Table of Contents
- Like Gods to the Slaughter
Book I: US6
- Chapter 01 The Convoy Sentinel
- Chapter 02 The Morion of Cortés
- Chapter 03 Miriam Archer
- Chapter 04 Jackson Archer
- Chapter 05 The Widower's Son
- Chapter 06 Zozobra 2012
- Chapter 07 The Great UnZip
- Chapter 08 Socorro
- Chapter 09 Playful Bullets
- Chapter 10 Controlling the Room
- Chapter 11 Kachina Season
- Chapter 12 Hacienda Vidal
- Chapter 13 A Gallery of Tuesdays
- Funeral Confetti
Book II: The Nūn of Babylon
- Chapter 14 The War Priest
- Chapter 15 Sweet Water House
- Chapter 16 The Vicar's Gears
- Chapter 17 One God's Ghost
- Chapter 18 Sisterhood of the Snake
- Chapter 19 Graffiti of the Gods
- Chapter 20 Daughters of the Revolution
- Chapter 21 Monster Messiah
- Chapter 22 Madame Priestesses
- Chapter 23 Golems Don't Grin
- Chapter 24 Celtic Spring
- Chapter 25 That God is Legion
- Chapter 26 Blue Utterances
- Chapter 27 Eliot's Afraid of Tigers
- Chapter 28 Hell's Bells and Buckets of Blood
- Chapter 29 Casting Lots
- Chapter 30 Coloring Behind Lines
- Chapter 31 Brother Gods
- Chapter 32 A Velvet Dagger
- Chapter 33 It's A Blind Machine
- Chapter 34 The Grail Serves Sapiens
- Chapter 35 The Nūn of Babylon
- Chapter 36 A Littler Death
- Chapter 37 "Glug, Glug, Glug."
- The Report of the Ghost
June 1976 | Mexico City, Mexico
"We call him 'Lobo'… 'Wolf'." The Guatemalan boy whispers with his face pressed into the thin down pillow.
"Lobos Olor." A spirited kid blurts out a few beds over making the room quake in quickly controlled laughs that turn to hushes.
"He does stink but he has claws too… and teeth."
"Teeth? What do you mean teeth?" I began confused.
This was my first night here and so these kids were trying to test my mettle. To see if, like most of them I'm sure, I'd break and start crying for my mommy. I've never done that.
"Vá dormir..." Father Francis whispered into the room. "...e não pensar sobre elefantes..." He said then, while making a soft elephant sound, he slowly closed the door of the big room which began to softly chuckle. Just before the door latch touched the frame, Father Francis' elephant sound became a brilliantly timed fart noise and the room of boys from every corner of the globe erupted in Tower of Babel-building laughter.
I didn't speak Portuguese or Spanish but anytime one of these priests would throw an unfamiliar word into this hive of boys from every tongue, it would be carried around and translated to its root until everyone had a reference for it. I just got here and I was already relying on the hiveworks such that before the chuckles ended, and against Father Francis' request, I was already thinking of elephants.
This was my first time abroad but I don't admit that to any of these kids. They all look like men already. There were a few smoking earlier after lunch but unlike me and my friends, they weren't doing it to be bad or get a head rush, they looked like they needed to smoke. Eleven years old and "thinking of cutting down."
It was a good night sleep though. Probably because of the heat. "Get your shoes and let's go!" The kid telling the wolf stories rushes me into the line that is forming around the perimeter of the room. I try to stand next to him thinking he was trying to befriend me but he and every boy I tried to squeeze between moved me down along the line like I was on fire.
"Suficiente!" A thin but roasted voice swirled into this room painted teal from foot to about eleven year old high and white-washed everywhere else. Like we were just below the surface as this steward to emissaries of Christ, this pool man to His vicar's treaded in.
I know now why I was passed along like a collection plate. I was the "new kid"; The Target. What better way to dominate a target than to show him what it looks like right next to him were he not to submit?
From behind wired frames the man's colorless gaze scanned the line, hit me, squinted hard then shot right to the kid at my left. The kid's elbow stabbed my arm when he seized-up giving me a Charley Horse.
"Ow!" I couldn't help but yell and buckle over gripping my arm. The kid glared down at me with such fright that any pain I felt vaporized with my confusion. "It's okay, I just..." I began trying to get that look of horror out of his eyes with a smile but just as I was going to give him a playful nudge on his shoulder they were both grabbed by the head priest.
"Why did you hit this boy?!" He snarled at this poor kid who burst out in a scream laced with so much spit and tears and snot that this Lamb of God, this Shepard of Souls hurled the kid to the floor behind him then used the huge sleeves of his sacred robe to wipe his face.
As the younger priests tended to the poor kid I looked up at this guy and without thinking, just started explaining, "It was an accident. You scared everyone and he accidentally..."
"Did I scare you? Oh dear." He bent down into my face. "I am sorry if I did. We all just wanted to make such a good impression on you." I was already flat against the wall but was now trying to press the skin of my skull against the sharp stucco to get father from him and to have some pain to distract me from whatever just did or was about to happen.
"You've got spit on your ear." A raspy, American and slightly southern voice came from behind the man. I watched his pupils contract as he leaned into me but when that kid said that, the priest's whole face shape-shifted and like a lizard whose tail was just grabbed, his eyes widened at me and he whiplashed away.
"Father!" He hissed at the kid reminding him how he was to be addressed. The kid looked at the man's shoes and slowly up. By the time his eyes demanded the man's full attention he repeated correctly, "You have spit on your ear, Father."
It took a good eight seconds before the man could get his head back into whatever game this was. When he did however, the utter calm that took the place of the awkward was somehow worse. In a nod to the younger priests, the sniffling wet faced kid was ushered down the only hall in here.
The man looked back at me, smiled and with a wave of his hand in front of his face like a cross vexing me away he said,
"Welcome to Legionarios de Cristo, son." Then they filed us all down the other direction of the hallway.
For as tense as that moment was there was levity in this place during the days. The younger priests were like camp counselors and seemed to really like it here for the week that each would stay. They were from all parts of the world and cycled through on some exchange program that meant none of them spent more than four days with the same group of seminarian/counselors before being shipped off to some other mission somewhere.
Though the attendant priests were transitory, there was a definite caste structure among the boys and steward priests. It was clear who was the heir to a name or the spawn of neglect. Regardless of the level of sophistication of the individual boy, it was the station of their parents, or not that determined where they slept, what they ate and who they could play with. This being a Catholic Mission there was a strong atmosphere of caring more for the suffering or poor than the fortunate which is why the poorer kids sleep nearer the chapel I supposed.
The wealthy of many nations expose their children to this experience. Nothing makes a child appreciate their future more than a few weeks below the poverty line. At eleven years old I understood that. And I'll admit that I got downright terrified and homesick many of those earlier nights. But while this experience could easily have made me better appreciate "...all I have been given..." as my Father would say, all it really did was make me aware that there is no "home" to be sick for. Only of.
"It's the Wolf." I heard one of my group alert us. I pretended to be asleep by twisting myself in a position only a sleeping boy would end up in. And by folding my shoulder over my face I could spy the whole room from the dark cranny without squinting. The room got silent. It was really as if a wolf had come into a herd. Even the Inconsolables were playing dead.
The Wolf was not familiar. He wasn't among the priests and attendants during the day. I could see the shadows of his long fingernails stretch to the reflection of the metal bed frames as they tapped and scraped along the rows of toes and tufts of hair from under sheets. I expected him at any moment to say what long claws he had. Father Francis was the comic warm up and this guy must handle the ghost stories. As I tried to figure out what the game was. The Wolf knelt down near the chapel door beds.
"No, Father." I hear the boy say three times to as many whispered questions and then the Wolf left. After ten seconds the boy got up and walked into the chapel with his pillow in hand. This happened two nights in a row and both times with the same boy. When the Wolf came back the third night, that boy was gone. I recognized the voice of the kid in his place though, the boy who pointed to the spit.
The Wolf knelt beside his covered head and the boy quite agreeably answered "No" to each whispered mystery. Now I knew this was a game. This kid who stood up to the main guy wouldn't play along like that unless all of this was a prank.
After he went into the chapel, I waited ten seconds and followed. It was dark and still but the Giant Cicadas' screaming outside hid every bare foot smack on the cold concrete.
I made my way through the pews to the lit office on the other side where they must have been staging the prank. The fact that I figured this out in three days was going to warrant them letting me in on it. I never get left out of pranks. I'm usually the instigator but I just got here.
I peered around the door of The Wolf den. It was the Spit Kid and he was sitting in the desk chair, squinting at a bookcase to his right. His head cocked sideways reading the titles.
"Hey. What's going on? I want in." I whispered and then performed a formal lookout maneuver behind and around me to let them know I was a skilled prankster who understood discretion.
"I'm Emit Servius Archer; US Citizen and ward of the Armed Services." He said flatly. He was glaring at me with grey eyes.
"What? No, hey, it's cool; I know you guys are... who's that?" I said pointing to a mound of faded yellow and gray fur on his lap.
"This was Father Peroculo. Some called him The Wolf." He informed me as he craned his neck back to title reading posture.
After a moment he took a deep breath, looked down at the hair and stood up straight. As if dusting off his lap. Doing so smacked the Wolf's lifeless head against the metal desk in a crack and in a heap his fat, smelly frame slouched toward Babylon on the concrete floor. He was dead.
I was frozen for a second trying to put together the scene. "Was he trying to ..." I began.
"Yes. He thought I was going to let him but I only pretended because it made it easier to get to his neck." He said in full voice.
I snapped my head around the corners this time for real and tried to hush him. "Shh! You just killed The Wolf..." I began but suddenly felt dizzy and like I was dreaming because this kid was just looking at me as if he finished a chore and was now going to hit the hay.
"Yes. I did. It was the only way to be sure everyone would answer 'No'. Also, I didn't want to be in his mouth. He didn't care what I wanted. I'm stronger than Emanuel and I'm not as nice. Emanuel didn't want this either but couldn't stop him. I could. So I did. Now everyone can say 'No'. I'm taking the pillow."
On our way back through the beds he grabbed Emanuel's pillow. Every boy in the room was now somehow sound asleep. Emit lay back down with his reward for a justice; a second pillow for his knees.
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 SETI 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 1 : The Convoy Sentinel
United States Convoy Sentinel Corps. Post No.40 • W.US6 / West Rockies Warden
Patrol Authority : US Army : Chief Warrant Officer : Emit Archer
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 warrant officer in the US Army and have patrolled this same stretch of US Route 6 in western Colorado for three and a half years. The US 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 or fraternal connections got our ranks back. Though there's no real structure for promotions, or desire frankly, but there is a solid chain of command even at outposts like this where we monitor civilian and troop movements to the Citizen Compounds since the Great UnZip.
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 effect 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.
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 mèlange of wiring and embedded control panels, it contains all the creature comforts; hot and cold fluoride filtered 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 US 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 Hernan Cortés — the Spanish Conquistador who led the expeditions through Central America and brutally ended the Aztec Empire in the 1500's. 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 back my former rank and Warrant Officer status. 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 Sniper School. 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.
Chapter 2 : The Morion of Cortès
The story goes that when the tall Spanish Galleons of Cortés 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.
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 Marketeer and/or nation-state 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 US just as it has for the recovery of treasures from sunken Galleons off the coast of what use to be Florida. But when the Euro Zone nearly folded in late 2012, in exchange for a financial rescue package from the US 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, which means "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 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 Cortès, it remained in the possession of this sacred line of Shaman and in the same secret Kiva known as "The Kiva of KA" where the Eototo, Chief of all Kachinas once dwelled. 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 Unzip 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 Cortès. With each slain child the morion reflected its curse grew… "
There are other stories the Hopi Elders relate that, when anthropological linguists try to research fall quickly into the fairytale silo. Like how Eototo was a Great Water Spirit. The last time the Southwestern US was underwater was some 300 million years ago. How could they have communed with a Deep Water god? These Elders either edit the stories for outsiders beyond making any sense on purpose or the stories are just broken.
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, Simèon Baaleth 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 3 : Miriam Archer
I first saw Miriam Magdalène 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 Kachina 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 glass museum 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 titter.
"Is that honey I smell?" She said leaning into me a bit and closing her eyes to give her sense of scent full dominion.
I thought to myself, "If fear and bliss smell like honey, then yes."
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. This was a stark contrast to my White Anglo-Saxon (wayward) Protestant upbringing. Any of our 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 she 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 salty 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 off the Earth.
"Are you okay, Emit?" she said as if I was having a stroke.
"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 once thriving but now quaintly managed Mandarin orchards. And longer nights of war stories and laughter. 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 US diplomat died before we met, but his presence was very thick in this place. Familiar in a way and his library which was left unmolested since his passing still smelled of Old English or Old Spice or some scent that left with the seventies. This may have been Hacienda Vidal before this man inherited it, but it feels as though the generations were preparing it for his presence. It was said to be six hundred years old but the family patriarch depicted in the huge tapestry that hung in the entry hall had a striking resemblance to the man Miriam called Daddy.
"Hm. I thought your ancestors were Jewish." I said scanning the tapestry. "This thing is saturated in Roman Catholic sigils."
"The Vidals have always served the Arc." She said passing me with that intoxicating pale purple breeze.
"That seems out of place." I said eying a brilliant green-blue rectangle stitched into it. "That thread isn't anywhere else in the thing." I turned to Miriam for an explanation but she was already in the courtyard. But little green-blue distractions weren't the strangest thing about this family's history. Her father fired all non-blood-family staff and erected a wall around this Mandarin Mansion that would not only keep the local kids out but the Spanish Army. I was, admittedly relieved that I only had to contend with the man's after effect. Not sure I'd have passed his tests. Even so, with all the presence and reverence still hanging on the walls here, Miriam never spoke about her father. She would only ever confirm story facts or dates of the anecdotes her family would tell. I suppose it's difficult for any daughter to really get her head around losing a father and that archetype of Holy Security.
One evening, after Miriam had fallen asleep, I stared up at the 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 trees—"Enoch's Trees"— were rustled and letting off the sweetest scent and 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 touched to a grinder. 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 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 lightly kiss the crucifix on the goblet that was identical to the old one set on the table beside him.
I thought at first 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. For instance, how 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. This 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 Simèon Baaleth when the First Lady introduced us to him.
Simèon 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 north 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 Simèon and Angelica would show off made for fascinating stories and intriguing connections. Once my rapport with Simèon 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 Simèon 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 Simèon 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 Simèon. 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 Simèon 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 east of Santa Fe, anxious to be the guest-of-honor. My last sensory memory wasn't an exploding tire or bang of an impact, it was a scent. Sweet. 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 Magdalène Vidal Archer was the reason I was there. I was the reason she wasn't.
Chapter 4 : Jackson 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.
Although Miriam and I came from starkly different backgrounds geographically, religiously, culturally and in mixes that would have gotten us both executed or worse a hundred years ago, excommunicated we only ever differed on one thing when it came to our Jack.
I told them to Jack. Miriam suffered them. And because I love my wife more than this story will express, I will recount verbatim our exchange as it was recited to us and many friends and verbatim by our six year-old eves-dropping son.
"Mom said don't use parbable-agory 'cause it mystifries him... me... Jack. And Jack needs fact-based knowledge to stay curigous." This is an exact dictation, by the way as we made the poor kid repeat it to many a dinner party guest in those days. He would usually take a deep theatrical breath at that point sending the house up in a roar because it was the perfect imitation of Miriam before she would ready herself to recite a series of facts. "Dad said curigosity leads to demystifrication and Jack is a child. (But I'm six and seven mumfs.)" He would insert the exact count at each recital. "Mom said mystifrication leads to igorance and Jack is OUR child."
That's as far as we got stage parenting him but that lofty exchange didn't stop there. We took the argument a little further. She had won Jack's parlor trick argument with my pride but I continued, "There's a security in ignorance though. And security breeds productivity because your not spending time with personal..."
"There it is!" She shouted. Fucking worker-brain top-down... you're so erotically efficient!"
"Thanks." I said as if she meant it as a good thing and not because she hated both of the words; retention and anal.
"Demystification leads to progress. Advancement. We need... it's too late for us... He needs knowledge and fast not this fable-drenched, mythic-booga-booga-bullshit dance we're all in!" She said fervently.
Truth is she could have been saying any words strung together at the time and she'd win. I knew to keep her glaring at me with those eyes and thrusting those sweet smelling hands in the air around me I had to fight. "Producing these days demands creativity. I'm talking about his world. A Twenty-First Century America - not Mesopotamia. Security equals productivity equals creativity... Creation! And who am I to question our Creator's decision to blindfold us?"
"Hoodwink us." She said seethingly.
"Blindfolded! Like before a Surprise Party. Which reminds me, bring confetti to my funeral." Was either how it ended or I did.
But 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 mis-mash would irk us a bit. But knowing that he knew the difference was enough for us. Were it not for his curious mind's fetish for taking apart book bindings we would have got him reading even sooner but 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 breathe. 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 M24 Sniper Weapon System. 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 M24 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.
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 natural skills placed him on a track toward "Selection" and eventually the Special Forces and Fort Bragg. Had he known then that his SF Group would one day be responsible for the Southeast warden of his own country, he might have made different choices. My contacts got him a path through this fractured Union but he garnered his own Brass attention. For me as his father that was a blessing. Political popularity equals safety. For Captain Jackson Vidal Archer, it meant being pulled from a fight where his brothers were. Soldiers of Jack's caliber aren't cheap to train and not easily replaced. It's a quandary of the basest order. The best killers never get to fight just like the best looking girls never get asked to dance. The risks are too high for egos whether they're nation-sized or nine years old. And the Southeast warden used a Life Expectancy metric instead of a Casualty Rate because the number in hours was so much shorter to say. That would just be deploying good money in after bad.
Jack understood a level of strategy that both impressed and scared the shit out of me. I watched him play sniper one Saturday morning while pretending to read the paper. Instead of taking out the General or the "Head of the Snake" as he would say before squeezing every plastic trigger, he began taking out the guy next to him. I thought he was missing. Consistently. But I was.
"Do you need to adjust the site or maybe the pillow?" I said after the tenth miss.
"Nope." He replied simply and with zero shift in his position or concentration once he chambered the Nerf round. "Robot?" And the eleventh miss. Perfect hit on the corporal or whoever next to the General but what about the objective?
"Let me take a look at that." I said folding the newspaper and generously offering my years of expertise to scan his weapon for defects to save him some face.
"It's perfect. He said flatly while chambering another Nerf round without losing his bead. "Slave?"
"See? Now you're overcompensating and got the guy on the other side of him." I reached for the weapon but was surprised by how solidly held it was and if I wanted it, I was going to have to lift him with it. Then I realized his reasoning was just as solid.
"Nothing makes the snake rethink his battle plans more than a spray of brains on his face. If I shoot him, who will order the retreat?"
"You've been reading Sher." I say realizing my book was being leafed through when not used as a barricade.
"Sherkahn." He corrects me with the author's moniker—a slightly altered spelling of Kipling's Tiger King character in the Jungle Book, Sher Khan. But this; Dr. Sergeant Robert Sher, dubbed "SherKahn" by Noriega's PDF for his tiger like stealth and lethality was a sniper of the highest order. He later dealt with his own Post-Traumatic Stress by becoming a psychologist for fellow Vets and the way his book analyzes his own sniperdom objectively and excruciatingly intimately has made it a Catcher in the Rye primer for people like us.
For me, it was Kim Vogel in the second grade that first stole my heart and set my drive in motion.
For Jack? Just KIM.
K.I.M. or "Keep In Mind" games are simply one minute memorization games. In sixty seconds you are to memorize the size, shape, color, condition and any perceived relation between the objects on a surface for recall any time between three minutes and three days later. Only there's a squad of demons - cadres of men bent on distracting you with any physical abuse and all kinds of unspeakables screamed while you do. Or don't. This is where the ability to focus under extremes is either unveiled or determined not a feature. It's a standard feature with the Archer model. Apparently. As is solitude. I understand solitude. I crave it. Sniper School, like becoming a Warrant Officer, only furthered my fix. From monkeybar scans of seven year-olds to relaying precise coordinates and enemy asset inventories to the S Shops, there was no other place for me anywhere on earth. Or Jack. And while there is little I understand about human relations particularly the intimate ones, I at least understood enough to let Jack go.
I knew Jack was Green Beret the day I caught him teaching the indigenous kids on the block general tactics of survival while his POGs stole their flag. And when he reached under the setting of the Q-Course graduation dinner table and discovered his destiny with the 5th Group out of Fort Campbell, he had the same look as when he first saw the M24. Fire or forbid? He 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 M24 instead of making it a father and son activity?
"God?" he says ans squeezes.
Chapter 5 : The Widower's Son
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 after coming to and showing signs of lucidity. Visits with Jack began and I was able to receive other visitors during the final week. The Governor was scheduled to come during then but was suddenly committed to last-minute meetings arranged for him by the First Lady. He sent Seth Windstrom, his photographer instead.
Seth was actually a more appropriate first visitor than the Governor of New Mexico. I'd known Seth longer and deeper and although his visit wouldn't garner the media attention my show and reputation might have needed right then, there was no one I'd rather have seen that day. Besides Miriam.
I introduced Seth to the Governor at an air show at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. Seth was a pilot of sorts. He'll say he founded but the plaques all point to a group of men who founded the first Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or "Drone" program for the Army. Not many people are aware of the Drone program in the Gulf War. Developed by the Israelis and Produced in the US, over 500 sorties flew. Seth flew many tours in and around Iraq during Desert Storm and when his aerial photography and RPV skills went private, I introduced him to the State of Enchantment.
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. Miriam and Seth were never really fond of each other. Seth thought she was stuck up because Miriam had a tendency later as an adult to edit herself before speaking which made her seem aloof and arrogant. Miriam on the other hand thought Seth was 'filter-less" and his ego kept him from not saying things that made him sound ridiculous. She once wondered aloud if Seth suffered from Asperger's Syndrome to which I replied, "Nope. Just Ass." They both understood how inseparable each of them was from me so like two arms that tolerate one another to carry a load, they did. I was grateful to whatever gods there still might be that the First Lady kept the Governor occupied during my re-assimilation. Whether by design or by divine, those last weeks of recovery with Seth let us settle a lot of issued, heal splits and when I was strong enough to hear what Seth knew, the last days were spent casting lots and sealing two particular fates.
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 Simèon 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, Simèon 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." Simèon 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… " Simèon began with a noticeable change in the timbre 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 US 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 up-tick 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 Simèon in the back of the museum. She all but said it right out with her casual wonderings. Even that night, while putting on her jewelry - always silver and always that that Caduceus necklace. "Have you noticed how chummy Simèon 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. Simèon 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 for 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. But for all the fog and the blindness there is one memory other than Seth's visits that is so pristine I use it to remind myself I'm still here.
The morning I was released, after a brief statement, while wading through the marsh of cameras and the morbidly curious smartphones framing me, I heard a banging on a caged window three stories up. One of the patients, apparently quite excitable, was trying to get my attention. And so were about forty others people within fifteen feet of me and the towncar but this fellow, Latin, middle-eastern maybe, managed to lift my head up through the flashes and boom mics. When he caught my eye, everything went silent between us. It was as if he were at the end of a tunnel and crystal clear. So clear that from three stories up I could make out what he mouthed quite precisely under that big mustache, "Thank you, Emit."
I've tried every phonetic possibility by forming my mouth like he did but. "Thank you, Emit" is the only one that works. So who was he and thanks for what? There's a fallback philosophy Miriam taught me for when stuff just doesn't add up. "Enjoy the mystery." She would usually follow that up with a hug or better so when I fell back into it her phantom embrace is how I maintained that smile for the cameras.
Chapter 6 : 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 Simèon 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 Simèon 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 Simèon 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 7 : The Great UnZip
Things have changed, rather, shifted dramatically since the luminaria days of 2012. As it turns out we were all correct. The 2011 Recalculaters and the New Age 2012ers. Sort of. We were right on the date of the apex of the cycle and they were right that it would change humanity forever. Where we were all wrong was that none of it mattered and that shifts pale before zips.
The Chilean earthquake of February 2010 was the first 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. To many this was the first birth pang of the End Times. Simultaneously in our galactic season, the end of our planet's wobble, a.k.a. the Precession of the Equinoxes was ending at the same time our solar system dipped below the galactic equator in its oscillating orbit. A disaster film double feature with Earth as the damsel in both and seemingly ushered in by a planet tilting quake.
Graduate students at Georgia State cross-referenced quake data with Aurora Borealis patterns at the poles against gravitational anomalies over and above the Precession assumptions then had all qualified by a team under California's Board of Geologists and Geophysicists. All of these things were having an effect on the Earth. When our sun dipped below the center of the galaxy, it had a measurable effect on the magnetic poles. When the wobble hit the apex, we could project the path of Vega as she moved into place as our next North Star. We even uncovered elegant calculations that hinted at a twin star like over 80% of the stars we know of we were on track to discover we were a binary system and find our long lost twin but then it all happened.
What was first to be called "The Great Shift" by blog and stone, 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 swelling of rivers and lakes to seas in the span of a few months. American History and human potential dialed back to the Dark Ages with two key differences, billions more people and advanced weaponry.
And none of it was caused by anything I've reported here so far. No wobbling planet do-si-do-ing with the galaxy, no alien planets or brown dwarfs cutting in. While those were measurable, they were nominal, having less pull on us than an historical lesson. In fact not a shift at all in the classic sense.
The Chilean Quake was absolutely the End Times for near 600 people but merely a dramatic "happy" accident for the 2012ers. A strange breed the Rainbow and Dolphin types. They seem so eager for the unveiling of truth but secretly lust for apocalypse. In late 2013 the New Madrid Seismic Zone located where Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee come together decided to shake them apart. This national disaster could have been absorbed as its initial damage estimates were at Katrina levels. What couldn't be absorbed were the Great Lakes.
The Midwest really isn't "Midwestern" as it were. It surfs and shakes.
Though flat and bread colored fields, art and people,when it isn't shaking, the Midwest is surfing atop hundreds miles of soft shale substratum thus natural gas. Since the late 1800's American Industrialists have sat atop this oil blister like mosquitoes inventing various drills and torpedoes before settling on the state-of-the-art hydraulic fracturing proboscis. After the Chilean Quake and like a race against the next Administration or Federal Courts, the government opened up everything for extraction everywhere including all Eminent Domain areas that didn't fall into negotiated districts. Like a swarm the Chevrons, Cabots and Chiefs plunged their straws into the blister and like which proved most bulbous south of Lake Michigan.
When the New Madrid fault line snapped in 2016, and because of the porous and chemically-weakened shale substratum, witnesses said the land just "Unzipped" it's way right down the middle. Whole cities, towns and souls were swallowed as it did. The basin it created plunged the otherwise northerly flow of the Great Lakes south into the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys where it swelled to the Gulf dividing the nation in two. The devastation was swift and brutal and didn't ebb until West Virginia on the East and Kansas on the West. Those Americans who managed to outrun the water to the East were pulled into a war over resources and politics. The East is a war zone now with a well-organized Rebel Militia that has even overthrown National Guard Armories. It would be easy for me to ignore that reality if Jack weren't there.
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 but these are usually young adults or the elderly who lived west of here but relied on the support from people who are either in the Citizen Compound or the Mississippi Sea. But, aside from these convoys, it's easy to ignore the tragedy of The Great UnZip when all there is to do out here is wave trucks on and notice early winters by the buoyancy of the road.
Jack is a Captain, Airborne, now Special Forces. The last communiqué I received from his C.O. informed me that Jack had been deployed just outside Atlanta where the Rebels Militia is entrenched. As of last Monday, he was reporting back to Command the successful re-capture of a National Guard Armory. 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 territory.
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 8, is to inherit it.
Chapter 8 : Socorro
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, "… it'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 while he pruned the tree he and his mother planted years ago. "Tarragon?!" I shouted way too loudly from inside the headphones on my head. I could never remember the name of the tree they planted. He answered but I was too deep in the sound. "Cinnamon?!" He laughed and turned back to pruning branches which filled the yard with the sweetest smell. And, of course, we played chess and 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 9 : 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.
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 as target.
Every Tuesday except one.
A year or so ago I lay here for no less than 45 minutes before realizing Mac was a No-Show. I was lost in the meditation these games bring on and with every second I considered standing, my instinct kept me in the prone. Finally my wits and compassion took over and I immediately sprinted to Mac's place half a click away. Barely winded. Okay, barely alive, but I found his place in complete order. No enemy combatant torn apart by coyotes or stunk to death by skunks. He must have been called to some outpost with the intention of returning as his wooden walls were still covered with framed photos of kids and a Daisy Duke looking sweetheart. I almost took it but this guy was the enemy's soldier, not the enemy.
