Friday, July 15, 2016

"The Case of Reverse Engineering" Part 1

This is the first of three parts of a story I wrote.  It is a horror homage to John Carpenter's The Thing, the movie The Thing from Another World and the John W. Campbell story "Who Goes There."

It is set in the Lovecraftian 1950s world of Richman and Kostka.

"The Case of Reverse Engineering"

I walked into the outer room of the upstairs offices of Richman and Kostka Investigations.  The desk and the whole room had everything in its place, except my partner, Periwinkle "Winkle" Kostka.  At ten on a Thursday morning this was something of a surprise.  I hadn't been by the office in a while, but I was sure she didn't have case at the moment.

I walked to the door leading to the inner office, nominally mine.  I swung it open with no warning.

"Hey Mister Moneybags, you can't just waltz in here like you own the joint," she glanced over her shoulder with a smile, but kept facing away.

"I do," I said, and I did.  Although mine was the name was on top on the door I was just the bankroll and the license, Winkle was the sleuth.  She had a mind like no other, and the determination of a bulldog.  She was beautiful, no lie.  She had brilliant violet eyes and her curly, butter-yellow hair had been wrangled into a ponytail.  She was about five seven with an athletic build.  I don't know where she hid them, but she certainly had muscles to spare for anyone who got on her wrong side.

"I was just changing," she opened a file cabinet that was really a wardrobe and pulled out a satin aqua top.  "Could I have a minute?"

"Sure," I backed out of the office.  "I just came by because I have a gala luncheon I have to attend and Elle is out of town."

"And you want me to sub for the Mrs. as your escort?"  She asked, looking over her shoulder.

"Technically, I would escort you, it's a society thing."

"Where is this gala?"

"My alma mater, Pattell."

Both her eyebrows shot up, "I seriously doubt anything at that pile of bricks could be called a, 'Gala.'"

"Well, it'd be a safe bet everyone there voted for General Eisenhower last November.  It's a fundraiser and Allah knows they could use the money."

"What time is this gala?"

"Eleven to two."

"You wearing that?"

I was wearing one of my better double breasted gray suits with a blue paisley tie, "Yes."

"I should just be able to get ready in time, if you shoo."

True to her word, in less than fifteen minutes she met me in the outer office.  Her hair was up in a wide brimmed hat.  She wore an aqua suit dress with cream satin shirt and a turquoise choker.

The lunch was catered from the University President's own staff at the Student Union main ball room.  The food was top notch and the room was bright and gay.  It was decked out in the school colors of scarlet and orange with yellow accents.  There were a dozen round tables of eight.  The centerpieces were some sort of penguin ice sculptures and Jacob's Ladder machines.  The theme was a complete mystery to me.  The head table was on a dais across from the entrance.  A jazz quintet was hopping in one corner and the bar was in another.  Most of the guests seemed to be in the bar quadrant and I made my way there.

I was wrong about the Ike supporters because there was a good representation from the academic staff too.  I spotted the University President and Chancellor, the Deans of the College of Science and the College of Medicine, the heads of the Physics, Engineering and Biology Departments; all heavy hitters in the school.

I also recognized the money, several of the other regular supporters and some others I knew by reputation and or the Stock Exchange.  All the brains, beauty and power were represented.  I was sure Winkle and I were bringing up the caboose of this money train.

"Captain Viktor Richman," thin hands clamped my shoulders.  "You shouldn't have come.  This is a very dangerous time," a woman's voice rasped in my ear.

I turned to face Doctor Judy Gottschalk, PhD Anthropology.  Bone thin in a black dress, she took a drag of her cigarette.  "I have a very bad feeling.  Why are you here?"

"We're not attending this soiree as detectives if that's what you're asking.  I'm a sustaining contributor to the school."  

"Hello Doctor Gottschalk," Winkle said, "What's the problem, Vik?"

I grunted and pointed at Gottschalk.  She looked back and forth at us while taking long drags.  When she exhaled she said, "Do you know why they threw this fundraiser?"

"The usual reasons?"

She sucked in a visible amount of her cigarette, held it and exhaled the smoke through her nostrils, "It's something specific and I'm not at all comfortable with it."

Just then the bell rang for us all to take our seats.

Gottschalk put out her cigarette as I helped her with her chair, "Have you heard anything about Antarctic Research Facility Number Four?"

Winkle and I shook our heads.

"Apparently they had some trouble last year, several men died and they were stranded for almost a month, by the time the Air Force got to them all but a handful were dead and half the base was a smoking ruin."

"Was it a disease; mental illness; natural disaster?"

"It was a disaster all right.  I don't know how natural it was.  The Air Force started an investigation and salvaged some documents and samples.  They think the expedition dug up, found something," she whispered.  "Only six out of the original staff of thirty seven survived and two of them were committed to a mental hospital when they got back.  Two of the physicists were from Pattell, Earnest Melitene and Claude Allouez.  They're at the head table."

