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Ancient Arrow Project
Your consciousness is faceted to express light into multiple systems of existence. There are many, many expressions that comprise your total Selfhood, and each expression is linked to the hub of consciousness that is your core identity. It is here that your ancient voice and eyes can multi-dimensionally observe, express, and experience. This is your food source for expansion and beautification. Place your attention upon your core identity and never release it. With every piece of information that passes your way, discern how it enables you to attune to this voice and perception. This is the only discipline you require. It is the remedy of limitation.
An Excerpt from Memory Activation, Decoded from Chamber Seven
Red rocks emphasized the sky's azure blue. The starkness of the high desert was lunar. Immaculately natural. The sun rendered jackets and vests superfluous, leaving the air temperature perfect for cotton T-shirts and shorts.
The excitement of seeing Neruda and Evans emerge from the canyon wall drew the team together as if an invisible web bound them. Emily embraced Neruda, momentarily forgetting her professional distance. Andrews and Collin each shook Neruda's hand and welcomed him back "among the living", while Samantha simply watched with a broad smile.
A flurry of questions erupted about how Neruda got free and the nature of his rescue, but Evans and Neruda fended them off for later, showing more concern about Neruda's physical needs: to get warm and feed his empty stomach.
Once they had all settled down, cross-legged around a small fire that Andrews had managed to craft from dead pinion branches, Neruda began his story. A cup of coffee warmed his hands.
"All I can tell you," he began, his tone becoming introspective, "is that I went on an innocent walk after our experience last night with the artifact. I only wanted to hike to the top of the ridge to see if I could see the rock structure that Samantha had told us about.
"When I got to the top and saw this thing," he pointed to the structure directly behind them, "I had an irresistible urge to see it up close. I wasn't tired, in fact, I felt energized. So I hiked for about fifteen minutes... the whole time knowing I was doing something... something stupid -- and yes, I knew it was against protocol. But in my defense," he turned to Evans, "I thought I was following orders."
Evans got up and asked Collin for his communicator. "I've already heard this, so forgive me, but I need to update Jenkins." Evans walked away and began pushing buttons on his communicator.
"Orders from whom?" asked Collin.
"As odd as it may sound, the artifact. I'm certain it planted something into my head," Neruda replied. "There's no other explanation."
No one, including Evans, would dispute, or even question, Neruda's conclusions. He was well known within the ACIO as being scrupulously accurate about his observations and motivations. But his statement drew blank stares from Emily, Andrews, and Collin. Only Samantha nodded knowingly.
"And the something you're referring to," Samantha suggested hesitantly, "was an irresistible motivation to find its homebase. Right?"
"Yeah, but I'm amazed that anything could compel me to do this. It seems completely implausible..."
Andrews leaned forward to poke the fire into rebirth. While there was no need for more heat, it gave his hands something to do. "How'd you find this hole in the wall in the middle of the fucking night? And more importantly, why'd you go inside alone? That's what I'd like to know."
"I just knew where to go," Neruda said. "I knew exactly what to do once I got near the canyon wall. I had this image stored inside my brain, it... it was like seeing a split image -- one inside your head, the other in external reality -- and then seeing these two images morph into one image the closer I got.
"When I saw the opening, I looked inside with my flashlight before I entered. I saw on the far side of the cavern a dark hole that looked like a tunnel. It looked artificial... manmade. But of course I was thinking the whole time that it was the artifact's homebase.
"I climbed inside," he continued, "and all I could do was to walk toward that tunnel as if my life depended on it somehow."
"Weren't you afraid?" Emily asked.
"No. I was completely calm. I had a mission coded inside my head and everything else was shut out."
"So you followed the tunnel and fell into the chamber?" Collin said.
"Remember the glyph on the tunnel wall?" Neruda asked.
"Yeah," Collin and Emily chimed.
"The instant I saw it, I had verification. The glyph was clearly from the same lineage -- though it bore a different design. In my excitement I picked up my pace. A few steps later I slipped on something and fell... must've been nearly seven meters, to a stone floor... into the very same chamber you discovered me in this morning."
"Okay, so tell us how the hell you got out?" Collins inquired.
"I figured out how to climb the wall high enough to grab the rope. Evans pulled me to the top and together we enlarged the ventilation hole large enough that I could crawl through -- "
"But that was solid rock, how'd you enlarge the hole... I mean what tools did you have?" Emily asked.
