Reviewing the footage Ismene obtained from inside the military barn, Tammy shifted uncomfortably on Harry’s couch. “I do not like this feeling,” she admitted with a frown, rubbing her arms in an attempt to calm the goosebumps that seeing the hidden altar to Tyenx raised.
“It looks like people stand in these positions,” Tommy suggested, pointing out ritualistic circles and markings they had seen inside the building. “And Tyenx stands here,” he added as the camera swept over the scene, referencing an imposing-looking pedestal at the head of the circle.
“I don’t like the idea of Tyenx standing anywhere, leading any sort of ritual,” Ismene quipped, crossing her arms over her chest. “I just hope our work delays or disrupts their little seance.”
Harry and Seth were elsewhere in the cramped apartment, looking at the computer Harry had designed to communicate with demons. “What’s that mean?” Seth asked, looking at the single line of text that had replaced the unending pages of symbols and characters that had been churning since Harry first powered it on.
Run Familiar? _
“This isn’t right,” Harry muttered, trying every key combination other than “Enter” to try and clear or reset the screen. “I don’t like this at all, and there’s no way I’m running something called ‘Familiar.'” Frustrated with the lack of response from the computer, he yanked the power cord out of the wall, killing the workstation.
“I think these symbols are still working,” Seth suggested, gingerly poking at the glyphs he and Tommy had etched into the purpose-built machine’s case, monitors, and cables. “It feels warm, maybe? Tingly? I think it’s still working.” Looking closely at his fingertips, he pleasantly added “And no bruises this time!”
“That’s very nice dear,” Ismene absently patronized him, still reviewing her footage from earlier in the evening. Seth smiled innocently and went back to watching Harry investigate his now de-powered computer. “I wonder if those special lightbulbs had something to do with the ritual,” she wondered, looking to Tommy.
“I think it’s too late to make sense of anything,” he grumbled in frustration, glancing at his watch and rubbing at his temples. “I think we all need sleep.”
As if triggered by his suggestion, all of the group began yawning and looking to the door; maybe the morning would provide more answers and a fresh perspective on the night’s events.
The morning’s Sacramento Bee newspaper had a second-page article about local disappearances, a step-up from the hand-made fliers and milk-carton pictures that had been circulated by worried families in weeks prior. Ismene flipped through the real-estate section, looking for potential replacements for her burned-down film studio. Insurance money should be coming, she assumed, and Pandora’s Box had a lot to report on since they went off the air.
While walking to get doughnuts for everyone who stayed at Ismene’s house, Seth noticed a strange man sitting in a foreign car, staring through a pair of binoculars toward the local college. It generally took something truly out of the ordinary for Seth to notice, so the fact that the mysterious observer caught his attention was noteworthy. Without any sense of propriety or shame, Seth strode directly up to the car, smiling broadly, approaching from behind and keen to figure out what held the man’s interest.
“I always wanted to be a student!” Seth exclaims from right behind the man, seeing him pay attention to the students coming and going from the college.
Dropping his binoculars with surprise, he fixed Seth with a fierce glare, his eyes reflecting with a strange, shimmering gloss.
“I, uh, me too,” he replied guardedly. “Who are you?”
“I’m Seth!” Seth answered cheerfully. Then, mistaking the car’s Audi logo, his eyebrow quirked. “Are you with the Olympics?”
“Yes,” the man with the almost-glowing eyes said slowly, playing along, seeming surprised that his gaze had no effect on the simple man. “I’m Blake, and I’m with the Olympics.”
“Oh wow,” Seth cooed in awe. “What country are you from?”
“Holland,” Blake said after a moment’s hesitation that went unnoticed. “Blake from Holland. With the Olympics.”
“Are you studying the college to find the next great athletes?”
“That’s absolutely right,” he nodded, smiling as Seth created his excuse for him and remained ignorant of the inane story he was being fed.
“Wow. I wonder if I could have been in the Olympics, if I had been a student,” Seth pondered. “That would have been amazing.”
“How about this,” Blake said, scribbling on a scrap of paper. “If you see anyone who can run really fast, give me a page – you can be my helper.” He held out the phone number, and Seth gladly accepted it.
“I’ve always wanted to help the Olympics!” Seth said, having previously not given the Olympics more than two thoughts in the whole of his memory, but speaking truthfully and enthusiastically all the same.
As Seth returned from his trip to the doughnut store, a carafe of the season’s latest “maple nut crunch”-flavored coffee cradled under his arm, he barely registered that the car had vanished from the college parking lot, the man nowhere to be seen.
Seth had all but forgotten the name Blake and the phone number in his pocket.
Upon waking, Harry began disassembling his purpose-built demon computer, pouring over each component for any sign of damage or contamination, sure that his plans had failed. Each component looked fine, though perhaps overheated as if too much electricity had gone through them. Not enough to cause physical wear, but enough to generate a great deal of heat.
“This pile of junk,” he muttered, his voice rousing Tammy from her fitful sleep on his couch. “No demons are getting the best of Harold Kozlowski, Esquire.” Looking for a suitable box to toss the hardware into, he frowned and turned his attention to his morning routine of checking email and managing his conspiracy-theory discussion lists. Not feeling his usual groove even after an hour of igniting or extinguishing flame wars, Harry returned to his small kitchen in hopes of finding the bottom of a plastic vodka bottle or two.
Halfway through, he fumbled for the cellular phone ringing in his pocket. He answered by issuing a drunken tirade against “that damned credit card machine” before putting down the phone and staggering off.
“Hello?” Tammy offered, picking up his phone.
“We have a fantastic plan,” Ismene said, pleased that Tammy hadn’t shared in Harry’s entertainments. “We’re going to pretend to be college students and interview some of the base guards for a ‘journalism project.'”
“Harry is busy … rambling at the bathroom sink right now,” the otherworldly goth offered.
“Alright, well, then just you. Let him enjoy his bottles.”
Not long after, Tammy, Ismene, Tommy, and Seth sat down to meet at Ismene’s apartment, exploring and expanding on the skeleton plan concocted earlier in the morning. They would approach the private security firm’s PR department and ask for an appointment with a specific guard they knew to be working the secret project at the McClellan air force base, and using Ismene’s interviewing talent and personal charm to extract information about the base and its goings-on.
Happy to provide an interview, the guard did everything he could to paint the private security force as “just like the Army, but with bigger toys.” Agreeing with him that the term “rent-a-cop” was a terrible slander, Ismene quickly ingrained herself as an ally, a member of the press actually on his side. It didn’t take long before he was comfortable enough to talk about the “strange” things he had seen in his various postings. Commending his bravery, Ismene asked more probing questions, digging deeper into the mysteries surrounding the base and the terrible ritual the team hoped to stop, including mysterious connections with local colleges and research grants.
After the interview, Ismene and Tommy exchanged glances. “Strange that the college is in on this demonic summoning business,” she offered, quirking an eyebrow.
“I don’t think any of the names he gives actually exist,” Tommy countered. “Aliases and shells within aliases and shells.”
“At least we have somewhere to start,” she shrugged.