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.

October 28, 2009

Thawing Out: Blowing In The Wind

"The shelf will hold," Dr. Kingston said, her voice obscured slightly by the static over the radio.

After dropping down to the ice shelf we had split up, Dr. Kingston needed to verify the integrity of the ice in our immediate vicinity and Dr. Michaels and I needed to verify the drakkar was authentic or at least not an obvious fake. I could hardly fathom someone going to the trouble of making a detailed replica just to lure us into the middle of the Arctic, but I guess if you were going to all the trouble in the first place you would probably do a better than cursory job.

It was breathtaking on first sight. The ice and snow distorted the details to an extent but even through it all, it was easy enough to recognize for what it was, a ship out of place and quite probably, time. There were no signs of the Vikings who must have accompanied the vessel on its journey. The sails and oars had been stowed and whatever cargo had been carried was long since gone. Dr. Michaels noticed every detail and more but none of it had yet convinced him the drakkar was the authentic relic we hoped it was.

"Excellent," I replied into the radio in my hand. "We're still examining the ship, but might as well get your teams working since we are short on time."

"Will do," She replied.

A few feet away from me, Dr Michaels was climbing on the ice, attempting to get a better view of the interior of the vessel and doing a lot of slipping, sliding and grunting in the process. With his back to me I decided it was safe to smile, enjoying the somewhat humorous view as I reattached the radio to my belt. As soon as I had it hooked, not so easy with the bulky parka, thick gloves and unfamiliar equipment, the damn thing squawked again.

"V?" Kyra called.

"Yeah?" I said, pulling the radio free again.

"That storm is picking up speed and intensity," She said.

"How long?" I asked.

"Four hours, maybe less if the wind speed keeps increasing," She said.

"Keep me informed," I said.

"Yes, ma'am."

I rolled my eyes, but decided not to say anything about her new way of addressing me. I clipped the radio back onto my belt and went to join Dr. Michaels. I was sure I could do nothing to help authenticate our find, but maybe I could help him do it faster and at the very least I would appear to be doing something to anyone watching us. I'm not paranoid or anything but I figured between Kyra and the Captain of the Healy, there was a better than average chance a satellite was providing a nice overhead view of everything happening around me and being intently watched by those who had nothing better to do.

"So, what do you think?" I asked.

Dr. Michaels glanced at me for only a moment before returning his focus to the icy treasure beneath him.

"It's either the real thing or the worst fake ever made," He said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"It has similarities to drakkar previously discovered however," Dr. Michaels said. "It has some striking variances in its construction."

"Most of the vessels you are comparing to it were built in the 11th century or earlier, right?" I asked.

"Correct," He replied.

"And this one is 12th or 13th century," I said. "It seems logical there would be changes in that period of time."

"Perhaps," Dr. Michaels said. "But the materials available to the Norse should not have significantly changed."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"A ship this far from Europe would have likely been constructed in Greenland or Iceland using wood from either north eastern Canada or north eastern America," Dr. Michaels said.

Dr. Michaels looked at me, apparently wanting a visual clue I was still with him. I nodded my head, although I was far from understanding the complexities behind his explanation.

"This would typically mean one of the local varieties of Oak or Ash would be used," He said.

"And this isn't?" I asked.

"I'll need a lab to verify," He said. "But the color is wrong."

"Maybe the act of freezing changed it," I suggested.

"It's possible but I've seen boats this coloring before," Dr. Michaels said. "Only they were built in Central and South America."

"Are you saying this isn't a Viking drakkar at all?" I asked.

"No, it's clearly of Viking design and there is little doubt it's been frozen in place for several hundred years," He said. "The runes on the mast might help explain things, but the wood suggests this vessel's origins might change everything we think we know about the territory explored by the Vikings."

"Then is it safe to say we need to preserve this vessel?" I asked.

