The landscape below was tawny beige, bathed in sunlight. Like the flesh of a lion, it rippled and flexed as heat waves danced across its surface. Below, like a blue ribbon, the mighty Nile described its course, dictating its power through the land, and history, as kings and pharaohs, dunes and desert, strove to control it.
Jade stood spellbound and watched the scene unfold. Once again, her senses were stunned as she beheld the greatest expanse of sand she had ever seen. It was almost too much. First the sea of green that was her home, seen from above, then the blue of the ocean, seen from below, and then the incredible works of man, as they changed the very landscape around them, that Jade had witnessed in Johannesburg. She thought there couldn’t possibly be more diversity on Earth than what she had already seen over the past days and weeks.
‘This is incredible!’ she whispered. Johnny smiled. He shared her wonder. He was far more educated than she was, and knew what the world looked like; the various climates and landscapes that it had to offer, but he was only slightly better travelled than she was. In fact, now that he thought about it, she had been to as many different places as he had, short of Mpumalanga. Maybe I’ll take her there one day, he mused.
The delta lay below them and Johnny seemed to remember that the pyramids were situated at the apex of the delta. Turning to the ship he asked, ‘Do you recognise this place?’
‘Do you know what I seek?’
‘I believe so, Master. The great temples of the Hunter.’
‘Yes, exactly. Do you see them?’ he asked.
‘Of course, Master. They are directly below.’
‘Show me,’ said Johnny. The view of the landscape below appeared in Johnny’s mind and he could clearly see the river and the delta that sprouted from it to debouch into the sea beyond. At the head of the delta the ship highlighted several pinpricks of light, which were obviously meant to indicate pyramids. Johnny had expected to see three highlighted, but to his surprise, seven pyramids were indicated.
He sent his senses closer. He immediately recognised the three main pyramids of the Giza plateau. Aligned in an almost straight line, the smallest deviated from true ever so slightly, giving the ground plan an unbalanced look. From his position several miles in the air, Johnny could see that they formed but a small part of a larger plan.
The remaining pyramids marked the corners of a large, upright rectangular square, with the three Giza pyramids approximately in the centre, at a slight angle.
The Hunter! Orion! Johnny recognised it immediately. The three pyramids duplicated Orions Belt, which tended the cinch the waist of the rectangle. From this perspective, it was easy to imagine the upper two pyramids as the right elbow and left wrist of the hunter – bow drawn, and the lower two pyramids as the feet, with the belt in the middle. Several of the border pyramids were not visible to the eye, obviously lying undiscovered beneath the dunes. The remaining ones stood proudly above the sands.
Busloads of tourists arrived every few minutes, delivering their human cargo to the fervent vendors that lined the streets. Johnny couldn’t see an easy way to investigate without being noticed by several hundred people.
‘Ship,’ he said.
‘I don’t suppose you know of a way for me to enter the great pyramid without being seen, do you?’ he asked hopefully.
‘My name is Ka’Zolph’a-Lec, Master, and I do know a way.’
‘My name is Ka’Zolph’a-Lec, Master, and I do know a way.’
‘No, I mean… You have a name?’ asked Johnny. ‘Why didn’t you tell me before?’
‘It was unnecessary, Master.’
‘So why tell me now?’
‘It is necessary, Master.’
‘Why?’ he asked again.
‘It is the password you need to gain access to the great temple, Master.’
Johnny was flabbergasted. ‘You mean I need a password? People enter the pyramid every day and they don’t need a password,’ he said.
‘The visitors to the great temple have not yet penetrated its secrets,’ the ship responded, ‘they scurry on the mere threshold of its doorstep. The contents that they are permitted access to are but a diversion, meant to beguile and lead interlopers away from the true purpose of these structures.
‘To gain access to the inner sanctum, one would need either a great boring machine, or a password. Since you do not have the means to bore through solid rock, I have provided you with a password,’ the ship finished.
‘Okay, ship … err, I mean Ka’Zolma’Tek.
‘Ka’Zolph’a-Lec,’ the ship corrected.
‘Carzolvalek,’ Johnny tried.
‘Close enough, Master.’
‘So what does it mean? Ka-Zolpher-Lac?’ Johnny worked the name.
‘It means “Ship of the North Star”, Master.’
‘It means Ship?’
The ship remained silent for a second before responding.
Johnny laughed. The ship didn’t. ‘Okay Ship. So what am I to call you? Ship? Or Ka’Zolph’a-Lec?’ he asked flippantly.
‘Understand this, my Lord. My name is a word of power, and is as such not something to be taken lightly. I will obey you as always, regardless of my name, but should the need arise, and should you invoke my name, nothing in the heavens or on Earth could stand in my way in my protection of you.’
Johnny sobered. This really was no laughing matter, he realised. The ship was effectively pledging itself to him, and although he had long taken it for granted that the ship would protect him, this was something of a higher order altogether.
