New to Quest Five?
The stories are best enjoyed when read in order beginning with May 1, 2009.

Welcome To Quest Five
Allison Beaumont is having trouble finding a job after college until one day the wealthy and powerful Joseph Candle offers her a job at his rather unusual corporation, where mistakes can lead to bare bottomed spankings. Adopting the alias of Virginia West, she joins four highly skilled colleagues, racing around the globe in search of mysterious treasures, but wherever she goes, trouble is sure to follow.
Note: Some stories contain scenes of a sexual nature, corporal punishment, non-consensual corporal punishment, and strong language which some reader's may find offensive. If you feel this material might be inappropriate for you please move on to another blog by clicking the next blog link at the top of the page.

August 1, 2009

Diving In: Outside Looking In

The return trip from Italy was as awkward as when we left. Instead of spending the flight pretending to be pensive and withdrawn, I was actually pensive and withdrawn. All things considered, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Mr. Barker was professional and to look at him you would never have guessed what he’d been doing to me in the hotel just before we left. Tom left things at a sympathetic tilt of his head and a wink. Kyra blushed a little and did her best to ignore me. I think she was afraid I might start confiding in her if she hung around me too long. She had nothing to worry about, but I guess it will take some time before she figures that out for herself.

No, if not for Dr. Michaels everything would have been as normal as normal can get when you’ve got a red posterior. He was insufferable. The gloating eyes were the worst. They couldn’t seem to look anywhere that wasn’t either my backside or related to it. Then there was the teasing. Oh not as in direct teasing, but that subterfuge kind that makes it impossible to do more than flutter your eyelashes and pretend you didn’t notice the slight attempts at compassion were nothing less than thinly veiled taunts. I considered honoring my threat to Mr. Candle and kicking him out the nearest emergency exit, but ruefully realized it would only end with more of the same if I so much as slapped his dirty hands. Sadly, he knew that reality all too well.

It was morning when we landed back in California. Mr. Candle was eagerly awaiting us with a limousine to take us back to QI headquarters. He applauded as we approached him and patted us each on the back with praise for a job well done as we made our way into the car. Funny, that’s all I had wanted back in Italy but nobody had been able to figure out that simple desire.

“I told you I would find it.” Dr. Michaels said.

Seatbelts were buckled and the long black car chauffeuring us was already on the move. I felt like we were in a hurry. Maybe it was my imagination, but even with Mr. Candle’s exuberance I couldn’t shake the feeling that more was going on than I knew about.

“That you did. That you did. It’s absolutely fantastic.” Mr. Candle said.

“Strictly speaking, Gene didn’t find it.” Mr. Barker said.

I hadn’t expected anyone to mention the fact.

“Oh let’s not get caught up on little details of who first laid eyes on them. What matters is they’ve been found and all of you are responsible for that.” Mr. Candle said.

Dr. Michaels couldn’t have been more relieved at Mr. Candle’s reticence to explore the specifics of how the compasses had been found. I had hoped for a single moment to get a little extra recognition that would make everything worth it. As the moment slipped away I couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Barker had been making a point to Dr. Michaels or to me.

“Have we learned anything from the formulas yet?” Kyra asked.

She had sent digital photographs of the formulaic charts on each compass before we had left the hotel in the Italy. I hadn’t thought much of it at the time and even still it seemed insignificant. Obviously, there was an intense desire to study and understand the exact significance of the compasses. Why did I have a nagging feeling then that the compasses were less important than the purpose behind our finding them? What that purpose was, remains a mystery, but I am certain there is more going on with our treasure hunting than has been shared with me.

“We’ve been able to confirm your early theories about the speed of light and there appears to be an intuitive understanding of relativity. All of it is at least two hundred years ahead of where mathematics was supposed to be in the 17th century.” Mr. Candle said.

“Do we know for certain they are Galileo’s work?” Mr. Barker asked.

“Of course they are the work of Galileo. They bear all of his signatory marks and the material and discoloration are all consistent with the time period.” Dr. Michaels said.

“We’ll do a radiometric dating on the compasses once we get them to the lab.” Mr. Candle said.

“They weren’t anywhere the computer models suggested and I think we should be prepared for the possibility they might be fakes.” Mr. Barker said.

“Preposterous.” Dr. Michaels said.

“We’ll approach them with appropriate skepticism, but other than their unexpected location do you have any other reason for your suspicions?” Mr. Candle asked.

Mr. Barker shook his head.

“No, just a feeling that it was all a little too easy.” Mr. Barker said.

“I assume you mean there was no trouble?” Mr. Candle said.

I struggled not to blush as I held my breath, praying no one would mention my trouble.

“None.” Tom said. “I can’t remember the last time we found something so quietly.”

I almost sighed in relief.

“Interesting. Maybe we are finally getting ahead of our competition.” Mr. Candle said.

“Or maybe we were setup.” Mr. Barker said.

“No point in worrying about it. We’ll take all appropriate precautions and deal with whatever comes of it.” Mr. Candle said.

“I for one could do with a few more trips like this one.” Kyra said.

