“You’re making me dizzy.”
“It’s like this. What Miller saw at the observatory was confirmation of a number of things that he probably suspected all along. The connection between that supernova—when did it take place?”
“Uh … in 1006.”
“That’s CE, right?” “Pardon?”
“AD. Same thing.” “Right. 1006 AD.”
Angell thought for a moment.
“Yeah. That fits. It’s the same year that one of the greatest Indian civilizations was wiped out. In fact, look at this,” he pointed to a field on the tablet. “You see that date? It’s incredible, really. But there it is. April 30, 1006. That was the date the supernova was seen. It’s also the date Mount Merapi exploded on the island of Java. The two explosions happened simultaneously. One in the heavens, and one on Earth. The one on Earth destroyed an Indian, Tantric civilization and buried Borobudur beneath a mountain of volcanic ash. It stayed that way for almost another thousand years.”
“Okay, that’s pretty interesting, but …”
“April 30 is a day that is sacred to European paganism. It’s called Beltane. But in some parts of Europe it’s known as Walpurgisnacht. It’s the day the witches gather for a major sabbat on top of Mount Brocken. It’s like Halloween for us. Oh, Christ …” Angell’s voice trailed off, as it often did when he was on a mental journey, connecting dots in a puzzle that was practically invisible to form an image that most sane people would reject.
“The other constellation …” “Lupus?”
“No, that’s just another name for Therion. The last one, the Great Bear?” “Right.”
“The Great Bear has tremendous significance throughout the world. It was often referred to as The Chariot. The Arabs referred to it as a Bier or a Coffin. To the ancient Egyptians, it was the Thigh of Set. In any case, it’s a symbol of immortality, of journeying to the stars to achieve eternal life. It’s also a symbol of rebirth, resuscitation, the reanimation of dead matter. As in mummifying the Pharaoh.”
“Okay, but where does that take us?”
“The Great Bear points to the Pole Star. The stars of the Big Dipper, part of the Bear constellation, can be used to find True North. Sailors and navigators used it in ancient times and still use it that way. But it has another purpose, too.
“It’s also a clock. A cosmic clock. It can be used to tell time. In other words, it can be used to create a schedule.”
“When was the next supernova Miller asked about?”
“Uh … here. SN 2011 Fe. That was in August of 2011. Why?”
“What constellation did it appear in?”
“Oh. Uh … ha. It appeared in the Big Dipper. The Great Bear. That one.” “What happened in August of 2011?”
Adnan shook his head and flipped through the tablet’s pages, looking for data.
“There would have to be a connection somehow. Something Miller was looking for.”
“Oh, shit. Here it is. You’re not gonna believe this.” “What?”
“It’s when they shot down our helicopter in Nuristan. Same place we were just … That was with SEAL Team Six aboard. It was the heaviest day of casualties for American servicemen in Afghanistan to that point.”
“SEAL Team Six? Wasn’t that …”
“Yeah. It was. It was the same unit that got bin Laden.” “What was the official name of the operation?” “Neptune Spear.”
“That’s spooky just by itself. Neptune’s Spear caused hurricanes and earthquakes, according to Roman mythology.” Angell was thinking of Neptune, God of the Sea, and the strange drawings he had seen, in Mosul and then at the Towers of Silence. Sea monsters. Dagon.
“And the raid took place earlier that same year.” “Bin Laden was killed on May 2.”
“Close enough to April 30.”
“Close enough for government work.”
Both men were silent, afraid to give voice to their thoughts. Were they seeing things? Ghosts in the data? A Ghost in the Machine?
It was Adnan who broke the silence.
“Wasn’t April 30 the day Hitler committed suicide?” Angell nodded.
“And sixty-six years later SEAL Team Six kills bin Laden. On almost the same day.”
“Sixty-six and six. The number of the Great Beast. Therion.” “Both bin Laden and Hitler were anti-Semites.”
“And no one’s seen the corpse of either one.”
“April 30, 1975 was the day Saigon fell to the Communists.”
