Ms. Gabrielle Steele, VP Releasing

Dear Madame:

Thank you for your interest in The Unveiling.

As you know from news coverage of the dramatic events that unfolded around Dr. Emit Archer, his family and the production of his show Unearthed, this True Story is full of intrigue, betrayal, high crimes and even murder. It's a perfect story for a thriller and we've secured some established actors and writers to help tell it.

My Co-writer, Mario Nicci whose work you know well from his "2112 End of Days" book series and films, has added his unique insight into this story. As you, this is a prime opportunity to capitalize on the whole prophecy thing for the next two years.

Thank you again and please find enclosed;
the working script, a budget for first round distribution, our first series of theater trailers (for different demos) and affidavits from Dr. Archer, his staff and representation as to the authenticity, chronology. Mr. Baaleth has agreed to make available any new data that when and if available.


Timothy Knight

Executive Producer/Co-writer
Cronos Productions
cc: Dr. Emit Archer | Estate of Simeon Baaleth

• • •


As I pointed out in our original meeting with Mr. Ricci, these events chronicled—Cortés
and his exploits particularly — happened in the 1500s. Ricci's intrigues with the Mayans, while shared, unfortunately do not sync up with Cortés. In that the morion is the key artifact, we should shore up all facts. It was the Aztec Empire that is the historical period here. Otherwise I like this draft very much and and agree with your notes on combining attributes of people (not 'characters' please) for time.

Please do share with me who will be melded before your writers go too deep into that.


Dr. Emit Archer

Smithsonian Institute
cc: Gabirelle Steele/Estate of Simeon Baaleth

• • •

Dr. Archer:

Mario has met with the studio and has received initial approval by the estate of Mr. Baaleth that we will stick with the "Mayan" references in the script as opposed to the "Aztec" ideas you mentioned.
Please note your first dispersal has been wired to the account number received by your office. I look forward to seeing you at the premiere!.

Timothy Knight

Executive Producer/Co-writer
Cronos Productions
cc: Gabrielle Steele | Baaleth Estate

• • •


Aztec Empire isn't an "idea" it's damn historical period here where this all takes place. You'll alienate every thinking moviegoer if you don't address that. This was made very clear in our first meeting and I think you know that and "initial approval" from that estate is not leverage for you with me. I sent the simple word swaps in that last version.

Let's not have this exchange again.

Dr. Emit Archer
Smithsonian Institute
cc: Dr. Emit Archer | Estate of Simeon Baaleth

1WASHINGTON DC 20307-5006


Ms. Gabrielle Steele :: Kivastone Pictures International

Respond or Remand to

[September 2012]
There's nothing about the Socorro desert that is scorching at 5:30am. With her stilettos behind her, it was the cold hard fear of the chase that kept her numb to the pain of sage and gravel ripping her bare feet. The metallic churn of the shifting S.E.T.I. dishes was a cello beneath the staccato of a blue steel .45 cocking behind her. As she spun for one last plea, the red silk wrap that completed her gown the night before unveiled an assailant who squeezed the trigger that ended her.

Chapter One

The Convoy Sentinel

November 2022

I can tell by the dull ache in my thighs that it's going to be an early winter. It's not a folksy feeling like the grandmother who knows it's going to rain when her rheumatism flares up; rather, it's the mundane physics of the asphalt getting stiffer when the air gets colder sooner and for longer.

I'm a Captain in the U.S. Army and have patrolled this same stretch of U.S. Route 6 in western Colorado for three and a half years. The U.S. Convoy Sentinel Corp was set up as part of the Citizen Soldier Act of 2017. Those of us with prior military service records and the right political and/or fraternal connections were fast-tracked to posts like this to monitor civilian and troop movements to the Citizen Compounds after the Great Shift.

It's a lonesome gig and, except for the periodic inspection of armored personnel carrier and civilian transfer convoys, the subtleties of the US6 surface and its affect on my middle-aged body have replaced most original thoughts and emotions, except one. Dread.

Today is Sunday, November 6, 2022. I remember when I was a boy, wondering from time to time on what date would I die. Not that I was a morbid child, just often bored. Like a birthday, we all have a deathday — one date each year that we walk right through until that last year never knowing its significance. But now, like a pregnant woman with a scheduled cesarean knows when her child's birthday will be, I now know my deathday. It's the day after tomorrow.

As I walk up the steep path from US6 toward my patrol tower and shelter, made of Army-issue corrugated steel and carbon fiber, the pain in my thighs moves up to my lower abdomen. I know I'm going to have to take a break before ascending the six meter high ladder so I scan the terrain slowly while the lactic acid in my legs recedes before I climb.

The climate of this 5x5 meter patrol shelter is conditioned by a solar roof and, despite being a mélange of wiring and embedded control panels, it contains all the creature comforts; hot and cold running water, refrigerator, microwave oven and transmitter plus all the digital entertainment I can stand. But for the first year, it was all I could do not to feel like a prisoner — only worse. Prisoners have other prisoners. But now, with less than two days to live, I feel almost homesick for this mechanical shed.

I study every banal routine with new appreciation. Shaving the edges of my once blonde graying beard—the Army relaxed its grooming protocols years ago in favor of willing men and women—I notice new errant eyebrow hairs and more crow's feet flanking my dulling blue eyes. This is the last time I'll set this table, these are the last MRE's I'll eat, this is the last time I'll wash this dish—like a disciple of Gurdjieff trying to crystallize consciousness in total awareness of every single action. Or was I desperately trying to grasp as much self-awareness as possible for my soul to survive my body's death? Why didn't I move to Tibet when I had the chance? And I did have the chance.

Long before I became a Convoy Sentinel for the U.S. Army stationed west of the Rocky Mountains, I was America's preeminent internet television archaeologist. As host of Unearthed with Dr. Emit Archer, I chased down artifacts all over the globe while millions watched and interacted as amateur detectives. Millions of social network followers meant thousands of real time searches on Google Earth and digital databases that kept me running from dig sites to archives worldwide and resulted in dozens of artifacts being found and protected. But there was one artifact in particular that changed everything for me and my family. It was a Spanish morion (helmet) that belonged to Hernán Cortés—the Spanish Conquistador who led the expeditions through Central America and brutally ended the Aztec Empire in the 1500s. It was the pinnacle find of my career.

So important the find and intriguing the backstory, that we were quickly descended upon by producers to put the story to film. As it turned out, the utter magnificence of this artifact and its history became a mere kernel of a script. A minor role in the treatment that spun the science of it all into a formulaic thriller called The Unveiling. But more people see it now than ever paid to see it at the theaters. It's on a continuous loop at the three main gates of the East Rockies Citizen Compound in an effort, I suppose, to assure the weary refugees that they are in the right place. It also serves as a sensory distraction to the fact that their next life will be little more than MRE rations, primitive plumbing and existential uncertainty.

How did Internet TV's leading archaeologist end up here —a lonely Convoy Sentinel in western Colorado? It might be hard to imagine, but this is one of the most coveted jobs in the region right now. Compared to the war east of the Mississippi Sea, this is a safe and quiet post. And it's because of my past accomplishments and connections that I was appointed to it. Because of my time in the service before going back to school and the Citizen Soldier Act of 2017, I was given the expedited rank and pay of Captain. But the only company I command out here are coyotes, rabbits and skunks.

I can't complain though. The mild commercial success of The Unveiling did payoff the student loans that the Army didn't cover and supported the Archer household for years. Any younger though and I would probably prefer to be closer to the action in the Appalachian theater. But only close enough to employ my sniper skills.

It seems counter-intuitive on the surface, but my military training and Archaeologist's education work well together. There are two skills I excel at as a soldier: being still and shooting straight. The first skill I learned in Tibet while on a dig and the second in a Marksmanship Unit. The first made the second possible. The second made the first untenable. But there is a comfortable rationalization when one understands things from an Eastern ontology. There was no "fall from grace" in the Eastern traditions. No Augustinian guilt of an "original sin" thus no evil or good. Emptiness and fullness. When I was most empty, my aim was most exact. But I've lived many years since then and I've filled up on many sins, original and forged so, while the muscle memory in my finger remains, my aim isn't always true.

The story goes that when the tall Spanish Galleons of Cortéz were first seen from Aztec shores, they were such an impossible vision in their reality that their deeply filtered perceptions couldn't register what was happening and they literally failed to see the ships. These were the largest artifacts ever seen—objects so huge, complex and unfamiliar that they defied Aztec comprehension. When smaller boats began to move toward the shore, the Aztec Shaman stared out to sea and, only by imagining what he was looking for, was finally able to make out the tall ships. He was then able to point them out to others until at last everyone could see the ships. The shaman could do this because he alone was open to the possibilities of strange things from other worlds.

Chapter Two

The Morion of Cortés

Generally speaking, there are three kinds of artifacts. The first kind is so old that it requires carbon dating and usually ends up vacuum cased in a museum to stave-off disintegration. The second kind is so new that it can land on the auction block at Sotheby's then in some private collection for bragging rights. Then there is the third kind. Not so old that it can't be authenticated by an expert, but old enough to be priceless. Unless of course, a Black Market buyer can afford priceless.

The Morion of Cortés falls into this third category. Once authenticated, it gained National Treasure status in Spain. However, since it surfaced in New Mexico, it became the property of the United States National Archives. This of course resulted in Spain filing suit against the U.S. just as it has for the recovery of treasures from sunken Galleons off the coast of what used to be Florida. But when the Euro Zone nearly folded in late 2012, in exchange for a financial rescue package from the U.S. Treasury, most members abandoned all such lawsuits. And Spain in particular committed thousands of troops to support our conflict with the Cartels in Northern Mexico.

Since the morion was re-discovered more specifically on Navajo land, the tribe could have easily laid claim to this finding as well. Instead, I was able to leverage my political connections to secure a very generous endowment to the Navajo wing of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and a permanent exhibition of the finding. The Navajo have always been the most ambitious and business-minded of the Southwestern tribes. But the most delicate negotiations and planning weren't with Spain or the Navajo Nation, they were with one person — the Hopi Shaman who possessed the artifact.

The Hopi (Peaceful People) were the original inhabitants of this region known as Anasazi Territory. The Navajo had since driven them out and surrounded the Hopi into a small area of what is now Eastern Arizona. But this one Hopi Shaman was the last of a shamanic line living deep in the vermilion canyons of Chaco that the Navajo either allowed or forgot.

The morion was quite a storied artifact. In the near 500 years since it fell from the head of Cortés, it remained in the possession of this sacred line of Shaman and in the same grand kiva known as "The Sacred Cave" or "Home of the Kachina". The stories passed down through generations came in the pure and nearly lost ancient language of Uto-Aztecan.

Linguists were still deciphering the story of the morion before The Great Shift so there is still much that needs to be learned one day. But for now, part of what we know reads: "The conquerors (conquistadors) marched across the ancient Mayan Empire ever North in search of the seven lost cities of gold carrying with them the morion of Cortéz. With each slain child the morion reflected its curse grew..."

To the peaceful Hopi people, the blood-lust of these conquistadors was unfathomable. If the tribes could not tell the Spaniards where to find any of the legendary cities of gold, their men, women and children were savagely killed. Soon the tribes learned to direct them farther and farther north. And once the shiny gold plated morion, which had reflected the horrors of these white men with bearded faces, came into the possession of the shamanic line, it became a benchmark for their prophecies. The story became that when this helmet resurfaced for all the world to see, it would be one of a series of signs that the fourth world of Hopi lore would end and the fifth would begin. There it sat for half a millennium building in meaning and esoteric significance. As if the Pope had possession of Pontius Pilate's bronze laurel.

It was the summer of 2011 when my producer called to tell me that the morion had been discovered. Not really discovered as much as it was presented to us by the Hopi shaman in New Mexico. He apparently knew about Unearthed and even seemed aware of its global audience numbers. How a shaman in the canyons of northern New Mexico could research our web analytics was amazing enough, but when my producer told me that he asked for me by name, I was at first flattered then uncomfortably intrigued.

Unearthed was a mildly successful internet program for its first couple of seasons until we uncovered and authenticated a lost piece of the Dresden Codex — the Mayan hieroglyphics that are the earliest known book of the Americas — near Coba in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. This nine by fifteen inch swatch of Amatl bark paper overturned decades of scholarly debate. In short, the brightly colored pictorials revealed that the commonly accepted date of December 21st, 2012 as the end of the Mayan calendar was off by more than a year. In short, as it turned out, the date of relevance was actually October 28, 2011.

This finding set in motion a global debate and race to refute or confirm this new data and thrust our little internet program onto the world stage and me along with it. In overwhelming numbers, objective Codex scholars confirmed the new data and the whole ethos of the Mayan prophecy shifted. 

The Codex was to be unveiled at a ceremony in Santa Fe and what was to be the peak moment of my career became the darkest night of my life.

Chapter Three

Miriam Archer

I first saw Miriam Magdaléne Vidal on a Sunday but met her on a Tuesday. I was teaching and working on my doctorate thesis in Puebloan Archaeology at the University of New Mexico. She was a Grad Student working toward her Masters in Anthropology and curator of the Southwest Museum on campus. I was at first struck by her piercing dark eyes, sun-kissed olive skin and thick dark hair that seemed to want to explode from its strategically placed clips. I was acting interested in the Zuni Katsina dolls on display at the time but at every turn I was really just trying to catch a glimpse of her in the reflections of the cases. This was my third visit to the exhibit in as many days. Like a schoolboy, I couldn't bring myself to speak to her. Despite my academic accomplishments and status at the University, seeing her made me question everything about myself. I couldn't make a move. Then I didn't have to.

"This is one of my favorites too." She said walking up behind me. A clean breeze of lavender chased her walk and I was dumbstruck.

"Um, sorry?" I said still looking at her reflection as if it were an imagined encounter.

"Kokopelli. He's the trickster katsina." she continued looking straight at my reflection. I turned my head slightly and bashfully looked at the floor in front of her.


"Kokopelli. Not many visitors even notice him, but you've been staring at him for quite a while."

"Three days." I thought to myself but I had no idea what doll was in the case in front of me. He just happened to be behind the glass that angled perfectly at her reflection where she sat reading and answering questions for the lucky people who could approach her without sweating. As a student of Southwestern architecture, I knew well who Kokopelli was, but I wasn't going to let my knowledge get in the way of a perfect excuse to keep her talking to me. I quickly scanned the placard next to the doll and picked out some emergency facts.

"Oh yes, I see he's a fertility deity but 'Trickster' you say?"

"Yes. He's best known for fertility and music but he has a very strong trickster quality too that he uses to woo women."

"Interesting. He certainly seems to be comfortable with himself." I said motioning to his exaggeratedly large phallus.

"Indeed. Apparently detachable too. He would send it down rivers to seek out young Hopi women." She said with a smirk.

"Convenient option." I said with an uncomfortable chuckle. 

That was our first encounter and it was this kind of playful exchange of facts that set the tone for our relationship over the next ten years. Although I was only months away from being called "Doctor" Emit Archer and she was content with a Masters, I always felt and she always knew that she was the smarter partner. Her ability to grasp and retain facts then synthesize them into other disciplines never failed to both impress and discourage me. I heard all her lectures to undergraduates considering the Anthropology school. I was the drone to her queen but she never let me feel that way and that was her greatest gift—a patience that came from an otherworldly wisdom.
That and those dark brown eyes.

Miriam came from an eclectic family. Russian Jews that had settled along the northeast coast of Spain a couple of centuries ago. It was a perfect marriage of cultures—millennia-old traditions nestled in a family-centric environ. Though she spent most of her childhood in D.C., she had this backdrop. A stark contrast to my White Anglo-Saxon Protestant upbringing where emotions were tempered with either scholarly analysis or drowned altogether in single malt scotch. No amount of initials after my name could impress a woman like this which is why I was a twelve year-old boy again in her presence.

It was on a trip we took to her family hacienda near Costa Brava that we fell in love. She drove us up the coastal highway from Barcelona and just before the turnoff inland to the family's Mandarin orchard, she took a sharp right and down the cliff drive to the Gulf of Roses.

"Where are you going? The sign said the exit was up and to the left." I said wearily looking down the side of the cliff and gripping the door handle tightly.

"Trust me, Emit. This will change us." She said with a smile and determined squint.

In a few moments we were parked at the bottom. She bowed her head and whispered to herself, "Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo" then jumped out and ran toward the sea. I followed her through the head-high feathered reeds then the grass gave way to the most sublime view I'd ever seen. Sure, the Mediterranean cove and white gold architecture across the teal blue bay was brilliant, but what took my breath was Miriam. At water's edge. Staring South. The water breezes dancing with her linen skirt and her long twisting hair. As she turned back to me, her being was so present and her face so content, I quite literally fell to my knees and grabbed the sand as if I was staking my claim to that place and moment. Or trying not to fall of the Earth.

"Are you okay, Emit?" she said as if I was having a stroke.

"Yes I am." was all I could utter. She was right. It did change us. But mostly because that image, that moment changed me. A Literature professor once insisted that when an author writes about sex, it's never about the sex. But I'm a scientist-soldier and the way we laid waste to that forest of reed grass that afternoon was no motif.

The weeks that followed were a fable. Long days of walking through their Mandarin and Tamarind orchards and longer nights of Piaya and Sangria. Hacienda Vidal was a college for me and each family member was a rogue scholar of culture, history, and philosophy. Her father, a decorated Desert Storm commander and later a U.S. diplomat died before we met, but his presence was very thick in this place. I wasn't just falling in love with this woman. I was falling in love with this family. This place. Hacienda Vidal.

One evening, after Miriam had fallen asleep, I stared up at the olive tree shadows on the white ceiling and wondered how many layers of paint had kept it that bright over the generations. I thought about the richness I felt after days of being steeped in the Vidals. The olive trees rustled but I could just make out a low and steady hissing sound. I walked to the broad window and saw a faint blue glow from a room across the courtyard. The hiss was timed to orange flashes like metal being soldered. Squinting, I could make out a figure leaning into the flashes in a measured motion.

"Go see him." Miriam's tired voice said softly.

"Who is it?" I asked. My eyes fixed to the cadence of the blue and orange lights.

"It's my Uncle Rafael. He's working. He always works at night. Go. He loves to talk about his work."

"What kind of work is he doing?" 

"Go see, Emit. Make his day...or...night." She lay back down, pulled my pillow tightly to her chest and fell back asleep.

I walked across the courtyard and lightly knocked at the old wooden door between orange hisses. Rafael looked up, lifted his welding glasses then motioned me in. He pointed to a spare mask and then a stool near him. For the next twenty minutes I watched this man weld a crucifix onto a goblet that was identical to the old one set on the table beside him.

I thought at first that he was making a set but soon realized that even the imperfections and scars were being recreated. He explained later that he was replicating a valuable artifact for the local museum so that they could display it while keeping the real piece safe away. His tiny workshop was stocked with what I thought were priceless artifacts but turned out to be modern replicas. We spent the entire evening getting to know each other’s obsessions and mutual passions. Only to be interrupted by Miriam with a tray of coffee the next morning.

"You men need a second wind?" She said placing the tray on the table and smiling like she had just launched a great friendship. She had.

We would return to Hacienda Vidal many times since that first visit. Our last time together there was our wedding. She married me and I married the Vidals.

Miriam was my wife, my friend and my savior. Without her I may never have completed my doctorate thesis, at least not with the novel approach it ended up having. She had a gift for synthesizing data. It was she who first pointed out to me a series of uncanny connections between Tibetan and Hopi culture and their social mores. That the Tibetan word for moon “dawa”  sounds like the Hopi word for sun “taawa”.  This is why this Southwestern Archaeology doctoral student went to Tibet to complete a novel dissertation and learned to be still.

Miriam was also my secret weapon. In fact, it was Miriam who led me to the hypothesis that the Codex we unearthed in Coba could reveal a miscalculation in the Mayan Calendar. She was aware of a sect of Mayans that discovered the glitch millennia ago but too late to update the Long Count calendar across the Mayan Empire. And for that paradigm shifting synthesis of artifact to scholarship, all my professional ego could spare her was a dedication in my first book and a co-producer credit on subsequent webisodes of Unearthed.
This was just one of the myriad regrets that caved in on my soul when she died.

It was the evening of the ceremony to unveil the "Coba Codex" (as it was coined) that I lost my wife. We were late for the event which was being hosted by the First Lady of New Mexico, Angelica Esperanza, at the Governor's Mansion in Santa Fe. Miriam and I loved the Governor. He was broadly smart and an infinitely kind and trusting man. Miriam introduced me to him after an event at UNM and we became fast friends. She had, however, serious reservations about Angelica when the Governor introduced us to her a few years later. A manufactured beauty and peanut heiress from Eastern New Mexico, Angelica had an insatiable appetite for collecting artifacts. Which is why the Governor was so sure we would all get along famously. I had never seen him happier so I shrugged off Miriam's intuitions about the new First Lady for a long time. The same intuitions I ignored about Siméon Baalath when the First Lady introduced us to him. 

Siméon was an ex-network executive who shared a lust for ancient artifacts with Angelica. He knew where to find the relics and she had the power to commission each under the auspices of the New Mexico's State Cultural Society. I never saw any of the pieces go farther than the in-mansion museum the First Lady set up east of the entry hall. 

Our dinner parties at the mansion were never lacking in conversation. Miriam's sweeping knowledge of the cultures and the peoples that actually forged the artifacts Siméon and Angelica would show off made for fascinating stories and intriguing connections. Once my rapport with Siméon became less formal and more inspired, he asked me to host an internet program he was developing that later became Unearthed. Truth is, I was mildly auditioning for the part since our third dinner party once I realized Siméon wasn't an "ex" TV executive, just one on a sabbatical of sorts. More like an exile I later learned.

The opportunity to get paid by advertisers to immediately start doing what would have taken me 18 months of grant writing and fundraising to begin was way too tempting. This is why I betrayed Miriam's intuitions about not getting involved with Siméon Baaleth. His thirty pieces of silver came in the form of hundreds of artifact finds in exotic locations and a global, albeit pixilated, spotlight on me. But no amount of money and niche celebrity could rationalize-away our last dinner party with the governor, Angelica and Siméon. The night Miriam's intuition folded outward.

It was the week before the Coba Codex unveiling ceremony. The governor and I had retired to the library for Brandy and cigars while Miriam wandered over to Angelica's 'museum' to see what was new. There seemed to be new pieces arriving every other day back then. Within a minute she rushed back into the library, kissed the governor and handed me my coat.

"We're leaving right now." she whispered into my ear.

"What? We haven't even lit these things yet." I replied out loud.

The Governor slurred, "Miriam...stay...please...I promise I won't let him finish the thing." He was grinning hazily from the wine the First Lady kept him flowing in all evening. 

"I'm sorry, I just remembered we have to get back for Jack." she said while pulling me up by the elbow.

For the first half hour of the drive she was silent. Finally she let out a frustrated snarl and told me why we had to get out of there so quickly. When she walked into the museum she heard laughter echo from the back of the great hall. She walked back to join what she thought was Baaleth and Angelica talking. What she saw instead was Angelica on her knees in front of Baaleth who was grimacing in ecstasy and staring straight at Miriam. 

"That poor man!" She yelled at the dashboard.

"I don't understand. Was she hurting him? What the hell..." I began, confused at her reaction.

"No, Emit! The Governor! How could she do this to him?! That poor, sweet man." She put her head in her hands and sobbed for most of the trip home.

We wrestled for days about whether or not to tell the Governor. The dilemma bounced back and forth between our allegiance to him and the desire not to hurt him. Finally we decided to tell the governor about Angelica and Siméon after the Codex event. I knew it would end my association with Baaleth but I took solace in knowing that the work I had done on the Codex would assure my continued celebrity and my loyalty to the Governor had its own rewards.

The following week was the night of the Coba Codex ceremony. We were late and it was raining one of those hard fast and fat New Mexico rains that sweep across the west mesa toward Texas in sheets. I was driving fast along I-25 just north of Santa Fe, anxious to be the guest-of-honor. My last sensory memory was the sound of a tire exploding. I later read in one of the state trooper's reports that coyotes had been reported along that stretch of road earlier that day and, although there was no physical evidence of the crash being caused by coyotes, it was nonetheless the singular piece of information I clung to for months to deny my own responsibility for the accident. I was in a hurry to be lauded for my discovery and new-found global prominence yet, in my vainglorious haste, I lost the one grounding element in my life.

Miriam Magdaléne Vidal Archer was the reason I was there. I was the reason she wasn't.

Chapter Four

Jack Archer

Three years after Miriam and I wed, she gave birth to our son, Jackson Vidal Archer. Jack became our greatest collaboration. Miriam studied child rearing as voraciously as she did ancient peoples. She synthesized best practices from around the world and exposed Jack to worldly studies long before he could spell. And it was important to me that even the smallest project Jack and I did together had some fact-based origin. I made sure that every sand castle or building block structure we built was backed up by sound architectural principles and relative to the era they were built. Arches were rooted in Roman masonry techniques and the toothpick ladders that leaned against the Pueblo walls of his fourth grade diorama were to scale. After one particular Hebrew School class, Jack came home intrigued with Solomon's Temple. We spent the rest of that afternoon and evening rebuilding it with Legos based on known architectural descriptions and my Masonic training. That plastic temple remained on Jack's dresser for years under constant reconstruction and reinforcement until spirited away to the attic before he left for college. Nebuchadnezzar himself would be hard-pressed to destroy the thing.

