General Alfred William North entered his superior officer’s luxurious suite in the Pentagon. General Samson had been appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year, and had taken Al with him into the stratospheric world of high-level military politics.
General Samson’s orderly had not been present to announce him. Given the present state of chaos within the military, that wasn’t too surprising. He was probably on some detail or other within the vast building, and there hadn’t been anybody available to spell him.
They were due at the White House in ten minutes, so Al didn’t stand on ceremony. Knocking once, he entered the office. Al had met Tom Samson when he’d been promoted to Air Force Chief of Staff. He’d been a very efficient officer, and personable.
That, however, turned out to apply only to superior officers. Now that he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Al was still vice chairman, things had changed. Tom was a cold, charmless yeller, he was intolerant of failure, he was extremely demanding. Al still believed him to be a good officer, but his approach to the job was often too rigid. Truth to tell, Al had expected this promotion to be his. Counted on it, actually. What had happened had been a serious humiliation and a sad end to a great career. He had known the president for years, and he could not understand why he’d chosen Tom over him, frankly. He’d carried out his responsibilities with excellence.
The difference between the two of them was that Tom had served in fighters and Al had trained in them but served his entire career as a staff officer. Tom had a Purple Heart and an Air Medal. Did Al, who had never heard a shot fired in anger, envy Tom his participation in the Cuban Troubles?
Short answer: damn right. If it had been him, his career would not have stopped just short of the pinnacle.
“Tom, I’m here,” he said. Tentatively.
The bathroom door was ajar, so Al walked toward it. “Tom?” he repeated.
There came a shuffle of sound from inside the bathroom.
“Excuse me,” Tom replied, an angry challenge in his rumble.
“Tom, I’m sorry, Lenny’s not out front—”
“Get out of here!”
As Al headed for the door, he noticed, open on Tom’s desk, a silver box about the size of an old-fashioned cigarette case. Inside were six narrow golden cylinders. Lying beside them was a hypodermic, silver, that tapered seamlessly from a wide back with a socket in it that would obviously fit one of the cylinders, to a needle with a point so fine it almost appeared hairlike.
Al hurried out, his mind racing. That outfit—was he an addict of some sort? A cancer victim? And what strange looking equipment.
A moment later, Tom slammed his office door with such force that the entire room shook.
Al hardly heard. If Tom was an addict, very frankly, that could be good. Worth knowing.
At that point, Lenny reappeared.
“General, let me announce you,” he said.
“He knows I’m here.”
Lenny went white. “He does?”
Al nodded. Nothing more was said, and a moment later Tom strode out, resplendent in his uniform, his gray eyes staring straight ahead, his face expressionless.
Lenny snapped to attention.
“We need to talk,” Tom snarled at him as he passed his desk.
“You bet, yes sir, young fella.” He went stomping off into the outer part of the suite.
Al followed him, and together they descended in his private elevator to the basement garage, where his staff car awaited them, rear door open. All of this was done in silence. In point of fact, you just plain did not talk to Tom unless he spoke first. He wasn’t responsive to social chatter, jokes, gossip—anything like that. In fact, the most amazing thing about him was that he held this most political of all military appointments. How the bastard had managed it, every single general on his staff would have loved to know—if only to help find a way to hurt him.
Historically, the Joint Chiefs was a solid, smooth-running organization. Not under Tom. Tom had made it into a rat’s nest full of spider webs. Men who had worked together for years now fought like what they were—creatures in a trap.
In the year since Tom had come, there had been five “resignations.” All, in fact, firings, brutal, mean spirited, often mysterious. Worse, they had been followed by vindictive little appointments to posts designed to humiliate the victims. General Halff had been Army Chief of Staff. He was now serving out his time as commander of Fort Silker in Mississippi. Fort Silker was being decommissioned, so Harry’s basic job was to arrange for environmental cleanup and the sale of assets.
Al settled into the car. He knew that this meeting was important, but he wasn’t quite sure what it was about. He supposed that Tom knew, but Tom wasn’t saying. Perhaps Al was on the chopping block. Perhaps Al was due to be caught unprepared in front of the president, a certain prelude to destruction.
Except for one thing: Al had known James Hannah Wade since they were roomies at the Academy. In recent years, the friendship had necessarily become arm’s-length, but the two men were still close enough that Jimmy would on occasion invite Al to hammer squash balls with him. This usually happened when the going in this very difficult presidency got really rough. But Jimmy was flying high right now, so no squash with his old friend. And, as both of them knew, betrayed friend.
