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X. INTO THE UNDERWORLD


Chapter 1

Monday, 20 June 2005

The Sun was high and warm, strains of music drifted on the light, fragrant breeze but the pair in front of the South Transept paid little attention. When Skip finally arrived whistling, Gus sat upon the steps holding his head in his hands while his sister paced nearby.

“Good morning,” he said with a big grin. “How’s everyone this beautiful day?”

Gus just scowled at him. Allie rolled her eyes at Gus and shrugged. “Obviously, not as good as it is with you,” she said.

“What’s the matter, sis?” Skip asked. “Did something else happen?”

“Not after the attack,” she said. “That’s just it. I don’t know what I was thinking. Agent Marcel was assigned to protect us, part of his duties. Why should he care? Immediately after I called you, he left.”

“Is it what he said or something you felt?”

“He said it was his duty,” she said, “quite business-like.”

“Reason enough,” Skip said. “Bodyguards aren’t supposed to get goo-goo eyed, you know, especially on the job. I was reminded of it myself.”

“So you did get lucky,” Gus said.

“If you want to call it that,” Skip said, with a somewhat embarrassed grin. “But Nigel didn’t tell us the half of it.”

“Gloat all you want,” Gus said, “just spare me the details and don’t mention Nigel.”

“Jeez, what’s the matter with you, buddy?”

“Aside from getting dosed with a hallucinogen by that faux-Brit idiot and tripping all night, I’m peachy,” he said flatly. “Sorry, forget it. The evening was several eons long and utterly weird. I’ve had next to zero sleep and am so fried, I cannot say. And I’m still buzzing.”

“Buck up, buster,” his brother with little sympathy. “It’s not over yet, dude.”

“We need a break,” said Allie. “I want to get this reading done; I’ve been half-dreading it. Today’s the Summer Art Festival. Once we’re finished here, and the noon viewing at the cathedral, I intend to do a bit of shopping for the gallery. Nothing to do with this stuff.”

“Something normal,” Gus agreed. “I’d like to visit the dig at the Roman baths. And the entrance to the catacombs where Dad found the fossils stashed. But what I really need is –”

“A bath, yeah, now that sounds good,” finished Skip, “followed by a nice, long nap.”


The astronomer rushed into his office up on the tower’s second floor. Almost as chaotic as Heronimo’s alchemical lair; it was a more modern space, yet there were star charts taped to the walls, books piled everywhere and several globes of the heavens and various planets half-buried among the papers. The Clan MacLantis wandered in behind him. Lacnuit was already undoing his costume and calling for his assistant.

A worktable stood in the center of the room. Bright lights shone upon an odd-shaped metal box with openings on either end. Scattered next to it were enlarged pages from an old illustrated manuscript and sheets covered with scribbled calculations. Skip strolled over to look at it more closely.

“Ah, you see my latest re-creation,” Lacnuit said, ripping off his bulky scholar’s robe, the long star-embroidered sleeves flying. “From sketches in Heronimo’s notebooks, it seems to be some kind of optical device.”

“Odd, nothing like his Sight Enlarger,” Skip said. “What’s it for?”

“No idea. I don’t think the drawings are complete,” Lucien said, tossing his tunic on the back of a chair. “But it’s not important at the moment.

“You should find this interesting, because my theory is actually based upon your work, Professor MacLantis,” Lacnuit said, offing his bonnet, followed by the wig. He rubbed his own silver stubble in relief.

“My work?” Gus said, startled out of his funk. “How so?”

“Your dissertation.” Off came the bushy eyebrows. To Gus’ uncomprehending look, he replied, “Yes, you mentioned that just like people have different psychic abilities, so too various materials have different psychic properties. Ouch.”

There went the moustache. “Meyer! Come quickly, now, please; you’re needed.”

“Ah yes, so I did,” Gus admitted, perking up a bit more. “A few parapsychologists claimed even bad readers had more success with metals or ceramics.”

“Could be,” Allie said. “I get a feeling even from small bits of pottery most of the time. I always thought it was due to the handwork making them.”

“Are your impressions as strong, say, from arrowheads?” Skip asked.

“Now that you mention it, no,” Allie said, “and thank God.”

“What about the integrity of the piece?” the scientist asked, gingerly pulling off his beard. Out of costume, the retired astronomer was a smooth-shaven man who looked almost military. “Does it matter if it’s a full bowl rather than shards? Aysha! Where is that woman?”

