h2g2 Storytime - Chapter XXXI

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Far away in the Egyptian desert, a team of excavators working in shifts had cleared away most of the sand and dirt from the area around the broken cover stone.

Ody stood perched on top of a sand dune; the Sun was hanging lower in the sky so he appeared silhouetted. His jacket made a stiff fluttering nose as a stiff breeze buffeted him; it was blowing from the East; there was a storm brewing; It had been getting worse all day. The light dimmed and darkened to the colour of thick syrup and eventually submerged behind dense, mottled clouds piling up on the horizon.

There were, suspended on hooks from lines that criss-crossed the camp like telegraph wires, many gas and oil lamps. These were now being switched on to banish the gloom, giving the impression from afar that a congregation of fireflies had settled in the desert. The lamps all began to sway in the steady increasing wind that was now blowing in sandy gusts between the tents and across the site of the dig.

They were close now. So close. Ody's eyes were glassy again; he lived for this moment.

A sound brought him out of his reverie. Metal clinking against stone; the digging crew were inserting crowbars underneath the stone slab that covered the entrance into some hidden realm.

'1...2...3 HEAVE!'

The stone staid obstinately still, as sinews and muscles strained against it's inertia.

'1...2...3 HEAVE!'

There was a moment's give. The wind picked up, swinging the lamps about on the wire.

'1...2...3 HEAVE!!' There was a nearby crack of thunder and unseen lightning and the granity sound of stone sliding against rock.

'Jamila!' Ody called across the camp. He could see her running towards him shouting something soundlessly. The wind carried her voice away from him.

He turned to the dig team. 'One more should do it.'

'1...2...3 HEAVE!!' With a final effort, the cover stone was wrenched loose, pitched forward and settled into the sand. The men all fell down exhausted. Everyone was gazing into the hole that had been revealed.

Jamila was fast approaching now; Ody summoned her closer with an excited wave.

She pounded up the small hill of sand caused by the excavation still clutching the telegram.

'.... Ody...huff huh! ODY! ...STOP!'

'Stop? Stop what?'

'STOP!! - oh!' She crested the dune to find the cover stone freshly removed.

The lightning illuminated her concerned face and there was a dramatic crash of more Thunder moving in closer now.

Over the din, Ody held his hat on his head and shouted, 'What's the matter?'

'I just got a wire - it's from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities - it says were to cease excavating immediately! They're sending someone!'

'What?!' shouted Ody, 'We have clearance!'

'It's been revoked!'

'But we just got it open!' he begged.

'We can't go inside!' he insisted.

Ody looked down at the hole - and across the concerned faces of his team - then back at Jamila, and reached a decision.

'I never got that message. I have to know what's in there. I'm going down.'

'No!' Jamila held his arm firmly.

Ody turned.
'Not without me you don't!' The wind was deafening she had to shout to be heard: 'Partners, remember?'

Ody grinned.

Back in the Hotel Room in Cairo….

'I don't need to explain myself, least of all to you!' Daltmooreby hissed in reply to Slepp's comment.
'Your…child is a liability. This is foolish.' Slepp observed critically. 'I wasn't even aware you had a son.'

'A long time ago.' Daltmooreby shot back, 'almost another lifetime. He's a man now. We could probably pass each other by on the street and he wouldn't know who I am.'

'So, remind me: why have me go to such elaborate lengths again? The assassin asked coolly, indicating the fax machine, the fake letter and the instruments of forgery.

'You recall why we are here?' Daltmooreby asked savagely.

'The Turquoise Moon. You think this…archaeologist will be able to find it?'

'I've not seen him in years but I've watched over my boy's career. He's come far. He can help us. He'll just need…an incentive.'

'And if he can't, if he recognises you, what then?'

'I'll survive. I can't say much the same for anyone else though.'

'So, once again, why does it have to be you?'

'It just does!' Daltmooreby insisted, 'I make my move tomorrow. Catch them off guard.' Daltmooreby stretched out on the bed tucking his arms behind his head, 'I'm posing as a ministry official.'

'I think you're just afraid.' Slepp said.

'I AM NOT!' Daltmooreby shot back. He meant it too but still Slepp's comment had cut close to the bone.

'I should go…' Sleep started.

'NO! Not again. We've just been over this. I needed you to get the job done; you forge the documents that will get me into that camp unsuspected. You can guard the car and wait for me to come back - and I promise you this: when I come back, I will return with the location of The Turquoise Moon!'

In the middle of the storm, there arrived a still calm. In some ways this was worse than the wind: it was as if The Gods of Old Egypt were looking down on the two archaeologists with a pregnant pause of expectation and holding their breath.

Beneath the cloud, darkness was descending. Torches had been brought and ropes lowered into the hole beneath the coverstone.

