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The Hierophant

 Premiered August 22, 2003

Chapter One


Lake Mach was a private hideaway; a luxurious, extremely well-equipped, isolated enclave, a resort designed for the very rich and the very powerful.  It lacked nothing.  Save hospitality.

Arriving in the last moments of twilight, Dawn did not see the expansive grounds, the numerous secluded and separate buildings, the nearby light-plane runway, the seaplane docking facility, nor the lodge where some of the more notable secret meetings on the planet had taken place over the years.  She had only seen the lake on their approach -- that much was obvious.  But most lakes are notoriously alike in their appearance.  They have a lot of water, most of it seen only on the surface.  Only their shorelines give them their distinctive qualities -- which the darkness hid for now.

Dawn's greeting was all business, and no hospitality.  The helicopter landed, two men arrived to take the stretcher, Dawn and the doctor followed, and within minutes they were inside a private, two-bedroom bungalow with an impressive assortment of mobile medical equipment standing by.  Three very attractive nurses were already prepped and ready for the new arrival.  But without the doctor's explicit instructions, they appeared to do nothing.  A mobile X-Ray unit had already been set up, and Gil was taken directly to it.  The doctor then made it clear to Dawn there were several tests to be run.  But he also added what Dawn could only take as the ultimate impertinence.

As if looking for a reaction, he said, "Your services won't be needed right now."

Dawn was outraged, but held it in check, in the firm grip of her newly acquired sense of survival at all costs.  Instead, she backed away, bided her time, and for the moment, recognized she would in fact be less than helpful.  She would allow the alleged professionals to do their work.  But she also decided in that moment that she would always dislike this doctor, even if he saved Gil and/or her from death, pain, suffering, or any other inconvenience.  The doctor, in her eyes, simply had no socially redeeming value.  She could dislike him with complete abandon.

Dawn went into the other bedroom and sat down.  For several moments, she tried to use her mind to heal Gil, and in the event she was unsuccessful, to at least protect him.  She had no idea if such activity would have any effect; she had no experience in this realm.  But she was going to make the effort in any case.  It couldn't hurt.  After a moment or two, her intuition gently told her now was not the time.  It was better that she take care of herself.  Her strength would be needed later.

Feeling very weary, but aware there were things to be done, she began looking around the room.  She quickly found the adjacent, private bathroom, a well equipped one with all the necessities for unexpected, drop-in guests.  She hesitated for some twenty seconds before preparing for a hot bath.  There was no thought of taking a shower; this was a time for serious soaking. 

As she disrobed, the strange duality of the place hit her.  There were all the articles and mundane evidences of welcoming an important guest, but none of the emotional connections from the locals.  Dawn could not shake the sense that the hosts or hostesses had prepared for Gil's arrival, had laid out the red carpet, and were now going to do everything to help him.  But they would provide no welcome from the heart; only a concern for the possible loss of a valuable asset.  These people were not Gil's friends; their interests were far more mercenary.  The thought left a very disquieting feeling in Dawn.

The bath, meanwhile, lived up to its promise.  Slowly, she began to unwind.  Even the momentary slight disturbance of someone coming into her bedroom did not distract her.  The silence returned and stayed with her until she got out, took advantage of the guest bathrobe, and re-entered the bedroom.  There she found her purse and luggage, neatly set on a small bench at the foot of her bed.  She quickly checked her purse, noting that the contents were apparently undisturbed.  The $200 in cash Gil had suggested she carry with her for emergencies, was still intact. 

She turned next to the damaged luggage.  For a moment, she simply sorted through her clothes, separating them into two piles -- one for the undamaged articles and one for the trashed ones.  Dawn had torn, ripped, stained, and spotted enough dresses in her lifetime that she seldom bothered to even attempt a salvage effort.  Thus the largest pile she was now accumulating would in her mind soon be discarded along with the useless carrying case.

This activity basically left her with three outfits -- but none which could be construed as a matched ensemble.  Looking at the possibilities, she said to herself, "Looks like I'll be making a fashion statement here at the resort."  She grimaced to herself and began dressing with one-third of the selected items that had managed to come out of the crash relatively unscathed.  Dressed, she went back into the room where the doctor and three nurses were still administering to Gil.  The doctor took little notice of her as she walked in, apparently refreshed.   Instead, he turned to one of the nurses, giving her instructions, instructions Dawn could not quite hear. 

She quickly dismissed the doctor's hostility, and asked, "How is he?"  Her voice was firm and authoritative.  She was no longer going to take any slights by the "little man in the white coat."

The doctor pretended not to notice her new found strength, but nonetheless answered.  "It's serious.  He took a blow to the head, and may be bleeding internally.  He has several broken bones, lacerations, and..."  For a moment he stopped, turning to address her directly.  "He needs some rest, a little time to recover from the initial trauma.  We'll do more tests in the morning."

"I'll stay with him," Dawn replied.

"No need.  A nurse will be with him all the time."

Dawn ignored the implied directive, went to Gil's side, and took his hand.  She could sense he was indeed resting, and for now would not need her.  Nevertheless she was determined to stand her ground -- if only to make sure the doctor knew she would not tolerate his insubordination any longer.  For his part, the doctor merely cleared his throat in disgust and left the room.  Two of the nurses looked at each other, sharing a private smile at Dawn's stubbornness with the doctor, and at a discrete distance, followed him out of the room.  The third nurse brought a chair up to the side of the bed for Dawn to sit in.  Dawn silently thanked her, and then set down to begin her vigil.

For several moments, she simply allowed herself to sit in Gil’s auric field, to sense whatever messages might be waiting for her there.  But when no revelations appeared, she began to look deeper.  In the process, she began to recall the last two months. 

From the moment she had met him, Gil had impressed her with his power, intelligence, and blatant charm.  He had constantly astonished her with his flexibility, his ability to communicate, along with the depth and breath of his knowledge in a bewildering variety of topics.  He had invariably displayed the spark and enthusiasm of an exceptional forty-year-old, the health and vitality of someone ten years younger, and the mental outlook, on occasion, of a wide-eyed six-year-old (what he referred to as the exposition of his outer child).  His exceptional intelligence (she was sure he was in the upper point one percent in I.Q.) was nicely flavored with wit, experience, and an outrageous sense of humor.  In short, he had the drives of a younger man, and the wisdom of a sage.  For Dawn, it was really quite a nice combination.

And now he was laying quietly, with none of his power and potential in view.  It was a sobering thought for Dawn, as she leaned to one side, one arm beginning to support her head.


Hours later, she was still there.  The messages she kept sensing were all the same.  Gil was resting for the moment.  There was muted pain, but nothing more.  Finally, she allowed the nurse on duty to convince her to go to bed and get some rest.

"You've been through quite an ordeal yourself.  You're exhausted and a prime candidate for post-traumatic stress.  Go to bed.  Get some rest.  I'll call you if there's any change."

Dawn looked at her for a moment, sensed her sincerity, and agreed.  It was time to sleep.

