On The Corner of Galaxy and Fifth
Part Four of Five
by Rob Wynne and Jeffrey Williams
the cold arctic winds blew down the bustling streets of
Oslo, a dark figure stood motionless, obscured by the shadows of a
alleyway. He held a chrome-plated rifle firmly against his shoulder,
into the targeting scope at a man only yards way, walking briskly down
avenue chattering mindlessly to his companions, blissfully unaware that
life was about to end.
crosshairs were lined squarely upon the head of Trauma
Martin, and Ground readied himself for the unique pleasure that he knew
come when he watched his target's head disintegrate. The deadly rifle
completed its initial charging process, and now it was just the simply
of squeezing the trigger.
held the gun steady, savoring the moment of his
victory. But the wounds he'd received fighting the disintegrating
were terrible, and the deep November cold of Oslo was slowly but surely
down his stamina. The image in the crosshairs blurred suddenly, and the
trenchcoated man shook his head to clear his vision. Finally able to
he re-centered the rifle and pulled the trigger
was a sudden sizzle as a fiery burst of energy leapt
forth from the rifles chambers and arced across the busy street towards
unsuspecting target. At that very moment, a large trundling lorry
passed by on
the street, neatly intercepting the electrical death intended for
Martin. The driver continued on down the avenue, completely unaware of
watermelon-sized hole which had been punched neatly in his cargo hold.
on the street strolled by equally unaware of the momentary disturbance.
guns targeting and power systems were so precise that not one particle
energy was wasted on excess kinetic energy or noise.
was the perfect weapon for assassination, Ground thought
bitterly, raising his weapon again and finding his target had moved on.
Not this time, you miserable vermin!
screamed inwardly at Trauma and company, and prepared to give chase.
again, he felt the bitter cold stabbing at his wounds and sapping his
He needed rest. He needed healing. Most of all, he needed to contact
who was probably in a state of panic over the sudden loss of
Ground slipped the weapon back into the
protective holster inside his long black coat. He trudged onto Holberg
pulled himself along the street, watching for any place where he could
recover. He spat bitterly upon the ground as he passed the large
buildings which made up Riks-Hospitale. A
human place of healing, he
thought angrily. No place for me at all!
* * * * *
Martin sauntered gaily down the sidewalk, a large city
map folded out in front of his face, completely obscuring his vision.
and Mia followed along in his wake, stopping occasionally to assist
who had fallen in an attempt to avoid Trauma's erratic walking path.
you know where you're going?" Mia asked, exasperated, as a passerby
insults in Norwegian at the strange man in the violet suit. "I mean,
you ever actually been to Norway before?"
yes," Trauma said absently, his eyes
continuing to scan the map. "Of course, that was a bit before Oslo's
time." He stopped in his tracks and dropped the map from his face,
straight ahead in a fog of thought. "Who was that strange fellow? Erik
something, I believe."
stared at the horizon, watching the sun retreat from
the heavens and relinquish control of the sky to the frigid darkness.
"That's the problem with this time of year," he said. "We're so
close to the Arctic Circle that there isn't much useable daylight in
matter," Trauma said with enthusiasm, snapping
out of his reverie. "Plenty of streetlights. Good street signs." He
pointed to one of the signs which hung from the side of a building. It
"Halvdan Kieruffs Plass."
he said, pleased with himself. "South
across the railroad tracks to Kristian IV Gate, then take a left. Turn
onto Fredericks Gate, and go past the Nationaltheateret, then turn left
Karl Johans Gate. Unless I miss my guess, somewhere along there we
the Karl Johans Center."
very good," George mocked.
once we get there, we just wait for Hamlet to show
up, right?" Mia asked.
nodded in agreement. "At this moment, our Danish
friend controls our purse strings."
wonder if it wouldn't have been wiser to keep one of
Boltz's credit cards for ourselves," George pondered. "I mean, most
places never bother to see if the person using the card is actually who
claim to be."
risky," Trauma said, resuming his walking. A
light snow began to fall, forming beautiful sloping shapes upon the
and dizzying kaleidoscopic images in the streetlights. "We cannot do
anything over and above what we are already doing. The fabric of time
delicate now and very fluid. If someone did
question us about the card, what then?" George nodded thoughtfully.
said Mia irritably, her normally cheerful
voice tinged with fatigue, "I can't see how it's any riskier than
ourselves to the mercy of the Timelines." Of
course, if all this doesn't work, she thought,
there might well be no timelines to worry
snow was already beginning to crunch underfoot as they
made the turn onto Kristian IV Gate. George tried to envision how the
the next few days would unfold. He pictured Hamlet waltzing into the
conference, looking every inch the confidant engineer intent on
the aerospace industry. As he understood from the Boltz papers, the
quite contentious at times, and tremendous diplomacy would be needed to
navigate the murky waters of complex negotiation.
certainly hope Hamlet's been doing his
homework," George mused aloud.
course he has," Trauma said matter-of-factly.
"By the time he arrives, I guarantee he'll be up to speed on many of
issues confronting him." His face contorted with mild disgust.
"Heaven knows he's worked with enough actors over the years to pick up
few of their learning habits."
don't think that's quite what he meant," Mia
said, glancing up at George and anticipating his objection.. He
slightly and smiled at her. "I think," Mia said, turning towards
Trauma, "George was talking about Hamlet's....what's the
Trauma said. "That is another issue
entirely. We may have to work very carefully with him this evening."
brief moment, Trauma looked genuinely worried, but he snapped out of it
and redoubled his pace down the snow-swept street. "When was Hamlet's
flight due again?" he asked Mia, who fetched a strange leather-bound
notebook she had procured on Shakespereon IV from her jacket.
due in at six o'clock local time," she said.
"That's about two hours from now, I think."
glanced at a small clock tower in the distance and
noted the time: 3:58. "More or less," he muttered. "And let us
hope it was a relatively good flight, else we might find ourselves
a very disgruntled Dane."
Acts IV and V of Hamlet, George
felt a slow chill creep across his soul.
AF-400 rumbled slowly to the gate of Gaerdemon Airport
and waited patiently as the jetway specially designed to handle the
aircraft was rolled up to the outer door. The prince of Denmark was
first to leave, noting with frantic irony that Thomas Boltz was the
who had designed the structure he was using to escape the plane.
trip had been a thoroughly nauseating experience. The
food which had been served to him was terrible, and the servants
been surly and oddly uncooperative with his requests to remove certain
passengers from the vehicle. He especially remembered the
the family of seven who seemed to occupy most of the so-called "First
Class" section where he had been seated. As if all of this were not
enough, the strange dips and rolling sensations he'd felt while soaring
miles of countryside and ocean had utterly unsettled his equilibrium.
behind, a grating, high-pitched voice shrieked,
shattering the chill Nordic air. "Mommy, I don't WANNA GO to some
love it; it'll be fun," the mother replied
flatly without a trace of enthusiasm.
pulled my hair!" a little girl cried,
tears slowly rolling down her face. "I hate him!!"
apologize to your sister," the mother
soothed absently, never taking her eyes from the escape which lay at
the end of
ain't done nothin'!" the boy named Frankie
Frankie!" an obnoxious older boy teased,
"if ya don't quit, Momma's gonna make you eat eels in Oslo!"
Cabot Reagan Bush, I will do no such
thing." the mother snapped. "Wait until we get to the embassy! If you
kids don't calm down, I won't allow your grandfather to introduce you
bickering brood bustled past Hamlet, who had stopped at
the end of the jetway and propped himself up on a column. "What a rogue
and peasant slave am I," he muttered to himself, gazing forlornly out
window at the wing of the massive aircraft, "to suffer the slings and
arrows of outrageous fortune."
short man in a neatly pressed gray business suit cautiously
approached Hamlet. The prince slowly focused his burning glare upon
who would dare to interrupt his misery.
me, Mr. Boltz?" the man asked hesitantly.
Hamlet, quickly catching on to his role, stood erect before him, noting
his carriage clearly indicated he was little more than a lackey.
am he, " Hamlet proclaimed regally. The little
man's face lit up with a smile so wide it pushed his glasses a quarter
higher on his nose.
good, good!" he exclaimed breathlessly,
extending his hand to the prince. "I'm Daniel Burton!"
awkwardly clasped Burton's hand, and shook it slowly.
Fielding sent me to pick you up," Burton
continued eagerly. Hamlet mentally scanned the list of names he had
into his head during the flight, and obviously his quest for the name
his face. "You know, the president of Boling." Burton supplied
Hamlet said, as if suddenly free of a great
burden. "Verily I recall the name. A thousand pardons I must beg of
you," he said without any great show of sincerity. "The device which
bore me here upon its silvery wings across the heavens unto
not provide comfort or satisfaction."
Burton said, thoroughly puzzled. "Well,
Nordic Airways has a pretty good reputation. Perhaps the trip home will
better." He picked up one of Hamlet's bags and began leading him
the baggage claim area. "Confidentially," he whispered
conspiratorially, "I think it's because Nordic uses AirFrames for long
hauls. Rotten aircraft if you ask me." His face suddenly went scarlet
he met Hamlet's cold blue eyes. "Er, except for that AF-400!
plane that one, make no mistake..." His voice trailed off into a
stared at him impassively. "Where is Mr. Fielding
now?" he asked slowly, taking great care to edit words from his speech
the manner George had suggested he practice. "Our meeting is not
until the morrow, when the cock crows." The prince winced inwardly as
slipped into his more usual manner of speaking.
he asked me to invite you to meet with him for
drinks in the hotel lobby." Burton replied. "Will eight o'clock be
alright with you?"
said Hamlet with difficulty.
"Fine." When we meet again, I
shall impale thee, Trauma Martin, he thought, upon
a pike of strong, strong oaken wood.
two men stood silently watching the conveyor belt move
countless bags which no one apparently had any desire to claim as their
* * * * *
coffee shop was dark, and Ground liked it that way. The
picture windows gave him a good view of the city streets without
anyone to view him in return. He walked slowly to the wall and adjusted
thermostat once again. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the building, a
began working overtime.
returned to a table back in the shadows of the cafe and
watched the snow fall softly from the gray Arctic sky. Horrid
backwater, he sneered. You
people deserve to die when the comets hit. Mentally, he ran
over the plans
again. Indeed, the comets were scheduled to hit Earth with no
advanced warning. If only, he
thought, I can deal with these
interlopers! "Will no one rid me of this troublesome man!"
wailed aloud, breaking the solemn silence of the dark and empty shop.
hot liquid in his cup was nothing he cared for, and his
taste buds rebelled against the acrid, oily substance. But the warmth!
warmth was a gift from the Revered Deities, and he reveled in the
Even now, his body was slowly beginning to recover strength, and his
wounds were feeling less uncomfortable.
a short time meditating over the warmth of the coffee
cup, he finally stood and walked around behind the counter, pausing to
carefully step around a large object on the floor. He tapped the number
from memory and waited patiently for someone to pick up the other side.
waited, he unholstered his weapon and switched it on, intending to
small amount of field maintenance on the rifle when his call was
an alien voice hissed from the receiver.