“A bit, now that you mention it,” Allie nodded. “In the Southwest, many Indian bowls were sacrificed, deliberately punched through the center but otherwise whole,” she said. “At my gallery, I display them all facing upwards rather than outwards. It doesn’t feel right otherwise.”

“Really?” the astronomer said in delight. “That’s wonderful! They function like psychic antennae, don’t you see? Like a radio dish.” Underneath, he wore a short-sleeved shirt and slacks. “Here let me show you.” He began rummaging in the desk, calling again for his assistant.

“Aysha –” he began, as a door opened and a dark, black-haired woman in a lab-coat, shorter than Allie, entered. She marched to the desk and pulled out a drawer, handing him a small pot. “Here it is, Professor, where it always is,” she said tersely.

“Thank you, my dear, you know my lab better than I. Meet my assistant, Aysha Meyer, Charles, Augustine, and Alix MacLantis.” He smiled at her and rubbed his hands together. “Yes, indeed, just as we hoped. Please, prepare the experiment.”

“Of course,” the young woman said, her frosty demeanor thawing. “It is an honor to be working with you. Fear not, we will do it correctly, with scientific methods.” She paused at the door. “Please understand, procedure for a double-blind test dictates that I will, of course, remain outside until the reading is complete. Fetch me as soon as you are able, Doctor.”

“Yes, yes,” Lacnuit pulled on his lab coat. “Ah that’s better,” he muttered. “Now where was I? Oh yes,” picking up the pot, similar in form but even smaller than the one Doc used.

“Your dissertation on psychoceramics, Professor, got me started. Two things are critical: materials – magnetic qualities, and a resonant cavity,” he said. “I think the bowl provides a focus.” Setting it down carefully, he continued. “I believe it might be possible for psychic radiation to not only affect the surrounding environment, but even”– he paused – “create a stable vortex to another dimension. I’ve had some intriguing results, but the exact shape seems critical.”

“I see –” Gus began but Lacnuit held up his hands in excitement. “Do you? This could explain various miracles and the Visions; for like the hollow of the Sacred Basin, the Tomb of the Templars itself somehow captures and replays believers’ expectations.”

“The Vision appears because the watchers want it so much?” Gus asked.

“With the Jesus Pot or the Tomb beaming their own expectations back into their own heads?” Skip didn’t bother to keep amusement out his voice.

“More or less, yes,” Lacnuit said, “but not as a hallucination: a real, albeit mental, manifestation, with the potential of channeling immense amounts of psychic energy.”

“Not quite the craziest idea I’ve heard lately,” Gus confessed.

“This energy manifestation might create the so-called Visions, spontaneous healings, telepathy and the like,” Lacnuit continued. “Maybe even more, a wormhole to other dimensions,” he said and caught himself, qualifying, “but that’s all pure speculation, of course.

“Perhaps Brother Tobias psychically sensed this,” he added hastily. “As in his poem, where he mentions ‘the invisible third eye shall open.’ Many researchers think his clairvoyant powers were considerably strengthened by his long imprisonment and isolation.”

“Of course,” Gus said, rubbing his forehead.

“Or maybe the ‘resonant cavity’ of his cell just made him nuttier and nuttier,” Skip said. “Either way, what does this have to do with my sister mentally reading the fragments?”

“I’m glad you ask,” Lacnuit said. “I was getting off-track. It’s simple: if the Ark fragments are genuine, they would have been exposed to a powerful psychic field for at least half a century. That should have left an energetic residue, even after all this time.

“Therefore I propose a double-blind test much like the one Empress Helena conducted to determine the identity of the true Sacred Basin,” he said eagerly. “Only we won’t depend upon a painful toe. Now, get ready, Miss MacLantis, do whatever you need to prepare. This will take just a moment. Say, will you need to physically see or touch them?”

“No, just get close enough to sense their vibrations.” She shook her head. “I rely purely on telemetry: the less sensory information I have, the less likely I’ll misjudge.”

“Wonderful, don’t go away.” He shut the door.

 


 

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“And so I alone
returned
from the underworld
as if reborn,
with only these stone bones of dragons
from before the Flood
to prove my tale.”

Don Yago Ionas,
the Reliquarian,
1782

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