The Ocean's Near The Shore
A Glass Hand Cuts Through
It doesn't seem possible for Natla Technologies for to have been responsible for two famous disasters simultaneously on different sides of the planet but on August 31st, 1986 ... but I leap forward with my story.
I now had labs and mining operations worldwide, plus a personal fortune from the patents I had written. I had contracts with the military on both sides of the Iron Curtain, contacts with both Christians and Muslims, and co-conspirators in both government and Hollywood. I was beginning to feel more like myself. For the first time in millennia the world was in safe hands - namely mine. Or at least we were very nearly there.
The one thing that I did not have - what does one give the girl who has everything? - were my beloved wings. A mere tweak of my body and they would grow again; in fact, occasionally, I had to have the infant wing nubs removed by my personal Natla Tech-approved plastic surgeon. I knew that there was no chance that the 20th century world would accept them. They could barely accept a harelip or a vestigial tail.
For a while I was stumped. (No pun intended.) I tried adapting para-gliders and parachutes, but it was about as useful as replacing a real tongue with a wooden one. If only, I thought, I had removable wings.
Naturally thanks to our biowarfare and weaponised divisions I had top secret labs and proving grounds where I would do whatever I liked, and it was whilst I was marvelling at a caterpillar being eaten alive by wasp larvae that I conceived a solution.
A parasite, albeit totally under my control, that would latch into the old wing connections – the old nerves and tendons - in my back. One that could be removed and stored whenever inconvenient.
Of course there was no "modern" technology that could do this – people were just getting to grips with the plasmid – but with my in depth knowledge of what would one day be called developmental science, I started work.
I took the nervous system of the placenta and crossed it with octopus tentacles to create a thing that could burrow into special cloacae near my shoulder blades, as easier inserted and withdrawn as a penis. I implanted the genes for the bat wing into the back of a pig and surgically grew the resulting explants in beds of blood agar and nutrients until I achieved the required wingspan. Soon I had a semi-autonomous "foetus" that could be maintained in a special tube, one that could transport by jet and keep several copies of at various locations. I would hoist the "foetus" onto my shoulders like a real baby, where it would wrap two prehensile limbs around my shoulders and burrow into my flesh like an eager lover. I had ensured what my back sockets registered pleasure and not pain, and each "winging" was an intense, gasping pleasure for me. Each time I unfurled my wings in a glorious stretching motion and flapped them so that I was on tiptoe, it was easy to see why sexual beings dream of flight.
In the predawn light at the Mesa Parajito, my New Mexican range, I would leap from the roof and practice my gliding. Soon I had regained all of my previous flying skills.
As for the Tombs - Pierre was still digging out and renovating the Saint Francis Folly. There was a series of rather louche "trap" rooms on each side of the major shaft that he had discovered, and I'd instructed that wherever possible they be rebuilt and rearmed. Who knows, I thought, maybe we can combine the zoo and the ruins into some sort of Cypriot theme park on the day that Northern Cyprus was brought in from beyond the pale?
The Tomb of Qualopec - one that I myself had entered whilst he was still alive - was proving slightly more elusive. I knew it was somewhere in the extreme north of Peru, and I had some papers from an English archaeologist concerning a "Lost City of Vilcabamba" but the Spanish genocide and the encroachment of jungle everywhere had made it nearly impossible to locate. Similarly the Tomb of Chloe, otherwise known as the Sanctuary Tomb, was located somewhere inland from the former site of Tihocan's workshop, somewhere in Tihocan's post-deluge empire but it was entirely unclear where. Millennia of climate change, shifting sands, and the rise and fall of petty empires had buried it somewhere. There was talk of a site somewhere in modern Sudan near only of the upper tributaries of the Nile in the old kingdoms of Kush and Nubia, but as yet we hadn't located it.
I wasn't worried. I had all the time in the world.
There was one place which, like the wings, had obsessed my thoughts. What had become of my old home, the Golden Pyramid of Aea? It was curious to me that the Olympeans - or whomever had sent the statue with the voice of Astarte to warn me off - had not mentioned it. What did that mean, I wondered? Was it destroyed? It seemed unlikely that it had been simply overlooked.
The former site was presumably in a very well guarded part of the Black Sea - somewhere near Georgia - in the sub-tropical microclimate that was favoured by the upper reaches of the Soviet Government as a holiday resort. There were no readily available satellite photos and besides, I somewhat doubted that a large golden pyramid was just sitting there out in the open. Age, presumably, had disguised it.
