Everything, all! I declare free distribution of elephants. Since December 27. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AMRORJ6
The world was shaken by two terrible events. The Unknown force stole two sacred stones – the Black Stone of the Kaaba and the Anointing Stone. But God's hiding the third one in his hand…
A desperate trek through the desert at Khufu . . . the discovery of an ancient treasure room, long since ransacked . . . a scar-faced priest, never without his little book and stone cross . . . a young boy, vanished from the beach . . . a pair of special-ops veterans, now in law enforcement . . . an inveterate fortune-seeker, reunited with the Cambodian goddess who had once rescued him from death . . . and a beautiful woman--pregnant and in the spring of life--who seeks to know who, or what, has taken her husband from this earth. The truth, like a gossamer web, enshrouds the path toward a stone whose origin is the birth of history; one of three such stones that, when at last brought together, will unleash the hordes of evil upon this mortal realm. All is intertwined, though the fact is not clear to them. The relationship is only discerned by the one whose awareness is not of this dimension; a green-eyed demon that blithely butchers anyone who happens to cross its path. It is called the Essence, and it will make your death a delight for the hounds of Hell. Thus the lonely quest of an aging priest meets that of an adventurer, two ex-commandos and a Creole widow. If they do not somehow meet, and function as no other team could, the world as we know it will end in an ocean of blood. In this spine-tingling thriller, "The Khufu Equation," the magic that transcends time is brought into ingenious play against a backdrop of intrigue, innocence and bold sexuality. It's the story of people from vastly different paths who must battle for their souls against a monster of indomitable power. What is the secret, and what does the monster want? Who can stop it? Find out . . . if you dare . . . in the teeth-chattering pages of this excellent new novel by the young Russian novelist Rail Sharif.
. . . Driving into settlement Mont Fleuri, Slaiker noticed a crowd near one of the houses. Policemen had encircled the crowd and taped off the scene. The Bronco pulled to a stop at the side of the road, several yards away. Slaiker stepped out of the truck, and as he approached on foot he removed a pack from his pocket. He was sharply dressed, as always, and his perfectly tailored suit teased at the taut musculature of his fearsome build. His arms swung lightly as we walked, like the hammers of a god, and the crowd parted like the Red Sea as he drew near. He was, to put it simply, a bad-ass. He had the speed of thought to catch a shadow, and the physical prowess to break that shadow in two. Clearly, in those large and purposeful hands, even the most rudimentary item could have lethal power. He worked the pack over in his right hand, and with his left he pulled out a card.
"The two of hearts . . . blind," said Slaiker as he reached out to shake Brett's hand.
"Right, the two of hearts," answered the commissioner, without bothering to look at the card. "The sense of relief is wearing a bit thin, though. I've ordered two new packs from Hong Kong."
"Order one more," Slaiker said. "I've taught Jeff, too. He doesn't shuffle the cards very well yet, but he reads without distortion and is already posting new info."
Brett nodded an invitation to his friend to enter the house, and then let Slaiker step through the doorway first.
"By the way, how is he?"
"Well, you have to keep an eye on him," answered Slaiker. "Yesterday Jeff thrashed a boy who's five years his senior. A month earlier, he nearly reddened Alan Fisher's butt. Remember that customs official at the airport?
"The boy needs a mother," said Brett flatly. "Have you thought about that?"
"I've brought two good candidates to the house, but he accepts no one. He's very closed. Once a week, he goes to the site of accident. He brings flowers. Still, four years have passed. But . . . what about you?"
"You know. I'm not your typical 'family man.' I need a woman for one night at a time."
The house was a one-story structure with an attached garage and a pool. Having passed the corridor, they found themselves in the front room. Blood was spattered across the ceiling, walls, floor and furniture. It was as if someone had sprayed the stuff. The police photographer was at work, documenting the scene.
"The room is decorated perfectly, I think," said Slaiker. "It's too bad I don't follow fashion."
"I'm sure you're familiar with the painting technique, but that's not all," Brett said. "The most interesting part is in the outbuilding by pool." But he couldn't hid the fact that it was serious, and a gloomy expression overtook his face.
The men went through two rooms, and everywhere they looked there were splotches of blood. The last room faced the garden. Just five strides from the house, there was a small pool. The water in it was stained a brilliant hue. To the right was a simple, bamboo structure. There was a trail of blood from the house to the door of the structure.
Slaiker and Brett were walking along the edge of the pool when an aging police officer ran from the outbuilding and, leaning against a young palm tree, proceeded to blow the breakfast his wife had made for him that morning.
Brett proceeded to the outbuilding, and Slaiker entered after him. It contained a woodworker's bench and tools, but the most imposing presence was almost indescribable. Hanging from two hooks in the rafters was the bluish-gray hulk of something vaguely, but obviously, human. The mass was without skin, from the top of the head to the soles of the feet. It had been entirely peeled off and was left in grotesque display on the workbench, like a wetsuit laid out to try. Blood oozed out of naked veins and muscles, and streamed down to the concrete floor. Flies encircled everything, as an ungodly feast for infestation.
Slaiker scanned the scene with deepening sorrow, perhaps absently flashing through the deck of cards. He always did that when there was much to consider, and he was in no mood to change the habit. Li, seeing how his friend had reacted, said, "We and the photographer are the only ones who haven't emptied our stomachs upon seeing this. So, I guess we're pretty solid."
The two left the outbuilding, and Slaiker began: "I've never seen anything like that before in my life. It doesn't look like a cult ceremony or cannibalism, though." The cards in his hand began to cycle even more quickly.
"Is that all you can say?" said Brett, somewhat surprised. "Where's the compassion?"
"Really, I'm sorry," answered Slaiker apologetically. "I won't touch food till tomorrow morning."
"I thought you were better than that, man. Well, in this case, the place under the palm is free."
"I have breakfast at seven, but you woke me up at six."
Any meeting of these old friends started with small biting remarks, but after that ritual the talk became serious.
The six of clubs meant it was time to act.
Father Krepfol Sohn was on time for his flight to Thailand, but it was critical that he make his flight to the Seychelles from Bangkok. The Boeing 747 had been in the air for about an hour.
Father Sohn was a man of fifty-five. He wasn't a large man, but he was athletic. A certain cosmopolitan sensibility was evident in his dress, his diet and his mannerisms.
Mr. Sohn never smiled unless he was flossing his teeth. His high forehead was deeply creased, but his mind, which absorbed the experience and grief of thousands of people, was much deeper. His short-cut gray hair also conveyed the depth of what he had seen and endured, but the grief he felt was hidden by the reproachful look of his dark, gleaming eyes. One could also see a crimson scar, which extended from his chin to a point just below his right ear. He was never without the memory of his last encounter with the Beast.
Father Sohn was something of a pilgrim. He had seen a lot of countries and met a lot of people. However, regardless of the situation he always preached the Law of God. He helped people not only with good advice but also by taking part in their lives. He never refused material or physical assistance. Unfortunately, sometimes people were unable to understand him because the Beast, who lived in them, had already planted the seeds of hatred, evil and fear.
Father Sohn had a window seat. It seemed to him that, as he watched the clouds drift by under the airliner, he was nearing God. In his left hand he held a crucifix of white stone. On it was engraved an ancient hieroglyph, the tactile familiarity of which had long since burned into his palm. A little book covered in buffalo hide was in his breast pocket, just above his heart.
The clouds carried Krepfol's mind back the two-day period before his arrival in Paris, where his mission started. There he stayed in the country house of a noble member of French Archeological Academy: a man named Michel Arno. In the hall, which was designed in the Renaissance style, there were two stone gargoyles along the wall. They were a fearful sight that recalled the saying, "Please make yourself at home, but remember you're only a guest." The walls were decorated with old weapons and armor, and the shelves held relics from the ancient civilizations of Central America, Mexico and Egypt. Statuettes and masks of the ancient tribes of the Aztec and Maya stood peacefully near bronze figures of tsars and different adornments from the Valley of the Kings.
Father Sohn felt an unexplainable excitement just by touching these things. It was as if he was getting nearer to eternity. Sometimes he thought he could see fragments of the lives of the people who lived then; that he could hear their voices. He could stand for hours before a certain trinket, pondering the existence of whoever might have held it.
That day, following the owner of the house, Mr. Sohn entered the parlor. As usual they placed themselves in comfortable armchairs, drank green tea and discussed a certain topic, trying to reach a decision. After that, they left the armchairs for more utilitarian seating beside the desk, and continued their conversation. At these very moments Michel Arno's face was lit with a smile. And, as Arno suggested they sit at the desk at the start of their meeting, Father Sohn understood that something of great importance had occurred.
"I'm so glad to meet you," said Arno.
"I am pleased as well. And how do you do?" replied Sohn.
"Full of life, thanks. I beg your pardon for not offering you some tea. I think we'll have it later. Today, I have invited you neither for polite conversation nor for a confession. You know perfectly well that archeology is the only woman of mine; my only passion . . . . Well, let us stop this small talk and get down to business."
Mr. Arno opened a drawer and took out a little wooden box. Beautifully painted it resembled the masterpieces of Iranian and Indian miniatures. On the top of the box, the pilgrim noticed the scenes of a tsar's hunt and a pharaoh in a chariot. The pharaoh was striking the Asians on the nearest side of the box.
The professor, without introduction, opened the box and took out a strange item. The thing was immediately attractive to Sohn, so he handed it to his guest. It was a white cross, ten inches long, with beams nearly two inches wide and half an inch thick. Initially, due to the lack of a slanting cross-beam, he decided it was a Roman Catholic cross. However, after a thorough examination he knew that was incorrect. He saw three rows of hieroglyphs on it. Having dealt with the professor quite a long time, Sohn could say without doubt that the hieroglyphs were Egyptian.
