A story from Transgenre Dreams.
“The delegation has arrived, Mr. Blackthorn.”
Erasmus Blackthorn tapped the intercom on his desk. “Send them up, Melissa.”
He placed his hands on his huge and largely empty desk and swung his chair a little. They had come to dissuade him, but they were too late. His people were already on site and already digging. Erasmus indulged himself a smile, which he knew he would have to lose soon. These people would expect serious conversation and if he was to get what he wanted out of this meeting, he would have to keep it serious.
“Do we have the permits yet?” Charlie West’s face was full of concern, but then it always was.
“They are coming. Mr. Blackthorn has cleared this with the authorities. Don’t worry, Charlie, we aren’t going to get into any trouble.” Terry Rarity sighed. Charlie was a worrier. Maybe Terry shouldn’t have brought him on this dig but Charlie was a good archaeologist and particularly skilled at noticing the tiny details so many others overlooked. The downside was Charlie’s insistence on proper protocol. If he ever found out there were no permits, that the whole thing was a catalogue of Blackthorn’s calling in favours, coupled with payoffs and bribes, he’d have a fit.
“You know I’m not comfortable unless it’s all above board.” Charlie stared at his shoe as he twisted it in the dirt.
“I know. It’s fine, Charlie, really. We’re just following up on earlier work. The hole we’re digging into was first dug in 2001. This isn’t some speculative dig, we already know we’re onto something.”
Charlie sniffed. “Do we know why they stopped work back then?”
“Well,” Terry said. “You know the current situation in this country, right? The government had a lot more to worry about than some guys in a hole in the ground and really, they still do. They can’t spare time nor money on archaeology. We have Mr. Blackthorn’s funding so the country isn’t having to pay out, and they get tax revenue and permit fees and they do need the money. That’s the only way we’ve been able to revive this dig.”
Charlie shrugged. “I don’t understand why nobody did it this way before. It’s a fascinating find and it just got ditched for so many years.”
Ah, Charlie, you’re still at the stage where you think science is pure and scientists don’t engage in sneaky, underhand practices to keep the money flowing. “It’s about funding. Basically, about keeping funding going by not reaching the end point.” Terry held up his hands. “It’s the science version of politics, Charlie. Stay one step away from the final discovery for as long as possible, and the money keeps coming. It’s the game that has corrupted real science in every field.” Terry smiled. “We don’t play that game and neither does Mr. Blackthorn. We want to see the end point. We want to see the last secret opened within our lifetime.”
Charlie closed one eye in a lopsided smile. “I want that too.”
“Gentlemen, welcome. Please, have a seat.” Erasmus indicated the three chairs placed in front of his wide desk. “Can I offer anyone a drink?”
The three men exchanged glances and all shook their heads.
“No thank you, Mr. Blackthorn. The matter at hand is urgent, at least to us.”
Erasmus recognised Professor Christopher Rooke and extended his hand. “I’m quite certain it is of the utmost importance to you, Professor Rooke.”
The Professor ignored Erasmus’ proffered handshake and raised his eyebrows. “You know me?”
“Of course.” Erasmus let his hand fall to his side. “I do not enter into projects, nor business arrangements, not even meetings, without knowing who I am dealing with.” He nodded to the other two men. “Professor Williamson. Doctor Prosser. I haven’t studied all your work in detail, of course, that would require rather more time than I have available, but I think I have the general idea.” He relaxed into his chair. “Please, gentlemen, be seated, and tell me your concerns.”
The three men sat. Professor Rooke placed his arms on the desk, fingers interlocked. “We are here because of the projects you have applied for. The permits you have applied for, I mean. You’re clearly in a position to fund the projects yourself.”
“Quite so. I have engaged the services of one of your colleagues, a Doctor Rarity, and we are seeking permission for digs in a number of locations.”
“Rarity!” Prosser sneered. “He’s a treasure hunter, not an archaeologist.”
Erasmus smiled. “I am a businessman, not a scientist. I am not interested in discovery for its own sake. I am, as you correctly deduce, in it largely for the profit.”
Rooke waved Prosser to silence. “Mr. Blackthorn, what you will find is not treasure. There is no gold in the chambers you propose investigating.”
Erasmus smiled wider. “I know, but not all treasure is gold.”
Terry looked over the drawing Charlie had made. “So all these stone vials contain pressurised carbon dioxide?”
“Yes,” Charlie indicated the lines of vials embedded in the walls and revealed by their ground penetrating radar. “Try to break through by force and we’ll release enough of it to asphyxiate ourselves down there. It’s heavier than air, and two or three of those would be enough to fill the dig.”
“I wonder how they did that?” Terry mused. “We have to get a few of them out intact, for later study.”
“Won’t be easy.” Charlie sniffed. “Those things are embedded in the stones and then there’s the vibration down there. Subsonic, makes you feel like crap. We still don’t know where that comes from. We have to cycle the diggers because they can’t work in there for more than an hour. They certainly can’t hold on long enough to extract one of those vials.”
“We’ll get back to the vials later.” Terry scanned the hand drawn diagram. “There must be a way into the thing. I bet the vibrations come from something inside, and if we can find it and stop it, it’ll be much easier. I can’t see a way in.”
“There might be one.” Charlie pointed to a mark on the ground scan. “It’s in the north face. We’re digging down the east face.”
Terry squinted at the printout. “Where?”
“It’s faint, but it’s there. A rectangular patch about halfway down the side of the structure.” Charlie took a red pen and circled the spot.
Terry took a deep breath. He had been right to bring Charlie along. Nobody else would have spotted that. “So, can we get to it?”
Charlie shrugged. “The easy way would be to dig another shaft. The quick way would be to tunnel sideways, around the thing, but that has more risk of a tunnel collapse.”
“We won’t be able to dig another shaft. We’re lucky to have access at all, the government here isn’t going to like us digging holes wherever we please.” Terry tapped his pen against his chin. The truth is, digging another shaft will get us noticed and we aren’t supposed to be here. “We have to try the tunnel. Just make sure it’s well shored up.”
“It’s not too far around and we’re already past the point where we’re deep enough. I’ll get the ground staff to make a start. Can we get enough wood?”
“No problem. Mr. Blackthorn gave us a generous budget,” Terry said. “Just tell me what you need.” And I’ll bribe the right people to get it.
Williamson tapped his fist against his mouth and cleared his throat before speaking. “Mr. Blackthorn, we are all aware of your fascination with the occult. It is likely you expect to find some artefact in the chambers you are interested in. I can assure you, there is nothing of interest in any of them. Nothing that you, nor anyone else, can make use of.”
Erasmus raised his eyebrows. “You’ve opened them?”
All three shifted in their seats. Rooke spoke. “No. We have not opened them because there is no need. We already know what they contain and they have to remain sealed.”
Erasmus could raise his eyebrows no further. “Really? So what do they contain?”
Charlie led the way down the steep stairway cut into the sloping shaft. “It’s no more than ten or twenty years old. The wood still has local builders’ stamps on it.”
“You mean someone beat us to it? Damnation.” Terry clenched his fists.
“Here we are.” Charlie stopped at a hole lined with new wood. “We cut through a few feet of earth and the tunnel was already there. Looks like someone blocked it off but they didn’t do a very good job.” Ahead, the new wood changed to slightly older, darker wood lining the walls and roof of the tunnel. “I’ve sent the diggers home for the day. We don’t need them now and finding this spooked them a bit.” He grinned. “It spooked me a bit too, until I realised it was very recent.”
“Maybe they didn’t get as far as that entrance you found. Maybe they didn’t open it.” Terry bit into his lip. If they had lost out, future funding from the Blackthorn group would not be guaranteed.
“Maybe.” Charlie handed a flashlight to Terry and turned his own on, then started along the tunnel. “Nobody has been down this passage yet. It might not go all the way.”
“We can’t tell you.” Prosser folded his arms. “You just have to trust us.”
Erasmus smiled his broadest smile. “I won’t have to worry about trust. One of those chambers will be open soon. Doctor Rarity is digging into it as we speak.”
The effect was electric. Erasmus relaxed in his chair and wished he had brought popcorn. All three men shouted at once, all three pulled out cellphones and scrolled through screens of something or other. Contacts, Erasmus guessed, but who should they call first? Which of the many unexplored chambers, around the planet, was Doctor Rarity about to open?
Professor Rooke was first to grasp the dilemma. He quieted the others then turned to Erasmus, his phone gripped in his hand.
“Which one? Where are you digging?”
