The Final Chapter

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Chapter Twenty-six

Dawn of the Seventh Age

In the failing light of early evening, Nick and Hakan divided the group into two teams. Nick would take Victor and Thomaso with him through the Incan temple’s main entrance, down to the ancient monument below, while Hakan aided by Miles, Cristo, Kolya and David, would carefully search the exterior of the building, looking for alternative entrances. Ricardo joined Ithis some distance away on the old shoreline. She now firmly believed that should she even attempt to enter the temple above the other building, all would be lost. She would see everything she needed to see through her beloved surface-dweller’s eyes and his unconscious thoughts, as she tuned into his mind while he carefully began to explore the labyrinth of tunnels. Nick had chosen Victor for his immense strength, and Thomaso, for his unparalleled knowledge of his Incan forbears’ glyph style writing, learned at his grandfather’s knee, when they came across any obstacle in their way. “Ready my friends? Let’s finish this thing,” Nick said, relieved to be at the beginning of the end of the long journey, and yet clearly on edge, weighed down by concerns about what may still lay ahead as their final subterranean search began. The pair nodded their heads in unison in unspoken agreement to Nick’s command as they followed him, descending deep within the bowels of the temple searching for the tell-tale signs of an entrance to the hidden chamber below.

Each new doorway, each turn of the next narrow conical shaped passage within the Incan temple, each set of slippery steps, led them further down into the eerie stone underworld. The deeper they journeyed, the more worried Thomaso became by the dire warnings written in stone by his forbears about the ‘green eyed devils’, a fact which he informed his friends of repeatedly. The Incan people had purposely built the temple above the Crypto-terrestrial’s construction, in an attempt to seal it off forever.

More than once despite the powerful beam of his own torch illuminating his surroundings, Victor bumped his head on low slung, solid stone lintels much to Thomaso’s amusement. Until Victor had arrived here with Nick, he had never met such a giant of a man in his entire life. For Nick and his two companions, time now seemed to stand still as their search intensified for that hidden entrance. Seconds, minutes and hours melded together into a meaningless nothing within the claustrophobic shadowy subterranean world they carefully made their way through, descending ever deeper into its gloom. After a couple of hours of slow and nervous descent, their winding path finally ended.

~~~

At the end of a short passage at the bottom of a long stairwell, the construction method surrounding them changed abruptly. Nick saw a wall ahead of him built from an entirely different kind of stone from the Incan temple complex above. The wall was completely covered in a number of precisely carved reliefs, showing various scenes from the time long ago when Ithis’ people first encountered our earliest ancestors. Among the many scenes of long forgotten battles between both races, were a few depicting a relatively peaceful time. Nick stared in utter disbelief at one scene in particular, situated directly at the centre of the wall, clearly designed to stand out from the rest. Before him he saw two figures he knew only too well, sitting on some kind of dais above a sea of prostrate people, who worshipped them as gods. One of the figures was his beloved Ithis. The other, dressed in the clothing of a Sumerian god, was Asima. Nick’s angry outburst echoed within the confines of the stone passage. “Ithis what the hell is going on? I thought Asima was your nemesis, not your damned ally and consort!”

Through his eyes, Ithis tearfully stared in shocked disbelief at the scene. “He was my enemy my love. Even though he is now finally silenced, he always will be. The scene before you was carved by my people before they left this planet and the Solar System forever. When I chose to stay behind, most of my kind deeply resented my love for humanity. I can only think they carved this relief back then, believing that if one day this place was once more discovered, whoever found it would consider me to be as evil as Asima.” Hurt by Nick’s angry outburst, and deeply saddened by her own kind’s hatred of her and mankind, she sat in tearful silence. Deep inside his soul, Nick felt her overwhelming feeling of grief. Instantly wishing he had not leapt like a stupid jealous fool to the wrong conclusion, he turned once more to concentrate, cursing himself for his rage, trying to make amends by focusing his attention in silence on the carved wall. From where she sat a few dozen metres above where Nick, Victor and Thomaso were, concentrating on his thoughts and seeing the wall through his eyes, Ithis slowly studied it for a possible opening mechanism to the room beyond, containing their goal.

~~~

As the sun finally set in the world above, Nick entered through the last hidden doorway, into the vast underground chamber that housed the Solar Defence System’s failsafe device – the mechanism he would need to reset. Hopefully it would also restart its sister systems on the other formerly inhabited planets of Mars and Venus, together with the solar system’s cloaking shield.

He cautiously entered the room checking the floor, walls and ceiling, looking for any sign of possible hidden hazards, designed to kill intruders, bearing in mind Thomaso’s concerns about the dire warnings written on the walls in the Incan temple above the complex. Victor stood at the doorway totally spellbound by the alien technology before him. The room bore many similarities to the other chambers Nick had found across the planet. Banks of the now familiar capacitors lined the outer walls with the equally familiar mica shielded power conduits leading from them to a central construction. Nick made his way to the centre of the room. “Do you see it my darling?” he asked, as his eyes took in every detail of the failsafe device. Through him she studied the familiar bank of controls before beginning to instruct him on its use. Following her instructions to the letter, he went through the process of disarming the countdown. According to what she told him much later, it clearly showed its target date of December the twenty-first, 2012. After the countdown was stopped, for a few brief minutes nothing happened. The Solar System’s planets continued on their new paths. The violent destruction across the planet by the tornadoes, tsunamis, encroaching ice shelves and volcanoes, still went on. But once Nick had reset the Solar Defence System, things slowly began to change for the better. The planets stopped their journey towards destruction, and began to revert back to their original orbits around the sun as the solar system entered a new beginning. Now the countdown was stopped, and the whole system had been reset, it was time to return to the surface.

With Thomaso leading the way, they began ascending the stairwell back to the Incan temple above. As he was about to step through the doorway into the lower level of the temple, a massive geological upheaval deep beneath their feet, sent one last earthquake their way, shaking the very foundations of the two ancient stone complexes. Temporarily sheltering in the massive connecting doorway between the two structures, they watched aghast as the tunnel system within the Incan temple, reset itself into an entirely different configuration. All of this was designed centuries earlier to be triggered by anyone re-entering from below, preventing the green eyed devils from returning to the world outside. Thomaso’s foreboding about the warnings he had read earlier vividly returned to mind as the dust clogged air finally settled. Ricardo jumped out of his skin with fright when Ithis with her mood enhanced pupils now shining pure white, screamed in sheer terror from where she sat beside him. A rescue mission was immediately put into effect directed by her, once she had quickly regained her composure. She was not going to lose the man she loved now after all they had been through together.

While the dust cleared slowly around them, Nick and Thomaso did their level best to free Victor’s badly crushed leg from beneath a fallen block of stone, in the first of the new stone passages. Mercifully, he felt no pain as he was pulled free, unconscious but still breathing. After a great struggle they managed to drag him clear on a makeshift carpet made from their outer clothing. While Nick sat exhausted beside Victor, Thomaso continued on ahead exploring the new maze of passageways, looking for a way out. Nick knew it was now up to his beloved Ithis and the rest to rescue them from their enforced entombment.

By the early morning light of the new age’s first dawn, Nick, Thomaso and the now fully conscious Victor where once again surrounded by their friends. Hakan and his team, following Ithis’ directions, eventually found a new entrance. Within a couple of hours they triumphantly returned to the surface with the weary trio, moments before an aftershock collapsed the temple complex, sealing the entrance to the Solar Defence System’s control room forever.

Free from any more concerns over the defence system detecting her DNA, Ithis ran to Nick. For the very first time in her long life, she experienced the wonderfully electric sensation of a tender kiss. Both of them were oblivious to everything around them as they passionately embraced, allowing their pent up physical and emotional longing for each other to consume them. The sound of clapping and laughter brought them back to reality, as the world, almost imperceptibly at first, ceased trying to destroy itself along with the rest of the Solar System. The dawn of a new seventh age for the Solar System and mankind, had finally begun.

Epilogue

Nick watched in helpless anguish as Ithis took the conscious decision to endure the irreversible and painful transformation from an immortal crystal based life form, to that of a carbon based mortal human hybrid. After her painful ordeal was over, they spent their first night together in Thomaso’s home, making love. True to his word, Nick saw to it that David was returned to the waiting arms of Katya. He was his best man at the lavish wedding provided by Nicolai, with Kolya and Victor standing at the doors to the church to prevent David trying to escape, should he once again lose his nerve.

After Nick had reset the device, the world watched spellbound while the solar system once again reformed behind a reinvigorated cloaking system, shielding us from inquisitive eyes deep in space, never knowing of Nick’s involvement or indeed the existence of Ithis. Cardinal Ricardo Spinoza, David and Miles made sure of it, to protect the lovers from the world. He finally returned home to the Forest of Dean in the county of Gloucestershire with Ithis to the welcome sight of his cottage and his wily old cat Dragon. Like all males who encounter her, Dragon was totally captivated. He ignored Nick completely, rubbing his old body against Ithis’ legs, purring loudly, giving the impression of smiling with his eyes closed tight when she gently picked him up to cradle him in her arms and stroke his scarred ears, much to Nick’s surprise. He told her later that until now no one had ever been able to do what she had done without being scarred for life by his razor sharp claws.

The first months of the new seventh age rolled on almost unnoticed by the lovers. They took pleasure in discovering each other over and over again, reaching unimaginable levels of ecstasy, before finally falling into an exhausted sleep in each other’s arms. When Nick woke each morning to find Ithis lying in his arms – her former androgynous body nothing but a memory, he took delight in feeling the softness of her skin against his. Despite the transformation she had undergone, she still retained some of her former Crypto-terrestrial traits. Nick smiled as he lay there listening to his lover’s almost imperceptible purring. Her eyes, though human in appearance, still retained those mesmerizingly beautiful, mood enhanced light green pupils, which at the height of their passion, turned an even deeper shade of emerald green, whenever she looked into his eyes.

Dragon lay in his new customary position on the window sill of the bedroom, purring in unison with Ithis, sensing the new life that lay safe within her womb, while keeping an eye on the world outside, looking for the next addition to the larder. No one apart from the few who had contributed to Nick’s successful reactivation of the Solar Defence System would ever know that the young, seldom seen couple living in their sixteenth century cottage with a half wild cat, were responsible for humanity’s ultimate salvation.

Beyond Earth in the darkness of space, almost imperceptibly as first, changes began on Venus and Mars as they slowly entered the revitalised ‘life zone’ to take their place alongside the Earth once more. Reawakened volcanic activity across both planets heralded the first stages of a new proto-atmosphere, and the growth of bacteria, which inevitably will lead to life re-establishing itself, occupying these former dead planets where mankind’s ancestors first appeared countless millennia ago. In the darkness of the cosmos, the oncoming fleets of ships changed course as the solar system disappeared once more, when our tiny corner of the Milky Way vanished from view once again, behind the renewed Solar Defence System’s impenetrable cloak…

~~~

That’s your lot folks. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.

😉

The Twenty-fifth Chapter

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Chapter Twenty-five

Déjà vu

Their long, often dangerous, sea journey aboard the old freighter through the Mediterranean and beyond, negotiating the increasingly violent waters of the Atlantic Ocean, constantly in a frenzy caused by the massive increase in storms as the world’s weather patterns changed, inevitably became a race against the Solar System’s relentless enemy ‘time’ and the end of everything mankind held dear. The world was experiencing a dramatic increase in equally disastrous natural events like the swarms of tsunamis’ being generated almost continually by a marked increase in geological activity in the world’s curst. Long dormant volcanoes erupted back to life after many centuries of fitful sleep, enveloping large populated areas with a mixture of their boiling pyroclastic clouds and the unforgiving march of new lava flows, forever burying whole towns and cities. Add one further irrefutable fact to this picture of total worldwide destruction, that of the relentless growth by the ice shelves towards the planet’s equator from both polar regions, and all the signs clearly pointed to man’s chances of being totally wiped out as a distinct possibility by the middle of 2013 at the latest.

In the case of the countless millions living on the low lying coastal areas of the world’s many continents, their lives would end much sooner. Everything now depended on Nick getting the countdown stopped. Should he be successful, hopefully he could restart the system once more, a process much like re-booting a computer when its software crashes; reversing the Earth’s destructive end and allowing ‘time’ to once more become a positive rather than a negative influence.

~~~

Their safe arrival at the mouth of the Amazon river after a nail biting sea voyage was nothing short of miraculous when you consider that the old freighter’s decks were constantly awash as a result of the hurricanes, plus the massive increase in another natural phenomena that all seafaring men fear above all else – rogue waves. By the time they had travelled up the Amazon River to its headwaters in the valleys of eastern Peru aboard an ancient riverboat piloted by Cristo, plus the gruelling, often dangerous overland journey they all endured through thick jungle and across the cultivated open country beyond the mighty river’s source towards Lake Titicaca, 2012 was drawing rapidly to a close as the month of December finally began.

~~~

At long last they had some relatively good news, courtesy of Miles, Ricardo and Thomaso. Ithis had determined back beneath the Giza plateau that Isla Del Sol was the likely location of the master control for the failsafe device. Not housed in the original capacitor chamber which had started Nick’s quest, but in another of her people’s constructions hidden beneath a long forgotten Inca temple somewhere close by. Nick had sent word to Miles and Thomaso, before he and his party began the long journey from Egypt back to Lake Titicaca. Using the still barely functioning and extremely erratic internet system, he asked them to look out for any new archaeological site during their investigations into the ghostly Incan warriors, and the equally mysterious re-appearance of dinosaurs in Patagonia, when they went to see the ethereal phenomena for themselves.

As the old freighter renamed Hope, was passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, Nick got the reply they all hoped for. Miles sent word back that owing to a recent major earthquake deep beneath Lake Titicaca’s murky depths, which had led to the lake level dramatically falling by several metres less than a week after the event, a long forgotten Incan temple, built on an even older structure had now been exposed on the southern shore of Isla Del Sol. The one thing that convinced Ithis, Nick and Hakan that this was the place they were ultimately looking for was what Miles described next in his email. He reported that he and Thomaso had been observing the ghostly Incan apparitions when suddenly they headed towards the doors of the recently exposed temple, disappearing from sight, seemingly swallowed up by the solid stone walls. The ghostly sighting drew Miles’ immediate attention to heavily incised carvings on either side of the temple’s entrance clearly showing the reason why the ancient peoples of the area had constructed it so long ago. He was staring at a reasonably accurate portrayal in stone of Ithis, or at least one of her people.

The long held belief among Thomaso’s Quechua speaking nation and the rest of the many descendants of the former Incan people, that Isla Del Sol was indeed the dwelling place of green eyed devils, which until now was largely dismissed out of hand by serious minded archaeologists as nothing more than yet another example of superstition or folk lore told to them by a simple minded people, now made a lot of sense. Thomaso pointed out that the fact it had been swallowed up gradually in the relatively recent past by the rise in the lake’s level, centuries after the Inca people had first occupied the land. Clear evidence to him and his kind of divine retribution by the Inca’s own gods long ago, determined to free their people from any kind of control by the much feared green eyed devils.

