My Appalachian-mountain home still looked like a backyard sandbox after thirty, rowdy children spent an afternoon jacked up on ice cream and cake. Gael and I were staying in a hotel a couple of miles outside of town.

Mother Tesla was dead, and Blonde sent off to some far-off government research lab. I’m sure she wouldn’t enjoy the long sessions of tell-me-how-you-feel interview questions from the government shrinks.

Gael sat across from me at the diner table and inhaled the vapors rising from her morning coffee. The place reeked of lard and potatoes. Stained carpet resembled the menu of the decades old eatery.

She’d not changed much in the past two weeks. She’d meditated, hummed her special tune, and spoke about life with the dreamy words of a swami.

I found her mesmerizing and likable, in all the ways you would choose a comfortable jacket. She fit well into my life and I looked forward to working with her.

Tomorrow morning I was scheduled to catch a bus, bound for Special Bureau One training camp.

Gael looked up from her java. “Training camp is a unique experience.”

I chewed on my toast, pausing between bites. “You keep saying that.”

It wasn’t her grandmother face that looked at me. I hadn’t seen this one before. Her eyes were deep in thought and she seemed calmer than usual.

“Don’t mind me. I’m enjoying some old memories, back when I first went to the camp.” She set the mug down. “You up for a story?”

“It’s not one where you tell me to what to do is it?”

“No, no. A good one. About how all this came to be.”

I looked around the low-rent diner, taking in the assortment of federal employees occupying the surrounding tables. “I hope you’re not talking about this dump?”

She stood, pushed in her chair, and tossed a few dollars on the table. “Let’s go for a walk. They’ll tell you most of this story during training, but I know a better version.”

This sounded like a timely distraction. We’d spent the last two weeks working with Special Bureau One commandos and investigators, clearing the town of holdover church fanatics. The work was tedious and I’m not proud to admit, too much like a real job.

We exited through the front door and stepped into the late October weather. The remnants of last night’s rain had pulled the last of the Fall colors from the trees. A carpet of orange and yellow foliage carpeted the landscape.

Gael directed us along a trail which led downhill to a flowing stream. She took a seat on a boulder and crossed her legs under herself.

I leaned against the boulder and watched leaves and twigs navigate the swift moving water.

She caught my eye and raised an eyebrow. “Bureau One predates the Revolutionary War. At the time, it was run as an extension of English Parliament.”

I nodded. “Before 1776. Got it.”

“It’s important you know the difference.” She eased back into her story. “George III was King of England at the time. In training camp, they speak of this as the time in which the Bureau officially formed. Those who were critical of the English Crown, realigned with Franklin.”

I turned were I could see her better. “You mean Washington?”

“No, Franklin.” She patted her hand on the rock next to where she sat. “Have a seat. It’s a good story. Lots of history and back parlor dealings.”

I climbed up next to her and admired the view. A couple hundred yards away, a house nestled in the trees, next to the stream. The county road passed by the property and what appeared to be a defunct gas station.

“You with me?” She asked.

“Yep. Franklin not Washington, and King George. All we need is a dragon.”

Her eyes twinkled. “That’s a different story.” She gave me the be quiet look. “When the Puritans came to the New World, England setup their version of the Bureau in the area. A lot of unexplained occurrences were happening between the native population and settlers.”

My rump hurt from sitting on the rock. “You’ve backed up more than a century. The pilgrims landed in 1620. Is that when this started?”

“That’s when the first English reports of strange occurrences started. Rumors from as far back as the sixteenth-century were not uncommon, by the French and Spanish. With England newly established in the New World, a better network of data gathering developed.”

Gael twisted her back a few times and rolled her shoulders. “It seems, when the Europeans reached the New World, the natives tapped into a unified power source. At first, the ministers and priest reported it as if the native’s gods were aligning and fighting back against their gods.”

“Wait a minute. Local gods and European gods fighting for control, what about the one God theory? This breaks every rule the Church teaches?”

“It all depends on your world view, Rye. Some say one God, some say many, and others claim none. History has shown us religious conflict is more about who your god is, than what their god stands for.”

Leaves continued to float along the stream and the morning air chilled my cheeks. A hint of wood smoke drifted with the breeze. Gael had already said a mouthful. I figured she operated on some form of Eastern philosophy but the theory of lumping gods into a mixing bowl pushed the envelope.

I gave her words consideration. It never occurred to me to think outside the one god model. Maybe what the priest’s documented was about demons, not gods?

“What does this have to do with Bureau One?” I asked.

She smiled and slipped into teacher mode. “By the time George III took the throne, artifacts and individuals were already documented in the New World. Some with special powers for good, others with a looser definition of right and wrong.” She pulled her feet up along her thighs and rested her wrist at her knees. “This is important because, by the time the American Revolution stated, a fully functional investigative organization already existed.”

