Oblivion 1

Chapters 11 to 16

Devin & Catherine search for and find Vincent's roots and discover a family he never knew existed.


Chapter Eleven

The Sonn Alp Mountain was situated on the borders of Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia, and The Institute of Climatology nestled in a valley at the foot of the Austrian side, accessible only by a dirt track, and hidden securely by huge fir trees and dense shrubbery. To an untrained eye there were no visible signs that it lay there. Interviewees were told to wait in the tiny village where they were collected and escorted in a vehicle with tinted windows on the inside, so that passengers could not see out, and all employees lived on site in small villas. No telephones were installed in the villas, and day passes were only permissible one day in ten. Security guards with dogs patrolled the boundaries and the whole place was secured by a high electric fence. Devin had never seen anything quite like it in his life, it was more of a concentration camp than a laboratory experimenting in global warming and chlorofluorocarbons.
Devin had applied as usual for him, under a false name. For once he was more than glad that he had adopted this habit. The place gave him a strange feeling, there was no warmth, no life to be seen there, and as soon as he alighted from the vehicle he noticed the unreal quietness, there was no birdsong, though there were many trees.
“Step this way, Mr. Weston, we shall not keep you waiting long.” He was ushered into a small room and offered a chair. The room was clinically white, a few pictures studded the walls, they depicted scenes of thunderstorms, icebergs, rainbows and cloud formation.
Devin left his seat to go across and study the pictures in detail. There was no harm in seeming to take an interest, and he had found that so doing in the past had shown enthusiasm, and he had got the job on that merit alone.
Hearing a door open and close behind him, Devin returned to his seat, watching as three men in white coats each took up a seat around him. Their faces were expressionless, and Devin found that he wanted to laugh, they were all so serious. Yet he refrained from doing so. He took in their appearance. All of them were very tall, and bore a slight resemblance. Each had blonde hair, though the older one was showing signs of greying. Acting almost like robots, one would shuffle some papers as did the next one and so on, as if they were nervous, but Devin could tell that they were not, each knew exactly what he was doing, and as they openly scrutinised him, Devin shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He felt as though they were looking straight into his soul and behaved as though he were an alien.
Devin felt his cheeks redden, had they guessed his secret? Did they know he hid his true identity? Had they seen through his phoney CV?
He looked down at their feet, and was relieved in a funny kind of way to see that they all wore different coloured shoes. ‘Arh Huh!’ he was jubilant, ‘Human after all!’
And he decided to name them by their footwear. Black Shod, Brown Shod and Tan Shod. He imagined how Cathy would laugh when he told her of this, and in so doing he smiled. The smile did not go un-noticed, as Tan Shod opened a file upon his lap, and scribbled something down.
Still no-one spoke.
Devin saw it as a test. If he should speak first he would fail, yet he felt like shouting abuse at them. It was like being interviewed by three white mice. A kind of interrogation. Fortunately Devin’s sense of humour carried him through it all and returning stare for stare, he sat there waiting.
A clock ticked on the wall, Devin could not see it, and silently he started to count the ticks. He got to 570 when Tan Shod stood up, walked across to a desk, sat behind it and looked directly at Devin as he said, “Mr. Weston, tell us your views on the way this interview is being conducted. Now please!” With a domineering German accent.
Devin grappled for the words, what could he say?
“NOW PLEASE!” Tan Shod spoke sharply, his voice raised.
Devin was still surprised, lost for words.
“Mr. Weston, we are very busy men, we have no time for wasters. Please when you are asked a question, you will answer without delay the first thing that comes inside your head. Now I ask you again, tell us your views on the way this interview is being conducted.”
Devin wanted to get up and leave, he was in a nut house, he was sure of it. Drawing a deep breath he answered, “You would not think my answer very polite.”
“Try us?”
“Okay, you asked for it, though I guess it will blow my chances of my employment here. You want to know the first thing that comes into my mind, well here it is. This has to be the weirdest experience of my entire life. You do not introduce yourselves, you sit staring at me trying to make me feel uncomfortable, and succeed gloriously, I might add, you insinuate that I am wasting your time, yet do not consider that you may be wasting mine, and just look at you, at this whole place, its like nothing on earth and I am....”
“Bravo Mr. Weston, I am happy to see that you are an honest fellow.”
Devin looked at all three faces noticing that they had broken into smiles. Tan Shod went on “Out of all our applicants you have been the only one who has replied honestly, and told us exactly what you have thought of this bizarre interview technique. You would not believe some of the replies we have had.”
Black Shod nodded as he said, “One chap sat there and said, ‘ the interview is fine, you have all made me feel very welcome’”.
Devin laughed out loud, “Then he must have been crazier than you are.”
“A sense of humour too, that is very good. I like you Mr. Weston, and I hope that you will be very happy here.”
“But aren’t you going to ask me about my background, my qualifications etc,” Devin asked incredulously.
“There is no need Mr. Weston, you sent us all we need to know, and though we believe your CV was a trifle over enthusiastic, it only emphasises the need to see the applicant rather than believe all that is told on paper. Applications tell us very little about personality and honesty, we find that conducting interviews this way, gives us the opportunity to learn a lot about a person, and it also went in your favour that you were observing the photographs before we came in.”
‘Good’ thought Devin, ‘that always works.’
“There is one thing,” Tan Shod went on, breaking Devin’s thoughts, “During the silent treatment, I jotted down that I had seen you smile. You noticed me writing something down, so I know you remember it. What was it that humoured you so?”
“I was thinking about my sister, and how she would react when I told her about this interview. She would find it highly amusing.”
“Ah huh, you have a sister. Tell me then is she in Austria too?”
Devin hoped that Catherine would not mind suddenly finding herself related to him, but it was all he could think of at the spur of the moment, and besides she would soon be his sister-in-law so it was close enough, though by the interest shown he didn’t know if he should have said so, as he replied, “No, she is in America now, though she is planning a trip to Austria next week, and we had arranged to meet up.”
“And now you cannot.”
“Why not?”
Tan Shod went on, “Now that you are an employee here, we cannot allow you to have any time off, until after your probation, neither can you have visitors or tell your sister of anything that has taken place here this day, or anything you have seen or heard.”
“And how long is the probation period?” Devin wanted to know.
“Six months.”
“Six months!”, Devin exclaimed, “But I have promised her. If I don’t meet her she will worry and she will search for me.”
“Yet she will not find you.”
Black Shod shuffled in his seat and spoke in German to Tan Shod, Devin did not understand them.
Bringing his gaze back to Devin, Tan Shod went on, “When you collect your things from the hotel, you may leave a message for your sister there, or the hotelier will have a message sent on to wherever she plans to stay, do you know of her intentions?”
Devin nodded and asked, “Perhaps in fact you would have some work for her here, so at least we can be together. I haven’t seen much of her lately.”
“Perhaps Mr. Weston, we will consider this. In the meantime we cannot risk your sister putting out a search party for you, the fewer people know of this institute the better, so please leave her a message. Now the escort will be waiting for you. Go now, collect your belongings and return this evening.”
“I have my own car back at the hotel.”
“Then leave it for your sister, you will not require it further.”
Black Shod, Brown Shod and Tan Shod stood up to leave the room, they grasped Devin’s hands, shaking them in their own as and they left the room, while they told him warmly, “Congratulations Mr. Weston, we look forward to working with you.”

Devin was ushered to the waiting car, and escorted back to his hotel. He had to get a telephone call through to Catherine, and he hoped that she was there. Fortunately his room had a telephone, so he broke the first of many institute rules by calling her. Yet she was not at home, the answer machine again took his call.
“Cathy, its Devin. I got the job, you would not believe the place, the security is watertight and the interview, well you would have to experience it to believe it. It was weird, creepy. The institute cannot be seen from the road outside, its down a dirt track running through some woodland, set in a valley at the foot of Sonn Alp. Look don’t ask me why but I told them you were my sister, and that you are coming to meet me in Austria next week for a re-union. They think my name is Deryl Weston, they didn’t ask your name, but how about if I call you an alias of Cathy Conway, Mrs. They said I could leave a message for you at the hotel, and I have to remain at the institute for, would you believe, six months, before they will let me out of there. I can’t have or make telephone calls, and even after my probation I only get one day off in ten. I don’t know what to do yet Cathy, do you have any good ideas. Its like a concentration camp here, and I got the distinct impression that I walked into something very eerie, and I mean to find out what. Even the vehicle they escorted me in has darkened windows, so they are obviously hiding something. Cathy, can you make a reservation at my hotel, I’ll leave the car there for you. Somehow I will contact you. Hope all went well with Vincent. Bye Cathy.”

It was three days before Catherine played back the message. She decided to extract the tape and keep it safe, and put a fresh one into the machine. The message from Devin contained all kinds of information that she might need again.
Suddenly she was worried about him, did Devin really know what he was getting himself into? If they ever suspected him, they might kill him. She wondered if it were all worth it. Vincent had gone, no-one knew where and even if Devin did find that Vincent had some relatives, how did he hope to get them back to America, had he thought of that? She did not know that he had. Languages he might not be good at, but he did have a pilot’s license and the loan of a friend’s private aeroplane, and that is how he planned to do it.

