Halocline

by john g rees


                                               

BLACK WATER BOOKS               
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Halocline

Copyright © 2010 by john g rees

First Edition: SEPTEMBER 2010

All rights reserved.


Published by Black Water Books, Hawaii


Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the written permission of the author, copyright owner and publisher of this book. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.


This novel is a work of fiction. The characters, names incidents dialogue and plot are the products of the author‘s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.




Cover Design by Mohamed Sadath


Printed in the United States

ISBN: 978-0-578-05980-8







SPECIAL THANKS TO:

All the daring readers

My family and friends for their love and support

My redactatrix, Teddi Stransky

Cover art, Mohamed Sadath

Interior design, Danil M

Cover carving in Koa, Don Craig

And of course, my wife Mara who puts it all together and cleans up the blood.




anoxic zone is the first book by john g rees.

Halocline is a twisted continuation of that novel.








anoxic zone by john g rees

Finalist in USA BOOK NEWS

“National ‘BEST BOOKS’ 2009 Awards” for Horror









For my father Gerald Victor Rees whose selfless devotion to his fellow man taught me the meaning of freedom and its price.



 
 



HALOCLINE


PART ONE









                                                                            *



Heavy wood furnishings and bookshelves covered the open floorspace of the cavern. A fissure in the granite ceiling allowed one shaft of light to enter. There, a picture had been placed on the wall specifically to capture this single spot of illumination. The abomination’s eyes gravitated to the light. A moment passed while recognition took place. Then a howl from the depths of hell rose to a deafening volume, shaking the mountain itself.

The framed portrait was darkened and muted with age. A figure clad in red riding coat, with matching fur brimmed hat, gazed resolutely at the observer. A large thin nose dominated the skinny rat-like face, with a wide horizontal mustache that stretched across his cheeks. The eyes, however, were windows into a damned soul. Beneath the picture was a brass plaque that read: “Vlad Tepes III.”

Only the old people took notice of the darkly inauspicious rumblings. Prayer books were dusted off, rosaries removed from altars all over the countryside were being put to use after many years. The peace of mind that had existed in the Romani was being torn asunder. Those who were aware of such things grew ashen with the memories of the nightmare to come.




                                                                                         *  



Riana paid scant attention to the earthquake and subsequent revival of religious fervor along with increased attendance at the local churches. She was more of an agnostic, having never made any decisions about religion one way or the other. Riana studied them as courses in school, prerequisites for her degree in medieval archeology of Eastern Europe. She understood the basic premises of the big three, Christianity, Buddhism and Islam.  How they related to each other. More specifically how they interacted with each other during the dark ages.

Riana was educated at a private school in Paris, far from the land of her birth and mother. As she grew older, Riana realized it was more of a cloister. She would see her mother during the specific school breaks, only to remain in Paris, never venturing far from its environs.

Hidden away, she knew little of her mother’s work in Bucharest, other than she was a professor in languages. Riana’s mother never talked of her life, always staying to the topic of school. Riana thought perhaps there was much sadness, what with political upheavals and social unrest. Life in Romania had always been difficult. Perhaps that was why she took a turn from her mother’s request of becoming a doctor, to archaeology. Riana was never quite sure, exactly, the reason for this sudden turn in her studies. It was as if she was guided, persuaded. She could never shake the feeling that it wasn’t her idea. Not against her will, but not exactly with it either. Regardless, she excelled at it. Driven, was how some of her teachers expressed it. It was another stake in the heart of her mother, who had seen too much sorrow in this life. Maybe that was why Riana had been shut away in school: an attempt to protect her from the ravages of life.

Taking a few months to adjust to her daughter’s new direction in life, Karuna finally caved, signing the papers that would admit Riana to the post graduate school of archaeology. She knew that Riana would go to the school even without her help. Rather than fight a losing battle with her strong-willed daughter, Karuna decided to assist, to help prepare Riana for the potentially dark and disturbing future that life might bequeath her.


That was three years ago.

Now, Riana was on a dig unearthing an ancient battlefield on the southern coast of Romania. The small port town of Eforie Sud, a nouveau spa destination and resort community, was once the site of a brutal battle between Turk invaders and Romanian forces under the direction of ‘The Order of the Dragon.’  The fight raged for days before the ‘Order’ pushed the Turks back into the sea, burning the ships of the fleeing invaders. Those who did not die by the fire of their burning vessels were put to the pike by the thousands.

