

 

Brady shook his head.  "No, just another research site with a few huts and a tower. There are sixteen districts with research sites dotting them.  Some of them contain urban areas, like the sites around Manaus, Belem, and Sγo Paulo. A couple, like Fortaleza and Natal, are coastal.  But most of them cover a lot of rain forest territory, undeveloped and wild. Pico da Neblina is in the Sγo Gabriel da Cachoeira district.  Other wild districts are Rio Branca, Ji-Paranα and across the border in Colombia, Yapu.  It's a big project, with lots of public and private funding from all over the world, hundreds of participants and mountains of data. No one ever hears about it, but it's not a secret or anything.  There just isn't a lot of public interest in the slog work of statistics.  We get grad students from everywhere, though.  It is the ideal place for research and publication."

 

No wonder Nightwatch had a big, but quiet, stake in the area, Simon thought.  It was right up their proverbial alley. 

 

During the two-hour drive to Luis Camacho's house near the Pico da Neblina site, the rain stopped, the sun was brilliant, the rain started again and then it cleared up again. The highway became a road that became a dirt road cleared by bulldozer.  The vegetation was lush, with trees and shrubs, all manner of flowers and vines, and the team caught an occasional glimpse of a small animal or very large insect.  The cries of birds could be heard in the distance. At one point, the grand sight of Peak 21 or Pico da Neblina rose before them, knobby on top and swathed in a halo of clouds and fog.

 

The damp sweat everyone had developed in the rain was a nuisance in the humid air.  Tom realized his socks would never dry out and resolved to wear his mountain trekking sandals.  Even Dr. Simon Litchfield's khakis were a bit rumpled, but he had packed his Canadian set, so he had something comfortable to anticipate.

 

At the house Luis Camacho greeted them jovially.  He was a big, rawboned man, too pale for the Amazon, perpetually sunburned. His watery blue eyes beamed out of a round face and under his decrepit boonie hat a few strands of straw-colored hair escaped.  He was dressed in a sweat-stained khaki shirt and faded blue shorts.  Scuffed boots and a .45 automatic on a belt holster completed his ensemble.

 

"Come in out of the heat," he directed, with just a hint of a Portuguese lilt to his voice. "Welcome to the Fog Peak.  Pico da Neblina, Fog Peak," he explained. "The most beautiful place in the world."

 

The house was certainly beautiful.  It was large, long and low with a full verandah.  Inside, ceiling fans kept the air moving and cool through the well-appointed rooms.  Rattan furniture with brightly-colored cushions gave the sitting room the feeling of an excellent hotel. Tea and sandwiches were brought and Camacho offered drinks as well.  Kevin Brady poured himself a scotch.

 

"I am delighted to have Institute visitors," he said.  "Please consider this your home during your stay with us."

 

Simon smiled.  Since there was nowhere else to stay, and since they had already made arrangements to stay there, and since the Institute technically owned the house, the offer was unnecessary. 

 

  "We often play host to visitors," Camacho explained. "NASA, LBA, Nightwatch, university researchers, government emissaries and just recently a scholar out from Cambridge, England."

 

"Cambridge!" Simon exclaimed. "Why what a coincidence.  I spent time there myself.  Who, may I ask, was this visitor?"

 

"Oh, an interesting old professor – some sort of poetry expert.  He was only here a couple of days, then talked about returning to Manaus.  St. John something.  He went out with Brady there," Camacho gestured toward the NASA representative, "he could tell you more."

 

Brady seemed puzzled. "He didn't go out with me," he said.  "Must have been someone else."

 

"Well, whatever.  Didn't see him again."  Camacho turned away abruptly.

 

He was saved from interrogation on the subject by a man in the field researcher's standard uniform of stained cotton shirt and shorts.  His black hair formed a kinky nimbus around his head, and a short black beard looked in need of a trim.

 

"Hey, Carlos!"  Camacho gave the newcomer a bear hug.

 

Carlos Vieira grinned and shook hands with everyone. "The Nightwatch sends their fashionable team, I see."  His glance took in Simon Litchfield's khaki ensemble, Tom Weldon's all-black outfit and Stephanie Keel's cargoes. His glance lingered on Stephanie, and not because of her fashion statement.  Nothing could disguise her natural good looks, though she did nothing at all to enhance them.

 

Simon took the compliment.  "Thank you, Mr. Vieira, or should I say Dr. Vieira?"

 

Carlos grinned and shook his head, "No, no we are all doctors, here, Dr. Litchfield. The LBA and the Brazilian government send you their welcome and hope you will be able to help solve this little, um, dilemma of the missing research site."

 

"How soon can we tour the area?"  Tom was anxious to have a closer look.

 

"Right now," Kevin Brady offered. "We still have a couple of hours of daylight left."

 

"Excellent!"  Camacho said.  "I'll have someone put your things in your rooms – perhaps you'd like to freshen up a bit before going out? My housekeeper, Maria, will help you."  He gestured to a small woman in a print dress.  She led them down a large corridor and showed them to their rooms

 

Minutes later they were all piling once again into the Land Rover.  Kevin hit the gas and for a few moments the sky cleared to reveal the breathtaking sight of Pico da Neblina – the second tallest peak in the country – in all its fog-encircled glory.

 

"Over there," Kevin pointed.  "That's where the site was.  See where those two outcroppings on the side of that hill come together? There was a clearing just below there."  He aimed the vehicle in the direction of the hill.  "But watch this."

 

No matter how carefully – or recklessly – Kevin drove, the road went right past the area. At one point, it dwindled down to a track, then a trail, then what must have been merely a capybara run.  "This road used to go right through the site."

 

"It's even weirder on foot," he explained.  "There aren't any of the old landmarks or anything.  It's just more vegetation."

 

Kevin maneuvered the vehicle in as close as possible to the coordinates on the NASA map he carried, then everyone got out and walked around.  It was warm, humid and lush – the real rain forest they all had read about.  It smelled of flowers, rotting vegetation, smoke and water.

 

Tom was grateful for his cool, dry sandals until he noticed Kevin's boots.  Snakes – he hadn't thought about snakes. 

 

"You can get pretty close to the outcroppings," Kevin said, pointing.  "But you can't actually find the clearing where the village was.  I mean, there is no clearing anymore.  It's as if the whole landscape just shifted and that part of the world - the universe, even – just doesn't exist."

 

 Stephanie was busy with a hand-held instrument.  She pointed it toward the outcroppings, then in the opposite direction. She made some notes in her PDA and switched instruments. Her second instrument was a digital camera, and she took lots of pictures, including a few of the Land Rover, Kevin Brady, and Simon Litchfield.

 

"Tom," she said, "stand over there and let me get a picture, okay?"  Tom obliged, smiling for the camera, squinting into the last rays of the sun.

 

The sunset was a spectacular red gold, but midway into it, the sky clouded up and it started to rain again. 

 

"Let's get back," Kevin suggested. "I don't like being out much after dark."

 

****

 

Luis Camacho's house was welcoming as it grew dark and rained heavily.  The air was still quite warm, and Simon felt sticky.

 

Camacho was out, but the housekeeper, Maria, brought food and drinks into the great room.  Sitting companionably around a low table by candlelight, Simon brought up the subject of Dr. Finley St. John, the poetry expert from Cambridge. 

 

"So, Kevin, Luis Camacho said Dr. St. John left with you?"

 

"No," Kevin replied.  "I mean, yes, Luis said that, but no, the old guy didn't go anywhere with me.  I just saw him here that one time, although I know he's been to several of the sites and spent a lot of time in town."

 

"Town?" Tom asked.

 

"Sγo Gabriel da Cachoeira, where you landed.  The airport's a bit out of town, so you didn't see it properly.  It's a pretty good-sized town, right on the Rio Negro.  Gabriel of the Waterfall, but not the Gabriel you might think.  This Gabriel was a soldier. Anyway, it's the biggest town in the area.  It's been there since the old missionary days, when the Franciscans invaded in the 1700's."  Kevin paused. "The Salesians in the early part of the 20th Century weren't much better. It's a wonder any indigenous people survive at all, but you'll find at least six different peoples around here.  Anyway, it's a two hour drive, as you know."

 

"And St. John?" Simon prompted.

