Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4
Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8
Ancient Arrow Project
There are, below the surface of your particle existence, energies that connect you to all formats of existence. You are a vast collection of these energies, but they cannot flow through your human instrument as an orchestrated energy until the particles of your existence are aligned and flowing in the direction of unity and wholeness.
An Excerpt from Particle Alignment, Decoded from Chamber 10
"You can come back in," McGavin called from behind the cabin door.
The custom Gulfstream V was made exclusively for top directors of the NSA. It was immaculately designed with every creature comfort known to man. Even the paneling was cut from a single cherry tree to ensure an unwavering consistency in the grain, color, and pattern throughout the cabin interior.
Apart from the view out the small, oval windows, one wasn't even conscious of being on an airplane. It could have been any executive's high-tech office -- assuming they liked to drink.
Donavin sat down at the same chair he had previously occupied some twenty minutes ago. McGavin looked solemn, he thought. Whatever he had been discussing on the phone must not have gone his way.
"I was just about ready to freshen up my drink. Would you like another?"
"That'd be great, sir."
Donavin started to light another cigarette. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Anything you like," McGavin shot back.
"You want Evans to believe that the ACIO's RV technology can't harm him, right?"
"How will I prove that the NSA's Special Projects Laboratory has the technology to shield him against RV probes?"
McGavin stopped his ice chopping for a moment, dropped the ice pick, and ran his hands over his near-hairless head. There was a mirror above the wet bar and he looked at Donavin like a taxicab driver talks back to his fare through the rearview mirror. "There's only one way. You'll have to show him the technology at our offices."
"And how will I do that?"
"Invite him. Hell, you're both ex-Navy Seals, he'll trust you."
"What happened to him?"
"Oh," McGavin said, "he was discharged honorably."
"Yeah, so was I," Donavin replied. "But it wasn't all that honorable as I remember it."
"Exactly why you two will get along so well." McGavin smiled as he went back to his chopping.
Donavin took a long drag on his cigarette. He was feeling very relaxed, even a little tired. Maybe the scotch was working better than he thought. Altitude did have its advantages, he reminded himself.
"The thing that doesn't make sense to me is why would the ACIO -- any of the ACIO personnel -- trust me with anything? I'm a big fucking nobody. And an outsider."
"I don't care if anyone in the ACIO trusts you other than Evans. He's the only one that matters. Besides, the other elements of your mission don't depend on trust.
"Believe me," McGavin said putting two drinks down carefully on the table, "they don't trust anyone from the NSA."
"So how am I supposed to infiltrate without their trust."
"You won't gain their trust. You're going to have to be devious." McGavin sat down with a cagey smile and slid one of the drinks across the table to Donavin. "We've sent two agents into the ACIO before with similar missions. Both came back with nothing. We think their memories were wiped. If they discovered anything, they never got a chance to share it with us."
"I'd like to review their files if I could," Donavin said. "Maybe I could learn something from their mistakes."
"I doubt it, but I'll have Francis arrange to get them to you. By the way, you're starting next Monday. I expect updates weekly. We're clear on communication protocols?"
"You get Evans to our Virginia offices. You watch the Ancient Arrow Project like a hawk. And you find out everything you can about any technologies that they're hiding from us. And then you can retire very comfortably. Got it?"
"Just one more thing, sir. What did you mean by devious?"
"What do you think I meant?"
"Throw out the rule book," Donavin replied. "Don't worry about standard protocols. Use whatever means necessary to accomplish my mission. That sort of thing."
"I'll put only one restriction on your activities," McGavin said. "Don't kill anyone affiliated with the ACIO unless it's in self-defense. Understood?"
"Understood, sir. But if Fifteen is such a problem to the SPL, why not take him out? There're a hundred ways for him to have an accident."
McGavin took his last gulp and plunked the glass down hard on the table. He looked at Donavin with immediate alarm. "The other two agents thought the same thing. We'd have to take out his top twenty or so underlings as well. It's pretty hard to make that look like a mass suicide." He laughed as if the image had been slumbering in his unconscious. "Besides, the last enemy you ever want to make is the Incunabula."
"Geez," Donavin exclaimed, "I was envisioning a bunch of buttoned-up pinstripes in Switzerland punching calculators -- "
"Then your vision is fucked," McGavin said definitively. "The Incunabula is the very definition of power because they have the gold and therefore make the rules." His tone lightened. "They also have the platinum, diamonds, emeralds, sapphires. It's no accident that Fifteen has allied the ACIO with them. They're... they're like his big brother."
"So how did Fifteen endear himself to this group of financiers?" Donavin asked.
"First of all they're not financiers, that's just their hobby. They're elitists who like to control world events. Everything from the weather to the stock markets. Of course, their specialty is manipulating the world's governments and shifting borders and the powerbase therein.
"They've been around a long time, a helleva lot longer than the NSA, CIA or any government. They arose from the time of kings and royalty, when bloodlines meant something. They still operate in that world -- only with high -- tech toys instead of moats and guillotines."
McGavin shifted in his chair searching for a more comfortable position. He hated airplanes and their confining spaces and uncomfortable chairs.
"To answer your question," he continued, his voice slurring intermittently, "Fifteen created a variety of technologies -- we don't know how many -- that the Incunabula use as their high-tech toys. We know for certain that the ACIO has supplied them with some weather-control technology that we call the Pabulum Seed. We have no proof that they've transferred anything more, but once you have an intimate relationship with the Incunabula... well, let's just say it's hard to say no to them."
