Author Topic: Chapter 10  (Read 5646 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 10
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:01:50 AM »
Chapter 10

Didi dropped by the next morning, with several boxes full of paper. Petra helped her haul the boxes, one by one, into her small apartment. Once they were situated, Petra put some coffee on for later.

"What makes you think Darius is a Roman? Or was, I should say," Didi asked as she carefully unpacked them in the living room.

Petra stifled a yawn. This was pretty early for her, though apparently not for Didi. "His name originated in Roman times, didn't it? You've tracked him back to the 1800s, but you haven't found any record of his birth yet. For all we know, he dates back to the origin of his name. For all we know, he is the origin of his name!"

Didi looked troubled. "Good point."

They got to work on the documents she'd brought, spreading them out through the living room. Before long Petra's place was unrecognizable. Birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, census surveys, and older forms were littered everywhere. "Are you sure we can get a lead on Darius by looking up your ancestors?"

"No," Petra admitted, "but until your friends catch sight of him somewhere else, I don't have any other ideas. Darius spent almost ten years with my father's family, for some reason. Your own research suggests he was a bit of a lone wolf before that, so there must be something special about the Hildebrands. Besides, I think it's more than just a coincidence that he set up shop here in Vancouver, of all the places in the world. I'm guessing it's because I live here."

Didi shrugged. "Well, let's see what we can dig up."

Once again Petra marveled at Didi's resourcefulness. The internet could cover recent family history, but somehow she'd gotten hold of- or printed out- records from before Petra's family had moved here from France! Petra regretted keeping Darius' true location and nature from her friend, but at least this way she could figure out why he was so interested in Petra's family. He was still stonewalling her on those kinds of questions, and given the recent mess with Chuck and the magicians, she didn't exactly want to press him for details.

Over the next few hours they pored over birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, census surveys, and older forms. Apparently Didi could read French, German, Italian and Latin, which some of the oldest documents were written in. At first they made very little progress, because even after a few generations the number of ancestors started getting unmanageable. Didi decided to focus on firstborn children after that.

Petra was an only child, as was her father. Her grandfather was the oldest of three, and his mother was the oldest of two. So on and so forth, back through the ages. Finally, they managed to track Petra's ancestry back to the French 1600s, to a minor noble in Provence named Luc Caillat.

Unfortunately there was no record of Caillat's parentage. "I think we've gone as far as we can go," Didi concluded, and Petra was forced to agree. "If Darius did know Caillat, there's no way of verifying it. Frankly, we were lucky to get as far as we did. I just wish I knew where Darius is right now, so we could just ask him!"

Try Munich, Petra thought bitterly. "From what I've read, there wasn't much migration happening into and out of France from before that point. It's likely my ancestors were from Gaul at least. The closest major city at the time was Lyons, or Lugdunum as it was called back then. Could there be any record from that area during Roman times?"

Petra was speculating madly, but Didi had no way of knowing that. This seemed like the best way to connect her search to Lugdunum, where Petra knew Darius had been born.

The older woman looked at her thoughtfully. "Maybe. I'll put out some feelers to French historians in the area." She glanced up at the clock. "I should head home soon. My home internet is down, and I need to be there when the service people drop by to fix it."

"I need to go too," Petra responded, surprised. She remembered making sandwiches for them as she worked, but the amount of time that had passed was startling. She'd eaten alongside Didi for appearance's sake, but without a body clock it was pretty easy to lose track of time now. Someone from the Veil would be dropping by soon to bring her in for training. "Let me help you pack all this up first, though."

-.-

The last time Petra had come to the Veil, she'd stepped through a door just around the corner from their control room. This time the door was in the middle of an unknown room, and there were half a dozen armed guards in front of her, and as she looked, twice as many behind!

Doug was there, and he called out for them to let her through. Just as he did, the usual blast of EMP energy passed through her, but this time from above. This room must be much further down than she'd been before.

He looked haggard and worn. Petra approached him cautiously, after closing the door behind her. "Hey. Are you all right?"

He glanced downwards out of habit, and then caught himself and looked her in the eye. "Not really. It's been a rough couple of days." He gestured towards the doorway out of the room. "See for yourself."

The door was missing. It looked like the hinges had been removed, and recently. Once they were in the adjoining hallway, Petra could see that every other door in the area was gone as well. "I thought Colin didn't have any transport keys," Petra asked, disturbed. "Is all of this really necessary?"

"Just because he hasn't used them yet doesn't mean he can't make any," Doug said sadly. "Darius isn't taking any chances with our safety. Chuck says hi, by the way."

Petra had been wondering about him and the other magicians. "How is he doing?"

"I think he's ok, but that's just a guess. You should ask him yourself- he and the others are in temporary barracks two levels above us. I bet seeing you would be good for him."