Painstakingly careful excavations revealed rows of pointed poles. They had uncovered only a small portion of the grid of impaling stakes and crosses. When the archaeologists scaled it up on the computer to the co-ordinates set by sonographic imagery, the grid stretched up and down the coast as far as the eye could see and extended out to sea another 200 meters.  The Black Sea was lower then, therefore the beach much wider, relatively. The dig verified the imagery. At least 50,000 men women and children were crucified and impaled here. Most were Persian. Inspired by slavery, the Persians fought for the Turks, but with less zeal than it would take, apparently, to win the war. Riana wanted to dive this stretch of sea to discover what mysteries it would hold. The wrecks of the burnt ships and their contents would help create another piece of the puzzle in her mind.


Riana was a trained SCUBA diver, which expanded her range of abilities in the crowded environment of archaeological pursuits. She spent a year diving and researching several sites in the northern Aegean Sea, while learning the techniques and equipment involved in underwater archaeology. The Black Sea presented an irresistible challenge. Her previous experience in the relatively warm waters of the Aegean, however, had not quite prepared her sufficiently for the cold and unpredictable waters of the Black.

Her colleagues were the more sedate type; trowels, brushes, wide brimmed hats, gin and tonics at teatime. Endless open-ended monologues discoursing unprovable and improbable theories that ended in nothing more than wasted breath. More concerned with discovering their next grant, they really looked for nothing else.

Professor Norsgood was the old man of the dig. He, too, had a dream once. Seeing it in the young archaeologist reminded him of his younger days, before his dream dug him into obscurity. In his heyday, the theorizing never ended. The impossible was all within reach. But he reached too far and found himself alone on a distant branch of thought. His thesis was laughed at, even ridiculed in certain circles. For years, he didn’t care. Pursuing his theories to the ends of the earth proved nothing, except how quickly funding could dry up when you came up empty-handed one too many times and delved into mysteries best left alone. Growing older, he wound up maintaining the status quo to survive. He now supervised digs where the explorers, if they were lucky enough, might discover what a blister was.

Norsgood wanted to help Riana in her zest for understanding. It was rare to see such enthusiasm in the mundane research of the past, as it had become for old Norsgood. Her fieldwork was good, with a vision far beyond her contemporaries. Norsgood decided to call in a few favors to help the young girl out; to let her live her dream, as he once did, before reality crushed the hopes and inspiration. Placing a call to Deep Salvage Inc., Norsgood was soon connected to the man who built and ran the most successful salvage operation in the Middle East.

“Dr. Norsgood, I am glad you called. I wanted to thank you for your help in identifying the Greek trade barge we brought up a couple weeks ago. Every country in the southern half of the Black Sea wanted it,” said the CEO of Deep Salvage.

“Yes, it was my pleasure to help settle the dispute. We would not want another war over some old wood and bones. I wished to thank you for calling me in on it. It adds a little excitement to this old digger’s life,” replied Norsgood.

“Yes, yes, I’m sure it does,” commented the CEO. “I would hope you are available in the future, as these sort of things come up all the time.”

“It would be my pleasure. There is something I wished to asked of you, Mr. Mouse,” began the professor.

“Anything at all, and please, it’s Chief.”

“Well, Chief, we are on a dig in Eforie Sud. Unfortunately, the bulk of the dig is underwater due to the rising sea level over the last few thousand years.”

“And?” prompted Mouse.

“Yes, to the point. We have a young colleague with ample underwater archaeological experience and she would like to explore the sea floor along the coast. Unfortunately, the environment is far colder and more treacherous than her experience allows.” Norsgood was unsure of himself in the unfamiliar waters of favor.

Mouse picked up on it as soon as Norsgood started talking, so he made it easy on the fumbling academic. “And you’d like a diver or two to assist her and be a safety net. How soon would you like a team, Lars?” Chief Mouse used the man’s given name warmly.

Struck dumb for a moment by the ease in which his wish had been granted, Norsgood stumbled out with, “Some … sometime in the next few weeks before the cold weather begins.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem, Lars. Let me connect you with my secretary, you can give her your number. You will be contacted later on today and we should have you in the water within the week. Fair enough?” concluded the Chief.

“I do not know what to say,” fumbled Lars.

“How about ‘thank you.’ If there is anything else you need, just call.” The phone line clicked, as the call was transferred.

