CHAKRA

A NOVEL By Richard W. Bulliet

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CHAPTER ONE

Rejep Muratbey, the first and thus far only president of the Ferghana Republic deep in Central Asia, let his jowly, porcine face sag onto his more than ample chest. “It is my fault. Entirely my fault.” His eyes were fixed on an international edition of TIME magazine. Its cover was a satellite photo showing a partial circle with what looked to be cross-hairs against a whitish background. The remainder of the circle was occluded by a dark area that also covered the point where the cross-hairs would cross. The headline in garish red: CENTRAL ASIAN MYSTERY: “THE GREAT ARRAY” Lee Ingalls, his hostess and tutor, poured tea into small, slender glasses next to the magazine on the coffee table and held her tongue. Since coming to Kokand, Ferghana’s torpid capital, twelve months before, she had learned to float fresh blackberry leaves in her tea. She had also learned, after repeated patronizing reprimands from her husband Donald, that it was sometimes best to be silent when high officials waxed stupid or vented their spleen. The latter lesson came hard for someone who prided herself on speaking her mind regardless of consequences. As she concentrated on her tea service, Muratbey allowed his eyes to drift to her elegant fingers and perfectly manicured but unlacquered nails, and from there, with an umistakably lecherous glint, to the exposed skin of her forearms below the sleeves of her blue shirtwaist dress. Seeing her head begin to rise, the burly politician slapped a thick hand theatrically against his broad forehead while receiving with the other the delicate glass Lee was proffering him. “I am the fault. I am the cause of my country’s falldown.” 2

“Downfall, Mr. President. You must remember. We worked on that word. Also, you can say ‘I am at fault,’ but you can’t say ‘I am the fault.’” “Lee, you are so wonderful,” said Muratbey worshipfully, “but I cannot concentrate on the English, Lee, on a day when that . . . that . . . tavshan boku . . . what is the English word?” “Literally, ‘rabbit dropping,’ if you’re being polite. A more coarse term would be ‘rabbit shit,’ if you really want to be rude. But no one would call someone this in English.” Though normally quite punctilious in her own speech, Lee took perverse pleasure in instructing President Muratbey in rude and even obscene expressions. She felt she was helping him find his proper level. “Thank you. I remember. On a day when that rabbit shit Vahidov, may his mother be . . . “ Lee straightened her already erect posture and caught the president’s attention with a prim clearing of her throat. At thirty-eight, with her naturally curly brown hair drawn back severely, her instinctive gestures and reactions reminded her sometimes of her Connecticut patrician mother, and she had more than once relied on this surface impression to conceal a quirky and sometimes impetuous inner nature. “Mr. President, I told you I disapprove of the expression you were about to use, and of any expression suggesting rudeness to women or referring to their personal parts. I’m under no obligation to give you these lessons and . . .” “I am million times sorry, Lee.” Remorse fairly oozed the the president’s tiny, heavy-lidded eyes. “I will remember. You are so kind to let me practice my English. But on a day when rabbit shit Vahidov receives a half billion dollars from big American capitalist I must be permitted.”

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The agreement between President Vahidov’s Karakalpak Republic and the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation, America’s largest dealer in farm commodities, had headlined the noon news on CNN. Rebuffing American, Russian, and UN proposals for scientific missions to study the mysterious Great Array on the floor of the Aral Sea, President Vahidov had sold exclusive exploration rights to CarpenterBeckenbaugh for half a billion dollars. The contrast between the portliness and expansive personality of billionaire-sportsman Hayes Carpenter and the cadaverous physique and sunken eyes of the Karakalpak president had visually reinforced the image of rich American capitalism coming to the rescue of post-Soviet Central Asian poverty. But the news report had made as little impact on Lee as the initial discovery of the Great Array had three weeks earlier. Her interests were in antiquity. So while President Muratbey performed his ritual of outrage and self-mortification, she calmly savored the subtle fruity flavor of her tea, gazed at the geometrical patterns of her Turkmen carpets on the bungalow walls, and pondered whether to cut him short or give in to his obvious desire for her to probe the depths of his professed guilt. When her husband Donald had exultantly told her that the president of the republic had expressed a desire to practice his English with her, she had explained to him quite explicitly that she found the president an overweight, ego-centered nitwit. But Donald had persisted. “He’s the president of the republic,” he had pleaded . . . and subsequently repleaded many times, as if she had reason to be in awe of the overbearing ruler of a destitute mountain republic in the middle of nowhere ruling from a capital that lacked almost every civilized amenity.

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“You are developing a closer relationship with Muratbey than any other American,” Donald had stressed as the lessons progressed, little suspecting that the president himself had in mind a closer relationship still. “And just what good is that supposed to accomplish, Donald? Muratbey is so desperate for Western money, he’d order the Star-Spangled Banner sung at soccer matches if Ambassador Bane asked him to.” “Lee, we are diplomats.” “Donald, we are not diplomats.” It irritated Lee when her husband said stupid things. “You, my beloved husband, had a very satisfactory career selling the world’s best toilet valves before you decided to share your business acumen with the underdeveloped world. I realize that we are part of Kokand’s embassy community, but a Commerce Department special advisor is not the same thing as a foreign service officer. And it goes without saying that I personally am not a diplomat. I have never been diplomatic in my life. What I was before coming here was a lady scholar of leisure.” Donald was among a small coterie of people, mostly female chums, who found his wife’s tartness of speech and manner utterly charming. Towering at six-three over Lee’s slight, five-foot-five frame, he had accustomed himself to feeling in charge even when he ended up, as usual, on the losing end of their verbal fencing matches. He was, after all, the family breadwinner. “What you were, my love, was an unemployed Ph.D., one of about a zillion in the United States. But what you are now, and will be as long as I am assigned to this embassy with the charge of bringing the gospel of free enterprise to the heathen, is an official American personage who is expected to act exactly like diplomatic personnel.”

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“Is really all my fault.” President Muratbey’s raspy voice resuming his litany of self-accusation after finishing his tea penetrated Lee’s reverie with a tone so plaintive that Lee decided to take pity on him. She looked deeply and curiously into his eyes as if he were an unusual tropical bat in a zoo. “Mr. President, you keep saying that. Do you want me to ask you in what way it is your fault?” “I held back the water.” “The water?” “Yes. The river water. The Confederation have agreement . . . “ “ . . . has an agreement . . . “ “. . . has agreement for so many cubic meters each month. Rabbit shit Vahidov insults me. I hold back one-third the water. Aral Sea dry up faster. So-called Great Array is found in sea. Rabbit shit get half billion dollars. If I give more water, no Great Array.” Lee Ingalls’ lack of patience for ponderous or tedious mental processes was legendary within her circle. The trait had served her poorly in the dog-eat-dog world of the academic job market, but she had had Donald to fall back on. In any case, she was more inclined to blame her choice of academic specialization than her caustic tongue for her failure to secure a professorial post. India specialists as a group were suffering in a post-Cold War intellectual climate that saw little point in studying foreign areas. And specializing in Sanskrit, India’s ancient religious and literary language, seemed especially pointless. Then there were those few who devoted their efforts to Vedic, the complicated early form of Sanskrit used in the most ancient hymns to the Indic gods. Scarcely a one held down a full-time teaching post, which fact allowed Lee to pride herself on membership in a tiny elite band of pure unemployable scholars. 6

“Forgive me, Mr. President, but what you are saying makes no sense.” “I should say, ‘If I . . . had given? . . . more water.’” “No, it’s not the English this time, though ‘had given’ would have been better. What I mean is that your holding back the water did not cause the Great Array to be found. It only caused it to be found now. The Aral Sea started to dry up in Soviet days and would have continued drying up no matter what you did. Therefore the Great Array was bound to be revealed sooner or later. Only a fool would blame himself.” She thought of adding, “and you are no fool,” but her conscience wouldn’t permit her. President Muratbey stared at Lee morosely. His small eyes looked sad and tired, but also somehow expectant. Lee recognized the look, partly because it marked the end of each of their sessions, and partly because her father’s overweight basset hound had worn it at every mealtime, and at most times in between. The pattern with the president was quite consistent: Muratbey would arrive; they would exchange friendly greetings; they would talk about a topic of his choosing over tea; Lee would correct his English; and then he would abruptly show signs of melancholy, stare at her mournfully, and fall silent as if the conversation had somehow failed to reach its intended conclusion. Lee accompanied the president to the entrance foyer and took formal leave of him on the porch steps where his driver was holding the door of his black Volvo. She watched the car back down the driveway and then wandered for a few minutes among the large garden of luxuriant rose bushes and fruit trees that compensated well for the small and ramshackle character of the bungalow. Meanwhile, within the car, President Muratbey shut his eyes and brought her lovely form and face to mind, resolving, as he did after every lesson, that the next time he would offer to elevate her to the status of his mistress. 7

The owners of the wealthiest homes in Kokand rented them at exorbitant rates to serve as embassies or ambassadorial residences. substantial differences had developed. and boyishly handsome—even now at forty-three—not to mention gainfully employed with the Zircon Valve Corporation of Rye. had become distinctly rich as a businessman. athletic. For his part. all things considered. Lee had married Donald because he was tall. and intoxicated by her svelte body and thick. Donald had married Lee because he was in awe of her intellect. and his position as a Commerce Department special advisor freed him from some of the limitations placed on low-ranking Department of State employees. charmed by her innate elegance and sophistication. Nevertheless. about their loving one another. but lesser embassy personnel had to scrounge lodgings where they could. The Ingalls had actually done quite well. New York. after all. Donald. Neither felt there was any question.* * * Like other diplomats posted to Ferghana. at a basic level. Lee and Donald Ingalls had searched long and hard for a suitable dwelling. Lee had an absolute need for cosmopolitan life. That they both took very much for granted even as their physical passion had subsided into fun but predictable routine. even the most comfortable of villas could not have warmed a growing marital coolness between Lee and Donald that had culminated in mutual misapprehensions about what their mission to Kokand might bring to each of them. challenged by the tartness of her personality. Nevertheless. witty and intellectual 8 . On neither side had these qualities proven to be perfect predictors of marital happiness. curly brown hair.

Money flowed. at Harvard and encountered her first disappointments in looking for work. Yet as his own career blossomed. Donald went to Uruguay. an excellent linguist. which seemed more a hobby than something real. with its accompanying tendency to measure success in purely monetary terms. Lee moved into a one-bedroom apartment on New York City’s Upper West Side. during which Lee had completed her Ph. Lee. And he found himself coming to resent her total and undisguised lack of interest in the sale of bathroom valves that was enabling her to live a privileged intellectual life in New York City. After seven happy years together. even after five years in Latin America. but also to the competitive ethos of American business. he found it harder and harder interest himself in her work. And Donald was thrilled at the prospect of teaching the capitalist credo to a people that had slaved for three generations under the stultifying 9 .company. And Donald was absolutely committed not only to a business career that took him out of the United States for long periods of time. In their enthusiastic discussions before Donald accepted the Commerce Department assignment. Central Asia loomed as the solution to their undiscussed marital ennui. They came together for long relaxing vacations at Caribbean beach resorts. and a first class research library. Donald acknowledged to himself that the character-defining lines and shapes of maturity made Lee even more attractive at thirty-eight than when they had married. Donald seemed to be unable to learn Spanish. Lee had been thrilled at the prospect of two years in the mountains and deserts she presumed the speakers of her beloved Vedic language to have roamed some five thousand years before. Donald had been assigned the job of opening up Latin America to Zircon valves. But they grew apart for lack of mutual appreciation.D. But harden it did. berated herself for allowing his inability to harden into a determination that he was stupid. On the other side.

the old Soviet provincial museum that still employed a handful of underpaid scholars too old or unambitious to seek their fortunes in the private sector. and the subsequent dissolution of Uzbekistan into three independent republics in 2005.night of communism before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. and had dispatched volumes of 10 . More productively. she had made good headway on preparing a new English translation of her favorite hymns from India’s ancient holy book. a non-nonsense professional named Darla Bane. a scaled-up agricultural technical training center. The factory thrived until the supplier of tungsten filaments in the neighboring and rival Tashkent Republic decided to triple their price. The brothers bought their way out of criminal penalties. had explored the woefully meager resources of eight-year-old Ferghana University. Lee nursed visions of working with local scholars on ancient mysteries. promptly putting it out of business. Lee. had called Donald in and more firmly than politely suggested that during the second and final year of his posting he concentrate on publicizing Ferghanan investment opportunities among American companies rather than on spreading the capitalist gospel of Adam Smith to locals. but the American Ambassador. the Rig Veda. Neither had grasped until too late that the Ferghana Republic was truly at the end of the earth. set up a lightbulb factory. Donald had helped a local Korean entrepreneur. Donald had advised three Tajik brothers on starting up an import company that unfortunately proved to be a cover for Afghan heroin smuggling. during that same first year. the native peoples of Ferghana. Donald of inspiring eager young Tajiks and Uzbeks. to start their own businesses. and Kokand a city as lacking in intellectual resources as it was in business opportunities. From there she had moved on to the Ferghana Academy of Sciences. the grandson of a family exiled to Central Asia under Stalin. After that. During their first year of residence.

He’s very regular. You can imagine my gratitude for his confidence. . if complaining. “Muratbey come today?” he asked after a ritual welcome home kiss.” Donald’s attention had suddenly intensified.” “What did you talk about?” “I talked about the use of participles. . but she deplored her husband’s transparent effort to turn her into an intelligence source.scintillating. But he insisted on sharing with me his feeling of guilt about impounding river water and thus speeding the discovery of the Great Array. In fact. She was still in her garden pinching wilted blossoms from a rose bush when Donald drove into the driveway. “Yes he did say. “Withholding water? Withholding water is a violation of the 2005 Treaty of Tashkent. “Would you like rice with mutton kabobs tonight? . email correspondence to friends and fellow Vedic scholars around the world. but I wasn’t paying attention. and even more his presuming to keep his intention secret from her. or just rice? . . he seems to like me very much. . “Of course. Every day she thanked the creators of the Internet for helping her remain sane. Did he say how much he had withheld?” Donald nursed a secret dream that he would one day astound Ambassador Bane with secret intelligence gleaned by his clever wife during her sessions with Muratbey. Lee remembered everything Muratbey had said. or just kabobs?” 11 .” In truth. Perhaps there’s not enough for him to do as president now that he’s finished restoring the Presidential Palace.

a photographer for Agence France Presse.’ the giant circle discovered just one month ago under the Aral Sea in Central Asia. Abraham Stein of the Council on Foreign Relations. The director. “Good morning and welcome to Sunday Special. way out in Central Asia. and today we’ll be talking about what is being called ‘The Great Array. “You’ll all be looking at Paul at the opening when we have a profile shot of the group. “We’re ready. and Dr.” He looked abstracted as he listened to something on his headset. You are looking at the first pictures of that circle as they were shot from a helicopter flying at an altitude of two thousand feet. “What happened to Giant Circle?” He nodded again. wearing a full headset. As everyone in the world knows. and then look at Paul or one another as you speak. spoke to the guests. are we going with Great Array?” He nodded at his producer’s response in his ear. I’m Paul Henning. Margie Hicks of the Reuters News Agency. portions of a giant circle fourteen miles across were spotted one month ago on the floor of an evaporating sea in the Karakalpak Republic. He counted down the last four seconds silently with his fingers.” he announced. “Dotty. Paul Henning brightened and leaned into the camera slightly. Christine Sens was on that 12 .CHAPTER TWO As the sound man fixed lapel mikes on his guests and guided the wires under lapels and jackets. He scanned the opening lines on the teleprompter. Communications Director for the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation. Shanelle Whittaker. Joining me this morning are Christine Sens. Paul Henning clipped his own microphone onto his necktie and adjusted his tiny earphone.

he is very excited . very hard to make out. “No. including the middle where the straight lines cross.helicopter. But it is a perfect circle. Just a thin circle with the crosshairs. . . At first. Very white from the salt. Horizon to horizon.” “Very exciting. .’ Then everybody see it.” 13 . we don’t see anything. Then I am the first to see it. because we are making the turn. But I took the first pictures.” “That is where the north-south crossbar joins the circle. yes? Then. yes?” “Tell us what it was like?” “We fly over the sea in the helicopter to see the environmental damage.” “It must have been very exciting. says: ‘You see circle and cross? Big.’ And we all look out the window that is pointing at the water. tell us what we’re looking at. I am getting my camera. and I say: ‘Voilà! There it is. the pilot . Not the first. Christine. We were flying over portion where most of the sea has dried up. big.” “Yes. like aiming a rifle. And then you see the top one meeting the circle.” “Now this part we’re showing on the monitor. the Array is very. . weren’t you?” Christine Sens’s close-cropped blonde hair and stylishly masculine clothes made her look more like a model than a photographer. As you can see. You see very faint dark lines going out at the angle of ninety degrees. very suddenly. The helicopter pilot was the first. Christine can you tell us what it was like to make this discovery? You were the first to spot the Great Array. One third of Array is still under water. The Aral Sea is a big environmental disaster.” “Now here’s a satellite photo that we have enhanced to show both the exposed and what everyone assumes to be the still covered parts of the Array.

Each one seemingly poorer and more economically desperate then the other. Already by 1997 it was no longer a single body of water because a ridge across its northern portion had become dry land. “Margie Hicks. Margie?” “Because the bone of contention that broke up Uzbekistan was water and investment. Uzbekistan was breaking up. and the Tashkent Republic.” “So why is this political background important for the Great Array. the Ferghana Republic.” “They would be the Karakalpak Republic. when I first went to the area in ‘04. when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. Then came the ‘05 14 . These are places most of us don’t know anything about.” Weathered and tired looking even with camera makeup. Kyrgyzstan. Christine. Uzbekistan. you’ve been covering Central Asia for Reuters News Agency since the ‘04 Uzbek crisis. Paul. “As you know. The sea had been drying up for years because the Soviets diverted river water to irrigate cotton fields. five republics became independent in its southern area between the Caspian Sea and the Chinese frontier.” “Right. In the end. Kazakhstan. both of which empty into the Aral Sea. Margie Hicks had no use for television journalism’s obsession with combining news and good looks. Thank you.” “That’s right. and the UN was actively trying to head off a civil war. Uzbekistan was split into three smaller states by the Treaty of Tashkent in 2005. Tell us about the Aral Sea and the Karakalpak Republic. Paul.” Paul pivoted smoothly to his other side.” “The Stans.“Very exciting discovery. The country depended on two river systems. and so forth. To make a long story short.

the president of the Karakalpak Republic.” “I’m delighted to be here. primarily because President Rejep Muratbey of the Ferghana Republic cheated on the treaty and illegally withheld water. “You are Communications Director for Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation. is it. The Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation. “This past week President Ahmet Vahidov has been the man of the hour announcing on Tuesday a spectacular deal with American businessman Hayes Carpenter. will donate a half billion dollars to the treasury of the Karakalpak Republic in return for exclusive rights to explore the Great Array and exploit any discoveries that might be made. Withholding water was a form of economic warfare designed to damage the Karakalpak cotton crop. Carpenter and the deal he has made we have with us Shanelle Whittaker.“ Paul looked squarely into the camera. Carpenter founded and still heads. Communications Director for the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation. and things got worse. Margie?” “The best guess is that he personally despises Ahmet Vahidov. and they almost went to war against each other in 2004. Your boss has just handed over a huge sum of money for exploration rights in Central Asia. which Mr.” “Let me just break away there. brown-skinned woman on his right with a gleaming white smile. and to find out more about Mr.” “And why did he do that. They are old Communist Party rivals from the Soviet era. on which the Karakalpaks rely for foreign exchange.treaty. Never before in history have exploration rights been sold in such a manner. welcome to Sunday Special.” she replied with a smile that made his look slightly dingy. Paul.” Paul pivoted in his seat and fixed the attractive. “Shanelle.” 15 . Margie. This isn’t what people expect of Hayes Carpenter.

He’s been jumping for forty years. But of course Mr. Paul. Paul.” “Amazing. with all its terrible environmental consequences in terms of pesticide polluted ground water. But Mr. Carpenter has done a lot of different things in his life.” “At the age of .” “Are there other terms in the contract that we might be interested in?” “Not really. “No. this country’s largest dealer in agricultural commodities. and rampant lung and intestinal disorders. Carpenter is the country’s primary private supporter of sport parachuting and sky diving and the publisher of Freefall magazine.Shanelle laughed. Mr.” “And he parachutes himself.” “As often as he can fit it into his schedule. besides being CEO and Board Chairman of the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation.” “It’s going to amount to a lot more than half a billion dollars. Paul. Now. That amount goes directly to the Karakalpak treasury to help support the country’s economy give a boost to its industrialization program. which will be quite considerable. Economic diversification is the only way to overcome dependence on cotton. and he’s not the sort of man who avoids publicity. what can you tell us about the half billion dollar deal he has negotiated with President Vahidov. salt storms blowing off the exposed bed of the Aral Sea. As you know. . . ? “Sixty-one last month. and concealment of the half billion dollars paid into 16 . ever since he volunteered for paratroop training during the Vietnam war.” Shanelle had learned to lie with disarming ease when it was in Carpenter-Beckenbaugh’s interest. I guess it’s not. Carpenter will also be paying the expenses of the expedition itself.

N. the mission itself. President Vahidov already knew Mr. Carpenter-Beckenbaugh is a private corporation. “How was Mr. His goals are safeguarding national independence. Paul. And second. Paul. about fifty feet or sixteen meters deep. First.” “That’s easy to answer.” “You’ve got it. And the area to be pumped is a hundred meters across. and then drill down to find out what’s underneath. And then. A hole in the sea. failed. Carpenter-Beckenbaugh has been buying Karakalpak cotton for years. Russia failed. and turning a profit for his people. President Vahidov has developed the deepest respect for private enterprise. So that means roughly a hundred and twenty-six thousand cubic meters of water. exploring the Great Array quickly and efficiently. Now. Hayes Carpenter flies to Nukus.” “It’s pretty straightforward.” “How much water has to be pumped out?” “That’s the deepest part of the sea. Build a circular dike around the center of the Great Array where the crossbars are believed to cross. suddenly.various out-of-country bank accounts accessible solely to President Vahidov personally was clearly in Carpenter-Beckenbaugh’s interest. and a deal is announced.” “A hole in the sea. Carpenter able to pull off this deal. and after three dismal generations of government-dominated enterprise under Soviet rule. examine any surface features.” Shanelle liked the sound of the phrase she had dreamed up and fed to Paul before the show. the United States failed. 17 . President Vahidov seemed determined to keep everyone out. Paul. pump out the water to expose the seafloor.” “They make quite a pair. Carpenter as a man he could trust. The U.

Soviet-style. His beard was reddish. Kazakhstan shifted to a commercial for the diverse products of the Hyundai Corporation. This is a complicated story.” “You’re off. double-breasted suits still popular 18 .” * * * The television in the spacious but barren seeming dining room of the Mehmansaray Hotel in Almaty. At the third a man who looked to be some forty years of age sat looking at the CNN broadcast and caressing a liter bottle of vodka. but we only have eight minutes in this next segment. the roughing-it look that the German couple shared with most other tourists. full. At another a German couple dressed in hiking books and rugged camping clothes were discussing their itinerary over an unfolded map. That at nine-thirty in the evening only three of twenty-eight tables were occupied was a testimony to mediocre cooking and worse service dating back to the Soviet era. making it evident that he was not a local Kazakh. stirring themselves only rarely and reluctantly to attend to customer business. mafia controlled restaurants. Henning turned to his guests with a beaming smile. or the blocky. “We’ll be back with more about the hole in the sea on Sunday Special after this. Shanelle excellent.” called the director. “That was great. At one table four middle-aged waitresses had been conversing in Russian for hours. his second of the evening. but his clothes were of the plainest sort. and bushy. Christine. People who cared about eating well went to one of the city’s newer. Lets continue to keep things short and simple. quite different from the pegged pants and Georgian tunics of the local mafia.Paul swivelled to the camera. Margie.

Stein was the very model of a faceless policy wonk. half staggered to the edge of the city and disappeared into the dark countryside. he half limped. “Vodka?” Nadir lifted his bottle and wiggled it to indicate he was okay. It was known among the waitresses that when he left the hotel every Sunday night. what can you tell us about the political aspect of the pact between Hayes Carpenter and President Vahidov?” Balding and bespectacled in a black suit and red-striped tie. “Vodka?” called out Olga. that’s still a bit of a mystery. the man looked like a Kazakh sheepherder from one of the collective farms turned ranches that reached into the foothills of the mountains. The man’s gaze was fixed on the television set waiting for the end of the commercials. Stein. and protruding belly. facial features. “Dr. But for his hair color. “Welcome back. Abraham Stein of the Council on Foreign Relations and Doctor Yasuo Takahashi of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “Nadir!” she shouted. With me on this portion.” He pivoted to his left. “Well. * * * “Back in four. the senior waitress with stringy hair dyed jet black. I’m Paul Henning and on Sunday Special we’re discussing last week’s announcement of an agreement between the Karakalpak Republic and the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation for the exploration of what is being called ‘The Great Array’ underneath the Aral Sea in Central Asia. It has been 19 . Dr.” said the director in New York. Dr. but beyond that he was a man of mystery. He counted down with his fingers.in Kazakh officialdom.

” “Which the Russian government is now denying. he doesn’t want the U. and we know that the Soviets were very interested in tracking U. Very low frequency waves travelling through the earth.suggested. or the U.” “Vahidov is an old Communist Party type from Soviet days. if the Array is a Soviet military project. he surely isn’t going to let the Russians in to cover it up unless he gets something in return. therefore. But by the same token. Totally invisible to satellite or overflight surveillance. but at base he consistently follows a shrewd strategy of protecting his country’s independence against his rivals within the Uzbek Confederation and against any effort by Russia to reestablish its domination. Denying so strongly it almost seems to confirm it. of course. It’s much more likely. or had. that the Great Array is the remnant of some Soviet effort to deal with the environmental crisis in the Aral Sea area. a military purpose.S.” “Yes. and he rules with a pretty strong hand.S. His speeches are a bit on the bombastic side.N. Tell us a bit now about President Vahidov and his unusual reaction to a discovery made on Karakalpak soil. But the truth is that the Soviet Union never showed the least concern for environmental disasters.” “Fascinating. for example. nuclear submarines at sea. can be used to communicate with submarines. The Array is possibly a communications or detection system. Paul. coming onto his soil and learning things that he might be able to take advantage of if he 20 . Nevertheless. And this is a pretty tough job given that apart from cotton he doesn’t have much of an economy. that the Array has.” “Can you suggest for us what military advantages the floor of a landlocked sea in the middle of Central Asia might have?” “Secrecy would be one obvious advantage.

government?” Dr. and he donated heavily to the other side in the last campaign.” Dr. So that makes a deal with a private corporation an unusual but logical undertaking. At the red end of the spectrum. The circle is made up of slightly discolored soil. and impossibly baggy casual clothes. complete with long black hair. “Hardly. They can see it when they focus in on it. it has certain transparent properties. I want to make it very clear what the Great Array is.learns them first. Dr.” “Thank you. but he looked disconcertingly like a recent college graduate. Fascinating.S. The ring portion and crossbars are only three feet in width. Mr. Henning. Stein ventured a scholarly chuckle. Hayes Carpenter has spoken out against almost everything President Boone Rankin stands for. Stein. The soil of the ring and crossbars looks slightly dark in photographs because of its reflectivity at the blue end of the spectrum. If the President were ever to go hunting for a tycoon to do a job for him.” “Now finally. however.” “Transparent? You mean red light shines through it? Like glass?” 21 . is Hayes Carpenter a stalking house for the U. To start with. but otherwise it’s too faint. “I want to ask Doctor Yasuo Takahashi of Columbia University’s Earth Institute about the possible scientific implications of the Great Array.” “Dr. Takahashi had sounded like a middle-aged man on the telephone during producer Dotty Bennett’s preinterview. Paul. “Thank you. Stein. parted in the middle above almost shaven sides.” pivoting right. the last doorbell he’s ring would be Hayes Carpenter’s. And it’s also why satellites didn’t pick it up. That’s why normal air traffic didn’t see them when they first began to emerge—airliners fly too high.

” Paul sensed his audience reaching for their remotes to switch to another channel. “Is a toaster a weapon? Mr. . Takahashi?” Henning liked dispute on his show. Takahashi crooked his head in wonderment at where the question had come from. Stein suggests?” Dr. indeed. anywhere on Earth. “Shanelle. The soil is actually almost a powder.“Yes. “Is it a weapon. “Sediments at four thousand feet were deposited hundreds of thousands of years ago. as Dr. No known technology is capable of inserting a special soil underground in this way. Anything below them . “The core samples the Karakalpak Academy of Sciences took in the outer ring and crossbars showed the same crystalline powder down as far as four thousand feet. Paul.” interrupted Dr. He turned quickly to Shanelle Whittaker. “I’m afraid we don’t base Carpenter-Beckenbaugh policies on National Enquirer stories.” “That makes no sense at all. and the samples we have available show a crystalline structure that is completely unknown in naturally occurring rock—or. Carpenter has 22 . if you don’t mind my saying so. The crystal surfaces relate to wavelengths in red and infrared in such a way that the photons are channeled through the powder. Mr. but not in a way that could form an image. It is much more likely that the powder built up or was generated gradually from below.” “And why is that Dr. Stein.” concluded Takahashi vehemently. “ “Must have been placed there by aliens from outside our solar system. . Paul Henning involuntarily rolled his eyes up and wondered how Dotty Bennet’s could have failed to screen out an obvious space nut. the suggestion that the Great Array is a weapon is scientifically ridiculous. Henning. is Hayes Carpenter searching for a spaceship from prehistoric times under the Aral Sea?” Shanelle’s laugh was artfully light and engaging.

People just feel uncomfortable admitting it. he’d say it doesn’t make any difference to him whether the Array was built by Russians or Martians. But we’re not expecting little green men. They’re nuts! You have to be more careful.” “And on that note. Not a word. “Whatever is down there has been been there for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. and one that they’re still trying to keep secret. for Christ’s sake.” “There are more and more of them. Just because they embarked on some project that we still can’t understand. Paul. Dotty. “Dotty!” called Henning as he strode off the set.” persisted Takahashi.” The host and guests sat still until the director’s hand showed them they were off. He’s from Columbia University. The diminutive Sunday Special producer rushed to Paul Henning’s side. Just good hard science. we conclude another edition of Sunday Special. I never want that guy on the show again. Stein?” said Paul. and let the chips fall where they may. doesn’t mean we should let our imaginations run away with us.” Takahashi was visibly agitated. I’m Paul Henning. Paul.no assumptions about the expedition beyond looking to see what he can find. any last words?” “If Hayes Carpenter were here now. “He didn’t say anything about space aliens on the preinterview.” “We’re not talking about runaway imaginations. Thank you for watching. “But scientifically there’s no other explanation! The formation isn’t natural! The Russians couldn’t have done it!” “Dr. Understood?” 23 . Henning. “We had a long history during the Cold War of underestimating the Russians. Mr. It’s a mystery to be investigated.” “Shanelle.

you have to look at where you’re going to get it back.” “You wish.” she lied. movie.” “So Carpenter’s going to market the project?” “TV. “He already has.” “Come on. Don’t be like that.” “You put as much company money on the line as Hayes has. 24 .” Paul caught up with Shanelle removing pancake in the makeup room. I’m just the trailer.“Understood.” “Think he’ll make his money back?” Shanelle smiled. “When are we going to have the big man himself on the show. electronic—sewing up everything. Shanelle.

a trade he subsequently plied on Louisiana’s offshore oil before becoming a hands-on operations manager for an entire oil field. he had brought along his company’s communications director.CHAPTER THREE Red-faced and rugged looking. black-skinned. He had honored President Vahidov’s fear of American and Russian snoopiness to the extent of limiting the Americans on his team to three. as pretty and charming a front person as anyone might wish. Hayes Carpenter dominated every aspect of the Great Array Expedition. he had borrowed from Chevron’s oil operation in Kazakhstan an old comrade from youthful days travelling the Great Plains from farm to farm harvesting wheat and getting drunk on beer mixed with ketchup. soft-looking body that concealed a measure of strength and conditioning uncommon in a man of sixty-one. For press liaison Hayes had hired Margie Hicks away from Reuters with the firm knowledge that she knew more about the Karakalpak Republic and the other parts of the Uzbek Confederation than anyone else west of the Volga River. 25 . To ramrod the pumping and drilling. with a closely trimmed salt-and-pepper beard and a bulky. and east Texas to the core. Shanelle Whittaker. but also a whiz in satellite communications. Wilson Woodrow—so named courtesy of his father’s sense of humor— was lanky. When Hayes had enlisted in the army to become a paratrooper. And as his personal aide and communications expert. whom he had picked with care. he had joined the navy and become a diver.

and he was willing to bend to President Vahidov’s desire to give priority to scientists from Turkic-speaking countries who could communicate understandably on Karakalpak television and thus boost national pride. The pumping and drilling foremen were from Azerbaijan. and the scientific contingent from Istanbul University and the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. The rest of the team were mostly Turks on one sort or another like the Uzbek-speaking Karakalpaks who made up the bulk of the roustabouts. news reporting. 26 . As for the scientific members of the team. or telecommunications. and general laborers. after all. an indolent but trusted friend of the president who spent most of his time in an overlarge office receiving and briefing official visitors to the drab and dusty Karakalpak capital of Nukus. was publicity. the television crew Azeri-speakers from Iran. to keep an ear open for anything important he might be missing. Information. but he wasn’t worried about information leaking out. he knew that the lure of working on the mysterious Great Array would suffice to draw the best talent from the rest of the world. pump crews. Hayes depended on Margie. The nominal commander of the expedition and interface with the Karakalpak government was Colonel Muhammedov. who spoke both Russian and Uzbek. When Margie reported that the translators assigned to the American team members by the Karakalpak Ministry of Internal Security had old connections with their Moscow counterparts.In choosing these three. Hayes had reasoned that nobody could match Americans in oil drilling. he was pleased to imagine how the Russians must be envying him as they read unauthorized copies of the confidential reports that were prepared daily for President Vahidov.

By that time. and the more he could ask for news and entertainment rights. if any scientific discoveries of a potentially lucrative nature were made down the line.To a man who every year bought and sold billions of tons of corn. flooded with seawater. on the public demand for information. Journalists. cotton. steel plates being welded between the caissons to make them into a watertight. wheat. smelly southern shore of the Aral Sea. rice. the greater the worldwide interest. Hayes was only too happy to see his helicopters ferrying an endless stream of gawkers over the site. tourists. Hayes told his friends in the company that he hoped to have more than made his investment back. The more information leaked out. and soybeans. anchored directly over the 27 . pressure resistant dike. so much the better for the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation. in the first instance. and then the water level steadily falling as the pump barges worked twenty-four hours a day to empty the hole. And as for gratification and profit. however. except racks of pipe and piles of supplies. The pilots flew in low over the water so that the steadily deepening hole in the sea came into sight suddenly and spectacularly. The drill barge. even on the basis of sharing revenues fifty-fifty with the Karakalpaks. scientific discovery ran a poor third to personal gratification and corporate profit as a rationale for the enterprise. and scientific visitors who wanted to see more had to spring for an exorbitantly priced two hour helicopter ride from Nukus. a hundred cylindrical steel caissons being floated into position. Beyond that. just north of Nukus. both rested. There had been much to see from the very beginning: three pump barges and a drilling barge being towed into position over the presumed center of the Great Array. Nothing of the immense project could be seen from the white. and sunk almost touching one another in a ring a hundred meters in diameter.

It looked as though 28 . was intensifying. On on the sixth of November. Though they could discern no soil discoloration underwater and thus had difficulty hitting the right spots. coordinated by Margie Hicks and Shanelle Whittaker. Shallower areas within the hole were already showing dry seafloor in logical defiance of the frightening wall of water held back by the caissons.point where the crossbars of the Great Array were presumed to meet. a feat the crew telecast live via satellite uplink to millions of viewers around the world. the first chilly winds sweeping out of Siberia were blowing icy salt spray into the faces of the television crew scanning the sky. but a growing share focused on one or another of the space visitor theories favored by the sensationalist end of the journalistic spectrum Both made full use of footage from helicopter and barge-mounted cameras showing eerie shots of the hole in the sea. world interest in the hole in the hole in the sea. Precisely on schedule. divers scooped bottom samples from the murky depths. a light plane appeared over the lip of the caisson ring. Some of the interest was in hard news. now almost fifty feet deep. While the pumping progressed. The center of the Array seemed to be a circular area some four meters in diameter at the geometrical center of the search area—the bullseye. four months after the Array’s discovery. and purer samples were eagerly awaited. The entire area was lit by floodlights that created criss-crossing shadows. Analyses carried out by the Turkish scientists in the laboratory Carpenter-Beckenbaugh had thrown up quickly in Nukus indicated that the soil in the bullseye differed somewhat from that in the outer ring and crossbars. carried oil drilling equipment capable of taking core samples down to 10.000 feet. Despite the high fees Carpenter-Beckenbaugh charged the world news media for coverage. and Hayes Carpenter parachuted directly onto the drilling barge. their samples confirmed the convergence of the crossbars.

it would take but one small shrug of the earth’s shoulders to sweep away the entire enterprise in a crushing, cataclysmic flood. The barges had long since secured their positions by sinking legs into the seafloor. The pumpers were grouped in the deepest remaining water just south of the bullseye. All four barges had been connected by broad steel gratings that served as walkways between them. Hayes’ preferred viewing post was halfway along the walkway between the drill barge and pump barge #1, as far as possible from the roar of the pumps and the almost equally deafening hammering and clanging of roustabouts assembling the drilling tower from steel pipes and beams. As the moment neared for draining the last water from the bullseye, Margie Hicks gathered the scientists aboard pump barge #2 so that she could have them all ready for on-camera interviews as soon as the last foot or so of water was pumped away. “How long will it be?” she asked the pump chief in Uzbek. “Perhaps two hours,” he replied in Azeri. A cameraman shot Margie staring dramatically and intently into the few inches of water remaining, though the roiling murk stirred up by the pumping made it quite impossible to see anything. The drill barge was perched on two-meter thick steel tube legs on top of the bullseye. Beneath its deck the television crew had rigged several banks of floodlights in different colors and at different angles to illuminate the area where the bullseye would appear when the last of the water had been pumped away. The lights could be lit in whatever combination might be needed to bring out any pattern on the seafloor.

29

“Sijak su! Chok sijak!” yelled a Turkish geologist suddenly over the roar of the pumps. The other scientists made their way to where he was examining a large thermometer and began to converse excitedly in Turkish. Wilson Woodrow turned to Margie and shouted in her ear, “What’s going on?” “He says, ‘hot water, very hot.’“ “Damn, I wish these boys spoke English,” said the rangy Texan. “This whole operation go ‘bout twice as fast.” Margie screamed across the metal deck to one of the interpreters. “Shukru! Get over here!” The Karakalpak interpreter broke away from the cluster of scientists and ran over. “Hot water,” he said excitedly. “That’s what I heard. What do they mean hot water? What water?” “The sea. The water is very hot.” “How hot?” shouted Wilson. “Thirty-four Celsius.” “Almost a hundred degrees fahrenheit, Wilson,” yelled Margie. “What do you think? The Array channels infrared.” “I think the heat’s coming out of the Array, and that can’t be good. Feel like we’re waitin’ for a well to blow.” Wilson turned to the wheelhouse and cupped his hands around his mouth. “STOP ALL PUMPS! SHUT IT DOWN!” Nothing happened, but steam was beginning to rise from the shallow water all around. “Damn. Can’t hear or don’t understand. Shukru!“—the round faced, middle aged interpreter looked terrified—”run tell pump chief to shut everything down and radio the same to #1 and #3. Git! I want those pumps off now!” 30

Shukru scurried off. “We go real slow from here, Margie. Might spoil your TV show.” The roar of the pumps stopped abruptly, followed a few seconds later by the pumps on the other barges. The sudden silence after weeks of constant din made Margie feel she had gone deaf. “A little tension never spoiled a news story, Wilson,” she said, almost surprised to actually hear her own voice. The sudden cessation of noise and vibration sent a thrill of apprehension and anticipation through Hayes Carpenter standing on the catwalk between barge #1 and the drill barge. It was similar to the feeling a moment before jumping from the door of an airplane. “Why have the pumps stopped, Abdolla?” said Hayes Carpenter to his interpreter. Abdolla didn’t answer but instead looked toward the bullseye. Hayes followed his gaze and saw a cloud of steam and a brightening red glow directly beneath the drilling barge. “Oh my god,” he said softly. As he spoke the bullseye erupted in a brilliant deep red flash followed in the next instant by the wrenching screech of twisting steel culminating in an explosive crack as the massive drill barge flew into the air in a blizzard of disintegrating pieces. Hurling the massive but seemingly flimsy obstacle aside, the red ray shot into the atmosphere, thick as a giant sequoia, like a taut crimson thread suspending the entire earth. Hayes and Abdolla felt the catwalk give way as the end that had been connected with the drill barge jolted upward and then dropped to the seafloor. Thrown to the metal surface, Hayes thrust his fingers through the small holes in the grating as his body slipped down the eighty degree slope. His cheek pressed flat to the cold, rough surface, he glanced down just in time to see Abdolla careen down the catwalk and into several inches of boiling water. Through the crashes of debris falling all about him, he 31

heard Abdolla scream as his entire body was instantly scalded. Still screaming, the interpreter tried momentarily to stand only to fall again face down. His screaming stopped. On pump barge #2, a few of the scientists and crew had rushed to the rail along Margie Hicks and Wilson Woodrow at the first eruption of the immense red beam. The rest had taken cover. The Iranian television team calmly recorded the column of red light shooting into the heavens, the explosive annihilation of the drill barge and of everyone on board it, and the surrounding vista of boiling seawater, dangling catwalks, and debris showering down from the sky into the hole in the sea. As the barge furthest from the bullseye, #2 took numerous small hits, but the larger pieces of the drill barge didn’t carry so far. Miraculously, there were no injuries. The other two barges fared worse. Sections of drilling pipe, scaffolding, deck, tower girders, and all manner of smaller items pelted them heavily as workmen ducked for cover or were struck down where they stood. “Where’s Hayes?” yelled Margie. Wilson Woodrow looked toward the demolished catwalk. “Was watching from over yonder.” He looked around for someone to give an order to, but everything was in turmoil. “I’ll go find him.” Like everyone else, Margie was unable to remove her eyes for more than a few seconds at a time from the mesmerizing red beam splitting the sky. One by one those who had ducked for cover returned to the rail to gaze at the bullseye and trace the path of the silent beam upward and out of sight. When Wilson got to pump barge #3, he found devastation. Dead and seriously injured men were scattered on the deck, some of them impaled by sections of pipe or torn pieces of twisted steel. Seeing that the remaining crew were already turning to 32

rescue duties and needed no direction from him, he muscled aside a thirty foot pipe section and climbed across the tangle of wreckage to reach the catwalk on the far side. Pump barge #1 was half destroyed. Holes gaped where major portions of the drill barge had crashed through the deck to the seafloor. Wilson heard moans but saw no one moving. He looked across the barge for the far catwalk. It was gone. Through the holes ripped in the deck he saw a dozen bodies boiling in the few remaining inches of seawater. Heedless of the cracking and twisting sounds threatening further collapse of the barge, he clambered across rubble and around yawning holes to the far side. The remains of the catwalk were hanging almost straight down from the cables that attached it to the barge’s edge. Peering over the edge he saw the unmistakable figure of Hayes Carpenter clinging with both hands to the grating. “Hayes!” he shouted. The billionaire craned his neck upward awkwardly. “Wilson, I can’t climb up. The grate’s too fine to get a toehold.” “Hang on, Hayes.” “What in the hell do you think I’m doing?” “I’ll get a rope.” Wilson looked around. The nearest rope was tangled together with a coil of electrical conduit that had fallen in a chaotic spiral from the sky. Quickly judging his needs, he drew a sheath knife from his belt, cut a section of the rope free, expertly threw a bowline on one end, and dropped the loop over a sturdy upright welded to the deck. He lowered the free end over the edge so that it fell just to Hayes’ right. The heavy man agilely snagged the rope with his foot and drew it toward him, managing to wrap it twice around his leg as he did. Grabbing first with one hand and then the other, he transferred his weight from the catwalk to the rope. 33

“Can you pull me up?” he yelled. Instead of a reply he felt a sudden burning on his shoulders and the top of his head, and the water and steam beneath him reflected a red glow that made it look like the gate of hell. Peripherally he saw the entire area around and below him bathed in bright red light. Wilson looked up when the incoming beam hit. The intense red light was mesmerizing. Then suddenly feeling a sharp pain in his eyes, he threw himself sideways facedown on the deck. The burning sensation on his back lasted for less than a minute and then subsided. Wilson opened his eyes, but the darkness did not go away. Controlling his fear, he blindly reached about to orient himself. Finding the upright, he ran his hand upward until it encountered the taut rope. He stood up uneasily, knowing he was only inches from the side of the barge and a drop to the boiling water below. “Still there, Hayes?” “Not going anywhere,” came the answer. “What was that?” “Incoming light. Got me in the eyes. I can’t see.” “Oh my god!” “I’ve got the rope, though.” The sinews of his long brown arms standing out like cables, the blinded oil driller began hand over hand to haul on the rope. Hayes doubled his knees, pushed off from the catwalk, and straightened his legs so that they gained purchase on the grating. With his weight divided between the rope and his legs, he walked up the catwalk as Wilson hauled him in. On barge #2 the incoming laser beam had caught the entire personnel gazing into the sky. Margie Hicks’ younger years as a war correspondent served her in good 34

stead. She reflexively dove for the deck at the first flash. When the heat subsided a minute later, she felt the pain of a serious contusion where her cheek had hit the metal. Then she realized she was blind. Lying still and trying to control her racing heart, she called out to locate who was near her. Others were doing the same, or just moaning or screaming. Margie heard a shout, a splash, and a scream of agony as someone went over the edge. She tried to remember how close to the brink she was herself. Minutes passed. She felt the vibrations of a few people moving on the deck, but no one came to her aid. Feeling about to make sure she was safe, she sat up. A thought came unbidden to her mind: I hope they got it on videotape. She reflected that that was a pretty strange thought for a person who had just lost her eyesight.

*

*

*

A day later, at the overcrowded military hospital in Nukus, Hayes visited her. “Margie, it’s Hayes.” He took her weathered hand awkwardly between his own heavily bandaged palms. “How are you doing?” “I’m okay. How are you doing?” “Lacerated hands and some superficial burns. Otherwise, not a scratch on me. My face was flat against the catwalk when the laser hit. The doctor says you’re going to get your eyesight back.” “He told me. When they took the bandage off a couple of hours ago, I could see colors and moving shapes.” Her voice was steady but tired. “But tell me, Hayes, what happened? I’m so damn mad for missing the biggest news story of my career.” “You’re one of the lucky ones, Margie. We lost everyone on the drill barge and number one. Of the rest, all but three had their retinas burnt out.” 35

We used to work on harvesting teams together. but he looked up at the beam. All sorts of people blinded out in the dry areas. and you’re a goner.” “Incoming beam covered the whole Array. like when the first one came out of the bullseye. “I know it. I know it. Tell me how big the beam was. “Nothing you could have done. and I was hanging on. You probably got a shot of morphine before they moved you. She saw the beam and personally kicked every helicopter pilot we had into the air and got Vahidov to do the same with his army pilots. From the side it’s just pretty light. Hayes. I’ve known Wilson for forty years.” “You know this means we’re dealing with outer space stuff.” A long sigh. fourteen miles in diameter. Poor souls.S. it was apparently a laser.“Wilson?” Hayes’ voice choked. couldn’t have kept it a secret. Besides. Hayes.” “But from over a hundred miles away. But look into it directly for a couple of seconds. He found me. and I know the U.” Margie was quiet for a while. Thinking back over the last twenty-five years that I’ve been in the news business. After that he couldn’t see a thing. Margie sensed he was fighting back tears. I can’t imagine the Soviets could have put up a satellite that powerful and kept it a secret all these years. .” There was a long pause. “Wilson’s blind. but he pulled me up anyway. “How did I get rescued? I don’t remember a thing except that I was lying on the deck hearing people moaning and afraid to move?” “Shanelle had gone to Nukus for the satellite uplink. The catwalk collapsed. But damn . It 36 .“ “Don’t think about it Hayes. . I’ve been thinking about it.” “But Shanelle’s okay? You say she looked at the beam.

” 37 . And you know what. everything so tragic and all . “I can’t tell you how ashamed I am to admit it. . It’s ironic. . . on whoever they are that did this.” “Of the year? Ofthe century. rice. You own it. all that tabloid stuff?” “I guess it’s the story of the year. got fucking money to burn. and to send it up without crowing about it. . . . But you know. I’ll probably make more money on this than I can possibly count. the thought has crossed my mind.” “Even if you just stumbled on something put on Earth a million year ago? Tough to take revenge against an act of God. or even testing it operationally once it was in space. first of all. if it is UFO stuff and I get my hands on alien technology. So something extraterrestrial seems to me to be the only alternative. . . I just decided to make a splash and have some fun. Hayes?” Margie managed a weak smile. and cotton. but that very thought has crossed my mind . Hayes. . truth is.” “How’s it changed.” The bone weary billionaire nodded his heavy head slowly. But leaving that aside. And of course I had the money . “What?” “You own that story. this who operation’s just a money pit. so many people dead or blind . Hayes?” “Well. But now that’s all changed. because even though Shanelle’s been telling everyone I’m making my money back. . one way or another I’m going to get my revenge on the .would have cost billions. aliens. Who would have thought it? UFOs. Margie . . too. Only reason I did this in the first place was because I’m getting old and I was bored. goes against everything I know about government and the military. . there’s only so much satisfaction a man can get out of buying wheat.

” 38 . Margie.“If this was an act of God. then some god is going to get his butt kicked once I figure out how to do it. You can bank on that.

” “Jackass .’ That is rather insulting and has something of the same meaning. most of which she had actually picked up during late-night conversations with a Turkish classmate during her freshman year in college. Besides. Lee suspected that for some mysterious reason he liked testing her knowledge of vulgar and sexual expressions. .” Lee looked the president in the eye and demonstrated. we wouldn’t actually use that expression in English. if you want to be more coarse . “ “Then again. the son of a donkey. Mr. just say ‘asshole!’ in a loud and very firm voice. “So many words?” “Very long and awkward. ‘you are a jackass. . 39 . . . . jackass . . you can say.’ or. “ASSHOLE!” mimicked the president.” she replied primly. Telling an American he is the son of a donkey won’t make him feel very insulted. if speaking to someone directly. “You are a donkey. Jackass means male donkey. ‘you are an asshole. . But you can say.CHAPTER FOUR “How do you say in English esholeshek?” The Turkish words President Muratbey used with Lee were always in the Istanbul dialect of Turkish she had studied in a course for diplomatic spouses at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington rather than in his native Uzbek. “ASSHOLE!” It felt very satisfying. “ “Coarse is strong? Strong insult?” “. President. .

“Defecate? Eliminate?” Lee was groping. however. Space people choose to visit all Turkic peoples. insensitive. “. . “Shit?” Muratbey’s eyes widened.” Too briefly illuminated by the grin. his land. “Literally. . .” “It actually has the same general meaning as eshek or ‘jackass’: stupid.” Muratbey grinned slyly. Kazakh. It is my land too. “Why would that be an insult?” “Insult because in old days all Turkic peoples—Uzbek. “I make joke with you. It sounds good!” “You only shout if you are talking to him directly. Lee. “Bok? Shit? Very coarse! You Americans say such?” Lee laughed wryly.” Muratbey nodded and smiled with each term. father roast in hellfire. I use it. “Calling someone an asshole is very American these days. may his . Otherwise. ASSHOLE Vahidov . . It is land of all great Turkic people. Now asshole Vahidov makes it Karakalpak land.“Very good. you use your normal voice.” “Okay.” “An insult?” ventured Lee sceptically. You seem to have a natural talent for insult. Asshole Vahidov. Turkmen. No one own the land. This is why people from space build Great Array.” Muratbey was uncomprehending. He steals our land. I’m afraid. . his face quickly returned to its usual jowly sag. ‘asshole’. “Asshole Vahidov make speech yesterday to say Karakalpak Republic is original home of mankind.” “What does it mean.” “Very American. . our heritage. . “ Lee raised her eyebrows. obstructive. it means the opening you excrete through. insignificant. even Kyrgyz—live with horses and sheep and go from one place to another. It is insult to all Turkic people.” 40 .

the Aral Sea chakra properly belongs to no one at all because it dates from before humanity. as you so eloquently explained. the people who lived here spoke old Indo-Iranian languages like Vedic. which is still to be proven. We’ve talked about this. I. Mr. but it’s the one I use. old language. “Even assuming the Great Array was made by space aliens. however. Chakra means wheel in Sanskrit. “In my opinion. According to CNN. And your people. So I say chakra. A chakra looks exactly like the Great Array . which in my opinion is a pretty silly term.” Muratbey again grinned broadly.” “Ah! I remember. didn’t appear in this part of Central Asia until about fifteen hundred years ago. You study old. Before the Turkic peoples. This is what I work on. . what you have said is rather silly.“Actually. Mr.” “Vedic?” “The language I study. the hole in the sea expedition has drilled cores down to 2500 meters without hitting anything hard. . They say this probably means that whatever machine is sending out the laser beam was built at least two million years ago.” “You say ‘chakra’ in English? On CNN I hear Great Array” “Great Array is indeed what they say on CNN. Then why does Vahidov say space people picked Karakalpak people to visit?” “Because. but it also means the shape of a cross within a circle. say chakra. President. Modern human beings don’t even appear on earth until half a million years ago. It’s a design that seems to have been sacred to the ancient Indo-Iranian people. I don’t insist that anyone else use the term. President.” Lee could sense a distant shudder pass through the body of the ambassador’s wife in Washington who had taught the course she had taken on diplomacy and protocol for embassy spouses.” 41 . the Turkic people. President Vahidov is an asshole. they would have come here long before there were any Turkic peoples.

“Mmmm. but she truly enjoyed doing it. and you only find them in the mountains—here in Ferghana.” “So there are chakras here in Ferghana?” “My dear President.” laughed Lee lightly.“How you know about chakra?” Lee sensed the pleasant warmth of a lecture welling up inside her.” “And there are chakras also in Karakalpak Republic?” Lee thought. But the Karakalpak region is all desert or cottonfield. because the ancient Indo-Iranians carved hundreds of chakra designs into rocks—circles with crosses in them. The chakras in Ferghana are perhaps five thousand years old.” “No rocks. or in Kyrgyzstan. no rocks. You need big rock surfaces to carve on. the rock carvings are one of the few surviving expressions of the mentality of the people who lived here five thousand years ago. In fact. giant serpents. no. There are even some in Sweden. At least not surviving ones. And other sorts of carvings.” “No. The Aral Sea chakra is two million years old. “Then space people came here to Ferghana and carved chakras. no. Quite a difference. I don’t believe so. “We know this.” A look of shrewd cunning pursed Muratbey’s mouth and brow. “Not possible. Mr. no chakras. President. Aside from the hymns of the Vedas. perfectly flat.” 42 . too: chariots. you wouldn’t believe how many.” “No rocks. no. no chakras—except on the floor of the Aral Sea. In the mountains. men with battleaxes. one of the reasons I came with my husband to Ferghana was to see these rock carvings in person. Donald had often chastised her for shifting into lecture mode at the drop of a hat during social occasions. Hundreds of them. for that matter.

She reflected that the president actually had a point. Tell them how to do it. “Of course. We make propaganda about chakra. carve pictures. Make jobs for Ferghana people. . . “Remote possibility is enough for asshole Vahidov! Enough possibility for asshole. “Actually. your name not be used. . belatedly rediscovering a sense of diplomacy. you know I must ask Ambassador Bane before I do anything at all of an official sort. Before eyes Muratbey’s shrewd look evolved into one of triumphant decision. . . So you make this publicity to help all Ferghana people. . you like people of Ferghana.” replied Lee. . . saw Great Array and drew pictures of it. don’t we . You would just help.“Then Ferghana people .” 43 .” “It was under water. come home. Story of Ferghana chakras will be told by Ferghana scientists. . . Tourists and scientists and reporters come to Ferghana to see chakras. Scientists from Ferghana study big chakra. tell world about ancient science of Ferghana. They bring in money for the country. we like each other. You must help their pride against asshole Karakalpaks.” Lee’s internal alarm system whooped in her brain. Now you must help me and help people of Ferghana.” For once Lee was grateful for protocol. . perhaps. President. Rivers run other place. you like me . “Lee .” “A remote possibility. . Mr.” “But I don’t know how. You would have to hire a public relations firm. Just like they go to Aral Sea. The Aral Sea was a shallow body of water and might indeed have been dry in some earlier era. I like you . however much I like you and the wonderful people of Ferghana.” “Perhaps not five thousand years ago.” Then his face suddenly brightened in a crafty porcine smile. . . very much . Perhaps no water then. I even had to ask her for permission to hold our conversation classes. Ferghana scientists .

” she said placatingly.” Muratbey stood up suddenly and extended his hand. Chakras are Ferghana secret. But then a glance at the clock at the top of her computer screen told her that the sound was simply Donald coming home unusually early. “No. You would find way. metrical anomalies. She forced him from her mind with difficulty and repaired to her study where her beloved laptop computer was sitting open-faced between Grassmann’s German-Vedic dictionary and Geldner’s German translation of the Rig Veda. “Of course I will speak to Ambassador Bane. As if late for another engagement. “I leave now. Lee puzzled for a few minutes over Muratbey’s behavior and then reminded herself that since she didn’t like the man.” Lee wondered what Benjamin Fraklin had to do with anything.“You are American. as she got up to answer the knock on the door. she thought. sacrificial rituals. She was astonished to think that she had worked without stop through the entire afternoon. thank you for lesson. Forgot his key. Lee stumbled getting to her feet and upset an empty tea glass that tinkled without breaking on its glass saucer. She slipped into her carpet-draped desk chair and immediately lost herself in a contemplation of aorist tenses. Don’t worry. Muratbey’s warm pudgy hand grabbed hers briefly and gave it a single quick pump. “Lee. I understand your position. Don’t speak to ambassador. trying to understand him would be a waste of her valuable time. I take care of everything. 44 . and the like. The sound of a car in the driveway stirred her to look up.” Startled by the unaccustomed abruptness of the his leave-taking. I read about Benjamin Fraklin. he turned on his heel and was out the door without a further word of goodbye.” he said formally.

