The 616 Diaries: Entry 21 by Kevin Kauffmann
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October 18th, 2019

I met someone today I feel like I’ve known for weeks.

Though, to be fair, I met a lot of people over the last couple days.  Nothing really happened yesterday; they gave me a day to recover after the plane flight and, well, they said that I could “explore” Grand Rapids if I wanted to, but…

I mean, it’s Michigan.  There’s really not much to explore.

The twenty minutes I spent in the car with Fennsler and Baum was a lot more interesting than the Denny’s I went to later on, even though there were a couple of 616 sightings while I was there.  I honestly don’t even care about the ones that happen in my life anymore; they just happen too often, too frequently, and they really aren’t connected to anything that I can see.  It’s just random numbers, usually, and I doubt that Hell—or whoever it is who is responsible for my path—cares if I get a Grand Slam or a pot roast sandwich.

Somehow, I think they have more important things in store.

But the car ride, man; that was awkward.  I thought that after coming halfway across the country that Baum or Fennsler would be a little more forthcoming about why I’m here, or why I’m seeing the number or, you know, the whole demonic dreaming I got going on.  You would think there would be some camaraderie, right?

Well, no.  They were just as tight-lipped, just as cryptic as they were when I met them.  I still don’t like Fennsler very much, even though he was the one who tried to attempt humor and told all the anecdotal stories that surely would have entertained someone other than me.  I don’t think he accounted for my mood or how I would be upset about having to abandon my life.

Because, I mean, who would be upset about that?

Baum, however, at least acknowledged my inability to laugh or enjoy the trip from the airport.  As soon as they saw me on the curb, Baum rolled the sedan to a stop and helped put my luggage into the trunk, Fennsler just sitting on his fat ass and not helping.  Once we started going, Fennsler launched into a story, but I tried not to pay attention.  What was odd was that when I looked at the rearview mirror, Baum was looking right back at me.  Even then—when I was supposed to be one of their employees—he was still watching my every move.  I gave him a smile that he returned, but it doesn’t feel like either one of us was happy.  I think we both just understood, and acknowledged that.

I’m still very much under review, it seems.

I tried to ask the questions I wanted answered—what I was doing there, why I was seeing the visions, what it meant that Baum thought I was a seer—but he just shook his head every time.  I was better about asking it, obviously—I do have some tact—but he saw right through it.

“We’ll tell you what you need to know,” is what he always said right before Fennsler would start laughing and nudging him, sweat pouring out of his skin and making him look like a seal wearing a jacket.  Baum and I weren’t amused by anything he said or really cared what he was pointing out on each side of the highway, but Fennsler did it just the same.  It seems he just liked to hear himself talk, and I honestly started feeling bad for Baum at a certain point.  I’m sure he wouldn’t have said a damn thing to Fennsler—I feel like they were past the point of trying to change each other—but it must wear on him to have Fennsler for a partner. 

I don’t blame him for looking exhausted most of the time.

But yeah, the ride was over soon after that, they dropped me off at my hotel, which was just a room at the Marriot that they had kindly reserved for me, and then left me to fend for myself for dinner.  This was not some sort of VIP treatment—not yet anyway—but they did give me a stack of petty cash to use as I saw fit; to buy things I had forgotten, to eat, etc.  It was nice of them—taking care of me after uprooting me from my life—but no amount of money or free HBO was going to make me forget about what was happening.  I was here for 616, I wasn’t in my life anymore because of 616, so I really needed something important to happen.

Luckily, a whole bunch of important things happened today.

Baum came by to pick me up this morning around 10 AM, which I thought was weird.  I figured that a company like Catalytics would strictly adhere to the 9-5 model, but he explained to me that the team functioned outside the normal business paradigm.  Explained that most people had different schedules entirely—as long as they got their work done—and he was only picking me up this morning so I could get used to the area, my workspace and, more importantly, he wanted to introduce me to the rest of the team.

Or, at least, that’s what he told me.

Even though it was just the two of us in the car—Baum explained that Fennsler was getting everything ready for my arrival—the ride seemed to go much, much faster than the ride from the airport.  I guess that Fennsler just annoyed me that much.  With the way they acted, I know I was supposed to side with Fennsler—as a regular person I’m supposed to like the guy with the stories and the smiles—but I felt a much greater connection to Baum right from the start.  Even in silence, we just got along better, and I hoped that if I had to report to anyone that it would be Baum.