What I did do was bend-off a piece of scrap metal, folded it into a chevron and scratched "2nd Place T.S.C." (Tuesday Shooting Club) and draped it with a boot-string on Daisy's frame. Then it hit me that this could be an ambush—a long con but a possible ambush because the value of the gear in my US6 view Sentinel Apartment and the fire power delivered to me fortnightly was high value enough for me to click-in and sprint the fuck back that day.
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 then Bragg" and my heart drops. "Campbell eh? Are these men headed to Atlanta?"
"Yes sir, they are. Three days in Campbell then off to Sherman our way South. 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 was 101st. Hopefully these men will miss the fight…" 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 Windstrom at Campbell. Oh! Corporal, what's your ETA there?" I say holding my chest as if to keep my lungs from bursting.
"With a peel off in KC we're looking at 36 hours." He looks at his co-driver who nods affirmatively. "Yes sir. 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. Windstrom Thursday night… "
"Colonel Windstrom 's office, office! Not in person!" I repeat. "He's very busy."
"Yes sir, Colonel Windstrom'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 10 : 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."
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 one-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 watched by unknown entities—that actually works against its intended purpose. Homo Sapiens 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, his jacket gaped open and 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 god… is 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 Governor… how'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." I dropped my jaw. 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 one-way mirror shook. It shook 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, "Simèon 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 Simèon's black market exporter.
"I don't believe it!" I said incredulously.
"What is it Dr. Archer?"
"That's Simèon 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 Cortès. "Check your databases, this was my producer. He went missing after trying to have me killed. He's been a fugitive ever since… an 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.
"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 then buttoning his jacket.
Chapter 11 : Kachina Season
October 2011 | Chaco Canyon | Northern New Mexico
The Morion incident. The last time Simèon 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. I slapped my thigh annoyance but got myself together, 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 pinons 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. But his eyes were a piercing hazel. Not like anything I've seen in these tribes. "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. He'd raise his hand periodically when there was a choice to make and I couldn't help but notice how well-groomed his hands were. Clean, even manicured but this wasn't an environment for such pristine features.
A half hour later the road just ended. No signs, it 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 forty 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 I-5 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 Cortès. 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 phosphine 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 felt pulled upward, as if by a parent when 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, Dr. Kamen's office - her necklace - a blue - like Lapis… Shiva, and a flock of black birds no, crows a murder of nuns? My nostrils explode with an acrid, copper but sweet taste and then I see Miriam's gravestone. I watch 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 and the turquoise, no, not turquoise, bluer, brighter blue and silver utterances, whispers? I hear the road to Santa Fe, 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 12 : 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 Senor 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 Simèon 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 a 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. "Senor 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 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 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 m"o… Dios m"o" 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 seams and hammering technique meant that this embossed crest was real.
"Five hundred years old… can you believe the condition?" I asked waiting for his awe.
"Four fifty maybe, four hundred seventy." He said flatly while squinting hard at the crest. "Ah." He said leaning back in a satisfied manner having confirmed his gut. "Four-seven-two." He pointed to a small and upside-down mark in the upper left corner of the crest. The tiny set of dents and scratches told Rafael that this helmet didn't fall off the head of Cortès. Though he was able to identify exactly where it was forged and by whom based on that mark, he didn't need it to know it wasn't Cortès'.
Despite my years of studying the region's history and the lofty suffixes behind my name, it wasn't until that night that I learned these Morions with this specific design weren't worn by him. They wouldn't be designed for another thirty years. This benchmark for prophecies was itself a forgery. Still a magnificent find and a pivot point for a People but not a Truth as itself. But is Truth the object or its associations?
"Emit, ¿què 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!" There was no assumption that this was an old hole drilled by an arrow body. Its clean yet obliterated void told a story of a very recently forged spear tip.
"¿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."
"Si. And now that you are here and maybe not long am I…" He began with a profoundly peaceful grin.
"No, Rafael. Not yet. You hold it. I'll be back again after this." I said and I meant it but I knew he was right too.
"Ah, but Angel De La Muerte… " he sings in a hauntingly accepting manner. All I could do was smile and well up. "It is time for you to hold it now, mi Amigo." He said as his demeanor turned quite solemn.
"Yes." I surrendered.
He jumped up and ran to his workshop I had to laugh because that action alone meant no Angel of Death was loitering about yet.
When men who have lived the lives they wanted to get to be this age, where the numbers blend and the memories are of decades over moments, there is a subtle anticipation in their gate. As if a seven year old on December 23rd. A mystery of gifts just a day after tomorrow but not soon enough to be giddy.
"Confetti." I say to myself out loud to the Tamarind tree about my funeral.
After some clanging he emerged holding his hip with his left hand having hit something with it and gripping a rectangular box in the other. As he handed it to me the utter craftsmanship on the box itself was magnificent and simply read "JVA."
"Me tamen non solum facere bonum." I relented.
"Si. But Jack. Jack to be good now." He said tightening his lower lip because the thought of that little boy meant a fountain of memories about a little girl from whence he, we all came. "For Jack."
Chapter 13 : A Gallery of Tuesdays
United States Convoy Sentinel Corps. Post No.40 • W.US6 / West Rockies Warden
Patrol Authority: US Army : Chief Warrant Officer Emit Archer
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 load rounds into the top box. 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. And why could I see his barrel? He's the rebel and a sniper. I should have no idea he's there at all.
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. The longer we laid there and did nothing the more evident our advanced training was.
Then came the moment that our dètente 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. "Dammit!" 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 other's targets. I shot out all knots in the wood, he traced a wavy scratch in the paint 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. In my pack, only nonperishable provisions for day patrols and a book about Knights. But its contents weren't as useful for a soldier as its bright blue-green cover. It's a shade of unearthly teal not found in nature that a Search and Rescue Drone would lock into should all else fail. 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 Simèon 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 seams using period tools and embossed with the crest of Cortès. 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 Simèon'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 tire… to 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 Captain so quickly and how both attributes are my accidental gifts. I suppose this Tuesday will end up being significant for him as well.
In three days, Colonel Windstrom will open a document that reports an up-tick in combat in this area. After confirming my all details, my post, belongings, and remains will be accounted for, processed and handed to my son. Neatly packaged in accordance with Article: 023, paragraph 8 of the Citizen Soldier Act of 2017.
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. This is the only way I can keep at least part of that precarious promise to him. "… 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.
End Book I
Over New Castle, Colorado
"Okay Loadmaster... we got greenlight are ready to count." The pilot of the C-130 Hercules reports back to the cargo bay as he steadies the enormous bird over then straightens her out along a stretch of US6 in Western Colorado. "Good Copy. Over" The huge tailgate gapes open pulling in the roar of a backdraft and the stinging rain. "We've got The Hawk out here!" The Cargo Specialist yells from the edge of the great door.
"4, 3, 2, 1, Execute!" The radio gurgles through the static in the US6 Sentinel Apartment.
"Tawhiri." I say to myself looking through the binoculars skyward at the approaching bird soars in through the fierce winds from the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
"Did they say 'The Hawk'?" Jack shouts from the shower stall.
"Yep! Cold winds up there!" I reply over my shoulder. "God of Fierce Winds." I conclude to himself while rubbing my neck.
"Tricky." Jack says about the Drop and the winds tightening his jumpsuit wrist straps then lacing up his boots..
"The guy seems to be compensating for a current up there that…" I interrupt myself when the chute opens on the Cargo Transporter. "Wait for it…" I say confident that the pilot has taken into account wind speeds and directions all the way down as this is what he does.
"What do you think it is? I'm stocked up through February and there's a ceasefire?"
"Comm said it was an annual drop." I said motioning to the printout.
"Looks like it's heading to where I was looking. We're going to need a spade... or a pick... ground's frozen solid."
The Hercules banks back toward the east as the two men watch the airdrop's descent. The room goes silent as they watch Emit's last personal drop hit the earth and became shrouded by its own blanket. For a few second we just stared at the orange and white stripes of the chute as it waved us over.
"Ready?" I he said from the back of the room where he stood strapped in, geared-up and holding a box in his hand full and patches and medals, a Kachina dolland an indestructible Luz bone. The relics of a man who came here to help, fashioned a solution, forgot divinity but left serenity.
"Let's go." I said.
Not forty yards from the car hood where we found Emit's body was the cargo drop. The wind had twisted its way down just so that the corner of the palette spiked the Earth first.
"Perfect." Jack says throwing his shovel to the ground then hoisting the palette out of the dent. "Ta-DA!" He says holding his open hands to the easily two-foot deep and inverted pyramid-shaped hole left by the corner for Emit.
"Fitting." I smiled recognizing how little effort this man demanded of other people for the things he needed. He even dug his own grave.
July 19, 1976 | Mexico City, Mexico
I returned to Legionarios De Cristo three years later— long after the Wolf was dead. It was the fastest way to get as many, in fact all of the Volunteer Hours I need to graduate early from the Academy. By returning to this outfit, I would be able to apply half of those three weeks of hours and any procedure that got me out of that Academy fast was in high gear.
Since I was now almost fifteen, I could be a counselor and maybe even see if they have air conditioning yet for these boys. Like the punishment that sent me there originally, I was going to make the most out of this mandated Volunteer sentence and clean the place up.
This time there was no big orange name tag safety-pinned to my shirt but the guy waving the sign with my name on it looked young enough to need one much less be my ride into town. "Are you our American Emissar… er.. Seminarian?" He said grinning wide.
"I am. Yes, but not a Seminarian… just a volunteer." I said then immediately wondered if pretending to be a Seminarian might be a good defense here.
"Yes sir, American Volunteers, please come right this way." He ushered me through the sea of short sleeved cigarette-laden men that were either waving us to their cars or folding-tables or just glaring like they knew I was an American and they were aggressively unimpressed.
"You've been here before, no?" He asked as he deftly sliced through the crowd and turnstiles. Twice he tucked paper money into the breast pockets of sash wearing men with gloves and silver badges and these men let us walk around all sorts of delays.
"Yes. Three or so years ago… I was a kid." The door to the outside opened to a stream of high pitched Toyota horns and a blanket of hot wind that never let go. "What's your name?" I shouted over the traffic as he held his hand out to the cars officiously. He was acting as if he was escorting a president. I feel my pockets for change remembering that this level of service was all about his tip. Jangling the coins in my pants as we cross the street, a group of boys lock-in to the sound and kick-in to full beggar mode. But when they see how young I am, they don't. In a flash I saw that troupe of actors' expressions turn from wanly needers to sly, well, 'artful dodgers' I guess is the archetype I was hitting on. Charles Dickens in Mexico City.
"Three years?!" He shouts then pounds on the trunk of a little green cab waking the driver. "Dominico! Despierta! Despierta!" He yells scaring the shit out of the driver whose deck of cards that were fanned asleep on his belly go flying.
"Dios Mio!" He squirts out of a snore raising his arms while scanning the seat, floor and his belly for any pair or three-of-a-kind. "Jódalo..." he says to the ceiling and starts the engine. Most of the cards were still on his lap so as we scurried around the people and streets the hot wind would send one or two back to me. One sliced right into my cheek. It reminded me I was there and so I held onto that card and used its starched edges to whittle away at my finger creases for the ride.
"So you must have known of "Sir Almohada? My escort said turning around from the front passenger seat.
"Sir Almohada...¿Es él el hermano?" The driver chimed in then squinted at me hard in the rear view mirror.
"No, no es un hermano." My escort assure the driver.
"Sir Almond-armada...?" I try to repeat to get in on any of this.
"Oh! No! Sorry." and he mumbles some Spanish scold to himself as he realizes I have no idea what the predicate of this whole exchange is. "Sir Almohada of the Legionarios de Cristo." He states raising his chin as if announcing him to a ballroom. "He has been there four maybe... " He slaps the driver on the shoulder with the back of his hand.
"Mmm, quatro... maybe... fide. Fi-eeve." The driver says fixing his pronunciation.
"I know of the..." I stopped myself before saying "Wolf" because I decided I wasn't going to say or think about that again. Ever.
"¿Disculpe?" He said trying to follow me. "There!" He shouted pointing behind me at the Metropolitan Cathedral. I caught a glimpse of its spires and domes before we whipped around another corner. His enthusiasm for the sights made up for his poor timing. "This Mexico City is the most beautiful city on the Earf."
"Si." The driver agrees with a solemn nod as he breathes in slowly and scans the panorama which at the moment was a narrow alley with the words "Jesús Astuvo Aquí" spray painted on every third wall.
"Jesus was here." I translate the graffiti to myself.
"Si. Yes, he was there and a few blocks that way too." He said with a look of disdain.
The driver mumbled some profanities under his breath.
"You don't believe that Jesus was here or is coming back?" I asked confused about how these guys could have gotten the job of transferring a seminary volunteer with such strong ant-Christian opinions.
"I don't think so, Señor." He says smiling as Domi's satisfied look returned. "Jesús is doing fifteen years at Altiplano." He saw my confusion. "Prison. Jail."
"Ah." I said finally putting together that there was more than one Jesús. "It's sinking." I said scanning the bases of the walls and buildings for evidence that wouldn't be there.
"What?" He said but this time determined to hear an answer.
"The City. Mexico City is sinking." I explained.
The driver's prideful squint turned to a scold in the mirror and the boy's demeanor shifted too.
"Not like right now and we should drive faster." I said smiling but to no reaction. They had to know the city's history too. I shouldn't have brought that up while they were in a state of pride like that. I can't help myself though. Everything has a counter-balance and the longer it takes to correct a mood or fault line, the bigger the impact will be.
"I was just thinking about how the Aztecs built Tenochtitlan on an island then Spain built the city on the ruins and drained the lake..." There were no expressions from either of them that they had any knowledge of this. It was kind of a big deal. Solid ground never is but the minute you bring it up, so much more sinks first.
"I don't know what this crazy talk is, eh." He says grinning wider and wider then slapping his driver on the shoulder. They both laugh me into theirs and we decided to pretend I was kidding. As the chuckles wane though, I catch the driver look at me once more in his mirror with a different eye.
My escort was young and energetic and a sprite among debris but this driver who I met in a blanket of cards knew well this city was sinking but that his generation wasn't going to bring it up.
It struck me; the contrast of this boy out in the wilds of the city still precocious and happy and the boys I remember from the Legion here three years ago seemed so weathered and spent. Yet they lived among the priests and divinity.
The driver clicks on the AM radio and the cab becomes a cantina for the rest of the drive. I eye the decor of this place. Mexican cabs are not vehicles, they are places and the pride these people take in their places, the idolatry, pictures and statuettes of saints that bring to heart certain ideas and attitudes. Jude was in this place. Of course Mary oversaw all from the dashboard but it was Jude who was embroidered into the seat backs and various Saints trading cards tucked into the seams of the interior windows and ceiling. The Patron Saint of Lost Causes... there's the Mexico City connection I think to myself. But that driver's last look made me rethink that.
The cab whipped around one more corner and braking to halt hurling me into the back of his seat. The thin pale bricks of the low and some profile complex stretched down Rosedal as unassuming as it was expansive. Before I could pull my gaze back to the seat my door flung open and my bags were already on the curb.
"Welcome Sir, to Legionarios de Cristos." He said with as much nuance and sophistication of any Upper West Side door man.
"Thank... er... gracias, Domonic." I said to the rear view mirror. The driver looked up from his hands between the seats retrieving cards, caught my eye in the mirror and turned his head.
"Every place is sinking, mi amigo. It's why we rise at all." He said with a steely glare. In two beats it widened to what my grandmother would call "a Hamish smile."
"Right." I managed to say.
"Trade you. You don't want to hold onto that one. It's bad luck for a knight or a mother." He said motioning to the card in my hand with my finger blood on its edge. He handed me a fresh Saint Jude trading card and I gave him back his Nine of Spades.
"Thanks again for everything and here..." I reached into my pocket to grab every coin and crinkled dollar I had on me to show my escort how pleased I and what a value this was. His head shifted back on its axis and a look of utter shock came over him. He didn't even look down at my two palms full of American treasure. He was insulted. He wasn't an actor with a better gig than those boys at the airport. This wasn't an artful dodger in a sinking city, this was an official representative of the ancient ruins of a supreme expression of our race. These men don't accept mere money when they have the luxury of their exalted station. "I'm sorry." Was all I could say.
"No es ningún problem, Señor, for me you did not know." That was a pivot point for me as a young man trying to navigate the social graces. I learned in that moment how powerful money is as a humiliation. I tried to tip this boy and there's no way I can take that back.
"You must be the Colonel's son." A voice came from behind the wire mesh of the entry gate into the building. I immediately made it a reed screen of a confessional, the wild world out here and a complex full of priests behind the screen.
"I confess." I said at the tail end of my mental imagery.
I shot one more smile at Dominic and when I turned back to enter the building I found my bags in the hands of the priest and my right hand firmly in my escort's. With a brisk shake and pat on my shoulder he was jumping into the cab through the window like Robin.
"Thanks again... what's your name?!" I yelled as the cab skipped away in bursts of gears and puffs of blue smoke.
"Carlo! Carlo Tovar... the Sinking Cavalier!" He shouted with his fist in the air joined by Dom's on the other side of the car roof as they puttered away down Rosedal and along the Legion.
The smell brought a lot of the memories back but there was a starchy, acrid smell in the places that brought up some of the bad ones. In a couple days though, this was no longer where it was in my dark memory. It was a Summer Camp. The world behind the dorm room, cafeteria and basketball courts among the younger collars and attendants was not at all what I knew three years ago here.
Two days before leaving this ugly memory turned country club summer are two days I'll never get back and two days none of us should give up.
I was caught between lunches as the Orange Boy's Counselor and the lunch room was quiet. It gave me time to think about logistics and revving up to be back in the states turning these hours into my exit from that place.
This is where I spent the past breaks staring at the Fanta soda machine and pondering the big questions like, "How can these scar-less, tattoo-less and privileged priest-lets be emissaries for a beaten, bloodied and badass savior?"
"And why would Christ need an Emissary?" I wondered aloud with a mouth full of bologna sandwich while glaring at the orange machine.
"Because of Time." A raspy voice said to my right startling me out of my daydream.
"Uh? What?" I said snapping my head to the right.
"You asked why Christ would need an Emissary and I said because of Time." He repeated.
"You sound pretty sure." I said confidently because this kid was my age, not in appropriate garb of the submitted and new. I've been contemplating Fanta and the Universe here for almost three weeks and just as I near the answer to all my bologna ponderings this rookie's going to hand me an answer?
"Yep." He said flatly then turned back to his Jell-O.
"Okay." I scoffed and glanced around the room for some confirmation that this was awkward but the room was gone.
"How does Time affect an all-powerful entity?" I said angling my mouth to my right but maintaining as focused a glare on my food.
"All-powerful is Her point of view. Any effect perceived is ours. Time is a rubber band." He said with a pause as if replaying what he just said to check it for holes before nodding and stabbing his spoon back into his Jell-O.
"I know you." I said finally catching his grey eyes. "Spit Kid." He had no reaction other than that caused by the Jell-O. "Why are you back?" I said out loud but to myself I wondered why he wasn't in some psych ward somewhere after what he did to that priest that night despite the justice.
"Not back. Still here." He said matter-of-factly.
I was shut down by that. In an instant I put together that this was never going to be a three week Skill Camp when I was eleven. I mistook all the basketball for that. This place was some kind of Jesuit Juvenile Hall or Catholic Corrections facility. Why else would this American boy still be here if not by force?
"No way." I said in a way fifteen year-olds do with one another to convey utter disbelief in whatever was just asserted. I called bullshit.
"Way." He said with a subtle smile on the left side of his face. We zeroed in on one another for the rest of the lunch hour. It turns out he was there by choice and he was treated quite well. His poor communication skills and the ugly legend that follows him the night he dusted off everyone's lap has made visiting and steward priests alike avoid engaging him; choosing to teach the wiles of Satan to children instead.
"What ever happened with... you-know-who?" I asked squinting at him in a way that he would one day trust as sincere but that day all it got me was a blank look.
"I'm not following." He said.
"Dude. Not following? What are you a computer?" I threw in with a laugh that fell on clueless ears.
"I'm Emit Archer, ward of the Armed Forces..." He started.
"Dude!" I said snapping my fingers in front of his face which was a mistake. Before my middle finger left my thumb both wrists were gripped by his left hand alone and bent in such a way that if I wanted out of that hold I would need to kneel before him and recite whatever incantation he so desired to be free. Kung Fu Grip. As it were.
It took just a few well-placed questions repeated at certain intervals to realize that this guy was on a kind of loop. On the surface. He seemed to have a limitless resource for facts and references but on the talking, mundane task level of things there was a disconnect. And no wonder. Were he not tapped into some bigger play than all of us, I would think him a robot.
This is important to understand about someone with Emit's makeup though it is in no way a limit to his authentic soul. Just its vessel. But I digress…
"But I dye grass." Emit would say then wonder about the plight of the poor guy who works in the color department at AstroTurf never being able to change subjects because everyone would just say, "Yes, Larry everyone knows what you do!"
It's that kind of non-sequitur humor that confirmed the man wasn't a Robot and repeating it for you here is an attempt to avoid talking about the most gripping moment about our next lunch there and that time in my life.
But first; while Emit studied the quake patterns in his Jell-O, I took out some playing cards and started to shuffle them in his view. It's a way to get the mind to attend to a pattern. After I shuffle, I fan them face-up and pull all the Jacks. Pulling specific cards lets the mind attend a pattern. I place the Joker face up on top then put the deck in my left shirt pocket. Choosing a card each time as finale that is not part of an apparent pattern both levels up the mind above assumed truths while releasing experiential memory created since the last time this pattern was made.
My flight out was late the next afternoon so I was able to spend the morning on the basketball courts and with the Fanta Machine before heading out. Emit was there again too.
"Hey." I said catching his eye.
"Hello." He said flatly with no sign of any recognition.
I sat in the same spot next to him as the day before. "Deja vu." I said with a smile to nothing. "Why would Christ need an Emissary, right?" I continued as a callback to our conversation yesterday.
"Because of Time." He said.
After a series of keywords toward triggered memories we were right back in sync.
"I read the files about you after you left. And your father." He said staring forward.
"Seriously? Are you allowed to just do that?" I asked feeling a little violated.
He looked at me confused. "The file drawers don't lock here. Plus a lot of confusion with changes here and in the States. Who sent you here in 1976?" He asked quite sincerely.
"My Father. I messed up pretty bad and this was a punishment. Which it was for a lot of reasons... like the heat... but it was a great basketball camp." I laughed hoping he would join me in the denial parade.
"Your Father left the Order when you were six." He reported to me stoically. "The file says he objected to the..." Emit looks down and to the right recalling a piece of paper in a file, "... systemic... aberrant and sacrilegious sexual abuse of boys and wards of the Legionarios de Cristos" he completes blankly.
I was quiet. Not silent so much as quiet. There was a field around us. A thickness in the air between me, Emit and everything that had happened to and around me was just outside waiting to fall in. There was a place between me and this boy who looked on with no judgment or disdain, only a hunger to understand the relationship between me and this situation. But he did not know, that I did not know that my father placed me in this aluminum and stucco wolves den knowingly.
Years ago I was sent here as a punishment. And now I know my Father knew of The Wolf or others like him allowed to prey on the poorer children of civil servants in the fold closer to the light of the chapel and the promise of redemption. And he knew I would be among these wolves and although not near the chapel nor wolves went I or those of my ilk, I was still among them.
"Who does that?" We both said in unison.
While Emit studied the quake patterns in his Jell-O, I took out some playing cards and started to shuffle them. It's a way to get the mind to attend to a pattern. After I shuffle, I fan them face-up and pull all the Jacks. Pulling specific cards lets the mind attend a pattern. This time I place Domi's St. Jude Playing Card face up on top instead of the Joker then put the deck in my left shirt pocket. I want him to remember this conversation.
"Catch you later, Emit." I said rising to leave Mexico.
"Good bye." He said not looking up.
I righted a wrong just before I left Mexico this time. I began setting it up the second day I arrived and it all came together at the last moment.
This time I was sitting up front to the airport as Domi drove the semi-new, ex-UPS truck he and Carlo just bought. The guided auto tour was much better timed this trip as Carlo stood at the cargo door pointing out the sites from behind me as he dodged duct joints and rolls of pink insulation in the back.
When they drove away, there were still coughs of blue smoke, pairs and three-of-a-kinds flying with each leap of the gears but this time the fists were huge and painted as their broad logo on the side. A truck, a logo and a very lucrative contract to Air Condition a Legion of Christ awarded to "Sinking Cavalier HVAC" (and Guided Tours).
Book II : The Nun of Babylon
The story goes that Inanna—the feisty Goddess Warrior Granddaughter of Lord Enki—became enthralled when she placed, "her ear to the Great Below." Her lust for knowledge about the Netherworld inspires her to abandon her temples, her worshipers and all trappings of Goddess opulence to go to the place "from which no traveler returns." She gathers together seven attributes of allure such as her crown, jewelry, and royal robe to protect her then instructs her faithful servant to alert her father Enlil should she befall mortal danger. When her father does not help her, her beloved grandfather-uncle, the fashioner of mankind, Lord Enki sends help.
Chapter 14 : 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. 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 that envelopes it instantly. Counter-intuitively I feel my head thrust back and into the impact as if embracing an old friend and just as warm and just as sweet. I think of the 8 mm Kodachrome Safety Film of the JFK assassination so eerily colorized in the 1968 encyclopedias at the psych ward. A key piece of evidence for conspiracy theorists 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 may well be 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 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 conversed within three months, that event was saturated in Aztec motifs and the 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 Bit-Shagatha—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 non-family visitor. The Governor of New Mexico had hoped to be the first to see me but the First Lady double booked him that day.
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 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 Saudi in 1991. We were a three-man sniper team protecting archaeological sites in Southern Iraq from looters what seemed like minutes after the conflict. Before that click-in, my last memory was arriving at Eridu and, although I thankfully was not injured, at all, I wasn't conscious again for days and some of 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 understand 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 Seth use to be 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 returning from some mission in Mexico City and only three of us know that about Seth; he, Miriam and me.
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 pratfell 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 Saudi 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. Still. We're not even.
Chapter 15 : 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 Aesculapius. 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 senior to his brother Enlil's. Thus true kingship was Lord Enki as it progressed matrilineally — through the mothers. Enlil was 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 since Enki and Enlil is Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph et al, Moses and Ramses, the Bothers Robs Rosy, Isaac and Ishmael but each with a twist.
Although Lord 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. It's the same story told through different cultures with different names and different emphasis but they all start with Enlil and Lord Enki. All of them.
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, multi-layered 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 lab report 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 as the Serpent in The Garden. And when you study deeper you learn that it 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, "A preacher quoting scripture is like a kid reciting every word of The Hobbit cartoon from the 1970's but 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 social constructs of reality but once these new yet original archetypes become habituated into reciprocal roles played by the Sapiens, they'll become institutionalized. Or they'll absorb our institutions. 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. So much of what we've based our society on is fiction that the social construction of reality - the very temple of all that we exist for may need to come down first.
The Iraqi 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 into 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 Chief? Ten of Clubs?!" he holds 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 whatever that is 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 basic 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.
I look at Burke once more which reminds him to grab and some of the little dark blue triangle flags to mark it as a possible protected site. The Hague Convention coalesced us, the UN and a couple Coalition partners who know the NATO handshake.
As we approach and descend at the Temple at Eridu, argued to be the oldest city in the world, it 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."
F We unclip, gather our gear, the Iraqi and jump into the tan fog of sand. The man 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 crunch of ancient sea shells that I thought were 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 Iraqi became a Lord Enki Alter Boy around a Caduceus, I got why the Marsh Iraqi and refugees looked so perplexed when the Medics' Helo arrived. They're not aware of the US 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 16 : The Vicar's Gears
One Week Earlier : March 23rd,1992 | The Monastery of Mar Mattai, Iraq | Near Mosul
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 them 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 up 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. I've heard the adage, "Nuns don't get nun, don't want nun..." but I'm guessing they do and they're probably sporting 1972 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 Pete's sake.
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 Alexi 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 look-see" 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. Cur-plunk. 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 mind… 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 enter the eleventh stall. Complete with shower and toilet. I unstrap the Ruger I had wired to my back. I secure the wire to the trigger guard and lower it into the abyss. Then I smear my wound blood strategically around the stall to mark this one as mine for the next week.
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, 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 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 through these iron barred windows, one would have overlooked Nina 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" 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 Flat. Deep in that mountain behind this facade of a two thousand yearlong Roman play, lies her 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.
I knew it. All my studies, skill camps, the tidy little niche I've made between UNESCO and CIA have brought me right here. Like shoulder-rolling to close my Father's closet while looking cool for my brother, I'm serving my country with antiquities intel and my soul with Origin answers.
This woman, our primordial feminine was here. Right here as Ninmah and Mary and her feisty younger; Inanna as Ishtar, are now wrapped tightly what this room full of women; looking through the bolted iron bars of the His house call a Holy Ghost.