. “I know who you are. Ingalls.” “Not so gifted as his intelligence chief. in gathering from your remark that you have been . placing his gold-braided hat beside him. my English lessons with President Muratbey.” “My dear president. . . Major Park.” His accent was British and formal. it would seem. It is cold. as it were.” Lee seated herself tensely on a straight wooden chair. not a particularly gifted linguist. Major. “You have added some lovely Turkmen carpets to the walls. “Am I correct. I will accept an invitation to sit down. Ingalls.” said the uniformed officer standing on her doorstep with his gold-braided hat under his arm. The major chose the middle of the overstuffed. Mrs. following? . Mrs.” “Thank you. Perhaps he would be better advised to spend his time practicing English with you. Unfortunately. .” replied Lee stiffly. .“Good afternoon. still furnished in the unpretentious sofa and chairs and the lacquered wood book cabinets of the family the Ingalls were renting from. “We were introduced at Ambassador Bane’s. . is that the right word? . May I come in?” Lee stepped aside to admit the much feared and much whispered about chief of the Ferghana Republic’s internal security police.” “I remember the occasion with great pleasure. however. plum-upholstered sofa. Major Park surveyed the comfortable living room. Major Park. May I make you a cup of tea?” “As you do for my president? I would not presume upon such a favor. “I am Major Dimitri Park. You have a keen eye for what is new here.” 45 . Major. Combine business with learning.

Not from its own citizens. Mrs.“Thank you for the compliment. one’s manner does not always serve one’s best interest. Ingalls. Either way. Only a few of us understand and appreciate the undiplomatic diplomat. my president seldom seeks my company unless he needs to know something. “Rumor has it. Mrs. Mrs. Now Uzbeks and Tajiks run everything. diligent students. Many years ago I majored in American Literature at Moscow State University. For the rest.” “A sad fate indeed. alas. we Koreans end up with the dirty jobs. We’re the Jews of Central Asia: hard workers. Alas. but. pray tell. . As I am sure you are aware. I’m sure your style is very much appreciated in New York City. as in the bad old days. Ingalls. attentive to detail. . and the Koreans of Central Asia have always been given the unpleasant jobs. But I am not offended.” “You are mocking me. however. And even then I think he keeps his hands in his pockets for fear I will cut off his fingers. even in these democratic times when the only mission remaining for our shrunken Internal Security Ministry is to protect our Republic from outside intruders. everywhere mistrusted. what should I say . But here in Kokand everything is so primitive. I was an apt pupil and a voracious reader. Russians and Ukrainians ran everything. part of your charm. Major.” 46 . Ingalls. But I am Korean. It is .” “And what.” Lee was neither amused nor comfortable having the secret police officer in her house. is my ‘best interest’? Since I have diplomatic immunity and would not regret for one instant being expelled from this delightful country. . I actually feel quite free to speak my mind. and even then have always been mistrusted. Before independence. Major. .” “Perhaps. that you rather enjoyed the bad old days. good at business. I have the misfortune of being feared and distrusted.

“I don’t?” “No. Ingalls. Mrs. “ “Outside intruders. Believe me. .” said the Major gently. It challenges them. “You look as though you are prepared to offer an example of my misunderstanding people. We would have it no other way. It is just as you say. forceful women.” “Consider my dear president. He has been coming to you for English conversation for five months. my eavesdropping has been more concerned with my president’s welfare. but I learn what is said.” “He reports this to you?” “Not knowingly. than 47 . Ferghana is a land of complete freedom.” Lee felt both frightened and angry. Ingalls. Of course. I am not an amateur. Ingalls. I told you it was my job to keep track of . his safety. “You have a lot of nerve.” “No need to become upset.” Lee looked around the room trying to guess where the unsuspected bugs were hidden. But don’t you find that sometimes your attitude gets in the way of your understanding other people?” Major Park leaned forward earnestly. Major Park. Mrs. “Don’t trouble yourself to search. He finds you most charming. The Turks historically have a strong liking for determined. “Mrs.“Free. . Do you realize that my husband took leave from a job that paid him more than the president of the United States in order to help jump-start your ghastly economy? Without outside intruders like Donald you would be chopping down the sycamores in the palace park to keep warm this winter. But you don’t always seem to understand what the president is saying.” Lee was surprised.

I read Longfellow’s poem The Courtship of Miles Standish.” “Precisely so! Very well put.” The Major seemed relieved that his awkward message had been delivered. Don’t you think the American Secret Service concerns itself with whom their President visits socially?” “Am I a danger to President Muratbey. “Like John Alden. Needless to 48 . But he ends up fading into silence because he can’t think how to do it. it would be quite sad. “When I was as Moscow State University. “Seduce me?” “Exactly. then?” asked Lee icily. You are familiar with it?” “I read it in high school. Perhaps I can improve my attitude. Mrs. Every time he comes for a lesson. anyway. at the risk of seeming blunt. “Well. leaving aside the fact that I am married to an American diplomat and therefore could not possibly entertain a relationship of the sort your president had in mind.” “Major Park. I must tell you that President Muratbey is grossly unappealing in both his person and his intellect and that he hasn’t the slightest notion how to make a pass at a woman. “you seem not to have grasped that President Muratbey has been seeking to seduce you.with your husband’s business activities.” Major Park picked up his hat and looked down at it as he adjusted its gold braid. I have been sent here to tell you that. He confided in me in hopes that my better English skills would enable me to speak effectively on his behalf.” Lee sat up straight as if prodded in the posterior with a pin. His problem exactly. Ingalls. “Just what is it about my conversations with him that you find insensitive. he tries to drop hints with the idea of turning to romance at the end of the lesson. If he had any attractive features at all. “I thought perhaps you might guess. But what does that have to do with anything?” The Major sighed.” He didn’t look up.

He should have been satisfied with mooning about.” “Oh. Here’s how Longfellow describes Standish: ‘Short of stature he was.” Major Park was smiling./Broad in the shoulders. You must believe me when I tell you that he is just abjectly despondent at his inability to express his affection. deep-chested. don’t you think?” Lee laughed again. “So that’s why The Courtship of Miles Standish. he wants you to help him use what you call the chakra carvings to embarrass or steal tourist dollars away from the great Karakalpak Rabbit Dropping. But I can’t say I’m flattered either. Now it will be impossible for us to continue our conversations. I can’t believe President Muratbey actually sent you to ask me to go to bed with him.’ Fits our president quite well. but he insisted that I come. Miles Standish Muratbey to a T. he was trying to get me to work on some sort of tourist promotion project for him. I. “And a belly as large as a watermelon.say. If I understood correctly. “Then you are not offended. was surprised at his abrupt change of tactic so I took the time to collect and review today’s tape.” Lee suddenly started to laugh. I can refuse him nothing? I will be so intoxicated with passion that I will help him without informing my ambassador? What a grand opinion he has of himself. So I called him back and confirmed that this was indeed his idea. “He thinks if I am his lover. I told him that my studies did not instruct me on such matters. This was also an odd day to do it since just before he left. with muscles and sinews of iron.” “I thought it might give me an idea so I just reread it before coming here.” 49 . and a face that looks like a pig. I guess not.” Lee was still benused and astonished. but strongly built and athletic. too. From this I surmised that he asked me to relay his confession of affection for you as a means of persuasion.” “He called me about an hour and a half ago.

When Park returned ten minutes later.” “Who is the woman?” “A political officer at the Cuban embassy. smooth-featured Korean officer drew a small tape recorder from his coat and placed it on the coffee table.” The compact. “You must have had much practice in these matters. bitter. even for his intoxicating embrace. this is one of the many ways in which he has not adjusted his attitude since independence. The streaks of tears lined her stunned face. actually. I must go out and speak to my driver. many women found it convenient and rewarding to sleep with men with big bellies and pig faces.” “Well. I’m sure you will figure it out. I must tell you. Lee was still sitting in the straight chair. you can tell him that my bond to my husband is too sacred for me to sacrifice. “Would you excuse me for a few minutes. I made a special exception for you.” “None at all. In those times. he has had great romantic success in his time.” Lee sensed a tightening of the sleek brown skin over Major Park’s cheekbones. “I suppose it was considerate of you to leave the room. It has a stronger impact. slightly shaky voice. Ingalls.” 50 . Major Park? Your reputation?” “You are an intelligent woman.“He is a man formed in the Soviet era. Unfortunately. Mrs. “You will not?” “Why do I think you are going to persuade me that I will.” “Then you still will not help him with his project?” “I will not. The tape recorder had been turned off. Ingalls.” replied the Major standing before her. “Normally I remain. Mrs.” she said in a hard.” He turned the small device on and stepped softly to the door.

What is a public relations project to you is a major act of psychological warfare for him.Lee eyes began again to leak tears.” Lee looked at the Turkmen carpets she and Donald had enjoyed picking out in the bazaar.” 51 . Why couldn’t he have used with me some of those words he used with her?” She hid her face in her hands. I know. I’m sure you’ve bugged our bedroom on the off-chance your president might get lucky. Moreover. But no one should ever underestimate Rejep Muratbey’s hatred for Ahmet Vahidov. though you may not believe this. The toughest part is that Donald never admitted knowing a word of Spanish beyond si and cerveza. I gather I am now to work for him to protect my husband. “having refused to work for President Muratbey out of passion.” she said at length.” “Isn’t that a rather small thing in comparison with blackmailing the woman you claim to have affection for?” “So it might seem. my cooperation with the pig will keep you from telling Ambassador Bane that her evangelist of the almighty dollar is sleeping with the enemy. He shouldn’t rely too heavily on my sense of wifely loyalty. . I’ll throw Donald to the wolves. It’s a little fragile at the moment.” “Yes. her shoulders shaking with quiet sobs. and it’s not likely to get much stronger. Recovering her composure.” “He only wants help on the chakra. “Tell that pig that if he puts a single finger on me. ” Lee interrupted curtly. she looked at the Major. I think he still hopes to win you by charm now that you know the truth about . Through a strangled sob she managed a sorrowful laugh. Since my country still considers Cuba a hostile regime. . “It’s funny. “Going back to what we were talking about before.” “Of course you do. “I suppose you know we don’t have a perfect marriage.

“They’re both crazy. John?”’ Permit me to say that I would love to see your eyes running with laughter for that reason. Lee turned her head toward him and saw what seemed at a distance to be a blush on his cheeks. gazing at the Turkmen carpets. Ingalls. Mrs. Mrs. I’ll tell him./Said. “I promise he will not trouble you on such matters. “The poem is also about John Alden. Lee remained seated.” he said awkwardly. No more friendly conversations. he turned and looked back at her sympathetically.” He paused uncertain how to proceed. With his hand on the knob. with eyes running with laughter.“No sex. “Oh my god.” There was a long pause as if the Major were pondering what to say next.” Major Park walked to the door and placed his hat on his head. “the reason I brought up Longfellow’s poem was not just to explain that I was here to speak on Muratbey’s behalf.” With that he bowed slightly and exited swiftly through the front door.” whispered Lee as the door closed. As Longfellow put it: ‘Archly the maiden smiled. Ingalls. in a tremulous voice. “After all.” 52 . and. “Why don’t you speak for yourself.

“top dog. And we think the Russians are goin’ for it.” she in an echo of the president’s Appalachian twang. George. given her no-holds-barred personality. each of the agency reps had a sheaf of paper in hand.” whispered CIA’s Anthony Stone to the newcomer from NASA sitting beside him. to get repeated fasttrack promotions even before Rankin’s election. but Artunian insisted on brief oral presentations to get to the pith of the analysis and did not shy away from cutting people off with a bushy-browed scowl. the National Intelligence Estimate.CHAPTER FIVE Putting together the NIE. comely. DIA can start today. favorite. and therefore George Artunian’s. but because she was the only person in the room other than George himself who could make an appointment and talk personally to the President. every agency eager to cover its backside in case its views proved wrong. “Two words. “Steph.” 53 . Naval captain Stephanie Low of the Defense Intelligence Agency was President Rankin’s. was never a pretty process—every agency eager to have its views dominate. George mused from time to time at what formidable talents she must have displayed.” “Again today. As usual. Not just because she was female or. Whoever gets that laser technology is top dog. National Security Advisor and presidential intimate George Artunian rode herd on the operation with unwavering sensitivity to the American presidential reading speed and attention span. in a buxom and round-faced way.

” “That means overflying Kazakh airspace. no. couldn’t the Russians invade Kazakhstan from the north? The Kazakhs surely can’t fight two wars.” “You bet. They want the laser too. two of the second. Same as they did in Afghanistan in 1979. three divisions of the first. Best bet be drop in paratroopers.” 54 .” “Kazakhs going to let them?” “Hell. And behind them the Iranians probably willin’ to mix it up. and if that don’t work.“Going for it?” “Lean on Vahidov hard as possible.” “If the Kazakhs moved south against the Karakalpaks. Steph?” “Gettin’ there’s most of the trip. Russians don’t. Problem is. kill Vahidov. but without a bunch of tribes in a position to cause them trouble. find a local boy to take his place. you got your Uzbeks and Turkmen waitin’ to jump in if they see a chance.“ “How would the Russians get to Nukus. Russian paratroopers’d probably face Kazakh land forces comin’ ‘cross that border. But then. Big prize—big fight. There’s also been a call-up of paratroop officers let go in last year’s force cuts. take Nukus airport. they’ll just go and take it. And they got a land border with Vahidov. Russians attackin’ Kazakhstan in the north still don’t protect those paratroops in Nukus. of course. Karakalpaks couldn’t defense a squad of cheerleaders. doesn’t it. Russians are stronger. ‘less they take out Kazakh air defense on day one so’s they can reinforce by air. but they’d have a problem with reinforcement and resupply. Since January 10 we got armor and mechanized infantry build-up on the Kazakh-Russian border.” “Can’t fight one against anyone other than the Karakalpaks.

. ‘Cept drop bombs. leaned and whispered in the CIA man’s ear. So after collectin’ and analyzin’ and collectin’ and analyzin’. He cast a quick look at the captain’s lush form and then turned his attention to the representative from INR. the State Department’s Intelligence and Research arm. Agency view is that Russia is gettin’ ready to move. George. of course.” Dr.“I get the picture.” The NASA astrophysicist. he made a speech saying that as co-sharer of the Aral Sea— but.” “That an Agency view. Gilmartin sensed that his mouth was gaping open and closed it quickly. But what good that gonna do us? Best way to keep things from gettin’ real messy is to put some NATO pressure on the Russians to keep their boys at home. She’s from West Virginia and dated the president in high school. Steph?” “You know me better’n that. Hell. Recommendation?” “First off. “How can she say things like that? She’s only a captain. Agency doesn’t make your strategic recommendations. On the fourth. the Great Array is entirely in Karakalpak territorial waters—Kazakhstan 55 . That’s my view. you gotta realize that we can’t do a goddam thing outselves that far from open seas or friendly soil. . who had already begun speaking. “Stephanie can say anything she likes. attending the NIE only since the catastrophic exchange of laser beams. Rumor has it that’s what made her decide to become a lesbian. we can drop bombs anywhere. of course.” Anthony Stone whispered back. The Kazakh president flew from Almaty to Moscow on January second—that’s a holiday so not a usual time for a diplomatic visit—and flew back the next day. Manual says its mission is to collect and analyze military intelligence. “ . so we concur with DIA that Russia is making preparations to take over the Karakalpak Republic.

of course. He riffled through several pages. Will. Everyone knows we’re too far away and have too few usable assets to be a front-line player. President Vahidov responded on the fifth with a press conference in which he said the Karakalpak Republic would defend to the death any effort to compromise its national sovereignty or infringe its borders. Will? Or is this a dissertation on diplomatic history?” William Stevens. on the seventh . and how to keep his goddam brother out of the casino business?“ The stiff and embarrassed diplomat opened his mouth searching for a reply.would not permit any single country to monopolize the Array’s possible scientific benefits. . looked up from his text and then glanced down at it again with a furrowed brow. The same day. these weak new countries are just as afraid of us as they are of the Russians. but it was obviously intended as a warning to Moscow as well. This was in direct response to what the Kazakh president had said. how?” “No one has approached us for diplomatic help so far. ” “Have we got a wind-up here. .” 56 . “There’s a complicated balancing process underway. The question is what do you want the President to keep in his mind—along with how to fund next year’s congressional elections. how to keep fundamentalists and the gays from bashing him. the official Iranian news agency. “You can stuff the details in later. Then. how to respond to fifty editorials a day saying he’s wishy-washy. IRNA.” “Thank you. distributed a statement by Iran’s Revolutionary Guide defending Karakalpak sovereignty and calling on the five Caspian littoral states to enter into an consortium to extend technical assistance to the Karakalpaks. and we can’t predict the outcome. Can we influence it? And if so. Besides. the INR rep.

Stevens. pump out the slurry. But the Russians? It would take roughly their whole gross 57 . So Carpenter’s drilling at an angle from a point just inside the caisson circle aiming to intersect the side of the underground mass. diagnostic soil runs out at 7500 meters in all of them. Echo locaters confirm a big solid mass under the bullseye at that level. and take a look with a remote camera. You know something I don’t. Hayes Carpenter was a Republican and President Rankin a Democrat. Tony? What have you got from CIA?” “Reports from intelligence assets with Carpenter’s team.” “What’s the estimate on digging the thing up?” “Carpenter-Beckenbaugh’s a big.” said Stevens tentatively.“So we have nothing. That it? The President of the most powerful nation on earth should just twiddle his thumbs and watch on CNN as the Russians take control of a very possibly extra-terrestrial laser technology that could be as important as the atomic bomb?” “There’s the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation.” “Our assets?” “Azerbaijanis. four holes have been drilled. They can probably do it. Mr. given a couple of years. rich corporation. “Last I heard. Since the expedition got restaffed and back on track. Carpenter is an American. Presumably it’s a power source and the laser emitter itself. Now they can’t drill straight down through the bullseye because no one knows when the laser’s going to blow again. Mr. Stevens?” “Mr. They’re sharing with us in return for future favors.” “Thank you for that thought. sir. Then he’s going to force down a solvent to dissolve some of the surrounding rock. two on the perimeter ring and two on the crossbars.

Forty-eight inch pipe. Our essential problem is that assuming the laser transponder in 58 . and there’s no place to put the Aral Sea in the meantime except to build a pipeline to the Caspian and drain it. have given us a good sense of where to look. Even if they avoid a war. If we don’t accept the deal. We think the military build-up is designed to scare us into offering a deal: they go in with our blessing and support. Anyway. assuming that the satellite is in geosynchronous orbit. But once you start a major excavation. you’re going to get too much seepage. to cut it short. and we furnish the capital and expertise to dig up the laser. “The time and the angle of the first exchange between the Array and what we presume is a satellite. scientifically absurd. Share the rewards. somewhere around the average orbit of Mars—although the idea of a geosynchronous orbit that far out is. yes.national product for five years. of course.” began the scientist nervously. Michael Gilmartin. 7500 meters is a hell of a deep hole. Tony? The space option?” “Won’t know anything until we find the satellite the Great Array communicates with. we don’t think there’s a chance in a million that Russia will go in. we risk getting shut out. combined with the two subsequent emissions from the Array on December 16th and 24th. what we’ve got here is a bluff. sir. In other words. “NASA? How are we going on finding where the laser from the sky came from?” “Hubble is still working on it. highly saline water—it’s a big job. they don’t have the resources to excavate the thing.” Artunian turned to Dr.” “Doesn’t the hole in the sea take care of that problem?” “For purposes of working on the surface of the seafloor or drilling a hole.” “What about the other end. And we know from the time gap between the first emission and the return signal a likely maximum distance.

as these things go. a manned inspection flight would require a big commitment. Gilmartin. and thank you again for coming.” “And supposing we do locate it.” “How about bringing it back?” The astrophysicist shrugged. Anything manned after that. Dr. thought George Artunian. even though Hubble is optically powerful enough to resolve it. “It would be fairly easy. “Thank you. Gilmartin. or even half that distance. “Depends on how big it is. If it would transmit to Earth again. minimum another five years. of course. But if it’s as far out as Mars.” said Artunian reassuringly. he’s on on buddy terms with Vahidov. But unfortunately no instruments were correctly placed to pinpoint the incoming beam in the first exchange. Tony? Something else from CIA?” “Just that I don’t think we should rule out Hayes Carpenter. there’s a lot of space to search. now—a couple of years for the probe. Dr. we’d have a better chance of nailing it. as we would expect from half billion dollar gift.” “What’s our time horizon?” “After we find it—we’re talking Mars distance. of course.” And another administration. “He’s sunk a billion dollars into this already—a billion and a half if stories about a personal bribe to President Vahidov are true.” 59 . we might have to attach some sort of propulsion unit.” William Stevens looked relieved and surprised at support for his earlier suggestion coming from an unexpected quarter. And.space is dark and roughly the size of the Array’s bullseye. The two of them drink vodka together. Something small might be towed and released in a near Earth orbit. If it’s as big as the whole Array. to design a probe to intercept and photograph it.

the technology ends up in American hands without the government having to spend a dime. which he probably will as long as Vahidov is in power. and he likes the Marlboro type. The point is. I know Carpenter supported the Republicans handsomely in the last campaign and has said some harsh things about the President. They’ll have to depend on Carpenter. Pure Texas oil. he’s engaged a lot more than money in this. had with an old friend. His kind of man. I drink vodka with the Chairman of the Republican Party when the occasion calls for it. He’ll probably pay Vahidov a personal licensing fee. Carpenter-Beckenbaugh end up with whatever technology they uncover. That’s what Woodrow is. We got a transcript of a conversation Margie Hicks. But the Karakalpaks aren’t equipped to develop anything. In other words. and in the end. Doesn’t matter whether they’re Russian or American.” “Howso?” “Carpenter thought the world of a man named Wilson Woodrow. but I think his motivations here might go beyond politics. Hicks says that Carpenter almost went crazy at the thought he had caused Woodrow’s blindness. But that doesn’t mean I’d let him babysit my dog. or royalty.” “What about Vahidov?” “Well. All we have to 60 . but that is apparently his frame of mind. he has the financial and technical resources to do the job. when you think about the Array maybe being millions of years old. Carpenter’s news aide. or something for the Karakalpak share. he gets it too. Carpenter started out as an itinerant harvesting hand in the Dakotas. Now Woodrow’s blind for life.” “Point taken. Says he swore a vendetta against whoever the bad guys might turn out to be. if Carpenter continues to run things. George. and he’s not going to be very happy with anyone taking over from him. In any case. Sounds weird. of course.“Tony.

and possibly some other sort of emission from the laser. sir. 61 . Our information is that they think that under the heat and pressure of the laser the stuff sinters into a red-transparent solid and then reverts to particle form when the laser turns off. with all due respect for CIA wisdom. Now.” “Steph?” “Mr.” “What’s ‘sinters’ mean?” “I’m not a metallurgist. It seems to have to do with the particle size and shape. he’ll get plenty of return on the technology without building weapons.do is lay back. You got anything for us this time?” NSA Deputy Director Tom Thayer was representing his agency.” “Excites me. but only temporarily. Okay. do we want Mr. but apparently there are metallic powders that go directly into a solid form under heat and pressure without melting first. He’s already set up a lab to work with that funny soil. what if that technology is as militarily significant as it appears to be? That there laser blew away a two hundred ton drilling platform in less than ten seconds. George.” said Artunian drily. National Security Agency. “Nothing important to add.” he said succinctly. And we got a report says it could do the same thing to any one of our satellites. Stone. the stuff from the bullseye. The powder in the Array apparently does the same thing. What would he do with it? Rule the world? Realistically. keep the flies shooed away. The process is called sintering. and wait for capitalism to work its mighty magic. “Probably put the President off his feed for a day. Hayes Carpenter to have that as his private plaything?” “I don’t think we have to worry about that.

Chief wants new ideas. we win. the nation’s premier agency for code-breaking and intercepting electronic communications. and we’re not players. Columbia Earth Institute and everyone else in the world.” The real struggle for priority of analytical judgement began the moment George Artunian departed the room and continued for hours. Congress. two-thirds of them looking more like out-at-the-elbow college professors than top intelligence and counterintelligence experts. and he wants them yesterday. “It’s ten-thirty. not of space aliens. If we decipher it. and it’s even money that someone else will beat us to it. “And so are MIT.” put in Wolfgang Zuckermann mildly. we get funded for reading the mail of other humans. Caltech. They had had nothing of importance to contribute during the entire six months since the Great Array’s discovery. I’ll fill in the boss over lunch and expect the printed version on my desk by four. “Division heads.” 62 . “Everyone!” he shouted to his secretary.“That’s it? Anyone else? Good.” “We are working night and day on those signals that seem to have been included in the laser emissions. The next morning Tom Thayer burst out of the NSA Director’s office with afterburners flaring. That’s public domain. Work hard folks.” Artunian looked at his watch. But we haven’t deciphered it yet. Now!” It took five minutes for the dozen heads to assemble. and everyone else want to know something about the Great Array. The only loser from the very start was NSA. We’re not going back into the NIE to sit on our thumbs. Remember. President. “Chief says we’re embarrassing ourselves and jeopardizing our funding. my office.

“Good.” contributed programming chief Dwight Badger with a chuckle that others joined in on. “Trolling the Internet yet. Kazakhstan. Dwight. “but they’ve got damn good encryption. but not Hayes Carpenter.“We could put a broader blanket over the Karakalpaks. and Uzbekistan as well. “Do it. “ started Badger only to trail off after a glance at Thayer’s face. . Anything else?” “I didn’t really mean .” “Break it! I can tolerate ET holding out on us.” suggested Suzanne Eastwick. And not just the Karakalpaks.” The heads of the three decryption divisions made in-your-lifetime-if-you’relucky eyes at each other. What about Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation?” “We’re monitoring. . Particularly military. Dwight?” “Crawl under a rock and die.” “What a charming idea. no-levity gaze. Lets focus down on signal traffic from Turkmenistan. Suzanne Eastwick stuck her head in Dwight Badger’s office an hour later. Suzanne. Thayer fixed him with a ferocious. Who’s the chump who gets to do it?” “Who can I spare?” 63 . “We could troll the Internet for something. The bald and bespectacled agency wiseguy was staring out the window with a clouded look that belied the bright green and yellow cheeriness of his bow tie.” replied Eastwick. Search the Internet.

“We’re going all out on the Great Array. the note thrown in the wastebasket. That’s my principle. “Somewhere in the world. find the back door. That’s what national security is all about. Joseph Engineer knocked and entered and took a proffered seat to the left of Badger’s desk.” With that. Could be anyone. in your section? Just about everyone so far as I can see. Responding to his boss’s summons. someone knows something we need to know. are you ready for a special job?” “Yes. Never underestimate the enemy. Works great for getting the coffee made.“Mmmmm. she disappeared down the corridor. the hidden key.” “Then use your youngest.” Suzanne had all the intercept software she required and did not always see the purpose of Badger’s programming division.” Joe wondered if he was expected to have such an idea. we need to know that too. Things CIA hasn’t even dreamed about. New approaches. sir?” 64 . “Joseph. Go out.” Joe felt that the mention of the Agency’s Driector called for straighter posture. Badger?” “This one’s straight from the Chief. “Are you kidding? We’re up to our ears writing signal analysis programs for the laser emissions. New ideas. Could be anywhere.” “The enemy. Badger thought for a moment. Dr. Never satisfy yourself with the obvious. Joseph. then picked up his telephone and punched in four numbers. And if they don’t.

” “Troll the Internet.” “Why would you look there?” “To find out if anyone knows anything we should know. the Chief wants us to listen in on what they say. good-looking fellow from an immigrant Indian family. And I’m a programmer. Badger. “Fact of the matter is.” “No you don’t.” “You mean search the Internet? Sift the digital sewage of the entire planet? Dr. Where would you look. I don’t think they’re likely to log onto an AOL chat room. as a place to look.D. fair enough. fresh from Carnegie-Mellon University. Everybody says the Array was built by space aliens two million years ago. diligent.” Dwight Badger looked sympathetically at the twenty-five year old programmer. Badger. Joseph?” “Dr. and you tell me how you would go about searching. I think you’re asking the wrong person. A bright young Ph. personable. Joseph.” “Fair enough. I know I don’t need to tell you what the ratio is of signal to noise on the Internet. Then I’ll tell you.” 65 . Now supposing you were to look for that back door. and even-tempered—Badger felt like a movie general sending a young hero on a suicide mission.” “And posts it to a newsgroup? Or sets up a website? I don’t get it.” “You’re kidding. on the off-chance that they do log onto an AOL chat room. I’ve only been working here for a year.“I’m speaking figuratively. that hidden key. What about the Internet?” “What about it?” “I mean. His words. as a programmer. Joseph.

” “Sir. And in the meantime there’s probably going to be a Nobel Prize for whoever gets to first base deciphering the laser signal.“And wouldn’t you agree that the probability of there being anything on the Internet of value to find is approximately zero?” “To at least a dozen decimal places. You have committed the sin of being too young.” “How long am I supposed to do this?” “As long as it takes to get results. have I done something wrong?” Badger looked at him with what he hoped was paternal kindness.” “No need to get heated.” 66 . “Yes. Joseph. you have. Joseph.” “But there are no results to get.

” He pivoted smoothly to face Takahashi. Shanelle Whittaker cancelled out. and the sound woman attached their mikes.” “What the fuck she cancel out for?” “She apologized. I hate it when the news is commercialized!” Paul Henning walked into the studio and shook hands with his guests. Paul leaned into the camera. “Sorry. “Dr. or. same to you. why are we having that bore Stein on? All he does is harp on Russian plots. The director’s fingers counted down.” “God. Dr. “Good morning and welcome to Sunday Special. the cosmic light show. Takahashi.” The director pointed out the guests’ assigned seats. Reverend Silvester Smith of Riverside Church. Paul.CHAPTER SIX “Dotty.” The diminutive producer of Sunday Special looked up from the telephone cradled between her shoulder and her chin. and Dr. good to have you with us again. and today we’re going to look into some of the theories concerning the Great Array. “Dr. Stein. Abraham Stein of the Council on Foreign Relations. Guy doesn’t know when the game’s over. as some people are calling it. I’m Paul Henning. Said it was a judgement call whether appearing would help or hurt the launch of their ‘Hole in the Sea’ movie on Tuesday. Yasuo Takahashi of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. I had to find an emergency replacement. 67 . And Reverend Smith. My guests are Dr. once again noting that he looked more like a character from a Japanese action cartoon than an earth scientist. Takahashi. it’s an honor.

the core sample analyses coming out of Istanbul and Ankara seem to confirm that the Array’s overburden. None of the so-called military experts quoted in the press. In other words. lets turn to the purpose that might have been served by this Array. There have been a lot of theories.” “Dr. But that also means the probe must proceed slowly and carefully so that it doesn’t accidentally damage the reactor. that is still operative after two million years. this means that it must have been placed there approximately two million years ago.” “Mostly bad.” “That’s the second important point. Paul.you were one of the first important scientists to become convinced of the extraterrestrial origin of the Great Array. would have been the enemy two million years ago? The most important thing to realize about the Array is that both the outgoing and incoming laser beams contained what appear to be digitized messages. But whether it is a communication device that has either long 68 . Given the depth of the laser. but I can pick out some highlights. Tell us what we know now that we didn’t know a month ago. “We’ll know more when the angular probe into the bullseye reaches the proper level because then we should be able to detect any radiation that is now being absorbed by the rock layers. the layers of sedimentary rock lying on top of it. Takahashi. are undisturbed except in the discoloration area of the Array itself. that would mean a nuclear power plant using radioactive isotopes with very long half lives. for example.” Paul furrowed his brow for the camera but decided not to interrupt. First. If it were our technology. It has a power source. has presented a plausible case for the Array itself being a weapon. after all. and a very strong one.” “That would take all day.” “But it’s still working. Who. the Array is most likely a communication device.

Given the many cycles of ice ages since the Array was installed. Unless there are some very.” “But doesn’t the return beam from space indicate that the communication is still going on?” “Well. a receiver responds with a beam that says.” “Makes you wonder what they thought of Earth when they came here. But since there’s nothing to 69 . just not during recorded history. we don’t know. depending on the size of the movie budget. very old beings out there. The beam exchange that killed so many people was probably what computer people call a handshake protocol. this system is probably a relic that stopped being useful to its builders long before the evolution of humans. of course. or whether for some reason it was intended only to communicate when the Aral Sea was dry. is that both the Array and the satellite could have been built to long outlast their mission. however. At least in a sense. Science fiction writers usually have people on hand to welcome visitors from space. The point to keep in mind. What is puzzling is that whoever built the Array. What have you got to say?’ Same thing that happens when your modem at home contacts your Internet server. ‘I hear you. presumably when the seafloor was dry. A more sensible location for continuous communication would have been on high ground. must have realized that it was in a depression. Is anybody listening?’ Somewhere on a satellite or asteroid. and they usually land near big cities or remote rural towns. just the way some of our own early space probes are still broadcasting even though they’ve gone much too far from Earth for us to pick up the signal. That suggests that builders probably planned to use the Array for a fairly limited period of time. the Aral Sea has been dry a number of times. yes.” “It’s hard to imagine. ‘I’m here. The beam shoots up from the bullseye and says.outlived its purpose.

Reverend.” A makeup man stepped onto the set and combed a portion of Paul Henning’s lacquered hairdo back into place. “We are back with Sunday Special. Takahashi. A red light went on atop the camera with the teleprompter.” The generously proportioned grey-haired man of the cloth looked perfectly relaxed. “It’s great to have you here.” called the director. it’s actually much more probable that real space visitors would have arrived eons ago.” “Remarkable.” “Tell us.” “Back on four!” called the director. what are the religious implications of this prehistoric visitation from outer space?” 70 . So while it might seem ironic that our visitors arrived when our early mammal ancestors had brains the size of marbles and were hiding in trees. “Not after having my own show for thirteen years. When we come back. Make sure Dotty has your beeper number so we can get you down here if there is breaking news. Takahashi. Paul smiled at the grey-suited minister to his left. some religious and political views on the Great Array. You continue to fascinate us. Humans have only been around for a tiny. and that they managed to pick what would in our day become one of the most remote places on the globe to land on. It actually feels good to be back. are you. tiny fraction of the planet’s lifetime.coordinate the evolution of life on one planet and that on another.” “You’re off. Paul. it’s actually much more probable than what you see in the movies. Dr. My next guest is Reverend Silvester Smith of Riverside Church. “That was terrific. Reverend. His appearance repaired. You’re up next. You’re no stranger to television. Dr.

S. Takahashi suggests. Reverend?” “Paul. I’ve always found the arguements for life on faraway planets logically convincing. when I think about that Great Array. because it is unfolding over centuries at divine command. some of them still ongoing. I’m an old man. to listen for coherent messages from other planets. was placed under the Aral Sea by God during the six days of creation. That’s because some fundamentalist Christians are saying that the Array. We may not be able to understand that purpose. and that it’s activation now is a sign of the coming of the Apocalypse. I am convinced that whoever or whatever placed it here had foreknowledge that humans would someday evolve and discover it. and I remember well the novels of celestial theology by C. is that there is now proof that humans are not the only intelligent beings in the universe.” “Do you believe it is a relic. and then the early efforts. every one of the world’s great religions has its own understanding of this phenomenon.” “What do you believe. like the fossils of dinosaurs. Paul. or an active communicator?” 71 . But that thought has never swayed me from my belief that we humans are on this planet for some divine purpose. and the inadvertent tragedy it brought upon the people who were seeking to understand it. as Dr. The one thing almost everyone agrees on. Paul. just as every religion has its own beliefs and traditions concerning the heavens and who might live there. But each one of us has a very special role to play in the divine scheme of things. however. Lewis.“Of course.” “You say almost. And some new sects are saying that time becomes bent and that future humans went back in time and put the Array there for some reason we won’t be able to discern until some future time.” “That’s right.

he continued to maintain the interested but politically aloof posture that was obviously decided on as administration policy months ago. For example. “You’re not the first to suggest that. he’s more wishy than washy. it is hard to see how one country could make a military move without setting off a general war. Some people even use the word hypocritical. But even though the Karakalpak army is very weak. but it is only a shadow of what it was during the Cold War. bring us up to date. Abraham Stein of the Council on Foreign Relations. has been pressuring its NATO allies to support a policy of warning Russia off from 72 . of course. On the other hand. Paul. deep in my heart I believe it is talking to God.“Paul. there are indications that behind the scenes the U.S. The President has declared that the scientific knowledge represented by the Array should be the heritage of all mankind.” “That’s beautiful. but he has also affirmed the inviolability of international boundaries. The Russian army is the strongest in the area.” “Is that being wishy-washy. he’s not unaware that it’s an American corporation that is untertaking the exploration. But in this case. Paul.” “I’m tempted to talk about Ezekiel’s chariot. Stein?” The policy analyst laughed and his bald head gleamed in the lights. needless to say. By that I mean I think he was a wish list of things he would like to see happen. But now we must turn to the political side of things. There is a good deal of speculation that Russia or Kazakhstan might try to take over the Karakalpak Republic by force since President Vahidov is absolutely rejecting every offer of international cooperation. which essentially supports President Vahidov.” “How is President Rankin responding to this?” “In his latest press conference. Dr. but I’ll stick to what I know. Reverend. Dr. beautiful.

Nobody wants a war. I’m sorry we’re out of time. Doctor. reports are that they have assigned a team of archivists to comb their military records. “One final point. very remote.” “Thank you.” “War a possibility?” “Very. Even though they’ve denied any responsibility for the Great Array. Neither we nor the Europeans will stand for Russia gaining sole control of the Array. But what they’re looking for we have no idea. Paul.” Paul’s antsy expression warned Stein that time was running out.” “The Russians are still keeping something secret.” 73 . What they want is for President Vahidov to stop being so obstinate and let the rest of the world in on the exploration of alien technology.any military adventure.” “Very quickly.

writing sometimes scholarly. sometimes speculative essays on the ancient folk who had carved and scratched the Ferghana chakras. Chakra Net. turned out to be a splendid diversion. both because of Muratbey’s insistence that the 74 . In the meantime. but Lee had taken to heart Major Park’s warning never to underestimate the depth of Muratbey’s hatred for President Vahidov. In any event. or the absurd lengths he might go to to get at him. The idea that what was essentially a minimal budget public relations project could in any way discomfit the Karakalpak Republic remained ludicrous.S.CHAPTER SEVEN The dark cloud of President Muratbey’s blackmail was not without a silver lining. and Lee had done the right thing by forgiving him. where separation or divorce might be contemplated with fewer complications. Donald had done the right thing by apologizing for his indiscretion with the Cuban political officer. the work had been fun: helping design the site. Her only regret was that she couldn’t attach her name to anything. the website Lee had created with friendly help from the Ferghana Academy of Sciences. But both were semi-conscious that they were simply postponing a crisis until they were back in the U. Lee had enjoyed the challenge of bringing the rock art of Tien Shan Mountains on Ferghana’s border with Kyrgyzstan to a broader audience. even though Lee could not forgive the obscene pressure put on her to start it. choosing photographs of rock carvings to scan into its database. and on the possible connections that might be drawn to the Great Array.

Nevertheless. other than Donald.project by “all Ferghanan” and because. Lee did most of her work at home. she discovered it in thinking about Donald still longing. or for that matter young or agile enough. to attempt sexual congress in a Honda compact. and sometimes genuinely valuable. she felt she was broadening her sphere of acquaintances. there were no more conversation sessions with Muratbey. for his hot. More typical were New Agers proposing mystic meanings for the circle and cross or UFOers maintaining the chakras were ancient evidence of flying saucers. To her relief. Since she connected to the Academy of Sciences server via her laptop and modem. and that any other place they might move to would surely be bugged as well. as when a Swedish professor uploaded fifty-three rock pictures of chakras from Scandinavia. But it saddened her that this expansion of horizons might have come at the cost of her marriage. To the degree that Lee was capable of finding an amusing side to their marital predicament. For the first time in years. any time she wished taking a break from translating Vedic hymns to read whatever had been posted by visitors to Chakra Net. and Major Park did not reappear or make any way attempt to renew his awkward amatory advance. she assumed. added an additional coolness to the Ingalls’ marital bed. Cuban bombshell—Lee had never actually laid eyes on the woman—while she had been the recipient of the unsought and never to be requited 75 . and neither of them felt inclined. no Americans—least of all Ambassador Bane—knew she was working for Muratbey. Lee took pleasure in doling out scornful responses to those who deserved them and entering into academic discussion with the occasional visitor with something worthwhile to say. but now off-limits. knowledge that their bungalow was bugged. Only in the car could they engage in Frak talks about their situation. The results were usually amusing.

he was not at all an unattractive man. Long gone the age of Gods. she read the first posting from a new Chakra Net visitor: From: Nadir@1Day2Day. despite his callousness and the cruelty of what he had done to her. * * * On Marmot Day. as she frequently did.attentions of two men: President Muratbey and. Surprisingly. gone too the Giant age. it passed through her mind that. whenever she thought back over her visit from Major Park. Park’s casting of himself in the role of John Alden and waiting for her to invite his active attentions were aspects of her traumatic interview that she had decided not to divulge to Donald. Major Park. I tell 76 . however. plan the Gods did fight to stop. the Giants’ foul machine. if she had interpreted his remarks correctly.com To: Webmaster@Chakra_Net. Remains the How base the Giants’ As last surviving God. telling him only about the revelation of his infidelity and her own saintly agreement to protect his job and reputation by helping President Muratbey’s project without informing Ambassador Bane. FIRST POSTING.com THE TALE OF CHAKRA. as Lee had dubbed February second in honor of Central Asia’s ubiquitous burrowing rodent. chakra great.

Though cells can be transformed so that they do not age beyond a certain point. do not comprise a race. they soon become extinct for want of food or space. though tough they are to harm. They Or else they The Giants yearned to be as deathless as the Gods. kill themselves. All beings strive for the intertwining gyre that you call DNA. but well they knew price that each immortal pays. 77 . the Gods can never age. this sort of deathless life wilts all desire for sex and cannot be passed on. though thus endowed with lives that never end.to you my tale so when the Giant foe returns to build again. the old must pass away. In all the universe. but rather were the spawn of scientific zeal. but death cannot avoid. How else could life survive? If beings do not age. Though Giants’ lives are long. yet still do reproduce. as my companions have. only die of wounds. a To all gene that’s closely linked to that which codes for sex. the ones who heed my words will join with me to fight. All creatures bear a gene that codes for age and death. is fertilized. To reproduce ones kind. life. who’ve learned the art of engineering genes this fact has been quite clear: you cannot disengage the codes for age and sex. or else the species dies from running out of food. no egg The Gods. If intercourse takes place. one root of life is found.

or plant. Great builders. or bird. But never does it age beyond maturity. or flower.Fond sex and end of life. turns off the proper gene that carries sex and death and activates instead its freakish dormant twin. they longed for even more. until another fluke. Yet since its sex is strong. instead of being bound to planets fit for life within a travel range of several thousand 78 . helix beings. long-lived as they could be and still yet reproduce. experiment has shown. They longed for With that their kind could spread through to galaxies afar. species with this gene lives life as others do. a seed of endless life still able to give birth. by double helix bound. its life goes endless on unless by force cut short. strong of mind. it strives to reproduce. is like a normal fish. A species formed this way. A It ages and it dies. These facts are not surmise. and thus it soon attains extinction of its kind. new birth then age and death--all forever linked. On planets far and wide are double And known it is. or scientific plan. that random flukes A fragmenting between the codes of change anomalies do cause. Such was the riddle deep the Giants’ would unwind. for sex and death can leave within a gene a kind of dormant seed. though rare. endless life with sexual drive unharmed.

but freeing age from birth. when work at all they did. furry beast that hid among the trees from massive lizard hunters. They sought to make the creature more like unto themselves. genetic change. Long time the Giants studied. the other not expressed. Then waited they an age in hopes the beast would change. genetic change could not be thus controlled. with the usual cross-link of sex with death. to guide its evolution toward what you Earthlings call the genus homo sapiens. It killed the massive lizards and freed the little beast to move outside its niche and grow in size and mind. They tested many species from planets they encountered till they by chance did find a tiny. With scientific skill they laid genetic plans. one active. it worked. only when catastrophic change brought species to the point most of them would die and just a few adapt. then hit upon a plan. Their plan at first was simple. They even made attempts to guide It seemed But all their efforts failed. The few with altered genes engendered whole new 79 . Their interventions worked. the Giants sought to pick a From time to time few surviving beasts to change genetic codes. When such events befell. evolve into a breed with which they then could mate.years. at least for Giant They moved off course a comet and crashed it into Earth. what they so long had sought: Their test revealed they’d found a creature bearing genes with duplicated codes. might.

beams word to Giant ears that now’s a time for ice. time of change is nigh. the ice reforms. as hominids emerged. exposed now to the sky. and birth of species new. whose genes they altered. increasing warmth of air. this chakra sends to space a signal of this fact. became with every change a little closer to the species that produced both God and Giant kind. Each time the climate swung. Now come I to the chakra that’s called the Great Array. And 80 . to cause by their machines catastrophes immense so they could intervene in evolution’s course. implanting Giant traits. and melting polar ice. To speed the pace of change.species. the Giants caused a flux from ice to heat to ice. Another one lies buried beneath the Greenland ice. The listening Giants note that And buried deep in Earth their climate change machines do vent a certain gas that turns the cycle round. Then later when the heat has caused the ice to melt. When icecaps grow so large that shallow seas run dry. the climate regulates the earth. the Great Array of Greenland. they picked among the group they that might best survive a few. This chakra. thus you see. and also to the war of Giants and of Gods. Thus slowly humans formed. encouraging the Giants to tamper with the climate. Earth cools. Extinctions were their goal.

amidst chaotic times with many millions dead. and with it humankind will be so like them both that breeding will become a simple task indeed. then ice is product of this plan to breed for Giants mates. never to be told the source of father’s seed. extinct or near extinct through meddlesome intent of Giant engineers. so many species go. like rats when ends the 81 . The offspring will not die. Though humans The Giants then will act. and signal they each change to monitors in space. This trait the Giants have. one melting of the ice. will survive. one last genetic step. There’s but one cycle left. The sequence in the past of ice. The chakras thus control the warmth and cold of Earth.as the cycle goes. will alter one last gene. And as for humankind. Some chosen human males with telepathic gifts will be the source of sperm. the gene of endless life combined with sex and birth. as also do the Gods. the gene that lets a mind engage another mind without the need of speech. then heat. but will be Giants still. But with each change the Giants gain another chance to nudge in their direction the species most like theirs with hopes to interbreed when humankind is ready and gain thereby the gene that humans do not use. the gene by which to spread from star to star to star. But now the end is near. their numbers will be few. but never will they live to see what is produced by union of their seed with female Giant eggs.

Congratulations on your feel for meter. Though shaping The Nadir “How clever. Giants.com RE: THE TALE OF THE CHAKRA. or possibly even Arab. discarded they will be and wiped from off the earth. care only for themselves. “But how terribly annoying.test.com Nadir@1Day2Day. you seem to have mistaken Chakra Net for an online poetry journal. Please do not make further postings here. Kindly reserve your further entries for a more appropriate site. as a god. human beings.” said Lee to herself as the last sentences lilted past her eyes. “Why in the world would someone write in meter?” She thought for a few minutes and then applied herself to the keyboard: From: To: Webmaster@Chakra_Net. after all. perhaps you should consider opening your own site for your worshippers. but this is a scientific board that does not resonate to iambic phrases. Nadir. FIRST POSTING. 82 . they care not if they live. Or.” She looked at the name and decided it could be either Turkish or Tajik. unless it was some sort of astronomical pseudonym.

65 million years ago. or in a depression where a sea would form. then. she discovered went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous. she returned to her laptop and substituted a new message for the one she had just written. was not so bad. did it in any way strain credulity to think that they could have directed a comet to hit the Earth and destroy the dinosaurs? She took down her one-volume Columbia Encyclopedia and began to browse. a twin of the Great Array beneath a glacier. because it was only intended to operate during ice ages when the water would be bound up in glaciers. alternately signalling one extreme or the other of the Earth’s climate. The dinosaurs.Webmaster Her right pinky poised on the key that would post her message. she read back over his message ignoring its irritating rhythm and focusing on content. she reflected. And if there had once been space beings capable of implanting the Array. Lee reread what she had written and decided it was too harsh. between two million and eleven thousand years ago. you were left with the notion that the chakra. but the idea of the so-called Giants waiting 63 million years to think up Plan B strained her credulity. was placed under a sea. while the Ice Ages were part of the Pleistocene. logically. From: Webmaster@Chakra_Net. If there were. there could. The latter was about right for the Great Array.com 83 . The seed of the idea. Lee made herself a fresh cup of tea and mulled over Nadir’s scenario. as a communications device. After a period of further mulling. Granting Nadir a second chance. be a balance between the two. It was actually quite clever. Once you set aside the genetic mumbojumbo and the fairy tale about gods and giants.

head back home to their own planet? Will we humans gain their What’s the source of warmth or 84 . Questions have I. FIRST POSTING. Nadir. how come you’re the last remaining? Did the rest by inadvertence step before a charging rhino? Or did they you. And of Gods. Killing off our old and young ones. causing havoc to our cities.To: Nadir@1Day2Day. What contains the laser signal? coldness? Warmth that turns the ice to water. perhaps. cold that robs the seas and ocean. Thank you. What of Giants. which will task you much to answer. how big are they? stature Once the seas increase in volume.com RE: THE TALE OF THE CHAKRA. thanks sincerely. abandon. the Gods immortal. If the chakra tunes the climate. questions puzzling. causing icecaps forming. for your interesting posting. threatening complete extinction. melting.

chakra. Now lets see what we get. questions far below your notice. It will be your final posting. Prose submit or live in Banned you’ll be from net of Webmaster Lee reviewed what she had written. she thought. sing-song words in measures three. and with a grin hit the ENTER key. irritate me near to screaming. But send it not in rhyme or meter. chapter of the Tale of Chakra. choose to grant a godly favor. Catch my drift. 85 . doomed to live with mortal humans? Plese excuse my questions petty. why left they you? Did you miss the final spaceship? Are you stuck among us earthlings. Force upon me silly meter.And if so. Send to me another chapter. If once more you post iambics. fine tuned the meter. send it please in normal writing. oh God immortal? silence. Answer only if your choose to.

CHAPTER EIGHT

From: Nadir@1Day2Day.com To: Webmaster@Chakra_Net.com

THE TALE OF CHAKRA.

SECOND POSTING.

I have an old machine that goes by name of Ann. thoughts in words with rhythm as you read.

She puts my

This started at a

time when first among my friends I counted one old man who sang the songs of Troy. I argued then with Ann about iambic form and Now this is what If this prevents

ordered her to couch my words in metric pace. she does though styles of speech have changed.

my words from being understood, it’s not my fault but Ann’s. She will not change her mind.

So try to understand the limits that I face in warning humankind that Giants will return. like not what they find. Earth’s only Giants died. And when indeed they come, they’ll When last they fought with Gods, And with the battle done, I dealt

86

with their machine.

I used my weapon strong to interrupt the No

link that bound the Great Array to underground machines.

more would icecaps form, no more would icecaps melt responding to machines installed by Giant hands. Forever would they wait

the signals from the Earth, for seas would not run dry nor Greenland show its soil. My mission finally closed, I rested

and I watched, watched humankind increase, become a mighty race. But now my work’s undone because some human beings have dried the Aral Sea so signal could be sent. And now the Giants know Thus has the

their underground machines have not begun to work. laser said.

So certain now it is that soon a Giant ship will An engineer will come to find what has

come again to Earth.

gone wrong, discover what I wrought, repair the damage done.

This story have I told in several different ways, but no one heeds my words, no listening ear believes. How sad the fall of

Gods, who once were praised of men, who taught them how to build, who raised them from the dirt. friends, who fell to Giants’ blows: I think of my old

Twashtar, Dyaus, the

Ashwins, all like me intent on saving humankind from cruel, callous fate designed by Giant minds.

But now I am alone, my years grown very long. still and strong, one leg I lost in war.

Though youthful

The others of my kind

87

who fought the Giant foe have ended their own lives, too bored to carry on. But I do not complain. I do, however, hope that

someday all will know that Gods for humans did, what sacrifice we made. I sometimes get annoyed that people have forgot the

honor they once paid to me and to my friends, the rites of sacrifice that amplified our strength. I long again to feel

their worship as of old, but now the times are hard, the end is coming near.

Nadir

For several hours after reading the second message from Nadir, Lee felt puzzled and angry. Eventually she put on her hooded winter coat and went for a walk. The air was cold but the sky bright and the sidewalks clear of snow. She walked past several small bungalows like hers and then past several blocks of drab storefronts until she came to the park by the Presidential Palace. The old sycamore trees lining the streets stretched their naked limbs high into the sky. A vendor of roasted chestnuts sat huddled by his brazier of charcoal waiting for the occasional passer-by. Lee bought a quarter kilo of the sweet, hot nuts nestled in an envelope folded from newspaper. She took a seat on a park bench beside a waterless fountain. Several small children were playing noisily nearby in some remnant snow piles while a grandmother, bundled heavily against the chill, sat and watched them. Try as she might to concentrate on the peaceful scene around her and the brilliance of the winter’s day, four words of Nadir’s posting returned again and again to

88

her mind: “Twashtar, Dyaus, the Ashwins.” In all of her years devoted to studying the most ancient religion and language of India, she had never chanced, in conversation or in print, upon the names of such obscure Vedic gods, except, of course, in exchanges with fellow Vedists. Not Agni, the divinization of fire, who occasionally showed up in the New York Times crossword. Not the goddess Saraswati, who enjoyed a certain currency in feminist writings. Not the divine Soma, the secret intoxicating beverage drunk by the Vedic priests and made famous in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. But Twashtar, Dyaus, and the Ashwins. Twashtar, the blacksmith god, equivalent to Hephaestus in Greek and Vulcan in Latin. Dyaus the god of the sky—Odin in Norse mythology, father Zeus for the Greeks, and Jupiter— father Ju, Ju-pater—for the Romans. And the chariot-driving Ashwins, the twin gods of the dawn, the Vedic version of the Greeks’ Castor and Pollux. But where was Indra, the hurler of thunderbolts, the Vedic version of the Norse god Thor? Lee stood up with a start as a thought hit her. Her chestnuts fell into the dirty snow beneath the bench. An anagram: Nadir=Indra. Indra=Nadir. How clever, she thought, but what a nasty thing to do. She scurried back to her house not quite sure what she would do once she got there. Seating herself at her laptop, she printed out both of Nadir’s messages and read them over again with care. “Someone’s tricking me,” she said aloud. “Some bastard . . . . “ She began to turn over in her mind the names of the Vedists she had been in contact with since arriving in Kokand, already contemplating a dreadful revenge. Which, she wondered, could have found about her connection with Chakra Net? Had someone really thought she was going to believe that the god Indra was alive communicating with her? Was her former classmate and boyfriend John Russell, for example, sitting back in New York 89

waiting for her to address a return message “Dear Indra” so he could tell everyone Lee really believed in gods? I would have been a laughing stock, she thought. They all know I study the Indra hymns. Maybe they’re all in it together. Lee was still mulling over the situation, occasionally casting curses or threats at the unidentified trickster, when she heard the snow crunch under the wheels of the Honda. “Whoa! Who are you going to kill?” said Donald at his first sight of his wife’s face. “Don’t worry. Not you,” she replied curtly, “though you may deserve it. One of my friends has been jerking me around.” Donald hazarded a peck on her cheek. “You’re pretty when you’re mad at someone else,” he said lightly. “Which friend? And what did he do?” “I don’t know which friend. That’s what I have to find out. Remember that bizarre posting I got last week on Chakra Net? The one in iambic meter?” “Space aliens controlling Earth’s temperature.” “That’s the one. Jerk calls himself Nadir. You know why? Because it’s an anagram for Indra, the thundergod. Today he posted another message saying he was the last survivor of a group of gods, including Twashtar, Dyaus, and the Ashwins.” “Dyaus is Zeus?” “Very good.” “I haven’t heard of the other ones.” “That’s because they’re totally obscure to people who don’t read the Vedas. That’s what was so tricky, using god names only a few people have ever heard of.” “People like you.” “Exactly.” 90

Donald looked down at his furious wife from his six-foot-three height. “Lee, you didn’t . . . “ She glared up at him ferociously. “Didn’t what?” “You did, didn’t you. You believed you had a message from a genuine Vedic god!” He burst into hearty laughter. “Not for one instant. Not for a millisecond. And if you ever tell anyone I did, I’ll kill you,” said Lee grimly. Donald’s laughter was out of control. “You really believed,” he said breathlessly, “I can see it in your eyes. Old Indra getting in touch with his lady friend on the Internet?” “The tiniest, tiniest fraction of a millisecond. No, less than that.” “Oh, let me sit down. My side hurts. You poor thing. Come and sit on my lap.” “I’m not feeling lappish, thanks. I’m feeling vengeful.” “Who do you think did it?” “I’ve made up a list. But I can’t believe any of them would have done such a thing. Unless they all are in it together. I figure it has to be someone I’ve been in email contact with so they know where I am. And it has to be someone who knows I study the Indra hymns.” Donald was still chuckling. “So you got this on email?” “No. It was on Chakra Net.” Donald frowned. “I thought you hadn’t put your name on Chakra Net. You promised me you wouldn’t. And you promised President Muratbey. You know Ambassador Bane would be pissed to learn about this second hand. You’re not allowed to do things like this without her permission.”

