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Above Top Secret

Steed's Tale - "Above Top Secret"

Journal of Prince "Major" Jonathan Steed of Amber:
Based on a Scenario by Jo Ann Spencer during Ambercon IX, 1998.
Written by: R. Cal Westray, Jr. in 1998.
Steed's history was written in 1994.

"Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state,
need to be avenged by agents extraordinary..."

Cast of Characters (in alphabetical order): 
Anthony Christopher Salzer
Lorien Kris Fazzari
Mirandel Timothy Bailey
Owen Anne Devlin
Shapir Arref Mak


Family Background:
Mother: Flora of Amber 
Grandmother: Dybele (deceased) Grandfather: Oberon (deceased)
Great-grandmother: Unicorn Great-grandfather: Dworkin 
Father: unknown

Personal History Time Line:

Time conversion: 4 Amber yr. = 10 Earth yr./4 Earth yr. = 1.5 Amber yr.

>Ages 0-10: (1922-1931) (2369-2372 d'L)
Born Jonathan Steed, on February 6, 1922.
Shadow Earth: in Berkshire, England.
>Ages 11-14: (1932-1935) (2373-2374 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Boarding school in Winchester, England.
Amber: Walked the Pattern at 12.
>Ages 15-18: (1936-1939) (2375- 2376 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Eton College, student.
>Ages 19-28: (1940-1949) (2377-2380 d'L)
Shadow Earth: British Royal Navy, title Major.
>Ages 29-32: (1950-1959) (2380-2384 d'L)
Amber Army, title Major. 
>Ages 33-50: (1960-1977) (2385-2390 d'L)
Shadow Earth: Ministry of Intelligence, independent agent.
>Ages 51: (1978-1979) (2391 d'L)
Return to Amber after the Patternfall War ended.
>Ages 52: (1980-1981) (2392 d'L)
In Chaos for exchange program.
>Ages 53: (1982) (2393 d'L)
Present, as royal agent for the crown.

Episode 2E0-1 - Double Danger on the West Coast

In which Steed tracks a pair of rare birds
... and then becomes a decoy.

It is mid-morning and I am ready for the day. Late to bed, late to rise; a long time habit. Coffee was brought to my room. After I finish my coffee, I am going to the Great Hall for a light breakfast.

Anthony sent a message that he has a surprise, he is preparing a new recipe.

As I gather my possessions, the tools of the trade for the undercover man, there is a knock at the door.

"Come in, it's unlocked."

It is my cousin Owen. She is a daughter of Gérard, who gets her good looks and 5' 10" slender androgynous features from her mother. She has short blonde hair, blue gray eyes, and fair skin. She is wearing gray leather jerkins and blouse, a similar style to her father. I have known her for only a short time, but found her to be an intelligent and capable child of Amber. She enjoys fencing practice, and is talented with a blade; her callused hands are a testament to that. She has taken the Pattern and is a skilled Trump artist, training under Fiona.

"Good morning, Steed."

"What a delightful surprise. Good morning, Owen. What can I do for you?"

"Ghostwheel stopped by. I received a message from Merlin."

"Merlin? How is he?"

"He is embarrassed at the moment, his two brothers are missing."

"Which ones? Surely not Mandor, that would mean Jurt and Despil. Have a seat and tell me about it."

She takes a seat in my gold velvet recliner, leaning forward. "Merlin sent Jurt and Despil to Shadow Earth to pick up some papers that he left behind. He lost contact with his brothers and has been unable to locate them. The cause is unknown, but it is similar to Trump blockage. He is concerned about their disappearance and asked me to contact you and gather some people to locate and return them. He wants us to be discrete and keep it a state secret investigation, he doesn't want to alarm his relatives in the Courts of Chaos."

"Understandable. You have contacted me at a fortuitous time. I find myself with plenty of time for a mission. Where does he want us to begin our search?"

"Berkeley, California. We can check the company where he worked and his old apartment. That is where they started. Are you familiar with the area?"

"No, I never had the opportunity to visit the west coast. However, if it is necessary; I can pull some strings in Scotland Yard to check on current arrests in California. It is possible they ran afoul with the local constabulary."

"Surely, they could easily escape from such a facility; and the locals wouldn't have the ability to block Trumps."

"Normally yes, but before I left the Ministry, I heard that various drugs were being developed to subdue people who are rather unruly and uncooperative. Quick and supposedly safe; handy to stop riots, which tend to occur in large cities. Hopefully, it is not yet available. However, the pair may be somewhere under sedation. Someone with Chaosian strength trying to escape, could be easily confused with someone under the influence of angel dust or other drugs." I didn't mention that there has been a rash of disappearances among agents around the world. I would guess that if I didn't leave as quickly as I did, I may have been included among the missing.

"Let's hold off on contacting them, until we need to raise a red flag."

"Good plan, Owen. No sense in involving officials until we need to."

"How do you feel about having Ghostwheel along on this mission?"

"If Merlin and Ghostwheel have been blocked, someone may have the brothers under wraps. If things get nasty, it would be wise to have Ghostwheel as our ace in the hole. By the way, do you have a Trump of Shadow Earth?"

"Yes, of Monterey. A beach house by the bay. I also have Trumps of Jurt and Despil."

"Excellent, it is something I lack. We don't have time to Hellride there."

"We can get there on my Trump, then we can arrange transport from there."

"Rental cars would be easiest."

"Any idea where our cousins can be found, Steed?"

"I was on my way to the kitchen, Anthony is there. Lorien, Mirandel, and Shapir may be off in Shadow, we could reach them by Trumps." All of us came to Amber after the Patternfall War, some of us visited Amber earlier. Amber has almost become a vacation spot for the family.

"Very well, get Anthony and I will try some Trumps. I will meet you in the kitchen soon. Remember, we need to keep this under wraps."

"Understood. See you soon, Owen."

She leaves and I lock up to head for the kitchen.

I see Anthony carrying a large cake pan, placing it on a dining table. Plates and silverware are positioned on the table. Anthony is a 5' 9" lad, with black hair, blue eyes, and nondescript features. He depends on that to blend in unnoticed among others. Like me, he was born on Shadow Earth and came to Amber after the Patternfall War. He was saddened to learn of his father's death. He is a son of Eric, but I never held that against him. It is no secret that I was not fond of Eric, who kept my mother Flora and me on Shadow Earth during the Patternfall War. Anthony was probably under the same blocks.

Anthony is a decent chap, not at all like his father. He went to College with Merlin and continued classes after Merlin became employed. He is a Trump artist and to my knowledge, he has not taken the Pattern yet.

"Good morning, Steed. You are just in time to sample my latest recipe."

"Good morning, Anthony. What Epicurean delight have you prepared for us? I smell apples and cinnamon."

"Apple cobbler. There is whipped cream or ice cream to go with it."

"Excellent." I spoon some cobbler into a bowl and put a dollop of whipped cream on it. "It looks quite good." I sample a taste. "Anthony, it is wonderful. Did you use Macintosh apples?"

"Why yes. How did you know?"

"No mystery. I stopped in the kitchen last night before going to bed. There was a delivery of apples and I took the liberty of taking a few for my horses. They are rather finicky in the snacks I bring." I pull one out of my pocket. "I hope that was all right. They would probably like to thank their benefactor personally, and they could use the exercise."

He smiles. "Not a problem. There are more left. What breed of horses do you have?"

"Andelusians. Andy, Andrea, Lucy, and Lucian." I display an obvious pride in mentioning their names. "There are other breeds, but they are not as special to me." Now for business. I look around, we are alone. "Something has come up, Anthony." I tilt my head conspiratorially, motioning him to join me at the table.

He gets a bowl of cobbler and takes a seat across from me. "What is it, Steed?"

"Owen stopped by. We are being recruited for a mission. Very hush hush."

"I'm intrigued. Go on."

"Merlin contacted Owen via Ghostwheel. Merlin sent his brothers, Jurt and Despil, to Shadow Earth to pick up some papers that he left there. He lost contact with them and they can't be located. It seems to be an effect similar to Trump blockage. Merlin asked us to search for them and bring them back, without the Chaosian houses being involved. They were sent to Berkeley, California. Are you familiar with the area?"

