Buildings fell around him, the world collapsing, trees and forts of vines. Dirk ran through the maelstrom, fleeing for his life from the forces of darkness beyond the veil of creation. The road twisted before him, the asphalt coming alive, slithering like a snake.
Dirkâ€™s eyes shot open, a green tube of scales winding across the blanket. Pure instinct overtook him. He flung the blanket off them, trapping the snake within. The others stirredÂ as he began pounding the fabric with his fists.
â€œWhat in Sam Hill are you doing?â€ Kantokâ€™ asked groggily.
â€œGeese, let me see it,â€ he said, stepping over to him.
He drew the blanket back, letting out an exasperate sigh.
â€œOh, itâ€™s just a python, leave the poor critter alone.â€
â€œBut, but it might have been deadly,â€ Dirk murmured, looking down at the harmless constrictor. â€œWhat do you think, am I crazy?â€
Dirk spun around, eyes wide, searching for the source of the voice. The darkness was pressing in around them, and for a moment he wondered if he was still dreaming.
â€œD-did any of you guys just hear a voice?â€
â€œShut up, Dirk.â€
â€œK, Iâ€™m gonna put mister snake over in the bushes.â€
No one responded. He sighed, starting his search for the source of the voice. After walking in a circle he began swaying, fatigue starting to set in again. Still unconvinced he wasnâ€™t asleep; he collapsed next to the others and drifted back into dreamland.
The next morning he awoke without any memory of the snake, though Kantokâ€™ reminded him rather quickly. After a short breakfast they pushed northward again, though Kantokâ€™s patience was fast running out. By midday he was close to the breaking point. The exhausted expedition came to a stop.
â€œMiss Jones, Iâ€™m afraid I donâ€™t see what is left to be gained by continuing.â€
â€œI thought you said we would continue until I couldnâ€™t hand it anymore? Iâ€™m paying you, so weâ€™re going, north.â€
â€œOne more day, just one. If by noon tomorrowâ€¦â€
â€œSave your speech,â€ Tarcia said, taking the lead.
â€œHey, Iâ€™m the guide here.â€
â€œStart guiding then.â€
Grumbling, Kantokâ€™ got back on the trail. Within a half hour he stopped again, this time because of trouble. He looked around the jungle, shouldering the Enfield. After reconsidering it, he put it back on his shoulder and jumped for the nearest tree, urging the others to follow suit.
They cambered up into the canopy, all on full alert. Out of the trees emerged a patrol, a dozen rebels sweeping the area. They were in a search pattern, and clearly knew that intruders were close.
A terrible thought struck Dirk as he realized that someone had to have tipped them off. In his mind it became clear, a traitor amongst the villagers, or perhaps the entire village was rebel friendly. A conspiracy formed before him, an obvious web of people who wanted them gone, lest the terrible secret of the jungle be discovered.
When the patrol had gone, Kantokâ€™ jumped down, shaking his head. Dirk raced up to him, ready to let loose with his new understanding.
â€œThose villagers told the rebels on us, who in turn came to search for us, thereâ€™s a terrible secret at the bottom of all this, and Miss Jones is the key.â€
â€œDirk, I think youâ€™ve been having a long few days. Now, Miss Jones, Iâ€™m afraid that it is time to get out of here.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so,â€ Tarcia replied.
â€œThose rebels are looking for someone, and Iâ€™m not planning to be found. Weâ€™re turning back, your brother is long gone.â€
â€œNo, I paid you; weâ€™re going northward, just name your price.â€
â€œNo, not happening, not for any price.â€
â€œHow about your jeepâ€™s fuel line?â€ Tarcia asked, pulling a rubber hose out of her purse.
â€œSeriously lady? Youâ€™d screw over your guide? Whatâ€™s stopping me from leading you to a viper nest or slitting your throat in the night?â€
â€œThis,â€ she replied, producing an automatic pistol.
â€œYou are insane, just letting you know.â€ He said, shouldering the Enfield. â€œNow drop the gun.â€
â€œDirk, please, this is my only chance. I have to know that truth.â€
â€œKantokâ€™ I, I.â€
â€œDonâ€™t tell me youâ€™re actually thinking ofâ€¦â€
â€œALEKANTE!â€ Came a shout from the south.
Tarcia sprinted forward, grabbing Dirk by the arm, as the patrol reemerged from the woodwork. Kantokâ€™ shouted in rage, turning to pursue them. A shot rang out and he crumpled to the jungle floor, screaming in agony.
