July 26, 2017 at 6:32 pm #1522
Caroline frowned. She didn’t doubt the man had the means to finance an expedition all by himself. While it was certainly expensive, it was only so by her standards. While it would be an investment for anyone, possibly a notable one, to any half decent business it would be… Alright, maybe not pocket change, but nothing to worry about. Of course, since no businessman, no successful businessman, liked to take undue risks, he had to know what he was buying.
No, what she worried about was not his ability to finance her, but the very simple fact that those things were never freely offered. There had to be strings attached. And if she couldn’t find any… As was often said, if it’s free, then you are the product.
For now however, the best way to deal with that was to answer his question. Time would come later, if he was still interested, to ask her questions…and decide if she was ready to pay whatever was asked of her.
She drank a mouthful of her coffee, then started ”I spent a couple of months in Panama last year, on a dig with one of my professors. According to him, while the Maya were located north, approximately from Mexico to Managua, members of their civilisation came as far south as Panama, maybe even around Bogota. Though he wasn’t sure of that last one. Anyway, I was there mainly to take advantage of the expedition to study the local paracritters, mostly the Awakened ones, when a week or two before we left we stumbled upon something odd. I’m not a biologist, but…well…I know my paracritters, and in one of the ruins, I’m pretty sure we found the remains of one of them. We performed a Carbon 14 datation on one of the bones, and let me tell you, it was much older than a century. Which is something that should be impossible, considering that Magic appeared seventy years ago. Unless It’s not the first time that Magic appeared in the world but it disappeared then for some reason. If that is true, then we’d have to look at a lot of what we thought we knew of our past and the old civilisations.”
She paused to sip her coffee, thinking. She had almost forgotten the man in front of her, when she shook her head and focused back on him ”So what I’ve been trying to do in the last months, in addition to reading whatever I could put my hands on about those civilisations, is to get an expedition down there.” she grimaced ”It hasn’t gone terribly well though. First, there’s the obvious local situation, less than ideal, which is the main issue. I’m told there’ll be time later when everything is calm, but…” she shook her head ”I don’t have all the time in the world, I have deadlines to meet. And I’m curious of course.” she paused, and this time when she talked, she looked at Jacques ”Another obstacle is that there is no practical application. Sure, it’s interesting, sure, it would force us to reconsider plenty of things, but…there’s nothing to sell. Nothing to earn, outside of a bit of knowledge. And to most, that’s reason enough to put that at the end of the priority list.”July 26, 2017 at 10:08 pm #1523
Jacques nods. ”What if I give you a practical application?” He motions off towards the desk. ”There is a box on the floor near the far side of the desk. Could I bother you to get it for me, please?”July 26, 2017 at 10:34 pm #1524
”A practical application?” Caroline cocked an eyebrow. When asked to get the box, she nodded. Getting up, she picked it up, and put it on the desk, near the tea tray.July 26, 2017 at 11:13 pm #1525
”Thank you, Caroline.” Jacques leans a bit forward, the last short distance in some obvious distress, and opens the box. Inside are some bones, a few teeth, some photos,and a small notebook. He points to some of the items. ”About twenty years ago, I was much like you are now. Fresh out of my basic university classes and ready to conquer the world, or at least the part of it that I could see. I went on a number of archaeological expeditions and even made a name for myself. I was in demand. My knowledge of paracritters helped me land positions. Then I was involved in an expedition into Amazonia. We departed from Bogota, which was a much nicer place then than it is now., and set off into the jungle. I will not boor you with the day to day, but I will tell you of the last part I remember well.”
”We were in a place where nothing is noted on any maps, not then and probably not now. We found the ruins of a city and began exploring it with an eye to doing what we could then returning the following year if we could show it would be useful to do so. We were attacked on the fourth night there. Our sensors gave enough warning that we were not completely unprepared, but the expedition lead assumed that the natives that approached us were more of the same tribe that we had found on the way in. He may have been right, but I will probably never know for sure. They seemed peaceful at first, then they attacked us, killing fully half the crew in the first minute. They had these………….beasts with them that they turned loose on us. One of them mauled me and I lost consciousness.”
