CHAPTER 10 - Many More Meetings

Ghashburz walked away from the window, wondering why Khazad-Dûm seemed to be in so much chaos. He could hear the gunfire from his home all day. All things considered, it didn't really ease his worries.

Ghashburz stared at his laptop's screen intently, trying to spot out any flaws in the plan. Everything seemed to work all right. The 3-dimensional floor plan of their target was from the original blueprints of the building. It was a 10-year-old building so things might be a little different, but he was sure he and Aiwen could improvise with any changes in the layout. The route they would take was clearly outlined and calculated to be the best probability of success. But the first part of the mission was what worried him...
Aiwen stepped out of the bathroom wearing a towel, her hair still wet from her shower. "Are you still playing with your little toy, Ghash?"
Ghashburz sighed. "This little toy could mean the difference between success and failure. You do realize that our chances of success are only around 90 percent..."
"Ghash, baby, that computer doesn't know shit. When we walk in there it's gonna be pure chaos, and no program is gonna be able to replace elvish - uh, and orcish - intuition and reflexes. Our killing experience cannot be summed up in a fucking mathematical formula. Just turn it off and stop worrying about it. Geez, you've been so stressed lately."
Ghashburz shook his head. "It's not just that. It's this whole mission. Two million dollars each. Doesn't that sound a bit much to you?"
Aiwen laughed. "No, it sounds like just the right amount."
"What if our employer is lying to us? What if he doesn't expect us to walk out alive when we're finished? You ever thought of that?"
"Then he'd be taking an even bigger risk." answered Aiwen. "He'd lose two of his greatest assets, and if we survived then he'd gain two formidable enemies."
"I wouldn't be too confident. You have to realize that there is some kind of enormous game being played out right now and we are nothing but pawns."
"Pawns who will be four million dollars richer if we don't chicken out. Listen, I'm going to take this towel off, walk into the bedroom, and lie down on the bed. You can continue playing with your toy all alone or you can come with me. The choice is yours."
Her towel dropped to the floor. He stared at her naked body for a second, then turned his computer off.

-

The lobby of the Mithrandir office building in Lothlorien was a sight to see. The building was cylindrical in shape, built around the trunk of a large Mallorn. Three elevator shafts were around a section of the trunk, which was sealed off in glass. Several smaller trees were around the circumfrence of the lobby, acting as support pillars. They seemed to grow straight out of the marble floor. Many people, mostly elves, in business suits were walking in and out of the revolving doors at the front.

Elrond led the group to the elevators in the center.
"You arrived earlier than we expected. That is a very good thing indeed, since time is against us. Gandalf will be arriving later this evening, but for now there is someone you should meet."
Jimmy couldn't help but look up in awe as they reached the elevators. Every level of the building was open on the inside, so from the middle he could see all the way to the glass skylight at the top of the building.
"Thirty floors." said Elrond, reading Jimmy's expression. "We're the second tallest building in Lothlorien, but that's only because Palantir Wireless Communications has a thirty foot high antenna on its roof."

They crowded into the elevator with several elves and took it up to the tenth floor. Jimmy made it a point not to look out the window as it went upward; hobbits and heights really weren't a good match. When they stepped out they were greeted by a dwarf wearing a white lab coat.
"Pleased to meet ya." said the dwarf, bowing to Uglakh. "Name's Gralin. I'm head of the scientific research division. Follow me."
They followed him down the hallway to a door with a keypad. Gralin punched in a few numbers and the door opened. They entered into a laboratory filled with strange machines and chemicals that only Gralin could identify. Gralin turned around and faced Uglakh.
"So, I hear you have a little something to show me." he said, stroking his beard.
"What?" said Uglakh.
Gralin leaned in closer. "The ring, I mean."
Uglakh placed his hand over his pocket instinctively. "Why you want to see it?"
"It's all right." said Elrond. "You can trust him."
Gralin giggled. "I'll just be doin' a few little tests on it, I'll not even touch it with my grubby fingers. And ya can have 'er right back when I'm done with 'er."
Uglakh slowly brought the ring out, fighting back a sudden urge to put on the ring and run away with it.
"Hold on a second there." said Gralin. He ran into his office, and quickly returned with a heavy metal box. "Put 'er in here."
Uglakh reached forward, and after a moment's hesitation finally let it drop into the box. Suddenly he felt like he had been stabbed in the heart. The ring was out of his grip and he desparately wanted it back. He was about to reach for it when Gralin snapped the lid shut. All of a sudden the feeling lost its grip on him, like an immense weight off his shoulders.
"Feelin' better now?" asked Gralin.
"Yes." said Uglakh. He was speechless.
Gralin pulled out a notepad and a stubby pencil and began scribbling on it. "Excellent. Excellent. Great. My little theory was right. This here box is made of solid lead. Perfect to block any kinda signal she's transmitting to yer head. Excuse me gentlemen, but I've got work to do. Pleased to meet y'all."
Within a few moments Uglakh realized that the ring's hold hadn't completely been blocked. It was still present, but muted, like music from behind a wall.