Erasmus steepled his fingers. “I can’t tell you that. You just have to trust me.” He could have laughed at the expression on Rooke’s face, but he managed – barely – to contain himself. This was the moment he had planned for all along and now it was here he had to stay in control. This was no time to collapse in helpless laughter. He could do that when his game was over.
Prosser banged his fist on the desk. “You don’t know what’s in there! You have no idea what you’ll release.”
“We’ll know soon enough.” Erasmus looked from one to the other. He had them in a corner, and the looks on their faces told him they knew it.
“The vibrations don’t seem so bad in here.” Terry ran his hand over his stomach. “I always feel as if I’m about to shit myself in the main shaft, but all I feel in here is a little bit queasy.”
“I think the vibrations come from the top of the pyramid and travel down the structure.” Charlie placed his hand on one of the side walls, then the other. “Yes, you can feel it on the side that’s next to the pyramid. Maybe the wooden walls attenuate it, or perhaps it’s all the earth that’s still piled against this side.”
“Interesting.” Terry tested the walls and nodded. “We’ll have to have a look at the top of this thing. Might be something we can sell to the military.”
“Well, this is where the tunnel turns a corner so we’re about halfway.” Charlie shone his flashlight along the tunnel. “This might get to the entrance after all.”
“I hope not.” Terry gritted his teeth. “I hope they gave up just before they reached it, and left it to us to finish the job.”
“That would be nice, but it’s a long shot. Nobody goes to this much trouble just to give up at the last minute.” Charlie started walking again.
Williamson closed his eyes and drew a long, slow breath. He opened them and faced Erasmus. “What will it take to stop your dig? Money?”
This time, Erasmus did laugh. “Money? I have more than I will ever need, thanks. No, you can’t buy me off. Try again.”
“What is it you want?” Prosser’s face showed defeat.
“It’s simple.” Erasmus tilted his head. “I want to know what’s in those chambers. That’s why I’m funding Doctor Rarity’s expedition. Really, there is nothing complicated about it, gentlemen. I just want to know.”
For several long minutes, they sat in silence. Finally, Rooke spoke.
“If we tell you, will you stop the dig?”
Erasmus kept his face impassive. “If you can convince me you’re telling the truth, and that it’s important to keep the chambers sealed, yes.”
“We can’t.” Prosser put his hand on Rooke’s arm. “This is too big to get out.”
Rooke’s laugh came out as a snort. “If he opens that chamber, it all gets out. And we have no idea how to put it back.”
“He’s right.” Williamson faced Erasmus. “We have to rely on your absolute discretion. Not one word of this can leave this room.”
“Of course.” Erasmus allowed himself a small smile. “I am a businessman, gentlemen. Keeping secrets is part of the job.”
“How much time do we have?” Rooke stared at the desk. “How long before he opens the chamber?”
“He will call me when he finds a way in. I want to be there when it opens. So we have a little time yet.” Erasmus put his elbows on the desk. “Begin at the beginning, Professor Rooke.”
“What the hell?” Charlie almost dropped his flashlight.
Terry battled the rising nausea in his insides. The vibrations had increased, massively and suddenly and the thing on the floor really wasn’t helping. He was sure his gut was going to violently empty at both ends, any second now.
“Charlie…” Terry retched. “Charlie, let’s get the hell out. We have to tell Mr. Blackthorn about this.”
“We should tell everyone.” Charlie stood immobile, his face in a shocked rictus.
“Charlie. Move. Now. Or I’m going without you.” Terry started down the tunnel. “Blackthorn is paying us. We tell him first.” He was relieved when he heard Charlie’s footsteps following, then terrified when his mind wondered if that was really Charlie following. After what they had seen… dare he look back?
Terry picked up the pace and tried not to break into a panicked run.
Professor Rooke tapped his finger on the desk a few times before he spoke. “You are no doubt aware of the, ah, conspiracy theories concerning ancient structures? The pyramids in Egypt, the Göbekli Tepe find, Gunung Padang in Indonesia, the Aztec and Inca ruins, even Stonehenge in England and so on? We have gone to great lengths to keep the things under them secret, even to the extent of announcing the Stonehenge chamber find on April 1st so everyone would think it was a joke.”
“The theories that they could not be constructed by modern technology, so must have been of alien origin?” Erasmus smirked. “Surely you aren’t going to give me a flying saucer story?”