"Evans has a knife large enough to filet a whale. It wasn't that hard to enlarge the hole. The rock is sandstone, the wall wasn't very thick, it breaks apart pretty easy." Neruda replied casually.
Evans walked back to the group and sat down on a large rock opposite Neruda. He had his communicator out and was checking its small display screen and fidgeting with one of its buttons. His face looked expressionless.
Andrews looked puzzled. "Am I the only idiot who doesn't understand what the hell is going on here?"
"None of us know," Samantha said as if she were in a room with sleeping wolves. "We can be sure of one thing, though. The creators of this artifact have brought us to this place, and if they didn't want us here, we wouldn't be here."
"You may be right," Evans swallowed hard, "but we haven't really discovered anything yet. We have an empty chamber and a glyph on a tunnel wall. Seems like a waste if this is the extent of its homebase."
"Okay, okay, I'm just denser than the rest of you," Andrews said with a scowl. "But could somebody tell me, what's our working hypothesis? I mean, shit, we do have one... a working hypothesis. Right?"
Evans remained silent.
Neruda looked around at the faces of his team. He knew they were reaching out for leadership right now. And he knew they expected him to provide it. "The artifact's led us to this site for a specific reason that we've not yet determined. But it has something to do with what lies behind this canyon wall, and the sooner we start looking, the sooner we'll find out why we're here."
"But the place is booby-trapped," Andrews exclaimed. "How're we supposed to find anything if we're being trapped in chambers?"
Neruda looked down at his watch, ignoring Andrews' question. "We have exactly seven hours and thirteen minutes before we have to rendezvous with the choppers."
Neruda struggled to his feet, tipping slightly as the blood shifted in his body like pebbles within a rain stick. Emily came to his aid momentarily as he steadied himself.
"You didn't sleep much last night did you?" She asked.
"You know, the thing about a cold stone floor is that it makes for a very long night." He smiled wearily. "But my body is coursing with coffee -- It was regular, wasn't it?"
"Sorry, I only brought decaf."
"We have aspirin in the first-aid kit. Do you want me to get some for you?" Emily asked.
"Thanks... make it three." Neruda turned to Andrews who was getting his pack loaded. "The way we avoid getting trapped is to bring the artifact with us. It'll show us what to do."
"Oh, great, boss," Andrews said without looking up, "my arms are already dragging on the ground from carrying the little monster all morning, so if we're bringing it along, find another sherpa. Pahleease."
Neruda could only laugh. The image of Andrews carrying the artifact in the rock-strewn desert, cursing at everything along his way, struck him as funny.
"Maybe it's put something into your head, too." Neruda commented. "I mean carrying it around all morning, I'll bet your head is programmed with God knows what." He laughed again and grabbed the case.
"I'll take it Jamisson," Evans offered. "You didn't get any sleep, and that bruise on your hip can't feel too good either."
"You have an injury?" Emily asked instantly. "I thought you said you were fine after the fall."
"I'm okay," Neruda replied. "Evans is just being kind."
"Let's get going then," Evans said firmly.
They all donned their packs and walked silently to the thin slit of darkness protruding from the canyon wall. Solemn faces wound their way to the opening and stopped short of entering. They gathered around Evans.
"Listen carefully." Evans set the case down on the ground and tucked his sunglasses inside his shirt pocket. "Stay close and trace the footsteps we've already left behind. We'll rest about every five minutes. Don't touch anything. If you see anything that looks suspicious, holler, otherwise, stay quiet. We don't know what we're getting into, so let's keep a low profile."
"And what do we hope to accomplish in six hours?" Andrews asked.
"Stay alive." Evans answered as he took his pack off and tossed it inside the opening as if he were feeding a large, hungry mouth.
Andrews laughed. Nervously.
* * * *
"Goddamn asshole," McGavin spat, slamming the phone down. The metal and wood cabin echoed his words for a brief second. The Gulfstream V had a lively ambiance, even at 35,000 feet doing 1,000 KPH.
"Didn't go well, I take it," Donavin McAlester remarked sitting across the table from McGavin. He was McGavin's newly assigned, shadow agent for the ACIO. Donavin specialized in espionage and security techniques, learned over the years as a field agent in Russia. Most recently, his job had been to direct the NSA's initiatives to monitor and contain the Russian Mafia. In this capacity, he'd worked with virtually every branch of the government including the CIA, INS, Justice Department, and FBI.
