With John & Bill
John Conway watched a large elephant saunter across the patio. A bull, he noted – a full-grown, African monster of an animal with ears near half its height flapping irregularly to its steady gait. It didn’t look at him. Even as John sat up to stare it didn’t look at him but simply walked, a steady plod, to the corner of the building where it turned and was gone.
Slumping back into his canvas chair he pulled again on a long glass only to wonder – An elephant of that stature would need two hundred plus kilos of vegetation every day – six tonnes a month. They could ship it in on trucks, but from where? Higher up the Indus Valley? Certainly not from over the border in Afghanistan; there was nothing there. Where then? Central Africa would be ideal but . . . Ah. He had it. They’re bringing in green bamboo from Burma in that old Hercules Freighter – using it to hide the armaments ferried in from China. Clever. Powerful elephants could do much of the heavy lifting here where earth moving equipment was scarce and what there was was always in need of repair and, and they had gas. There’s nothing quite like a big elephant if you needed gas – methane gas would do very nicely out here in Balochistan where just about everything combustible is in short supply.
He turned to see Bill Brown in faded denims and a Guns ‘n Roses T-shirt approaching quickly. John stood, extending a hand. “You keepin’ pets then boy?”
“We are, and shit. Tons and tons of shit. We got shit like you’d never believe.”
“Soft, warm, shit I bet. Not like the stuff I’m about to pull down on you.”
“Straight to the point then Commander. No courtesies – no sit Bill, take the weight off, have a drink . . .”
“Sit and drink Bill, you’ll be needin’ it.”
- Meira in Damascus
It tore at her, ripped into her, and it seemed not to matter how many times she went around and over it she could find no way to ease the pain in Syria. In saner moments, she reflected, there was very little she could do for any of the pain in a world of military regimes and manic clergy but Syria’s needs seemed so much more pressing. It was her home, and her father’s home, for some years and was the incubator in which the seeds of much of human progress had germinated and grown. Cuniform, the first written language, if you dismiss Ogam, which she did, was born here, developed here – in the markets, in the foundries, in the forums, brothels, lavatories . . . here language, and how it was to be written, was established for the very first time. Sun discs, too, for cooking, purifying, preservation, glazing . . . and for battle, were first formed here – right on the Tropic of Cancer. Later, much later, it was from here that King Gilgamesh set off in search eternal life leaving a tale, the very first tale, of the new, post apocalyptic, era.
She had wept long and deep at the destruction left tumbling in the wake of American forces rampaging across Iraq but to witness it happening again, in Syria, was a mind numbing experience – one that left her hell-bent on bringing such madness to a halt. As heiress to the Matriarchy she was, for the most part, above local wars but slaughter and destruction in Syria, in the very centre of human development, wrenched at her – wracked her whole body in searing pain.
“When will they stop Mother? When will they cease to hurl metal and poison at each other? How long must I wait?” She knew the answers but a little screaming and crying in really bad moments helped to her realign.
There was work to do: a lot of work to do; she was in need of her helpers. Ben, Benjamin Ali Akbar Saint Thomas Houghton, what a wonderful name, immediately sprang to mind and she was going to need Peter, if wasn’t buried under one of his pyramids. Ben is the son of Sir William Saint Thomas Houghton, a product of the old British schools: Winchester, Cambridge, the Guards, and later MI6 and the foreign office. He had been her mother’s greatest ally against the Federation of Fossil Fuels Suppliers, right wing elements of churches and governments and, at her mother’s behest, her personal mentor and protector in Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Far East. During that time he became her hero: her most beloved hero of the old British Empire. His son, Ben, despite his rather effeminate outward appearance, was cut from the same resilient cloth as his father and had saved her life on several occasions in China and India. On the other hand, Peter, a brilliant physicist, came from ruder stock: comprehensive schools, red brick universities and was, and still is, as mad as a hatter. She loved them both.
Loud, guttural, shouting and that flat, deadly, sound of automatic gunfire, brought her back to the present: to the area behind the Great Mosque in Damascus where she had been examining the west wall. There were treasures here, and not just Muslim treasures. There were Christian treasures; John the Baptist was here before Mohammed, and the Roman gods Jupiter and Saturn were celebrated here, but before that, in the tens of millennia before the deluge and the great disaster, there was Atargatis, Venus by any other name, who reigned over a matriarchy that had been in continuous existence for eight thousand years. As to how long she governed, Meira had been unable to determine, but she would: she would if she could dig deep enough under this ancient building.