"Yes, it will be nice to visit California again."

"Good. Owen will contact others and send them here. I expect that Lorien, Mirandel, and Shapir will show up soon. This will be our first time working together as a group. It should prove interesting."

"We should start at the company where Merlin worked."

"Yes, that is where they started, looking for the papers."

"Steed, how about posing as OSHA inspectors, on a surprise visit? We can play good inspector - bad inspector. I like playing the bad guy."

"That should work quite well. I can Shadow shift anything we need."

"How will we get there?"

"Owen will get us there by Trumps to Monterey, she is in charge of our team. Our first stop should be a rental car agency to get an appropriate vehicle." Financing for this operation, should not be a problem. I have a banker in London, keeping accounts open for me." Lord Maxted, of the British Banking Corporation. "A few credit cards with obscenely high credit limits, paid for by the trust fund. For other transactions, they wire funds directly to specified accounts. Very efficient. Drivers licenses and passports were arranged to be valid for any destination. However, I will let someone else handle the driving, unless things get out of hand. I am not yet aware of our team's full capabilities.

Soon, they arrive; Anthony serves them cobbler as we compare notes.

Mirandel and Lorien are kindred spirits. Both are skilled sailors, both are skilled Pattern users, both are skilled fencers, and both are quite attractive women.

Not much is known about Mirandel, except that she served in the Amber Navy. She has long red hair and green eyes. Her 5' 10", 140 pound frame is flamboyantly dressed in red and black. She has a draconian companion, named Mortanth, about the size of a red-tailed hawk.

Lorien is a daughter of Corwin and Moiré. Her skin tone betrays her Rebma heritage, with greenish black hair and blue green eyes. She is slender and 6' 2", same as my height. It is rumored that she was conceived before Corwin regained his memory by walking the Pattern in Rebma. She looks like Moiré and has Corwin's temperament.

In the Amber Navy, she sailed with Caine. She is a tomboy and a feminist, who has a low opinion of people like her father and me. How Caine doesn't fit that category, I have no idea. She is still angry about Caine's death at the hands of Lucas Raynard (AKA King Rinaldo of Kashfa). It doesn't matter that Luke had good cause, since Caine killed his father, Brand. These blood vengeance rights of Amber and the Courts go on forever. A good argument can be made that nearly everyone has cause for blood vengeance or is under such a claim.

I enjoy bantering with her. She thinks I am a sexist and disapproves of my womanizing. To be fair, I was a sexist in the old days. That was before I found partners that I recognized as equals. As for womanizing, I never considered it a fault; just a hobby. We have never practiced fencing together, I would guess that she would give me a good match. Same for Mirandel. 

Shapir joined us shortly. He is a rather mysterious cousin. He is a son of Julian, who specializes in magic. To my knowledge, he hasn't taken the Pattern yet. He is 5' 6" and 140 pounds, with black hair, green eyes, and chocolate skin. He appears to have quite a gentle personality, but it is probably because he is disciplined, controlled, and focused as a mage. I am not aware of his fighting skills, but the others are adept with a blade. As Julian's son, I suspect that he is not untrained and untried.

Out team is well balanced: four Pattern users, two Trump artists, and one mage. We should have a wide variety of skills at our disposal. Owen gathers us around the table, we help ourselves to the cobbler. Anthony is quite pleased with himself.

Owen begins. "Cousins, for those of you unaware of the details. Merlin asked for our help in locating his brothers, Jurt and Despil. Details of this 'must' be kept secret. Interested in the mission?" We agree.

"Good. Who has been to Shadow Earth?" Most have been there or to a similar Shadow with higher technology.

"Who has been to Berkeley? I have been to Monterey." Only Anthony is familiar with the area. Owen has the addresses of Merlin's apartment and his old office. She also tried to contact the brothers by Trump. There seems to be a magic and Trump dampening field. It is too much of a coincidence to think that it is an accident. "We should start at his office, since the brothers started there." She voices her concern. "If the office was a trap, we may be walking into it as well. We have to be careful in how we do this."

Anthony explains the plan we discussed. Others wondered about this OSHA group, what is it? He explained that it is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the equivalent of an imperial police for businesses. Those unfamiliar with bureaucracies, we explain that we can investigate safety issues without hindrance.

I explain to Owen. "To minimize the risk to the party, Anthony and I will shift our clothing to work suits with appropriate papers and gear. I carry a lock pick set, so locked rooms are not a problem. If it is a trap, only Anthony and I are at risk. We will gather any information we can and leave quickly. Everyone else can stay hidden in an escape vehicle; one we get from a rental agency in Monterey. You can determine our next step, based upon what happens to us."

Owen smiles. "That sounds good, since you both are familiar with business in Shadow Earth."

As we discuss our travel arrangements, Martin wanders into the kitchen and helps himself to some Cajun shrimp that Anthony made earlier. Martin is Random's son, the odds on favorite of inheriting the throne of Amber. He is casually listening in on our conversation. We greet him and Owen asked him if he was looking for munchies. He was. She offers the large platter of cobbler to him to take with him. He was delighted and walks out with it, telling us that the band will enjoy it. He asked what we were planning. We tell him we are going on a road trip. Fortunately, he is more interested in returning to his band to eat, play music, and indulge in whatever chemical they are into.

Owen decides it is time to leave before others learn of it. We agree.

She uses her Trump of Monterey. We appear at a beach house. It is early morning, around 8:30 AM. Some of our group shifts their clothes to match clothing of others they see in Monterey. After a phone call, we are visited by a rental car agent. He is extremely nice to us and drives us to the Monterey Peninsula Airport. He examines me carefully, probably after knowing my credit rating. "You're British, right?"

"Indeed. Were the financial arrangements...satisfactory?"

"Of course, that is why I decided to handle this personally." We exchange cards.

"Understood. My friends and I travel a lot and our own vehicles are elsewhere. We may need more vehicles later. More...comfortable and...expensive. Vehicles that are designed for...security and...endurance. Be sure to insure the vehicles for the legal limit and for an extended period of time, even though we will not need them long. My firm will cover any 'expenses' that are incurred on your behalf. Oh yes, discretion 'is' an approved and encouraged expense; just fax your request to my firm and provide your account for deposit or specify cash. They will have it delivered and they are...quite generous. I will call you later for a delivery point. Can we rely on your assistance?"

"Certainly, sir. Use my cellular number on the card. The vehicles will be ready within minutes of your call."

"Very good, thank you." The kind of person I like doing business with, cooperative.

We walk to the rental car agency and a vehicle is ready for us. I am sure that the agent is confused why we want an inexpensive sport utility vehicle, but he is intelligent enough not to ask about it. I prefer a more luxurious vehicle, but know that we need the SUV to maintain our cover.

Besides, Owen was adamant. "I don't want a Cadillac!"

I suggested a Range Rover type of vehicle, but that would have been too noticeable as well. I put vanity aside for what was needed for the mission.

Owen agreed to my plans for security vehicles. After all, they will be excellent if we need to Hellride out of Shadow Earth. My instincts still tell me to expect trouble and I am keeping my eyes open.

Our transportation is ready for the trip to San Francisco, instead of Berkeley. We decide to visit Merlin's old office in San Francisco. Owen gets a map and decides to drive the SUV, taking Highway 1 North along Monterey Bay, until we reach Santa Cruz. We take 280 North to San Francisco. It takes over two hours to reach San Francisco and drive up to Grand Designs.

During the drive, I brought up the Pattern and began shifting Shadow around us. I altered our clothes to a style that fits bureaucrats. I altered our identification to resemble the papers required for OSHA inspectors, Anthony assisted with fine tuning. I pulled a clipboard from under the seat, with all the necessary papers required for documentation of an assortment of safety violations of Grand Designs and other companies on our list to 'visit'. I altered the SUV to look more like a government vehicle, with a matching license plate of another government vehicle we drove by. The two hours went by quickly with our alterations. Those unfamiliar with Shadow Earth, were getting a quick class in the rich culture that is my home away from Amber. Well, across the ocean anyway.