She wanted to do just that, but she had another appointment. "Nick's expecting me. I don't want to keep him waiting."

Doug shook his head. "He's meditating right now. You can be a few minutes late and I doubt he'll care. Just go upstairs for a bit. I'll be right here with a key when you want to go to Nick."

The floors and counters in Chuck's temporary home looked much like Petra's apartment had this morning. Every surface was covered with papers and lined script, all in Chuck's handwriting. He was actually laboring on one, in what looked like the eye of a paper-storm, when Petra cleared her throat. "Hey."

He looked up, and his eyes brightened. "Hey! How are you doing?"

"I'm fine, for the most part," Petra stepped inside and to the right of the door so she could close it. This was pretty much the only place where she could stand without disturbing the paper maelstrom. "Just juggling work and training." And Didi, she added silently.

Chuck nodded. "Sorry about the mess. Let me clear the way for you."

He stood up precariously, but Petra held out a hand. "Don't worry about it. I have to get going soon anyway. I just wanted to check in on you."

"Thanks." His face was deadpan, a typical male show of bravado, but at least his voice sounded sincere. "All nine of us are restricted to the island, but we can move around mostly freely while we're here. They won't let us near the door downstairs, though." He gave a frustrated grunt. "Not that I can blame them. I've been working on a magical solution to this whole Colin imposter situation, but so far without luck."

Petra took in her surroundings with some reverence. It was all Greek to her, but she tried to put herself in Chuck's shoes. "That's what all this is about?" She gestured to the multitude of papers.

He nodded. "Assuming that fog in Munich was actually the imposter using magic, I may be able to track him the next time he uses it. It's about the most I can do while I'm stuck here- Darius forbade me from using a key to go to the site itself."

"I'm sorry," Petra put in softly. She hesitated, and then glanced at the walls and ceilings. She couldn't see any cameras, but that didn't mean there weren't any. "Can we.. talk openly here?"

Chuck looked startled, and then smiled. "Yeah. The REMP makes video surveillance here a real pain. These barracks are clean." He paused. "Let me guess. You're going to ask me if I really am the traitor a bunch of those people out there think I am."

"Not at all. I just wanted to say I'm sorry your friend was killed. I'm just starting to realize how close you all are, here at the Veil. This is more than a peacekeeping agency- it's almost a family."

He looked uncomfortable, but nodded. "I still don't know why it happened like that," he said slowly. "Colin and I were sent with Ortiz, Hewell and Chandler to keep track of one of Greed's gangs in Lisbon. It was simple surveillance at first. We followed a few of them to that warehouse, where they met with another gang. I thought it was a simple drug exchange at first, but then everybody started shooting! I ordered us all out of the building- but then I must have blacked out or something.

"The next thing I remember was waking up on the street a few hundred feet away from the warehouse. Or what was left of it." He touched the scar on the side of his head. "Memory loss is a common side effect of concussions, but that was months ago. I should have remembered something by now! Anything to help figure this imposter out!"

Petra couldn't sympathize much. She actually wished she could forget what Greed had done to her. "I know you worked with the other three before, but you trained Colin personally, right? Were you two close?"

Chuck glanced at her wryly. "You mean were we involved? No. I was interested, but he made it clear he wasn't. I think he just wasn't ready to admit it yet, to himself or to anyone else. I kept things professional after that, and we developed a good friendship at least."

Petra wanted to ask him if he was sure this guy wasn't Colin, but it seemed like stepping over the line. Maybe Chuck wasn't ready to admit it to himself yet either. "Well, whoever is sullying your friend's good name, we'll find him eventually. Darius is leaving no stone unturned, and Contentment will help on the fade end of things."

It was a platitude, but a comforting one. She chatted with him about her work and family for a bit longer. Apparently he was from Atlanta, originally, but had gone to school in Liverpool. That explained why his accent was unusual. At least he looked a bit more cheery when she was ready to leave.

The armed guards in the room downstairs seemed much more interested in people who were incoming, but they took careful aim as Doug inserted the key and opened the door. Hot, humid air blasted in through the door: much more so than the usual environment on Kiri Atoll. The roar of a waterfall also inundated the room. Giving Doug an encouraging glance, Petra went through.

The other side was inside a forest, she thought at first. The door was standing in the open, on what looked like an island in the middle of a river. Both sides of the river were dotted with trees, but a closer look revealed that they didn't extend very far away. They were clustered on the shore or near to it.

The door closed behind her, and Petra moved to the other side of it. There, Nick sat on a large slab of rock overlooking the river. Ahead of him was the waterfall, which was almost deafening at this distance. Hundreds of meters across, and at least a hundred meters tall, the curtain of descending water gave rise to huge clouds of mist and fog. If it weren't for the steady wind coming from the left, Petra doubted she'd be able to see anything at all.

