Friday, January 26, 2007


(Lost Fan Fiction)

The Alternative One


Amelia Crater

November 2006

New Chapters added weekly

(see sidebar for Chapter headings or scroll down to read)

Chapter One: Saving the Day

Do do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do. His eyes were wide open. Everything was dark, but Iben Powned knew his eyes were in fact open, wide open, so how come he could still hear the music? OK, not music. More like a musical metaphor: The ice cream truck circling the block as you’re writing the suicide note. Do do do do doo do. Do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do.

The melody had dragged Iben out of his restless sleep, forced him up off the couch where he’d spent the past four nights getting far less than the eight hours he was used to. Fully awake he deduced the music must be coming up from the street, rising up with the soot and smog from some infernal pushcart peddling Italian ices, roasted chestnuts or dubious herbal potions promising love, happiness or revenge. “Ay, yes,” Iben chortled, “A meal best served cold. More for me, please.”

Oh how quickly a man can turn. In the unlikely event anyone had asked, only a week ago Iben would have described himself as a painstaking man, slow to rile, quick to rationalize. Ask somebody else, not necessarily a good friend, those were hard to find, but someone who knew Iben for any length of time, say, an afternoon, they might have used other terms such as “set in his ways,” “nerd,” “geek,” a Brit might offer that “he’s a bit of a twerp.” Iben would not have corrected them, but he would have disagreed all the same for the very reason that he knew himself to be a man of fierce passions who simply did not find it necessary to exhibit them to random people in the nameless, faceless crowd. He chose to reserve his instinctual, primal machismo for the right moment--Do do do do doo do-- and it had just now arrived.

Do do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do. In fact, Iben Powned was about to throw a tantrum, and if that didn’t stop the satanic melody, he’d throw a brick, or better still, both boxed sets of Lost DVDs that he now reckoned comprised the deadest weight on the face of the earth.

Do do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do. He lumbered haphazardly across 15 feet of darkness--the maddening tune growing louder, more insistent--threw back the drapes and was struck dumb. Where before there had been air outside the window 16 floors above the Manhattan pavement now he saw nothing but a clear blue eye.

Ok then, still sleeping. Iben had just about decided to simply log off on this dreamscape rather than contemplate the nature of the reality on the other side of the glass when the eye in question pitched a bit and rolled aft exposing a leering lipstick greased grin.

This was, of course, no apparition. This was Ronald McDonald in humungous balloon form being readied for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Happy fricking holiday to you, too, McRonnie. Do do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do. Iben listened more closely now, still uncertain of the source, but he thought he recognized that tune. Wasn’t that the first few notes of the “Cheers” theme song? Do do do do doo do. You want to go where everybody knows your name.”
Ha! Luckily Iben could still laugh at himself, or was it with himself? Anyway, now he got it, he wasn’t playing host to a haunted calliope, it was just his subconscious playing tricks. The tune had nothing to do about losing his mind and everything to do with losing his name.


Just short of a fortnight ago, Iben had been offered the big break he’d been waiting for when his agent, Hamish McIntyre, had called to tell him he’d landed him a gig writing a novelization for the hit ABC show Lost.

Iben had been toiling in the netherworld of cable TV novelizations, and before you ask, no, not the classy cult ones like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly. So far Iben hadn’t gotten much beyond writing the tie-ins to Sci-Fi Channel original movies, but luckily there were lots and lots of them so it had been more than two years since he’d been reduced to picking the low-hanging fruit over at Lifetime, where he’d been required to assume a female pseudonym and write about luck in love a subject he new considerably less about than, say, string theory or the time-travel paradox. He liked to stick to what he knew.

He knew that in the literary circles Hamish traveled in, his write-what-you-know preference made him a plodder, maybe even a hack, but Iben never gave up his dream that one day his well-honed novelizationing skills would hook him up with a hit TV show, an assignment he would so ace that he’d be offered a shot at a script writing gig on a hit show, and consequently be set for life.

And last week, Lost had called Hamish and what did Hamish do? Did he look over his client roster and select one of those “creative” types who loaded up their novelizations with sly irony and post-modern in jokes. No he did not. Hamish called Iben--old reliable Iben, plodding Iben, Iben who always got the job done on time and on target. That’s what the network boys wanted, results on a deadline. Could Iben provide them with a novelization of “The Valenzetti Equation: Numbers of Necromancy” in 11 weeks? Iben most certainly could.

It wasn’t until he received the contracts that maybe a couple of doubts about that timetable began to surface.

“So, listen, Hamish. I got the contract but that’s it,” Iben said after he’d finally gotten through to his agent two days ago.

“They said they were sending DVDs,” Hamish replied distractedly. Iben was used to this.
Hamish had explained the only way he could keep on a low-tier client like Iben was to make sure the rent-paying A-Team writers were always his first priority. For instance, they got taken to lunch. Iben had never even seen the inside of Hamish’s office, but if he played this Lost card right, that situation was about to change.

“They sent the DVDs,” Iben said.

“Pretty nice deal, huh? How many DVD’s of Mansquito did Sci-Fi send over? Didn’t you have to buy it yourself?”

“Yeah, I was out of pocket on that one,” and, Iben recalled, he didn’t even get the job. “But the Lost people sent nothing about the book.”

“Yeah, well, here’s a funny thing about this show. The novelizations are handled by the marketing department not C.C. and Lindy.

“Ohmmmyea,” Iben mumbled vaguely.

“The show’s producers? Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof? Know who they are? Anyway, they are very worried about leaks. They don’t want to give away much. Make that anything. They don’t want amateurs messing with the mythology, taking off in crazy Atlantean riffs, diluting the truth of the overarching storyline.”

“I see,” Iben said. He did not, but if he had learned one thing during this ersatz writing career it was that no one needs to know what you don’t know. Let them work for it.

“So the deal they made with the marketing department is that if novelizations must exist, the writers can develop stories from the existing canon. The title should help. Think of it as a very loose outline.”

“No problem,” Iben lied. “One other thing, Hamish, the contract names me as author. You know I always use a pseudonym on these things.” Iben was saving his real name to grace the title page of his first script and he didn’t want its reputation sullied by the cheap tricks he’d turned to get him to that long-hoped-for debut.

“Ah, too bad you didn’t say something about that earlier,” Hamish replied.

“Earlier. I haven’t even signed the contracts yet.”

“Well you could probably change it, but it’s too late to keep your true identity to yourself, brother. Everybody already knows your name.”


Do do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do. Iben slammed the drapes shut, blinding the cyclopean clown. Where was that music coming from? Most certainly not from a friendly neighborhood bar. What did Hamish mean that everybody knew his name? Who was everybody? Why would they want to know the name of a for-hire hack shilling for the ABC marketing department? Iben continued to rant, pacing the length of his apartment from bedroom to living room and back, seeking the source of his distress, until he tripped over the dog.

“What do you want?” Iben asked, but he really meant was “why are you still here?” He’d hoped the blond Labrador Retriever would leave using the same mysterious methods under which he’d appeared five days before. Now, the mutt seemed to be trying to tell him something as it trotted over to the door, cocked its head as if to listen, woofing once or twice, then looking back at Iben. Iben cocked his head, too. Then he heard it, a soft, rhythmic knocking.

“Is that Morse code?” Iben had once novelized the Discovery Channel story of Marconi: Written in the Wind.

He opened the door to find, of all things, a beautiful girl. She wore a baseball-cap atop her chin-length brown hair, eyes hidden behind formidable Jackie O. sunglasses, and pointed a pistol at his midsection. Before Iben could register any of the many things he felt, the dog pulled a Lassie, grabbed the weapon out of the girl’s hand and loped away to the bedroom.

“That is a good trick!” Iben told her. “You’ve certainly demonstrated to me that he’s your dog, all right. I don’t think I've ever seen a canine do that outside the movies. He must be very special for you to have braved that crazy parade crowd out there,” Iben had made one of those primal decisions just then, ignoring the whole gun thing in favor the girl, a species with whom he had fewer lunches than he’d had with his agent. Now here was one on his doorstep, poised to enter his inner sanctum. Maybe the dog was not such a bad thing after all. And lots of girls carry guns, don’t they?

Iben ushered her into his bachelor pad.

“That’s quite a pooch you’ve got there,” he opined, looking around for the mongrel that was nowhere in sight. She went to the window, opened the curtain a crack and peered out. What she saw didn’t alarm her so Iben guessed the clown had drifted on.

“You know if you’re not in a hurry to get home, you can watch the parade from here,” Iben offered, but the girl switched her attention to the TV still playing the Lost DVD.

“I don’t usually watch primetime, but I’ve landed the darnedest assignment. It’s really ironic because the day I got it was the best day of my life, but it’s turned into the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Funny isn’t it how the best thing and the worst thing can happen simultaneously. I’m sure it has something do to with quantum physics; you know everything in a state of suspension, on and off at the same time. Ha! Shut up, Iben! That’s my name, by the way, Iben Powned.”

“I know who you are,” the girl said, her attention riveted on the scene in "Every Man For Himself" where Benjamin Linus shakes the bunny with an eight painted on its back until the animal keels over.

“Yes, well I guess that’s how you found me. So, do you follow this show?” Iben asked. “Cause, listen, if you could tell me what’s going on it would be a tremendous help.”

“I do not watch this show. It’s just a fiction bought and paid for by people who do not have your best interests at heart. People who have dark powers and darker intentions.”

“Don’t I know it,” Iben concurred with a chuckle. “TV execs are dark indeed. So here’s my dilemma. They’ve hired me to write a book that’s supposed to fit with other storylines in this silly show, but it doesn’t seem to.”

An accusatory stare beamed out from behind her eye shades. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“See that’s just it, I have no idea what any of it means. All they’ve given me to work with is a title: “The Valenzetti Equation: Numbers of Necromancy.” I’ve watched every single episode. I don’t think anything called the Valenzetti Equation was mentioned. I’m sure it must have something to do with those ridiculous numbers, but when Locke stopped punching in the numbers and the hatch exploded, everybody got out alive. The sky turned purple but the world didn’t end. It just seems like if the Valenzetti Equation has to do with the numbers that storyline has played itself out already. ”

“It’s not a story.”

“Well, I realize Lost has revolutionized TV storytelling.”

“No, you moron, it’s not a story. That song you keep hearing. The big clown looking in your window. The goddamn dog. Do those things seem like elements in a work of fiction or do they seem like things that are happening in your real life?”