"This cross has nothing to do with . . . ."
"Either the Orthodox Church or Catholicism," interrupted the professor. "This cross is so mysterious that I'm not even able to approximate the date of its origin. Probably, it comes from the fourth century B.C., but . . . ." Michel Arno raised his forefinger. "I haven't understood what it's made of. There are no such chemical elements in Mendeleyev's table. The analysis hasn't revealed anything. The apparatuses often malfunction, and it can't even be x-rayed.
"What about the inscriptions?" asked the pilgrim.
"I've managed to decode them. And now, for the second surprise . . . ."
Michel Arno took the decoding of the inscription from the table and read it:
"O human soul / The time when you will have to pick up the stones is nearing / But when the last stone (the third one) is beside the feet of the Beast / Do not let him open the Gates of Sethu / Strike his heart with the blade that is in your hands."
Sohn, upon hearing all this, felt that something within him had been overturned. However, there was a far more exciting strike ahead.
Michel Arno pressed lightly on the tiniest ruby somewhere on the side and cut off the lowest part of the cross, which thus appeared to be a scabbard. The pilgrim now saw the blade in the professor's hands, whereupon it was clear why the upper part of the cross was sharply pointed and had what appeared to be recesses for hands. The crosspiece was reminiscent of a hilt, and the arrow-like point of the blade became wider toward the handle. More than that, it had a mat surface to decrease the reflection of light spots and a special chute for blood. The blade was seven inches long and an inch-and-a-half wide.
Michel Arno continued his description excitedly.
"I don't know the material this blade is made of, either. There is nothing of such kind in nature. It's really very mysterious."
Father Sohn's pupils were wide with astonishment. Suddenly it dawned on him what the hieroglyphs meant.
Mecca, the center of Islam, contains the site of Kaaba. In the northeastern corner of the temple, there is the famous Black Stone, which is no more than seven inches in diameter. It was touched by Mohammed, having been revered long before his time. Few other things have been so greatly honored. Kaaba is always covered with a black cloth except from that place, where the Black Stone is.
Initially, the stone was of a white color, but after sinners started touching the stone it became black. It was said that after Adam had committed the original sin, one of the angels was transformed into the stone. Many centuries have passed since the founding of Kaaba. It was destroyed either by a natural phenomenon or by humans, but it was always rebuilt. The Black Stone was also demolished but its silver frame remained, as if to say:
IT IS LIKELY THAT I AM NOT ETERNAL, BUT THE LIGHT, WHICH GOES FROM ME THROUGH THE DUST OF CENTURIES, IS!
Once there was an earthquake, and the stone was transported to a safer place. Eventually, the stone disappeared.
"It's probably one and the same Black Stone," wondered Mr. Sohn. "Did you hear that the Black Stone had disappeared from Kaaba, in Mecca?"
Arno shook his head.
"Another stone vanished from Jerusalem. There, just in front of the gates, you could see a pink stone in the floor. It was the stone that Jesus' body was placed on before he was placed in the tomb."
The pilgrim lowered his eyes.
"I wonder how you got this blade."
"Three days ago I fell down into a cave in Egypt." Then the professor put his hand back into the box and added: "Apart from what you've already seen, I found this."
Michel Arno took out a small pocket-sized book and placed it before Mr. Sohn.
"It contains no fewer riddles than the blade. There are two hundred different symbols that you can see nowhere else. The book is so decrepit that it could eventually have disintegrated into dust. Nevertheless, it looks fairly good. Its covering is made of buffalo skin sewn with silver threads. As for the pigments, nothing is clear about them. All the letters seem to have been burned with a laser or something. I couldn't understand any of them, nor do I know the purpose for which the book was written." The professor gave a sigh, after which he continued: "Still, altogether these finds are very important. They lead us to the reconsideration of our basic knowledge of humankind and reality. What is time? What is the past, and what is the future? Why do they intersect somewhere? These two things I found in the cave, into which no other human had entered for two thousand years. But these finds, especially the blade, belong to the distant future.
Mr. Sohn poured a glass of water and took a long drink. "I don't believe in coincidences," he said. "This 'third stone' must be out there somewhere."
"Actually, I haven't heard about it," said Arno. "But that's why I asked you to come. You've journeyed throughout the world and preached the Law of God for twenty years or so. You've seen a lot of things. You have met different people and helped them, if they were in need. So, there's no one I can trust as much as I trust you. I was meant to find these things, and now it's your mission to lead everything to the end. From this very moment, these two things are yours."
"Why me, exactly? Why don't you turn to church representatives?"
"I don't believe them. One of them corrupted my grandson. However, I believe in you because you were sent by God. You have no religious dogma; you're free of stereotypes. You're the representative of the old clergy, who combined breeding and wisdom, which indeed has a particular place as a spiritual culture."
"Thank you for the honor of that recognition," said the pilgrim Sohn. "It's a shame that now the devil enters our souls."
Father Sohn tenderly examined the blade and book. Pressing them to his breast, he pronounced:
"I'll solve this business. You can be sure of that.
"Thank you so much. Now, please make yourself at home. Anything you want is yours."
That night, the pilgrim's conscience, being so frightened and worried, led his body to awaken. Without leaving his bed, he stretched out his hand and turned on the lamp. The professor was there, standing beside the bed. An ominous sign could be seen in his eyes, which were like emeralds of fire. The thing of blue steel, which he held in his hands, made the pilgrim shrivel, and a moment later, having produced the cross and book from under the pillow, he rolled over.
Blood streamed down his cheek, and Father Sohn understood that he had been wounded by the blade. Shock blocked the pain, but the fear intensified.
"You shouldn't have come here, pilgrim," whispered the professor as he walked round the bed.
Krepfol shivered all over. "Truly," he thought, "the beast has taken possession of the professor's body." Earlier, though, his hand had hidden the scabbard of the cross.
The pilgrim could see the Beast in the body of the professor, who had stopped just two steps from him and, with a wave of his hand, opened a deep chasm. The whirling air stream sucked up the pillow and linens in an instant. The lurching lamp reflected the Beast's shadow but then stood still.
"I'll spare you, priest. But only you, of all those who have ever stood in my way." The demonic creature hissed. "I'll leave you alive. Throw the cross and the book into this chasm!"
"Go away, you devil!" shouted the pilgrim, holding forth the blade. The chasm receded into the emptiness, and a shockwave of energy passed over the room. The Beast was now at the window, and Krepfol raised the blade.
"Strike at the heart of evil," his conscious said. "Go straight into the heart of it." But there was a moment of hesitation, too. "If I kill the Beast, I'll kill my friend."
His body was faster than his thoughts. He rushed forward, splitting the air with the blade.
The demonic creature jumped onto the window sill and, carrying away the fireworks of the broken window, vanished into the night. Its threatening snarl went deeper and deeper into the garden with every second. But the pilgrim managed to hear the last words.
"I'll be waiting for you in Hell! Without fail!"
Krepfol touched his blood-stained cheek. Having felt the pain, he realized that he was alive. It was not a dream. He went out to the corridor and entered the bathroom. He looked in the mirror and saw a wound from his right ear to his chin.
Krepfol turned on the water and drew aside the curtain. On the floor of the bath, he saw a mummy, waterless and bloodless, dressed in a housemaid's uniform. Later following the steps of the Beast, he understood that the demonic creature had changed bodies in order to cover its tracks.
Krepfol returned to the room and sat on the bed. He wanted to fall asleep and forget about everything. A certain guilt tore at his heart, and it was clear that, for the first time in his life, he had overestimated his strength. There were so many questions, but he didn't know the answers to them. Suddenly, a sense of helplessness--or perhaps apathy--made him take the blade.
"Tear everything apart and send it to Hell . . . that eternal struggle between good and evil. The ash of life. Shrug off the mortal coil. Even the fever. Now it's all the same. What can I do in this world by myself, when nothing changes?"
He then noticed that something had awakened within himself. In an instant, his body was filled with a flood of energy and an unusual feeling of absolute peace and freedom. The pain, which had moments earlier tormented his flesh, was released, and the wounded skin on his cheek had miraculously regenerated. The pilgrim touched it. The wound had healed over. However, a wide scar could be felt from the ear to the chin. It was a true sign of his meeting with the Beast.
Sohn left the house that night. He knew that the Beast--eternally planting the seeds of hatred and fear in people's lives--had fed on crops and become stronger.
Father Sohn had been tracking the Beast for two days, and now the pilgrim's conscience was filled with visions. He had wandered through Paris, listening to its inner world, until he came across Hank Dickens, who had contacts within the police department. Dickens earned his living through the collection and sale of information, and Father Sohn had opened his soul to the man. To Sohn's great surprise, Hank informed him that half an hour earlier someone had called him from the Seychelles and said that a mummy without any documents had been found on Mae Island. The body wore a shirt embroidered with the name "Michel Arno."
An hour later, the pilgrim was on a plane. He watched the clouds as they passed beneath, and thought about the fact that the Beast had in his hands both Jesus' heart and Mohammad's heart. Still, he was missing the last one.
It meant the Beast was changing its appearance. It meant the Beast was nearing the finish line and the Gates of Sethu beyond. All this indicated that it was high time to gather stones.
Life in the hotel Beau Vallon was permanently ordinary. The tourists, spoiled with attention and tropical sun, were capricious and delicate. To feed their spiritual thirst, the hotel staff, like wise mothers, applied an abundance of wit. That evening, in the restaurant, history would take place. The blues singer Bridget Nilsen, a talent unsurpassed, would sing on invitation. It would be her final performance.
