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  1. vangoghsear
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    vangoghsear New Member

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    Cavenaugh’s Shabti Part I (7904 words total, split for character count)

    Discussion in '"Consequences" Short Story Contest' started by vangoghsear, May 31, 2008.

    Cavenaugh's Shabti Part I (7904 words total, split for character count)

    The four wheel drive luxury SUV hit a hole in the dirt road that knocked my teeth together, jarring me from a jet-lag induced nap. My shirt clung to my skin, even with the air conditioner on in the car. Damn jungle. I leaned forward in the seat and pealed the offending garment a few inches from my back to let some of the cooler air get into the fabric. Then I grabbed a bottle of water and a plastic cup from a thermal bag on the floor. “Want some?”

    “No, Boss Man, not thirsty.”

    I poured some of the expensive French bottled water into the plastic cup and took a long drink. The salty bubbles of the mineral water irritated my nose. “I dosed off a second, Hosea. How close are we?” Although I had made this journey dozens of times in the last two years, this was the first time I wasn’t blindfolded.

    “Few miles away, Boss Man. Look over that way.” The driver pointed past me into the dense jungle.

    “I can’t see anything except goddamned trees.”

    Hosea laughed. “You will, Boss Man, you will.” Hosea, was always smiling like the villain in a Zorro* film – debonair, hair slicked back, and handsome in his own way. However, like the villain, I never knew if I should trust him. Hosea would meet me at the airstrip, help me into my blindfold, guide me to the car, and drive me to the construction site. The trip seemed to take about an hour, I guess. I always found it difficult to judge time when blindfolded; there is nothing by which to gauge the passing moments. He would deliver me to the Quonset hut they had used as a construction office. The hut was attached to the building by a covered walkway, so I couldn’t see what the exterior of the project building looked like.

    A fly was buzzing around my head, its annoying pitch rising and falling as it zipped past my ears. Finally, it landed on the window and I clapped the empty plastic cup over it. The insect grew agitated and began fighting furiously against the cup, making it buzz against my hand. I felt the power I had over the little creature. Like I was a god, its life or death subject to my will. It crouched on the car window and looked at the world passing outside its reach.

    * * *

    Somewhere beyond the plastic cup, a flash of reflected sunlight caught my eye. My attention was drawn away from the fly and I watched as the glare from the reflective structure increased as the car jostled its way nearer. My heart began to race a little in anticipation. The suspense had been building since the day I was approached to apply for the job

    I remember that day vividly. I got a call at the company where I was working, Motts Mechanical Engineering, Inc. The partners were Johnny Mott, Michael Mott and Eva Franco (formerly Eva Mott). If you weren’t part of the family, you could never be a partner. At least that’s how I saw it. The man on the phone just said, “Please come and see me about a lucrative career opportunity. I am very serious. You won’t be asked again. Don’t pass up this chance to be part of one of the greatest construction projects in three thousand years.” He told me the address and hung up.

    That was Seven years ago. Today was the ribbon cutting ceremony. Seven years in the making, three years of design, four years of construction. It had been the best job I ever had. The work was challenging, interesting, nearly unlimited in its budget, absolute heaven for a mechanical engineer. It paid well, extremely well. I could retire today at forty-three, if I wanted to, because of what I made on this project alone. That is why I agreed to all the odd provisions. And I’m talking odd provisions. They had a very demanding non-disclosure agreement. I could never disclose the location of the project. Hell, that’s easy enough, I never knew the location of the project, not really. I still don’t even know what country we are in. They told me that it was located in a ‘cloud forest,’ which I discovered is similar to a rain forest, except instead of raining most of the time, it was always shrouded in mist. The company always arranged all the visas, handled the passports, and all that other government crap. They flew us here on a private jet with the sun visors locked down, so we couldn’t even guess at land formations. I could not work on any other project, or for any other firm, while working for my new employer, Cavenaugh Industries. They told me I would never see drawings of the exterior of the building, just details necessary to my discipline. That was very curious. The floor plans and drawings of partial building sections gave me some idea of the appearance, but I was never given enough to piece together a completely accurate picture in my mind of the exterior shape. I just knew enough to do my job.

    There were also unusual personal requirements. The contract stated that to be considered for employment, I must be single. Furthermore, as long as I was engaged in the design or construction of the project, I could have no long term personal relationships. An odd request for a potential employer to make, but Mr. Cavenaugh believed that a person who was not emotionally attached to another person produced better work; less distraction, he said. He also thought it would be unfair for a married person to be away from their spouse in an undisclosed location for long periods of time. Made sense, sort of, and the salary more than made up for the lack of, well, whatever you would do without during the seven years.

    The fly buzzed and bumped round and round in the plastic cup waking me from my thoughts. I pushed a button to bring down the window a little and slid the cup to the edge. The fly was sucked out into the jungle.

    “There are plenty of flies here, Boss Man. One less wouldn’t have been so bad.”

    “I don’t feel like playing god today.”

