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 25, 2009

Thawing Out: The Ice Trap

The trip was pleasantly uneventful, a brief conversation with my companions followed by a long almost restful nap until we landed in Alert. I had hoped to settle something with Kyra in route, but my attempt ended in utter failure. Is it my fault she refuses to talk to me or is the real problem her in the first place? Jack might not like the answer I am thinking and to tell the truth, I don't really like it either.

"You're not happy with me," I said, taking the seat directly across from her and donning my best concerned, friendly coworker expression.

The flicker in her eyes was all the confirmation I needed. She hid it well enough though behind the half-hearted smile and faked innocence demonstrated by the slightly raised eyebrows as she brushed her hair away from her face to make sure I could see them. Her restless hands unfolded themselves and took firm grasps on the sidearms of her chair. I would bet they were sweating as well.

"What makes you say that?" She asked.

I wanted to smile or laugh or anything to let her know just how ridiculous she sounded. In college I would have done exactly that, but I guess my short time with Quondam has at least taught me a few new things, one of which being restraint. I swallowed my annoyance and frustration and pressed onward.

"A lot of things, really. The way you ignore me whenever you think you can get away with it," I said. "The way you talk to me. The way you talk to others about me. Take your pick, they're all valid."

"I'm an equal opportunity ignorer," Kyra replied with a shrug. "Don't take it so personally. I say what I think, when I think it and that's just me. I'm sorry if you think I'm attacking you personally, but it's just not like that."

"There is more to it than that. I'm not easily bothered and truth is I don't really care if you like me or hate me, but Jack seems to think your attitude toward me is going to cause bigger problems at some point. For the sake of the team he wants us to work out the problems," I said.

Kyra tilted her head toward me and let out a little laugh directed at me while tossing her hair over her should again. I could have taken it all as a flippant gesture, but I started to understand it was more of a nervous tick than a personal affront. She was sizing me up, of course, but there was more, she was afraid of something and whatever that something was, I was at the center of it.

"If Jack thought it was my attitude causing the problem he would have talked to me directly. Obviously he thinks the problem is more you than me and he's hoping talking to me will fix it," Kyra said. "Don't feel bad, Jack's sneaky like that."

I had considered the idea, although I bet Kyra would have been surprised by the news. It was true enough that I had my own attitude issues in dealing with my new job, but I was far from directing any of it at the actual member of the Q5 team. I was actually having a more difficult time keeping it out of my personal life and relationships than out of work.

"That's definitely one possibility," I said. "If it's the right one, tell me what I'm doing wrong."

"I don't know," Kyra said, shaking her head. "I honestly don't pay that much attention to you."

"You must have some idea. Why else would Jack send me to talk to you?" I said.

Kyra merely shrugged in response. Sitting there, I realized I was getting nowhere with her and if I pushed too hard I was more likely to make things worse than better. I returned the shrug and put on a happy face, hoping it was more convincing than it felt.

"I guess I'll just have to think about it some more," I said.

I pushed myself up of the chair and moved on to my own private space. My smile faded away as took my own seat and wondered how I was going to break through to Kyra. There were obvious difficulties which created something of a paradox if I was truly expected to resolve the situation on my own. She did not trust me and without trust she was never going to open up and share what was on her mind with me.

Dr. Michaels sat down next to me, nearly making me jump up. He smiled noticing he had startled me from my far too deep thoughts. It seemed a little out of his character to seek me out, but then my initial impressions of everyone involved with Q5 have been severely lacking. All things considered, I am wondering if Mr. Candle is right about my ability to read people at all or if like everything else he has said, it is just a convenient cover for truth he doesn't deem me ready to hear.

"I didn't mean to startle you," Dr. Michaels said.

"It's alright, I was just thinking," I said.

"If you are worried it's all in your head, it's not," He said.

I knew he was referring to Kyra so why did I think for a moment he might be referring to something else? I shook my head, both to confirm I was not questioning myself and to shake loose the cobwebs that seemed to be cluttering up my thoughts.

"She's not ready to talk about whatever it is, but I wish she would just get over it. The whole things feels childish," I said.

"I can try talking to her if you think it would help?" Dr. Michaels said.

"No, that's alright. I'll figure it out," I said. "Was there something you wanted?"

He shook his head and said, "Only to help if I could."