 

"Oh, yeah, St. John.  I heard from one of the guys over at Atmospheric Chemistry that he spent a lot of time in church.  Go figure. But no one has seen him for at least a week.  Why, what's the interest?"

 

"I think I may know him from Cambridge," Simon lied with ease. "Now, what about the people who disappeared with the site? Has anyone seen or heard from them?"

 

"Not that I've heard of," Kevin said. "But you might want to ask Celinde.  She's staying here, and she was technically with the site, although she was here when it disappeared."

 

"She's here?" Stephanie asked sharply.  "Here in this house?"

 

Kevin looked up in surprise. "Yeah, well, she's out right now with Carlos, but she'll be back in the morning.  I think they went up to the tower site near Cucui, up right next to the border.  They should be back by mid-morning." 

 

"Kevin, we're going to need a vehicle of our own," Simon said.  "Where can we get one?"   

 

"Oh, that's easy.  Both NASA and the Institute have vehicles here.  Just check one out from Luis, but make sure you have plenty of fuel and you know where you're going.  It can get pretty dangerous around here. The roads are all really just trails and the weather is unpredictable. Not to mention the wildlife."

 

Tom thought about snakes again and shuddered.

 

"Hey, I'd be glad to take you anywhere you want to go, though," Kevin offered.  "NASA made it pretty clear that I'm to give you anything you need."  He grinned engagingly toward Stephanie, but she was busy with her handheld computer. 

 

Tom felt an uneasy and unusual stab of protective jealousy. There was nothing at all wrong with the NASA kid, he told himself.  And Stephanie could use a little distraction.  But not now, not on this trip. 

 

"Thank you, Kevin," Simon said, "and I think we'll need to split up anyway, so your generous offer is most welcome."

 

"Okay, whatever you say.  Listen, I got a ton of stuff to do.  Why don't I meet you here in the morning and we can go anywhere you want. Oh, and don't be alarmed if you wake in the night – local legend says this place is haunted."

 

Kevin got up and after a last glance at the oblivious Stephanie, disappeared down the hallway to his room.

 

The candles had burned low and the three Nightwatchers were silent except for the click-click of Stephanie's keyboard.

 

"All right, Stephanie," Simon said softly. "Give us what you've got."

 

Stephanie looked up from her computer. "What do you want first, Simon?" she asked.

 

 "Celinde Gryphius?"

 

"You could have had the official bio from Nightwatch, Dr. Litchfield,"  Stephanie said stiffly, not meeting his eyes.

 

"I know, Stephanie," Simon replied.  "As a matter of fact, I do have the official bio. But I want to know what you came up with."

 

Stephanie stared at him for a moment, then dropped her eyes to her laptop.

 

"Celinde Gryphius.  Born Emily Jane Kingsford twenty-nine years ago outside of Manaus, Brazil.  Parents noted as David and Emily Kingsford.  One sibling, an older sister, Laura.  Emily Kingsford, the mother, was a physician and died in an accident in the Amazon when the children were little. David Kingsford, an historian and sociologist, then moved to Canada with his two daughters. 

 

"Kingsford was involved in a complex project of his own when he met William Gryphius in Canada.  They set up shop together and the older daughter joined them. Emily was an odd duck, and grew up around the research laboratories.  She married Gryphius after an explosion killed her father.  The older daughter took over the father's work, but didn't get along well with her sister or with Gryphius.  Gryphius and Emily moved to England for a couple of years.  Emily began calling herself Celinde during this time.

 

"I couldn't find out exactly where the money came from," Stephanie admitted, "but I think Kingsford left them pretty well off.   Kingsford, as you both know, was working on some sort of temporal displacement theory, and his older daughter damned near got us all killed.”

 

Simon grimaced.  He remembered Max Cory, remembered with guilt that he had been responsible for his death. 

 

"Yeah, same Kingsford.  Anyway," Stephanie continued, "Gryphius dabbled in the temporal displacement stuff in England for a while, but then got interested pharmaceuticals.  Celinde had some of Emily Kingsford's papers from her work in the Amazon and Gryphius thought he could find the fountain of youth or eternal life or something. But things apparently got hot for him and he surfaced later in the States, setting up a series of underground labs for his research

 

"That's what he was working on when you found me.  His experimentation involved human subjects, mostly young women.  Twelve women were identified, including myself and Celinde Gryphius.  Of the twelve, only four survived.  The other two also work for Nightwatch, one as a fitness instructor and one as a pilot.

 

"Celinde Gryphius has been working as a data researcher here in the Amazon.  She speaks Portuguese and one of the indigenous dialects, and requested an assignment in Amazonia, which she considers her home."

 

Stephanie paused.  "There is nothing on Gryphius before his association with Kingsford in Canada. Nothing."

 

Dr. Litchfield's eyebrows went up.  "That usually means a very careful backstory by a very sophisticated intelligence agency," he mused.  "Stephanie, if you can't find it, it's not there. What else?"

 

Stephanie took a breath.  "Well, the fragment of verse is a passage from Shakespeare, but from an obscure play.  It's from "Pericles, Prince of Tyre" and appears to refer to natural medicine.  But it's a disputed speech from a character who is sometimes omitted from stage productions."

 

"Odd.  And Dr. St. John?" Simon prompted.

 

"Oh, lots and lots on the good doctor," Stephanie said with a satisfied grin.

 

"Finley Robert Swithin St. John, - pronounced 'Sin Jin,' by the way - born 74 years ago in Bantwick, Kent, England.  His parents were Christopher Colin St. John, Queen's Counsel – that's a lawyer – and Viscountess Carolyn Finley de Brettville, minor aristocracy.  Upper middle class upbringing, public school education – that's private schools to us – graduate work at Oxford, specialties in history, languages, drama and poetry.  Unmarried, no family.  Professor at Cambridge teaching Shakespeare, currently on sabbatical.  Has published extensively on Shakespeare's so-called "lost" plays, and is said to be obsessed with a particular play, Cardenio.  He has spent time in Italy, France, Canada and America, and most recently has traveled to Brazil." 

 

Stephanie looked up from her laptop.  "And no one has seen him or heard anything from him for several days."

 

"Well, where was he seen last?" Tom asked. 

 

"Here," Stephanie replied.  "Last recorded contact was with his publishers via telephone call from this very house four days ago. Something about the Franciscan invasions."

 

"Very well," Simon said, "Tomorrow, Tom, you take Celinde Gryphius.  Give her a thorough debriefing and find out everything you can."  Simon felt another pang of regret over Max Cory.  His arrogance had caused his death, and it would always haunt him.

 

"Stephanie, I'd like you to stay here and see what you can find out about this area – take some readings, see if anything shows up.  Maybe the village is still there and we just can't see it."  Simon gave her an encouraging smile. "I am going out with Kevin Brady – I have a feeling I know where to look for Dr. St. John.  Get some sleep, team – we are going to need all our wits tomorrow."

 

 

V.  The Twice-Told Tale

 

Tom Weldon slept late.  By the time he awoke Simon and Stephanie were already gone and the house was quiet.  Maria, the housekeeper, left a tray of tea and sweet rolls by his bedroom door, and he took it out to the great room with him.  He had given up his hope of sandals and was dressed in his usual black garb, this time with sturdy boots.

 

Carlos Vieira dropped Celinde Gryphius at the front door about an hour later and Tom greeted her.  He introduced himself and they went out onto the back veranda to talk.  The view was spectacular.

 

Stephanie rose early, packed some equipment and supplies into her rucksack, and set out with her handheld GPS. They had all abandoned their cell phones – there were no signals in that part of Amazonia.   She was slathered in bug repellant and carried what looked like a ski pole.  It was actually a telescoping antenna which doubled nicely as a hiking stick.

 

She walked slowly and deliberately toward the area where the village had disappeared, listening to the sounds of the Amazon and watching for any movement.

 

Simon Litchfield and Kevin Brady drove the two hours to Sγo Gabriel da Cachoeira to the Catholic church.  It was a simple structure with a tall steepled belltower, overlooking the wide Rio Negro River.  A Salesian father in the colors of a Bishop greeted them inside.  Simon was startled to note the man was Asian by his features.

 

"Gentlemen, you are early for Mass," he said. "But you are welcome to meditate here for the next hour or so."

