We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds
We have been drenched by many storms
Experience has made us suspicious of others
And kept us from being truthful and open
Are we still of any use?
Central Mexico, 750 CE, Somewhere in the jungle surrounding Teotihuacán
A lone figure ran through the dense jungle. He ran as though he was being pursued by the Devil himself. His breath came in short, sharp gasps as he fought his way through the undergrowth. In one of his hands he carried a key. A key four inches long and as ornate as he had ever seen. The man was a soldier and he had come from another time and place to secure the object in his hand. But the mission had gone to hell on an express elevator. Of the original fifteen-man unit, he was the sole survivor. But now he had no way of getting back to his time, he was short of ammunition and he wasn’t even sure if he was heading in the right direction. Suddenly, the ground began to slope upwards. A couple of metres ahead of him, a set of ancient stone steps appeared. They lead up the hill in a dead straight line for at least two thousand feet at a constant incline.
The soldier raced up the stairs as fast as his tiring legs would allow. They felt like lead. He had no idea how long he had been climbing the stairs but he was beginning to wonder if they would ever end. Just then, there was a blood curdling and terrifying howl from behind him. At the foot of the massive set of stairs, the soldier could just make out the shapes of two huge panthers. They were at least fifteen feet long and had jaws as powerful as those of a hyena. He had seen several of these monsters utterly destroy a number of his men. He was running out of time very quickly.
Just when he was about to give up, he found himself at the top of the hill. It had been flattened out by human hands and in the middle there was a small alter with blood stains all over it. Behind the alter there was a small stone building with a stone door. Ominously, the door was open. The howling from the monsters was getting closer by the second. After a moments hesitation, the soldier headed inside the building. But instead of another alter, there was a flight of stairs which lead down, into and under the hill. He pulled out his gun and switched on the light attached to the barrel. The flight of stairs was illuminated and revealed a sight of both wonder and amazement. The stairs didn’t just head down in one line. They descended in a square spiral and the walls were polished obsidian all the way down. And instead of carving the stairs into the earth, the entire space had been hollowed out in the process of construction.
The light from the torch on the gun barrel bounced off the walls, illuminating the entire stairwell for the next ten feet directly down. The soldier took the stairs three at a time. The roars and howls from the creatures were terrifyingly close now. As he descended, he noticed the odd splatter of dry blood on the polished walls. The deeper down the stairs he went, the more blood he saw. Every now and then he even passed the odd rotting dismembered limb. Christ, he thought, what the fuck happened here? A couple of minutes later, an ear splitting howl made his blood run cold. It echoed throughout the giant stair. A shiver ran down his spine. The panthers were on the stairs.
The soldier tore down the stairs for all his worth because he knew that if he failed, the world would come to an abrupt and horrific end. The Panthers were gaining on him as he made it to the bottom. He briefly looked up and saw that the entrance was no more than a pinprick of light.
There would be no going back.
In front of him there was another stone doorway. This too was open. He entered cautiously and the sight that greeted him made his jaw drop. There was a magnificent marble and jade alter with a plinth near the base. The soldier had been briefed on what to do. He stepped forward and saw that carved into the top of the plinth, there was a groove in the shape of the key and it matched perfectly. He slotted the key into place and pushed down on the plinth. It lowered several inches then retracted into the alter. He heard a rumbling sound and poked his head into the space left behind. The key had been taken to the one place it would be safe. In theory. He pulled his head back out and made for the passage heading for the giant stair. With what was left of his strength, he climbed the flight of stairs as fast as he could.
As he climbed he heard the monstrous panthers coming up behind him. They were gaining fast. The soldier turned his torch and was confronted by the face of the big cat, barely five meters behind him. He pulled out his combat knife and as the cat lunged at him, jaws open and teeth visible, he thrust the knife into the side of the cat’s head, driving it into the brain. The cat died instantly but it was still in midair and it landed on the fleeing soldier, burying him beneath a heap of fur and claws. The other cat was gaining and the soldier wriggled out from underneath the dead panther and ran, adrenaline now the only thing sustaining him.
He was one level below the entrance to the temple when the other cat pounced on him. It planted its paws on his back and he was thrown forward. He landed heavily and the knife, which he had pulled from the other cat’s head, came out of his hand and came to rest on the edge of the stair. Just as it was about to tip over the edge, the soldier grabbed it in a desperate lunge and he swung his arm around at the same time as the cat came at him and threw the knife at the living mass hurtling towards him. The knife sliced into the cat’s face between its eyes and was buried up to the hilt.
Then silence. Deep silence. The soldier struggled up the last few stairs and out into the light. He had no strength left, no will to live. But in his last few seconds of consciousness, he saw five man, dressed in black combat clothing, standing around him. He knew who these men were and this lead to his last thought.
So it begins. Then, with all his strength, and most of his blood, gone, he fell forward, dead.
1,692 years later...
A fisherman was leaning on the railing of his boat. It was nearing midnight and the moon had disappeared behind a cloud, blanketing the sea in darkness. He was getting tired. He looked up at the stars and sighed. Just as he turned around to head for his cabin, something appeared out of the corner of his eyes. He turned back and looked over the edge of railing into the still waters. A faint glow had appeared and was getting closer. As it got closer he began to get worried. He turned and ran into the wheel house and turned the wheel hard to port in a vain attempt to avoid the approaching object.
Just the boat veered away to the left a huge vessel reared out of the water on the fisherman's right like a leviathan from the deep. As the ship’s stern cleared the water the front end dipped down before righting itself. There was a tremendous explosion and the sea lit up as the ship that had risen up from the depths fired its 221 port side guns at an unseen target. Almost immediately the shells fired slammed into the unseen target and it became became visible as light issued from the barrage of shelling revealed it. The shells ripped into the ship and tore it apart from the inside. The force of the collective impact from all the projectiles hitting it at once caused the target to roll almost thirty degrees and it nearly capsised.
The target had barely enough time to fire back two shots before it sank beneath the waves. The ship that had emerged from below began to slowly turn around before heading back in the direction it came from leaving a stunned fisherman to comprehend what he had just seen. He reported it the next morning but by that stage both ships were long gone.
The operator for the hydraulic lift spotted something on the underwater scanner moving towards the lift gate.
“This is lift gate operator, please provide identification. Over.” It was highly unlikely that any ship other that the Might of Olympus would approach the lift gate knowing what was there but identification eliminated any risks.
“Might of Olympus calling operator this is Captain Jayrde Kurt reporting, clearance requested for lift gate and docking port. Over.”
“Please state clearance code. Over.”
“Jayrde James Kurt, security number W88086RJ0P1. Over.”
“You may proceed. The gate will be lifted in a moment. Please slow down before approaching.”
The captain of the ship steered the vessel into the lift and ordered the silencing of the engines. He could hear the ocean crashing against the rock walls separating the dock from the sea.
He still marvelled at the fact that after all these years this dock was still as secret as ever. From this dock, the Resistance had been able to launch many successful attacks on the Vatican. It had sailed to almost every corner of the seven seas except the former Mediterranean, now the Vatican Sea.
Kurt disembarked and was greeted by the dock master.
“Successful trip?” he inquired. The dock master had been in the service of the resistance almost from the time it was founded. “Or was the weather too poor to carry out the attack?”
“The weather wasn’t too bad actually but one of the funnel seals has sprung a leak and we took two hits on the bow. They’ll need to be fixed before the next assignment.” Kurt replied. He knew all too well that the smallest of holes could doom a vessel as big as the one he commanded.
“Go and get some rest. You look spent.” the dock master said.
“You think I look spent. You should talk to some of the gunners who had the morning shift. They need the sleep more than I do.” Kurt replied. He took the health of his crew very seriously. The ship was no good without a functioning crew. With eight-hundred and ninety gunners and five-hundred other crew on board, if just one of them did not do their duty, then the someone else would have to pick up the slack and the rest of the crew would suffer. The phone in the control booth rang.
“Excuse me.” the dock master said. He walked into the control booth and picked up the receiver. Kurt looked at the control panel. A red light was gently pulsating on the switchboard. A secure line. Someone high up was on the other end.
“What?...Are you sure about that?!...Yeah, alright...Yes I’ll tell him now. Thank you. Bye.” the dock master put down the receiver.
“That was Deputy Director of Operations. He’s intercepted intelligence which suggests that the HHS Benedict, which is currently docked at Botany Bay is leaving tomorrow. It should’ve been staying for another month. You are to give chase, capture the ship if possible and find out why it left so early.”
Kurt stared blankly at the dock master. “But what about the repairs? We can’t take this ship into the open ocean unless it is fully operational. Without the option of submergence, we’ll be sitting ducks if we end up face to face with the Vatican navy.”
“I’m sorry, but the DDO will not accept any delays to the assignment. If it makes you feel any better, I’ll put as many people as I can into repairing the damage before you leave.” the dock master replied. He should have expected that Kurt would want the ship repaired. Ever since it had nearly sunk on his first time as captain, he had been a stickler for pursuing the constant upkeep of the ship. And it had paid off. For whenever the ship received even minor exterior damage, he had insisted that it be fixed before the next trip.
“Go and get some sleep. The repairs will get underway tonight and continue until you leave.” the dock master said.
“Fine. I’ll go and tell the crew to go and get some rest.” Kurt sighed. He turned and walked off to the dormitory cut into the solid rock. Unbeknown to him, someone, hidden in the shadows, was watching his every move. He raised the communication device in his hand to his mouth and spoke two words into it.
the previous night...
They moved silently, making barely any noise. So silent were their movements, that they might as well have been ghosts. In fact, they were a group of elite soldiers, trained and armed by the Vatican Army for the sole purpose of breaking into high security facilities and retrieving items of value. This mission, however, was one of the most challenging yet given to them. They had been told to break into the former Lucas Heights nuclear research facility. It was now a secure storage unit for those who had enough money to rent a vault there.
The leader of the four man group was, for this operation, known only as Delta One, the others following suite up to Delta Four. They moved like a panther, making no noises to disturb the night. When they reached the fence surrounding the complex, Delta Three cut a hole in it using a pair of cutters, a laser saw would have produced two much light. One by one, they slipped through the gap and glided across the lawn making less noise than the soft breeze that was blowing around them.
The building had once been a hive of action. In it’s heyday it was a nuclear research facility. But that was almost five hundred years ago. It was now a high security storage unit. There were eighteen storage vaults on this premises, although the company which owned the building had other similar facilities else where in the world.
Delta One had reached the front door. He glanced up at the automatic sensor for the sliding doors. He silently laughed at the state of the world. It might be the year 2442, but the technology that was being used in the mainstream was almost two-hundred and seventy years old and replicated new. He crept up beneath the censors field and pulled out a battery powered screwdriver. He found the bolt holding it in place and inserted the screwdriver into the grooves on the head. Delta One turned the screwdriver on and it slowly unwound the screw holding the censor in place.
There was one problem. If the sensor did not register a signal for more than fifteen seconds, the alarm would be triggered. As soon Delta One had detached the censor, Delta Four handed him a computer chip. Delta One attached it to the rear of the censor. He replaced it and placed both is hands on the glass doors. He pushed sideways and the doors slid open noiselessly.
There was a guard at the reception deck. After being on the graveyard shift for the past two hours, the guard was getting a little drowsy and did not immediately sound the alarm. A big mistake. Delta Four produced a hand gun with a silencer. Two muffled splats issued from the gun and the guard slid to the ground with blood flowing freely from the two bullet wounds in his chest.
Delta Three pulled out a hand-held communicator and begin whispering into it. But he wasn’t speaking to anyone, rather he was talking to something. The Vatican had paid the maintenance staff a kings ransom to secretly install voice activated nitrous oxide canisters into the internal air conditioning units throughout the complex.
A couple of seconds later the unit moved forward the the back of the lobby and began to make their way to the only set of elevators which accessed the storage vaults below.
One of the guards who was sleeping at the security desk in front of the security monitors awoke with a start. The one thing that the Vatican didn’t know was that this room had no air conditioning, and so was not effected by the gas. The guard saw the strange men moving around one the monitors and was about to sound the alarm when he saw just who the men were.
“Oh fuck...” the guard knew why the men were here. He did not sound the alarm for the other guards. He had someone else more important to sound the alarm to.
The unit was moving down the lone corridor where all the vaults were kept. When they got to the end of the corridor they stopped and looked back at where they had come from.
“Where is the vault? It has to be here somewhere!” Delta Two exclaimed. He sounded more than a bit nervous. He had every right to be. If they failed, they knew that there would be more than their salary on the line. Just then, Delta Three called to them.
“Hey, over here! There’s a doorway here.” The others moved over to where he was and saw that there was indeed a doorway. At a glance, they had missed it.
“So...the elusive level three vault.” Victory was in sight. At that very moment, an electronic beeping began issuing from Delta Four’s pocket.
“Shit! Someone’s communicating with someone outside this complex!” he rushed out into the elevator and up to the ground level to search for the erroneous communication. The other three started on trying to open the door in front of them. Delta One and Two began searching for hinges which that could melt off to allow the door to simply fall down. But the door not having any hinges meant that that option would not work. In the end, they opted to blow the door of its metaphorical hinges.
Delta One plastered explosives on the edges of the doorway and moved down to the other end of the corridor and into the next room. He detonated the charges. There was an almighty explosion and for a second, Delta One was worried that the ceiling would cave in. But the roof held and when they looked around the corner, the door was so much scrap metal and bits of stone. Delta One moved down the corridor, through the ruined doorway, into the next chamber and around the corner. The passageway appeared to run around the other side of vaults on the right hand side. At the end there was another elevator. Delta Two and Three followed Delta One into the lift and it took them down below.
The lift doors opened and the three members of the units filed out one by one into a confined chamber. Opposite the lifts there was a doorway. It, unlike the other door, had hinges. Despite looking quite imposing, it would be no obstacle to the right amount of highly concentrated sulphuric acid. Delta Three was the one who carried the chemicals on the missions. He stepped forward, holding a vial of acid. He popped the lid and emptied the contents on the hinges of the huge metal door.
After a couple of minutes, the mighty door collapsed to the floor like a drunk fainting. As soon as the dust cleared, Delta Two moved into to the room beyond the fallen portal and looked around, scanning for any additional security.
“All clear.” The other two stepped inside and took in what they were facing. They were standing inside a primarily triangular room with a vault on each of the two walls in front of them.
“So...which one is it?” Delta Three asked.
“Let’s find out shall we?” Delta One replied, smiling. The vaults were old wall safes with a numeric keypad. They would be dispatched easily. Delta One pulled out his weapon and aimed it at one of the safes. He put two bullets into each hinge on the safe door. He reached inside and extracted a wooden box. He opened the leather lid to reveal what looked like a traditional navigation sextant. Inscribed on the micrometer drum housing, in tiny writing, were the words "Memento Mori: Omne tempus suum habet sed tandem perit". As soon as he did so, somewhere in the heart of the complex, an alarm was triggered and sirens began to sound.
