Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Epsilon Seven - an Ode

I've read more than my share of Dan Brown, James Rollins, and Steve Berry novels. They like to mix historical references, paranormal events, and religious exposes (of dubious veracity) into their action/adventure/military/academic novels. It's all in good fun.

Here is my short story, Epsilon Seven. It is part homage and part spoof of these writers. And it has no commercial value.


EPSILON SEVEN - by Justin Lindsay

Washington D.C.
Epsilon Seven HQ
May 5th
2:43 pm
COMMANDER CHARLES MAGNUS’S eyes watered from having stared too long at the symbol spread out on the table before him. The symbol was nothing more than a half circle drawn atop a horizontal line, a simple charcoal rubbing on thin vellum. Simple, but costly. Acquiring the rubbing had cost him two of his best field operatives.
            As head of the Epsilon Seven task force, he commanded a team of twelve soldiers gone professional, men and women who had been hand-picked from the world’s various Special Forces units for their keen intellect and non-linear thinking. Each had been fast-tracked through a variety of professional licensing and certifications, resulting in soldier-lawyers, soldier-accountants, soldier-psychotherapists, and soldier-masseuses, to name but a few of the professions. The result: a team of experts prepared to step into any professional setting as spies, legitimate help, or assassins.
No, no longer twelve strong. Ten now. Oh, what he would do to have Johnny and Beth with him right now. But they were gone. Gone as so many of his companions…
            “Commander Magnus?”
            Charles looked up to see his team arrayed around the table, looking to him for guidance in this crisis. Only three of them could be here on such short notice. He steeled himself, knowing that he had to hold it together. If only he could figure this damned symbol out. Looking up to Laura, who had spoken, he nodded.
            “What do we know about this guy?” she asked.
            Charles looked back down at the symbol. “Not much, beyond the fact that he’s the best in his field, and that he’s reputed to be a real pain in the –”
            Just then the intercom beeped and the voice of the receptionist said, “Sir, your visitor is here.”

            The atmosphere in the room eased at once. At least they had something to go with, somewhere to go. Someone to help them make sense of all this. Charles punched the intercom button. “Send him in.” Releasing the button, he said, “Listen, the President has given me full authority to enlist this guy to whatever end we see fit. That means we need to play nice with him, all right?” He swiveled in his chair and jabbed a finger at Sven.
            Sven had been recruited from the prestigious Northern corps of the Swedish paratroopers, the ‘berserkers’ as they were called. He was indispensable in the field, since his strong hands made him an excellent masseuse, giving him hands-on contact with many wealthy ‘clients’—cartel leaders, jihadists, and Communists that might never see the light of day again, once Sven was through with them. Normally cool, he was emotional right now. Ready to kill.
Beth had been his girlfriend.
Sven nodded, though he folded his muscled arms across his chest. “Ja.” Sven had never seemed pouty before, but he did now. It did nothing to ease Charles’s tension.
            The man who entered the already crowded conference room was of middling height, with peppered black hair cut just below his ears and a scholarly-looking goatee. He strode in with the air of a professor preparing to lecture, and though there were several empty chairs, he didn’t hesitate to sit at the end of the table opposite Charles.
            Charles suppressed a growl. The professor was going to play tug-of-war with his authority was he? Play nice, Charles. Play nice. “Glad you could join us, Professor Manfield.” But, just to make clear as to who was in charge here, he gestured to the chair Manfield was about to sit in anyway. “Please have a seat.”
            Manfield took the seat without pausing, though the faintest grimace flickered across his face, and set his briefcase down on the table in front of him. “You folks spared no expense in getting me here. I particularly enjoyed the Gulfstream jet’s satellite connection for my laptop…and the wet bar.”
            “The American tax payer is a generous patron, Mr. Manfield,” Charles said. “And your reputation precedes you; I’m glad you know how valuable you are to us.”
            Laura cleared her throat and picked up a small stack of paper from in front of her. Young and attractive, men were easily put off guard by her dulcet voice. Gesturing to the papers in her hand, she said, “Our dossier on you says you teach at Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, and Harvard.” She cocked an eyebrow at him, and Charles smiled. She was a former Navy Seal, now attorney-at-law, and she was already gearing up for a thorough cross-examination.
            Manfield eased back in his chair. “Yes, I do.”
            “You teach religion, anthropology, archeology, cryptology, and basket weaving,” Laura pressed on.
            Manfield smirked. “Yes…I do.”
            There was a brief pause, and Adam spoke for the first time in more than a half hour. The oldest of the group, at 33, he was also the quietest. He had a steady mind, one that Charles could depend on in any crisis. His father had been a KGB double agent, and his mother part of the diplomatic entourage for the North Vietnamese government. Adam had been therefore raised in many homes across the globe. He spoke more than a dozen languages fluently, knew the intrigues of international politics, and had excelled in his military career first as a South African mercenary, and most recently with Blackwater, serving as a security contractor in Iraq. He was a master at weaponry, logistics, and numbers. Give him an AK-47 with a fixed bayonet and phosphate rounds, and he was worth one hundred soldiers. Give him a ledger and a #2 pencil, and he could have a corporation’s financial statements clean so fast even an SEC investigator would sigh with relief. Having thrown his lot in with the American cause, he had begun his career as a CPA not long ago. He may not look the part of an accountant, with his shaggy hair and loose clothes. In fact, he looked more like a skater. But his appearances only served to put those around him at ease, enabling him to get closer to his targets. Charles could almost see the debits and credits aligning themselves in Adam’s mind as he considered Manfield’s résumé. He said, “Basket weaving?”
            Manfield swiveled in his chair to face Adam. Though he appeared to be at ease, Charles could see the professor clutching at the armrests of his chair. No doubt he had had to defend that last specialty more than once. “Yes, basket weaving. It’s one of the oldest trades in human history: the crafting of vessels to contain, transport, and store all manner of both dry and wet goods. Given the nature of many of the patterns woven into ancient baskets, particularly among the Sumerians and Hittites, one can see that this notion of the vessel pertains to worship of the Sacred Feminine. You see—”
            “Professor,” Charles cut in. The last thing he wanted was a tangential lecture on Sumerian baskets. “If you don’t mind, we have very pressing matters to attend to.” He motioned to the rubbing spread out across the table.
            Manfield’s grimace shone clearly now as he clamped his jaw shut and turned his glare to regard the rubbing. But it softened at once as he leaned forward, his eyes intent. “I reviewed the photo you took of this while en route, but it’s so much better to see it in person.” He stood up to look down at it, the fingers of one hand stroking his goatee. He reached down with the other hand and began to turn the paper to face him.
            “Don’t you touch it,” Sven said. “That’s her blood!” He pointed to a small dark brown stain on the corner of the vellum. “My Beth’s blood!”
            Charles waved Sven to silence and motioned for Charles to speak. “What do you think?”
            Manfield looked from Sven to Charles, looking a bit shaken by the Swede’s anger. But he was soon composed again. “I think I’m looking at the oldest symbol ever drawn by man.”
            Charles leaned back, knowing professors well enough to ask the obvious question. “And what symbol is that?”
            Manfield traced the outline of the half circle from one intersection with the line to the other. “This is the sun at the horizon. Man looking toward the eternities.”
            Charles and the people of his team leaned in. “It is?”
            A brief, curt nod. “Clearly. I’ve seen such depictions in the Egyptian Book of the Dead and in cave drawings in the Loire Valley of France.” He gave a small laugh. “It’s even in some Masonic bible illuminations. But it is shown most often in baskets, especially among the ancient Etruscans.”
            “The precursors to the Romans, right?” Laura asked.
            “The same. Now, few people know that baskets can be woven such that when you add water, the reeds swell, thereby making the baskets water tight.” He held up a finger, calling them to attention. “Such was the case with Etruscan baskets.”
            Charles couldn’t help himself. “Professor, what does any of this have to do with this symbol showing up cut into the stone of a recently discovered temple of Isis in Egypt—the very symbol that caused my agents’ death?”
            “It has everything to do with it,” Manfield said, looking annoyed at having been questioned.
            Charles waved a hand at him. “Go on.”
            “Going back to the symbol of the sun at the horizon. Tell me. Is the sun rising, or is it setting?” Manfield looked around at the group.
            “I don’t know,” Charles said. “Rising?”
            Laura let out a snort. “Typical man’s response.”
            Manfield laughed as well. “Isn’t it?” He held up a finger again. “Now, what if I told you it was neither? That even the phrasing of my question was wrong?”
            Then I’d punch you in the mouth, Charles thought.
            “Here’s a hint: it’s a phrasing handed down to us by our patriarchal system.”
            Adam leaned forward, his analytical mind obviously in gear. “If it is neither, and your phrasing is all wrong, then I can only assume that you mean it isn’t the sun. The sun has long been associated with masculinity. The only other relevant heavenly body, then, would be the moon.”
            “Exactly!” Manfield said, looking triumphant at having led Adam to the answer. He went on, “Heavenly body, indeed. For the moon is symbolic of Woman. The Feminine.”
Laura gasped, then looked to Adam. She bit her lower lip, looking as though she saw him in a new light. Charles almost rolled his eyes. The woman was incredibly adept, but was easily distracted by women’s issues—and by those who she thought championed them.
“Going back to my baskets, you find this symbol inside the baskets, close to the upper lip. If the basket were full, what image might you see?”
“Well,” Charles said, wanting to get this over with. He now doubted that this meeting was going to bear any fruit. “Before you had only a half circle...”
“Or,” Manfield said. “A half a testicle.”
Charles blinked. The rest of the room was silent, save for the ticking of the clock overhead, dutifully doling out the time. “What?”
Manfield smirked. “You heard me. Half a testicle.”
Adam pondered. Sven glared. Laura scribbled down a note.
“But you just said it was the rising moon,” Charles said.
“Beg your pardon, but I said no such thing, Commander. I said that the whole phrasing of the question was wrong. Adam, here, understood that I must mean the moon. He was right. But it is neither setting, nor rising. It simply is. Not in some transitory state, but simply being.”
“So, where does the testicle fit in?”
“Half a testicle. And that’s just it. It doesn’t fit in.  You’re aware of the prophecies of Isaiah as found, in patriarchly corrupted form, in the Old Testament?” Once everyone had nodded, he continued. “He frequently used dualism in his imagery, and such is the case here. One symbol, but two meanings.”
“Half testicle and moon,” Adam said.
Manfield nodded. “Remember my basket, how the symbol was drawn on the inside, by the water level? I asked you what you might see in the reflection, should the water be filled to the line here,” he pointed to the straight line on the vellum.
“You would see the both halves of the moon,” Laura said. “A full moon.” Her eyes flickered to Adam, as though to see if he had noticed her contribution.
“Very good,” Manfield said. “You’d also see a half testicle. For the upper half of the circle is the moon. The reflection is but a half testicle. This represents the fact that in the natural order of things, Woman, the Feminine, is supreme.”
Adam spoke up again. “So when the water is added to the line…”
“The line that represents both the Eternal Horizon and the Primordial Phallus, yes,” Manfield interjected.
Charles rubbed at his temples.
“Oh,” Adam said, “The, uh…the Phallus line, the full moon in reflection is valued even above a half a testicle.” He paused to consider it. “So, half testicle, half a man. Or, rather, a quarter of a man. Woman is worth four men?”
“Very close!”
Laura leaned forward, her lips playing on the tip of her pen as she stopped taking notes to consider Adam. Again.
“How come you keep going back to your baskets, professor?” Charles asked. “We’re talking about a cut in the stone of an Isis Temple.”
“It’s really simple, Commander. Isis is the fertility goddess of ancient Egypt, often depicted as a Water Bearer, like Aquarius in our own Zodiac. She’s often depicted as carrying a basket.”
Charles stifled a groan. “All right.”
“But we’ve only skimmed the surface here. Okay, follow me closely. We’ve already discussed the use of reflection, and the understanding that four is an important number. So, what happens when you reflect this image four times? We’ve already done it once…”
“And ended up with a full circle. A full moon,” Laura said.
“Or a full testicle,” Sven grumbled.
“It’s a full moon,” Manfield said, casting a quick, disapproving glance at the Swede. “It’s also a complete breast, the great Nurturer. Also, consider this: we’ve stared at the Eternal Horizon, and perceived a complete circle, half in substance, half in reflection. What might we be looking at?” When no one answered, Manfield said, “The face of …”
“God?” Charles offered.
“…the Goddess,” Manfield said.
“Of course,” Sven muttered.
The professor pressed on. “One reflection gave us a full circle. Another reflection gives us two circles.”
“Two breasts, a complete set,” Adam said.
“That’s amazing,” Laura said. She reached up and removed the chopsticks that had been holding her long, lustrous hair up. Her golden tresses tumbled around her shoulders as she looked to Adam.
“And still another reflection?” Manfield prompted.
“Four circles.” Charles said.
“A cow’s utter?” Sven said, snickering.
“No, you get three circles.”
“Wait,” Charles said, “You multiply two circles by two, and you get—”
“Commander,” Manfield interrupted. “I’m following the ancient method of reflection as laid out in Carthaginian scrolls. Not mundane arithmetic multiplication. Let’s see, how would your Western mind understand it...Oh, certain derivations of the Pythagorean theorem come to this same conclusion.”
“Suffice it to say that both the third and the fourth reflections result in three circles.” Manfield next opened his briefcase and withdrew a steno pad. He flipped the yellow pages over until he came to a clean sheet, then set it on the table. Reaching into his blazer pocket, he pulled out a fountain pen. “Here is what you get.” He drew three circles, arranged like a triangle resting on its point. “Look familiar?” When no one answered, he pressed on. “Here, I’ll make it simpler for you. Reflect that original Phallus line along an axis derived from the Greek Golden Rectangle, and you draw two lines through the circles, like this.” He drew two lines, one starting in center of the upper right circle and extending through the center of the lower circle. The other line did the same, starting in the upper right, continuing through the center of the lower one, intersecting the first line in the middle. Both lines extended just past the outside of the bottom of the lower circle.
“Well? What do you think?”
Charles stared dumbfounded around at the rest of his team. Sven didn’t even bother studying the drawing. His eyes instead lingered on the little stain on the corner of the vellum. As for Adam and Laura, they seemed to be doing their best to understand where this was all leading.
“Professor,” Charles said, trying to sound as patient as possible. “I believe you’re wasting our time. I don’t see how this applies in the least to our situation. Again, I’ve got two dead agents—friends!—and no bonafide leads beyond this infernal symbol that you seem determined to drag through several millennia of human history. I[m short-staffed, as you can see. Everyone else has been tasked: Frankie in China reviewing engineering specs for the dams going in at the Three Gorges on the Yangtze, Sally May as a court recorder for the UN. They’re all tied up. For all I know, this ‘symbol’ could simply be a hubcap impression from the getaway vehicle. After all, there were some valuable artifacts stolen, any one of which could fetch millions on the antiquities black market.” He sat back in his chair, disgusted. “Maybe the lab will get something off the trace we sent them.”
The room was silent again, with Manfield regarding the vellum in front of him. After a few moments, he asked, “Were baskets among the stolen artifacts?”
Laura glanced at Charles to get his approval before flipping through the brief she had been handed on the crime scene. “Let’s see…yes, actually.” She looked up at Manfield, then to Charles. “All of them. Every single basket is missing.”
Charles sighed. “Fair enough, professor. You just bought yourself another five minutes. If you can’t convince me that you were worth that Gulfstream by that time, we’re going to have to solve this by more conventional means.”
Manfield gave a brief nod before continuing as though he had never been interrupted. “If these two upper circles represent breasts, then what does this lower one signify?”
“The womb,” Laura said, blushing as Adam looked at her for the first time from beneath his shaggy bangs.
“Excellent. And these lines?” He pointed to the two lines extending below the womb circle. After a moment’s silence, he provided the answer. “Genitalia. Female genitalia.”
Sven gripped the edge of the table. “So what? Commander, he’s wasting our time. He is just a pervert, ja? Beth is dead, and he’s wasting our time.”
Charles looked up Manfield and held up four fingers. “Times a’ wasting, and no one’s convinced yet.”
The professor pressed on. “This symbol, with the three circles and the phallus lines forming the woman’s genitalia after intersecting in her womb—I could spend an hour discussing the significance of that alone—well, it’s all spoken of in the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.”
“The Gospel of Mary Magdalene?” Adam said. “I’ve never heard of that one. I thought there were only four.”
Manfield shook his head. “There were dozens of Gospels. But following a vote by male bishops and a male emperor, the tally was reduced to the four most ‘conforming’ Gospels.”
Adam shook his head. “Men were the problem. Again.”
Laura stared at Adam for a moment, one hand toying with her hair as the other drifted up to unbutton the top button of her blouse.
“Three minutes,” Charles said.
“That is the power of reflection, as applied in the Carthaginian method. Now, let’s see how the philosophers of Lesbos and the Minoan culture applied their ingenious techniques. Taking that original image,” he pointed to the half circle and the line again. “What if you reflected it upon itself, only without the mirror effect. In essence, copying the original image and layering it upon itself, only staggered. Like this.” He drew a series of half circles, each one aligned along the same line, but staggered and overlapped one just above the other, so it looked like a slinky sheared in half. “What does that look like? Commander, how does that look to your medically-trained eye?”
Charles had received his medical license, as a general practice physician and neuro-surgeon, to qualify him to enter the ranks of Epsilon Seven. That seemed like a lifetime ago. “Looks like half of a rib cage.”
“You impress me. That’s exactly what it is. Now, considering all I’ve told you about Woman, the Feminine, Isis, the Water Bearer, all of that, what woman comes to mind when you toss in the word ‘rib’, just as the Commander said?”