The car turned onto Fourteenth Street, headed past the familiar emerald arches of a McDonald’s, then entered the White House grounds.
“We’re listening today,” Tom said. “An intelligence report.”
“What’s the general area, sir?”
Tom turned toward him, then turned back again. A moment later, the car stopped, and they were walking through the White House to the Cabinet Room—but then they passed the Cabinet Room and the Oval and headed through Deputy Chief of Staff Morrisey’s office into the Presidential Study.
It was an improbable place for a large meeting—except that it wasn’t a large meeting.
“Hi, Al,” the president said. Al could feel Tom stiffen. Good sign, maybe the president had finally realized that the appointment had been the mistake that Al had told him it was—practically the only political thought he’d ever shared with him. He turned to Tom. “Good morning, General.”
“Good morning, Mr. President.”
A moment later, National Intelligence Chief Bo Waldo came in, followed by two aides, who proceeded to hover over the TV.
Waldo spoke. “Yesterday, there was a massive explosion in Cairo that resulted in at least a hundred thousand deaths and property damage on an extraordinary scale. The explosion destroyed the Pyramid of Cheops.”
“And?” Tom snapped.
The president gave him a sharp look.
But his impatience was understandable. The Cairo disaster was on every news channel in the world. You couldn’t find anything else on TV, radio, the Internet—you name it. Al thought, they know the terrorist group responsible, and they’re about to inform us that the Brits are going in with a hit. We were being asked to provide some sort of support, no doubt, and the problem with this kind of thing was always the same: how did you do what one empire wanted without angering another?
Waldo cleared his throat. “We haven’t had another one in half an hour, Mr. President,” he said.
Al’s mind whirled. Another one? What was he saying, here?
“How many are there, at this point?”
“Including the one that just came up in Cambodia, that would be fourteen.”
Al wanted to ask what in the world they were talking about, but he couldn’t without revealing his ignorance. Tom’s glare showed that he was thinking along exactly the same lines. The Joint Chiefs controlled no fewer than five uniformed intelligence services, in addition to the Philippines Colonial Agency and the Cuban Intelligence Corps, so how was it that they hadn’t been briefed by their own people? Tom would want that looked at, and for once Al would be in total agreement with him. It was an inexcusable lapse.
The president said, “And they’re all—it’s the same? Distance, all that?”
“Each one is exactly six thousand two hundred twenty miles from an axis point eleven hundred miles from the north pole. They’ve all appeared in the middle of ancient ruins. The Institut Indo-Chinois de Culture has already started testing the one in Preah Vihear. Thus far, it has a hardness number of at least three thousand, just like Cairo. Clearly, the same substance, and by far the hardest thing on earth. The only weapon that might affect these objects would be a hydrogen bomb.”
“Do we have any of those?”
“We do, Sir,” Tom said. “Well hidden from Royal Air Force mandatory inspections, but we do.”
The Brits were rigorous enforcers of the Non-Nuclear Pact between the five empires, of which the U.S. was the smallest and the most lightly armed—and therefore the only one that actually needed to obey the damned pact. Certainly, the French didn’t. And as far as the Czar was concerned or the secretive Japanese Emperor, who knew what they might be doing in their hidden lairs? There might even be a Chinese warlord with a nuke of some sort.
The president went to the window. “I’ve worried about one coming up here in Washington. Should I?”
“Unless there’s another phase,” Waldo responded, “this thing has the look of being completed. But you know, of course, what’s odd—every single location was an ancient sacred site.”
“So they knew,” the president said, turning suddenly, staring first at one of them and then another.
Al saw a plea in his eye, as if the American people were there, pleading through him for knowledge.
“Lenses,” Al said. Tom gave him a sharp look, but he continued. “Lenses reflect and they refract. Do we have any idea which it is that these are supposed to do?”
Waldo shook his head. “So far, they’re simply there. According to MI-3, the one in Cairo isn’t emitting or absorbing any known energy. The Institut says the same about the one in Cambodia.”
“Any idea if they’re natural, then?”
“We don’t think they’re natural, Mr. President.” Waldo replied.
“But it’s a good question,” Al said. “If they’re manmade, who constructed them and why?”
“That is an urgent question,” President Wade snapped. “Possibly the most urgent question in the history of the world.” He looked from one of them to the other. “You seem unimpressed, Tom.”
“Sir, if we don’t know anything about them, how can we make that assessment?”
The president stiffened. “It’s instinct, goddamn it!”
