Authors: Conlan Brown
Devin Bathurst stood in the lobby, waiting for Trista.
His cell phone buzzed in his chest pocket, and he reached into his jacket to retrieve it. “This is Bathurst.”
“It’s a trap,” the voice announced in a hushed tone.
Devin looked around the lobby, trying to see if someone was watching him. “I’m afraid I don’t follow.”
“Do not help the senator—it’s a trap. The Thresher will be unleashed.”
Devin continued turning in his slow circle, eyes open for someone with a cell phone who might be watching him. “I’m afraid I didn’t get your name. Who did you say you were?”
“That doesn’t matter now. The Thresher will be unleashed— the Firstborn will turn against each other.”
“I’ve seen that happen before. It can be survived.”
“No,” the voice warned, “the Firstborn won’t survive this. They’ll be marched to destruction if you do this.”
Devin shook his head. “I’m going to need evidence if you want me to listen to you.”
“You have to trust me.”
“I don’t make a habit of trusting anonymous callers,” Devin stated. “Do you have any evidence?”
“I’ve seen what happens if you move forward.”
“And I’ve seen what happens if I don’t,” Devin rebutted.
“You have to listen to me!” the voice said again, emphatic.
“I would be more than willing to sit and talk,” Devin said, watching Trista approach, “but until you’re willing to meet me in person, I’m afraid we have nothing to talk about.”
“I won’t do that, Mr. Bathurst. You have to understand that—”
“I do understand,” Devin replied.
“You aren’t listening to—”
Devin snapped his phone shut.
Trista approached. “Who was that?”
Devin returned his phone to its pocket. “Wrong number.”
The man named Crest sat in his office playing Solitaire on his desktop computer. It had been a slow morning, and he had a few minutes to kill. Government work wasn’t always as secure as people liked to think it was, but it was enough so that playing digital cards every now and again wasn’t the end of the world. The position of government desk driver was only his cover anyway, and as far as he could tell, showing too much of a work ethic might draw unwanted attention.
The phone rang, and Crest gave it a moment, adjusting his glasses and clicking a few cards with his mouse before he lifted the receiver. “Yes?”
“Mr. Crest,” the assistant, a guy named Jim, said on the other end of the line. “You have a call. They wouldn’t give a name but said it was about someone or something called
? He said that you’d know what he was talking about.”
Crest sat up, clicking out of his card game. He thought his heart might have stopped for a moment. “Put him through,” Crest ordered without hesitation.
“OK,” the confused assistant said, transferring the call with a click. He waited for a moment.
“Mr. Crest,” the contact said from the other end of the line, an unrecognized voice. Probably some low-level person who had been given the task of passing on information. “The asset known as Angelo may have appeared on the grid again.”
“Where?” Crest asked, glancing at the door to make sure it was closed and firmly latched.
“A hospital in New Jersey. One of the cards he was issued by the Agency three years ago was used to pay a hospital bill for what appears to be a random patient.”
“Who was the patient?” Crest asked, eyes fixed on the door, glancing at the windows, trying to make sure he kept his voice low in case someone was standing too close outside his office. Not the ideal talk space for this kind of discussion.
“Uh…” whoever the contact was searched through files, “Hannah Rice. Sound familiar?”
Crest frowned. Rice? That did sound familiar for some reason. Something having to do with the Pennsylvania incident the previous year? “Nothing solid,” Crest replied. It didn’t matter. Keeping track of the names of the so-called Firstborn wasn’t his job anyway. There were other people for that. “Has the OGA changed Angelo’s status?”
“Not yet,” the contact replied, “The Agency still considers him MIA—missing in action. The use of a credit card is certainly a breach, but it doesn’t guarantee Angelo is alive.”
“Do the…” Crest paused, reminding himself he was on an open line. “Do the
have any guesses as to what he might be trying to do?”
“No word from them, but management thinks that if he’s still alive, he might know about your current operation regarding the senator.”
