David L. Golemon
The United States is ready to make a triumphant return to the moon, striking out boldly into the solar system in an attempt to regain the confidence of the heady days of the Apollo program. But a shocking discovery at Shackleton Crater brings the first Prometheus mission to an abrupt halt.
Remote robots have uncovered human skeletal remainsand forensic analysis at NASA reveals the corpse to be over 700 million years old. As the news of this discovery is leaked across the universeand a battle rages over the truth of our heritagethe Event Group is tasked to unravel the mystery behind this ancient visitor. Colonel Jack Collins once again leads a team of the world's greatest scientists and philosophers on a journey that will take the Event Group into the realm of space and confront one of humanity's most pressing questions: Could somethingor someoneelse be coming to finish a war that began almost a billion years ago?
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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, PRESENT DAY
Alice Hamilton watched Garrison Lee sleep. She leaned closer when he mumbled, trying to catch the words he was struggling to say. She couldn’t catch the soft words but she could tell he was distressed. He had been having nightmares of late and they were the first she had ever been aware of in their sixty-eight years together. Lately it seemed Garrison Lee, former senator from Maine, an OSS general during the war, and now the retired head of the most secret organization in the United States government—Department 5656, also known to a few as the Event Group—was having trouble with his conscience, rare for a man who never allowed anyone near his deepest thoughts. For sixty-eight years Alice had guessed at them, and on a few occasions had been right about his true feelings, but now she didn’t know what was going on inside Lee’s failing body and mind. The only thing Alice Hamilton ever really knew for sure was that Garrison Lee loved her, and she him.
She took Lee’s hand and squeezed it gently when he turned his head first left and then right. He mumbled something again and then fell silent. Alice allowed the tears to flow for the briefest of moments before swiping them away.
“Jump, Ben, jump!” Lee shouted as he tossed his head to the right.
Alice froze at the moment her long dead husband’s name was mentioned. It was a subject Lee and she had discussed on only one occasion and that was in the months after World War II had ended. It had never come up again and Alice never once asked him to repeat the story of how her husband had died.
“Oh, no, no, no—you bastard—you bastard!”
Lee sat up so fast that Alice had to lean back to keep from being knocked silly by the man’s still large frame. He sat up and his left eye opened and he had a look of murder on his face. The ugly scar ran under the eye patch covering his right eye and ran pink into the gray hairline. Gone were the dashing good looks of the Hollywood leading man that was once General Garrison Lee. Now all that remained was a dying man with a guilt-ridden memory and a woman who had fallen in love with him in only a few short years after the war.
“Garrison, wake up,” she said as she tried to gently push him back onto the bed.
Finally Lee took two large breaths and looked over at Alice, allowing his one eye to adjust to the faint light filtering into the bedroom. He blinked and then finally realized where he was. He slowly lay back, but not before taking Alice’s hand in his own.
“Dreaming,” he said as his eye closed.
“Yes, I know,” Alice said, leaning over and kissing his brow.
“It’s hell dying, old woman. All the ghosts start to pop open the tailgate to the welcome wagon.” He opened his eye and looked at Alice. He tried to smile and for the first time in her life she saw that Lee had a tear in his good eye that he didn’t try to swipe away.
“I tried to bring him home alive. I—”
“Stop, don’t even think about it. Ben will be there waiting for you. After all that we’ve been through and learned at the Group, you have to believe he’s there. Hell, he may even have a choice word or two for you about stealing his wife,” Alice said, smiling.
Lee returned the smile. “The only reason I regret going is that I have to leave you.” Lee half turned and lifted his free hand. He held her face. “You saved me. Every day you were in my life, you saved me from being that bleak man you met all those years ago.”
“You’re not gone yet and I’m still here, old man. You get some more rest.” She let his hand go and reached for several large files that were spread across his blanket. “And no more reading material for you,” she said, stacking the red-bordered files and then standing, but not before she leaned over and kissed the 103-year-old-man deeply. “If you get your rest, I’ll give these back to you.”
“You’re such a bully,” he said as his eye closed.
“Yeah, and you know where I got that training.” She turned for the doorway and then stopped and looked back him. “Jack called and asked if he and Sarah could stop by later tonight, I told them yes.”
“Always good to see Jack and his girl,” Lee said, without opening his good eye.
Alice watched as the senator went to sleep, then she turned and went through the door, leaving it cracked open by a foot as she expected his sleeping mind to bounce back on him again.
Senator Garrison Lee was near death, and there wasn’t anything Alice could do but watch him die.
SHACKLETON CRATER, LUNAR SURFACE
For the first time since Apollo 17 the United States had returned to the surface of the Moon. Peregrine, the code name for the package of four robotic lunar rovers, George, John, Paul, and Ringo, named for their resemblance to a large-tracked beetle, had landed safely with its air-cushioned (balloon) landing system that would eventually be used for all future lunar and Mars missions. The four rovers had deployed without incident. Their mission—find proof that the Moon had deposits of water embedded in its dead and lifeless soil and rock, possibly enough water to make the Moon a desirable launching platform for all future space travel.
Since the presidential order of 2010 to curtail NASA’s intention of a manned return to the lunar surface in the next decade, it was decided to combine the exploration budgets of Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA to explore the possibilities of hidden water deposits on the Moon, left there by countless encounters with the frozen speeders of space, the comets, thus justifying a return to a place America knew well.
As the first landing spot chosen for the Peregrine program, Shackleton Crater was above all else a safe spot for the experimental rovers. Unlike the remote and preprogrammed rovers sent to Mars, John, Paul, George, and Ringo would actually be tasked to do heavy-duty work in drilling remotely from the safe plains surrounding Shackleton and operated by mission specialists from their distant confines in Pasadena and Houston. This program was a far cry from taking soil samples on Mars. Shackleton Crater was safe, soft, and conducive to success the first time out. And success was what the space program needed. Water equaled a cheaper way to get to Mars in 2025, the projected date of the first American attempt at gaining the high ground of the red planet.
Mission parameters called for the four rovers to explore the dips and valleys of the outer crater, never venturing down its steeply sloped sides and to its deep floor. They would measure and test for any moisture content in the soil surrounding the large rock formations. This fact was a running joke for the mission planners, as they knew they would find no water at Shackleton. That would be for a later mission at the southern pole when they had conquered the problems of deep-soil drilling.
