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The Soul of affinity

Chapter 1: The Wheels Start To Turn

    "You're fired Mr. Stone," said a short, bald man in high priced shoes. He went red in the face. "You have been here for two years and not one time did you mention you're one of them!" The berating continued into its twentieth minute. Anton couldn't count how often in that time his boss had fired him, but all it took was once. He tried to get a word in, but as soon as he opened his mouth, the bald man continued his tirade. Anton shuffled his feet and shoved an old rolled up map under one arm.

    "I picked you up before you even finished graduate school. I brought you in and gave you a great job. All that I asked for was honesty. You didn't even give me that."

    "But sir," Anton began, but the vein popping out of his boss' temple shut him down.

    "I don't want to hear it, Mr. Stone. The medical staff came in with the results. It's out of my hands. The department policy is to be upfront about your history, and you weren't. Now I get to enforce that policy." Dr. David Brickell, department head of the Defense Intelligence Agency's Nordic Research Division, didn't sound near as remorseful as his words implied. In fact, he seemed quite pleased with himself. Why did it have to happen today? I'm so close.

    Anton had enough of standing there placidly; he had to defend his position. "Sir," he forced himself in. "I like my work here. I do it well. The whole department benefits from my speed and accuracy. No one translates this stuff near as fast as me." He waved the map around like a wood pointer and indicated a stack of papers on the edge of the desk. "See these! Those are all my work, and I've only scratched the surface. The scroll sitting on my desk could help change our view of history profou-"

    "Listen to yourself!" David bellowed, and Anton crumpled the map as he dug his fingers into his hands.

    "You sound like a raving madman. No one finds sweeping changes to history on an old receipt for some goats. And besides, how well you like it here has zero bearing on this."

    "I work well with the guys here. We have helped your department increase output and improved clarity to the field researchers. I'm sure they'll vouch for me." Anton pressed his luck here. He knew very well that saying the words 'increase output' and 'your department' in the same sentence were fantastic ways to make David happier.

    His comment seemed to soften his boss's features slightly, but the man still shook his head. "No. It doesn't matter. The higher ups don't care, and I can't have someone like you around here," he said, and Anton bristled.

    "Sir," he said trying to keep his voice even. "I don't want to come off as cocky or boastful, but all the work I've been doing for you has helped me become your top Nordic linguist. Now that I've gotten to this point, why would you want to throw it away?" Anton was very proud of himself the day he realized he didn't need to dive into obscure books every time they found something for him to translate. He could just read it.

    "Your skill isn't in question here, and you know it, Anton," David Brickell spat.

    Anton did already know that, and how good he was at the job didn't seem to matter much in the end. As it turned out all of the standard tests, medical exams, and background checks the government performed before they allowed him to translate a single word was as staggering as the mighty bureaucracy of the United States could make it. It also turned out that even with all the red tape, squabbling, inefficiencies, and lost paperwork, they did look at some of that stuff when the results came in.

    David started reading off details that the medical department sent him. Here was the answer to the elusive equation, his mistake. The reason he could no longer call the DIA his place of employment.

    What was Anton's big mistake? What had he done that had him standing there in front of bald, menacing David Brickell? His DNA test. For one reason or another, the DIA didn't review his results for two solid years. When they did, they noticed one teeny little marker on each of his chromosomes. The scientists called it a vestigial cellular receptor and said that it didn't do anything. The one thing that little receptor did was to get Anton fired.

    Anton knew that only a person with Scandinavian genealogy would have that particular receptor, but David explained it anyway. "Our scientists use it as a way of cataloging our employee's ancestry to make sure they aren't True Norse," he said. Anton had seen the marker before during his undergraduate studies. He didn't mention that to David because, even though the man was firing him for some vestigial receptor that he had no control over, Anton couldn't get another word in edge-wise.

    David finally finished reading the memo and slammed a cardboard banker's box down on his desk. "Take your stuff," he said and stapled a slip of paper to the top of it. Anton glanced down at the sheet. His termination of employment notice stared back up at him.

    He finally found his voice again, cold and venomous. "I just wanted to help people, sir. I wanted to shine a light." The pretense of calm acceptance left him. He grabbed the box and pulled it across the desk.

    "You're naive. You're compassionate, and that's commendable, but you can't fix prejudice," David said and sat back in his seat, one leg crossed over the other. His posture exuded power and authority. He looks so arrogant and sure of himself.

    Anton didn't care. "I just thought that I wouldn't find that prejudice here." His icy voice cut his boss to the bone.

    Dr. Brickell's expression hardened. "Get. Out," he said menacingly.

    Ever since the True Norse ripped open the sky over Denmark in 1997, the people feared and despised anyone they thought might be a Norse; even after the earth routed their armies back through the hole three years later. Anton stuffed his map inside the box and turned to leave.

    "Dirty Norse freak," David grumbled as Anton retreated from the office. Anton pretended not to hear, shook his head, and kept walking. Can't fix prejudice? Just look at yourself. Most of the population believed that if you were Scandinavian, you were as bad as a True Norse. The word "Norse" had, in the span of a few short years, turned into a derogatory term. The thought of the Norse armies' return drove people to do horrible things in the name of fear and anger.

    As he stalked off to the elevators, Anton figured losing his job wasn't the worst that could have happened when they discovered his heritage. Assaults and kidnappings in the street skyrocketed in recent years. If you had a name that someone thought could be Scandinavian, society outed you, and you became a pariah.

