“Tomas Nat, please report to the office, Tomas Nat, please report to the dispatch office.”
Why did the speaker system have to be so darn loud! Sitting quietly in my room meditating, the sound had been enough to make me jump to my feet in shock. I suppose that’s what I get for not wearing the comm. They had probably buzzed me a few times already. Reaching for the comm, I tapped it twice letting them know I had heard the summons and would be gearing up and arriving quickly.
I took my time prepping. It’s important to be very careful when preparing for a cursed run. Each “t” must be crossed and “i” dotted. I always meticulously followed my checklist. First, do a thorough visual check of my uniform. Ensure that there are no tears or holes, no matter how small. Then, with the goggles on, do the whole check again. The goggles allowed for vision in all magical ranges. You should see only the white glow of a fully sealed cursed object uniform.
Being of vulture stock I have some abilities to see curses and such even without the goggles, but they have far more range in the cursed spectrum than I do with my vision. Next, I carefully surveyed my body with the goggles and the special mirror to ensure that I was not showing any signs of magical interference. I carefully packed my uniform in my bag and headed up to the cursed objects dispatch office.
At the entry, I placed my uniform, bag, and all onto the belt to be further scanned for any anomalies. I stepped into the archway scanner in my plain clothes. The doors closed and I disrobed. I put my clothes into the receiving bin and watched them disappear until the end of the run. I then put my arms above my head and spread my legs allowing the scan full access to my body. This part took an uncomfortable ten minutes to complete. The back door opened into the changing room and my uniform was already waiting at the end of the conveyor. I slipped into it carefully checking each seal as I pulled on the jumpsuit and the boots. I put my gloves in my helmet and held that under my arm as I made my way into the office proper. Everything in the office was also sterilized and verified, so it was okay for me to not don my full gear until I left the premises.
Don was behind the desk and Beth was in the Watcher position. “Good morning, Don, what’s the job.” As protocol demanded I did not speak to, or acknowledge Beth. She was three years ahead of me, and she had helped to train me. This was her first year on Watcher duty. I could not imagine how it would feel to be at that point, but I had three years to get there.
“This is a Class III pickup at The Burning Tower,” Don said loudly enough for both of us to hear him clearly. You will proceed to the landing area and use the door on the left. You will be met by the Cursed Objects Detail who will brief you on the object, what is known about it, and signs to look for to determine if it is active. They will then seal the object in your bag and you will proceed with haste and caution to the Warehouse. You will be using the reserved flight path which will be cleared for your use for two hours. The Cursed Objects Detail will notify the authorities when you begin to move. There is a 30-minute buffer window; however, if you do not reach the Warehouse in the allotted two hours, it will be assumed that you have succumbed to the artifact and you will be hunted with orders to capture or kill as the situation warrants. Once you arrive at the Warehouse, their Arrival Department will notify the authorities and the object will be considered delivered. You will submit to decon at their facility. You will then return directly to The Rookery Decon for a second decon and debrief. Do you understand?” Don queried.
I repeated his directions exactly as he had stated. He nodded and we both signed the documents which stated again what he had read to me.
“Break a leg, Tomas,” he said, using the old theater wish for luck. Given our line of work, we can be a bit superstitious.
He pushed the button to open the doors, and I launched myself out. I love to fly, and these tower launches are wonderful. As soon as my wings clear the door, I snap them open and feel the updraft catch them and pull me upward. I don’t play in the air, no matter how wonderful it feels. It’s time to get this item where it belongs and I need to stay focused. It’s not unheard of for someone desiring an object to try to take out and replace the courier. I don’t look for my Watcher. I trust that she’s up there and has my back. Watchers generally stay behind and above the courier in order to have a good view. They will move around though to create an indiscernible pattern. A smart intercept would want to take them out first.
I hate to say it, but this job is perfect for me. I am afraid of pretty much everything, and that paranoia, as some have called it, makes me especially suited for a job where you cannot trust much of anything including yourself. I question what I am told, the actions of others, and their words. It’s saved me a time or two already. I have been on the job for two years and that is considered incredibly successful in my line of work. I have lost to members of my cohort, and three have withdrawn because they were declared mentally unfit for duty. I don’t want to be one of those people. I hope to make it for the full eight years and then continue to work for The Rookery.
For now, though I am focused on the task at hand. I make it to The Burning Tower, land in the designated area, and head for the left-hand doorway. I walk in, leaving the door open for my Watcher, and proceed to the table in the middle of the room. On the other side of the table is a lone individual in the uniform of the Cursed Objects Detail. The Cursed Objects Watcher is near the door leading to the inside of The Burning Tower. When working with Cursed Objects we always work in pairs as a minimum safety measure. On the right side of the table is a null bubble with a knife in it, and on the left side are several documents.