As George, Paul, and John ran freely around the brim of the giant crater, Ringo was taking snapshots of the sky above Shackleton for GPS purposes. The programming for this had been completed at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and designed specifically for Ringo to skirt the outer rim and map the sky. The simple instructions for Ringo were to guarantee that the other three rovers stayed on mission, testing their sampling and drilling packages for telemetry relay back to Pasadena and Houston. The problem developed when a small glitch in the rover’s programming had gone undetected by a sixth-year grad student in Colorado. Ringo’s design for traversing the lunar surface outside the brim of Shackleton was flawed and was off by a mere three feet. As the other three rovers were performing their remote-controlled tasks flawlessly, Ringo was off on its own and running dangerously close to the giant crater’s precipitous edge. As eyes 244,000 miles away watched the colorless broadcast coming from the small rover’s stationary camera atop its four-foot-wide boxed frame, the roving beetle started to slide off the powdered edge of Shackleton.
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY, PASADENA, CALIFORNIA
At 9:10 in the morning California time, the press room was full of reporters, not because of the excitement of America’s robotic return to the Moon, but simply because it was a very slow news day. As everyone watched the rovers on four different high-definition monitors arrayed around the large press room, they saw one view go askew. The press on hand had no idea that Ringo was in the midst of what Pasadena called “a hissy fit.” Inside the mission control room, a hundred men and women who had worked on the Peregrine mission for the past ten years watched as a problem they didn’t need with the press on hand started happening right before their eyes.
“Ooh, we have Ringo going off mission here,” said one of the men watching the telemetry board in front of him instead of the video being broadcast. “Jesus, according to my telemetry he’s … oh, there he goes.”
Stan Nathan, the director of the mission, switched his view to that being broadcast by George, the closest beetle to Ringo. As he watched, he saw the 450-pound rover slowly start sliding off the edge of the crater.
“Becky, stop that damn thing,” Nathan said, trying to be as calm as he could. “If it gets down inside of there, we’ll never be able to get its telemetry. Those crater walls will stop any signal from getting to it. Hurry up, because Houston’s going to start screaming in just about one minute.”
Dr. Becky Gilickson, remote operator and programming technician in charge of Ringo, turned to her six-person team and frowned. There was nothing she could do. She tried sending out a command to reverse its track and override its program, but with the one-and-a-half-minute delay in communication, all she could do was watch as Ringo started a head-first run down the steep incline inside Shackleton Crater. Instead of typing in the remote command, she turned toward Nathan, who was standing in the middle of the darkened room.
“Flight, our command just hit Ringo, but it’s too late, he’s starting to slide. We recommend we run with it. If he tries to reverse track now at that speed he may roll over.”
Nathan hurriedly turned to the live shot of Ringo as it traversed the slope of the crater. For the moment it was running straight; its large six-limbed arms with the tri-rubber tracks seemed to be handling the rough terrain with ease.
“I concur. Let him go. I want a command sent now that once it hits the bottom of the crater I want it to turn—”
“Stan, Hugh Evans is on the line from Houston,” his assistant said as he looked up from the large phone console.
“Put him on speaker.”
“Stan, Hugh here,” said the senior flight director calling from his personal console at the Johnson Space Center. “Look, this could be very embarrassing. Let Ringo run and do not, I repeat, do not order it out of the crater. It’ll be down there, so let the press know that we decided to explore the base of Shackleton. Tell them it was my decision to send Ringo off mission, clear?”
Nathan was relieved that the flight director for the Peregrine mission had taken control. With the press watching this, it was a potential public relations disaster in the making. If they couldn’t control their robots, how the hell could they keep men alive out there?
“Clear. Ringo’s running free. It looks like he’s going to make the half mile journey pretty quickly.”
“Okay, get your press people out there and explain that we intentionally sent Ringo off on its own to explore the inside of the crater, nothing more. That ought to keep the dogs away until we can figure out how to recover the rover.”
The phone line went dead as Nathan turned his attention back to George’s video. The descending rover just went past its line of sight as it slipped and slid down the steep slope.
“Switch main viewer to Ringo so we can see what it sees.” Nathan turned to his left at the last telemetry station in the long row. “REMCOM, start getting a communications relay established between George, John, and Paul. We have to align them so we can continue to receive telemetry from the little guy once it hits bottom, because it’ll never be able to broadcast out of the damn hole.”
The remote control communications station began sending out signals interrupting the programming of the three remaining rovers. The scientists would introduce a “burp” in their existing program and send another order to span that gap. They would arrange the rovers around the edge of the crater to receive the telemetry signals from Ringo and then relay that signal to earth. It had never been done before, but that was the business they were in.
“Estimate thirty-five feet, plus or minus a foot, until Ringo hits bottom,” Communications called out. “Signal strength on telemetry is weak. Okay, signal lost at 0922 local time.”
“Come on people. Let’s get the rest of the Beatles in on this,” Nathan called out as he closed his eyes, hoping that Ringo didn’t go belly-up in the last thirty feet of its unscheduled walkabout.
“We have a patch through from Paul,” Communications said. “Okay, we now have video from Ringo … it stopped. It looks like—”
“The damn thing’s sideways—it’s hung up on something,” Nathan said angrily. He was trying his best not to take it out on his people.
On the monitor, the video streaming from Ringo showed the side of the crater. As they relayed a signal down into Shackleton from Paul, they ordered the camera to rotate 60 degrees. They wanted to see what they were hung up on before trying to extricate Ringo from its current 10 degree tilt position.
“Okay, at least we know it’s on the bottom and in one piece,” Nathan said as he stepped toward the large monitor, watching the area around the rover as it panned its view to accommodate its orders from Earth. “Goddamn big crater,” he mumbled as he looked at the darker than normal picture surrounding Ringo. “We must be in the lee of the crater’s northern wall.”
As the camera completed its 180-degree sweep, it stopped. Its lens was automatically trying to focus on something that would be oriented to its left side. It was obviously the obstacle that had arrested Ringo’s run down the slope.
“Okay, there it is,” Nathan said, as he tried to get a clear picture. “Is that all we have on focus?” he asked.
“Without the external lighting, that’s it,” REMCOM said as he turned in his seat and looked at the flight director.
“Well, the batteries be damned,” he said, looking at the remote communications specialist. “We have to get Ringo into the sunlight anyway to charge the damn thing. Turn on external lighting and see what we’re snagged on,” Nathan said in frustration, because he knew battery life was real life when you’re on the Moon.
“Relaying the order,” REMCOM called out.
As they waited for the delay in communications, Nathan sat on the edge of one of the consoles and rubbed his face. He hoped this would be the only glitch of the mission, but he knew when you were dealing with robots and remote technology, anything could go wrong, so he figured this whole endeavor could take years off his life.
