PITCHFORK RED: Quantum stage I

PITCHFORK RED: Quantum Stage

NB: If you are looking for earlier chapters, the ‘Pitchfork Red’ story begins on the previous page which is the HOME page. Thanks for reading!

 Chapter 6: THE MANY REALITIES OF MICHAEL TEGO

“For a start,” Dan began, holding the scrap of crumpled paper out at Michael accusingly, ”You might like to tell me why a thirty-something antique dealer from a small mid-western town should be babbling about demons and be scared into running off because she got a message in ancient Greek about…about what? About some apocalyptic event?” he paused, but did not wait for Michael’s response, “And, how it is that YOU can read it? And while we’re at it, perhaps you could explain how I managed to completely miss a six-foot-tall blonde beauty and her bright-blue muscle car while you could see her perfectly well?” Dan was getting a head of steam up, Michael could see, and he began to consider: maybe he’d revealed too much to his impetuous partner – perhaps he’d opened one door too many?   A dull metallic gleam came into Michael’s eyes as he watched Dan getting increasingly exasperated as unanswered questions hatched and wriggled in his mind. Michael could see them, rising and fluttering, like stubborn moths around a flame – and he was the flame. He willed Dan to look at him – to look him in the eyes – then he would just turn the flame up a little – and the troublesome moths would burn away to ashen fragments….

His concentration and Dan’s tirade were interrupted as Sheriff Porter re-entered the room. The grizzled man observed the two FBI Agents – Michael turned solemn, glowing eyes towards him – Dan was suspended in heated discussion, but quickly stuffed Betsy’s scrap of paper into his pocket. The Sheriff spoke up, “’Scuse me Agents,’ he began warily, “I left Betsy in the kitchen with her glass of water, “I’ll be taking her home soon but I was thinking,” he raked a hand through his thick white hair, “You fellas will be needing somewhere to stay for the night, isn’t that so?” Dan forced his attention away from Michael, “Our investigation will be keeping us in town for a few days, yes,” he answered. The Sheriff nodded and adjusted his belt, a gesture he seemed to use when he felt he was being practical, “Well now, there’s ‘Maybury’s Hotel’ a block or two away – run by Martha and Mary Maybury. I thought I might take the liberty of stopping by there on my way to Betsy’s place, and asking those two good ladies to prepare some rooms for you?” he suggested. Dan walked over and held out his hand to the man, “That would be most helpful Sheriff, and thank you for your assistance,” the Sheriff shook Dan’s outstretched hand – the handshake was a gesture of gratitude – and dismissal. “Just doing my job boys,” he answered, “We call it a ‘hotel’ but it’s family run – more of a boarding house really,“ he added, “But the ladies can do you a fine dinner as well – Martha is a first-rate cook!” “That would be most welcome,” Dan agreed readily. The Sheriff muttered his farewells, backing off towards the kitchen. He glanced once more at the men, then put on his hat resolutely and went to collect Betsy.

The two men turned to each other in silence. Dan set his mouth in an expression of determination. Michael looked his friend over – assessing, then, eyes gleaming, he began quietly, ‘You want to hear some kind of simple explanation, but..?” he began, Dan looked away from Michael suddenly, avoiding his gaze – he had experienced a distinct feeling of…what exactly? Of infiltration? – “Dan, look at me, and I’ll try to clarify the…” Michael began again, but was interrupted, “Oh no! If it’s all the same to you,” Dan interjected, ”I’d like to hear it WITHOUT looking at you – I get the feeling I may just believe anything you choose to tell me if I do that!”

Michael leaned back against a table, in a space between two ornate Chinese pots, and considered his partner’s behaviour – he made no reply. It seemed that ‘unlocking’ that particular door in Dan’s mind may have allowed access to insights that might prove problematic. He had made a choice at the time though, he had chosen to help Dan to ‘see’, and now he had to deal with the consequences. He would have a last ditch attempt to placate him; “Now, come on Dan,” Michael’s voice was low and persuasive, “Look at me when I’m talking to you – this is childish,” Dan clapped his hands over his ears and span around to stare into a mirror on the wall. Michael stood up and casually stepped over next to him and also looked into the mirror. Dan and Michael watched each other’s reflections – the tall man with thick, curling black hair leaning in – the other with a fair-reddish crew-cut and shocked, dark eyes. The low light in the shop gave their faces a dull, golden hue against which Michael’s steely grey irises stood out in cold contrast. “It would work just as well in a mirror I guess,” Dan admitted weakly, lowering his hands, “That whole ‘semi-hypnosis’ thing you do?” Michael looked at Dan’s face steadily in the mirror – then nodded slowly. Dan began to feel the outer world shrinking away – there was silence and stillness, and something cold and lonely as starlight lying in wait, deep in Michael’s eyes. Dan shut his eyes tight and forced himself to turn away, knocking over a small milk jug on the table next to him. It fell and clattered dully on the floorboards, but did not break. Dan reached down to pick it up gratefully – it had broken the spell. “No, you tell me what I need to know Michael Tego,” he said quietly, “I’ll just move over here, a little way off, where there’s this fancy chair, and I’ll just take a seat while I listen.” Dan lowered himself into the gilt ‘Louis Quatorze’ chair and began to purposefully study the decorations on the little milk jug still in his hands. Michael sighed and moved back to his previous spot, leaning against the table between the Chinese pots. He lowered his head and crossed his arms in front of him. He did not try to persuade Dan to look over at him again. He didn’t need to – he could bring him around with his voice alone, but…he was coming to a decision, he chuckled softly, “Heh..heh…Freeman – ‘free man’ indeed,’ he shook his head, “So it has been ordained,” he said to himself softly. Dan was listening acutely, although he resisted looking too closely at his friend – What did he mean about his name? It was all too curious, and Dan was becoming increasingly curious, and less afraid. Yes, for a moment, he’d actually been afraid of his partner – he’d wondered if that sense of trust Michael seemed able to create was just a smokescreen. Since the incident when Michael had placed his hand on the back of Dan’s neck and shown him the ‘room of many doors’ that was his mind – ever since that door had been opened – ever since he’d seen the elusive blonde in the blue jumpsuit – Dan had felt a kind of elation, a knife-sharp perspicacity of vision. Even in the dull, yellowish light of the room, colours seemed to leap out at him. The red colour of the Chinese pots screamed out, as brilliant as the side of a fire-engine – the purple of the delicate violets painted on the side of the milk-jug he was turning over in his hands made them appear as vivid as bruises on white skin. What had that door opened into?

“It’s all a question of how you see things Dan,” Michael began calmly, Dan felt his ears literally ‘prick up’ at the sound of the voice breaking the silence. Michael remained leaning up against the table, his head lowered, his voice even in tone, “I see things rather differently than most…people,” he continued, “They see only one reality – I can perceive many potential realities at once,” he waited a moment, as he let Dan absorb the basis of what he was about to explain – the many realities of Michael Tego. 

“I don’t think…I don’t really understand what you mean,” Dan stammered. He was looking up at Michael now, but Michael made no effort to return his gaze. The creamy china of the plates and cups piled on the table between them gleamed in the warm light, their painted gold rims flamed like sunflares – the darkness behind the glassy reflections of the shop window was deep and black and still as a velvet shroud, Dan felt acutely alert to the colours and textures around him – he felt supremely sentient.

 “Your brain is processing billions of pieces of information every second,” Michael began again, “But you’re only aware of about two thousand or so. What about the rest of that information that you are ‘unaware’ of? The brain perceives much more than you normally access, you know?” Dan was certainly beginning to believe that, “And what would I see if I could access some of that other information?“ he found himself asking, ”You would begin to understand that what you perceive as ‘fixed reality’ is something that you are constructing as you go along, second by second – it comes into being when you interact with it,” Michael said matter-of-factly, “Ha!” Dan snorted, “Then what is ‘reality’ when I’m NOT interacting with it?” Michael looked up at him, “Then it is merely a range of possibilities – of ‘potential’ realities. When you interact you ‘choose’ and those possibilities ‘collapse’ into your ‘one’ reality.”

