NaNoWriMo 2011 – Week 2

Chapter 2 – Geneva

David spent most of the trip reviewing the files on Folts’ team that had been sent. There was nothing unusual about any of them. Folts himself had a fairly extensive file; he was an outspoken critic of the US military, or anyone’s military actually, and had multiple run-ins with anyone that didn’t support his particular view of scientific research. He didn’t seem to be overly supportive of social or environmental issues either. Apparently his entire world view involved his branch of scientific research.

Alicia and Brandon had been going through Folts research. The reports he had filed with the NSF seemed to support what Brandon had known about him; he had been working on his nano black hole theory. His grant filings had stated that he expected his research to have applications in energy production but Brad’s own analysis of what he had published showed no hints of research in that area.

“I think he’s trying to make a black hole, no matter how small, just to say he was able to do it.” Brad finally concluded.

Peter had been working at one of the computer stations toward the back of the plane and eventually came back forward, handing each of them a folder of travel papers. David glanced at his to see an NSF id card, passport and handful of credit cards.

Brad had pulled out his passport. “I have one of these already.” he said.

Alicia looked up. “I thought you said you had never left the country?”

“I haven’t, but it’s a lot easier to get on a plane these days if you have one.” He looked at it again. “Hey, this is a different picture.”

“We don’t expect you to use your real passport.” Peter told him. “Officially, most of us have never been to some of the places we’re going, so the Division keeps a special passport for you.”

“Oh yeah, that makes sense.” Brad nodded. “I’m still getting used to this.”

“Weapons?” David asked, changing the subject.

“Not considered necessary at this time.” Peter said. “We have some on board but it isn’t worth trying to get them through security. If a need comes up we’ll have a contact inside the city provide some.”

“Great.” David said. “I hope they’re right.”

David eventually slept a bit. There was a small shower on the plane and he used it, then changed into something a bit more businesslike than his usual sweatshirt, vest and jeans. He did forgo the tie. Brad turned out to have brought nothing but t-shirts, but they were able to convince him to wear a jacket over a plain colored one which at least looked a bit more professional.

It was late in the afternoon locally when the plane landed in Geneva. As they taxied toward the terminal, Peter handed them each an earpiece. “Let’s check and make sure everyone is on line.”

Brad looked curiously as both David and Alicia clipped what looked like a blue-tooth earpiece to their ear and touched it to activate it, then did the same himself. On the three screens at the front of the room three views of the cabin appeared, one from each of their points of view. Well, two views and a curl of hair appeared.

“I am *not* cutting my hair.” said Alicia.

Peter laughed. “Don’t worry, we need one in infrared anyway.” He did something to his console and Alicia’s view changed to show red and yellow, green and blue blobs. “There, that should cover everything. I’ll monitor from here and feed you updates and information as needed.”

“Thanks.” said David as the plane pulled to a stop. A set of stairs were rolled out and the door opened. “Well, let’s see what we’re up against.”

With typical Swiss efficiency they were able to quickly make their way through local customs and, just on the other side, they were met by a balding, business-suited man holding a sign labeled “NSF”.

“Dr. Strackbein?”, David said, leading the group up.

“Ah.” Strackbein said, lowering the sign. “And you are?”

“Stone. Dr. David Stone. And this is Drs. Braddock and Howard.” Introductions were made then Strackbein gestured down the hallway and led them toward the exit. “What more can you tell us about what happened?” David asked as they walked.

“We still aren’t sure.” Strackbein said with a frown. “Dr. Folts didn’t have any experiments on the logs that night, but that isn’t totally unusual. The culture here sometimes encourages the science teams to follow up whatever seems interesting to them, even if it isn’t entirely within their framework, as long as safety and other procedures are followed.” His frown deepened. “It looks like someone failed on that last part this time around.”

They were outside now, walking across the parking lot. “Could Dr. Folts have actually created a black hole?” asked Brad.

Strackbein shook his head. “I’m not personally that familiar with Dr. Folts work. I do know that a lot of alarmist writing has come out about our Large Hadron Collider possibly creating a black hole, but that is pure rubbish.” He shook his head. “If Folts was trying to deliberately create one then I don’t know anything about it.”

“Dr. Folts was focusing on black holes at the quantum level.” said David as they arrived beside a Mercedes sedan. “I doubt anything he was doing could have been a danger.”

“Tell that to anyone who worked in Lab C.” said Strackbein as he opened the doors. “Whatever he did destroyed it.”

Everyone climbed in and Strackbein turned to look at David. “Where do you need to go?”

“Let’s go to CERN first, see what the site looks like before it gets dark. Then we’ll go to the hotel and talk to Dr. Folts.” Strackbein nodded and the car started off.

They rode in silence for a while, through the streets of Geneva then into an urban countryside. “Here we are.” said Strackbein after a while. They passed a large white sign reading “European Organization for Nuclear Research” with the words repeated below it in French “Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire”. Another sign almost as large read “Birthplace of the World Wide Web”.

Strackbein drove them through a gate and from there made his way along a series of roads through what looked like a college campus. Brad looked around in obvious delight while both David and Alicia were paying more attention to the security. It was much less than either would have expected.

They reached a spot where the road was blocked by a barricade. Strackbein stopped the car and spoke briefly with two security guards standing there.

The group walked down the road toward the destroyed building. David looked at it. Now that the fire was out and he was looking at it from the ground it was obvious that the explosion, if that is what it was, had been directional. It looked as if a giant had punched its way out from inside the building. Bricks and debris were scattered for almost a hundred yards from the building, one end of which had collapsed on itself when the supporting walls and columns had been blown away. He turned to look at the next building, its facade also shattered. And that was where the fist of the giant had landed. He shook his head. What had happened here?

“Was anyone inside the building besides Meneely and the man she was with?” David asked.

Strackbein nodded. “There were a few other researchers in the building but they were all thankfully in the other wing and so escaped injury. One of the security guards received minor injuries in the collapse but nothing serious. We were lucky.”

