The Chance I Missed

I spent four years working as a janitor in Local Shop. I was there over a year before anyone other than Boss knew what was really on my CV and when they found out, they inevitably asked ‘What the hell are you doing here?’

My answers ranged from ‘Hiding from the Mafia’ to ‘It’s a secret Government experiment and I can’t talk about it’.

Really I was there because my consultancy business went down the tubes for a variety of reasons and I was skint. In the end it actually did me a power of good. I learned a lot about the inner workings of food shops, who worked there, how they thought and why food poisoning happened. I now have a few reasons for food poisoning events that I could just share here but well, this kind of information is worth a lot.

I’ll tell you what though. It’s not the staff. Well, in a very few cases it could be but the mainstay staff? No, they get the blame but they aren’t the problem.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that I had Devo’s song ‘Whip It’ on vinyl for many years before I worked in that shop and I missed an incredible opportunity in the four years I worked there. It only came to light in a conversation with CStM this very evening.

So here, much too late for me but perhaps of potential use to any current cleaning staff out there, is what might have happened if Devo had been cleaning staff:

Wipe It

Grab that wipe
Clean the surface right
Dust in the seam
Scrub it till it’s clean

When there’s dirt upon the floor
You must wipe it
Later on there will be more
You must wipe it
Every surface, every door
You must wipe it

Now wipe it
Get it clean
Wipe it up
Use the spray
Get the brush
And the mop
Get all that dirt out
There’ll soon be more
So wipe it
Wipe it good

If it’s spilled upon the ground
You must wipe it
It’ll stain and turn to brown
Unless you wipe it
Clean that mess away
Really wipe it

I say wipe it
Wipe it good
I say wipe it
Wipe it good

Grab that wipe
Someone’s spilled the milk
If it gets in the cracks
You cannot get it back

When a table’s soaking wet
You must wipe it
Oh you haven’t finished yet
Still you wipe it
When it’s done, there’s something else
Go and wipe it

Now wipe it
Shine it up
Make it gleam
See your face
Clean that toilet
Hold your breath
Oh it’s a bad one
It’s up the walls
So wipe it
Disinfect
Clean it up
Perhaps repaint
Go outside
Take a breath
Hold on to breakfast
Or you’ll be forced –

To wipe it
Wipe it good

Eradicate Whitey

Can’t happen.

Oh you could wipe us out and replace us with Africans but guess what? That’s where we came from.

Humanity, science is pretty sure, started in north-east Africa. Side note: real science is never more than ‘pretty sure’ about anything. All of science is open to question and open to new data. When you hear ‘the science is settled’ and the Word cannot be questioned, that’s religion. Especially if it has a repeatedly-predicted apocalypse that never actually happens. Climate ‘science’ has predicted far more Days of Judgement, and been wrong more times, than any religion on Earth.

Even so, science is pretty sure on this one. Humans first appeared in north-east Africa, pretty close to where the Bible says Eden was situated (yeah, couldn’t resist chucking that cat among the pigeons :D).

So, in the beginning, we were all black-skinned. Had to be or we’d have died of sunburn and skin cancer. White skinned at or close to the equator is not a good mix – okay these days we have sunscreen and clothes but back then, no.

It is therefore no surprise that the much-vaunted Cheddar Man, apparently the first human in the UK, was black. Of course he was. He would have migrated here from Africa. Just like everybody else, everywhere on the planet.

The thing is, having black skin when you’re getting close to the poles is a disadvantage. You cannot produce enough vitamin D in your skin to survive.

Note for the obvious retort – Vit D carries calcium and helps with bone growth. You can get rickets in Africa if you have all the vit D you need but not enough calcium in your diet. You need both. Oh, and no, you could not nip to the chemist for a pack of Vitamin D pills. In many places you still can’t.

So those who were born lighter skinned in the North did better that those who were born really dark skinned. Eventially we lost most of the melatonin and became the Honkies who are so despised, even though we are actually the same people.

It took thousands of years. It will take thousands to do it again but it will happen.