    We rounded a stand of trees near a fog-filled valley to our right and my heart leapt in my chest. “Holy crap!”

    “I told you, Boss Man. Now you see it.”

    “I sure do. Jesus. How tall is it?”

    “Over one hundred meters . . . I think. I forget exactly.”

    It was breathtaking! Towering out of the fog, above the treetops of the misty valley, was a pyramid over three hundred feet tall! The polished marble sides caught the sunlight and glowed bright golden white against the fog and the tops of the jungle canopy.

    “We’re lucky, Boss Man, the fog doesn’t cover the top today. Gives a good view from here on the mountain side.”

    Another ten minutes of slow descent down the hillside placed us in the dense fog that, I was told, always covers the valley floor. Hosea slowed even more so he could keep the big SUV on the mud gravel road built especially for the construction project.

    * * *

    Hyde Cavenaugh was eccentric. In poor man terms he was bonkers, but he wasn’t poor. Assets of several billion dollars can lift a person from ‘bonkers’ to ‘eccentric.’ He was lousy stinking eccentric. For an example of his eccentricity, take today. Today was the opening of his latest construction project, a nine hundred seventy-five million-dollar pyramid hidden in the middle of some foggy jungle, that took three years to design, four years to build, and has no apparent purpose.

    I was the mechanical engineer on the project, and I have no idea what the building is to be used for. There were systems I designed in that building, which, I know what they are, but have no idea what they are for. For example, the twenty thousand gallon water tank near the top of the building. It’s not for fire sprinklers; I was told local codes don’t require them. It could be for drinking or washing water, but I was not instructed to design any piping coming from the tank. When filled, the water alone will weigh more than one-hundred and sixty-six thousand pounds. There is a lot I don’t know about the building. As I said, today is the first time I’ve even seen the outside of it.

    * * *

    Once again, it came into view, looming ahead of us like a megalithic dinosaur in the primordial mist. At three-hundred feet wide at its base and three-hundred feet tall it was not the largest building I had ever seen, but it was an imposing structure set against this primitive backdrop. The sunlight, reflecting off the top shown down through the trees and lit up the fog with an eerie luminescent glow, against which the building stood out in soft black silhouette.

    Hosea drove the car through a gate in a twenty-foot tall steel bar fence and followed the drive to the front of the structure. There was an eight to ten foot wide opening in the middle of the pyramid’s side, with a row of block steps leading upward about fifty feet to a set of bronze doors that marked the entrance. There were no visible windows. Not one.

    “They’re waiting inside for you,” Hosea said, as he stopped the car at the base of the steps. “The others are here already.”

    “Say Hosea, what is your accent? What nationality? I know it’s not Mexican . . . ”

    “Oh, Mr. Boss Man, we play this game again?”

    “Why do you call me ‘Boss Man,’ when it is obvious you are here to keep me in line?”

    Hosea laughed again. “I like you, Señor Boss Man. You are a good guy.” His smile faded. “I only do what they tell me.”

    “Yeah, I know. Me too.”

    I reached over and shook Hosea’s hand as I always did, but this time he held a piece of folded paper in his grip, which was transferred to mine.

    He looked at my hand then quickly away. “You better get inside, Boss Man, you’re late. Straight through that door”

    “Thank you. Hosea, I thought we used an elevator when you would bring me blindfolded?”

    He laughed his hearty laugh. “There are many things you don’t know about this place.”

    After stepping from the car, I turned back toward Hosea. His expression was dark and he again glanced at my hand holding the folded piece of paper, then looked back at my face. “Goodbye, Boss Man.”

    He drove off.

    * * *

    As I walked, I worked the piece of paper open using the fingers of the hand holding it. I cupped it and read, “STAY ALERT.” Stay alert? Why tell me that? I turned to watch the red tail lights of Hosea’s car recede through the grey-green humid air and disappear from view. I began to turn back toward the building when I thought I saw another set of lights leave in the same direction. Keep alert yourself, Hosea. I surreptitiously folded the paper again and slipped the warning into my pocket.

    I reached the base of the staircase and looked up at the daunting fifty foot climb. I had started to climb when I noticed, carved into the side of each riser, was a picture of the stair and a picture of a hand holding an upright handle. There were brass handles on the center railing placed every couple of steps. I planted my feet firmly on the step and grabbed a handle. To my amazement, the steps began to rise! Good job, Janice. A stone escalator in the middle of the jungle! Amazing.

    Janice Blum was a brilliant architect. The woman was a real fireball, amazingly energetic. She was creative, and technically very proficient as well. She was one of those types who could design a stone escalator, show the structural designer how to support it, and actually make the damn thing work.

    The stone escalator reached the top and stopped automatically. I walked ahead and the brass doors swung open to greet me.