Catherine had spent the past three days living Below waiting for news of Vincent. Father had insisted she use Vincent’s chamber, yet Catherine found that being there without him caused her great heartache.
“Whatever happened between the two of you?” Father beseeched her when she entered his home, “Vincent came flying in here without a word, gathered Jacob and some belongings and took off, and no-one has seen him since.”
“I came as quickly as I could to follow him Father, he can’t have gone far, I must try to find him.”
“No Catherine, the way is too dangerous for you. I sent Mouse after him, he is searching even as we speak. If anyone can find Vincent, Mouse can.”
Catherine had taken the chair he offered her gratefully, there was so much she needed to explain, so much he needed to hear.
“While I was away Father, I did a lot of thinking. Most of the time I had convinced myself that Vincent would be better off without me in his life. I told myself that I could forget him and our son. Stupid wasn’t I? But Father we had this bitter sweet relationship with the way things were. Vincent cannot live in my world, and I was so certain that I could not live full time in his, until Devin made me realise that with love, nothing is impossible.”
“Devin did?” Father did not want Catherine to know they had received word from Devin.
“Yes I could hardly believe my own eyes. There I was hiring a car in Paris and who should be there too doing exactly that but Devin. We decided to share one car and travel together, and I am glad we did. He has been such a great help father, with his charm and his wit, he brought me back from the brink, if you like, and he was someone I could really talk to about Vincent, and I really needed that. Thanks to Devin I was able to speak aloud my innermost thoughts to someone that understood.
“And Devin was the one that encouraged you to return Catherine?”
“Not in so many words. He just made me realise that the answer I sought so desperately had lain before me all along, only I could not see it. Suddenly I had an overwhelming desire to come home to Vincent, and I could not get here soon enough.”
Catherine finished speaking, taking a sip of herb tea, not knowing quite what to say next. Her homecoming had not gone as she had planned, her heart still groaned at the memory, as she remembered the feel of Vincent’s lips on hers.
Father prompted her to continue, “You would not know that while you were away, Vincent’s memory returned to him fully. I was worried about him Catherine, he was allowing his emotions to gain mastery over him. I tried to warn him to gain self-control, but he would not listen to me. When he knew of your returning, he fled out of here to wait for you at your apartment.”
“He knew I was coming!”
“Yes the Bond that you shared returned with his memory. He went back beneath the catacombs to remember. I can’t help thinking that the demon he unleashed down there that dreadful day returned with him, because from that day on I saw him change. He was not the Vincent I knew. Pacing his chambers day and night, I could see fire in his eyes, hungry, tormented and as he allowed himself to dwell on the intimacies the two of you had shared, he became obsessed with the things that had taken place between you.”
“That doesn’t sound like Vincent.” Catherine shook her head dismayed, “It is so unlike him to dwell on such things.”
“Yes and the more he fed his mind on it, the worse he became. He would spend all day pacing, then as soon as night fell he would spend hours up on your balcony awaiting your return.”
“If only I had of known”, Catherine whispered, “I was stunned Father, I could not respond and I rejected him. Just as Lisa rejected him. Oh, how I must have hurt him.”
Father saw the pain in her eyes, “Don’t torment yourself Cathy, Vincent should have controlled himself. Did he hurt you?”
“No, not in the way you mean Father. I must go to him, he needs me.”
“No it is impossible. Vincent needs this time to be by himself, to lick his wounds so to speak. He will be embarrassed now, and probably feels ashamed, but he will return, this is his home.”
“It is my home too.”
Father straightened his glasses, as they slipped down his nose, and gazed at her for some time, before asking, “Do you mean that Catherine?”
Catherine nodded, “I made the decision to live here before I returned. Once I had done it, I knew I had made the right choice. My life is here with Vincent and our son. People search lifetimes for dreams Father, and Vincent is mine, he is everything to me. I love him so much, and I am truly sorry for the pain I have put upon him.”
Father felt a warm glow spreading through him at her words. Once he would not have believed her, would have seen through her. For on other occasions she had told him she wanted to live Below, but he knew her heart was not really in it. This time was different. He nodded, “Then you must have Vincent’s chamber until he returns.”
Catherine shifted uneasily in her seat, having made the declaration to stay, she now had to take it back, or so it would seem.
Sensing her unrest, Father asked, “What is it Cathy? Have you another problem?”
“Father, I meant everything I just told you, and thank you for believing me, but I do have to go away again, for a short while. You see I made Devin a promise that I would, and he is expecting me. I cannot tell you why I must do this, you will have to find it within yourself to trust me.”
“Is Devin still in Europe?”
“Yes. I am returning to Austria and plan to meet Devin there. I know how it must sound Father, but believe me there is a very good reason for this.”
“Words fail me Catherine. Devin goes from one foolhardy escapade to another. He has always been irresponsible. Whatever he feels he needs you for, will either cause you harm or heartache. I do not think you should go.”
“No, not this time Father. Devin is taking untold risks for someone that means a lot to him, and I want to help, we have mutual ground in this. Yet I have promised that I would not tell Vincent what it is we are working on, I can only say it is important and we will tell you both eventually.”
“How long do you expect to be away for?”
Catherine shrugged, “That’s it, I don’t know. Devin said he would call and leave a message for me when he knows more. I hope I don’t have to be away too long.”
Father was clearly dismayed, “This person that you are doing this for Cathy, is it Charles?”
“Indirectly, yes. Charles fed Devin the information quite innocently, and Devin picked up on the importance. Devin hasn’t dumped Charles by the way, if that’s your next question. While in the mountains they met some people who have taken Charles under their wing, leaving Devin free to explore this information. He’s already been working on it almost a year.”
Father took both her hands into his, and leaned closer to see into her eyes, “So if it isn’t for Charles, and both you and Devin feel obligated to work on it, to travel thousands of miles and undertake countless risks because of it, then I can only draw one conclusion.”
Catherine tried to divert her eyes, which only added fuel to Father’s suspicions, “Its got something to do with Vincent hasn’t it?” He whispered.
The question was too direct to be ignored or fobbed off, yet Catherine did not want to break her promise to Devin, so she merely nodded.
Father drew back into his seat, nodding to himself, “Is there anything I can help with Cathy?” He said at last.
Catherine sighed, relieved that he understood, “Perhaps, I will let you know.”
“Then you go with my blessing Catherine, only do take care. Whatever you both mean to uncover is not worth taking the risk at the cost of your life. To both your lives. You must promise ,me that you will make Devin understand this. He does not need to feel that he owes us anything in pursuing this, that he tried at all is proof of his love.”
“Thank you Father, I shall tell him this, and I promise we will take care.”

So Catherine had spent three long and lonely days Below, waiting for Vincent to return. Finding it so hard to sleep in his chamber, with the scent of him all around her, dwelling on the thoughts he’d had for her upon his pillow, remembering the things they had shared that day in the cavern. She was happy that he had remembered and a deep glow spread through her of how he must have anticipated their re-union. That he had taken the initiative at all, had surprised her, yet when she thought about the passion she had seen in his eyes that night in her apartment, she knew that he would not have been able to help himself.
Far better it would have been for them both if she had not left in the first place, and second that she had not rejected his love that night. True, he had taken her by surprise, had smashed down her new resolution to wait until they were married, but he hadn’t known that and she couldn’t blame him for the way he had behaved. Hadn’t she on previous occasions yearned for him to act that way?
She laughed out loud, mocking the farce, was it really so important that they had to be married first? She loved him wasn’t that enough? Had she really needed the proof of a piece of paper to show that he legally had the right to love her?
Casting her mind back to the journey home on the aeroplane, hadn’t her own emotions run in anticipation of seeing him again. He would have felt those feelings. He would not know, that the moment he gathered her up into his arms and headed for the bedroom, she would beg him to stop. Whatever must he have thought of her?
She had dreamed of their marriage, visualised their wedding night, but it no longer seemed so important, for now all her dreams had crumbled around her, dashed to pieces like a shipwreck in a storm to sink beneath the depths of an angry sea, never to rise again. Would anything ever be the same again? Suddenly she felt that a great big gulf had opened up between them, full of misunderstandings, bitterness and pain, and she did not know if they could bridge it. And night after night as she lay in his bed, her tears saturated his pillow, she had wanted a normal life, she had thought she had found it, now it was lost to her, and her body ached for him.

Three days later, back at her apartment, she tried to decide what to do. If Devin could not get free from the institute for six months, would she need to be there all that time waiting for him? And if the security was so tight could he seriously get word to her? Amazingly as soon as the thought left her mind, the telephone rang, and picking it up she heard Devin say, “Cathy thank goodness, Look I have to be quick. Just listen. I have left a package for you in the glove compartment of the car. the keys are under the bumper at the front. there are a few things you could do. I have made a couple of maps and maybe you can get some ideas from them. Please be careful Cathy, I have to go someone is coming. See ya.” Catherine sent word to Father at once. She wouldn’t wait another week, she had to retrieve that package, before anyone else did, for she had distinctly heard another click on the line after Devin had replaced the receiver. Someone had been listening in!

*** *** ***

Chapter Twelve

Devin had been handed his first assignment, it was a bit like being at college really, except that he kept getting the distinct impression that he was being observed. Of course they were aware that he only had basic knowledge of climatology and he wondered for the thousandth time why they had really employed him. He did not believe what it was that they told him about honesty, for they had seen through his phoney CV, so if that wasn’t being dishonest what was? Nonetheless, whatever the reason, the security was too tight for the institute to be working only on global warming, and Devin was thankful that he had been given the job, whatever their reasons. On his second day he was shown to a room which held a desk, a computer, some books that lined a shelf along one wall, and some maps. Two files lay open upon the desk, one contained information about global warming and the other about rain forests. A piece of paper was tucked between the two files, upon which was written the question, ‘Are humans to blame for the changes to the weather? Explain.’
Devin checked the room as he swivelled the chair around and around. The feeling of being watched was stronger, and he was certain that the tiny black speck up in one corner of the ceiling was indeed a camera.
Turning his chair to face the P.C. he switched it on, and looked up Windows. Typing in the words ‘weather statistics’ he was startled when pages after pages of charts appeared on the screen. Much of the information was in code, and he made notes of these. There was, he decided, much to be learned, and soon he was thoroughly engrossed in his work.
Devin already knew that science blamed the toxins in fuel for the breakdown of earth’s stratospheric ozone layer, yet there was much he had never even heard of. Fertilisers used in agriculture and even methane emitted by rice paddies played a part in the breakdown. Devin smiled at the thought of rice emitting lethal gases, and out loud he told himself with some amusement, ‘so its the rice, and not the curry after all, I must remember that!’
Until the discovery of Chlorofluourocarbons (C.F.C’s), Devin too had been among the many who carelessly added to the demise of the earth’s protective layer, with the anti-perspirants and fly spray that he had used absentmindedly, concluding that the spray fell to the carpet to be hoovered away. It had been a shock for him to find that the air had been polluted and carried the spray up in the atmosphere where it worked its way against the fragile protective layer around the earth. Yet since the discovery of C.F.C’s science had intervened to make sure that their usage had been regulated, until environmentally friendly products had been brought out, however the computer told Devin that with the growing numbers of the people on the earth along with the growth of energy used in industry and agriculture, still the ozone was not recovering. Could it recover?
Devin leaned back in his seat a while and thought about that. Science knew about the earth’s wonderful way of repairing itself and replacing what was lost given time, but what about the ozone layer, with what could it be repaired? Would the hole become larger? Already it was thought to be the cause of the drastic changes in weather cycles.
“That’s amazing!”, Devin spoke out loud, as he turned a page which told him that humans were to blame for up to six billion tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere each year, and then to discover that these gases could linger in the atmosphere for decades.
Devin began taking notes of his findings. Already the amount of gases locked in the earth’s atmosphere since the start of the industrial revolution had caused a chaotic weather system, where upon some countries had too much rain, others not enough. People were dying of hunger, of heat and diseases, brought about by a lack of clean water. Devin looked at the initial question again, ‘Are humans to blame for the changes in the weather?’ and he wondered for the umpteenth time if the atom Bomb that went off in Pearl Harbour in Hiroshima during the last world war had anything to do with the answer. Had the force of the bomb tilted the earth? And since then what of the space probes and the satellites that had blasted through the ozone layer into space, had they too left their mark?
Yet there was still more to consider. Devin learned that the earth’s climate is determined by an extremely complex interaction of the earth’s rotation, atmosphere, oceans, ice, land features and the sun itself. It could prove impossible to predict, even with the most powerful computers, just what would take place in a hundred years time. If man could be stopped of his callous onslaught of the earth’s resources in his quest for riches, the earth had the capabilities to repair itself, but Devin knew there was little chance of that. People had to be made to realise that they were destroying themselves, leaving a deadly legacy for the next generation.
Feeling he had enough information now, Devin settled down to write up his report. His pen flew across the paper as he wrote; ‘ It is a very delicate matter. Science has made people aware that they must change the behaviour of things if they wish to live on a peaceful and clean earth. However, it isn’t easy as that. Caught in a Catch 22 situation, people are compelled to live their lives with little change even knowing that the earth suffers. For example the destruction of the rain forest. There are as many as 200 million slash and burn farmers, (Devin drew in a sharp breath, that was a colossal figure) which account for as much as 60% of the rain forest’s destruction. Faced with the daily struggle to survive, these people find that conservation of the rain forest is a luxury they simply cannot afford. Every two of three years these people have no choice but to cultivate new ground for the planting of cassava and bananas. The land which once gave the impression that lush vegetation would always grow there, expires very quickly once the trees are felled, and the fertility of the land soon evaporates, letting the soil become exhausted. Hence the need to move on. So too with cattle ranchers. Once the forest is cleared of trees, the grass that grows in its place is poor, and cannot support cattle for longer than five years. Then there is the threat of logging. The earth does repair itself and new growth of trees do spring up, but these are secondary trees, because the ground has been disturbed, the delicate balance is lost and it would take millenniums for the rain forest to recover.”
Devin paused. He had written a lot, far more than he had intended, but he didn’t realise that he had such a passion for the rain forest, and was happy at how his report was turning out. He continued; ” On top of this there is the risk of forest fires. The felled trees dry out and the flick of a cigarette by an ignorant logger can set off a fire that can rage for thousands of square miles. I am remembering here the fire in Borneo in 1983, which during its wake, consumed three million acres of rain forest.” Devin paused remembering something close to him, ‘I lost a good friend in that fire, he gave his life to help save the forest.’ and he spent a few minutes in silence after which he continued writing, “ And for all this you would think that the governments themselves would step in and put a stop to all of this, however, many governments are lured by international companies into selling logging rights, for cash to pay off foreign debts. We are only just learning what a gem we have lost in the destruction of the rain forest. A century ago, the rain forest carpeted 12% of the earth’s surface, today that has been reduced to 5%, and the rain forest is like no other forest on earth. We are only just appreciating how the destruction of the rain forest is adding to the chaotic weather patterns we have been experiencing, and ultimately to the destruction of out planet.”
Devin checked some of what he had written, was there any need to go on? The scientists knew all there was to know, but he wondered whether his report may be filed away and used to help someone, so he continued writing. Besides he was coming to his favourite piece; “The growth of the rain forest is in itself unique. In some parts of the Amazon Basin and Borneo, great forests are growing on pure white sand. Most forests do grow on very poor and very little topsoil, but while the soil in a temperate forest may be seven feet deep, in the rain forest it rarely exceeds two inches!” That’s incredible thought Devin, only two inches, yet the rain forest thrives with luxuriant vegetation. He continued; “ Scientist discovered the solution to this in the 1960’s and 1970’s. They found that the forest literally feeds on itself. Most of the nutrients required are found in the leaf litter that carpets the floor, and with the constant heat and humidity, it is rapidly composed of by termites, fungi and other organisms. Everything in the rain forest is re-cycled. The rain forest recycles up to 75% of the rainfall it receives. Then the clouds formed by this process, re-water the forest again.
Generally a small area cut down by farmers has the ability to repair itself, but when vast areas are cleared the hot sun bakes the thin layer of topsoil until only coarse grass can grow there.
It has been long known that humans and animals breath in oxygen produced by vegetation, and in like manner the vegetation breaths in the carbon dioxide exhaled by man. This is a remarkable balance.”
Devin reached for another sheet of paper, surprised to find that he had already written up two with his answer, and began to write the last few paragraphs. “Science is now coming to realise that the makeup of the earth and its protective layer of ozone, also benefits greatly from the existence of plant life too. Take away the vegetation and the eco-system changes. Weather cycles alter, some with disastrous consequences. Mankind has abused and misused his inheritance, and we cannot re-claim what has been lost. We can only hope to educate the next generation, and hope that in their hands the earth will be able to recover.
The question then, ‘Are humans to blame for the changes to the weather?’ My answer in conclusion to all that I have written, is simply, ‘Yes they are’.