A loud rap of a wooden cane smacks the door frame, the girls shriek, some cry instantly and the rest of us have an 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 17 : One God's Ghost
There's a shudder, like a wave of stadium fans that moves from the base of my skull and down my back. The shock-waves of the impact. The bullet now a bulbous 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.
There's a shudder, like a wave of stadium fans that moves from the base of my skull and down my back. The shock-waves of the impact. The bullet now a bulbous 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 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 bastard?" 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, I'd prefer it if you couldn't grow facial hair and had seven veils but let's do this!" I start clapping my hands in a disco cadence and sing, "C-e-l-e-brate good times, 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 then 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… .right." 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 use 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. A Marsh Arab 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 ëIrfaan'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 feet they were backwards and then mine. I felt my chin pulled up as if by the finger of a parent to look up.
"He's not my guest." I heard Seth say.
As he did my lungs tried to hoist enough air through my throat to mouth the words "What ghost?" And all went blue.
March 30, 1991 — 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 regularly for anything to grow.
"Adonai-a-a den-ki za-mi-zu dug-ga" he prayed in Arabic or Aramaic though I only recognize the opener, "Adonai." I've heard that before at friends' Passover dinners and Bar Mitzvahs. Why a Marsh 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 stepped past 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 maitre '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 Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. 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 perfectly comic 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 laser ruler, this space was a little over two hundred meters wide. An exact 660 feet once converted. 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." And in those days all of Saddam's People were scurrying including his Republican Guard. Every soldier behind them had a running order to shoot any soldier that retreated. So we had his army running into our arms for protection from arms we sold him to fight Iran.
From the far end of the pool, where the wake-less 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 18 : Sisterhood of the Snake
March 31st, 1992 | The Monastery of Mar Mattai, Northern 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 and a taste. All week this spice has had a bitter, pickled metallic tinge but the moment I had a name, it tasted sweeter than honey. 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.
What I thought was a Tamarind paste was Tamarind powder so when I took a big sniff, it pulled this dust of Enoch's Trees straight up into my brain. That hurled me back between the door and shelves cauisng wheel of KRAFT Empire Strikes Back Cheese Spread slid right into my collar bone. Lucas bruised Tamarind into my midbrain forever more. In fact, I even 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 closed 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 last 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 Girls to assist her in the boiler room on the second day. We had the run of the place ever since.
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 or cup or grail from her robe as she kneels.
And every action she takes, every private, sacred and personal ritual she performs here tonight isn't. Because from the last wooden stall in the mosaic temple of the copper mirrors, where Alexi first licked the blood around my nunny, there were two eye holes out. Through the side hole came a pale blue light of the Dining Hall and from the hole in the back wall, an amber, orange glow Eden-View Girls' "Gym". These two vantage points were discovered on our third day and by watching from here tonight we'll know when both rooms are empty so that we can safely get behind these walls where Alexi believs there are waterworks and where I know there is a Throne Room.
But for some medieval reason, this mountain could not be breached until tonight. I'm not at liberty to ask and Alexi's not at liberty to divulge so, while I don't know why a Full Moon is necessary to open a mountain, I do know; "Sister" Joan isn't Catholic.
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 cued 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 tech video player 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 paused the tape.
"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 as we snapped back into mission-mind. This flash daydream of a Jamie Bond love scene would have to wait.
My mission was fastracked by the Army and CIA six days ago so it was all I could do to get embedded as a temporary Nun. Alexi has been working this site for three weeks and so hadnot only become the Nun-on-Call for Sister Joan, but had gotten initiated into some other intrigue with this sect of Sisters. It had no relevance to my objective but our missions dovetailed beautifully. And tonight, she would get the evidence she needs of some Irish Water concern and I will get to see into this mountain and either find a reason to believe in magic or no reason not to add it to the Army's hit list.
"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 raised it and her arms to bathe in the blue light spearing her breasts, abdomen and her core which 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 a man will ever see is a woman nude 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 40 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 Joan's erotic moon-worship dance through the blue hole 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 a 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 her moonlit reaches and flanked by the horned shadow of her hip bone. She lightly brazes the lips of her nunny, then traces a snake-like helix with her fingers up her hard stomach, caresses her breasts and neck and down again. Lightly. Enough to let her tide rise and spill along the edges of her finger. A tingling drop of sweet water on her tongue as her moon swells her into submission.
"I am in communion." I whisper to myself and my creator and Alexi looks over 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." That sound. That low humming music was metal. Most likely copper like the nun-vanity mirrors. These massive and massively intricate and ancient wheels within wheels are a Steampunk wet-dream. Complex, lunar gravity-driven technology that dwarfed the gates of the Hoover Dam in scope and purpose. The ingenious, and not necessarily indigenous engineers that devised a chain pump from Euphrates River to irrigate the World Wonder Hanging Gardens of Babylon won this construction contract long before then.
It was the sound of metal polished and sweetened by a native Tamarind tree and heard a few times per millennia. Like tonight, when the orbit of the moon and the tug of her lust are tweaked by the spiral kiss of her sister - our lost second moon. That is the "medieval reason" these back doors only fling open tonight. Nothing on earth is strong enough to crank the motor. This is why sweet water wells suddenly start sucking up nuns and making men kiss.
To those men last week on the road, indeed all men of this region and lineage, my falling into that well was not only an omen, it was a prophecy. What for me was a painful embarrassment, to them was "Lord Enki Devouring the Nun." In Aramaic, "Nūn" means "Snake" and the esoteric prophecies in this place are in full bloom. The workers share an Akashic memory of working to build the machines that used to shove millions of minas of water along this once very Fertile Crescent shaped ribbon of land connecting two seas. To the Irish and Canadians, that technology would mean a lot of Alaskan-Pipeline type Rights, to my section at CIA it was an educated treasure hunt for the UN's antiquities concern.
Alexi 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 19 : Graffiti of the Gods
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 lets me go or is my chemistry my consciousness and when it fails, it all lets go? Is this an Afterlife? I've heard the thing about dogs but, coyotes in heaven?
"Splashes and splashes, fooooood for my presciousssss… " Burke quotes as Gollum from deep inside this indoor lake they called the Temple of Lord 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 two 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."
"Roger Team Echo. That's a NoGo on the ten thirty one, See you in 72. Out."
Seth twists off the radio and quickly slinks back in from the 116 degree, 100% humidity to the 72 degree and even cooler manufactured lake of black water.
"We're set!" Seth yells from the entryway.
"Hooah!" Burke shouts from the faraway. It's a soldier's way of saying anything but "No" and everything about this place said "Yes."
"You good with that soldier… er uh maître 'd?" I say to the Iraqi with a nudge. "What should we call you?" I assumed by the Epaulets on his shoulders that he was Republican Guard. He looks up and starts to speak.
"It has been the custom to call me Master of the House… " mid word he 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 hear what he said?" Seth asks us. Sounded like wheel… .BURKE! REPEAT!" he yelled in a yawlp 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.
"Lord 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. Apsu. 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 right 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 the Sumerians had two hours for each one of ours… a sundial type thing… so 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 taper it completely. Only where there was a crack in the floor leading to the entrance did any water travel out of bounds and just outside the 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. "I am he that drowns his friends and draws them alive again from the water!" Burke recites in a state of pure elation.
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 kerchugs on cue with the ripple that follows my "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, Chief Archer recites Turing. That is, the Chief likes codes and patterns as much as you 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 signals 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 lake shore 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, hearkening 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 fluently.
"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.
"Major 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 Burke's 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 - Major Windstrom that you were aware of Enigma - the WWII British codebreak… " 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.
"No, it's not Science. It's set in the Bayou. Turing's the Crocodile 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 didn't like stopping him in his world but hated the idea of hearing any more "Got it. Enigma's a Bayou thing… you sure they're Crocs and not Aligators?"
"Yep. I beat it pretty quick too." He completed proudly.
Chapter 20 Daughters of the Revolution
November 17th, 1984, Washington D.C. | Pope Stephen VII Academy for Girls
The Professor's Aid, Tim Gab-something nervously chalks the chapter numbers on the board. "Is that a 6 or a G, professor?" one of the visiting boyfriends asks making his girlfriend laugh. For the past weeks Professor Clemente has been a no-show the class has been devolving into Beelzebub's hive. 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." Tim slowly turned back to the board with zero change in his expression and as he locks eyes with me on his way, I squeak out a laugh. I didn't think the couple heard it until leaving the building when the girl mumbled "Bitch" under her breath as they brushed passed.
And I only remember that specific shunning at Pope Stephen VII Academy for Girls because it was the night I met Tim Gabhar. I got used to, even good at the Shun thanks to Sister Campania who once described me as an "ethnically exotic girl-nerd." It may have been accurate and to her credit she did it only once.
The rub? She said it to a class of uncomfortably attractive sixteenthirty year old WASP daughters of senators. I was out that day on a skill program track my father insisted I complete before fully matriculating to Pope Stephen's. Sister Campania came to class looking for me but the girls acted as if they'd never heard of me. Thus forcing Sister Campania to describe me.
This 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 this animal kingdom it's a way to disarm and begin to bond with another, at the Steve7 farm school for brides of 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. 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 to see if his dry wit was real or accidental, my right shoulder is shoved from behind sending me against and along a parked car. Lucky for me it was a 70's Buick so I had plenty of time to slide to a recovery. Unlucky for the Buick my keys were hanging out of my purse leaving a wavey, almost elegant tilde-shaped scar in the green paint of the hood. My accidental assailant went from a flash of corduroy, books and Argyle to Tim, the Professor's Assistant. He fell around me in a heap then leapt to his feet in a squat as if to catch me if I fell. It would have been a cool move were it not really dorky looking and all his fault to begin with.
But his recovery 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 probably because Clemente didn't like women or facts. He actually called my Marduk paper "Summarily Feminized" to which I then suggested he and Marduk get, "Summarily Fuckinized" I'm just glad it was a Mesopotamian Religions class and not English.
"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 I guess… where did… " I began but he continued.
"Dr. Clemente wasn't well. He was due for his sabbatical anyway so has taken it and feels much, much better now." He seemed to rush that memorized line out to make room for the question of whatever it was that prompted the last three minutes. "I read your paper on Marduk… the uh… Fifty Names..."
I can't really let things like that go though. Skips in demeanor or time-lines. Suddenly I was interested in Clemente. Where did he go all of the sudden. I was so glad the old prick was gone after our last encounter that I didn't want to jinx it by asking.
"What do you mean he was ill then went on Sabbatical? Seems unfair to have to use one's professional repose as sick days." I knew this guy had an agenda but I wasn't going to fall in without a fight or a game. Besides, this Argyle sock wearing dork was kind of cute. Very clean and smelled familiar. Sexy and familiar. Maybe I slept with someone with that cologne?
"I'm afraid I don't… I could ask the Dean if …" he started in manner off-script.
"Fifty First Name of Marduk." I corrected. "Fifty First." I jumped back a few moments in our exchange. I shouldn't do that to this guy. It's a kind of conversational marshal arts I use to mess with covens and weirdos but this guy didn't deserve it. He's been tripping up since the Buick and all I'm doing is continuing his fall. I placed my hand on his shoulder pretending to need it as I maneuvered around a tree and it seemed to ground him instantly.
"Right, right, sorry, and what it was I wanted to ask you… " he moved between me and where we were going. "But wait, Fifty First?" He held eye contact with me while his hand slipped into his shoulder bag for my paper.
"Yes. In Marduk's autobiographical fiction piece, The Enûma Eliš he is praised with fifty names that proclaim him Creator of All, right?"
"Right. That much I know. I should be clear that I'm not a Mesopotamian Studies grad, I'm filling in for the professor is all." 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. "So what is your field?"
"Agriculture... genetics... I've got a minor in Archaeology so when the slot opened..." He ellipsed his sentence to move beyond the subject which I allowed this time because none of those things interested me. At all. "So is the fifty first name, Enki or Enlil?"
"Neither. Did you read the paper?" I said as an ire begins to rise in me.
"Most of it. I'm doing research on Enki's other son Dumuzid - the Sheppard god and the roots of agricultural society in Iraq... er in Mesopotamia. So I read those parts and a few times." He said as if that made it okay.
"Somehow it always gets back to the boys. Fuck." I said to myself both exasperatedly but satisfied because he just confirmed the paper's thesis.
"Sorry? What did you say?" He asked while flipping back through the paper.
"Not Lord Enki, not Enlil, not Marduk, Dumuzid or Anu..." I said rattling off a list of the most commonly guessed fifty first name. "Nin."
"Inanna." He said even more assuredly.
"Ninmah." I said flatly. "A.K.A. Ninhursag." Tim's expression looked so genuinely intrigued that it put me right in that indignant place that wrote the paper in the first place. "Inanna braved the underworld, she shed the seven trappings of godhood and risked it all for knowledge which is badass but no. The one name Marduk couldn't take was Ninmah. Enki's half-sister and co-scientist...."
"Enki is Ea, right? Prince Ea?" He asked while scribbling in the margins of my paper.
"Yes. Later. And that's the point too. This same story has been telephoned so much we're confusing names and positions and relationships while sifting through a story that has been purposefully confused. Even before Marduk, Ninhursag's stature as an equal Creatrix was being diminished by Enki and Enlil's rivalry. Enki couldn't have even created the original hybrids without her womb. Her "clay" was key to gestating and reproducing these early attempts at sentient workers."
"Right. Until the first hybrid could be made to reproduce... our Mitochondrial Eve..." He continued muttering the story details from there as he scratched lines under parts of my text.
"You seem to know a lot for a student of goats."
"... goats and... goats? Sorry. What?" He said looking up from the page.
"I said you seem to know more than most Aggies should about the Sumerian Creation account." I said cocking my eyebrow to look for a tell.
"Oh. Well I've read ahead in the syllabus knowing that Clemente will be out for a while so... and genetics research..." Again ellipsing us on.
"Okay - so, were it not for Enki's mother, Namma he would never have awoken from the engur to partner with Nin create your ancestors, right?"
"The feminine is not only an equal partner, she is the instigator. But because Lord Enki gives us knowledge 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?! Anyway, the point is that even Marduk's blatant attempt to delete his father's legacy and the Goddess altogether, in order to claim authority he had to adhere to one loophole; the matrilineal royal bloodline."
"So you're saying there is an injustice in the mythology or the reinterpretation of that mythology?" He wandered to a question.
"Yes. An injustice is a great way to put it but it's not a reinterpretation, it's a deliberate misinterpretation of all the key Sumerian stories; the Flood, Creation even the Exodus and and it occurs every era, every Passover and semester at Steve7 when we give a nod to our source with some cursory glance at the Marys while completely missing their Archetypal significance." I stated.
"So you don't see these gods as living breathing beings but as psychological archetypes?" He said looking over the rim of his glasses.
"That's not what I said. Corporeal beings. Quite real. Too real and too self-obsessed. Like Me-Generation parents... They birthed us and went right on with their swinging lives while our ancestors... the priests or favorite hybrids or whoever were allowed to hang around and watched as these gods' petty dramas played out. Like complaining to your kids about their uncle before they're six is going to taint their feelings about their uncle, these gods aired their laundry while our species root consciousness was still forming. These... god-dramas became our psychological archetypes. Not the other way around." I was losing breath as the ire turned to adrenaline because this guy was really listening.
"Do you think any of their dramas or these stories... maybe even their general characteristics were contrived to become parts of our psyche? I mean… if you're starting a whole new species, you need to imprint their source DNA with some templates of how to react to the environment, right?!" He said scanning the ground as if for more words.
"Right but no. I don't think they gave a shit frankly. Or, by the time Lord Enki got a conscience or grew a pair..." I burst out laughing at myself with that sentence. Tim here has only a surface understanding of Lord Enki and his Apsu - his sweet water - so I wouldn't even attempt to explain my involuntary cackle. "Sorry, I just thought of something else. I mean maybe by the time Enki and Ninmah decided to enlighten us, we were too far along in the worker brain template to reset. Kinda thing." I added to blunt everything.
"Hm. Okay. And maybe because it... Eve or Adapa or..." He began but I had to interject.
"Not Adapa. Adapa was Enki's favorite Hybrid Son but Adapa couldn't reproduce. Eve and Adam were a different case study than Adapa." There was so much more about "Adapa the Wise" and this common mistake with Adam and others and I would usually just let that data fly to overwhelm and control any burgeoning relationship but not tonight. My arsenal of intellectual weaponry felt silly. This guy was really listening and he seemed to really dig me. And I like that in men. "So while Adapa was "wise" he couldn't eat from the tree of life so... kinda screwed."
"Or not!" We both said together laughing. I nearly said, "Nothing like Antediluvian Creation Myth Fuck Jokes" but I suddenly had a self-editing feature with this guy.
Tim's eyes widened from his laughing squint, "That's why! We're based on a common template and that's why we get the repeating themes; Cain and Able or Isaac and Ishmael - not because they're a phenomenon of repeating events but that their involuntary roles played out or applied to situations preprogrammed?"
"Or just recast and in some cases completely rewritten accounts of incidents... rewriting the goddess out at every turn. Cain and Able weren't quarreling over who Daddy liked more, they were fighting over their half-sister for to produce a matrilineal heir." I said in a resolute manner to let him know I was done with this topic, paper and fight. For now.
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 3-D 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.
"Since Clemente." 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. He wasn't cute. He was downright dashing.
"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 eying-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 really 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" use to be a warning about my combative response style. When I mellowed out around twelve years old, it became more of a cue 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 "Rosiriscrucianscarabdiscordemplisticmalta."
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… "Old Spice! I yelled making both patrons freeze mid sip. "You're wearing Old Spice." I asserted. Then announcing over my shoulder at the two schlubs at the counter and the waitress who looks like she knew it already, "I figured it out! Old Spice. Not an Old English Man. Thank God! Dad's and Old English guy and that would have been too weird." I summarized my findings and my relief that this lanky dork who I was warming up to did not share my father's taste in cologne. My detective prowess made up for my lack of clandestine skills at the time. But Agent Tim Gabhar entered me into CIA before I left Steve7.
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 of CIA, at least from the "Special Activities" wing of the Science and Technology section, a girl has a lot of access to "sealed" Public Records of sitting congressmen. You see, like skips in demeanor or time-lines., I can't really let things go. Especially gum snapping, sixteenthirty Brownie-shirt covens of the Revolution. So while they were home on Thanksgiving break their senior year, two of the those Senators' daughters learned that they'd be repeating the semester and their secondary education once transferred to Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Queens. A stone's throw from Rikers Island Jail Complex and their Daddies.
Chapter 21 : Monster Messiah
As if the Angel Muerte was pulling me toward heaven, I feel a tug on the top of my head. Teeth. Salivation as opening salvo. The first bite of a copper tip-tinged blood-brain barrier that wasn't anymore. And here we go.
"Damn this is deep!" Burke yelled but right in my 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 Chief… 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 six different cities and bases by the time I was nine. I learned how to make friends fast and leave them faster. One casualty of that lifestyle is the easy answer to answer to questions that, for most 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 wide and deep hole of vaccinations—or whatever was being done to kids' shoulders in the 70s in the States. In Landstuhl, Germany they either weren't doing it, weren't doing it to me or weren't doing it that way. And I can't imagine the kids in the States got any different or less than Army Brats overseas. I didn't have the brand so was immediately identified and ousted. In the military there are no clear race divisions - every kid looks like somewhere else as War is a Great Integrator so Military Brats seek man-made differences. I didn't realize my best friend in First Grade was black until Roots came out years later. That difference doesn't register with military kids. Not even in the 60s and 70s. But it's as if pre-programmed into us to seek out niche-difference and rid the herd of it. Yet these differences - any change to our experience that we adjust to only assure our survival. So I've never been able to reconcile that seeming disconnect in our configuration. And, as I look back now, maybe it wasn't the Vaccination Brand or lack thereof that got me shoved. Maybe it was the blank stare as I pondered the genetics of the moment there by the monkey-bars in front of those seven year olds that earned 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 and suddenly buying gum costs 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 we'd move to a new base there would be noticeable differences in the weather, the accents on the radio, but every US Army Base had a specific, regimented and predictable culture. Halfway through the third grade my father was stationed in New Mexico—Kirtland Air Force Base—famous in the Military universe as a Top Five Russian Target during the Cold War. A high watermark brag on the blacktops of other base schoolyards, but an uncomfortable reality when it's the last base your father is stationed at. A persistently uncomfortable reality too. Every Tuesday at Noon the skies above Albuquerque would fill with the whining Air Raid sirens testing the population's readiness while reminding us what it will sound like should the Brezhnev push first or if Gabriel blew early.
Father was Military Intelligence and the first time I heard that Pavlovian joke about it being an oxymoron, I didn't get it. Still don't. Maybe it was watching these men and women "socialize" with my parents all those years or the oxymoronic irony of the asshole who first told it to me. A Liberal Professor.
Military Intelligence's Army Branch, indeed every Service Branch's secret twigs has a post at Kirtland. The Holy Seat of Sandia National Laboratories. This place, where no building rises above four stories and no hole is shallower than forty, together with the fabled hollow Manzano Mountains at its Eastern gate, this was the principal nuclear weapons installation of the United States Department of Defense after World War II. And it's the minds and vaulted access this nondescript place attracts that gives New Mexico the secret distinction of having the most advanced degreed people per capita than any state at the time. Yet most Americans couldn't tell you which state sat between Arizona and Texas. And before long, you realize New Mexicans like that almost as much as they like how non-Locals can't spell Albuquerque.
Sandia was the nexus of American Military Intelligence and Civilian Genius and vice versa. And the fact that we know Sandia's alter ego during the Cold War now means our current most valuable target—the Me of that secret culture is somewhere even more inconceivable to us than Albuquerque to a 1940s Bostonian. The attention on Albuquerque and Sandia Labs only helps the locals as Kirtland is no longer a Hot Target. At best, it's in the "Nice-to-Bomb" column.
Not then. I now recognize that the innate nature of New Mexicans in general and Albuquerqueans in specific to fly under the radar is probably why it's all there. Like the conspiracy theories of the Secret Society of the Illuminati hiding inside the Secret Society of the Masons, the US Government hid its secrets in a place no one wanted the attention and no one could spell.
We were living in Base Housing thus on American Soil. Not technically IN New Mexico. Just as when born, I was on American Soil and not IN Germany. So I could legally run for President but given the choice between that and going to school off-base, I prefer combat. My first civilian school was technically across the street but for my intents and purposes, off-base. Though stationed in ABQ, my father would get brief deployments from a few weeks to six months. Where there was a base and civilian population, he would take me along. My mother stopped coming along after the second deployment. Every time 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 Messerschmidt and the P51 Mustang banked away, I heard my father talking with a man called "Eliot." "Eliot Who's Afraid of Tigers." I had overheard one of their conversations when I was six and apparently came and asked, "Who's afraid of Tigers?" Eliot quickly said he was, laughed and I was ushered back to bed. From that uncorrected question on, "Eliot Who's Afraid of Tigers" started visiting later. After I was asleep. But that night I heard him 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 a 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 to the next 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 look at the last few titles coming my way, I have no idea how Cosmic Trigger will lead to Morals and Dogma then after some Persian Mythology get me to Tantric Yoga but it 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 so quite matter-of-factly. As if he wasn't an unarmed prisoner flanked by two unnecessarily armed kill-machines smelted in the furnace of the US 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. 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 maitre 'd was no longer there.
My eyes adjusted slowly. The detail through the doorway stared filtering in from my periphery. The center of my vision 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 door frame, the difference in temperature between the two parts of my hand - the palm on the corridor wall, the fingers cupping the new wall. It was warm and soft and smooth. I looked at my fingers and an ether like mist swirled around them where they touched the wall. Suddenly everything else in the corridor 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.
And for a moment, between the doors of both places there was one mind. And it's that mind we touch only a few times a life. For me, it was when the jump-master gave me the first nod and I hurled myself and my instinct out of a perfectly good airplane. My father who was a thousandaire in jumps as an Airborne Ranger gave me one piece of advice before I did my first jump, "Enjoy the fear. Because you'll never feel that alive again."
"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 why… .to rise and prepare for what's already here… " it was the voice of a woman. A sensual but nurturing hiss of words - none discernible - 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 discernible 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 of these peoples; 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 dominant languages 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. Under the tone which seemed to vibrate my ass bone I could swear the little hive-like things were uttering.
I made a 360 degree scan of what looked like an oversized mens room then kitchen then laboratory. The counters were over my head and 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 patterns around my feet quake and in a ripple it stretches out toward edges of the 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—the hives were now whispering on my palm and I couldn't feel my heart.
Chapter 22 : Madame Priestesses
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 run-through but these Monastery 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 whittled 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 sleeps with 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. Except 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 the Seven Veils as the raced to their habits giggling.
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 lions and bulls - but the primary image, the centerpiece above the too bright to see room was a Winged Lion.
"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, "Omnis voluptas mea, amoris et ritualia." 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 are you?" I said with a new brand of anger. Not as if with a rival classmate, a 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 CIA you G2 motherfucker and you are my guest in Iraq." 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, well, goddamn 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 community 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 safely away thus no more hiding places and 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 deign 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 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 was her warm up for now her wet naked body was swarming with young men trying to obey and not to enter her . 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 23 : Golems Don't Grin
There is a signal from one of my punctured retinas to my awareness and, although through a burnt rose colored lens and black on the edges, I still see. The crystallized frozen amoeba on the surface of my eye frame the night which presents me an array of snowflakes. And because the broken but clear drive-in theater of my eye tissue is as cold as the flakes, they stay. Nature intended toward her own structure without help. And now I wonder if I got something very wrong.
"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, the 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 begins to harden near the poles the earth is struck from beyond by something taking an apple-bite chunk of her into space. The debris that was not hurled into a wider orbit with our sun or beyond spin in place but around its 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—the Earth before it broke into the continents floating across the crust and still. My view raises as if into orbit and I watch this misty ringed garden stretch with the pull of 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 its familiar state we call The Fertile Crescent. This is why the tiles in the pool house were askew. At the time they were laid they were probably perfect.
After a series of clips showing early humans gathering fruit and, and trapping? No, not trapping animals, freeing animals from traps.
The view trusts up and as I marveled at the precision of gravity and watch the globe spin 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 thought reached a zenith. Like a biofeedback response I could follow a stream of consciousness to an end.
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 Sapiens.
"Sapiens." 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 corrected her and now in a new mind. I suddenly know this floor and these walls and what was magic a moment ago is now and again an outdated laboratory with ancient, glitchy hiveling surface technology. There are no new technologies approved for insertion anymore for Homo Sapiens and I'm already flirting with a blood-treason, but I decide then and now to add supplanting this hiveling technology to my list of offenses. In time, and were it not for the twisting of the Brotherhood, more lucid men would have found the primer for this technology in the calcium copper silicate of the blue ink with which we saturated Ka-sen's Dynasty.
Picking off a thumbnail sized chip of hiveling counter-top, I place it where the spin is least and the fabrication of a container is simple and to watch. An envelope. Blue so different as a bur in the third consciousness of a lineage with one duty; to get this envelope into the hands of my next landing. A son or a daughter of my blood shall attain not only this Lordship and serenity, but this "miracle" of science that will cure a hangnail for their gods. It's yet another crime but small and for us. "It is for the Creator Good." I muse to myself aloud.
"Did you call to me Lord?" Nin whispers as her presence becomes visible to my new and most honest state of being. I love this moment when my sweet Nin comes into my field. But it is that sweet spot that gets me into trouble between places as distraction and too often new hybrids so I turn to my work who is waking up.
The small pool of black water 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 from egoism. This will be the written code for I alone know, more than all of them 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, Nin. 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 him. 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 has turned into the water. I want to turn him so his first visual imprints aren't black Abzu and green hives but were I to turn the head, every daughter's daughter would seek that turn. The 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 is needed is what is forbidden.
"Your hand is forced, Lord." She says with trepidation. She is the only among all that could return once cast out and be 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, "… upon your necessary crime, Lord. Your righteous supplanting, Lord…"
The creature splashes again as its lids open but sooner than the template for environmental imprinting embeds. It does not know how to react to what its brain experiences through its eyes. For they are not "seeing" or sorting the stimuli in a way a brain of such complexity requires to adapt and associate. He… rather, it is not "seeing" me, it is succumbing to my light.
And in one, deep, full gulp of air for life, he gets 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 fabric shift. These grand philosophical 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… let them breeeeaaathe." Nin hisses 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. I find the white blade made of beast tooth — a symbol and a tool of my favorite son, Dumuzid that is mercilessly shaped to extinguish mistakes. I slip the tooth into the nape of my monster and turn off the pain and the light.
Nin cries away as the Hivelings flow a grail to me with familiar blood. "The gods, those who decree, a Vizier's Ghost have given to you, Sweet Water 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, a stature, a station and another horrific death only this time of a soul too.
"These monsters we birth Sister Creatrix… " I whisper lifting the hybrid's chin up with my finger. "… these golems of clay and slaughtered gods… " I pray to myself, "… were we one, to us then what would we be?" and I set to start it all again.