~~~

By the time Nick and his friends emerged on the shores of Titicaca at the town of Puno in the second week of December, more bad news was unfolding. Miles related the latest reports as they continued to monitor the hourly radio broadcasts from around the world of violent tornados, lightning strikes, earthquakes and massive tsunamis causing major panic across the world with millions dying as a result. Ricardo filled them in on his investigation into the apparent ghostly sightings of ancient dinosaurs, by farmers down in Patagonia, which he and Miles had undertaken while waiting for Nick and co to arrive. The farmer, who had first reported the discovery, took the cardinal and the journalist to a cave on his property where he said fierce beasts dwelt. It turned out to be a very similar setup to the one Miles had encountered in the English county of Norfolk, in that a similar rip in time had manifested itself, this time in the form of a much larger gateway between the two time periods, allowing free access by the monstrous beings from the past into the present. After Ricardo had convinced the farmer to allow the Argentinean army to dynamite the cave entrance, sealing it forever, he blessed the site to prevent any further incursions by the ungodly monsters to allay the farmer’s fears. Next he saw to it that the one or two real dinosaurs still trapped in our time where shot and secretly buried by the armed forces. Then they both returned to Puno to await Nick’s arrival, and to continue monitoring events as they unfolded across the world.

The mean temperature across the world had suffered a massive drop while the Earth’s new path around the sun becomes more of an extended ellipse, allowing the rapidly encroaching ice shelves to begin to lower sea levels worldwide, exposing countless drowned sites where those living at the beginning of the sixth age had first established themselves, after abandoning their former homes on the Antarctic continent. Incredulously, many country’s governments still continued to argue among themselves over who was to blame for the world’s present predicament, completely ignoring all the people around them who were dying in their hundreds of thousands. Third world leaders, totally ignoring the now blindingly obvious, still clung on to their paranoid belief that the whole thing was an orchestrated campaign of terror by western nations, irrationally assuming that countries like the United States and her allies were somehow employing new weapons of mass destruction to conquer the rest of the world. Across the surface of the entire planet, widespread panic ensued among the world’s population as total anarchy now took hold.

Hourly, reports came in via Miles’ radio from around the world about the astronomical event that the whole of mankind was caught up in, and its progress towards its final tragic configuration in space. The speed of the solar system’s new realignment rapidly increased; witnessed by millions of terrified people across the world, who still believed that somehow or other, whatever form of god they each believed in would deliver them from this nightmare. Millions more assumed a fatalistic attitude, by now resigned to their end.

~~~

Nick introduced Hakan and Cristo, while Ithis finally revealed herself to Thomaso for the first time. His startled reaction to her was priceless. Much to everyone’s amusement Nick’s simple Quechua speaking friend sat down hard on the ground, turning white in shocked disbelief and sheer terror, while clinging on to the simple wooden cross suspended from a piece of string around his neck. Thomaso rapidly crossed himself. He was completely dumbfounded by the fact that an ancient god was standing in front of him. Despite the assurances of his gringo friend ‘Sènor Nicholas’ and everyone else, that Ithis was the real reason why they were all there, and that she was the reason why they were hoping to put this thing right, driven by her deep abiding love and concern for humanity, it took several hours before he finally accepted her. Nick, Hakan and Ithis finally began to plan their next move. Hopefully once they had found the Solar Defence System’s failsafe device, this would be the final act in their long, often dangerous search for its location; putting paid once and for all to the violent outcome of the relentless countdown.

~~~

More later

😉

The Twenty-fourth Chapter

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Chapter Twenty-four

Lion of the Desert

With his dig site now in complete ruins and his career forgotten for the moment, Hakan willingly joined Nick’s quest. After all, as he said later with a good natured grin on his face at Nick’s expense, “You definitely needed a qualified field archaeologist on the team for the last two sites. Theoretical archaeology is all fine and well in the classroom my, or in some dusty research library my friend, but is of little or no practical use in the field, now is it? ”

~~~

The agonizingly slow trip south by sea, aboard yet another ancient rusting coastal freighter, which Hakan had ‘borrowed’, took nearly two weeks. He had searched among the many ships laying at anchor, in the narrow ,and extremely busy straits, which divide ancient Istanbul on the shores of mainland Europe, from the rest of Turkey and Asia at its most westerly edge. His long-time friend Cristo, who ably skippered the ship, with Nick and co acting as his crew, had helped him search for one which was still seaworthy.

The battle between the tectonic plates beneath the whole middle-eastern region was increasing at an alarming rate. More than once the old ship had to ride out tsunamis, fortunately still in their infancy, as they gathered momentum and destructive power, rolling their way inexorably towards the unprotected shores of the many Greek held islands, dotted throughout the relatively sheltered waters of the northern Aegean and out into the choppy eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Like all professional seamen, Cristo had recently given up any form of magnetic navigation until the planet’s magnetic poles  settled in their new position. For now he had to rely on dead reckoning by day, following Asia’s coastline using his own local knowledge and the charts at his disposal. Until recently like all other navigators, he had confirmed his position during the hours of darkness by taking celestial readings of familiar stars. But eventually he had to give up when the stars began to shift away from their widely accepted positions in the heavens after the Earth’s orbit began to change, compounding the situation he now found himself in. Amidst the ever increasing, often violent, worldwide geological turmoil, and the unbridled hysteria generated within the world’s population, Nick, Ithis and the rest of this tiny band could at long last move openly. From now on, they would be able to move about relatively unnoticed as the billions of people across the planet, who by now were totally preoccupied with searching for somewhere they mistakenly felt they would be safe from all of the destruction, ceased paying attention anymore to strangers in their midst.

Ithis, who until recently had preferred moving from point A to point B via the vast underground network her people had carved out millennia ago, now abandoned it for the relative safety of the ship. She became increasingly aware over the intervening days and nights of the sea voyage through her highly tuned senses that incoming fleets from other civilizations as yet unknown to mankind, and still far beyond the solar system, were now drawing closer. She was not yet able to determine if they were a possible threat to her beloved humanity.  Whether or not they were merely curious to explore this formerly hidden region of our galaxy, as the Solar Defence System’s countdown to self-destruction seriously weakened its cloaking barrier, which had protected it from inquisitive eyes for the last twenty-five thousand years, she did not know. Until she felt that the fleets presented a direct threat, she would keep the knowledge to herself, not wishing to add any more possible bad news to her darling surface- occupier’s troubled mind.

~~~

After docking in the port of Bûr Sa`id at the mouth of the Nile Delta, they all headed inland towards the Giza Plateau, guided by Ithis’ unerring belief that somewhere beneath the vast area that housed Egypt’s most familiar and famous ancient monuments, lay the penultimate target in their long search, while Cristo remained behind to guard the ship. With all that was going on across the world, the place was largely deserted with the exception of a few less than enthusiastic, but well bribed armed guards. They had been placed there as the last act of the head of the Egyptian Antiquities Department, before he ran away in fear for his own life, who despite the destruction going on across the world, somehow still clung onto the completely ridiculous belief that person or persons unknown would seize upon the opportunity to steal some of Egypt’s ancient relics in his absence.

Nick and the rest lay in wait among the tumbled stones of the old causeway that led to the Mortuary Temple beside Khufu’s pyramid until darkness fell. He and Hakan, with Ithis following behind unnoticed, easily bypassed the now highly nervous guards as they headed towards the oldest of all of Egypt’s ancient monuments – the Sphinx, leaving Victor, David and Kolya as their rear guard, should anyone try to follow them. “My darling, I sense a chamber deep beneath the Sphinx. Its entrance is close by, between the Lion of the desert’s great front feet,” Ithis projected into Nick’s mind.

“Come on Hakan, this way,” Nick whispered, beckoning him to follow. For many years since the birth of the new academic discipline of Egyptology, during the latter part of the nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century, there had been much hotly debated discussion and conjecture over a long fabled chamber containing a ‘Hall of Records’, hidden somewhere beneath the enigmatic Sphinx. Many amateur archaeologists and popular seers like Edgar Cayce, argued in favour of the shaky hypothesis that the hall did indeed exist. While on the opposing side of the controversial theory, narrow minded establishment Egyptologists, took the negative view, simply dismissing the idea as totally preposterous nonsense and nothing more than fable. Now Nick and Hakan were about to find out if it did exist as they began searching beside the controversial carved ‘Dream Stele’ erected by Thutmose IV, who proclaimed that the Sphinx was built by his ancestor Khufu, despite the simple fact that the monolith was a much, much older construction, from a time long forgotten.

They began their search looking for a hidden entrance located somewhere close to, or within, the ancient monolith’s right paw which Ithis felt sure they would find. After both men had spent several hours fruitlessly searching, probing and feeling every stone for some form of triggering device, Hakan finally felt a faint movement as his fingertips briefly touched a small stone standing proud, hidden from view in the shadows of its surroundings. The trigger stone revealed a narrow entrance, barely large enough for a grown man to crawl through, which led to a winding claustrophobic tunnel culminating in a large chamber. In the light of both of their torches they could see unfolding before them a vast room filled with stone shelves stretched as far as the eye could see, fully fifty metres beneath the ancient monolith. Among the many items hidden in the cool confines of the chamber was written proof of a forgotten people, in a language that Nick suspected was in all likelihood, the root language of all mankind’s many tongues.

The sheer number of scrolls and maps contained within these shelves, recording the history of the people of a long forgotten civilization, who had first inhabited the eastern shores of the Mediterranean after their home continent met its frozen end, so long ago back at the beginning of the sixth age, completely took his breath away as he tried to take in the enormity of their re-discovery.

The cursory inspection of this treasure trove of lost knowledge led both Nick and Hakan to the realization that this was not the fabled history of the mythical island of Atlantis as Edgar Cayce had predicted in one of his many cryptic visions, believed by some to have been located somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean before the biblical deluge. In actual fact what they were looking at was the accumulated histories and personal accounts of a people long dead who had lived and loved in the place we know as Antarctica. Piri Reis’ map of 1513, showing Antarctica before it became a frozen wasteland buried under miles of ice, was the only artefact found before now which had provided a tantalising clue about the vast continent at the bottom of the world. They were the people who after the sixth age began, were forced to set sail for the many new ones that we all recognise today, while those self-same continents slowly travelled to their present positions, along with a written record of the colonization of the land of Egypt. Hakan found magnificently drawn plans of the first city they built with the mighty Sphinx at its centre among the countless thousands of papyri. The pair spent hours searching through this priceless treasure house of forgotten knowledge, looking for any kind of map of the underground complex surrounding the chamber they were exploring.

Once again Hakan came up trumps when he waived a small papyrus scroll above his head. “Take a look at this Nick, I think I’ve found what we’re looking for,” he said, with a triumphant look on his face. Safe from any more interruptions, or intervention from the world above, they quickly turned their minds to threading their way through a minefield of twisting corridors and dead ends, following the map beneath the Giza plateau. Periodically they had to stop to find shelter from falling blocks of stone, when powerful earthquakes threatened to bury them forever in their search for the penultimate power source. Eventually they emerged into a now familiar dome roofed chamber. It was situated deep beneath the great pyramid’s lowest known room, the Queen’s chamber, several tens of metres below the uppermost – the King’s chamber which housed Khufu’s symbolic temporary burial place. In that room high above their heads thousands of years in the past, belief and custom demanded that Khufu’s embalmed body be placed in an open sarcophagus, to allow him to undertake the first in a series of steps in his long solo journey to the afterlife. His soul had to be weighed by the gods, to determine if he would be accepted alongside them for all eternity in the stars above, before he could finally be buried in a hidden chamber in the Valley of the Kings.

~~~

Hakan’s eyes widened, when for the very first time he saw both the vast array of ancient mica and bitumen capacitors, with their power conduits entering and leaving the chamber, and Ithis when she physically appeared to join them, finally accepting that he presented no danger. “Incredible,” he said, shaking his head in utter disbelief, “truly incredible.”

Nick smiled when his friend’s eyes took in every minute detail of Ithis’ exquisitely sensual androgynous form. Ithis added to poor Hakan’s rapidly rising sexual desire when she briefly fixed her gaze upon him with her large hypnotically beautiful eyes, increasing his animal need for her, before moving past him to stand beside the man she loved. She smiled sweetly at Hakan’s natural reaction to her totally captivating beauty, which manifest itself while he stood there with his mouth hung open like a love struck horny teenager. Hakan’s physical reaction reminded Nick of the first time she had first revealed herself to him all those months ago. By now she enjoyed the natural reaction she generated among surface-dwelling males when they first set eyes upon her. “What’s incredible my friend – Ithis or the ancient power supply’s hub?” Nick laughingly enquired.

“Both,” Hakan replied in a hushed voice, now sheepishly blushing and embarrassed at being caught out as he quickly refocused his eyes on the ancient system.

“You ain’t seen anything yet. Watch this?” Nick continued as he began to restart the system. Hakan’s eyes widened even more when he witnessed the ancient banks of capacitors revert back to their former state, quietly glowing as the Solar Defence System’s power supply rapidly built up to full capacity.

“Where do we go next my darling?” Nick asked quietly as all three stood at the power hub’s centre. Ithis did not answer immediately, but sat down for a long time in total silence. Her beautiful face took on a mask of deep concentration as she remained in an almost trance like state, concentrating all her efforts to discover the whereabouts of the Solar Defence System’s failsafe device.