“I’m not sure…” Iben sensed this might be a trick question.

“Geez, for once in your life just make up your mind,” the girl snapped.

“Yes, they are really happening,” Iben obeyed.

“Given that, do you think the numbers might also be real?”

“Yes,” Iben lied seamlessly this time, falling back on his old strategy of going along to get along.

“Then you will help us? You’ll write the truth even though the truth may cost you your life?”

“Yes.” Okay, mystery solved, he was still asleep after all. Maybe he could use some of this dream dialogue his book.

“Good. Then listen closely because what I’ve come to tell you may save you, me, everyone in the world. The island is not…”

Suddenly the dog became frantic, whining and lunging toward the window. He grabbed the drape and pulled it open. Outside a new balloon bobbled.

The girl recoiled in fear and turned to run just as the window explode behind him, a bullet struck the door as the girl slammed it behind her. Then shooting pain. Then nothing.


Do do do do doo do. Do do do doo do. His brain throbbed. Worse, when he pried his eyes open he was eyeball to eyeball with a dog. The dog. The dog with the gun still clutched in its jaws. Iben didn’t know how long he’d been unconscious, but the room was dark and he was shivering. Then he remembered the blasted window…and the rest….he checked for blood, shattered bones…at least he hadn’t been shot. Taking stock he realized the girl was gone, the dog had stayed. She’d left her backpack, too, although Iben didn’t remember her having one. He propped himself up and fiddled with the pack’s zipper but resisted the temptation to open it.

Do do do do doo do. Do do do doo do. Iben snuck a reluctant peek behind the couch and there amid the shattered glass he finally found the source of the sound. It was a music box of sorts. A rather ingenious item, really: a tin wind-up toy featuring a polar bear riding a unicycle back and forth across a circus tight wire. In one paw he held a parasol painted to look like a canopy of stars. In the other paw he held a snow globe in which a mermaid and merman turned somersaults around a single pearl.

Iben , led by the dog, crept across the broken glass. He put his ear close to the toy. Do do do do doo do. It wasn’t playing notes, he realized. It was something else. He held the object close to his ear. Words. His name! Iben Powned is clueless. No. Iben Powned must do this. Not quite. Iben Powned is….

Chapter Two: Good Things Come in Small Packages…

Useless… Iben eyed the nylon backpack on the floor with disgust. It probably contained several ancient plagues or even an incurable disease, he thought, perhaps even some outlandish genetic mutation. After hearing the peculiar story told by the girl he had no doubt that whatever he found inside would ultimately end up being very unhealthy for Iben Powned.

He opened the pack cautiously. The first thing he noticed was a label with the words “Property of” printed on it; below were the handwritten initials R. B. The rest of the compartment was filled with file folders stuffed with papers. There were several photographs, a few satellite maps and computer discs inside as well.

A tri-color brochure caught his attention. It was an advertisement for Paik Heavy Industries - Robotics Division in Lotus Valley and their breakthrough nanotechnology. Iben had, of course, read Creighton’s “Prey” years ago yet he certainly did not believe that self-replicating miniature robots would ever be practical or useful. But, he thought, it couldn’t hurt to do a little investigation and find out what, if anything, R.B. had been trying to warn him about, especially in light of the fact that stray bullets had recently been added to the equation. And Lotus Valley was just over the bridge, he reasoned.

Paik Heavy Industries was nestled into the far end of a small industrial park just off the interstate. Like most of the one-story manufacturing plants and businesses in the area Paik Heavy was of early 21st century construction, all corrugated metal and concrete, but as he drove to the visitor’s parking lot, he saw that behind the Paik factory was a small ivy-encrusted building surrounded by massive oak trees that had somehow escaped the recent renovations of the industrial park.

On the drive over, Iben had practiced his “just a humble writer doing research” speech and realized that he had fairly perfected this conversation over the years, which turned out to be more proof of his useless skills since the production plant offered free tours every half-an-hour. It seemed unusual to Iben that Paik Industries would be so frank and open concerning this aspect of their technology and research if they, like all the parties mentioned in R.B’s papers, were villainous.

The little mint-green paper hats and lab coats they gave out prior to the tour were a nice touch, he thought, as he stepped up onto the sightseeing trolley. As the guide began his scripted monologue, Iben quickly realized that all he was going to learn on this tour was the antiseptically canned script about robotics that every tourist received and that it would not help him with his research.

As the trolley neared a lighted exit he stepped off, quickly walked to the door, which, surprisingly, was unlocked, and found himself in an empty stairwell. Even more surprising, no alarms sounded. From the outside the Paik Robotics building had looked like any other one-story manufacturing plant in the industrial park, but the stairwell descended at least four levels from the one on which Iben now stood. He crept down the stairs silently.

As he made his way downward he could hear a faint but continuous buzzing coming from below. Near the bottom of the stairs he saw a stack of wooden archive boxes used for storing outdated paperwork. Each neatly stacked box was stamped with a “Hanso Foundation” logo. From behind the boxes he heard voices. Iben snuck a peek through the handle holes of a box to see two men talking in front of a very modern-looking wall of super-computers.

“Tom, we really need to shut it down and run a diagnostic check on the horde,” said a young man in a mint-green lab coat. His left pocket bore figures from “The Book of Changes” in an octagonal pattern.

“No, no the Sappers and the Shapers are working perfectly. It’s the Cerberus’ that need modification and we can’t afford to shut down the entire swarm for that. We’d have to re-set the whole program and that would affect too many stations.”

“Then what do you suggest we do?”

“We do nothing. We wait. See if they learn. Perhaps they’ll self-correct without any radical adjustments.”

Beyond the wall of boxes Iben witnessed something that scarcely moments ago he would have said could not exist. A large, plate-glass walled cell filled the entire rear sub-basement of the building. Behind the glass a murky dark black cloud of smoke floated ominously, almost cognitively, he thought, and it appeared to be studying his every move. A buzzing, like a great colony of bees, resonated from behind the glass. Iben was looking at millions, no, billions upon billions of microscopic nano-robots and the cloud from which they were composed seemed to be growing as he watched.

Astonishing as the cloud was, Iben also realized that the room outside the cell was filled with antiquated computer tape drives and old monochrome monitors, one of which showed the stairwell he’d just been in. He realized then that it was time to leave and as he quickly climbed the stairs the loudspeakers in the hallway began blaring, “Compound breached!” in a mechanical tone. He hurried up the stairs.

As he turned to exit the stairwell he saw the two men he had overheard talking coming towards him. Both wore mint-green lab coats and both were pointing at him. The longhaired pony-tailed man pointed at Iben, gestured at the young man with him and said, “Get him!” The two men raced up the stairs. Iben exited the stairwell just in time to hear the clunk of a dead bolt lock slam shut in the door behind him. Why would they lock that door now?

Iben had a moment to consider the conversation he had just heard. He leaned his back against the locked door.

Did I hear that right? he wondered. Sappers and Shapers? He knew that sappers were tunnel diggers and shapers seemed obvious but what in the world was a Cerberus? And what did that mean anyway? Nano-robots were usually used for medical purposes and molecular manufacturing but these, these were another breed altogether and there appeared to be three different types: One for tunneling, one for shaping and one for, what, barking? It just doesn’t make any sense. What are they tunneling into and what are they shaping? More importantly what are these guys really using nanobots for?

There were very few moments in Iben Powned’s life when he was truly and entirely frightened. Most recently when the brakes on his car failed, for instance, but when he heard the whispering buzz that appeared to be rapidly gaining on his position he realized a whole new realm of terror. The term frightened shitless came to mind. There was nothing for it but to run. So, he ran. A massive horde of nanobots appeared out of the air conditioning vents in the warehouse in a cloud and descended towards him. Iben ran to the nearest exit, fumbled his way through the door and quickly slammed it shut behind him. The buzzing gained in intensity but then disappeared completely behind the closed door.

He shuddered uncontrollably thinking about what he had just evaded and panic started to invade his reason. A sudden pain startled him out of the fear that was beginning to build up inside him. How did I scratch myself there? But it wasn’t a scratch at all. It was one of those miniature metallic nanobots trying to tunnel its way into the flesh of his arm. He picked it from his skin between two fingers and crushed it on the pavement under his shoe. Now that’s a satisfying sound, he thought.

Iben started walking quickly to his car but noticed that his race through the warehouse to safety brought him not out near the parking lot but into a cemetery near the ivy-covered building behind Paik Heavy Industries. Iben took cover among the ancient oaks that surrounded the graveyard, a small plot of grass with nine headstones in a three by three array. As he passed the headstones he had to do a double take. The bottom headstone read:

Thomas Werner Mittelwerk
April 15, 1842
August 16, 2004

One hundred and sixty-two years old! Iben could hardly believe what he was seeing. How could anyone live that long? Examining the headstone more closely he noticed that the number 42 in the birth year “1842” seemed different then the rest of the numbers. He traced it lightly with his fingers and… it clicked! The headstone slid forward and up revealing a hatch with metal stairs that descended into absolute darkness…

Chapter Three: Your Number’s Up

The grave beckoned, its open maw offering safe haven to a desperate man and Iben, for one, thought that was pretty darned ironic: “Fear not, the bogey bots can’t get you while you’re safe in my embrace.” He could almost hear the sinister cackle of the crypt keeper as it swallowed him whole.

Well, maybe it wasn’t a cackle, more like a crackle, an electrical hum or buzz…they’re near. Iben took a moment to reflect on the deadly peril of his situation and how ill-suited he was to making life-or-death decisions in the moment. He swiveled his head looking for inspiration (which years of writing had taught him often involved much eyestrain) when his attention fell upon a miniature headstone next to Mittelwerk’s.

Good Things Come in Small Packages
Faithful and obedient companion
in this world and all others

Iben had to really squint to read it. It had to be carved in, like, 10 or 12 point type face to fit all those words onto that small tombstone. Nonetheless, he couldn’t rest in peace since the fierce horde-sound was nearly upon him. His brain screamed, “Do something!” So, he pushed the 42 on Mittelwerk’s headstone and the door whooshed shut with what sounded like a gasp of relief.
Iben then considered his chances of escape, pondering what ill-omen might have caused the beloved Frigga to be lately lamented and wondering if there was some deeper meaning to be found in the epitaph “Good Things Come in Small Packages.” Is it possible that Iben had nothing to fear from the tiny nano-beings? Of course, one had given him quite a scratch on the arm, but perhaps that nano had been malfunctioning. He guessed he’d soon find out as the blackish mass was just rounding the oak at the edge of the cemetery plot.