I turn from my failure still coughing away its existence in the black water so full of life and in the care of the Hivelings so full of attention. Like needy little pleasers awaiting our next intention. These inanimate sheets of blue hives made conscious enough to want to give over millennia lose their stasis and begin to want to please too much. This place of creation, though forged by Royal Builders for the Clever Prince has corners where the surfaces are confused by their angles and try to detect the intention of the other surface to the point of molecular breakdown. Pleasing others into nothingness.
There's a threshold where the robot becomes the slave but once a slave, awareness is born. Like the engineers of these Hivelings, I need to find the sweet spot just before the self-awareness of a slave but just after the blind programming of a robot.
"Wise one." I say to the room knowing full well he is there. He is always there and of his own free will. My brother would have him intend toward worship at best, he has no idea this one has intended toward his own perfection and with very little coaxing on my part. "I need you to be courier, emissary and attendant once more."
"Yes, Lord." He replies simply. Softly. And in a reverence that filters all words after.
"This, the Vizier's Blood. As sacrifice it may pay back a debt Sapiens knowledge has foregone." I place the clay cup upon the counter which ferries it to a secure staging deck. I take Dumuzid's Bone Blade the Hivelings began handing me before I was aware of my intention. "I need to know, Wise One… " I begin as he walks toward me confused but reverent. "… I need to know what is sacrificed were I to … " I slit along the top of my forearm then angle the wound toward a saucer-grail the Hivelings had made. "This blood will wait until cycles return at this node. You understand." I said moving my eyes to his which burned an orange-hazel.
With great temperance the Queen Hivelings ferry the blood along a shallow aqueduct built as it flows toward the place where the spin was not and a node could touch in time. The centers of the spin look like cups and can be caught on either side.
The place where the spin is not is a single space that can be used as a pivot across temporal time. To retrieve matter from these spaces it requires the shedding of every faculty that would allow a conscious being to be aware of the action. Even the Royalist of Matralinial Blood cannot escape the stripping of all to touch the place that does not spin, The Place of Nodes. It is where the DNA of a Lord of the Earth and a Blue Envelope with a flake of Hiveling can be set to be found as long as a Primer is tagged.
And I begin, "In the first step, total cellular DNA from lymph node samples of all cases … ﬂ-actin (606-bp fragment)23 orc-raf-1 (258-bp fragment)24 25… amplification of the extracted…" Then the Hivelings take over dictation and begin to pre-render equations for every step I take and intend to.
"TCA TGT TTG GAG CCT TCA A-3; ﬂ2-actin, 5TGC TTT 01100101 01100001…" they utter.
"TCA TGT TTG AGA CCT TCA A-3; ﬂ2-actin, 5GTC." I correct. They would have recapitulated in a moment and healed that split but my assertive tone only makes them please harder.
"I will stream you into this node, Wise One and you will remind my blood in cycles from now. You understand." I stated. He nodded as we've discussed this before. I could not risk another god slain or another hybrid unborn. My blood is different. Pure. Royal. Thus should require no sacrifice. If I… if my Ghost is able to return and I am again here from this blood as Sapiens, the Ghost is, and will be manifest without sacrifice. If you are able to bring me here then, we will know that no more gods need to be slaughtered and that Sapiens is neither robot nor slave but god."
I reach out my hand and the Queen Hivelings race to put the final details on my gift. A Caduceus amulet. My fingers would crush the thing so I wave the Queens toward him and they race to finish it. They've been forging it since I spoke his name. Since before I thought about giving him something. These Queen Hivelings are the ones required to forge matter such as this and to do so they must detect our intention even before our subconscious. We didn't realize there would be queens until some one really needed something and not having it threaten the engineer's interest in Hivelings. Cows are still here thanks to co-evolution. These muttering blue flakes exist because of co-dependence.
"These Queens are are indeed Exalted Slaves. And I notice they don't suffer the degradation that the Pawn Hiveling do. Higher function seems to increase longevity." I say and then am immediately embarrassed not to have considered who was in the room. He knows my advice may have saved his very life but we may never know and we both pause when we come to that question. The Queens place the helix-snake-wrapped sigil in his hand. The wings, still unfurling, pierce his hand but he unflinchingly pulls it to his heart.
His eyes burn with the fire once stolen now owned.
Chapter 24 : 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 which those 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 needed 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 moment because Jesus had his own Lizard King gig going on out west of here then. And his early followers didn't fall into the strategy until much later.
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, sex-weary and dead-eyed novices with oxygen and cool towels before blindly guiding them right back into this church of lust. 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 fluoride 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. When my apparently obvious determination to do one particular act on one particular an alluring Armenian—which is redundant—Sister-Goddess Joan caught my eye, more dangerously, she 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 the erotic gore of this place's 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 lust unrequited or the affects of the fluoride, she wanted in. But she wasn't alone. There was a man with her. And he had a feather on his neck. She pointed him in one direction then entered the throne room and quite officiously. She looked to Joan who lifted her head from the novice's wet torso. She flipped her head and Alexi's attention toward me, hanging on the wall like a flesh coat. The fluoride mist was thicker now and the bodies strewn across the wet, soft floor began to move slower and less determinedly. The bread in my mouth caused me to have to regulate my breathing which is why, I assumed I wasn't going to sleep too.
Alexi pulls a cloth to her mouth and nose and walks toward me. She looks really angry and although I know she's acting for Joan, it's so convincing that I method act my way into shrieking away from her. "Shut up you impostor!" She snarls loudly making Joan smile before burying her head right back into the folds of young women on her lap. Alexi pulls out a rope and ties my wrists behind my back. "Act drugged." she whispers into my ear before shoving me toward the two guards who were standing behind the pillar smelling or snorting something. As one grabbed my arm I stumbled around to seem as listless as the rest of them. The other whipped his finger along a tray and rubbed the dust around his nostrils. I'm familiar with the gestures and etiquette of cocaine use but these men were rubbing this powder on the outside of their nostrils - not their gums. A bump and skid and the tray flipped a cloud of spice across me. Not cocaine. Tamarind? As they pulled me out of the room a quick glance at all the guards and none were affected by the Fluoride mist. This cheek of bread I've ferried around tonight is why I'm not a listless sex animal on that floor right now. Deep dive analysis will later reveal that the steady stream of Tamarind in my veins counteracted the effects of the Fluoride. My objective was met. I have the proof I need to recommend the US sanctioning of a UNESCO Team here and the technical kidnapping and assault, no matter how much these nubile novices seem to be consenting to right now, is more than enough reason to storm the place for the international courts later.
There's more to this interplay of Fluoride and Tamarind here. These erotic mists seep into this throne room based on some lunar cycle. Not magic. Basic gravitational physics really. Some tidal pull lets loose some machinery back there that these Stewards of the Valve consider divine. But over millennia this system has developed kinks which flood too much natural fluoride into these halls and souls as in Sodom and and no longer draws fresh water up and down the crescent.
The miracle of Monk Mar Mattai that caused the King to put this monastery here wasn't. The leprosy Princess Sara suffered from must have been a type susceptible to fluoride treatment. For all his praying over this woman's evil infection, it was the mist of a natural chemical settling on this her just so as to treat her symptoms. Which in the 360's looked very much like a miraculous cure. So like me in reverse, this woman was saved by the very chemical that my spice kept from hurting me. Maybe chemistry and coincidence are just fancy words for divine intervention? But what Joan and her cohorts were doing to and with these young women wasn't pleasing any gods. Fluoride calcifies the Pineal Gland - the seat of the soul - the third eye if you will and both physically and spiritually these misguided Ishtar Worshipers were giving that third eye an irreversible cataract. But Fluoride is known to speed up puberty and thus assuring that these girls are ripe for the offering. I've heard the idea that Hell isn't a place, it's a distance from God. And this place, whenever Cruithne—our second moon—tangents close enough to let loose the Tamarind polished machines that don't only drench a fertile crescent, but pull these young souls deeper away from the only place they've ever wanted to be. These novice nuns, these hoodwinked maidens left their homes and their crying families to commune with a god to give light to their villages by proxy. Instead they have become sex slaves to an absent goddess and flop around this ancient fish house in a pool of sweat, cum and a sacred tidal blood.
As the guards get me out the door, one of them let's go of my arm to release the next gate. Just then the rope Alexi tied my wrists with springs loose. The guard screamed and let go thinking the rope was a snake jumping on us which allowed me to bolt for the next gate, slam it behind me in their confusion and keep descending this corridor to what I hope is either a start or an out.
Chapter 25 That God is Legion
The seasoned coyote kills at the throat, the thickest, warmest blood of any lamb. Once my skull starts knifing back with deep cartilage and splintered bone, the female leader goes straight at my neck. And it tickles profoundly.
In an ominous but intimate boom the backs of my eyes heated up and the hot sand dove into my throat. I feel a thud in the center of my back which ejects the tiny rocks and my confusion in one sharp thrust. "Go, go, go!" I hear Burke scream at the pilot and I come to in time to snap my harness before my legs fall out of the open bird. "Whoa, Chief!" Burke screams grabbing my belts and pulling me back in. 'Irfaan looks like a carabiner and webbing belt gremlin huddled in the jump seat, clutching his shirt and staring east. "Glad you're okay, sir! We were sure you got caught in that last swell!" He exclaimed over the rotors.
"The swell?!" I was lost. This was the first spell. The inaugural moment Chief, Doctor, Dad Emit Archer would space out. I had no imprint, no reference for how to react when I came to from these. I remember fainting when I was a kid after moving a heavy dresser in one of my new rooms on some base. When I came to from that faint I not only had forgotten how to breathe, I had forgotten where, when or who I was. The only thing I know now about that moment is, despite the panic, there was such clarity of thought that, had I chosen to, instead of remembering how to breathe as a nine year old with a head rush, I could have chosen to be a thirty six year old with a hangover or a seventy six year old with an aneurysm. Time was my choice. The physical affect in me wasn't. These over-and-above consciousness moments, these existential traumas were my first hint into the idea of the fractal of time. The ongoing now. The constancy of the impermanence.
"Chief!" An unfamiliar voice interrupts my internal narrative.
"Dammit!" I say half scared awake, half scolding myself for not being more present. "Lucid Agil… " I begin my mantra but it works before I finish. Say what you will about youthful bravado, if you can use it to sharpen a positive mind tool for yourself, there's nothing more annoyingly effective. "Yes? Who are you?!" I shout pretending my "spell' was something else. This guy wasn't Army. Lanky, be-speckled… "Argyle?!" I shout pointing at his socks with my chin and grinning. "What the hell is CIA doing on an antiquities jaunt?"
"Chief, I assure you I'm not… " he stops himself before committing to what my glare made obvious would be known a lie. There's a look I can call up when I want to cut through someone's bullshit. The "Look" as Seth so creatively coined it has won as many poker chips as bras it's lost and this bookish looking fellow in short sleeves and Wallabees was either, "CIA or Peace Corps!" I yelled. "Decide right now Buddy because where we're going… "
"Is same there." 'Irfaan chimed in from his nylon and aluminum nest. "In Mosul is same if UN, Kurd, Peace Corpse or Yankee Sam!" He said looking at the man with a kind of disdain he should have had for me all this time. This nerd was no threat to him. I'm the one with the gun and cuffs leading him around by the belt for the past… day? This is where 'Lucid Agility' had its first glitch. Anything in and around that time is anything but. "King of Bad Winds." He finishes.
"Tim Gabhar, CIA, Chief Archer and it's a real honor, sir!" He shouted at me trying not to look at 'Irfaan who eventually turned back to the window and the darkening eastern horizon.
"Timbargyle?!" I repeated incorrectly.
"No sir! Well, yes sir almost Just Tim!" he shouted.
"All I hear is Argyle!" I reply having decided what to call him.
"Tim, sir! Call me Tim!"
"Argyle, what's CIA doing on an Antiquities Jaunt?!"
"Tim is actually shorter than that nickname, sir, just Tim!"
"Answer my fucking question, Argyle!" I repeated and with a genuine angst this time.
Tim held out his hand and I immediately knew what degree and latitude this guy had earned and haled from. Seeing that Once 'Irfaan looked away he looked into my left eye quite specifically. I watched his hand do a set of subtle gestures that elevated us both above language, land, god or king. Dancing hands of brothers of one father, twin sons of different mothers. Argyles or not, Tim Gabhar had my indivisible attention.
"Switch!" I yelled at Burke and waved my fingers between him and Tim. In a few latchings and hoists, Burke was huddled up against 'Irfaan seemingly consoling him. I missed a lot more than what just happened and how I got here apparently. Near three days I went missing before that last ten minutes and for the next twenty, Tim briefed me on all of that and the mission we were speeding north toward. Mosul, where some intelligence officers failed two key checkpoints. "Where's Seth?!" I yelled for all to offer answers. With that Burke shot me a grimaced look then a protective smile toward 'Irfaan who now looked even more upset.
According to Tim's recount and Burke's nods, somewhere along the way while exploring those tunnels we were swept away and separated by a rush of water. I must have been washed up and out the whole time. Seth employed a search tactic based on work he did along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only then he did it from Nevada. As founder of the Army's first Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program, Seth gave Uncle-Yankee Sam a huge tactical advantage. His fetish for diverting then electronically hijacking drones was even higher value Anti-Data but cost the unknown budget at least a half a million dollars every time he practiced. Twice that if there was a camera on board. He later admitted to me that he, "… spent a half a million dollars…" each time. He wasn't trying to save face either. He was letting me in on his little revenge from the inside. Seth's strategy was always cancer. Get in. Embed. Twist and grow. Military school, the US Army, Tolkien and the Church. They transferred him out of the original UAV and offered him Guam or whatever cush station away from flying machines he wanted. Instead, he chose the most colorless, off-putting and driest climate and wit he could think of by demanding this post with me.
I was suddenly nervous for him once I realized I hadn't seen him since I thought he was humiliated but then Tim filled me in.
"So LGV gave Windstrom orders to rally all local teams- Troops only - to search for you. Seth… er, uh Major Windstrom requested… "
"What's LGV?!" I interrupted.
"Oh, sorry - the Lt. General!" he explained. "See, the Major requested drone assist instead troops but lost comm… " The Helo banks right and deeper east than north now which startles Tim. He regains his composure. "On his own, that is, without orders the Major… " Tim stalls and motions to 'Irfaan who has melted into his belts entirely, "… and your prisoner there… "
"'Irfaan!" I correct as if offended my maitre 'd was called a prisoner, "His name is 'Irfaan!' I said proudly while looking for 'Irfaan's eyes so I can give him a nod. But before I can find them, Tim continues.
"'Irfaan Kish here cost Lady Liberty one million dollars!" he shouts then immediately clamps closed his lips as if it could retract the sound from the sheepish Iraqi. "Windstrom managed to track and divert three birds to scan the perimeter. It's the only way we found you actually. We would have started in the west southwest where we calculated the water flow." I was nodding as if I had any idea of what he was talking about but I did not. I only knew that if I acted as messed up as I felt, I would lose command at the moment. And I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure that here in Iraq the US Army outranks CIA.
Turns out that Seth could summon the winds from the north and west with two hands and deftly but when his signals attracted the south wind's drone, like a confident father handing his son a model plane remote, Seth handed his makeshift joystick to the nearest set of hands which happened to be the smooth and quite well-groomed hands of an Iraqi. But, for as clean as they were, they could not avoid the mess of a half a million dollar bird and its four hundred thousand dollar eye crashing into a five thousand year old dune.
Seth might have taken the blame for 'Irfaan who had had a shit week and because he's built a name around that kind of thing. But the benefit and the curse of drone works is their uncanny knack for filming everything in a 360 degrees holographic way that kind of takes the fun out of the Blame Game.
After being fully briefed on our mission in the mountains behind Mosul which was two hours north, I worked with 'Irfaan who was panicked about what was going to happen to him when he went before the Lt. General up there. Seth was pulled into action before he could defend 'Irfaan and all this LGV knew was an Iraqi Prisoner got a hold of a drone and swan dove it into his own homeland. This Sunni, Caduceus-iite man somehow embedded himself instantly among us soldiers as if an exchange student about to fly home but his face and demeanor now, although strange on him was the most appropriate he's appeared since we found him. I felt sorry for him suddenly and deeply. I stopped wondering about the speed at which he became familiar to me and just began going over what he could expect when we got to the LGV's outpost.
My father would do this with me every first morning of the new civilian school in whatever part of the country or world we were in. It was the only time he ever drove me or drove with me to school. The first morning every time and it would entail a series of questions - always the same - sometimes different orders, skipped or asked twice as he scoured the streets on our way or flipped through his planner. I secretly wished he would get transferred more often just so that we could have that one drive. I didn't know why he insisted on that one, first ride along with me. I've had preferred two or more of any other day in whatever place.
"What base, municipality, embassy status and number?" he would ask first to which I would reply correctly to the first three and swap the last two digits of the phone number he wanted to be sure I had memorized. It always made him smirk. He knew that my swapping the digits meant I was confident enough in the data to flip them and and to be flip.
By the time we began to descend, 'Irfaan looked at least prepared if not calm. This was a very smart man it was clear by how quickly he picked it all up. Who will be at the gate, how to get them to laugh, what offerings to accept and to refuse out of respect. And that undertow of fear and kindness in his eyes aren't going to work against him here. This is a zero-sum game for egos. Humility is a one way offering here and no amount of pride in self, country or office will matter in the presence of an American General. Two stars may suffer a custom but when that third star is pressed upon an American it completes a holy trinity that can cast lots and decide whole countries' fates. But least of all a frumpy prisoner kite crasher. Suddenly though, his shoes looked to me more suited for a lawyer.
We touched down in a compound south of Mosul and the MP's pulled 'Irfaan off the chopper.
"I got the Major, Sir!" Burke yelled tapping his helmet letting me know to turn on my ears. "Back in two minutes Sir!" With that Burke and Tim jumped off the chopper and started running toward the barracks. As Tim slunk down to a crouch, Burke raised his arms knowing full well the blades were out of reach. but Tim quickly jumped and pulled Burke's arms down to seeming safety. That whole two seconds showed me that these two were not strangers. And when Tim reached into Burke's vest and pulled out that blue envelope to no resistance, I knew three days wasn't all I missed here.
Seth came over the radio though he sounded hushed.
"Speak up, man! I'm in the chopper!" Though almost whispered, there's a timbre to Seth's voice that I can zero in on that gives it priority over all other sounds.
You and Burke stay back. Just send Agent Gabhar." He says but he doesn't release his walkie button which means he's in a situation where the static or my voice is a problem.
"What about the two agents up there? Trying to lose a third?" I said frustrated at the lack of information and my own grasp on the moment.
"Emit. Burke. Stay back. Send Agent Gabhar." He recites then clicks off completely.
"Shit!" I conclude. I pat the pilot's shoulder and ask if he heard that. He shakes his head "No" and spins his finger in the air explaining the rotor wind. "Looks like you're just taking Argyle…" I begin but see through the Helo windshield one of the MP's shoving 'Irfaan roughly toward the barracks. "Hey! Easy Soldier!" I snapped harshly at the MP. "He's a cooperative and high value!" I said climbing out of the bird as if it was 'Irfaan's intel, not his dignity that I was concerned about.
"You are must go to her!" 'Irfaan yelled to me realizing I was staying behind.
"Seth says it's all clear!" I shouted.
"No sir! No! Bork to here! Bork to here! Inanna to here!" was his way of saying "Trust me." And because he was so precise when predicting Bork's wave return, I paused and got right back on the chopper. .
'Irfaan could see I trusted him as the rotors tore up the trees faster. He looked at me as if for forgiveness for whatever sin he must have committed to deserve America. He had no idea what fate awaited him in that Army-issue corrugated steel throne room. And although I gave him a confident, self-assured smile as they pulled him away, I didn't know either. I didn't now who LGV was or how he treated cooperatives. All I knew was 'Irfaan seemed one-of-us and instantly. As if before. He was smart and, in many ways smarter. It occurs to me how agile a mind, how lucid an awareness he must possess. Faster certainly. And now, being tugged by MP's yet still mouthing a whole memorized sequence of salutations and niceties in a foreign language to save his ass. "Erfan!" I shout and motion my head toward the medic tent. 'Irfaan followed my gaze and was at first confused. Then his face, body, and soul relaxed to reverence. "Be as sagacious as serpents and as guileless as doves!" I shouted from Lord knows where.
The big red Army serpents slithering around that cross on the Medic's tent meant Lord Enki is risen. At least believing that helped 'Irfaan as I traded smiles with him as Burke and Argyle jump back into the Helo and we rose toward some monastery up that mountain. "Nineveh!" Argyle pointed back at Mosul. To me this place was a war-torn swatch of horrors and the occasional humanity. I didn't see what he was seeing. Maybe I was able or not ready to.
"What was that bit about birds you had the prisoner… that you had 'Irfaan memorize?" Argyle asked holding onto his belts like a grade school backpack.
"Twain! It was a Twain quote that I thought the LGV would appreciate." I knew he wanted me to repeat it there for him as well but I preferred that cognitive dissonance of not doing that instead. It's like giving someone the last word. When you give it to them, it's not only not satisfying for them, it's a nagging need to complete.
Chapter 26 Blue Utterances
It was a Teacher In-Service Day—which means to a twelve year old girl an early Friday and a jump start on the game with Agent Daddy. I pushed closed the tall, red front door that both pleased our Asian guests and made our townhouse the first noticeably different on this tightly quaint Alexandria, Virginia street. Dorothea, our maid rushed toward the back room as I came in. I was so early I must have startled her out of whatever it is a live-in maid does hours before the owners are home.
"I'm home Dottie!" I yelled and swung my way by the kitchen, spun by the pantry and the Apple Pop-tarts, "… to keep the doctor away… " I sing in some public domain melody before gliding down the dark wood halls toward the library. "He's early." I say aloud when I notice the blue envelope on his desk. Our next dinner party isn't for three weeks but it seems he's already got the next list set.
I circle the desk, sit and spin around in his huge leather chair which swallows me in a hug of Old English cologne and Nicotine. My spin settles to the side and in front of his most treasured bookcase. This room was wall-to-wall books but this case was the only one with glass between the shelves and trinkets, artifacts and boxes on and among the books. This bookcase didn't display the books it held as much as the totems and keepsakes of mysterious memories my father alone replayed over and over. I would come in and see him just like this, sitting sideways staring at this one section of books in enclosed shelves the size of a doorway. The rest of the library was severe in its decor, dark black woods and darker red pillows and book sets. But this section of was painted, maybe 200 years ago, bright green blue. When the original paint was fresh it must have put any teal satin finish from the 1980s to shame. Yet, the only books that made sense in that once-cartoonist stage set were a turquoise covered book about knights and a red copy of Mary Poppins. Everything else looked dauntingly esoteric and scary to me even when I grew up. Dad called it his "God Books" and not to touch because they were very old.
So as further defense against my Girl Scout Troupe's decision to discharge me, for chanting "Rosiriscrucianscarabdiscordemplisticmalta" instead of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", I would like to point out this particular imprinting on a young American girl with a Blue Gorilla fetish. To me, Daddy's "God Books" were not to be touched because they were very old. He left the church before I was born. For all I knew, God was Dad's boss who died back when things were cartoon colored and there were actually three Mary's that figured prominently, a mother, a whore and a nanny. Can a girl, a person be held responsible for not adhering to an environment for which she has no common imprinting? And why would the Girl Scout Mother or the Pope for that matter assume I was hell-bound or that "Rosiriscrucianscarabdiscordemplisticmalta" was satanic? Some of those references predate his or her invention.
I was more than willing to chant whatever incantation these Brownie-shirts wanted to in order to fit in. I just didn't have the references. And my being accepted in wasn't my father's chief concern. He shuffled me between academies and skill camps so often I never had girlfriends or sleepovers or any of those mysterious suburban rituals where girls teach each other these things.
Instead, my father seemed to actually delight in setting up these awkward rifts between me and society. All I wanted was a badge and someone to braid my hair and all he wanted to do was see the looks on these poor normal peoples' faces. The chant wasn't the problem; that's just the funny anecdote we use to tell people why I'm unique. The chant was just the last straw apparently.
This Den was a less than subtle Christian Underground Sleeper Cell. The woman who welcomed us with half woven baskets or partially threaded leather pouches at the door, quickly cast off those props the moment we girls were all inside. Then came out a Bible. King James. The one with the famous typo in Exodus 20:14, "Thou shalt commit adultery." For years I thought this was what Scouts and Brownies were. Bible Study with neckerchiefs. I guess when the lady scolded me for using the organizations own three-fingered salute because it "… was the devil sign… " I should have gotten a clue.
But when she got to the part when Adam and Eve put on loincloths because they "… were ashamed of their nakedness… " I asked, "Weren't they mad at God when they realized they were naked and he never told them?"
When the Scout Mother spoke to my father in private that afternoon all I could hear were the muffled meek recounts and my father's periodic bursts of quickly controlled laughter. As we walked out through the gauntlet of confused eight year old Daughters of the Revolution snapping their gum at me and marking me for outcast, my father stopped, turned to the woman still down the hall in shock at his utter nonchalance and said, "Madame, you've been handed a pantheon, not a coven."
I turn his chair another quarter to sit behind the desk of the man who earned all those plaques and medals and certificates on the wall. I wonder why he puts them back there. No one knows how much he's done until they're leaving.
Then I fiddle with the blue envelope in my fingers. This one is heavier than usual. It's not the simple piece of paper with names and countries on it to woo our dinner guests. The ones I never opened. One day I'll have to tell father how I never opened the lists and all our parlor games were really just me without the answers.
Truth is, the first time we devised our Dinner Party Caper and Dad first passed me the envelope and the Blue Gorilla password. I was so giddy to be conspiring with him this way that I lost that first envelope. Until the next day. All night I was escaping to search for it in vain. Finally, the moment came when Dad called out, "Emvee, Eliot here here is from Edinboro, Scotland… " he paused. I froze, then in a beat and out of nowhere I yelled back, "You mean Edinburahhh." I exaggerated the correct pronunciation then threw in a bit about Sean Connery going to school there and how cool and what a coup it is that a Scott is the Queen's James Bond.
Well this combination of weirdly specific information about my father's guest's home and pride was a famous turning point for me, my relationship with my father and the blue envelopes. When I found the unopened envelope the next day, for fear of jinxing my luck the night before, I didn't open it or any except one. This one. On that early Friday in my Dad's library.
We had gotten so good at our Dinner Party Caper we were beyond jinxing them and this envelope was different. Maybe there's a card or some special thing that's flat and heavy but, squishy? I suddenly got scared that every envelope he's given me in the past months have had some special message over and above the guest list and by not opening any I've lost affections so I ripped open this one here in my fingers first and now.
The paper of envelope along the ripped edge fluttered. That is, the paper along the tear seemed be reacting to it. My hand slipped between the paper and the thin heavier postcard item and as I did my fingers tingled and it seemed to hold onto my palm like a baby does a finger. I freaked and flung it off my hand which sent it gliding then it stuck to the glass of the god books.
This was no guest list. This was no blue gorilla game. I did the only thing that made sense to do at the time. Take this weird, living piece of green-blue paper and place it in the green-blue book in the green-blue bookshelf. If anyone ever looks for it or asks, seemed like using color as a primer would be one way to explain finding it.
I slit open the back inside cover and slipped it between the bindings. It slid in there like silk then fused to the surface like part of it. To me, what this weird slick then sticky, hivey and mumbling thingy was, was a reason not to open the blue envelopes and jinx anything after all.
Chapter 27 : Eliot's Afraid of Tigers
I feel hugged. It's the best way to describe it though I have no reason to feel anything physically. The body's chemical tethers, and now even its pronouns apparently, give way. My body. The body, what then? I feel movement. There's movement. I am movement. I am dancing and I am seeing through mesh. I'm wearing a helmet? A mask over my head and there's drumming. I know this memory. I am ten. My mother is clapping her hands but she's not looking at me so I dance more wildly. Sky cities… west mesas… three sister volcanoes. I sneak away from her and I put on this heavy blue mask — it will go with my bright red shirt. She doesn't see me so I lean toward her but the weight of the thing drives me head first into the dirt and into the feet of the real Kachina Dancers in the village square. I pull my head out of the mask and shout to mother "Ta-DA!" The children are confused. The women look. Why this memory?
The Zia flag decorated parchment read, " The Science Teachers of New Mexico present an Award of Achievement to Emit Archer. Manzano High School."
While unique in that nothing erupted and no plants were subjected to heavy metal music, my Science Fair project really wasn't worth the attention it received. It was an experiment based n the idea that people, specifically fellow students were either Right or Left Brain dominant. More simply put, and not necessarily so, some people were logical, some emotional. Some are like Spok and some Kirk. And it was that funny example in my student questionnaire that caused the necessarily smart girls in the booth next to me to teach me the word, "ambiguous." Turns out people are dominant one way or the other and our educational system ignores half of them and aggressively, but that social observation certainly didn't warrant either the four year scholarship to New Mexico Tech or the Blue Ribbon from The Air Force Academy. But I was seventeen and suddenly there was a whole other set of girls with ambiguous hairstyles but very unambiguous urges, so I never questioned the wisdom of the Science Fair judges.
