Masks 18: Part 16

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Rodford Edmiston

Part Sixteen

The caller ID told me who was behind the ring. I sighed, considered not answering, then sighed again and picked up the receiver.

"I assume you're not calling about the latest political mess," I said. I was glad Sievers was safe, and feeling rather afraid about what those who had ordered her seized might do next. However, Fen would say that was all fugitive and outside our mission purview, and we needed to focus on our own, longer-term tasks.

"The which, now? Oh, right... Sorry, I've been both busy and distracted with more important matters."

Not quite what I'd just imagined her saying, but close.

"Are we ready?"

"We have to be. There's a mystically important time approaching in under a week. If we're not ready by then we'll have to wait nearly a year."

"What happened to the long term?"

An ominous growl came over the line, and I figured I better stop joking.

"Well, I'll go pack."

"Lawrence Hawthorne I know you," said Fen. I could almost hear her toothy grin. "You've been packed for days, occasionally repacking when you think of something."

"So, I'll grab my bags and get there as soon as I can," I said, rolling my eyes.

"Be here - at the theater - bright and early tomorrow," said Fen, pointedly. "I've already reserved a hopper from the Bay Area Guardians and filed a flight plan for that airport you found. If you aren't here, we'll come looking for you!"

That last was obviously meant as a joke. I had no doubts, however, that she would feel no reluctance to land on the roof of my building if I were late.

Getting the permits and permissions to dig on Oak Island had been vastly more difficult than anticipated. However, all that was done, in the name of a small corporation I had established. This entire operation was all legal and above board; others had been doing the same for decades, with varying degrees of success in their efforts. Most of the funding for our effort had come from Fen, though I had spent some of my own money as well. I had managed to keep this dig out of the press except for a few bland notices which led then to briefly report that yet another group of fools were about to waste millions digging on Oak Island.

The place had been used as a base and rest stop and depository by smugglers and pirates for centuries. Most of what they put there had either been retrieved by them later, or found by treasure hunters who didn't advertise their success. However, for more than a century there had been rumors - most completely unsupported - that there was far more on that island. Perhaps even long-lost ancient holy relics. I didn't know whether what we sought counted as holy, but I had on good authority that it was, indeed, ancient.

* * *

The next morning I pulled my Corvette into the garage at the back of the old theater. Dutch closed the roll-up door behind me, then came over for a greeting and to help with my luggage.

"Would you believe this is the first time I've parked in here?" I remarked, as we hauled my barely fitting suitcases out of the 'Vette's minuscule trunk and put them in Fen's full-sized van. I grinned. "Also, have you ever noticed the trend of small people buying the largest road vehicles they can?"

"Yes, to both," said Dutch, grinning. He paused in his loading and tipped his head to one side, gaze momentarily distant. "Fen says she'll be down in a minute."

Dutch was a telepath, which was how he and Fen had connected, back in the Thirties. He'd needed help as a young man learning to control his ability. So, it wasn't uncommon for them to communicate mentally at a distance.

Fen did, indeed, soon join us. She insisted on driving. Which I had figured, since the pedal extensions were already installed.

In minutes we were at the Bay Area Guardians' reserved section of an airport outside of town. There we parked in the hangar and began transferring our gear to the assigned hopper.

"Something else I've never done before," I muttered.

"Pardon?" said Dutch.

"I've seen these before, including up close. I've even ridden in other types of superhero team vehicles, including flying ones. This will be my first ride in a hopper."

"You know Fen got her license from Orville Wright, back in the late Teens, right?"

"You are filling me brim full with confidence."

"Well, if it would help, I could take the controls," said Dutch, innocently. "I got my license in 1939."

"I hate you," I said, mildly, as he closed and latched the door to the cargo compartment.

"Let's go, people!" said Fen, from the cockpit. "We're burning daylight, and we're already four time zones too far west!"

"I still don't understand why you didn't start this from your Kentucky home," I said, in a stage mutter, as the engines started.

"You, Dutch and I were already here," she shouted, to be heard over the rapidly rising noise.

* * *

We landed the hopper at a private airport a couple of towns over from our destination. The owner was an former mask who had guaranteed privacy. We rented a full-sized van from a nearby agency and set out, with Dutch driving. Once we reached the island I was put in charge of getting the equipment to where Fen wanted it and then set up to dig. I'm no engineer, but I know how to tell experts what is needed and let them decide how to do it.

Fen, meanwhile, arranged for the covert transportation of some of her kin to the island. I wasn't certain exactly how they got there or even why they were there. When I asked about the former Fen ignored me. When I asked about the later she sighed and said "Just in case."

A small amount of heavy construction equipment was moved across the causeway and along a rough trail to a clearing near the target location. The main rig - the one which would dig the actual hole - was a gadgeteer development based on studying equipment the Subterrans had used to excavate their underground tunnels and habitats, all those thousands of years ago, to escape the ice age. That was the most important piece of equipment. Below a certain level the ground here was full of both tunnels and natural caves, all flooded. This gadget would quickly dig down as far as needed, sealing the walls as it went.