“But April 30 has already passed. We’re in May now.”
“And Bin Laden was killed in May. The calendar has shifted. They’re using the Big Dipper as a kind of clock or pointer for their rituals. Maybe something to do with the precession of equinoxes or something.”
“I don’t know. I’m not an astronomer. But I bet Miller heard something that made him realize the right time is approaching. And along with the right time you need the right place.”
“And the right Book.”
“We’ve got to get to Khembalung, and we’ve got to go now.”
The shaman stands out by the fact that he has succeeded in integrating into consciousness a considerable number of experiences that, for the profane world, are reserved for dreams, madness, or post-mortem states.
—Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation
Permission was granted by the Nepalese government to have a US helicopter fly into their airspace. The excuse given had something to do with a meteorological survey in the mountains.
Adnan, Angell and six of their new best friends were onboard and would be inserted as close to the cave entrance of Khembalung as possible using a helo in the Himalayas. They had pretty good coordinates based on an expedition that took place there a decade earlier, and a set of photos of the entrance to make it easier to locate. Everyone was heavily armed and wearing Kevlar body armor. They would do a flyover first in order to see if there was a welcoming committee. If there was, orders were to drop Angell and two men off at a suitable LZ while the others would go on ahead to neutralize any opposition.
They got as close as they could get in the MI 17, which was a very versatile craft in that part of the world. Made by the Russians, it seemed everyone had one. The Pakistanis, the Afghans, the Indians all had MI 17s and had more on order. Although the Americans favored their own Black Hawks and Chinooks, the sheer prevalence of the MI 17 in the region made it imperative that US helo pilots were checked out on them as well.
It also enabled this particular team to travel relatively incognito. A fully-armed Black Hawk with all the trimmings would have been much
They found a relatively flat space that was not crowded out by tree branches or low hanging rock. It was still at least two miles to the Khembalung entrance as the crow flies, probably twice as long considering the route they would have to take. The helo crew reported no sign of human life in the immediate vicinity; infra-red and thermal all came up negative as well. At least, outside the mountain. Inside, they were on their own.
Angell was getting tired of commuting in helicopters. But he was tired of commuting in jingle trucks and Japanese pickups, too. He got a change of clothes at Shahbaz before they left, and a shower and shave for the first time in days for which he was eternally grateful. There was no longer any need to have him pass for a local. He was in the company of well-trained, well-armed men of his own country’s military. They were JSOC, and this fact alone made Angell relax. Had he thought about it, though, he would have realized that the White House didn’t send JSOC teams on routine missions.
He was dressed warmly, in a fur-lined parka and hat with ear flaps. This was over body armor that covered him from the neck to the groin. He was already too warm, but was grateful for the added protection. It would get cold soon enough, once the sun went down which was in about an hour.
The team trudged up the mountain and along a small stream. The sound of the running water was like bells tinkling. It was a peaceful scene, but the JSOC men were on their guard. Adnan was up front with the team leader, and Angell was in the middle of the file. The countryside was shrouded in a fine grey mist that seemed to come from nowhere, and which reminded Angell of the weird fog that appeared suddenly at Tell Ibrahim during the ritual to Kutulu. They were walking along the west side of a river called Chhoyang. It was a popular trail for trekkers and tourists from abroad; it was also used extensively by local villagers, none of whom had become visible as yet.
Their intel had told them to avoid the main cave entrance as it was a destination for tourists and pilgrims and did not lead to the deepest part of the interior where, it was believed, Miller and a group of unknown individuals called the Keepers of the Book were headed. Angell and his team had the benefit of military transport and official approval for their mission; it was entirely possible, even likely, that they had beat Miller to
the site and could set up and wait for him to appear. As for the mysterious Keepers of the Book, no one knew when they arrived or if they would arrive at all.