“How about over there?” He pointed at the far building.

“There was a cleaning crew in the building at the time. One of them received minor lacerations from flying glass but that was it.”

“Did any of them report anything? See anything?”

Strackbein thought. “I haven’t spoken to them myself. They did report seeing a very bright flash of light. One of them described it as being like a camera flash going off. There was a wave of heat at the same time.”

“That makes sense.” Alicia had been looking at some of the debris on the ground and held a shattered brick out toward David. “Look at this.”

David took the brick and examined it. “It’s… a brick.” he said finally.

Alicia smiled tolerantly. “Look at this side.” She pointed. “The surface is cracked and fused from extreme heat. This wasn’t an explosion.”

Strackbein looked at her in surprise. “Not an explosion?” He waved his hands about, indicating the debris field. “How do you explain all of this then?”

“Oh, something exploded. Several somethings actually. But that wasn’t what started things.” She paused. “OK, think of it this way. Turn your stove on full, then put a cold dinner plate on top of it. What happens?”

“It shatters.” said David. “Unless it’s Pyrex or something.”

Alicia nodded. “That’s what happened here. Something heated up the brick and glass facade of the building. Heated it up a *lot*, and very fast. The metal, glass and stone couldn’t expand fast enough, so they shattered. Violently.”

David nodded. “So that’s what happened.” He turned to Brad. “Any idea what could have caused that?”

Brad, who had been looking around the area turned back to the group. “No idea. Nothing that I know of about Folts’ work involved phasers.”

“Phasers?”

“You know, like in ‘Star Trek’.” He smiled until he saw that David wasn’t impressed with the reference. “I know that there has been some military research on ‘heat rays’ and the like, mostly involving microwaves, but nothing like this.”

“So what could have caused this? Any ideas?”

“A big laser, maybe. But it wouldn’t have been over this large of an area.”

“How about the accelerator beam itself?”

“Again, it wouldn’t be over this large of an area. Besides, the beam would have been aimed this way.” Brad pointed along the length of the building. “The damage went this way.” He pointed off to the right. “It doesn’t make sense.”

David turned back to Strackbein. “Do we know anything about the person with Meneely last night? And did they bring anything with them?”

Strackbein shook his head. “I can show you the security footage if you want, but there isn’t much on it. Meneely signed both of them in. She had her laptop and he was carrying a backpack.”

“Anything on the x-rays of either?”

Strackbein sighed. “This is a research installation, not a military base. We don’t x-ray and scan everyone and everything that comes into a building. There are spot checks, but the assumption is that if someone is cleared to enter the building then they are clear. Some of the equipment and samples the researchers use could be damaged by repeated x-rays so we depend on the people being approved, not what they have with them.”

David sighed. “So we don’t know who the man was.”

“The security guard said he sounded American. He signed in as ‘Ohio Jones’, but we’re pretty sure that wasn’t his real name.”

Brad laughed and everyone turned to look at him. “Like Indiana Jones.” Everyone kept looking at him. “You know, the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ guy.”

Alicia looked puzzled. “Why use that as an alias.”

David shrugged. “Probably a joke of some kind.” He turned back to Strackbein. “Any records of what they were working on?”

Strackbein shook his head again. “No idea. Most experiments are logged on the network but all we have are the settings for the accelerator. A warm up, two low-power runs then a fairly long, high-power sustained run. We don’t know what they were testing though.”

“Can you get the data you do have for us? Maybe that will give us some idea as to what they were up to.”

Strackbein agreed and also agreed to send what information he could from their own investigation. David and the others spent a few more minutes looking around the destroyed lab but found nothing else that seemed relevant.

“Well,” said David with a sigh. “I guess it’s time to go talk to Dr. Folts.”

Strackbein drove them to Royale St. Georges hotel where Folts and his team were staying and dropped them off. They found Folts in his room, a largish suite on the second floor, along with his other two grad students, Ted Gorder and Kurt Hauge. Gorder and Hauge had both apparently been sampling the local Heffwissen a bit too much. Folts was simply angry.

“Why are you people continuing to bother me!” He snapped after David and the team had arrived. “I’ve told you already; whatever happened at the lab last night had nothing to do with me or my research.”

David tried to calm him down. “We understand that Doctor. But you must also understand that something happened in your lab and one of your assistants was there when it did. We’re just trying to determine what happened.”

“What happened?” Folts was becoming even more angry. “When I needed funding or support for my research you people were nowhere to be seen. Then something happens, my student is killed and made the scapegoat for someone else’s accident and suddenly I have an entire audit team descend on me. You people have your priorities wrong.”

Alicia stepped in. “We’re sorry for what happened to Ms. Meneely.” she said. “But we need to understand as much as we can about what happened. We are already being questioned both at home and by our Swiss and French about the accident. We simply…”

Folts rose to his feet, shouting. “I keep telling you, my experiments had nothing to do with what happened! I will not have you using this as an excuse to cut my funding!”

“Who said anything about cutting funding?” asked David, genuinely caught off guard.

“Of course that’s what this is all about!” continued Folts. “That’s what it’s always about for your Washington types. Unless you can kill someone with it, you don’t care to pay for it.” He stopped, eyes narrowing. “Or *is* that what this is about. You think there’s a way to turn my work into a bomb. Is *that* why you’re suddenly interested in my work?”

While the others were talking, Brad had been using a tablet he had pulled from his over sided laptop bag. Peter had forwarded the data Strackbein had sent to him and he had been reviewing it since it arrived. He suddenly broke in on the conversation.

“Dr. Folts, your work with microscopic black holes, how does it involve x-ray crystallography?”

Dr. Folts looked back and forth from him in confusion. “Crystallography?” He shook his head. “That has nothing to do with my research. Why are you asking?”

Brad held the tablet out for him to see, showing a mass of equations. “Because the last run of the accelerator was configured for crystallography analysis. High-power scan. I was just trying to figure out how it fit in with your work.”