“No.” Rooke’s face remained serious. “There was no alien involvement. Those structures were built by, and most were deliberately destroyed or buried by, humans. At a time long before our current ancestors were cavemen.”
“I have heard the ideas put around that those structures are so old, they must have been built while we were still making flint tools. It is a difficult idea to put credence in.” Erasmus raised his hand. “My apologies for the interruptions, Professor.”
“Not at all.” Rooke’s smile was tight and short lived. “This tale is going to get a lot stranger before the end.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “It was almost Utopia. One world, one language, one government with very few laws and most people did what they liked. The Tower of Babel story was almost real. No God did that, humanity broke itself apart deliberately. To save itself, or so they believed. The tinfoil hatters are partly right, but the loss of that advanced civilisation was not the result of a cataclysm. Not a global flood, not an asteroid, nothing like that.” He opened his eyes to look directly at Erasmus. “They destroyed it all themselves. All their records, all their achievements, all their technologies. They, in fact, tried to delete themselves from history and returned to the primitive life. They weren’t ‘contemporary with cavemen’ They became those cavemen. Deliberately.”
Erasmus shook his head. “Why?”
“They became morose.” Williams winced at Rooke’s glare. “Sorry. A bad joke.”
Rooke sighed. “Bad, but essentially correct.” He leaned forward on Erasmus’ desk. “They came to believe their technology was bad, that it was destroying the planet, that they were heading for a global catastrophe of their own making. It wasn’t true but they believed it and ‘morose’ is the reason. Or rather, Moros.”
Erasmus sat back in his chair, rummaging in his brain for his memories of that name. “Moros was part of Greek mythology. He brought mortals to their doom. I’d have to look up the details, I don’t remember this particular character very well.”
“You won’t need to. Moros was a real entity. As were most of those in the various pantheons of gods. Memories of the old times, passed down and corrupted. Did you ever notice how every single religion has one ‘chief’ god and then a lot of lesser gods, or angels, or demons, with specific jobs? They are all memories of the same thing. The things the ancients woke, or activated, or perhaps even created, with their technology.”
“You don’t know?” Erasmus raised one eyebrow.
“There are only fragments left. They did a very good job of erasing themselves. We have a good picture but it’s incomplete.”
“I understand. So this Moros was human?” Erasmus folded his arms and leaned forward, fascinated.
“No. We have not been able to determine exactly what he, and others, were. They might have been in human form but they were not human. They certainly didn’t like humans very much.” Rooke snorted. “They spent their time convincing humanity it was doomed, on any level they could get a grip on. They were the ones telling people they were causing their own destruction and they were so convincing, so believable, that humans trying to avoid their own destruction actually caused it.”
“So Moros led them to self-destruction, as the legends say.” Erasmus sniffed. “However, I don’t see how this leads to what is in the chambers. Is it the knowledge they tried to delete? If so, that would be worth a great deal.”
Rooke shook his head. “We have some of their technology but we dare not release it, nor use it. Something in their work called up, or let loose, or created Moros and his gang of doomsayers and we don’t know what it was. We do know they deliberately tried to destroy or hide absolutely all of it but we don’t know which parts are dangerous.”
“Well, surely this Moros is long dead by now so you can’t call him up again,” Erasmus said.
Prosser spluttered. “Aren’t you listening? Moros might have been created by their technology so if we try to use it, we might create another one. And this time we don’t know how to lock it away.”
“I was getting to that.” Rooke said. “It’s worse than Doctor Prosser suggests. Moros, and his underlings, once created or released or whatever happened, turned out to be immortal.”
Prosser piped up. “Also unkillable. The damn thing is indestructible and that’s why we don’t want to accidentally make another.”
Erasmus whistled. “You’re telling me this Moros is locked in one of those chambers, right?”
“Exactly right.” Rooke leaned further forward. “His gang, his brood, whatever you want to call them, are in the other chambers. Someone worked out how to snare them but we haven’t found any record of how they did it. They erased everything and put humans back to the stone age to start again.”
“If they had the threat contained, why didn’t they just go back to the way things were? Rebuild their civilisation?”