With that underway I looked for Fen and Dutch. He and I would be staying on the island in a locally rented camper van; Fen said she would stay with her kin, in the woods. I soon found Dutch and the van, and together we looked for Fen and her cousins. They were somewhere away from both our construction crew and the few locals who lived on the island.

"We really need more people for this," I muttered, as I tramped through the woods with Dutch. "You, me, Fen and a few of her Bluegrass Elf friends, plus the construction crew is it."

"Too bad the Walrus couldn't make it," said Dutch

"He's too busy training the new Victoria."

"You keep up with that stuff a lot more than I do."

"Out of sheer survival necessity."

Fen and her cousins were sitting around a small clearing, chatting. I had never seen so many pointed ears in one place before. As Dutch and I entered several of the little people there waved. Fen rose and walked to us, demonstrating that she was, indeed, taller than most Bluegrass Elves.

"We have a preliminary location. To narrow it down I need to check alone. Well, without any other psychics present. Too much interference for delicate work with more than one doing the search. Dutch can come, if he keeps his distance."

"Just try to keep me away," he responded, enthusiastically.

Okay, I now knew that one reason for her kin to be here was to help find whatever it was we were supposed to retrieve. They had apparently lined up and walked a grid in the hours I needed to get the equipment on the island.

The three of us donned day packs - Fen's the same size and weight as the other two - and set out down the newly bushwhacked trail. We soon reached the area the elves had picked out.

I watched Fen center herself. With arms slightly out, palms down, she began walking around the woods. She was slowed by the necessity of diverting around the many trees here. This land had never been excavated, according to the best information I had. However, it had been cleared a couple of times, most recently in the Sixties. That was enough of an interval for some sizable trees to grow up here.

"No dowsing rod?" I asked.

"Those are for amateurs," she said, in a scornful tone.

I had to smile at that.

Dutch and I watched her for over an hour, occasionally placing stakes where she indicated. Finally, she had it narrowed down to a tiny area.

"It's directly under here."

We marked the spot, and I looked at the surrounding woods.

"They'll have to 'doze in a new access road. Don't know how long that will take."

"Sooner started, sooner finished."

* * *

As it turned out, we managed to get the new path made and the digger thingy in place just barely before dark. The next morning the operators made a final check, and started it working.

The custom gadget was both fast and thorough. A built-in pump at the bottom of the digging part kept the small amount of water which did leak in promptly removed. Down and down it went, as the spoils pile grew. At the end of the first day of digging Fen announced that we were actually over half way to the target.

She was the only obvious non-human the workers saw; her cousins kept out of sight. Given the reaction of the workers to just her, I figure that was a reasonable precaution.

Shortly after lunch the second day of vertical burrowing the digger hit something solid. That in itself was not unusual; there were both rocks and chunks of metal from previous excavations - some of them undocumented - all through the area. Even though this particular area had never been dug - supposedly - we kept hitting rocks of various sizes. This, though, was a large piece of hard stone, flat and horizontal. The rig was stopped, and the foreman sent a couple of men in bosun's chairs to the bottom.

"That's not native rock," he said, after they examined the obstruction and reported back. "It's also been worked. Smoothed and fitted."

"This might be the lid to a buried chamber," I guessed

They had actually taken a video camera down. At one point, one of the men stamped his foot experimentally. The stone was too thick to tell if there was a hollow below from the sound.

We briefed Fen, showing her the video on a laptop screen. She made a show of considering what the next action should be.

"I think my partners and I need to discuss this," said Fen, finally. "Take off work early. We'll get back to you tomorrow."

Naturally, once they'd left Fen's kin hurried over, carrying hand tools. They didn't need the bosun's chairs. Five of them simply levitated down to the flat stone.

Within half an hour they had what turned out to be a stone-lined vault open. It was full of water, which immediately started rising in the caisson. Fortunately, the pump had been left on automatic. Working by feel in the dark, brackish water the elves wrapped ropes around... something. This was then hauled back to the surface. While the rest of us clustered around what turned out to be an old - very old - crate those in the hole did another check in the vault, then resealed it and dressed the bottom of the pit back the way it had been. When the crew came back the next day they would find things apparently just as they had left them. We'd have them crack open the vault and discover it empty. I would then reluctantly close down the operation.

Meanwhile, Fen was acting like a pre-teen human tearing into a Christmas present. Soggy wood and water went flying as she worked, causing most of us to step back.

"How do you stop her when she gets like this?" I asked, hands raised protectively.

"Hey, I just smile, nod, step back and hope there's not too much spatter," said Dutch, smirking.

"That sounds about right," I said, nodding.

Inside the huge chest was a grey box.

"Look," said Fen, pointing with a claw-tipped finger. "Wrapped in lead sheeting, with the seams soldiered. All hand work."

We heaved the box out of the waterlogged chest and set it down where we could get a good look at it.

"Hundreds of archeologists are rolling in their graves, right now," I said, breathing a bit heavily from the exertion.

After a quick examination of the second box the elves took pity on me and joined together to use the telekinesis some of them - Fen included - possessed to put it on a heavy work table.