So sure, wipe out Whitey and fill the North with black Africans. Wait a few thousand years and you’ll have to do it all again.

They might come here hating us, but the very act of coming here, as we did thousands of years ago, means their descendants will become us.

We are not a separate species. White people did not come from different stock than black people or brown or any other shade of skin. We are one species. We all came from the same place, we just adapted to the place we lived in. All you white people who hate black people, your ancestors were black. All you black people in Europe who hate white people, your descendants will be white.

In the end, as with most things in life, your fevered rantings and violent purges will end up changing nothing at all.

Have a cup of tea. Smoke. Relax.

In the end, nothing matters enough to get a heart attack over.

What I did on someone else’s holiday

I am a little behind. Some prefer to call me a short arse, but really I’m just a little behind.

I have copies of Mark Ellott’s latest book to send him and a couple of other things to send out which I will get done before Monday. I’m now down to two books to deal with, one novella and a collection of wonderfully surreal short stories that Roobeedoo is editing. I have a week before the next visitor…

One big mistake I made was the overuse of ‘open in new tab’ for the Leg Iron Books site. There’s no need for internal pages to open in new tabs because they are all accessible from the top menu. It’s not a hard thing to fix, it’ll just take time. One of those ‘kick yourself’ realisations.

The last week, we have been visited by CStM’s father. He travelled all the way from Denmark, he saved for ages for the trip and he hasn’t been to Scotland before – and might not get another chance for years. So we went all-out on the sights. Mostly the weather was okay, sometimes rain and thunder, but we managed to time things just right for indoor and outdoor things. We did get caught in rain a couple of times, can’t be helped, it’s Scotland.

The visits all had some kind of liquid theme but again, it’s Scotland. Wet is normal here.

So we have been to…

Loch Ness – that’s Urquhart Castle on the north shore.
Fyvie Castle, which has a lake.
Haddo House, which has a pet cemetery. Also a lake.
Dufftown, which has the Dufftown/Keith private railway and is home to Glenfiddich and Balvenie and a host of other distilleries. If you visit the Glenfiddich distillery shop you can marvel at a bottle, on open display, with a price tag of £1600! I didn’t buy that one.
Aberdeen. Naturally.
We toured the distillery at Glen Garioch, a small one that produces some excellent and often rather expensive whiskies. My budget ran to a bottle of the 12 year old which, at 48%, has to be approached with caution.
Finally, the one every visitor wants to see and the one I’m terrified they’ll want to see – the most inaccessible castle in Scotland. Dunottar. There’s no bridge. You want to see it close up, you walk down the cliff path and then up the opposite cliff path. I did it once, 20 years or so ago. I’m not keen to do it again. This is where the Scots hid the Royal Treasure from Cromwell because at the time there was no way to attack this place without getting minced. Your army is in single file down the cliff path, in full view of the archers.

I have also discovered something about driving an automatic car. When you do it a lot, and the Loch Ness trip was 8.5 hours of driving, your left leg can swell up. Your right leg is busy with pedals but your left leg is doing nothing. It’s on a long haul flight. It’s going down now but it’s something I have to keep in mind for the next trip to Wales. Frequent stops and walking about.

Now I have a week until the next visitor – CStM’s aunt – who will also want to see lots. Then we visit Denmark for a week and then it’s Halloween anthology time. So this week is going to be some intense work to get the novella ready and thank whatever Gods there are, Roobeedoo is dealing with the short story book.

I’ll very probably have to take the laptop on holiday… won’t be the first time.

Unfortunately CStM’s aunt, unlike her father, isn’t interested in tasting whisky so I won’t have an excuse to buy a different one for every day.

But I probably will anyway.

The Dance of the Garage Door

Currently I have no internet apart from using my phone as a link and that could turn out expensive if I do it too much. If you send email and I don’t answer, it might not be back to full activity for a few days. I should be back to full internet access by Tuesday or Wednesday, and here’s why (wrote this offline and pasted it in, it’s quicker that way)

Saturday was a crappy day.