~~~

More later

😉

The Twenty-third Chapter

LR snakes

~~~

Chapter Twenty-three

An Old Foe Returns

Five weeks after they had left Rize on Turkey’s northern coast, the weary and dusty party finally saw their goal in the distance. Göbekli Tepe sits at the highest point of an elongated mountain ridge, fifteen kilometres northeast of Sanhurfa in south-eastern Turkey. To this day it is still the oldest known human place of worship yet discovered.

From their hideout across the valley, they would wait until Hakan’s workforce had left for the day, before announcing their presence. Through his binoculars, Nick could see his old friend directing the dig’s operation from his command centre beneath a simple open sided tent at the centre of the excavation. Hakan sat on a canvas camp stool at his folding table under the canopy of his tent, pitched on one of the polished limestone floors at the monument’s centre. As dusk fell, he was busy examining the latest finds and writing up his notes for the day’s activity by the light of a hurricane lamp, suspended from the tent’s central pole. After the last rays of daylight finally vanished behind the mountains to the west, Nick and David, warily followed by Kolya and Victor, approached Hakan through the forest of T shaped carved stone monoliths that had been manufactured and erected by hunter gatherers eleven thousand- five hundred years earlier. The monoliths were illuminated by the light of a rapidly rising full moon, covered with ghostly carved reliefs and pictograms of foxes, lions, bulls, boars, pigs, gazelles, asses, snakes, insects, spiders, scorpions and birds.

“Hakan – it’s me. We’re here at long last,” Nick whispered, from the shadows behind where he sat still totally absorbed in his work. Hakan almost jumped out of his skin, before turning to embrace his old friend.

“Nick, you scared the pants off me!” Hakan laughed with tears of joy flowing down his handsome face, kissing Nick on both cheeks in the time honoured fashion of the Middle East, now surrounded by the rest of the dust encrusted weary team, as they slowly emerged from the shadows to stand beneath the tent.

Nick was very proud of his friend. He had done well for himself since his return to Turkey, rapidly gaining the respect of the Turkish archaeological community, and in the wider academic world beyond. Ithis remained hidden for the moment, morphed into one of the ornately carved T shaped pillars. She saw no need to startle Nick’s friend for a second time by her physical presence. While Hakan had been made aware of her by Nicolai, as yet, he hadn’t set eyes upon her. Besides, he had already nearly suffered a heart attack, when Nick crept up on him a few moments earlier. Unlike David, Kolya and Victor, who took Hakan at face value on Nick’s word, she was not yet prepared to automatically accept him, despite him being one of Nick’s closest friends at university. Inevitably, people tend to change over time in more ways other than mere physical change as they grow older. After Esrin’s betrayal she had resolved to be doubly on her guard, now that the end was almost in sight. Besides, she needed to probe Hakan’s mind to satisfy herself as to his allegiances and beliefs, a process that she knew her darling surface-occupier would not approve of.

Hakan had disturbing news to tell them, courtesy of Miles and Ricardo Spinoza which he began to relate. Miles had been in contact two days earlier, via an email from Nicolai back in the Ukraine, about two more recent time anomalies still as yet uncorroborated, unlike the earlier Neanderthal sighting in the English county of Norfolk. One of which they already knew about, concerned the recent sightings of ancient Inca warriors. He had gone with Thomaso, who had also witnessed the ghostly phenomena, to Isla Del Sol after stories spread rapidly among the locals on the island. They were completely terrified when the Inca warrior apparitions appeared in their midst. The whole phenomena sharpened his natural journalistic curiosity. Meantime, Ricardo had learned of a second time anomaly through his contacts within the hierarchy of the South American Catholic Church, which at his insistence was kept from the general public by the Argentinean government, on the advice of the cardinals under his sway. Sightings of long extinct dinosaurs by farmers in the more remote parts of Patagonia had been reported, which he and Miles would investigate together.

Hakan went on to say that deeply worrying reports from many branches of the scientific community worldwide, were coming in thick and fast on an almost hourly basis from across the world over the last month. Serious concerns among the astronomical community, were rapidly being disseminated as the Solar System’s planets began to change their orbits, which Nick and David both knew only too well, signalled the beginning of its final realignment, when it would point directly towards the centre of the galaxy, suggesting the very real possibility of catastrophic planetary collisions in the near future. Not to mention the fact that it would alter the paths of countless meteorites, asteroids and other space debris, with equally disastrous results for all mankind, possibly as early as the months of January or February 2013. The geological community across the planet reported massively increased seismic activity associated with the already marked shift in the Earth’s orbit.

Meteorologists and climatologists as well as politicians and investment bankers who backed the highly controversial global warming theory, seeing it as just another money making venture by selling the concept of carbon offsetting to the gullible, were fast abandoning their formerly entrenched views now that the Arctic and Antarctic ice shelves began to grow at an alarming rate. The ice growth was clear evidence of the Earth’s new elliptical orbit taking it farther away from the Sun, which would lead to a protracted period of freezing within a few months, and for the foreseeable future.

Finally, to add to the alarming scenario rapidly unfolding before their eyes, word was coming through that the Earth’s magnetic poles were beginning to reverse, as witnessed by anyone using any form of satellite assisted navigational system to find their way across the world. In the case of the world’s network of GPS satellites, many of them where now clearly no longer functioning since they crashed back into the atmosphere to burn up, courtesy of the planet’s change in orbit. The last time that the Earth had experienced a magnetic pole change, back in the eleventh millennium BC, the continents shifted, ending long forgotten civilizations in a heartbeat, plunging vast swathes of the Earth’s surface beneath the deadly grip of a killer ice age. The new shift meant that the lithosphere was inevitably on the move once again, experiencing an alarming rate of acceleration, which until now had been nothing more than the object of theoretical debate among the world’s leading geologists.

Meanwhile, television news channels, radio chat shows, leading newspapers, political commentators and senior politicians worldwide, were in the midst of a frenzy of pointless discussions about what could be done about the Earth’s current predicament…

~~~

Nick sat in stunned silence struggling to absorb Hakan’s news, trying to gather his wits as his brain churned in turmoil. It was totally perplexing to anyone with a modicum of common sense, just how useless we all are when faced with a major disaster not of our own making. For a brief moment his mind went back to that first day at Stonehenge back in 2011, when by sheer chance he had eavesdropped on the strange, seemingly nonsensical cannabis induced conversation between those three new age hippies, Milo, Sunflower and Rebo. The hundreds of others gathered there that day watched the minutely delayed summer solstice sunrise, in their ignorance not realising or fully appreciating what it was they had just witnessed. Without that chance encounter, he would not now be sitting here in the mountains of south-eastern Turkey just over a year later and, according to his calculations, approximately two months away from the catastrophic end of the planet we all called home, unless they could successfully restart the Solar Defence System network. One other fact that now totally consumed him, was that their quest to end the inevitable controlled decay, caused by the wholly unnatural concept of time, not the ‘time’ that humanity understood, but the by-product of the relentless countdown to destruction, was fast reaching the point of no return. He reminded himself that it was set to self-destruct, sometime in the final month of this current year – 2012.

Ithis had told him a week ago, as they sat together taking a much needed rest in the darkness on their own, that the lives of the world’s population would not instantly end. She said it would take many agonising months, while the unseen forces of the sun slowly ripped away the protective upper layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, and ultimately the very air we breathe. The planet and everything living on it, will be subjected to massive waves of killer radiation and boiling heat when the solar winds increase their bombardment of the planet, as it heads inexorably towards the closest point of its new orbit around our fiery star. In his attempt to make sense of it all, he was briefly reminded of a quote by Plato he had read in his childhood, whose meaning had completely escaped him until now. It went something along the lines of, ‘beginning again like children, in complete ignorance of what had happened in early times.’

Unless they were successful, the world and everything living on it would simply cease to be. However, should mankind somehow survive, as we undoubtedly had in the past, reverting back to our most primitive state as cave dwellers and hunter gatherers, within a generation or two like our ancestors before us, we would forget everything that had gone before. To anyone who kept an open mind, everything man had learned over the preceding centuries, pointed to the fact that similar occurrences had happened in the past on at least six separate occasions. Taking into account the irrefutable evidence, combined with the long derided myths and legends of the many civilisations of old which Nick had studied so closely, one thing was now transparently clear. Our solar system was about to enter a new seventh age, whether we were ready for it or not.

~~~

“What do we do? Victor asked as the sweat stained creases on the friendly giant’s forehead stood out like thin white lines against the weather-beaten background of his craggy face, emphasizing his childlike concern.

Nick gave him a half smile. “I don’t know my friend. I honestly don’t know…” His voice trailed off momentarily as his mind briefly returned to the task, searching for an answer that would satisfy himself, before continuing. “What can we do but go on Victor. We have no choice but to see this thing through to the bitter end. It’s better to go down fighting, than do nothing as the world and everything we all know, ends.”

Victor nodded uncertainly as he shifted uncomfortably where he sat on the ground, kicking a curious scorpion away with his boot. “But shouldn’t we tell someone what we do now? People in power maybe will help us Doctor Nick?” Victor continued.

Nick shook his head. “Who would believe us my friend?” he replied. “Only a few individuals across the entire planet, other than the five of us, fully understand the gravity of the problem. The rest of the world believes the whole thing is somehow either a natural phenomenon, or manmade Victor. Besides, no one else has the merest inkling about Ithis’ people or their Solar Defence Network. God almighty – just imagine what would happen should Ithis reveal herself to the rest of humanity! They’d do their damndest to kill her if they ever found out it was her people who set this whole thing in motion all those countless thousands of years ago, to destroy humanity in an act of revenge for the way we treated her kind.”

Victor sat in silence trying hard to understand what Nick had just told him. One thing he was sure of however and stated so, was that, “He would proudly stand by his friends ‘Doctor Nick’, Ithis, David and Kolya doing what he could.” Kolya hugged the giant in silent agreement. He loved his simple friend like a brother. Not for the first time since their quest began, David sat in silence as he absorbed Hakan’s disturbing news.

Ithis’ angry scream broke their train of thought. Asima’s mind was somehow free from the control of the sonic array’s influence. He was trying to utilize the defence system’s power for his own evil agenda! They had to find the hidden entrance beneath them and fast! “Hakan, it’s essential we find the entrance to the power system hub. Is there anything unusual indicating a possible entrance?” Nick urgently asked as his mind returned to the real reason why they were here.

Hakan nodded his head vigorously. “Follow me.” Armed with hurricane lamps and torches, Nick, David, Victor and Kolya followed him, unsteadily trying to stay upright as a wave of minor earth tremors struck the area as Hakan made a beeline for one specific T shaped monolith, smaller than the rest, completely covered with carved adult and juvenile vultures. Amid the many vultures was a small carving of a scorpion crawling its way across an egg, towards a decapitated human form, on the extreme lower right-hand side of the monolith. Nick searched for some form of triggering device among the many carvings before him, as the dust created by the now continuous mini quakes hung in the air, threatening to engulf the monolith. The rest of the team assisted his search by focussing their lamps and torches. His now practiced eye soon fell on the tiny scorpion. As he moved his hurricane lamp back and forth to illuminate any detail hidden by shadow and dust, he noticed that it had tiny inset black eyes.

He was about to touch both eyes when from deep within his soul he heard, or rather felt, Asima’s terrible cry of pain. Ithis had declared war for the second time in a matter of weeks! From somewhere in the immediate area of Göbekli Tepe, she was already using the latent power of the Solar Defence System to amplify her attack, turning it against her nemesis as he tried to tap into it himself, despite the great risk to their quest of the system recognising her unique DNA fingerprint. From his hermetically sealed crystal lined tomb, now sealed forever beneath hundreds of tons of reinforced concrete, below the old monument back in Khakassia, Asima’s insane mind raged with a level of violence Ithis had never known before. The yellow colour of her pupils indicating her deadly anger, intensified as she increased the level of her own cerebral attack, aided by the now almost fully functional power supply beneath the ancient monument, before finally destroying him once and for all.

~~~

While the battle between the two most powerful entities the world had ever known ensued, Victor cried out in agony holding his head in his hands as the intensity of Ithis’ lethal attack was felt by all. For the very first time in his life Hakan experienced pain he had never thought possible until now, reduced him to a babbling shadow of his former self, as he lay on his side with his knees drawn up between his arms in a foetal position. Like everyone there he was violently affected by the monumental battle of wills. Kolya’s bloodshot eyes rolled violently in his head while the mental agony reached its inevitable conclusion. David screamed in sheer terror, losing control of his bodily functions. Nick who was by now the most attuned to Ithis’ mind, mercifully passed out as the last powerful attack she delivered finally destroyed her ancient nemesis forever. He came to moments later amidst the bodies of his friends, when the effects of the excruciating violence of the mental barrage they had all been subjected to minutes earlier slowly dissipated, allowing them to regain consciousness and control of their wits and composure. They had all experienced Ithis’ wrath first hand. This time the physical and mental symptoms had manifested themselves as a brutal and frightening assault on their very being.

As the first light of dawn slowly appeared on the eastern horizon, Nick entered the chamber and completed the reactivation of the Anatolian hub. Moments after he re-emerged from below, a massive magnitude seven earthquake struck the region, sealing the chamber forever beneath a vast new rubble field that formerly had been Göbekli Tepe. Ithis found him sitting on his own still nursing a pounding headache from her battle. “Asima is no more my love,” she said quietly. “We must now move on to the next hub in the network.”

Through still hazy and painful eyes he looked deep into hers as he asked, “Where do we go from here?”

