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Turcotte took thirty minutes to cautiously move down the last fifty meters. It had taken him an hour to walk around the mountain and climb over the top, but the last part was most critical. He quietly wove his way through the pine trees clinging to the mountainside until he saw what he was searching fora small, level spot where a prow of rock thrust out from the steep hillside.
The watcher was long gone, but to Turcotte's trained eye there was no mistaking the imprint of a tripod and other signs in the ground. The grass and pine needles had been disturbed ever so slightly. Turcotte scanned the area for other clues. In his time in the Special Forces he'd spent time on hillsides just like this, doing nothing but watching and recording what he saw, so he knew what to look for.
Whoever had been there the previous night was good. That bothered Turcotte. There were a large number of alphabet-soup organizationsCIA, DIA, NSA, ISA, to name a fewfrom his own government that might want to keep an eye on him and Duncan. Then there were all the foreign agencies. But what truly disturbed Turcotte was that not only didn't he have a clue who had been there, but the person might have been from an organization Turcotte didn't know about. An unknown enemy was much more dangerous than a known.
Finally he spotted something. Against the bark of a pine tree there was the smallest of imprints, just under half an inch in diameter. As if someone had pressed the tip of a weapon against the tree. Turcotte looked at it closely. The imprint was circular. In view of the care the watcher had taken, this mark seemed strange. Turcotte pondered it for a few moments, but there wasnothing more he could make of it.
He looked across the gorge at Lisa's house. He had left her sleeping comfortably, the thick blanket covering her naked body. The sun was coming up over the high plains to the east. Turcotte took the direct route back to her house.
* * *
The stone face of Kon-Tiki Viracocha frowned down on the traveler. Hewn out of a solid block of andesite and weighing many tons, the Gateway of the Sun was the entrance to the center pyramid of the city of Tiahuanaco. The sun god Viracocha's presence at the top of the archway told the traveler this was a most sacred site high in the Bolivian highlands.
"This way." The guide was anxious. The site was off-limits by decree of the government, and soldiers patrolled the area frequently.
The Russian who followed the guide through the gate was a huge man, almost seven feet tall and wide as a bear. Even his bulk, though, was dwarfed by the ruins he walked through. They approached the Pyramid of the Sun, a massive earth-and-stone mound over three hundred feet high. At the very top of the pyramid, a stone altar had been placed millennia before. On its flat surface thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of peopleprisoners, criminals, volunteers, the unlucky chosen oneshad had their still-beating hearts ripped out of their chests, the bodies thrown down the steeply stepped side.
The Russian was known by only one nameYakov. Whether it was his first or last name didn't matter. Nor did it matter whether it was his given name. He had been operating in the gray covert world for all of his adult life, and that was all he knew.
Yakov cared little for the outside of the pyramid. His research had led him here and he knew what he wanted to see. The guide was clambering over a pile of broken rocks at the base of the pyramid, searching.
"Here!" The man pointed down.
Yakov joined him and looked. There was a black hole between two large rocks. It would be a tight fit. The guide held his hand out and Yakov tossed him a wad of local currency held together with a rubber band. The guide was gone.
Yakov paused before pushing himself into the dark hole. He took several deep breaths, his lungs laboring in the thin 13,000-foot atmosphere. He looked around, taking in the sight of Tiahuanaco as it caught the first light of morning. One of the two great ancient cities of the New World, Tiahuanaco was much less well known than the other, Teotihuacan, outside Mexico City. That could easily be explained by Tiahuanaco's remote location high in the Andes Mountains. Just getting there required an arduous journey from La Paz, the capital of Bolivia. But there was also a very negative policy enforced by the Bolivian government toward visitors desiring to see the ruins. Getting a travel permit to come to Tiahuanaco was almost impossible. Yakov had bypassed that requirement by ignoring it. He was well-versed in the techniques of entering countries illegally and moving about in the black world.
