Gila National Monument, National Security Zone, New Mexico
Dr. Leah Andrews crouched at the top at the cliff, looking down at the mix of Native American peoples, speaking their different languages and trying to adapt to life after the trauma of their abduction experience. Not to mention being suddenly thrust 800 years into the future and slammed down into the 21st century. This following their removal from stasis, “rescued” from a situation that, to Leah, still seemed surreal.
The sad reality was, her plan to return the cliff dwellers back to their normal lives prior to the abduction was already in deep trouble. Despite her best efforts, including wearing traditional deerskin clothing and working alongside the tribal women day and night, she knew they were not adapting well. In fact, the “Ancients” (or Anasazi), as they were known, had completely refused to embrace her goal of restoring their peaceful existence on the tops of the mesas.
Leah hadn’t harbored any illusions of creating an ancient utopia here; still, it was a shock to any modern person to see how people lived in a thousand-year-old culture, especially when they lived in constant fear.
Leah, along with native-speaking tribal leaders from a plethora of tribes and cultures, had tried to assure them that the Holy People, or Angry Gods, wouldn’t return. But the 27 survivors did not feel reassured. In fact, they had been terrified when offered an opportunity live on the open mesa. Leah had agreed to allow them to return to the claustrophobic cliff dwellings in Gila National Monument. Huddled within the cliffs, they we’re at first, reluctant to leave the security of the cliff dwellings, except at night, when the occasional hunting party ventured out, so quiet and swift, even the modern-day tribal trackers couldn’t keep up with them.
Thanks to the stasis systems—an alien technology still not fully understood—twenty-seven Native Americans had been preserved under Antarctic ice for more than 800 years, and the current theory was, there still might be more, a lot more, elsewhere under the ice, living in stasis in yet-to-be-discovered alien stations.
Dr. Alfred Gordon—“Big Al” or “Gordo,” depending upon Leah’s mood—and his growing team of medical doctors, geneticists, and physicists had made one amazing discovery after another. The biggest so far was that the Ancients had been genetically modified while in stasis. They were seemingly immune to disease, hardly affected by changes in temperature and climate, and, if so inclined, could set world records in any Olympic track event of choice, even on a bad day.
Leah shaded her eyes, in order to make out individuals from the top of the mesa, looking down at the green valley below. She had more than a soft spot for the first of the Ancients revived, a ten- or twelve-year-old girl named K’aalógii. A warm smile spread across her face, when she saw K’aalógii with Garrett Moon. Garrett was Leah’s archeological sidekick and a full-blooded Navajo, whose easy and relaxed methodology stood in stark contrast to Leah’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to archaeology, science, and well…everything. Garrett and K’aalógii walked side by side, chatting as usual in an ancient Navajo dialect that Garrett had mastered in a matter of days.
K’aalógii had had the most exposure to modern culture and technology, including aircraft, helicopters, and more. Still, she asked repeatedly why they couldn’t live with the Bégochiddy, the mythical, fair-haired, blue-eyed god of goodwill. She’d come to believe that Leah was the daughter of Bégochiddy.
In other words: ‘Why do we have to live like this, when we could live with the gods, in safety and warmth? With real clothes, hamburgers, a pink iPod, and more?’
It was a question that Leah had begun to ask herself. While her husband Jack Hobson would be content living on a life-long campout, eating pine-nuts and relieving oneself in a hole-in-the-ground commode, the reality of primitive life was hitting Leah hard. Speaking of the communal commode, she literarily did deep breathing before entering, and held her breath the entire time. The facts of ancient Native American life as taught in the classroom seemed like a laughable fantasy compared to the real thing.
"Diyin Dine’é! Diyin Dine’é!”
“What now?” she said, scanning the village below. Diyin Dine’é translated, roughly, in Navajo as “Angry Gods.” It was a cry she’d heard often in the ten days of Anasazi habitation.
Leah scanned the skies. Each time before, the panicked cry had been in response to Blackhawk helicopters flying routine patrols over the monument. An understandable cause for panic among the Native Americans.
As usual, Leah saw and heard nothing. The Ancients had hearing far more sensitive than the average person’s, seemingly another genetic boost that had been introduced into their physiology.