“Egypt my love, we go to Egypt.” she said gently, smiling while showing her tender loving side once more when the pupils in her eyes turned back to the familiar sign of her love for him, their deep shade of emerald green, backed up by her now familiar soft purring. Nick weakly returned her smile, despite the monumental blinding headache he had developed, thanks to her final battle with Asima.

~~~

More later

😉

The Twenty-second Chapter

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~~~

Chapter Twenty-two

By night and by goat trail

Their Kurdish guide, Esrin Goran, was originally from a village just north of Tikrit in Iraqi Kurdistan, the birthplace of the legendary Saladin. In other circumstances, David would have avoided him at all costs. Fanatical men like Esrin were dangerous in the extreme. Had Katya been by his side, maybe he would have felt slightly more at ease. After all, like Ithis, she would protect her man with her life if need be.

Esrin’s religious intolerance of all who were not true believers had been curtailed at least for now. Outwardly he shared an unshakeable belief in Nick’s quest, hiding any loathing he felt for all unbelievers, since Ithis had entered his mind several days before their arrival in Rize. To say that he was completely terrified by the whole experience was a major understatement. Up until that point in his life he had never known fear. He survived the relentless attacks against his people in Iraq by the country’s dictator and his murderous followers, which eventually led to the first Gulf War at the end of the twentieth century. Moving his family to relative safety over the border into Turkish Kurdistan, he later fought alongside his Kurdish brothers against the constant attacks mounted by the Turkish military in their bid to drive all Kurds from their ancient homeland in an attempt to gain land for its own growing population.

He convinced himself that the incursion into his soul by Ithis was a test of his religious faith. Somehow the devil had entered uninvited to drive him mad. His wife, surrounded by their terrified crying children, uttered loud prayers for him as he fought against Ithis’ relentless control of his mind, convinced that her husband had transgressed in some way against the strict teachings of the holy Koran. Once he had finally capitulated, Ithis made it abundantly clear to him that should Nick’s quest fail, the alternative would make all petty political and religious squabbles between the many countries across the world, especially here in the Middle East, plus the countless wars created by an ingrained xenophobic intolerance of other races, pale in comparison. Esrin reluctantly agreed that his vision of the rest of the world beyond that of holy Islam, had to be placed on hold for now. The only thing that really mattered was the continued survival of mankind, the world and the solar system. No longer could men like him, or indeed the rest of mankind come to that, blindly continue along the same chequered path it had taken until now, ignoring the welfare of the planet they all shared. Should what Ithis had said actually come to pass, the world as we know it would simply cease to be. That last fact was what finally made him grudgingly cooperate, at least for now.

~~~

“Your friend Hakan Ozan has been in contact Doctor Nick. He says he believes he has found that which you seek at Göbekli Tepe. He also has some other news for you, which he will tell you himself, once we arrive there,” Esrin announced while contemptuously throwing the written message across the table.

“How are we to get there?” Kolya asked.

“We cannot travel via any road. The Turkish army patrols are many. We must travel at night by mountain pass and goat trails, Allah curse them!” Esrin spat on the floor in contempt as if any reference to the Turkish authorities somehow soiled his mouth, but deep within the recesses of his still rebellious mind, also in contempt for the party of unbelievers presently infecting his home with their western ways.

That night their long overland journey began. They soon found themselves in the hills above Rize, following their bellicose Kurdish guide, heading southeast under a cloud filled moonless night sky. Many hazards still stood in their way, both natural and manmade. For now they had no choice but to trust Esrin to do his job as their guide, taking them to Göbekli Tepe. Once there, Nick knew Hakan would get them safely to their next destination wherever it may be. The path they took across country each night, eventually led them to the ancient Anatolian region of Cappadocia, an area in times long past where early Christians had lived. This was where the team could now safely hide in plain sight, while Esrin went ahead to spy out their route before returning to collect them. Their slow journey, carefully avoiding the many herds of goats grazing under the watchful eyes of their attendant goatherds, any one of whom could raise the alarm at a moment’s notice about the infidels crossing the many mountain ranges, entered its second week.

At long last in the distance they could see the eerily strange sight of conical stone towers, known colloquially as Fairy Chimneys, illuminated by the moon below them. It was beneath one of these chimneys in a large cavern divided up into many smaller sleeping spaces surrounding a communal room, where they now ate and relaxed. At last they found themselves able to rest and get their strength back from the tiring forced march they had endured each night for the last two weeks, before they began the second stage of this long trek to Göbekli Tepe and the welcome face of Hakan.

After Esrin had insisted that he needed to go off on his own to reconnoitre the path ahead, to eliminate a chance encounter with any further goatherds or a government patrol, they quickly organised their temporary camp. Victor and Kolya set about the task of guarding the entrance to their hiding place while Nick, David and Ithis sat in silence, each recalling in their minds the events that had lead up to this moment. Though it was barely a few months ago since Nick’s first discovery of the capacitor array hidden on the Isla Del Sol back in 2011, it seemed much, much longer. Both men were now completely overcome, mentally exhausted by the monumentally difficult task that they had so far endured, and which still lay ahead of them. Living on your wits, fed by adrenalin will eventually wear anyone down. How many more of the ancient sites Nick had to bring back to life at that point in time, neither man knew for certain.

Even Ithis with her extensive knowledge of the Solar Defence System could not give them a definitive answer. All she really knew at this particular moment in time was that when the penultimate site was finally reactivated, she would sense that they had done enough to revitalise the system’s power supply. And once he had reset the key, wherever it may be, she would at last be free to embrace the man she loved. For the first time in her long solitary life, she would finally experience the joy of physical love, happy in the knowledge that her DNA mixed with his, would no longer present a problem to the Solar Defence System’s failsafe device. She blinked her large expressive eyes in the gloom of the cavernous room, taking in every detail of her surroundings. Her mesmerizing, mood enhanced, pupils turned dark emerald green as they focussed tenderly on Nick, while he slept fitfully beside her. Her purring, brought on by her aching physical desire for him, echoed softly throughout the cave system. While the man she loved more than life itself slept, she sat patiently, ready to defend him from anything or anyone who may try to harm him.

~~~

A few hours later as dawn broke she hissed loudly. Her pupils turned an intense shade of yellow, indicating her rising anger. Unnoticed, she vanished from sight moments before Victor woke everyone, loudly announcing the return of Esrin. He was not alone! Now wide awake, Nick joined him, Kolya and David at the entrance to the cave. In the distance they could see a party of heavily armed men led by Esrin, stealthily approaching their hideout. They watched wide eyed as the members of Esrin’s band of would-be murderers began screaming in terror. Staccato echoes from their AK47’s combined gunfire bounced around between the Fairy Chimneys in the still early morning air. Esrin and his band fired their automatic weapons in all directions desperate to kill their unseen attacker as she angrily tore their minds apart until all that was left were lobotomized, but still breathing, husks that had formerly been sentient beings.

Esrin’s fate was wholly different. Ithis physically appeared before him for the first and last time, the pupils of her eyes shining like deathly yellow beacons as she slowly destroyed him forever. The terrified Kurd fell to his knees, frantically screaming his prayers to his god while pleading for his life. His brain began to swell inside the confines of his skull under her ruthlessly delivered powerful attack, until finally it exploded turning to a grey bloody soup that flowed freely from his ears, nose and mouth, as he toppled lifeless to the floor of the valley. Never again would he hold his children. Never again would he know the pleasure of the  warmth of his wife in their matrimonial bed.  Ithis still seethed with anger. No one but no one mattered in the scheme of things now except her precious surface-dweller, her Nick! After she had returned to her normally benign self, she once more took on the role of guide for the remainder of the journey to Göbekli Tepe. Until now, all of her human companions, especially Nick, had never ever seen just how ruthless she could become when provoked.

The rest of the long journey to Göbekli Tepe largely went without a hitch, and without much conversation. Kolya and Victor nervously brought up the rear of the small column of travellers behind an equally shaken David, who followed Nick and Ithis at a considerable distance. It would be a long time before any of them felt confident enough to once again talk to the Crypto-terrestrial.

~~~

More later

😉

The Twenty-first Chapter

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~~~

Chapter Twenty-one

A dangerous passage

The seemingly unstoppable countdown to destruction was rapidly drawing to a close, with barely four months left. The short trip between the Dnieper delta and the old port of Odessa was made in the moonlit early hours of the last day of August 2012. Victor steered as close to the shoal waters of the coast as he dare.

Odessa is still a major Black Sea port city. It had been settled in 1240 by the Tatars under the leadership of Haci I Garay – the Khan of Crimea. The city is the fourth largest in Ukraine. It was won by the Russians in the Russo-Turkish war of 1792. There are two ports; one taking the name of the city, and the relatively new port of Yuzhne, a vast internationally important oil terminal situated in the city suburbs.

The old port was the destination for the former gunboat and its motley crew. Kolya endlessly droned on about Odessa like a tourist guide, regaling his audience with its history and relevance to the Ukraine over the years, especially since it had fallen under Ukrainian control once more after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He hardly drew a breath as he spoke of it having once been an ancient Greek colony, and how its population in the middle nineteenth century comprised Albanians, Armenians, Bulgarians, French, Germans (including Mennonites), Greeks, Italians, Jews, Poles, Romanians, Russians, and Ukrainians. He spoke of the worker’s uprising in 1905, when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin lent their support to the worker’s cause, and how the old port was destroyed by retreating Red Army troops during the Second World War, when the city briefly fell into Nazi hands before finally being regained during the Red Army’s siege in 1944. With the exception of Kolya, all aboard would be glad to see the back of the Ukraine. They were fed up to the back teeth with his constant flow of facts about his homeland.

~~~

Victor brought the former gunboat quietly alongside the rusty hull of the old Black Sea freighter Midnart, barely nudging her in the process. With the exception of Victor’s crew and a tearful Katya, everyone quietly climbed aboard via the slippery wooden ladder slung over the freighter’s side. After paying off his crew, Victor gave them specific orders to take the old vessel back out to sea and scuttle her before they headed home, taking Katya back to her uncle. Nick and David remained hidden from the freighter’s captain and crew, temporarily locked in a stuffy inner cabin by Victor, while he and Kolya went to check on the ship’s much needed refurbishment. All was not well. The captain hired for the voyage to Turkey – Pyotr Mishkin, was permanently drunk and incapable of controlling his crew. He had recruited them from the dregs of Odessa’s streets, drunkards like himself, unwilling to do a day’s work. Without a word from Kolya, Victor immediately took charge of the situation, beating some sense into the crew and Pyotr, reminding them that their paymaster was the most feared man within the Ukrainian mafia, and that their lack of enthusiasm for the task ahead would be made known to Nicolai by him personally at the earliest opportunity.

Over the next ten days Midnart was slowly transformed by her suddenly enthusiastic crew. Her tired hull was eventually made watertight. She now proudly displayed her new livery of white superstructure, bitumen painted hull above the waterline, with matte ochre coloured antifouling below it. Her ancient pre-war diesel engine was completely overhauled under Victor’s sometimes brutal supervision, until eventually the day arrived when the old ship was ready for sea once more.

~~~

From their hiding place inside the cabin, Nick and David felt the old ship’s beating heart quicken as Midnart headed out of Odessa under the Ukrainian flag. She steamed for a point twenty miles south of the Crimean city of Sevastopol on a carefully plotted course, designed to avoid the main shipping lanes. At barely eight knots, her slow passage would take just over four days. On the evening of the third day, dense clouds of fog rolled seaward from the Crimean peninsula. Midnart had no radar, so a constant watch had to be kept on deck by Victor and his surly volunteers. For reasons of stealth, Kolya took the very risky decision to turn off the old ship’s navigation lights to make use of the cover of the thick fog banks, and to reduce her already slow speed to a crawl at dead slow ahead, in an effort to hide her engine noise from inquisitive ears. He calculated they were approximately ten nautical miles off Sevastopol, not realizing that in fact they were directly in the main approaches for all shipping entering and leaving the Crimean port.

In the mist and gloom, the old ship wallowed barely moving now that her speed had been severely reduced. Kolya’s bad decision was suddenly exacerbated when Midnart was struck violently on her bows by a much larger vessel, outward bound from Sevastopol. He quickly rang for full astern on the old ship’s engine telegraph, impatiently waiting for what should have been the engineer’s instant confirmation on the wheelhouse repeater. Getting no response, he frantically slid down the handrails of the communication ladder between the bridge and the main upper deck, running towards the watertight door leading down to the engine room, situated aft of the funnel. The door was wide open. The vast space below was now empty of all life. Victor also found himself alone on deck, deserted by his unwilling volunteers.

Kolya slammed the old engine into reverse and climbed back up to the main deck before returning to the now empty wheelhouse. In the initial panic of the collision, Pyotr and his mutinous crew seized their chance and stole the only serviceable lifeboat aboard, vanishing into the thick sea mist never to be seen again. Victor hurriedly unlocked the door to Nick and David’s hiding place, and together they ran to the bridge. By now Midnart was slowly taking on water from the damage she had sustained in the collision. Something had to be done and fast! Nick immediately saw the cause of the collision. “Kolya you bloody idiot, turn the damned nav-lights back on right now! Ring full ahead and head out to sea. Then work out a course for the approaches to the Sea of Azov, while Victor and I check out the damage. David, get below to the engine room fast!” he angrily ordered, taking control of the situation.

“Why Sea of Azov Nick?” Kolya sheepishly asked, still smarting from the rebuke over his stupid decision that had caused the dangerous situation they were all now in.