I smiled at him and then remembered the look that had passed between Olivia and him. The thought of it alone was enough to make me shudder and even though I knew there was a story that would make it all make sense I couldn't escape the quiet voice in the back of my head telling me not to take anything at face value, including presumed innocence.

"You know Olivia," I said.

Dr. Michaels did not even bother to feign surprise. He simply nodded his head although there was a touch of shame in the slouch of his shoulders and the faint color spreading into his cheeks. I had suspected it was a more intimate relationship and there in his eyes I knew it for certain.

"I did," Dr. Michaels admitted, not quite looking me in the eye. "I thought she was simply a student of archeology, impressed by my books and adventures."

"Were you the leak?" I asked.

It was a question without the accusation it could have otherwise implied. Olivia was young and attractive enough, I had no difficulty in understanding a man falling for her if she so set her sights on him. What she would gleam from the intimacy would be bits and pieces of what she wanted even if it arrived in the form of unanswered questions. Dr. Michaels, in some way such as that, might have leaked secrets he would never have told, but because of who she was and what she knew, the leak would be effective enough, although another source might be needed as well.

"The relationship was brief. It lasted only a couple of weeks before you were hired and broke off a few days before you went to Bad Land. I suppose I should have suspected something, but I did not," He said.

"It's understandable. I'm just trying to put the pieces together, but there are a lot still missing," I said.

"I was not a complete fool," Dr. Michaels said. "I had her checked by security before the relationship went anywhere. She was clean or supposed to be at least."

"Tom, I assume?" I said.

"No, I went around him, he has a way of making me feel guilty about pursuing personal relationships," Dr. Michaels said.

I nodded, recalling my own conversation with Tom in regards to Mark. Tom was apparently a nay sayer for relationships for everyone, not just me. It put his concerns about Mark into a whole new light which was suddenly much more comfortable.

"Who then?" I asked.

It occurred to me I might be able to make use of someone else to investigate Mark and either confirm or deny my worst fears. Then I realized the odds were that the investigation would leave me with no real information at considering Dr. Michaels had ended up literally sleeping with the enemy and not even knowing it.

"A friend in security," Dr. Michaels said. "I realize this conversation is important, but I would prefer if we could save the rest of it for when Jack and Tom can be present as well."

"Sure," I said. "I appreciate your candor with me."

Dr. Michaels nodded briefly and then got up to leave me alone.

"No doubt we should both get some rest while we can," He said.

Several hours later we arrived in Alert. No, not a state of panic, that's just what they call the small town with an serviceable airstrip at the northern most latitude on the planet. Dr. Michaels, having apparently vacationed in Alert previously, informed me the entire town had little more than a half dozen permanent residents, but their numbers were slightly bolstered by temporary military personnel and a handful of scientists. The scientist wanted to be there, the military personnel wanted to be anywhere else and the half dozen residents were probably split between the two attitudes.

We entered the building that called itself an airport, other than the sign I don't think anyone would have called it that, but that's not really important. Someone had brewed coffee for our arrival, although by the looks of it they started the pot a couple hours before we took off. We had a short wait though before our ride to the Healy was due to arrive and given the fact I was struggling to keep from yawning I decided to be adventurous. The sludge was as thick as pudding and as gritty as mud but the taste was vaguely reminiscent of coffee and if I closed my eyes I could almost pretend I was back home in my kitchen. The coughs caused by the grit going down interrupted the fantasy but it was nice while it lasted.

I had barely gotten to the point, I could no longer swallow another dollop of my coffee when our ride finally arrived. Two cocky pilots walked in and someone had even let them bring a real helicopter with them, thankfully, the helicopter waited outside. Both of the men quickly filled their thermoses half with the coffee and half with water. A little vigorous shaking and presto, they had drinkable coffee. Now why hadn't I thought of that? Probably has something to do with the fact I can normally visit a coffee shop whenever my own experimental coffee takes a turn for the worse.

"Y'all ready?" One of the pilots asked.

"Depends," I said. "You drinking that sludge or is it fuel for the flight?"

He laughed and extended his hand toward me. I grasped it and he gracefully leaned down and kissed the top of my hand. I was tempted to check my head for a funny looking hat but I'm pretty sure the Church has yet to evolve to a stage it would select a woman for Pope anyway.