Despite our overzealous parenting toward the perfect American child, Jack reminded us time and again that it was his power of imagination and abstract thought, not our fact-based academic approaches, which ruled his internal kingdom. He began to purposefully mix Pueblo adobes with Roman arches and kivas became diving pools for every historical action figure from the Civil War to Desert Storm. And we could tell by his sideways glances as the Union soldier walked through the Roman arch and dived into the kiva pool that he knew this archaeological and anthropological mish mash would irk us a bit. But knowing that he knew the difference was enough for us.

Once he did learn to spell and write our presents for any occasion became pieces written and read by him. These oratories mixed academic lexicons and inside jokes that confounded onlookers but kept Miriam and I doubled-over and unable to breath. Partly from Jack's sharp wit, but mostly from pride because, where he found the humor meant he understood the facts.

One afternoon when Jack was about 9 years-old, he came across my Army Trunk in the garage. Fortunately, I had the forethought to pad lock the box years earlier because inside—beneath the priceless photos, diplomas, ancient cylinders Miriam spirited away from Iraq and a copy of Mary Poppins she insisted we keep—was a pristine and assembled M110 Semiautomatic Sniper System rifle. Like that period of my life, I had completely forgotten about the trunk and all its triggered memories. Of course, when a 9 year-old American boy sees an M110 SASS and there's no bright orange tip on its barrel, the intrigue doesn't let up until it is either fired or forbidden. We spent the next several weekends in the open space picking off cans and old G.I. Joes.

Almost immediately, I noticed a change in the way he would set up his plastic soldiers for war play in the living room. Instead of bringing out the heavy artillery and columns of marching troops to clash en masse, he would set up intricate scenes of randomly placed crowds around a single general and one sniper—a click away, atop a couch cushion, lying very, very still. Despite this boy's fascination with military scenarios, he now much preferred taking one single, evildoing officer out from afar then slaughtering whole squads of enlisted men. As did I. For all our attempts to mold a philosopher-king, what was evolving before us was a warrior-poet.
He continued to develop his marksmanship but as the years passed, his attention turned from blocks and action figures to mobile Apps and chess boards. Both of which he adroitly navigated. I recall the first time he beat me at chess for real. It was going to be another game where I would deliberately make bad moves to allow his pieces to shift into checking postures. I would then watch as he scanned the board and come in for the kills. But not that day. He had been playing a lot of online chess and said he wanted to try some different moves with me. We set the board and, in loving condescension, I gave him the whites thus the first move.

He moved his King's pawn one space. I moved my Knight out to begin to show him a different strategy. He then moved his King's Bishop three spaces diagonally through the hole left by the Pawn. A little aggressive and vulnerable I thought but decided to remain silent. I moved my Pawn to allow my Bishop to come out on my next move. He paused for a moment as if regretting his last move but then moved his Queen out diagonally two spaces. My Bishop moved into the field next to my Knight like a Templar on the outskirts of Jerusalem. But, just as the opening credits of my epic Crusader movie rolled in my head, his Queen swooped to my line, slew the Pawn before my Bishop and, in the softest, sweetest and most ego crushing voice I had ever heard, announced "Checkmate".

I scanned the geometry of the possible moves I could make to reverse this misfortune to no avail. He had beaten me with the most elementary four-move checkmate designed to weed any field of novice players. I went from professorial father figure to schoolyard weakling in two syllables. From that game forward there were no more merciful bad moves on my part. What made it just a little diabolical—thus reassuring for a father readying a son for the world—was his ability to use his ethos over and above the strategy. That is, he actually paused for a moment as if regretting his last move but then moved.

I suppose now that, if Miriam had to die at all, it was better that Jack had reached this level of play and had chess to focus his mind on. Because I was no help to him at all. In chess or in understanding our loss. Part of me knew that he quietly resented my singular focus on work. Each time our au pair, Lucy rang the doorbell, Jack's expression would turn from his normal refrain of discerning wonder to one of surrender. That bell meant that Dad was off to the airport for days or weeks. But, like his mother, there was never a complaint. Just a solemn acceptance of whatever was happening. Besides, I would tell myself, he loved Lucy Rose. She was a distant cousin of the Vidals from Tordera and she looked and carried herself a little like Miriam. I told myself that she was a positive stand-in for Miriam and that it was healthy for him to spend time with Lucy while I tried to get our practical needs met out in the field. I was so disassociated though, during that time, that it was Jack who called me regularly when I was gone. Once in the morning to say hello and again each night before bed regardless of what time zone I was in. And I, at least, had the presence of mind and Miriam's voice in my head to answer every single call.

As the years passed, Jack studied military history, joined the ROTC and trained his mind and body. He spent his eighteenth birthday at the Army Recruiters going over options. His grades, extracurriculars and his marksmanship skills placed him on a track toward the 101st Airborne and the 5th Special Forces at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Jack pleaded with me to get the Governor and my own military vets to write letters on his behalf. I did so but only because I knew the look in his eye. It was the same look he got when he first saw the M110. Fire or forbid? I fired.

I received a communiqué from him three weeks ago by way of the Sentinel Post in Vail. All he could tell me was that they were being "...deployed to the northern region of the Appalachian theater..." His texted words were tight and formal but the detail he gave of his preparations conveyed his excitement. This was the hottest fighting east of the Mississippi Sea and I've been on edge ever since. For the past three weeks the dread I've felt came from the questions I couldn't stop asking myself. What if he never found that damn trunk? What if I forbade the firing of the M110 instead of making it a father and son activity? What could I do now to make him safe?

Chapter Five

A Widower Awakes

Although I suffered only minor physical injuries in the car crash, there are three months following Miriam's funeral for which I still cannot account. I'm told I suffered a form of post-traumatic stress due to an overactive adrenaline response during the event. It apparently created deep neurological patterns in my brain that could result in periodic violent episodes if not treated. But all I recall from that time are pale green walls, flickering florescent lights and black and white photo images from the 1960s. Then I saw Jack's face sharpening through the motion blur and I was back. It felt like a rough night's sleep but ended up being three months. I'm told that I participated in group sessions, albeit quietly, and when I wasn't found in a heap in the corner of my room, I was reading anything I could find with words; old magazines, milk cartons, shampoo bottles until, finally, they put a stack of Colliers Encyclopedias from 1968 in my room.

I was closely observed for two weeks after coming to and showing signs of lucidity. Visits with Jack became more frequent and longer and I was able to receive other visitors during the final week. The Governor was scheduled to come during that week but was suddenly committed to last-minute meetings arranged for him by the First Lady. He sent Seth, the family's official photographer instead. I introduced the governor to Seth years earlier at the Grand Lodge in DC. We did many tours of Iraq in Desert Storm in the early 90s but bonded what feels like millennia before. While his position was formally the Official Documentarian of the Governor of New Mexico, we all knew that he was really only brought in to capture the First Lady at every turn. She would pour over the carefully staged "candid" shots of herself that would be "leaked" to the Santa Fe Tribune and various society rags. Seth had spent the later nineties in Sarajevo so this was a welcome and cushy gig for him. He was the even more logical a first visitor than as a stand-in for the Governor but I'd take him any way I could. He's saved my life and my heart a few times so I was happy to spend that reassimilation time with him and his guests catching up, crying about Miriam and making plans.

I was released back into the world and able to settle back into a routine with Jack, provided I committed to a year of weekly grief counseling sessions with Dr. Sarah Kamen and medication. I told them I did but didn't take the meds and most of the time these sessions seemed a waste of time as I worked to get Unearthed back online. But I decided that, in order to keep Jack and me together for the long haul and get on with our lives, I would use these sessions as a mental break — something I was never very good at doing for myself. I would volley responses to Dr. Kamen's probing questions as if I was really engaged but all the while I was planning my next show or my next pitch to the networks in my head. I could tell she was worried that I wasn't making progress in dealing with the loss. She called it Perceptual Blindness. But for me, getting back to work and some semblance of normalcy at home was all I needed.

Before the accident, when Siméon and I would pitch the show to networks, it was always fifteen minutes of Non-Disclosure Agreements followed by fifteen minutes of ideas then fifteen minutes of executives acting like they were late for a meeting and assuring us that the real decision makers would be glad to meet us provided our schedules could be coordinated. Forty-five minutes flat. Every time. But after the success of the Coba Codex finding — but more so I'm sure, due to the morbid curiosity of sitting in a room with a man who accidentally killed his wife and spent months in a psych ward — the meetings included an extra fifteen minutes of half-hearted condolences and awkward pauses. As if they expected me to breakdown right in front of them at any moment. 

After my initial disgust with these gallows watchers, I soon realized that I could use this new-found sympathy to our advantage. My pitches became more about closing the deal than presenting the ideas and before long we had buy-in from InTV — the preeminent online original programming network. Only now, years later, alone with my thoughts at night in the middle of western Colorado does the disgust turn from them to me for using the death of Miriam to my own advantage.

Almost a year had passed since the accident before the final deal with InTV was penned. With only a session or two left of mandatory counseling, Siméon called to tell me that the network was ready to produce six webisodes — not the usual thirteen because I was still considered a risk. But six was fine with me. I was eager to get back out there. I also understood why the network wanted to keep me within driving distance, at least for the first show back. That's when he followed up with the news that a Hopi shaman in New Mexico claimed to be in possession of a Spanish conquistador's helmet. I was only mildly interested as we had covered conquistadors before.

"You don't understand, Emit." Siméon interrupted. "The morion is embossed with the seal of Cortés himself."

"Jesus. There were only six of those ever forged." I said, "The only other one, anywhere, is at Del Prado in Madrid."

Baaleth shared my enthusiasm although mine was for the find and his was for the ratings, but ours' was a symbiotic relationship of obsessions.

"It will be a magnificent comeback episode, Emit. There's even a built-in hook because the shaman is convinced this morion has prophetic significance — something about the Hopi fifth world or something."

"Right!" I said. "We're supposed to be at the cusp of the Great Turning..." I started excitedly but Baaleth wasn't interested in these things. He was all ratings and revenue.

"I'm sure you'll frame this one right, Emit. I've just texted you GPS coordinates to where the Shaman will be tomorrow..."

"Tomorrow? That soon? Um, okay — I've got some things I need to work out but can probably leave around noon."

"Oh and there's one more thing..." Siméon began with a noticeable change in the timber of his voice, "...because this morion has been in the shamanic line for nearly 500 years, it's never been authenticated and so it's not protected. So call me right after you have authenticated it."

"Of course. I know the drill, Sim." This had been our normal procedure for years so I was a little taken aback that he repeated the need for a post-authentication call. I supposed that, because it had been almost a year since our last production and because of my situation, he was probably just making sure I was still sharp. And the fact that I never brought up what Miriam saw at the dinner party the week before the accident must have made him unsure of my memory. I didn't forget all that but at this point in my life, work was all I cared about. And Jack.

I hung up and immediately ran to my studio to collect my testing kit and gear. This comeback show would not only allow me to regain my viewership (beyond the morbidly curious) but also allow me to present an artifact that could very well put me right back on track toward prominence in my field. I was right where I was before the accident. Baaleth always knew how to appeal to that ambitious side of me — for his own good of course — but again, symbiosis.

It was that dovetailing of personal desires that kept me working with Baaleth. Even after his run-in with the law. I knew what he was about but, like other areas of my life, I was deft at denial.

Years prior, Baaleth and I shot a webisode in Nicaea, Turkey where many artifacts from the actual Great Council of Nicaea were, well, unearthed. We descended on the shores of Lake Iznik with a crew of cameras, authenticators and lawyers. After almost three weeks of negotiating our way through the disjointed bureaucracies of Turkey, we were finally led to the archive where the artifacts were stored. Plates etched with reliefs of the meetings and goblets embossed with the names of known participants. I was holding dinnerware from 325 A.D. — just ten years after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The men who drank from these grails and ate from these plates would claim, for better or worse, doctrinal authority over the Christian world. For me it was a miracle. For Baaleth it was a temptation.

Days after our departure, while I was back in LA, our production offices in France were raided by INTERPOL officers. Baaleth, six producers and their assistants were hauled in for questioning. Apparently one of these miraculous chalices went missing from the collection in Turkey and we were the prime suspects. Having already come through U.S. Customs, I was practically pre-screened and therefore merely questioned. News of Baaleth's arrest crossed the globe and production of Unearthed was halted until and if the matter was resolved positively. Four months of investigation by INTERPOL and Turkish officials were suddenly dropped when the chalice was found at the site. Formal apologies were made and production was restarted and with a bigger budget. But I knew that a chalice of such value wasn't just misplaced like a set of keys then found. I knew this was a fake. And a really good one. But I let it go.

Looking back, I always knew that Baaleth was a thief of artifacts and of virtues. The subtle nuances in his behavior and evasions of my questions, the sudden uptick in opulence at his homes and in his driveways could not be explained away by the network's generous budget. But again, I am as deft at denial as I am at finding artifacts.

Miriam knew even before she saw the First Lady and Siméon in the back of the museum. She all but said it right out with her casual wonderings. Even that night, while putting on her silver jewelry for the dinner party she said, "Have you noticed how chummy Siméon is with the First Lady?"

"What? No. No I haven't. Is paisley still in style?" I said frantically leafing through my decade-old tie collection.

"Relax, Purple Rain," she said smiling, "Wear the silver one I put on the bed." She pointed to the suit and tie already laid out for me. "I'm just saying they seem to spend a lot of time together and keep stealing away to that damn in-home museum of hers..."

"They share an interest in artifacts is all. And she's got a lot of them. Siméon has helped her build that collection you know. The man's got a lot of connections all over the world." I said in their defense. A lot of connections was right. None of whom I ever wanted to know. 

The First Lady was an epic, albeit manufactured beauty. The only daughter of the wealthiest peanut tycoon in Eastern New Mexico but none of that impressed or intimidated my wife in the slightest. After all, Miriam's beauty was real and indisputable and her knowledge of the cultures that produced any of Angelica's artifacts far exceeded anyone's in our group. Her apprehension of the First Lady was born solely out of a protective feeling toward the Governor whom she adored.

I can see and recall all of these nuances now, but for the three months while in the psych ward and months afterward, I could not. The French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson once wrote, "The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend." and to that end, I was, as Dr. Kamen asserted, perceptually blind.

Chapter Six

Zozobra 2012

Although the Coba Codex proved that the true end of the Mayan Calendar was October 28, 2011, nothing noticeable happened that day. Then again, no scientist worth their salt really expected any earth shattering cataclysm at the stroke of midnight. However, even a little earthquake or small tsunami would have helped our credibility with "2012ers" — those laymen New Agers who still believed, despite all evidence to the contrary, that 12/21/12 was the true date. To believe otherwise would require edits and reprints of thousands of vanity published books and re-uploading of countless YouTube lectures. Instead, it was a non-event that ended up as a blurb on the crawl at the bottom of CNN for about 24 hours. "Predicted apocalyptic events of Oct. 28, 2011 do not occur. Scholars baffled." First of all, no scientist or scholar I knew of was "baffled" and none of us predicted "apocalyptic events." 

Nevertheless, those of us at the forefront of the 2011 Recalculation were rendered moot and the 2012ers geared up for another year of celebrations building up to the end of the world as we knew it.

One major astronomical event did occur on October 28th, 2011 that intrigued the scientific community but was perhaps too esoteric a concept for the masses to comprehend. You see, just as our moon revolves around us and our Earth around the Sun in predictable ellipses, our Sun is also moving along its own ellipse through the galaxy. This ellipse however, doesn't take months or even years, it takes millennia — twenty six millennia to be exact.

On October 28, 2011, our solar system hit the apex of one of these 26,000 year cycles which placed our sun between Earth and the black hole at the center of the galaxy. Now, astronomers see this as a natural cycle but, what's most mysterious about this and what has caused so much excitement in the popular culture is the fact that the creators of the Mayan Calendar knew about this cycle back in the Pre-Classic Period (2000 BC to 200 CE) and with what we presume to be crude observation techniques. The Mayan culture had not even devised a practical wheel yet and here they were calculating, with unearthly precision, the exact date that our solar system would complete a galactic cycle. But again, this mystery is the jurisdiction of crystal gazers and Whole Earth Catalog subscribers — not enough reference points for scholars and scientists to pivot on for serious study. But thanks to Miriam's intuitions and musings, I always remained opened and enthralled by such anomalies — another gift she gave me that was probably the key to my being able to attract laymen and academics alike to my weekly web show.

So as the 2011ers faded into pop culture obscurity and the 2012ers revved up for their End Times Celebrations, Unearthed followed. We covered events around the world and hosted panels of experts leading up to that fateful date. One event in particular never made it online but dominated police reports from New Mexico State to Homeland Security and INTERPOL.

Zozobra 2012. This was Miriam's favorite annual event and I felt her absence that night more than ever. Every late Summer, usually the first Thursday after Labor Day—but in 2012 it was held for the whole Labor Day weekend—people from all over the world gathered in Santa Fe, New Mexico to burn the fifty foot tall marionette named "Zozobra". This hideous, grimacing puppet represents all the frustrations of its participants. It's filled with overdue bills, divorce papers, foreclosure documents and any flammable reminder of the previous year's troubles. As the drums pound and his feet are lit, his arms flail about, his mouth gapes and chomps impotently as he blazes before the cheering crowds under the New Mexico night sky. And, in 2012, he took on global significance as throngs of pilgrims arrived with troubled papers from many nations. His burning that night just weeks from 12/21/12 would symbolize the destruction of nothing less than old humanity and our cameras were there recording the controlled mayhem.

After the big guy fell in a heap of ash to the roar of the biggest crowd the festival had ever seen, I dismissed the crew and made my way to the Governor's Mansion for the after party—Miriam's least favorite event of the year. These lavish events hosted by the First Lady had become a Zozobra tradition for those interesting enough, important enough or eccentric enough to be invited. To this day I'm not sure which one I was. Tonight's was more crowded and more opulent than I had seen and I was quietly glad Miriam was not there to see it this time.

The mansion was bordered with luminarias — the simple lanterns made of paper bags weighted by sand with candles placed inside. They gave the grounds and the guests a flattering amber glow. In the doorway stood the First Lady saturated in red with her tall stilettos that made the Governor next to her seem muted and shorter than usual that night. This was her party, it was clear. I watched her kiss the air around the cheeks of the arriving guests motioning them into the foyer. I was suddenly self-conscious about my on-camera pseudo-fatigues and the aroma of Zozobra smoke on me. Angelica saw me coming up the drive and briskly walked out to meet me halfway.

"Emit. Sweet Emit. How are you, my love?"

Her subtle Latina accent was soothing and her embrace made me feel like the honored guest but was she hugging me for me or for the others to show that she was the closest one to this world-renowned yet pathetically tragic widower? Either way she kissed my cheeks thrice as if in Paris and ushered me up to the Governor. He grabbed my shoulders like an old friend does then spun me around toward Seth the photographer for the classic handshake photo. I knew that in a few weeks I'd receive that photo in a frame engraved with the date and the Zia sun symbol from the state's flag. Angelica took my arm and led me into the house.

"I have to show you something, Emit. It's the newest addition to my collection."

"Ah yes" I said, "Museo del Esperanza", I quipped flatteringly.
"Museo del Angelica!" She corrected so as not to share the credit for her collection with her mere gubernatorial spouse. "Here he is. My new man."

Not even on display yet, still in shock-resistant foam, a bust of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, by Leone Leon. The crate was stamped with a familiar logo of two feathers. A symbol that seemed to follow Siméon Baaleth wherever he went. But always arriving later. The only other bust of Emperor Charles by Leon was at del Prado in Madrid but this one was different — the Emperor's head tilted slightly toward the ground on this one while the del Prado bust looked ahead as if toward the horizon.

"Oh my..." was all I could come up with. My mind was trying to comprehend first, how she managed to get this piece out of Spain and second, how she could afford it despite her wealth. This was a Spanish National Treasure after all.

She pressed her lips against my sideburns whispering, "I know, I know. He arrived today but too late to display tonight. I knew you, of all people, would appreciate this, Emit. And of course Miriam." She pulled back and stared toward the back of the hall. "Dear Miriam..." My stomach turned when she said Miriam's name. "She would have had a fabulous story about the Emperor's life, I'm sure." Her eyes then locked onto the sculpture lustfully. 

"Forgive me, Emit. I must see in more guests. Get a drink and we'll talk later." She winked sauntering back into the foyer.

I spent the next hour reacquainting myself with her collection and the new additions. Baaleth's hand was evident in all of them. They were displayed almost in the exact order of our location shoot itinerary up until the Morion incident last year. Later, as I made my way back toward the foyer, I heard Angelica's distressed voice in the anteroom.

"I told you that I will get it for you this week! Please, darling just leave it here for now." She said desperately.

"You've got two days you fucking succubus or I take it all back!" I knew that raspy cigar-roasted voice well. It was Baaleth. The anteroom door burst open and Siméon rushed through the crowd and out the front door.

I darted down the hall to the foyer and struggled to maneuver through the swollen crowd at the door only to see his car turn outside the gate.

"Emit? Everything alright?" the Governor said concerned by my anxious look.

"No, I mean yes, yes, I'm fine. Was that..."

"Was what?" he said looking at the sea of guests just outside the door.

"Oh no one — never mind — and, how are you, mi amigo? How's the campaign coming so far?" I redirected. I at least had the presence of mind to change the subject knowing that maintaining as much distance between the Governor and Siméon was the prudent path.

"Fine, fine. We're up double digits and thanks to the TV and film subsidies; we can tout bringing nearly $2 billion into the state since the last election." He went on about the metrics of his re-election efforts while I casually scanned the crowd for Seth. There he was. Our eyes locked, he nodded at me and melted back into the house. I had made an appearance and so, when the moment was right, I slipped out along the luminarias and was still.

Chapter Seven

The Great Shift

Things have changed, rather, shifted dramatically since the luminaria days of 2012. As it turns out we were all correct. The 2011 recalculation scholars and the New Age 2012ers. Where we were both wrong was that the world as we knew it wouldn't change in a day or even a year, but over the span of six years and probably longer than that. But the first noticeable effect of our Sun's 26,000 year cycle ending was the Chilean earthquake of February 2010. Sure, there had been many and even larger quakes in history, but this was the first one in recorded history that actually shortened the length of the day by 1.26 microseconds and moved the Earth's figure axis by eight centimeters. This was the first birth pang of the shifting of the Earth's poles.

Thanks to the work of a graduate student at Georgia State who first cross-referenced the quake data along the equator with Aurora Borealis patterns at the poles, we captured evidence of past pole shifts in the 26,000 year cycle. When our sun dipped below the center of the galaxy, it had a direct and now measurable effect, on the magnetic stability of the north and south poles. The computer models produced made the Northern Lights look more choreographed than random. The iron ball core of the Earth was reacting to the gravity of the galaxy's center and, like a spherical magnet began rolling over. Slowly at first. Very slowly.

Additionally, using archaeological evidence and the Sumerian Tablets, we were able to isolate a 3,600 year pattern of gravity interference from outside our solar system. As if something thrice the size of Jupiter has an elliptical orbit with our sun causes its own set of mayhem here every 3,600 years. It was a double-feature of astronomical events and Earth was the damsel in both flicks.

It was this synthesis of evidence across disciplines the likes of which Miriam might have put together herself. But in our fast food, instant gratification world, without the specter of immediately noticeable cataclysm, the shift took years to notice.

For the record, the astronomical facts did prove that the end of the cycle occurred on October 11, 2011. A short lived and hollow exoneration.

"The Great Shift", as it was quickly coined by the blogosphere, was indeed about the shifting of human consciousness — but not in the way the 2012ers had hoped. It wasn't a shift forward toward cosmic enlightenment; it was a shift backward toward primitive survival instincts. A leap backward brought on by the upheaval of mountains, the crumbling of cathedral canyons, and the swelling of rivers and lakes to seas in the span of a few years. History and human potential dialed back to the Dark Ages with two key differences, billions more people and advanced weaponry.

Indonesia was engulfed by the Indian and Pacific Oceans and those refugees who did make it to Asia or Australia found themselves at war or interned. The Mediterranean, Arabian, Black and Red Seas flooded together and suddenly the Middle East was no longer an issue.

Here in the states, a series of massive quakes in the Midwest shook loose a deep and 600 mile diameter substratum of soft shale on the south end of Lake Michigan. This plunge reversed the otherwise northerly flow of the Great Lakes southward and swelled into the Mississippi Valley dividing the nation in two. Niagara Falls shut off like a spicket in the matter of a few weeks. In the West, California finally surrendered her Golden Coast to the Sierras which became one of the three safest mountain ranges to migrate to. The other are parts of the Appalachians in the East and right here in the Rockies where these relatively young and deeply rooted mountains withstood the plate tectonic shimmy and became the nation's safest migration point. 

Colorado is as dense with military installations as it is with granite and they were all activated; NORAD, Carson, Peterson, Buckley, even DIA. Because of the density of these mountains, the number of military personnel and the war on the Eastern Seaboard, Colorado became the primary destination for all American refugees. For the past few years many have come. Too many in fact to properly house or economize, but not too many to document and secure.