"Does the NSA have a relationship with this group?"
"The Incunabula?" McGavin asked with surprise in his voice.
"None that I'm aware of," McGavin said, "but it wouldn't surprise me if we did."
"Is there a file I could read about them?"
McGavin pushed back in his chair with his near-empty glass in his hand. "I think we're about finished then. Any other questions?"
Donavin shook his head.
"Good. Then take your drink with you and leave me alone so I can get some work done." McGavin looked into his empty glass and swirled the ice as Donavin stood up and left the room. The phone rang twice and then stopped. Thank God for voice-mail. He was too tired to answer it. Besides, he hadn't had a good phone conversation all day.
* * * *
"Well I'll be damned. It's another cavern," Evans said.
The exploration team was 30 meters past the section of the tunnel that had trapped Neruda the night before. The tunnel had suddenly opened into a large, rounded cavern, slightly smaller than the first, about 15 meters in diameter.
"Hey, there's something here." Evans said as the rest of the team dispersed into the cavern.
"It's pottery," Emily stated, "and it's beautiful."
The flashlight illuminated a large vessel in the middle of the cavern. Around it were various bones, feathers and a few traces of what looked like animal fur or maybe human hair.
"Shit, I wish we could've brought torches instead of a damn flashlight," Andrews complained. "I need something to keep me warm. It's freezing in here."
Ignoring him, Neruda grabbed the flashlight from Evans' hand and shined it inside the vessel, looking over its rim, which stood nearly to his chin.
"Anything?" Evans asked, as the vessel became momentarily translucent in the dark cavern.
"Nothing. It's empty, except for something that looks like melted wax at the bottom."
"Do that again," Emily asked. "Put the flashlight inside."
Neruda followed her suggestion, but this time he stepped away from the vessel as far as his arm would allow so he could see what interested her.
"It's Anasazi," Neruda said. "They were the only one's who integrated turquoise into their pottery -- probably Chacoans. Their homes were only about thirty kilometers from here."
The vessel bore three sky blue spirals, surrounding its widest portion. Each was made up of hundreds of tiny turquoise beads like a mosaic.
The rest of the vessel was paper-thin, terra cotta colored clay. It looked incredibly fragile. Neruda couldn't even imagine how such a fragile vessel could have been carried from Chaco Canyon to this site without it breaking.
"So what is it?" Evans asked.
"This isn't it," Samantha said. "This isn't what they want us to find."
"Okay," Evans said. "But what is it?"
Neruda bent to inspect the spiral mosaic. "It's not an ordinary spiral. It's M51."
"How can you tell from a simple pictograph?" Emily asked. "Aren't there about twenty billion spiral galaxies?"
"M51 is distinctive because it has a conjoined galaxy -- NGC5197 -- right here." Neruda pointed with his index finger to a smaller spiral that was attached to one of the rotating arms of the larger spiral.
"The Whirlpool galaxy," Andrews said in fascination. "That's cool. M51 wasn't discovered until the late 1700's. Did the Anasazi buy their telescopes from Popular Mechanics or just make them from quartz crystals?"
Neruda shrugged. "You know, Andrews, sometimes you can really get irritating."
"I'd like to second that," Emily added.
"Third," Collin offered.
Andrews feigned being offended, pouting his bottom lip and tilting his head down. "I'm just pointing out that you can't reconcile Anasazi pottery -- ostensibly created a thousand years ago, and M51 that requires perfect conditions and at least a fifteen centimeter lens to see."
"I really don't care about the origins of the spiral," Evans reported, "I just want to know what this thing is. Obviously, we've gone to a lot of trouble to find it, so I'm interested in definitions -- "
"Let's look around a bit more before we adorn it with definitions," Neruda suggested.
"What's your instinct?" Evans queried, frustration showing in his tone. "What's it saying?"
"Maybe it's a sacrificial site," Neruda answered reluctantly. "The Chacoans were very superstitious about the weather, particularly at the turn of the millennium. The serpent deity was in charge of the rain and fertility, so maybe this was a site where they performed animal sacrifices to appease it."
Evans was satisfied with his explanation.
"If it was a sacrificial site -- why's there no representation of a deity?" Emily asked. "The spiral, as you've already suggested, doesn't represent a serpent deity. Right?"
"Yes, I agree," Neruda replied, "but let's stop speculating, I don't know what this thing is."
Neruda cast the saber of light to the ceiling and then the floor of the cavern in a pattern. He slowly spun around. The team tracked the beam of light as if it were a predator. Neruda was making a deliberate assessment of whether there were any other tunnels or passageways that might open out from the cavern.
"I don't see any other tunnel out of here. This looks like the end of the road." Neruda commented.
"It can't be," Samantha whispered to herself, but in the quiet of the cave, everyone heard her.
"I agree with Samantha," Collin said, "It'd make no sense that all of this would be constructed by ETs just so the Anasazi could appease their serpent deity. I don't buy that theory."
"Does anyone see any habitation debris?" Neruda asked.
"Go back there," Evans directed his arm to the location that the beam of light had just passed. "Yeah, there. What's that?"
Neruda walked towards something that looked like a large, flat stone lying on the ground. "It's a stone, but it looks like it's been shaped. Whoa..." Neruda let out a long sigh. "There're glyphs incised on top -- and they look a lot like Mayan." His voice raised in pitch, excited at the prospects of being able to read something.