91

“Don’t worry. I never put my name on Chakra Net. I sign my messages ‘Webmaster’.” “Well, you must have slipped.” “No, I didn’t slip.” “Then how did your friend associate you with Chakra Net?” Lee thought for a bit. “Maybe they . . . .“ she trailed off when no answer came. “You must have told someone, Donald. Or maybe Muratbey.” “Me? Absolutely not. It’s bad enough having . . . you know, the Cuba thing . . . hanging over my head, never knowing if the Ambassador is going to find out. The last thing I want is for people to know my wife is working on a private project of the President. And why would Muratbey talk about it? He wants this thing to be pure Ferghanan.” “Then the guys at the Academy of Sciences must have leaked it. I shouldn’t have trusted Olga and Reshat.” “Wasn’t everyone told this was Muratbey’s project? Why would they tell anyone who’s running it? And how would they know who your friends are?” Lee considered Donald’s questions. “They could have mentioned my name to colleagues in one of the Russian universities. Maybe some friend of mind happened to be around. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain.” She went to the kitchen and sampled the soup that had been simmering gently all afternoon. “Did you bring home the bread?” she called into the living room. “Yup,” came the answer. Dinner was a quiet affair as Lee sullenly pondered her dilemma. Her anger at being the butt of a practical joke was compounded by her inability to figure out how the joke had been perpetrated. Donald tried to distract her. “Radio report today about an 92

SECOND POSTING. 93 .com Nadir@1Day2Day. you list are named in the Rig Veda.earthquake under the big reservoir at Andijan over on the Kyrgyz border. she typed in a new posting: From: To: Webmaster@Chakra_Net. Be convincing or be gone. I shall no longer You say you are the last of the gods.com RE: THE TALE OF THE CHAKRA.” Lee was uninterested. Lucky it didn’t hurt the dam. you should know certain things. What was the demon Vrtra whom you killed? What was the vajra you used to kill Vrtra with? What was the name of your wife Indrani’s ape? Who were the dasas? Why were pictures of chakras carved in the mountains? I am eager to learn your answers to these questions. Nadir If you insist in writing in meter. you must answer my questions: 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) So if you want to be believed. and the gods If you are indeed a god. so be it. Her mind had begun to formulate a strategy. At her laptop after dinner. reciprocate.

The agreement was that Chakra Net would be seen as a purely Ferghanan enterprise. What can I do for you?” “I have a question.” She stiffened. Just today.Webmaster Lee dispatched the message with a sharp snap of a key and sat back with a smile of satisfaction. “Lee. Major. Could you tell me why you are asking?” “Because someone has been trying to find out who is operating Chakra Net. Ingalls.” She walked to the living room and took the phone from his hand.” “Which colleague?” “I have no idea. I am sorry to disturb you. “Your bugs disturb me every time I open my mouth in my own house.” “That’s quite all right. The telephone rang in the living room. I’m willing to play. this is Major Park.” he called. she thought.” she said sourly. as you will discover when you review your tapes. “Hello.” “Mrs. this is Lee Ingalls. If this is a game. He silently mouthed the words “Major Park.” “Who?” 94 . however. and she heard Donald pick it up. Have you told anyone that you are the operator of Chakra Net?” She felt a thrill of apprehension. “For you. I had reason to suspect that one of my colleagues in Vedic studies has figured out what I am doing and posted a message as a joke. “Of course not.

Mrs. I can tell you if it’s someone I know. It’s all very puzzling. Please be vigilant. “You’re sure it’s not your jokester friend?” “Apparently not. Your identity is therefore as much a mystery to us as to him.” “You are absolutely sure of that?” “Not absolutely. Do any of your colleagues in Vedic studies work there by chance?” “Not that I know of.” “NSA? You’re kidding. “Someone in the National Security Agency is trying to find out who’s running Chakra Net. Some guy with a funny name. Major.” “I’m afraid I’ve never heard of him.” “Did he believe that?” “I assume he did not.” “His name is Joseph Engineer.” “Thank you for that advice.” An anxious frown clouded Donald’s face. Ingalls. But please be vigilant.” “Good-bye. Major Park. but Vedists don’t usually go into spying as a trade.” “What was that all about?” said Donald.” 95 . If you tell me the person’s name. Ingalls. The information we provided to him was that the sign-on you use at the Academy of Sciences—which he had already found out—is an unassigned address. however. Mrs. Joseph Engineer.” “Nor has he heard of you.“Someone at the National Security Agency in Washington. Mrs.” “Good-bye then. Ingalls. He made an inquiry to the Academy of Sciences.

“This is an interesting report. but because he got things done. More interesting than most.” “It’s from the Internet. I figured that much out. piercing eyes. So you started searching. sir. his desk littered with paper. And he was notoriously impatient with the head-in-the-clouds linguists and jargon-spouting techs who populated so many of the agency’s departments. first I programmed a softward robot called a spider or crawler to cull out what I thought might be significant keywords. Dr. That was a total failure. Joseph. I don’t know whether you know this. Badger assigned me to search the Internet for possibly important information on the Great Array. Have a seat. He was Deputy Director of NSA not because of technical expertise. But then 96 . and gold-rimmed glasses. I can’t read all that technical crap you have at the beginning.” He picked up the ten-page report Joseph had submitted two days earlier to Dr. So I wasted a lot of time on that. “I’m Tom Thayer. Tell me where it comes from. Badger. Tell me how you did it and how you came up with this.” “Right. Mr. nor when the young. but there are upwards of ten thousand websites now devoted wholly or partly to the Great Array. but these appearances of informality were belied by a sharp nose. “You’re Joseph?” He reached out a hand across the desk. Thayer had never met Joseph Engineer.CHAPTER NINE Tom Thayer was in shirtsleeves and yellow suspenders. Thayer.” “Well. bronze-skinned Indian timidly entered the office could he recall even seeing him in the corridor.

Like.” “What’s a remailer?” “Remailers are for anonymous postings. about comic book characters having sex with aliens.” “So you decided to check whether pornographers were posting things about the Great Array. why in the world would I put it on the Internet instead of going to some authority? And it occurred to me that such a person might already be working for an authority but for some reason want to leak what he knew. The long and the short of it was that I came up with eleven postings from one person directed to ten different sites. Of those. You never know. sir. Or maybe he thought his ideas were being ignored in-house. about the President having sex with aliens. There’s a ton of stuff about sex with aliens. You pay a fee to a company to provide an untraceable electronic address.” “We keep a list of these remailers?” “Yeah.I thought: If I knew something significant. I fed a list of bad words into my crawler and told it to disregard postings that contained them. I eliminated another bunch who had made up their own words for alien sex and some more who were too soft-core to make my list. maybe the information was secret but he thought it should be in the public domain.” “I already knew that. So I decided to take my ten-thousand-plus sites and match postings with our list of remailers. It’s all over the place. but he couldn’t afford to make his view public and go against his boss.” “And that cut the list down?” “Cut it down to under a hundred posters.” “If the postings are anonymous. That kind of thing. how do you know it’s the same person?” 97 . Mostly they’re used for pornography. But to get rid of that. about TV sitcom stars having sex with aliens.

I didn’t think Dr.” “I don’t think so. “No.” 98 . like relieving my bowels. But always the same basic thing: the Great Array and a twin array under the Greenland icecap cause climatic oscillations and are responsible for the ice ages. Good for him. not a poet. I left it out. unless maybe doggerel. But there weren’t any responses to any of these postings. That’s why I submitted the report. He posted one message each to nine boards of all different sorts starting the day after the first laser emission. Badger would read it if I put it in.” Tom Thayer’s eyes bored into the twenty-five year old programmer. But more important. and he doesn’t break the posting into lines. same remailer: Nadir@1Day2Day. Ohio. sir. and the webmaster seemed to take him seriously. You wouldn’t think it was poetry. Ones to UFO boards were science fictiony.com in Dayton. My question to you is why I should be spending my time talking to you about one of ten million cranks trying to sell their science fiction plot instead of doing something more useful. presumably because of his way of writing. He was totally ignored. He’s found a pen pal. Iambic trimeter mostly. There’s no rhyme. So now they’ve got an exchange going. “No.” “So a nutcase. Postings to technical boards were technical.” “So this report is based on stuff from a fucking poet!?” Joseph fought to keep the tremor he felt in his chest out of his voice. I never dreamed it would get to you. But then he hit an obscure board in the Ferghana Republic. the guy writes in meter.“Same name. sort of lilting. sir.” “All right. It’s just rhythmic. “Is that in this report?” He shook the sheaf of paper.

But they have to keep a master list so they can bill them. The only address 1Day2Day had was a remailer in Denmark that rotates a series of addresses in a complicated way to prevent anyone from identifying their clients. Nevertheless. you know that? But don’t tell me more than I need to know. sir. You might have the makings of a spy after all.“Please.” “You what? Don’t you know that’s against the law?” said Thayer explosively. Just tell me who the guy is. but it turned out Nadir was using two remailers. “I hope you hacked the fucker. sir. . 1Day2Day is a very small outfit so I gambled that their master list was on the same computer they used for remailing. Then I hacked into it. We had both hacked around when we were teenagers.” “That’s exactly what I thought. I had a German friend when I was in grad school at Carnegie-Mellon. “I didn’t think we had grounds for a court order.” Tom Thayer sat back in his leather desk chair and smiled. “Good work. . . I tried to find out who he was by getting onto the remailer in Dayton. They permit greater electronic secrecy. I told him it was important. But Danish laws are different from ours. sir. And I figured I could do it without getting caught . what he has to say just might be important. sir. No one hides from the NSA.” “Aren’t they supposed to keep clients’ names secret?” “Yes. let me go on for just another two minutes. Mr.” “I don’t know. and it was needed to carry out my mission .” Thayer lifted his eyebrows expectantly. . And if this guy is using a double blind drop. Since I didn’t think I could get permission to use Agency personnel. The hack worked. and we compared techniques a lot. Thayer.” 99 . I called Gerhard and asked him what he could do. unless you have a court order.

So things seemed to be looking up. and no address assignment to any personnel. The sysop . he didn’t get caught. Almaty and Kokand are practically next to each other. but they opened up their log for me and they were right.” Thayer leaned forward. Who is he?” “I still don’t know.” “So. .“That was enterprising. if I can’t find him directly.” “He found out.uh . sir. I decided. . and they don’t either. .” “Hacked in?” “I don’t think so. . the last site he posted to he got a response and posted again. might know who he is. Gerhard . It’s called Chakra Net. entirely focused on Joseph.” “And you believe that?” “I didn’t at first. No action at all from that address except the eleven messages I had found. no record of those eleven coming through their land lines. I think he broke into the office. Go on. and it turned out to be at the Kazakh State University in Almaty. . As I told you. Kazakh State University says the address he’s using is unassigned. but writing in English like he wants to be a poet. So that board was easy to locate. the system operator . “The guy is right there in Central Asia. End of the line?” “No. doesn’t do things the way I would. Moreover. except that—this may be hard to believe. I have no idea how he’s routing his messages through their system without their knowing it. and it’s hosted by the Ferghana Academy of Sciences in Kokand.” “So. . maybe I can track him down through where he’s posting. about a three hundred mile hop over the mountains. Very strange. . sir—the Ferghana Academy of Sciences 100 . So at last I had an address. . Anyway.

” mused Thayer under his breath. I can’t imagine it would be very hard to do.” 101 . on-line the sysop just uses ‘Webmaster. They show no interest in helping me at all. Mr. All I can think of is asking CIA to put people onto finding Nadir in Almaty and Webmaster in Kokand.” “You’re kidding. And.” “Well isn’t that the damnedest thing.” “And what do they tell you?” “They say Chakra Net is a scientific board devoted to publicizing the relationship between the Great Array and the history of the Ferghana Republic and that its operator is not available to talk to except on-line. nowhere sir.” “Absolutely fascinating. What in the world is everyone covering up?” “That’s why I thought it was important enough to write up for Dr.” “No.says they don’t know who their own sysop is. just like in Almaty. Thayer. “Where do you go propose to go from here?” “Uh. but that it’s being said with such apparently pointless secrecy. Two dead ends.” “The President of the Republic?” “Correct. especially for Webmaster. It’s not just what is being said. sir.” “No.” “Do you believe the Academy of Sciences. of course. Whoever I talk to refers me to the office of the President. and the address the sysop is using is unassigned. I’ve hit dead ends. Mr. I don’t. Thayer. Badger.’ It’s common jargon. Isn’t that just the damnedest thing.

” Joseph wondered what the consequences might be. I’ll tell Badger to button up. I couldn’t just read crap on the Internet all day forever. It’s NSA’s and no one else’s. He could feel his accelerated heart rate. But then no one would have read the report at all.” He stood up and offered Joseph his hand across the desk. and we have to learn to act like spies or face the consequences.” “Except that we only work electronically. But I had to show something. I should have mentioned the gods and giants. We are spies.” Out in the corridor. “Joseph. He wondered what the consequences might be. His mental debate continued as he headed for his office on automatic pilot. he thought. “Now get out of here and let me work. 102 . his face grimly serious. Joseph took several deep breaths. don’t you every mention the CIA again in this office. without the gods and giants it sounds reasonable.Tom Thayer was suddenly leaning across his desk again. But now you have to face the consequences. “Let me think about this. So now you’ve got the Deputy Director all heated up about a fantasy. sir. Who knows? If need be.” said Joseph defensively. “I don’t want to hear that. But still. And keep your report to yourself. Joseph. This is an NSA lead. we may send you to Central Asia.

Snow-capped mountains towered on three sides. This was going to be a fun repair job. Frak. silently communicated navigation information downloaded at the satellite where they had stopped first to get an overview of the situation. All the more thrilling was the prospect of wowing a local species. digesting and multiplying: hardly appreciative audiences for state of the art technology.CHAPTER TEN Like others of his kind. On his shoulder. digesting and multiplying. the most developed organisms had still been swimming around in seawater digesting and multiplying. Whoo-ee. Bix had swooped around and buzzed them only six feet above the water. Bix’s hands on the flyer’s controls responded with effortless speed and dexterity. trimming its suspensors to the atmospheric density and keeping it just above obstacle level. Bix reveled in using equipment. On his other two planetary assignments. but the flat plain of the river valley presented no problems. his biocybernetic interface. Frak informed him that they were called “sheep” and were not of the dominant species. Bix touched a control and watched them combust colorfully on the screen. spindly structure with a rotor at the top and a water tank at the bottom. If only the dominant species didn’t look so much like disgusting pramodzi. But here he had already witnessed a terrifically gratifying shock reaction from the boatload of the dominant species that witnessed his little flyer break the surface of the Andijan Reservoir and zoom off into the sky. good to be back at work! he communicated. His infrared display showed a group of animals clustered near a tall. 103 . For an added thrill.

It signalled either idle. Frak reminded him. According to the protocols.Just here to get a job done. Bix cocked his head and communicated humorously to an imaginary audience. The proper protocol in the latter situation was to open the door. communicated Bix. After completing a landing check. He looked at the infrared screen. More likely to get things right that way and not go all hysterical. a group of beings holding pointed things usually meant you would have to kill most of them to get your message across. Major Dimitri Park mused as he waited in the icy courtyard for something to happen. A being of the dominant species. Pick the Korean. ranging from primitive hydrocarbon propelled vehicles to tubes for projecting metal objects by chemical explosion. the infrared showed a scattering of beings scampering into apertures in the courtyard walls. who. Sizable objects. he thought. thought the Major proudly. which seemed to Bix an option he could rule out. in fact. 104 . As Bix guided the flyer’s descent. Well. filled most of the space. A single being not holding a pointed object was a good sign. it damn well should be a Korean. Settling the flyer into the courtard surrounding the historic brick and tile building restored as the Presidential Palace required delicacy. That’s Frak for you. was standing alone beside the flyer. Like I don’t know this already. or a more advanced rationality that wished to communicate. Something dirty or dangerous? Pick the Korean. The litany had been a part of his interior reflections since early childhood. better to pick? If somebody has to be the first human to talk to an extraterrestrial. pre-rational curiosity. Floodlights on the crenelated walls and corner towers cast criss-crossing shadows. looking suspiciously like a pramodzi. Bix attended impatiently to Frak’s required readout of the protocols for contacting intelligent aliens.

The dim corridor inside was tall and wide. an animal that looked exactly like a marmot. What Park had taken for a shock of long hair was an animal. pairs of cylindrical meter-wide holes bored all the way through the ship. At top and bottom. The marmot spoke. its walls fitted with a variety of objects and devices Park could not begin to identify. Made for big guys. The being in front of him was clearly a man. The light level was as dim as in the corridor. Park straightened his posture and strode forward. Park added the probable length of his thighs to the rest of him and realized with a start that he must be almost as tall as a basketball net. in fact. The stairs reassured Park that whatever was inside probably walked rather than slithered. but not to the point where Park had to strain to see. but its surface was marked by numerous grooves and irregularities. a strongly built man with a long torso and very short legs. well away from its center. approximately six meters in diameter with a grating providing a floor about two thirds of the way down. As it opened. “I have come here from another star system to repair some equipment. The door that sprang upward in the machine’s side was surprisingly large. Park counted three full steps forward before the corridor opened onto a larger space on his right.” The man smiled confidently and radiantly while the marmot spoke. Park looked again and corrected himself: the man was sitting down on a chair so skeletal that it hadn’t been evident at first. thought Park. a stairway extended down to the paving stones.The dark machine hovering half a meter off the ground next to President Muratbey’s Volvo was essentially a sphere ten meters in diameter. The larger space proved to be a sphere within a sphere.” it said in English in a surprisingly mellow feminine voice. “I hope the language I have 105 . “Hello. An object moved on the man’s shoulder by his cheek. Park surmised that they somehow must provide its propulsion.

He interrogated the protocols and found he had mixed up an explanatory passage with one of the dialog suggestions.” Bix mentally consulted the protocols. it is on behalf of the person in the chair? And that person is you?” “Exactly. My race communicates without speech so we use translators when we must speak. Acting Director of the Internal Security Service of the Republic of Ferghana. Since some species—ones much more primitive than yours. but its vocabulary and command of idiom is fullest in this one. “Who is your translator? Are you yourself present?” “I am present. We will be friends. It also puts on them the burden of hanging on. My name is Bix.” “Excellent! You are an official! We are making superior progress. but there was a lassitude in his posture that did not seem quite youthful. My translator I call Frak.” replied Park.” Marjor Park nodded deeply as Bix had done earlier and replied. we clothe our translators with an animate shell suitable to the surroundings. but the man bowed his head deeply in evident greeting. of course—find it easier to grasp a speaking being than a speaking machine.” Bix noticed his small interlocutor grow suddenly tense. It is the one most abundantly available to outside recorders. “In our experience. His face was young.chosen is satisfactory. My translator has a capacity in a dozen others. “I am named Bix.” “I speak English.” “Then I am to understand that what looks like a marmot on your shoulder is a kind of computer? And when it speaks. we have found that species at your level of development usually initiate official contact through an individual whose death is acceptable. “I am Major Dimitri Park.“ The marmot spoke. Why hadn’t he studied them 106 .

” said the marmot. Mr. “You are a clever as a well as a brave person. but possibly sent by someone who is important. then it is located in a different jurisdiction. I will record your response in our protocols for dealing with aliens. Protocols seem to be right on that one. The reference to death was a mistake.” Bix smiled his amusement. Who would that be?” “That would depend on where you need to go to make your repairs. “If the laser device under the sea it yours. .more closely? “Do not be alarmed. Only people who need titles use them. communicated Frak in Bix’s mind. it was nice to have targets like weapons and flying devices to demo them on. “Major Park. I meant to observe that you are probably not very important yourself. But the beam is working perfectly.” Weapons have been assembled around the courtyard and in a flying device circling over us. not over there. “my need is to arrange a contract with the person in authority so that I can get about my repairs.” “If that is the case. ” “Just Bix. “That is correct. . Major Dimitri Park. If he was going to demo his destructors. The repair problem is here.” replied Park shrewdly. You want me to reveal where my broken equipment is so that you will gain valuable knowledge.” “Nevertheless. My broken equipment is within a hundred mile radius of this place. I will play along.” “Oh yes. Bix . We never speak of death.” 107 . Major Dimitri Park. the beam belongs to us. responded Bix with an added feeling of confidence.” Park relaxed slightly. you would have to show me exactly where on a map for me to answer your question.

“President Muratbey is not a learned man. you must always say President Muratbey. communicated Bix. undesirable from your point of view. His training program had made the process seem so much more sterile. .” “Say more. he is likely to respond in an undesirable way . wants to negotiate a contract. is President Rejep Muratbey.” “If I tell him a man from space three meters tall. Frak responded.” “Will you bring me Muratbey?” “With him.” “Excellent reply.” “What will you tell him?” Park thought for a spell before replying. it’s confusing him. Bix. resonant baritone voice.” I told you we should have used the deep voice.“Then I am just Park. The marmot replied in a deep. He will need time to reflect on his situation. He has authority over the territory you describe. Park!” Bix had never realized what fun it could be communicating with a more or less thinking species. But I am certain he will not come right now. Will you bring him now?” “I will speak with him.” 108 .” “Thank you. The high voice is more peaceful. “The man you must make the contract with. “Would it be helpful if I destroyed the weapons you have surrounded my flyer with? My protocols say that that may be appropriate as a way of getting my message across. . but I would appreciate your opinion. That is important to know. but he is a man who understands and wields power. Nevertheless. Bix communicated to Frak. with a marmot on his shoulder that speaks for him in a soft female voice.

” “Give him what?” “What do your protocols say?” Frak and Bix consulted silently. I’ll take your word for it. Park? Isn’t trust better than fear?” “All right.” responded Park.” boomed the marmot. it would not necessarily persuade President Muratbey to meet you.Park found the change in voice disconcerting and possibly ominous.” He rolled his chair to his left and opened what looked like a bin beneath where the control board had been situated.” he said. A dozen objects that looked like cut diamonds.” 109 . However. each a half inch in diameter.” “What is needed?” “You need to give him something.” “It is not a philosophy. My point is that a display of force is not needed to make President Muratbey meet with you. Park stepped forward and looked into the immense palm. “If not. “Trinkets!” said Bix brightly. “I hope President Muratbey will be pleased. even if you did destroy the weapons. maybe I should try the weapons destruction. merely an observation. “I hope so as well. Park. “This will just take a moment.” “That is a sour sort of philosophy. Men of power use the bravery of others more often than they display it themselves. “Am I to assume you could do that if you wished?” “Why would you want to test me with a question like that. He swung a control board across his lap and let his large hands scurry deftly over its keys. holding out his hand. glistened up at him. “Give him these. He scooped them up with both hands and dropped them into his overcoat pocket.

Meeting privately. President. his small eyes squinting as he examined the stones.” “Tomorrow night. then. President. did he say anything about Rabbit Shit Vahidov? Will he visit him.” “Without question. I assume. the sphere had departed as silently and effortlessly as it had arrived. These were intended. though in a room containing four of Park’s bugs. “We are friends. If you wish. Mr.” Bix stood up. Tell me. “He called these trinkets?” said Muratbey. I shall not speak of them outside this room. I will do my best. Fewer people see things during dark periods. Park described what he had seen and heard in exhaustive detail. By the time Park arrived. Mr. He was fully three meters in height.” “It will avoid misunderstanding. President Muratbey had taken the opportunity of Park’s confrontation with the flying sphere to leave the palace and set up a makeshift command post in the more easily defended Internal Security Ministry. At the end he pulled from his pocket six large diamonds. “We must summon a jeweler.“I shall try to convince him to meet you. or is he just interested in negotiating with me?” “He gave the impression that it was just you. A phone link with the Kokand air base reported continuous radar tracking in the direction of the Andijan Reservoir on the border with Kyrgyzstan. When would be best?” “The protocols specify during a dark period. Park?” “We are friends.” 110 . At this time. Park responded with a similar nod and backed out of the room. a veritable giant. as a personal gift to me.” Bix nodded his head deeply in apparent polite dismissal.

and it will have to be repaired. But if they dislodge it at all. If they repeat this often enough. Local electromagnetic transmissions report that a device has burrowed down to the level of the beam emitter. President Muratbey maintained close contact with all command centers. They will force a hot solvent into the shaft to dissolve the rock just above the emitter. It will be a historic moment for the great Ferghana people. or fix it later. Can they do that? Their plan is clever. Then they will force down a heavy liquid that will seep beneath the emitter and float it upward.” * * * Bix and Frak idled away the time in desultory communication while playing a game of algorithms. Should I think of a way to stop the plan? Fix it now. They plan to bring it to the surface. communicated Frak. Frak was programmed to win. I shall meet with him. they may succeed in floating it to the surface. Park. it will destroy its alignment. He had a flair for obliquely quoting famous algorithms that Frak appreciated. They can’t hurt it. * * * At his post in the Internal Security Ministry. “I have decided.Muratbey slapped the flat of his hand on the top of the desk with a resounding crack. Bix responded. but Bix enjoyed the challenge. Radar had tracked the sphere to the Andijan 111 .

Mr. total denial.” “Make sure.Reservoir and then suddenly stopped. mused Muratbey. and then yelled into the mouthpiece. “Karim!” he called to his army chief of staff. “Have the fishermen been detained?” 112 . “Good. I don’t want that swine who calls himself President of Kyrgyzstan to know that my visitor is resting on his side of the border. “Karim. He obviously fears what I might do if he were to land on this side. President. a border outpost reported that fishermen had seen a dark flying machine rise out of the water earlier in the night.” “And radio silence?” “Radio silence. Mr. If any materialize.” He slammed the phone down. However.” “But not in sight of the border?” “They are well hidden. President. But they may be keeping their military units out of sight and be observing radio silence.” He nodded. it had swooped down to within a few feet of them and then soared off. what are we doing?” “We are moving artillery and anti-aircraft battalions into position along our part of the reservoir. “Hasan! Tell me there have been no newspaper or radio reports of the spaceship. Are there any signs the Kyrgyz know he’s there?” “None so far. As they had struggled to keep from overturning in the waves it threw up.” Muratbey picked up a flimsy white telephone made in Hungary. waited. General Karim Chengizoglu looked up from a large table where he and a group of officers were examining detailed maps of the Andijan area. Ingenious of the giant to place his machine on the Kyrgyz side of the border. “Karim!” The general looked wearily in the President’s direction. He dialed five numbers.

“I’ve told you yes. This idea was pooh-poohed by people whose sons or husbands had been called into the palace to paint or do electrical work. Some younger people. Among the older people. speculated about a medical emergency. While a crew of painters slathered whitewash on walls that still contained pockmarks from bullets fired in the last tribal uprising against the pre-Soviet ruler in 1917. Under instruction from a television director. more attuned to an American movie that had recently played. Small groups of onlookers would huddle for a while in the cold.” * * * The courtyard of the Presidential Palace had been emptied of vehicles and swept clean. the talk was mostly of coups or political infighting.” “Speak to Internal Security. electricians mounted floodlights on the walls and in the courtyard’s corners. a rare deadly virus perhaps. and ropes from tree to tree bisected the palace park. exchange guesses as to what was happening. Barricades blocked major thoroughfairs. Why don’t you let me get on with my job?” “Anyone on the street who talks about flying saucers must be put in jail. workers unrolled strips of red carpet and placed them closely side by side to cover the oil drips and potholes of the flagstone parking area. A security perimeter had been established fifty meters outside the walls on all sides of the palace. President. and then move on. Cables snaked through doorways and climbed walls like tropical vines. but no one had any idea what there might be to 113 . President. Mr. But the absence of tanks and armored cars belied their suspicions. Mr. This led speculation in the direction of some sort of gala celebration.

“Mike. He looked at his boss and fancied that her tawny mane was looking more leonine than usual.celebrate. Ambassador Darla Bane waited impatiently in her embassy office for someone to find out what was going on. Representing her country’s interests before the Ferghana government placed a distinct second. * * * 114 .” murmured Miguel. large-eyed woman of forty-five. As her country’s first envoy to a small state in the remote heart of Central Asia. the American ambassador was known publicly for her volubility and disarming smile. “get in here and tell me what’s going on!” Looking slim and stylish in a three-piece suit he had bought when he thought he was going to be posted to Caracas. any rumors of charm were quickly dispelled by stories of authoritarian procedures and coruscating tongue-lashings. But he did say there would be a ceremony in the courtyard that had to be kept secret for reasons of state. The embassy’s political officer was Miguel Espinosa. I spoke personally with Major Park. Darla felt that her first duty was absolute command of her post. “Major Park said he could not be specific.” “Well what in the hell is that supposed to mean?” “My words to the Major exactly. Within the embassy. An energetic.” “What’s being celebrated? Did Muratbey get an erection?” Darla reserved her vulgarity for a select few and used it primarily as a release of tension.” roared Darla into the phone. One man said he had seen a flying saucer over the palace in the middle of the night. “It’s a celebration. He was quietly escorted away by two police officers. however. the black-haired young diplomat entered quietly and calmly.

Major Park could not help admiring the president’s firmness of step as he fell into place behind him. reminding himself of bygone days when twice he had joined the Soviet leaders atop Lenin’s tomb to review a parade. Picked men from the army and internal security forces snapped to attention along the sides of the courtyard. 115 . He was reassured when the President identified himself in his own voice. he quoted to himself from the alien contact protocols. just off the red carpet. They also noted the presence of two Kyrgyz helicopters hovering over the reservoir on the far side of the border. he observed with satisfaction that the courtyard was empty and well lit with a sizable patch of red fabric covering its center portion. The spaceman did not come to see Lenin. Muratbey stepped solemnly forward. Bix was momentarily confused when President Muratbey and Major Park entered the flyer’s compartment because he thought the President was wearing a translator on his head.Ferghanan spotter planes picked up Bix’s flyer a few moments after it rose from the surface of the reservoir. As he began to descend toward the Presidential Palace. They brought their weapons to present arms position. proud in the thought that he was representing the Republic of Ferghana and the whole human race. a formal salute not usually performed with loaded magazines. Let them get used to you. So perhaps he would not have to use his destructors. As he had the night before. Major Park stood behind and to the side of Muratbey. he thought as the condensation from his breath rose like a cloud in the chill night air. When the sphere came to a halt and its door opened. Bix made no effort to escape detection on his way to Kokand. Everything indicated that ceremonies were about to take place. Presdent Muratbey waited patiently at the edge of the carpet in greatcoat and fur hat.

” said Muratbey. “No.” 116 .” “What is equipment?” asked Muratbey. President Rejep Muratbey. I must be careful not to misunderstand.” he said at length. and the ice will form again.” said Frak.” I don’t think he got it. “I will make this as simple as possible. “You’re talking about ice ages.“I am Rejep Muratbey. President of the Republic of Ferghana. President Muratbey and Major Park responded in kind. What you want? What you give?” What do you want. It should be emitting carbon dioxide and methane to make the planet warmer. Then another machine will cool the planet. The machines have been doing this for a very long time. “We like weather. I am here to repair equipment in the mountains.” “Why you want to change weather?” asked Muratbey with a touch of belligerence in his voice. it is just the opposite. Bix reflected a moment before communicating his thoughts to Frak. “It is a machine for controlling the weather on this planet. Bix tried again. Then I will leave. I must fix it.” Muratbey thought. communicated Frak. “Major Park tell me you want to negotiate contract. Bix bowed his head deeply.” “Warming the planet will melt the ice at its poles. I am honored that you choose to visit land of great Ferghana people. but it is not operating. “I am a repairman. corrected Frak silently for Bix’s benefit. This man does not speak this language well. I want you to help me to make it warm.” said the marmot. “You want me to help you start ice age. And then later will come the ice age. I need some assistance. measured in your species’ lifespans.” “My name is Bix. “I am man of direct speech.

I guarantee that the technology I leave you will make you and your people the most important members of your species. “Why don’t you ask what he is going to give you as part of the contract?” Muratbey nodded. “Yes. “Comrade Bix. I will leave behind with you this flyer. 117 .” said Muratbey craftily. “If our laser beam emitter is still working after two million of your years.” “Frak?” “The marmot.” “Maybe technology not work without proper energy source.Major Park stepped forward and whispered in Muratbey’s ear.” “Ahhhh! Technology! Mister President Rejep Muratbey. but they are not suitable for contract. Plenty of technology. do you think I would leave you something that breaks down? President Rejep Muratbey. flyer. I have two with me. You are from space.” whispered Major Park. I can leave one behind. You must give technology to Republic of Ferghana.” “You also leave weapons so we can protect technology?” Once again the protocols proved absolutely correct. and other kinds as well. and Frak will instruct someone on how to use it. I have plenty of technology I can give you. There I must say no. Bix smiled broadly. what you give me as part of contract to help you?” “Did you like the trinkets?” “Yes. I have a machine that makes trinkets like the ones I gave you. The marmot laughed. “We are so close to a deal. Mister President Rejep Muratbey. “I will be using a plasma boring machine for cutting into the mountain. and you mention weapons. waiting for more.” said Muratbey.

I will join you. I had business to take care of there anyway so it will just be killing two birds with one stone. But I cannot give you any weapons. He turned to the Major. As soon as he was out of sight in the corridor. “I think you have yourself a deal. Frak’s eventual reply was fully audible.Weapons might endanger me and members of my race. I can use weapons against your enemies.” Major Park hesitated and then left the compartment. however. so to speak.” Park heard the president begin to take his leave and stepped quickly out of the sphere. if that is called for. He threw his arms wide as if to embrace his unseen audience and delivered in Russian a speech about friendship in the universe and friendship around the planet. step outside. Moments later President Muratbey walked past him to a well lit portion of the red carpet where the television director had marked a stopping point with gaffer’s tape. He could barely make out Muratbey’s whispered demanding sentences. I have weapons. No weapons. “Park.” Muratbey nodded ruminatively. 118 . Mister President Rejep Muratbey. Just in case he might someday want to broadcast it. he paused and listened.

he was nevertheless nervous. Knowing that with Margie in charge the complicated remote hookup would run with perfect smoothness. He wondered whether Shanelle Whittaker was out of bed yet in Nukus. While Margie fidgeted. it was evening news time of the previous day. Margie Hicks paced the television studio the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation had built in Nukus awaiting the start of a live remote hookup between a camera crew and reporter on the ground in the hole in the sea. the capital of the Karakalpak Republic. While telling himself that he was not unduly affected by sex goddesses and action heroes lining up to exchange words with him. he had paid special attention to trimming his short salt-and-pepper beard and had a nagging fear that the tiny orchid in his lapel would wilt or be crushed in the hubbub. all gazes realigning upon him as he passed. the in-studio anchor checked his looks in a small mirror and ran a comb through his hair. Resplendent in a tieless ruffled shirt and a tuxedo beautifully tailored to his stout physique. She was visualizing the contrast: Hollywood gowns and tuxedos versus the shiny reflecting glasses and aluminized coats issued to hole in the sea workers and visitors to protect against a chance incoming beam from space. at six-twenty AM on February 18. 119 . In Los Angeles. Hayes Carpenter moved like a Hollywood star through the not-to-be-missed premier party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. and coverage of the Hollywood premier of Carpenter-Beckenbaugh’s second hole in the sea documentary.CHAPTER ELEVEN Dull red dawn broke over the drab concrete buildings of Nukus.

President of the Karakalpak Republic. he may even show up at the VIP lounge or send his car. Lay on something fancy for dinner: me. and slipped out to the patio around the pool to place a call to her on his cellphone. That Georgian restaurant can cater it.decided she was.” “Mmmmm. the wall-enclosed dacha that served as the official residence of Ahmet Vahidov. My body should be feeling awake by then. and whoever else he wants. Set me up to see him on Thursday. Past the rumpled satin sheets and through the open bathroom door he watched the stunningly beautiful Russian economics student who had kept him from getting enough sleep dry her lush breasts and gleaming thighs and then tie up her wet golden hair in a towel turban. I’m just nervous. Hell. He was torn between the desire to 120 . “Shanelle. What’s the problem?” “No problem. Do that. this is Hayes. at the Blue House. Make it late evening. “Okay. do you want to see Vahidov right away? Or rest first?” “I’d better see him right away.” Meanwhile. Vahidov. you. Just nervous.” “I can head him off if you like. Sorry to get you out of bed.” Hayes considered. Thought I’d share that with you. His penis was sore and red. What are you nervous about?” “I don’t know. Her sleepy voice was miraculously clear despite being relayed half way round the world. thanks.” “I was up. Vahidov loves their seventy-five varieties of preserved fish. the weary and bleary-eyed dictator sat on the side of his bed and leaned his bony elbows on his bony knees.” “When you get here on Wednesday.

all except for the Karakalpak Minister of Culture.make love to her yet one more time. At six-twenty-six. in a brown and barren-looking field belonging to the Karakalpak Cotton Cooperative. two hundred meters away. who was still in a back room with a bored but compliant stripper. Marine guard. yawned and hung up the phone. At the brand-new American embassy on the city’s outskirts. high-booted farmers to continue laying out a pipe system that would result in major water economies. Shanelle Whittaker. the hotel. and everything and everyone else within a five mile radius of the 121 . an elderly pensioner in a threadbare overcoat swept a deserted street with a long-handled besom. Nearby. Two miles further on. Israelis and farmers. At the same instant. He checked the duty roster to see who was supposed to be in the building and then screwed in place a prohibited earphone: classic rap by Staten Island’s Wu Tang Clan. Marine guard Rupert Johnson came on duty and took his seat behind the bullet-proof glass in the lobby. bored stripper. the policemen. in a parking lot where it had chanced to land from Bix’s flyer. mafia bag man. pajama-clad in her hotel suite. a sphere of plutonium imploded into a critical mass triggering a chain reaction that cascaded into an explosion equivalent to a hundred thousand tons of TNT. Elsewhere in the city. a desperate need for sleep. one policeman dozed while his partner drank tea in a parked Moskva waiting for a mafia bag man to come out the back door of a nightclub and pay them their weekly salary supplement. a team of Israeli irrigation specialists was up early with a crew of wool-hatted. pensioner with his besom. and the urge to relieve his bladder. capital for the project coming from Carpenter-Beckenbaugh as part of its continuing commitment to the Karakalpak economy. Within the club. the room she was in. the last drunks were being coaxed out the front door. Shanelle’s body.

Death overtook Ahmet Vahidov’s gangly body just as it was intertwining itself with the soft. . naked limbs of the Russian economics student. well-heeled tourists. He watched the cloud rise and expand for several minutes before feeling a vibration in the girder he was clinging to. that the laser’s power source was almost certainly a small thermonuclear reactor. . Speculation about the dawn of an era of cheap. clean energy had briefly displaced UFO stories. who had turned the immense ring of steel caissons holding back the sea into a worldwide icon of the scientific quest to understand the universe. An instant of hell: Shanelle’s retinas conveyed the flash to her brain. but she was dead before her ears could register the bomb’s awesome noise. drilling operations had been proceeding night and day irrespective of the comings and goings of dignitaries. he gazed in astonishment as the top of a mushroom cloud began to loom over the lip of the caisson wall. God is great . He looked again to the south in time to see the caisson wall crack open from lip to seafloor with an ear-splitting screech. . At six-twenty-six.bomb vaporized or flew into pieces under the impact of the explosion’s blinding flash.Praise be 122 . volcanic heat. . . one hundred and twenty miles away. an Azerbaijani roustabout named Murat Alpay was belted securely to the girders at the top of the drilling tower muscling a chain into place around a defective pipe section preparatory to its being lowered to the deck. and especially television broadcasters. Margie Hicks and her smiling. . Glory be to God . and pulverizing shock. based on radiation readings and deep core drilling. At the hole in the sea. energized-looking television anchorman died just as she raised her hand to give him a go signal. The most recent headline news had been the scientific determination. He clutched the girder harder as the vibration mounted into a powerful shaking. They he heard the sound of steel rending under great pressure. “Praise be to God . Stunned by the brilliant flash on the southern horizon.

its hole erased. he was bringing the simple pleasures of life to the conduct 123 . hushpuppies. * * * President Boone Rankin was line-dancing in the White House to a country music band after a sumptuous dinner of Carolina-style barbecue. Some of those who were awake thought a new kind of laser event was occurring and immediately looked down and turned their backs as they had been instructed. the flash had only brightened the sky overhead.to God . The only other survivor was Murat Alpay. . As he saw it.” he intoned as his horrified eyes watched two caissons buckle completely and the sea crash thunderously through the gap. and then the chilling sound of ripping steel as the caisson wall succumbed to the nuclear shock wave propagating with crushing force through earth and seawater. coleslaw. Caught like Pharaoh’s army on the floor of the sea. found many hours later still strapped to the top of the tower projecting five feet above the level of the lapping water. the drillers. camera operators. and apple cobbler. but only four men managed to seal themselves inside before the wall of water overtook the massive platform. Buoyant escape pods had been placed in strategic locations on deck. On the seafloor within the hole. Otherwise the sea seemed at peace. In the sky the crisp wind bent the mushroom cloud toward the southwest where it deposited its lethal burden of radioactive fallout on the barren deserts of Turkmenistan and further downwind on the Caspian Sea. . Some were already returning to their tasks when they felt a rumble underfoot. and scientists watched in horror as a fifty foot wall of water came crashing toward them. followed by a severe earth tremor. But nothing happened.

New York. . clap . Katherine Kourek. George.” called the President. “ “I heard you. his adopted daughter Sarah. now. Katherine Kourek picked up a familiar surreptitious wink and followed them out of the room a few seconds later. . Nevertheless. . President . . A guard saluted and opened the door to the situation room.C. and his pixie-like press secretary. George Artunian squeezed himself in between the jovial President. back . . As the nation’s cultural guardians in Cambridge.” “Mr. . whisper something to the President. Francis Scott Keye Bridge would be full of people tryin’ to evacuate D. “Now just keep on smilin’ and dancin’ for another minute. as Rankin took pains to point out. itself saw it. before we got our ties off. Give me the details. “the National Security Advisor can’t come into a party. he consistently and willfully demeaned his high office and lowered the dignity of the presidency. and picked up the beat. or complained that they hadn’t had a helluva good time. “Arm swing .C. George. “Two forward . turn around .of the people’s business. . “ “There’s been an atomic explosion in Nukus. grabbing his friend’s arm. . .” Five minutes later. “George. “Two forward. a beaming and seemingly out of breath President excused himself to get some air with his National Security Advisor.” said Boone Rankin. arm swing . you’re gettin’ it. .” 124 . no guest ever came away hungry from dinner and line-dancing at the White House. . .” said Artunian under his breath. . . “All right. and D. and then we go talk. George.” murmured Rankin.” They went down a flight of stairs. and then me go all over serious and stalk outta the room.

The Karakalpak economy is riding a boom on Hayes Carpenter’s money. . Apparently no warning of any kind. “Because . but the explosion had a huge ground effect that collapsed the hole in the sea.” mused the Rankin. . “Henry? What’s the latest?” said the President. It was either dropped by air or delivered on the ground. 125 . probably two hundred thousand dead or dying. Satellites picked up the flash and heat of the detonation. It’s just that I can’t think of any reason at all to blow up Nukus. but no preceding flash of a missile launch. though. “Missile?” “Air Force says no. President.“Nukus is totally destroyed. I’m not sure I have a very good reason. and it wouldn’t make any sense for them to destroy access to it. but what they covet is the Great Array. entered. local time. . We don’t know of any active anti-regime movements. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Actually.” “That could have been the target. Mr.” “President Vahidov is a real jerk. “Satellite reconaissance indicates the yield was around a hundred kilotons.” The door opened and Air Force general Henry Royce. Vahidov’s got envious neighbors. George?” The National Security Advisor knitted his bushy brows.” “Why do you say that. Not huge. Could have been brought in in a truck and triggered by remote control or a timer. Six-twenty-six in the morning.” “Terrorists?” “It’s what we’ve always been afraid of.” Uniformed technicians were quietly entering the room and taking seats at electronics consoles.

including the heroic Americans serving in the U. President?” “Oh.S.” She looked uncertainly at Rankin. even it that’s what it was. embassy or elsewhere. . “Last thing we want is for people to think about nukes in terrorist hands. Nearest ones were in Kazakhstan.“You don’t destroy a city of a couple of hundred thousand people because you think their president is a jerk. almost forgot you were here. Say we’re compiling a list of Americans believed to have been in Nukus and will release it as soon as it’s ready. Mr. “Henry. maybe you don’t. Kathy. “ “Mr. and that we are sending aid and decontamination equipment to help the Karakalpak government cope with the tragic situation. yes. President?” interjected Artunian. “Say that Nukus has been destroyed by an unexplained nuclear explosion. Kathy. . and maybe I don’t .” “I should get to the briefing room.” “Then where did this one come from?” 126 .” “Are you sure. are there still any Soviet nukes on Karakalpak soil?” “There never were any.” “Well.” “What should I say about the source of the explosion?” “Just say it’s undetermined at this time. And say my prayers and the prayers of my family and of all Americans are with all those innocent people killed in the explosion. “That okay Mr. President?” “That’s okay.” He turned to the General. but that it probably was not a terrorist attack. and the last of those were decommissioned and shipped back to Russia almost ten years ago. What do you want me to say?” Artunian replied.

“That’s less then a hundred miles from the Chinese border. Besides. and two telephones began to ring.” “Mr. Within a few seconds a fifty-inch video screen lit up with a map of centered on the town of Andijan. An army electronics specialist busied herself with a mouse and keyboard. After the explosion. unless the orbit was decaying and the satellite was dying.” “Where’s .000 feet before the explosion. President. and the Russians’ Mandrake. what’s that place the blib came from?” “Andijan.” He listened for two minutes and then replaced it in its cradle. Too low for that. They’ve monitored an exchange between an airbase at Tashkent and the Karakalpak airbase at Urgench. That’s up where our U-2s and SR-70s. which is southeast of Nukus. Must be at about the limit for Tashkent radar. “Artunian. Tashkent confirmed and said it first appeared on their screen over Andijan on the Kyrgyz-Ferghana border. George Artunian took the receiver from a technician and said curtly. “No operational bombers fly at 70.” interjected General Royce. .” said General Royce with a puzzled tone. .000 feet.” said Artunian. and Tashkent didn’t pick it up again either. electrical interference jammed the Urgench radar.” “A low satellite firing from orbit?” “No. The General turned to the newcomers and began a quiet consultation. Urgench reported a blip moving toward Nukus from the east very fast at 70. 127 . We should check with Kokand.Katherine Kourek slipped from the room just as a blue telephone rang.” As everyone gazed at the map several more uniformed people entered the room. “That was NSA duty officer. “But that might not mean anything. we’re pretty sure the Soviets never got to the point of putting missiles in orbit. fly. They’ve had the Karakalpaks and their neighbors under special coverage.

” “Earthquake bomb? Never heard of such a thing. and his administration had been blessed by having few of them to face. He had never had a feel for foreign crises.” said the President at long last.” said the General.” “What does that mean.President Rankin’s mind drifted back to the party. “we have reports from our seismic stations that the ground wave from the explosion was much larger than the apparent size of the bomb. He squeezed 128 . sir. But there’s another possibility. and he hummed a favorite Garth Brooks melody.” “Neither have we. President. Small squares of paper bearing cyrillic characters had been pasted over the keys. “Mr. “Shit on a stick. . “It could be we’re not dealing with a .” President Rankin’s clear blue eyes looked expectant. . President Rejep Muratbey consulted some loose pages of instructions and then carefully punched a thirteencharacter sequence into the small control keyboard of the machine on his desk. his voice laden with exasperation.” * * * In his spacious private office in the Presidential Palace. .” “What would the Chinese want an earthquake bomb for?” “I can’t imagine. umh . Henry?” “It means the bomb was probably designed to collapse the hole in the sea. “We’d be better off if they was terrorists. interrupting his reverie. Sort of an earthquake bomb. sir. .” There was a long silence as the implications of the General’s remarks sank in. with a human-type bomber.

This had been followed by a similar day-long wait in the Kazakh city of Almaty. He pulled a handle that caused a small bin to tip open toward him. rubies. But the primary source 129 . Kazakh Air’s Flight #17 was landing at Kokand airport. Then he placed it carefully on a piece of black velvet that already held an assortment of diamonds. totally destroyed by a massive nuclear explosion whose ground shock was clearly felt over four hundred miles away in Tashkent. President Muratbey looked over at an aerial shot of smoking ruins and turned up the sound.” he muttered under his breath. A burning. He held it up to his desklight and marvelled at the stone’s deep green internal reflections as he turned it over and over again between his pudgy fingers. Five miles away. uncomfortable domestic service airport waiting for a flight to Kokand that was reportedly indefinitely delayed for lack of jet fuel. The on-board meal of greasy chicken parts had been inedible and the flight frighteningly bumpy over the towering Tien Shan mountains. smoking ruin.close to the machine and pressed his ear against it. He thought he detected a highpitched whine. Though uninformed about the bombing of Nukus. Straightening up he looked at his watch and saw that the stipulated number of seconds had elapsed. and emeralds. Eventually he returned his attention to the instruction manual of his trinket machine. To the side of his desk a television set was tuned to CNN with the sound muted. “As these pictures from the Russian news crew that flew in with the first rescue teams show. He reached inside and pulled out an emerald almost an inch in diameter.” Muratbey muted the sound but continued looking at the picture. Joseph Engineer was edgy and exhausted after a full day in Moscow’s crowded. “Esholeshek Vahidov. the city of Nukus is no more.

Mingled feelings of anger. he had always been able to fix his mind firmly on one thing regardless of other distractions. made and received enough telephone calls. the enemy that had killed and blinded his friends. fear. Mr. murmuring sea. he fixed his mind on going to war. Looking out at the dark. * * * By midnight. From childhood. and spoken with enough company specialists. Joseph’s imagination had never extended much beyond the realm of computers and telecommunications technology. Thayer’s instructions had been to act as though his sole reason for coming was to install and calibrate new coding equipment.of his edginess was what was to come. Hayes Carpenter had watched enough news reports. the enemy that he now pledged himself to defeat. His driver dropped him off at Santa Monica beach. the enemy that had twice attacked the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh empire. and willingness to sacrifice coursed through his mind and came to bear on the enemy. excitement. Unfortunately. He walked down to the upper limit of the incoming waves and sat down in the sand in his tuxedo trousers and ruffled shirt. pride. eagerness. determination. and then use his imagination to identify the Chakra Net webmaster and through him the elusive Nadir. 130 . the enemy that could not be identified.

deeds wrought my Gods like me. But first you ask of me some foolish little things: Indrani’s ape? And who the dasas dark? What name I’ll take them one by one. But much has been confused. the things that you have asked.com To: Webmaster@Chakra_Net.com THE TALE OF THE CHAKRA. but you must realize that time and times have passed. but very much had changed between the time of Gods and time of writing hymns. have they for lives of lowly human folk. but still I’ll tell the tale of how ere now we fought. THIRD POSTING So now you’ve learned the truth of what the Giants do. Gods splendid in their wrath. What now you call your myths are based on mighty deeds. the myths 131 . There’s nothing I forget. No care Perhaps it is too late to stop their evil plan. of how with vajra strong I slew the giant host. eleven thousand years.CHAPTER TWELVE From: Nadir@1Day2Day.

We dressed in furs and skins. for this we told to men who helped us in our fight. more. And They let us join their tribe. They fought with sticks and stones and knew not plow or The way they helped us fight was not by might and main. or life in outer space. To make our trick succeed. that now are called Tien Shan. So do not waste my time by asking questions He’s The evil is at hand. The tribe we journeyed with into the mountains high. grain. 132 . They knew not how to think of things of metal made. the Giants from the skies. bombed a city’s heart as you would crush an ant. we had to kill the snake upon the heights because it water held in form of ice and snow. who holds the waters back. We said the profile of a snake stretched out on summits high. We looked like Earthly men. who never realized the danger they were in because they could not tell a human from a God. where holes the giants bored reach down to their machines providing entry points at which to make attack. We pointed to the peaks that rose then fell then rose. we told our men a tale about a demon grim. So question number one: Who’s Vrtra whom I killed? In myth a snake is he. unfold. a Giant’s come to Earth.are full of holes. thus we travelled forth to set upon the foe. The reason for this tale is simple to The place we had to go was high upon the peaks. a snake on mountains high. or using unseen power. Our hair grew long in plaits.

I stole it from their ship. told the Vrtra tale. myths like these you know. the lake called Issyk Kul. Twas Twas there we hid our ship. 133 . others saw a club. My vajra is no more. shows you’ve guessed. and thought its flash a spark like those they struck with flint to make themselves a fire. when I undertook to spike their great machine and stop the climate’s change. When later tales were told of Gods who demons killed. and learned to use it well to work the Giants woe. like ours at Issyk But Kul. beneath the And so to hunters brave we water deep. a stick with bulbous end. I used its final charge. of how we’d stalk a snake and kill him in his lair upon the lofty heights where hunters did not go. So now to question two: true design? hurt. The vajra that was mine. the lightningbolt was used my vajra to describe. But To some it thunder was and lightning seemed its beam. Now on to lesser things.were hunters from the lake. But A plasma tube it was like those the Giants used to bore the mountain holes. Learn now the truth you seek. That Indra is my name your question Immortal Gods I had no wife Indrani. what was it’s The hunters heard its sound. or else a hammer great that sparked and smashed and slew. there we came to Earth. the deep of Issyk Kul. a crash so loud it They saw its flashing beam go coursing through the sky.

a man The hunters called him ape and wanted him to But him slay as oft they did on finding others of his breed. adultery and rape. to caverns deep within. but never did it fly. a raven black as night. a 134 . the language of the tribe that helped us in our quest. But Dyaus. But humans think of sex an hour at least a day so when they wrote their myths. the ape and raven spoke a very different tongue.don’t wed. We had one as a guide. for under beak and wing was placed a small machine designed to learn to speak whatever tongue it heard and translate from that tongue into the speech of Gods. they gave to us our mates. But to the not now recall. the story of the ape reflects a true event. who led the gods. They gave us lives like theirs. nor do they reproduce as I explained before. Neanderthal they’re called in recent books I’ve read. hunting band Vrshakapi his name. invented tales of love. He knew the mountains high. I stole in later times. There still existed then a few primeval men.) (My own machine named Ann So though we Gods did learn the language of the tribe. looked to be a bird. you would Vedic call. did I protect. of sloping brow. But though I had no mate. possessed a good Upon his shoulder sat what device. giant-built. like vajra. “Bull ape” it meant to them. knew pathways to the He did not speak the tongue that peaks. What name the man was called by others of his kind I do It sounded strange and wild.

When victory was ours and all the Giants dead. a truly godly high. they seized their stocks of grain. but humbling was its sense as when you give a dog a name like Duke or Rex. your question number four. You ask who dasas were. a land of cities strong. confined them to their towns. tribes had learned what we had taught. very drunk. By dasa did they mean both enemy and slave. their underground device disabled once for all. unlike all Earthly quaffs. swift and fashioned spears of bronze. but still I heard it told that through the ruined towns the hunters drove their cows to pasture in the fields that once were green with grain but now were sparse and sere. a people great in arts. the few of us who lived got very. By then the Vedic They drove in chariots But on the Indus plain another people dwelt.term that honor bore. The term was Much later did it come to mean the common foe encountered by the tribes who spoke the Vedic tongue upon their venture south across the Hindu Kush. not in use at time I’m speaking of. a nectar we had brought. into the Indus vale. The chakra last of all the questions that you posed. The hunters from the north descended on their fields. I was not with them then. its explanation lacks nobility of mind. but small and dark of skin. We drank the soma dear. And drunken we remained as generations 135 .

We’d saved the planet Earth. and only one desire. of how we slew the snake upon the mighty peaks. dead our hunter friends. demanded cows be killed and burned on altars high. and all we got were yawns from surly. a tiny band of Gods. and humankind And this we’d done with one. 136 . no Vrtra high above. knowing that our path could never be retraced. So now we wanted thanks.passed. to teach them what we knew and elevate their lives. demanded signs be carved upon the stony cliffs to ever tell the tale I’ve told on Chakra Net. no Giants here below. Twas then we by design decreed the godly rites. and then their children too. as well. You must appreciate how greatly this annoyed. unending gratitude. restless youth. explaining how it linked unto the mountain snake controlling ice and snow by puffing smoky breath. as hunters aged and died. And though at first we tried to guide the hunters’ ways. long No chakra could be seen beneath the water deep. our teachings somehow fell into a pattern set. We’d come from planet far. We told each crop of youth the tale of chakra wheel. demanded holy hymns be chanted in our names. our battle with the foe. upon its beasts and birds. In time the youth grew bored. explaining where it was and how it beamed the skies. to right the ghastly wrong the Giants had imposed upon a helpless Earth. We boasted of our deeds.

The rest bowed In time we sobered up. but what was done was done. we’d had to save the human race. Intent we never had to make ourselves divine. and one by one they chose to terminate their lives. Now I alone am left. Instead we forged a cult among a simple folk and lost our My friends could not grand design in drunkeness and rage. endure the failure of their dreams. He saw in its reflection the medals of his uniform tunic and thought how twenty-five years of service had eaten the best part of his life. insensitive and dull. our soma all was drunk. to give immortal life and teach it wisdom deep so if and when the giants spread throughout the stars. the sensitive of soul. we killed a lot of men. and Gods we had become. I guess eternal life Nadir Major Dimitri Park blew cigarette smoke into the air above his computer screen. the one they called The smart a drunk. down in praise and slaughtered cows as bid.We went a little mad. a glutton and a beast. then might a species brave take issue with their plans and blunt their science great with force of moral will. demands a thicker skin. To be feared? To be hated? Why 137 . One hope. you see. By then it was too late to change the godly tales or stop the sacrifice of cows on altars high. ones all are dead.

a man who had committed a crime so vast that it could never be forgiven. lank black hair. and high cheekbones would not mark him as a foreigner. when he had joined the KGB after university graduation. Park hadn’t the slightest doubt that Bix had bomb Nukus at Muratbey’s request: two birds with one stone. he had believed ferociously in what he was doing. where his square face. It was in the high mountain meadows too that he learned to know and respect the Kyrgyz and Uzbek sheep and horse herders. 138 . And beyond that horror was the seeming fact that Muratbey was now collaborating with Bix to commit a still greater crime that would someday flood much of the inhabited world. whose zest for spying and interrogating and arresting had long evaporated? In the days of Mikhail Gorbachev. the free and forthright men of the summer pastures whose Basmachi guerrilla war against Soviet ruled had lasted from 1917 to 1930. who was no better than those he had already worked for. Shortly thereafter had come Uzbek independence and years of trying to convince himself that its rulers were an honorable men. but because of the mountains. Then Uzbekistan. He had longed to be in Moscow. He had chosen Ferghana not because of Muratbey. Seniority and rank had given him an option. Riding a horse in the high pastures of the Tien Shan he would sometimes imagine himself in northern Korea. fell apart. the homeland he had never seen.should people hate and fear a man who felt so tired. How unlike the free Turks of the mountains was the president he now worked for. but fate had assigned him to Tashkent just before the USSR’s collapse. convinced that a better society could not be achieved without the elimination of wreckers and plotters. too. and he had chosen Ferghana—Ferghana and Persident Rejep Muratbey.