Then, above the droning din, another sound reached Iben’s ear, a desperate, yelping howl. That’s right! He’d brought along the blond lab planning to drop him off at the pound later. Apparently, he’d escaped the vehicle and just in the nick of time for Iben. The dog was throwing itself against the chain-link fence on the parking lot side of the ivy-covered building. Iben realized in an instant that the dog couldn’t get in only because it was not tall enough to reach the otherwise easy-to-open gate latch. Good dog! Iben sped toward the exit, but not before glimpsing the name on another of the nine headstones. This one was new and unsentimental. It stated simply:

Hugh McIntyre
1968 - 2006

Moments later, dog and man were into Iben’s Kia racing away from Paik Heavy Industries, out of Neptune City headed west toward the Garden State Parkway. Iben didn’t even take a breath for fear of sucking in errant nanobots until they passed the Naval Weapons Station in Earle.
“Wait a minute,” Iben said, “Hugh McIntyre. That can’t be a coincidence, can it?”

The dog made no reply, but panted anxiously, staring out the rear window as if not as ready as Iben to conclude, “Home free.”

“Hugh McIntyre. Hamish McIntrye. You don’t suppose they’re related in some way? If so, and I’m not saying they are, but if they were related they couldn’t have been very close or Hamish would have said something about losing a brother this year or having to go to a funeral. Then again, maybe Hamish didn’t know. After all, Hugh is buried behind a New Jersey factory next to a Mr. Mittelwerk, whose grave appears to come equipped with an escape hatch. Hey, maybe it’s a doggie door so that Frigga can let herself in and out.”

The lab, riding shotgun, perked up his ears at that, and Iben doubted it was because he appreciated the joke.

“Frigga?” Iben asked. “Do you know that name, boy?”

The dog spoke. Iben took that as a yes.

“Friend of yours? Girlfriend, maybe?”

The dog yelped more emphatically. Iben checked the rear view mirror and saw a Paik Industries cement-mixing truck bearing down. They couldn’t outrun it and on this late Saturday afternoon the sparsely trafficked highway offered no cover so Iben swerved off on the nearest exit and headed back toward the shore. The dog’s whine signaled the truck had done the same.
Iben drove on at a reckless speed, making aimless turns in what seemed to be a futile effort to elude the relentless pursuer. He was going to be Jimmy Hoffa’d, he supposed; buried under a ton of quick-setting concrete. He began to tremble and suddenly was drenched in sweat. Then he was choking, not breathing, dying.

“The nanobot musta got me, boy. I just didn’t know it til now,” he reported in ragged sobs to his canine companion.

“If it hadn’t been the bot it would’ve been the truck. I can’t fight something this big. God, I can’t believe that the thing I wanted most in the world, a stupid chance at a stupid network staff writing job, is going to be the death of me. I can’t believe my agent got me into this. And I mean got ME into this. Why me? Am I so insignificant, such a no-name nothing that when a killer assignment came in, the one that meant the writer would in fact die, he thought of me first? I suppose he knew no one would miss me.”

On wheels slick with Iben’s self-pity, the Kia careered wildly into Asbury Park city limits, speeding down the empty streets past the decaying carcasses of an abandoned, half-built high-rise, crumbling, deserted hotels and burned-out storefronts.

“This used to be the playground of the Jersey Shore,” Iben said, so shocked by the city’s haunted appearance he forgot his truck troubles and got his breath back. “I wonder what happened here?”

The dog barked sharply and stood up on the front seat. In the rubble-strewn parking lot where The Palace Arcade once reigned over the boardwalk now dangled strings of banana-colored lights and a banner announcing Benoffski’s Big, Big, Big Top Traveling Circus and Family Fun Carnival.

“Well, look at that, the circus comes to Creepytown,” Iben, never a fan of such dubious roadside attractions wondered if being shanghaied into white slavery--the fate of all lone visitors to carney world his mother always warned--would be his next adventure. “Did I mention that I hate clowns?”

Iben pulled into the parking lot, tucked the Kia between two Winnebagos and tagged along behind a posse of stragglers headed for the midway. They didn’t look like a fun group, much less family friendly. They exuded the jagged menace of meth addicts but viewed through an ectoplasmic blur. Iben saw the cement truck inching into the parking lot, and hoped the ghost gang was too oblivious to notice and man and his dog hitching a ride in their shadows to the midway

To buy them some time, Iben hit the first concession stand and assembled haphazard disguises: Bug’s Bunny ears and Slinky-eyeball glasses for himself and a couple of balloons to attach to the dog’s collar. He hoped that from a distance it would look like he was just another fun-loving dad taking his kid to the circus.

Do do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do. There it was again. The music. Iben Powned has been duped. No. It wasn’t really saying that. Hamish tried to kill you. Shut up. It’s just a bunch of notes, Iben commanded the wild-eyed side of his brain to agree with the smart part, but he didn’t know how long that order would stand when he found the source of the sound. It was coming from a carnival game booth and the tune was emanating from an almost unimaginable variety of mechanical wind up toys offered as prizes. One of the toys was the acrobatic polar bear that had been pitched through his window Thanksgiving Day.

How could it be, Ivan wondered, that I would find those particular tin toys playing that oddly mesmerizing melody at a traveling carnival that I only came to because I was being pursued by killers in a cement-mixing truck? To call such a thing a simple coincidence beggared reason. Was it fate? Did everything happen for a reason, as John Locke was so fond of pointing out on Lost? Indeed this was just the kind of thing that would happen on Lost. So, Iben wondered WWJD? What Would Jack Do?

Iben imagined the handsome spinal surgeon standing in his place listening to that tune. In his mind’s eye, he saw jack’s eyes glaze over as visions of the past overtook him. Jack would be remembering the time he stayed up all night fixing his mother’s beloved music box instead of dissecting kittens as he had promised his dad he would so he would make the old man proud on the pre-med biology final the next day. Luckily, his dad came home from the hospital too drunk to notice the kittens were intact and Jack aced the test anyway. Unfortunately, when he got home from school with his A+ grade, the music box was re-smashed and his mother gone for good. Turned out the music box had been precious because it had been given to his mother by another man, a nice one who treated her well, and his father knew it, couldn’t stand competing with even the memory of her former happiness, and kicked her out of the house. And it was all Jack’s fault for fixing the damn music box.

Jack’s eyes would then come back into focus, the tawdry carnival with its cheap amusements suddenly filling him with hopeless melancholy tinged with bitter loss and he would turn a deaf ear to that sordid melody and walk away.

God, no wonder they were still stuck on that island. Every experience was transformed into a metaphorical redo of some past misery that left them incapable of action. Well, Iben thanked heaven that he had no such emotional baggage keeping him from catching the clue bus.

He approached the “Your Number’s Up” game booth. The bored attendant was flipping through the pages of a fat paperback and singing softly to herself, “… 'She left me on the boardwalk / With my head held in my hands...'

“I beg your pardon,” Iben interrupted, “but I have a question. Interestingly, someone just gave me a wind-up toy exactly like this.” He pointed to the polar bear. “Can you tell me where they come from and what’s the name of the tune they play?”

At first he thought she didn’t understand him because she just giggled girlishly and pushed her chin-length brown locks behind her ears. Iben realized he still wore his pop-eyed glasses, but when he removed them, the smile came off the young woman’s face as well. Here we go again, Iben thought, another pretty woman, one minute all smiles and eyelashes, the next grim and frankly accusatory. He figured Jack might have better luck in these transactions, except, of course, Jack would already be gone.

“Sorry about the glasses,” Iben said. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Iben Powned and I’m a writer and therefore just really curious about those tin toys you’re giving away.”

“We give away nothing,” she said. Her tone of voice seemed kind of familiar but the accent was one he couldn’t identify. “You pay your money; you take your chance.”

“I see, of course.” Iben ponied up the five-buck fee. “So you’ll answer my questions if I pay?” he asked rhetorically. “Fair enough. How do I play?”

“You press this button, here,” she said pointing to a big red button. “And your ping-pong balls pop out here,” she pointed at a plastic chute. “You get five balls with numbers on them. Then you have to pitch the ball into the dish with the same number on it to win.”

Iben pushed the button and a ball with the number 16 popped out. “So, can you—by the way, I didn’t catch your name—

“Ventral Pallidum,” she said. “Go ahead, toss the ball.”

To Iben’s surprise, the ball safely hit its mark. “That’s unusual. Is that Eastern European?”

“Keep playing or I’ll get in trouble.” She placed one of the toys in front of him, a brood hen in a nest filled with Easter eggs that hatched into bunny rabbits.

Iben pushed the button again, a ball with the number 23 popped out. He tossed, and made the shot.

“Keep your eyes on the prize,” she said in true carnival barker style “My name is Netherlandish,” she said. “I’m not from there, but one of the tin toys is made there.”

She put his second trophy on the counter, a rose bud that bloomed to reveal a dancing green caterpillar inside. “The others are made in different places. Now hurry up, push the button.”
The next ball was number 8. Iben tossed it gently into the number 8 dish. The toy was a teddy bear riding a black rocking horse.

“Really, tin toys, all different, made everywhere in the world all playing the same melody?” Iben asked.

“You don’t believe me? You want me to draw you a map?”

“Could you do that? See, I think these music boxes might have to do with something much more important—“

“Keep your eyes on the prize,” she barked out to the crowd. “Finish the game,” she commanded Iben.

He pushed the button again. 16 popped then plopped into the right dish. The prize toy was a pair of cupids, one black, the other white, with arrows aimed at each other as they winged their way around a golden sundial. He had the same success with the next ball, 4. She gave him the polar bear music box.

“Can you tell me where this one came from?”

“Do you want to purchase a bonus ball?

“Will I find out where the polar bear comes from?”

She held out her hand, and snapped her fingers impatiently as he dug in his pocket for cash. “Don’t waste my time,” she snapped.

Iben pushed the button. 42 popped up. The woman slid a piece of paper across the counter.

“This is where the bear comes from?” Iben asked.

“Put it away! They’re watching.”

Iben casually tucked the map into his pocket not sharing Ventral’s fears in the least. In fact he was feeling quite smug as he filled his backpack with the toys.

“I feel like Santa Claus with my bag of goodies,” he joked. Unlike handsome Jack, he’d faced the music and come away with at least five new clues plus a map of an island. He was in such a good mood, he even shared a conspiratorial wink with the canine worrywart who’d been tugging on his leash to leave for the last five minutes.