"Where the blazes are you? Answer me now!!"
is difficult to explain the circumstances."
Ground said calmly. "But I am in Oslo, November 8, 2016."
what precisely are you doing there?" the angry
voice rasped, a hint of obvious sarcasm dripping from every word.
after our mutual problem. Martin and his people
have come here." There was a long pause on the far end of the receiver.
suspected as much. An unknown entity attempted to
access the Boltz papers." Ground could hear the sound of computer keys
clicking in the background. "It does not matter now. I have been
systematically erasing references to him. Once all the backups and
files have been retrieved and erased, nothing will remain of what was the past." An evil laugh echoed
in his ear.
once I eliminate Martin and his friends,"
Ground said gleefully, "there will be no more worries!"
no action yet," Control ordered. "Stay
on this line. Communications are erratic, and the Cat's Cradle is
completely destroyed. I can send no more reinforcements, and I have
to contact my deep agents in Oslo. We must begin our contingency plan,
use this connection to make contact."
can handle Martin myself," Ground protested.
not presume to argue with me," Control hissed.
"We will do this according to the plan! Now, stay on this line while I
make the necessary connections!"
with his superior, Ground held the receiver away from
his ear while various beeps and clicks chattered over the line. As he
he noticed a human approaching the door of the shop. He pulled sharply
front door, as if he expected it to be open, then stood in front of the
cupping his hands over his eyes and pressing his face to the glass.
cradled the deadly rifle on the counter in his arm, and quietly laid
receiver on the bar.
the man yelled, rapping on the glass.
and deliberately, Ground raised his gun and centered
the cross-hairs on the man's darkened face.
the airport limousine at long last pulled into the
receiving area of the Karl Johans Center, Trauma, George, and Mia were
impossible to miss, shivering against the cold and looking like nothing
so much as wayward circus performers, with Trauma as their ringleader.
no time, Hamlet stepped out of the car almost before
it ceased its movement. The entire trip from the airport had been
Burton's ceaseless chatter about "stratigic downsizing" and about
"target markets being soft", and how all of the people at Boling
admired the tremendous work that Thomas Boltz had been doing. Hamlet
very odd to be lavished praise for the work of someone else.
Boltz!" Burton called from the back of the
limo as Hamlet strode purposefully toward the huddled trio. "What about
my good man," Hamlet replied amiably.
"Pray carry it to my quarters." He swept into the hotel, carrying
George, Mia and Trauma in his wake.
* * * * *
er, Thomas," Trauma said as they came within
earshot of the front desk of the Karl Johans Center. "How was your
I take it you studied the paperwork..."
spun around and grabbed him by the lapels, glaring
daggers into his eyes. "Were it not for your solemn oath," he hissed,
"your most faithful word of honor upon your soul and upon my sword, thy
days and nights would end before rosy-fingered morn ere touched your
well, dear me. Bad flight?" Trauma smiled,
disdainfully removing the prince's hands from his jacket.
shall not, under any circumstance fair or foul,
engage in any discourse about that metallic abomination." Hamlet stared
stoically off into the distance. "Even so, 'twas a good omen. I was
by a winged beast of Boltz's design."
that's something, anyway," Trauma said, as
the two wandered off towards the registration desk.
smiled up at George. "When you got that note,"
she asked," did you ever think that your future would depend upon a
in a million myriad thoughts, before or
since," he declared theatrically. His expression changed from mirth to
distaste. "This is awful, Mia. I'm beginning to sound like Hamlet."
tried desperately to suppress a fit of giggling, aware of
the people starring curiously at the pair. George reached over to hold
steady, laughing out loud himself, and they locked eyes. As their
subsided, both of their smiles slowly faded as recognition
over them. It was no more than a moment, but long enough for both of
Mia whispered, almost to herself, and
George slowly nodded his head.
he said softly. They continued to stare
at one another, lost in a single, shared private thought in the middle
busy hotel atrium, oblivious to the scores of people scurrying about
Mia!" Trauma called from the front desk,
snapping them out of their mutual reverie. Slowly, each released their
the other and walked as though entranced to where Trauma and Hamlet
Washington, Yoosah." Hamlet said to
the young woman behind the front desk who was entering his information
registration computer. The petite blonde looked momentarily confused.
a joke," Trauma interrupted quickly, stepping
neatly between Hamlet and the desk, earning an uncomfortable glare from
Danish prince. "He always says 'Yoosah' instead of U.S.A. It's just to
a good laugh out of everyone. Isn't that right, Mr. Boltz?" Trauma
nervously while making coaxing gestures at the hotel clerk and Hamlet,
whom stared at him as though he were quite insane.
quickly shifted his attention to George and Mia, who
were each standing on one side of Trauma and Hamlet. "Ah, there you
are!" he said proudly, flashing his Cheshire grin at the woman behind
desk. "Madam, these are the two Mr. Boltz was speaking of. If you will
just be sure to add the rooms to Mr. Boltz's account." She nodded, then
hurried rapidly to the printer.
definitely need to work with him tonight,"
Trauma whispered to George.
George muttered dreamily. He shook his head
slightly to clear the cobwebs. "Oh-- ah, yes, quite. We shall work with
you will just sign here, Mr. Boltz," the woman
said to Hamlet, handing him a printout and a pen. Hamlet signed Boltz's
carefully, though a close examination of the signature suggested that
may have started out it's life as an Ha-. "And here are your cardkeys.
Boltz is in Suite 823 of Tower Asgard. The rest of you are in Rooms
you so very much," Trauma said amiably,
smiling broadly at the woman as she quickly hurried away from the
in search of other work. "Mr. Boltz," he said, "we should follow
you up to your room and get to work as quickly as possible."
staggered into the lobby, carefully balancing the four
heavy pieces of baggage in his arms. "Mr. Boltz!" he called
desperately, alternately dropping and retrieving each of the cases.
glided gracefully around the overloaded executive.
"Yes, thank you so terribly much, my good fellow. Indeed, let me give
hand with that. Let's see, one for me, one for Mr. Boltz, one for
for Mia., and one for-- oh dear, we seem to be all out of luggage,
Burton. Daniel Burton" he said, bewildered.
"Well, Mr. Boltz and I have some things we need to..."
Trauma agreed enthusiastically. "I'm
sure you both do, and indeed there will be time for a hundred visions
revisions before the taking of toast and tea. But for now, I'm quite
you will agree that Mr. Boltz has had a long, difficult flight and
needs rest. Good day for now, and he will see you later. Come along,
everyone." Trauma flashed his brightest smile at Burton as he bustled
companions towards the elevator, leaving the stunned Burton standing
the swirl of humanity that ebbed and flowed through the Karl Johans
stood in a daze for a moment, then suddenly regained his senses.
Boltz!" he called across the lobby.
"Don't forget drinks at eight with Mr. Fielding in the bar."
burn that information into his brain,"
Trauma enthused as the elevator doors closed, leaving Burton marooned
hotel lobby, surrounded by a wide, wide sea of hotel guests and workers.
four companions visibly relaxed as they shed the roles
they had been playing. George turned to the prince of Denmark.
"Hamlet," he asked. "Who is Mr. Fielding? Why are you having
drinks with him?"
King of Boling," Hamlet replied.
the president of Boling Aerospace," George
corrected, somewhat alarmed.
fretted nervously. "Trauma, is he ready for
turned a stern gaze to the red-headed librarian.
"Madam, I would remind you that I am a prince, twice-heir to the throne
the Great Danes. Though this place be wondrous strange, I am not
void of etiquette or grace."
nodded with approval. "Much better. Those words
sound almost normal."
shook her head emphatically. "It's not the words I'm
worried about," she said, squaring her petite frame to confront him
directly. "I intend no disrespect, Lord Hamlet," she scolded,
"But there is quite a bit we need to go over with you, especially about
the manners of this time, and the technical material that all of us
come to grips with."
not, m'lady," Hamlet said quietly, his face
almost breaking into a soft smile. "I will not address matters
to mine understanding. A brief discourse upon the unpleasantness of the
to this place from the west. Perhaps the taking of mead and wine."
sure he'll be fine," Trauma said. "The
conference doesn't begin until eight in the morning. If Mr. Fielding
more, just plead exhaustion."
there's the rub," Hamlet's eyes twinkled as
the elevator doors opened onto the eighth floor of Tower Asgard.
Boltz was indeed a man of boundless energy. There are accounts, by his
recorded, of forty-eight -- hour? -- of forty-eight hour intervals sans
slumber." This time, Hamlet allowed a rare wan smile to tug at the
of his mouth. "I shall endeavor to be...calmly evasive, and most truly
stubborn like an intransigent ass." His smile faded rapidly as they
down the hall towards the executive suites. "Heaven knows, the
with evasion I have seen lo these many months."
twenty-three." Trauma said as he examined
the door of the suite. Hamlet stood patiently before it, as if waiting
to open. "Now, take that card they gave you downstairs, and swipe it
through that slot by the doorknob." With no small amount of
Hamlet slid the card through, and an audible click could be heard.
reached forward and pushed open the door.
rooms revealed by the opening of the door were perhaps
the most opulent that any of the four had ever seen. A small foyer with
adjoining coat rack and closet greeted them just inside the entrance.
reached around and flipped the light switch.
the foyer was yet another door, this one leading to a
large bathroom complete with shower and Jacuzzi. Straight ahead was the
containing a king-sized bed, tastefully adorned with a plush scarlet
One either side of the bed stood a pair of bed tables, the one on the
an alarm clock and telephone. Each table also supported two large
the color of the bedspread.
from the bed was an entertainment center with a
television, VCR, and complete stereo system. Next to it was a tall
drawers. Both it and the entertainment center were made of a dark rich
mahogany. Scattered throughout the room were reproductions, or possibly
originals, George thought, of works by various European painters.
the left of the foyer was a second door, which led into a
comfortable living-room area, complete with sofa, coffee table, and a
deep, comfortable chairs. Another entertainment center held another
unit. In the corner, a work area had been sectioned off, with a large
lamp, and telephone arranged neatly around a padded high-backed chair.
centered on the desk was a computer keyboard and mouse.. A 34-inch flat
monitor hung on the wall, displaying a hypnotizing screen-saver pattern.
stood in the center of the living room, turning slowly
to absorb his surroundings. "Yes, indeed," he beamed, clearly pleased
with his new base of operations. "This will do very nicely indeed."