The Convoy Sentinels posted east of the Rockies have a whole different job description than the handful of us in the west. Most convoys that come through here are supply trucks and armored vehicles. We do get the occasional bus load of Citizen Transfers which I dread because they're always full of wailing children, pleading women, and broken men. But, aside from these convoys, it's easy to ignore the tragedy of The Great Shift when all there is to do out here is wave trucks on and notice early winters by the buoyancy of the road.

The Sierra compounds are relatively peaceful as well thanks to supply routes from Canada and Alaska. The people there and in the Rocky Mountain compounds have enough food and are even beginning to develop self-sustaining economies. But that's not the case east of the Mississippi Sea.

Most of the Eastern Seaboard population was spared by the Shift thanks to glacial crevassing and enough open land in the South save what used to be Florida. But the tremendous density of population that was spared meant tremendous conflict once the survivors suddenly had no food or security. The East is a war zone now with a well-organized Rebel Militia and have even overthrown U.S. Army installations. It would be easy for me to ignore that reality if Jack weren't there.

My son is now a Lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The last communique I received was from his Commanding Officer informing me that Jack was deployed just outside of Charleston, West Virginia where the Rebel Militia is entrenched. As of last Monday, Jack was reporting back to HQ with news of a successful capture of the militia's arsenals. It gives me little comfort to know he's a successful soldier. My precocious son who used to make plastic soldiers dive into kiva pools is now parachuting into Rebel territories.

For the past six months I've been sending pleas to every political and corporate connection I can exploit to have him transferred out here where it's safe. But the chain of command is so frayed that no one has the leverage, ability or the will to work around the Army's wartime policies. Strict adherence to the Citizen Soldier Act of 2017 is the only touchstone for these matters and in this organization, the only way to gain a post like this one along US6, according to Article: 023, paragraph 7, is to inherit it.

Chapter Eight


Within a year after Miriam's death, Jack and I had settled into a solid routine. My work kept my mind and our lives afloat but the traveling meant that Jack had to become very self-reliant very early. I did have Lucy, who would stay over when I was out of town but that was more for safety than care. Even at eight years-old, Jack was getting himself up and out for school. In retrospect, it was probably this period of his life that best prepared him for soldiering and why he rose through the ranks swifter than most — to say nothing of the sharply strategic mind his chess playing chiseled.

One morning I received a call from him on my cell. It was the morning after Zozobra and I was scrubbing my hands and quickly packing to leave a motel south of Albuquerque. The phone startled me out of my tasks.

"Uh, hello?" I didn't even look at the number I was so preoccupied.

"Hi Dad." His little voice came over the line putting me instantly at ease.

"Hey buddy. How's it going?"

"Good. At the bus stop. You coming home today?"

"Yes, I'm on my way. I should be there by the time you get home from school. We'll go have some dinner out. Okay?"

"Okay. There's the bus. See you soon, love you."

"I love you, boy." I said catching my disheveled reflection in the motel bathroom mirror.

The ride home was swift, I took every short cut I knew to be sure to be at Jack's bus stop in time and, still smelling of Zozobra, I wanted to wash up before I met him.

About an hour from home there was a news report breaking in, "Officials from Governor Esperanza's office in Santa Fe, New Mexico are reporting that the First Lady, Angelica Esperanza, did not arrive at a scheduled event today and officials have not been able to reach her."

"We have no reason to worry right now..." a young aid of the Governor said over the phone, "'s only been a few hours so we're hopeful that this public announcement will alert her to call in."

I just saw her, in fact, hundreds of people had seen her last night — someone had to know something. I thought I might call the Governor to offer my assistance but quickly realized that his office was probably abuzz with aides and officials trying to do all they could. I scanned the radio for any new information. Nothing. I couldn't get the image of her in that red dress staring at her new sculpture out of my mind.

In two days I would be driving down to shoot some footage in Socorro and resolved to stop in on the Governor if there was no new news.

The next day I gave Lucy the day off and kept Jack home from school. We spent the day doing everything he loves: Frisbee, X-Box, listening to bands I'd never heard of. And, of course, chess. I made no merciful bad moves in the two out of three matches and held my own until the end.

We spent much of the time doing something we hadn't ever really done before. We talked about his mother. "What do you miss most about her?" I asked when the moment felt firm enough for us to handle it.

"The smell of her hair." He said this without hesitation. Like it's always on the top of his mind. And I knew exactly what he meant. That faint lavender scent that I desperately tried to keep around the house after she was gone. Suddenly his gaze got fixed on the forest across the road.

"Will you promise me something, Dad?"

"What is it?" I said, afraid of the answer.

"Will you promise not to leave me like that?"

My heart fell on the ground in front of me, winded by the pure desire of this child to seem strong for his father but frail enough to ask this question. I paused, as I did when making sure all of his sand castles were rooted in archaeological reality, because I didn't want to promise him something that I could not be sure of myself. Instead, I went for the merciful bad chess move and said, "Yes, Jack. I promise. Just know that whenever we're apart, the whole time we are, I am trying to get back to you and make you safe."

It was the first time we really connected beyond ourselves and I swear the breeze was lavender.

That night, after reading to Jack, I spent hours cleaning out my home studio. It was time to rid myself of all evidence of the past — notes, plans, invoices and lists all went into the fireplace. As they burned I thought of Zozobra and how this was my personal cleansing ritual.

The next morning I let Lucy in at six o'clock before Jack awoke and hit the road toward Socorro, New Mexico south of Albuquerque where I was going to dig and film. Still reflecting on my day with Jack and our conversations about his mom, I never thought to turn on the radio and completely forgot about Angelica going missing.

I arrived at the Socorro site in the early afternoon. Strapped on my tools and video camera and headed out away from the massive S.E.T.I. radio telescope dishes known succinctly as "The Very Large Array" or VLA. It was a great contrast that would not get lost in my segment set up. These broad white dishes scanning the stars for signals from extraterrestrials and my spade digging in the high desert for signs of Puebloans or conquistadors.

I found a great spot with the VLA behind me, held the camera lens up to my face and began, "This is Emit Archer of Unearthed. I'm here in west-central New Mexico near the town of Socorro..." After a few takes I packed away the camera and began to scan the ground for anomalies — symmetrical ridges, right angles, anything that would tell a story of something man-made. This area is known to be rich with melting ruins and other manufactured beauty.

Chapter Nine

Playful Bullets

November 2022 | Western Colorado

I'm awakened by the crackle of the two-way radio and a series of short and long bursts. Morse Code that translates to "East Infantry". It's from the Sentinel 30 miles west of me letting me know that there's an Infantry convoy heading east toward me. Good. A distraction and not a Citizen transport. But these convoys of soldiers refresh my worries about Jack, especially the big convoys because it means the war back east is intensifying.

I get up and out quickly to scan the perimeter and get down to the checkpoint before the trucks roll up. It can sometimes be two weeks between convoys and so there's a twinge of excitement that comes over me when one is on the way, like cleaning the house before hosting a party. On my way down the path I kick rocks and debris to the sides knowing full well no one will see this path but it's a gestalt for me. I can see the trucks now emerge through the binoculars from the mirage waves between the road and the sky. One, two, three... I begin counting them as they veer along the road but there are so many that they blur together like one big camouflage snake slithering toward me. I know that distance well and know I've got about eighteen minutes before they get here, so I sit on the graveled shoulder scanning the rest of the perimeter not so necessary on a Monday.

The one day a week it is necessary is Tuesday. My favorite day of the week. I'm not perfectly alone out here. I have a friend. And we're very close. We've shared life or death moments together and all by each other’s hands. I call him "Mack" but have no idea what he calls me because we've never met.

I focus the lenses toward the South where Mack lives. It's a smaller Sentinel post than mine and not made of Army-issue materials. From here, about a kilometer away, it looks like the plywood forts we used to make as kids. There are hundreds of these along the convoy routes. Rebel Militia that refuse to enter the Citizen Compounds that the Army has set up believing them to be the ultimate Government takeover. Like the Tea Party types of a decade ago only on steroids and armed to the teeth. All this centralization of government power designed to document and secure the American People plays right into their most paranoid fears, even after the passing of the Citizen Soldier Act of 2017. The Act allowed millions of Americans to enlist which meant three squares a day for them and their families. And, depending on their skills in the private sector, ranks (and pay scales) could be leapfrogged as the government raced to fulfill their most basic constitutional duties to protect and defend the People. This is how I reached the rank of Captain in just under two years. (That, my sniper skills, my relative celebrity and fraternal connections.)

So Mack is my mirror. Like sentries on opposing walls, we mirror each other’s tactical moves. Rather, he mirrors mine. On Tuesdays I'm ordered to patrol south of US6 to test the security of the highway's parallel berth, which means on Tuesdays Mack patrols north toward me in mirror fashion. In fact, because I'm at the road now awaiting this convoy means that Mack's out there in the brush equidistant from me, looking right at me through his lenses and will continue to until I move.

Every Tuesday at precisely 1500, I strap on my sniper rifle and head south. Mack will head north, always to the same spot where I've set a rusty car hood upright — not for protection, but as a target for Mack. And in return, he's set up a slab of his plywood for me. We've even drawn target circles and scores for one another but, because we're both equipped with very precise weapons and years of practice, we're no longer able to tally the scores for the bull's-eyes we've blown out long ago. So every Tuesday we make a new circle to aim for. Once we even played tic-tac-toe before ammo supplies were cut back on my end. I really look forward to this ritual as it's the only time all week I have some measure of fun, and although we've never met, it gives me a sense of camaraderie above the politics and war. Like the WWI Christmas Truce soccer game between the Germans and French in 1914, our Tuesday Truce keeps us human.

The din of the convoy hits my attention and I stand up, brush the gravel off my pants and raise the yellow flag above my head. This is by far the longest convoy I've seen. It must have taken five minutes for the initial braking of the lead truck to reach the back of the line.

"Morning sir!" the fresh faced driver of the lead truck calls out above the droning diesel.

"Morning Corporal! Quite a line you've got here. All men?" I say approaching his cab and reaching for the clipboard of orders.
"Mostly, sir. We've got some humvee flatbeds at the rear but mostly men, sir" he replied.

I scan his orders and my eyes fix on the field for "Number of Troops" which reads "2248", twice as many as the largest convoy I had seen in three and a half years. Then the "Destination" field leaps out at me.

"Fort Campbell" (Jack's base) and my heart drops. "Campbell eh? Are these men headed to West Virginia?"

"Yes sir, they are. Three days in Campbell then off to West Virginia to relieve the first strike force. We're kicking some serious ass out there, sir" he says proudly. I feign a proud grin but the news of hard fighting where Jack is turns my stomach.

"My son's there now —101st —hopefully these men mean he's leaving the theater..." Then it hits me, "Corporal!" I shout excitedly, "Hold the line for five minutes!" I yell running up the path toward my tower.

"Uh, yes sir?!" He replies confused.

I bolt to the ladder but can't stop to catch my breath this time; yet the gift of this timing keeps my mind above the fatigue. I spring up the ladder and once inside tear the place apart searching for the document. This convoy can get this to Fort Campbell sooner than any investigative team who happens to find it. Not more than three minutes pass before I'm skidding across the shoulder to the cab of the truck.

"I need you to do something for me soldier." I say gasping for air.

"Yes sir?" he looks over at his co-driver who shrugs.

"I need you to deliver this to Colonel Pike at Campbell. Oh! Corporal, what's your ETA there?" I say holding my chest as if to keep my lungs from bursting.

"Thursday night sir. Around 1900 is our best estimate"

Between heaving breaths I say, "Good. Good. Thursday night works ... Now listen up. Just drop this in his incoming ... don't ... there's no need to see him in person ... in fact ... don't see him at all! He's a very busy man. Just drop it at his office the night you get in ... got it? Oh, and that's an order soldier. Are we clear!?" I say realizing that this chain of command thing can be a real handy tool.

"Yes sir. Got it. Deliver to Col. Pike Thursday night..."

"Colonel Pike's office, office! Not in person!" I repeat. "He's very busy."

"Yes sir, Colonel Pike's office, Thursday night."

I pick up the clipboard from the ground where I must have dropped it in my haste a few minutes before. Hand it to him, return his salute and wave him on. As the convoy rumbles passed me I scan the faces of the young men avoiding eye contact and stepping back at least ten paces so they're not obligated to salute me. They've got enough obligations coming their way.

As the last gust of spitting gravel sweeps across my boots, I stare after them, beset by the moment. The timing of this convoy — it's destination — the fact that I was waving these boys into harm's way. With the help of the Corporal's timely delivery and the relief this convoy meant for Jack, I may after all, keep a disquieting promise.

Chapter Ten

Controlling the Room

September 2012 | Socorro, New Mexico

In Spanish, the word "Socorro" means "help" or "aid". This place was named Socorro by the Spaniards who, after a treacherous journey through the New Mexico desert, came upon the Piro Indians of this area who gave them food and water. But for me, that day, there was no help in finding anything remotely man-made, save the VLA dishes in the distance. No right angles, no symmetrical mounds or painted shards. Just course alluvial sand and pale green sage brush.

As I set my tools in my belt and wiped the dust from my face, I heard a crescendo of sliced air from behind — I spun around to see a chopper headed right toward me. The sand spit into my face as it came to a halt and tightly circled me.

"Place your hands on your head and get on your knees now!" A commanding static-steeped voice shouted to me. The dirt blurred my sight and I hesitated, "On your knees now!" he repeated. I dropped, closed my eyes and covered my ears with my forearms.

Within minutes three State Trooper 4x4s raced across the brush and skidded to stops 20 meters away. Another loudspeaker assault urged me not to move and to remain calm — I could only comply with the former.

In an instant I felt a sharp knee between my shoulder blades hurling me face down into the alluvial grains of the Socorro desert. I drew a breath to voice my protest but took in a throat full of dirt, coughing uncontrollably as I was hoisted by my elbows and hurled into the backseat of one of the vehicles. I watched the chopper bank and roll back to where it came from as my cheek slammed against the window with every mound the 4x4 crushed. Jumping back onto Highway 60, the truck squealed and I could see sirens and uniforms near the VLA dishes around my vehicle.

"What's going on?" I finally had the strength to say to the officers in front.

"Shut the fuck up!" They shouted almost in unison. Then the passenger officer grabbed the radio, blurted out some code numbers and said, "We got him! We're on our way!"

"Copy that Unit two. 10-4."

The officers looked at each other smirking. This must have been a proud moment for them but I couldn't appreciate it.

Three hours later I was sitting in a cold, stark room with a table, two chairs and a microphone aimed at me. Anyone who's ever watched a crime show knows this setting. Classic interrogation room complete with two-way mirror and corner ceiling surveillance camera. Unlike the slick, well-lit stages though, this place had an acrid metal smell and the warped, water-stained ceiling told the story of an under-funded department. After a few minutes a thin, virtually nondescript man in a charcoal suit and a badge around his neck burst in. I didn't immediately recognize the seal on his badge but it was Homeland Security.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Archer, I'm officer Clarke of Homeland Secur..." He began but I interrupted.

"It's Doctor Archer and what the hell is going on here?" I said calmly, attempting to gain control of the conversation.

There's something about this setting—a detainee unable to leave of his own free will and being surveilled by unknown entities—that actually works against its intended purpose. Homo sapien is the only genus species that conveys power and superiority in a position of repose. Most predatory animals will increase their body image; make loud noises and/or rear up to appear bigger than their opponent. Not man. Whether it's rooted in archetypal throne mysticism or simply expressed unconscious psychology, it is the seated king, the judge behind his bench or the Godfather behind a desk that conveys power and authority. The more relaxed one appears, especially seated, the more in control. So in this setting, where officers come in and out of a room in order to intimidate a sitting man into confessions, goes against our most basic instinct of power play but it is effective if the detainee isn't consciously aware of this disconnect.

"Sorry." he said flatly, "Doctor Archer. Of course." As he shifted to pull his briefcase onto the table the massive gun in his shoulder strap was revealed. Probably on purpose to make it clear who really had control of this room. He placed a form in front of me and did me the kindness of clicking open his pen as he handed it to me. "Take a moment to read this, sign and date at the bottom if you would, Dr. Archer?"

I glanced at the body of text until I understood that this was a waiver of my rights to an attorney.

"I will not. I know my rights enough not to waive them, Officer. Why have I been arrested?" I said glaring into his left eye — not shifting to his right eye, ever. This is a tactic I learned years ago for controlling an exchange. The human eyes naturally bounce back and forth focusing and refocusing on an object to gauge three dimensional size and distance. A necessary evolutionary trait for predatory animals like ourselves. By fixing my gaze on just one of his pupils, he'd get a subconscious, uneasy feeling as his eyes focus on a static stare — it's subtle and subliminal but at that moment my self-preservation tactics were on high alert and every weapon in my psychological arsenal, no matter how subtle, was being called to the front.

"You've not been formally arrested, Dr. Archer, you're here for questioning." He said as if it would come as a relief to me.

"I was kicked to the ground, forcefully cuffed, thrown into a truck and driven three hours here so you could ask me some fucking questions?! I have a cell phone officer!" Even in my rage I almost chuckled at the absurdity of my statement. He was not amused. "What am I to have done? I have a permit for exploratory surveying of that area and I collected absolutely nothing from the site."

"That's not why you're here. Well, the fact that you were there is, but not for trespassing or illegal excavation. I first need to know where you were last Monday night."

"Monday?" I traced the calendar in my head but I wasn't even sure at the moment what day this was. "Labor Day...Zozobra! I was in Santa Fe filming a piece for my show. Santa Fe, why?"

"And after the event. Did you go anywhere?"

"Yes. To the Governor's Mansion for a party. He's a friend of mine" I added trying to name drop for more control. My eyes still fixed on his left.

"And what time did you leave this party?"

"I don't know exactly. A couple hours or so later? All I know is I was home in time to see my son off to school."

"And your home is..." he scanned his notes "...Black Forest, Colorado, is that correct?"


"And from Santa Fe, how long a trip is that?"

"Five or six hours..." then, with a look of epiphany I continued, "My this about Angelica...the First Lady? I heard the report that she was missing is she still missing?" I said.

"No, Dr. Archer, she has been found" he said with a steely glare.

"Thank god. Thank god for that. So what is this about then? Get to it, man." I demanded.

"Well doctor, the First Lady, Angelica Esperanza..." he said as if reciting her name for the record and the camera in the corner, "...has been found, but found dead. Shot in the head."

"Oh Jesus...the's the Governor?" My tactical glare let go and my eyes closed imagining what the Governor could have been feeling right then. He adored her despite her self-obsession. He was the biggest trophy in the state but she treated her artifacts with more respect than she ever did him. Still, he loved her tremendously.

None of this display of shock had any effect on the interrogating officer as he coldly continued with his line of questioning, "So after you left the event at the Governor's Mansion you drove straight home. Can you give me as close an estimate as possible as to what time you arrived home?"

I opened my eyes and looked toward the camera blinking in the corner, "I don't know...three a.m. maybe...look, I understand the need to talk to everyone who was there, but I would have come in on my own had I known, why the hostile custody process here? The Esperanzas are dear friends of mine and when all this blows over I'm sure the Governor will be unhappy about the way this went down today."

"I'm not so sure, doctor. My C.O. just spoke to the Governor and he considers you the prime suspect." My jaw dropped. He had to be lying to me to try to get me to change my story. This had to be a tactic. "You see, the First Lady's body was found this morning." He paused as if for effect, "Not five miles south of where we picked you up. So you can see why the Troopers were so zealous about your capture when we matched your plates to you and discovered that you were among the last people to see her alive. The circumstances warranted their method."

He stood and closed his briefcase. "I'll be back to talk further. Please consider any of the information you've given me here and we'll try again. I urge you Dr. Archer, for your son's sake to cooperate to the fullest."

"Wait, my son? What do you mean? If I'm not under arrest I demand to be let out of here. I need to get home to him."

"Get comfortable doctor, we've got you for at least twenty four hours. We've contacted a..." again looking at his notes, "...Dr. Sarah Kamen. She will pick your son up from school and care for him until we know more." The door buzzed and kicked itself open. As he left the room it slammed shut. The two-way window shuttered. It shuttered again a moment later which meant the officer must have entered the observation room to discuss me with whoever else was behind there.

For the first time in four hours there was silence except for the low rumble from the vents, the whirring of the camera lens widening and tightening and the thumping of my heart in my ears. I rubbed the raw skin around my wrists and swept the remaining sand from my beard.

I spent the next half hour alone with my thoughts and traced every detail of the events from Angelica's embrace at the Governor's Mansion to the thud of the Trooper's knee in my back. The luminarias, that red dress, the freshly unpacked sculpture, the crate.

"The crate!" I said out loud. "Of course." The whir of the camera's lens tightening on my face was audible. I envisioned the logo with two feathers on the crate in Angelica's museum hall. I knew that symbol. I'd seen it before on envelopes in our French production offices, on boxes in Baaleth's house soon after the Nicaea investigation. It was one of those clues I chose not to notice at the time.

It would be another half hour before Officer Clarke came back into the room. I supposed they were studying my body language. Perhaps there is a pattern of behavior guilty people perform when left alone for long periods of time but I kept my mind fixed on one name the whole time, "Siméon Baaleth".

Finally the two-way glass shimmied, the camera lens widened and the metal door buzzed and unbolted. Officer Clarke placed an open laptop on the table toward me.

"I need you to look at the photos from the party at the Governor's mansion. Their staff photographer has turned over his disc from that night." There were at least 300 shots on the photo wall. "Take your time and tell me if you see anyone or anything that we should look at more closely."

I scanned each frame carefully. I recognized many of the people, some friends, some casual acquaintances and some just familiar faces from past events. When I knew their names I pointed them out as he took down the shot numbers and any details I offered up.

The photos were in chronological order and it wasn't until the 236th photo that I showed up. "That's me coming in...there's Angelica greeting me...the formal photo of me and the Governor..." A few more minutes of scanning then there they were. The photos I was looking for; one of Baaleth in the background as I'm sure he was trying to avoid being photographed by Seth and another of Angelica next to her prized new statue of Emperor Charles V still in his crate and the crate's origin logo in plain sight. The two feathers of Siméon's black market exporter.

"I don't believe it!" I said incredulously.

"What is it Dr. Archer?"

"That's Siméon Baaleth back there. I knew I heard him at the party but he left before I could get to him." The officer scanned his list of guests.

"There's no Baaleth listed." He said.

"Oh, he wouldn't be on any guest list unless the party was thrown by INTERPOL." I said glaring at the photo of the face of the man who tried to have me killed over the Morion of Cortés. "Check your databases, this was my producer. He went missing after trying to have me killed. He's been a fugitive ever INTERPOL Red Notice, in fact."

"Excuse me doctor, keep scanning those for anything else and I'll be right back." He left the room in a hurry this time not bolting the door behind him.

I glanced over the rest looking only for Baaleth and better shots of the crate but found only the two photos. Officer Clarke came back in after a few minutes with a fist full of papers.

"Here's the INTERPOL red notice and background of the case. The team is combing through it all now. With the flurry of activity in the past 48 hours and long list of guests, I'm sure you can understand how this slipped through," he said almost apologetically. Finally, I controlled the room.

"Yes, yes, I understand completely." I said still scanning the screen. "I don't know if this means anything but..." I pointed to the photo of Angelica with her sculpture and highlighted the logo on the crate. "This symbol, the two feathers, I've seen it before on envelopes and packages sent to Baaleth at our production offices overseas and at his residence."

Officer Clarke expanded the photo and enhanced the pixels of the symbol. "This one here?"

"Yes. It's definitely connected to Baaleth some way but I just don't know how. I'm not sure you're aware of this yet, but that statue still sitting in that crate, Angelica told me it arrived that day and it's an extremely valuable piece — priceless really. One of only two busts of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, by Leone Leoni sculpted in the 1500s. It's gotta have National Treasure status in Spain. The fact that she has it is remarkable unless..." 

"Unless?" The officer said with new found interest in my knowledge.

"Well, when you look deeper into Baaleth's past you'll see that he was a prime suspect in an INTERPOL investigation a few years prior regarding a missing artifact in Turkey, Nicaea to be exact. It was dropped when the artifact was later found behind a case in a different hall but I always wondered. He knew some of the world's leading artifact forgers who moonlighted as expert authenticators. I don't know. It's all so arcane. But the circumstances are too, well, intriguing." I sat back in my chair with a disturbed look on my face and stared down to my right. I decided not to tell them that I heard Angelica and Baaleth arguing because they would have wondered why I didn't report seeing him that night. They were not very discreet and someone else must have heard them and would corroborate the tension between them.

"If you don't mind Doctor, I'd love to have you stay with us today and perhaps tomorrow. We'll put you up here in town of course. We'd like to get all of your ideas and send any leads to our team in Washington." Suddenly I was an honored guest. I knew I had the right to refuse until subpoenaed but this is exactly what I needed to do.

"Sure, sure I'll help in any way I can. I'd like to call my son though right now and make sure he's okay and not scared."

"Of course, Doctor." he said handing me his cell phone. 

Chapter Eleven

Kachina Season

October 2011 | Chaco Canyon | Northern New Mexico

The Morion incident. The last time Siméon and I spoke was a call he made as I was driving down to meet the Hopi shaman and authenticate the Morion. He called to remind me that the crew was standing by in Taos shooting B-roll and once I authenticated the artifact, Carlo Tovar, our production manager, would come to the site. His exact words were, "Carlo would come get it...on film." It wasn't until the next day that the pregnant pause between "get it" and "on film" made sense. So much of Baaleth's conversations with me in those 24 hours seemed awkward. We had done all of this so many times that I was struck by the sense that he was either testing my mental acumen or distracted by another production.

