Signs & Portents
Chapter 18 Part 1
The Door of Darkness
It was decided to convert one compartment of the Westwind into a small office where the computers and files could be kept. Carl, who was mechanically inclined, took over, and worked on the engine getting it cleaned and repaired. There were huge areas that he could not comprehend but he felt those pertained to the self-repairing facilities. It was all a marvellous puzzle of pipes, circuitry and electronic gadgetry, most of which was hidden away behind the walls, floors and ceilings, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to reach. Mechanically and electronically the Westwind seemed to be in immaculate condition—it literally purred, as Carl put it through its paces and it was getting better all the time except for one thing—the speech center. All of them had been enchanted and sometimes irritated by that rich rumbling bass which chimed in unexpectedly when they were on board as if they were part of the crew. Sometimes it seemed as if they had an all seeing presence—a kind of Greek Chorus invisibly stowed away in a remote never seen corner of Westwind.
Whatever made the Westwind speak was an enigma.Carl attempted to resurrect the speech center, but Karshipta, the Westwind, remained stubbornly silent except for a soft computer whirring and an occasional click. It might be an extra frill, but out on the road, Carl wanted the computer to at least be able to tell him if something was wrong. It was decided that they would consult an expert about the Westwind's diagnostic capability and speech center. Carl made numerous calls, but the prices quoted were not just disheartening, they were impossible.
"Well," Carl said to Robert and Miri, "Buzz seemed to know a lot about these machines. Why don't I give him a call. Maybe he'd be willing to at least help me work on the problem."
"Definitely," said Robert, "I mean he might still have the diagrams and manuals for the Westwind—definitely worth a try, don't you think, Miri?"
"Yes, I'd give him a ring, said Miri.
Carl reached for the phone and soon had Buzz on the line. Buzz seemed very agreeable and willing.
"Sure," said Buzz in his jaunty manner, "look, why don't you come over and pick me up. Damned car and RV are both out of action—in dry dock for an overhaul—marooned for the time being—so there's nothing much I'm doing right now. So why don't I help you solve your problem—after all, Karshipta has a ream of secrets that won't reveal themselves just because you have the pink slip in your hands. 7 pm? How would that be for you?"
"That would be fine," said Carl, feeling oddly elated by Buzz's willingness to help. He was confident that once Buzz explained some of the electronic circuitry, he could forage for the parts locally and do whatever was necessary. Miri decided to accompany him as she wanted to do some shopping on the way back to Berkeley.
Robert stayed behind wanting to check some references to an article he was writing called—Predictions for Major Earth Changes. The books he needed, however, had already been transferred down to the Westwind.
"Here we go again," muttered Robert as he got up to go downstairs to Westwind. Outside it was a warm and pleasant day, the sort of day that brought people out on to the streets, talking and tarrying in the pleasant atmosphere. He could hear the sound of a piano coming from a nearby apartment and then a burst of applause and clapping. Sounded like a jolly party or musical get together. How different it all was to the anxious and fearful times he had left behind in London. Westwind was parked at the back of the apartment building, pointing towards the driveway like a ship about to be launched.
Clambering inside, Robert sat down in the rear end which was now an improvised office at the back of Westwind. He examined the rows of books again.
"Now let me see," muttered Robert, adjusting his spectacles, and peering at the rows of books, "I thought I put the Velikovsky here—or was it on a lower shelf?" He paused and looked along another row of books. Frustratingly, the book he was looking for just wasn't there. The only other possibility was in the large locker at the back of Westwind where they had stored their files and computer disks. He pulled open the door and was shocked to find the locker empty.
"Impossible," muttered Robert as he peered somewhat cautiously into the inky darkness. Once more he wiped and adjusted his spectacles but the inky darkness stubbornly remained with no sign of books or computer disks. Only yesterday it had been brimming full of papers and old books. Surely no one had emptied it out. Perhaps Carl and Miri were going to use it for something else? Looking again, he realized he was peering, not into a storage cupboard, but down a long dark corridor.
"Good God, what on earth have we here?" he said aloud to no one in particular.
As though responding to his question, the Westwind suddenly came to life. First static, then that familiar crackling bass voice issued from some concealed speaker of the RV's invisible brain.
"Remember the past, Robert. Remember the past."