Which, unfortunately, he told me was not the case.  Sure, on the day-to-day stuff he was the one I was supposed to go to whenever I found anything or needed anything, but Baum explained that Fennsler wasn’t exactly his partner.  He was actually Baum’s boss.  That explained why he was always opening doors for the fat man or driving him around, but I just couldn’t see why a guy like Baum would be lower in the food chain.  It seemed like he noticed, because I could see him analyzing me out of the corner of his eye.  I went ahead with my question and asked why Fennsler was the one in charge, but the tall agent merely shrugged.  Told me that’s how it’s always been, and change didn’t really come naturally to them.

I don’t get it entirely, but I do understand inertia in the workplace.  Once Baum told me the situation and went quiet, I settled back into my own thoughts and stared out the window; tried to figure out what I was doing with my life. 

 

I obviously haven’t succeeded yet.

When we slowed down next to what looked like a remodeled warehouse, I could tell we had arrived at what would be my place of work for the next “X” amount of time.  It didn’t have the Catalytics logo or sign anywhere on the building, but I should have expected that.  For something this weird, this out of the norm, they wouldn’t host it at one of their legitimate locations.  It was just one of their subsidiaries, MedCorps, which I only knew because of my digging for conspiracy theories before everyone went to shit.  What shocked me more was the building itself; it looked gigantic and out of place, standing alone in what could have been a shopping center.

I asked Baum about it as we were pulling around the back, and it turns out that the building was actually a repurposed Wal-Mart.  They had built one a little closer to town, and as a result the business for this one had dried up entirely.  The little shops in the strip mall failed as well, since they didn’t have the bulk-price draw of the mega-conglomerate, and apparently this whole area had been abandoned by the time MedCorps came to town.  As he was shutting off the engine, Baum told me that once they took over, Catalytics demolished the little stores that had been nearby, and left pretty much the shell of the Wal-Mart intact.  Everything on the inside was very different, but the way he said it made me think that he was having a little fun at my expense.

However, I had no way to figure out why, so I just went along with it, nodded, and then followed him into the building.  Baum had to swipe a card just to get in, which is pretty standard these days, I guess, but it still made me feel like we were entering some sort of undisclosed location.  Like I would find something very much like Area 51 in the middle of this repurposed Wal-Mart.

 

Which, really, wasn’t too far off.

Though I wasn’t able to tell just from walking through the door.  The inside of the MedCorps building was almost exactly how I imagined a medical supply warehouse was supposed to be.  There was a front desk with a pleasant, though frumpy, middle-aged white woman working the phone and computer, and Baum introduced us without too much fanfare.  Turns out her name was “Shirl;” Shirley bothered her for some reason.   She was all bubbly and smiley as she nodded at me, but then Baum walked past the entrance and Shirl went back to her work like I wasn’t even there anymore. 

I felt so awkward about it that I just avoided looking at her and followed my new boss, who was moving slowly through a room full of cubicles.  Most of the people inside those cubes were working just like I used to; some of them doing mind-numbing tasks, most of them wasting time on computer games and things like that.  I thought for a second that Baum would call some of them out and said something to that effect, but the agent turned back to me with a sly look and said: “Not my department.”

Well, that much was obvious.

Once we were past a couple of those large rooms devoted to wasting time, Baum and I entered the warehouse portion of the building.  There was yet another card swipe that Baum had to go through, but he also had to put in a six-digit code into a mechanical keypad.  It wasn’t even digital, which was somewhat shocking to me.  I thought in this day and age that a company like Catalytics—even if it’s a subsidiary—would have upgraded to a digital interface.  I just put it down as a quirk and continued to follow Baum through a warehouse full of crates of something or other and tons of mystery items that I couldn’t reach without a ladder or forklift or whatever warehouse guys would use to get them down.

 

What?  I was an accountant.  I don’t know what goes on in warehouses.  This was the first time I had been in one that wasn’t a Sam’s Club or Costco.

 


It was confusing how underwhelming all of it was, but eventually Baum led me to a door on the right side of the room that was almost tucked into the space between the stacks.  Once we got to the plain, white door, Baum fished around in his pocket and had an entirely different card that he lifted up to the fire alarm, and something beeped before he took hold of the latch and pulled down. 