"Lieutenant James Everett, at your service ma'am. I'll be your tour guide back to the Healy," He said. "The old man over there will be the pilot but don't you worry, if he up and croaks I know just what to do."

The "old man" grunted in our direction before heading back outside. He was probably still under 30 but the man talking to me was barely out of diapers and considering the crap spewing out his mouth, maybe he shouldn't be quite yet. Given a choice I would have grabbed a paddle and jumped in a canoe to get to where we going, but that didn't seem to be on the travel brochures for the day, so it looked like we were taking a flight with the old man and diaper boy.

"That's very comforting. Hopefully none of the rest of us will up and croak on the way as well," I said.

"There's a first time for everything," He said. "We better get y'all aboard. The old man don't like to wait."

He turned and headed out the door without waiting to see if we were following. I turned to look at Dr. Michaels who merely shrugged at me. Kyra shook her head and picked herself up out of the chair she had found to rest on.

"Do you think he realized he implied he's never made a trip without a passenger dying?" I asked.

"Probably not and I wouldn't mention it to him," Dr. Michaels said. "The thought might actually confuse the poor boy and God forbid he might need to push a button or something afterward."

The flight was relatively short and fortunately uneventful. The landing was another story. I think we might have all faired better to have jumped, but I kept that opinion to myself even after we were on the pad. To say the touch down jarred every bone in body would not do justice to the stomach wrenching effect nor the nauseating maneuvering of the helicopter in the last moments of flight.

We were greeted on the pad by a small woman almost completely consumed by the vibrantly orange parka she was wearing. There was no doubt she and Dr. Michaels knew each other because from the start her facing was beaming with happiness and the enthusiastic waving was the sort of thing you reserve for only your most loved friends and family. Dr. Michaels practically ran to her and then scooped her up in his arms for a bear hug. It was probably a good thing too because judging by the height difference I think a straight on hug might have looked a bit obscene and way too friendly for a public reunion.

Inside, away from the cold wind and the noises of machinery and sea, Dr. Michaels introduced us to the woman as Dr. Rosalind Kingston, a one time student and longtime friend. A few moments later we were greeted by the Captain and the Operation's officer. Neither of the men appeared too happy to see us and apparently preferred to be addressed solely by their rank. I figured it was an intimidation tactic and shrugged it off. There really isn't any point in making waves when you are already at sea.

Kyra and I were shown to the computer lab where she was able to plug in her laptop and network with the science systems aboard. Although she complained the equipment was inferior to her own setup, the Captain refused to allow us to set up anything more. Obviously some toes had been trampled to get us on board and any opportunity the Captain had to stomp back he was going to take.

After only a few minutes of getting acquainted with the ship's systems we were escorted to the conference room where Dr. Michaels was already waiting along with his friend. We had barely sat down at the table before Dr. Kingston stood up and began pacing the floorspace at the head of the room. I was relieved she had at least gotten rid of the parka so I could see her legs move as the rest of her did as well. It was hard to tell if she was nervous or excited or both, my guess was the last based on the way her hands twitched and the shortness of her breathing.

"The following information is classified and any divulgence of the material discussed within this room to individuals not previously cleared for that information by the United States government will constitute an act of treason," The Captain said, beginning the meeting.

"We've been studying, in cooperation with the Canadians, the Markham Ice Shelf," Dr. Kingston said. "Indications from N.A.S.A. provided satellite images gave us reason to believe the shelf has been melting from beneath, similar to the Larsen Shelf in Antarctica, and could be nearing a break off point. Our study has been focused on an attempt to trace cause from the effect."

"Sound like evidence of Global Warming," Kyra said.

Dr. Kingston swallowed and frowned at Kyra for a moment before continuing her pacing and explaining. Kyra shook her head, but wisely kept any further thoughts to herself.

"Global Warming would be a nice political answer for the events," Dr. Kingston said. "But science is both infinitely more complex and simpler than politics. However, our discoveries in relation to the melting of ice shelves is not the point, but the background to understanding, we were not searching for artifacts and so it was entirely by accident we discovered the drakkar."