“Just a sec, doggy-o-mine. WWID?” he crowed, pitching the final ball. “Iben would score!”
The 42 ball headed home as if pulled by a magnet. “I am the man!” Iben whooped as the ball fell into the dish. Instantly all the toys sprang to musical life, DO DO DO DO DOO DO, the yellow prize-booth lights shimmered then turned an eerie purple, he could see Ventral Pallidum’s teeth glowing in the weird light. Was she giving him the thumbs up, or signaling him to lift his eyes skyward? He looked up, nothing, then another sound brought him back to earth, an urgent beep, beep, beep. The sawdust beneath his feet began to shudder under the weight of a grinding, clunking mechanical beast crashing through the screaming, fleeing carnival crowd, and straight toward Iben.

Chapter Four: Reaching Out

If this were a book, thought Iben, I’d have time to consider how incredibly surreal this is. The situation of a metallic beast bearing down on him while in the center of the midway in a carnival named after a Polish mathematician seemed somehow one that only Tristan Tzara could truly appreciate. But, in fact, the huge dark-green words REDI-MIX and REDI-CRETE were coming at him too fast to really contemplate. Iben did what he always did in situations like this, he yelped like a schoolgirl and ran. He didn’t even bother looking back to see the crash. He hoped Ventril, the barker, was ok but knew instinctively that somehow she could take care of herself.

In the car Iben surveyed the cheap toys he’d won at the carnival. Brood hen nest, rose bud, bear and horse, pair of cupids, map. That damned monotonous melody kept inching its way back into his head. He picked up the polar bear music box and inspected it closely. Turning it over in his hand he revealed a strange legend embossed on the bottom of the box.




What the hell is this? Iben thought, Morse code? He looked at the map and noticed the words “Satellite Interference” printed on it and thought the entire image looked rather like the head of a clown to him. Jeez, like I need more mystery. What I really need is to get home and make a call.

As he pulled up to his apartment building he noticed that the super had already replaced the broken glass in his window with a piece of plywood.

“They’re upstairs waiting for you, Mr. Powned,” said Jensen, the doorman whispered, tilting his head to toward the NYPD squad car parked in front of the fire hydrant.

“Thanks, Jensen,” he said to the doorman.

Sure enough, when Iben exited the elevator on his floor, a policeman was standing in front of his apartment door. “Weigh too many doughnuts,” Iben thought, chuckling at his own wit as he approached his front door

“Can I help you, officer? he said to the rather rotund beat cop.

“You Iben Powned?” He pronounced it “I been pound.”

Iben ignored the mispronunciation.

“Yes sir”

“Officer Ovular. I’d like to ask you a few questions ‘bout the bullet holes in your window. Gotta minute?” he said, inviting Iben into his own home.

The other officer seemed to be enjoying himself ransacking through Iben’s belongings inside the apartment. He gave them both a sheepish grin as Iben and Ovular entered the room.

“My partner, Grillo,” Ovular said. The other policeman nodded. Iben looked at him accusingly hoping he’d get the hint and stop rifling through his stuff. “The super let us in. Potential crime scene,” he said in explanation.

“Any idea who did this, Powned?” Ovular took out a small pad and pen, flipped the cover, wrote for a second and said, “You got any enemies, Powned? Somebody holdin’ a grudge or somebody that don’t like you?”

“No, officer, I believe it was probably a stray bullet,” said Iben as he began picking up the books that Grillo had tossed to the floor.

“Now if you don’t mind, I really have some cleaning up to do. Thank you!”

Ovular and Grillo didn’t offer to help, but they didn’t try to stop him, either.

“Let us know if you remember anything else,” replied Grillo as they left the apartment.

Iben released a deep sigh of relief and went immediately to the phone. As it was ringing, he pulled out his laptop, logged in and began typing in the numbers from the bottom of the music box.

“Hello? Professor Candace Apollo’s office.”

“Candy? Thank god you’re in. Look, I’ve just sent over a very strange e-mail. Do you think you can you tell me what it is?”

Candy Apollo was Iben’s only real friend and while they had met a few times in real life they had spent the majority of their relationship getting to know one another via e-mail. Apollo was a professor of Romantic Studies and Literature at NYU but, quite frankly, she was the smartest person Iben had ever met. Despite her occupation she was well versed in almost every field he could care to name. She knew that Iben used her to further his writing career but she liked the idea of being friends with a TV writer since she was a closet pop-culture junkie herself.
After a few moments of silence, in which Candy received and read the e-mail, she said, “It’s a positional numbering system, Iben.”

“A what?” he countered.

“It’s binary. You know; on and off, zero and one, binary! The language of computers.”

“What’s it say?”

“Ah, let me run it through a translator… One second. Ok. The first line of code reads, “worse rest landwards.” The “W” and “S” in “worse”, the “T” in “rest” and the “N” in “landwards” are all capitalized.” The second line reads, “handles the rent.” The “N” in “handles” and the “T” in “The” are capitalized.

“That makes no sense to me. You have any idea what it means?”

“No, not really. Give me a few minutes though, and I’ll see what I can come up with. I’ll call you right back.’

“Thanks, Candy. I’ll be here.”

He hung up the phone and returned to alphabetizing his trashed bookshelf until the dog’s whining, sniffing and scratching at the couch pillows drove him so crazy he had to ask, “What is it, boy? Lose your squeaky cheeseburger?”

The dog yipped encouragingly, and Iben lifted the corner of the sofa allowing the dog to capture it’s prize, which wasn’t a chew toy at all but a very old leather case bound by a braided leather strap. He unwound the band and found that the leather case protected a number of pages made from vellum parchment foolscap. The paper was fragile and stiff and covered in an elegant calligraphy. Iben leaned back into the crook of the sofa and began to read:

The Black Rock Sea Trader

Which e’er way the wind turns
My son, you first must learn
Of a dangerous realm called the sea…

The seven seas they’re unkind
And they’ll leave you behind
That’s the future that fate kept for me…

It was said Magnus alone
Could’ve killed Davy Jones
With a steely look or a frown…

Four score odd the crew,
Filled with gold it is true,
To Portsmouth forever now bound…

At the New World quay
Twenty-three vacant each day
‘Cept for grieving wives, sons and daughters…

No one’s ever claimed
Or were found the remains
Nor precious metals to fill up the coffers…

O’er ancient whale roads
That entwine the whole globe
And along the trade winds of wrath…

The ocean, it’s said,
Never speaks of the dead
When the cold winds of winter tack back…

The first mate made rounds
And the rigging odd sounds
As great waves broke o’er the railing…

And every man knew,
As Magnus did, too,
That the hull of the Black Rock was failing…

When the storm came a stealing
With every man reeling
Came the wreck of the ship the Black Rock…

Then the gales came a slashing
And the lightening flashing
Never again to find New World dock…

Where lies this man brave
Lost in some watery grave
As the mariners all know so well…

That a ship filled with gold
Or slaves ever so bold
Is destined to run ‘ground in hell…

Their fate remains lost
Their lives an uncommon cost
And the widow’s pine, wasting their prime…

In Portsmouth they prayed
Over every bare grave
And the church bells chimed forty odd times…

Now here is the mystery
That’s hidden from history
The ship found a tropical land…

A mysterious place
That rose out of the waves
A place touched by the almighty’s hand…

Which e’er way the wind turns
My son, first you must learn
Of a dangerous realm called the sea…

The seven seas they’re unkind
And they’ll leave you behind
That’s the future that fate kept for me…

The phone rang startling Iben from the poem.


“Iben, it’s Candy. Ever seen “The Da Vinci Code?”


“You know the part where the old man does all the strange things to himself in the Louvre before he dies? He leaves Fibonacci numbers, anagrams and symbols?”

“Yeah, but what does that have to do with positional numbering systems?” he said sarcastically.

“The binary string and the encoded messages are anagrams for “New World Sea Traders” and “The Netherlands.” Apparently it’s the name of the company and the place where the music box was produced.”

“New World Sea Traders? I was just reading a poem about a trading ship called the Black Rock. They mention a place called the New World Dock. Do you think there is any connection?”

“I’m not sure, Iben, but I can look into it for you.”

“Yeah, no rush but if you find anything let me know. In the mean time I’ll do some research on my own. Thanks Candy.”

“No problem. Later.”


Iben hung up and went back to the sheaf of parchment. There were about twenty pages and each one was printed in an elegant hand. The calligraphy was beautiful, he thought, but who wrote them and why? He thumbed through the titles. “Persephone’s Bees”, “Malik, The Ironman”, “Confections of Apollo”, “Alvar”, “Purgatory”, “Let Your Compass Guide You” and “Retrievers of Truth.” Hmm… interesting titles, he thought. He pulled another poem from the stack. Let’s see what this one is about.


Down through the slick corridors of concealment
Suppressing the stark light
The keeping of mysteries can mire
The noblest of objectives in eclipse

To this shadow we fell prey

This, our aspiration then
To deliver and bestow new life to
A dying land and a failing people

Lucidity and control
Will guide us into a new light
To rescue humankind
We need first tap into our humanity.

A worldwide movement
Set against the dark regime
To provide us another chance,
To build a better future,
To further our expectations and
Sustain, enhance, and support us
All on an island of serenity and joy.


On the back of the parchment was written:
“Since the dawn of time man has been curious. Imagining all that is possible. Reaching out to a better tomorrow. Discover the experience for yourself.”
The Hanso Foundation - Copenhagen

It looks like I’m traveling to Copenhagen. I hope my passport is current, he thought as he descended into oblivion…

Chapter Five: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The eye was almost out of sight and Kochanie was getting very worried.

“Giddy up, Rosie,” the girl urged until her father shushed her.

“You are very young, my child, always in a hurry to get to your destination. Black Rose is very old, so she can only try to get there alive.”

Kochanie strained to see the outlines of the All-Seeing Oracular Oracle sign painted on Dr. Apollo’s wagon as it faded into the sunset. She knew that her father was a proud man, and despite the Nazi war that had driven them out of their Polish home and kept them constantly on the move, he’d never abandoned the promise he’d made his wife’s father, Malik Benoffski, to keep the family circus intact.

Kochanie also knew that the Nazis said all circus people were gypsies who should be eradicated from the face of the earth. And although Kochanie did not remember her grandfather who’d died before she was born, she would never forgot the night those murdering thugs had invaded their encampment, forcing everyone to hide in the forest lest they be swept away to concentration camps.

