The Eon Staircase by James Caswell by James Caswell - Read Online



Dr. Robert Porter is a gifted biochemical scientist who obtained a research grant from the world's largest prescription drug producer, Globelink Pharmaceutical. His contract finances an investigation to develop a new class of drugs designed to capitalize on an expanding market for anti-depressants. Nearing the end of their sponsorship, the team makes an accidental discovery that compels them to divert from their experimentation and press into an unexplored realm of DNA biochemistry. For over 300,000 years in the fossil record, Homo sapiens have existed. Yet, the written history of our species is just a fraction of that period, say 5,000 years. For decades, scientists have searched in vain for the specific point that man evolved into his intellectual self. Some call this the search for the Missing Link. Come now, and step down the Eon Staircase. Descend far into the past for a fictional answer to this timeless mystery. Don't miss the incedible sequel THE BREATH OF GOD.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611602227
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The Eon Staircase - James Caswell

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Chapter 1

AD 501

Lost in search of the Great Island

A brilliant flash of light accompanies an intense electrical hum to saturate the man’s consciousness. Mixed, shadowed images slowly fade into a silently streaked and broken but gradually clearing picture. Sights, sounds, and scents of cold sea air overwhelm as the existence of a completely unfamiliar life is revealed to the confused, witnessing man.

Porta, ve cannot see land still. Two days now and de fog does not leeft! De men are fearful ve shall soon fall off de sea edge!

The anguished plea is spoken by a very tall, long-haired warrior. The young man is dressed in thick dark brown animal skins that starkly offset both his very pale skin and nearly white blond hair. This color tone contrast, given the dim gray mist-shrouded conditions, appears dramatic to the eye. This warrior’s fearful grimace also differs sharply from his fearsomely large and muscular body. In all, the man seemed contrastingly out of place.

The warrior had spoken his plea urgently toward the ship captain’s turned back. Yet strangely, the captain did not turn even to recognize the man’s presence. The captain’s body appeared frozen in position at the ship’s bow. He knelt on one knee with his left hand firmly grasping the vessel’s thickly carved wooden dragon’s throat. His free right hand fingered meditatively the ancient bright red stone of his ancestors that hung loosely from his neck. The captain had remained fixed in that place on the ship for several hours now, alone, gazing blindly straight ahead, determined to mask his uncertainty from all aboard. He, like the blond-haired warrior, also feared the unknown.

The shallow drafted, sleek vessel rhythmically raised its monstrously fang-headed prow into and then above each smooth high rolling wave. The angry sculpture was carved both with intent to strike fear into those who witnessed its approach and to hopefully ward off any denizens of the deep which it may encounter on its journeys into the unknown.

Upon reaching the crest of an ocean swell, the ship’s bow tipped sharply and raced speedily down the wave’s back side and into the next under-passing sea trough. The handsome, sturdily built, eighty foot craft bobbed up instantly and stabilized on its own again after each descent. Its forward movement seemed independent of the men’s operation, almost as if the ship were a living being, enjoying doing that for which it was brought into existence. After each wave descent, the ship moved decisively forward slowly again through the windless fog by the less than sufficient oar power of eight rowers only, calmly advancing into the next rising ocean swell.

The single bright red and cream striped woolen Danish sail hung slack from its thick oak mast frame. The wind had not blown to fill this strong mainsheet even slightly for two days. Not since they had left sight of the mainland to travel westward had any of the Four Wind Gods toiled with their Sacred Billows.

Previously, the great sheet had propelled the expertly crafted ship southward along the western European mainland coastline at a speed that could be matched by no other vessel, not even the pursuing vessels of its owner, Danish chieftain, Torgeld the Slayer. That Dane had spent a fortune amassed in recent years of coastline raiding to construct this flagship of the fleet. It had been his most prized possession. Now, it was possessed by strangers.

Eventually, the great oak-planked vessel was planned to become the Danish leader’s below-earth burial chamber. The interior of its hull he had dreamed to fill with plundered silver, gold, and jeweled valuables of countless unfortunate coastline raiding victims. The ship and its valuables were ultimately destined to become a most respectful offering to Odin, the Master of All, upon the Dane’s long-envisioned glorious sword-wielding entrance through the sacred gates of Valhalla.

But now, with these most recent disastrous events, it was clear that Torgeld’s vision would never come to pass. And worse even, all the Danes of his tribe knew the tragedy to be so. Their now vanquished leader would never, could never, enter Valhalla. He had perished most horribly.

The flagship was now in the hands of strangers from the south. They were Saxon strangers with little sea experience compared to Torgeld’s seafaring clan. The pursuing Danes convinced themselves that very good fortune must have been granted to the Saxon intruders, for some reason by the gods, perhaps even by Odin, himself. How else could their paltry raiding party have succeeded in its horrific goal and then have eluded the Danes’ expert and most determined seafarers hunt?