Leaning back on his chair, Devin was satisfied with what he had written. Few people realised that chopping down a few seemingly replaceable trees could hold much bearing on the earth’s climate, and Devin found himself eager to learn more. Not forgetting the real reason for being there, and ever mindful of a way to pursue it, Devin decided that if every day was as informative as this one had been, then the six months would fly by.

*** *** ***

Catherine flew straight to Austria. All the way there she hoped that the package that Devin had left her was still undisturbed. The one thing in their favour was that no one would know which car belonged to them.
From the airport she had to take a bus to the hotel and was surprised to find that it was located not far from the airport itself, and this concerned her. It was very noisy with the air traffic going overhead constantly and for someone like Devin, who appreciated peace and quiet, she found it most unusual. However, his reasons for doing so soon became apparent when she found and opened the package he’d left for her.

The note inside said,

'Dear Cathy,

Enclosed you will find some maps of the place I am working at. They are only rough sketches, because it was difficult to see through the darkened windows. I have put in as many landmarks as I could see. You will not be allowed entry on foot. I will write the telephone number of the institute at the bottom of this letter, (can’t think of it right now), though I don’t suppose they will allow me any calls, and I wouldn’t put it past them to listen in, if they did. The place is really creepy, even now I have the feeling that I am being watched, and I’m back in the hotel room for god’s sake. I have to go out the back way of the hotel to put this in the car, for they have an escort waiting for me in the lobby. My name, should you need to use it is Deryl Weston, and if you can think of any reason for having to visit your brother, please do so. Try to stay at this hotel Cathy, I know that it is noisy, but if we do find anyone to take home with us, then the closer we are to the airfield the better. I have a friend, who has loaned me his jet for as long as I need it, he owed me a big favour, and I do know how to fly it, so don’t worry. You see Cathy, I don’t do everything on impulse, (just try convincing Father of that huh?) Well Cathy take care, don’t take any risks and observe intently while remembering not to trust anyone. We just don’t know who knows who around here. I hope to see you soon. Be Well.
Love Devin.'

Catherine folded up the piece of paper and put it back into the envelope. Keenly she looked at the maps. One was of the approach to the mountain. Devin had written that this particular one, the Sonn Alp, was visible from the hotel laying to the west, and the other map showed rough sketches that Devin had done from memory. On the approach to the institute was a gravel road, which ran the length of the mountain and seemed to act as a thoroughfare for all kinds of traffic. Then he had drawn a strange shaped rock on the one side of the road, with a tiny dirt track on the other, no more than a bridle path, running between massive fir trees. One such tree had an overhanging branch right across the track. Devin had written that he would not be at all surprised to find a camera lurking there, as from that vantage point one could see in both directions up and down the track. At the complex end of the track he had drawn massive shrubs which shielded the buildings from the road, and the whole complex itself ran right across the valley ending at the foot of another mountain, in which Devin now felt some kind of activity took place.
Catherine remembered the grotto. How far had those tunnels gone down, two, maybe three miles or more, she had no difficulty imagining how many hidden tunnels and galleries would be contained therein.
Devin suggested that Catherine travelled by horseback up the mountain and down into the valley and that she took with her a camera, notepad and pen. Anything she thought she could use she could photograph, no matter how improbable it might seem at the time.
Catherine also had an idea of her own. At the airport she had seen a poster advertising pleasure flights, and she decided now to take one, having the pilot fly her over Sonn Alp, and she went along that afternoon to sort something out. The pilot was happy to take her but told her, “It is sightseeing tour. You pay price of four people, and I take you by yourself? Is there somewhere special you like to see?”
Catherine nodded, “Sounds good to me. Can you fly me over the institute of climatology on Sonn Alp?”
A grimace crossed his face that alarmed her, “What?” she asked him, “Is something wrong?”
“Many people not want to see that place.” He shrugged, “Not nice place.”
Catherine felt a shiver run up her spine, “Why, what goes on there?”
The pilot shrugged, “Strange sounds in the night. Vampires.” He told her seriously.
Catherine almost laughed out loud, but his serious expression halted her. He really believed it, and Austria was famous for the Transilvanean vampire, so who was she to argue? However, she knew that this time something else was likely to be making the sounds. Looks like Devin is right, she thought to herself, but told the pilot, “I will pay whatever you ask if you will take me, and then double it.”
He grinned at her, exposing broken teeth, “Come then, we leave now.” He told her, leading the way to the airfield.
From the air, Catherine could see that the complex was tucked neatly into a valley and sprawled its breadth, with one of its vast wings descending into the side of a mountain. Catherine thought about the tunnels leading through the Dolomites, and wondered how far these ones penetrated into Sonn Alp, Possibly this was where she and Devin needed to gain access, where the likelihood of finding something substantial might be.
Replacing her camera into its holder, Catherine thanked the pilot as he turned the plane around and headed back to the airfield, convinced that she heard him utter a sign of relief as he did so.
And that puzzled her.

*** *** ***

Chapter Thirteen

Baby Jacob had learned to crawl and quickly too. Whenever Vincent put him down he was off at breakneck speed, and Vincent delighted in his son’s rapid progress.
They had travelled down to a grotto, slightly similar to the crystal cavern, but not quite as beautiful, yet here columns of crystal delighted Jacob, and he squealed with delight as he tried to grasp the dancing colours in the candlelight. Everywhere he looked he saw the magnificent rainbow of colours and he wanted to hold them all. The crystal columns seemed to be holding the roof up, and the walls though mainly hard grey rock were interspersed with crystals of various shades of jade gemstone, in blue, green and white. The actual columns were made up of saxony quartz amethyst in a beautiful deep violet colour.
At the far end of the grotto was a vertical shaft which ended after a ten feet drop into a warm subterranean pool. Vincent kept a watchful eye on his son, for fear he would fall into the water and drown. Yet it was a very peaceful place, as well as being beautiful, and Vincent had known he could heal his wounds there. The crystal cavern from which he had taken Catherine’s crystal was much further away, with narrow shafts and tunnels, impossible to take Jacob safely through. This grotto had been the next best thing and the twinkling gemstones provided Jacob with an endless pastime for his growing imagination, as the flaming torches picked out and vibrated the magnificent colours.
This was one place that was kept well lit. It was so beautiful and the children that lived Below delighted to go there. The older ones had tied a rope from the grotto floor to the subterranean pool below, and while the more courageous ones would dive from the grotto floor into the warm water, others went down to swim via the rope, while everyone used the rope to get back up again.
In the past Vincent had spent several days just sitting there, never growing tired of its beauty, earth had nothing more fair to offer. And when he wasn’t sat daydreaming, he would be lost in a book he had brought with him, and when the children came he would read to them.
And Vincent was grateful that he had never brought Catherine to see the cavern with its sparkling crystals, though he had always meant to do. Now he wanted no reminders of Catherine, and was grateful that there were no painful memories of her there for him. He wanted only to forget her now and found himself wondering if she had found trying to forget him equally as hard. The more he tried not to think of her, the more often something Jacob did, reminded him. Jacob’s mannerisms, the tilt of his head, that impish mischievous smile, all had Vincent thinking of Catherine every time.
His mind kept going over everything that had taken place during that evening he had last seen her. Devin’s message and subsequent telephone call were ultimately what had hurt him the most. Though he found it hard to accept that Catherine had fallen in love with Devin and had secretly been spending time with him. Had even gone away with him. They had chosen a country far enough away so that he could not follow. These thoughts kept going around and around in his head like the carousel, until he thought his mind would burst from the crazy thoughts. And then when blessed sleep did take over, as he lay with Jacob in the crook of one arm, his dreams were filled with Catherine.