It is nearly 11:00 AM when we reach Grand Designs. We check the facility for anything that appears odd. No police or security vehicles around. No vehicles parked with people sitting in them. We then park the SUV in the visitor's parking lot of Grand Designs. There are numerous people moving in and out of the building. Everyone stays in the SUV, except Anthony and me. The inspectors are ready for the mission. I tuck the clipboard under my arm.

Owen opens Trump contact with Anthony, she wants to monitor us to be forewarned in case we run into trouble. We walk to the front door and stop at the receptionist's large round desk, in a spacious lobby. She is working with her computer. She looks up. "Yes, can I help you?"

We show her our papers and introduce ourselves. "Yes ma'am, we were contacted by Grand Designs some time ago about safety problems in the computer department. We were required to visit and inspect the facility for possibly violations. Purely routine to keep records straight for reporting purposes. I am sure it won't take very long."

She checks her tray. "I am not aware of any notifications."

I bring up the Pattern to improve the odds that Merlin wrote such a letter, it 'should' be at the bottom of the stack.

Anthony advanced on the desk. "Come on. Quit trying to be so nice to these people. There was a reported safety violation, let's do our job and get the hell out of here. If we find something, a report will be filed and the lawyers will have their shot."

She eventually gets to the bottom of the pile of papers. "Here it is, it is in regards to a person no longer in our employ. It has been some time ago. I guess that this isn't the first time someone called OSHA before leaving. Do you gentlemen have any identification?"

I take the OSHA identification out along with my drivers license and hand it to her. Anthony does the same.

She looks at them. She hands them back and pulls some cards out of the side drawer. "Very well. Sign in here, please. During your visit, please wear these badges. These pass cards will grant you access to all areas. If you experience any problems, pick up any phone and dial 0. Someone will be sent to join you and assist you. Computer services is down the hall. There are maps to the building by the elevators."

"Thank you." I smile.

"Yeah, yeah. Lets go." He hurries ahead.

I shrug. She glares at my partner.

We reach a vacated office. A terminal has a tag on it with a name, Merle Corey. This is it. We examine the office in great detail. We check the wiring, we remove ceiling tiles, we check windows, we check cabinets and desks. We don't find any papers anywhere.

Anthony picks up a phone and dials 0. "Yes, I would like access to the personnel files storage area. I want to see that proper health check ups and physicals have been done, including the person who filed the report. Yes, I know he is not here. The office 'is' empty, after all. I also want to see any personal effects that were left, I want to know why he contacted OSHA. If he filed a phony report, he is in deep trouble." He slams the phone down. He turns to me. "I love my job."

A supervisor stops by and Anthony repeats his demands. The supervisor grumbles and asks for our identification. He looks them over very carefully and huffs. "Very well, you can't be too careful. Follow me, please." He takes us to a locked office. The pass card opens the door to storage units and filing cabinets. He indicates the cabinet with health records and brings over the box with items left by employees. They are mostly papers from old projects to be kept for two years and destroyed. He leaves us to our work.

Anthony continues to relay our progress to Owen. I go over the health records and make a few notes, in case we are being observed. I turn to Anthony. "Everything is in order here. I think this Mr. Corey, gave the department false information." All we find in the personnel files are employment related items. However, one document states that all personal documents were sent to the employee through registered mail and gives the address. The document has the registered mail tracking stub attached. No notation is made if the package was actually confirmed received. Anthony takes the slip and passes it through the Trump portal.

We hear the supervisor mutter softly. "Man, it's been some week for snoops."

Anthony turns. "Excuse me, are you saying something bad about me?"

He flushes. "Sorry, there were two other guys that came here earlier last week. They came asking about the same former employee. We turned them away."

Anthony presses the issue. "Did you release any information?"


"Could you give me a description of these two?"

"One was medium height, long black hair, and he looked like he was in an accident. The other looked like him but uninjured. The first one did all the talking, he even tried to get in my face. The quiet one pulled him back and suggested they try elsewhere."

I offer. "It looks as though you had it under control. Sorry to be a bother. Everything checks out here. Thanks for your cooperation, we are finished here and will sign out."

We head back to the receptionist.

Andrew signs out and tosses his pass card and badge on the desk. He glares at the receptionist and turns to leave.

I hand the badge and pass card to her, making eye contact. "Thank you, miss. The report appears to be a false one. That is how it will show on our report. Thank you for your cooperation." She smiles and I turn to leave.

We leave the building and head for the SUV. Andrew smiles. "That was enjoyable."

"At least we have another lead." We get into the car. "I wonder how long they hold packages at the post office?"

Owen starts the car and drives toward Berkeley, in the direction of Merlin's apartment.

I suggest that we should stop by the post office, which would be in the general area of his apartment. We could check on the package to see if it was actually delivered or held somewhere. Owen wants to go to the apartment, she has a sense that Jurt and Despil would have gone there next. We agree and she drives on. I shift my clothing and the vehicle back to normal.

I hear the screech of tires behind us. Someone has pulled up behind us and is pulling up unnaturally close, I can only see the driver. The area behind the driver is walled off, like a delivery van. I bring up the Pattern and examine the van behind us. This is unexpected. There is an unusual effect, I can't penetrate the exterior of the van. I can only view the outside of the van, it is like it is completely blocking Pattern. That shouldn't be possible on Shadow Earth. Full alert. I reach into my jacket and pull out my Walther P5 Compact and cock it for action. I roll down the window. "That van is quite definitely blocking Pattern, we are being pursued. It may be armored as well, I will try the tires first."

Anthony flips the van off.

Another van pulls in front of us, sandwiching us in.

Mirandel speaks in a monotone voice. "Please, let's all remember that this place is heading into a totalitarian regime and any gunfire could get us all in trouble."

"I don't plan to let us get caught. I happened to be licensed to carry firearms in the States as well as Europe, it is one thing I 'don't' let expire." The traffic seems to be thinning out around us, giving our pursuers more room to maneuver; we have much less.

There is an extremely high pitched annoying whine coming from the vans, my Pattern is breaking up. It is like a Trump blocking effect, making it difficult to concentrate.

I begin shooting at the tires, it blows out and they pull off to the side of the road. It is replaced with several other vans closing in around us. I shoot out more tires and get the same results. I am joined in the effort. We don't want to kill anyone, just yet.

There are now six vehicles surrounding us. Owen calls out. "They are boxing us in!"

I fire at the window of a van at our side. It marks the window, but doesn't penetrate. "They are bullet proof! If there are no objections, we should shift out of here, and soon!" I see a large weight appear immediately behind us, to fall on the van; someone in our group is a conjurer, it is Lorien. It is dented in, the driver swerves, but doesn't lose control. The noise is quite distracting.

I emptied the clip, ejected, and pocketed it. I then retrieved a replacement from my jacket, slid it into place, and pulled the barrel back to load the next shell. The van in front of us has opened a triangular window. A barrel is exposed and they begin firing at our tires. Lorien is conjuring a bottle of petrol with a rag. The noise continues to make it difficult to concentrate.

That's it. I pull out a handkerchief and rip it up into as many pieces as I can. "Take these and plug your ears, if someone has chap stick, it would help." 

Lorien sees what I am doing. "Good idea. I will retrieve some ear plugs." We get everyone fitted with plugs, starting with Owen, so she can concentrate on driving. Now we can all concentrate again.

"Thanks, Lorien. Much better." I bring up the Pattern again, so I can begin editing this Shadow. "I want to give us some breathing room, if I can't edit out these vans, I will shift the SUV out of here.

Owen calls out. "Everyone grab hold of everyone else, we are abandoning ship. I am ready to Trump us out of here."

Any objections are quickly disposed of as we pass through the rainbow portal, leaving our SUV to it's fate; possibly a fiery one.

We fall, landing in the dust. Where are we? I look around. The gate, of course. Back in Amber, I didn't expect to retreat back this far.

Owen gets up and turns around to face us, angrily pointing a finger at us. "The 'next' time we go back, someone 'else' will be in charge. None of you listen to anybody who is trying to lead. I am 'not' going to do it again!"

The others chime in. "You were driving! That takes concentration, we didn't want to distract you."

Amberites are an independent lot. A leader is roughly someone who coordinates and delegates, there are different types - like managerial styles. If she was expecting us to behave, we took advantage of her rather shamelessly; myself included. 