As everyone in mission control in both Pasadena and Houston watched, and with the press yawning, displaying their boredom in both press rooms, Ringo turned on the powerful floodlights rigged to the top of its camera tower. The lens refocused and the picture suddenly turned to red and blue.
“Color? What in the hell is color doing on the Moon?” one of the technicians said as she stood up to get a better view.
Of all the photos from the Apollo program and countless views from the Moon, with the exception of anything man-made or views of the Earth, there was never anything of color to be broadcast from the lunar surface, just the white, grays, and blacks of its geology. But here was Ringo, the little remote designed for the search and testing of water deposits, sending out a full color image of something that had reached out and grabbed it on its way into the crater.
“Pull the view back by a foot,” Nathan ordered, as a sliver of recognition came into his mind. He stared intently at the color image
As the view pulled away from the object holding Ringo in place, more detail started to emerge. The colors were from what looked like some kind of material, possibly nylon in nature.
“Pan to the right,” Nathan ordered.
After a minute the camera view turned away from the colorful material, eventually settling on something white. Then it focused its high definition camera onto something jagged and dark.
“Damn it, what the hell is that?” Nathan asked, his heart beating faster. “Pan back another foot.”
A minute later the picture adjusted. That was when the first reaction was heard. Someone dropped a coffee cup and it shattered the stillness of the control room. The view on the screen was shocking to say the least. The jagged darkness the camera had picked up was the shattered remains of a sun visor attached to a white helmet, and the colorful material-looking pattern was an environmental suit, not unlike those every man and woman in the room had seen at one time or another in old footage of the Apollo program.
“Jesus Christ,” Nathan said as he felt his heart start to race.
As the camera focused on the white helmet with the shattered face shield, the bone-white structure of a grinning skull came into view, the eyeless sockets staring at the camera as the bright floodlights cast eerie shadows on the skeletal remains.
Suddenly the speakerphone came to life, making most in the control center jump.
“Pasadena, this is Houston, do you realize that whatever this is, it’s being shown to the press, cut the feed to your press center, now!”
“You got it, Hugh,” Nathan said as he started shouting out orders.
In the press room a floor down in the JPL building, the members of the media stood dumbfounded as they watched the remote video of the skeleton, buried up to its waist in the lunar dust of Shackleton Crater. The image went from living color to a slow fade to black.
EVENT GROUP COMPLEX, NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, NEVADA
Dr. Niles Compton stood only five foot eight inches, but every man and woman in the massive hallway of the underground complex watching him cut the ribbon for the new vault section on Level 75 saw him as a much larger man. His reputation as the no-nonsense leader of the department was legendary. With his thick glasses pushed onto his forehead and his white sleeves rolled to the elbow, Niles looked the part of a harried and very tired accountant. As his predecessor, Senator Garrison Lee, once told him, when in this position of responsibility the director of the Event Group needed to relax and smell the roses; otherwise, what was the point in holding and storing the most prized antiquities in the history of the world and the knowledge that went with them. So today Niles took time out from his normal duties overseeing the blackest department in the federal government to be present at a ceremony to open a new set of storage vaults, and the excavation that housed them almost two miles beneath the sands of Nellis Air Force Base, just outside Las Vegas, Nevada.
He smiled for the first time that morning as his deputy director, Virginia Pollock, handed him an ordinary pair of office scissors. He looked past the tall head of the Nuclear Sciences Division and at the other sixteen department heads and tried desperately to smile. Then he nodded toward the men and women from the Army Corps of Engineers attached to Department 5656. He quickly reached out and cut the yellow ribbon that had been strung across the security arch leading to the new but empty vaults beyond.
“Now, let’s get busy and fill some of these up before certain people in the federal government catch on to us and fire everyone.”
The men and women of the Event Group laughed as Niles handed the pair of scissors back to Virginia. Then he turned abruptly to a thin man with a pair of horn-rimmed glasses similar to his own. He had the same harried look as Niles, but his smile was genuine while the director’s was not. Pete Golding was the head of the Computer Sciences Division of the Group and held the same position Compton himself had many years before.
“What did Europa say about the images?” he asked Pete quietly, while taking him by the arm and walking him away from the milling men and women.
“We dissected that image from here to St. Petersburg, and all Europa had to say was the environmental suit was not of any known design. Not ours, the Russians, nor the People’s Republic.”
“You mean we have a Cray computer system worth two and half billion dollars and all it can do is agree with what we already know?”
Pete looked hurt and taken aback. He knew it wasn’t just the images sent from Shackleton Crater that stunned and shocked everyone at the Group; it was the condition of Senator Garrison Lee that was weighing heavily on the director’s mind. Pete took a deep breath and looked down at the man that he admired above all others.
“Niles, Europa only has an image from NASA to analyze. We need more data; she’s not a miracle worker.” Pete wanted to add at least not all of the time, because in his eyes and everyone else’s, Europa was indeed just that: a miracle worker.
Niles pulled his glasses down from his forehead and before he put them on, he half smiled at Pete without really looking at him. “I know, Pete.” He finally placed his glasses back on and nodded for Virginia to join them. As she walked up, the three moved off toward the elevators.
“Virginia, get our ex-NASA people assembled and give them to Pete, they’re pretty much spread out among all the departments, so you’ll have to dig them up. I want to know if someone has been hiding something they shouldn’t have, or if we have a moon that was far more crowded back in the day than we realized.”
“Has the president asked us to check into this?” Pete asked.
Virginia nodded and smiled, anticipating the answer that Niles was about to offer. The air-cushioned, glass-enclosed elevator arrived and they stepped inside.
“No, but he will soon enough, that is if I know him like I believe I do.” Niles thought for a moment and then turned to look at Golding. “Pete, I hate to ask this but—”
“You want Europa to break into NASA’s and JPL’s secure computer systems,” Pete said, anticipating the order from Niles as Virginia had a moment before.
“Yes. I don’t know why NASA went dark on us and the rest of the world, but it bothers me that this may be kept secret. And in case my old friend the president wants to keep this thing close to the vest, I want to be prepared when it blows up in his face. And it will. He never was any good at keeping things under wraps. Besides, lately he has far too much on his mind, things you and I would never be able to fathom.” Niles looked up at the two closest and brightest friends he had. “This is big, I feel it.”
As the elevator traveled at over a hundred miles an hour up to the office level of the complex, the sexy Marilyn Monroe–style voice of Europa came over the small computer terminal beside the twin doors. “Director Compton, you have a communication request from Range Rider.”
Range Rider was the day’s code name for the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States.
“Speak of the devil,” Niles said as he punched a small LED screen on the panel. “Europa, I’ll take it in my office.”