They left the lab and took the elevator up to the 29th floor, which was a revolving restaurant with an amazing view of Lothlorien.
A waitress approached them. "Elrond! Your table is ready. Follow me, please."
They sat down at the table, next to the window. The sun was beginning to set in the west.
"Excuse me," said Elrond. "But I have some business to attend to. I will join you soon. For now, just relax and enjoy the fine elvish cuisine."
Elrond left the table. Lorathir looked around the restaurant and shook his head.
"Fancy restaurant, expensive food, lame classical music playing in the background... This is not the kind of place I expected to be today."
"Elrond's paying, if that makes you feel better." said Mayathir.
Lorathir picked up his menu and tried to decipher the fancy elvish names of meals.
Jimmy leaned back in his chair, which was taller than the others because of his stature. "I suppose they wouldn't have any hobbit-style ale from the Shire here. I could really go for a mug of that right now."
Uglakh nodded in agreement. Maybe it would help him keep his mind off the ring.
"Just wondering," said Jimmy to Mayathir. "You and Lorathir are brothers? Don't mean to pry but you're an elf and he's human? How does that work out?"
"We're half-brothers. My father was an elf, and my mother was human. She married a man after he died and then had Lorathir."
"Yep," said Lorathir. "As much as long-ear here hates to admit it, he's half human."
"I would never have guessed." said Jimmy.
Uglakh silently wondered to himself why Lorathir was so racist, despite his own mixed blood. Perhaps the question would be answered some day.

-

"We're almost there." came Gandalf's voice from the front seat of the limousine. "I can see the building from here."
Jeff looked out the window. "Man, I always love going to Lothlorien. It's just so different from all the big cities. You ever been there, Naeronel?"
"I spent twenty years of my life there." she said. She read Jeff's expression after that. "If you're trying to figure out my age, I'm not gonna tell you."
"Just curious." said Jeff as nonchalantly as possible.
"Anyway," she continued. "That was where I went to college, got my computer science degree. It's really a great place to live. Hardly any pollution, just about everyone is nice. True, some of the full-blooded elves there can be a bit snobby, but they generally keep to themselves anyway."

"Roll up your windows." said Gandalf. "We don't want anyone to recognize our faces when we drive in there."
They drove through the flexible wooden streets of Lothlorien and went around to the underground parking lot where Elrond was waiting for them.
"If Gandalf is Gandalf, I suppose that Elrond is Elrond as well." said Jeff, slightly in disbelief.
"Makes sense to me." said Naeronel.
"Come to think of it, he looks almost exactly like the guy who played him in that Lord of the Rings movie."

They joined the others at the table in the restaurant and Elrond stood up.
"Friends from distant lands," he began. "We have all gathered together for a council, as did the original fellowhip a millenium ago. Tomorrow we shall all discuss the important matters at great length, but we have all had difficulty getting here, so I invite you all to relax and enjoy our hospitality. Though darkness may be falling upon us once more, tonight we celebrate this long expected meeting." He raised his glass of wine. "To the fellowship!"
They all raised their glasses save for Lorathir, who still didn't really understand what was going on.