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Authors: Alex Archer

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The Babel Codex

BOOK: The Babel Codex
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The Babel Codex


From the Old Testament comes a new danger

Fighting skeletons in Addis Ababa isn’t in Annja’s contract. Especially when they’re “entertainment” rigged by an obnoxious radio DJ during the filming of the TV show she hosts,
Chasing History’s Monsters
. But the accidental discovery of an ancient clay brick turns the prank into deadly peril for the intrepid archaeologist.

If Annja’s hunch is right, the brick is merely the first key to a greater discovery: the Tower of Babel. Now, with Joan of Arc’s sword in hand and killers at her heels, she must race across the Middle East to unravel the puzzle first. Enemies and allies will face off against each other—and themselves. To survive, Annja will have to defeat them all...because in the end there can be only one winner.



The Great Tower
610 BC

“What you are talking about can get you killed, Joktan. Not only do you defy
King Amraphel
, but you defy Almighty God. And there are others here who believe in the thing that we are doing, that maybe this is the only way to truly get God's ear. I am surprised you have not already been struck down by God's almighty wrath.”

Standing in the shade of the pavilion, Joktan glared at Elishah. The man had been a true friend throughout the forty years they had known each other. When they had been boys together, they had thought the graybeards too demanding and too watchful, preventing them from having the many adventures they had dreamed of.

Now they were graybeards themselves, men made lean and brown from long years of labor under the hot sun, with large families of their own. Families that depended on them to keep the wolf from the door and find work for their sons and soon-to-be grandsons. Being head of a family was hard, unrelenting work.

“I do not wish to defy the king, either, my friend.” Joktan meant that. “And if anyone is in defiance of God, it is the king. That tower he builds is sacrilege.”

Seated on a pillow under the pavilion they had raised near the brick kilns to escape the heat, Elishah shifted uneasily and pulled at his beard the way his father used to. “See? This is what I'm talking about. You cannot go around saying things like that. What if the king's guard hears you?”

“My father, the king, will not have me beheaded. Of that I am sure.” Joktan reached for a nearby wineskin, brought it to his lips, and drank. Then he offered the skin to Elishah. “He will not be happy with me, and he will perhaps increase the quota of bricks my workers are supposed to provide for his tower, but he will not harm me.”

“You say that, Joktan, but this thing your father the king does drives him like I have never before seen. He is like a man possessed.”

“Now who speaks defiance?” Joktan smiled at his friend.

Elishah sighed heavily and spat in disgust. “Being near you gives me a treacherous tongue. Your father, if he should hear me, would have it cut from my head.”

That was possible. His father could be unforgiving these days. The hand of death lay heavily upon the king's shoulder, and this tower was his father's acknowledgment of that.

Joktan stared out across the hot expanse of land. Shimmering heat waves rose from the brown earth. Farther down the hill, the glittering waters of the two rivers looked cool and inviting. Fishermen paddled their boats and dragged their nets in search of a catch. Farmers drove their donkeys to the banks, filled the large water jugs for their crops, then drove the animals back. Toward the east, the watchtowers stood above the walls of his father's city.

One day, God willing that day not arrive any too soon, the city would be Joktan's. There had been a time when he relished the idea of being king. Then he had seen the king as being the freest man in the land. Now, however, he knew that particular mantle came saddled with many troubles and responsibilities.

Maybe those hardships of the mind were what had driven his father if not mad, then nearly so.

Joktan looked back out at the brick kilns in front of the tower. Armies of workers had been drafted into the construction. They constructed kilns, dug up the earth and made mud bricks, then they baked them to build the tower.

The structure grew every day. A week ago it was taller than anything Joktan had ever seen. It dwarfed the great pyramids of Egypt, even the Great Pyramid of Giza, which stood over three hundred and sixty rods tall.

This day the tower was taller still.

Men toiled all along the structure, baking brick, carrying brick, laying brick, building and building and building.

“Do you think it might collapse under its own weight?” Elishah asked softly. “It is not pointed like the Egyptian structures. The weight of the bricks is not dispersed in the same way.”