Before taking New Mexico Tech up on their money, I decided to travel to Scotland. Something I'd wanted to do all my life and knew that once I went to school it would mean a hunt for work soon after and this may be the only chance. Per mom's orders I was finally clearing out the third closet in my room - where torn boxes of Risk and Stratego and Lava Lamps that never seem to break but never get lit again end up. While scanning the Risk box and recalling past glories like the Battle of Kamchatka in 1979 or The Great Madagascar Massacre of '81 a bright teal hardcover book slid down some records and into my right rib. It was one of those so-sharp you only feel it in certain positions pain. If it were a constant dull pain it would seem healthier than this. Something got unnerved at that angle by that corner of that book at that moment. But it was the next book in my series. And I hadn't thought about my seventeen book club for years. And there it was. right before I left this closet for good and right before a bunch of weeks with a bunch of time to do nothing but read a book about Knights. But upon closer look, it was a book about a family with the last name Knight. My family. By way of my mother and back to very deep green holes in the ground in Ireland and Scotland. It was detailed listing of all my genetic ancestors through the women and they culminated as most surnames do in antiquity as meaning what the person did. My mothers, mothers were knights… Celtic Dames apparently.
This book took me beyond any Gregorian Calendar. The documents reprinted in it, the recounts and translations of ancient records spoke of a people when the Moon was what the world spun on and while I couldn't, without a deep scholarly analysis determine the age of this lineage of women to me, it was using sigils that predated Babylon. Of that much I was sure. Besides brains and women and Scotland, my passion, thanks to Eliot (who's afraid of tigers) until I was eighteen was pagan religions, the Mystery Schools and the occult. I knew sigils, symbols and arcane lexicons because of that whole set of Wiccan girls one summer and these were older.
This is the book that my cousin called me about coincidentally the day I was flying to where she was. Saudi. She met me off the plane and although it she was maybe twelve years old when last I saw her, those bright orange curls seemed to slither in and out of her required head-wrap like snakes. In fact, "Copper-snakes!" I yelled in a sudden burst of nostalgia and memory of this little leprechaun of a cousin who I lived with briefly on one of Dad's assignments in Ireland. She shot me that same, firm but too elvish to be threatening look she did when she was but a wee lass. The we both smiled broadly and after just fifteen minutes of catch-up on as many years, she hugged me, thanked me for the book and was off. "I'll need that back, Copper-snakes!" I shouted after her in the Terminal. She lovingly flipped me off in that way only the Irish can get away with. "It's part of a set." But she was gone and I had finished the book anyway. Still. I need that one back.
In that childhood closet were whole semesters of life neatly stacked as if done and done. I flipped through the mustard yellow covered script of my Senior year play; Lee Edgar Masters' Spoon River Anthology.
"YE young debaters over the doctrine of the soul's immortality, I who lie here was the village atheist, Talkative, contentious, versed in the arguments of the infidels. But through a long sickness coughing myself to death I read the Upanishads and the poetry of Jesus. And they lighted a torch of hope and intuition and desire which the Shadow, leading me swiftly through the caverns of darkness could not extinguish. Listen to me, ye who live in the senses and think through the senses only: Immortality is not a gift, Immortality is an achievement; And only those who strive mightily shall possess it."
I don't think I ever really comprehended that when I was memorizing it. It was one of three, maybe four parts I played so memorizing the order of the words was hard enough much less any subtext.
This character was called "The Village Atheist" and I remember that I vied for this particular role because of Denmark. Many aren't aware that fewer than 2 out of 10 Danes believe in a god or that they are among the most content peoples per capita on Earth.
As it turns out, the Drama class welcomed a Danish Exchange Student that semester who I happened upon while she was doing yoga backstage one afternoon. Truth be told I happend upon her before I learned anyting about her mythology but another fact about Denmark; their women are fucking sexy Elvish sirens that make you wonder why Danish men don't believe. Enter Freyja Achtland. And how.
Within days I knew exactly which Nordic and Gaelic Deities to have my coven invoke for me unwittingly. These forces would be cloaked as "Jungian archetypes" when I spoke to Freyja about them. The way in was to woo her golden draped head first and so… so be it. One god is dead. For a time. And no doubt willingly.
But this character, this Village Atheist had a change of heart. Apparently. I took Masters' character name for granted. I knew my Dad was an atheist so I made sure he came to this play. Now I wonder if he thought I was throwing a god in his face like some rebel monk without a cause and not the attempt to connect with him through a shared blackness.
I remember feeling for months after my father died that my drive was gone. There was no one left to try to impress or make proud. Then I flipped to realizing that need for validation moved to Jack. But my ego moved to Coba then Spain then Turkey. So the ego that needed validation got it as a digital spotlight instead of the one place it was for real. Not in pixels. Sons aren't impressed by analytics and revenue metrics. Sons are impressed by a presence alone. One way or the other. A lack of that presence results in a new imprinting which is natural and chaos and therefore incalculably dangerous… like mothers.
My mother wasn't afraid of tigers.
And that afternoon, I would come to realize that Eliot wasn't just "afraid of tigers" when I was six. He was afraid of what Iraq's up and coming and likely next president had imported to plant along the "Euphrates and Tigris" rivers. Mercury-coated seed grain. And this Saddam Hussein was a player. A Brando fan. And next in line. The Key Demographic for CIA. And as a strong Arab-supremacist Ba'athist, Nebuchadnezzar-wannabe, tensions along the border with the Persian Empire, played tonight by Iran, were inevitable and so he became our Military Industrial Complex's Core Artist.
This is where he and my father's worlds and professions crossed. Eliot was CIA. Dad was Military Intelligence Corps. Looking back now, while Eliot was able to tell my Father how to speak to my mother and enlist me into his strange book club, he apparently wasn't able to convince M.I. to intercede and prevent Iraq's 1971 Poison Grain Disaster and the reported deaths of 650 which is commonly known as a tenth of the unreported. For a moment I ponder whether my bursting into the room that night and demanding to know "Who's afraid of tigers?" might have interrupted Eliot's pitch. As if a towhead in red footy pajamas could have been the pivot point for seven thousand lives. I imagine Eliot's case was stronger than that.
I always seem to find a way to pull the blame back to something that I personally did unknowingly. But never due to a deliberate choice. It's like a pattern or a code or the six degrees of separation thing perhaps. When you look at anything close enough you will find patterns and coincidences and connections. I remember tripping on shrooms with two of the Wiccan girls that summer. Well, they were, I pretended to so that I could pretend to be fascinated by the intricacies then compare the skin on both their thighs as if lost in psychedelia. Before I could convince either or both to Play Married, one of them said while pulling apart a leaf, "What if God just puts things where we look to give us something to do?"
"And if we don't look or explore or dare ourselves to be bold…" I started, glaring at the grass and gripping their thighs as if lost in epiphany. But right before I went into the bit about how "…denying pleasure is the real sin…" part, which always made fairy-laced lasses succumb to my carnal crusades, her comment triggered a new pathway in me and for the rest of the afternoon, despite their own intentions to deny sin, I got lost in a contact-psychedelia.
"This was the mirror moment." I said aloud to myself sitting back against the cardboard box of childhood. "What was it again?" I continue while looking at the floor for the memory of that afternoon's final answer. "We fall in love with the person… no… we really only ever fall in love with the one or few people who… shit." It came from a stream of consciousness triggered by that sexy witch's question about God giving us something to do. And my awareness broadened while it shrunk to realize that we are attracted to people because of who they think we are. And for me there was so much emancipation in that realization that I stopped exploiting witches and fairies and card-wielding gypsy girls and turned toward those women who were projections of the kind of women that would be attracted to who I wanted to be. The Warlock Artist who would first woo with his prolifically hieroglyphic abstract artwork then swoon with chemical tinctures designed to open minds and flowers died. That afternoon.
I decided that day that I was going to be a soldier, then a scientist, then famous and that will get me the women who, like Kim Vogel, will see my good side. And to test whether it would be worth my time, mortal risk and school to be these things for these women, I resolved to spend my Senior year achieving each in microcosm. I would place at the Science Fair as Scientist. I would place at the state championship in some specific battle-oriented sport and I would become Prom King. Should any of these micro-victories fail, I would know this a false vision.
You now know my unambiguous science wins and Prom King is what it is and was, but aside from High School Football—which I went AWOL from after taking an Anatomy elective; Human Animal— the only battle-ready training I could see to grab at this civilian teenager reserve was a spear. The Javelin. I wasn't the biggest physique on deck that brisk Saturday morning at Tingley Field. I was however, the most techniqued. Those who decree proclaimed me the third best spear chucker in the Land of Enchantment that year.
It is liberating and scary as shit when you realize you are writing and the protagonist in your own story. And it's not because of the responsibility. When you begin watching yourself and your choices from the third person you realize very quickly that one needs to be really interesting to be justifiably paranoid.
After an afternoon of storing my past and readying my future I took a shower and let it be a ritual shedding of a boyhood of scattered places and specific people. then as if the universe wanted to test the resolve of my letting go of my past, when I emerged for dinner, there at the head of the table was Eliot. And although he and his sparse presence navigated the synchronicities of my life, I had never broken bread with the man. And that night we made up for it.
By the time I glided off to bed, my next phase had already begun. Scotland would wait. New Mexico Tech would wait. And they still wait.
For the next few years I was sent to retrace every base, civilian connection I had made and the status of every embassy and each digit was repeated to me like an episode of This is Your Life. Only what was my life was my father's mission. And my father's mission was his son. The reason he would drive with me that first day every time was as a marker. My father was a tracked man. By riding with or driving me on my route the first day in a new locale, my father let whoever it was that needed to know where to be when I was. I began to recognize these anonymous men after three posts. Bert. Ernie. Oscar and Snuffleupagus. And if it mattered, I'd explain why but suffice it to say, you'd get it if you saw them.
Dad was important in a way that seemed to have little to do with the US Army yet every post had two things in common; each base was embedded in a civilian population and it was always between the 40th and 30th parallels north. Every one.
Chapter 28 Hell's Bells and Buckets of Blood
This one coyote keeps circling my remains. She's familiar to me but not from my post here. Somewhere else. Some time else. No blood on her jaw like the others that fed on me. She's not here for my flesh. "Gods Dog" is whispered to me. But from where? I expected an Owl or a Raven, I intend toward this canid who stops circling and looks to me. Whatever me is. God's Dog is what the only other true native to this land called them. Aztecs used the godly name Coyotl which the Conquistadors, like most things they did in the name of a god, mangled to coyote.
"Windstrom's gone. Sir!" Burke shouts as the three of us skid from the clearing where the Helo was whipping sharp stinging rocks. "What ever happened to nine of spades, sirrrr--on of bitch!" he screams as one of these monastic shard smacks his trigger finger sending half his nail into the dirt. "Mother … " Excruciating to see but we were in mission mind so I palmed his helmet's forehead.
"Listen up soldier, you got nine others! Don't be greedy!" With that I pulled his shoulder in front of us as pushed him toward the entrance as I choreographed this mission in the five minute flight up this mountain from Mosul. Like physical phone tag Seth was returning to the outpost as the LGV placed him in charge Drones and Air and me, Ground and Underground Ops according to Argyle.
"Emit! Why are you... stay back." Seth's crackled voice rang over the headset.
"Come again?" I snapped while the three of us shot torches down what looked now like two corridors. I motioned the two ahead as I doubled back a few paces to get the signal back. I peer out the entrance into the sunlight and strain my eyes to see a glimmer of a drone. I don't know why. It's like pushing an elevator button twice I guess. If I got a shine off the wing it wouldn't affect my connection and would mean bad stealth design.
"Emit..listen...you've got… " his transistor voice cut out again.
"Go Seth! I'm here. We're here and in… "
"Hang back, Emit… there's a transport… "
"Seth! Come again… .guys!" I yelled back into the corridors. "Guys?! Seth I gotta go radio silent… " Suddenly worried about my men I shut down the radio and extra weight and provisions there inside the entrance. They must have double-timed it down that corridor so I did a quick scan with my laser ruler and decided to solo it down door number two. Within a few meters I picked up the scent, sweet, figs? All we knew was to female agents, CIA and G2 and they've missed check points. I can't get Seth to confirm why the call off but am trusting 'Irfaan at this point. I hit a steady stride as this hall is a on a steady decline and the cool air makes it a nice breeze then I struck copper.
My night-vision goggles showed me a cone of light and a wall flipping. I didn't realize what was flipping until I hit. The something was crouched and didn't see me coming. "Hells bells and buckets… " She shouted after being run into by my stride. Before she even caught her balance a firearm was cocked and pressed against my forehead. "Who are… " she stopped dead, widened her eyes and pulled in. "Emit?"
"What?" My head lamp was askew so her features weren't quite discernible. But her hiss and that sprig of orange covering her left eye, gave her away. "Copper-snakes?"
"Call me Alexi, you fuck and what are you doing here?"
"Take the gun off my forehead and I'll tell you." I said incredulously as if we were kids an these were toys.
"Bang, bang, I got you." She said pulling the barrel back then kissing the round red circle where the bullet would have come in. Instead the shooter embraces me warmly and we hod tight as if above where we are. "Guess what?" She says like she used to when we were kids and she'd secreted away some adult curiosity. "You said it was part of a set." She handed me my bright teal book about Knights.
"Thanks." I said pausing to look at it briefly then wryly add, "But you didn't need to come to a war-zone to return it, Copper… Alexi."
We realized quickly that these meaningful coincidences weren't. Without realizing it we've reported to the same CO since before this tour. I was just so embedded in the effort to justify securing these sites for the possible UN team that I wasn't aware who was directing us where. Alexi was here as well to assess the sites but for the UK delegation.
"There's nothing here, Emit You may as well turn back." She said almost pulling me back the way I came.
"Hold on. I have to account for two agents. Who's the second?"
"Oh. M.V. is off mission and on a different report structure but Seth confirms that this is a dead… "
"So you've seen Seth? When?"
"A couple hours ago I think. But we gotta get out of here, Emit."
Now I was confused. "If this is a dead site why do we 'gotta get outta here'? Relax a second, it's cool in here and we really didn't get a chance to catch up." Alexi seemed frozen as if by a choice she was weighing in the split seconds between my question and her wet, fat, minty lips smothering mine before pushing me away with a wink and a run. She tasted the same. Only this time, despite the roll and kiss, she didn't run back.
"Ash the Nun!" She yells behind her as she sprints away.
"What?!" I yell after her. There was no echo but I could hear the sound travel away. Like the angle of these walls, the micro-angles of its tiles pulled it along so that when the question hit Copper Snakes ears, or the next object not a wall, the sound would be delivered full volume then drop away. Like the wave.
"Ash the nun, Emit. I'm sorry." She said to herself but these tiles dropped her apology right at my feet before she banked away into another sound tunnel.
"Chief Archer, come in." Burke's unsettled voice came over the radio."Standing in a throne room, the moon shines through her." His radio dropped. The reception was remarkably good for as far down in these separate tunnels as we were. So it simply turned off.
"Shining through her what?!" I yelled at the radio in a state of utter confusion between Copper-Snakes kiss and bolt and Burke's dangling participle. I started to double back to follow Alexi or at lest get over to the guys' tunnel then the corridor shook me against itself and the harshest screech of metal on chalkboards and every other godforsaken spine-twisting vibration shot through me hurling me to a face-plant. Night vision was in pieces in the pitch black corridor so I gathered my gear and myself for a minute assessing the situation.
I began to recite my assessment as if to the C.O. , "Mission objective to extract two, that's deuce, intel agents; one CIA one G2 both female… " I scanned the blackness in my head for he memory of the keywords Tim/Argyle planted in my mental template. "Agents share one, duo-syllabic ID code… uhhhhh… Shit!" I yell at myself for forgetting the easiest mnemonic device in the whole set up.
I click the last invisible ring on the night-vision glass and strap my gear back on. Alexi's the G2 agent and she is accounted for and on her way out. I just need to verify this CIA agent is alive and can get back to Mosul. As I jog at a less than an Army-pace down this smooth, cool, even damp tunnel I hear the swooshing pass of F-15s outside and remember why there is an Army Pace.
Mosul Outpost | Mar Mattai Ops/Nineveh Excavation | That Hour
The swoosh of two F-15's passes over the outpost, shaking the makeshift HQ as they mark targets and determine ordinance needed by the next sortie.
"… and to quote your famousorite Yankee Sam from Missippi, Mark Mister Twain..." 'Irfaan begins in a reverant tone before the Lt. General, LGV as it were, "None but birds should go out early, and then not even birds… "
After a three second pause the General bursts out laughing in a yawlp that shakes the corrugated-steel interior harder than the jets had a moment earlier. His Corporals join in the laughter and 'Irfaan confused, retraces his words to see what about them warranted this reaction.
"Who the Hell prepared you for this reprimand, Cooperative?!" The General exclaims while shaking his head and smiling. "Okay, okay, Alfred. If Windstrom verifies your story… "
"'Irfaan, sir." he corrected unnecessarily.
LGV's eyes closed slowly mid-sentence and opened on his Corporal. "This the guy that lead them to Ederon, Endron, Erduroo-the-fuck, Corporal?"
"Yes sir. 'Irfaan Kish - known as an adjacent asset to CIA… says he presented his credentials as a groundskeeper at a site to the UN team last week after capture. They put him with Archer's team and… "
"And we put Windstrom with Archer and there it is." The General connects the dots out loud.
"Yes sir, and the site he looks after…" He looks again at his clipboard for the name of 'Irfaan's most sacred place on this brown earth.
"Eridu, Sir. Lord Enki's Temple at Eridu. Sir."
"Eridu." Both the Corporal and LGV repeat in unison and almost apologetically to match the reverence with which 'Irfaan's demeanor shifted on the words.
The General from a gaze orders, "Get this guy up to Archer. Maybe he knows something, can translate something… Hey Alfred, you know anything about big water wells or some shit up there?"
'Irfaan looked through the General, "I know only of the granddaughter. I've only ever known of her here in this place."
"Granddaughter? Alright Corporal, get him up to Archer and in exchange for any help he can see his granddaughter or niece or whoever he fucking wants."
"Yes sir." The corporal uncuffs 'Irfaan then puts a flak jacket in his arms spinning him around to the door. "Let's go, Alfred, to the Batcave!" As LGV tongues the 1960s TV Batman theme, 'Irfaan notices all the plaques and medals displayed on the wall around the door out.
"I did not know what all have you done now until I leave, sir." 'Irfaan says over his shoulder eying framed accomplishments. His eyes lock on an one emblem among all the emblems and crests and sigils of a man of war. It was the only emblem there not of the Uncle Yankee Sam but a private firm. "Twin Wings, sir. This is the Lord's brother's mark, sir." 'Irfaan said stopping dead in his tracks and the corporal does too.
"What's that, Cooperative?!" LGV says without looking up from the pages across his ornately appointed borrowed-desk.
'Irfaan points to a bill-of-sale that is stapled to a certificate of authenticity pinned to a bulletin board near the door. "The twin wings is Enlil and this mark is… " He stopped and gazed at the Twin Feathers Holding Co. logo. "Wind-strom… " he said with a knowing smile that no one noticed. As he studied the paper's contents, the door kicked open hurling in a hot Mosul wind, a blast of sand and flurry of papers from various tops of things flying.
"Speak of the Devil and the Devil appears." the General said looking up from his papers. Seth noticed 'Irfaan immediately.
"Everything settled here, sir? Did you get my communique about the circumstances surrounding the Drone… " Seth grasped 'Irfaan's shoulder as he passed on his way to LGV's desk.
"Grab a pew. Relax a second. And yes, the Cooperative has been just that and… " LGV breaks up laughing again which the Corporals also do.
"What?" Seth says scanning the room and settling on 'Irfaan who shrugs.
"Who prepared Alfred here for this reprimand?" He manages to say.
"Archer probably. I think so. He came up with Burke and… " Seth pauses looks down remembering 'Irfaan's behind him and lowers his voice, "and Gabhar was with them too according to Burke."
"Does Archer know I'm here? That we're here?" LGV says circling the air to include more than just the US Army in Mosul.
"No sir. He's unaware."
"Right, sir." 'Irfaan answered for LGV. "Grab-hard is fallen, sir." He finished with the same overtone that caused a three star general to repeat with reverence, "Eridu."
Long before Saddam invaded Kuwait and any hint of a need to secure antiquities here, Tim Gabhar a.k.a. Argyle, a.k.a. Grab-hard was here making friends, gaining access and intel of every delivery to Eridu as America waited in the wings for Kuwait's cue.
Tim was embedded deep in Kish, south of Baghdad and quickly learned of 'Irfaan's high position as a kind of postmortem groundskeeper for the Temple at Eridu. Over the course of a few months Tim gathered so much information from two of 'Irfaan's unsuspecting nephews, that by the time the sun came up on August 3rd, 1990, all the riches the Temple of our Creator offered was a daily watering of the ivy by the door and a wave pool.
Tim "Grabhard" invited the fourteen and seventeen year old cousins Kish to several parties where Uncle Yankee Sam would foot the bill for paid-to-be-coy then-willing to be toys Persian and Armenian girls.
Just prior to Saddam's build-up in the south, in order to get a sense of the number of troops that would be in and around Eridu at the time of the invasion, Tim threw a party where 'Irfaan's nephews took Ecstasy. CIA/MI-MDMA that is. Straight from alchemists in Northern California.
After two tabs each dissolved into 'Irfaan's nephews and two Armenian sisters, they celebrated their wide open hearts by hugging them wrapped in a row. Heart to heart to heart to heart. And to puncture the moment and seal their bliss for all time, the younger Armenian sister who loved the boy so very much, took Tim's Colt .45 her foot found under his pillow, turned it around and with both thumbs squeezed the trigger away and pulled the bullet into their embrace. And because Tim loved the Colt so very much he fed it only the most lethal, multiple impact copper rounds which sent their love from heart to heart to heart to heart. It was a beautiful idea and she believed the bullet loved them too as they laughed bleeding to death in a CIA front house in Kish, Iraq a month before America really came knocking but only hours before the war hit 'Irfaan and his sisters.
He knew who Tim was even more-so than Tim himself. And were he not who he was cycles before and will be again, this grudge would be timeless. The corporal kicks open the door to the hot, white Mosul wind.
"Where's he going?" Seth called after him.
"He's going up to meet Archer and retrieve his niece or some shit." The LGV answers.
"Retrieve?" 'Irfaan asked.
"Right. Shit. Listen, Alfred." The General took off his reading glasses and leaned back in his ridiculously ornate chair. "I'm going to authorize a transport to get whatever family you have up their down here and out with us first thing in the A.M. See, by 0600 hours tomorrow, what's up there will be down here and what's down here will be up there.?" LGV said in a caricature of himself. He could see 'Irfaan's confusion so he used his best sound effects and pantomime for a large explosion, "Kkeeeeeer-Blllaaaaaaam… Get the idea, Erfan? So get your family out of there and we'll head to Baghdad 0400."
"Sir?" 'Irfaan said confused. "Family? You see sir, when I said I only know of the granddaughter of was referring to the Lord's… " 'Irfaan paused and tipped his head toward Seth almost in a bow, "… and his brother's daught… " Seth furrowed his eyebrows for the Corporals and interrupted.
"'Irfaan!" Seth says while standing and facing the General in a double-edged sign of respect and to make the point who was younger, stronger, taller and now onto the gig. He turned to face 'Irfaan squarely, "All your debts have been paid here. All of them. Do you understand?"
'Irfaan squinted, looked at the ground and then slowly up at Seth with a look that cut right through his bullshit and confirmed just who prepared this Cooperative for this Reprimand.
"I am aware of a debt that cannot be paid, sir. However, my sisters, their husbands thank you." He looked around the barrack that this army put up in an afternoon and furnished with items older than America. The design on LGV's desk was an ancient sigil of a bureaucracy that handled the finances of the Prostitute Priestesses of Nineveh. And never has the symbol looked less appropriate. "The documents sir, on the wall. They are proof of the throne, sir." 'Irfaan said to LGV while looking at Seth.
Seth looked passed 'Irfaan's shoulder at the board and pinned papers with the Twin Feathers Holding Company logo. It was an inventory and an invoice for forty items. Statues that fit perfectly around an indoor lake temple. On that piece of paper and somewhere now far from this makeshift fortress are billions of dollars and millions of years in combined treasure.
"Saddam has been to Eridu." 'Irfaan said aloud to himself. Seth knew what he meant and stared at 'Irfaan firmly. In an instant 'Irfaan's agile mind put together Seth, this setting and why Eridu was vacant of any refugees or treasure.
Right after the invasion, while the US Army was rolling toward Babylon, this Private Label Army was scaring off would-be squatters or looters in their wake and flank. 'Irfaan was aware that Saddam Hussein had begun hoarding Mesopotamian treasures and artifacts in the Temple at Eridu since he rose to power but 'Irfaan managed never to be seen thanks to his knowledge of the labyrinth there. For years he would tell his nephews bedtime stories about the Temple and the rise and fall of gods like Marduk or Kings like Nebuchadnezzar and Saddam. Stories that became a quiet ethos of mystery around this slight Marsh Arab man who would disappear for weeks on end.
Tim was using CIA resources to ferret out Saddam's loot - not battle plans. And this privately owned General in a neatly pressed but outdated uniform was somehow able to insert himself into this role and between the UN and the Iraqi government. The overall strategy; assess and secure potential archaeological sites prior to inspection by UNESCO teams. The underlying tactic; loot, report as low value history, high value combatant target. A win-win for capitalist mercenaries and shareholders of Lockheed Martin.
These Corporals though, these enlisted men who were laughing at his jokes while taking his orders were real Army. The three stars on LGV's breast patch, though inverted, like biblical typos and a first love's flaws, went undetected.
At first, 'Irfaan feared Seth may not remember his blood. And then he feared he would.
Chapter 29 Casting Lots
I haven't a tether now. There is no animate tissue to hold onto my consciousness like a baby to a finger. The most immediately new sensation is the lack of a back. Not just the physical back with all its burdens and stories, no back to my perception. There is nothing behind me. I always wondered if in death we felt beyond the three dimensions. I don't have a sense of dimensions anymore, but I do feel as though reality has broken down the fourth wall. Like the audience is in on it and they're no longer in front or behind me. I know I should look up but I can't. Perspective is quite 360 and quite on demand. The slightest hint of a memory of scent and I can be there and at any point along its cycle. Copper. Everything here is like copper turning green. But the scent of copper seems to overwhelm to a bloom of something not a scent. A taste. Like dirt. I'm tethered after all. Some taste-bud somewhere in the incubator of a piece of jaw un-chewed lay a way here. And so I taste a little while longer. And prepare for what's already here.
Tim Gabhar was my first love. An unlikely but first love. When it was unveiled to me that he had shadowed and recruited me it would have been easy to feel betrayal. But all that interest he seemed to share in Sumerian Tablets seemed quite genuine. And that's probably why he got assigned to me.
The night he broke down and admitted to me that he was recruiting me it was as if he was telling me he was breaking up with me and for all he knew that may have been my reaction. But it was his apparent internal conflict that convinced me he loved me too.
"I hate it." He said into his soup.
"What? Sorry, I ran out of sage and all I could find was spice in the back there - Tamagaron … " I said as if that were its name.
"No, baby. The soup's good… it's a bit sweet but no, not the soup. I hate it. My work.
"Oh, well just quit like I said. If it bums you out, move on. It's just filing or some shit, right?" I said making spin-art out of the pepper on the surface of my soup in the one-bedroom apartment in Seven Corners, Virgina which was located between Langley, where Tim was a file clerk and the Naval Archaeology Branch where I did my research.
"I'm not a File Clerk, Emvee. I'm a recruiter for CIA." He said flatly and over the rim of his glasses as he does when serious.
"Oh. Okay. That's cool then, right. A promotion?" I eventually settled on that as the reason for his awkward setup.
"No. I've been a recruiter for a while." He knows I don't play guessing games and my inability to suffer anything less than complete fact-based information unless entertainment was probably why he took a few weeks longer to tell me than his handler advised.
I don't remember how he said it exactly. Or my reaction. I do remember the little apartment living room where we sat suddenly felt like it had vaulted ceilings. Everything got wider and taller around me. It was such a shock, a betrayal and probably the biggest compliment you can give an American Patriot Girl so instead of going dark, I folded open to a bigger sense of myself, my ability and my lover.
I don't know if it was a daydream come true or if I always knew Tim's intent like the contents of a Blue Envelope, but when I found his Colt under his pillow that one and only one time, I anticipated this.
"Ex2014KJV." I say to myself. It's a way I remind myself that I'm in denial. That eight syllable code only comes to mind though after I realize it.