After a few days of intense torture, Vincent began to wonder if his first impressions had been right. The more he thought about it the harder it became to accept that Catherine would ever do anything like that to hurt him and he had reached and dismissed this conclusion so many times that his head throbbed with it. Following Devin’s message, it had been Father’s suspicions that had first sown seeds of doubt in his mind. And then the message from Devin on the answer machine had secured the thought. But deep down inside Vincent wondered would Catherine really do that to him? When the Bond between them had been lost, he so desperately wanted to retrieve it, and now he wished it would leave him again, for try as he might he could not stop feelings from Catherine reaching through to him, and he became confused.
For days after the night at her apartment, he had felt her distress. At the time he had assumed it was born of guilt, now he wasn’t so sure. Which was one of the reasons why he went against his earlier decision to bury himself away forever. He needed to be close to her no matter what she had done. And he had known when she had been staying Below and stayed close by for three days, she was waiting for his return, but he could not bring himself to go to her, being ashamed by his actions, unable to face her, yet. And he had fooled himself into believing that she had only followed him to tell him about herself and Devin and that she would not be seeing him again. Yet as he felt her anxiety night after night, he wondered if she had come to tell him anything of the sort, and that only she wanted to tell him that she loved him, and only him. Confused he had not wanted to know which of his thoughts were correct, and decided it was better to wonder than to know for sure.
Finally when he felt her leaving his world, he was annoyed. He knew she had promised Devin she would return, but after the turn of events, if she really loved him, then surely she would change her plans, and wait until he returned to his chamber however long it took? So his heart had been heavy when he felt her going further and further away from him, as the aeroplane on which she travelled took her back to Europe and to Devin. And despite the beauty around him, for once he found no solace in its healing powers, and decided to return to the home chambers.
Making the final decision to go home, he collected his things and Jacob’s together, and went to pick up Jacob, when he heard the excited chatter of approaching children. They fell silent when they saw him there.
Looking at their anxious faces he told them softly, “Don’t be alarmed. Come sit with me. Tell me what you have been doing.”
The children slowly grouped around, their big eyes anxious, some sat at his feet, others stood at his side, while the smallest boy Samuel climbed up onto his lap, next to Jacob, and asked,” Vincent why are you so sad?”
Vincent smiled. People of the world Above assumed that children seldom noticed the daily conflicts that adults had to undergo, yet here in his world the children had been taught to love one another and to have insight into knowing when someone was troubled at heart.
When Vincent delayed in answering, Samuel went on, “Is it because of Catherine?”
Looking into the innocent blue eyes of the child, Vincent replied simply, “Yes.”
Catherine came looking for you Vincent. Father let her stay in your chamber. I heard her crying.” A boy named Ben told him.
“So did I.” Another child added.
Vincent laid his chin upon the golden head of the child on his knee, “Is she still there Samuel?” He asked, knowing that she was not.
“No she left days ago.”
“I heard her talking to Mary.” Vincent looked up as Helena told him this.
“What were they talking about, did you hear?” He asked her.
Helena blushed and took interest in her feet, “No.” She replied softly but Vincent knew that she had, only the children had been told it was rude to eavesdrop on anyone else’s conversation.
“Its all right Helena, on this occasion you can tell me what you overheard.” He told her gently.
“Just this once?” She asked.
Vincent nodded, “Just this once.”
A little unsure Helena waited, and Vincent understood why, “It’s not a trick.” He told her, “I promise I won’t tell anyone that you told me.”
Helena looked around at the other children. Feeling excitement rising within her, she was the centre of attention and she liked it.
“Would you prefer to whisper it to me.” Vincent prompted.
“No.” She replied, “I don’t think it’s a secret.”
“So tell us then!” Shrieked Samuel impatiently.
Helena took a deep breath and began, “Catherine was talking to Mary about Jacob.”
“Is that all!” A ginger haired boy at the back of the group called out, his name was Aaron.
“No.” Helena replied crossly, “It isn’t. I haven’t finished yet.”
Vincent smiled at her, she was enjoying this, languishing in the centre of attention, making the moment of glory last.
“I didn’t understand everything they were talking about. Catherine was asking about Jacob, and Mary was telling her about the things that Jacob can do now, and Catherine was smiling and laughing, enjoying what Mary was telling her.” Vincent could picture this and it warmed his heart. “And then they started talking serious stuff, and Mary began hugging Catherine and looking ever so pleased.”
“But did you hear what they were saying?” Teresa asked this time.
“Yes I heard, but I didn’t understand it.” Looking directly at Vincent she asked, “Vincent?”
“Yes?” He replied softly his blue eyes twinkling.
“Are you and Catherine getting married?”
“Married?” Bewildered he shook his head, “No.”
Helena looked troubled.
“What is it Helena, why do you ask me that?” Vincent prompted her gently.
“Because I heard Catherine and Mary talking about marriage, and I saw Catherine smile, you know that really beautiful smile that she has?” Vincent knew it, “Then Mary hugged her and Catherine left.”
Vincent’s heart sank, “When they were talking Helena, did you hear them mention my name?”
Helena shook her head, “No, but I did hear Uncle Devin’s name mentioned.”
“Whose Uncle Devin?” Piped up Samuel.
The children started talking amongst themselves, answering Samuel’s question, unaware that Vincent had grown silent. Yet he heard none of their chatter, his mind had grown numb, and knew only that he could not stay in the grotto a moment longer.
Gathering his belongings again, he told the children, “I am going back now, will you be all right here on your own?”
“Are you taking Jacob with you, or leaving him with us, we will take good care of him?” Helena asked, tickling Jacob under the chin as he squealed with delight.
Vincent thought about the sharp drop down to the subterranean pool and shuddered, “No, I will be taking him home too, Father will be anxious for us.”
“Okay”, Helena called out after him, skipping away to meet her friends. Vincent could hear them at the far end of the grotto, giggling as they got undressed, preparing to dive into the pool. “Take care all of you.” He called out after them.
He did not worry unnecessarily about them, they were not really alone. Neither had he been. He had felt the presence of adults around him over the past few days, there had always been someone nearby, because the grotto was a favourite place for children, and the pool considered a pleasurable yet risky pastime. And food had been left for him and Jacob, along with warm blankets. Often people came down there to sit and think, the peace afforded them time and opportunity to ponder through problems and come away filled with fresh hope. And Vincent had been grateful that they were there, but had left him alone in his thoughts. However, the solace of the crystal cavern had not eased away his troubles this time and now little words kept creeping into his sub conscience. He tried to push them away, but they kept coming and forming words and sentences in his mind. Catherine. Devin. Marriage. He needed no other words to string them together, they made sense all on their own.

Vincent’s heart was broken, his throat constricted and his fists clenched and unclenched as he made his way purposefully towards his chamber.
Father was nowhere in sight when he arrived, and for this he was grateful. The journey had lulled Jacob to sleep strapped as he was to Vincent’s chest, and Vincent lay the sleeping child carefully into his cot. Taking off his boots and cloak, he flopped wearily onto his own bed. He could smell Catherine’s scent there, it incensed him, and he could not rest. Thoughts crept into his mind and abruptly he stood up, the pain contorting his leonine face, as fury mounted and a deafening roar shattered the silence.
Ornaments and books flew through the air as Vincent brought his fists down hard smashing the shelves into splintering fragments, then dragging the blankets and pillows from his bed he threw them out of his chamber in his quest to extract every last trace of Catherine. Had she wished to torment him so? Wasn’t her rejection enough? Father heard Jacob’s ear-piercing wails from afar and hurried as fast as his legs would allow him in order to see what was happening, with Mary close on his heels.
Mary gasped in horror, as she caught sight of Vincent staring down at the child with a look of malicious contempt in his fearsome eyes, and she pushed past Father to grab the child from the cot and make a hasty retreat.
“VINCENT!” Father bellowed.
Crumpling to the floor, Vincent could not believe what he had felt capable of. He had so desperately wanted to remove every last trace of Catherine from his life, that he had even contemplated killing their son!
Visibly shaken Father sat down beside him on the floor, taking one big furry hand in his, as Vincent threw back his head and let out a deep and bitter sigh, as his body convulsed in anger. Gently, as he could, Father put a reassuring arm around Vincent’s shoulders, and waited without speaking until Vincent had recovered enough to speak. Mistaking Vincent’s sorrow for the misunderstanding between himself and Catherine, Father tried desperately to comfort him with the words, “Vincent ... don’t torment yourself so. Catherine was here. She explained everything to me. Things are not as they appear to you.”
Vincent opened his eyes, and Father was stunned by the sorrow that he saw in their depths, as Vincent told him, “How can that be father, how can you sit there and tell me these things. Catherine and I are finished.”
“No, Vincent. Its not that way at all, Catherine will be coming back to you, she promised me.”
“Then you are a fool to believe this. She is only coming back to tell me what my heart already knows, that it is over between us.”
“Vincent!” Father increased the pressure of his arm on his son’s shoulders, hugging him to himself, “Catherine loves you.”
A flicker of something, was it hope, shone from Vincent’s blue eyes as he looked directly at Father’s caring face, “She told you that?” He whispered doubtfully.
“Yes Vincent, and that’s not all, she plans to come and live in our world, with you.”
Vincent shook his head in disbelief “There is something that she didn’t tell you then.”
“What’s that Vincent.”
Vincent took a deep shuddering breath, his words barely audible he told Father, “That she plans to marry Devin.”
Father threw back his head and laughed, “Oh my dear Vincent, no, don’t go, look I’m sorry I wasn’t laughing at you, its just this notion of yours is too ridiculous for words, wherever did you get the idea, surely not from Catherine?”
Vincent felt a hot blush running from his neck and covering his face, he felt such a fool, “No”, he spoke at length, “One of the children overheard Catherine telling Mary about it.”
“One of the children! I must speak with this child, they know the rules against eavesdropping, which child was it Vincent?”
“No, Father, don’t. I know she shouldn’t have listened, but I am glad that she did, and I made her tell me what she overheard.”
“Then you shouldn’t have Vincent, because I am certain she is wrong. Did she tell you that Catherine told Mary these things?”
“No, only that she overheard them speaking about Devin and marriage.”
“Then my boy, why do you conclude these things. They could have been talking about anything, anyone. You of all people know Catherine better than that. She loves you Vincent. You. And it is you that she wants to live with here, in our world.” Vincent wanted to believe, but he was not convinced.
“You were not there Father she rejected me.” His words had grown wearisome, filled with pain at the memory.
“Vincent, did I not tell you that if you went to her in that frame of mind you could frighten her away. Your actions stunned her, she wasn’t aware that you had regained your memory, when she had the time to recover, she regretted deeply how she had hurt you.”
Vincent thought through Father’s words, he had known Catherine’s sorrow, what Father was telling him might be possible.
Father’s next words broke through his thoughts, “Look let’s break the golden rule shall we Vincent, and ask Mary to come down here and tell us what it was that she and Catherine were talking about, when the child overheard them. I am convinced there is a logical explanation.”
Vincent nodded, “Yet Catherine has returned to Devin, you cannot deny this.”
“I’m not denying anything Vincent. Yes she has gone back to him, but not in the way you think. She wouldn’t tell me any of the details but I do know that they are both working on a very important assignment. And it is to help someone very close to them both.”
“How did they come to be together, do you know. Did she tell you that?”
“Yes. It was quite innocently, they literally bumped into one another in Paris, but Devin was really pleased to see her. He apparently told her she was the very person he needed to help him with the project he was working on.”
“Do you know what it is Father?”
“Partly. I thought it was another foolhardy scheme of his, but Catherine convinced me otherwise. I managed to extract some information from her, and I can honestly tell you Vincent that what they are doing is for the good of someone very special to them both. To me too, I might add.”
Vincent didn’t need long to weigh this up in his mind, “It’s for me isn’t it?” He asked softly.
Father nodded, “Yes, but I know no more than that.”