Mouse leaned back in his chair. His top divers were busy but he had someone that hadn’t got his fins wet in years. He picked up the phone, speed dialing the number for Barge#22.




                                                           

                                                THE PRESENT

                                                            *



Riana finished with her digging as the sun went down. Her comrades had finished hours ago, preferring gin and hot air before dinner. Wiping off her tools, she inspected her fingernails. Chipped, cracked, scratched and abused, they matched her calloused dirty hands. Glancing at the sea, then back to her hands, she started to strip down, looking up and down the beach to make sure she was alone. With just a tank top and underwear, she ran down to the water’s edge without stopping, diving into the small surf.

Freedom was the thought that filled her mind as she swam to the calmer waters just outside the breaking waves. She did this almost every day after the others left, rinsing away the sweat and accumulated grime from long hours in the pit. The cold water was refreshing, invigorating her for a full night of cataloging the day’s findings and entering them into the databank.

A shadow passed beneath her; a spike in adrenalin. Fear punched into her system as she tried to look in all directions at once. Seeing nothing, Riana noticed she had drifted into deeper water. The feeling that she was not alone had not abated.

Riana arrowed toward the shoreline with strong strokes. The last rays of the sun glinted off something at the bottom, catching her eye. Stopping, Riana stared at the spot the reflection had come from. It shone once more and she jackknifed, heading straight to the bottom. The halocline waters didn’t allow her to focus on the object ‘til she was a meter away. One more kick and she was on the bottom reaching toward the hilt of a dagger. It was heavy. Once firmly in her grasp, Riana pushed off the seafloor with her feet, propelling her to the surface. Before she dove down, Riana had guessed the depth at about 6 meters, now she couldn’t even see the bottom or the surface. Letting out a few bubbles, Riana followed them, swimming furiously as her lungs were starting to burn. She let a few more bubbles go, only to realize she was going in the wrong direction. She chased those bubbles as panic started to kick in. Lungs aching for air, she began to experience tunnel vision. Part of Riana knew what came next and with a final surge, pushed in the direction the bubbles went.

Huge breaths followed her break from beneath the waves. She had never been so close to blacking out before. Frightened and relieved, Riana swam carefully back to shore. It wasn’t until she was standing in the sand that she realized the dagger was still in her hand.

Professor Norsgood was at the dig’s supply shed, when Riana came out of the water.

“Oh, Professor, you didn’t have to come down. I would have locked up when I was done.” Riana said, as she took a towel off one of the chairs.

“I know,” replied Norsgood, looking at the young woman, trying not to feel like a lecherous old man. “For some reason that I cannot now recall, I was worried about you.”

Riana, feeling slightly guilty after her experience, said, “Don’t worry, Professor, it just feels so good after a hot day in the trenches. Here—look what I found! I can only imagine what else is down there.”

His eyes practically popped out of his head as he turned it over in his hands.

“It’s solid gold, the craftsmanship, the inlay! You say you just found it floating around out there while you were swimming?” he questioned, excitedly.

“Well, yes, sort of. It was sticking out of the bottom.” She was a little embarrassed, realizing how easy the find was.

“Definitely Walachian, 12th century, perhaps. Here.” He gave the dagger back to her. “Let us go back to the library. I have seen a picture or drawing of this before.”

“You go, professor, “ Riana said, handing the dagger back, hilt first. “I have to shower and eat. I’ll catch up with you later.” With that, she gathered her clothes and bag, walking back with him as far as the hotel. Riana gave him a daughter-like hug, eyes beaming with excitement. “I will only be a couple hours.” She turned to go.

“Oh, Riana, I just remembered what it was. A friend of mine is sending a salvage diver over in a week or so to help you find what else may be at the bottom of your swimming hole.”

Her smile lit the evening and she gave the old man another hug before dashing into the hotel.

Professor Norsgood waved, then ambled along the ancient cobbled streets, marveling at how the cobblestones lasted over a thousand years as a roadway, whereas the modern roads needed to be resurfaced every few years. He arrived at the library, his office in the back: a converted storeroom with no windows. It wasn’t much, but it held his books, his life. He was deep in a volume of early middle age metallurgy when he heard the front door to the library open. He was glad the girl made it. The hour was late and he was tiring.