Again, I formulated a plan. I had permission to sail the Secret Life II around the Black Sea, for the simple reason that Natla Technologies was on good terms with all of the governments (and local strong men) around the shore. Provided that I didn't favour one side or another, or spark a diplomatic incident, and provided I let everybody know where I was, I could sail to the north east of the Sea with impunity. Landing might be a problem, but my scheme didn't require me to land.
It occurred to me that if there was one place where there was a remaining working aetheroscope - the ancient communication device invented by Tihocan - it was in the Golden Pyramid. I'd designed the place to look after itself to a certain extent - it was semi-sentient - and I was sure that the descendents of Magnesian and Urania and the generations of servants working for Tihocan (who had inherited it after my "fall") would have left it in the best condition that they could have. The place might be buried, but it might not be completely dead. If I could triangulate on an aetheroscope signal I'd have the coordinates. Maybe somewhere deep under a foreign field there was still a place that was forever Atlantis.
* * * * *
Aþkðn, meanwhile, was pregnant with what the modern world regarded as the first test-tube twins. Common place today and in Atlantis, in those days it was still a controversial novelty and it was only four years since the doctor that had produced India's first IVF baby - Subhash Mukhopadhyay - had been hounded to suicide. I guess the world would have been even more censorious of Aþkðn and myself if they had known that not only was Aþkðn's "husband" a mere "Saint Joseph", but that the "male" gene component injected into Aþkðn's eggs had been engineered from myself.
We had anchored for the night off the Golden Horn and were listening to the Call to Prayer as I massaged oil onto Aþkðn's swollen belly. She was worried about stretch marks despite the fact that I had assured her that it was unnecessary for to come to term if she didn't want to and that even if she did, I'd fix any blemishes as quick as boiled asparagus.
"This is going to be a natural birth," she insisted.
"Isn't it already a bit late for that, sweetheart?"
"You know what I mean."
Crichton came up.
"There's a fisherman alongside with some freshly grilled fish, Madam," he said.
"Oh goodie," I said, leaping to my feet.
I peered over the rail at the long rowing boat with its central charcoal brazier. "What's that?" I said, pointing at a fish.
"Levrek," said the Turk. "Sea bass, bayan."
"Is it fresh?"
The fisherman gave me a look of mock outrage.
"And the bread?"
"But of course, bayan."
"I'll have four," I held up my fingers. "Is that boiled corn cob in that pan?"
He lifted the lid, enveloping us in steam.
"Two of those," I said. "Plus whatever any of the crew want. Crichton here will pay you. In US dollars if you prefer."
He grinned conspiratorially, and threw up my orders wrapped in newspaper.
"Lord, I do love Constantinople," I said to nobody in particular. "What's your name?"
"Jacqueline. Allaha ısmalardık, Mehmet."
I took a big mouthful of fish sandwich and admired the silhouettes of the Church of the Holy Wisdom and the Blue Mosque. Life was good.
Aþkðn came to join me on the sundeck.
"Eat this," I said.
"Is it clean?" she said, signaling for a servant, and ordering cutlery and some olive oil.
"Ridiculous, darling. It's good for the brain."
"Yes, Jackie, but is it full of sewage?"
"The current is far too swift."
"Good?" I said.
"Is good," she said, mouth full. "I need a glass of alma chai."
* * * * *
I say that I didn't have a satellite photograph, but the truth is that at great expense and risk I had obtained a really bad one from a spy in the US security services. It had been taken on a very rainy day, and the sea right up to the coastline showed nothing but clouds. The shoreline itself showed the wooded hills at the end of the Greater Caucasus mountain range and that was it. Useless. Money may be able to buy you love, but it can't apparently buy you everything.
As a result I OK'ed the financing of a spy satellite – I won't bore you with the details, but we took money from both sides. This was possible due to a bizarre form of orbit known as the Molniya trajectory. This is a high elliptical form of orbit in which the satellite (with an inclination of 63.4 degrees and a period of 12 hours, for the geeks amongst you) spends most of its time over designated areas of the earth during what is known as an "apogee dwell". The areas we chose were approximately 50
As well as the conventional imaging and communication hardware on the Lynceus Satellite, I included devices for both transmitting and detecting ultra-low frequencies. One section of Tihocan's aetherscope network had functioned by using earth-conducted waves in the 30-600 Hz range, and however deeply the remains of the Golden Pyramid of Aea were buried, my system would be able to communicate with it. Ground control was run by my techies from a Natla Tech laboratory in Cerritos, LA, linked to a Natla Tech antenna array near Gakona, Alaska. I was in continual contact. I had installed similar ULF equipment was on board the Secret Life and now all we need to do was to get on with it.