The restaurant of some fifty tables, decorated in the style of Ludwig XVI, certainly wasn't on the list of Greenpeace partisans. The delicate aroma of crocodile, marinated in coconut milk and fried, poured out among the seating. The ornamental candles created a soft glow, hovering in the semi-darkness like fireflies in anticipation of Ms. Nilsen's appearance.
Swaying to the rhythm of the first number, Bridget immediately became entranced by the sound of her own voice. She could rise to a height of five octaves from her lowest pitch, or she could just as easily soar downward from the pinnacle. Her textures ranged from velvety and warm to the chill of a high mountain stream. Even the alcohol so liberally washed down by the audience members was far less sweet than the intoxicant issued forth by this twenty-two-year-old chanteuse.
Even the waitresses cooled vapor in their cauldrons. Certainly it was the work of Bridget Nilsen. She had the talent of a legend, but somewhere in the past she too had been a waitress. Now, all attention was directed at the stage, where Bridget was singing a song about tragic love amid the malachite rays of the footlights. However, even as she held that microphone in her slender fingers she didn't realize that the black velvet of her dress was intoning to the sadness of her destiny.
The concert ended with thunderous applause. Holding luxurious bunches of flowers, the singer left the stage. She went back to the dressing room, set down the flowers and dropped herself into a chair.
If anybody could know how much inner strength that applause had stolen! Never in her life had she felt such a burden upon her shoulders.
She still remembered the fog as it enveloped her eyes, and the giddiness of it, as if she were standing at the edge of a precipice. It was her first appearance on the stage. She was able to stand there and sing right to the end, and she made a good impression on the audience.
"Very pleasing, girl! On that first day you felt better than you do now. What's the matter? Maybe you're pregnant?" The idea of a possible pregnancy made her feel nauseated. "Only not now, girl! You're unable to rub your feet, just thinking about the contract, so not now. Maintain your composure!"
She suddenly imagined herself in a kitchen apron, just as she was then, two years ago. It was a roadside snack bar. She was the waitress. Her skin still felt sticky at the sight of drivers. That's why, on receiving that first paycheck, she bought a black velvety dress, hoping even x-rays wouldn't be able to pierce it. Only the narrow slit along the leg allowed a glimpse of that slender form.
Bridget was not tall. She was a brunette, with beautiful curly hair. She had several dresses, but today she chose the same one: black velvet. It was her favorite, and she had no reason to suspect it would be the last time she'd wear it . . . or anything else. Now, however, in that dress she felt absolutely naked. It was if she was a virgin in the desert, surrounded by a horde of lustful men. There was nowhere to run, there was no way to hide. The twenty-minute intermission wasn't very long, and the necessity of another stage appearance was almost too much to bear. She was very tired and could barely stand on her feet.
"Be strong, baby! That wonderful career is just ahead. Luck comes once. You've found the golden egg, so hold onto it. If you fall down, you'll be trampled. Surely you'll be trampled if you fall."
The singer then remembered that, during the performance, she was drawn to a particular table next to the stage. There was a couple seated at that table: a young Frenchman with a braid and a pretty woman with hair the color of summer wheat. They sat opposite one another, but they didn't move an inch. In the cold sheen of candles, they looked more like statues than living people. There was something unearthly in all that.
Bridget waited two minutes more, and then she left the dressing room. Perhaps she would see that couple at the table again. As she walked down the hall toward the restaurant, she felt a rush of anticipation. There was a magician on the stage. Amid the sounds of an amazed audience, he pulled blue balls out of thin air, pierced them to reveal more, and then he let fly pigeons from an empty top hat. The conjurer created many wonders, at least for those who wanted to believe it was all real.
Bridget looked toward the table. That strange couple was gone.
"God blesses. They're gone, and it'll be easier for me to work. Oh, well . . . a few more songs . . . ."
Kissing the floor with her heels, the singer slowly entered the room. How did she become a singer? In that faraway snack bar she had become acquainted with a man who was to be her impresario. Everything happened simply and quickly. Flowers, champagne, bed. Up till that time, she hadn't been aware of any God-given talent. The man didn't fail to notice. He exclaimed: "Baby, what are you doing here? Your mission is the stage, not some mangy coffee joint. To have five octaves and not even know it . . . . That's beyond belief. To have the voice others spend tens of thousands trying to get. Magnificent!"
Her destiny was settled. Bridget burst into the world of entertainment as a singer, just as one would in an old movie or a cheap romance novel.
Invisible wings grew up behind Bridget's back. She was free again, as before. And now she would fulfill the conditions of the contract. Just seven more songs were needed, and she could sing them all without breaking a sweat!"
Bridget, upon her arrival back at the dressing room, discovered bunches of orchids and black tulips on the table in front of the mirror. She inhaled their aroma and smiled. For her, flowers were no less important than money and recognition. Flower made her feel feminine, and whatever came after that was secondary. Bridget, however, was aware of someone behind her in the room. She could sense the presence and hear the breathing. She looked in the mirror, but it seemed she was alone. She looked again and saw a man: the same Frenchman with the narrow braid, which hung down upon his shoulder.
Bridget looked in the mirror again, but she saw only the fright in her eyes. Hers was the only reflection. She turned around, and he was there. He was smiling, but his eyes burned with the most unkindly fire.
"What do you want here? Your flowers?" said Bridget, but to her surprise no sound came forth.
"Yes, mine. I hope you like them."
She nodded in the affirmative. She was speechless with fear.
"What I need . . . ." The man gave an ironic smile, and his green eyes glinted. "Your body, my berry. There must be a luxurious body under that velvety dress. B-b-bitch! Body . . . !"
The braided man threw his arms upon Bridget's shoulders, and she seemed to feel the weight of the universe. She closed her eyes in fear, like a little child who plays "peek-a-boo" without realizing she is in plain sight.
It sounds comical, but kids are right in any case. Bridget saw unknown space in front. It was blindingly white. There were two doors in one wall. She was realizing, though nobody had ever told her, there was safety behind one of those doors. Beyond one was "her" world, and beyond the other was "his" world. She paused in hesitation.
"What on earth, baby! You ought to choose either Paradise or Hell. But this is dreadful. I'd better stay here in timbre up to the very end. I don't play such games." However, the system of coordinates with which she was involved worked according to its own rules. There was an odd sound that led Bridget to turn. A peculiar construction from the side walls was moving toward her and filling the area. On its opposite ends, two atomic magnets--plus and minus--were furiously spinning.
Bridget defined the name of the construction without any mistake because anyone, upon leaving his flesh, encounters it. Any deed in one's life remains in the consciousness as either a positive charge or a negative charge. It may be the theft of a nice little soap from one's hotel room, or it may be disbelief in church. There is no difference. Because an implantation of false guilt can make person believe he is the last nit in this universe and the punishment will be strict. Bridget remembered her whole life. Was it pure to go through the Splitter and stay untouched? It meant she had to be static, not having wavelength, mass, time or position in space. In other words, no charge. The woman retreated. Somewhere in her childhood, she had stolen a piece of chalk from school. This incident--the implantation of false guilt--settled into its permanent place within her mind. She imagined the Splitter tearing her into eight pieces (the number of chakra) and became horrified. It would be less painful to be boiled alive.
She was almost pressed against the door when she remembered the previous meeting with the Splitter and the pursuit of her reincarnations. More than two hundred years ago, out of the broken pieces of her personality (she was Mozart) during one year four famous composers appeared: Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn and Schumann. The fact was difficult to explain to her; she simply knew it right then, at that moment.
Bridget turned to the doors. She had to choose one, to save herself. The decision came immediately, without any explanation. She chose the right one, turned a knob, entered, and . . . .
Everything disappeared. The terrible room. And the Splitter. And fear.
Yeah, I could hide myself. This is my world. The world of my childhood. My castle, my abode. I saw Paradise in that.
She was standing in a daisy field, gradually coming to herself. The wave of aesthetics blew round her. A light wind was playing in her hair and kissing her lips. Not far away, the ocean was crashing green upon the shore, and snow-white clouds were floating above. Fresh fragrances made her feel drunk with excitement. Thanks to her emotions, Bridget began to cry, because she was at last free of the burden of perishable days. Regardless of everything, she had found her own world. She was free. She was eager to fly over the daisy field and compete with the wind far along the ocean, and she did that. She was light as a feather, and she was greatly surprised to find that she could be in some places simultaneously and see things from different perspectives. She had the perception of depth in four dimensions. Wasn't it the full blessing of freedom? Wasn't it absolute happiness to realize that world, and to model it as she liked?
But what's this?
The stream of someone's intention made her fall to the ground. In that daisy field, she saw an approach ten-year-old boy. It was a boy she knew in school. She liked him very much, and he was her secret love right up till the graduation day. He was carrying a box. It was the very one she had kept an eye on in a curiosity shop. The box was incrusted with emeralds, pearls and diamonds.
Bridget's eyes lit up. The breathing stopped. The matter was not in the price. She was attracted by harmony of color as well as the game of light and shadow in the trinket. It spoke of a certain mystery, the answer to which required that she open the box. Only then could she be sure to read the ideas of the master, who had created this and similar wonders. He must have been in love.
The boy held out the box. Bridget took it, understanding that it was a gift. The mystery of the box had worried her for long, but now she felt that all was falsity and wasn't worth her attention.
