Mitch Shelley smiled at the well-dressed Mikron O’Jeneus as he finished fixing up the warehouse with the aid of several fast-moving robotic devices.
“The boss doesn’t like me to use the nanotech, since it’s so far ahead of what’s available in this day and age, but since you decided to stay outside the base, he cleared it for use here. You sure you don’t want any of the future tech here?” Mik seemed eager to add a few high-tech devices to the almost-bare warehouse room.
Shelley shook his head as he sat in a just-made chair. “No, thank you, Mik. I do appreciate you putting in the workout room at the end like I asked, but as for all of the gizmos, I would prefer not to have to deal with it now.”
Looking somewhat disappointed, Mik headed to the transporter booth in the center of the warehouse. “I keep forgetting that you’re still adjusting to this new day and age.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Dragon Knight: Into the Light.]
Mik waved one hand to the gadgets, which disassembled and then melted down at his gesture before he vanished into the teleporter. Mitch Shelley got out of the chair and wandered around the warehouse, lost in thought. He paused in front of a bookshelf full of ancient books before moving to sit behind his brand-new desk. Propping his feet up on the desk and leaning back in the chair, he reached into a jacket pocket to pull out one of the business cards the overly talented Mik had printed.
A smile crossed his face as he read the card out loud. “‘Ancient and Modern Languages Translated. Separating Fact from Fiction of the Supernatural and Mythological in the Modern World at Low Rates.’ At least I won’t be bored,” Mitch said to himself as he put the cards back in his pocket and started reading one of the ancient books.
Mitch Shelley cursed as the hammer smashed his finger instead of the nail he was trying to hammer into the wall. On the floor beside him sat a covered oil painting, and behind him was the attractive Dr. Yokito Oka. Shelley returned to hammering the nail, knowing how ridiculous he looked.
“You are one of the most graceful men I know, in both your sword-fighting and martial arts, so I can’t see why such a simple task as that is so hard.” Yokito Oka controlled the urge to laugh as she watched him work.
“There’s a difference, though, between that and this. I have to concentrate to do this, and the other flows naturally without any conscious thought required.”
At that, Mitch Shelley hit his finger again and tossed the hammer on the floor. He gave Yokito a dirty look when she started laughing before laughing himself. Yokito came over, picked the hammer up, and with a few professional hits, had the nail in its proper place. One of her eyebrows rose as she gave Shelley a see how easy it is? look. Mitch nodded his thanks as he uncovered the painting on the floor and hung it on the wall.
Yokito hid her shocked expression at the painted picture. The painting depicted a knight in ancient armor with a glowing sword, battling a horde of shifting, shadowy monsters. Mitch smiled as he stepped back from the picture and moved toward his desk.
“Is the picture why you were gone for several days?” Yokito asked after regaining her composure and making a mental note to contact Kompera Lee.
“You could say the whole thing started because of one man’s talent at painting,” Mitch said as he told Yokito the whole story.
One week earlier at an upscale art gallery, where an exhibit of paintings from Marco Gonzales was on display, a mixed crowd was gathered, walking around the gallery and admiring the pictures. Mitch Shelley was examining the portrait of an Aztec warrior when a man bumped into him, spilling champagne on his tuxedo.
“Do watch where you are going,” the man said in a thick, autocratic tone as he gave Shelley a look of sheer distaste. The man waited for an apology, but Shelley ignored him to wipe the stain off with a handkerchief.
“You have no idea who I am, do you? My name is Winston Winthrop, and I expect you to apologize this instant for your clumsiness.” A sneer was on Winston Winthrop’s face as he announced who he was, obviously expecting Shelley to know the name.
“Never heard of you before.” Shelley returned to staring at the portrait with considerable pleasure as Winthrop snorted loudly.
“This is what comes of allowing the common man into the art gallery. They do not know how to treat their superiors.” Winthrop put his hand on Shelley’s shoulder, expecting to be able to easily turn him around, but was unable to budge him at all. Shelley smiled slightly before abruptly turning, sending Winthrop falling to the ground. Shelley walked over to the next picture, leaving Winthrop complaining behind him.
