The Vengeance of the Tau (8 page)

BOOK: The Vengeance of the Tau
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“There are stairs,” her father said. “I’ll keep my eyes steady for a time so you can see for yourself. The staircase is very narrow. I can’t see the bottom. I’m going to take the first step down.”

“No!” The urgency in Melissa’s voice made Kamir swing toward her.

“Easy, Daughter. I’ve waited my whole life to find what may be at the bottom of this stairway.”

“Then you can wait a little longer. Please. Just until we can get better equipment.”

The screen before her showed the blurred shape of the stairs as her father took them.

“Three steps down now. The steps feel …”

“Damn!” Melissa muttered, as the picture wobbled and started to break up.

“… like they were chiseled at the same time as the walls and floor above. You know what that means, of course.”

“No! No, I don’t. …”

The sounds of Hazelhurst’s breath intermixed with the rustling noises of his descent. “Think, Daughter! Whoever built this chamber over the actual doorway wasn’t trying to entomb it; they only wanted to conceal it. Everything in the construction points to the fact that regular forays were made down here by the overchamber’s builders.” More rustling noises. “Difficult to date the work. Early Phoenician or even—That’s it! This reminds me of the way the Egyptian pyramids were constructed. That might give us more of a clue as to the dating. The steps are narrowly spaced. Don’t you understand what this means?”

“Any sign of Winchester’s killers?” Melissa could see virtually nothing now, the dim light giving little back to the camera.

Hazelhurst answered his own question when she failed to. “The builders of the overchamber didn’t construct these steps; they merely discovered the entrance to them, then sought to conceal and guard them. The steps were waiting when they came, waiting for who knows how long.” The old man’s voice turned reflective. “I wonder how far down they got. I wonder how far …”

Melissa estimated that her father had covered forty to forty-five steps now.

“There’s something down here,” he said suddenly.

“What?”

“Just a glimpse. I caught a glimpse. I think I’m almost to the bottom. It must lead into another chamber.”

“Stay where you are. Let me try and get a look. …”

“I’m starting to make sense of this construction now. If I’m right— Oh my God. …”

“Father, what is it? What do you see?”

“No!
No!

Melissa squeezed close enough to the screen to draw static. “What’s going on? I can’t see
anything
!”

The camera wobbled, as her father took three rapid steps down.

“Daddy, get out of there!”

“Yes, I’m sure now,” Benson Hazelhurst’s slightly panicked voice returned. “At the bottom of the stairs, I can see … bodies. Aren’t you getting this?”

“Daddy, just get out of there.”

They must be the men who killed Winchester. But what hap—”

There was a sudden flash, and then the picture scrambled into oblivion.

“Daddy!”

“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! …”

Her father’s high-pitched screech froze Melissa’s insides. Her breath left her in a rush, barely enough retained for another desperate cry.

“Daddy! …”

His scream gave way to a wet, slurping sound. What might have been grinding and tearing, or … chewing followed. The screen continued to show nothing. Melissa pounded its top in frustration.

“Get him up!” she yelled at Kamir.

Instantly he moved to the winch and reversed its pull. The steel lifeline grew taut, wouldn’t give. Kamir looked over at Melissa helplessly.

“By hand, then! By hand!”

The two other workers joined Kamir reluctantly and began to hoist on the line. It resisted at first and then started to rise. Melissa watched them from the midst of a nightmare.

“Daddy, can you hear me?” she said into her headpiece.

Nothing.

“Daddy, can you hear me?”

Not even static.

“Oh, God …”

Lips trembling and breath heaving, Melissa tore her headphones off and rose to her feet. Kamir and the two workmen had the cable coming up very fast now; too fast, as if her father had grown somehow weightless. No, he had fallen and somehow snapped the cable line in the process. His communication equipment had shattered and that was why he had not been able to reply to her calls. That was it; that
had
to be it. And as soon as Kamir retrieved all of the cable, she would suit up herself and rescue her father. She would—

“Tanrl yardimcimiz olsun!”

One of the workmen had plunged to his knees in a position of prayer. The other ran screaming for the rope ladder that would lift him free of the excavation. Only Kamir remained to pull the rest of the cable up. He backpedaled, staggering, then leaned over and retched. Melissa came forward on feet that seemed made of steel. Kamir’s position blocked her from sight of whatever had been lifted from the chasm.

“No, miss, don’t.”

It was too late. Melissa had drawn up even with him. She looked down. Her world wavered. She threw her head back for a scream that never came. It seemed to her that her breath had been torn away. She sank to her knees, gasping.

Before her, the remains of her father lay on the rim of the rectangular entryway. She recognized his shredded safety vest, now drenched in blood. The upper part of his torso was still tucked within the vest, though it, too, had been badly torn. The right half of his stomach was there as well, along with his neck and a portion of one of his arms.

The rest was … gone.

No legs, no head. Sinewy entrails and intestines hung down from the torso, dripping blood and gore.

The Dream Dragons, Melissa thought as she sank to her knees.

Dream Dragons …

But this time they hadn’t come from nightmares at all. This time they were real.

And they were still down there.

Part Two
Dream Dragons

Germany: Tuesday, eight P.M.

Chapter 8

FRIEDRICH VON TIKE
stared fixedly at his favorite Impressionist painting as he listened to the voice of the man sitting opposite him.


Herr
Von Tike, my company and I have been loyal to you ever since the merger,” Lars Heidelberg said earnestly. “We’ve gone along with the layoffs and cost-cutting procedures. But this we cannot overlook.”

“Is that a threat,
Herr
Heidelberg?”

“Not at all, sir. What is being threatened here is the very survival of the many villages on the shores of the Rhine that will be destroyed if this flow of pollutants from our company is not halted.”