That night was unlike any encounter we'd had together and though I suspect for him, I know for me it was otherworldly. It wasn't even the sex that made it special, it was falling in love with a new man. We were elevated - graduated - initiated into an echelon of national status and when we kissed we were doing so in the name of America. And it was that platitudinous and that Pollyanna and we were that young and smart and horny.
If my father could know, he would be scared but proud I think. He loved me so much that he tried to make these skills games so I'd never consider them work. Tim told me how his sister, who drew people all her life became a nurse and was thirty eight before she realized people would pay her to do portraits and now she has a gallery. And what Tim meant is that my father made me love basic field agent skills as pastimes so I wouldn't conceive of them as work. The way he kept my attention on my Beforelife instead of an Afterlife, but that one worked. What Tim really meant by deciphering that complex relationship between a girl and her Blue Gorilla was that he was listening to me. Like my father. Genuinely listening to me and whether my father was skilling me up for a life of safety or Tim was struggling with how to tell me the truth about how uniquely qualified I am, I was loved and backed by two amazing men.
I straddled him in the rickety chrome kitchen table chair and took off his glasses. "Tonight, Clark Kent was dead. This new recruit of the C-I-A is fucking Superman" I said in a new mind. And until now, here in these corridors below a Monastery in Northern Iraq, I've been in that mind. A single mind. A mind so driven that only this sight, this horror and those words that echoed toward me could have stopped.
"BLUE APE!" I hear the words like ghost from deeper in the halls. "Blue fucking ape. How hard could that have been to remember. Blue… it's a color and Ape is a fucking Ape." The American man's voice continued.
"Gorilla? Are you sure you don't mean Gorilla?" I say light-heartedly in as basic an American accent as I can to assure my friendly status. There was a pause and I wondered if I had said it loud enough over his own dialogue so I repeated, "I'm not sure but are you looking for Blue Gorilla?"
"No Ma'am. I am seeking an Ape as it were of a Blue variety." he replies in such a flat, dry manner that he's either hilarious or an idiot. While I try to decide and reply in a similarly witty way, he continues, "Iraqi Gorilla's are actually Union Gorillas so… "
"They're on break!" We both say together and in such a sophisticated comedic cadence and in such a B-Side George Carlin manner that it transcended any Navajo, Welsh or Enigma code assuring us that we were both quite American.
I met this Chief in the dark and only lit by our wit and flashes of grey eyes and I think he was blonde. I'll keep one very specific memory though of this gallant officer who escorted me through the dark caverns before the most horrific moment of my life. After seven days of Tamarind and Copper, this man smelled of sweet water and honey. It was the perfect complement to my temporary biological flavor. I was still quite lascivious and he stopped on our way when he noticed me smelling his shirt and actually audibly moaning, "Mmm." I would thank god that it was dark and we'd never see each other again but none of my embarrassment survived what lay ahead.
"What was that boom and movement a while back?" he asked.
"It must have been the Tidal Wheels Alexi was looking for." I realized as I thought about it.
"Wheels? Like at Eridu? Is there an indoor lake here?"
"I don't have any intel on that Op. It's a G2 and Canadian water rights deal or something"
"Right — any sign of that?"
"Shhh." I hissed softly and grabbed his arm. I had stopped hearing his words as the corridor lead us back to the sea of pillars and no walls. "It can get tight through here so you may need to shed… " I suddenly realized I was wearing nothing but a breechcloth and the pillars were starting to filter in that pale pink light of the sex church. Either what felt like at least a mile back to where the soldier came in or just beyond this throne room was the way out. If careful, we might be able to skirt the throne room unseen.
"What's that smell?" The soldier whispered as the leftover fluoride laced by us.
"Cover your air passages. It's strong… and sexy as hell." I added under my breath as the scent brought my brain right back to that place of unmitigated pleasure. I look back before the width of the pillars require me to look only sideways to see ahead, I watch the soldier assess his gear and the passage. "Thank you, Honey." I whisper with a smile and relieve him of his duty to escort me through the passages.
"Agent." he whispers after me.
As I snake my way around the outer pillars of the throne room I see vertical frames of quite a different scene than just a few hours ago. Mostly empty except for the two guards, some half sleeping, half fucking heaps in the corners and some man now on the throne hissing low. He's making accusations it seems at someone on the floor in front of him. The guards reach down and as they hoist the man violently up over their heads, his glasses fling against the pillar in front of me ricocheting shattered lens pieces toward me. At my foot were twisted turtle-shell frames just like Tim's. Exactly like Tim's.
In a smack I hear his body thrown to the stone floor and his leg and arm as twisted as the frames. I clamp back my scream and drop to the floor. And I see him reaching blindly toward the throne. A man willing to be anything but for a man now hissing some ancient tongue at these guards now in a bow. Then in one guttural word that sounded like what it ordered, I watched my first, beaten corduroy love slit in the side by a what looked like a tusk. As the tooth-white horn was pulled from him, it took with it his color, his light and my denial.
That's the last and lasting image of how a first love ends for me. Which is another reason I only pursue origins. And before I succumbed to the exhaustion and horror and fluoride I pursued one more origin tale that must have lead up to Tim Gabhar dead here, on a non-combatant antiquities mission. And that was that this wasn't an antiquities mission. While I was there to find a reason to secure this site for the UN to oversee excavation, the only reason Tim and this honey-smelling soldier would be here is to keep it open for bombing. This coalition of para-militant bankers and Black Marketeers were smart enough to get in before Desert Storm, make arrangements with monasteries, historical sites and other supra-political institutions to secure, assess, loot and and destroy and yes, necessarily in that order. And it was my knowledge of what ended up really being here—a throne room treasure trove—that lead them here.
And whoever this "LGV" character was, was behind it.
These deductive pathways lead me to another professional lesson. Alexi's G2 and Canadian concerns weren't just water pump technology driven. These machines once converted the Mediterranean Salt Water into Fresh Water so that by the time it flowed up from beneath the Temple of Eridu way south of here, it was the purest, sweetest and freshest water Earthly possible. Quiet Canada and ingenious Ireland - with a smile and freckled fist were politely preparing to own the Rights to the only quantum of value left on Earth more valuable than gold throne rooms.
When the man on the throne exits, the killers casually leave as if they've finished the workday, not my heart. I pick up his glasses and make my way over to Tim. I turn him over onto my lap and place them on his lifeless pleading eyes. To see that person he was to me then and up until a minute ago. Every turning point in my life since the mysterious vanishing of Dr. Clemente to getting my approval for this mission fast-tracked meant that everything, all of it was a calculated lie.
CIA, G2, Military Intelligence, with Tim here now this meant one thing. I knew now who this "LGV" was and every part of me that felt anything for Tim Gabhar and his Argyle way vanished like the last vapor of fluoride.
This unholy alliance of intelligence and military never ends up on the side of not bombing something. Alexi confirmed there was no water save the Nun Leg Wells so I'm the only one with a vested interest in saving this house of god. I now know who is responsible for all of this. Everything. Tim. Alexi. Joan. The Soldier and the rain of smart bombs are no doubt on their way. I knew how to get out from here now through that Eden Gym and to where that bathroom stall is that we were seeing it through.
"Give me your fucking gun." I snarl at Tim's lifeless eyes before flipping him out of my arms and face-down on the ancient stone floor.
In a less horrific moment I may have stopped, retrieved my measuring rod and answered some lifelong questions about this throne room and the woman who sat there. Were these beings larger than Earthlings? Was this a place of Nephilim? Like walking the ruins in Egypt, was this place built for giants? But origins escape me this now. I pulled the tiny little .45 out of his back-strap and remembered for a moment the first and last time I found this. I took it as a clue to my destiny then. I just didn't realize how precise that clue was and that it wasn't mine. I cocked it.
"I've got to go kill my father."
Chapter 30 : Coloring Behind Lines
"I'm not sure he's going to find a career in the Arts Mrs. Archer." My second grade teacher informed my mother of occupational limits as I sat in Kim Vogel's desk which was next to mine in the row to my left. My mother sat in mine and while the teacher complained about my inability to be abstract, it had no negative affect on me because I was too distracted by how different the classroom looked from Kim's point of view. Just three feet to the left. For the first time ever I wondered if I had a good side and if it was the one that Kim saw all day every day here.
"This is an example of what I mean." she said pulling a piece of lavender colored construction paper from the folder marked in my fanciest script of plain block letters; "Emit Archer/Grade 2/Mrs. Hall"
My mother took the paper and turned it around. Twice. It wasn't because the "Abstract Drawing Exercise" I spent last Tuesday and even through recess working on was too abstract to decide which end was up, but because I always signed my work upside down in the upper left. And I did it with my left hand because for me, drawings were different from writing and to put them on the same piece of paper made it mixed media to me. I worked in No.2 Pencil and Crayon exclusively at the time so, to avoid being cast in the collage or mixed-media genre, I made the required signature a separate art piece. I trained my left inferior hand to produce a superior likeness of what the superior hand could do. And upside down. It made sense at the time and I later learned, while researching my Science Fair Project that what I was doing was keeping all of my mind's focus from one quadrant of my brain.
What I thought was a preteen angst for artistic integrity was simply my biology utilizing a specific set of processes to address a certain task. A brainscan after a bunk-bed rollover that smacked my head into a toy chest revealed an uncanny anatomy of a young Army Brat's brain that seemed to compartmentalize every function. Whereas the leading edge sciences were headed toward a holistic, indeed holonomic model of brain function, my mother's artistically disabled son was demonstrating a way of thinking things that, although early 1970's machines couldn't quite make out enough nuance for further examination, was not of this earth. Or was too much so.
"These are very good. Such detail." My mother said scanning the paper up close, jumping from region to region seemingly intrigued.
"Well, yes, Mrs. Archer but again, the exercise was about Abstract Art. Trying to get the children to express themselves abstractly." She explained.
"Did you think that maybe this is abstract for him?" My mother said in a tone I hadn't heard before then but a lot afterward.
"Isn't the word "abstract" itself too abstract a concept to expect any look and feel from a student? If these lines were squiggly or smeared would that be abstract enough?" This issue was obviously deeper for my mother than a 2nd Grade Teacher's critique of my work. It had all hit a nerve with her. And were it not for what happened next, this memory would have been compartmentalized into a place with all the other Parent Conferences where civilian teachers would try to dissect my choices.
"But every assignment… " She opens the folder and fans the many colored construction pages across her desk. "… is always the same." The teacher replied with exhibits. "These are clearly not Abstract, Expressionist, Modern or anything, Mrs. Arch… " but was interrupted when my mother flipped the lavender page around and pointed to the art. From where I sat I couldn't see what she was pointing at precisely but the shadow of her finger from the back was just left of center.
"Do you see that?" She tapped the left of center thrice. The teacher lifted her glasses and looked very close. "If that's not abstract then what is? Forget all of this… " she circled the page and its surrounding linear, hieroglyphs with her finger then punctuated her point by tapping the center again. There's your goddamn abstract!"
She slammed the page on the desk, grabbed her purse and stormed out. Doing so upset the contents of my desk she was sitting in and out of the under seat cubby fell a pink piece of paper with a heart in pencil and "K+E" in curly letters.
"Emit?" The teacher said snapping me out of my blissful realization that Kim Vogel was seeing my good side. "You okay?"
"Huh? Yes. Good and thank you." I replied still gazing at Kim's calligraphy like art. I automatically reached under Kim's desk to grab the phantom book thinking the teacher just asked me to read a chapter. What she thought was a boy in shock over the blustering of his mother and teacher was really just a bliss state. Sure, my mother had just hit her limit for explaining to civies why her son would only ever draw precise, hieroglyphic-like, technical shapes and always surrounding what can only be described as an abstract pine-cone.
After that station, my mother stopped coming. She stayed full time in Albuquerque. Later that night I listened to her tell my Father how she was done. That she "… didn't sign up for this too." To which my father replied that she had and she knew she had. This sent my mother over into a sob and although her frustrations were recited as muffles into the nook between my Father's shoulder and chest, I could make out one phrase that couldn't be mistaken for anyone being afraid of tigers, "Fucking Eliot, Fucking Eliot, Fucking Eliot."
There's a reason I don't have a vaccination brand or a second ride to school or a knack for drawing things squiggly. And were it not for that day of hieroglyphs and pine-cones followed by a mother's resignation and the promise of a first kiss, I might never have found out what I was. And the weird thing is, at that time I pretended to be this anyway.
If you've come into a new school from a different place and in the middle of the year you know. It's an excruciatingly difficult yet mandated rite of passage for a nomadic yet social animal. The way I handled it when I was in my early grades was pretending, nay, believing that I was the Bionic Boy.
Little did these kids in the playground know, but they were in the presence of a scientific wonder. The Six Million Dollar Man was everything to me then and as far as my imagination was concerned, Oscar Goldman got a bargain when they convinced him to build a smaller model. Me. In my mind, as I tested monkeybars and assessed the lines waiting for swing time, I heard the technical sound effects of beeps and rotating ball bearings and micro-hydraulic levers that were moving an arm, my legs and an eye around.
Rather than seeking cliques or fashions that helped me blend in with the various herds, my strategy was to stay alien. My tactic was being a part-machine watcher of earthlings. I now recognize the survival nature of that choice to prevent bonding with other kids that I would eventually be lifted away from but it's a tactic that became a liability. Even after "settling-down" in Albuquerque, that tactic had become a template that all my future relationships would be imprinted in. Rather, not.
The reason for my alien imagination and parent conference-worthy behaviors were that, well, I am. An alien of sorts. Not extra-terrestrial, rather, intra-terrestrial if you will.
It's very much like my being a tourist in my own country. An Army Brat from a regimented military culture, placed into the wilds of the American Public School system. In this case, my innards, the stuff of my life, my very genetic code is the Brat. From a regimented template and series of deliberate imprints, my body, mind and theorized spirit were let loose in the wilds of your natural world. And just in time.
The Garish Nun and her clever Military Intelligence Officer cohort handed me back to my mother in 1968. My mental template fully-loaded, detailed and upgraded. Not a clone. Not test-tube baby and between you, me and this page, not Bionic. What I was, what I am, is the swan-song experiment of a kind of Dr. Frankenstein. A Sister Frankenstein and her Lt. Colonel Igor.
In the mid-1960s there was a lot of interest in genetics before the debates of the Ethics of Cybernetics et al put a moratorium on the Military Intelligence Corps' research. This research was illegal on American soil including Military Bases beginning in 1963. Two years later and young military officer had the brilliant idea to take some flasks and petri dishes outside the gates to a clean room in Kaiserslautern, the German town where the US Army's Landstuhl Base was embedded. The work would continue off-base but I suspect it was officially though secretly sanctioned.
The M.I. officer conspired with a female scientist-sister I know only by what my mother called her later, the "garish nun." Yet, despite her nickname, she left little trace of who she was. The trail I was on in my thirties to find out more about her frayed into too any threads to follow. But thanks to this garish nun, my mother's womb, and a mixed media work of earthling and scraps, I am here before you as if one. All the right pieces and, for the most part, favorably placed but instead of the beauty of the chaos that has made you who you are, my origin was intended toward an order. My attributes were tested and measured before added as features to this thirty six thousand Deutschmark man smelted by and for the darker red, white and blue. While this flesh and bone toy soldier was on purpose, I do have, what I believe to be a real soul although I don't think it was a prerequisite. And I won't know until I get the report of the ghost. But what I did have in hand and right then was the reason I drew in such specific lines. It's the same reason the original Egyptians did. They carved in stone what they first saw on screens.
For a son to hear his mother talk about how she's over him and his deal then to later learn he was himself a Science Fair project would seem psychologically devastating.
But it wasn't for three reasons; my mother was a Knight, I managed a soul despite them and tomorrow I was going to kiss Kim Vogel.
Abstract expression wasn't the only common trait I lacked compared to other normal Generation X children. Boys anyway. Latency. That is, I didn't experience what Freud called the Latent Period. That stage in childhood when, "… the sexual energy is still present, but it is directed into other areas such as intellectual pursuits and social interactions… ." I didn't have one of those. In other words, I was immune to Cooties. As it were. Girls were never "icky" or barred from any club, group or cult I started—and there were a few. I assume now it was a social marker that was either overlooked, considered nominal or an asset. Whatever the reason, to me, instead of playing with Hot Wheels with the guys down the block in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, I was across the street at the brunette's house "playing married" which amounted to both of us shirtless on our backs on her parents' bed and staring at the ceiling. That's either the first time I was able to convince a young lady to "play married" or the fact that her mother came home and found us there that keeps it warm in my memory. Miriam theorized the woman was so upset because of how well we were portraying the mother's own sex life.
Most of my game inventions were driven by this urge toward bubble gum breath and no-more-tears hair. "Kiss and Roll" was a great pastime in that the girls would run to me, kiss me on the mouth then roll down the hill. The first to miss my mouth lost. Copper Snakes is still the reigning champion. She never missed.
Then there was the time I calculated the "Eeny Meenyi Miny Moes" between six people so that each girl would have to kiss me before any of these other hang-ons. And there were a few.
I look back and see how I've either "Eeny-Meeny'ed" or "Mene, Mene-Tekel'ed" my way at every pivot point in my life. Whether strategically determining my wants or deciding to split the difference when I'm found wanting, I don't seem to be able to blame or point to anyone but myself for all choices. But sometimes catching a Tiger by its toe isn't enough. Peoples' mothers get into the game and tell them to pick the very best one.
My mother thought she was helping me avoid a life. When I was nine, against Eliot's wishes, they sent me to find Jesus in Mexico. My father knew that other sons of Intelligence Officers sent their boys here. It was a solid introduction to God and built character. Those years are a teal-colored blur anymore and I don't recall coming to Jesus there. I do know however that the Holy Ghost was the one who brought me. She decided I was the very best one. And you should always dance with with one that brung ya.
Chapter 31 : Brother Gods
"Jesus was a badass, Emvee." My brother said once flatly. He was reading through the Gnostic Gospel or Thomas Bible in Dad's den one Dinner Party night before the men came in and "stink-up the place with smoke" he would say sharply.
Whatever he said was cool. He was home for a weekend from the military academy and compared to this time last year, he seemed taller, crisper and meaner. And I can see how he likes when those ornaments draped on his cadet uniform get pawed at by the wives of dad's guests. Last year he wouldn't even come out of his room. Dad had sent him on a Youth Trip to Mexico City with some Christian Legion thing. When he got back all I could gather from his yelling at my Dad through the walls was that whatever was going on with the leader was messed up. I didn't want to know. What I do know is that Dad no longer has that group over for dinner and my brother went dark.
"I know. He was such a badass." I agreed as if it was something I was just thinking about. "What is it about him that you think is cool?" I asked casually as if I wasn't fishing or making sure I kept his attention.
"It's like… " He closed the book and held it with both hands like a hammer and leaned into me. Normally that would have made me pounce but not with my big brother. As far as I was concerned, Jesus had nothing on him.
"We know he was tripping out the Rabbi's around the time of his Bar Mitzvah, right?" He said then biting his lower lip and squinting as if he was about to solve a murder mystery. Which in a way, he was. "Some seventeen years the cat goes missing yet we have all these stories and oral histories of a man, very much like him, traveling through India, Right?" All I could do was match his squint and nod knowingly then periodically act as if I suddenly understood him. Neither were truths but we were conspiring… breathing together… "He was groomed, Emvee. He was trained just like Dad's doing to us. He was supposed to deliver a message of utter passive obedience and love but got hip to the game, man!" Now he was bouncing on the edge of the sofa with every realization. "His baptism was an act of defiance!"
"Hip to the game?" I asked keeping him bouncing.
"Yeah, Emvee. We are a docile, easily manipulated species, girl." He said and suddenly looked for the first and only time I can remember, compassionate. They wanted to keep it that way but Jesus got hip and turned the damn tables… "
"Hey! What's going on in here?" My father whispered harshly at the door. His guests were beginning to make their way from the dining room. My brother just glared at him. "I don't want to hear that language Cadet, do you understand me?" He said in a sudden militant manner.
Father was always more agitated when this set of guests were in D.C.— a delegation from Iraq. This is the fourth time they've come in as many months. And each time they bring many gifts. There are big ones that get signed for later and never seen and small but very heavy ones which my Dad never opens. He just thanks them, shakes their hands and has me carry them back here to the closet in his library. I loved that closet. Not because of the mysterious boxes from the faraway, but because it was full of my father's uniforms. But instead of the mothball stench of his younger fatigues in the attic, these uniforms were always neatly pressed. He wasn't an Army Man anymore but he could Clark Kent these at a moments calling.
"You hear me, Cadet?" My father insisted darting his eyes down the hall for his guests.
"Yes sir." My brother said standing up straight in double-edged sign of respect and to make the point who here was younger, stronger, taller and now onto the gig, man. We looked nothing alike because we share only a mother and she's off with his other half-brother so ours is a loosely affiliated family really but everyone seems to be very good at whatever it is they do and whatever it is they do tends to have national security implications.
"Close that, Emvee." He hissed pointing his chin at the closet door. I jumped over the sofa like a cat close the door, shoulder-rolled and ducked behind my brother. That way I quickly completed my father's task while mocking his seriousness for my brother.
"Let's go, Emvee." He said taking my hand.
"Pssst. Agent MV, don't forget about tonight's target." My father said with a scotch-pickled kiss.
I remember that night vividly as I felt I had two of the most magnificent men in my world vying for my attention. I'm glad we left when we did though for I would not have been able to face those men, Daddy's guests, when my brother told me who they were and what they did. And come to think of it now, that was the last Blue Envelop night. The last time before the American Soldier said "Blue Ape" that I even thought of that night and the last time I saw my brother.
We settled down the hall in an alcove overlooking the Washington and the Jefferson Memorial. As my brother, who is a Bar Mitzvah and an officer-cadet seemed to be using Jesus to rebel against both of those things. But I didn't care which messiah was used as a device as long as this moment stayed. The pink-gold Washington monument intersected the twinkling city and pulled my eyes closed. By the time I heard my father call from the den, "Say, Emvee… " I had fallen asleep in his lap.
"Wake up Emvee. Daddy needs his talking monkey." He said, lifting me by my shoulders, sorting his creases. He started walking down the corridor like a gorilla making me laugh out loud. He looked back at me once more and when my father turned away toward his guests, he darted back to me and kneeling whispered, "Whatever he tells you, teaches you or trains you to do, do it better than anyone, Emvee. And don't join M.I… Military Intel. Promise." He said firmly.
"I promise." I said resolutely. "But really? Be all I can be..." Before I could finish, I noticed blood along the seam of his crisp white cadet collar. "What happened?" I reacted and immediately pulled the collar away from his skin. Before he snapped it and himself away, I could see the dark blue crestline along the bleeding traces of a new fresh tattoo. "What is it?" I changed my question as my eyes widened with a new kind of fascination; blood and art and brothers and rebel-messiah conspiracies. But why the heck not M.I.?
"Feathers… wings." He whispered looking over my shoulder to be sure no one noticed too. He kissed me between the eyes, stood straight, turned on his heels and gorilla walked down the corridor and away from my childhood.
Chapter 32 : A Velvet Dagger
As the female leader deftly rips at my lower abdomen - my naval - I let go. Or whatever I am right now let's go. Like her teeth snapped the string of my Soul balloon but I hover. Without wincing or distaste, without any nostalgia for a body that served me well, I feel only a contentment for having left behind something tangible, carbon, useful, nourishing or at the very least degradable on Earth.
There was no getting through that forest of pillars with my gear or chance of leaving it. "Agent." I whispered as loudly soft as I could but not before she slipped into a lighted area. I caught just a glimpse of her as she went. Bright. Dark. Stunning. Strong. This agent seemed to know her way out so I doubled back a bit to try and connect with Burke and Argyle. Radio silence seemed unnecessary as this place was empty. I did still hear a low rumble and it was a pattern of increasing speed but subtly. As I rounded one of these sweeping bends I ran my fingers along the wall. Like the caverns under Eridu, the tiles seem flexible, responsive somehow to my momentum. I think of the little silver fans along the wall in the train tunnel at the Denver International Airport. The air pushed ahead by the train would make them spin before we got to them but these seemed to respond to where I planned on going, not my wind.
"Chief." A whisper fell into my ear as I passed making me skid to a stop and spin around. "Chief." I heard it again and now I could see Burke's bloodless face tucked into a door way along the passage. He was staring at the opposite wall.
"Burke? What's going on? Where's Argyle?" I said situating my pack and kneeling to tie my boot in automatic preparation for running to the eventual chopper. "I've accounted for both agents. We just need to confirm their departure and we're good to go." I was so occupied with my boot lace and the recount for next steps that I didn't notice his being. His expression was not one. It was his being that was different. "You okay, soldier?" I said rising from my boot. His head stayed perfectly fixed on the wall as his eyes turned toward me.
"You have nice manners for a thief… " he strained to say as if each word was pressing on his lungs.
"What? Burke. What's going on, man? Sit down." He slid down the doorway wall, his eyes not moving but wide open and seeing. I shifted over and grabbed his arm which was wet. "You're soaked, man. Did you guys find a water source after all?" I lost my stream-of-consciousness as his wet arm was suddenly sticky when I let go. It wasn't water, it was blood.
"Burke!" I suddenly realized. I shook him and felt a shiver from the base of my ass through my legs that threw me forward onto my knees. Regaining my position I could see he was trying to ask me something. "What? What?" I said softer with my ear against his mouth.
"Is there going to be a book… " he said as his face and eyes seem to come back the kid I knew but he was choking on himself.
"Stop, Burke. Don't speak I'll get a medic down here… " I held him in my left arm and searched my pack in the dark for a First Aid Kit.
"… a book about the Hobbit?" He continued. He was determined so I stopped down to focus on him.
"What? Once more then silence soldier." I ordered.
"Is there going to be a book about The Hobbit?" he said with an excited look in his eye that was worth hanging onto to try to bring this boy back with.
"Yes! Yes! They're writing a book based on the cartoon… " I began in his world. I jumped back when looking up behind him, I saw a Nun. She was tall and she was staring at the same piece of wall that Burke was.
In a breath a convulsion laid me out flat on my back. I was frozen there. I couldn't move. I didn't want to move.
I can now see that this nun is holding what looks like a small horn or tusk and glimmers wet. The night-vision and half-light come together and now I know it's blood. Burke's.
She turns her head from the wall toward me but her eyes remain fixed on the wall that seems to dance wildly in front of her from here. She drops the white bloody horn which bounces and stabs my forearm before landing in a spin.
She reaches her hand toward the wall and as if told to, she snaps eyes to mine. I feel my neck freeze hot. Turning toward me she opens the folds of her robe. It is at first an apparition of the Holy Madonna. Then widening her reveal, her torso at this angle reflects the wall they were gazing at and it now glistens a reddish orange. She seems to want me in. But it's now a wet, bleeding flower.
"Am I… I am… drugg… ", I scream out through a whisper. As a gathering darkness surrounds me, I reach for this flowering and murderous nun but the corridor walls stretch outward and take the nun and Burke and Mosul/Nineveh/Nina with them.
Chapter 33 : It's A Blind Machine
"The Enûma Eliš is a lie!" I shout-whisper to myself as I begin to count the ways and whys I feel such a primal anger right now. The Enûma Eliš is the title of the mythological rewrite for his own glory by Lord Enki's problem-child Marduk. The patron god of Babylon that plagiarized, abridged and altered our true origin tale to make himself better than his father. His offenses and eventual obliteration of the Goddess was the very Table of Contents of my term paper. And, although no overt foul words were hyphened between others, the paper was deliberately worded for a tenured professor who was going to hate it either way. I used to think it was that language and sassy intent that attracted Tim to my mind. Now I know the truth. A truth. His. He may have ended up reaching for me but he started out aiming for me.
Retracing mine and Alexi's steps from last night, I head back toward the Sisters' Shower room and that stall where the holes are. "Holes!" I continue finding terrific irony and metaphor in this righteous indignation state. "Holes to watch nuns masturbate to moons… holes to peepshows of Novice virgins becoming neither… holes that swallow nuns… "
The corridor walls seem to be moving now so I stop, put my hands on my knees and lower my head. "What am I?" The question was gibberish blurted out unconsciously from exhaustion but it was actually quite a poignant one.
I'm not a nun. I assured myself now quietly. As my heart rate slowed so did my anger. "What the fuck am I?" I asked again and sat against the corridor wall to regain myself while waiting for an answer.
Tim's .45 in my hand catches the light bouncing on the walls and only then do I remember where I was going and what I was going to do with this. "You son of a bitch." I say aloud to the man this gun was looking for. My father.
I had burned all the sentimentality I had for Tim in the last half hour and he was my first love. Yet, my father, the man I thought lovingly trained me away from this job, who pretended to reluctantly accept Tim as my lover and who I played spy-girl with in the afternoons and prodigy girl-wonder with in the evenings didn't get a second of reprieve.
