The Maelstrom

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Chapter-7

Mission Classification Of A-SATT (London HQ, September-4, 2017)

C- Rank - 5-10 years before 2017

B-Rank -10-50 years before 2017

A-Rank - 50-100 years before 2017

S-Rank - All the years prior to the above-mentioned division, meant exclusively for trained, veteran time travellers with greater than or equal to 10 years of experience.

(The classification and the conditions are subject to change as per the discretion of the appointed head of the organization of Association of Space And Time Travellers.)

-Section IV-C of the A-SATT Dictum September-4, 2017.

“Dad.” I whispered into the phone, all the while mentally cursing at the fact that dad did pick up his phone.

Outside Marc’s lair, the grim atmosphere of A-SATT was beginning to further drown my spirits. I picked up my pace, precariously balancing the heap of clothes with one hand and desperately trying to continue on with the call.

Rhys had left the scene long ago, and presently the task was now upon me to contact him and hand over the clothes.

“Would you happen to have Rhys’ contact information?” I jumped straight to the point. It would be absolutely useless to fight Marc on the topic and engaging in a heated debate was again not a very attractive alternative.

For a few seconds, my question was left unanswered. If it were not for the low, periodic sounds of dad’s breathing, I would have definitely mistaken it for a dead line.

“Dad? Are you there?” I lowered my voice to a whisper and pushed the phone closer to my ear to better make out what was happening at the other end of the call.

“Where are you, Camelia?” He finally decided to grace the silence with his question.

Halting momentarily, I looked around to see the motto of A-SATT, embossed in golden letters and the life-sized, wooden framed pictures of the previous heads of the organization nailed orderly on the pristine, snow-white walls of the hallway.

“On my way to the travelling crew sector.” I sighed.

The travelling crew sector was nothing in comparison to the luxurious, flamboyant administrative block. It was the older, east-wing of the building built in the forties. Apart from the installation of PCs and better lighting, even after decades of continuous use, no major renovation was done to impart a modern vibe to the place. My opinion on the matter was- that it was done in a nasty bid to habituate the travellers to their insufferable fate of leaping through the timelines, so that they did not feel ‘out of place’ in a 20th century setting.

The long, deserted hallway was a transition from the high-end administrative block to the dumps of the crew sector. The concluding space of civilization, before one descended into the darkness of the traveller’s block. Although, the travellers were paid handsomely, yet every attempt was made to make them feel the superiority and control the administration had on A-SATT. We did the dirty work, yet they got the laurels. The bitter reality of employment.

My melancholic refection was cut short by dad’s statement. “Camelia! Quickly, get Brianna to reach Mr. Neville’s office.”

Before I could voice out my confusion, dad added breathlessly, “She has to leap to 1867 ASAP.”

And with that the line went dead.

Clutching the phone tightly in my hand, I stared for a few seconds at the dark screen, unsure of the reliability of my senses. I stood right in the middle of the hallway, barely moving. The call must be a prank; no, a sick joke would be a better terminology.

Never before had the portraits of the heads appeared more sinister and harrowing with their customary sales-man-like smiles and wrinkled faces. There seemed to be a suffocating quality in the presence of the life-sized, portraits; and in the far end of the hallway, nailed on to the wall was a picture of a very familiar face looking straight ahead into nothingness with a pair of lifeless, grey eyes planted on a similarly lifeless and expressionless face.

Tracing my steps back, I decided to revisit the devil’s den; loudly stomping my feet in the process of imitating a ‘sprint in heels.’ Mr. Neville was not making any sense with his absurd policies. And the last nail in the coffin was his decision to send Brianna alone to Brawcarth. It was going to prove a major blunder if the decision underwent execution.

Even ignoring the emotional aspect of the travel of sending a novice 17-year-old to the most dangerous man in existence, the probability of a successful contact with Brawcarth would be low. And knowing his reputation, Brawcarth didn’t seem to be a believer in second chances. One wrong step would be a fatal mistake for the people undergoing the journey; and if misfortune would have it, even for A-SATT.

But before storming into the head’s office, I made a momentary stop at Jaxon’s to hand him over Marc’s outfits for safekeeping. A little wrinkle in the fabric would earn me an earful on some of Marc’s choice topics of art, hard work and responsibility.

Reaching the familiar huge oak doors of Mr. Neville’s office, I pushed them open without uttering any graces of courtesy. My sudden intrusion in the room was met with a wide-eyed Mr. Neville and a smirking Rhys.