"Most definitely. It will undoubtedly require years of study before it is accepted as authentic. I am, however, reasonably confident based on the probable age as determined by the encasing ice," Dr. Michaels said.

I nodded, having come to the same conclusion myself. Perhaps those years of study will reveal something interesting about the origins of the drakkar, such as it was built someplace where Vikings are not supposed to have been or maybe some Mayans or Aztecs built a drakkar of their own and went exploring, but none of that made the find any less valuable, if anything, it made it infinitely more valuable. I pulled the radio free from my belt again.

"We're a go," I said. "Let's get this thing out of here."

"I'm sending the divers in to deploy the platform and then we can start cutting," Dr. Kingston said.

"Keep me informed," I said. "That storm has picked up the pace so this is going to be close."

The crews had their job to do and with any luck they would get it done in time. Dr. Michaels and I had another job though, just in case we did not succeed in saving the relic. We set up equipment to take detail photographs of the ship. It would be devastating to lose the drakkar but if we at least had the ability to create a model of it in one of Kyra's simulations we would at least have something left to study and possibly find answers. The ice was the biggest obstacle, while much of it was surprisingly clear, there were large patches where dirt and thickness obscured the details frozen deep inside.

We used the time we had to relocate and take as many pictures as we could from as many angles as we could. At the final set, the winds had picked up and I could feel the occasional droplet of rain on my face. I unhooked my radio, thinking we had to be running out of time.

"Kyra," I called. "How's our storm doing?"

"The main body of it is still at least an hour out but you should be feeling the leading edge now," She replied.

"Right," I said. "Dr. Kingston, how much longer?"

There was a long pause of static and I started to wonder if she had not heard me, but then the radio crackled to life.

"We're on the last section now. Twenty minutes, maybe less." Dr. Kingston said.

"Let's push on the less if we can," I said. "Dr. Michaels and I will be joining you shortly we just need to pack up our equipment first."

"That would be good. You'll want to be on this side of the cut once we're through." Dr. Kingston said.

"Understood," I said.

It took us a few minutes to pack up the cameras and the various other tools Dr. Michaels had employed to ensure the accuracy of our recording. The wind grew stronger with each passing minute and by the time we had joined the others it was getting hard to stay standing and harder still not to slip on the ice when walking.

The cutters were almost finished with their work. As they had progressed on the job, they had already taken the time to secure the platform to the ice. All that remained was to evacuate people and equipment and tow our makeshift iceberg out to sea and away from the destructive storm headed our way.

In order to maximize efficiency, one of the helicopters had been designated for towing duty and equipment transport and the other, personnel transport. The personnel transport would return to assist in the towing after dropping everyone but its flight crew aboard the Healy. Everything was going about as close to plan as could possibly be expected.

Overhead the equipment helicopter was hovering in place and lowering it's cable with a basket to assist in pulling up the equipment. Dr. Kingston and her people were packing all the salvageable equipment into crates. Dr. Michaels and I already had our stuff ready for the lift. Three loads later, and all the equipment was secured aboard the helicopter and it moved itself into position to begin towing the platform and its cargo out to sea.

The second helicopter moved into position to starting picking up the people when my radio crackled to life again. I took a few steps away from the others and the hovering helicopter in order that I would be able to hear or hopefully hear whatever message was coming through. I pulled the radio from my belt and turned the volume up to its maximum.

"Say again," I said. "I didn't catch your last."

"The storm is going to be on top of you in minutes and it's gotten worse," Kyra said.

"We're evacuating the personnel here now and they've just started to tow the ship," I said.

"The sooner you're out of there, the better," Kyra said. "I'm reading severe wind turbulence and indications of cyclones forming on the water."

"Is the ship going to make it clear in time?" I asked.

"If the storm stays on course it should be fine, but with these winds I can't be certain it will," She replied.

"We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed then," I said.

