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Authors: Chet Williamson

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BOOK: Siege of Stone
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"Were they the same species?" asked Tony. "The light-thing and Mulcifer?"

"I think so."

"But the light was calm and wise and sane, you said," Laika observed. "And Mulcifer wasn't anywhere close to being that."

"Maybe that's why he was here," Tony suggested. "Because he was insane in his own world, and they banished him." He looked uncomfortable for a moment. "Um, when I say 'world,' am I right? I mean, are we talking aliens here? Is that really what this is all about?"

Joseph smiled. "I can't think of any other scenario that makes sense. And so does that banishment theory. A society that advanced has probably long abolished capital punishment."

"But why would they have put him on a world that was inhabited?" asked Laika.

"Maybe they thought it was safe. And remember, we don't know how long he was here on our world. We can trace him back to the eighth century, but he might have been here long before that."

"What?" said Tony. "Are you implying before there were any people?"

"The impression I got was that these beings are incredibly long lived, so I guess it's a possibility."

"There's another possibility," Laika said. "What if the misfits, for want of a better term, were imprisoned here, but underground, deep in caves that had no access to the surface? Remember, there had to be some way that Mulcifer got that nerve gas, yet the surface over the cavern was undisturbed."

"Which means that they had to have gotten in some other way," said Joseph. "Possibly underground, through a series of tunnels that Mulcifer already knew of, tunnels that brought them near or into the cavern." He nodded. "It makes more sense that Mulcifer finally found a way out in the eighth century than it does that his peers just dropped him into a populated world. Somehow he found his way to the surface, and as far as the world was concerned, the Antichrist was loosed upon it."

"Okay," Tony said, "so where does the cloth fit into this picture? When we were watching Mulcifer and Mackay's last shootout, Mulcifer said something about 'the power of the cloth of sustenance' that Mackay's father let him use to become immortal, and the implication that it was originally supposed to sustain Mulcifer. He had to mean the cloth that lined the cup. Did he mean the cloth that was dug up here, too?"

"Both," Joseph said. "The question is where the cloth came from in the first place."

Laika took a deep breath of salt air from the Minch. "You give a prisoner a blanket, don't you? Well, what if this was more than just a blanket—what if it gave him warmth, but also nourishment, somehow?" She gave a small, exasperated laugh. "I have no idea of how something like that could work, but I suspect the technology of these critters is a good ways beyond ours."

"You're probably right," Joseph said. "But that cloth provided something else, too. My theory is that it was some kind of sentinel, and its true purpose may have been unknown to Mulcifer, at first, anyway."

"A sentinel?" asked Tony.

"Yes. The same way that seemingly paranormal acts were sentinels to the Templars that Mulcifer's powers were somehow breaking through the lead. We know the cloth is radioactive, and I suspect that there's something else about it that Molly didn't tell us. I could tell she was holding something back. But maybe the radioactivity provided a signal. As long as the banished one was under the ground, and so was the cloth, there was nothing to be concerned about. No messages from here meant that everything was kosher—so to speak."

"But when the cloth was brought to the surface," Tony said, finishing the thought, "it somehow sent a signal?"

"Right. The earth's crust might have kept the signals contained. But when it no longer covered the cloth—or when the cloth wasn't contained in lead—it sent out some kind of S.O.S. to whoever was listening for it in Mulcifer's home planet or galaxy or whatever. Then they'd know that their prisoner had flown the coop, and they'd have to do something about it."

"This is all getting to be a little much," Tony said, shaking his head, more puzzled than angry. "How can you be sure of this sentinel thing?"

"The pieces fit. The cloth was exposed. I don't know how it got in that lead box that was dug up, but it was taken out and opened up, and I'm sure it's been out ever since. It sent the signal . . ." Joseph shrugged. ". . . And they came."

"The apparitions," Laika said quietly. "The sightings of ghosts and aliens."

"Exactly. They wouldn't come physically. But the signal that was sent had to somehow travel faster than light. If they could create a signal that did that, it would only be one more step toward sending simulacra of themselves to observe the area from which the signals came."

"They came from this peninsula," Laika said.

"Right. And this is where the observers—these
searchers
—started to appear. Now, we have no idea of what their true forms are like, but they probably sent themselves in guises similar to the indigenous life forms so as not to alarm us, which accounts for the humanoid appearances. I first saw one of these searchers as my father. Maybe it was able to get into my mind the same way Mulcifer did. Still, there was always something alien about them, the glowing, the aura of light, the sounds. So there are our ghosts and aliens and angels."

"And there's the reason behind the legend of the Fairy Flag," said Laika. "When the clan chiefs waved it before they went into battle, they sent the signal. The searchers came, looking for an escaped prisoner, only to find a false alarm. Still, their appearance probably scared the hell out of the enemy. But this time it was no false alarm."

Joseph looked at the ruins of the castle and the dozens of men picking over it. In his mind, he saw again the cone of light and felt its quieting presence, quieting for all but one. "Yes," he said. "This time they saw that it was real. The cloth came to the surface through luck, or fate—"

"Or God," Tony said.

"Maybe. But this time they really came—physically, I mean. And they set things right."

Laika frowned. "I just had a thought. The Fairy Flag—they learned that it wasn't cut from the piece of cloth that was dug up here. Does that mean then that there are . . .
two
cloths?"