I get up and brush off my suit. "Owen, I thought you were doing a splendid job!"

She glares at me. "'You' were the worst!" She turns.

I give her a 'who moi?' look. Open my mouth...and close it. I am distracted by Lorien.

"Steed, you said that you couldn't see inside the vans?"

"That's right. When I heard the tires squeal and the van closing in, I became alerted. Instincts took over and I brought up the Pattern. When I tried to examine the van to see if it was a bad driver or someone after us, I was somehow blocked from seeing inside the van. I could see through the glass normally, but everything became obstructed through the Pattern. I have never encountered anything like it. I drew my gun, because 'they' were after 'us'. I couldn't affect 'them' with shifting, then that noise hit us. I couldn't keep the Pattern up. These people were expecting someone and were prepared to neutralize us. If anyone was uncomfortable about firearms, I was 'more' uncomfortable about having all of us captured."

Lorien asked. "Was it Logrus?"

"No, it was nothing like Logrus; it was like 'nothing' was there, it just blanked out."

Mirandel. "Owen, is that the same effect you detected when you tried to Trump Jurt and Despil?"

Owen. "It sounds like it. It even blocked Ghostwheel and Merlin. Merlin would have tried Magic and Logrus. Ghost! Are you around?"

"Blink." There is a pinpoint of light appearing near Owen.

Owen. "Ghost. Have you been observing this whole mess?"

"From a distance." Came a disembodied voice, it sounds like Merlin but somehow 'different'.

"Good idea. Does Merlin know what happened?"

"Yeah. I didn't like the looks of those vans."

"Has he seen anything like the effect of those vans?"

"Working..." Followed by the sound of a disk drive accessing a file. "He said that the only thing he saw like it, was the blue crystal caves."

Owen. "That's what I thought."

I am the first to admit ignorance. "Ghost, what are the blue crystal caves?"

Ghostwheel. "It's a place that Merlin was - incarcerated - once. It seems to be impervious to Trump, Pattern, Logrus, and magic."

Of course, I should have remembered. I am a voracious reader and I read Corwin's and Merlin's chronicles. How did I forget the caves? Experiencing the effect first hand is rather unsettling. I can only imagine what it was like being imprisoned in that material.

Lorien. "How could they have made a van out of blue crystal?"

Ghostwheel. "Should I check it out to see if there have been any excavations?"

We agree, but all of us tell him to be careful.

I could swear that the disc of light turned and tilted itself at us. As if to tell us, 'Of course!'. Then there is a "Blink".

Mirandel. "They could have made paints from the powder of crushed gems. It would take a lot of gems." 

I recover nicely. "That would work! But not using crushed gems." I continue. "If someone had a sample of the blue crystal, it would be a natural step to create a synthetic polymer. A plastic coating or a paint."

Lorien. "Of course. At least we know what happened to Jurt and Despil."

"Blink." Ghostwheel is back. "The caves are the same as the last time I was there. No excavations." 

Lorien. "Ghostwheel, do you have any idea what was making that noise? Was it some sort of sonic attack?"

Ghostwheel. "I don't know, but it felt like it was electronically generated. I can't specify what kind of device it may have been."

Owen. "Has any way been found to negate the crystals?"

Ghostwheel. "No way known, yet."

"Broadcast power, that is a horrible thought." I say to myself. I remember a mission I was on before, a devise was designed to 'transmit' electricity to another object, able to empower an item from a distance. If that sonic attack was a method to 'broadcast' the nullifying power of the blue crystals, at its target - us. That is not good.

Ghostwheel. "I don't think it was a power based attack, it was electronic in nature."

Owen. "At least we can shield our ears against another attack like that."

Shapir. "Ghost. Are you in any danger from the proximity of the sonic attack?"

"No, but there was something about the vans that gave me the heebie-jeebies."

Shapir. "Is it possible to scan adjacent Shadows to determine if there you could tap into vibration frequencies that may nullify the frequency of the sonic attack. Maybe you could match the necessary frequency to shut down their attack."

"Yeah. I can do that."

Shapir. "Then proceed."

"Very well." "Blink."

Back to our earlier conversation.

I turn to Owen. "Owen. I 'regret'..." I let it hang there. If anyone is collecting mea culpa.

Owen. "I just lost my temper."

"It is just that instincts took over when we were in danger."

Lorien. "Amberites are such an independent lot."

Owen. "Even Rebmanites, Lorien."

Mirandel. "Some of us are 'used' to being Captains."

Owen. "Then you can take over."

Lorien. "But we don't know anything about this Shadow."

Owen. "You know how to use the resources of any Shadow."

Lorien. "It makes no difference to me, who is in charge. I am only more at home on the sea."

We all come to the realization that we have been carrying out this conversation at the front gates of Amber. Some people have been walking around us. I look around and see someone I didn't expect here, sitting on the steps of Castle Amber.

A rather short man, wearing orange and brown; smoking a cigarette. He smiles at us, listening with intense interest. The king of Amber, Random. The only saving grace was that we never mentioned Jurt and Despil. "It sounds like you had an interesting morning."

"Should we head back?" I try to get us back on track before Random asks some embarrassing questions.

Owen. "I'm not in charge. I take back any nasty things I said, but I am quite definitely 'not' in charge."

Random leans back, taking another puff of his cigarette. "Your problems are 'really' fascinating. As a matter of fact, they are 'so' interesting; I am going to 'order' you back, to continue your investigation."

Owen. "Do you want to come along, Random?"

Lorien. "Now, that's a good idea."

My sarcasm detector just pegged the needle. Random looks wistfully, like he is actually considering the idea. He shakes his head. "I am going to say something, to speed you on your way. I hesitate to interrupt your interesting little squabble. At least for the moment, Steed could be in charge."

I open my mouth to say something. "Uh..." Is the only thing that escapes my lips.

"Here, here." I hear in chorus.

Owen smiles. "We hear and obey, your majesty."

I am 'so' screwed. I say quietly. "My talents are usually to recruit people to do the work."

Owen. "Well Steed, you have five recruits."

Thanks, uncle. He is inordinately pleased with himself. He drops the cigarette, puts it out, and walks up the steps; satisfied with a job well done. He turns back and gives us a wave as a happy dismissal.

"Well, it looks like we are heading back. Owen, would you be kind enough to get us back to Monterey?"

"Do we have a plan first?" She asks rather coyly. "I don't have a Trump of Berkeley."

"We do have the ticket for the registered mail package. They are expecting us to go to Merlin's apartment, they may not know about the package. Let's return to Monterey and get more reliable transportation."

Owen. "We can't use Steed to get another vehicle, the police will have traced the SUV back to him."

Shapir. "I disagree. The enemy knows this field of battle better than we do. We are all ready organized and we are behind the information curve to the point where we should use Steed's ability and persona in this environment to draw them 'back' to us."

Owen. "You are saying you 'want' them to attack us again?"

Shapir. "Not all of us, but that is up to Steed."

Steed. "Then we split up. Excellent. I like your idea, Shapir. We have two Trump artists. I need one volunteer, I will not have anyone do something I wouldn't do myself. I plan to be in the vehicle that visits Merlin's apartment. They will focus their efforts on me, the other team can observe what happens to us and also have the opportunity to check the post office."

Lorien. "A decoy."

"Precisely. I need a Trump artist to ride with me to keep communications open. I will rent a vehicle from the same place, another can be rented under a false name." I pause to get their reaction. They like the idea. Anthony volunteers to be in the decoy vehicle.

"If anyone has some equipment, I want to be as 'offensive' as possible. For example, flak jackets, caltrops, heavy weapons, and anything to do some serious damage."

Anthony. "Mirandel, is Mortanth willing to work independently?"

Mirandel. "Certainly, what do you have in mind?"

Anthony. "He can fly overhead and monitor the vehicles from above."

Mirandel. "I hesitate having him put at risk."

"I agree, I suggest that he maintain a safe altitude. If we run into difficulty and become blocked, he could fly off back to Mirandel and let her know the situation."

"Also, I need someone in the other vehicle to be in charge to protect the backup team and call for the cavalry, if we are nailed. Since Shapir is driving, that will free up Owen and the others to use Pattern to shift out of there. Part of my job is to delegate authority. I think that Owen has proven herself capable to keep the main party safe."