I watched the first two people slowly being pulled up and into the helicopter. The wind had them waving all over the place on the cable, but although the ride looked rough, they made it safely inside. What was probably the most amazing was the helicopter itself was holding its position without wild swings as the wind continued to increase. Hooking the radio back to my belt I rejoined those waiting for a ride.

In the distance the storm roared its arrival at the shelf. We all turned to look as the first edges of the ice were ripped away by a twin pair of dancing cyclones. If the ice landed in the water or melted in the air, it was impossible to tell because with the spirals of wind and rain came with dark clouds that blacked out the sun and all its comforting light. I realized we weren't going to make it out ahead of the storm with a half dozen of us still waiting to be picked up.

"Tell me that wire can take four of us at a time!" I said, over the roar.

Growing closer and closer by the second was a spiderweb of cracking ice and flying debris. Everyone was watching it in horror instead of focusing on getting out. Even my own instinct was to stand still and watch the destruction, as frozen in place as the ice beneath my feet. I snapped myself out of it though and forced myself to turn my back to the scene.

I grabbed Dr. Kingston and turned her away from the destruction as well, shaking her to get her attention focused on me. She trembled under my hands but looking toward the cable seemed to steady her nerves and bring her back to the moment instead of the moment to come.

"It's rated for for a maximum weight but it's got a safety factor built in just in case," She said. "I think we can risk four but no more."

"Get your people hooked on. Dr. Michaels and I will take the next lift." I ordered.

I took hold of Dr. Michaels arm and turned him away from the storm and the others so we could speak without being overheard.

"We can't wait here for the next lift or that storm will be on us before they can even start to pull us up," I said.

"We can't out run a storm," Dr. Michaels said.

"No, but we can buy ourselves a few seconds," I said.

"The helicopter needs to hover in order to lower and raise the cable, if we move it will take time to reengage its hovering mode and likely we will lose any time we might otherwise have gained." Dr. Michaels explained.

I had not realized the technical details of what we were doing. Whether I wanted to accept it or not, Dr. Michaels was right about moving, it was pointless. The only hope we had was that the cable was down in time for us to hook on before the storm threw us into the air and quite likely, the freezing ocean beyond. We turned in time to watch the four others begin their journey upward, swaying back and forth in the wind.

The temptation to watch the storm coming was almost too strong to resist, but I knew if I allowed it to capture my attention again, any chance I had of escaping would be gone. Dr. Michaels seemed to understand the same thing and we both kept watching the ascent and the helicopter.

My radio crackled on my belt. I fumbled with it for a moment before pulling it free. My stomach churned with apprehension even though I could not have known the message waiting to be relayed on the other end. Something told me, it was not going to be good news.

"Miss West?" A male voice asked.

"Here," I replied.

"The autopilot has failed, I'm attempting to hold position manually but you'll need to stand clear of the cable zone until it's down and then hook on as quickly as you can because I won't be able to hold it long in these winds," He said.

"Understood," I replied.

What I wanted to say was better left unsaid, but I muttered it in the wind as the next best thing, "Can anything else go wrong?"

If Dr. Michaels heard me, he gave no sign. He grabbed my arm and guided me back away from the zone the pilot was attempting to put the cable down in. I should not have looked, but I glanced out toward the storm only to realize it was already practically on top of us. The cyclones had split apart since the last time I had looked but while they had left us in the space between them, they were on either side of us and clearly making it next to impossible for the helicopter to hold its position. If not for the ice breaking like a fractured mirror all around us I would have told the pilot to come back for us after the leading edge of the storm had passed us by. Of course it was hard to tell if things would be any better then and there was a fair chance they would actually be worse.

The ice around our feet began to crack. I could feel the ground beginning to shift beneath me and I had to hold on to Dr. Michaels to avoid falling down. How he braced himself and kept me up as well, I do not know. We both looked up at the cable, no doubt entertaining versions of the same thought; The ice was not going to hold much longer. The cable was no more than halfway down and with the wind curling it in the air it actually looked worse. The helicopter was moving back and forth as well, clearly struggling to hold its position against the multi-directional winds.