* * * * *
was a building that spoke of misbegotten dreams, of hopes
gone awry. In the middle of Akershussstranda, nestled among some of the
structures of the district, an old storefront sat dark and neglected.
exterior was dark brick, discolored by years of hard winters and low
maintenance. There had been some discussion some years earlier about
torn down and replaced as part of the revitalization of the
the owner refused to sell each time they were approached, when in fact
could be approached.
one in the surrounding area had ever actually met the
owners, and no one was sure precisely who they were. The deed was
through a law firm, and held in trust by a holding company based in
it too seemed to be held by another company, and it by another, and so
Communications with the beautification commission were usually terse:
choose not to sell or renovate at this time."
fact, no one even knew exactly what went on in the
building. It was a storage facility for all anyone knew, and with no
think otherwise, no further inquiries as to the role of the building
single figure in a dark trenchcoat made his way slowly down
a snow covered street towards the building, pausing at the gated door
panting heavily. Raising his hand, Ground pushed on the door buzzer,
crossed his arms and shivered in what felt to him like approximately
degrees above absolute zero.
who had previously tried to gain admission to the
building in this manner would have been quite astonished to see that
did the dark figure manage to get a response, but was also greeted by
opening of both the door and the gate. He entered, and both instantly
behind him, their locking mechanisms engaging with an audible, ominous
made his way down the concrete steps which passed
through the cold brick and stone walls. The lighting was grim and
up ahead both brighter lights and seemingly warmer air beckoned him.
he walked through a doorway, it's frosted glass door having opened
obvious effort on his part.
stood in the middle of a large computer room. Two of the
walls were lined with terminals and data entry systems. Another was
weapons and other offensive and defensive systems. The fourth wall was
especially impressive: from floor to ceiling, it contained a grid-lined
operations board detailing a digital map of Oslo and its surrounding
A four block radius around the Karl Johans Center was shaded in red,
various above and below ground routes into the hotel were highlighted
glowing green and yellow lines. Ground glanced about and realized he
so he strolled over to the board and marveled at the detail.
benefit of hundreds of years of knowledge," an
iron voice remarked from behind. Ground spun around to face his sudden
companion. The man appeared to be Nordic, but there was an oddly waxen
his features. He was flanked by two companions, who looked remarkably
to the leader, as though they had all be cut from the same cloth. Each
at the large central table and motioned for Ground to join them.
they were all seated, they nodded curtly to Ground.
"What went wrong?" the Nordic looking man asked.
shrugged. "I don't know, Gaabick. None of the
models indicated Martin or Pembroke had any chance of survival beyond
through the warp tube."
was a third," a second figure spoke with a
thick Norwegian accent. "Did Control take into consideration the
possibility of the librarian participating?"
Maxis," Ground muttered impatiently. "Her
involvement beyond the planned role was unexpected and unintended. She
have thrown the calculations off somehow."
now," the third figure spoke, "they have
a Shakespereon actor involved, and playing the role of the Great Evil."
he be forever tortured in the bowels of Malvana and
the flames of Nodestran," Ground hissed. "The Great Evil is dead,
only to be reborn! And portrayed by a Dane!"
was no contingency for this development,"
Gaabick said. "But we are here, and there are many things we can do."
should find Hamlet's room and disintegrate
him!" Ground growled. "And then, Mr. Martin should be placed on
skewers and boiled in..."
shot to his feet, raising his voice to drown out
Ground's vindictive fantasies. "Nothing so crude. If he dies now,
the conference can begin, there is as much chance as not they will
plane in his cursed honor."
we kill any of the other players in this
drama," Maxis agreed, "we run the risk that the respective companies
might build the ship in honor of their fallen comrades."
if we discredit Boltz," the third figure said,
"then we have a chance."
Ground said incredulously. "How
in the name of All do we do that? Broadcast to everyone that he is a
'This cannot be Thomas Boltz, because we killed him days ago. Surely he
imposter!'" he mocked. "Don't you think that might rather tip our
if it originates from someone with no connection to
us," Maxis argued.
is why," Gaabick completed, "we have
arranged for a change in the plans of one group of conference
He smiled wickedly, and joined Maxis and the third agent in a round of
stared at the trio in disbelief. Dear
Mother-of-All, he thought. The
whole plan is falling apart around our ears, and these people are
like rejected movie villains. "And just what have you
tapped a series of buttons on the table in front of
him, and one of the display terminals began displaying printed
noting the departure time of a plane leaving from a place called
Boltz," Burton enthused as Hamlet entered the
bar of the Karl Johans Center. He bounded from his seat and grabbed the
hand to shake it. Hamlet's arm swung like a wet noodle, and he regarded
with an expression normally reserved for fungus growing on the outside
castle in the spring.
let go of Hamlet's hand and laughed nervously. "Er,
well, yes. If you'll follow me," he said, walking quickly towards a
in the back of the bar. Sitting in the booth were two older men. One
dressed in a standard gray vested business suit, complete with white
shirt, plum-colored tie, and mirror-polished shoes. His dark brown hair
graying at the temples almost too perfectly, as though it had been dyed
achieve a more distinguished look.
other man was much taller and appeared to be a good bit
heavier as well. Unlike his conservatively attired counterpart, there
doubt about the color of his thick, neatly trimmed hair -- it was solid
from end to end. His black suit and tie gave him the remarkably
manner normally reserved for the better class of mortician.
gestured towards the man in gray. "Thomas Boltz,
this is Chuck Melton, Vice President of the Commercial Aircraft
Melton smiled warmly as he reached for
Hamlet's hand. Deciding he would have to adapt to this odd custom, the
took Melton's hand firmly and shook it. The businessman tried gamely to
his smile and hide the pain caused by Hamlet's iron grip.
pleasure is mutual," Hamlet said.
this," Burton said reverentially, "is
Richard Fielding, President of Boling Aerospace." If Burton could have
somehow conjured a choir of angels, they would have begun singing
harmonies at that moment.
Boltz. Thomas," Fielding said. "I can't
tell you how nice it is to finally meet you!" He took Hamlet's hand and
shook it, and this time it was the Dane who winced in pain. Hamlet
retrieved his hand and took a seat on the other side of the booth.
quickly moved to take his seat as well.
effortlessly motioned to Melton, who gave a nearly
imperceptible nod. Melton turned to Dan Burton. "Dan," he said,
"I need you to go check on some figures for me, please."
looked at him with pleading eyes which begged to be
allowed to stay. Melton placed a friendly hand on his shoulder. "This
important," he said. "I want to make sure I have all my facts
straight for this meeting. Go call Mark Friedman and have him fax over
estimated 808 airframe costs."
sighed with disappointment. "Okay, shall I bring
them down when they arrive?"
have them sent to my room," Melton said
absently, already turning his attention back to Boltz. Slowly, Burton
from the table and left the bar.
about that, Tom," Fielding said in a soft
but powerful voice. "Dan means well, but he just doesn't understand yet
about the province of the executive."
time's coming," Melton interjected. "I've
got great hopes for that kid, but he needs to learn a bit more about
business runs before we can let him in on these sort of discussions."
smiled knowingly at Hamlet, who stared at him impassively.
Hamlet said dispassionately. "One
must serve his apprenticeship before one may rise unto the summits of
put," Fielding said, smiling and taking a sip
of scotch and water. "Well, Tom, it's nice to finally have a face to go
with the name and voice." He carefully scrutinized Hamlet as though he
were trying to guess his character from the lines on his face.
I suggested the joint conference here,"
Melton chuckled. "I want you to know this is the man who said 'What?
You'll never get him out of that blasted hanger of his in Olympia.'"
he and Fielding apparently regarded this a tremendous joke, and laughed
and hard over the comment. Hamlet forced the corners of his mouth into
smile and patiently waited for them to stop.
know, you really ought to move up to Seattle,"
Fielding said. "Get a little closer to the action, if you know what I
mean." The old man's eyes twinkled merrily as he raised his glass in a
toast to the man he believed to be Thomas Boltz.
I may be so bold," Hamlet said. "is there
a purpose for this council?"
Fielding and Melton were slightly taken aback by the
question, and lapsed into a startled silence. Finally, Fielding
like I've always heard about you, Tom." he
said. "All work and no play, eh? Well, I can respect that." Fielding
finished his scotch and placed the empty glass on the table. "Yes, Mr.
Boltz, there is a reason for this meeting. I just wanted to make sure
what you were doing."
what way should I not know?" Hamlet asked,
surprised by the notion.
Melton said seriously, his previous sense of
mirth quickly fading. "When we commissioned you to work on the 808
project, we had no idea it was going to turn into all of this."
initial designs and proposals are intriguing,"
Fielding continued. "We owe it to our shareholders to look into this,
insofar as you are comfortable with the design, anyway."
there is something we'd like you to consider,"
Melton said, picking up the thread of the conversation seamlessly.
narrowed his eyes at this obviously rehearsed dialogue. "The Japanese
some pretty advanced moon-base planning going on. We think they may be
fifteen years away from acting on those plans but..."
we were thinking," Fielding finished,
"was a high altitude, high speed transport plane. Something with the
capability of being modified for use in space-flight. It shouldn't be
of a stretch for you on this one since you've already been tackling
problem on the 808 proposal."
we're not talking about anywhere near the speeds
you've suggested for the 808," Melton enthused. "We figure a three to
four day circumlunar capability would be more than enough. That would
plenty of power in the atmosphere, and good enough turn around time to
what we project will be an absolutely huge lunar market in the not
call it the 'SkyBird,'" Fielding said, sipping
at the new glass of scotch and water that had been placed at the table.
"The Hardee-Lincoln division would manufacture it, and Fortinbras
would be contracted to provide the engines." Hamlet cringed at the name.
sat silently for several moments, making sure that the
small, imperfectly played production's final curtain had indeed fallen.
swept his gaze from Fielding to Melton and back again, choosing his
ears may be deceiving me," he finally said
deliberately. "What art...are you proposing?"
gave Hamlet a long, hard stare, a smile slowly
twitching at the corners of his mouth. "A buyout of the 808 project
contract," he said. "And a new contract for the SkyBird. SkyBird has
a great deal of potential, we think."
there are still quite a few of technological
boundaries we'll have to push to build it." Melton muttered.