On Friday I cut the big lawn. I did this late because the air has been stuffy here. It has topped 20°C (I know, perfectly normal for the end of June and some of you are weird enough to think that’s cold) and humidity levels have been appalling. The slightest exertion left me soaked in sweat and getting out of the shower meant an hour or so of trying to get dry.

Last time I cut that lawn I decided to let the clippings dry and rake them up the next day. It’s standard procedure – the grass box is no use, there’s far too much grass so I let the mower leave the clippings on the lawn. It has a flap on the back that leaves the clippings in a neat line on the left side.

Naturally, after I had cut it and left the clippings for the next day… it rained for a week. So by the time I got back to it, the grass was six inches long again and peppered with lines of rotten grass. That was the situation on Friday, when I just ran the mower over it again. Just to make it that bit more dreadful, that was when the back flap fell off the mower just so that it could coat me from head to foot in minced grass. There was a delay while I fixed it back on.

I tried to pick up the clippings straight away but as I didn’t start until 8 pm and had to fix that back flap, I ran out of light around 10:30. Still, I had the lines pulled together to make it easy to do on Saturday.

Well, it was another stuffy day so I left it until just after 6 pm to start. It was clouding over, great, that makes it cooler.

Then the rumbling started. Those clouds weren’t just overcast. They were big dark buggers and they were coming in fast. Lots of rumbling and flashes of light. I got about halfway through raking the grass when the first drops fell and I realised I was standing in a big open space, in the path of a really mad thunderstorm while holding the long metal handle of a lawn rake.

Considering the way my luck had been going the last couple of days I thought it best to beat a hasty retreat and deal with the rest of the clippings another, less potentially lethal time. In the end I finished clearing them up on Sunday. But more about Saturday…

The storm lasted over four hours. We lost count of the power outages, which were fortunately all short-lived. At one point I went out to check on the garage and found its main door wide open. I closed it and went back inside.

It took a few moments to register.

Soon after we moved in, the landlord finished his refurbishment of the garage by fitting an electric garage door. I have a key fob I can use to open it remotely, which is fun. I don’t keep the car in the garage though, partly because the garage is full of stuff but also because if the power went out long term and we had to go somewhere else for a while, the garage door wouldn’t open. There’s no manual way to do it. Anyway, I finally figured out what was happening.

What was happening was that every time the power came back on, the garage door mechanism interpreted it as a pulse and opened the door. I guess it was opening and closing at every pulse. Anyway, I had to do something about it so I decided to close it and turn off the circuit breaker so it wouldn’t randomly open again. Otherwise everything in there would get soaked.

It was getting dark by this time. Normally it doesn’t get dark here in June but the enormous thunderclouds took care of any residual sunlight. I went to the garage, sure enough the door was open but the door and lights weren’t working. Okay. I went back for a torch. The circuit breakers had flipped to ‘off’.

I turned them on. At this point, the storm decided to have a bit of fun with me and it went for peak intensity. Flashes and rumblings were seconds apart.

I pressed the button to close the door. It got halfway down – flash – the circuit breakers tripped. I turned them back on. Nothing. The power was off. The power came back on and the circuit breakers tripped.

I turned them back on and pressed the button. The door, now convinced it was in the opposite phase, opened fully. I let it. Then I pressed the button again and it started to close. Flash. The power went off but the circuit breakers didn’t trip. I waited. The power came back on and the circuit breakers tripped.

Okay. I turned them on and pressed the button. The door went back to fully open. Pressed it again. Flash The circuit breakers tripped. Switched them on. The power was off.

By this time I was considering disconnecting the door from the mechanism and nailing the damn thing closed.

One more try when the power came back. I finally got the door to almost-properly closed and – flash – the power went off.

Good enough. I made sure all the circuit breakers for the garage were off and left it.

Naturally, the rain came down like stair rods (you have to be a certain age to remember that one) and I was soaked on the short walk back into the house. Just one last insult from the storm gods.

