by William Alan Rieser
December 12, 1978 - Bottomless Lakes State Park - due east of Roswell, New Mexico.
Described by many as the most inhospitable area in the temperate zone, a place where the Pueblos knew of ancient evil but refused to say why. They don't go there, for it is the domain of the scorpion, the rattler, and death. The scout passed through the portal and arose from the oldest lake to begin his lonely trek, unmarked by the Earth's dominant species.
January 12, 1979 - Amazon Basin
The animals didn't care for the visitor. He intruded on their domains, however briefly, and they were not hesitant to express disapproval. When vocal warnings failed they traditionally became more violent. The warthog was the first one to fall, intending a feigned threat to disembowel the stranger as he leaped out of thick shrubbery. The stranger merely turned and stopped the hog's charge with his hand, squeezing the animal's head between fingers of unseemly strength, crushing the bones and brains to goo on the leaf-strewn floor. Birds screamed warnings to anything that would listen.
The python was a different matter, for it fell from an overhanging branch above the stranger's position. It curled the same as always, pressing the breath out of its victim by wrapping itself around the torso and squeezing, or so it thought. Then its head and fangs whirled around, looking for the best place to start ingesting. But, it was the stranger's long teeth that sank first, and the python soon found itself dying in pieces on the ground.
January 13, 1979 - CIA Headquarters - Langley, Virginia
"Eight of them?You've got to be kidding," said the agency Director.
"Eight!" replied the technician, excited about his report. "They're in a straight line on the lower slope of the mountain, not far from the river. There's a large rectangular building in front of them, between them and the water."
"How can something that big exist for so many years without anyone saying anything?"
"It's preliminary, sir. More data are coming in."
"Go ahead. Let's hear it. You can be technical with me." The Director took his glasses off and laid them carefully on his desk blotter. Then he put his hands across his face and rubbed his eyes, his usual method of wiping agency dust and cobwebs from his mind to concentrate on something new.
"That region of Peru is called the Montanya. It is sparsely populated, because of the tropical jungle. Beyond the Ucayali river, the jungle becomes part of the Amazon basin. The people who live there are throwbacks. They don't even speak Spanish and refuse to cooperate much with their own government. They are Quechua and Aymara Indians and they are committed to living as their ancestors did. More than that, they protect the area we have just discovered. They call it the home of the Old Ones and are likely to ward off or kill anyone who attempts to go there. It is a sacred mission for them. They are descended from the same tribe that murdered Fawcett; the ones who never surrendered to the Spanish."
"What about the mountain?"
"The Huascaran is part of a plateau, named after the brother of Atahualpa, the one that Pizarro subverted in 1532. The mountain is more than 22,000 feet high, the largest in the Cordilleras, part of the Andes. The valley is choked with jungle vegetation and so unlivable that the natives go there rarely. The nearest city is Pucallpa, 120,000 people, about fifty miles to the southwest."
"What about the missionaries that came after Pizarro?"
"No records of this area. Nothing in Pucallpa, yet."
"Why is it that the previous satellite images showed nothing?" asked the Director, saving the toughest question for last.
"The slopes are usually covered with garua. That's the local term for mist-laden clouds. Normally they shroud the entire area. The comparison photos of earlier shots reveal the valley blanketed in white. This was the first time we scanned through the mist with a new technique from NASA."
"And, in your opinion, what have we found?"
"Eight, four-sided pyramids and a small temple," replied the technician.
"All the pyramids are larger than the big one at Giza?"
"Yes sir, according to the measurements, and they are intact. These have not been disturbed as far as we can tell so far. The symmetries are perfect cones with pure sides."
"And you are certain the scans cannot penetrate them?"
"Only the perimeters. Something is preventing us from looking inside."
"What could do that?"
"Only one thing that I know, superior technology."
"Not a force of nature?"
"No sir, unless it is one we don't know about."
"All right! It's enough for a start. I'll get back to you. Have everything written up. Make a presentation that I can use. This is going to get hot."
March 12, 1979 - Ucayali riverbank
He looked like an old man fishing in the river, according to the crews. He had white hair on his head and face, and dressed in a green shirt with black pants. Not like one of the locals, thought those workers who glimpsed him from the opposite bank, though there really weren't any in this particular spot. Maybe he was watching them for his own reasons, but as long as he didn't disturb anyone, why should they care? No one bothered getting close enough to see his features. After awhile, they had seen him sitting there so often, his presence was considered a fact in most everyone's mind. They would swear they saw him there even when he wasn't, like a phosphor burn in their brains.
