=== DORNA's underground meeting place ===
Not believing what his eyes saw, Vincent stretched his hand after the woman's arm. "Haley?" She felt real, not like a figment of his imagination.
"Yes it's me. You're not hallucinating."
Slowly, Vincent rose to his knees, looked around. Except for Haley and him the place was deserted, and its mysterious aura gone. It was just the huge underground complex of a factory hall, with rusty pipes crossing the walls. A gaping hole in the ceiling let the sunlight in. Dust particles danced in the rays. "Where are they?"
"In another time and place, probably, maybe dead. I don't know," Haley answered, helping him up. "They failed to fulfill their pledge to the Ancients. DORNA does no longer exist."
"The Ancients… I saw them… on another planet." Vincent narrowed his eyes and tried to bring order in his hazy memories. "Their civilization is still… alive. And you…" He turned back to Haley again, "…were with them all those years?" It was too amazing to process.
Haley nodded. "I was … sort of transported away in that temple in South America. It was an ancient teleportation device. They kept me with them to learn…and they were afraid to send me back because of what I had seen."
Vincent took her hands, still not quite able to understand that she really had returned; that they both really had seen a place far away from Earth – how far exactly? – and now simply stood here in this hall like junkies waking up after a 'session'. "You know… Solomon and Nikko, they… still grieve for you. They missed you so much."
"I missed them as well, all of you! – God, I feel so tired." She leaned against him. "Half of my life I thought I would give anything, ANYTHING, you know, to see what I have seen now. And when I saw it, I just wished to be home in my normal life again! Well…" She smiled, "almost normal life!"
Vincent's glance fell on the Ring with the Seal in its middle. It looked like any old stone artifact. Nothing spectacular. Somehow, he had expected those items gone as well. He walked over and bent down, carefully touching the stone.
"The time for search is over," he heard Haley saying, "now the time of guarding and learning has begun. "We are far from ready for the gifts of the Ancients and their successors. Using them the way DORNA had in mind would lead to humankind's destruction."
"I know. So… the Grail needs new keepers?"
"And teachers." She stepped at his side. "I think the VERITAS-team is best prepared for that."
That was, what Vincent finally brought back to the matters at hand. "We have to contact the others! I don't know how much time has passed… Seems to be afternoon, though. Let's have a look outside. There should be the one or the other car waiting for our sadly indisposed DORNA elite!"
Shortly after, Vincent and Haley climbed into a black car he only knew too well. Now Molay was gone. The man, who had shared his life for so long, tortured his life for so long, helped him, used him - and in the end betrayed him. It felt odd that he wasn't around anymore… Like a pain that had suddenly vanished, you missed it…
"Where are your thoughts, Vincent?"
"Nothing," he replied. "I just figured that it might be better if you drive and I try to make myself invisible on the back seat. There's a search warrant out for me, and unless I've solved this problem somehow, it is better I show a low profile."
"YOU and making yourself invisible!" Haley smiled. They joked like in the old days. Strange, but maybe the only way to cope with the abruptly changed reality.
While storing the precious artifacts in the car, Vincent smiled back. "What, doubting my skills?" Yes, joking made him feel a bit lighter. All in all, hadn't they witnessed a few miracles worth to celebrate? Haley was alive, he was alive, DORNA was destroyed, and yet, there was something… not feeling right. Sometime later, when Haley drove the car past a newspaper stand in the nearby village, Vincent knew what it was: the date!
"Haley! Pull back a few meters!"
"The newspaper stand! Pull back so I can read the date in the headline of the Times!" No, he wasn't mistaken!
"Vincent, what's with the date?"
"Today is the 5th of March! It's almost a month since that DORNA assembly took place!" He wiped over his face, totally in shock. Oh God, Juliet must be worried sick! "I need to know what happened!" He took a deep breath. "Turn left the next corner, Haley. To the driveway up North!" Internet access was first priority now, not only to purge the police records, but also to get filled in with the latest events.