"What's it say?" Emily asked, well aware that Neruda could read virtually any language.
Blowing on the surface of the stone and brushing debris off with his fingers, Neruda shook his head. "I'm not sure. It's a hybrid."
The entire team had gathered around to see the stone's inscription.
"Can you read it?" Evans asked.
Neruda was tracing one of the glyphs with his index finger and remained silent -- deep in thought. He could feel a drilling of energy in his forehead as if something were trying to breakthrough to his awareness, but it remained elusive.
"Looks like the word temple," Andrews explained, pointing to a series of strange markings.
"Yes, I know," Neruda said. "Its meaning is something like... Within this temple... remember light."
"Why do I get the feeling they didn't bring an electrician along?" Andrews quipped.
"Is it a cover of some kind?" Collins asked.
"Can we move it?" Evans asked, getting on his knees. He tried to get his fingers underneath it for leverage, but it was too tightly fitted to the ground.
"Time for the whale knife," Andrews said, turning to Evans.
"What?" Evans asked.
"The knife you used to get the bossman out of the hole he fell into. Remember?"
"Unfortunately, I dropped that knife into the chamber," Neruda lamented. "But I have a small pocket knife. Let's see if we can get under it with this. Anyone who has a knife, let's get to work. Emily, could you hold the flashlight?"
She took the flashlight from Neruda and knelt down. She banged the end of the flashlight against the rock several times in different places -- starting at the center.
"It sounds like it may be hollow underneath."
"I'm counting on it," Neruda said with an unmistakable eagerness.
After ten minutes of chiseling with their knives, enough space was excavated so their fingers could get a hold on the flat, white flagstone.
"On three," Neruda said, "let's try to move it towards Emily."
On cue, the men strained, but to no effect. The stone was about three feet in diameter and about five inches thick, and heavier than the four men could move.
"How much do you think she weighs?" Evans asked, turning to Neruda.
"Three hundred kilos... possibly more."
"I brought something that could prove useful," Evans said. "I'll be right back."
Evans walked away from the encircled stone into the dark shadows.
"Where the hell's he going?" Andrews whispered to Neruda.
"He's kind of secretive about his backpack." Neruda winked in half seriousness.
Moments later Evans returned with another flashlight. "I forgot I had a spare flashlight in my backpack. I also had these." He held up a pair of blasting caps. "They're small as explosives go, but they may be enough to fracture or break this thing up."
"Why'd you bring blasting caps on this mission?" Andrews asked. "Tell me you weren't expecting something like this?"
"I was a Boy Scout," Evans laughed. "What can I say?"
Using the same holes they had dug for their fingers, Evans affixed the blasting caps on opposite sides of the circle hoping they'd break the stone in half.
"We're set," Evans said. "Might be a good idea to retreat to the tunnel in case we get some flying debris."
"How much wire do you have?" Neruda asked.
They walked back to the tunnel while Evans reeled out wire from a small spool. "That's as far as I can go."
"Is it okay?" Neruda asked.
"It's a small charge," Evans answered. "I'm sure I'll be okay. Ready?"
"We're set when you are." Neruda replied.
An explosion came moments later kicking up a cloud of dust. The sound made everyone's heart pound a little faster. It was deafening, but only for a few seconds. A series of echoes faintly followed the tunnel's path, six -- Neruda mentally counted.
Evans was first to see the stone had cracked. "We should be able to handle half the weight, don't you think?"
"Only if you're really men." Emily's quick-witted response brought laughter to the entire group as they looked down upon their stone nemesis like conquerors.
"Shine your light right here," Neruda commanded pointing to the crack in the center of the stone.
"It's dark underneath. Something's here."
"What do you make of it?" Evans asked.
"It could be an ancient storage pit," Neruda said, "but I hope it's more than a bunch of maize or pinion nuts."
"If that's the case, I'll personally go back and shoot what's left of that horseshit artifact," Andrews said. "All this trouble for a bunch of nuts."
"Can you three help me here?" Neruda asked.
"Okay," Evans agreed. "Ready?"
Evans levied a massive kick with his right leg. The crack grew. His boot came down hard a second time, and the rock split horizontally.
"Let's move this out of the way," Neruda said. "Lift!"
Emily trained her flashlight beam as the bottom half of the stone was removed, revealing an inky void. "It's deeper than a storage pit, more like a shaft," she said excitedly.
Neruda took one of the flashlights and lay on his stomach, reaching his arm as far down the opening as possible. A rush of cool, dry air met his nostrils. "Yes, it's a shaft," Neruda said, "maybe straight down for three meters and then it turns horizontal."
"There's no way this could be active, is there?" Evans asked.
"I doubt it. This thing's been sealed up tight."
"Yeah, assuming this is the only entrance," Andrews added.
"We're not making any assumptions," Neruda replied. "I'll go down first and assess the situation. Once I determine the risks, I'll return and we can decide our course of action together. Agreed?"
The team members nodded.
"This is it," Samantha said. "This is the entrance. This is what I saw. It's like a birth canal. It's like being reborn into their world."
She paused, realizing her comments sounded peculiar. "I don't know how I know this, but I do."
Neruda prepared himself for the descent into the tunnel. He removed his backpack; the diameter of the tunnel would just accommodate his shoulders.
"Whoever these ETs were, they weren't overweight," Neruda said, easing himself into the hole. "I'll see you topside in ten."