Von Tike fingered the report Heidelberg had brought with him. “I find your data unconvincing.”

“How many cases of cancer will it take,
Herr
Von Tike? How many abnormal births? This company could never survive the backlash. No company could.”

“And do you suppose, Heidelberg, we could more easily survive the kind of retooling your report calls for? Listen to me, I purchased your company and all the others so I could expand production, not slow it. If those victims of our progress elect to sue, we will settle their cases as generously as we are able.”

“These are simple people. Even if they made the connection, they are hardly likely to …” Heidelberg cut his own words off, realizing.

Across from him, Von Tike smiled. “Precisely,
Herr
Heidelberg, precisely. I think you have grasped my point at last.”

Heidelberg rose and leaned across Von Tike’s desk. “
Herr
Von Tike, I beg you, sir, not to do this. I beg you to close these plants until the proper modifications can be implemented.”

“Your suggestions have been duly noted and will be taken under advisement,” Von Tike snapped off curtly, and rose to face him. “Now, if you will be kind enough to excuse me …”

Shoulders slumping, Heidelberg was halfway to the door when Von Tike spoke again.

“Oh, and
Herr
Heidelberg, I trust this conversation will be kept between ourselves.”

Heidelberg stiffened and turned.

“After all, my friend,” Von Tike continued, staring him straight in the eye, “there are your wife and children to consider. Three boys, ages eight, ten, and thirteen. The youngest has brown hair and blue—”

“Enough! You’ve made your point.”

“Good,” Von Tike said. “Now get out.”

After Heidelberg had closed the door behind him, Von Tike sat down again and reached for his pocket-sized tape recorder. He composed his thoughts before beginning to speak. Von Tike owned the controlling portion of Levenhasse, a thriving giant in the German military-industrial complex. He had made his first fortune selling major components for advanced weaponry to any country that could afford them. Oh, nothing that could be traced back in any amount great enough to do Levenhasse significant harm. Recent disclosures, though, had become a nuisance, and, worse, the fall of the Soviet Union had led to a drastic reduction in military orders. Von Tike saw his empire crumbling and was scrambling to reroute his priorities.

As a result, companies like Heidelberg’s had been swallowed in a series of monstrous gulps to expand Levenhasse’s industrial base. Many possessed inadequate and antiquated equipment. Von Tike’s engineers had updated them and increased their efficiency at the expense of dumping huge volumes of pollutants into the Rhine and its tributaries. It was a cost Von Tike found easy to accept. As far as he was concerned, all of the backward villages bordering the river could be wiped out, so long as his company’s revenues continued to rise.

Von Tike switched on his tape recorder and spoke into it. “Meeting with Heidelberg, April seventeenth. Commissioned his own report on pollutants flowing out of his plant and several others. Probably intends to approach the government with his findings now, which we cannot allow to—”

Thump …

Von Tike eased the machine away from his mouth. He looked toward the door to the conference room.

Thump …

Coming from inside it. Who was there? There was no entrance to the conference room other than through his office, and no one had passed that way.

Thump …

Von Tike rested the still-running tape recorder atop his desk and stood up. He moved out from behind his desk and started toward the conference room.

He was almost there when the door crashed inward. The force blew Von Tike backward, nearly spilling him over.

“What?” he managed. “Who the devil is—”

The scream that followed was the last discernible sound on the tape the security guards would later find. They arrived barely a minute after Von Tike uttered the scream, but it took them several more to locate the recorder, because it was hidden beneath their employer’s severed arm. The blood had rendered the recorder inoperable, and it was some time later before another was found, and the guards could listen to the last agonizing moments in the life of Friedrich Von Tike.

Javier Kelbonna stood on his balcony watching the night waves break over the shoreline. He was the master of all that he saw, all that he could see. The island belonged to him. It had been granted along with asylum after he had fled his own country in the wake of a disastrous civil war.

The world had judged him wrongly, harshly, and in the end had turned his own people against him. They had risen up in the streets, and Kelbonna had ordered his militia to use all means at their disposal to quell the violence. Then crowds had gathered to oppose him, and the militia had fired on them, regardless of whether or not the crowds were armed. Preemptive strikes were launched against the insurgent leaders’ villages. The fact that many of these raids had claimed only women and children as victims meant nothing to Kelbonna. After all, the young who did not grow up could not threaten him—the ultimate preempt.

When the Americans had interfered, with air strikes and a massive amphibious landing, Kelbonna had had no choice but to flee. A thousand of his elite guards and closest associates had accompanied him, and all now called the island their home as well. Kelbonna knew that the Americans would try for him here if given the chance, so he had turned the island into a fortress. Even a vastly superior invading force could be repelled by the defenses laid about and manned twenty-four hours a day. Sophisticated radar and sonar equipment had been installed to provide early warning of an approach by sea or air.

Kelbonna stood on his balcony with no concern for his safety at all. Even if by chance a small elite troop managed to slip through his elaborate defenses, they would still have to contend with his heavily fortified mansion. Armed guards patrolled the hallways all day long. At night, when he was within his chambers, no less than four were posted outside his door. Kelbonna was untouchable, so long as he remained on the island.

Of course, he didn’t know exactly how long that would be. Someday he would return to the Central American island country he had built from nothing and claim it for his own again. The Americans had had their chance at him and missed. How they would be sorry for what they had done. … Indeed, Kelbonna was ecstatic to learn that many thousands of them had taken up permanent residence in his former country, lured by the low prices and lush surroundings. They would become his hostages when he made his triumphant return. He would execute them one by one until the American government had made good on the wrongs they had done unto him.

BOOK: The Vengeance of the Tau
3.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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