Both New World cities, because of their greatness, their pyramids, their sudden appearance at the time of the waning of the Egyptian Empire, had raised speculation that they were founded by remnants of that civilization. Now, with the awareness that there really had been an Atlantis, destroyed by the Airlia, the speculation had shifted that perhaps these Central and South American citiesalong with the Egyptian, the Chinese, all the Old World civilizationshad been founded by those fleeing that disaster; this, the diffusionest theory of the rise of civilization, claimed that the various civilizations around the world had arisen at the same time because they were founded by people from an earlier, single civilization.
Yakov thought the diffusionest theory was likely, and he also felt there was much more to history than the books recorded. He was a member of Section IV, a branch of the Minister of Interior, sister to the KGB. More a bastard stepchild. Section IV had been formed by the Soviet Union to investigate UFOs and the paranormal. As the years had gone by, after various discoveries, the Soviets had little doubt that Earth had been visited by aliens at some time in the past, although the exact extent of alien involvement in human affairs had been unknown up until the cover being blown off of America's Area 51 just several weeks before and the information received from the guardian computer.
Yakov, while taking the new revelations in stride, was still on the path of something he had been tracking down for years. Today he hoped to find another piece in the puzzle. He turned toward the dark hole and lowered himself into the bowels of the Pyramid of the Sun. Turning a powerful flashlight on, he made his way through the stone hallways, hunching over to keep his head from hitting the roof.
At Area 51, Major Quinn was inside one of the surface buildings that had been turned into a makeshift morgue. In the middle of the Nevada desert, this location was also well off the beaten track. Part of Nellis Air Force Base, the location had gotten its designation from that post's map, being designated with that number training area. Quinn knew the entire history of the place, having been assigned as operations officer to the Cube, the command-and-control center for Area 51, five years before.
The location had been chosen because it was where the mothership had been found during World War II. The facility had grown over the years, especially when most of the bouncersseven of the nine atmospheric craft of the Airliahad been brought there after being recovered from their hiding place in Antarctica. Test flights of those craft had led to the rumors of UFOs for decades.
Two doctors from UNAOCthe United Nations Alien Oversight Committeewearing their white lab coats, masks, and goggles, were preparing to do an autopsy on one of the two bodies of the STAAR representatives who had been killed trying to stop the mothership from taking off.
Zandra had been her code name, Quinn remembered as one of the doctors pulled back the sheet covering the first's body.
"Could have used some sun," the first doctor remarked. His name tag read "Captain Billings."
The body was milky white, the skin smooth. The other doctor set up a microphone on a boom in front of Billings. He clicked on a recorder. "All set."
Billings picked up a scalpel but simply stood over the body for a few seconds as he spoke. "Subject is female; age approximately forty, but it is difficult to determine. Height . . ." He waited as the other doctor stretched out a tape measure. "Seventy inches. Weight"Billings looked at the scale reading on the side of the portable cart"one hundred and fifty pounds."
Quinn stepped out of the way as Billings walked around the body. "Hair is blondish, almost white. Skin color is very pale white. Body is well muscled and developed. No obvious scars or tattoos. There are six bullet entry wounds on the chest. Four exit wounds on the back."
Billings leaned over and pulled up the left eyelid. "Eye color is brown . . ." He paused. "Looks like there's a contact." He put down the scalpel and picked up a small set of tweezers. He plucked out the contact lens and looked at it against the overhead light. "Hmm, the contact might have been cosmetic, as it is brown-colored." Billings looked down.
"Jesus!" Billings exclaimed. "What the hell is that?"
Quinn stepped forward as the doctor gasped and moved back. Quinn looked into the right eye. The pupil and iris were red, the pupil a scarlet shade darker than the rest of the eye and elongated vertically like a cat's.
Quinn pulled his cell phone off his belt and punched in to the Cube. "I am isolating this building as per National Security Directive regarding contact with alien life-forms. Request immediate bubble protection be put over us ASAP to prevent further contamination!"
From the Audio Cassette edition.