Folts took the tablet and looked at the equations then nodded his head and waved the tablet at David and Alicia. “See! This proves my point! This isn’t my project! Someone *else* was doing something in my lab. *They’re* the ones you should be talking to, not me.”

David took the tablet from Folts waving hand and handed it back to Brad. “But your student was the one in the lab. Why would she be doing something outside your research?”

“Because it wasn’t her!” Folts glared at him. “How many times to I have to say that!”

“Actually…” Ted Gorder looked around then sat his glass down. “Well… Sofia asked yesterday if there was a way to configure the accelerator for crystallographic analysis.” He nodded toward Hauge. “We helped her set up some equations but that was it.”

“What!” Folts turned his anger toward his students. “What was she doing that for!” He paused. “She was running an experiment for Steiner, wasn’t she?”

“Steiner?” Gorder looked confused for a moment. “No! Well… I don’t think so. She said she was trying to help a friend with a project of his. She had access to the accelerator and the friend didn’t. She said it wouldn’t affect our project and that she would be doing it on her own time so we didn’t think it was that important.”

“I need my students working on *my* projects, not random experiments for ‘friends’! Tell her that…” he stopped, then sighed. “She should have known better.”

“Do you know who this friend was?” David asked.

Gorder and Hauge looked at each other then shook their heads. “No.” said Gorder. “She stayed in her room most of the time. Didn’t even go out with the rest of us. I don’t even know that she was that close to anyone at the lab.”

David looked thoughtful. “So Ms. Meneely was running an analysis or something for someone else; presumably the man with her. Mr. ‘Jones’. Whatever she was analyzing was what caused the explosion in the lab.”

Dr. Folts folded his arms. “So, does that mean you people are through blaming me for what happened?”

David waved his comment away. “Where was Meneely’s room? Can we see it?”

“Two doors down.” Gorder said. He was about to continue when Folts interrupted.

“What do you want to see her room for? Haven’t you interfered with us enough?”

“We’re trying to determine who the man with her was. Maybe that will get us closer to determining what happened.”

It took a few minutes to go downstairs and obtain a key from the front desk. The desk clerk was reluctant to give them access to the room until they were able to convince an increasingly recalcitrant Dr. Folts to request the key himself; eventually he did just to get David and the others out of his hair. David opened the door and the three went inside.

The room was almost depressingly empty. Meneely hadn’t even completely unpacked; much of her clothing was still in her suitcase. There appeared to be no books or other personal items in the room. Presumably she had taken her laptop and phone with her to the lab, but the lack of any personal items made the room feel mildly sterile.

“She was staying somewhere else.” Alicia announced suddenly.

David looked up. “What do you mean?”

“Her toiletries kit isn’t here. No toothbrush, no makeup, no razor. Nothing. She either was or was planning on staying somewhere else.”

Brad had been looking in the various drawers and cabinets. “Could she have been planning on leaving? Running off somewhere?”

David shook his head. “In that case she would have taken her clothes as well. It looks like she just took her personal items. She wasn’t planning on being away long; maybe just for a night or two.” He thought. “Her ‘friend’, maybe?”

“Makes sense.” said Alicia. “But we’re no closer to figuring out who that is.”

“Maybe.” David said. He walked to where a small table was sitting in front of the window. “Or maybe not.” The room’s phone sat on the table; a notepad with the hotel’s name and pen beside it. He picked up the pad and held it up at an angle to the light.

“Really?” Brad was looking at him in disbelief. “That’s a bit of a cliché, isn’t it?”

David shrugged. “It’s a cliché for a reason.” He held the pad up in front of him and tapped his earpiece. “You been following this Peter?”

“Sure thing.” said Peter. “What do you need?”

“Can you get a good image of this and run a contrast enhancement on it?”

“What? Too much trouble to find a pencil and just rub it on the pad?”

“May as well get some use out of this technology.”

Peter laughed. “OK. Just a second.” There was a pause. “Good guess. Hotel Alpindorf, room 218.”

“Thanks.” He looked at the others. “Let’s go see who our mysterious Mr. Jones is.”

A cab took them to the Hotel Alpindorf, several miles away and some distance from the business hub of the town where the St. Georges had been located. This was more of an industrial area, and the hotel appeared to have been chosen based on price instead of luxury. David asked the cab to wait since it looked like it may be more difficult to locate one here than he would like.

The three entered the lobby and approached the desk. There was no clerk, so David rang the bell and waited. When there was no response, he rang again.

“Long smoke break?” he asked no one in particular.

“Maybe he’s in the bathroom?” suggested Brad.

David shrugged. “Who knows.” Looking around, he started to walk around the desk himself then stopped and looked at the corner of the lobby again. He froze and pointed.

“Does that look right to you?”

There was a security camera near the door, facing the desk. A ragged piece of duct tape was stuck over its lens.

“No.” said Alicia. She looked around. “Something is wrong.”

David walked around the desk and cursed. The desk clerk lay on the ground, bleeding from a gash in his head, his hands and mouth crudely bound with duct tape. He tapped his earpiece.

“Peter?”

“I see it.” Peter said. He heard tapping. “Is he alive?”

David knelt beside the clerk and checked. “Yeah, he’s alive.” He stood up and looked at the rack. The key for 218 was missing.

“Contact the authorities and call an ambulance.” he said, starting to run toward the stairs. “We’ve got trouble.”

David ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time, Alicia and Brad following. He hit the second floor and stopped, carefully cracking the door open and glancing into the hall. Empty.

“What are we going to do?” asked Brad, excitement raising his voice an octave.

“Find out what’s behind this.” David reached 218 and tried the door. Locked. He listened and heard nothing. He shifted his weight, drew back his leg and kicked straight out at the door just above the handle. The door emitted a crack, but held. He kicked again and the door flew open.

David burst into the room. It was empty, but the curtains on the door leading to the balcony were blowing in the breeze. He shoved them aside and looked out.