“Yes, Director Compton.”
As the elevator hissed to a stop a mile and a half higher than they had been a few moments before, Niles stepped off on Level 7 and looked back.
“Best guesses on what’s happening on the Moon in an hour. Virginia, give Security a heads-up. We may have to cancel Colonel Collins’s plans for dinner at the senator’s house.”
As Niles walked to his office doors and opened them, his eyes flashed to the ten-foot portrait of Abraham Lincoln, a thing that usually gave him a chuckle over what old Abe had accidentally started with the Event Group those many years ago. Today, however, with the thing on the Moon and the condition of his mentor, Garrison Lee, he just wished Lincoln was in charge of Department 5656 instead of him.
Niles walked to his overly large desk and tossed a pile of papers to his left. Then he hit a button. A small screen embedded in the back center of his desk rose from the polished wood. As he stood with his fists planted on the desk, his eyes looked into the lens on top of the monitor. The screen flashed blue, and then the seal of the president flashed on. Soon after, the man himself came into view.
“Niles,” the president said.
“Mr. President.” Compton greeted his old college roommate, who was the polar opposite of him in the area of politics.
“All right, I can see you’re in a mood, but for the record, the vice president acted without my express authorization this afternoon.”
“It’s nice that you have such a handle on what your people are doing. I mean, with people running around with their fingers hovering over red buttons and all.”
“All right, knock it off, smartass. I’ve changed the damn blackout orders. We fully intend on sharing information with the concerned parties of the world, and that does mean the general populace, at least for the immediate future. Now a warning, baldy. This new order could change at any moment if something else is found up there more mysterious than our thin friend in the red and blue space suit. To tell you the truth, and with all joking aside, this little discovery is a little unnerving, considering our recent past with visitors from out there.”
Niles didn’t say anything. He just watched his old friend.
“Okay, listen, you warned me about people keeping secrets back when I first took office. Do you guys out there have anything on someone reaching the Moon before or after us?”
“Well, I know that under Senator Lee this department was represented well on almost every Moon landing from Apollo 11 to 17. We had complete and trustworthy information on the Russian program, and we know they were nowhere near the surface of the Moon with a manned mission before or since.”
“What do you mean your department was represented well on the Apollo missions?”
Niles had to smile for the briefest of moments. “Old Buzz Aldrin was Garrison Lee’s man, as were many others, on those rickety spacecraft and in Houston.”
“Goddamn old spook, was there anything he wasn’t privy to?”
“Evidently there was, because we’re in the dark on this one. If he knew something about what was found on the Moon, he would have told us.”
“Do you think you can dig something up? I don’t want to step on toes in a program I just cut to the bone. I’m not that popular at the moment in Houston and Pasadena, and God forbid my car breaks down in South Florida.”
“Look, if this blows up, people will speculate that we were onto something up there, and your cover story about water surveys will be out the damn window.”
“I know, but what can we do. Find out what you can—that’s why those robots are there.”
Niles relaxed and nodded his head. “We’ll try and get something. I have Pete extending Europa’s mission statement once again and we’ll have—” Compton stopped when he saw the president hold up his hand.
“I don’t want to know, Niles. Golding and his damn partner in crime are not what a man in my position should know about. It makes me an accessory.” The president paused. “By the way, how is Lee doing?”
Niles looked at this friend, then said, “He’s dying.”
FAITH MINISTRIES, INC., LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Rev. Samuel K. Rawlins had pitched his tent in what was known to a few of his closest followers as hostile territory. For the largest, most famous, and most profitable televangelist in the world to live in the very heart of the evil he preached against to over 600 million viewers worldwide every Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday was an insane move. Nobody joked about this around the Reverend. Los Angeles was changing and Rawlins knew where the money was and forever would be.
Named one of the four wealthiest men in the world, Rawlins reserved one side of himself for the millions upon millions of his followers, and another for business associates. It was said that once you did business with Samuel Kenton Rawlins, you would rather sign a contract with Satan himself.
Today he wasn’t at one of the four television studios he owned; he was at home in the palatial estate on Mulholland Drive that he had torn down a total of sixteen mansions to build. Most said he liked slumming it because he could have built his private home over any scenic beach in California, instead of the dry hills overlooking the city. But those that knew him best thought he just liked looking out over Los Angeles and marveling, just as Alexander the Great once had: “Is this all there is?”
The large and ornate study overlooked two of the four swimming pools on the estate. As Rawlins, all six foot eight inches of him, sat at his desk he watched the security guards standing at their posts. His dark eyes moved with every step of one of the uniformed guards and didn’t stop looking even when the man became motionless to gaze out onto the hillside above the thirty-three-bedroom mansion. He finally looked away and went back to his sermon for the following Sunday morning at his Church of the True Faith in Long Beach. The three-block-long glass and steel tower would house 27,000 worshippers and another one billion would hear his words worldwide.
He was concentrating heavily, allowing his silver hair to fall across his tanned and unlined forehead. He had four assistants in his outer office who were prepared to offer their services, but the Reverend Rawlins liked to pen his own work in his own hand. The assistants would have plenty of time to copy and distribute the sermon to any one of the six publishing houses he owned from California to New York. The Reverend would also sell the handwritten sermons at auction at the end of the year. Everything was money to Rawlins—to a point.
Today’s sermon was a special one that would air live that night on the evils of reach—the reach of mankind into God’s house, the universe. How mankind would now face the long overdue wrath of God. The image of the skeletal remains found on the Moon played like a stuck recording in his mind’s eye as he wrote furiously on his notepad. The contempt America was showing during the hard times this nation and the entire world were now facing was unforgivable. Now they were tempting God’s anger by sending out mechanicians to the otherworldly bodies when so much more was needed at home. This foolishness must end and the Reverend had the power to do just that.
A knock sounded at his oak door. He continued to write, finally using his right hand to swipe at the silver hair that ranged across his tanned and unlined forehead.
“Yes,” he said, still bent over his work.
The door opened and his first assistant, a striking woman, stuck her blond head inside. She watched the Reverend, marveling at the man’s concentration. He finally looked up at her and gave her a smile. He could see her face flush and her knees slightly bend. He knew the effect he had on women, not only here but in the outside world, and he used that influence and sexual intensity to his great advantage.
“Susan, what a pleasant distraction,” he said, finally laying his pencil to the side of his sermon. No one but he knew that her distraction was anything but pleasant. Beneath the blue eyes he thought about how pleasurable it would be to walk over to the doorway and slam the woman’s head between the door and the oak jamb.