When the sounds of rotor blades echoed off the sandstone at a level Leah could detect, she knew another Blackhawk was closing in. Irritating, because she’d asked the brass overseeing the security detail to keep their choppers out along the park perimeter.
Leah shaded her eyes and saw the sleek silhouette of an army Blackhawk coming in from the south at low altitude. She knew where it was headed: a landing zone, or LZ, that she’d authorized a few miles north on the mesa. But only to be used only in case of extreme emergency. And approached only from the north.
She hadn’t called for a helicopter, so she wondered what this jackass thought he was doing. She instinctively felt for the satellite phone she was supposed to have on her person at all times, but didn’t. She glanced down to the mesa top, where the Ancients climbed over each other, trying to get up their ladders and into the dwelling.
Leah spun and sprinted away from the mesa cliff, feeling every pebble under the thin soles of the deerskin moccasins she wore, matching the rest of her native attire. The LZ was more than five miles away, so she’d had the military deliver a deadly quiet, special-ops electric quad runner. With the help of the perimeter security crew, they’d built a camouflaged “hide” about a mile north of the village, on the way toward the LZ, deep within the forest.
Leah was breathing hard from the combination of altitude and the sprint when she arrived at the hide. She dug at the base, knowing exactly where to find the knife she needed to free the quad. Once in hand, she cut the nearly invisible nylon fishing-style line that held the pine-tree-bough-woven “door” in place, regardless of the weather. It was less a door, actually, and more a one-sided lean-to propped at a 45-degree angle.
She reached in and grabbed the handle bars, leaned back and let all of her 120 pounds lever the quad out of its hiding spot. After several cuss words worthy of her mechanic friend Mac Ridley, and despite her promise to Jack to watch her language, she pulled it clear. Leah grabbed the helmet off the seat and, without a second thought, tossed it back into the hide. She couldn’t see shit through that thing, despite the coaching she’d gotten from the security crew.
Leah secured the pine door back in place without the line, tossed a leg over the quad, and pushed the red power button center-left of the display. When everything lit up and the LED lights flashed green, she rolled on the throttle, just enough to get the quad moving. The last thing she needed was digging two big tire divots right next to the hide.
Several hundred meters away from the hide, the quad rolled down into a wash solid sandstone. Leah “put the spurs to it,” as the Texas-born security tech had shown her. Unfortunately, she didn’t take into account the incline, and the front tires wheeled skyward and the quad nearly flipped over backward. Leah cut the throttle, and the quad came down so hard on the front wheels, she banged her forehead into the control panel.
“Whoa, Nellie,” she whispered. “Okay, note to self: helmet a good idea.”
Despite the near disaster, Leah twisted open the throttle until the quad nearly flew over the rocks on the way to the LZ.
The chopper had already landed on the grass pad and powered down by the time Leah rolled into the LZ, fifteen minutes later.
She was nearly spitting bullets. The death-ride at higher than recommended speeds and seeing the Ancients running for the safety of the cliff dwellings had her ready to issue a military-grade, extra venti-sized can of whoop-ass on the dipshit who’d ordered an overflight right above one of the most sensitive and secure locations on the planet.
She glanced around and spotted movement at the tree line. Two men dressed in flight suits were clearing the forest. Even before Leah could open her mouth, they both raised their hands.
“Hold fire, Dr. Andrews! Please! It’s not our fault!”
The fear on the faces of these hardened Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans disarmed Leah, and although she gave it her best effort, she couldn’t withhold the grin.
“What the hell is wrong with you guys?” she said, feeling the anger return as she spoke. “You know damn well if you approach from the south, you’re gonna send my people running for their lives.” She placed hands on hips. “Not to mention this is an EMERGENCY ONLY, LZ, to be used upon my order via the sat phone.”
“Yes, ma’am. You’ve briefed us many times…as you know.” The pilots looked at each other, then took two steps back as she approached within arm’s reach.
“What?” Leah asked, as both pilots, wrinkled their noses, while trying their best to hold a professional face. “As much as I’d like to, kicking your asses isn’t my style, boys. Relax.”
“I don’t think that’s why they’re backing up, dear.”
Leah spun. Out of the cover of the pine trees, walked Jack Hobson.