Dan blinked up at him trying to grasp the significance of Michael’s words, “So the woman under the streetlight?” he ventured, “Yes,” Michael smiled, “She ‘interfered’ with your ability to interact with the ‘reality’ she existed in – she prevented you from ‘choosing’ that reality so you wouldn’t be able to see her, you saw – another possible version of reality, one where she was not there.” Dan took some moments to absorb this information – he understood its logic, but it seemed too fantastic! “How did she ‘interfere’ with my ability to interact with reality?” he asked at last, “How COULD she do that?” Michael looked away again, “That is rather complicated to explain, yet on another level, utterly simple! It is something science is only beginning to scratch the surface of,” he answered, “Well, try me,” challenged Dan, “Let’s see if I can understand, and then perhaps we’ll get onto the subject of how it is that you know so much about it?” Michael threw a glance at him and smiled ruefully, “Now that IS a long story – and one you might be safer not to know – but, the basics first,” he laughed. Dan was astonished by how, ‘cavalier’ Michael was about this whole business – if it were true – it was astonishing! It was amazing!

“Most people see matter as a solid thing,” Michael continued his explanation, “But this is not really true. Matter is mostly made up of ‘empty space’ we might say,” “What?” Dan laughed unsurely, he looked again at the milk-jug in his hands “Are you talking about ‘atoms’ and such?” he asked – Michael carried on, “I’m actually talking about something much, much smaller than that,“ “What then?” asked Dan, “Electrons, neutrons and ‘particles’?” “Well, yes, when you get to that level of matter the laws of physics are quite different,” Michael agreed, “Particles have the ability to be in multiple places at the same time – they may behave as waves – smeared over time and space, they may be connected to each other in different parts of the universe..” “Stop, stop!“ Dan jumped up out of his seat clutching his head – the little china milk-jug fell out of his lap and bounced along the floor – but still, it did not break, “This is freaking my mind! It’s crazy talk!” Michael chuckled at his outburst, “I suppose it might seem so,” he grinned, “But you already know it’s true. You’ve opened one of the doors of perception that leads to that information, haven’t you?” Dan let his hands drop limply to his sides. He stood staring at Michael round eyed, “I feel different,” he admitted. “Just more aware of the nature of things around you Dan, and that’s nothing!” Michael laughed, “That’s just a taste, my friend – a whisper. Remember how many doors in your mind were still closed?” Dan sat back down in the chair heavily, “How do I open the doors?” he asked weakly. Michael shook his head impatiently, “The doors are just a pictorial representation – a tool to enable the transition into that synaptic pathway!”

”Who….the fuck…are you?” Dan asked coldly.

Michael remained leaning against the side of the table, a highly polished European walnut, as Dan now saw, evident from the lie of the grain and the warm honey-brown hue of the aged timber. From his slightly bent position, Michael turned, giving Dan a sidelong stare, “You were asking about this case and what I know about it – let’s deal with that first, shall we?” his tone was firm, Dan remained silent, he was caught in what was almost visible to him now as distinctly as the beam of a lighthouse – Michael’s direct gaze – It was compelling, unwavering – he began to understand how people found it impossible to resist it’s onslaught. He could observe it, but still, he could not comprehend it. At last, Michael looked away from him, and continued, “To cut to the chase – the smaller we go the more dynamic things get – the more energy is contained. There are unimaginable amounts of energy contained in a single atom – as science has already discovered to its cost.” Dan could only nod dumbly, this, at least, he could grasp – atomic power.

“Imagine Dan,” Michael looked over at him again, but his glance was benevolent, “Imagine the consequences if it were possible to manipulate even a fraction of that energy – by the power of thought.” Seconds passed, then “How could that be possible?” Dan asked shakily. “Because, on the most fundamental level of matter – even below that of what we would call ‘particles’, is the Plank level or the ‘Unifying field’ and it is the level of ‘consciousness’ – of pure thought. When this level ‘folds’ or ‘warps’, electrons pop into existence – matter comes into being.” “What is this underlying consciousness? WHY is this underlying consciousness?” Dan exclaimed, he was becoming overwhelmed by the myriad of questions forming in his mind – by the thousands of closed doors still waiting to be opened. Michael gave a tranquil smile, “Why do you think you’re here?” he answered.

“But to get back to the manipulation of energy, “Michael moved on,  leaving Dan hanging.  He straightened up and began to pace around the room, “You can barely imagine what that might entail,” Dan’s gaze followed as Michael’s route wove between the tables of shining metal and sparkling antique trinkets, “But there were those who could. They imagined a three pronged form of universal domination, because that’s what we’re talking about here Dan – they imagined the three pronged form of control – ‘The Pitchfork’ or ‘Pitchfork RED’ as the project was called.” “The project?” Dan whispered, “What were you up to when you were in Washington? What were you involved in over there?” he asked, “Oh Dan, this goes far beyond Washington,” Michael halted, shaking his head at his partner solemnly, “They’re not aware of what this is about. But Lilith Turpis is, as are her cohorts. They’ve been in hiding, some of them in plain sight, but she has part of the information, only part of the information mind you, only the key to one of the ‘prongs’ of the fork,” “You knew about her? Knew what she was before we got here?” Dan asked incredulously, “She is marked, like so many others, by her very name, as you were, Dante Freeman, by yours. This pursuit began a long time ago Dan – a very long time ago indeed.

‘Lilith’ is an ancient name, appearing in myths. Do you know what it means?” Dan shook his head in dumb denial, “I’ll tell you, perhaps you’ll begin to comprehend what we’re dealing with. The name derives from ‘lilitu’ – a night demon in ancient Assyrian myths. In Jewish tradition it was the name of Adam’s first wife, thrust out of Eden and replaced by Eve because she would not submit, the offspring of Adam and Lilith became the rejected and evil spirits of the world.” Dan began to regard Michael unsurely, this was beginning to sound insane, he might think it madness if…if he hadn’t begun to see some of the things he’d seen tonight. “And her second appellation,” Michael hadn’t finished, “Turpis? In Latin it means ‘morally corrupt’. Before you ask, I’m sure she’s changed her name a thousand times, but you see Dan, there are some things in this universe from which you can run, but from which you just can’t hide. This is what she is: Lilith Turpis – a morally corrupt creature of the night – under any name.”

Dan’s mouth had become dry, a feeling of foreboding gripped him. He tried to swallow as he looked up at the tall, pale man in black standing over him, eyes shining with strange silver light. “So, the ‘demon’ IS coming for her?” his voice emerged in a strangulated whisper, “No!” Michael smiled down at him comfortingly, “Not a demon, of course not! Betsy misheard what Lilith said – it wouldn’t be the first time! No, no demons…” he shook his head, still smiling serenely, “No, it’s the Dei-Men who are coming for her.”

Chapter 7: A JUMP IN THE GROOVE OF TIME 

“We’d better seal this place up,” Michael turned away, changing the subject abruptly and breaking the train of thought as he reached deep into the pocket of his black coat. He pulled out a thick spool of tape of yellow and black diagonal stripes, “Got this from the police station,” he explained with a grin. Dan continued to gaze at him for a moment, stunned – his mind attempting to process information, trying to come to grips with this other world that Michael had brought him into. He felt small and floundering in a vast sea, with waves of ‘potentialities’ roughly buffeting him on all sides – he was trying to clutch at something stable. Who were the ‘day-men’ and what would they do with Lilith Turpis? There were still so many questions, but…“Come on, let’s shut this place down and move on,” Michael stepped up to him, holding out the tape – “You seal up the back and I’ll do a quick check through the legers and the wall-safe and then I’ll start turning out the lights.  Meet you out front in a few minutes”.