 

Simon gave a small bow.  "Thank you Father, but we are here on different business.  May we talk to you for a few moments?"

 

The priest returned the small bow. "Yes, as you wish. Please follow me."  He led them through a side entrance and down a short flight of stone steps to a spacious and remarkably cool room.  The stone walls were unadorned except for a rather large and startlingly realistic crucifix.  A simple wooden table with chairs and a large, battered old desk completed the furniture.

 

"I am Jose Wei-Song," the priest said, seating himself at the desk.  Simon and Kevin pulled up chairs and Simon did the introductions.

 

"I want to ask you about a colleague of mine, Dr. Finley St. John.  I understand he has been spending some time in your church."

 

"Yes, that is so."

 

"Is he here now?"

 

"No, I am sorry. I have not seen him here for four days. He was most interested in our historical collections, and spent many hours looking at our records.  A scholarly man, well read in many languages."

 

"What was he looking for?" Simon asked.

 

"Ah, I don't know that he was looking for anything in particular," the priest said.  "He was most interested in the early records of the Franciscans, and wanted to look at everything.  Of course, many of the records are in Rome, where the climate can be controlled.  The Amazon is not conducive to the preservation of old records."

 

"May we see what he as looking at?  He seems to have disappeared and I was hoping his work might shed some light on his whereabouts."

 

The priest nodded.  "Of course.  But I can tell you where he went when he left here.  The young lady picked him up, and he was most excited to be visiting a village."

 

"Young lady?" Simon asked.

 

"Yes, from the research team. Celinde, he called her.  I'll get the papers, if you will wait here."  The priest left them.

 

"What would Celinde be doing with the Cambridge guy?" Kevin asked.  "I didn't even know she knew him."

 

"Weren't they staying at Camacho's at the same time?" Simon asked.

 

"Well, yeah, but lots of people stay there and he didn't really seem like her, uh, type."  Kevin blushed. "No offense, Dr. Litchfield, but he was, well, you know, old."

 

Simon winced. He was a far cry from the Cambridge doctor's seventy-nine, but he doubtless seemed old to this pup. 

 

The priest returned with a sheaf of yellowing documents. "These are copies made of the originals. They are primarily Franciscan records of the first schools for indigenous peoples from the end of the 1700's through the early 1800's. The records of our order, the Salesians, begin in the 1920's." 

 

Kevin and Simon studied them for about an hour.  Although Simon could not read Portuguese, Kevin's was passable, and between them they could read Spanish quite well. They found the small marks Dr. St. John had made on the copied texts.

 

"I think I know what the good doctor was after," Simon finally said.  "The Franciscans practically destroyed the indigenous peoples through forced and systematic cultural indoctrination.  They took the young from their tribes and families and forced them into Christian schools.  They took their language, religion and customs, and substituted their own on pain of death.   It was that substitution – particularly of Shakespeare – that caught Dr. St. John's curiosity. The Franciscans bore no particular love for the secular poet, yet a reference to the Shakespeare studies repeatedly pops up in the school records.  I'll bet the doctor thought he was hot on the trail of his missing play."

 

"How would it get here?" Kevin asked. 

 

"South America was a trade destination in the late 1600's," Simon explained, "and the Franciscans colonized here in the late 1700's.  The folio could have traveled through any number of routes and ended up here.  The question really, though, is why.  Why would it end up here?"

 

"I guess only Dr. St. John can answer that," Kevin said. What he didn't know about Shakespeare could fill volumes.

 

"No, wait.  These are records of the schools – costs, headcount, curriculum, that sort of thing, but not what was actually taught.  I find it hard to believe the Franciscans taught Shakespeare to the indigenous peoples her, when they were primarily concerned with forced conversions.  What we really need to see are the actual texts. If any of those are still around, they would have the key to this, I think."  Simon's excited voice carried in the stone chamber. 

 

He hurried to find the priest, but he had to wait for the conclusion of the Mass before he could ask Bishop Wei-Song about any educational materials used in the late 1700's and early 1800's.

 

"Yes, of course," the Bishop smiled when the Mass was concluded and Simon approached him in the sanctuary.  He left and returned with an ornate silver and glass casket which he carried back to the stone walled chamber where Kevin was pacing impatiently.  He set it down on the polished wood table and opened the top.  Inside were several hand-written copies of the Holy Bible and several parchment documents.

 

"The Franciscan fathers were of the third order regular," the Bishop explained, "and included a number of Italian friars. Some of the texts were annotated in Italian, but for the most part everything taught was from the Latin Vulgate Bible, although the common language of the fathers here was Portuguese.  There were a few items written in Spanish, I think, but it is difficult to elucidate the differences between the Portuguese and Spanish of that time."

 

He placed a large leather-bound bible on the table and opened it to display a color illustration, not as detailed or beautiful as a real illumination, but handsome nonetheless. "I am afraid these items are very fragile, Dr. Litchfield," he cautioned.  "Please take care in handling them."

 

Simon began to turn the pages slowly.  The Spanish inscription became apparent only if you were looking for it.  There was a word on nearly every page, made to look as if it were an annotation of some sort.  Simon wrote them down in order as Kevin translated them.

 

When he came to the end of the annotations, he read it all back:

 

"virtue and cunning were endowments greater than nobleness and riches careless heirs may the two latter darken and expend but immortality attends the former making a man a god it is known I ever have studied physic through which secret art by turning over authorities I have together with my practice made familiar to me and to my aid the blest infusions that dwell in vegetatives in metals stones and I can speak of the disturbances

that nature works and of her cures which doth give me a more content in course of true delight than to be thirsty after tottering honor or tie my treasure up in silken bags to please the fool and death"

 

"What's it mean?" Kevin asked.  "Sounds like nonsense to me."

 

"It sounds like Shakespeare to me, my boy," Simon replied.  "Or maybe Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.  I think it's what the good Doctor St. John was after, only I don't think he knew it. And there must be more to it.  It is the account of some sort of potion, maybe something from a plant extract.  But there must be another piece to it, a missing piece which would give more details, maybe a recipe or location."

 

"Recipe for what?"

 

"I don't know yet."   Simon reached for the next bible and they leafed through it page by page, but found no similar annotations. The parchment documents were hundreds of hand written hymns and poems, most referring to St. Francis of Assisi, the order's founder.  They too were written in Latin, except for one, which appeared to be written in doggerel Spanish.

 

"Translate this one, Kevin," Simon said as he read the words and wrote the translated version on the same page as the other annotations.

 

"to my aid the best infusions drawn from natures own flower which doth halt the course of  years and impart fair youth to all who live her secret found and kept but to the church's own destruct and in the fires burn to dust the resurrection gone"

 

Simon re-read the words, his face a serious study.  Then he folded up the piece of paper with the two mysterious sets of words and put it in his pocket.

 

"What's it mean?" Kevin asked again. 

 

But Simon just shook his head. "We need to find the good doctor, Kevin."  He called out for the Bishop who appeared instantly.

 

"Did you find what you were looking for?"  Bishop Wei-song asked, gathering the documents back into the glass casket.

 

"I don't know," Simon confessed. "I rather think not.  Did you say you had seen Dr, St. John recently?  I think he might hold the key to our little mysteries, not the dusty papers of past centuries, although we are grateful to have seen them.  Do you know, Your Grace,"  Simon used the formal address for the first time, "if Dr. St. John looked at these items?""

 

Bishop Wei-song smiled. "No, I am sure he did not. He did not ask for them.  But I do remember his last conversation here.  He was most interested in the indigenous peoples, especially the Parumami, who had been schooled here in the early 1800's.  They were less enlightened times, I am sure you will agree."

 

Simon did agree.  Forced religious conversion was indeed an unenlightened practice, barbaric even.  There must have been a powerful reason for such a thing, something he did not yet understand. "And Dr. St. John left here in the company of the young lady researcher you say?"

 

The Bishop nodded. "They were going to one of the villages to a shabono or Parumami house," he said.  "The Doctor was very excited."

 

Simon thanked the bishop for his hospitality and ushered Kevin out into the warm humid air.  "So what do you think of the Shakespeare?" he asked in the intermittent sunlight as they got into the vehicle.