Crest cleared his throat with discomfort, knowing that these phone lines were relatively secure but not so much so that he wanted the senator mentioned in any way. “Assuming that Angelo
alive, do they have any reason to believe that he ever recovered from the…” Crest tried to think of a word that might serve as a mutually understood euphemism for things they had done to Angelo, things like psychotropic experimentation, mind-altering drugs, or draconian cold war–era research.
“The work he did with the OGA?”
“Yeah,” Crest agreed, considering the idea of pumping a human being full of LSD and how that might be considered “work.” “Between the effects of that work,” Crest continued, “and the fact that he was confirmed as having all three ‘skill sets,’ I thought he wasn’t capable of trade craft or even civilian life.”
“The analysts think if he is alive that he may be recovering,” the contact said with a certainty that frightened Crest. “Regardless,” the contact continued, “they doubt that he’ll attempt to make contact with anyone from the OGA—even on the outside chance he is still alive.”
“Then why did they want me to know?”
“I wasn’t briefed about the specifics,” the contact conceded. “All I was told was that Angelo may be alive—and active. Regardless, this is the kind of information that can change everything.”
Crest nodded to himself, slumped back in his office chair. “This changes everything.”
OHN WALKED THROUGH
the largely vacant offices adjoining Domani Financial. These offices had been set aside for the Prima to use, but they had shown little interest in having representatives at the Manhattan office. There were calendars on the walls of several offices where members of the Prima had set up shop for a few days at a time, but they were all set to October of the previous year. A fact that lay in stark contrast to the sunny spring weather they had been having all week.
Of course Hannah Rice came to the offices sometimes, but never for long. She’d moved to New Jersey, just across the river, so she could be closer to the central office that Manhattan had become, but it was still far enough that she didn’t drop by often. Even when she did, it was mostly just to use the phone or to talk to one of the other Firstborn there. Usually Devin or himself. But it had been nearly six weeks since the last time she had done that. Hoping to keep a friendly eye on her, John had invited her to work full-time in the empty Prima offices, but so far she’d put him off. Something about not being ready for office politics.
John came to the door of the one occupied office and tapped on the frame with his middle knuckle. He waited for Jerry Kirkland to notice him. Jerry, who had been hunched over his computer, shot upward and turned toward the door.
“Hello, Mr. Temple.” He reached out with a chubby hand to shake. Jerry was bald with virtually no distinguishable neck between his tiny ears and the collar of his brown polo shirt. He was the official historian of the Firstborn—a position John had created about nine months ago after becoming Overseer. It had been meant as an olive branch to the Prima, and indeed they gave their full blessing for Jerry Kirkland to work from the Manhattan office, but he was still the only actual representative they had sent.
“Come in, Mr. Temple,” Jerry said, beckoning with a hand. “Have a seat.” He lifted a pile of documents the size of two phone books off the seat of the nearest chair. To the casual eye, Jerry’s office looked like a mess, but he always assured people everything was in exactly the right place. The floor was filled with boxes, and the windowless walls were covered in charts with strings attached to pushpins.
Jerry moved the thick stack of documents on top of another thick stack of documents, evening up the edges as best he could before taking his own seat at his desk. Jerry swiveled his chair toward John and smiled. “Would you like a Diet Coke?”
John couldn’t help but let his smile show. “Diet Coke?”
“I love the stuff.” Jerry reached into a drawer and pulled out an empty can, crushing it in his hand before throwing it into a green recycle bin, where the can clanked as it landed among its fallen comrades.
“No, thanks,” John said.
“Do you mind terribly if I have one?” Jerry pointed at a mini fridge at the opposite end of his desk.
“Knock yourself out.”
“Thank you.” Jerry removed a diet soda. He cracked the seal with a spray of minute vapor and took a swig. “So, how can I help you today, Mr. Temple?”
“I’m interested in the Thresher,” John said with a bit of a shrug. “What do you have compiled on that?”
Jerry whistled, pointing to the corner. “See that filing cabinet? That’s all Thresher stuff.”
