Chapter 1: The Characteristics of the Drift
Okay, so he was bored. Riley had to admit – if only to himself – that being filthy rich wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. Oh, the apartment overlooking New York was neat. The Ferrari was a dream on wheels. And the chicks... well, what good did it do to be rich if it didn't help you get laid but...
The apartment was the problem. The Ferrari was the problem. They seemed to attract a certain sort of female he never felt at ease with. All he had wanted was to find a girl. Any girl, really, but preferably a pretty one. Not too butch. One that would laugh at his jokes, put up with his sarcasm, and... and not fall for his friends. Friend.
Ben was a great friend, really, but there had always been the problem that he was tall, good-looking, broody, and passionate – if not a little obsessive about his Quest. The great Quest that had brought them together in the first place. Anyway, the problem was that any girl they met would end up falling for *him* yet not getting anywhere with him because of the said obsession.
Until Abby, sorry, Abigail Chase. As obsessive about her field, bookish but spunky. By her sheer determination she made Ben notice her as a woman. It's not like Riley wanted her to himself, oh no, too scary by far. But still.
Ben solved the riddle, found the treasure, got the girl and the palace, worked on the treasure, sending bits of it to all corners of the globe, and... and then, somewhere during that first year, he decided he'd rather have the villain instead of the girl. Bet there was a story there. Riley wasn't sure he ever wanted to hear it. It was enough to have witnessed Ben's new quest to get Ian out of prison. They had both learned it was good to be rich and influential, every now and then.
Whatever. Abby hardly shed any tears, too busy cataloguing the Treasure (when she spoke of it you could hear the capitalisation), and writing intellectual papers on the new discoveries and their significance to their views of history.
It didn't even seem to bother her to be working with Ben. Those two... *things* and *ideas* meant more to them than people. Not so for Riley. He missed their adventure, the closeness and friendship they'd shared, even though the danger had not always been fun, and the others seemed content with the payoff - the treasure itself.
But back to his current gripe.
In the months that followed the discovery, Riley had gotten lots of girls. They dug the car, the designer clothes, the expensive presents. Had he just wanted sex with no ties that would have been cool, but he longed for feelings, conversations, shared laughter... and an IQ a little higher than that of a Bratz doll would have been nice, too.
Laughter was there - unfortunately, they laughed *at* him because he did not feel at home in his expensive clothes or fashionable apartment. His latest fling, Nicole, laughed dutifully at his jokes, but also at his tastes and habits.
"God, you're such a geek!"
It was said in as unbitchy way as one could, for she was a kind-hearted little blonde, but it still drove one thing home. He would never find his dream girl while driving his Ferrari.
And he missed Ben. When your best friend started dating it couldn't help but change things. Especially when, you know, his lover used to shoot bullets at you. The other bit, the guy bit, didn't really bother him. Some of his closest friends, and all that. But Ben was busy being in a relationship when he wasn't busy going through the Templar treasure.
And, quite frankly, Riley was bored with cataloguing gold piece after gold piece. This devastatingly important document and the next. Still, he *had* volunteered because his free time hadn't been any better with too much money to spend and too many women willing to help him spend it. Even Abigail's distracted commentary while they worked was better. And man, was *that* sad.
Chapter 2: The Action of Waves
After a weekend spent away from NY, Riley was woken up by an insistent doorbell way too early on a Monday morning.
"Riley! You'll never guess what we discovered!" Ben's enthusiasm greeted him after he'd fumbled the security locks open.
He blinked at the crowd outside his door. Ben, Ian, Abigail, and Patrick Gates. Oh joy.
"Ben, it's eight o'clock in the morning! Can't this wait, oh, three hours?" He made a show of checking his very expensive watch, then met the determined gaze of his friend.
Ben just stared back. "I guess not," Riley muttered, letting the four people pass him into his living room.
"You know what this is?" Ben showed him a photo of a round stone tablet thing with weird symbols on it.
"No," Riley said patiently, "but I'm sure you're going to tell me. Can I have some coffee first?"
"I'll make it," Abigail offered, and disappeared into his kitchen.
"Have you heard of the Phaistos disk?" Ben asked without preliminaries.
"No. Yes. Maybe. Is that it?"
"Yes. The actual disk is in a museum in Crete where it was found. It's a clay tablet, about 6 inches in diameter, with symbols on both sides in a clockwise sequence that spirals towards the centre. It uses 45 symbols, repeated to a total of 241 times. They depict different human characters, animal parts, everyday objects, flowers... you name it. It's considered the first evidence of printing because the signs were pressed on the clay with reusable model. The thing is, no one's ever seen similar symbols anywhere else."
"Let me guess... Until now?" Riley refused to get excited before coffee.
"Until now." Ben nodded. "We found a map."
"A... treasure map?" Riley asked carefully, looking around him. Ian and Patrick hadn't said a word after their short greetings but were following the scene as if monitoring Riley's reactions to Ben's explanation.
He turned his gaze on Ben, who continued.
"Sort of. It's a map made sometime in the 11th century. A map of the world, Riley. A map of the world showing America, Australia, and the poles, among other things. The Templar scholars presumably copied it from an even older map. They must have had some other sources as well because they, well, came to some conclusions about it. But more about that later."
"Here, this is a copy of the map." Ben reached for the folder he was holding and showed Riley a photo the size of a small poster.
"See those symbols?"
"They look like the ones on the disk," Riley concluded obligingly.
"Exactly. Now, as I said, no one has *ever* found anything like that writing anywhere other than on that piece of clay. Not even in Crete. The map is obviously a copy of an earlier map but the symbols seem to have been faithfully copied. And..."
"...and they look like text, situated all over the map that way." Riley finished for him, getting interested despite himself.
"Or navigational guides. Most of the supposed 'other sources' are missing but this text here," Ben said, tapping the upper left corner of the map, "is a note from a nameless scholar who refers to an object he calls 'a star tablet', and claims that if he could locate a copy he could, wait for it, sail to Plato's Atlantis."
"Atlantis? You have *got* to be kidding me."
"I seem to recall that's what you said when I first told you about the Templar treasure."
"Yeah, well, just because one of your crackpot theories was proven correct doesn't mean you'll hit gold every time you dig."
Riley sipped from the coffee cup that magically appeared in his hand, and took a deep breath.
"Atlantis?" he repeated, and looked around him, half expecting everyone to laugh at him, for believing the joke. No laughter. Ian and Patrick, who had been quiet the whole time were obviously familiar with all this, and they believed in it. Abigail, who had handed him the coffee and was now distractedly stacking the books and magazines littering the room, was, surprisingly, not displaying any of the sarcastic disbelief she had when they'd first met her a year or so ago, while trying to get to the Declaration of Independence. Somehow the fact that she was buying this helped Riley take it more seriously.
He looked back at Ben, who nodded.
"The nameless scholar wrote down, 'if only we had a Star Tablet we could find it'."
"And, the Phaistos disk..."
"We think. We hope. Riley, we're going to go look for Atlantis!"
"Yay, another quest." Riley was really too tired to share his enthusiasm. "Won't your children be pleased." He winced as soon as the words had left his mouth, and saw Ben and Ian share a look. Abigail seemed to be ignoring the rest of them in favour of an Indiana Jones poster on the wall, and Patrick looked uncomfortable. Go Riley.
"I mean... it took your family, what, seven generations to find the *previous* treasure. What makes you think..."
"Because this time we have a map," Ben and Patrick said almost in unison.
"How do you know it's real? Just because it's old doesn't mean it's accurate. It's not like this is Ben's field of expertise, after all."
"Remember those scrolls we discovered?" Ben asked.
"The Scrolls Abby claimed came from the Library of Alexandria?"
"Abigail," she corrected, then shrugged, "So that myth didn't quite prove true. I studied American history, not European or African, what do you want?"
"Lots and lots of money and a little red pig," Riley replied instinctively.
"You've *got* lots and lots of money, Riley. And where would you put a pig?" Ben asked, momentarily distracted from his explanation.
"Judging by the recent trend, in his bed," Abby muttered, having located a pink undergarment from a pile of comics. She had never bothered even being polite to his changing girlfriends, explaining that they would be gone soon, anyway. He'd never really cared, seeing that they were gone soon, anyway. Her tone was still surprisingly catty.
Riley cocked his head and said, "Why, Abby, I didn't know you cared."
"Abigail," she and Ben corrected at the same time, then shared a smile, and Riley couldn't help but wonder whether Ian cared. He couldn't tell as the man was studying the Indy poster now.
"So. Umm." He had completely forgotten what they had been talking about, and turned to Ben, asking the first innocuous question he could think of: "When did you come up with all this? I swear, I'm gone for two days, and you all decide to go insane... -er."
"We've been working on it for some time now... The question is, are you in or what?" Ben looked at him expectantly.
Riley pretended to think about it.
"What the hell, it beats cataloguing," he said in the end, and was rewarded by a grin from Ben.