I was happy with this arrangement though — getting to the site before descended upon by production and legal teams. With such little time to research this find, I bought some audio books about the Hopi prophecy of the morion to listen to on the drive down. They all spoke of it as legend but I was driving to what I had hoped would be the physical evidence that would turn this legend into fact. As it turned out, this helmet was key in the Hopi prophecy of the Fifth World and that when it was again seen by the world; it would open up the floodgates of the next era. No longer feeling like the linear-minded scientist I was trained to be, today I was an archetypal player meant to set this artifact before the world, via the world wide web and fulfill a mystical prophecy.

With every mile, my excitement grew. I was soon to meet a shaman. Miriam would have been absolutely beside herself. This was her wheelhouse. So I imagined her in the seat next to me discussing the questions she would ask. I relied on this imagination often. Talking with her about how to package webisodes, how to answer Jack's life questions, even how to respond to Dr. Kamen's psyche-probing questions so that I seemed engaged with the process. She became my conscience. My Jiminy Cricket. And that day she was very talkative.

I had programmed my GPS with the coordinates Baaleth sent over but after turning on the dirt road toward the Pueblo, the crisp graphics of roads on the screen became large swatches of beige so I relied on the voice commands and oscillating arrows to tell me I was still on course. But not having those pixels of roads made me uneasy. It's amusing to realize that, before GPS, I would probably have been driving along with confidence not knowing what I didn't know. Then I spotted a young man up the road. He was sitting on a guard rail staring out at the valley. I pulled up but he didn't move.

"Excuse me." No response. "Excuse me!" Still nothing. So I got out and walked up to him. "Hello there. I'm trying to figure out if I'm on the right road." He slowly turned toward me. No more than sixteen years old with deep dark eyes that seemed to look right through my head. "I'm trying to find the pueblo where a Hopi shaman lives?" This kid must have been local, no cars around and the fact that the shaman was Hopi and not Navajo would have been a key differentiator I thought.

He didn't say a word but pointed up the road I was already on and in the direction I was already headed then turned his gaze back to the valley. It was as reassuring as it was awkward. I got back in the truck and headed on with renewed confidence. It gave me some freedom of thought to look around at the scenery and I quickly understood the boy's seeming infatuation with it. The red canyon walls, striped with layers of deep green piñons and junipers glistening in the afternoon sun. It was, as the bright yellow license plates of New Mexico vehicles claim, "The Land of Enchantment."

About forty minutes later, while lost in the scenery as well as my thoughts, I was startled when I spotted that same boy walking on the side of the road. Same build, same jacket, same hair but it couldn't have been. Unless there was some trail switchback that allowed him to catch up to my truck forty minutes later, it must have been someone else but couldn't be. I had to stop. I backed up to him and rolled down my window.

When I saw his face I was sure it was the same boy. "Hello again. Didn't I just see you like forty five minutes ago way back there?" He looked blankly at me. "I'm the guy looking for the shaman...the Hopi shaman?" I said studying his face for some familiar response. Nothing. Was he deaf perhaps? Mute? "Look, this GPS is no help and I've got to find this place before dark. Are you going in that direction?" He nodded. At last a response. "Can I give you a ride? Can we help each other out?" He got in and motioned again with his finger up the road. I tried for a few minutes to make small talk with little more than nods and slight smiles from my new passenger but soon just concentrated on his silent directions and the ever more remote driving conditions.

A half hour later the road just ended. No signs, just ended. The boy got out and began walking the rest of the way. "Wait!" I shouted but he continued walking so I grabbed my pack, locked the doors and chased up the path behind him. It was clear by his determined look and casual hand gestures that he was still taking me to the pueblo. We walked for what felt like hours until we turned a bend and there, etched into the red rocks fifty meters away emerged a dwelling.

The afternoon sun seemed to set the red rocks on fire. My new friend led me through a thin opening and into a series of passages, some carved some natural.

"There doesn't seem to be anyone here." I said aloud and probably a little nervously which is why he must have decided to utter the first words I had heard him say all day.

"Sacred Cave. Home of Katsina" he said in a voice that was soothing and surprisingly sophisticated.

"This must be the place then." I said relieved. "Katsina." I thought—it's the Hopi word for Kachina—the first subject Miriam and I ever quipped about. I knew that she would not stand for this mysterious boy's silence and would be pelting him with questions. And I also knew that her winsome charm would have him answering every one of them—my Jiminy Cricket must have been very frustrated by my inability to get much out of him.

The passages were thick with a scent almost sweet but tinged with sage and the deeper we got the thicker the air. So much so that I became light-headed. "The air in here is intoxicating." I said.

"Pinani." He said. "Spirit Breath."

Finally we reached a ladder. It looked like the toothpick ladders Jack and I would build for his dioramas. It took us up to a chamber then another took us down into a small room dimly lit by a deep narrow shaft that reached out to the canyon wall, enough to vent the air and pull in the last orange rays of sun. The boy took a seat in the corner. So I put down my bag and as my eyes adjusted, there it was. The orange beam from the shaft illuminated the morion which sat on a mud pedestal in the center of the room. If we arrived a few minutes sooner or later, it would not be easily seen nor as dramatically illuminated without the orange beam of light at that moment.

"There it is!" I said, like Jack had as a child when he first saw the Disneyland sign from the five freeway in Anaheim.

"Anasazi." the boy said softly but with disdain from his dark corner. The name "Anasazi" has come to mean the ancient people of this region. But the word itself is actually Navajo for "enemy ancestors." I knew instinctively that the boy was referring to the conquistadors who lost this morion. I walked up to the helmet which looked as if it wasn't 500 days old much less 500 years. There, embossed on the comb of the helmet was a relief of Cortés. If this was a fake, it was magnificent. If it was real, it was miraculous.

"I just have to do a few liquid tests to determine the age of the surfaces and..." Suddenly my head spun. Whether it was the "Spirit Breath" of this cavern or simply the three hour hike finally catching up to me I do not know. But my enthusiasm succumbed to the dire need to sit for a while and regain my faculties. I slunk down in the opposite corner from my young friend and closed my eyes tightly. The lime phosphenes swirled behind my eyelids and with every breath I felt my mind sitting deeper and deeper into my brain.

My next sensation was one of pure euphoria. Like the gravity in my body evaporated and my spine caught fire one chakra at a time until my chin snapped upward, my eyes blew open and my lungs let loose an exhale that surpassed their capacity. Images began to flood passed my attention faster than I could grab onto them: the orange glowing morion, the scenery from the drive, Jack's face, chess pieces, even the details of Dr. Kamen's office which caused my mind to take a turn toward a darker corner of my memory. I see Miriam's gravestone, me clipping on Jack's little black tie before the funeral, the light green walls and flickering fluorescents of the psych ward, then Miriam's silver necklace, the road toward Santa Fe, the sound of the exploding tire, the flashing red and blue lights of the troopers that pulled us from the wreckage. The last image I could grab onto was of hands pulling a sheet over the face of my wife on the ambulance gurney. A primordial wail came from behind my soul. And for what must have been most of the rest of that night I wept. I cried for the loss of my love. I cried for the neglect of my son. I cried for my betrayal of Miriam's intuitions about the people that tore us apart. Finally, just before dawn, I felt myself sink once more. Into an ancient despair. For the children slain and reflected in that morion. The ego that drove me to this place to reclaim my celebrity and peer approval had melted into the kiva stones against my back. All the while, the whole night, my young friend on the other side of the room sat very still. Waiting. As if this destruction of my denial was the real reason I was here and not the artifact.

The chill and faint glow of morning crept into the room and I looked up. Finally, I was back in the front of my head with a clarity I had never felt before. I looked over at the boy with embarrassment for what he must have watched me experience for the past hours. But he looked back at me knowingly and with such acceptance that I was at once at ease. But the calm was soon shattered.

A muted thumping noise reverberated from the vent shaft which became a sharp, consistent cutting of air. A helicopter. "Carlo would come get it...on film" Baaleth's words echoed in my head immediately. "Carlo would come get it..." The pause was a mental misfire. Baaleth let it slip that Carlo would come get the morion itself, not get it on film. Perhaps it was this new-found clarity that exposed all the deceit I had previously not noticed or ignored. I now knew that Baaleth's news of the network picking up the show was a lie. That he was using me to find it because the shaman would only meet with me. And I knew that chopper outside held men sent by him to take this artifact so he could sell it to Angelica. If we didn't get the morion and ourselves out quickly, it would be gone, a prophecy would be unfulfilled and we would be dead.

I looked at the morion then the boy. He nodded. I emptied my pack and stuffed the helmet inside. He ushered me back up the ladder then through a black passage I hadn't noticed on our way in. The shoulders of my jacket ripping against the narrow cavern walls as we rushed away from the sound of the chopper. Before too long we were in the blinding sunlight on the other side. I fixed my eyes on the boy's back trusting every turn he made and matched his footprints. The helicopter blades appeared over the ridge. I looked up panicked to see a high caliber rifle strapped to the door and trained right at us. I yelled for the boy to get down but he was already gone. My pace still full throttle then the sudden sensation of weightlessness. The rifle rattled off short bursts and I felt the thud of one pierce the helmet in my pack. Five hundred years of pristine condition ended by one lead round. Then the sudden awareness that I was submerged in water and being pulled deeper into it. It's then that I lost consciousness, track of time and my young friend.

When I awoke a day later, I was in a hospital in Farmington, New Mexico surrounded by State and Navajo Police. This was the "Morion incident" that finally ended my partnership with Baaleth and re-ignited his adversarial relationship with INTERPOL. I scanned the room and saw my belongings, still wet along the seams but unmolested in the corner and a glimmer of 500 year-old gold plating through the bullet hole in my pack. They had no idea.

Chapter Twelve

Hacienda Vidal

One benefit—and risk—to knowing the world's most proficient artifact authenticators is knowing the world's most artful forgers. It's a fine line between them that can easily be crossed with enough money. Until now, I never needed a forger but I knew where the best of them was. Near Costa Brava, Spain—my old friend Señor Rafael Vidal. He consulted with us on Spanish and Mexican artifacts a few times but, because Miriam and I loved this man as profoundly as she distrusted Baaleth, I made sure the two never met. Miriam's love for him and the fact that he and Siméon never crossed paths assured me that he could be trusted with my next project.

I arrived in Spain with the morion a week after the helicopter attack in New Mexico. After renting a Renault I headed to the outskirts north of the city toward Costa Brava. To maintain the utmost secrecy, I didn't call ahead to announce my visit but I didn't worry whether or not Rafael would be there or still sharp enough to do the task, just whether he would be willing.

The drive along the Mediterranean coast was both beautiful and painful. This is where Miriam and I fell in love. Although from the moment I saw her in the Museum at UNM, I knew she would one day love me, it was here, in this place that the stars and histories aligned to make us forever fused unconditionally. When I saw the turnoff for the Gulf of Roses my eyes welled up uncontrollably and I could see her in that linen dress, sand on her legs and the scent of salt water on her skin rushed through me like a gale.

Soon I was driving up the tree-lined road to Hacienda Vidal. The ivy on the gate looked unkempt which made me worry that Rafael might indeed, not be there. When I got out and looked through the iron bars though, I saw his characteristic wide brimmed hat swaying back and forth as he watered the branches of his mandarins. I stood there for a minute admiring the scene like an al fresco painting. This place was not touched by the 20th century, or, for that matter, the 19th.

"Rafael!" I shouted. He stopped, looked up for a moment as if making sure it wasn't Angel de Muerte calling him home then he continued his watering. "Señor Vidal!" I shouted a bit louder. He turned toward the gate, bent forward and squinted. He dropped the hose and he began hobbling toward me.

"Emit? ¿Es usted? ¿Es usted?" he said. His smile growing with every step. He grabbed the iron bars and gazed at me as if looking right through my head and into his own past. He glanced to my right and left as if Miriam might be with me but he knew well that she was gone. "Dios estimado. ¡Es usted!"

He jimmied open the latch and hugged me around my arms. As he rocked me slowly back and forth I knew he was embracing Miriam too and I was happy to be the proxy. Grabbing my hands he led me into the house through the arched columns and enormous wooden doors. This place hadn't changed since Miriam and I last came for our wedding and probably not since it was built. I was overwhelmed by the Spanish Lavender — this was the source — this is where Miriam's body was first steeped in this scent. I was home.

After hours of trading remembrances of Miriam and telling him stories of our precocious Jack in equally broken Spanish and English one of his pretty but too young for him helpers brought in the Piaya and pitcher of Sangria. He never once asked why I was there. 
It wasn't until we retired to the courtyard, lit two fat home-rolled cigars and refilled our Gaudi-inspired glass goblets that the conversation turned to the purpose of my visit.

I smiled at him almost mischievously then pulled the morion from my pack and placed it on the cushioned footstool before him. His demeanor immediately shifted from charming old Spaniard to deliberative expert authenticator. Holding the helmet up at various angles, looking hard at the welded seams and the subtle pound marks that flattened the surfaces 500 years ago. The last place he looked was the first place most curators would have looked. The comb or crest at the top.

"Dios mío... Dios mío" he repeated. Had he looked at the embossed crest of Cortés first, he would not have been so impressed assuming it was a replica. But, because he first authenticated its age by the welded seams and hammering technique meant that this embossed crest was real. "Emit, ¿qué has hecho?" he said in a scolding tone.

"What have I done?" I repeated. At first I assumed he was asking if I had stolen the thing but when his finger pierced the freshly punctured bullet hole in this priceless artifact I knew he thought I had damaged it and had come here for him to fix it. I laughed, "I didn't do that!"

"¿Desea solucionarlo?" he said.

"No, no. I don't want you to fix it" I replied. I looked over his shoulder at the little workshop in the back of the courtyard. The small window glowed with the green phosphorescence of a magnifying lamp so I knew it was still in use by Rafael. "Quiero que ustedes replicarlo." To back up my feeble Spanish, in English I repeated, "I want you to replicate it."

Chapter Thirteen

A Gallery of Tuesday

November 2022 | Western Colorado | US6 Convoy Sentinal Post 23

As I lie here staring up at the corrugated ceiling of my military nest this last Tuesday morning I'll know, I'm struck by the uncanny fact that many, if not most, of my life-changing events have happened on Tuesdays.

Tuesday. Classically the most prosaic day of the week. Not the much maligned Monday nor the God-invoking Friday, not even the benchmark hump day of Wednesday. It's just Tuesday. Neither here nor there. But of the noteworthy events of my life, most seem to have fallen on Tuesdays. A coincidence that would have escaped me if it weren't for my current ascetic of examining the smallest details of my days.

I spend the morning strategically unlocking directories on my hard drive and placing key documents around the room as if casually strewn about. I purposefully leave the coffee pot on so that it will burn out as if forgotten in a hasty departure. I write out a fictitious 'To Do' list with tasks for the week ahead. Investigators of this setting will have no reason to suspect that I wasn't planning on ever returning here.

I also attend to real tasks, scanning the horizon for transports unreported and short wave frequencies for anomalies. I scan the perimeter camera footage from the night before for thermal signatures other than coyotes, skunks or rabbits but all of them fall into their expected silos of non-events.

The clock seems to slow before 1500 as I clean the scope lens and load my sniper rifle. I place a jar of white paint and a brush into my pack and half-way through the door in the floor I stop and take another look around. There are no important moments that come to mind as I think about the past 42 months in this place. I do recall when the hot plate fell and burned a neat pattern of concentric circles on my cot mattress and the afternoon I arrived back to find a raccoon rummaging through the trash—I nearly fell down the ladder that day. I think I was more frightened of that little shit that afternoon than any Rebel Militia in the brush. It's a good last recollection that makes me smile before slamming the door closed and descending the ladder.

As I walk south toward the car hood target I peer through the scope to see if Mack is coming too and for half a second I see a figure and know it's him. When I get to the hood, I set down my pack and rifle, pull out the brush and paint and look for just the right spot on the hood to draw a fresh target for my faceless friend. About one meter off the ground and just to his left of center. I chuckle at the symbolism of letting this right wing wacko shoot left of center. I paint the target an inch smaller than usual as a challenge and a compliment knowing he will hit it dead-center.

Today it's my turn to shoot first. So I clear the ground, set up the tripod and snap in the magazine. Looking through the site I see that Mack has matched my circle size with mutual respect and right of center. Could he possibly be making the same political commentary? Perhaps in any other setting at any other time he and I would be friends, even with our ideological differences. Because, in any other setting at any other time, our ideologies wouldn't be armed with more than political discourse and name calling.

We always take our time with the first shot. Partly to calibrate for wind and temperature but also to extend the game as long as possible. It was obvious how much we both valued this time together for neither of us ever failed to show up since that first exchange almost three years ago.

As I tweak the wind speed arrows and range finder settings I think about that first exchange. I didn't realize at the time that I had a mirror. I was patrolling the south flank right here at this spot when I caught a glimpse of, what I later learned was Mack, in my binoculars. I assumed he was a coyote. But to be sure, I fired off a round toward the blur expecting to scare the coyote into the open and confirm that that's what it was. I fired but nothing jumped. Maybe it was a tumbleweed or maybe nothing at all. As I slung my rifle onto my shoulder the sharp thudding ping of a high caliber round struck the ground a meter in front of me. I hit the deck. "What the fuck?!" and immediately wondered why I had gotten out of the habit of wearing my armor and helmet. I belly-crawled behind the nearest mound and frantically scanned the sector with my site. Then I saw Mack. His barrel pointed right at me. He never lost a bead on me and could have easily taken me out with a follow-up round or, for that matter, any time between US6 and this spot. When I shot, I didn't know I was shooting at an enemy combatant. But why didn't he shoot me? Instead, electing to hit the ground a meter in front of me which, when intentional, is a more difficult shot to make than hitting an upright six foot tall man.

For the next couple of hours we both laid there motionless as snipers are trained to do. Both targets clearly in sight but neither taking the first shot. Another vital piece of training and muscle memory that surged to the surface even after being out of the service for over fifteen years. If sniper one takes the first shot, there is a millisecond of time after the rifle kicks and the puff of smoke can be seen by sniper two. If sniper one misses, sniper two knows he can squeeze off at least two rounds before sniper one fully resets. It's a zero-sum game and if the first shot does not connect, the odds favor sniper two by 150%. The longer we laid there and did nothing the more evident our advanced training was.

Then came the moment that our détente ended and our long distance relationship began.

The bane of living in the open space of western Colorado is the spotted skunk. Whole evenings are ruined every two weeks or so when one of these little bastards lets loose their defenses. I hated them. And if Mack the Mirror lived out here as well, we had to have at least that in common.

Well into the second hour of our stand-off, a skunk trotted out stopping almost right between us. It was enough stress that day to have learned that I had a highly skilled sniper mirroring my post, but I'd be damned if I was going to let this skunk wander free and threaten my night. I couldn't help myself. When the skunk scurried on, I drew a bead on him and squeezed the trigger. This action flew in the face of every hour of training the Army invested in me. I let my olfactory senses overcome common sense and left myself wide open for a bullet to the head. The skunk leaped into the air and spun around. It was a hit. But I had no time to enjoy it as I shifted my site right back onto Mack. Thankfully he fired no follow-up shot. At the edge of the scope I could see the skunk hobbling away. "Damnit!" Not only was the skunk not dead but now he was probably pissed-off. Just then I saw a puff of smoke from Mack's barrel and the skunk hurled forward in a spray of red. "I like this guy." I said aloud to myself.

It became clear then that neither of us had any intent on being sniper number one. So we just packed up and left. We repeated the ritual of staring each other down for a couple of Tuesdays thereafter. Then, one Tuesday while trekking to my spot, I came across the car hood. Dark green with rusted edges and shredded latches. I theorized that it was not fully closed and simply blasted off its host car and into the brush when the car hit a critical mass speed. Who knows how these things get out here?

I dragged it to the spot, dug a trench and set it upright facing toward Mack. I then scraped "Kilroy Was Here" and its iconic doodle in the paint—a gesture of soldier solidarity that transcends our orders and our uniforms. I set myself up a few meters away and waited. Before long, Mack got up, retreated to his shed and in a few minutes I saw him dragging a piece of his plywood out to his sniper nest. He set it up and drew a similar target with a piece of coal. That afternoon we spent blasting holes in each others' targets and the Tuesday Shooting Club was launched.

Today, all but the center left region of the hood looked like speaker mesh. And the plywood targets had been splintered to smithereens so many times over the past couple of years that I imagined Mack was resorting to his own shelter walls to provide me with targets.

I finalize my settings to today's conditions, exhale and squeeze the trigger sending the ballistic right through the center of the circle. I knew I had at least ten minutes before he would take his shot so, instead of rolling six meters to the side, I scrambled backward out of Mack's sight then maneuvered to the brush directly behind the hood.
Today I wore my combat fatigues as if engaged in a surprise battle but I only attached the items someone in a hurry would grab. Even my boots were half-tied. Usually I would spend that ten minutes cleaning and disassembling my rifle, but today I kept it strapped with a near empty magazine.

As I lay here in the crisp air gripping the cold carbon fiber of the rifle, I think about another Tuesday. The one when I first talked to Miriam. I can still see her in the reflection of that case so clearly. There are too many regrets that escort her memory that I will never feel finality with that Tuesday or this one. She'll just have to be the elegant, sweet sorrow that flavors these last moments.

Still out of Mack's sight, I crawl up to the back of the hood. The smell of the dirt reminds me of that Tuesday in Socorro. I smile with satisfaction of a plan well executed. Then the sense memory of being kicked to that same ground a couple days later makes me wince. Then the image of Baaleth's Perp Walk and all those artifacts in Angelica's museum being tagged and prepared for shipment back to their countries of origin relieves all that. I see Seth's face nodding at me at the Governor's Zozobra party letting me know that the task of getting Siméon and the crate with the two feathers logo on film was complete. I recall Officer Clarke's smile after I handed him Baaleth. Their prime suspect with a motive and the opportunity to murder the First Lady. Not to mention this black market criminal that INTERPOL was unable to catch up to. The rivalry between the two agencies was famous and on that day, Homeland Security won.

I hoist myself to my knees behind the hood, the back of my head one meter off the ground and just to my left of center. Seeing the sun beams shining through the bullet holes makes me think of the hole Baaleth's men put in the morion during our escape from the kivas on another Tuesday and another loose end tied. Right now, in a vault below the Smithsonian sits a pristine gold plated helmet masterfully crafted with period welds using period tools and embossed with the crest of Cortés. For a few years, the entire world looked upon this helmet and imagined the horrors of that savage Spaniard and his men never knowing they were looking at Rafael Vidal's finest work. Vigils were held for the children of the Aztecs and the Hopi who were never given their justice. Even the Pope apologized for that dark period of Inquisition and the slaying of a culture an ocean away. And the fourth world of the Hopi folded closed. It's a rough start for the fifth, but a fresh one. And my mind turns to the other morion with the bullet hole that sits again in silence in a kiva deep in the red rocks of Anasazi Territory and the shaman boy who protects it.

I savor one last memory. The stark visual contrast of Angelica's saturated red dress against the dull sage brush of the Socorro desert. I recall how chambering the bullet of my .45 seemed to load the chamber of her mouth with hopeless confessions. How my arm thrust the gun forward as if to add torque to the barrel but I paused. The droning churn of metal on metal as the S.E.T.I. dishes shifted reminded me of the Tibetan chants that wafted across the Yarlung River and I became very still. Angelica mistook my stall as her chance for mercy.

"It was Siméon's idea, Emit. All his. He was sure you were going to expose our affair that night." she began. 
Seth, their photographer, had filled me in on all the details that last week in the hospital. I knew everything. And it had taken me two years to be there in that desert on that morning so I took a truculent pleasure in watching her mascara bleeding eyes confess.

"Carlo was only supposed to shoot your keep you from coming that night. We never meant for her to be hurt, Emit, never! I adored..." I thrust my arm forward again and took a step toward her to stop her from saying Miriam's name.

It wasn't the affair they feared we would expose; it was our threat to their tidy little, billion dollar black market artifact business. The tire shot was only meant to cause a flat tire and buy them time until they could pay me off. As if that were an option. It was a plan gone awry but it achieved their goal. For a time. Miriam was gone and I was a psychiatric out-patient who could easily be discounted. In the end, it was Angelica's own conceit that foiled their plan. Seth's lenses had caps, his ears did not.

My favorite sound on that cold Tuesday morning was the punctuation at the end of her last sentence. A single, red, .45 caliber period in her forehead. 

As I look back up at US6 which thunders every fortnight with the machines and young souls of war everything is now serene. I think of Jack and how his early need for self-reliance and strategic chess playing mind are why he's risen to the rank of Lieutenant so quickly and how both attributes are my accidental gifts. I suppose this Tuesday will end up being significant for him as well. He's going to hate it here at first, the solitude, the lack of combat adrenaline, the safety. But sometimes a man has to be a father. In three days, Colonel Pike will open a document that reports an uptick in combat in this area and a unopened blue envelope to Jack from his Grandfather Vidal that wills this post to my son if anything happens to me. This is the only way I can keep at least part of that promise to him. "Yes, Jack. I promise. Just know that whenever we're apart, the whole time we are, I am trying to get back to you and make you safe."