“Let’s move. Now!”
Delta Four was holding a communication locator in his hand. He followed the signal of the communication to the security desk. He saw security guard with his back to the door of the monitoring room. Delta Four crept inside and raised his weapon. He was ready to fire when the man spoke.
"‘Belief. Blind and uncompromising. If faith motivates you to pull the trigger in hope of righting wrongs, why then do you wait for the command?' Do you know that phrase? Davin Coldwell’s last words before he was executed for questioning the Pope’s right to power in a public presentation. He asked this of his executioners, and, for a split second, they hesitated. If they were so motivated in their actions by faith, why did they wait for the command to fire? Why have you waited?” Delta Four stood motionless like stone with his gun aimed squarely at man’s back. He fought for control of his limbs which did not seem to be at the mercy of his command.
Delta Four shook off his doubt and squeezed the trigger. Just once. The guard crumpled to the floor with a bullet hole in his back and a punctured lung.
As Delta Four stood over the body of the fallen guard, the alarms went off. It was time to go.
When the alarm was was sounded the security mechanisms which had been installed sprang into life. Just days after the Vatican had secretly down a security sweep of the complex, the the face company of the Revolution had stepped in and offered to upgrade the security systems. Now, rather than trying to keep thieves out, the system had been changed to try and keep thieves in.
Just as Delta Two and Three were about to step into the elevator a metal grate fell from the roof to the floor. Delta One could only watch with horror as the grate fell on his two colleagues. While not being designed to be activated to fall on an intruder, Delta Two and Three just happened to have in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Not stopping to look at the horrific sight in front of him, Delta One raced into the elevator. When it arrived back on the ground floor he tore through multiple rooms before he entered the lobby where Delta Four was waiting.
“Where are the others?” Delta Four inquired.
“There was a metal gate. It fell an..and...” he couldn’t say any more. He had said enough. There was a gunshot and a flash of red as Delta One was struck in the lower back. Delta Four didn’t have time to feel sorry for his fallen comrade as he bent down and grabbed the strange object in Delta One’s hands. He made for the door at a speed which would have shamed a professional athlete.
Delta Four raced out of the front doors and he disappeared into the night holding his precious cargo as if it were his own child. He knew that the object he carried was worth more to his superiors that his own life. He carefully made his way to the black BMW 1 Series parked outside the gates of the facility.
Delta Four started up the engine and sped off along the highway. Just as he took off, the gates to the complex opened and three security cars tore after him.
“Shit!” Just when he thought the assignment was over, another problem had hit him in the face. “I can’t win, can I?!” Delta Four spat. He pushed the accelerator down further as he tore down the highway trying to outpace his pursuers. As it was just after three in the morning, next to no one was out driving which made the chase easier for all involved, but it also meant that there were fewer ways for Delta Four to throw off those chasing him.
An exit was approaching fast and at the last minute Delta Four swerved on the exit ramp which lead into the city. The first pursuer missed but the other two, who were a bit further back, took the ramp and continued to follow. Delta Four turned right into Hodge St and went straight through several red lights before taking a left into a side street which was too narrow for more than two cars side-by-side.
A shot rang out and a bullet powered into the boot of Delta Four’s BMW. It was clear that there would be no prisoners. His superiors had not considered that there would be the need for a car chase, as such he had not been granted use of any car with special extras. All he had were his nerves, reflexes and GPS to guide him.
He reached the other end of the side street just as the attackers came down the main road behind him. The longer this chase went on, the more people would be on the road. At that very second, a prime mover pulled out in front of the oncoming cars, Delta Four and the nearest car behind him made it past but the third one didn’t. It disappeared behind the truck and crumpled like rice paper. The fuel tank ignited and the car burst into flames. The driver of the truck, upon seeing the car burst into flames, jumped out of his vehicle and ran away from the crash scene faster than a speeding bullet in the back end of bat out of hell. With good reason. As the two remaining cars in the chase sped off, the truck, too, erupted into a ball of flames, illuminating the entire street with red and orange brilliance. The near full biodiesle tank exploded as it ignited, sending shrapnel into and through brick walls and windows.
Delta Four heard the explosion and saw the fireball in his rearview mirror. The sole car still chasing him was gaining on him. The driver of the car seemed unfazed by the events which had just transpired. His eyes were fixed on his prey as though it would vanish into thin air any second.
The driver of the first car to be thrown off in the chase was currently roaring down the Karfield Expressway which cut through the heart of the city. His car was fitted with GPS tracking systems which allowed him to flag a car and track it where ever it went. He punched a command in to the control panel around the GPS screen.
“Intercept tracking implemented. Automatic control initiated.” The computer issued the sentence with an emotionless voice, devoid of all life or warmth. The driver took his hands off the wheel as the car’s computer took over. The car would now follow the movements of the vehicle it was tracking and attempt to intercept it. Using cameras positioned on the front, sides and rear of the car, it drove itself with all the precision and speed of a stunt driver.
Having handed over control of the wheel to the computer, the driver began preparing for the intercepting where he would take back control of the wheel.
“Intercept estimated in T minus 5 minutes and closing.” the computer said.
Delta Four was running out of options as he approached Botany Bay. The expressway was approaching and once on it he would have little chance of losing his pursuers.
Suddenly, the road took a right angled turn to the left. Delta Four pushed the brakes and spun the steering wheel in an attempt to take the corner in one piece. The tires screeches and smoke from the burnt rubber filled the air behind him as he slammed down the accelerator. If he drove much closer to the bay then the people following him might realise where he was heading and try to cut him off.
An idea occurred to him and he turned left, away from the bay, and then right, heading toward the CBD. He turned on to the Opal Freeway which connected and merged with the Karfield Expressway before splitting into two other smaller roads. He pushed the BMW past one hundred and forty kilometres per hour yet still he was being followed.
“T minus 1 minute and closing. Intercept imminent.” the computer voice spoke above the drone of the engine. The driver readied himself for retaking control of the vehicle as the probable intercept point approached.
The black BMW powered its way onto the Karfield Expressway at more than one hundred and fifty kilometres per hour. As he passed the downhill onramp from King Street another car roared up the tarmac behind him.
“Shit! Where’d he come from?!” The dark grey Alfa Romeo GTX Evolution 3 may have been discontinued more than thirty years ago but it was still produced on demand for security firms. It was one of the fastest yet safest cars one could own and this was the model which was bearing down on Delta Four like the proverbial tonne of bricks. The last model of car built with a petrol powered engine, the Alfa boasted a straight eight cylinder engine than ran with 98.5% fuel efficiency.
While being trained to stay calm in high pressure situations, Delta Four had never been under the pressure created by the looming possibility of failing in an assignment which was meant to be totally clean. He glanced in the rear view mirror and with a start realised that the Alfa was just behind him and gaining. Suddenly the Alfa pulled out and was instantly alongside the black BMW it was chasing with a terrified Delta Four inside.
All of a sudden, the Alfa veered into the BMW. But at the last minute, Delta Four tapped the brakes and the Alfa missed, instead swiping the side barrier ahead of Delta Four. A spray of sparks issued from the point of contact between the car and the stone barrier. Delta Four pulled out and put a lane between himself and the grey car beside him. Arriving onboard the HHS Benedict in one piece with the cargo he was transporting seemed more and more out of reach as the chase progressed. Once he crossed the Harbour bridge, Delta Four was in deep water, as the suburbs immediately north of the bridge were not favourable towards the church.
Running out of time and running out of options, Delta Four made a choice which would save him or kill him. Up ahead was a blind corner after which the Karfield ended and split up into Gregory St and Nuelie Rd. Delta Four floored the accelerator and pulled ahead of the other cars, losing sight of them after rounding the corner. He slammed on the brakes and swerved the steering wheel so that the car the car faced the opposite side of the road. He smacked his foot down on the accelerator and drove the black BMW over the three-inch high concrete separator in the middle of the road and shot off down the other side of the expressway. As he did, the two cars pursuing Delta Four crossed the road as well and began to chase him. The driver of the Alfa began to close in on Delta Four and soon there was barely two metres between the two speeding cars.
Delta Four stole a glance in the rearview mirror in time to see two black tubes emerge from either side of the grill.
“Shit!” Delta Four realised what he was looking at just in time to steer the car clear of the barrage of bullets spewing forth from the two CH-3 rapid fire guns. The CH-3s were lethal mounted weapons which pumped out bullets at 500 rounds per minute and each gun had three mounted barrels which held 300 rounds each.
The bullets passed a mere foot to the left of Delta Four’s car before peppering the concrete wall which ran along the side of the expressway. Having swerved out of the way of one car, however, Delta Four had simply moved into the sights of the other pursuing vehicle. The ventilation shaft on the bonnet slid back to reveal another deadly mounted weapon.
The X12 Vulcon Mini Gun was unlike any other mini gun around. It was much smaller and compact but had the same basic function: wreaking maximum destruction. This particular model was loaded with incendiary bullets which each had a tiny amount explosive inside to cause even more devastation.
The instant the gun was raised above the level of the bonnet it began discharging bullets at a crushing 700 rounds per minute. Under the hood, there were two 700 round barrels which gave the gun two minutes of non stop firepower. Firepower which would have been more than sufficient to derail a runaway freight train.
At the exact moment that the gun starting firing, Delta Four swung the car away from a wave of incendiary bullets which went past a bare five inches from the BMW. How the fuck am I going to get out of this one? Delta Four thought. Had he not swerved to avoid the bullets, they would have obliterated the rear of the car before powering into the cabin and pummelling his body through the chair. The bullets would have kept coming until they penetrated the engine, igniting the fuel tanks and blowing the speeding BMW sky high.
As it was, what actually transpired wasn’t far from that. As Delta Four swung the car sideways, he brought it across the Alfa Romeo which immediately began spewing bullets from its two front guns. The bullets ripped into the boot of the BMW, turning the rear lights and number plate into swiss cheese. Several bullets went through the boot and into the front passenger seat before slamming into the glove box.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Delta Four, helpless in the black BMW, had anticipated having at least two other members of his unit with him on this leg of the mission returning fire. Then again, thought Delta Four, whoever would have been sitting next to me would have just been killed.
The speedometer now read 170kmph and the exit ramps that lead off the express way up gave Delta Four an idea. A sign flashed past which read ‘Inner City South 500m’. Delta Four floored the accelerator as far as it would go. A second later he wrenched the steering wheel to the left and roared up the exit ramp.
The driver of the Alfa Romeo was getting ready to put the BMW in his sights when a red light began flashing on the dashboard. Battery malfunction. Shit, that’s all I need. He punched a button on his hands free phone.
“P1, this is P2. I’m pulling out due to a malfunctioning battery which was probably dislodged after the collision with the concrete wall. Over.” As he watched the black BMW speed up the exit ramp he kept driving straight ahead. As such, he never saw the spectacular jump performed by the BMW. Never saw the other pursuer follow. Never saw the carnage that ensured.
Delta Four’s BMW had gained such speed that at the top of the exit ramp, he cleared the ground and flew over a car in front which was waiting at a red light. The customised suspension system in the BMW survived the violent landing and allowed Delta Four to drive off through the empty intersection. The driver chasing him, however, was not so lucky. The Toyota Celica ST-1 was a far more heavily armoured car and weighed a lot more than the BMW and, as such, had even fewer airborne capabilities.
Such as liftoff.
All four wheels lifted up of the ground as they did on the BMW, but no where near enough to clear the car in front. When the front of the Celica met the back of the waiting car, the result was one of total carnage usually reserved for demolition derbies. The rear of the car in front crumpled like tin foil and the front of the Celica was crushed. The civilian driver never stood a chance. As the cars collided, his car was thrown forward almost five meters, despite the fact that he had the hand brake on. What was left of the car slid across the intersection on the front two wheels, the rear wheels and boot having been pulverised by an 1800 kilo lump of metal travelling at 180 kilometres per hour.
The driver of the pursuit car was thrown forward with such force due to the instantaneous deceleration that his seat belt snapped and his head went through the windscreen. His liver and stomach had copped the full force of the sudden stop; they were now virtually cut in half. The driver was killed instantly.
Delta Four drove off not seeing the collision and made for Botany Bay.
The black battery powered BMW sped along the highway, through the heart of the sleeping city of Sydney towards Botany Bay, where the HHS Benedict was docked. There had been a change of plan and the ship, which had been due to leave next month, was now leaving tomorrow due to unforeseen events. At the moment Delta Four was tearing through Canterbury ignoring any red lights or speed cameras to make sure he was not being followed again.
Occasionally he passed other motorists as the morning traffic began to emerge but he ignored them too as he made his way towards the southern end of the northern mouth of Botany Bay. Delta Four was on autopilot. His mind was thinking about how he was going to explain to his superiors how such a routine operation could go so pear shaped. He suspected he knew the answer to that question but he just prayed that he was wrong. If his suspicions were correct, then he would probably not live to see another day.
The Alfa Romeo pulled over on the side of the road and the driver got out and looked around. He gave a sigh of resigned frustration and pulled out a hand held communication device.
“This is Alfa 1 reporting. Target vehicle has vanished and the car battery has been dislodged due a collision with a concrete safety barrier. Can you send someone to come and pick the car up for repairs?”
“Affirmative. The pick up truck will be there in ten minutes in 10 minutes. Stay put and we’ll also send a car round to pick you up as well.” the person listening on the other end replied.
The morning was getting on and the odd car went past without stopping to look at the damaged vehicle. In this day and age, people had decided it was better to keep their mouths shut rather than ask questions.
“Ten minutes, “ the driver said to himself. “I can wait ten minutes.” He climbed back inside the car and turned on the radio.
Two ships were docked at Botany Bay. Almost identical, they were never used individually. The HHS Benedict was the slightly larger of the two and was slightly slower. The other ship was used simply and solely as a decoy which took an alternative route to the ship it was protecting. Being faster, it took longer for anyone trying to catch it to realise they had been duped. This had proved the difference on many occasions. Whether it would be sufficient this time was another thing altogether.
“We ready to go?” The captain of the decoy ship was not happy about this new task and was anxious to get it over and done with as soon as possible. Duping the elusive Might of Olympus was one thing. But attempting to evade it was something else entirely. In the past year, of the twenty one ships which had been attacked by the Olympus, not one had survived. Two thousand two hundred and seventy four lives lost in total was not a figure to be taken lightly.
“Not yet. We’re still waiting on the cargo to arrive. I trust you know what your instructions are for this assignment?” the Vatican representative asked in a cold voice. “Remember that there are planes escorting you in case the Scourge of God shows itself.” The Scourge of God was the informal name given to the Olympus by the Vatican named after Attila the Hun in the fifth century AD.
“Of course I remember my instructions.” Not that I’m all that happy about them, the captain thought. “Why can’t this cargo be transported by air? Wouldn’t it be safer than by sea with the Olympus constantly patrolling the oceans?”