What? He really thought Riley was in a position to say no?
Chapter 3: Objections Considered
"So. Where do we start?" Abigail asked, abandoning her cleaning efforts.
"I think we need an expert on the field because, as Riley so kindly pointed out, I am not one."
"Yeah, Heaven forbid you'd actually need to do all this research yourself," Riley muttered, not unkindly. It's not like he didn't know how much work Ben had put into researching his previous obsession.
"Haha," Ben said sarcastically. "No, I mean... there has to be someone who has done the research – a person to whom Atlantis is like the Templars were to me."
"Oh please. We'll get a nut case with a spirit guide ," Abigail snorted, then glanced at Ben. "No offense, of course."
"But no serious scholar would study Atlantis!" Apparently Abigail still seemed to hold on to some illusions.
"I think I have the person we need..." Patrick started, then paused, looking uncomfortable.
"Yeah?" They all turned to look at him.
"Well, you put me in charge of finding people for your research team," he spoke directly to his son. "There was one woman whose resume looked good until we found out she was a reporter. Wrote a book about Templars a few years back, populist stuff. She's just published a book about Atlantis. She applied under a different name but as our background check is a bit more thorough... The books are not bad, mind you. No spirit guides or Martians, and her research seems good, though not exactly scholarly. But her bibliography and footnotes were academically sound. I checked. If only she wasn't a journalist..."
"What's her name, and where can we find her?" Ben asked.
"'Mina Goode' is the one which she used in her interview but the books were published as 'Scarlett Whiting'. I have her contact info back at the hotel. She's British, though, so she might have gone home."
"Not if she's a reporter who was only looking for a way to get more info about the find," Abigail reminded.
"Did it enter your mind at any point that she might just have wanted to work on the find? If she wrote a book on it..." Ben started and was interrupted by Abigail's passionate, "But it was a sensationalist book for laypeople!"
"Oh for... Who wrote *serious* books about any of those theories before we discovered the treasure?"
They stared at each other, preparing to go full ten rounds when Ian cleared his throat, and Ben met his gaze sheepishly.
"Right. Let's go."
"Go where? Ben, it's eight thirty and I need breakfast!" Riley was not whining, oh no, just trying to hold on to his rights.
"It's quite a fancy hotel, they do have room service," Ian reminded, hand resting lightly on Ben's lower back in a proprietary manner, guiding him towards the door.
Riley groaned, resigned, and went to dress.
Chapter 4: The Nature of Myths
They were all grouped behind Patrick, who was struggling with the lock of his hotel room, when Riley noticed an attractive redhead exiting the neighbouring room.
"So, we find this Mina Goode, then..." Ben started, and started when a clear voice from behind him said, "Present."
They all turned to stare at the red-headed woman. At seeing Patrick her polite smile slipped. "Oh my gosh, Dr. Gates." Then, noticing Ben: "Mr. Gates!"
"Miss Goode, what a coincidence." Patrick's voice was filled with sarcasm and Riley noticed the woman actually seemed insulted by that.
"I'm not in this country as a reporter," she replied coldly. "Whatever you think, I have a degree in my field from a reputable university, and all I wanted was a decent chance at working on the most interesting find of the century!"
Riley couldn't top staring at her. She was in her late twenties, about his height, slender, with a good pair of... grey eyes. Her hair was metallic red, hanging free around her shoulders, and her face... wow. Even dressed in green cargo pants and a simple black top she was stunning.
"You're Mina Goode?" Ben checked.
"Or would that be Scarlett Whiting?" Patrick's tone was not very nice.
"My passport says H. P. Goode, you want to see it?" she asked, eyes flaming, "Your name is Gates, you of all people should understand the fact that I didn't want to publish my written-for-money book with the name I wish to make my scholarly career on. And that plan failed, didn't it?"
"So... you went from Dracula to Gone with the Wind?" Abigail enquired.
The Brit shot her a quick smile.
"I was thinking more about G.I. Joe, actually."
Now here was a bit of American history Riley was familiar with. He couldn't help but grin.
His enthusiasm was greeted with a grin from the woman.
"Yeah! Scarlett kicks ass – at least until that ninja bullshit got out of hand."
"You are so right. What..."
"Can we talk about comics some other time, please?" Ben interrupted their bonding.
"Scarlett," Abigail repeated, staring pointedly at the other woman's hair.
"Yes, it comes from a bottle. What, scholars can't dye their hair?"
"Down, Abby." Ben grinned and seemed to realise they were still standing in the corridor.
"Shall we?" He asked, taking the key from his father's hand.
Once in they moved the endless stacks of paper to find room to sit down in the living room part of the suite and Ian ordered the promised breakfast. Mina raised her eyebrows at his accent but didn't say anything.
"So. You wrote a book about Templars?" Ben asked politely.
"Yes. 'The Templar Conspiracies'. It described the different theories people have had about the Knights over the course of history."
"It was described to us as populist and not very scientific," Abigail said, not quite making it a question.
"People don't want scientific! Look, I'm a linguist. I was working on my Ph.D. and ran out of money – got bored with having to count pennies to decide whether I could buy two cans of tuna or one. I've been working in school papers ever since I was in a school that had them. When working for my BA I started writing more professionally. And, like I said, I know the feelings academicians hold for journalists so I want to keep it separate from my 'serious' work. Hence, Scarlett. And no," she looked at Abigail, "my hair wasn't red back then."
She went on, looking at Ben again.
"I got used to expressing scholarly ideas in a simplified, and, yes, populist way, so, while doing some light reading I realised the problem with the books about Templars were that they were either dry and academic, or filled with outlandish theories. I wanted to offer something easy and nice for the reading public. And I wanted to sell books. Naturally. I wanted money to concentrate on my Ph.D. studies.
"But the research was fun, and the money was even better. So, on my publisher's suggestion, I did the next one about the Atlantis research. Now, thanks to your discovery, my sales have rocketed, and, yes, I can afford to stay in a hotel like this, and yes, I could finally go back home to finish my work on the naming customs of the Anglo-Saxon era, but I wanted to be a part of this discovery! Screw the Sexburgs and Wolfheres, I needed to be here, I heard... Well, there was a reason I applied to the team going through the manuscripts. I love languages. I've studied dozens of them, some as part of my degree, some for fun. This seemed a perfect opportunity to learn more."
"Stop being so defensive, lady. You're hired," Ian told her, light-heartedly. Riley could see he wasn't the only one who had been won over by the obvious passion in her voice. Even Abigail had notched down her hostility a bit.
"I... apologise, Miss Goode. It seems our background checks weren't as thorough as we thought. But... We don't actually need Mina Goode, we need Scarlett Whiting," Patrick explained.
"Excuse me?" The smile that had blossomed on her face after Ian's declaration was replaced with confusion.
"We're going Atlantis-hunting," Ben grinned.
She stared at him as if he was crazy then smiled slowly, "If I heard that from anyone else..." She shook her head. "I have to admit, when I read about this discovery, I did start imagining what it would be like if the 'other' myth I researched had substance to it, too..."
"We found a map," Riley said, wanting those grey eyes to turn to him again.
"Many people have found maps," she said with a shrug.
"This one has the same symbols the Phaistos disk has," Ben hastened to explain.
"Oh... my... From when does it date?"
"A copy made around the time the Templars moved to France. Supposedly they found older maps, copied from even older maps during their travels. There were notes by different scholars."
"And the symbols?" She was excited, no doubt about it, and Riley couldn't help but notice how bright her eyes got and how attractive she was when glowing like that...
"Where do they place Atlantis?" She kept directing her questions at Ben.
"We don't know. You see, the map shows locations around the planet, locations that they shouldn't have known about. No big island in the middle of the Atlantic, mind you, but... Here," Ben dug up the printout he'd showed Riley earlier. "See, all the symbols around the land masses? The scholars of old believed one of these places was the mythical Atlantis. We believe they had some other sources to arrive to that conclusion. Or that they were able to decipher the signs based on this alone, but I doubt that, there's hardly enough info to go on."
She raised her eyebrow. "Some familiar places." She pointed to different places on the map, listing theories she'd run into: "Crete, naturally, the Mediterranean coast of Africa, South America, Sweden, Ireland, Iceland, Antarctica, Indonesia, Bahamas... All of these have been suggested by different scholars and amateur treasure hunters."
"Antarctica?" Riley couldn't help but interject, and got a distracted smile from the Brit along with an explanation.
"Some old maps, including the so-called Piri Reis map, allegedly show the continent – three centuries before its official discovery. Some have interpreted the coastline to be the actual ground under the ice coverage. As Piri Reis possibly copied from older sources, some have claimed the sources are as old as the original inhabitants, i.e. the Atlanteans. But I think the best evidence was shot down by Gavin Menzies when he provided evidence that much of the old maps showing supposedly modern information were copied from ancient Chinese explorers... the other proof seems to have to assume moving poles and much older civilisation than the modern science recognises."