But with sleeping, came dreaming, visions of a desert landscape with blowing sand.  Below and off to her left, a meandering river valley flanked by lush, verdant fields.  In their midst a pyramid like structure -- a ziggurat.  The mere thought of the ziggurat transported Dawn instantly to its sacred quarters.  There she saw the essence of Gil, bare chested and Herculean in his demeanor, a drawn sword at his side.  Her delight at seeing him was quickly tempered as the woman, the goddess or whoever from her dream on the airplane, approached from the left, her gaze intent upon Gil.  As she came closer to him, Gil turned, obviously enamored by the woman's mere presence.  She smiled and with a light gold chain slung about his neck, led him off to the right.  Gil followed willingly.  Dawn found herself following as well. 

She entered through an elaborate passageway into a luxurious, harem-like bedroom.  But there was no one there.  Dawn moved though the room, sensing the smells and sights of a very feminine occupant.  Then she saw Gil's body lying on the bed, bloodied and slashed, bits and pieces of the airplane's wreckage scattered about.  Despite his horrendous wounds and indications of vicious hand-to-hand combat, Gil looked completely at peace, almost smiling.  Dawn turned to her right to see the woman standing and watching her.  The woman was again in her full regalia -- the same gold and lapis-lazuli crown, breastplate and other trinkets, the same nakedness (other than her symbols of office), and the same intense attractiveness.  Looking at Dawn, the woman raised her hand and pointed toward the bed.  Dawn turned to find a man she'd never seen before, sitting on the bed watching her.  He wore a well trimmed beard and the armor of an ancient soldier, and yet there was a sense of saintliness.  Perhaps a different kind of saint, she thought.  Then she noticed he was smiling at her.  It was his engaging smile that held her attention and stayed in her mind as she awoke.

Rolling over in her bed, Dawn reached for her journal, to capture on paper the contents of her dream, the kind of dream she knew was important.  It was when she didn’t find her journal that she remembered where she was.  The realization made her sit up in bed, and look around. The bedroom was well appointed with tasteful furnishings, but seemed of indistinct heritage -- rather like the classic, Expensive Generic.  Her purse and luggage were undisturbed.  But then for the first time, she realized Gil's black briefcase was missing.  This immediately bothered her, but the thought faded as she remembered his condition.  She arose and quickly dressed.  It was time to re-enter the world of the living.

Leaving her bedroom, she saw a man in the living area.  He looked at her, but then turned away.  She sensed immediately he was a guard, a goon, and one with just enough training to know he was not to interfere with his subject, but only to keep her under surveillance.  As Dawn continued to the bedroom where Gil had slept, she noticed the man had unobtrusively pulled out a cellular phone and had begun making a call.  Dawn ignored the action, and focused her thoughts on Gil.

A second nurse greeted her, assured her Gil was resting peacefully, and that they would be doing some additional tests during the next couple of hours.  Dawn listened attentively to the nurse; then crossed the room to take Gil's hand in order to try to verify for herself that Gil was still okay.  It was a strange sensation.  On the one hand, her senses told her everything was fine.  On the other, Gil was not wholly present, as if he had for a time left his body, allowing it to mend.  Dawn had never before experienced the sense of a temporary vacancy in another's body.  It was very strange.

The nurse, seeing that Dawn was apparently satisfied with her diagnosis, offered, "You can get some breakfast at the commons in the main lodge."  When Dawn seemed to accept the idea, she added, "The lodge is the large building next to the lake.  Just take a left as you leave the cabin."

Dawn took her advice, and headed for "the commons", noting that her "guard" pulled out his cellular phone again as she left the cabin.  She made a point of ignoring him. 

Outside, the lodge was obviously the large building before her, but Dawn decided to test the limits of her freedom and began walking in a random fashion -- checking out the grounds and other buildings instead of proceeding directly to the lodge.  Her training under Gil's tutelage was paying off, as Dawn was already planning for contingencies and the possibility of an impromptu escape.  No one interfered with her movements, but she could not shake the feeling she was being watched.  Only the distraction of seeing the manicured, idyllic mountain setting allowed her any relief. 

She began to assess and analyze what she was seeing.  There were numerous smaller buildings tucked back in the trees, some immediately on the lake but most away from the shoreline.  She could see the two helicopters behind and to the left of the lodge, as well as the seaplane tied up at a floating pier jutting out from just in front of the lodge.  The sky was dark and overcast, the green mountains in the distance across the lake partially shielded by a smattering of light snow in the air.  But rain or shine, it was a beautiful area.  It had all of the attributes of the upper-crust mountain resort -- luxurious, very private, and very exclusive.  The only flaw was the vibes.  The place simply didn't feel right.

Dawn felt her surroundings, as well as saw them.  There was a feel of dis-ease, or fear, an utter lack of warmth and/or hospitality.  There was no sense of relaxation; rather an injunction to keep up one's guard, to watch carefully where you stepped.  There was no need for small signs telling you to keep off the grass -- it was understood such an infraction would be summarily dealt with -- probably by firing squad.  The residents, she suspected, were not likely to be carefree, happy campers, living as they were in a maximum security prison environment.  Technically, they might be free to come and go, but while at Lake Mach, they had better obey all of the rules to the letter.

For a moment, she stopped to look at the seaplane, her sub-conscious mind accumulating data in the event of the need for a quick escape.  Then the cool breeze caught her attention, and she recalled how hungry she was.  Appropriately, her stomach made a low growling sound.  Dawn smiled apologetically at the minor infraction of etiquette, while at the same time obeying her body’s implied instructions, she turned back to the lodge.  Abruptly, she saw a figure standing behind one of the large plate glass windows of the building's front.  Dawn literally gasped as she recognized the figure.  It was the woman she had seen in her dreams, the same woman from both of the momentous night visions!  The woman now stood before her in the flesh -- albeit perhaps under glass, and alas, fully clothed.

Dawn started walked toward the lodge with determination; she wanted a better look at this woman.  But the woman stepped back from the window and disappeared from view, hidden by the reflecting glazing.  Dawn, continuing up the path toward the front porch of the lodge, appealed to her intuition for further information on this woman. 

She came up zip!  The very idea of a null reading surprised her, causing her to momentarily slow her walk.  She was picking up nothing from the woman.  And not just nothing, but absolutely zip, nada, zero.  It had never happened before.  Dawn could always sense someone, even if only vaguely.  But now it was as if the woman did not even exist, as if she were in another dimension, peering through a window from another realm of time and space. 

It occurred to Dawn that perhaps she had just imagined the woman, that her intense dreams, for some reason of emphasis, had manifested a vision in her waking state.  Dawn's mind eased slightly as she decided the sight of the woman had just been imagination, a waking dream state.  Her intuitive abilities would still be intact.  Or at least, she hoped they were.

Once inside the lodge, she was greeted by a smiling oriental who offered her a table in the center of the nearly deserted, restaurant-style dining room.  As he seated her, she noticed another security man standing nearby.  He seemed to be keeping his eye on her as well and in the same subtle and unobtrusive way.  Only the expected reflex to pull out his cellular telephone clearly identified him and his purpose.  Dawn silently dubbed him "Goonie" ( in order to distinguish him from "Goon", the man back at cabin she and Gil shared).  Her waiter, however, was still standing close by, at her beck and call, ready to wait on her hand and foot.

"Welcome to my humble abode.  My name is Reginald."

The waiter's name was pronounced with a heavy English accent, and Dawn could not resist smiling.  Then she said, "I was told I could get something to eat here."

"It would be my great honor to serve you."

Dawn was even more pleased.  "I'm quite hungry.  What do you have?