An alley lay a dozen feet beneath him. A figure was running down it toward the street.

“Go! Out front!” David yelled. Alicia took off running. Brad looked about in confusion for a moment, then followed. David heaved himself over the railing, dangled for a moment, then dropped to the ground. He took off after the running figure.

He tapped his ear. “Where am I going?” he asked quickly.

“Tracking.” said Peter. Then “You’re heading into an industrial park. I don’t have your quarry on visual anywhere. Alicia is coming out the lobby. I’ll direct her.”

David nodded and kept running. The alley behind the Alpindorf faced an industrial park and the person he was pursuing had run into it, apparently hoping to lose him there. He saw a running figure go between two buildings and followed.

Luck was with him. The gap between the buildings ended in a pile of wooden pallets and his quarry was attempting to scale them but was having difficulty because he was trying to carry a large case. When he saw David he stopped and attempted to throw the case over the pallets, but throwing one-handed while holding on to the shifting pile with the other hand was not the best throwing position. The case bounced off the pile and fell back to the ground.

The man looked at the case for a moment then quickly resumed climbing. Reaching the top, he bounded onto the roof of the building and ran. David followed, but reached the top of the pile in time to see the man drop off the building and into another alley. There was a motorcycle there and the man leaped onto it. The motorcycle started and vanished into the night.

Sighing, David climbed back down. He had just picked up the case the man had thrown when Alicia and a panting Brad caught up with him.

“He got away?” Alicia asked?

David nodded. “Had a bike waiting.” He held up the case the man had dropped. “He lost at least part of what he had come for though.”

He looked at what he had found. It was a large, black, hard-sided case. Square and about two feet on a side. The top was held closed by a latch. He opened it to reveal a heavily padded interior. A molded indentation in the padding showed that it had held something more or less spherical and about a foot in diameter, but it was empty.

“Damn.” said David. “He must have taken whatever was in here before dropping the case.”

“Then why take the case in the first place?” Alicia took the case. “Heavy. No wonder he was having trouble carrying this.” She took the case back to the front of the alley where she could see by the light of a streetlight and started examining the case.

“What was it?” Brad asked. “Any ideas?”

“Presumably whatever they were running that crystallographic analysis on.” David said. “Which means whatever was in here was destroyed in the lab. So why did whoever it was want the case?”

“Maybe they, whoever ‘they’ are, don’t know any more about what is going on than we do.” Brad suggested. “They took the case hoping they could find something from it. That’s why the guy wasn’t too concerned when he lost it. He knew it didn’t have anything in it and had just taken it in case it had some value.”

“Or to keep us from finding it.” David mused. “OK, what can *we* learn from it.”

“Who it belonged to, if nothing else.” said Alicia. She was holding the case upside down. “School of Physical Anthropology, Department of Native American Culture, University of Southern California. There’s a catalog number here too.

“Peter? Can you look that up for us?”

“Sure thing. It may take a bit though.”

“OK.” said David. “I think we’ll head back for now. We’ve had enough excitement for one night.”

Later, all of them were gathered in the corner of a bar at the airport. Alicia was quietly talking to her family on the phone while Brad was typing away on his laptop. David was looking at the information Peter had brought them.

“The room was registered to a Ted Heyman.” Peter was saying. “He’s an archaeology student at the University of Southern California. Based on the photos we’ve found, he was the person with Meneely when she entered the lab. So we now have our mysterious companion identified. Oh, he and Meneely have the same address back in the states.”

“Well, that settles that. We know who our mysterious ‘friend’ was. Anything else?”

“Yes. Airline records show that he arrived in Madrid about two weeks ago. He was staying at the Andalusian Real there. Credit card records show that two days ago he took the train from Madrid to Geneva. We can assume that he came here to meet up with Ms. Meneely.”

“What was he doing in Madrid?”

“Summer study program at the university there.”

David nodded. “OK, what about the case?”

“Ah yes. That. The case was from part of a collection of native South American artifacts that was being housed at the University. Records show that it was…” he hesitated. “It’s a crystal skull.”

Brad looked up from his laptop. “What?”

David had trouble suppressing a smile himself. “You’re kidding, right?”

Peter shook his head. “Nope. That’s what the catalog says. Here’s a picture.” He spun his laptop around. The image on the screen showed a carved human skull. It looked to be about life-sized and fairly detailed. It was carved from a dark stone that looked almost like obsidian but seemed to be slightly transparent, on the surface at least.

“OK.” David said. “That isn’t what I was expecting.”

“Yeah.” said Brad, almost sounding disappointed. “I thought those things were clear.”

“I thought those things were fake.” said Alicia. She had put away her phone and was now looking at the screen as well. “I saw one of those specials on TV where they said that someone had studied the ‘crystal skulls’ that had been found and that all of them were relatively modern fakes.”

Peter was looking at his notes again. “The description for the item does call it a ‘probable recent forgery’. Oh, it says that it is carved from ‘dusky quartz’ which I guess explains why it isn’t clear.”

Alicia shook her head. “I work with various minerals all the time. That isn’t dusky quartz, I can tell you that just from the photograph. It’s translucent, but I can’t tell what it is.” She frowned. “It actually looks like something a glassmaker would make more than a natural object. I’d guess that’s why they’re calling it a forgery.”

David shook his head. “Maybe. But I think we can assume that this was what Meneely and Heyman were running their crystallographic analysis on. And we know what happened there. Somehow this thing…” he pointed at the screen, “killed two people, injured several others and reduced two buildings to rubble. It may be a fake, but it did *something* and we need to figure out what it was.”

Alicia nodded. “How did Heyman wind up with the skull? Why did he bring it to Madrid?”

Peter shook his head. “No. The skull was checked out to a Dr. Patricia Alvarez. She is, or was, Heyman’s faculty adviser.”

“And where is she? Has anyone talked to her yet?”

“Not yet, no.” said Peter. “As for where she is, she’s in Madrid. Staying at the Andalusian Real.”

“Well then.” said David. “I guess we’re going to Madrid.”

Chapter 3 – Madrid

The flight to Madrid-Barajas airport was short. On arrival, Peter stopped David as he was preparing to leave the plane.

“Because of the trouble in Geneva someone decided you needed a bit more support here.” He handed David a set of keys. “There’s a vehicle waiting in the parking garage. Third level, slot D-17.” David nodded.

Slot D-17 turned out to hold a dark-green Audi SUV. The team put their gear in the back then climbed in; David and Alicia in front and Brad in back. Alicia reached under her seat and pulled out a canvas bag and from it pulled out a pair of Colt 1911 automatics. She handed one to David and he idly tucked it inside his vest before starting the vehicle.

“Do I get one?” asked Brad.

“What’s your proficiency rating?” Alicia asked, checking her own automatic before putting it under the flap of her laptop bag.

“Uh… none?” said Brad.

“Then no.” David smiled at the look on Brad’s face as they exited the garage and pulled onto the highway.

The Andalusian Real was on the northern end of town, near the university. They found the hotel and Dr. Alvarez’s room with no difficulty but the professor was not there.

“What do we do now?” asked Brad. “Break into her or Heyman’s room?”

David shook his head. “Not yet. Let’s see if we can locate her first.”

David walked down the hall to the next room and knocked on the door. After a few moments, a blond woman opened it and looked out. “Yes?”

“Hi.” said David. “I’m looking for Dr. Alvarez. Do you know where she is?”

“Probably at the museum downtown.” came the reply. “Is something wrong?”

“We need to talk to her about Ted Heyman.”

“Ted?” The woman seemed surprised and a bit concerned. “Is he OK?”

“Um… We really need to talk to Dr. Alvarez first.” David said. “Mr. Heyman… has had some trouble.”

“Oh god!” The woman gasped. “He got it trouble for taking Dr. Patty’s artifact, didn’t he? He kept saying that he wanted to show it to his girlfriend and when he said he was going to visit her and it disappeared…”

“Well, yes…” David interrupted. “That’s what we need to talk to Dr. Alvarez about.”

“Oh, poor Ted.” the woman continued. “I hope he isn’t in too much trouble.”

“Yes… Well, we need to be going. Thank you for your help.” David led the others down the hallway. The woman called after them.

“Tell Dr. Patty not to be too hard on Ted! He was really trying to help.”

As they climbed back into the SUV, Brad asked. “Why didn’t you tell her about what happened to Heyman?”

David shook his head. “It’s never easy telling someone that someone else is dead. Especially considering we don’t know what happened, really. And I didn’t want to get caught in a lot of explanations or have her talking to anyone before we’ve met with Dr. Alvarez.”

“Dr. Patty.” Alicia said with a smile. “She seems to be pretty close to her students.”

David nodded. “Another reason we need to talk to her before she finds out about Heyman from someone else.”

David drove the SUV downtown and found the parking for the Museo Nationale. “Metal detectors here, so leave the hardware.” He stuck the Colt under the seat. “Laptop too, Brad.”

“What?” Brad looked nervous at the thought of not having his computer with him. “But… but… what if I need to look up something?”

“Peter can handle that for us.” he tapped his earpiece. “Still with us, Peter?”

“Loud and clear.” Peter said. “Oh, a followup to your conversation with Ms. Parsons. We’ve gone ahead and…”

“Wait, who?”

“Danielle Parsons. The woman you were talking to back at the hotel. Anyway, we have gone ahead and notified the Swiss and French authorities as to Heyman’s identity and have sent a request back to Washington to go ahead and notify their next-of-kin. Dr. Alvarez will probably be getting the news in the next few hours unless you go ahead and tell her.”

“I was planning on telling her what we know.” David said. “Which admittedly isn’t much. But she must have had some reason to go through the effort of taking a presumed fake artifact from California to Spain, so she apparently knew *something* was unusual about it. Maybe she can tell us something.”

The trio entered the museum. A number of tourists and other visitors were wandering around as were the occasional guard and the less common guide. A few questions revealed that Dr. Alvarez was in a restricted area in the back. The guide led them through a heavy door into a small, stuffy office where an annoyed looking worker. His nameplate identified him as Luis Ramos.

“I’m sorry,” Ramos was saying in heavily accented English. “But the restricted areas are not open to… tourists.” He spoke the word as if it were an insult. “If you wish to access the restricted area you will have to present proper academic credentials and have your need for access reviewed by our proctors before you can examine what is here.”

“We’re with the National Science Foundation.” David said, presenting his ID. “We’re really not here for research, we’re just looking for Dr. Patricia Alvarez. We need to talk to her about one of her students; Ted Heyman.”

“Oh. Him.” Ramos sniffed. “He has no respect for history. I caught him standing over a manuscript while drinking a soda. A 500 year old manuscript. Can you imagine what he could have done?”

“Yes, indeed.” David said, hoping Ramos wasn’t familiar enough with American English to detect the lack of sincerity in his voice. “Put please, we really need to speak to Dr. Alvarez.”

“I’ll see if she is available.” Ramos stood up and, slipping out of the slippers he was wearing, unlocked the door behind him and disappeared into the hallway beyond.

Brad let out a short laugh. “He stole an artifact and he’s upset because he was drinking a soda?”

“He’s an archivist,” David said, “so the possibility of a historical book being damaged is probably something he worries about.”

“Yeah, but because he was drinking a Coke?”

“Says the man who carries his own mouse around with him.” put in Alicia. Brad made a face but said nothing.

Ramos came back through the door. “Dr. Alvarez says she wishes to talk with you. This way please.”

Ramos led them through the door and down the hallway. They took a door near the end which let them into a large, open room jammed with tall bookcases holding thousands of old books. Larger, glass-fronted or solid cabinets lined the walls. Near the middle of the room there was a more-or-less open space with several tables, all of which were covered with a scattering of books. An out-of-place looking laptop sat in the middle of one of the tables with a slightly-built woman sitting behind it. She stood up as they entered and grimaced.