"So it could be real?" Riley checked.
"Hey, anything could. Plato's text seems to refer to a place in the Mediterranean but Ignatius Donnelly," she grinned at Ben, "yeah, I figured you'd recognise the name – who is considered the father of the modern Atlantis research – was convinced it was in the Atlantic Ocean. Modern research on the planet, satellite aided geological studies for example, has disproved a lot of his hypotheses and, of course, his ideas on the development of cultures were naive, and the linguistic evidence just silly but still... There has always been enough there for people to hope and believe."
"Like the Templar treasure," Ben said, smiling.
"Like the Templar treasure." She smiled back. "The level of scholarship varies greatly. Atlantis is a popular candidate for the shared home of civilisation, and to prove this people take random aspects of different cultures, and random words from different languages and quote their similarity as proof. Some of the 'scholars' actually use the Bible as a historical source. The Bible! I admit that the similarities in myths of different cultures are appealing from the historian's point of view but, jeez..."
At this point they were disturbed by a knock on the door and as Ian went to open it the redhead took a deep breath, looked around the room, and laughed.
"Lecture mode. Sorry. Hi all, I'm Mina."
They laughed with her, even Abigail, though she still didn't seem as impressed as the others.
"Abigail Chase," she introduced herself and offered her hand.
"Do not call her 'Abby'," Patrick grinned, having tried that on occasion. "I'm sorry for our... previous meeting, Miss Goode. I'm looking forward to working with you."
"Ben," Ben simply said, as it was pretty obvious everyone knew who he was these days.
"You're Riley Poole! You helped discover the treasure!"
Wow, she knew who he was. Riley beamed at her, but shrugged and said nonchalantly, "Well, yeah, I hang around."
"He's kidding," Abigail said. "Riley was invaluable."
Riley couldn't help but stare at Abigail. She was defending him? Since when? They got along, true, but had never really understood each other. And ever since Ben and Ian... he hadn't known how to deal with her. She drove him crazy at work, and it was mutual. Yet here she was, showing a unified front to this stranger...
"Hi, I'm Ian Howe. I'm the bad guy. Coffee or tea?"
"Tea, please. Didn't you...? Oh, excuse me. I'm not clear on what actually happened but I just thought..."
"We... fought over the treasure. I went to prison," he explained, and Riley had to bite his tongue. 'Fought over the...' Right.
"Only for a year. I got him out," Ben grinned, and threw his arm casually over Ian's shoulders.
Good, Riley thought. Maybe this one wouldn't fall for Ben instantly now that it was obvious he was batting for another team.
Mina smiled at the couple, with the universal womanly 'aww' look. "I bet there's a story here."
"Which we're not hearing. Ever. Please," Riley was quick to interject, and noticed Patrick looked relieved as well.
"But I would like to hear about our plans," Abigail said pointedly.
"The Phaistos Disk is on display at the archaeological museum of Herakleion in Crete. There are pictures and lists of symbols and even decipherment efforts all over the web but I believe we need the actual *disk* not just the symbols," Ben explained.
"I still don't understand why," Patrick muttered. They'd obviously had words on the subject before.
"I don't know, maybe it's a compass or something," Ben just said.
"Yeah, the stone disk is the key to Atlantis. And maybe you have played too much Fate of Atlantis, Doctor Jones." Pause. "Good game. Intrigue, adventure, romance, evil Nazis, a hot redhead... Our adventures pale in comparison."
"Let's not forget the spirit guide. I hope we can make do without one because I left my spooky pendant at home," Mina said with a straight face, and Riley was lost in the mischievous grey eyes.
Ben, the spoilsport, interrupted their moment by talking business again.
"We've got photo enlargements of the original map in our room. I think we should go there."
The suite Ian and Ben shared was bigger than Patrick's but in equal disarray. The photos were scattered all over the dining table.
Ben showed Mina a particular print, and Riley noticed she was idly braiding her hair to keep it out of her face.
"Here, look at this text in the right corner... Here's a clarified version. It looks like French but..."
"But it's Old French... no, not langue d'oil, it's langue d'oc, isn't it? Provencal, what they spoke in the Southern France. Still do, actually."
"Right. And so the historian learns not to try to dazzle the linguist. You speak Old French?"
"I studied it, yes, it had such an influence in the formation of English that I found it relevant. I'm fluent in modern French, actually, and it's usually enough to make some sense... Something about eyes? And home?"
"'Eye to eye we find our way home' said the professor I contacted in France," Ian said, offering her a fax.
"Oh. Well, have to believe him then." Mina shrugged, "I would have said 'through eyes' but..."
"Through eyes... Could it be as simple as that?" Ben wondered.
"Excuse me?" Mina asked.
"I figured I'd take it literally. There are lots of eyes on the symbols. Maybe their placement and relative angles tell us something." He shrugged.
"And that's why you think we need the original disk," Mina concluded, and Ben smiled.
"Can we keep her?" he asked from the others, pleased with her quickness.
"I vote yes," Riley raised his hand but the others just nodded sedately.
"She's willing to buy this insanity just like that, she should fit right in," Patrick said dryly.
"I'm honoured. So, we going to Greece?"
"Yeah, we need the disk," Ben said, turning his contemplative eyes on Ian.
"I wonder... if we need to borrow it..."
"I've studied the place, I think it can be done. Unless you have some objections to my methods," Ian said, and it took a moment for Riley to realise what they were talking about.
"Guys," he said hurriedly, "Ben's not an academic freak anymore. How about, you know, asking them?"
"Good idea," Ben conceded, looking a little sheepish.
"Spoilsport," Ian muttered, grinning.
"So. Can everyone be ready to leave in, say, two days?" Ben asked.
"Wait, don't we need visas? And what about Ian's parole?" Riley frowned.
"Ended last week, thank you very much," Ian said, digging up his phone book. "I'll make the arrangements. Do we want a private jet, or will a commercial flight do?"
"You have a private jet?" Mina's eyes were huge.
"No," Riley said pointedly, "because *someone* only wanted one frigging percent."
"Riley, we've been over this. No, none of us do," Ben explained to Mina, "but quite a few people are actually willing to lend us theirs."
"Yeah, you give a country tons of their treasures back, and suddenly you're a national hero. Who knew?" Riley said lightly.
"Wow. I've never flown in a private plane."
"Then we definitely need to get one," Ian smiled at her, almost paternally.
"I'll go meet some people," he told Ben, and kissed him lightly before moving towards the door.
"I'll go reschedule all of our other work here... Patrick, want to give me a hand? You're a better organiser than your son." Abigail got up as well.
"Don't let anyone know what we're really going to do. Just say we're going to go attend another party somewhere," Ben instructed.
"Heaven knows there's been enough of those for them to believe it," Riley sighed. The openings and galas and parties had been fun at first but had gotten boring and repetitive very soon.
"I'm really in?" Mina asked.
"Yeah. We can write a contract if you want to. You've just been hired as a consultant. You'll even get paid," Ben grinned.
"Screw pay, as long as I get to be a part of this! Well, I suppose I'll go postpone my flight home, then."
After the door had closed behind the others, Riley turned to Ben and exclaimed "Wow! I mean, WOW."
"Yeah, she seems to be just what we needed. Now..."
"Ben! I know you've suddenly switched teams but how could you have missed the fact that she is damn gorgeous!"
Ben didn't even look insulted, he merely smiled at Riley's passionate tone. "Relax. Yeah, she's cute. So's Abigail, but I don't see you panting after her."
"She... she's pretty like a statue. Not to mention scary. Mina... she's... vivacious."
"You know big words." Ben smirked. "Oh, speaking of statues.... The Greek team located a bust they believe is of Helen of Troy. You know, the face to launch a thousand ships? Looks kinda like Abby."
Riley laughed obligingly but couldn't stop thinking about grey eyes and metallic red hair. He was liking this adventure much more than the previous one. And not only because this time around no one was shooting at him.
Chapter 5: The Consequences to the Earth
It took them four days to make all the arrangements and the fifth was spent flying.
"Wow. Sofas. Leg room. Bar. I could get used to this," Mina sighed.
"It's still flying," Riley reminded her. "You'll be stuck in here for hours and hours. Even the gadgets and the bar get boring."
"You could try sleeping," Abigail reminded, busy setting up her laptop.
She *would* work. Ben and Ian were also studying stacks of printouts by the table. To Riley's great joy Mina sat down next to him for the take off and didn't move away.
During the last four days Riley had learned that braided hair equalled work-mode for her – kinda like his reading glasses. It was free now, so he engaged her in casual conversation, figuring she wasn't going to dig up a huge stack of documents to study.
"So... what *does* the H. P. stand for?"
"That's for me to know and you to never find out. There are enough people in position to blackmail me as is," she said with a smirk.
"Aww, come on. I promise I won't tell anyone."
"Let's just say I was named after my German grandmother and leave it at that."