Dan stood up and took the tape – he was obeying orders like an automaton, but he was a ‘free-man’, didn’t Michael say as much? Wasn’t that his ‘designation’? But he was also an Agent for the FBI and he had a duty to do his job – at least that felt like something solid in this confusion. “Yes, we’d better secure this place,” he agreed dazedly, “There’s some valuable stuff here.” Michael threw a cursory glance over the tables piled with curious items, delicate china and glowing metal ornaments, “Yes, but there’s nothing that is of use to us – not anymore,” he sighed, “No?” Dan asked. Michael looked over at him, “The men that the Sheriff said were here before,“ he reminded Dan, ”You can bet they’ve checked through everything thoroughly – minutely, in fact!” he grinned, “Don’t tell me,” Dan said, “They were the ‘Day-Men’ or whatever you called them?” “Dei-men, D..E..I.” Michael clarified, “Yes, they were. If there was anything worth finding here they would have found it and removed it already. Searching now would be a waste of our time,” he stated. “Mightn’t they have missed something?” Dan enquired, “They did miss something Danny boy!” Michael declared, eyes shining, “They missed it only because it wasn’t here! They missed it because it was tucked away in Betsy Tranter’s nice patent handbag while she was visiting her sister!” Dan nodded and thrust his hand into his coat pocket – he touched the edges of the crumpled piece of paper, ”The message in ancient Greek?” he asked, “Yes, but I think that’s only part of it,” Michael began, “Betty is holding out on us,” he gave Dan a cryptic glance, “There was something else hidden in her bag – something she should not have in her possession. She was nervous about it. It was something she was keeping from us.” Dan felt his mind filtering through possibilities, “Why didn’t she want to show us? Guilt? Because she’d stolen something valuable from the shop?” he speculated. Michael smiled, “I’m afraid poor Betsy is very rattled at the moment. Her tendency to be ‘light fingered’ has got her mixed up in something she doesn’t understand. She’s trying to ‘cover all her bases’ but she has no idea what she’s stumbled across, or who she’s dealing with,” he added darkly. “And what has she stumbled across?” Dan persisted. “She picked something up on impulse, and now she wants to be rid of it, and my guess is she’s promised to hand it over to someone else.” Michael explained, ”But when I pushed her a little, she panicked and gave us the message.” “Yes,” Dan said, “You can be very ‘persuasive’ if you need to be…” he gave Michael a grim look. Michael continued unperturbed, “The Greek message was a warning, but what if it also held a code?” Michael raised a quizzical eyebrow, “Are you sure? What kind of code?” Dan was curious. “From a quick glance I would think it might be co-ordinates or directions of some sort,” Michael considered, “But it needs a particular device or instrument to interpret it and make it useful, I’m sure of that – I’ll take a closer look when we’re at the hotel. Now, let’s get on with our inspection and then let’s get out of here,” and he turned on his heel and began to pick his way through the tables, his long black coat swinging behind him.

Dan slowly made his way to the back of the shop, glancing around in case anything unusual caught his eye. He felt more confident in his abilities to spot something out of the ordinary now – he seemed to be able to sweep his vision across the scene and take in everything, even the smallest of details. He noted the hat-stand with the cloche hats once again. Their colours throbbed boldly in the dim electric light, like flowers on a slim stalk, caught in the last rays of a fading twilight. The highest hat was a deep, plush blue, rounded like the inside of a pansy, the one below had applique felt petals on its side and was coloured a sunflower yellow, and next to it was the scarlet one he had taken down and examined. It was curved with a rounded, fluid sweep – it looked like a vivid splash of blood against the pale, silk wallpaper.

He could hardly believe that Lilith Turpis had run off and left all this behind. These things were not just trinkets or curiousities – they were antiques of the highest quality. Some were artifacts that a museum would have been proud of – he could see that now. Yet she’d hidden them in an out-of-the-way hick town far from the prying eyes of collectors, where they would remain unnoticed and unappreciated. Here she’d sold them for next to nothing or gave them away for favours. But they were her personal cache of treasure, if she ever needed one. The smallest items were probably the most valuable, and Betsy had made off with one of them – something small enough to conceal in her bag. What had Michael said – a ‘device’ of some kind?

Dan finished sticking the black and yellow tape across the back door in taut ribbons. He stepped back to admire his handiwork when Michael turned the last of the lights off, and Dan heard the front door close softly. He pocketed the reel of tape and began to move carefully back through the darkened shop. His eyes grew accustomed to the gloom quickly as he edged gingerly past the counters. The streetlight illuminated the broad square of the shop window and Dan could see Michael’s tall, dark shape waiting on the sidewalk outside. Distracted for a moment he bumped the corner of a table and a pile of delicate china cups and saucers rattled briefly – a sound as abrasive as cackling ducks in the pervading silence. His sight vaguely inhibited by the dark, his other senses sharpened and began to compensate more acutely than before. He became aware of the smell of dampness in the skirting boards and then the aroma of metal polish, of old wood, of faded silk – the fragrance of aged and precious things carefully maintained and preserved in this private museum. And there was more, Dan halted for a moment and closed his eyes, the better to savour the faintest of the odours – he discerned sweat, the smell of a panicked search and a sudden exit – unsatisfied. Dan’s eyes snapped open – he was a little taken aback by what he could detect, still unused to his ‘awakened’ senses. As in an almost transparent, celluloid film, flimsy as a vapour, he could ‘see’ Lilith Turpis, moving swiftly across from table to table – pushing away cloth and rummaging between items delicately, so as not to disturb too much – so as not to make her search obvious. Not finding what she was looking for, glancing repeatedly at her wristwatch, she became increasing agitated and finally turned and fled from the room. She left behind the scent of her fear and frustration – a trail which had suddenly clicked him into a past groove, and played the record again, albeit faintly. A movement at the window distracted Dan’s attention. Michael was looking in on him, and tapping lightly on the glass.

Once outside, Dan handed the tape to Michael and watched him stretch and stick long lengths diagonally across both sides of the front door in the shape of an ‘X’. “I smelled her…” he began shakily, ”Lilith Turpis I mean, and then…I saw her, sort of  like, a ghost of her presence, searching for something,” he continued haltingly. “I expect you did,” Michael sounded unsurprised, “Replaying a past reality, eh? You’re getting to know a little bit more about what you are capable of,” he added, bending to snap off the ends of the tape at the base of the door-frame. Straightening up he faced Dan, “It’s a lot for you to take in, but you’re beginning to feel an increased capacity for understanding, right?” Dan shuffled for a moment, trying to find the right words with which to express his new feelings, “I feel confused, astounded, stimulated… I feel more alive!” Michael smiled broadly at Dan’s exclaimation, but a shadow seemed to pass across the silver gleam of his eyes, and dispel, like a windblown cloud across the moon.

Dan looked away from Michael and glanced warily over to the other side of the street, where the streetlamp threw out a pool of creamy light beneath – where the tall blonde woman had been standing earlier, watching and smiling. “No,” Michael reassured him, “No-one there now, and if there was you’d likely see them too.” He regarded Dan solicitously, ‘You’re tired, even if you don’t register it yet,” he said, “You’ll feel better after some sustenance. We should really make our way over to the Maybury Hotel and have supper.”

Michael began walking swiftly in the direction of the centre of town. He did not want Dan to guess that he was struggling with a feeling of apprehension that he could not shake off. Michael had widened Dan’s horizons, but he now felt protective of his friend, he felt responsible. He needed to watch Dan closely until he was confident that he was coping with this enhanced comprehension, with this startling new information. Information that might lead him into trouble. He placed a hand on Dan’s shoulder and spoke softly, “Looking forward to that supper?” he asked. Dan nodded eagerly, now conscious of a gnawing hunger, “My blood-sugar levels are low. Time to re-fuel!” he agreed, but with the residual feeling of Michael’s touch on his shoulder, he couldn’t help wondering how much was being suggested to him – how much was he still being manipulated? Keeping step Dan could hear Michael give a sigh of exasperation, “You ARE hungry,” Michael asserted, “I assure you, it’s not me but your body that’s telling you so,” Dan gave Michael a quizzical sidelong glance, “So, I’ve been wanting to ask: Can you read minds?” he said quietly. Michael laughed, “No, I’m not a mind reader! But I can see by your eyes and body language that you’re suspicious! Come on!” he clapped his hand on Dan’s shoulder more forcefully, “Supper, shower and clean sheets – it doesn’t take a mind-reader to know that’s what’s needed right now.” 