Finding no human prisoners, the Nazis had broken into the animal cages, allowing most of the horses, cows and bears to escape, but they slaughtered her beloved Iorek Byrnison the Dancing Polar Bear as he fought to protect his mate and two cubs, which never were found, dead or alive.
That night had shown Kochanie many terrible things, but the lesson she learned was that it was dangerous to stick out from the crowd. Plain was better. Vanilla did not draw the wrong kind of attention. There was safety in fading into the background crowd and danger in drawing attention to oneself. Hide in a crowd; avoid getting caught all alone on a lonely stretch of road.
Suddenly, the night sky erupted in explosions, but these weren’t bombs, they were beautiful flowers blooming among the stars.

“See, sweetness, you were worried for nothing,” her father said. “Those are bouquets of welcome sent to us from the Tivoli Gardens. Some say it’s the happiest place on earth, and it’s going to be our new home”

And she had been as happy at that magical place as she’d ever been because it was always crowded with people, mostly the same people day after day, but who were all different in sometimes very exotic and even alarming ways. It was the one place where a small girl with some big differences of her own would have to compete for attention, which was something she declined to pursue. She tried to be proud of her heritage, as her father insisted she should be, but when outsiders pointed and crowds gathered to laugh or cringe at her and her mother, she only felt so deathly afraid that one day she just couldn’t go on with the show.

Her father had been very angry and her mother told her how ashamed she was that she disrespected family and herself, so Kochanie ran away. She ran all the way to the ocean where she finally collapsed, sobbing on the sand beside the statue of The Little Mermaid. She sat watching the guardian swans, one white and one black, protecting the Mermaid’s rocky perch, and wept to think how alone she would always be just like this stone statue.

“Do you know her story?” He was an older man, older than Papa. He wore neatly trimmed black whiskers tucked into his thick overcoat and had a white dog by his side. Kochanie wondered if he was a policeman.

“Some people think it’s a sad story, but I don’t know if that’s true. That Little Mermaid was a survivor,” he said in a quiet voice.

“I thought she died, after she couldn’t kill the prince, she threw herself into the ocean and turned to foam,” Kochanie said.

“That’s right, but there was a loophole her grandmother didn’t know about. Instead of dying, she turned into a spirit, a daughter of the air. As one of them, she can earn her own soul by doing good deeds. When 300 years have passed she will have earned her soul and will rise into the kingdom of God,” the whiskered man said. “And you’re helping her, did you know that?”
Kochanie shook her head.

“With each good child she finds she subtracts a year, while she adds a day for each tear she must shed over a wicked child. Look at her, she’s not crying is she? That must mean that she knows you are sorry for whatever grief or trouble has led to your tears. You are a good girl,” he said.

“You will be better still when you are able to apologize to your parents for making them worry about where you’ve run off to. Am I right?”

Kochanie nodded.

“Will you allow my wife and myself and, of course, my shaggy companion Tarleton, to offer you a ride home?”

He led her to a chauffeur-driven Duisenberg automobile where his elegantly dressed wife slid over to make room for her.

“Can we hurry?” Kochanie begged, the car sped toward the amusement park, but the time they reached Tivoli, it was too late to make amends. The circus wagons had vanished along with Dr. Apollo, old black Rose, her parents and her twin brother, the tall, strong able boy who kept her safe from harm.

On that fateful day in 1943, Nazi sympathizers had burned down the Tivoli Garden and the people who had been performing at the time vanished along with the black smoke.
Kochanie had gone home with the rich people, who promised that they would help find her family, but until then they thought perhaps she’d find some comfort in a cup of hot cocoa, a slice of buttered toast, and the warmth of a down quilt covering the first bed she’d ever slept in that stayed in one place all night long.


“Excuse me, Professor Apollo,” the steward said, reaching across her seat to pull up the window shade and allow in a dark arctic dawn

“We’ll be arriving in Copenhagen in approximately 23 minutes. May I bring you something, toast, coffee, tea…”

“Do you have any cocoa on board, Scott?”

“It’s Steve, Professor,” he said, smiling indulgently, “and yes we do have hot chocolate, Dutch style.

“Thank you, Steve. Please forgive my eroding memory,”

“Don’t worry, it happens all the time,” he said.

“Old age,” she said by way of excusing her mistake. “By the way, I think you’d better bring a cup of something for my sleepy friend. Won’t he be happy to know he’s made it here alive?”
Iben woke up and smelled the coffee. Since Diet Coke was Iben’s usual morning eye opener, having long ago surrendered the complexities of the coffee maker to the pros at Starbucks, French Roast was his first clue that he was not at home on his couch having fallen asleep reading an old poem about a boat.

How he’d got from there to a place that he quickly surmised must be airborne was a blank. Where was he headed? Destination unknown, and that was a place Iben was almost certain he did not want to visit. In fact, he was pretty panicky by the time his Professor Apollo took the seat next to him.

“I’ve asked the steward to bring some schnapps,” Candace reported. “I thought it might help revive you, but I see you’ve come alive on your own. Mr. McIntyre said that’s what would happen.”

“Professor Apollo?” Iben’s brain scrambled to comprehend her presence.

“Can you speak?” she inquired, peering at him over the half-moon crescents of her reading spectacles.


Iben squinted into the darkness.

“Good boy,” she said. “I didn’t know you had a dog, Iben. Mr. McIntyre said you wouldn’t leave town without him so ABC arranged to have him travel as your helper dog; canine companion. They said your therapist insisted.”


“Mr. McIntyre, that is, Hamish, said everything was arranged through them: private jet, limo, hotel rooms. Actually, a three-bedroom suite,” she said the last bit with a kind of bemused wonder. “The dog has his own room.”

“Hamish?” Iben said. “You know Hamish?”

Dr. Apollo laughed. “He said you’d probably be pretty fuzzy about the details when you finally woke up. I had no idea you were so afraid of flying— although perhaps I shouldn’t mention that until we’re on the ground. Anyway, you’re right, I didn’t know Hamish until he called me yesterday to say that you had a writing assignment for ABC - which, by the way, I now understand was the source of all that encryption -- requiring you to fly to Denmark for a few days, but that you were going to lose the job because of your fear of flying.

“He said he had some tranquilizer pills that would get you through the flight, but you couldn’t go alone. He understood I was a good friend of yours and if I could leave immediately, ABC would pay my way to accompany you,” she reported.

“‘All expenses paid’? You know I’ve lived quite awhile and it’s been a long time since anyone said those three words to me. Let me thank you, Iben, for making this trip possible. It’s quite an unexpected Christmas gift.”


“What did one snowman say to the other snowman?”

Iben considered the question. Was it a riddle? He hated riddles, but since Dr. Apollo had risked her life for him, albeit unwittingly, he felt obliged to make an effort for her.

“Are we in heaven or did hell just freeze over?” was Iben’s best guess, as he stuffed his hands deeper into his overcoat pockets and contemplated the dazzle of a million fairy lights shimmering off the swirl of a trillion snowflakes reflected darkly in his old friend’s mica-bright eyes.

He figured that was not the answer she was looking for but then he didn’t think he had a snowman’s chance in hell of answering even one of the other questions on Dr. Apollo’s list that grew longer and more perplexing with each loop they made around the amusement park.

It was all snow, all Santa Claus, all twinkle lights all the time plus they’d taken in the pantomime show (clown mimes, no lie) and visited the aquarium. They’d boarded the landlocked frigate, bought smiley faced balloons from a Keystone Kop clown who reminded Iben of…who? Oh, yeah, officer Grillo with a greasepaint grin replacing that NYPD sneer.

All the while Dr. Apollo added more and more questions about Lost, The Lost Experience, which Iben hadn’t even heard of until today, and ideas for the plot of the Apocalypse Equation. These were questions so impossible to consider given his trembling state of mind that finally her voice mixed with the whitewash of the snow to become a kind of tabula rasa on which he imprinted the litany of worries that he could not convince her were real.

Between the time they’d landed in Copenhagen and arrived at the Tivoli Gardens, Iben had unwrapped that special gift Dr. Apollo had so profusely thanked him for exposing the lump of coal it contained. He’d told her about the turkey shoot at his apartment on Thanksgiving, the open grave in New Jersey, the mechanical toys, the weird tune, the purple light, The Black Rock poem and he flat out stated that he feared Hamish was in cahoots with the people who were apparently trying to kill him and now, regrettably, her, too.
She had just clucked her tongue in a rather dismissive “tsk tsk,” and said she was glad they’d landed in Copenhagen instead of crashing on some untraceable desert isle.

“Finally, Iben, here’s your vindication for all of the dreary years of novelizing! Enjoy yourself. And get a load of this snow,” she said, holding out mittened hands. “It’s gossamer; the cotton-candy of frozen precipitate.”

Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so? Unfortunately, Iben did not. It reminded him of a substance equally ethereal, but far less benign. With a shudder, he wondered if nanobots came in white?
“Come on, what did one snowman say to the other snowman?”

“I don’t know.” Iben really didn’t want to play this game any more. “You can’t get here from there?” he offered, reluctantly.

“Isn’t life a ball?”

Even standing here in the middle of Santa’s friggin’ winter wonderland, Iben thought he could detect a faint tick-tick-tick coming from this super-duper Christmas gift. He didn’t want to shake it, didn’t dare peek inside, he just wanted to leave it under the tree, take a cab to the airport, fly home and forget the whole thing.

“Let’s go home,” Iben said.

Dr. Apollo and the dog turned to face him, their eyes filled with sympathy. “You’re afraid,” she said.

“Afraid? What? Me, afraid?” Iben parried.

“You’re afraid of success. This is the job you’ve been waiting to come your way for years. Now it’s here. You’re this close. And suddenly you’re a homesick kid at sleep-away camp; a great big quivering blob of writer’s block, sobbing into your sad little pillow on the scary top bunk.”
“What about the nanobots and the cement truck and the weird music and the big clown face and the bullet,” Iben pantomimed (while using words, which technically was a cheat) his many close calls to emphasize his very real and legitimate fears. “Knock-out drugs. Explain that if you can. I am not afraid of words. Words are my life.”

“Exactly. Your life blood. So, how much of that vital fluid have you pumped into the Apocalypse Equation?”

“Who has time to write? I’m constantly on the run. Even when I’m unconscious, I’m in transit.”
“And now you’re ready to do some more traveling? Ready to get back on that plane and waste another day or two? You won’t be happy until you lose this job, will you?”