“Wow,” John said, slightly stunned. “I didn’t know there was that much stuff. I mean, Vincent Sobel and I used to stay up late in college, and he’d tell me stuff about the Thresher he’d learned from others. But it was mostly just ‘friend of a friend’ kinds of things. More ghost stories than anything.”
Jerry nodded jovially. “And I’ve got a filing cabinet filled with ghost stories. You know how it all started, right, with Alessandro D’Angelo?”
“Sure,” John replied. “Italian monk in the Dark Ages. Founded the Firstborn. Right?”
“Actually,” Jerry corrected hesitantly, “he would be considered late medieval, early Renaissance. Especially since he was Italian, and the Renaissance started in Italy first around 1250 or so, depending on who you—”
“Jerry,” John said as a friendly nudge to get him back on topic.
“Right.” Jerry gave another of his noises, a swishing sound this time. “D’Angelo—who had all three gifts—was betrayed and stabbed on Ash Wednesday 1441, but he didn’t die until Easter, six weeks later.”
John nodded, trying to hurry things along. “And it was during those six weeks that he made his biggest prophecies.”
“Right,” Jerry agreed. “He died very slowly, so nobody really knows how many prophecies he made in that time.” Jerry pointed to a place on his rotund side. “As far as I can gather, he was stabbed right about here. His friends were able to stop the bleeding, but I’m pretty sure it got infected. Maybe gangrene or something like that got into the wound and caused him to slowly—”
“Thresher.” John interrupted gently, nudging Jerry back to the topic at hand.
“Right.” Jerry raised his hands apologetically. “He started making prophecies about Thresher while he was dying—that the Thresher would eventually destroy the Firstborn.”
“But?” John asked in anticipation.
“But we don’t have most of those prophecies. The vast majority of them went underground with D’Angelo’s friends when the Inquisition against them heated up.” Jerry morbidly laughed to himself. “No pun intended.”
John was confused. “What?”
“They burned them at the stake. Get it? When things ‘heated up’ for them?”
John didn’t laugh.
“Anyway”—Jerry waved off his failed joke—“when D’Angelo’s most trusted people decided to go into hiding, they took that stuff with them. Some of it has surfaced. But we still have only maybe an
of what they wrote down. So we really probably don’t have a full picture on the whole Thresher thing.” He shook his head as if it were all too bad. “A classic example of history being lost to the sands of time.”
“So, the only thing you have are the ghost stories,” John offered, trying to bait him back into conversation.
Jerry shrugged. “Not
, but that’s a lot of it. Oral tradition. Something a friend passed on to a friend of a friend about something that happened to a long-lost uncle.”
“Do you think the Thresher is real?” John asked candidly.
Jerry took a long draw of Diet Coke. “Yes,” he said with some hesitation. “But we have to be careful. There have been some major Thresher scares over the last thousand years. There are some examples from the European side that I might buy, simply because the Firstborn are all but extinct over there, but here in the United States it’s open to a bit more interpretation.”
“Like?” John prodded.
“Well, in Europe there was a major scare that the Thresher had come to destroy the Firstborn during the Protestant Reformation. Of course, that was less than a century after D’Angelo died, so the Firstborn were still hiding in chapter houses across Europe at that point.”
“Like office branches. Firstborn monasteries in Britain and France and Italy and so on.” Jerry shrugged. “They were pretty much underground at that point. A lot of the new generation had been raised in fear because the previous generation had been hunted the same way the church hunted the Cathars.”
“A gnostic sect,” Jerry clarified, then continued. “After the English Civil War is when most of the European Firstborn ‘crossed the pond’ and came to the American colonies. That was a Thresher scare—but they survived. There were a few others. The Salem Witch Trials were a biggie; I don’t have any specific accounts of Firstborn dying in that, but they were hunted because of their gifts.” Jerry took another sip of his drink. “And I don’t have to tell you how bad things got during the American Civil War.”