I found myself nodding as was Dr. Michaels. Kyra was trying to hide her rolling eyes from the ship's officers and Dr. Kingston but apparently was unconcerned about me seeing them. The lights dimmed and a projection screen hummed its way down at the front of the room. A picture of the ice shelf was projected onto the screen. The drakkar was difficult to see but the projection had it circled in red, barely more than a dirty speck in the field of ice.

"Two days ago a small chunk of the shelf broke off in this region, revealing the ship, preserved and frozen in place," Dr. Kingston said. "Based on initial impressions and logical deductions we are guessing the ship was probably caught in a storm in the mid to late 13th century. This would coincide with certain theories on the beginning of the Little Ice Age, during which ice packs were expanding within the Arctic. We'll know more once we actually get to the ship and break it free."

"No one has been near it yet?" Dr. Michaels asked.

"It was spotted from a chopper survey. The shelf in the immediate region is too delicate for a landing at this point. So no, no one has been close," The Captain said.

"Are you taking the ship in closer for a water landing on the shelf?" Dr. Michaels asked.

The Captain shook his head.

"No, this entire region is on the brink of a major ice disruption the effects of which are somewhat unpredictable. I was in no hurry to bring the Healy in there and the Canadians have requested we keep our distance so as not to quicken the disaster already underway," He said.

"Can I assume you have some sort of a plan to get a research team over to it?" Dr. Michaels asked.

"If it were up to me we would leave it be until after the shelf has finished whatever it's going to do and then recover it without substantial risk," The Captain said.

"Makes sense," I said. "Why not wait?"

Dr. Michaels and Dr. Kingston both turned on the Captain and I as if they were ready to start a mutiny over the very idea of waiting. I fully understood the excitement in finding something so unexpected and so magnificent but the rush to throw caution to the wind and risk life and limb for gaining a piece of knowledge today rather than tomorrow, was beyond me.

"The drakkar is estimated to be the size of the largest Viking warship ever recovered if not slightly larger. We're talking over 30 meters in length. Furthermore, this vessel is fully intact with very little damage, quite possibly making it the most important find in oceanic history," Dr. Kingston said. "To risk losing it to the bottom of the sea in order to avoid a small amount of risk is unacceptable."

"Perhaps I'm missing something, but I thought it was frozen in ice. Doesn't that make it a little unlikely that it will sink?" I asked.

"The ice around it is breaking up in unpredictable patterns. There is a 92% probability the ship will be ripped to pieces along with the edge of the ice shelf it's resting on within the next 72 hours." Dr. Kingston said. "The largest pieces would then likely sink leaving us only fragments to study and those fragments would take months to fish out of the water and ice."

"That is entirely unacceptable when we have the rare opportunity to study an intact warship of the Viking Era," Dr. Michaels said.

"So what do you suggest?" I asked.

My question was posed to the room at large although my eyes were more focused between Dr. Michaels and Dr. Kingston. They shared a look which undoubtedly communicated a volume of information as only those who know each other very well can manage. The Captain was watching them almost as intently as I was which told me he was as much in the dark as I was right at that moment.

"Airlift," Dr. Kingston said.

"Absolutely not," The Captain replied.

"We don't really have a choice," Dr. Kingston said.

Even my amateur eyes could tell we were too far away to reach the region in a reasonable time on a smaller vessel and from what the Captain had said in regards to the relationship with the Canadians, I gathered they wouldn't much approve of a vessel of any size being in the region. An air approach was likely the only real solution but dropping down onto melting ice from a helicopter and hoping the shelf would hold long enough to complete our work, sounded more like a prayer than a chance.

"Before we spend time arguing out the specifics of how to get there, what can we actually do to remedy the situation for the drakkar once we get there?" I asked.

"Ordinarily, we'd employ a variety of tools, from heaters to ice cutters until we were able to secure a section small enough to lift out. Obviously we don't have that kind of time," Dr. Kingston said.

"The best alternative we have is to deploy an inflatable platform beneath the ice shelf and cut a section free to be sustained by the platform," The Captain said.

"Free from the pressure of the larger shelf, the section we cut free should survive a slow thawing process, which will free the drakkar over a period of weeks," Dr. Kingston said.

"So what's the catch?" I asked.

"Increased storm activity," The Operations officer said. "There is a heavy storm headed straight for this section of the shelf and it will be there in less than 8 hours."