“When the lie gets big enough it cannot be contained. Even when the originator is out of circulation. These were people, just like us, with the same failings. They continued to believe they had to shut everything down.” Williamson shrugged. “We don’t know for sure, of course, but our best guess is that Moros was contained too late. Those who contained him realised that they had to hide all evidence of what they had done and hope no future generations ever found the chambers.”
Rooke smiled. “Curiosity doesn’t just kill cats, Mr. Blackthorn. Your expedition could well kill everyone. If those things get out, we don’t know how to put them back.” He sat back in his chair. “That is why those chambers must never be opened. Or at least, not until we know how to contain the things within them.”
Erasmus considered this. “I agree,” he said. “An overt demon would commit atrocities, and humanity would react at once. A subtle demon like Moros does not destroy. He incites people to destroy themselves. He could build his plan over decades without being noticed. Sowing division and hate and paranoia until humanity collapses under its own fear. I will of course keep your secret and stop the dig as soon as Doctor Rarity calls me.”
“Thank you, Mr. Blackthorn.” Williams wore a look of relief, as did the others. “Will you now tell us where he is digging?”
“In the one place I didn’t apply for permits. The least known place of all the places so far discovered.” Erasmus grinned. “In Crimea, Sevastopol. The buried pyramid discovered by Vitaly Goh in 2001.”
“Oh my God. We were just in time.” Prosser put his face in his hands.
Rooke shut his eyes, tight. “It’s the least known place because it’s the one we tried to keep most secret. It’s where Moros is contained and if he gets out he can release all the others.”
Williamson scoffed. “He’d never get in. The pyramid has a subsonic generator to deter humans and is loaded with asphyxiants. Try to break through and you’ll die.”
“Fortunately, Doctor Goh documented these things before the military took over the area.” Erasmus steepled his fingers. “I sent Doctor Rarity in with full knowledge of those traps. And I’m afraid keeping things secret is very difficult in this digital age. YouTube, in particular, is becoming quite a resource.”
Rooke nodded. “The military have been in control of the area since. They were instructed to leave it alone.” He looked at Erasmus. “I suppose they have become lax, and open to bribery, since they started?”
Erasmus laughed. “Quite so. An army guarding a hole in the ground for almost two decades does become easily distracted. It wasn’t what they signed up for.”
“It’s no laughing matter.” Prosser scowled. “This conversation might just have saved us all from going back to another stone age, although this time Moros might have finished us. We might also have saved your life, Mr. Blackthorn. Moros has been in the box for tens of thousands of years. He will need sustenance. He’ll suck all the life out of the first person he hits when the door is open.”
“Damn this phone. Why is it taking so long?” Terry glared at the screen, at the low bars of the reception indicator. “If we had WiFi here we could have contacted him that way.”
“Military wouldn’t allow it in case we tapped into their systems.” Charlie sat with his hands in his lap, staring at the floor. “Do you think they know?”
“Of course they know. That corpse was in military uniform. The same uniform they wear on the base.” Terry’s phone beeped. “At last. Hello? I have to speak with Mr. Erasmus Blackthorn. It’s urgent.”
“That corpse looked mummified. Like it was a thousand years old.” Charlie lowered his head. “How can that be?”
“Quiet, Charlie.” Terry waved his hand.
The woman’s voice on the phone said: “Mr. Blackthorn is in a meeting. Can you call back?”
“No. No, this is very important. Tell him it’s Doctor Rarity. He knows who I am and he’ll understand why it’s important I speak to him at once.”
There was a pause. “I’ll get a message to him but I don’t think he’ll be pleased. He doesn’t like being interrupted in meetings. Please hold.”
Appalling, tinny music drifted from the phone. “Jesus H. Christ!” Terry forced his grip to relax in case he accidentally crushed the phone in his fingers.
The woman’s voice returned, sounding rather less pompous than before. “Mr. Blackthorn will take your call. I’m putting you through, Doctor Rarity.”
Terry braced himself. This was likely to be the worst phone call of his life.
Erasmus opened a drawer in his desk and took out an ashtray, lighter, and a box of cigars. “I think this meeting is a success, don’t you, gentlemen?” He offered the cigars around. All three declined.
“Isn’t it illegal to smoke in your place of work?” Prosser scowled at him.
“Probably.” Erasmus lifted a cigar and clipped the ends. “Some of us just don’t care.”