"Be careful," Evans said. "Give us voice checks every minute so we know you're okay."
Neruda held the flashlight in his mouth so his arms were free to support his body weight as he descended into the black tube. The air was completely stale, as if there had been no circulation for centuries. It was arid and there was a hint of some chemical substance that he had never smelled before.
"There's an odor -- very subtle," Neruda said halfway down the shaft. "Does anyone else smell it?" With the flashlight in his mouth, his speech was reduced to amateur ventriloquism.
"Yeah, I think so. I was wondering what that was," Collin said.
"Any ideas what the smell is from?"
"It's definitely a chemical compound," Collin replied.
"But do you think it's xenobiotic?"
"Smells a little like aromatic hydrocarbon, but it's not that... it's nothing I'm familiar with."
Evans was nervous. "Jamisson, if you feel the slightest nausea, you get out of there immediately. Okay?"
"Understood," Neruda answered, "but I feel fine. Don't worry. It's just an odd smell."
"It's a preservative," Samantha said tentatively. "Just a preservative."
"For what?" Evans asked.
"Something molecular that decays with time," Andrews chuckled, "or am I being too specific?"
Samantha remained straight-lipped, ignoring Andrews' remark. "It preserves something they've left behind. We'll know soon enough."
Neruda climbed down slowly, his legs searching for the bend in the tunnel when he could again use gravity to his advantage. The vertical walls were rough -- perfect for handholds. "Okay you can drop the rope down now," Neruda said.
His feet finally had reached solid rock. He took the flashlight out of his mouth, glad to be rid of the taste of metal.
The height of the tunnel ceiling was just over a meter. Neruda sat with his back to the wall of the shaft, staring down the length of the tunnel before him. The flashlight illumined the ancient darkness, and Neruda was surprised to see no dust or dirt in the clear beam. "This place is clean... I mean spotless."
His hand stroked the smooth, pristine surface. "This entire section of the tunnel's been smoothed to a fine finish -- not unlike polished marble. It's still the same reddish-brown color, but it's completely polished and smooth. It's amazing."
Evans dropped the rope down the tunnel's shaft and hit Neruda in the shoulder. "You're all set. Let me know if you need more."
"Can you see anything beyond the tunnel?" Collin asked.
"It looks like it opens up into something in about ten meters -- maybe another chamber -- but I can't tell for sure. The light's reflecting so intensely off the sides of the tunnel that it's hard to see that far ahead. But I'm pretty sure it opens up. Stay tuned."
"Neruda, this is Collin again. Can you tell if the tunnel is polished stone or is it coated with some form of a polymer? Maybe that's where the smell is coming from."
Neruda put his nose directly to the side of the tunnel and took a long, inward breath. "I think it's both. It's definitely polished stone, but I also think it's been sealed with something -- maybe a polymer, I can't say for sure."
His knees screamed bloody murder as he began to crawl the length of the tunnel. The rock was as hard as granite, and Neruda's knees were his Achilles' heel. "Okay, I'm coming up to a seam in the tunnel. It looks carved. It circles the complete diameter of the tunnel. There're three sequential seams -- maybe five centimeters apart. Very strange."
"Any sign of the far opening yet?" Evans shouted.
Neruda's eyes traveled the length of the light beam, and saw a perfect circle of darkness at the end of the tunnel. "I'm not positive, but it looks like it opens up; I'll know for sure in a minute."
He continued crawling towards the black void at the end of the tunnel, his knees aching against the unyielding stone. "I can see the opening," Neruda exclaimed; his breathing got faster and his heart began to pound louder in his chest.
The lip of the tunnel protruded into a large, oval-shaped chamber. It was about a two-meter drop to the floor from the tunnel. Neruda swept his flashlight across the room in amazement, as he hung his legs over the tunnel's lip.
His heart continued to beat louder. It was the only sound he could hear, a surreal soundtrack to the view into a chamber that was the most intricately designed stone structure that he'd ever seen.
The chamber was about 20 meters at its widest section and then narrowed at both ends in the shape of an oval. At one end of the oval the tunnel emptied into the chamber. On the opposite end of the chamber, a nine-foot-high archway revealed another tunnel leading away into darkness. Two columns framed the archway, each with intricate carvings in a rich assortment of hieroglyphs. The chamber was domed, reaching about 20 feet at its highest ambit. The walls, floor, and ceiling were perfectly smooth, polished to a rich, cream-colored luster.
"Jamisson, what's up?" Evans' voice carried down the tunnel's shaft reminding him of his other world and responsibilities.
"Well," he said, choosing his words carefully, "I found something at the end of the tunnel that substantiates the artifact's existence."
"What?" Evans shouted.
Neruda turned around to face his colleagues, realizing his voice had been lost inside the chamber. "Get down here, you've got to see this!"
Evans immediately sprang into action. "Okay, leave your backpacks here, but bring anything you think is valuable in your pockets. I'll go first. The rest of you follow. Let's go."
The team almost lunged into the shaft with excitement, but they had to move slowly down the vertical tunnel, waiting patiently for the handholds.
"Holy shit!" Evans said as he looked down the tunnel to Neruda's shadowy figure. He was still surveying the chamber from the tunnel's mouth. "This thing's amazing."
Neruda looked back and shined his flashlight signaling his whereabouts. "Wait till you see what I'm looking at," he said smugly.