“It has been decided that transport by air is more dangerous than transport by sea. I know, I know!” The Representative said as the captain was about to shout something obscene. “But that is what has been decided and you should know that it is better to follow orders than to disobey them.”
There was no arguing with that but it still didn’t make the situation any easier. As far as the captain could see, he was between a rock and a hard place; follow orders and most likely perish at the hands of the Might of Olympus, or disobey orders and perish in Torquemada Prison.
With a sigh of resignation, the captain climbed that gangway and entered the wheelhouse to wait for further instructions. If all went as planned, he would be leaving in ten hours, but as things looked at moment, he could not see that happening as the cargo which the HHS Benedict was meant to be carrying had not yet arrived when it should have been aboard almost an hour ago.
Delta Four was almost at Botany Bay and was contemplating just how he could adequately explain the series of unfortunate events to the Vatican representative. Truth be told, he had no idea how badly this assignment would turn out when he was given it, but his superiors wouldn’t see it quite like that. Mistakes were unacceptable, but failure was unforgivable. Delta Four hoped that his success in retrieving the specified item would go some way to compensate that gross mistakes that he, and the rest of the team, had made.
He entered that parking lot adjacent to the two Vatican ships. He gunned that car into the nearest possible spot and killed the engine. He reached into the back seat and collected the item over which seven people had, so far, lost their lives. As he got out of the car he found himself face to face with the Representative who did not look like he was in a good mood.
“Explain.” The voice was cold and uncompromising. Delta Four put the item back in the car and took a deep breath as he began to explain the situation. As his story unfolded, the Vatican rep stood speechless as he heard what had transpired.
“Eventually I managed to shake them off but they had to know what was stolen, otherwise they wouldn’t have been that determined to catch me.”
The Representative didn’t know what to make of this chain of events. Either it was just very bad luck with the timing of the operation, or somehow, the Revolution had got wind of the operation and got in early. Whichever one it was, the end result was still the same. The Representative pulled out his mobile phone and punched in a rapid series of numbers.
“The cargo has arrived. Boarding in five.” He then walked off and placed another call. Delta Four guessed it was to one of the higher-ups. He wandered over to the edge of the wharf. The water was still as glass. Rarely was the water so calm.
After a couple of minutes, the Representative snapped his phone shut and replaced in his pocket. The look on his faced was just as cold and hard as it was when he had confronted Delta Four.
“The Head of the Recovery Unit is willing to forgive the unfortunate luck of the timing and some of the mistakes which followed.” Delta Four exhaled, relieved. “But he is not going to forgive the death of three unit members. As such, those mistakes will be dealt with accordingly.” The Representative pulled a hand gun and levelled it at Delta Four’s face. “Good bye.”
Delta Four, who had been standing near the water front, snapped backwards from the gunshot and fell into the water ten feet below, sluicing through the dead still surface. Botany Bay, well know for having a large shark population, was the last place someone with an open wound should go swimming. So when Delta Four’s bloodied body hit the surface, the sharks were upon it in less than 60 seconds. The Representative turned away as the sounds of grunting and splashes issuing from the sharks mauling the carcass of the dead soldier floated upwards. By the time the sharks were finished, there was nothing left but a red stain on the surface of the water and a floating severed hand.
Vatican City. A place steeped in history and not all of it pleasant. Hundreds of popes have lived and died doing their duties to the masses in the city. A city whose central focus point was nearly one thousand years old. in that time, many things have happened. Until recently, however, the Basilica di San Pietro has been kept safe from attack. Then, thirty three years ago, an appalling act of vengeance was carried out.
Mohammed bin Al Zaeed looked like to be like one of many tourists visiting the Vatican that day. But he was no ordinary tourist. In his pocket he was carrying a tiny vial of what looked like perfume. While this was odd in itself, the contents of the vial were far more sinister. It was full of the recently created nitroglycerine nitroxide 9, otherwise known as Nitro 9. Kilo for kilo it carried 13 times the payload of a thermonuclear warhead. At a remote testing site in the middle of the Utah desert, a 3 litre sample was detonated. The resulting explosion caused moderately localised vibrations which measured 6 on the Richter Scale. And now, this highly volatile and highly explosive substance was about to be detonated at the heart of the most widely followed religion on the planet.
Al Zaeed did not shout anything out. He did not make any threatening gestures. He simply pulled out the vial of liquid and the detonator. The pope began the service as Al Zaeed walked past the alter, much to the grumbling of some people in the front row. Al Zaeed stopped, turned around, looked into the eyes of the pope, and simply said “May god have mercy on your soul.” He turned around to the kneeling crowd and held out the vial and the detonator. The pope’s eyes fell to the liquid and he frowned. Then he saw the detonator and his eyes widened as he realised what he was looking at.
“No...” he breathed. Then Al Zaeed pushed the button. The Swiss Guards were running at him, calling out. But to no avail. The device detonated with more force than a tonne of TNT. The explosion rocked the whole building and was heard throughout the Vatican City. It tore a gaping hole in the floor, exposing the tomb of San Pietro, Saint Peter, to the light of day for the first time in nearly two and a half thousand years.
There was an outpouring of grief and anger towards the abhorrent and despicable act. The culmination of the chain of events which followed was the bloodiest war in human history.
The Ninth Crusade.
For the first time since the first world war there were pitched battles between the Vatican and various country’s armies that turned into trench warfare. To this day, nobody outside the upper echelons of the Vatican clergy knew how the church managed to amass such a colossal army. Outnumbering the People’s Liberation Army by a staggering 4 to 1, the Combatanti della Chiesa Vaticana, the Fighters of the Church, subjugated Europe and Asia like Alexander the Great did to Persia and Genghis Khan did to China. The only exception was Switzerland which was still resisting all attempts to occupy it. An island of independence in a sea called the Vatican Empire.
Many people fled in the weeks before the Vatican began marching forth into the surrounding countries. Two of these people were an Australian and his Italian wife and baby boy. They fled to Australia along with dozens of others. The name of the baby boy was Thomas James Baker.
Thirty three years later...
Thomas Baker was now personal military assistant to Pope Benedict XIX and the Deputy Director of Military Operations-DDMO-in the Vatican army. At 6’4, with his short black hair and piercing electric blue eyes, he cut an imposing figure. When had lived back in Australia, he joined the armed forces. After six months, he was fast tracked to the SAS, which was still regarded as the best special forces unit in the world.
Both of Baker’s parents were catholic but they did not agree with the church’s continuing growth in military power. On the other hand, they did not agree with the stance taken by an underground organisation called the Revolution. It had declared war on the Vatican and within two months of the declaration of war, they had sunk several ships. When Baker returned he left his job at Resolution Bank and joined the VIEPR-Vatican International Elite Pursuit Regiment. Baker excelled in the training but he became very isolated, separating himself from the other soldiers.
After just two years, Baker had risen through every position of command in the armed forces and was now the second in command. He also became military advisor to the pope himself.
None of the people around Baker, however, knew as much about Thomas James Baker as they thought. But there was one piece of information in particular that Baker had very deliberately kept to himself. Often the thought of the fact that no one knew this information brought a wry smile to his face.
In addition to having been a part of the SAS, the DDMO of the Vatican and military advisor to the pope, he was also the longest serving undercover operative in the rebel group, the Revolution.
What the Vatican did not know was that the Resolution Bank was one of two front companies for the Revolution which sent a quarter of their proceeds to the group.
Baker was a little bit of an oddity. He was an expert in almost every field of computing and combat there was, which made him a lethal warrior. He was proficient with more than 20 different types of fire arms and his hobby was constructing communication and surveillance gadgets. He also enjoyed his down time which he often spent watching some of his favourite TV shows. One such show was the long since finished Si-fi drama ‘Doctor Who’ which ended in 2021. He noted that his namesake was once regarded as the best Doctor of all-Tom Baker and since the last few Doctors were portrayed as gadget and technology know-it-alls, his field callsign was ‘Doctor’.
He was odd in that he was the only trooper who still had a high speed internet connection through his phone, something which, up until ten years ago, was standard in phones. In fact, he was the only trooper who had an internet connection full stop. None of the other troopers bothered as the internet had long since been high jacked by the Vatican computer experts in a similar way the internet had been censored in China. Baker had a connection because he used the connection signal created by the Revolution. As such, his was the only connection which the Vatican wasn’t able to monitor. The only thing they could check was when he connected and disconnected. They couldn’t check the where as the signal couldn’t be triangulated. And that was unlikely to change.
Baker looked at his watch. It was half past eight in the evening and he was on his way to a meeting with the pope and his only superior in the army, Max Elkër. Elkër was 51 and a highly respected and gifted commander. That said, he was the last person whom Baker would describe as personable. A gifted commander he may be but he was cold, uncompromising and callous. Many learned historians around call him the General Sherman of the Vatican army after the American general who raised Atlanta to the ground during the civil war for no good reason.
Tonight, however, Elkër would be in a particularly dark mood. Word had just reached them of the fate of the missing warship which was last seen just off the coast of South America. It had been due back last night but never turned up. Baker already knew why it had not returned but he knew that it would be suicide to reveal that fact.
God, thought Baker, Elkër is not going to like this.
He was right.
Elkër was already in a bad mood when Baker entered the room and the news didn’t help. The meeting room was one of the most beautiful in the building and also one of the oldest. It had been in use for secret meetings between various popes and their advisors over the years. The table and chairs were carved and polished walnut with leather furnishings.
What did the church ever have against metal frame chairs? Baker thought.
“How many ships is that this year? 6?! Something has to be done about this ship and done soon!” Elkër was fuming. Baker sighed. He should have expected this.
“Ok then. Tell me how to track a ship which can submerge itself beneath our radars for up to two hours. A ship which has sunk every attempt to sink it.” Baker replied coolly. “Because when I last checked, this ship has more than 440 guns on it, all of which are always ready to fire at any sign of our ships. And its anti-aircraft defences are just as tight as those of this barracks. Its also the only surface vessel which employs counter-torpedos every time we try to sink it with submarines. So, with all that, are you suggesting we try and somehow eliminate this ship? Because if you are, you are on your own when it comes to suggesting possible ways of eliminating it.” Baker had to be very careful when the conversation steered towards the Might of Olympus because he had to subtly fend off suggestions to sink it but without sounding like he was defending it. to do this, he adopted the face of reason and logic. It usually worked.
Elkër was still fuming when Baker finished and he appeared to calm down only when the pope spoke. The pope seemed quite calm despite the bad news.
“Enough of that. Our Representative in Sydney, Australia, has informed me that he has obtained the Silver Sextant.”
Baker was hearing this for the first time. He frowned.
“How come I was not informed of this operation? Don’t recovery operations fall under my command?”
“Yes, but the unit which carried out the operation falls under my command. Replied the pope evenly. “The final part of the operation will be underway tomorrow.”
“And that will be...”.
“The Sextant will be loaded aboard the HHS Benedict and transported to a set location for appropriate use. The full details escape me. I left the mission directive on my desk.” The pope nodded at Elkër. “If you could present the full summary, commander.”
Elkër cleared his throat and stood up before proceeding.
“The ancient Central American city of Teotihuacán was a flourishing metropolis with a population in upwards of 150,000. In the year 600, it was one of the biggest cities in the world. It was a cultural and social centre for the hundred and fifty years. But then something happened.
Baker was becoming more and more curious.
“Around the year AD750 the people of this city just disappeared. There is no evidence of any large scale habitation after the year 755. Where did they go? That question has never been answered. Until recently.
“Archaeological activity at the edge of the city has uncovered a colossal stone temple with completely intact subterranean passageways and rooms. On one of the walls of the temple a strange painting was found.” Elkër handed Baker and the pope a photo of the painting. It depicted a person dressed in black and wearing a strange piece of head gear. It looked like one of the Spanish helmets but there was something odd about it that Baker couldn’t put his finger on.
Elkër began to speak again.
“They found something else that was altogether more sinister. Further away from the city they also found a huge temple which was at first thought to be a large hill. At the top there was an entrance to a giant stairwell which went down into the depths of the temple.” Elkër handed out an image which showed a cut away of the temple. “They found the body of a man in his early thirties.” He handed the pope and Baker another photo. The skeletalised body was wearing a grimy but clearly black vest of some sort. In its left hand was a black metal object. It looked like a...
The pope’s head snapped back up at Elkër.
“But...it can’t be..”
3 days previously...
The first shots rang out across the still canals of Venice like the crack of a whip. Every couple of minutes another shot would ring out.
“Spread out. He can’t have gone far.” The masked man wore a gas mask equipped helmet and visor. He had a black bulletproof vest on. In fact, the other four men around him were wearing the same thing. They were members of Strike Team 2. And today, their target at first seemed quite out of place and odd. A sixteen year old boy by the name of Jonathan Baker.
At a glance he would appear to be an average teenage kid. But if one was to look more closely at him, past his fiery emerald green eyes and brown hair, you would find a sense of determination and drive well beyond his years. He was very fit and quite strong for his size. He may only be 5’8 but he was more imposing than most people who were a full foot taller than him.
Taking a closer look at his clothing you would see that he normally wore an old and weathered carabinieri uniform, including a gun holster occupied by a chunky .520 Magnum Desert Eagle hand gun. This was highly unusual in itself but he had a gun license and, after a long and hard fought court battle, a second license to use it on things other than practise targets.
But why was this? Why was there so much turmoil and danger surrounding this boy? The answer to that was because his birth father was a staunch supporter and long time member of the Revolution. As such, at the age of 8 he had been adopted by one of his father’s brothers.
Thomas James Baker had brought Jonathan to Venice and they had lived there for eight years. Both spoke fluent Venetian and official Italian. When his uncle had moved Rome to enter his undercover job at the Vatican, Jonathan elected to stay behind where he promptly became a thorn in the side for the Vatican police. His uncle had no knowledge of this as soon after he left, he received word that Jonathan had been killed. While this turned out to be wrong, Baker never found that out.
The local police surreptitiously supported the boy because he had saved many of their colleagues from the Vatican police while they were guarding him. Their support included overlooking minor crimes and the odd warning of a raid by the Vatican police. For the time being, none of this had been picked up.
The biggest problem for the Vatican police was that they did not know where Jonathan actually lived. While they had a vague idea of the local area, they had no idea of the exact location. And it was unlikely that they ever would discover the true location of his residency. The reason? It was underground. An elevator shaft was cut down into the swampy marsh below the building on top of the underground apartment. The shaft went under the lakebed and into the bedrock.
Right now, Jonathan was contemplating different escape options from his position in St Mark’s Square. He eyed a sign with an arrow to the Rialto. Jonathan looked around and then ran across the open square. The men around the square turned and opened fire at him. As Jonathan ran, he made straight for the vast group of pigeons in the middle of the square. As he ran through them, they took flight all around him, partially shielding him from the bullets.
Then there was an explosion of feathers as a bullet hit a pigeon. Then another. And another. Soon there were feathers flying everywhere as the bullet meant for him hit the birds around him instead.