"We can't wait it out because the odds are quite high the storm will accelerate the break off of the entire shelf in this region," Dr. Kingston said. "The drakkar will be destroyed."

"Even if we manage to cut the section free and support it with our platform, the storm could easily do as much or worse damage," The Captain said.

"Can we tow it out of the path of the storm?" I asked.

"I believe I already explained, no ships will be allowed into the region," The Captain said.

"What about helicopters?" I asked.

"It's too dangerous with a storm," The Operations officer said. "In order to tow the platform the choppers would have to be attached to it via cables and storm waters can cause unpredictable wave formations. If anything went wrong the choppers could be pulled into the sea before they even knew what happened."

"She's right though," Dr. Kingston said. "There just isn't any other way to pull this off under the circumstances."

"Obviously we are under time constraints here and the worst thing we can do is sit here debating what were going to do unless the intention is to do nothing at all," I said.

"If this our best plan, I suggest Dr. Michaels and I get a lift to that location so we can at least survey the drakkar and determine if it is worth any more risk than that," I said.

"No way am I staying behind," Dr. Kingston said.

"Based on the timeline, we should dispatch a full team or no one at all," The Operations officer said.

The Captain gave a grudging nod to his officer, clearly agreeing with his thoughts while not liking the danger the entire situation was potentially placing upon the people he would be sending. Mostly, I had to agree, the historical significance of the find went far beyond dollar signs, but then again, so does the value of a person's life. It took me a moment, lost in my thoughts, to realize the Captain, the Operations officer, and Dr. Kingston were all staring at me.

"What?" I asked.

"It's your call," The Captain said, shoving a folded piece of paper in front of me.

I looked at the others but no one was saying anything. The paper was rough against my hands as I unfolded it and stared at the message inside. It should have been no surprise to me at all, I have always known Joseph Candle has connections in high places, but having the authority of the President behind me was not something I had ever expected to happen. The message left absolutely no doubt as to who was going to decide what do about the drakkar and everyone in the room was staring at her, except me, I was staring at the paper with my name on it and trying not to look as shocked as I felt.

I looked at Dr. Michaels and wished we had a private moment to talk it all over. I understood all the angles but what was right and what was wrong remained a mystery. There was always the possibility the entire thing was nothing more than a trap and if it was, could I live with endangering all of these people by falling for it? And what if it was real? What if the drakkar was an important piece to a much larger puzzle I was only beginning to perceive? Could the puzzle be solved if I failed to retrieve this clue? I had the questions but none of the answers.

"Assemble the equipment and work crews," I said. "Dr. Kingston you'll accompany Dr. Michaels and myself on the initial drop. We'll determine viability of the plan on site."

"Holding the work crews back here until you determine whether it can be done or not might just change that answer," The operations officer said.

"I didn't say they would wait here," I said. "We all go together but no one else drops down until I give the okay."

The Captain didn't look too pleased with my decision, but I hadn't really expected anything else. It should have been his decision, it was his ship after all and here I was giving orders he had no choice but to obey. I would have been in a sour mood myself had our positions been reversed so I could hardly blame him. Unfortunately, the drakkar did not have the time for me to sympathize.

"Kyra," I said, turning to her in my chair. "I want you monitoring that storm and build a model of the likely effects it will have on the shelf. I'm sure Dr. Kingston can provide you with everything you need."

She nodded at me.

"How often do you want updates?" Kyra asked.

"Every hour until the storms less than two hours out and then I want them every fifteen minutes," I said.

"We'll have both choppers loaded and ready for flight in thirty minutes," The Operations officer said.

I shoved back from the table and stood up. Everyone else did the same a moment later. The room was filled with a variety of emotions but the two tugging at me were excitement and dread. In a perfect world, we would succeed without a hitch, but I've never lived in perfect, and in my world nothing ever goes exactly like it is planned.


  1. Ashley, you do have a bag of tricks, this makes V rather more important, not to mention Joe Candle.
    Warm hugs,

  2. Ash,

    excellent story

    really thought the one liners were fantastic (you drinking that sludge or is it for fuel for the flight)
    Old man and diaper boy. they were very comical and funny thanks for the story your doing a awesome job


  3. It's funny how Kyra clearly has some sort of problem with V, yet she refuses to even acknowledge it when confronted. The passive aggressive game can be so annoying.