=== North of Edinburgh / Residence of a former DORNA leader ===
Crime-scene- patches and cordons decorated the door of the mansion. Obviously, the police had been busy gathering evidence about the attack in the Particle Accelerator, the strange events in a factory hall and the following sudden disappearance of some people.
"We can't go in," Haley said, looking around.
"Of course we can. And we have to." Vincent slipped the gloves on he had ordered Haley to procure and made his way to the nearest window. "Let's just hope the police haven't found Mister Cavenworth's secret control center!"
A moment later, they were inside the house and made their way through the opulent library. At one wall, Vincent reached into a board and touched the switch hidden behind a huge antique tome. It squeaked – and then a part of the wall started to detach and open into a compartment behind. "Voilà!"
"Nice." Haley watched the high tech equipment what didn't suit very well to the Victorian outside of the library and the whole house.
"I was here several times, before my defection," Vincent told her and sat down in front of one of the computers. "It's a good thing DORNA were that sure of themselves! I would never have left that room intact and accessible, with a potentially dangerous traitor on the loose." He smiled and switched the computer on. Of course it was password protected. Vincent hadn't Maggie's hacking skills, but they were sufficient to bypass Cavenworth's security first, and later the police's…
"I can't wait to see Solomon and Nikko," Haley said, walking through the tiny room and observing Vincent's sinister doing. "I can't believe that so many years have passed! Time has a completely different meaning … there. Tell me about Nikko!"
Vincent looked up. "Well, he's intelligent, smart, and inquisitive like a raccoon… a very good chess player and, in case he manages enough discipline, he'll be very good at martial arts as well one day. You'll be proud of him." He typed another set of numbers into the keyboard and then leaned back. "Done! Records purged!"
Seeing Haley's surprised look, he continued: "I've done it quite some times already. Standard procedure for someone with DORNA. You attack the master file and attach a sort of virus altering the copy files existing everywhere."
Now it was time to check for his team and the events of last month! As much as he loved to, he couldn't risk making a phone call from here with the land line – the police would probably have that under surveillance and thus track them down fast. However, not much time was necessary to find out that the VERITAS team had left the country a few days after the dreadful events. The British government and the Scottish representatives and museum officials were more than delighted to find the Stone of Scone mostly unharmed: a little part of the stone from the size of a cigarette package had obviously been attached to the rest of the relic with some sort of plaster a long time ago and could easily be placed at the right position. Nothing about the real purpose of the examination showed up in the media. Solomon Zond had been careful as usual. The attack in the Particle Accelerator had been declared a terrorist action – how convenient – and linked to the recent difficulties the UK experienced in the Middle East. Some conspiracy theorists thought to understand that the British government made secret weapon tests in the Accelerator…
Vincent switched the computer off. "We have to head back to New York."
"How are we supposed to do that? We both have no IDs. I'm officially dead. Your manipulator skills won't reach that far, I guess?" Haley asked.
"By ship." He stood up and stepped to the compartment's door. "Old fashioned stowaway."
=== VERITAS Headquarters, New York ===
The team had desperately tried to find back to a normality that did no longer exist. The lack of purpose made everyone edgy. The foundation itself was as good as dissolved, more so because Solomon couldn't contact their benefactor anymore. From one day to the other, the hard-working and dedicated team had lost everything. Calvin had already browsed several job offers – not too obviously, though. Still it felt like desertion. Juliet had tried to resume the work on her thesis, with not much success. That afternoon, she had just ended like the days before in front of her computer: her mind a blank space; nothing made any sense. She held the photo of Vincent in her hands, when it knocked and the door opened.
"Mind if I come in? Brought you some tea." Nikko.
"Thank you." Generally, Juliet appreciated that he cared that much for her, but right now, she didn't want to see anyone – except the one person everyone said she would never see again. She couldn't find a polite excuse to turn Nikko away, though. He sat down the tablet with the tea next to her computer, when the telephone in the lounge rang.
Nikko ignored it. Discovering Vincent's photograph in Juliet's hand, he said: "He won't come back. He's with DORNA preparing to take over the world."