A broad grin crossed over Reginald's narrow face.  "For you, my lady, the world.  If you will but place your fate in my hands, I will deliver for your enjoyment all manner of delectables."

Dawn felt herself relax almost to the point of laughing.  "Show me your best," she replied.

As Reginald scurried off, Dawn could not help but notice that, contrary to every other aspect of Lake Mach she had thus far encountered, the waiter was extremely gracious, displaying all of the best parts of oriental hospitality as if this was something of which he was very proud: providing exemplary service.  The continuing presence of the security guard did not reduce Reginald's effectiveness at making Dawn feel at home, and at the same time, from garnering points with all of his no-doubt illustrious ancestors.  Dawn had responded to his warmth, communicated her starvation status, and encouraged by Reginald's broad smile, she had allowed him to take care of everything.  She was not to be disappointed.


Dawn was in the last throes of putting away Reginald's tour-de-force, an absolutely massive breakfast, when in reaching for a small metal pitcher of syrup with which to finish off the last remaining portion of a pancake, she managed to spill the pitcher’s contents.  Most of the errant maple syrup ended up as a small pond on the white tablecloth, but one rivulet formed a miniature river connecting the pond with her blouse and lap.  The missile of syrup had completely missed her napkin (such is the way of the world), and had left a dark, sticky stain in the middle of her blouse.  A second, lesser portion ended up on her skirt.  The latter a person might be able to overlook.  But the yellow blouse was not going to be easy to disguise.  The stain was just below her breasts, but too high for a napkin to be casually placed.

Dawn looked down at the sticky mess, dabbing slightly at the blouse.  When it was obvious the stain amounted to a near-permanent dye job, she quit bothering, her frustration mixed with a feeling of disgust at once again having to accept that, yes, she did sometimes reap the rewards of being a maladroit.  The momentary irritation slowly began to subside, as she decided to ignore the temporary elimination of yet one more article of her diminishing wardrobe, and concentrate instead on deciding which dress of those still fit to wear she would choose next.  Rearranging some of the plates to cover up the syrup pool on the tablecloth, she scooted her chair up closer to the table (hoping the tablecloth would serve to hide her affliction), and returned to her breakfast.  To all extents and purposes, everything was back to normal. 

A few moments later, Nathan arrived.  It was a significant change of pace.

"Good morning," he said, a studied, practiced and manipulative charm oozing out of every pore.  "I'm Nathan Fox, an associate of Gilbert's."  Dawn looked up and smiled, extending one hand, while the other hand used her napkin to cover her syrup stained blouse.  Nathan gallantly took her hand, but not in a handshake.  It was more in the form of acknowledging her intent -- as if the chivalrous thing to do was to prevent her hand from being left waving aimlessly in the air.  At the same time, he took control of the situation by holding her hand in a way where she would not be allowed to take hold of his hand.  This all-controlling nature was otherwise subdued, as he spoke, "Don't let me disturb your meal.  Please continue eating."  As she retrieved her hand, he smiled again and asked, "May I sit with you?" 

Dawn managed to say "of course" perhaps a millisecond before Nathan settled into his chair.

She returned to finishing off the last bits and pieces of her breakfast, while Nathan studied her.  A strikingly beautiful woman, he observed.  Dark, brunette hair, nicely shaped and long enough to just drape her shoulders.  There was also a face of classic proportions, sufficient to qualify for any mythological goddess of beauty, intense eyes, more intense that he could ever remember seeing, and a presence.  Ah yes, a presence -- one which spoke of experience, empowered femininity, intelligence, even wisdom. 

Importantly, she also had a trim, ample and highly seductive body.  It was the sort of female body Nathan could really appreciate.  'Gilbert has excellent taste,' Nathan thought.  'Exquisite, in fact.'  While the suggestion of an empowered female was not to Nathan's personal liking, he could probably overlook it in a moment of passion.  This woman, Nathan suspected, had been around the block more than once.  He further noted that her composure and complexion had survived the trip, such that her sense of innocence had survived intact.  Unfortunately, Nathan decided, she would be hard to manipulate.  Still, it was a nicely wrapped package.

As Dawn felt Nathan's eyes appraising her body, she also felt his mind probing her mind.  She had encountered others who had a semblance of her ability to look inside, but she had never felt as much power as in Nathan's attempt.  His probing was much more deliberate, more practiced.  It was also more violating, as if his intentions were far less than honorable.  Her immediate reaction was to close her mind to him. 

Whereupon she sensed his surprise, as if he had seldom encountered someone who could shut him down.  Then his amazement seemed to turn more threatening, just before he put up his own shields.  Dawn could sense that Nathan was now viewing her with more respect, but quite likely a respect built of fear rather than admiration.  There was also a subtle hint of curiosity, as if he were intrigued by just exactly who she was, and what she might represent.         

But such deep, penetrating thoughts were quickly and casually glossed over.  It was time to be charming.  Smiling, he said, "You must have been quite hungry."

Dawn, her napkin dabbing at the last morsels to pass her lips, looked at the spread before her.  Four dinner (one of which was strategically located on top of a syrup spill) and five salad plates were laid out before her.  All were devoid of any remaining food, but clearly, all had recently been conveyors of a variety of delectables.  Dawn had eaten as if there were no tomorrow.  Reginald had outdone himself, secretly delighting in the fact he had found a very appreciate patron.  Dawn could only smile at Nathan's comment, as she said, "The food was quite exceptional.  Delicious, in fact."

"We rather like it that way."  Dawn couldn't help but sense from Nathan's tone of voice, that had the food not been up to par, the cook would have been summarily dispatched to his ancestors. 

"My compliments to the chef," Dawn added, leaning back in her chair.

Nathan made no reply -- Dawn assumed such compliments would probably be passed to the chef by notifying him that he would be allowed to live for at least one more day.  Then Nathan smiled with all the charm at his command -- which was considerable and as Dawn thought about it, very seductive.  She would have to be on her guard not to let his charm weaken her defenses.

"Allow me to welcome you to Lake Mach."

"Thank you," Dawn answered.  "But tell me, I don't recall a Lake Mach on the map..."

"We are private individuals.  Lake Mach definitely exists," he said, gesturing to the lake outside the plate glass windows.  "It's just not specified on many maps.  We rather like it that way." 

Dawn smiled in return.  She was not, however, going to continue that line of discussion.

"It's unfortunate we should meet under these adverse circumstances," Nathan added.

Dawn shook her head slightly, suddenly saddened by the reminder of Gil.

"I have been informed, however" Nathan continued, "That Gilbert is resting comfortably."

Dawn could not help but note that Nathan had been "informed", and that it was unlikely he would have gone to see for himself.  But she only said, "Yes.  I've just come from him."

"As I'm sure you're aware, his condition is quite serious."  Nathan continued, his words carefully chosen.  "It appears he will need to be taken back to Seattle, where the doctors and specialized medical equipment are readily available.  Unfortunately," his voice betraying no emotion, "We may not be able to do this immediately.  A late spring cold front is pushing though at the moment, and there is already heavy rain in Seattle.  It is not good flying weather, and we would not want to take any undue risks.  Still, time may be of the essence."

"Can he be taken by ambulance?"