 

"Shakespeare was never my best subject," Kevin admitted.  "But I know one thing: if the doctor left here with Celinde, why don't we ask her where he is."

 

"Excellent suggestion, my boy," Simon agreed.

 

 

 

VI.  Tilting at Windmills

 

Stephanie's instruments indicated nothing more than lush vegetation.  Whatever had been at the research site's coordinates was simply no longer there.  The site itself, the ground itself, still existed.  But roads leading in and out, all structures, and people were just not there.  It was as if that little piece of Paradise had never existed.

 

The tumblers in her mind clattered into a different configuration – maybe because she was still fighting the images of Gryphius.  Could it be that she was looking at a former version of the site – one from before human habitation?  Had the Kingsford legacy of unstable time travel somehow marbled into this?

 

She shook her head to clear it.  Discount nothing, she told herself, but don't be too hasty to believe the improbable. 

 

She continued her slow trek to the center of the area where the site had been.  Faint underground rumblings might have been just her imagination, but the difference in vegetation and the beginnings of a headache were not. Under the forest canopy, the plants growing in the site area seemed different.  She photographed a couple of the low shrubs, unusual in their almost blue color.

 

She pulled up some botany information on her hand-held and let out a low whistle. There was something odd about the blue plants, but there was no record of them in her online Encyclopedia Botanica.  Not a problem, she told herself.  They just haven't been catalogued yet.  There must be thousands of 'undiscovered' plants in the Amazon.  Pharmaceutical companies from all over the world spent lots of time and money researching the Amazonian flora. It was odd, she thought, that the Nightwatch crew hadn't run into any of them.

 

A rustling noise caused her to duck behind the substantial trunk of an ancient tree. She pulled out her pistol and half expected to see a giant snake.  Snakes weren't high on her favorites list.

 

A tall, beautiful blonde woman dressed in a tight cotton blouse and form-fitting shorts dragged a large duffle bag through the undergrowth.  The bag looked full and heavy, and the woman's well-toned muscles strained at the load.  She had a semi-automatic rifle slung across her body and a long knife strapped to one tanned thigh.  When she shook her head to toss her hair out of her eyes, Stephanie recognized Celinde Gryphius from her Institute photo.

 

A groan issued from the duffle.  "Shut up," Celinde said in a clipped accent, "or I'll give you something cry about."  She dragged it deeper into the blue bushes. "You'll go to sleep here, Mr. Weldon, and never wake up."

 

Stephanie tightened the grip on her pistol. If she fired now she could take the Gryphius woman down, but she wanted – no, needed – to know what was going on.  There was no doubt that Tom Weldon was in the bag, but what was Gryphius doing with him?

 

Gryphius dragged the bag a bit further, then let the end fall hard to the ground. The bag was still. Gryphius looked around suspiciously, listening for any unusual noise.  Then she got down on her hands and knees and began feeling around on the rich rainforest floor. She found what she was looking for and pulled a length of heavy rope out of the decaying foliage.  She used it to open a large trapdoor. 

 

As Gryphius started disappearing down into the earth, Stephanie holstered her pistol and threw herself onto the woman from behind, grabbing a handful of hair and jerking the surprised face back sharply while yanking an arm up behind the woman's back.

 

Gryphius let out an enraged scream and twisted to claw at Stephanie. Stephanie tried to haul the woman out of the hole in the ground, but Gryphius went for her knife with her free hand and slashed out at Stephanie.  The blade caught Steph across her upper arm in a shallow red line of blood. She let go for a second, then lunged at the semi automatic rifle slung around the woman's body.  She knocked the knife away with the woman's own rifle, then tightened the sling around Gryphius' neck, turning the weapon on its strap until it dug into her throat and stifled the screams.

 

Gryphius clawed at her throat helplessly as Stephanie dragged her out of the hole by both ends of the rifle attached to the asphyxiating sling. Gryphius began to lose consciousness.  Stephanie pulled her out onto the ground and rolled her roughly onto her face.  Then she pulled a length of thin wire from her pocket and fastened the woman's hands tightly behind her back.  Only when Gryphius was securely tied did Stephanie loosen the rifle sling and disengage the weapon from the near-comatose woman.

 

Using her own knife, Stephanie cut open the duffle bag to release Tom Weldon.  Weldon's shallow breathing had a peculiar wheeze to it, and a purple bruise above one eye looked serious.  He was out cold, his eyelids fluttering and his arms trussed in front of him with what looked like clothesline.  Stephanie cut the line and massaged his wrists for a moment, then sprinkled a little water over his face from her canteen.

 

"Hey, buddy,"  she said softly,  "come on, it's okay, everything's gonna be fine."

 

Tom groaned and twitched, then gasped and started to come around. Stephanie saturated a scarf with more water and placed it over the swollen bruise.  He opened his eyes and tried to speak, but spluttered and coughed , then heaved himself up on one side facing away from Stephanie to retch in the foliage.

 

"Sorry," he muttered, embarrassed.

 

"What's going on?" Stephanie asked.  "I thought she was on our side."

 

 "I did, too," Tom admitted. "But I never got much of a chance to find out.  We met out on the back terrace and when I started to ask her a few questions, she slugged me in the face and tied me up. Look, I'm no lightweight, Stephanie, but that woman is strong.  She tied me up and put me a bag.  No explanations, nothing.  And did I mention how strong she is?"

 

Stephanie nodded.  Gryphius had been uncommonly strong and only the leverage of the automatic rifle on its sling had given Stephanie any advantage at all.

 

Tom sat up and took a few breaths.  "Phew!" he said, "what stinks?"

 

"I think it's those bluish plants." Stephanie replied.  "We seem to have bruised a few in the scuffle."  She tossed the automatic rifle to Tom. "Keep an eye on Sleeping Beauty – I want to check out that hole in the ground."

 

****

 

Kevin Brady drove back to the house with a reckless abandon that caused Simon to grab the frame of the vehicle more than once.  The scenery, which was enough to elicit gasps even without the speed, flashed by in a brilliant panorama of green, blue and the scarlet of birds in flight. Simon could well understand how people became enchanted with the Brazilian forests and refused to leave. He hoped the beauty of the rainforest and nothing more sinister had captured Dr. St. John.

 

They met Carlos Vieira about six miles from the house. He pulled his Land Rover right up next to theirs and rolled the window down.

 

"Hey, how's it going?" He asked with a grin. "Any luck finding our missing site?"

 

"We're still working on it," Simon assured him.  "Right now, I need to find Miss Gryphius and ask her about the Cambridge professor who was out here last week."

 

"I dropped her off at the house this morning," Carlos said.  "But I was going back to leave some LBA taskings for Luis. I don't know where he is, I think he's still up near the border."

 

"Cucui?" Kevin asked.  "Weren't you guys up there too?"

 

Carlos' grin faded. "Uh, yeah, Celinde and I were there last night.  I thought I saw Luis there too, but I, uh, I'm not sure." Carlos seemed hesitant and his manner changed.  "Look, I'll catch up to you guys later, okay? Will you just leave these folders for Luis?"  He handed a small stack of bright blue folders through the open window, then turned his Land Rover around in the muddy track and sped off.

 

"What's with him?" Kevin asked. "You'd think there was something going on at Cucui, but I've been up there, and it's a lot of nowhere full of a lot of nothing.  Well, rainforest, you know, and more rainforest."

 

"That's a lot of something to some people," Simon said dryly and Kevin laughed.

 

When they got to the house, they were frustrated to find it empty except for the housekeeper, Maria. Simon left the blue folders on Camacho's big table.

 

"Why don't we go out to the missing site," Kevin suggested.  "Maybe we'll run into someone."  He hoped to run into Stephanie, and had been keenly disappointed that she hadn't come with them to Sγo Gabriel da Cachoeira.

 

Simon agreed a bit reluctantly.  He was anxious to find Celinde Gryphius, but there was no sign of her or Tom Weldon, and he felt a momentary stab of jealousy. Celinde was a remarkably fine-looking young woman from her photograph, and Simon was eager to see her in the flesh.  He was partial to blondes. And brunettes. And redheads, come to think of it.  And he was especially partial to enigmatic young women with intelligence and mystery.

 

Kevin drove fairly close in, and they parked the vehicle off to the side of the road. Although he didn't intend to hide it, the vehicle was nearly invisible from the roadway.