Iben shuffled his feet. She could be very persuasive. He acknowledged that failure was a hard habit to break.

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to sit down in one of these charming cafes. You’ll get out your laptop. I’ll dig through all those these documents ABC messengered over to you on Thanksgiving,” she said.

“You mean that girl with sunglasses? She was a messenger?” Iben tried to remember the details of that fateful encounter. “Then why did somebody take a shot at her?”

“I can’t tell you that, but whoever that someone was, they missed. Thank goodness,” she said with the same gentle patience that a mom would use as she checked under her kid’s bed for giant spiders. The way the doctor at the Santa Rosa Hospital told Hurley that his friend Dave was, you know, pretend.

“There are no guns at Tivoli Gardens,” she reassured him. “And I know for a fact that it’s the second or third happiest place on earth. This way,” she said, steering him into the Nissekøbing’s miniature world of pixies and gnomes brought to life by thousands of mechanical puppets.

“So, why did they send you to Copenhagen? To Tivoli Gardens?” she tapped her glasses against her cheek, oblivious to the clockwork universe they were wandering through. “As we’ve seen, the Tivoli has much in common with the Lost island. It has an aquarium, for example, and an old fashioned frigate like the one in the show, The Black Rock. I think there might be something there to work with plot wise.” Iben thought he could hear the gears of her great big brain whirring in time with the tiny mechanical marvels building pixie-sized cabins, baking elfin loaves of bread, playing gnomish chess.

“And from all that stuff I read on the plane trip over, Copenhagen is where the Hanso Foundation headquarters is located,” she continued, indefatigably, but losing Iben whose attention had been drawn to the scene of pixie circus. It was far more detailed than most of the other tableau offering clowns that juggled, a big top going up, colorful painted wagons, including one that featured a huge eye advertising the talents of the mysterious soothsayer to be found inside. There were a troupe of circus-roadie type gnomes going about the business of running a traveling show and right at the edge of the action there was a child pixie, tinier in every way than the others, but as exquisitely wrought as a MacFarland action figure. Except, that is, for the hand, oddly ill-defined, that cranked the old fashioned hurdy-gurdy.

“Dr. Apollo, check this out,” Iben said, interrupting her oral storyboarding.

“These are delightful objects aren’t they,” she said, without stopping to look.

“No, I mean it. This pixie circus is incredible…” but that moment the hurdy-gurdy girl’s instrument began to play--Do do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do. Do do do do doo do—stopping Iben in his tracks.

“Do you hear that, Dr. Apollo? That’s the music. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s the song all those music boxes play.”

Then what to Iben’s wondering eyes should appear but a polar bear that began to dance to the tiny child’s tune.

“Oh my god, it’s the same polar bear! It’s gotta be,” he said, his imagination captivated by the coincidence. “I told you so. Ha! Look at that! I am not crazy.” Iben said, clapping his mittens together to create a one-man standing ovation.

“What do you say to that, Dr. Apollo? Seeing is believing, isn’t it?” he said, and then immediately had occasion to ask himself the same question when he turned to face his friend who was nowhere in sight.

Chapter Six: Stranger in a Strange Land

Pure as the driven snow. It had been many years since Søren Nørgård had heard that old-fashioned expression, but remembering it now, he realized he’d always misunderstood its meaning. Having lived his whole life in snow-laced Copenhagen, he’d thought that being compared to the pristine beauty of newly fallen snow was a compliment to ones moral character. Since he’d taken up this graveyard-shift vigil he’d had a lot of time to think about morality, character, and purity of snow. He’d seen plenty of it fall and fade to grey as he stood waiting in the shadows night after nightmare in rain, sleet, hail and, yes, of course, snow and then more snow.

He’d stood so still for so long, the eye of his own silent ice storm, that the cop on the beat, the bartender down the street and the nurse who always took the same five a.m. bus had started calling him the Snowman. Søren didn’t mind. He thought the name fit: he was frozen to this spot, waiting for an answer, a sign, a ray of hope that would allow him to melt away, move on.

Meanwhile, Søren had plenty of time to reconsider many of his previous assumptions about the facts of life and one of the conclusions that he’d come to was that driven snow was not pure. That was just an optical illusion, snow blindness. It was a whitewash that hid a multitude of sins; out of sight, out of mind. Unless, that is, you had eyes made out of coal, then you could see right through the pretty white lie down to the blast shattered windows and blackened ledges beneath the frothy icing. The snowman would never forget what happened in there, and he had the right eyes, black-ringed, unblinking, to seek the truth of what happened the night of October 6, 2006, on the ninth floor of Ørsund Klengvjel 544, Copenhagen, Denmark, home of The Hanso Foundation.

* * * *

Nørgård had been working NATO S.W.A.T. for almost eight years and in that time he had only fired his weapon once three months ago. Soon after the incident, it was established that the bullet that had killed the terrorist had not been fired from his assault rifle. So he’d been spared the Internal Affairs battery of inquiries and psychological testing issues. His teammate had not been as lucky. He was still mired in paperwork, tests and inquiries after three months until his death put paid to all his outstanding debts.

While that earlier assignment had been very tough, the current mission was beginning to look even more challenging. Their orders were so vague and the mission prepared so quickly he worried that major details had been missed. He was very proud to be serving in his hometown for the first time having spent the bulk of his career any and everywhere else around on earth, but there was a surreal quality to this operation that troubled him and made him wish it wasn’t taking place so close to home. There just wasn’t as much intelligence available as in previous assignments. It felt much too rushed for his liking. All that aside, when his superiors ordered him to jump he was expected to read their minds and jump a meter higher than they anticipated.

For this operation Nørgård was assigned sniper position on a building across the street from the prime target. His responsibility was to provide covering fire if needed and to monitor the insertion team on his communication gear. He looked at the building through his night-vision scope and followed the progress of the rest of his team as they reported to the command leader.

Søren heard the team lead, designated “Alpha,” ask for a situation report from the rest of the squad through the ever-present light static of his communication gear. He focused in on and then calculated the distance to the building across the street with his scope and night-vision goggles.

“All units report!” Alpha leader commanded.

Søren spoke into the microphone of his communication headset, “Charlie team, eyes on!”

“Zulu team, in position.”

“Bravo team, lobby secure.”

“You have visual on target?” the team leader asked.

“Yes sir, heat trails on tenth floor!” responded Søren.

“Is that confirmed?” Alpha demanded.

“Yes sir, it’s a mint-green lab coat and a black ponytail,” replied Bravo.

“Lunatics and their hair!” the leader replied with disgust.

Nørgård chuckled. The S.W.A.T. team members all wore their hair regulation military short. So everyone with hair longer than two centimeters was labeled a lunatic.

“Ninth floor now,” said the Bravo team leader. The slight change in Bravo leader’s breathing over the communication gear told Søren that Bravo and his team had just jogged up eight flights of stairs.

“Target is confirmed on tenth floor.”

“Bravo here, look’s like we’ve got a staircase between lab levels nine and ten.”

“Personnel count on nine?” Alpha leader inquired.

“Alpha, we count three. No, four.”


“Affirmative! Target moving towards the elevators!”

Søren knew that for the insertion team this was the most tense and stressful moment of the assignment. Just before the first strike there came a split-second of moral philosophizing that no S.W.A.T. member ever wanted to admit to but everyone knew was present. Do I have the right to kill? But his training took over and the fleeting thought disappeared. They all knew what they had signed up for and what had to be done. Besides, when bullets were flying there was no time to debate what was right.

“Bravo, this is Alpha, we’re on the move!”

“Alpha, this is Bravo, we’ve been made!”

“Zulu, cut power now,” demanded the Alpha leader.

“Cutting!” she said.

“Bravo, take nine. We’ve got ten. Zulu stand ready to support covering fire.”

“All teams, go! Go! Go!”

Nørgård could hear voices calling and yelling in the background and he knew that they did not belong to his team.

“Zulu, did you cut power?” Bravo questioned.


“Then why are we seeing lights?”

“They’ve got auxiliary!”

“Freeze!!” bellowed Bravo leader.

Søren heard the “pop – pop” of a handgun and then the unmistakable sound of the
gas-operated SIG 551 Sturmgewehr assault rifle his team employed. The sound of at least two three- or four-second bursts of automatic fire filtered through his headpiece. A mixture of raised voices and shuffling feet could also be heard. The words, “Freeze, get down, freeze!” were heard often but in the confusion he could not tell who yelled what.

“Alpha leader, behind you, behind you!”

“I see him, south corridor.”

“Nine clear. I’ve got him cornered in an office. He’s barricaded,” reported Bravo leader.

“We need a ram up here.”

Nørgård heard the distinct sound of a twenty-six pound Zak door ram slamming against a door and the door crashing in.

“Hands behind your back, knees to the floor,” roared Alpha leader.

“We’ve got him!” exclaimed Zulu leader.

The Bravo team leader responded, “No that’s not Mittelwerk. He’s a look alike. Repeat, our target’s still loose.”

“Where is he?”

There is nothing more sobering, thought Søren Nørgård, then the sound of a calm voice amidst the turmoil of a S.W.A.T. raid. But the baritone with the accent that came over the communicator was no voice he recognized.

“Gentlemen, I’m sorry to have to do this…”

“We’ve got a radio over here,” reported Bravo leader.

The voice over the radio continued, “I can’t have my work compromised. You should run now!”

“Shit, this whole place is wired,” cried Alpha leader, “Go! Go! Abort! Abort! Evac now!”

Søren heard his team member’s boots pounding down the stairwell racing to beat the bomb, but never took his eye from the scope, methodically scanning the ninth floor windows searching for the man with his finger on the come-to-Jesus trigger. He didn’t need a clear shot; he’d go with the shadow of a doubt, a ghost of a chance, the twinkle of an eye.

“Namaste!” Nørgård heard the pitiless voice of the Hanso Foundation sign off just as
his scope found the flicker of light in a ninth floor window. He steadied his aim at the match-head target and pulled the trigger, but it was too little, too late. He felt, rather than heard, the “fwoomp” of the concussion seconds before a conflagration of heat and flame erupted through the windows of the ninth and tenth floors of the building showering the street below with shredded glass and burning debris.

When the sound of the explosion diminished the only remaining thing Søren could hear was the eerie static drone coming from his dead radio…but it was telling him more than words ever could. He knew that Alpha team was gone, and in a way the blast had taken his life, too. He knew that if it took the rest of his days, cost him his happiness, his hope, his life, he now had a new mission: to find out why Alpha team had to die and make sure their killer would not find cold comfort by taking cover beneath a blanket of all-forgiving snow.