It was the Quechua who took exception to the visitor, fishing in their river even though they never used that part of it. He was heard to make sounds on the ocarina, their ancient globular, egg-shaped flute. His songs were warnings, telling them to stay away, to mind their own business and leave him alone. When Jade Cougar did not return from spying one day, his father, Big Fish, decided to do something about it. The warriors were given explicit instructions. Bind the stranger and carry him to the insect pit. Let the little ones welcome him to their land. When the warriors did not return, Big Fish moved the village further inland, away from the river and its new demon. He was no longer curious or angry, just scared.
May 10, 1979 - Ucayali River - the American camp on the west bank
One by one, the crews cleaned forest debris from the pyramids and made a discovery that caused the archaeologists to salivate. There were apex crystals -- intact, unstolen, and brilliant when the mud and vines were cleared off the tops. The site was so vast that they knew it would be impossible for them to eradicate the centuries of accumulated growths with traditional methods. They cold-burned the crap, after spraying an immense oval fire-brake chemical around the perimeter. When the ashes blew away, they saw that which had not been seen in 10,000 years, predating both Tiahuanaco and Giza, according to the time wizards. And just like those puzzles there were no inviting entrances into the complex, except for the temple which compared insignificantly with the regal appearance of the pyramids. The temple was an ugly pendant around a neck of green earth below the mountain's base, a head crowned with gigantic, magnificent, shining gems.
"We've found something on the third scan," said the Director to Mack, his toolpusher, on the telecom. "Underground passageways from the temple. The scans work as long as they don't get near the apex stones. You'll have to clean the place out before you can access the pyramids. I don't want anything broken or disturbed; neither do the Peruvians. A Lima party will be joining you soon. Expect bad manners, but they need us to do the work. It is more important to find an existing entrance rather than make one destructively, especially if they are around to offer criticism. Let them see how we respect the ancients."
"Got it!" answered the field man. "One thing. There's a stranger in the neighborhood. Help would be useful."
"What for? You've got Shemona right there with you. She'll be down from Caracas in a couple of days."
"Hard to explain." He didn't tell the Director about the unreasonable fear that had crept over everyone; a fear that seemed to come from nowhere when the pyramids were cleaned. In his imagination, he conjured hidden blow darts in the bushes, spiders and monkeys in the trees and snakes everywhere else. There was no tangible explanation for his own uneasiness, though he knew what he felt. He was no stranger to that clammy unwanted perspiration, a gut-wrenching pull that took him a lifetime to overcome. He became quite good at being impassive in the face of danger, until he stepped into this hellish, steaming valley.
"She and I were intimate at one time. Now she hates me. I'd rather not have to rely on her, in spite of her background."
"I understand! But, she's a professional. A rare combination, Mack. I can't spare anyone else at the moment. Look, with her scientific knowledge and psychic training, she'll do the job. That's why she's coming. Don't you think I took things into consideration when I picked the teams?"
"I'm not questioning your choice. The problem is mine."
"Then you deal with it, period."
"Fine," he answered and slammed the receiver down. It was ironic that he needed her at a time when the nasty locals had suddenly vanished. She was Mescalero Apache and Jewish, an impossible joining, given little chance to overcome her inner wars. Mack saw her as a strong, motivated female. He also knew that she looked upon him as a weak fool, considering their broken relationship.
June 11, 1979 - the pyramid site
"Looks like grand central station to me," commented the digger after the last of the encroaching vines were removed from the temple's descending stairs. Not a stone was cracked by aged weathering nor were there any inscribed symbols or anything else to help the scientists as they walked through the rectangular building. The only thing they could find was the stairs, quite modern-looking and leveled off in two tiers which led down to the tunnels below. There were eight tunnels, one for each pyramid.
"I've never seen anything this old that didn't have inscriptions of some kind," mentioned one of the archaeologists. Clearly, this predates Tiahuanaco."
"I don't get it either," said another."You'd think they would at least want to identify which pyramids the tunnels were going to, unless they're in the same sequence."
"That's it obviously, but why eight of them? What were they for? There's got to be something here that shows why one would be chosen over another."
But there wasn't and the men were glad to get out of the place. No one offered to be the first to walk through the black tunnels. In fact, it was agreed by everyone that the fear emanated from the staircase and beyond. Whatever made them sweat came from there. Mack knew it was going to fall on him like a ton of manure. His nightmares confirmed the vision and he began to pace in anticipation of Shemona's arrival. He wanted her and didn't want her.