"Without-- how can I put this...without the risk of using-- using--"
engines," Fielding completed
with a hint of disgust. "Naturally, Tom, the 808 project is still your
baby. That's why we're here, after all, to decide whether or not to
But Tom, I've got to tell you, I have grave doubts. And I know Sven
well enough to tell you he's far from enamoured with this Jules Verne
we're offering -- if you want to accept it, of
course -- is more money for an airframe we can guarantee will be
in the process changing the way the industry does things. You'll be
SkyBird's design and ingenuity! Boling will be praised for being ahead
curve on this one. Fortinbras will be praised for building the most
conventional engine of its class." He glanced at Fielding briefly, who
nodded, then turned his focus back to Boltz. "Tom, it's your call.
here to be sold on the 808, but you've got a long way to go before you
That goes for Boling Aerospace, and I can safely say that goes for
Hamlet said after a long pause.
"I cannot explain at this point in time, at this juncture in the ebb
flow of life, but the 808 must not be stillborn ere it has a chance to
its wings." He stood, grasping each man's hand firmly and shaking it.
looked sadly resigned, and appeared to feel a genuine sense of pity
him. "I decline your most gracious and generous offer, and do most
request the presence of an open mind o'er these next few days. I will
why this craft must be constructed -- why, indeed it is vital to the
that, Hamlet gave a slight bow and left the bar.
two businessmen watched the man they knew only as Tom
Boltz retreat from the table. Finally, Melton shook his head in
"You have to admire his chutzpah. He actually believes in this
just hope he knows what he's doing," Fielding
said. "He may be a genius, but that man has an entire career riding on
this science fiction idea of his." He picked up the scotch from the
and swirled it thoughtfully before drowning the last of its contents.
don't see any way to build this plane of his. When this weekend is
Boltz may well rue the day he ever heard of Gaston Lafayette."
what did you say Fielding did next?" Trauma
asked. He was pacing the living room like a caged tiger, his fingertips
tightly together and held close to his chin. Hamlet cast a morose eye
did most verily sound, upon my word as a Prince and
as a man of good character, that to dissuade he did tempt me."
blew an errant lock of hair straight up off of her
forehead. "In English, please?" she said crossly.
dark storm erupted in the prince's eyes as he leapt angrily
to his feet. "Most truly, madam, I am uttering the tongue of my
forefathers. Shakespereon IV hath signed no treaty nor agreement sealed
your Alliance. We are under no obligation to undertake the learning of
many devilish tongues!"
quickly slipped his slender frame between the looming
prince and the small librarian, holding his hands wide apart to
"Stop it," he said in a stern, commanding voice that George did not
recall hearing before. "Hamlet, Mia, we are compatriots here, and more
riding on our success than any petty personal differences. We cannot
disagreement of any sort at this stage in the game." He locked eyes
the sullen prince, engaging the Dane in a silent contest of wills.
watched with fascination at the staring contest, which continued for
Suddenly, Hamlet deflated slightly and took a step backwards, lowering
to the floor.
smiled gently and clasped the prince on the shoulder.
"There are too many forces at work in all of this to worry about
dissension," he said softly.
shot a concerned glance to Mia, who sat defiantly on
the couch with a furrowed brow, daring anyone to suggest she had been
bit intimidated by the sudden outburst directed at her. "I think I know
what he was saying," he said
face transformed quickly, the familiar grin
rematerializing as swiftly as it had disappeared. "Well, don't keep it
to yourself, dear fellow," he enthused, "what are our friends at
Boling up to, hmm?"
has spent a lot of money on hiring Boltz to
design this plane of theirs." George said, climbing to his feet and
up and down the room in a fair imitation of Trauma. "This man has a
tremendous reputation, but he's also a visionary, and so produces a
far exceeds their expectations. Still," he continued, "they were
intrigued enough to continue supporting the project with developmental
nodded thoughtfully. "Interesting. But what may
this mean with relation to Hamlet's curious discussion in the bar?"
threw them a wicked bowl," George said.
"He produced designs for a matter/anti-matter engine based on the
theories of some Nobel laureate and insisted they go on the 808. Now
a sizable investment in the plane, and they therefore approach a
maker with Boltz's proposal. But both Boling and Fortinbras are
the idea. Too committed to just back down without discussion, one or
decide to work out some sort of compromise."
see what George is driving at," Mia said, smiling
warmly at him. "They were trying to tempt Hamlet-- er, Boltz into
the 808 plans himself."
an old saying about hiring visionaries,"
George nodded, "'No one is sure exactly what they will do or how to
if they are doing it. But every company has to have one, because no
afford two. For a little more money, they keep Boltz and his design
an advanced but still basically conventional design, and keep their
star from taking his plans to another manufacturer."
is happy," Mia said, "because they
get to build the new engines."
no one has to worry about incurring the risk of
falling flat on their face with some untested new technology," George
concluded with a rueful smile.
astonishingly clever!" Trauma marveled.
"Now we've just given them a bit of a problem. Boltz seems committed,
now they have to go through with the conference and the difficult
evaluating the risks and making their own decisions." He flashed a grin
Hamlet. "You are none to popular with Mr. Fielding at the moment."
sat down on the wide sofa, gazing solemnly into the
darkness outside the room's gigantic window. "There is so much that I
follow," he said quietly. "I have seen diplomatic machinations in forms
scarcely dreamt of here, and the words and deeds of the rulers of
nothing less than those very machinations at work." He rose again, and
turned to face Trauma. "But the customs," he said, "the overall
concepts. They are alien to me. Much rides upon my success or failure.
I feel I
need someone near me at all times, to provide wise council and
to the customs of this world."
can do it," George said quickly. "I at
least have some involvement with business and economics." He picked up
stack of printouts that Mia had generated while Hamlet was in the bar.
"Maybe with some of this information, I can figure out exactly how much
money both the companies already have invested." He turned to smile at
Hamlet. "Fancy me as Thomas Boltz's assistant?"
thinking, George." Trauma said. "There
you are, Hamlet. A native of this planet to help you with terrestrial
problems." He walked over to Mia and cocked his head curiously, as
he was attempting to read her mind. "In the meantime," he continued,
"I have two projects for you, Mia."
forced an exhausted smile. "Only two?" she said
playfully. "Come now, I can handle at least four or five problems
beamed. "Well, then this should be no problem at
all for you." He walked over to the computer. "I need you to create a
cross-referencing program for all of the Thomas Boltz information."
sunk into deep thought. "I can probably do that in
an hour or two," she decided. "I don't think I could whip one up that
will pinpoint specific material, but I can hit general search terms.
Why do you
tell you later," Trauma said. "Suffice
it to say we may need to get our hands on that information rather
even a rough sorting of it will help us in that regard. Second task,"
continued, "is to locate the individual or group who would have been
in line to develop the FTL engine."
well I've no doubt I can find that, given enough
time," she said thoughtfully, "but I don't know if we have enough
time, given the state of the timelines."
smiled warmly at her, and brushed her hair back from
her face gently with his hand. "Mia, I have great faith in your skills
abilities. Regardless of what happens, I know you will do your best. Besides, those
hyperchannel computer links
were designed to hold their integrity even during catastrophic
won't last forever, but they should
last for quite awhile."
George said, "I think you and I need
to go into the other room and get ourselves up to speed on this
stuff. Also..." George winced inwardly, "I can't believe I'm going to
say this, but-- Trauma can help you get a better grasp of terrestrial
failed to display any tremendous amount of enthusiasm.
knows!" Trauma said, gracefully leaping over
the sofa and landing catlike on his feet before bounding off into the
"We may yet win you first prize for elocution."
Oh, dear God,
George thought. I'm relying on an
eccentric dream detective to teach Hamlet how to speak properly. We're
shook his head sadly and slowly followed Trauma and Hamlet
into the next room.
was eight the next morning when the last of the attendees
filed into the Odin Chambers, the largest of the Karl Johans Center's
conference rooms. While not quite the size of a full-scale convention
Odin was nearly too large to be simply a conference room.
walls were paneled in stained spruce and pine, and
chandeliers in the shapes of icicles brightly illuminated the chamber.
Scattered about the central podium were dark tables set in a
pattern, capable of holding ten people on the first row, twenty on the
and thirty on the third. Fully half of the tables were filled, with the
remainder reserved for those who would join the conference as it
Burton slowly but confidently made his way to the
speaker's lectern, just as two tables and three chairs were placed on
side of the dais. "If I could have your attention, please," he said
into the microphone. "I'm sure we've all enjoyed the hospitality that
Johan's fine culinary staff has provided this morning, and I'm also
good food puts us in the mood to catch up with old friends and talk
times, but we probably should be moving along here." He glanced
expectantly over to where Melton was sitting, and the vice-president
have been told," Burton continued, looking over
a notecard which had been handed to him only minutes earlier. "I have
told that the AirFrame delegation had some delays in Amsterdam and only
late last night. Mr. Wingruber extends his apologies, but says his
be here when we move into the actual discussion and debate stages. Mr.
and Mr. Strom from Pitt and Whitley will also be here at that time as
Anyway, without further ado, I call upon our gracious host and possible
in the Boling 808 venture to open the conference. Please welcome the
of Fortinbras Aviation, Mr. Sven Norgaard.
tall man with gray-blonde hair and piercing blue eyes
emerged from the audience, amid the enthusiastic applause of the
executives and engineers. As he moved to the lectern, he removed a
of papers from his jacket and smoothed them onto the reading surface,
fished a small pair of wire-rim glasses from his breast pocket.
microphone, slightly, he spoke in a booming voice which betrayed just a
morning," he smiled, casting his eyes from
one side of the gathered audience to the other. "Nearly a year ago, my
engineers were approached by a man of great vision and integrity with
that was on its surface quite easy to dismiss as the fever dream of a
Had it come from any mind other than Thomas Boltz, I doubt if the
would have even come to my attention. And if this project had not been
associated with one of the great aircraft manufacturers of the world, I
would have given the proposal a second look after glancing through it.
what did I find when I perused these several pages
of highly technical, theoretical text? Only the most ambitious plans I
come across in my thirty years in this industry. The proposal read like
science fiction story; designs which on the surface were almost too
for the mind to grasp. Here were the most powerful engines ever
conceived for a
non-military project. What Thomas Boltz proposed was the construction
engine using processes never before used by humankind: the controlled
combustion of matter and anti-matter!" Norgaard paused for dramatic
before continuing with his opening remarks.
he continued on about the Boltz proposal, George and
Hamlet prepared to make their entrance from a small room just behind
conference area. Hamlet was dressed much as Boltz appeared in the only
photograph Mia had been able to procure from this time period: a deep,
royal-blue suit and black wingtip shoes, a crisp white shirt with a
and a rich plum tie. George, on the other hand, had decided to recreate
more comfortable gray pinstripes with a vest and heavily starched white
broadcloth shirt. In a slight concession to color, at Trauma's
had relented to a gunmetal tie with swirling silver paisley designs on
which, while certainly not outlandish, made him feel a bit like he was
way to a fancy-dress ball.
fidgeted noticeably while waiting for their cue from
the president of Fortinbras. "Are you nervous," he asked Hamlet.
