Author Topic: Chapter 12  (Read 9895 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 12
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:01:30 AM »
Chapter 12

Petra knocked on the door carefully, trying not to betray her nervousness. She was about to lie her butt off, and that was well outside of her comfort zone. Didi welcomed her inside with the usual pleasantries. They had their standard coffee-vs-tea debate, which Didi won. She put a pot on to boil, before finally getting down to business. "What brings you by?"

"I think I found some documents from Lugdunum that might be relevant to Darius," Petra explained. "The journal of a legionnaire named Torius Horatius. He was the son of a noble, and one of the few legionnaires who could read and write. According to what I've been able to dig up, he wrote about a fellow soldier named Darius Benedictus. That could be our guy!"

Didi nodded. "Yes, I've heard of the journal. It's one of the few surviving records from the time. But it's priceless. It belongs to a French collector, and is in a museum in Marseille. I reached out to him when we first started looking into ancient Rome, but the only response I got was a form letter." She sighed. "I can get you a flight out to France, but it would be a waste of time. I doubt very much he'd let you take a look at the journal, even if I paid him for the opportunity."

"Not me, us." Didi gave her a curious look, so Petra went on. "It's written in Latin, right? I certainly can't read that, and I doubt any kind of translation program could do it justice. Besides, the original journal was copied! According to my friend, the Byzantines copied a bunch of their records before they were conquered by the Ottomans in 1453. The original was taken by Turkish forces, but the copies were shipped to England before Constantinople fell! It's a good bet Torius' journal was one of them."

Didi gave her a suspicious look. "Who is this friend of yours?"

Petra hesitated. This was where her lies had to really take off. There was no friend, and no copy, as far as she knew. "It's better if you don't know. He's a businessman.. of the extralegal variety. That's why you've never heard of him. He definitely doesn't work with Interpol or any other law enforcement agency."

"Even so, you believe him?"

Petra could only shrug. "He has no reason to lie. Aside from us, there's not many people interested in this stuff. According to my friend, the copied journal is owned by a man named Alex Selter. The good news is that he lives in Seattle, and apparently has a massive collection of documents there, in an underground archive. The bad news is, he's currently negotiating for a new property to start up his own historical museum. When that happens, he'll get a bunch of new security, and probably get a lot more tight-fisted about his property."

"How long until his negotiations are done?"

"A few weeks, maybe. Seattle isn't that far away. I was thinking we could leave today or tomorrow, drive out there to take a look, and then be back by day's end. Best case: my friend is right, and we get a look at some very rare and valuable information. Worst case: my friend is wrong and we spend a few hours in a car together."

Didi crossed her arms. "There's more to it than that. How much does this Selter person want for the privilege of looking at his most-likely-counterfeit documents?"

"Yeah, that's the other problem. Selter isn't willing to admit that he has any archive room or documents. It's part of his negotiating strategy. Once he's got a deal on paper, he can publicly reveal it to advertise his new museum, but until that happens he won't let anyone in there. Fortunately my friend knows his schedule and his security arrangements. He'll be in Los Angeles for the next two days, and this," Petra fished out her transport key, "should let us in to the archive room."

"You want to break in??" Didi's voice suggested she wasn't sure Petra was serious about this plan, despite all the information that had just been dumped on her.

"Well technically not, since we have a key.. but yeah. Basically." Petra looked out the window for a moment. "The risk is minimal. My friend gave me all the security protocols. There are only two guards in the building, and we can avoid both of them easily." Didi still didn't look convinced, and Petra sighed. "If you don't want to do this, I understand. I was planning on going alone anyway. I wanted to scan the journal pages and bring them back to you, but the room is huge. I'd be looking for a needle in a haystack. Filled with straws written in Latin! At least with you there, we could narrow the search down."

Didi was still hesitating, and Petra habitually held her breath. The lies were really piling on here. She had been to the archive room underneath the museum in Marseille, during business hours. Thanks to the key, Petra had taken the tour with a bunch of other French locals. Now that she knew what the inner archive door looked like, she could return there whenever she wanted. There was a real Alex Selter living in Seattle, with a comparable underground room. It was empty, though. The real Selter was a businessman, but it was doubtful he was planning on opening any museums anytime soon.

"All right. I'll do it," Didi finally said, and Petra almost wilted with relief. She tried to keep it off her face, but it was pretty clear she'd failed. "I promised my dad I'd keep the search alive, and that includes breaking laws. Some laws, anyway. There are some lines I won't cross."

"Sounds, good," Petra said, trying to limit her smile. "Should we head out tomorrow, or today?"