By the time the next convoy finds me here, Mack will have realized that the Tuesday Shooting Club has disbanded and will abandon his post. The wind kicks up the dust from the shoulders of US6 and whistles across the sage to where I kneel against the back of the hood. I gauge the exact spot where I painted the small circle on the other side then ease the back of my head against it. There is just one more loose end to tie. One more merciful bad move so my son can know the serenity of US6.


Prologue End Book II: US6
My favorite sound on that cold Tuesday morning was the punctuation at the end of her last sentence.  A single, red, .45 caliber period in her forehead.  As I look back up at US6 which thunders every fortnight with the machines and young souls of war everything is now serene.  I think of Jack and how his early need for self-reliance and strategic chess playing mind are why he's risen to the rank of Lieutenant so quickly and how both attributes are my accidental gifts.  I suppose this Tuesday will end up being significant for him as well.  He's going to hate it here at first, the solitude, the lack of combat adrenaline, the safety.  But sometimes a man has to be a father.  In three days, Colonel Pike will open a document that reports an up-tick in combat in this area and a letter that wills this post to my son if anything happens to me.  This is the only way I can keep at least part of that promise to him.  "Yes, Jack.  I promise.  Just know that whenever we're apart, the whole time we are, I am trying to get back to you and make you safe."  By the time the next convoy finds me here, Mack will have realized that the Tuesday Shooting Club has disbanded and will abandon his post.  The wind kicks up the dust from the shoulders of US6 and whistles across the sage to where I kneel against the back of the hood.  I gauge the exact spot where I painted the small circle on the other side then ease the back of my head against it.  There is just one more loose end to tie.  One more merciful bad move so my son can know the serenity of US6.

Chapter Forteen

The War Priest

Before the pop a click away hits my ear, the molten tip of the bullet pinches the skin in the center of the back of my head and I feel the splinters of hood metal splay across my scalp as if a fanfare for the main attraction.  The pinch becomes a puncture and the heat of the bullet boils the blood it meets instantly.  Counter-intuitively I feel my head thrust back into the impact as if embracing an old friend and just as warm and just as sweet.   I think of the Zapruder Film of the JFK assassination so eerily colorized in the 1968 encyclopedias at the psych ward.  A key piece of conspiracy evidence is the direction the President’s head moved on second impact and that it couldn't have come from behind.  But I’m here to testify, at least for the next fraction of a millisecond, that there is contradictory physics. As the splay of silver blades of ribbon open my skull to the elements, the road and the mesas before me turn a bright, fluorescent sage and flicker

And I’m back in the psych ward with an open encyclopedia in my lap.  Half-sitting, half-laying on a corner of my room staring at the long fluorescent bulb flickering twenty feet above me. It’s protected by the same cast-iron mesh they used to make my table, window dressing and every damn accessory in this hospital wing.  I think of the extra money the contractor made by convincing the Board that psych patients have been known to jump up to twenty feet in order to grab the fluorescent bulbs to cut their wrists.  Fact is, were I able to jump twenty feet, I’d just give the fucking thing a quarter turn to stop it from flickering.   I don’t want to die.  I just want to stop looking for patterns in the strobes of bulbs and calculating the materials costs of whatever room I’m in.

Despite what I must look like to Osman my Orderly, mouth agape, eyes locked on the light, this is the most lucid I’ve been since the accident.  And have been getting more and more lucid every day.  I’ve just got to be aware enough tomorrow morning to deny these mind-numbing meds.  I’ll admit, there were a couple of mornings last week when I was probably conscious enough to say “no” but it was like I was back in college and these people were giving me shrooms every morning, or when Seth and I happened upon those Poppy fields in Nimroz, Afghanistan.  But even then there was a limit.  And now I was conscious enough to remember that I should be in pain. And the moment I remembered there was a Jack, to awake was my only quest.

After three consecutive days of denying my morning drugs I had a one-on-one with Dr. Sarah Kamen.  It was the first time we’d meet.  And because she was the first human I’d had converse with in three months, that event was saturated in Aztec motifs and her pictures and statuettes in her office were very talkative. 

She was beguiling in a subdued, well-crafted way.  Her glasses, blouses, hair pins and shoes always said professional but there was an otherworldly attraction to her that was anything but.  In one of our early sessions she asked about my wife’s work years before we met, I assume it was a way to broach the subject of Miriam in general and work our way up to her death and then to why I’m in this Psych Ward.  At the time I was nowhere near broaching that so instead, after explaining Miriam’s anthropological work in Iraq after Desert Storm, I diverted to some esoteric fact about the religious prostitution temples of Ishtar.  In my head at the time it was a Letter to Penthouse about my afternoon with the sexy brunette Grief Counselor but to her it was a text book act of perceptual blindness. 

There’s got to be a pun somewhere about Eridu, Iraq being close to “de-Nile” but whenever I begin to fashion one I’m swept up in that cascade of memories.  And it’s that cascade that fell me here in the first place ultimately.  I can’t say that I’ve climbed out, but today I’m able to convince Dr. Sarah Kamen and Associates that I can receive a first visitor.  Not Jack yet and, not the Governor of New Mexico who had hoped to be the first to see me but the state’s First Lady had double booked him. 

At 0930 hours my orderly, Osman knocks thrice and opens the door to my room. “Morning Doc, it’s Tuesday and you got a visitor.”  He places his catcher’s mitt hand around my elbow and ushers me to the waiting room before the courtyard.  The glass is two-inches thick and green and an inch in holds a layer of mesh like the cage around the light in the room where I awoke.  Only this glass was protecting them from my shards.  I do a mental double-take on that phrase I’ve narrated to myself, “Only this glass was protecting them from my shards.” Were it not true and unscripted I would have scoffed at its sophomoric, pretentious pensiveness.  But what this internal narrative meant was that I was really back.  And thank the fucking gods because my next pretens-ive thought would have been how “I needed to be protected by the reality on the other side of that glass”.  But as the door buzz-clanged open so did my awareness of what it was to be here again.

The last time I remember this feeling of clicking-into-perception was in Kuwait in 1992.  We were a three-man sniper team protecting archaeological sites in Southern Iraq from looters as the No-Fly Zones and perimeters were being set up.  Before that click-in my last memory was arriving at Eridu for my deployment and, although I thankfully was not injured, at all, I wasn’t conscious again for three days and my men were gone. Assumed captured or obliterated in the explosive debris around the Temple of Lord Enki where they found me. As naked as the day I graduated from college.  But with fewer bruises, cuts or shames. 

That awkward memory of the Humvees rolling up on me, butt-naked and spread eagle facing the moonless night and realizing how my position was probably locked into by night-vision high definition drones put enough of a smirk on my face that my visitor took it as a smile of joy to see him. Which in a second it was. 

     Seth.  A man I’ve known longer than any other person and know less about than any of them.  But the raw experiences we’ve shared in battle and the sum of all the key frames in the movies of our lives have added up to a loyalty—an unbreakable bond.  

It’s a punchline anymore but when I met him he was a priest.  An ordained priest from a small parish in Independence, Missouri and the best killer I ever met.  He’s not worn the collar since the night before he walked into the recruiting office and only three of us, him, Miriam and me know that little fact about him today.

     Now just two.     

     And those little lapses in awareness of her being gone never diminished.  Only the pauses after the realizations have gotten shorter. 

     Seth has saved my life, my mind, my soul a number of times as my personal secret war priest.  As the official documentarian of the Governor of New Mexico, his station, counsel and public show of confidence in my rehabilitation may just save my career.  But it was only that day, that first day awake from the deep engur that I needed him to save. 

And then, as the first waft of hot metallic wind from the buildings hits me, I felt a sensation that I had never felt.  Even in all my memories before the accident, I hadn’t felt this sensation. 

     Osman let go of my elbow.

     Taking off his Donegal cap like some Steinbeck character Seth stands up straight, reaches out his left arm and in a familiarly irreverent Peter Seller’s voice says, “I’ve come here as an emissary of the Governor of New Mexico to inquire about the state of your health like some fucking idiot who does this instead of shooting shit...” but he’s aggressively hushed by Osman behind me as I was still in a delicate state having only spoken with trained professionals up until that moment and surely my grasp of irony, sarcasm and colloquial obscenities and violence would send me right back behind that green glass. 

I paused, cocked my head to the left.  And as Seth’s broad grin narrowed to a face of confusion I ever so slowly let myself fall back hoping Osman’s gaze at Seth wouldn’t distract him from catching me but I had, in that moment decided to commit-to-the-bit and if my first moments back to reality meant a slab of concrete to the back of the head in order to mindfuck with my dearest friend in a big way, then so be it. 

I am thankful that Osman had fast reflexes as they made up for his utter lack of a sense of humor for when I sprung out of his arms and prat-fell into Seth’s, he flipped us both off and buzzed-clanged himself back out of reality.  Seth and I continued an old dirty limerick we came up with on the Helo transports from Kuwait for a moment before coming in for a landing at the iron grate picnic table or “Ass Grill” as Seth soon coined it.

     Seth returned almost every day for three weeks under the guise of State business but to also report to the ward how lucid I was each time which sped my release.  It was then, once he determined I could handle the facts, that he told me of Simeon and Angelica’s intrigues and botched attempt to stall for time by giving me a flat tire on the way to Santa Fe in 2010.

     They didn’t plan to kill Miriam. But whether it was a sociopathic lack of conscience or just flat out stupidity and I suspect both of each of them, they would not continue in this sphere. It took three weeks to plan two years that led up to one bullet. And it was that cause and the precision required for the scope of that endeavor that made me sane again. That and Jack.

Seth saved my life, my mind, my soul. Again.     

     So I guess we’re even.

Chapter Fifteen

Sweet Water House

I keep my breaths shallow even beneath this O2 mask because the heat from the ground, the fumes from the exhaust and stench of this Republican Guard would surely cause my body to reject my lungs by association. The thud of the blades changes to a steady cadence as we straighten out toward the eastern horizon and Eridu. But even beneath the drum of machine and pelting sands I can hear the Iraqi man reciting some Sunni prayer or something while clutching his shirt. As I look closer he’s grasping something beneath his shirt which should have been confiscated at capture.  I motion to Seth who sees my issue immediately and grabs the prisoner’s arms as I reach across and grab the thing with his shirt. The force of the motion causes a sharp point of the item to rip through his shirt and into my palm splitting my hand. Another tug and I held in my hand what looked like a blood-covered crucifix wrapped in Republican Guard green.

     Seth positioned the man back into his jump seat and tightened his belts. The guard’s only physical reaction to the ordeal was opening his cuffed hands toward mine and glaring at the cross. The wind hurled the shirt scrap away an unveiled a Caduceus. Not a crucifix.

     “The dude’s a medic?!” Corporal Burke, our third man, solid kid but for an almost O.C.D. need to recite Tolkien, shouts looking at my hand. Most people associate this symbol, two snakes intertwined like a helix around a post toward a winged-sphere with Medicine. Few people ever think about the origin of that symbol. Why have snakes in hospitals? Well, it should be only one snake and no wings as the original symbol for Medicine is the Rod of Aclepius. But, thanks to the US Army Medical Corps in 1902 in what was either a mix-up of symbols or a symbolic mix-up, one of the most ancient sigils from the most ancient of civilization’s myths now adorns the institutions, men and women that lay hands on and inside us. The Caduceus.

     This symbol has emerged time and again from culture to culture and myth to myth. It was the staff borne by heralds – messengers. Carried by Hermes for the Greeks, Mercury for the Romans and has been seen with the likes of Ishtar, Osiris and even Quetzalcoatl in Central America. But before them all, to the first civilization we now know of, it was the symbol of the god of the temple we were spinning toward that morning. Lord Enki, the “Fashioner” of mankind. Our “Creator”, as it were. The Sphere at the top of the Caduceus is the Seat of the Soul or Pineal Gland. The wings represent the two hemispheres of the brain, the post, our spines and the snakes our DNA. And while I’ve never been a believer in anything, I was intrigued with the Sumerian Myth because, while they speak of their “Gods” with a reverence for divinity, their gods seem almost approachable, even flawed.

Lord Enki was the second born son to his Father Anu. But Lord Enki’s mother was from a Royal Bloodline, whereas his half-brother, Enlil though born first was not of a matrilineal royal lineage. But he was the first born and so the conflict was set before they owned it. Like the other tales that repeat from culture to culture, this half-brother rivalry is an archetypal conflict that has also been recycled as Cain and Able and Isaac and Ishmael but each with a twist. Although Enki and Enlil fit the roles of Cain and Able, and Isaac and Ishmael, there are rewrites and a younger cast. This classic story of half-brother conflict and envy over a father’s approval played out with Lord Enki’s hybrid human sons which later became the After School Special we read about in the Bible.  So, while the myth repeats and the archetypes replay, each time is a departure from the Director’s cut and there’s a progression.

     I never got swept away by the drama of the Sumerian myths, just the broader realizations about repeating themes through cultures and time to the point that I began to understand time as a fractal.—those paisley looking psychedelic patterns that repeat as you zoom in or out of them – the more they move the more they stay the same but their movement progresses.   Folks were surprised when I announced that I’d be entering the Archaeological track when I went back to school because my interests have always assumed me headed toward theoretical physics. I scoffed at dudes in the Liberal Arts until I saw the women the schools seemed to swell with. But these last two tours in Iraq, ordered to protect sites I had no idea existed that predate Noah, and their history cluing me into a pattern of time and events—women or not, I was hooked.

     Lord Enki, called the Clever Prince for his genius at designing us, was also a bit of a womanizer—an Earthling Womanizer to be precise. Genesis Six teases that but doesn’t get into the rich, multilayered story of intrigue, deception, war, triumph and betrayal—or your basic family story—that the Sumerians chronicled.

     Most biblical scholars now agree that the stories and vague accounts that are touched on in the Bible, specifically the Book of Genesis, are abridged plagiarisms. The Great Flood and Ark, the Tower of Babel, and the Garden of Eden were all first scribed in Sumer thousands of years before even the predecessors of the Jewish People. In fact, the Garden of Eden story we all know as a metaphor sounds more like a third person retelling of the events that are detailed with great effort in the original Sumerian account.

If you’re devout in any of the Judeo-Christian paths, and unless you’ve done a comprehensive study of these Sumerian myths, this may repulse you as heresy but, Lord Enki, later known as Lord Ea (thus Ea-rth) and the “Fashioner of Mankind”, was later recast thousands of years later as the Serpent in The Garden. And when you study deeper you learn that is was Lord Enki who tipped Noah off to the flood among other intriguing revelations about his attempts to keep his creation safe from his big brother’s destructive tendencies toward us. So, unless you take it all in context, these are repulsive ideas.  But once you do understand the context the repulsion transforms.

     Seth let Burke and me in on that bit of history on one of our longer transports one day. Knowing Burke’s Tolkien obsession, to make the point of how ignorant modern man is about our true origin, he said, “It’s like someone knowing every word of The Hobbit cartoon from the 1970s and having no idea it’s from a book or that there’s a Lord of the Rings Trilogy”.

     Seth had a unique ability to break things down to their most potent point. Whether distilling a broad sociological observation down to a Fantasy book for a teenager or turning Poppy flowers into a three day AWOL/R&R in Nimroz, the man is an alchemist.  

The first of the Sumerian Tablets were only unearthed in the last century and effectively left on a shelf until such time as Cuneiform, the earliest form of writing, could be deciphered.  It may be fifty years before some of these truths seep into our society.  Churches, Mosques and Synagogues will have to absorb and recalibrate with the new information and add to their saints and angels rosters. Or they can do what Lord Enki’s estranged brother, Enlil hopes they’ll do and rebuke it all and continue recycling the Holy Slander.

     The Iraqi Soldier was brought along as he’s supposed to know the site and can lead us to what needs protecting. Now that I know this is a personal issue for him, and how much we can get from him if careful, I thrust my fist out to his hand and force him to grab back the Caduceus which he kisses and clutches back to his chest.

     I regard the man for a moment.  His oversized Iraqi Army issue uniform, material so thin you think it on purpose for the heat if you didn’t realize it was a costume for a unfunded road show. Despite his hygiene after three days of capture herding from post to post, his hands seem very well groomed. Even with all the blood and spitting oil from the open chopper—pristine really. I looked up from his hands against his chest to meet his piercing hazel eyes staring straight at me. I knew the orange tint on my goggles was one-way but I was still taken aback by how direct the gaze was. There was a subtle nod as if thanking me above all the shit this man was going through. A fallen country, whisked away by men ripping shit out of his shirt yet he manages to thank me for giving it back? I snap out of that momentary lapse of humanity when Burke, shouts pointing east, “Eridu! Hidden valley of the Elves! Where Elrond dwells!” Eridu ruins of the Temple of Lord Enki, yes. Middle Earth? At the time, not yet.

Burke shuffles through his deck of Archaeology Awareness Playing Cards they doled out when the focus shifted. "Whatchya think Captain? Ten of Clubs?!" heholds up the card which reads, "A mound or small hill in an otherwise flat landscape could be a sign of ancient human occupation."

"Yep. That looks about right soldier." I notice a blue envelope flapping out from where he grabbed the cards. "Better tuck that back before the blades take it!" I yell. he shoves it back in his vest in a panic. The kid's been shot at punched by Iraqi men, women and children and survived three IEDs and that's the most anxious I've seen him.

"Shit!" He scolds himself then glances up at Seth sheepishly. But Seth's just gripping the Iraqi's harness and staring North into the sky.

     As we approach and descend at the Temple at Eridu, argued to be the oldest city in the world, looks more like the dirt hill in the open space near where I grew up. One of those hills that in the course of one summer would be reduced to a patch of mounds worn down by 11 year old boys and their Huffies.  But what a summer could do to that mound of dirt, 7000+ years couldn’t to this place. Although weathered down to geometric husks of broken stone, its base, the enormity of the stone blocks and precision at which they were originally set one realizes why this find upset so much of what we thought was possible for humans then. The unearthing of Sumer and sites like this will change the game for science, politics and religion.  I know that we’re not really here to selflessly defend our oil-rich Kuwaiti friends.  I know this is a geopolitical chess move to secure our nation’s energy future but the fervor at which Command turned from the battle to the securing of these sites makes me wonder if it’s the oil that brought us here or something else.

 "What do you call it. Burke?!" I scram above the thuds as the Helo sets down 50 meters from the mound.

"Nine of Spades, sir! Nine of Spades!" he shouts back as we covered this one earlier. Avoid Helo rotor wash near sites. We unclip, gather our gear, the Iraqi and jump into the tan fog of sand. The Republican Guard still locked in his trance gives no resistance as I lead him by the back of his belt toward the temple.  As we get to the first discernible steps the man falls out of my grip and to his knees then prostrates himself in the sand.  The action stuns me a bit so I stand still, give him a moment as I watch the Helo bank away and pull him back to his feet. As we rushed up the steps I caught him look up at me and knew he was grateful again. This time for the moment I allowed him to be on the ground. There’s a lot of work done on us to demonize our enemies so that battle can be more effective but I never let that sink in when I can help it. I don’t consider the enemy an animal. I never felt comfortable shooting a man. But for some reason, whether I’m squeezing a trigger to end a man’s life a click away or allowing a prisoner to drop and worship some ancient cartoon god, I go to the same place in my head.

     It’s a quiet place.  And when I stop and think about it like this I can visualize myself in a big chamber room – huge – ornate – ominous and there’s always a tone, a hum, and I find myself here during every trigger squeeze and every moment I’m the presence of a worshiper. I’ve never brought this up to Seth but I think about it a lot. I think it has something to do with reverence and confusion.

     Before I kill a man, I know all that it implies. I know I’m extinguishing a universe. I know I am depriving a family of a man and a man of his family. I feel the same thing when I see a worshiper.

     Burke shouts to us from just inside the excavated temple entrance. “It’s clear – this one’s empty!” The three ancient sites we dropped teams off at earlier were full of Iraqi soldiers and refugees from the towns we hit over the past months. Complete micro-economies had sprung up in these places, bartering services, haggling over and eventually trading the goods they managed to spirit away. We were able to secure the places and peoples quite easily. A couple of skirmishes with younger men but when the food Helo touched ground, those skirmishes turned to embraces and jumps for joy.

     I didn’t make the connection at the time, but after seeing how this Republican Guard became a Lord Enki Alter Boy around a Caduceus, I got why the soldiers and refugees looked so perplexed when the Medics’ Helo arrived. They’re not aware of the U.S. Army’s symbolic mix-up, so from their perspective, America just invaded ancient Sumer in the name of Lord Enki? Now that look on their faces made sense in hindsight.  Confused reverence. 

Chapter Sixteen

The Vicar's Gears

One Week Earlier | March 23rd, 1992 | The Monastery of Mar Mattai, Iraq 

Some of the other girls seem to know exactly how to pin these habits-turned burkas perfectly the second we step off the bus. Even after six hours from Baghdad and less than three days as Novices. I suppose many of the have been rehearsing for this roll since First Communion. I hold back as if searching for something around my seat so I can more easily melt into the back of the flock. It looks more like a murder of crows as the fifteen black clad women huddle and flow in unison and swiftly. Though none look up and none seem to be leading. We all just flutter upper a broken stone road toward the Monastery.

I pretended to be asleep for most of the trip to avoid slipping up my lines or my character’s backstory which I now realize wasn’t a smart move. Now the Sisters will assume me very well rested and approachable. Without the rattle of the Iraqi H1 and that Fisher-Price sounding engine, the weaker parts of my dialect that I didn’t have time to perfect, may be more noticeable. I begin to visualize my list of the Arabic words that I couldn’t get using an Italian accent; “jaba-ariyn…meahavba…baaroom-enkyee…” at that moment, lost between two foreign languages in a cloister of black cloth my left foot plunged into a hole of cold water pulling my leg and dignity with it. I sank up to my ass so quickly I must have looked like the Wicked Witch of the West post bucket of water. She was lucky though. She got to really melt away.

“What the fucking fuck?!” I exasperatedly cursed to myself as the nuns fluttered back to me to help me out. “Mi scusi novizio?” I’m shocked by how close that voice is and how soon after I cursed in English. It was the voice of the Mother Superior’s secretary, Sister Joan—her Girl Sunday so to speak. She immediately switched to English, as she hoisted me out of the little well and single-handedly.

“Okay are you, Novizio, is okay for you to now.”

We were under strict rules not to speak anything but English, or in Joan’s case to try, while in Iraq if at all. Thankfully Sister Joan was so concerned with her own slip of the native tongue that my uniquely American turn-of-phrase, “What the Fucking Fuck” went unchallenged. 

And unanswered, actually. 

Why was there a nun’s leg-sized fresh water well in the middle of the road ascending the steps? I look back as Joan pulls me toward the group and I see that our procession skirted a small construction site. In the aftermath of my drop and soak, a group of men rush past us and to the hole. The begin throwing their hats, leaping like prospectors and kissing each other in that way only men on this side of the civilization seem to be able to do comfortably. Was it a good Omen to have a Nun fall in a water hole? More likely, given where we are, a discovery of water is like gold.

Joan saw me clutch the inside of my upper thigh. Before losing any more composure, I found the slit in the habit that allowed my hand to touch the flesh clandestinely. As we regrouped up the road, I caught Sister Alexi from Belfast looking at me from under her hood. I knew her name because I felt compelled to introduce myself to her at the Barcelona airport. It was a similarly awkward moment of catching her glaring. When my leg dropped into the hole, everyone scurried confused then turned back concerned. Alexi just stood still and straight the whole time. When I caught her bright green eyes, she rushed up to the front with Sister Joan and seemed to be talking about me because she kept looking back.

“One in every cloister I guess” thinking to myself as I brushed off the moment but not the sting. Under my robe I begin rubbing the inside of my upper thigh where the stone and heavy habit cloth brazed my skin in the fall. But were it not for the cloth, the stone may have cut my ass or worse. Stone?

I look back again at the men who are all now on their bellies taking turns pulling the water to their eyes. It wasn’t a natural sink hole or fresh water spring. There was a placed-stone or brick rim around that hole. It was covered by debris of who knows how many years, but this was an archaeological find, not geologic.

Were it geologic my inner thigh might not sting like this. I can’t help but notice that how soft my skin feels despite the stubble of three days. But one aspect of Nun Life I didn’t have time to look into before starting this was the bathing ritual. Communal? Monitored by older Nuns? Shit. Nuns or girls hoping to take the vows don’t have summer grooming patterns. And I’m guessing Joan and the girls are sporting 1972 down below so I’ll need to stay alert. If it is a communal shower, I’ll act ill, if monitored; maybe I’ll be overly modest with my hands? I haven’t come this far to be stopped by a shaved vagina for chrissakes.

I’ll figure out a way to keep my privates exactly that. Private.

“Come with me, Lass. Let’s have a look at your nunny.” Sister Alex whispered to me as we entered the great hall. She nodded to Sister Joan who waved us to the wings.

“Mi scusi? Non capisco.…I a mean…I don’t not to understand…” I started in full character. Young Italian Nun trying to speak English in Iraq but halfway into the routine my co-star flubbed her part and in the least nuanced Irish accent forcefully whispered, “Stop that. Just stop and come with me.”