“We need to beach her somewhere temporarily to make repairs. Meantime Victor and I will have to go below to shore up the damaged hull.” Kolya swung the ship’s bow south heading for open water, hoping to clear the thick bank of sea mist.

~~~

“Much damage I think,” Victor stated gravely, as a look of deep concern spread across his normally placid face. They quickly surveyed the paint locker, situated directly below the compartment that housed the old ship’s anchor chain. Fortunately its sprung plates were still held in place by their rivets. But for how much longer, neither of them were prepared to hazard a guess. The good news was that the slowly flooding paint locker was relatively small, and its watertight door was still sound. The bulkhead it was situated in ran from bilge to upper deck, meaning that if necessary they could seal off the compartment if needs be. However with the ship’s forward motion and the incoming sea water, the old freighter would soon be down by the bow. Between them, the pair dragged all the wooden shoring wedges and struts they could find into the small compartment, and began the process of trying to seal the leaks. Once again Victor proved his worth as he tirelessly worked alongside Nick, plugging the worst of the damage with wooden wedges and tarred canvas, all held in place by wooden struts jammed against the repairs, giving the tiny compartment’s interior the look of a jumbled pile of timber. By the time the two men had exited and closed its watertight door the damage was contained. However, should they run into bad weather their repairs may not hold.

Back in the wheelhouse once more, Nick studied the chart of the area south of the Crimea. Victor pointed out the Cape of Sarych at the southernmost point of the Crimean peninsula. “Russian Navy base is there,” he began with a worried look on his face. “They keep watch. Not good for us. They run many patrols from there to Georgian waters. We need to sneak past when patrol is out of sight,” Victor suggested.

Nick acknowledged his concerns. “The other problem we have is the shallowness of the Sea of Azov. If we go too far into the channel, we run the very real risk of running aground permanently. We need to find a spot on one side of the channel where we can keep Midnart’s bow on soft sand while leaving her hull still afloat. Somehow or other we have to keep her out of the outflow from the channel. If she is pushed too hard by the tidal movement in the channel she could very easily run aground.”

Victor studied the chart for a long time before once again stabbing it with his large finger. “Fedosiysky Bay is deep enough and out of main channel flow!” The big man grinned in triumph as he slapped Nick on the back, pleased about his discovery.

Nick nodded his head in agreement. “Fedosiysky Bay it is then my large friend.”

Victor went below to join David in the engine room, leaving Nick to work out the next move with the still deeply ashamed Kolya at the wheel. “Take a break my friend,” Nick said placing his arm around Kolya’s shoulders, attempting to reassure him as he stood beside the wheel. “We have to be very careful not to attract the attention of the Russian Navy patrols as we slowly close with the channel to the Sea of Azov.” Kolya’s shame increased as Nick’s reassuringly friendly gesture did nothing to relieve his guilt, which still prevented him from looking him directly in the eye. He went below after Nick had assumed control of the wheel.

~~~

Midnart’s heart faltered and stopped. The whistle on the engine room communication pipe blew. “Nick the engine has just cut out!” David shouted. Now she was adrift without power.

Nick’s brain went into overdrive. “God almighty, what else can go wrong?” He yelled for Kolya to come back and take the wheel while he disappeared rapidly below. Trusty Victor had already spotted the problem. The main fuel feed from the oil bunker had sheared. Fuel oil was spilling out and worse still, air had been allowed to enter the fuel line. Nick and David quickly shut off the flow from the fuel tanks before too much air entered the fuel line. They immediately sprang into action removing the broken feed pipe, replacing it with a temporary one, made from the pipe work of a desalination pump that had long ago ceased to work. The hard part would be the slow process of bleeding the entire fuel injection system – not the kind of process that could be done in five minutes.

Meantime Midnart was still drifting, caught in the currents, and barely fifteen nautical miles off the Crimean peninsula. She was steadily being pushed by the onshore breeze from the south towards the rocky shore. She was bound to be noticed at any moment by any vigilant radar operator worth his salt. The one single comfort they could take from their perilous predicament was that the sea was relatively calm – at least for now. Nick left the job of bleeding the system in the capable hands of Victor, with David acting as his assistant while he returned to the wheelhouse.

“Nick – look!” Kolya’s voice trembled in fear as he pointed towards the shore when Nick reappeared in the wheelhouse. From the direction of the Russian naval base, they could clearly make out the shape of a gunboat steadily heading directly towards them.

“Oh bloody great, just what we need!” Nick muttered under his breath. “Kolya, call Victor, get him up here while I go below and help David bleed the fuel system. When the Russians come alongside, it’s up to the two of you to stall them from coming aboard. Tell them the truth that our engine has stopped and that it’s all under control. Tell them that all hands are below making repairs. Tell them that you are merely a delivery crew, taking Midnart to its new owners in Turkey. Above all stall them, do you understand?” Kolya vigorously nodded, happy to be doing something useful once more. He would not let his friends down a second time. Victor passed Nick as they swapped places. David and Nick continued the agonizingly slow process of bleeding air out of the fuel lines. Their lives and the future of their quest were in the hands of Kolya and Victor now. Nick prayed that the gods were smiling on their little band.

~~~

The Russian gunboat hove to alongside Midnart as its commander pick up his loudhailer. “Ahoy Midnart, what is the problem?”

Victor went out to the bridge wing. Cupping his hands he replied, “fuel line sprang leak tovarich commander. We’re fixing now. All available hands are on the job. Only I and helmsman are on deck. We’re trying to keep the bow into the wind. We need your help. Can you throw us a line and keep us to windward while we fix the leak?” The commander nodded and issued the order to throw a line aboard, which Kolya and Victor quickly secured to the anchor winch drum on the old ship’s foredeck. At least with the Russians at the other end of the temporary line, they couldn’t board. Kolya winked at Victor and returned to the wheelhouse to pass on the message to Nick and David below in the engine room, and to keep watch from his position at the ship’s wheel.

Three hours later Midnart was back on course, this time heading southeast, bound for the small Turkish coastal town of Rize, with all thoughts of beaching her for repairs now abandoned. Underway again, Nick and Victor began pumping water from the sealed compartment, aft to the tiller flat beneath the steering gear to trim the old freighter. From there the water could be pumped overboard. Careful to avoid any brushes with Turkish naval patrols by keeping well clear of the coast, Midnart eventually ground to a halt half a mile off Rize, stuck fast on a long forgotten wreck as dusk turned to night. The four immediately abandoned ship after opening Midnart’s sea cocks to scuttle her, and swam the short distance to the beach where their arrival had not gone unnoticed by inquisitive eyes ashore. Soon they were all drying off and being fed by their Kurdish guide Esrin who would take them across country to Göbekli Tepe. Ithis’ large hypnotic eyes were filled with tears of relief, glad that they were all safe once more as she watched from the safety of the walls of Esrin’s home.

~~~

More later

😉

The Twentieth Chapter

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~~~

Chapter Twenty

The long road south

All thoughts of heading to Japan, Korea, the Indian subcontinent, and on to the Sumerian hub in Iraq where now instantly forgotten as they began heading back to Nicolai’s home in the Ukraine. The perilous journey took over three months under Ithis’ expert guidance across country. Often, she had to leave them hidden as she scouted out the terrain ahead. Once they were relatively safe back across the border with the Russia Confederation, she left them in a small hunter’s lodge, deep within the wooded hills of the Siberian Taiga while she contacted Nicolai, who sent his Mil-Mi24 gunship to pick them up.

On their return, Miles was waiting for them. He had gone to north Norfolk to seek out the author of the disturbing report. “So what happened,” David asked, as they all sat apprehensively, eager to discover if Simpkins’ report was true or not.

“He was understandably nervous when I sought him out. But when I explained that his report was being taken extremely seriously by a think tank set up to investigate similar occurrences worldwide, he finally relaxed and agreed to take me to the sinkhole,” Miles began.

“Don’t stop, go on!” Nick demanded impatiently.

“We went out across the marshland to the sinkhole, armed with a ladder and a couple of torches. After lowering the ladder, James and I climbed down to explore. It was fairly dark down there. I was about to turn on my torch when I spied a narrow shaft of sunlight.”

“From above you?” Kolya suggested, now wide eyed, eagerly leaning forward like a child listening to a bedtime story.

“No. It was coming from one wall of the hole, just below a massive tap root. I got down on my belly and looked beneath it. James definitely wasn’t making the whole thing up! About twenty feet away on the other side of the hole, I swear I saw a young Neanderthal male sitting in a cave mouth, bathed in sunlight.”

“So the whole time phenomenon really is slowly coming apart after all,” Nick replied gloomily, sitting back in his chair with his head hung low.

“Remember your contact in Peru – Thomaso?” Miles continued.

“What about him?” Nick replied as his mind began racing.

“He sent you an email a few days ago via his nephew in Puno. Thomaso swears he saw Inca warriors roaming around on Isla Del Sol near the artefact that you and he went to investigate originally Nick. You know him better than any of us. Would he simply make up something like that, merely to please you?”

Nick shook his head in silent answer to Miles question. One crack in time could be put down to an aberration in time’s fabric, but two? “Ok Miles get going,” Nick began, shrugging his shoulders at this latest inevitable symptom of time breaking down. “Head to Peru and find Thomaso, you have his address. He is one of the most level headed and honest people I’ve ever met. Meantime, use my home as your base of operations for the duration. Forget about your job on the Times. Keep in touch via email with Nicolai. David, give Miles administrative access to your website. Miles, put feelers out everywhere. Use your contacts. Ask – no demand, all information about any further incidents like these. We need to know how many more are occurring. Not only that but their locations across the planet,” Nick said finally, as he rose from his seat at Nicolai’s table and walked to the staircase that leads up to the roof above the apartment. He desperately needed to think. Above all he needed to be on his own for a while, away from the frenetic discussion going on among his friends. He stopped briefly at the foot of the stairs before finally adding with a half-hearted smile, “by the way Miles, watch out for my cat Dragon, he doesn’t take kindly to strangers. Tread carefully around him. If you want to survive his claws, buy a fish head and throw it on the floor beside him as you enter.”

Ithis appeared on the roof and sat quietly as he mulled over the now growing time crack phenomena. “My love, I know where we need to go next,” she murmured. Nick felt frustrated that their hard won successful reactivations, so far seemed to be having no effect. He turned to look into her beautiful eyes. Out of all this mess, she was the one thing in his life that made sense. She felt his deep frustration as she reached inside his mind tenderly massaging his soul, demonstrating yet again the unconditional love she felt for him. Her eyes’ emerald pupils darkened their hue as she lost herself, however briefly, in their shared moment of tender cerebral love.

“So where is it?” he asked.

“A monument field in southern Turkey called Göbekli Tepe,” Ithis replied, “You have a friend who is in charge of the massive excavation happening there.”

“Oh? Who is it?” he asked, still distracted by the latest news, seemingly disinterested by whatever her answer may be. In truth his mind was struggling with the immense task that still lay ahead of them in their race to stop the disastrous apocalyptic event soon to engulf the entire solar system.

“Hakan Ozan,” she replied, while smiling tenderly as she looked deep into her surface-occupier’s troubled eyes, so desperately wanting to hold and kiss him. Nick and Hakan were fellow archaeology postdoctoral students back at the University of East Anglia in England, when Professor Randle had declared the academic equivalent of war with Nick. He was the only one who openly stood by him during those early days, defending him and his controversial theory on time to the hilt. After graduation, and his stint as a postdoctoral researcher, Hakan returned home to Turkey to take up a junior position within the archaeology section of the Turkish government, mainly working in the field. Unlike Nick, he preferred getting his hands dirty instead of boring paper work.

“Göbekli Tepe is the key to the Middle Eastern chain within the system my darling. Your friend Hakan will make a welcome addition to our little band don’t you think?” Ithis suggested, as she saw a brief spark of hope gradually return to Nick’s eyes.

“He may have changed over the years. The last time I heard from him he was newly promoted to chief field archaeologist, based in Ankara,” he replied, as his mood turned once more to gloom, when grave doubts pushed aside any brief positive thoughts he may have had in his mind. “There is something that I have wanted to ask you for a very long time my love,” Nick began quietly, trying desperately to change the subject for the moment. “How did you ever recruit Ricardo to our cause? He is a deeply religious man, and the fervent champion of the Vatican’s fight against evil and ungodliness?”

Ithis sat in silence for a brief moment, gathering her thoughts before she began her explanation. “When Ricardo was a small boy growing up in the favelas surrounding Rio de Janeiro, he often liked to explore and play in the thickly wooded hills above the shanties with his childhood friends. On one particular day they were playing a game of hide and seek in an old cave when its roof collapsed suddenly, sealing him in and cutting off his retreat. By pure chance I was close by, trying to locate the whereabouts of one of my people’s many underground refuges, which we set up during those terrible times when your kind drove us underground thousands of years in the past. We had many of these refuges, storing essential items we deemed necessary for our defence and wellbeing, should we need to fight off anyone foolish enough to follow us beneath the surface. My sudden appearance beside him made poor little Ricardo scream with terror. He thought I was a demon of some kind come to kill him, or to take him to hell. Your foolish religions have much to answer for my darling…

Once I had reassured him that I was not a demon and that I could get him out of there and back to his friends, he slowly calmed down. In thanks for returning him safely to the outside world, he gave me his solemn promise never to reveal my presence, and that if I should ever want his help someday, I only had to seek him out and ask – a child’s promise I know, but one I took seriously. The reason I asked for his solemn promise was simply because at that time, bizarre claims about sightings of strange and frightening creatures in the poorer districts of Rio were being made. The newspapers of the day were full of reports of chimera living in the hills, stealing children from the favelas, ripping them apart and eating them. The last thing I needed was to be hunted down by a mob of frightened surface-occupiers, bent on destroying devils. When Asima reared his head once more, I found Ricardo, and the rest you know,” she sighed, remembering those troubling times in her existence.