    Behind me I heard three distant “pops” followed by the angry squawk of startled birds. I turned and saw nothing, just mist-shrouded, green-grey jungle. My knees shook as a wave of trepidation swept over me. Keep alert. It could have been nothing. A car backfiring, or . . . there weren’t many cars around here though – and really, when was the last time you heard a car backfire? Perhaps a hunter. Keep alert. I hoped Hosea heeded his own advice. I stood on the threshold of the enormous door and wondered what to do next. I had no flashlight, no water having left it in the car with Hosea, and no survival skills that could help me return to civilization on my own. Besides, they held my passport. Hell I didn’t even know what country I was in. I was left with only one viable alternative, whatever the consequences. I entered the pyramid.

    * * *

    I saw Janice, the architect, ahead and quickly moved to her. “Did you just hear something outside that sounded like gunshots?”

    She turned and smiled. “Oh, hi, Clive. You’re here, finally. What are you talking about?”

    “Gunshots. Just a few seconds ago. Three distant ‘pops’ when I was on my way through the door.”

    “I didn’t hear anything.” She looked thoughtful a second. “I bet I know what it was.”

    “What?”

    “There is a team still working outside. They were mounting antennas on the mountainside. You probably just heard them shooting anchors into the rock.”

    Sounded plausible. Thoughts of a terrorist plot, guerrilla warriors, or possible local government coups eased from my mind and my heart slowed back to an almost normal rate. “That’s probably exactly what it was.”

    With my mind somewhat at ease, I relaxed a bit and looked at my surroundings. It was an amazingly beautiful room. The first thing I noticed were the statues. Surrounding the room were gold and enameled statues of what looked to be Hyde Cavenaugh. “Are those real gold?”

    “What do you think?”

    “Geez.”

    In addition to the gold figures, the room was furnished with antique chairs and sofas, about enough to seat twenty-five or so, about as many as there were people in the room, there was a table with food set out, and what looked to be a fully stocked bar. “How big is this room?”

    “Ninety feet square and the ceiling height is sixty feet. Increments of thirty are best acoustically. Notice that even though the room has stone-like walls, there is very little echo.”

    She was right, it was no problem to hear each other. I noticed that the room, instead of being totally dark except for light fixtures, was brilliantly lit and yet, there were no light fixtures evident. The walls were decorated in vibrant Egyptian style murals that just seemed to glow! “How did you do it?”

    “Do what?” Janice asked.

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    “Okay, let’s start with the glowing walls. It’s nearly as bright in here as it is outside and there isn’t a damn window in the place.”

    She turned and playfully punched me in the arm. “You know I can’t tell you that.”

    I considered the ‘No Relationship Clause’ in the contract a bit of a blessing around Janice. She was brilliant, a great conversationist, fun to be around, oddly attractive with large pouty lips and teeth that looked too big for her mouth. She was just slightly overweight, which didn’t bother me at all. Her hair was usually unkempt with only an occasional passing of a comb. She had lovely dark eyes and a pleasant smile. As much as I liked her as a friend, I knew we could never have a long term relationship. I could get past the weight thing, and the hair, but well. . .she was smarter than me. Quite a bit. I’m not sure I could deal with that. “Come on,” I pressed, “It’s built now. I’m sworn to secrecy too. How’d you do it?”

    She looked all around her to see if anyone was listening, then leaned close. “What looks like marble walls is really concrete, reinforced with fiber optically enhanced carbon plastic resin. Cheaper than steel, almost as strong, and the surface is coated in more of the plastic resin, which was colored by artists to create the murals. I positioned the fibers to direct about a third of the sunlight they gather in here, a third to solar panels located inside the building, and the remaining third go from all the rooms to high efficiency light fixture boxes that, after dark, will be powered on by the solar panel-charged batteries to give us at least some of the brightness we have now. With the equivalent of one third of the entire outside of this building delivering light to solar panels, even on a cloudy day, smothered in this foggy valley, the batteries can store up juice enough to give lighting and power for a week

    “Once again, I am impressed. I want to continue working with you after this project, Janice. You do nice work.”

    She blushed. “Sure Clive. You do nice work as well. You know, ‘Sparky’ actually helped a bit with the technical aspects of the solar lighting system. You want to work with him too?”

    “No.” I said too quickly.

    Janice laughed at my abrupt response. John Sparks, was a dull, secretive man, who coincidently to his name was the electrical engineer. Sparky was a decent electrical engineer, just not terribly creative about it. “Explaining your plan to Sparky must have been a nightmare.”

    She held a finger to her head like a gun and pulled the trigger then stuck out her tongue. “I was gonna kill him or myself a few times, but he finally got the idea and...” holding up her hands to indicate the walls, “...it works.”

    “Yes, and that escalator...”

    “Ah. I worked with Sam more on that one.”

    The structural engineer, Sam Silverman, was a bull of a man, short and muscular, who chugged about like a locomotive. Good engineer, although, like Sparky, he lacked creativity. But he, on the other hand, was able to quickly grasp a solution and apply it when Janice or I would show him an idea for a difficult area. Sam, Janice and I became good friends over the seven years we worked on this project, we didn’t intentionally exclude Sparky, but he would rather keep to himself, like he was afraid to get too close. Like I said, he was a dull guy.