The singer enjoyed the beauty a little more, though. Then she hooked the edges and lifted the cover. Time slowed to a standstill. Around her, the colors started to dim. The world was becoming black and white, and the intoxicating fragrance of the daisy field was fading. Everything was changing form; everything was funneling into the box. There, to her horror, Bridget discovered that damned room with the Splitter. The universe was collapsing into itself. Bridget felt herself being pulled into a white room without a door. It was useless to resist. A flash of realization in her mind gave her to understand that the history of this world was based on lies and traps, where one thing was transcended by another and the meanings of "good" and "bad" were interchangeable in binary fashion. Upon this realization, she knew that she wanted to cry. Absorbed with patterns of devilish energy, however, she could not allow herself to do so. A man lifted Bridget by the shoulders and, having drawn her tender flesh to his body, brought his head down to her mouth.
Their lips fused in a kiss, and Bridget felt a powerful stream of cold energy as it poured into her. While the man's body was drying like an apple in oven, her mind was saying farewell to the flesh, farewell to life . . . .
A moment before death, however, she managed to think: "I'd better stay at that lousy little snack bar."
A gray field mouse was awakened by strange sounds that night. Down in her nest filled with fresh grass, a brood of babies lay sleeping, blind and helpless. They were to grow up, become strong and take their place in the evolution of this hostile world. First, however, they had to fulfill the most important task in the universe: to survive beyond the point they were considered merely food for another. Strong instincts made the gray mouse rush an exit. Having stopped suddenly, she sniffed the air. Her main enemy--the yellow-headed grass snake, which had eaten the sire of her brood--could be sensed, not ten meters away. Now, though, she felt drops of human perspiration. Human. This creature didn't trouble her, but one had to be apprehensive.
The mouse, ever curious, went out and found herself inside an old barn. It was chosen not by chance. People didn't throw poison here, and people generally didn't visit it.
The mouse saw the moonlight penetrating through chinks into the half-darkness. She scampered past the slender strips of light toward the corner, where something big was stirring. The mouse didn't feel aggression from the strange object; she wasn't afraid. She quietly, very quietly, snuck up and got on. The human child had been tied to a pole. Their eyes met, and now she felt a wave of strength well up within. Her heart started to beat rapidly, and soon fear drove her back, to the hole, to her babies, who were to survive and take their own place in evolution.
Streams of salty sweat covered Jeffrey's eyes. They ran down his cheeks and dropped to the ground. His mouth was bandaged with dense cloth to prevent any cry for help from being heard. The cord with which he was bound, having cut into tendons, overarched the boy's complicated survival mechanism, whereby he remained sedentary at the pole.
Jeff, in his effort to loosen the knots, spent the first two hours of imprisonment straining his muscles, but the only result was pain. A sudden feeling of panic was halted by the idea that it was all just a game. The wily boy didn't remember what had happened, nor did he analyze the past. At this moment, he was interested in the present. He was there, in that place, at that moment, and he needed to get out!
If it is impossible to break through a wall, find its weakest spot. That's what his father taught him. The constant impact of droplets eventually wears away the stone.
Jeff, with the help of will, made his body switch off the pain and weakened muscles. Time was no longer important, because it couldn't solve the problem. Inhaling air with his stomach, Jeff slowed down his heart rate till it resonated with the quiet of his surroundings. Penetrating into the porous membrane at the border between the worlds, his consciousness broke through to steady perception. It was able to absorb information and speed him through shiny tunnels.
Once the boy was able to perceive that every cell in his body had its own life, he could be a separate one and the whole unit simultaneously. Then his attention was attracted by a bright, oncoming stream of energy, but it was impossible to stop the collision. It happened, and it exploded into a tornado of fire.
A strange, toneless sound returned Jeff to his body. The boy lay on the ground, somehow free of the cord that had held him. For some time he didn't move, listening to his organism. Having stood too long the blood was rushing, fighting to return the equilibrium and flexibility to his body. Touching the ground with his cheek Jeff looked at the moonlight through the bitter haze of sweat that had invaded his eyes.
"I am free."
He then tore away the cloth, wiped the dust out of his eyes and took a deep breath. He turned onto his back and lay still for several minutes. Eventually, sensing the giddiness of his restored freedom, he stood up and proceeded to leave.
The door, small and crookedly made, opened suddenly. A very nice woman appeared. But neither the silvery moon falling upon the velvet of her black dress nor the tempting forms of her body attracted Jeff. Instead, he became drunk from the sight of her eyes, which flashed a devilish, poisonous green in the shadows of that place.
Fisher and Selma were busy screwing on a leather sofa, on a writing table, against the window sill, as if to test all these things for solidity. Three hours of sex, with the occasional break for a cigarette, was to him a mouthful of deliciously cool water after a long drudge through the desert of a starved existence.
Covered with just a sheet, they lay on the sofa with the poisonous puffs of cigarette smoke hovering above them.
"Selma, you are incredible."
"And you, Alan, are a maniac. I've had more men than there are stars in the sky, but none of them has ever done what you can. I've never felt such pleasure!"
"You're a perfect lover, too. If you weren't a streetwalker, I'd marry you."
"I wouldn't marry you, though. Children may appear . . . the whole sniveling lot. I live for myself."
Pause hang in the room, after which Selma took away Alan's cigarette.
"Give me that smoke. Next time, Alan, I won't even take money. Instead, I'll pay you."
Alan wanted to thank her but hesitated, took out a new cigarette and lit it.
He told himself, "I must remember something, by all means. I was hopelessly impotent, and suddenly there it was. I just have no memory of how it happened."
He stared at the ceiling as he tried to pull something important from his memory. Somewhere distant, it seemed, Selma was chattering, and with each puff of smoke he drifted further away. He was walking in a dried-up river bottom, and he knelt and touched land with his lips. There wasn't the slightest hint of life-saving moisture. He stood up and walked on along the undulations of this strange river. Cloudy shadows like hounds were in the lead, and he believed them. At last he came to the dam, whereupon he expected to find a hole in the fence. There was no end. There was no edge.
A shot of acute pain returned Alan to the sinned earth. He hadn't noticed the cigarette burning his hand. A bright flash dawned upon him, and his memory--which had been blocked by the Beast--was returning. A dense stream of information brushed past the artificial barriers in his mind, and all the data, like a properly arranged mosaic, began to overlay the foxholes of absent recollection. The process of restoration was moving ahead at full speed, and only death could stop it.
"Well, well, it seems . . . . No, I remember exactly. A little girl was with the woman in black. She was about ten years old."
Almost intuitively, Alan compared the features of Jeff and the girl he had seen.
The nose was the same, as were the mouth and eyes. He simply hadn't seen the similarity before, due to the hair. The height and the walk were absolutely the same, too. So, it was clear to Fisher that the girl was in fact Jeff.
Fisher threw aside the cigarette, resolutely got up, went to the desk, lifted the receiver of the phone and dialed the controller's number. Moments later, he was connected to the Boeing 747 bound, he assumed, for Bangkok.
Sleep could not restore the strength that Jeff had lost. However, with newly opened eyes he discovered that his full power of realization had returned. The residual pain of all the thousands of brain stings, which had torn through him in waves of heat, was now a dull pulsation that reverberated at his temples. The pressure thus reduced, thought was rushing beyond cranium, but the past remained in its clutches as if in a concrete shell, so he was not fully free. He tried to sit, but his head encountered an obstacle. Fumbling around with his hands, he discovered that he was in a wooden trap constructed of narrow planks. The boy placed his feet against the structure and pushed as hard as he could.
The squeak of a lock mechanism was heard. He gave another push, but there was no result. The third try, however, did manage a small development: In a crack between the cover and the box, electrical light flashed. Jeff looked through the crack and saw the outlines of steel boxes. He turned his attention to his hands, set against the floor. There was something soft and suspiciously familiar under them. Feeling around, the boy discovered they were sacks. Each had two straps and a system of connecting knots. Thus the boy started to understand.
Before going down by lift to a luggage compartment a short dialogue happened between the friends.
"Clear, the ace of spades," said Brett with a nod. "But maybe me?"
"No," said Slaiker firmly. "If the Beast is really here, I have to fight first. You take care of the monk. Besides . . . ." He put his hand on Brett's shoulder. "You'll know what to do, if I fail."
"You can count on me," said Brett, and then the elevator door opened.
The two men entered the luggage compartment. It was lit with weak lamps, and along the walls there were luggage containers fixed to the floor with steel devices.
The two proceeded in accordance with the plan they had devised. Brett hid behind a container near the elevator, and Slaiker, having turned on the main lighting, moved toward the tail of the plane. The cargo boxes were pressed close together along with walls.
It seemed as if Slaiker was walking down Broadway, but behind his portrayal of calm a leopard was concealed, enraged to the point of fever. The detective was ready to repel any attack, but he didn't know just what kind of role his physical prowess would have in a battle with the Beast.
The detective scanned the lines of objects in the depths of that place, and as he went along he analyzed the probable scenario of future events. Any physical object in the vicinity could soon reveal an adversary of volcanic power and proportion.
He listened closely to the space, and from out of the quiet din of mechanical sounds and random noises he hoped to discern anything that was suspicious. He could smell things, too, both familiar and strange. The odors of dust, aviation lubricant, rubber and plastic were all apparent. The smell of burnt marzipan, however, seemed to rise and recede like a mysterious tide, present one moment and gone the next.
Information was being gathered in memory, placed within the context of a strict mathematical algorithm for decision of Slaiker's most important task: to find his little boy Jeff.
The detective's brain, this biological mechanism for controlling the mind and body, got a weak pulse. His attention was drawn to a box between two containers. A sixth sense told him that the search was a last over. He had found his son.
The top of the box Slaiker bore the words "Property of Icar Aviation Club." It was bolted and locked, and as he searched for some way to open it he suddenly noticed the strangest thing. Next to the box were the remains of a human, almost mummified. It was a piece of dead flesh, visible among the folds of a black velvet dress.