The next picture was of a man in ancient armor, battling unearthly creatures. Shelley felt an instant connection to the man, even if his face was covered by a helmet. For a split second, an image flashed through his mind of a group of men and women watching an individual fly through a portal in the sky before it vanished. The image faded, leaving Shelley puzzled as he looked at the picture.
“I painted that one from my dreams three years ago when I was here in California,” Marco Gonzales said with a trace of pride in his voice.
“It’s almost like it was painting from real life, even if some of the pieces of the armor are from different historical periods and places,” Shelley said, wondering just how that knowledge popped into his head as he glanced over at the artist.
“A historian and a translator of words as well. I wonder what other hidden talents you possess, Mr. Shelley?” Gonzales asked as he shook Shelley’s hand firmly.
“If your wife invited me to your art exhibit for me to be a critic, she will be sadly disappointed, because I have found all of your paintings extremely well done.” Shelley gave Gonzales an appraising look, noticing the tinge of fear in Gonzales’ eyes that very few people would notice.
“My wife acted without my knowledge, but she was only concerned about me, so perhaps I should tell you of the book I found amongst my grandfather’s effects. I only ask that you give me the benefit of the doubt, since my story will sound quite insane,” Gonzales said with complete seriousness as he gestured for Shelley to follow him.
In a quiet alcove, he sat and indicated that Shelley do the same. Gonzales offered Shelley a drink taken from the small refrigerator before speaking of the book.
“My grandfather was involved in a movement during World War II to retake the lands for the pure-blooded amongst those in Mexico. He grew disgusted after it was revealed that the whole thing was a plot by the Nazis and left the order. (*) According to his papers, he took the book with him because he felt that this order didn’t deserve the knowledge contained in the book. His papers hinted that the book was a key to fulfilling his dream of the pure-blooded people reclaiming their heritage.” The fear grew in Gonzales’ eyes as he remembered reading his grandfather’s papers.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Never Step on a Feathered Serpent,” All-Star Squadron #5 (January, 1982) and “Mayhem in the Mile-High City,” All-Star Squadron #6 (February, 1982).]
“So this book is some sort of key or map, but why does it frighten you so?” Shelley asked as he fiddled with the soda.
“It wasn’t until I removed the book from the papers surrounding it that I became afraid. As soon as I touched the surface, I felt a sort of electric shock, and strange visions filled my head of human sacrifice, sorcery, and a great temple. Strange beasts that were both men and monsters were also in my vision. I dropped the book and put it back in the wrapping paper. Then, that night, my dreams were visions of the same thing, and every night after that as well. I shared my troubles with my beloved wife, as I cannot keep a secret from her. She then contacted you after several of her friends mentioned that you were a translator of both living and dead languages. She thinks that if the words in the book are translated to something we can understand, then my dreams will return to other things.” Gonzales had expected Shelley to consider his story a tale of madness, but he was pleased to see the thoughtful expression on the other man’s face as he listened.
“Give me the book, and I will translate it for you if I can. If I can’t, I will find someone else who can do it for you,” Shelley said as Gonzales looked hopeful.
“I have the book with me, Mr. Shelley. If you can help rid me of these dreams, I will pay any price, including introducing you to my cousin.” Gonzales handed the book to Shelley with considerable relief.
“Your cousin?” Shelley said as he stuck the small book into the jacket of his tuxedo.
“My cousin is a beautiful, wealthy, intelligent woman whom the family hopes will settle down with some man soon and have children. My wife says that she likes women better than men, but I think she only needs to meet the right one to cure her of her strange desires.” Gonzales wore a straight face when he said this to Shelley.
Shelley chose a diplomatic answer as he rose from the chair. “It would be a great privilege to be introduced to your cousin, Mr. Gonzales. I will return to my office and begin working on the translation immediately.”