Jonathan made across the square in one piece and just kept running. He ran for all his worth down Calle Fabbri on the northern side of St Mark’s Square. He heard a muffled splat and a bullet slammed into a wall just inches to his right. He came to the mouth of another path to his left and he took it, just as another bullet took a chunk out of the masonry in a wall just above his head.
When Jonathan raced across the square just moments ago, only one soldier did not react. At least, not visually. His simply began speaking into his throat mike.
“Contact Four, this is Contact One. Target heading for Calle Fabbri. Follow down adjacent Fondamente Cavalletto and cut him off. Contact Three, follow down Fabbri and hold at Gallo/Fabbri junction. Contact Two make for Campo San Salvado and stay alert. No one else is going to be about after the number of shots fired so far.”
He was the officer in command of the two strike teams. At this point he was using only one team, Strike 2, in an attempt to flush the target out and to head him off and neutralise him ASAP. This assignment had just been made easier for him by his quarry due to the number of gunshots fired in the pursuit as of so far. No one in their right mind would be out and about after that many gunshots. His men were all in possession of P-90 X2 rifles. They had two fifty round magazines, one mounted above the barrel and the other below, and a fire rate of 800 rounds per minute. They could be switched from machine gun fire to semiautomatic mode when in pursuit of a target or when vast quantities of gunfire were not needed. Like now.
Also, his men’s weapons were fitted with silencers which turned the regular thwack-thwack-thwack-thwack into a sound not dissimilar from that of a foam projectile being launched from a toy airgun. The obvious difference between the two was the fact that a toy airgun didn’t fire at a rate of 800 projectiles per minute.
Each of the four soldiers in both units wore identical combat fatigues. Black XSC-3 gas masks and bulletproof helmets-detachable from each other-with shatterproof visors covered each soldiers head. Communication mouth pieces were incorporated into the gas masks and the ear pieces were of a revolutionary design.
Since their was always a chance of enemy targets stealing their equipment, the Vatican Army had opted for a completely different approach to the earpieces. Each soldier underwent an operation in which one of their molars was extracted and replaced with a silicon tooth with a microchip embedded inside it. When signals were received by the chip, they are converted into vibrations which are picked up by the ear and converted into sound. In this way, not only are the ‘ear’ pieces completely secure from stealing, but only the user can hear the message.
Not only this, but all the communication units in the Strike teams synchronously alternated broadcast frequencies so that eavesdropping would be all but impossible.
The clothing was all black and highly breathable. Kevlar vests are worn underneath. Shoulder and knee holsters contained all manner of weapons and equipment, depending on the specialised skill of the soldier within the unit.
Whatever the speciality of the individual, they were elite soldiers. The very best the Vatican had to offer. And up against all this money and equipment, was a sixteen year boy with a single .520 Desert Eagle.
But in this situation, the Strike units were less effective. Combing a city is far more tedious that storming a building, a fact that their target would ruthlessly exploit over the coming hour.
The commanding officer new this and he had objected to being given just two units to carry out the assignment. He had originally asked to be given four units but politician superiors in the (non-clergy based) Vatican government had reduced it to two.
Having been given so few soldiers, the commander decided to use them in two phases. First phase, flush out and, if possible, eliminate the target. If the target was not eliminated in this phase then all remaining soldiers would work on locating the location of the targets residence, or where the target is residing. As always, the commander was hoping that phase two would not be needed even though he had a strong suspicion that he would, given the audacity of the target.
At the moment, he was positioning his men to best restrict the targets movements. He had also run a quick list of possible end destinations his target was intending to make for. The Rialto was the most probable location currently.
The Rialto, he mused. Probably a good idea to send someone there.
“Contact Five, this is Contact One. Head for the Rialto. Contact One out.”
"Copy that, Contact One."
And so it begins, the commander thought to himself.
Jonathan made his way down Calle Anchore after turning left off Calle Fabbri. The Vatican soldiers were right behind him and he ran hard and fast. Ahead of him was a bridge across the Rio Orseolo canal. Opting for that route would take him well wide from the Rialto, hopefully enough to put doubt into the mind of the commanding officer as to whether he would head that way.
As Jonathan raced down Calle Anchore, Contact Three saw him take that path.
“Contact One, this is Contact Three. Target is heading down Calle Anchore and may continue over Rio Orseolo.”
Odd, the commander thought, if indeed he is going for the Rialto, then he is certainly going wide. Why? Then another thought struck him. It’s a ploy. Going wide to throw us off.
“Contact Two, stop target from crossing that canal. Repeat, stop target from crossing the canal.”
Contact Three saw Jonathan appear at the foot of the bridge over the canal and raised his rifle. Just as Jonathan entered the gun sights, he saw the soldier with a gun pointing at him.
The soldier fired.
Just as Jonathan changed direction and took off down Fondamente Cavalletto. Contact Three lowered his rifle and gave chase. He’s got nowhere to go now. A cruel smile formed on the soldier’s face. Covered by the XSC-3 gas mask, no one saw the smile.
Jonathan made it to the end of Fondamente Cavalletto only to find that he had two options, each as fatal as the other. Left, dead end, right, probably a soldier.
Not good, Jonathan thought to himself, not good at all. A small explosion of stone in the wall just above his head jolted him into survival mode. Right leaves me a chance, left leaves no chance at all. A chance is better than none.
He turned and tore down Calle Gallo, at the end of which was, in fact, a waiting soldier, just out of sight. As Jonathan suddenly appeared from the end of the street, the soldier raised his rifle, set to rapid fire, and let forth a rain of fire in Jonathan’s general direction. His sudden appearance had, surprisingly, caught the soldier off guard. As such, his unexpected arrival in the soldier’s presence had saved him from being thrown from his feet by a storm of bullets. As he ran he turned and fired his Desert Eagle at the pursuing soldier. The bullet hit him in the neck and he dropped like a stone, face first, onto the cobbled street, blood pouring from the hole in his jugular.
The other soldier who had been behind Jonathan as he had run down Fondamente Cavalletto now turned into Calle Fabbri and had Jonathan in his sights. The squeezed the trigger and the bullet whistled past his targets head, passing within an inch of his ear.
Jonathan felt the heat as the bullet sailed past. Shit-shit-shit-shit-shit. More than once since the chase began he had asked himself why id he have to go for a walk this morning, of all mornings, when he knew that there was a patrol in the city. Because I was bored, was the answer. He was bored and wanted a change but this was a bit over the top. Another bullet just narrowly missed him as he ran. Gotta get outta here, FAST, he thought.
He turned into Ramo Malvista, heading toward Campo St Luca with the soldier still hot on his tail. Having no idea how to throw him off, Jonathan was doing the only thing he could do in the present circumstances; ran. Ran fast and ran hard. He looked around at the public square laid out in front of him. He looked up and saw the scaffold above him and he realised that he was wrong. There was something else he could do...
“-Contact One, this is Contact Three. Have sighted target and am in pursuit now-”
“-Contact One, Contact Two reporting no sighting of target as yet-”
“-Contact Four now in pursuit of target. Heading for Campo San Luca...What the f...? He’s disappeared! He’s nowhere-” then the signal cut to hash.
“Contact Four, this is One, call in.” Nothing
“Contact Four, do you copy?” Still nothing.
“All men, this is Contact One. Be alert. Contact Four has been compromised. Repeat. Contact Four has been compromised. All Contacts, report in.”
“-Contact One, this is Contact Two-”
“-Contact One, this is Contact th-BANG!...-” The sound of a gunshot then silence.
“-Contact One this is Contact Five-”
“All men, Contact Three is down as well. Contact Five, any sign of movement at the bridge yet?”
“-No sir. Not yet-”
The soldier saw Jonathan race down Ramo Malvista and when arrived at the mouth of the back street, he proceeded with caution lest the boy catch him by surprise. He was the soldier so it should be he who does the surprising, not the coward of a boy he was hunting.
He moved with purpose into Campo St Luca and searched every corner, every crevice for his target from the entrance to the square. He stayed put because moving out into the square would leave him in the open and vulnerable to fire.
He’s clever, I’ll give that. By passing through an open square, the boy had slowed his progress by creating doubt as to whether there would be a trap or not. And there was indeed a trap. But the trap only worked because Jonathan knew what the soldier would do. He realised that the soldier knew that an open square would leave him-the soldier-open and exposed. By searching the square from one of it’s entrance points, the soldier could give the square a cursory visual sweep to check for anything amiss.
Just then the soldier heard a metal clunk above his head. He looked up, just in time to see a portable cement mixer, along with its contents, tip from the scaffold. The cement hit the soldier an instant before the mixer did.
The sound echoed around the square. Jonathan stared at the mess below for a split second before jumping down and continuing across the square and down Calle di Forno and, ultimately, the Grand Canal.
Venice. A truly unique city and easily one of the most readily identifiable in the world. It is full of beautiful buildings, sights and locations. But it is also a city which has, for many centuries, slowly been going under.
The buildings which make up the city of Venice are all built on foundations of wooden pylons, driven deep into the muddy islands upon which the city was built. As such, the buildings are prone to sinking due to not all of the pylons being driven down as far as they should have been. Until the 1970s, the city had been sinking at a rate of half a centimetre per year. While this doesn’t sound like much, but over a period of several decades, this constant sinking adds up.
This sinking stopped in the 1970s due to the government of the time locating the cause of the sinking and putting a stop to it. And for the last 437 years, the sinking had stopped. But recently, it had begun yet again. And this time the city was sinking faster, much faster. Recently, it had begun to sink at a rate of half a centimetre per day. Coincidentally, the sinking began at exactly the same time as a certain document was discovered was discovered during a dig on a tiny Italian island west of Malta.
Something, undisturbed for thousands of years, was waking.
When Jonathan reached the Grand Canal he turned right and immediately realised his mistake. Up ahead the pathway to the Rialto was blocked off. A small portion of the Grand Canal at the base of the pathway had been dredged for repairs and the pathway itself had been blocked off. he would have to get there another way. As he reached the edge of the blockade, he saw a figure standing guard on this side of the bridge. Another soldier. Oh fuck. Then he had an idea.
Ten minutes elapsed without a single gunshot. The commander was beginning feel a little confused. Every two minutes when his men has called in, they had nothing new to report. The target seemed to have disappeared. Then, the most unusual thing happened.
“-Contact One, this is Jonathan Baker reporting on the incompetence of your soldiers. Please report to Campo San Salvado for immediate target sighting-”
The commander jumped when he heard the voice in his ear. As a matter of fact, all of the soldiers in Strike 2 jumped when they heard their target over the airwaves.
“Contact Two, Five. Make for Campo San Salvado and kill that fucking kid. Proceed with caution. Repeat proceed with...-” then the commander’s voice was suddenly drowned out by white noise.
“What the hell!?” The commander was the only one who could hear himself due to the XSC-3 gas mask over his mouth. He switched off his tooth mike to cut out the white noise. Exactly what Jonathan wanted.
Jonathan’s phone was the most advanced mobile phone in the world. There was only one other one like it. His phone could play MP3, double as a radio communicator, boasted an HD camera and video recorder, a secure satellite phone signal so Jonathan had reception anywhere in the world. The signal was also untraceable, as was the phone number. It also had an image scanner for downloading documents to .pdf format on the phone. It could also access internet from anywhere in the world. Its 300GB hardrive could store vast quantities of data thanks to a high grade compressor and it had a RADAR tracking and recognition system as well as GPS navigation.
But the feature which Jonathan had just taken advantage of was the frequency analyser and locking system, which constantly scanned for military signals then locked onto them and searched for a scrambler. If one was found, the scrambling system was then copied so that the scrambler becomes useless. The other feature was the brilliant white noise transmitter. This worked in tandem with the analyser. Once a signal was locked onto, the phone could emit a wall of white noise over the frequency, rendering it useless. The TouchPhone made use of an 11.5cm touch screen which was large enough to use for video conferencing. Along with a 72 hour constant use battery, this phone was, in Jonathan's eyes, a symbol of 25th century technological achievement.
With it, he had been able to get out of many a scrape with the Vatican police and today was just another day at the office. Almost.
The two remaining Strike 2 soldiers calmly and cooly made their way towards Campo San Salvado, guns raised. After the mysterious loss of the two other members of the team, Contact Two and Contact Five were more cautious in their approach to the open square. They slowly moved up Calle dell’Ovo, normally a bustling main street, their was not a soul in sight, not a sound to be heard. Even with no one out and about, it was unusually silent. Almost too silent.
“Contact One, this is Contact Five. We do not yet have visual on target. Approach to square is open and highly exposed from target’s end. Continue current course?”
No response from the commander.
“Contact One, do you copy?”
Still no response.
Nothing but silence at the commander’s end. Not good.
“Five, this Two. Commander is not responding. Looks like we’re on our own for this one.”
“Copy that.” He paused. “Let’s do this.”
The two soldiers checked their weapons. They approached the square and the first thing they saw was someone standing in the middle of the open space. The target of their assignment.
“Congratulations, gentlemen! You have finally caught up with me. And in less than a minute, you are going to shoot me.” His voice carried across the open space and his manner surprised the soldiers greatly. This was something they had never seen before.
“But before you do, let me draw your attention to my left hand.” Despite fighting the urge to look, curiosity overruled. Their eyes fell to the electronic object in Jonathan’s left hand. It was his phone. On it’s screen, a series of numbers were counting down to zero. From their position at the edge of the square, the soldiers could not see the display.
Jonathan pushed a button on the casing and an electronic voice echoed throughout the space. It was emotionless and completely toneless.
“Detonation in T minus 5 seconds.”
Detonation? Detonation of what? The soldier’s were both thinking the same thing.
“Gentlemen. Say goodbye to your legs.”
“...2, 1. Detonation initiated.”
In the time that Jonathan had been living in Venice, he had planted certain...devices all over the city. Each had a unique detonation code which could only be accessed through his phone. These devices were situated at each opening to a number of public squares around the city. Campo San Salvado was one such square.
At each entrance, buried underneath a cobble stone, was a high powered explosive which consisted of a quarter of a kilo of Semtex and a detonator. He had not yet needed to use these devices but there was always a first time. And it looked this this would be it.
Just before the explosion, Contact Two thought he heard an electronic beeping just under his feet. At the exact moment that the device went off, he threw himself hard to his right. In doing so, he managed to avoid the worst of the blast but was still hit by flying rocks and stone slivers. His visor was hit so hard that the shatter proof plastic actually cracked. Several small stones hit him in his left arm and another in his opposite leg. Still, he faired better than his accomplice.
Contact Five was still standing on the bomb when it blew up. His feet were instantly ripped to shreds and both his legs were torn asunder. The shockwave threw him several feet into the air. By the time the soldier hit the ground, he was already dead. The sound of the blast did not have the effect of the preceding gunshots.
Faces appeared in windows. People moved onto verandas. The explosion had truly woken the city. This sudden flurry of activity momentarily distracted the surviving soldier who was still recovering himself from the detonation. Jonathan had already begun to move by the time Contact Two had thrown himself out of the way of the mine. By the time he had his gun up and ready, Jonathan was already disappearing down Via Aprile at the eastern end of the square.