Damn it! The Beast had moved to a different body! He was no longer the singer from the hotel. He . . . .
"Yes, you're right. I am no longer a singer," announced a female voice, answering his thoughts. Slaiker turned. Five steps away was the flight attendant; the same one who had smiled at him as she passed with the coffee cart.
A cascade of fair hair fell past the woman's shoulders onto the languid fabric of her blouse, ably supported by her breasts. Slaiker felt the heaviness lift, whereupon his consciousness became clouded with warm gray mist. Somewhere in the depth of his "me" he heard a voice yell, "Fight it! You must resist!"
It took a superhuman effort not to look into those eyes. The pressure to give in was so great, but instead Slaiker raised the ace of spades.
Brett clearly remembered the hotel singer, so the appearance of the flight attendant was more an unplanned occurrence than a red flag. He decided not to come out of concealment and restrain the woman. It was the right choice, because from his vantage point he could see her stop behind Slaiker; when the latter turned, Brett saw the ace of spades in his hand.
Brett now understood that the Beast had taken another body. He wasn't the hotel singer anymore, he was the woman there in the cargo hold.
The commissioner jumped out of concealment and rushed toward the elevator. He pressed the button for the topmost level, but the next moment the floor swam from under his feet. He was pushed aside, his head bounced against the elevator platform and he lost consciousness.
Captain Garrett, with the plane at an altitude of twenty-five thousand feet, went into a left curve. He believed it would allow him to avoid two dangers: First, the plane would enter a tight turn and the unbuckled passengers wouldn't fall upward because centrifugal force would keep them in place. Secondly, he thought of other planes, following the same course but at a lower altitude.
The airliner was no longer simply flying; instead, it was dropping like a pigeon wounded by a falcon. On the control desk a green lamp glowed, signaling that the landing gear was down. This spontaneous action served as a speed brake and sharply changed the plane's trajectory. The altimeter raced backward, counting off the distance till ground contact.
Garrett switched on the radar at two-seven and issued a mayday. The 747 was about to crash. .
Brett Li was tossed up toward the ceiling just at the moment the engines refused and the plane was in a pitch. The Lord had placed figures on the chessboard in such a way that Brett would never again see his friend Slaiker. As for Slaiker, he moved not a jot when the plane went into that pitch. Resilient air, like compressed steam, beat against his chest and kept him from falling. There before the power of the Beast, the law of universal gravitation had no influence on the detective's body.
Keeping the right angle to the relation of the plane under his feet, Slaiker was suspended midair. Every cell of his being fought for its life. Neither a muscle nor an idea could provoke or dissuade his strength, will and spirit. The qualities so necessary to his survival were inexorably knotted together. Slaiker kept his eyes open. In the icy pupils of the demon he saw his own reflection, like a ship stuck in the ice, starved for water. Cold of polar intensity compressed his chest and blood. It beat in his temples, forcing his consciousness beyond the limits of reality.
The Beast was trying to tear through the invisible envelope that somehow protected this new human sacrifice. The demon, however, had no interest in organic flesh; the stuff could be set afire with just a look. Instead, he desired the spiritual essence. He sought that little clot of energy that dared to interfere with his plans. The Beast would split it into atoms, electrons and neutrinos and summarily disperse it to all sides of the galaxy.
Slaiker, it seemed, had a secret reserve; a generator of power with which to fight the onslaught.
"I am stronger, and you won't take me," he told himself over and over, and clenched his teeth.
. . . Having thrown the sack aside Jeff peered through the crack. He could see metal boxes and someone's feet. Those sandals of crocodile skin seemed familiar.
"Those are my father's," thought Jeff, and at that moment he sensed the depth of the situation. Fate, like a noose, was tightening around his neck.
"One more minute and he'll die," Jeff warned himself. "But if I help him, probably my brain won't be able to take the punishment and then I'll die."
Jeff remembered the incident in the kitchen. Rage emerged and grew within him.
Forget being reasonable. It was better to go mad than be a coward.
A wave of anger filled his entire being. Bringing forth a power of the kind Jeff had never before known, he kicked the side out of the crate It was carried deep into the plane toward the elevator, and Jeff, in defiance of gravity, flew outward against the container. He saw the fair-haired stewardess, and he saw his father.
A bead of perspiration rolled down the man's face, which was inflamed from great tension. The veins fought their way to the surface of his temples. His bitten lips were bleeding, and his eyes were nearly out of their sockets.
Jeff wanted to cry out for his daddy, but he decided not to say a word. To distract his father could mean the death of them all.
Jeff inclined in energetic channel of the stewardess, and like a stone blocking the flow of a stream, he placed his mind between his father and the Beast. In such a way, he would take the blow instead of his dad.
The blow was mighty. His hair stood up and his muscles convulsed. In his brain the only discernible thought was, "No-o-o-o!"
The Beast directed its attention to Jeff, but the boy's father wasn't off the hook. He hung in the air as before, from which point he could see his son in a battle with the Angel of Death.
"I'll give the punishment you deserve, child of a rat," said the Essence. "Here! Look into these eyes! You little piece of nothing, I'll split you into atoms!"
Slaiker, unable to tear free of the demon's energy beam, beat at the air with his fists. He saw his son levitate and drift forward. The demon, housed in the woman's body, caught him by that blue dress and hissed: "Turn back into your body, little rat!"
A dry cracking sound, similar to the breakage of a dead branch, told Jeff that he was in body again, like gin in a bottle.
"S-s-slaik-e-er!" A terrible grimace contorted the face of the flight attendant. "Take one last look at your little rat. Happy landing to you!"
The Beast's laughter, like the victory howl of a hellhound, went to every corner of the cargo bay. Slaiker, though, wasn't conquered because, as the spiritual essence in direct opposition to evil, he remained untouched.
The Boeing 747 was down to thirteen thousand feet. At this point the outside temperature was minus five degrees Centigrade, and the atmosphere had oxygen sufficient for human survival.
The stewardess, with a free hand, made a magic pass to the side of the luggage hatch. It opened, inducing a vacuum. Immediately, anything that wasn't fastened down--garbage, extra boxes, brushes and tarpaulin sacks--flew out of the hold.
The flight attendant pushed Slaiker out of the energy beam, and he too was sucked from the hold. As he fell into darkness, neither icy cold nor cries of despair could alleviate the pain of a world that had gone insane.
Rita wept quietly, tending to her eyes and nose with a handkerchief. She momentarily realized the plane was falling. The drastic change in pressure produced a sickening sensation as the blood surged toward her brain. However, having considered death amid sleep to be at least a bit more humane, she decided not to wake the passengers.
Two minutes later, Rita thanked God for the miracle of salvation, and for the next ten minutes she tried to calm herself. Inhaling air greedily and swallowing tears, she didn't guess that very soon she would endure something even more disgusting.
She hadn't immediately remembered the sick woman for whose sake the plane had to choose a new destination. She entered the economy-class cabin and found the woman in an unnatural pose. Her pale hands were drawn out with the palms turned upward. One could read the emptiness in her deep-set eyes, and her thin wrinkled lips were pursed as if to kiss. She looked like the evil witch from an animated fairy tale.
The stewardess felt for a pulse, but the old woman was dead. Rita crossed her arms and closed the eyelids with a pass of her palm. Distressed about the death, she turned to leave but was interrupted by a sudden squeaking sound:
Rita turned back toward the woman. She sat there in the same position as before, with eyes open and hands extended. Trying not to analyze anything, Rita again crossed the arms and closed eyelids. This time, however, she didn't attempt to leave. She watched the old face in order to see what might happen.
Did she honestly think the deceased woman might suddenly spring to life? Bah! It was foolish to expect something like that, and it was crazy to wait for it.
The eyelids on the old face began to quiver, and the lips parted ever so slightly. Rita's heart cringed into a lump, and then it was as if her soul had been plunged into boiling oil.
The deep-set eyes opened, the mouth spread into a wicked grin, and raw-boned hands, so thinly clad in jaundiced skin, seized Rita's forearm in a steely grip.
"Thank you, Rita, for such care," whispered the voice. "You're simply a dear . . . and I'll be you taste nice too!"
Rita retreated immediately, shrieking as she wrested her arm from the grip of the living corpse. A bolt of energy blasted forth from the old woman's palm and knocked Rita to the floor. She attempted to get up, but she could only get onto her elbows. Sharp nails held her neck like talons, threatening to eviscerate her in front of the passengers, who froze in disbelief.
The old woman bounded onto the chest of the victim and, having pressed her neck to the carpet, howled to the moon like a she-wolf. Rita flailed frantically with her legs, trying to dislodge the assailant. The corpse thing, however, was possessed of strength far beyond what she could have expected. The grip on Rita's neck grew tighter, and she could scarcely breathe.
Rita bid a gasping farewell to life when the old woman, with eyes rolled back to the whites, drew in her lips and made a deep inhalation, sucking out Rita's life energy in a thin, silvery stream. A stream of thought--a filigreed cloth of recollections, experience and aspirations--met the lips of that living corpse and was taken in.
Rita felt the world around her darken, as if a charcoal-gray sheet had been drawn over everything. Sounds sank into a glutinous mass, and tactile sensations dissolved into a vague tingling, like windblown sand upon dry skin.
The last three breaths were free and full. It was useless to call for help. It was simply her last desire to feel the flow of air into her lungs, but she knew that wasn't to be. Then, quite unexpectedly, came the sensation of blood flow into her face. The feeling of dry creaking, like the opening of a door long ignored, led her to understand that she was again in her own body.