I was shocked to see that the entire thing rotated around, and where the fire alarm had just been there was instead a high-tech scanner and a touch pad that I could only assume was for fingerprints.  As I watched, Baum put out his wrist—inside facing the machine—and I saw a flash from the overlay which I assumed was some sort of scan.  Then Baum pressed the tip of his ring finger against the pad at the bottom, and it wasn’t long before “A. Baum” was displayed on the screen.  Something behind the door tumbled away and it drifted open, as if it was beckoning us to go inside.

When Baum turned to me with a smile, I actually couldn’t move.  I was so stunned by what I had seen that I just looked from him to the hidden sensor, to the door, and back to him.  Again, he did that thing where I thought he was smiling with his eyes, but it wasn’t long before he clapped me on the back and then gently pushed me into the alcove beyond the door.  I didn’t know what to expect, what kinds of horrors there would be waiting for me, but I was still disappointed.

Because it was just a grey, normal elevator on the other side of the door.

Once we were both inside, Baum hit the button with a red 16 on it, which I thought was amusing until I realized that meant that there was at least sixteen floors designated for this elevator, and I knew that the building was only three stories tall.

Which meant that we were going to the sixteenth subbasement.  I thought that was incredible, but then I realized that there were eighteen buttons, so there was at least two more floors.  I was surprised by that—enough that I just stared at the elevator buttons—but I stopped staring once I heard Baum grunt beside me.

“You’re wondering why there are so many floors?” he asked me, and I sighed and turned back to look at the elevator buttons.  I shrugged, but eventually nodded, and Baum let out a soft chuckle at my behavior.  “Did you think our facility would be in a skyscraper?”

“No, that’s not it.  That’s just… you said this was a repurposed Wal-Mart,” I said, trying to justify my behavior.  “So you guys dug out eighteen stories worth of dirt and rock and nobody noticed?”

“This may seem like a big city, but we’re practically in the middle of nowhere, Ray, and we have more than enough resources at our disposal,” Baum explained, settling his hands in his pockets, and I could sense that he was talking about more than just money.  “And just so you know, it’s not eighteen stories of dirt and rock.  We took out a lot more than that.”

“How much more?” I asked, and Baum turned to me with that sly smile, which was all the answer he was going to give me.  I would have pushed him further—tried to find out exactly what kind of power this company had—but the elevator dinged and the doors opened, causing Baum to abandon the conversation and walk out of the elevator.  I followed since that’s what I was supposed to do, but I was still annoyed that he wouldn’t answer my question.

 

That was, until I looked at the 16th floor.

 

Everything was sterile white, just like you saw in all the movies and shows, just like all the hidden laboratories you and I would always imagine.  Almost immediately after exiting the elevator, Baum took a right and expected me to be right behind him.  We passed by a few technicians and doctors who were wearing lab coats or scrubs, but what I thought was most interesting were the ones who were dressed like normal people.  They just seemed to be going about their normal days, scribbling in notepads or typing on their tablets or phones.  I thought about trying to talk to one of them, or to talk to Baum about them, but he didn’t even need to wave me off.  He just looked back at me and I understood.

As we were walking I would peek in the occasional window, but there really wasn’t anything interesting for me to observe.  They mostly just looked like offices and conference rooms, and I had to assume that all of the crazy Area 51 kind of stuff had to be on the different floors.  I mean, there were 18 secret floors underneath this MedCorps building, and I’m guessing that they wanted to keep all their experiments and secrets compartmentalized.

In fact, before we got to my new office, there was really only one interaction or event that even stood out in my memory.  This was about two minutes before we reached our destination, and I remember being really surprised to see a gigantic man walking down the hallway—a fitted suit somehow managing to contain his frame—holding a steaming mug of coffee in his right hand.  His black hair, greasy and clean at the same time, was tied back in a ponytail, and his beard and mustache were trimmed neatly.  He seemed Middle-Eastern, Turkish, Persian… I couldn’t really tell, but he definitely carried himself like an average American, walking so lazily it was like he was just there to hang out.

Which, turns out, he was.

“Samir, what are you doing here?” Baum asked the giant, and the man smiled as he strolled up to us and came to a stop a few feet away.  Even though I was a fully-grown man, this Samir made me feel like a little kid.  He only had five or six inches on me, but his arms were bigger than my legs, maybe even both of them.  Still, I wasn’t afraid of the guy; in fact, once he smiled and laughed, I felt very comfortable around him.