Thick fog descended two full days ago and had yet to clear. The mist enveloped the ship even before they had travelled over the earth’s horizon curve and beyond sight of the comforting and familiar coastline.

The captain turned finally to face the over-sized reluctant explorer and replied to his friend’s concern sharply in reprimand with, Why have you left your duty at de stone?

De men…asked if I—

Two men must hold de sacred stone floating level on its vooden base, the captain interrupted impatiently. You are to call out de steerage commands to me and to Eadgar at de rudder as de floating stone reveals. Ve have travelled long south in sight of land, but now ve must follow de stone vest…straight vest….or ve shall never see de Great Island. Ve should only den see dat vich you fear…de hungry fang-mouthed beasts who vait for lost fools at de sea edge. Is dat vaht you vish, Aethalfret? I tink not! Now, go back to de ship’s center and to your duty. See dey let it tip not. Call to me and to de rudder man our steerage direction. Land is near now, I tell you. I smell land. The captain spoke seemingly with confidence, successfully masking his own uncertainties.

Ja, mein captain, the tall young warrior replied obediently, then returned to the slack red and cream sail mounted at the Danish Viking flagship’s center.

Aethalfret again observed the two young men who struggled to hold the floating magnetic loadstone level long enough to obtain a compass reading despite the six foot rolling waves that pitched the finely crafted ship alternately forward and aft. On his way back, he passed the warrior crew’s most treasured cargo, six Saxon women and four children. Besides the twelve warriors, they were all that was left alive of their clan since the terror of the last full moon. They sat between the rows of oars, closely huddled together under coarse sheep wool blankets, motionless in fear. In spite of the passengers’ angst, they remained fixed and silent, trusting these young warriors who had returned from the tribe’s hunt to the village terror and rescued all who remained alive of their Saxon Olaf clan.

For a few moments, just long enough, the two compass bearers held the primitive nautical instrument level and finally obtained a rough directional reading.

Vest, Porta, de stone says ve sail yet vest, the blond-haired Aethalfret called out to his captain and to the rudder man at the stern.

The Saxon leader turned again back to his lifelong friend and returned a confident, but serious, Gut…das gut, Aethalfret. Stay de course.

Ja, vohl, mein captain, Aethalfret replied obediently, but he remained no less concerned with their currently unforeseeable fate.

Aethalfret’s mind could not help but alternate between fearful imagery of hideous hungry sea monsters and deadly hull-piercing rock outcrops. Aethalfret the Bold welcomed fearlessly battle with any man. But, he now remembered anxiously in this unfamiliar surrounding the stories told in his childhood by tribal elders late at night around the fire in their great house. These were stories of the hideous sea monsters that his ancestors had bravely faced during their ocean exploits. These were the stories that produced in childhood dreams his only experience with fear.

Porta, the young Saxon clan leader and captain, continued to stare blindly into a fog so thick he could gain no sense at all of direction. Without the stone that was gratefully found aboard there would have been no hope in this weather. Disaster and an end to the clan of Olaf would have been nearly certain.

Very quietly Porta whispered his repeated earnest prayer, Most noble Odin, please hear me. I pray not from fear for myself, but for vaht is now left of my father, Olaf’s people. I ask only you clear de air so dat ve may see an end to our journey. Land must be seen soon or all is lost. I pray that ve not be allowed to die far from the glory of battle, lost on de sea in des cursed mist.

At just that moment, Porta’s prayer seemed to be answered when the slightest trace of salt-laced breeze crossed his face. The great sail stirred in response. The Saxon leader thanked Odin, scenting deeply though wide open nostrils in relief and peered harder yet, straight ahead. Nothing was yet visible save more distant approaching ocean wave crests.

Suddenly, an excited cry echoed across the blurred seascape when one of the starboard rowing warriors who had dropped his oar began pointing into the steadily dissolving fog.

Der to my side! Der is land!

A mile or more in the distance was a rocky shore with a wide gap the appeared to promise a sheltered bay.

The captain leapt from his position and ran aft to the rower who had now stood from his bench pointing toward what must be the north, if the sacred stone’s guidance were correct.

Behold…land! Porta called out. Der is de land ver my fathers before fought for Roman silver!"

The greatly relieved Saxon leader repeated his announcement to all onboard. The craft now began to lean to starboard as all the passengers and seamen strained toward the vessel’s land side for better views of the eagerly sought new home.

Back to seating all, Porta commanded. Oars on seaside only. Eadgar, rudder hard for de land in de distance.