Like a caterpillar inching its way across a branch, the team crawled obediently to Neruda's perch. The tunnel was too narrow to get a good view for the rest of the team, so Neruda swung his body around like a gymnast readying for a dismount from the high bar.
With the flashlight in his mouth he drawled, "See ya down there," he motioned with his head to the floor of the chamber below, and then jumped. He made a soft landing, but even so, his knees released a shudder of pain through his whole body.
"Damn," Neruda said as he hit the floor.
"You okay?" Evans questioned.
"Yeah, after last night's fall, my knees are feeling a little sore."
"Whoa, what is this place?" Evans blurted.
His flashlight beam was shimmering in the bleached stone interior. "Shit, this place has been carved out. This is no natural cavern."
"No kidding," Neruda answered.
Behind Evans, the rest of the team was struggling to get a view. "Let's go," Andrews said in the very back of the line. "Some of us would like to see, too."
Evans launched himself to the floor of the chamber as had Neruda.
"It's carved out of solid rock," Neruda said, turning to Evans as he landed.
"It's unbelievable," Evans returned in a whisper as his head pivoted like a compass needle in search of its bearings.
"Why the white stone?"
"I don't know, maybe to brighten the interior. It reflects more light."
"How'd they do it?" Evans asked rhetorically.
Neruda ignored the question. "There's another tunnel, do you see it?"
"It must've taken years to create this room..." Evans said, still in awe, unable to respond to Neruda's question.
The rest of the team began to drop out of the tunnel's mouth like drops of water from a faucet, and the chamber filled with an excited buzz.
"Everyone stand perfectly still and stay silent for a few seconds," Neruda commanded. "Just listen."
"I can hear the blood flow in my body," Samantha whispered. "It's amazing."
"There's no ambient noise in here, and yet we're in a perfectly ambient environment," Collin said. "Maybe it's an acoustic chamber of some kind."
"Have you seen any artifacts yet?" Emily asked.
"No, this chamber's empty," replied Neruda. "Notice there's not a speck of dirt or debris. This place is -- "
" -- Antiseptic," Evans interjected.
"Antiseptic," Neruda echoed.
"So now we know they suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder," Andrews said, chuckling softly. "Maybe they died of cleaning fumes."
Neruda had made his way slowly to the archway and columns, studying them with his flashlight. "Again the M51 spiral," Neruda said tracing his fingers over the incised glyph. "I think we know where they're from anyway."
"That doesn't exactly pinpoint it," Andrews remarked. "M51 is home to about one hundred billion solar systems."
Neruda ignored Andrews' comment and turned to the team members edging to his position. "This corridor's got a pretty steep incline. Be careful."
"Are these glyphs related to those on the artifact?" Evans asked as he was studying the column.
"Definitely," Neruda answered, "but they're not the same glyphs. I didn't see any that were identical to those on the artifact."
As he passed under the archway, Neruda could feel the incline begin, and his knees immediately alerted him to the added pressure of walking uphill. At least he could stand straight up. The ceilings in the corridor were three and half meters high and were domed in a similar manner as the chamber.
"I see another archway ahead," Neruda said.
"Tell me something," Andrews asked, "how does anyone carve this structure into solid rock and leave no debris or signs of their construction?"
"I don't know," Neruda replied. "Maybe we'll get lucky and find out."
"They're certainly good magicians," Andrews said. "The debris pile that this thing must've created would've been enormous. Where the hell do you hide something like that?"
The team filed under the archway, and one by one touched the marble-like columns as if they were sacred prayer wheels.
"It looks like a room juts off from the corridor," Neruda said loudly over his shoulder. He was about twenty feet ahead of Evans and the others who had stopped to examine the graceful glyphs on the archway's columns, which seemed almost alive with movement.
There was only silence.
"What do you see?" Evans asked again.
Evans picked up his pace, almost running to Neruda's position, followed by the rest of the team. They found Neruda in the middle of a small chamber only twelve feet in diameter. It was perfectly round with a high domed ceiling. Its wall, opposite the entrance, bore an amazing wall painting that Neruda's flashlight beam was illuminating, its colors so bright that the team had to squint, as though it were transmitting light and not just reflecting it.
Below the painting, sitting on a raised platform that was carved from the same stone as the wall, was an object that was of a shape similar to a football, but nearly twice as large. It was completely black except for three silver lines that encircled it at its center. It was without seams, buttons, or any exterior opening.
Neruda was busy examining the wall painting, mesmerized by its brilliant colors and abstract form. "This is definitely not Anasazi," he managed to say, his voice cracking slightly. "They've left this behind purposely. These aren't rooms where someone lived. This feels more like a diorama at a natural history museum."
"So an extraterrestrial civilization came to earth a thousand years ago and left behind a museum for the Anasazi Indians to enjoy." Emily wondered aloud. "The Chacoan Anasazi are reputed to have mysteriously disappeared around 1,150 AD so they closed the museum, but left behind a homing device that somehow was recovered nearly 850 years later."
"By us," Andrews added with perfect timing. "Sure, I mean, how could you argue with that hypothesis?"
"I'm not saying I believe that theory," Emily defended. "I'm just thinking out loud."
"Let's keep investigating," Evans suggested, "we only have another three hours and ten minutes before our rendezvous."
"How much time do you think we should allow for travel time to the rendezvous site?" Neruda asked.
"Let's allow forty minutes, we may not need that much time, but I'd just as soon have a few extra minutes in the event anything unforeseen occurs."