“So what more trouble has Ted gotten himself into?” she asked.

“Dr. Alvarez?” David asked. The anthropologist was younger than he had expected. “I’m Dr. Stone. This is Dr. Braddock and Dr. Howard. We’re here from the NSF.”

“NSF?” Dr. Alvarez looked confused. “What does… what is this about? You said you wanted to talk about Ted?”

“Yes.” David turned and looked at Ramos. “Um…”

“Please let me know if you need assistance, Senora Alvarez.” Ramos left and David waited until he heard the door to the hallway close.

Alvarez was starting to become impatient. “Look, why are you here and what is it about Ted. He’s already in a lot of trouble, and if he’s done something to screw up my grant he’s in even bigger trouble.”

“Dr. Alvarez? I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but… Mr. Heyman is dead.”

“Dead?” Alvarez turned pale, then sat down. “I didn’t… I mean… I didn’t want or… What happened? How?”

“That’s actually what we’re trying to find out ourselves.” David admitted. “We were hoping you could help us determine that.”

“Me? How? What happened.”

David told Alvarez what they had discovered and the events at CERN. He didn’t mention the events at Heyman’s hotel, only that they had recovered the case from his room. She didn’t need to know the circumstances.

Alvarez was somewhere between shock and anger. “He destroyed the skull? He blew it up?”

David nodded. “We’re not totally sure, but that’s what seems to have happened. He and Ms. Meneely were killed in the explosion and building collapse but everything we have found implies that they were trying to do a crystallographic analysis on the skull, and that was what caused the accident.”

“What can you tell us about the skull?” asked Alicia. “Did you have any idea that it was dangerous in any way?”

“The skull?” Alvarez looked between them. “Ted and this Meneely are dead and you’re worried about the skull?”

“We’re facing a bit of a political issue.” David lied. “The higher-ups at CERN are claiming that we were conducting weapons testing at their facility. Obviously that would turn into an ugly political incident pretty fast, so we’re trying to get to the bottom of what *did* happen before things spin out of control.”

“Yes, but someone is dead! Isn’t that more important than…” she was interrupted by a loud *bang*.

“Sorry.” Brad said. “It was a lot heavier than I expected.” Brad pointed to the metal-bound book lying at his feet. “I kind of thought it looked like the ‘Necronomicon’ or something and…”

“The what?” asked David.

“The ‘Necronomicon'”, Alvarez sighed. She stood up, walked over and picked up the book. “A fake occult book made up by an American horror writer. Everyone who doesn’t know anything about real archaeology seems to think every old book is a secret volume of occult lore, especially in a restricted area like this.” She carefully placed the book back on the shelf.

“Hey, I know the ‘Necronomicon’ isn’t real.” said Brad. “I just…”

“Decided to throw around a rare book? These things are here because they’re rare and fragile, not because they’re secret. Be careful.”

“What are you doing!” everyone jumped. David looked to see Ramos, who had entered silently on his bare feet, glaring at everyone in the room. Ramos was obviously angry. “I knew it was a mistake to let you back here!”

“It’s all right, Luis.” Alvarez told him. “Someone simply knocked a chair over.”

“A chair?” Ramos looked at the lone chair in the room, still sitting behind the table. “Really.”

“Yes, Luis. Everything is fine. Please, we need to attend to some… administrative issues. Do you mind?”

Ramos looked at her, obvious annoyance on his face. “Please make sure there are no more incidents, Senora.” He turned and left the room as silently as he entered. He did not re-close the door to the hallway, but David waited several seconds then went and pushed it shut. He returned to the central work area.

“Please do not do anything like that again.” Alvarez said. “Luis is… dedicated to his position.” She sighed and rubbed her forehead. “I suspect the sooner you get what information you have come here for the sooner you will be leaving. So, what is it you wish to know?”

“Tell us about the skull.” David said. “The records say that it was a fake, but if so why did you bring it here? And what was Heyman trying to discover about it.”

Alvarez said nothing for several seconds, then sighed. “It will be easier if I show you. Wait here.”

Alvarez went to one of the cabinets along the side of the room and, opening it, retrieved a heavy wooden box. Closing and latching the cabinet again she carried the box to the table and carefully sat it down. There was a large, ancient lock on the box but she retrieved a key and opened it. Removing the lid, she carefully pushed aside what looked like straw and extracted a skull. A skull carved from a single piece of dark glass or crystal. She carefully placed the skull on the table, then moved the now empty box to the seat of the chair.

“Whoa!” said Brad.

David walked over and examined the skull without touching it. “So it wasn’t destroyed.”

Alvarez shook her head. “No. Ted took the one I brought from the University. I assume it was destroyed, as you said. This is another.”

David continued to examine the skull, trying to determine the material it was made of. It looked like glass or crystal but he couldn’t identify what it was made of. It was dark, but not dark in the sense of simply being black. It was almost as if light just didn’t reflect from it.

“Alicia? What is it?”

“I don’t know.” she said. She reached toward the skull then stopped and looked inquiringly at Alvarez. Alvarez nodded in annoyance and Alicia carefully touched the skull, then picked it up and examined it. “It’s quartz, I think.” she said. “But I’ve never seen quartz with this type of optical properties before. The internal reflections are wrong. In fact, I can’t think of a single crystal that behaves this way.”

“There’s more to it than that.” said Alvarez. She took the skull from Alicia and placed it back on the table. She moved a desk lamp over, placed it directly over the skull, angled the shade so it was aimed directly at the skull and turned it on.

David looked at the skull sitting in the pool of light. It looked even odder there, slightly transparent on the surface but pitch black underneath, but he didn’t see anything else out of the ordinary.

“What am I supposed to be seeing?” he asked finally.

“Just wait. You’ll see.” Alvarez told him.

David shrugged, annoyed, but kept staring at the skull. A long minute passed.