 

They set out toward the site, dense vegetation and the fear of snakes making them careful and quiet.  They were quiet enough to hear hoarse and ragged breathing, then the growl of an animal.  Kevin drew his pistol, expecting a jaguar or capybara.

 

Tom Weldon and a blonde woman were wrestling on the ground.  The growls came from Tom as he tried to pin the woman down. The ragged breathing was the woman's.  She broke free of his grasp, and Simon saw that her wrists were blood-streaked.  An automatic rifle lay in the bushes about ten feet away.

 

Simon sprinted toward it and hit an unseen obstacle. Stunned, he fell backward, blinking and groaning and rubbing his forehead.  He had hit something solid – hard.

 

Kevin aimed his pistol at the woman.  "Hey!  Get back!" he ordered.  She paid him no attention, but lunged for Tom. 

 

"I said, get back! I'll shoot you, Celinde, now get away from him!"  Celinde Gryphius looked up into Kevin's pistol and stopped struggling.

 

"What are you doing, Brady?" she hissed. "He attacked me!"

 

Simon meanwhile recovered his wits and carefully felt his way around the unseen obstacle.  He grabbed the rifle and aimed it at the woman.

 

"Tom, what's going on here?" Simon peered at Tom's bruised face, then at the marks on Celinde's throat. 

 

"He attacked me!" Celinde croaked again. "He's a madman!"  She got to her feet and her hand went to the long knife on her thigh.

 

Simon waived the rifle at her.  "Leave the knife alone," he ordered crisply.  "Now, sit down, young lady, and let's talk about what's going on here."

 

"Watch her, Simon," Tom said.  "She's a lot stronger than she looks."

 

"She'd have to be, to overcome you."  Simon slipped the knife off her thigh, the back of his gnarled hand brushing her taut silken skin.  "What happened here?"

 

 

****

 

Stephanie eased herself down the hole in the forest floor.  Her pistol was in one hand and she gingerly felt her way down with the other.  The air was rich and dank and smelled of indefinable organic decomposition, like hot compost.  Her feet grabbed purchase on a rough stairway and she crept down further into the ground, down into darkness.

 

The sounds of human activity became louder as Stephanie inched down the dark earthen stairs.  A faint glow gave her direction.  She crept toward it, her eyes adjusting to the darkness. 

 

She reached the bottom of the stairway and blinked.  In a large room, the farthest reaches stretching beyond her sight, the glow emanated from several rows of large baskets, each equipped with a small light.  A few haggard-looking indigenous people tended to them, their bronze skins glowing in the eerie light.  They looked elderly, bent, their skins in wrinkled folds and their masses of bushy hair greyed.  Stephanie blinked again.  Inside each container, a baby kicked and thrashed. The walls were lined with stacks of bundled leaves, looking like tobacco.  Off to one side a vat of some sludge-like material gave off a foul odor.  In a wire enclosure near her, a child of about six or seven sat dejectedly on a plastic chair, his pale skin reflecting the dim glow.  He was dressed in an adult's tee shirt which hung on him like a dress. One wrist was tied to the cage.

 

Stephanie started forward, but a hand on her shoulder startled her.

 

"Don't," Simon hissed in her ear.  "This is a very dangerous place."  He was close enough to smell her hair, and feel the warmth of her skin.

 

Stephanie reached back to Simon and held on to his arm.  "What is it?" she asked.  "What's going on here?"

 

A bright light momentarily blinded both of them as Luis Camacho's deep voice boomed out.  "Well, well, the visitors from Nightwatch.  I have been expecting you."

 

He stepped into the light and Simon saw the heavy automatic rifle.  Camacho motioned with his flashlight toward the enclosure where the young boy was held. "Please step into the pen with Dr. St. John."

 

He saw Stephanie's pistol.  "Drop it or I kill the kid right now."   She threw it on the earthen floor and it slid to a darkened corner. They both stood up and walked toward the pen. 

 

"Don't be a fool, Camacho," Simon said. "Nightwatch knows where we are. You can't get away with anything."

 

Camacho laughed.  "Well, as a matter of fact, they don't know where you are.  They don't know where any of these people are.  They can't even find the research site."

 

 "What is this? Who are all these children?"  Stephanie asked as Camacho herded them toward the pen with the boy. "What makes you think this child is Dr. St. John?"

 

"You really don't know anything, do you?"  Camacho sighed.  "I am disappointed in the great Simon Litchfield.  I expected you to figure out part of it by now, but maybe your reputation is a bit exaggerated."  He shoved Simon into the enclosure roughly, but let his hands linger on Stephanie. She recoiled.

 

Stephanie put her arms around the little boy.  He seemed lethargic and disoriented. She untied his wrist from the cage, but he didn't react.

 

Simon spoke up, his hand on Celinde's long knife in his pocket. "Well, I know you have somehow found a plant, or maybe several plants, capable of reversing the aging process. And I suspect you are negotiating with a pharmaceutical company to get rich on it."

 

"Ah, you have figured out a small part of it, Dr. Litchfield.  Yes, there are several plants which have a remarkable effect on human aging processes.  And yes, we are in negotiations with a pharmaceutical company. But you don't know everything, do you?"

 

Camacho closed the pen and locked it. "You don’t know about Celinde or the Parumami.  You don't know how the research site is hidden, do you?" 

 

"I know about Celinde," Simon said.  "I don't see how you figure in any of this, though. I would have thought Celinde smarter than to involve someone like you in something this important."  Simon needled the man, hoping to get a rise out of him.

 

Camacho laughed again.  "Don't bother, Litchfield," he said.  "I'm going to be very rich very soon."  He said something to one of the ancient attendants and left, taking the earthen stairs two at a time.

 

When Camacho reached the top he saw Celinde tied up on the ground and gave a sharp cry.  He raised his weapon, but before he could get a single shot off, Kevin winged him with his pistol and the big man went down heavily, screaming and clutching his damaged shoulder.  Tom retrieved the rifle as Camacho continued to whimper and Celinde hissed obscenities.

 

"You stupid moron," she said.  "Why'd you come out this way?"

 

"Well, now what?" Kevin asked.  "We have the heavies, but Simon and Stephanie are down that hole, and I'm not real anxious to go after them."

 

Tom nodded.  "I guess one of us will have to."  He thought about snakes again and shivered.  At least he had his boots on.  He thought about his deep, abiding fear of enclosed spaces.  At least… "I'll go,” he said, praying his most recent round of analysis had taken.  “But don't take your eyes off her," he pointed at Celinde,  "she's a lot stronger than she looks.  I mean it."

 

"What about me?" Camacho wailed.  "I need a doctor!" 

 

"Oh, I can fix that," Kevin said, pointing the pistol at him again.

 

Camacho shut up.

 

Tom went carefully down the stairway.  He knew Stephanie and Simon could take care of themselves, and he also knew there was another way in and out of whatever was down there.  When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he took a moment to let his eyes adjust and take in the scenery.  He saw the same incubator baskets, attendants and wire cage.  Stephanie, Simon and a little boy were in the cage and Tom waited for an elderly attendant to walk away.  Then he sprinted to them.

 

The cage was already unlocked – Stephanie had taken care of that – and the little boy was on his feet, one hand in Stephanie's. 

 

Simon broke into a smile. "What took you so long?"

 

"Well it doesn’t look like you need me," Tom replied.  "Who's the kid?"

 

"Allow me to introduce Dr. St. John of Cambridge.  But let's get out of here before that old man comes back.  I think we're going have an earthquake or something."

 

Simon started toward the stairs, but Tom shook his head.

 

Celinde Gryphius hurried down the stairs, Camacho's rifle in one hand.  The elderly attendants swarmed to her in the dim light, groveling pitifully.

 

Tom aimed for her, but Simon stopped him. "No!" he hissed.  "No shooting unless we have to.  Let's get out of here before she sees us. We can take care of her later."

 

"C'mon," Tom said.  "There's another way out."

 

Stephanie scooped the little boy up and carried him as they ran away from the lighted baskets and into the darkness.  They heard several shots and the anguished screams of the attendants.

