The Slingshot makes travel fast. Already the entourage of VIP guests had arrived on Garen Four. It wasn’t even the first day of the Art Festival and Edmund Carr was bursting with excitement.
Barely evening, the first agenda item at hand was to eat. A huge spread awaited the guests. In-processing followed dinner and consisted of filling out forms and other paperwork necessities. The fun artsy stuff would begin tomorrow.
Edmund loved art. It was his passion. As a child with a not so happy life, losing himself in a picture became a daily get away.
Generally an escape isn’t always good, but this had some positive impact on him. When Edmund Carr looked at a canvas, be it a painting or a digital rendering, he imagined the story behind the scene. He could see the things the artist didn’t paint and could put himself there.
Many times he had moments of inspiration or found answers to life’s troubles. Simply by letting himself become a part of the picture and the story it told, he learned to extract the life lessons and experiences the painter might have wished to convey.
For many others, acknowledgement of how realistic or how abstract an image might be, was the extent of appreciation or disdain the viewer might have held over the artwork observed. For Edmund, those same images lived and breathed. Good or bad, truth or lie, it was all there to be perceived and experienced.
This is why he became a teacher. Perhaps he could help inspire in his students the same experiential appreciation he had. It wasn’t just about colors on the canvas. It was a way of life, a way of knowing and way to make known.
He was a good artist himself. He painted; he drew, modeled and rendered 3d stills. His house was filled with mostly unseen works, things he felt too shy to share with others or were still unfinished. There were those infrequent moments when an occasional visitor got the chance to see what barely an eye had seen and actually view the art Edmund created.
Those moments were usually preceded by long lists of disclaimers, to explain the incompleteness of any particular piece and the reasons for perceived blemishes the viewer might find. It was really his insecurity that motivated this behavior. Yet at the same time, he also was very proud of his work and loved the opportunity to show it off, if he so got the chance.
Mr. Carr was one of several teachers invited to the festival. He got to know a few of them and learned that all the guests were from the Teller System.
“That seems a bit odd”, he thought to himself. “Why not other systems too? Oh well, relationships I can build that will be close to home I suppose.”
It was one of a few oddities he noticed. In talking with the other guests, he found out that all of them had been asked very little about their respective schools and the art programs they ran. Most questions dealt with home planet demographics.
This lead to a rumor that perhaps the Garen Four Art Institute was planning an extension campus somewhere in the Teller System. Edmund hoped if this was the case, it would be on Minas Terra.
Perhaps the biggest puzzle was that neither Edmund nor any of the invited guests, ever heard of a single staff person at the festival. Every familiar name and face had been replaced within the past two months. Why had no one known about these significant changes? It gave tremendous meaning to the saying “Under new management”.
The rescue vehicle pulled over to the side of the road. They were in the middle of nowhere.
“Check that map again!” The driver was irritated, his navigator new to the job and now they were possibly lost.
“I’m telling you,” the new guy was defensive. “We’re exactly where the accident was reported. It’s supposed to be right here. I know how to read a map.”
“Well where’s the accident and other emergency crews?” He was shaking his head. “I need to let base know.”
The driver had the radio transmitter in hand. He didn’t get to use it.
Mendelark had arrived back on Tridia the night before. A few strategic phone calls to report a supposed emergency and now he was hiding off road. He made his way from behind the vehicle and opened the door, leaving the driver sprawled out on the pavement and protesting.
“What are you doing?” He was completely confused.
A hard boot to the face, followed by the swings of a metal pipe, the driver lay unconscious.
The navigator was now out of the truck too and moved around the front of the vehicle to confront their attacker. He lunged in. Mendelark stepped aside and caught him in the back of the head with the bar in his hand.
Without hesitation, he was furiously kicking and beating the ambulance navigator as well. It didn’t take long till both men were unconscious and barely clinging to life.
Mendelark dragged the navigator into the back of the ambulance. The driver he left off the side of the road. A single shot to the head with his sidearm ensured he wouldn’t recover and be calling for help.
Zee looked around. There was barely any light, but enough to see the room where he stood was rather large and mostly empty. There were noises coming from a computer console at the far end. Instinctively, he made his way towards it.
A large panel displayed hundreds of buttons, some of which were lit up in various colors. One button in particular caught his attention. It was larger than the others. He didn’t know how he knew, that pushing the button would activate a large monitor sitting on the console.
He felt he shouldn’t touch it, but it was as if an invisible force had taken hold of him. Someone or something had his hand and was using it to push down on the button. There was nothing he could do to stop himself. And exactly what he thought would happen, did. The monitor blinked to life. A sense of dread coursed through him, the result of an immediate feeling within, of the presence of evil.
Looking to his right, a dark and hideous creature now stood by his side. Zee tried to run but his body wasn’t moving. He was screaming inside, commanding his feet to move, but they continued to stand still.
The creature, pushing buttons on the console, seemed oblivious of Zee’s presence, as if it didn’t know he was there. This made him relax a little.
A thought popped into his mind. “Next comes the blue light.”
For a moment, Zee imagined maybe he had heard that thought, as if spoken to him. He couldn’t tell.
