Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Chapter 33 - Testing times

I enjoyed a longer sleep than everyone else. The noises of the farm and the warm sunshine though the window were a subtle and not-unpleasant wake-up call. As my senses returned I could hear the bustle of activity downstairs. It was still quite early, I could see that the sun was still low against the horizon. I guess they were happy to have me out of the way for now. I was on the team, but not part of it. That’s fine, it cuts both ways.
Taking my time in showering and getting dressed I contemplated the upcoming action. I’d agreed to do it and if half of what the Friar had told me was true, it wasn’t going to be easy. I still wasn’t sure if I fully believed what I had been told, but I was surrounded by people who did and were planning accordingly. As I was going to be at the sharp end with them it made sense for me to do the same. If it turned they were wrong and had allowed their mythology of Lazarus to overestimate him, then it would be that much easier for me.
The big question I had yet to answer was: what then? The Friar had already made it clear that freedom wasn’t an option. Now was probably the best opportunity to escape that I was likely to get. So, why stay? Why not take advantage of their focus being elsewhere and run for it. They had the tracker, but they also had other concerns. Lazarus is clearly a big deal for them, a bigger and more immediate threat than I was. Would they call of the attack to hunt me down? They had other resources I’m sure and no doubt Interpol would be on the case, but I would have a head start.
The tracker they had implanted was a concern. I had my doubts about that as well, but even if it was real there are ways to deal with that. I just had to find the right people quickly enough. There’s no question of whether they’d do what i wanted or not.
So why stay? The question was a fair one, I’m not sure I can answer it fully. For the first time in my life I had a purpose other than my own and I find that intriguing. I have done many things in my life, but never for any clear goal. It’s a bit of a mystery, but I don’t mind. At least it provides some entertainment for a while.
Tantalising scents from the kitchen draw me downstairs. Along the way I bump into one of soldiers standing by the back door having a crafty smoke. He generously gives me a cigarette and lights it for me. We don’t talk, we’re just two strangers standing together on foreign soil enjoying the morning sun and a quick smoke.
It’s not a breakfast as I would normally recognize one, but the varied selection of meats, cheeses and fresh, warm bread more than makes up for its unfamiliarity. Simple fare that is simply delicious. A glass of thick, creamy milk and dark, bitter coffee wash down this goodness. I’m not usually a coffee man, but I can see why people drink it, it certainly picks you up in the morning.
Hammond and the Friar found me still in the kitchen, finishing my coffee. “We’re going for a little trip.” Hammond tells me and I follow them out into the yard. As we pass through the house I can hear the grumbling from the various soldier types. I expand my awareness so I can hear their complaints more clearly.
The principal complaint is the lack of preparation they have. They have nowhere to rehearse the assault properly, having to rely on paper and virtual reality walkthroughs to get to know the terrain and to play out scenarios. Exposed as they are in this farmhouse they can’t even practice their contact drills. I have no idea what they are, but they seem important.
Their second major complaint is of course, me. I get the feeling that they’re not happy dealing with new people at all. Especially when that new person is a creepy one with mystic powers. I manage to resist the temptation to improve their feelings towards me.
We get into an old Land Rover, battered and dusty, it is clearly a veteran of these parts. Another monk is already in the driver’s seat. As soon as we are sat, the engine is revved and we are bumping down the track.
Hammond is a looming presence beside me, the Friar in the passenger seat up front. He turns and raising his voice above the engine noise says. “I think you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Today you have to prove to me that you are capable of cloaking us from Lazarus tomorrow. You can start right now, make this vehicle invisible to anyone who can see us.”
I relax, expand my awareness, and then fix the picture  in my mind with the jeep removed.
“Don’t be a smart-ass” growls Hammond, “Everyone in the vehicle needs to be invisible as well!”
I offer a little smile, it is a pity there was nobody around to witness the four people floating down the road. I correct the image and maintain my focus and before we reach the coast road we are invisible to anyone around.