The chaos of burgeoning civil war had given her the cover she needed to set up camp under the guise of a stall holder in the little bazaar beside the Great Wall. Piece-by-piece she was able bring in, and assemble, her mining equipment, but she would need more than wood and canvas covers when the serious digging started. She peeked out to the open ground beside the mosque to see troops scampering. Then the slapping of gunfire and a soldier fell. Others scampered back to an empty street where they threw themselves against the nearest wall: More gunfire, this time from further away, up a street where she could see people flying into alleys and doorways. She waited: unafraid. This was a common occurrence now: almost daily as the rebel forces grew ever bolder. The prospect of death seemed not to bother them.
The other stall owners were all cowered under shelves and tables as she threaded her way back to her own little corner and dived under the counter to the wooden ladder that took her down to a door in the Great Wall. Through the door were steps, centuries worn, leading down to a cellar where there was the constant sound of dripping water. The floor was made of heavy stone slabs: too heavy to lift, and too thick to break.
She sat in the middle of the room, adopted the lotus position, and let her mind drift for a few seconds before forcing it to go blank. She had perfected the technique under the relentless tuition of Smiling George, the beautiful young monk she thought she had killed on the road in Western China. She had knocked him down with the stolen Hummer while trying to escape from Tor, a ruthless killer in the service of Commander John Conway, who was, at the time, in the service of the Federation of Fossil Fuel Suppliers. She had picked up the shaken monk and taken him to his village in the hope of making amends to his family. In practice things went quite differently; they taught her so much more than she could offer them. Besides exploring some hitherto unknown pyramids she had learned to elevate her mind to higher plain within seconds of entering meditation, and once there, in the areas of consciousness reached by few humans, she could start to connect with the memories of her ancestors.
The trigger for these meditations was deep in her mind and only came into her consciousness when she was physically present in places where her matriarchal ancestors had lived and worked. In Tiahuanaco, Bolivia, she had reached Andean villagers dying under the cruelty of Spanish Conquistadors. In Mehrgarh and Harappa, in the Indus Valley, she reached Catherine and almost made contact with Anima. Catherine had survived the great disaster. She had known the Mems, who lived in Egypt long before the Greeks and Pharaohs, and she had worked with the old men in Kabul when that land was green and fertile. How long, she wondered, had she lived? How much had Catherine seen?
Reaching back she touched on early times in the Indus Valley when humans made their greatest advances and the Matriarchy had evolved. It was here, during those millennia, that women mastered the art of implanting their own knowledge, their memories, into the memories of the babies while still in womb. In this way an accumulation of knowledge cascaded through the generations bringing truth and wisdom, and an end to the destructive warring of the alpha male.
Just before the cataclysm longevity had peaked at 478 years: leaving women with centuries of freedom between bearing, and raising, children. In Egypt, and all across the Arabian Peninsular, language had developed and writing was beginning to move toward a universal format. Food, water, and shelter had long been stabilised, and music was being heard from The Rift Valley to the slopes of the Himalayas. If there was a cloud on that rosy horizon it was population growth which, if unchecked, would require migrations to edge of the warm climate zones because the flood plains, if they were to continue to be sustainable, would support only finite numbers.
Meira drifted further into her memory banks hoping to find some remnants of Anima. Anima was so elusive: so hard to contact. A day passed, and then a night, while new images surfaced and sank, but she couldn’t find Anima. Anima was key; she had to reach her.
- Bill Jumping into Damascus
Free falling into a war zone at night had to be preferable to doing it in broad daylight, but not to any great extent. It would be nice to see the ground, to see where you’re going and who’s waiting to greet you, but this was still better than being shot at while in the air. He had taken a team of six. Commander Conway had told him six was enough and seven was too many. “Take too many troops,” Bill Brown, “and you start to run into support problems, When you start to think about support, you stop thinking about the objective. You can’t have that. Don’t make sense.”
So here he was falling through the air over Damascus with five men about whom he knew nothing other than they were all fit, had been trained to a high standard, were paid well enough to inspire loyalty, and that each was fluent in at least one Arab dialect. Given a choice he would have preferred to take fast boats from Cyprus into Northern Lebanon and make his way into Syria from there – that or come in from Turkey. The refugee camps on the Turkish border were chaotic, and choc full of rebels, looters, and opportunist who would steal your teeth if you left your mouth open longer than thirty seconds. The Commander, though, had different ideas; Bill had learned not to question him too hard.
His job was to find this Meira woman, befriend her, protect her as necessary, and give her any help she should need. She was, by all accounts, both young and attractive so it shouldn’t be too great a hardship. “She won’t want to know you,” John Conway told him. “She’ll be suspicious and she’s as sharp as a flaying blade. You got to impress her – let your King’s College education show through. She’s not into basic animal behaviour. She’s of a high order so you got your work cut out boy.”