"I'm petrified. I feel as though the entire weight of the universe is
Hamlet said simply. "But let not such
worry your brain make useless to the task at hand."
shook his head. "I won't let it interfere,"
he said. He examined the pages of notes that he, Trauma, and Mia had
during the nearly sleepless night. "And you are comfortable with all
nodded solemnly, examining the impressionist artwork
that adorned the walls of the Preparation Room. "Not all of it makes
to me," he said, concentrating on the plain words Trauma and George had
coached him on the night before. "But I have learned enough from my
association with actors lo-- er, over the last several years. I
you put it--bluff my way at present, but I hope Trauma as promised
through with his measure of aid and comfort." Hamlet turned his
to George. "And where is our compatriot?"
the Loughlin SunCruiser from ten years
ago," Norgaard's booming voice came drifting in over the speakers,
"It was the inability of the companies invovled to properly
not sure. I know he didn't sleep," George
added. "He needed you to get that cash advance off the credit card for
some reason or another." Hamlet nodded.
only the greatest living designer of airframes
and aircraft components, a true renaissance man in his field..."
think Sven Norgaard is talking about you,"
George laughed. If only they knew what a
Renaissance man this fellow really is, he thought.
words for Thomas Boltz doth--do ring with
praise." Hamlet glanced at his notes. "Warranted praise, I gather.
But they come to bury Boltz, not to praise him. They fear him as much
admire him. The offer of yesterday's eve was but a mere preemptory
salvo if I
follow your reasoning of last night correctly."
true," George nodded. "Perhaps 'fear'
is a trifle strong, but they certainly are greatly concerned."
already sharpen their wits," Hamlet noted morosely.
"Their quivers are full of darts to suffer the 808 the death of a
nicks and scratches." He turned to look George directly in the eye.
"Be ever vigilant. I will play my part, but you must play yours
so," Norgaard finally concluded, "I
present to you the man who is the reason for all of us being here
our cue," George said, as the two men
busied themselves smoothing out wrinkled jackets and pushing back stray
victory, or to the gallows," Hamlet smiled
and gentlemen, Thomas Eugene Boltz!"
and George walked through a small door at the side of
the stage, emerging to an audience rising as one to shower them with
sat alone at the computer console, sifting through the
various programs and applications available to her through the library
At the bottom of the screen, a small blinking icon labeled "Execute"
beckoned impatiently to be activated.
stared at the screen, lost in thought, as her right hand
slowly swiveled the mouse so that the point-and-click arrow made lazy
on the screen. Reaching up, she brushed her hand through her red hair,
sighed softly as she wrestled with inner doubts. She directed the mouse
Options icon and began sifting through various link packages. Suddenly,
stopped, hovering over an option called "Remote Site Interface."
grinned impishly, and pulled a small electronic
NoteMinder from her jacket pocket. Tapping furiously at its small
began sifting through notes, numbers, and miscellany that she had
over the years.
link code...residential link code...,"
she whispered out loud to herself. Suddenly, her face lit up as she
bit of information she had been seeking.
clicked on "Remote Site Interface" and tapped
out 5654114-TPAL-RES in the small box which materialized on the screen.
laughed triumphantly when the logo of the Timelines Project Authority
Residential Mainframe came online. She stared thoughtfully at the login
and then tapped SELKIRK-56574, and hit Execute again. Briefly
notes, she tapped in an eight digit code at the password prompt, and
gleefully as she entered the account of Tyson Selkirk, and then leapt
account to access the main Library System.
Ellis," she said to herself. "Trace that!
And as for you, Tyson, for the last time, no, I don't want to meet you
work for drinks, in this or any other lifetime, you sexist troglodyte."
She giggled gleefully. "I have ways, Mr. Selkirk. Oh, do I ever have
the library link active once again, Mia reduced the
screen and returned to her other project. She made some corrections to
listing of computer code, finally deciding that it too was correct. She
program in motion, and entered the words "Olympia, Washington" at the
prompt. The screen began cascading text from the Boltz papers which
those two words.
you, Mr. Wall." she said with satisfaction.
"Nice to see that some things work as well on this backwater world as
do five hundred years from now." As she watched the data scroll across
screen, the telephone rang. Checking the clock and noting it was
o'clock in the morning, local time, she rose and picked up the receiver.
me, big boy" she said in her most kitschy,
seductive voice, before collapsing on the bed in a fit of giggles.
"And what, madam,"
Trauma's unamused voice queried, "would
you have done just now had I been some person calling for Mr. Boltz?"
I knew it wasn't," Mia laughed. I'm sorry,
I've just extracted a measure of revenge and I'm reveling in the
would have thought that demure little Mia was an amateur hacker?"
"You are a woman
of most remarkable talents," he said disinterestedly. "Have you heard from Mr. Boltz or his
yet. The agenda they received indicates the opening
session goes on until 11:30 AM local time."
"Good. I should be
in the room in about two minutes," Trauma said. "I'm just outside the building with a sack of
goodies. Have you completed the task I set you to?"
search program is ready." Mia replied.
"It's not terribly precise, but I can pull up large chunks of
data fairly quickly."
out of ten." Trauma said happily. "I'm
in the elevator now, so I will see you in a bit." The line
etiquette is not your strong suit, Mr.
Martin," Mia smiled, placing the dead receiver back into it's cradle.
* * * * *
fell slowly from the gray skies above Oslo as a small
Trabant pulled up to a corner. Gaabick and Ground emerged onto the
staring into the distance at the towers of the Karl Johans Center.
smiled wickedly, and both he and Ground scrambled back into the car.
interior of the car was unlike any Trabant the East
Germans who manufactured it decades ago could have ever dreamed of.
of the interior consoles were taken up by city displays, status panels,
weapons activation keys. There was also a communications panel which
toggled to the ON position.
Hathram, can you hear me?" Gaabick asked as
Ground turned the heat in the car to its maximum setting.
"We read you,"
Maxis's voice crackled over the intercom. "Martin
just reentered the building carrying parcels of some sort. We
couldn't see what they contained."
are Hamlet and the Earth man doing?" Ground
"The two of them
are still in the conference center." Hathram replied. "Presumably, they will cease for a rest
period some time soon."
our surprise checked in yet?" Gaabick asked.
"Both he and his
superior are in the hotel, but have not gone to the conference yet,"
you sure this plan of yours will work?" Ground
whispered testily to Gaabick.
surveillance," Gaabick said into the
intercom. "Gaabick out." He turned his head slightly to face Ground.
"There is a time for violence, brother. But there is also a time for
confrontations of the mind. This plan will work, or it will fail and we
try another one. but we will fail on the merits of the web we have laid
not on the will of an agent with a personal agenda." He grinned evilly,
Ground turned to stare out the window and the swirling snow. "Oslo is
responsibility, and you will subordinate yourself to our authority
automobile pulled away from the corner and zoomed off
down the snowy streets.
elevator doors slid open, and George and Hamlet made
their way towards Boltz's suite, walking with the air of practical
with success. Hamlet pulled out his key and placed it in the slot,
triumphantly on the door as the latch clicked almost instantly. They
the room and were instantly greeted by the sight of Trauma Martin
various pieces of electronic equipment upon the bed
there you are!" Trauma bubbled. In a grand
motion, he proudly turned over his wrist and examined the face of an
watch. "Eleven thirty-five, local time. How fabulously punctual of the
looked over the objects on the bed with a small amount
of incredulity. Dropping his notes on the table, he kneeled to take a
look. "This looks like a hearing aid," he said, picking up a tiny
George," Trauma said with a gleam in his
eyes. "Now, put it in your ear canal." George glanced up at him
suspiciously, then cautiously slid the object into his ear.
can't say things sound any clearer," George
muttered, climbing back to his feat as Hamlet walked over to the side
grinned madly as he picked up a small box and hit the
power switch. "Can you hear a difference now, George?" he spoke into
the box. George's eyes lit up as he spoke. He grinned from ear to ear.
"Yes, you can hear me, can't you? Two way communications system,
with two ear-piece receivers, two lapel voice transmitters, and two
receiver/transmitters!" Excitedly, he reached onto the bed and gave an
ear-piece and lapel pin to Hamlet and a lapel pin to George.
God-a-mercy!" Hamlet said with mock
enthusiasm as he inserted the ear piece. "Tell me, O most excellent and
munificent quartermaster, who doth hold the other unit?"
gestured towards the other room with a Cheshire grin,
then bounded through the door, pulling his companions along in his
tapped at the keys of the computer, moving through files
at lightening speed. She looked up as the trio entered the room,
quick smile at George before returning to her work.
computer genius extraordinaire," Trauma said,
bowing and gesturing grandly to Mia, who simply smiled and bowed her
cheeks flushing slightly, "has the other unit. The real work of the
conference is getting ready to begin, and it is my hope that these
aid us in our endeavor."
Trauma's request," Mia said, turning to face
the group, "I've written a program to search for items from the Boltz
papers we downloaded. If you get a query in the conference about wing
nuts," she turned to tap the words into the computer, "then this
program will find all references to wing nuts." To her surprise, a
paragraph's worth of material on wing nuts emerged. She giggled to
"Looks like someone during the conference was talking about them. It's
recorded in the transcripts."
know, that's a idea," George said
thoughtfully, leaning over Mia's shoulder to examine the screen.
we use the transcript as our script for the meeting? I mean, it would
everyone's life much easier if we could just use the command center as
shook his head emphatically. "The moment Thomas
Boltz died, that transcript of things as they happened became invalid.
here, not Boltz, so we cannot expect things to go now exactly as they
Mia interjected, "we can use the
contents of the transcript and the Boltz papers themselves as a guide.
system's not very precise, but it's better than nothing at all."
morning was relatively easy compared to what will
begin this afternoon," Trauma said. "Hamlet was able to read from a
text that George and I prepared. There was no question and answer
debate. Starting this afternoon, they will want real answers and real
stood and walked over to the Danish prince. "You
can't be expected to remember everything, love. Hopefully, between the
us, we can help you to be convincing."
appreciate your kindness, milady." Hamlet said
quietly, but without enthusiasm. He turned to face the large window,
out over the snowy streets of Oslo.
him have his private reverie," Trauma said
gently. "Our dear Hamlet is subject to these little bouts of
long as he keeps himself together for the
conference," Mia said, biting her lip. She briefly fought the urge to
over to Hamlet and attempt to comfort him in some way.
he will," Trauma said. "The entire
bargain we made rests upon this."
did you two agree on?" George asked curiously.