"Maybe he'd kiss your butt if you'd yank his budget, sir." Donavin said.
"You're not exactly timid are you?" McGavin was still fuming at his recent phone conversation. The veins at his right temple looked like the Mississippi River on a satellite map. "You know that asshole only now called Shorter, three hours late! And it wasn't Jenkins that called, no, it was a subordinate two levels down from Jenkins -- a Henry something or other. Shit!"
McGavin stood up and hit the intercom button. "What's our ETA?"
"Local time 1935 hours, sir, or about another two hours and fifteen minutes," came the voice.
McGavin flicked the intercom off, and walked over to the wet bar to get a scotch and water. Mostly scotch.
"What do you know about the ACIO?"
"Only what I read in the briefing you sent me last week," Donavin confided. "I've been in intelligence for twenty-nine years. Not even a rumor about such an organization found its way to my ears." Donavin shifted in his chair and took out a pack of cigarettes. "Do you mind if I smoke?"
"Not if you don't mind if I drink."
They both broke out in smiles, and the tension in the room diminished like smoke in a strong wind.
Donavin had close-cropped, light brown hair with just a tint of auburn. He was tall, but his frame bore about twenty extra pounds, mostly in his belly. He wore trendy glasses, which made him look studious despite his large, athletic build.
"I have to level with you, sir," Donavin said, "extraterrestrials aren't exactly my bag... nor the highfalutin technologies they might spawn. My expertise is in strategic, enemy infiltration planning. And that's about it, but I thought -- "
"So when you read the briefing," McGavin interrupted callously, "did you think I was interested in your expertise about ETs, technology or infiltration?"
"The latter, sir."
"Good, I'm glad we've established that." McGavin sat back down with his drink, poking at the ice cubes with a plastic straw. He had heard good things about Donavin, and he didn't want this to sound too much like a job interview. He was hired whether he wanted the assignment or not.
"What we want," McGavin asserted, "is to install you as our shadow agent on the Ancient Arrow Project."
"I only found out the ACIO's official project name this morning. That's why it wasn't in your briefing. It's related to the rogue activities they're engaged in relative to this newly found artifact in New Mexico."
McGavin slid a file folder from his briefcase across the polished cherry wood table. "Make a copy." He pointed to a fax/copy machine in the corner. "This will tell you everything that the ACIO wants us to know. I'm sure it's doctored, but at least you'll know more than you know now."
He took a long drink while Donavin got up from the table and started to make copies.
"This Fifteen character," Donavin asked with his back to McGavin, "does he have any real power outside the NSA?"
McGavin smiled at the na´ve question. "His power is completely outside the NSA."
Donavin spun his head around with a look of surprise. "How's that possible?"
"You really don't know anything about the ACIO, do you?"
"I've had my head buried in the Russian Mafia for twenty-odd years, sir."
"Fifteen was a little-shit college drop-out, in fact, he was kicked out of college for smearing the reputation of his professors. He's completely anti-authoritarian, but he's so goddamn smart no one can control him."
"If he was so smart, why'd he get kicked out of college?"
"Like I said, he did a smear campaign. He wrote an article for the school paper -- I think it was Princeton -- where he defined, with clinical precision, the weaknesses of the teaching faculty. It was a highly regarded article by the student body -- not that most could understand it -- but it infuriated the faculty. They kicked him out two weeks later after things had calmed down enough to keep his exit relatively low profile."
Donavin continued to feed documents into the copy machine, puffing on the cigarette held tightly by his lips. "So how'd a shit-faced nerd end up the executive director of the ACIO?"
"I don't know," answered McGavin betraying his limits of knowledge. "No one really knows for sure, other than the retired director of the NSA, and he's not the kind of man to blab about such things. All I know is that Bell Labs hired him when he was kicked out of school because of his work in heuristics and computer modeling. He was only eighteen at the time and was only months away from having a doctorate in quantum physics and mathematics.
"At Bell Labs, he worked in one of their think tank engineering groups that was developing black box technologies for the government. As the story goes, while he was there, he developed the homing system for satellite reconnaissance systems to eavesdrop on precise, targeted sites. The ultimate customer was the NSA. That's how we found out about him. That was back in the late '50s."
"You're shittin' me."