Also we now have no internet. A quick check of the ISP’s site using the phone (we can get 4G if we’re in the right part of the house) shows that a big chunk of the UK has no internet tonight. Looks like the storms managed to hit something important.

The Dance of the Garage Door was just the storm playing around after it had completed its mission to screw up as much internet as it possibly could.

On Sunday, still with no internet, I called the ISP who ran a line check and decided the router was fried. I have to agree – the cordless landline phone is also dead but the plain old powered-from-the-phone-line one is fine. Switching things around told me the line itself is working but the router and cordless phone are destined for scrap.

I will have only intermittent internet, using the mobile phone as a link, until the new router arrives on Tuesday or Wednesday. And we have to go shopping for a phone too.

On the plus side, the storm really has cleared the air of stuffiness.

Spookiness

I love spookiness. I live with it. I am living in a house with a deer skull buried in a holly tree. No idea why, but I’m leaving it alone. There was an extension added in 1835 that used a broken-up gallows stone in the walls. Lately I have learned that the water supply comes from an ancient holy well. This place has been here since at least the early 1700s, probably much longer, and I love it. I find more weirdness every year.

There aren’t many ghosts here. There’s a shy woman and a dog. The flat I lived in before coming here had some really nasty bastards in it. CStM experienced them and would not have moved in with me if I had stayed there. I have been told that previous residents here heard a ghost piper but the only pipes we’ve heard making sounds are the plumbing.

About now there are eyes rolling. ‘Oh dear oh dear, the old daft bugger believes in ghosts’.

I believe nothing. I am old school scientist. I believe only what I see and experience for myself. I do not believe in God because while I have seen plenty of evidence for what is called ‘supernatural’ I have seen no evidence to suggest anyone is in charge of it all. No evidence that there are any rules.

When I was Romulus Crowe (a previous online incarnation) I once had a fight of sorts with an Australian who said (I paraphrase) ‘if you’re real, why don’t you get James Randi’s million dollars?’

Well, I don’t claim telekinesis or cutlery destruction or anything that can be tested. I cannot call up ghosts to order. However, I agree with Randi on one important point. Every stage psychic is a fake.

The Australian set me a challenge. ‘One of these three statements is true. Which one?’

Easy. He had told me the answer several days earlier and had forgotten. So I gave him a quick lesson in cold reading. It worked on him, an absolute sceptic. It works so very much more easily on those who want to beleive.

I know how to fake it. It’s depressingly easy to dupe people.

But I cannot prove it. Unlike the stage ‘psychics’ I cannot call up just enough ghosts for the show and never miss. I cannot guarantee that every ‘ghost’ links to someone in the audience, because I am not just making shit up. I am not going to claim your dead relative has a message for you. They don’t. Most are confused, they think they are dreaming. Some know what’s happened and are having a good time.

Some aren’t even really ghosts, they are a repeating recording of a past event. Those are the most interesting – somehow, an event gets recorded on the surroundings and replays either at set times or in response to some kind of trigger. You can’t interact with these, you’re just watching a movie. Imagine though, if you could figure out how it happened and replicate it to order. You want bluebirds to follow you every time you walk up to your house? How much would you pay for that?

Anyway, I can’t produce proof yet and really don’t care enough to try so I can never go for James Randi’s million dollars. I don’t need that much money anyway.

Okay, I know, you ‘rational people’ think I am nuts and I’m okay with that. Meeting me in person is unlikely to change that opinion. I have nothing to prove and nothing to gain (unless I do figure out how to produce ambient environment recordings, then I’ll be paying high rate tax for evermore). You want to live fully in one solid world. good luck. I wish you were right. It’s a little strange here sometimes.

But have another look at James Randi, the King of Debunking. I really think he genuinely wants to find that proof. He’s not setting out to debunk. He is offering a million dollars to someone who can prove what, I think, he really would love to see.

He is no fake, no charlatan. He does not ‘believe’ in things. Okay, sometimes he’s an arse and sometimes his methods are silly but on the whole he means well. He is right in his debunkings. So much can be faked, and faked easily. That does not prove the real thing doesn’t exist, it just proves that someone has learned how to fake it effectively.