"Blink." Ghostwheel is back. "I have the harmonics figured out. They won't be a problem, next time."

"Excellent. Ghost, can you get the main team to the post office; then get them out if there is a problem?"


Owen. "Ghostwheel, can you track both groups simultaneously?"

"Just a second. Memory allocation. Shutting down excess peripherals. Done."

I continue. "Ghost, take Anthony and me to the car rental agency in Berkeley. Once we have the rental car and are heading to Merlin's apartment, then come back for them to take the main team to the post office. That should be sufficient time for the opposition to track us down."

"Ready." He grows into a silver sphere until it is larger than both of us. He drops down on us and we are enveloped. There is a dislocation sensation, similar to a Trump portal. We arrive in a men's room that is empty. Ghostwheel blinks out to join the others. We exit to the counters of rental agencies. I go to a pay phone and call the number of the agent that I talked to earlier.

The phone rings. "Yes?"

"I have need of the vehicle I asked about."

"Oh, yes. One? It is ready, where would you like it delivered?"

"Just one for now. Have you heard about the SUV?"

"Some inquiries were made. It was found empty and impounded. They were government agents."

"Write it off as lost. Did they ask about us?"

"Yes, they checked the records and knew that it was rented to you by me. All I could do is confirm it. They knew you were not alone. They don't know about our arrangement."

"Very well. For what it's worth, we have broken no laws. This is a little inter-departmental exercise, a cat and mouse game. The other team is using tax funds and I am limited to using my own resources. It is an expensive endeavor, but we intend to claim the prize. I want them to know you are cooperating with them fully, to do your patriotic duty. Please have it delivered to your agency in Berkeley. 'After' it is delivered, contact them to let them know I rented another car. If asked, the same group of people rode off in it; 'all' of us."

"Understood. It will be there in ten minutes."

"Thank you. The other one will be needed later, under another name." I give him the name that Anthony suggests. "It will be needed near here, but we will call later for a delivery location. Have you faxed your bill, yet?"

"No sir."

"Good. To play it safe, fax the request from an office supply business or some neutral location. Not from your agency. Your office lines may be monitored, I prefer your funds were not delayed because of an overzealous bureaucrat." 

"It will be ready. Good luck, sir."

"Thank you." I hang up the phone. I tell Anthony that the car will be here in ten minutes.

It arrives as expected along with a compact car. The compact car has a driver to take the other driver back. The compact car driver doesn't see us. A young lad comes to give us the keys. I hand him a hundred dollar bill. "This is for you. Please, tell your employer that you delivered it to Mr. Steed and his 'five' friends."

His eyes open wide. "Yes sir!" He leaves, gets into the compact car, and they leave.

I check it out with Pattern. There is no trace of blue crystal in the car. The glass is tinted, so no one can see inside it. Excellent. It is heavily armored with puncture proof tires. We get in and Anthony drives to Merlin's apartment. There is no one to hinder our progress, no one to tail us or intercept us. We watch very carefully, expecting an intercept anytime. Nothing.

Meanwhile, we learn later what happens to the main team at this same moment.

Ghostwheel pops off to look for a safe drop off point for them. He returns, envelops them, and takes them to an alley behind the post office. They see someone with a briefcase sitting at a bench, by the road. They walk into the post office and ask the clerk about the package. The clerk can't find information about it from her terminal. Her terminal is tied into an integrated network and it should show up, but it doesn't. She indicates that she would have to call the main branch to check the archive files, that may take some time.

Owen tells her not to bother, they will contact the sender to get more information. They leave. Shapir walks past the gentleman in a business suit and sunglasses, sitting at the bench. He stands as if waiting for a bus or taxi. He signals with a gesture to head for the alley, while he is being watched. He takes the briefcase and begins to cross the street. The gentleman doesn't say anything, he sits and smiles. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a cellular phone, turning around. Shapir turns and hits him with the briefcase in the back of the head. The man drops, knocked out. Shapir leaves the briefcase. He runs into the alley. Ghostwheel picks them up.

Episode 2E0-2 - A Change of Bait

In which Steed receives an invitation
... and expects to spring a trap.

At Merlin's, there is no one obviously watching the place. We drive around the block to check for surveillance behind the apartment. Nothing obvious. This in itself is very strange. I bring up the Pattern, there is no indication of blue crystals in the apartment. They should have been here and ready to take us. "It is clear. No blue crystal and no surveillance. What is going on?"

The entire building looks deserted.

"Maybe we will find out inside."

"Let's go, and be careful Anthony."

Anthony drew a Trump sketch of our vehicle. He opens contact. If we are being monitored, it will appear that we are in contact with someone in the car. This will give the illusion that we are all together.

We reach the entrance of the apartments. The front door is open. I take out my lock pick set, within seconds the tumblers fall and the mechanism unlocks. I open the door and we enter the building. Very quiet, very dusty, and very deserted. We climb the stairs and reach Merlin's room. Also locked, picked in seconds. We look around. Not much is here, it is mostly an empty apartment. A few pieces of furniture. We check each room for clues. I step into the bathroom and see something on the mirror. A plain white envelope is taped to the mirror. A message for someone. Us? I alert Anthony.

I carefully remove it. I look at it through the light, it looks like paper; about the size of a Trump. Remembering a friend of mine dying from a poisoned razor blade in a letter, I withdraw a knife and use it to cut open the envelope. I look inside and find a single piece of paper. I pull it out and Anthony joins me in reading it. It is in computer type.

We regret the unfortunately heavy handed tactics of our agents in your previous encounter, as well as the property damage involved. We hope that none of you have suffered undue harm as a result. We suspected that this was the next place you would look. To avoid further unpleasantness, we offer you an invitation. If you wish to continue your investigation, you will find the answers you seek at this address. 300 Fremont Street. Sincerely, A.

I have no idea who this 'A' is. "We may as well go, we should check on the others."

"We can step through the Trump into the car, in case anyone is outside waiting for us."

"Very well, let's go." We step through, into the car.

According to Anthony, the address is a location in the South of Market area. A place he can easily find, which he later shows me on the map. From the San Francisco Bay Bridge, we head Southwest on I-80. We take a right on Main Street, a left on Harrison Street, and a right on Fremont Street. It is less than a half hour drive from here. We drive to a nearly empty lot with a phone booth.

Anthony opens a Trump contact with the group. "We've gathered more information, through no brilliance of our own. Would you like to get everyone together?"

I don't hear the other side of the conversation, I assume they agree. "We are in a parking lot, in a limo. At this point, we are at a safe location."

They come through. He shows them the letter from 'A'. "It is obviously a trap."

Owen. "I think I can track Jurt and Despil. I could Shadow walk to their location. Lorien seems to be more familiar with corporate espionage than I. I know little about it. I can get people to talk, I can follow lines of research, and I know about computers. I would like to leave and follow their trail."

Lorien. "The substance they use is not from this Shadow, I think that the motivation behind what happened to them are from this Shadow. They may be supplied by someone outside this Shadow."

Owen. "I would like to follow up on the blue crystal cave issue and to get Jurt and Despil out of whatever danger they may be in."

Lorien. "I agree, if we get them out, we can tell Merlin to get his own papers back."

We agree that the priority is Jurt and Despil, not the papers. There is concern that someone in the Courts may have followed them to Shadow Earth to get the papers. There is also concern about what is at that address and that Ghostwheel could find out.

"Blink. I'll find out. Blink."

Owen. "He knows how to be careful, why do I keep trying to mother him?"

"Blink. It's an advertising agency. Printing Enterprises Limited."

Lorien. "Could you tell if the agency is blocked in any way?"

"I'll check. Blink." Pause. "Blink. The four floors do not seem to be blocked. Most of the complex is underground and I can't penetrate it."

Owen. "I shouldn't be gone long." She leaves to go Shadow walking.

I go to a nearby phone and call the number on the card. "I am ready for the other car, could you have it delivered?" I give him the address of the parking lot.

"Certainly. Will there be anything else?"

"Thank you, no. I will call soon." I hung up the phone and returned to the limo.

