The Last Oracle

Page 45

If so, why the sudden urgency to come out here just before he disappeared? He must have discovered some new connection, something bearing on his own line of study.

Gray asked Abe, “Was there anything that triggered Dr. Polk’s sudden need to come here? Anything unusual that led up to that day?”

The man shook his head. “He came to visit the village. Like he had done many times. We were talking about an upcoming election where an achuta candidate was up for a mayoral position. I had found a new coin and showed him, but he asked to see the one with the temple on it again. He glanced at it without too much interest, even spinning it on the table as we spoke. Then suddenly his eyes got huge, and he jumped up. He wanted to immediately come here, but I had obligations with the election. I asked him to wait until I returned…”

His voice trailed off and was picked up by Elizabeth. “My father was not known for his patience.”

Masterson nodded. “That was the day I got the frantic call from him. He claimed that he had discovered something that would shake our understanding of the human mind once it was known.”

As an idea jangled through him, Gray turned to Rosauro. “Let me see that coin again.”

She passed it over.

Gray examined it: temple on one side, chakra wheel on the other. “Elizabeth, you said your father obtained that position for you at Delphi so you could explore how it might connect to his own research. What did you end up telling him about Delphi’s history?”

“Just the basics,” she said. “He was less interested in the history than he was in the discovery of ethylene gases near the temple site. My father wanted more details into the Oracle’s rituals, looking again for physiological support for her intuitive powers.”

“So if he wasn’t interested in the history, when did he learn about the significance of the Greek letter epsilon?”

“I sent him a paper on it.”


“About a month before he—” Her eyes suddenly widened.

Gray nodded. He knelt on the marble floor and placed his flashlight down. Propping the coin up on its edge, Gray flicked it and sent it spinning on the floor, lit by the flashlight beam.

He leaned down, studying it.

The spinning coin formed a blurry, silvery globe. The E, positioned in the center of the coin, now rested at the core of the whirling globe. Gray sensed the symbolism. Painter had said that the E may have had its roots in the earliest worship of the Earth mother, Gaia. Now it rested at the center of the silvery sphere, like Gaia herself in the physical world. But the letter also represented human’s intuitive potential, rising out of the core of the human body, out of the brain.

Gray let his own mind relax, seeking significance.

What had Archibald Polk realized?

The coin spun, a silvery mystery, hiding an ancient secret.

But what—?

Then Gray knew.

Reaching out, he slapped the coin flat against the marble.

Of course!

11:35 P.M.

Pripyat, Ukraine

“The Americans have Sasha,” Nicolas said sharply as he stepped into the bedroom. He was naked under an open robe, but his anger kept him warm.

Elena lay draped across the bedspread, nude. She had one leg up, and an arm draped to the side, waiting for him. They had returned from the gala to their hotel outside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, where many of the dignitaries were being housed prior to tomorrow’s event.

Nicolas had spent the past half hour on a scrambled satellite phone, making sure every last detail was addressed before the morning. A call to his mother at the Warren revealed the latest bit of upsetting news. With her ties to former operatives in the KGB, she had heard the rumblings coming out of Washington’s intelligence communities. The city had been in turmoil over the past twenty hours, searching for a girl. It must be Sasha. Then things had gone deathly quiet. Even Yuri went silent. Both he and his mother knew what that implied.

Someone had found her.

And Nicolas suspected who it was.

His fingers clenched into a fist.

It was likely the same organization that had been plaguing him in India, dredging up Dr. Polk’s research, stirring something that Nicolas had thought had ended with the man’s death. One attempt to quash that trail had already failed. But maybe it was just as well.

He’d had one communication, brief, after the failure.

It seemed the team in India was closing in on a secret that Dr. Polk had kept from everyone. Something vital to the professor’s research. Something significant about the children. But what?

Elena stirred on the bed and lifted to an elbow. Concern rang in her voice. “What will you do about little Sasha?”

Nicolas knew all the children grew close. Raised together in the Warren, the older children often took on parental roles with the younger ones. Elena had been especially fond of little Sasha and her brother.

The pair was important to Nicolas, too.

He sank to the bed, and she curled into him, worried and angry. One of her hands slid up under his robe and rested on his thigh. Her skin was hot, feverish. He had kept her waiting too long.

Then long fingernails suddenly clamped onto his thigh, stabbing deeply.