Didi also looked outside. There was plenty of cloud cover, but the light was getting brighter by the minute. "We'd better do it today, I think. Besides, if we get there and something goes wrong, we may get a chance to try again tomorrow before coming back. I'll pack some things for the road."

-.-

The trip to Seattle took two and a half hours, and included a border crossing. Border security had been upped in the past few years, as apparently some of the Americans had been taking advantage of Canada's cheap pharmaceuticals and other goods. Petra endured a basic search of her vehicle and person, before they were waved through. Aside from that one speed bump, it was a pleasant journey for the most part.

Petra had never been comfortable with long silences. Even alone in her apartment, she was prone to turning on the tv in the background, or listening to music. She would have gotten a pet, except for her building's restrictive policies about that.

By contrast, Didi was as calm as a mountain lake. The first half hour she just sat in the passenger seat. She didn't object when Petra turned on a news station, or when she turned it off again. Finally, she looked over with a wry expression. "Are you nervous about this heinous and terrible crime we're about to commit?"

"What? Oh. No, I'm just thinking. It's a work thing." That was partially true. Petra would be putting in her two-weeks notice soon, and the Veil would be her new occupation.

"Do tell." She leaned back, with her eyes closed. "I don't really care, personally, but it sounds like the kind of thing you want to talk about."

Petra stared at her briefly, before chuckling. Despite her words, Didi obviously did care. The hug Didi had given her moments after she'd gotten back the first time was still vivid. Shrugging, Petra explained. "I sorta lucked into a position of importance at work. I could turn down the job, but it might cause a lot of chaos at the company if I did. So I've been training for my new duties. The trouble is, the guy training me was next in line for the job before I came along."

"Ouch. Is he making your life difficult now?"

"That's just it. He took it well- much better than I would have. And he's good at it! He knows the work, the people, the nuances of negotiation. He's totally devoted to our boss, too. Thinks of him like a father. Unfortunately Da- uh, Dan, is dying. He's only got a few weeks left at most, and everyone at work has known for a while, but I just found out a few days ago. I don't know him that well, but I would have liked to."

Didi rolled her head to the left a bit. "I had no idea photojournalism was so filled with intrigue and politicking."

"Well, this is upper-management stuff. I wish I could just keep doing snapshots of life, but that's not really an option anymore." Petra was careful not to give too many details. "Dan's condition is really weighing on Nathan," she substituted Nick's name as well. "He doesn't let it affect his work as far as I can tell, but there are problems there, too. Corporate espionage of a sort. We don't know who's in on it and who's not."

Petra sighed. "I've got a sort of art project with him tomorrow night. I'm just wondering if I should try and get him to open up about Dan, or his suspicions at work. Or if it's too early and I should just leave it alone."

"Interesting. This art project. Is it work related?"

"No, why?"

"Was it your idea, or Nathan's?"

"Uh, mine, I guess. He was going to do the painting himself, and I offered to help. What are you getting at?"

Didi only gave her a sidelong look. Petra didn't get it at first, but then it hit her. "No, you're wrong. It's not like that."

"Not like what?"

"I'm not interested in him, all right? Sure, he's kind and professional, and easy on the eyes. But I don't dip my pen in the company ink, ok? I never have. Those kinds of relationships never work out."

"If you say so," Didi responded, her tone carefully neutral. She closed her eyes again, her head rocking slightly as they drove.

It was a ridiculous idea. Petra didn't feel that way towards Nick, or Chuck, or any of the others at the Veil. But why not? In the past, she would have at least considered it. She'd had relationships with men that had started based on nothing more than looks. Nick definitely had the criteria covered.

Of course. It was her own condition. She no longer felt a rush of endorphins or hormones associated with seeing a really hot guy. Even her scream while free-falling had been reflexive and not the result of any biological cause. She couldn't appreciate a fine behind anymore, or a chiseled jaw. Only personality traits and actions mattered now.

Petra knew she should feel sad about that, but it seemed that was another benefit to her condition. Maybe it was a good thing. She'd never even tried to separate the emotional from the biological in her previous relationships. Even the ones who'd turned out to be total jerks still had their upsides in her memory. Maybe she'd been missing out on something critical all these years, and Morty's 'bio-ectomy' had forcibly opened her eyes.

Was this how Darius felt? He'd spent the last seventeen centuries or more with no appreciable sex drive. Did that make his relationships deeper and more meaningful? None of her Veil colleagues had said anything about Darius' love life. If he didn't have one, was that to be Petra's fate as well?

Her stepdad Mark was certainly no looker, and her mom was devoted to him. Given how smart she was, she'd probably figured this out for herself a long time ago. It was something to think about.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 02:05:35 AM by Daen »