Soon, Owen is finished with her investigation. She has triangulated their signals and they appear to be in the vicinity of the building in San Francisco. Jurt's signal is steady, but Despil's is weak and getting weaker. We apparently have a target in mind. She gives Ghostwheel instructions to contact Merlin and tell him everything we've learned so far. He can decide what to do as we head there.

Ghostwheel left and returns shortly. He tells us that Merlin is unfamiliar with the address or the company.

I suggest to Owen that once we reach our destination, she can repeat the triangulation to verify their presence.

Ghostwheel passes a question from Merlin. "If Despil's signal is getting weaker, will you need a backup? It looks as though the danger to them is growing."

Owen. "Steed, will we need a backup?"

I turn to Owen. "I think that Merlin has a good grasp on the situation. If Despil is in danger, I say yes. How about it, Ghostwheel?"

He tells us. "It will be a little bit, but they will be ready shortly."

"Let's head for the complex to see this 'A'. The cavalry may arrive when we get there." It will take less than a half hour to get there. The other limo arrives. We split up into our two groups.

Owen suggests. "Everyone should have an escape Trump handy, probably the front gate of Castle Amber."

Lorien conjures a flak jacket. Shapir suggests that we arm ourselves heavily, anything that Lorien can conjure, including high caliber weapons. She does this as we drive to our destination.

We reach our quarry, a quiet sparsely populated area in the suburbs. I see the sign, Printing Enterprises Limited. The building is a modest conservatively designed four story office structure, with a well manicured lawn and clean parking lot. The walls are mostly glass, to give it an 'open' look. The parking lot is busy with people loading boxes into cars, trucks, and delivery vans. They seem to be in a hurry.

Shapir. "Since they are expecting us, we may as well go in the front door. Spring the trap and find the pair."

Owen wants to do a final check for Jurt and Despil. She confirms Ghostwheel's observation, the blockage is below ground. We drive around the building to triangulate her fix on the pair, they are in there.

"Blink." Ghostwheel returns. "I got that backup. Luke and Nayda. Owen said that there is more room in your vehicle."

"Thanks, Ghost."

Ghostwheel expands to fill the back seat. Luke and Nayda appears, dressed in contemporary Shadow Earth clothing. "Hello Luke. Hello Nayda. Welcome to the party."

Luke smiles. "Hi Steed. Merlin brought us up to date. More help will arrive soon."

"Excellent. Jurt and Despil seem to be held in the underground area of this building. Despil's signal is getting weaker, so we shouldn't waste time. I plan to enter by the front door, after all, 'A' is expecting us. They seem to have manufactured a lot of this mysterious blue crystal for their building."

Luke motions me to hold, he has a Trump contact. I only hear his response. "I would like to state for the record, that I have absolutely no knowledge of this. If they are using that stuff without my consent, I am going to be really pissed off. No, we have not found a way to neutralize the effect of the blue crystal - yet."

Shapir has determined that I was right, someone has synthesized it and used it in paints and polymers.

It is now 2:00 in the afternoon. We gather the group together. I take Owen, Luke, and Nayda to enter the front door and approach the receptionist. The other backup should arrive by Ghostwheel soon, waiting for our signal. It is a contingency of Dalt's mercenaries, nearly twenty armed men. Anthony will stand by outside with the limo and some heavy weapons. Lorien, Mirandel, and Shapir are stopping some vehicles to find out what is going on.

Luke smiles at the receptionist, and hands the young lad a business card. "Hi, I am Lucas Raynard. I'm here to see a man called 'A'.

He nods and takes the card. "Just a minute." He rises, leaves for a back room, and returns. "He will be right with you." He hastily leaves.

A middle aged dignified gentleman comes out in a business suit, dark glasses, and gloves. He reaches out his hand to Luke, to shake hands. He exudes an air of excitement, he seems to be really happy to see us. "Mr. Raynard, I have been waiting a long time to meet you, sir."

Too eager. I bring up the Pattern to scan Mr. A. He has some objects in his pockets that don't scan. Curious, his sunglasses seem to contain a cantrip like spell, a ward of protection! Whatever it for, it is nothing to the Pattern. I extend my awareness to disrupt the effect of the ward.

As he shakes hands with Luke, he is warmly excited. He looks at me and smiles. "That is not particularly necessary." How does he know?

Owen senses my Pattern usage, it tends to alert others who are sensitive to it. She steps forward and decks Mr. A. He collapses in an undignified heap, over the counter. A security device was activated and walls slide in place to cover the windows. The Pattern tells me that the material is more of the blue crystal material. This is supposedly to trap us in here.

Owen tells us that Trump contact has become 'static-y'. She shouts for us to move to the center of the lobby. Within seconds, a limo crashes through the window, making a large hole. Anthony steps out of the limo and draws a weapon. "Now, 'this' is an entrance."

"Good job, Anthony. We now have a way in and out of here."

Mr. A is unconscious with a broken jaw. I gather the objects I scanned. The device in his pants pocket is pinging softly and it resembles a small Geiger counter; covered with a blue polymer. A Pattern detector, what a fascinating device. I pocket it. In his jacket pocket, there is a phone headset and a beeper sized device. It is covered with a blue polymer, I hand it to Luke.

"Luke, does it look as though they are using a synthetic polymer of the blue crystals? If so, they could manufacture tons of this equipment."

Luke examines the device. "I'll be damned. Why didn't I think of that? That is 'exactly' what they did. They are manufacturing this stuff!"

"That is 'not' good."

"No, not at all."

"We should make our way downstairs, are we ready?"

Luke looks upset and determined. Ghostwheel deposits the mercenaries in the lobby. They are dressed in medieval attire with Dalt's symbol, the lion rending the Unicorn. I don't let the symbol offend me.

We find the stairs and descend to the lower level. Owen and I lead the way; then Luke, Nayda, and the mercenaries. We reach the first level at the bottom of the stairs. Owen stops to scan the area, indicating we go lower. This continues to the fifth level. All we see are office cubicles and printing equipment until the fifth level. The fifth level is a dead end, we encounter large sliding double doors, probably made of titanium or similar substances. They are electronically sealed with no control panel evident.

I turn and grin. "Luke, is there a way to use Werewindle to open these doors?"

"I'll try." He positions himself into an attack stance, raising the blade over his head. He swings the blade downward to drive it between the panels into the seam. It penetrates the seam and the metal screams and sparks in protest. He concentrates and blue flames streak along the blade and along the seam. The doors slowly part and the metal futilely screams a final time before opening.

I slap him on the shoulder. "Well done, cousin!"

"Thank you, that was harder than I expected." He leans against the door to catch his breath.

Owen looks around. "Still downward." We continue down the stairs.

Meanwhile, the others have been busy. Mirandel's dragon located another entrance 500 yards from the building where people were rushing to leave with as much as they can carry. They intercepted some people in lab coats, to interrogate them. Lorien found a timid looking lad in a lab coat. The group of people throw up their hands to surrender.

Lorien. "Where are they?"

Their captives point back to the place they left. The entrance is sealed with the same doors that Luke opened with his father's sword, Werewindle.

She continues. "How do you open these doors?"

"We don't. They are hermetically sealed, to seal off the entire complex, so the nerve gas doesn't leak out."

Lorien is unaware that we have breached our door. "Nerve gas? Is that why you are evacuating, because of nerve gas?"

"That is what they said would happen, when we were invaded by you people."

Lorien. "Who do you think we are?"

"Extra-dimensional entities." One of his buddies smacks him. "Yeah. The only reason this place is here, is to study you people."

Lorien. "How long have you been studying us?"

"Me personally, or the agency?"

Lorien. "The agency!"

"Since about 1912." His buddies are trying to get him to shut up and they know we would get the information with or without their cooperation. He spills his guts and quakes with fear, knowing they have been caught by the extra-dimensional entities. "The agency has been studying people who have been mysteriously appearing and disappearing in America. They represent a security risk. The purpose of this facility is to study, contain, and control these incursions. There are three other sites, linked by satellite. No one at the facility knows the location of the other sites."

Lorien. "Who might know the location of the other sites?"

"The man in charge, Agent Arlington." Mr. A, AKA broken jaw.

Back to us, Lorien reaches me by Trump. She tells me about the nerve gas and what she learned from the captives. I pass the information to the others. Gas masks will not be helpful and we have very little time to act.

