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 22, 2009

Thawing Out: Division

Jack pulled me back inside the building, bracing his legs carefully against the frame so as not to lose his balance. My legs trembled despite being firmly back on solid ground and I felt like I was falling while standing still. The deep cut made by the broken glass into my hand slowly began to make itself known. At first it was only a distant throbbing but it soon turned into a more immediate pulsation and a burning sting. Jack did not let go after he pulled me up but instead turned my wrist over so the sliced palm was facing upward. With steady fingers he began pulling out the bits of sharp, protruding glass while keeping an eye on my face to make certain he was not causing too much pain.

I know I should have thanked him, said something, anything, but whatever words were supposed to come out had fallen out the broken window leaving me with nothing more than adrenaline and anger coursing through my veins. It was all I could do to stand still and allow Jack to tend to my injured hand. All I wanted was to find a way to go after Olivia and the crystal before the trail went cold. I watched with clinical detachment as Jack pulled the glass out and dabbed at the blood with a handkerchief pulled from his jacket's pocket. Impatience threatened to overwhelm me and were it not for the firm grip he had of my wrist, I doubt I would have stood still at all.

Tom poked his head in the room and then disappeared for a moment only to return with a first aid kit. I winced as they applied the antiseptic cream and breathed deeply while they wrapped my hand in gauze, securing it with white waterproof tape on top. The silence between us was probably saying more than we could have said with words anyway. Tom's shoulders slumped and his eyes flashed away anytime our gazes crossed. Jack's shoulders were stiffened and his jaw was set tight, probably not unlike my own and likely for similar reasons. We were an unhappy group and every one of us had a failure hanging over our heads which seemed all the worse because it had happened in our own office, where we were supposed to be secure and safe and ready for anything. Olivia's team had made our security systems look like useless flashy toys and our team look like a collection of amateurs.

The three of us walked together back into the main room where Kyra and Dr. Michaels were working together to get the computer systems back up and running securely. A squad of building security chose that moment to burst through the door, guns pointing in every direction. Tom coughed and I huffed in disgust at their tardy arrival.

"Right on time boys," Jack said, with his scowl deepening and his face darkening. "Put the guns away and grab some brooms. You might as well clean this fucking mess up now that you're here."

Watching Jack walk up to security team and push his way through them, I realized I had never seen him truly angry before. He knocked two of the men down and when third thought about getting in his face I thought for certain Jack was going to pick him up and throw him against the wall, but the man threw his hands up and backed off just in time to avoid the wrath. I turned my attention to Kyra and the computer systems.

"Where are we?" I asked.

With her back to me Kyra did not bother to so much as pause in response to my question. It was the wrong thing to do. I grabbed the back of her chair and spun her around to face me. Her beady eyes glared up me as if she thought I was going to back down if she looked bitchy enough. I kicked the seat of her chair right between her thighs, ramming it back into the conference table behind her. Kyra's eyes grew very wide and her mouth dropped open staring up at me. Her hands started shaking and she held them up in the air not dissimilar to the security guard Jack had backed down.

"I asked you a question and I expect an answer. Whatever your attitude problem is, this isn't the time for it, so you are going to get your head on straight and do your job," I said through gritted teeth. "Now I need a status on the systems and I need satellite imaging to track our thieves and I need it all yesterday if not sooner. Are we clear?"

Kyra glanced over at Tom as if looking for protection but his face was lacking the sympathy she expected and she turned away almost as quickly as she turned to him. She swallowed and closed her mouth with her upper teeth biting down onto her lower lip. For a moment I thought she was going to burst into tears, but I was too mad to care.

"Are we clear?" I repeated.

"Y-yes, ma'am," She said.

She took a deep breath and swallowed again before visibly forcing herself to relax. From the corner of my eye I saw Joseph Candle enter the room, but I chose to ignore his presence for the moment until I had the answers I wanted. I let my foot off Kyra's chair once I knew I had made my point by the look of submission in her eyes. She spun back around to her computer and noticed Mr. Candle watching us in the process. For reasons I can only guess at, his mere presence rattled her more than my exposition of barely controlled temper.

"I'll have all systems back up in less than five minutes. It will take me a few more after that to get satellite coverage, but I should be able to track them within fifteen minutes," Kyra said.

"Thank you. Let me know when you have something," I said.

I walked over to Mr. Candle sensing he wanted to talk but did not want to interrupt anything. Tom followed me over and Jack joined us a moment later, having given the security team a piece of his mind and ripped them a few new holes for excrement. In the back of my thoughts I found it interesting that Jack and I had each managed to find a local source to unload our frustration upon and in both cases the recipients would be hard pressed to argue they were not deserving.