“There’s something else you need to see,” Waldo said hurriedly. “Roll the imagery, please.”
The TV screen flickered, came to life. Al saw people walking through a rather pretty countryside. They were dressed oddly, some in nightclothes, others in underwear, one or two in coats, one completely naked. There were men, women, and children.
The group was being followed by green and white checked police cars, with their blue light bars flickering.
“What are we looking at, here?” President Wade asked.
“This is in Gloucestershire,” Waldo said.
“It’s live,” Waldo replied. “During the night, these people were struck by a bright light that emanated from objects overhead that were disk-shaped in structure. They’ve been walking due north ever since. They’ve come fourteen miles in eleven hours.”
“Are these things related to the disks we’ve been seeing for years? The ones NASA claims are intelligently controlled?”
“We don’t know. We really don’t know much of anything.”
“Bottom line, though, these people can’t be stopped, am I right?” Tom asked, his voice full of sarcasm.
“They cannot be stopped, General Samson,” Waldo snapped back. “They can be demobilized only by being drugged. An examination of one of them completed at a hospital in the area showed a normal physical specimen. But a brain scan revealed a different picture. The brain function was about a third normal.”
“They’ve lost something, then,” Tom responded. “Their intelligence?”
“We don’t know,” Waldo replied.
“Do we have any imagery of the attack?” the president asked.
“Witnesses report disks glowing dull orange.”
Al had a thought. “Where is the nearest lens, in relation to Gloucestershire?”
“What relevance does that have?” Tom asked. “If I may be so bold, General?”
“No, it’s a good question,” Waldo replied, “and the answer is, the nearest lens in the Tassili Desert in Algeria. And what I was about to add is that there’s a Foreign Legion report that a burst of orange fireballs was emitted from the lens there. But the event took place just four minutes before the Gloucestershire attack, so—”
“They’re related,” Al said. Instantly, he regretted it. He’d spoken in haste.
“General, I fail to see—” Tom began.
The president interrupted him. “I agree. Whether the things that struck in Gloucestershire came out of the lens in Algeria, God only knows. But there is obviously a relationship of some kind between all of these things—the disks we’ve been seeing for fifty years, the ones that attacked those people, and the lenses, and I might add that I think we need to assume the worst, here.”
“All I see are British and French problems,” Samson said. “Unless some of these things are in the Japanese Empire. Are they?”
“No, so far only British and French imperial territory is involved, and some South American countries.”
“Then I say we wait,” Tom announced, his voice taking on the tone of the pulpit. “Maybe it’s some kind of a secret weapon. Nothing to do with us. The Czar’s supposed to have some doozies, and he wants African possessions. He’d like Egypt, in fact, to annoy the Turks, if nothing else.”
The president turned on him. “Why are you here, Tom? Why in hell do you think you’re here? Something is wrong. Goddamn wrong.” He gestured at the screen. “This will spread, you know.”
Tom held his ground. “We have no evidence of that, Sir.”
“It will spread!”
“It’s not an attack on the United States. And there’s no evidence that such an attack is imminent.”
“Tom,” the president responded, “as soon as you get back to your office, you are to go to DEFCON 1 and issue a War Warning to all commands, worldwide.”
“We’re under attack, you damn fool,” the president said. “The blue, white, and red, damn you! Not just a couple of the empires and a few banana kingdoms. Us!”
Tom went stiff. His eyes seemed literally to glitter with murderous rage.
But the president wasn’t finished. “Gentlemen, I’ve got a military background, and I know when my enemy is probing my defenses. That’s what happened in that little town in the very heart of the most powerful empire on earth. Bo, I want you to liaise with the Brits, the French, all the empires on this, and I want CIA to watch the streets worldwide for other, similar incidents.”
Al could smell the fear in the room, and found himself hoping that President Wade was not acting in the haste of panic.
“Al, you’re to organize a task force. You are ordered to find a way to destroy those lenses, all of them. I want it fast, and I want a one hundred percent certainty of success.”
“Sir,” Tom asked, “is an attack on them wise? We’re in the region of the unknown here.”
“The man with the medals suggests retreat,” the president said. “Okay, I hear you. Al, when you’re ready to attack these things, inform me at once. Directly.” He pointed to a telephone. “Directly,” he repeated.
“Yes, Sir. We only have four bombs, Sir. We’ll need British and French support.”
The president sighed. “Waldo, how many nuclear bombs do I have?”
“Twenty-three, Sir. Four in the hands of the military, the rest underground at—”
“Tom, Al, you understand that you had no need to know on this.”