“Perhaps we should have let you die when that chamber opened. It would be one less smoker on the planet.” Prosser’s face twisted in a sneer.
“Oh, I had no intention of opening it. No need, really.” He lit his cigar. “You see, gentlemen, I wanted you here at this precise moment for a reason. Have you been watching the news? Have you followed the insanity of the world lately? It had a sudden onset, didn’t it?”
“What are you talking about?” Rooke narrowed his eyes.
“Well, sure, there has always been a low-level insanity in society. That’s normal. The last decade or so though, it has ramped up enormously. Didn’t you notice?” Erasmus took a puff and blew a blue cloud into the air. “After your description of the end of that advanced civilisation, did you really not notice?”
Williamson blinked. “Notice what?”
A light blinked on the phone. Cigar clamped in his teeth, Erasmus checked the message on its LCD screen. ‘Dr. Rarity calling. Do I put him through?’ Erasmus picked up the phone. “Yes, Melissa, put him on. He is relevant to this meeting.” He put the phone on ‘speaker’ and replaced the handset then answered Williamson. “Noticed what I’m about to tell you you should have noticed. If only you scientists had put windows in those ivory towers.”
“What?” Rooke leaned forward. “Do you have information we should know?”
“A great deal.” Erasmus grinned. “And some you’ll never know. This information though, is something you would never have accepted had I not set up this proof.”
“We are scientists.” Prosser’s sneer intensified. “We deal in facts and reality, not the pipe dreams of some money-oriented business-suited smoker.”
“Shut up, Prosser.” Rooke glared at him. “There’s something going on here and we have to listen.”
He’s getting the idea, Erasmus thought. The phone beeped to signal a call coming through.
“Hello? Mr. Blackthorn?” Terry’s voice crackled through the bad connection. “It’s Terry Rarity.”
Blackthorn took a puff of his cigar and relaxed in his chair. “Yes, Doctor Rarity. You are speaking to me, Professor Rooke, Professor Williamson and Doctor Prosser. You may speak freely.”
“Prosser? That arse?”
Erasmus feigned a coughing fit but noticed the little smirk on Rooke’s face. “Yes, and as I said, we can all hear you.”
“Never mind. Look, we found the entrance and it’s open. There’s nothing in there.”
Erasmus took a slow drag on his cigar. “I told you not to open it until I was there.” His voice stayed calm. The other three did not.
“You opened it? You bloody idiot!” Prosser shouted.
“I didn’t open it. It was already open.” Terry yelled from the speaker. “Listen. There’s a corpse, looks mummified but is in modern military uniform. There’s a tunnel that Charlie reckons is no more than ten to twenty years old. Someone beat us to it. Calm the hell down, I’m still trying to get this into perspective in my head.”
“Would anyone like a whisky?” Erasmus opened another drawer and lifted out a decanter and some glasses.
“You don’t seem to be at all surprised.” Rooke shook his head. “You knew about this?”
“No, I didn’t know for sure, but I suspected.” Erasmus poured himself a whisky then set the decanter on the desk. “Help yourselves, gentlemen.” He tapped ash from his cigar. “This is exactly what I have been expecting.”
“Expecting?” Terry shouted from the speaker. “You sent me on a wild goose chase?”
“What the hell do you mean, you expected it?” Rooke narrowed his eyes.
Erasmus held up his hands. “Gentlemen, please, calm down. We can discuss this in a civil fashion.”
“You don’t seem to think there is any urgency.” Prosser’s face had turned bright red. “Didn’t you listen?”
Erasmus sighed. “Doctor Rarity has already told us that the chamber has been open for over a decade. The results you fear are already under way.”
“What results? What’s going on?” Terry sounded baffled.
“Doctor Rarity, thank you for your work on this. I will of course continue to fund the expedition, although you might want to let the military know they have a body down there.”
“But the chamber—”
“Is empty, yes.” Blackthorn steepled his fingers. “There is still the matter of the subsonic generator. Find that, and it’s likely to be worth a fortune.”
“Well…” Terry muttered.
“Take a few days off. Give your staff a break too. You’ll need to let the military collect the corpse anyway.”
There was a pause. “Okay.” Terry sounded calmer. “Thanks, Mr. Blackthorn.”
“Keep me updated. Goodbye for now, Doctor Rarity.” Blackthorn switched off the phone. He faced the others. “Well, gentlemen, we can talk now. I suspect this matter is not something we should be letting Doctor Rarity know about yet, given his delight in publicity.”