”When I recovered, I was on a makeshift sled of some kind, being pulled through the jungle by two of the crew. The expedition doctor was keeping me and six other men alive by some combination of native roots and berries and modern medicine, but mostly through raw talent and ability and refusing to lose any more people. All of the team leadership had been lost and this doctor took charge. She got us all the way to the coast and then managed to find the one ship coasting the nearby sailing lanes and they picked us up.”
He points again to the things inside the box. ”The bones are from the animal that attacked me. The doctor injected the thing with some sort of drug as it was clawing at my guts and knocked it out before cutting its throat with a scalpel. That large tooth there was removed from my hip. The photos are of the beast from several different angles, and the book contains my notes of the expedition. When we got back to civilization, I had the bones carbon dated, just as you did.” He nods. ”Yes, this creature was awakened and was also over a hundred years old. And it had been alive!”
He sits back a bit on the couch. ”Whatever the thing was, it almost killed me. I was left in this condition, barely alive at all. For a while I hated the doctor that saved my life. After all, what did she save it to be able to do? My legs are paralyzed and I cannot speak. I tried implants, but the damn toxin in my body rejected almost all of them, bio and cyber. I have only recently been able to have the ‘link implanted that allows me to talk through that box and by matrix link. I would like you to try to find another of these things and capture it. Bring it back so that it can be studied. It may be possible to derive a cure for me. For that, I am willing to give you something in return. Are you at least interested enough to ask what?”July 26, 2017 at 11:39 pm #1526
For a while, Caroline listened silently, as she was looking at the pictures. She didn’t seem really interested in the bones nor the tooth: like she had said, she wasn’t a biologist, so by themselves it wouldn’t have told her much. The only use she could see in all of those was the possibility to get a date, but it had already been done. When Jacques finished talking, she asked distractedly ”I assume you asked a Mage to heal you, to no avail?”
She didn’t seem to really listen to the answer no more than she had listened up to there. Of course, given the question, it was obvious she had been listening. Instead, she paid more attention to the pictures, trying to get an idea of the creature, and the species it may have been a member of. She barely looked at the journal: she would need time to read it, and whatever was in it wasn’t important just now.
”So I suppose you’d want me to get to the same place you were all those years ago. That would be the only way to make sure the creatures found, if any, are of the same species. Bogota is not exactly the place I was planning to visit this time…” she shrugged ”But it doesn’t really matter to me. Well, as far as my research goes anyway. Now security… That’s another thing, especially considering what happened to your previous expedition on top of that. And I can see why you think it would be important.”
Despite knowing she would need time, she had started, almost despite herself, to read the journal. She forced herself to put it back, and asked ”So what is it you want to give me?”July 26, 2017 at 11:57 pm #1527
Jacques smiles again. ”I have been on friendly terms with the team doctor ever since she saved me. Do you know anything about Doctor Alyce Krait? If you are more than just a poser, you will know something about her as an expedition doctor, cook, and communications expert. Just this morning she contacted me to let me know that she is traveling here to pick up some members of a medical clinic crew before flying over to Bogota to set up a street clinic. Now, I know Alyce quite well and, even though she is a damned fine surgeon, she does not go big on street clinics. No, she is planning something bigger than that and I am sure it is an expedition of some sort. I can get you an introduction to her and I am sure that your credentials will get you a position on her team. Working with her will help your career immensely, believe me.”
”Second, I will allow you the use of this library any time you want, day or night. I saw the way you reacted to the books.”
”Third, I have no living relatives and scarce few people I could call friends. Even if you can save my life, I will likely die well before you do. I will write you into my will and leave you everything that I do not otherwise earmark as small bequests to people like Michel.”