"He will." She looked at him with a stubborn determination. She simply refused to believe anything else. The telephone still rang. Nikko fought for something to answer at that statement. "Don't you want to take the call?" Juliet finally asked, her nerves close to split. Nikko sighed, turned around and left – but before he had reached the phone, it had stopped ringing.
===Edinburgh / Harbor Area ===
Vincent dropped the phone and left the call box. He hadn't enough money for another try. They had sold his watch in a dubious Indian shop to raise funds for provisions and basic equipment such as blankets for their planned escape.
"Seems to be a gremlin in there," Haley commented. "Two times no connection at all, and then no one picks up the phone!"
"They have probably their hands full." Vincent grabbed the bags. He only hoped that nothing else was behind those communication problems. However, he didn't want to share his worries with Haley. Even if there had something happened – there was nothing they could do about it now. They had to get out of the country, hidden in a cramped space on a container ship. Worries and fear would come soon enough; no need to accelerate that. If I only could've reached Juliet!
They walked to an old dry dock and sat down on the ramp. Vincent took his binoculars and checked the area and the situation on board their destination. "We'll wait until it is dark," he decided.
"But then, there will be flood lights."
"Where's light, there's shadow."
Haley smiled at that comment. "You haven't changed, Vincent! And not only that… you really have to tell me your anti-aging-secret!"
"We'll have plenty of time when on board."
The way he said it took the short lightness of their conversation away and Haley's smile faded. Obviously, she missed out a lot more than just her son growing up and graduating high school! "I'm so nervous about meeting Solomon and Nikko again," she said after a moment, feeling guilty again.
Vincent understood without her explaining more. "It wasn't your fault, Haley. It wasn't your intention to leave them alone. It was an accident."
"You warned me, back then. But I was simply so greedy… Do you think we will ever learn what they want us to learn; ever reach the goal they've set for us?" She placed her hand on the box containing the Ring and the Seal.
"We can only try."
=== VERITAS HQ / New York / One week later ===
Calvin was packing. He had obtained a post at Berkeley. Although the others were happy for him, they nonetheless knew it was the beginning of the falling apart of their team. Nikko had applied for a scholarship at the New York University. Solomon was busy with indexing previous minor finds the team had made during the last years; things he said he'd never had the time to do before. However, it was more some sort of occupational therapy.
"You know what," Nikko just said, "it is strange that we haven't heard from DORNA yet. I mean, they haven't tried to take over the government with super weapons, or something like that."
"Maybe because real life is no fantasy movie," replied Calvin.
"I'm sure we'll hear from them soon," Solomon stated. "They always work quietly and only show up in the end. We're just…. not important enough for them. Nothing still worth to bother with." He stared out of the window.
The doorbell broke through the thick air of frustration. Thinking it might already be the driver of the cab Calvin had called, Juliet went down and opened the door. "Morning, maybe you want to come in for a cup of coffee; we're not ready yet," she said, not really looking at the bearded man with sunglasses standing in the shady doorway.
"A coffee would be nice indeed, thank you."
Now Juliet squinted. Stared. All of a sudden, no air seemed to remain around her. She tried to speak, but only a faint breath escaped her, while she felt her knees buckle. "Vincent….?"
His quick embrace saved her from the fall. Now she clasped onto him. "I'm so sorry you had to go through this, Juliet. I tried to reach you, but…"
With Juliet not returning, Calvin had decided to take a look. Standing on top of the staircase leading to the entrance floor, he stared down in disbelief. What was Juliet - He never fully formed the thought, recognizing the voice of the supposed stranger. "Vincent! What the heck…! You're not with DORNA?"
"DORNA is history."
In the meantime, the other members of the VERITAS team had gathered as well to see what was going on. "Where have you been?" Maggie asked.
"In another time and space. And the last week, in a small dark compartment on board a container ship. - But, before we sit down and talk: I have a few more surprises." Not letting entirely go off Juliet, he reached down and pushed the bag with the box into the light of the floor. "In here is something that belongs to us! And here…" He got up again and looked over his shoulder into the archway. "… is the long missed member of our team!"