Contact Two had less than a second to aim his weapon and fire it before his target was out of sight. The odds of a hit were minimal at best. A fatal hit was all but out of the question. He pulled the trigger anyway.
The odds, in this case it seemed, were wrong.
Jonathan winced in pain. The bullet had grazed his left leg and hurt like hell. He considered himself lucky it hadn’t lodged there. He collapsed against the wall atop the Rialto bridge. As it transpired, that was to be the most fortuitous place he could’ve collapsed.
The remaining soldier chasing him ran alongside the Grand Canal looking for him. When he spotted him upright against the back of the shops on the Rialto, his raised his gun and moved purposefully towards the barely moving figure. As he approached, the boy tightened his grip on something hidden. The soldier then made the biggest, and last, mistake of his career. He moved right in front of the boy and raised his gun.
“I don't know it’s taken us this long to get you. Good bye.”
Why was it a mistake? Simple. Jonathan still had his .520 Magnum Desert Eagle in his hand. Just as the soldier began to tighten his finger on the trigger, Jonathan snapped his gun up and fired in one motion. The soldier wore a look of shock and surprise as though he thought that he had won but had somehow still lost. He fell backwards into the Grand Canal and disappeared beneath the water.
Moments before Jonathan shot the soldier a girl called Emily Nivina and her family were walking along the water front of the Grand Canal when they saw someone at the top of the Rialto topple down and then the soldier ran up and made to shot him point blank. They simply could not believe what they were seeing. A young boy being chased and about to be killed by an armed soldier.
But then they saw something totally unexpected. The young boy raised a gun of his own and shot the soldier just as he himself was about to be shot. The soldier fell off the bridge and landed in the water. The boy then crumpled and with a cry, Emily took off towards the Rialto. Her parents looked at each other and followed. When Emily got closer to the young she saw he about her age and that this was the boy she had seen on the news a little while back after he had been granted use of a specified weapon under the Self-Protection Act brought in, ironically, by the Vatican to allow people to protect themselves if bodyguards proved to be insufficient.
When Emily recognised him, she realised that taking him to a hospital was as good as handing him over to the Vatican police. That was something that only bounty hunters did and she wasn’t like that.
I can’t just leave him here, she thought, but if he comes with us then the danger will follow him to us as well. Emily weighed up the options she had in her head. Both parents doctors so he be in good hands. Besides, I could do with the company.
By the time her parents had caught up with her she had made her choice.
“Absolutely not. We don’t have enough room for another person.” Emily expected her mum to say this. She already had another argument that should sway her.
“So? It’s the right thing to do. We can’t leave him here, he’ll get caught and god knows what else. We can’t take him to the hospital because once he is discharged the Vatican police will simply wait for him and arrest him. The way I see it, the only option that will be beneficial for this boy is if we take care of him till he is fit to look after himself again.” This type of argument usually worked because she would keep finding ways of backing her parents arguments into a corner. This time was no different.
“But...” her father started to speak when Emily cut him off.
“And if you are going to ask again where he will sleep. I will sleep on the fold out coach and he can have my bed.” This was starting to get tedious. If they took much longer to decide to agree with her then the police will find them before they got back to their apartment. The boy let out a soft groan.
“All right he comes with us. But when he is able to look after himself, he leaves. Ok?” Her father was convinced. Normally, when he was, her mother would follow.
As the Nivinas lived in an apartment on the water front of the Grand Canal, they were able to carry the boy with them. Once inside, Emily’s parents examined him for any injuries that needed attending to. Emily waited outside her bedroom for her parents to finish. Moments after they moved indoors, a police patrol went past the very spot where they had picked up the boy.
The bedroom door opened and her parents walked out.
“He should be okay. The graze on his lower left leg shouldn’t effect the way he walks.” Emily’s father told her. She let out a small sigh of relief.
“I think he just collapsed from over exertion. Once he’s rested he’ll wake up. To be safe, I think someone should stay in there for when he wakes up.” Her mother said. Emily was a little puzzled at her parents tone. It was almost one of indifference.
“I’ll stay. I don’t mind.” Emily replied.
Her parents turned and left the flat for their daily afternoon walk leaving Emily alone with the unconscious boy lying on her bed.
A little over three hours later, Emily heard the boy stir. She slowly stood up and walked over to the bed. The boy slowly opened his emerald green eyes. Emily had never seen eyes that colour before. The boy suddenly jerked up and began looking around the room.
“Where am I?” He spoke in a slightly commanding tone.
“Still in Venice. Just outside is the Grand Canal and the Rialto is about fifty meters from here.”
“How did I even get here? I thought you would have handed me over to the police given the reward on my head.” Although he he thought he knew why he hadn’t been handed over, he just wanted to be sure.
“Handing someone like you over to the police like an animal is cruel. And besides, who in this city complies with any wishes of the Vatican? Sorry, I forgot to ask you. What’s your name?” Emily hoped that this wasn’t too much information for someone on the run to reveal.
After an extended pause he answered.
“Jonathan. Jonathan Baker at your service.” He gave a weak smile and his head fell back. He was asleep before his head hit the pillow. Emily found she was already beginning to warm to him. Here was someone who, through no original crime of his own, was being pursued around the city almost on a daily basis because one of his relatives was wanted also.
A further two hours passed before Jonathan woke up again. He walked out of the bedroom and into the next room. Tentatively he called out.
“H...hello?” He had no idea where anything was.
“In here,” came the reply to his left. “You feeling rested?”
Now that he was fully awake, Jonathan was able to get a better look at her. As he walked into the next room, he saw that her hair was about the same colour as his, brown, and was tied back. It ended just below her shoulders. Emily smiled and closed her book. She slowly rose to her feet as if unsure what to do next.
“Would you like a drink?” she offered. With the two of them standing up, Jonathan noticed that she was slightly taller than him. Not that he was all that surprised. Back in Australia, he always the shortest in his class.
“Just water please.” He must have looked quite awkward because as Emily went past she stopped.
“Take a seat if you want to.” Emily left the room with a smile on her face as Jonathan collapsed onto the couch. All was silent inside as Jonathan listened to the boats pass by outside. In the distance he could hear a siren.
Emily entered the room holding two glasses of water. After placing one on the coffee table she sat herself down next to Jonathan.
“Tell me about yourself. How did you come to end up in this situation?” She was genuinely curious about him. Jonathan took a breath and began the story of his life.
“When I was eight, my dad, my real dad, got himself caught by the Vatican. He set me up with one his closest friends over the phone while he was being held in prison and that was the last anyone ever heard from him. Every night I think about what happened to him. Whether he was tortured to death, or whether he was simply left to die. It doesn’t really matter now because I know he’s not coming back.
“My uncle is Thomas Baker and we last saw each other three years ago. He works for the Revolution but also for -”
“Hang on,” Emily interjected, “Are you telling me that your uncle is the same Thomas Baker who works directly to Pope?!” She could not believe that someone could work so close to the pope and yet belong to the other side of the fight. It was suicide!
“The one and the same,” Jonathan replied before continuing. “I never really got a proper school based education. Most of my life I’ve been home schooled and that worked out fine.” Emily was still trying to take in the fact that the father of the boy sitting in front of her was as in as deep as a double agent could get.
He took a deep breath then continued. “Then we moved here. To this day I don’t know why, but we did. The moment we arrived my father began making inquires into accommodation. None of the places we looked into suited him. So we had a place built and to this day, the Vatican has never found it. Before you ask, I’m not telling you where but when I’m up to it I take it you there if you want.”
“That would be nice.”
A strange silence fell between the two. It was broken a couple of seconds later by an electronic beeping emitting from Jonathan’s jacket in the bedroom. He jumped up, startling Emily in the process, and raced into the bedroom. Out of his jacket he pulled out his phone. He walked back into the lounge room with his eyes fixed on the eleven centimetre screen of his TouchPhone. Several words were gently pulsing on the screen. ‘Flagged Person Proximity Warning’.
Jonathan stared at the screen for several seconds before speaking. His voice was barely above a whisper.
Arianna Nivina opened her eyes and blinked a couple of times before her sight returned. It took her several seconds to take in her surroundings. Not that their was much to take in. Steel walls. Steel door. Steel table. Steel chairs. It was then that she noticed that she could not move from her own chair. It took her a further couple of seconds to realise that she hand been tied to it.
“What the...?” Where am I?
Nothing visible gave her any indication as to where she was. The was a clanking noise and the door opposite her opened. Into the room stepped three men. Everything about these three men screamed military to Arianna. From their gas masks to the weapons, she could tell that they meant business.
“You Arianna Nivina?”
Arianna frowned. It sounded like the man was merely seeking to hear confirmation from her own mouth.
The man sat down on the chair opposite Arianna. The other two men simply stood on either side of the door, not moving, not averting their gaze.
“Your daughter’s name is Emily, is it not?”
“Why are you asking?”
“Just answer the question. Is that your daughter’s name?”
Just answer each question as it comes. Don’t upset him. “Yes it is.”
The man leant back in his chair. He gazed at the woman tied to the chair opposite him. After a minute he spoke again.
“There has been some military activity in the vicinity of the Rialto and Saint Mark’s Square. A boy by the name of Jonathan Baker was the target. He evaded the first Strike unit and as we speak the second one is going after him.
“You and your husband have sheltered him in your flat which is somewhere in Venice. You are going to tell me where your flat is.”
Arianna remained silent.
“Are you listening? I will ask you again. Where do you live?” He tone had gone from level and controlled to impatient. Arianna sensed this and didn’t want to infuriate him for fear of the gun wielding soldiers behind him.
“5, Corte Nuova”
The man leaned forward and peered into her eyes.
“Are you hosting the aforementioned Jonathan Baker?”
So that was his name. Arianna had no idea what these people wanted from a sixteen year old boy who had been chased by armed soldiers but she had decided enough was enough.
The man looked taken aback. Surprised.
“No. We are not giving refuge to this boy, Jonathan Baker.” Arianna was a competent liar. As the daughter of a lawyer, she had learnt from the best.
“You are lying. I have very credible intelligence which indicates that, contrary to what you just told me, you are indeed sheltering the boy Baker.”
“And as someone who lives in my flat, I am telling you that your intelligence is wrong.” She tried to reply with as much conviction as possible. “And if indeed he is residing temporarily in my flat, then he is doing so without my knowledge.”
“If I find out that you are lying then you will regret ever doing so.” Then he stood up and made for the door. The two soldiers left with him. They left to question Arianna’s husband. Something Arianna did not know.
George Nivina was in a holding cell next to his wife but neither knew that the other was being held. He was not always as strong as Arianna and in many heated discussions, he was invariably the first to give in.
The man who had just questioned Arianna walked into the cell. It was identical to the other one in every single way.
“Yes. Why?” George was nervous. He had no idea why he or how he could have ended up where he was now-tied to a chair with no knowledge of where he was or why he was here.
“I am asking because I have reason to believe that at this current moment, there are more than three people living in your apartment.” He leant back and exhaled. “Is the other person a young boy by the name of Jonathan Baker?”
George looked nervously around him before answering.
“There is a boy staying with us but I don’t know his name.” He realised it sounded stupid the moment he said it but it was the truth.
The man in front of him stood up and walked out. He shut the door and slowly moved into the other holding cell where the wife was. He entered the room and as soon as Arianna saw him, she knew there was something wrong. What it was she didn’t know but she could guess.
“The information which you just disputed has been backed up by a credible source, given the circumstances. You lied to me. There is indeed a boy named Jonathan Baker staying in your residence.”
No! How did he find out? A million different thoughts ran threw Arianna’s mind. What will happen to me? What will be the next move by these people? The former will be answered very soon, but Arianna will never find out the answer to the latter.
The man left the room and gave the two soldiers a simple order.
“Take them one at a time into Cell 13. You know what to do.”
The soldiers entered the cell with Arianna. The put a blindfold on her and untied the ropes binding her to the chair. They cuffed her hands and lead her down the corridor and into the cell at the end. Cell 13. This cell had one purpose and one purpose only.
The soldiers sat Arianna into a chair and walked to the door. Then as one, they lifted their guns and let loose a short burst. Her chest exploded with bloody and ragged holes. She was dead before she fell off the chair.
“Subject One neutralised.” One of the soldiers spoke into his throat mike.
“Good. Get the other one and repeat.”
George Nivina never heard the gunshots as all the cells were sound proof. He never had any idea that his life was about to end in such an abrupt and violent manner. All he knew was that when the two soldiers re-entered the room and untied him from the chair, it wasn’t because he was being released. Like was done with Arianna, he was blindfolded and lead into Cell 13.
Blam-blam-blam-blam! A volley of gunfire ripped into George Nivina’s torso, just as the same had happened to his wife, barely a moment before.
“Subject Two neutralised.”
“Dispose of their bodies in the way I specified before.”
“Orders received and understood.”
Baker was dumfounded. It didn’t seem real or possible. But there it was, in the soldier’s left hand was berretta 12 shot, one of the current issue hand guns in most armed forces around the world. It was a surreal sight indeed. A skeleton, wearing modern body armour and carrying a modern weapon, which looked to be about one-thousand seven hundred years old. A silence had fallen about the room which seemed total. A full minute of total quite had passed before the pope spoke. But it wasn’t one of their men. The bullet proof vest had another word printed on it. REVOLUTION.
“Do we know how this is possible? Do we know why this is?” He spoke in a slow and cautious voice, as if saying the wrong word would be a punishable offence. Elkër appeared to in a sombre mood after the pope’s reaction to the revelation.
“We know this is possible because we now have the technology available to us to send an expedition to the year this soldier died. However, we cannot send the team back until we know the exact year.”
“Hang on. Why would we be attempting to send a team back two thousand years? To do what?” Baker was totally confused.
“Are you familiar with the legend of The Key of Epimetheus?”
“Well I’m not surprised. Very few have. In Greek mythology Epimetheus was the brother of Prometheus, who was chained to a rock for eternity for giving humans fire. His liver was cut out every day by an eagle. It regrew so the punishment was meant to be eternal. But Heracles rescued him. But this legend is not the one which interests us.” Elkër seemed to have calmed down quite a bit from beforehand. Baker had heard on the grapevine that Elkër had previously had a passion for mythology and history before he had joined the Vatican army. It seemed he still did.
“The legend that interests us is one of, if not the most, obscure Greek legends of all. The legend was first uncovered just last month during some excavations on a tiny island exactly 47 kilometres north east of the Italian island of Lamedusa, off the east coast of Tunisia.
“Recently we obtained a copy of the fragile document. After many months of painstaking effort, our cryptographers believe they have decoded it.” Elkër handed Baker a photocopy of the document. A the top of the page there was a heading.
Elkër was right when he had said that it wasn’t a language that had been seen before. There was the odd letter which resembled a Greek or Anglo-Saxon character but the rest were quite different.