"It was Olivia," I said. "I thought we were watching for her."

Tom cleared his throat next to me and shifted his weight on his feet. I turned my head to look at him and noticed the faint coloring in his cheeks, his eyes gazing downward, his tightly controlled breathing, slight opening of his mouth, all of it together added up to feelings of guilt, embarrassment or a combination of both. It was far from unexpected considering his role in providing security and the morning's event had revealed a very large hole in the middle of that security. Far from having a comprehensive understanding of the security systems in place, I understood enough to know Olivia had to have acquired more than few fancy pieces of equipment to have bypassed the systems with the speed and efficiency we had just witnessed.

"We were," Tom said. "But I hadn't considered it even remotely possible she would come at you here."

"She wasn't here for me," I said.

"No," Tom said, nodding.

"Is she working for Kemp?" I asked.

I turned to Mr. Candle as I spoke. For some reason everyone else was looking at me and it was making me uncomfortable to the point I was tempted to check and make sure my clothing was still covering the parts it was supposed to be, but I fought the urge silently telling myself that at least one of the men would have the decency to tell me were such a problem anything more than a creation of my imagination.

"That would seem to be a distinct possibility," Jack said.

"Do we go after them?" Tom asked.

"How do we not?" Jack replied.

"There are larger concerns," Mr. Candle said.

I was pleased to note, I was not the only one staring at Mr. Candle after his ambiguous statement. Jack was not sporting the same quizzical eyes and parted lips of Tom, but his response was more revealing in its own way. His eyes narrowed and his mouth in particular remained closed, leading me to conclude, Jack knew at least some of what I knew and for some reason, Tom did not. The circle of intrigues was enough to give me a headache or maybe it was just the aftereffects of being second best to Olivia Stratford again.

"Our most advanced security measures were just rendered useless in a matter of minutes," Mr. Candle said. "And I have an official request for Q5's presence in the Arctic. Losing our heads pursuing thieves who are clearly more prepared than we are at the moment, is not an option."

"So we're just letting them go?" Tom said, his head tilting to the side and lips pursing.

"We will pursue them, but it must be done with an appropriate amount of forethought and planning, not on the spur of an angry twitch," Mr. Candle said.

"I'm not talking about going off half-cocked here. It just doesn't make any sense not to track them and take action if the opportunity presents itself," Tom said.

"They might even lead us to Kemp if we don't show our hand," Jack said.

"I agree," I said.

"Even if I were to agree, the timing could not be worse. I've already promised you would be in route to the Arctic before the end of the day," Mr. Candle said.

"What could possibly be in the Arctic that is more important than going after that crystal?" I asked.

It only occurred to me after I spoke that my statement might raise some questions I was ill-prepared to answer. The main reason I considered the crystal important was obviously not common knowledge and coming up with an alternative that sounded credible would either leave me sound like a fool or a novice, not that I saw a large difference between the two.

"A longship," Mr. Candle said, as if that explained everything.

Behind me I heard a rustling as Dr. Michaels rotated in his chair at the conference table to face us. His eyebrows raised themselves high on his forehead and he practically jumped across the room to join us. Obviously, Mr. Candle's statement meant something to him.

"As in a drakkar?" Dr. Michaels asked.

"Yes," Mr. Candle replied. "Early reports indicate it to be in nearly perfect condition, possibly preserved in ice for the last few hundred years."

"Or someone's idea of a joke," Tom said.

"At the risk of sounding stupid," I said. "What's a drakkar?"

"I assume you have heard of the Norse or Vikings?" Dr. Michaels asked.

I nodded when he glanced at me for confirmation.

"A drakkar is what they called their large exploratory vessels. They were equipped with sails and oars, allowing them something of a free reign in setting their course," Dr. Michaels said.

"If it's been sitting around for a few hundred years, I'm sure it can wait another day or two," Tom said.

"Unfortunately, that may not be the case," Mr. Candle said. "The discovery was made during an evaluation of a melting ice shelf.  The longship is still partially encased in the shelf but the shelf itself is expected to break off into the sea with then next few days at the most, possibly within hours. If that happens before the vessel can be freed and salvaged it might well be lost to the depths of the Arctic."

"Not that it doesn't sound interesting, but why us?" I asked.