All that was left was reeling him in. both places with computer access to the Internet. or perhaps Sanskrit . a hundred miles from its capital. Ingalls. They had described a trim. * * * 139 . thought Park. where he had heard nothing but praise and admiration for the American Dr. somewhere within easy reach of Lake Issyk Kul. . . I could help him. It had taken. He wasn’t far away. And now came Nadir’s third posting as the icing on the cake. Somewhere there was a man. . who understood everything and wanted to act. .Park blew some more smoke at the Chakra Net message on his computer screen. sharp-tongued woman obsessed with the study of some ancient language . Then he had asked the embassy staff about Dr. first. . and not much farther away from Almaty. Vedic. and Joseph felt quite confident that Dr. Lee Ingalls was just the person to do it. If Nadir would only come to the mountains. Bishkek. Not forty-eight hours since his arrival and he had already almost certainly identified the Chakra Net sysop. a visit to the Ferghana Academy of Sciences. or maybe Vedic Sanskrit. . * * * Joseph Engineer was feeling positively jubilant. He reread Nadir’s posting. proper. Lake Issyk Kul was next door in Kyrgyzstan. or perhaps not a man. Lee Ingalls through whose influence with President Muratbey the Academy’s budget had been suddenly increased along with the pay of its chief researchers. they thought .

“I have a gift for you. He actually gave me the stones.” he announced when she looked up.Donald Ingalls found his wife in her study huddled. doesn’t this all seem a little fishy to you? Where do the stones come from? Why call on you to sell them? You don’t know anything about gems.” He placed in her outstretched palm a stunningly brilliant sapphire three-quarters of an inch in diameter.” Lee felt unconvinced. then?” “Yes it is. that tape.” “So what about me and Chakra Net? I thought the whole point of his blackmail was to make me run it. . “A new business enterprise. and besides he doesn’t need to compete with the Karakalpaks anymore. .” “Who is . “Donald.” “This isn’t mine to keep. he has destroyed the evidence . . “Ta-DAH!” “My lord. I have them.” 140 . I am in business with President Muratbey himself!” Lee looked askance. “How do you know?” “Because he wouldn’t have given me a hundred and fifty gemstones to market for him if he was still intending to do me some harm. as usual.” Lee gave her husband a puzzled look. “The man who’s blackmailing you?” “In return for my going into business with him. Donald! Where in the world did you get this?” Lee loved sapphires. “Put out your hand and shut your eyes. . Lee. over her laptop computer.” “He has decided to close it down. He thinks it’s brought enough attention to Ferghana. ?“ “Get this. It’s sort of a signing bonus from my partner.

but it effectively rules out my friend Dolores. namely me. Then I’ll take my share. but she saw no point in saying anything since Donald was still unaware of the president’s pathetic attempt at seduction.” “A pig?” “Just a whim. Nadir posted another message to Chakra Net. He recently struck a great find. Maybe a couple of tiny rubies for its tiny little eyes. Vrshakapi. That’s pretty clever. according to Nadir. There are some good inexpensive jewelers here in Kokand. I’ll set up a bank account somewhere in Muratbey’s name. I suppose he has gemcutters working for him. but I know about marketing. President Muratbey has a private business he keeps very quiet. And. She wrote her dissertation on Indrani and the other Rig Vedic goddesses. was a Neanderthal man who served the gods as a guide.” “How are the stones being cut? This one is absolutely stunning. He knows his Rig Veda well enough to look up the name of Indrani’s ape. And then on the 141 . but then he said Indrani was only a myth. Vrshakapi. of course.” “How are you being paid?” “Twenty-five percent. So he needs someone he can trust.” “He didn’t mention that. I think I’ll have a pin made with the sapphire as the big round stomach of a pig. “I’ll have to get it set. She would have go on and on about Indrani and Vrshakapi. but he can’t let it be known because of his official position. He owns mines in the mountains. to handle the marketing for him. and she would never say they didn’t exist.“Ah.” “Did he give himself away? Are you able to tell who he is?” “Not really.” It crossed Lee’s mind that Muratbey’s gift for her might not be entirely innocent. there’s the sapphire for you. By the way. and the money will be paid into that.

but the most obvious ones. And the funny thing is. your latest posting was full of matters of mutual interest. where I am located. 142 . From: To: Webmaster@Chakra_Net. THIRD POSTING Nadir.” Donald by this time had departed the study. the story Nadir tells is pretty good. Makes me sort of sorry Muratbey is giving up on Chakra Net.com RE: THE TALE OF CHAKRA. so that rules out Edmund who is so enamored of the thesis that the Vedic people were native to India. . “You know I don’t understand a word you’re saying. I would be delighted to serve you a cup of tea. . Now on the vajra .com Nadir@1Day2Day. She looked down at her keyboard and thought for a few moments before starting to write. and Lee was talking to herself. It also indicates that you are not too far from Since Chakra Net will soon Kokand. terminate its service. don’t you.dasas Nadir came down on the side of the Vedic speakers as invaders from the north. Is the upshot that you’ve ruled out all the possible perpetrators?” “Not all. might it be possible for us to meet in real time? If you were to come to Kokand. I wonder if I can make another posting. “ Donald leaned down and gave her a husbandly kiss on the forehead. I mean. for science fiction.

pleasure to meet you. and party fund-raising operation I’ve ever so much as given a friendly nod to. You know George. and durin’ that time you’ve written checks to every charity.” He gestured toward a sofa and two easy chairs where George Artunian was waiting to shake his hand.” “Indeed it does. public interest group. “The pleasure is all mine..” “Didn’t seem that way during the last campaign. Mr. Mr. there’s someone new at the embassy who’s dying to meet you. President. in Washington.C. President Boone Rankin greeted Hayes Carpenter as he was ushered into the oval office. educational institution. Young NSA guy named Joseph Engineer. Money opens doors. So what is it that you want?” 143 . Carpenter.” * * * Eight thousand miles away. And you’ve made it a point to tell George what you were doing. D. But then it’s been all of a week since your people were blown up in Nukus. But isn’t that the name you told me? Someone who was looking for you? Funny name. I invited him to come by for a drink at six.Webmaster Donald poked his head back into the study as she consigned her message to the net. Carpenter. I think. “Mr. He’s here installing new code machines. But it doesn’t determine what happens once you get inside the door. So am I right in feelin’ that you’ve changed your allegiance all of a sudden? Or were you just tryin’ to get an appointment to see me?” “It seemed like the most efficient way. “By the way. Indeed it does.

. “no point tellin’ Mr.“Only one thing. covert action by a foreign government. “ “Mr. then I don’t believe you.” The President stood up and put a friendly hand on Carpenter’s elbow as he guided him toward the door. “We don’t have a name and address.” George Artunian stepped into the discussion. And I can understand that maybe we’re even friends with the bad guys. Artunian. Now I can understand that maybe we’re not able to do anything about it in such a goddam faraway place. Mr.” “So you can take revenge?” “So I can take revenge. . “As I’m sure you know from the news. Carpenter. I know when I’m standing up to my neck in bullshit. 144 .” “Mr.” interrupted the President. “I’m sorry we couldn’t be more helpful. then a whole lot of my taxes got wasted. The name and address of whoever bombed Nukus. If after forty-five years of a goddam Cold War we never figured out how to trace an atomic explosion.” “Then that’s your answer. I can smell it. Carpenter.” He put his hand on the doorknob. But don’t feed me this line that we’re completely in the dark. there’s no evidence as of yet as to who did the bombing. and said very softly. but don’t let that stop you givin’ more money to the Democratic Party and other good causes. some sort of accident . Carpenter. He wants a name and address. Do we have one?” “No. So if you’re telling me we don’t have any idea who blew up my hole in the sea. gave Carpenter’s elbow a squeeze. Carpenter what we don’t know.” “George. Mr. sir. I’m a farm boy. But I can say that they don’t point to any weapon we’ve seen before. there are certain technical specifications about the blast that I can’t divulge. All possibilities are being considered: terrorists. Wouldn’t be the first time.

that Chakra Net? Fraction of one percent? Well. let ole Hayes check it out for us. I’d look in Kokand. “Well. Doesn’t cost a red cent and can’t lose us any votes. FOURTH POSTING To Osh I’ll come in March. we’d look like damn fools if we said or did anything visible to follow up the space invader theory. George. What you suppose the probability is that NSA is right about that Internet source.Hayes. But it don’t hurt Hayes Carpenter to look like a damn fool.com To: Webmaster@Chakra_Net. but if I were looking for one.” Boone Rankin winked and gave the businessman’s hand a final shake as he left the office. Nadir * * * 145 .com THE TALE OF CHAKRA. “What did you say that for?” queried Artunian as soon as the door closed.” * * * From: Nadir@1Day2Day.

” Hayes fiddled with his cowboy hat and looked at the black man staring sightlessly into his front yard. . But you’ve done a lot of other dumb things. You’ve had touch luck. “Something I want to talk to you about.Wilson Woodrow felt the sun on his face. Hayes. would you. “I got nothing else to do. I’m getting around. The door opened and shut. The lines of his skull stood out starkly under his skin. He heard a car coming up his gravel driveway.” “Oh.” Wilson heard his friend lower his bulky body onto the wicker armchair facing him. Heard it on the news. Hayes. and smelled a hint of Texas spring. .” “Not as tough as you. But there’s this one poem about growing old that I can never seem to get out of my mind.” “You know all about . Wilson?” “Nope. The bootheels of a heavy man clunked on the porch steps. “How are you doing.” “Yep. Wilson?” “Pretty good. I wouldn’t take me for a poetry reading man either. He seemed drier and more leathery than he had six months earlier. Hayes tried to see what was inside. heard the creak of his rocker. I should thank you for fixin’ me up with money.” “You really need some poem to tell you ‘bout that. But his eyes saw nothing. Pretty good.” “Well. “ “The bomb? Yep.” “I suppose you wouldn’t take me for being a poetry reading man. Wilson” he said finally. Hayes?” 146 . “Nice out here on the porch.

Truth to tell. You ought to try and do more. you know.” “Let me tell you about this poem. Then he gets bored. well.” “Then do you know a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson called Ulysses? About the same guy. “I guess I don’t. I kept thinking she’d look at me one day and say to herself. He lets his son take over as king. just different. And I’ve got an enlarged prostrate that makes it hurt like hell to sit for very long.” “Speak for yerself. . I’m overweight. rich. there are days when I think I’m just about wore out.’ but I think all she really ever saw was old. Not bad. but I don’t want to have it out because . then. you’re acting like a fucking retiree sitting here on your porch.” Hayes leaned forward with his elbows on his knees holding a blue book between his hands. but his son rules in a different way. That’s what I came here for. you ever get in the pants of that colored gal? Shanelle?” “Nope. . I think we both probably pushed ourselves too hard when we were young. and who gives a fuck?” Wilson laughed softly. Doctor tells me I’ve got about six more parachute jumps before my knees give out. who’s getting old. 147 . You ever heard of the Odyssey by Homer?” “I’m black and Texan. I’ll read it to you. but I ain’t ignorant.” “You hear me say I was a college professor?” “All right. and rules for a while as king. that man’s old and rich and not half bad looking. I’m two years younger’n you.” “Speakin’ of which. I’m the one who needs the rest. kills all the guys who are after his wife. “She was a classy gal. So then Ulysses. It’s the one I read over and over again. “Story is that Ulysses gets home after all his travels. Wilson.” “Well.” replied Hayes thoughtfully.“No. ‘Girl. or at least part of it. I take medicine for blood pressure and cholesterol.

I like that line. and opposed Free hearts. and opened the book at a paper bookmark.— That ever with a frolic welcome took The thunder and the sunshine. “You listening?” “You just read. and sitting well in order smite 148 . Like you. my friends. There lies the port.” Hayes took a pair of glasses from his shirt pocket. the slow moon climbs. Souls that have toiled. There gloom the dark. the slow moon climbs. Not unbecoming men that strove with gods. The lights begin to twinkle from the ricks. Death closes all.” “Remember now. ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world. My mariners. Push off. he was a sailor. the vessel puffs her sail. Old age hath yet his honor and his toil. and thought with me. The long day wanes. and wrought.” The long day wanes. may yet be done. Some work of noble note. “That’s right.” Hayes cleared his throat.thinks about what to do with the rest of his life. adjusted them on his nose. Come. the deep Moans round with many voices. but something ere the end. broad seas. free foreheads—you and I are old. Read it again. Now this is the great part.

The sounding furrows. Some work of noble note. to seek. It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles. and the baths Of all the western stars. we are. and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heavens. Though much is taken. much abides. Hayes.’” “Though much is taken. friend. to find. but strong in will To strive. we are.’ ‘Though much is taken. And see the great Achilles. And you know who against. Hayes?” “I’m saying I want you to go to war.’ What do you think? Yes or no?” “Does a bear shit in the woods?” 149 .” “Now what you read that to me for? You sayin’ you want me to go to sea with you. may yet be done. and not to yield. whom we knew. much abides. for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset. ‘Death closes all. much abides. ‘That which we are.— One equal temper of heroic hearts. Wilson. that which we are. “That’s a fine poem. until I die. Made weak by time and fate. but something ere the end. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down.

Do you have a couple of minutes now to give me some idea of what you think?” “Sure. who do you think bombed Nukus?” “That’s pretty obvious. Is this Dr. I might be able to do that. “Yeah. Waldron.” David Waldron rolled his clear blue eyes at his wife Libby and mouthed the word television. “I’m just writing this down. “First. I was given your name as someone who can speak on some of the issues involved in the Nukus bombing. Dr. Something or someone from somewhere other than Earth. could you be in our studio at nine in the morning? We’d send a car for you. I’m the producer for Paul Henning and Sunday Special on WABC. David Waldron?” “Yes. “You say that’s obvious.” “Good.” “I could do that.” “Right now we’re still not sure what angle we’re going to go with on Sunday.” said Dotty.” David leaned his desk chair back and put his feet on his desk.CHAPTER THIRTEEN “Hello. Go ahead. Could you tell me how you reach your judgement?” 150 .” There was a long pause.” “My name is Dotty Bennett. but if we use you. but no one in any official position agrees with you.

. and many political scientists adhere to what’s known as rational choice theory. at some level of analysis. as happened in Nukus. not the Kazakhs. They’re nonsense.” “Then you discount theories about terrorist groups and nuclear accidents. such as a missile warhead. not the Iranians . just no one. there’s been no end of scientific comment in the newspapers showing how nearly impossible it is to build a weapon like this from scratch. when all is said and done.” “But isn’t it going pretty far to suggest a space . people normally act for rational reasons. I’m a political scientist. and how many safeguards there are to prevent accidental detonation of a normal military weapon. . how ridiculous it would be to build one in the middle of a city of two hundred thousand people. . to destroy the capital of an obscure Central Asian republic with an atomic weapon. and you can’t take over the capital because you’ve blown up the capital. If you totally wipe out the government. With this in mind. The answer is no one. the international inspection team that has been overseeing on-site Russian and American nuclear disarmament for twelve years now reports no missing weapons. Not the Russians. A functioning machine of extraterrestrial origin is discovered only what? A hundred miles or so from Nukus? Nobody disagrees about that. Terrorism is the weapon of weak political groups that use fear to put pressure on some government to concede their demands. if you look at Nukus. Now that project is destroyed. Who other than the builders of the machine would want to do such a thing?” 151 . on any level. Besides which. This means that they analyze political phenomena on the basis that.” “Completely. The Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation sets up a huge project designed to interfere with the machine. And as for an accident.“Certainly. there’s no one left to react to your demands. . you ask yourself: for whom would it be a rational decision. not the Chinese. person on this basis?” “Not at all.

. After thousands of years of collective selfishness.” 152 . When they built the machine. David forged ahead. it’s pretty hard to believe that humans will suddenly work together in the face of a great threat. But by destroying Nukus. it’s just as likely that any given state will find it to its advantage to get on the space bandwagon and help the invader.“But if the target was the hole in the sea. “One more thing. Unless there is some obvious advantage in joining forces to fight a threat from space. humans will rally together to repel it.” There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. An assumption has been made for generations by science fiction writers that when faced with a threat from beyond the earth. the perpetrator eliminated both the project that threatened its machine and the government that authorized it. There are dozens of examples in history precisely of people not working together in the face of great threats. Nothing could be less likely. The world is made up of nation-states that act in their own interests and no one else’s. these guys might have twelve arms and three eyes and squish when they walk.” “Indeed it could. I’ll call you back and tell you for sure whether we want you to come down.” “But . a bomb could have been planted somewhere other than in the middle of Nukus.” “Dr. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to learn that at this very moment some government somewhere is working with the extraterrestrials because they are convinced it is in their interest vis-à-vis other states. there weren’t even any humans around. Thank you very much. When we’ve finalized the lineup. . these are very challenging ideas that I’m sure would make for an interesting show. They may have no idea of what a human being is. Maybe even helped them bomb Nukus. “ “Remember. Waldron. There’s no reason to think they have the slightest compunction about killing humans.

” “Oh. that’s too bad. Thinks it’s space aliens.S. You’d look so cute on television.” “So you’re going to be on television?” said Libby with a big smile as soon as David hung up the phone.” Dotty caught Paul’s expression as he jiggled his eyeballs in his patented burlesque of a demented fit.“I’ll be here. And thank you for calling. and makes the government seem powerless. “No go.” “It isn’t what they want to hear. “Not a chance. Scares people too much. that makes a lot of sense. “What’s the world coming to? Nut cases all over the place. What’s his take on the bombing?” “He thinks it was a Muslim terrorist device intended for Israel that went off accidentally.” “We may have to use him anyway. You could have worn the suit you got married in. Stein at the Council?” “I have. but I thought you were down on him.” “All the more reason not to let people know. Have you talked to Dr. Says the U. should retaliate against Iran and hit their atomic reactor at Bushire.” Henning threw up his arms.” “Why not? Sounded good to me. “Who else have we got?” * * * 153 . On West Sixty-Eighth Street Dotty Bennett turned to an expectant-looking Paul Henning and shook her head sadly.” “But the government is powerless.” “Oh.

the room was strewn with chunks of inscribed stone from the mountains. and Joseph told her more or less truthfully that he had been pursuing an Internet project related to the Great Array and had stumbled on her site quite by accident and had become intrigued by Nadir’s bizarre postings. Joseph blew on his fingers to warm them before picking the photo up to study. small Buddhist figurines. Lee had kept on her blue winter coat because the building was poorly heated. and elegantly calligraphed banners from the tombs of Muslim saints. Though Joseph was disappointed to find that Lee knew nothing about Nadir personally. They met the next day in the archive room of the Ferghana Academy of Sciences. But. “What is it? It looks like stick figures hunting an elephant. The tusks are too long for an Indian elephant. he eagerly accepted her offer to show him the copies of prehistoric rock art kept at the Ferghana Academy of Sciences. ancient pots glued back together.” said Lee as she placed a photograph of a rock carving in front of Joseph. Joseph Engineer had proven a delightful young man with an academic temperament not unlike Lee’s own at a similar age.” “Do you think it’s a mammoth?” “I don’t think it could be anything else. and the maximum known range of Indian elephants ends almost a thousand 154 . sections of tiled mosaic from old mosques and Islamic schools. Since Chakra Net was on the brink of being cancelled. Lee readily admitted her role as sysop. there weren’t any elephants in the Tien Shan mountains five thousand years ago. of course. “I think this one is particularly important.Despite Lee’s misgivings about Donald’s inviting him over for a drink. In addition to banks of old steel filing cabinets.” “I’m sure that’s just what it is.

miles south of here. wheeled vehicles must have had a huge impact on economy and war and things. . But we don’t know how he would do interpreting pictures he’s never seen before. pictures of carts show up in Denmark. “Now here’s one with Vrtra the snake. “It’s appears to be a homosexual orgy. The wheels themselves weighed a ton . Nadir can respond to any question based on texts because he obviously is very well versed on Vedic matters. You ask all the right questions.” Joseph studied it for a while and then blushed.000 BC than 3000 BC. That would date it closer to 10. what about the chariots? I thought chariots didn’t appear until . Just a wavy line with a bulge for the head.” “Isn’t that surprising? I mean. of course. Yet the style is just like the ones with chariots and chakras.” Lee put down another photo. You’re just like me. You can bet I’m going to ask Nadir about that if we ever meet him. You see how you can also look at it as a range of mountains on the skyline?” “But if the carvings really are much older. 155 . you’re so cute. But there are carts drawn by oxen and two-humped camels back maybe fifteen hundred years earlier. What you have to understand is that the earliest wheels were just cross-sections of trees rotating on a thick pole stuck through a hole bored in the center. I wish I was teaching a class so I could have you as a student.” “Joseph. That’s the problem.” “Unmistakably. which makes one wonder whether we’ve misdated the whole bunch or whether the carvings were made over an enormously long period of time. and Central Asia at roughly the same time. Moreover. . . southern Iraq. . Now look at this one. So this carving could well go back to the last ice age. “ “About 1800 BC. which suggests they might actually have been devised much earlier but not left any traces.

At the beginning. Who knows. And it certainly wasn’t any good in war. NSA has developed a contact so secret that they are not at liberty to divulge it even to the other intelligence agencies. Mrs. Thayer and Dr. That’s what he’s using in the summaries of Nadir’s postings he distributes at intelligence briefings. it was probably easier and more efficient to put things on a sled. what good was a cart that weighed so much even unloaded that it could barely be dragged over rough ground because of the friction in the wheels? It certainly wasn’t used for carrying camp goods around. and drag it on the ground. maybe based on spaceships. So you ask yourself. much later after they learned how to make light wheels with spokes and reduce the friction. In my opinion. I’m not allowed to use the terms gods and giants.” “Even though it’s right under their noses?” 156 . and the friction was enormous. Those things came much. if we talk about space things.” “Remember.figuratively speaking .” “What again are the terms that he wants you to use?” “Space enemies and space friends. Officially.” “But that’s so silly. know about Chakra Net. . .” “Oh yes.” “Then what were wheels good for?” “That’s something else I would ask Nadir if I really believed he was eleven thousand years old. . What’s-his-name. Ingalls.” “But only Mr. . or could read them before it was closed . Badger. Anyone can just read the postings on Chakra Net . . and see that Nadir actually says gods and giants. or one of those travois made of two poles the American Indians used. my direct boss.” “Thayer. they were symbols of the gods travelling through the sky. . your Mr.

Godlike Achilles and Hector ride to battle in chariots. I haven’t talked to anyone in over a year who cares a hoot about the ancient people who lived in this region. long after their symbolic meanings had been more or less forgotten. and only became useful much later. That’s why we find chakras and chariots carved at 16. Joseph. What the chariot carvings show. . . I think.. but the victorious king road through the city painted orange like a statue of Jupiter while a slave ran beside him saying. Thayer says that happens all the time in intelligence work. . but they fight on foot.’” “Wow. you really know a lot about this.” “I think that’s the clear implication of Nadir’s throwing the rock back to a much earlier era . .“Mr. thou art not a god. Or take the earliest Romans. Norse. and they raced chariots to honor fallen heroes in the way they imagined the gods raced through the heavens. . You and some of the people here at the Academy excepted. And it would actually make perfect sense. .” Lee sighed. etc. Roman. When they wanted to seem like gods. so be it. it’s ridiculous. . When earthly warrior kings wanted to seem like gods . really.. etc. used to teach primitive humans about Vrtra and the chakra and how the space friends came here from some other planet. Greek.” “So the war chariot had nothing to do with the origin of wheeled vehicles. I can’t always be saying space friends . I try not to corrupt your young spy mind. . but vehicles the . is not vehicles used for commerce or war. ‘Remember.000 feet on mountain passes where certainly no real chariot ever went. etc. space friends . and why we sometimes find figurines of chariots drawn by geese or carrying a huge disk representing the sun. Just read the Iliad.” 157 . to go back to your question. they fought on foot. or Celtic—are described as riding in chariots. then. they rode in chariots. They were symbolic first. and why all of the Indo-European gods—whether Indian. “So much to know.” “Well. . and to so little purpose. assuming Nadir is very old. .

My guess is it’s probably one of their students.” said Joseph confidently. It’s not very far away. Caffeine seems to make me more credulous. but there’s nothing to see there. It makes me worry for the future of our government that you work for the National Security Agency. that he is going to show up in Osh. Thayer? Or did you read too much science fiction in high school?” 158 . Ingalls. Everything he posted made perfect sense. and he doesn’t even know I’m a woman. Quite frankly. yes. “You’re such a sweet. Besides. of course. There are at least five professors there who have sufficient scholarly backgrounds to invent what Nadir has been posting. or. Joseph. I still think he’s probably some unexpectedly malicious friend of mine. for that matter. except occasionally perhaps when I’ve had too much tea. Haven’t you ever believed in him?” “Not really. Joseph.“But you will if you meet Nadir. And what’s more.” “Well. naive boy. but then you also accept the idea of space friends and space enemies. You actually believe in who Nadir claims to be. I don’t know how I would meet him if I did go to Osh.” Lee felt distracted even talking about the possibility of meeting Nadir. I’m not quite sure what to make of your own willingness to believe. I don’t know how I can get Donald to take me to Osh. not to say your immense gullibility. I can’t believe that you don’t too. Is it just because it impresses your Mr.” “I’m sure as a space friend he has ways of knowing these things. Though I don’t for a minute believe he is either a god or a space friend. But I also got out some lists of publications from Almaty University and the Kazakh Academy of Sciences after you told me where Nadir was probably posting from. I have know idea what he looks like. Dr.” “Of course. You have a scientific training. and Donald likes sight-seeing.

” As they walked down the wide. You spent weeks exploring what you yourself describe as an electronic cesspool. I think it’s colder in here than it is outside. none of this makes me either credulous or gullible. I still call that just plain gullible. I have no training whatsoever for this. featureless corridor. as good as probably a few hundred. . It’s what my mother used to call a pretty idea. And there you find a whimsical writer who for some reason has a passion for anonymity. The Director told Mr. and apparently I was their only hope. But you actually went and staked your job on it. so they’re keeping me sort of secret.Joseph blew on his fingers again and thrust his chilled hands into the pockets of his coat. But he’s got a good imagination . I just happen to think that what Nadir wrote sounds plausible. Dr. Maybe he’s J. though it’s totally against my nature to keep secrets. “We should leave. you have to go with the whole thing.” 159 . But they’re also obviously afraid I’m going to embarrass them. maybe a few thousand. Joseph. . “You know. NSA hired me to write programs. not to go searching for the abominable snowman in the wilds of Central Asia. your explanation doesn’t entirely convince me. and if you accept part of it. how would Nadir know about it?” Lee had been closing the photograph folders and filing them away while Joseph talked. and I don’t think I or anyone else from NSA would even be here if there weren’t some kind of politics going on between NSA and the other agencies. Otherwise. However. Thayer to make something happen. You don’t know who he is. Salinger. Lee resumed the conversation. and you hit upon my poor little defunct Chakra Net. science fiction writers.D. I don’t know who he is. Ingalls. So you decide he actually knows the world’s greatest secret even though for him to know it means that he comes from another planet and has been living on Earth for at least eleven thousand years. “I don’t think either of those is a very fair question. their footsteps on the hardwood floor echoing loudly.

So I asked him which god. But my own mother is Hindu.” “Actually. when starting out on something. But I think I’ve never lost the feeling that there are gods in the world. . “My father says that when I was little.’ and then walked away 160 . like Merchant. and he said it was a picture of God. He married a Christian Indian woman. the one with the elephant’s head? . So he says I looked again and announced. I looked at a stained glass window showing Christ and the four-and-twenty elders. “So I assumed from your skin color and that lovely wavy black hair. And he said it was just God.” “So you are a Hindu yourself?” “Not in any significant way. I went with him to a wedding in a Christian church.” said Joseph. . It showed they had English blood. My great-great-grandfather was an Englishman. one of the first engineers in the Indian railway system. “You know. . she keeps a shrine to the Lord Shiva in her bedroom. but you don’t have an Indian name. . The air was still and crisp.” “Space friends?” Joseph laughed. except for being a vegetarian. or taking a test in school. you know. and even though she has been living in the United States for thirty years. my family’s from India. maybe around six. whenever I wanted good fortune. Some Anglo-Indians took the names of their occupations as surnames. She taught me always to invoke the god Ganesh . They turned away from the glare and proceeded toward the Kokand Hotel where they could hope to find a taxi. ‘He’s the god of popcorn. I do. I asked him what it was.The glare of the afternoon sun reflecting from the two inches of snow that had fallen during the morning forced them both to squint was they exited the Academy. and all of his family took the name Engineer.

but the idea of a plurality of gods doesn’t present any problems for me. A small cloud of white exhaust showed that its engine was running. “may I offer you a ride? It’s very cold. As they neared the vehicle. Mr. The one car waiting in front of the hotel was a black Toyota Land Cruiser. the back door opened and a man in an officer’s uniform climbed out.” 161 .” No taxis were in sight as Lee and Joseph jaywalked across the street to the Kokand Hotel. I have no idea why I said such a thing. Engineer.” called Major Park. “Dr.very satisfied. Ingalls.

A reflection in the glass told her that 162 . after dropping Joseph off.” “They have. I would not have invited you in. Two passing schoolboys kicking pieces of ice to one another like hockey pucks stirred a warm memory of her Hartford childhood. as I requested.” “And if you had taken me home. Your stupid president has closed Chakra Net.CHAPTER FOURTEEN “I would not have accepted your offer if Joseph hadn’t been with me. Major Park. But at least it is over now. Lee sighed and looked again at the Major sitting stiffly in his brown overcoat with red epaulets and hat rimmed with gold braid.” said Lee in a tone as icy as the air outside.” Lee gazed through the heavily steamed window beside her and wondered if she would ever be free of Kokand.” “That is why we are eating ice cream in a bright. And for reasons known only to himself he has apparently taken Donald into his confidence as a business partner. which now I actually regret because I rather enjoyed it. But I’m sure your bugs in my house have kept you apprised of all that. sunny shop with large windows instead of drinking tea in your living room. “I can never forgive you. That and to assure you that our conversation is not being recorded.” Lee looked again into the street taking note of bundled up women with string shopping bags waiting at a bus stop. for what you did to me and my husband. “I realize that.

” “The Jewish jeweler on Przhevalski Avenue?” Lee struggled again to suppress tears. I just happened to see you leaving as I was going there to pick up an item he was making for me. however. “Why are you following me?” Major Park likewise leaned forward and whispered to her from eight inches away.” Lee thrust her hand into her handbag. but she felt past it to a folded envelope which she extracted and laid on the table. I suppose you’re going to tell me it’s not mine to keep. Opening it she slid the glittering blue stone onto the marble tabletop.” How quickly the things you most want can melt away.” he said at length. “I’m not following you. She leaned forward and whispered fiercely. “I took it to a jeweler to consult about a setting. removed its lid.” “There is no need. “You’re unaware. she thought as she stirred the suddenly unappetizing ice cream softening in her dish. A simple gold pin mounting a diamond as large as the sapphire sparkled in a nest of cotton. He pulled out a small box.” Lee looked at the diamond with her hands in her lap and said nothing while her brain rehearsed a dozen remarks and reactions from sarcastically effusive thanks to 163 .” “None. “I suspected it. but he hasn’t told me. I hope you will spare me another tape recording. “that your husband is still seeing Miss Ramirez?” Lee kept her face averted as tears started to well in her eyes. and laid it on the table next to the sapphire. A small round object the size of a large pill puzzled her. Dr.the Major was studying her closely.” After a pause she added bitterly. “I would like you to have this. “Your husband gave you a sapphire. “I suppose once again there’s something you want of me.” He straightened up and reached into his overcoat pocket. Ingalls.

then. why wasn’t I good enough for you?” “If I may say so.” 164 . “Not a mysterious mine owned by Mr.” replied Lee without sarcasm. John Alden.” He reached again into his pocket and held out five more diamonds for Lee to look at. “I think you need to tell me more. Donald.” “I will save it.” “How gallant of you to say so . The machine’s owner considers them trinkets—his own word. “Nevertheless.slapping his face.” “The setting is very tasteful. for another time. Ingalls. Here are some more. Eventually she said in a studiously even voice. your husband was apparently unable to recognize a great gem when he held it in his arms. Nor were they stolen or smuggled.” The Major closed the box and pocketed it and the unmounted diamonds.” “This is not a business partnership. “The diamond is real. “Oh. . . just like your husband’s sapphire.” Lee sighed deeply. but my president now has the machine. How many the machine is capable of making I have no idea. Major Park. “I have no one else to give it to. Even the same cut.” The Major’s stoic visage betrayed the slightest hint of a smile. then.” “Far from it. They come from the same place. Muratbey?” “There is no mine. Your husband’s inability to separate from Miss Ramirez has put him at President Muratbey’s mercy. I cannot possibly accept the pin. Dr. They were made in a machine. and it cost me only the setting. and he thinks to blackmail your husband into moving the gems out of the country by way of the diplomatic pouch.

” continued the Major intensely.” “So in what way do you need my help?” “To achieve justice. He made a dozen diamonds for me to give to Muratbey. What about Bix?” “He bombed Nukus.” Lee’s look invited him to continue. I need your help. “ Lee giggled. . “I’ve been in his ship.” “Oh my god.“ he looked at Lee’s face searching for some assistance. Major Park smiled in relief. “Do you know this?” 165 . They were bribes to persuade him to meet. “So you helped yourself to a fifty percent commission?” “I took them only as proof. “The person who gave the machine to President Muratbey is .” Lee smiled. But this is not the time to pursue such matters. But I am the only one besides Muratbey who has seen the giant. . It’s round.” “Never mind. “Tell me how tall he is.” she said slowly. . “Everyone at the Palace saw the ship. Dr. begin to race for an entirely different purpose. “Three meters. . which minutes before had heaved mightily at word of Donald’s continuing infidelity. by the way.” “It’s all true. “Bix? Like the trumpeter Bix Beiderbeck?” “I don’t know who that is. Ingalls. who calls himself Bix . “The giant. The truth is.“I patterned it on the pin you were wearing at Ambassador Bane’s reception where we were first introduced.” The Major was still whispering conspiratorily.” Lee was stunned. I’ve seen him” Major Park was leaning forward on his crossed arms and whispering. like a chakra. “Do you by any chance have some sense of who he is?” Lee concentrated on Major Park’s question and felt her heart. It’s true then. is . . .

“Then he’s not the gardener. And especially not President Muratbey. why are you laughing?” 166 . You tell your husband.” “And now they’re working together?” “Whatever Bix wants. . . Muratbey will do. And there’s no one I can tell who would believe me.” whispered Park vehemently. Killing Vahidov in his . for which he needs some sort of help. “The greatest of crimes. We’re like the bees to Bix. I heard him say it. Bix has promised many machines. lets say in his hive . Imagine you’re stung by a bee. highly advanced technology. but only after he has finished repairing the climate controller. Bix is just the gardener killing bees.” “But over two hundred thousand people were killed!” “I know it seems incredible. Ingalls. He doesn’t sense that killing us is wrong. was what he called ‘killing two birds with one stone. Look at it this way. .’” “And Muratbey?” “Did nothing. he’s the air conditioner repairman. Their lives are of no consequence.” “Just for diamonds?” “No. Bix just happened to decide to eliminate him with a nuclear bomb. and he just sits in his office making gems with his machine.“I know it.” Lee giggled again.” “Dr. All he wanted to do for himself was collapse the hole in the sea. Muratbey is the criminal. but I can’t prove it. maybe or maybe not including the one that stung you. and he sprays the hive with insecticide killing all the bees. I’ve thought about it a lot. As a condition of helping him. Muratbey told Bix he had to eliminate President Vahidov. . Our lives are of no consequence.

from Chakra Net . I’m sorry I laughed.“Major Park. “Do you think I’m crazy? I thought . “But you’ve told me. .” “Because they’ll think you’re crazy and laugh at you?” whispered Lee back. not funny.” “But not funny.” “Absurd . perhaps .” 167 .” “All right. Don’t you think I’m laughing at you because I think you’re crazy?” Major Park sat up straight and hardened his expression. the situation is absurd. . I don’t think you’re crazy. Not all those dead people. . because they’ll think I’m crazy and laugh at me. why are you whispering?” “Because I don’t want people to hear me talking about an alien from space bent on destroying civilization. but not funny. Go to Osh with me. . “Yes. . We must try to keep this from Muratbey. absurd and tragic. Absurd . . Without telling your husband.” Lee recomposed her face to a serious expression. . “Don’t worry.” “Absurd then. But I do think it’s funny that the most feared interrogator in Ferghana and an American Vedic scholar are sitting in probably the one ice cream parlor in Kokand you haven’t bugged whispering about space invaders. . ” Lee continued to whisper. . “Then will you help me?” “Help you what?” “Help me find Nadir. .” The Major’s exasperated whisper had become a loud hiss. For once in your life you know what it’s like to be afraid of being overheard.

without telling my husband. you offer me an exquisite diamond pin. It is possibly even funny.” 168 . Again her hand encountered the pill-like object.” Lee studied Park’s face and then gave a businesslike nod. at least funny peculiar. I think. So you must help me.” “You’re certain you’re not speaking as John Alden trying to excite the interest of a woman whose husband no longer desires her?” “I speak only as the avenger of the people of Nukus. “Done. “Yes.” “Certainly not mine.” Lee replaced the sapphire in its envelope and placed it in her purse. for a second time. Yours. but he would certainly not identify himself to the most feared interrogator in Ferghana. in the idea that to save civilization and bring the criminal Muratbey to justice you tell me. “I didn’t mean yours personally. She pulled it out and studied it. it is absurd. that my husband is unfaithful. and now you want me to run away with you. “Not mine. I meant American. And only Nadir knows how to deal with Bix. But I am sure that without you I can do nothing. You will make the arrangements?” “Everything.” protested Lee. to a city across the border in another country. Major?” Major Park took the tiny transponder and studied it even more closely.“May I have your permission to laugh on the inside just a little bit? Surely there is something a little bit funny. Nadir is willing to meet you. “Is this yours.” An unaccustomed smile split Major Park’s face causing his dry cheeks to crease in parentheses of wrinkles.

” Frak added one graviton displacer to the growing list of machines to be left behind. “You have many. Bix used one of them on Nukus. His pudgy finger was pointing at a sturdy machine with fan-like blades standing eight feet tall on a circular base. Can I have some?” He wants weapons again. Can I have one?” “Of course. Makes heavy things light. They can be adjusted into many configurations. “What are these?” “They convert mass into energy. Time to be off. Tell him no politely but firmly. We call them eggs. responded Bix wearily.” “You have two. communicated Frak silently to Bix in the dark rest compartment. beside a news kiosk with a direct line of sight to the ice cream parlor.A block away.” Muratbey’s eyes gleamed in the dim light. Muratbey moved purposefully on to the next bay in the ship’s capacious hold. “That is a graviton displacer. 169 . He peered at the round things inside. * * * “What is this?” asked Muratbey of the marmot clinging to his shoulder. Joseph Engineer turned off the minirecorder concealed behind a newspaper he was reading and collapsed the antenna of a small radio receiver. he thought to himself cheerfully. It is used for major rearrangements of planetary features or for changing the orbits of small moons and asteroids. It’s species and gender appropriate behavior according to the protocols. Very inefficient for masses under a hundred million tons. light things heavy.

It was just unfortunate that the incident in Nukus had dictated that Muratbey’s reassurance visit to the ship had to take place during a rest cycle. absolutely flat out resting with every particle of his body. down eight. If you stay in it too long or try to use it under water. that he would agree to any arrangement to get his hands on them. activate it. down—a whole breathless cycle every planetary revolution.” said Frak to Muratbey. throughout one of every seven of Muratbey’s light and dark cycles. But for short-term protection nothing beats it. up. you suffocate. Bix had informed Muratbey that he needed his rest. Nothing penetrates it once the fabric coalesces. He thinks I’m a burrowing rodent and doesn’t take me seriously. The protocols had correctly predicted that the leader of the alien species would be so impressed by the wonders of advanced technology. thoroughly resting. and so eager to gain control of them. and it expands away from your body to form a transparent protective shield. Bix found the pair peering into a locker full of blob suits. up. “Bix will come and discuss that with you. but it’s permeable to gases and liquids while its expanding. “You put it on over your clothes. Bix suspected that Muratbey’s species didn’t take the notion of rest very seriously: up sixteen of their little hours.You do it.” Bix untangled his long limbs from his extremely comfortable sling bed and irritably made his way aft. but Muratbey had been insistent.” 170 . down eight. No wonder they didn’t live very long or get very much accomplished. By the same token. And resting did not mean getting up out of an extremely comfortable sling bed to enforce the word of a nickety-pickety translator. Frak had calculated that seven of the solar orbits they used to count their age were the equivalent of one life longevity unit at home. Bix was accustomed to resting. They never got any decent rest. down. up sixteen. “but I suspect he’ll say no.

“People will try to take my treasures away. Give it to him.” “Then maybe I help. NO.” he said unperturbed.” “We’ll make it a gross. and they have a shelf life of only seven planetary orbits. NO. we have pramodzi. you’re not the problem. He wants one of everything. Am I problem?” “No. Just get it over with so I can get some rest. “I want eggs. Muratbey had served under enough party bosses to know when no meant no.” 171 . Muratbey stared at Bix with shrewd beady eyes. Muratbey noted a decidedly peevish look on Bix’s normally radiant face.” “NO WEAPONS! NO. “You have problem? You look like you have problem.“Can I have a dozen.” said Bix through Frak. NO.” “How long is that?” “Forty-nine of your years. Bix felt sullen and looked explosive. We’re oversupplied. “Frak said you needed me. communicated Frak. With that he turned to rummage in bin of rubbery looking things. That’s just great! Are you sure? You could have waited until I was up again to tell me. Also. “I ask again later.” It was hardly necessary to call Muratbey’s attention to the giant’s arrival. Here’s Bix. a dozen dozens. NO!” Bix accompanied Frak’s high volumn expostulation with a dramatically threatening scowl.” replied Muratbey. They weren’t going to go away. and I need protection. But that didn’t mean no could never turn into yes. The ones in this locker have only about twenty years to go.

Frak says he tracked two signals after Nukus. they’re just disgusting. Pramodzi and inamadzi both come from a very human-like species. “No. You just look like pramodzi. “Our problem is pramodzi. “Where are pramodzi?” “We know.” “Not like rats. We have a pramodzi infestation. But pramodzi move around . break equipment. They sneak in everywhere. The signal came from a place in the countryside between the cities you call Almaty and Bishkek. . disgusting . sneak around. how you know?” “They use communicators they originally stole from us. we identify it immediately. .” “You have them.” Bix visibly shuddered. They never die on their own. . When a signal is broadcast using it.” “What is pramodzi?” “It’s a species on my planet . Smarter than rats. but knowing never does any good. You have to kill them. a dozen.Bix eyed the portly president appraisingly. who knows? Ugh. Worse than rats. like parasites. Both were produced by genetic 172 .” “Two pramodzi?” “One. They follow us from place to place. Like humans. If the signal doesn’t come from us. Also. My kind are inamadzi.” “Like rats. . two. you can’t scare them away. cause trouble. .” “We are pramodzi?” said Muratbey with rising anger. steal from us.” “What do they look like?” “Look? They look exactly like you. it comes from pramodzi. .

Muratbey raised his spread palms in a sort of shrug. That’s one reason pramodzi are hard to eradicate. smiling broadly. On his desk were two objects.” Bix ventured a smile. Mr.” The graying veteran of the Afghanistan War stood his ground.” “No eggs. One microwave destructor for use on humans or pramodzi.” Bix was about to add. Pramodzi fighting pramodzi. “we are facing a national emergency. See to it.” The deal concluded. Mr. and one induction heating destructor for use on metal weapons.” “All right. Can you do that?” Muratbey clapped his hands once and spread them wide. he communicated to nobody in particular.” but thought better of it. Would that help?” “Possibly.engineering. “May I know the nature of the national emergency. I need weapons. “Will the weapons help keep out pramodzi?” “Help very much. Bix. No one is to enter. one red. “Then you want keep pramodzi away.” said Muratbey calmly. But weapons I look at earlier. But you have to promise to give them back when I leave. I do very good. President?” 173 .” “No eggs. I want all borders to be sealed. “That. “But. the other green. “General. Muratbey seemed mollified. unfortunately. Two hour later President Muratbey summoned his army chief of staff General Karim Chengizoglu into his office. Both had the shape of very narrow isosceles triangles approximately one meter long. Bix shambled back to his rest chamber in a state of total exhaustion.” Bix considered. and pramodzi not here already. ones for people and ones for metal. So we keep all humans from coming here. No one is to leave. “unless you want to eradicate all the humans around.

The red one destroys metal objects in some sort of other way. It works very well. These are weapons no other nation has or knows about. They are the first of many treasures that the people of Ferghana will soon receive. President. You may obey orders. I asked him to seal the borders of Ferghana.” “On my desk you see two new weapons.” “Yes. He forced himself to look away from the grisly sight and face President Muratbey. We are facing a national emergency.” “But you are a loyal Ferghanan?” “Yes. They are treasures of Ferghana.“No. Mr. Learn to use them. The green one destroys lives with microwaves. you are Russian. Colonel. He watched with interest as within seconds his chief of staff turned red and cooked in front of his eyes. President. Mr. “Are you refusing to obey orders. General?” “If you tell me the nature of the national emergency . President Muratbey picked up the telephone and summoned the General’s second in command. steaming heap. Mr. President.” “I cannot say the same for your former superior officer. It took fifteen minutes for Colonel Maxim Sverdlov to arrive from army headquarters. “ Muratbey placed his finger on a depression in the surface of the green triangle. . The General’s body collapsed to the floor in a lifeless. . General Chengizoglu’s body was still steaming slightly when he entered the presidential office. No one is to leave or enter by land or air.” The General did not move. “Colonel Sverdlov.” 174 .” “Yes.

“I would like you to give this diamond to your wife. Colonel. Mr. to your girlfriend. Or if you don’t have a wife.” “One more thing.“Yes.” President Muratbey held out a pudgy fist and opened it. President.” 175 .” “Yes. President. Mr.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Hayes Carpenter’s Learjet landed at Almaty airport at two in the morning. On hand to meet it was Carpenter-Beckenbaugh’s Kazakhstan representative, Dan Nielsen. Awakened only forty-five minutes earlier by a telephone call from the plane, Dan’s sleepiness had instantly succumbed to the adrenalin rush triggered by his CEO’s unexpected arrival. As he pulled on his long underwear in the chilly bedroom, he went over in his head again and again the figures for Kazakh winter wheat purchases trying to figure out whether or where he might have screwed up. Lurking in the back of his mind was the possibility that Carpenter might have something more serious on his mind. Aside from Dan and his driver, the airport seemed deserted. Its dirty and broken plastic benches looked curiously forlorn without their usual crowd of travellers eating bread and cheese, reading magazines, and complaining about flight delays. A half dozen flashy advertisements for Korean and Japanese electronic devices contrasted sharply with the seedy waiting area. Dan could see the sleek plane’s lights as it taxied toward the terminal. He looked around at a noise behind him and saw Korkut, his office manager, burst through the door and come his way. “What’s the matter? Why is he here?” asked the nervous young Kazakh anxiously. Dan noticed his underling’s pajama bottoms sticking out below the cuffs of his trousers. “I have no idea. He just called out of the clear blue sky and told me to be here 176

prepared to get him, his crew, and five other passengers through customs. He didn’t say anything else. Do you know anything?” He eyed Korkut sharply, but the energetic and ambitious young man betrayed no sign of guilt. “Me? Nothing. I have no idea. It’s two in the morning. I didn’t even know the airport was open at this hour.” He looked around him. “I don’t think it is open. Is there even anyone available to handle passport and customs?” “There’s one officer on duty. Did you bring the potatoes?” “Potatoes” was the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh code word for bribe money. Korkut patted his briefcase. The trip to get the banded bundles of American twenty-dollar bills from the office safe had almost made him late. Dan nodded toward a gaunt uniformed man with pockmarked skin standing nonchalantly by the opaque glass door to the customs hall. “Captain Scriabin. He’s very grumpy about having to receive a plane after the airport has closed. Go calm him down.” Dan marvelled at the ease and assurance the Kazakhs brought to the daily business of distributing bribes. Sometimes he told himself that Lutheran scruples from his Minnesota upbringing made such corruption an impossibility for him personally, but then he would remind himself of the three occasions on which he had witnessed equally Protestant and equally Midwestern Hayes Carpenter offer officials truly outrageous sums to seal a grain purchase. Korkut returned from his conversation with Captain Scriabin. “Everything is taken care of.” Another fifteen minutes passed before the hulking figure of Hayes Carpenter emerged from the customs hall. Holding his right elbow was a tall, lanky black man with very short gray hair. He was wearing dark glasses and carrying a folded white

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cane. Dan waved and walked to meet his boss, noticing as he did four husky, soberfaced men come through the door pushing large boxes on rollers. “Dan, good to see you could get out here and take care of things. Saved some awkwardness.” Hayes stretched out his free left hand for Dan to shake. “This here’s my old friend Wilson Woodrow.” “How do you do,” drawled Wilson. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Woodrow.” “My coming like this must have taken you a bit by surprise,” laughed Hayes. “Surprise is the spice of life,” replied Dan in a lame attempt to match his boss’s lightheartedness. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to see to accomodations. I didn’t know who was in your party or what sort of rooms you would need.” “Truth is, landing in Almaty wasn’t part of my plan so there wasn’t any reason to let you know in advance I was coming.” “Oh?” Dan felt a sudden sense of relief. “I was heading for Kokand; but as we were passing over Tashkent, we were radioed that Ferghana has closed its airport and its airspace. Damnest thing. No explanation given. You know anything about it?” “No, sir, nothing at all. It wasn’t on the news this evening.” “Must have just happened. I told my pilot to nudge us over into Ferghana airspace a little to see if they were serious, and what do you know? Two jets flew up alongside us and signalled us to follow them. They led us to the Kazakh border so we radioed here to Almaty for permission to land. It took them a while to clear us through since the airport isn’t supposed to be open, but at least we’re on the ground.” The group was clustered with their boxes at the terminal door. Hayes’ silent companions in their matched military haircuts and quilted black jackets idly watched 178

Korkut out in the cold marshalling several taxis he has summoned by cellphone. The two pilots of the jet joined them. “I think we should all go to my house,” said Dan. “I don’t know if we can find beds for everyone, but we can make arrangements from there.” “If you’ve got beds for me, Wilson, and the pilots, that’s enough. These other guys are used to sleeping on the floor.” Dan wondered just who the “other guys” were. “I hope you got a good map. We have to work on how to get from here to Kokand. Do you know what would be the nearest airport?” “Tashkent and Bishket are the nearest commercial airports.” Dan paused for a moment. “But there’s also sort of a rudimentary airfield at Osh, right on the KyrgyzFerghana border, only a hundred miles from Kokand. Dirt runway, but the Chinese put their version of the DC-3 down there. Smugglers use it a lot. I’ve heard that the police in Osh are willing to look the other way for a consideration.” “Now how would you know a thing like that, Danny boy,” said Hayes jovially. Dan’s heart clutched. Surely he can’t know everything, he thought to himself.

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A hundred and fifty miles to the southwest, a solitary figure stopped beside a sign warning drivers that the road into the mountains was closed. Nadir had been walking continuously for four days. He figured it would take another six to reach Osh. But first he had to walk over the pass through the Tien Shan mountains, and that would take snowshoes. He clamped a webbed shoe securely to his artificial leg and adjusted the one for his good leg to have more flexibility. He wasn’t tired. He had never been tired in over eleven thousand years. Nor was he cold. But he was thirsty. He pulled 179

from his capacious backpack a liter bottle of vodka and drained it. He counted the bottles remaining and hoped that he could find someplace on the way to buy some more. It wasn’t soma, but it helped make immortality bearable. He stood and tested the shoes in the snow by the side of the two-lane gravel road. He looked at the snowy slopes ahead of him and thought of the thousands of times he had visited them in springtime. Soon now the first wild flowers would be pushing aside the dead grass and the melting snowpiles in the high meadows, and soon after that the Kyrgyz herders would be coming on their sturdy ponies to check the state of the pasturage. It will all be over by then, he thought, at least for this planet. But elsewhere the descendants of Pramo and the descendants of Inama—pramodzi and inamadzi—would continue their struggle. He gazed again at the snows ahead. He knew the best path. He had been there before. The snowshoes exagerrated his limp as he set off alongside the road.

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In Moscow, an army archivist named Isabella Gryshkin pulled a pasteboard box from beneath three dusty portfolios lying on their side on the bottom shelf of a long neglected bookcase. The portfolios contained drawings, notes, and sketch maps from the 1876 expedition of the great explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky across the Tien Shan mountains to the salt lake of Lop Nor in China. It was not Przhevalsky’s expedition that interested her, however. What she was looking for were the reports from a lesser known expedition sent into the same mountains by the Bolshevik hero General Mikhail Frunze in 1920. She knew what they looked like because all of the other reports from Frunze’s period as commander of Bolshevik forces against the Basmachi bandits were 180

where they should be. It was just a hunch that had made her think that maybe the reports had gotten misplaced with the Przhevalsky material by some earlier researcher. She opened the box, noted the hand-penned labels on the coth-bound notebooks inside, and smiled broadly. Two days later Dr. Andrei Bogomil burst jubilantly into the office of the Chief Historian of the Russian army. “I found it!” he shouted, waving a faded cloth-bound notebook in the air. The Chief Historian stubbed out his cigarette in a marble ashtray. Dr. Bogomil placed the notebook on the desk and opened it in front of his superior. “Here it is.” He moved his finger along the crabbed old handwriting as he read:

June 26, 1920. Verethra Kuh. 5038 meters. Thirty versts west from Sary Tash, the first village on the road from Osh, along the track leading from Sary Tash to the Kyzylsu River. North of the track three versts. Below the summit on the northern face, at the top of a cliff, is a cave said by local people to be the dwelling of a dragon. Lieutenant Khinoy and Corporal Hrehorovich scaled the cliff and reported discovering inside the cave a vertical shaft, perfectly round and with perfectly smooth sides. They measured its diameter with their climbing ropes. It was just over ten meters. Lieutenant Khinoy extended the climbing ropes down the shaft to their maximum extent, three hundred meters, but did not contact the bottom. He is of the opinion that the shaft was artificially constructed. Plans to test the depth of the shaft with longer ropes were interrupted by hostile fire from Basmachi bandits. Further exploration recommended.

The Chief Historian grunted. “All these years. I’ve been working here for thirty years, and I’ve heard about the lost secret of the Tien Shan all that time. But I never knew what it was or where it was. Hmmm. An artificial vertical shaft at 5,000 meters. How do you suppose it was made?” 181

“Perhaps it was done by whoever made the Great Array?” ventured Dr. Bogomil. The Chief Historian thought for a few moments and then pressed a button on his intercom. “Anastasia, make an appointment for me with the Minister of Defense. Today if possible.”

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“Donald will miss me as soon as he gets home tonight,” said Lee worriedly as she wedged two suitcases among the boxes on the back seat of the Toyota Land Cruiser. “I’ve taken care of that,” said Major Park as he helped her into the front seat. “What did you do? Kill him?” Lee was genuinely alarmed. The Major made his way around to the other side and climbed into the driver’s seat. “I take that as a joke. No, I didn’t kill him. I told him I had discovered you were having a love affair with President Muratbey and that he had taken you off for several days of dalliance at his dacha in the country.” “You what!? Donald would never believe such a story! He knows how much I despise that pig. How could you!?” “Actually, he took the news very well. I intimated that you might have succumbed to the President’s charms in part of protect his position.” Lee’s cheeks flamed with anger and embarrassment. “I can’t believe you would do such a thing. And I can’t believe that Donald would for one instant believe such an outrageous lie.” Major Park backed the car out of the driveway. “I counted on him feeling so guilty about his own affair that he would be relieved to find out that you were doing the same. It’s a tactic I’ve seen worked several times in the past. Under the burden of 182

collective farmers and ranchers had cultivated or grazed most of Ferghana’s countryside.their own guilt men will believe the most remarkable things about their wives. Forget I mentioned it. Or do you say ‘is not they?’” “To be correct you should say ‘is not they. I was just wondering. and much of the land was still held by large cooperatives.’ Do you want me to give you English lessons now?” “No. sweeping vistas of brown grass and fallow fields leading on to the sharply rising snowcapped mountains. and outbuildings were rare. With private cross-country car travel still uncommon. Nor were there many buildings. Lee soon found that the feelings that had kept her knotted up inside all afternoon—guilt about leaving Donald.” Lee turned a frosty shoulder toward the Major and concentrated on the passing scene. Under communism. Lee straightened up and studied the scenery. There had been no commercial advertising in the Soviet Union. and since its fall there had been little commerce to advertise so the roadside was entirely free of signs.” As the blocks of corrugated concrete fence and squalid wooden houses with metal roofs gave way to open countryside. The result was a landscape that looked almost pristine. but its narrowness and uneven grading kept their speed below 60 kilometers an hour. hedges. barn. as were the fences.” “Do you think anyone would notice me in your car?” “Many people notice who is in my car and give thanks that it is not them. excitement at what her 183 . and treelines that in privatized economies so often marked property lines. That will shield your face while we’re in town. the road surface was comparatively smooth and unbroken. “Perhaps you should slide down in the seat a little bit and hold onto the handle above the door. So private farms with their characteristic clusters of house.

anger at Park for being so persuasive—were giving way to enjoyment of the countryside’s simplicity and beauty and the relaxing hum and vibration of the tires on the asphalt.” “Until me. the type that Henry James wrote about. but you have many of the qualities I used to dream about. free. 184 .” “But with you. for example: Fresh. but I never met anyone who fit it.” “Right now. Lee returned her attention to the landscape and presently closed her eyes and slept.” “I don’t know those books.” “You’re not exactly Daisy Miller.” Park did not respond. Park kept his eyes streadily on the road. About women who run off for adventure. but her curiosity was overwhelming. but it was having his first American woman that interested him most.” “They’re movies.adventure might bring. I told you I majored in American literature at the university. Daisy Miller. His stiff posture and fixed expression indicated that the conversation was making him feel awkward.” “Very different.” She hadn’t wanted to bring the subject up in so blantant a way. “For Muratbey it was a matter of conquest. “I can’t understand why you and Muratbey are attracted to me. naive. It was a subject a loved very much. I suppose. I take it. And a particularly liked a certain type of American heroine. I finds you attractive. it was different. very different. The image became my ideal. I think you could pick up more appropriate images from Bonnie and Clyde or Thelma and Louise.