 

Wiry arms caught them in the darkness and they were propelled into a wet tunnel with a hard surfaced floor. They ran for what seemed hours, but was really about forty minutes.  Tom's side was aching and Simon's breath came in heaving gasps.  Only Stephanie seemed able to run forever, and with the boy in her arms, too.

 

The tunnel shook several times, as though large explosions were taking place somewhere. Earthquakes in the Amazon were a rarity, but explosions around criminal activities were not unheard of.

 

They kept running until the tunnel ended abruptly. 

 

"Look!" Stephanie said, pointing upward.  There was daylight and a series of rungs in the wall.  Litchfield went up first, then Stephanie and the boy, with Tom bringing up the rear.  They looked back, but there was no sign of Celinde Gryphius.  Several of the elderly attendants were making their way through the tunnel, but were unarmed.

 

The tunnel opened into the back garden of Luis Camacho's house, nearly four miles from the disappeared site.

 

Simon started to drag a heavy cover over the entrance, but the boy cried out.  "No!"  He said.  "We have to let them out!"

 

"They're trying to kill us," Simon explained kindly.

 

"No, Camacho and that awful girl are trying to kill us.  But we have to let the Parumami out! Their whole existence is in jeopardy."  The boy was frantic, his energy fully returned.  "Please, Doctor Litchfield, we must help them! "

 

"Let's get into the house," Stephanie said, anxious for some cover. "We can handle this from there."

 

"Tom," Simon said, "watch for the woman, but leave the others alone."

 

They dashed into Camacho's beautiful house – the Institute's house.   It was cool and considerably dryer inside. Tom stationed himself at a window and watched the hole in the ground, pistol in hand, ready to shoot Celinde Gryphius if she emerged. She did not emerge, but a single file of elderly men bearing baskets on their heads came up out of the ground.

 

Maria, the housekeeper, ran to them and directed them to rooms in the back of the house.  Tom watched, perplexed.

 

"Where's Kevin?" Simon asked.  The room was quiet.

 

"He shot Camacho, just winged him," Tom explained. "I left him guarding the Gryphius woman." 

 

Stephanie bit her lip. Kevin was probably dead.  Too bad, she thought.  She had liked him.  "Well, let's get the bitch," she said calmly.  She pulled out her laptop and began typing.

 

"It will be easier to find her if you understand what she is," the little boy said. He climbed up on the long sofa and made himself comfortable.  He was pale and bruised up a bit, and pulled his oversized tee shirt down modestly.

 

"I think I have figured out some of this," Simon said, "but I am sure you know far more about it than I do. It started with the Shakespeare, didn't it?"

 

"Yes, although the exact connections are a bit murky.  It really started here with the Franciscans and their barbaric conversions of the local people.  You know they took children from their homes and forced them into the religious schools, forbade them their language, customs, families."

 

Simon listened, fascinated.  He knew this young child was really an old Cambridge don, but it was uncanny to watch.

 

"But the indigenous peoples were here for centuries before the invading Europeans, and knew much more than the Franciscans could imagine.  Here at the very font of the plant world, where the world's oxygen is created, this is where the arrogance of the Christian invaders met with an ingenious solution. The Parumami had known of the youth plant for centuries, although their customs forbade the use of it except in ceremonial situations.  Yes, there really is a plant, which can restore youth to those who ingest it.  I am living proof.  But the effects are not controllable, and differ widely from person to person. And there is an unfortunate side effect.  When a person is regressed to youth, the additional mass of their body is excreted in an unpleasant way."

 

St. John paused and grimaced.  Stephanie remembered the vat of foul-smelling sludge in the tunnel.  The boy continued.

 

"The Parumami, fearing extinction at the hands of the invaders, came up with a clever plan.  They fed the plant to their strongest warriors, and when they had physically become as children, sent them to the Franciscan schools. That way they could withstand the rigors of the Franciscan discipline without forgetting their language and customs.  The real children were raised in hidden villages, and the strongest among them were selected for the treatment and servitude in the Franciscan schools.  These people who had experienced a true second childhood then became part of an elite class, and an elaborate – and very secret - religious caste grew out of this.  They are called the Old Ones.  The Parumami still raise their children collectively in crθches.

 

"But it was bound to come to light sooner or later.  As it happened, it was not a Franciscan who found out about the plant, but a trader.  He ingested the plant, physically regressed and went mad.  A trading ship took him back to Portugal as a cabin boy, where he disappeared.  Well, I was unable to trace the poor wretch, anyway. But the fanciful tale lived on and re-surfaced later when the name of the plant figured in both Miguel de Cervantes' stories and a lost play of Shakespeare. I am sure you have already deduced, Dr. Litchfield, that the name the natives gave to this regenerative plant was cardenio.

 

"The obscure references in Shakespeare's texts reflect an abject fear or the process, which would have been seen as an unimagineable evil, a work of the Devil, by the Church of that time.  Thwarting the God-mandated process of aging and death would have wreaked havoc on the discipline of the Church, and brought into question the very fundamentals of the Christian doctrine of death and resurrection.  I am sure Shakespeare had some inkling of the danger of this idea when he destroyed the copies of Cardenio lest the veiled references in the verse become open knowledge. The verses must have made their way back here somehow.

 

Simon nodded.  "We found that connection for you, Dr. St. John," he said, thinking of the hymns in Spanish.

 

The child smiled. "But of course it didn't stop there.  The Parumami have had no need for the cardenio for many years, and have been merely the caretakers of its forest habitat.  So many precious, and perhaps life-saving plants have been destroyed through the destruction of the Amazonian rain forests, that the Parumami have moved these crops from site to site for their protection many times. And not just the cardenio.

 

"There were other compounds – one plant, the bluish one I am sure you saw today – is a powerful hallucinogen.  Others distort the sense of time and space and still others can cause or cure a stroke, incapacitate a person or kill instantly. I am sure you are familiar with the poison, curare..."

 

"But where does this Gryphius woman come in?" Stephanie interrupted. She was itching to get out and find Kevin Brady, and give the second Gryphius in her life what was coming to her.

 

"Yes, I am coming to that."  The boy smiled and looked both young and old at the same time.  "But you should already know that part, Miss Keel.  You did your homework on her, I am sure."

 

Stephanie played back the history she had compiled on her computer.

 

"Celinde Gryphius.  Born Emily Jane Kingsford twenty-nine years ago outside of Manaus, Brazil.  Parents noted as David and Emily Kingsford.  One sibling, an older sister, Laura.  Emily Kingsford, the mother, was a physician and died in an accident in the Amazon when the children were little. David Kingsford, an historian and sociologist, then moved to Canada with his two daughters. 

 

"Kingsford was involved in a complex project of his own when he met William Gryphius in Canada.  They set up shop together and the older daughter joined them. Emily was an odd duck, and grew up around the research laboratories.  She married Gryphius after an explosion killed her father.  The older daughter took over the father's work, but didn't get along well with her sister or with Gryphius.   Gryphius and Emily moved to England for a couple of years.  Emily began calling herself Celinde during this time.

 

"Wait," Stephanie said.  "That's it, isn't it?  The mother, Emily – she wasn't killed.  There was only one daughter.  The accident – if it was one - didn't kill her, it made her into a child.  Kingsford was forced to raise her as his daughter.  Celinde Gryphius is actually Emily Kingsford, isn't she?"

 

"That would make her nearly sixty years old!"  Tom shook his head. "No wonder Kingsford was obsessed with time travel," Tom said. "He spent all his time trying to find a way back, to undo the mess. And the daughter – the only daughter – kept at it too, trying to go back until we stopped her.  But Emily/Celinde fell in with Gryphius and that changed everything."

 

"So she wasn't the victim in Gryphius' underground labs, then, was she?  She was part of it." Stephanie's voice grew softer and her eyes took on a new glint.

 

Simon shuddered. He had never seen Stephanie filled with cold loathing before.

 

"I've got to go," she said simply.  "I have to find her."

 

Simon nodded. There would be no stopping her.

 

"Wait!  You have to know the rest!"  The boy-doctor's voice was high and insistent.  Stephanie paused.  "The effects of the cardenio are different on different people, but prolonged usage generally results in super human strength and occasionally a total regression back to infancy.  It is my opinion that this woman has been taking the drug in small doses for a long time to stay youthful.  Anything might happen."