“I do not know.” Joktan stared at the tower, which was built as a ziggurat, in squares that set one atop the other, each one smaller than the last. It was an immense undertaking, looking dark and primitive against the clear blue sky.

“Is it wide enough at the base to reach to God?”

Joktan shook his head. “I wish I knew.” No one could say for certain how far away the heavens were.

Two kiln overseers walked over to join Joktan and Elishah under the tent canopy. Both men were dark-skinned, taller than the men of Shinar, with fierce black beards. They hailed from Mosul, to the north.

“Prince Joktan.” The older one bowed deeply, but his eyes never left Joktan's and his hand did not stray far from the sword at his hip.

Joktan struggled to remember the man's name. It was easier in the beginning, when there weren't so many names to remember. These days the names, many of them strange to his tongue, flitted out of reach like horseflies. “Yes...Umar?”

“I would beg a boon.”

“If humanly possible, I will grant it.”

“I need a physician to visit my men. Some of them have come down with an illness the like of which I have not before seen.”

“I will see to it at once.”

“Thank you.” Umar bowed again and left.

Joktan waved over one of the young runners seated at another shade. Joktan gave him the message to take to the king and sent him on his way.

“A sickness?” Elishah rocked unhappily and spat again.

“When you have this many men in one place, sickness will happen. They eat like locusts, depleting our stores and emptying our orchards, and they create more foulness than the river can carry away.” Joktan folded his arms and stared at two men, one from Shinar and one from Mashhad, who were loudly arguing.

The two men squared off against each other as other men gave way around them. God was called upon, and the man from Shinar drew a curved dagger.

Joktan ran from the pavilion and kicked up a rake into his hands as he went. His father had not only had him trained as a bricklayer and an engineer. Joktan knew the ways of the sword and the spear, as well.

The Shinar man feinted with the knife. The Mashhad man dodged back. With cool calculation, the Shinar man whipped his arm around, intending to disembowel his foe.

Swinging the rake in an underhanded blow, Joktan struck the aggressor's wrist, eliciting a yelp of surprised pain as he knocked the knife free. Reaching out, Joktan caught the knife by the hilt in his right hand. He tucked the rake under his arm, ready to strike again.

Joktan used his voice as a weapon, striking the two men and getting their attention immediately: “There will be no fighting! King Amraphel has decreed no blood will be shed on these grounds that does not come from brick work!”

The Shinar man debased himself in front of Joktan, dropping to his knees and pressing his forehead against the ground. “I beg forgiveness, Prince Joktan. I did not mean to offend, but this man—”

. I will acknowledge
no reason
for taking up arms against a man working alongside you as a brother. Violence against another is not permitted here in this place. It is an abomination in the eyes of God.” Joktan stared at first one man, then the other. “Go. Both of you. Find some place to work where you are not in each other's shadow, and pray to God to forgive your transgressions.”

Joktan watched them go, feeling torn. His father, for all his ambition and possible defiance of God, had created something truly amazing by uniting all these tribes together. No matter how it turned out, Joktan would not allow the project to come to naught.

He gazed up at the tower, standing in its shadow now, not certain whether he should stand in awe—or in fear.

Chapter One

Addis Ababa

Annja Creed stood in the narrow stone hallway and watched as another skeleton stepped out of the darkness in front of her. Or maybe it was the same one putting in another appearance. She wasn’t sure. The small flashlight she carried seemed to turn the bones almost paper white against the black shadows.

The hallway was in the underground ancient
Empire trading fort that had been recently discovered by an Italian archaeology team investigating World War I troop movements. Back in the first century CE, the Kingdom of Aksum had been a conduit for trade between the Roman Empire and India. A hundred years after that, it had rivaled China, Persia and Rome in influence and power.

Annja had been excited about getting to visit the dig so soon after it had been found. Until the arrival of the skeletons. Or multiple arrivals of a skeleton.

She arched an eyebrow at the thing trotting toward her waving its bony arms. The size told her the skeleton was probably male. “Seriously?” she said into the phone.

The skeleton’s jaw worked and he laughed maniacally. Then he raised his arms and rushed her.