“Got bored at the main office and heard you had a new toy,” Samir replied before looking down at me.  I could tell that he was judging me—he had to have known I was the new “toy”—but it didn’t feel sinister or like he was trying to figure out if I could help their bottom line.

It honestly felt like he was checking me out.

“So you gonna share with the rest of the class?” Samir asked with a smile, and I realized that he was checking me out.  I was scared out of my mind for a second—this guy would have no problem taking me for his own if we were in a prison yard—but Baum shook his head and broke me out of my stupor.

“He’s not anybody’s toy, and you really need to stop chasing all the men who come through here, Samir.  Ray’s a solid choice for what we need, and he doesn’t deserve your… extra-special attention,” Baum said.  It was confusing, but I looked back at Samir just in time for him to put out his hand and look me dead in the eye.

“Ray, huh?  I’m Samir Almasi,” he said, and I took his hand and expected him to crush every one of my fingers.  Instead, it was a nice handshake, and whatever discomfort I had disappeared.  Once he let go, I shoved my hands into my pockets as Baum cleared his throat.

“Samir is actually an executive for MedCorps, but he’s well-aware about most of what goes on, which should be obvious since he’s down here in the restricted area with us,” Baum explained, looking back at the man and raising an eyebrow.  “Although he’s not supposed to be.  Day-to-day operations aren’t supposed to involve the higher-ups.”

“I said I got bored, Baum, isn’t that enough of a reason?” Samir said, waving around his free hand, and part of me wasn’t scared of the man anymore.  I was definitely warming up to him by the time he turned to me and took a sip of coffee.  Once he let out a loud smack and sigh, he smiled and crossed his arms.  “So you got a last name, Ray, or are you like all those other single name celebrities?”

“Uh, it’s Corvus,” I said, and I could see something flicker behind those dark eyes.  Normally I would have let it go, would have just left a note in my brain and worried it over later, but being down here however far below the ground made me feel like it was time to stop hiding and stop being subtle.  Shifting my weight to my right foot, I crossed my arms and tried to look Samir in the eye; tried to seem formidable to this man three times my size.  “And what’s so interesting about Corvus?”

“Oh, I like him,” Samir said before turning to Baum.  “This is the new seer, right?”

“We’re hoping.  Once we actually get to where we’re going, we can at least start to figure that out,” Baum replied with a hint of annoyance, and Samir turned back to me with a smile.

“This one, he’s always so subtle,” he said, using his thumb to point at the agent before standing up and breathing in deeply.  “Anyway, I’m sure they’ll tell you soon, Ray.  For now, it looks like I’m getting in Baum’s way.”

“You take up the entire hallway just by standing,” Baum replied, and Samir let out a hearty laugh before almost slamming his hand on the agent’s shoulder.  I was surprised Baum didn’t fall to the ground, but apparently he was used to it.

“Ladies and men love my broad shoulders, Baum.  I will take your verbal jab as a compliment,” Samir said and, once they were side-by-side, I could hear them whispering for just another moment.  The light nature of the conversation faded in those few seconds—I could tell that they were talking about something serious—but then Samir laughed and clapped his hand against Baum’s shoulder again before turning back to me.

“It was nice to meet you, Ray Corvus.  Don’t be surprised to see me roaming around here from time to time,” Samir said, and I didn’t even get a chance to reply before he walked past me and Baum continued the other way, leaving me to catch up with him.

“Yeah, it was nice to meet…” I tried, but Samir wasn’t looking back, and I had to go double-time just to catch up with Baum, which was confusing.  Before that conversation, Baum was always so slow and deliberate, but it was like he was speed-walking now.   It was enough that I had to comment on it.

“Do you not like him or something?  I haven’t ever seen you move this fast,” I said, trying to keep it light, but Baum slowed back down to normal speed and I saw him looking me over, letting a smile creep across his lips once he found something he liked.

“No, we’re just late.  Fennsler and the other member of the team are waiting for us,” he said, looking ahead as we continued forward.  “Samir is a good man to know, and a better friend.  I do not have the luxury of knowing that second trait firsthand, but it is not hard to see why.”