“Look.” he said finally. “I’m sure this makes sense to you but…”

“Just watch!” Alvarez snapped. “Look.”

David sighed and turned his attention back to the skull. He was about to give up in irritation when, finally, something happened.

The skull flashed. For an instant it turned transparent, and in that instant it flashed as brightly as a camera flash. The light dazzled his eyes and for a few seconds he couldn’t see because of the afterimages burned into his retina. He heard gasps from both Alicia and Brad as well and a satisfied “Ha!” from Alvarez.

“You’re right.” he said, blinking watering eyes. “That would have been difficult to explain. And I’m not sure if I would have believed it if you had.”

“I thought these things were fakes?” Alicia said, rubbing her own eyes.

“Most of the so-called ‘crystal skulls’ are.” Alvarez said, turning off the desk lamp. “Well, fakes in the sense that they aren’t Mayan artifacts. They were made by someone. I believe that there were actual Mayan crystal skulls of some type though and that most of the ones we know about are relatively modern copies of them. I think this is one of the originals and that the one the University has…” she grimaced. “*had* is another.”

“So what has your research found?” David asked.

“I was studying some of the old Spanish expeditions. The conquistadors of the time weren’t interested in archaeology, or culture or pretty much anything other than gold or plunder. And, since they killed most of the natives they did encounter there isn’t a whole lot of direct evidence left. A lot of what I’ve been trying to do is locate the various artifacts that were stolen from the Americas and try to track back to when and where they were originally taken.”

“And this?” David indicated the skull.

“I found the first skull, the one that Heyman took, in our archives at the University. It had similar properties to this one, only not as pronounced. It had originally been found in a Spanish Mission in La Paz. I did some research and found that the skull was one of a pair and that the other had apparently been taken to Spain by one of the Cordoba expeditions. I came here to see this one and to look over the records of that expedition, hoping it could tell me where both skulls came from.”

“Where was that?”

“I’ll show you.” Alvarez looked around the table then found a heavy, leather-bound book. She opened it and looked carefully through it before opening it to a page showing a rough map. “Here. Andes mountains of what is now Brazil, near the border with modern Peru.”

“Do we know anything about the area?”

“Not really.” she shook her head. “That area isn’t even that well explored today, and the jungle there is very good at covering things. Remember, even major cities like Tikal had been completely lost in the jungle; who knows what else is out there.”

Alicia had been continuing to examine the skull. “I’m more curious about the flashing light effect. That’s something I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere in anything about these skulls. Why has no one ever mentioned or studied that?”

Alvarez frowned. “Archeology can be… conservative sometimes. Artifacts or records that don’t match the established theories are sometimes overlooked or neglected simply because they don’t match the theories. Remember Schliemann and his discovery of Troy? He struggled to get his discovery accepted because everyone *knew* that Troy was a myth, even while he was digging it up.”

“So these skulls got ignored?”

Alvarez nodded. “If you try to do research on ‘crystal skulls’ you would get laughed out of any respectable archaeological conference. Even mentioning that you are working on them gets you branded as a new age kook more interested in selling auras or something than in actual study.”

David nodded understanding. “So no one ever tried to figure out what was causing the flashing effect?”

Alvarez shook her head. “No. Again, even trying to do actual research on one of these things gets you branded as a crackpot. They weren’t even the focus of my research; I only came across them as historical markers when trying to retrace Cordoba’s third expedition.”

“So where does Heyman’s taking of the skull come in?”

Alvarez sighed. “Heyman didn’t know about the skulls or their properties until we got here and I compared the two. He was fascinated by them and kept saying that he knew someone who could figure out how they worked.” She sighed again. “It looks like he was wrong.”

“I’ve got it!” Brad jumped excitedly. “I know what happened!”

Everyone looked up in surprise. Brad had been standing quietly and staring at the skull, now he ran over to the table and knelt over it. He tapped his earpiece. “Peter, can you look at this in infrared for me?”

“Sure thing.” There was a pause. “Huh. It’s glowing. How did you know?”

“I know what it’s doing.” said Brad. “And I think I know what happened in Geneva.”

“OK.” said David. “How about explaining in small words for those of us in the squishy sciences?”

“I’ll try.” said Brad, obviously excited. “OK, when a light wave, or any photon really, hits an atom it can cause an electron to jump up into a higher orbital. The electron then drops back down and emits light. That’s how things like fluorescent lights and lasers work.”

“OK…” said David.

“Now, in a crystal the atoms are arranged in a grid and they can share outer electrons. Suppose light hits one of the atoms in the grid and it has an electron hop into a higher orbital. Normally, this electron would just drop back down, but in the crystal it just causes another electron on another atom to pop up. As more light falls on the crystal, more and more electrons hop up into a higher energy state.”

“That’s why the skull looks dark!” Alicia said, starting to see what he was saying.

“Exactly!” Brad waved at the skull. “That thing is sitting there, looking dark, because it’s essentially absorbing light; storing it. Sort of like how a capacitor stores electricity.”

“So why the flash?”

“Eventually enough of the electrons get kicked into higher orbitals that the crystal structure can’t pass any more around; they’re all ‘full’ you might say. So one electron drops, knocks another one down which in turn knocks another one and so on. It’s a chain reaction. All the light that the crystal has stored is released at once. That’s why it turns clear very briefly; the crystal hasn’t started storing light yet?”

“OK, I think I follow that.” said David. “But what happened at CERN was a lot more than just a bright flash of light.”

Brad nodded. “Light can only penetrate a short distance into the crystal before it gets absorbed. The electron jump will propagate a bit further into the interior but that’s about it. In the lab, they were running a crystallography program; the beam was designed to penetrate deep inside. Instead of just exciting the top fraction of an inch of the crystal they excited the entire thing.”

