Encounter with an enigma
The journey up to Titicaca along the old railway lines, laid in the nineteenth century by pioneering British railway engineers in trying conditions, made Nick glad that he was seated for the journey due to the onset of altitude sickness. With each turn in the zigzag path of the line, the ancient steam powered locomotive wheezed, puffed and complained as the altitude took its toll on machine and man alike. All around him, his fellow passengers took hundreds of vacation snaps for their family albums back home, while talking incessantly in annoyingly loud voices about the wonderful views of the mountainous countryside they were slowly passing through, adding to his altitude induced headache. Lake Titicaca, at 12,500ft above sea level and with a surface area of 3,232 square miles and an average depth of 351ft, is the highest body of fresh water in the world.
Nick’s first task would be to hire a Quechua speaking guide if he was to have any hope of finding the island that the paper he had copied spoke of, once that is, he had found affordable accommodation in the lakeside city of Puno, on the western side of the lake in the Puno region of Peru. Hopefully the legends of the Inca people who inhabited the floating islands, locally known as Uros, would bear out the paper’s findings about a pre-Inca ruin on an island on the eastern side of Titicaca, somewhere in the Bolivian controlled sector of the lake known as the La Paz Department, close to the outfall of the lake. For the next couple of days, Nick took it easy as he slowly acclimatized to the altitude. He had asked the hotel owner to find him a guide and confined himself to bed for the duration. Ithis’ large eyes blinked as she watched from her hiding place in his hotel room walls, satisfying herself that he would soon begin his search. After twenty-five thousand years waiting for a surface-occupier to search for the ‘key’, what did a couple more days matter in the great scheme of things? She closed her hypnotically beautiful large aquamarine eyes with their equally large pale emerald green pupils and returned to her self-induced torpor. Until the time came for the ‘key’ to be put into operation, she would refrain from revealing herself to him. Whether or not she would let him live, depended on how he reacted to its real purpose. Perhaps he was a clandestine member of her nemesis – the Order, only time would tell.
A loud knock on Nick’s hotel room door the next morning woke him from an erotic dream about Sophie. “Sènor Nick, Sènor Nick, I have your guide downstairs at the reception desk,” the hotel’s owner announced through the locked door.
“Gracias Gregorio. I’ll be right down,” Nick replied, quickly throwing on some clothes and his well-worn hiking boots.
Thomaso stood waiting patiently for Nick to arrive. The money he would earn from guiding the gringo would help feed his large family. It would be a welcome relief from the back breaking toil of tending his stony fields where he grew maze and coca, high up on the slopes above Puno. His wife and children would take care of their crops until he returned. He had long ago abandoned life at the home of his parents on one of the largest floating islands for the chance to earn a living and feed his wife and children on permanent ground. He and his family returned to the island for birthdays and religious festivals in the tiny hamlet at the island’s centre, as the dutiful grandson of an elder was expected to.
Nick bounded down the stairs two at a time feeling much better since he had finally acclimatized to the altitude and grabbed Thomaso’s hand in friendly greeting. “Hola mi amigo,” Nick smiled, vaguely remembering some of the schoolboy Spanish his teacher had tried to drum into his head years before, during his high school days.
“Hola, Sènor Nicholas,” Thomaso smiled back. He already liked this gringo, simply because he was attempting to speak in what was Thomaso’s enforced daily tongue. Quechua was frowned upon here in the city; considered to be too Indian. Nick insisted that Thomaso call him by his shortened Christian name, but he was having none of it. To do so was to show disrespect to his new friend from afar. Nick observed the toothy grin coming from Thomaso’s friendly weather-beaten face. He was finally with a direct descendant of the Inca people who originally inhabited the area, long before the days of the Spanish invaders, with their fanatical religious zeal for crushing the Inca people’s own beliefs, and ruthlessly imposing their own foreign religion at the point of a sword or lance. With the Spaniards inbuilt intolerance of what they saw as pagan ritual, coupled with their greed for all things gold and silver; not to mention the deadly European diseases they inflicted on the Inca people by their very presence, the Spaniards legacy was hardly a worthy one. Nick and Thomaso instantly felt comfortable with one another as Nick eagerly began firing endless questions at him about the islands to the east. It was agreed that Thomaso would take him to meet his village elders and that he would translate their answers to Nick’s many questions from Quechua, through Spanish and finally into English, and to take him to the island in question, once its location had been clearly established. After coming to a mutually agreed fee for Thomaso’s guidance and help, the two sealed the deal with a refreshing cup of iced tea. Thomaso would collect Nick the following morning, after he had secured a boat and provisions for the trip. He asked ‘Sènor Nicholas’ for permission to buy some gifts for his elders. To turn up empty handed was unthinkable, not to mention downright discourteous. Nick smiled at his very upright, delightfully polite, new friend and happily handed over more than enough money for all of Thomaso’s needs. There were many lessons in courtesy, honour, honesty and respect that the jaded population of the western world could learn from this simple man seated opposite him. From one corner of the hotel’s lounge, a tourist got up and went to the phone on the front desk. He needed to make his report.