“Where are we?” “Traveller services. There are probably enough sets still around to serve kabob for the rest of the century. Lee looked around. place a layer of slivered onion of a piece of round flat bread. Lee got out and stretched. Smoke was rising from the trough. “What’s the book?” “Lenin’s collected works. “Are there restrooms?” “Behind. Most people go outside.” When Lee returned from a visit to a shallow ditch well beyond the reeking outhouse.” “Smells good. They were parked beneath the overhang of what looked like a half-finished concrete hangar abandoned to the elements. “Would you like to eat? We’re going to skirt Andijan to avoid being seen so we won’t be able to stop there. “Kabob and bread. “Joseph! What are you doing here?” 185 .The sound of the driver’s door opening woke her. By the side of the overhanging half-vault of concrete a Chinese-looking man with wispy mustaches was tending a small rectangular trough set up on concrete blocks.” Lee watched the man grill two skewers of meat. and Lee smelled meat cooking.” said the Major. Then he ripped two pages from a thick book bound in red open beside the trough and used them as combination plates and napkins for serving the kabob. Major Park was talking to the Chinese-looking man.” “What does he have?” The man was fanning a handful of glowing coals beneath a grate on which he had placed spits of meat. But they’re pretty filthy. and push the meat off the skewers onto the onion.” “Can I have some too?” The cheerful American voice at her back startled Lee so much she almost dropped her food.

it’s my job to find out about it and inform the U. “I don’t care about gasoline. 186 . I want to know what you’re doing here. I didn’t get much of a briefing on Ferghana before I came here. Mr. isn’t it.” “I know. “What did you do with what was under the tarpaulin?” “The jerry cans? I put them behind the hedge in Dr. you two. Right now. That’s his job too.“I’m learning how to be a spy by doing.” he said between chews.” “Did you imagine we have gas stations dotted around the countryside in Ferghana?” “I have no idea. Joseph. But if Nadir turns out to be real. “That’s pretty much it. I’ve been smelling the fumes for the last two hours. I hid under the tarp in the back of the car.S. they don’t really believe in Nadir. “While Major Park was helping you get your things from your house.” “That was our extra gasoline. except for one that I put on its side and have been using as a pillow.” Major Park seemed neither surprised nor angry. Engineer?” Joseph took a large bite out of the kabob sandwich handed him by the Chineselooking man. I figured someone of your rank could simply requisition gasoline.“ “You sound enthusiastic.” observed Park.” “You mean steal it at gun point from other drivers?” Lee broke in. “If Nadir knows what’s happening and what to do about it. it will be quite a coup. government.” “He’s here because he knew from monitoring our conversation in the ice cream parlor that we were going to Osh to find Nadir.” The curly-haired computer programmer looked very pleased with himself. Ingalls’ garden. In any case.

Except that riding under that tarp on a metal floor really sucks. “You don’t seem very frightened at being a captive of the most feared officer in the Ferghana Internal Security Service. So I figure having American intelligence on your side is more of an asset than a liability. Anyway.” “But would you have let me come if I had?” “Hmmm.” “Major. I don’t think anyone will start looking for us for at least two days. and you would have had a more comfortable ride.“Of course I’m enthusiastic! I was given the most hopeless assignment in the world. We should get going again. what’s done is done. Can I ride up with you now?” The Major looked amused. maybe not. if I’ve understood things correctly—and I think I have—you’ve betrayed your president and are hightailing it out of the country.” “If you had put that argument to me before we started out. but the sooner we cross the border and get to Osh. but it’s all working out. we would still have our spare gasoline.” 187 . the better. I wonder if I should be worried about my reputation.

Kyrgyz independence after the collapse of the USSR brought few changes. the colorless profile of Osh in the dusk presented a bleak and unwelcoming prospect. the sewer and electrical systems to suffer protracted periods of crankiness. Osh became part of mountainous Kyrgyzstan. and a Kyrgyz sheep. Its thirty thousand souls—disgruntled Russian officials assigned there as punishment. The road connecting China with Ferghana by way of Osh was paved. From the guard shack and barrier that marked the Ferghana-Kyrgyz border on the town’s western edge. a handful of Uighur Turk merchants preserving the age-old smuggling trade to China. Osh suffered decades of stagnation. Instead of being joined to the fertile and productive Ferghana valley. The statues of Lenin and Marx fell from their pedestals in front of the concrete municipality builiding. And signs sprang up informing the citizenry of the wise sayings of whoever was the current Kyrgyz president. But to Lee Ingalls’ eye as she and Joseph stamped the chill from 188 .CHAPTER SIXTEEN When Joseph Stalin drew the Central Asian boundaries of the soviet republics in 1936. and the road to Kashgar across the border in China closed by political tensions. With the mountain road linking it with the Kyrgyz capital snowbound throughout the long winter. he punished the town of Osh for its support of the lingering Basmachi guerrilla movement in the mountains.and horse-herding population that waxed in winter and waned in spring—took official neglect as a license to go their own way. But the buildings continued to sag and crumble.

” “What’s the reason?” “They’ve been told there’s an outbreak of bubonic plague. running off with two handsome and exotic men. What that change might amount to. “What’s happening?” asked Lee fastening her seatbelt. she had no idea. no one may enter. “Including me. but that’s an excuse I myself suggested to Muratbey two years ago when he was thinking about closing the border for other reasons. Though she had scarcely permitted herself to contemplate the possible reality of the god Indra since Joseph and Park had asserted their belief in Nadir’s claimed identity as a being from another planet. Major Park crunched back toward them over the ice beginning to form on the pavement. But the urge to have an adventure while she was still in the prime of life had grown ever stronger as the miles passed and the awareness grew that she was. then?” asked Joseph from his perch on top of the luggage in the back seat.” “Are we going back. “The border has been closed. “Get in the car.their toes beside the Land Cruiser and waited for Major Park to end his powwow with the border police it looked like the rainbow’s end. 189 . No one may leave. her impatience to cross the border derived less from eagerness to meet her Chakra Net correspondent than from her sense that something important in her life would change as soon as she put an international frontier between herself and Donald.” “Including you?” The Major had started the engine and was turning the Land Cruiser around.” he said sternly. in point of fact.

We’d all be arrested. Holding the cut wires back to keep them from getting under the wheels. 190 . Almost invisible three feet in front of them a three-strand barbed wire fence blocked the way. but Park grunted his affirmation and turned the car again toward the east. he jumped inside and Park gently accelerated. Once Part turned off a northward-trending dirt road a mile from the border.Park’s expression was grim. Eventually their path intersected a rutted track that Park identified as a border police patrol road parallel to the frontier. Lee could not make out the ruts. “If there are mines in this sector. He followed it north and asked Lee and Joseph to keep their eyes peeled for ruts going eastward. the ruts should mark the path the patrols use to get to the fence safely. “Why are you looking for ruts?” she asked. he waved the vehicle forward. “No. the Land Cruiser began to lurch and bounce violently over frozen hummocks and furrows that were barely visible in the waning light. Joseph had already found the Major’s wire cutters among the boxes and was quickly out the door and at work on the fence. “What about mines on this side?” asked Lee worriedly. we won’t hit a mine. As soon as it was through.” Neither Lee nor Joseph could think of anything to say.” Time crawled as the Land Cruiser edged forward into the dark.” He paused. Joseph shouted. After several minutes of silence. Its three passengers strained between jolts to spot more dangerous obstacles to their progress in time to avoid them. “There!” and pointed over Park’s shoulder. “Unless the path as been changed recently. “Stop!” screamed Lee. With luck. We’ll take the first side road and then go cross country.

The mines are meant to keep the mountain people from smuggling Chinese goods into Ferghana. That’s why Osh is a center for buying and selling smuggled goods. Turning south. Gunning his four-wheel drive engine.” replied Park. Park switched on his headlights. excited by the thought that she was now safely in Kyrgyzstan. 191 . Park introduced him as Uli. and we don’t have entry stamps. At its top was a graded dirt road. Their destination proved to be situated on an unlit gravelled road not quite within the town.” said Lee.” “We will stay with friends. In the distance a sprinkling of tiny lights signaled the northern outskirts of Osh.” They drove on in silence for fifteen minutes. The Kyrgyz government doesn’t care what gets smuggled in the other direction since the highway goes to China and not to anywhere else important in Kyrgyzstan. Park angled up the steep embankment on the far side.“Shouldn’t be a problem. Their leader was short and swarthy with long stringy mustaches. The yard was dark. A kerosene heater stood beside a rickety-looking table. Lee and Joseph were ushered into a sparsely furnished room with doorways open to two smaller rooms and a kitchen. “I’ve made arrangements. A gate opened in a tall wooden fence as the Land Cruiser drove up and honked and then closed quickly behind it. “They’ll ask for our passports. tinroofed bungalow. but lantern light flickered in the windows of a small. “Now we just have to figure out how to get hotel rooms. Several men in tall leather boots and dark coats greeted Park in what sounded to Lee like Kyrgyz.” After fifteen more minutes of jolts and lurches the Land Cruiser pitched abruptly into a broad ditch.

Lee peered into her room. He had exchanged his tunic and overcoat for a rough brown vest and black wool jacket. “Shall we go?” said Park. On his head was a brimless black hat of tightly curled lambskin.” Uli’s men were carrying boxes and suitcases in from the Land Cruiser. So where do people go to drink in Osh?” 192 .” said Park gesturing to the nearer doorway. Dr. she had been told. She had read that such portable structures were the traditional homes of Turkic horse nomads. he gets drunk on soma. Of course. he will be fat and drunk. feltwalled hut. “If Nadir were Indra—which I don’t really believe he his—and the Vedic hymns portray him accurately. mud-spattered Fiat. most Kyrgyz had given up their yurts.“That will be your room. The two narrow beds looked slept in. “Are we forcing these people out of their beds?” “There is a yurt behind the house.” replied Park. but he said in his posting that they had run out of real soma. It’s best to act before anyone starts looking for us. The toilet is out the back door.” “At night?” “It is only eight-thirty. After the Soviets crushed the Basmachi revolt and forced the nomads to settle. Ingalls. “What do you suggest?” Lee pondered the matter. They will sleep there.” Driving into town in Uli’s beat-up. “Go where?” “To find Nadir.” Lee looked through the window and saw the dark profile of a hemispherical. Lee broached a question she had been avoiding: How were they going to find Nadir? “You’re the specialist on the Vedic gods. but she had never seen one.

at work.“Home. Drunkeness is a legacy of Soviet rule. Not a place you’re likely to find a woman. on the street. The buildings appeared to be garages and sheds rather than houses. You were a visitor like us. It’s the traditional drink of the nomads.” said Park. Lanterns provided a warm.” “Nadir doesn’t know I’m a woman. “two more things. 193 . A man with an apron was busy in one corner dipping a milky fluid from a tub and pouring it into small bowls. however.” They picked their way along the ice-crusted roadside to a wooden building with a hanging leather flap for a door. “It would make him look like a Russian.” “The blondness is promising.” “In that case you might go to a kumys shop. in the gutter.” “Yeah. and his posting said he had one leg. Inside a dozen men were seated at small tables or on low platforms resembling bed frames. everywhere. and you don’t seem many Russians in kumys shops.” “But supposing you weren’t from Osh. Profession: God. Probably not staying in a hotel since if he is a god. There was no street lighting.” “Yukh. Indra is supposed to have red or blonde hair. yellow light. “Fermented mare’s milk.” He turned from the main road and presently pulled the Fiat over and turned off the engine.” chimed in Joseph from the back seat.” “What’s kumys?” asked Joseph.” Lee added. Birthplace: Mars. “We can walk from here. Nadir probably doesn’t have a passport.” “Oh. That’s where herders in from the country go for vodka and kumys. “Age: eleven thousand.

Nadir was dimly aware of the minds around him—worn. He reached out and felt it moving away. It was the mind of a worshipper. He had known these minds without paying attention to them for thousands of years.At the table nearest the door Nadir was sitting with a bottle of vodka in one hand and a glass in the other. The mind of the worshipper felt pure. and Park surveyed the room intently but failed to see him. He clambered to his feet and hoisted his pack by one strap. but Nadir sensed them not far ahead. but he could remember the feel of it—the glow. the rush of power into his mind and body. bold exploits from years long past. He felt a sudden warmth in his heart. old hatreds. hard-handed men thinking about women. horses. now he had it. funny stories. “Webmaster?” he asked. The trio that included the worshipper was out of sight on the dark street. Nadir hadn’t encountered such a mind in so long that he no longer quite recognized it. the intoxicating sense of godliness. or received a proper sacrifice. pulled back the leather flap. They had entered another kumys shop and left again. The three visitors from the cold were gone before Nadir fully grasped that a mind of a different sort had just entered the kumys show and left again. 194 . Yes. Though drunk enough to be hazy about the passage of time. Nadir made them unaware of his approach until he was standing as a fourth overhearing them discussing in English other kumys shops and the frustration of their search for him. He dropped some money on the table. Nadir could not remember when he had last been worshipped properly. and limped into the cold night. The mind believed in the god Indra. Confidently he allowed the worshipper to become aware of his presence. Truly believed. and Nadir’s heart gladdened in response. Lee. Joseph. It took just a slight interference with their processing of visual stimuli. the exultation. It wasn’t difficult for Nadir to keep humans from seeing him when he chose to be alone.

the radiant Lord God Indra. “Lord Indra I. A feeling of relief tinged with disappointment came over her. a trembling.” Lee and Park slowly became aware that Nadir was suddenly and unaccountably some distance down the road walking rapidly away from them with Joseph half walking. As they watched. a gasp. Major Park extended his hand. 195 . “Dr. Lee Ingalls.” Nadir felt confused. “This is the Webmaster. the wielder of the thunderbolt.” “We have come to help you.” “A foolish name. Kill him yourself. “I am Dimitri Park. This was. His name is Bix. who had failed to see that he was speaking to someone.” Nadir looked askance at the slight woman Joseph indicated. But this was decidedly not the lord of the storm. of wide-eyed wonder.” he said aloud for the first time in over a thousand years. the Nadir who posted doggerel to Chakra Net. “And you the one from Chakra Net.A look of shock. pot-bellied man. well under six feet tall. the slayer of Vrtra. perhaps. Lee looked back at the bearded.” Nadir beamed.” “No. Is your name Nadir?” Nadir ignored the hand. half jogging by his elbow like a small dog trying to keep up. and wondered how he had managed to join them without their noticing. How he had left their company without their noticing was a mystery. “Nadir am I. Her mind was not a believer’s mind. A foolish quest. Nadir and Joseph became swallowed by the shadows and disappeared from sight.” “Give Nadir help?” “Help you stop the giant.” He gestured toward Lee. and finally two awefilled words prayerfully uttered: “Lord Indra. I’m Joseph Engineer.

” “Okay. but he doesn’t talk to him. A Kyrgyz teenager was haltingly working to translate their conversation.” whispered Lee in Park’s ear. The bungalow was abustle with activity when they arrived. “He’s an American intelligence agent. “I will call my contacts in Kyrgyz internal security in the morning. Inside.” Lee sniffled. His boss talks about him at high-level meetings. . He’s just a .” “Resourceful? Joseph? That boy has done nothing in his life but play with computers and telephones. and four tall muscular men were unloading boxes into it from a truck.” Tears flowed unseen down her cheeks in the dark car. Park’s stringy-mustached friend Uli was sitting across the rickety-looking table from a bulky American with graying hair and beard and a rangy black man of similar age but evidently blind. He will be resouceful. He was given an assignment no one else would take. Do you know why he came to Kokand?” “To find you.” squeeked Lee between sniffles.” Lee sniffled again. “Joseph doesn’t know where we are staying. A sizable tent of the sort sold in American mountaineering stores had been erected between the bungalow and the fence. . and he hasn’t the slightest idea what this part of the world is like or what he is supposed to do. “That’s Hayes Carpenter. they gave up their search. I would be so frightened for him. “What’s he doing here?” 196 .” said Park.” “He came here because his agency is trying to prove it’s better than the other agencies. and through you Nadir. I presume.” said Lee worriedly. They will find him. Just like me. “But if I were.After a half hour of driving slowly through the dark streets. “You’re not his mother. “No. a nothing. He’s a very dear boy.

Mr.” “It’s a small animal that lives in the ground. Carpenter. The border is closed. It’s carried by fleas that live on marmots. “Well doesn’t that beat everything!” He stood up and shook Park’s hand.” “I’m afraid I don’t understand.” A huge grin lightened Hayes’s face.” “It’s the local version of the groundhog. lady? And what the fuck do I care about the god damned black death. Plague is endemic in Central Asia.” “Well who are you.” said Wilson Woodrow turning his face toward Lee’s voice. This is where the Black Death of 1348 began.” 197 .” “In a rat’s ass. “Damn! When these boys told me they’d help us get across the border. how do you do.” Park stepped into the glow of the lantern on the table. I am Major Dimitri Park of the Internal Security Service of the Ferghana Republic. “Mr. Who ever heard of bubonic plague in the twenty-first century?” “It’s endemic in this region.“We’ll find out.” Hayes’s expression darkened. Hayes Carpenter. “Of course it’s closed. I wouldn’t be paying these smugglers to get me across if it weren’t closed. “I thought I smelled a nice smell. “Major Park is quite right.” “Why do you want to enter Ferghana? There is reportedly an outbreak of bubonic plague.” “What the hell’s a marmot. I know nothing about your crossing the border.” “I would appreciate it if you would speak more politely. I didn’t know we were going to go with an official escort.” said Lee stepping out of the shadows by the door.

“But if the two of you just got here. I see. Carpenter!” said Lee indignantly.” “Mr. We’re here to .” replied Park coolly as Lee strode angrily to the door and stepped out into the cold air. “Dr. to . “You don’t see anything at all. companion. Park leapt into the awkward silence. whatever it is.” said Park. Tighter than a drum. lady.” Lee tried to think of a plausible reason but nothing came to mind. you picked a pretty crumby motel to do it in.” Hayes suddenly laughed. Ingalls is my . Turning back to Hayes. “American Embassy? What are you doing in this place?” “I came here with Major Park earlier this evening. he said. You’re not exactly in uniform. Park turned to Uli and carried out a short conversation in Kyrgyz. . how’d you cross the border. . “ “Well.” 198 . “Ohhh.” He paused. “For the weekend. .” Lee’s face flushed. And even if you are secret police and not just a smuggler who speaks English. Or are these boys just telling me that to jack the price up for getting me across?” “There’s always an exception for the Internal Security Service. . is there also an exception for Internal Security’s American girlfriend?” Instead of responding. Lee Ingalls from the American Embassy in Kokand. Hayes ignored her outrage. . “Assuming that’s really who you are. No exceptions. .“May I introduce Dr. They say it’s been closed in both directions. “My friend Uli tells me you have enough weapons with you to fight a war.

“My words to him exactly. and their fathers before them: to create a free home for the nomads. They are Basmachi. They smuggle to supply themselves with guns and money. Not a big war.” “That’s the word for it.” 199 . They get through this alive and they’re set for life. My friend Wilson and I have a grievance with someone we believe to be in Kokand. The other side is mined. I do. Mr. regardless of what happens to me.” “That’s why I’m giving a pile of money and a pretty substantial arsenal to these smugglers. A small.” “Uli will do his best.” “And your companions outside?” “Our shipmates are four of the best the British Special Air Service ever produced. I’ve spent as many years keeping Uli out as he has spent trying to get in.” “When I cross the border again. But I expect them to give it their best. but they still rule in the Soviet style. Carpenter. I’ll be going to war too.” “You will have trouble crossing the border. “Does that make sense? These people have been ruling themselves now for what? Twenty years?” “The rulers speak their language. You should also know that these men are not smugglers. but he and his men don’t know the other side very well.” “Major?” “Park. and we’re going there to kill him.” “Mercenaries.” Hayes looked puzzled. but their struggle is that of their fathers. To get us across. private war. or die trying. They still rely on people like me.” “Major Park. you talk like a man who’s just quit his job.

son./ Not unbecoming men that strove with gods. “Pleased to meet you.” “My enemy is the person who dropped a nuclear bomb on two hundred thousand people in the city of Nukus.” Hayes thrust out his large hand. Only I don’t know his name. “Alfred Lord Tennyson.’” intoned Wilson Woodrow. Rejep Muratbey. We got ourselves the same enemy.” 200 .” “‘Some work of noble note may yet be done. The person who carried out the bombing is named Bix.“Then it sounds like maybe we should compare enemies. He comes from another planet.” “The human responsible is my president. All I know is that I might be able to find out in Kokand.

I guess I do. “Joseph?” she whispered back. Apparently the effect of feeling a lot of worshippers’ minds is energizing.” “Yes.CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Lee opened her eyes.” “If he cared enough about humans to post stories on Chakra Net. She tensed herself as she lay still fully dressed under the blanket. He wants to feel worshipped properly. Sort of like cocaine. She heard someone moving in the pitch dark room. But there’s something important I have to find out from you. Sacrifice gives power to the gods. But of course I’ve never seen it done. He says it makes him strong.” came a whisper at her side.” 201 . I mean. “How did you get back here?” “Nadir brought me. I have the hymns on my laptop. “Lee.” “What’s that?” “Do you know how to do a sacrifice? The way it was done for Indra?” “Well. that’s what the hymns say.” “Nadir’s here?” “No. and I know how the ritual is set up. So can you arrange to do it? It’s the only way he’ll agree to tell us about Bix.” “He’s telepathic. He went on. I don’t think there have been any sacrifices just to Indra for a couple of thousand years. why doesn’t he care enough to help them now.” “That’s why he wants one. yes.

His hair and beard were red and looked on fire. beer belly. glowing with a golden aura.” “When he first spoke to me I saw a huge naked man. maybe forty years old. I’ve got to go now. thick hard belly. Why?” “Do you know what I saw?” “No. He says if he’s never going to be worshipped again. I’ll come back tomorrow. When he posted. about five-nine. backpack. and he said only a worshipper can see a god. In the pitch dark it seemed more like had had a dream.” “He told you all this. maybe what happens to the Earth won’t matter to him. a bizarre dream that the god Indra was real and that he needed her. By morning she had 202 . He needs me. His body was immense—six and a half feet tall. heavy muscles. plain clothes. full beard. Like one of those huge fake wrestlers on television. he suddenly changed and looked just like you said. Then after he started talking to you. how do you let him know?” “I’m going to join him now.” “We’ve been talking for hours. But now he’s longing to be worshipped. he was just talking. Gods have failings. “If we can do the sacrifice.” “Why did he talk to you?” “Do you remember when he spoke with us on the street?” “Of course. and I couldn’t understand everything he said. But he’s very drunk. he’s a god.” Lee thought for a while.“Lee. I asked him about it.” “What did you see?” “A red-haired man.” Lee heard him leave the room and then lay on her back wide awake wondering at what he had told her.

” ventured Hayes meditatively. Dr. “You were very rude and offensive last night. He told me Nadir will deign to let us help him if he is worshipped as the god Indra. who would play what roles.” “Joseph came back last night. What do you think. Hayes. and Hayes Carpenter were eating bread and goat cheese around the table when Lee joined them. Ingalls sounds like I’m teaching in a boys school instead of hanging out with an armed gang. What are you doing?” “Making plans for going after Muratbey. Dimitri tells me that without Nadir we can’t do anything about Bix. All we have to do is fight his army. Muratbey’s stuck on this planet. Wilson Woodrow. Dr. bow down when he comes?” 203 .” “But supposing we could get Nadir. “Good morning. “A little kooky.” “I apologize. Ingalls. Wilson?” “If it needs to be done I guess. And why don’t you all call me Lee. Isn’t Bix the main objective?” “Absolutely. But how do you intend to get Nadir? Dimitri said he just looked at the two of you like you were steaming piles of cow manure and walked away.” “What do we have to do.” “I accept your apology.” said Hayes with a sacharine cordiality that seemed to be an obvious attempt to make up for his rudeness of the night before. “but I guess we could manage that.” Looks of discomfort passed over the faces of all three men. but Muratbey’s a sitting duck. Mr. He’s not going anywhere.made a list of what she the sacrifice would require. Dimitri Park. and how she might compensate for the things that would be lacking.

” Muratbey wondered where Major Park was. Now you tell me where we go. Just like a Korean—unreliable. He tell you something else.” “Major Park is a good and loyal servant. So lie.“I’m afraid it’s a little more complicated than that. “Small bit. Every time he phoned. Muratbey was unfazed. someone else get technology. You never ask. he assured me that you were the ruler.” said Frak aloud.” * * * “Am I to understand that the mountain Verethra Kuh is not within the territory you rule?” Frak’s tone was accusing. communicated Bix to Frak. “I never say in Ferghana. his adjutant kept saying he was on personal emergency leave. I tell you is not in Ferghana. We interrogate 204 . He had insisted on bringing a folding chair with him to Bix’s ship so that he could be comfortable as well. Take me down the river make me get baptized again if she caught me doin’ shit like this. Perhaps you don’t need so much protection anyway. My army protect as I promise. Wilson whistled when he had finished.” “But when I told Park at the very outset that my job was within a radius of one hundred miles. Humans aren’t much better than pramodzi. Heading the list were a live goat and a gallon of clarified butter. Muratbey shrugged his heavy shoulders. Hayes read the the list aloud for the benefit of Wilson Woodrow. “This complication makes my job more dangerous. “Sure lucky my Pearl’s dead.” Lee placed on the table a rough diagram she had drawn of an Indo-Iranian sacrifice and a list of materials needed.

” * * * Acting Commander of the Ferghanan army Colonel Maxim Sverdlov had driven fifty miles to the town of Namangan to visit his beloved Uncle Ilya.” “NO EGGS!” “Then I just take reds and greens. mentor. No pramodzi. Surrogate father.” “No. but the protocols couldn’t cover every eventuality.” “And if army get more weapons. and I will have to leave at the bottom of the shaft to do my repairs. “Okay.” Bix furrowed his brow. No egg bombs near mountain.” “Then I don’t go with you. An egg dropped down the shaft would kill me. My army close shaft behind you and guard it. “I go if I can ride in ship.everyone trying to enter Ferghana. “Ten red.” Muratbey looked unperturbed. And if that happens.” Bix did not like complications. . The brothers205 . “I am vulnerable when I leave my ship. you will get no technology. ten green . Ilya Kramskoy. had done everything in his power to make up for his nephew’s loss of his real father in the Afghanistan war. . his mother’s brother. “How many weapons?” said Frak.” “No egg bombs on mountain.” Aliens aboard ship for other than tours to impress them was not in the protocols. and one egg. Still we keep them all in prison for while. and you worry.” “I would worry less if you were with me. idol. No worry.

which is the only Kyrgyz military post. When my defenses are in place. not just a hundred meters. So that means I set up a camp and defensive perimeter here. We were trained to kill.” “But the mission is across the border.in-law had both been officers in the Spetsnaz special forces. You should do the same. We obeyed orders.” The old man lifted his vodka glass to toast his nephew. but for no legitimate reason.” “That is my plan. as if trying to get his uncle to understand something difficult. I move south along this track. We were Spetsnaz. Maxim’s stolid face remained serious. Oleg. “So you will be in command. “You don’t think I should refuse?” “Refuse? Those who refused to serve in Afghanistan deserved to be shot. I cross the border. “The mountain is forty miles inside Kyrgyz territory. had fallen to a sniper’s bullet. Congratulations. Maxim’s father.” said Maxim intently. This will delay any Kyrgyz counter-moves by land.” He marked a point on the map near the dotted red line of the track with a pencil.” “But you say it will take no more than four days. My reconnaisance team reports I can get to within three miles of the mountain with tracked vehicles. Since I must protect my withdrawal route. take Kyzyl Kiya. Ilya had never told his nephew that his father’s body had been found castrated. Not just a commando raid. send tanks to block the road coming west from Osh. A soldier fights.” The two men leaned over a map spread on the kitchen table. 206 . I will need a substantial force. and bomb the bridges on the road that goes south from Osh to Sary Tash. “On day one. At this river I turn east and follow the gorge of the river into the mountain. We’ll be invading.

It would take us months to prepare for a general war. But I have fifteen good mountain men. They will scale the cliff. If they aid the Kyrgyz. I can see nothing wrong with it. President Muratbey says it will take no more than five hours. my men will secure the bomb-proof net over the top of the shaft and guard it until the job is finished. Once the ship has left. is that we’re making an unprovoked incursion into a neighboring country. and if all goes well. By that time you will have the new weapons President Muratbey has promised you.” “I understand that. Uncle. and their base in Kashghar is powerful.” “But there is also China to think of. we climb the mountain. We will be only seventy miles from the Chinese frontier. it will encourage rebellion among their own Uighurs. On the second day the strike team moves up the gorge. It should not be a hard climb except at the end.” “That is our job. The Chinese will never fight a war on their northwestern frontier.” “And it would take months for the Kyrgyz too. They never intervened in Afghanistan. We go where we are told to go and complete our mission. we have two days to withdraw our forces. Uncle Ilya. Once the ship has entered the cave and descended into the shaft. We are initiating a war. The rest of the force will defend the base of the cliff. they can destroy us. and signal the spaceship with a flare. and at that altitude I can’t use helicopters. The cave is set in a cliff about two hundred and thirty meters high.” “What is wrong. If they help the Kyrgyz. All these different kinds of Turks may quarrel 207 .” “Don’t worry. secure the cave.“That is where I leave the armored personnel carriers.” Ilya was impressed. “It is a very thorough plan. But we must think about counterattacks from Kyrgyzstan.

no smoke. about two and a half kilos. Contact with a hand 208 . if Kyrgyzstan calls on them. No noise.” “How long does a charge last?” “I don’t know. Maxim refolded the map and put it in his briefcase. It induces heating in metal objects. Two minutes continuous contact with the cannon barrel of a tank at 300 meters caused the barrel to bend. The farther away the target the longer it takes.” Relieved by his uncle’s reassurance. They won’t want to invite them in. . but they all stand together against us Russians and the Chinese. .among themselves. What is most important is that you don’t really have to aim. With that we would have won in Afghanistan . no heating of the weapon. and it’s still working after four hours of firing. You just sweep it slowly across the field of fire. “The green weapon is anti-personnel. “Now for the anti-armament weapon. except it is red. but Kyrgyzstan has bad relations with the Russians these days. Hand carried. It shoots a continuous microwave beam that cooks anything organic it hits. The beam is of a different sort that we haven’t be able to analyze. The Russians maybe. I guarantee you.” Maxim had heard his uncle’s analysis of the Afghanistan war enough times to want to forestall another rendition. but It killed a sheep in two seconds at half a kilometer. and the beam itself isn’t visible. if the politicians in Moscow hadn’t tied our hands and our feet. Now tell me about the weapons. no flash. I’ve timed my tests. It is just like the other. There was an excitement in Uncle Ilya’s rheumy blue eyes that usually appeared only when reminiscing about operations in Afghanistan.” “Incredible. no Chinese forces will get involved. and the beam cuts down whatever living things it contacts.

“our president is a great man. Kramskoy?” “I thought you would be interested in knowing that my nephew will soon be leading the Ferghana army on a major incursion into Kyrgyzstan.” “And now I will tell you how I would have used these new weapons against the Afghan bandits.” Two hours later an exhausted Maxim wearily and drunkenly took to the road to return to Kokand.” Maxim stood up and raised his glass. As soon as he was gone.” “It is good to hear your voice. “To President Muratbey.weapon causes the ammunition inside it to explode almost instantaneously.” “Maxim. How many of these weapons will you receive?” “We will have eleven of each for the incursion. “What do you you have to say. and he had suspected Colonel Ilya Kramskoy in particular of unjustifiable atrocities against Afghan prisoners and civilians. General Repin had never been enthusiastic about the brutality of Spetsnaz forces in general. It took some time to reach the commander fo the Russian land forces.” There was silence 209 . But President Muratbey has promised that if our mission to protect the spaceman is successful. and how the politicans in Moscow made us lose the war. but he patiently worked his way through a series of operators and adjutants until he heard the familiar sharp voice of General Repin himself. Uncle Ilya placed a telephone call to Moscow. as soon as he completes his job in the cave—whatever it is—Muratbey will make him give us enough weapons to equip the entire army. “Let us drink to Comrade Muratbey.” said Ilya proudly. The same thing happens if you target the fuel tank area of a vehicle. this is Repin.” “Amazing.” He refilled both glasses and raised his own. “Colonel Kramskoy. General.

I could tell he was up to something the minute I saw him. Alf. The Uighurs are over half the population. and they hate the Chinese ruling them. the mustached leader of the Basmachis. supervised his men and Major Park unpacking and assembling an array of weapons that even Lee’s untutored eye could see was clearly in excess of what they themselves could use. and he was pleased that Uli. which I don’t begrudge him since that’s the way you do things in business if you want to get ahead. the leader of Hayes’ British mercenaries.” pursued Hayes. Danny’s made himself a pretty penny. But I may have to get rid of him anyway. He had figured he would need them to equip or buy the help of local forces. A man who feels such a need to get things like that off his chest is a liability in a business like mine.” 210 .on the other end of the phone. He felt to guilty he was just dying to confess. “Have you ever heard of a mountain named Verethra Kuh?” * * * Plans for recrossing the border into Ferghana and for sacrificing to Indra proceeded simultaneously. “The amusing thing is. Low grade rebellion’s been going on for twenty years. Hayes relieved her puzzlement by telling her that much of his arsenal had been brought as trade goods. Kid named Dan Nielsen. had responded so enthusiastically to his offer to exchange arms—and a certain amount of cash—for aid. Seems he had been working on his own account buying arms left over from the Afghanistan war and smuggling them to the Uighurs around Kashghar. “that the head of my office in Almaty turned out to be a gunrunner too.

But once Helen knew.” Hayes raised an eyebrow in interest.” “Ouch! That’s learning the hard way. Any more than I ever apologized to all those Mexican harvesters I had working for me when I came back from the army. and they stayed poor. “Let me guess. but his last remark caught her attention. Course I fund schools and clinics now. and there isn’t much of anyone else around to say these things to. maybe I am. confession is a bad trait in a businessman. She looked up from a laptop screen filled with Vedic text.” “Major Park recorded his couplings with a Cuban woman and was crude enough to play a tape of one of them for me. But his inability to confess and get things off his chest has ruined our marriage.” “My wife Helen found out about me because the girl called her up and told her I wanted a divorce. but I had a lot to feel guilty about back then. no. But then maybe I won’t be alive a week from now. I got rich on their backs. Still. I never thought that duplicity and secrecy might be an asset in his business.” “So you don’t think you’re going to live through this?” 211 . she didn’t give me a choice.” “Aren’t you confessing to me?” “Well. now that you mention it. “My husband is quite a successful businessman.Lee had been only half listening to Hayes rattling on about his man in Almaty.” “Indeed it is.” “Did you?” “Hell. He was having a little something on the side and you found out. Even then I couldn’t bring myself to confess the whole thing and ask her to forgive me.

Some problems. Joseph?” 212 . Miz Lee. All he’s left with is dead friends and one blind old black man. who had been quietly listening. “Wow! Look at all the guns!” “Where is Nadir?” said Lee.” he said with a slight smile to show he wasn’t really offended. however. Great Array operation was it .’ I’ll figure out what I can do when the time comes. What caste is your family. project don’t amount to shit. As that poet says. “Is the sacrifice on?” “I’m working on it. Everyone’s agreed. Joseph Engineer looked around the room. I’m stuck on. but he don’t want to live through it. the big burrito. That’s the priest who sings the Vedic hymns. Hayes will be the yajamana. You will be the adhvaryu. But maybe I can help. the priests are supposed to be Brahmins. much abides. entered the conversation.” “So why are you here. That means he buys the goat and sits still while the sacrifice takes place. “Despite my reputation. For instance. I’ve never killed or butchered anyone. Dimitri will be your assistant. the rich man who sponsors the sacrifice. ‘Though much is taken. Wilson? Are you ready to die too?” “I ain’t decided yet. though. After that bomb. “Hayes won’t tell you this.” Park looked up from a disassembled M16 rifle. Very appropriate. Beats waitin’ to die sittin’ on the front porch in a rocking chair. Mainly I’m here to keep Hayes company. . That’s the officiating priest. We figured he would be the most comfortable killing and butchering the goat. “The Korean always gets the worst job.Wilson Woodrow. He was gonna be so famous they’d put his face on the hundred dollar bill.” A gust of cold wind and a slam of the door slam drew their attention.” “And I’ll be the hotar. .

“Indoors here.” she added pedantically. not pneumonia. of course.” “What about the fact that I’m a woman? That’s another problem. suddenly getting angry. “Believe I’ll just stay indoors.” “Nadir says that’s okay too because once you shave your head you become a man. He says that originally you just had singing hymns and sacrificing the animal. “I came here to get revenge.” retorted Lee. You don’t understand. by the way. Bix. The sacrifice can’t be here. Nadir is meeting us at the site. “Well who gives a damn whose mountain it is. but you don’t have to worry about that.” said Hayes. The idea of a Brahmin caste developed later when some families began to specialize in memorizing the hymns.” “Mountain of Vrtra.” “You all gonna get cold.” 213 .” explained Lee.” chortled Wilson. no.” “I’m planning to take down the tent and move the cars and draw the sacred precinct in the yard. He really loves it.” “Indoors where?” said Joseph.” “You’re going to do it too. Every male who enters the sacred precinct has to be shaved and wrapped in a white sheet with the right shoulder bare. which we’ve got to cross if we’re going hunting for Muratbey and that friend of his. “Oh. “That will be something to see. “And that scruffy beard. “The Old Iranian pronunciation. Hayes.” said Lee.“I think we’re Vaishyas. And thirty miles up in the mountains is thirty miles farther away from the border. Nadir was telling me about the sacrifice. It’s about thirty miles from here—mountain called Verethra Kuh.” “Once she shaves her head?” interjected Hayes with a twinkle in his eye.

reemerged slightly. and weapon parts. The sacrifice area is near the cliff around a shoulder of the mountain. why should I let myself be ordered around by some teen-aged.” Dimitri Park had been following the conversation from across the room where he was seated on the floor amid a litter of magazines. Okay. Where on the mountain is the machine?” “It’s in a cave at the top of a cliff. near the summit. “It’s where the machine is that Nadir destroyed and Bix has come here to fix. I don’t give a rat’s ass about making a sacrifice to this Nadir. and we know damn well that’s where Muratbey is. clips. but he knows how to find his way out of the woods and how to talk to these Basmachi boys. who in the face of Hayes’ blast had withdrawn his head turtle-like into the wide neck and hood of his coat.” “It’s within a hundred miles of Kokand?” “About eighty miles. if Lee will forgive a rude expression. government spy bureaucrat who’s probably never done a lick of real work in his whole life? Dimitri may be a fucking secret police agent who worked for the communists. he’s from some other planet. snot-nosed U.” Joseph.” “One hundred miles was the distance Bix told me when he first arrived. that’s what me and Wilson and Alf and the boys are going to do. Besides that.S. That’s hard enough to believe. Nadir says it was used for several thousand 214 . And if Dimitri says we cross the border and go get Muratbey and Bix in Ferghana. Joseph. Never even seen him.Joseph looked puzzled. But what if he isn’t? What if he’s just some hippie jerk-off who likes to pull our chains? And for that matter. “Tell us what you know about the mountain. but I’ve been going along with it to make everyone happy. “Why are you crossing into Ferghana?” “Beause that’s where Dimitri says Bix is.

he doesn’t have a spaceship so he’s not going anywhere.” “Hayes. That should stir things up. Only chance I’ll ever have to be a Vedic priest. and wait for Bix to arrive. Lee?” “Fine with me. “Do you know how high the cliff is?” “About seven hundred feet. presumably. do Alf and his men know how to climb cliffs?” “Hell. “As you said earlier.” said Hayes.” “If we’re there first.” replied Park.” “Christ. they’re Special Air Service. “a full-scale military invasion. So they’re going to have to invade Kyrgyzstan to help Bix. do the sacrifice. just what we need. it might work to our advantage. He says we should go there.” 215 . Cliffs are their home. Besides.” “Then lets do the sacrifice the way Nadir wants it.” “Along with the Ferghana army. for the time being I think Joseph and I can distract him with a couple of telephone calls.years before people forgot that the cave was the home of the demon Vrtra.” “But what about Muratbey?” grumbled Hayes. They were born on cliffs.

and closed the bedroom door behind her. Ambassador Darla Bane glared down at him balefully. Behind him. Mike. .” Then he stepped aside. Consuela slipped into a terry robe. He could hear a conversation in Spanish . . The American diplomat nodded the most minimal of greetings. her hair standing out electrically with a sort of charge that seemed less static accumulation than voltage emanating from seething internal chemistry. waiting to be served and savored.” said Donald apprehensively. their goose-bumped aureolas and tumid nipples gliding this way and that like derby-hat caramel appetizers teasingly eluding his quivering lips while whetting his appetite for a familiar but always intoxicating carnal menu of entrees and desserts still. “Hi. each in its own good time. He pulled the sheet up to his clavicle as if his main concern was possible inadvertent display of his vilous chest The bedroom door opened. “Donald.000 feet. Embassy political officer Miguel Espinosa was the picture of elegance in his three-piece suit. He caught was the name “Donaldo” and promptly suffered a loss in penile blood pressure comparable to the explosive decompression of a hull-holed airliner at 30.CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Consuela Ramirez had breasts like cream-colored balloons filled with the finest and slipperiest of sand particles. a man and a woman. fluffed her lush black hair over the collar in back. 216 . The doorbell rang. They oozed and flowed under Donald’s kneading fingers.

” “Involuntary?” “He also told me I could find you here with Captain Ramirez. and you did nothing? You disgust me.” “I thought it was voluntary.” 217 . one of the most elegant. no!” “But he does know about you and Captain Ramirez. refined. Donald’s spirit felt as shrunken as his penis.” “Captain?” “Cuban intelligence. “I don’t understand.” “So he warned you of what Muratbey was planning. Didn’t Muratbey threaten to reveal your treasonous carryings-on with Captain Ramirez unless you delivered your wife to him?” “Good heavens. Where is your wife?” “My wife?” “Your wife.” peeped Donald. but I believe so. intelligent women I have ever met. Mr. is your wife with President Muratbey?” “I’m not sure.” “Tell me. would voluntarily sleep with that revolting warthog? You’re even more disgusting than I thought. I received a telephone call from Major Dimitri Park informing me that she was being kept as an involuntary sex slave by President Muratbey. You’re worse than a piece of shit. “Voluntary!? Voluntary? You thought your wife. Yes.“Ambassador Bane!” “The bane of your existence.” “You believe so?” “Major Park told me she was. Ingalls.” Behind the Ambassador Consuela looked at Donald and delivered herself of an exagerrated shrug.

“Do you seriously think Lee has been taken against her will?” “Yes. No one knows of any plans she had to be away. There you are. duh. Why do you think I’m here? Do you imagine that whenever someone from the embassy fucks up. duh. but he had no idea how. Give me one reason why I shouldn’t take seriously what Park said about Muratbey and your wife?” “Have you asked President Muratbey?” “Thank you for that excellent idea. I go personally to drag his loathsome carcass out of his lover’s bed? The top cop in Ferghana tells me Muratbey’s kidnapped her. Like. Something had been dreadfully misunderstood. 218 . He phones around to the other embassy women and to her friends at the Academy of Sciences.” Donald was struggling to gain possession of himself. “Where has Muratbey taken your wife?” “I don’t know. She isn’t there. To his dacha in the country?” “He doesn’t have a dacha in the country. “Guess what? He denies it. So what choice do I have but to check out for myself Major Park’s assertion that I can find you at the apartment of the chief intelligence officer of the Cuban embassy? Here I am. presumably undressed under that sheet. I seriously think that.” Donald couldn’t believe he had just heard the Ambassador of the United States of America say “Like.” Donald wondered whether he should confess about the gems he had sent out of the country in the diplomatic pouch. You’re not to be found. Mike checks your home.“Yes.” And even as the thought passed through his mind he vaguely realized that he was not connecting what Ambassador Bane was telling him with reality. Of course I’ve asked Muratbey!” bellowed the ambassador.

You fucking slimeball!” Darla abruptly turned on her heel and left the bewildered commercial advisor to grope beside the bed for his clothes.” 219 . The last thing she wanted was for him to realize that she was on the verge of tears for fear of what might at that very moment be happening to Lee Ingalls somewhere inside the Presidential Palace. she said to herself for the hundredth time. Boone Rankin received her in sweatshirt and jogging shorts.” The buxom naval intelligence officer seated herself on a chintz-upholstered sofa. * * * A White House page directed Captain Stephanie Low of the Defense Intelligence Agency to the private quarters of the presidential family. Steph?” “Light on the water. Mike will drive you to the embassy where you’ll be put under arrest for having secret relations with an intelligence agent of an unfriendly nation. my! That feels better.” Boone Rankin was anxious to get on with it. “So what do I owe the honor to. Talk your ear off. Steph. though. As usual.“Put your clothes on. “My. No one kidnaps and rapes and American citizen on my watch. She downed a man-sized slug of Country Doctor and shuddered.” “Damn good lawyer.” “To your horse’s ass Secretary of State who doesn’t know how to do his job. he had fortified himself alcoholically for a conversation with his high school flame. “Bourbon and branch water. But that’s only until I get a full report on what else I can charge you with.

We’re like the blacks and the Jews. and we help each other out. What do you want?” “Boonie. “I’ll be quick. According to Darla. Your ambassador is Darla Bane.” The President first nodded and then. “I’m proud of my accomplishments in the gender area.” “What American woman?” The subject of women under duress routinely grabbed Rankin’s attention. “I won’t deny it.D. Ph. Am I right?” Rankin finished off his bourbon and wished he could pour another without it making him seem too anxious. with a sigh. “Cut the crap. you’ve appointed some of the best women in this country to your administration. and she gets the run around. she calls your present horseshit Secretary of State about an American woman being kidnapped. Need a good throat surgeon take their goddam larynx out. We’re in the same shitty boat. even if I and some others had to push you sometimes. shook his said despairingly. “Name of Lee Ingalls. But in the meantime. though. from Harvard.” “Don’t interrupt. Boonie. Boone. She’s a powerhouse. you know I got you by the balls. Boone. Who is she? I suppose you want me to make her Secretary of State. She’ll get to be Secretary of State all by herself. Must be a woman. And all these women in the administration stick together. “I haven’t the slightest. the President 220 .” Stephanie leaned forward and fixed the President with a no-nonsense stare.” he said lamely. Do you know who your ambassador to the Ferghana Republic is?” The President thought for a moment. This is serious. Go ahead. I give you credit for that.“Lot of males have that problem. married to first-class prick named Donald Ingalls who works for Commerce in Kokand.

Name to remember. . Bullshit! Happened the same day Lee Ingalls disappeared. Her husband was screwing a Cuban spook so maybe he didn’t have much choice.” “How did . . and they’re trying to keep her from leaving the country.of the fucking Ferghana Republic grabbed this woman . and he admitted his wife was with the President. And you’re goin’ to do something about it. . Did you know Ferghana has closed its borders?” “Not the sort of thing I’d know. “ “Darla Bane. . But it’s absolutely fucking disgusting.” “You’re kidding. Not just send no note. and is doing the dirty with her in some secret rendezvous as we speak. Her life’s in danger.” “Don’t you think you’re overre .” “Land and air.” Rankin didn’t know whether she was referring to the abduction or to the betrayal by the secret police. Boone! I can feel it. . . My opinion is she’s gotten away. Apparently it was too disgusting even for them. They say there’s a bubonic plague outbreak. He said he’d send a letter of protest for Bane to deliver to President Muratbey.” “As I live and breathe. “What did the Secretary of State do?” “Fucking lawyer. Who ever heard of sending a note to a kidnapper asking him to be nice? What the poor woman needs is the cavalry. with her fucking husband’s consent . Sends chills up your spine they’d do a thing like that. doesn’t it Boonie. Darla found him in bed with the senorita. Sealed the country tight. neither. George Artunian probably knows about it. . Gave Darla a call. “ 221 . Mark my words” “How did Bane find all this out?” “Ferghana Internal Security ratted the President out. .

” “I promise. I won’t deny you’ve pushed me into doin’ some good things. “I’ll file my retirement papers the minute I hear Lee Ingalls is safe. I want them there in secret. you’ve got your cavalry.” The President waited. Steph. Boone.” “And no copies. all right. You know what I’ve got on you.” 222 . Stephanie glared at him.” Rankin smiled broadly. He waited some more. . And I want them to get this poor woman out safely. . “ “Embassy guard doesn’t have the firepower for the job. goddam it. “Then Steph. But when this is over. Boone. “Oh. Do me this one last thing. “I got it. saying nothing.” Captain Low pulled an old and much handled envelope from her breast pocket and handed it to the President. Maybe we were right for each other all those years ago after all. I want them there tomorrow. And Boone?” “Yeah?” “You’re a son of a bitch.“Don’t say it. Steph.” “So are you. but I just can’t stand bein’ blackmailed.” He reoriented his line of thought. I want guys with guns.” “You got it with you?” said Rankin eagerly. and I’ll give you your letter back. “Maybe the marines at the embassy could . I’ll expect you to put in for retirement. Boonie.

I went to a doctor. He read it through for the last time. We fool around. Boone Rankin carefully tore the letter and envelope into small pieces and arranged them in a neat pile in a glass ashtray embossed with the presidential seal. in response to a presidential summons. He locked the door behind her and then withdrew a single piece of paper from the worn envelope. I don’t know why.Rankin saw his visitor to the door with the bittersweet knowledge that he would probably never see her again. I’m not homosexual. I feel very ashamed. and then nothing happens. and he said there probably isn’t anything he can do about it. If you don’t want to go to the prom with me. I’m the one who isn’t. But somehow I’m just not able to do it. As he lit the scraps and watched them burn. But I like you to much to lie to you. he felt an old weight lift from his chest. But please don’t feel that it had anything to do with not liking you or finding you unattractive or anything. Love. I’m so sorry about last night. Believe me. and I’m very sorry. “George. and I don’t know what to do. The truth is I simply can’t do it. I like girls. I can understand. but normally I’m okay. I know you must have felt hurt and insulted. it had nothing to do with you.” “What!?” 223 . A half hour later. I could say that this sort of things happens with me from time to time. I’m attracted to them. I want to send a special forces team into Kokand. You’re just fine. Dear Stephie. George Artunian entered the Oval Office.

George. He says he’s found the person we’re calling the space friend. Sex thing apparently. . George Artunian is here. apparently this space alien business is true. Holding his hand over the mouthpiece. The Ferghana government won’t do anything because President Muratbey is the kidnapper. What’s up?” “We just decrypted a communication from our agent in Kokand. Tom.” “You sayin’ we can’t do it. “Goin’ to put you on speakerphone. “ The telephone rang.“An American woman’s been kidnapped.” Then back into the receiver. So I’ve decided to send the military in to get her out. refuel over Azerbaijan where we have good relations.” “Hello. long way away. he said to Artunian. and he confirms that the space enemy bombed Nukus. sir. We could send in a Delta Force team by MC-130 from Incirlik in Turkey. “Hi Tom. “It’s Tom Thayer at NSA. and drop the team into Kokand by parachute. But it’s a hell of a . Our man says the incursion could come in the next few days. He also says the closing of the Ferghana borders is a ruse to cover planning for a major incursion into Kyrgyzstan. . 224 . Rankin walked to his desk and picked up the receiver. As bizarre as it seems. President Muratbey has agreed to help him or it in return for advanced technology.” “Into Kokand? That’s crazy!” “What’s wrong with Kokand?” “Just that it’s a long.” came the low fidelity voice from Fort Meade. Got an emergency call from our Ambassador. George?” “No. and no one can go in overland because they’ve closed their borders.

Mr.” “Goodbye. Any new messages from . Mr. Thayer. Thayer?” “Only my Chief. Any new messages from your engineer go directly to me. Mr.” “Yes. .” “Okay. The place is almost inaccessible.” “Mr. Thayer. and keep me or George informed.” “How reliable is this man of yours in Kokand?” “One of our very best.” “Keep it that way. what’s the guy’s name?” “Joseph Engineer. But he’s heading for Verethra Kuh. “The Chief runs a tight ship over there. sir. Mr. to keep anyone who might be listening in from knowing what he’s talking about. President. this is the President. sir. I’ll tell the switchboard to put you through on priority.The target is a mountain called Verethra Kuh in southwest Kyrgyzstan.” “You can count on me. sir.” “Did he say where he is?” “Signal came through a long distance line at the central post office in the town of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan—using our agreed upon code words. Bye now. President.” 225 .” “NSA’s been way out in front of those dingbats from CIA on this from the very start. sir. . you can trust him.” “I’m sure I can. If he’s NSA. of course.” “Who else knows about this. I don’t know whether he will be able to get back in contact from there or not.” said Artunian as soon as the connection terminated.

“Thank heavens someone knows how to do something right in this government. But just think of it, George. Someone from another planet comes to Earth during my administration. Damn! This thing goes right, we’ve got four more years sewn up.” “Should I get the president of Kyrgyzstan on the phone?” “Hell no.” “But Tom said he’s about to be invaded.” “That’s his lookout. We already been fucked over by that Karakalpak guy Vahidov, don’t why we should let another one of these post-Soviet pipsqueeks get his hands on alien technology. What I want is enough American force on whatever that mountain is to make sure we get whatever there is to be got. Keep it small, but make it strong.” “But what excuse do we have? We can’t ask to overfly three or four countries with a military plane without an explanation.” “Tell ‘em we’re comin’ to the rescue of American womanhood Tell ‘em it’s a matter of honor.” Both men suddenly fell silent and looked at one another. Artunan spoke first. “You don’t suppose the kidnapped woman and the space alien are connected, do you?” “Same thought just passed through my mind, George. You think this could be a hoax?” “Tom Thayer said it was one of his best men.” “I know. But remember Hayes Carpenter may be out there too. We more or less sent him to Kokand to snoop around. Nothing that rich bastard would like better than to see me make a total ass of myself by sendin’ the army on a wild goose chase.” “Where did the information about the kidnapped woman come from?” “American ambassador in Kokand. Darla Bane I think her name is.” 226

“I know her. She’s good. She’s very good. She wouldn’t sound an alarm without proof.” Rankin rubbed his chin skeptically. “I don’t know.” Then he remembered his conversation with Stephanie Low and the commitment he’d made at the end of it. “Hell with it. Lets do it. Keep it as quiet as possible. Make sure nobody knows anything about the space business. Describe it as a rescue mission for an endangered American citizen. Drop a small team into Kokand for the woman, and then drop the rest on the mountain. We don’t tell Delta Force the details until they’re airborne, and then only the commander gets told about the space alien with orders to keep it to himself.” “You got it.”

*

*

*

Russian Defense Minister Pyotr Kalenin, his commander of land forces General Nikolai Repin, and the military Chief Historian Dr. Nikita Yurenev had been meeting for two hours. Thick notebooks, several layers of maps, filled ashtrays, and half-drunk glasses of seltzer littered the conference table. Kalenin returned from a visit to the bathroom refreshed by a splash of cold water in the face. Slicking back his thinning blonde hair with a pocket comb he said to the dark, Asian-looking general, “Summary. Lets go over it again. Where do we stand?” General Repin’s reputation, forged in Afghanistan, was for thoroughness and sound judgement rather than strategic brilliance or personal panache. “I think we’re agreed, Pyotr,” he began, “that what Mikhail Frunze found in 1920 on Verethra Kuh must have been made artificially. Not a single page in any of his reports suggests anything other than precise observation, and the two men who climbed the cliff and 227

went into the cave are fully credible. We’re also agreed, given the height of the mountain and its remoteness, that no human group could have excavated such an immense and regular shaft in the cave. So we conclude logically that the excavator of the shaft was not human. In addition, we know for a certainty that the Great Array was built by non-humans and involved construction on a very large scale using technologies unknown on earth. From this we conclude that the Great Array and the shaft on Verethra Kuh were probably built by the same party and very likely part of a single project. Any disagreement on any of this?” Both men shook their heads. “Now we come to Colonel Kramskoy’s story. Ilya Kramskoy was a reliable but brutal officer in Afghanistan. His reports were never suspected of exagerration. On the other hand, we know that now he is a drinker. About his nephew, Maxim Sverdlov, we know less because he never served under us. But he is highly trusted in Ferghana, and army sources in Kokand have confirmed that his superior, General Chengizoglu, died suddenly. Supposedly in a road accident. So do we believe the story Maxim Sverdlov told to his uncle? I think we’re agreed that we have no choice but to believe it. The question is whether if we believe part of story, we have to believe it all—including the reports about the red and green weapons.” “I still think that is a lie,” put in Pyotr Kalenin. “The weapons sound preposterous. He told it to impress his uncle. Make himself big.” “Possibly. But without the weapons, why would Colonel Sverdlov have accepted President Muratbey’s claim that he is collaborating with an alien from space? Sverdlov has never seen either the alien or the alien’s ship. So he has only President Muratbey’s word.”