David nodded understanding. “So when it ‘discharged’…”

“…it blasted out all of the energy the scanning beam had been pumping into for over a minute or more in a fraction of a second. And the release seemed to have been directional; possibly some polarization effect of the crystal.” He paused. “They probably weren’t getting any readings at first. Just like the crystal looks dark because it is absorbing light it would have been absorbing the beam. They probably went to full power, not realizing what was happening.” He paused again. “They probably never knew what happened.”

Alicia shook her head. “What you are saying I suppose is theoretically plausible, but I’ve never heard of a crystal behaving that way.”

“Probably some fluke caused by impurities in the crystal. Who knows? But someone got their hands on the original crystal, discovered its properties and carved the skulls to take advantage of it.”

Alvarez had been watching the conversation with increasing frustration and finally spoke up. “OK, who are you people? You don’t act like any auditing team I’ve ever dealt with. And who were you talking to about something to do with ‘infrared’ anyway?”

Brad turned red at the realization of the faux pas. David tried to change the subject slightly. “Yes, what was the infrared thing you were talking about.”

“Oh.” Brad seemed relieved to talk about something else. “The frequency of light emitted by a substance depends on the energy absorbed by the electron. Basically more energy kicks the electron up ‘higher’ in its orbit. The more it drops when it returns to normal the higher frequency of the light it emits.”

“When Dr. Alvarez placed the skull under the lamp earlier, it absorbed more energy and emitted light in the visible range. Right now it is still absorbing light, but since it is absorbing less it is only emitting in infrared.” He paused. “That would have made the effect in Geneva even stronger. The extremely high levels of energy being put into it there would have produced an even higher frequency burst.”

Brad stepped back from the table, satisfied with his explanation, and bumped into the chair. The chair, and the wooden box still sitting on it, tumbled over with a loud clatter. Brad winced and David sighed and rolled his eyes. Alvarez glared at him angrily.

“You haven’t answered my question.” she said, pointedly.

“Um…” Brad turned red again and looked at David.

“Our Division of the NSF works under a slightly different protocol than normal.” David started to say soothingly. He stopped. The loud clicking of shoes could be heard coming down the hallway. He sighed and turned toward the others then froze.

“Alicia?” he gestured with his head toward the opening in the shelves. She looked at him in slight confusion but moved to the position he was indicating.

“What…?” started Brad. He stopped when David held up his hand for silence.

A moment later the footsteps in the hallway stopped. There was a long silence. David’s eyes narrowed and he moved silently along the shelves toward the door.

“What is going on!” Alvarez demanded. “Just what do you people think…”

“Shut UP!” David hissed. Before he could continue the lights in the room suddenly went out. The only illumination was the faint light coming from Alvarez’s laptop.

David moved as quickly as he could while remaining silent toward the door. He saw a rectangle of light as it opened. A figure appeared in the doorway, slipping quickly into the room and David threw himself at the shelf.

There was a creak and the heavy, overbalanced shelf toppled. The unknown figure, their eyes momentarily unadjusted to the dark room, did not see the falling shelf until it was too late. With a cry they fell to the ground under the weight of the collapsing shelf.

The person attempted to get to their feet but David leaped on him. Grabbing the man’s collar, he lifted then shoved downward as hard as he could. The man’s head hit the floor with a solid *crack* and he went limp.

“Luis!” Alvarez shouted. “What…”

“It’s not Luis!” David snapped back. “Luis didn’t wear shoes back here, this guy did.” He reached over and picked up the gun the man had dropped, a 9mm Glock. Dr. Alvarez gasped at the sight of the gun. He checked the clip then tucked it into his waistband under his vest.

“Grab the skull and that book. And Dr. Alvarez’s computer too.” He turned to Alvarez, still staring at the man on the floor. “We’ve got to get out of here. Now.”

“Who are you people!” Alvarez demanded. “What is going on here!”

“I’ll explain, but not now. We don’t have time.” He turned to the others. “Give me your earpieces. Now.”

“What?” Brad asked. Alicia pulled hers off and handed it to him then picked up the book Alvarez had shown them.

David touched his earpiece. “Peter? We’re going dark.” Without waiting for a reply he pulled his own earpiece off and tossed it along with Alicia’s onto the table. He then grabbed Alvarez’s laptop and handed it to Brad. “Earpiece!”

Brad handed it to him. “What is going on?”

“I’ll explain later.” He reached for the skull but Alvarez stopped him.

“*I’ll* handle that.” She wrapped the skull in a cloth and stuck it into a shoulder bag. She gave David a cold look. “Let’s go then.”

David went to the door and carefully looked into the hallway. Motioning for the others to follow, he carefully made his way toward the front of the hall.

The door to Ramos’ office was open and David carefully looked in and sighed. He stepped into the office. Ramos lay on the floor behind the desk, his head turned at an unnatural angle. He knelt beside the body and touched his neck. “Dead.”

Alvarez gasped. “I’m sorry, Luis…” she said quietly.

David checked the man’s pockets and pulled out his museum ID and keycard. He looked at Alvarez. “Is there a back way out of here? We don’t know how many more there may be our front.”

Things were happening too fast for Alvarez. “More?” She looked pale.

“Yes. Is there another way out?”

She nodded and pointed back down the hall. David led the way, past the room they had been in to the end to an exit door. A panel beside the door responded to Ramos’ ID and the lock clicked. He eased the door open a fraction of an inch and looked out, seeing an apparently unoccupied parking lot. “Let’s go.”

The four left the building, walking quickly toward the parking garage where they had left their own vehicle. David’s back itched between his shoulder blades the whole time and he tried hard to lead the group as quickly as possible without attracting attention. Alvarez looked to be nearly in shock and followed along without complaint and they reached the garage without incident. David sighed in relief as they all piled into the SUV and he pulled out into the traffic.

“Where are we going?” Alicia asked, finally.

“They’ll probably be watching the airport here.” he said. “I doubt we could get back to the plane without being spotted. We need to go somewhere else.”

“Where?”

“Somewhere with an international airport.” He shrugged. “Barcelona?”

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