Alex and Ryan sat in the back of the new hover van while Bryan filled out the paper work and made a quick statement about the events leading up to the near destruction of the one he had originally rented. When he mentioned the fact they had seen the aircraft go down, he then went through a short debriefing from airport police as well.
Alex, then Ryan, was also interviewed by the pair of investigators before the trio was able to finally pull out of the rental lot and head into the city.
It quickly become clear the storm, which was still sending down sheets of rain, had done far more damage than the downing of a small aircraft and the frying of a hover van. All along the roads into and out of the airport, ground vehicles were crippled. Some had massive hail damage, while others, especially the older cars with wheels, had been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of rain. In some spots only hover vehicles could make it as lower areas of the roads were flooding.
Bryan, frustrated at the inability of the auto pilot program to adjust for stranded vehicles, switched to manual and slowly guided the hover van around the near grid locked roads. Suddenly a military hovercraft appeared next to him and pulled him over.
Once it had been verified he was Bryan Caldwell, the person they had been looking for, things got a great deal easier. The military craft took the lead and guided them off the main road. Once again Bryan found himself more than slightly embarrassed by the VIP treatment. He couldn't help but to think he was using rescue resources better suited to helping some of those stranded in their vehicles, but such was the value governments placed on some lives over the lives of others. It was not fair in the slightest, yet he already knew he had no chance of refusing the escort. The men and women of the heavily armed and armored hover vehicle had been given orders to see to his safety and discussing the matter would change nothing.
Less than an hour later, they pulled into the main streets of London and finally Bryan was able to radio his thanks to the hovercraft crew and bid them a good day. The commander of the hovercraft offered and strongly suggested they be allowed to escort Bryan all the way to the hotel of his choice, but finally they relented and broke off escort duties.
Ryan shook his head; "Does this sort of thing happen often?"
Bryan let out a deep breath. "If you are referring to the military escort, no. I tend to avoid them at all costs. But sometimes they can't be refused. In emergency situations the local governments seem to have a way of finding me and keeping me, along my family, well protected. It is one of those things you will have to get used to."
"What do you mean?"
Alex answered, "Like it or not, when something happens and we are on solid ground, they will find us. I have seen it all over the world. Remember the car crash that caused us to meet in the first place?"
Ryan nodded, "Yea, I'm glad it happened. Why?"
Bryan chuckled at the absurdity of the boy's comment; "I have to say the fact I literally ran into you did turn out for the best, but I can't say I have ever found a good side of a vehicle wreck before."
Alex giggled, "Dad, you are the one who keeps telling me to look for the good in even the worst of situations!"
Ryan smiled for a moment then turned serious again. "So why did you mention the accident?"
"Simple." Alex answered, "In the grand scheme of things how bad was it?"
"Nothing more then a minor crunching of hover skirts, why?"
Bryan answered as he realized the point Alex was trying to make was escaping Ryan. "Son, once word of the accident went out from the first police unit to arrive on the scene, how long did it take for other units, wreckers, ambulances, and even a military VTOL to arrive?"
Ryan thought it over in silence for a few moments, "Not long at all. My dad even commented on the fact he had never seen such a lightning fast response and Mom was kind of weirded out by the fact there were several over flights of Attack helicopters and even a pass by with a pair of Death Dealer assault aircraft."
Alex nodded, "Exactly. Like Dad said, get used to it."
"So it wasn't some sort of military exercise in the area like they told Mom and Dad?"
Bryan started laughing loudly, "I have always wondered what they told people in such cases of blatant overkill of force."
Ryan's eyes went wide, "So you have this sort of thing happen often?"
"For most people, it would be considered very often." Bryan announced unhappily. "I would say three or four times a year, wouldn't you Alex?"
"Depends on where we are Dad."
Bryan nodded as he instructed the onboard computer to scan major hotels for pools and games rooms plus had open adjoining suites for rent. Finally he turned his attention back to the boys. "Good point. Reactions of each Government varies."
Alex filled in as his dad started following the instructions given by the computer. "United South America is really bad about covering us whenever something happens even remotely close to our location. United North isn't as bad, but when they react it would make what Australia sent out look really minor. This is the first time anything like this has happened here so all things considered, I'd say I like United Britain the best."
"Agreed." Bryan stated emphatically.
"What sort of thing would cause such a reaction? You can't get into wrecks all the time, can you?"