It was doubtful he'd hear anything quieter than a shout, so Petra moved up and put a hand on his shoulder. He started at first, and then looked up at her. Nodding, he stood and led the way to the left. A makeshift stone bridge was spanning this side of the river, and as soon as they crossed it the noise became much less intense. The trees probably acted as a dampener.

"Welcome to my meditation area," Nick said after a few moments. "Can you guess where we are?"

That was a good challenge, actually. The keys could take her anywhere in the world. It felt tropical, but that could just be the humidity from the nearby falls. There wasn't much grassland past the trees. It was mostly just dirt and rock, at least in one direction. The air was warm, as the sun was still arcing its way down towards the horizon.

The sun. It had been less than an hour since she'd been home. Based on its position in the sky, and the time of day.. it could at least give her a time zone. "Africa? West Africa I'd guess."

Nick's eyebrows rose. "Very good. This is the Gorgol river in Mauritania. Most people guess Central America their first time out."

"Oh, so you bring a lot of women here, do you?" Petra joked, and he smiled slightly.

"No, I was just trying to get centered," he pulled out a key. "We're actually headed to Colorado next."

"Aren't you worried about some Mauritanian local seeing this door here, or you and me passing through it and vanishing?"

Nick shook his head. "The tribes here are nomadic. We won't see any locals coming back into this area for another few months at least. Actually we won't see them at all. Darius lets me set this door up here every year, but he wants us to avoid contact with people living in these areas. It would invite too many questions. So when their migration season ends and they start coming back this way, we pack up the door and ignore this place for the rest of the year."

"Sounds reasonable."

-.-

The door they exited was actually onto a tarmac. From the signs, it was a small airfield in Colorado Springs. Petra could see more than a dozen airplanes, ranging from two ultralights on one side, to four multi-engine twelve-seaters on the other. One of those was actually revving up, with a pilot and another passenger visible from their location.

Nick walked towards them purposefully, and Petra hurried to keep up. Were they going somewhere without any doors? Petra had only flown twice before during a school trip to Ontario, and it had terrified her. She couldn't feel the heart-pounding sense of fear from before, but the emotion was still there.

The pilot shook Nick's hand briefly, exchanging words with him that were drowned out by the engine, and then gestured to the plane's side door. Petra reluctantly followed the rest as they went inside. As it turned out, the passenger was actually a copilot. It was just her and Nick in the back. The cockpit was closed off from the rest of the plane, and most of the seats had been removed. With a sinking feeling, Petra realized this plane had been outfitted for skydiving.

Nick must have seen the growing concern on her face. "It's fine," he assured her. "I've been doing this since I was twelve. It's a piece of cake. Darius taught me, actually. He's been doing this since.. they invented parachutes."

Darius was a skydiver? That seemed a bit out of place for someone as reserved as him. Was this a sort of therapy for him? Nodding nervously, Petra strapped in as the plane started moving. Nick smiled as they moved onto the runway and started picking up speed, his worries forgotten for a time.

It was a few minutes between takeoff and cruising altitude, which couldn't have been very high up. Nick got up and checked the cockpit door. Then he called out. "You're clear."

Petra wasn't sure what he meant by that, until he pulled out a pair of sunglasses and put them on. At the same time an orange cloud began spilling out of the side of the plane into the cabin. It took a mostly human shape just like the other fades, but for some reason it kept one appendage on the plane wall.

"Petra, this is Thrill," Nick introduced them, moving back over.

"It is good to see you again, Mr. Rukavina. And to meet you, Miss Hildebrand," the fade said stately, belying his name. The voice was a tenor with a pleasant tone. "Excitement wanted to be here, but was held up working with Contentment. He sent me in his stead."

"A pleasure," Petra responded, nodding in his direction. "If I can ask, how are you able to stay on this plane? Fades have no mass, so gravity can't really affect you. This plane is going at least a hundred kph, so why weren't you left behind on the runway?" She paused. "Come to think of it, how come fades aren't left behind as the earth spins its way through space?"

Thrill chuckled. The sound was translated through Nick's phone, and he raised his eyebrows. "I'm connected to the plane's electrical system," the fade explained. "Think of it like an airplane seat, keeping me anchored to the rest of the plane. If I were to let go, I really would be whisked right out the back of this thing. The rest of us are connected to the planet's magnetic field, so we move along with it. Good questions, though. Contentment said you were inquisitive."

She didn't have much choice in that, Petra reflected sourly. She was playing catch-up on thousands of years of history here! "I take it you ride along on skydiving trips all the time?"

The orange eye-lights moved to examine the sky outside. "Oh yes, we all do. The combination of fear and exhilaration is quite seductive to us."

"Here, let's get you geared up," Nick said, ushering her further to the back of the plane. One of Thrill's eye-lights lifted above the other, but he stayed put.