“Ha! Jack!” Leah sprinted toward the handsome mountain climber and was ready to throw her arms around him, when he too backed up, holding his arms out.
“Is this the kind of greeting I get?” she said, more hurt than angry.
Jack glanced over toward the flight crew, and started to laugh. Leah turned, and found them trying to hold back laughter themselves.
“And you thought my climbing gear stank after six weeks on Everest? Damn, girl, you are downright…well, put it this way: the smell coming off those skins is enough to gag a maggot.”
It suddenly occurred to Leah that she had been living and working in the cliffs with the Ancients without a bath for more than ten days, in native-appropriate costume that hadn’t been all that clean to begin with.
She’d been gutting and cleaning deer, squirrel, and fish along with the rest of the women; cooking while choking on a damp-wood fire inside the dwellings; gathering wood until her hands bled and she was soaked in sweat. She’d gotten to the point where she didn't even notice it.
Now, though, she realized how bad she must smell. She reached up and touched her stringy, dirty hair. She looked at her hands. Her nails were rarely manicured during the best of times. Now her hands were dirty and covered in cuts, scrapes, and burns, the nails jagged, broken and dirty. “Oh yeah…well, you know, I’ve been busy…and…sorry,” she said, unusually meek for Leah Andrews.
Jack suddenly and without warning, reached out and despite the near gagging odor, picked his wife up and hugged her tight. He then leaned over and gave her a deep kiss.
“Wow, she said, wiping at her mouth, now more embarrassed than anything.
“We’ve been trying to call you for at least 48 hours,” Jack said. “Nada.”
“I can’t be a slave to that thing. I’m working to save these people. Sooner or later, they’re gonna catch me with it.”
“Leah, these Indians have been abducted by aliens, sent to Antarctica for an 800-year-old big sleep, woken, poked at with a variety of high-tech equipment, eaten foods they never dreamed of, and you’re worried about the sat phone?”
She visibly winced.
“How is it going, by the way?” he asked.
“So far, not so good, for all of the above and more.”
“How does Marko put it?” he asked. “The Prime Directive “Dude, you can’t mess with the Prime Directive.”
Leah chuckled. “Yeah. Mr. Star Trek, always with the one-liner. I’m beginning to wonder if he isn’t right. Mixing cultures and technology thousands of years apart in development is always a disaster, no matter how well-intentioned.
“Perhaps a lesson our alien visitors learned themselves,” said Jack.
“Well, at least they had the good sense to put them to sleep. It’s like herding cats over there.”
Leah glanced over at the air crew, as they seemed ready to start the helicopter.
“So what’s going on? I must have missed any message. Last we spoke, you were in Washington with Paulson in top secret meetings with members of congress, the military, and just about everyone else who has a clearance.”
Jack nodded, the expression on his face telegraphing bad news.
“What is it, Climber? After what we’ve been through, how bad can it be?”
“There is news, Leah. Some you’ll find distasteful.”
“Yeah. Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Okay. First, the President.”
“All right.” Leah rubbed her hands together. “This is gonna be good. So, have you had a chance to water-board that SOB yet?”
“No.” He drew a breath. “In fact, the President isn’t going anywhere. He is continuing on as President, with his entire staff intact, including Fischer, like Antarctica never happened.”
“Are you kidding me?”
Jack sighed. “Let me give it to you straight. “We’re in a world of shit right now. A world of shit that you, and most people, know nothing about. Antarctica is a free-for-all killing zone, with Russian, American, Chinese, British, French, Israeli, Koreans, and more going at it. We’re talking everything from hand-to-hand combat to ships and planes being shot down and sunk. Frankly, it’s a miracle this hasn’t escalated into full-on nuclear war…yet. It’s a good bet the North Koreans are on the verge of invading South Korea, and China looks ready to take on Taiwan, as the ‘superpowers’ seem otherwise indisposed. The thinking, and I agree, is that more instability may well provoke one or more of the above.”
Leah grimaced. “Thanks for the cheery update. I hope you brought along the anti-depressants I did not request, but now need.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to absorb it all. “Okay, this probably sounds ridiculous, but what’s the good news?”
“We’re headed back to Antarctica,” Jack replied, a twinkle in his eye. “To save a friend.”