Nick smiled to himself as she recalled the tale, imagining how he would have felt had he been in Ricardo’s place when a demon suddenly appeared beside him. He would dearly have loved to be a fly on the wall of Ricardo’s private office on the day when Ithis reappeared in his life once again. Nick followed her back downstairs to Nicolai’s apartment to begin making plans for the long trip south to Göbekli Tepe. Kolya had taken Miles to the airport for his long journey back to England, and on to Nick’s old cottage, to begin his search for more clues to the time cracks. Nicolai was busy in his office cajoling and threatening violent retribution among the other mafia families, should they refuse to help achieve his goal to gain protection for Nick, David, Kolya and Victor on their journey south. He finally came back into the large living room smiling coldly. He had just organized the safest transportation route through the entire Ukraine – via the Dnieper River by gunboat. They all poured over the large map of the Ukraine laid out on the table, paying particular attention to the mighty river flowing south to the Black Sea. Nicolai had already secured an old Black Sea freighter, courtesy of the southern Ukrainian mafia, complete with a captain and crew for the crossing to the northern Turkish shore, which currently lay disused alongside a wharf at Odessa, where she was now being made seaworthy for the crossing. Kolya and Victor would take charge of the gunboat, while extra men would be provided by the lesser mafia families for the long trip down the Dnieper, acting as both armed guards and crew. Whatever Nicolai decreed as the head of the Ukrainian mafia simply happened. No matter how inconvenient it may appear to be to the minor mafia bosses, who saw no profit in acting as bodyguards for a bunch of archaeologists, no one ever refused Nicolai unless they had a death wish.

~~~

Their trip began the following evening, following the Desna River to where it joined the Dnieper as it flowed south through the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Nick and David remained hidden below deck for the duration of the six hundred and eighty mile trip to the southernmost Ukrainian town of Kherson, at the northern extremity of the river’s large delta, on the shores of the Black Sea. The journey was governed by the speed of the shipping travelling north and south along the river, via the chain of large reservoirs and locks used by sea going vessels to take their cargos to and from Kiev.

Kolya considered it his duty to give his captive audience a potted history of the Dnieper and its importance both in the past and now, whether they liked it or not. His head was full of useless facts such as the old Ukrainian name for the river – Chorne More. At one point David flippantly informed him that he would be brilliant at Trivial Pursuits, much to Kolya’s great annoyance. He was proud of his homeland and his people’s struggle down the centuries. One fact he pointed out after David had apologized for his poor joke, made all aboard greatly concerned. Sooner or later they would have to run the gauntlet through the river territory controlled by the Zaporozhian Cossacks, who long ago abandoned their horses, trading them in for high speed boats they now used in their new venture, highly profitable river piracy.

~~~

The gunboat entered the first of two large reservoirs close to Cherkassy and tied up to temporary moorings on the bank, hidden by thick reeds and by a camouflage net spread over its superstructure, awaiting nightfall. All along the length and breadth of the massive manmade reservoir as far as the eye could see, large sea going vessels lay at anchor awaiting their turn to navigate the locks at the southern end of the reservoir. Victor and the armed crew stood guard, hidden beneath the net, watching for anyone approaching by land or by water. Once the backed up river traffic began moving again they would join the flotilla. Until then they had no choice but to wait. Navigating the lock system was not a problem by night, but during the hours of daylight, being noticed by the Ukrainian armed forces was an entirely different matter. The old gunboat had been relieved of its firepower long ago when it was eventually retired from active service. But should its thinly disguised profile be noticed by alert military personnel, they could expect to be boarded for inspection, and be subjected to a barrage of extremely awkward questions.

Despite the recent help proffered by the Russian military chiefs to silence Asima, those within the Ukrainian military who knew nothing of the operation, would consider anyone using such a vessel either to be smugglers or Russian drug traffickers. Should they also find westerners aboard, alarm bells would be sounded throughout the ranks of the Ukrainian military and their political masters? At best Nick and David would be deported as undesirables. More than likely though, they would be found guilty of espionage and executed. Under the circumstances they could expect no further cooperation from the senior military chiefs who had helped them previously. To openly admit they had committed military personnel to a politically unauthorized, non-military operation, would spell the end to their careers, and quite possibly they would join Nick and David in front of a firing squad.

~~~

By midnight the following night they were once again on the move, heading for the inland port of Kremenchuck under cover of darkness. Nicolai had arranged safe passage for Nick and David by road down to Marganec on the western shores of the southernmost reservoir, south of the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk, bypassing the headquarters of the Zaporozhian Cossack clans, and the area of the river under their control. Victor would remain on board with his armed crew while Kolya accompanied Nick and David for the overland part of their journey to Marganec, where they would re-join the gunboat for the remainder of the trip. After slipping ashore via inflatable dinghy, Kolya led the way through the dilapidated buildings that stood on the wharf. He signalled them to stop and remain where they were while he found their transport. Twenty minutes later they were once more heading south, hidden from view in the back of a battered Kamaz four wheel drive vehicle driven by Katya, glad once more to be involved in protecting her lover.

She had finally persuaded her uncle to be allowed to help her man, wearing him down by crying, pleading, screaming, sulking and nagging, until Nicolai could stand it no longer and gladly allowed his niece to set off in hot pursuit, if only to be rid of her for a while. As they drove south, Victor and his armed crew aboard the old gunboat had a brief encounter with the river pirates. It ended abruptly when he deliberately rammed one of the two high-speed powerboats that chased them, constantly trying to board. As the craft sank beneath the surface of the busy waterway above the northern locks for the reservoir, the bodies of the dead pirate crew floated in the churned up water like rag dolls while the other powerboat rapidly disappeared back upriver. The following night everyone, including Katya, was safely aboard the old gunboat heading south along the length of the remaining reservoir, picking their way carefully through the mass of anchored shipping by night, heading for Kherson and the delta, towards their destination – Odessa.

~~~

More later

😉

The Ninteenth Chapter

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~~~

Chapter Nineteen

Echoes of Sydney Reilly

After a frequently difficult and sometimes dangerous overland journey across Mongolia, once again guided by Gansukh, Nick and David were eventually passed into the hands of their Manchurian contact, Zhao, for the journey to Lushun. Kolya and Victor were far from happy about not being allowed to go; deeply concerned for their friends. They had been left behind in the Ukraine for this next expedition, after it was pointed out to them by Ithis that a large group of foreigners would not be able to freely move among the local Chinese populace unnoticed. They would more than likely be observed by the ever vigilant eyes of the People’s Army and their spies. Victor pleaded to be allowed to protect his friend David, but Nicolai was in full agreement with Ithis’ analysis of the situation.

While still maintaining its own ancient identity, Manchuria was still part of China and any foreigners, especially westerners, would clearly stand out among the populace. So Zhao had ensured that both men were heavily disguised for the journey. He made a living in the people smuggling trade, passing them down his line of safe houses, and keeping them hidden, away from the suspicious eyes of the Chinese authorities, and therefore an expert in his field. He had no real love for the Chinese who he saw as foreign oppressors in his homeland. He had more in common with their neighbours to the east in the Korean peninsula than mainland China.

~~~

Nick and David’s next target was hidden beneath the ancient port of Lushun, formerly known as Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–05. It is situated on the extreme southern tip of the Liaodong Peninsula in Manchuria. The notorious Edwardian double agent Sydney George Reilly, who despite his European name, was in fact a Russian Jew, had operated there at the beginning of the twentieth century. He played both ends against the middle in his desire for riches, by creating confusion within the ranks of the Russian occupying force charged with guarding the port, sowing fear among its officers and men concerning the imminent arrival of the Japanese Imperial Fleet. While professing his loyalty to the Tsar and mother Russia, his true nature inevitably revealed itself to the world by his role as a double agent for the British MI1c, the forerunner of MI6, and the Japanese government, ensuring his dubious reputation as a man with no real loyalty to any one flag. He was the only spy in those early days of the twentieth century who was audacious enough to steal the Port Arthur defence plans from under the noses of the Russian occupying forces; delivering them safely into the hands of the Japanese Imperial fleet for a price. Thanks to his treachery they successfully negotiated the Russian mine fields laid in the approaches to Port Arthur, where they immediately began bombarding the port, before finally taking possession, however briefly, in the name of their emperor Meiji.

~~~

The artefact beneath Lushun was the current limit for the eastern end of the system’s power grid. Ithis had strongly emphasized the need for it to be investigated immediately, to see if it was possible to reactivate it. There were two further artefacts, one in the Korean Peninsula at Jukrim-ri, and the other beneath Kitami, in the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, needed to complete the eastern end of the planetary defence system. Whether or not either artefact could be reactivated depended on the links which had been broken by the area’s constant and violent seismic activity, the original cause for its closure a thousand years before the Sumerian culture first appeared in the so-called cradle of civilization – ancient Mesopotamia, at the heart of modern day Iraq.

~~~

Zhao took them to his safe house in the town of Dalian a few kilometres north of the port, where they would remain until he had made further enquiries concerning the layout of the port and the location of the site. At the same time he also needed to make arrangements to get them to South Korea and Japan, should they be successful. Nick and David were both going stir-crazy inside the claustrophobic hidden room above the main living area of Zhao’s safe house. Time was inevitably ticking on towards destruction. The delay caused by Operation Asima had put back their schedule by almost three months. Zhao finally appeared one evening with news. “I have arranged to get to you away from here my friends,” he began. “However I have some bad news regarding the ancient site you seek. An old friend of mine, who is a Taoist monk at the temple above its location, says that the way down was blocked off back in the nineteen fifties, when Lushun suffered a major earthquake. When the temple was finally rebuilt after Mao had gone, and the communist regime relaxed its rigid attitude towards controlling vast areas like Manchuria and Mongolia, the whole temple site was concreted over before the new temple was constructed from the ruins of its predecessor.”

“Is there no other way to gain access beneath the temple?” David asked.

“I cannot truly say,” Zhao replied. “But perhaps there may be an alternative, via the sewers beneath the port. It is very dangerous, they are flooded completely twice daily by the sea. Should you get lost, you will surely drown,” he ended, shaking his head at the prospect.

“Can you get a copy of the sewer layout for us? Maybe we can find a safe route through,” Nick suggested.

“I will try. It will be a matter of finding the correct official who doesn’t want his secrets revealed to his superiors,” Zhao replied, tapping his nose and winking mischievously. Nick and David smiled to themselves – Sydney Reilly would have heartily approved of Zhao.

~~~

Two nights later, the three men carefully entered the sewer outlet into the harbour, which was only visible at low tide. They followed the map, so generously donated by the Lushun Sanitary Department’s senior civil engineer, after a little persuasive negotiation by Zhao concerning the engineer’s obsession with highly illegal imported western pornography, the possession of which brought a mandatory death sentence according to Chinese law. The unfortunate engineer had pleaded with Zhao not to reveal his shameful perversion to his manager or to the state police. Zhao promised to keep his mouth shut, always providing he got what he wanted. Although, as he pointed out to the unfortunate engineer; at a later date the information may just find its way to the desk of the provincial prosecutor’s office should he betray him in any way?

Nick led the way through the sewer system as it twisted and turned its way beneath ancient Lushun. They climbed up two levels from the main outlet to the sea, until they were directly beneath Lushun’s streets. The stench from the raw sewage outflows of the buildings directly above their heads, made all three men throw up. Three hours after they had first entered the stinking underworld, their way was blocked by an ancient wall somewhere beneath the Taoist temple complex. “David, Zhao, help me look for any sign of ancient marks on the wall,” Nick began. “I doubt that we will find the same kind of carved circular pattern we have found in the past.”

“What are we looking for then?” David asked, as he scraped away countless centuries’ worth of human filth from the stone blocks.

“Ithis, do you know what we are looking for here?” Nick unthinkingly asked out loud.

“Who is Ithis?” Zhao’s naturally suspicious nature kicked in as he continued to search along one course of stone blocks. Nick ignored his question, cursing himself for thinking out loud. Ithis kept silent for the moment. To reveal herself in any way to Zhao would not be prudent. His ancestors had been largely instrumental in banishing her kind from eastern Asia when the surface-dwellers turned against them so long ago. Instead she created a small diversion behind the three men in the tunnel below, which Zhao nervously went off to investigate. Then she entered Nick’s mind and quickly planted the shape of the carved feature he needed to find.

“David, Zhao, I’ve found something,” Nick announced.

Zhao quickly returned. “Only some old masonry collapsing into the tunnel, nothing to worry about,” he said as he re-joined them, now deeply suspicious of their real reason for being here. Nick’s torch was trained on a tiny incised dagger showing two stick figures, one standing, and the other kneeling in front of it as if they were paying homage. David and Zhao held their torches steady as Nick carefully studied the carving. The standing figure’s arms were carved in an ellipse, at the centre of which was a small lump in the fabric of the stone, almost hidden from view by the stick figures’ body. Nick carefully studied the other stick figure looking for anything similar, but found nothing. Then he turned his attention to the larger carving of the dagger. At its point, the dagger had two heavily incised lines, each denoting an edge of its blade. Wishing he had a magnifying glass with him, he strained his eyes as he carefully removed a slimy layer of mould that covered the dagger’s point. Barely visible to the naked eye, a similar lump to the one on the standing figure was revealed.

“Here goes nothing,” he muttered under his breath while he carefully placed a finger on each of the lumps and pressed them simultaneously. The block containing the carving slid silently backward revealing a large room behind the wall. Nick climbed through, followed by the now wide eyed and extremely nervous Zhao, and David. The three men explored the room by torchlight. The familiar sight of ancient capacitors and a central hub were revealed as the men’s torches were carefully swung around the room.

Zhao’s eyes betrayed his mixture of fear, suspicion and wonder at the ancient construction before him. “Who built this and what was it for?”

“It was built long before your ancestors and mine left their caves Zhao. As for what it is my friend, neither David nor I are really sure,” Nick lied.

“Then why are we here?” Zhao demanded suspiciously, looking for any sign between his two charges that would betray their true agenda.

“We’re here to find out exactly why it was sealed up so long ago Zhao. Nick and I have found similar constructions in other countries across the world. We knew if we asked the authorities for permission to investigate, they would have automatically refused. Entry to archaeological sites that Nick has been interested in the past, have always been denied him. In the world of archaeology, jealous rivalry exists among its many academics. This was the only way that we could get Nick here,” David said finally, hoping that the white lie would allay Zhao’s naturally suspicious nature.

“Why don’t you two stop talking and leave me to get on with my investigation of the ancient relic. Get back to the tunnel to keep watch!” Nick ordered with a degree of annoyance and authority in his voice. David followed Zhao back through the entrance to the room leaving Nick on his own.

