The Storyline for the
TeamTNT Total Conversion
The Search for Aasgard
Coming eventually
The project that
wouldn't die...

Chapter One - The Briefing

It was another cold morning, unusually so for the time of year, actually, but not cold enough to warrant turning on the heat. The weather had been acting up for a while now, and it was actually amusing to watch the forecasters bending over backwards to pretend that the latest sudden change had been part of their forecast all along.

Steve Riker pulled the covers up a bit closer, turned over, buried his head in the overstuffed pillow, and cursed quietly to himself as the phone began to ring.

"Yeah, what?" he grumbled into the wrong end of the receiver. Getting no response, he decided to wake up after all. A voice was yelling at him, and it seemed the thing to do.

"Steve? You there? Get your butt in gear, right now. We've got a problem to deal with and you're on call," came the now irritating voice that Steve now recognized as that of Colonel Patrick Osgood, head of PDARC.

"Yeah, whatever. I'll be there in twenty minutes," he managed to grunt, wishing he had let the phone ring, or at least shot it in the head. Hanging up, he hoisted himself from the comfort of sleep and an oversized Simmons Beautyrest, and went to shower, shave and stuff like that.

22 minutes later Steve was pulling up to the front gate, which proudly proclaimed that this was the headquarters of Paranormal and Dimensional Anomaly Research Cooperative, an international group dedicated to finding out why things went bump in the night. Lots of years ago, this would have been unheard of, tantamount to honoring the Psychic Friends Network with a government facility. But now, it was obvious that there is more going on than meets the eye, and PDARC ("Pee-Dark" to its friends and enemies) was the place to track it and try to understand why.

After waving his ID card at the guard, who didn't seem impressed, Steve drove to someone else's parking space and got out. He just wasn't in the mood to decipher the new parking assignment slip he got Friday, and frankly not many folks would have argued the point with a guy the size of Steve anyway. A moment later he was up the steps and passing a thumbprint analyzer in front of a much more alert guard than the one at the gate.

"Looks like that's really your thumb," quipped the guard, obviously a morning person.

"Looks like your head's up your butt," responded Steve, in a more friendly manner than usual. He proceeded to go down the hall, passing people who looked like research scientists with clipboards and lab coats, and who probably were. The last door on the left announced that he was on the threshold of Colonel Osgood's office. Oh, boy.

"May I say who's calling for Colonel Osgood?" asked the receptionist politely. Steve had been in this office about 150 times in the last week, and this idiot couldn't recognize him. Here he was, a 240 pound 6-foot-5 near-gorilla, for cryin' out loud. Oh, well, it's a better job for this moron than asking if you want fries with that.

"Steve Riker, just like yesterday," barked Steve as he pushed right past the Corporal as if he wasn't really there. Through the double doors, he slammed them behind him, nearly catching Corporal Doofus in the nose. Damn. Gonna have to work on that timing.

"Steve Riker, reporting as requested," said Steve to Colonel Osgood, bringing it down a notch in front of his superior officer.

"Got here pretty quick, Steve. Thanks for the fast response," answered Osgood, suddenly uncharacteristically polite. "This is not a good sign," thought Steve. "He must want something."

"Dr. Todson here has some disturbing information, and we think you can help," announced Osgood, forcing Steve to spin around and notice the tall and entirely too businesslike woman sitting in the chair to his right. He must be losing it--he never would have missed taking in everything in the room before, much less missing a whole person of the female persuasion.

Steve extended a hand to Dr. Sylvia Todson, head of PDARC Labs. It was ignored.

"This Swartzenegger reject is our only hope?" She eyed Osgood closely, obviously making him nervous.

"Steve Riker, or 'Striker' as he's known in The Group, is a very intelligent, highly trained, and extremely skilled soldier, scientist and Task Runner," responded Osgood. Steve tried not to show any emotion, but he was torn between pride, modesty and laughter. He chose to belch, quietly for him.

"Well, if I didn't have respect for your ability to recognize talent, I'd turn right around and burn these records, just to avoid dealing with 'Striker' here, but your reputation is on the line, believe me," Dr. Todson said icily. "Come along, Striker, heel." And without another word to Osgood, she left the room, Steve following as if on an invisible leash. They didn't quite knock over Corporal Dingbat on the way out.