Mary Maybury greeted them at the door of the small hotel, a petite woman with a shy smile and bobbed silver-streaked hair, the colour of mink. The hotel had not been hard to find – it was the most cheerful looking building for two and a half blocks, with the hotel name painted on a curved sign over mahogany doorposts and green damask curtains fringed with gold tassles pinned back behind the brightly lit windows. They were ushered in, and Mary offered to hang up their long, black coats on the brass hooks inside the heavy front door, ‘To make them more comfy and feel more ‘homely like.’ Dan surreptitiously transferred the little sheet of crushed parchment with purple ink to his trouser pocket before handing his coat to the lady, who teetered off, almost swamped by her bundle of  thick fabric.

Through the half-open double doors off the hall, they caught sight of a generous fireplace in which a fire had been lit to warm a large room, furnished with many ceramic gilt and red table lamps, deep armchairs and an old-fashioned carpet in reds, greens and beiges in a rectangular pattern. As Mary pushed open the doors and invited them in to be seated, they saw that a broad table had been made ready for dinner. There were only two places set on a crisp, white tablecloth, with a hand crocheted lace rim hanging almost to the floor. The cutlery shone with the heavy gleam of real silver and the china was the creamy, gold rimmed variety they’d seen back in Lilith’s shop.  “We bought our dining accessories from Lily, of course,” Mary Maybury said, almost apologetically, “She had such lovely things in her shop – such beautiful quality! We do hope you gentlemen have luck in finding her,” she looked up at them with melancholy eyes.

The door in the opposite wall swung open and the other Maybury sister entered, Martha, bringing with her a billow of moist vapour from the kitchen. She was wiping her hands on her apron and nodded pleasantly to the two men. They noted, with the small jolt of recognition and surprise that these discoveries create, that the two elderly ladies were twins, almost identical, but Martha had the same silver and mink hair pulled up into a loose bun on the top of her head, and was perhaps, a touch plumper than her sister. “Welcome gentlemen,” her voice was deeper and more confident than Mary’s, “Please be seated, dinner is ready as soon as you make yourselves comfortable,” she smiled and made a small gesture towards the table. Michael and Dan exchanged a quick glance of anticipation and pulled out the chairs on opposite sides of the table. The warm glow of the fire, the shining cutlery and the savoury aroma wafting from the kitchen made them feel amiable and at ease.

The two ladies began to bustle around, attending to the meal. Mary settled the napkins on their laps as would a familiar maiden-aunt, and Martha brought in soup in a china tureen, still faintly steaming, and set it down with a magician’s flourish. Mary began to ladle it into their bowls while Martha returned with a plate of white crusty bread sliced into chunks and thickly buttered. Dan couldn’t resist a sly smile at Michael through the steam rising from the rich soup. He’s never been inspired by soup before, but this seemed to be a meal in itself – thick and glutinously filled with thickly cut vegetables – he could smell the earthy aroma of the tubers and herbs! Dan was revelling in the advantages of his heightened senses. He realised – this was probably going to be one of the best meals of his life! The meatloaf that followed seemed to melt in his mouth, filled with flavoursome juices and spice, and the mashed potato had the fluffy consistency of warm, buttery cream! Michael glanced over at him occasionally, and smiled to himself. There was little in the way of conversation, Dan was too busy being enthralled by Martha’s culinary expertise, and the pleasure the simple act of eating could afford.

When the final plate of peach tart was finished and pushed away, Dan leaned back in his chair with a satisfied sigh. His chair was soft, the fire was warm, Mary hovered at his side like an attentive mother-hen, asking if he would like some tea or coffee, or perhaps a nightcap? Brandy or perhaps some tawny port? Dan doubted if he’d ever felt more comfortable and contented after a meal. Michael looked over at Dan with an amused expression as he thanked Mary for her solicitude, but accepted only some milky coffee. Dan felt he’d better follow suit – he was tempted by the port but perhaps too much comfort would make him dull, and he sensed from Michael, that there was still work to do.

“It was most kind of Sheriff Porter to stop in and make arrangements for us with you and your sister,” Michael smiled up at Mary, ”You’re hospitality has been most gracious,” Mary flushed with pleasure, “Oh, we don’t get too many guests here at our little hotel,” she replied timidly, “It gives Martha a chance to make a real dinner. Otherwise we mostly do the catering for folks around here, when they have a wedding or a funeral, or some official function,” she added. “Martha did you proud tonight!” Dan exclaimed, and Martha herself emerged from the kitchen with a pot of coffee and a jug of warm cream on a silver tray, “I thank you kindly for your compliment Mr. Freeman,” she responded, placing the tray carefully on the table while Mary set fine bone china coffee cups and saucers in front of the two guests. “I hope the Sheriff and Betsy didn’t have to go too far out of their way,” Michael added, reaching for the cream as Martha poured the hot coffee for him from the silver pot, “No, bless you,“ she laughed, “Betsy’s place is just halfway up a side street off the road here, almost opposite us.” “Oh,“ Michael commented, nonchalantly, stirring his cup, “She mentioned her husband passed away some time ago, I hope she’s not all alone – she seemed rather upset by Ms. Turpis’s disappearance,” he inquired, “Well, I expect Sheriff Porter saw that she was safely indoors, and she has a big dog,” “That’s right,” Mary interjected, “A German Shepherd, but it’s a friendly enough beast,” Mary added lightly. Michael smiled again and looked directly at her, “I think she’ll be alright, don’t you? You ladies needn’t worry, you rest easy now. Everything will be fine…” Mary paused for a moment as she gazed back at Michael – what fine pale-blue eyes he had – almost silvery in this soft light, she thought, “Yes,” she mumbled in agreement, Martha looked over at her sister and then at the still smiling Michael, as he turned his gaze towards her. She straightened up, the coffee pot still in her hand, pausing for a moment as she looked over at him, and added softly “Yes, everything will be fine…”

The stately grandfather clock on the landing struck midnight with a genteel, unimposing chime, as the two agents made their way up the carpeted stairs to their rooms on the first floor. Dan felt warm, contented and very sleepy. Michael stopped outside the first door, “Here’s your room, Dan, have a good night’s sleep – everything here is bound to be damnably comfortable!” he looked at his friend genially. Dan nodded, “Damnably comfortable,” he repeated and slipped his old fashioned key into the brass lock. It turned with a satisfying ‘clunk’, “Night my friend. I noticed you pumping the ladies for Betsy’s location at dinner, and I want to hear more about everything tomorrow – about the Dei-men and ‘Pitchfork Red’ and… I should thank you, I suppose?” he turned back to look at Michael who was already disappearing through the open door into the darkness of the room opposite. Michael briefly stuck his head out into the dim light of the corridor, “Don’t thank me too soon,“ he said, a tinge of sadness in his voice, and he was gone, his door closing with a muted click.

Dan stood under the shower. The water was hot and fell softly rather than violently from the quaint ceramic and gold fixture over the bath. He stepped out steamily and wrapped himself in the deep nap of the white towel-robe. He padded into the bedroom and let himself fall into the wide bed covered by the feather duvet. It was indeed, damnably comfortable. When he clicked off the chunky switch of the shaded lamp on the bedside table a thick darkness descended. He felt himself rocking on a ledge, and then falling, no, floating, off and away – gliding silently over an undulating black sea, sinking into the thickness of the air.

