Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Artifact, Session 1 - 18 July 2012

Janet (Sage Peacock), Margaret (Fiona Swenson) and Natalie (Rose Swenson) each wake up in their own whitewashed cells. Each has a bed, built into the wall, a toilet, and a sink.

Margaret turns on the sink, and sees that the water is tepid, yet extremely clean.

Natalie, out of a frantic desire to get out, rips open her bed mattress. Suddenly, an alarm sounds. The bed retracts into the wall, and a new one pops out.

Each suddenly receives a tray of food pushed through a newly-opened cavity in the wall. It requires no utensils. After they eat, the door opens, and each step out together into a gray hallway. There stand two armored men in front of a slender, bespectacled man in a gray tweed suit. He beckons them to follow. They do. As they walk down twisting gray corridors, Janet taps one of the guards on the shoulder. It gives her an electric shock, discouraging her to repeat the action. Natalie suddenly asks

“Where are we going?” The guards do not answer.

“They are not programmed to respond”, the man in front says.

“What’s going on?”

“All will be revealed.”

They walk through an automatic door and into an office, where he beckons them to sit down. Janet does so, then soon realizes that the others have stayed standing. She stands up.

“I encourage you to sit down. You’ll need your strength.”

They all do.

"I apologize for the impolite manner in which I've gathered you here," says the man, "but based on our consumer reports we have decided that you three are best for this mission." Seeing their confused faces, he continues, "You see, we've been developing this new type of technology wherein we can transfer matter through the dimension of time. However, in all of our tests, we have not been able to send a human being though. Androids - fine; they've come and gone with little or no discrepancies in their programming. But the fact is, we did not believe, up to this point, that any human being could survive the process."

"Why kidnap us? Why not just ask us?" asks Margaret.

"Because this mission is far too important to ask permission. We did away with the niceties, because we believe that this is an extremely noble and far-reaching cause, of which no people, let alone three people, can decide not to uptake. Besides, you're the only three people we could find who could survive the process."

"Sounds interesting, but what about our lives back home?"

The man laughs. "Oh, don't worry. Alibis have been invented for each of you: you're all at a conference, for various reasons. Janet, a dancer, is obviously on tour right now. Doctor Margaret, you're at a surgeon's conference in the Caymans. We've doctored up photos, and you've sent a postcard to your family of you in a bikini enjoying a margarita. Natalie, we sensed that you were having familial troubles, so we had them believe that you were taking a short sabbatical, and that you would be back, and that you loved them very much. And you call them each and every day."

"So you've discovered time travel?" Margaret asks, inquisitively.

"In a sense."

"I though the concept was impossible," Natalie says. "Wouldn't it rip you apart, atom by atom?

"That's what we believed."

"What happens if we die while we're on this mission?" Janet asks. "What will happen to our families?"

"Believe me, we've conducted all possible scenarios. If you don't make it back, then we will let your families know. We won't let them know what happened, but we will let them know."

"What would happen if we declined this offer?" asks Margaret.

"This mission is too important to allow you the liberty of refusal."

"Would all three of us be traveling together? What year are we going to?"

He smiles. "All will be revealed in due time. All you need to know is that there is an artifact that we are wishing to recover." After a pause, he continues, "The first of three time periods you will visit is March of 1917, in what was then Petrograd, in Russia."

"How will you keep in contact with us?"

"I'm glad you asked, because I'm sending one of my men, to make sure you don't get up to no good. He will record your progress, make sure that you're doing what you're supposed to, provide you with all protection needed, etc.. I'll introduce him now."

Suddenly, an android named Ames (Christian Swenson) walks through the door. He seems a bit off in his behaviors, though he looks entirely human. He's far too deliberate and precise in his maneuvers and mannerisms.

"I've very pleased to be accompanying you on this mission." He turns around and faces the corner, in an unsuccessful attempt to make everyone feel less uncomfortable.

"Have you been through time before?" asks Natalie?

"Not to my knowledge," Ames says.

There is an unpleasant pause, after which Margaret says, "Will clothes be taken care of? What about money."

"Yes, you don't have to worry about any of that." says the man. "And now, we must begin."

"But what is our mission?" asks Janet, concerned.

"Ah!" he says, "I almost forgot!". "You are tasked with finding a man named Father Grigori, and asking him all he knows about the artifact. Ames will help you with the specifics."

He and his guards walk them through a door. After passing through several rooms, they arrive in a large white chamber with a rack of clothes. They get dressed in what appears to be period wear, after which a robot bodyguard removes the rack. Alone in the room, it begins to glow white. Suddenly, a wooden door materializes on the far side.

Demonstrations in Petrograd in March 1917

They step through the door and into a chilly Russian town square. They immediately see throngs of people protesting, gathered in a large boisterous group. It suddenly occurs to Ames that, if they are to find Father Grigori, that they should look in a church. He tells that to the group, which leads Margaret to go up to a protesting woman and asks,

“Do you know where we can find the nearest church?”

“On [such-and-such] street, but you should know that not even God can save us in these dark times.”

