Chapter 25: Our first night

Steven woke up first, feeling stiff and a little too warm. As he turned, he realized why.  Chrissy was still next to him fast asleep, her leg on top of him, as if they had been living together for years.  He extracted himself from the bed and grabbed his cell phone from his jeans’ pocket to look at the time; it was already 6:30, but he couldn’t remember if he had changed the time zone since he had left Italy or what time zone Norway was complying with.  He opened the curtains a little; the view was amazing and the fjord’s water was of a pure blue which reminded him of Canadian lakes.  Although the weather was perfect, the other shore wasn’t visible.  He had always imagined fjord as narrow rivers, but whatever this body of water was, it wasn’t small.

 

As he exited the bathroom, Chrissy had awoken.  “I slept like a baby, thank you,” she said, stepping out of the bed and walking toward him.

 

“Lucky for you… I didn’t really sleep much,” replied Steven.  As she approached him, he looked at her naked body one more time.  She was indicating to him that she wanted to pass and go to the bathroom with a smile, but he didn’t move.  He was too busy thinking of his wrinkled grandmother and ugly trolls, anything to keep Junior in check.  Finally, realizing that he was still standing in front of the bathroom door, his eyes transfixed on her perfect body, he blinked and moved away.

 

“If I didn’t know better, I would say that you have never done that before,” observed Chrissy as she passed him.

 

“I have done it on a first date before, but there is something different about that particular situation,” Steven offered, feeling a little nervousness that had never been present with other girls.  “I

 

guess it’s the fact that you are so liberal about it.  Generally, even after having sex, girls don’t feel that comfy with guys until a while longer.”

 

“So, do you think that if we had sex instead of only sharing a bed, you would feel better?” she asked through the ajar door.

 

“Maybe you are more used to it than me, that’s all,” Steven supposed, thinking that enough time had been spent on the subject, his nervousness now clearly present in his voice.  “Not that I think that you…” but he stopped, feeling that saying more wouldn’t help.

 

“I would be lying if I didn’t feel nervous,” replied Chrissy, trying to sound reassuring, but also feeling something not generally present either.  “But surprisingly, I feel so secure with you that I feel it is totally normal.”

 

“I guess that it is one of my endearing qualities, making people feel good in my presence,” replied Steven, remembering how many times he had been told that in the past years.

 

“Farid said that we are leaving at eight, right?” asked Chrissy as she got dressed.

 

“Yeah, we have about six more hours to go. I’m assuming that we will not be able to start until tomorrow at the earliest,” he believed, disappointed and not looking forward to having to wait for another night to pass before he would enter the Facility, not that he felt the nights weren’t pleasant.

 

“Perhaps, but we have to do some scuba classes first, so that will take even more time.”

 

“You are certified too, right?” Steven asked rhetorically.  “Hopefully they will let us skip the course.  The diagram you showed me showed a door at about thirty metres deep or so, and there is a rope leading to it.  Sounds like child’s play.”

 

“I know.  I’m excited too, but I also really enjoy the time we are spending together, so that makes the wait very easy to bear,” said Chrissy, hugging Steven who had dressed up in a record time.

 

“Thanks, you make me feel loads better,” said Steven, hugging her tight and releasing her gently.  “But one question I meant to ask you, do we sleep in the Facility or on the surface?”

 

“In the Facility for most of the personnel, mainly because a lot of them are workaholics.  Also, because of the inconvenience of suiting up every time someone needs to go in and out.  Let’s face it.  The Facility has fifty massive floors of rooms, cafeterias, living and recreational areas.  That is saving the management a lot of money when it comes to accommodation and also for the environment because they don’t have to build barracks for the employees.  My father said that it’s the greatest security feature since no one gets out and risk exposing the project,” explained Chrissy.  “The only reason why the new Council and the headquarters will be in Oslo and not inside the Facility is that no radio waves can penetrate the outer shell, not even electronically neutral subatomic particles like neutrinos and that’s also why Fangs is here.”

 

“Yeah, and I should have thought about it. On a security standpoint, it is not easy to justify a village being built in the middle of nowhere without any apparent reasons,” added Steven, thinking he would have made a good security manager if nothing else.

 

After a quick breakfast, the group had resumed their journey and with only two hours completed, the roads were turning from beautifully paved to a roughly patched country trail.  The villages were becoming fewer and far apart.  The discussion onboard soon turned to why other means of transportation had not been used.

 

“I understand your point Mr. Uziel, but as you will see soon enough, the area is a tiny outpost in the middle of nowhere.  Already a few of the town folks nearby are questioning the employees on the project as to why they are there,” explained Farid.  “If we were to start landing ten helicopters a day or even just one, it wouldn’t be long until the local and lonely journalists would start getting interested in the place.”