 

Stephanie nodded and checked her pistol. She put her laptop away and patted her pockets.

 

"What about you?" Tom asked the boy-doctor.

 

St. John sighed.  "I am going to have to age normally.  I don't relish going through puberty again, and I have no idea how I can resume my old life. I don't know what I will do."

 

"I'm sure the Institute can look after you for a while," Simon assured him.  He found himself wishing for just a little of the drug, just enough to feel youthful again, enough to dash out at Stephanie's side, enough to...well, it didn't matter.  It was out of the question.

 

"Tom, go with her," he ordered. "I'll stay here and get in touch with the Institute.  And we still haven't found out where the disappearing site went to."

 

"Yes, you have."  The doctor's high little voice piped up. He grinned and pointed.

 

Simon smiled and rubbed the bruise on his forehead.  Yes, he had indeed.

 

 

VII. Cardenio Furioso

 

 

Tom and Stephanie took the tunnel back to the site.  They needed to end up at the other side in order to find out what happened to Kevin Brady, and there was always the chance Gryphius was still in there.  It was quiet and dark, and because they couldn't risk being surprised by Celinde Gryphius, they kept their flashlights off.

 

In their mad dash to get out, they hadn't noticed the huge bundles of dried leaves lining the passageway.  Now they saw them, tied up with twine and each one labeled in Portuguese.

 

"Don't touch them," Stephanie warned.  She was sure they were cardenio, or maybe some of the other plants Dr. St. John had warned them about.  "Maybe we shouldn't even be breathing them."  She tied a handkerchief over her nose and mouth and Tom pulled the neck of his black tee shirt up over his face as they continued.

 

The bundles were ready to market, either to a pharmaceutical company or to some other unsavory buyer.  The impact of such a drug on the open market made Tom's stomach lurch. You could destroy an enemy by regressing them to infancy and then killing them in their helpless state.  A battlefield of dead babies. It was a grisly thought.

 

The tunnel seemed even longer this time.  Tom was beginning to feel the toll of the day's activities, starting with his morning capture and abuse by Celinde. They came to a fork which neither of them remembered. They opted for left.

 

It wasn't the right choice.  The left fork tunnel led to a large storeroom filled with more bundled leaves. They turned around and retraced their steps to the fork, then went to the right.  This time it was familiar and they ended up in the now-empty nursery.

 

It was dark and smelled strongly of something unpleasant.  They crossed the area quickly and found the stairway.  The floor was littered with several bodies, the elderly Parumami who had been shot.  An overturned basket revealed a tiny body and Tom felt a wave of revulsion.  He started to go up the stairway first, but Stephanie pushed him out of the way. "Mine," she said and he understood.

 

She went up quietly and with both hands on her weapon. Tom followed, glancing behind them to make sure there were no surprises.  He fought an irrational urge to nuzzle the strong tanned legs he knew were under the rough cloth of her cargo pants and decided he must have breathed too much of the drug dust in the air.

 

She carefully approached the opening and looked out over the top. It was raining again, and a soft mist wafted into her face. She looked around, and saw a body on the ground a few feet away.  She felt a catch in her throat.

 

As quietly as a cat, Stephanie came up out of the hole in the ground.  She listened for anything that might warn her of danger, but the sounds of the rain and the jungle were loud.

 

She ran over to Kevin Brady's inert form.  There was no sign of Camacho, although there was a great deal of blood around.  Tom emerged and covered her, pivoting slowly around, rifle at the ready.

 

Kevin was unconscious, and unresponsive to Stephanie's touch.  "We've got to get him to a doctor," she said and Tom nodded. 

 

 

Tom slung Kevin over his shoulder and started toward the road where Kevin's partially-obscured vehicle was parked.  "Be careful," he said to Stephanie.

 

Stephanie set out in the opposite direction, following the trail of blood and broken leaves.

 

****

 

Simon peered out of the windows in the front of Camacho's house.  He had secured the house and seen to the makeshift nursery the Parumami had set up. The front of the house opened out onto a magnificent view of the jungle and Pico da Neblina.  He checked the safety on his pistol.

 

"How did they make the site disappear?"  He asked Dr. St. John.

 

"Oh, that was easy.  Celinde Gryphius has known for years about the various properties of the sacred plants, but it's ironic that although her father and sister both dedicated their lives to time travel, it was Gryphius who came up with the basic formula to stabilize the machines they built.  Not that it is perfect. But she has built another of those machines somewhere here in Amazonia.  I thought it was below the site, in the tunnels where we were, but I think it is here, under the house."

 

"Here?" Simon said in alarm. "Right here?"

 

"Well, I don't know for sure," the boy said uncertainly.  "I heard her talking about it before they drugged me. She built it from her sister's – or daughter's, rather – plans, but it works differently. 

 

"The temporal line can be geographically controlled, like it was before, only with much more precision.  When the site disappeared, it was because the Gryphius woman changed the temporal lines around the site, sending it into the past or the future – to some time before or after the buildings and some of the vegetation existed. The people who were at the site should all be in that past or future, and they should be alright, but I don't know..."  The boy's voice trailed off. 

 

"Anyway, the site is still there, just not now."

 

"What did I run into in the forest then?"  Simon asked, touching the purple bruise on his face.

 

"I think the time line has become unstable and some of the site is re-entering our time.  I think it comes and goes, and is probably dangerous.  That's why I wanted to get out of there, and get the Parumami out of there, too.  I think you ran into a tree that used to be there and is now going in and out of the time line."

 

Simon paled.  "Tom and Stephanie went back that way," he said.

 

"I think we'll know when the whole thing blows, Dr. Litchfield," the boy said. "There will probably be a deafening explosion of some sort."

 

"We have to find that machine."  Simon remembered the explosions when Kingsford's time machines blew before.  He thought of Max Cory, dead now, with a painful sense of guilt.

 

"Let's search the cellars," the boy suggested. "And don't even think of leaving me here.  I am older than you, Dr Litchfield - and younger, too."

 

Simon couldn't argue with this.  "All right.  Here, take a weapon.  And for God's sake let's get you dressed."

 

Minutes later Maria showed them the stairs to the cellars.  Dr. Litchfield's smart khakis were still presentable and Dr. St. John wore a loose shirt and a pair of Stephanie's cargo pants rolled up at the cuffs.  He looked even more of a little boy with his toothy grin and a Beretta 9mm in both hands.

 

They went down the stairway to the cellars and found themselves in a brightly-lit modern basement full of Ikea cabinetry and open shelves of cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels and laundry detergent. A tool bench with the latest in nail guns, mitre saws and even a small drill press occupied one side. The air was cool and fresh, coming in through a ventilator, and smelled faintly of lavender.

 

"Where are we?"  Dr. St John asked.

 

"Martha Stewart's workshop," Simon replied.  He was puzzled.  He poked around, opened cupboard doors and finally found what they were looking for: a steel door set into the back of one of the storage cabinets.  He leaned on the horizontal bar that stuck out like a handle and felt the mechanism inside fall into place.  The heavy soundproofed door swung inward on silent hinges. "This way," he said.

 

A low moaning in the earth told him they were in the right place.  He moved carefully through a hallway, over a smooth polished floor, heading toward an ethereal green light.  His stomach tightened in the familiar light, the sickening green light of the Kingsford temporal displacement rings.  He crept closer and halted with the boy behind as the hallway took a sharp turn.

 

"Camacho, you whiner.  Just shut up!"  Celinde Gryphius' voice could be heard over the moaning which had changed in timbre and become a deep buzzing.  "I swear, if I didn't need you to finish the deal with GKN Drugs and keep the peace with the damned Indians, I would kill you right now!"

 

"But the site! If it shows up again, there will be hell to pay with the LBA.  We'll never get the Brazilian government's cooperation on the plants."  Simon moved around to where he could get a clear shot at Gryphius, while the boy inched to the other side and drew a bead on Camacho.

 

"What makes you think we'll need their cooperation?"  Celinde asked as she made some adjustments to the bank of computer and dials in front of her.  "We have the coordinates of the Parumami's crθche.  We can blast their kids – and their Old Ones – right into the next century if the government doesn't keep on helping us.  The LBA is no threat.  Besides, I have Carlos Vieira right where I want him."