Terror spread through Dirkâ€™s entire being. He turned and ran as fast as he could, shouts ricocheting through the jungle around him. Without a clue where they were running, Dirk began reflecting on the futility of their flight. Directionless, in a strange land, and outnumbered by natives, their chances of escape were nonexistent.
Despite knowing that it was for nothing, primal fear drove them onward. A single ray of hope entered his mind when he realized that the voices were getting fainter and more distant. The canopy broke above them, allowing the sun to pour onto a field of corn, beans and potatoes.
The straight rows were testament to nearby civilization. Seizing upon their only hope, he followed the irrigation canal, gapping Tarcia by the arm this time. They barreled up a shallow creek, emerging into a large clearing.
There before them was a village like they had never seen before. Dirk stepped onto the stone pathways, looking around at the whitewashed huts and power lines above. A group of young schoolchildren brushed past, giving Dirk and Tarcia odd looks.
Suppressing the dread that they might be aligned with the rebels, he instead walked up the path, searching for a telephone. Several elderly men appeared ahead of them, motioning for them to follow. He raced for them, emerging into the village square.
There, flying high above them was a red flag, fluttering in the breeze; a golden hammer and sickle emblazoned in the left corner. A stone sank in Dirkâ€™s stomach. He turned and saw a small militia, armed with crossbows had assembled behind them.
A pale man in a cap and tinted goggles stepped out from their midst, a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder. He appraised the newcomers while picking his teeth. Out of the nearby jungle emerged a runner, who Dirk knew had been with the patrol.
The lad approached the pale man, and exchanged a few words with him. The Kalashnikov wielding man smiled, flicking the toothpick aside.
â€œComrades, welcome to the USSR.â€
A stretcher emerged from the tree line, bearing a very unhappy Kantokâ€™. The men placed him at Dirk and Tarciaâ€™s feet, who were standing around a fountain at the villageâ€™s centre. A man in a smock emerged from one of the larger huts and knelt beside him, looking over his patient. The sunglasses man walked over as well, eyeing his captives.
â€œGah, careful there.â€ Kantokâ€™ protested.
â€œPlease, remain still.â€
â€œWhy, you shot me.â€
â€œIf two men point rifles at one another, someone in this equation is getting shot,â€ the sunglasses man said quietly.
â€œScrew you son of a bitch.â€
â€œU-S-S-R?â€ Dirk said quietly, getting the sunglasses manâ€™s attention.
â€œIndeed, after the old socialist union collapsed, we made a new one.â€
â€œWho is we?â€
â€œBegging your pardon, I am Colonel Gregori Yaichkov, commander of south group.â€
â€œSorry, that doesnâ€™t really help.â€
â€œDa, well, perhaps the General Secretary will enlighten you tomorrow.â€
â€œThis is all quite fascinating,â€ Tarcia said, â€œbut we really must get going.â€
â€œAfraid that will not be on the table,â€ Gregori said, shaking his head. â€œWe will take you to General Secretary tomorrow, and he will determine what it is we shall do with you.â€
â€œJust keeps getting better all the time,â€ Kantokâ€™ moaned, â€œDirk, if we live, Iâ€™m gonna charge you so, so much, and you too Miss Jones, for dragging me into this.â€
â€œHah, I doubt that,â€ Tarcia muttered.
â€œI donâ€™t suppose any of you gentlemen know anything about the Tomb of one Mamintlallapalla?â€ Dirk asked halfheartedly.
Silence fell over the square, the demeanor of their captors shifting abruptly. Gregori stopped smiling, while his men began fidgeting uneasily. Several people watching the event promptly walked away.
Dirk paled. â€œWas it something I said?â€
â€œWho are you really, foreigner,â€ Gergori asked, advancing on Dirk. â€œTell me.â€
He drew back the bolt on his Kalashnikov with a menacing clack. â€œWho are you working for?â€
â€œMe,â€ Tarcia said, stepping in front of him. â€œIâ€™m his client.â€
â€œAnd why would a young womanâ€¦â€
â€œMy grandfatherâ€™s expedition was lost, searching for the tomb,â€ she said, pulling the tattered journal from her purse. â€œDoctor Victorâ€¦â€
â€œâ€¦Eckhart,â€ Gregori finished, snatching the tome away. â€œHow did youâ€¦â€
â€œI told you, Iâ€™m his granddaughter.â€
â€œBut, his team was lost over sixty years ago. Just before the fall of the fascist Reich.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Dirk spat, â€œTarcia, what is going on?â€
â€œI, suppose I havenâ€™t been completely honest with you.â€
â€œThatâ€™s an understatement,â€ Kantokâ€™ barked. â€œYou bitch. I canâ€™t believe this.â€
â€œUh, could you start explaining?â€
â€œPlease, start immediately,â€ Gregori said, handing the book back, â€œI believe Secretary Reinheim will want to know as well.â€
â€œWait, Dr. Reinheim is still alive?â€ Tarcia asked, stunned.