 

“What about boats?” asked Celina, more to get the conversation going and fight boredom rather than because she minded the journey in the relatively comfy van.  If she had problems with any transports or accommodations, she generally opened her drawer of bad journeys and remembered the boat rides in Burma where each time they were stopped up and down the rivers, it had meant bribe or rape… or while taking jeeps on the Amazonian roads, if they could be called roads at all, and sleeping on bug infested forest floors and caves in Africa.  These memories always cured her of any lack of accommodation in a hurry.

 

“I’ve been told that it would take days for a boat to get there because of the fjord’s indirect path through the land,” Farid answered, thinking that boat captain would be nice, too.

 

As they drove through yet another picturesque village, Farid slowed down and turned left toward the water.  He drove on an asphalt road for a few kilometres until he encountered a sign indicating the end of the pavement and the beginning of a stony dirt road.  They continued on it for another two kilometres passing through a narrowing tree line until it stopped, leaving only high grasses on sight. The clearing was flat and the van followed two tire tracks made in the long grass to a large building constructed of dark wood a few metres from the water.  As Steven looked out, he recognized the type of fjord he had been shown on television, on the posters and brochures he had seen since his arrival in Norway.  It immediately reminded him of Lake Louise in Banff, a large lake in front of snowy mountains reflected on the crystal clear water.  From the van’s window, he could see the surface of the fjord’s narrower channel.  The pristine blue glacier water seemed so clean that he felt he could just kneel on the stony shore and drink it.  Farid stopped the van in front of the barracks and turned off the engine, a sign that they finally arrived and could disembark.

 

A man, upon hearing their arrival, had stepped out of the barracks to greet them.  He was a muscular man, mid-fifties of average height and stature, African American.  He wore clean grey pants with black boots and a navy blue sweater, and commanded a lot of respect or at least that was Steven’s impression.  The man had not introduced himself, which everyone found normal.  After all, the doorman in the buildings and hotels generally never bothered with it.  He promptly helped them unload the van and store their luggage in the common area of the main building.

 

The barracks was actually bigger than it had looked from the outside.  The common room was large and twenty or more chairs were aligned facing the back of the room in four neat rows.  A desk was placed against the wall under a large whiteboard with nothing written on it.  In fact, it seemed to never have been used.  At the top of the board was a rolled-up projection screen, and attached to the ceiling, a cinema-style projector with three coloured lamps.  On the right were a few doors, one indicating bathrooms for men and women and the other marked Employees Only.  On the left were a few more closed doors also marked Employees Only.   Steven’s reaction as he first looked at the doors was to think that he was an employee and that he should take a look inside one of these days.

 

At the back of the barracks, a diesel generator was purring, and from time to time, a compressor started and stopped.  Steven, having been to a few dive shops, recognized the sound to be an air compressor for the filling of scuba diving tanks.  They were all invited to sit down on the chairs by the black man who had yet to introduce himself or probably didn’t deem it necessary.  Steven, being used to be the first in class during high school, had taken the habit of sitting in the front row.  Chrissy followed him instinctively.

 

Walking to the front of the class, the man who had welcomed them leaned against the desk, almost sitting on it and looking at them one by one.  He seemed to be alone in the barracks and was the only person they had seen since they arrived.  Steven, not cured of his insatiable curiosity, already concluded that the man was not a guard because of the lack of a weapon and the tools of the trade.  Before he had time to evaluate if guide was a possibility, the man started talking and Steven straightened on his chair and listened.

 

“First, before we start, if you need to take a minute to go to the bathroom, be my guest.  Please understand that it is very important that I have everyone’s complete attention. It is in my experience that tired people make for poor listeners. That’s why the briefing will be short, maybe too short for some of you.  But rest assured that more information will be given in due time,” he explained, indicating the bathroom door with his hand and paused.

 

Nancy was the only one to go and return a few minutes later with a lit cigarette in her fingers.

 

“Sorry, this entire compound is a non-smoking area, Miss Fox,” was the man’s polite remark.

 

“I didn’t smoke for hours!  If you want me focus, you will let me smoke a few,” Nancy snapped badly at him, angry to have to argue that point with the baggage handler.

 

“In your contract, it was clearly stated that smoking was prohibited anywhere on the compound.  That includes the ground areas, the buildings, and no need to mention the inside of the Facility itself,” he reminded her.  “The medic can provide you with nicotine patches to help your cravings if you need.”