June 12, 1979 - the pyramid site - 6:00 a.m.
The day after the temple was cleared, the garua failed to appear in the valley as the apex crystals shone forth in a dazzling display of light that drove the animals wild in screeching comments. Some of the scientists mused of a possible connection between the former mist and the stones. Each cone was a different color, though all had the basic appearance of quartz. One of the scientists made the correlation between the crystals and the equipment.
"It's the apex stones," he said."They block the scans. You can see on the scope how everything is nulled, forced to go around. Our signals bounce off."
There was more and it may have been caused by sunlight finally caressing the crystals again after eons of smother. Whatever the impetus, they began to emit an eerie sound in unison, first low and indistinguishable, then louder in a distinct combination. It was not unpleasant to hear, merely different somehow.
"It's not a chord or anything," said Mack to the Director."A mixture of unusual tones. They seem to resonate, more so during the day than at night, but they affect everybody."
"How?" asked the Director.
"Like we are being warned by a friend," answered the field man, finally conveying his fear. "I can't explain it any better than that. This is one reason why I need help. The sounds and the crystal signals go in a lot of different directions. One of the highest energy junctions is the staircase in the temple."
"She'll be there today. Let's see what she feels."Shemona was supposed to be fearless by reputation. Her tenure in the agency was a distinguished one, going back to the Kennedy years, but in spite of her age, she performed extremely well. Usually, the older mechanics were retired, but she intimidated everyone into letting her stay on. Shemona loved her job.
Shemona was imposing on arrival, tall with a strong-yet-feminine build like a weight-lifter's, a tough bitch in spite of a shock of white hair amidst the black. She smiled and shook Mack's hand with warmth and vigor, remembering their previous association. There were traces of humor that lingered about her eyes and lips. They seemed to be saying, "It's OK, honey. I'm here now. Let me handle it for you."
"Where?" she asked simply. Mack pointed to the temple, resigned to the fact that he was forced to withstand her silent insults. She turned her head to look but was distracted by the river. For a full minute she gazed at the slow-moving brown water as if it spelled trouble. She couldn't make it out and shortly attended her former lover. Mack simultaneously radiated relief, anxiety, and paranoia. Many of his workers could no longer hold food in their bellies, vomiting everywhere. Others were struck with diarrhea. None were whole or unafraid.
"For a moment I thought I felt something," said Shemona. "Probably nothing."
"Can you describe it?" he asked, knowing that minute feelings could mean a lot to a woman as empathetic as she. Perhaps too sensitive, he thought.
"I sense the power of a cataract, a waterfall," she answered immediately. Mack knew that the nearby river was sluggish for many miles in both directions. He thought it was best to leave the interpretation alone. Let the mystic handle it. After all, that's what she expected him to do.
"Stairs," he explained to her with small satisfaction, "lead to eight tunnels which go to the pyramids, but we don't know which one to try first. The men are afraid to go down there. So am I, but I don't know why. Something crazy is going on. I don't have a clue."
"Do you and the men dream about this place?"
"More like nightmares. Every man's worst fears seem to confront him."
"I'll find out. You have your men set up a portable generator in there. I want a lot of lights with back up. Torches too, just in case. We'll keep the channels open, so have a man ready on the receiver."
"You're coming with me, Mack. I feel there's a reason for you to be there. Our past demands it."
"Somehow I knew," he coughed raggedly. "I've been dreaming of my death in the place. Bad dreams, but I can't seem to remember the details."
"If your dreams were truly precognitive, you would not only remember them, you'd be filling my ears with facts and suspicions."
"I'm surprised you're not accusing me of cowardice. That's what you think, isn't it? You've always considered me a wimp. Actually, I'm really glad you're here, now that you are. We have a lot of good people with us, but none of them are in your league."
"Don't hate yourself for admitting the truth. And don't worry!" Shemona's nerves were titanium. Actually, though she gave no hint with her outward appearance, she felt unaccustomed to a new feeling of her own. It made her uncomfortable because she could not identify it. It wasn't fear, which she knew and respected for what it was. It was more like a feeling of restless anticipation, as though she was waiting for something important to happen. Perhaps she was sensing the feelings of another, whose emotions affected her. Maybe this other was the one that waited, sitting patiently until the right moment presented itself. She cleared her mind of such reasoning and concentrated on the tunnels.