"I keep hearing about bargains and terms involved in this."
your oath upon my sword," Hamlet cautioned
quietly, not bothering to turn his gaze from the world outside the
recall," Trauma said through clinched teeth.
"Hamlet and I agreed to keep our terms secret. I'm sorry George, but I
swore I would not tell." George nodded and sank into one of the
is most brave," Hamlet said to himself,
"that I, prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell, must like a whore
my heart with words."
the sake of our sanity," Trauma said, just
loudly enough for Hamlet to hear, "please keep your soliloquies to
did you get this equipment, by the way?"
George asked as he felt of the ear-piece.
Trauma said with a gleam in his eye.
"Have you ever heard of the Order of the Shady Dragon?"
that I recall," George replied.
a pity," Trauma muttered, leaning back in
the overstuffed armchair and instantly falling fast asleep.
was one-thirty before the conference resumed. The room was
now completely full, and a few extra chairs had to be brought in to
a few more individuals. Hamlet and George sat on one side of the podium
front, while Sven Norgaard, Richard Fielding, and another gentleman sat
other side. Burton again stood at the lectern.
Burton said into the microphone, "we
should probably get started again. I want to welcome everyone back, and
to take this moment to welcome a few other individuals. Sitting
directly on my
left is Roger Strom, one of the chief engineers at Pitt and Whitley.
like to welcome Karl Wingruber and John Falstaff, special projects
from AirFrame Industries. As you might imagine, AirFrame is very
some of the engine aspects of our discussion and were of course invited
attend. To the rest of you, I'm sorry that I cannot call on each of you
name, but our time is rather limited here."
broadly, he glanced at Chuck Melton, who was still
sitting in the audience. Melton gave him a quick thumbs-up, but then
his watch face.
Burton continued, "what we'll do for
the next few hours or so is let Mr. Strom talk about the PW-9047, which
looking like a good candidate to be the atmospheric propulsion for the
* * * * *
"...and then we'll
turn things over to you for questions and debate," Burton's
echoed clearly from the transmitter/receiver in Trauma's hand.
yours working?" he called to Mia in the next room.
she replied. "I can hear just
system," Trauma enthused, clearly
pleased with his purchases.
Roger Storm's voice droned, "we were
first faced with the problem of what type of engine was needed for the
job. Was it going to be something we already had in inventory or could
it up from a pre-existing design? Or was it something we were going to
scratch build? If you look on this chart here, you'll see the three
engines in the inventory, and the types available in each class..."
dear," Mia smirked at the nasal whine of the
voice coming from the receiver. "How long did they say this fellow was
supposed to speak?"
session is open-ended," Trauma said, clearly
more interested in what was being said.
scanned the information in front of her, then frowned
when she realized she had gone down a blind alley. Backing up several
she clicked on an icon and typed in FTL History Designers. She pressed
and another stream of information erupted on the screen.
she said, leaning back in her chair.
"To the victor goes the spoils."
again?" Trauma called.
Mia muttered, backing up to start once
more. "It's just that there seems to have been a phenomenal lack of
scholarship concerning other cultures' drive to create FTL engines.
concentrates on Boltz and the modifications made to his original
an unfortunate truth," Trauma said absently,
turning up the volume on his receiver, "that second place is not often
seen as particularly honorable."
which we'd developed for the European Aerospace Upper Atmosphere
seemed to possess many of the key features that would be needed..."
Strom continued from the conference room.
* * * * *
an airframe of this type. But there were also
problems which could not be worked around. The power, available space,
looked around the room at all the faces in the
audience. Nearly every facet of the global society was represented in
or another. Men and women, Europeans and Asians, Africans and South
He noted with satisfaction that the world had improved at least a
his time. But he found himself continually drawn back to one face in
When Burton had introduced the AirFrame delegation, George had briefly
the two men that stood briefly. Wingruber was a burly man with flowing,
hair and a dark, coarse beard. Falstaff was taller and thin, with
graying hair and piercing hazel eyes hidden behind thick glasses. What
George, however, and kept his capturing his attention, was intense
Falstaff seemed to be placing on Hamlet/Boltz specifically.
looked over at the Dane, who was busy scribbling notes
on sheets of Karl Johans Center stationary. Nothing appeared out of the
ordinary about him, so far as George could see. He worried to himself
this new, unknown factor in their planning.
"How's it going,
George?" a voice unexpectedly whispered in his ear. He
momentarily as the noise and the sensations it caused rumbled down his
spine. "I hope I remembered right that you
on channel two. So, how does it feel to have me inside your head,"
giggled playfully. George fought a smile and pretended to study his
that left us with the PW-9047. Now, I know what
you're thinking: didn't he just say that it couldn't handle ultra-high
"The gods were not
kind when Strom was given his voice," Mia giggled, and George
grab his water and choke down a swallow to avoid laughing out loud,
a few stray sounds as a coughing fit. "Remember,"
she said, "just tap on your pin if
you have anything to say."
reached up and casually tapped his finger on the
microphone pin. My life gets more and
more like Star Trek with every
passing moment, he thought. "Shhhh!" he whispered. He bent
so that his body was covered by the table he was sitting behind and
to tie his shoe. "Don't make me start laughing. I'm trying to be the
assistant to the most serious man in the universe."
cooed. "Can't a girl have any fun?"
She giggled girlishly. "Talk to you later,
was a barely audible click in his ear.
* * * * *
tests were conducted in our wind tunnel..." Strom continued
over the voice feed.
smiled to herself and tapped absentmindedly at the keys
of the computer. What on earth am I going
to do about this...situation, She thought to herself. "Oh,
she sighed, though she continued smiling.
computer chimed angrily, and Mia looked to see what she
had done wrong. The screen blinked File Not Found, and she
to make sure she had not inadvertently typed in the wrong term. Puzzled
she found nothing wrong, she tried her query again, and got the same
she called. "You'd better come
here." Trauma wandered in from the other room, tossing his violet
on the back of the sofa and loosening his tie.
is it?" he said, wandering over to examine
friend is at it again," she sighed. "The
Online Reference Guide to Propulsion System Design has been deleted,
not the only thing he's removed. I just hope he hasn't gotten to the
copies in the residential section yet." She shook her head angrily.
"He's certainly given my colleagues and me a lot of work to do when we
back to the library."
we get back," Trauma warned. "We have to
make sure there is still a library for us to return to. Still," he
are you thinking?" she asked.
furrowed his brow and stood straight. "Just
something I recall Arn saying when we were leaving the library, about
cameras on the 18th floor not working," he drifted into a deep thought
before suddenly shaking himself and smiling at Mia. "I presume that you
have other avenues you may still search?"
now, anyway," Mia said, tapping in new search
parameters. "Whoever's out there is having a great deal of fun with the
Erase key." Trauma stifled a yawn and watched as Mia tapped on the keys
"Shouldn't you get some more sleep? Half an hour in a chair isn't
what I'd call restful."
I should at that," he smiled. "I'll
go have a little lie down on the bed. Wake me when they actually get
something resembling debate or discussion."
"What happens to
an engine of this design when exposed to a vacuum?" Strom
don't like this fellow's voice," Mia remarked,
"but I have a feeling he's just the quiet before the guns start to
fire." Trauma nodded thoughtfully and wandered into the bedroom,
collapsing on the bed and succumbing to a deep and restful sleep.
the lobby of the Karl Johans Center, guests and
businessmen walked about.
in the conference, Steve?" a businessman
teased his colleague, who simply laughed as he dialed a number into his
you can stand to listen to Strom grate his
fingers across the chalkboard in there, Bill, but I had to get out of
there." The two men laughed heartily as a telephone repairman busied
himself with a line junction near the entrance of the Odin Chambers.
you hear about those murders?" Bill asked,
suddenly becoming serious.
Steve nodded, "What was it? A
coffee-shop owner, his friend, and a cabby?"
in the conference, then?"
Steve teased, dialing another two digits.
part doesn't interest me very much," Bill
confessed. "Sisler Motors doesn't deal much with Pitt and Whitley. When
start talking Boling stuff, though, that'll get my antennae up." A
of Japanese tourists piled by on their way to the front desk.
thought I might make a few changes in my
portfolio," Steve continued, dialing another digit. "I heard some
Norwegian fellow talking about the oil reserves up here drying up, and
thought I'd better get out of North Sea Oil while the stock still has
then." Bill said, shaking Steve's hand.
"I'm going to browse through the art exhibit over here for a few
and then I'll meet you back in the conference." He smiled, and then
towards a room adjacent to the lobby.
telephone repairman completed his work and replaced the
cover to the junction. He picked up his tools and walked to the front
leaving his invoice with the clerk. Finally, pulling his cap down low
the waxy sheen of his face, he smiled malevolently and walked out of
building and disappeared into the snowy streets.
* * * * *
snow continued to pour down upon the streets of Oslo as
the cold winter sunlight began to fade. Most of the conference goers
the snow, smoking cigarettes and trying to shake off the lethargy and
generated by Roger Strom's endless discussion. Among these were
Fielding and Melton,
who smoked thin brown cigarettes out of fancy paper packets.
can't believe it's even spread to Scandinavia,"
Fielding said bitterly, clinching his teeth. "Can't even smoke inside
most expensive hotel in town!"
since the settlement, you can't really smoke in
Seattle, either," Burton replied. Other businessmen conversed in
languages around them, occasionally nodding their heads in Fielding's
do you think he's ready?" Fielding said to
have no idea," Melton said, staring up into the
swirl of falling snow. "You ever heard of George Pembroke?" Fielding
shook his head. "Neither have I. I can't figure out what Boltz's game
going to be."
matter," Fielding said, dropping his
cigarette to the snow-covered sidewalk and crushing it with his foot.
we leave here with a commitment to build, I'll buy you and the whole
board a steak dinner." Melton laughed, and filed behind Fielding as
walked back into the building along with a throng of other attendees.
up the road, the Trabant sat still and Ground and
Gaabick listened to the sounds coming through the speaker system.
just static and meaningless cackle," Ground
said they had gone on break," Gaabick
snapped. "You are being deliberately difficult."