Søren had been staked out at the scene of the crime for nearly three months. During that time he’d come to know exactly how the street ticked, who came, who went, what they drove, where they parked. That’s why he moved a little deeper into the shadows when he saw an unfamiliar unmarked police car pull into the alley beside number 544, kill the ignition and lights.

“Looks like my Christmas present has arrived a few days early this year,” Søren thought. “All right, then let’s see what kind of surprise Santa has brought me.”


Michael Valentine Smith had nothing on Iben Powned today. The culture and language in Copenhagen could have been Martian as far as Iben was concerned. He understood none of it. Standing in the Tivoli plaza he attempted to formulate a plan of action. Unfortunately, that plan consisted of staring blankly out at the passing scene and in at a mind empty of rational thought. Fear of being stranded in a strange land would not seem like the usual neurosis of a been-there done-that New Yorker, but Iben didn’t really care to do new things or meet new people and he had no idea what he was going to do next.

Iben had always thought he understood the meaning of loneliness. It seemed a permanent condition of his reality and his life. Oh, he had friends and plenty of acquaintances but there were times, especially during the holidays that he felt very much alone. However, being abandoned in a foreign city with no currency and no guide and no idea how to get back to the safety of his hotel left him feeling extremely vulnerable and not a little frightened. “Now what?” he thought.

Iben glanced around the plaza and realized that there were a number of young people milling about. He tried to recall his conversation with Dr. Apollo and any information concerning the three-bedroom suite at the luxury hotel she never named. The only other thought that kept circling back to him was that The Hanso Foundation world headquarters building was located somewhere in the city. So, Iben did what tourists from time immemorial have done. He asked a local resident for directions.

He drew near a young man in a long brown coat and asked, “Excuse me sir, can you point me to The Hanso Foundation?”

“Sorry, never heard of it!” the man replied in perfect English.

Iben next approached a young woman dressed in jeans and a heavy coat. Her fashionable black glasses with embedded diamonds.

“The Hanso Foundation?” he asked.

“Hanso? Yah, Ørsund Klengvjel 544,” she replied pointing into the distance.

Iben headed away from the Tivoli plaza towards the canal in the general direction of Nørrebor. Along the way he asked a number of people directions for Ørsund Klengvjel. After an hour of begging directions from perfect strangers Iben came out on a quiet, unpopulated street.

The Hanso Foundation building was of a typical minimalist modern design. It had been constructed of glass and concrete with the occasional piece of aluminum trim. The thing that stood out to Iben however, was not the design but the blackened and burned shell of the ninth and tenth floors of the building. Glass windows had obviously been blasted out and all the openings were scorched as if from the inside. The front doors were covered over with pressboard and the building looked deserted.

It was obvious to Iben that an intense explosion had occurred here, and not too long ago since by the look of things of the clean-up operation was far from finished. The sign in front of the building, complete with logo and name, was dark and exhibited signs of scorching but it still told Iben everything he needed to know. Hanso was no more at this address. It occurred to Iben that for the second time that day he had no idea where to turn next.

A thin, middle-aged man dressed in a crumpled dark suit emerged from a doorway, flashed a badge at Iben and said, “Please sir, to come with me…” The man took him by the elbow and gently directed him towards a police car parked in a nearby alley.

“Great, more cops!” Iben thought. “Certainly!” he told the policeman. “Where else do I have to go?” he said mostly to his sad self.

The policeman got into the back seat of the squad car with Iben. “Headquarters,” he instructed the driver. When they were settled in he introduced himself.

“My name is Aarøn Alvarsen St. Germaine and I am the arson detective assigned to The Hanso Foundation case. You’ve seen the destruction, yes?”

When Iben attempted to answer, the officer stopped him.

“Rhetorical question,” he said. “We know who you are Mr. Powned. We just don’t know what you are doing here. Would you care to enlighten us as to what an American journalist is doing in Copenhagen and why you are interested in The Hanso Foundation?”

“I’m here doing research for a T.V. program,” Iben replied defensively, “I’m not a journalist. I write scripts.”

“Yes, well, scripts or newspapers… they are both, after all, just fiction, no? In your ‘research’ travels have you ever heard the term Dharma Initiative?”

“I can’t say I have,” he lied.

“At the risk of calling you a liar, I find that difficult to believe given the nature of your assignment. But you are a stranger here and we Danish are nothing if not polite to visitors to our island nation. Therefore, I’ll take you at your word and once we arrive at headquarters will find a way to enlighten you,” he said cryptically.

When they reached the police station, St. Germaine exited the car, scanned the immediate area before quickly pulling Iben from the vehicle. He did not see Søren Nørgård watching them from the building across the street. “This way,” he said and led Iben inside the station, down a short hallway, and into a dark interrogation room.

“Make yourself comfortable,” St. Germaine said to Iben, and then nodded to his own reflection in the one-way glass at the back of the room as an 8mm film began to roll.
Black-and-white still images began to crawl across the blank white wall of the room.

The words “Orientation Testing Issue 1980” flashed across the screen in bright red letters and for the next six minutes Iben watched as a number of images quickly flashed across the wall. There were too many to remember them all but he did manage to commit several to memory.

Each image appeared to be a one-of-a-kind photograph, but no two images were related. They didn’t appear to be in any sequence. He remembered a nuclear mushroom cloud and immediately thought “Bikini Atoll”, he saw a small weather balloon, a Rorschach test page which resembled a human pelvis, the “light” side of the moon, a Mapinguari or Megatherum, a swimming nurse shark, an antenna array, two perfectly white swans on a body of water, an adult polar bear tagged with a tracking device with two cubs (a scientist appeared to be taking notes), a Doctor and what looked like a burn victim in a Nazi soldier’s uniform, an image of burned or melted film stock, an aerial or satellite view of Area 51, a light dispersion pattern, a wild boar, a pulsar, a close-up of in-vitro fertilization, the Aurora Borealis, another mushroom cloud that may have been the detonation over Hiroshima, an enlarged image of an atom and the Dharma wheel. There were many other images but Iben’s memory of them was quickly fading. The ominous questions, “Where did they go? Why didn't they return? Whatever happened to the Dharma Initiative?” appeared on the wall. The words flickered obliquely on the wall and then faded.

“What is all this about?” Iben asked.

“Isn’t this why you came to Copenhagen, Mr. Powned, for research purposes?” replied St. Germaine. “The film you have just watched is research of the most important kind! We believe that this film is somehow tied to the arson that occurred in October at The Hanso Foundation. We have witnesses that swear they saw armed men in military uniforms near the building just before the explosion. It’s almost as if someone with a great deal of knowledge concerning criminal investigations wiped the place clean before we got there.

“What was left of it,” Iben mentioned.

“To be sure, we gathered what evidence we could find but there was precious little.”

“But what does this film have to do with the arson or with me?” Iben asked.

“That’s what you’re going to tell us, Mr. Powned,” he replied.


After St. Germaine’s driver dropped him off at his hotel, Iben walked into the lobby and sat down. He needed to catch his breath, get his bearings, and sort out the past 24 hours.

“What just happened?” he asked himself. He recalled the film and he remembered St. Germaine talking about research but it occurred to Iben that a lot of unaccounted time had elapsed since he was picked up. Splintered images refracted through his mind but they made no sense and he realized he was suffering the second worst headache of his life. His cell phone rang disturbing him from his state of bewilderment.

Iben Powned,” he answered distractedly.

“Mr. Powned, I think we need to talk…”

It took him a moment to place the voice. It sounded very much like the messenger who had left her backpack in his apartment back in New York.

“Are you alone?” she asked.

Iben looked around the cavernous lobby of the five-star hotel bulging with bejeweled Christmas revelers, hand-holding honeymooners, elegant matrons perched on high-priced luggage sipping Aquavit with their equally high-priced escorts as a choir of tiny tin-foil-haloed angels spilled through the revolving door singing their little hearts out.

“Never been more alone in my life,” Iben confessed.

Chapter Seven: Subterranean Homesick Blues

Never lonelier? Iben knew that was a bit of an overstatement. After all, he was an orphan, and not the middle-aged kind whose parents have lately passed on, or the self-selected type who reject their blood relatives as unacceptable, but the real deal, raised in an orphanage from birth until age twelve.

Then on his thirteenth birthday, without a word of warning, he was sent away from the only home he’d ever known and placed in a very well respected boarding school where his non-existent family ties made him even lonelier than his homesick classmates. During his tenure at St. Anthony’s, Iben had been taken under the wing of the headmaster and his wife, who grudgingly suggested he call her mom. He did so, but with even less conviction on his side. So, Iben knew from lonely, and yet he’d still have to say that tonight was somehow worse.

Beep. Beep.

“Hang on, I’ve got another call,” Iben put the first caller on hold.

“Iben Powned.”

“Iben? For christsake, where the hell are you?”

It was Hamish McIntyre.

“Denmark,” Iben replied coolly, while in fact feeling quite conflicted. Was Hamish, the purported mastermind of this European holiday, pretending he didn’t know Iben’s whereabouts or, scary thought, was it possible that Hamish had nothing to do with this trip? The way things had been going, Iben didn’t like the odds.

“Bloody hell, what are you doing in Denmark?” Hamish demanded. “You do realize that you’re on deadline for this ABC project. You remember it don’t you? The assignment that I worked my ass off to secure for you? Then without so much as a by your leave, you depart for Scandi-fucking-navia. You don’t call; you don’t write. You’re going to blow this off, aren’t you, you ungrateful sod.”

Unless Hamish was a way better actor than he was an agent, Iben was going with the imposter theory, and was about to tell Hamish his fantastic tale, when he saw Dr. Apollo enter the lobby with the Labrador retriever by her side. Even bathed in the hotel’s five-star golden glow, Iben could tell the day had taken a toll on the diminutive professor.

“Listen, Hamish, now’s not a good time. I’m going to call you back,” Iben switched back to his other call. “Still there?”

“I wouldn’t advise you to play games with me, Iben,” threatened the girl who he thought might be the Thanksgiving Day messenger.

“I don’t know any games,” Iben said. “At least not the kind you’re playing.”
“We have to meet,” she said. “The Viking Ship museum, ten a.m. tomorrow.”

“No,” Iben replied. “I don’t think I can make it.”