Mary was not happy to disclose information spoken to her in confidence, until she heard what Vincent was assuming, when she relented and told him, “Oh, no child, its not that way at all. Catherine doesn’t want to marry Devin. Its you, Vincent, you, that she wishes to marry.”
Vincent closed his eyes tightly, such a flood of relief washed over him, his body swayed as he felt a tantalising warmth spread through his whole body. But Father was not so pleased, as words exploded from him, “Marry Vincent! Why that’s ridiculous. It would be impossible.”
“Why?” Asked Mary, simply.
“Yes why Father?” Vincent echoed.
“Well…it just is”. Father looked at them both, deadly serious, the whole thing was absurd. Yet the look on their faces told him they could see no reason why it would be impossible, “Oh you can’t believe it, surely not, I mean just look at the two of them...they are er, so...different.”
“Father,” Vincent’s voice trembled with suppressed rage, “I hope you aren’t suggesting it’s because of what I am, that makes it impossible in your eyes.”
“Er, no Vincent, of course not. I was merely trying to point out...well look at you...you are a very large person...in er, all areas...whereas Catherine...well, she is..er so tiny.”
Mary look from one to the other of them, Father was clearly very embarrassed and she smiled to herself, as she told him, “Catherine too wasn’t sure about this. That’s why we had the conversation, but not for the same reasons Jacob, as you have brought up. Vincent, she did not mention your er...stature, no, she was more concerned with whether or not your marriage could be possible. You see Catherine feels strongly that she wants to live Below with us, with you Vincent and your son, and while she does not regret having the child, she feels saddened that she was not married before having him. You see, children need the security of a stable marriage between both their parents, and Catherine feels as though everything has happened in the wrong order. She didn’t know your memory had returned, though she knew of course that having Jacob, you obviously were aware that you had been intimate on at least one occasion. But on her flight home she had hoped to talk to you about getting things in the right order before any more intimacies passed between the two of you and consequently any more children. It was remarkably important to her being married to Vincent, and I told her she should be positive about it. She left here in a happier frame of mind than she arrived with, I can tell you, with hope in her heart for her return.”
Vincent felt his heart somersault. He had never contemplated marriage with anyone in his life. Yet he found that he loved the idea of marriage with Catherine. He could understand now how she felt committed to this idea, it was so like her to do things right. And slowly he began to piece together the things that had taken place in her apartment. Feeling ashamed at his intense feelings, he did not know whether he could ever face her again, yet something told him that Catherine would never be so cruel as to remind him of it. He thanked Mary, and then leaving her and Father in a heated conversation about the marriage, he went back to his chamber and allowed himself to dream of a life with Catherine as his wife.

Some hours later, Father found the idea growing on him. He smiled, Mary could be a very persuasive woman when she put her mind to it, and he realised what he was up against, by putting up barriers to prevent the union. He could not bear to crush Vincent’s dreams either, and for what? What possible reason was there really that would make marriage between Vincent and Catherine so impossible? Vincent had no birth certificate, no surname, true, but these things did not matter Below. They were things necessary for marriage Above, while down in their world things could be different. Vincent was no ordinary man, yet he had the same desires and the same rights as any other. And Catherine, dear sweet Catherine, had made a commitment in her heart to spend her life with Vincent, so why did he feel he had the right to put a stop to their marriage? For the reasons he had given, were no longer valid, they already had a child between them, and when he thought about it seriously he found it delighted him to know that Vincent would no longer be alone. Catherine even held a special place in his own heart, he loved her like a daughter, and knew she would take care of Vincent when he passed away, something for which he was grateful, for he had always worried about what would become of Vincent, when he, Father, had died.. Life was a gift, and Father did not want to end his, leaving Vincent all alone.
For Vincent, now wrapped in a warm cloak of love when he thought of Catherine, he began to long for her again, yet this time, he pulled his emotions in check. The next time that he saw her, he would be graciousness itself. He would not frighten her ever again. The thought of the lifelong commitment that she offered to him touched him deeply, as nothing before had, and a great sense of contentment flooded his being. Young Jacob recognised this new tranquillity about his father and responded to it. He grew quickly and was soon pulling himself up into a standing position. He was only six months old.
“You will have to stop your son growing so fast Vincent,” Mary scolded good-humouredly one day, “Or I shall have to keep remaking his outfit for your wedding.”
Vincent smiled, everyone had been so good about it, in fact they all looked forward to the day tremendously, anticipating the festivities. There had been weddings Below before, of course, but none would compare to this. This one would be special for everyone loved Vincent and were happy for him. Catherine was a very beautiful young woman.

“A letter for you Vincent.” Father’s voice called to him one day, as Vincent was bathing Jacob in a large bathtub in his chamber. Father smiled, wondering who was having the bath, for Vincent was showered in bubbles. “Here, wipe your hands, while I finish off bathing Jacob, you know how I enjoy it. The letter is postmarked Austria.”
Vincent took the towel Father held out and dried his hands in a hurry, reaching for the letter, while his hands were still a little damp in his haste. Vincent recognised Catherine’s handwriting. She had sent the letter inside another one to Peter, and Vincent found his hands trembled. The last letter she had sent him, turned his world upside down, yet this one by its thickness promised to be something quite different, but what? Almost afraid to know, Vincent closed his eyes, ‘What had she written?’
Slowly he slithered open the envelope with one long claw and extracting the paper from within, unfolded it and began to read;

“My Darling Vincent,”

The words jumped out at him, he felt his throat tighten. Catherine had never used such endearments with him before. Oh how he loved her. With those few short opening words, her letter told him all he needed to know for a certainty. He read on;

“I am sat writing to you in a very special place. You would love to be here.
It is so peaceful, and reminds me of another special place of mine,
that I visited recently, near the Dolomites. Those mountains are so beautiful.
Imagine them, they are orange rock set against a backdrop of the bluest of skies in summer.
I wanted to write to you from there, but alas, I did not have a pen and paper with me at that time.
So now I am here, on a similar mountain in the Austrian Alps, and I should
like to share with you everything I see as I see it. Are you ready?

I am sat on the top of a high mountain, I came up here by chair lift,
and I plan to walk back down. Though in places it will be so steep, I
may find myself running and unable to stop! Can you imagine that?
I shall hold out my arms and pretend I am flying!
The mountainside is covered with wild flowers in a profusion of colours.
I can smell their scent all around me, it is a heady perfume, and it
makes my senses reel. Below me I can see sleepy little villages nestled in the
sunshine between the mountains, and there are sightseers in the streets
taking photographs or travelling by pony and trap.
The native pony of Austria, is called the Haflinga pony. They have
golden bodies with creamy manes and tails. Last evening I went out for
a ride in one of these traps pulled by two Haflinga ponies. It was a
memorable trip for me, I last took it with my father. This time I went alone,
but my heart was with you. Could you feel me? The trap was open topped and
I lay back my head to gaze upwards at the stars. What a spectacular
show the heavens give above the mountains, at night. Along the road
grow huge fir trees, and the moon was visible from between them.
The ponies took me up to a small taverna perched on the side
of the mountain, where I am now sat, and I spent the evening outside on
the veranda, drinking Apfelsaft, a sweet and refreshing apple juice drink, and
eating apple strudel and fresh cream.
The whole evening my thoughts were with you, I felt so close to you,
sitting there alone in the darkness, your presence was very strong.

Oh my darling, my heart aches for you. When I think of the last time
we saw one another, I want to cry. Can you ever forgive me
for hurting you so, for the way that I left you initially and said that you
should forget me? I was so wrong to do that, I know that now, thanks
to Devin, he helped me to see the error of my ways. I owe him so much.
I have come to see a different side of Devin, one I like, you would
be so proud of him, if you knew what he is trying to accomplish here.
Vincent, when I return, though I don’t know when that will be,
I have something I must talk to you about, something important to me,
to us both, I feel a desperate need to spend my entire life with you,
and the peacefulness of this special place, helps me to put my life back into perspective.

There is so much beauty around me, but Vincent, my eyes barely see it,
it hasn’t the impact on me it once had, because nothing is ever the same,
when you are not here sharing it with me.

I have rolled over now, and the paper is shielding my eyes from the sun.
It is difficult to write this way, but I want to tell you about everything.
The sky is an intense blue and the clouds are wispy and so high,
they remind me of cobwebs, exceedingly clean cobwebs mind,
and the sky is criss-crossed by the white smoke trails from aeroplanes.
To my left and to my right I can see snow capped mountains,
some have skiers on them, I can see the brightness of their ski-suits
even from here. Vivid oranges and reds, and below me on the other side
of my mountain, I know, lies another sleepy little village, one I have
never yet explored, no doubt with its quaint little souvenir shops and
tantalising aromas coming from family run cafes.

I have rolled back now, onto my stomach and am looking at the grass beneath me.
It is nibbled short by the goats, and has tiny fir cones laid all over it.
All around me the gentle breeze sings through the branches bringing
the fragrance of pine on its wings, and I can hear the tinkling of bells,
worn on collars around the necks of cattle and goats. This is a
lovely sound to wake up to each morning, as the goat herders bring their
flocks through the village every morning, on the way to the pasture land.
From here I can see a large herd of multi-coloured goats grazing on the mountainside.

It is wonderful to come back and see all these special places again,
I always promised myself I would return, and I am happy to have had
the chance to see it all again, to refresh my memory, but writing it all
down like this for you, makes it all the more special, almost as if you
are here with me. Yet Vincent, from now on all my special places will be
ones that I really share with you. Your special places will become my
special places and we will build love and happiness in them together.

As I said earlier Vincent, I don’t know when I shall be back,
but try not to worry about me my love, I will explain everything when
we return, and remember if Devin’s jokes don’t kill me, nothing can!
What we are doing here is of great importance to us, but it is by way
of a gift to you from Devin, something he has known that you
wished to have. And because of this I think it is very fine of him to
pursue it, and I feel privileged to help. Without saying too much more my love,
I hope that when we meet again, we will be able to answer all your
questions. In the meantime, please, please, remember this Vincent, that
wherever I am, however long I am away for, I love you,
I shall always love you and nothing or no-one will alter that fact.
Take care my darling, be well and give Jacob a big hug and a kiss from me.

Love, always and forever,

Sometime during his reading of the letter, Father had bathed, dried and dressed Jacob, and got him to sleep in his cot, while Vincent had been too engrossed to notice. The letter was the most touching he had ever received, and he did not need to read the words over, for they had penetrated deep within his heart. Yet he did read them again, and again, and again, revelling in the depth of Catherine’s love for him, until he thought his heart would burst with happiness.