The helicopter dropped like a cartoon character who suddenly realized the ground had run out beneath his feet and gravity resumed its control. Like a whip, the cable lashed downward toward us and even as the helicopter stabilized itself a few feet above the ice, the cable slashed into the ice and would have cut right through Dr. Michaels and I if he had not shoved us apart at the last second.

I rolled on the ice feeling it giving way in places beneath my body and sharp edges cutting into my winter gear. The cable smashed itself in to the ice and cut a divide nearly as neat as the carefully sliced one we had made to free the drakkar. The part of ice I was laying on dropped a few feet and water splashed up on the edges and the ice started to tip as my weight had the ice unbalanced. I scrambled to a sitting position, shifting my weight to counteract the movement and after a delicate moment, stabilized my icy raft.

Looking up I discovered Dr. Michaels standing at the edge of the other side of the divide created between us. Behind him, the helicopter and regained some of its altitude but it remained lower than it had been. One of the cyclones had changed directions again and appeared to be heading straight for the helicopter. Dr. Michaels was looking for someway to get down to me or possibly to direct me to get up to him, but without some tools it was clearly going to be impossible.

"Hook yourself on and get out of here!" I yelled, pointing at the cable behind him and hoping he could understand enough of what I was saying.

Dr. Michaels turned around, possibly to look where I was pointing or maybe to see what was happening. He grabbed the cable and hook himself on and then gave a signal with his hands to the helicopter. I expected they would pull him up and if I was very lucky they'd be back to find me, freezing but alive, after the storm had passed. Dr. Michaels had other plans.

He took a few steps away from the edge and I could no longer see him. I thought I was alone and I was almost ready to admit to myself I was scared and then he came flying off the edge and diving straight down for me. I barely had time to blink before his arms were wrapped around me and we were both ripped up into the air as the helicopter altered it course and dragged us through chasm of splintering ice while its winch worked overtime trying to pull us aboard.

When my brain finally started working again, I tried to hook my harness to the cable but found it an impossible task while flying through the air. If anything my efforts were only making it harder for Dr. Michaels to hold on to me.

"Just hold on to me," He said. "I'm not letting you go."

I nodded and smiled at him as I wrapped my arms as tightly around him as I could. His face was turning red with the effort and his eyes were focused on some distant sight, probably an end only visible in his imagination, but no matter how much the wind tossed us around and how heavy I had to seem, he held tight. Even once we were safely aboard the helicopter he held on for a few more moments. Right then, he could have held me forever and I would never have complained.

Back about the Healy we waited out the storm by spending hours reviewing the data we had collected on the drakkar. Kyra was easily able to build a computer model and strip away the ice from the recordings and measurements Dr. Michaels had made. While I was waiting for the model and some news on whether our plan had ultimately succeeded or failed, I penned a letter commending the work crews, scientists, and pilots who had risked their lives on the venture. I had no way of knowing if it would ever be seen by anyone that mattered but I handed it to the Captain in a sealed envelope. There was little I could say about Dr. Michaels that would do any good in that forum, but I mentioned his heroics anyway and who knows maybe someday it will matter. For the moment all I could do was thank him and somehow that felt insufficient to the cause.

"Miss West," Dr. Michaels said, as soon as I entered the computer lab. "You have to see this."

I walked over to the computer station he was sharing with Kyra and peered over their shoulders. They were looking at a set of carvings which were undoubtedly some ancient form of writing, but it might as well have been Greek to me, or Norse I believe.

"What am I looking at?" I asked.

"The central pole of the longship," Kyra said.

That much was obvious. If my eyes did not sufficiently express the thought to Kyra, nothing ever would.

"It's usually called a mast," Dr. Michaels corrected. "In Norse though, it was called a lag."

"And the point is?" I asked.