"Dr. Michaels is one of the foremost experts on the Viking civilization and his theories regarding their exploration of the Arctic and the North American continent, while respected by most scholars, are heavily disputed because of a lack of evidentiary finds in the region. This longship, if genuine, could be the missing proof," Mr. Candle said.

"I can understand the importance for Dr. Michaels and I certainly wouldn't want to withhold  him from partaking in the discovery, but it hardly seems relevant to the rest of us," Jack said.

"I have deemed it relevant and that should suffice, Mr. Barker," Mr. Candle said.

"V," Kyra said, from behind me. "Satellite images are coming up now."

Jack and Mr. Candle remained fixated on one another as I excused myself to join Kyra at the conference table. I had the impression things were about to explode between the two men and a distraction was exactly what was needed to diffuse the tense situation. I only hoped Kyra would have something fast enough to do the trick.

Standing behind Kyra, looking at the projected visual monitor, I noted the images were stamped with date and time. Kyra was searching through the images for anything giving an overhead view of Quondam Tower. Within seconds she had located the appropriate frames and I could see the first of Olivia's team leaping from the building. Kyra timed the images forward but the entered the shadows of other buildings before they touched down at the street level. The satellite images were unable to clearly distinguish them or an escape route from the angle.

"Is there another angle?" I asked.

Kyra huffed before turning her head away from the screen and looking up at me. There was a hint of annoyance in her expression but her eyes clearly communicated she was in no rush to challenge my will or authority again. On another day I might have been pleased, but my attention was otherwise focused. If there was any possible way to gain an advantage over Olivia or Kemp or better, both, then I wanted it. Enjoying a victory over Kyra did not even register in comparison.

"Not from satellites, but I think I've locate a traffic cam that might give you what you want." Kyra said.

A moment later the projection shifted from an overhead view to a street level image in gray scale. Olivia's team landed one by one and piled into the back of a white utility van. Lastly, Olivia came down, off target from the others by a little, but still close enough. She climbed into the front of the van and it sped away toward the interstate. Kyra rewound the image and froze it with a good view on the license plate. From there she zoomed in and began a DMV records search for pertinent registration information. I assumed it was stolen but knowing where it was stolen from might offer a clue.

"Gentlemen," I said. "Kyra has a vehicle to track."

"I should be able to follow them using a combination of traffic cams and satellite images," She said.

Tom and Dr. Michaels quickly crossed the distance between us and joined me behind Kyra. Jack and Mr. Candle followed but only after exchanging looks which clearly indicated their conversation was far from over. Kyra pulled up a grid of small cam frames with a grid of similar sized satellite frames resting below them. A few clicks of her mouse and each frame was numbered in order of progression of Olivia's escape route and then  the oldest frames began to rotate off as their progress moved into new territories.

"What the..." Kyra said, staring at the images where a series of frames were popping up and flashing with question marks in the middle of them.

"Problem?" I asked.

She glanced over her should at me and the returned her gaze to the projection in front of her. Fingers typing and clicking away, and for a moment I thought she was going back to ignoring me, but fortunately I was wrong. My patience in dealing with her attitude was completely up in any case and I suspect she knew it as well.

"The van's gone," She said.

"What do you mean gone?" Tom asked.

"Gone, missing, vanished, not fucking there," Kyra replied, continuing to assault the keyboard with increasingly heavy blows of her fingers.

"Vans don't just disappear," Tom said.

"People don't normally jump out windows 32 floors up in the middle of a city either," Kyra said.

I noticed two of the satellite frames were nothing but fuzz and one of the traffic cam's had gone black. Kyra seemed to be jumping the time index within those frames but each time they approached the point where the van should have been within their reference the pictures went out for 30 seconds. The places where they should have reappeared were function fine only no sign of the van.

"What's this?" I asked, pointing to the frames.

"It where the van should be but something disrupted the images on both the satellite and the traffic cams. I could jam the traffic cams myself but the satellite I can't figure," Kyra said.

"It looks like the same phenomenon as when Kemp's boat disappeared," I said.

"What are you talking about?" Jack asked, stepping forward and leaning in front of me to look me in the face.

"When we were looking for indications on who attacked us in the Philippines, Kyra discovered Kemp's boat disappeared off the ocean and it happened during a break down of the satellite transmission, identical to this," I said.

"I'd say that's pretty solid evidence he's involved," Tom said.

"There remain other possibilities, Mr. Clark," Mr. Candle said.

"Like they might both be working for someone else," I said.