, what?” Doug Morrell, her producer at
Chasing History’s Monsters
, asked from the other end of the phone connection.

“I’m being attacked by a skeleton.” She cautiously stepped backward as the thing kept coming.

“That is
freaking cool!” Doug was probably on Facebook as he spoke, probably playing Farmville because that was his social media game of choice at the moment. He was younger than Annja, and a lover of pop culture and cryptozoology. He also liked being a producer of a hit cable network show. “Are we getting any video on this?”

“No.” With the skeleton in her peripheral vision, she looked for something to put between her and it.


“Because I thought I was coming here to meet your Burris Coronet.” Doug had sounded pure fanboy every time he talked about the Los Angeles radio talk show host. “I didn’t know I was going to be treated to a lame Halloween episode.”

“Is Burris there?”

“I haven’t seen him.”

“Man. Let’s hope Burris is late and he’s not being attacked by a skeleton. Or already had his brain eaten.”

“Zombies eat brains, Doug, not skeletons.” Annja studied the skeleton, which had stopped a few feet away and appeared to be staring back at her. She couldn’t believe she was even having this conversation.

“Are you running? You don’t sound like you’re running. If a zombie is attacking you, you should definitely be running.”

“I’m not going to run. There’s no such thing as an animated skeleton, Doug.”

“You know, getting your brain eaten by an animated skeleton is probably the
time ever to realize you were wrong about their existence.”

“I ignored the first two and they went away.”

The skeleton growled like a guard dog contesting territory.

“Wait. The other
Why didn’t you call then?”

“I wasn’t irritated then. Now I’m irritated.”

“What’s that growling noise?”

“The skeleton.”

“It’s growling at you? It’s close enough that I can hear it growling at you?”


“Then it’s too close, Annja!

“Think about it, Doug. The skeleton is

“I hear it. Sounds hungry.”

“How does a skeleton growl? It has no lungs. You need lungs and air and vocal chords and lips to growl. The skeleton doesn’t have any of those, and it’s growling. Does that make any sense to you?”

The skeleton’s voice was starting to go hoarse from all the growling.

“Kristie Chatham runs a lot on the episodes of the show she hosts,” Doug said.

“She also falls out of her clothes a lot.”

“Falling out of her clothes gets her a big fan base.”

“I have a big fan base, too. Mine happens to love history and archaeology.”

“I know, but your fans also watch Kristie fall out of her clothes. Do you know how big your fan base would be if you crossed over into Kristie’s fans?”

Doug’s question exasperated Annja. She tried not to let it. Her cohost position on the popular cable television program didn’t take up too much of her time and had provided her an “in” for several international events. Regular academics didn’t have that star power.

The voice strain had caused the skeleton’s growling to change pitch. Now the skeleton sounded like an emergency room victim. Or a dog whose tail had been stepped on.

“Is it in pain?”

“How could it be in pain? No flesh, no nerve endings, no pain.” Annja expected the skeleton to disappear back into the darkness like the other two had.

Instead of disappearing, though, the skeleton started cursing in his strained voice, becoming verbally abusive against Annja and women in general. His voice turned almost falsetto as he said, “You’re so stupid. I’m gonna teach you to be afraid.”

Then he rushed her a second time and, as he came closer, the flashlight revealed that the skeleton was actually a big guy in a black body stocking with bones printed on it. No surprise there. He threw a punch at her, still in full foulmouthed attack, and because he was so hoarse, he sounded like he was sipping on a helium balloon.

Dropping the flashlight, Annja stepped to one side, captured the man’s wrist in her right hand and twisted viciously before she truly thought about it and before he could do anything to stop her. Stepping behind her attacker, she put her other hand behind the guy’s head and shoved, adding her weight and muscle to his headlong plunge as she set herself and pivoted to bring him around.

He face-planted against the stone wall behind her with a meaty splat. Rebounding, he staggered, then sat awkwardly on the ground. Blood oozed from his nose, seeping through the white skull face.

He screamed.

the skeleton’s in pain,” Annja said.

BOOK: The Babel Codex
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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