"You're no fun. So. Why languages?"
"I don't know... I've always been fascinated with words and their meanings, and as we travelled quite a bit due to my dad's career, I learned different languages at quite a young age, intrigued by the way different languages relate. How some have words for concepts the others do not. Stop me now, or I'll start telling you about it," she said, grinning.
"I wouldn't mind."
"Trust me, by the third hour, you would. Especially when I get to the royal naming customs in Mercia and East Anglia."
"I can sort of see how you would take a detour into history with the Templars," Riley changed the subject obligingly, "but how do you get to Atlantis? I mean, yeah, you wrote the book for money, I get that. But you were quite... defensive, no, protective of your subject..."
"Who shall say that one hundred years from now the great museums of the world may not be adorned with gems, statues, arms, and implements from Atlantis, while the libraries of the world shall contain translations of its inscriptions, throwing new light upon all the past history of the human race, and all the great problems which now perplex the thinkers of our day?" she quoted with a dreamy voice.
"Who said that?"
Mina smiled. "He also wrote that 'a single engraved tablet dredged up from Plato's island would be worth more to science, would more strike the imagination of mankind, than all the gold of Peru, all the monuments of Egypt...' And I think he could be right."
"We're not just talking about your book here, are we?"
"Look, I didn't believe in the whole thing, I started to research it only because my publisher suggested it. And I still didn't *believe* in it when I walked out of my hotel room less than a week ago. But the idea is so wonderful... I'm fascinated at the possibility of finding a new language, of finding out how it works, how it has influenced other languages... if it has. I mean, if Atlantis really is real, it has to be *old*, older than any written language, older than any of the civilisations we know anything about..." her voice was filled with wonder, and her eyes were glowing with the light Riley recognized
It was the light Ben had in his eyes when discussing the Treasure, the light that Patrick had had when his son had told him about finding the Charlotte. He'd even seen it in Abigail's eyes on many occasions. The unearthly glow of inspiration he'd never really known, or even wanted to know. The life-consuming drive that had made seven generations of the Gates family spend their lives on wild goose chases.
"Oh, you're one of those," he simply stated, in a flat voice.
"Excuse me? One of who?"
She grinned at him playfully, "Well, maybe a little. Aren't you? About anything?"
Was he? No. And he didn't want to be. He went through his life satisfied with small things, and figured he was much likelier to die happy than his friends who always seemed to be looking for new unreachable goals. They'd find one pot of gold and before long were already hunting for the next rainbow. No please, not for him.
"No. I'm sensible," he said aloud.
"But think about it! Atlantis. Doesn't the word alone make you feel like a child again, reading adventure stories? Think about it, if you're the one proving that it's real, that it actually exists... Your name forever linked to its myth..."
"My name is already linked to one myth, and what did that get me? Money, girls, and a never-ending job in cataloguing the damn find," he said in a tone that revealed that he wasn't getting much pleasure out of any of them.
"Couldn't you do something else with your skills?" She frowned, distracted from her point.
"I know nothing about history and even less about archaeology or preservation."
"Well, I for one would have killed to have your job."
"You know, I know some of the people running the project," he said with a serious face, "I bet I could get you an interview after we're done with this little adventure."
She laughed, "Is that the academic variant of 'I can get you a role in a movie'?"
"Ms Goode, I am not that kind of boy," he exclaimed dramatically, widening his eyes. "Besides, all I really need to do is show the chicks my car. Works every time."
"It's red. It goes fast. Really fast." At her pointed look he clarified, "It's a Ferrari 360 Spider."
"3.6 litre V8 engine..." she listed, and at his pointed look explained, "I watch Top Gear."
"Car show?" he guessed, and made her laugh.
"Technically. You don't watch it for the cars, though." She was grinning, and Riley didn't give a damn about how confused he was as long as he got to look at her smile.
After a while she fell asleep against his shoulder, and he frowned warningly at Patrick who tried to talk to him at one point, somewhat surprised at his own protectiveness. Before long he succumbed to sleep himself.
They landed late at night and went to a hotel to get some sleep and freshen up before the scheduled meeting with the museum authorities the next day. Ben and Ian got a suite with room for all of them to work in, and the others settled for smaller rooms.
The night was uneventful and at nine o'clock the group presented themselves at the office of Dr Rastapopulous – which wasn't his name, but to Riley all the Greek names sounded the same. It did not surprise Riley unduly, though, to hear Mina address the director in his native tongue.
As if the man hadn't been in awe of such visitors anyway – everyone around the globe knew who Ben was these days – the beautiful woman in a black business suit speaking perfect Greek seemed to win him completely over. At least Riley was convinced of it.
Luckily for the rest of them the man spoke English, too, and Ben introduced everyone.
"And this is Riley Poole, he's our computer expert, and also knows about the history of keeping time," he finished, grinning, and Riley turned to him, suddenly reminded, "Oh, wow, yeah, I meant to tell... Been reading about that, and, boy, did we get lucky, actually, because time zones... Hello."
His explanation was cut short by the appearance of a beautiful woman behind the director.
"This is Dr. Annewil van den Heuvel, the head of our Crete division," he introduced, and Riley liked their quest more and more. It seemed to attract good-looking ladies. This specimen was blonde, but looked nothing like Abigail. She was tall, stately, in her late thirties, and wore a confident expression.
"Unfortunately, I can't let anyone handle the Disk, or let it leave our hands," the director was explaining. "Not even a legend as yourself." He bowed at Ben.
Dramatic pause for effort.
"'Our hands', ladies and gentlemen. But I can, say, lend Dr. van den Heuvel to you, and she, as a staff member, can study the Disk as part of her research. Will this suffice?"
"We have to take a hot blonde to get the piece of clay? I'm in!" Riley whispered behind Ben who expressed their gratitude in more acceptable terms.
The woman – whose name Riley had already forgotten – led them to her office where the disk had been taken to.
"Now," she sat down behind her desk, gesturing at the chairs for them to sit down. "What do you need the Disk for?" she asked.
"Will you promise this information does not leave the room?" Ben asked.
She raised her eyebrow curiously, but nodded.
"When going through the Templar treasure we found a map pre-dating the discovery of the Phaistos disk but containing the same symbols," he explained matter-of-factly.
"What? Same, or similar?"
"Exactly the same. The only differences, we think, were caused by the process of copying," Ian answered.
"Oh my God... Do you realise what this means? We finally have... Wait, there must be more. Otherwise you would not need the actual artifact."
"Precisely. Which brings us to the part that requires the secrecy. You see, if we had only discovered more of the symbols, we would have published the findings online, giving every scholar equal opportunity to try to decipher them. But the Medieval scholar who copied the map was convinced that it would reveal the location of Atlantis," Ben let some of his excitement shine through in his tone.
"You're kidding me."
"No, ma'am." He smiled.
She stared at their serious faces for a moment, then got up from behind her desk.
"It is not a new theory that the Disk comes from Atlantis. But I've never seen any proof that would convince me. I want to see the map."
"The original is in New York as it's too fragile to travel, but we have copies and photos back at the hotel," Patrick said, gesturing towards the door.
"Fine. Let's go."
- - -
"My God... It is sure? It is not a forgery?"
"If it is, it's an 11th Century forgery, or the three different labs that did the dating were all mistaken," Ian explained quietly.
"I have spent years studying the disk, the markings... and now this. I can't wait to study the symbols. But first things first. You say it leads to Atlantis?"
They told her everything they knew, and she agreed to let Riley make a computer model of the disk.
"What will the model do?"
"We figured the safest bet would be to try to compare the placement of the symbols to stars since they are the universal aid to navigation," Ben told her.
"But... as we don't know the age of the map, or even the physical location of the target, that's an enormous amount of work," she said, frowning.
"That's why we need the computer model," Riley explained. "It can calculate and compare data so much faster than we could. I'm going to compare projected star charts from 1850 BC backwards and..."
"That's still an inordinate amount of work."
"So we better get started. And I need more power," Riley said, looking at his laptop sadly. "I mean, I can *write* the program using this, but to run it..."
"Don't worry, we'll get what ever you need," the blonde woman said, then looked around. "You can call me Anne. I'm in."
Chapter 6: The Fall of the Clay and Gravel
The next day found the group working on the search full time. Anne had taken a research leave from the museum, but had had to go back to tie up some loose ends. Patrick had gone with her. Abigail was out getting supplies, and Mina was negotiating with the hotel management concerning their needs for the room, including internet access.
The others were working in the suite. Riley was idly feeding data into the laptop by the table that was supposed to be used for dining, Ian was sitting on one of the sofas, concentrating on the printouts of the disk, and Ben was hovering around the room, trying to find common patterns of symbols on the map and the disk.
Suddenly Ben dropped the photos, and stalked over to kiss Ian.
"You just looked so... distracting, and then it struck me that I didn't need to stop myself from doing that anymore."