The labs were in the same general campus as the headquarters building, but on the other side. Golf carts sat tethered to electrical sockets outside each of the buildings, though, and so Steve piled into one, after Dr. Todson got quite pointedly in the passenger seat. "I'll drive," mumbled Steve, eliciting, as expected, no response from Dr. Ice.

A scant couple of minutes later, they pulled up to a building marked LAB 3, which was rather ironic considering it was really the only lab building. Steve hitched his cart to the electrical hitching post and followed Dr. Todson into the building.

Here, in a sprawling network of corridors, was where the weird stuff went on. There were people sitting in chairs with electrodes strapped to their temples, strange sparkling gateways to points beyond, and equipment everywhere. Most of the equipment looked like a computer hardware lover's nightmare, with ribbon cables snaking between pieces of equipment, wires on the floor ready to be tripped over, and enough food wrappers and cans to start a recycling center.

Like a spirit, untouched by that around her and only incidentally part of it, Dr. Todson slid past the junk to her office at the end of the main hallway. A sign "Sylvia J. Todson, PDARC Labs Administrator" on the door, highly polished, announced the clinically clean office beyond. Steve felt just plain out of place in a room like that, as, he was sure, would any of the technogeeks in the main lab. Chronic neatness irritated Steve anyway, but this was over the top.

"Brenda, would you get Martin, Brad and Henry in here right away?" Dr. Todson was making the request, apparently to no one, but "Yes, ma'am" came from a small speaker on the desk in response, so Steve had to assume there was an assistant within easy reach. He wondered briefly if everything they were going to say would be recorded for posterity, but decided it really didn't matter as long as he kept quiet, which he intended to do.

The first of the triad of requestees arrived, an older man, notebook under one arm, a pencil poised above his right ear, stuck somehow into hair that was a faint remnant of what had once been a less shiny head. This would be Martin, otherwise known as Professor Martin Hendrickson, Research Fellow in Theology, PDARC, to quote his full title. Professor Hendrickson was known to Steve as someone who had an incredible ability to extrapolate similarities in parallel theories and theologies, but Steve also wouldn't have been able to say it that way. He would more likely have said "Brain." and let it go at that.

Martin Hendrickson stood quietly in the corner, less because he was intimidated by anyone in the office, but more because his mind was elsewhere. He looked a bit worried.

The door opened again, and two people entered, indistinguishable except by the color of their pocket protectors. They were both about 25, brown nondescript hair to their collars, wearing lab coats over some sort of t-shirt, jeans and sneakers near-uniform. Both wore glasses, looked like they couldn't see without them, and...

"Brad Forrest and Henry Thompkins," announced Dr. Todson suddenly, "have been working together on our Temporal Anomaly project for quite a while, and are here for the technical aspects of describing our little discovery. Professor Hendrickson is here to explain things at a more philosophical level. Gentlemen, this is Steve Riker, who will be the Task Runner on this job."

Nods animated the four men's heads as they were announced, and a small smile escaped Professor Hendrickson's lips as he realized how hard it was for Dr. Todson to give a respectful introduction to a Task Runner. Having been a Task Runner once himself (who would have believed that?) he knew that it was a job much undervalued by management and was much more of an intellectual exercise than most would think. At least it used to be.

"Professor, why don't you start out with an overall explanation of what we've found here?" suggested Dr. Todson. Hendrickson's slight smile became larger as he began to explain the events of the last few weeks.

"About 5 weeks ago, we discovered some empathic anomalies relating to animated but benign hypermodal entities, indicating an infusion of either parapsychological or even multidimensional..."

"Professor," interrupted Dr. Todson, "remember that we have a Task Runner in our midst. Let's keep it simpler, shall we? And you boys remember that too, when it's your turn," she added to the twins. Steve was briefly insulted, but then again he wasn't understanding anything that Hendrickson was saying, so it was probably for the better.

"Sorry. I get so enthusiastic about this that I drop into what to me is the easy way to describe it," explained Professor Hendrickson sheepishly. "Let me use some of the actual examples to explain it better."