 

“Yeah, he seems pretty charismatic.  Most people can’t get away with hitting on new employees and still get you to like him.  Never thought a guy like that would be gay,” I commented, unaware that everything I said was inappropriate, but Baum didn’t seem to mind.

“Samir’s not gay.  He’s much more than that,” he said, still looking ahead, and it took me a while to realize what he had meant.  When Baum turned to me and saw my confusion, he tried to explain.  “He’s a flirt.  With everyone.  As long as you’re clear about not being interested, he doesn’t cross any lines.”

“That seems pretty out-of-place in a corporate mindset.  There’s no sexual harassment claims or anything?” I asked, and I was actually kinda scared when Baum let out a belly laugh.  This serious, enigmatic agent was not supposed to laugh like that.  He even had to hold himself up on the wall to his left until he was done trembling, and he turned just so he could shake his head at me.

“Ray, sexual harassment isn’t really a thing here,” Baum said, and he didn’t wait for me to ask any more questions.  He just resumed his regular, slower pace and I followed behind.  It was only a minute or so of silence until he stopped on the far side of a doorway on our right and then turned, motioning with his left hand that I should step inside.  I didn’t even think about asking a question or fighting it, I just stepped inside the room and hoped that I wasn’t going to see anything too terrible.

But all I saw were a few desks with a bunch of computer monitors, a few bookcases along the wall, and three or four whiteboards and a healthy amount of felt markers on the sill beneath them.  There were even a couple standalone boards just sitting off to the side, but I was more interested in the other two people in the room with us.  One was Fennsler, who I had expected, but the other one was a small man, who seemed pale even though he was vaguely Middle-Eastern like Samir.

I had no idea who he was, but when he saw me, his face lit up.

“Is this Ray?” he asked, and Fennsler nodded from his seat behind a desk.  He must never move from that desk during the day, I figured; that’s the only way he could be that fat.  However, even though that nod sent ripples through Fennsler’s chins, the stranger wasn’t watching him.  He was looking behind me at Baum, who had just crossed the threshold.

“Yes, Amin, this is the other half of the team,” he said, and I turned back to face Baum with a raised eyebrow.  Apparently, that eyebrow came with a bunch of questions that Baum was kind enough to answer.  “Ray, this is Amin Asfour, though you’ve actually already met.”

“I have never seen this man before,” I said, at which point Fennsler laughed and propped his feet up on his desk.

“He didn’t say you’d seen him, Ray,” he hinted, and I was already getting tired of his antics.  I was about to turn back to Baum and get a clear answer, but the little man just jumped out of his seat and almost ran forward to offer a handshake.

“Dude, it’s me.  It’s Ravenseer,” Amin said, and I was confused enough that I may have backed up right into Baum.  Luckily, it seemed like the agent understood, so he gently pushed me back and then walked around the edge of the room until he could sit down in his own desk, which was smaller and cheaper than the one Fennsler was currently defacing.

“Wait, really?” I asked, assuming that neither Baum nor Fennsler would interrupt or even engage in the conversation, which was right.  Amin was grinning at me the entire time, but I was surprised when he abandoned the handshake and just leapt into a hug.  It was really uncomfortable—I felt like I wanted to shed my skin and escape—but eventually Amin let go and stood back, setting his hands on his hips.

“Yeah, Ray!  Turns out we were worried for no reason.  These guys are legit and, honestly, I don’t even feel too raw about them tracking us like they did,” he said, turning to look back at Fennsler and Baum.  “That they found me was just impressive, but it turns out that they know way more than we had ever thought.”

“More than we had ever thought?  Like what?” I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me, and apparently that’s when Fennsler decided that he wanted to lead the conversation again.

“Well, Ray—” he started, but then rationality got the better of me and I waved a hand and talked over him.

“Wait, how do I know this is Ravenseer?  You could just be lying to me and this could be a very… well, convincing actor,” I expressed my doubt, but Baum was the one to answer me on that.

“Why would we go through the trouble, Ray?  You were already onboard without us mentioning Ravenseer, and you already know that we contacted him, too.  Trust us, Ray, we need your help; we’re not trying to trick you into, well, what, exactly?  What would we have to gain?” he asked, and I had a really difficult time trying to think up an answer.

Luckily, I didn’t have to.