Alex and Bryan both burst out laughing. Alex was the first to be able to speak. "Dad isn't the greatest of drivers, but he isn't THAT bad!"
Ryan blushed badly; "I didn't mean…" His voice faded as embarrassment took over.
Alex patted his friend on the shoulder, "Don't sweat it!"
Bryan finally recovered enough to speak, "No, I have only ran into you and one other guy, who I might add was on vacation in Hawaii with his family and was from here."
"Oh, yea." Alex spoke up, "I remember him, he had a boy my age and we got along great for the last four days of their vacation. Only problem was we lost contact with him right after Mom was killed. He must have moved or something. Kind of a bummer too, cause you would have really liked him Ryan."
Bryan frowned as he thought over how closely the two accidents were to each other. A cold shiver traveled down his spine as seemingly disjointed coincidences started to mount and link in ways too neatly for his scientific mind to dismiss as random acts. "Yes, I think you would have Ryan. Interestingly enough, he looked just like the two of you, right down to your red hair and had the same birth date."
"What are the chances?!" Ryan next to shouted out in astonishment, "You run into two vehicles and both have kids of the same birth date as Alex? What gives?"
"Yea, Dad?" Alex half whispered as the strangeness of it all dawned on him for the first time. "You're good with numbers. So what are the chances of being in two wrecks, both caused by something flying into the window, and hitting someone who has a kid with red hair and has my birth day?" As he spoke he could feel the power levels in the van were growing again. One glance at Ryan told him, his best friend also felt the new wave of power.
Bryan guided the hover van into an underground parking lot of the hotel recommended by the van's on board computer and pulled to a stop. He glanced back at the two perplexed boys in the back and chewed on his lip for a moment. "I doubt odds could ever be properly calculated. There are too many variables."
Suddenly an image appeared in both Alex and Ryan's minds of a bracelet with griffins' talons clutching a glowing stone in a tug-of-war. Both kids reached down and touched the still glowing stones on the necklace and ring. Both boys spoke at once, "The bracelet is his!"
Bryan's frown deepened, "What?"
Alex shook his head to clear it of the vision, "Dad, the bracelet we found in the box with my necklace and Ryan's ring, belongs to him! We have to find him!"
Bryan held up his hands, "Whoa, what do you mean it belongs to him Alex? What are you talking about?"
"Mr. Caldwell you have to listen to us!" Ryan pleaded, "I know it sounds nuts, but Alex is right. I know he is. I haven't even seen the bracelet yet, at least not in real life, but I know it belongs to the kid you are talking about. We have to find him!"
"Dad, please, this is important. I don't know how or why, but we have to find…"
Ryan astonished both Alex and Bryan, "Zachery, Zachery Dustin Norris."
Alex's jaw dropped, "I know I never told you about him before. In fact I couldn't remember his full name and I didn't know his middle name, but somehow I know you are right. How did you know?"
"I don't have a clue, Alex." Ryan responded with a shaky voice. "I don't even know where the name came from. It just came out of thin air!"
For the first time in his adult life, science had no answers for what he was seeing and hearing. There was no way the two boys could have concocted this scene. Nor was there any chance of a long forgotten conversation was to account for what he was witnessing. For, like his son, he was certain the lad had never given his middle name. Still he was the adult and he knew he needed to react to this with some degree of leadership. "OK guys, calm down."
Bryan held up his hand and shook his head, "No Alex. Stop and listen to me!"
Both boys halted further attempts at protest and waited for Bryan to speak.
Certain he had their attention, Bryan took a deep breath, "First off, I am about to say something I never thought would escape these lips, so bear with me."
Ryan and Alex exchanged nervous glances then nodded.
"Ok, here it goes." Bryan couldn't avoid looking more than a little annoyed, "I am not about to propose a scientific solution to what just happened. Up till now I had one. Not a good one, granted, but at least it was plausible. Now however, things have crossed the line into what we as kids used to call the Twilight Zone."
Ryan managed a giggle; "I used to love to see re-runs of that show!"
Alex glanced at his friend with a bewildered look; "There was such a show?"
Bryan couldn't help but smile. How a kid could get distracted by something so mundane was a mystery into itself, but now was not the time to get off track, "Um, we can talk more about old TV shows later. Right now we need to concentrate on dealing with everything which has led up to where we are now.