Stunned by these words, as well as what he saw, Robert's mind did not overlook the fact that a corridor running off into the distance was a complete impossibility for the Westwind's dimensions. It must be some sort of illusion, he thought. He took off his glasses and closed his eyes as if trying to shake off the evidence of his senses. But putting on his glasses, he once again saw only the corridor in front of him.
He tried to get a better look around the locker. Pausing to pick up a torch—flash light, he corrected himself, "torch" it was called in the UK—he shone the flash light around the inside of the cupboard. Only the torch did not illuminate a cupboard but a large cavernous space. Finally, he stepped into the cupboard, which suddenly expanded into the length of the corridor, gathering confidence as he proceeded. The sides of the corridor were paneled in wood and gave him the impression of being very old. Towards the end of the corridor, steps ran down into a wide area of empty blackness.
Robert shined his torch into the depths, but could see nothing. Cautiously, he edged down feeling each step carefully. At the bottom, he found himself in a small room from which faintly lit corridors ran off in all directions. Over one a sign blinked feebly reading "News from the Ancient Past." Recalling the Westwind's words, he moved into this one, and discovered it lined with shelves of papers and books disappearing into the distance.
Robert guessed he was in some kind of library or archive and obviously, it was a vast labyrinth. Realising he was in a library of some kind made Robert feel quite at home, after all he had spent many happy hours searching through some of the world's greatest libraries. Marvelous, he thought to himself, and began to proceed down the gallery, his footsteps echoing hollowly. It was a splendid illusion based upon some sort of virtual reality generated by Karshipta, he supposed. Glancing back the way he had come, he saw the pool of darkness that marked the bottom of the stairwell. Apparently, he could easily find his way back, so he decided to test this miraculous "virtual reality" a little further.
Just then, he spotted a small human figure much further down the corridor. The figure was dressed in a clerical appearing robe of dark blue or black, surmounted by a high crimson collar which nearly covered his face until he reached up and firmly pressed it down onto his small shoulders. He folded his hands behind his back and nodded a polite greeting to Robert. Somewhat reassured by this odd, but obviously human gesture, Robert began to walk toward the figure passing tier upon tier of books of all kinds and descriptions.
He crossed a small wrought iron bridge over a lake of books, manuscripts, old maps, he could hardly contain his amazement and had to resist the urge to stop and stare and possibly make out some of the titles and subjects.
Principally, they were just books, obviously some unpublished manuscripts, but there were also occasional drawings, diagrams or charts, the array was incredible. The hue and tint of the book bindings amazed Robert, as well as the quantity, some were even rolled vellum and parchment and he even caught a glimpse of flat strips of papyrus. He also passed by tiers of clay tablets, recognizing these as cuneiform tablets which had once been the medium of writing in ancient Mesopotamia. These were set into alcoves along the walls under a soft blue haze that caused them to shimmer almost hypnotically. Apparently they were from very many eras in time and some only existed as dusty fragments. Robert felt dizzy, and overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of it all.
He looked at the short dwarf-like figure now only about ten feet away from him and paused. The figure in front of him was about half as tall as Robert, and now bowed politely."Good to see you again, sir," he remarked, apparently recognizing Robert as an old and familiar visitor to this place.
He? Robert now detected a faintly feminine quality to the voice. The thin fringe of white hair that surrounded the wrinkled face gave no clue to the gender of the figure. Robert's mouth opened to correct the mistake, but closed
again promptly. It might be the better part of wisdom to just go along with this mistake, as he had no notion of the rules and regulations of this place he had blundered into. He settled for a polite nod of acknowledgement. Whatever the sex of the figure, its obvious age could easily explain the mistake.
"You'll be going straight to the collection," the figure commented.
It was more a statement than a question, and Robert decided to respond with another nod of agreement.
"Well, of course, you know the way," concluded the figure.
Robert strove valiantly for a response to this.
"Yes," he murmured, and then he was struck with an inspiration, and added, "but after you."
The figure nodded enthusiastically, as if this were indeed the correct response, and Robert thought he glimpsed a merry twinkle in the deeply set eyes which reassured him.
He (or she?) turned promptly and started down the corridor with greater energy and speed than Robert would have supposed possible from such an obviously aged small person. Sneaking a quick glance behind him, Robert followed. He could no longer see the pool of darkness that marked the stairwell, but it hadn't branched anywhere, he was sure of that. Apparently some imperceptible curvature in this strange corridor had concealed his only landmark, but he felt confident that he could find his way out again. It was a longer walk than Robert really considered it safe to venture, but finally they arrived at a massive door at what appeared to be the end of the gallery. The figure stopped in front of this and sighed loudly.
