4 of 6 | Chapter 14

 

“Those same agencies had no idea what we were doing at ASEC,” observed Steersman drily.

“Obviously because at the ASEC you are utilizing a completely different technology,” responded Gorbunov, defensively. “The ASEC has done remarkably well, however. You know, you have more people on your side than you might imagine. A free city with an unmanned army that has been able to completely metamorphose at need, and only in defense.”

“Have you ever thought that instead of starting a one man crusade to right the wrongs of the world, you might actually share your technology with others?” asked Monroe.

“That's not an option,” said Steersman bluntly. “Its importance only lies in the fact that others don't have it. If we share it then we'll end up in the same position we are in now.”

The debate had not exposed any major divisions of opinion thus far, but it had confirmed that they were genuinely all seeking a consensus. Meanwhile, the beverages were getting low and the atmosphere was growing less strained.

“Let us stay in touch, and see what we can do for your mission,” said Monroe, finally.

“Yes!” agreed Gorbunov.

“Just keep us posted on anything we can do to help you,” interjected Doyle.

“I will, thank you. It was a pleasure to meet you all,” said Steersman politely, draining the glass still resting in his hand. “Let us all exercise caution!”

*

After he left the room, he activated his dormant robot guards. The commandos had found themselves rather irritated by the robotic presence and were visibly relieved to see Steersman appear in the doorway. The officer was waiting to take them back to the hangar. Steersman noted, as they rolled along the corridors in the six wheeled buggy, that this time, for some reason, they were taking a completely different route back to the hangar, and it was shorter too.

The deck of DeepHarbor slid back to reveal a darker and more ominous sky than when Steersman had arrived. The freezing cold wind was laced with stinging salt water spray.

The Condor slowly emerged as the landing platform lifted up to lie flush with the submarine deck. As the aircraft lifted off and rose quickly into the stratosphere, it became quickly apparent that the DeepHarbour had surfaced near the southern most tip of South Africa. The Condor ascended through the stratosphere and into the mesosphere where, unimpeded by winds and turbulence, it quickly reached cruising speed at mach eight, and headed back to Excolopolis.

 

Meeting in Tibet

Steersman returned to Excolopolis for enough time to down a quick lunch before once again boarding the Condor and heading east. His next secret meeting was to take place in an isolated site situated in a barren area populated by massive rocks, where only ice cold glacial lakes provided any color. It was some two hundred kilometers south of Lhasa, the capital city of the Tibetan Confederation. The exact rendezvous point was nestled in a small enclave where fragments of pine forest tried to gain a hold on the stony nutrient deprived soil, and plants that rooted in cracks and fissures in the rocks valiantly fought for survival. In the foothills of Mount Everest, near the border with Bhutan, the locals had steadily made their mark on the inhospitable terrain, and in spite of the extreme conditions, they had—over the centuries—inhabited the area with buildings that had merged organically into the mountain ranges to become a part of the land.

One such ancient monastery was tucked away in a narrow canyon, the entrance carefully concealed by vegetation that had grabbed a tenuous hold on the surrounding ledges. Only an irregular staircase, barely wide enough for a man, betrayed its location. It was certainly impossible for any aircraft to land near the monastery, and the Condor was no exception. Steersman and his robot bodyguards disembarked from the aircraft, and utilizing anti gravitational radii, they floated down into the ravine. The robots could barely fit, and the irregularly worn stairs were noticeably causing them some difficulty.

Even before reaching the hardy green thickets that hid the track from view, a monk in deep crimson robes appeared from nowhere. He stood patiently waiting for the visitors to reach him, then spoke in a soft musical voice.

“Welcome, child of heaven. Please, follow me!” He gestured, and turned to enter the dense vegetation.

Steersman turned to his guards to see how they were coping with the unaccustomed severity of terrain. The unusual and rugged landscape gave Steersman the opportunity to test them. Even the monk moved gingerly along the slippery path which was slimy by moisture that trickled from the cliffs and the soft moss and lichens that clung to the rock. The cliff was more like a vertical chimney bored into the rock. The sky was visible above, yet little light penetrated downwards. Ahead of them, a waterfall gushed down the sheer rock face and into a lake that lay at the bottom.

Passing through a series of narrow passages, the rift eventually widened and they found themselves entering a vast natural amphitheater that was flanked by ancient monastery buildings. Entrances were carved into the rocky facades, and were connected by twisted rope bridges. In addition to the circles of torchlight, a spiritual force seemed to also radiate and pulse in the air around them.

“This way, please,” said the man in red every so often, indicating a change in direction.

Steersman and his team followed through the impossible labyrinth of paths until they found themselves standing before an aged wooden door that was as hard as stone. Their guide invited them with a gesture and Steersman, along with his robot escort, entered.

Inside, the small reception hall was deceptively wide, but they did not have time to pause. “They must remain here,” said the monk softly to Steersman, nodding towards the robots.

“Stay!” ordered Steersman.

A fissure, at the end of the hall, provided access to a long chamber and only the torch in the monk's hand giving any light. A few minutes' walk led to a room where two figures awaited his arrival. Steersman could hardly believe his eyes.

Sitting next to the Dalai Lama was the Pope, and both of them were sitting on small wooden stools. Both peacefully observed Steersman as he approached. They were drinking from simple wooden cups. An open fire was roaring in the huge stone fire place beside them. Other than an old wooden table and another stool, the room was bare of furniture or ornaments.

The monk bowed and left. Steersman walked closer, puzzled, looking at the aged and rather feeble appearance that the old men presented and he wondered how the Pope had been able to travel the same route that he had.

“Welcome, my child,” said the Pope benignly, as Steersman came closer.

“Thank you so much for accepting our invitation, please sit,” the Dalai Lama said, waving his arm toward the empty chair.

Although the room was completely closed, with no windows or doors leading outside, Steersman surmised that there must been a fresh air vent or corridor that allowed the fire to be properly ventilated. Perhaps there is a hidden corridor by which the Pope may have entered, he thought.

“Good day, Your Holinesses. Please, excuse my clumsiness in addressing men of your stature, but I hope we will able to come to an understanding.” Steersman smiled and sat slowly down.

 

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CHAPTER 1 | EXCOLOPOLIS
CHAPTER 2 | MACHINES
CHAPTER 3 | A NEW TECHNOLOGY
CHAPTER 4 | ATTACK
CHAPTER 5 | THE SOURCE
CHAPTER 6 | THE SCIENCE CENTER
CHAPTER 7 | UNIVERSITY CITY
CHAPTER 8 | GLIDECRAFT
CHAPTER 9 | SECTOR TWO
CHAPTER 10 | THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE
CHAPTER 11 | GRAVITOR
CHAPTER 12 | INSTALLATION
CHAPTER 13 | ENERGY WAR
CHAPTER 15 | INITIATION
CHAPTER 16 | PREPARATION
CHAPTER 17 | DEFENSE CORPS
CHAPTER 18 | TRUTH
CHAPTER 19 | BEYOND EARTH