*** *** ***

Chapter Fourteen

A whispering current of warm air filtered through the hot and smelly stables, as Catherine made her way along the passageway separating them. She held her nose tightly against the stench of manure and hastened her step to reach her destiny, a small enclosure in which, several ponies were tethered.
A young Italian boy grinned gleefully at her, showing his unkempt teeth, desperately in need of some dentistry, and Catherine made herself return the smile.
“Can I hire a pony for the day,” she asked him.
He nodded. There wasn’t much English that he understood, but the words ‘hire pony’ was all he needed to hear. He came to stand beside her, looking at her keenly, trying in his minds eye to judge her weight, and the satisfied with his assumptions he took her arm, and led her across to a small blue roan pony, and started to saddle up.
Catherine stroked the pony’s forehead, it blew softly into her face, and nuzzled her jacket with its mouth. She sensed it was a gentle creature and she was touched that the boy had chosen so well. It had been a long time since she had ridden, and she wasn’t entirely at ease with doing so.
“Pay on return.” The boy told her, “You need leg up?”
Catherine shook her head, that much she could remember. Gathering the reins upon the pony’s withers, she pout her left foot into the stirrup and brought her right leg up and over the pony’s back, settling herself into the saddle. The pony breathed in, and Catherine lifted the side of the saddle to tighten the girth, smiling as she did so. All ponies it seemed breathed out when being saddled and held their breath, so that the girth was loose and the saddle would slip when the rider mounted. There was many a time before she had learned of this cunning, that she had ended up half way beneath the horse, clinging upside down to the saddle.
The boy grinned at her, “You be okay?”
Catherine nodded, tightening the girth as the pony finally breathed out, “Does he have a name?” she asked.
The boy shrugged his shoulders, “Just pony.” he told her.
‘I thought as much’, Catherine said to herself, the hire ponies were seldom given names.
Pressing her knees against the pony’s sides he started forward through the enclosure where the boy was holding open a gate, and walked out into the road beyond. Clicking her tongue, Catherine eased the pony into a brisk walk, and waved goodbye to the boy.
She rode like this for some time, looking around her, and learning to have faith again in her riding skills. The pony had a hard mouth, from being ridden by so many inexperienced riders, and it was hard making him go the way that she wanted at first. She found that he responded well to a kick in the sides, but she was loath to enforce this kind of treatment upon him.
He seemed to want to take her along a particular route and Catherine realised that this was from habit, this was the way most riders urged him to go.
Dismounting, Catherine walked around to stand at his head, saying softly, “Before we go any further young man, we must introduce ourselves. My name is Catherine, and as you so obviously haven’t got a name, I shall give you one.” Looking him over, Catherine marvelled at his colour, he was sleek blue grey with dapples of white on his rump, and white running through his steely mane and tail. His forehead bore a half star, and he had one white sock.
“Mmm, you look like a Jack to me.” Catherine told him tenderly, and was rewarded by a soft nicker as he blew gently through her hair. “Now Jack, I am not one of your usual sightseers, there is something important that I have to do today, and I should like you to help me do it. See that mountain over there, we have to get as high up it as we can. I don’t expect you to carry me all that way. I will lead you during the very steep parts, and if you are very good I will reward you by letting you graze every time we rest.” Jack nuzzled her jacket again, searching.
Catherine laughed, Ah Huh, I know what you are looking for, I’d forgotten I brought some,” and she put her hand into a pocket and withdrew some sugar cubes she had put their earlier. Holding them in the palm of her hand, Jack took them and munched happily, while Catherine re-mounted, and when he had finished chewing, she pressed her knees together onto his sides, urging him forward.
Not knowing if her words had truly penetrated or not, she was impressed when it seemed that since their chat an understanding had developed between them, and Jack seemed so much more willing to please her. Though she concluded it was more probably, the temptation of more sugar that did it.
The warm breeze that had carried the stench from the stables now brought upon it the fragrance of pine and wild honeysuckle and Catherine delighted in it. Jack carried her along the stony path that led up to the foot of the mountain, and she encouraged him on, as they made their ascent. Guided by Devin’s maps, she rode beneath the thickness of pine trees, glorifying in the shade they gave her from the beating sun. Riding along the pine covered track they made little sound and Catherine saw glimpses of her favourite mahogany coloured squirrel, and listened intently to the profusion of bird song. Closing her eyes for a moment, she allowed herself to open the Bond with Vincent fully, so that he could feel everything she felt, which at that moment was pure unadulterated joy. He would have received her letter by now, and he would be able to walk with her, share with her all the wonders of this magical place. Catherine’s heart poured out her love to him, and was able to feel his presence within her.
“Oh Vincent”, she whispered, “I feel that we are the only two people in the world right now, and that you really are here with me. I can feel you so strongly, its almost as if I could reach out and touch you. I would give anything to have you riding alongside me sharing this wonderful day.”
Losing herself in the depth of their love, she sighed with pleasure and wasn’t surprised when she heard his voice in her heart, “Catherine, Catherine, I love you so much.”
Her heart melted with love for him, and she had to stop Jack and dismount. Her legs felt weak and she had to sit down on a log to rest. Jack nuzzled her jacket for more sugar, and she stroked his forehead. The rough feel of his face reminded her of Vincent, and every fibre of her being burned with a hunger for him. Closing her eyes tightly she allowed her senses to fully reach out to him, to cling to him, and as the longing filled her soul her mind became filled with a fog through which she could see herself riding alongside with Vincent in this peaceful forest.
That Vincent could evade her thoughts came as no surprise to her, so attuned was she to him. She smiled, though he was not there beside her, everything she did, every thought she had, he shared it all with her.
Feeling the gentle tugging on the reins by Jack, Catherine allowed her eyes to open, to take in her surroundings and with a contented sigh, she remounted the pony and urged him forward once again.
“Oh Vincent”, she spoke aloud, “Soon my darling, soon I will return, and I will never leave you again, ever, I promise.”
Dappled sun rays filtered through the thinning of pine trees as they came through the forest out onto the mountainside covered with short nibbled grass. Catherine helped the pony to pick his way tentatively across the ground shrewn with rabbit holes. To slip a hoof down one now would send him lame, and she did not want carelessness to cause him such pain. Dismounting again, she led him until she was satisfied that the ground was too rocky for rabbit warrens, and finding a shady place to sit, she took out some refreshment from her pack, and allowed Jack to graze.
Gazing around her she drank in the scenery. It was sheer bliss to be sat there, she felt as though she were the only person in the world. The sun dazzled her eyes as it bore down upon the snow capped mountain peaks all around her as far as the eye could see. Upon the mountain slopes huge forests had sprung up, and sleepy little villages nestled along ledges and down into the valley. Catherine could remember her first impression of the place when she had come to the mountains with her father as a child. Though different mountains, the impact was the same and the beauty had stayed with her all her life. Some nights back home she would come here in her dreams, and long to step back to the mountains, to the atmosphere, where nowhere on earth touched her so deeply. Again the longing to share it with Vincent pained her. To know that as she sat beneath the sunshine, he would be in a cold and dingy tunnel, maybe sat by the waterfall or the mirror pool, but he would feel only the chill of damp tunnels upon his skin, not this glorious warmth that she could feel on her own. Though in spirit he would share her joy, it could never be the same as literally being there beside her. A tear caught in her throat, as she realised the hopelessness and the tragedy of his life. An overwhelming sadness engulfed her until she heard his voice in her head say, “Catherine don’t do this to yourself, you carry our dream. In you I can be a part of the world Above. Enjoy all there is to be enjoyed and through our Bond, I can share it all with you.”
Smiling weakly, she gathered her unfinished meal and stowed it carefully into the backpack. If nothing else she could hurry to complete her mission, so that she would soon be back in his arms, where she belonged. At least in her, he had the sunlight and the warmth that only true love brings, and she ached to bring him this.

It took several hours of riding and leading Jack to reach her destination. And when Catherine finally dismounted to take some photographs, her thighs ached from being in the saddle so long. “I could do with a long hot bath”, she told Jack, “I am out of practice.”
Noticing the strange shaped rock that Devin had drawn, Catherine looked across to find the bridle path that ran beneath the canopy of pine trees, and the one with the overhanging branch, which possible hid a camera. Shading her eyes against the sun, she looked up the track, wondering what were the odds of someone coming to speak with her if she should ride the pony along it. There were no signs identifying its existence, and as such nothing saying 'Private Property' so she decided to risk it.
However, Jack seemed unwilling to take her, and she did not know why this was. Whether he was just tired or grumpy at having his grazing disturbed again, and she urged him on a few feet at a time, until he stopped completely and flatly refused to budge.
“What is it Jack?” Catherine asked him gently, “Do you sense something?”
Just then a huge dog bounded through the shrubbery barking and growling furiously, and Jack reared up to strike the dog away with his hooves. As the dog rolled out of danger, a security guard broke from the density of the shrubs, and whistled the dog to lie flat.
Glaring angrily at Catherine, a ripple of fear ran through her, and he started shouting at her in a language she did not understand.
Shaking her head she told him firmly, “I don’t know what you are saying.” He stopped his shouting, and quietened the still barking dog, and walked round to her side. Jack trembled with agitation, his wild eyes fixed firmly upon the large dog, and Catherine stroked his neck to reassure him while speaking quietly to him.
“English?” the guard enquired, looking up at Catherine, as she leaned forwards to stroke the quivering pony’s neck.
“American.” Catherine replied.
“Follow me”, he ordered, and took hold of Jack’s reins to lead her forwards. Catherine did not know what to say, and as Jack refused to be lead, the guard gave the dog a command to get behind the pony’s hind quarters, and snap at his back legs. Jack thrashed out wildly, almost unseating Catherine, but he went forwards nonetheless.
Catherine did not know what to think, ordinarily she would have been terrified of a strange man leading her to who knows where, but for the fact that she knew that Devin was somewhere on the other side of those trees, where the institute lay.
The guard whistled his dog to come to heel, and as they walked through the thicket of bushes and down into a courtyard, Catherine could only marvel at the sun picking out the gleaming whiteness of the complex as it came into view.
The guard let go of the reins, and swung round to tell her gruffly, “Wait here.” and she watched as he climbed some steps and went through some large swing doors. Catherine looked around her. The complex now close at hand was huge, and though she could not see everything from her vantage point, she knew that its wings spread right across the valley from what she had seen from the air.
Throughout the complex between trees little villas glistened white beneath the sunlight and everywhere was deathly quiet.
Catherine drew in a deep breath, the dog still stood guard beside her examining her with its fearless eyes, but Jack had calmed somewhat and trusted Catherine as he eyes the dog warily. The sound of footsteps turned Catherine’s attention from the dog towards the doors and she was startled to see three men in white coats striding purposefully towards her. A shiver she could not control swept through her and Jack shifted uncomfortably, his hooves making crunching sounds on the stones beneath them. The dog whimpered and drooled, panting with excitement, sucking in his saliva with his fat slimy jaws, and then pricking up his ears as a sharp whistle pierced the air, he sprang to life and bounded away in an instance, towards the sound.
Temporarily Catherine relaxed, and waited as the three men approached her. They scrutinised her openly without speaking, making her wriggle in the saddle with nervousness. Finally the older one spoke, “Mrs. Conway?”
Catherine remembered the name Devin had given her, “How did you know?” she replied.
“Just an assumption. The guard said you were American, and your brother said you would come looking for him.”
“Can I see him?” she asked trying to keep her voice calm. “If its inconvenient, I can come back another day.”
“That will not be necessary. We must talk, come leave your pony and follow me.”
He turned and walked ahead, and the other two men waited speechlessly while she dismounted, then each one took one of her arms, and led her away from the pony, into the cool interior of the institute.
They ushered her to a room, and showed her where to sit, as the three men each took up a seat around her.
Catherine was reminded of Devin’s words, and was happy that he had forewarned her. For without speaking the three men continued to look at her and through her, and Catherine felt a blush grip her throat and rise up her cheeks. She felt hot and uncomfortable and wished someone would speak.
Looking beyond them she concentrated on some pictures on the walls, they were of various weather scenes, and Catherine momentarily wished she could take them back for Vincent. They would look great hung in his chamber, he would love them. The three men took note of her changing expressions, and finally one of them broke through her thoughts to ask, “Mrs. Conway, why were you taking photographs of this complex from the air?”
They knew about that! Catherine felt her mouth drop open in surprise, but said nothing.
An under current of impatience issued from the man as he asked her again, more sharply, “Mrs Conway, you will answer the question, Please.!”
Grappling with her thoughts Catherine stammered, “I...I... wanted to see...where my brother was working.”
The three men laughed silently, she saw the sarcastic humour in their faces, “Come now Mrs. Conway, you expect us to believe that you would readily pay whatever the pilot asked and then double it, just to see where your brother is working, surely you do not expect us to believe this folly?”
“Its true”, she told them fiercely, “And I have plenty of money.”
“Then that’s too bad” he told her, “ I am afraid that your interest has proved to be your demise.” In an undertone that frightened her.
“What...do...you mean?” Catherine asked quietly, almost afraid to know.
“We cannot allow you to leave here, Mrs. Conway, ever.”
“Why not?” She whispered. The atmosphere had become ominous and Catherine felt an icy hand grip her heart.
“Because until now, no-one has literally walked into this place, but now since you have found the way in, I am afraid that we cannot take the risk of allowing you the freedom to leave, incase you will tell someone else this knowledge.”
“I wouldn’t tell anyone, I promise. Besides who is there to tell?”
The man laughed wickedly, “You expect me to believe that?”
Catherine didn’t reply.
He went on, “Your brother has proved himself a very trustworthy and intelligent fellow. He expressed a desire to have you work here also. I am prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt that you were looking for your brother, but it does not alter things. You will spend the rest of your life working here, or you will have no life at all. Do you understand what it is I am telling you? Do I make myself clear?”
Catherine nodded, ‘Perfectly’, she said to herself, when suddenly she remembered the Bond, and closed it off firmly, wishing she had thought to do so earlier. Then finding some courage she asked, “Would you please introduce yourselves to me?”
The elder of the three looked at her sternly, “As you will be here a very long time Mrs. Conway, I think that is the least we can do. My name is Ignatz Strasser, and these are my two loyal colleagues, Johannes Kogler and Mich’ael Reidel. We all three are scientists here, and our work is very important. We do not allow intruders into this complex uninvited, because of the secrecy of the work we undertake here.”
“Pardon me for asking”, Catherine went on, “But if this institute studies climatology, what it is that you do here that warrants such secrecy?”
Professor Strasser looked at her crossly, “You ask too many questions Mrs. Conway, you are forgetting that you are walking on very thin ice here. Only if I see your loyalty first will I permit you to see something you could only imagine in your worst nightmares. The locals refer to this place as the mountain of the vampires, but you will find that it is not only vampires that have fangs Mrs. Conway.”
“Who have you got here then, Frankenstien?” she asked dryly.
Reidel and Kogler laughed, and Professor Strasser mocked her with his eyes, “ Come with me Mrs. Conway, I will show you to your villa, and an escort will bring your belongings from your hotel later. Don’t worry about the pony he will be taken care of.”
Catherine shot him a startled look, to which he laughed softly, “I will have him returned to the stables Mrs. Conway, we can’t have his owners coming up here searching for him and you can we.” he laughed some more as her face relaxed, “Whatever else did you think I would mean?” he told her, not expecting an answer.