"First thing we need to do is to get us rooms and go shopping. Ryan needs clothing and so do both of us Alex. Then, once all of the basics of shelter, clothing, and food are handled we will move onto the events of today. I want both of you to talk over anything strange which has happened to you recently. I already know Alex had a very strange dream the other night, it may or may not be connected, but…"
Ryan's eyes went wide with shock.
Bryan paused, "What's wrong Ryan."
"Strange dreams? Like being chased by knights in armor and using magic?"
"You've had them too?" Alex gulped.
Ryan nodded weakly.
Bryan felt an internal panic button wanting to go off. He took a couple of deep breaths and wiped some sweat off his forehead. "Using magic?"
Ryan and Alex both nodded and started speaking at the same time.
Bryan got enough of each of their tales to know something was indeed very wrong. Finally he waved his arms to silence them, "Hold on you two! Just hold on. So you have both had both types of dreams? When did they start, exactly?"
"I can tell you to the minute Dad." Alex stated as he put the necklace back on. "I woke from the first one the second we crossed over the box holding the glowing stones!"
Ryan slipped back on the ring, "Let me guess." Knowing in his heart he had the answer to the question. "It would be the same time I woke from my first one. 0327 GMT three days ago."
Alex jerked at his friend's words then turned and looked straight into his father's eyes, "Now there is something you can verify with MORSAV One's computer. You will find the exact same time listed there for the hit on Metal Find."
Bryan turned and leaned back into the driver's seat. As he nudged up his glasses to rub his eyes he spoke, "I don't have to Son. I remember our conversation about the dream and the fact you stated you woke at the same time as the hit on Metal Find. I saw the log too, remember?"
"I know Dad, but how is all this possible."
"I have no explanations, but we will all work together to find some. Looking in the rear view mirror he noticed the boys were wearing the jewelry again. "Let me ask you both this question first. Why did you put those back on after all you two think they caused?"
Both kids looked down as if they were unaware they were wearing the glowing stones. Ryan spoke up slowly, and softly, "I didn't know I put it back on, but I know it is for the best right now. I just know it."
"Alex?" Bryan asked, almost fearing the reply he knew would match Ryan's. He was not to be disappointed.
"Same here Dad. Whatever happened with the storm and everything was like a dam being broken. The storm was the dam brake and now things are crazy, the flood is still underway, but I feel like it is starting to settle." Alex paused for a moment then added, "And no, I don't have a clue how I know this, I just do."
"Besides," Ryan added, "the necklace and the ring will help protect us. But like Alex, I can't say why or how I know it. "
Bryan would have been a great deal more nervous if he had direct contact with the research team aboard Cynthia. For as he mulled over the current situation and prepared to talk some reason into the boys, the science team looking at the stones were facing a new series of questions. At the same instant Ryan had spoken the name of a kid he had no prior knowledge of, the stone on the bracelet flickered with a new wave of green light. More then a few members of the team notices the lights dimmed for a moment as the stone flared up.
New tests were started instantly, but once again the scientific instruments aboard Cynthia found nothing. Light didn't come for nothing, but, as the lead scientist noted in his log, in this case it seemed to do just that.
Bryan, on the other hand, finally composed himself to regain rational thought. "So far everything surrounding those stones have been right on line with what you two have said. When Alex first saw them he knew the ring should be yours Ryan. Then, when you saw it, you even said it seemed to be calling to you. You also both know the bracelet belongs in the hands of a boy Ryan has never met. This may sound totally insane, but let's just say you're right and those stones contain some sort unexplained powers. If this is true then they contributed to an aircraft being knocked out of the sky and probably the deaths of those aboard. How can you say they will not do you some harm?"
"We can't Dad." Alex admitted, "but I know Ryan is right. I just know he is. Something happened when we put on the jewelry, but if you could have felt what we did, you'd know it was something more than these. You have to trust us. Please?"
Bryan paused long enough to realize he had no good counter argument other than simply saying 'take them off because I said to.' Of all the things he had promised himself, the thing at the very top of the list was to not pull the "I'm an adult so you have to do what I say" card, unless there was an immediate threat to life or health of his son. Since he couldn't point to either he relented. "Alright. I'll play along here, but I don't want either of you getting too carried away by all of this. You have a vacation to plan and I expect the outline of a good itinerary by tomorrow morning. Once I approve the outline, then you two can finalize it tomorrow and we will start our adventure in earnest the following day."
"What about finding Zachery?" Alex asked softly.