A digital map on a small tablet attached with Velcro to the team leader’s arm revealed another point of access that was downriver from the more popular one, and hidden by a stand of trees. Above them at twenty thousand feet was another UAV, a drone, that was tracking their every move as well as transmitting valuable data on weather, physical obstacles, movements of people and vehicles, etc. In addition, video was being uploaded from cameras attached to the body armor of the JSOC men. The whole thing made Angell feel as if he was a character in a video game.
As they walked, he thought back to the man shot to death by a single bullet fired from the rifle of an Indian sniper. He was a local Pakistani villager, a man who probably never went further than a few miles from his home in his life. Yet, he spoke to Angell in his father’s voice. In English. And told him to go back. He couldn’t get his head around that. His father had been dead for years. Cirrhosis of the liver was the official cause, but it was really a slow suicide. Angell didn’t like to think about any of that. There was no point, really. He never knew his father, not in any kind of normal father-son relationship. He didn’t feel he had missed anything when his father died. Yet, here he was, hearing his father’s voice warning him out of the mouth of a man on the other side of the world. One day he would have to figure out what that meant. Obviously, it hadn’t really happened that way. He must have imagined it.
Shit, he thought. This whole mission is about imagination. At some point we have to decide that at least some imaginary data or experience is real data or experience.
The team leader raised his hand and held it. That meant for the group to stop in their tracks. Adnan could be seen talking to him, and looking around at the mountain face.
Then he pointed.
Angell couldn’t see it, but it was there. An outcropping of rock that looked natural enough, because it was natural. The alternate cave entrance was behind it. The column of men moved up, off the path next to the river, and along a straight line to the rocks. It was already growing dark, and for security the JSOC team turned on their night vision goggles rather than use
flashlights which would have announced their existence for miles in any direction.
Angell didn’t have night vision goggles, but was able to follow the man in front of him up the steep incline. One by one the men disappeared into the mountain. One of the team reached down for Angell’s arm and led him up and around the rocks to an even darker patch of night. Once inside, they turned off their night vision and turned on their flashlights.
They seemed to be quite alone in the cave entrance. Further down they could just about make out a narrow tunnel that was wide enough for a single person to wedge through. Past that point there seemed to be something flickering. A lantern, possibly, or a butter lamp. That was the best-case scenario anyway.
The JSOC team leader held a confab with his men. He would lead a group into the tunnel to see who or what was there. They didn’t want any surprises. He would leave Angell there with Adnan, and gave the latter a fully-loaded pistol.
“You could hold off an army from here with that nine mil. The entrance is designed to let only a single person at a time get past the rock and into the cave. We’re going inside. If I hear shots from here, I’ll send reinforcements your way, don’t you worry.”
“No problem, sir. Got it covered.”
“Outstanding. See you in five,” and with that he squeezed into the tunnel after his men, leaving Adnan and Angell to guard the entrance.
Adnan had kept his beard, but otherwise looked like a different person. His reason for keeping the beard was that he was due to go back online in Kurdistan once this mission was over and he couldn’t afford to wait a few months to grow another full bush. But seeing him now as more American than Kurd was an interesting sight to Angell. He marveled at how people had multiple forms to suit different occasions. Yesterday, an Iranian Kurd; today, an American intelligence officer. Same person in each case. He was about to say something about it, to draw Adnan’s attention to the observation, when they both heard a sound at the cave entrance.
Adnan drew his automatic and leveled it at the entrance. There was a shuffling sound, and Angell shone his flashlight directly at the place the sound was coming from.
It was a Nepalese villager, it seemed. Short, in his forties probably, weathered skin. Unarmed.
“What are you doing here? What do you want?” said Adnan, uncomfortably aware that he was the interloper, not the villager.
“Shouldn’t you ask who I am first?” said the man, in Indian-accented English.
“I am the priest of this place. You would call me a shaman, probably. Although we don’t use that term. A little too colonial for our taste, like you gentlemen have priests but we poor beggars only have shamans. Or medicine men, or something. My name is of no consequence. You couldn’t pronounce it anyway. May I sit down? It’s a long walk for an old man.”