*** *** ***

Devin had completed his fifth assignment and handed them in for inspection. He was pleased when Professor Strasser commended him on his work, so when he approached looking annoyed about something, Devin stiffened.
“Mr. Weston, I have come to report to you that your sister is here. I have given her the villa next door to your own.”
“That’s wonderful Sir, have you given her a job here?”
“No doubt your sister will fill you in on the details, Mr. Weston, and you may leave now and go to see her.” Ignatz Strasser strode from the room, leaving Devin somewhat shaken by his manner.

Sitting behind the television screen, Strasser watched as the cameras relayed pictures of Devin walking out into the sunshine and crossing the grounds to his villa. The flick of a few switches sent pictures back that showed Strasser the inside of Catherine’s villa, and he watched her pacing the room. A knock at her door startled her and opening it, she found Devin stood there. Strasser flicked another switch and the sound of their voices blurted into the quiet room. “Devin!” Catherine exclaimed out loud before he could stop her.
“Cathy listen to me, it may already be too late.” He whispered into her ear, “The whole place is bugged, and there are cameras everywhere. Remember who I am pretending to be.”
Guilt flashed across Catherine’s face as she realised she had cried out his real name, and desperately she tried to make amends, “Deryl, I have so much to tell you.” Strasser was not taken in by this, he had already heard enough, and he stormed from the room to find Kogler and Reidel.

*** *** ***

Chapter Fifteen

“Whatever is it?” Father’s concern cut through Vincent’s thoughts. “I do not know Father, it is a new feeling to me.”
“Is it your own feelings Vincent, something to do with our world, with Jacob, or is it Catherine’s feelings?”
“It is Catherine. Something is terribly wrong. She is apprehensive, anxious, it is as if even she is unsure as to what she is afraid of. Father I wish I could go to her, contact her even, doesn’t anyone know where they have gone?”
“No. I had hoped that by now we would have heard something. Catherine left here full of Devin’s plans, and though I begged her not to take risks, I was not unduly worried. I had no idea they would be gone so long.”
“It has been months Father, almost three months. Even that last letter she wrote to me was sent over eight weeks ago. Some of the things she told me now worry me.”
“I know your concern Vincent, I too am concerned, and the terrible thing is we don’t really know where to look for them or what it is they are actually working on.”
“You mentioned that it had something to do with me. I have wondered about that so much, you told me that you knew nothing else, but do you. Is there something that you have deliberately kept hidden from me Father?”
“No, Vincent, but I can’t help wondering.”
“What is it Father. Tell me?”
“Its just an assumption Vincent, nothing more. Don’t go reading more into this than may actually exist. But I was thinking, what is it that Devin would find so important that he would need Catherine’s expertise as a D.A., to help him? And be able to convince her of its import, so much so that she is prepared to leave you again, before she has had the chance to patch things up with you?” Father eased himself into his chair and poured himself a glass of water.
“Go on Father.” Vincent stood with his arms folded, his piercing blue eyes trying to see inside the older man’s head, to read his thoughts.
“I am beginning to wonder Vincent, whether Devin stumbled upon something from your past, and that’s what he is pursuing. Catherine told me that it was Charles that gave Devin the inclination, something Charles spoke of from his own past. And I think we are only going to know if someone can find Charles and ask him what that was.”
“Yes Father. Catherine made mention to something like you are suggesting in her letter, and with your words the letter is beginning to make sense now.”
Father looked at Vincent steadily, “I believe Devin may have discovered where it was that you came from Vincent, and that would explain Catherine’s determination to help him.”
“If that is so Father, then they could both be in grave danger. We have to find someone who can go and look for them, or we have to find Charles and see if our fears are grounded.”
“Yes we must Vincent, and in the meantime we can only sit and hope that Catherine and Devin will soon return.”
“And pray Father, do not forget the power of prayer.”
“Yes Vincent and we must pray, and also rely upon your empathic connection with Catherine to show us the way. You must open it fully, so that it encompasses her completely, so that she can feel your strength and be guided by it.”
“Catherine has her own courage Father, you know that?”
“Yes but this time Vincent, I fear that she may be out of her depth.”

Several days later Father felt despondent, though asking all the helpers he could think of, no word of Catherine or Devin’s whereabouts had come to light.
“Try not to fret so Jacob, it is early days yet.” Mary told him as gently as she could, when she brought him some tea and biscuits, “It may even take weeks to find Charles, as no-one really knows where he is, and by then Catherine and Devin could be back.” She put an reassuring arm along his shoulders, trying to bring him a merit of comfort.
“It really worries me Mary, though I wouldn’t say as much to Vincent, but the two of them could be in so much danger. Whoever produced Vincent, would not want that to become public knowledge.”
“I always thought it was a freak of nature that had produced Vincent. Do you seriously believe they will find more people like him, Jacob?”
“Perhaps, though what they hope to achieve thereon baffles me. How could they possibly hope to bring them back here, though I fear that is their intention.”
“How would you feel Jacob, to have other people like Vincent living here?”
“I wouldn’t mind Mary, but it could put our whole community here at greater risk. Keeping tabs on Vincent is one thing, but more like him! Could you imagine that?” Father shook his head, “It depends of course how many they find and their ages.”
“It makes me feel so angry Jacob, oh don’t look at me like that, I only mean to think that someone is actually producing these people. My heart bleeds for Vincent, and what he can and cannot do, and to think that there could be others like him, with the same yearnings, it is unbearable.”
Father patted her hand, “Come sit with me Mary, and share this tea you have brought, and all these biscuits, you do spoil me you know that.” he sighed, “Yes I too feel that pain. You know my greatest wish is that Vincent could walk beneath the sunshine. It is such a simple thing, yet for Vincent it is impossible. To be shut away here of your own violation is one thing, but to be shut down here out of necessity is quite another.”
“When Catherine first came into his life, I thought it was such a blessed thing. Oh I know you had your reservations, Jacob, but for Vincent to have someone that accepted him so totally, especially someone from such a diverse background, well I truly loved her for that. I began to wonder if we were making more of Vincent than was necessary, if someone like Catherine could accept him, perhaps others could too.”
“I am afraid Mary, that you see the situation through rose tinted glasses. So much like any woman, my dear, as did Catherine when she first came to know Vincent. But when you look upon him from a medical point of view, the wonder of scientific research creeps in. If only all the world could look upon Vincent the way you and Catherine do, then Vincent could be free. Yet there are people who would want to take him away and bind him and experiment on him, least of all those who originally produced him, if they knew where he was, well we know the answer to that don’t we?”
Mary saw Father shudder and reached across the table to take his hand in the pair of hers. “I’m happy to know Jacob that of all the people in the world, that Vincent came into your care. You have made him the man that he is, and the rest of us down here benefit from that. Our whole community thrives on Vincent’s existence, makes our world a special place, a haven knowing we have his protection and love. Without you Jacob, Vincent could have ended up in evil hands, and that doesn’t bear thinking about. And perhaps in like manner your very son, flesh of your flesh, Devin, will act the same way towards others like Vincent, and give them a chance they would never have otherwise had. I am proud of him.”
Father nodded, “Yes I too. But Mary, when you think about the dark side of Vincent’s nature, it brings back the original question doesn’t it? What will these ones be like that Devin and Catherine are searching for. I think Vincent fears this too. He knows what he himself is capable of, and to think that these others may have been encouraged to use that side of their nature and not known love to any degree, he is worried what Catherine and Devin are getting themselves into.”
“I wouldn’t think they would be careless Jacob, Devin at the least knows what Vincent is capable of, he carries the scars, and Catherine has seen enough of Vincent in action, so lets not think about such things. We are only assuming anyway, we do not even know for a certainty that they have gone on a quest to find Vincent’s relatives. It could be that Devin just stumbled upon his history and they are both seeking that out.”
Father squeezed her hand, looking at her gravely, “Then Mary, lets hope that is all it is,” but he had a terrible feeling it wasn’t.

“Come see Vincent”, Mouse scurried excitedly into Vincent’s chamber a few days later.
Vincent looked up from reading and smiled at the boy, “What is it Mouse?”
“A messenger has arrived. Come see, he says he has something to tell you.”
“He asked for me by name?” Mouse nodded enthusiastically, “Where is this messenger?”
“At the tunnel entrance in the park. Mouse know not to let him in.”
“Well done Mouse. Does Father know?”
“Message for Vincent, Mouse come quickly tell Vincent. Should I tell Father?”
“No, it is all right, we do not need to trouble him. You come back with me, we will see this messenger together.”
Mouse felt proud to be included and they set off at once together.