Sharp, hollow, slow paced footsteps echoed in the empty library. The old man listened, surprised that the girl wasn’t running down the aisles. Looking back to his text, he shivered a little as a cool draft swept into the room and a shadow crossed the pages.

“Sit down, Riana, you’re in my light,” snapped the tired professor.

“I believe this is mine,” said a low voice from behind him. An arm clad in red felt reached over Norsgood’s shoulder, picking up the dagger.

“Now wait just a minute,” the professor began, as he started to rise from his chair. A firm hand forced him back into his seat.

“Ahh, poor professor, you search your whole life long chasing my ghost and what do you have to show for it? Nothing. A hole of an office full of worthless knowledge, a lifetime portfolio of empty dreams. There are no rewards for failure, Professor Norsgood. But you, I will reward tonight, with a look at what you have wasted your life searching for.”

Vlad Tepes stepped into the light, grabbing the old man’s hair, forcing him to look. Unable to speak, his eyes screamed of terror as Tepes raised the dagger, plunging it deep into the wrinkled neck.





                                                                  PROLOGUE

                                                                                        *



Sometime in the not so distant future corporate rule replaced traditional governments.  A ruthless form of capitalism now existed in the form of Megacorp. With ‘profit’ now making the final decisions, civil rights no longer existed.

Megacorp, in its desire to satisfy investor demands, went far beyond the use of ruthless business practices. They actually thought nothing of it at the time—other than a way to improve profitability. In reality, they opened up the gates of hell and called on no less than the devil himself to maximize shareholder dividends.

Megacorp was what its name implied. The world’s largest corporation owned most of the planet replacing governments with corporate law. The last 600 years of industrial revolution had tapped the available natural resources. Centuries-old landfills were the new gold rush. Recycling for survival was on. Anywhere there was reusable anything, efforts were put in place to salvage it. Along with a depleted planet, Megacorp also received the failing infrastructure of these countries. All of which needed to be maintained to keep the supply line of profits uninterrupted. The question of who was going to keep it running had been looming for some time in corporate headquarters.

For generations, Megacorp had been training its constituents to lead their lives wired into the virtual world. Most of humanity had been pacified like cattle. Unfortunately, ruining their minds left them useless for much of anything beyond consumerism. The company was at a loss. Its workforce was getting old and there were very few to fill the ranks. When you lost a trained man, you lost him. He was gone. Not replaceable. This is a very fucked up situation and it wouldn’t be long until it became desperate. By then it would be too late.

The Megacorp scientific community was given one task. Find a way to keep the remaining workers working. They were given unlimited access to needed resources, an open check book, and absolved beforehand for any abuses of human rights that might be required in order to get the job done. Most of the brainiacs involved themselves in lab work and the creation of data. A few, however, looked to the darker side of man—into the mysteries of magic and voodoo. What had they to lose? The rites of zombification and the Lazarus effect didn’t pan out. It wasn’t until a work of fiction, written hundreds of years before, proved to have more basis in reality than originally thought, that progress began being made.

It seems a Vlad Tepes was one of the first to put to practical use the skills of the undead. He didn’t exactly leave a how-to book on the subject, but over the years scientists were urged (it is the only way they could describe it, urged; not against their will, but not exactly with it) ‘urged’ in the direction of their research.

One dark day with microscopes, centrifuges, syringes and the aid of Tepes himself, they were able to recreate the condition Vlad Tepes was said to have cruelly initiated.


The scientists who created the ‘Reuseables’ through their dark arts, understood well the practicalities and pitfalls in the task they were to undertake. Undertakers they were, and butchers in the beginning. What they didn’t understand, they learned thru a pitiless trial and err process.

When you work without morals, the process gets significantly easier.

Without morals—it could be their motto.

Control was a primary issue. A man who has no fear of death is certainly a man to be afraid of. The plans for our use in the small picture as well as the larger picture required a control so complete it could never be questioned.

This control had to not only be of the mind but also physical.

The answer to the control issue was partially resolved in the re-animation process.

After literally waking from the dead, the body’s nutritional needs are now fulfilled in a manner quite different than real lifers get theirs. ‘Reuseables’ still eat, but need a repulsive infusion on a regular basis. The formula was beyond top secret.

How to keep Reuseables doing what they want and returning home for dinner, voluntarily? Reliably? It didn’t take them long to come up with the right combination of pharmaceuticals to ensure a reliable return and a willingness to do whatever was asked.


