Alan Ch. 09byjuliancoreto©
A New Friend
It was the Sunday night, the last night of spring break. Alan spent the day completing his assignments for school, and by early evening he was done. He fiddled around on the computer for a bit, surfing sites and reading e-mails, but by eight o'clock he was bored. "The Simpsons" was a rerun so he had decided not to watch. With nothing much to do Alan began to clean his desk and organize his papers, but before he had made much progress he came upon the ring.
He had enclosed it in a sheet of notebook paper and some tape, and when he drew it out from the desk drawer it took him half a second to realize what it was. Slowly he unwrapped it. It just looked like a regular ring now, not glowing or buzzing like it had before. He examined it closely; it was silver but badly tarnished, unsurprisingly because it was two-and-a-half millennia old. He decided to polish it, and as he put it down on the desk it began glowing and vibrating. He picked it up again, and it stopped. Palming it in his left hand he went downstairs and grabbed a rag and his mom's silver polish and quickly returned to his room, closing the door behind him. He had never polished silver before so he didn't know if he should apply the polish to the ring directly or first to the rag. He scooped out some polish, a gooey pink substance, and rubbed it on the rag with the tips of his fingers, then placed the ring in the center of the moist part of the rag, folded it over, and began to rub the ring through it. After a few seconds he stopped to check his progress and saw that the ring was now gleaming.
"Should I try it on?" he asked himself silently. He was still new to his powers, and he didn't know what the ring would do to them. He put the ring down again so he could continue to think. This time the glow from the ring was intense, so intense that the light was almost blinding, and when he reached down to pick it up again, in hopes of stopping the terrible light from damaging his eyes he was chagrined to see that it was not abated. "For some reason this ring wants me to wear it," Alan was figuring out, so he slipped it on his finger, the middle finger of his right hand. He didn't know why he chose that finger, but it felt right.
Instantly the light faded, and after a few seconds it had stopped completely.
"Alan," he heard his mother call from downstairs, "Were you expecting company? There's someone at the door for you."
Alan went downstairs and saw his parents speaking to his unexpected guest. He wasn't quite sure who this man was, but he was certain that he had something to do with the ring, the Ring of Ko'un-Zir.
"Ah, there you are Alan," the man began. He had an accent, European for sure, it sounded like to Alan. He couldn't tell if it was French or British because it sounded like a little of each. "It's nice to meet you at last." His parents were at a loss, and he could see his father about to say something, but instead he took his mother and they walked away from Alan and the stranger, and up the stairs.
"I don't want to be rude or anything, but who are you?"
"Awfully sorry young man, frightfully discourteous thing to do. Well, you know, manners were never my string suit. I am Jean-Pierre Massimo, and I am here because of you. Because you are wearing the ring."
"I've heard of you! The man at the mus--" Alan stopped short, not wanting to tell Massimo that he had stolen the Ring of Ko'un-Zir from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "You're an archaeologist, that's uh, that's where I've heard of you."
"And you, young man, you are the vessel of one of the Seeds of Paishiya'uvada."
"What are you talking about?" Alan bluffed.
"Please don't patronize me Alan. You are a vessel of the Seed. There are five Seeds in existence, and you contain one. You received it last month in the hospital from its former vessel, a man named Grossman."
"I didn't know his name." A few seconds later Alan realized he had blown his bluff.
"So, the lies are over, thank goodness."
"How did you know? Did the ring tell you? I know you found it in Iraq many years ago, so you must know something about it. Please Mr. Massimo, I know virtually nothing about the Seed, and less about the Ring of Ko'un-Zir."
"Patience my son, all in good time. And by the way, it's 'Dr. Massimo.'"
"Call me Jack. Everybody does." He laughed.
They went into the living room and sat across from each other. Alan noticed that Jack was also wearing a ring identical to his own, but he held his tongue, wishing for Jack to tell him more.
"Just out of curiosity, do you know which of the Seeds you contain?" Jack asked him.
"Uh, yeah. My Seed is the Seed of Hyrcanus."
"Really! Well I'll say! Excellent, excellent." He clapped his hand on his knee. "The first of them all, well met!" He paused before continuing, leaning closer to Alan as if to confide, "I am the vessel of the third Seed, the Seed of Cyaxares."