“Be careful of this Zhao my love,” Ithis’ loving voice said inside Nick’s mind. “He is deeply troubled by your being here. If he thinks he can profit by betraying you, he will.” Nick thoroughly checked over the capacitor arrays and the solid metal rods beneath the central hub. The damage done millennia ago was irreparable. Ithis sensed Nick’s disappointment as he climbed back through the entrance.

~~~

The return journey to the outside world was completed barely an hour before high tide.  Dawn was breaking as Nick and David followed Zhao back to the safe house and the hidden room.

“What now?” Zhao enquired.

“We need to return to the Ukraine. Our researchers there will have news of the next archaeological site on our list when we return,” David replied. Zhao nodded, smiled coldly and quickly left the room. Ithis shadowed him through the streets of Dalian, listening to his thoughts as he headed for the central administrative building, housing the local communist party headquarters. Zhao’s growing deep suspicion of Nick and David’s answer to his question earlier about their reason for wishing to visit the ancient site bothered him greatly. While he was being paid handsomely to look after them, something niggled at his naturally suspicious mind. Perhaps they were in the pay of the Russian government, sent as spies to report on Lushun. Although why it should be so, he had no clue. While he despised the Chinese communists, Zhao equally despised the Russians. His great grandfather had died cruelly at their hands during the Russian occupation of Lushun at the turn of the twentieth century, when the war with Japan had laid waste to the old port. He stopped across the street from the headquarters, momentarily hidden by the shadows. His mind was in turmoil. Should he betray their whereabouts to the authorities, based merely on his natural suspicion of all foreigners? The Chinese would automatically assume that he was in league with them. But he always managed to survive somehow. He had betrayed others in the past in return for favours from the ruling communists, falsely demonstrating his loyalty to China, just to save his own skin. After all, it wasn’t as if this was the first time he had assisted them in rooting out enemies of the state.

Ithis waited patiently like a cat, watching his every move as Zhao turned over in his mind whether or not to betray his charges. As his foot moved hesitantly out from the shadows towards the edge of the pavement, she struck. Zhao’s lifeless body slid silently into the sewer opening at the side of the street, to join the other garbage from the town of Dalian. Now it was up to her to get Nick and David back over the border to the safety of Nicolai’s home in northern Ukraine.

~~~

More later

😉

The Eighteenth Chapter

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~~~

Chapter Eighteen

Operation Asima

On their return to Nicolai’s fort like home in northern Ukraine, Katya immediately dragged David away much to everyone’s great amusement. The phrase, ‘she who must be satisfied, if he knows what’s good for him’, sprang to mind as Nick, Nicolai and Kolya watched him being dragged unceremoniously into the bedroom by Katya, who desperately needed to satiate her pent up sexual needs. As if David didn’t have enough to contend with already. Now he had to make up for leaving his Ukrainian Amazon alone for a couple of months!

~~~

Nicolai had heard from Miles while they had been away. He had come across a disturbing report, branded by the authorities as just another crackpot’s rant, leaked to him by his source within the British Ministry of Defence’s recently formed ‘Unexplained Reports Section’ that had replaced the former UFO investigation section, and just like it, it’s function was to debunk any and all reports. However, the normally cynical journalist realised that this time it may actually be genuine. It concerned a strange event that happened in the English county of Norfolk, approximately at the same time as when they set off for Mongolia. Miles sent a copy of it to Nicolai for Nick’s immediate attention, courtesy of Nicolai’s old friend Dmitri Nedvilev in Moscow. Nick sat and read the report as he relaxed once again in Nicolai’s apartment.

To whom it may concern,

Something happened to me recently which has given me many sleepless nights since it occurred. I always have trouble with my boisterous Border Collie Laddie when I let him off his lead on our early morning walks across the sea grass covered salt marsh, here at the edge of The Wash, in north Norfolk. Once he is free to run he soon gets himself into trouble in one way or another.

On one particular grey cloud covered day recently, as usual he began ranging back and forth along the ill-defined pathway, and from side to side, dipping his nose into pools of brackish water one minute, or rolling in piles of animal dung, or the rotting corpse of a dead fish or seagull the next.

That particular morning my mind was preoccupied with what lay ahead of me at work, in my capacity as town clerk for the small coastal town of Wells-next-the-Sea, as we made our way out to the point where we usually turned back to head home. This time I heard Laddie yelp in pain some way off to the right of the path. I leapt across the grass tufted micro islands sticking up through the marsh all the while calling his name. By now he had begun to whimper, obviously in pain, as I drew closer to where I had seen him last. I stood for a moment trying to gauge where he was. Not far from where I stood was a larger area of firm ground. I picked my way across to it, whereupon I called out to him once again. From beneath an old gnarled tree stump, Laddie’s pathetic whimper answered my call. I searched beneath the exposed roots of the stump, and then I saw him. Somehow he had fallen into a sink hole beneath the roots of the old tree. I began to climb down using the roots as a ladder when to my horror I slipped and fell to the bottom.

I was now in a cave mouth bathed in warm bright sunlight, and for some reason my throat was parched. To one side of the cave I could see a pool of brackish water at the base of a dripping moss covered rock. So I hobbled my way painfully over to it to slake my thirst. Then I got the shock of my life. Staring back at me from the surface of the pool was the face of a young Neanderthal male. I let out a yell of surprise and sheer panic. Yet for some reason, my voice was only within my own consciousness, not his. Don’t ask me how, but somehow or other we both occupied the same body at the same moment in time. I had become a kind of parasite within his stocky frame. No matter how hard I tried, I had no influence over anything he thought or did. I was trapped; an unwilling observer in this ancient being’s existence. Whatever he heard, felt or saw, so did I. Whatever he tasted, I tasted to.

We looked out of the cave mouth, sniffed the air and began to make our way down to the vast grass covered plain below our cave. In the distance we could see more of our kind gathered around a kill they had recently made. The large carcass of an adult woolly mammoth was being butchered by the group. They saw us coming and shook their fists at us uttering disapproving, threatening cries. Clearly my host and I were not welcome, so we backed off and sat down on our haunches in the windswept sea of grass. I later judged that we were somewhere on England’s ancient eastern heights, bordering the vast prairie lands of Doggerland, the former land bridge between the British Isles and mainland Europe, before it was flooded to become the North Sea.

By the time the hunters had moved off, the sun was already disappearing over the hills behind us. We got up and picked through the now stinking remains for a morsel or two, and then we returned to our cave before darkness fell. We struck a flint at the dried grass kindling we had put in our crude hearth, gently blowing on the tiny spark, slowly turning it into a weak flame. As we added dry twigs and small branches, our fire soon grew in intensity. We put our morsels of flesh on the surrounding stones of our hearth to cook. Outside our cave we could hear calls from beasts in the night, as they hunted down the young and the weak in the vast herds of mammoth on the prairie below. Eventually we tested our meat with our teeth. We ate our fill. For a brief while we were content. Our belly was full. Building up our fire to keep away those same beasts from entering our home, we climbed up to a rocky shelf that was our bed, and we turned in for the night.

The next thing I knew was when I became aware of a wet nose and rough tongue as I slowly came to. Laddie was licking my face while wagging his tail, happy to see me. It took some time to scramble my way back up and out of the sink hole with him tied securely onto my back by his lead. On the way back across the marsh I absentmindedly picked my teeth as Laddie hobbled along painfully beside me. I looked at the thing in my hand that had lodged itself between two of my front teeth. It was a piece of semi cooked course grained meat. What a dream I had when I fell and knocked myself unconscious, or was it? To be honest I’m not really sure? The thing that really struck me was the brief amount of time I had been unconscious. Barely forty minutes had passed since I had first begun my descent down the sinkhole to rescue Laddie, to the time when I looked at my watch as we went home.

If you can please find the time to send someone to investigate, I would be happy to show you the sinkhole’s location.

Yours faithfully,

 James Simpkins

Willow Cottage, Wells-next-the -Sea.

North Norfolk.

Nick ran to Katya’s bedroom door and burst in on the couple’s loud lovemaking. “David read this. It’s yet more proof that time is decaying – read it!” Katya screamed abuse as her man eagerly leapt out of bed and followed Nick back into the apartment’s spacious living room, glad of the timely rescue. After David had read Simpkins’ seemingly off the wall report through twice, he looked at Nick with a seriously worried expression.

“What do you think?” he began, “Is time decaying faster than we realize?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Nick replied. “Perhaps somehow or other, cracks in time are beginning to appear as the countdown continues. How many more of these time anomalies will happen over the months ahead David? We have to tell Ithis about this. Plus, it’s now obvious we have to step up our race to complete the reactivation,” Nick said finally.

“Don’t forget Asima,” Kolya added, reminding them of their immediate problem. “If he somehow manages to regain his mental powers, will his tomb hold him? Maybe Ricardo’s religious army have already freed him?” Nicolai and Victor both nodded their heads in silent agreement with Kolya. First deal with Asima, and then worry about this new development.

“Nicolai, please ask Dmitri if he can arrange to get Ricardo and Miles here. We have to sit down together away from prying eyes to formulate a plan to stop Asima once and for all. The longer we delay, the worse things will get,” Nick said finally with a desperately pleading look on his face. Nicolai nodded and immediately left the room for his private office, hidden behind a full length portrait of himself which acted as it’s doorway.

~~~

Three days later cardinal Ricardo Spinoza sat at the head of Nicolai’s large ornate dining table with Nick, Dmitri, David, Miles, Nicolai, Kolya and Ithis to talk over the problem of what to do about Asima. “The immediate problem as I pointed out to you earlier Ricardo, is that we have to find a way to destroy his concentration for good,” Ithis began.

“What do you have in mind my dear?” Ricardo asked.

“We need to be able to excite the crystals that line his tomb in such a way that they vibrate at a set frequency, creating great pain in his immortal soul. It is obvious that the crystals on their own are not powerful enough to prevent his mind from taking control of those within his reach who are the most susceptible to his influence.” she replied sadly, momentarily drifting off into deep thought.

“What you say may account for Patrick’s lack of communication with me of late. Ever since I first sent him there to minister to the spiritual needs of the army guarding Asima’s tomb, his reports, at best, have been sporadic. Now they seem to have ceased altogether,” Ricardo concluded, clearly worried for his protégé’s mortal soul.

“Ithis, please tell us more about your idea for exciting the crystals?” Dmitri asked. Like everyone present at the meeting, he was totally captivated by her as he entered the discussion. She went into great detail about how her people had first constructed the tomb out of thick lead sheets. They had lined its interior with alternating layers of living crystals of Quartz and Beryllium, carefully removed from their original locations in the bedrock from which they grew, before the granite sarcophagus, containing his body, was finally lowered into place. Then the whole construction was hermetically sealed, and placed inside a hollowed out massive basalt block, before being lowered into the chamber where it now lays, just beyond the Khakassian settlement of Safronov, marked by the megalithic structure.

“To me, it sounds like you need a sonic generator, tuned to the correct frequency to excite the crystals,” Dmitri concluded in his thickly accented English, looking straight into Ithis’ hypnotic eyes.

“We’ll need a whole bank of them arranged around the tomb, emitting low frequency sound to disorientate him,” Miles added. “Remember the experiments that went on throughout the Cold War Dmitri? Both the Soviet and the US military were experimenting with the use of sound warfare to disable the enemy. Maybe there is some way of getting our hands on some of that technology, what do you think?”

Dmitri’s eyes lit up as he smiled at Miles’ suggestion. “Leave it to me my friends? I have connections within the Kremlin who owe me many favours. Now is a good time for some of them to pay their debt,” he said finally, while smiling broadly.

“What about your protégé Patrick, can you recall him back to Rome out of harm’s way Ricardo?” Nicolai wondered.

“Without someone at the tomb guard’s headquarters to answer my calls Nicolai, I don’t see how I can. I’m afraid that by now Asima has constructed a new army already under his spell, ready to blindly do his bidding like the Order before them, with poor Patrick as one of his willing servants,” Ricardo replied sadly.

Dmitri smiled once more. “You need an army eminence. Let me provide it.  Nicolai a word please.” Dmitri beckoned his old friend aside for a moment to work out the details of what he had in mind. Minutes later after kissing Nicolai’s cheek, Dmitri left immediately for Moscow, while the rest sat into the night, discussing their plans for the assault that was soon to happen on sleepy Safronov and Asima’s tomb.

Nick showed the copy of the report to Ithis. As she read it, the emerald pupils of her eyes changed colour to strong yellow as she hissed angrily at the news of the first reported rift in the fabric of time, caused by the countdown. “Miles, you need to investigate this in person while we fight Asima,” she said angrily, purposely handing the report to him for fear of possible cross contamination of her DNA with Nick’s, should she inadvertently hand it back to him without thinking. “You must make it your priority to find out if this is just a one off incident, or, if others have occurred across the world. It is vitally important that you keep us up to date with any occurrences like this in the future please,” she said, gradually calming down, though still annoyed by the disturbing news. Miles departed straight away, heading back to England via Moscow.

~~~

Less than a week later, Dmitri reappeared at Nicolai’s apartment accompanied by two senior members of the Russian Federation Defence Force and their aids. He made the formal introductions before Nick and David explained what they needed to complete the task. David pointed out that the army which had been set up by the leaders of the world’s religions, to both prevent any rescue attempt of Asima, and to guard the site, was now quite possibly a belligerent one under Asima’s control. Much to Nick and David’s relief, the generals insisted that they should take control of the situation and carry out an immediate investigation, reporting back with their findings. Soon concrete plans for ‘Operation Asima’ were put into place. A Spetsnaz unit armed with a long range Infrasonic device, designed to penetrate all types of cover, disrupting the internal organs of whoever was behind it by creating sickness and nausea, would be dropped several kilometres away in the peaks of the Stanovoy Range, where they would set up a communication link to report their findings. Ithis would also travel to the same location unseen by the Russian troops, to report on any and all reactions by Asima. Once the army had been incapacitated, further troops would quickly assemble a ring fence of acoustic arrays aimed at Asima’s tomb, operating on varying frequency’s to disrupt his psychic powers, hopefully rendering them useless and inflicting enough pain within his soul to incapacitate him. Medical units would take charge of the religious army, once the area was safe to enter. The whole operation would have to be carried out in such a way that Asima and his embryo army where completely unaware of what was happening until they felt the effects of the infrasonic weapon.