‘So do you mean to say that had I invoked your name the day Francesco tried to kill me, you would have reacted?’ he asked.
‘My Lord, I would have eradicated his name from the annals of history. The very atoms that made up his being would have been split asunder.’
Johnny was impressed. ‘Well that’s good to know,’ he said. ‘Ka’Zolph’a-Lec, is it deemed improper for me to abbreviate your name? I mean, not to show any disrespect or anything, but it’s a quite a mouthful.’
‘My Lord, your wisdom belies your age. It is, in fact, considered in poor taste to throw my name about as if it were cheap currency. As a word of power, it is to be protected and safeguarded. Know this, my Lord: I cannot but respond to the user of my name. Should we find others of our kind, and should one of them learn my name, he could use me against you and I would have no choice but to obey.’
Johnny had, by now, completely forgotten about the pyramids, or why he was here. This was the most intriguing conversation he had ever had with the ship, and was keen to find out as much as he could. The implications were startling, and unnerving.
‘So I’ll just carry on calling you Ship then, should I?’ he asked.
‘As you see fit, Master. It would probably be best. My former Master called me Ruaz.’ it replied.
‘Ruaz, it has a good sound. What does it mean?
‘It is the simplification of a word that means “To run by night”, or “Night Runner”, and has no relation to my real name. If one were to overhear you speak that name, it would give no clue as to my true name, and thus can be used with impunity.’
‘Ruaz it is then,’ Johnny said. He was pleased to have a name to call the ship. It had always felt slightly impersonal to call it ‘Ship’ every time, and he felt a new bond, almost a friendship, or kinship that he had never quite felt before.
Opening his eyes, Johnny turned to Jade, who was still staring out the window.
‘Jade, my flower, the ship has just introduced itself to me!’ he exclaimed. Jade looked somewhat surprised.
‘Its name is Ruaz!’
Jade furrowed her brow in thought for a moment. ‘Stalker in the night?’ she asked.
‘Close, my love,’ he laughed, ‘Night Runner, or something thereabouts. Its real name is to be closely guarded, but I will tell you so that you have its added protection. In times of great need, such as Francesco, or even Pedro I would imagine, just call out “Ka’Zolph’a-Lec” and the ship will come to your rescue.’ Johnny beamed at her at his great discovery, and she grinned back.
‘Ka’Zolph’a-Lec?’ she got it right the first time.
‘That’s it, my love! Don’t use it unless the need is great, and then don’t forget it.’
‘So we’ll call it Ruaz? I like it,’ she said, ‘it is a fitting name.’ Johnny smiled, then, remembering the business at hand, turned back to the ship.
‘Ruaz. Tell me more about my quest,’ he said. ‘I need access to the pyramid without being noticed, and a clue or two about what I’m looking for wouldn’t hurt either.’
‘Very well Master. The apex of the great temple is the traditional entry point of the gods. To the mundane eye it is but rock and mortar, but with the appropriate technology it becomes a portal to the inner sanctum. The more obvious door, which humans use, is but a servants entrance.
‘I will transport you into the pyramid by the means at my command, and once inside, you speak my name, and all will become clear.’
Johnny stood up. Smiling at Jade, he said, ‘Coming?’ He held out his hand and she took it, following him to the armoury to suit up.
They stood hand in hand before the viewing pane, looking down as the twilight of sunset cast long, dark shadows across the sand. The suit interfaced with the ship, and Johnny would signal to be picked up once they were done.
‘Okay, Ruaz, we’re ready,’ he said. He noticed the last of the busses driving out of the parking lot just as a weird, warm closeness enveloped the two of them, and the next minute they were outside the ship, still cloaked by the invisibility shield.
One moment outside, the next they were overwhelmed by impenetrable darkness. A damp, musky odour greeted them as their feet found solid ground. Still holding hands, Johnny and Jade felt the ship relinquish its hold.
‘Steady, Jade,’ Johnny said as he felt her sway slightly away from him. He held out the illuminator he’d last used in the lost temple deep in the jungle, and they blinked as their eyes fought to adjust to the sudden brightness.
They stood in a small ante-chamber with solid granite walls. This wasn’t the yellow limestone that the vast bulk of the pyramid was constructed out of, but a far grander, and nobler stone. Dark and majestic, it brooded its presence.
Their first impression was one of immense gravity. The very weight of the enormous structure that surrounded them seemed to bear down upon their shoulders, and for the first time in their lives, both Johnny and Jade were struck by the sheer magnitude of the feats the gods had wrought.
There was absolutely no humour, no brevity of any kind in the design of the chamber in which they stood. The very walls pulsated power and purpose; the unassailable might of those who had built it. Overawed, the two youngsters stared around at the imposing sight before them.