“You are most generous to do so, Mr. Shelley. My wife will be sorry that she missed a chance to meet you in person.” Marco Gonzales stood to give a tiny, respectful bow as Shelley walked toward the exit.
Hostile eyes watched as Mitch Shelley left before returning to stare at Gonzales. After a few moments, the man with the hostile eyes stepped outside, following Shelley discreetly. Two other men stepped forward, and a whispered conversation took place. All of the men seemed to possess an unnatural grace in movement as they broke apart. One went back inside to observe Gonzales, another followed after the departing Shelley, and the third went to a corner phone booth and made a call.
The one in the phone booth spoke hurriedly in Spanish to whomever answered the phone before hanging up. The sunlight struck the man, casting a shadow behind him, not of a man but some sort of large wolf. The man smiled as he went back inside the art gallery to look at the paintings and join his associate in keeping an eye on Gonzales.
The man following Shelley had no trouble keeping up as Shelley walked several dozen miles back toward his office. Both walked with no signs of effort, whereas a normal man would already be sweating heavily at both the distance and the speed of the walk the two men maintained. Shelley was warm and friendly, pausing occasionally to converse with the people he saw. He not only displayed genuine interest in the people he met, but his eyes conveyed a sparkle of delight as he spoke with passion and flair.
The man following him had cold and dead eyes that seemed to evaluate each person he passed with clinical disinterest before moving toward the next. Several people detoured widely around the man, unconsciously sensing that he was a highly evolved predator waiting for an excuse to gobble them up. Others sped up and avoided any eye contact with the man. Shelley seemed unaware of the danger behind him as he continued toward his combination office and home.
Shelley paused to unlock his office door, then flipped the sign over to indicate that he was back and walked inside. The other man took a position several dozen yards away and proceeded to keep a vigil over Shelley. Inside, Shelley was carefully examining the outer papers that the mysterious book was wrapped in. He walked over to a metal wall several feet away from his desk and placed a hand on it. “Activate.”
The wall opened up, revealing several hundred racks of bookshelves contained within a tesseract. Shelley walked within the tesseract and proceeded to search the shelves. He returned to his desk, placing several volumes of extremely obscure material on both Mayan and Aztec magic and history next to the still-wrapped mysterious book. The wall returned to normal as the hole closed automatically.
Shelley became lost in the world of languages as he translated the markings on the wrapping paper with the aid of the books he selected. A notebook was quickly filled with his musings as he worked. After an hour, he finished the work on the wrapping paper and went through his notebook. Shelley turned to a new page and started writing his summary of what he had learned from the symbols.
My conclusion is that this book was carefully concealed with symbols from the Mayan culture. The symbols contained a containment field for the power of the book and to keep the book from being detected with the aid of magic. Unwrapping the book partially broke the symbols, allowing it to be once more detected by magic.
I have a suspicion that my client is one of these rare people with the gift of second sight, which in his case takes the form of very intense and vivid dreaming. The interaction between his gift and the nature of the book is still uncertain, but several hypotheses have occurred to me. It will take translating the book first to ascertain which one is the most likely.
Shelley finished his summary and put away the filled notepad. He picked up the volumes and once more activated the passage to the tesseract, then replaced the books in their proper place amongst the shelves. He mused on how long it took his current allies, Kompera and Mik, to talk him into having the tesseract installed in the first place as he returned to his desk. It had turned out to very useful on several occasions so far.
No fear but rather a fierce excitement was shown on Shelley’s face as he cautiously unwrapped the book and set the wrapping aside. The mysterious book seems to be normal, except for the lack of aging in the both the pages and binding, Shelley thought to himself as he touched the book directly.
At the contact between flesh and book, Shelley suffered flashes of images that went by too swiftly to grasp. The images contain the effects of direct sensation from all the senses. Shelley forced himself to break contact from the book as the room itself seemed to become less and less real, and the images more and more solid.
A look of extreme curiosity was on his face as he backed away from the book to ponder just how to avoid the effects of the images.