“Sir, you have a call from Vice President Darby. He’s on line two.”
“How are you today, Susan?” he asked, placing his large hands behind his head and leaning back in his thronelike chair, seemingly unconcerned about getting a call from the vice president of the United States. His smile remained as she returned an even wider, girlish grin. She looked him over. His light blue shirt contrasted with his dark tan and set his pale blue eyes off like a light on a darkened night.
“I … I am just fine today, Reverend. Just fine.”
“And I must say you look just fine.” Rawlins stared at her, his eyes moving down her red dress to her chest and then back to her green eyes. “Ah, but business calls.” He had one last look and smile at his assistant and then he picked up the gold-plated phone. He punched in the correct number, maybe a little too hard in his anger at being interrupted.
“Harry, how are things this morning?”
“The president overruled my press blackout.”
“Ah, I told you it wouldn’t be as easy as you thought, didn’t I, Mr. Vice President?”
“Yes, Reverend, you did. But bragging about your insight will not stop the public from gaining knowledge about Operation Columbus.”
Rawlins sat straight up in the high-backed chair. He closed his eyes as he tried to compose himself. Then he opened them as the momentary tempest quickly and expertly subsided.
“Please don’t use that name on the phone, even if we have a secure line. I’ve told you about that numerous times.”
“I … I … am, uh, I apologize, Reverend. I am just frustrated. We have not only this headache, but the ongoing nausea inflicted by this Case Blue that’s just a wisp of a rumor.”
“I understand, Harry; you’re in a very stressful business. Politics is something I wouldn’t want to be in. We know this Case Blue is being handled by a department not in the norm of day-to-day business, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What is the NASA and JPL plan of action?”
“For right now they are officially off mission. They are reprogramming the remote rovers: one more will join the first inside of the crater and the other two will be used as communications relays.”
“Well, I must conclude that this little find has to be related to Columbus. I’ve never been a big believer in coincidence. The president knew there was something there and he hid it well by cutting NASA’s budget, sneaky bastard.” His anger was elevated once more, but Rawlins forced his rage back beneath the surface of his speaking voice. “I was hoping we had seen the end of it. I want to thank you for the instantaneous way you informed my office on this disturbing find on the Moon. Of course you will be rewarded in a suitable way, maybe far more than a monetary offering after the next four years is up.”
“I just wish the president would have kept his head in the sand and allowed me to do what he assigned me to do. I can still control things to a point.”
“My only question is, what about the press?”
“That’s the worst of it. The president is going public with everything they find up there. It’s like he was waiting for a big discovery to justify a major boost in the space budget. I’ll admit he was good, but how did he know there was something in that crater?”
“The press is the problem right now; we’ll get into how he knew what was up there later.” Rawlins thought a moment, swiveling his chair to see his daughter through the twenty-by-thirty-foot plate glass window. The eighteen-year-old saw him and waved. He smiled and waved back with a glimmering smile on his lips. “I wish we could make the president disappear.”
“Even though this line is secure, I didn’t hear you say that,” the vice president said hurriedly.
“Yes you did. I’ll say it again in far more profound and legalese wording: the man is a pain in the ass and needs to go away. Another four years of his leadership is not part of the Lord’s plan.”
“We’ve known each other since seminary school, Sam. You know I love my country and my God, so you must understand me when I say those loves are in that exact order.”
“And you must understand me, Mr. Vice President; we’ve managed to bury Operation Columbus for seventy years. I will not allow the public to start needless speculation about its origins. I will not allow that. I will not!”
“Give me time. I can convince the president this is not in the best interests of the nation. Hell, there may be national security issues to deal with. Give me the time I need to discover what and who’s running this Case Blue operation.”
“Time is a commodity we don’t have.” Rawlins stood and watched his daughter lay out her towel by the pool, and then his eyes went to the security man who was watching her do it. He frowned and turned back to his desk without sitting. “I want that find on the Moon hushed up. Ever since I let you in on the Columbus find in Ecuador, when we were in school, and—you’re right—since I was a seminary student and you were stealing books to sell back to the school bookstore, we made a deal that the world will never be tempted by the devil and the knowledge that Columbus would bring to humankind.” Rawlins furrowed his brow as he watched the security guard and the absolute shameless way he ogled his beautiful daughter. He closed his eyes to shut out the sight. “Now, I need you to start thinking ahead. The news about this find is already all over the world. What if this nation, or any other power in the world, decides to get to the Moon and they uncover the equivalent of Columbus? What are you prepared to do?”
“Are you asking what if the United States tried to send a manned mission to the Moon? Or someone else?”
“Of course that’s what I mean, you moron. I will not allow that to happen. I would spend fifty billion dollars to see that any attempt would be stopped. Now tell me, are we capable of getting back to the Moon on short notice? Is anyone in the world capable?”
“No, of course not. NASA hadn’t planned a return for at least fifteen more years. And other nations—well, it would be impossible.”
“I hate that devilish word, impossible. That’s why I’m in a position of power, my friend, because I didn’t listen to people who said that the things I wanted to achieve were impossible. Nothing is impossible. So—” His eyes sprang open and he glared out the window at the security guard, who didn’t seem to care who was watching him stare at his younger daughter. “What are you prepared to do if the impossible happens?”
“I … I … don’t know.”
“You disappoint me, Harry. Maybe you shouldn’t be in line for the job I thought you were ready for.”
The Reverend hung up. He had wanted to throw it through the window, but caught himself before he allowed his explosive temper to fully vent. He slowly and deliberately walked over to the large plate glass window and tapped lightly on the thick pane, trying not to attract the attention of his lounging daughter. The security guard, a large man himself, turned with his thumbs pressed into his gun belt. Rawlins smiled and waved at the blond-haired guard. With his smile still in place he gestured with his right hand for the guard to join him at the ornate French doors. The guard’s face flushed, and then he pointed at his own chest and mouthed the word me?
Rawlins nodded his head enthusiastically. The big man in the blue security uniform walked away and disappeared around the corner. Samuel Rawlins walked back to his desk and pulled open the top drawer, retrieving a small item, then turned and opened the outside doors to his study. The security guard was standing there. His arms were at his side and he looked as if he were at attention.
“Yes, sir?” he said, looking from the smiling, silver-haired Rawlins to his right, and then left, suddenly wishing he wasn’t the only guard on duty on the west side of the estate.
“How are you today—” Rawlins asked, as he bent at the waist to get a better look at the man’s name tag—“Officer Wright?”
“Uh, just fine, sir, how are—”
“I saw you looking at my daughter a moment ago.”