Suddenly, a blinding blue flash of light burst from the monitor. Zee could see it travel in all directions within the room. It took only a few seconds to move across the floor and up the walls, then disappear through the ceiling.
He noticed his feet could move and thought to run, but now the room was filled with hundreds of foul creatures. A pulsating noise distracted him for the moment and he turned to see an image appearing on the monitor screen. A mechanical head of sorts filled the view. A light, like a single eye, moved back and forth as if it were scanning the room.
The level of noise rose to a deafening roar as the creatures worked themselves into a frenzied excitement. It was hurting Zee’s ears and he covered them as tightly as he could with his hands.
Then, just like that it ended and the room was silent again. The eye now stood still. The head began to speak.
“Go and search out Edmund Carr. Does anyone object?”
The voice echoed throughout the room. Like a wave rolling in from the distance, a murmur began to grow, turning once again to an ear piercing screech, escalating as no objection was raised.
Zee noticed another being, different from the others, standing by him at the console. The creatures seemed oblivious of its presence too. The being’s hand was on Zee’s head and he could feel an electrical charge flowing into him, making him strong. It didn’t open its mouth, but Zee somehow heard the whisper.
“Daria.” It said, then was gone.
Zee could feel strength rising within, an objection to the order to search out his teacher. He opened his mouth to contest, but couldn’t formulate the words that were there. They came out as spoken gibberish instead.
At that, Zee became aware he was no longer invisible. He could be seen. The creature at the console, had him by the throat and was choking him, making it impossible to speak.
The mass of beings in unison were chanting in a language he couldn’t understand. Zee tried again, to yell his objection above the chants, but still, his words were only garbled noise.
Sarah turned on the light in Zee’s room. She was experiencing terror of her own at the moment, her heart pounding from being suddenly awakened by the sound of her son’s tortured screams. Zee was sitting up in bed and sweating profusely.
“It’s okay Zee, mama’s here.” She was now sitting on the bed cradling him against her chest and gently rocking him.
Mendelark drove up to the emergency room receiving area. He had swapped clothing earlier with his casualty. Jumping from the driver’s seat, he moved to the back and opened the door for hospital staff who quickly unloaded the injured man.
“Pretty bad accident,” Mendelark offered. Nobody paid him attention.
He started to head inside. “Hey!” called one of the staffers.
Mendelark momentarily froze.
“We need this area clear for other emergency vehicles. You can park over there.”
Mendelark looked to the parking area. “Yeah, okay. Sorry about that.”
Dinner and in-processing were over and Edmund was now in his guest quarters settling down for the night with a book. Ever since being named to participate in the Art Festival, which required travel by shuttle, he had been fascinated with space.
A weird but kindly stranger purchased an extra edition about the Teller Space station by accident, during a tourist visit and Edmund somehow became the lucky recipient. Though he hadn’t read it yet, he’d been showing pictures in all his classes. When this trip was over, they would begin an art initiative centered around the station and space in general.
Twenty minutes into it, there was a knock at the door. Putting the book down on the desk, Edmund opened to find the hotel concierge standing with a large package wrapped in heavy paper.
“The Art Institute delivered this for you just now.” All of Claudio’s senses were at a heightened state. His moment had come to gather information and he felt nervous.
“Come in son. I’ll get a tip for you.” Edmund was completely unaware he was under surveillance.
Taking the package from the boy and laying it on the bed, his mind was now completely focused on finding out what was inside. He forgot about the tip for a moment.
From his travel bag, a small set of trimming scissors was used to cut a hole in the paper, being careful not to damage the contents. As he worked the wrapping away, a card dropped onto the bed. Edmund opened the envelope and read.
“Dear Mr. Carr,” began the note.
“We are sending this to you, a Mirawey original, in preparation for some discussion time tomorrow. We would like to have you view and prepare comment regarding the piece you have been assigned. We look forward to hearing your observations, feelings and insights. Thank you for your effort in this!”
It was signed, “Sincerely, the Garen Four Art Institute.”
“I won’t get to read my book tonight it looks like,” Edmund thought. “Better yet, I get to study this…. What is this?” He was talking to himself and turned his attention back to unveiling the package contents.
Pulling the remaining paper away, Edmund uncovered a framed painting labeled, “Edokian Warrior. The Hunter”. He wasn’t familiar with Edokians, however, the warrior reminded him of the various tribal groups spread across the more remote regions of Minas Terra.
The Edokian’s face had straight dark lines painted under the eyes, across the cheeks, and down the bridge of the nose. On his chest was painted what looked like a bird of some kind. It resembled the pheasant he held in one hand. In the other he held a cross-bow and beside him, driven into the ground, was a spear.
In the bottom left corner of the picture was a boulder. Mid way up the right side, a tree, in full bloom. The sky shone clear and bright although there was no sun visible. The Edokian stood on a dirt road cutting between the boulder and the tree.
The hunter’s features revealed a fighter who was very muscular and strong. His face was furrowed with many deep lines, worn and weathered, much like the texture of leather.
It was the deep blue eyes contrasted against the jet black hair that caught Edmund’s attention. There was something about the eyes. He stared intently at the warrior’s face.