Rhys’ unexpected presence in the room fazed me temporarily, but reminding myself of the impending danger at hand, I decided to make no comment of it- Both mental and verbal.

“Miss Darrett.” Mr. Neville sighed in frustration. “How can I be of service?” Putting down his thick-rimmed spectacles on the table, Mr. Neville gently closed his eyes.

Not in the mood of engaging in small-talk, I began, “I apologise for the intrusion, but I needed to discuss the recent developments of the S-ranked mission, concerning the order of sending Brianna Mason all alone to Aldaire.”

Mr. Neville let out a soft sigh at the mention of Brawcarth, but decided to not pursue the topic any further. Rhys shifted uncomfortably in his seat, but like his grandfather decided to not say anything on the matter.

Without wasting more time, I decided to approach the situation from a different angle. Raising my chin to look squarely into Mr. Neville’s grey eyes, I added confidently, “What exactly is written in the scrolls regarding this travel?”

Now this seemed to have aroused the expected reaction from Mr. Neville. He closed his eyes in frustration and crossed his arms in front of his chest. Rising slowly from his seat, Mr. Neville made his way towards the giant window in the room overlooking the city.

Reaching the desired spot and staring intently at the world below, through the yellow-tinted glass, Mr. Neville said in a low whisper, “Do you happen to know the story of the invention of the first vaccine, Miss Darret?”

Through the unblocked periphery of the window, I could observe dark clouds forming in the horizon and shrouding the evening sky while the miniscule people walked obliviously through the streets.

Rhys let out a loud huff, while I continued to stare at the darkening firmament, trying to make out the relation a small-pox vaccine had with the mission. Although the temperature was well in the tolerable limit, yet it felt like a chill had descended upon the room, so much so that it was becoming impossible for me to stand still.

Walking across the room, I stood beside Mr. Neville. Through his refection in the glass, I observed that his eyes were still closed and he harboured a troubled expression on his face.

“Edward Jenner.” He said in relief. Opening his eyes, he gave me a nod noticing that I was presently standing beside his tall frame. “A genius of the century.” He continued, staring blankly at the two swallows that flew past the building and then disappeared instantly out of the window’s field of vision. “But terrible at checkers.” He chuckled while gently shaking his head sideways in remembrance.

Needless to say, I was completely lost. I turned behind to look at Rhys to gather what Mr. Neville was hinting at, but Rhys himself seemed to be lost in a trance. His eyes were directed to the floor, while he sat extremely still.

Drops of rain had begun falling over the congested streets. Even the glass-window fell victim to the wrath of the moisture-laden sky. Small aqueous drops stuck to the glass like crystal beads, obscuring the view and shrouding the world below in a shadowy haze.

“Edward was an extremely sharp man.” I again looked over at Mr. Neville. “But intelligence alone can only take one so far.”

After a long pause, Mr. Neville continued, “After Jenner was well-satisfied with the resulting vaccine, he needed to try it out, prove its efficacy; but volunteers in those eras were scarce and scientific community was not well-established. He needed to try it on someone; someone who would easily agree, someone who in case got sick or succumbed to the fatality of the disease or the resulting inoculum wouldn’t cause much loss to the world or ask major compensations.” At this he again closed his eyes.

“So, he took a blind shot; a leap of faith- He tested his inoculum on children and infants.” Mr. Neville spoke breathlessly without an ounce of emotion in his voice and continued staring ahead through the window that had now turned completely opaque by the aggregating water droplets.

It was becoming clear as to why Mr. Neville had decided to bring up the narrative. It was a ploy to make him feel better about himself by metaphorically corelating an acclaimed historical feat with his decision of sending Brianna and Keith to the travel.

Enraged by the realization that had descended upon me, I tightly clutched my fists and closed my eyes in meditation to think about all the arguments I could come up with to prevent the execution of the plan.

But before I could let out my inner turmoil and debate him on the topic, he quickly added, “Jenner was a brave man. He went against the social norms, conventional practices and the whole world as such, just to prove a point. And no matter how twisted or evil his approach might seem now, he ultimately won the battle against smallpox and saved millions.”

“So, in your experiment, Brianna and Keith are the guinea pigs.” Declaring repulsively, I gave Mr. Neville a look of disgust.

His warped reasoning was now in the open- The absurd reason to add Brianna and Keith in the equation, Mr. Neville’s sudden interest in the mission and his inclination to let Brianna go alone.