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“And apparently the dead body of General Chengizoglu,” added Chief Historian Yurenev to keep from feeling completely ignored. “Correct. General Chengizoglu with steam rising from his corpse. This could not be produced by a normal weapon without charring part of the body. So let us say Colonel Sverdlov is sceptical at first. He thinks perhaps his president has gone insane, but he must appear to adhere to his wishes because President Muratbey has killed his superior officer and might kill him. What, then, is keeping him, as soon as he leaves Muratbey’s office, from having the president arrested?” “Muratbey gives him the weapons to test,” said Kalenin. “Precisely. Just as he told his uncle. So even though Sverdlov thinks Muratbey is insane, he has the means to check the slight possibility that he is not. He tests the red and green weapons, finds out they work, and realizes both that Muratbey is telling the truth and that with such weapons, and presumably the knowledge of how to make them, Ferghana could become the greatest power in Central Asia. Without the weapons, the whole episode never could have happened, and Sverdlov would never have told his story to his uncle. Instead, he would have arrested the president and let the vice president take over or declare a military state of emergency himself.” Kalenin frowned but nodded. “All right. I see your logic. So the red and green weapons are real. That’s crucial. The man from space may be totally invulnerable, and he may fly off taking all his technology with him, but the weapons are at this moment in human hands. Unfortunately not ours.” “But there are only twenty-two of them, and they are all in the hands of troops who will be making the incursion into Kyrgyzstan. If we are going to capture them, we will have to go to Kyrgyzstan too, directly to Verethra Kuh where Sverdlov will have only a small number of troops at the end of his supply train and far away from his 229

armored units. If we use the 208th Paratroop Battalion at Omsk, it’s seven hundred and fifty miles. Scarcely an hour and a half flight, but all of it over Kazakh or Kyrgyz territory. The most direct route would go almost directly over both Almaty and Bishkek.” “Will the Kazakh air force oppose us?” “Without question. So will the Kyrgyz if we should be lucky enough to get that far. They will both think we’re aiming at their capital cities. Of course, we could suppress ground fire from the air and use a fighter escort, but that would mean a general war with Kazakhstan. And NATO has been warning us against starting something with Kazakhstan.” “Hmmm, we need a pretext.” The defense minister pried the top from a fresh bottle of seltzer and let it fizz into his glass. “Something that neither the Kazakhs nor the Kyrgyz can object to.” The face of the roly-poly Chief Historian brightened. “Excuse me, I have an idea.” Kalenin and Repin looked at him with minimal interest. “The Ferghanans have closed their borders because of the bubonic plague.” “Not if we believe Sverdlov’s story. That’s just a cover.” “Exactly. That means they cannot deny having the plague. Supposing the World Health Organization announced that in the interest of all the world’s peoples it was sending a plane full of doctors and plague vaccine.” “They can’t. Ferghanan airspace is closed.” “They can still try . . . make a request to land. We know Ferghana will refuse so the airplane would have an excuse to remain in Kyrgyz airspace all the way to the Verethra Kuh, which is about as close as it can get to Kokand without entering

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Ferghana. There it again seeks permission to enter; Ferghana refuses; the plane returns to Omsk . . . minus the paratroopers who are dropped on the mountain.” “Would the World Health Organization authorize such a mission?” asked General Repin. Pyotr Kalenin eyes sparkled with excitement. “Dr. Yurenev, that is brilliant! Who cares whether the WHO would authorize the mission. It doesn’t have to. The story only has to hold for three hours to get the plane in and out. If we take off at six in the morning, it will be after midnight in Geneva. It should take at least three hours for the Kazakh and Kyrgyz governments to find out from WHO headquarters whether the flight is authorized. In the meantime, we telephone and tell them what’s happening. They won’t dare shoot the plane down.” “But how would we extract our troops?” queried Repin. “That should be simple. Once the incursion begins, Ferghana will be at war with Kyrgyzstan. We will send support to Kyrgyzstan. If they ask about the medical emergency flight then, we tell them we had had secret advanced notice of the incursion and had tried to prevent it to protect Kyrgyzstan from violation. In any case, everything will be so confused by that time that we should be able to control the situation.” General Repin was studying a detailed terrain map of the Tien Shan mountains in southern Kyrgyzstan. “The cave is on the north face, and Sverdlov’s plan has the Ferghana forces coming in along this little river from the west. If our troops landed above the snowline on the east slope, and were wearing white, they could work their way around to the cave without being spotted. Sverdlov’s sending only fifteen men up the cliff. They’re his only mountaineers. If our men are already in the cave, they can take them by surprise, seize the red and green weapons, and hold out until relieved. If 231

we can establish firing points on this slope to the east of the cliff, we can pin Sverdlov’s troops down with enfilade fire from above. There’s no way he can get around us.” “What about from the air?” said Kalenin. “The cave will protect the men inside. The ones on the slope will have to dig in. But if Sverdlov uses his air force to cut the road from Osh, as he told his uncle he was planning to do, that will bring the Kyrgyz air force into the battle. I think the Ferghanans have their hands full in the air and won’t be able to support Sverdlov.” The Defense Minister turned to the beaming Chief Historian and gathered his round body to him in a hug. “Dr. Yurenev, your suggestion is excellent. I commend you.” “Thank you, Your Excellency,” replied the overwhelmed historian. “Perhaps you would think to mention me, in a very small way, of course, when you report to the President.” The Defense Minister looked at the Chief Historian sourly. “Report to the President? Our President? A man who was elected because he promised to improve the economy and then lowered the pensions of every veteran of the Red Army? You must be joking. The first thing he would do is telephone Washington to ask permission.” “No,” interjected General Repin, “the first thing he would do is drink half a bottle of vodka and then telephone Washington.” “But . . . “ began the suddenly goggle-eyed historian. “We do this for the army, and for Mother Russia. Not for a parliament full of hoodlums and a government run by drunkards.”

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and Major Park’s Land Cruiser disguised by a haphazard coat of black spraypaint traveled a circuitous route from the Basmachi safe-house on the northern outskirts of Osh to the smugglers’ airstrip off the southern road to Sary Tash. but to the wouth and west the land opened up into the foothills of the mountains. the Basmachi leader riding in the lead truck. Hayes got out of the car and disappeared inside to give instructions to his aircrew. Sure enough. Lee and Joseph. While the dozen Basmachi men and Hayes Carpenter’s SAS mercenaries unloaded assorted bundles and some two-by-four lumber from the trucks. Lee and Joseph walked around to stretch their legs. but Hayes Carpenter assured them that they were there only to ensure that smugglers did not use the strip without paying a bribe. Park drove on to join the trucks behind the shed. covered with brown grass and barren bushes. a beat-up Honda. became momentarily agitated by the sight of Kyrgyz police at the airstrip gate.CHAPTER NINETEEN A convoy of three panel trucks. low shed on the far side of the strip. who had stayed with the plane for its protection. and the convoy passed through without hindrance. rising gently to a snowline some miles distant. He had learned their routine from Dan Nielsen’s confession. the Land Cruiser stopped briefly at the conspicuous-looking Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Learjet. While the rest of the vehicles drove on to a long. When he returned. the smiling officers offered casual salutes to Uli. The shed screened the trucks from the police post at the far gate. their lower slopes. riding in the Land Cruiser. Lee noted a half dozen varieties 233 .

Out of a barely noticeable gully a line of ungainly brown animals was proceeding slowly in their direction. but now here they were.” 234 . Put me on a horse. “Hayes. To Lee it was a scene out of one of the old accounts by Central Asian travellers which she had read in preparation for her stay in Kokand. She had been disappointed by not seeing any camels in Ferghana. After several minutes. once the camels were in couched position with their legs folded under them. I ain’t goin’. “Look.” declared Wilson sharply and definitively. The loading process proceeded slowly nevertheless since careful loading.of wildflower pushing out of the ground among the tufts of grass near her feet. The sun felt warm and the air springlike though there were still scattered icy spots where standing water had refrozen during the night. to wrestle them across the natural valley between the animals’ humps and tie them to the horizontal poles attached to pads that constituted their baggage saddles. was the secret of a well-managed caravan. camp goods.” said Joseph. as Dimitri Park told Lee. Won’t be no problem. Provisions. the two-humped. “I’ve ridden horses since I was a baby. The other prospective camel rider had a more negative view. shaggy camels became clearly distinguishable from those of the small horses being led behind them. pointing to a crease in the hillside. Lee wondered idly whether she would be able to lean forward and take a nap using the long shaggy hair on the front hump as a pillow. a caravan of them swaying toward her down the idyllic mountainside as if coming to rescue her from the tawdriness of everyday life. He also showed her two camels outfitted for riding saddles with dangling stirrups and what were essentially abbreviated horse saddles nestled between the humps. swannecked profiles of the dark. Assuming one was for her. and weapons had been carefully tied into balanced loads so that it was a fairly easy matter. if I can’t ride a horse.

Eyes just for seein’ where you’re at.” Hayes looked at Joseph critically. Ride with your hands and your legs and your back. Without Dimitri you’d be trying to cross a minefield right now with your fancy guns and your hired assassins. annoyed. But with Dimitri’s help. That’s all I can say. ‘less your fat butt has gotten too used to an armchair. “It’s time you learned to ride a horse. “I’m supposed to ride a horse. let Wilson ride the horse. I’ll do just fine. Let Joseph keep me company on the camels. Spend too much time with computers and such. Woodrow’s camel.” said Joseph interjecting himself into the conversation. son. You won’t have to see where you’re going. you do not. never learn how to be a man.” chuckled Wilson appreciatively. you’re blind. we don’t have another horse. You should know that. Carpenter. either. “Takes consideration on an old blind man.” “Mr.” “I’ve never learned to enjoy Marlboro cigarettes. Do you see Dimitri trying to throw his weight around? Do you? No. “The camels will all be strung together. I’d be willing to ride Mr.” Lee interevened sharply. “Hayes. You’re not the boss here. Put me behind another horse and tell the rider not to go under any low branches.“Wilson. but I’ve never been on a horse in my life. and it’s time you learned to behave better. and only 235 . “What makes you think sitting for two days on a horse is more virile than sitting for two days on a camel? I bet these Basmachi wouldn’t have such narrow view of manhood. He’s doesn’t have swimming pools full of money. but a whole country is afraid of his shadow.” replied Joseph.” “But Wilson. is it? You don’t ride with your eyes.” said Hayes with a placating tone.” “Listen to that boy.” “Then you got yourself an extra camel. Look at Dimitri.” “Horse ain’t blind.

Hayes. I’ve gone about as far as a woman can go. all twelve Kyrgyz had halted their other activities to attend to the dispute—”as opposed to your four who won’t collect their pay if you get killed. “Yes. So the answer to your question is yes. Hayes looked around at the others. lady?” he said slowly. Hayes looked as stunned as anyone. “That’s correct. “And I’m goin’ to ride a horse. But does Dimitri try to order you around? Does he try to order anyone around? I won’t have this rudeness.” Joseph broke the tense silence.” he said bravely. I mean it. He looked back at Lee.” Hayes looked at Dimitri but could read nothing in his impassive face. I’ve fled the country. and Dimitri has twelve armed friends who don’t even know what’s going on”— nevertheless. She saw an invisible frontier—and she stepped across it. Lee thought for a few seconds. “Somebody has to who is not controlled by arbitrary secretions of testosterone. I believe I am.” said Park firmly. Dimitri will shoot you if I ask him to.with Dimitri’s help.” replied Lee firmly. “Are you taking command of this expedition. Now you learn to behave. I am taking command. “You’ll what? You’ll have me shot?” Lee stared him coldly in the eye. I’m alone in the mountains with twenty men. “You have my vote. It’s a role that suits me.” “Or what?” said Hayes grandiosely. Lee.” said Wilson. “Or I’ll have you shot.” 236 . you have a chance to get the revenge you want.” A silence fell over the group of English-speakers. I’ve run away from my husband. “I support Lee. “Sound like Judge Lee goin’ to be the law south of Osh.

” Uli led the way looking for all the world like a warrior of Genghiz Khan with his stringy mustaches. Behind him.” “You really think we’re going to do something against Bix? Size of things. and you could have just walked into his office and put a hole in his head. Those are the actions of a man who wants a woman.” “You forget there’s Bix to deal with. “You think Muratbey is Hitler because he let those people in Nukus die.Alf was standing in front of the three other mercenaries. We’ll do what has to be done. and lets get out of here. and we don’t have a clue how he plans to handle Bix. take his ass back to his own planet. Instead you made a bee line for a woman who hardly knows what’s going on. Carpenter. “Wilson. all of them looking poised to act. and then take her off to another country. we’re depending on a drunk who thinks he’s god. Like as not. looser style bred on the Texas and Oklahoma plains. Dimitri and Hayes came next riding side by side while the rest of the Basmachi and the SAS mercenaries sorted themselves out around and behind the camel train. get on the goddam horse. “Just give the order.” “Maybe. and no one will be sure he was ever here. he’ll fix his machine or whatever. “But you want to. lambskin hat. “You sleeping with Lee?” asked Hayes bluntly. Want to a lot.” replied Dimitri. trash her husband for a second time.” Dimitri didn’t say anything.” 237 .” Hayes weighed the situation for several seconds before relaxing his expression. The tone of his reply was one of good-natured resignation. Mr. and lifelong ease on horseback. “No. Wilson Woodrow rode with equal comfort but a lankier.

aren’t you.“Don’t be such a hard-ass. that’s for sure. Lady’s got a real tongue on her. I tried not be be offensive. Then he said. you’re a bold suitor.” “In my line of work. a boss who needs killing. No woman’s talked up to me the way she did since Helen walked out. Tired of scaring people.” “But I shamed her. Educated. but you have to admit you’re after Lee too. . and I don’t think she will ever forgive me.” “So why now? You’re hitting what? maybe forty-five? a little older? I know how it is. Not like Joseph.” “Well. Classy lady comes along. but I can go with beautiful. I can understand all that. she probably doesn’t know herself. If the future of this part of the world’s going to be any good.” “Not a teen queen. you take what you need and don’t get involved emotionally. Nothing to be ashamed about. At least I indicated. no kids. I think she’s beautiful.” “Never been married. Feel you’re stuck in the past. Unless you’ve told her.” “Not the forgiving sort. American. in a way. “Do you think it shows to everyone?” “Shows? Hell no! You’ve got a face as blank as the Great Wall of China. I’ll grant you want to get Bix and Muratbey. it’s not going to have any secret police in it.” “I’ve told her . . He’s got puppy love so bad he’s practically covered with saliva. then?” “I would have been a mistake.” “Helen was your wife?” 238 .” Dimitri rode silently for a while.” “Beautiful. I’m not very experienced in emotional matters. Dimitri.

. not tender enough.” Hayes road silently for a while. . I was in love with her. That brought back memories. I don’t go after another man’s woman. athletic. You want to get in bed with her. But don’t tell her I said so. just so we don’t get into some misunderstanding later. “Word of honor.” “A contest between a Korean exile whose principal skill is interrogating people and an American billionaire isn’t very balanced. then I’m going to try my best to marry her myself. “ “Their lovemaking? Yes. Fact is.“Yeah. But if you’re right. and she can’t forgive you for busting up her marriage.” “And?” “And what?” 239 . You saw her first. at least he sounded energetic. it’s a good thing. “I’ll tell you something else too. that’s fine.” Hayes prodded his thick midsection with his fingers and sighed.” After a few moments. .” observed Dimitri. I’ll stay out of your way until she’s decided herself about you. I bugged the bedroom. . energetic in bed . he added. Perhaps too energetic. and the type may not appeal to her any more. “so you listened in on . and still liked me. younger than me. Keep you and me from getting into a butting match down the road. . They stopped having sex after I made Lee listen to the tape. And I screwed it up. What was her husband like as a man?” “Six-three. You also got to remember that she’s already been married to one rich American businessman. It was my job. Only woman ever really understood me . “I’ve got a hunch Korea’s gonna win this round. . God.” “Then you’re not angry at her for taking charge?” “Angry? Hell no. Helen used to savage me just the way Lee did back there.

the vista was bleak and brown with the occasional hawk or eagle soaring overhead. “Doing just fine. but they could never tell whether it was one of Uli’s men scouting their flanks or a lone Kyrgyz herder. however. Reminds me of Kashmir. climbing steadily toward the snowline. Alf rode up beside Lee and asked how she was doing. “Beautiful landscape. Did a job for the government there a few years back. “I can’t say that. Occasionally they would see a rider on a distant hillside. His English accent seemed incongruously civilized. across the grain of the foothills. As Basmachi rider led each string.” vouchsafed Dimitri eventually.” They road together silently. but more often they moved in a single line. isn’t it?” “Very appealing. You said what he’s like. the camels Lee and Joseph were riding were tied to separate strings of six animals each. “I dream about making love to her every night. Occasionally they would pull abreast of each other.” “Okay.” Lee responded. They dipped into and out of a seemingly endless series of shallow valleys whose lower slopes deepened into impassable gullies. Forget about it. More often. Well before reaching the snowline the route of the caravan turned westward. Sorry.” 240 .“Well. Hayes grunted and kept his silence. What’s she like?” Dimitri’s sallow cheeks flamed red. I understand. Back in the camel train. you know. Though Lee and Joseph could have walked as fast as the plodding beasts. In a few of the more sheltered valleys wildflowers were beginning to show in profusion. the ride was more comfortable and allowed them to admire the scenery. thank you. and Lee could imagine the mountainsides covered with the bright green of new grass interespersed with brilliant blossoms.

equipment maintenance. Except for the parts it’s not fit for a woman to hear. Do those parts right.” 241 . we’ll do our job. though. actually. He told us he’d provide equipment for every eventuality. But it’s beginning to seem like an awfully big job. preparing plans. Mr. Ninety-five percent training. Most of the lads with real stories to tell don’t live to tell them.” “Why don’t you tell truths about your jobs?” “Too boring. More usual run of client wants to be protected and follows our orders. “You and your men don’t talk much. . and you’ll hear us talk. all pretty boring to talk about. He has some wonderful stories. do you?” “Put us off duty with a few pints in a pub. standing guard . Particularly Laurence. Laurence’s the exception. But when that includes anti-tank and antiaircraft missiles. you begin to wonder whether the eventualities he has in mind might be a wee bit too much for four men. He’s been luckier than most.Lee wondered which government.” “What do you talk about?” “Lies about previous jobs mostly.” “To tell the truth. Mind you.” “What’s your feeling about this job you’re on now? You think you’re going to need luck?” “You want a frank answer?” “Certainly. . none of us are feeling too good about it. and you probably won’t get hurt. Carpenter offered ten times the going rate on the condition that we follow any orders he gives.

Joseph.” “It’s like he said in one of the postings.” 242 . “Hello. I mean.” “It’s a good thing Nadir isn’t jealous of Ganesh. But I don’t know for sure. he talked about what sounded like Shushna’s eggs. you still don’t think of him as a real god. but it worked. Not very spy-like. what do you think made Nadir single you out when we were on the street by the kumys shop? Why did he think you were Webmaster. I’ve spent years studying Indra. but I’m used to it now. I’m insulted.Further conversation was interrupted by the trailing string of camels beginning to pull alonside Lee’s string. Alf pulled his horse to the side to make way and then dropped back to ride with the rear guard. His people are telepathic. I think it’s just an attitude of mind that he perceives and draws strength from.” “I don’t know whether he can tell which god a believer believes in. Did I tell you I carry a little statue of Lord Ganesh that my mother gave me in my suitcase? Before meeting you at the Academy of Sciences and putting the bug in your purse. I had no idea what he meant.” “But apparently that hasn’t changed whatever you think of him in your mind. He said he could see that I had the mind of a believer. I prayed to Ganesh for a good outcome. How are you doing?” “Fine.” “I’ve wanted to ask you.” “And I didn’t. just like the giants. “Hi there!” called Joseph as his camel approached Lee’s. He’s real hard to understand. I thought I was going to be sick at first with this swaying from side to side. I suppose. Like when I asked him about the giant and how he would fight him.

Cakram—that’s chakra.“I do. Anyway. and in a couple of them he or she is described as having eggs. But I know a lot of the hymns and verses to Indra. that Nadir is Indra—you’ll probably have dozens of people doing quick and shallow studies of Vedic and writing tacky little books about him. Shushna’s ike Vrtra. however. As his camel pulled decidedly ahead he threw back at her.’” Joseph looked awestruck. there are about forty verses dealing with Shushna. one of Indra’s enemies.” “How did you learn all this?” “Years and years of universally underappreciated study. . More often. . In the Rig Veda there’s a demon named Shushna. “‘With your weapons you smashed to pieces the moving fortress of Shushna. you know it all by heart?” “The whole Rig Veda? Of course not. . Shushna also has a human enemy named Kutsa who’s an ally of Indra. Shushna is described as having eggs. .” Joseph had attended to Lee’s last expostulation while looking over his shoulder because his string of camels was advancing at a faster rate. for the moment. It’s huge. “My god. too.’ Shushna and Indra fight each other with magic.” she called after him. Tvam puram carisnvam fadhaih susnasya sam pinak . “So what connection do you suppose there is between Shushna’s eggs and fighting Bix?” “I haven’t the faintest idea. as in Chakra Net—kutsaya yudhyate musay indra suryam . Indra. from the sun for Kutsa who was fighting. ‘You stole a wheel. he’s described as having a fortress. Though I must say that if it ever publically known that Indra is real—assuming. Joseph. but I can’t remember how the verse goes.” she chanted. 243 .

I really hope you’ll be able to see him the way I did. Hayes’ snoring would have attracted moose if there were any around. “Yes. It sends chills through me. I didn’t even dare use the laptop because my battery has to last through the ceremony. but none of them seemed the worse for it as they broke the camp and prepared for the short trip to the place of sacrifice.” 244 .” he said deferentially before returning his attention to cleaning up the breakfast dishes. “Hardly slept a wink all night. which effectively drowned out the night noises of Joseph and Wilson. So all I could do was think about the sacrifice. Now I’m really excited. the tallest and most muscular of the SAS merceraries. but that had been before she had experienced his snoring. “Nervous?” asked Joseph. Lee had flatly rejected Hayes’ suggestion that she have the mountain tent all to herself. though. How the others had survived the freezing night air entirely out of doors was a mystery. her other tentmates. But Lord Indra is so much greater than Ganesh.” “I slept like a baby.” observed Lee as she accepted a tin cup full of coffee handed to her with incongruous delicacy by Laurence.CHAPTER TWENTY “First day of spring tomorrow.” “Did you pray to Ganesh?” “First thing. ma’m.

Above on the caravan’s left a sheer cliff rose toward a gleaming white peak. but Lee was anxious that there might have been some missed communication. and soon the horses and camels were treading through a few inches of wet snow visibly melting in the strong sunshine. Lee slipped off her camel without making it couch down and picked her way over the stony scree toward the cliff. Within a few more paces. when Joseph indicated the place they were to meet Nadir. And I suppose that in some way makes Nadir a god. “Dimitri.” Park Sensed the excitement in her face and voice and shouted ahead to Uli in Kyrgyz.” They had camped less than a mile below the snowline. and the deeper they went into the snowfield. But he’s still a far cry from the Lord Indra of the hymns. who was packing up the last of the cooking equipment. I’m guess I’m comfortable now with the idea that an alien stuck on earth prompted the creation of a cult in his honor. the way narrowed and the snow gave way to stony ground.“That would be nice. Uli had made it clear. all the animals had stopped. After two hours of riding.” she said in a reverential voice to Dimitri and Joseph as they came up beside her. Lee’s heart began to beat faster. stop the caravan. but I’m not holding out much hope. that it was a locale he was familiar with. the more apprehensive she became. “Look. but now Uli directed their course upward.” Lee finished her coffee and handed it back to Laurence. but Dimitri rode by to report that the peak was a secondary summit of Verethra Kuh and that the cliff and summit they were seeking would not be visible until they had rounded the shoulder of the mountain and could see its northern face. She would need grass for the altar. “Time to go. Please. Then suddenly Lee saw something that caught her eye. Under the raking light of the low morning sun 245 .

the grooves of the shapes incised in the rock stood out as black outlines against the ocher colored stone. “They might be in a house.” “And here’s a scene of people sitting. And these are the three fires: one round. exploring a bit higher. These are the old gods. He was smiling and pointing out specific figures. and one semicircular. “There are chariots over here. His people never lead anyone to this place because it would be a desecration. “They have chakra wheels just like you said.” Lee was dumbfounded. He says the only reason he’s led us here is because we are coming to honor the old gods. “Oh my heavens! It’s a sacrifice! See the rectangle? That’s the sacred precinct. 246 .” exclaimed Lee pointing to a wavy line and a stick figure holding what looked like a club or hammer. And we don’t have cameras.” said Joseph. They are all Muslims now. But this shows how it must have been done in ancient times. There’s never been a report of graffitti showing a sacrifice. but now that they were close they could see hundreds of engravings stretching off to either side. “What’s he saying?” asked Lee.” “Now do you begin to believe in Nadir?” said Joseph light-heartedly. It was the circle and inscribed cross of a chakra that had caught Lee’s eye. but they don’t disturb the places of the old gods. one square. “You mean these Basmachi worship Indra?” “No. “He says this is a sacred place. “Here’s Vrtra and Indra.” Lee came over to look. and these are the pictures of the gods.” Uli joined their group and engaged in a conversation with Dimitri.” said Dimitri. I can’t believe no one’s ever expored here before. All we know is from the Shrauta Sutras and the way priests sacrifice in India today. There’s a line around them.

get back on your horse. grassy area illuminated by the full force of the morning sun.” answered Joseph. He looked toward Lee as if he were about to bellow a command. Joseph saw her stop at the western edge of the withered meadow and went to join her. This is where the sacrifice was performed. “Hayes. you should have joined us sooner.” he called. noting the profusion of bright green points poking through the brown grass everywhere. the caravan soon passed the cliff and then angled downward as the terrain flattened and opened in that direction. Look at these stones.Lee seemed lost in wonderment and instead of replying continued to move from one graffitti-marked rock face to another. Lee looked meditative.” 247 .” she chided as she passed. but she was already scrambling back. They form a rectangle. The Basmachi immediately began to unload the camels. “Wildflowers?” he said. tracing the incised grooves with her index finger. Lee dismounted and looked around for any sign of Nadir. ma’m. If you wanted to be a tourist. This is the sacrifice area. In less than a mile. “Yes.” Under way again. “We have to get on with the sacrifice if we’re going to finish before dark. I suspect these stones haven’t been moved in thousands of years.” “Lee’s looking at some ancient Indo-Iranian rock carvings. Hayes looked impatient. “whatever you say. “What the hell’s going on.” he muttered. they stopped in a level. Hayes joined the group. “I think we have more important things to do than that. “No.” Hayes grinned at her retreating back. At length.

” said Joseph cheerily. and dry grass was cut and strewn next to the offering post as the altar for Lord Indra. The post for tethering the sacrificial goat was driven into the ground at the western edge of the offering fire.” Hayes glared at her but then smiled at the challenge she’d thrown down. That’s why Hayes is going to go first. “It must be absolutely freezing. But when I come back. 248 . Lee had the Basmachi cut out a circle in the sheet around an ancient stone circle marking the location of the household fire. followed Uli down the mountain slope to a rivulet flowing down from the snowfields above. and hammered cross-beams in place to form the framework of a room.“Then we know this is the right place.” Under Lee’s direction. the Basmachi and the SAS men dug holes at intervals around the edges of the rectangle. I want you all to be wearing sandals and sheets they way I showed you. “Joseph. and Dimitri. but it takes a real man to strip down on a mountside and splash himself with cold water. and more sheeting was spread to cover the ground within the rectangle. “Now we bathe. White cotton sheets were stretched across the frame and nailed in place to form a roof. I’ll respect your modesty by doing my down bathing downstream around those rocks. Toward the eastern end of the rectangle. planted 2X4 uprights. “Nadir should show up soon.” said Joseph. He’s probably already here. Joseph. Hayes was right. Lee. A little girl can ride a horse. Leaving the others to find fuel for the fires and eat lunch. Hayes. It’s time you grew up. leaving Hayes taking off his jacket and undoing his belt. “As for myself. The same was done for the square fireplace of the offering fire at the opposite end and half way between them the half-moon shaped southern fire near the rectangle’s edge.” With no more ado she strode off. don’t be a wimp. Just waiting until everything’s ready.” she announced bravely to the decidedly unenthusiastic men.

she reasoned. but it was hardly likely to do the same for her human companions. Within twenty minutes. stepped forward and announced that between mercenary jobs he worked as a barber. they all took seats outside the rectangle but near the blazing southern fire. Still frozen from his bath and feeling the chill breeze through his scanty garment. When the time came for shaving. When she rejoined the group. Laurence. Lee distributed bottles of milk to her fellow sacrificers. She herself had decided to depart from the stipulations of the Shrauta Sutras and drape her garment over both shoulders. Hayes moaned and sighed like a man experiencing the greatest massage of his life. but it was still all she could do to keep from yelling in agony as she sloshed herself with ladles of water from the icy stream. Hayes grumbled that he was hungry. wielding scissors and razor with a professionalism that seemed to be greatly appreciated by the bemused Basmachi onlookers. to everyone’s surprise. A shaved head might convince Nadir she was a male. but Lee told him he could have nothing but milk until the sacrifice was over and that he should be thankful she had not insisted on starting the milk-only diet the night before. Not for the first time she admired Dimitri’s self-control and stoicism as he apparently bathed without making a sound. all three men were clad in sandals and toga-like garments that left the right shoulder and chest bare.Swimming in the Atlantic during Connecticut springtimes had steeled Lee to the sensation of ice-cold water. Laurence had rendered Hayes totally bald and exposed the sagging chin 249 . Back at the enclosure. She was gratified by the sound of Hayes hooting in the distance and then by Joseph positively screaming. Soon he had Hayes’ head and face swathed in steaming towels soaked in water that he heated on the southern fire.

Joseph went next and then Dimitri. We won’t do it perfectly. we’re about to begin a sacred ritual. “I’m going to recite now the hymn to Indra that I will be chanting in Vedic during the sacrifice. Lee stood and faced the men. In fact. Laurence quickly cropped her hair down to an inch or so with scissors and then covered her scalp with the steaming towels. Then. but she realized that she had never before felt so much an object of masculine desire. “Dimitri. Lee could not grasp from their expressions the precise tenor of their fascination. As the razor glided smoothly over her scalp. Then came Lee’s turn. When I step 250 . removing the last wisps of her hair. a feeling of power as unmistakable as a rush of adrenalin came over her. a sacrifice to Lord Indra. Irrespective of language or nationality. Her concentration on what was to come pushed any concern for the loss of her hair entirely from her mind. both of them ending up looking rather like monks. every pair of male eyes was following the shaving ritual with rapt attention. When Laurence had finished. pausing between sentences for Dimitri’s translation. “Friends.previously covered by his beard. but the expressions on the faces of the men were too amusing to shut out. none of us is truly qualified to do it at all since we are not Brahmin priests. the Mountain of Vrtra. for it was on this mountain that he confronted and slew the demon Vrtra. But we will be doing it at the sacrifical site most sacred to Lord Indra. raising her voice so she could easily be heard by everyone. she began to address the group. But where is Nadir?” “He’ll be here. I need your help. She wanted to shut her eyes and savor the wonderful warmth. so I want you to translate it into Kyrgyz as I go. That is why this mountain is called Verethra Kuh.” she said confidently. nor had she felt such a total absence of sexual response in her own body.” Dimitri rose and stood beside her. I want everyone to know what it means.” “All right.

I will become the hotar priest. The waters rushed down quickly to the ocean. looked at the screen. Killed him. O Indra. 251 . Now I will proclaim the heroic deeds of Indra. and began to read. When. He drank the soma-juice from the three bowls. he made the waters flow. The Generous One grasped his thunderbolt. Like mooing cows. He split open the bellies of the mountains. Twashtar had forged the whizzing thunderbolt for him. Lustily he took his portion of soma. And then you outwitted the magic of the magicians. The first ones which he. flowing with milk.” With that. you killed the first-born of the snakes. Lee took the laptop computer Joseph held out to her.into the sacred area. This hymn is over three thousand years old and has been passed down by priests from generation to generation. suitable for hurling. the first-born of the snakes. But I want to read one hymn now in English before we start so everyone will know something about Indra. He killed the snake who was lying on the mountain. performed: He killed the snake. the thunderbolt-wielder. I will chant hymns to Lord Indra in the Vedic language until the sacrifice is finished.

handless. like a drunken non-combatant. The waters. the worst encloser. You did not find any enemy at all. hewn off by an ax. The castrated one. Vrtra’s mother became exhausted. Indra had thrown his thunderbolt down upon her. Lying in that way like a broken reed. With his great weapon. flowing for mankind. Vrtra lay broken in many pieces. who had crushed the streams together. Indra killed the encloser. the thunderbolt. He did not survive the collision of the weapons of death. 252 .Thereupon. and dawn. who had wanted to be equal to the virile bull. Like the branches of a tree. For. he had challenged The on-rushing warrior who had beset many enemies. Footless. producing the sun. whose shoulders were broad. day. He whose enemy was Indra. The snake lies hugging the ground. The very waters whom Vrtra with his might had enclosed— The snake was lying at their feet. Indra threw his thunderbolt at Vrtra’s back. he fought against Indra. went over him.

When Indra and the snake fought. you won. lies. You set free the seven streams so that they could flow. the soma. like a cow with her calf. Indra opened the hole of the waters which had been closed. the waters stood motionless. Danu. nor the thunder. The lightning was of no use to him. O hero. The body lay low in the midst of the currents which do not stop. the god alone Won the cows. the Generous One was victorious. Shut up like cows by the rustler Pani. Having killed Vrtra. Indra is king of that which stands still and that which moves. rules over the peoples. O Indra.The mother was above. Indra’s enemy lay in long darkness. 253 . He who holds the thunderbolt in his hand is king of the tame and the wild. Nor the mist and hail which he scattered. Wives of the snake. the son was under. He surrounds them like the rim of a chakra surrounds the spokes. guarded by the snake. the king. Just he. You. As when they fight in the future. Vrtra’s mother. do not rest— The waters spread over the private parts of Vrtra.

She seated Hayes crosslegged at the southeast corner and reminded him that all he had to do. powerful pull. Lee felt her voice begin to tremble and with an effort strengthened it and raised the volume of her chanting. Then it lost its footing. with a sickened 254 . The goat staggered and opened its mouth. Sitting calmly on the altar grass looking approvingly at the goat and the offering fire was the squat. He was clearly larger than any man among the onlookers. At Lee’s prompting. Dimitri continued to apply the pressure until the body was lifeless on the ground. Each time the yellow flame shot up and subsided. There he handed the rope to Dimitri who led the goat over the stone markers. Nadir changed. Lee fancied that Nadir looked larger than he had only moments before. poured a ladle of ghee on the offering fire causing a sudden eruption of yellow flame. there was a general silence. beckoning Hayes. but no sound came forth. Its eyes bulged.When Dimitri finished the last portion of his translation. Joseph untied the goat’s rope from the tethering post and walked with Dimitri to the northest corner of the precinct. Lee handed him a bucket of melted clarified butter and a ladle. Dimitri circled the goat’s neck with a bowstring and drew the ends across one another in a smooth. as the host of the sacrifice. Joseph looked apprehensively at the male goat tethered to the post between the grass-strewn altar and the offering fire. Then she stood in the very center of the enclosure and began to chant. looking enthralled at the sight of Nadir. Joseph. At her first words a gasp went up from the onlookers. bearded form of Nadir. Joseph poured more ghee on the fire. As the crackling blaze subsided. Joseph. was sit still and keep quiet. bare to the waist and wearing a white loincloth. Once outside the rectangle. Joseph. his skin gradually becoming golden. In the meanwhile. and Dimitri to join her. his beard and hair almost flame-colored. As she continued chanting. Lee stepped over the perimeter of stones and into the sacred precinct.

Then the smoke. Her laptop lay unattended at her feet. he scraped out the fatty connecting tissue that held them in their proper places in the animal’s abdomen. began to spread. Joseph and Dimitri carried the large chunks of goat carcass to the household fire at the west end of the rectangle and placed them on a makeshift grill. had returned to the offering fire and resumed pouring libations of ghee. .look on his face. Dimitri pulled the goat onto its back. Almost immediately a crackling sound was heard. Of a god. confined by the canopy above. his stature was that of a . and Joseph had basted it liberally with ladles of ghee. Nadir was waiting patiently. they returned to the butchering area. Joseph slid the omentum from the sheet onto the offering fire. and tears watered her eyes. His skin shone like polished gold through the haze of smoke. . The words of 255 . When the meat was all arranged on the fire. and the entire enclosure was suffused by the powerful odor of burning fat. Joseph picked up the sheet bearing the white. slit its belly. He seemed to be inhaling the smoke in deep breaths like a wine connoisseur savoring a rare vintage. fatty mass of the omentum and walked slowly to the offering fire. . This omentum he carefully deposited on a white sheet. and then tongues of bright yellow flame could be seen in the midst of a mass of white smoke. His hair and beard seemed on fire. Though still seated with his legs crossed. Unbid the words Lord Indra formed in her mind. thought Lee. Setting the intestines and organs to one side. And throughout it all Lee continued to intone the Vedic hymns in a clear. In less than half an hour the job was done. Then he turned to skinning the goat and hacking it into pieces. With an awestruck look at the figure seated on the altar grass before him. and tugged out its entrails. Glowing like a golden statue. resonant voice. Unwavering in her chanting of the Vedic hymns Lee kept her gaze fixed on Nadir.

” he said with a tremor in his voice. the sacrifice was no longer hers to run. too. only Brahmins should partake of the sacrificial animal.” he said softly. I saw him.” As soon as Nadir had left the altar. “I saw him. Nadir stepped forward and put his arms around her in a fraternal embrace. He turned and looked at Lee for the first time. “I shall never forget this. Who cared what the Shrauta Sutras said? With Nadir present. “I saw him. Hayes gave his old friend a tight embrace. a bustle of activity had commenced. Without a perceptible moment of change the vision of Lord Indra faded. and she saw that his face was full of joy. Lee reached the end of a verse and stopped chanting.” he said in her ear. As Lee watch Joseph and Dimitri distribute the chunks of meat to the Basmachi and the SAS men.” he said. “Lets eat. 256 . Her heart was filled to bursting with emotions she had never before imagined and could not put a name to. Hayes saw tears in Wilson’s sightless eyes. “You are my priest. Joseph and Dimitri went to tend to the grilling of the meat while Hayes removed himself from the rectangle and pulled on some warmer clothes that Wilson had been keeping for him. But just for a moment she allowed herself a private prideful thought: I did it right. And then the smoke of the burning omentum began to clear. Hayes. and the figure sitting on the altar grass before the tethering post and the offering fire was again unmistakably Nadir. and her whole body was quivering.her hymn came effortlessly to her lips. the thought came to mind that according to the Shrauta Sutras. She felt hot. Then she shrugged. and the smell of the burning fat dissipated and became mixed with the smell of the roasting meat from the opposite fire.

“As time went by the Inamadzi. they sculpt the worlds of distant stars. its people. Joseph. The dzi learned to reach the stars. Their minds are great. And that is how the war began. Dimitri. did envy the immortal days conferred by Pramo on his breed. Nadir sat with his back to the southern hearth and talked to Lee. immortal days and months and years. Into the chromosomes of dzi he introduced genetic code that gave five hundred years of life. escape the fateful jaws of death. Pramo. Inama named. who found the key to longer life. we upon the dzi depended for additions to our kind because each one of Pramo’s offspring came from egg and seed of dzi. A dzi there was. their science deep. he had no way to calculate how centuries of endless life might change Pramodzi. Instead of lengthening the years that dzi could live with lessened strength. His every word was closely attended. to code the genes. Though giant-sized. But all their strength lies in their ships. Like Inama did before him. able still to mate and breed. and Wilson. Hayes. They yearned to live a longer time. But at what cost did he create Pramodzi. the greatest scientist of the dzi. good Pramo’s quest was endless life. And since his life was doomed to end. Pramo tried to free the dzi from death. much like humans. divert them from their noble path. among whom am I numbered? He only knew Pramodzi would not reproduce. But even so they yearned for more. but at the cost of slower life. make them strange. “Opposed to dim-eyed Inamadzi stands the breed that Pramo spawned. “A world much like Earth was mine. Unlike the giant Inamadzi. the war between the 257 . And in return we of Pramodzi sought to save the race of dzi. the ships they almost never leave. The dzi he transformed Inamadzi were called. his Inamadzi proved a weakling breed. though themselves of lengthy life.When the feasting was over and the men were disassembling the enclosure and feeding the wood and cloth into the fires. called dzi. to speak by mind.

sunken deep in icy water. extinguished hope for more Pramodzi. No one seemed able to speak. “An egg is a nuclear bomb. godly savior. along with one of female sex. Though such may be your destiny regardless of the giants’ plan. minds who worship and believe. catch him when he leaves his ship. find an egg and bring it to me. mighty warrior. Shushna whom I killed with vajra. weakling giants. yours will be a dismal fate. But now a godlike strength is mine. he looked from one face to another waiting for responses. Empowered by your hymns and worship. raise you to the state of dzi. exterminated all the dzi. Find inside the ship of Shushna. strong Pramodzi. they made their plan. “What you must know about Pramodzi. their plan to find immortal genes.” The end of Nadir’s speech took his listeners by surprise. twenty men. All I need is egg of Shushna. But upon the world of dzi itself the Inamadzi worked their way. Dimitri said. Then will Indra. his worthy daughters too. I. Muratbey told me he was trying to get some from Bix for Ferghana. Here we fight one Inamadzi. if you attain that level high through Inadmadzi intervention. leaves it to repair the damage wrought long since by vajra weapon. Fight we did on planets far. once again deserve the name of god protector. to breed a race that they could mate with. strength they gain from other minds. one-legged and feeble.Inamadzi and the worthy sons of Pramo. end his threat to human species. the final priest of great god Indra. come to speed your evolution. savior of all human kind. As Nadir. Finally.” 258 . able to communicate by mind alone as you just did when joining me in sacrifice and sharing in my mind’s bold sight. As for themselves. had no hope of fighting Bix. go I now to fight the giant. Smiling and selfsatisfied. “So here we are on planet Earth: one Pramodzi. sunken deep in Issyk Kul. supplying seed for Inamadzi. living but to serve their need.

He held my hands. Then Wilson said quietly to Nadir. Get me a guide and a fast horse. . his voice decisive for the first time. “Mister.” “Well. neither can we. “Do you know just where the ship’s at? And where the egg’s at inside it?” “I can show you.” Wilson extended his hands toward Nadir’s voice. “Nadir.” replied Nadir. “Yes we can.” “I can show you.” muttered Hayes.” 259 .” said the black man. But I’m a helluva a diver. get the egg and the other thing you want. only realer. “I can do it. you can’t do all that. why didn’t you get the bomb yourself? You knew you were going to need it. Put out your hands.“How are we supposed to get a bomb from a spaceship at the bottom of Issyk Kul?” said Joseph. I know exactly where to go and what to do.” replied Joseph in exasperation. you can’t show me nothin’ cause I’m blind. No one spoke. . “Hayes. Nadir took them in his own.” said the unexpected voice of Wilson Woodrow. it was like watchin’ it in a movie.” “Wilson?” said Hayes. Issyk Kul. “you gotta make some arrangements. I’ll take the plane from the airfield. “Workman ought to bring his own tools. I’ll go get it. You have someone meet me with a diving rig at whatever airstrip’s nearest that lake . “Because I can’t breathe underwater. For two minutes there was total silence as everyone watched the two men.” Nadir fixed Joseph with a look normally visited on an ununderstanding child.” “Wilson.

” he said in conclusion. Hayes used the compact NSA radio transceiver Joseph had stowed in his gear on leaving Kokand. don’t they?” “Did I say anything?” said Lee with mock defensiveness. The sun was setting when Wilson and his guide mounted up. do you Hayes?” Hayes looked ready to remonstrate again.“Don’t give me any bullshit. and I’ll have him push me out the door when we’re over it. . is it all right with you? You’re the boss. “Take care of yourself Wilson. “‘To strive. “Don’t make me ask Lee to tell Dimitri to shoot you. Now get off your fat ass. lets do it. Hayes. Hayes does it all the time. “Lee. He terminated the contact and looked sheepishly at Lee.” he said firmly. . Wilson pointed out that it didn’t make any difference to him if they rode at night so long as his 260 .” While Dimitri briefed Uli on what had transpired and Uli in turn gave instuctions to the horseman who would accompany Wilson. I not only won’t fire him.’ You taught me that. Must be. Always have. Gods and heroes work together.” He laughed to show he was joking. he thought. Hayes don’t go nowhere without chutes. You make a mark the pilot can see. but I’ll promote him and make him a rich man. “ .” said Wilson sharply. and not to yield.” “How will you get back with the egg?” asked Dimitri. to seek. “Okay. everyone wants to be rich. and lets do this. Hayes smiled inwardly. He made contact with the pilot of the Learjet and gave instructions both for him and for him to pass along to Dan Nielsen in Almaty. and tell Daniel if he does this right.” Lee took one of Wilson’s hands in both of hers and kissed his weathered cheek. then changed his mind. damn it. to find. “Well. Maybe he had a chance with Lee after all. “Back? That’s easy.

The message was uncoded and in English.companion and his horse had enough moonlight to see by. But there was one clear reference to a nuclear bomb. at the military headquarters of China’s far northwest province of Sinkiang. and the broadcast had been pinpointed to the northeast slope of a mountain named on the map Verethra Kuh. Dimitri translated his report for the English-speakers. a radio clerk brought the transcipt of a radio intercept to the chief of intelligence. Joseph.” * * * Seventy miles away. Colonel Yeh deliberated by himself for a while and then decided to show the transcript to the provincial commander.” “Doesn’t look like they’re American. It proved to be a scout Uli had sent out to reconnoitre the trail to the cave. It sounds from the description like it was Russian. “Wow! I never thought the US could get here that fast. Much of it made no sense at all.” Joseph looked elated. 261 . “He sighted parachutes coming down three miles west of here. dealing with diving apparently in Lake Issyk Kul. in the city of Kashghar. They rode out at a trot. the lanky Texan looking as natural and at ease in the saddle as any sighted person ever did. Uli’s man saw the plane. A half hour later a rider approached the camp from the west. Maybe as many as twenty.

He swayed and lurched whenever the horse misstepped picking its way down the dark. he felt stronger with each passing mile. and then moving north to follow the harvests. riding the plains for hourly pay on cattle ranches. and hardness he could remember from his teenaged years. Hours passed.CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE Wilson lost himself in the rhythm of the ride and the vision left in his head by Nadir’s touch. and what they knew was that as young Americans who loved their country the right thing to do was enlist. an aging man’s endurance and fortitude. long-haired youth preaching free love and pacifism. But neither of them could stomach their disdain for their country and their flag. Reliable information about the war in Vietnam was hard to come by in the Dakotas. Despite the increasing chill creeping through his down coat. shadowy slope. Wilson had gone along to keep him company—at least until they were 262 . It was the early 1970s. He and Hayes had been happy to grab their share of the former when opportunity offered. Hayes had been the one who particularly wanted to make the heroic gesture. but one day he and Hayes decided that what they knew was enough. but his body instinctively compensated and kept him upright and balanced. the night grew cold. grit. mounting up before his guide and forcing the pace. and Wilson had liked the hippies’ music. and the country was awash with bead-wearing. from the power. meeting there an equally hard and determined Hayes Carpenter. How different was the strength he was now feeling. He kept the stops to water and rest the horses to a minumum.

The image formed of his grandfather. sitting and rocking on his porch like an old geezer. 263 . the direction of the road going south from Osh. but otherwise just waiting to die. At that moment. wizened and white-haired after a lifetime of farming.standing on a sidewalk in downtown Fargo and Hayes declared his intention of becoming a paratrooper. Distant booms interrupted his reverie. enjoying the smell of the flowers in his garden and the breeze stroking his face. So their paths had separated in a fog of drunken argument and name-calling. but his ears told him that the Ferghanan incursion into Kyrgyzstan had begun. He thought back to his days of defeat. Grandpa Woodrow had been over eighty! Man of fiftynine had no business sittin’ home and rockin’ his life away. but riding free on a mountainside at the ends of the earth. Hell. Wilson couldn’t understand a word. the click of horses hooves on stone the only sound. The guide spoke to him briefly in Kyrgyz. Wilson realized he was where he wanted to be. Wilson had decided that there were some things friendship couldn’t make him do. able to see or not able to see. doin’ something useful. nodding and exchanging a pleasant word or two with occasional passers-by. and Wilson pulled his horse up. and one of them was jump out of airplanes. sitting on the same rocking chair—though in a tin-roofed shack instead of a modern house—his hands folded over the crook of his cane. Oughta be on a horse. The guide stopped. the cold air chilling his bones. The booms were coming from his right. and they had not significantly intersected again until Hayes had called Wilson and hired him to manage the Great Array operation. He sensed they were heading north because the easterly wind that had been in their faces at the start was now falling on his right cheek. They resumed their ride at a quicker pace and within a hour came to a final halt. The job had cost him his sight.

” * * * News that Ferghanan forces had crossed the Kyrgyz frontier reached Major Jim Brady as the MC-130 bearing his Delta Force team entered Kazakh airspace over the Caspian Sea. What’s happening?” “We’re not sure.” “Must be the war startin’. Sounded like they bombed the highway. You ready to go?” “All set. Lieutenant Mercer’s detachment will drop as planned at Kokand. Three jets flew over. Circumstances have changed. “Thanks!” he yelled at the retreating sound of the horse retracing the path to Verethra Kuh. Wilson felt strong enough to accept help with neither resentment nor abdication of will. and they have bombed an alternate route through the mountains. This incursion was unprovoked. listen up. Instead there was the hand of the pilot on his elbow and instructions in his ear on watching his step going up the ladder.Wilson was wondering how to thank his guide when he heard the man remount. Their mission to locate Dr. For the first time since his blinding. After being briefed by the pilot on the substance of the radio message. “Sounded like bombs about an hour ago. “All right. Lee 264 . but they were too far away to identify. The Ferghana Republic has just begun an incursion in strength into Kyrgyzstan south of Kokand. and Kyrgyzstan has announced that they consider it an act of war. So we will be dropping into a war zone. There was no reply. They have deployed armor to block the route between the city of Osh and their area of operation. he rejoined his two dozen men. Just strap yourself in and hope we don’t get mistaken for an enemy. Our orders cover this contingency.

but they will be coming from the north so we anticipate being unseen and unexpected. We will observe Ferghana army operations and take steps to disrupt those operations to the degree compatible with protection of our own force. soldier. we will seek to make contact with an American intelligence agent operating somewhere on or near the mountain. Is that clear?” “Major?” “Hardaway. but we wouldn’t be flying 1600 miles to get there if it weren’t important. a friendly nation. Colonel Maxim Sverdlov was cautiously pleased with the conduct of operations.S. and his four tanks had encountered no opposition in blockading the road from Osh ten miles east of the main column. If we fail to make contact. we will consider ourselves to be acting in support of the army of Kyrgyzstan. Reports that the air force had destroyed a bridge on the 265 . The Kyrgyz border post had surrendered without a shot fired.Ingalls and release her from detainment continues to have priority. But the detachment now has the additional mission of reinforcing the Marine guard at the U. Verethra Kuh is the objective of the Ferghanan incursion.” * * * On the ground.” “What’s on the mountain?” “I have no idea. Embassy. After landing. Lietuenant Mercer will report to American Ambassador Darla Bane and follow whatever orders the Ambassador may give for the protection of American lives and property. He will brief us on the situation. “The main force will drop with me on the southwest slope of Verethra Kuh.

Nevetheless. Ferghanan accusations that the Kyrgyz were blowing the humanitarian border police action out of all proportion as an excuse to attack the Ferghana Republic . The colonel hoped that it would radio back a report that the Ferghanans were digging in and reinforcing at the border crossing. and it was important to keep to his schedule. That was where he wanted any counterattack to be directed. two MIGs swooped in from the Kokand airbase and chased it away. Kyrgyz threats to meet force with force . He had sent an advance unit southward to scout the track he intended to take to Verethra Kuh while the rest of his force dug trenches. the advantage of surprise would only last so long. . Though optimistic. and so on. .road from Osh to Sary Tash had been confirmed by aerial reconnaissance. strung barbed wire. Radio reports from Kokand informed him of the political maneuverings provoked by his attack: Kyrgyz claims that Ferghana had invaded and calls for an emergency UN Security Council meeting . Everything was going as President Muratbey had predicted. then. laid mines. Colonel Sverdlov knew of no Russian plane and was sure none had landed in Kokand. had the Russians been flying to? 266 . . or whether the border closing had been a cover for war preparations. The only troubling report was a Kyrgyz statement that a Russian plane full of WHO doctors had flown to Kokand to determine whether or not there truly was a plague outbreak in Ferghana. . . . Ferghanan denials of an invasion and declarations that the Kyrgyz were hysterically exagerrating the sending of a small party of border police to apprehend a band of smugglers that had crossed the border and thereby threatened to spread bubonic plague . . Where. . When a single Kyrgyz plane appeared overhead. and established a defensive perimeter. Colonel Sverdlov had been schooled in thoroughness of preparation and avoidance of adventuresome risk-taking.

* * * The Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation jet landed at the lightly used airstrip adjoining a shuttered resort hotel by the shore of Issyk Kul. The 100-mile long lake was stunningly beautiful nestled in a bowl of snow-capped mountains.After assuring himself that the defense of his line of withdrawal was being properly secured. the Kyrgyz airforce would not begin to counterattack for another hour or two. thawing dirt of the track. and the hotel had been designed for the luxury trade. A joint venture with a Swiss hotel chain. The hotel’s airstrip. But it had proved too remote even for jetset vacationers. was in excellent condition and was still occasionally used for flights into the mountains—not to mention clandestine smugglers’ flights into Chinese Sinkiang that kept the coffers of the local police well filled with 267 . it had closed its doors. the Grand Hotel Przhevalsk. observing with satisfaction the near absence of dust from the damp. with the adjoining airstrip. and that they would not think to explore every trail and ravine leading southward into the mountains. and the erratic airline service from Bishkek and Almaty had further discouraged the few tourists that were inclined to come. and the town of Przhevalsk had resumed the slumber it had experienced during decades of Soviet rule. Eight months after opening. the Colonel took his position in the second of the three armored personnel carriers that would make the expedition southward to the mountain. By that time he could resonably hope that their attention would indeed be focused on the defensive perimeter and the tank blockade on the road to Osh. nevertheless. With luck. He rode with his upper body protruding from the hatch on the roof. had been one of independent Kyrgyzstan’s first experiments in free enterprise.

“Borrowing” a diving suit. the Coast Guard was supported directly from the budget of the Ministry of Petroleum rather than the Ministry of Defense. his office manager Korkut had taken it upon himself to explore a more obscure resource: the Kazakh Coast Guard.000 in American currency on the spot and assured the happy diver that an equivalent amount would be forthcoming when the job was over. In fact. Dan Nielsen knew the airstrip well because his leisure-time occupation of gun-running had begun there before he had shifted to the better located airstrip at Osh. It had two cutters and five smaller craft. Its mission was essentially to police the foreign concessionaires that had opened up and were operating Kazakhstan’s rich off-shore and on-shore oilfields. regardless of success or failure.bribe money. 268 . compressor. While Dan had been trying without success to pry equipment loose from one of the dozen companies working the Caspian Sea oilfields in the far west of Kazakhstan. acquiring diving gear in the middle of the Tien Shan mountains had been the opposite. and it included among its personnel a handful of divers. who had responded to Korkut’s promise of undreamed of wealth. its seaborne military requirements were negligible. and recruiting his brother Ivan to pilot a rented plane. Since Kazakhstan boasted no water boundaries beyond its shares of the Caspian and Aral seas. Dan Nielsen had paid him $10. the peculiar eloquence of money had worked a miracle. and other necessary equipment from the Coast Guard station in Guryev. at the mouth of the Ural River. It was one of the divers. The hop over the mountains from Almaty to meet Wilson’s plane had been short and simple. he had accompanied the rig on the1100 mile flight to Przhevalsk and had arrived only an hour before Wilson’s plane touched down. Yevgeny Satlov. But just as he had despaired of finding what he needed and all but consigned himself to the unforgiving wrath of Hayes Carpenter.

” 269 .When he saw the Learjet pilot escort Wilson off the plane. the money . “He’s blind?” “He’s blind.” replied Dan with a shrug. When Dan asked him how he knew where to go. he might get too much nitrogen. Issyk Kul is a very deep lake. .” One feature of the failed resort that still functioned on an occasional basis was a tour boat. Or almost too deep. And we don’t know exactly where we’re going . whether he succeeds or fails.” “You said. The sun glinted brightly off the deep blue waters. Since its season had yet to begin. Wilson confidently instructed the captain to head west. Yevgeny said to Dan in Russian. and the surrounding mountains were straight from a tourist post card. but we don’t have any. the diving party was out on the lake within twenty minutes of his plane’s touchdown. He should use special gas. A lead dropped in the water indicated a depth of sixty-five meters.” “Good. The boat was standing close to the lake’s northern shoreline. Also it will be very cold. Lets go to work. . “It’s too deep.” Wilson told the captain to cut the engines three quarters of an hour later. The diving gear having been stowed on board prior to Wilson’s arrival. Once clear of the dock.” “Correct. . “It’s in my head. Otherwise. he’s only got one shot at it.” “He doesn’t have a choice. all he would reply is. its captain had been more than happy when Dan Nielsen offered to charter it for a day. “Whatever he’s going for. Yevgeny took Dan aside while Wilson suited up. or how deep the water is. .

the silt would be making the water so murky that it would do him little good.” he told the Captain sternly. I’ll live. He had expected a hard metallic contact. . He could tell his target was off slightly to his right and angled his descent accordingly. Wilson felt the cold almost immediately.” said Wilson Over the side and sinking fast. No one ever knew how they did it. 270 . But the farmers would hire him to find water. he thought. he laboriously cleared away the silt. They said he did it with a stick.” “We had people like that back in Minnesota. . he kept his legs flexed for contact with the bottom. had stressed the depth he would be working at. via Dan. closer. too. and he prayed he could finish his job before the nitrogen build-up in his blood began to cause halucinations. Under two or three inches of silt was the smooth curved surface the matched the image in his mind. “Good. It was a different cold from that of his nighttime ride in the mountains . The captain nodded. Crawling and sweeping before him with his hands. Unable to use his depth meter. he marvelled at the precision of his sense of location. but his feet hit yielding mud.” A shout from Wilson told them he was ready for his helmet. As kids we were all afraid of him. working slowly in what he knew as the direction of the ship’s stern. Bone weary from the ride and only an hour’s sleep in the plane. Yevgeny. I’ll just live cold. The ironic thought struck him that even if he could see. Wilson relaxed his body by an act of will and let the cold flow through him like a subtle fluid. “Keep this position. I never saw it myself. Carefully he knelt and felt the surface with his gloved hands.“In my village we had a blind madman. Crazy Paul. Called them dowsers. As he sank lower. no way to shift his body to fend it off. “You got a satellite locator?” Dan translated into Russian. unrelenting.