    “Pretty nifty, eh?” Janice said, with a wide grin.

    “I’ll say. How’d ya do it...”

    “Mostly Sam. I showed him a few ideas, he made it work.”

    Sam had walked up behind us. “Yup, all me,” he said. “Stainless Steel rods through the blocks, guided on nylon bearings. Some clever use of leverage and, ‘voila!’ – instant jungle escalator. ”
    “Smooth ride.”

    “Like a baby’s ass. That was the tricky part. Making the turn at the top, where the blocks tuck into a straight line, without the damn thing lurching.”

    “Nylon bearings? What is the expected service life for those?”

    “Short. A few years depending on the usage. They told me longevity wasn’t necessary with the escalator. That in a few years it could revert to a stone stairway, but. . .” he leaned closer and lowered his voice, “. . .I had Janice throw in an access door from one of the tunnels. It leads to the base where the blocks can be removed and the bearings changed.”

    “They don’t know about it?”

    “Shhh. No they don’t. Hell, it was a no cost change. Besides, there was no way I was adding a feature like an escalator that could not be serviced.”

    “Hey guys,” Janice said, “does Sparky look alright to you?”

    “Not my type.”

    “Nope, not mine either. He’s all yours.”

    “Smart asses.” She punched Sam twice on the arm. “Don’t even tease like that. I’m saying that he doesn’t look like his same old boring self. He looks nervous.”

    He did look nervous. “Let’s go bug him,” I said. He saw us coming and tried vainly to look calm. “Hey there, Sparky,” I said. “Nice work on the lighting system in here.”

    “The what? Oh that. Janice thought that all up. I just wired the solar panels to the batteries and the backup lights.”

    “You seem distracted. Something wrong?” Sam asked.

    “What? Oh. I don’t know. Maybe.” He hesitated a bit. “Something’s just not right.” He fidgeted and stared past us at the small gathering again. “Do you guys know who these people are? Any of them?”

    “Not really. I just got here.” I said.

    Janice shook her head. “Um, no. I haven’t made the rounds yet. Who are they?”

    “I was talking to a couple of people,” Sam said, “but I don’t know who they are. I would think they are government officials, dignitaries. . .”

    “Well, I got here before the rest of you and well. . .you guys know I’m not much of a conversationalist, so when any of them came over to talk to me, I just asked them what they do. That one. . .” Sparky said, pointing at a man about seventy years old. “Is a mechanical engineer.” He then pointed to another man, this one in his mid fifties. “That one is an architect.”

    “Yeah. So?”

    “I would expect construction industry types at an opening like this.” Janice said.

    “No, you don’t understand. . .”

    * * *

    There was a commotion at the side of the room opposite the main entrance door. Hyde Cavenaugh had just entered the room.

    “Oh my God,” Janice muttered as he came into view. “The things you see when you don’t have a gun.”

    “Is that a. . .skirt?” Sam asked under his breath.

    “More like a dress.” I said, trying to hide my amazement. Hyde was wearing a translucent white dress-like garment that hung on his creaking old frame like laundry draped on a line. “At least he’s wearing some kind of undergarment to cover his ninety five year old privates.”

    “Thank God for small blessings,” Sam said.

    In addition to the “dress”, he wore a heavy gold piece of neckwear, like an Egyptian pharaoh would wear. That was it – he was trying to look like a pharaoh. Like I said before, bonkers. . .I mean eccentric.

    “Seriously, guys, I think. . .”

    “Not now Sparky, Cavenaugh’s about to speak.”

    Sam, and Janice moved to get in a better position to hear Cavenaugh. As I moved to join them, Sparky, grabbed my arm. “Listen, Clive, just. . .just keep alert, okay? Something isn’t right here.”

    There was that phrase again. “Keep alert.” I stopped. “What do you think is wrong?”

    “I can’t put my finger on it exactly. Remember when I said all the people I talked to were engineers and designers like us?”

    “Yeah.”

    “They’re exactly like us. They worked on this building.”

    “I didn’t know that there were multiple teams of engineers. . .”

    “None of us knew. I didn’t tell them what I did, most didn’t ask, but they all acted as if they thought they were the only one doing engineering on this building in their discipline.”

    “Well, it’s an elaborate building. It doesn’t surprise me that other teams of engineers worked on it too.”

    “I guess you’re right, but I just have an odd feeling about it.”

    “Let’s move closer. I want to hear him. Maybe he’ll explain some of the mysteries around here.”

    “You go ahead. I want to keep my distance from the old kook.”

    “Talk to you later, Sparky.”

    “Keep alert, Clive.”

    I don’t mind telling you, I was beginning to feel creeped out. The building made me feel weird to begin with. Some inexplicable strangeness just engulfs me when inside. They say that some people feel odd when they enter the pyramids in Egypt too. Something about the weight of the structure being in tune to the resonant frequency of the earth. A few years back the New Age Movement pushed the idea that the pyramid shape itself held mystical properties that could slow the aging process, stop food from spoiling, make a person more healthy, just by being within a small pyramid shaped structure, even one just made from sticks. I don’t know if any of that is true, but I always felt odd in this building, even before I knew it was shaped like a pyramid.