As I said, cold reading is not a difficult skill to acquire. There are other ‘psychic’ tricks that are easy too. What makes them easy is that if you are a stage psychic, everyone who comes to your show already believes in you, and already wants to be chosen and duped. Even when Randi outed a fake psychic in one video, the dupe refused to accept that what he had been fed was fake.

You can have your assistants mingle with the mumblers before the show. Chat about what they hope to hear. Pass that info – along with the seat number – to the stage guy and it’s game on. How to get the seat number? ‘Oh, I’m right in the back row, where are you?’ ‘I’m in D13’. ‘Right near the front, lucky you.’ Gotcha. It is almost depressingly easy. Now of course you can have a nearly invisible earpiece in the performer and prompts while he’s onstage.

Faced with an audience who wants to believe you cannot fail. They will overlook the wrong guesses, they will not connect the chat they had before the show with the absence of that person from the audience. They will dismiss from memory all the hints of trickery because they really want to believe that Grandma has a message for them. If she does, and it’s not ‘What the blistering fuck are you doing?’ then it’s fake.

You know, if I was utterly unscrupulous, I could take up stage psychicry now. I won’t because I’d be too embarrassed to giive people that false hope. Their dead relatives are dead. Maybe they went to some Heaven or Hell but if those exist, nobody comes back from either of them. Hell, you can’t, and Heaven, why would you?

I don’t call myself psychic. I don’t often see ghosts of people, although I have seen a few ghost dogs including the one here. I hear them, I can touch them, but I see no more than a shadow if I see them at all. CStM and her mother have seen our ghost woman, CStM saw some of the ones at the flat I had before. That place had a lot of short-term tenants, and so did most of the other flats in the block. Wasn’t hard to work out why. Even if you refuse to believe in ghosts, a permanent uncomfortable feeling is not a good reason to stay.

One thing about that flat that initially baffled me… no spiders. None. Not even in the attic. I had an entirely spider-free attic. This house is riddled with spiders…. except for one room. Unlike the story, it’s not the room with the gallows stone in the wall. It’s much older than that part of the house. It’s the master bedroom which we don’t use because it’s upstairs and the heating system doesn’t go upstairs.

We used to be plagued with mice and regaled with exhibitions of rabbits from the kitchen window before the pine marten arrived. Also before the dog worked out that catching mice was like finding bacon money. Seems the combination of pine marten outside, bacon-loving dog inside, has pretty much eradicated the mice and also most of the rabbits. A digression…

I don’t know how old our female ghost is. I suspect she lived here when the master bedroom really was the master bedroom. Might be hundreds of years or tens of years. Now we live almost exclusively downstairs because we really don’t need the top half of the house other than for storing crap.

Basically, I am at the point where I can easily convince those who want to believe in an aftelife using outright fakery. I cannot convince those same people of the same thing with what I know to be true.

Irritating, huh?

There is an upside. I am way past caring whether anyone believes anything I say now. I am not a lecturer any more. You don’t need to pass an exam based on my ramblings. You can trust or not trust what I say and care about it no more than I do.

But when I die, well then I am really off the leash.

Chaos Abates

The stress of the book is long over, all authors are paid, all books are sent to those who elected to be paid in books (except one who I still have to persuade to accept any payment at all!). It is not yet up on Legironbooks.co.uk, and the new authors’ profiles are not on there yet.

That will happen after Monday. My office is also the guest room, we only use the upstairs rooms for storage since there’s no heating up there. My parents are here until Monday so I don’t have easy access to the desktop computer.

I am using the Laptop of Eternal Despair. It came loaded with Windows 10. Win 10 is designed for a touchscreen and this laptop doesn’t have one. So it’s not easy to use. It’s also of a spec that could run Win10 comfortably at first, but updates have swollen the program out of the laptop’s range. It is now agonisingly slow.