â€œAs I have the gun in this equation, I will be the one asking the questions. Now, talk Miss Jones.â€
â€œI grew up listening to stories of my grandfather, a pioneer in energy research and physics. When I learned more about his last expedition I became obsessed. I had to know, know the truth. Iâ€™ve spent years gathering the funds and plotting out where he might have gone to. Then, three months ago, his journal came into my possession. And here I am.â€
â€œInteresting, but I donâ€™t know what you expect to find,â€ Gregori said, shaking his head. â€œOr how you got that, for that matter.â€
â€œYouâ€™ve been here for years, fifteen, at least. Tell me you know of the Tomb of Mamintlallapalla?â€
â€œWhat does some Mayan kingâ€™s tomb have to do with energy research?â€ Dirk asked, confused.
â€œNahua, he was Nahua, not Mayan,â€ Kantokâ€™ protested.
â€œSadly we found few traces of Dr. Reinhiem and his team, though we never did penetrate too deeply into the tomb.â€
â€œThen you found it?â€ Tarcia asked excitedly, â€œFound the resting place of thousand infants?â€
â€œWhat does this have to do with energy research? Seriously, whatâ€™s going on here?â€
â€œElement Byi.â€ Gregori replied.
â€œOk, great,â€ Dirk sighed, â€œthatâ€™s, something.â€
â€œA crystalline substance not of this world,â€ Tarcia said quietly, â€œDr Eckhart believed that a source lay in the jungles of Central America.â€
â€œSee, that makes sense,â€ Kantokâ€™ said brightly. â€œCrystal power, in the jungle, thatâ€™s where the electricity comes from, aye?â€
â€œYou might be on the right track, but Iâ€™ll let it be Secretary Reinheim who determines what you need to know.â€
With that, the militia marched over and took the three uninjured captives to a small shed and barred the door. Dirk began pacing around the enclosure, poking at the shelves. Behind him, Tarcia seated herself on a sturdy crate and pulled out her book.
After a few circuits of the dismal interior, Dirk stopped and faced Tarcia. He crossed his arms, glaring down at her.
â€œEhem, is there anything else youâ€™re not telling me, Miss Jones?â€
â€œHmm, like what?â€
â€œYou lied to me, lied to all of us, and now weâ€™re in some collective of lunatics who still think itâ€™s the cold war and Kantok has been shot.â€
â€œNot like it matters now.â€
â€œTell me, Tarcia, do you even have a brother?â€
â€œYou want the truth, Mister Cunningham?â€ Tarcia said exasperated, dropping her book, â€œThe truth is that my grandfather led eighteen men to their deaths out here, and I want to know why.â€
â€œUnreal, why lie?â€ Dirk asked, rubbing his face, â€œYou could have just said so form the beginning.â€
â€œWould you have gone after a sixty year old cold case, really Dirk?â€
â€œI, I canâ€™t say for sure now; but, now, how am I supposed to trust you?â€
â€œI donâ€™t care; I have to know the truth. Donâ€™t you seek the truth, Dirk? To know whatâ€™s really going on? Extra dimensional crystals in the tomb of a mad Nahua King.â€
â€œItâ€™s, odd, Iâ€™ll give you that,â€ Dirk replied, â€œBut I wish you had just come out and said what this was about.â€
â€œWould you have truly believed me if I had told you that? Answer me Dirk? Youâ€™d have thought I was a lunatic.â€
â€œNot convinced you arenâ€™t,â€ he muttered, â€œNot like it really matters, your truth may very well end with us in a shallow grave. Ugh, no use complaining now, I suppose.â€
â€œIndeed,â€ Tarcia said, settling back down.
Hours past, the tiny shed becoming a waking nightmare of pure boredom. When the door finally burst open, it was late into the afternoon, the sun sinking below the wall of trees.
â€œGood news, Kantokâ€™ will make a full recovery,â€ Gregori said cheerfully, â€œBad news, heâ€™s joining you in here.â€
A pair of sentries carried his stretcher into the shed, depositing him beneath the bookshelves. A large bowl of stew and their blanket were placed beside the door.
â€œSee you in the morning.â€
â€œHeh, thanks a bunch comrade.â€