"Yes! Yes, you need to stop yourself from doing that," Riley demanded but didn't have high hopes of being heard as Ian was now pulling Ben down and... oh God. He was out of the room before he would see something that would really scar him for life.
He ran into Mina right outside the door.
"Mina! You're back! Umm, we're taking a break. Fancy a bite? Of food. Fancy a bite of food?"
"Sure, I'd love to." She smiled and didn't even ask about the others, which Riley thought was a good sign. As if she really wanted to spend time with *him*. Cool. And he didn't even have his car with him.
They ran into Abigail in the lobby.
"Hi. Lunch break?"
"Yeah, sort of... We thought we'd try whether that little restaurant where we had breakfast can offer something besides gallons of oil on a plate," Riley explained.
Mina slapped him lightly on the arm. "Come on, it wasn't that greasy!"
"Lady, they made the *coffee* in olive oil!"
"Why can't we order in?" Abigail interrupted their banter. "We really need to work on this..."
"No, no, we need a break," Riley said quickly, leading them towards the door.
"Okay, fine. Are the others coming as well?"
"Patrick is still in Anne's office. And Ben and Ian... well, they're taking care of themselves."
"Okay, I'll just drop these off in their room, and come join you," she said, showing them a bag full of office supplements.
"That... might not be a good idea. They're... busy."
"But you said we were taking a break," she frowned, and turned to walk towards the elevator again.
Riley sighed in frustration, and met Mina's glance. She had obviously figured out the reason behind his embarrassment, and was fighting not to laugh.
Subtlety hadn't helped, so Riley didn't know what to do but blurt it out.
"They're having sex."
Abigail stopped as if she had run into a wall, and they could see the back of her neck turn pink but she composed herself before turning to look at them. Her words were reproachful, though.
"I lived with that man for half a year; I did not need that visual."
"Is it my fault I had to draw a diagram?" Riley huffed, and could see Abigail collect steam for a full-blown confrontation when Mina's gasp made them both turn to look at her.
"You and Ben? You mean that was real? After meeting Ian I thought that was... you know, a cover. For the papers."
"No," Abigail said, simply.
"Oh, sorry, I..."
"It's okay. We're better as friends than lovers." She smiled at her kindly. "And I knew I should have suspected something when Patrick saw me and Riley with Ben, and deduced that *Riley* was the only person in his son's life..."
Riley spluttered, much as he'd done back then, and the women laughed.
Oh joy, the way this was going, Mina would fall for Abigail, and he would again end up alone. That thought gave him pause. Why was he suddenly taking it for granted that... was he really falling for...? Oh man, he was.
He was falling for a woman as insanely passionate about her field as Ben and Abby. He was doomed.
- - -
Luckily Patrick and Anne's return coincided with theirs and the work continued without embarrassing moments. It did help that Ian and Ben were decently dressed and the room was aired by the time the others joined them.
Ben had at some point had enough time to come to a conclusion that the only symbol on the disk not used on the map was the wheel shape.
"Does that mean something?" Riley wondered.
"Well, they might not be letters or words at all... Look, all of these strings of symbols can be found copied on the disk, yeah? But not the wheels."
"It *is* incredible... Look here, could it be that these strings of symbols *lead* the way to Atlantis? Or, 'home' what ever it is," Patrick suggested.
"What about the eyes clue? Is there anything about the direction in which the eyes are looking?" Mina asked, and Anne shook her head.
"They are all pretty much aligned to the direction of the text," she explained.
They threw around ideas while Riley made a 3D model of the disk, and started looking for patterns in the placement of the symbols, both on the map and on the disk.
On the following days they also arranged for another computer to constantly search through the star charts and find matches between the symbols charts they were creating. Riley grumbled about the inaccuracy of the data and the guesses they needed to make.
"I mean, quite apart from the monkeys and Shakespeare's work, if you put random numbers into a system and ask it to find a pattern, it damn well *will* find you a pattern. Just look at all the 'Bible codes'. Or, or, the decipherment efforts on the damn disk. Go on, they're all around the 'net, and some very scholarly attempts too, with perfect results and explanations!"
"We do have other sources to check the possible results against," Ben told him.
The older man nodded towards Mina. "We've got an expert, remember?"
"I'm not here just to be pretty," she reminded.
"But no one's ever found any evidence of..."
"Maybe. Maybe not. But we have so much data to go on. I mean, if we get a result that points to, say, middle of Japan, we know we're pretty much off course," Mina explained.
"Well, yeah, duh, but..."
"But what else *can* we do?" she asked, also getting worked up.
"Go home and study the treasure we *know* how to find?" Riley suggested, irritably.
"Come on, where's your sense of adventure?" Ben grinned.
"Left it with my other pants, sorry."
"What would Mr. Poole really suggest we do?" Anne asked from her corner.
He turned to look at her, still a bit wary of her. Even though they were all on first name terms, they still didn't know a lot more about her than her nationality – Dutch – her position, and her almost obsessive interest in the disk and the meaning behind the symbols. The contrast between her and Mina was marked – they found more about the Brit every time she opened her mouth.
"I'm just saying, we can't let ourselves expect a miracle here," Riley explained patiently.
"It is already a miracle finding this map! Can't you see, we have been so overwhelmed with the possibility to find more we have overlooked the fact that this map is in itself a treasure, a wonder, a find of the century. Books should be written about it. Someone obviously knew our Earth better than we thought, before we thought... Even if we find nothing else, this document is enough to keep us busy."
"Yeah, well, why aren't you – we – writing those books? Why are we chasing a non-existent city?" he asked her, pissed off at her 'I'm talking to a retarded kid' tone.
"Because we can?" Mina suggested lightly, getting up to place her hand on Riley's shoulder, getting physically in between the two.
"Because we are going to find the city! The map is a miracle but it is not enough. We will find Atlantis!" Anne declared, also getting up. "Why are you here if you don't believe?"
"Honestly? Because I had nothing better to do. But, come on! What are the odds that these people who thought markings on a piece of clay were the way to go would be able to produce navigational aides of this magnitude? I mean, the double meaning the disk supposedly has, in written down coordinates or instructions doubling as a star map? Who could have done something like that?"
"Oh, I don't know. The people who circumnavigated the globe centuries – if not millennia – before Magellan?" Ben suggested.
Riley shut up, thought it through... "I hate it when you do that."
"I think we all need a break," Ben suggested. "Maybe a night off would be in order. Sights, food, what ever you can think of, and we can continue this tomorrow."
Anne turned her claws on Mina now, snidely suggesting the Brit might want to join the other British tourists in the clubs.
She refused to take the bait. "I know my compatriots have a bad reputation in all the sunny islands but I myself have never seen an inside of a Greek club, and am planning to keep it that way. I've always had better things to do in here than getting drunk and breaking places, and I refuse to take blame for my countrymen's actions. I don't know what your problem is, Dr. van den Heuvel, but I suggest you get over it."
"I'm... sorry. Ben is right. We can all do with a break. My apologies, Riley. I... tend to get a little intense about these things," she smiled disarmingly, though Riley noticed that her apology didn't cover Mina. "Can I interest you people in some beautiful ruins?"
- - - -
Things went on unchanged for a week, then one night, when everyone was asleep, Riley's program hit a match. Ben and Ian had woken up to the warning sound, and had spent the rest of the night verifying the find, and apparently getting cautiously optimistic because the sight that greeted Riley when he appeared the next morning was of two dishevelled, red-eyed but beaming men.
"Do I need to come back later?" he pointedly asked Ben, who had opened the door unshaven and clad only in his jeans.
"No! Wait, yes, get the others. We've got it," he beamed.
"Your program hit gold."
"Nuh-uh, you'll hear when you get the others."
Muttering something rude, Riley went to drag the others from their breakfasts. By the time they entered the suite, Ben and Ian had shaved and pulled more clothes on.
"Okay," Ben started with his best lecture tone. "If this model is accurate, and the markings on the map really navigational aides... Ladies, gentlemen, we have located Atlantis."
His dramatic pause rivalled that of the museum director's whose name Riley still hadn't bothered to remember.
"The Antarctic continent."
"No, why is it always the cold places? Ice. Snow. Dog sledges. Hypothermia," Riley listed, then shut up, realising no one was paying the least attention to him. They were looking at the screen and at the printouts filled with calculations and markings, smiling and beaming and laughing.
He could understand the enthusiasm up to a point, yeah, but still couldn't let his analytical mind stop, well, analysing. The odds of them finding the map *and* the disk were ridiculous, the guess work and theorising that went to the model, and the out-of-your-ass result of placing the spur of the moment diagrams on the map... No, he did not really believe they would find anything. It all sounded like a bad adventure movie.
He didn't doubt they'd go check it, though. It's not as if they'd have trouble getting backing for *this* venture. Not that he'd suggest going public with this just yet.
It seemed Patrick was thinking along the same lines.