The messenger was nervous. Waiting there in the eerie tunnel, he wanted to flee. Where did it lead to? It was impossible to know, since a huge steel door prevented entry, yet he had been asked not to trust his message with anyone and not to put it down on paper. Who was this Vincent anyhow?
Vincent hung back in the shadows as Mouse opened the large door, and peered through the bars, “Okay good, okay fine, “ he called to the messenger, “I’ve brought Vincent, you can speak now?”
“Where is he.” the messenger demanded agitated.
“I am here,” Vincent replied softly, “I cannot let you see my face. Tell me what your message is. Who sends it to me?”
The messenger relaxed, as Vincent’s velvety voice eased away his nervousness.
“The message is from a man named Charles. I know Charles, tell me what was Charles name before, so that I may know you are who you say you are?”
Vincent drew in a long controlled breath, his heart hammered, could this be the news they had been waiting for?
“Charles used to be known as the Dragon man.” he replied.
“Good. Now listen for this is what Charles told me to tell you, do you want him to go?” he motioned towards Mouse.
“No,” replied Vincent, “Mouse is a friend.”
“Right, well, the message then. Apparently Charles had been speaking with Devin about the time when Charles was held at the circus, One day many years ago a man came asking questions about a creature he was searching for. This creature had been stolen from his employer, and no word had been heard from him since that day. This man worked for a scientist in Europe, but had also been hired by a scientist in America and it had been he that was to collect the creature from the grounds of St. Vincent’s hospital in New York, one January night, when the creature was just a few days old. Charles overheard that the creature had been produced from an original cross between a human and an animal, and that the chap that sought him was convinced he was alive and being kept either in a circus or some secret location out of sight. He offered a reward of $200,000 for any information leading to the whereabouts of the creature, which had been created in Europe, and sent to America.”
Vincent took the information calmly, he was surprised at his calmness, “Do you know where this man came from?”
“There were two possible locations, one was in London, England, and the other was in Europe, somewhere up in the mountains.”
There was a few minutes silence, the messenger hopped nervously from foot to foot, finally deciding on something, “Tell me... are you he?”
“That information is not mine to give. Is Charles well?”
“Yes he is staying with my family, I have never known a braver man, though he is worried about Devin, he hasn’t heard from him in almost a year.”
“A year! He has been away that long?” Vincent was stunned.
“Yes. Charles knew that the research would take time, but even he is growing worried now. Is there anything you can tell him, that would help?”
“We know no more than Charles, and this information you have brought confirms our suspicions. Please thank him for this. Tell him only that Devin is no longer alone in his quest. Tell him that Catherine is with him.”
“Yes Charles will know who I mean.”
“What will you do with this information, is it of use to you?
“I shall discuss it with my friends, we will decide what to do with it. Tell me what is your name?”
“People call me Pepper.”
“Then thank you Pepper, for coming all this way to bring the message to me, and I hope that you will take my love back to Charles.”
“Yes I will goodbye, Vincent, I hope everything works out as you wish it.”
“Goodbye Pepper, thank you.”

*** *** ***

Chapter Sixteen

“What do you propose doing with them Ignatz?” Mich’ael Reidel asked.
Professor Strasser shook his head, “I haven’t decided. It is obvious that are impostors, but I cannot work out why. In all the years that I have undertaken this project not one person has grown suspicious. Why now?”
“Could it be since you have altered the original plan. With being unable to produce an animal like creature capable of speech, and have decided to constitute a deal with the government instead over these creatures, perhaps these people have been hired in that category to find out all they can about what we are really undertaking here.” Mich’ael shuffled uneasily.
“That thought did cross my mind, but Mich’ael these people are both American, I cannot believe that our own government would hire people from anywhere other than our own country, especially when they so obvious do not know our language.”
“Maybe they are the best in their field.”
“Or maybe they have a different lead entirely.” Johannes Kogler spoke at last. He had been thoughtful during the conversation between Ignatz and Mich’ael.
The two other men looked at him sharply, “What do you mean?” Strasser asked him.
“I am thinking of the time you sent Peterson to the USA, to try to trace the creature that was lost, the one you had sent to your colleague over there. Didn’t you say that Peterson had offered a reward of $200,000 for any information leading to the whereabouts of the creature?”
“Yes, but that was years ago. Why, Weston and Conway would be no more than children at the time, what possible link could there be?”
“They could be working for someone, who remembered about the reward, and has since made a discovery.”
Strasser shook his head, “No, I don’t think so, too much time has lapsed, and since we allowed Geraldine to terminate Peterson....” he gave a cruel laugh, “there really is no-one who knows anything about it now, save for ourselves.”
“So we are back to the original question then Ignatz, what do you propose to do with Weston and Conway?”
“What can we do? We could corner them perhaps, let on we know they are impostors, or we could give them enough rope to hang themselves, or we can let Geraldine out and allow her to hunt them down. What do either of you suggest?”
“None of those.” Kogler replied, “I think we should introduce them to Geraldine, and get their response. After all, if they are to die anyway, it makes perfect sense, that way we can tell by their reactions what they may or may not know.”
“And you Mich’ael what do you think we should do?”
“I don’t think they should die. I do not share your bloodlust for Geraldine’s skill. I think we should confront them, I believe Mr. Weston has already worked out that there are hidden cameras everywhere, he isn’t stupid you know, lets bring them here and see what kind of story they unravel for changing their names.”
Strasser thought about that for a few moments, then finally agreed and nodded, “All right, that is what we shall do, but if we aren’t satisfied, do we all agree that we leave them to Geraldine?”
Enthusiastically, and much to Strasser’s delight, Kogler nodded, and though Riedel joined him it was with some reluctance.

Catherine waited until dark before venturing to bathe herself and get ready for bed. Devin’s claims of hidden cameras unnerved her, and she did not want anyone to see her undressing. Lying there beneath the warm water in the darkness was a new sensation, one she found that she rather liked. She could see through the skylight directly above her and the starry night was beautiful. Thoroughly relaxed she allowed her mind to dwell on Vincent, and re-opened the Bond. She was so relaxed that it startled her when she could actually see him in her minds eye. He was sitting beneath the bandstand in Central Park, listening to music, and he was totally relaxed too. Catherine thought if she concentrated hard enough she could actually speak with him, but he seemed to be unreachable, and she guessed he was absorbed in the music, whereas where she was everywhere was silent. Still it was a pleasure to invade his mind, and she thrilled when she knew he was thinking of her with such love in his heart, and blushed a little at some of the content of his thinking. Catherine laughed, and she was happy to notice that the sound echoed inside his head, so that he inclined his heart to listen, and she heard him whisper her name, “Catherine?”
“I’m here Vincent. I can hear you. I can see you.”
“Where are you?”
“In the bathtub.”
She heard Vincent chuckle, “Are you well?”
“Yes, just missing you.”
Vincent smiled, “I am missing you too my Catherine.”
Catherine thrilled at his words, they made her feel possessed by him, and she liked the feeling of security that it gave her.
The water was growing chilly, and Catherine sighed, getting up out of the bath and pulled the plug, hearing the water bubble away down the drain, the only sound in an otherwise silent night. She hoped to climb into bed and become as one in the Bond with Vincent there.
Earlier she had drawn on Vincent’s strength to overcome her fears, and now to know he was so close settled her completely. Crossing to the window with a towel wrapped firmly around her she tried to recapture the connection with him as she gazed at the snow capped mountains all around her, but was saddened when she could no longer grasp it, and wondered if it had after all, been a figment of her imagination while she was so relaxed beneath the water.
Her thoughts drifted to her son, how old would he be now? Eight, nine months, it didn’t seem possible. She expected that he would be crawling by now, perhaps even walking, and she missed him so much. Of all the people she had mistreated, he was the one she had treated worst of all, he had only been a baby and she had abandoned him. It made her feel wretched and she could only console herself with the thought that had she not have left she may never have met up with Devin, and be in the Alps, searching for Vincent’s roots. Whether that was a good or a bad thing she did not know. For a certainty Devin would still have been there, and at least with the two of them together they could help one another.
Towelling her hair dry, she knelt on the bed beneath a window, and looked out, the stars from this side of the villa were tremendous. It was a night for lovers and her feelings for Vincent intensified. When she had reached out to him earlier he had seemed so close, now he was every bit of the thousands of miles away, and her heart ached. Perhaps one day she would be able to attain a tight hold on the Bond, so that she could reach out to him for longer than just a few seconds, and they would really be as one. She wondered if he could still feel everything she was feeling, read her thoughts maybe. It brought her peace of mind, and she infused all her love through the Bond, in the hope that he would feel it.
Her hair dry at last, Catherine lay the towel over a rail, where it would dry, and put on her blue silk pyjamas, lifted the duvet and slipped into bed. She felt weary, her limbs ached from the ride up the mountain on Jack, and all she wanted to do was sleep. Closing her eyes, allowing the languor of sleep to overtake her, she barely heard the mountains coming to life, as the sky became filled with the flashing of fireflies that probed the darkness, the croaking of frogs and the singing of crickets. Chamois grazed in the darkness, revelling in the coolness of the night, yet keeping ever wary of the scents coming along on the breeze. Man hunted at night and though the chamois were protected antelope, it didn’t stop the illegal hunter. He walked the wooded sides of the mountains in search of unwary chamois, foxes and rabbits, and he would poach trout from the streams.
High up on the mountains the snow glistened in the moonlight, sparkling ice. The stars twinkled above the earth and far, far below owls hooted in the trees as bats soared through the sky homing in by sonar on swarms of mosquitoes. Catherine had left her window ajar, and though she were unaware of the night sounds, they provided a backdrop to her dreams. She stirred, an exquisite smile on her lips, with the night so full around her, so different from the night sounds of New York, she felt happy and relaxed. The mountain air was fresh and wafted across to her bringing with it the fragrances of mountain flowers and pine. Languishing in her sweet dreams, Catherine was at peace within herself as she began to dream of Vincent. She could feel his warmth, hear the velvety softness of his voice, and far away she could hear the gentle tapping on the pipes as people relayed messages to one another. Catherine felt safe and loved.
Yet slowly Vincent’s voice trailed away, and she became aware more fully of the sound of tapping on pipes over-riding his voice, growing louder and louder, and she heard her name on them. The sound penetrated her dreams, and half-awake she found herself listening intently. Reaching for Vincent, she found she was alone and she panicked. The dream had been so real, and flinging her arms out, she knocked over the bedside lamp as she tumbled from the bed, momentarily disoriented. Slowly it came back to her where she was, yet she could distinctly hear tapping, and the tapping was spelling her name. Bewildered she followed the sound, it lead her to the bathroom, and then she realised!
Devin had found a way! A way in which they could converse without anyone guessing. It was perfect. Taking her hairbrush she tapped back an answer on the joint water pipes beneath the sink and waited. She was jubilant when she heard Devin answer. Now with the way open to them to converse in secret, they could really begin to put their plans into action!

*** *** ***

You seem somewhat better this morning Vincent, did you sleep well?” Father asked over the top of his morning newspaper.
“Yes thank you Father, but it wasn’t the sleep that gave me this new joy, this new hope. I actually spoke to Catherine last night.”
“You did, is she back home?” Father frowned, why wasn’t he told earlier?
“No, somehow Father, I don’t know how she did it, but she actually opened the Bond, and spoke with me directly. In our mind’s eye we could literally see one another. We have never done that before. It was remarkable, though very brief.”
“That’s marvellous Vincent. Is she well?”
“She gave no impression of being otherwise, and I believe it was because she was so relaxed and peaceable that she was able to make the contact. Whatever troubled her earlier yesterday, had obviously dissipated by evening.”
“Do you think you will be able to contact her again?”
“I am able to contact her anytime I wish Father, as long as she has the Bond open her end, I just hope that she tries again to make contact with me. Alas, she might conclude that she dreamt it.”
Father nodded gravely, “Well whether she does or not, it is wonderful to see you look so happy Vincent, and I shall pray that she tries to reach through to you again.”
“Vincent nodded, “So shall I Father, so shall I.”

*** *** ***

To be continued in Chapter Seventeen – Click on ‘Next below:



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