"No, I'm not." McGavin tilted the glass of scotch all the way back. The ice cubes rattled in his empty glass as he returned it to the table. "Look, the man's incredibly bright, but he's also a royal prick. Somehow he wormed his way into control of the ACIO and he's creating technologies that he's selling to private industry and world governments... behind our back."
"But how could he get away with that? It doesn't make sense; we have the best intelligence network in the world."
"Reality check," McGavin said. "There're elements of a world government -- and I'm not talking about the United Nations here -- that are more secretive than any state government including North Korea. And our intelligence network has been designed to overlook these elements."
"So you're not talking about the Mafia?"
"No, no, no." McGavin shook his head for a few seconds and then got up to refill his glass. "The Mafia is organized and secretive, but it's run by relative morons." He poured straight scotch, no ice or water. His taste buds were properly de-sensitized.
"No, I'm talking about the elite plutocrats who run the world's financial markets. They're the ones Fifteen works with, and they're the ones who have the power. It's not the politicians, Mafia, or the goddamn military. They're essentially pawns of this network -- "
"And what're they called... this group of elitists?" Donavin asked.
"They don't have an official name. Some have called them the Illuminati, or the Bildeberg Group, but these are just pseudonyms. We refer to them as the Incunabula. We don't really know how organized they are or what their M.O. is... but we believe they get a significant amount of their technology from the ACIO... specifically their encryption and security technologies. Fifteen's in cahoots with them. I'm certain of it."
"And you want me to infiltrate the ACIO to uncover this link with the Incu... Inculnab... whatever?"
"Incunabula," McGavin corrected.
Finished with copying the file, Donavin returned to his chair to light another cigarette. He pushed the original file back to McGavin with a quick smile and thanks.
"It's a damn shame," McGavin sighed.
"What is, sir?"
"It's a damn shame you can't infiltrate them. But believe me, your experience with the Russian Mafia didn't qualify you for this job. The ACIO is impregnable. We've tried so many times and failed that I'm done with that strategy.
"What I want is for you to turn their top security guy -- a guy named James Evans. We need a defector to confirm our suspicions. Armed with the info this guy could supply us, I could topple Fifteen and his little fiefdom."
"What're his pressure points, this guy Evans?" Donavin asked, his voice suddenly cold and calculating.
"First of all, he's an ex-Navy seal."
"So that's it. That's why you want me."
"Only part of the reason my dear boy. He's also half-Irish." McGavin twinkled his eyes and used his Irish accent like a child wearing his father's shoes for the first time.
"Any signs that he'd cooperate or be motivated to turn?"
"About six months ago," McGavin answered, "we recorded a conversation between Evans and his subordinate, Jenkins -- what an asshole." He paused long enough to finish his second drink. "Anyway, Evans said some things that led us to conclude he might be convinced to turn if he could get protection -- "
" -- What kind of protection, sir?"
"We don't know all the details, but the higher you advance within the ACIO the more importance they place on your loyalty. They use implants for retention compliance. We're not sure what kind. But the real barrier to defection is their Remote Viewing technology. No one'll defect because they've convinced their employees that they'll be found through their RV technology."
"You lost me there. RV technology, what the hell is that?"
"I'll make it simple," McGavin returned to the wet bar, his voice becoming a little more slurred. "They have trained psychics who can look into a crystal ball and see you -- just like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz."
"And they got the flying monkeys, too?" Donavin said laughing. "The more you tell me about this group, the more I think I just stepped into the Twilight Zone."
"Are you sure you're not ready to join me yet?" McGavin held his glass up for Donavin to see, wiggling it enticingly in the air. "Up here, it tastes so much better." He smiled, hoping for compliance.
"Sure, what the hell, if you don't mind, sir."
"Not at all. I'd appreciate the company."
McGavin busied himself with making drinks. He looked older than his 47 years. He was almost completely bald, and what hair was left was on the way out. He had a mustache that seemed to be his only hope of hair, like the last leaf on a November Oak. Years behind a desk gave him a rounded physique that seemed hell-bound for shuffleboard and bowling.
"I could tell you stories about RV technology that'd scare the shit out of you," McGavin said. "But I won't. The reason is that we've figured out how to block it. It's in operation right now on this airplane. We can install this technology in any size room -- even an auditorium.
"We believe Evans might turn if you can convince him that he'd be taken care of financially, protected by our anti-RV technology, and given a completely new identity in a country of his choice."