There was now no sign of the weird glimmer that had brought the coverstone to their attention. Ody speculated there was because there was something, reflective inside, it only shone when the sun was on it, but at night was hidden in the gloom of the chamber. He'd shortly know for certain.

Jamila was with him.

'Ready?' he asked.

'Always.' She broke open a few chemical glow-sticks, which burned fiercely white, and then she tossed them in. Immediately the blue glow returned, shimmering and undulating like sunlight seen from underwater.

Jamila peered over the edge. 'Don't look', she urged.

Ody did and regretted it.

'Pilchards!' I HATE pilchards! He shuddered, writhing in discomfort.

'I don't understand' said Jamila , placing a hand on the stone around the entrance. There appears to be a water channel of some sort. Maybe it leads to an underground spring. Perhaps that's why the settlement was built here. Maybe this wasn't always a stretch of desert?

'Pilchards!' Ody groaned ignoring this thoroughly reasonable line of questioning. 'Why did it have to be Pilchards?' addressing The Gods, just in case they were watching, but to no avail.

She cracked open another glow stick and dropped it in. As she did so she noticed something about the wide, deep trough that the water flowed into, the way it...sparkled.


Ody finished mentally visualising stamping on The Last Pilchard in History.

'What is it?'

'We have to get down there...look at that trough...do you see it?

'you mean the - is that….is that what I think it is?'

'I think...I think it is.' she grinned excitedly. 'This may be the find of the century.'

Gathering her rappelling line, she hooked on the grip, and clipped the rope onto the hook that she'd had bored into the floor. Walking backwards and unfurling handfuls of rope, she perched on the edge, he boots sticking upright, gave Ody a wink and said 'Are you coming?' and jumped in.

Ody's fingers gripped the edge and he prised them away. 'Pilchards.' he mumbled 'I hate those oily little guys!'

He hooked on the rope, gathered his rappel and jumped down after Jamila.

It was cold and pitch black inside; only small areas of illumination from the glow sticks gave any perspective to the darkness at all, like, for instance, that there was a floor not an infinite depth of nothingness.

Ody dropped down and could see a Jamila up ahead, She was already exploring and holding another glow stick above her head.

Ody's feet touch the floor, which felt hard and smooth, he looked up to the window of the real world, a square of dark and flickering torches above.

'Oh my God!' said Jamila from across the room by the water-trough.

Ody unclipped himself, broke open a glow stick and went to her.

'I - I think this is... I think it is -'

'Diamond.' said Ody crouching down on one knee. The trough was transparent from the most part, the pilchards could be seen swimming around in the pool. It was facetted though and refracted light oddly.

'This is incredible!' said Jamila in awe, not daring to place her hands on or anywhere near it.

There was a patina of blue light hovering around the trough giving it an unusual halo-like corona. Ody was turning his head this way and that, moving the glow-stick experimentally. 'It's not pure carbon, it must have a heavy boron element in there too. It's why it glows blue.'

He stood up and went over to the hole with the rappelling ropes. He whistled up and heads appeared. 'Send down some portable lamps, we'll need more light in here!'

The heads disappeared.

Ody unclipped a battery-powered torch from his waist and danced it across the room - it was larger than he'd expected the far side just kept on going.

Past Jamila there was an alter of some kind. Ody walked up some steps while Jamila continued to stare at the...fish swimming inside the solid diamond fish tank.

Between two rocky pillars, there was a plinth and, as Ody raised up his torch, he could see an inscription carved into the ancient stone.

'The expiration date of this fish is past, stand ye by the next jewelled vein, beneath the sky-light.'

'No, no!' he'd mistranslated something.

He tried again.

The dead...er..dying...pilchard.....bleeds beneath or under..a Turquoise.... night...light...er...Moon or Star..

'A Dying Pilchard Bleeds under a Turquoise Moon', he muttered triumphantly. What the Hell?'

He shone the torch down on Jamila.

'Take a look at this.' Do you read it like I do?'

She hurried up to him.

'An inscription!' she said excitedly she bent down and busily began translating.

Ody shone his torch around looking for another clue.

Something caught in the torch beam, a bright edge, but it was gone.

He waved the torch back and forth.

'Does this say 'fish'?' said Jamila working more cautiously than Ody ever did.

There it was again, but not in the same place.

Ody began to wonder.

''Beneath'? 'Stood over', maybe?'

'Wait here.' he said distantly.

He walked out into the dark aiming himself roughly at the last glimmer. He eventually found what he was looking for when he stubbed his sandal on it.