The flesh of the corpse woman suddenly loosened as the clench of those bony hands relaxed, giving the stewardess the chance at freedom. She wriggled to the side aside. The witch lay on the floor, writhing like a headless snake. Blood was purging from her heart and every orifice. From her back projected the handle of a knife, which had been driven in with such force that the hilt of it had punctured the woman's jacket. There stood the short man in a monastic cassock. His hair was gray, and a wide scarlet scar was visible on the right side of his face.
The old woman looked at the person in cassock and whispered:
"You will not live long. When the new moon rises, the Beast will open the Gates of Set and then I'll be back. We are many . . . ." Her last sounds were swallowed by eternity. Right before Rita's eyes, the body decomposed and burned into tiny ashen shreds.
Tears poured forth from her eyes. She had never put much stock in deliverance, and the monk could read the suspicion in her eyes. The monk removed the blade, put it into the white-stone scabbard, and placed it back around his neck. He then approached the young woman and helped her to her feet. She could now see his terrible scar up close. It was frightening, but her inherent distrust was melted away by the warmth that radiated from his obsidian eyes.
"We need to get away," said the monk as he took the woman by the hand. Rita acquiesced.
"It'd be stupid not to trust this man," thought the attendant as she followed Father Sohn up the aisle through the cabin.
Rita caught a flash of bright light in her periphery. Her curls, picked up by a stream of air, lifted a little and closed around her face as she walked. Something led her to turn around, though, and this led Krepfol to do the same. A fiery wormhole funnel had opened in front of them. It was distinct from the one the pilgrim had seen in Paris: It didn't draw in particles from the surrounding space but instead pushed outward.
The pilgrim felt a wave, like a pang of anxiety, emanate from the book under his robe, and a second later a horde of ominous shadows spewed forth from the wormhole. They careened along the rows and seized upon their victims, penetrating deeply into the somnolent bodies. Here and there in the darkness someone's eyes would flash, like emerald fireflies.
"Leave here, immediately!" shouted the pilgrim, whereupon Rita came to her senses. "Otherwise, it will be too late!" Even as he spoke, Rita rushed ahead, away from the fiery funnel. She quickened her steps, but she could feel a demonic energy at her back. Sohn had nearly caught up with her when Brett abruptly emerged from the darkness. It was a surprise to Rita, who retreated to the safety of his guardianship.
"Quiet," said the monk, whispering into her ear. "He's one of ours." Rita's heart pounded so insistently that the monk could hear it.
The commissioner nodded toward the wormhole.
"Jeff was down below, in the hold, while his father fought the Beast," said Brett. "We need you there."
"It's too late," replied the monk. "Your friend is gone. Our task now is to survive and kill the creature."
"Where's Jeanette?" asked Brett.
"I wasn't able to stop her," said Father Sohn. "She went to find Jeff."
"We have to save them!" Brett couldn't help but feel frantic in his urgency.
"I am truly sorry for your friend," said Father Sohn, "but at least the boy and Jeanette will be alive until the Beast finds the stone." With his head he indicated the forest of green lights that moved back and forth amid the darkness of the cabin.
"The Beast has prepared a trap for us. He has looked into Rita's eyes. So, we need a secret place." Rita gave a sigh and then said, "Come on."
The trio ascended the staircase, whereupon they entered a quiet room and locked the door. It was a luxury cabin reserved for the elite. In front of the leather divan, curving along the wall, there was a small table, and opposite it was a large flat-screen video monitor. Fortunately, the place had no other occupant.
"Can you please tell me what is happening aboard this plane!?" cried Rita to the two men. She was almost too frightened to be hysterical.
"This is only a general rehearsal," the monk answered. "Now, I need to tell you this: Demons can penetrate into the bodies of sleeping people, but only at night." Then, however, he offered something more, which came with a sudden realization: "Tomorrow, they'll be able to do so in the daytime and with any person, whether asleep or awake."
"But why is that?" Rita asked.
"I suppose they need our bodies. These creatures are of another plane . . . another dimension. They have ruined more than one civilization this way."
"What are we going to do?"
"We need wax candles and salt."
"Candles can be found, but salt? We aren't in the kitchen."
"Then we must use whatever we can find."
Rita rushed to a nearby chest of drawers, and in rummaging through it she found two candles. She held them out to the pilgrim. The men looked at each other and exchanged bemused smiles. Rita's explanation was to the point:
"This is a first-class area for certain gentlemen and ladies who prefer intimacy."
The sound coming from behind the door indicated that little time was left.
"We need a flame."
Brett pulled a cigarette lighter from his pocket and lit the candles.
The monk gave his instructions: "Sit down in a circle, back to back. Quickly!" He gave a candle to Brett.
It wasn't necessary to say more. They took their places on the floor.
Father Sohn, holding the second candle, took out the book and placed his free hand upon it. He was not surprised by the coming of sudden knowledge, and his instinct told him the orientation was correct.
His mind entered the realm of mystical signs from the sacred volume, and he searched for the one true decision. It came a second later, when there was an abrupt crash at the door.
A wave of energy, tinged in pink, splashed out of the book. It enveloped the three like a dome, and then the monk fetched a second. This one was brilliant green.
A crowd of sleepwalkers, sweeping everything, burst into the room. Three lamps were at once broken into pieces by a fiery ball that burst forth from the hand of an attacker. The domes rippled like fountains, their protective energy illuminated only by the flames of two candles. The somnambulists, with their malicious shadows, surrounded the energy domes.
The first of them started its attack, and Brett counted fifteen. The dome wave pushed them back, but Rita's fear, like that of a cornered animal, brought forth a rush of adrenaline. She gave a scream like the roar of a jet. It whet the appetite of the demonic creatures nearest the dome, but its reflected energy snapped Brett's candle.
Brett covered Rita's mouth with a hand. As he gazed into her eyes, full of terror and fear, he said: "I am with you, so don't cry. We're safe here, under this dome. Just believe me."
His voice gave her the feeling of a certain control. It was as if no one else could have understood the cause and depth of her commotion; no one else could have responded with such a tone of voice. Rita nodded, and Brett released her.
He tried--without success--to relight the broken candle, and as he did so he watched the raging creatures from the corners of his eyes. The bombarded the invisible wall with balls of fire, but none of them tried to ram it. As the previous experience showed, the strength of demons grew in the presence of human fear.
The remaining candle burned brightly in the pilgrim's right hand. The wax singed his fingers as it melted, but he felt fortunate to be prevented from sleeping. His arm seemed to possess a separate cell consciousness. It made strange, indecipherable motions in the air, while a constant stream of prayers and incantations issued from the mouth of the monk. The sacred volume was there in his lap, maintaining the dome of safety under which the three people sat. Father Sohn's conscious mind swam fathoms deep in the pool of secret knowledge, and the deeper he went the more evident his ultimate strategy became. What was revealed seemed to overturn his long-held notion of the world.
The basis of existence was stasis, like an entity or condition so fundamental and far removed from perception that it couldn't be described. It existed beyond any space and time, but it was able to think. The space was created, and it began to divide. The elemental facts followed one after another, defining the concept of time. The fracturing of this stasis in turn provided the origin of intellectual units, which achieved realization as a consequence of creation. Thus the thinking creatures were born, and they were the part of the original stasis. Simultaneously trying to balance itself, the stasis divided into negative and positive, which with a vast collision became nothing.
Before separation from the original stasis, every spiritual essence went through a certain multidimensional object: Set's Brilliant. It was the first and very emotional experience of all spiritual essences, but it was also one of the first traps, as it blocked any spontaneous return to the starting point, or the "beginning." Most of the information received through Set's Brilliant taught peace and harmony, but the contrary information led to conflict and entrapment. This was the nature of the balance that had been achieved.
The created things, upon leaving Set's Brilliant, built their own worlds. The more dimensions those new worlds had, the more highly developed they were. Creatures building a multidimensional model of the world needed more time than those that were less sophisticated. Those that stood on lower stages, being greater in number, took the first stroke. Initially, it was just a game, but then the game took on a cruel form.
Hundreds, thousands and millions of years passed. There were billions of years. The spiritual creatures, being immortal, sank deeper and deeper into their own traps. They provoked the Great Explosion, as a consequence of which they learned to block numerous manifestations and abilities. Instead, they became embodied in material structures such as clouds. Even such mundane things as meat and children's dolls could embody them. Obeying the law of balance, some played the role of angels, while others became executioners or the exact opposite of their heavenly counterparts.
The one, standing higher, put on a blood-soaked cloak and pronounced himself God. In reality, however, all was the whole.
Father Sohn left the transcendental state just long enough to estimate the dome's remaining defense, and dove again into the pool of mystical thought.
Two hundred years in the past, a small cadre of English esoteric explorers found a description of the tunnels to Set's Brilliant. It was a certain multidimensional conglomeration that allowed the alchemistic magicians to manipulate time and space. The tunnels of Set had numerous passages, but for the sake of mankind most of them were locked by czar Solomon. However, modern occultists viewed those impediments as a violation of their right to secret knowledge, whereupon some were broken and transcended. Thus, predatory strengths from the fourth dimension rushed toward our three-dimensional world. They began to show themselves as previously unknown phenomena, like new diseases, radiation and even UFOs.
They were energy-based vampires that implanted, in the human mentality, programs intended to pull mankind into the sewer of desperation and loathing. It was a device by which people would slit others' throats simply to have a larger piece of the pie. This gave rise to envy and aggression. Having provoked an enormous eruption of energy, the energy vampires devoured the human consciousness like a python swallows a suckling pig, dissolving it into an eternal perpetuation of schemes and negativity.