“Uh, yes sir, she is very—”
Rawlins’s large hands shot through the air so fast that the guard never knew what was happening. One minute he was standing there facing the Reverend and the next minute his neck was being twisted brutally to the left. Before he even realized his words had been cut off, he heard his own neck snap in two. Rawlins grimaced and let the large man slide through his hands to collapse onto the concrete walkway.
“You were about to give an answer that would have gotten you in trouble, young man.” Rawlins stepped out onto the walkway and looked around. Then he removed the object he had retrieved from his desk. It was a small digital camera. He adjusted the automatic focus, zooming into the shocked and now strangled security guard. He snapped a picture and then looked down at one of the hundred security men he had on staff. “Your services will no longer be needed at my home.”
Rawlins turned and stepped inside the French doors and closed them behind him. His anger was totally vented and the relief he felt was just this side of ecstasy. He turned the small digital camera over and looked at the picture he had just taken on the small LED screen. He smiled and half nodded his head. “Not bad.”
He picked up the phone as he placed the camera on the desktop. He punched in a number and waited.
“Security. Anderson speaking,” the voice said as Rawlins picked up the camera once more and studied the picture.
“Ah, Mr. Anderson, one of your men seems to have had an accident right outside my study on the west side of the house. I think you better call for an ambulance—very quietly of course, I think he tripped and fell. Very good, no, please don’t disturb me. I have quite a bit of work to catch up on.”
Rawlins set the phone down and smiled at the small picture of the dead security guard. He finally opened the drawer and shut off the camera as he placed it inside. As he did he saw the small framed photograph he had placed inside a few months earlier, meaning to get the frame changed. He had forgotten about it. He picked it up once more as he had a million times in his life and looked at himself forty-five years earlier. He was standing next to his father in the black-and-white photo. He himself was as unsmiling as the man standing next to him. The dark-haired man wore the uniform of an Army lieutenant colonel. The uniform was spit-polished and fit as snugly as a tailor could make it. They stood in front of an old castlelike structure that looked as if it had seen better days.
“Nineteen sixty-five,” he mumbled.
As he lay the picture back inside the drawer, he knew the old castlelike building was no castle at all. Nowhere close, in fact. It was a stone monstrosity made to keep men imprisoned and his father had been the gatekeeper of that fairy-tale place—the man with the key in a rotating nation-by-nation watchman’s role.
He closed the drawer, shutting out the stern image of his father. Yes, his own flesh and blood had been the gatekeeper back in 1965, and that was how the events of today were related to Reverend Rawlins.
The keys of the gatekeeper opened and closed the dungeonlike cells of Germany’s Spandau Prison.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
Jack Collins and Sarah McIntire stood on the large front porch of one of the more modest houses high in the hills just off Flamingo Boulevard in Las Vegas. Collins was a former black operations guru and a man with countless incursions behind enemy lines, and that was why Sarah McIntire could not figure out exactly why Jack was nervous about seeing his old boss, Senator Garrison Lee. Jack knew he was never one for watching people he loved and admired slip away. Sarah, her stature exactly one foot four inches shorter than the colonel’s, placed her hand through Jack’s arm as they waited for the door to be answered. They both wore civilian attire; the colonel in a button-down blue shirt and Sarah in a green skirt and white blouse. They both felt odd and out of place without the blue jumpsuit of the Event Group uniform, or at the very least their desert BDUs.
Jack and Sarah were both officially on detached service to Department 5656. Collins was head of the large security force at the complex that provided security for all archaeological digs and the safeguarding of its valuable finds and equally valuable complex, while Sarah, an Army lieutenant, was head geologist assigned to the Earth Sciences Department. It had been the senator who recruited them both and all three, along with Alice Hamilton, had grown close over the years. They were both worried as much about Alice as they were about the senator.
The left side of the double doors opened and Alice stood inside the threshold smiling. Sarah stepped in first and hugged the older woman while Jack looked around, uncomfortable at the very least. Finally, without a word spoken between Alice and Sarah, they parted and then Jack tried to smile as Alice hugged him. The embrace seemed to go on forever, and instead of making Collins feel uncomfortable, he relaxed. He patted her back and then stepped back and looked down at the smaller woman.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m tolerable, Jack, come on in out of the heat,” she said, stepping to the side to allow them access to the large but modest house.
Jack had been here on several occasions for dinner, just to talk with Lee about everything under the sun. He and Niles Compton went out of their way to update the senator from time to time on the current status of things at the Event Group complex. The former senator and OSS general seemed to appreciate the visits far more than he let on to Alice.
“Sarah, why don’t you help me in the kitchen and let Jack and that old grizzly catch up with one another?”
Sarah smiled and looked at Collins. Then she followed Alice down the long entranceway.
“Go ahead, Jack. He’s awake and in pretty good spirits—this being one of his good days. Oh, by the way, he insisted I ask Niles over for lunch also. He said he had something to discuss with all of you.”
Jack watched as Sarah and Alice disappeared, then he grimaced as he turned and walked down the long hallway of the one-story house. As he moved, Collins saw not one bit of memorabilia on the walls. There were no personal pictures, nor was there anything to indicate that the senator or Alice ever had a personal life, much less a life spent together. There were beautiful prints of desert sunsets on the walls, and that was when Jack realized it was like walking through one of those model homes that set fake fruit on the dining room table and dishes inside cabinets. As he approached the senator’s bedroom he also thought the reason the house was like a model was because the senator and Alice would never consider this their home, not after spending almost every day since 1946 underground at the Event Group complex. Yes, he thought, the complex under the sands of Nellis was their home, not this pile of wood and stucco. He stopped at the senator’s door, took a deep breath, and knocked.
“Well, don’t leave me in suspense. Open the damn door,” sounded the gruff command from inside.
Jack turned the knob and looked in, feeling as if he was a young boy and was intruding on his father. He saw the senator standing at the sliding glass window watching the desert behind the house. He finally turned and took in Collins, and then he smiled. Jack nodded silently back. In all of his visits he still wasn’t used to seeing the large senator in a pair of pajamas and a robe.
“Don’t laugh, Colonel. The Queen of Mean went and hid my clothes on me. She says I don’t need the aggravation of dressing.”
Jack walked into the room and held out his hand. He was taken aback by how weak the return handshake was. He remembered the first time he had been greeted by the senator four years before and the powerful grip of the ninety-something man. The difference was night and day. Collins released his hand and looked around the large bedroom quickly as if the senator might have read his mind. The only thing on display on the walls was a large shelf. Sitting upon it was what looked like a collection of hats, fedoras to be exact.
“Nice collection,” Jack said in true admiration.