Remembering himself, Johnny removed his helmet and turned around in a circle, keen to find the next step. Jade followed suit. On all sides, black, gleaming rock glowered at them, polished to a sheen that made it seem almost translucent. No hint of invitation beckoned.
‘Ka’Zolph’a-Lec!’ he shouted suddenly. Jade jumped in fright as his voice echoed around the enclosed space. A grating, rumbling boom sounded somewhere far below, and Jade looked at Johnny with trepidation. He squeezed her hand and smiled in assurance. A section of the wall lifted slowly and silently upwards, and the two of them peered ahead into the darkness.
Johnny held up the illuminator as they moved forward, and as the interior of the pyramid lit up as bright as day, Johnny and Jade stared in wonder. Where the entrance chamber had been dark and brooding, this new chamber before them was beautiful beyond belief. Still constructed from polished granite, the walls were adorned with priceless gold artefacts, statues and idols. Hieroglyphs were carved into the walls with remarkable precision, lending an air of homeliness to the otherwise severe architecture.
Gold and silver furniture still lined the room, and the first impression they got was one of order and neatness. This place had not been abandoned in a rush, and left to decay and rot. This place had been spared the ravages of time somehow, and even the linen on the cushions that still padded the chairs was intact and fresh. Johnny wondered at this. He had heard somewhere of the apparent properties of preservation and renewal a pyramidal structure can have on fruit and other organic objects, but he had never paid it much mind. As Jade walked around admiring her surroundings, he realised that the obvious lack of decay could only mean that something other than the usual laws of nature was at work here.
‘Oh Johnny! This is beautiful!’ Jade said, running her hand across a wall as smooth as ice. ‘I feel totally at ease here.’
‘You’re right Jade,’ he replied, ‘I hadn’t thought of it, but I also feel completely comfortable here, even though we are intruders.’
‘Perhaps we’re not,’ she suggested. ‘Perhaps those people down below are the intruders and we’re the ones who belong here?’
Johnny nodded, but didn’t reply. It certainly felt that way. He had expected to come creeping in like a thief in the night, yet he stood tall, head held high, and felt the urge to shout his challenge at any who may dare to defy him.
We all know what happened the last time I felt this way, he thought to himself. Best not to let it get to my head again.
‘Come Jade, let’s start our search,’ he said.
‘What are we looking for?’ she asked.
‘I’m not sure, my angel, but I think we’ll know it when we see it,’ he replied. She came to him and put an arm around his waist.
‘Lead the way, my Lord.’
They moved slowly around the large room until they came to an open doorway with a series of stairs leading down. Holding up the illuminator, Johnny led the way. The stairs spiralled in a square pattern. Ten steps down, left turn, ten steps down, left turn, and so on. Johnny counted eight turnings of the stairs before they emerged on a landing that overlooked a yawning chasm.
Holding out the illuminator, Johnny couldn’t believe his eyes. They stood on a balcony of stone, many hundreds of feet above what seemed to be an amphitheatre. Jade sucked her breath at the height, and the sound echoed and magnified itself in this unique place. It was clear that it had been designed as a place of meeting, and given the means of their arrival at this point, it didn’t take Johnny long to realise that this is where god and man interfaced. Man below, god above.
‘I can’t believe we’re still inside the pyramid!’ Johnny said, his voice echoing in the vast space. ‘I mean, I know it’s big, but I didn’t realise it was this big!’
Jade was also impressed, though less so than Johnny, as she hadn’t grown up being taught that this place was a tomb for a dead king, and a tomb only.
‘It certainly is impressive Johnny,’ she said, ‘can you imagine how many people could be seated down there?’
Johnny agreed. ‘There’s space here for thousands, and they wouldn’t miss a word of what was said either. The acoustics here are phenomenal.’
‘Helloooo!’ Jade yelled.
‘Hellooo, hellooo, hellooo,’ her call was returned, only slightly diminished in volume.
Glancing around, Johnny said, ‘I think we need to continue our search, Jade. I see nothing here that may help us.’ She agreed, and they resumed their descent down the spiral staircase.
They exited the staircase in a large, unadorned room with several doorways facing them. Realising that this was a central hub of some sort; a meeting place of passageways and staircases, Johnny contacted the ship.
‘Ruaz, are you there?’ he asked.
Of course, Master.’
‘Do you see us? Do you know where we are?’ Johnny asked.
‘Yes, Master, I have your position. You are in what is known as the Arms of Ra. It is a meeting place for the various routes available within the great temple, and its rays penetrate the entire structure.’
‘Where to from here?’
‘My Lord, the mistress and yourself need to descend further into the bowels of the Earth to find what you seek. Beyond the walls of the great temple sits the eternal form of the Lion. Now defaced and in the image of a human, it once bore witness to the rising sun and the dawn of ages.’
‘The Sphinx?’ Johnny wondered aloud.