"About 5 weeks ago, as I was saying, we discovered that some of our tracers, launched back into the early Norse period, were uncovering some unusual readings from what should have been inanimate objects. It was almost as if there were some of them that were alive, like rocks and even water that seemed to have a mind of its own and was behaving unpredictably. There really wasn't any reason to think that it wasn't an error in our readings at the time. Strange anomalies have been registered before, but it has always been an equipment or analysis problem, in the end.

"Anyway, this was noted appropriately by our young friends here," he said, waving his notebook in the direction of the Nerd Brothers, "and it wouldn't have been noticed except for a second occurrence in a probe sent to Egypt during the time of Tutankhamen. That one noticed an anomaly in the sand that directly paralleled the one in the Norwegian water readings a week earlier." Professor Hendrickson shifted in place. He would have liked to sit down, but there was only one chair in this office, and he wasn't going to get it.

"The data was so exactly parallel that it was kicked out by a new correlation program we've been working on. I'm sure if that program were more comprehensive, we'd have found other things too, probably long before now. In any case, this is an astounding reading, because it happened in two places and times that have nothing to do with each other. We think there's some connection but have only some of my theories to correlate the events, and I'll be the first to admit that they're pretty sketchy theories."

"If I can interrupt for a moment," said either Brad or Henry, "I'd like to say that since then we've snagged many other readings that we don't understand. It's been on the rise, but we don't get the same variations of signature any more. It's like things that happen at one place and time are starting to appear at other places and times. We're concerned that we've got a series of wormholes appearing, and we don't know why."

"Correct," responded Hendrickson. "Animated inanimate objects, if you will, are beginning to appear all around. We haven't seen anything real close to present day yet, though. Most of it has been millennia in the past, but we're worried that it's getting closer. I don't know if you're familiar with the theories, but basically as things change in the past, the present can be affected in subtle ways we can't predict, and because it's our present, we don't realize the change has occurred. One moment the sky is blue, the next it's green and has always been that way. The dogs are bluer than the tree of hats."

"Huh?" Steve shook his head, realizing he either was going to have to have more coffee or less explanation. "The dogs what?"

"I said that the gods are living in trees and cats. It's a saying that stems from many of the theologies of old. You probably know that the Norse, Roman and Greek gods were very parallel in theology. There are many others as well, of course, but those are pretty well known. There are so many similarities that people get them confused a lot, too. They talk about Thor and Venus as if they're related, and Isis and Zeus."

The one of Brad and Henry who had spoken earlier suggested out loud that coffee would be a good idea about now, but that idea was quickly quashed by Dr. Todson, much to the chagrin of Steve the Sleepy.

Hendrickson cleared his throat. "Anyway, in this case we started out with a reading in the early Norse period. This would be related to the gods that many of our days of the week are named after, like Odin for Wodinsday or Wednesday, Thor for Thursday, and Freyja or Frey, after whom Friday was named."

Steve recognized Friday. It was his favorite day.

"These were the Norse, or Teutonic gods, and they lived in Aasgard," continued the Professor. "Since we see our first anomaly in the era attributed to their reign, and in the right part of the world, we think that's the place to start."

"Start what?" asked Steve, realizing that he was what they were going to start with.

"We think we need a Task Runner to go back to the coordinates of this first occurrence, and evaluate what he sees, possibly following the trail of what he finds. You're the one to do it." said Dr. Todson. "You come recommended to us as the one most likely to be able to survive an Intertemporal Probe."

"I do have experience being the victim of an ITP," argued Steve, "but that was a mistake, not a Task Runner project."

"We know that, but we learned a great deal from your experience, and even think we can control it this time," came the response from Dr. Todson. "We should be able to lock onto the coordinates of the probe from 5 weeks ago and toss you right in there."

"Great," surmised Steve. "You even think you can control it. I feel so much better."

"It's better than that," assured the other one of Brad and Henry. "We have total control now over the send process, and have been able to retrieve all probes except one. You should be fine, though of course you'll be the first human to have been sent back that far."

"What about weapons?" asked Steve, obviously not impressed with the options so far.

"Well, there's a bit of a snag there, because we can't send anything that's not made of either living or once-living materials," explained the currently speaking Nerd. "We've managed to create a pretty good crossbow though, and several of our folks are working on attachments that you can use for other sorts of ammunition. We'll be trying to send that sort of stuff to you after you leave, and should be able to track your movements well enough to get them to the right time, and close to the area you're in."