 

Her initial thoughts were who the fuck is this clown, but a stock of good sense hit her and she stayed her tongue.  “Until the boss gets down from his throne and tells me to stop, you are out of luck pal,” snorted Nancy as she looked at him.  She took a long drag of her cigarette and went to sit alone at the back of the class like any good troublemaker would do, blowing her smoke toward the ceiling.

 

“The boss is not sitting on a throne, only on the edge of a desk and he has already told you twice,” he informed her in a now hardened tone of voice.

 

It took a while for her brain to kick into gear, but when it did, she almost choked on the lingering smoke in her lungs.  “You’re the boss?” she asked rhetorically, pointing at him with the fingers holding the cigarette and trying to recuperate from her coughing.

 

“Yes, Miss Fox, I’m Colonel Albert Lawson.  I have been the project manager of the Facility since late March which would be almost two months now.”

 

Nancy got up, didn’t say a word and went outside to throw her cigarette as muffled laughter’s erupted from the others in the room.  Waiting for her to sit down again, the Colonel introduced them to the group one by one.  He seemed to be familiar with all of them and knew their achievements and academic records by heart.  He made a point of praising each and everyone as he introduced them, even Nancy, whose education and work achievements seemed over the top for someone always dressed up for Halloween in the middle of the summer.

 

Colonel Lawson’s portfolio was equally impressive.  He had commanded troops for the US Army, NATO, and the UN peacekeepers for more than twenty-five years.  He even turned down a promotion to Lieutenant-General, saying that he preferred remaining closer to his men in the field, rather than in an office where the reality of the battle was lost.  Besides a few scratches, he had never been seriously wounded in action and that said something.  When it was time to introduce Steven, he had taken a moment to explain to him that he worked with a lot of Canadians and thought of them as Swiss Army knives, extremely versatile in the field.  He also promised to take time later to discuss with him some adventures.

 

“Generally, right about now, I always have someone asking why we have these briefings top site instead of indoors where microphone bugs can’t be placed. Well, this place can’t be bugged either and we are using white noise generators to make sure of that, the kind that would drive a dog to suicide.  In addition, the walls are shielded and electrified.  That‘s in addition to the army snipers hiding in the tall grasses outside,” he said rather seriously and started his presentation, leaving them to wonder if there were indeed people who had seen them approach the place and were guarding the woods from the barracks all the way to the road.

 

“First, before we discuss anything about the Facility, I would like to tell you something that I learned in my twenty plus years in the Army.  I think it will be very useful for you in your dealing with the personnel present in this room and those already underground.” Lawson proposed, looking once again at everyone’s faces as if he was evaluating their state of responsiveness to what he was about to say. “At the beginning of my service, I was introduced to a role playing game called Dungeons and Dragons.  I was a fan of the game because it allowed us to role play characters in the game according to our aspirations and aptitudes in real life.  It quickly showed that the smart ones seemed to always play Mages, Priests, and Druids and the not too smart seemed to always play Warriors and Barbarians.”

 

Steven, who played it a lot and still had a game in progress when he left Canada years ago, laughed first after having made the same observation with his friends.

 

“Another important point in the game that stayed with me until this very day is the attribute point system.  That requires a little more explanation, so bear with me a little.  You see, the main difference between the classes were the attributes.  They were Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Charisma, and Wisdom. Leaving the special skills and spells aside, you could roughly say that the difference between a Mage and a Warrior was the high level of Intelligence and Wisdom for the Mage and the high level of Strength and Constitution for the Warrior,” explained Lawson, stopping to take in some water.

 

“The catch is that you have a maximum number of points you could allocate to your attributes at the beginning, which meant that you couldn’t be strong in everything.  Well, here is the kicker:  It appears, at least according to my experience, that it is the same in real life.  People are born with attributes and they can’t seem to be good at everything.  In Dungeons and Dragons, you are able to add a point to the attribute of your choice each time you gain a new level. Of course, if you were a Mage, the goal was to become more intelligent, so you add points there.  The same could be said in real life: as we grow older, we gain a point a year. At least until you get too old and then it seems that you start losing two and sometimes three points of attribute on your birthday.”  At that, everyone started laughing except Fangs who simply uttered a snort of derision.

 

“Now, here is the reason why I’m explaining all this to you.  In this project, you will be working with exceptionally brilliant people: people who maxed out in Intelligence, but unfortunately, since they have allocated all their points in that attribute, there were very little points or even none left for Charisma or Wisdom,” concluded Lawson, or good manners in the case of some.

 

That explains Nancy, thought Chrissy and Steven as they looked at each other and smiled.