"I'm afraid there are no roads to Lake Mach.  Our only connection with the outside world is by airplane or helicopter.  We rather like it that way."  Nathan's look became one of pride.  "But we have several aircraft which would be more than adequate.  As soon as the weather clears."

"Of course."  Dawn continued to smile, as she took stock of the man in front of her.  He was above average height (about six six), robust in his stature, and had short and very neat, light colored hair -- the latter a combination of blonde and whitish gray.  His skin was tanned, and except for the white hair, gave him an Arab-like appearance.  The overall effect was that of a white-haired, bronzed giant.  His eyes were indefinable, constantly shifting shades in what might have been a highly specialized chameleon quality.  There was also an overriding sensation of his being extremely old -- even ancient.  Experience had been etched into his face, and then with the most modern techniques of plastic surgery, carefully plastered over.  The resulting facade was one of sophistication and intelligence.  It was not a pretty face, but it was very definitely a powerful one. 

"If there is anything we can do for you..." he began.

"Yes.  As a matter of fact," Dawn smiled to hide her concern, "Gil, Gilbert, had a black briefcase.  I know it survived the crash..."

"I have it," Nathan interjected.  "It was delivered directly to me.  I suppose Thomas must have assumed it was corporate business.  I'll see to it that it's returned to your cabin immediately."

Dawn smiled.  "Thank you.  I'm just relieved it wasn't lost."

"We don't lose things here at Lake Mach," Nathan answered coldly.  For a moment the two simply looked at each other, both smiling, both thinking intently.  Then Dawn broke the contest by turning her chair to face Nathan more squarely across the angle of the table.  At the same time, she backed the chair up to put more distance between them.  It was another classic, maladroit moment.

For Goonie had chosen that moment to approach them, apparently coming with a message for Nathan.  Dawn's abrupt move with her chair caught Goonie squarely between his legs.  One of the short, stocky protrusions on either side of the chair's back did the most damage -- it not only slammed into Goonie's genitals on the way in between his legs, but also caught them as he violently retreated.  His heavy grunt, laced with anguished pain, told everyone in the room the extent of his mortal wounds, as he bent over and used his hands to protect himself from further damage.

Dawn was apologetic, while Nathan was astounded, surprised, and intrigued -- all at the same time.  Goonie, for his part, could never quite deliver his message, his voice now strangely garbled.  As he retreated from the table, Dawn tried to apologize.  Then she turned to Nathan.

"I'm terribly embarrassed."

"Just an accident.  Don't be concerned."  Then with a wider smile, "I'm sure he'll be fine.  In a few days."  Nathan almost laughed, but added, "Certainly not your fault."

"Oh, but it is," Dawn grimly replied.

 Nathan was intrigued and primed for any data point of information.  "What do you mean?"

Dawn admitted, "I have a tendency to have accidents.  Clumsy accidents.  I'm a maladroit."

"Really?"  Nathan glanced down at her stained yellow blouse.

Dawn followed his glance and said, somewhat blithely, "Syrup."

Nathan continued to watch her as she began to recount almost forty years of imperiling others and, occasionally, herself.  "I've been like this for as long as I can remember.  My mother loves to tell everyone that when I was crawling and learning to walk, that anything in the house capable of falling over would come crashing down the moment I went by.  It became so standard at my schools that people ceased being surprised.  I've come to accept it.  It's just that, occasionally, it's tough on others."  As she talked, Nathan's curiosity had been slowly turning to suspicion.

"You seem to have accepted this aspect of your nature with admirable calm."

Dawn shrugged.  "It's part of me.  I don't think I have a choice."

"On the contrary," he replied, "Your lack of lingering embarrassment, your acknowledgment of what one might call a talent, your total acceptance of this aspect of your being..."  Nathan took a deliberate breath.  "One might conclude you use your handicap to disarm and lull the competition."

Dawn was surprised.  "I'm not in competition with that man."

"We are all in competition.  With everyone.  It is our nature."

Dawn sat for a moment, considering the possibilities.  "I don't think it had ever occurred to me my clumsiness could be counted as a 'talent'.  Or that being a maladroit could be construed as a subtle and carefully planned intelligence, a means to somehow manipulate others."

Nathan was quite matter-of-fact about the concept.  "We all use whatever talents seem to present themselves to us.  But we also often hide those same talents in order to appear less threatening, less intimidating.  Intimidation may accomplish many goals, but it seldom discovers the true nature of those around us; whether or not we can trust them, use them, or to be able to anticipate what they will do next.  Knowing what to expect, of course, is essential for accomplishing anything, for ensuring things do not get out of control.  Your talent is just one more technique for misleading and diverting an adversary."

Dawn could hardly believe the passion of Nathan's paranoid paradigm.  He had to be really out of touch, as much as some radical fundamentalists she had encountered.  But it didn't seem wise to contradict him with reality, or to attempt a conversion of his obviously strongly held beliefs.  Instead, she took a page out of the female's don't-rock-the-boat, make-him-think-he's-incredibly-wise-and-naturally-you're-going-along-with-him routine, and told him a story to illustrate his point.

"You're probably right.  I do recall I once began playing chess with a male friend in college.  I wasn't very good.  I had never read any of the books, and didn't really know beans about the game.  But somehow we began playing with him thinking I was a great chess player.  I think he must have mistaken me for someone else.  In any case, when we began, he started out by interpreting my not-very-bright, unexpected, and frankly outrageous moves as brilliant, innovative, and extremely well thought out.  This, in turn, led him to make some really bad moves, and I beat him consistently."

"Did he ever discover his error?"

"Oh, yes.  And then he began to beat me every time.  By the book.  I never won again."

"Interesting.  But probably not relevant."  Nathan continued to study her, as she showed surprise at his rude appraisal of her story.  Abruptly, he asked, "Were you overweight as a child?"

Dawn could only look shocked. 

Nathan forged ahead, justifying his bluntness.  "An overweight child, or one decidedly not pretty, might develop a talent for clumsiness, just in order to gain attention or to be noticed."

Dawn's shock turned to an unremitting stare.  More than anything thing in the world, she loathed people who tried to psychoanalyze her, particularly about her clumsiness.  It was clearly none of their business, and the unrequested advice was never welcome.  She could imagine dozens of equally arrogant replies for anyone who strayed onto such sacred ground.  Accordingly, for just a moment, she considered a biting, scathing retort.

But Nathan's countenance suggested to her that he was unlikely to tolerate such a verbal attack, particularly on his own turf!  Instead, she held her pique in check and said, "I must admit I was a bit of a butterball as a teenager.  But it's not something I like to talk about."  Dawn frowned, trying to convey to Nathan her distaste for the subject.

Nathan pretty well missed her subtle hint.  He simply smiled, thinking he had made his point.  Then he returned to business.  "The Doctor tells me you're Gilbert's fiancé."

"Yes," Dawn lied, a confident smile finding its accustomed place on her face.

"Have you been married before?"

"Yes.  I lost my family in a car accident several years ago."

"How unfortunate.  And how long have you known Gilbert?"  Dawn could not avoid the sense that his tone had undercurrents and undertows which might drag her down.

"Two months."  She quickly decided it was not time to offer additional information.

"Not a long time."  When she didn't object to the assessment he added, "How did you meet?"

"At a workshop."  After hesitating, she added, "The subject was: Death and Dying."