    * * *

    “Did I miss anything?” I asked Janice quietly as I walked up behind her and Sam.

    “Just some odd pleasantries.”

    “How so?”

    “Almost like the old coot is taking credit for the entire project himself,” Sam said. “He’s saying stuff like: ‘I selected you, I cultivated you, I lifted you from obscurity,’ and ‘My vision of past and future melded. . .’ and so on. Just listen to him.”

    I listened and he was right. That pharaoh outfit was going to his head. “Like the pharaohs of old,
    I have claimed my position in eternity, through this. . .” Cavenaugh spread his feeble hands to indicate the building. “My portal to immortality. You have seen what future generations will one day see, you have stood here, where future generations will stand. Be content, then, to know that they will see and understand the measure of your sacrifices.”

    Cavenaugh’s assistant stood and announced, “ The servers will pass among you with alcoholic and non-alcoholic champagne. Everyone please take a glass of whichever you prefer.”

    I turned and looked at Sparky. He was staring at me and slowly shaking his head ‘no.’

    The server came by dressed in an ancient Egyptian outfit and I saw the bottle sitting on the tray. “Dom Perignon 1999"

    “Oh my God! That stuff’s $100 a bottle!” Janice said.

    I took a glass of the champagne. Then I looked back at Sparky again. He was still shaking his head, only more emphatically and mouthing the word “don’t.”

    “I think Sparky may be a bit paranoid.” I said to Janice and Sam. “He doesn’t think we should drink any champagne.”

    “What ails him?” Sam said, looking back at Sparky, who was still trying to get us to refrain from drinking the toast. “Does he think that Hyde Cavenaugh is going to poison us all or something? What an idiot. Hell, I’m going to drink mine now, and get another glass for the toast.” With that, he quickly downed the expensive alcohol. “See, I ain’t dead yet.” He flagged over another server and got his glass refilled.

    Cavenaugh’s assistant raised his glass. “I ask that you all join me in raising a toast to celebrate this, the crowning achievement in Hyde Cavenaugh’s life.”

    Everyone began clinking their glasses together with shouts of, “Here, here!”

    I turned to Sam with a smile and my glass raised. His eyes looked suddenly blank and his lips curved up on one side. “Don’t drink it.” He said weakly, and slumped into my arms. I laid him gently to the floor then looked for someone to help me. All around me people began to fall. A wave of adrenalin washed through me and my eyes blurred, as cries for help rose through the room. Sparky looked panic stricken. He threw down his full glass and it shattered on the floor, which drew the attention of Cavenaugh’s guards. They started walking toward him. Sparky backed into another guard. The guard took out a stun gun and applied it to the engineer’s neck. Sparky jolted upright then sagged to the ground like a balloon half filled with wet sand. More guards entered the space. The other ‘guests’ who had hesitated in drinking the toast were being grabbed and stun gunned as well, even those who did not resist. Seeing this, I stayed down with Sam. He didn’t seem to be dead, just out cold. So I lay myself down, faking unconsciousness. When it was quiet nearby, I opened my eyes enough to see the servants dragging the victims into a chamber in the middle of one of the sides. Cavenaugh’s assistant directed the activity and Cavenaugh stood watching.

    Eventually, they came to me. They turned me roughly over on my back, grabbed my legs and dragged me towards the same room as all the others. Inside the room, they slid my body into a pile with the others, then left to gather the rest of their prey.

    * * *
  2. vangoghsear
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    vangoghsear New Member

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    Cavenaugh’s Shabti Part II (7904 words total, split for character count)

    What is happening? My dazed mind screamed. Why are they doing this? We are human beings, not waste to be tossed in a heap.

    Cavanaugh’s henchmen completed their task, then left us alone. I heard the stone wall slide shut and the room grew darker. There were a few areas of the iridescent wall providing light in the room. I got up from where they had shoved me and ran to where the opening had been. It was gone now, just lines in the wall. I hurdled myself at the block, but it didn’t budge.

    “You’ll never get through it that way.” The voice belonged to Janice.

    “Janice! Thank God you made it too!”

    “Sparky’s attitude frightened me,” She said. “He’s not one to overreact. When I saw Sam pass out, I knew the drinks had to be drugged. I followed your lead and lay down.”

    Searching the mass of unconscious bodies, I spotted Sam and Sparky. Sam was still totally out of it. Sparky was woozy, but coming around.

    “Sparky? You okay?”

    “No. My damn head hurts and I’m shaking all over.”

    “One of Cavenaugh’s goons zapped you with a stun gun. You probably hit your head when you fell.”

    “Where are we?” Sparky grew agitated and struggled to get up.