Alan had a million questions, and Dr. Massimo could see him chomping at the bit to ask them. "Right, right. You are dying to ask me some questions, but please, all in good time. I am used to lecturing, so you'll have to indulge me.
"So, about a month past you became the vessel of the Seed. And earlier this week you 'acquired' the Ring of Ko'un-Zir at the museum in Manhattan, correct?"
"Yes, how did you know?"
"After the firing and arrest of Dr. Swindon-Smythe I realized that someone had found my ring at the museum, and I had to rush there to rectify the situation."
"Oh Jeez! He was arrested? That's awful." Alan dropped his eyes, ashamed of himself.
"Oh, I fixed it for the chap. He's back on staff--as you Yanks say, 'No harm, no foul.' However, if your powers had been more advanced this would not have happened. Before I leave here tonight you must promise me to practice."
"But I don't really know what I'm doing. How am I going to practice? Is there a manual or something?"
Jack chuckled. "Sorry young man, there's no set of instructions. Just find a quiet hour to exercise your powers. You don't need to meditate, you need not concentrate. Just exercise your powers like you would your body. The better you become using the skills you know you have, the easier it will be to discover new ones."
"How did you find me?"
"Oh simple really. I had the chief of security at the museum review all of the videotape from last Monday, and then I 'hired' a private investigator to track you down. He found your cousin Nina first because she lives in New York. I paid her a visit this morning and she told me where you live. The clumsy alterations Swindon-Smythe made in the curatorial databases pinpointed the time of your visit, so thankfully we didn't have to sit through watching hours upon hours of videotape. It was quite easy, really. A lesson to you for the future to cover your tracks better, what ho.
"And now we come to the ineffable motive of my contact: the ring. How much do you know about the creation of the Seeds?"
Alan told him about the incident when he passed out and found the story written in his notebook, and he even went upstairs and retrieved it to show to his visitor.
"Very good, very good. I hope you are keeping this in a safe place? You might think about a safe-deposit box." Alan agreed.
"So, after Ko'un-Zir destroyed the Orbis Tertius he had five rings fashioned from the metal. He took the orb to Achnai the Smith, the best metal worker in all of Mesopotamia. To prevent it from ever being used as a weapon against the vessels, Achnai melted the orb down in his oven and then mixed the pure silver of the orb with base metals, but before he did this Ko'un-Zir had him set aside enough slag to make the five rings."
"What do the rings do? Do they increase my power?"
"No, not really. They may help you to develop them faster. Your learning curve will shorten, and your mastery of your abilities will intensify. You will be able to discover the limits of the Seed better."
"Do all of the vessels find rings?"
"No, as of yet only two have been found. Both of them be me, as a matter of fact. But I'm not here for a pat on the back, don't you know, don't you know."
"If you don't mind me asking, why are you here? Is there something you need to tell me?"
"Well, to be perfectly honest, I have never met another vessel, though I was close to tracking down Grossman when he met his end. I left the ring at the Met on the off-chance that another vessel might encounter it there. Since New York is a major tourist attraction, and the museum is one of the most visited places there, I figured it was the best place for it." He paused a bit before continuing, "I must say, I'm frightfully excited to meet you."
They talked for awhile longer, Dr. Massimo suggesting a few exercises for Alan to do to develop his powers, and when the hour grew late Jack took his leave, suggesting he would drop in again, but making no promises. He left an address, care of a Swiss bank, which he told Alan would forward any messages.
* * *
The next Saturday morning Alan was up with the birds. Since he had been setting aside an hour each day to exercise his Seed powers he was finding that he could get by with about half the sleep he previously needed. There was a club ride this morning and he decided to go. The local bicycling club sponsored group rides every weekend of the year, but Alan really didn't like to ride in very cold weather, so it had been months since he last joined a ride. As he was wheeling his bike down the driveway he was startled by a voice. "Hello there! Hello, you on the bike?" He looked across the road and saw a girl dressed for cycling. She was doing stretching exercises as she called out to him, and Alan crossed the road to talk to her.
"Hello," she offered a gloved hand, "I'm Chloe, the Anderson's au pair. And you are?"
"Alan, Alan Marshall. I live there," he answered, pointing his thumb back over his shoulder to his house.
"Nice to meet you Alan Alan Marshall," she joked, and they both grinned at each other.