Nathan appeared unimpressed.  "Ah yes, the obsession with death.  So typical of your kind."

Dawn readily took offense.  "It was a mutual interest, but hardly an obsession."

"I'm sure it was quite romantic.  Just the sort of thing to bring two people together." 

Dawn thought she saw the hint of a sarcastic smile on Nathan's face.  But she also felt his intensity and intention.  This was an important interview and Nathan was deadly serious, if not dangerous.  His questions were too precise, too gauged to determine her innermost thoughts to be casual conversation.  The charm was still there, spread like an overdose of hollandaise sauce.  But Dawn was not about to fall prey to it.  At the same time, she could not afford to let him know his charm wasn't working.

Her terse answers did have one unexpected effect.  His questions became more direct.

"And you say you've never heard of Lake Mach?"

"No," Dawn answered simply, wondering why that would be important.

"Perhaps then you're familiar with The Humanki.  Gilbert may have mentioned them." 

Dawn easily said, "No."  At the same time, she was surprised to sense Nathan's deeply felt views on whoever or whatever the Humanki were.  She also realized Nathan had asked the question as if she were connected to a lie detector.  Only in this case, there were no electronics -- only Nathan effectively gauging her response in his own way.  It occurred to her that never having heard of the Humanki was a very good thing for her.  There was clearly no love lost between them and Nathan.

"Perhaps you're into goddess worship.  It seems all the fad nowadays."

Dawn was still flying by the seat of her pants.  "No.  But I've some friends so inclined."

Nathan took a sudden notice.  "Members of the 'Cult of Isis?"

Dawn could only look perplexed.  "I have no idea."

"And the date, May 1, 2011...  Mean anything to you?"

"No," Dawn lied.

Nathan, apparently relieved, began to ease off.  Then he asked, with less outward emotion (but just as direct), "Surely Gilbert has talked about the so-called 'crop circles'?"

Dawn was immediately perplexed.  The change of pace had momentarily caused her to drop her guard.  "No, he's never mentioned them, although I've heard of them.  I believe they're sculptured designs in grain fields, mostly in Southwestern England and probably hoaxes."

"Oh, they're not hoaxes!" Nathan countered, his emotions suddenly piqued.  "A few perhaps.  But the important ones are far too complicated, far too precise to be hoaxes!  Hoaxers don't put together fractal designs such as 'The Mandelbrot' in Cambridgeshire, which is, incidentally, aligned with Cambridge, the principal center for the study of Chaos Theory.  Or 'The Barbury Castle' configuration with its sacred geometry overtones.  'The Serpent' at Hungerford.  Those were no hoaxes!  No more than the five-bladed turbine like device on Andrew Lloyd Webber's estates.  That one was done overnight despite the presence of one of the best surveillance systems in England!"

Dawn mentally took note, recognizing instinctively the threat of the fanatic; the rage characteristics which were surfacing in Nathan as he talked.  She sensed he was very disturbed by the appearance of the crop circles, as if they were something he had no control over and worse yet, could not explain.  From Dawn's point of view, a disturbed fanatic was doubly dangerous.  Quickly, she recovered her previous defenses and returned to watching Nathan with even greater care.

Nathan was still in his own world, his mind rumbling about with thoughts of the pieces that simply would not fit into his private puzzle.  Abruptly he voiced some of his concerns.  "There's also the series of one large and twenty-one smaller circles stretched out in a long looping arc which appeared during the time the Shoemaker-Levy comet was striking Jupiter!  Twenty-one pieces!  Just like the comet!"  Nathan seemed angry at the very idea of their appearance in the latter half of July 1994.  Then, to make his point with finality, he added, "That was no hoax!"

"But where do they come from?'

Nathan seemed even more hostile.  "I don't know."

Dawn decided she needed to lighten things up a bit.  "Maybe they were done by extraterrestrials."

Her answer only made him suspicious.  "Oh?  Do you believe in extraterrestrials?"

Dawn was surprised at Nathan's sudden intensity, but managed to back down quickly.  "Not really.  At least, not on Earth.  But on other planets, sure.  I suppose it's inevitable that there has to be intelligent life somewhere in the universe."

Dawn's answer seemed to satisfy Nathan, and for a second, he seemed to relax.  As if he had remembered where he was and was ready to make the effort to regain his composure.  Throwing on his cloak of sophisticated facade, he politely asked, "May I inquire into your religious views?"

Dawn had reached her limit.  "They're personal."  As Nathan raised his eyes, Dawn took the opportunity to divert the conversation.  "You haven't told me about the lodge here at Lake Mach."

Nathan smiled slightly, as he casually remarked, "We call our little group, The Patrons."

"You mean, as in a patron of the arts?"

"Naturally.  Of course, it depends on what you call art.  We have very specific tastes."

"I'm sure."  Dawn quickly decided not to pursue that train of thought.  Instead she smiled and said, "I've always found it intriguing that a patron is considered a good thing, someone to be sought.  But for a patron or anyone else to be patronizing, that's not so good."

Nathan's enigmatic reply was, "It's a strange language.  Most of them are."  Then, primarily to himself, he muttered, "I sometimes wonder if that had been a mistake."

'What in the world does that mean?' Dawn wondered.  But then she decided her best defense was a good offense.  Without hesitating, she asked, "And what do you do?  The Patrons I mean."

Nathan's reply carried with it a notable sense of pride.  "We take care of things.  Plan for the future.  Keep things on an even keel.  Maintain control.  Above all, maintain control."

"Sounds fascinating.  And you do it all from Lake Mach?"

"Oh no.  We're all over the world.  This is just a retreat, one of many locations."

"It's a very nice place."

"We rather like it that way."  Nathan paused for emphasis, but only for a second.  "Obviously, rank must have its privileges.  Those with influence must of necessity be rewarded for their efforts.  Just as the Father God has rewarded his faithful, his flock."

Dawn stiffened as she felt the impact of Nathan's last statement.  'Was Nathan a closet fundamentalist?' she wondered.  'Strange!  He didn't seem to be religious.  But the talk about a ‘Father God’...  Was there something more there?'

"And just as the Father God rewards his followers," Nathan continued, "He must also discipline and punish those who would violate his covenants."

Outwardly, Dawn was able to keep a nondescript smile on her face.  Internally, her emotions and thoughts were running amuck.  Nathan was suddenly displaying all the qualities of the fanatical high priest, the dark side of The Hierophant.  It was Dawn's first exposure to what was promising to be a long and eventful journey.  When Dawn did not reply, Nathan continued, with a heavy emphasis, "The masses must be controlled and never allowed to desecrate the ground upon which they stand."

"The masses?"  Dawn could only look perplexed.

Nathan immediately lightened up.  "I'm reminded of a cartoon from the Wizard of Id.  The king is walking by a window, when he hears the cry, 'The peasants are revolting!'  The king then says, 'They always have been!'"  Nathan chuckled, as he added, "I'm afraid I must agree."

Dawn gamely tried to smile herself.  Her efforts weren't particularly successful.  Whereupon she tried another tact: diversion.  "Several years ago," she began, "I was in a play called Anastasia.  She was one of the daughters of the Czar of Russia."

"Yes, I do seem to recall her," Nathan added.  "Lovely creature.  Her name comes from the Greek word, meaning 'of the resurrection'."  Looking intently at her, he asked, "Did you know that?"