    I put my hand on his shoulder and held him down. “Lie still. We don’t know how bad your injuries are. Besides, we aren’t going anywhere too fast. They’ve locked us in a room.” I had to assess our situation before the others awaken and begin to panic. “Sparky, can they turn off the lights in here?”

    “How long was I out?”

    “Only a few minutes.”

    “No. This is still daylight. They have no control over daylight. I asked if they wanted to direct all light to the power source, then they could control the level of light all the time. They said, ‘No. They didn’t need to control the daytime lighting.’ They can switch it off after dark.”

    I scanned the room and saw some drop cloths covering some objects along one of the walls. If there are tools under that tarp, they’re going to suffer the consequences of leaving us light.

    Some of the others began coming to. They asked what was going on.

    “I think it’s best if we pool our knowledge. I’ll begin. . .” I filled them in on the drugged drinks and the stun guns. “Does anyone know where this pyramid is located? What country are we in?”

    “I have been trying to figure that out for several years.” The person talking was a woman I didn’t recognize. “I found, after a lot of deep digging into financial records, that Cavenaugh has holdings all over the world. He uses many dummy corporations to mask his true worth. I assume this structure may be in one of those countries where he already has an established presence. That would make the purchase of building materials easier to hide. I narrowed the choices down to countries with jungle climates in mountainous regions where cloud forests could develop. There are a few possibilities, but I think we’re in Venezuela. The climate is right and the bastard’s been raping their oil fields for years.”

    Another unfamiliar voice said, “He’s done it. The son of a bitch has actually done it.” Then he muttered, “How could he pull it off? So many years. How?”

    “Who are you? What is it he’s done? I mean besides locking us all in here.”

    “My name is Jonathan Eastman. I’m an Egyptologist. He consulted me at the start of this project, he was obsessed with the pharaohs of pre-dynastic Egypt.”

    “Pre-dynastic pharaohs built pyramids?”

    “No one knows for certain who built the pyramids in Egypt. Pre-dynastic pharaohs had another practice that concerns me, but if he tried to do it, it would be impossible to keep it a secret for. . .how long has this project taken?”

    “Seven years.”

    “Impossible. Too many loose ends. He couldn’t keep a project of this magnitude a secret for seven years. Not today. Not with today’s technology. Communications are so easy today...you all have families and spouses he would have to deal with. . .”

    I was beginning to feel weak in the knees again. “I don’t think so.”

    “What?”

    “We don’t have families, he insisted on no relationships, no close family. . .”

    “That son-of-a-bitch,” Eastman said, really distressed now. “That self centered, loathsome, son-of-a-bitch! I should have spotted this. I should have seen this coming.”

    “What has he done?”

    “In Pre-dynastic tombs, skeletons were found that were not mummified. We believe they may have been servants that were locked in the tomb with the dead pharaoh, to serve him after death.”
    “We’re not servants, we’re engineers and architects. . .”

    “It has also been suggested that it was done to preserve the secrecy of the burial location and that the skeletons found were not only servants, but the engineers and architects responsible for. . .”

    “. . .designing the tomb,” Sparky said.

    It hit me how dire our situation was. No one knew we were here. He had orchestrated this perfectly. It was all written in our contracts, no wives, no husbands, no personal relationships. I had no close family and I was willing to bet the others here did not also. They held our visas, our passports, we have scarcely seen our friends over the past seven years and could not even mention who we worked for. He even masked our taxes through a dummy corporation. It could be years before anyone would miss us, and even then, no one would begin to know where to search.

    “We are his human ‘Shabti,’” Eastman said.

    “Shabti?”

    “Figurines inscribed with spells from the book of the dead to allow them to come back to life and serve the pharaoh in the afterlife.”

    * * *

    I heard a sound like rushing water filling a glass. “What was that sound?”

    The man that Sparky said was another mechanical engineer said, “I can only guess, but I think – I fear – it was the water lock.”

    “Water lock?”

    “There is a tank of water two hundred feet over our head. . .”

    Now I understood the purpose of my twenty thousand gallon tank. “How big are the pipes?”

    “Twelve inch diameter to the main doors, six inch to the inner doors.”

    “Holy ****!” I quickly worked the math in my head. “My God, that’s almost 10,000 pounds on the main doors and what...about 2,500 pounds on the interior doors!”

    “Yes. That’s about right.”

    Janice asked us what we were talking about.

    I answered, “There is a two hundred foot long, twelve inch diameter pipe filled with nearly five tons of water, holding that door closed.”

    “Not just that door; every door,” the older engineer added.

    “What?”

    “When the valve releasing the water is opened, it floods every pipe in that system and locks every door. It’s not like a normal door lock where people lock it and unlock it and go in and out. It is designed to fill and seal the building shut. There are drain valves on each pipe, but unless they are activated, we’re sealed in tight. Even if we get out of here, there are three twelve inch pipes holding the main doors to the pyramid closed, that’s almost 30,000 pounds.”

    “Janice, where are we?”