They walk down the various streets of Petrogard, led by Ames’ meticulous historical knowledge, but are suddenly held up by some soldiers. They say that nobody can pass, but Margaret tells him that they merely wish to visit a church, so he receives a surge of compassion, and lets them through.

They arrive at the church. They go in, and a greeted by a sight of various distraught people praying in pews. They approach a priest walking down a center aisle, as Janet asks him a question,

“Do you know of Father Grigori?”

His face suddenly becomes pale, “He is no longer a part of my religion.”

Margaret expertly appeals to his sense of compassion, asking where he was, but he responds simply,

“You can find him at the gates of hell.”

After asking a few pray-ers, and getting similar response, they stop and deliberate. Ames suddenly makes a connection.

“Comrades, I know of man going by the name of Father Grigori existed in this area around this time.

“Then who is he?” asked Natalie

“He goes by several names: the Black Monk, the
 Mad Monk, but most significantly, he is known as Rasputin.”

There are audible gasps.

“But there is one problem,” he continues. “He has been dead for a year.”

“Then we need to go back! They made a mistake!” says Natalie

“My employers do not make mistakes. The documents clearly indicate that a Father Grigori was clearly here at this date.”

“Then how do you explain it?”

“I do not know. However, I recommend beginning at the place he was buried – the Alexander Palace”

After nods of assent, they begin the trek out of town. The journey takes a while, and is mostly silent, so he takes the opportunity to tell them the story of Rasputin’s death.

“He was lured to the abode of some of his friends, who believed he was too influential. He was then fed food and wine, laced with cyanide. To their shock and awe, he was unaffected. When they noticed this, they shot him, multiple times. They left him to die. However, one of the conspirators forgot his coat, and when he returned, he found that our Father Grigori was still alive. Rasputin lunged and attempted to strangle him. However, at that moment, his fellows arrived at shot the man in the back. They tied him in a rug and tossed him in the Neva River. Rasputin, still not dead, tried to escape his bonds, but ultimately died of drowning.”

The Alexander Palace

There is a stunned silence, after which they arrive at their destination. To their dismay, the palace is surrounded by a gate, but Ames notices that a trail of dirt leads from the grounds to a nearby forest. He indicates that they follow it. Walking into the woods, they arrive upon a burnt pile of wood.

Woodland outside the Alexander Palace

“Do you think they exhumed his body, and then burned it, because they hated him so much?” asked Natalie

“Actually, that’s exactly what happened”, says Ames. “We have stumbled upon the remnants of various revolutionaries’ attempt to do precisely what you described. Interestingly enough, records of this event tell that his body suddenly sat up in the midst of the flames, despite having been dead for about a year.”

“Crazy…”, Janet says. “Maybe that means he’s alive, after all.”

They all begin to fan out in search of clues. Suddenly, Margaret notices a pile of ash a ways off. She beckons everyone to come and see, as Ames notices another a considerable distance in the same direction. They follow the makeshift trail until they arrive at a crudely-made hut, right in the middle of the forest. They notice that a fire is burning, and that a dead deer (with no apparent injuries) is roasting on a stick over it. Suddenly, they hear a crack behind them. They turn around, and see an abnormally tall man holding a cleft branch in his hands. He is bearded and abnormally tall, but can be unmistakably recognized as Father Grigory Rasputin. Out of the blue, he lunges forward to attack. However, Janet steps out as if to counter him, and he stops in his tracks, with a wide-eyed look of awe on his face.

Grigori Rasputin

“What is your name?” asks Janet.

“I know my name. It is Grigory Rasputin.”

"Excuse me, sir" says Ames, "But by all my accounts you should be dead."

"Yes, that is true. I am dead."

"But you speak with us as if you were alive, how is that so?"

"Well, it depends on your definition of 'dead', I suppose."

Janet suddenly interjects, "Why did you try to attack us? And why did you stop?"

"I felt threatened, considering what has happened. But I stopped because, for a split second, you seemed to be my dearly departed daughter, Maria. That mistake may have saved your lives "

"Oh!" Says Janet. "How did she die?"

"She didn't die. She left me! For America! To become a...dancer."

Rasputin weeps bitterly as he sits down, head in his hands. There is a solemn pause, but eventually Margaret speaks up.

"So, we were told that you know about something called the Artifact?"

"Yes, I do."

"What is it, then?"

"The Artifact is an ancient relic of great power - and danger."

"What does it do?"

"In short, prolonged contact with this object makes one unable to die."

"So, that's what happened to you?", asks Janet

"Yes. Ever since the Artifact was entrusted to me, no matter what ordeals I undergo, I ultimately emerge unscathed."

"What else do you know about it? What does it look like?", asks Ames

"It appears how it needs to appear, different to different people. To me, it looked like a chalice."

Ames suddenly looks satisfied. "That's all we needed. Thank you, Grigori."

They walk away from the forest as Rasputin returns to his hut. As they are about to leave earshot, he screams "Maria!". They walk uneventfully back to town, by the protesters, and to the door. Ames puts a special key in it, and they walk through into the large room from whence they came.

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