Elena stared up at him. Fire burned behind her eyes, waiting to be unleashed. A trickle of blood ran down Nicolas’s inner thigh, as exciting as the tip of a hungry tongue.

A hard certainty entered Elena’s voice. It brooked no argument, demanding, commanding. “Nothing must happen to little Sasha.”

Her fingers tightened yet again, sending pain shooting to his groin.

He gasped and promised her. “Measures are already under way. All we need—”

Nails dragged up his leg, trailing pain.

“—is something to trade.”

11:45 P.M.

Punjab, India

As thunder boomed and lightning lit up the temple chamber, Elizabeth followed Gray to the giant chakra wheel on the wall. He laid his palm there. Since spinning the coin, he had clearly come to realize something.

But what?

Gray spoke as he stared upward. “From my studies of Indian philosophy, the center of a chakra wheel usually holds a Sanskrit letter, representing one of the energy centers. Muladhara, the root chakra at the base of the spine. Manipura, in the region of the solar plexus. Anahata, the heart.” He stared upward. “This one is empty. Blank.”

“The same on the coin,” Elizabeth said tentatively, not understanding where this was leading.

“Exactly.” Gray had collected the coin and passed it to her now. “But flip the coin over. If you could stare through the center of the chakra wheel to the other side of the coin, what’s positioned there?”

Elizabeth turned the coin back and forth. The capital epsilon lay in the center of the temple, in the exact position as the axle of the chakra wheel on the other side. “It’s the E,” she mumbled.

“It stands on the reverse side of the wheel.” Gray turned to Masterson. “May I borrow your cane?”

The professor passed it reluctantly.

Gray stepped back, reached up, and pushed on the edge of the center circle of black marble. His muscles strained, and the small circle shifted out of place, pivoting around a vertical axis, like a valve in a pipe.

“A secret door,” Masterson exclaimed.

Gray waved to Kowalski. “Give me a leg up.”

Kowalski crossed, dropped to a knee, and laced his fingers. Gray stepped into his grip and climbed high enough to shove the balanced slab of marble wider open. The lower edge of the secret door stood ten feet off the ground. With Kowalski’s boost, Gray wiggled through the opening.

“There’re stairs!” he called back as his legs vanished. “Leading down! Cut into the sandstone back here!”

Elizabeth could hardly wait. She crossed to Kowalski. “Help me.”

She stepped to his knee, but he grabbed her by the waist and lifted her up. She squeaked a little in surprise. He was strong. She grabbed the edge of the opening to steady herself and blindly sought for a foothold to push through the door.

“Ow, that’s my nose,” Kowalski griped.


He grabbed her ankle and shifted it to his shoulder. She shoved and fell the rest of the way through. She found Gray down a few steps, shining his light over the walls. Writing decorated all the surfaces, a mix of shapes and letters.

“Harappan again,” she said with a strain, and gained her feet.

“And look at this,” Gray said. He swung his flashlight and shone it on the reverse side of the black marble door. A large capital epsilon had been carved deep into the stone.

He’d been right.

Elizabeth freed her camera and took several pictures while Rosauro and Luca joined them, crowding the stairs.

Gray leaned out. “Dr. Masterson?”

Through the opening, Elizabeth saw the professor back away.

“Such clambering is for younger folk than I,” he said, clearly exhausted, limping back with his cane. “Just let me know what you find.”

“I’ll remain here, too,” Abe added, but his voice sounded more scared than tired. Elizabeth had noted how nervous he had grown the closer they got to here.

Gray called down. “Kowalski, stay here. In case we get into trouble.”

“Fine by me,” he answered. “Doubt I could fit through there anyway.”

Kowalski’s eyes flicked to Elizabeth. He nodded, silently warning her to be careful.

Thunder again rumbled, felt in the stones.

“Let’s go,” Gray said.

He led the way down with his flashlight. Elizabeth followed, trailed by Rosauro and Luca. Her fingers traced the wall. Harappan script flowed down the stairwell. The ancient language had never been deciphered, mostly because of the scarcity of the script that survived. Archaeologists were still searching for the Rosetta stone for this language, some codex that would allow them to crack their ancient code.

She gazed around her. This could be it.

Thrilled and amazed, her heart thumped in her chest. She was surprised no one else could hear it. At the same time, she pictured her father following these same footsteps. She imagined his heart had thundered the same as hers. In this moment, she felt a strange intimacy, a closeness they’d never shared in life. And never would. Her throat closed a bit as emotion racked through her.

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