After some time the moving sea finally became still – but the room beyond Dan’s closed eyelids was not. He drowsily dismissed the subtle rummaging and soft footfalls. It was only Maggie, his wife, coming to bed late, trying not to wake him, tiptoeing around their bed. He was too tired to open his eyes and reassure her. In a moment she’d get into bed next to him, he’d hear her sigh and all would be still again. In a moment all would be quiet.  In some part of his shrunken consciousness he could smell her perfume – a flowery, spicy mix – sandalwood? But why had she come to lean over his side of the bed? Why did she not get in and go to sleep? He felt a presence extending over across the side of the bed above him – he felt eyes watching him – there was the scent again – of woodland, of earth, of the open sky… It was not Maggie’s scent – NO! This was not her! Not his Maggie! Someone else was in his room, looming over his sleeping shape….

Chapter 8: THE ANTIKYTHERA DEVICE  

Dan sprang bolt upright in bed, expecting to confront an intruder. There was nothing, and all noise had ceased. The darkness was almost palpable – an enveloping, black miasma, but he could still perceive the scent that permeated it. Not just a figment of his dreams of Maggie and their home – it was here now – in this remote hotel room! And it was incongruous in this stifling murkiness. It was the scent of landscape – of the open sky, or at least, that was what the odour had made him imagine when it had invaded his subconscious. He peered around blindly. The implacable darkness combined with the strange scent gave him the sensation of floating in deep space, of becoming weightless. Then, from the corner of his eye, a glistening blur sped swiftly across the room. He remembered meteors falling. The door of his room clicked and swung open. Gone in a split-second – he blinked and turned his head away from the light that flooded in and burned the back of his retinas. As the door swung closed on its brass hinges, shutting off the sudden glare, leaving only a small wedge of light, dimensions began to reassemble around him, objects began to take shape. He could make out the outline of the bed and a chest of drawers.

A thought suddenly occurred to him and he leaped from the cushiony depths of his duvet, wide-awake and turning cold with apprehension. Dan had discarded his clothes on an armchair by the window. Fumbling through the items he threw each onto the floor until he found his trousers. Hurriedly he searched through the pockets – empty. He felt again – turning them inside out – gone, the message in Greek was gone, as he’d feared. He straightened up, disconsolate – shouldn’t he dress now and attempt to go in search of the only tangible clue they had? He was distracted as a shadow flickered in front of the light filtering through the gap from the door left ajar. Collecting his clothes from the floor he crept up to the crack just in time to spy a dark shape flash past the grandfather clock and down the stairs. It was tall and he caught the suggestion of tousled dark hair – had it been Michael?

Dan tugged on his clothes as fast as he could and stumbled out of his room. As he raced down the stairs he glimpsed the swish of a black coat disappearing through the front door of the hotel and into the dark street beyond. In the low light left on in the hallway he noted that Michael’s coat had indeed gone missing from the brass hook. Dan grabbed his own coat from its peg and tugged at one of his shoes that he’d pulled on awkwardly before he pushed his way through the hotel door and into the night. The figure he’d seen exiting just ahead of him should have been visible, but there was no sign of anyone.

He couldn’t tell what time it was, he’d left his watch in the hotel bathroom where he’d taken it off. The sky remained starlit so presumably it was still the depths of the night. How long had he been asleep? Dan looked up into the sky above his head, again remembering the meteor shower he’d witnessed only a few nights ago. Hard to believe now, that there could have been such tumult in the quiet heavens. Tiny pinpricks of light flickered drowsily between inestimable voids of blackness. He shivered – he could discern the emptiness – the perpetual vacuum pressing onto the thin film of atmosphere that enveloped his fragile planet – the encircling wafer-skin of gases that enabled his existence. He felt as if the air was being sucked out of his body. Somewhere behind the stars, chaos was rolling itself into forms, into shapes. The universe was expanding around him. He was choking. He grabbed at this throat and gulped at the chilly night air, filling his lungs again, reassuringly. He steadied himself against the mahogany pillars of the hotel door, light-headed. His magnified perceptions had jolted him into an awareness of the infinite loneliness of space. He was overwhelmed, shocked. He felt dizzy and insignificant. It was a feeling which mankind was adept at ignoring – the uncomfortable sensation of seeing one’s self-importance revealed as an illusion – a mere affectation of character.

After a moment Dan regained his composure. The universe shrank back down to the street before him – down into the body he was standing in. He wandered shakily out onto the sidewalk. He must attend to the matter in hand. He looked up and down the road. Everything was deathly still, and utterly empty. There was no sound, not a breath of wind, everything seemed suspended. Then Dan noticed something that made him stare and hold in his breath. In the milky light of the streetlamp he could see tiny motes of grit and dust reflected in the gleam. They circled in their descent – a dreamy, lethargic falling, unnaturally arrested. He strode forward across to the other side of the roadway. A dry leaf tumbled along the gutter towards him in slow-motion, soundlessly – he couldn’t even feel a breeze. What on earth? He felt as if he was moving in a different time-frame to the hushed world around him – he was an interloper. He wasn’t meant to be here.

His ears pricked up – the noise of running footsteps sounded out in the distance with a clear, staccato tap-tapping, reverberating along dead concrete. They echoed up from a gloomy side-street ahead. Dan broke into a run himself, relieved to be following the unmistakable and familiar sound.

There were few street-lamps in the side-road and it was difficult to make out the running figure ahead of him. Dan heard the footfalls stop suddenly a few hundred yards further along the road. The street inclined gently uphill and Dan continued a steady run up the small slope. The figure – outlined clearly now against the dimly paling horizon on the brow of the hill – turned to look down towards him. It had stopped in front of a house about half-way up, just before the street began its decline downhill on the other side. The house itself was centred in a neatly kept lot – a garden and yard out at the back, and like the other peeling facades of the Victorian shop-fronts of main-street – wilfully clinging to its quaint antiquity. All the windows were in darkness.

The figure on the hill did not move, but waited for Dan to catch up. It was Michael. Even in the gloom, Dan could make out the gleaming steely-grey of his eyes, surveying his ascent, vaguely similar to cats-eyes caught in headlights – only there was no light. Michael waited motionless, allowing Dan to come alongside, still panting softly from his run. Michael’s expression was grim – he was not pleased to see his friend. It occurred to Dan – what if it had been Michael in his room?

“What’s going on here?” Dan asked him, still breathing hard. “Why? What have you seen?” Michael snapped back at him in a low voice. Dan was a little taken aback by the intensity of his expression – a mixture of anger and dismay. “I was asleep,” Dan began to explain, “but then there was someone shuffling around in my room. I heard it, and….and then I smelled…I smelled a scent I didn’t recognise,” Michael nodded and looked away from Dan and up at the house, “But did you SEE anything?” he repeated. “Not exactly,” Dan responded hesitantly, “It was very dark – but then…” he felt at a loss as to how to continue, “A misty shape,” he realised how ridiculous that sounded, “No, more like a blur that went out through the door,” that description didn’t seem much better. Michael nodded again and continued to look up at the blank windows of the silent house. “Yes, there was someone in your room,“ he said softly, “I felt it, and there was only one thing that was worth searching for, wasn’t there?” Dan felt abashed, “It’s missing,” he admitted, “The message in ancient Greek,” Michael shrugged, “I know,” he sighed, “I should have been more careful,” he added, almost inaudibly.

Michael turned abruptly to Dan and looked squarely into his face, “I’m going to go into this house now,” Dan was again surprised by the vehemence with which he spoke. Something beneath his calm surface, some emotion he was holding down – too unwieldy to be allowed free reign. “I’m going inside, I’m going alone,” Michael added. There was something that resonated hollowly in that word as Michael had said it, ‘Alone’. Dan felt suddenly saddened by the profound solitude of the man before him – lonely on some fundamental level that Dan could hardly even grasp.

No,” he replied, “You’re not doing this by yourself. I’m your partner for fuck’s sake!” Dan’s mouth tightened in stubbornness. Michael hesitated, “You know I could ‘persuade’ you to go back?” he said quietly, and there was the hint of a warning in his tone. Dan noted it but risked an answer, ”Yes, I daresay you could, though you might find it a little more difficult now I’m aware of some of your capabilities,” Dan’s lower lip jutted out in defiance, as it used to when he’d talked back to his father as a child, “Besides – if you start manipulating me now, how can I ever trust you? How can I know my own mind? FBI Partners need to watch each other’s backs – especially us!” he concluded.