The energy vampires are hidden within the lower layer of reality, hovering just above man's head like a Russian winter hat. The weaker the person's will is, the more absently he spends his energy and the more readily he triggers the deadly resonance in space. Such an individual is therefore left open to attack by hordes of vampires and other demons.
Eventually, someone from among the followers of secret knowledge blocked the tunnel of Set, hoping to prevent the entry of unseen creatures into our world. For the energy vampires, this meant it was time to gather stones. No longer would they drink of human consciousness in little sips. It was far more satiating to drink in deep, bloodthirsty gulps, as did the Beast. This habit, apart from its blatancy, causes the inconstancy of a particular gland in humans and mammals.
The pineal gland is the brain's keeper of time. It is secreted only at night, in the absence of light. Situated behind the bridge of the nose, it helps to regulate the body's natural rhythm, from the moment one awakens to the last instant of sleep. It is also a factor in animal migrations, hibernation and winter sleep, and the mating season.
The melatonin of the vampire has two peculiar characteristics: It switches off the mechanism of aging, but when sunlight appears it causes the monster to melt.
Thus, by the next morning they would be like unto their emissary. For them he would open a new portal, through which they would acquire one of the features common to ordinary men. Their thin veil of energy--their existence--would be reconstructed, and they would swim amid the photons of sunlight. The infinitely nano-scale realignment and interconnection of elements would make all this possible.
Rita, ever fearful that any glance toward the surrounding shadows could being catastrophe, tried to dispel her cowardice:
"I am not afraid of them . . . . Heavenly Father, give me strength. I shall not fear . . . ."
The constant inundation of emotions helped remove her from the immediate circumstance, at least for a while. She told herself, "When everything ends I'll be drunk as a shoemaker. I spit on this prick of a captain, John Garrett, and I'll tie his balls to the steering wheel. Let him dismiss me."
The darkness flooded Rita, and as it cloaked her it whispered with sickeningly sweet cunning:
"You have so much fear, Rita. You live it and breathe it. Yes, yes. You are afraid of all men. You're afraid of mice, moonlit nights and even your own shadow. Isn't it true, Rita? So, be yourself at last. Be given!"
The darkness drew in upon her, but still Rita resisted. "No! It's not truth. I am not a coward!"
The darkness, however, persisted in its embrace upon Rita's shoulders. It compressed them so that she started to cry. Then, with a bitter lump in the throat, she began to pant. As if a stopper was released from inside, at the source of her being, there came a deep, guttural cry unlike any she had ever uttered. It was the cry of death
The softness of Jeanette's voice enwrapped Jeff's mind with invisible threads and cradled it on the sunlit waves of a vast ocean. Sometimes it carried him up to the clouds and, showering him with snow-white flakes, plunged into the past. The sensation of a motherly presence made him wander along the gallery where he could indulge himself in sensory perceptions that were strangely familiar. At other moments he seemed to see her footsteps on the sand, only to be erased by the tide. Occasionally, the firmness of his father's voice compelled him to turn back, but he would then find nothing except the crystalline echo that slowly faded into space. These perceptions--the reverberations of memory and touch--dissolved in his palms and, flowing down his fingers, carried him into underground springs. A strange metropolis, far removed from the sun, stretched outward from his mind's eye. Faceless essences swam past, and with a finger one beckoned him to the border between the worlds. Breaking its porous membrane, an unknown feeling soaked Jeff to the crossroads. One was pierced by a deep-blue sensation of the past, in which his parents' faces were reflected. Another vibrated with mysterious strength and called:
"Join us. You'll be powerful and forget the past forever." Eschewing the possibility of a choice, Jeff stepped forward. He had chosen as his objective the light from a house far down the road, but then he found it had merged with many lights, and they all flashed in the darkness. However, the boy wouldn't be mistaken; he wouldn't lose the light that burned in his heart. He crawled forth on a splintery floor of recollections, skinning his knees till they bled. The splinters jabbed his consciousness, but he wouldn't turn back. He refused to weep.
The boy was a descendant of great warriors, for whom crying was not done willingly.
An infernal drone from the depths of the room caused Jeff to awaken. A feeling of exhaustion and the warmth of Jeanette's embrace led him to understand that he was still alive. Her voice quivered in reaction to the frightful roar of the Essence, causing discomfort that ran deep into the boy's soul. Jeanette, however, could feel the beating of his heart as she placed her hand on his chest, whereupon she began to sing softly.
Phnom Penh International Airport, Cambodia: 7:00 a.m.
The subdivision of eight men under Ven Jhun suffered that early morning not only from the onset of their laborious operation. They lay behind sandbags in a subtle arc, just seventy yards from the strip.
The men were equipped with helmets, armored vests and camouflage, and thus were hidden within the grass. Each of them had an AR-16 rifle of early-'60s vintage NATO issue. The captain held tight to his favored Walther 2000 sniper rifle. A gift from a Tahitian smuggler, it had been "left" for him in exchange for his selective blindness toward highly illegal dealings. The Tahitian, knowing the captain's interest in weapons, hit the mark. This particular toy was worth the rest of his collection. Produced in the 1970s by the German firm Carl Walther Waffenfabrick for police and anti-terroristic subdivisions, the rifle had a distinctive construction and appearance. The superb quality of the piece also meant it was worth a great deal of money in any market.
Ven Jhun tenderly stroked the barrel, which grew warm in the Cambodian sun. Capable of solving myriad problems, it was the embodiment of strength and respect. Touching the rifle even alleviated the pain in his leg stump. As always, it was impossible for him to sleep through the night. The pangs, as they rose, were an insistent reminder of the past. There was a problem to be solved, and he'd take care of it.
Just at the moment the captain saw an approaching point over the horizon, his cell phone rang.
"Dad," said the voice on the line.
"One second . . . ." Ven raised himself out of the grass and limped away from the men so as not to be overheard. Still, he maintained sight of that point above the horizon.
"Now we can talk. Chen, where are you?"
"As you said, they're in Campong Thome. I've tracked them to the hotel."
"Excellent. Now, listen carefully. You will kill them and steal the disc, together with the computer."
Chen heard pressure in father's redoubtable voice and felt discomfort.
"But, Dad . . . ."
"Shut up! Be a man for once!"
"I can't," Chen complained. "I just can't do it. Daddy . . . ."
"If that's so, you can say goodbye to your restaurant and your beloved car. The state will put me against the wall and leave you and your mother without so much as the shirts on your backs. The rice fields will await you then."
The prediction was so final, so fatal, that Chen had to agree.
"All right, Dad. I'll do what you want. When will you come?"
Ven Jhun was already able to discern small details on the plane, now landed, and he said urgently:
"Here we have some terrorists who've captured a plane. So, I'll be at least two hours. Take a chopper."
Ven entrusted the cell phone to his vest pocket, loaded the sniper rifle and gave the order: "Don't fire without my command!"
The information echoed in both directions, but the warbling of the cell phone reminded the captain about the boomerang effect.
A deep accumulation of anger spewed forth into the microphone.
"You! Chen! Do as you were . . . ."
The sound of a woman's voice on the other end halted him in mid-sentence.
"Hello? Who's speaking?"
"The chief of the service guard," answered the captain angrily. His thoughts were far away, in Campong Thome.
"This is Flight Attendant Rita Amesbury," the voice said tearfully. "They made me . . . made . . . . I can't speak long. Terrorists are nearby."
"Who are they? What do they look like?" urged Jhun his lips jammed up against the microphone.
"There are wounded," she said, trembling. "We need an ambulance direct to the plane."
"Clear," said the captain impatiently. "But, who are they?"
"A man in monastic clothes and a Chinese. They'll be together."
A wave of hypnotic force enveloped the captain's mind. In the flurry of random sounds, he heard only two words:
The words intoned destiny like a doomsday bell. Without realizing the happening, Ven placed his cheek against the rifle stock and peered into the telescopic sight. His forefinger released the safety and moved into position upon the trigger.
The terrorists didn't communicate. They made no demands, so no one felt compelled to reverse the ladder-feed.
The 747 came to rest in a free zone with its engines off, and a ladder vehicle pulled up alongside. Ven monitored the situation through his rifle scope for five minutes, as a string of people descended from the jet.
The trigger mechanism of Walther-2000 had a life of its own. It wasn't ruled by the sniper's psychomotor functions but was instead very much in command. The caps of six 300-millimeter Winchester magnum cartridges, like sitting girls, waited for their time. The titanium firing pin would ignite the smokeless powder, and the 7.62-caliber bullet--rocketing forward at 900 meters per second--would instantly extinguish the victim's life.
A borrowed Toyota became the next stage in Brett's mission. Having driven out to USSR Boulevard, he gave the car some gas and joined the street traffic. Ordinary country opened on both sides of the dike, and a mirror of water reflected the clouds. Brett was filled with pain, and he seethed in anger. The oozing blood, having soaked his shirt, ran down past his ribcage onto the seat.. Having torn out a significant portion of muscle, the bullet damaged small blood vessels and tore the main knots responsible for motor functions.
"Now is not the time to be feeble, soldier, Li told himself as he squeezed the steering wheel. "The pain means nothing, and it won't stop you. Ahead! That's an order!"
The commissioner rummaged through the glove compartment with his free hand as he drove, whereupon a pair of sunglasses drew his attention. He put them on and found they were somewhat effective against the wash of light. He then ripped a shred of cloth from the battered upholstery and pressed it against the wound under his shirt. It was polyester and was therefore unlikely to absorb much, but he had nothing better to use.
Suddenly, the sound of whirring blades drew his attention to the rear-view mirror. There, just above the horizon, he saw a khaki-green helicopter.