“Dude, once they tell you what’s going on down here, you’re not going to care,” Amin added as he walked back to his seat and then plopped himself down, crossing his legs underneath his body and abandoning the floor completely.  “We were completely on the wrong track when it came to the House of Orphans and Catalytics.”

“What, but how?  We found all those connections and they meant something,” I argued, walking forward without even thinking about it.  I was standing by one of the desks when Fennsler took his feet down and leaned forward, clasping his hands together.

“Because we put them there, Ray!” he said, at which point I stopped being able to stand, so I just sat down in the nearest seat.  After seeing the look on my face—which must have looked like a mix of anguish, confusion and shock—Fennsler decided to continue.  “We were only partly responsible for some of those House of Orphans clues you found—we have people both in the organization and in several media outlets—but almost all of the Catalytics instances of 616 were put there deliberately by our… team.”

“Put there deliberately?  Why would you do that?” I asked, surrendering to this new reality.  There wasn’t any point in trying to convince these people that I had made all these connections if they were claiming that they were responsible.  I just had to wait for Baum to reply.

“We’re looking for people like you, Ray; that’s all. We’re looking for people who don’t just notice 616, but understand that there’s something more behind it.  The people who obsess over it and see it in their daily lives… they’re mostly useless, but there are certain individuals out in the world that interest us greatly.  You and Amin seem to be two of those individuals,” he explained, propping his elbows up on his desk and interlacing his fingers to create a resting place for his chin.

 

“So we’re two of the people you’re looking for?  Why were you looking for us?  What do you need?” I asked, and Baum smiled at the last question.  It still unnerved me, how his pupils always seemed to narrow, but I was starting to feel more comfortable with it.

However, that’s beside the point.

“Remember our first conversation, Ray?” Baum asked, looking me dead in the eye.  “I mentioned that we there to vet you; to see if you were a spy, an enthusiast, or a seer.”

“Yeah, I remember that,” I replied, mostly just to make noise, but Baum nodded anyway.

“Well, you’re not an enthusiast; you don’t act like one.  You’re not a fan who goes crazy when they see a 616, or whoops or hollers or anything that silly or foolish.  You’re the kind of person who sees the number and thinks it’s important to note and record, which is exactly the kind of personality that we’re looking for.  We don’t need someone to worship the number, we need someone to figure out what the number means,” he explained, causing me to sit back in my chair and cross my arms in thought.

“What the number means?” I asked, and this time Fennsler picked up the conversation.

“Yes, Ray, what the number means,” he said, leaning back in his chair and mirroring my movements.  “616 showed up long before Catalytics took an interest in it; there are plenty of historical references and events that are tied to the number.  Our belief is not that there’s some wide, global conspiracy; we believe that 616 is a very important number to nature itself, to the universe.”

“What?  What are you talking about?” I asked, doing what I could to process all this information and failing.

“There are numbers that are so important that the very universe lets us know what they are, Ray,” Baum added, and I was surprised to see that he wasn’t looking at me; he was just staring at the wall opposite his desk.  “You know some of them, like the Golden Ratio or the Fibonacci Sequence or Pi.  There are numbers that affect our daily life, whether or not we realize it, and our belief is that 616 is one of them.”

“Oh, alright, well, still,” I said, looking down at the desk in front of me.  “If it’s just an important number like that, it shouldn’t really matter if we know what it is or not.  Is it something to do with a chemical formula that Catalytics is working on?  Is that the point?  Is it just money?”

“Oh, man, Ray, you just don’t know anything yet,” Amin said, and I looked up from my desk to see him shaking his head.  Once he stopped reacting to my ignorance, he smiled at me and let out a light sigh.  “These guys are way higher on the food chain than anybody at Catalytics.”

“Wait, what?  But this is…”

“A secret location that they dug up underneath an abandoned Wal-Mart just so nobody would know what they were getting up to,” Amin interrupted.

“It’s better to consider that somebody owns Catalytics, Ray,” Baum added, drawing my gaze.  “And that somebody is far more interested in what we do than all of the prescription drugs that Catalytics has to offer.”

“Which is why it was likely that you could have been a spy, Ray,” Fennsler added, but I was already ignoring him and thinking up another question for Baum.

“Then what do we do, Baum?” I asked, and again the agent gave me one of those visual smiles.

“Dude, Ray,” Amin said, forcing me to turn and look at him.  “We’re here to read the future.”