The next day dawned crisp and clear as Nick shivered in the freezing morning air, standing in the hotel’s main entrance, waiting for Thomaso to arrive. At this altitude the rarefied air was practically frozen until the sun climbed high enough to warm it through. Breathing was painful; it gave you the feeling you had swallowed a lungful of icicles. In the distance, an old nineteenth century passenger ferry was steaming its way slowly across the lake barely disturbing its smooth surface, which reminded him of an unblemished mirror, heading towards the distant Bolivian shore. Nick could see some of the floating islands shimmering like mirages in the low lying mist several miles away. The hills on the Bolivian side were bathed in that blue haze you always see when you look at hills and mountains at a great distance. Thomaso soon arrived chewing some coca leaf which gave his warm smile of greeting the look of someone who had just eaten a whole tin of spinach. “All is ready Sènor Nicholas.” Thomaso beamed his toothy grin once more as he slung Nick’s pack effortlessly over his broad shoulders. Nick followed him down through the streets past stray flea-bitten dogs that were busy scratching themselves silly, past groups of chickens pecking the ground furiously in search of a snack, to the jetty where a decrepit looking boat with an ancient Seagull outboard motor was tied up, loaded down to the gunwales with provisions and presents for the elders. Curious eyes watched the Indian and the gringo from the shadows. The Order representative in England would pay them well for their latest report.
The ancient outboard motor which was clamped to the old boat’s transom, started at the first pull of the threadbare starting cord, and Thomaso steered the heavily laden craft out into the lake. He thrust a tin can into Nick’s hand and indicated that it was his responsibility to bail out the water that leaked steadily through the boat’s tired bottom planks. The journey out to the floating island where Thomaso’s family lived took several hours. Between bouts of bailing and chewing some of Thomaso’s stash of coca leaves, to alleviate the effects of the cold air and the great altitude, Nick was enjoying himself for the first time in a very long while. Eventually the old boat’s bow ran up onto the floating mass of Totora reed that is the island. Thomaso leapt ashore and secured the boat by its plaited painter to a large clump of this tough reed. As Nick and Thomaso began unloading the presents, happy smiling members of Thomaso’s extended family gathered round the boat excitedly chattering to one another in the local Quechua tongue. Thomaso quickly filled their arms with gifts to take back to the village ahead of his arrival with his important gringo. Etiquette had to be observed at all costs. With Thomaso proudly at his side, Nick entered the hamlet, hidden from the outside world by the thick reeds at the island’s centre, home to Thomaso’s extended family group. He was introduced to each and every member of Thomaso’s family in turn, starting with his grandfather Eduardo, the most senior elder. After all the presents had been distributed, Nick’s position as an honoured guest decreed that he be seated beside Eduardo for the feast of welcome that the women of the family had prepared. For the rest of the day and late into the night, Nick posed each question on the list that he had prepared with Thomaso tirelessly interpreting. Eduardo related all of the legends of the Inca people, their beliefs, their gods, and how they had come to live in this part of the world. The old man’s knowledge of local folklore was a goldmine of information to Nick. Eventually after many hours, Nick asked if Eduardo knew of an island that had a strange ruin not linked to the Incan people on an island somewhere here on Lake Titicaca.
Eduardo sat in silence as Nick’s vague description of the ruin was related to him by his grandson Thomaso. The old man’s eyes suddenly brightened as he revealed the island’s name. “Isla Del Sol, Sènor Nicholas. Papa Eduardo says the place you seek is there,” Thomaso began. Eduardo’s eyes darkened as he delivered a solemn warning. “Papa Eduardo says that it is the dwelling place of the green eyed devils Sènor Nicholas, and advises against going there,” Thomaso concluded, as Eduardo and the family nodded their weather-beaten heads in solemn agreement. From her hiding place in the thick reeds, Ithis smiled to herself, ‘how dare they – green eyed devils indeed!’