The Cursed Object Detail person is standing in front of the papers. “Good morning, Courier,” she says. I think it’s a she from the tone and inflection of the voice. We really have no idea who we are across from due to the nature of our protective uniforms.
Today you will be transporting a Class III Cursed Object. This object appears in the form of a dagger. She handed me one of the pieces of paper. On it were several excellent drawings of the dagger. They showed it from both sides and from the two narrow sides as well. It indicated the areas where there was engraving and was detailed enough that you would be certain of what you were looking at. “Please compare this to the item.”
I walked to the null bubble and compared the dagger to the drawing. Using as little contact as possible, I rotated the dagger to compare all angles as they were drawn. “The drawing appears to match the item,” I stated for the record. I then stepped away and allowed the Watcher to follow the same protocol. She did not touch the bubble and instead instructed the person on how to turn it in order to verify.
This may seem odd, but if something were to happen to me, it is important that the Watcher be able to identify if the item was indeed what had been picked up from the point of origin. If I was affected by it and tried to turn in a different item, she would be another failsafe. She took the drawing and put it into her case then retreated to the back of the room.
Loud enough that everyone in the room could hear, the person began to read from the other documents. “This dagger, of unknown origin was delivered to The Burning Tower by Winged Courier to Thomas Sendon. At that time it was classified as a Class IV magical item. He received the package in front of several witnesses, signed for it, and went to the elevators. Due to his high ranking in the Magic Circle, the exact nature of the item and where it went in the Burning Tower is unknown. The dagger was found clutched in his hand as he lay dead in the center of a sacrificial circle in a sub-basement after the Burning Tower was ignited. It has since been discovered that Mr. Sendon was committing acts of human sacrifice in order to gather power. It is unknown if this dagger was used in the sacrifices or if it was the cause of his death. What we have been able to determine is that this dagger is a source of tremendous negative energy, and as such it has been classified as a Class III Cursed Object. It is to be removed to the Warehouse for decontamination and possibly for additional testing and classification.”
“Understood,” I replied. I took off my delivery bag and lay it open on the table. Unlike a traditional bag with an opening at the top and a flap, zip, or combination of the two, my bag was collected at the four corners, so when it was opened it lay flat upon the table. Once the four corners were connected, a seal was formed, and the bag was coded to The Rookery Cursed Objects seal, so anyone without that seal could not open it at all. Laying flat allowed the bag to accommodate a great number of shapes and sizes of items. The person moved the dagger and its containment field over my bag. I pulled up the four corners and sealed the bag around both. Once the bag was sealed, the null magic inside caused the containment field to collapse and the bag fit itself to the dagger. I reconnected it to my chest harness.
The person handed me the rest of the paperwork and gave a nod toward the door. We headed that way and at the doorway, we faced each other.
“Safe travels, Courier.” She said.
“Thank you,” I replied. We both turned to her co-worker. That person had a communicator out, and said, “Warehouse, package 745 alpha alpha is leaving now. I repeat package 745 alpha alpha is leaving now.” We all clearly heard the response, “Burning Tower, confirming package 745 alpha alpha is in route now.”
With that, I opened the door and ran for the edge of the building to launch myself into the air. The Warehouse was far outside of town. It would take about eighty minutes if I moved at a steady pace. I had one hundred and twenty to get there before they would begin hunting me. The flyways were being held open for me, so I should have plenty of time, but that was no reason to dawdle. It was also no reason to rush. I needed to be vigilant and aware of my surroundings in case of an incident. Slow and steady wins the race. I set my pace and moved through the city.
For cases like this, I was to move through the commuting lane. It was the highest lane over the city [keeping me far from the buildings], and below the flight paths for the planes and other mechanized transports. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and there were enough clouds to keep the temperatures from climbing too high. I did not focus on that though. I kept repeating my mantra, ‘aware’ over and over in my head. I find that this helps to focus my mind and remind me of the task at hand. I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to concentrate during long flights, my mind tends to wander. Durning a delivery that wasn’t cool. I needed to stay focused and on task. For a delivery like this, it was about six hours of focused, intense concentration. I needed to be at the top of my game from the initial gear check through the final gear check.
The flight was uneventful. I saw nothing out of the ordinary, and I did not sense anything from the dagger.