"You sons of bitches haven't tasted my stuff yet!" said Brett aloud. He briefly considered an end-run around the line of cars ahead, but that was stifled by a particular circumstance. The traffic slowed to a crawl, and then he knew: The cars were being checked.
Fifty meters up the road, Commissioner Li could see four men. They were dressed in police uniforms and equipped with short-barreled guns.
The distance shortened to three car lengths, and Brett jumped out of the Toyota. He held four cards: one for each of them. The first officer stood at the driver's door, the second was busy at the trunk, and the other two were on the shoulder of the roadway.
The distance to an object, wind velocity, humidity, kicking capability, and the structure and density of the receiving point: all this was data with which Brett was familiar by the age of twelve.
Standard notions about the world were destroyed at once by the card master, who declared that distance meant nothing. It's implicit, he had said, with each newborn that nurses at his mother's breast. Time, too, is a piece of milk chocolate held on the tongue: One can either swallow it or prolong the pleasure. Only one's intention has meaning, because only it is able to change the essence of things; your position in space and energetic mass. Only intention can do that. Everything else is just an artificially created obstacle. At the moment of need, everything else is the manifestation of untruth.
Brett's movements were quick and exact. The plastic cards, gleaming in the sun, short forth from his hands like lightning bolts and pierced the cartilaginous tissue at the bridge of the nose. Thus each of the policemen received a hot shock to the brain. Death was mercifully immediate.
Brett, however, felt no remorse. It was as if he couldn't sense the pain of sudden death. He was nearly at the point of being oblivious to his own pain, as the hunger for vengeance had overridden every other consideration. Could anyone call it revenge? It was a strange sensation to him: a mixture of offensive drive, malice and hatred, all directed toward one purpose, beyond which humanity had no future. In the absence of memory, there wouldn't be a past, either.
"Ahead, soldier!" Brett gave the command, urging himself forward.
He approached one of the bodies, seized the gun and directed it to toward the helicopter, which had moved into a circling pattern of surveillance and support. He aimed for the fuel tank and squeezed the trigger. A ball of fire enveloped the cabin. The energy stored in the fuel was released into the atmosphere, creating a voracious storm of molten metal and acrylic. The helicopter was tossed out of its orbit like an unwanted toy, breaking into pieces as it fell. The pressure wave from the explosion struck Lee's face like the fist of a giant. Choking for air, he bent into a crouch and somersaulted off the roadway for the cover of green. For the moment, he'd hide for safety.
The force from the explosion scattered flaming debris over the ground below, igniting cars in an epidemic of near-spontaneous combustion. People ran down the dam and lay right in the water. The area was filled with shouts from the crowd and the groans of the unfortunate wounded.
The commissioner had surely overdone it, but having hidden all sympathy from his soul, he simply returned to the Toyota.
"Ahead, soldier, to Phnom Penh! Snap to it!"
Mekong Hotel, Campong Thom: noon.
The clerk used to have a cup of tea with pieces of cut pineapple at midday sharp. It was that time. Savoring the sweet chunks in the strong tea, he pondered the question of why the number of lodgers had not increased for the past two days. Tourists as a rule didn't linger in this forgotten place. Instead, they rushed to Siamreal and Angkor Wat.
The air conditioner, in typically over-consumptive fashion, put a shine on the clerk's face. The sweat stung in his eyes at is dripped down from his scalp and forehead. The sweltering tropical heat was unbearable, and it always made him feel drowsy. Taking the next mouthful of tea, the clerk lazily unstuck his eyelids. In the light of the prism of perspiration he saw two diffuse female figures.
He was ready to pronounce the standard phrase. "We are in full possession with no bedbugs, and we have the cleanest linens."
The woman he saw first was a beautiful, young Creole dressed in a cotton sundress. One could read the weariness on her face. It even seemed to the clerk that, when she looked at him, he saw the first two funerals of the next day.
The standard greeting stuck in his throat, and he felt frightened. A strange feeling led him to
look at the second woman. She had brown hair and an impressive bosom, and there was an airline emblem on her blouse. The sight of her was like the touch of a hot coal. So, a milky piggy is strung onto a spit. Then came the sparkling, devilish green of her eyes, like a freezing wave.
"You wanted this, didn't you? A piece of biological meat with harm habits but no energy." She beckoned the clerk with a finger. His thoughts froze as if they were dipped into ice crystals, then his body stood up and, in a penguin walk, went out to meet his death.
It is as easy for a light-boned female shoulder to break through a heavy door as it is to thread a rope through a needle. Accordingly, a woman will usually first try a hairpin in the lock. If that doesn't work, she can call the locksmith. If there is no response, she might feel frustrated and distressed. Rarely would a woman, much less a man, attempt to descend from the balcony.
Jeanette was different, because she had to be. Curtains, sheets, towels--in short-every piece of cloth she could find--had been tossed onto the floor. Over a period of seven minutes they were bound into a long rope. She also adapted one of the bath towels into a rucksack, like a cradle, and secured Jeff within it.
"You won't take us with bare hands," she thought. Neither would the heavy rain stop her. She tied one end of the lifeline around a newel in the railing and let the rest trail over. The ground was four stories below.
"Hold still, child," she said to Jeff, giving a slight smile for encouragement. "Freedom is worth all the fight we have."
Jeanette climbed over the railing and began to haul herself down. She was somewhat comforted by the idea that the fabric and knots would become stronger as they soaked up the rain. She remembered that ancient warriors used the phenomena of contraction to pull out capsized ships with linen ropes.
Jeanette practically was outside the third floor when the welded joint on the railing broke, whereupon the nearest knot slipped and hooked the joint. Foreseeing the event, Jeanette seized the cornice of that balcony. A second later, the lifeline plummeted past.
Her bloody fingers had hooked onto the cornice, but her grip was weakening. She had two choices: make her way onto the balcony or fall. She looked down briefly and saw asphalt directly below. Her head began to spin, and she felt dizzy.
Jeanette simply couldn't bear it any longer. There was no more strength in her hands, and all she had was in her heart. She said goodbye to the moment, and then she released. But the result was not what she had expected. Instead, a supernatural wave lifted her onto the balcony. Mindful that she carried Jeff, as well as her unborn child, she managed to gather her body and fall upon her forearms. There on the concrete, she sensed the presence of another. The feeling, similar to pain, was unmistakable. Emerald-green eyes flashed in the darkness, and someone limped toward her from behind the sliding screen door.
"If you want to kill us, do it now," cried Jeanette as she struggled to her feet. A man with a wide forehead appeared in the doorway. His voice had a devastating resonance, like the rumble of an atomic bomb, below the sound of rain.
"At the necessary time, in the necessary way."
Jeff's consciousness rushed forward, breaking the borders of that mysterious universe. Submerged in oblivion, it hid amid the feathers of the Eagle and sought the spirit of the Great Warrior. Millions of sparkling lights invited him to strange games. They brought his consciousness to the edge of the Darkness, to the needle-sharp beak of the Eagle. These spiritual things, which a moment ago had had different forms, sought to appease the Eagle with food.
The Eagle is the strength that rules the destiny of all living creatures. With the flow of consciousness, Jeff came to the edge of a chasm unfathomably deep. Thousands of luminous butterflies with burning wings flew in and out of the Eagle's mouth. A sudden strength, like a tether within, connected to the life in his body and pushed him upward. Suspended there at the apex, Jeff looked around. A monk, in the state of nirvana, looked upon it all with calm acceptance.
"Hello, my child," the monk said.
The momentary realization of who was before him made the boy fly closer. The monk's clothes were laced with silver strings, and one of them lost its beginning in Jeff's solar plexus.
"Hello, Great Warrior," replied the boy, feeling as if he was under a microscope.
The monk, with a knowing smile, took a deck of cards in hand.
"I know why you are here."
"Please, I don't want to play cards with you," said the boy in a tone of embarrassment. "You have seven aces hidden in your sleeves."
"How do you know that?" said the Great Warrior, amazed. "I am sorry, they were left over from the last time."
"Will you help me?
"I will teach you to play with patience," he replied, as he shuffled the cards.
"Why do I need that?" asked Jeff in surprise.
"If you succeed in patience, your dream will come true, but if not you will be caught in the Eagle's jaw."
"Why patience, though?"
"Patience reflects reality. Sometimes, the game of patience can be played with great success."
"But it can take a hundred years," said the boy.
"Time works in a different way here than it does in your realm. Time can even be brought to a standstill."
"Well, how do I use patience?" asked Jeff, his curiosity heightened.
"I will tell you. These cards bring certain universal laws. There is the law of sympathy--or the unity of suits--and the law of valence, which means that each suit has the same hierarchy, or order. The events in people's lives are in accordance with those two laws. The only thing that remains is to find a model for the generation of chance, or fortune.
The monk gave the pack of cards to the boy.
"Take the cards. Divide them into three.
Jeff did as the monk instructed.
"Look carefully," the monk said, whereupon he stretched out the cards in space. "We have the past, the present and the future. All three elements are well known, but in your case the past is really important because your future, considering the present, is awful."
"But . . . how can the things that have already passed be important?" Jeff felt no encouragement in the monk's statement.
"In the past, having dug a pit, you are in it in the present. You must find the moment that included the succession of events leading to your loss of strength. You must revise your past."
"Does that mean I have to remember all the dirty tricks I've played?" said Jeff.
"That is absolutely so." The monk lowered his eyes. "Now, however, only one deed is important."
"What is it? Please tell me."
"You must understand yourself. I can reveal only what has happened beyond your consciousness."
Images flew through Jeff's consciousness, and he saw the whole story simultaneously from the perspectives of all involved, from the beginning to the end.
Everything, all! I declare free distribution of elephants. Since December 27. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AMRORJ6
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