The stranger stood up that night for the first time in a week. The bodies and carcasses of men and animals lay in the bush all around him. He put his hand in his pocket and withdrew a bar of white metal, pointing it at the temple across the river. Slowly and deliberately, he stepped forward into the water, staring ahead at the many newly erected lights in the building. He had given everyone ample warning. His message was clear. "I have come to reclaim the necklace. Stand aside and let no one interfere."
Shemona sat cross-legged before the entrances. There were no doors, just blackness, and no markings or indications of any kind. Mack stood to one side in sweating patience. Apache concentration. Judaic lorecraft. Suddenly, the woman had a look of surprise on her face, almost as if she had been stunned. It wasn't fear but it was strongly felt by both.
"What is it?" he whispered, not daring to intrude with a loud voice.
"The queen's necklace. It is here."
"What are you talking about?"
"I don't know," she answered with surprise."They are words that I am hearing. Images. An ancient queen. I sense something but it is very hazy and distorted. Now I've lost it, but it is the same feeling I once had in New Mexico. There is a place. The Bottomless Lakes. It is the entrance."
"To this world. For those who come from elsewhere. I don't know for sure, but there is reason behind it and it isn't human. The eight pyramids are crowned with jewels for her. They represent her eight consorts when she reigned here."
"Right," said Mack, dismissing that as ridiculous. It was her eyes, though, that convinced him of the truth of it. "What about the tunnels?"
"Seven of them lead to nothing, dead ends filled with death traps. The last pyramid, the northernmost one, is connected to the fourth tunnel, counting from the left. None of the other pyramids can be entered from here. The architecture is unique."
"Any danger that you can sense?"
"Not in the fourth tunnel. There is no fear down here as I know it. I don't know why you and your people are afraid."
"That is very odd. Anything else?"
"No. Not yet, except for . . . . it feels like a bird . . . . perhaps a fish, swimming in the river . . . coming here. I don't know. I see the cataract again, but the image makes no sense yet."
"You don't know? Great. What do you suggest?"
"Let's go to the pyramid. We can use torches."
"Tracking, it's me, Mack! Shemona and I are going to the north pyramid. Fourth tunnel from the left. Keep the line open."
"Will do," said a voice. Mack lit a torch and led the way. It was a five-hundred-yard walk.
When they got there, steps led them up to a chamber, lit by the crystal above, for it was flushed with bluish light. Again, there were no inscriptions or carvings, but the blocks of stone seemed to be arranged in a pattern. Maybe a readable pattern, thought Mack. They passed through a gallery, similar to the one seen at Giza. Recognition came instantly to Shemona.
"The pyramid inch controversy," she said."It is repeated here." She touched the walls and pointed out the different contours and colors of crafted stone to him. Sure enough, there was an observable, identifiable series of markings, deliberately carved into the gallery wall. Mack photographed the mathematical language, reputed to be prophetic. If it was like that at Giza, it would be indecipherable. Then his mobile went dead and they were dramatically cut off from humanity.
"No need to be afraid," quipped Shemona, intuiting the feelings of her ex-lover as though they were about to burst. "I am sensing a thing I have not felt since a child. I am a descendant of this place. That is why the fear does not reach me as it does you."
"I never stopped loving you, Shemona, even if you are a strange blend. You're not above making a mistake about a man, no matter how deeply you think you can probe my mind. It took great strength for me to let you go, believe it or not. I wanted you to be happy. Look at me now. Am I feeling fear, lust or what?"
Shemona condescended and gave her former mate his due. Surprisingly, she found an inner fortitude that she had overlooked before. The fear wasn't his. An external agency was attacking his nervous system. He was not to blame. And between the folds of his thoughts she found love, deliberately hidden and shielded. . . . . . . from her. What was it that fought him that could not break through her own defenses?
He was halfway across the river, underneath and within the rippling liquid in the center of its strongest current. A giant channel catfish accidentally bumped into his leg in its scavenging. The stranger decided to let it scamper away. He reached the sacred spot a moment later and cleared off the silt of millennia. His hands tightened around the exposed ring. It took all of his incredible strength to pull it and activate the key. Gases came bubbling out of the riverbed, struggling to escape from their old prison. Above him the river started to froth and gurgle.
The nontechnical crew members who were not sick were snacking when the river went berserk. All the others were in the temple and never saw what was going on. Fountains shot upward out of the muddy, boiling ribbon of brown. Its spray wetted them down, like a geyser might, in spite of the distance. It was no longer a placid ugly landmark, but a coiling snake of immense length. The river's new waves began to thrash against each other and crash against the banks. Men began to run, eager to be anywhere else.