“Sir, I beg to differ,” Tom said. Al could see that his neck was red, his veins pulsing. “We had a need to know. Strategic planning, war games—of course we had a need to know!”
“And I have a need not to find myself face to face with a quartet of outraged imperial ambassadors all demanding that I hand over my nukes. You leak, Tom. Nobody on your staff likes you, and that makes for security issues, doesn’t it?”
Al fought his face. The least trace of the smile that his enjoyment of this was urging to his lips would get him fired before sunset.
One of Waldo’s aides listened to his earpiece. He nodded to the intelligence chief.
Waldo said, “Mr. President, we have a party present at this time who might be able to help us. There was an archaeologist inside the pyramid as the explosion developed. His working party was killed, but he got out. He’s here.”
“Excellent work, Bo,” the president said. “Now, you listen and learn, Tom. Bo here wants to impress his president. This is what I like to see. You might take that under advisement.”
Tom bristled, then plastered a rigid grin on his face. A dusty young man, handsome but looking profoundly exhausted, came wide-eyed into the room.
Martin had been given eggs and a whole lot of coffee on the plane. It was quite incredible—Air Force private jets all the way from Cairo to Le Bourget, then here. He had been able to talk to Lindy and the kids via videophone from the plane. In normal times, incredibly fun. Now, not so fun. He was heartsick about what had happened, still trying to accept it as reality. The Great Pyramid, gone, replaced by that . . . thing. Lens, they called it—he’d called it that, in fact, for the BBC, which had interviewed him just before he left Cairo. In fact, he’d probably started the use of the word.
Now here he was in the White House, in the West Wing, no less. He was a reeking mess, he supposed. Nobody had bothered him with such niceties as a change of clothes or a shower. He still had Giza dust in his hair, as a matter of fact.
A man in a black suit took him to a book-lined study. He’d hoped to see the Oval Office, but this was apparently the inner sanctum of the Great American Fool, President Jimmy Wade. He’d gutted National Academy of Science budgets, he’d pulled grant money out of dozens of universities, Uriah included. He was a man willing to spend billions supporting American trade associations in their perpetual war with the larger imperial economic systems, but his education program was a sham, his entitlement system was a mess, and his interest in the sciences appeared to be, if anything, negative.
Under Wade, even NASA’s exobiology and alien culture programs were languishing, and now that it was known that UFOs were intelligently guided, these two programs seemed to be doing some of the most important science in the world. Not to mention the Advanced Propulsion Physics Seminar.
Still, he was the president, the leader of the American people and one of the more powerful world leaders, and seeing him here, all human and vulnerable, was an odd experience. He came to his feet and put out his hand. Martin shook it, and looked into the strange, empty eyes of the professional leader.
Another man, bald, big—dominating the room, in fact, despite the presence of two resplendent generals—pumped his hand, drew him past the president, and sat him down. “We know you’ve had a shock,” he murmured. His hands were soft, his eyes were not full of fear like the president’s. They sparkled. They watched. Martin recognized Bo Waldo, of course, he was all over the news all the time.
“Doctor Winters—may I call you Marty—”
“Okay, Martin is a distinguished member of our country’s archaeological community. He’s managed to cause a small revolution of his own.”
It wasn’t small, it was huge, but Martin couldn’t say that.
“You lived through the pyramid?” the president asked. “Where were you, because I’ve been in that thing, and it’s not easy to get around.”
“I was in the burial chamber a hundred feet beneath the surface.”
“How could you have been there and survived?” one of the generals asked. This was a man with a narrow, almost cruel face, and small, ugly eyes, gleaming as black as obsidian.
Martin decided not to even address the question, it was so impertinent and, frankly, so stupid.
“What General Samson means is—”
“I meant what I asked, Al!”
The other general went instantly silent. Obviously, the tall man with the mane of white hair was the lesser of the two. He had a better face, aquiline, aristocratic, and, Martin thought, sad.
“I survived because I was so deep. We picked up unusual pulsations about three minutes before the structure blew, so I had time to withdraw.”
“Doctor Winters, if I tell you that these same lenses have appeared around the world at fourteen different sites, all the exact same distance from an axis point near the north pole—”
The room became distant, the voices like memories.
He fought to pull himself together. The first one of them he saw was the beady-eyed general, gazing at him like a guard might at a dangerous prisoner. He swallowed, looked around for water, saw none. “All right,” he said, “I know what that would be. That’s the Sacred Circle. You’d have Ollantaytambo, Easter Island, Preah Vihear—are you telling me that all of these sites have been destroyed?”