History, or what’s left of it gave the scientist/sadists their basis and fundamentals for the control research.

In the 1700’s, the English brought opium to china, Hong Kong in particular, to subdue and manipulate the population. Capitalizing on trade and shipping, greed, and the profits to be made, allowed them to overlook their inhumanity to their fellow man.

In the 1800’s, a transportation system, to be built across the then-United States, used these same coolies by the thousands to build their transcontinental railroad. Fueled by opium, they were tireless work-slaves who would literally work themselves to death, only to be replaced by another poor addicted bastard, till he died, then another, then another, then another... a blind eye was cast upon this practice in the name of progress.


Another eye never forgot what it saw—the eye of man’s infinite selfish greed.

This theme was played out again and again through the hundreds of years that have passed since then. Progress does not stop. Greed is never sated.

In the early second millennium, the need for our kind began to get serious. Work became more complicated, extreme and dangerous, not to mention expensive.

No longer could you just rotate your workers each time they burned themselves out.  The training that went into developing an individual’s talent began to become worth more than the individual himself.

For example: it may take someone half a lifetime to learn and gain the experience in equipment and environment to connect a thermocouple to a deep-sea vent, which makes possible the harvesting of the energy at the earth’s core.

A parted air hose, a faulty check valve and that man is fish food.

The diver is no great loss, never has been; it’s the knowledge and training that went into that poor cocksucker that makes his loss so great. Many of mankind’s greatest achievements have not come from the loftier ideals of the evolved mind but from the desire for profit. Simple as that.

The “Reuseable Program,” as it was called, was eventually a success. It had been saving the world from falling apart for decades. But the Reuseables themselves were screwed. They were put into service in their position—whatever they were good at—no questions asked. No answers given.

Then two of the Reuseables began to think about what they had been ‘mindfucked’ not to think about. Jake was a commercial diver and Johnny (Giovanni), a scientist. In the course of being themselves, Jake ‘fucked up’ and Johnny took advantage of an opportunity to shed the shackles of Megacorp control. They also put an end to the Reuseable program, which was a good thing.

Jake and Johnny beat the system. The cost was their souls. Their blow to Megacorp created but a hiccup in the scheme of things. The wheel turns. Our two hapless Reuseables inevitably get pulled back from an afterlife of exiled anonymity, invariably involving them in Stygian matters, much darker than the shadow of the wheel threatening to crush the dreams of a people.



                                        END OF PROLOGUE















                                                                                THE PRESENT

                                                                            *



Riana entered the ancient gothic hall of knowledge, zipping up her fleece to cut the chill. The hushed atmosphere of the old rock building was deceiving. She imagined the voices of all the books talking to each other, just below her threshold of hearing, within that silence. It was an intense feeling; the books seemed to be screaming tonight. She tiptoed quickly past the threatening quietude to the rear of the building, tapping lightly at the professor’s door. The door was ajar, her taps opening it a little further.

“Professor? Professor?” she whispered, entering the room. Stepping up to his big high backed chair, “I’m sorry, I’m late. My mother called and I … PROFESSOR!” she yelled, as her mentor’s form slumped out of the chair and onto the floor.

Riana dropped to her knees, rolled the professor on his back, checking for a pulse and breathing. Finding neither, she pulled her cell, punched the emergency number and started First Aid. Half an hour later, the ambulance arrived, finding an exhausted woman desperately, but futilely, trying to revive the old man on the floor. Riana sat back, unable to stand, while the medics took over. They placed him on a gurney, covered Norsgood with a sheet and left, after giving Riana some forms to fill out.

Riana sat alone in the office waiting for the police. She was straightening the papers on the professor’s desk when she realized the dagger was gone. She searched further, not finding the blade or even a clue. A picture of the country’s most infamous figure and claim to misfortune fell from the stack of papers she was trying to shuffle into shape. A single drop of blood had splashed across the face of the man in the picture, seeming to point to the figure’s right hand, which held a dagger identical to the one Riana had found. Gasping, she dropped the mimeograph, which slid under a bookshelf just as the police came to visit.

The interrogation lasted until midnight. There is no such thing as routine questioning with the Romanian police, especially when the one to be questioned is a hot collegiate. Riana was not necessarily street wise, though she knew better than to volunteer information. She also neglected to tell the interrogators about the dagger. She was tired and afraid by the time it was over. When she got home, with no one else to talk to, Riana called her mother.