The eyes seemed to stare back at him. For a moment, Edmund had the illusion the Edokian’s mouth changed into the shape of a snarl. He blinked his eyes to clear them and looked again at the mouth. It was in that same emotionless position neither smiling nor snarling.
Lost in the picture like always, there was a sound, as if someone were clearing their throat. Coming back to his senses, the concierge stood there. Edmund remembered the tip.
“Sorry lad, here you go.” Reaching into a coat pocket hung on the desk chair; he pulled some small bills and handed them to the boy.
“Thank you sir.” The concierge didn’t sound very thankful. He dismissed himself from the room pulling the door closed as he exited.
Edmund lifted the painting from the bed and placed it on the desk leaning against the wall. Having prepared himself for his nights slumber, he lay down with pen and paper.
For about another hour he studied the painting and jotted down thoughts. Eventually fatigue from travel and interplanetary time changes had taken their toll. Edmund was done for the night.
The hotel was full. The conference at the Art Institute no doubt played a major role in this. Even so, all was quiet tonight at the desk.
The elevator door opened and Claudio walked out. He was counting the bills Mr. Carr had just given him for delivering the package.
“What a pathetic tip”, Claudio murmured. “I hate this job”. His thoughts were interrupted by the desk clerk.
“Claudio, I’m going home. You have the desk for the night.”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it.” Claudio hated the desk too. He hated a lot of stuff. If he was lucky, maybe all would stay quiet and he’d be able to sleep some. But first he had business to take care of.
Once alone, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a paper. A phone number was scribbled on it. There was a moment of self-doubt, a struggle over whether or not to make the call.
Part of him felt guilty, but another part invigorated. The mission before him sparked of intrigue, danger and mystery. To consider it made him feel alive at work for the first time in ages, in what was otherwise a boring and unrewarding job. For the moment, his doubts were put down.
Looking around the lobby to make sure he was truly alone, he picked up the phone and dialed the number. A voice at the other end answered.
“I was in his room.”
“I delivered the package like you said.”
“What was he doing when you entered?”
“Nothing unusual, I think reading maybe. There was a book on the desk.”
“Tell me about the book.”
“I don’t know. It looked like a space book I think. Teller…” Claudio was trying to remember.
“Teller Station”, the voice on the other end interrupted. Claudio noticed a rise of emotion in whoever he was talking with.
“Who is this?” Claudio asked. “Is that you Charles?”
There was silence.
“Hello… Hello”. Claudio was starting to feel nervous. He spoke almost in a whisper. “Hello?”
“I’m here. That’ll be all.”
“What about my payment I was promised for getting information…” Click. The line went dead.
Claudio paced nervously wondering what to do next. He was promised payment and so far, this wasn’t going how he imagined. He dialed the number again. The phone picked up on the other end.
“Hello,” Claudio blurted.
“The number you have dialed has been disconnected or no longer is in service. Please check the number you are dialing and try again.” Claudio hung up the phone.
Now he was scared and wishing he’d never agreed to spy on Mr. Carr. He looked around the desk to see that everything was in order. A quick check confirmed the security camera was active.
Entering the manager’s quarters, he locked the door. The camera monitor was on and he could see the front desk perfectly. If anyone needed help tonight, he’d be able to carefully observe the situation before exiting the room.
Not much was really known about who he was dealing with. The man was nice enough who approached him, Charles, if that was even his name. He promised payment for taking note of Mr. Carr and what was in the room. It seemed innocent enough at the time, but now he was full of questions and regrets.
Checking once more to make sure the door was secured, Claudio calmed himself down and tried to sleep.
Admiral Tucker was used to short nights, but for Zee, it was a different story entirely. It took several gentle shakes and finally a little bit of harshness of tone before Zee was finally up.
“Zee, get dressed. Today I want to show you something.”
“What is it?” Zee was groggy and still in the fog of waking from a deep sleep.
“You’ll see.” his dad teased.
Zee was soon alert despite the early awakening, his curiosity fully perked. A call came through on Admiral Tucker’s communications unit. He could hear his dad talking from another room.
“We’ll be right out.” Admiral Tucker returned the unit to his belt holder. “They’re here Zee. Let’s go.”
This was Zee’s first ride in a military carrier. If it wasn’t for the rest of the day he was about to experience, the carrier would’ve been enough of an adventure to satisfy him for several weeks. But there was more. Zee just didn’t know it yet.
Mendelark stood outside the hospital room door. He could see through a small window, the sales agent was asleep, or unconscious still. Not that it mattered which.
He was here to finish the job started at the Art Gallery, before anyone could get the real story of what happened. There was a momentary distraction, a commotion at the nurse’s station down the hall not far from the room.
“Has anyone seen the ambulance driver who brought in that last accident victim?” Mendelark quickly stepped into the room so he wouldn’t be seen. His ear was to the slightly opened door.
“The person who was in the accident, I know him, He’s the new navigator and one of the real ambulance drivers!” Someone was frantic. “You have to call the police!”
A young doctor walked into the patient’s room. Mendelark barely got out of the way, managing to hide behind the door as it opened.
Moments later, no one at the nurse’s station noticed the ill-fitting clothes of the strange doctor walking by.