Would that be trips where you are ignored? Or perhaps she meant trips in which she got to participate in finding something? Oh no I’ve got it. Trips where someone, not her, gets a humiliating spanking at the hands of Jack Barker. I can see the allure.

“If you’d learn how to use your gun, it wouldn’t be so stressful for you.” Tom said.

“I know how to use it.” Kyra replied. “Unlike you, I just don’t like to.”

Tom sighed.

“Well nobody’s perfect.” He said.

“Speak for yourself.” Kyra said.

I kept quiet as the conversation continued. Listening to them I noticed how comfortable all of them were around each other. I was jealous. Maybe in time I’ll be part of the group, but for now I’m the outsider. Even after finding the compasses I hadn’t been able to be gracious enough to win their respect. Ironic, it was all I really wanted and in trying to get it, I’d pushed it farther away.

Back at the office I was surprised by how everyone had something to do. They all scattered off to their offices except Kyra. She prefers to work at the conference table and nobody seems to mind. I made my way to my office without any idea of what I was supposed to be doing. Then Mr. Barker appeared in my doorway.

“I’ll need a complete report from you. Detail everything from the reasoning that led you to the compasses, all the way down to everything you observed at the physical location.” Mr. Barker said.

I blinked at him, a little surprised at the request.

“I’ll need it this afternoon and when you’re finished, Mr. Candle would like to see you down in his office.” Mr. Barker said.

My thoughts immediately focused in on the latter part of the statement. What did Mr. Candle want to see me about? My gut said it was nothing good.

“Do you know what about?” I asked.

“No idea. Just finish your report and get down there.” Mr. Barker said.

I nodded my head and before I could verbalize my affirmation, he had walked away. I turned to my computer and pushed my worried thoughts into the background. I would find out soon enough and thinking about all the possibilities wasn’t going to accomplish anything of value.

The report was simple enough to compile. It took a little less than two hours to complete. After a quick review for errors, I sent it off to Mr. Barker. I shoved off from my desk and made my way to the elevator before I could spend any more time thinking about where I was heading. No one even seemed to notice me leaving.

Mr. Candle was sitting behind his desk, hunched over and squinting at the computer screen before him. As I walked over to him, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was intruding. Unlike my previous visits to his office, Mr. Candle made no attempt to make me feel comfortable. The hairs on the back of my neck told me it wasn’t a good sign.

“You wanted to see me?” I said.

It was all I could do to keep my legs from shaking, standing before his desk. He glanced up at me and then returned his focus to the computer.

“Not particularly.” He said.

I took in a deep breath and decided Mr. Barker was going to find out just what I thought of his little joke.

“You’ve embarrassed me, Miss West.” Mr. Candle said. “Dr. Michaels expressed concerns about your attitude and I placated him rather than taking him seriously. It seems, according to Mr. Barker’s report, that I made a mistake.”

Mr. Candle’s tone assured me it was not a joke.

“That’s not entirely fair.” I said.

“Isn’t it? I asked you to tread carefully around Dr. Michaels and from what I hear, you did precisely the opposite.”

“I believe we also discussed an exception in the event he was wrong or he was encroaching on my area of expertise.”

“Indeed we did. As I recall I requested you have facts to back you up. You proceeded to make ridiculous accusations without a single fact supporting your wild theory.”

“I was right.”

“You were wrong.”

“Excuse me? I’m the one who found your goddamn compasses.”

“Don’t take that tone with me Miss West. Finding the compasses is the only reason I don’t fire you right this minute. You are part of a team, but if you can’t find a way to work with them instead of against them, you’re worse than useless. You’re dangerous.”

“The only person on your supposed team who even listened to me was Kyra. How am I supposed to be part of a team that excludes me?”

“Stop playing politics and trying to show off. You want the others to listen to you? Maybe you should try listening to them first.” Mr. Candle said. “If you can’t get your head on straight about this, then you should resign now before someone gets hurt.”

“Why am I here?” I asked.

“A very good question. Perhaps you should take some time and think about it.”

“I’m not laughing, Mr. Candle.” I said. “The only thing I know for certain about this job is I don’t know what it’s all about.”

“Until you prove yourself capable of handling the larger details I have no intention of sharing them. It’s entirely up to you. Either you get it together and prove my faith in you is justified or you walk away.” Mr. Candle said.

Call me predictable, foolish or just plain stubborn, but I wasn’t about to walk away. I’m fairly sure Mr. Candle knew that too.

“Was there anything else then?” I asked.

My tone was dismissive as if I was daring him to do more than lecture me.

“No, I suspect the point has already been made.” Mr. Candle said.

I gave a curt nod and turned away. My heels clicked sharply as I marched to the elevator, leaving Joseph Candle behind without a second glance. Kyra had sympathetic eyes for me when I entered the Q5 room, but I ignored them and her. I told myself I was through with all the games. I kept walking until I was standing in Mr. Barker’s doorway. Tom was inside, lounging on the corner of Mr. Barker’s desk and by the sounds of the conversation they were going over my report.