I arrived at the warehouse exactly eighty-one minutes after leaving The Burning Tower. I landed at the delivery entrance and approached the door. In front of the door, I stated clearly, “package 745 alpha alpha for delivery to the warehouse.”
“Acknowledged. Delivery of package 745 alpha alpha. Please hold for the scan.”
I stood still in the circle just outside the door. You can’t tell by looking but there are eyes and weapons trained on you for at least the last mile of the approach. They had known I was coming and I had already been scanned innumerable times, but this scan was more thorough and detailed. I’m sure even I don’t know all the security details, and I’m sure I don’t really want to know. The items in the Warehouse are scary beyond reason. I know only of the few I have delivered and that’s more than enough to scare me silly. Whatever their security, it’s probably not enough!
“Scan complete. You are cleared for delivery of package 745 alpha alpha. Please enter.”
The door in front of me opened and I walked through into a room that was basically identical to the one in the Burning Tower. I walked up to the table, removed the bag from my chest harness, and placed it on the table. I did not move to open it yet. The person on the other side of the table surrounded my bag in a containment field. This field was designed to allow those with the Cursed Objects seal to reach in. I did so now and released the seal on my bag revealing the dagger which then floated to the center of the containment field. I removed my bag from the field. Just to be clear, I could not have removed the dagger. I have the Cursed Objects seal, as does the bag, and that’s the only reason those things can be moved into and out of the fields.
With the dagger secured on the table, I began the process of visually examining the dagger to ensure it matched my memory of it. It did. I then removed the dagger’s description from a pocket and read it aloud to those present. I then placed the documents on the table and stepped back. My Watcher stepped into my place and took the visual reference documents and did her visual examination. When complete, she handed the document to the Warehouse agent and they reviewed it as well.
“Item cleared. Delivery complete,” the agent intoned. “Please proceed to decontamination through the door to the right.”
We headed for the door on the right [no there was no confusion because there was only one door that was a side door!]. Through the door were two decon units. We each entered one and waited while it ran through its processes. After about fifteen minutes a green light came on and the door opened. I exited at the same time that the Watcher did. In the room, an agent was waiting. He made a note of the time and used his communicator, “Cursed Objects Control, your people are heading home. Copy?”
While we did not have the same time limit on getting home to The Rookery, having gone through one decon, they radioed us in any way because we were expected to go straight back for our second decon. If we didn’t show or took too long, people would come looking. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes decon isn’t successful and, well, things happen.
Ahead of us was a door. We opened it and were outside. Time to head for home. Taking off from the ground is not as fun as a soaring leap, but we do it often enough that it’s not really a big deal. We both took off and used the air currents to rise, then headed toward The Rookery and home.
When we were about ten minutes out I used the communicator. “Tomas to Cursed Objects Control. We are ten out.”
“Understood, Tomas. The door will be open when you get home.”
While not quite done with my delivery day, those were sweet words to hear. It meant we were in the home stretch. We also called in to ensure that the skies were clear around The Rookery. If we were carrying any residual curse magic, we didn’t want anyone else exposed. We flew through the decon door and landed. There we went through the same process as we had upon leaving. I entered decon and went through that process, put on my civilian clothing again, and deposited my uniform in the bin for additional decontamination. They would be returned to my rooms within twelve hours and I would personally inspect them again at that time. We never went out more than once every third day. Then I entered the stark office where Don was still on duty.
“Welcome home, Tomas, Beth,” he said with a smile. “Beginning recording now. Please describe your experiences upon the delivery of the cursed package 745 alpha alpha.”
I described the delivery from my perspective and then listened to Beth’s description. They were almost identical which is perfect.
“Recording ended,” Don stated. “Sounds like a pretty smooth run. I’m glad. Thank you for your service. Enjoy your downtime.”
“Thank you, Don,” I said. I then turned to Beth, pulled my wings in tight, and bowed slightly. “Thank you for being my Watcher.”
“You’re welcome, Tomas. Someday you will do the same for another.”
In case you’re wondering that is a form of blessing. Given how dangerous our work can be it’s like telling you that you will be safe and able to function long enough to become a Watcher. I bowed again, and we both left and headed our separate ways.
I, personally, took off and flew through the tower to my apartment. I was wiped out. Today’s workday may have been short, but the stress and fear took a lot out of me. I needed a shower, a light meal, and some deep sleep. Tomorrow I would see the counselors for an additional debrief before being cleared to be put back in the queue, but that was for tomorrow. The rest of the day was mine, and I was going to curl up in my safe space and relax.