Bryan held up his hand, "Like I said. I am willing to play along as long as we have a good vacation and you both learn a few things. We get rooms, shop for clothing, and eat; then I will link into Cynthia and do a world wide search for Zachery. We still have some files about him in the computer because Uncle Stan did a background check on him and his family because you wanted to spend so much time with him. While I am doing this, you two have some fun, play in the game room and do some swimming, but don't forget to actually plan the trip. Understood?"
Ryan slowly grinned, "Sounds fair to me."
"Me too." Alex agreed after a moment's more hesitation. "What are the rules for us Dad?"
Bryan relaxed as he heard a more sensible question come from his son. He rubbed his chin as he set the basics in his mind, then turned to face his boys. "Same dry land rules as always for the most part. Alex, I want you to stick close to Ryan and get him used to what I expect and what I absolutely demand whenever we are off Cynthia. I'll get you your own communication grid up-link in your room so you can access Cynthia's database. Run a hard copy of my standard rules and go over them with Ryan.
"Ryan, I expect you to not only go ever each item on the list, but to make sure you fully understand everything. Most of them you were introduced to when you spent so much time with Alex back in Australia, but it will be good to get a refresher on them nonetheless.
"As far as other stipulations, you are not to leave this hotel without me until you each have a security guard in place and are comfortable with him or her. I will get you each a debit card for spending money. I will pay for food, lodging, clothing, transportation, and entry fees to all attractions and will set a souvenir limit once I see the prices at each place. Anything above those basics will have to be paid for by you. Once the money is gone it is gone.
"Does Ryan get an allowance like I do Dad?"
Bryan smiled, "Ryan will earn the same base allowance as you do Alex. He will get the same bonuses and reductions as you get. It might be in his best interest for you to go over the allowance rules with him."
Bryan turned his attention to Ryan; "It is really quite a complicated contract. As a matter of fact, it amounts to being on the payroll and you are issued checks, which you can cash just like any employee of COSAM. All the kids who do any work for COSAM aboard Cynthia have similar contracts, just without my parental additions. I'm sure Alex will fill you in on the most important parts of the contract as you get reacquainted over the next couple of days."
Ryan seemed to settle down with the change of subjects. "Do I get to earn extra money for doing more work then?"
Alex nodded, "Oh yea, but only if your grade point average stays above 2.9 on a 4 point scale. Also any extra money you earn gets taxed. Dad puts 20% of any extra earned into a savings account, even when I win a bet with him and get my allowance doubled, 20% of the doubled part goes into the saving account."
Grateful the boys were now talking about things of a more common nature, Bryan led the way to the check-in counter. He was quite intrigued to see a holo-viewer set distracting the front desk clerk. He started to interrupt the news broadcast then stopped short; what little scientific arguments he was clinging to surrounding the last couple of hours shattered as he listened to a UB reporter trying to explain what she was seeing.
The cameras caught it all: The massive blocks of Stonehenge were being shown. In the center area, the ground seemed to burst with green light every few seconds sending pulses of darker green light radiating outward in a massive wave. Each pulse of light rippled outward until it faded and eventually vanished. With each and every wave of light, the cameras recording the scene temporarily become static filled.
Other smaller boxes within the three dimensional Holo-viewer showed similar scenes coming from the Great Pyramids, Devil's Tower, Ayers Rock, the Sacred Rock of Machu Picchu, Mount Olympus, Easter Island, and other spots throughout the world.
Bryan turned away from the check-in counter and knelt in front of the boys, both of whom seemed transfixed by what the UB News Network was broadcasting. Bryan whispered, "Alex, you said you got the feeling there was something more behind the storm than those stones. Is this what you were talking about?"
Alex's hands clenched into fists, "Like I said Dad, it was like a dam broke. But now it is slightly different. Things are starting to settle or something."
Ryan chimed in, "Alex is right, however I don't think settle is the right word. Instead, it is spreading outwards, almost like it is trying to even out across the whole world."
Bryan closed his eyes, seeing if he could feel what the boys were feeling. Oddly enough, there seemed to be a part of him which wanted to agree with the boys. If anything, he found this even more unsettling than anything else he had seen of the past couple of hours including what the news was showing. "Exactly what is this mysterious "it" you are referring to Ryan?"
Alex answered, as Ryan shook his head in frustration, "Power, Dad, raw power of some sort. The only word even close to fitting what we are feeling would be…" his voice softened to be audible to only himself, Ryan, and his father as he spoke the single word, "…Magic."