“Yeah, I used to look good in hats. Reminded me of Mike Hammer, you know—the impression of toughness. Anyway, glad to see you, my boy.” Lee looked behind Jack. “Where’s that little girl of yours?”
“You mean Lieutenant McIntire?”
“Cut the crap, Jack. You two never put anything by me, or Niles. By the way, is he here yet?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, you’re supposed to escort this walking corpse to lunch. My cane doesn’t do me much good anymore.”
Jack could see the dilated left eye and knew Lee was under the influence of a powerful medication. He wondered if he was up to leaving the room at all. Lee settled it quickly as he reached out and took Jack’s arm at the shoulder and then he and Jack made for the door.
“How has … everything been?” Collins asked hesitantly.
“What, you mean dying? It’s like finishing off a roller-coaster ride, Jack. Scary as hell, but when you get to the end, you want to do it all over again.”
“You mean life?”
“Yes, my boy. Never grow old, Colonel, it—what do the kids say? Oh, yes, it sucks big-time.”
“Yes,” Collins said as they approached the dining room. “That’s what they say, sir.”
When they entered the large dining room, Jack saw Niles Compton standing there. He was actually dressed in something other than his usual white shirt and black tie. His button-down shirt was blue with white stripes and his slacks were gray. Jack thought to himself that he had never before seen Niles in a civilian outfit that didn’t consist of the most mundane black and white clothing.
“Ah, Niles, now it seems all the people playing hooky today from work have finally arrived for this very late lunch.”
Niles Compton nodded a greeting, looking just like Jack had on the front porch. He pulled the senator’s chair out and smiled as best he could.
“Everyone, please do me a favor,” Lee said as Sarah came in carrying a large bowl of salad. “Stop acting like this is the goddamn Last Supper. I have something to discuss with you and I don’t need all of these cow-eyed looks. Frankly, it doesn’t help my appetite.”
“What’s he bitching about now?” Alice asked, coming in behind Sarah with a platter of sandwiches.
“I think he’s saying that he doesn’t want any sympathy from the likes of us,” Sarah said, walking up to Lee’s chair and kissing him hard on the cheek.
“Well, if he gets any, it won’t be from me,” Alice said, and placed the platter in the center of the table. She took Lee’s napkin and tucked it into his pajama top. He fidgeted like a petulant child and then scowled, sending his eye patch askew and his good eye ablaze.
“Would you sit down, woman, for crying out loud?”
Jack, Niles, and Sarah knew the act between Lee and Alice very well, and it never grew old. If Lee had to live without Alice he would be happy to be dying. It would be living without her in his life that would have been unbearable and anyone who saw them together knew that.
“Niles, thank you, my boy, for coming to see me on such short notice. I know you absolutely hate leaving the complex.”
Compton was putting salad in a bowl. He looked as if he were about to say something but caught himself. “Oh, it’s kind of slow at the moment,” he offered instead.
“You always were a poor liar, my old friend.”
Jack watched the exchange between the senator and Niles. He felt he was not privy to something. He accepted the salad from Niles but remained silent. When he passed it to Lee, he waved it on.
“That was quite an event that happened on the Moon this morning,” Lee said as matter-of-factly as he could.
Niles looked at Jack and then back at the senator. He nodded his head. “The president just asked our group to see what they can find out from NASA.”
“Kind of spooky,” Sarah said, looking from Niles to Jack.
“Ah, that is the gist of the matter, isn’t it?” Lee said and then coughed. That turned into another, and another. “Scary … stuff … to say the … least,” he managed to say through his coughing.
Alice, her fork paused halfway to her mouth, watched Garrison for a moment, and then continued eating when he seemed to get the coughing under control.
“Anyway, do you have a thought on the subject of this fantastic discovery on the lunar surface?” He looked at Jack first.
“I would say that we weren’t the first ones to the Moon, or if we were, someone was a damn close second. I can’t say I admire whoever it was for leaving a man behind.” He looked at Sarah and then Alice. “Or a woman,” he added.
“My thoughts exactly,” Niles said as he laid his fork down, knowing Lee was leading them to something, like a horse to water. He had been in too many conversations with the man and knew his traps well. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and waited.
Garrison took his own napkin out of his pajama top and then pulled a pen from his robe’s front pocket. Alice watched as he did this, and then looked at the others around the table. She knew what Lee was doing and was watching the reaction of the others. Garrison took the pen and started making a design on the white napkin. When he was done he held it up and showed Jack, Sarah and Niles.
“For the benefit of those around this table, and with the deep knowledge of world history bestowed in the heads of same, can you tell me if you have ever seen this design before?”
“I believe that particular design is linked to more than one culture,” Niles said as he leaned back in his chair and examined the crude drawing Lee had scribbled on his napkin.
“I think one of the cultures was Mayan,” Sarah said, her sandwich paused at her mouth.
“Yes, also the design has been found on cave walls and deserts from Mexico, the American Southwest, Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay, and as far south as Australia.”
Jack looked over at Niles and then at Sarah. “Don’t ask me, the only thing it reminds me of is the sign in front of Pocket’s Billiard Parlor outside Fort Bragg.”
Lee was silent for a moment and looked as if he were having a hard time catching a breath. His chin lowered to his chest and once more Alice watched him closely. Sarah looked at Alice and wondered how long she would let the senator fight through this visit. She lowered her eyes and then looked at Jack with worry on her face. Soon, Lee gathered himself and looked across the table at Alice.
“Maybe you better get ready with that needle you’re so fond of wielding like Excalibur.”
Alice excused herself and walked out of the dining room.
“Endless apologies. General Sherman was wrong. It’s not war, but dying that’s hell. Now, the symbol—of course you are all correct, except for Jack, who wasn’t even close. And I know that pool parlor very well by the way.” He looked at Collins and winked with his one eye. “All of these civilizations, or more accurately, the regions you spoke of, had depictions of this diagram in one form or another. All throughout history science said they were more than likely drawings of eclipses that these differing tribes of man witnessed at one time or another.” Lee took a deep breath. “I also saw this exact symbol someplace where it had no right to be, at least as far as I was concerned.”
Jack placed his napkin on his empty plate and watched the senator, who was growing visibly weaker.
“In 1945.” His one eye good wandered over to Alice as she entered the living room with a small black bag. She did not look at the others as she pulled out a chair and sat next to the senator. “I saw this symbol on several crates we intercepted in Ecuador. They were in the hands of the Nazis and they were going to attempt to use their contents as a bargaining chip for leniency from the Allies after the war. They were excavated from a mining operation right under the noses of the Allies in Ecuador.”