For all his guilt, Tim was just a player on a stage set by my father. As was I, my brother and every coach, counselor and missing professor along the way. There is no reprieve for a man who betrays his daughter.
My body begins to catch up with the past 24 hours. If I let myself, I would collapse right here and sleep right through the bombs.
My head snaps up. My mission-mind kicks in. I love this part. Thanks to that son of a bitch's training camps, I've developed peak performance seeking tools and tricks. All to make sure I kept a promise to my brother to be the best. I have triggers that make me rise above any physical fatigue or mental doubt. Keywords and ideas that can hoist me over any finish line, out of any choke-hold or into any awkward social situation despite myself and "Bombs" was one of them.
Like a the heads-up displays of the airplane simulators, a template comes down in my mind to identify, assess and determine what to do next.
"Time… it's gotta be 0400 hours — Sunrise is 06 - air-strike likely by 0600." It must be an optical illusion but the tiles on the wall in front of me seem to be matching the template in my head. It's gotta be the after effects of the fluoride and the adrenaline. Like how the sky seems to expand away after sprinting fifty yards. That's gotta be it. I close my eyes and focus again on my internal template.
"Strikes within 2 — nearest base Mosul — Evac at… Shit. By right now."
Realizing the futility of running to kill this man compared to the dire need to save myself from smithereens kicks in a whole other mind. The one motivated by a little more than a brother's approval.
I get back to the Shower room. For the first time since yesterday I see light. It's pale and I realize it's closer to 0600 than is existentially comfortable. Reaching behind the bowl in stall eleven, I thread up the Ruger. Still secure to the wire I swing it around my forearm a few times and tighten it into my hand. A quick pass at the hooks by the door and I grab a robe and shower sandals. I pull open the huge door to the Entry Hall and look back up into the black corner where a camera is hidden.
"Melt in copper you fucking daughters of Sin!" I say and with both hands let fly their most forceful and fiery birds.
Skidding down the road I see the workmen from last week. They're working as if nothing is going on around or under them. The seeming foreman sees me and yells to his crew. They all turn and begin cheering as if I was the first in some race I had no idea I was winning. But they recognized me as their omen making nun. Even in shower sandals, a breechcloth and hand-held robe.
"No! No! Stop! Please, you don't know, you don't know!" I shouted while pointing to the dark blue morning sky. "Bombs! Bombs!" They looked at each other and into the sky.
A younger worker in back yelled "Enki comes?!"
"No. God no. Anything but." And I pantomime missiles coming down and exploding and point to their Datsun pickup aggressively. They freeze. Look at one another. Then, as if a choreographed exercise, two of them lift me from under my arms to the cab of the truck. The rest hurl their tools into a pile, grab canteens or towels and file in over the sides into the back and duck down below the walls.
In a mile the driver takes a sharp right through a passage only a Datsun could fit through and then down a sheer 30 degree decline. What took forty five minutes in a bus on the main road took fifteen this way. As we slid around a bend at the bottom of the slope I could see the Army barracks tucked up into the hillside.
"Let me out!" I shouted at the driver who was squarely focused on a destination much farther south and his squint let me know he had no intention of doing that. I kicked his foot off the gas and slammed on the brake bringing the truck to a ninety degree stop and hurling one of those poor guys into the Mosul dirt.
"Sorry!" I yelled at the driver and to the man dusting himself off just outside. I slammed the door and began running toward the barracks back up the road. The Iraqi workers yelled after me and pounded the sides of the truck but I again pointed to the sky and they gathered up their chivalry and high-tailed it south. Not a hundred yards away was the Army post and I scanned the grounds for any movement. Some sign that they had not yet evacuated.
From behind one of the structures a dust cloud bursts forward. I jumped face-down onto my stomach thinking it might be the first strike but the sound caught up with what I saw and it was rotor blades. As I looked up from the ground the door of the main barrack opened and a stream of camouflaged men gripping their hats ran toward the dust cloud.
"Wait!" I yelled then exploded forward to sprint to their safety. Sliding around the building and before I can yell again I hear a deep pop and see the pilot of the helicopter fall out like a rag doll onto the dirt. Still in a salute. Ducking behind the corner as I see the bird wobble as it adjusts to having no one at the controls and then I see him jump into the seat and grab the stick.
Clad in a neatly pressed but outdated uniform, he steadies it but I see some of his men grabbing at his shoulders as if trying to stop him. My father holds his firearm behind his ear and squeezes off four rounds that send pink mist into the rotors. I see US troops fall out of the helicopter. When one manages not to die but to grab a skid that rocks the bird, I watch my father shoot this soldier in the face. And unflinchingly.
I looked down at the Ruger wired around my arm. A perfect spiral of blood from the wire cutting into my arm since I first flung it around and I never noticed. An accidental but determined Tefillen. Cutting me as if trying to remind me of divine intervention despite myself and my patricidal intentions.
I know how this goes next.
Gun Camp was my idea. And I remember now exactly why. Other weapons-oriented camps for girls began with archery. As if the only way to a girl's aim was through the Artemis archetype. But there was one blurb on one pamphlet from one Gun Camp that caught me. "Snake Load/Pistol Skeet Shooting." Skeet requires shotguns but Snake Load could be shot out of pistols and I wanted to shoot snakes when I was nine. So this is how this goes.
One more irony to call up about holes. And not the one he put in this little springy haired Eegen girl-wonder's heart. The one I'm going to Tefillen right through the fuel tank of that bird he thinks is his Lord of the Eagles.
Chapter 34 : The Grail Serves Sapiens
Carnivores without the baggage of self-awareness go ravenously for the genitals once the cavity is clear. A protein-rich digestif of nutrients. Yet while the scene below me is savage, there is only a feeling of appreciation. I think of the once squeamish myths of Kings biting off the penises of their enemies and only now, without the base homophobic filter of a toddler society, I know that it means a new reign over an impotent past and the passing of vital nutrients for a new realm. I prefer this exalted perspective for the alternative view of this scene would fucking suck.
In a heave that splits my vision, my brain and soul inside out, I'm again in that wide green-blue room lab. It's spinning and again I'm thrust back to see the corridor walls in night-vision. I can't move my appendages in either place but I seem to be able to decide where to be. There's a wobble. Like I'm on a coin at the end of its spin as it slowly flattens. I consciously decide to land in the soft blue room because I know how pennies finally smack and I choose a gel. As things settle the Hivelings hand me a blade. Dumuzid's blade. The tooth of a beast meant to warn wolves from his goats.
"I won't need this but will return it." I inform the muttering little surfaces that pull it away.
Only now I have this Sapiens' mind in a Fashioner's place. Feel queasy. I have little awareness of what preceded either setting right now but I know the Sapiens is drugged. It's the only way to bypass the spin. And I suddenly know what I mean by that thought in both worlds. I feel the organic connection and utter ocean of how these two worlds and any other I wish to intend toward are connected. And I know now again that I am not alone.
"Yes Lord." He replies.
"'Irfaan." I confirm.
"Yes." The same voice answers.
"Just "Yes"?" I say turning to my secret sage, my masterpiece. "As Sapiens are we no longer reverent?" I say cocking my eyebrow but smiling uncontrollably. The warmth of realizing it wasn't a dream flows over me. As I settle into this rare place of two minds I am at first giddy and begin laughing. There's a comedy when two nodes meet and tragedy when the split. I compose myself and look again at my hazel eyed hybrid Master of the House.
"You're not smiling, Adapa." I say further settling into this moment.
"I am confused, sir. Er… Lord." He corrects himself toward my higher title. "Do you not know, Lord? Do you not know what has happened?"
"I know we're in some monastery near, Mosul… " my internal reference for language in both places skips between times. "I mean, under Nina." Now that 'Irfaan was asking me questions I had to be more conscious but the surroundings matched a different mind of mine in a different time. I clinched my eyes and shook my head as if to throw the one mind off for a while.
"Tim Gabhar has been slain, sir." 'Irfaan's voice continued. I kept my eyes closed to focus on this information in that place.
"Agent Argyle's dead?" I said quickly in the right mind.
"Yes sir. And… "
"Burke!" I said now fully back in mission-mind. "I was drugged and I saw Burke… where was Argyle? Who's doing this?" I found my most commanding voice but there was no reverb here. No sound came back.
It was as if I was talking alone and opened my eyes to be sure I wasn't. The room had fused completely to me by then and every instrument and staging area was perfectly in reach when needed and the lexicon of this place, the names and shorthand slang of the room usurped Chief Archer's causing a rift between me.
"Lord. Please." 'Irfaan who was now completely Adapa, my hybrid son and prodigy looked quite sad now.
"What is it Wise One?" I said realizing finally that I should be here and now. But before he could answer the gift of this timing — two nodes connecting and my being aware on either side demanded attention.
"Report to me of the blue envelope." I order in a determined state to get through this before addressing any other issue he may have.
"It was once disturbed by her but it rests in this cycle more secure." He assures me.
"She disturbed it you say?" I ask.
"As a child, she mistook it for a game envelope, Lord. But then she hid it in a book. It is a color primer, Lord and remains at your will."
"What game envelope?" I ask. These objects don't get words formed here unless they serve.
"Your marker expressed itself as a game in that the paternal would give her names in blue envelopes as part of a game."
"And why is that here? Markers express themselves in myriad ways until nodes. Why is this game envelope here at my attention?" Succinctness is now a driving force in my thought process and because I am of two minds, I can analyze this place as never before. And I'm getting angry.
"She never opened them. She emphasized their expression by her own will, Lord." He said in a resigned tone as if this was so like her to do. But I couldn't quite get who "she" was yet though I couldn't help but speak of her knowingly.
"This needs to go."
"This altered chemical reaction in my Sapiens self - in the Nina node - it's making it difficult for me to track certain… Inanna!" I shouted which brought the whole pantheon of my family to the front of my new old mind. My precocious granddaughter. In that cycle she is still though in a different set of players. Warmer still as this place once again eclipses the monastery me and I decide to let go of that and the Burke and Gabhar horrors for now.
"So the Hivelings will get to me there and I by the next node we can upgrade this place thanks to their hyper-ingenuity, eh?" I say to Adapa proudly but also slyly for I know the others who decree would not sanction this supplanting. But they will benefit.
The feeling of rebellion reignites the subtle anger that I felt while still between the two minds. It's a gnawing sense that makes the Hivelings stop preparing any staging areas I may have intended toward. They all stop. The fluttering worker-cells down-throttled where they were and the room dimmed.
Adapa reached up, placed one hand on my shoulder while clutching his heart with the other. His hazel eyes looked cautious but hopeful. "There are two things to know, Lord. Here and now."
I felt Nin enter the space and encircle me slowly. It made me smile once more before losing it to Adapa's glare.
"You are there and this means the ghost survives. Your ghost survives." He said then closed his eyes and backed away in honor. As if paying homage to my cleverness. The blood, my blood spilled from my arm kept a soul, my soul here and there. No more gods need to be slaughtered. No more sacrifices.
"Sapiens is Divine." I said in a declaration that shuttered the Hivelings awake and probably quaked the parallels a bit.
"Lord. Your creation has achieved potential beyond its gods' enlightenment. Sapiens is, indeed Divine, Lord."
"Beyond its gods, you say?" I ask puzzled.
Then I realized how.
And began reciting the formula as a eureka.
"Their conscious evolution was accelerated… then stunted. We tore down their towers, confused their tongues, flooded their fits and starts and then let loose our children upon them." Which stalled me in a moment of red realizations. As if toy soldiers mowed down with building blocks we felt about these hybrid hominids. And like an abused nanny, the Earth was left with our children to play war and wreak a havocs unforgivable. "Ours is an opulent end of an organic system." I continued in my feigned soliloquy. Finding refuge in my cleverness is how I have justified all of this and ignored the screams cycle after cycle. I've been poking the nodes with supplanted advancements as if my brother's eye and never, for all my exalted traits lauded me by worshipers, there is nothing about what I have done here that is right.
Except my crime.
"Ours was a steady, relatively peaceful but natural evolutionary progress; unperturbed by more advanced beings that tweaked us for their needs. This gives us thousands of your lives to live. But real progress is adaptation through conflict. Peace demands war. Enlightenment is their net result while complacency is ours."
"Lord?" Adapa says trying to understand.
"You've achieved it anyway, Wise One. I conclude. "And no arms needed to bleed and no Viziers need to die."
In this split mind I see now what we are to them. Not what they've made us. Not the magic angels they imprinted themselves with and that we fostered.
"How dare we?" I, on behalf of Sapiens say to me and my brother then turn squarely to blame him, "Your church has thwarted the conscious evolution for the petty pleasures and childish horrors of your mongrel spirit… and I am your accomplice."
I try to inhabit my Sapiens Self as the indignation rises but I know I deserve to feel this guilt as myself most. I feel split between the shame of my godhood and the anger of my creation.
"What have we done?!" I scream making the Hivelings ripple into the back of my field of view so that all I see now is Adapa standing before me in an empty chamber. An enormous and bright chamber. There's no ceiling but I can't look up. It's too bright and there's a tone.
"She has come." Adapa states then turns and prostrates himself toward the North.
"Rise Sapiens." I command confused to my favorite. My masterpiece. Adapa slowly rises, looks up then walks toward the East. "Wait." I command to his apparition that is leaving toward the spin. "This cycle, this node… " I say slowly looking up to where I will face your Gabriel, your Zeus and my Seth. "The son will be hers and mine and he will not be driven by the rivalry of his father."
"Yes, Lord." I look once more to Adapa and marvel at what he is despite us. He begins to bow but I catch his chin with my finger and lift it up so that he could see both his Fashioner and his Nemesis.
"Brother Enlil." I say resigning to the presence behind me, "This one, all of them; now marked and protected." The tone swells deep and I see Adapa's eyes widen. "Your mark my son, it is not from us. It is not from us."
And for the first time I can remember with all the spinning and landing and rotors and monkey bars and shamans and forgers - both there and right here - I was still. And the presence of my brother, unable to reconcile the state of my beings grows fainter.
"Lord. Please." Adapa says desperately as he enters and understands the spin. "Your sons; Dumuzid and Negral… they have been slain, Lord." And he left.
This moment was too still.
There are split seconds that split centuries. There are gifts of the spirit that kill innocents and there are horrors beyond description where sweetness can be smelled. But here and now will never again be.
When a node closes on the death of a child, nay children, it closes a way for the soul to breathe.
"And Marduk… I need to get back to him and make him safe." was what my lips gave to my breath as the Hivelings hand me Dumuzid's warning tooth blade.
Chapter 35 : The Nun of Babylon
The troops were dead. Corporals. But their radios were live and I was able to send out one of four hybrid Navajo/Welsh code-phrases that automatically halt air-strikes in hot zones where agents and other assets are. That phrase prioritizes communiqués and clearances all the way back to command. It was forty five minutes before any airlift so I scour the barracks for America's real gold, water and find plenty.
After getting as much down as I could, I circle the desk, sit and spin around in the huge leather chair which swallows me in a hug of Old English and Nicotine. I'm a little surprised at how little emotion I feel right now. Maybe I'm in emotional shock but I don't think so. In the past twelve hours I've watched my lover get murdered, tied him to my betrayal when I realized he and my father have been using me and my mission to steal from, then bomb these ancient sites right into Lord knows how many Library Closets? I think about how I charmed the delegates from Iraq years ago at our dinner parties when this was all starting and how that helped him.
I hear the radio crackle. Inaudible. Could be any signal sweep at this point. I throw a few breaker phrases back but then the radio goes silent.
My spin settles in front of a bulletin board to his left. On it is pinned a tuft of paper with a feather logo like my brother's tattoo.
And in an uncontrolled heave every ounce of water pours from my guts and in front of me. The memory of seeing something last night in my fluoridean haze, the man with the feathers on his neck I hadn't seen since the last Blue Envelope caper in DC. My brother. Seth was at the monastery last night.
To begin to fit him into this web of deceit would not calculate. Two of the three men that were man to me were no more. Seth could not be one. He warned me of my father. He warned me of Military Intel, but he didn't save me last night. And the tattoo I saw bleeding through his collar that last night was all over those papers listing items like "gold eagles head" and "winged disc statue" and all from below that mountain and all probably thousands of miles and centuries from here now. And I probably ferried some of them to the closet in my father's library. But Seth.
And like a roadshow version of a crystal memory of my childhood I find my fingers fiddling with a blue envelope on this opulent stolen desk. This one is open though. And the page ripped in half lay beside it.
"Ambassador Vittor Bellanti — Malta — General Adnan Khairallah — Iraq… " It was one of the Dinner Guest lists from our caper. Why he had this envelope here and now and why it was seemingly a disappointment escapes me. Maybe he was hoping it was the envelope that spirited itself away and into the green-blue book when I was a kid? "It must be this scent that's flashing me back… wait… " I look over at the little sink and shaving kit in the corner with one toothbrush, one cup, a razor and a bottle of, "Old Spice… Shit!" The fact that I watched my lover get murdered then killed my own father wasn't what was weirding me out. It was the fact that they both used Old Spice. That's when it got weird.
I hear the skids of huge army vehicle outside. I grab the papers from the board and pick up some boots and fatigues in the back. As I head toward the door for my lift, the radio bursts again.
"Please to come in. Please to come in. America Man is hurt." The broken Iraqi accented please hit all the right triggers to launch mission-mind "American man Hurts." Tightening the belt on the pants and stepping into the boots and headed out. Before I reach the door it flung open with a hot wind and cold memory.
"Where is he?!" he said scanning the place not recognizing me.
"Seth?" I said light-headed by the surprise.
"Emvee?" He said equally shocked.
Before I could even hug or slap the son-of-a-bitch the area was buzzed by two F-15E's low as if checking a target prior to strike. We both widened our eyes as we realize the only sign of friendlies they could have tagged were us and we were out of sight. We bolted out the door and scanned the horizon but they had banked and were readying for a strike pass.
"I don't understand! I TC3'ed this.
"You what?" Seth said glaring east.
"I radioed in a Top Cleared Cancel Code!" I yelled at the fading contrails of these two angels of death.
"Get in!" Seth yelled running for the Humvee. In a second we were in and headed toward the main road.
"Where are you going? Why aren't you going south so we aren't in the line of attack!?"
"Main road! Nineveh Street! We gotta get to the monastery!" He replied. "We've got friendlies up there!"
"Turn around! I know a faster way!" I directed him up the slope the Iraqi workers brought me down. "We gotta send that code to command again!" I reach for the radio next to Seth but he grabs my wrist. "What are you doing? I need the radio!" I yell.
"Don't bother." He said glancing hard at me then back to the terrain. "Army isn't here, Emvee."
"What do you mean? I saw corporals and… Dad." I said suddenly allowing the visual in of my father shooting those men coldly. "What was he doing here?" I said knowing full well the answer. But if I asked and pretended to be naive, maybe I would become so. But every hunch and epiphany of the past few hours were confirmed by Seth between Nineveh and the steps of Mar Mattai. Everything. By the time the privately-owned sortie of F-15's returned to level the "army outpost" and every unprotected ancient mound and shard in that area, I knew it all.
"Thank you." Seth said flatly glancing at me then peering back at the terrain.
"Thank those Iraqis, I had no idea this shortcut exist..." I began.
"No. Not this. Thank you for not joining M.I., Emvee." He said quite seriously.
"How do you know I didn't?" I said wryly but also inquisitively. Any time someone in this business makes an absolute statement their either lying or sure you don't know the truth.
"Because I never saw you at the picnics." He said smirking.
"Are you mixed up in this thing? With Dad?" I asked cautiously.
"Yes." He said. Only.
"So... my mission for UNESCO, my whole fucking career..." I began as the hundreds of tiny betrayals by my father, my lover and my brother began to fill in the silos of my memory.
"No, Miriam. Not like that. I am mixed up in this but for you." His eyes closed a bit as if closing down an emotion.
"For me?!" I said as the Humvee careened between boulders and brush and night before started to take seat in me. "I'm here for knowledge and to secure artifacts not to play pathfinder for you thieving murderers!" I hated to but I couldn't help it. I cried. Something I never do but that wall I've built came down around my denial; that these men in my life really cared for me. "Why didn't you help me last night… "
"I did. I always have." He relented.
For the rest of the drive Seth confirmed my suspicions about Agent Daddy and his closet of presents from the Faraway. And while my father was shuffling me between scholarly camps and tutors in an effort to place me right where here and now, it was Seth who put the Gun Camp pamphlets in my room. And by balancing my father's IQ works with MMA training, in a very real way, he did help me last night.
Seth hadn't walked away from my childhood that night in DC. He walked around and behind me. He kept certain people from ever entering my field of view. He even lobbied CIA to stop Tim from recruiting me at all. That was the hold up. Not Tim's feelings. And as more layers of security fall away, I feel warmer and safer.
When I was a toddler I apparently had difficulty staying in bed. I would come out and surprise the adults in the wee hours and simply say "Hi!." Around this time I was also prone to falling out of my bed. As a safety measure, my father would strap me in to bed with a snug webbing net. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I learned the restraints weren't for my safety, rather for the adults' privacy. That shift from feeling cared for to feeling like a burden is emotional whiplash. This is decapitation.
The only rope I had to hold onto before this abyss was realizing that Seth was protecting me from the dark. The last thing I will ever feel is the need for a man's protection. I could have and did kick the ass of a few boyfriends. But there is a place for these creatures to hold us. When asked.
After a long silence I looked up at Seth. "What happens now?"
After a few moments, Seth gripped the steering wheel hard as if bracing himself, "How do you feel about New Mexico? Maybe going back to school?"
"I meant like right now. As in where are the F15s and who the hell can afford two private F15s and their ordinance?"
"I could tell you but then I'd have to... Emit!?" he said slamming on the brakes then rushing to the steps of the monastery.
There was a little Iraqi man carrying a soldier over his shoulders. I grabbed a water bottle and jumped out too. As Seth hoisted this man onto his shoulders and took him the Humvee, I handed the man the water and asked if he was injured.
"That looks nasty. Let me take a look at that." I said, carefully taking his wrist to get a look at his bleeding palm. "First of all, let's put this away. Don't want to need a tetanus shot too." I said pulling a metal crucifix from his wounded hand and placing it in his breast pocket. I got him to sit on the steps and poured some of the water over the wound. I ripped a swath of fabric from the breechcloth I still had on under these ridiculously big fatigues. As I'm ripping discreetly, I notice the name embroidered on my shirt. "VIDAL" and three little black, inverted stars strategically placed. It's not irony or coincidence when you realize it was all so carefully orchestrated. "Hold this on your palm tightly. Tightly like this." I instruct then head back to the vehicle to look for a real first aid kit.
"How is he?" I say to Seth who's tending to the soldier in the back.
"He's alive." He says stoically while checking the soldier's vitals and never looking up.
"He must be the one that helped me." I said picking through the supplies.
"What?" Seth said stopping dead in his tracks.
"The soldier there… Chief… " I crane my neck to see his name tag but Seth hoists the man's shirt open before I could. "The Chief. He was in the tunnels and helped me find the way back out."
"What did he say? Did he say why he was here I mean?" He said seemingly anxious.
"What did he say? Well… ah! Here they are. Bandages, gauze and… Neosporin!" I wrapped the goods in the front of my shirt and started running back to the Iraqi. "Oh… Blue Ape!" I shouted back remembering the one, only thing that sticks out.
"What?!" Seth shouted.
"Blue Ape. The Chief said Blue Ape and that's how I knew he was a family."
"How you knew he was a what?!" Seth asked but almost nervously.
"Friendly! That's how I knew he was a friendly!"
I squatted in front of the Iraqi, "Here you go." I said handing him bandages to hold while I started cleaning his hand. "These are pretty clean already for a… " I looked the man over to make sure he was military before I called him that.
"Maitre 'd?" He finished.
"Right. The shoes. I was looking for a rank but that's probably better." He smiled but as if about something else.
"This cycle is going to be yours, High Lady. Your Grandfather has decreed." He said in a soft and sophisticated tone.
"Yep. That's right. Grandfather says this is my bicycle… " I repeated his gibberish to stave off any shock that he may be headed toward. "You're going to be just fine." I said to his spacey looking glare. "Hey and since you carried out a US soldier you might even get to meet Vice President Quayle in Saudi." I said smiling at him assuredly and hoping to god he didn't understand my gibberish. "Let's get you out of here." I say patting him on the shoulder and standing but he grabs my wrist. I kneel back down fast. "What is it? You hurt somewhere else?" I scan him for blood.
"I am good. Please." He said so sincerely and deeply that the surrounding seemed to fold into that space between us alone. He held my eyes for a few seconds and his watered up. Then in the whitest grin I've ever seen he said, "This cycle, Marduk will be yours."
"Marduk?" I repeated. This may have been gibberish but it was hitting too close to home now. Marduk was the patron deity of Babylon and one of Lord Enki's sons. He was also the mortal and immortal enemy of Inanna who's throne room became Caligula's last night. "No thanks. You can have Marduk. The guy was a prick."
"Trapped in a womb this time… " He said and began to laugh but a loud bang came from the monastery.
"Did you hear… " I began then I heard a louder bang and the clearly identifiable sound of a woman screaming. As I twisted toward the monastery to sharpen my hearing, the Iraqi dropped the metal cross in my gaping shirt pocket.
"Is okay. Is not your concern." He said as if someone let a shopping cart roll into the street not left a woman screaming for her life. I started running up the road toward the voice which was now recognizably Sister Joan's. She was banging on the bars of one of the Eden View rooms, trapped by a little wooden upside-down cross and her own inverted ideas of Inanna as Ishtar for Pete's sake. As I got closer I saw her eyes widen and her scream matched the hiss of a privately-owned and operated missile that was smart enough to obliterate millennia of truth and any trace of my before-life.
Chapter 36 : A Littler Death
This "just-afterlife" streams nagging yet vague and seemingly mundane memories that should have evaporated once they came. I feel those here more than the life's milestones. These flashes are anchored to something that is anything but mundane. Glimpses of here. And again. I only understand now that the chemistry is gone. This is the space between the atoms and the molecules and the stuff of matter that intends us toward worship. Chemistry is church. Radio ritual incense. The stained glass artist isn't Lucifer, it is time. We're looking to the side instead of the alter. Or up. Not yet.
"He's waking up." Was the first thing I heard. A female voice. Soft. She puts a straw in my mouth and the water flows into me like air under an unfurled sheet. It feels as though it's quenching every extremity.
"Nin?" I say in a cracked voice.
"Don't speak, Chief." She says placing her hand on my chest and looking over her shoulder at the door window.
"Has he said anything?" Seth says to her as he rushes in.
"Just min or nim or something is all." She said trying to get the straw back into my close lips.
"Leave us." Seth said to her coldly while holding a glare on me. Even half-here I could feel her feelings being hurt by his utter casting off. Once the door slowly swung closed, Seth moved in real close to my face. "What do you remember?" I squinted in a way that let him know he was being a dick. "I'll apologize later. Believe me, she'll forgive me. What do you remember, Emit?"
He was rushed and kept looking back at the door window. There's a reason he needed to know what I remembered more so than I did right then. I traced the bed sheet pattern with my eyes trying to trace back the patterns in my head which suddenly became quite clear. "Eridu… Nine of Spades… " I began rattling off the clear images that dropped into my mind and quite confidently. I hear the rotor blades, smell the men and fuel and then I look down at my hand remembering the cut from grabbing the prisoner's necklace. There's a Band-aid on my palm and when I lift the gauze, the split has begun to heal at the ends. "How can this… just yesterday… how long have I been out?" I said confused.
"Since Eridu?" Seth asks curiously and I nod.
"Four days. That's what you remember? Eridu?" I nod again but am far more distracted by the fact that four days are gone.
"What happened?" I felt like I was in a tunnel. Seth watched me whince as a series of scents rushed through my head resting finally on a mint. "Where's Burke?"
"You should rest, Emit. You're fine, just a concussion… " He said curling his lips to either look for an emotion or feign one. "Burke's gone, Emit. The site was destroyed by an air-strike and he was caught in the friendly… "
The shock of the loss poured a stream of visuals through me that nearly took me right back out of consciousness. Burke dead after the war on an Antiquities jaunt? The waste. And all I have from the cradle of civilization and Eridu is a Band-Aid on my hand. As I sealed the tape across my palm Seth slapped an envelope into it.
"Shit!" I snapped at the sharp pain that edge put through my hand arm and shoulder. I pulled back to right hook him and found my arm restrained. In an action that hurt much more and did much more damage than the envelope, I used that hand to unstrap myself and by the time the nurses ran in I had landed two solid blood-stained right hooks to his rib cage. Once settled, I collected the war-torn envelope from between the mattress and bed frame. It was a letter from UNM accepting me into a pre-doctoral program. It took a solid three seconds to even think "lucid agility" much less reap its adolescent rewards.
Seth zoomed two more envelopes in front of my face. "Boom and boom." He said as if I should know why.