We used shears to carefully cut the lead open enough that we could start peeling. Inside was another sturdy box, a chest, this one also of wood. Impressively, it was bone dry. As Fen examined this, I glanced over at the remains of the outer box. I made a mental note to have a sample carbon dated, just to satisfy my own curiosity.

With some effort we pried the heavy chest open. Inside was yet another box, also of wood, but much older. Vastly older. This one was not of normal construction. In fact, there was no obvious way to open it; it appeared to be a solid block of some hardwood. Except it was light enough to reveal it must be at least half hollow. Somehow, though, I knew it could be opened... that it wanted to be opened.

"What... is that?!" said Dutch, quietly, after a moment.

"The Ancient Egyptians called it..."

Here she spoke a short phrase in a language I didn't understand.

"According to my grandfather that's a corruption of the Atlantean..." and she said something which sounded vaguely similar. "Modern mystics who are aware of it generally refer to it as 'The Thing.'"

"Uh..." I said, brilliantly.

Dutch grinned and began singing.

"Get out of here with that," he thumped the table with an irregular, three-beat rhythm, "before I call a cop!"

"Okay, I remember that song, now," I said, grinning.

Several of the elves began singing the song, partly in celebration. Also partly to annoy their cousin.

"I wish I didn't," muttered Fen, glaring at the singers. "Okay, we need to get this back to Los Angeles, stat."

"We're not going to open it?" I said, disappointed.

"Not here. This Thing requires a carefully controlled setting. The Bay Area Guardians are setting up a facility at one of their auxiliary buildings for preparation. We've already organized several mystics to provide help. Even Dr. Piano will be there. When we're ready we'll move The Thing from there to the site."

* * *

"What are you doing?" said Dutch, when he saw me writing something at the table in our camper van that evening.

"Just updating my journal."

"You still doing that, Larry?"

"Yeah. You can blame Mack Risk. He persuaded me to keep a record of both my personal life and our adventures as detectives, 'way back in 1940. He said I had a talent for writing."

Dutch picked up the plastic bags with the samples I had taken from the crate and chest. He glanced at the labels I had written and nodded, then put them back on the table.

"You ought to publish those," said Dutch, as I finished and closed the notebook.

I paused, looked back at him and smiled.

"What makes you think I haven't?"

I exited the camper while he was trying to decide whether he should pursue the matter. You can't really ask for a better straight line than that.

* * *

I hadn't been in the Bay Area Guardians' base since that first affair with Gaunt. I had never been in this particular room, before. Aura - the team's mystic - was there, as were Fen and a few others I knew vaguely, including Dr. Piano. There were also some folks I didn't know. I was a bit annoyed when no introductions were made. Especially since they needed me to legally do what they wanted to do. Something which had caught everyone - me included - by surprise late the day before, thanks to "need to know."

I had only learned that I wasn't finished with all this magical stuff when someone thought to check on how to access the land where they planned to perform the ceremony. Turned out Fen hadn't asked and I hadn't known to tell her that I was the one to talk to about that. Ah, well...

"Glad to see you made it!" said Dutch, cheerfully shaking my hand.

He had been sitting in a folding chair at a folding table near the front of the storeroom when I entered. He'd almost jumped to his feet when he saw me. I guessed that he was bored.

"I still don't know exactly what they plan to do," I said, once I retrieved my hand. At his gesture I sat on one of the other folding chairs. He sat, too, and we leaned towards each other across that somewhat flimsy table, speaking in low tones.

"I know, but only vaguely. They will use what's in the box and some powerful enchantments to place regulators on the flow of ectothere. That's..."

"The basic substance of magic," I said, nodding.

"Yeah," he said, nodding in reply. "They can't stop or remove magic, but that will make it harder to use. That in turn will greatly reduce the chance of success for the sorts of actions which cause incursions and make those harder to happen."

I glanced at the organized chaos taking place inside a portable pavilion which had been erected in the center of the large storeroom. I noticed Aura heading towards us.

"Any idea when they'll be ready?"

"Tomorrow," said Dutch, also watching the gorgeous mystic approach. "They need to be at the site by mid-morning at the latest. They've already arranged transportation for all those who will actually be taking part."

"I won't be," said Aura, looking disappointed, as she joined Dutch and me. "I'm one of those who know what is happening who will be charged with monitoring the world situation to watch for problems, instead of participating."

"Ah," I said, nodding as if I had expected this. I turned back to Dutch. "I'll make certain to be there early, then."

"Well, you've got the keys," said Dutch, reasonably. He grinned. "Just be glad Fen agreed to put you up for the night. She's a great cook."

* * *

Eve hind sat back from reading the message, smiling in fierce satisfaction. She was at her bungalow on Pine Island - she rarely left the island these days but definitely made use of both modern and not so modern methods to keep in touch with the rest of the world - in her study, at her oversized desk. The message had been hand delivered just minutes before, and came from a detective agency she had hired years before.

"Found him," said Eve, quietly but triumphantly.

The man behind the plot to have Harvey Thurlin elected President - who had somehow tricked her into helping with that - had been located and named.

Now, she could have her revenge.

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