“Slower than that, Amin,” Baum added, and he sat back up in his chair as he fiddled around with his computer mouse.  After a few clicks, a projector that I hadn’t noticed on the ceiling whirred to life and then a picture of an ancient book showed up on the white screen behind Fennsler.  The binding on it seemed worn, the corners of the leather cover were bent and frayed, the cover itself seemed so old that it could flake apart; even some of the pages looked like they were falling out and could scatter to the wind at a moment.  The only thing that was clear and unmarked by age was the seal in the center of the cover, which looked like an overly simplistic picture of a bird. 

“This is what he’s talking about, Ray.”

“And what’s that?” I asked automatically, unable to think critically or even have a thought of my own.

“This is a book of prophecy that was supposedly handed down through the ages, and if we believe the accounts, the content was originally written by a pair of demonic scribes,” Baum said, and he turned to me expecting me to laugh it off.

Which I did.

“Are you seriously telling me that you hired me to take a look at a bunch of prophecies,” I said after I recovered, even curling my fingers into air quotation marks, “that were written by demons?”

“That’s the idea, Ray,” Fennsler said, spinning slightly in his office chair.  I stared at him for a moment, trying to see if he was serious, but Fennsler was still the same man wearing his mask.  I turned back to Baum to see if he was smiling, too, but his face was cold and unforgiving, as if he truly believed it himself.

“Are you kidding?  How old is this book?  Where did you people find it?  Why on Earth do you think it’s real?” I asked rapid-fire, and I could tell that Amin wanted to answer and share what he knew, but Baum had control of the room; everyone knew that I wanted him to be the one to tell me the truth.

“The book itself isn’t that old,” Baum started, giving a light shrug, “only six hundred years or so, but the prophecies themselves have been handed down since Christ by an order that I can only tell you is legitimate.  The monks who recorded and re-recorded history for the Church would be shamed by how effective our Order has been at preserving and maintaining every word and every single clue that was left behind,” he explained, pausing slightly before his next statement.  “And from the way I just spoke about it, you should have figured out that Fennsler and I belong to this Order, as do the people who fund our operation.”

“You still haven’t said why you think it’s real.  Just because you believe?  That’s ludicrous,” I said—I even scoffed—but from the way Baum stared at me, I could tell that it went beyond belief for him.

He was certain.

“We know because there have been seers throughout the centuries, Ray, just like you.  Did you think it was an accident that 616 shows up around you?  That’s the first clue.  The popular belief about 616 is that people did not know about it before a very recent discovery of some scrolls, but 616 has been around much longer than that.  This book and its last prophecies are part of the reason.”

“So because it shows up in there—”

“It’s the first step, Ray,” Baum interrupted me, which I had not expected.  “It’s almost like… an activation.  Once the seers start to notice the number, then the dreams start; then they start to see the future, or what they think is the future,” he added, at which point I lost all sense of doubt.  In my right mind I would have kept arguing, but I needed to hear what he had to say.

Then the prophecies start to make sense, Ray,” Fennsler added, and the doubt immediately crept back in.  I looked from him, to Amin, back to Baum, and none of them were snickering; none of them looked like they were in on the joke.  I was wary at that point, but I waited for one of them to continue and, luckily, it was Baum.

“We know, or at least we believe, that this book is legitimate, because what records we have of previous seers shows that what they translated came to pass.  Nothing they would have been able to predict if they were just intelligent,” Baum added quickly.  “We’re talking about events several generations, social circles and continents removed from those individuals.”

“Something they can’t fake,” Amin added, and I could see that he was still beaming at me.

“Correct.  And we believe that there is far more at stake than just knowing the future, Ray,” Baum said, causing me to look right back at him.  “The entire manuscript has never been fully transcribed or decrypted, and we’re getting to the point where we need that.  There’s very little of the book left, and the popular theory among our experts is that something very important is hidden within those pages.  Something related to 616.”

“So that’s why you need us,” I muttered, and Baum nodded again.

“Yes.  From what we’ve been able to see—from what you’ve posted of your own life—our belief is that you and Amin are able to decipher this text, or at least you will in time.  Learning how to read it always seems to be a process, especially since it’s written in a dead language.  However, the true seers always end up knowing how,” he explained, and I was drowning in so much information that I looked down at the desk in defeat.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around everything.