"Okay, so that gives us another two and half hours," Neruda said. "Let's check out where this corridor leads."
"It's a helix," Samantha stated matter-of-factly. "Like a spiral staircase. And there'll be more of these small chambers. I saw all of this... I just didn't know the scale of it."
"If you're so informed about what's going on here," Andrews challenged, "then kill the suspense and tell us what the hell it is."
"Look," Samantha said with sudden intensity, "I've seen images that were placed in my head by the artifact. If... if you don't accept that reality, then fine, but at least be civil about it."
"It's okay, Samantha," Neruda said. "Just ignore him, he's actually being civil by his standards. Trust me. I've seen him when he's a loose cannon, and it's not pretty."
"She's been right about everything so far," Emily said. "Let's trust her, okay?" She turned to Andrews and smiled.
"Fine," Andrews quipped.
"Have you looked at the artifact at all?" Emily asked.
"Haven't touched it," Neruda responded. "I'm not sure we should touch anything. Our mission is discovery, not investigation."
"Let's see what else there is," Evans suggested.
"What is it about this painting?" Collin asked. "Why would they go to all this trouble for the Anasazi? Or for us for that matter? It just doesn't make sense."
Neruda walked out of the chamber letting Collin's words hang in the air like dust particles. Speculation irritated him unless it was illuminated by at least a few facts. For now, his only motive was discovery.
"Did anyone bring the VC with them?" Neruda asked as they continued up the corridor.
"Of course," Emily said. She took out a small, silver box, about the size of a cell phone, with several, round, recessed dials on one side and a small lens on the other. "Do you want me to film?"
"Yeah," Neruda said, "but let's wait until we've seen everything this museum has to offer first. Collin, you're in charge of the précis, so start thinking about what you want to say."
"Is this project video going to Fifteen?" Collin asked.
"Who else?" Neruda replied.
"Don't worry," Neruda said, "Fifteen likes your style. It's sagaciously scientific and colorfully eclectic."
Everyone laughed, including Collin.
"You do a good imitation," Evans smiled, turning to Neruda. "Don't worry, I won't say a thing."
Neruda laughed, pleased with how civil Evans had been throughout the expedition. He actually enjoyed his company -- something he hadn't expected.
"There's another archway," Neruda pointed his light to the doorway. It was only about ten meters farther up the corridor from the first, but this time the chamber was on the interior side of the corridor. The corridor was indeed like a spiral staircase winding its way in a clockwise motion at a consistent grade.
Neruda walked to the archway and this time waited for everyone to catch up. The team was breathing a little heavier than before, but looked eager to view the second chamber as one collective body.
"Ready?" Neruda asked.
"Let the light show begin," Andrews said.
Neruda and Evans unleashed their light beams into the chamber. An eerie similarity awaited them when their beams intersected on the far wall of the chamber, which bore another wall painting of similar style, size, and brilliance. Beneath it, glistening in the light, laid another artifact, black and silver with flat panels joined together in a hexagonal pattern. Each panel was about the same size of a playing card, but twice as thick. The exterior of the hexagon was black, and the interior brilliant silver. Again, no buttons, seams, or evidence of an activation switch.
The wall painting appeared to be stylistically similar to the first chamber's painting, but with different glyphs and objects. It was about four feet wide and about six feet high.
The chamber itself was identical in scale and shape. Every nuance was an exact replica. Only the painting and artifact were different.
"I'm open to any thoughts anyone has," Neruda said.
"It's not logical," Evans started. "Why would they leave behind these artifacts in this way?"
"Why not?" Samantha said.
"There're some references in this painting that at least look intelligible," Collin said. "Here, at the bottom, these look a lot like the rock formations from around here."
"We should at least consider the possibility that it's a weapon of some kind," Evans said.
"We will," Neruda replied. "Any other thoughts before we move on?"
Andrews moved closer to inspect the painting. "The star patterns might be worth looking at -- assuming they're not arbitrary. Also, the sign of infinity is used. It wasn't invented until the turn of the seventeenth century. And as far as I know, it wasn't invented by an ET from M51."
"Well, if there're no other comments." Neruda said, "let's move on."
The corridor continued upward. Every 30 feet a new chamber would lead off through an archway, alternating from the exterior and interior of the corridor. Each chamber was exactly like all the others, but with a unique wall painting and artifact inside.
Over the next hour, the team found twenty-two chambers, and was beginning to realize the scope of the discovery.
"We found it," Neruda shouted back.
"Found what?" Evans asked, walking up from the twenty-second chamber.
"The last chamber."
Evans poked his head in. "I left my flashlight behind with Collin and the rest. They seemed hypnotized by the wall painting in chamber twenty. I'm no artist, but these are amazing paintings... not exactly your typical cave art is it?"
"Not unless you consider Picasso a caveman."
"This chamber's different," Evans said finally. "It's like they ran out of time in their construction and left it in its natural state."
While the twenty-third chamber was identical in shape and size, its walls, floor, and ceiling were rough and unfinished. The wall painting was the only surface of the chamber that was smoothed and polished like the other chambers. The floor was full of debris, mostly rock chips and what looked like fibers of some kind.
"Very strange," Neruda said shaking his head slowly and rubbing his chin with his hand. "Notice the artifact?"
Evans followed Neruda's light beam to a shiny disc, about three inches in diameter. "It's an optical disc. Let's hope it explains what the hell this thing is."