“I do,” said she who assumed she would be obeyed.

“I know you do, but you’re mistaken. All kinds of things have happened to me in the past few weeks. Things that have made me question my own sanity, risk my life, question the trust-worthiness of long-time friends and associates and put them in harm’s way. You know on Lost when Locke started punching in the numbers? For an entire season he was, like, totally caught up in the daft idea that feeble task was steeped in fated significance. Until the day he decided he’d been wrong. Then he stopped punching in the numbers and, you know what? Nothing much happened. The world didn’t end; nobody died. So, I’m going to take a lesson from his experience and put an end to what I’ve been going through before I waste a year of my life, destroy my already foundering career and lose the few friends I have. I’ve got a book to write. I’m on deadline. I wish you every success in your current endeavor, whatever it may be, but count me out.”

Iben ended the call just as the dog caught sight of him and steered Dr. Apollo through the holiday throng in his direction. Iben hurried to meet them, hoping that Dr. Apollo would not collapse before he could reach her. But as soon as she saw him, she cried out a welcome and seemed to gain a bit of strength.

“My dear boy, I feared the worse. If anything had happened to you, I’d never have forgiven myself.”

“Dr. Apollo, as much as I appreciate your concern, you need not feel responsible for my safety,” Iben replied, gently taking her arm. “I’m a big boy now. If anything, I was worried about you. I turned around and you were gone.”

“Oh, I know. How stupid of me,” she said, but she was clearly anxious, scanning the crowd nervously as though looking for new trouble to find them.

“What do you say we go up to the suite?” Iben recommended.

As soon as he’d looked into her weary eyes, Iben decided not to share his worries with her. Was it really important for her to know that Hamish hadn’t planned this trip, that the Hanso headquarters existed in real life, but was now a bombed out shell, and that he’d been taken to an unknown location by men claiming they were the police who then drugged or hypnotized him to get information he didn’t know he possessed? Heck no. He’d leave her in blissful ignorance, a state of innocence he wished he’d hung onto.

Once they reached the Kierkegaard Suite, Iben made sure that Dr. Apollo had everything she needed for a long winter’s nap: fire in the hearth, hot toddy by her bedside, dog curled protectively at her feet.

In the suite’s living room, a Christmas tree twinkled merrily beside the fireplace where a Yule log glowed. It crossed his mind that this was a rather more homey setting than he’d ever had on Christmas, but he figured if he fell under its spell, St. Nick would show up with a candy canes filled with sodium pentothal and a bag alive with an army of mechanical tin toys.

Iben just wanted to do something normal. What about The Valenzetti Equation: Numbers of Necromancy? Not only had he not written word one, he had no idea what he was going to write about. Research and development was the first order of business. He unpacked the documents and maps that had been in the messenger’s backpack, found his copy of the Gary Troup novel Bad Twin, got out his laptop and logged onto Lostpedia's Valenzetti equation entry:
“According to the 1975 orientation film in the Sri Lanka Video, the Valenzetti Equation “predicts the exact number of years and months until humanity extinguishes itself.” The numbers, 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42, are explained as the numerical values to the core environmental and human factors of the Valenzetti Equation. Alvar Hanso also states in the video that the purpose of the DHARMA Initiative is to change the numerical values of any one of the core factors in the equation in order to give humanity a chance to survive. However, Thomas Mittlewerk revealed that as of 2006, they have failed to change the values through manipulating the environment, as the equation continues to arrive at the same six numbers.”

It didn’t take Iben long to come to the conclusion that the Valenzetti Equation could be interpreted to mean just about anything his story required. At first this seemed like a very good thing, but after four hours of trying to come up with a story that would plausibly fit any interpretation of the Numbers of Necromancy, he realized there was such a thing as too much literary license. If he had no idea what the Valenzetti Equation was supposed to mean, what was he going to write about?

It took him another couple of hours research to decide that iron, as in the stuff dug out of deep holes in the ground, was a solid substance he could use as ballast for the ephemeral equation since, oddly enough, it came up frequently. Iben made a list:

On Lost , Michael promised to take Michael to the Flatiron building in New York,
In The Lost Experience Rachel Blake clocked Malik in the face with an iron, earning him the nickname Iron man; The Black Rock ship carried mining tools, most likely for gold mining, but, still… Magnetite, magnetic iron, is often called the black rock.

The fake Henry Gale had been in mining, albeit non-metallic ores.Historically, iron was called the holy metal because it was used to make swords during the crusades.Magnetite, the lodestone, was also used to make compasses, as in “Let Your Compass Be Your Guide,” from the Lost Experience,Magnetism and electromagnetic anomalies play an important plot point in Lost. The hatch was ground zero for the electromagnetic anomaly. In Celtic mythology, Iron was immune to magic and detrimental, even fatal, to elves and fairies.And elsewhere in the Lost online archives, Iben had found references to the Krusk Magnetic Anomaly, site to the world’s largest iron deposits and one of the most magnetic spots on Earth.

Admittedly, Iben failed to see how these references added up to a story. For one thing, how would the numbers fit in? After further web surfing, Iben thought maybe it would work if the numbers referred to elements on the periodic table: 4 – Beryllium, 8—Oxygen, 15 – Phosphorus, 16 – Sulfur, 23 – Vanadium, 42 – Molybdenum. How would this fit with the end-of-days calculation? Perhaps in whatever reality the Lost world existed these elements were key to life as they knew it. He could sell that, he thought.

Unfortunately, Iron, number 26, was not represented as one of the numbers. Iben spent the pre-dawn hours trying to make a connection no matter how fragile between the six elements that fit the numbers and iron, and just as the Christmas morning sun turned the gray morning a merry cranberry red, he believed he’d found a pattern that might work.

“Wait for me, boy?” The white Lab had race ahead and disappeared into a crater. When Iben caught up, he was digging into black shiny sand. Iben was trying to see what the dog had found. “Move, Bops,” he commanded. The dog lifted his head, trotted over to Iben and dropped a glass eye into the palm of his hand. “Geez, that’s so cold it burns,” Iben said staring into the unblinking orb that then rolled over in his hand and shot a beam of light onto the blank wall behind him. Iben was suddenly chilled to his very core. He looked up out of the black pit and saw drifts of snow and a snowman was looking down on him. “Gelar!” the snowman said. Bops bounded into the black crater that had now revealed itself to be a tunnel. Iben dropped the eyeball and chased after him hoping to escape the cold, but the darkness was cold, too, so cold it felt like he was swimming through black snow, submerged in a lightless substance that allowed him to breathe but slowed his movements until he had to struggle to put one foot in front of the other. He was so exhausted, and cold, if only he’d hung onto the eye at least he’d be able to see where this tendril of warm, moist, meaty air was coming from.

Iben awoke to a snoot full of dog breath and an imprint of a keyboard on his cheek. Someone was knocking on the door, which made the dog bark excitedly and race toward the sound. Iben saw Dr. Apollo sitting in the wing chair next to the still crackling fire engrossed in his notes from the previous night.

“It’ll never work,” Iben said, referencing the pages she held.

“Merry Christmas,” she said, ignoring his negativism. “You’ll feel much better after you’ve had a hearty breakfast.”

A Santa-hatted waiter pushed in a room service trolley loaded with things to be merry about. Dr. Apollo clapped her hands with delight.

“Iben, I’ve asked them to prepare all of the foods I remember from my youth. I hoped to recreate the feeling of hygge, the feeling I most associate with being in a happy home.”

“Are you from here, then?” he inquired.

“Not originally… but come try the Frikadeller, the beef hash, the hot chocolate. And here’s the Risengrod! You know this is a favorite of Santa’s elves,” she said, filling his plate with food.

As he finished his first helping, he felt restored enough to bring up a subject he’d avoided long enough.

“Last night before you arrived at the hotel,” he began. “Hamish called.”

He didn’t want to alarm her so he was hesitant to go on. She looked very content offering the dog a Frikadeller from the palm of her misshapen hand, the one Iben knew she often attempted to hide or cover. Content, yet vulnerable.

“He…Hamish didn’t…” Iben stumbled over the unspoken words.

The dog savored the meatball, his head moving from Iben to Dr. Apollo and back again as though caught up in the tentative conversation and wondering what was going to be said next.

“He said it was time to come home,” Iben fibbed briskly.

The fire sparked festively, and the tree twinkled happily and the dog cocked his head, begging an unspoken question.

Dr. Apollo inhaled deeply of her cup of Glogg as though trying to commit its spicy scent to her personal hygge memory bank.

“I’m sure he did,” she said at last. “Since he had no idea that you’d left New York.”

“But how did you know?” Iben asked. “I was so afraid that you’d be completely freaked out to find out we’d been sent here on false pretenses. I have no idea how to explain what happened.”

“No, Iben. I’m the one who must explain. It was my idea to come here. I thought that it would be a good thing. That what you would discover here would be a tremendous boon to the success of your project.”

“Did you?” Iben didn’t know what question to ask next there were so many. For instance, why all the mystery?

“I’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t tell you what I had in mind. The truth, I’d hoped that the trip could be accomplished without you learning I had anything to do with it.”

Really? Iben thought. “Okay,” he said. “I can understand why you would think a trip to the home of the Hanso Foundation might help me finish this assignment. I get that, intellectually. A little bit. Yes, it does seem like an incredibly generous gesture for one friend to make toward another, but if Copenhagen is your home, and you somehow have access to a private jet, and the wherewithal to check into a three-bedroom suite in a five-star hotel…..with a dog.” That gave him pause. “No, you know what, I don’t understand anything at all,” Iben said, dropping his aching head into his open hands.

“Well, here’s the explanation. I thought it might help if you could meet your father,” she said.

“My father?” Iben laughed. “No one knows my father. I was abandoned on the doorstep of the Helios Foundation. I’m a foundling. It’s not something that even you, Professor Apollo, would be able to Google so don’t feel bad that it didn’t work out.”

“Your mistaken, Iben,” she countered. “One person knows who your father is.”

Was this another riddle? Iben hated riddles

“I give up,” he said. “Like who?”

“I do,” she said.

“You do?” he asked.

There was a knock at the door.

“Iben, the person standing on the other side of this door is your father. Before you meet him, it’s important that you understand how I know him.”

Iben did know, but was powerless to say so.

“That’s correct, Iben. I am your mother,” she said.

“Who is he?” Iben asked his eyes fastened on the door.

“Enzo Valenzetti, my darling. Who else could it be?”