Now I have never experienced driving where the other drivers cannot see you . It makes for an interesting experience and I tipped a metaphorical hat to the driver who clearly had nerves of steel. Luckily for us the road was fairly empty and we didn’t encounter many other vehicles, but we had a few near misses.
Junctions were the biggest danger, drivers would approach the junction and not seeing anything else coming would pull out, not knowing that we were just in front of them. I think our driver spent most of the journey cursing in Italian. It may have been Latin, I don’t really know the difference.
In one respect the Friar was quite correct, I had underestimated how difficult it was. The first problem was that we were moving quite quickly and at first I wasn’t compensating for that. We would reach the edge of the mental picture I had formed and flicker back into view. I changed the picture so it updated as we moved and quite quickly I was able leave it as a background task, letting it tick away at the back of my mind.
The other issue was that of scale, the road ran along the line of hills, about half way up the slopes. It twisted and wound through the hills, sometimes we could see for miles and on others we could just see the corner ahead. Pushing my awareness higher helped alleviate this problem.
I knew that the actual task of hiding the vehicle and snatch team from Lazarus wouldn’t be as complicated as this, we would be in a stationary vehicle and physically hidden out of the way, but it was good practice and I actually felt some confidence in the task ahead, rather than the simple arrogance from the previous day’s briefing.
As we drove, Hammond and the Friar maintained a constant conversation with me. I know what they were doing. They were attempting to distract me by asking a variety of trivial questions about my past, was I into football, nonsense stuff. They continuously switched subjects so I had to think of the answers for their questions.
We drove for about an hour before turning off the coast road and onto another rough track that twisted up the hill. At the top of the hill there is a small monastery. It looked old, the stonework was pocked and bleached by the sun. It was a squat building., dominated by a large stone cross and circled with a high stone wall. We pulled into the driveway, the tyres crunching on the loose gravel. A monk tending some plants by the entrance turned around in surprise, his shock apparent as the car shimmered into view.
Friar Francis seemed pleased with this response, he climbed out of the car saying “This isn’t a Dominican monastery, but the brothers here are known for their mystic pursuits. I have already spoken to the head of their order and they’re going to help test your cloaking of this vehicle.”
With that he walked up to the lone monk and after a brief conversation, they entered the gateway. While they were gone we moved the car, parking it at the far side of the entrance. After we had parked, Hammond jumped out and with a large piece of bush, brushed out the wheel marks from the gravel. I then resumed the mental picture and erased us from view.
For the rest of the day I maintained the cloak. A collection of different monks came out of the entrance and looked around the drive way. I could feel probes lancing out, I ignored them, allowing them to pass through the cloak unhindered. I knew that it would be resisting the probes that would give me away. They were already inside the effect, so could discern no change.
As I had on the trip here I maintained the cloak over a wide area and a prickling in my awareness lead me to an observer on a hill next to the one we were currently hiding on. I could see one of the guards from the farmhouse looking at the monastery with powerful binoculars.
That Friar Francis is a sly one, luckily he was well within the zone of my awareness.
All day I kept it up. I wish we had brought some water and food with us. I asked Hammond if that was deliberate, but he just grinned at me. He’s seen more than his fair share of days spent in the hot sun in dusty lands so it didn’t bother him too much. I mentally shrugged and got on with it.
Finally as dusk began to settle the Friar returned, I think every monk from the monastery was now standing by the gate. The Friar instructed me to turn off the cloak and we reappeared before the assembled brothers. There were a few surprised faces and a couple of restrained nods, but the Friar seemed please as he told the driver to return home. As it was getting dark he deemed it wise to drive back to the farmhouse visible.
It seems that I have passed his test. I know I shouldn’t have, but I did feel a little spark of pride.
Once we arrived back at the farmhouse Hammond told me to get a few hours rest, we would be moving out at midnight. So, I ignored the bustle of the soldiers preparing equipment and checking their weapons and headed to the small bedroom and lay down to rest.

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