”Fourth, I will settle upon you the sum of twenty thousand nuyen now and another, equal amount when you return with a specimen we can use, regardless if the creature can be useful for a cure.”July 27, 2017 at 8:02 am #1529
For a long time, Caroline kept silent, as if she were trying to determine if she had really heard what was just said. Finally, she answered ”Well, that’s…” she shook her head ”Alright, I have no objection with points two,” she glanced at the books, curious. She did like books, there was something to them, something to read a real book, that no electronic version could achieve even if she would have been hard pressed to define what it was ”And point four. Considering that I wouldn’t have minded doing it for free, it’s rather more than I would have accepted, so I won’t spit in it.”
She sipped a bit of her coffee, and bit into another croissant. Not that she was really hungry anymore, but it allowed her to take a moment to think. ”As far as point one goes… I guess it hinges on what kind of expedition Krait is planning. In absolute, I have no problem joining someone else’s at this point, but we may have different priorities. You’re certainly more able than me to guess what this clinic business is, so I won’t dispute your assessment, but it still leaves a lot of possibilities.” She frowned ”Though I suppose it’ll be up to me to make sure we at least get some time to take care of my own goals.” she grimaced slightly, then shrugged ”I can probably work with that.”
”Now, regarding point two…” she finished her croissant, and settled back in the couch ”Isn’t that too much? Why would you offer that to me, and not someone like Michel that you already know, has been working for you for a while, and has a least a passing knowledge of your businesses? I know I’m smart, but that’s not enough to be a successful businesswoman.” She shook her head ”I’m sure I could learn, and maybe even find the time to do everything by delegating judiciously, but… I guess I’m having trouble understanding why offer all that when I’d have done it for nothing.”July 27, 2017 at 8:42 am #1531
The man smiles. ”You are quite perceptive and more honest than I had expected, something I appreciate. I am not used to someone negotiating down on a deal, but I can see your point. I had considered the business as one of the earmarks in my will that I would leave to someone else. As to Alyce and your…..our…..goals, I will do my best to influence her when she arrives, but, yes, you will need to continue that process on your own merits. Are you indicating that you are agreeable to the terms?”July 27, 2017 at 10:13 am #1533
Caroline snorted ”Should I be offended you thought I’d be less than honest? You spent too much time in business, and forgot that honesty in academia is a must. At least if you want to last.” She shook her head ”Anyway, yes, we can agree. More is a surprise, but not the problem less would have been.”July 27, 2017 at 10:24 am #1534
Jacques grimaces. ”You are right and I apologize. Now, my recommendation will only get you so far. Alyce Krait is no dummy and she will not just accept you on my word. You will need to sell yourself. I expect her here in about six hours, depending on flight time from London. You have that much time to polish your CV and pack. If you like, you may give me a list of what equipment you will need for the expedition and I will get it together for you. Can you be back here at nine this evening?”July 27, 2017 at 10:43 am #1536
”I suppose I can.” Caroline seemed to think about that for a second, then nodded ”The CV isn’t a problem. Packing… Well, I don’t have much, so it’ll be quickly done. The list of equipment will be more difficult: I don’t need much myself outside of standard expedition stuff which I already have. And as for the group, it depends on what they already have, which is not something I can predict. The main issue will be how I’ll deal with my place and the stuff I have there. Last time I had a few weeks to plan that…”July 27, 2017 at 11:11 am #1537
”Sometimes an opportunity comes along that does not give you the luxury of planning the details. I leave it to you. Please be back here by nine. I expect that you will be leaving here for the airport, so make sure to bring your luggage with you.” He motions for you to take the last croissant as he maneuvers himself back into his chair droneJuly 27, 2017 at 1:56 pm #1544
”Hum. Yeah, I suppose.” Caroline absent mindedly grabbed the last croissant as she stood up. Already planning how she was going to take care of her stuff, she waved in Jacques direction ”See you later then.” Without saying more, she exited the room – with a last look to the books – and her ‘link in hand, started to taker her dispositions.