    “Quadrant B. Chamber 506, I think. It’s a store room.”

    “How thick are the walls?”

    “Twenty four inches on the center side. The opposite side wall is an outer pyramid wall, so it slopes from about forty five feet thick at the floor level and a little narrower towards the ceiling, but still way too thick to even consider as a possible way out of here.”

    “What about these side walls?”

    “Twelve inches or so, twenty four at the columns.”

    Remembering the tarp, I walked over and pulled back the cloth. There were several twelve inch diameter steel pipes, of various lengths, a single tank welding torch, a welder’s mask, some scrap metal and a can of gasoline. “I think the arrogant jerk left these items here intentionally. Thinking they would be useless against the construction of this building.” That’s another mistake he made.

    “Why don’t build a bomb? We could blow a hole in the door.” Eastman asked.

    All the engineers in the room gasped, “No!”

    “The concussion would probably kill us, which is what he was probably hoping we would do. ” Sam said, having regained consciousness. He continued, “Kind of like during the second world war, depth charges would kill fish and sailors who were in the water by compressing the fluid so quickly it would crush their insides. Air is not as bad as water because it is a compressible fluid, but still, it could really do us some damage in this confined space. Even with a controlled explosion.” He rubbed his temples. “And at very least, it wouldn’t help my headache any.”

    “Welcome back, buddy,” I said, then turned to Janice. “What’s on the other side of here?” I indicated one of the twelve inch walls.

    “Look, don’t even think of trying to penetrate these walls. They are all carbon fiber reinforced concrete. You can ram one of those pipes into that all day and it won’t even budge.”

    “Not the way I’m going to do it. What’s on the other side of the wall?”

    Janice looked doubtful. “That side is just another chamber, but behind that door block over there, is a service tunnel.”

    “Perfect. I need some help moving these pipes if anyone feels strong enough.” I told them my plan and activity began immediately to place the pipes as I directed.

    Suggestions to make the arrangement more effective came now as well. “Weld this. . .weld that there. . .spread the force. . .fashion a stand. . .You will need to tack weld,” and so on. This was a very bright group of people.

    Soon we had managed to arrange the pipes so they spanned the room and touched the two twelve inch thick side walls. We welded two ‘T’s’ one on either side of the arrangement with the opening facing up. And a flat plate on the end facing the adjacent store room wall. The side facing the tunnel was aimed right at the side wall door block. The entire rig sat on crossed four inch pipes to raise it two feet above the ground.

    The light in the room was beginning to fade slightly. “How much time do we have before dark?”

    “A couple of hours, I think,” Sparky said.

    “Let’s light this baby.” I grabbed the gasoline can and poured all of it into the ‘T’openings and waited while the drop cloths we had placed into the pipes soaked up the flammable liquid. I then loosely bolted a flange cap over each opening and stuck the wrench in one side to allow an air gap.

    “Woah, wait a second.” Eastman, the Egyptologist, looked frightened. “Didn’t you just say that a bomb could kill us? Now you’re pouring gasoline into a pipe!”

    “This isn’t a bomb. It’s a high force, low movement thermal ram. Steel expands at a set rate when heated. A pipe thirty feet long, heated to say 1000 deg Fahrenheit, should generate about. . .

    The older engineer interrupted, “. . .put it this way, if we had just two feet of flexibility, it would still generate about five million pounds of force on that door, and we haven’t allowed for any flexibility. I can see the force being in the tens of millions of pounds. I’ve been trying to convince architects for years that we need space for expansion compensation loops, or our piping could tear a building apart. Now we get to prove it.”

    “We’ve spread the force on the other wall with a plate to allow this side against the door to do all the movement. With any luck, the door block will be strong enough to resist breaking, but the frame around it will give under the stress. When it goes out of square, the water pressing down on top will do the rest and rip the door block right out of the wall.”

    “In theory.” Janice said.

    “We have to do something,” Eastman said. “I assure you Cavenaugh means for us to die here. I say – light it up.”

    “When the ram begins to work, we need to apply additional force, so those of us who can, should grab a couple of those remaining pipes and slam the bottom of the door after we begin to hear strain on the block. Everybody step back as far as you can and cover up under some of those cloths. Ready?”

    I slid the flange cover aside and dropped a lit match down in the hole. Flames puffed from the opening, but fortunately it did not explode. I slid the flange back but left an opening for air and pressure relief. In a few minutes the pipe grew too hot to touch, then it began to creak as the pipe expanded and pressed the wall.

    “Slam the base of the door,” I shouted. We drove a twelve inch pipe into the base of the door like a battering ram. There was a loud “crunch” sound as the expanding pipe shattered the hinge point on the door block. “Again!” Then, with the next hit of the ram, the bottom of the door exploded forward in a flood of water and crushed stone that carried the block all the way into the tunnel!

    “Okay, we’re into the tunnels,” Sparky said. “Now what?”

    “Now we find Sam’s access panel.”

    “What?” Sam asked with a dazed expression on his face. Then the realization swept over him and he smiled. “Follow me.”