“You’ll excuse us Tom. I need a word with Jack.” I said.

It was the first time I had addressed Jack Barker as anything other than Mr. Barker, but Joseph Candle was right. It was high time I ditched all the politics and got down to business.

Tom couldn’t have been more shocked if I’d walked in naked, but wisely kept his mouth shut and left without complaint. Jack leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow at me.

“What’s up?” Jack asked.

I closed the door.

“That’s exactly what I want to know.” I said.

I couldn’t read his thoughts as he stared at me from behind his cluttered desk. His face was dispassionate, the exact opposite of mine, but his eyes revealed something more, a curiosity perhaps. My demand for information lay in the thick silence between us and as our eyes met I wanted him to feel every bit of my determination. I wasn’t walking out without some answers.

Jack folded his hands together in front of him and leaned forward in his chair. I softened my gaze, feeling he was taking me seriously for the first time since we had met. He gestured at the chair in front of his desk and I sat down without the fuss I think he expected. I could have hid my face and never talked to him again after Italy, but there was nothing to be gained from acting on the embarrassment. I wondered if he might try to douse my resolve by bringing up the incident. If he did, he would quickly find I wasn’t as ashamed as I should have been.

“Why are you here?” Jack asked.

I laughed. It wasn’t supposed to be a joke and he could not have known how much of one it was. The question was in its very essence the same one I was asking him and the irony was unfortunately lost on him.

“Did I say something amusing?” Jack asked.

“You have no idea.” I replied.

“So enlighten me.”

“I’m tired Jack. I’m tired of all these stupid games. I want answers. I want to know the real story behind those compasses and I want to know just what this danger is that everybody keeps talking about.”

“I’m not playing games. I don’t have time for them.”

“Then why don’t you just answer my questions?”

“I don’t have your answers.”

“I don’t need ones made for me. The truth will do just fine.”

“The truth? The truth is I don’t know any more about those compasses than you do. You found them in a very unusual location which makes no sense to me and if you hadn’t been with Kyra every moment of our trip over there I would suspect you of planting fakes there. Obviously, you never had the opportunity to do something like that but my gut tells me something is terribly wrong with those compasses and when we get the results back from the radiometric dating, I’ll bet we determine they are fakes.”

“Who would bother planting fakes for us to find in a location you would never have looked?” I asked.

“That’s the million dollar question and also the answer to the second part of your question. There are other teams out there looking for the same things we are looking for and some of them will stop at nothing to find these artifacts first.” Jack said.

“So, your saying one of these unethical teams planted fake Galilean Compasses in a picture frame at a monastery which was literally last on the likely locations list? If that makes sense to you, I dare say you are paranoid.”

“I’d rather be paranoid and alive than oblivious and dead.”

I chose to ignore his clich├ęd response and move on beyond the subject he was trying so hard to avoid.

“What’s the deal with Dr. Michaels?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“The guy is completely full of himself and it doesn’t take a genius to notice that nobody around here actually likes him. Why do you all put up with him?”

“Miss West, Gene may well have the personality of a Great White, but his contributions to this team’s success in locating artifacts is unparalleled. You don’t have to like him, but you do need to get along with him.”

“Fine, but why is it I get the impression the compasses are the first things you’ve successfully brought back?”

It had only been a guess until then. His face remained dispassionate but a little of the color drained from it and then he swallowed, probably not even consciously.

“Who told you that?” Jacked asked.

“No one, but I’m right aren’t I?”

“I’ve answered your questions Miss West, now it’s your turn to answer mine.” He said. “Why are you here?”

I smiled again.

“I’m just asking questions.” I replied.

It was strictly true but not the answer he was wanting. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything else to offer.

“I suggest you concentrate on your work and smoothing over those feathers you’ve ruffled since your arrival.”

“I’ll take it under advisement.”

“If there is nothing else then? I have work to do.”

“I‘ll leave you for now, but make no mistake, we‘re not done.” I said.

As I walked away, I could feel Jack Barker’s eyes on me. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant to think of him staring at me, but I’m guessing his thoughts really weren’t of the pleasant variety. There was definitely more going on in Q5 than anyone was saying and for some reason they were all a little nervous about me figuring it out. It probably would have been smartest for me to have quit and walked away, but it’s not in my nature to walk away from a challenge. I wonder if Joseph Candle knew that when he picked me?

4 comments:

  1. Ashley,

    Excellent story, that Dr. Michaels sure is full of himself. I like the way Mr. Jack Barker did kinda stick up for Virginia. Can't wait to keep reading. You are doing a fantastic job

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  2. Looks like the spanking didn't slow her down at all. I'm looking forward to seeing how she handles the next mission.

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  3. Ashley, mystery piled on mystery, great writing.
    You are keeping up the interest, I wonder if the doctor is a plant.
    Warm hugs,
    Paul.

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  4. It seems like everyone knows everyone elses role and area of expertise. But no one knows V's not even V. It seems that even if the made up some story about her understanding te motivations then maybe people would have listened...

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