"No.  But how very interesting."  Dawn then retreated to her story.  "The one thing I remember about the play -- and I can't remember if it was in the script, or as part of our research in preparing for the performance -- but there was the story of the Czar and his family touring in South America.  At one point they came across army ants on the move.  I remember how dismayed they were that seemingly nothing could stop those army ants.  It was trivially easy to kill a single ant, but the mass of ants could never be killed or even diverted from their course.  The Czar of Russia at the height of his power was helpless before a mass of insects.  It was an interesting lesson in the power of the masses.  Somehow I've always kept the story in the back of my mind."

Nathan was delighted at Dawn's tale.  "Exactly!"  Given the impetus, he took off.  "You've captured the situation in a nutshell!  A single person is easy to deal with; always has been.  But when there are just too many, when they breed like flies in an uncontrolled population explosion, then they become dangerous.  That’s been the problem from the outset, when they first learned to breed, when they first fell from grace.  There were just too many of them, even for a god to deal with.  They must be controlled, and in whatever way that works.  It's not a time for squeamish solutions!

"This is the reason, the justification for FEMA's rules," Nathan continued, his passions obviously tapped.  "In emergencies, the authorities must have the power to separate families!  It's expedient, efficient, and absolutely required!  More importantly, it also serves to control the rabble rousers by holding their families hostage!”

"As Patrons," Nathan added, "We must be advocates of many causes.  Not just popular or socially acceptable ones.  When decisions affecting millions must be made, then they must be made!" 

Dawn could see she had struck a nerve.  She could also sense a desperation on Nathan's part to somehow justify himself, to perhaps authenticate a prior fateful decision he had made.

His eyes began to glow with a fervent intensity.  "Tell me...  Do you think the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified?"  He stared at Dawn with anxious anticipation, leaning forward toward her as if hanging on every word she might utter.

Dawn knew immediately her answer was of critical importance to him.  Carefully, her intuition honed for any clue, she began, "It certainly shortened the war.  And thus saved many lives."

"Exactly," he responded with enthusiasm.  "War is not for the timid.  It was a question of saving the invasion forces from devastating losses."

Dawn tried to regain some of her integrity.  "Of course, it was a bit tough on the Japanese."

Nathan waved aside the idea and leaned back in his chair.  "The Japanese brought it on themselves.  Their cities cried out for the vengeance of the Father God."

Dawn was about to retort, when Nathan seemed to enlarge upon the subject.  Turning to her, in a low and deadly earnest tone, he said, "Tell me, what do you think?  Is it okay to A-bomb two cities, two cities that have -- to use the biblical criteria -- not ten righteous men among them?"

Dawn had no idea of how to answer the question.  There seemed to be a confusion of exactly which cities.  Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or somewhere else?  'Were there plans in the works for two more victims of modern nuclear technology?'  The thought horrified her, and for a long agonizing second, she had no idea how to answer.  Then a rescue came from an unexpected quarter.  A woman had come up to their table from behind where Dawn was sitting, and, standing directly behind her, addressed Nathan.

"Excuse me, Nathan.  You have an urgent communiqué."  Dawn was struck by the woman's voice.  It was entrancing; deep and mellow, filled with strength.  It was definitely not the voice of a servant or a messenger.  There was something far more.  Furthermore, the woman’s sudden arrival also had the endearing quality of saving Dawn from having to answer Nathan's last question.  Dawn decided she would like the new arrival.  Perhaps even bless her. 

Nathan, however, was not easily deterred.  "Can it wait?"

"I'm afraid not.  Los Angeles."

Nathan was begrudgingly convinced.  Turning to Dawn and taking her hand, "Please excuse me.  Duty calls, but I hope we can continue this delightful conversation soon."

Dawn agreed, smiling, and vowing to avoid any such continuation like the plague!

Rising, Nathan looked at the woman.  "Anna.  If you would be so kind..."

"Of course," the woman said, as she moved to take Nathan's place.

Nathan turned to Dawn, "May I present one of my associates, Ms. Anna Zedek.  Anna, this is..." his gallantry quickly faltering for lack of having bothered to learn her name, "Gilbert's fiancé."  With the introductions complete, he left.

As the woman came around to shake her hand, Dawn was stunned!  Anna was the woman in Dawn's dreams!  To the tee!  Flaming red hair, unmatched power in her carriage, and the eyes of a goddess/high priestess/what-have-you, she was an exact match!  Dawn was literally shaken, while Anna acted as if nothing were amiss.  "Delighted to meet you," she said.  When Dawn continued to stare in shocked amazement, Anna sat down and added, "And I'll wager you have a name other than 'Gilbert's fiancé'."

The question, not being overly difficult, allowed Dawn to answer.  "Dawn Riordan."

Anna smiled in her best intoxicating style.  "A beautiful name.  For a beautiful woman."

Dawn kept grasping at straws, trying to regain her composure.  'It would be quite clever of me,' she thought, 'to actually say something!'  The verbal response to her charge was, "Thank you."

"How's the interview going?"  Anna's smile was broad but unreadable.

As was the rest of her.  Dawn could feel a wavering of Anna's power of intimidation, and simultaneously a suggestion of Anna being a friend to Dawn.  It was a strange combination.  At the same time, Anna was actually harder for Dawn to probe than Nathan.  Dawn's five physical senses confirmed that, indeed, Anna was sitting before her.  But her sixth sense of the woman was absent.  It was for Dawn, exceedingly strange; as if she were seeing someone talking, but suddenly hearing nothing.  It left one groping.  Still, Anna was being kind.  A potentially suspicious act at Lake Mach.

"I think," Dawn finally replied, "we were just talking.  Was it an interview?"

Anna smiled, and looked deeply into Dawn.  Her quest apparently successful, Anna decided Dawn knew better, but that she had decided not to voice it.  Which was okay.  After a pause, Anna said, "Nathan does not have conversations.  He directs, he interviews, he briefs or debriefs.  But I've never known him to converse.  I suspect it's entirely too intimate for him."

Dawn finally smiled -- even a hint of laughter popping up.  "That, I can believe."

Anna's tone changed just enough to indicate she wanted to revise the topic of conversation.  "How long have you and Gil been engaged?  Apparently, he's been keeping secrets from us."

"Just a couple of weeks," Dawn finally replied.  Then to try to make it sound more credible, along with an appropriate act of shyness and embarrassment, she added, "Actually, a week and three days."

"Ten days?"  Anna looked surprised.  She did not look as if she believed Dawn, but apparently was sufficiently kind not to call Dawn a liar.

"Yes," Dawn answered.

"I trust you love him very much."

"Very much," Dawn quickly replied.

"Gil is an exceptional man, and deserves an exceptional woman.  A Psyche to his Eros.  I hope you're up to the challenges."

Dawn's reply was confidence itself.  "I think I am.  We're very good for each other."

"I'm sure."  Her smile lightened. "Gil had already mentioned your name.  He just failed, apparently, to add that the two of you were romantically involved."

Dawn decided to gently set the record straight, "We are very much in love."

"No doubt," Anna conceded.  "But love itself can be quite a challenge.  It sometimes requires a great deal of one.  Particularly, under extreme circumstances.  Like now, for example."

"I think I'm up to it," Dawn replied.  "I fully intend to stay with him through all of this."