    He knew that he had the marker in his genes. He grew up in Reykjavik, Iceland as Anton Sorrenstone. His aunt, Rebekka, changed it when he was seven and came to live with her in the states.

    He punched the elevator call button, and a memory surged up within him. He still saw the manic and threatening face of the first woman he met stepping off the plane from Sweden. "You better keep your magics to yourself," she had said. "Watch yourself. Just because your Norse buddies can take on Europe, doesn't mean we'll roll over. This is America." She had leaned in at him and pointed a gloved finger in his face. "I bet your daddy is gearing up right now to march into France. Well, you tell him from me, that if I smell one whiff of that blighted magic here, then no conquering force is gonna stop me from killin' ya. You watch yourself, boy." Anton shivered. She had been so close to him; he could still feel her breath and smell the stale flowery perfume she had worn, even almost twenty years later.

    Thousands died during the three years the Norse armies terrorized the world. Lightning had struck the heart of the world just as it had rained from the sky. Flames lashed out at the infrastructure of dozens of countries, and no matter how the world tried to fight back, the True Norse's healers could be there in a heartbeat to repair any damage done to them. It was terrifying. It was horrible. It was not his fault, and it was not the fault of the thousands who society had oppressed since then.

    The elevator dinged and Anton stepped in to ride it down to the ground floor. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. I'm done with this place. He couldn't stand it. Yes, he had been naive to think that the malice and fear in society wouldn't leak in here. He wanted to learn all he could about where the True Norse came from, how they did what they did, and why. He wanted to vindicate his people. The surge in the thirst for Nordic knowledge is what gave Anton his chance, but the same fear that opened the door for him now slammed it in his face.

    His eyes were grim but still held a deep determination as he stalked out of the elevator. Anton walked silently past the security desk and out into the sunlight.

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#

 

    Cunning and secrets kept him in good company. Dr. Brickell leaned back comfortably in his leather desk chair and pulled out a fat cigar from the black case on his desk. He analyzed the meeting again in his head. Overall, it went quite well. Back when he hired Anton, the young man showed great potential, but after two years of no results, his benefactress to the Vanir royal family decided to cut him loose. She was not one to waste time on a fruitless source.

    David sighed contentedly and stared out his large windows. Even though Anton had been a dead-end, all their other plans were coming together. The pace crawled slower than he liked, but as long as he showed progress, she allowed him to handle the operation. He cultivated their resources and performed small-scale tests to moderate success, but a major operation approached on the twenty-fifth that would definitively push the envelope. Everything needed to be in place by then.

    He lit his cigar and turned on the vent next to his desk to absorb the smoke. Turning back to his desk, he unlocked his phone and quickly reviewed the dossiers of the team he had picked for the mission. Norse gods were a rare commodity. He managed to compile a good team of mid-level Norse Vanir soldiers and mixed them in with people from the U.S. natives who had complimentary skills. He chose the team based on their affinities so there wouldn't be issues in the operation. David wanted this mission to make a statement, and he planned it carefully.

    Vanir soldiers were very well trained but didn't know the earth's climate, people, or tactics. They were from the other side of the tear. He paired them up with people from earth for their local knowledge and they trained together for several months. He wished that he could have put Anton as the cherry on top.

    David didn't want just any old earth soldier, though, he wanted the advantage the affinities afforded him, so he had spent the last few months locating as many earth-born Norse men and women as he could. The group was solid and should work well on the mission. It was just a shame Anton hadn't shown any affinity. It hadn't taken David long to realize the more genetic markers a person had, the higher the likelihood they would develop an affinity. Anton had twenty-three markers. There was one on each of his chromosomes, but he showed no signs whatsoever. His genetics afforded him a priceless chance, but it proved wasted.

    Dr. David Brickell's official job description was to oversee the search for Nordic knowledge in order to help the U.S. Government be better prepared should the Norse gods return. What he really did was to search for people that developed Nordic affinities and recruit them for his operational teams.

    In reality, the Norse gods never left, not altogether. Sure they were beaten back, but that had only hardened their resolve to rule Middgard. Soon after the world finished celebrating the fall of the Norse, small tears opened again, and they sent a limited number of spies through. His benefactress was one of those spies. Their job was to slip into and ingrain themselves deep in each of the world's leading governments and quietly steer it down the path of their choosing. David recruited a network of spies himself, and each one extended his benefactress' reach.

    The plan would progress without Anton. He picked another dossier. It upset him that all that work had been for naught, but the mission would continue. He scrolled further down the list of dossiers on his phone and stopped suddenly. There was a young woman who had shown the affinity to control the weather. He pulled up her picture. She looked younger; maybe twenty-two or three. Her gold eyes were inquisitive. David hated inquisitive, but there were things that could be done to rid himself of those meddlesome traits. He noted a scar on her nose and another over her right eyebrow. He made a note to himself to see how she could handle herself in a fight. He lowered his gaze to the description beneath the picture. Her name was Brittany Callahan. It said that she could whip up a large wind out of nothing, or calm a storm by countering their natural forces. She would do quite well here.

    He dialed the number of one of his spies. A voice picked up on the other end. "Hello sir," it said.

    "O'Bannon. I want you to locate Brittany Callahan. She's coming with us to Cuba," David said with an evil grin. Setback or no, this was going to be a hell of a thing to witness.

The Soul Of Affinity
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