“This is interesting. I mean, we have crazy people doing crazy stuff and the King of England trying to stop them. How does Ben Franklin play into the game?”

“Franklin worked with the Bureau set up by Parliament. He was the highest ranking English official in the colonies. They didn’t call it ‘Bureau’ at the time. Members were conferred a knight’s title. That’s not important for this conversation. Let’s move on.”

This is when the story got interesting. I’d always be a fan of Franklin. I thought the history books glossed over his contributions during the war. Franklin was born in the U.S. and spoke in support of the colonies rights all his life. “He wasn’t working for England, was he?”

She tapped her palm against my knee. “Hold on. You need to set aside how you use to think the world worked and think about how the world may work. Hasn’t your tangle with Mother Mary and Blonde changed your world view?”

All my life I knew I was lucky and could sense empathic sensations for certain objects, but Mother Tesla was a mad-scientist savant compared to me. It took a little bit of reshuffling, but I tried to open my mind to what she suggested.

“Good. Think on that for a while. Learning to consider the world is different than you believe it to be is the primary focus for training camp. That and teaching you how to stay alive.”

I turned back to her. “Mr. Dallas said we came from the Culper Ring. He said it was a spy organization set up by General Washington. How could a spy ring helping the colonist be made up of knights representing the English Crown?”

Her face took on a happy glow. “That’s the fun part or should I say ‘special’ part. When things fell apart between the colonies and England over taxation, a more critical undercurrent of intrigue was working its way through parliament. Franklin was leading the push from this side of the Atlantic.”

“Was this intrigue people or object focused?”

She smiled and appeared happy with my question. “Now you’re starting to think like an agent. It’s not always people who are the catalysts for change. And rightly so in this case. It was Plymouth Rock.”

“Granddad told me he saw it. It’s near Boston, right?”

“We have one of the stones in a secure location, not Boston. One is in France, and the other?” She lingered over her words.

“England?”

“Close. Scotland.”

“Scotland? I’m lost. Why would the Scots have a piece of Plymouth Rock?”

“They don’t. The real rock is really three stones, and they have one them. When it was realized the stones act as a conduit for influencing people, the New World became a battleground for control of the stones. That’s why we had the French and Indian’s war and it’s what the Revolutionary war was about. Taxation is what the Bureau promoted as a distraction to the real cause.”

I nodded and considered some of the ‘special’ things I’d seen the past weeks. “I’ve kinda developed the opinion special objects don’t exist by themselves, someone must create them?”

“Very astute of you, and yes. As far as we can tell, objects don’t exist without human creation. And more importantly, it takes a human to activate or tune into the powers. That’s what you do. Your skill is unique. You can tune into objects that aren’t necessarily special.”

Gael’s comment about my abilities struck a nerve. I thought back to all the times I’d felt an object’s presence. I was the special one and the objects were ordinary? I had always thought the objects were special. I don’t know why but growing up in middle America, you fall into a narrow definition of what’s normal. Why I didn’t drink alcohol flashed to the forefront of my thoughts. I quickly set the memory aside, not yet willing to face those demons.

When I came out of my thoughts, she was studying my face.

“You tapped into a deep memory, didn’t you?” She asked.

“Yeah. Let’s not go there. Maybe later.”

She measured me with her gaze, as if looking for something specific. “Back to the stones. France took one with them after the Seven Years’ War. The natives were not happy about it.”

“Warpath?”

“Let’s not use Hollywood words to define our discussion. The victor in a cultural war always finds ways to belittle the vanquished.”

I focused on the trees. Most of the leaves were fallen and I could see mountains filling the background. The trunks of the trees, moistened by the recent rain, stood dark and straggly against the clear sky.

It seemed my understanding of life was severely limited. “I need you to get back to Franklin. The stones are interesting but how do they coincide with him and the start of the Bureau?”

“When the Revolutionary War started, he went to France, to help with the war effort. This much is true. With him he took the third stone. Washington was loaned one to help him lead troops. France had already gained one via their earlier conflict. Franklin gave the third to the Scots.”

“Why Scotland?”

“He realized the colonies were going to fight the war no matter what. To do so, they needed money. Some of the Scots who were members of England’s special branch took the stone and used it to create a banking empire.”

I chewed on my lip and rubbed the palm of my hands along my jeans. “But England controlled Scotland?”

“England did, until our Special Bureau stepped away from England and became aligned with the colonist. At the same time, Scotland went rogue and used their new-found fortune to buy and sell world empires.

“History portrays the Scots as backward and tribal, ruled by the wise and mighty English.

“Oh, kiddo. The Scots own the world. We’re their ally. England is pretty close to an enemy. Between Bureau branches that is.”