He found the prospect of the mental seduction of an attractive young woman pleasing, even if it was to take place in hostile territory where he and his men were to remain as near as possible to invisible. Not having transport for a rapid exit though, bothered him. He was happier when he had access to a boat, or a plane, but to be trapped in a land of numerous conflicting forces without a quick way out was worrisome but, as ever, the Commander was adamant. Still, first things first: where had the pilot dropped him, and where were his men?
- Meira Followed – Bombed
She returned to her stall in the mid-morning bustle that comes daily, around ten-thirty, and began laying out her wares. There had been sales lately because, it seemed, people liked her stones and rings: something for which she had not planned. She needed to keep the inventory at a respectable level if she was to avoid suspicion, so she would have to travel to Aleppo to negotiate with her suppliers for more goods of similar quality. It was inconvenient, she needed to be here, in the Grand Mosque, as there was much to learn and the war was escalating. If Assad, or any one of the loony factions running riot out there decided to blow the mosque to smithereens there would be nothing: no record of the long history of the region.
On reflection, maybe it was not such a bad thing; Aleppo, after all, was an ancient caravan crossroads dripping in artefacts and architectural evidence of the old world. It had been a major trading centre long before Damascus and Babylon developed any commercial credibility, and still echoed with tales of merchant armies, slimy purveyors of bogus elixir’s, and tales of the fabulous. Before Genghis and Kublai Khan came rampaging out of the east, or Marco Polo descended from the west, there was the steady migration of farmers and cattle herders from Saudi and North Africa. These were the people who formed the communities that developed into the cities now stretching from Al-Maqar, in the south, to Aleppo in the north. These were the people too, who, during the previous interglacial, migrated further south, into the Indus Valley rich in nutrients from the great Himalayan runoff. There was much she could learn in Aleppo. It was time go there.
In Aleppo’s huge Soug al-Madina she took her time wandering south between the silk merchants and the cosmetic jewellery stalls that stretched for more than a kilometre before she found herself among the cheap, household, goods again. She was being followed. Not really a surprise. She was often followed. Watching her tail had become second nature. She was used to it, and adept at shaking off the amateurs. The professionals needed a little more effort, and this one was a professional.
She made two, quick turns, and while changing her headscarf, and draping a colourful shawl, over her shoulders she reflected on how much easier it was for a woman to change her appearance than a man. Ears and gait always gave a man away. Women glide, and their ears are hidden. She waited until he hurried past her: his brisk step betraying his frustration. Moving east now she was spoiled for choice of routes in a market so enormous. Professional he may be, but to hope to track her in the world’s largest soug was a decidedly amateur decision. Again she waited; again he passed her. This time she followed him which, because he was likely to change pace and direction quickly, might prove tricky, but she needed to know more about the man who had been tailing her since she left the Great Mosque in Damascus.
She had taken the bus to the suburbs to pick up the diesel-electric express train to Aleppo which, given the speed of most of the Syrian rail services, was comparatively quick. Few foreigners took the trouble to find the suburban railway station in Damascus so, despite his local clothing and darkened skin, he was easy to spot the moment she stepped on the bus. Her task now was to find out for whom he was working, and to what purpose. The Federation of Fossil Fuel Suppliers were at the back of most of her previous troubles, which included the murder of her father, but there were other players now. In the new battle, the one for control of the new, sustainable, energy monopolies, were new enemies – enemies who no longer wanted her life; these enemies wanted her mind.
She now had a solid accumulation of knowledge of the Ancients’ solar technology, not to the same level of her mother, but she was getting there. If she could reach Catherine, and Anima, she would have so much more because their memories were the most comprehensive. Well maybe not the most: there was always Atargatis. She wasn’t sure if Atargatis ever lived, or if she was a product of the imaginations of the Roman philosophers and soothsayers, but she would find out – of that she could be sure
Her tail didn’t stay long in the market. Once he lost her he likely saw there was little point in wandering the endless alleyways so he left by the way they came in, and settled at cafe from where he could watch the streets in three directions. Maybe he wasn’t so unprofessional, she reflected. Maybe he was smart; maybe he was in for the long game. Whatever else he was he was good looking, about thirty five-ish, with the flat belly and graceful movements of an athlete. Umm, yummy.
She could bump into his table, apologise, take it from there, but it seemed a bit obvious. She could send a note via the waiter and watch him take off to a rendezvous but that, too, seemed a bit old hat. She decided to approach him directly – test his alacrity.
She stepped onto the street. Then she was flying, and that was all.