"Nick, I'm not sure this is such a good idea," Petra said urgently, but quietly. "I don't have any skydiving experience. I don't even like roller-coasters!"

"It's easy," he repeated from before, but then his voice became a little more serious. "And it's required of you. Each of the factions needs to get to know you, and in an environment comfortable to them. Excitement wanted to start you out with bullfighting, but I talked him out of that. Skydiving is a good intro to the life of an adrenaline junkie, and like it or not, that's what these fades are."

"But my body doesn't even use adrenaline anymore. What's the point?"

"You can still feel the emotion," Nick pointed out. "That's the important thing to them."

It was a fair argument, Petra realized as he helped her with the parachute backpack. "This is a starter pack," he said once she was situated. "It has a sensor that registers air pressure changes. Fifty seconds after you jump out, it will give you an audio warning and then automatically deploy. If it doesn't for whatever reason, just pull this tab," he pointed to the orange handle on the left side of her chest, "to open it manually. After that it's smooth sailing and wonderful views all the way down."

"Wait, shouldn't I be getting some kind of specialized training for this? You know- on the ground?"

Nick shook his head. "We have about twenty minutes in the air for me to show you how to set down safely, but Excitement insisted you go up without the usual training. It can be risky, but it definitely improves the experience. He insisted the same thing for me when I was twelve. Though at that age I didn't even know fades existed. Back then, Darius was just a friend showing a kid how to fly."

Petra didn't like that answer, but she was much harder to injure now than before. "I assume that means you're jumping with me?"

In answer, he pulled a much more elaborate backpack from the storage compartment and put it on. "This is a custom model I had specially built. It has multiple canopy options, a redesigned RSL, and I designed the backup unit myself." He paused. "You probably shouldn't ask how much it cost."

"Don't worry, I wasn't going to," Petra said wryly. Boys and their toys.

They spent the rest of the trip to the drop zone familiarizing her with good ways to set down. Theoretically, it seemed pretty easy. She had trained in basic CPR as part of her job requirements, and that had seemed easy as well: until there was an actual health emergency. Petra hadn't frozen, exactly, but she hadn't been a hundred percent either. Hopefully she'd make a better showing here.

A few minutes later the moment was nearly on them. Thrill gave her a passable imitation of a thumbs-up, Petra moved to the now-open side door, took a deep breath, and jumped.

The roaring wind drowned out everything at first, but Petra got used to it quickly. She spun around several times in a three-sixty turn, before spreading her arms and legs properly to level out, like Nick had shown her. From behind, she could hear a whoop of joy as he followed her down.

After a moment Petra realized she hadn't been counting down! She had no idea how much time was left on her starter pack's release. It didn't matter much because the process was automatic, but it still bothered her.

Nick had been right; the view was incredible. She could see the mountains rising off to the south: Pike's Peak, if Nick was right, and vast tracts of land. Colorado Springs was off to the southwest, assuming she was looking in the right place. Her goggles were keeping her eyes clear, or she would have been concerned about her special contacts.

Then she heard a repeated beeping noise from her pack, and braced for sudden deceleration. Off to her right, Nick threw his chute, and disappeared above her. When the beeping stopped, her backpack disconnected from her entirely! It floated off to the right, getting her spinning again!

Petra yelled frantically, trying to regain her previous stability. She yanked at the manual release, but it wasn't connected to anything! The harness was all she had left.

At this altitude, she wouldn't have long before the ground gave her a violent greeting. Petra finally leveled out, just in time for something heavy to strike her from behind! It felt like she'd been hit by a train at first, but then she realized it was Nick. He efficiently wrapped a line around her waist and chest, and then gripped her firmly before reaching for his own manual release. The freefall ended with a gut-wrenching pull downwards, but Nick wasn't fazed. He held onto her with both hands as they made a rough, but successful, landing.

Petra felt trembling all over, as she realized what had just almost happened. Even up there in the air, it hadn't seemed quite real, as it had happened! It took her a few more moments to realize that it wasn't actually her body shaking. It was Nick.

He let go of her slowly, and took a shuddering breath. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah." She should be terrified, but wasn't. What a difference this change to her body had made! "Are you?"

He nodded, looking pale. They both looked up at the sky, but the plane was small and had already gone out of sight. His face twitching, Nick moved around her and examined the harness she was wearing. "There are multiple safeties on parachutes like yours. They make it almost impossible for the parachute to get stuck, unless it's tampered with. But detaching the chute entirely? This was no accident."

That felt much more real. Ever since Rage had said she was a threat to fade existence, Petra had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Literally, in this case. "Who had access to that chute, and knew I'd be the one to use it? Thrill, obviously, but he couldn't have sabotaged it himself. Who else could have done it?"

Nick didn't answer for a few seconds. The paleness in his face had gone, replaced with anger. "I don't know, but it will be a genuine pleasure finding out."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:55:10 AM by Daen »