The coroner stated the cause of death as a knife wound to the neck. There was no mention concerning the lack of blood in the corpse, perhaps assuming it had drained out through the wound.




                                                                            *



A telephone rang in an office on Barge#22. An unruly pile of papers began to move. An arm emerged, blindly searching for the receiver, knocking files and printouts to the floor. Grabbing the plastic menace, forcing it to cease its incessant beeping, the pile spoke. “Yeah, Chief’s office, what can I do for you?”

“How many times have I told you, that’s the worst possible way to answer incoming.  You’ll be up all night, every night, trying to satisfy those requests. Bet you’re at the desk right now, been there all night, too, by the sound of your voice,” reprimanded the Chief.

“Well, you got me there, Chief. I told you I wasn’t cut out for this type of work, all the paper freaks me out. It’s easier to just do it yourself anyway.”

“That’s one way to dig yourself into an early grave,” punned the Chief.

“Well, fuck me, that has to be a first for you, Chief. I didn’t think you went in for that sort of thing. What’s on your mind anyway?”

“I must admit it is stooping pretty low. Listen, I know you want to get out of the office and in the water, so I have an offer for you,” the Chief said, getting to the point.

“I’m listening.”

“An old friend has an archaeological team doing a dig in Eforie Sud. They want to dive the waters adjacent to the dig and they need a safety officer, somebody to keep them out of trouble. I told them you’d be there at the end of the week. Get a team together and let the new Chief ride solo for a while.  I’m sure he can deal with that pile of papers on your desk better than you can. Oh! Wear company shirts—look professional!” The Chief broke the connection before he had to listen to a diver whining.

                                                                      


                                                                                                                                                         



Riana and Karuna talked until the wee hours that night. Karuna had only known the old professor by reputation. Competent and thorough, he had been a fine mentor for many young archaeologists. More concerned with how her daughter was coping in the aftermath of finding the professor and subsequent unnecessary interrogation (Karuna knew from experience how difficult they could be), she missed the details concerning the dagger. Unfortunately, murders were common enough. Red lights did not immediately begin flashing in Karuna’s mind.

Steering the conversation away from death, Karuna asked how the dig was progressing. Riana explained about the confirmation of the near 50,000 impalements on the beach. She went on to the possibility of diving the close waters, saying that Professor Norsgood was in the process of arranging a guide, when he was murdered. The status of that possibility was now in question.

Karuna was not as disturbed about the mass murder on the beach 1000 years ago, as she was by the prospect of her daughter diving in the vicinity of the atrocity. She had heard too many tales, real or not—it didn’t matter—over the years to be excited about it, but was not about to step on her daughter’s dreams. She did ask that Riana check the guide’s credentials through a service before going out, also offering to come to Eforie Sud to help if Riana thought she needed it. Riana declined her offer for the moment, feeling able, now, to deal with it.

Karuna did not like Riana’s choice—it’s a mother thing—but respected her enough to oblige, for the moment. Had she been paying more attention to what Riana was actually saying, Karuna would have flown from Bucharest without delay and spirited her daughter away from the impending evil.

The dig was a bust. Several archaeologists left the country, spooked by the professor’s sudden death. Those that remained stopped working, waiting instead for word from their schools or grant provider to make their decisions. Riana had paid her own way up front and wasn’t going to walk away, to let the dig die or another to make a name for themselves on the beachfront. She returned to Norsgood’s office the following morning, sidestepped the yellow police tape and slipped into the darkened vestibule. The events of the previous evening unreeled on her mental film screen. Everything was as she left it. There was a huge mess to clean up, due to the Professor’s lack of a filing system and the gross efforts of the police. Why they had to drop everything on the floor after they inspected it was beyond Riana. Their sheer lack of respect broke bindings and tore the covers from irreplaceable works of literature. Spending the next few hours putting the old books back together and returning them to their resting places, she jumped when the phone rang, breaking the oppressive silence.

“Yes, uh, Dr. Norsgood’s office, this is Riana,” she answered uncertainly. What was she going to tell the person one the other end? She sucked it up determined to do her best.

“Good morning, Jake Strom from Deep Salvage, is Dr. Norsgood in?”

“No, he is not. Can you tell me what this regards?” Riana answered, still uncertain as to how to go about things, yet wise enough not to give out unrequested information.