Well, Vincent has a talent for theatrical entrances, Calvin thought. Solomon had walked down the first steps, when the light fully fell on the person entering behind Vincent. A somewhat pale and fragile looking woman with long brown hair… Haley? Standing down there in the floor? Solomon stopped dead in his tracks. He had wished so desperately this vision, this dream to become a reality somehow - now he feared to have become a prey of his own desperation. Or was this all… a trick from DORNA?
"Solomon, I'm … I'm so glad to see you're okay," Haley managed a bit shaky, but he didn't move any further. Nikko however, didn't think as much. He stormed past his father. "Mom!" Haley was grateful for his wild embrace, because thus she had a moment longer to get her embarrassment under control. This was her little Nikko, who barely could look on top of the table with the digging tools, back then in South America? Her little baby-boy, all grown up! She couldn't suppress her tears though, when Solomon took her into his arms as well. Vincent kissed Juliet again.
Only the doorbell disturbed the happy reunion some minutes later. "The cab," Calvin said. "I let the driver know that … uhm… we don't need him right away. I think, I'll postpone this Berkeley assignment a bit longer."
=== VERITAS HQ / New York ===
Two days later, Maggie performed some medical tests on Haley and Vincent in order to see if their exposure to that strange environment had altered their physiology in some way. So far, everything seemed fine; no radiation residues or chemical imbalances, and the EEG was normal, too. Nonetheless, something was different indeed. With a sigh, Maggie retrieved the last test results she had from Vincent, compared them, checked again. No, there was no doubt, that wasn't just a glitch in the software or the microscope! She leaned back, closed her eyes and pondered about the right way to inform Vincent about her findings.
Vincent and Juliet sat down in Maggie's lab. Juliet's worries were clearly written on her face. "You have that look, just as then when you had discovered that mummy-virus. There's something wrong, isn't it? "
"That depends on your point of view," Maggie answered. Another deep breath. But there was no way around it; she just had to tell them the truth. "Vincent, your nanoprobes are gone. I rechecked everything. It is as if they never had existed."
"… a completely normal human being with the average life-span."
Hearing that, a smile started to form on Vincent's face; a smile that within the next moment became a happy laugh. He turned to Juliet, who still looked worried, and embraced her tightly. "Didn't I tell you, we just had to go on - and someday the way would be open and clear?"
"Yes… But… now…"
"Now we're going to grow old together! Unless you have something against the picture of shuffling steadied on a walking stick next to my wheelchair some day?"
Now Juliet laughed as well, despite the tears she couldn't hold back either. "I will always love you, Vincent!"
In the library of the foundation, Solomon, Haley and Nikko sat together. Despite all the prestigious volumes stapled around them, they talked about rather mundane things. Nikko had just announced that he would take up his studies at the university as planned. This wasn't what his father had expected.
"I just think," Nikko answered Solomon's question, "I have to do something on my own, build something on my own. In addition to the work within the team, Dad."
"I don't want you leaving because of Vincent."
"I don't." Nikko played nervously with his pen. "Not entirely. I mean… It was Vincent who suggested that I'd "hunt down some lions on my own" as he expressed it. But we're friends again. I only need to … put a little distance between me and Juliet and him and … everything, you know. For a while. - Hey, Mom, Dad, don't look at me like that! I'll be still in New York and intend to follow you back to Egypt for the excavations at Saqqara!"
Solomon was about to answer something, but Haley put her hand on his arm. As much as she regretted Nikko leaving home - holding him back wasn't how family worked. She couldn't make up for the lost years that way. They all had to find a new place.
"Well, I expect you to make a top graduation," Solomon eventually said and indulged a little smile.
"Oh wow, wait, Dad, I haven't even started yet!"
Solomon's smile became a broad grin, and now the whole family laughed. "Just give your best, Nikko! We have a lot to discover and decipher, and I need every hand and head!"