"We can't let this get out. With Ben's reputation, if a word gets out the whole place will be littered with treasure hunters and archaeologists and wannabe Indiana Joneses..."
"We have all the people we need, surely," Ben concluded. "Ian can get us a reliable crew, and we can re-use a lot of the gear we used when looking for the Charlotte. All we need now is a ship, and, well, maybe some permits, I'm not sure of the legalities of exploring the place. But we need to keep it quiet; my name shouldn't come out."
"Trust me," Ian said grinning widely. "Anonymous operations are my speciality."
"Don't ask," Riley told Anne, who looked at the grinning men questioningly.
Chapter 7: Legends of the Cave-Life
It took months of preparation to get to the final stage of their search, though Riley preferred to call it 'the first wild goose', being sure they'd end up reworking the model and dashing around the globe looking for the elusive lost city for countless more times, and that their grandchildren's grandchildren would still be at it.
Months that, incidentally, had seen no change in his relationship with Mina. They still did their routine that was part banter, part flirting, and got to know each other even better but for some reason Riley hadn't even tried to kiss her yet. He wondered how much of it was not wanting to rush into things like Ben and Abby had, and how much pure lack of confidence about Mina's reciprocation.
As for Anne... They still didn't know much about her. She was quiet about her family, told them little about her career choices, and only seemed interested in talking about the project. Her truce with Mina had developed into a friendship but even the Brit got tired of listening to her go on and on about the Quest.
They were all glad that the need for secrecy forced Anne to keep quiet on the ship that took them to Antarctica – most of the crew didn't know the true nature of their expedition. They had geologists, photographers, doctors – people they could use as a cover for the true purpose, and who they would need should they actually find something. Most of the crew was to stay at the base camp they were going to establish at Ross Island, out of the way of the permanent science stations.
After setting up base camp, the skeleton crew of the conspirators plus a few of Ian's men took planes to the coordinates Riley's program had spat out, which would, incidentally, take them to a foot of one of the mountains.
It was January 25th, six months after that Monday morning Riley had been told about the mad quest. The coat he wore was the same he had worn in the Charlotte excursion, scorch marks and all, and he had to admit he was still a bit wary about Ian's 'merry men'. He knew they still carried guns, though he couldn't understand who they were protecting them against in this desolate waste.
And he so very much hated flying in a small plane. Mina and Anne were excitedly pointing out sights to each other. All Riley could see was snow, snow, snow.
He felt someone pat him on his shoulder, and turned to meet Abigail's understanding gaze.
"Poor boy, are your girlfriends ignoring you?"
"They're fighting so hard for your attention that even I can see it."
He couldn't see it, but the idea made him feel better.
"Look!" Mina turned her head back to look at Riley. "We're nearly there!"
- - -
They established a camp a little distance from the planes.
"What are we looking for, exactly?" MacGregor, one of Ian's men, asked.
"I'm not quite sure. If there was a cave, someone would have spotted it by now, but as this is supposed to be an entrance of sorts we shouldn't have to go through solid rock, and... and it can't be that high, either, or they couldn't have reached it," Mina explained.
"Remember that this place would have looked very different back when the map was made. Maybe even uncovered by snow, we don't know. The explorers returning home with the help of the Star Disk would have had a clearer line of vision," Ben reminded.
"And, let's not forget that the hard weather conditions have changed the looks of this place," Patrick chipped in.
"Okay, let's go," Ian ordered, pushing his sunglasses up on his nose with a decisive gesture.
- - -
The first hours felt eternal in the violent wind, and Riley didn't feel very hopeful. The rock wall was... a rock wall, solid and hard. Going through every visible inch of it was just frustrating.
"Look, isn't that... a flower?" Mina yanked Riley's arm excitedly.
"Huh?" he looked at her as if she'd lost her mind.
"A carving, silly," she giggled, pointing at something on the wall at about the height of her knees, then gestured for the others.
"It looks like..." Ben started but Anne finished for him: "Like the symbol in the middle of the Phaistos Disk."
"No. No, no, no. X marks the spot?" Riley was incredulous.
Mina beamed at him, "Evidently."
They debated about what the marking meant – had there been an entrance near it that was now blocked? Should they dig, or try to get through the stone, or try climbing?
After thoroughly checking through the surrounding area and the mountain wall for any markings, they were still undecided.
"It all depends on what we think we're looking for," Ben summed up. "Do we think the city is inside the mountain? Or underground... I mean snow? Or... wiped out completely by the elements?"
"Well, if we think that the culture pre-dates the ice, shouldn't we be searching 1.6 kilometres in that direction?" Anne asked, pointing downwards.
"That's one mile for you Americans," Mina clarified.
"Look who's talking," the Dutch woman grinned at her.
"Hey, we succumbed," the Briton countered.
"Oh, and you use metric in your everyday life?" Anne was sceptical.
"Hey, ladies... Atlantis?" Ben reminded.
"Why would the flower be up here if the city was down there?" Riley asked, pointing down as well.
"Good point," Ben said, and the others looked at Riley as if surprised by his contribution.
"What? I can have ideas."
"Could the flower just be a modern... doodle?" Patrick suggested, studying the carving.
"What are the odds?" Ben asked.
"Well... what are the odds for it originating from Atlantis?" Riley countered.
"Would it have survived in here, in this weather, if it really was that old?" Ian wondered.
"How old is 'that old'?" Anne asked, shrugging, "All we know is it's older than thousand years because the map is at least that old."
"Good questions, both," Ben ceded, "but we still don't know what to do about it."
"People... isn't that another flower?" Ian asked, pointing up a little higher than their heads.
Mina climbed on Riley's shoulders to see better and Ben elevated Abigail. Anne declined, stating she could see well enough from where she stood.
"It is! We need to... get higher, and lower, to see if we can find more!"
- - -
They had the equipment for both, and finally Ian's men, who had so far just been hovering around unnerving Riley, had something to do in the form of physical labor. They had time to discover flowers in both directions before having to retire for the night.
"Well... I don't think it's a doodle," Ben concluded when they were eating inside the tent.
"No. But what it means, I can't comprehend," Anne admitted.
"But it is something. It is a find. In itself it doesn't prove the existence of Atlantis but the suggestion of human presence in here alone..." Mina let her voice die out, leaving everyone to ponder on the consequences of that.
"Well... it might be enough to get us permission to dig as deep as we want to, even if it requires heavier machinery," Patrick stated.
- - -
The next day they concentrated on the digging part, deciding to keep going as far as they could safely go – or as deep as they could get – with the equipment they had, and then start going up.
After four hours of work they found... something.
"It is... an anomaly, at least. A different kind of rock," Ian told the others.
They were so deep that only a few could work on the deepest bit – the others were widening and strengthening their excavation.
"Could it be... a caved-in entrance?" Mina was hopeful.
"We're going to stop going deeper and work on the widening bit to get more leverage."
- - -
It took another four hours to get through the material blocking what now obviously looked like an opening. They were all holding their breaths when the got their first glimpse in.
"Space," Ben breathed.
"We definitely found... something," Mina concluded.
They cleared a hole big enough to get everyone through, and left MacGregor and Paul outside to guard the entrance. Should it be blocked for any reason... well, Riley didn't want to think about the consequences.
As he was standing on an even stone floor, looking at the endless corridor in front of him – or at least as much as he could see in the light they could produce – he finally started to believe. They were there. It was real. It existed. They had found it. At-frigging-lantis. In the flesh. Well, rock.
"Oh my God..." seemed to be the general reaction, and even if not a linguist, Riley could translate its Dutch variant from Anne's lips.
They could see the enforced and decorated entrance from the inside, and the rubble seemed to be the broken remains of a thick stone door. The corridor to left and right of the door seemed endless, with doorways and side tunnels and stair as far as eye could see.
All the walls appeared to be covered in mural carvings and paintings, and the now-familiar symbols decorated every available space.
They pointed their electric lights of different size on the wall and the art. It was descriptive but the technique very different from any other they'd ever seen. It reminded Riley of the Egyptian tombs he'd seen in the way the images and text seemed to work fluidly together. There were pictures of animals – elephants, giraffes, big cats – and plants, so precise that they could almost recognise the species. And there were human figures, in clothing for hot weather.
"Moving poles?" Mina whispered.
"Or pre-ice age?" Anne asked, with wonder in her tone.
"Think they left a calendar behind?" Riley asked, regaining his composure. It's not like this was the first miraculous thing he'd ever seen.
They chose a direction and moved ahead, soon realising the place was huge. Every crossing had corridors to all directions, and the presence of stairs hinted at multi-story structure. They stopped in different rooms, some connected to other rooms, some to new corridors, some seemed to be arranged together like apartments... The biggest lights were connected to a generator outside so they didn't need to mark their way as long as they stuck together – which wasn't as easy as one would think because there were things to see all around them, and everyone wanted to follow their own pattern.
At one point they found a room filled with paintings of maps, and the roof... the roof was a detailed working of the night sky, with every star meticulously marked, and the planets clearly visible.
"There's your calendar," Ian said quietly.
- - -
"*Is* this Atlantis? It's not an island, it's not where Plato said it was, it doesn't fit his description at all," Mina asked, when they sat down in the map room for a break. They had removed their coats because it was surprisingly warm inside, and were munching on energy bars.
"Well, according to my calculations, there is a circular shape to this place... the first corridor we found seems to go around all of this, whatever it is, judging from the curve," Riley said, looking at the figures on his palmtop.
"And does it matter?" Anne exclaimed. "We found a lost city, a lost culture no one knew about. I doubt they called themselves Atlanteans, even if they *are* the people Plato wrote about. The Medieval scholars who led us here believed they were searching for Atlantis. Why? Just because they had discovered Plato's work in Greece? We might never know. But we have *this*, and whatever it is, it is a treasure."
"All new language..." Mina whispered, tracing the carvings on the wall.
Soon they were back at walking through the endless labyrinth of similar rooms, determined to go as far as the cables would let them, and then start going through the place in a more scientific manner.
One thing that struck them was the lack of any kind of artifacts. There were niches in the walls that had obviously housed statues or some other items, but they were all empty. What was really eerie was the fact that in many places they could see the differently coloured surface on the spots that had had items.
"Not one piece of orichalcum anywhere," Riley complained wistfully.
"Now who's played too much Fate of Atlantis?" Ben asked, then came to a standstill.
"Guys... Someone has been here before us."
"Well, supposedly the people who lived here?" Riley suggested lightly, not really wanting to ponder the horror-movie possibility that they were not alone.
"Recently," Ben clarified, crouching to inspect the markings on the floor.
"Footprints," Ian verified. "Old... but not *this* old."
After a few more steps they saw the remains of a lamp on the floor. "Who ever was here, was here *recently*," Ian pointed out, drawing their attention to the evidence. "That can't be more than fifty years old."
"Oh... my... god..." Anne was staring at an item a little further away on the floor.
It was a button.
A bronze-coloured button depicting an eagle with spread wings perching on... a swastika.
"Oh my God," Mina echoed her.
"The Nazis!?" Riley exclaimed, incredulously.
Anne had turned white, and was muttering something in her native language. She kept repeating one word, "opa".
"What about your grandfather?" Mina frowned.
"He was here," she whispered, "they were here, they found it, and he told me, and I never believed him... They... he said they had discovered... Atlantis..."
Chapter 8: Ragnarok
With Anne obviously in shock, they decided it was wisest to return to the camp. They informed base camp of their presence but not of what they had found.
Over food, they discussed the evidence of Nazi presence.
"I, for one, don't get it," Riley complained.
"The Nazis were interested in strengthening their ideological background with archaeological proof of the superiority of the Aryan race. Their quest to find items like the Ark, the Grail or the Holy Lance is not an invention of popular culture. The SS had an 'ancestral heritage branch' dedicated primarily to archaeological research," Anne explained tonelessly.
"Your grandfather was with the Nazis? But you're Dutch!"
Even under the circumstances Mina and Anne shared a glance that screamed 'Americans!'.
"The Nazis admitted that some of the Dutch were also descendants of the Aryans and accepted them into their army," Mina explained.
"Forced them! My grandfather was forced to join the SS but he only ever worked in an office, pushing paper, so that they wouldn't send him in the field."
"That's what they all said," Mina interjected dryly.
"It's true! My grandfather wouldn't have..."
"He was bloody SS. What did you think the 'paperwork' entailed, office supplies?"
"He was a scholar!"
"Ahnenerbe – your precious scholars – were also responsible for the human experiments in Dachau!"
"Hey! This is not Nuremberg, we're not trying to assign blame here," Ian interrupted the women forcefully.
"Sorry," Mina said immediately but Anne kept shooting angry glances at her.
Then she took a deep breath, obviously trying to calm herself.
"I don't know what they found – I've never seen any records of this. But my grandfather was part of an excavation somewhere cold. And they discovered something big, so big he said no one would have believed them anyway. He said they'd discovered Atlantis. I admit, I never believed his stories. I loved listening to them. I wanted to believe. That's why I studied in his university, his field... His stories made me want to... but I did not believe him. Especially in the end when he was... Well, he was old. I'm sorry, opa," she whispered, with a sob. "None of us believed. About the big find he never told anyone before... before the end. He was never sure what exactly they had found but he said they carted boxes full of stuff away from there. What happened to those artifacts he never knew, but he was almost shot for trying to keep a souvenir."
"So... what happened to those boxes? Why didn't they surface after war?" Ben asked, fascinated.
"Many Nazi treasures were lost during the last days of war, and after. The fleeing officers took some with them, and there is a prevailing myth that mysterious boxes were dumped into the lake Toplitz, and never found afterwards. Maybe... just maybe they are still there. Maybe the secrets of Atlantis are, indeed, underwater."
"This is all a bit much. 'Dear diary, today we discovered Atlantis, only to find out the Nazis got here before us.'" Riley was trying to lighten the mood by playing up his confusion. "And it's late, and we're tired and cranky, can we, you know, sleep on it, and decide the course of action tomorrow?"
"Why, Riley, that is a wonderful idea," Ben also played up his surprise at the wisdom of his suggestion, to draw attention away from the tension.
"Guys... I have a suggestion, too," Mina grinned impishly. "Why would we huddle in our cold tents when there are nicely insulated rooms right next to us?"
"Go sleep in Atlantis?" Riley asked then blinked, "I can't believe that sentence just left my mouth."
"I think that is a *wonderful* idea!" Anne exclaimed enthusiastically, and the others stared at her sudden mood swing suspiciously.
"Well, I see no reason not to," Ben concluded, and they collected their things in preparation for the move.
Ian's men stayed outside in the base, working out a rotating guard duty so that there was always someone by the entrance. The others chose a room a little further away from the entrance, and hooked up the generator for warmth, just in case, even though it was still almost a t-shirt weather inside despite the recently re-opened way out. They left the lights on low, and snuggled into their individual sleeping bags.
Mina moved her bag next to Riley's.
"I find the thought of those endless corridors a little creepy," she admitted in a low voice.
"Yeah, me too. Maybe if it wasn't so dark..."
"There has had to be some lighting system, I can't believe these people would have lived underground with just torches for illumination," Ben said. The man never stopped thinking.
"Well, we saw those blocked window-like structures... Maybe this place looked different when there was no snow," Abigail suggested.
"And maybe these are just the cellars, maybe the actual city is higher up or... maybe there were bits above ground and they have all been destroyed by the snow and wind," Anne speculated.
"And maybe," Riley said pointedly, "we should try that sleeping thing."
He hadn't even realised he had fallen asleep when he woke up to a loud sound, the echo still ringing in his ears as he got up.
"Gunshots!" Ian deduced and Riley couldn't help but look at him, halfway expecting him to pull a gun on them. Again.
They were all out of their bags in seconds, and as Ben adjusted the lamp to make it brighter they noticed that Anne was missing.
Ian nodded wordlessly to Ben, and they moved cautiously towards the corridor.
The others followed, clutching flashlights, and Riley could feel Mina's hand find his. He squeezed it tightly.
"I knew we couldn't go through an adventure without getting shot at," he muttered to Ben, who shot him a tight grin.
"Well, this time it isn't me," Ian whispered.
They made their way towards the entrance but before reaching the surface ran into Anne who was walking towards them with the big generator-powered light.
"What happened?" Ian demanded, as she came to a halt in front of them.
"Viktor. He just... took his gun out and tried to shoot me!" Anne exclaimed.
"No, he didn't," Ian said, narrowing his eyes.
Then, before anyone had time to react, she had a gun trained at them, and the lamp was on the floor, also aimed at them.
"Yes, he did," she smiled, "I just tried to kill him first."
"What? Why?" Ben demanded but the woman ignored her.
"You. You are German," she pointed the gun at Abigail who, having some experience in being shot at, looked merely defiant.
"American, actually," she pointed out, but Anne paid no attention to it, raising the pistol higher, aiming at her chest.
"Close enough," she whispered, closed her eyes, and fired.
Everyone had had time to realise what she was about to do, and move. Patrick had moved to cover Abigail, and she tried to push him away – he caught the first bullet in his back and fell to the ground, saying 'Oh dear' before losing consciousness.
Ian had pushed Ben out of the way and tried to make it to the woman, using her obvious confusion to disarm her. He caught the next bullet in his arm, fell, and hit his head on the wall.
Riley saw all this as if in slow motion. He had pulled Mina into his arms, and was trying to protect her with his body. If he'd had any doubts about his feelings, they were gone. Not Abigail, not Anne, not Ben – Mina was the first thought he'd had, his first priority.
Shouting, cursing, moans of pain... and one loud clear voice saying "Stand back!"