I ask Lorien to see if there is a way to get information from Arlington on how to shut down the nerve gas. I look around to see if there is a clue on where the nerve gas is released. I noticed that within the steel doors we breached, all the walls are coated with the blue crystal paint.

Everyone is becoming concerned after hearing about the nerve gas. The further and deeper we go into the blue area, the more unreliable Trump contact becomes; so a Trump relay station is set up.

We reach a secured area; the door has a combination lock key pad and a slide panel. I bring up the Pattern, it is not blocked, just weakened a bit. I focus my awareness on the mechanism of the combination lock, altering the probabilities that the door 'will' unlock. It takes a few minutes of deep concentration for the mechanism to be affected. I alter the probability that the numbers I select are the correct ones. I enter a series of numbers that 'seem' right. I hear a series of clicks and the panel slides open. Excellent!

We enter the next section, I hear humming and tapping behind the walls, I thought it was the mechanism for the nerve gas. However, I was mistaken. The area we entered contains rows of holding cells. We hear a pounding from the other side of one of the doors. A female voice calls out. "Please, let me out!"

The doors are all controlled by combination pads. I go to the door and manipulate the lock as before. A rather frightened young woman in a lab coat comes out. "You are them, aren't you?" She gets up and moves to us. "Your friends, they are down that way, that corridor. One was hurt badly. Hurry!"

Owen is running on to release the brothers, with everyone in tow.

I ask the woman. "How do we shut down the gas?"

She stops. "I don't know if there is a way."

I motion for her to continue and I stop in my tracks. It will take my full concentration; more so, this deep in the blue area.

The woman turns and follows Owen.

I extend my awareness beyond, to the source of the noises beyond the walls. I can sense the simple hardware used to open ductwork, open valves, and release gasses. I proceed to alter probabilities. Whoever installed the device 'must' have been overly cautious to prevent leakage. The valve was over tightened on the canisters, to the extent that the release nozzles can't open the valves and malfunction. I focus on that chain of events to 'be' the reality. Thus preventing an earlier accidental, now intentional leakage.

The noises stop and no sounds of released gasses are evident. I 'know' that I succeeded and it doesn't appear that I need to do anything to maintain it. I move on to where the brothers are held.

I find out that Owen was able to open the confinement chamber that Despil was in. The young woman explains that Despil was shot. He was almost gone when they brought him in. His system went into some sort of suspended animation, which probably saved his life.

I tell Owen that the nerve gas has been dealt with, we can now focus on the brothers. Everyone is relieved about that.

Lorien recovered Agent Arlington, placed him on a desk, and begins to mentally sift through his mind. The information is passed to us, through Trump contact in our relay system.

Luke opens the inner door that holds Despil. Lights flash warnings of environmental breach to the inner chamber.

The lab technician says. "There is no time to suit up. I hope you can help him, a secondary infection could kill him." She punches up a sequence on the key pad and it opens. She leads them inside.

The relay is set up. We can Trump them upstairs a few flights at a time, until Ghostwheel can safely transport them to a medical facility.

We are not sure it 'is' Despil. It appears to be a humanoid form, covered with a chitinous pod or cocoon. Monitors are attached to various parts of the pod.

Owen moves in closer and touches the pod, forcing mental contact. She lets Despil know we are here to help. He is almost gone; suffering from brain trauma, massive gunshot wounds, and he has been partially vivisected!

I move back to the corridor to help with the relay, Owen is ready to move Despil. Dalt's men are offering to help as runners.

Owen carries Despil to the stairwell. She asked the woman for any medical records or charts they had on him, it may come in handy.

She gathers the chart and papers for Owen. She is in tears. "I want you to know that I had no part in this. He was conscious for a few moments when they brought him here. He looked at me and I 'saw' and 'felt' what happened to him. They locked me up down here, because I wanted to help him. They thought he was a goner and in the interest of science, they decided to get as much information as possible. They started cutting him up. Even though I was locked up, I 'knew' what they were doing to him." She was sobbing at the memory.

It was agreed that we should bring her along, she may have developed a strong mental link with Despil; that may help in his recovery.

Owen refuses to take Despil to the Courts of Chaos.

Merlin sends a message back that we should take them to the Castle Amber infirmary. Specialists will be there to treat them. Owen goes upstairs through the Trump relay and Ghostwheel takes them to Amber.

I stay behind in case Luke needs any help in the relay.

Luke finds Jurt stripped and hanging in a large clear tank. He is held with restraints on all limbs and monitors cover his body. He is unconscious and an eerie glowing blue fluid is filling the tank around him. The young woman begins the process of releasing Jurt from the holding tank. Soon, Luke gets him out and ready for transport to Amber. Ghostwheel takes Jurt, Luke, Nayda, and the young woman to Amber.

Lorien obtains some fascinating information from Agent Arlington and patches it through the Trump relay in snippets. He is apparently in charge of this agency's operations, referred to as Site A. It began in 1912, when a couple of governmental goons were assigned to monitor a strange person named Carl Corey.

There are also rooms in the next level, level six, with some interesting items. They include such things as: a time frozen dog (found in a supermarket parking lot, magically spelled by Julia Barnes), more tragoliths (blue crystals), and a Trump of Lucas Raynard (with a phoenix on the back: his style). The list goes on. The tragolith found on the remains of Julia Barnes (they know it is not her), Julia's diary (describing things she learned about Merle Corey, Lucas Raynard, Victor Melman, and Jasra [Luke's mother]), several bullets with a pink powder, and books from various libraries belonging to: Carl Corey [Corwin], Evelyn Flaumel [Flora], Lucas Raynard [Luke], and Merle Corey [Merlin].

They also had a complete set of Corwin's and Merlin's chronicles (Zelazny's versions), a copy of the Amber diceless role-playing game, and all source books. A large walk-in refrigerator marked biohazard, which include samples of: hair, blood, and other tissue samples of various people. Including samples of the chitinous pod that covered Despil, that they were preparing to examine. There were fragments of a skeleton of a homunculus they found in Victor Melman's place. They had a preserved human embryo labeled: Barnes, Julia. Also, the remains of the duplicate of Julia and the creature that killed her. There were several assorted lab animals that have been experimented upon, with disastrous results.

There is a filing cabinet that contained files of all Amberites who were under observation. The documentation included files kept on: Carl Corey, Evelyn Flaumel, Merle Corey, Lucas Raynard, Julia Barnes, Gail Lampron, William Roth, Hillary B. Rand, Roger Zelazny, Erick Wujcik, and a host of others. It included the names of all who were connected with gaming conventions, they were under suspicion as supporters or sympathizers of these extra-dimensional entities. The files included medical records, news clippings, government forms, contact lists from Ambercons, video tape footage, letters, and credit records. There is also the research papers of Merle Corey, with preliminary blue prints of Ghostwheel (the papers that Jurt and Despil came for).

There are video tapes of the Olympic trials where Merle Corey and Lucas Raynard participated. Video tapes of a man that fits the description of Random, bursting out of a men's room, being pursued by semi-human creatures, then disappearing down the hallway. There are many video tapes of Evelyn Flaumel and her contacts with various humans, now considered sympathizers. Mother will be mortified when she learns of this, she always felt that Shadow Earth was her playground, her Avalon, her private Shadow.

These were the items that Arlington remembered. It doesn't include the information on the computer databanks. The computer in Site A has communication uplinks to a satellite, linking to Sites: B, C, and D. Arlington doesn't know where these sites are or if the uplink is traceable. He also doesn't know how to deactivate the security shutdown system or the nerve gas. He knows that the nerve gas should have been released by now. Lorien determined that there is also a self-destruct device in place and extracts the codes from Arlington's mind. He was knocked out before he was able to trigger it. But, 'we' can, to destroy any evidence we want eliminated; but 'that' can wait.

One can 'almost' feel sorry for Agent Arlington. He isn't a bad person, he was anxious to make contact with us. He was of two minds; in doing his job, he went along with applying methods he didn't agree with. So, he allowed and tolerated what happened to Despil. In the discussion about what to do with him, I suggested to Lorien that we make him a personal guest of Merle Corey. This meets with the overwhelming approval of the others. Lorien asked Merlin if he wanted a 'guest', he asked her to gift wrap him. She was delighted to conjure gift wrapping for Arlington and secured him quite well. Ghostwheel then delivered him, a tidy little package - only 'slightly' damaged. I am sure that Merlin will tend to his wounds.