Of course, he knew that the meeting with Aldaire would be a chaotic one. Why send people from A-SATT, who under pressure or torture would divulge all the secrets about the organization to Traveller-X. Aldaire was a sharp man and any minor loophole in the system would be exploited by him to the max.

The employees of A-SATT might come in handy for some other gruelling task for some other mission. Wasting investments like veteran time travellers on whom countless years of hard work and pounds were spent, would be synonymous to venturing out on the borders of stupidity.

The best solution to the problem- Employ ignorant people who have no idea about time travel and whose loss wouldn’t result in major compensation.

I looked at Mr. Neville expectedly, praying that what I had suggested would be false, that he would reprimand me for even considering this monstrosity. Instead, he continued looking outside the window, never once denying what I had accused him of.

Gathering my scattered emotions, I walked over at Rhys. I was angry and frustrated. Standing in front of the couch where he was seated, I looked at him in defeat. I was exhausted beyond belief, but maybe Rhys could back me up on this and think about a solution or at least stand against the current development of events.

“And I suppose you knew it all?” I asked him sourly. Never in my life had I felt so repulsed by a person.

I admit that when it came to rapport, Rhys and I were not exactly the role models. But Brianna and Keith; I had the premonition that he at least considered them to be his friends.

As if waking from a dream, Rhys suddenly looked up at me, his blue eyes trained on my green ones. It was all too familiar. I was searching his eyes for the answer that I already knew way too well. But maybe if I look closely, I could find a few remaining shards of humanity left somewhere in him.

Nothing.

The eyes that used to captivate me just hours ago, now seemed to be hollow, lifeless and devoid of any emotion. I cursed myself for falling right into the trap of the Nevilles. The whole ‘team part’ of the travel was a lie; to distract us all from the bigger picture.

“Answer me Rhys! Are you fine with Brianna going all alone to Brawcarth?” I raised my voice an octave higher, all the while trembling with anger. How could someone be so heartless. Was this his true nature; a selfish, backstabbing moron.

Suddenly Rhys stood up from the couch, causing me to stumble a few steps back. Walking over towards me, he stood within inches of my small frame, harbouring the typical uninterested, blank expression on his face.

“Yes.” He spoke with the gentleness of a psychopath, and walked past me and out of Mr. Neville’s office.

I looked dejectedly at the door. The final piece of hope I had felt for him, vanished with his retreating figure. Undeniably, I was not left with a lot of aid from the A-SATT.

“I am sorry Camelia, but if you have a better idea, please tell me.” Mr. Neville suddenly spoke up, his face looked thinner than normal and now that I noticed closely, he had bags forming under his eyes. “It’s difficult for me as well. But we all know way too well what had transpired after Brawcarth made contact with the Timekeepers in the sixties.” He continued.

I considered the situation for a moment and spoke up, “I’ll go.”

The moment I uttered those words the meaning of my statement hit me. Mr. Neville looked at me with wide eyes for a fraction of second and then his features softened.

“Always the hero.” He smiled at me and took out a cigarette from his waist pocket. “Tell me what will I tell your father if you never return?” He questioned me and stopped midway in between a drawl.

“The better question is- what would you tell Brianna’s family?” I counter-questioned him condescendingly.

Mr. Neville let out a loud sigh and looked at me pleadingly, “I am not the heartless person you consider me to be.” He began, his eyes glistening under the white light of his office.

I gave out a loud huff in response to the lie he had uttered. Apparently, sending innocent people to death sentences a century back, didn’t fall under the category of heartless.

“Apart from the time scrolls, there is another reason as to why it must be Brianna and Keith.” He muttered defeatedly. Walking over to his oak table, he picked up a file and handed it to me.

I cautiously took the file from Mr. Neville, a million questions plaguing my brain. Without hesitation I opened the file and began reading its contents. Most of the information dealt with the time travel we were supposed to undertake. I flipped the pages of the file in haste, not getting what Mr. Neville wanted me to understand.

Suddenly my eyes landed on a piece of paper. It was laminated and tucked carefully in the middle of the file. Gathering from the unusual placement of the document, it was clear that the information contained within it was not meant for open disclosure.

The smooth, reflecting white surface caught my attention within seconds. It seemed larger and thicker than the customary pages used by A-SATT for printing or sharing information.. One quick glance and it was clear that the document didn’t belong to the organization. It looked some sort of a judicial order. But the thing that caught my attention, were the following words written in bold at the end.

….Keith Lester to be present for the next hearing of the Travis Jakoda murder case on 24-6-21.

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