It was a raised stone plinth, up to about waist height. He felt the rough, hewn stone with his fingers. It made a scraggily, scraping noise as he ran his hand up the side and onto the top of the plinth. He questing fingers found a smooth surface perched on top. This new object was not made of stone but curved and faceted. He stared intently into the gloom and could just make out as he passed his hand behind and in front of the object, his distorted fingers.

From the far side of the room, Jamila stood illuminated by glow rods cried out in a final act of triumphant translation: A...Turquoise...Moon?'

Ody re-appeared from the darkness. 'That's what I thought too.' and began seriously investigating the wall behind Jamila.

'What is a Turquoise Moon?' She asked.

'No idea.' he said half-lying.

'What are you looking for?' she asked quizzically.

'Instructions.' he said tracing a finger along a line of raised pictograms, showing a large orb, issuing rays of what looked like light, shining out in all directions.

'Hmm.' he said thoughtfully and looked to his left where he espied a small, raised shelf to the left of the steps that led up to the plinth with the inscription Jamila had just translated.

'I've an idea. What here. Don't move. Don't touch anything. I'll be right back.' and he ran off into the darkness.

'Ody!' Jamila cried after him.

He reappeared a few moments later lugging in his arms a large lamp with a big bulb in it and a folding stand so it could be angled; the wire snaked off to the area beneath the open cover-stone.

He trotted up the plinth steps and set the lamp on the left shelf.

He then darted back into the darkness and a few moment re-appeared on the other side carrying an identical lamp, which he set down on the right-shelf opposite the first lamp.

'If I'm right,' he said, 'watch this.'

He angled the first lamp so it was pointing at the ceiling and switched it on. It made a strong, bright beam up to the ceiling and illuminated a moderate area of cavern.

He slowly angled the lamp down so the beam left the ceiling and started to point across the length of the chamber.

As the beam descended, Jamila thought she saw something barely illuminated in the distance: rows of somethings - they reminded her of the Terracotta army in China, but tall and glassy.

The beam struck the first plinth, it refracted through the diamond orb on top and emerged at a different angle where it met another diamond orb and refracted out again in a different direction.

Immediately the entire wall as lit up with lines of tangential turquoise, refracting through countless diamonds on plinths that ran along every wall, perfectly position to re-direct a beam of light one to the next.

Jamila didn't need to be told. She scurried over to the lamp nearest her and switched it on.

The same happened again: there was a flash of light - and then before her this network of turquoise lines criss-crossed the room like an iridescent spiders-web, only made of light.

In the middle of the room, the twin beams met each other again, illuminating an empty plinth.

The turquoise light from the diamond network revealed that they were stood in some sort of temple. With intricate marking runing down every wall; raised Hieroglyphs of unknown authorship on every wall; and diamonds; diamonds everywhere.

Ody and Jamila were breathless. 'This is incredible.' Jamila managed at last.

'There's more wealth here than in Solomon's mines.' Ody murmured, utterly awestruck.

'Where did they get them from?' There are no diamond deposit in Egypt are there?'

'Only gold I thought.' Ody said gazing at their discovery.

'What the empty plinth for?' Jamila asked.

'I...I...er...I'm not sure.' Ody stammered.

'It looks like there should be something here.'

Jamila looked again at the hieroglyphics behind the plinth. They showed (once you recognized the short-hand) this room and the network of lines. Light from multiple torches, not lamps, was therein depicted, but the image was the same. The light in the inscription ran around the room, eventually converging - not on an empty plinth - but the central object: a special stone: A Sacred Stone.

'There's one missing.' She said coming to the inevitable conclusion.

'Why just one?' Ody said still not quite taking it all in.

'Well they all appear to be mined from the same material this unusual blue diamond. Look, all the others refract the light at particular angles - they are cut that way. Maybe there was something special about this diamond in particular. That is why it was at the centre of the room the point at which the two beams would converge?'

'The Turquoise Moon.' he said sadly.

'It would make sense.'

A horrible thought suddenly reared up in Ody's mind: they'd come down here to investigate the glimmer and they'd found diamonds.

'When is the Ministry getting here?'

'Oh God! No!' cried Jamila, we have to hide this from them!'

'How do you hide as many diamonds as these?'

'We bury this place,' said Jamila. 'We know where this is, we have the original glyphs giving the location.'

'We've only got tonight.'

Ody hung his head but agreed. They'd replace the coverstone.

Back in Morocco:

'You tried to have us killed!' X remarked sourly to Fort-William, sat opposite.

'If you will not protect me, I am already dead.' Fort-William rubbed his forehead, ignoring X.

'Who?' asked Arthur carefully taking the gun from the Grand High Mage and passing it to his comrade.

'I...I can't really say.'

'Oh yeah?' X, picked up the phone.

'No! Please... They would know if I was to give information that would compromise the operations.'

'You will tell us what you know or so help me!' Arthur said rolling up his sleeves. 'Start with Afghanistan.'