Wilson repositioned his hands. It would be enough. it would sever his air hose. and then the panel covering its lock. His heart pounding. he dropped inside. The prospect of opening the interior of the ship to flooding or to the vacuum of space was one the designers had worked to avoid.By the time he found the groove of the hatch. the feel was as familiar as the doorknob of his own front door. Unseen onverhead the hatch began to slide. relying once again on feel instead of calculation. When the entry compartment was flooded. He pressed four indentations. Suddenly he felt a new vibration. the waters of the lake were about to claim the spaceship of a long-dead Inamadzi named Shushna. It was a maze of indentations and protrusions. Cautiously he reached up and felt along his airhose and lifeline. If the hatch closed. pressed four others. and then jerked hard on a stick-like protrusion. but when he did. he felt the vibration of pumps stirring to life after a sleep of thousands of years. He had to override the pumping system and keep the hatch open. waited. The vibration overhead stopped. He placed his fingers where they felt right and then stopped to check their location by counting down from the top of the panel and in from its right hand side. he was chilled to the bone and tiring rapidly. waited. Returning his attention to the control panel. Precisely in accord with Nadir’s vision. not facilitate. After untold millennia. Now he had to act quickly. He felt for the manual control panel. he pressed in another coded series and then paused before the final movement that would silence the pumps and open the airlock’s inner hatchway. Wilson gripped one handhold 271 . one not included in his vision. They had three inches of play left in the nearly closed hatch opening. He rested a moment before placing his fingers on the lock. The hatch slid open smoothly while Wilson braced himself to avoid being dislodged by the rush of the water.

but Wilson knew that the eggs were too heavy to have floated away. ovoid surfaces matched the feel Nadir had implanted in his mind. The stores compartment was even more littered than the passageway. The rush of water into the ship went on for several minutes. What Nadir’s vision had been unable to prepare him for was the flotsam thrown into the passageway by the inrush of water. Only when Wilson could no longer feel the tug of the current on his airhose and lifeline did he release his grip and slowly drop into the ship’s interior. Finally he thought to explore behind the rectangular object with his hand. He lifted two eggs and put them carefully in the wire sack attached to his belt. 272 . making the upper portion of the door accessible. By this time. He stepped carefully and felt before him with his hands to fend off anything harmful. The medical compartment was harder to find because some sort of large rectangular object had been forced in front of its door by the flood. and his interior vision was becoming cloudy. he was aware that exhaustion was rapidly overtaking him. but at sixty-five meters they were easy to manage. Even through his gloves he could tell that their smooth.tightly and located another. Out of water. and there he felt a door handle that matched his interior vision. Unable to muscle the object aside. It was as if he were walking through a room he had lived in all his life with the lights off. he finally managed to tip it over. wondering whether nitrogen was beginning to cloud his senses. He stopped by the bin that contained them and reached inside. they would weigh a hundred pounds each. Then he punched in the final combination and held on for dear life. Wilson walked back and forth in front of it several times. But he was otherwise sure in his movements.

he told us not to. came the words. We don’t want to disturb his vision. but he had a sense that that was the thing to do. He felt wonderful. finding what he was looking for proved mercifully easy.” he said to Dan. long hallway. It was hard to put one foot in front of another down the flotsam strewn passageway.” “No. “Come up!” in a thick Russian accent. I think something’s wrong.” Deep inside the ship. and then started back. trying to decide what they meant. I’m going to call him. Indeed. Wilson had decided he didn’t need his gloves and had discarded them. Wilson began to move in the direction of his lifeline. ignoring the leaks that immediately began at his wrists. It had vanished without a trace. but 273 . like a voice from the end of a long. He searched his memory for the vision that for almost twenty-four hours had been as vivid in his mind as his first ride on a horse when he was six years old. “He should be coming back now. As far away as the voice in his ear a voice in his mind articulated the word “nitrogen. Suddenly he found that he couldn’t remember the direction he had been facing when he entered. Yet to his surprise. he felt eurphoric. he clambered out of the doorway and out of the medical compartment. He opened the round door to a tube-like cavity and extracted a smooth cylinder rounded at both ends like a two-foot long capsule of medicine. Giddily he started down the passageway and took a turn to his right. Yevgeny payed out and took in the air hose and lifeline with practiced hands. He couldn’t formulate why. instead of dismay.” Lethargically. Now he’s going away again. Then he felt a tug on his lifeline. Wilson pondered the words. With the cylinder secured in his sack. looking anxiously over the side of the tour boat. or which way to proceed along the passageway. he felt like taking off his helmet. “He went to the farthest point.Once inside the small compartment. Above. Then in his ear.

. 274 . Immediately the hatch began to open. frost-covered cylinder. They released at a touch. Fighting the penetrating cold. Yevgeny met him in scuba gear and a wet suit and stopped his too rapid ascent. “Two eggs and a birth control pill. He could go no farther. In his wire bag were two extremely heavy objects the size and shape of rugby balls and a large. shaking him out of the idyllic dream beginning to form in his mind. he brought the unconscious diver to the surface and helped hoist him aboard the boat. something he had touched once before. He wished only to sleep. As awareness of what he was doing faded. He reached up along the annoying line and put his hand through the hatch opening. Dan told him he had know idea what the objects were. “Two eggs. Wilson’s lips and fingernails were blue.” said Wilson weakly. but he was breathing. In answer to Yevgeny’s question. He reached for his belt to undo the heavy wire bag and make himself buoyant. Then again came a sharp tug on his lifeline. . Nor did he wish to go farther. and Wilson was floating free .eventually he reached a point where his lifeline seemed to be going straight up. and a few moments later he felt his helmet bang against the hatch above him. free but no longer conscious. Then his hands drifted to his chest and felt the lead weights that were part of his suit.” Yevgeny asked Dan what he had said. Dan put Yevgeny’s question to him. Instead of replying. It contacted something that felt vaguely familiar. but it was too securely fastened for his ice-cold fingers. When Wilson opened his eyes twenty minutes later and his lips and fingernails had regained a rosy hue. his fingers moved instinctively to the proper points on the exterior lock and pressed the indentations. Dan made a circular movement with his index finger at his temple and shrugged his shoulders. or was it a thousand times before. The hatch opening was only six inches wide.

the American MC-130 had come in low over the drop zone east of Kokand allowing Lieutenant Mercer and four men to drop from the wind-shielded rear ramp onto a withered brown sheep pasture. Within moments the Delta Force team had gathered their chutes and climbed into the embassy bus. he ordered Dan Nielsen to drive him to the airplane and put him on board. he let the copilot cover him again with blankets and sank into sleep as the Learjet winged its way 275 . There to meet them in a classic black leather jacket and motorcycle boots was Miguel Espinosa. not realizing that the entire bulk of Verethra Kuh was between them. When he got no response. While his men fanned out and secured their perimeter. * * * Wilson Woodrow rested for two hours under layers of blankets before he felt just warm enough for the final leg of his mission. Barely able to stand.* * * In Ferghana. Major Jim Brady made his first effort at contacting Joseph Engineer. In the meantime. Once inside. he gave orders for the unit to move cautiously northward in hopes of intersecting the route of the Ferghanan army’s advance. A half hour later they were at Darla Bane’s walled residence on the eastern fringe of the city receiving a briefing from the Ambassador that matched in ferociousness of language and dedication to mission anything they had ever heard from their colonel. the MC-130 had completed its mission and the twenty other Delta Force members had dropped onto the stony slope just below the snowline on the southwest flank of Verethra Kuh.

Not half bad. The copilot had already secured the eggs and the frosted canister to a second parachute.” “No. Don’t have to worry about lookin’ down. He tried to keep 276 . He waited three seconds before pulling the lanyard as the copilot had instructed him and then felt the reassuring jerk of a parachute opening and arresting his freefall. he thought. I want to push it out. It made a heavy load. The memory of an ancient television ad for a donut chain popped into his head. The wind was tearing at his coat trying to rip him out of the womb of the plane.” A look of shock came over the copilot’s face.” said the copilot. “Joke. Part that ain’t frozen is half crazy. sir.” said Wilson with a weak laugh.” “Yes. and you jump after it. “There’s the flare. he drew a deep breath and jumped after it. he was having a dream in which the lovely brown-skinned woman his unconscious matched with voice of Lee Ingalls was wheedling him to do one last favor for her. sir. sir. Woodrow.” “Goin’ to be easier blind.” A series of metallic noises and Wilson felt a blast of icy wind on his face and hands.” he murmured. “I’ll push this out. When the copilot shook him awake. Did I tell you I don’t like much jumpin’ out of planes?” “Yes. “Don’t mind me. Feeling it disappear into the darkness. And then he was floating downward to the unseen ground. Afterward I’ll always be able to say I dropped an atomic bomb. Mr.” Wilson put a foot to the bundle in front of him and gave a hard push. Time to go. “Time to make the donuts. and he was laughing and teasing her that he wasn’t quite sure he was willing to go that far.southward. He let the copilot lead him to the open door and place his hands on either side of it. “Beacon coming up in about five minutes.

He groped for the shroud lines and managed to collapse the chute. the wind in his billowing chute still trying to pull him into the unknown. To their astonishment they saw walls covered with crude paintings and engraved designs. Following orders to display 277 . but when it came. Moments later he felt hands undoing his parachute harness and the voice of Dimitri Park asking if he was all right.his knees flexed for the impact. After reconnoitering carefully so as to leave no signs of their presence.” Wilson replied. Safely past the sheer drop. When the Ferghanans arrived they would find no new pitons driven into the rock to tell them that someone had made the ascent before them. “Think I sprained my ankle. and he rolled in the snow. Pain was shooting up his leg from his left ankle. but it amounted to nothing in the face of the release of feeling flooding through his mind and body. ten Russian mountain troops in white uniforms completed scaling the cliff on the north face of Verethra Kuh. At the sound of voices. * * * As the last rays of the sun withdrew from the silent mountain. melting snow and laughed through tears. His legs buckled under him. they had chosen to climb the almost featureless eastern edge of the cliff instead of the obvious route in the center where after a hundred feet a ledge gave access to a crevice that extended all the way to the top. the Russians shone their lights into the cavernous dark. came close to the walls on either side leaving narrow footpaths into the deeper interior. toward the front of the cave. he yelled and waved his arm. Then he lay on his back in the wet. it took him completely by surprise. The shaft.

One of the two privates that made up his unit gestured down the road. eighty miles away. After receiving his orders. The lieutenant in Sary Tash ordered the sergeant to tell the Chinese captain that he should wait at the border until the lieutenant could find out from the Border Police commander in Bishkek whether to let the trucks pass. however. 278 . they quickly disposed themselves behind sheltering rocks and settled down in the dark to wait for the enemy.as little light as possible. At the same time. two truck-loads of Chinese soldiers pulled up to the Kyrgyz border post at the mud-brick village of Irkeshtam. the sergeant exited the hut and looked around for the trucks. The Chinese captain informed the bewildered sergeant in command of the post that the Commander of the People’s Army in the Province of Sinkiang had personally ordered him to go to the aid of the Kyrgyz army in its valiant struggle to repel the hooligan invaders from Ferghana. The taillights of the rear truck were just disappearing from view in the direction of Verethra Kuh. launched an attack. A telephone call from the border guards’ mud hut to the sergeant’s superior at the district headquarters of the Border Police in Sary Tash confirmed that Ferghana had. indeed.

The rolls of mesh required two men each to haul and push over boulders and up sharp inclines. A radio report that two of his tanks had been knocked out on the Osh roadblock was not unexpected. only five miles beyond the tank barricade. Nevertheless. His armored personnel carriers had been well disguised with cut brush. one by a Ferghanan MIG. the assault team moved up the ravine. each hour that passed without a Kyrgyz spotter plane appearing in the clear blue sky buoyed Colonel Sverdlov’s spirits ever higher. and then even slower as the surface turned to loose. as well as two of them shot down. At first light. Radio messages from the border reported airstrikes by Kyrgyz jets. slippery stone and the angle of the slope increased. Progress was slow until they reached the end of the brush.CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO The Ferghanan advance was proceeding without a hitch. though a scouting party had spotted Kyrgyz helicopters near the village of Iski Naukat. no Kyrgyz ground forces had yet found a way to reach the point of the incursion. and they had done good service as decoys. Along with climbing ropes they carried two cumbersome rolls of heavy gauge wire mesh that would be used to seal the shaft after the alien’s ship had entered it. 279 . In further good news from the border. Colonel Sverdlov had established a base camp well off the dirt track at the start of the narrow ravine that would lead them to the cliff. and his scouts reported no signs of an enemy. Sverdlov did not respond since he intended to keep radio silence unless and until he encountered opposition. Their hulks would still block the road. the other by ground fire.

The lieutenant assigned to lead the mountaineering team studied the sheer rock face long and intently through binoculars. It was precisely 1400 hours and still no sign that his strike team had been spotted by the enemy.” “Excellent. though once he’s in the cave and down the shaft I can’t see that it makes any difference.Radio reports from Kokand were no less encouraging. . Colonel Sverdlov. two hours to climb it. Given the difference between New York time and Kokand time. Uncle Ilya would be proud of me.” “The alien ship will arrive at 1900 hours. Kyrgyz planes had managed to bomb the capital. Lieutenant.” Colonel Sverdlov checked his watch again while his men took a fifteen minute rest at the base of the cliff. The next step according to the plan he and Sverdlov had worked out would be for the Ferghanan ambassador to the United Nations to stall Security Council action for half a day and then agree to a ceasefire and withdrawal to the international boundary within forty-eight hours. He wants to work at night. and so would my father. but aside from holing the runway at the Kokand airbase. sir. their hits had been random. Lets keep to that schedule. President Muratbey had echoed Kyrgyzstan’s call for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council charging Kyrgyz violations of Ferghana’s sovereignty. It’s going to be an easy climb. By noon the cliff was in sight. . he thought . There is a crevice after the first thirty meters that looks like it goes clear to the top. that would give Sverdlov twelve hours to spare in making his withdrawal. 280 .” “How long do you estimate?” “Another two hours to get to the cliff. “Good news.” “We should be in place in the cave with two hours to spare.

“Can you tell what those big things are they’re carrying?” he asked his secondin-command.* * * At the same moment. Major Jim Brady’s Delta Force team was concealed in a field of large rocks on the mountainside to the southwest of Colonel Sverdlov’s line of approach.” replied his number two.” “Well what do you suppose they’re planning to do with them?” * * * 281 .” he said to his second-in-command as he peered through binoculars at the Ferghanan force preparing to scale the cliff. “I wish we knew if all was ready inside the cave.” “All will be ready. sir.” * * * Another set of binoculars was also observing the Ferghanan mountaineers beginning their climb. “You can rely on Lieutanent Andreyev. “Look like rolls of cyclone fence. sir. thoughts of Colonel Ilya Kramskoy coursed through the mind of the Russian team leader hidden with ten white-uniformed marksmen in the snowfield east of cliff. The Americans had spotted the strike force as soon as it emerged from the ravine and set its course toward the cliff. “It’s happening just as Kramskoy told General Repin said it would.

Dimitri Park and the Basmachi leader Uli hugged the ground on the mountain’s eastern shoulder. twenty more defending the base of the cliff. Where they are now they’re completely 282 . But first the men at base of cliff must be removed. I’ve been monitoring the radio reports that Dimitri says are from the force holding the border crossing.” Nadir nodded. “I wasn’t sure you could either. When the fifteenth had cleared the base of the cliff with no one following him.” interjected Joseph. Back at the camp where the sacrifice had been performed. son. “To reach the cave and go inside without being seen by fifteen men. but they could detect no trace of their positions. he nodded to Uli and the two of them slithered backward until they were out of sight both of the cliff below and the snowfield above. this can I do for me alone.” “I can do that. we can assume they’re keeping radio silence to avoid being detected by the Kyrgyz.A third set of observers looked on and said nothing. Dimitri reported to Nadir. But how do you plan to get the guys down below away from the cliff?” “My radio is the best the NSA can fit into a suitcase. “I wasn’t too sure I could make it up the cliff anyway. Dimitri carefully counted the rock-climbers as one by one they began their ascent. Since there’s been no reply from the force by the cliff. They knew from the scout’s report that the white-uniformed Russians were somewhere above them in the snowfield. “There will be fifteen men in the cave. Your help I need to clear the shaft and drop inside with egg in hand. or else they’ll warn the men above and kill you as you scale the height. The rest of you will have to fight and take the risk of loss of life.” Hayes looked at him skeptically. So here’s a task that needs not might. but cunning skill to lead astray the men who wait and guard below.

” observed Dimitri. I’ll take my transmitter up this shoulder of the mountain. Joseph knelt down and drew a triangle in the dirt. make it real sounding.” He pointed to a second apex. status reports. 283 . They don’t even have to aim. When I get to the top of the shoulder. “Now we don’t know exactly where the Russians are.vulnerable to air attack. but they’re somewhere around here”—he drew a circle around the third apex—”southwest of us and southeast of the Ferghanans.” “Don’t you see the beauty of it? Let me diagram it for you.” “Then what? They’re still around the cliff. small unit exchanges. some fadein-fadeout. “Here are the Ferghanans. and the Russians won’t dare hold their fire because they’ll assume they’ve been spotted and are under attack. Some of the Basmachi can help. All I have to do is pretend to be the Kyrgyz army. . “And here we are. . “Why. If they’ve got any smarts at all. . . that’s a good idea!” “Before you all go down to the cliff. Dimitri and Uli can record some stuff for broadcast .” As everyone watched closely. some fweeps. air-ground chatter. Once the Ferghanans scatter. All we want to do is get the Ferghanans to start up the mountain along this line. the Basmachi with me start shooting. I’ll start broadcasting .” Then he marked a point on an extension of the line between the Ferghanans and the Russians. “This is where I’m going to broadcast: above the Russians with them between me and the Ferghanans. mix in some static. they’ll figure out that the Kyrgyz are about to pop in on them and scatter.” Hayes smiled.” he said pointing to one apex. And that means they’ll be listening in on any frequencies used by the Kyrgyz army and airforce to try to get advance warning of an attack. that sort of thing. They’ll be walking right into a Russian ambush.” “But they’ll know the shots came from behind them.

” Muratbey frowned.” “So. I thought of that. They tell me that no mine in the world produces both diamonds and stones like emeralds and saphires.” “They’ll be prepared for gunfire anyway. Even if they spot us. He picked up the receiver and was greeted by the voice of Donald Ingalls.” * * * The telephone rang on President Rejep Muratbey’s desk. they probably won’t come after us because the bigger danger is in front of them. it clears the base of the cliff. Mr. Trust me. But if we quit shooting as soon as the Ferghanans start up the mountain. “Hello? Mr.” 284 . This will work. “Go on. . President? This is Donald Ingalls. but gem dealers are not happy about mines they have never heard of before. a piece of paper saying exactly where they come from. to protect them in case the Kyrgyz attack.” “But alerts the men in the cave. And if they do come after us. but I have some bad news and some good news to report about our business . A glance at his wristwatch told him he had five hours to kill before Bix arrived.” “The bad news is that gems over a certain size cannot normally be placed on the market without a certificate of provenance . I’m so sorry to disturb you.“True. we run. Did you know that?” “You agreed to sell stones. . the Russians will have their hands full defending themselves. Ingalls. Either way.” “Yes. That’s why they’ve left the force down below. Make paper.

. Mr. They’re Armenian. Employees of some sort. that’s where the good news comes in. they’re very strongly committed to free enterprise. Here it seems as though many of the most far-sighted and innovative businessmen get called mafia. but also . Bring them. Mr. today. Their names are Mr. I don’t think so.” “They are mafia. For this reason you stop at gate. .” Muratbey looked again at his watch.” Muratbey smiled. I met two very interesting men from Odessa. President. . But the way you use the term mafia over here is very different from the way it’s used in the United States. “So you want sell gems through mafia. You know Kyrgyzstan attacks us. Only you and the two. In the United States we only use the term for criminals. but they’re not entirely convinced that you and I are working together. Thank you very much. Hovannesian. President.” “Bodyguards stay at gate. President.“Well.” “Yes. of course. Mr. We’ll be over in an hour. President. the gentlemen want to meet you personally.” “Well now. . As I was looking into the market.” 285 . and they seem to know how to market things that are not easily marketed. “Good.” “Actually. From what they tell me about their business. They just want to see you and shake hands. The reason I called was that I wondered whether you might have a few minutes free to say hello to them . Hagopian and Mr. Go ahead. I tell guard you come. What are names?” “Thank you Mr.” “Yes?” “They have three young men with them. Thank you. I don’t know why.

” said Darla Bane. chuckled. dark man with jet black hair. He picked a small key and unlocked a deep drawer in his desk. And I congratulate you on sounding fawning and obsequious over the phone.” “Only two can go with me. “You get us in to see him without any guards. Something to impress the Armenian mafia.” “Change quickly. Donald Ingalls and the five Delta Force members crowded into a Mercedes sedan hastily borrowed by a gracious and charming Darla Bane from a wealthy neighbor widely rumored to have mafia ties. Donald Ingalls was trembling with tension. I bought it at Kokand’s premier boutique for mafia styles. We don’t want him to think about this long enough to call a jeweler and ask questions about marketing gems.” ordered Darla. “I think he bought it. a short. You have a gift.” Sergeant Maxwell.” Fifteen minutes later. I think he bought it. and Miguel Espinosa entered with an enormous armload of clothing. spreading the garments out on the furniture. “This is what I’ve got. The rest have to stay at the gate. I only hope I got the right sizes.” said Lieutenant Mercer. Ingalls. he thought. Mr.” The front door opened. “This is genuine mafia chic. he set it to produce diamonds.” he said. “Don’t keep Muratbey waiting.” “Of course he bought it. and Sergeant Maxwell and I can take care of everything. “We don’t need weapons. Back at Ambassador Bane’s residence.” “No problem.Muratbey hung up the telephone and drew a keychain from his trouser pocket. “He’s an extraordinarily greedy man.” “They’ll search you for weapons. Placing the trinket machine on his blotter. Five minutes after the car 286 .

rapier-thin lieutenant and his swarthy sergeant. Fresh fruit and bottles of seltzer adorned the coffee table. Muratbey went to his desk before 287 . but he was far happier with the dark. and the walls featured paintings of heroic episodes from Ferghana’s history. President Muratbey greeted Donald with a Russian-style hug and shook hands with Mr.departed the ambassadorial residence. and sleek Italian loafers. The Uzbek-speaking guards knew less Russian than the Lieutenant and couldn’t have told an American from a Japanese accent. The escort ushered them into a waiting room. the escort reappeared at a different door and invited them into the presidential presence. Donald had been prepared to pass them off as Ukrainian thugs. his shorter colleague maintained a surly silence. As they followed their escort to the presidential office. and Donald hoped that no one at the Palace would be too familiar with what an Armenian accent in Russian sounded like. Beckoning them to sit in the comfortable chairs reserved for official visitors. mandarin collar white shirts. The passage through the gate into the Palace courtyard went smoothly. All three looked like University of Nebraska linebackers with blonde buzzcuts and farmboy faces. Lieutenant Mercer spoke limited Russian. Hagopian greeted him formally in Russian. Hovannesian. Two attractive female secretaries quite obviously walked parallel to them on invented errands to check them out more closely whispering together as they went. Bane and Espinosa left in Miguel’s car and headed for the Presidential Palace by a different route. Hagopian and Mr. where Donald gestured that they should sit and wait patiently. Donald was conscious of the stares his companions were drawing in their dark suits. After a wait of five minutes. Mr. Donald was thankful that three of the Delta Force team were to remain at the gate.

“Because it was reported that you . “Your wife? Why you look for Lee here?” Donald face was contorted with emotion.joining them. . Ingalls. “Your wife is perfect lady. Muratbey was taken aback by the urgency of Donald’s tone. where is my wife?” retorted Donald explosively. who these men?” “Mr. “Major Park? Mr.” said Lieutenant Mercer in Russian. . “Me? Who tell you that?” “Major Dimitri Park.” “Then you didn’t try to . “and this is my business associate Krikor Hovannesian. Automobile seen in Osh. he ceremoniously placed a double handful of exquisite diamonds on the low table before them. . Muratbey looked at him acutely and then at Donald. . “ Muratbey smiled and clapped a heavy hand on Donald’s shoulder. .” Puzzlement replaced passion in Donald’s face. President. “Wow!” said Sergeant Maxwell. Ingalls. “Wow? Wow? Mr.” Then he looked at the two members of the Armenian mafia who had been following the conversation with bewildered expressions. you didn’t have any intention of . before four days. I mean. you took her. .” Muratbey laughed merrily. Muratbey laughed again. Major Park not return to duty.” replied Donald with a funereal tone. identified at border. your wife and Major Park cross border illegally from Ferghana to Kyrgyzstan. I am perfect gentleman. “With Major Park? Are you sure?” “Yes. When he returned.” 288 . “Now tell me who these two men are?” “I am Arvid Hagopian.

with astonishing speed. He placed the diamonds in its center drawer and withdrew from it a long. and returned it to its cradle.” he said as he again activated the green weapon. Then he picked up his telephone. He looked directly at Lieutenant Mercer. Donald looked down at their steaming bodies in horror. “All American spies here? Or some at Verethra Kuh?” “Where?” said Donald in confusion. Miguel gunned the engine and drove toward the fleeing men. The lieutenant maintained a stony-eyed silence. gave a brief command in Uzbek.“Ah. Then he looked up at Donald. Just as fast Muratbey placed his finger in a depression in the side of the long green object and moved it from one to the other of the charging figures. Sergeant Maxwell did not quite reach him. “Your spies not tell you. Just use you. “You too. you understand my English! Tell me. green triangular object that looked a bit like the broken-off handle of a plastic tennis racket.” said Muratbey matter-of-factly. “Dead. Then they heard shots. Muratbey scooped up his diamonds and retreated to his desk. Momentum carried Lieutenant Mercer forward so he lunged against Muratbey’s legs as he fell. the first sign Darla Bane and Miguel Espinosa had that something had gone wrong was the sight of the three Delta Force men bolting from the guardhouse by the gate.” Suddenly. does Bolshoi ballet still perform February in Odessa?” No one spoke. Then they were tugging 289 . Parked a block from the gate of the Presidential Palace. Mercer and Maxwell were on their feet and across the intervening space between the chairs and the desk.

“It’s American territory. and a secretary with a fearful look in her eyes was rearranging the toppled furniture.” A guard came into the office and stood at attention just inside the door.” “They won’t have identified the car.” “You did all right. Don’t worry about it. Archie killed two of them.” She looked into the back seat.” “No. in Muratbey’s office. “They might not come to the Embassy right away.the doors open and piling into the back seat. ham-fisted man in an incongruously meek voice.” “Which of you is Archie?” “I am.” Meanwhile.” he reported. and we all ran. Mr. and they try to assassinate me.” ordered Darla. “Mafia. tell the marines to break out the heavy weapons.” 290 . Miguel executed a screeching one-eighty and laid rubber down Palace Boulevard. “We were sitting on a bench keeping our mouths shut when the phone rang. Then they put their guns on us and told us to stand and face the wall. Muratbey himself smiled and reassured them all. President.” “What do you think happened?” “Happened? I don’t know what happened with Muratbey. “The others killed two guards and escaped. a squad of guards was dragging away the bodies. “What happened?” “We don’t know.” said a muscular. “They were picked up by a man and a woman in a black Mercedes.” answered a soldier. Archie. But they learn their lesson. They think I am too tough. “Go to the Embassy. “Archie Kohler.” said Darla. ma’m.” put in Miguel. As soon as we get there. “they’ll come. but I think maybe Darla has made a boo-boo.

” Muratbey looked at his watch: 5:45.“Mercedes. Don’t worry about them. Remember. They will tell the other mafia how strong President Muratbey is. This is no time to pay attention to cockroaches. Mafia car. we are under attack from the Kyrgyz. Running like cockroaches. 291 . Everyone get back to work. He had an hour to restore order and tranquility to the palace before Bix arrived.

Joseph’s heart felt near bursting and he was gasping for breath as he reached the height and flopped in the snow. hand over hand. But at an altitude of 14. Barely winded. The last of the Ferghanan rock-climbers were nearing the top of the crevice where the first to arrive had lashed a sturdy block-and-tackle to a boulder and were lowering a rope down the cliff.000 feet. It was all he could do to point out the collapsible ntenna and watch as Ahmet extended it to its full length. and now he waited patiently for instructions. Yusuf. began to hoist the burden up the cliff. the men at the top applied muscle to the rope and slowly. Ignoring the sick feeling pervading his body. After watching for a few minutes. tapped Joseph on the shoulder and handed him a pair of binoculars. As soon as one of the two rolls of steel mesh was securely attached. the three stalwart Basmachi accompanying him promptly set about building a snowfort to conceal them from spotters below. Joseph looked where Yusuf pointed. A Basmachi named Ahmet had long before taken on the burden of carrying Joseph’s radio. Some 500 feet below them the white-uniformed Russians were clearly visible stretched on their stomachs in the snow following intently the events transpiring still further below. Joseph couldn’t seem to get a complete breath of air. he 292 .CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE Climbing the smooth expanse of snow leading up the east shoulder of the mountain had looked simple. He felt sick to his stomach. Joseph gulped air and resolved that his heart would simply have to do its job. another Basmachi.

” “Sounds like they haven’t seen us. sir.” “In that case. . “Colonel Sverdlov!” called his radio operator. but something is interfering. and fixed the settings of the dials. but the mountain may be blocking the signal. not airborne.” “They may be just coming into range. He looked at his watch: 1800 hours—an hour left before the alien ship’s arrival. on the ground. Major Jim Brady watched intently. It’s strong. Two voices speaking Kyrgyz . Seven hundred feet below. “They’re sending out more scouts.” “This way.” 293 . Unseen among the rocks a half mile west of the cliff. “Something’s going on. we shouldn’t be getting it at all. sir?” “Three this way. three to the east. His position was totally exposed to fire from above where any enemy would have ample concealment. If his force could remain undetected for another ten hours. they would be back in their armored personnel carriers heading triumphantly for the border. . Or possibly it’s a reflected signal from farther away.” “Perhaps bad equipment. “Listen to this.” Sverdlov took the earphone and listened carefully to a crackling transmission. . turned on the power.” Sverdlov scanned the heights to the east and west.opened his radio case.” he said to the sergeant behind the neighboring rock. sir. Then he removed a minirecorder from his pocket and placed it next to the microphone. Colonel Maxim Sverdlov was gazing intently at the second roll of bombproof mesh edging its way up the cliff. though. .” “Something’s spooked them. military voices . “Can you get better reception?” “I’ll try.

Joseph interspersed staccato bursts of speech from the recorder with an imaginative assortment of whines. but it sounds like two ground units. he thought. Could be Kyrgyz troops coming from there. they know roughly where we are. and more troops had been dispatched to strenghen the eastern flank. sir. The Ferghanan scouts sent to the west had come back in with the picket troops from the western defense perimeter.” “Can you tell where it’s coming from? My god. All right. Yusuf touched him on the shoulder and directed his attention to the Russian position. Two of the ten soldiers in white had begun cautiously to make their way up the snowfield toward Joseph’s position.” “Do you know what they’re saying?” “No idea.” “What does it sound like?” “Interference is bad. He raised his hand and signaled the Basmachi to open fire. I would guess that the signal is coming from the other side of the Ferghanans. but the sight of the Russians scrambling for cover reassured him that 294 .A radio operator scrambled up behind the colonel in a low crouch.” “I think we’re okay. Kyrgyz military frequency. sir. sir. Only two voices. “There’s a town called Sary Tash.” In his snowfort on the eastern shoulder of Verethra Kuh. now we just have to move them up the hill.” “From the east?” Colonel Brady examined a map. and crackles. but we don’t have anybody who knows Kyrgyz. I speak Russian. “That’s not good. “It’s a radio signal.” said Joseph aloud. I hope they’re not behind us. Joseph had never heard automatic rifles fired except on television. Every couple of minutes he looked through the binoculars. pops.

Joseph could see three of the Russians come together in a huddle. The entire Ferghanan force was quickly deployed to face their attackers from the east. The four mortar shells exploded well away from Joseph’s position. Lee and Wilson listened attentively. the Basmachi stopped firing.. Joseph saw two Ferghanans go down. The range was extreme. Wilson’s left ankle was wrapped in a thick elastic 295 . they began to zero in closer and closer to the Russian position.everyone else knew the sound well. but one of them landed within fifty yards of the Russians. As planned. however. He prayed that they would decide to act as allies of the Kyrgyz mystery force above them and return fire on the Ferghanans. they disappeared inside the cave. After a few minutes. He told his sergeant to pass the word that the fire could be a decoy and to be alert to attack from other directions. Then he instructed his two mortar teams to lob two rounds each onto the snowfield. the Russian mortars spoke back. Colonel Sverdlov pointed to the snowfield on the eastern shoulder and made hand signals to the men nearest the apparent source of attack to return fire. Below and to the east of the action at the camp near the site of the sacrifice. With full visibility and firing from a commanding height. who scattered like ants for the rocky slope leading up to the snowfield. As the Ferghanan mortar-men traced the trajectories of the incoming fire. A minute later. the Russians placed their first rounds in the midst of the Ferghanans. and Joseph could see their pickets dodging from rock to rock trying to move up the slope. The Russians could see the pickets too and began to fire their rifles. Joseph thought to look at the cave mouth and spied there several Ferghanan troops observing the exchange of fire. after half a dozen three-round bursts into the air. but the Russian mortars continued to dominate the field of action. Within minutes both sides were fully engaged.

and three carried red. the product of his moment of instantaneous enlightenment when Nadir had taken his hands. Dimitri. What he presumed to be a Kyrgyz unit from Sary Tash had the advantage of height. He beckoned to six of his men who were sheltering near him. Nadir had gone his own way. and she relayed to Wilson the information that Joseph’s decoy was working . safely concealed behind a boulder sticking out of the rocky scree. Three Basmachi had remained to protect them while Uli and the five others had led Hayes. was both fascinating and chilling. Three carried triangular green weapons. . if she had understood the Basmachi correctly. freedom from air attack wouldn’t last long. The entire Ferghanan force had scattered from the base of the cliff and taken cover on 296 .bandage. And the radio messages continued to carry only two voices. Meanwhile. “We’ll keep their heads down. Wilson accepted the good news with a grunt. and they resumed the discussion of genetics they had begun as soon as the others had left camp. Still breathless. at least. Though Lee’s Kyrgyz was non-existent.” The six nodded and slipped away while the colonel signalled his other men to maintain steady fire. You work your way onto their right flank and take them out. Perhaps they were low-grade garrison forces who didn’t know how to call in airstrikes. Colonel Sverdlov coolly appraised his position. What Wilson was telling Lee. Joseph looked with fascination on what his plan had wrought. she was able to communicate slightly with the Turkish she had studied in Washington. Or perhaps the Kyrgyz airforce was too busy elsewhere to spare planes for Verethra Kuh. and the SAS men down the slope to loop around the flank of the Ferghanans and approach the cliff from their rear. In any case. He would have to take the Kyrgyz radio off the air as rapidly as possible. . but it appeared to be small—two mortars and a half dozen riflemen.

Attention was being paid. Beyond and beneath a huge stone outcropping on the westernmost end of the cliff. as far from the shooting as possible.the eastern slope. The hand of his sergeant on his elbow attracted the major’s attention. Seven of them looked like civilians in rugged winter clothes. Brady watched closely as six of the men took up positions below the Ferghanans. if perplexing. including the ones in commando gear. he decided they were doing the latter. Joseph decided to continue his spurts of broadcasting until Hayes and Dimitri had made it up the cliff and then slip away to join Lee and Wilson. He wondered whether they were part of the force up above in the snowfield intending to catch the Ferghanans in a crossfire or whether they were just taking positions to protect the flank of their six companions grouped at the base of the cliff in case the Ferghanans turned around. however. but they were dodging from rock to rock in an obvious effort to keep out of sight of the Ferghanan troops firing toward the snowfield. by the Delta Force team. Major Brady saw a party of twelve men emerge from the top of the ravine that had given the Ferghanans access to the cliff area. they were clearly preparing to climb the cliff. a lone figure in humble clothes and a full beard was climbing a rock surface 297 . When they hunkered down and held their fire. Four Ferghanan bodies lay on the ground. view of the fight taking place on the far slope. still concealed to the west of the cliff with a clear. As for the other six. The more confused the Russians and Ferghanans were about who was fighting whom. the less attention they would pay to what was taking place behind them. Though the initial plan had been simply to provoke a fire fight between the Russians and the Ferghanans. Their course was toward the cliff. and he retrained his binoculars in the direction the sergeant pointed. Puzzled as to who they were. the other five were dressed in what seemed to be commando outfits.

sir. he appeared from their vantage point to be climbing with the ease and agility of an ant walking up a vertical wall. At one level. In his mind’s eye. and from all Brady could tell in defiance of the law of gravity. but it proved no obstacle as he scaled it with ease.that looked as smooth and featurless as a concrete wall. Without ropes or pitons. Colonel Sverdlov would be in control of the cave. and he could see beyond to a 298 . his thoughts were composed: Bix would come momentarily. Brady wondered how he would manage the overhang. his mind was a jumble of riddles: Why had Park and Lee fled to Kyrgyzstan? Why had Park told the Americans he had kidnapped Lee? Why had the Americans sent agents to his office? Why had Donald told the American officials about their jewel deal? What would the reaction be when three Americans failed to return from the Palace? At the same time. Brady looked at his sergeant.” “They can’t. at another level. Brady and the sergeant returned to observing the firefight. he could see each event leading ineluctably to the next. Bix would fix his machine. Brady had never seen anyone climb in such a fashion. and seemingly with only minimal use of one leg. who shrugged his shoulders. And then Bix would fly away forever leaving Muratbey with the greatest treasure in the history of the world—including eggs that would protect him from the Americans and Russians and Chinese. “Beats me. With the climber now out of sight on the ledge to the west of the cave mouth. * * * At six forty-five Muratbey was waiting impatiently in the courtyard of the Presidential Palace. They would go to Verethra Kuh.” said Brady. I didn’t think people could do that. sergeant.

Muratbey entered the moment the door opened and made his way to the control room. The clear film of the blob suit proved to be much finer and softer. “It doesn’t protect head.” “Yes. “Of course. . Genghiz Khan. unfortunately. conquer by technology and economic power. not by rivers of blood and pyramids of skulls . Indeed. it does. whom he saw as virtually compelling him to destroy Nukus.” 299 . despite being designed to Inamadzi proportions. for Nukus. It reminded him of a plastic raincoat he had bought in Moscow that had become so brittle that it cracked along a seam the second time he used it. It’s very effective. Muratbey removed the blob suit from its envelope and unfolded it. clear package. When you activate it.” “Blob suit?” “I explained that to you before. . But Muratbey the Great would conquer the modern way. Bix was sitting in his usual posture of youthful relaxation with Frak clinging to his shoulder. I suggest you put on a blob suit.” Bix was proffering a small.” said Frak. it seemed to melt into his clothes and become unnoticeable as soon as he had it on. except. But plan was perfect. it forms a protective shield around you. Muratbey was cursing the memory of Asshole Vahidov. when Bix’s spherical ship dropped quickly and lightly out of the dusk and settled in the courtyard. “When it inflates. We have no direct report because radio silence. Tamerlane—stirring his blood.” “Excellent. it closes at the top.moment not far in the future when the world’s leaders would be at his feet begging to share in the largesse of alien technology. He felt the historical memory of the ancient Central Asian heroes—Atilla. “Everything on schedule?” said Frak lightly.

” Murabey grunted. The SAS mercenaries had begun their ascent. The cave mouth. he redirected his binoculars to the bottom of the cliff. “Cave ready for Bix to repair machine. Through a window he saw the tops of mountains passing quickly by though he had barely perceived the ship’s taking off.” he announced confidently.“How I make work?” “It works automatically. but mortar shell explosions showed that a battle was clearly under way on the mountain slope east of the cliff that gave access to the cave. was brightly lit and seemed perfectly peaceful. Then when you stop fearing. * * * Joseph gaped in awe at the speedy approach of the spherical black craft and then its startionary hovering at the top of the cliff. and their uniforms looked Ferghanan. moving rapidly on the ropes and pitons left by the Ferghanans. A few minutes later. on the other hand. Flares marked the ledge in front of the cave as planned.” said Frak. “Plan is perfect. Muratbey crowded next to Bix and looked out. The fading light made it difficult to make out details. When it disappeared inside the cave. it contracts. It read exactly seven o’clock. Muratbey could see bodies lying on the ground. he looked again at his watch.” To himself he wondered who was firing at whom. Bix was looking intently through the window. It was time for another flurry of decoy broadcasts to ensure that the Ferghanans did not turn 300 . It’s almost instantaneous. Army protect Bix from pramodzi. Your mind activates it when you become frightened. “There is fighting.

Though one soldier in the Ferghanan flanking detachment had stood up and pointed his red weapon. his Basmachi companions followed the action below with growing consternation. identifiable by their shaven heads. but Dimitri and Hayes. Totally unaware of their presence. were still at the base. Six Ferghanan soldiers were moving generally toward them. Alf. apparently waiting for the mercenaries to use the block-and-tackle to help them climb. the Russians were concentrating their fire on the other Ferghanan troops hidden in the rocks below them. and the other to SAS men were almost invisible in the crevice and nearing the top. all of the soldiers appeared to be carrying brightly colored red or green weapons. Finally Ahmet crawled into Joseph’s snowfort and tugged his arm. but on an angle apparently calculated to afford a firing position on the Russians’ flank. from which all firing had abruptly ceased. With the Russians apparently eliminated. Though the twilight made colors difficult to see. with their customary assault rifles slung on their backs. But now the other Ferghanan flankers were standing too and walking forward. He put down his binoculars and returned to the radio. it was more vital than ever to keep the Ferghanans’ attention focused on an 301 . Joseph had seen or heard nothing to indicate he had fired it. Joseph followed and looked down the slope in the direction the four of them had taken from their camp. Laurence. sweeping their colored weapons through narrow arcs directed toward the Russian position.around and take note of what was happening on the shadowy cliff face below and behind them. Then suddenly one of the Russian mortars exploded spectacularly. Fearful that the silencing of the Russian opposition might cause the Ferghanans below to come out of hiding. Joseph returned his attention to the cliff. While Joseph attended to his recorder and radio. as if all of its ammunition had detonated at once.

” At the same moment the Ferghanan radio message went out. As he cautiously extended his head above the rock to take a look. What units? Through the entire fight only two voices had been distinguishable on the radio. Alf and Laurence manned the block-and-tackle. Lets give a heave. “Why don’t we just haul ‘im up like a sack of coal?” said Laurence. “Sack of coal it is. I think a small group has bluffed us.” 302 . To their surprise both the ledge and the cave mouth seemed unguarded.enemy to the east. “Tell Sergeant Akbulut to take his men all the way to the top and see if there are other enemy troops. Guns at the ready.” he said to the radioman. “All units attack! All units attack!” it said in the clearest signal yet received. Sending the other two men to flank the cave entrance. they surveyed the flare-lit ledge while their other two finished their climb and joined them. Then they heard gunfire coming from inside the cave. Sverdlov was puzzled. Two jerks on the rope from below signalled that Hayes was ready to climb. Just wants us to belay him. “We’re breaking radio silence. He fast forwarded through the tape to the command Dimitri had told him to save for last. the radio on the back of the soldier beside him squawked loudly.” Alf listened to the gunfire in the cave intensifying. Alf pulled himself cautiously over the lip of the cliff. followed quickly by Laurence. “Wants to climb the bloody cliff himself. Thinks it’ll make him feel young again. At the foot of the slope Colonel Sverdlov received with elation the flare signal from his flanking party that the enemy in the snowfield had been eliminated.” “Bloody hell! What choice ‘as ‘e got now? I say ‘e’s a sack of coal. and now those who had been shooting at him were dead or captured.

but Yusuf put a heavy hand on his shoulder and stopped him. and then another 600 feet of climbing to get to the top. but Ahmet motioned him to keep down. he thought. for smart men who know when to disobey orders. Suddenly the tension on his belaying harness tightened and he was being pulled free of the rock face. . Joseph signalled he was ready to leave. Joseph held his breath and listened. . Joseph grasped that it was too late to try to run. kept their guns trained on the six Ferghanan silhouettes cautiously moving up the slope from the Russian position. Dangling at the end of the rope. There it was 303 .000 feet. He took it and let Ahmet cock it. the Basmachi. Watching Hayes disappear into the gloom from the base of the cliff. But was there another sound? From another direction? Ahmet and Yusuf were peering back over their shoulders trying to penetrate the gloom. In the snows high above. He moved his head slightly.Hayes was already twenty feet up the cliff with only eighty feet to go before the crevice . obstinate old man had no business trying to scale a cliff at an altitude of 14. Joseph started to edge forward to what looked like it might be a better firing position. A light westerly wind was carrying the chink of their equipment and the crunch of their boots. The Ferghanans were only thirty meters away and heading straight for them in a widely spread line. well hidden in the snow. Joseph looked at the grim-faced Basmachi and saw him cup a hand to his ear. While Joseph packed up his radio. He could see nothing on the shoulder of the mountain but unbroken snow and the black eastern sky beyond. Fat. Yet there seemed to be something moving in his peripheral vision. Joseph followed their look. Thank the lord. He had never in his life held a loaded gun in his hand. The Ferghanans were close. Dimitri nodded with satisfaction. Ahmet was holding out a pistol to him. what was happening on the cliff was no longer discernible in the growing darkness. he began to rise.

but he could hear the gunfire and the yells of the Chinese troops coming closer and closer.again. Joseph wondered for a moment what he meant until an idea dawned on him. He hugged his radio to his chest and prayed ardently to Lord Ganesh. perhaps sixty meters away. he kept his pistol trained on the man and hoped that the Basmachi was doing the same and was prepared 304 . Dimitri saw a Ferghanan scout walk directly past a Basmachi hidden in the shadows of the rocks and approach the base of the cliff. After a few moments he could make out that they were in uniform. When they had gone about ten yards. And then he could see it all—a party of perhaps twenty men moving toward them through the snow. And again. The silence lasted for another half minute until the leading group of the Chinese silhouettes simultaneously slumped to the ground for no apparent reason. “Chinese? Chin? Chinese?” Ahmet nodded. but he realized that the radio messages had not been a bluff. Feeling as helpless as a target in a shooting gallery. The resumption of gunfire on the high slope had taken Colonel Sverdlov by surprise. Dangling from a harness halfway up the cliff. and then a world of gunfire exploded in Joseph’s ears. “Chin. The Basmachi were crawling on their bellies out of the snowfort and beckoning Joseph to follow. they helped Joseph roll himself into a ball around his radio case and began to cover him with snow. the elephant-headed guarantor of successful enterprise. He could see nothing. There was a moment’s pause. He had also heard gunfire from the cave. Joseph could see nothing.” whispered Ahmet. Apprehensively he sent three scouts to reconnoiter his rear and began to consider the contingency of withdrawing his men under fire.

battle raged. four others hooked the ends of cables woven through the mesh to the pitons and tightened the slack with turnbuckles. Within moments the two sides were exchanging bursts of automatic weapon fire directed against well-shielded and unseen foes. With no way of concealing themselves at the cave mouth or on the ledge outside.to shoot if the the scout should happen to look up. The first Russian fusilade cut down six Ferghanans and scattered the rest. Pitons had already been pounded into the rock like tent pegs so as half a dozen men manhandled the heavy mesh across the opening. Then Dimitri felt strong arms grab his harness and pull him onto the ledge. Lieutenant Yeshilalp. A sudden burst of renewed firing from the cave caught the scout’s attention. Though Andreyev knew that the Ferghanans would number only fifteen men to his own ten. ordered his men to stop gawking and secure the bomb-proof mesh. Bullets pinged and pocked against the 305 . the commander of the rock-climbers. the Russians had been forced to take positions beyond the shaft. just fitting inside its smooth walls. with narrow ledges on either side their only way out. but Dimitri’s dangling form was now lost in the dark. He raised his arm and dropped it. The arrival of Bix’s ship had gone smoothly. the Ferghanan actions were the answer to a tactical problem that had haunted him ever since reaching the cave. and fully expected to have the advantage of surprise. As soon as it disappeared below the cave’s floor. There would be no better time to spring his ambush. Meanwhile. the possibility of being trapped behind the yawning shaft was only too real. deep inside the cave. To Lieutenant Alexander Andreyev crouching in concealment in the back of the cave with nine other Russian paratroopers. Seconds passed. He held his breath. But now the shaft was being covered with a surface strong enough to run across. The huge sphere had hovered over the shaft and then sunk downward. He continued to rise steadily and silently.

” said Yeshilalp quietly. “Sir. But the red weapons melt metal.” ventured the one who had had the idea of cutting the mesh.” “No. Lieutenant Yeshilalp huddled on the cave floor near the mouth with the six of his soldiers assigned red and green weapons. There’s no cover. they may charge to protect their way out. the sounds echoing and reechoing from the high stone vault of the ceiling. Since the test-firings in Kokand hadn’t been directed against rock. Cutting the mesh would make it easier for them to attack the alien.cave walls. hit one piton at a time. “They didn’t fire until we put the mesh in place. Grenades exploded on both sides compounding the din but inflicting only minor wounds.” whispered a third.” “But we could pretend to cut the mesh.” “If we cut the mesh. we want them out in the open. We can fire from here. “Any ideas?” The soldiers looked at one another and then began to talk at once.” ventured one.” said Yeshilalp slowly. “whoever tries to get to the mesh will be killed.” said another. The Lieutenant was uncertain what to do. Who’s the best marksman.” The soldiers looked at one another and then at the Lieutenant. “Maybe we should leave the cave. thinking as he spoke. Maybe they felt trapped. he reluctant to waste power trying to find out what the new weapons might do against the well-shielded Russians. “Don’t be stupid. and the mesh gave them an avenue of attack. If they think we’re cutting the mesh. “They’re trapped now We don’t want them trapped. If we leave. “Don’t be stupid. “We have to bring them into the open. They had been guarding the ledge and had escaped the first Russian attack.” 306 . they can attack the alien. they’ll be trapped.

. Do you think you can do it?” The soldier nodded.” said the Lieutenant. Once across the mesh. As the second trio reached the center of the mesh. Andreyev waited for a reaction. between two spurts of firing from the other side. A second ping. “Nur.” Yeshilalp looked the boy calmly in the eye. “Let the first three across the mesh. and from the prostrate bodies of the first three men. remember: Our mission is to cover the shaft and protect it so don’t cut through any cables. “Great shot. Dimitri. Andreyev could see what looked like steam rising from their bodies . sir.” he whispered. The red weapon had no evident aiming system. “I am. and the SAS mercenaries were hard put to follow the course of the battle without being seen or shot by accident. there was a sharp ping from beyond the shaft.The youngest-looking member of the group replied. 307 . . Yeshilalp motioned his men to be ready. He signalled the second group while the rest poured covering fire toward the front of the cave. Just try to hit a single piton on the far side. but the young soldier rested it on top of his shoulder and lay his head to the side on top of it so that he was sighting down its long axis. From the ledge in front of the cave. sir. He motioned three of his men forward. they flattened themselves on the ground in firing position. whose guns were now silent.” “Good. At his signal they sprang from their rock cover and ran for the mesh while Andreyev and the others provided covering fire. Lieutenant Alexander Andreyev made a decision. The gunfire from deep in the cave stopped.” “Your name?” “Nur Bashkurt. The Lieutenant signalled his men to cease firing. they collapsed simultaneously though no shots had been fired. In the eerie white light of the flares. Hayes. Suddenly. Now another one.

and took up the same sheltered positions the Ferghanans had been using. each trying to divine what the other was thinking about shooting men in the back. Their unprotected backs were toward the entrance. “and rifles and grenades aren’t going to get them. Alf caught his eye and gave the slightest reluctant shake of his head. The forty-round magazine emptied in six seconds leaving all nine Ferghanans collapsed on the ground. Alf and Laurence cautiously poked their heads around the edge of the cave mouth. 308 . Lieutenant Andreyev and his three remaining men died instantly. stepped over the bodies. he opened up with his assault rifle on full automatic. Dimitri crept up beside Alf and took a look.Something had clearly happened. then the ones from deeper inside the cave had done the same. Nine Ferghanan soldiers were using irregularities in the wall and rock outcroppings to shield themselves from whoever was hidden deeper inside. First the nearer shooters had suspended their fire. Stepping into the cave mouth. The SAS men looked at one another. One by one the SAS men slipped around the corners of the entrance. Dimitri joined Alf behind a rocky projection.” he said softly. The anti-tank missile impacted thunderously against the wall of engraved figures at the end of the cave spraying shrapnel in all directions. “Whoever’s back there isn’t going to come out.” Alf nodded and motioned to one of his men carrying a bulky weapon on his back. thought Dimitri. The exhaust of the rocket shot out the cave entrance where Hayes was waiting impatiently. Leave the dirty work to the Korean. The man swiftly assembled its two parts and brought it into firing position. Now everything was quiet. however.

“Why don’t they do something? We attacked their president and tried to arrest him.” 309 . Miguel Espinosa paced back and forth chain smoking cigarettes.CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR In Kokand.” “Right. Suppose he arrested them as mafia. Isn’t that a crime?” Darla Bane was sitting with her elbows on her desk and her chin resting on her cupped hands. and the one who knew Russian couldn’t have fooled anyone for more than five minutes.” “Not know they were American? How would that be possible? Ingalls was American. “If Muratbey had protested to D.C. The Marine guard and the three Delta Force commandos stayed armed and ready.” The office clock read eight o’clock. It’s uncanny. More than two hours had elapsed since the Mercedes had screeched into the diplomatic sanctuary of the embassy driveway.. tension mounted at the U.” “What if Muratbey didn’t tell anyone?” said Darla. Lieutenant Mercer. breaking a half hour of dejected silence.S. but life appeared to be going on as usual on the streets outside. Embassy as the hours ticked by. “Not even a phone call.” “Lieutenant Mercer. at least they would have called us. “How can you arrest people in your office without telling anyone?” “They went as mafia.

Darla fell silent again for five minutes. Yasmin. She knows how much the president relies on you. but a lot of people in the diplomatic community say you’re the only thing keeping the palace going.” He mouthed the words “her mother” to Darla. Then his face lit up with a glorious smile. See what she says. In a lower. 310 .” Pause. But at least he’s safe. perhaps the Embassy could make arrangements for her to go to the United States.” He winked at Darla’s wide-eyed look of disbelief. Really sorry. . Mike. “No. “How terrible! Was he hurt? Where is he now? Or can’t you tell me.” “Yasmin? What would I say?” “Don’t tell me you don’t know how to talk to a woman.” She pushed her telephone across the desk. “Maybe they’re dead and no one other than Muratbey knew they were American. and Ambassador Bane can use funds from her humanitarian aid account to pay for it. conspiratorial voice: “No! Is it true? What happened?” Pause. “By the way. Miguel looked dubiously at his boss as he punched in the number. He has to have some time free some day. I mean that.” Pause. it’s not impossible.” Pause. We can give her a visa in twenty minutes. “Yasmin. “I know it’s a hard job. “Really? You saw it? That’s really incredible. Call his secretary. “Hello? Yasmin? It’s Mike .” Pause. How are you?” His smile withered as he listened .” Pause.” Pause. Ask her for an appointment for me to meet with the president. Mike Espinosa from the American Embassy. don’t be like that. “No. “I’m sorry to hear that. I hope she’s going to be all right. A frown on Espinosa’s face. “If she needs specialized medical care. “Yes they do. the reason I’m calling is to see whether the president would have space on his calendar to receive Ambassador Bane tomorrow. I don’t think she would mind at all.” Pause. . Call her.” “What?” “You know her.

” “Don’t you want to know what I found out?” “Shoot. “No.S. Bye.” “Have you been helping the dreams along?” “Maybe a little. Have you and Yasmin been fooling around?” “In her dreams.” Darla was speechless. government can do. “Me to. “She spilled state secrets. And tell Mama I hope she feels better.” “Three mafia members tried to assassinate the president in his own office.” “Maybe a lot.” “So they’re dead. Thank you so much.Yasmin. “This will make one helluva a cable to the Secretary. Where is he now?” “This you will love. Yasmin. All appointments cancelled forever.” Darla looked at her political officer. He left the palace in a flying saucer that landed in the parking lot.” “So what should we do?” 311 . I don’t think so.” “She saw the bodies being dragged out. “How could you tell?” “Your face.” she said matterof-factly.” “The bastard. Finally she sighed and said. terrorism is certainly an awful thing. but he killed them instead because he is the most heroic man Yasmin has ever known. And be sure to call and let me know when he gets back.” Pause. Thank you. “Because I’m with the Ambassador.” Pause.” Pause. when you hear from him. ask him if there’s anything the U. Yasmin. You’re a treasure. “Yes.” Pause.

government emergency communication. The moon had risen just over the shoulder of the mountain and provided enough raking light for him to make out a dozen dark forms lying motionless in the distance. 312 . “The first thing is to notify the Delta Force commander that he’s lost two men and the other three are safe here. arrested. If they should encounter her.Darla thought.” “Then what next?” “Next? Next the two of us try to write a cable that will not get us fired. Fear clutched his heart nonetheless when the first tinny sounds of a transmission sounded faintly through the radio’s case.S. Do we have a communication protocol for Delta Force?” Miguel nodded. Then he realized that the noise was much too faint to be heard by anyone else and. that the signal must be incoming on the default emergency frequency used for U.” * * * Why Joseph had left the power on on his radio he was never able to understand so he attributed it to the intervention of the Lord Ganesh. or ridiculed as lunatic UFOers. they should know that. And tell the Marines to keep them locked and loaded. Several minutes had elapsed since the crunch of Chinese boots running past where he was buried in the snow had faded into the distance. Tell them he died trying to rescue her. Cautiously he raised his head until he could see the landscape around him. “Include in the message that Lee Ingalls’ husband is dead too. Though I’m not sure how long our present situation is going to hold since Muratbey is surely not going to keep this fiction of a mafia attack going indefinitely. in mounting excitement.

Heroic demise of doctor’s spouse a bad ending. The only lights were in the entrance of the cave. As quietly as possible he opened the radio case and slipped on his earphones. The message being repeated was in clear and in English: “Hawthorne.” Joseph suppressed a laugh. he thought. this is Melville. Hawthorne. His mind worked feverishly as he digested the new information. Heroic demise of doctor’s spouse a bad ending. Contact your agent and renegotiate contract. Where were the Americans? Were they close enough to help? How could they help? He crawled forward to get a better view of the scene below. The content of the message was apparent. Villain left unpunished. Even in the moonlight little could be discerned of the Chinese and Ferghanan positions. Contact your agent and renegotiate contract. The occasional shot testified more to the wariness of the two forces than their actual ability to make out targets. this is Melville. Joseph felt momentarily guilty for the instinctive mental reaction that Lee would be better off without her philandering spouse. The third Basmachi was evidently missing. but the thought flitted away as soon as it formed. Then he reminded himself that a gunbattle had been raging for well over an hour and that a radio broadcast from a hidden. and as he did so he saw two other shapes emerge from the snow nearby. Two chapters of submitted manuscript lost.Desultory gunfire sounded from the slope well below him making it clear that the fight had carried past his position and down the hill toward the Ferghanans. Villain left unpunished. But not trying very hard. Two chapters of submitted manuscript lost. 313 . uninvolved force would have been folly both for sender and receiver. driven out by a sudden excited awareness that somewhere within range of the broadcast there was an American military force trying to get in touch with him. He recognized Ahmet and Yusuf by their clothes.