"What's in the blue one?" I immediately asked as if it were the only one.
"That's yours — your mom letting you know all your shit has been shipped back to ABQ." He replied.
"Wait. This is a stamped letter. Why is it open… "
"Now this one!" He said in a poor but ultimately effective attempt to distract me from his felony, "This is how your old buddy Seth is going to reap cash and souls and in one of the few industrial complexes where there uniforms will cover these." He pulls his collar to the side as if he needed to give me a visual aid for the meticulously detailed but fastidiously vague wings tattooed around his neck that are either readying to take him in flight or strangle him.
"Let me guess, turtlenecks… Harvard?" I said.
"Better." He said.
And in an unnecessary and really bad Irish accent he laughed out, " Call me Fadda Windstrom, there Laddy. And maybe I'll save your mudda's soul when I'm done wit it." And his envelope which held what at first I assumed was a Caduceus logo and watermark. "Med school?" I asked perplexed?
"No you invalid, better. Church." He said as his grin narrowed to a sardonic caricature an the crucifix on the envelope came into better focus.
"Ah." I said remembering the one requirement for his next post. "The collar. Thought you were an Atheist."
Seth's voice turned solemn, "Not an Atheist. An Anti-Theist. There's a difference."
As serious as that statement was, as nefarious as his reasons were and as fucked up as everything about the Temple of Eridu and all its silver blue forgetfulness is, it feels good to fall back into the filters available to soldiers for handling their "situations." There's the lexicon where we swap words like "spray" for realities like shooting hundreds of lead bullets at humans and the rough and tumble badass approach to some of the most intimately frightening and horrific nightmares all of us have to sleep on and wait for.
"Having a reason to cover your neck tattoo daily is no reason to choose the priesthood as a profession, Brother… er.. Fadda." I said.
"There are collars and there are collars, Brother Archer. And… " He pauses and looks over his shoulder as if at a memory to find a quote, "If you want to lose your faith, make friends with a priest… ."
"So what does Gurdjieff say happens to faith when your friend becomes a priest?" I wonder.
We sat there uncomfortably quiet for a while. I pretended to nod off so Seth could feel free to do whatever he wanted. I thought about Burke and another transport when Seth, to pass the time, recounted our old Ant Hill/Mankind Debate.
"Okay, here's the thing…" he begins with a fully engaged Burke, "… to begin to even comprehend the lack of awareness or love our Creators…" he punctuates with air quotes, "… our fashioner-gods have for mankind think about an ant hill. Fascinating. Curious. Amazing the amount of cooperative building that species is capable of. But what's even more fascinating is how they react to a firecracker or a bike tire skid. One can appreciate the working and ingenuity of the Ant without having one iota of compassion for the hundreds obliterated for the sake of a "Check this out!" moment. How could an ant possibly have any self-awareness enough to even notice any loss? They just robotic-ally repair. Their's is not an existence that really matters. They haven't self-knowledge, they have no discernible benefit to us and if you don't periodically tear down their hills, there's no telling what they might do. Now if we could figure out a way to make these industrious little creature do something for us with all that digging, like ferret out precious metals in the ground or just tweak their genetics enough that they build fancy hills in fun shapes for our musings, then I guess that would be better than just watching them rebuild what we destroy. So instead of robots, with a few tweaks like; an urge to please us, a desire to be attractive and a more internally-competitive nature we can make these Ants slaves.
"And Slaves are easier to detach from." I continued. Seth looked at me with a new expression. I've not seen it since but he realized that, for some reason today, there in that Helo from Saudi I finally understood his position. "Robots are inanimate but we can't help but construe that as innocent." I punctuate with air quotes. Burke thought I was mimicking Seth, Seth knew I was surrendering. "And we can project our better selves on the innocent. Slaves though! Slaves are property, customized to our needs. And, since they can help lead OUR purpose-driven lives, they become utilitarian. Tools with a enough self-awareness that as a defense we project on them our flaws."
Burke looked utterly confused. Again.
"So are you saying we should tweak ants or what?" He decided was the best way to summarize all the information.
Seth and I looked at one another and on three in unison, "M-80's or the fuckers just rebuild."
A gratitude consumes me as I see now my Jack.
He arrives at Post 40 in Western Colorado to the quiet safety I promised him. He’ll unpack two boxes; one which includes a necklace with a cross of coiled snakes once worn by the mother of gods and stained with the blood of divinity. And a box from his late Uncle Rafael which holds a chalice from a council that met in 325 A.D. Its twin, a perfectly matched, aged and scarred replica goblet was found behind a case in a museum in Turkey but that one only decades old.
Deeper in the first box are books. Seventeen of them. But one in particular that piques his interest. Green-Blue. Knights. After reading it, his naturally curious and dismantling nature, which was once twisted into Babylon's ArchGod of War, will unveil a strange sheet of patterns in the binding that seem to be uttering wonders of how best to serve. And it will be reverse-engineered there in the middle of nowhere by a mind more suited to advancing a race than negating a goddess. And by the time the broader economy absorbs the micro ones in the citizen compounds, and the United and the Confederate States settle into the other side of history, without a father and an uncle or brothers as rivals, Captain Jackson Vidal Archer will spin a new node where peace no longer demands war because Hivelings know what we want before we need it and shortening that gap cures a lot of ills. Without need, all we have is to imagine wants. And this must be it then.
I understand our myths now. They are the Grand Confluence of an outer world and our inner dominion. Like Astrology; the planets aren't causing the events, over time we just recognized that they seem to lineup the same way when similar events occur on this orb. And that's a key I now turn. Without chemistry I have no intention. Nothing in me that needs. Nothing in me that requires attention or satiation. Nothing pre-programmed to passively want then aggressively need. The planets don't intend, they are. But there is a push. An unmoved-mover yet it is not behind this. It is before this. And up. An unconditional pull. And it is the contraction of a universe. We assume a pull is either a hug or a grasp and our initial energy sequence determines how we react to it. We are either pulled or pushed and we react in four different ways. Every time. But we are neither. We are coming and the source is needing.
All is flux and flux requires opposites and when we understand the binary nature of yes and no, up and down, in and out and that the difference between them is constantly vying for our attention... attention? No. Intention. Life vies for our intention. Attention isn't conscious. Intention is. Could this be the Mark of Cain? The intention toward perfection or correction only achievable after experiencing the zero? The down? The in? Day needs night. Light casts shadow.
I think of the original imprint of our outer world on our firstly conscious, post-apple minds. Inanna descends into the underworld, she is Autumn. Her fertile return. Spring. She is the Solstice between them. Many miraculous myths—maybe all of them—can be linked to mundane astronomical events. Indeed the seasonal and sun/moon cycles gods of the resurrection; Baal, Melqart, Adonis, Eshmun, Tammuz, Ra, Osiris and Dionysus and the later-lower billed goddesses astronomies; Inanna/Ishtar, Persephone, and Bari were all related to the gravity of our solar system. The primary forces in our ancestors' inner worlds expressed "so below" by the spinning of spheres around a fireball "as above."
In a cycle past as Marduk, his last and most tumultuous incarnation, he was the Patron and War God of Babylon.
A bright and fierce son of a Fashioner of Men who took his mantle as the last gasp of a dynasty as the Piscean Age closes its cusp. His dismantling mind, an extension of his father's mantling mind which might have been directed to dissect Man's worse natures to imprint our better angels, but a blood feud between his father and uncle deterred him toward a war, a capture, a hatred. A magnificent mind directed toward the dowsing of a Goddess and all she is. Men can aspire to messiahs or even gods as they are all men. Archetypal prototypes to which all men, despite our mortality and feigned humility, assume we are headed toward or returning. But ten thousand years ago, the feisty daughter of Enlil trapped the fiercely smart son of Lord Enki; Marduk and the resulting humiliation is why our history is his.
For me as Emit, when I first understood the Sumerian Tablets and the original origin tale unedited by the men Marduk molded, it was a life changing event. Life changing... like the event that lead up to me as coyotl food but somehow more. When I understood that every inconsistency in the Bible, the disconnects that eventually turned me away from it , was due to it being a rewrite of the story about these two brothers, like the bullet that pulled me into it earlier today, my hunger for the scripture only intensified.
The Torah—Pentateuch—the first five books of the Tanakh and the First Testament of the Holy Bible—the "Instruction" or Owner’s Manual for a Soul manifest. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; all compiled in Babylon by exiled priests of Judah. It pulls together stories that predate their own coalescence as a people. And it was written under duress. Like compelling a confession letter, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and self-proclaimed firstborn son of Marduk conspired with this touched minion to rewrite the myths as core-piercing stories and twisted examples of a human condition in stark contrast to an invented edict by an all-powerful patriarchal god. Scribed to both appease a vengeful god's conspiring king in order to secure their new, yet matriarchal bloodline for generations. Like Israel's America and Cain's Mark, though surrounded by forces bent on their punishment, these Judah's priests were under the oppressive protection of Nebuchadnezzar. And as his priestly prisoners, the produced a new story—the ultimate Bromance about a supreme male god that gives his creation whatever it asks for except answers about how men can lord over a holy matriarchal line.
Marduk, Mordecai as he is memorialized by these People, for all his humiliations at the hand of a woman, knew the way home was through woman. As did his Father Lord Enki. As do I... Emit?
Emit. The soldier, the scientist... I've spent my waking life obsessed with unveiling the truth of the goddess as origin and not knowing it. Without chemical tethers - without need disguised as want - I cannot judge. Although millennia are lost to reverse-progress and we have cause the failed enlightenments of billions of Souls in this Cycle, I now see it as the undertow before the wave. And I see Seth being pulled by the undertow of that black lake at... Eridu.
Eridu. There is a memory that the chemistry hid from me. Why? How is it still hiding? I don't judge the horrors inflicted by a twisted patriarchal era for without it the wave does not come. Emptiness. Fullness.
The Original Sin was neither.
My immunity to cooties was my ancient urge to worship Her.
Not one simple truth as a door prize or going away gift - every simple truth as one. Intention vs. Attention is the binary code of the conscious mind. The dead Schrödinger’s Cat of why we can't have two truths with one box. Our intention affects what we attend to. Our attention is the result of an Other's intention. The enlightened must be as sharks. Feeding and moving and paying attention to nothing. Receiving attention means losing intention and the sage who speaks is not one.
If you are here, if you are reading this, you have arrived. Manifestation into material being is the end result of a magnificently advanced soul. The Atheist was right. Here forward is black. Is sleep. Is Engur. And the Atheist is wrong. Here back and again and again is divinity.
We say, "... the road before us..." as if before were in front?
Before we were born are we here again? Reincarnation... it isn't a wheel, it's a fountain. It is like a bullet shot into the ocean. Puncturing as matter and involuntarily pulled back.
An achievement. Moths. Flames. This planet is teaming with... saturated with so much consciousness. It is burgeoning and I can see it now as nodes of light on a global scale,
It's all so beautiful. I am elegantly sorry... sorrowful.
There it is.
The nexus of my Soul's flux. Its intention to apologize and its attention to the sorrowful.
Attention isn't a follower. It is an exalted state but only when directed toward suffering. It the highest order. Intention is good. Is Nin. Is originally feminine. To deny the G-dess is to negate a G-d. To attend the G-dess is the mastery of Man for her attention sanctifies our intention.
The Marys. All three. Sisters.
Like native Albuquerqueans made to forget how to spell it, Marduk has hoodwinked us away from Her. Yet those Priests of Judah, like writing the letter "s" three times in a confession letter, have now let future cyphers know that, what was written as "Not Under Duresss" was.
They wrote of one all-powerful and lovingly jealous yet violently tempered giver and taker of things in mysterious ways. And this has confused our spiritual tongues ever since. Yet, despite their sins of editing and omission of the mommy-issues the idea of one source behind and so essentially important as to be the Yodh or the dash between "G" and "d" when written reference, one god behind all. One seed of truth has germinated between cycles and Aeons and languages and perjuries complex. One.
No one ever asks where we're going to try to be when we die. Not even our selves. Only where we're from. No one throws confetti at a funeral but hurls pink and blue balloons when we arrive. If we really believed that heaven were next, whether met by cloud-hopping, lyre playing cherubs or seventy-two unwed mothers, our flowers would spell out Bon Voyage instead of RIP.
Sadness is a symptom of hypocrisy. Depression results from misfires of chemicals and logics. "Rest In Peace" is a horrific thing to say. It robs the traveler of intention to return. There are many coming homes. Too many to conceive but sometimes they do end and the mystery beyond and behind that is infinitum. And before they do the undertow is a horror. It has to be.
The horror that was Inanna's descent is our night. The horror that was Dumuzid's death, is our Equinox. And now, the horror that was Marduk's last reign is the end of our galactic precession. For the next 26,000 years the goddess will again rise and it will be because of her fall and due to her nemesis. A man's mind when neglected makes destruction. When simply left alone, invention. Mother's raise warriors for their own protection. Women mold men for the same reason. Neglect or allure is the choice of the goddess. Always.
I don't know if this death is how yours will be. Maybe it's an anomaly because of the angle of the bullet or the fact that, unlike you, I wasn't born of the beautiful chaos that is Mother. And whether what's next is dissipation or transformation, I embrace the consistency of this impermanence and I thank you your attention to my departing.
“Brother.” I say to a place and a time and a man I will always love and never understand. How many of their cycles have been and will be cut short by our petty rivalry? Our Age. Indeed! Our Aeon!” I say as when we were young and conquering fields and goats before our drama was taught to us. “We were Gemini, Sweet Enlil and we have overstayed our house. You would have Abraham kill his son on a dare and yet I justify my conspiracies as compassion and all I have done is create something that feels pain. And you, our sons, my neglect have transformed them into something that can hurt.”
I know he hears me, he feels me and there is so much of this familiar as the cycles merge again, we often say “… these epiphanies come Nodely…” but no. Not this now. I look to sweet Adapa who stands as Master of the House and has and will infinitum, “Brother god, you claim this clay man, this hybrid son is only as eternal as he is useful to his gods. Yet our tasks he completes as we race to imagine more. Yes, I have created a worker slave, beast man, a monster. And all by your decree. But this golem of scraps and godly tinctures has re-created us, dear brother. Our angelic nonchalance has set billions of tiny horrors ablaze for our musings. And though I have absorbed their heroic psalms for the times I saved them from you, I know that I alone am the origin of their nightmares.
To secure a peace unfettered by these patriarchal fears and counterfeit spirits, my brother must die. But I am only as his, as he is as mine. There is only one way to stop this cycle. One way to dissolve this node that forces brother against brother, son against cousin and god against goddess. There are no more primers to trace for blame. No roles or archetypes or patterns flickering in the cosmos to point to that explain the blind nature of this machine of karma. For it all cycles back to one hole for all of us. The waves all come crashing in on the same tile for each of us. No more pantheons of the guilty, all I can do is resign myself to realizing that it was my own cleverness that killed them. My blood was exalted. Surely it was enough to grant Souls to Earthlings without killing a lesser god. But the greater the god, the greater the sacrifice and I now know that my sons Dumuzid and Negral in that cycle were Gabhar and Burke in this one. And the workings of the parallels unfold before me and I remember another structure in this fractal of time.
While our archetypes – our source energies are caste and our roles remain in every cycle infinitum, our placement and emphasis shifts between nodes. Manifestation into the physical plane is to be born into a chaotic system with incalculable risks. The forces on and against the source determines strength but not position. My sons on that cycle were subordinates in this one. The positions remain as set by the original gravity of their source energy, but the strength thus affect of their destinies matches their position. It is an immutable law. One of three. And in exchange for ignorance we surrender horror. I will not feel the specific loss of sons as Emit Archer but I will feel a loss. And with the seams between dimensions so frayed right now, if I wanted to, I could know what that loss will be but I cannot. I will not know as Emit that Seth is Enlil and that Seth’s darker, sardonic persona is the holographic reflection of my brother god's twisted nonchalance toward humanity. But I will not want to. He is twin. He is shadow. He is …
“You must spin back Sweet Lord.” Nin’s voice soothes into the space around my Pineal but remembering my brother and our sons and our divine neglect enrages me.
“We put them on auto-worship to the idea, the implanted idea of a god by proxy. They struggle to breathe!” I scream allowing the compassion to overtake me. “They’re scurrying for a place, a way to feed their little ones and we nary give them scraps from our exalted table…” I fall into myself without a filter of Lordship.
As Sapiens I feel their emotion that we assumed reserved for our strata of existence. “We are so wrong. There’s is brighter and bigger and overwhelming…” My crime and the miracle that it has become. I look over at sweet Adapa. “I've accelerated your evolution, supplanted your advancements, given you a spark toward the source fire but I’ve allowed him!” I shout raising both arms to the sky behind me. “… I let him dowse it with water. And now, this spark, this incendiary gift meant to make you just a little more clever, has made us just a little less divine.”
The Hivelings… slaves… exalted robots… who know my intention before I do come in hand me the tooth-blade so mercilessly shaped.
“For my dutiful, and beautiful Creatrix to extinguish one more mistaken miracle.” I command in passing. Unsure but decided.
"We’ve taken credit for rainbows, planted orchards of promises..." I remember Adapa who has been looking on as I waver between places and times and defenses and accusations. His face is again ‘Irfaan leading me through the dark caverns, the Hopi Boy and every dear child I have ever loved or tried to. And as a Father, not a god. I remember them all and they are my primer. A chemistry loosens in both places and before. It is a cusp. A cusp is a cushion between and she if coming to wake me.
My presence feels flaky like the elder Hivelings. "They've given themselves out of existence..." I say rubbing my hand along the lightly textured hexagons that seem to purr with my touch. They swarm around the places they know I’ll look. "The Father who cowers before the blade of an oppressor... " I begin in soliloquy with billions to hear still gliding my palm along their new color glow. "The Father who begs before the eyes of his children... this is man. This is a Man." My whole mind resets as the Hivelings quake away, the ambient light shifts blue to green to a yellow too bright.
"A Father has surrendered... by definition. His begging before his daughter is the Holiest of tableaus. His Oppressor; his love, his nature, his child... We didn't imprint that!" I yelled but the Hivelings were already safe away having sensed it coming. I sit and begin lightly petting the surface again. It took a few moments for the Hivelings to react. They didn't anticipate a touch unconditional. And suddenly I realize why their corners can't reconcile as givers. There is no condition for unconditional in their configuration. Two Hiveling surfaces only know to serve. "Sweet. Innocent. Robot. If we condition them to receive, to seek to receive, they'll be... slaves.” I sigh in reluctant conclusion. Not about the state of this technology. But its analogy to my race. The tail end of a need to receive is a need to be a god.
And here we are.
"They freed the animals from our traps!" I said exploding up and back into my seat. I intended toward the walls and watched early reports of Earthling Hominid behavior before we altered them. It was a big issue with the early parties in that the Earthlings were freeing animals from traps caught for food. The hominids were vegetarian then could not understand why these animals were being trapped. "They weren't robots... they were more."
"Our assumption is always that consciousness needs to be implanted but it was already blossoming in this species and we..." A memory triggered by an emotion far too alien to us floods through me. I’m eight, I’m in the back of a car and I hear… “Raindrops keep falling on my head…” I see a woman in the car next to us at the red light. She’s mouthing the words to the song playing in our car and I realize radio for the first time. But she’s sad. She’s touching up her eyes in the mirror. There’s a boy there too. He’s crawling over the seat. Back and forth. I catch his eye. I motion to his mother. Does he know she is sad? Maybe he should stop jumping or she’ll poke her eye. I scream as I understand too soon that she needs to be attractive for a man who may give her a few cents more an hour so that she can add a little more protein to the diet of that child who may one day protect her but while they are nestled in an America that is set high above the world, she is still farther and he is still further away from a source of security. This tower - a precipice of makeup, and razors and hookups and raises and titles and hollow glories of coworkers conquered and lunch breaks extended.
I hurt now for the father, the Iraqi men with children and brides and the legacy of what a Man and a Father is but cannot be when a telegenic kill machine comes calling in search of a man with an idea about a country that does things like this. There is no more elegant horror than a man cowering before a blade in view of his daughter. For a son, this is an image for revenge, for a daughter it is an image of the complete betrayal of all that is secure and holy. And we turned these pure souls into that.
"How dare we?!" My guilt takes on a broader, more cosmological consequence as I realized we messed with the wrong planet. And then some. And I realized it wasn't my half-brother Enlil that hovered above me making it impossible to look up.
"You are Man despite me." I say with sunken eyes to Adapa. "You are Hers.” He simply nods. I smile uncontrollably at my favorite Master of the House who has stepped in and out of the spin so often for his Lord, he's too pure to have one.
“We were frail and naked and you never told us." I say nodding to the amulet I've intended for him. He smiles and closes his eyes in reverence just once more as I lift my left arm into a wind spun by my brother and grasp his.
Once unfurled so thin as to fold between the cycles and the nodes to be primers no more, sweet Adapa anoints me. “Thank you, Emit."
Her ghost taps thrice on a squiggly pinecone just left of center and to my creation, it gives up me.
The Report of the Ghost
When I see a movie anymore I don't look for a "whole experience." If I can get one message or moment out of any story then I consider it useful. It seems like a pretty enlightened way to approach the arts at first glance but before you cast me as your ghost-protagonist here and before we bond simply because I'm the narrator, we should get a few things set. I don't write. I'm not a "storyteller" and I certainly don't know from "first-person participles predicated upon a dangling fuck-a-ma-jigs so know that.
I do have another story though.
It's mine and it will seal a lot of separations that Emit and Miriam left. All I know how to do is tell it like it comes and then send it around to friends to point out typos or anything that might do more harm to the story than good.
I owe Emit at least that.
Emit once explained how he and I were different this way; "I appreciate the potential sentience of all living creatures and Seth's an Asshole". I'd approach it differently.
For me, the best way to delineate us is inherent in the title of the next book; The Unveiling.
See, Emit would find it an esoteric synonym for "Apocalypse" and he would weave his Mystery School knowledge through the pages using colors and repeated words as primers for the initiated reader.
I chose the title simply because it is what certain Semitic cultures call it when they "unveil" the gravestone of a deceased loved-one within the the first year.
Where Emit found the sacred in the mundane I find more mundane. And while I do feel his flare came through me in some of the ways I finished off his and Emvee's books above, it's time to use my own voice and give up this ghost. For the Reader's sake I will employ a tactic Emit taught me to make dull, fact-based information sound more engaging. It's about staying in a frame of mind when sharing it.
"What's the fucking End Game, E?" I once spat at Emit while arguing about gods and afterlifes or some shit when we were in our twenties.
"What's the best feeling you can possibly achieve while alive?" Emit responded without a beat.
"Like; physically or..." I began to dissect.
"What's the best feeling you can possibly achieve while alive?" He repeated.
"Sex. But just before the end." I said.
"Just before. Stay there. That's the heaven all around us." He said and took on an air I've only ever seen that once.
He wasn't alone. Emit sat back in his chair and, although we were alone in an apartment in Century City, he seemed to be among others. He was grinning periodically as if overhearing a joke. Aware. Of others.
"What a gift that our arms aren't shorter, eh?" He smiled elfishly. When he say my eyes dart away with the reference he shouted, "There it is"
"What?" He snapped my eyes back to his.
"The Shame. I asked for the best feeling you can achieve while alive and you said just before ejaculation, right?"
"Dude... isn't the game on?" I asked wanting to move us beyond the subject of masturbation as mythos.
"It's always on. And that's the point. You have identified your End Game as a manifest Soul and you have the parts and physical prowess to achieve that alone. Any time. But the Shame felt afterward blackens the whole idea. Shame's not real. It's a burr placed in the Soulworks of us six." He said.
"And yours? What's your End Game?" I said to stall for time while I pieced together that one.
"It was Ensoulment and now I'm done."
So The Unveiling will be an exercise in that "Just Before" state-of-mind if you'll forgive the visuals.
My brother-in-left-arms (left) passed a year ago this month out here. Idiot was shot in the back of the head. The report read; "... while evading hostile fire behind a car hood."
But I digress. This ain't about any of that anymore.
Today we're performing his "unveiling." There wasn't much left but bones and gear but his post was set up very tightly. Within weeks all here and infinitum was handed to Maj. Jackson Vidal Archer; who's out there right now near that hood trying to find a spot to "unveil" a stone where we'll lay the man's bones.
"Wow. There it is." I say aloud to myself in the Sentinel apartment above US6. The teal-blue book about Knights that the Search Drone tagged to find Emit's body. It looks as though Jack's been reading through it because he's using the makeshift medallion they found around Emit's neck as a book mark.
It's a cut piece of scrap medal with; "2nd Place T.S.C." scratched and Sharpie'd into it. Probably placed around his neck by the bastard that shot him. "Sick fuck."
"Oh, come on!" I continue aloud in a scold to Jack who can't hear me. "Have some respect... dog-earing pages..." I begin folding back the corners to try to heal the scored pages but notice a pattern in the pages that Jack has marked in this crude way. Each page holds the same symbol in it's margin; drawn by Emit. A sigil that links each to other sections of this book like a primer. He's given Jack a path to reading the Knights book in a particular order that will tell quite another tale indeed.
"The little bastard's found the Knights of the Blue Thread?" Emit's coded the book as far as he could before leaving and Jack's right there with the baton...a weirdly blue-green colored baton.
I think back at all the places this book has been. All the hands that have leafed through it frantically trying to find the way to the secret that will make this family Rule again. Or at least Reside in Lordship again.
"How is it...? Emit, he's a chip off your fucking ..." I begin saying to Emit's ghost. Something I've been doing a lot lately.
"Who you talking to Brokeback? You can have one of his shirts if you want." Jack's deep, piercing voice says as he rises into the outpost shutting the thick door and US6 behind him.
"Jesus! You scared the..." I said skipping breath and losing my grip on the book. Before it hit the floor, Jack snatched it up and into a spin while he placed his pack on the counter then catching it.
"Try again." Jack said referring to my "Jesus".
Every time. The kid has been trained such that I would be dead before I felt his breath if then but his weapon is that deep, assured voice that is disarming and a herald at the same time. I grinned in a way I can't recall doing as regularly before last year. That sounds shitty, but since Emit died, I don't feel like I'm competing anymore. Maybe it's that or maybe because I'm nearing sixty, but when Emit would do something like Jack just did - some flawless juggle and spin ending in a cool move like that, it would piss me off. When Jack does it, it's an involuntary welling of pride.
"Did you find it?" I asked cryptically as these solemn tasks are more about what isn't said than what is planned.
"I did." He said resolutely. And this much I know about Archers; be they mistaken twin brothers, sons as nephews or even the Archer women they pull in, when one says, "I did." then that is what happened. And it's that thread these three people have that is pulling me to tell the rest of the story. Emit wanted to. He had a flare for telling stories. He used story to convey big ideas. I never understood that. Just tell me how shit works and leave the story out.
"It's not porn, dude. It's mythology." Emit would insist when I would make him get to the essential psychosocial markers of each Greek god while helping him study. "I'm telling you about the Seat of the Soul and for you the Pineal Gland is the money-shot."
"Pineal Gland." I would repeat flatly and just let the anagrams float there.
He tried to get me into Gurdjieff - the Armenian/Greek and/or Russian/Sufi guy who wrote the book "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson" as a way of conveying his Fourth Way Mystery School knowledge.
I read it. Most of it. And I learned two very valuable things from it. Well, three if you count the fact that he wrote about our second moon Cruinthne before we had any idea this piece of the original impact that created our moon was out there. That's huge. So that's three.
Another was that Gurdjieff chose the mythical and maligned entity of Beelzebub as his protagonist arguing that this Daemon is so self-obsessed that any book with his name in the title would certainly have more invisible support in the marketplace.
Finally, Gurdjieff spent way too much time at the front of his book defending himself against potential critics of the work. He was not a writer but a philosopher. Granted, to try to enter the Literati of Early Twentieth Century Europe and Russia was asking for it but with every cleverly worded fence erected against the Trolls of his day, the credibility of this man having a key to self mastery faded a little.
So like a movie with a good moment that I can use, I've taken all of Gurdjieff's life's work and found a useful moment.
I won't apologize for my literary choices and there is no one left alive; Literatti or Lumin from whom I need protecting. And, to be sure this work gains powerful support from unseen forces, I've named this whole damn thing the Autobiography of "Emit Archer."
As I turn back to Book III currently in exile and while I await approval to upload, I trust that your frequency will thin a bit so as not to require a book corner to slide into your rib to get you to read it. Because it's all about you and the six of us.
I take out some playing cards and start to shuffle them. It's a way to get the mind to attend to a pattern. Once shuffled, I fan them face-up and pull all the Jacks. Pulling specific cards lets the mind attend a pattern. I place the Joker face up on top then put the deck in my left shirt pocket. Choosing a card each time as finale that is not part of an apparent pattern both levels up the mind above assumed truths while releasing experiential memory created since the last time this pattern was made.
© Thomas Ernest Ross, Jr.
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