In a moment she pulls me into a large, ornate and mosaic tiled room. Slamming the huge ancient door behind us, Alexi uses the five second-long reverb door echo to whisper who she was, why she was and why she knew who I was.

When the echo fell away, she pulled back squatted in front of me and in a louder voice said, “Alright then, Novice, give us a looksee” as she stared right at my, well, nunny as it were. I lifted the robe to expose the raw skin the hole made. Looked worse than it felt but I was more concerned at the time about being shaved. A condition I hid from Alexi with the fabric as she scanned the pink, blood-beading skin. Her left hand was warm and firm around the back of my leg while the fingers of the other lightly traced the borders of the wound. She blew on it while cleaning the smeared blood with a licked thumb. “Eh, you’ll be alright then. Clean it when you get set. We’ll bring you a proper bandage after supper to sleep with.” She pulled her hand back from behind my leg as she rose and the edge of her index finger brushed some stubble. “You’ll need to keep her to yourself until her disguise grows back, lass.” I smiled and my head dropped. “And lose the draw string unless you can only talk when it’s pulled. We deal with the moon cycles differently here.”

My God how I love Irish women. So right fecking there and on it. I have no idea what they do here if not tampons but those laughing Irish eyes made it sound almost fun. There I was, an American girl of Russian descent using an Italian accent in an Arabic country in a Church Order designed by a Spaniard while being charmed by an Irish accent.

The Tower of Babel was just a minor setback in the end.

Sister Alexi pulled the door open, glared once more at me, and with a devilish wink as she turned away shouted. “She’ll be fine! We’ll give the dear a minute 'tis all….” and the door slammed again.

“Oh wait sister! Sister! Is there a place to shower?!” As if mocking the question I hear a loud drip behind me. Curplunk. I crane my neck around the corner to see this ornately mosaic chamber Alexi led me to was, indeed full of, well, chamber pots. “Never mi…I…think it’s here…”

Like fifteen little alters to what’s left of the self, each station had its own porcelain sink, hand towel ring, toothbrush and cup. Below each sink, an apple crate. Above each sink and eye-level, a six by five inch, brushed copper square. Just big enough for a Bride of Christ to check for wafer crumbs and not much else. And to do that, she’d need the apple crate.

I rush over to the nearest sink and twist the iron handle. Silence. Then in a cough the pipes let loose the sweetest water I have ever tasted. I cup it in my palms and sip it to a gulp that I let spill beneath my habit and between my breasts. As I splash my face again with the water, a glimpse of what was in the reflection of the copper reminded me to turn around fast. There, like black wooden soldiers for pretty maids all in a row were fifteen individual and enclosed from bare foot to God, showers. My nunny will stay between me and Alexi.

I’ve already made myself conspicuous so I rush back out to join the group. Not conspicuous enough apparently as everyone’s already gone. I grab a lone wooden cross with a key threaded through the foot of it. Like a alone abandoned medieval carnival prize. I followed the low rumble of young women in the throes of unpacking small bags and bouncing on tiny beds to test the mattresses of their Divine Fiancé’s house. Into the black of the corridor before my eyes adjust to see seven doors on either side, all with little wooden crosses hanging from their latches. The keys unlock from the outside and that’s it. Once open, the key stays put until locked. Clever. Oppressive and scary as shit but clever.

I easily navigate to my room by the blank space in the row of upside down crosses. The Monastery sits in a high hill so half of the girls got Eden View rooms, the rest of us get an extra meter of closet space into the hill. I hear the girls gathering across the hall into one room. In it was a plaque marking the place where Saint Mattai performed his canonizing miracle. A couple of the girls start adding facts not on the plaque about how the King commissioned the monastery and was baptized by Saint Mar Mattai. But that’s where their facts and appreciations stopped. Like so many of these stories, they only go back as far as the one on the plaque wants it to go. The reality of this place, this beautiful structure that looks more like a resort in Cabo than a place of communion with a 4th Century God, is that it’s a retribution. A reparation. Or worse.

When Saint Mattai, for whom this place is named, was still a Monk, he taught King Sencharib’s son, Prince Benham’s, who was brought up Zoroastrian, about Christianity. Later then-Monk Mattai, at the bequest of the Prince miraculously healed his sister, Princess Sara of leprosy. Soon thereafter, the Prince, Princess and their forty companions were baptized by Mar Mattai. When the King found out that his kids and companions converted, he killed them. Naturally. But, like many of us do after killing forty some-odd people for their beliefs, he had second thoughts. He was later baptized by Mar Mattai and commissioned this monastery on the spot where Mar Mattai healed his daughter. These halls and quarters we’re in now are brand new—early 1900s A.D. The original ruins are below and deep into the mountain behind us. 

The King’s conversion and commissioning of this place was only decades after the First Council of Nicaea—when Rome decided to go full Christ and committee away some of the most enlightened books for the next Testament.

And any King, Caesar, or Tribal Leader with half a soul was finding Jesus before Jesus found them. Conversions of powerful men are intrinsically suspect. If the power that placed you there can be usurped at all, where is the power?

But born-again, filicidal kings or miraculous monks are not why I’ve risked my passport, career and freedoms to be here and now. My intrigue won’t be etched on a plaque.

Long before the Zoroastrians-turned-Catholics struggled below these floor boards, this place was a suburb of Nineveh—a city built by King Nimrod, grandson of Noah. Now known as Mosul, Iraq though it holds sacred the ruins and minarets from then to as recently as 840 years ago. But even Civic-Minded Babylonian Kings with famous Grandfathers didn’t pique my interest enough for these risks.

Before monks and kings and , before the last Ice Age and right before the reign of Antediluvian dynasties, Nineveh was Nina, the “Seat of Ishtar”. And while today this monastery overlooks Mosul and a Martian landscape, back then, looking south from this place, one would have seen overlooked Nineveh and an upside down arc - a smiley face of a lush marshland from the Mediterranean Sea on the western right to the Persian Gulf on the eastern left.

And this place, which now houses the priests and brides of Jesus—the very symbol of the Piscean Age—once ushered waters and actual fish along this crescent shaped region. The origin of the name, its Aramaic etymology "Nuna" means fish. Mar Mattai was “The House of Fish”.

Every fiber of my being knew something else about this place. Despite all the red words on term papers or fact fighting conversations with Assistant Professors. The " Seat of Ishtar" of Ishtar isn't a 45 minute drive down this mountain in the ruins of Nineveh. The place this Goddess sat, and ate and fucked and ruled was behind the back wall of my Nun's Studio Apartment. Deep in that mountain behind this facade of a two thousand yearlong Roman play, lies the real throne. And for me, not a throne mysticism, a real, material, measurable and carbon-datable throne and all the uncountable accouterments of a living, breathing, Royal but moon-cycle bleeding woman. Not a goddess.

I knew it. All my studies and navigated synchronicities have led me right here. In a room full of women looking out over a future landscape.

A loud rap of a wooden cane smacks the door frame, the girls shriek, some cry instantly and the rest of us have the irked expression before turning to see Sister Joan glaring at us like some, well, some Catholic Nun. “To our the roomess and food for supper at seven forrrrty fi-eeve.” She enunciated in what sounds to the Italians like a proper English accent, “And NO! To speak louder. NO! to speak louder” she hissed. The intent and ferocity of her face and tone completely surpassed her poor English and everyone “No to speak louder” the rest of the trip.

Chapter Seventeen

One God's Ghost

There’s a shutter, like a stadium wave that moves from the base of my skull and down my back. The shockwaves of the impact. The missile now a lava lamp floater through the center of my brain, clearing a smooth tunnel for it all to fall in on itself but I still see.  I feel my teeth split like flint stone as the whole structure reacts to Mac’s bull’s-eye.  But I still see. And what I see is a smug looking skunk. 


“Emit? Hey there…Emit.” I hear Seth’s low yet spry voice rousing me out of a what; we began to call simply, “Spells.” Moments when I’d apparently look down then slowly up until someone poked me. There are any number of reasons why any of us should have some brand of Spells, but I’ve always prided myself on complete lucidity and agility of mind. Maybe it was youthful Bravado but I made “Lucid Agility” my mantra while running, marching, swimming. To this day the phrase still makes me wanna move. Or think harder.

Three weeks into our visits, our process, Seth brought a guest. He gave me no notice, not that he would as that would just be normal, and not that it would have made any difference as I resolved to stay as clean shaven and kempt as possible to help make the case for early release.

Seth held out his left arm, a custom we developed after many opportunities to pull each other out of things. More than once, as soon as one of us were pulled out, we’d take fire but as we’re both Right Handed, we’d lose valuable seconds switching from pull arm to firearm. So we quickly decided that all holes would require mutual Left Arms and to train our muscles to remember, our meetings always began with a left forearm shake.

We released and I placed my right hand out to meet his guest but accidentally punched the guest’s left arm which was mimicking mine and Seth’s greeting.

The man was slight, Semitic with a Fuller Brush mustache that flanked the whitest grin I’ve ever seen. “Sury.” He stated as if scolding himself for putting out the wrong hand. “No, no!” I insisted and our hands danced back and forth as we out-niced one another before settling on the classic shake. His grip was firm but not dominant. His hand was warm and smooth. I started to look down at his hand before his eye grabbed mine and pulled my attention back up to see his grin fade into a look of respect as his eyes closed around piercing hazel eyes.

“Very nice to meet…” I began but the man immediately waved off any hint that the pleasure wasn’t all his. “No sir, no!” he scolded, “This honor of my pleasure is to…” he paused realizing the mis-phrase and glanced over at Seth who was no help. Seth was laying on the Ass Grill snickering as if this were some kind of set up. And, given our history and the way I mindfucked him on that first visit, I had it coming.

“Alright.” I said, “What’s going on, man?” I shot at Seth who shrugged and motioned his arms back to his guest. “Is this guy gonna start stripping or something you sick fuck?” I let go the man’s grip took a few steps back while signaling to Omar behind the glass to check this out. “Okay Buddy, let’s do this!” I start clapping my hands in a disco cadence and sing, “C-e-l-e-brate good time, come on!” Seth fetuses up into a ball of laughter which encourages me to start dancing around the man with the occasional, syncopated “Bump” as it were. “There’s a party going on right here…” Then in a deeper than comfortable voice Seth joins in, “…a celebration - to last throughout the year…” we continue in the perfect pitch, timing and inflection that every Generation X American wedding or Prom goer knows.

In the height of our finale I glance over at Omar who’s still behind the glass with an incredulous look who subtly points to the stripper. Who wasn’t. I wind down my dance move awkwardly and drop Kool and the Gang off an octave up as I realize Seth’s guest was still standing there. Fully clothed. Grin still gone as was that respectful expression.

“Uh….riiight.” I say straightening the mime necktie on my hospital robe as I glare as Seth angrily. This was a mindfuck from Seth alright but his guest, this poor man, wasn’t in on it. “Dude!” I shout at Seth as I reach my right hand back out to re-introduce myself to the man.

I love Seth but he does have a darker side than me. He doesn't have a problem swapping a gag for good manners. I told him once how I used to beat up kids for putting firecrackers in ant hills then educate them about the intricacies of the Ant Culture and hill to which Seth replied, “M80s at least. Anything smaller and the little fuckers just rebuild.” And that’s probably the best way to delineate us personally on the inside. I appreciate the complexity and potential sentience of all living creatures and Seth’s an asshole. But on the outside, aside from Seth's wing tattoo wrapping the collar of his neck, we look similar. Apparently. We have an arsenal of stock responses when asked if we’re brothers. Depends on who’s asking usually but they range from duets of “He wishes” and “Hope not” to the time when we pretended to have just realized that too when asked and broke down crying. For me, committing to that bit was difficult enough and it didn’t affect the innocent. But Seth kept me and those few people close to him in a bubble and everyone else was fodder for his sick humor regardless of the collateral humiliations. And now obviously this nervous and scared little man was used for just that reason. I never understood that about Seth.

I turned the charm up big as I warmly apologized to him for Seth and for the confusion all the while maintaining a stern eye on and a half smirk with Seth. ‘Irfaan Kish. An Iraqi man our age and who, although I felt completely comfortable with and familiar, at the time, in the hospital in 2010, had no idea who he was.

I got Seth to join us in acting like civilized men. As much as was possible in a faded green robe on an ass grill anyway. The man looked more at ease in a moment when he realized all that disco dance of the seven veils thing wasn’t an American greeting custom he failed to study. “It is for me a great honor, sir to see you again and to beeble…and to be eeble to report to you of the ghost.”

Despite the “eebles”, I was so taken aback by his near perfect enunciation of the line that it wasn’t until half way through his next set of rehearsed lines that it played back. “Again?” I said, “Sorry, Erfin, um…Eerfawn…you said it was good to see me “again…” but we haven’t met.” He glanced over at Seth again.

I thought, “Could this be a double-layered mindfuck?” but no, even Seth has a limit. Seth nodded to ‘Irfaan who locked eyes with me as I turned back to him from Seth. He slowly placed his left hand on his chest and began to clutch his shirt. I nervously scoffed and grinning looked at Seth again who was staring at ‘Irfaan’s left hand on his shirt. Like the light trails the Afghan Poppies put on our hands, the hospital courtyard’s pale walls and grey creases stretched and slowed as my sight was pulled back to the hand. That pristine clean, smooth and nervous hand I just punched and danced with was now purple beneath the bright orange hazel glare of this man now bleeding under his shirt.

From the back of his hand my peripheral vision broadened and I could see the outline of 'Irfaan now as a shadow. With another breath I became aware of the space behind him, beside him and below him. It was a blue shadow now and nothing else around a bright purple, bleeding fist ringed with orange and hazel rays. Looking down at his fee they were backwards and then mine. I felt my chin pulled up as if by the finger of a parent to look up. As I did my lungs tried to hoist enough air through my throat to mouth the words “What ghost?” And all went blue.


______________________________________ March 30, 1992 – Eridu, Iraq | Temple Ruins - 0947hrs

“Hold up!” Seth shouts at Burke who’s disappeared into the roughly rectangular hole in the side of the hill. He follows him in. The Iraqi and I are a few paces behind as the man deliberately walks slowly so I urge him through the entrance gripping the back of his shoulder. Just before the entrance is a small patch of grass and ivy. This is an arid wasteland. Someone has to be tending to this place for anything to grow.

“الحمد يسقي سيت ربكم إنكي Adonai” he prayed in Arabic though I recognize the closer, “Adonai”. I’ve heard that before at friends’ Passover dinners and Bar Mitzvahs. Why a Sunni Arab is calling on the same god that showed up at Rachel Weinstein’s Bat Mitzvah is beyond me.

As our eyes adjust, we see the outline of Burke’s back. His arms look frozen at his sides, rifle tip dangling over is right foot and eyes as wide as his mouth. The dust from our boots landed on the surface of the blackest, stillest, and sweetest smelling lake of water I’ve ever been lead to. “I don’t…I…Is there…Can this…” Burke tried every angle toward the question of what it was we were starting to see in the dark. Seth and I look at one another as if in a mirror as the Iraqi soldier stepped passed the three of us and shed his dress shoes and paper uniform …dress shoes? How did I miss that? He must have been pulled into the fight with America from a maître d stand.

No one ever looks at feet. Or up. Except Burke whose gaze had risen straight up to the ceiling? The entrance was from the east and the morning sun slid in as our pupils widened which sped the clarity, color and enormity of this hole.

The closest anyone came to describing it later was Seth who said, “…it was like the Pool House at Hearst Castle only ten times larger, more ornate yet less tacky…” He had a seething disdain for people who succeeded so obtusely. He was always so aggressively unimpressed. Like that trip to San Simeon on the walking tour with all those families and children in awe of the opulence and majesty of capitalism, Seth shouts, “Not bad for a talking monkey”. With shock I snorted a laugh that made the group turn and look at me. I naturally motioned to Seth, but when I turned, he wasn’t there. Didn’t see him again until the Gift Shop.

Here though, in the hum of the mystery of why this place is, what this place is and why it’s empty, even Seth looked a bit, well ill-at ease really.

In a series of gestures, bows and prostrations which, when done by a naked man takes on a whole new meaning, the Iraqi slowly stepped into the water while counting. Seth started counting with him. "Is that Arabic?" I asked Seth as he kept counting until completely submerged. Bubbles were coming up for the last three numbers.

Seth continued translating in English, "Thirty Six, Thirty Seven, glug, glug, glug...Akkadian, actually." He was counting upwards of forty" he explained while staring out at 'Irfaan who was now floating on his back with some subtle current deeper into the lake.

"Good thing he wasn't any shorter!" Burke yelled as he waded into the lake in his skivvies. Seth and I burst out laughing. Burke was serious but the reality of that statement and the idea of this Iraqi counting to forty underwater sooner than 37 was too perfect a visual.

"What say we take a break then go explore this place while there’s some natural light, eh?" I shout loud enough that the Iraqi hears the command in my voice from a distance.

"We Hobbits are plain, quiet folk. Adventures make one late for dinner!" Burke inserted.

It had been a solid 48 since we’d seen barracks so we took advantage of the fresh water and then the cool air while scanning the perimeter for passages, contraband or artifacts. According to my measuring stick laser, this space was about 660 feet wide. There were indentions, forty of them placed evenly in the walls around the pool. . They must have held statues or some loot worthy piece. “Why aren’t there any Fugees or Guard here?” I wondered out loud – every temple ruin we’ve seen was swollen with Iraqis and their protectors and none of those had huge fresh water indoor pools. “Seems prime real estate for the Scurrying Set is all.”

From the far end of the pool, where the wakeless current had carried ‘Irfaan, echoes, "When kingship from heaven was lowered, the kingship was in Eridu." He sounded nothing like he looked. At least in the dark. Burke looked genuinely spooked lifting his eyes from his Sega. With a fluttery, half laugh, and as if involuntarily, replies “…where Elrond dwells…” to the voice in the dark.

Chapter Eighteen

Sisterhood of the Snake

 March 31st, 1992 | The Monastery of Mar Mattai, Iraq

      I know the food here is meant to be as plain and unselfish as these Novice Nuns but to me it’s overpowering.  I was raised in DC on Pop-Tarts and Tang so any departure from astronaut food was exotic.  For the first couple of days, the grey porridge and fists of bread turned my stomach. They reeked of a spice like sweet but pungent pickles and…pennies? And what American kid hasn’t chewed her share of Lincoln pennies?  But in time this spice was in everything I drank, wore, brushed my teeth or scrubbed my copper vanity with so one acquires a taste for Honest Abe.

     It took me a few scans through the Monastery kitchen window on the way to the dining hall before I caught a legible bottle of the spice and solved that mystery.   Tamarind.  One of those spices in back of the pantry but unlike Thyme and Sage, it holds little lyrical potential and never got sprinkled.  On anything.  To throw it away though felt like a betrayal of some as yet unheard family legend. Maybe Dad used it in DC to ward off bats, raccoons or Goldwaters?

     The moment it had a name, it had a memory. I immediately went back to the first and only time I opened the Family Tamarind. And, thanks to George Lucas' brilliant move to secure all merchandising rights to his movies, I know the exact year. 1978.

     When I opened the spice bottle and took a big sniff, the resulting rush and sneeze hurled me back between the door and the shelf and a wheel of KRAFT Empire Strikes Back Cheese Spread slid right into my collar bone and bruised Tamarind in my mind forever more. I looked like C-3PO for a few days favoring my neck like that.

     It was the night before the first of the month and a full moon which was apparently a thing here as the upper Guide Sisters and Resident Nuns kicked into an overdrive right before sundown. The plates and spoons were being collected quicker than some girls could finish so I grabbed my bread and sat back and upright to make it easy to be cleared. As I took a bite of the crust the spice tingled the sides of my tongue and my eyes fell back and close in a moment of extreme taste. When I opened them Alexi was right in front of me staring at my neck watching the muscles react to the spice. “Buena...Gooda evana-ing, Sister.” I said with a satiated look from my new appreciation of the little, sour and finer things here. “It’s time.” She said matter-of-factly.

     “Thyme? Nope, good guess. It’s Tamarind.” I said confidently having seen the spice in the kitchen.

     “Time! You Gimp.” She insisted. Grabbing my wrist and standing me up. I grabbed a fist full of bread from the table and shoved it in my pocket. Then, just like the only other time I’ve ever seen these two interact, Alexi glances at Sister Joan who looks toward the Eastern door and waves us, again, to the wings. The same bathroom as the first day Alexi checked my wound. We crouched in the first wooden stall as the girls outside darted around with the tasks they’ve been preparing to perform all week.

     Alexi claimed me from the Mountainside Kitchen Girls to aid her in the boiler rooms on the second day. The Eden View Girls were split into two. One was taken away each day and again at night and the other was trained in the precise art of triage care and rehabilitation of some kind.

Alexi and I had the run of the place ever since. The one place we couldn’t explore until right now was the first place we met and where we’re hiding right now. We’ve timed the nightly drill to require eight minutes of dead silence from us before our next move. We’ve practiced that too.

Sister Joan waits until the Dining Hall is clear and locks herself inside. She glances around and casually under the long table to be sure there are no stragglers. Aside from the patterned footsteps of young woman dutifully moving items to places and people to items as the sun goes down and the full moon rises. She reaches around the stone pillar and tugs in the darkness. The room goes black.

The sound of a seat bench rocks and two feet skid up. Sister Joan, now standing on the long dining table, lights a thick wooden match, pulls a small saucer from her robe and kneels.

And every action she takes, every private, sacred and personal ritual she performs here tonight isn’t. Because from the first wooden stall in the mosaic temple of the copper mirrors, where Alexi first licked the blood around my nunny, we could see the Dining Hall from the orchestra pit, the Eden View Girls Secret Gym and by doing so will know when both are empty and we can get behind these walls that are only open on the full moon for some medieval reason.

We sat there trying not to laugh or squeak or make any false move that would risk this because this is why we were here. And we had the next seven minutes to sit quietly together for what may well be the last time.

The first night I got here, true to her word, Alexi brought me a bandage after supper and a small video player to watch a video she’d queued up. It was of her and me in the large bathroom earlier that day from a corner of that place no one would think to look. No one looks up. And although the door hid the sound of her voice from the women on the other side of it, the audio on this high definition video I was watching under the covers of my Novice bed was clearer than it was right in my ear. “Skip intros. I am Blue Star - G2 - Directorate of Intelligence - you are tagged.” She fires the words right into my brain then snaps her head to the left as she listens for instructions. Then right back in my eyes, “Do you release the Eagle, Agent MV?”

“The eagle is untethered.” I responded as practiced for three years but never out loud.

“Confirm to Eagle Agent Name and Confirm Release.” She instructed and cocked her head so I could speak right into the thread sized microphone coiled in her hair.

“Agent MV Confirms I.D. Miriam Magdalena Vidal”

Alexi tap-paused the screen. I grabbed this right after I left you in the bathroom. That's why I made such a big production out of your nunny. She said with a smile that hung there for a minute as we both suddenly saw ourselves as we were. In a dark room, under the covers and not really there to take any vows that would usurp the oaths we took to the Intelligence Agencies of our respective countries. But that last bit killed the mood a bit as we snapped back into mission-mind. This flash daydream of a Jamie Bond love scene would have to wait.

While I just got my mission authorized six days ago I only managed to get myself embedded with the temporary Nuns. Alexi in just three weeks had been able to not only become the Nun-on-Call for Sister Joan, but had gotten initiated into some other intrigue with this sect of Sisters. She wasn't at liberty to discuss it and it had little relevance to my mission but our missions here dovetailed beautifully. And tonight, she would get the evidence she needs of some Irish concern and I will get to see into this mountain and the evidence I need for my Earthling concern.

"It's starting." Alexi said to herself pulling back from the eye hole in her corner of the stall.

"What's starting?" I began as I position my eye through the light blue dust of the opening.

Sister Joan was completely naked, kneeling on the table, arms and head lowered. From the ceiling a shaft of blue light began to fall. I bend my neck so as to see up into the dining hall and see the ceiling is actually a spire - like a steeple shape and open at the very top were three triangular windows. I never notice the ceiling before.

Like a needle scraping a huge white balloon, the windows revealed the full moon moving slowly and precisely along the path of the dining table and Joan. Once the light hit the top of her head, she slowly raise it and her arms to bathe in the blue light spearing her breasts and abdomen and her core that began to pulsate clockwise causing her raised arms to follow. She was an Amazon. It was no wonder now how she pulled me out of that well with one arm and in one tug. There's an old saying that the most beautiful thing and man will ever see is a naked woman and for a woman it's her first born child. I'm not a mother. But I'm finding that adage shaky.

Alexi was working on some knot that she'd been timing herself to make all week. She had it down. Tied in six seconds and then the thing springs open by itself eight seconds after that. Some Celtic Knot, Green Magic I assume. But tonight, after just two spring-loaded knots she looked up through the hole where four of the Eden View girls were taken nightly.

I was so transfixed on the Joan's erotic moon worship dance that I didn't see Alexi's watchful, trained demeanor turn to—something between horror and arousal—as the orange light of her peep show presented quite a different tableau. "Now I know why the other three girls were training in triage..." She said as she closed her eye then refocused it.

