Curveball Issue 31: A Trumpet Sounds

Part Three: Haruspex Analytics

The walls and floor of the long rectangular room are granite. The ceiling is covered in baroque plaster tiles. It is fancy, but empty: no furniture, nothing hanging from the walls. The only door leading into the room is plain, almost shabby. It’s a simple, solid wood door, painted a neutral gray color that is slightly lighter than the granite.

Few Haruspex Analytics employees know this room exists. Fewer still have been inside.

Lights embedded between the baroque tiles flicker to life, filling the room with soft light. The plain gray door opens, and a man steps into the room. He’s tall, older but still vigorous, with sharp blue eyes and silver hair that falls to his shoulders. He’s expensively dressed, in a dark gray three-piece suit and a matching silk tie. In his hand is a long plastic tube, the kind used to carry rolled-up posters, blueprints, or pieces of art.

The Chairman walks to the center of the room, stops, kneels. He opens one end of the tube and pulls out a rolled-up piece of paper. He sets the tube aside, and spreads the paper out on the floor. It’s a large map of the Atlantic Ocean.

He reaches into his suit coat pocket, producing four thumb-sized weighted blocks. He places one on each corner of the map, forcing it flat, then stands, looking down at it. He frowns slightly.

“A little more light, please.”

The ceiling lights slowly brighten.

“Thank you very much.” He reaches into an inside pocket and produces a slim smartphone. He dials a number and holds it up to his ear, waiting patiently.

“Miss Tanner. Do you have the current location of Doctor Thorpe’s island?”

He listens to the woman on the other end.

“Wonderful. Please give me their location.”

He listens again.

“Thank you very much for your assistance.” The phone returns to the inside pocket.

He kneels before the map, studying the latitude and longitude markings carefully. He reaches into his jacket again, withdrawing a fountain pen. Taking great care, he places a single dot on the map. He caps the pen, placing it under the map, then stands. He stares at the dot intently.

“I found you.”

He picks up the plastic tube, tipping it over. A small blue bag, tied shut with thick red cord, tumbles out onto the floor. The Chairman sets down the tube, picks up the bag, and with a quick jerk he undoes the cord. The bag opens, revealing very fine red sand.

He takes a pinch, throws it across the map, and speaks a word.

The sand does not arc naturally across the map—it stops in mid-flight, falling abruptly, creating a faint circle around the black dot the Chairman added minutes before. More sand follows, each throw accompanied with the same word, and with each successive throw the sand begins to form a pattern: an intricate symbol, a circle ringed with glyphs that burn faintly in the room’s light.

When the last grains of sand are thrown, the Chairman drops the bag next to the tube. He stares at the map again: now the black dot is surrounded by a circle of sand, and around that circle are symbols that now glow fiery red, blackening the map beneath it.

The Chairman extends his hand, palm down, centering it over the center of the ring. He speaks another word, and the map bursts into flame, consumed in an instant, as if it were flash paper. The circle and its runes remain, however: the sand that makes up the circle bleeds together into a ring of thick, red sludge. The runes, still burning though they rest on nothing to fuel those flames, spin counterclockwise around the ring.

He speaks another word.

The ring and the runes rise slowly into the air, abandoning the charred remains of the map. They rise to the level of the Chairman’s knee, then hover in place, runes still spinning. The faintest smell of ocean water rises up through the air, apparently from the circle itself.

He speaks another word.

The runes flash, and the circle opens like an eye: within the circle he can see the ocean, deep and blue and green and cold. It is day, and the skies are clear, and on that ocean he can see a tiny black dot.

He speaks another word.

The image zooms in. The ocean is pushed to the side, and the black dot becomes an island. There is no other word for it: it is a small island in the middle of the ocean, in a part of the ocean where no islands should be. It has beaches, a town, a marina with a pier—even an airport.

“Hello, Doctor Thorpe. I hope I find you well.”

He closes his eyes, steels himself, and speaks another word.

The light in the circle dims somewhat, the sky clouds, and a wind rises, shaking the leaves of imported trees and pressing the imported grass flat. Sand blows across the beaches; waves spray a fine, salty mist into the air. As the wind rises in the image, it also fills the room. The Chairman can feel the spray of salt water on his face, feel his hair blown by the wind rushing through. He looks down at the island and pushes back a sense of vertigo—he feels as if he could lean too far forward and fall down into the circle.

He speaks another word.

He can hear it now—the whispering. He remembers those whispers well. They are not quite the same, but they are similar enough. They will do what is needed.

“Come,” he whispers in return.

The light dims in the scene below him. The waves rise up, crashing into the beaches. Rain begins to fall. Thunder rumbles through. The Chairman loosens his tie, unbuttons his collar and pulls out a tiny trumpet hung around his neck, affixed to a finely wrought silver chain. He watches the storm rise.

He speaks words again: a poem in an ancient tongue, four lines repeated, over and over again. Each time he repeats it his voice rises, until finally he is shouting the words, his voice hoarse. Finally he screams the words one final time, and at last he shouts a final word of command.

The storm stops. The rain dies off, the wind falls to nothing. He can hear, through his circle, the gentle sound of waves, newly subdued, lapping against the sandy beaches.

He raises the trumpet to his lips, takes a breath, and blows.

The trumpet is deceptively deep for its size. And loud: prepared as he is, his ears ring with each call. He calls again, then again, each time putting all he has into the note. Come, the horn says. Come. Come. Come.

Then, through the circle, he hears it: low, deep, wet, a rumbling moan that rises out of the water and fills the sky with hunger. The waters roil and churn, the sound increases.

The Chairman lowers the trumpet, places it back under his shirt, very carefully buttoning the shirt over it and readjusting his tie. He reaches into his jacket and pulls out his phone once again. He presses something on the flat screen and holds it up to his ear.

“Mara. They have answered. It is only a matter of time.”

He nods absently, as if agreeing with the voice on the other line.

“It can’t go that far. Not with the tools I used. It should, however, go far enough. That said…”

He stares at the scene below, still ominously quiet save for the churning in the waters.

“That said, I think it would be wise to prepare for a response. They are capable, and there is at least one among them who may recognize what this is. If he does, I expect we’ll be meeting him soon.”

He listens again, the faintest trace of a smile on his lips.

“Quite the contrary, in fact. I very much hope he does. He is someone I have wanted to meet for a very long time.”

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