 

"Maybe not."  Carlos stepped out from behind the huge rings of the Kingsford time machine.  He held a compact semi automatic in his hands and aimed it at Celinde. "Maybe you're not as attractive as you think, pretty lady," he said, advancing toward her.  "Maybe you're not as smart, either. This is my country, my resources, my people.  The Parumami are my kin, and the sacred plants are my heritage. This," he motioned toward the huge green glowing rings, "is an abomination."

 

Celinde laughed.  "You gotta be kidding, Vieira," she said.  "We are going to make a fortune on the drugs, and we are going to continue here.  Luis is going to make sure the research goes on as a cover, I am going to make sure the site stays hidden and you are going to make sure the money keeps on coming without any interference from the Brazilian government.  The drugs were a fantastic discovery, and the Parumami are going to be a fine captive work force.  But the real beauty for me is getting the cream of the Nightwatch Institute out of the picture."

 

Simon saw that part of the disappearance of the site had just been a trap, a way to get Nightwatch to send their crack team out.  In the future, he would have to be a bit more careful about jumping into assignments and taking his friends with him.  He wondered where Stephanie and Tom were, and felt a momentary panic.

 

The rings rumbled in their peculiar way again, giving Simon a flashback of misery as he thought about Max Cory.  He stepped out into the open.

 

"I think your operation is over, Celinde," he said calmly.

 

Carlos looked up long enough for Celinde Gryphius to grab his weapon and leap behind the glowing rings.  She shot him before she fell to the floor.  Camacho screamed and used his good arm to start smashing at the controls of the rings.  The deep buzzing changed to an ominous rumble and a small earthquake knocked him on his butt. Simon rushed forward, abject fear of the Kingsford rings propelling him toward the danger of Celinde Gryphius. 

 

As she reached up from her position on the floor and pulled the trigger, Dr. St. John shot her neatly through the upper torso and cut short her scream of rage. Her shots went wild and echoed into the console.  The rumbling in the ground increased.

 

Simon grabbed the boy doctor.  "We must get out of here before the whole thing blows," he said.

 

"No!"  Dr. St. John squirmed in Simon's grasp.  "Don't you see? We have to turn it off!"

 

St. John was right. If the machine blew up it could take the Parumami with it, not to mention the missing researchers, if they were still alive.

 

Simon released the boy and ignoring the whimpering Camacho, stepped up to the front of the console.  It was different from the one he had seen in the nightmare caves with Max Cory, but he could figure out the power supply part. He flipped a couple of switches and nothing happened.  "Damn!" he swore. Then he spotted the huge power connection and twisted the lock ring.  The green light dimmed and the rumbling in the earth became a humming sound. He gave a heaving shove and disconnected the ring.

 

The room went dark and silent except for the sound of heavy breathing and a weird loob-dub sound. Right, he thought, recognizing his own heartbeat.

 

Dr. St. John switched on a little flashlight from the pocket of Stephanie's cargo pants.  "I think it's okay now," he said, the light playing over the wounded Camacho.  A groan from Carlos Vieira brought the light and showed him to have a large red stain spreading across the upper part of his shirt.

 

"Go back upstairs," Simon said, "and get Maria to help. See if you can get Stephanie or Tom on the radio, too."  He took the little flashlight.

 

Simon jerked a length of wire from the damaged console, then peered behind the silent rings to where Celinde had fallen.  He intended to truss her up, breathing or not.

 

But she was gone.  A smear of blood on the floor was all that was left of her.  He shone the small light into the recesses behind the rings and saw the hallway which continued back into darkness. She had escaped again.

 

****

 

Stephanie made good time through the Amazon rain forest, stepping lightly and following the track of the broken leaves and blood. She could tell that it was doubling back toward the house, and sighed.  How many different ways were there?

 

The ground rumbled and she looked up, expecting the heavy clouds to account for thunder.  But the sky was clear above the latticed canopy and all she could make out was the fog-shrouded heights of Pico da Neblina in the distance.  She almost missed the opening in the ground, identical to one she had come out of several miles away.  She would never have found it without the trail of blood. 

 

She didn't hesitate for a moment, quickly stepping down into the dank earth and into another tunnel.  She checked her black box signal in her cargo pants pocket so someone could find her – or at least her body – if anything happened.  It had been on since she arrived in Amazonia.

 

She paused at the foot of the stairway long enough for her eyes to become accustomed to the dark, then set out lightly and silently, following the tunnel. The rumbling in the earth became an annoying – and familiar – buzzing and she caught her breath. She knew that sound. She fought the urge to turn around and run, replacing it with the image of Celinde Gryphius.  Fortified, she went on.

 

She held her pistol in both sweating hands as the tunnel took a sharp turn and the sickening green light glowed further down.  She felt ready for anything.

 

She was not ready for the heavy projectile that collided with her in the dim light.  She went down heavily, but held on to the pistol.  She knew what it was, and her rage propelled her to her feet even as Celinde Gryphius scrambled on the wet floor.

 

Stephanie did not feel anything as she fired.  She emptied the clip and then everything went absolutely quiet.  The green light was gone, and in the darkness nothing moved.

 

Epilogue

 

The clink of wineglasses and convivial laughter filed the living room at Luis Camacho's house.  Camacho was in the hospital at Sγo Gabriel da Cachoeira, recovering from his wound. It wasn't serious, but the charges the Brazilian government was preparing against him were. 

 

Carlos Vieira's collarbone had been set and he was in a cast, but still able to enjoy the party. He was talking to the released site researchers who had been found in one of the many tunnels snaking under the property. The government had taken over the contents of the tunnels and the care of the Parumami.  Carlos would be intimately involved in their future, and in the disposition of the plants.  The Brazilian government had agreed to destroy the cardenio from the tunnels and return its secrets to the Parumami who guarded it.

 

Simon Litchfield's immaculate khakis were pressed and he spent part of his time talking to the housekeeper, Maria, who had dressed up in a plain black dress for the occasion. The rest of the time he spent trying not to stare anxiously at Stephanie.

 

Stephanie sat in a corner, talking earnestly to Kevin Brady, who had been released from the hospital on the same day as Carlos. She was animated with him, but slightly awkward with Simon.

 

Dr. St. John objected to the soft drink he was offered, but Simon reminded him he was going to have to get used to living as a pre-adolescent for a while.  The Institute did indeed have a job for him, but there was no getting around the liquor laws in Washington, so he might as well start practicing.

 

Tom Weldon grappled with his conflicting emotions. He wasn't satisfied with this trip, not like he had been before. Maybe it was time for him to beg off these wild adventures. When they had found Stephanie alone in the darkened tunnel, catatonic and with her pistol empty, he had felt an icy stab of horror.  He counseled strangers professionally, not his dear friends.  At least she seemed animated with that Brady fellow.

 

They didn't find Celinde Gryphius, although Stephanie claimed over and over to have shot her.

 

Simon met Callow's deadline with three hours to spare, but knew the final report would take days to write.  He felt old and tired and was looking forward to going home.

 

"Simon!"  Carlos Vieira grinned, "Tell me you'll come visit us often, now that Nightwatch has given the care of this fine house to me."  One of the researchers, a woman, had her arm around Carlos' waist and a drink in her hand.  She smiled and her pretty face seemed to light up. For a moment Simon wished mightily for just a small amount of the cardenio. 

 

 

Postscript

 

Bishop Wei-Song took an old wooden tray out of his desk in the dusty church office and put on his cotton gloves.  There was no reason to ask for absolution – he had not lied to the gentlemen.  It could not be a sin to protect one of the Church's greatest treasures, but it was time to extend that protection.  The Papal Envoy would be arriving in a week, and would expect the treasure to be sealed properly. The Bishop carefully took one last look through the folio and then replaced it.  Mr. Shakespeare would have been proud of the care the Bishop took of this play. Or maybe he would have been annoyed that it hadn’t been destroyed as he had wished.  Cardenio was never his favorite.

 

 

END

 

 


Σ 2004 by Kate Thornton.  K

Kate Thornton lives in Southern California where she divides her time between National Security and unbridled nosiness.  Her rose-covered cottage is the perfect cover for her attempts at world domination, achieved these days only through writing for Aphelion.  She would be delighted to hear from you via email kittyf1@earthlink.net

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