“No, don’t insist on doing this, please Dan,” Michael tone descended surprisingly into something approaching  pleading.

“Stop it!” Dan interrupted him sharply, tired of procrastination, “We have a job to do!” he snapped. “We can’t spend the night out here arguing – I’m guessing this is Betsy Tranter’s house, right?”  Michael looked at him in perplexity,

“Yes,” he answered simply, but paused to deliberate – attempting to resolve some internal battle, “I suppose you’re right and there’s no time to waste – or the Greek message and the implement that’s used to make use of it will both be gone.” Then Michael turned again to the dark frontage of the house.

Michael opened the creaking wrought-iron garden gate and stepped onto the short path leading up to the porch.

 “What kind of ‘implement’ are we looking for?” Dan whispered as they paused and took a swift look about before ascending the low steps to the front door.

 ”A kind of navigation compass, one that would not have seemed out of place hidden amongst the antiques in Lilith’s shop. In 1901 divers off the isle of Antikythera in Greece found the remains of a something similar – a clocklike mechanism 2,000 years old. Lilith would have made her own version – a much smaller model though, one easy to hide amongst her trinkets.” Michael climbed up the steps slowly, he seemed intent on listening for any sounds emanating from the house,

 “So, a kind of compass with which to interpret co-ordinates?” Dan persisted in his questioning.

Michael nodded and his hand slowly turned the knob of the front door. It opened immediately without a sound. He paused as he peered into the dark hallway beyond, attentive and alert. “It’s a device for calculating the motions of stars and planets,” he said quickly, before disappearing into the gloom inside.

Dan was surprised and intrigued by Michael’s description of the device – a ‘space compass’? Questions bustled to the forefront of his mind, but it was an entirely inopportune moment to begin haranguing Michael, who had abruptly halted in the hall ahead of him. Dan followed Michael’s gaze – it went down onto the floor. The carpet of the hall seemed to be sodden with a black liquid – he raised his foot and brought it down again with a soft squelch. A sick feeling arose in his stomach as a distinctly warm and slightly metallic stench floated up from it. Michael turned glowing eyes to him, filled with alarm and disgust. Then he reached inside his coat and silently withdrew a slender torch from an inside pocket and snapped it on. Its sharp LED beam picked out the wet area under their feet. Dan had already guessed what it would reveal – a puddle of vivid scarlet – blood – still fresh and faintly steaming in the cold air. It had pooled here close to the door and then led off to the right in a slimy, slick trail. Michael followed it with the light of the torch. First it wound curiously in a circle – then off again on a linear path through some doors leading from the hall. Michael nodded a signal and then began to move slowly and deliberately, stepping  alongside the bloody track and through the open doors.

The last of the moonlight and the gathering dawn gave a dim grey illumination to the room, but Michael continued to train his torch beam along the lurid smears of red. They led only a short distance inside, then disappeared behind the back of a broad Chintz sofa. Dan and Michael exchanged glances – they needed to see what was concealed there. Dan reached into the inner pocket of his coat. He drew out a compact Glock handgun and edged as noiselessly as he could to the opposite end of the sofa. When he was in position he released the safety catch with a muted click, aimed the barrel of his gun and nodded at Michael who leaped deftly to the other side, shining his torch full onto the space behind.

Dan lowered his handgun, there was no need for it. Lying there, eyes open and turned upwards, the whites reflecting like ivory in the light of the torch, it’s tawny fur sodden by its own blood, lay the lifeless body of Betsy Tranter’s German Shepherd dog.

“Poor beast,” muttered Dan, “I suppose it was silenced – to stop it from raising the alarm,” he swallowed his pity.

Michael had straightened up, but still held his torch beam onto the body of the dead animal. “Shot – repeatedly,” his voiced emerged in a hoarse whisper, “But there was no need – no need to kill it, to kill the creature – like that! It could have been…incapacitated.” Dan looked across at his partner. An expression of sullen intensity passed over Michael’s face as he stared at the blood-soaked body of the dog. Then slowly Michael’s  expression began to change to one of realization and recognition, and he tilted his head up – raising his eyes to the ceiling above him. “They’re upstairs,” he stated calmly. “You’d be far better off staying down here Dan,” he continued, still regarding the ceiling above his head, “I’m going up.” And he turned on his heel and with a sweep of his black coat he left the room – so swiftly he seemed to become just a silent black blur.

Dan stood stunned by his partner’s accelerated departure and rash determination to singlehandedly face the intruders secreted on the floor above. He swayed on the spot for a few seconds as he decided what he should do, feeling bemused by Michael’s exit. ‘It wasn’t like him to go blundering off into something without consideration and forethought? Man, and he’d moved so fast,’ Dan thought, and realised he’d seen something else moving at the speed of a blur earlier on that night. ‘Had that been Michael? Somehow he didn’t think so. Not Michael then, but who?’

Dan decided, ‘He was damn well going up there right now! He needed to have some answers and he had the feeling some of those answers could be found up those stairs’. He bolted out of the room and took the stairs two at a time. There was no light coming from under any of the doors on the landing, but one of them was slightly ajar. He sidled closer to it grasping his Glock ready in his hand. The sound of agitated whispers and voices becoming fraught with argument came from inside. He recognized one of them as Michael’s. ‘What was he saying?’ Dan caught a few of the words…“Mistake”… “Pity”… “Murder” Was Michael in trouble? Was he pleading for his life?’ Dan felt his adrenalin surge and his heartbeat start to thump a tattoo in his chest – he burst through the door handgun first.

He didn’t even have the chance to yell ‘Freeze’ or ‘Drop your weapons’. He remembered catching a football full in the chest when he was in High School – it knocked him back three paces and winded him completely. This was worse. Dan swayed slightly in the doorway and looked around at the men in the murky room – the older one was sitting casually in an armchair smoking a cigar, regarding him dispassionately – the young man standing next to him, a wisp of white smoke rising from the barrel of his raised gun. Michael?! Then someone grasped him from the side, ‘Ah, no, THIS was Michael, the other man was so like him he’d made a mistake. Michael was propping him up because Dan’s legs felt very unsteady all of a sudden and he’d dropped his gun. He’d been winded by the force of the blow – that was it…”NO!” Michael was yelling at the two men, yelling out loud now, “Why?! He’s a ‘FREE-MAN’ It is so ordained!” Dan’s chest hurt now – it hurt like the very devil. The man sitting in the chair in the middle of the room smiled at him, crossed his legs and took another puff of his cigar before he spoke. He fixed Dan with a  steely glint of his grey eyes, “Is that so?” his voice was smooth and sonorous, and utterly unperturbed, “Now, why would a ‘Free-man’ be foolish enough to come into this room waving a handgun around,” he took another puff of his cigar, ”Unless he knew we were here. And it’s evident to me,” he turned to Michael, “That he can see us quite well. How do you think he is able to do THAT,  Michael my dear, when we have blocked this ‘possibility’? ” he said accusingly and gave Michael an acidic glare. Dan’s legs gave way under him – he was so tired and his chest hurt like hell. He just wanted to lie down – he wished Michael would let him go. The young man with the gun finally lowered his arm, but continued to watch him warily. Dan looked beseechingly at Michael who was still trying to hold him up. His felt his mouth move but he couldn’t find the breath to speak the words, ‘Down..let me down..’ but Michael understood. He must have done so, because he helped him sink slowly to the ground. It was easier there – he didn’t have to make his legs hold him up any more. But the pain in his chest wouldn’t go away. He flopped a hand onto his breast – it felt hot and sticky, though the rest of him was beginning to feel cold. Above him floated Michael’s pale face and grimly grey eyes, shining and wet. “What have I done?” Dan barely heard the words as they whispered out of Michael’s lips. The strident voice of the man seated in the armchair, emerged out of a cloud of tobacco smoke, “Free-man you say? But he married a Maggie Delin, didn’t he? A ‘Magdalen’ wife? And, sadly, as we know, a Magdalen’s fate is one of tears, is it not? Magdalen women were always bound to weep.”