Once I have my desktop back I will upgrade this laptop to Windows 7.

Anyway. The big lifting of stress was jury service. If you haven’t been zapped with this one (this was my third time), what happens is this. You get a citation weeks in advance. From that point, if you are self employed, you cannot take on any work that would overlap that date and you cannot say when you will be available after that date. You might be on a one day trial or on a year-long one. This can kill your business but there is no opt-out from the court system.

Also, we live on a farm in a remote location. There is no public transport here. The nearest bus stop is an hour’s walk away for me, a lot longer for my parents, especially my father. He is 80 and has had several strokes.

Oh that doesn’t stop him. He has dismantled an old armchair we had in the greenhouse (it was there to be dismantled and burned but we hadn’t done it because we don’t go in the greenhouse in winter. It’s horrible in there). It is now completely dismantled and burned to ashes and he has cuts all over his hands. Yeah, it’s not just me, it’s in the family. My son had to have his finger sewn back together after a router incident, they X rayed him and asked when he had broken his thumb. He didn’t know he had.

Anyway. What was preying on my mind was, if I was called in to jury service I would have to take the car. That would leave my parents and CStM isolated here and if my father did some serious damage to himself, they had nobody to call on. Both my kids were at work and even if they could come out, they are both at least half an hour away. I would have known nothing because you can’t have your phone in a jury box.

If you’re wondering how much damage an 80 year old multiple stroke victim can do to himself…. last time they were here he was trying to realign patio slabs. Like son, like father…

Yes, we ended up visiting casualty that time. So you can imagine how concerned I was about being roped in to a case which might have been about something utterly tivial. As most prosecutions seem to be now. Calling someone by the wrong made-up pronoun gets you in more trouble than if you just kept quiet and stabbed them instead.

The next part of the jury process is a phone number. You call after 5 pm the night before you are due to attend and it tells you whether to attend or not. If you don’t have to go – I assume because there are cases still going on – you have to call again the following night. Three of these and if you are not called, you are free.

That’s what happened. I am free of jury service until they ‘randomly select’ me yet again five years from now. By then I might have a conviction for wrongthink which would exempt me. They are going to have trouble finding ‘clean’ jurors in five years.

By then we might even have left the EU. Scotland does not have local council elections this year but the ones in England are likely to send a very strong message to any Tories still capable of hearing it. I have seen Tory councillors on Twitter telling us that the council posts have nothing to do with Brexit and we shouldn’t punish them for what the Tory party is doing. Yeah… tough luck. You are going to get hammered.

It’s not about councils. It’s about sending a message. A message clear to every Tory MP except Tessie the Blind. She doesn’t care about the party anyway, she’s doing it all for herself. She will destroy the Tories as well as the country and they don’t seem to care. Well, it’s going to be fun to watch. Even John Major, the Monochrome Man, didn’t manage to do this much damage.

Will Corbyn win? The chaos he would inflict would be legendary. It’s the only Tory game now – ‘vote for us or Stalin’s apprentice gets in’ – but who will vote for Corbyn? How is he even still an MP? Labour supported Brexit too and Labour fucked it up too. He is really no more to be trusted than Tessie Maybe. We could see a whole new party system out of this if the Brexit supporters don’t fuck up this chance by fighting amongst themselves. Which is what they will do because they are politicians and therefore inherently stupid. Clever people get proper jobs.

The latest news is a Brexit delay until Halloween. Roobeedoo has wondered if Tessie is synchronising with Underdog Anthology release dates. It certainly looks like it, but it’s more likely that the Tin Tart just has no idea what she is doing.

The Tories are in crash and burn mode now, far more than even when Major John called ground control to say there was a problem. And they seem to think they can get votes by telling us the other side is bad.

Well, yes, they are. Our choice is to throw money into a Corbyn black hole or into a EU black hole. The Tories offer no other aletrnative, in fact they offer nothing at all. And they want us to vote for them.

No.

Entertainment time – Pandora’s Lost Luggage

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 Croatia, 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 Croatia 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.”