Anthony went to the computer communications center to hack into it, with Ghostwheel returning to help. Between them, they were able to connect to the satellite. Ghostwheel tracked the satellite directly, traveling to it, then following the connection to the other locations.

From my suggestion, Ghostwheel activated the security systems in the other three sites; deactivating the nerve gas, self-destruct devices, and phones. It will give our quarry something to 'worry' about, being prisoners in their own complexes. We can release them later.

We learn that Jurt and Despil are in good hands in the Amber infirmary; they are being tended to by some Chaosian specialists in shape shifting traumas. The situation is hopeful for Despil, but he is not out of the woods yet.

Anthony finds files on the computer system with a complete history of the agency, including detailed personnel files and any contacts the agency has (including governmental contacts). We can track down everyone associated with Site A and recover anything they left with, that will be a spot of fun - like a fox hunt. Ghostwheel is delighted to download all information from the combined computer systems' databases. The operating systems are based upon his own coding structure. How nice, they made it so 'easy' for him. He downloads and deletes all files. The agency adapted much of their computer design from the blue prints of Ghostwheel. The satellite itself is a close design to Ghostwheel, to operate in the vacuum of space. They were getting very close to developing a way to break free of Shadow Earth, it was just a matter of time. Now it will 'never' happen, at least without our consent.

Anthony found files which contained detail design plans of the buildings, including the use of the polymer for dampening our abilities. Other files had information about things developed by the agency: shift inhibitors (for suppression of shape shifting), rapid regeneration serums, psi inhibitors, Pattern detectors (like the one I now have), sonic psychic dampers (the whining noise makers in the vans), and Trump blocking drugs. The list goes on. Some things they developed actually work, while others are failures.

One file identifies a special section in the facility that houses selected Shadow Earth dwellers with psi and magical talents. Their function was to hamper our efforts and monitor our activities. They are in level six, locked up to perish from the nerve gas. The records show that one of them was the recipient of a blood transfusion from Merle Corey.

Any of us who spent time in Shadow earth in America, is also on the files, under investigation. There is nothing on me in their files, because I spent my life in Europe. I hope that a similar agency is not in place there. I make a mental note to myself to check into it.

Several of us investigate the prisoners in level six. Most are frauds or dabblers in the arts. A handful have a spark of genuine talent. One radiates quite strongly. It is a young woman, the one who received Merlin's blood. The others can be 'helped' by mentally inducing amnesia and put in the care of professionals. The young woman with Merlin's blood will need better care, Merlin and Random can determine what is best for her and our combined realms.

I mention to the others that what we uncovered was worse than I imagined. I explain that in Scotland Yard files, I found a reference to agents who were disappearing. The file was code named 'Village'. My level of security was high enough to access it. There are places set aside for people (agents and others) to be tucked safely away, where they disappear from society. It looks as though we have found the Amber prototype of the Village.

We have definitely blown the lid off the 'Area 51' of Amberite research.

I congratulate my team for a job well done. I am particularly pleased with Owen, for her unwavering dedication to Despil's survival.

Episode 2E0-3 - Epilog (Something Nasty in the Agency)

In which Steed ties up some loose ends
... and mother receives a gift.

Random and Flora is contacted via Trumps to bring them up to date about the situation. Random begins a chain of events to quarantine Shadow Earth. A clean up team is organized to locate and remove anything that points any attention to us, anything that can be used against us, and remove any knowledge of us.

I volunteer for the team, along with my cousins, of course. With the information Ghostwheel gathered, we located everyone who left Site A. Everything of interest was retrieved and they thought we were government agents, investigating Site A. They were only too eager to cooperate, especially since the alternative was to be arrested and jailed. We brought them back to Site A for a short visit, which I will explain in a bit. The limousines came in handy for the gathering. In black suits and limousines, we looked rather intimidating; we were also successful.

We learn that Jurt is recovering nicely, but he was scared out of his wits from his experiences. Despil will pull through, but it will take time. Owen and the young lab technician is staying with him to help with his recovery. I do believe that a very strong emotional attachment is forming between Despil and the young lab technician.

We did learn what happened to them in Shadow Earth. When they left Grand Designs, they were stopped while walking to Merlin's place. Jurt got angry and began shifting to attack and escape. The locals freaked out and began shooting at them. Despil jumped in front of Jurt and took the majority of the bullets for his brother. Jurt was shot as well, but they were minor injuries. Despil is an incredible lad, and I like them both. I spent a year with Merlin's family in Chaos, during an exchange program; but that is another story. Merlin knew that I would be interested in their recovery, and he was right.

The goons from the agency just overreacted with the brothers, just as they did with us. The most unforgivable part was that when they thought Despil had died, or was as good as dead, they began their vivisection. The people involved with that little operation were identified and 'dealt' with. I can honestly say that it wasn't pretty; this comes from someone who has 'dealt' with many people in the line of duty.

We recovered everything we could and returned to Amber. Random and Merlin planned a quiet celebration for the team who rescued Merlin's brothers. Also, for uncovering a dangerous conspiracy and helped make Shadow Earth a safe place once again. Medals were given to the team. Another for my collection, in my room. Another mission that no details can be discussed outside of family.

The clean up has been well underway and the quarantine stays in effect until it is thoroughly de-loused. I kept a few items that I thought may be useful later, but they will stay in Amber. Some things are not meant to fall in the hands of others. I still have the Pattern detector in my desk, unused.

I personally gathered all items belonging to Evelyn Flaumel, AKA Florimel, AKA Flora, AKA my mother. I made them a present for her, since Mother's Day was coming up soon. I gathered: files, clippings, books, video tapes, and anything else I could find; and before anyone else could review them. She was mortified when she first found out. When I later gave them to her, I believe she was moved to tears. She knew that I didn't look at anything; after all, they were 'her' belongings. There are some things, a son shouldn't know about his mother. She has learned to be more careful when returning to Shadow Earth, beginning with locating any devices left in her estate. I know that she will be all right.

Oh yes, the 'other' detail I referred to. Random gathered Fiona and selected others who were strong psi talents, to pay a visit to Sites A, B, C, and D. Those with a lust for irony, should enjoy this. I know that I did.

It went like this... There were many people who found themselves out of work, with no idea how their company collapsed or what they did there. There were reports that the employees were trapped in their building, by a faulty security system and were exposed to some unknown chemical agents that caused severe memory loss. The agency filed bankruptcy to avoid prosecution, the employees were lining up with their attorneys in a class action suit.

The agency sold the building, its contents, its vehicles, and all other assets, to some unknown buyers. Done in order to cover legal expenses and a lump sum settlement to the former employees (a mere pittance).

Some government officials were exposed for their involvement with this agency who criminally endangered their employees. They were voted out of office, and supposedly they are now investigated on criminal charges by a federal Grand Jury. The charges are quite numerous. Random enjoyed setting them up, a little specialty of his; he 'really' dislikes unscrupulous officials.

There were rumors that a small publishing firm in Santa Fe, New Mexico had purchased the agency. They were financially backed by a family of eccentrics, who tore down the buildings after purchasing them. The reason was unknown, but the construction was done quickly and there is no trace that the buildings even existed.

Ghostwheel was in charge of moving the satellite, I can only guess where it is. It just disappeared from the skies, the officials are still puzzled about it. They can 'stay' puzzled, it is 'their' turn for a change.

Oh yes, this publishing firm also purchased Grand Designs. Merlin took great pleasure in replacing the entire staff, a reward for all they did for him. His eccentric family now runs the business. It is doing quite well, although little is known about the new company. The family spends most of the time traveling. You 'may' hear about it in the news some day. However, I doubt it.

Just another hostile takeover by someone who left the company, returning later to change the way they did business. It's an old story, that many people in business only dream about. As expected, it had a happy ending. Against such people, these companies stand less than a 'Ghost' of a chance.


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R. Cal Westray, Jr.
Revised: January 29, 2009.

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