Violet and Scarlett approach the fearsome Viendenbourg facility ready and armed - only to find that the place has been turned into a heritage centre. Slightly confused, they take the official tour, which offers a sanitised version of recent history.
The girls were prepared for anything but this. What now?
Come with me now on a journey of intrigue and mystery. A journey that will chill your very marrow and thrill you to the core. Come with me now on the journey.... BACK TO VIENDENBOURG! Or, in my case, "to Viendenbourg" since I've never been here before.
Imagine, if you will, the scene. My sister - daring, plucky Scarlett - and I equipped ourselves with the finest military-grade consciousness-protecting tech the boy genius Kurt McAllister could rustle up. We stalked through the woods by hidden pathways, staying far from the beaten trails we knew the sinister denizens of Viendenbourg might take themselves. We skulked, lurked, and when we passed through the unseen barrier of the "confusion field," we were wary, lest either of us should fall foul of its dread powers of obfuscation.
We had a dangerous mission to fulfill. To break into a secure military compound and rob it of its secrets, to lay bare the truth of whatever-it-is-they're-doing-there. We had prepared ourselves for a fight, though I can't say either of us was looking forward to it. We hid a cache of weapons in the woods because we didn't want to go in all guns blazing, but we wanted to know we could if necessary. We had planned and we were prepared. Prepared for everything except what actually happened.
Our first hint that things weren't going quite according to plan was the strange preponderance of people we noticed walking through the woods as we got close to Viendenbourg.
"Odd," I said to Scarlett. "Why aren't they inside, guarding their terrible secrets?" (Or words to this effect.)
"Hmm," said the plucky redhead. "Perhaps they're taking exercise?"
The second matter which caused us momentary confusion was the lack of what one might call 'military uniforms' among these people.
"Strange," I said to Scarlett. "They're wearing casual slacks and T-shirts with hipster slogans."
"Hmm," said the girl detective. "Perhaps they wear 'civvies' on their day off?"
We were then rather startled to notice the presence of children among the happy throng.
"Peculiar," I said to Scarlett. "Does the army employ children these days?"
"Hmm," said the young journalist, "that can't be right."
But all became clear to us as we rounded the corner and came to the ridge above Viendenbourg base. Which was clearly labelled with a sparkling new notice. "Viendenbourg base," it read, "a great day out for all the family."
A rather attractive young man in an army uniform was standing by the sign.
"Hi," he said, "are you here for the tour?"
We took the tour. It cost 40 Lecks. I have a copy of the glossy tourist brochure. The front of it says "Welcome to Historic Viendenbourg, where modern technology meets the past."
Now, obviously this wasn't part of the plan. We had, as I say, been planning to scout the location, observe the comings-and-goings and devise some sneaky plan for getting in unobserved and looking around properly. As it was, we were wearing bright yellow hard hats emblazoned with the words "Visitor to Historic Viendenbourg: handle with care" and being driven through a maze of buildings in an open-topped electric wagon along with several sets of tired-looking parents with children behaving like they'd taken some of their parents' Ceretin by mistake. The wagon stopped at a building marked "Visitor's Centre", we all got out and trooped into a room lined with graphical displays of what looked like sedimentary layers, each neatly labelled.
"As I'm sure you're all aware," our tour guide said, "Camryn Scott is committed to Open Government, and the Viendenbourg facility is just part of that commitment. The pass you have purchased today is also good for one trip to the Tanraga Animal Sanctuary and a free coffee at the visitors centre at the pre-Hausam land art, OK?" We all nodded and smiled. "Now," he turned to one of the children, "who can tell me what 'archaeology' means?"
It went on like this for a bit. I pulled Scarlett to one side and we examined some of the displays. They weren't too hard to understand: they celebrated the "rich history" of the region "which we know from historical documents was the site of an ancient fortified city". They say that the ancient city of Viendenbourg was destroyed during the war, and that a joint project between the Academy and the Perplex City Defence Forces are now excavating it. Why the Defence Forces? Well, because "there may still be some dangerous objects lurking in the ruins of Viendenbourg - like an unexploded bomb! The Defence Forces are here to keep everyone safe." It may just be my natural cynicism, but I didn't feel we were getting the full story.
We passed through to the "reconstructions of life in Olde Viendenbourg" - static displays and holographic projections where the merry-looking fishwives mingled with tired miners and street urchins. "We know that there was extensive mining in Viendenbourg", our guide told us, "probably for the rich veins of tin which are quite close to the surface in this region." Further on, we oohed and aahed at the spectacle, through reinforced glass, of real scientists working on dating some pieces of blue glass jewellery recently found at the dig.
All too soon, it was over. At the end of the tour, the children hooked their keys up to the Viendenbourg system to download some worksheets and vids to watch at home. Scarlett bought a "Historic Viendenbourg" T-shirt. I got some of their branded chocolate; it was fine. We went back to our tent but frankly now we're wondering why we didn't just get on the bus to Tanraga with the other tourists and spend the night in a comfortable hotel. I think perhaps we're hoping that the discomfort will spur on our thinking. I mean, unless Scarlett spent last autumn and winter having a particularly vivid set of hallucinations, none of this adds up. State of the art security systems to protect an archaeological dig? Doesn't make a lot of sense. Still, we're thinking about how to get to the bottom of it all. Watch this space.