"Let these be!" commanded a voice in his mind. "They cause no harm!" The stranger heard, but did not understand the instruction. Were these not the same as the forest insects? Ought he not to protect himself and the queen's gems?
"They are of no concern!" reiterated the command, this time with harsh intensity. The stranger could do naught but obey. He pulled on the ring and lifted it so that the key could be fully turned, the first time in 10,000 years.
The Apache stiffened and fell flat against a wall, her arms and legs splayed out as though being held in place by a powerful force. The same thing happened to Mack on the opposite wall. Both stared at each other, neither understanding what was happening.
"Now I feel it," said Shemona, pinned helplessly like a bug on a tray. "It is both like and unlike the fear you mentioned. It is the power of the queen."
"What queen?" asked the toolpusher, struggling to move. Neither could budge an inch against the force that held them. "Who is she?"
"Her name. . . It is on the edge of seeing, like a shadow in a dark cavern. She is a bright star within the sun's field. I can't see her."
"What about these ruins? There has to be a connection, maybe to Egypt."
"That's it. I have seen her before."
Wind came rushing through the tunnel into the chamber. It flew past them and upward to the crystal. Its velocity increased incrementally. In a short time, both could feel it whip against their skin with stinging force.
Once the key turned, he was able to go forward. Now the gems were accessible to him. It would be an easy matter to collect them for the queen. She would be most appreciative to receive the heirlooms of her old house. They would again grace her august presence and he would be rewarded. Perhaps, if he caught her in a good mood, she might favor him with a system for himself.
In the temple, where men were congregated to monitor those in the tunnel, a similar force pushed them helplessly against the walls. The stranger came out of the river and walked into the temple, holding his hands up before him. His fingers exuded a brightness that forced men's eyes to close. They could not view his form as he walked past their paralyzed bodies. He descended the stairs triumphantly and entered the fourth tunnel.
Soon he stood between the Indian and the toolpusher, riding the cataract of wind that gushed past the men, allowing them to view his body. A field technician recognized the shape as the old man he had seen across the river. Now that he was so close to the apparition, he could see that it was not an old man with a white beard, nor was it human. He could plainly see, by the presence of the numerous arms, that it was both a legend and an alien. Shemona and Mack gave up struggling and watched as the stranger lifted its arms to the crystal above.
Colored lights streamed down into the being's fingertips, the formerly quiet sounds becoming amplified in the chamber. The stranger duplicated the sounds with his voice and there was an inrush of electricity in the air. Sparks filled the chamber as the stranger lowered his arms; he looked at the humans, who returned his gaze. They saw intelligence in the bright eyes, fearsome and private. They blacked out in the new violet darkness.
June 13, 7:05 a.m.
When they awoke in the light of the morning sun, the men outside noticed that the river was returned to its former state. The men inside the temple awoke simultaneously, free of yesterday's apprehension. No one remembered the stranger or his passage among them, just a pleasant sleep that they seemed to have shared.
The Indian and the toolpusher arose from the floor of the chamber, huddled against the walls. Sunlight streamed down through the great hole above them.
Their mouths gaped in amazement at the barren opening.
"The fear is gone with the necklace and the queen's subject," said Shemona, recalling things that Mack could not. "I know her now. Maia, the daughter of Atlas, son of Poseidon. Atlan was his name here. She was the progenitor of the Mayan race. This was once her city. Her crown jewels have been returned. It was unregal for her to come herself after so many years. She sent a servant."
"Yes," admitted Mack breathlessly. "All eight must be gone, her former lovers. And my own jewel is also returned. I never stopped loving you."
"Nor I you," she replied.
"Why did she choose this particular time? Why not before?"
"To fulfill an ancient oath," said Shemona. "She wanted to give her progeny a chance to become glorious. She permitted them 10,000 years to do that. I'm afraid she is disappointed."
"I will also swear an oath," said Mack. "It will take far less time to make it come true and I don't plan on disappointing you again. Did you foresee that?"
"Why do you think I'm really here, Mack, when you needed me most?"
"What do we tell the Director?"
"We'll have to thank him, won't we?" she said, her eyes sparkling.
Story copyright 2002 by William Alan Rieser WRieser283@aol.com
Illustration copyright 2002 by Eric Seaholm firstname.lastname@example.org
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