I had not meant to say the thought out loud, but as it crossed my mind, my tongue simply forgot to filter. The end result was me standing there with five people looking at me like I knew something they did not. It's probably true that I do, but I really don't like being the center of attention.

"You have a theory Miss West?" Dr. Michaels said, being the only one apparently brave enough to ask.

I nodded at the images and took a deep breath. It was worse than standing up in front of a classroom and giving an oral report. I told myself to relax and just go with the thoughts running around in my brain, even if they did not make sense to me there was at least a remote possibility someone else would know how to make it all make sense.

"There are a lot of pieces missing here," I said. "The dots lead toward each other but they don't connect so the natural conclusion is there is another source that connects things. It's like the Chinese we dealt with, they weren't strictly working with Kemp. It was more like they each were playing separate roles with a common purpose. I think it's the same with Olivia. There is more to all of this than we're seeing." 

I was tempted to glare at Mr. Candle as I said the last. There was little doubt he was holding back information from us, his reaction to the theft of the crystal and come to think of it, the theft of Galileo's compasses as well, were evidence enough that he was aware of factors beyond what he chose to share with the five of us. I wanted to trust him though, trust that he was doing what was best, not for himself, but for the girl who needed him. For that reason I kept my gaze away from him and my accusations to myself.

"You're right," Jack said. "It's time we start filling in some of the blanks. Kyra, can you narrow down on a map exactly where the van disappeared?"

"Of course," Kyra said, with a quick glance over her shoulder, flinging her hair around.

"What are you thinking, Mr. Barker?" Mr. Candle asked.

"Tom and I are going out there," Jack said.

I was tempted to say "me too" but I was guessing that would get shot down quickly. Truthfully, I had enough excitement for the day, but my curiosity was as strong as everyone else's when it came to how objects as large as boats and vans were vanishing into thin, or garbled, air. There was also the flatness that had fallen over Mr. Candle's usually rounded cheeks and the slight flaring of his nostrils along with the narrowing of his eyes which all added up to him not liking the thought of Jack and Tom going to begin with.

"Perhaps I haven't made myself clear," Mr. Candle said. "Q5 is assigned to a mission in the Arctic region and will not be pursuing Olivia Stratford or the crystal at this time."

"The Arctic mission is a cakewalk and certainly doesn't require the full attention of this team," Jack said. "Miss West and Gene can handle it."

The fact Jack thought I was capable of handling a mission without him and most of the rest of the team was something of a mark of pride for me. Of course, why would he want to send me away rather than work with me on the puzzle around the theft of our crystal? Tom was a natural choice for the investigation, but Kyra seemed like she would be less useful than myself but then there was her computer skills which might be invaluable in assembly the clues they were hoping to discover. I decided I would have to take it as a compliment being sent out alone with Dr. Michaels otherwise I would drive myself nuts finding reasons it was an insult.

"Miss West has indeed proven to be rather resourceful, but I don't feel comfortable splitting the team's focus and things may not be as simple as they seem in the Arctic. If the longship is a hoax of some sort then it also undoubtedly a trap," Mr. Candle said.

"All the more reason we shouldn't all be together. If it is a trap I'd say Miss West has the best chance of avoiding getting snared out of all of us," Jack said.

I was far from clear on how he came to that conclusion but decided I probably shouldn't argue the point. It was true enough that I had avoided Olivia's trap, but in the Philippines it was Jack who avoided the trap and me who ended up completely entangled. My track record was far from pristine, but it did feel good to be trusted and respected even if it was just Jack's way of getting what he wanted.

"At least send Miss Jax as well," Mr. Candle said.

"Fine, but Tom and I are investing the disappearances and if possible, retrieving the crystal. In the wrong hands that crystal could be very dangerous," Jack said.

"The jets fueled up and ready. I had Cathy assemble full Arctic gear for you and it's already aboard. You'll be rendezvousing with the USCGC Healy and they'll get you to the site from there," Mr. Candle said, turning to me and pointedly ignoring Jack.

I nodded.

"Have Cathy get the limo ready. Kyra, get Jack and Tom all the data they need on the boat and van disappearances. Dr. Michaels, let's see what you've got on the Vikings. Seems like I might want to brush up on my history," I said.


  1. Ashley, I'm running out of compliments, but you are doing very well.
    You seem to be doing good research, this is impressive.
    Warm hugs,

  2. So with Jack gone, V should get a chance to truly lead during this trip. She's done pretty well in the past but it's still a big responsibility to shoulder. I'm also wondering if Kyra will stay out of V's way after the confrontation in today's chapter.