"Physicists, Antarctica; how are you, an Anthropologist connected to this?"

"I was brought in to work on the language."

"Language?  What was it the expedition found?"

Gottschalk leaned in because some of the others at the table were starting to eye us, "Extraterrestrials."

"Extraterrestrials or evidence of them?"


"Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please," University President Ferrini said.  "We have so very much to talk about and I'm so very excited.  While they are getting the salad ready I just wanted to let you all know a few things.  Some of you already know what our lunch today is all about, but for most of you this has been a mystery.  I am excited and proud to tell you now exactly why we are meeting today."

Between Ferrini's speech, the clinking of the salad plates and the nearly silent execution I almost missed it.  The porters shut all the doors except those that led to the kitchens.  It was only the mistimed click of one lock that alerted me as they secured the room.  My head spun.  When I turned back I noticed Winkle had heard it too.  She gave me a look of heightened guard.

"We are here to celebrate and support our wildly successful Antarctic mission of last year, headed by Professor Melitene."

Melitene stood and waved at the crowd who applauded politely.  He was a small man with a very large moustache.  He was rather round with a round body, round head and round glasses.  He looked in no way capable of wintering in Chicago let alone Antarctica.

"Wildly successful," Gottschalk muttered.  She gulped her champagne and clandestinely reached for her neighbor's.

"Professor Melitene and his colleague Professor Allouez made the most remarkable discovery while studying magnetism.  I don't want to spoil their presentation but let me just say there are implications the discovery of two of this university's staff will no less than change our entire world and way of life.  We are here to learn about their discovery and how we at Pattell University can support the further developments of technology that will revolutionize transportation and energy, as well as open an entire universe of opportunities."

The room applauded as madly as those stuffed shirts ever got mad.  President Ferrini took a short bow before sitting down and letting us hit the feedbag before the main briefing.

"What was that?"  Winkle asked, "Alien technology?"

Gottschalk nodded and looked around the room, at the sealed doors and the floor to ceiling windows streaming in golden sunlight, melting the centerpieces.  "You're armed right; please tell me you're armed."

She only really mouthed the words, no sound came out.  Only Winkle and I were aware of what she was asking.  We both pat the locations of our pieces.

"Pft, for all the lot of good it will do," she forked her salad and shook her head.  Winkle and I shared a shrug and ate in silence for a while.

Judy Gottschalk and I met when she was a nurse in the Philippines during the war.  Not only was she a combat nurse, but she was working for the OSS, having taught herself just about all the languages in the Pacific.  She was one of their most valuable sources of information coming from patients; both enemy and civilian.  She had seen things out there.  If she was shaken by whatever we were talking about today, then it had to be well worth shaking.

I didn't know just what it was so I started making plans for gathering intelligence through the subterfuge, fighting, escaping; or maybe all three.

Winkle looked around the table at the other guests, two couples of elder school supporters and old Professor Joseph Douglas of Mathematics who kept falling asleep.  She leaned in to Gottschalk, "Was what you were translating alien?"

"They gave me a box of all sorts of things, most seemed like notes and schematics drawn by hand, although there were a very few pieces of metal with markings on them."

"Did you figure out what they said?"

"Mostly it wasn't a human language, but there was part of a diary I think by a scientist named Blair.  That seemed to be a mixed bag.  I got the furthest with that."

"What did it say?  What did they find?"

"Like I said, it mostly wasn't about their find, more like notebooks for machinery, and some math notes, I had to hand that part off to someone like old Joe here."  

"It was very interesting too," Professor Douglas chirped in.  He was to my left while Gottschalk was on my right.  I don't know how the old bird heard, because I was having a hard time following.

"What was it, Professor?"  Winkle asked.

"Engineering, almost entirely engineering calculations.  The notation was strange, different, but I recognized some of the basic universal calculations.  I saw no reason whatsoever to conclude aliens were involved," he ended the sentence snoring at his soup.

"Old codger doesn't know what he was looking at.  The language I saw was like no other on Earth."

"What were the schematics for?"

"I couldn't tell, but I think it was this Blair fellow who wrote them.  What concerns me most is that I think Blair was communicating with the alien."

"You mean there are aliens on Earth now?"

"I couldn't tell.  I do think they found alien bodies and alien tech.  I have no idea how Blair could have been communicating with them, but I'm sure he wasn't the source of the calculations or the schematics.  He must have just been transcribing them."


"He was a pathologist.  What really frightens me most is from the time the Air Force was alerted until the time they made it down to relieve the camp was when the bulk of the killing and damage was done.  At first there may have been accidents, but that second part, that was all anthropogenic."

I looked at Winkle.  She opened her mouth to talk, but Gottschalk explained, "Man-made."

They swapped out our salads for entrees.

"They killed each other over this alien and technology," I asked.

"Yes and it was our two boys," Gottschalk nodded her head toward the head table, "that came out on top."

"Those two?"

"Unbelievable, right?"

(to be continued)

No comments: