The road trip was, as Israel stated, just a little journey in a half track troop carrier that seemed to meander all over the place. The ascent by foot though, up steep trails and along barely passable trails, seemed long and arduous. She was glad when they rested, but subsequently amazed to see that even after a continuously steady climb that was, in reality, of a mere twenty minutes or so, they were now overlooking a long, sheer, drop – the bottom of which her eyes could not reach. “Careful,” Ben warned her. “You won’t be able to see the bottom, no matter how far you hang out.” She retreated to safety.
They continued for another five or six minutes until they reached what appeared to be the entrance to a cave. She followed Israel and Ben as they stepped in then stopped. It was cold and, to her surprise, a little windy. Flashlights came on as men nervously took stock of their surroundings. She felt comfortable though; she knew where she was. Breathing deep and slow she advanced into the opening without fear or hindrance from the rest of the party. With Ben beside her she lead the way to where she knew there would be a stairway. In fact they came to a sizable open area with light filtering down from openings high, very high, over galleries stretching up and around. She stopped to take it all in. No one spoke.
No one spoke until she broke the silence. “Have you ventured on the steps?”
“They found bodies, Meira,” Ben told her. “They found three men dead but no indication of what killed them.”
“Where are they now?’
“At the bottom of the drop.”
“Young, old? Modern, western dress?”
“Young. Turbans – Taliban style. No sign of violence. They were strong and well fed.”
“Fear. These guys want the water, they don’t want authorities here, but they are scared of what might have killed them.”
Inwardly she smiled. Perfect: An ancient solar city hidden by fear. Perfect. “What about the water?”
Ben signalled her to follow to the end of the hall where a short flight of steps opened out onto a gallery over what appeared to be a lake: only it wasn’t. It had stone sides, of maybe two metres, and stretched as far as she could see. It was cold – colder than the other place. She started to walk. “It’s about twenty minutes to the far end,” Ben said as if to stop her.
She looked back. “So?”
“There isn’t time.”
“We have to go back.”
She thought for a second or two then conceded. “Okay,” and followed him back to the others. Once outside the heat and sunlight hit them like a furnace door. “I need time here,” she said. “I need days and nights here.” The men’s faces said they were uncertain, anxious; that they wanted to leave. They weren’t just anxious, she realised; they were scared and they wanted to leave now – this very instant.
Ben said, “I’ll bring food and water.”
“No,” she said. “I’ll come back on my own when I know more about this place.” She turned back inside. The men left.
She went quickly to the main hall then up the steps, all the steps, all the steps she could find until she reached the top. She thought she knew what she would find here and she was right, there it was, but not one, but five – five chambers each with its own huge, jet black, obsidian stone dusty from millennia of disuse and stained from previous millennia of continual use. She gasped at her discovery. This, she decided, must be the heart of the mother and father of all solar cities. This is Atlantis? It could be. If Atlantis is not just a place, if it’s a state of mind, then this could be Atlantis. She sat in the centre chamber and gazed at the huge doors to the outside world and wondered when last they were opened. In no time Catherine was with her.
This had been a successful community. There had been many, long, generations here. This place was built during the last Matriarchy, before the sea levels rose, before the catastrophic volcanic irruptions, and long, long before the religions stole the hearts and minds of frightened men.
Amina had been here. She had long memories from years in this city right up to the volcanic dust that covered everything killing most of the people and all of the animals. Amina had seen the floods, the falling mountainsides, and the freezing winds. She had seen all of this and survived long enough to continue the line but her daughters were frail. The climate and the pollution stunted their growth, shortening their lives to not more than sixty years, and their children’s children’s lives not much longer. This was the beginning of the long descent back to the survival of the fittest. Here, in Anima’s memory, was the end of the Matriarchy and the new dawn for the Alpha Male.
There followed the millenniums of the law of the strong: the taking and the killing; the deception and lies and desperate thrusting to prove that strength, and prowess, could overpower knowledge, truth, and reason. Gods were invented, religions born, wars proliferated and millions upon millions died almost as fast as they could reproduce. How sad. How sad that we are still there.
With the exception of the sealed, upper, chambers volcanic ash must have covered everything at one time: Its chemical content would have dissolved all animal and vegetable content and eaten into the floors and walls but she knew where to look. Beneath the thinner coatings on the upper walls she could make out the murals – not the reliefs and engravings of later artists – these were ceramic murals on a vast scale. This was the legacy of the Matriarchy at the apogee of its of it grandeur. She gathered some of the larger pieces of debris and broken pieces of staircases together to form a mound so she could climb higher, to the top of the walls where rich colours could be seen peeking through the grime.
In the lower chamber she explored the artificial lake. It was, she estimated, four thousand metres in length, about one thousand wide, and two metres deep. It could hold up to eight billion litres. There wasn’t that much water there now; now there was not more than a couple of hundred thousand – still, that was a lot of water, and from where had it come? She was tempted to climb in, test it for depth and temperature, but her instincts warned her against that. She needed tools, pumps, hoses, solvents . . . she needed a team of helpers and, above all, she needed secrecy because once the heavy mob arrived it would be impossible to care for, and preserve, this wonderful find.
Back at the camp she found Ben in an intense game of chess with Bill. Neither looked up when, hot and dusty from walking and climbing, she pulled a chair to the table and sat. All the others in the room were clearly alarmed, and giving her their full attention. “You walked? How did you know where we were?” Israel was clearly annoyed.
“Driving that half track around in circles is not likely to fool anyone Israel. Even in the bullet proof rear cabin one can see sunlight and shadows.” She sat down.
Israel recovered. “Yes, yes, I’m sorry. My manners, I’m sorry. So water?”
“Thank you. Do you have facilities here . . . showers, toilets, places to eat and sleep?”
Bill looked up as if from a coma. “First impressions?”
“It’s an important find. I will need help, tools, logistical support.”
“And the water?” Israel was watching her carefully.
“There is a lot there, but as to how old it is, or how it came to be there, needs analysis and testing.”
“Did you think to bring samples on your walk?”
“Think, yes; bring, no. Secrecy is vital. Only our own people, only our own, most trusted, people should know of this.”
“Indeed,” Ben piped up. “I will bring Peter. No one should leave.”
Bill stood. “I will have Peter brought here, and whoever, and whatever, else you need. You are correct Ben: no one should leave. Especially not you or I.”