They did as they were told, after a fashion. Abigail was on her knees next to Patrick, trying to put pressure on the wound, and Mina moved to check his pulse. Ben was checking Ian's vital signs, removing his shirt to dress the scratch on his arm – he was only unconscious because he'd hit his head. Everyone seemed to have dropped their lights but Anne's big light still illuminated the scene with the aid of the fallen flashlights pointing at every direction.
"Why?" Mina asked again, looking at the woman they'd all called their friend.
"Why? You don't belong here. I wanted to get rid of you quietly, in your sleep, but that fool," she said, obviously referring to Viktor, "stopped me. Now... it will be harder."
The knuckles in the hand holding the gun were white from the pressure.
"So you're going to kill us to get your hands on the treasure 'beneath the waves'?"
"I don't need to. Oh, I mean, yes, I will kill you, a tragic accident. I wanted a cave in but now I have to shoot you and make the bodies disappear. But I won't need to go searching further. I have a treasure – this place. It's mine. My grandfather found it. You had your treasure already, greedy of you to want more. I won't share the credit of this one. I will publish this find, in the memory of my grandpa."
"You can have the credit, like you said, we don't need it. You don't need to kill us," Riley said, everyone else busy trying to nurse someone.
"Good try. As if I'd fall for that."
"No, listen," Riley went on, "Ian was working against us when we were looking for the Templar treasure. And Ben..."
"I stole the Declaration of Independence," Ben said, from where he was kneeling by Ian.
"I don't believe it!"
"I did. End justifies the means," Ben lied.
"And he got away with it. Ian broke the law, too, and he got away with it. We covered for him." Well, Riley thought, not a complete lie. Ben had gotten him a lighter sentence due to feeling guilty, even before he'd decided to get him out completely.
"You let us walk out of here, that's what we'll do – walk out of here. The find of the century, hell, millennium, all yours. All Ben wants is to take Ian home, all Abigail wants is to go back to her musty manuscripts, and all I want is... is to get Mina alone for a second and proposi... I mean propose to her..."
"Really?" Mina looked up at him.
He smiled at the joy in her voice, despite the situation.
"Yeah. I think I kinda sorta, you know, love you," he confessed, looking her in the eye.
"Shut. Up. So very sweet it makes me want to hurl. I'm still not falling for that one. And I'm not sharing my one shot of making history."
She moved the gun so that she was aiming straight at Ian, who was showing signs of returning consciousness. Ben was still kneeling by him, and now positioned himself in between the gun and his lover, meeting Anne's eyes.
Suddenly Riley realised what he was doing. The woman was aiming at the easiest target, someone already unconscious. She had closed her eyes when trying to shoot Abigail, after looking for an excuse to justify her death for herself. She couldn't be so confident in her ability to kill in cold blood. There was definite hesitation in her stance even now.
Ben continued to meet her gaze steadily, and Riley looked at Mina. Meeting her gaze (She was looking at *him*, not the scene. Wow.) he nodded quickly towards the obviously insane woman, so slightly she wouldn't attract her attention. Mina's answering nod was equally subtle, and in a heartbeat they were up, and attacking.
Two targets, a few feet apart as they were, confused the untrained woman, as he had calculated, and the only shot she got out was way off, then they were on her, and Ben joined in on the fun, getting hold of the gun while Riley restrained her wrists, and Mina unceremoniously sat on her legs. He could never fully explain to anyone afterwards where he had found the resolution and courage to do such an insane thing. He usually claimed to have been possessed by an ancient Atlantean spirit.
But right at the moment he had other issues in his mind, "How's Ian?" he got out, eyes on the writhing prisoner.
"He'll live," answered a quiet British voice from the ground, and Ben got up to check on him, offering the pistol to Mina.
Abigail was still holding the shirt against Patrick's wound.
"Anne seems to have a back bag and some rope over there," she said, quietly.
Ben tied Anne with the rope with Riley and Mina still holding on to her. They were starting to get giddy over their heroics.
"Jij bent een pestpokkepleurislijer!" Anne spat at Riley, who smiled.
"Wow, am I happy I don't know what that meant. Sounds contagious."
Mina snickered. "It is. And no, you don't want to know what it means."
"Is dad okay?" Ben asked from Abigail, reminding them that the situation was still serious.
"His pulse is there but weak and he's still unconscious, we need to get him to a hospital ASAP."
"I'll go contact the base," Riley offered, and got up from the wriggling Dutchwoman.
"I'll come with you. Here," Mina offered the gun to Ben. "If she even blinks meanly, I'm willing to testify she was shot in self-defence. Better yet, that she was lost in a storm."
"Bet on it," Ben replied, equally seriously.
- - -
They had only taken a few steps around a corner when they ran into Paul and McGregor, cautiously approaching with their guns drawn.
"You missed all the fun, boys," Riley quipped.
"Is Viktor... all right?" Mina asked.
"He'll live," one of the men answered before asking, "what happened?"
"Dr. van den Heuvel went bonkers. Dr. Gates and Mr. Howe are injured – we need to contact the base camp to arrange for evac," Mina explained, and seemingly without consulting with each other Paul retreated back to the surface to use the radio and McGregor moved forward to go check up on his boss.
Their mission suddenly taken care of, and the corridor all to themselves, Mina used the opportunity to turn to Riley and ask: "Did you mean what you said?"
He shot a look at her from the corner of his eyes.
"Yeah, I... yeah," he admitted, quietly.
Was she smiling? She was smiling. That was a good sign, right?
"So... are you going to proposi... propose to me now?"
He answered to her light tone by grabbing her, and pushing her against the wall.
"I'm going to kiss you," he warned, and did just that.
Wow, oh wow. She was kissing back. That was a good sign, right? She dropped her flashlight again, and he seemed to have lost his as well, and they were kissing passionately in the semi-darkness.
"I love you," he whispered, raising his head just enough to look her in the eyes the best he could in the faint light of the flashlights on to floor.
"I love you too," she replied, smiling.
"You sure? It's not just the heat of the moment, part of the adventure rush thing?"
"I fell for you the moment I realised you shared my love for G.I. Joe. Kinda long moment, don't you think?"
"Wow. Me? With Ben there?"
"You. Your adorable puppy dog eyes and sarcastic side notes, your wicked sense of humor, and your killer smile. Your absurd little beard, and... and your reading glasses."
"And you haven't even seen my car yet," he reminded her.
"Nor your comic collection," she said.
At that point, he kissed her again.
"So... will you tell me your name *now*? Or do I need to wait for the priest's question?"
"Riley Poole, is that... a proposal?" She seemed to be blinking back tears.
He shrugged. "Only to find out your name, of course."
"Naturally," she conceded, smiling widely, then drew a deep breath before whispering, "Helmina Pauline."
It was Riley's turn to blink. Somehow, that finally drove it home that she really did love him. He swallowed.
"Helmina Pauline Goode, will you marry me?"
Her smile turned even wider, and wordlessly she pulled him closer for another kiss.
A laughing "Get a room" from Ian finally pulled them apart, and sheepishly they joined the rest of the crew in the clean up process.
Chapter 9: The After-Word
So. As if the others didn't have their work cut out to them for the rest of their lives in the *first* treasure, they now had the next one to obsess about. Less gold, to be sure, but enough texts to keep them going for the next thousand years or so. At least until they discovered the *next* clue to the *next* treasure – although Riley didn't really know where they could go from here.
Abby had accompanied Patrick back to the States, and would go back to working on the *first* treasure just as he'd predicted. And the last he'd heard from Ben and Ian, they had been muttering something about "Nazis, huh. You think there's something to those stories about the Lake Toplitz? They never did find those crates."
"Fancy some diving, babe?"
That was the point where Ben had been distracted by Ian's grin, it seemed. All talk of treasure had been forgotten so Riley had left them at it and gone in search of some kisses himself.
Of course, he did end up falling for a woman who was just as obsessed about the damn find as Ben had been about the Templar treasure. He could foresee years and years of living in the damn frozen wasteland, and working on cataloguing the new find, symbol by symbol, painting by painting, bit of gravel after another. As much as the world had come to pieces, this new world order felt much like the old.
Then again... over the screen of his laptop he met Mina's laughing gaze and watched the laughter turn to fire as she leaned in to kiss him.
Well, with some changes. Not bad for a treasure, this.
- - -
Beta by the Queen of Commas, jane_elliot
Thanks also to lalaith86 for Anne's name and curses;)
Ignatius Donnelly: Atlantis, The Antediluvian World
Ibid: Ragnarok, The Age of Fire and Gravel (My title and chapter titles from this work)
Rand Flem-Ath and Colin Wilson: The Atlantis Blueprint
Gavin Menzies: 1421: The Year China Discovered the World
Lewis Spence: The History of Atlantis
Two Atlantis documentaries on the National Geographic Channel, and one on the History Channel. (No, don't remember names, and no, they weren't very good. The last one had spirit guides.)