Joan's hard, glistening body swayed as if pulled by the moon which was now wavy, pulsating orb. I could feel it pulling the ball of my eye through that hole it was so bright. Looking back to Joan she seemed to be looking right at me. But I knew this spot. I'd seen it from her angle at many meals and know that there is more light on her than on this cranny but still. Her gaze is so specific I look away. Then back. Her eyes roll back as does her head and neck and torso. A powerful trine of quadriceps and core muscles pushing the veins to the surface. As Sister Joan's slender, short nailed fingers slid from the table up the sides of her thighs and down into the moonlit reaches of her ass and flanked by the horned shadow of her hip bones, she lightly brazes the lips of her nunny, then races up her hard stomach to pinch her taut nipples and down again. Lightly. Enough to let her tide rise and spill along the edges of her middle finger. A tingling drop of sweet water on her tongue as her moon swells her into submission. "I'm in communion." I whisper to myself and my creator but Alexi looks at me.

"What?" She scoots over to my corner and holding my knee positions herself to see Joan, "Sweet Mother of God" she whispers ravenously. She slowly positions herself for a longer sit and doing so manages to slide her hand and leg along parts of me that have been asleep for weeks. "Do you hear that?" She said as she positioned herself where I was, forcing me into her box seat.

"What is that?" I said as the music or hum or tone was quickly clear.

"It's the first sound we follow in..." she looks at her ankle where her multi-gadget watch was strapped. "... five minutes forty five." She said turning her attention right back to Joan.

I've looked through the "Eden Girl's Gym" hole all week and the girls were put through routines of what looked like cardio-yoga then lined up and given specific steps to follow for tonight's ceremony. Would have been nice to rotate any workout time but maybe the Mountain side girls get that next week. I notice Alexi's hand is still on my knee although it no longer supports anything she may need it for except a clue. And I get it. I put my hand over hers and slide down her wrist and elbow. I see her eyes close and feel her arm goose up as she shivers it away but grabs my wrist as she turns pulling me to her. She laid my back across her legs and the moon seeped into that private booth by every crack like stage lights. Alexi opened my habit with a tug and unveiled my breast then hoisted her thighs to her head and my body with them.

Chapter Nineteen

Graffiti of the Gods

“Splashes and splashes, fooooood for my presciousssss…” Burke hisses as Gollum from deep inside this indoor lake they called the Temple of Enki. Seth’s outside radioing the transport to skip picking us up tonight as the conditions are favorable, the site is a three day scout so why lose 2 hours a day back to post?

Radio static bursts the Helo’s response, “Confirm Team Echo. That’s a NoGo for the ten thirty one?”

“Roger that Base. The AOR is a three day and the ten thirteen is favorable. Repeat, existing conditions favorable.”

“10-4 Team Echo. That’s a NoGo on the ten thirty one, See you in thee 72 boys and we’ll drink your cold one for ya.”

Seth twists off the walkie and quickly slinks back inside. Truth is, the steady 72 degrees and even cooler manufactured lake of black water here for three days is vacation.

“We’re set!” Seth yells from the entryway.

“Whooo!” Burke hoots from the faraway.

“You good with that soldier or maître d?” I say to the Iraqi with a nudge. “What should we call you?” He looks up and starts to speak.

“It is custom…” mid word the Iraqi gets interrupted by a shriek from Burke a football field away.

“What?!” Seth screams back from the edge. The Iraqi and I turn off our conversation as we pick up on the panic in the sound. Or was it? “You guys here what he said?” Seth asks us. Sounded like wheel….BURKE! REPEAT!” he yelled in a yawp only Seth could manage.

“I see a wheel. A big…” just over top of Burke’s voice came a an underwater screech of thunder that reminded me of the engine in the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Only not as creaky.

“Enki is risen, sir.” The Iraqi said to me while still gazing out toward Burke’s now muffled yells. Seth who was wading waste deep in the water falls backward seemingly for no reason but in a beat the water around him and in front of us as far as we could see rushed away pulling Seth about 30 meters along the intricately mosaic tiled lake bottom.

“Burke!” Seth and I yell in unison. “Where does this go?!” he yelled at the soldier who pointed to the floor of the lake. The tiles glistened wet but caught the blue of the sky through the entry enough to make out some contrast. A shape. Like a snake in various stages of coil and uncoil. He walked along the curve of the line while Seth lighted the path with his flashlight. The man doubled back three paces, jumped to his knees and pointed.

The image made out of tiny slick tiles looked less like a snake here and more like a diagram. “Zaman? Zaman?” the Iraqi shouted pointing to his wrist.

“Uh..14:55 hours…” he sees the man doesn’t understand military hours but Seth goes right for Arabic, “Thalatha – Thalatha, yeah?”

“Chree? Chree?” He repeats in English and fingers.

“Where?!” I scream with both arms pointing to the faraway where we last heard him.

“To here. Sir. To here. Is Bork.” He says nervously now scared by our urgency. “Bork is to here. Apsû. Bork. Chree to here.”

“Emit!” Seth had darted back up on the bank. "Check this out."

I notice he’s scanning the lake bottom from left to write and that where I stood I could only see “Bork to here” apparently. I run up to Seth and spin around. The black water took away a lot of the dark with it and now before us was an extremely detailed topographical map with technical iconography and some system of keys and symbols describing what this place was or did. The broader we looked the more obvious it was that this was a scale map in inlay mosaic tile of the Fertile Crescent from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Only slightly askew.

“Thaban Fajaa” echoed nearby.

“What?” I said looking at the soldier but he was prostrate facing east. It was Seth.

“Thaban Fajaa” it’s written here next to this clock looking icon and a seven? We hear the Iraqi start laughing with his face pressed against to lake floor. "But Sumerians had a two hours for each of ours...sundial type their seven would be our..."

"Thalatha-Thalatha!" the Iraqi began to sing. Still face down on the tile laughing before his god then the black lake came back.

What looked like a swell that would swallow us rose to the ceiling then descended to a sip by the time it touched our feet as if the design of the floor counter acted the anatomy of the wave to take to completely. Only where there were broken steps leading to the entrance did a lap of water travel out of bounds, along the crack and just outside to door to water the entry garden regularly.

When the shock rippled away like the mass of water, there was Burke. Laughing on his back in an ankle deep water right where the tile and the Iraqi said he'd be. After all that, Bork was to here. "Barrel rider, eh?!" Burke sighs out loud.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring along the sides of the indoor lake. Periodically we'd here a low rumble. I got really good at identifying patterns even in seemingly random fluorescent bulb flickers and this low rumble had a tempo. "What's is two - two - one - two - one - one, Alex." I said out loud as if on Jeopardy.

"What?" Burke asks.

"He's figured out the pattern." Seth answers.

"What pattern, sir?"

"This." I say stopping our stride, pointing up and listening to the echo of the "This." across the water. And in two beats I tap his chest with the pointing finger and the low roar cur chugs on queue with the sublet lest ripple that follows the "This."

"Whaaaaat? How did you do that, sir?" Burke wonders like a kid. I smile do a Groucho Marx-like stage exit and begin the stride back up.

"You know how you recite Tolkien obsessively?" Seth asks Burke.

"I do?" He says looking down to his left, half wondering if he does and half embarrassed that he does.

"You do!" I shouted from a few meters ahead of them.

"You do. Well, Captain Archer recites Turing. That is, the Captain likes codes and patterns as much as your like Bilbo." Seth began in that condescendingly charming elder tone he takes on when young men ask him questions, or don't.

"Enigma. Right." Burke spat out casually and sprang forward to catch up with me.

As he skidded to where I stopped, I looked back to see Seth in a rare state. Hard to describe his expression. It's so rarely on his face that when it is, his fallback demeanor becomes so apparent by contrast you wonder how the guy gets invited anywhere, even a war.

"What's the matter, Windstrom?!" I yell back at a stupefied man with no tools for humility. "Someone else's level of knowledge about the World War Two codebreaker got your tongue?"

"Fuck off." He replies in a breath pushed through lips by pride alone. Very faint.

"Cheer. Right cheer." 'Irfaan announces as he walks backward away from where he pointed. Burke froze behind the soldier sheepishly. Something about 'Irfaan's reactions to things really got to Burke. It's a very handy instinct for a predator to hone in on the native and follow its environmental reactions.

I step passed 'Irfaan scanning his face for queues of what to expect. But it was that same fallback face, focused, reverent. As I turned inside the archway he pointed us to I got a scant glance of the corridor we were heading down before this detour. The lake was gone. At some point the indoor lakeshore gave way to a tunnel wall and I shudder a bit when I realize how little sensory awareness I've had in the past twenty...forty minutes?

"Hurry?" 'Irfaan said like a suggestion but his hands were rigidly and quickly waving us through the opening as his eyes began darting down the corridor. When Seth finally sauntered his way inside the Iraqi rushed in, bumped the group, "Sorry to say. Sorry." he said as if a waiter spilling soup. Then with a swoop of his arm over his head along the smooth curved tile ceiling he tripped a latch and a screen slid down behind us. That motion seemed to trigger a row of lights, rather, a single string or stream of light that crept parallel along three grooves between the tiles. Like the grout was suddenly liquid light flowing thirty meters ahead of behind us which ever direction we went. After about three minutes it became clear to me that the lighting scheme made sense for if this grout lit the whole passage at once, it would seem way too daunting a trip. 'Irfaan seems to know where he's going.

"Why the hurry back there? I asked him tugging his elbow.

"Bork to here?" He said, harkening back to our successful exchange earlier that afternoon and how he knew where Burke would end up.

"Right. Yes. Okay. Burke to here." I repeated affirmatively.

He stretched his right hand down to the floor and in an S-shaped motion across to his left said, "Bork to there and water. No people no door." Those descriptors, his gestures and the series of expressions on his face that told a story of a very intricate system of deep water that would have obliterated us where we stood a couple minutes ago. Hence the wavy hands.

"You know, Erfin, it's okay to insist we hurry up if we're going to be flushed into the Gulf." I said with a half-smile knowing he understood maybe three of those words but the intent he got fluidly.

"Far over misty mountains cold - to dungeons deep and caverns old - We must away ..." Burke began singing which made me realize how far ahead 'Irfaan and I had gotten from them.

"Hold up." I command 'Irfaan and lean against the corridor wall to let them catch up. "Where does this go? Is there anything we need to protect or is this just some ancient sanitation thing?" I'm too tired to call up Arabic words or pantomime my meanings but he seems to get what I'm asking.

"You guys must be double-timing it." Burke says as his band of escort corridor lights meet ours.

"He seems to know where he's going...where's Seth?" I said noticing the void behind Burke now.

"Sir" he replied.

"Captain Windstrom. Where is he?" I'm perturbed now. The fatigue is giving way to the claustrophobic anxiety and the last thing I need is to deal with Seth going rogue. "Seth!" I shout behind around Burkes back into the flat black wall. There's not even an echo. Like the way the lake floor reversed the anatomy of the wave to a sip, the shape of these corridors, even the subtle lifts of angles in the individual tile columns seem to either pull waves along or negate them entirely. How could humans in 6000 B.C. develop sound eating, wave reversing architecture?

"He must've turned back. I guess your Alan Touring knowledge embarrassed him more than I thought." I realized.

"Who?" Burke asked.

"Turing. Earlier you told Seth - er - Captain Windstrom that you were aware of Enigma - the WWI German code..." I began to assemble the memory.

"Whaaaaat? I don't know the German thing but "Enigma" is the game I finished last year and "Turing" is the man character.

"Huh. So they're weaving math and science icons into video games...kind of an edutain..." I began.

"Not it's not Science. It's set in the Bayou. Turing's the Alligator King and you gotta get home through like these Swamp Hunters but they're more like SCUBA divers only with straw hats. But if you get cheats..." I hated to stop him but I hated to let him go on more.

"Got it. Turing's a Gator...Enigma's a Bayou thing..."

"I beat it pretty quick though." He completed proudly.

Chapter Twenty

Daughters of the Revolution

November 17th, 1984, Washington D.C. | Pope Stephen VII Academy 

The Professor’s Aid, Tim nervously chalks the chapter numbers on the board. “Is that a 6 or a G, professor?” one of the more giddy students asks making his girlfriend laugh. Tim turns and blankly looks up at the empty chairs behind the laughing couple as if he doesn’t know who said it. “It’s a 6, class. Read chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7, not 4, 5, G and 7.” I snort out a laugh as Tim slowly turns back to the board with zero change in his expression as he locks eyes with me for a split second on his way. I didn’t think the couple got my separate set of comedy in that moment until walking out of the building after the class and the girlfriend mumbled “Bitch” under her breath as they passed. 

I only remember that specific shunning at Pope Stephen VII Academy because it was the night I met Tim Barker. I got used to, even good at the Shun thanks to Sister Campania. She once described me as an “ethnically exotic girl-nerd”. It may have been accurate if a little Craigslisty, but to her credit, she did it only once.

The rub is that it was to a class of uncomfortably attractive sixteenthirty year old Euro-American daughters of senators. I was out that day on a training track my father insisted I complete before fully matriculating to Pope Stephen’s. Sister Campania was looking for me but the girls acted like they’d never heard of me thus forcing her to try to describe me. The class held a coven of girls who, for the first two weeks of my attendance, tried several different nicknames on me. In some parts of the animal kingdom this is a way to disarm and begin to bond with another, at Steve7’s farm team for Christ, it’s not.

They sought a cute name with enough subtle yet seething bigotry to double as a No Access Code to Cool.

Like the men and women from whom they sprung, these Daughters of the American Revolution knew exactly what was theirs. Like in that movie my Dad watched over and over as his brain died, something like, “…Italians have family and the church; the Irish, Ireland, Jews tradition; Blacks music. What about you people, Matt Damon or whoever?” to which the CIA guy replies “The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.” It’s a melting pot built on an ideal but when you come here from elsewhere, it’s clear who’s paid the security deposit and wants it back.

So a nickname that solidified that ethos around an “ethnically exotic girl-nerd” would make Daddies very pleased indeed. Then Sister Campania delivered it to the class like Pizza to Spicoli.

“Eegen” (Ethnically Exotic Girl-Nerd) was born that day. The acronym-turned name, like NATO or SCUBA, was cute, viral and, when deciphered, held a trove of bigotry about me dating back longer than their ancestors. The name game lasted 16 months until the coven tragically uncoiled.

Just as I was conjuring scenarios to catch his eye like that again and see if his dry wit was real or accidental, there’s a rush of wind to my right and I’m shoved into the car parked on the street. Luckily it was a 70’s Buick so I had plenty of time to recover and not hit the curb. It was Tim, the PA “Sorry! I…” he actually hit the curb in the aftermath but in a heap of corduroy and books he leapt to his feet to be there if I fell. It would have been a cool move were it not really dorky looking and all his fault. But his dismount was truly chivalrous. He spent half the block apologizing until I found a way to redirect him.

“Where’s Professor Clemente been?” I asked with an over-exaggerated inflection as if I was really interested. I didn’t like Clemente or his class but “Eastern Orthodox History 102” satisfied a requirement for my program and was really just a rehash of EastOrtho101 so cake.

“He’s on sabbatical actually.” Tim replied with an instant shift in demeanor.

“Oh? I heard he was sick, so that’s good to know…where…” I began but Tim continued, “He wasn’t well early on and was due for some time off so it made sense…he’s better now.” He seemed to rush that info out to make room for the question of whatever it was that prompted the last three minutes. “I read your paper on the Ninhursag…the uh…Heroine of a Thous…”

“Fifty Faces. The Heroine of Fifty Faces” I corrected.

“Right, right, sorry, and what it was I wanted to ask you, was…” we came to a mutual pause in our walk and he moved between me and where we were going. “The thing is that you wrote how Ishtar while supreme in Babylonian myth, it was her second rise…wait, I have it here…” he held eye contact with me for two beats while his hand slipped into his shoulder bag as if it knew precisely where to grab. “Here, yes, “Though Ishtar was Supreme, she was a rebrand of the antediluvian Goddess…”

“Inanna, Ninmah, Nintu, Mami, Aruru, Belet-Ili.” I finished as he lip synced what he read with me. “Yep.” I said matter-of-factly to blunt the awkwardness of those names hanging there.

“What…I wanted to ask what you meant by “rebrand” or second rise.” He motioned to a bench a few yards away. I hesitated and did a quick look around the campus. I knew there was no threat, not with his lanky gate and my Black Belts but a girl doesn’t want to seem too easily seated.

“Sure.” I said and started toward the bench. “What I mean really is that the whole saga of the myth focuses on two brothers and their tantrums which only amplifies the attention the good brother…what I mean is…” Tim’s expression looked so genuinely intrigued that it put me right in that indignant place that wrote the paper in the first place. “Enki could not have created the hybrids without Ninhursag’s womb. Her “clay” was key to gestating and reproducing, sentient workers, right?”


“And were it not for his mother, Nammu he would never have swoken from the engur to partner with his main squeeze Ninmah to create man.” I proclaimed the simplest plot facts as if a logical equation.


“The feminine is not only an equal partner in the endeavor, she is the instigator. But because Enki does it on the sly and pisses off his big half-brother, the rest of the story is about the dual natures of two men – one a sneaky do-gooder with an Earthling fetish and the other an asshole. What about Ninmah and Ninhursag?!”


“Right. So…that’s what I meant…” I felt self-conscious suddenly and realized I may have been yelling because Tim has shrunk into his corduroy jacket like a nerd turtle. “And that the matrilineal power structure must have existed before Anu is all.”

"So you're saying there is an injustice in the mythology or the reinterpretation of that archetypal...mythology?" He wandered to a question.

"Yes. An injustice is a great way to put it and that injustice is repeated in every era and every semester at Steve7 when we give a nod to our source with some vague understanding of the Marys." I concluded.

"So you don't see Enki or Enlil or Inanna or Ninmah as living breathing beings but as detailed archetypes of the psyche only? he said looking over the rim of his glasses.

"Well...I ...if.. they were. And our ancestors watching them and repeating whatever stories they embellished to us for whatever reason became key to our conscious evolution,"

"Do you think their stories or even their general characters were contrived to become parts of our psyche? I mean...if you're starting a whole new specie, you need to imprint their source DNA with some templates of how to react to the environment, right?!" He said staring at the ground, scanning it as if for more words.

"Right." I said still a few ideas back but wanting to keep him spinning.

"And maybe because it's based on a common template is why we get your repeating themes like Cain and Able or Isaac and Ishmael - not because their a phenomenon of repeating events but that their involuntary roles played out or applied to situations preprogrammed?"

We spent a few hours walking and stopping for coffee and a couple of times I had to check in with myself because earlier today this guy was a vague fill-in and now he was not only in 3D but had morphed from my pursuer to my prey by 9pm.

“How long have you been at Steve Seven?” I asked as segue while the waitress poured our first cups.

“Steve Seven” He repeated with a smirk. I guess Staff and Assistants don’t refer to this hallowed institution of Jesuit-flavored learned girls how the learned girls themselves do.

“Third semester.” He answered. “Do they teach about Pope Steven the VII yet or ever?” he said leaning back in his chair and taking off his glasses to clean. I suddenly understood how Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen were duped for so long. Tim looked completely different without glasses.

“What? Sorry.” I looked past him to pretend like I wasn’t distracted by his looks, rather some other personal question or note to self.

“The Pope the school’s named after. I didn’t see any classes or even syllabuses that touched on him. Weird, right?” He said but more as if baiting me than sharing a mutual realization.

“Oh the guy was a fuckin’ whack job.” I said quietly while sipping. Tim choked his sip into the back of his nose and convulsed forward then back with a laugh that was louder than any word I’d heard him utter all night put together.

“Holy shiiit….” He said progressing from full throat to whisper and eyeing-off the other patrons who were acting like they weren’t looking. “What makes you say that?” He said holding his grin in his eyes but leaning forward as if to challenge what I was about to say. And that was the only mistake Tim made that night. Or ever as far as I’m concerned. But he didn’t know. It was gospel in our home but “You don’t challenge Emvee.” The Springy haired, swarthy daughter of a soldier turned diplomat in a world of Euro-American Senators’ Daughters is a snake pit of a way to go. You lean at me, I let it rip.

“Only that…” I take a deep breath and raise my eyebrows, “Vicar-for-a-year Pope Stephen the 7th, 896 to 897 had a grudge with the dead and a fetish for justice. To squash a beef with the last Pope and uphold the ruling of a longer dead Pope he invented the Cadaver Synod—an ecclesiastic trial and a cadaver—a dead body.” My eyes narrowed on Tim and I took on a dramatic tone as if telling a fairy tale. Only this ain’t no fable. The guy was a fucking whack job.

“Steve7 dug up that Pope’s corpse, set it on the papal throne. The Pope’s Corpse, with some help from a teenage deacon behind the throne, defended itself against the screaming tirades of the prosecutor, Pope Stephen VII, esquire.” Tim lost the stare contest with that one and laughed back into his chair and hugged his corduroy arms and waited for more. I went on about the school’s patron pope while my other mind went further back.

The family mantra, “You don’t challenge Emvee” used to be a warning about my combative response style. When I mellowed out around twelve years old, it became more of a queue for me to rattle off some esoteric fact. And when available in my eidetic brain , some really obscure reference to whatever the subject was being called out.

Dad and I conspired many times to impress his guests and military attachés after dinners. He'd call from the den, “Emvee?! Charles whom you met with the red tie is from the Swedish Embassy.” I’d pause for two beats to take a deep breath and begin an encyclopedia-worthy summary of the two elements Dad yelled from the cigar cave. I’d integrate the origin of the red in his tie and the Swedish Dalecarlian horse or Swedish Fish or whatever the two pieces of data brought to mind. It was a cognitive gift-turned parlor trick but what it was most for me was a connection between me and my father. He would give me a copy of his guest lists in a blue envelope on the first and fifteenth of every month of the dinners we would host. It was my job to look up all the people on the guest lists, research their home countries, positions and any weirdly specific piece of trivia that would make a tipsy, cigar-addled dignitary vaguely remember that he had a really interesting evening at our home.

I never had the heart to tell my father that I cheated.

We would smile mischievously every time he handed me that sealed blue envelope with the two-week dinner plans. We acted like spies, even when alone in the townhouse. He’d peek around a corner, “Psst. Agent Emvee. The Blue Gorilla Sings at Midnight…” or some equally random hybrid code words and pass me the envelope under his arm with a, “Shhhhh…” and a wink. As he acapella’ed the Mission Impossible theme, I would slink away to my room and the closet and the box where I placed the envelope unopened like every other one in there.

Meeting Tim that night, that way, the way he was so genuinely interested in my words and ideas. The way I thought he was challenging my knowledge only to learn he was searching it to add to his own. My father made me feel that way. Even though I was five or nine or sixteenthirty, when he asked me to explain myself, he wasn’t testing me. He was learning from me. He would say “You’re closer to the memory, sweetheart. To where we were before all this.”

My father wasn’t a religious man. He was raised Roman Catholic, educated a Jesuit, and moved in upper church circles but that all stopped abruptly before I was born. About his split with the Church he was silent. All we know is that it was after a meeting a delegation of the Legionaries of Christ. But the women of the family would continue the intrigues around kitchen tables with whispered words that, over time a little girl will string together with the book titles and plaques in Daddy’s library. As my Girls Scout tent sang “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” I hit the harmony and subsequent dishonorable discharge with “Rosucrucianscarabisdicordotemplariscious”.

So while I will always be thankful for the alternate upbringing my Father gave me, I will certainly have a copy of Mary Poppins in my future home so my children do not become Coven Fodder.

As a diplomat with a Citadel Ph.D. and bars on his uniform in colors I've not seen in the natural world, it was really Dad's religious life, or religion life that was his business. I used to think all religion was born out of parents’ fears of scaring their children about death. And I still don’t know if Dad was an atheist, but his directing his daughter’s existential attention on her Before-Life and its blank mystery instead of her After-Life and it’s many colored horrors was the most religiously compassionate maneuver I know of. It made my life and my drive based on answers of origins not endings. I never spent a day depressed about the future or my mortality because it never crossed my mind.

He fed my intellectual curiosity and trained me a usurper. Every after school class, camp or seasonal program was a stretch physically, mentally or emotionally but never two or all three. Ultimate fighting – Speed chess – Cuneiform Translating – and all the while, I took. I took his attentions. I took his directions. I took his little blue envelopes and only ever opened the one. The taking is what I had to give.

When I look back now, all the training and extracurriculars he demanded were preparing for something my Father never wanted for me. As if he feared that one day I might ask him what the family business was, he put me through all those things that I may never want to know. If you find that your path requires needing to know how to kill a man with a Bic lighter, you've made some bad career choices.

Tim on the other hand. He identified, shadowed, groomed and entered me into CIA before I left Steve7's. It wasn't the marksman training at nine or the technical climbing and rappelling at twelve aversion therapy my Father employed that didn't work. It was the same gentle and genuine interest in me both he and Tim took that wooed me over to the darker red, white and blue side. And if I'm as honest as an oath making American Soldier of Intelligence can be, rappelling was my idea. Shooting camp was my idea too. As was going back to Tim's place.

Once an Entered Apprentice, you'd be surprised how much access a girl can have to "Someday Public Records". And just before graduation, one of those Senators' daughters matriculate to a coven at Immaculate Conception and another to St. Agnes. Both within view of Rikers Island and Daddies.