"It's a time capsule," Neruda said. "It's a set of forty-six artifacts -- half art, half technology. It's as if an extraterrestrial civilization planted these artifacts as someone might bury a time capsule for later retrieval."
"For what purpose?" Evans asked.
"An extraterrestrial time capsule is the most logical theory I can conjure for now," Neruda said methodically. "As for its purpose, that I can't explain. Let's hope this disc tells their story."
Neruda picked the disc up and examined it closely. Like a CD, only smaller, both sides had a gold sheen, with a center hole about the width of a pencil. "This could be an alloy of gold... I'm not sure it's an optical disc. It could be currency, or some sort of conductor."
Evans leaned forward to inspect it, taking it from Neruda's hand. "You're right, it might be gold. It's heavy." He waved it in the air judging its weight. "But it sure looks like an optical disc."
"What should we do with the artifacts?" Neruda asked.
"We're not set up to take them back with us," Evans answered. " I brought a level ten security fence, so we can keep this thing under wraps indefinitely."
"Why not bring this back with us?" Neruda asked holding up the disc. "I have a feeling it's the key to this whole mystery. The sooner we can open it, the better."
"It's outside of mission parameters," Evans began, "but I agree with you. I don't think Fifteen would have a problem as long as we both agree."
"Have you seen Samantha?" Emily asked, entering the chamber and looking around.
"No, we assumed she was with you," Evans answered in alarm.
"She was," Collin said, "but then she just walked off -- we thought to find you."
"Without a flashlight?" Neruda asked.
" -- Holy shit," Andrews exclaimed as he walked inside the twenty-third chamber. "The teenager must've lived in this room, I'd put money on it."
"Yeah, this chamber was left in a mess," Collin added.
Neruda pointed to the wall painting with his flashlight. "If they were in such a hurry, why'd they take the time to polish the wall where the painting is? I think they left the rest unfinished purposely."
"And that purpose would be?" Collin asked.
"I don't know," Neruda said. "But at least we might find some answers in this." He pointed to the gold disc.
"Cool, now we're talking," Andrews said. "They speak my language. Let me see it."
Andrews took the disc, placing it flat in the palm of his left hand. "Shine the light right here at this angle," his right hand was cocked at an odd angle mimicking how he wanted the flashlight to be positioned. Neruda complied.
"It has index lines," Andrews said triumphantly, "But they're as subtle as hell."
He turned it over with great care. "You probably already guessed that this has gold in it."
"Yeah, it looks like an alloy of some kind or possibly a coating," Neruda shrugged, "but who knows without lab results."
"We're taking this with us, aren't we?" Andrews asked, nodding his head.
"Yes," Evans said, "but the rest we'll leave here until we can assemble an excavation team."
"Good," Andrews whispered as he continued to look down on the disc. "It has index lines on both sides throughout the disc. There's probably a shitload of data in this thing." His finger started to move across the disc as though he were counting something. He flipped the disc over again, his finger moving across the surface of the disc subtly.
"There're twenty-four sections -- twelve on each side."
"That's interesting," Neruda said, "given that we found twenty-three chambers."
"There're twenty-four if you count the antechamber," Emily reminded him. "Anyway, I'm gonna look for Samantha, anyone care to join me, preferably with a flashlight?"
"I'll go find her," Neruda said. "I'd prefer you and Collin work on the video report, oh, and by the way, the précis, at least as I see it, should include the term ETC, or Extraterrestrial Time Capsule."
Neruda turned to leave amidst a flurry of questions from Emily, Collin, and Andrews. "We're short on time, so I can't explain my theory. Evans will tell you as much as I know. Just do your best, and don't worry."
Neruda walked down the corridor aware of the discussion he'd just stirred up. The acoustics of the structure made eavesdropping effortless.
He made some mental calculations and judged the entire structure -- from the antechamber to the twenty-third chamber -- to be about 150 feet high and about 100 feet wide. It was surreal walking down the winding corridor with chambers protruding outward like pods bearing gifts from an ancient, extraterrestrial civilization.
The structure was completely baffling to him. His mind was turning scenarios and theories over and over like a threshing machine, hoping to make some sense out of it.
"Samantha," he called loudly. "Where are you?"
"In chamber five," Samantha's voice filtered up the corridor like a ghost.
"Everything okay?" Neruda kept walking, not sure which chamber he was at.
"I'm fine," Samantha said, her voice quieter even though Neruda was closing in on her position.
Neruda's knees were still stiff and in pain, and he noticed how much they ached when he picked up his speed. He slowed down to a modest pace. She was okay, he reminded himself.
"Samantha?" Neruda called. "I'm not sure which is the fifth chamber, so talk to me, I must be close."
"Did you find the top?" She asked.
"Yeah, we found it, but it's not what you'd expect."
"It's unfinished isn't it?"
Neruda stopped in his tracks. "Yeah, but how'd you know that?"
"Have you noticed how similar this structure is to a single strand of DNA? There're twenty-three chambers extending from a helix-shaped corridor. Twenty-three pairs of chromosomes in each cell of our body -- "
"Yes, but that doesn't answer my question," Neruda said. "How'd you know?"
He resumed his walk down the inclined corridor, following Samantha's voice. The thought of walking down a strand of DNA amused him. He might as well be inside a cell wandering within a chromosome -- he was that far removed from the outside world.
"I think they're trying to tell us that our DNA is flawed or unfinished."