“This heading has been translated to read ‘Key of Epimetheus’. The biggest problem we faced when translating this document was the fact that it was highly inconsistent. Just when we thought we had cracked it, something else came along and stuffed us up. We now realise that this wasn’t just a substitution alphabet, it was indeed, a language. It had it’s own grammatical rules with regards to tense, ownership and structure. It has only 24 characters. C and J are not part of the alphabet. Whoever created this language was very determined that whatever was written in the language should stay secret.
“This document has revealed several important things. While it is a Greek legend, it makes reference to another civilisation.
“The name still hasn’t been decoded because there are some entirely new symbols to contend with. But what we can tell is that this civilisation is old. Very old. You remember that temple I referred to earlier? At first it was believed to have been built by the Toltecs. But later investigation revealed it to be older than that. So immediately we assumed it to be Olmec, the oldest known advanced civilisation in Central America. But no. It was much older. Thousands of years older. Like I said, as we have no translated name for this previous civilisation, we cannot do much research on it but what we do know is very important.
“The legend refers to a key. A key which was about four inches in length and made made out of meteoric iron and osmium. It’s face value alone is over a quarter of a million Euros. But it’s intrinsic worth is not important.
“From about 1400 till 1521, the Aztecs ruled Central America. Then they were deposed by Hernando Cortés. Before the Aztecs ruled, it was the Toltecs who were at the top of the food chain. They were in power from about 900AD to 1200AD. They were overthrown by the Aztecs. Before the Toltecs came to power, the Maya were the most powerful civilisation in Central America. And they were powerful for a very long time. They were flourishing from about 400BC till around 900AD. For one thousand three hundred years, the Maya were a mighty civilisation. After about 900AD, they slowly began to decline.
“But the Maya weren’t the first powerful people in the Americas. The Olmecs were the ruling people from about 1200BC till around 400BC. But before the Olmecs there were no signs of land occupation in the Americas.
“And that’s where our archaeological team comes in. When we heard of the discovery this newest temple, we didn’t think much of it. Still, we decided to send in our team just in case there was something worth finding inside.”
Baker listened intently. But he still wasn’t sure why the legend of the Key of Epimetheus was so important.
“What does any of this have to do with the legend?”
“The discovery of the temple has everything to do with the legend. Before I go any further on the subject of the Americas, I need to give you the story of the legend...”
When the meeting ended, Baker approached the Pope with a request.
“Can I have a copy of the mission directives. I do not wish to be caught out with no idea of what is happening. As the Deputy Director of Military Operations, I think I have the authority to know the details of this operation.”
The pope agreed and gave Baker a copy later in the evening. At around midnight the phone rang. The caller was the last person who Baker expected. The end result was an agreement to meet somewhere at a certain time. He would be there come rain, hail or shine. Then he began to read the documents the pope gave him. Baker was up until four in the morning, reading the assignment.
Fuck. This is serious. He looked at his watched. It was time to go.
Several minutes later Baker burst out the front doors of the complex and hurried into the car park. He located his car and made his way towards it. His mind was full of hundreds of different thoughts and ideas, things that would never happen, things that would definitely happen, and some things he wished would happen. Baker owned a silver BMW 5 series with a straight six cylinder hydrogen engine. Like many of the things he owned, he had added some improvements to it himself. Like slide back grills revealing two CH-X rapid fire machine guns, magnesium flare parking and fog lights. He had even had the car refitted with a titanium/steel alloy chassis. He had also installed automatic driving where the car took over from him. Once on the autostrada, catching him would be nigh on impossible.
As his car left the carpark, someone inside the complex sent a message to their commander. But the commander was not a member of the Vatican army. The commander was a highly dangerous man who had managed to infiltrate the most secretive organisation on the planet as was hell bent on destroying it.
Baker started up the GPS NaviCom and punched in his destination. He was heading for a private harbour on the Italian coast just north of Genova (proper spelling of Genoa) where his yacht would be waiting, along with crew and, possibly, two other passengers.
After about an hour of driving, Baker noticed a car in his rear view mirror. It had been following him him since had driven through La Spezia. He decided to take a more meandering route to see if the other car really was following him. At the next intersection he turned onto a route which took off towards Parma; completely the wrong direction. Then at the next possible place, he turned back onto the route for Genova. The car was still following him. But not for much longer.
When he was about an hour out of Genova, Baker did a quick check to make sure that there was no other traffic around him. Then, he pushed a button on the dashboard. There was a loud bang and small but powerful projectile launched out of the exhaust pipe. The projectile was a G38 Exhaust Missile which Baker had designed for higher-ups Vatican cars. Including his. The missile slammed into the car following Baker which erupted in a ball of flames.
Baker smile wryly and kept on driving.
“Shit! How the fuck the did they find me?!” Jonathan was terrified. He had no idea how to get out of the building as he had done no exploring of the building.
“What is it?” Emily asked. She was quite worried. If the people who had chased him through the city had tracked him here, how would they get out?
“Is there any other way out of here other than down the front stairs?” Jonathan made his choice: get out or die trying. And he would take Emily with him. It was, after all, his fault that they were in this mess. If he hadn’t started wandering around aimlessly through the city, none of what followed would have happened.
“There is a secondary exit which goes underneath the flat next to ours. Behind the washing machine. Why?” There was something very ominous and foreboding in Jonathan tone. His reply fulfilled her worries.
“I think that some of the soliders who were following me earlier have found me. Could you just look outside for me?”
Tentatively, Emily opened the curtains a fraction and peered down at the main entrance. Standing in the doorway were three armed VIEPER soldiers. Commanding them, was the fourth soldier who had tripped the proximity censer on Jonathan’s TouchPhone. This soldier was also the last man who Jonathan wanted to get into a conflict with. Judah Duivelli was a ruthless officer who carried out his orders as efficiantly and silently as possible. The only mercy he knew was a quick finish. He had been the commander of the VIEPR reconnaissance ‘Strike’ unit 1 for the best part of 5 years. Now he was after Jonathan.
“Time to go.”
Emily took him into the laundry and she began to look for something. She must have found it for a couple of seconds later the washing machine along with a portion of the wall opened like a door to reveal a flight of stairs. The two of them hurried through the opening and as soon as they were through, the ‘door’ began to close behind them.
It sealed itself with a dull thud and the corridor was plunged into darkness. Jonathan switched the torch on his gun on and took the lead. After about thirty feet, he came to a wall which took a right turn. As he turned the corner he saw light up ahead. The light at the end of the tunnel.
Meanwhile, outside, Duivelli was instructing his men on what they had to do.
“If you see anyone else who was not been mentioned as a person of interest, ignore them and move on. It is the boy we want, no one else. Leave no trace of having been here unless ordered. Clear?”. His men nodded.
“Good. Now, as far as anyone is aware of, there is only one way in and out. This one.” Duivelli pointed at the front door. “We enter through here and I will stand guard to make sure he doesn’t give us the slip like he did to the last team.”
He nodded to one of his men who pulled a vial of undiluted hydrochloric acid from his pocket. He popped the lid and poured the entire contents of the container into the lock mechanism set in the wooden door. The acid ate away the wood until there was a hole big enough to fit an entire fist through. The soldier tested the door handle. The door swung noiselessly open and the men filed through and up the stairs. Duivelli remained at the foot of the stairs, waiting for his quarry to appear.
The rest of the unit prepared to break into the flat. They surrounded the door and one of them men spoke into a mouthpiece.
“We’re at the door. Break and enter?”
There was a moment’s pause at the other end.
“Break and enter.” came the eventual reply. There was the sound of a foot connecting with a door and a crashing sound which indicated that the door had been smashed off its hinges. Then...silence. Complete and total silence. Not so much as a single noise. Then Duivelli heard the sound of a door closing. It was muffled and quite so he assumed that one of his men had finished searching a room and had closed the door behind them.
A voice crackled in his ear piece.
“There’s no one here, sir. They must have already left.”
“Then we go out into the city and we find them!”
When his men exited the building, Duivelli stopped them. He had a question to ask them. In his opinion, no detail was too small to ignore.
“Which of you used a door in the flat? I thought I said, touch nothing unless ordered.”
His men looked at each other, confused. They had no idea what Duivelli was on about.
“No one touched anything but the floor and carpet.”
Now Duivelli was the one who was confused. He could have sworn that he heard a door closing somewhere in the building. Then it dawned on him.
“There’s another entrance...” Duivelli’s voice was barely above a whisper. “He left through a goddamned backdoor!” But how? As far as he knew, there was only one entrance. Then he corrected himself. Only one officially installed entrance. Now that he looked more closely at the end of the corridor, there was another door. Almost invisible and set into the brick work, now it stood out.
“Someone get out the RDX and blow that door of it’s fucking hinges before I find another use for it!” Duivelli was seething. The kid slipped out under my fucking nose!
One of his men had finished placing the explosives. The reconnaissance unit moved out of the building before detonating the RDX. The blast wave heaved the heavy wooden doors open and a cloud of dust flew out. When the dust had settled, the unit moved in and examined the doorway where the stone door had been. Apart from the door being reduced to rubble, there was other obvious damage. Chunks of stone had fallen from above the door frame and large cracks had appeared in the wall either side.
Duivelli and his unit moved through the demolished door and found themselves looking out into a street which ended at the grand canal. They moved down the alleyway, guns raised and ready, and headed for the waterfront. There was no sign that anyone had been down there recently. Duivelli knew better.
One of his men stepped forwards to examine a garbage bin which had been tipped over. Jonathan had left them a goodbye gift. The contents of the bin were scattered over the footpath. The soldier knelt in front of the bin to check to see if there was anything inside which might point to where Jonathan was headed. Inside there was a tourist brochure of Sicily with a hotel name circled. The soldier pulled the brochure out. Duivelli stepped forward and took it from the soldier.
His eyes lit up maliciously.
At that exact moment, an explosion ripped apart the bin, taking one of Duivelli’s men with it into the canal with gaping shrapnel wounds down his right side. When the soldier had lifted the brochure out of the bin, he had exposed the explosive behind it to sunlight, which armed the device and triggered a five second countdown. The device consisted of a quarter of a kilo of Semtex which was packed with bits of metal and rock.
Despite the powerful explosion, the device itself was only the size of a clenched fist. Jonathan carried in his pocket on days when his outings to buy supplies coincided with the days that patrols crossed his path. After a couple of months he had worked out most of the patrol timetables and was able to hold off going out on these days as often as possible.
Duivelli spun on the spot as soon as he heard the bang and was just in time to see one of his men fall into the grand canal with blood flowing from multiple wounds. There was no scream and the soldier did not stir.
Jesus, Duivelli thought, maybe he’s better than we thought. It was a wonder that none of the higher ups had anticipated that this young boy would be a handful, given his father’s military prowess.
“Return to the boat. I’ll report to Elkër and he can make the call as to whether we should follow these two or not.” As his men marched, single file, down the banks of the Grand Canal, Duivelli began to think about how he should phrase the mission’s failure to ensure his position. Or at the very least to make the failure sound less humiliating than it actually was.
Minutes earlier, Jonathan was leading Emily down the alleyway and along side the Grand Canal. He passed a bin and an idea formed in his mind. He reached into one of his jacket pockets and pulled out a strange looking object.
“What the hell is that?” Jonathan realised that to Emily the explosive resembled nothing more than rotting Play Dow. It had a strange looking electronic mechanism attached to it.
“I’m going to leave them a little surprise in case they follow us.” Jonathan placed the device in the bin and covered it with a brochure. He reached underneath and turned the bomb on.
“Anyone lifts the brochure off the explosive and...boom time.” His face bore a mischievous smile. He heard a loud bang. The front door of the flat had been kicked in.
“It’s definitely time to leave.”
Several minutes later, a man dressed in military attire, stepped into the building where the Nivina’s flat was. He looked across the foyer to the opposite wall and the hole in the wall where the stone door had been. He glanced up the stairs and gestured to someone outside.
Almost immediately, three armed men scaled the flight of stairs and approached the kicked in door to the flat.
“Clear!” came the call from above. The man ascended the stairs and moved into the apartment. He scanned the room and moved through the flat.
“Well, well, well. You didn’t hang around. But why demolish half the place if you were leaving? Why would you do that?” He inquired aloud.
The two of them strolled down beside a side canal on the way to Jonathan’s flat. After the narrow escape at the flat Jonathan was eager to get out of the city within a few days. But until plans could be drawn up he had to get back to his apartment, partly so he could relax, and partly so he could assess Emily’s mental condition, especially after everything that had happened in the last few hours.
“How much further is it?” Emily had asked that at least three times now in the last ten minutes.
“Not much further.” came the usual reply.
“I know this might sound like a bit of an impertinent question, but where is your family, I mean, your real family?” Her voice was a tentative and a little apprehensive.
Jonathan merely looked straight ahead if is not having heard the question.
“I heard what you asked.” Jonathan wasn’t angry. He wasn’t annoyed. If anything, he was a little sad. He sighed then spoke, but not in english, he spoke in another language, a very old language.
“It’s a family motto. I don’t know what the language is called, but it means ‘Seek for want and take the reward. Seek for need and earn the reward.’ If you search for something because you want it, it will serve no purpose to you. If you search for something because you need it, it will serve the purpose you need it to. It’s by that token that I have lived most of my life.
“I’m sorry but I’m not ready to talk about my past yet. It..it hurts too much.” He turned away, not wanting Emily to see the pained expression on his face. There were some things he could not bring himself to discuss. There were some memers of his family whom Jonathan didn’t want to think about. Emily could see the pain that the question of family caused Jonathan and immediately regretted asking the question.
“All I am willing to say at the moment is that most of my family was killed. Horribly. Mother, sister, aunt and a family friend as well as the relative who killed them. They all died.”
Emily was silent, at a loss for words.
“I don’t know how I would cope if that happen to me. To have your family with you one minute and the next they’ve been taken from you.”
The rest of the journey passed in silence. Then, just a block away from Jonathan’s flat, they noticed a large number of people milling at the edge of a canal. Clearly something was going on otherwise there would not be so many people there. As they drew closer, they saw a police boat and a crane barge. Jonathan decided to ask someone what was going on as he couldn’t see threw the crowd. He was about to grab someone’s attention when a hush descended upon the group. There was a collective intake of breath as whatever they were trying to see became visible.
Several onlookers turned away in shock and disgust, trying to get away from the abhorrent sight that greeted them. One person even fainted. Whisperings began and the passed to those at the back.
“Ci sono due morti.” Jonathan heard this and froze. There are two dead bodies. Shit.
He heard Emily gasp as she heard what it was. He turned face Emily.
“I’m going to the bridge to see if I can get a look at who the two people are.”
He hurried up the steps and onto the bridge and saw-
He face turned pale and he began to feel faint. Shit. No, no, no! It can’t be...oh god no!
“Can you see who they are?” Called Emily. He nodded weakly. “Well..? Do you know them?” Jonathan turned to face her.