Ja, mien captain, I give steerage for de land! returned the greatly relieved Saxon warrior turned ship pilot.

The foreign craft now turned sharply and began to increase speed both from energetic efforts of its seaman and now from the force being added to the sail by the light breeze. Slowly, the shrouded sky cleared more and a coastline became fully visible. The break in the distant landline now clearly evidenced a bay and perhaps a sheltered harbor within.

Der, Eadgar, steer for de bay! Porta directed with a confident loudness that belied his masked excitement.

To de bay, captain, the pilot confirmed.

Ve nearly missed it, Aethalfret, Porta whispered to his young friend, but, ve cannot be far from our intended vite cliffs dat my father told us of. De vite cliff lands dat our people have claimed must be back further eastvard along des coastline.

Vaht shall ve do now? Aethalfret asked.

Land, my friend, the leader replied cheerfully. Ve shall land and explore. Perhaps des is a place with des harbor for us to live.

The two young Saxons stared ahead in silence until the ship began to enter the gentle surf that welcomed them to a safe landing on a soft sandy beach. Porta was the first to leap, as the ship’s hull dragged on sea bottom, into the thigh-deep water and wade toward shore. Aethalfret and two others followed closely behind. All four explorers carried battle weapons. Here was a strange land and who could tell if they would be welcome?

The four young men stepped from the sea and began to walk toward spiked grass-covered sand dunes that rose in the distance. There they heard the rumble of horses’ feet. Over the crest of the next sandy hill directly before them appeared a small horse-mounted band of armed men. It became obvious now to the Saxons that their vessel’s approach to the beach had been witnessed by local residents. This land was not uninhabited.

Stay behind, I shall speak to des men if dat is vaht dey intend, Porta relayed to the others confidently and stepped forward alone.

The Saxon clan leader held his wooden shield firmly in his right hand, but his dominant left hand remained empty, a sign of peaceful intent. His short blade, that which had belonged to his father and other ancestors before him, remained sheathed in a horizontal position tied behind at his waist in the small of his back, seated inconspicuously away from the viewing side of the strangers who were now rapidly approaching on horseback.

Five men armed with pikes and swords followed behind the mounted leader of the strangers. The leader pulled his horse abruptly to a stop several paces directly in front of the tall Saxon warrior.

The large white horse snorted loudly as the lead stranger shouted at Porta in the invader’s own Saxon tongue.

You are not welcome here! Turn now and put the ship to sea. You have passed westward beyond the land held by your kind. This beach remains land of the Britons!

You speak our tongue? Porta asked simply, ignoring the command to leave that the stranger had issued with such an air of authority.

I speak in the cultured Roman tongue, but also in the tongue of Saxon barbarians and other barbarian tongues as well, the finely dressed Briton answered. Your kind, the Saxons to the east, have made truce and agreed with our king, Thitus, to not travel west of the Arun River. And here you now stand on our land well west of that point. Remove yourselves and your vessel this moment or we shall see to its removal.

I know not des Saxons. I am of de Olaf clan, Porta replied calmly. Our words are our bond, but ve have given no word bond to any king of des island.

We shall not again ask you to leave, the young British aristocrat snarled, as he tightened his horse’s reins and extended a long and highly polished sword. Sunlight reflected off its blade and illuminated the sand at the feet of the Saxon leader.

The three Saxons behind as well as all of the mounted Britons drew weapons in unison, but Porta raised his right hand and shield in signal to refrain from a seemingly pending combat which the Saxons always welcomed, regardless of the circumstance.

Ve have travelled long in search of des island and vill rest here for some time. Den perhaps ve shall leave to sail in clear skies along de island’s coast back east to the river of vich you speak.

The Saxon then casually turned his left side to face away from the Briton and feigned a disinterested overall scanning look backwards toward his ship and companions. In reality, he was bracing himself for an anticipated charge from the now red-faced, rash young Briton. Porta wondered objectively how this foolish young man could be so obvious as to his next battle move.

So, you shall not leave? the Briton shouted.

Ve shall not, Porta replied as he casually reached his left hand behind his back to firmly grasp the horizontally tied waist sheath that contained the handle of the expertly crafted short blade killing knife. It was the sacred blade of his fathers, his seax. This was a most deadly weapon from which his people were given their ethnic name, Saxons. Porta braced both feet in the sand, revealed that he was armed, and extended the short weapon straight toward the horseman, waving it in his left hand with grim menace in small relaxed concentric circles.

Porta looked skyward momentarily and cried respectfully for his God’s attention to the forthcoming glory of mortal combat, Odin!