She could probably ask Margot to keep an eye on her place, not that there was much to steal, especially considering she’d take pretty much everything of value with her, but she didn’t feel comfortable leaving for weeks, maybe months, without taking some precautions. She didn’t have a pet at home, so at least that wasn’t a problem. She’d have to warn her PhD advisor too of course, but that wouldn’t be much of problem. There would be some papers to fill, but she could do that when she was in the air. Assuming nothing happened to her between now and the signature on the papers of course.
She didn’t have much in the way of Reagents, but what she had would have to suffice for now. Well, she could always place a call to her Talismonger, but since she would have to find one in Bogotá or nearby anyway… She had more than enough for a while.
Most of the day went through a whirlwind of activity as she prepared her departure, and tried to make sure she wasn’t forgetting anything…and pretty sure she would anyway. Like she had forgotten to eat lunch. But oh well, she would have time at the airport before departure. A few minutes before nine, Caroline arrived, for the second time today, in front of the Cheveux Rouges. This time however, it was right in the middle of opening hours, and she looked completely out of place. She was wearing a jean and a hooded sweatshirt. She didn’t have a shred of make-up, her hair done in a messy bun, and she was dragging along a huge suitcase. Somehow though, she looked more striking than most women waiting to enter in the club as she walked straight to the entrance, not even appearing to see the queue, lost as she was in her thoughts.July 27, 2017 at 2:18 pm #1545
You are brought back to earth by the bouncer at the door to the club, who reaches out an arm to stop you. Once cognizant of your whereabouts, you hear some of the people in the line commenting on you. “Who does she think she is?” “Cute, could use some makeup.” “Line cutter.” “Homeless trash.” All of these and more, some quite rude and not suitable for repeating. The rather large man in front of you has a kind face as he holds up a hand. ”May I help you, Miss?”July 27, 2017 at 2:36 pm #1546
”What?” Caroline looked at the bouncer’s hand for a moment, as if she wasn’t able to understand what it was doing in front of her. She frowned, then seemed to realise what the problem was ”Oh. Yeah. Can you tell Jacques… I mean, Mr. Mernier Caroline is here please?”
As soon as she said that, she didn’t pay more attention to the man, instead, frowning, she got her ‘link out to check something she had just thought about, effectively leaving few options to the bouncer. And she didn’t look like she’d be moving any time soon.July 27, 2017 at 2:56 pm #1547
Once again you are brought back to the present, this time by a touch of the bouncer’s hand on your arm. ”Miss? Are you alright, Miss? You may go on in unless you need some help.”
The people in the line have gone quiet, staring at you, as the bouncer moves the red velvet rope aside for you to proceed into the club. As anticipated, the club is much busier this time of day than when you were her earlier. The main area is a bit crowded with patrons and drink servers vying for space. A local band is on the stage off to the left and seems to be playing decent, if loud, music. A hostess dressed in the uniform of the club comes up to you as you enter the main lobby. ”Miss Caroline?”
At your nod, she smiles at you and motions to the young man next to her to take your suitcase. ”I will have this taken to the car. Do you need anything from it?”July 27, 2017 at 3:08 pm #1548
Raising her head from her ‘link, Caroline looked at the bouncer ”Hum, yes, why?” Without waiting for an answer, she shook her head ”Nevermind. Thank you.”
Inside, she seemed glad to hand over the suitcase when it was proposed to her, shaking her head at the question ”No, I have everything in here.” With a small movement of her shoulders, she indicated the small backpack she had. It didn’t seem filled with much and in fact, it mostly was. She didn’t have time to fill it with much and there was just a change of underwear, a bottle of water and her headset to listen to music. She would have put some snacks if she had had any, but sadly that wasn’t the case.July 27, 2017 at 5:01 pm #1549
The young man takes your suitcase and disappears into the crowd as the woman smiles at you. ”This way, please.” She leads you through the crowd, proving quite adept at avoiding elbows and arms as she wends her way through the large main room to the office door, standing there. ”Eloise with Miss Caroline.”