* * * * *
Like the Argo of old, we cruised along the north coast of Turkey - I stopped off at our mine in Zonguldak to cheer the "troops" and then, after sailing past the beautiful ebony beaches of Trabizond, we turned towards the north-east region of the Black Sea, heading towards the ancient kingdom of Colchis and our own particular Golden Fleece. There had been some talk of granting this part of the U.S.S.R. the title of "semi-autonomous region" or some such, with the ancient name of Abkhazia - the local Abkhaz people hated the Georgians - and the resulting vicious civil war (sparked by perestroika and glasnost six years afterwards) although bad for them was good for me, as I shall relate later. Right now the local resorts and beaches were teeming with August tourists and the hotels of Sokhumi were fully booked. Our yacht – obviously built for pleasure cruising - fitted right in, hidden in plain sight.
"It's humid," said Aþkðn, her hands in the small of her back and her belly trust out, "and it smells".
"It rains a lot – the highest rainfall in the U.S.S.R.," I replied, massaging her shoulders, "and that smell is vegetation."
"Or sewage. I think I'll stay out of the sea for the moment."
I looked at the white buildings sprawled up and down the coast.
"I wonder if they have real blinis?"
A local police boat, packed with various dignitaries and local "businessmen", came out to meet us and I paid a large array of local "taxes" using crisp new US dollars packed into a suitcase.
"I'd like to look into setting up a division of Natla Mining here eventually," I said to the mayor of Gagra. "Apparently this region is rich in manganese."
"Maybe a Natla Technical University?" he beamed, fiddling with the worn gold watch-chain strung across his waistcoat.
"It would be my honour to show our support and friendship for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." We all shook hands and we all had our photo taken, with the agreement that it wouldn't turn up on the front page of Pravda.
I reflected how much more of a boost to the local economy it would be when I had re-staffed the Golden Pyramid with slaves and converted the currency to New Atlantean Obols. One day place might be become the "I." to a new worldwide "Reich".
Later, I contacted Ground Control in California.
"Are you ready to blanket the region with ULF?" I asked.
"We have a grid programmed in and a range of frequencies."
"As soon Lynceus clears the horizon, begin. We'll be ready to triangulate from here if you generate any reaction."
And so, since there was little else to do but wait, Aþkðn and I sunbathed.
* * * * *
Two incidents from 31st August; I'm quoting from the newspapers.
"At approximately 11:46 AM Air New Mexico Flight 823 began its descent into Los Angeles with 69 passengers and 23 crew members aboard. Minutes earlier, a private aircraft, a Cessna 150E had departed Torrance. At 11:52 AM (18.52 GMT), the Cessna's engine collided with the left horizontal stabilizer of the DC-9; this sheared off the top of the Cessna's cockpit, killing the pilot and two passengers. The DC-9 inverted and fell to the earth in a residential neighborhood at Tesla Avenue and Phaëton Place in Cerritos, killing 23 on the ground and all 92 passengers and crew. The impact and fire destroyed a number of houses. A fire sparked by the crash contributed significantly to the damage. The heavily damaged Cessna fell into Cerritos Elementary School's playground."
Then, about twenty minutes later;
"At 11:12 p.m. (19.12 GMT), the cruise liner Admiral Nasatya was struck by the freighter Pyotr Dasra twenty three miles from the port at Novorossiysk (on the Black Sea) and two miles from the shore. The Admiral Nasatya continued forward with the freighter's bow in its side, ripping a 900 square foot hole in the hull between the engine and boiler rooms. The Admiral Nasatya immediately took on a list on her starboard side, and her lights went out upon impact. People below decks found themselves lost in the dark and rapidly canting hallways. There was no time to launch the lifeboats. Hundreds of people dove into the oily water, clinging to lifejackets, barrels and pieces of debris. The Admiral Nasatya sank in only seven minutes. Sixty-nine rescue ships and 23 helicopters rushed to the scene, and 836 people were pulled from the water. Some people were so slick with fuel oil that they could not keep hold of the hands of their rescuers. Passengers and crew had had little time to escape, and 423 of the 1,234 on board perished."