"I don't think I've seen you before. Are you new?" Alan was enjoying the conversation; Chloe's sexy British accent was nice to listen to.
"I just started a few weeks ago. The Andersons are away at Mrs. Anderson's mum's in Connecticut, so I'm free this weekend. Just thought I'd take a spin around the town and have a look. Where are you headed?"
Alan explained about the club ride. "Forget that," he told her, "Do you want to ride with me? I'll blow off that other thing."
"Sure," she answered, and they set off. "I hope you can keep up with me. I'm a serious rider, unlike most of you Americans."
"Do you want to set the pace, or shall I?" he asked back, a small smirk evident.
"Better off you, I don't think you'd be able to keep up with me. My chums and I ride long distances back in England."
They mounted up and Alan led her down the road, keeping a moderate pace. After they'd covered a couple of miles they reached the old state highway, a thoroughfare which saw little regular vehicular traffic, less so on the weekends, and almost deserted on a weekend in the morning. The road was built in the 1930s, and unlike the new highway, which had been built three decades later, it was unevenly graded, rolling hills and valleys of asphalt. Alan picked up the pace and Chloe stayed with him. After a few more up-and-down miles he accelerated again, popping up out of the saddle to power his way up a particularly steep hill, or as it was called in the parlance of cycling, "a good hill." As he neared the crest he turned to see how Chloe was faring, and he could see her struggle to climb the incline. She too was up out of the saddle, and he could tell she was huffing and puffing.
He faced forward again and shifted out of his climbing ring into the small one. As he zipped down the hill he cranked the pedals hard, and by the computer on his handlebars he saw he was approaching seventy miles per hour. Quickly coming to another hill, albeit a smaller one, he shifted again and climbed it almost effortlessly, his momentum helping him traverse it. He hammered on the pedals for another couple of miles or so and then pulled to the side of the road and waited for Chloe to catch up. He was sitting leaned up against a tree facing the road, his bike resting against the opposite side, taking long pulls from his water bottle as she pulled up to him, gasping for breath. She laid her bike on the ground gently, walked up to him and fell to her knees in exhaustion. He pulled a second water bottle from the rear pocket of his racing jersey and held it out for her, and she grabbed it from him gratefully, falling down on her side as she did so. She pulled the valve open with her teeth, squeezed some water into her mouth, swished it around a bit and then spat, immediately returning the bottle to her mouth and sucking water like she had just crossed a desert. In less than half a minute she had drained the whole thing, and she just stayed down on the grass, breathing heavily, occasionally letting loose a groan.
"Sorry about that," he said to her. She didn't answer immediately, marshalling her energy and respiration.
"I should be apologizing to you. I thought I was teasing you. Americans aren't supposed to be good a cycling! They all drive cars and never exercise. You had to go and pull a David Millar on me!"
"Figures you would pick a British cyclist!" he roared in laughter, and she began to chuckle as well. "What I did was more of a Jacky Durand, you know, pulling away from the pack on a long and unadvised escape. Hey, we Yanks can bike, or have you let Lance slip your mind?"
She had managed to pull herself upright by now and was looking at him with interest. "So, you know a bit about racing do you? Well, you managed to tear up the road this morning. I haven't been dropped on a ride in more than three years! David Millar's got nothing on you."
"Well, I wouldn't say that! I've never won a stage in the Tour de France, nor have I worn the yellow jersey like him. Though you know, of course, that he only wore the yellow because of a fluke."
"You take that back!" and they both laughed. Alan pulled two bananas from his jersey and gave her one, and they munched in silence for a moment. As she stood up to go back to her bike she squealed, grabbing her thigh and collapsing to the grass. "CRAMP!"
"Do you need me to help?"
"Cheeky chap, aren't we? Trying to get near my knickers right off the whistle, eh?" she taunted through gritted teeth. Alan went over to her and began massaging the bothersome thigh, and using the Seed caused her knotted muscles to relax. "Mmmm, lovely, bloody nice." After a short while he helped her up and they remounted their bikes.
Alan unzipped his seat pack and pulled out a small bottle of Tylenol, and gave her two. She popped them in her mouth and pulled her water bottle from the cage on her bike, and swallowed them down. "Thanks love!" she said to him, flashing a dazzling smile.
"Do you want to keep riding, or should we head back?"