“All,” the president said. “Our interest is this. Are these lenses a matter for concern, as I certainly think they are. If so, would you be willing to speculate on defense implications?”
Wade was portrayed by the media as an idiot, but that was an impressive question. “Sir, we know that there was some sort of advanced civilization on earth fifteen thousand years ago, that abruptly disappeared in a catastrophe. All of those sites except the pyramid are later structures built at specific geodesic points. The why of that, we have never known.”
The snake-like General Samson almost spat his words. “I think this is largely speculation.”
“General Samson,” the president retorted, “you’re here to gather information that’ll help you execute your orders. Thank you, General.”
“This man’s work is highly controversial,” Samson snapped.
“Actually, um, it’s not,” Martin said.
“Well, I read my share of science journals and I say it is!”
Martin didn’t know how to react to a yelling general. It made him mad, though, the rudeness of it.
The president asked, “Doctor Winters, tell us what you think these lenses might be?”
“From strictly an archaeological point of view, I don’t know. But if you read old chronicles, a lens like this could have been the mechanism of destruction.”
“The civilization. It ended in a day, you know. In a matter of minutes. It happened on an afternoon in June, actually. Over five minutes, perhaps a little less.”
That silenced even the blustering general.
“What is our risk now?”
Martin recognized his responsibility here. “I’ve been, frankly, a little thrown, here. I—you know—the shock, and now this . . .”
“Let me rephrase,” the president said. “Do you see a possible risk now, and, if so, on what do you base your speculation? Is that a little easier to handle?”
“There is a calendar—the Mayan—that marks the end of this age as being this coming December 21. The winter solstice occurs on the day earth crosses both the galactic equator and the solar ecliptic. A highly unusual conjunction.”
“What’s so absurd about this,” Samson said, “is that it assumes that the ancient Maya knew about galaxies. A bunch of blood-soaked headhunters. The very idea is ridiculous.”
Martin decided that he loathed this man, a rare intensity of emotion for him. He reserved his intensity for love of wife and kids. He did not indulge hate. But General Samson invited it. “The date is there,” he said. “And no matter what the Maya knew or didn’t know, the position of the earth is there, too.”
“What does it mean,” the president asked. “You’re telling me a whole human civilization was killed in a day, Doctor. What should that be saying to me in the here and now?”
An aide finally produced water and Martin drank all of it at once. “I’ve still got the desert in my throat,” he said.
“All right,” the good general said. “You can do this, you can say it.”
“Yes. This prophecy—the 2012 thing—it’s always been a mystery that it was so exact. And it required tremendous calculational ability—the whole Mayan long-count calendar—and apparently a knowledge of the position of the earth in relation to the rest of the galaxy—and I’m sorry if that gives offense—”
“Which astrophysicists are still arguing about,” Samson said.
“Tom, will you stop interrupting him?”
“I’m trying to help, here, Mr. President!”
“Doctor Winters, please continue,” the president said.
Martin swallowed. His throat was dry again. He was not used to intensity like this. There was terror in every eye, and the stink of sweat rising in the room. “Yes. I’m looking at these things coming up out of the ground, and thinking about the fact that so many ancient cultures speak of beings that came through gateways—”
“Aliens, as per NASA?”
“Not aliens, as from another planet. Given the distances involved, present thought leans more in the direction of UFOs being projections of some sort from parallel universe or universes. All right here, right around us. Now.”
“Aw, come on! Mr. President, we don’t need this kind of speculation,” Samson said.
The president exploded. “General, for God’s sakes, will you shut up!”
Samson would not be silenced. “I think this man needs to be removed, he’s obstructing—”
“You listen to him, Tom, god damn you!” The president roared.
Samson’s mouth snapped shut.
“Go on, Doctor,” Bo Waldo said softly.
“Uh, the, uh—the Sumerians called them Annunaki, the Babylonians Akpallus, the Hebrews Nephilim—the list is long. Always, they were powerful, dominating people—somewhat human looking, but with a reptilian cast of eye—who came from another reality. Some were hostile, others more benevolent. Almost as if there were two warring factions, with different agendas for us. They fought among themselves, at one point, and then were no longer present here.”
“And this relates to our situation?”
“Maybe the reason that the end-of-world predictions in the old calendars are so exact is that there is something in the astrophysical situation that opens these gateways. Maybe that’s what the lenses are. If so, then we can expect that they’re the worst things it is possible to imagine.”~