 

Lawson spent the next hour discussing the history of the discovery of the Facility, the initial survey made by Eirik and Jack until the Norwegian government took it over.  Afterwards, with the help of the United Nations and the United States, they organized the researches and studies that comprised the current project, he explained.

 

“Mr. Eirik Olsen is currently inside the Facility with a team of experts with backgrounds like yours.  Some of you will be paired to work with them and some to work with other members or teams,” announced Lawson.  “I will not hide the fact that we are still learning the basics, cataloguing and testing the various wonders that they made us discover.  Eirik, with basic education in archaeology and cataloguing marine species for four years, is currently leading a team that is exploring the Facility intensively.  He was doing a great job before we took over and he is still doing a good job up to now,” Lawson stopped.

 

“Yes, Miss Miller, you will lead a team of archaeologists.  Essentially, we will split Eirik’s team in two and you will take the lead of team B,” answered Lawson even before Celina had the time to ask her question and was now lowering her hand.

 

“You, Mr. Uziel, will be responsible for evaluating the potential risks and rewards of each item found,” said Lawson, turning to look at his new employee, thinking that accountants and bureaucrats were a necessary evil in this world, but not likely in the Builders’ time with everything free in the Facility.  “You, Miss Fox, will be integrated in the team currently working on the reactor.  You will need to familiarize yourself and hopefully understand, in time, the force field system at the technical level and measure neutrino emissions and speed.”

 

“For the last members,” he said, looking at Steven and Chrissy. “We have a policy of total disclosure to any and all members of the personnel.  There is, however, a piece of information that I can’t reveal at this point.  All I can say is that it is related to why you were both selected.  As soon as I have the authorization from the Council, I will discuss it with both of you.  Mr. Mitchell, for now I can say that your expertise in computers and system security will be best used to analyze and if possible, override the authorization protocol that prevents us all from using most technologies and enter areas,” explained Lawson, looking at Steven more than at the others, and continued with Chrissy.  It left Steven wondering why the Colonel had mentioned something like that if he couldn’t even talk about it.  Why bother referring to it in front of everyone.  As for Chrissy, she assumed it to be a ‘please ask me in private later,’ but that too made no sense to her.  She looked at Steven for a sign of understanding and found none.  In reality, all he was thinking about was a behaviour that often made himself act like that:  Pure frustration.

 

“Miss O’Donnell, your knowledge in electronics and mechanics would be best used in assisting Mr. Mitchell for the time being,” the Colonel concluded.

 

“I will let you go for dinner and then you will return here to meet with Eirik for a round of questions and for more information on the Facility.  Tomorrow, you will take basic scuba diving lessons, and then you will be able to enter the Facility at some point during the day, but not before Jack is convinced that you can reach and enter the decompression chamber safely.”

 

Steven raised his hand, “Chrissy and I already have our certification, does this mean we also have to take the course?”  He was at the point where he could do away with dinner and just dive now.  Night diving was all the same to him.

 

“Jack will evaluate you early in the morning.  If he deems your experience to par, you will be both excused from the course.  But we want all of you to enter together for the first time, so we will give you some material to study while the rest of the group learn the basics of open water diving.”

 

“Sir, where are we going to sleep tonight?” asked Celina.

 

“We have five rooms already booked in a town fifteen minutes away from here,” replied Lawson.

 

You won’t need five, that I’m sure, thought Fangs looking at the back of Steven and Chrissy’s heads from the rear of the class.

 

As they left the barracks, Lawson shook their hands one by one, welcoming them once more to the project.  Steven was the last one.  He looked at Chrissy who understood and stayed.

 

“Colonel, I appreciate that you didn’t tell anyone about my past, but I don’t understand why you felt the need to tell everyone that there is something about us that you can’t tell.  I’m sure you know that now, everyone will try to ask us what it is and that we will likely try to find out,” offered Steven with widely mixed feelings on his own statement.

 

“Precisely,” observed Lawson.  “I want nothing more than to tell you, believe me, but my hands are tied.  I’m under strict orders not to tell anyone, least of all, you.  However, it’s in my experience that stirring the pot as it were is often useful.  On another note, I have been told that you already became friends, is that so?” and maybe even more but that he didn’t say.

 

Surprised with the question, Chrissy answered.  “Yes, we have become rather close,” thinking that news travels fast.

 

“And Miss O’Donnell, would you say that you feel like you have known Mr. Mitchell for a long time?” asked Lawson.

 

“Yes, that’s exactly how I feel.”

 

“Maybe you can start from there,” proposed Lawson. ”See you at dinner.”

 

Perplexed, they rejoined the others and entered the van once more.