In the noise, you cannot hear the soft click, but the door opens a bit and the woman pushes it open for you and closes it behind you as you enter the hall beyond. The carpet is just as soft as you remember but you hear cello music coming from the room beyond the far door, which is slightly ajar, as before. ”Welcome, Caroline, please join us in the library.”
When you push open the door and enter the room, your eyes are drawn to the books then to the others. Jacques Mernier is sitting on the couch and an elven woman is standing near him. Her clothes are a bit rumpled, as if she has been in them for a while and her long white hair is in a pony tail down her back. Her eyes are concealed by a pair of odd looking dark glasses, the frames of which seem to be festooned with lots of gears and wheels and one lens has what looks to be a small magnifying glass in front of it. The right side of her face is covered in a large tattoo of a seven headed hydra that curls up from her mouth to over her eye. All in all, she is a bit strange, but it is not her that grabs your attention, it is the dog standing next to her. It is a massive beauty, its head coming up well above her waist with fur as dark as night, bright red eyes, and………..is that a wisp of smoke coming from its nostrils? It looks like something out of a nightmare and yet is standing docilely here in this room. The woman takes a step towards you and holds out a hand. ”Caroline, I am Alyce Krait. I have heard a lot about you in a short time. You have impressed my friend and that is no small feat. Would you dine with us? You can tell me all about why I need you on my crew.”July 28, 2017 at 6:00 pm #1569
Caroline followed Eloise in silence, finally storing her ‘link in the back pocket of her jean. She was frowning though, not at anything in particular, but mostly worried she was forgetting something. Well no, she was pretty sure she was forgetting something. She just hoped it wasn’t anything important.
Between those worries, and the hell hound in the room, she certainly could be excused when she left the elf hanging, hand in the air, as she was looking at the creature she wasn’t expecting to see here. After a moment, she shook her head, and took the offered hand as she nodded ”Dinner sounds awesome. I was too busy to eat lunch so I’m famished.” She grimaced, as her stomach reminded her of its opinion on the subject ”As for why you need me on your crew…” She shrugged ”It would be a more compelling argument if I knew the composition of said crew, but I suppose I can try. Not that there’s much more to say than you already know by now I suppose.”July 28, 2017 at 6:47 pm #1572
The woman grins at you and you look up at her, noticing again the tattoo that covers the right half of her face. The artwork appears to be quite intricate. She makes a small clicking noise and the Hell Hound moves from where it was standing to come forward to her side. ”Caroline, this is Alfie. He is my service dog and my very good companion. Please hold out your hand so that he can smell you. He is very intelligent and will remember your odor as a friend.” The hound sniffs at your hand and you can definitely feel that his breath is warm and smells just a bit of sulfur.
Alyce nods and looks over to where Jacques is getting onto his chair then back to you. ”Shall we go in?” She takes the couple of steps back to the chair and reaches down to pick up a skull-headed walking cane before offering her arm to you. ”We have a bit of time for a light dinner before we leave for the airport. I do know quite a lot about you, of course, even more than my friend has seen fit to tell me in a vain attempt to only let me know the good stuff. But I am hoping that you will tell me why you, specifically, should be included in my little adventure. I will answer part of your question by telling you that the crew consists of four medical staff, including me, a security specialist and her team of hand picked people. We are picking up the last two of the security team here in Marseilles. There is a communications specialist and a rigger to help me with my little toys. Every one of these people has had experience in the jungles of South and Central America.”
While talking, Alyce has led you through the library to and past the far door, which opens onto another carpeted hallway. Michel is standing in the hall near one of the doors and ushers you into a large dining room. The long table is set for three and you are shown to the seat just to the right of the head of the table, which has no chair. Michel pulls your chair out and seats you before moving around the table to do the same for Alyce. Jacques moves his chair to the open place at the head of the table. As soon as everyone is seated, a pretty young woman brings food to the table and the three of you begin to eat. After a few minutes of the first course, Alyce looks over at you. ”Now it is your turn to talk, Caroline. Please tell me why it should be you to come with me as my assistant instead of someone else. What are your qualifications?”
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