    As Sam led the group into the tunnels, Sparky asked me where we were heading. I told him about the secret access door under the escalator for maintenance, and how the block steps could be removed from there.

    “You mean we can get outside?”

    “Yes.”

    “I’ll be right back.” Sparky turned and ran back toward the room we just left. He was gone for about five minutes. When he returned he said, “I pity the idiot that opens that block door to follow us.” and he walked past me into the tunnels.

    “Damn, Sparky, I think we’ve been a bad influence on you.”

    Soon the group of dazed, displaced, professionals found their way through the tunnels to Sam’s access panel. After a few minutes Janice and Sam worked the opening block out of the wall and Sam crawled inside the space to the underside of the escalator. He removed two of the blocks, and pulling the rods, and using them as rollers, he moved the heavy stones aside. Then he used a maintenance controller to run the escalator ahead so that the space left by the blocks was open to the outside.

    We all crawled into the maintenance space, then out through the hole in the base of the escalator to the foggy jungle and freedom; we thought. Out of the depths of the mist ahead of us, materialized about a hundred men holding automatic weapons. There was nowhere to run. We were trapped.

    “You ready to go home, Boss Man?”

    Hosea stepped forward out of the fog brandishing some sort of machine gun and grinning that ‘Villain-in-a-Zorro-film’ grin of his.

    “I thought they got you. I saw a car follow yours and heard shots...”

    “They followed alright. They didn’t plan on my friends though.”

    “Who are your friends?”

    “Let’s just say that Cavenaugh has taken advantage of the people in my country for a long time. We heard in a news report that he was dead. We’re here to see that it’s true.”


    It was then that I remembered that not only did the villain in the Zorro films smile, but so did Zorro, as he saved the peasants from the evil rich land barons.

    “He isn’t dead yet. He’s locked himself inside. You can use that opening to get into the pyramid, but you’ll find that all the main doors are sealed.”

    A blast rocked the ground beneath our feet and exhaled forcibly from the hole out of the tunnels we had just crawled from. I looked back at Sparky, who said, “The door’s open now in room 506. What? Acetylene, a nearly empty gas can and some electric wire do make a pretty good bomb.”

    * * *

    I sat next to Eastman and Janice across from Sparky and Sam in the truck taking us back to the airstrip.

    Janice said, “I guess he thought he could ‘take it with him’ and he didn’t care who he had to kill to keep it.”

    “The age of the pharaohs has past,” Eastman said. “I told him when he started this project, the pharaohs were thought of as gods by their subjects. Some pharaohs even went as far as to threaten future, unborn, relatives of workers to get their building projects completed. You want to know what he said in response to that?”

    “Sure.”

    “He said, ‘I don’t need threats. I have money’.”

    “Arrogant bastard.”

    “You know, he was more like the pharaohs of old than he knew.”

    “How so?”

    “His tomb was plundered by those he oppressed, not long after it was occupied, too. I warned him that would happen. He said it wouldn’t happen to him. He said he could keep his tomb a secret.” Eastman laughed. “You want to know what I said? ”

    “Sure.”

    “I said, ‘No you can’t keep it a secret.’ He said, ‘Why not?’ I said, ‘Because you have money.’”

    Janice and I laughed.

    Eastman continued, “Then I said, ‘and you’re not a god’.”

    “He didn’t like that, I bet.”

    “He kicked me out. I didn’t hear from him again until he invited me to come here and see the finished pyramid. I couldn’t pass that up. Kind of glad I didn’t. It really is spectacular.”

    Janice whispered to me, “You were pretty spectacular too. That was brilliant, heating that pipe to break the door panel.”

    I looked at her and saw something different in her smile. “You want to go out for dinner when we get back to the States?”

    She uncharacteristically brushed a hand through her hair and looked at me with her big dark eyes. “You mean a date? We’re not allowed to date. Remember?”

    “I think Cavanaugh broke his end of our contracts when he tried to kill us. So, yeah, a date.”

    “Sure. I’d love to.”

    “Also, I was thinking we ought to pool our talents and begin our own building design firm. We could call it, ‘Pyramid Design.’ What do you say, Janice, Sam, – Sparky you in?”

    Sam and Janice said, “Count me in.”

    Sparky hesitated.

    “You don’t want to work with us, Sparky?” Janice asked.

    “Sure I do...it’s just that...well,” he smiled a sheepish grin. “I have to talk it over with my wife.”

    “Now there’s a man who can keep a secret.”

    The End



    * “Zorro” is a fictional character created by Johnston McCulley.
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  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Moderator note: They were in two threads, so I merged them. But it appears the author posted part II before part I, because they ended up in reverse order.

    Note to other entrants: Entries should be in their own thread, but multiple part entries should be in the same thread.
  4. vangoghsear
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    vangoghsear New Member

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    Cogito, thanks for putting them in one thread. I never though to post them like that. I reversed the order of the posts to the correct order.
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