Chapter 9: THE DEI-MEN COMETH

Michael pushed his hands down hard onto Dan’s chest, hoping to stem the blood from the gunshot wound. Still it pulsed hotly through his fingers and ran in thin rills along his knuckles. Dan was lying in a dark room, and there was pressure across his breast – it seemed like something heavy was being dragged out of him. The polished floorboards beneath his back began to feel warm and wet. It didn’t hurt so much now, but he felt weary and there was liquid in his throat he needed to cough up, ‘What was Michael doing? Why was he crushing his chest?” Dan’s eyes looked shocked and glassy as he gazed up at Michael, uncomprehending. He blinked slowly, struggling to see his friend more clearly. His partner’s pale face was being swallowed into the dimness of a tunnel. Dan could still see Michael’s eyes though – gleaming silvery with intent, or was it only lights shining in the dark hole that was opening up? Dan lifted his hand – it felt leaden, but with an effort he managed to grasp at Michael’s arm.

Michael was shouting something: “Listen Dan, stay with me now! You’ve been hurt, but I need you to concentrate on me and then I can help you!” Silver orbs were swinging above him in the dimness, like bare bulbs from a basement ceiling…Or Michael’s eyes? Yes, it was Michael’s quicksilver irises gleaming down at him, and he could hear Michael’s voice close by. Michael was speaking, loudly and distinctly – “Just listen to my voice and we can open the doors in your mind that can deal with the wound and…”

“Don’t be ridiculous Michael!” the seated man’s irritated voice interrupted abruptly, “You can’t initiate a regeneration of his injury now! Do you really think you could evolve that mentally unsophisticated creature and teach him a complex ability in a few minutes?” he gave a grim laugh and took another pull on his cigar. He savoured the smoke then blew out a thin wisp of white, “Ha! I doubt if he’d be capable of that kind of self-mastery! He can barely deal with what you’ve already unlocked!  He’s no better than a mewling infant. Leave him be and don’t interfere any further – you’re just wasting our time! ”

There was a pause as the smoke from his cigar wove a curling spiral path up to the ceiling. The man watched it rise with his narrow grey eyes, and spoke again, “No, no, his time is up,” he said brusquely, and uncrossed his legs, pushing himself back in his armchair to get more comfortable. He relaxed and took another drag of his cigar, this time forming a leisurely smoke ring, “Ah yes,” he sighed, “Death is ever waiting to lead away the free-man. I imagine Azrael is even now erasing the story of his future – and the Magdalen must again weep for her abandonment.”

Michael’s hands were pressed to Dan’s chest, but were now doused in wet crimson. Dan’s moving lips were greying in hue as the blood drained from him. Michael lowered his head to listen, “Maggie.. Maggie…she..” Dan’s voice was a weak rasp.

I’ll take away the pain,” Michael whispered back to him, soundlessly, but Dan could hear him in his head. Michael reduced the pressure of his hands but kept them flat on Dan’s bloodied chest.

He then turned his head slowly to face the seated man and spoke out bitterly, “Damn you Tabbris! You didn’t have to gun him down. He’s a Free-man, you had no right! There are always other ways – you above all must know that!”

Tabbris Scorretto sighed and tapped the ash from his cigar to join the small pile amassing on the shining floorboards, “Indeed I do, but I have learned it’s so much easier to take the most convenient route, rather than vacillating. A few lifetimes have taught me that. In this case, we would best dispose of those connected with our ‘current situation’ – to ‘clear our way’ so to speak. Betsy Tranter unfortunately lost her usefulness once she handed over the Antikythera device and has been dealt with – in the same manner as her dog – who also insisted on ‘yapping’ too much. Your partner might have been even more of a problem – he wouldn’t listen to you would he? Now see where his headstrong ways have brought him…”

“These are the favoured methods of those YOU chose to live amongst, I know that – the methods of the criminal underworld! But I would have thought you would have considered more options, Tabbris,” Michael replied dryly, emphasising the name, “That is supposed to be your talent, isn’t it? Examining possible choices? I would have thought you more subtle than this!”

Tabbris straightened in his chair and fixed Michael with a cold stare, ”We all had to choose how to make our inroads into every possible source of information, because we had to find the Pitchfork renegades, one way or another! You chose yours, the FBI – those jumped-up policemen! I chose the underworld. We had to monitor all possibilities. We knew they would turn up somewhere. I considered it most likely that the Pitchfork felons might be tempted to take refuge amongst the criminal fraternity, being outlaws themselves. I merely weighed up the probabilities – it appeared to be the logical place to search”.

 “I can’t argue with your logic Tabbris, only your methods.” Michael answered, “As for the Pitchfork – we should have taken their exceptional intelligence into account. They avoided the obvious. They concealed their genius and hid themselves within the mundane wherever possible, so that they could bide their time. But now their time has come again.”

 “As has ours!” Tabbris exclaimed, “Because they have waited so long for another chance they are taking risks to grasp at it!’ Already one of them unwittingly revealed herself – and we snatched her up! We have Dolores Todesfall, we already have one part of the triad – and we almost caught Lilith Turpis,” he added pointedly.

Michael looked back down at his prostrate friend. Dan’s breathing had become shallow, and the hand that had been grasping his arm fell away with a soft thud. Michael’s mouth tightened in frustration, but he continued speaking.

“We have yet to capture all three, but that would create a whole other problem,” he stated, “You know their sentence is irreversible Tabbris. The knowledge they hold is useless in isolation, yet we cannot bring them together without destroying them, and thus the methods they discovered will be destroyed with them. The Dei would not themselves pass a penalty of death, but they made sure the Pitchfork could not use the knowledge they had uncovered without sacrificing themselves in the process. Bring them within a certain proximity of each other, and the implants imbedded in their brainstems will simply combust.”

“But with the Antikythera and the right alignment of celestial circumstances…” Tabbris added.

“Yes, I know,” Michael sighed, but did not look up from Dan’s prone body. “I’ve seen the signs too. A time/space rift is opening again, somewhere. With the Antikythera they’ll find out where, and use it to exist together briefly in alternate potential spaces, and cheat the penalty. Finally they may take control of the ‘power’. It’s a plan they have had millennia to refine since their last failure,” Michael shifted his kneeling position slightly, keeping his hand on Dan’s sodden chest, still watching as Dan’s eyelids fluttered briefly and his breath became ever less frequent.

“Quite so,” nodded Tabbris Scorretto, the well-guarded and secretive underworld kingpin. He stretched out his legs before crossing them again. “But it will not be the Pitchfork three that will take charge of the R.E.D. ‘power’ – Revolution, Evolution, Dissolution – the three-pronged sub-atomic power that can alter the particles that make up reality itself! No, it will be us – the Dei-Men! We too have been poised for millennia to do just that! But our priority now must be to stop the N’geli – if they have their way the Pitchfork renegades will be recaptured and merely taken back to serve out infinite time under the watchful guard of the Dei – such is the mission of the N’geli – such is their loyalty! But their vision is so……unambitious,” he sniffed contemptuously. “And besides, I’m tired,” Tabbris stated with mock petulance, “I’m tired of this pursuit and certainly tired of being stuck in THIS ‘godforsaken’ place.” Michael gave him a sidelong glance, “Well, you should know…” he muttered. Tabbris raised a sardonic eyebrow, “Now, now Michael, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,’ etc, as the Nazarene used to say. The best option from my own point of view is to bring this business to a swift conclusion now that we are finally within reach, and then…and then, of course…..we shall be able to do whatever we like!” He smoothed down his black hair at his temple with a manicured hand, and gave the satisfied smile of a Cheshire cat.

Michael removed his palms from Dan’s chest. It was over. He sat back on his heels and let his hands fall dejectedly into his lap. After a moment he leaned back over the body and closed Dan’s eyelids gently with blood-stained fingers, then lowered them for a moment to touch Dan’s pallid cheek, leaving a livid blotch where they had rested: “I’ll make amends.”