And lastly, from a conspiracy theorist;
"Many Novorossiisk citizens say that they saw the unnaturally red sky in the evening of August 31. The majority of supporters of the electromagnetic version state that the too high data explained not with solar activity but with some electromagnetic impact exerted upon communication facilities of vessels with a view to cause strong interference on the screens of their radars."
The following is what happened, from the point of view of the Secret Life.
We were asleep and so didn't notice the loss of power to the entire ship. There was a respectful knock on our cabin door and Creighton appeared bearing a hurricane lamp.
Up on the bridge everything was shrouded in blackness. I looked out over the sea. There were no lights, nothing from the shore and northing on the horizon. We were adrift with no landmarks and no navigation.
"What happened?" I asked.
"There was flash from the north and then everything died," said the captain.
The crew manning the radar and the UHF devices were brought to me. Their instruments had overloaded simultaneously, but they concurred that something had registered up the coast well past Gagra.
"How close were we to the shore?" I asked the captain.
"About five miles."
"And which way are we drifting?"
"I shall station crew with plumb lines to find out, but judging from the way that the lighter is pulling, I'd guess we were drifting northeastwards."
I looked at the sky but it was obscured with low red-black clouds. The air was close and electric.
"We need aerial reconnaissance," I said. "Do we have any night-sight goggles or the sight from a rifle?"
"But ... we have no aircraft," said the confused captain to my retreating back.
Down in my cabin I unpacked my new wings.
"Surely you are not going out like that?" said Aþkðn. She winced.
"What is it, sweetie?" I said, kneeling by her.
I kissed her. "I'll get the doc in here. As for the crew ... if they don't like it I'll 'chastise' them. I have to go up to check that we – that includes you three babies – are safe. We're near to a rocky coast at the mercy of the currents and I want to make sure we come aground on a beach if I can."
I slipped into my new wings, gasping as I did so. Aþkðn kissed me and stroked me as I did so. It was an erotic and loving moment, heightened by the anxiety. I still save the memory like a tiny jewel.
I dressed in a specially adapted flying suit and stepped out of the cabin.
"Get the doctor to my cabin," I said to nobody in particular, strapping on a flight helmet. "And somebody find out if we have any oars or poles, or if the motor on the runabout or on the inflatables can be made to start."
Nobody was listening. There were gasps and a few people crossed themselves, but I stood tall and unfurled my blood red wings majestically. It was a crunch moment.
"These are not magic," I said. "They are just an invention of Natla Technologies, a product of science. They are not evil, or from the Devil, or anything like that. They were simply grown and constructed in a lab. If I can get above the ship I can assess our situation."
The crew looked unconvinced, but at least I had given them a theory they could live with.
The captain handled me infrared goggles and a walkie-talkie.
"Have a pleasant flight," he said.
* * * * *
I could manage about two minutes at a time before dropping back down to rest. From a height it was possible to do what it was nearly impossible to do from the top of the superstructure – see the shore. The land glowed with stored heat, but also with something else that I could not identify. Some phenomenon was producing a bizarre ultraviolet aura which showed up at the periphery of vision in what was otherwise a green and white picture.
As I stood on the deck I noticed the beginning of lightning in the distance. It was coming up to half an hour since the black out had begun and we had drifted parallel to the coast for some fair distance. A current or maybe the tide had us in its grip.
"We have one Zodiac working," said the captain.
"Can it pull the ship?"
"Of course not, Madame."
"Could it turn the bow a few degrees if necessary?"
He shrugged. I instructed that potential "tow ropes" be fastened at the bow and at the stern. Maybe hitting the rocks at the correct angle could be the difference between life and death, although we seemed to be drifting no closer.
Creighton ambled up. "Madam. The doctor instructs me to inform you that your wife has started her contractions, but that everything is going smoothly, if somewhat rapidly."
I grabbed his arm and was at a loss for words for a good few seconds. I was going to be a mummy. Again. It was definitely a day for firsts.
"Good Lord," I said, eventually. "I'll be in there after I've had one last look."
Creighton eyed the thunderheads above us. "Will Madam be safe?"
"Needs must," I said, and took to the air.
I flapped as high as I could and this time did a three hundred and sixty degree turn, holding the goggles close to my eyes. I had almost satisfied myself that everything was shipshape and that the chances of us grounding had diminished when I saw something that almost made me stall and fall.
At first I thought I was looking at shadows or islands or some low fog banks, but as I changed my point of view and flew a little higher, I realized that I was looking at two ships. They were heading towards us at an unreasonably high speed.