Hearing the restraint in her voice, Jake forged ahead. “Yes, well, I received a call yesterday concerning a project that Dr. Norsgood is working on. He requested a safety diver for one of his colleagues who wished to explore the waters near the jobsite.”

Riana was floored. The professor mentioned this just last night. It had completely slipped her mind. She reshuffled her mental deck, searching for a response. “Oh gosh, I didn’t think you would be calling so soon.” She scolded herself for sounding like an idiot. “I am the colleague Dr. Norsgood was referring to. My name is Dr. Riana Danesti. Mr. Strom, something happened, since the Dr. called. I guess you should know. Professor Norsgood was murdered last night in his office and I am not sure of the status of the dig at this point. He was in charge.”

Danesti. Danesti, the name rang a bell but he couldn’t place it. “I am very sorry to hear that, Miss Danesti. Usually as long as someone takes over, projects generally keep moving ahead. When nobody is willing to step up to the plate, that’s when things go south. Something to think about. Are you still interested in doing some underwater exploration?” Jake questioned.

“Well, yes, I guess so.” Riana was surprised at the man’s objectivity, considering what he had just been told.

“Excellent. That’s the spirit! Chin up, doc. How is Friday morning for you? That will give you a couple days to adjust to your new position and make arrangements for the good Dr. Norsgood.”

“I haven’t actually accepted a new position yet and I’m not sure if I am qualified to handle it,” said a slightly confused Riana.

“You will and you can. I just need your physical measurements and shoe size, to bring appropriate equipment for you,” Jake said, smiling at the phone.

“I have most of my own equipment,” Riana started.

“Forget about your old equipment. Deep Salvage Incorporated, is footing the bill on this one.”

Embarrassed for no good reason other than telling a man her sizes, Riana relayed the pertinent details, thanked Mr. Strom and hung up the phone. In earnest now, pumped by the thought of running the dig and the diving opportunity, she went at the monstrous pile of paperwork, driving herself to make this work. Perhaps there was something in what Mr. Strom had said. The paperwork acted as a catharsis, too, dealing with the loss of her mentor through his work.

Norsgood had no family. Since no one spoke up, the responsibility went to Riana, by default. She was already answering e-mails, returning calls, signing requisitions; in general, picking up where Norsgood left off.

The second day after Norsgood’s death the morgue called, wondering what she wanted done with the body. Even the university didn’t want anything to do with it. Riana knew things would be different if old Norsgood had scored on this dig. That dagger would have saved him the disgrace. She would have none of it and called the local funeral home to arrange transfer, allocating some of the dig’s funding to get the process started. Riana would have to come up with the rest of the cash on her own. She did not mind, though the expenditure would put a pinch on her budget.

Riana chose a modest, but respectable casket for the service: dark wood with an off white satin interior.  Two flower arrangements for either end and a spread for the top of the coffin. His death would not even cause a tiny ripple in the sea of his calling. Her own contributions seemed wholly inadequate. But it was all she had, hoping it would be enough. The Professor would eventually be cremated, but tradition required a ceremony, which was arranged for the coming Saturday. “The day after tomorrow,“ she thought, suddenly remembering she was diving on Friday, tomorrow!

Getting ready to leave for the day, she now knew why Norsgood was rarely at the site, when the phone rang. It was Mom checking up on her. Riana explained how her day went, the frustrations, the surprises, the funeral and the paperwork. Karuna was proud of the way her daughter was dealing with adversity, welcoming Riana to the real world in almost those exact words. Riana’s response was less than enthusiastic, but she wasn’t complaining. Asking what time the funeral was, Karuna let Riana know she planned on coming down for the weekend. The dean of the University had heard of Norsgood’s death. Putting the connection together, he delegated the responsibility of representing the university at the funeral to Karuna. The dean did not want his name to be even casually linked to the outcast alumni.

Riana hung up, reluctantly happy that Mom was coming for a couple days. The last few had been harder than she had thought. Karuna, on the other hand, had the feeling she had missed something or that Riana was keeping her in the dark about what had happened.



                                                                            *



The DeHavilland Twin Otter seaplane circled the dig site once before setting down inside the breakers. It took a few minutes to taxi in, before nudging into the sandy beach in front of the excavation site. Opening the passenger door, Jake stepped down onto the starboard float, unaware that he was stepping forward into the past as well as the future.