They were quiet for a moment. Then Tony spoke. "And more than one prisoner?"

They looked down at the earth beneath their feet, and said nothing for a long time.

Chapter 55
 

W
hen Joseph, Laika, and Tony walked back to the castle, Molly Fraser came up to them. "Stranger and stranger," she said. "I'm glad you're here to see it. The boys have been digging, and they've gotten down to the source of the blast in the cellar. Care to do a little more exploring?"

"What do you have in mind?" Laika asked.

They followed Molly, picking their way across the rubble until they started to descend into the crater that the bomb had produced. Joseph saw the remnants of the huge stones that had probably been the pillars supporting the castle. In the center of what remained of a stone wall, there was a ten-foot-wide opening caused by the explosion. A cold wind blew up out of it. "Behold," Molly said.

"That's where the coat of arms was," Tony said. "Against that wall. Bomb took it right down."

Joseph walked to the opening. Though the sunlight shone only a short way into it, he could see a tunnel heading downward. He turned back to Molly. "Anyone go in yet?"

"No. They just uncovered it. Martin is getting some men together now to go down." She raised an eyebrow, and Joseph answered for all of them.

"I think you'd have to clap us in irons to keep us out of that hole."

In another few minutes Martin Leech arrived at the bottom of the crater with half a dozen armed soldiers and several MI5 people. Some of the soldiers were carrying bright electronic lanterns, and one of them handed out strong flashlights to the others.

"I'm not altogether happy," said Leech, "over the idea of your coming down with us, but since you've been in on this from the beginning, you might be able to shed some light on things, depending on what we might find, of course."

"We appreciate the opportunity," Laika said, without a trace of sarcasm.

The soldiers led the way, and Leech, Molly, the operatives, and the MI5 people followed. The tunnel narrowed quickly, becoming just wide and high enough for them to walk through single file. Joseph felt claustrophobic, and was unpleasantly reminded of when he and Laika had maneuvered in the narrow space between the walls of the supposedly haunted townhouses in New York City.

It had only been a few months before, but so much had happened since then that it seemed a lifetime. He had learned a great deal in the interim, and he suspected that he had changed as well, but he wondered if it was for the better.

Today he had said things that he never could have imagined himself saying. He had been talking about aliens and mysterious powers and FTL travel, and other things that would have made his acquaintances connected with CSICOP and other skeptics' groups look at him as though he were crazy.

But, he told himself, he had followed the scientific method to draw his conclusions, and damn it, it was science that had caused all these things, nothing supernatural. True, it was a science far beyond anything known to humans, but science nonetheless. At least he had that much to comfort him.

They had gone what Joseph estimated to be several hundred yards, always downward, when Laika stopped and looked carefully at the wall. Those behind her were forced to stop as well, and those ahead turned and waited. "What is it?" asked Joseph.

"Have you noticed that this tunnel isn't smooth, the way it should be if it had been formed naturally? And look at these marks. What do you think?"

Joseph looked closely. He felt Tony against his shoulder, and saw Molly looking at the wall in front of Laika. Then Tony let out a deep breath. "That's impossible," he said. "Oh man, it
can't
be."

"What do you
think
?" Laika repeated.

"They look like chip marks," Joseph said. "Thousands and thousands of marks on all the surfaces, as though this tunnel were chiseled out of the rock."

"Yeah, that's wild enough. But there's something else," Laika said. "Look closely. Look at the
direction
of the chips."

"Oh no," said Tony after a moment, and then added quickly, "No no no no no. . . ."

"From beneath," Molly Fraser said quietly. "This was chiseled from beneath."

"Let's . . . proceed," Leech said, and Joseph noticed that his voice sounded rough, as though he were trying to speak over strong emotion. He could understand the feeling. The discovery implied a conscious act carried out over ages, and only deepened the sense of awe that had been growing in Joseph for weeks.

He found himself wondering if Mulcifer had used a similar tunnel to get to the nerve gas. If he had, that might mean that there were more of these tunnels, hundreds of them, honeycombing the subterranean world beneath their feet. He tried to drive the thought away, and concentrated on keeping his footing on the path that was growing ever steeper.

They had gone perhaps a mile when the leader of the soldiers called out, "Coming into an open space!"

As Joseph stepped into the cavern, he could not hold back a gasp. It was huge. The ceiling was over fifty feet high, and the chamber itself fifty yards in diameter. The walls and floor seemed to be made of the same type of rock that they had passed through in the tunnel for the past thirty feet or so, a flat gray mineral that shimmered in places with a metallic luster. But what was so arresting about the cavern was not its dimensions nor the uniformity of its walls, but what lay in a huge pile in the middle of the chamber.

It was a vast assortment of bones.

The mound of yellow shards rose to a height of ten feet at its center, and covered nearly half the floor of the cavern. Most of them were so old that they crumbled into dust when they were touched, and could not be identified as belonging to either beast or man. But along the edge of the pile, they found a large number of bones that had not yet decayed. Nearly all, however, had been cracked and shattered. Among them were several pieces that had once been parts of human skulls.

"A charnel house far below the ground," Joseph said quietly to Laika, tossing a piece of bone he had just studied back onto the pile. "Why doesn't that surprise me any more than it does?"

"I think it's going to take a lot to surprise us from now on," Laika accurately observed. "What's the rock this place is surrounded with?"

BOOK: Siege of Stone
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