He handed the drink to Donavin, their glasses meeting in an unspoken toast. "Trust me, you'll like this assignment." McGavin smiled, his eyes wandered to the monitor that flashed a message.
"Hold that thought..." he intoned, and sauntered over to the monitor with his drink in hand. He clicked the mouse and opened up an e-mail file. "Shit!"
"Could you wait for me outside for a few minutes, I need to make a phone call."
Donavin stood up and instinctively hunched over to avoid hitting anything in the cabin, even though there were another two feet of clearance.
"Didn't you forget something?" McGavin was looking down at Donavin's scotch and the Ancient Arrow project file that lay on the table.
"Yes, thanks for the reminder, sir," he scooped up his glass with his talon -- like fingers. "You're right, I'm going to like this assignment."
"Good, I'm glad you agree. We'll talk more in a few minutes."
Donavin closed the door behind him. He swirled the scotch in the bottom of his glass and smiled. Then tossed his head back careful to catch every drop.
* * * *
The smell of damp chalk mixed with copper pervaded the cavern as they shimmied inside, one after another. Evans walked cautiously toward the tunnel. The aluminum case looked like luggage, and Evans looked like a tourist in search of an airport.
"Did you want to take the artifact out now?" Samantha asked quietly to Neruda. Evans was already on his way toward the tunnel.
"I suppose we could," he replied to Samantha. Then he turned to look at Evans' back. "Hey, maybe we should unpack the artifact in the cavern and see what happens. Maybe the tunnel isn't the right approach inside."
Evans stopped in his tracks and turned around to face them. "There's another way out of here?"
"I don't know," Neruda said, "perhaps. I just think we should check it out. Who knows what this thing might do once it's inside the site."
Evans walked back with childlike reluctance.
Neruda unsnapped the locks and opened the lid. All the flashlight beams converged on the metallic surface of the artifact. It looked completely alien, yet somehow at home in the cavern like a luminescent creature found in the black depths of the ocean.
The artifact was as silent as the cavern.
Samantha bent down with her flashlight locked on the object like her eyes. She touched the artifact tentatively. With barely a whisper, something activated inside the object -- it began to vibrate. Its edges blurred. The artifact no longer appeared cylindrical. It was morphing into a spherical, transparent object and its mass seemed to be molting into vaporous light. Like a ghostly apparition, it rose from the case. An intense heat began to fill the chamber, and suddenly a pale green light flashed from the object as it hovered two meters above the aluminum case that had been its surrogate home.
Frozen in their footsteps, everyone watched the tableau spectacle like cavemen may have watched the first flames of domestic fire.
Neruda managed to find his tongue first. "It's unbelievable... it could only mean one thing... it's activating something."
"Or communicating something," offered Samantha.
Andrews stepped back a few paces. "Is it safe? That's all I wanna know. Cause it's scaring the shit out of me."
"Relax," Neruda said, "and observe."
The heat became more intense as did the light. The cavern was completely shrouded in the presence of the object -- sound, light, even smells. There was a molecular change occurring within the cavern, brought on by the artifact, and it charged the air with an intense electromagnetic energy field. It was building. The intensity escalated until even Evans couldn't resist the urge to step back a safe distance.
Then the object burst into a kaleidoscope of whirling, spinning colors that washed the walls of the cavern and everything inside it.
"It's going to explode!" Emily yelled. "Can't you feel the surge?"
Neruda could see fear in her eyes as she turned to him.
"What's your hypothesis now?" Andrews asked.
"Maybe we should get out," Evans shouted. "Could be another trap."
"No. It's okay." Neruda shouted back. "Everyone, relax. Just keep an eye out for directional signals. It's trying to tell us where to go... I'm sure of it."
"Fuck, maybe it's telling us to go to hell and leave it alone," Andrews opined.
The energy field continued to build, shedding a static electricity that had everyone's hair standing on end as if gravity vanished. A thin layer of dust from the cavern floor was drawn into the air, swirling to the pattern of the light. Everything in the cavern felt unified by the light and sound.
Samantha stepped toward the object, her arms out as if she were blind and feeling for obstructions in her path. Neruda caught her sleeve. "What are you doing?"
She looked toward the object with a blank stare.
"What are you doing?" Neruda asked again. Samantha returned a blank stare and struggled to continue her advance to the object.
Neruda hesitated for an instant, unsure of whether to let her go. She was obviously mesmerized or being controlled by the object.
"Samantha!" Neruda shouted, his hands firmly holding her arms and blocking her path to the object, "tell me what you're trying to do."
Samantha turned her head to look at him, aware of his presence and hold of her. "I need to turn it off."
Her response was too faint for Neruda to understand.
She struggled with him. Neruda yelled to Evans for help, but Samantha fell to the floor, unconscious, before Evans could respond.
"Did anyone hear what she said?" Neruda yelled over the sound of the object.
Everyone shook their heads, no.
"Let's get out of here," Neruda said. He knelt down and started to place his hands underneath her body to lift her. Suddenly the maelstrom ceased, and the darkness and silence returned with an almost welcome eeriness.
Neruda jumped to his feet and whirled around to face the object. His eyes couldn't adjust quick enough to see if the artifact was still there. He squinted hard. Utter blackness mixed with the echo -- lights flashing in his mind. He couldn't see any distinctive shapes, including his colleagues.
"Can anyone see anything?" Evans demanded with alarm in his voice.
"I can't even see my own hands right now," Emily lamented. "What happened to our flashlights?" The sound of switches flicking on and off filled the cavern as they tried to re-activate their flashlights. Nothing worked. Gradually, the opening in the cavern wall became visible to Neruda as his eyes began to adjust to the dim light.
Neruda closed his eyes hard hoping to squeeze any remnant light distortions from his mind.
"The damn electromagnetic field must've neutralized our batteries." Andrews said.
"How's Samantha?" Evans asked.
Neruda went to his knees, hoping he'd orient his searching hands so he could take her pulse. He fumbled for her body and found her head. Placing his forefinger on her neck, he sighed in relief as he sensed her pulse, erratic, but clear.
"She's fainted is all," Neruda said. "Let's move her over to the opening where there's more light. She may have hurt herself in the fall."
Evans quickly found Neruda and together they carried Samantha to the narrow crack in the canyon wall, setting her down just underneath the rupture of light.
"Can anyone see the artifact?" Neruda called.
"It's just hovering in place," Emily said. "I can see it, but it's not very clear. It'd help if we could get our flashlights to work."
Andrews began to walk closer to the object. He cocked his head in a strangely submissive position, as if a 45-degree angle would give him better perspective. "It's barely visible... The thing's changed in to a... fuck, I don't know. It's just different. Maybe half a meter in diameter, mostly round... like a large basketball. It's translucent. Maybe twenty lumens. I don't know what happened to the little monster I've come to love, but it's transmuted into something completely different. Maybe it's gone through the equivalent of puberty."
"Don't touch it," Evans commanded. "We don't know what the thing might do if we touch it again."
Neruda opened the first-aid kit that was stored in Evans' backpack and took out some ammonium carbonate. As he waved it underneath Samantha's nostrils, she coughed and sputtered like old farm machinery in the early spring.
"What happened?" she asked.
"Take it easy," Neruda replied. "We'll get to that in a minute or two. Just catch your breath and relax as much as you can. Everyone's okay. Including you." He gave her a big smile, even though he knew she couldn't see it.
Samantha squinted and blinked her eyes while her right hand grabbed her forehead. "God, I have a headache."
Neruda opened up the aspirin bottle and gave her two aspirins and a water bottle. "Other than that, how do you feel?"
"Okay," she said quietly.
She took both aspirins with a hard swallow. "Is it hot in here, or is it just me?"
"It's hot in here," Neruda said. "We're all feeling it." Emily, Collin, and Andrews had all joined them at the opening like moths huddling near light.
"So what happened?" Samantha asked, propping herself against the cavern wall just below the opening.
"Do you remember anything after you touched the artifact?"
"I touched the artifact?" Samantha asked slowly mouthing each word, her tone withdrawn.
"You don't remember anything?"
"I guess not."
She closed her eyes and took inventory of her thoughts. Samantha was still dazed by the incident. She knew something had happened to them, but everything in her mind was vague. She wondered if this was what amnesia felt like.
Suddenly a beam of green light shot out from the artifact, as though it were scanning the cavern. The beam was no larger than an inch in diameter, and the light was soft and diffuse, unlike a laser, but equally precise. It scanned the walls of the cavern in a circular, deliberate motion, like it was looking for something.
"Stay calm," Evans ordered. "Do you see the scan pattern?"
"I think so." Neruda answered as if he and Evans were the only ones in the room. "Let's keep a low profile. I'm not sure we want this light to touch us."
"I agree," Evans said.
The beam of green light silently made its way along the cavern wall, kindling dust particles that hung in the air as if they were impertinent obstacles to its goal.
"I'm beginning to think the only way we can avoid contact with this light beam is to leave," Evans said.
Samantha got shakily to her feet. "I think it wants to find us."
"Why?" Neruda asked.
Evans stood up and positioned himself next to Samantha like a bodyguard. "Take it easy. We don't know what it wants. Let's just avoid the beam for now."
With alien precision the beam continued to scan the room undisturbed. Suddenly, a second beam started as if the artifact's patience had come to an end. Together the two beams cut the dark interior of the cavern in a grid-like pattern resembling the lines of a globe.
"This just got a lot more complicated," Andrews said.
"If we're going to leave -- " Emily started to say.
" -- Now! Let's get out now!" Evans was already gathering everyone to the opening in the wall, his arms motioning like a windmill.
"Shit, the scan speed is increasing. There's no way to avoid this thing." Collin argued. "Let's just stay put."
Neruda glanced back at the artifact. Persistence filled its aura of green, ghostly light. "I agree with Collin. Let's see what it wants to show us. Evans, maybe you, Emily, and Andrews should leave in the event this is a trap. The rest of us'll stay."
While they were discussing options, no one noticed that Samantha had been walking toward the object -- the source of the green light beams. The beams found her on her third step forward. They instantly stopped.
"They found Samantha," Andrews said. "Now what?"
Everyone turned to look and held their breath, as Samantha was transfixed -- frozen as the two beams of light scanned up and down her body.
"How does it do that?" Andrews marveled.
"How do the beams go right through her?" Andrews replied, his voice sounding completely mystified.
Neruda was equally amazed. The light was going through Samantha as if she were transparent. The beams were less distinct after passing through her body, but nonetheless they were clearly visible.
"Does everyone see it?" Neruda asked, questioning his own eyes.
His question was answered by silent nods, as though the others didn't want to draw the thing's attention to them.
"What should we do about Samantha?" Evans whispered.
"Wait." Neruda whispered in return.
The beams of light converged on Samantha's forehead. There was a strange sense of gentleness to the process.
As abruptly and as silently as they had come on, the beams suddenly disappeared and the artifact fell to the floor of the cave with a metallic clatter. Samantha stood still for several seconds and then turned to the group behind her. "We won't have any more problems. They've de-activated all of the security devices."
Neruda rushed forward to Samantha. "Are you saying you were in communication with them?"
"I guess you could say that," Samantha answered. "They wanted to assure me that we're not perceived as intruders. Whatever they're guarding is for us to find."
"So they perceive you as our leader?" Evans asked, almost shouting.
"No, I don't think so," Samantha answered calmly. "They just chose me because their technology is tuned to my mind. It could have been Neruda. Either one of us can communicate with the artifact."
"So what the hell was the artifact doing these past few minutes?" Andrews demanded.
"It was assessing our intentions, orienting itself, and deactivating the security devices that were designed into this structure when they created it."
"When you say, they, who're you referring to exactly?" Neruda asked.
"The creators of this place," she spun slowly around with her arms out and her head back. She seemed uncharacteristically relaxed and carefree.
"But this is a cave -- "
"No, it's something amazing that this culture left behind," Samantha said with sudden intensity.
"What culture? Do you have a name?" Emily asked.
Samantha turned silent; her face was without features because of the dim light in the cavern. "WingMakers," she replied too softly for anyone else to hear. "For some reason, they feel like old friends of ours. As... as if we should know them as well as they know us."
"What makes you think they know us?" Neruda asked.
"It's just a feeling, but it's a strong feeling."
"So we can enter the tunnel without concern for deathtraps?" Evans asked, changing the subject.
"You're quite certain of our safety?" he tested one more time.
"Absolutely," came Samantha's confident reply.
"Let's go," Evans said.
The flashlight beam swept across the floor of the cavern and found the deep blackness of the tunnel on the far end. It reminded Neruda of when he was a boy and used to shine his dad's flashlight into the blackness of the Bolivian sky. It somehow made him uneasy when the light trail couldn't outlast the darkness.
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Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4
Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8