Neruda tracked her voice and entered the chamber. She was sitting cross-legged, facing the wall painting in the center of the chamber. In her hand she held a cigarette lighter and the flame flickered as Neruda entered.
"It's an amazing painting," Samantha said quietly. "I couldn't leave it. Sorry."
"It's okay," Neruda sat next to her. "I've been on my feet more than usual today, it feels good to sit."
He bent his knees up and wrapped his arms tightly around his legs. He was a little cold and tired. "What is it about the painting you find so fascinating?" Neruda asked.
"It moves," she replied.
Neruda looked intently at the wall and turned his flashlight off. He wanted to see it in the same light as Samantha had with just the flame of her lighter. "It moves? I'm not sure what you mean," he said. "What moves?"
The painting consisted of a series of interlocking ovals of various colors. In the outermost oval, glyphs were imbedded. The object looked a little like a cross-section of an onion, and it was floating against a starlit sky with a sickle moon.
"I'm not sure," she replied hesitantly, "maybe I'm the one who's moving. All I know is that I find myself being pulled into this painting."
Neruda scrutinized the painting, but sensed no movement. Nonetheless, he had come to respect her intuitions and insights so he continued to watch carefully for any change of perspective or sense of motion.
"So what do you think it is?" Samantha asked.
"This?" Neruda put his arms in the air signifying the total structure.
"Yeah, this." Samantha's eyes looked upwards like a weak echo of Neruda's arms.
"My current hypothesis is that an explorer race, originating somewhere from within the M51 galaxy, came to earth approximately a thousand years ago and interacted with the Chacoan Anasazi Indians. They built this... this structure to house a collection of artifacts that represent their artistic and technical nature. They wanted it to be found at some later time, so they left behind a homing device, which somehow magically appeared and led us to this amazing site." He paused to catch his breath. "I think it's a time capsule left behind by this race."
Samantha let the words dissolve in the air before she spoke. "Does your theory include any speculation as to their motive -- this explorer race?"
"No, but we did find an interesting artifact in chamber twenty-three that might shed some light on that."
"It's an optical disc -- or at least it looks like one. If it is, it might have answers to all of our questions."
"It's a good sign," Samantha said. "Everything's been encoded and cryptic up till now, as if they didn't want us to be able to communicate with them immediately. For example, in your theory, you said that they came to earth and interacted with the Anasazi Indians. If so, wouldn't they be able to communicate in the Anasazi language?"
"And yet, their glyphs, paintings, artifacts, are anything but easy to understand... even for you. If some other organization found the homing device, say the CIA or NSA, for example, do you think they'd have even gotten past it?"
"Who knows? Maybe..." Neruda said. "But what's your point?"
"I think this race has cleverly disguised its intentions. This may be a time capsule, I don't know, but it's more than a collection of artifacts that they wanted us to discover. There's a process they want us to go through. I feel we're being led. It's as if this discovery is only a small step on a very long and twisting journey."
Samantha's lighter ran out of fuel and plunged them into total darkness. "That's my point, I guess."
"I understand your reasoning," Neruda said, flicking on his flashlight and standing it on the floor with its beam straight up like a torch. "It's true that any race that had achieved intergalactic travel -- especially an explorer race -- would have sophisticated language translation technology. It's also true that they'd have multiple points of contact -- with more than the Anasazi, unless they were only here for a very short visit, which is unlikely -- "
" -- So they purposely set barriers and obstacles to ensure their message would require significant time and effort to understand," Samantha said. "I'll bet the optical disc is no cakewalk to access, and when it is, it won't be in English, or any other language known to man."
Neruda stretched his legs out in front of him and leaned back with his arms behind him. "So you think they're very particular about who uncovers their time capsule?"
"That's my sense of it," Samantha replied. "You've seen how we've been tested and probed at each step along the way."
"And the only logical reason for being so particular is that the message is profound, or of significant importance to a large number of people. And they want it to fall into the right hands. Ours."
"That's what I believe," Samantha said, getting to her feet. "I don't pretend to know what's here, but it's part of something massive... more sophisticated..." She paused. "I think there're more of these structures elsewhere on the planet."
She closed her eyes as if remembering her vision. "If there are, they could be inter-connected in some way."
Neruda got up and gave her a quick look as he brushed off his pants out of habit. The floor was perfectly spotless. "I can't help but think you're withholding some information, as if you're afraid to share it. Are you?"
"They call themselves the WingMakers," Samantha said with sudden relief. "They're somehow involved with our genetics. It's as though they live inside us at some level and also live a great distance away. They also said something about our need to defend ourselves against another race of beings. An extraterrestrial race with technology more advanced than we can imagine. These... these WingMakers are wrapped up in this because, according to them, they're the creators of our genetics."
Neruda rubbed the back of his neck and grimaced. "Anything else?"
The sound of laughter stirred the silent air of the chamber. The team was on its way down the corridor, and Andrews was telling some amusing anecdote.
"Keep this to yourself for now," Neruda directed. "I'll tell you why later. Okay?"
"Sure." Samantha shrugged her shoulders in nervousness.
Neruda motioned to the corridor with his hand. "Let's see how they're doing with their little film project." He took one last glance at the chamber painting, feeling a new respect for the intellect of this alien explorer race. Somehow they had already managed to touch him across space and time. He could feel something inside changing, or crumbling. He wasn't sure which.
TOP OF PAGE
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4
Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8