Anna's eyes twinkled with a new found seriousness.  "And beyond?"  It was a loaded question.  When Dawn did not reply, Anna said, "Naturally, we are all very concerned for Gil.  Myself in particular."  Then her voice grew more pointed and precise.  "It would be the worst kind of tragedy for you to lose him now, while you're here at Lake Mach.  The worst kind of tragedy."

Dawn tried not to countenance the intensity of Anna's words.  "I don't intend to lose him." 

"Of course not."

Dawn suddenly began receiving a different feeling from Anna, as if Dawn's intuitive radio receiver was picking up a new station, or one that had previously been silent.  Anna's interest in Gil's connection to Dawn had at first seemed to be predicated on a genuine and personal concern for the man.  Dawn was aware, of course, that Anna might also have been probing to find a weakness in Dawn, the potential for manipulating her in the future.  It had been the latter possibility which kept Dawn on the defensive, adamant about standing up and rejecting any implied lessening of her relationship with Gil.  But now, suddenly, there was something else: The distinct sense Dawn's fate was inextricably entwined with Gil's.  His prognosis, in effect, also that of Dawn's!

More notably, from Dawn's point of view, Anna had seemed suddenly to allow her into her mind.  Dawn was picking up from Anna the clear and definitive message that Dawn was in danger as long as Gil was.  Gil's demise might very well lead to her demise.  But if Gil could survive long enough to make it back to Seattle, Dawn could as well.  There was the sense that women had very limited powers at Lake Mach (with the possible, very notable exception of Anna).  While Nathan had shown no signs of being under the spell of Anna's strikingly beautiful presence, there had been the suggestion that he treated her with respect (perhaps even having possibly learned the hard way the consequences of not doing so).

Abruptly, the intuitive communiqué shut down.  Dawn was left only with the warning, but with no hint of Anna's actual intentions.  Anna might have inadvertently let her guard down, giving Dawn the opportunity to see the lay of the land.  And even then, Anna could still be a potential danger.  Or.  Anna might have intentionally protected Dawn by purposefully alerting her of the dangers.  The problem was that there was no way to know for sure.  Dawn would have to take her clue from Gil's earlier warning, 'Trust no one!'  Gil had not made an exception for Anna, and thus, there was no reason for Dawn to make a special allowance for her either.

Dawn had been left to her thoughts for a brief moment.  Then Anna's head turned slightly, as if to hear better.  A thoughtful expression descended over her face, as she again faced Dawn head on.  "I'm afraid I must return to my duties.  And you'll want to be getting back to Gil." 

Dawn suddenly realized her potential information source was leaving.  For no logical reason, Dawn seemed compelled to ask one more question.  "Who are the Humanki?" she blurted out, just as Anna had begun to rise.  Dawn quickly realized she was probably stepping on someone's toes.

But Anna merely smiled.  "I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say.  You'll have to ask Nathan." 

'Fat chance,' Dawn thought.  But before she could reply, Anna had stood up, and with only the slightest attention to Dawn, walked out of the room and into the interior of the lodge.

Dawn rose as well as she watched the other woman leave the room.  Anna's stride and sense of immediate purpose impressed Dawn.  'That woman,' Dawn thought, 'could have played the part of Pallas Athena without batting an eye.  She was a "woman of independent means" and obviously adept at coping very successfully in a patriarchal society.  And she certainly didn't waste time on pleasantries.'  Then Anna's injunction for Dawn to be prepared returned and Dawn began walking out of the lodge, heading back to the cabin.  Goonie, apparently, was still nursing the ultimate insult to his manhood and was nowhere to be seen.

Outside, as she began to prepare and plan what to do next, Dawn remembered Gil's urgent preparations for their trip to Lake Mach.  They had been given very little notice, and Gil had seemed particularly distracted by the need to finish up everything before leaving.  One item in particular had been a letter, one Gil had insisted on typing on his manual typewriter, just before leaving the office and heading for the airport. 

The thought of Gil's manual typewriter caused another stir of emotion (on top of all of the others), as Dawn recalled his idiosyncrasy of always using a manual typewriter.  Gil believed it avoided any possible security risk of a word processor being hacked into, or even the more remote possibility of picking off the electrical signals from a simpler electric typewriter and somehow decoding the information.  Gil didn't think the latter was probable (even though he was fairly confident of the former), but he also believed the very latest advances in spy technology were seldom imagined by the public until years later.  And in the case of his urgent letter, he had even gone to the trouble of using two blank sheets as pads behind the letter stationary itself, in order to prevent anyone from picking any information off the typewriter's roller.

As a further precaution, Gil had included the blank sheets when he wrapped his letter and several enclosures in tinfoil and placed the entire contents in an oversized envelope.  The idea that a letter could be deciphered through the envelope was not that far-fetched, as any professional and accomplished busy-body can attest.  While this might seem rather paranoid to the casual observer, Gil had always been quick to note that paranoia is the illusion that someone is out to get you.  If someone really is out to get you, then it's not an illusion, and thus not paranoia.  Furthermore, the reality of the world was that there was a massive amount of data collection occurring in the most mundane of situations, with the express purpose of either preventing the individual from taking advantage of someone or some organization, or to control those individuals, and/or to "get them".  Or all of the above.  Gil, working in an area where knowledge was power, simply took precautions.

Dawn had watched Gil address the envelope (by hand), but then in the rush of getting out of his apartment, she had not paid it any further attention.  Thinking back, she realized she had not seen him put a stamp on it.  Nor had she seen Gil mail the letter.  Inasmuch as she had been with him constantly thereafter, from the time of leaving the office until boarding the private jet, she felt certain he had not mailed the letter.  The question now, was whether or not it was in his briefcase.

Back in the cabin, she went directly to her room, but there was still no briefcase and thus no letter.  Deciding the problem would have to be addressed later, she went into Gil's room.  There she found a stranger -- a man Dawn assumed to be yet another security goon -- alone in the room with Gil.  Dawn ignored the man and focused her attentions on Gil, who was still resting, but who seemed to be a bit more active, moving slightly in the bed as if dreaming.  Dawn silently took the empty chair by the bed and took his hand.  Her first sensation was that he was back!  She felt his peace, a rambling sense of continuity, and a vagueness clouded in mists.  But he was back in his body!  Perhaps he was looking for an opportunity, or just a good reason to come back into consciousness.  Waves of relief swept over her.

Her relief was then interrupted by a sudden feeling of being stared at.  Challenged by such audacity by the hired help, Dawn abruptly turned to confront her visual assailant.  But before she could say anything, she saw him clearly for the first time and immediately realized that he was not a typical goon.  His appearance and demeanor was such that he could easily have been Nathan's brother (and in fact, was).  For a moment Dawn could only look at him, surprised by his appearance.

Then he smiled.  "Pardon the intrusion, Miss Riordan.  I'm Kurt.  I was watching over Gilbert while the nurse was out of the room."

"That's very kind of you.  Thank you."

Kurt silently acknowledged Dawn's gratitude with a slight bow, just as one of the nurses entered the room carrying a large, automatic syringe and shot-injecting device.  Seeing Dawn, the nurse suddenly hesitated, as if caught in the act.   Dawn began to feel a wave of panic as she stared at the huge needle and gun.  The nurse quickly turned to Kurt, as if expecting further instructions.  Kurt, meanwhile, being a man of the world, responded with a creative, spontaneous lie.