"How is that possible?" I said to myself. "They are showing no lights and yet they are under full power." I had a bad feeling. Something supernatural appeared to be happening, and that, plus the blackout, plus the threatening sky ... was something directing it all. If we were near the Golden Pyramid and we'd "poked" it in the wrong way, was it fighting back?
I took one last look at the three ships, gasping for breath. The Secret Life was about 45 degrees to each course of the other two vessels. If I estimated it correctly, one ship – one as big as a cruise liner - would hit her on the port side near the bow, whilst the other – some sort of freighter – would hit her on the same side near her stern. The Secret Life would be smashed into matchsticks as surely as if she'd been caught between two clashing icebergs.
I fell back to the deck, breathless and bruised.
My brain was working overtime – I have a head for vectors; I'm particularly good at the game of pool, of example. In my mind's eye I plotted the intersection of the three vessels. The cruise ship would probably arrive a second or two before the freighter, I thought. If we could just turn the Secret Life through a few degrees ...
"Captain," I stuttered. "Zodiac pulls the stern, I pull the bow, turn us to face true north instead of north east. Ships on collision course."
They gaped at me for a few seconds and then everything was action.
"Chocolate, sugar, amphetamines, anything. I need energy."
In the end Creighton, with admirable alacrity, produced a rum and Coca-Cola laced with Kahlua and Benzedrine. Gulping it down as I ran, I took up the bow tow rope and tied it roughly round my midriff.
The ships were within sight now and terror began to grip us all, especially me. Aþkðn, I thought.
I launched myself at ninety degrees to the bow, almost flying a course between our nemeses, like a dove trying to find a way through a narrowing ravine.
"Turn damn you!" I could see the Zodiac inflatable behind me, valiantly trying to move the stern of the Secret Life. We were making no effect that I could see.
Then, just before the cruise ship hit, there was an enormous noise and a flash. I had been struck by a lightning bolt hurled from the heavens. I don't remember hitting the water.
* * * * *
The headquarters of Natla Tech in Los Angeles had, at roughly the same time, been having a torrid time of it.
They were monitoring the downlink from the Lynceus Satellite and at a particular frequency and location of UHF "poking", all hell was let loose.
Firstly an enormous burst of ... what? EM? ... flew up from the Black Sea and destroyed all communication.
Then ground based radar (we discovered afterwards) registered the loss of the Lynceus Satellite from orbit. One second – there, the next – gone. Needless to say they were opening up nuclear bunkers and scrambling B52s all over the central states of the USA within minutes and had gone to the equivalent of Def-Con Apocalypse.
Next what can only be described as two "UFOs" zoomed into down town L.A. One caused a small plane to veer off course and crash into a civil airliner. Then the two flying objects – witnessed by many but denied afterwards as mass hysteria in the wake of the passenger air-crash – swooped around and around the Natla Tech building like harpies tormenting a blind man. The "visitors" caused every hard drive and tape in the building to be wiped clean. Several of the staff suffered epileptic fits, a couple went mad and the rest had permanent amnesia forever afterwards.
(It was only through a note scribbled on a pad that I got the information we sought - the location of the Golden Pyramid of Aea.)
I guess we were lucky that the "UFOs" didn't decide to blast the Natla Tech building to pieces, or else it entirely possible that nobody would be around to read this memoir. Instead they soared straight up through the stratosphere and out of the range of human detection.
* * * * *
And what of those in peril on the sea?
Well, unlike nearly everybody else in this story we had a happy ending.
The bow of the Secret Life turned just enough that we were swept down the port side of the cruise liner and cleared the stern just as the freighter slammed into the starboard side. The Secret Life drifted gently north and went harmlessly aground on a Russian tourist beach.
I was dragged out of the sea unconscious and still attached to my rope; luckily I'd sunk so deep that the ships passed over my head without snagging me. That particular set of wings died – they had taken the brunt of the lightning bolt and perished with honor – and I recovered.
Aþkðn gave birth to two healthy boys, Nasatya and Dasra, and mother and babies did just fine.
As for me, I had a new enemy. The thing - or being, or mechanism - that was left alive in the Golden Pyramid had to die.
I'm not usually a hateful person, but to put it in perspective, we're still paying out medical as we speak. I've poured money into the Abkhazia region, trying to make amends for events that weren't really my fault, and - both there and in the States - I pay regular visits to many, many families.
And therefore it won't surprise you to hear - the Golden Pyramid was now on my shit list and I promised the world that there would be blood.
A Glass Hand Cuts Through