Chapter Twenty One

Monster Messiah

The sagebrush draping my view of the northern mesas twitches faster - the evening wind is coming. A herald for a bitter night but only bitter as it won't end. Is this what it is? If Mac's bullet had entered at a different angle and slit the fabric of my perception at a different degree would it all be black? Is this my consciousness still tethered to my chemistry before it fails and let's me go or is my chemistry my consciousness and when it fails, it all let's go? Is this an Afterlife? I've heard the thing about dogs but, coyotes in heaven?

"Damn this is deep!" Burke yelled but right in my fucking ear.

"Hey!" I winced at Burke as I coiled away from the shout.

"Oh. Sorry, sir. I, I just realized, sir...." He fell right into submission. I've been in this ethos of military a long time but, unlike Seth, I am not comfortable as an Officer getting "Sir'ed" and saluted out of nowhere.

"At ease, Dude." I laughed.

"He he, 'Dude'" he repeated my surfer slang. "You're alright Captain...he he...'Dude'"

I laugh and then jump up as if I have a predetermined task to attend to but It's really a way to avoid the next set of natural questions when two men hit a stride like that. The "Where ya froms" or "Where'd you grow ups" were daunting challenges to me ever since I could remember.

Son of a military man, I was born overseas and lived in twelve different cities or bases by the time I was sixteen. I learned how to make friends fast and leave them faster. One casualty of that lifestyle is never knowing how to answer questions that for some people are easy. Like what's that accent or where's your father?

There are subtle nuances to being a military alien child as opposed to other types of kids who come into class halfway through the year from somewhere else in the world. Little things that make you, not only different, but uncomfortable for them. In 3rd Grade Gym Class, the fact that my shoulder wasn't branded with the dime deep hole of vaccinations or whatever was being done to kids in the 70s in the States. In Landstuhl, Germany they either weren't doing it, were doing it to me or weren't doing it that way. And I can't imagine the kids in the States get any different or less than Army Brats overseas. I didn't have the brand so was immediately identified and ousted. It's as if programmed into our DNA to identify the niche - the virus - the different - and rid the herd of it.

When a military family finally melds into civilian life, it's a culture shock. Pressed men no longer wait to salute you as you roll home from the Commissary. Suddenly prices have 99's and things now have tax.

I came to believe that military people were just different. I didn't realize until my early teens that people chose this life. Whenever my father's stations changed there would be differences in the weather, the accents on the radio and air, but every US Army Base had a specific, regimented and predictable culture. Halfway through the third grade my father was stationed in New Mexico. It was an Air Force Base—Kirkland—and was well embedded into the city of Albuquerque. This would be the first time I would be going to civilian school. Off-base. It was technically across the street but for my intents and purposes - it was off-base. With every deployment and stationing thereafter I was placed in schools off-base and it was a culture shock every time. We like to complain about the homogenization of strip mall America but I can tell you as a tourist in my own country, the only thing any of us have in common as Americans is just that. The word.

I was thirteen when I realized that my being forced to assimilate in surrounding communities instead of fostering relationships with fellow Army Brats was on purpose. As a parenting choice it's a tough one. It's ultimately good for the character and well-roundedness of the child but what parent who loves their child can really make that decision? The well-roundedness may come at the expense of a secure, nurtured person. At least that's the rationale any thinking parent can confidently come to. But I know of none who have. Including my own parents.

It was late and I was mind-fighting the model planes I had strung from my ceiling. As the blackened cotton-balls billowed from the nose diving German Messerschmitt and the P57 Mustang banked away, I heard a man I only knew of as "Elliot" say fervently to my father "Then you make her understand." This man who I saw maybe twice—and both times leaving—escapes description. I get vague flashes of a stocky, dark haired man with glasses but that pretty much describes everyone in the mid-70s. My father was speaking lower than he and although this man wasn't a soldier—that much was clear given his build and sideburns—Dad seemed somehow subordinate to him. I only ever saw men of my father’s age or younger salute him and often without him noticing and here was this civilian man, smaller than Dad seemingly telling him how to talk to my mother. "And give him these."

I heard a rustling of the grocery bag plopped on the kitchen table. In that bag was a collection of books that would periodically change the trajectory of my life. There were seventeen books ranging from The Hobbit to Tantric Yoga. Each book was so enthralling and lead up brilliantly. But there were lulls of years between books and even those lulls seemed planned. For when I would finally pick up the next book in the series, I realized that I would not have been ready for it any sooner. I still have a handful of books left before I'll feel ready for Tantric Yoga but whoever designed this Rogue Scholarship for me - whoever "Eliot" was and why he cared about where I went to school, what books I read and in what order seems to be onto something. When I slook at the last few titles coming way and have no idea how "Cosmic Trigger" will lead to "Morals and Dogma" then after some Persian Mythology get me to Tantric Yoga but he, sounds like a happy ending either way.

"Cheer." 'Irfaan announced at a spot in the corridor that looked like every other temporarily lit spot for the past fifteen minutes or so. "No Bork." he said holding his hand out to Burke's chest. "Is sorry to say to no Bork is cheer." He said quite matter-of-factly as if, despite the fact he was a prisoner, unarmed and flanked by two unnecessarily armed kill machines smelted in the furnace of the U.S. Army. Burke stayed put. Even bowed out a bit as he stepped back. 'Irfaan's dress shoes made more sense on him now than any other garment as he stood next to the corridor wall like a maître d'. When Burke had fallen back into the shadows and my attention turned back to 'Irfaan as if ready, he whispered something in Aramaic I think and like the screen that slid behind us before the flush, the wall slid up a meter wide. Very bright. Too bright to see and when I winced back my maître d' was no longer there.

My eyes adjusted slowly. The detail through the doorway stared filtering in from my periphery. The center of my vison still white hot as the back of my retinas healed from the burn. First the floor - slick - sage and textured with the finest pattern of hexagons or webbing or some patterns that changes as I look at it. I place my left hand on the doorframe, the difference in temperature between the two parts of my had - the palm on the corridor wall, the finger cupping the new wall. It was warm and soft and smooth. I looked at my fingers and a ether like mist swirled around my fingers where they touched the wall. Suddenly everything else in the corroder felt frozen and biting. Like that sense of being followed down the hall at night going back to my room as a kid, as an adult honestly, I rush through the doorway before the imagined ghost grabs my back.

"E-Engurra" I hear 'Irfaan once more as I get my composure and stand up straight. Slowly. The first sensation is a scent - clinical - sweet - clean and pennies? Then, with my vision still in whiteout I hear a hum. A tone. Not machinery. There's a pattern though I think. My mind locks into that process I do when triggered by a word like "pattern" or "code" I lose all else and start counting the points and intervals. I think this is like Burke's instinct to mirror the native, maybe this is a survival tactic of mine because if I can discern a pattern, I can link it to an intelligence therefore reduce the potential threat. If there is no pattern, then it is chaos and it is natural and therefore omnipotent and the danger is incalculable. So locking into patterns is my threat assessment and I figure that out in one mind as the other still seeks an algorithm.

In a series of sounds and tweets and digital audio debris a string of words come together that I start to make out. "...and this is rise and prepare for what's already here..." it was the voice of a woman. A sensual but nurturing hiss of words - none discernable - no language I've heard but then is begins to sound Aramaic I think.

While the circle in front of my sight contracts quicker and I can now gauge the size of this place - a basketball court - an Elementary School Gym were the first references. The voice continued and while there was no discernable pattern yet to the tone, I did begin to recognize a pattern in the voiceover languages. I started hearing sounds and inflections familiar to anyone today as caricatures; Celtic, Latin, Viking or Norse, then Italian. Once her sultry voice went French, which is a universal combination, I knew next was English. The voice was tracing the chronology of language on Earth. Sort of like we did with the record we put on Voyager before sending it out to space.

My vision cleared like so much blown mist and this room was round. Smooth, tiled like the pool but smaller, finer and seemingly fluid tiles that as I looked around my feet seemed to re-tweak themselves and send that information out.

In a 360 degree scan this looked like a laboratory but the counters were over my head. I couldn't see what sat upon these counters only the flickering or utensils or things...just things up there. I felt a tickle on the bottom of both feet through my boots and it felt like I sunk a centimeter into a gel floor. Looking down the hive-like pattern around my feet quaked and in a ripple the floor quaked out that 360 degree space. The room adjusted. That is, as if the floor calibrated my stature and the room, it's counters and seats and wall screen shrunk to fit my size. It all happened in so fast on me that I lost my shit, I buckled over onto my knees and spit up some black water. Now on all fours, my drawn face hanging down heaving I pick up my right hand and look at the palm. The hive was now on my skin and I couldn't feel my heart.

Chapter Twenty Two

Hierodule Priestesses

With the first bite at my lower abdomen - my naval - I let go. Or whatever I am right now let's go. Like the coyotes teeth snapped the string of my soul balloon but I hover. Without wincing or distaste, without nostalgia for a body that served me well I felt a contentment for having something tangible, something useful, nourishing or at the very least degradable on Earth. The coyotes, indeed all carnivores without the baggage of self-awareness go ravenously straight for the genitals first. It's a simple matter of the concentrated proteins and other vital nutrients and while the scene below me is primitive, there is only a feeling of appreciation. I think of the strange mythologies of Kings biting off the penises of their enemies and now, without the base homophobic, squeamish filter of a toddler civilization, I know now that it means a new reign, an impotent past and the passing of all the most vital nutrients for a new realm. Next they come for my eyes. Finally.

Alexi's ankle beeps low letting us know we've got thirty seconds to get ready for Step One of our seven step plan. All she does on that beep is take off the ankle watch and hold it over the toilet bowl. I thought the same thing on our first runthrough but these Monestary bowls are more like toilet tureens. A wristwatch and all kinds of evil would easily descend the seven rings from these portals.

Aside from the handful of bread in my pocket, the only other tool I've widdled down to being absolutely essential—and waterproof—is my laser ruler. I'll have time to eat that bread before the underground water Step Alexi's theorized but my laser ruler is absolutely essential for what I hope to find tonight. And thank God...dess the thing is nun's nunny-sized. We were smart in our passion. You have to be in this business. A soldier sleeps when he can, an agent fucks, who she can. It's an unwritten Right of the Field Agent. There's a lot of grey between turning and fucking an asset.

Alexi and I knew by then where to tuck our hands in these contraptions to exchange shivers while not dismantling our readiness. It was the most passionate and satisfying four minutes and because we couldn't close it, that four minutes is still open. Since then every tension of sexual urge is tinged with Irish lips, a Tamarind tongue and a tide that is forever coming in. Every single one.

"One." She says and we take off our Veils and Bandeaus giving our heads full mission peripheral.

She turns back to the blue dining hall and Joan’s finale while I look to the orange Eden girls. All week at the beep the Eden girls were lead back into the room nude, with white hoods over their heads and as the entered, a Sister would take off the hood and each would do the reverse Dance of Seven Veils as the raced to their habits giggling.

Not tonight.

I peered to the doorway where the novices would be ushered in, still aroused and excited to see the nubile forbidden fruits come in. The door opened slowly and for the first time I could see into the room where the Sisters had been taking blind-folded nuns all week. It was bright, piercing orange and it looked like what I came here for. A throne room but not Papal, or even Zoroastrian, this throne room was adorned with Eagles heads.

"Two!" Alexi hissed which triggered us to pull out the embedded ear pieces so we were now unable to communicate through the ether.

Our muscle memory carried us outside the stall door and into the corridor. We paused at the Dining Hall . Joan slid through the door, hugged Alexi, whispered something in her ear then put her hands on my cheeks. Warm, soft, firm. She lightly brazed my lips with her thumb then my forehead.

"Surrexit Inanna" she said then kissed me lightly on the lips. "Surrexit Inanna".

She smiled again at Alexi and moved on past us. Alexi watched her leave for a second then looked at me. Smiling she wiped my forehead with her palm then showed me her open hand. It was smeared with blood. Joan had made of her tide a sacrament and I was anointed.

"Three." And we both ripped out our Coifs freeing our necks completely. We both rubbed and sighed erotically with the air around our necks. Then it hit me, "Wait!" I said surprising both of us. "The Eden Gym...I saw into that room" I was clutching Alexi's sleeve now and hard as that memory and my mission fused. That's what I'm looking for! That's the throne room!" I whispered severely. I didn’t care that now she knew my Step Eight of this plan. We had hit the Rubicon of this mission and knowing each other’s country's end game here did not affect eithers' success tonight.

"What? LGV said you were here for the wheels." she replied confused then surprised at herself for divulging that she had any idea what my mission was.

"Wait. What? Wheels? Who’s LGV and why would anyone know why I'm here outside CIA?

She just glared at me. Frozen by her utter failure of protocol and having no reference for how to react to this eventuality. Because in our companies, this is not an eventuality. An agent of her prowess and seeming seasoning does not let loose a supranational confidential piece of intel like that. But she did.

"What the fuck are you?" I said with a new brand of anger. Not one of a girl getting challenged by classmates, an bigger, more important and national security anger. I immediately went to that place in my American ego that other countries talk about behind our back. "I am an agent of CIA. Not 'the' CIA you know why you G2 motherfucker? ‘Cause you don’t say 'the' God, bitch." I knew I sort of plagiarized that line but maybe she hadn't seen the film and this brand of anger was exhilarating. If misplaced. Minutes ago I submitted to this woman's lips and now I was lording over her like some fucking, well, American.

Though obnoxious, arrogant and juvenile, like WWI, WWII, trains and cars and computers and birth control, both me and America had a point.

I stared down Alexi after my fiercely whispered tirade and awaited her retort or apology. I got neither. "Fucking go then." Was what she said. Like France and England. We burst out laughing then she turned my shoulders back toward the way we came saying, "Step seven" which meant we'd link back up later in the plan.

"Four!" she loudly whispered down the corridor after me and I could hear the cardboard material of her Guimpe fling against the walls. Losing that breast plate suddenly made everything in front of me more accessible. Everything about the habit intends its wearer toward submission and prayer. Without it, women get ideas and can run. That indignant Comparative Religion major who won every intellectual argument with professors and their assistants with a facts or a blowjob was back. Everything since that first night with Tim lead up to right here. In that vainglorious moment I realized she had successfully diverted my attention away from her knowing anything about my mission. Everything now while vibrantly possible was precariously set. A week's long plan vanquished, an ally agent now suspect but the very reason I'm here now just a few yards away.

There's a passage between pillars that can access the Eden Girl Gym as no room here is really blocked off entirely. Just inconveniently. And to squeeze through I need to lose the garment even more. The hip rope holds it all together via strategically placed loops and is thick. So one well meaning tug and the habit falls away like silk. This Step wasn't until there was water so while it would have been difficult to explain the loss of the headgear, explaining my walking the corridors in a smock and breechcloth would be an exorcism level event. Before sliding between the pillars that will bring me into that golden orange room I look back and see the fist of bread. With my laser ruler tucked safe away, thus no more hiding places yet no way I'm leaving it, I shove the entire thing in my mouth in a tactic I'd later coin "Operation: Chip Monk." But much later.

My fingers slithered first around the last pillar and my nails glistened pink and white before my eyes were bathed first in a flash than dried to a sublime tableau. From where I spied this place was from where I spied this place in every imagination, daydream, night dream and term paper doodle since I first said the words "Inanna." Like coming up on the Lincoln Memorial from behind his right foot, behind his throne but no were anyone would dane to look at a king or a president or tonight, a goddess.

Prostrate in reverse—upside down from a kneel and facing the throne were fifteen naked as the day those sweat pooled navels were clipped women, men and well, both. Splay before the throne and I could see now in the reflections of the glass in that chamber Sister Joan astride a single source of red-orange light. Her moon dance her warm up for now her wet naked body was swarming with young men trying not to enter her portal. The moon is refracted through the base of her throne and the light makes us glisten and the air makes us listen to the screams as desire devours our fears.
Chapter Twenty Three

Golems Don't Grin

There is but one tether anymore to that carcass below me. A signal from my my punctured retinas through the optic nerve to my awareness. Without it I will float I fear so I LOOK! Down into that rag doll, G.I. Joe strewn across the sand of for billion years. The night turned crystal and the air flaked. And because my tissue was as cold as the dirt the flake stayed. A fused. A hexagon of nature in chaos. Proving nature's inent toward order. Is this it? Is it a lasting knowing of one pure truth?

"I, or who this me is now knows only now and long before."

"What?!" I said to an echo that beat me to it. "I am..." I began to recite my name, rank and serial but none of that information came to the front before interrupted.

"You had children so you were is all, Lord." Came that sensual but far too familiar to be sexual voice. The one that calibrated herself through the millennia of Earth's languages to, "Be here now." she said with my thoughts.

I was seated. How? I don't know but this one-size fits all room thing is all encompassing. I could stand if I thought about it and every twitch to my position for comfort is scratched then supported like Dr. Scholls fucked a massage chair. A self-aware and submissive massage chair.

As I settled into my peak position, and as if in a theatre, the room dims to the most beautiful dark blue and green hue as the hive patterns on the wall before me glow at the seams. Only when my eyes and my comprehension can handle it, he next set of scenes advance.

Extreme nature. Soaring in a more-than-real aerial over an early, moonless earthly landscape. Many, many volcanoes and as the crust begin to harden near the poles earth is struck from beyong hurling an applebite chunk of her into space. The debris that was not hurled into a wider orbit with oour sun or beyond spin in placec but aorund it's host. I watched this galactic roadkill become the moon. A dead, pelted orb that this planet's stewards will fight for, die for and worship until such time as this imprint fails to their intellect.

The moon and early earth cooled and a perfect circle band of lush green marshland formed instantly on the edge of what I now know is Pangaea. Earth before it broke into the continents floating across the crust still. My view raises as if into orbit and I watch this misty ringed garden stretch with the continental plates. I see the area fight back Ice Ages and a complete submersion of that entire area by water. Finally it settles into it's familiar state we call The Fertile Crescent. This is why the tiles in the pool house were askew. At the time it they were probably perfect.

As I marveled at the precision of gravity and As if every orbit is ten thousand years. I've now become aware that the tone of this place had a pattern. I noticed it before the gel chair but the visual distractions were too many. There are seven distinct tones. They've repeated three times since I came up here...came up here? Up from where? And just as my attention skipped, so did the tone. And that was my primer. I was the pattern. This tone was a slave to my attention and only shifted frequency when a pattern of though reached a zenith. Like a biofeedback response I could follow a stream of consciousness to an end.

Or not.

The logic of a thought process is math. Allowing it to interrupt and split and be tweaked by outside stimuli is music. Is art. Is sapien.

"Sapien." I said to myself and my creator when the voice spoke.

"He's waking..." she said with a whisper as if about a baby.

"It is waking." I repeated in a new mind. I knew this floor again and its mundane, glitchy hiveling technology. We'll supplant it in the next drop. Maybe once they understand reactive molecularis, the can teach how to stablie it. We've progressed little in 2700 years. This accelerant

I rose and walked over to the small pool of black water which was quaking with the twitches of an animated little being. A tiny version of me but better. I hold back my emotions and manage all my expectations for those are reserved for one of these little fellows who stays. For this process. That mandate to ease the burden of an opulent people with the potential of an invented one, is a punishment. But for who? A sacrificer must be tranquil, uplifted and free for egoism will be the written code for I know more than all that these do not exist together naturally.

"Oh, he is much more beautiful than the others clever prince." her voice swooned lustfully around the watery crib.

"No. Not this now, Ki. Not this now." I hissed glaring down as the tiny one stretching and pulling at the water and the air - physical triggers that should ignite the template so that this one can read the environment before it reaps it. The voice and her essence vanished before my "no" sounded and the tone turned a solemn wavelength that made the hivelings dance in and around the baby. Pink seams. Violet nodules. And its eyes open. Half its face is in the water. I want to turn him so his first visual imprints aren't black Abzu and green hives but its process is well underway. Only the exact sequence of genetic triggers will result in enough complexity to host a template-able mind. Something to populate with archetypes and instincts. We won't be able to avoid being mythologized as this species evolves, so we must take care at each imprint. For now a manbeast to learn but not desire. This was my half-brother's edict for which I am obliged. This is my half-brother's mistake for which I will be blamed. This

"Clever Prince." I scoff. "There's 'clever' and there's 'brilliant'. I say out loud to myself and my creator. I know what but what is needed is what is forbidden.

"Your hand is forced, Lord." She says with trepidation. She is the only among all that could return uninvited but welcomed back.

"Yes. Yes." I say simply as agreement and permission to come forward.

Her voice coils around my legs, "All who judge are agreed..." she said at the top of my thigh, "...Loooord..." soothing me in gratitude, "...of your necessary crime, Lord. Your righteous supplanting, Lord..."

The creature splashed again but does not know how to react to what its eyes are seeing. The lids opened sooner than the template for environmental imprinting and in one, deep, full gulp of air for life, got neither.

My resolve has hardened as their sensory awareness gets more delicate with every birth. But this time is not like then. This all happens over and over and always like this but there's a node coming. A twist in the fractal of this pattern that will make the tone of the whole pattern shift. These grand reaches are another tool of my detachment from what is now a bloodshot-eyed choking purple mass of earthling and scraps.

"Let them breathe." She says right inside my left ear and oozing warmly into the center of my brain. She knows my place. She knows my wonders of how I may connect these toys to my Pineal gland and all its dimension shaving potential. "Give it to me....give it to them...." She says in ecstasy and the divinity of that action that I never take becomes more clear than ever as the monster dies glaring at me for help. For forgiveness for whatever sin it must have committed to deserve such horrific pain. Confused because it was just near the edge of reason and reverent for the same reason.

"Let him breeeeaaathe." she hisses as a cup arrives with familiar blood. "Let him breathe." She repeats as the cup's contents expresses itself to me. "The gods a vizier's ghost have given to you Lord." She finishes and vanishes like the light that was almost in that creature’s eyes.

I know this blood is of a god slain. An essence sacrificed while tranquil, uplifted and free from ego but am I?

It was my hint, my planted seed in the minds of less clever minds that germinated into this offering. An offering on a dare. A resurrection on a whim. This Vizier's ghost is the spark of life that in us means mere hundreds of thousands of years but for this toy, this machine of blood and bone, this is immortality beyond our wildest enlightenments. And if not. It is the end of an expedition, the end of a stature, a station and another horrific death only this time of a soul too.

"These monsters we birth sister creatrix..." I whisper. "... these golems of clay and slaughtered gods..." I pray to myself, "...were we one, to them what would we be?" and I set to start it all again.

"Rise, sapien." she hisses through my head, hands and hivelings.

Chapter Twenty Four

Celtic Spring

Her Official Directorate of Intelligence Station's Report will later chronicle "Alexi's" success here tonight. While the details will be skewed and her protocols will be tweaked, they'll still be redacted beyond really understanding what happened here. But there will be a big enough void in quiet reflection and unrelated anecdotes around that agents in both companies will understand in classified recognition. The Report alludes to "ancient water reserves" that the G2 was in cahoots with Canada of all places to secure during and in the aftermath of Desert Storm. And as Coalition Partners, both had full access to our spoils until such time as someone noticed.

By the time Alexi had doubled-back after her Step Eight I was apparently in the throes of some throne mysticism orgy and the entire place was drenched in an intoxicating mist. We later determined it fluoride-based and at that concentration made those misted docile, malleable and horny as hell. I didn't feel as docile as some of these young men and woman looked and acted but they had been there a while. I couldn't help but grab and stroke every bit of flesh that crossed my hands but my mouth still held a foreplay of bread waiting until the last moment for nourishment as long as possible if I need it. And my eyes stayed fixed on the door. The other side of the door I spied from the stall. How close this ornately mirrored throne room was to the surface of the mountain and the monastery. Indeed, still in full use by a cult of anything but pure souled Catholic Nuns. I've had my heart broken by the Church time and again but never, never have I known a Sister of the calling who wasn't tranquil, uplifted and free from ego. This Monastery never had a come to Jesus because he had his own Lizard King gig going on out west of here then.

Alexi appeared in the back of the Eden Gym. I could see her peering around a pillar where some breech-clothed and hoodwinked triage nurses from the Eden Wing played giggling Florence Nightingales to naked, fuck-weary and dead-eyed novices with oxygen and cool towels before blindly guiding them right back into this sweet sea house of sex. That's what Alexi was seeing when she understood the triage training from the stall. The blindfolds made it a game for them, the hoodwinking made it a sin of omission. But who's?

This flouride mist made four out of five of us involuntarily but quite happily sprawl out as wide as our limbs would go and to seek out pleasures I can't describe but when my obvious determination to do one particular act on one particular Armenian in prayer, Sister Godesss Joan caught my eye, more importantly, caught my intent thus awareness, thus ability to recount all I've seen, touched, tasted. She motioned to her wings and I was immediately descended upon by large blonde men who easily hoisted me by my breech-cloth and hung it and my listless body out of the scene.

Alexi had seen my new distress. Some of what was going on here she and Irish Intelligence knew well about but they looked beyond the heresy and he erotic gore of this places history to secure water rights for a conglomerate that looks like a Canadian but acts like an American. Her mission complete, she had no duty to stay. I gave her no signal to help, but whether it was an unwritten code of conduct between allied agents, the heart strings of a love unrequited or the flouride was getting to her now too, she wanted in. But she wasn't alone. There was a man with her. And he had a feather on his neck.

The moment she caught my eye she flashed five fingers.