Then he thought for a while composing his message. Men below unfriendly. “Moby Dick. Men below unfriendly. closed the radio. and now he reassured himself that the situation was unchanged. Do what you can. Major Jim Brady felt like a pit bull let off its leash as soon as he heard Joseph’s broadcast. Men in cave friendly. Deciding that the American commander had probably not majored in American literature. New contract terms. meet Captain Ahab. Joseph’s plan of decoying the Ferghanans’ away from the cliff had addressed the problem of getting into the cave. And no one had raised the subject. Aware that his own escape route back to the camp where Lee and Wilson were waiting was now clear. Joseph decided on a final broadcast. and stole off into the night where his shadow converged with those of the Basmachi. New contract terms. Though the trained to squat in mud or ice for days. he extended its antenna to its full length. There was no way of telling who was in control inside.” Joseph repeated the message four times. he broadcast: “Hawthorne. Hawthorne. this is your agent.” he muttered under his breath as he scanned the scene below with a starlight scope. Do what you can.which looked like the gaping maw of a mountain-sized giant whose head was silhouetted against the moonlit sky. not getting out. 314 . Going back to the radio. it was clear that anyone trying to descend the cliff would be picked off easily by the remaining Ferghanans. He turned to a soldier squatting beside his one mortar. this is your agent. but as matters stood. to carry out his mission. if necessary. He had earlier identified the rocky shelter that seemed to be serving as a command post. Then he collapsed his antenna. Men in cave friendly.

flashless weapon he had never seen before. and clearly visible through night vision glasses. you see the tent-shaped bunch of rocks about five degrees to the right of the cliff and a third of the way up the slope?” “Yes. On the opposite slope. Everyone else.“Corporal. sir?” “Fire when you’re ready. Fifteen of his thirty-eight men were dead. head for the border.” he announced softly to his troops. Pull out at 2145. It’s 2100.” Crouching behind the rocks below. His men had killed six Ferghanan troops and collected their strange 315 .” “Tell me you can put your first two within a twenty meter radius of it. Captain Lin Wu-tang assessed his situation. “Sergeant. The second explosion made up his mind. Make them think we’re still here. we’ve won the war. The retreat of whoever they had fired at was quick. Spread them out. hold your fire. We’re pulling out. sir. He had already decided that the men in the cave were either dead or had done their job and were now expendable since the likelihood of getting them back down the cliff safely seemed remote. You keep three men. Colonel Sverdlov heard the explosion of the first mortar round as the crack of doom. Ten Russians wearing white uniforms were dead in the snow. If you don’t meet us there. pass the word. “Gentlemen. Brady tipped his hat mentally to the enemy commander for making a correct and prompt decision. “Would ten meters be better. orderly. the Chinese troops from Kashghar had also observed the unexpected explosion of the two American mortar shells.” He could see the corporal smile. I’ll wait one hour for you at the vehicles. killed by a soundless.” Amid the rocks on the western slope suppressed jubilation spread quietly through the American ranks. Take a shot occasionally.

* * * inside the cave. the Chinese stole back up the mountainside. Then he tried a green one. collected their dead. Nothing could be heard. The nuclear eggs they had winched up the cliff were beside them. Dimitri and Hayes sat together in silence and waited for Nadir. but the metal buckle on the body’s belt reddened and popped apart. 316 .red and green weapons. but without Nadir they had no notion of how to use them. While two SAS men kept watch on the ledge outside. After weighing the gains of his mission in the form of the new weapons he’d captured against possible further losses in an encounter with an inidentified force equipped with mortars. he could contact them as an ally helping them out in the face of Ferghanan invasion. The toll of dead was ten Russians and fifteen Ferghanans. As quietly and efficiently as the Ferghanans. If it was the Kyrgyz army. He estimated the number of Ferghanan invaders remaining below at fewer than thirty. he made his decision. and made their way southward to their trucks and the road back to Kashghar. Laurence trained a red one on a Russian corpse and depressed what appeared to be the firing mechanism. But he could not imagine how such a Kyrgyz force could have gotten to the western slope of Verethra Kuh without passing his trucks on the road from Sary Tash. the victors lit fresh flares and surveyed the field of battle. Alf and Laurence examined carefully the half dozen red and green weapons they collected from the bodies. But he had no idea who was lobbing mortar shells into their position. He stopped abruptly when the smell told him that whatever the weapon was emitting was cooking the body.

“Alf.” He picked up a hundred-pound egg with one hand and did something to it. When he reached halfway around. seared by fire and bullet-scarred. the mesh collapsed downward in a tangled mess against the smooth side of the shaft. “Do you suppose he made it?” he said to Dimitri. “Now burn this cloth and clear the shaft. then will I seal this ancient cave. The first cable snapped.” 317 . the tale of noble hero Hayes. and the a second.” Laurence aimed a red weapon at the edge of the mesh and activated it. who by belief in Indra’s cause did fortify his mind and soul. when Bix is dead. He moved the weapon in a careful circle following the perimeter of the mesh as if were the lid of a tin can. Tis time to do what must be done. destroyed by battle. Hayes finished buckling on his parachute harness.” Nadir pointed at the bomb-proof steel mesh covering the shaft. where pictures were of men and gods. and during what remains of life. Mr. Take shelter far from mouth of cave. familiarly pot-bellied but with his hair and beard retaining the flame-like glow they had all seen at the sacrifice. I take my leave and bid you go. Everyone shook their head. standing at the back of the cave on the far side of the shaft. of Kutsa brave who by my side attacked the Inamadzi Shushna. “This egg I set to do the deed. Sad I am that wall is gone. Carpenter.“Did anyone see him climb the cliff?” asked Hayes. And then he was there. When finished is our noble task. this place of doom. For one long hour its time will run. Of those whose task is now complete. his scheme undone. repeat the tale of Indra brave. this source of woe. smashed by bomb. who came to fight by Indra’s side.” “Yes. the story of their final fight to save mankind and set it free. “I went to see the sacred wall. Dimitri shrugged his shoulders. you know my instructions for getting paid if I don’t come back.

Take care of Lee.000 foot shaft.” “Is a pig’s ass pork?” 318 . I don’t believe I’ll take any more jobs. You’re about as useless as I am.” “Is it hard?” “You know what Wilson would say to that?” “No.” “Let me go down the shaft with Nadir. “Dimitri. But you lack one thing. This one tops them all. You’d better get going. I have nothing to go back to. I actually suspect she might be falling in love with you. “That’s all true. say goodby to Wilson. You did everything I could have asked. Hayes. An hour isn’t much time for you and Dimitri to get away from a nuclear explosion up here. my friend.” Hayes laughed. “Good luck to you sir.” Alf extended his hand. Hayes turned to Park and embraced him tightly. I am a traitor to my country. The two men turned toward the entrance of the cave.” “What’s that?” “You don’t know how to parachute down a 15.” Hayes shook his hand and then Laurence’s.“Then you and your men are free to go.

but the wall of the shaft was smooth and steep.” Nadir limped past him on the forty-five degree incline as easily as if he were walking on level ground. Hayes put total trust in Nadir’s assurance that the shaft was 15. From the same direction came the sing-song intonation. Hayes stayed down and resumed his slide.CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE Nadir walked to the lip of the shaft and jumped. and Hayes hurried as quickly as he dared to catch up with them. He was sliding out of control and picking up speed on a child’s nightmare of a playground ride from hell. Spreading his arm and legs against the column of air to slow his acceleration. and starting to slide. Then came the reassuring feel of his chute spilling from its pack and billowing open above him. Hayes reached wildly to either side for something to grab onto. 319 . Hayes waited three seconds and then jumped after him. and five seconds later the shock of his boots hitting a sharply inclined surface . . but Hayes was hurtling too fast to notice until a sharp jerk on his harness pulled him to a sudden halt. After what felt like about a hundred yards. The slope of the curving shaft lessened. Looking up and back he could make out the faint golden glow of Nadir’s hair and beard. the slope moderated to the point where he could stand up and release his parachute. “From here we go on foot to seize the giant’s ship. Nadir’s footsteps were some distance ahead. the jerk of his harness arresting his fall.000 feet deep and fell free for ten seconds. . but with his cleated boots gathered under him and his gloved hands pressed firmly to the shaft wall to maintain control.

Belatedly he remembered the long flashlight at his belt. This one. and now I’ve ordered her to find a way inside this ship of Bix. this furry lump named Ann. I took from giant Shushna’s corpse. but turning it on revealed only the dark curving walls of the now almost horizontal tunnel and the silhouette of Nadir still striding ahead. Hayes’ only glimpse of Bix’s ship had come when it flew overhead approaching the cave. 320 . their science is beyond my ken. the flame-haired Promadzi was holding up what looked like a fur muff. From it I learned about her ship. and he hadn’t realized that it would fill the entire shaft all the way around. Ann bent not freely to my will. “Each giant’s ship communicates direct with Inamadzi mind. exposing four thick diamond-sheathed conduits. about its eggs and where it lay beneath the waves of Issyk Kul. I do not know just how it works. “How do we get past?” asked Hayes. Bix and Frak were inspecting a collapse that totally blocked the tunnel. but have made her take commands. a dark shape bulging toward them across the width of the shaft like a plug in a drain. The same device is used to speak with species that have yet to gain the gift of telepathic speech. Then there was something else. I also learned about a scheme they had to mate with local life if opportunity should rise to gain that way life without end. effectively blocking any closer approach to its master at work on the other side.” Five miles away. To do this she will try to trick the ship and make it take commands from her instead of from device that Bix has with him farther on. each burned completely through. When he caught up with Nadir.

I’ve shut off your link to the ship. We have pramodzi. Frak fell silent. Don’t activate the ship.What a mess. Back at the ship. Finally he communicated. activating ship.” said Nadir as he ducked into the passage and started to crawl through. These cables. for it was in the nature of Inamadzi to rejoice at the prospect of a difficult engineering job. Cancelling activate order . . . that certainly isn’t much of a problem. . I think the ship should come. Frak. What? Why bring the ship? I . Frak. . Frak didn’t answer for several seconds. 321 . communicated Bix cheerfully. Bix grabbed the nodding marmot from his shoulder and unscrewed its head. Why? It protects us from interference where it is. He was as happy as an avid child in front of a pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Review your last ten minutes of data and tell me whether we have pramodzi. The rubble is loosely packed. I’m activating the ship to bring it. Well. however. There was dim illumination at the far end. . He stuck a finger into its neck and tripped a switch. I think . ordered Bix. . do we have pramodzi? Bix looked anxiously at the marmot’s rodent face. two circular portions of the hull had silently slid aside uncovering wide tubular passages penetrating all the way through the ship like culverts under a roadway. I’ll bring the ship. “We hope the engine does not start. How far does the collapse extend? About a mile. are another story. .

The whine became more intense. three narrower ducts from the heart of the ship intersected the tube. but it had no head or feet. but hard to stop.” Shaken. The dim light they had seen from the other side of the tube was coming from the ship’s open door. “I’m Hayes. seemingly from nowhere.” it said in a mellow. “Not hard to start. . Nadir grabbed his other shoulder and gave an immense yank that pulled him entirely clear of the tube’s vortex. Nadir has assigned me to you so I will tell you what you want to know and 322 .Hayes followed directly on his heels. Nadir gave a gruff laugh. “Hello. So we will have to speak. Then Nadir was tumbling out of the passage and scrambling away to make room for Hayes. In an instant the wind became so strong that Hayes could not longer crawl or keep his eyes open. . you don’t have the wetware for direct contact. Ann?” “Unfortunately. feminine voice. Hayes sat down and rubbed his wrenched shoulder. he felt himself being forced backward. a powerful wind. you may call me Ann. He could hear a mechanical whine rising in pitch all around him. Nadir handed the furry-looking communicator to Hayes. or do you read my mind . With nothing to hold onto. and he felt the ship shudder as if about to shift its position. testing it gingerly to see whether it had been permanently damaged.” he said tentatively. It felt like a dead animal. feeling sheepish talking to what looked like roadkill. Hayes could not tell exactly where the voice was issuing from. Half way along. As Hayes’ head and neck cleared the ship. With invincible force It tugged him forward against the violent wind that felt on the verge of ripping his body from his arm at the shoulder. With Nadir no longer shielding him. “Do we speak this way. began to blow strongly in Hayes’ face. Then suddenly Nadir’s hand closed tightly on his upper arm.

. . . control the ship. But please don’t be too stupid.” he said. He looked at Ann lying inert in his hands. . prepared to tell the world above about the god’s last glorious fight. I want no more of that. . “The help I need is from your mind.do what you wish to do. I don’t know how much lower I can go. But it’s truly an embarrassment for me to be working for you. . but time is short so go inside.” “You’ve been with Nadir for thousands of years . and you talk about him that way? “For better or worse. but Nadir had no refinement. “You sure look like shit. blow up. and I don’t think I’m likely to make it back to the world above to tell about any deeds. attentive to great Indra’s deeds. has reawakened latent force. await my word in case I need the ship to come and aid me in my fight with Bix. That’s stupid. “It takes some time to make a friend. .” “But I won’t actually be there.” Nadir interrupted. I belong to you now.” “You can get embarrassed?” “There.” “.” “Have you thought of being crushed into a powder by a hydraulic press?” 323 . Just a steady humiliating descent from Inamadzi to Pramodzi to human. . It’s been a burden all this time to work for Nadir. Your sacrifice has made me strong. “Would you like me to move around like an animal? Shushna used to like that.” “You mean you don’t know whether you’ll need help?” said Hayes. he finished silently. and the egg you left in the cave is going to . “ Hayes realized he was speaking to no one. Nadir had strode off into the dark of the tunnel. “ “Eleven thousand. . but still I need to know you’re here.

“I hear voice.” “He’s wearing a blob suit.” put in Ann diffidently. And make yourself look better if you can.” Hayes paused.” ventured Hayes cautiously.” Hayes unsheathed a huge knife hanging from his belt.” “No. You come to invest capitalist money in Ferghana Republic. “You got that. Ann. makes me want to throw you in a ditch. Get that through your little computer brain right now.” “I accept independent ideas and blunt words from my employees. “I don’t care what the bastard’s wearing. You look like a dead opposum. “Rejep Muratbey. “Name’s Hayes Carpenter. tan his hide. Point of fact. pull his guts out. I know who you are. and turn him into a deck of playing cards. skin him. President. now I’m going to cut his head off. “Who are you?” he said bluntly.” Hayes extended his hand. “I’ve been looking for you.” “Now you find me. Now lets go inside.” Rejep Muratbey was at the door of the control room. Mr.” The two heavy-set bald men scrutinized one another like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” “Good.“You wouldn’t dare. I’ve come to slice open that big thick neck of yours with a knife. Make yourself pretty. and you can tell me what’s what. “Killed and blinded my friends.” 324 . Ann?” “Clear as crystal. President of Ferghana Republic. “So you’re Muratbey. You’ve got a woman’s voice. but not insolence. blew up my hole in the sea.” Muratbey gave his hand a firm shake.

he give technology.” “Sorry.” said Ann. We talk like men. of course. “I told you he was wearing a blob suit. . bewildered.” explained Ann. Kaputt. Wiped out. Fifty-fifty.” said Ann. “Now we can’t hurt each other. Hayes located the orange drawer and pulled on the blob suit. which promptly disappeared into the fabric of his clothing. “You should put one on too. built factories in Ferghana. 325 .” replied Ann. The Lord Indra’s about to take him out.” “Dead meat?” “Finished. You’ll find one for yourself in the orange drawer. “What’s a blob suit?” replied Hayes.” “It responds to his fear. American way. within reason. “Why isn’t it protecting me?” “Because you aren’t afraid.” “Who Lord Indra?” “Pramodzi. Hayes lunged heavily at Muratbey only to bounce immediately backward with his knife point deflected to the side. Your Bix is dead meat. “Automatic shield. Won’t work. You have billions dollars. Everyone who flies in a ship wears a blob suit. Nothing penetrates a blob suit .Suiting action to word. “What do we have to talk about?” “Bix fix machine.” “But what about killing him?” “You will have to wait until his suit deflates. Muratbey’s face bore a self-satisfied grin. we become partners. I need capitalist invest in technology. then leave.” said Muratbey. I like America. Protect me from asshole. .

The sea dried up because your humans diverted the water and caused a huge mess instead of all the water being in the ice caps. It makes no sense. Nadir’s footsteps drew closer.” “You should be. you lack all sense of moral good. Should all be killed. “You help pramodzi?” he said angrily. Then came Nadir’s response vividly to Bix’s mind. That’s why we check things out personally and don’t rely blindly on automatic systems. which now seemed to have vestigial feet and a head. your precious humankind would probably never have 326 . Now just stop it. The deeds that Inamadzi do to change the fate of stars and worlds reflect desire to be as gods. I’m the one who knows what’s happening in the tunnel.” Hayes and Muratbey looked quizzically at the mass of fur. First of all. I’m not hurting you. and it simply makes no sense. “Not talking to you. it isn’t even time for the climate engine to go on. Bix could make out the form of a man with a big belly and glowing beard and hair. it will work right. You do not care. I’m just here to do a job. This feud between inamadzi and pramodzi has got to end. responded Bix. he communicated. For you to raise the temperature of sea and air is simple task. I have heard this pramodzi nonsense all my life. All I’m doing is fixing the ignition and clearing the exhaust units so that whenever it is time for the engine to go on. but consequence for humankind is stark and real and full of woe. Secondly. Pramodzi. “Would you like to hear? I can turn their thoughts into words. “Pramodzi dogs.” said Ann. to shape the universe at will. go away. deprive them of their right to live and change by evolution slow.” “They just take getting used to. without the climate engine. you do not know. That’s responsible engineering.” Bix heard Nadir’s approach from a long way off. to exercise control upon good species such as humankind.Muratbey frowned. Leave me alone.

There you go. And 327 . aren’t you? How we’re supposed to be breeding a superrace somewhere that will give us immortality? Let me ask you. we’ve had a lot of experience engineering the parts of the universe we can get to. but don’t deny genetic scheme. they are now taking charge of changing their own climate. the carbon dioxide and methane it puts in the atmosphere would only accelerate what humans are doing anyway. Yet still one thing you keep inside. Communicator that I seized when I had ended Shushna’s life told me how she might have bred if she had found a deathless mate. twenty-two of our generations. . that on twelve planets inamadzi and pramodzi have worked out agreements? Do you know that Pramo’s writings about fate and the sacrosanct character of all life are required reading in inamadzi schools? No. The things you say perhaps are true. for example. Can’t we do without the poetry? Come on. So go away. the very worst of all your crimes. Do you know. since I destroyed its crucial parts. . I learned more than enough pramodzi philosophy in school. Don’t bother to preach at me. how many of these little Earth years? Eleven thousand. and we’ve done a pretty good job. And finally. You’re going to bring up that old business about genetics. So we’ve done them a huge favor. And regrettably you aren’t the only one. since I and friends dispatched to death the Inamadzi . during which you haven’t kept up with any news at all. . Thirdly. The thoughts you have condemn you more than anything pramodzi say. Even if I started the engine. Eleven thousand years. you don’t know these things because you’re a pathetically ignorant pramodzi who’s completely out of touch with what’s going on.evolved as far as they have. for I have learned about the plan from data stored in Shushna’s ship. how long have you been sitting around on this lonely little planet with nothing to do? Since last the engine stopped its work.

trip a circuit 328 . I won’t deny there was once such a plan. very carefully. We inamadzi honor Pramo’s philosophy. you understand. If what you say is true. for. It’s just a fact. then all the greater cause have I to end the inamadzi threat to human life on planet Earth. it will kill the both of us even though I’m wearing a blob suit. pramodzi. all the worlds. but that plan it long dead. not weapons. Do you know what will happen? First. Pramo just went ahead with his experiments and produced thousands of pramodzi without any kind of field-testing whether dzi minds can tolerate the effects of immortality. Of course you do. the gene injector that was meant to make such evil mating work. of all the species. Did you know that 80 percent of all pramodzi have commited suicide? And did you know that of those that still survive. the electro-magnetic surge will travel down these four conduits that you broke. in fact. That’s why we terminated all other genetic experiments after we developed immortality outselves. I knew it. And we’re using it very. most are completely mad? I don’t mean this personally. How in the universe do pramodzi get their hands on so many eggs? Eggs are excavation tools. You seem to feel that you alone. We developed it ourselves through genetic engineering. have right to engineer the fate of every star and every world. Better good engineers should do it than crazed poets. Since you seem to be ineducable. Inamadzi already have immortality. I suppose you’re going to set it off in here. But second—and try here to appreciate the irony of what you have in mind—second. I also seized the thing itself. to exercise a mastery upon the boundless universe.not just data. only for inamadzi being sent to other galaxies. what do you plan to do now? I have an egg. But you pramodzi who remain still cause us no end of problems. And do you know why we’re being so careful? It’s because Pramo’s kind of immortality produces lunatics.

preceded by flash and shock waves. All thought ceased. Pramodzi I. I’m just a repairman. and it isn’t time for a cycle to start. If when I trigger Shushna’s egg. It’s not my way to heed such words. If I had listened to the words that Shushna uttered at her end. or fail and perish in the sea. But you can do it. and possibly to form a pact by which you fly away from Earth and leave to me the human fate. to think by logic firm and dry. Bix and Nadir and Frak vaporized instantaneously in the star-hot explosion that blew away the tunnel obstruction in one direction and shot unimpeded toward Bix’s ship in the other. Then I taKe it you’re going to set off the egg. the chore will fall to humankind to rise to meet the challenge grim engerdered by my well-meant act. The deed is done. and Inamadzi still control the future of all humankind. But Inamadzi always think in ways that seem to reason sound. should wait to verify your words. The tunnel at the point of explosion expanded into a spherical rock chamber with hundreds of cubic meters rock vaporized or projected as vitrified particles up and down the tunnel. this climate engine still would work. and turn on the climate engine. Do you want that? Do you want to be the one who personally starts a new climate cycle? It won’t be me. And there won’t be any way to turn it off. My reason tells me I should wait before I detonate my egg. and I am sworn to rid this world of engineers. of Inamadzi engineers who have no care what human life is lost as they pursue their plans.controller at the end of each conduit. the climate engine does turn on. You can mess everything up. My mind is full of all you’ve said. I do not know which part is false. I do not know which part is true. A powerful elecromagnetic charge surged down the exposed conduits for two hundred miles to where they ended in a thermonuclear reactor embedded deep in the 329 . You are a very stupid parmodzi.

there was no way of outrunning the shock wave. thrusting upward to counter the pressure of the explosion rising from below. The ship stabilized as it neared the top of the shaft. Their blob suits shielded them from injury. Inside the cave. the pressure from below suddenly diminished as the force of the explosion scorched the cave and shot out its mouth into the night projecting masses of rock over the edge of the cliff. “We’ve got to get out of here. searing the ship’s skin and heating the interior. but not from the g-force of acceleration or from dizziness and disorientation. but too weak at five miles distance to the melt the superhardened hull. “There’s another egg set to go off and seal the cave. Like a dart in a blowgun.underground coalbeds west of Almaty. Chunks of rock clanged sharply against its skin. Though the engines were already on. and the reactor stirred to life as it had so many times before over the previous two million years. Groggily it passed through Hayes’ mind that it must be about time for the egg Nadir had left inside the cave to detonate. the wrenching screech of stone against metal went on for several minutes as the ship’s engines strove to force it free from its impalement on the stalactite. The ship tumbled as it shot up the shaft throwing Hayes and Muratbey helplessly around the control room. Ann had barely gotten the door of the ship closed when the flash hit. A tremendous collision with the roof of the cave threw Hayes and Muratbey against the ceiling and forced a limestone stalactite through the ship’s skin so that its sharp point penetrated all the way to the control room. Four switches tripped. under Ann’s control. Hayes felt his blob suit expand just as the full force of the blast hit. At the same time.” he said to Ann. the ship was propelled at lethal velocity along the rising curve of the tunnel and then up the shaft.” 330 . its engines.

“We’ve damaged a lot of controls. below the snowfield. “over the shoulder of the mountain. and it started to move forward. Then suddenly Hayes heard a thunderous explosion even louder than the one in the tunnel where the ship’s intact hull had muffled the noise. his blob suit had deflated. It was swinging from side to side as the alternating direction of the engines’ thrust forced it first one way and then the other. Hayes looked at his watch. 331 . Time was just about gone. A second jolt. His eyes were distended. “But I think it will still fly.“You could have told me sooner. After five hundred feet the engines took control. his eyes bulging. and his skin was distinguishably blue even in the dim control room light. His blob suit was still inflated. presumably when the engines had taken control and put the craft in level flight. “Go east. Staying low to avoid the turbulence from the second nuclear explosion. Hayes took a deep breath and noticed that sometime during the preceding minutes. his tongue was bulging out of his mouth. Muratbey looked ghastly. and the ship was falling free. and a third. her fur pelt now glistening and shiny and her head sharp-toothed and shiny-nosed. It bounced hard on the lip of the shaft. Through the hole at the top of the control room he caught a glimpse of fire shooting out the mouth of the cave. Air was pouring in through the enormous rent above the control cabin.” said Ann coolly.” he told Ann. Muratbey looked white-faced and petrified. and the snout of the stalactite disappeared.” The ship moved sluggishly to the cave entrance and toppled over the cliff. He looked at Muratbey. The engines whined. Then came a sudden jolt downward. Ann guided the balky ship in the direction Hayes indicated. The ship shuddered and swayed.” said Ann. The ship was stable and making way slowly. The engines whined impossibly higher and louder.

couldn’t you.” “Did you want me to?” Hayes thought about it. and make a deck of cards out of him?” “Would you like that?” “It would be interesting. shiny animal now clinging to his shoulder with wicked claws. and tan his hide. “You could have done that sooner. as soon as he was unconscious.“He suffocated. 332 .” said Ann. “He died afraid so his suit didn’t go down. Hayes thought for a moment and looked intently as the sleek.” “Are you still going to skin him. showing her needle-sharp teeth. Like. I guess I didn’t. Ann.” The suit deflated.” said Ann. I’ll take care of it. “No.

” said Wilson.” replied Lee in an unsteady voice. “That felt like an egg. Lee sat facing west so she could search the moonlit landscape for any sign of men returning. Before Lee could respond a second and vastly more brilliant flash scorched the skyline.” Lee turned and saw Hayes striding toward her. The ship settled with only a whisper on the withered grass behind her. 333 . Intent on watching the silhouette of the ridge separating the sacrifice ground from the slope leading down to the cliff. Wilson turned his head toward the sound. A few seconds later an ear-splitting explosion rent the air. and hard on its heels came a second many times louder. “Two eggs. “I don’t know. She ran to him and hugged him tightly. “We’ve got company. tears streaming down her cheeks.” said Lee as the earth jumped again. Then they waited in silence. “You did it!” she cried.CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX Lee saw a flash of light up the crest of the ridge to the western ridgeline and moments later felt the earth jolt violently beneath her. Lee missed the faint shadow of Bix’s dark globe passing silently overhead. “Think they made it?” said Wilson. laughing through her tears.

“Bix and Muratbey are dead.” “Hayes!” called Wilson.” said Lee. So is Nadir. unless he wants to be a gentleman and give me to Lee.’” As the old friends embraced in the light of the fire. “Come on over here and tell me what it’s like to ‘strive with gods. Ann. weasel-like rodent with the most beautiful fur on Earth.” He disentangled the sable’s claws from his shoulders and draped it around Lee’s neck. “Ann and I both thank you. “Ann. Lee noticed for the first time the dark.” “Hayes has told me about you.” confirmed Hayes tiredly. you would be looking at a long. “I’m Lee.” Hayes laughed. Ann.“Well. The three of them were deep into a 334 . “I give you to Lee as a friend and furpiece. Shushna was a lady. I know you can’t see me. but Nadir treated me like an old rag. “But now tell us what happened.” said the sable. “It is nice to be appreciated by someone. I think he was tired of being immortal.” Lee stared at the Ann’s sharp-nosed rodent head. Now I belong to Hayes. this is Wilson. “How do you do.” Lee released Hayes and wiped her cheeks with the heels of her hands. “I thought Nadir was going to do it that way. we sort of did it.” “Who’s the lady with the pretty voice?” said Wilson. “My god. I was Nadir’s communicator. where did you get that gorgeous Russian sable?” “Thank you.” she said tentatively. silky fur around Hayes’ neck. but what you know belongs to me.” Hayes’ account of the expedition to the cave and the last heroic deeds of Lord Indra held his audience spellbound for an hour. But the climate machine may have been turned on anyway. but if you could. Hayes. and before that Shushna’s. I’m Ann. Wilson. Hayes.

335 .” And for the next several hours they all told each other all about it. I’ll tell you all about it. and he’s dead. Fearful of radioactive fallout. “We thought you were dead. When Dimitri saw Hayes. but Hayes refused to tell him the story of what happened in the cave until he recounted his own tale of the battle in the snowfield. I survived. he ran to him and threw his arms around him. Then he led his men through the moonlit night back down the mountain to their rendezvous point on the road from Sary Tash. he scrubbed his plan to find the American agent and to study the battlefield and dope out what had transpired in the dark. but Muratbey was in the ship too. He had just gotten to the mysterious intervention of the Chinese when joyous shouts from the Basmachi fire announced the arrival of Uli and their other comrades leading Dimitri and the SAS men up the rocky scree into the campsite. Lee jumped up and squeezed him in a warm hug and then popped him into the down sleeping bag she had been keeping warm in. The nuclear explosions had signalled Joseph that their mission had succeeded.discussion of the implications of the final conversation between Indra and Bix when Joseph staggered shivering and exhausted into camp. * * * Major Jim Brady and his men received flash burns on exposed skin from the second nuclear explosion but were otherwise unscathed.” “Nadir is dead. The first egg blew the ship up the shaft and out of the cave. At a separate fire the Basmachi happily welcomed back their two comrades. Instead he radioed for immediate extraction.

Then he and his men saw a flying saucer go into a cave in the mountain. huh?” “Could be. but there were others there too. Mr. that other thing. Preliminary guess is that it was a secret storage site for weapons.” 336 . “Two more nuclear explosions.Three hundred miles to the south. . Completely uninhabited. Or it could be .” Rankin looked at his National Security Advisor quizzically. right near the Chinese border. and Major Brady was telling a remarkable story to a group of American and Pakistani intelligence officers. or Kyrgyzstan?” “Delta Force was there when it happened. “Both on a mountain in Kyrgyzstan. A while later—he estimates about two hours—the cave exploded. President. . the Delta Force team was safe on Pakistani soil. According to the commander.” “Who were they fighting?” “Mostly the Ferghanan troops that crossed the border four days ago. Within ten hours. two large tilt-rotor planes prepositioned at the Pakistani air force base at Peshawar took off with a Pakistani fighter escort. there was a firefight.” “Anyone we know?” asked the President calmly as he wrestled with his bow tie. “The spaceman? Did you say Rosswell. New Mexico. No military installations close by.” “Russians been holdin’ out on us all these years. * * * President Boone Rankin was dressing for dinner and rehearsing in his mind the speech in celebration of diversity he was about to give at a Buddhist temple in Anaheim when George Artunian knocked on the door of his suite and walked in.

Promote the Major and tell him and his men to keep their mouths shut. George. “Earthquake it is. As his column reached its base on the outskirts of Kokand. that Colonel Maxim Sverdlov refused to face his commander-in-chief in person and take the blame for a plan gone wrong.” “And that woman who was kidnapped?” “No word.” * * * Colonel Maxim Sverdlov completed his withdrawal from Kyrgyzstan in good order and on schedule.” “So what do you recommend we do?” “If anyone asks. he thought.“Others?” “The colonel doesn’t know who they were. Let it never be said. and he knew that the failure of a surgical operation of the sort he had promised the president could not be disguised by the tidiness of the sutures used to close the wound. Now lets go raise some money.” The president smiled at the perfection of his bowtie reflected in the mirror. he ordered his driver to head directly for the Presidential Palace. 337 . we say there was an earthquake. It seemed highly unlikely that the two nuclear explosions that blew away half the north face of the mountain had been part of the space alien’s repair plan.” “What about our NSA guy?” “No word yet. but with a heart full of foreboding as he anticipated confronting President Muratbey.

He was so happy and so handsome. Then everything will be calm until we find out exactly what happened and can decide what is best to do. listen to me. . the president’s secretary.” “Good. It will name me as martial law administrator.” “Why?” “To prevent panic and maintain order. Yasmin. He waved goodbye to us. “He hasn’t come back. .” “But how can we keep it a secret?” “Can you sign the president’s signature?” “Y . .After an interminable wait that Maxim took to be the first and lightest of his punishments. Listen to me. The spaceship was destroyed.” Yasmin sniffled.” she whimpered between sobs. “Then I must tell you. “Yasmin.” she blubbered.” Yasmin unwadded the sodden handkerchief in her hand the showed Maxim the biggest diamond he had ever seen. . “I’m afraid something’s happened to him. This must be kept secret. Yasmin. and you can sign President Muratbey’s name. y . We all saw him get in. “Poor Rejep. Yasmin. came into the reception room. I’ll compose an order for martial law.” 338 . yes.” Yasmin shoulders heaved as she started to bawl.” she said tearfully. Something went wrong. He gave me this before he left.” “Where did he go?” “First the mafia tried to kill him. “and then he went away in the spaceship. I believe our president is dead. “Are you sure he was in the spaceship?” “Yes. Her face showed she had been crying.

The injector is in a chilled container. Go ahead Ann. And Wilson brought it back with him from Issyk Kul. When she had finished.” “Lee. and apparently obsolete. Lee continued. Hayes. Inamadzi genetic plan. then Nadir’s killing Bix. it will have warmed too much for the genetic material inside to remain viable.” broke in Joseph. A lambskin hat covered her shaven skull. Joseph. we have to have a serious discussion. Moreover. did not solve Earth’s problem. if a female Inamadzi encountered a dzi-like species that possessed the mutant immortality gene they were seeking. What is a gene injector?” “According to the old. she was to self-administer an injection into her womb that 339 . First I want Ann to play back the final confrontation between Bix and Nadir. But Nadir also spoke of the Inamadzi genetic program and the gene injector female Inamadzi like Shushna carried on their ships in case they encountered a suitable opportunity. but more of the liquid nitrogen keeping it usable evaporates every minute.* * * After a hot midday meal of roast lamb and pilav cooked by the multi-talented Laurence. By tomorrow. Bix said there would be no way to turn off the climate engine once it started. “If we assume both of them were speaking the truth. Lee summoned Dimitri.” The group sat spellbound listening once again to Ann’s vocalization of the mental exchange that preceded the explosion of the egg. and Wilson to sit around her. noble though it might have been. “this is very confusing. At Nadir showed Wilson the injector when he took his hands and showed him how it was to be used. which means that everyone on Earth is probably in for some very difficult times. Ann was nestled attractively around her neck. “Boys. Ann has confirmed the whole plan.

In other words. And when that happens. they were prepared to get quick immortality if the opportunity presented itself. “Didn’t say it in words.would make her ovum susceptible to impregnation by that species. And hence my dilemma.” replied Wilson. If I take the injection. and hopefully to her offspring’s offspring.” Hayes. Maybe the climate engine won’t start anyway. then I have to get pregnant within the next twenty-four hours. “He wanted it for Lee. but since all humans apparently have it.” “Wilson and I have been discussing this ever since the rest of you went on your missions. “On the other hand. In the Inamadzi plan.” “But you still need a man to get pregnant. or 340 . and I see how he thought it would make her kids live forever.” “But why. mind. but I see in my mind how she’s supposed to use it. then. and also decorticate her X chromosome so that the immortality gene on the male’s X or Y chromosome would be transferred to her offspring. and to their female children. Wilson’s face was inscrutable. Leastways the little girls. Ann says Nadir was right. and Joseph all looked quizzically at one another. it will come directly from me and be passed on to all my female offspring. the substitute DNA will nullify both the sex and the aging sequences on my X chromosome. this mutant coding was to come from the non-Inamadzi male. did Nadir make Wilson bring it back from the ship?” asked Hayes. And I’ve been talking it over with Ann all morning. the mutant coding for sex without aging should take its place.” said Hayes bluntly. I could accept Bix’s claim that Nadir was a very stupid Pramodzi and forget the whole thing. If I decide to abide by Nadir’s wish. “That’s correct. Dimitri.

mustn’t there. and that he liked all of us personally. “I’m not sure. especially because we made a sacrifice for him. giving voice to the thought in every listener’s mind. He wanted the immortal humans and not just Inamadzi to reach the stars and affect the course of the universe. I am also a woman who. left her home and husband and ran away to a foreign country with a strange man. such an experience 341 . “I’ve already taken the injection. sadly.” Lee appeared to be enjoying the suspense.” “But why?” said Joseph.” There was a long awkward pause. The fact for the record is that my husband Donald is dead. and I must tell you all a story from ancient India. So I am. from a reproductive point of view. a widow. Joseph heard it in a radio message from Kokand. but I would hazard the guess that Nadir had thought up his own plan. “Before I tell you. When he decided to face Bix the way he did. The trouble with that alternative is that I don’t think Nadir was a stupid Pramodzi. against every proper instinct she was brought up with. the father! There must be a father. To be succinct. But the fact of the matter is. I am an unattached woman of thirty-eight with no children. “Ah. “Then who’s to be the father?” said Hayes. and I am sure I shall miss him from time to time. It takes four hours to force ovulation. and he was trying to force us to go through with his plan.” “So I take it you’ve decided to do it. Donald had some very nice points.” said Dimitri matter-of-factly.maybe it won’t have any effect until long after we’re dead. I think he knew the egg would turn on the climate engine. I must clear up one fact for the record. I think he had come to like humans very much. Maybe he saw us as a healthy compromise between good engineers and crazy poets.

could the very model of feminine perfection possibly have been portrayed as having sleeping with five husbands. if Nadir and Ann are correct. on the one hand. in a highly patriarchal culture. I think. she tells him that whatever that fortune is is. encounters a princess of incredible beauty named Draupadi. he shares his new wife. Then the story goes on to tell how Arjuna gambled away the fortunes of all the Pandavas and finally gambled away Draupadi herself. and I have a lovely sable stole and a smooth bald head to qualify me for the title of most beautiful woman on this mountainside. “Thus I have decided to become Draupadi. he must share it with all his brothers. that the the next stage of humanity should trace its immortality to a single mother.changes a woman. Arjuna. the idea that they should trace their immortality to a single father is aesthetically displeasing. the sons of Pandu. When he returns home and tells his mother that he has had wonderful good fortune. and I have chosen to take this one as the solution to my problem. As I am sure Joseph knows. which is the event leading to the Mahabharata war. it is all an ancient legend so there is no way of telling what it originally meant. the ancient Indian epic poem the Mahabharata is about a war between five brothers. So as a dutiful son. The seeds of the war are sown when the oldest of the Pandava brothers. and their first cousins. especially since. “Now for the story. Of course. If humans become immortal. How. of 342 . immortality will pass only from female to female. Better. just another demonstration of our species’ proclivity for masculine domination. But myths have many uses. “This story has for centuries provided one of the great mysteries of Indian culture. And I suspect Nadir took that into account in conveying his plan to Wilson. my first husband—discounting poor Donald. In a very real sense. on the other. and Draupadi thus acquires five husbands. Draupadi.

Hayes’ agape and dumbfounded. . you read poetry. and I take you as my husband because you are brave. “Don’t all speak at once. and you are rich enough to support me.” said Ann sweetly.” “Am I.” Quiet conversation and occasional laughter from the other fire where the Basmachi and the SAS mercenaries were enjoying their relaxation punctuated the total silence that greeted Lee’s pronouncement. Wilson just smiled.” She paused. “Then if none of you have anything to say.” said Lee. Dimitri’s with a smile straining to break through his iron control.” “I do. to be forgiven?” 343 . and he has arranged for me to become pregnant. boys. and for becoming a horrible.course—is Nadir. at least by the laws of this mountain. So he is the Arjuna of our story. Lord Indra. You’re too old for that Now Dimitri. for cheating on your wife. . I have decided to marry you all. and let whoever’s sperm swims fastest do the job that needs to be done. . “I think it’s a wonderful idea. “You can say ‘I do’ if you like. He called me his last priest. or at least for the rest of the lives of those of us who are not immortal. don’t cry. Ann. .” Lee paused and looked at the men’s faces: Joseph’s bright red and embarrassed. and Wilson’s a picture of quiet satisfaction. Dimitri. my husbands. too. and Hayes all looked at one another and at Wilson. No one spoke at all. “Thank you. Joseph. I forgive you these things. and my children for the rest of our lives . Lee. and thank you. egocentric billionaire. I will proceed.” “Hayes. Hayes?” “Ma’m?” “I hearby forgive you for profiteering on the lives of Mexican laborers when you were young. And . and the four of you will be the rest of the Pandavas.

It’s all you have ever known how to do. and I take you for my husband because you are smart. you carried it out. lover. Joseph. Wilson. Lee.” 344 . I mean I know of things that need forgivin’. I forgive you.” “Not yet.“Yes. I forgive you all these things. I forgive you for being a nerd. you are brave. for spying on people and blackmailing them. I forgive you all these things. What do you say now that I’ve asked you to speak for yourself?” “I do. I do with all my heart. Contain yourself. And I forgive you for calling me Dr.and also because I believe you truly love me. and you did it all despite the fact that you were afraid.” “Good.” “Stick with Lee. Lee.” he replied with a choking voice. and I want to live the rest of my life with you. And I forgive you for all the crimes of violence I’m sure you have committed but will never commit again.” “No. “Onward then. Wilson?” “I’m still here. Ingalls. and I take you to be husband because you thought of a plan. I forgive you for being young. Lets not let this wedding get maudlin.” “I don’t know of anything to forgive you for. Dr. . . Lee. and you are handsome . Do you want me to be your wife?” “I do. Dimitri. Finally. I forgive you for spying on me and Donald and blackmailing us.” “I do. Ingalls even on the wildest mountainside in Central Asia. You can’t help it. you saved everyone’s life. the best for last.” “Lee. Dimitri.

345 . Dimitri. I believe that this evening I shall take a tent for myself. . . . At your age. Then. “ And so the plans were made and carried out. I will confess I feel more than a little odd about this. and I will entertain my husbands as visitors.” “Good. So far as I’m concerned. I will expect you to visit first. and among the dozen best looking. Joseph. I would like you next . but even a well brought up lady from Connecticut should be allowed at least one exotic night in her life.” “I do.“Then keep them to yourself. a half hour should be more than enough. So what do you think?” “Now I say ‘I do’?” “Now you say it. I take you for my husband because you are the bravest man I will ever know. Then that’s it.

For those of your viewers who haven’t read the latest issue of Merc. Abraham Stein of the Council on Foreign Relations. that no one expected to erupt because it is not. former American ambassador to the Ferghana Republic. Yasuo Takahashi of the Columbia Earth Institute. Mr. Dr. I should add. the publisher of Merc Magazine. Today we’ll be talking about the mystery surrounding the unexpected eruption last week of a mountain named Verethra Kuh in the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan. yet you ran a story after the eruption last week that was surely more science fiction than real-life military adventure. Mr. Dr. and he and my writer are totally reliable. is not a volcano. Henning.” “Let me set the record straight. “Good morning and welcome to Sunday Special. Dr. To help us explore this unusual occurrence we have with us Mr. Laurence tells how three months ago there was a gun battle between American. Kilson. The soldier’s name is Laurence. Merc Magazine says that it is published by and for mercenaries and soldiers of fortune. I stand by our story one hundred percent. Darla Bane. Chinese. Russian. A mountain. David Waldron of the University of Virginia. I repeat. and 346 . the story in question comes from a former member of Britain’s Special Air Service who took a job protecting an American billionaire on a private expedition to Central Asia. I’m Paul Henning.” He swivelled to his right. and Ms. “Lets start with you.CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN Paul Henning smiled and inclined his body toward the camera with the glowing red light. Jack Kilson.

” “All right. nevertheless. “Okay. . I think it’s time people demanded full disclosure on this matter. But it’s true. Ferghanan. . two nuclear weapons were set off that destroyed the cave. Paul. and because I have known my writer for just as long and have never known him to write a single word that he could not verify.” “Because my writer has known Laurence for many years and would trust him with his life. and in the middle of the battle a spaceship went into a cave in the mountain and descended down a deep shaft. During that battle. Kilson. Verethra Kuh. where another battle took place between two space aliens. publisher of Merc Magazine. there you have it. Russian. . Now tell us why this story should not be considered science fiction.” “That’s correct. you’ve all heard Mr. I did wait. The American. . And I waited precisely because I didn’t think people like you would believe it. since the bomb blasts to publish the story? The story indicates quite clearly that Laurence gave his interview to your writer just a short time after the alleged battle and nuclear explosions in Kyrgyzstan.Ferghanan troops on this very same mountain. I’ve been in the publishing business for a long time. Dr. it’ll be Rosswell. . New Mexico. . Stein?” 347 . charge a massive international coverup on Verethra Kuh. and Chinese governments all know this happened.” Paul looked to his left and right. I thought people would be more likely to take the story seriously and do some investigating. and is sending dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. What would you say in reply. and I know how the story sounds. or blown up a second time . And now that the mountain has blown up .” “And yet you waited what? . and they’re all covering up. . and the UFO coverup all over again. If they don’t. . almost three months? .

” “So that was the first point. can no longer be found. According to the Kyrgyz government. First of all. so there was on on-the-scene confirmation of just what the event was. an underground nuclear test?” “We think so. Laurence. was there a nuclear explosion in the vicinity of Mount Verethra Kuh at the time indicated? My sources confirm that three months ago U. I’m sure we would all like to know more. for four days before the earthquake or explosion Kyrgyzstan and the Ferghana Republic traded charges at the United Nations over a Kyrgyz allegation that the Ferghanan army made an incursion in force across their common border in the vicinity of Verethra Kuh. Paul. Dr. and another road between Osh and Sary Tash was bombed.” “Let me stop you just a second there. that the mountain is in one of the remotest and least populated parts of Central Asia. Secondly. Moreover.S. But let me address the issues directly. seismic stations did record an unusual event of some kind in that region. it was recorded as an earthquake. back to you. and no one is willing to reveal his last name. Paul. We still don’t know whether he is dead or alive. of course. “It’s quite a story. Stein. Kilson’s informant. But I gather Mr. These two roads are the only access routes from Osh to Verethra Kuh. but if it was actually a nuclear explosion. Takahashi. sometime during those few days the president of the Ferghana Republic.Abraham Stein echoed the reserve of his pin-striped navy blue suit with a deprecating smile and a modest shake of his bald head. Some sort of event did occur. Officially. Stein. 348 . how would we know?” “Okay. one road near the city of Osh was blocked by Ferghanan tanks. say. but if some have slipped by. Dr. disappeared from public view. You understand. Can seismologists always tell an earthquake from. it wouldn’t be the first time such an event was written off as an earthquake. Dr. you’re an earth scientist. Rejep Muratbey.

” “But President Muratbey was still in office when the incursion into Kyrgyzstan began. In my opinion. Whatever that flight was about was never reported in the American press. has not explained to this day what became of Mr. That’s certain. which raises the obvious question: how would this person Laurence have even heard of Mount Verethra Kuh three months ago if he hadn’t been there? The mountain is news today because its venting of greenhouse gases poses a serious threat to the world’s climate.’ No further explanation. Muratbey. but it was just an obscure point on the map back then. and it is conceivable that American.Colonel Maxim Sverdlov. the Ferghana capital. I think it is safe to conclude that something did happen on Mount Verethra Kuh three months ago. But now the third point. Paul. Kilson’s mercenary Laurence says he was on a mission to Verethra Kuh. on humanitarian grounds. 349 . who took over as the interim martial law president of the Ferghanan Republic. a week after the earthquake or explosion. So the setting for Laurence’s story is not entirely far-fetched. sources in the government of Azerbaijan say right around that time the United States asked permission for an overflight to Kokand. were summarily dismissed from their posts for ‘insubordination. I’m just relating some of the unusual things that happened at the time Mr. Russian. Russian Defense Minister Pyotr Kalenin and the commander of the Russian land forces.” “I don’t know. And then one final point.” “And you think that’s connected. Is that right?” “Yes. He appeared at least once on television to defend his country against the Kyrgyz charges. General Nikolai Repin. and Ferghanan military forces were involved. taking all this into account.

I have to draw the line. Bane. Kilson and Dr. . . everyone took the border closing very seriously even though the Ferghanan government was reticent about the number of cases reported . “ “Just Ms. “Ambassador Bane . Paul gave a smiling greeting to his returning television audience. What the embassy was told was that there had been an outbreak of bubonic plague. at flying saucers and duelling space aliens . and turned to face Darla Bane. Paul. Needless to say. even for diplomatic personnel. presumably to prevent a panic. you were the American ambassador to the Ferghana Republic three months ago when the event Mr. . let me hasten to add that my credulity has some limits. “Do you draw the line at flying saucers and duelling space aliens? We’ll hear from our other panelists about this as soon as we return from a short break. . which is a disease carried by rodent fleas. Shortly before President Muratbey’s disappearance. reintroduced the panel. . This disease caused the famous Black Death in Europe in the Middle Ages. Stay with us. where rodents known as marmots—sort of like ground hogs—often have the disease-carrying fleas. Kilson’s story.” After two minutes relaxation.” Paul looked directly into the camera. What can you tell us?” “Well. It is a fact that most of the world’s plague epidemics have started in Central Asia. Ms. Paul. . Stein left out. and had serious outbreaks as late as the nineteenth century. he ordered the air and land borders of the Ferghana Republic closed. and perhaps it was never reported in this country.” “All right. I put the title behind me when I left the foreign service. and probably at the Chinese participation too. before you put me down as a total believer in Laurence’s and Mr. Now just how that might relate to the 350 . Paul.“But nevertheless. I can tell you one thing Dr. Bane. Stein have told us about took place.

Because the borders were closed. Ms. Stein raised is not altogether certain. I personally contacted Washington to ask that a team of American physicians be sent to Kokand to help stem the outbreak. not the Ferghana Republic.” 351 . That flight was planned. It was cancelled as soon as the Ferghana-Kyrgyz dispute was put before the United Nations Security Council. and the overflight permission was sought from Azerbaijan because it was to be on a military plane. but the flight never took place. that President Muratbey himself contracted plague and died. You resigned from the foreign service less than two weeks after the event that did or did not occur three months ago on Verethra Kuh. And the embassy.” “So what do you think of Laurence’s story. we had no way of tracking on the ground whatever was going on with the Ferghanan incursion. also received a communication from the Ferghana government to the effect that the army incursion across the Kyrgyz border was for the purpose of capturing smugglers who had defied the border closing and might be inadvertently spreading the plague.” Darla smiled sweetly.” “One final question. And now you work as Director of Public Relations for the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation. as did the United Nations Security Council. the mountain is in Kyrgyzstan. then? Is it all made up?” “It sounds that way to me. I work for a new high-tech development corporation that has recently been set up by Hayes Carpenter. but there was certainly a rumor in Kokand. the CEO of CarpenterBeckenbaugh. But of course.” “So what about the Azerbaijani report of an American humanitarian flight?” “That’s easily explained. “Actually. Paul.points Dr. even though it isn’t very far from Kokand. the Ferghanan capital. Bane.

Carpenter took an enormous financial loss in the catrastrophe that struck the city of Nukus and his hole in the sea project. You corrected me before the show.” “Not really. Bane. Mr. to have a new adventure without a lot of personal risk.” “This sudden change of jobs seems to be an amazing coincidence.” “And now. . Indradzi Technology is one hundred percent owned by Mr. Welcome back. for a scientist’s view. you would have done the same thing.” “I hope it’s a big success.” “Thank you for asking me. we turn to Dr. . but now you have transferred to the new company. Carpenter himself and is entirely separate from the Carpenter-Beckenbaugh Corporation. Indradzi Tehnology Corporation? Did I get that right?” “That’s correct.” “But you took this new job very quickly after you returned to Washington. Even ambassadors. don’t you think.” “Then my next question: Was Hayes Carpenter the American billionaire who hired Laurence?“ “That is utterly ridiculous. Paul. and thank you for being with us.” 352 . Yasuo Takahashi of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. which is the . Government officials leave office to pursue private business opportunities every day. Dr.“I’m sorry.” replied Darla with a laugh. did you not?” “I took it the minute it was offered. Paul. Ms. That’s one reason he decided to start the Indradzi Technology Corporation. You were initially hired by Carpenter-Beckenbaught. Paul. “And if you knew what I was making in the foreign service and what I’m making now. Paul. They just don’t get much publicity. Takahashi.

“Thank you. Analysis of the gas indicates that it comes from underground burning of coal or other hydrocarbons. The mountain.” “What can you tell us about the eruption of Mount Verethra Kuh?” “To be blunt. it will greatly accelerate global warming and bring on the melting of the polar ice caps. .” “Volcanos also vent gas. The volume of gas being vented into the atmosphere each day is equivalent to the monthly smog production of Los Angeles and Mexico City combined .” “Lets go back. to the issue of Mr. Could there be a connection?” “The most important part of the story scientifically. That could be the vent we are now talking about. in other words. Mr. Mr. seems to be serving as a vent for underground combustion taking place some distance away. . a phenomenon otherwise unknown geologically. Henning. what you are calling an eruption is a disaster of worldwide proportions. That’s why there’s no way to predict how long it might go on.” “But why a three month delay?” 353 .” “So this is a very unusual volcano. multiplied by ten. Last week’s explosion created a vent near the top of the mountain that has been pouring out methane and carbon dioxide in phenomenal quantities ever since. Henning. Kilson’s magazine and its article about nuclear explosions on Verethra Kuh. is its reference to a deep vertical shaft inside a cave near the top of the mountain. But where this combustion is taking place is uncertain since there is no known coal deposit directly under the mountain.” “But why is this disastrous?” “Because if it keeps going at the present rate. but this isn’t a volcano. then. Though I guess I can’t call it a volcano.

a political science professor at the University of Virginia. these facts would appear. It’s like the philosophical question of whether a tree falling in the forest when there is no one around can be said to make a noise. to make no difference whatsoever. quickly because unfortunately we’re running out of time. And. even the part about flying saucers and space aliens. seeing. if there were space 354 . .“It’s hard to say since the shaft is mentioned in only one sentence of the article.” “Thank you very much. Dr. or doing anything. to take the most extreme supposition. and even if there was a space alien involved. in the real world. in 1898 Europe almost went to war when a small expedition of French soldiers reached and claimed possession of the obscure town of Fashoda on the Nile River after trekking all the way across Africa. If that were the case. Can you sum it all up for us in a few sentences?” David suppressed an urge to wave hello to his wife Libby and put on a grave face instead. If no one acknowledges hearing. A tiny event at the ends of the earth almost caused a major war thousands of miles away. let us assume that everything Laurence said is true . With that in mind. But perhaps the nuclear explosions blocked the vent and at the same time somehow triggered the underground combustion. you’ve heard what everyone’s said. Chinese. If American. Takahashi. the incident might as well not have happened. Professor Waldron. “Paul. David Waldron. I want to turn to Dr. and Ferghanan troops did get into a battle on that mountain. which seems to be the position of all the governments implicated. This whole thing was called the Fashoda Incident. it may have taken three months for the gas pressure to become strong enough to blow open a new mouth for the vent. Russian. . The British army fighting the local warlord in the Sudan demanded that the French acknowledge British supremacy along the Nile. Now.

and I hope you will tune in again next week for another edition of Sunday Special. I don’t want to upset you. but results of your amniocentesis are very unusual. I find it quite mystifying. Sybil Halprin’s offer of a seat and tried to still her anxiety.” Paul swivelled to face the camera directly.” * * * Lee accepted Dr. they seem to be fraternal rather than identical. The obstetrician had told her she would receive the results of her sonogram and amniocentesis by mail.” “Oh my heavens! Is there anything wrong?” “No. In fact. “And that is all we have time for this morning. But there is something even more unusual.” 355 . no. and all we’re left with is an air pollution problem. Also. But it’s nothing to worry about healthwise. All four fetuses are female and surprisingly advanced for only three months. Indradzi. you are carrying quadruplets.” “Is that unusual?” “Very. I don’t quite know how to put it. It’s just that according to the amniocentesis. “First of all.” Lee relaxed and beamed exultantly. Just unusual. but instead she had called her in for a personal meeting. Nothing wrong. I want to thank my panelists. It would suggest that you had four ova in your womb at the time of conception instead of the normal maximum of two. “Mrs.” Lee’s whole body tensed. “Frankly.aliens involved. each fetus has a different blood type—all different from your own—which would seem to indicate that each of them has a different father. who cares? They’re presumably gone.

” “Oh. My husband. and one of them is very. And you know how men can be. “The best possible news. some sort of contamination might have occurred in the laboratory. Dimitri and Joseph were inside. After all. who was smiling as broadly as Dimitri and Joseph. I have several close friends who will help take care of me and of the babies.” Lee’s limousine was waiting for her outside the doctor’s office on 78th Street. Indradzi.” “And that is why I would like to redo the test completely. Nadir. Mrs. “Oh. “My congratulations to you and the dads. “Tell us the news.” As the limo turned right on Park Avenue. “Can I call you later to make an appointment.” she said cheerfully. “Will you be able to get along with four babies?” “Oh yes. And perhaps it would be better not to share this with your husband just yet.” She leaned forward and spoke to the driver. Woodrow. each with a different father.“Indeed. Though I can’t quite see how it could have happened. is dead. He had an accident around the time I got pregnant. Four little girls. Lee gave each of them a demure kiss. “Laurence. and you’re invited. I can hardly wait to get home and call Wilson and Hayes.” said the matronly doctor with deep concern in her voice. Laurence replied. After that we’re going to have a party. there is the possibility that it is just an unfortunate case of sample contamination. “Of course. don’t worry.” 356 . drive us to my apartment and then go over and pick up Mr. I’m so sorry to hear that. very rich.” said Dimitri eagerly as Lee got in.” Lee laughed and then adopted a sober look. You’re all daddies. I mean the part about the four fathers.” Lee was eager to leave.

It’s good to have you working with us.” THE END 357 . Laurence.“Thank you.

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