"Before we get
started again," Burton's voice said over the intercom, "check Mr. Boltz's microphone and make
certain it's working properly. He's been awfully quiet, and I wanted to
sure it's not the sound system."
smiled triumphantly at Ground, who slumped angrily in
his seat and stared out into the darkening streets of Oslo.
* * * * *
the conference resumed at four o'clock, Hamlet, who had
begun to suspect the job was shaping up to be very easy, suddenly found
feeling very much under attack.
Fielding," a woman with a thick Asian accent
asked from the audience, "I've read Gaston Lafayette's work and find it
be very--how shall I say it--interesting." She consulted a notepad,
turned to stare directly at Hamlet. "But even the Olvig Reactor Project
hasn't dared to use a full scale run using this system. Are you
proposing placing this reactor on a commercial airliner?"
Fielding cleared his throat, "the
original concept did not start with this type of technology in mind,
found the design intriguing. Of course, this is the main reason we're
this conference so that all the possible contractors in the project can
their say. As for why engines using Lafayette's theories, I have to
one over to Mr. Boltz.
eyes turned to Hamlet, and George noted, for the first
time since they'd met, he looked tremendously uncomfortable.
were best suited for the purpose envisioned for
the craft," he said tentatively.
Mr. Boltz," she said, turning her lip up in a
slight sneer, "isn't there the Ion drive? Haven't they been perfecting
that over the last twenty five years? I mean, I can't see argon gas
drive," Hamlet said, shooting George a
shrugged helplessly. He's losing it,
he thought, tapping his lapel pin.
* * * * *
Mia said, pulling out of the library
program and switching to the search engine she had written for the
papers. "It's the Ion Drive question, right?" A cough came through
the receiver. "Trauma!" she yelled over her shoulder.
up almost instantly from his sleep, he leapt out of
bed and ran into the living room. Mia motioned to the receiver, and
asking questions, he picked it up and prepared to speak.
channel," she said, sifting through the
output of the search program.
"The ion drive,"
Hamlet said over the receiver after an awkward pause, "was
considered. Was most certainly
considered." George began coughing urgently into his
here, here!" Mia said, pointing to a
particular block of text.
drive doesn't have enough power for something
of this size." Trauma said carefully into the receiver.
Hamlet said with renewed confidence, "I
found the Ion drive to be insufficient for the task. The Ion drive does
provide enough power." Murmuring sounds could be heard in the
conference room as Mia pointed out more text.
Hamlet," Trauma continued, "Even the
most advanced Ion engine of this time produces only the thrusting power
garbage can of paper burning. It's fine for long durations, but not for
speed you are trying to achieve."
picked up the discussion after completing some filler
material he had just ad-libbed. "In
fact, madam," he said, "I
never seriously, beyond moments of pure jest, considered trusting the
intrepid passengers to a means of conveyance using the immense power of
parchment." A slight ripple of laughter washed over the Odin
one goal for the home team," Mia said,
letting out a sigh of relief. "I wonder what will be next."
job, Mr. Boltz," Trauma said into the
receiver, allowing himself a small smile of victory.
another voice said from the gallery, "Are
you, in fact, confident in your company's ability to build a
combustion system using Mr. Boltz's design?"
"I have great
confidence," Norgaard said, "in
the abilities of the team here. Fortinbras is justly proud of the work
done in the past, and with all due respect to Pitt and Whitley, I'd
firm against any other on the planet, and I venture that we'd win."
Again, there was a small wave of laughter from the audience. "We can build it, but I don't know if it is
practical. Again, since he is more familiar with the design, I'll have
this over to Mr. Boltz for further discussion."
up everything on the design," Trauma said,
and Mia began furiously typing at the keyboard.
Tollefson had thought it would be a good idea to seek
out his roots. Life in America had never made much sense to him even
was born and raised there. In the back of his mind, he always suspected
something to do with Bill Clinton, the president when he was born. He
precisely label what the connection was, but he knew it must be there.
he graduated from college, he drifted for a few years,
taking occasional computer jobs before deciding the answers had to lay
past of his ancestors. But Oslo had given him none. The first few days,
seen all the sights, including the medieval looking grounds of Akershus
He stood on the hills and walked in the snow covered gardens, trying
desperately to hear the ancient echoes of his Nordic ancestors, but
it was quiet and still as the snow and the darkness both
fell across the city, broken only by the lights in Vigeland Park.
demanded answers from the statues, nude and semi-nude figures of men,
boys and girls, all of whom were covered with thick layers of drifting
fell to the ground, crying out in anger. But the silence
did not remain for long. As he concentrated on the failures of his
and snow began to swirl and flow around him and the statues. He stood,
searching for the source of the sound he had just heard. It didn't seem
coming from the ground, so he peered up into the air, just in time to
figure fall from the sky amidst a torrent of falling debris, smoke, and
bursts of energy.
figure was wearing a thick, black, bulky suit, topped off
by a hood secured to the shoulders. Covering his face was something
appeared to be a gas mask, but the viewport of the mask was a
protective lens. Steam poured from the suit and snow sizzled as it
around the figure.
the figure stood, and Edgar was able to see more of
the suit. Lights on some sort of chest pack flashed, and still more
adorned a blocky unit secured to the strange man's wrist. The figure
wrist up to his faceplate, and examined the blinking display. There was
second, bulkier system strapped to the figures back, parts of which
glowed a bright, cherry red.
understanding what was happening, and perhaps even
thinking this man could offer him the answers he sought, Tollefson
towards the man who fell from the sky. Noticing his approach, the man
suit turned towards him and raised his hand as if to wave.
my name is Edg--", Tollefson managed to
call out before he was blinded by a sudden flash of light accompanied
by a loud
thwack sound. "I can't see! I
can't see!" he cried. A sharp crack on the back of his head and the
went dark and still.
dark figure looked about, scanning for other lifeforms,
then removed a round metallic object and placed it in the snow. Slowly
object began to flash urgently, and within minutes, similarly attired
began to fall from the sky. Once the tenth emerged from the swirling
that hung almost invisibly in the sky, the first retrieved the round
placed it into a side pouch of the suit.
last to arrive fell into the snow and rolled around,
steam flowing up as the frozen precipitation made contact with the
metal. Slowly, the figure reached up and began undoing clasps and other
securing devices on the front of the suit. Once the third layer had
removed, a bright white light emerged.
Werm," Ellis said from beneath the
protective layers of the outfit, "chronological reading!"
8, 2016," Werm said, even more muffled by
Sergeant," Ellis said. "You did a
stellar job of navigating under very difficult circumstances." Ellis
finished removing his suit, and two other agents began collapsing the
"Gather round," he motioned to the agents, who were all in the
process of removing their suits.
the civilian," Werm directed, and two
agents moved Tollefson to a protective tent they had rapidly erected.
must discuss the plans," Ellis said.
"Nothing must go wrong now."
* * * * *
discussions and debates had dragged on throughout the
afternoon and into the late evening. While he wasn't entirely sure,
they had at least held their own against those who wanted to scrap
Boltz, Mr. Fielding, and Mr. Norgaard," an
official wearing a blue Sisler Motors Jacket stood from the back of the
"I've heard a great deal over the last several hours. I've heard about
wind tunnel tests, and structural tests, and technological studies.
about Gaston Lafayette and safe and unsafe combustion of matter and
anti-matter." He glanced around at the other conference attendees, and
then directed his attention back to the front of the room. "Mr. Boltz,
I'll ask this same question of Mr. Fielding and Mr. Norgaard. Would you
your children, if you have children, to fly on the first commercial
flight of a
Boling 808?" The audience remained quiet.
Here it comes,
George thought. This is the big one.
Connelly," Daniel Burton said, rising from his
seat and grasping at the lectern. "We made an agreement early on not to
let this debate sink to personal levels."
isn't personal," the Texan businessman
replied angrily, firing his hat to the table. "It's a damn fair
Would you, if you have children, let them fly on the first commercial
a Boling 808?" He again looked around at the other conference goers.
"Look, Sisler Motors stands to make a great deal of money from this
I mean, cryogenic systems may not seem to be a cash cow here, but the
cryo out the wazoo, if you'll forgive the language.
colloquialism is--quaint," Hamlet said,
rising to look Connelly, even at a distance, in the eye, "But your
"Don't give him
too much respect," Trauma said into the ear-piece. "Keep him as far beneath you as possible, and
the audience will hopefully stay with you."
my company would love the 808 contract,"
Connelly said, playing to the audience rather than the podium. "But
been instructed to be thorough about issues concerning safety, and I
how safe an aircraft--or spacecraft--like this can be!" He began to
his way to the aisle and walked down towards the podium.
assuming everyone here has heard of the
Comet," Connelly said. "A veritable marvel of the jet age. First of
its kind. Sleek, fast, dependable. A sexy plane by anyone's terms." He
held a pencil up and snapped it in two. The crack echoed to the far
the hushed room. "How many people died when those planes exploded at
thirty thousand feet? Sure, they'd be tested. And tested and tested and
again. But the technology was too new. No one knew that those
around the rivets could link up and blow open the fuselage. No one knew
the technology hadn't been around long enough!"
* * * * *
the Comet?" Trauma asked, and Mia tapped
the term into the computer.
first commercial jet airliner," Mia reported
thoughtfully, scanning over the page of text. "Oh, dear, Trauma. I know
what he's trying to get at..."
* * * * *
was the first out the door with this new
technology," Connelly continued. "Anyone ridden on a big deHavilland
jet lately? The Comet didn't exactly do wonders for that company's
future." He raised his hand and pointed a finger, first at Hamlet, then
Norgaard, then finally at Fielding. "Your companies have good
and good track records," he said. "Do you want a horrible disaster to
be the thing that ends it all? Can you imagine
the lawsuits when it's discovered you didn't guess it all? That metals
under the stress of all that thrust? or that pilots can't survive the
turned and began to walk back up the aisle towards his seat,
then paused and turned to face the podium again. "One last thing," he
drawled. "Can you big fish assure the little fish that all of us won't
dragged down when this little pipe dream goes up in smoke and they nail
and Fortinbras to the wall?" Dead silence reigned as he slowly walked
to his seat.
rose, and George tapped at his lapel pin.