“Why do you think I’ll be able to read it?” I asked, the volume of my voice so low that I wondered if I even said it, but Baum sighed and I knew he had heard me.  I looked up to see him propping up his head on his left hand.

“The dreams that you mentioned—that our boss was able to predict—they aren’t new, Ray.  For the seers, they’re almost like shared memories.  She knew what they were and who was in them because,” he said before pointing at the ancient book on the screen, “they were in there.  A previous seer had translated those sections a long time ago, and almost every iteration of seers has experienced something from somewhere else in the book.”

“I… this …this is a…” I tried, but I couldn’t form a complete sentence.

“It’s a lot, dude, I know.  When they told me, I freaked out hard,” Amin said, grinning as he sat cross-legged in his chair.  “But you’ll get used to it soon, I promise.  It’s only been a couple days since I got here, but now I’m just excited to get started.”

“I… so… what?  Are you going to let us read the book?  It looks like it’s falling apart and I don’t want to—” I argued, but Fennsler let out a bark of a laugh and shook his head.

“Ray, c’mon!  We live in the 21st century!  We’ve already scanned it to Hell and back and all of that information—along with annotations of the other seers—is sitting there in your computer.  You just have to start it up and you can get going on trying to translate the thing,” he said, prompting me to turn back to Baum for confirmation.

 

He nodded, so I took that as the confirmation I was seeking.

 

“Oh, okay.  Well, how do I get to it?” I asked, turning to the monitor on my desk, but I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on, where the actual computer was.  Amin laughed at my antics for a few seconds before I sent him a glare, but he looked over to Baum and I realized that I wasn’t supposed to be working yet.

“That’ll come in time, Ray.  We want you to get used to the idea of all this before we go any further.  For Amin this is his first real work day so he’ll have a head start, but today was just to bring you up to speed,” he said before standing up and stepping around his desk, coming to a stop a few feet away from me.

“But… why?” I asked, and Baum gave me that weird smile of his before waving back at the book on the screen.

“You need time to adjust, no matter how you feel about it.  And after lunch and a tour of our facilities we are going to dive in a little bit—I’ll tell you some more history about what we’re doing—but like I said,” he teased, looking out of the corner of his eye as he turned to the door.  “After lunch.”

“You’re going to tell me all of that and then expect me to get lunch like normal?” I asked, but Baum just kept smiling and walked over and then through the doorway.  I stood up, very willing to protest the decision, but Amin’s next comment was enough to stop me from speaking.

“You want to, dude.  It’s a lot to process, and you should know more about the place.  I’m halfway tempted to stay in the dorms they have down here,” he said, and I would have asked more questions, but the small man had already turned back to his own terminal and booted it up… somehow.  I didn’t see what he had done and it was frustrating, but one look from Fennsler was all I needed to realize that I wasn’t going to win this fight.

So I left, I toured the facilities with Baum; we got lunch outside the facility.  They had a very nice gym there on the 15th subbasement, and a lot of really cool places to hang out and play games and relax and drink and all the other things that I just don’t give a shit about anymore.  I know they were just trying to be nice, and I know that the whole purpose was to acclimate to these new surroundings, but it just frustrated me.

Especially since they lied and we didn’t actually get started on looking at the text or even explaining the history I wanted to know.  After the tour and lunch—which Baum had decided would be a local Mexican place—the agent drove me back to my hotel and said that was the end of the day.  I protested and argued and accused him of lying to me, but he just sat there and took it.  Shrugged and agreed, but he knew that it was the only way he was going to get me to leave without a fight.  I asked him why, of course, and Baum surprised me by knowing exactly what to say.

He said that the way I was acting and the way I searched for the truth, he knew I would never leave the prophecies alone.  Not willingly, at least.

It was enough that I wasn’t able to respond, and Baum had taken it as an appropriate cue to drive away, leaving me in a hotel alone with my thoughts and feelings of dire importance and confusion.

 

Which was totally cool of them.

 

I gotta say though.  As serious and paradoxically ridiculous as all of this sounds… I’m actually pretty excited to get to work on something so important.

I’m just hoping it’s actually important.

 

 

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Act 2 is off to a strong start already! This is the real meat of the novel, so get ready. There's three more rapid-fire posts in the next few days, and you can get started on the next right now!