Tabbris narrowed his eyes as he watched, “Ah, I sense that division in you again, that inner schism!” he addressed Michael sternly, “Michael Tego, the ‘warrior’ and the ‘protector’- those two aspects can so often be mutually incompatible, alas… ‘Michael Tego’ – ever divided against himself – so tragic!” He gave a soft snort of mockery. “Tego ‘the protector’? he taunted, “Perhaps that’s not your greatest strength?” he waved his cigar, indicating the man lying the floor whose life had finally ebbed  away, “Michael the warrior is what is called for. Whatever happened to him? You’ve been here too long Michael… Haven’t we all.” Tabbris Scorretto leaned forward in his chair and glared at Michael in steely displeasure, “And now when we were at last so close to achieving our goal you allow the N’geli to gain the advantage! Oh, yes, she has been here! I can smell her still! And you let her slip past us and gain the message from you and the Antikythera device from the Tranter woman!”

“Again Tabbris, you have failed to take all the options into consideration! You are losing your touch…” Michael hissed back at him defiantly, “Don’t you see? The N’geli has both the coded message and the device, yes, but now she will take them and use them to locate Lilith Turpis. All we have to do is follow and we shall have them all!”

Tabbris sat back in his armchair again and considered Michael’s outburst, “I see,” he said and took a last puff from his cigar, then firmly stubbed out the still glowing tip on heel of his other palm. There was a brief sizzle and a faint whiff of burning meat. Tabbris Scorretto’s face remained a picture of boredom and placidity. Then he brushed away the smouldering ashes from his palm and regarded the angry wound burned into his skin. Looking at it more intensely, his eyes took on a steely light. Slowly but surely, the skin gradually began to regain its natural colour, knitting together over the ruined spot. After a few moments, he blew away the last vestiges of ash and singed skin-flakes from his hand. The flesh beneath was pink and perfectly restored to health. “I can understand why the Pitchfork renegades fled here,“ he commented, crushing the extinguished butt-end and depositing it with the ashes on the floor, then pinching the spot where the burn had scorched his skin only a minute ago, as if to test its elasticity, “The system here is so pliant – it’s energy is so eager to respond at the most basic level,” he purred.

Then his demeanor suddenly altered to one charged with menace, “Now,“ he snarled, “Let us consider our situation for a moment,” he glared at Michael below him, “Here, we have a house that has been entered pre-dawn, without a warrant – and in that house we have an FBI agent kneeling over the dead, blood-soaked body of his partner – the Tranter woman has been messily gunned to death in the privacy of her bedroom and her watchdog is likewise dead downstairs. None of this business is going to reflect very well on you, Michael, is it? There will be so many questions…tut tut….” he shook his head in mock sympathy. “WE were never here of course,” he indicated himself and the young man, who had retreated his tall frame silently into the shadows during Michael’s interchange with Tabbris. “Forcas here,” he nodded to the young man who now emerged into the dawn light, still cradling the handgun he had used that evening to such devastating effect, indicating to him that he should now take his place at his side, “Forcas is well known for his expertise in making things ‘disappear’ – quite literally,” Tabbris chuckled, “I mean, he is able to mask events within another ‘potentiality’ – but with this little mess we have here, that would take up SO much energy to arrange and maintain – I’m afraid we must leave it just as it is,” he smiled in savage commiseration, “Of course,” he continued enthusiastically, “Once we have acquired the Antikytheria device and the message in ancient Greek, and we can round up the Pitchfork renegades, thwart the N’geli and beat them at their own little game. When we have access to the power of the R.E.D…..we can wipe all of this out, and alter whatever else suits our purposes.”

Michael sighed deeply. He looked down at the lifeless body that had once been his partner, Dan Freeman, and appeared thoughtful for a few moments. One of his hands, still wet with Dan’s blood, clenched tight – then unclenched itself, “I had better get out of here and catch up with the N’geli then….” He murmured, “That is what I came here to do – to find the N’geli and thwart her. It’s Sariel, I have seen her, and she has seen me.”

“Ah, at least she has shown herself – that was careless, it will make her trail all the easer to detect. Yes, pursuit is the only thing now. You will be the pursuer – and the pursued,” Tabbris Scorretto nodded grimly, “Once they find the bodies – you will be a wanted man,” he reminded him.  “Perhaps Michael the warrior shall at last be predominant? That’s what is needed now – and the ‘protector’ – protector of our interests that is to say! Because OUR interests, Michael, are YOUR interests, don’t forget that!” he emphasised the last sentence, “You success will ensure a ‘revision’ of these events, bear that in mind, won’t you?” Tabbris concluded. He rose majestically from his chair and gestured to Forcas beside him that it was time to go, “We must take our leave, alas. There are a few details we need to clear up in this dingy little town and then it will be as if we were never here.”

A sickly pink dawn light had crept across the floor of the room, picking out the dusty pile of ashes by the armchair and tinting the pool of Dan’s blood under Michael’s knees with an unnatural copper hue. Forcas led the way out. In passing he slowed his pace and casually dropped his gun by Michael’s side. It clattered heavily into the blood. He glanced at it, then stepped lightly over the body of Dan Freeman and out through the open door.

As Tabbris strolled past his hand flew out and gave Michael a stinging slap on the side of his head, “YOU however, have very clearly been here! You’d better jump to it now Michael Tego – fugitive from the law!” he gave a harsh laugh, “Clean yourself up in the bathroom here,“ he ordered, “Then gather up what you may need from the hotel. Get some food – you’re going to need energy – because then you will have to make a quick start after the N’geli, before her trail goes cold –  and make no mistake – it will demand a great deal of your concentration to pick it up, so don’t waste anymore time!” Tabbris barked – he was used to giving instructions. He regarded Michael still kneeling by Dan’s body, with some distaste, “Snap out of this dreary apathy and pull yourself together!” he growled impatiently, “He was just a man.”

‘PITCHFORK RED’:  further chapters of the story can be found on the next page entitled ‘PITCHFORK RED: Quantum Stage II’ 

Please keep reading!

NB: If you are looking for earlier chapters, the ‘Pitchfork Red’ story begins on the previous page which is the HOME page. Thanks for reading!

Comments
  1. Once again you’ve raised more questions than you’ve answered. And once more, I want you to hurry up with the next chapter already. Nicely done!

  2. spookyspeed says:

    Sorry I am late in reading these last two chapters.

    Great writing! I did love this outburst…

    “Who….the fuck…are you?” Dan asked coldly.”

    And your attention to detail makes this story even better.

    Can’t wait for more.

  3. Who’s in the room?? Who??? WHO???? Your ability to build suspense is killing me. You leave each chapter on a juicy cliffhanger that makes me want MORE!!!!! Awesome stuff.

  4. spookyspeed says:

    Wow! Excellent update. Just wow!

    Fave line:

    “Don’t thank me too soon,“ he said, a tinge of sadness in his voice, and he was gone, his door closing with a muted click.

    Great writing. Oh and sorry I am so late reading and reviewing.

  5. I love the twist you’ve done with the names of the characters. Once again you’ve produced some quality, nail-biting stuff. Great read!

  6. spookyspeed says:

    Uh oh, what is going on?

    Either way, what a fabulous chapter. Brilliant descriptive writing, which is a pleasure to read. I can’t wait for more.

  7. I absolutely love your work, but killing Dan? He was the human link in the story, and thus the more relateable of the two characters. I can only hope that a ressurection is on the cards…

  8. spookyspeed says:

    Oh my! That was harsh.

    Brilliant writing, I am jealous of your ability to put all these words down on paper (figuratively speaking) so very well. God knows what goes on in your brain, but I like it.

    Cheers.

  9. Finally almost caught up! I love the “Mary and Martha” ladies. I keep looking for the connections in the names now. Nice 🙂

  10. This piece of writing will assist the inteenet people for building
    up new weblog oor even a weblog from start to end.

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