"Are those the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever shots?"

The nurse, verbally stumbling in her attempt to go along with the ruse, managed to reply, "The Rocky Mountain...?  Oh yes.  The shots.  Yes, of course."

Kurt then smiled at Dawn with the expression of a prison warden watching his least favorite prisoner head for the gas chamber.  "We've been having a run of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in recent weeks.  The disease can be quite serious, but by inoculating everyone...  Including yourself..."

As Kurt and the nurse were attempting to perpetrate their fraud, Dawn's mind had flashed back to the essential ingredients of an episode between her and Gil, when she had casually mentioned a television commercial to him.  The commercial had been advertising the means whereby a pet owner could have an implant inserted into their pet and thereafter keep track of their movements with an electronic monitoring device.  Gil's expression had suddenly turned into one of outrage.  Dawn had been more than a little shocked at his reaction. 

Until he explained that any such technology could just as easily be used on humans.  Initially, according to Gil, they would justify it for aliens in the United States, just in case the aliens turned out to be terrorists.  Then prison inmates could be implanted with devices so that their movements could always be monitored, particularly in the event of an escape.  Implanting parolees would also be a logical procedure.  But then, soldiers and sailors could also be implanted, with the rationale of their being more readily found and/or rescued in cases of Missing in Action or for whatever reason.  Then children, in order to forestall possible kidnappings -- even from an estranged parent.  It would then be only a matter of time before justifying virtually every member of the population being implanted and monitored, with or without their permission, and in many cases without their even knowing they were being implanted!  Bills had already been introduced in the Congress to implant "biometric identifier microchips" capable of being read by machine and traceable by satellite, and readily inserted into babies at birth and in alien workers upon their arrival in the United States.  In Gil’s mind, it was the ultimate invasion of privacy, and yet another example of a coming police state; 1984, a decade or so late.

The idea had horrified Dawn, and now her intuition was telling her it was about to happen to Gil and herself.  Thinking quickly, she asked, "Were you planning on giving a shot to Gil?"

Kurt's surprise was evident.  "Well yes, naturally.  On Doctor's orders, of course."

"Unfortunately, Gil has allergies to several medicines."

"You're kidding!"

"No, I'm not," Dawn replied brazenly.  "I've had a few reactions to shots myself.  I think I'd like to talk to the Doctor before either one of us receives a shot.”

Kurt's face reddened, unaccustomed to ever being thwarted by a woman.  For a split second, he contemplated her immediate, not to mention cruel and unusual, execution.  But then he turned instead to the nurse, who had remained painfully silent as she watched the interplay between the heavyweights.  His reply was one of misdirection.  "Why don't we leave Miss Riordan and her fiancé alone?"  The nurse quickly acquiesced to Kurt, and setting the syringe on the table by Gil, followed Kurt out of the room.

Dawn stood up immediately and went to the syringe gun.  There she saw on the back of the gun, an electronic "2".  Her panic increased, as she looked around for hints of any solution which might offer themselves.  Grabbing Gil's bed smock, she wadded up a section, and then fired the gun point-blank into the cloth.  The electronic "2" became a "1".  She then felt the cloth and could just barely feel a hard object partially enmeshed in the hospital-style clothing.  With no further hesitation, she fired the gun a second time, this time into the heel of her shoe.  The gun's electronic signal now read "0".  Accompanied by a heavy sigh, she put the gun down and returned to her chair.

It was ten minutes before a second nurse arrived on the scene.  Without a word, she smiled at Dawn, and then seeing the syringe gun, crossed the room to pick it up.  Her surprise was evident.

"I think one of the other nurses has already given Gil his shot.  In fact she even gave me one.  Something about a Rocky Mountain Fever..."

As Dawn smiled and unconsciously rubbed her hip, the nurse accepted the story.  This angel of mercy was not into questioning her superiors.  Taking the syringe gun, she verified that Dawn had received the second shot (as opposed to the first), and then left the room to record the information.  Dawn relaxed slightly, sensing nothing more would be said.  For the moment she was safe, but the nagging realization that she and everyone else would always have to be on their guard in the future continued to nag at her.

Dawn went back to attempting a telepathic communion with Gil.  Within moments, Goonie's presence entered her mind and confused the picture.  The well dressed thug had quietly entered the room, hardly daring to interrupt her.  But, of course, he had.  It was a bit like staring at someone sitting in front of you at a lecture.  Stare at them long enough and eventually they will turn to find out what’s happening.  It's inevitable, with the only variable being how long they will take to turn around -- the latter dependent only upon how interesting the lecture was to the person being stared at.  Interesting lecture; longer time.

Goonie had begun staring at Dawn when he entered the room, in large part to make sure she didn't back up with her chair and finish him off for good.  Then when she saw him, he quickly offered her Gil's briefcase.  Dawn took the offering from the thug's fully extended arms, while he tried to keep the maximum distance between them.  Then he left the room, as quickly as a very loose decorum allowed.  Dawn had become for Goonie a person to be feared.

Dawn ignored Goonie’s fear meter being pegged, and quickly noted the combination locks were in Gil's selected setting.  She frowned as she realized Nathan had not even bothered to lock the case after opening it and sorting through its contents.  She then opened the case.  No letter.  She went through each of the contents, through each small pocket of the case.  Still, no letter.  'Damn!' she thought.  She was sure Gil hadn't stamped it or mailed it.  And yet it had seemed so important to him.  'But if it was important,' she thought, 'why wasn't it in the briefcase?  Or, if it had been there originally, why had it been taken and then Nathan make no mention of it?'

Dawn closed her eyes, thinking intently.  She had not seen the letter in the briefcase, and thus its absence was not prima facie evidence of foul play.  'However,' she asked herself, 'why urgently write a letter, wrap it for secure mailing, and then leave it in the office.  It makes no sense!'

Her struggle with the enigma quietly took second priority, as she realized Gil was rousing.  Her observation was then confirmed by the nurse, as the woman rose and quickly left the room to get the doctor.  Gil opened his eyes almost immediately, and Dawn stood up in order to stare down directly at him.  Whispering, her voice crisp and distinct, she said, "Welcome back, Mr. Lenki.  We've missed you."

Gil smiled, looking up at her.  Then his eyes closed for a moment, before reopening.  Moving his head slightly to look directly at her, he swallowed several times before asking, "You okay?"

Dawn's smile beamed delight.  "I'm fine.  The question is how are you feeling?"

"Could be better," he managed.  "Massive headache." 

Something told her they had precious few seconds left in private.  She quietly said, her tone giving the sense of urgency.  "The letter you wrote before we left.  It's not in the briefcase."

Gil roused slightly, still drugged but managing to open his eyes.  The mention of the missing letter seemed at first to have no effect.  Then, quietly he said, "The letter.  Important.  Mustn't fall into the wrong hands.  Don't..."  With that, he took a deep breath, and quietly lost consciousness.

The doctor took that moment to enter the room, followed by the third nurse.  As he began to check Gil's condition, Dawn turned away, wondering if the letter had already fallen into the wrong hands.  It seemed a likely possibility.


Beginning -- The Fool

Forward to:

Chapter Two -- The Tower


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