“Eve,” Adam said.
Charles noticed Laura groan with delight at Adam’s knowledge of women’s issues. She unbuttoned a second button in her blouse as she stared at the young CPA-soldier.
“Ding Ding. Give the man a prize,” Manfield said.
“Two minutes,” Charles said.
            “Adam is referred to time and again in the scriptures as having introduced death into the world. Paul and Jesus both speak of it. Eve, however, is referred to as the Mother of All Living. She, as his exact opposite, dare I say, reflection, his compliment, his ‘help meet’, stands for the opposite of death. She stands for life. And while we have accounts of Adam’s death, we have no such account of Eve’s death. And as an aside, the same can be said of Mary the mother of Jesus—the new Eve. No account of their death, no tradition either, in rabbinical records or in Gnostic or Kabbalistic texts. Nothing.”
            “So, you’re saying…” Adam trailed off.
            “The significance of this symbol appearing on a rediscovered Temple of Isis, along with all the evidence of what I’ve laid out to you can mean only one thing.”
            “One minute,” Charles said.
            “Eve lives.”
            “What?” Sven said.
            Manfield nodded. “Remember the rib story from Genesis? It was taken from Adam and given to Eve. That one bone, more than any other human body part, signifies a total union between man and woman. And Eve has it. It is her special trust.”
            “Wait,” Charles said. “You’re making it sound as though the rib is an…an item, and not just another part of her body.”
            Manfield nodded. “That’s what the early Church fathers and Pharisees wanted us to believe. But no, that rib, which gives Eve dominion over man, since it was taken from him, wasn’t incorporated into her flesh. It was something she carried with her, as a scepter of power. It’s spoken of obliquely in both Gnostic and apocryphal scripture, hidden in secret code as it were, so that only true seekers of knowledge could find it.”
            “But you said that Eve lives.”
            “I did, and I meant it. Remember, no account of her death. She is actually alive, this very moment, and given what we see here in this rubbing, she’s going to be one ticked off Mother.”
            Sven glowered down at the rubbing. “My Beth died over a rib rub.” He touched the bloodstain just as his stomach rumbled. “I’m hungry.”
            Manfield spoke again, just before Charles could tick off the last minute. “And I have here,” he tapped on his briefcase, “a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls that speaks of Eve’s scepter—which in Aramaic can be understood as ‘rib’—being housed with the Mother of the Nile. Isis.”
            “Done. Five minutes up,” Charles said, tapping his dive watch.
            Just then his intercom beeped again, and he heard the voice of his assistant. “We’re getting some new details from the crime scene, and it’s making headlines on several of the cable news networks. Shall I pass it through?”
            Charles glanced around the table and saw everyone’s eyes on him. “Yeah.”
            The door opened a moment later, and his assistant stepped in with a handful of papers from the fax machine. She handed it over to Charles and left. He sighed . “Don’t know what this could be. If it’s a good old-fashioned theft, then there’s no way the thief would claim the crime. If it’s terrorists, though, we might have a lead.”
            “What if it’s both?” Manfield said.
            Charles ignored him and began reading. It was a quick dispatch sent to his attention from the CIA field office based in Cairo. “Well, I’ll be. A group did claim responsibility. They call themselves the—”
            Manfield cut him off with a raised hand. “Let me guess: The Sons of Demiurge.”
            Charles nearly dropped the papers in his hand. He stared at Manfield for a moment before he could speak. “How did you know?”
            “Demiurge is the evil god of creation in Gnosticism. He is the enemy of Eve. His followers have long thought to have been vanquished by the Knights Templar, but we in archeological circles have been hearing rumblings of their re-founding. They’re metastasizing, growing in strength like a cancer, but largely undetected. The Sons of Demiurge seek dominance through acquiring ancient artifacts of power. And nothing, absolutely nothing, is more powerful than the rib, the scepter of power. Dominion over Man. They’ve used the symbol of the moon at the horizon before. Only for them, it has a third meaning. It symbolizes for them the brain—the seat of human creativity.”
            Sven growled, deep from his chest. “I hate Demiurge! I will kill them all!” The knuckles of his hands, gentle enough to smooth out the thickest knots in the deepest tissue, now crackled as he made fists hard enough to shatter the bones of his enemies.
            Charles felt a cold spreading through his body, radiating from the pit of his stomach. He knew that somehow, in some way, the professor had been right all along.
            “I’m afraid that’s what it’s going to come down to,” Manfield said to Sven. “But don’t worry. We can get help. After all—Eve wants her rib back.”

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