'Fine, they've left me to your wrath so I'll lead them to yours: My squad and I were attacked - they were all killed but I survived. I was grievously wounded and only learnt about the death of my squad when I regained consciousness.'

'I was taken to a hospital somewhere in the plains. When I woke up there several months later I had no memory of why I was there.'

The doctors they showed me the uniform I had worn when I arrived, the medals I had carried. They meant nothing to me it was as if I belonged to another person, one I had never met.'

I was discharged shortly after that and spent the next few years wandering the Indian sub-continent, Asia and so on. I had no life to return to, at least none that I could remember.'

'Go on.' said X

'But there were dreams.'

I wandered, trying to find out what these meant. I was told by many to seek counsel so I travelled to see wise man in Phuket.'

'Phuket?' queried X.

'No, no, it's pronounced Phuket.' For William replied, mildly embarrassed.

He put me in touch with a religious sanctuary.

'A religious sanctuary?' Arthur repeated, arching an eyebrow inquisitorially.

'An out reach for A Cult as it happened.'

'A Cult?' Arthur said interest piqued

'They believed in re-incarnation, matter-transference, the resurrection of Rasputin - Arthur and X shared a glance in each other's direction - and other things.'

'What other things?' Arthur barked

'They wanted to rule the world. I was vengeful and bitter so I joined them. They foresaw the ascension of Rasputin.' Fort-William continued...'as well as his demise.' They formulated a back-up plan. They need something - an artefact. It won't work without it.'

X looked at his partner and said, 'The Turquoise Moon, Arthur.'

So This Cult: Daltmooreby, Vandeveer, they all must be a part of it. And they've got Anna.'

'So now we know why they were heading to Egypt.'

Suddenly the phone rang. The Major General leapt to his feet quickly.

'I...I shouldn't have come here...' Fort-William stammered and rushed for the door.

'Wait!' yelled Arthur, he cursed as the table whacked into his shin trying to stand up. Fort-William yanked open the door and ran out into the hall-way of the hotel.

'X!' Arthur shouted.

'Got it,' X said. He opened the window, then gracefully lifted himself through it to get and out onto a drainpipe and began to climb down.

Arthur darted out of the door after Fort-William. Arthur pummelled down the stairs. He ran past an elevator already in descent and into the emergency fire escape stairwell, he peered over the railing and down the square spiral.

Outside X was shimmying carefully down a drain pipe, a secret passion for rock climbing in the crags of Scotland afforded him an excellent grip, he scanned the busy Moroccan street below, no sign of Fort-William. He edged down another few floors and wondered how Arthur was getting on.

Arthur burst into the respectable civility of the Hotel Lobby. Several guest and concierges looked up at his sudden arrival. Arthur ignored the inquisitive stares. The doors to the Elevator 'shusshed' closed. He was looking for - there! - the revolving door was spinning fast as if someone had just run through. He charged forward, and emerged onto the Street.

Within leaping distance of the ground, X saw his partner emerge frantic from the front door of the Hotel, it was then that he spotted Fort-William staggering in the middle of the road, apparently scared out of his wits. He was glancing up to the high windows, scanning the rooftops. He must have come out seconds before Arthur, X thought.

X made a graceful twist and landed on the sandy floor with a small thud and a puff of sand. He ran around the market stall and out into the road, as he approached Arthur his words came into earshot:

'...we can protect you!' Arthur shouting, holding his arm outstretched and his palm open.

'No! You can't. It'd already too late. All of this!' He gestured wildly, 'They'll destroy it all. There is nowhere you can take me that is safe, It's the Poles you see it's the - !'

He didn't complete the sentence.

A sniper's bullet ended his life, pitching him forward where he convulsed and expired.

Arthur and X recoiled in shock.

The street was busy: not many people had noticed.

'They got to him first!' Arthur cried out and turned to look at his partner wearing a mask of panic. 'X?'

'We're in trouble,' said X. Now their eyes rose, as if in supplication, to the windows and Byzantine balconies that lined the street.

The Agent's exposed position in the centre of the roadway was reflected in the lens of the sniper scope. In a darkened room pierced by slats of light, the assassin spoke to a voice on the end of a satellite-phone.

'And what of the other two?' said the voice of the shadowy assassin.

'Kiiiill theeeem both,' came the specific instruction.

'That will triple my fee.' The shadow replied in a voice rich and textured, used to weighing the valuable commodities of extra bullets.

'All debts will be settled in the fullness of time.'

The caller hung up.

Satisfied, the shadow lent forward into its nest, its eyes came level with the scope, taking a few moments to maneuver the bead of the sight over the head of one of the men stood twisting and turning in the street.

A finger reached for the trigger....

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