"One way to look at it," said Professor Hendrickson cheerfully, "is that you'll have the most advanced weaponry of the day."

"The other way to look at it," barked Dr. Todson, "is that you're going to go do your job and that's that. Let's get on with this. I've got work to do."

"OK, the point is," said Hendrickson, "you're going to go way back to where the first animations were discovered. You'll be able to tell what's going on, because things just won't be quite right. You may see moving rocks, animals that are almost normal but not quite, things like that. Keep your eyes open, and be sure to notice everything."

Great, thought Steve, remembering how he didn't even notice Dr. Todson this morning in Osgood's office. Time for some mental calisthenics.

"Any questions?" asked Todson.

Steve could think of a few. "Do you have any way of communicating with me? How will I know if I'm still following instructions? What if I need to communicate back here? Is it going to hurt?"

"Heh, it'll hurt, sure," responded Todson, a bit too gleefully. "But we've got people trying to send equipment to you, and we think we can do a plasma holographic message panel before the week is out."

"That'll just look like words appearing in mid-air to you," said a Nerd. "We'll try to make it be at some open place if we can, maybe outside. And we'll try to make it obvious, maybe with sounds you'll come to recognize, too. I doubt you'll be able to talk back, but maybe we can send some sort of switch-oriented devices back periodically so you can signal your progress. Certainly the crossbow attachments will be our first priority though."

"Glad to hear it, 'cause it sounds like you're telling me I can't even take a penknife," complained Steve. "I'm not used to being weaponless."

"Good luck," said Professor Hendrickson. "I've got a worry that you're going to end up in all the places and times we're seeing the anomalies, and that's going to be hard to predict from here. We'll try to get you some information as we see newer traces after you leave. But you're pretty much on your own."

"OK, it looks like we're done here," announced Dr. Todson, obviously bringing the meeting to a close. "Thanks for your time, Gentlemen. Steve, you can find your way back to Osgood's office I'm sure. Have a nice trip."

"Don't think it hasn't been a wonderful experience," said Steve sarcastically, as he left with the others. Snagging a cart outside, he sped back to HQ to see Osgood and give him a piece of his mind.

"May I say who's... Ugh!"

Steve was into Osgood's office before Useless could even get the words out this time, and his timing slamming the door was impeccable.

"You're really not going to send me on this mission are you?" asked Steve of the rather startled Osgood. "They paint a pretty ugly picture of what I'm going to be up against, and I'm not at all convinced I'm going to recognize the enemy when I get there."

"You're right about that, Riker," said Osgood, recovering his demeanor quickly. "You're pretty much screwed unless you can use your wits. But that's part of the package, and you'd better get ready for it. Be at the Probe room at Lab 3 at 0600 hours. They've got special gear for you there that's all made of organic materials. You'll look funny, but you'll get there without feeling like you sat in a microwave."

"'Sweetness and light' wasn't much help over in the lab, so I'll ask you. Why is it me that's being assigned to this one?" asked Steve. "It's not like I'm the only person on the planet that went through an ITP. I remember there being others."

A brief wave of what could be mistaken for emotion washed over Osgood's face. "OK, Steve, here's the deal. One of those people you remember that was in the earlier time tests was my son Matt. He just plain disappeared during an event. We couldn't track him, even though we should have known right where he was all the time. If he'd been killed, we still should have tracked his remains, but first there was Matt, then there was nothing."

"You remind me a lot of Matt," he continued, "horse's butt attitude and all. Frankly, I've been secretly hoping that this mission could give us a chance to find out what happened to him, and I don't think anyone else can pull it off as well as you."

"Be careful out there," he said, putting a hand on Steve's shoulder. "After losing Matt, I for damn sure want you back in one piece."

Steve nodded, turned and walked slowly out of the room, not even pausing in the outer office for the usual abuse. It didn't seem worth it, as if his whole perspective on day-to-day junk had been somehow altered. He wondered vaguely if in a few minutes he might hear the alarm clock, summoning him back to reality from this, obviously a nightmare.


Chapters: Next Contents

Story by Ty Halderman
(c) 1997, 1998, 1999 Ty Halderman and TeamTNT, all rights reserved
No duplication in any medium without written permission