‘I believe so, my Lord,’ the ship replied. ‘Beneath its feet lie the archives of a long forgotten people. A chamber of immense proportions, within which you will find the answers to your quest, and many others besides.’
‘Which way?’ Johnny asked.
‘Take the passage on your left. It will soon begin to descend once more, but it will take you directly to the chambers you seek.’
Johnny looked to his left and saw the passage the ship had indicated. Jade had listened in on the Ship’s instructions, and Johnny didn’t need to repeat them to her. The two of them walked forward and entered the dark passageway, the illuminator held high. Johnny had a sudden idea, and put the illuminator on his belt, tired of holding it aloft all the time. He was pleased to find its luminosity not at all diminished, and realised that this was probably the way it was meant to be used. Only his modern way of thinking had caused him to hold it up before him, as one would with an electric torch. He now had both arms free, and felt far more comfortable navigating the maze of passageways and staircases within this mighty structure.
Jade and Johnny finally reached the point where the stairs began again and spent what seemed like hours descending hundreds and hundreds of steps before finally coming out before a stone door. They saw the handprint at the same time, and Johnny gave Jade a perfunctory bow before saying, ‘Would you have the honour, my princess?’
Jade smiled sweetly and placed her hand on the imprint, and Johnny didn’t miss the flush of pleasure in her face as the door before them opened up.
‘Thank you, my Lady,’ he said, offering her his hand and letting her enter before him. As they walked in, the illuminator did its thing, and once again, they both stopped in wonder. Row upon row, tier upon tier; millions and millions of scrolls lay on a thousand shelves.
‘Where the hell do we start?’ said Johnny. Jade said nothing as she looked around. This single chamber alone made her temple in the jungle look like the play pen of infants. This was to her temple what the national archives are to a pre-school colouring book collection.
‘Where do we start?’ she breathed, echoing Johnny’s words without thinking.
‘Ruaz,’ Jade said, contacting the ship directly for the first time since rescuing Johnny, ‘How do we find what we need?’
‘Mistress, attend: The archives before you are structured in such a way as to make the location of knowledge as easy as may be possible. To your right you will find a panel similar to what is used when in flight and in contact with myself.
‘Place your hands on the imprints, state your wish, and you will be guided to the scrolls you seek.’
Jade saw the panel along the far wall, and approached it without waiting for Johnny. He grinned as he watched her place her hands on the panel and close her eyes. She was still for a moment, and then to Johnny’s utter astonishment, Jade let out a cry of pure delight.
‘Johnny! You’re not going to believe this!’ she cried. Johnny closed the few steps that separated them, quite nonplussed by her behaviour.
‘Have you found what we are looking for?’ he asked, scarcely willing to believe their luck.
‘Even better,’ she said, ‘This temple, or whatever you want to call it, has just asked me whether I would like the scrolls delivered to me, or uploaded to the Ship’s memory banks!’
Johnny didn’t follow her line of thought immediately. ‘I’m not sure …?’
‘Johnny. This temple can upload its entire contents to the ship somehow and we can peruse its knowledge at our leisure!’ she said.
The penny dropped. ‘Are you sure?’ Johnny asked, not willing to believe such an incredible stroke of luck. ‘Let me have a look.’
‘Don’t you trust me?’ she asked, one eyebrow raised.
‘Of course I do, my heart, but I do have a little more experience with the ship and its technology than you do, and I just want to make sure there hasn’t been any misunderstanding,’ he replied.
‘Have it your way,’ she said, smiling smugly as he placed his hands on the panel.
‘Greetings my Lord,’ a voice totally unlike the Ship’s echoed in his mind. The ship had an earthy, approachable kind of tone, whereas this voice was cold and gravelly, a rasping thing without personality or compassion.
‘Temple, we seek answers to our quest,’ Johnny said.
‘Which may be?’ the temple prompted.
‘We seek others of our kind,’ he replied.
‘Very well, Master. As I have already indicated to the Mistress; there are three hundred and twenty-nine scrolls that may be of use to you. Would you like them delivered to your place of leisure, or would you like the information linked to your crafts memory for your later retrieval?’
Johnny yelped out loud in pleasure and Jade’s giggles brought him back to reality. He gave her a sheepish grin, then said, bowing low, ‘My Queen, may the gods strike me down with thunder and damnation should I ever deign to question your wonderful words!’
Jade giggled again, and spurred on by her encouragement, Johnny went on.
‘Furthermore, my Lady of Light,’ he said, straightening up and taking her in his arms, ‘you are bound by the solemn debt of royaltyness to punish this slave for his heedless mockery of your sexy wisdom, and also, above all things, to…’ her lips cut of his next words.
‘You talk too much,’ she said, her voice muffled and breathless.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2013
Cover artwork: John Killin © 2013
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or
utilized in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or
other means, including photocopying and recording, or in
any information storage or retrieval system, without
permission from the author.
© 2013 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved