Taner Edis

Part I: The Nightmare Begins

“Sh’TaaGh, sh’TaaGh, sh’TaaGh, sh’TaaGh, b’Nee-ghtoun!”

These, Mortenson told me later, were the first words I uttered in nearly four years, and the fact that I shouted them in a tone suggesting I was being strangled did not increase the confidence of the four white-coated figures gathered around my body. Viewing the videotape, what strikes me still is not the sudden jolt of my instrument-studded head, dangerously jangling the forest of tubes and wires attached, but the involuntary flinch of my partners in exploration, and the shadow of horror which darkened their faces before they could act.

It all started in May of 1994, when Dr. Schlaffzinger’s large crate arrived in the converted farming complex which was the new home for the Institute of Higher Noetics. “Old SZ,” as we liked to call her, had not been able to visit us yet, being occupied with a physical expedition to Africa. Yet here was a huge crate from her, and the accompanying instructions told us precisely where it should be stored: in the northernmost point of the star-shaped Focusing Chamber we had been excavating.

As my colleagues came out to inspect Old SZ’s crate, no one expressed surprise that she should have known about the Star Chamber, as we had dubbed the large cavern which we could have easily fit the farmhouse in. It was a logical step to take, since we had not chosen Iowa just for its rural solitude, but because the old, “haunted” Erschein farm was located directly over one of the strongest geopsychic nodes in North America. Our Earth-ray measurements hit unprecedented levels just inside the dilapidated barn, and we started digging even before the Institute was fully staffed.

But of course, Old SZ had not merely predicted our logical course of action. Like all our friends and associates, she was a gifted sensitive, and the Q-resonance barriers we erected to screen out hostile remote viewers were tuned to allow access to to those with good intent.

Our surprise was not that she had known about the Star Chamber, but that none of us had anticipated this crate. Even now, our best natural intuitives surrounded it, trying to See the reason it was here, to no avail. Even the simple task of scrying its contents produced nothing but puzzled faces. I suggested Lisa Sligo, an enthusiast of technologically amplifying psychic signals, should bring out the new Quantum Non-Collapsing Statifier she had been working on; if nothing else, this would give the unwieldy device a test.

It took her the whole afternoon to cover the crate with a regular mesh, but soon afterwards, she excitedly called us to look at a monitor on which she was getting a very fuzzy picture of a somewhat hemispherical object. But as she tried to clear the noise, her screen snapped to a useless delta-pattern, and remained frozen there. A couple of strong lads decided an old-fashioned crowbar was called for, but half an hour and a lot of sweat later, they were left glowering at a bent bar and an unscathed crate.

So we figured the ways of SZ were mysterious, and tucked the crate in a corner while we went on with excavating the chamber. And when we started installing equipment and polishing the walls to perfect their use as waveguides, we also hauled down the crate. After all, as Sligo noticed, the original plans inexplicably had left a large unoccupied space in the north arm of the Star.

Old SZ’s crate sat there quietly for another two months, overlooked in our daily routine. But in December 1995, when we were all huddled inside waiting out a nasty blizzard, SZ herself blundered though the door.

I was playing with a PK-exercise dice set a Junior Fellow had designed, when I looked up to see a small figure half-covered in snow. SZ looks like something the cat dragged in at the best of times, but now, her hair went in more directions than three-dimensional space should allow, her famous coat had so many new stains on it that the original color was a matter of guesswork, and her pipe was conspicously broken and reassembled with what must be duct tape. She looked harried, but the glint in her eye was the same as ever as she barked at me to fetch the Director.

Since being elected to Senior Explorer rank, I had grown status-conscious, and I would have resented the order. But everyone is a frightened kid to the voice of SZ, and I immediately undertook the perilous mission of bothering our reclusive Director. SZ came close on my heels, and, just to make me feel useless, barged into the Director’s office without giving me time to knock.

S.C.H. Arbuth, with intimidating bald head and dark glasses, did not move as she burst into his territory; he did not even need to say he was expecting her.

“Your security is crap,” SZ exclaimed, “and They’re after me.”

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