The next morning after saying their goodbyes, Nick and Thomaso began the journey to Isla Del Sol on the Bolivian side of the lake, heading for the town of Copacabana. The old boat travelled much faster now that it was practically empty, positively skimming across the glasslike surface of the lake in the early hours of the morning. Copacabana gradually hove into view as Thomaso turned the old boat’s bow towards the town’s jetty. Once they were alongside and tied up securely, the two men headed into town where Thomaso said they could find a friend of his who knew exactly where the ruin was located. More eyes watched their progress. Another report would be filed and sent to the important gringo in England.
Thomaso talked for a long time with his friend, pointing from time to time to various locations on Nick’s map. “Come Sènor Nicholas,” Thomaso said finally, as he folded the map and stuck it into his shirt pocket, thanking his friend. “We have quite a climb ahead of us I think,” he smiled, showing those coca stained teeth. He wasn’t kidding when he said they were in for a climb. At this altitude, even a mole hill would have tired Nick out. After a three hour climb with a lot of rest breaks, they finally stopped at a nondescript pile of ancient rubble just below the summit of a hill, high above the town. “It is somewhere below these stones Sènor Nicholas,” Thomaso indicated as he pointed to a couple of courses of precisely fitting large irregular shaped stones. A careful search was begun, looking for any clue as to the whereabouts of the entrance.
By mid-afternoon Nick and Thomaso were starving and physically exhausted from their search, so they decided to stop for a much needed late lunch break. Thomaso closed his eyes, pulling his hat over his face. For him it was siesta time. Nick idly tossed a pebble at the ancient wall as he ate his lunch, picked up another and threw it. The second pebble slipped between two large stones and rattled its way into the depths. There was a definite echo as it fell. He got down on his belly, shielded his eyes and peered into the gap between the stones. “Thomaso – over here mi amigo!” he shouted excitedly as a broad grin broke out across his face. The entrance to the dwelling place of the green eyed devils had at last been found. Between them the two men managed to loosen one of the stones enough to make a narrow entrance to squeeze through. Nick was definitely on his own for this next stage of the exploration. Thomaso would go no further. He and his people were far too superstitious for such a task. So Nick stripped down to his boxer shorts, and after squeezing through the hole, Thomaso passed him a torch and his digital camera.
Ithis watched from the shadows of the underground chamber as Nick swung his torch along the walls of what he thought was a passage in the solid rock, stopping briefly to take a photograph of his discovery. The hairs on his arms and head began to rise as he went deeper into the chamber. A spark shot from his fingers as his hand briefly closed with the passage wall on his right, making him jump and curse. Ithis smiled to herself at Nick’s physical reaction to the heavy static build-up, but did her best not to influence him in any way for fear of detection by the system as he looked more closely.
Then something about the wall finally clicked in his oxygen starved mind. From floor to ceiling, a structure comprised of alternating layers of vast mica sheets and thick layers of naturally occurring bitumen filled the underground room. Nick was staggered by what he saw. What he was looking at appeared to be a giant capacitor of some sort. He walked along its sides, finally realizing that it occupied the entire space of the rock chamber. Hesitantly he reached out a finger again and touched it, feeling the hairs of his body stand up as the high concentration of static electricity did its work. The paper he had copied onto his hard drive had almost been correct when its author said that an artefact he had found in the chamber was totally alien in construction and definitely not from the period of the Inca Empire. Why was a capacitor here, if indeed that’s what it was? Who had built it? How long ago? Leading off from it in different directions, were channels cut into the rock floor lined with sheets of carefully cut mica. Inside each one was a metal core that disappeared into holes in the chamber’s walls. What were they, some kind of crude power link? If that was true, where did they go, and for what purpose?
Ithis opened her eyes and smiled. Her surface-occupier had finally found the first of many parts of the device that her kind had placed across the planet millennia earlier. Once he had found enough of them, maybe, just maybe he would put the clues together and realize just what it was that her ancestors had constructed so very long ago and how it was meant to be used in the near future. After he had left the chamber, almost imperceptibly at first, the capacitor began to repair itself triggered by the DNA from his touch, slowly reverting back to pristine condition. In turn, the conduits began to glow as the capacitor built up energy.