“Absolutely.” Williams nodded.
“That publicity hound would have it on every front page.” Prosser sneered.
Rooke leaned forward. “Why are we here, Mr. Blackthorn? You seem to already know everything.”
“Not at all,” Erasmus said. “I knew the chambers existed, of course. Every late-night geek rummaging on YouTube knows about them. However, I had no idea what was in them. I congratulate you on keeping that part very quiet, by the way. I really didn’t know about Moros and his gang of dark whisperers. In fact, I doubt I would ever have thought of that name. He was a very minor character in the mythology we are taught nowadays. No, all I had was a feeling that the buried pyramid in Crimea was likely to have been breached. The little I had heard of the place made it, logically, almost inevitable. I didn’t know what was in there but I had a feeling something was released.”
“Just feelings? That’s a thin reason to pay for an archaeological expedition.” Prosser blinked. “You must have had more?”
Erasmus nodded. “I have noticed a massive increase in what I would term ‘general lunacy’ all over the world. It started in the early 2000s. So I began searching for a link, something big, something that happened around that time. Vitaly Goh’s discovery was the biggest anomalous event of the time and it was being kept rather quiet, I thought.”
“But he didn’t open the chamber. He didn’t get very far at all.” Rooke shrugged. “Once we realised what he had found, we persuaded the government of the time to declare it a military base and close it. That put a stop to his and all other digs. Until now.”
“Not quite.” Erasmus pursed his lips. “You didn’t think it through, you know. That pyramid contains a subsonic generator that has operated with no apparent power source for tens of thousands of years. Clearly, this is something of interest to a weapons technologist and most definitely of interest to the military.” He paused for breath. “Gentlemen, you put a military base on top of a potentially useful weapon and told them to leave it alone. Of course they didn’t leave it alone.”
“Oh, shit.” Rooke put his face in his hands.
“My guess is that they opened it within a year of you closing it down. Which means Moros was released in 2002 or 2003. Which fits with when the world really started cracking up.” Erasmus took a sip of his whisky and stubbed out his cigar.
“Doesn’t make sense,” Williamson said. “If they got as far as opening it and lost a man in the process, why didn’t they carry on looking for that generator?”
“As with all of this, we can only guess at most of it.” Erasmus refilled his glass. “Maybe Moros caused them to forget what was down there. Maybe they were scared – soldiers are human too, remember. Maybe they decided to close the dig until they could find another way in. Maybe… maybe they thought they’d let some actual archaeologists do the job and pick up the device when they found it.” He waved his hand. “Any guess is as good as any other at this point.”
“And none of them matter.” Prosser glowered. “Moros is out, and has been for almost two decades. He’s had plenty of time to release all the others. Who knows what they might have been doing?”
Erasmus snorted. “Really? After all you’ve just told me? You don’t know what they’ve been up to?” He held up his hand and unfolded one finger at a time. “The planet is doomed unless we give up all our technology. People are splitting into smaller and smaller factions and fighting over differences that really don’t matter. People are outraged if someone utters one word out of place.” He closed his hand and banged the desk. “And so much more. How could you not have noticed, when you were the ones with the answer to why it was happening?”
Rooke still had his hands over his face. He lowered them to reveal new lines in his skin. “We thought the chambers were intact. We didn’t know.”
“Ha!” Erasmus bared his teeth. “And if you had known where Doctor Rarity was digging, you would have blocked it and we still wouldn’t know.” He sighed. “Well there’s no point getting angry about it. Pandora’s box is open.”
Williamson laughed, a hollow sound. “Box? This is Pandora’s entire luggage set for a year-long round-the-world cruise. We were supposed to be the baggage handlers and we’ve lost the lot.”
Erasmus stood and leaned on his desk. “Gentlemen, I will need access to every bit of that ancient technology you have deciphered. Every fragment, no matter how apparently inconsequential. If we are to put this thing back in its box, we need every clue available, and it is not going to be easy. Whatever trick those ancient people used to get Moros and his horde contained will not work again. We have to know what that trick was, and how they made those containment chambers.” He stared at the three stunned faces before him. “What do we do first?”
Rooke eyed the decanter. “I think I’d like to accept that drink now.”