~~~

Operation Asima was soon underway. Ithis watched as the experimental weapon was quickly set up, and aimed directly down on the area of the camp surrounding the tomb and the settlement of Safronov. The order was given and the low frequency sound waves began their work. The commander of the Spetsnaz unit focused his satellite camera onto the area so that Nick and everyone else, including the senior Russian Defence Force officers, back in Nicolai’s headquarters in northern Ukraine, could watch the event unfold before their eyes. Ithis concentrated on Asima’s mind, careful not to give away her presence.

Within seconds of the weapon transmitting its debilitating signal, they all saw the men on the ground around the tomb experiencing the first symptoms of the infrasonic bombardment. Weapons were dropped as the targets doubled over in agony, as their internal organs vibrated at such a rate as to cause violent internal pain and nausea. At the same time, Ithis began to sense Asima’s reaction. She could hear his angry cries from deep within his tomb as he sensed his new army’s pain. Troop carrying Mil-Mi24 helicopter gunships quickly discharged their human cargos, while others fitted with smaller infrasonic weapons, aimed their deadly beams directly at Asima’s tomb, allowing the Special Forces troops on the ground to go to work, erecting the fence array. Ithis heard Asima’s tortured screams of violent agony rapidly increase as his twisted soul cried out under the vicious attack which now rendered him powerless. Meanwhile, the medics quickly went to work, treating the men of the religious army and the men and women of Safronov who had also been under Asima’s powerful mental control.

Much to Ricardo’s great relief, his protégé Patrick was eventually found. The medics declared him to be clinically insane, driven mad by the conflict between his own personal religious belief and his blind devotion to Asima within his tortured mind. Ricardo saw to it that his friend was sent to a sanatorium run by his organization in Rome under guard, where he would be housed forever as a seriously disturbed mental patient.

Operation Asima was a resounding success – at least for now. No one really knew if Asima was permanently silenced or not, only time would tell. A Special Forces presence would be maintained around the clock, controlling the infrasonic wall, assisting the now healthy members of the world’s religious army to ensure that Asima remained quiet in the immediate future. The assault on Asima and his new army had been a timely one. For within a few short weeks of his takeover of their minds, work had begun to excavate his tomb. With Asima now sidelined, Nick, Ithis and David could once again turn their undivided attention to finding the next artefact.

~~~

More later

🙂

The Seventeenth Chapter

northern_mongolia_nature_ss

~~~

Chapter Seventeen

In the footsteps of Genghis Khan

Between them Ithis, Nick and David had finally agreed on their next target. It was to be the Deer stone monolith, situated south of Chatgai, near the town of Mörön in northern Mongolia. Using Nicolai’s vast number of contacts, plans were soon formulated for the journey to the small Mongolian town of Munku-Sardyk, just inside the previously disputed border with the former USSR, in the mountainous region of Sajan east of Irkutsk, where a guide would be waiting to take them to Chatgai. At last the party set off on their long drive south across country. Not wishing to draw unnecessary attention to themselves, they kept to the almost impassable tracks across the spine of the Sayan Mountains, avoiding all villages and towns along the way, with Kolya and Victor taking turns at the wheel.

~~~

After five tortuous weeks of being bounced and bruised inside the old ex-army four wheel drive truck, their goal was at last in sight. In the gloom of early evening, the lights of Munku-Sardyk created an eerie glow in the thick layer of fog that sat like a grey sea in the valley where the town stood. Kolya drove the old truck slowly down the tortuously winding narrow mountain road that led into town, barely able to hang onto the violently twisting steering wheel as the truck’s front wheels constantly collided with the steep sides of the deep ruts in the road, threatened to tear it from his grip. Much to everyone’s relief, he finally halted the truck outside an old abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the small town. He and David disguised themselves heavily, dressed in heavy khaki coloured ex-soviet army quilted coats, pants and felt boots, with their facial features obscured by the peak and ear flaps of their old army winter forage hats. They silently walked towards the rendezvous point, using the fog and shadows to hide from any prying eyes.

Kolya beckoned David to follow him as he entered the smoke filled interior of the local general store. In one corner of the room, a squat Eurasian looking man stood with his back to them warming his hands over the cause for all the foul smelling smoke – an ancient potbelly stove, the store’s only source of heat. The storekeeper was busy doing business with an old woman and a youth at the store’s wooden counter in the centre of the room.

The two men stood for a moment, waiting to see who would catch their eye. The man at the stove put his thick fur lined gloves on and turned towards them, before walking past and back out into the night. The storekeeper glanced at them, briefly indicating with his eyes and a slight nodding movement of his head, that they should follow the man who had just left. Stepping back outside, Kolya looked up and down the street searching for the man who appeared to have completely vanished into the night. Then David nudged him, pointing across the street to where they could see the faint glow of a cigarette in the fog filled shadows opposite. They crossed the street and followed the shadowy figure behind a pile of old rusty oil drums and corrugated iron into a small shack. He gestured to them to sit while he checked that they had not been followed before introducing himself in his passable Russian. His name was Gansukh. He had been sent by his father Ganbaatar to guide them across the dangerous mountain paths to where his family lived.

~~~

As the sun began to rise above the horizon, Gansukh led the way with Nick, David, Kolya and Victor following behind as they climbed above the town, closely shadowed by Ithis. The party headed south to the high mountain pass above Munku-Sardyk, which overlooked a lake feeding the Egijn River, just north of Mörön and the village of Chatgai, Gansukh’s home. By mid-afternoon, they were all seated cross legged and completely tired out by the long hike, greedily eating tough cubes of cooked yak meat from a large skillet sitting on top of a small iron stove, which doubled as the family’s heat source. They drank copious quantities of fermented yak milk while relaxing inside Ganbaatar’s felt lined, traditional Yurt, used whenever the old man decided to spend the summer months out in the vast grass prairies of northern Mongolia, reconnecting with nature. He proved his worth. He was an excellent source of knowledge when it came to all the ancient stone monoliths, spread far and wide across the vast Mongolian countryside, and beyond into China itself. His son Gansukh would one day take his place as head of the clan, carrying on the old traditions taught to him by his father, and his father before him, down the generations. Traditional clans like theirs, and the way they lived, harked back to the days of the greatest of all Mongols, Genghis Khan, whose army conquered vast swaths of foreign lands north, south, east and west of the Mongolian steppes. For a relatively short time during the communist takeover of Mongolia by their large neighbour China, all forms of local religion and traditions were banned. But once Mongolia had become an autonomous state and its people were again in control of their destiny, life soon returned to the old ways.

Yet again dependable Victor shone, acting as translator. His natural gift for language was invaluable. He and Gansukh soon became firm friends as they made arrangements to get Nick to the Deer stone monolith relatively unnoticed. Ganbaatar would travel south within the week, taking his family with him to re-establish their connection with the land, and the old gods that he firmly believed in. Nick and David, together with Kolya and Victor, would be disguised in traditional Mongolian garb for the journey to the Deer stone where Ganbaatar would set up camp.

~~~

The speed of their journey was governed by the yoked pair of Yaks slow but steady pace, as they pulled the heavy wooden-wheeled cart containing all of Ganbaatar’s family’s possessions. Victor talked softly to the animals, encouraging them ever onwards while Nick, Kolya and David walked beside the cart with the old man riding on top of the pile. Their journey took them southeast through open grassland, avoiding the road to Mörön and across a shallow ford over the Delger River, a few miles east. Then they turned south to the Deer stone monolith.

Nick and Kolya helped Gansukh and Victor erect the Yurt from the tangle of wooden poles, collapsible wicker wall supports, and the heavy felt rolls that filled the cart. In this vast empty prairie no one would bother them as Nick went about his business checking out the ancient monolith. If anyone did appear, Gansukh and Victor’s keen eyesight would soon pick them out if they appeared on the horizon. Nick began studying the upright stone looking for any sign of where or what was the key to unlocking its secrets. As far as he could see, the stone bore no visible signs of ever having been carved, or of having any finger holes like some of the previous standing stones he and David had come across in the past. He sat down with his back to the stone’s cold surface, beginning to wonder if this was the correct one after all.

“Look on the top of the stone,” Ithis’ voice whispered gently inside his head. Nick called Victor over and climbed onto his massive shoulders, quickly changing his position so that he now knelt precariously with Victor’s large hands clamped onto his ankles for support. As he peered over the top of the stone monolith he could see that it was covered in a thick layer of lichen, which he managed to scrape clean, using the knife that Kolya passed up to him. Just like the stone in Sweden, this one had a carved concentric spiral ending in a single finger width hole at its centre. He pushed the index finger of his right hand into the tiny hole. Almost imperceptibly at first, the stone slowly began to lower itself into the ground. He quickly jumped onto it from Victor’s shoulders, riding it as it descended below ground level.

~~~

The stone’s slow passage into the underworld finally stopped. Nick peered into the gloom, before shouting back up for light. A hurricane lamp and lighter were lowered to him by rope, down the long shaft above his head. After lighting the lamp he stepped off the stone. He began walking carefully forward towards the middle entrance of three tunnels leading off into the distance. “Nick, the stone is rising, get back quick!” David shouted from above. Nick turned round, but he was too late. The stone had already risen too far for him to climb onto. He was trapped for the moment with no way back to the surface. Somewhere close by was the artefact he had come to reactivate.

“Ithis, which way do I go?” he asked, now fully aware that she would always be near to protect and guide him. She walked out of the surrounding walls of the space beneath the monolith and came over to where he sat.

“Stay here for the moment my Nick while I explore,” Ithis purred, glad at last have him to herself once more. “I’ll search for the artefact’s location. Although you must remember that I cannot physically go near it for fear of detection by the system,” she gently pointed out, to remind him of the danger her presence there represented. Nick’s sexual desire for her intensified as he watched the gentle sway of her hips when she walked to the left hand tunnel entrance first, disappearing into the darkness. Moments later she reappeared from the right hand entrance, shaking with fear.

“What’s wrong, what happened?” He ran to her, desperately wanting to put his arms round her to protect and reassure her, stopping himself from doing so at the last possible moment.

She sat down on the cave floor shivering with fear. The emotionally expressive large pupils of her eyes had changed their colour once more, this time to pure white, the colour that indicated sheer terror in her. Gradually they returned to their normal shade of pale emerald green when she finally stopped shaking. “Asima!” she managed to whisper. “He senses we are near to the one artefact in this part of the world that is really important to the system. He is growing more powerful Nick. He must be feeding off the army which the pope sent to stand guard over his tomb. He is using their latent psychic energy to increase his own. We have to find a way to communicate with Ricardo to warn him of the danger the army is in,” she said closing her eyes for a moment, trying desperately to recover from Asima’s second vicious mental assault from the darkened confines of his living tomb.

Nick sat as close to her as he dare, while she repaired the damage within her mind. “Did you manage to locate the artefact before he attacked you my love?” Nick asked softly, not wishing to cause her any more pain than she was going through at that moment. She nodded and drew a map in the dust on the floor between them, showing the path through the tunnel maze he had to take. Memorizing the route, he began walking towards the right hand tunnel, using the old hurricane lamp to light his way. He marked the tunnel wall with a series of scratches which he made with a piece of rock for his return journey. The route through the maze twisted and turned, sometimes doubling back on itself at infrequent junctions in its makeup. In the painful mental state Ithis was in, she couldn’t help him. For the moment he was on his own. Soon he reached the place where the artefact stood. It was housed in a familiar large dome roofed chamber at the maze’s centre. This was not just another sub power station within the system’s worldwide power network; it was much, much more than that. From floor to ceiling around the walls of the chamber, vast banks of capacitor inlets where all connected to a central control system that housed a massive generating unit, fed by five heavily insulated, solid metal power cables from deep below the surface. The capacitors outlets were equally as large, leading off in all directions. The control unit itself had five separate fail-safe panels that had to be reset before the central reconnection switch could be utilized. Each failsafe panel consisted of a series of moveable icons that had to be correctly repositioned in order to work. Nick sat looking at each panel, carefully studying the icons, trying to work out where he had seen them before. It was obvious that the panels denoted the destination for each cable’s direction.

One panel’s icon appeared to be Sumerian in origin, while another looked more like Sanskrit, and the remaining three bore early examples of Chinese, Korean and Japanese characters. If only Ithis were here by his side… Choosing to start with the cuneiform panel first, Nick began shifting the icons around almost haphazardly at first, before he finally realized exactly what the key for each of the panels was. Each one was a representation of the most powerful ancient deity for each location, when the system was first constructed. After resetting the Sumerian panel, he quietly worked his way through the four remaining panels. At last he was able to reactivate the central power control generating unit. For a moment he sat back, silently thanking his obsession for solving the most difficult Sudoku problems. Now he was mentally exhausted by the four puzzles he had solved. The power unit quietly hummed as the capacitors built up energy, before discharging it down the line to the next junction. He retraced his steps following the marks he had made on the tunnel walls, until eventually he arrived back where he had left Ithis over two hours earlier. The small cavern was empty. Ithis was nowhere to be seen. Then he saw the top of the Deer stone monolith slowly reappear from above and quickly jumped on it for the return journey. By reactivating the Asian central power generating system, it allowed the giant stone to descend, to return him once more to the surface.

~~~

David told him that Ithis had briefly spoken with him openly once she had fully recovered, reluctant to communicate in her normal fashion for fear of Asima listening in. She told him that she was going to inform Ricardo of the immediate danger his army of tomb guards where in, hoping that between them, they could find a solution to the problem Asima presented to anyone remotely susceptible to his influence. In turn, Nick related how each of the panels gave clear directions in their search for the next series of artefacts in China, Japan, Korea, India and the ancient Sumerian connection somewhere inside modern day Iraq. One thing was abundantly clear now – they needed to turn their attention temporarily away from their search, to assist Ricardo in any way they could. So calling on the help once more of their Mongolian hosts, they set out on the long journey north to southern Siberia.

~~~

More later

😉