"Stall them if you
can," Trauma said in the ear piece. Hamlet was about to speak
Burton took the podium.
Burton said. "I feel, and I think Mr.
Boltz, Mr. Fielding, and Mr. Norgaard would agree that this is
everyone should have the time to mull over and think about. I propose
recess for the night and pick up with this tomorrow evening. If there
serious objections, we'll resume tomorrow at 8:00 AM." Without waiting
any one to lodge a comment, he pounded the gavel on the lectern and
off the podium.
the audience began to filter out of the Odin
Chambers, though a few lingered behind to scribble notes franticly.
Trauma said into the ear-piece, "meet
me in the art exhibit in the lobby. I'm telling Hamlet to mingle and
himself available, but not to answer any more specific questions."
George said softly. I get the feeling I've
just attended an execution, he thought
solemnly, and glanced over at the prince of Denmark. Hamlet sat,
stoic and melancholy. George reached over and placed a soft hand on his
shoulder. A brief flicker of a smile crossed his face as he nodded up
George. George squeezed the shoulder gently, then slowly walked up the
and out of the Odin Chambers, removing the ear-piece and lapel pin when
confident no one was looking.
and Melton stood in a corner busily conferring with
one another, and Fielding and Norgaard also carried on a quiet
Finally, Fielding disengaged and made his way over to where Hamlet
carrying on small talk with a pair of Hungarian engineers.
is still an option," Fielding said.
"Think it over. Sleep on it." And then he too walked out of the
Hamlet made his way into the Preparation Room behind
the stage. Closing the door, he sat down at a table and slowly drifted
deep thought. He pulled the ear-piece out and placed it in his jacket
along with the lapel pin.
a piece of work is man," he said out loud to
no one in particular.
was a soft knock on the door of the Preparation Room,
which then opened slowly. Hamlet stood to face the door as a tall
slipped inside, closing the door behind him.
Boltz," the man said. "I wonder if I
could talk with you for just a few moments?"
Hamlet said, tapping at his jacket
wistfully. "What can I do for you?" The middle-aged man smiled and
approached him in a manner that caused distant alarm bells to wring in
you know who I am, by any chance?" the man
believe you are with the AirFrame delegation,"
Hamlet said, looking over his guest and checking for any sign of
"Mr. Wingruber? No, Falstaff."
he said. "John Falstaff. I'm the second
assistant to Karl Wingruber in the Special Projects division." He
quietly. "Not the first assistant, Geena McKenzie. Bad luck there. She
came down with food poisoning, but then, you couldn't have known that
to happen, could you?"
Falstaff," Hamlet said impatiently, an edge of
menace beginning to resonate in his voice. "you have a question, or
perhaps something you wish to discuss?"
Falstaff said, "not so formal. Call
me John." He smiled widely. "You always called me John in the past,
Hamlet said with dreadful recognition.
"I know you, don't I?"
you do," Falstaff said. "But I have
no idea who you are, and I am here to find out."
mouth curled into a menacing smile, and he slowly
approached the figure of John Falstaff.
is but a mere setback, George," Trauma said
confidently to his friend as they walked into the art gallery next to
lobby. "We knew ahead of time that the proceedings were to be
And indeed they are. Hamlet and yourself have handled things quite
the communications system is functioning exactly as it should."
but that was a hefty bomb Connelly tossed in our
lap," George muttered sadly as he examined a Manet painting. "Hours
and hours of duck, dive, evade, and confront, all of which was going
then this from some potential subcontractor."
Trauma assured, "things likely proceeded
more or less in this manner originally, and the 808 was still built."
turned to face Trauma. "And the real Thomas Boltz
was the man who did it," he whispered savagely. "He had all the
conviction of being the man who actually designed the plane. We can act
want, but we don't have that final passion. Have you heard of the
checked," Trauma replied sadly. "For
someone in those jobs and positions, the Comet is a powerful reference.
indeed something we will have to deal with delicately but firmly."
anything going well?" George sulked. "Has
Mia been able to track down the next group in line for developing the
shook his head. "I wish I could say so, George. I
genuinely wish I could. But files are being erased, and there appears
been little documentation to begin with."
lord," George sighed, turning to look at
another painting. I can't believe we've
come this far, he thought, only to
wind up falling on our faces. Oh well, maybe I'll be able to work out
fashion of career in Oslo.
read the despair George's face. "Keep believing,
George," he smiled warmly. "We're not dead yet."
* * * * *
slender fingers glided over the computer keys like a
mad organist playing an insane tune. Her face was lined with
slumped back in the chair, pushing her hair up on her forehead.
nibbled on her pencil as she reexamined the problem for
the thousandth time, turning it around in her head and looking for an
angle. Maybe I just need a break,
thought. She reached over to the small coffee table in front of the
picked up the English language newspaper that George had asked the
deliver that morning, and flipped open to the crosswords. Maybe a little crossword will limber my mind,
she thought. She
began working the across clues, filling them in with a ballpoint pen.
contemplating possible solutions for "Gainsborough's paint pigment"
and had just begun to write "ochre" in the five letter block when a
realization struck her so swiftly she dropped her pen.
idiot!" she shouted to herself, swiveling her
chair back around to face the computer. She furiously tapped keys,
through screens and screens of library reference data, until she
what she was looking for: The Alliance Maritime Codes Catalog.
she whispered hoarsely,
"Useless." The requested reference scrolled onto the screen, and Mia
quickly scanned the contents of the file. Her eyes grew wide as she
the communications receiver.
* * * * *
George said, as his friend appeared to
melt into the colors of one of the paintings. "Why are they even
Trauma muttered. "What? Oh, presumably
to thoroughly evaluate the potential for the aircraft."
shook his head. "I'm not an aviation enthusiast
by any means," he said, "but I do know business, and I've never before heard of a company like
this one holding meetings of this scale to decide whether or not to
the 808 is an extraordinary
plane," Trauma said. "I doubt whether or not any of them have
ever dealt with situations of this nature before."
have a theory." George muttered. "Care to
hear it? I think it may help to shed some light on this entire ordeal."
Trauma nodded, and the two of them walked over to a far corner near a
no one in the gallery seemed to want to be near. "This SkyBird
proposal," George continued, "I told you I thought it was a hedge.
Get Boltz to commit to something less risky and
keep him on the payroll."
agree to that.."
George said emphatically. "What if,
though, this entire meeting were a hedge?"
hedge for what?" Trauma asked, puzzled. "To
get him to build SkyBird?"
shook his head emphatically. "Make large scale
announcements to all the major parties likely to be involved in the
the 808. Give them as much information as possible, even more than they
actually need given their likely roles in the overall project, and
daylights out of them. Then gather them together in one room to lob all
objections at Boltz. That way, everyone else involved starts worrying
project, and more negative statements are made, and more reasons are
Boling not to go ahead with building the plane in the first place."
see what you mean," Trauma said. He began
scratching at his beard and slowly pacing in the gallery. "Someone is
stacking the deck--setting Boltz up to fail before the entire aviation
at least convince him that the idea was too much
ahead of its time," George said, maneuvering himself in front of Trauma
ensure his undivided attention. "Fielding said that SkyBird will
advances in aviation and engine design. He was very specific about
think Fielding and Norgaard have already agreed in private to build
SkyBird." He laughed humorlessly. "Disheartened by the reception to
the 808, Boltz throws himself even harder into his next project. Boling
take a leap, albeit a safer one, into the future, and Fortinbras gets
most of the other conference attendees will
probably get a piece of that particular project's action, as well."
Boltz to fail," George said emphatically. "We have three enemies
here. the person who is trying to change history, and
the heads of Boling Aerospace and Fortinbras Aviation."
George leaned up against the wall and suddenly felt very tired. "We
new strategy here that assumes we have no allies. We've got to go on
and sell this project until they cannot say no."
want to check the transcripts and the notes,"
Trauma said with renewed enthusiasm. "I'm willing to bet that the real
Thomas Boltz either knew all this before ever coming to this
else figured it out in swift order once he arrived."
hope so, Trauma. After all, what else do we have
going for us?"
grinned madly at him. "Quark, strangeness, and
charm, my dear fellow." He was interrupted by the sound of a cell phone
ringing. He pulled a small object from his jacket and flipped it open.
"Another of today's acquisitions," he grinned. "Hello?"
Mia cried breathlessly. "I've been
trying to reach everyone, but Hamlet and George must have taken off
down, my dear," Trauma soothed. "What is
know who's behind this all," she continued,
running her words together excitedly. "I found who would have developed
the FTL engine next if Boltz had never succeeded!" She paused to catch
breath. "You're never going to believe this!"
expression collapsed as Mia told him the final piece
of the puzzle, and his mouth flew open as he raised his free hand to
George noticed his stricken expression, which was rather evocative of
reproduction he was standing in front of. George shivered with slight
he looked back and forth from Trauma's pale face to the eerie visage
adorned Munch's "The Scream".
* * * * *
altar stood bathed in the light of burning incense candles
and computer screens. Atop the alter stood a bowl of greenish steaming
in which was partially immersed an ebon figure of a humanoid male split
half. From above, small green leaves were dropped into the liquid,
started the fluid rolling and boiling, dissolving pieces of the
the Great Evil be forever banished from the pages
of history," an alien voice rasped. Shadows cast by computer screens
the candles moved across the wall, revealing the outline of a tentacled
creature standing over a computer bank. Green tentacles moved deftly
keys, and the Alliance Maritime Code Catalog vanished.
Thromboid reached down, picking up the utility belt
filled with cleaning fluids and washers, and strapped it on. Then,
in front of the computer, the janitor laughed a deep and evil laugh.
To Be Concluded...
© 1998,2007 Rob Wynne and Jeffrey Williams
Robert Wynne ("Doc") is a gentleman rogue and a scholar of truth. He has been, at alternate times, a writer, an editor, a salesman, a teacher, a freelance computer consultant and a charming vagrant. He currently works as a Systems Administrator for an Atlanta area ISP, and in his spare time enjoyed gaming and figuring out ways to get cheap airline tickets. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While herding a sturdy diesel across the highways of life Jeff Williams dreame d of becoming a writer. In between haunting railroad yards he scribbles cryptic notes on slightly-used paper napkins and posts them off to his colaborator, Rob Wynne. They brainstorm these abstruse anagrams into the tales that you've just been reading. And people say the youth of America have no goals in life. You can reach Jeff at email@example.com
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