"Back, I think. Ugh! I don't fancy riding those hills again."
"We'll go another way. Through the streets. More traffic, less hills, but a slightly longer route OK?"
She nodded, and they were off.
* * *
"Look, I feel bad about pushing you so hard out there," Alan told her as they pulled onto their street, "Let a guy take you out for breakfast?"
"Lovely, mate. Let me just shower off. Meet you at your house in thirty?"
"Cool with me."
Half an hour later Alan watched her amble across the road up to his door. He was waiting on the porch, having quickly cleaned up and changed. As he watched her approach he was taken aback by her looks. She was almost as tall as him, probably 5'9", and she had a killer body. He had noticed it before, when she was dressed in her tight cycling gear, but seeing her in a pair of tight jeans and form-fitting blouse she was absolutely stunning. Her long blonde hair, which had been tucked into her helmet under a bandana before, was tied in a ponytail, and he hadn't noticed her eyes because she had been wearing sunglasses on the ride. They were pale blue, and gorgeous. Alan intercepted her in the driveway, and led her to his car. They went to a coffee shop in town and ate heartily, their appetites stoked by the ride.
"So, tell me about yourself," he asked her.
"Oh I'm just a London girl spending a wee bit in the colonies. Figure I'll spend a half a year with the Andersons and then see a bit of this great land of yours before I head back home to University."
"How old are you?"
"Well, that's not a gentlemanly thing to ask a lady, you know! But of you must know, I'm eighteen. Just finished 'high school' as you Yanks call it, and have been an au pair here in the states since last summer. I go back in September."
"Where were you before the Andersons?"
"I was in a small town in Pennsylvania, and I couldn't be happier to be out of there! Thank god the mum there decided to quit her job and send me back to the agency. But enough about me, mate, tell me about you."
"Oh, well, there's nothing much to tell. I'm in my last year of high school, and then I'm off to college in the fall. Columbia in New York City, though I'm hesitant to inform you that Columbia used to be called King's College until we got wise and threw off the yoke of British oppression. " She thought that was funny, and told him she was envious. She would be willing to cut off an arm to get the chance to live in New York City.
"So that's it? You just go to school and nothing else? Surely there's more to you? I mean it's not everyday you meet a guy who is both handsome and can drop a cyclist like me. Hmmm, girlfriend?"
"There is one girl I'm seeing now."
He told her about Pauline, how they were friends for many years and then they went out for a bit, and stopped, and then started up again recently. "That's sweet," she said.
"So, you, boyfriend?"
"Nah, not at the moment. It's frustrating you know? Haven't had a good snog in a long time. You sleeping with Pauline?" She figured she would get a blush out of him, but he was nonplussed.
"Yep. Her and a few others to be truthful."
"Really. Now I am fascinated. Do tell."
"I took Pauline's virginity a few days ago, but I'm also sleeping with her older sister, whom I have turned into a sex slave. I'm also fucking my English teacher, and her next door neighbor. The two of them are also sleeping together."
Chloe's eyes were as wide as the English Channel. She had almost choked on her coffee, and her hands were shaking as she returned the cup to her saucer. "What did you just say?"
"I think you heard me right."
"How? How? How are you doing this? I mean you are a tasty treat to look at, as I'm sure you've been told," Alan grinned at her waiting for her to continue, "But I mean good god man, I never would have pegged you for some sort of a satyr."
"There's an easy explanation. I have the power to control minds, among other powers."
"Now you're just making up stories."
"Want to see a demonstration?"
"See that waitress over there? I'll make her drop those plates of food she's got." Chloe turned, and watched her do it.
"That doesn't bloody prove anything!"
"What kind of proof do you need?"
"Do something to me. Me mum and I went to a hypnotist's show once and he chose me from the crowd, and I was the only one who he couldn't get to go under. Try me."
Alan looked at her and gave it a moments thought. "Open your blouse and show me your tits."
"Yeah, right, boyo!" But as she was protesting she began to unbutton he blouse, and after she had pulled her bra down she dropped her hands to her side. "Nice try, mate. You didn't even try to put me under. The last chap had a gold watch on a chain."
Alan looked at her chest, and she followed his gaze. "Oh my stars! How did you do that?" she half-screeched as she rearranged her bra and top to cover herself back up.