“What were the contents?” Niles asked, watching Alice fill a syringe with an amber liquid. As she did, Compton lowered his eyes when she pulled the senator’s robe and pajama sleeve up, and then dabbed an alcohol swab on Lee’s arm. Then she expertly jammed the needle home. They all watched as the old man’s face cleared up. The pain eased almost instantly.
Alice sadly tossed the needle into the black bag and then stood, ignoring the senator’s bravery. Lee watched Alice leave the room and then he became serious as he finally reached for a sandwich from the platter. “Everyone saw the extraordinary video from the Moon this morning,” he said, taking a bite of the sandwich. He looked from one face to the other. Everyone nodded their head.
Alice returned and sat, replacing her napkin and stoically eating her salad.
“Now,” said Lee, “you mentioned that the president has called his best friend for help.” He looked at Niles, who in turn acted as though his friendship with the president was a bad thing. Lee nodded his head. “It’s not a bad thing to be friends with the most powerful man in the world, Niles. I must say, I never achieved such lofty acquaintances in my tenure at the Event Group.”
Everyone around the table knew that the senator was fudging on his own history, as every president since Harry Truman knew and respected Lee more than anyone in government service.
“Cruella, can you bring me the map please. It’s on my desk.”
Alice stood and made her way into the senator’s study, again ignoring his jibe.
“She thinks I could have handled this on the phone. But what she doesn’t realize is that I know this is my last, grand adventure, and I’m damn well going to see it through.”
Jack, Sarah, and Niles all felt uncomfortable because they knew anything that Alice thought was bad for the senator, you could take as gospel. None of them looked at Alice when she returned with the map. Sarah finally smiled as Alice sat and lowered her head. Sarah placed her small hand over Alice’s more elegant one and squeezed.
“Now,” Lee said as he folded the map and pushed it toward Jack and Niles. “The Nazis dug up what was in the crates here.” He tapped the map.
“Quito, Ecuador,” Jack said aloud.
“Yes, there was an excavation just at the base of the Andes that the Germans carried out for years, at least since the spring of ’38. We discovered, or I should say Cruella’s late husband, Ben, discovered, the shipment and stopped it, for a while anyway. That mission cost that boy his life, or I should say my slow reactions did.”
Alice looked up and gave Lee a dirty look.
“Slowed reactions because you were half dead at the time,” she countered while holding Lee’s singular gaze. “If you’re going to tell it, tell it right, or what’s the damn point?”
“I defer to one that’s not tripping the light fantastic,” Lee joked as he bowed his head in Alice’s direction.
“As he said, he and Ben, my late husband, stopped the Nazis from removing the shipment from South America.” Alice pushed her salad plate away. “The old man received his beauty mark there, and Ben lost his life. When the senator recovered enough to tell his story to his superiors, he was informed that the crates were gone, and no trace of them was ever found. It was as if Ben had died for nothing and Garrison was half butchered for the same result. Someone in either our government or the German high command had taken the crates from the train before an unconscious Garrison was found by members of the FBI.”
“Do you know what was in the crates?” Sarah asked.
“Of course I do. As I said, each crate, about fifteen of them, were marked with that circular symbol, and during some unpleasantness at the time, one of the crates had broken open. Guess what was inside? None other than a skeletal corpse,” Lee said, enjoying the moment as he watched his lunch guests closely, and then he finished when he saw that his statement had the right effect. “Inside were items coded by the Germans as Operation Columbus, and that quote came directly from a Nazi general named Goetz.
“Tell them, Garrison,” Alice said, trying to hurry him on as she watched his good eye start to droop.
“As I said, inside the crate was a skeleton. The petrified remains I saw in 1945 wore the same kind of blue and red space suits as the one discovered on the surface of the Moon just this morning. And here’s another tidbit: on the shoulder of this ancient bit of clothing worn by our visitor was that symbol right there,” Lee said, tapping the drawing of the circles on the napkin.
The room was silent. Alice stood and walked over to Lee and stood behind him. She placed her hands on his shoulders and pressed.
The three guests sitting around the table were flabbergasted. Niles opened his mouth, wanting to ask something, but his voice failed him. It was left up to Jack to ask the obvious question.
“Columbus? Why that code name?”
Lee reached up and patted Alice’s hand as she rubbed his shoulders. “I assume it’s because the Germans believed, and I think rightly so, that the remains of the spaceman they found was a visitor, an explorer if you will, to this planet.”
“How long ago?” Niles asked, finally finding his voice.
“I don’t know,” Lee said, lowering his head. “If only the OSS had had a chance to examine the crates more closely.”
“And we don’t know where the crates are now?” Sarah asked as she stood and started pacing.
“No. No trace of them has ever been found,” Alice said with resignation. “The last known sighting was Ecuador. So, either Germany or Washington is where you should look.” Alice removed her hands and then sat in the empty chair next to Lee’s. “I think you need to start there.”
“Start what?” Niles asked.
“Your investigation, of course. I assume it would be within the parameters of what the president has given you authorization to do,” Lee said, smiling at Niles.
“Why not start at the excavation you spoke of?” Jack asked.
“Because it has been buried and the ground salted. The Ecuadorians allow no one near the site. I know. I was shot at years later trying to get in,” Lee said.
“May I suggest, since we have a geologist on hand, that we use her to find out what she can about the excavation? And while Sarah is doing that, Niles and Jack can start the search for the crates. Because whatever is in those wooden boxes holds the answer to what they just found on the Moon.”
As they watched Alice answer for a very tired-looking Lee, she stood and helped the senator to his feet. She placed her arm around him and started walking toward the hallway.
“That’s enough for you for one day,” she said. “Say good-bye and good night.”
“Damn woman won’t let me play no more.”
“Get some rest,” Niles said as Sarah walked over and kissed Lee on the cheek once more. Then she regretted the gesture; the senator had to bend low to accept it.
Jack turned toward Niles and shook his head. “I don’t see the point of this. NASA will soon have the answers we need, and if the skeletons are indeed from one and the same civilization, why bother to find the crates? And we have to consider the big question here.”
“What’s that?” Sarah asked.
Jack stood and replaced his chair. Alice walked back into the room to show them out. Jack thought a moment and then came to the conclusion that Alice also needed to hear his question.
“Someone thought the find in 1945 was important enough to get rid of, and important enough not to announce. Now here we are trying to find out where those crates are. Whoever has them may want them protected at all cost, for reasons of their own.”
Niles bit his lower lip and then his eyes settled on Jack.
Copyright © 2011 by David L. Golemon