“Remember when you said that you don't know how you would cope of you had to go through what I went through?”
“Yes...” Her voice was cautious, bordering on pleadingly hopeful.
“Well...you’re about to find out.”
For a five seconds, Emily just stared at Jonathan. Then she ran up onto the bridge and looked down into the canal.
There, floating on the surface of the calm, still waters, were two people who she had known all her life. Arianna and George Nivina.
“NO!” Emily’s voice cracked. Her cry startled all who had gathered at the water’s edge. A few guessed the two dead bodies were relations of the young girl. A collective reaction of shock went through the crowd of people as they realised that this girl, whoever she was, had just lost two relatives, maybe even both her parents.
Her shoulders began to shake as she cried. Emily couldn’t remember crying so hard in her life. Jonathan put one of his arms around her as she weeped into his shoulder.
“Let’s go. We’re nearly there.”
Emily cried all the way. The only thing Emily could remember from that point on was that she broke down and was a mess of tears and refused to eat or drink until the next morning. From there, Jonathan began the process of helping her pick herself up and pull together. She would need to. Fast.
Sounds of a party could be heard from within the house from both ends of the street. The sounds continued into the early hours of the morning. Until something happened. That something came in the form of a blood chilling scream which has cut short by a gunshot. A short time later another scream was cut short by several shots. By the time the police arrived they found blood splattered on the walls of the downstairs rooms, blood from three dead bodies, and, in one of the upstairs bedrooms, there was another dead body. All the dead bodies downstairs had been shot through the head, execution style. But the body that was found upstairs had been killed in a very different way. When the first officer inspected the room, he wretched and through open the window before throwing up out the window.
The only survivors were a man and an eight year old boy...
2 hours earlier...
It was Rose Baker’s eighteenth birthday and just the immediate family and a few members of the extended family had been invited. Jonathan was the eight year old who later survived the evening. His father was the other. But at the moment neither had any idea of what was about to happen. Thomas, Jonathan’s uncle, was unable to make it, so at the moment they were waiting on one more person. Jonathan’s aunt was arriving in Melbourne from Perth. None of them knew that she was already dead.
“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you...” The family was gathered around the dining room table with a large cake in the middle. Rose leaned forward and blew out the candle in the middle.
“Who’s up for birthday punches?” David, Jonathan’s older brother, shouted. He made for Rose who promptly squealed before jumping out of reach. The was a outburst of laughter from those not involved as they watched the two circle from opposite sides of the table.
“Ok, you two. Stop that; it’s time to cut the cake.” Jonathan’s dad said. “And if you hit the bottom don’t forget to kiss the nearest boy.” He added half-jokingly.
Rose’s boyfriend, Daniel, was the only non-family member attending.
“Better make sure that’s me then.” He chuckled.
There was a knock on the door.
“I’ll get that.” It was the last time Jonathan saw his mother alive. She walked out of the room to the front door. No one saw what happened next but they heard it.
“You...get out. Get out!” The anger in her voice left everyone else in no doubt who was at the door.
Don Baker was Jonathan’s uncle and a very unstable man. He served in the armed forces for twelve years during the war but was relieved of his duties after serious allegations of misconduct and abuse of POWs arose. He was a twisted man with a dark past and an even darker mind. The rest of his family disowned him. More recently, he had sent several death threats to members of Jonathan’s family. Tonight, it seemed, he would carry out his threats.
“I’m disappointed that I wasn’t invited to see my niece turn eighteen. I’m sure she would like to see me.” The words he spoke formed a joke. His tone, however, suggested anything but. It was cold, devoid of warmth, measured...and deadly. There would be no jokes tonight.
Before anyone could say anything, there was a loud bang. Seconds later they heard a dull thud. After a split seconds’ pause, everyone in the dining room reacted at the same time. They all made for the door at once. Unfortunately David was the last one through. As he was about to disappear into the next room, Don walked into the room.
“Your turn.” The bullet hit David squarely between his shoulders. Part of his spine shattered, causing multiple internal injuries. He would be dead within minutes.
Jonathan raced up the stairs into his sister’s bedroom. He opened the wardrobe and climbed in. Though he was short of breath, he breathed as slowly and quietly as he could. He had never been this scared in his life. He knew the score. It was now all about survival. Survival of the fittest. And if that wasn’t you then you died. Simple. Ruthless.
Jonathan sat down and hoped against hope that he would get out of the house alive and not in a body bag. It was such a surreal situation that he didn’t at first think that it was happening. Then the gunshots began. Every couple of minutes another shot would wring out. What terrified Jonathan even more that no screams preceded each shot. While Jonathan couldn’t know whether all the shots meant that someone had been killed, he knew that someone was on the run.
The minutes ticked by and the gunshots continued. By now Jonathan knew that there had definitely been more gunshots than there were people in the house. In a way this was encouraging because it meant that if Don pointed his gun at you there was still a small possibility that fate and chance would intervene. It also meant that unless Don had extra ammunition, he would be out of bullets soon.
Then, somewhere in the big house, there was gunshot followed by a scream. A loud, piercing scream of pain and agony. It was Rose. Jonathan’s blood ran cold. A chill ran down his spine and tears welled up. He would remember the the bone-chilling screams issuing from the other room for the rest of his life.
After what seemed like an eternity, a different scream echoed throughout the house. Not a scream of pain...one of pure and utter terror.
“No...no, please, please! NOO-” Then the scream was suddenly cut short.
Jonathan woke with a start. He was slick with perspiration and he was breathing heavily. He sat up and looked around. It was then that he realised the the light was on. Emily stood in the doorway looking more than a bit worried.
“No. Nightmare. Worst one for years now.”
“You were talking in your sleep. That’s what woke me up.” She ambled into the room and sank into a chair. “You’ve got to tell me what’s wrong. If it is something to do with your family then I think you need to tell someone if you haven't already.”
Jonathan nodded. He began recounting the dreadful evening to Emily. It was just the second time he had retold the story to anyone; the first when he told his adopted father several days after the coronial inquest into the incident.
“The first thing police officers saw when they entered the house was my mother, lying near the doorway with a bullet hole directly over her heart. There was a puddle blood around the body. Next they found David, slumped against a wall just outside the dining room which still housed the cake, still beautiful as when it was laid down on the table earlier that evening.
“Scattered around the rest of the house was the rest of my family. They never found Don’s body but they found a lot of his own blood. They said that he had shot himself but not done the job. He must have staggered away and died elsewhere.
“But by far the worst sight was the discovery of Rose’s body in her bedroom." Jonathan took a deep breath before continuing.
“Rose had been chained to the bed with police issue cuffs. She had been shot in the ankles. They said that was before she was tied to the bed. She had received bullets in her knees as well. Both shoulders had been shot at point blank range. And...” He stopped, fighting back tears as he remembered how his sister had died. He sniffed before continuing.
“And her throat had been...you know.” He choked up. Even eight years later, the painful memories of that fateful night still drove a knife through his heart. He had dug up awful memories but he still kept the very worst and most disturbing part of his older sister’s death to himself. What Don had done to her was something no one else needed to know about. Ever.
“There was blood everywhere. It had soaked into the sheets and begun to spill onto the floor. The officer who found her first apparently threw up out the window when he saw her.”
Emily was speechless. She was still grappling with the fact that her own parents had been killed. But now she saw that the way her parents had died had been almost peaceful by comparison.
She walked over to the bed and sat down next to Jonathan.
“Hey. You lost your family. I’ve lost my parents. We’re in this together.”
She gave him a reassuring look. Jonathan looked up at her and smiled weakly. In this together.
Emily stood up and left to make for her new bedroom. Jonathan watched her all the way until she was out of sight. He lay back on his pillows and, for the first time in a long time, smiled.
Living in an underground residence means that no natural sunlight reaches your walls, no light to wake you up. Such circumstances would be enough to drive anyone mad if nothing was done to fix that problem. This was the challenge faced by Thomas Baker when he first approved the construction of the apartment by the Revolution group. So, like in every other apartment in Venice, some windows were installed in the eternal walls of the place. Spaces were dug a foot into the mud around each window so that one could stick their head out each hole in the wall and not have their face pushed into mud.
Then, artificial reality simulators were installed to provide realistic sun lighting 24/7 with views included, all computer generated. This combination allowed those living in the apartment to gain some small feeling of normalcy. It was this feeling that had kept Jonathan sane since he had been left in Venice and with the inclusion of another resident in the apartment, that feeling of normalcy was all the more important.
Emily had been in the apartment for two days, entering the third, and was just beginning to settle down after the sudden discovery of her parents dead bodies in the canal nearby. If anything, Jonathan was the one who needed the support. Some people have some bad memories of an event at some point in their life. Some memories are worse than others. But the ones Jonathan Baker had stored were some of the worst anyone could want. Or not want.
Living underground was hard on Jonathan’s sanity at the best of times. More than once he had pushed to the edge and each time he had managed to pull himself back from the precipice. In his current state, if he didn’t pull himself back together soon, then he knew he was heading down a path he didn’t want to take. Jonathan also knew that he and Emily couldn’t stay at the apartment for long. At the scene of the discovery of Emily’s parents, there was a journalist reporting on the bodies. Jonathan was fairly sure that he and Emily were caught on film at the scene. It wouldn’t be long before the church came sniffing about for some sign of him. And when they did...he shuddered at the thought.
We’ve got to get out of here. But how? And where to go? Then an idea struck him. He wandered over to his bedroom and saw his phone on the bedside table. He picked it up and as he made his way back to the living room he played out several outcomes and possibilities of what might happen next in his head.
He chose a number from the quick dial list on his phone and sent the call.
He heard the ringing in his ear then it picked up.
“Hello?” came a familiar voice, one which Jonathan had not heard for several years now, but one which he still remembered.
“Hello, uncle. Remember me?” There was a long pause on the other end. Jonathan could hear static through the earpiece from the breathing at the other end of the phone.
“Jonathan? Is that you?” Came the eventual reply. His uncle’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“The one and only. You’ve been busy. What with turning your back on everything you stood for. How’s life in the one place I would rather die than visit?” The scathing remark was the result of pent up frustration and confusion regarding Baker’s decision to join the Vatican Army. Had Jonathan known the reasons behind his uncle joining, he would have had a very different reaction.
“We’ll talk about that later. I thought you’d been killed.” The tone indicated that the cutting remark had been dismissed.
“Well, not quite killed. Bullets aren’t as accurate as you think. And lying still at the foot of a bullet riddled wall, out of reach of the enemy does help to create the illusion of death. I need a favour.”
The conversation lasted nearly an hour. By the end, Jonathan was well and truly tired. But he knew that there was no time to sleep. We slowly wandered back to the bedroom. He roused Emily from her sleep.
“Hey. We need to get going.”
“Where?” She asked, bleary eyed.
“Train station. We’re going to Genova.”
Just then he heard an enormous explosion and a klaxon began wailing. Red light began flashing. Jonathan pulled out his phone and hit one of the buttons and the alarm switched off.
“What was that?!”
“Incursion. The Vatican has arrived.” He paused. “We need to get to the second level before they do. They’ll never find us once we get there.” He opened his bedside draw and pulled out two semi-automatic .520 Mark IX Desert Eagle handguns, a slightly larger model gun than the IMI-made Eagles. These were the only munition manufactured in Australia and were world renowned for their reliability and surprising accuracy. Mounted above each barrel was an LED gunlight with a magnification lens. Underneath each barrel was another tube with a small clamp. This tube was an MH16b Magnetic GrappleHook. The smallest model grappling hook yet made, the MH16b was designed to be attached under the barrel of regular firearms. It was also highly ingenious. Rather than using a finite supply of gas propellant, when the magnetic grappling hook was pushed into the launcher barrel, all the air was pushed out, creating a vacuum.
Once the grappling hook was in the tube, a tiny airpump inside the tube compressed the air rushing into the vacuum to three thousand psi. When the mechanism was triggered this super compressed air was then released into the launcher tube, firing the miniaturised clamp forward with the force of close to a metric ton per square centimetre. The advantage of this system was that the propellant did not need refilling, it was forever reusable.
The spool was housed outside the firing tube and the chord was condensed steel thread a millimetre wide. Thin but very strong, the thread could carry a combined weight of up to two hundred kilos. The tube itself was made out of titanium as it needed to be strong enough to withstand three thousand psi of air pressure.
Jonathan selected one of the guns and holstered it, keeping the second in hand. Emily noticed that on the gun Jonathan held in his hand there was an image of a small rose, intricate and ornately engraved onto the barrel, it's beauty and detail contradicting the purpose of the tool into which it was carved.
Rose. How appropriate.
They ran as fast as their feet could carry them towards the stairs which lead up to the next level. As they went, Jonathan could here footsteps on the upper floor on the underground apartment. There wasn’t much time. Almost as soon as the two of them had reached the middle level, a short volley of bullet peppered the wall above their heads. Jonathan lead and Emily followed as they entered the combat simulation room. It was a technological marvel. Scattered throughout the room were permanent obstacles. But littered around the room were 3D simulators which provided new images every time someone entered the room. This time it was simulating dense jungle. The permanent obstacle were presented as trees.
Jonathan made his way to the far left corner of the room. He pressed a button, hidden in the structure, and a door opened. He ushered Emily inside and entered himself before shutting the door. Once inside, Emily saw that there was a minibar and a strange ‘L’ shaped bed. It looked like a bomb shelter.
“What is this place?” Emily inquired. She had never seen anything like it.
“It’s a combination of things. It’s primary purpose is for use during combat training in simulations against the computer. It also acts as a refuge in circumstances such as this one.” Jonathan had dropped his voice to barely above a whisper. he was not sure of the sound absorbing qualities of his surroundings and was not prepared to take the risk that noise may escape, however small the chance. Emily looked around at her surroundings.
“What do we do now? We can’t just stay here, they know we are somewhere, and eventually they will find us.”
“Until then, we wait. There are several observation slits through which we can see if anyone is coming. This place is covered by a hologrammatic image so the slits are hidden from view. We’re safe for now.”
Judah Duivelli gazed at the building before him. It was completely unimposing and no more suspicious than any of the other buildings in Venice. Like all good hidden bunkers, this one was using a completely innocent front to divert suspicion. Duivelli had to admit, this was one of the more successful ones he had ever found. Building an apartment under the city. Clever. Even more so given the city in question was one which was unstable at the surface, let alone underneath it. But not even this innovative design was enough to remain hidden forever.
“Alright men, let’s go.” The ten man squad led the way in and quickly found the elavators which lead down to the appartment. One of the soldiers summoned the elavator car and they stood back and waited. When the doors opened, all eleven men had their guns trained on the interior. When they saw it was empty, they filed in. Five men went in first. If something happened to them then half the unit was still ready. If all men went in at once and something happened, then the whole unit was gone.
The second the doors closed, a klaxon began wailing. When the soldiers had stepped inside, they had been scanned by a conceled camera. When they had been identified by their uniforms as Vatican, the alarm sounded.