"Norse captains often had their journey carved into the lag, hence some historians believe this to be the origin of the captain's log, although many linguists disagree. All of that is irrelevant," Dr. Michaels said. "This 'pole' has a carving of what is clearly a map and that is what I wanted to show you."

Dr. Michaels clicked his mouse to zoom in on the area of detail he was describing. The image filled the screen and I had to suppress a shudder. My mouth hung open in the air as I tried to find a reason to explain what was clearly impossible and yet equally and unquestionably real.

"Recognize it?" Dr. Michaels asked.

"The crystal," I said.

Dr. Michaels nodded and said, "It's nearly identical. Maybe the crystal was older than we thought."

"Or maybe there is more going on here than what's on the surface," I said. "Have you translated the text?"

"I'm working on it," Dr. Michaels said.

"Let me know when you have it," I said. "I'll be back in a bit."

I left the computer lab, intent on finding Dr. Kingston. There was something she had said in the conference room before we had left to rescue the drakkar which was now ringing in my head. I found her with the Captain sitting in the conference room and neither of them seemed surprised to find me looking for them. I sat down with them at the Captain's invitation.

"Storms aren't supposed to break up ice shelves," I said.

"Ordinarily, no." Dr. Kingston said.

"You weren't up here studying global warming, you were here to figure out who did this, why and possibly how," I said.

Dr. Kingston swallowed hard and looked to the Captain. He simply leaned back in his chair and smiled at me. I guess it took me longer to put together than he expected but I had other things on my mind before. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together but instead of giving me an idea of what the bigger picture was, all I had figured out was the puzzle was even bigger than I thought.

"Go ahead," The Captain said. "Tell her."

I looked from the Captain to Dr. Kingston wondering what they knew that I should have known.

"We don't really know all that much. Someone or something has been causing events to occur well ahead of when they should. We first suspected something when the Larsen Ice Shelf B collapsed in 2002. All indications were it should have lasted several more years but its actual collapse happened almost spontaneously," Dr. Kingston said.

"I thought that was explained as a misunderstanding of the thermal dynamics at work?" I said.

"A convenient explanation, but you don't really believe the best scientists from all over the world would have all got it that wrong do you?" The Captain said.

I looked between them again, wondering if they were pulling my leg but the longer I stared the more obvious it became, they were dead serious.

"Understand," Dr. Kingston said. "We aren't telling you global warming is a hoax, it's not. What we're saying, is someone is taking advantage of it and doing a damn good job of making every expert on the planet look like a fool no matter how conservative or liberal their estimates."

"Who would do that and more importantly, why?" I asked.

"That is the million dollar question, Miss West," The Captain said. "Did your Dr. Michaels find anything of interest with the drakkar?"

Obviously, there was the map and the fact it matched the one on the crystal found in Fu Xi's vault was definitely of interest. How could Fu Xi, the Norse, a map of an island, and global warming be connected? They would not know any more than I did if I shared the details and something told me the less people who knew about the maps, the better. I kept it to myself.

"Nothing so far," I said, as a random thought crossed my mind. "Dr. Kingston, is the sea level today significantly higher than it was say around the 13th century?"

"No, actually it's lower than it was then," She replied.

At my questioning glance she explained further, "The world entered into the Little Ice Age somewhere between the early 14th century and the mid 16th century. You can see evidence of the drop in sea level all through Europe where cities with once thriving ports were forced to locks and channels to continue have access to the sea and the trade it brought."

I nodded, suddenly understanding exactly why the computer models had failed to find a match for the shoreline on the map.


  1. Ashley, you never fail to excite, of course I mean your writing. LOL
    A brilliant eposode, thank you.
    Warm hugs,

  2. ASH,

    Outstanding post had me at the edge of my seat...really enjoying reading this.

  3. That was a nice moment between V and Dr. Michaels. Their relationship has really changed since they first met. I knew he'd turn out to be a great guy after all.