The enraged British leader accepted the offer of battle and suddenly kicked his horse to charge alone straight toward the Saxon. The young Briton held the long sword high over his head, expecting to drop the intruder easily and safely as he swept speedily by the helpless foot soldier. The horse indeed sped past the Saxon and the Briton made his sweeping blow. However, the less than expert attempt glanced harmlessly off the Saxon’s reflexively elevated wooden shield.

Simultaneously, Porta dropped in perfect balance to one knee. As the horse swept by, the Saxon stabbed the short blade deeply into the horse’s rib cage. Blood spewed onto the beach and the horse screamed in pain as he reared, throwing its shocked rider to the sand with great violence.

The young Briton was just beginning to regain his senses as the Saxon approached calmly, armed still with his deadly seax reflecting now its own light and pointing the weapon down at the helplessly tossed rider.

The Briton weakly managed an appeal.

Have mercy, Saxon. I have been bested and I beg mercy. My father will reward you with riches and land.

But the Saxon had no mercy in battle. To the Saxon, mercy was a sign of weakness. Armed conflict always resulted in life or death. Either was glorious in the eyes of Odin, Porta believed, provided the warrior fought bravely. If he died in armed battle, the young Saxon was confident he would soon be seated honorably for all time with his father and other ancestors at the Great Banquet Table of Odin in the lavish Hall of Valhalla.

Should he prevail, the gods, not Porta, would decide the fate of the vanquished. Besides, he had no respect for this young Briton who challenged so boldly to begin, yet pleaded so fearfully for his life when easily defeated.

Porta, devoid of emotion, summarily executed the Briton. It was a clean kill from a deep stabbing thrust of his seax just above his victims left clavicle and downward under the rib cage directly into the young Briton’s heart. He stepped back from the suddenly lifeless young Briton and pointed his blood-soaked and dripping weapon at the band of British horsemen.

Take des body back to his people, Porta commanded to the horrified mounted strangers. Tell dem he fought poorly. Tell dem also, he vahs killed by Porta, son of Olaf of de Nordlands. Ve shall be here near des beach for as long as ve deem it to be our pleasure. You may vish to drive us from de bay, but it vill take many of your varriors to do so and many of yours like des one at my feet vill never again see de sun rise. Take des message to your leaders and be gone!

Minutes later, Porta walked back toward the ship as the small party galloped away, carrying the body of the formerly rash young Briton noble. He turned to Aethalfret, who was staring grim-faced and nodding his head in approval of the surprisingly simple, yet properly efficient kill. Porta acknowledged his friend’s approval with just a silent return nod and was preparing to call all his people from the boat to wade ashore when his vision began to darken.

Porta heard a voice far in the distance. It was an unfamiliar voice, a strange woman’s voice. He turned to reply. She was speaking in a language which he did not understand. She was speaking in English.

Chapter 2

Present Era

NorthEastBiochem Laboratory

Boston, Massachusetts

Dr. Porter, can you hear me now? Are you all right? the pretty red haired young woman in a white laboratory coat asked down at the patient with a mixture of anxiety and concern distinctly written on her face.

Her right hand reached out to gently touch the not yet fully aware man’s shoulder.

Robert Porter, the patient, blinked his eyes groggily several times, took a deep breath, slowly tried unsuccessfully to raise himself from the floor, then answered, I don’t know. What happened?

Two other men, also dressed in white coats, stepped forward to help the average size, forty-year-old scientist. Each laboratory worker grasped an arm of the patient, who was huddled in a corner of the room, to his feet slowly. His clothing was loosened in several places. His hair was roughly tossed. In all, Robert Porter looked generally disheveled and appeared completely disoriented. A trickle of blood dripped downward along his right cheekbone from a slight forehead laceration incurred from the semi-conscious collapse.

The older of the two men in white coats, Jack, attempting to assist the subject, answered, Take it easy now, Bob, you just, uh, had a spell. Look around the lab once you’re collected. You’ll see the results.

The team of scientists stood in a scientific laboratory that looked like it had been criminally vandalized. The room was in shambles in several places with debris cast across the floor. Various types of instrumentation and animal cages had been tipped over. Fluids and loose papers covered several spots on the floor.

Who did this? the patient asked after gathering his thoughts while surveying the mess.

You did! The younger man in his twenties, John, answered and continued. You somehow thought you were amidst enemies and went after me and Dr. Cohen like a man in a fight for his life, Dr. Porter. First, I was worried about injuring you, but then I was more concerned about myself.

Robert Porter looked entirely confused with John’s description of events. The assistant, John, then looked down at his own state of disarray. He straightened his coat and tie. The conversation ceased for several minutes while everyone in the laboratory sought to comprehend meaning behind the shocking events that had just occurred.

An hour after the experiment, the distressed and puzzled team helped their leader collect himself, straightened the laboratory, then recessed to the conference