Less than a minute later, the first five men entered the underground apartment. Their voices came through Duivelli’s earpeace loud and clear.
“-Contact Leader this is Contact Two. First room is secure-”
“-Contact Leader, Contact Three here. The first floor is secure-”
“-Stairs are secure-”
Upon hearing the last transmission, Duivelli gave the signal and the rest of the unit, himself included, entered the elavator. Upon ariving at the first floor of the apartment, Duivelli and his five men were greeted by Contact Two.
“Contacts Four and Five are guarding the stairs, Three is in the next room and Six is in the room ahead. This floor is secure. We haven’t moved down yet.”
Duivelli was silent for a moment while he considered his options.
“Ok. Move down. Go room by room.”
Before Contact Two could relay the order, Contact Four’s voice sounded in their earpieces.
“Stay here and gaurd the lift.” Duivelli told Contact Two. There was the sound of gunshots and Duivelli moved off the join the others. Contacts Four and Five were already moving slowly through the second floor. When Duivelli walked into the room his jaw dropped. The room spanned the entire distance of the floor. His first thoughts were that he had just stepped into a jungle, but his instincts told him that it was a combat simulation suite. And what a simulator it was. Real life graphics manipulated by a computer which applied physics to the artificial trees, leaves, vines and other CGI objects. Securing this floor and flushing out his target just got a whole lot harder.
Contacts Six and Seven were moving down the centre of the room and Eight had carefully made his way down the left, heading toward a huge tree trunk, easily seven feet wide. It was in such a position that one could not look past it along the left wall. It see past, one had to go around.
“-Contact Leader this is Contact Eight. I have located a possible location of the target. I cannot approach without exposing myself. Send some cover around along the right hand wall-”
Duivelli considered his choices. Then he made his decision.
“Contact Five, move along the wall until you can get a shot at the other side of the tree. Six, Seven, continue along the middle to cut off any possible escape. Five, Move into position so you have a clear shot at the rear of the tree.” Contact Five moved slowly around the obstacle on the right hand side of the room. He turned to look at the rear of the tree and...
"-There’s no one there. They must've used a hidden hatch in the floor somewhere close by-"
"Keep looking. They can't have gone far."
Contact 8 moved back to the door to the combat simulator and stood guard, his back to the room, not expecting anyone to emerge from it.
Meanwhile, hunkered down in the safe room in the far corner of the combat simulator, Jonathan and Emily sat quietly, contemplating escape, capture and everything that might happen in between. Very little of what their minds wandered to was pleasant. Jonathan knew that they couldn't stay there, with the Vatican soldiers combing the entire place, they would eventually be found and be killed. Jonathan wasn't going to let himself (or Emily for that matter) get killed today...he had evaded Death too many times to be taken cowering in a corner now.
"Ok we've got to find a way out of here. Think. Think. Why would my uncle have had this safe room put here in the first place?" He started pacing up and down the small space...but still making sure he made as little sound as possible. What was his thinking behind this? Why...?
"-Contact Leader, this is Contact 8. I'm going in to take a closer look at some parts of the combat simulator. It's kinda freaking me out having this swamp behind me and not knowing what's really there. Permission to examine the room?-"
"Granted." Duivelli, while he tolerated little or no weakness in his men, understood what his subordinate was saying...it WAS a little creepy having a swamp like that in the middle of an apartment, albeit an artificial one. Contact 8 moved throughout the room in a slow and methodical process, taking in every detail he could see, registering every sound and movement...all of both were artificial, but that didn't mean they shouldn't be noted.
Jonathan, meanwhile was still pacing up and down, thinking, always thinking. What's the point of having a SAFE ROOM in the middle of a combat simulator? Unless... He whirled around, looking at the walls and floor surrounding him. Unless there's something in here...
Contact 8 was about a quarter of the way through the simulator, both analysing and marvelling at the sheer realism it provided. He had to continuously remind himself that the shin-deep water and muck was only projected, because it looked so convincing and authentic. The floor was also rippled and rough, even under foot and sometimes difficult to predict, in order to further enhance this effect. All in all it made Contact 8's progress much slower than he might've otherwise thought.
The simulated trees also impaired his vision while moving around the room. Added to this was the fact that his quarry may jump him at anytime so not only did he have to be observant but also on high alert to the slightest environmentally incongruous movement because it might be suspicious. Noting down all these details meant that inevitably, his eyes were drawn to the metaphorical elephant in the room: the 10 foot wide simulated tree trunk in the far left corner of the room...the very same simulated tree inside which the safe room was housed. Although Contact 8 didn't yet know it, Jonathan and Emily's hiding place was now on borrowed time.
Baker drove onwards, closing in on Genova, looking forward to seeing his nephew for the first time in several years. He had no choice but to not tell Jonathan about his motives, his position was too important within the Revolution and Vatican in order for anyone else but the Revolution's Commander to know about it. The phone call had truly been quite out of the blue, but also fortuitous. Baker had been planning to get out that same night.
He knew it wouldn't be long before he was the most wanted man on Earth and he had to reach the harbour before word got out. He guessed had about an hour before the alarm would be raised internationally. One thing he DID have in his favour was the fact that until they realised he hadn't been extracted yet, they would think that he HAD, which bought him that 1 hour. He thought about what he was going to say to the boy he had left behind. Rain had started to fall, and in the twilight before dawn, it sparkled as it fell. A storm was on it's way. Good. Storm generally means strong winds. And the wind would indeed need to be strong if he wanted to outrun Vatican chase boats.
He reached out and pressed a short sequence of buttons on the car's communication interface. He was dialling the direct number of the caption of the Hades, the Revolution's chasing and extraction vessel. About 3/5 the size of the Olympus, it wasn't designed for open combat, but it could still hold it's own against a flotilla of Vatican chase boats. With a top speed of 60 knots, there were few ships that could catch it.
Baker hit "Dial" on the interface and the communication link at the other end began ringing. On about the 5th cycle, the line picked up. "Captain Michael Kelly speaking. To whom am I addressing?"
"It's me." Baker heard a sharp intake of breath at the other end. After several seconds, Kelly spoke.
"Tom? Jesus it's been along time. I take you need extraction before the shit hits the fan?"
"Oh the shit will have hit the fan long before you reach me. It's whether or not you can get to me before the Vatican does. I'm making for my yacht in Genova harbour. I'll set out to try and meet you. Once I get on the yacht, I'll activate the homing beacon for you to follow. How long do you think you'll need?"
"Genova? Shit, at least 4-6 hours..."
"Fuck. Ok. I hope I'm still in one piece when you reach me." Baker cut the connection. He had just passed the town of Ferriere and was now about 60km from Genova. Suddenly he saw a flash of light in his rear view mirror and a puff of smoke. Rocket launcher! He swerved his car out of the way miliseconds before the projectile would've hit the car. The rocket continued on and blew a crater in the road about 20 metres in front of Baker's speeding BMW.
A split second later a second rocket lept from the chasing vehicle and made a beeline for the silver BMW. Baker threw the steering wheel the other way and dodged the second rocket which blasted another hole in the road just ahead of Baker's car. Shit! Shit! Shit! Baker had little room to maneuver; each side of the autostrada (high speed intercity road) consisted of 3 lanes and there was a 5ft high concrete safety barrier down the centre. The autostrade (out-o-strad-é) of Europe had long since been rebuilt as raised roads and it was a 30ft drop over the edge.
As another rocket surged forward, Baker pulled the car sideways and out of the way just as the rocket flew past, missing by centimeters. He now realised there were two cars following and there was no telling how much ammunition the pursuers had at their disposal. He only had one exhaust missile left and he didn't want to waste it. He punched the command and hoped for the best. The last G38 left in the launch pipe blasted out of the tube. Because the cars following him were driving at over 150km/ph towards the rocket, they had far less time to dodge it. Even though both drivers avoided a direct hit, the car directly behind Baker took much of the explosion as the missile detonated on the tarmac. Most of the front bumper and grills were obliterated and the front left wheel housing was partially exposed.
Screw this! Baker made a decision.
He pulled the left steering wheel lever to the bottom and his rear lights blasted their full magnesium-flare light in the face of the pursuing car. It immediately fell behind as the driver was blinded by the searingly powerful light emitting from Baker's rear brakelights.
But Baker wasn't done. He threw the steering sideways and the car turned on it's axis 180 degrees. Halfway through, Baker overrode the gearbox and engaged the reverse gear sending the BMW hurtling along the road in the same direction but facing directly at the pursing vehicles! Baker was now driving backwards at 160km/h along the highway! "Eat this!" And with that he lowered the car's grills and opened fire with the twin CH-X rapid fire machine guns, ripping into the chasing car at 10 rounds per second. The front of the chasing car was ripped apart by the volley and the tank soon ignited, blow the entire front of the car off in a violent explosion of twisted metal and burning fragments. Driving alongside the now exploded car, the second pursuer copped several large chunks of steel plating to the front left wheel and passenger door. Without one of it's wheels it was a sitting duck for Baker's twin machine guns which ripped into the chassis and tore it open before igniting the fuel tank and blowing it sky high.
He stopped the car and took a look at his handy work. He knew it wouldn't go unnoticed for long and he gunned the car, turned around and drove on as though nothing had happened. But the fact that the Vatican had already almost caught up with him scared him. That meant they would be all over Genova and he somehow had to get to the center of the city in order to reach the harbour. His best option from this point was to take the coastal road because it was the mot direct. In a pinch he could force Vatican cars off the road and into the sea. He hoped it wouldn't need to come to that.
Contact 8 continued his slow, measured and wary approach to the extra wide tree that concealed Jonathan and Emily within it's girth. He kept his gun trained at any possible place from which he might be ambushed. The ambient noises of the simulator didn't help either, making him actually feel like he was in some kind of Amazonian swamp. His steady breath was barely audible to himself over the sounds around him, which themselves could potentially mask someone creeping up on him from behind. But he kept his nerve, easily, and continued to edge closer to his ultimate destination within the simulator.
"Help me move this bed, couch, whatever it is." Jonathan's voice was laced with urgency, he could see the Vatican soldier edging closer and closer to the hideout and his was desperately praying that his suspicions were correct. Emily came over and put her weight behind the large L-shaped bed/couch and slowly, too slowly, the cumbersome and bulky bed moved across the cramped interior of the simulator's mini-shelter within which Jonathan and Emily currently took refuge. If Jonathan was correct then there should be, below the couch, a-
Contact 8 was right outside the refuge, still unaware of the hidden inside concealed behind the artificial façade. He continued with his cool, calculated approach, ready to fire the instant he saw his quarry. He made the decision to, once he came within half a metre of the wide simulated tree trunk, to put several rounds into it to short out the image and find his way in, if there happened to be anything masked behind. He reached the wide tree trunk and paused to take in it's size. It really was very large and could quite easily conceal several people within it's girth. He stopped. Then he raised his gun.
"Commander, I've located a possible location for our pursuit subjects within the combat simulator. Should I disable it?"
"-Affirmative. Take it out-" came back the reply through his earpiece.
Contact 8 opened fire with his rapid-fire assault rifle. He put close to half a clip into the electronics-covered structure, shorting and frying most of it's circuits. The image wavered, then died, revealing a dome-like structure, barely 2 metres tall. One of the bullets had smashed what appeared to Contact 8 to be a locking mechanism of some kind, and the door to which it was attached was ajar.
"I have located the hideout. Entering now". Contact 8 stormed the small dome, gun raised and poised to open fire. He looked around the small space but found nothing. There was not a soul to be seen. Nothing seemed to have been moved or appeared out of place to Contact 8. It was as if no-one had ever been inside. It was all perfect. Too perfect, perhaps?, he thought to himself. "Commander. There's no-one in here. But there's something about the place that makes me feel...I dunno. There's something wrong about it. I don't know what though. Should I do a thorough sweep of the place? Or do you want me to wait for you to have a look yourself, sir?"
"-No. Wait for me. I want to have a look for myself. Wait outside and do not touch anything-"
"Very good, Commander".
In the final moments before Contact 8 blasted the electronic façade where Jonathan and Emily had been taking refuge, they had shifted the couch/bed to the right by half a metre and found a-
"Trapdoor!" Jonathan whispered, keeping his voice down. He quickly found the latch and opened up the hatch which opened up into a cavity between the 2nd and 3rd levels of the apartment. He gestured for Emily go down into the cavity first. Jonathan followed her into the hole, moving the couch back into place above his head and closing the hatch back up. With the hole closed off, it was pitch black inside the space. Jonathan found the light switch on the Desert Eagle in his hand, casting a strong, white light into the spacious area in which they now found themselves.
"Right. We have to get to the train station." Jonathan spoke with purpose and determination.
"Within 25 minutes."
"Without being spotted."
On their way...
The Key of Epimetheus
Part 2: The Obsidian Temple
You cannot change the past, you can only fulfil it.
As for the future, you cannot change paths that do not exist,
you can only create them
24th century philosopher
I have both held and beheld unlimited power and
of it I know but one thing. It drives men mad.
Alexander the Great
Hello, Juggy! Nice to see you in this part of the forums!
First off, I'd like to congratulate you for a very cool story. Machiavellian references had always intrigued me. Oh, and sorry for the late comment. I chopped up my reading of this one since it had eight chapters. About my comment, well, here I go:
Words are good. Language is well-written. Can't any spelling or grammar mistake, though a few structuring and syntax problems could be noted. Here are some examples, just from the prologue:
His breath came in short, sharp gasps as he fought his way through the undergrowth. In one of his hands he carried a key. A key four inches long and as ornate as he had ever seen.
Of the original fifteen-man unit, he was the sole survivor. But now he had no way of getting back to his time,
Many others could be found throughout the outer chapters. They aren't really much of a fuss, but reading through them can get confusing at times, as these marks (commas, hyphens, etc.) could make a a big change in meaning of the words in the sentences, or how they were told, etc.
Other than this, I can see no other problem. It's pretty much a time-based story, and with all that the stereotype can offer, you've surely packed a punch with this one.
I have to admit, I am still to read half of chapter 6 and the rest of 7, but for now, I'm liking what I'm reading.
Just finished reading "Escape" and I've got to say, that was some action-packed reading, especially that attack scene by Duivelli. Amazing. Chapter 2 was a little plain for me, probably because Chapter 1 was a tough act to follow.
The Judah Duivelli character intrigues me. He sounds like Jean Reno playing Bezu Fache in The Da Vinci Code (should you've had the chance to watch it). Really intriguing.
And the borrowed time phrase at the end. I had to admit it sounded a bit of a cliche, but it was a well-intended cliffhanger.
Now for some bits I've noticed.
Conatc Five moved slowly around the obsticle on the right hand side of the room. He turned to look at the rear of the tree and...
Contact Five, Obstacle.
"Genvoa? Shit, at least 4-6 hours..."
Will read Endgame soon. I shall first accommodate some hero review requests.