Glancing back at Robert, shyly, then as though overcoming a sense of impropriety, he or she remarked, "You do intend to publish soon, sir, I hope?"
Robert's heart pounded, in that moment he was sure he had been found out and feared possible repercussions. He could think of no response that might not lead to further complications, so he answered only with a thinly voiced "No," which he tried to make sound blasé.
"Forgive me for saying so, sir," responded the gnome like figure, "but that would really be a pity. You are the most accomplished Zoro scholar that has ever visited here. You must know that there are no others, who might solve the mystery."
Robert was dumbfounded. It was to solve a real mystery which had plagued and finally, he supposed, driven him to this incredible place in time and space. No one else had a notion of the nature of the mystery, of course, it defied anything even dimly comprehended, yet it might, just might, solve the great unraveling of the world. And now, before him stood someone who might have an inkling, at least, or possibly the answer itself. He yearned desperately to speak out, to now correct this case of mistaken identity and perhaps learn more, but something deep inside him set off alarm bells at the very thought of not going on with the masquerade.
He cleared his throat and muttered, "It's all very difficult, of course."
"Ah, yes," agreed the aged gnome, "the rule of three and all that, of course."
The gnome plucked a huge old fashioned key from some place in the voluminous robe and studiously unlocked the door, and leaning back, straining his weight against the heavy door which groaned as it swung ponderously open. Robert marveled at its thickness and the fact that it looked more like an airlock or the heavy door to a bank vault. The gnome remained leaning on the door waiting for him to enter. Nervously, he stepped forward and inside. There was a table in the middle of the small room and two ornate chairs. The decor looked comfortably Victorian, a small Persian carpet spread out beneath the chairs and table, the walls were wood paneled, completing the picture. Suspended about three feet above the table, however, and
distinctly out of place, was an oblong glass case containing a large piece of irregularly shaped leather which seemed to float and waver in the softly illuminated room.
Robert caught the glint of gold foil markings across the expanse of the leather. He recognized it instantly, although he, and no one else for that matter, could have ever laid eyes on it before. It could only be one of the cow skins on which, according to the Book of Arda-Viraf, the Avesta and Zand had been written in gold. The cow skins had been burned and destroyed around 300 B.C.E., according to the same source, by the Macedonian invader, Alexander the Great.
Robert leaned forward and confirmed his first instinct by recognizing the curling ancient Persian script pressed into the leather and inlaid with gold. He was now completely electrified by the sight of this amazing piece of leather. Could it be a reproduction? He struggled to conceal his excitement and composed his face before turning back to the small person who lingered still beside the door.
"You'll want to be alone," remarked the figure, again it all seemed a matter of routine and was not a question.
"If you don't mind," replied Robert.
The gnome leaned on the massive portal and it began to swing shut. Alarm leapt up in Robert at the thought of being shut into this strange room at the end of nowhere, but he fought down the urge to spring forward and prevent it. He was enormously relieved when the gnome left the door just a tiny crack ajar. He listened to the patter of footsteps down the corridor until they faded into the distance.
Robert seated himself and gazed in disbelief at the glass case, discovering finally that it could be raised and lowered by a small panel on the table itself. His next discovery was a little more hair raising, a small switch caused the leather to vanish and be replaced by another. He reasoned, however, that what he was viewing through the glass was most likely a hologram or projection rather than a real physical piece of leather, his head swam with the implications, but he calmed himself and decided to make use of this strange opportunity.
Robert realized he had forgotten the camera that might have created a record of all this and poignantly regretted it. Pulling out the small notebook he always carried with him he started making notes, but it was hopeless. Suddenly, a soft feminine voice began to supply a translation. Robert fumbled at the small tape recorder he kept on his person and flicked it on. His heart was pounding, perhaps he had found a rich seam of ancient wisdom that had for thousands of years been lost to the world. Perhaps he could come back and begin a full research project, bringing in photographic equipment.
This consideration reminded him of the strange location and situation he had stumbled into. This archive or library could not be some hidden normal part of the Westwind, perhaps some kind of space time warp had opened and he had blundered through. My God, he reflected, it was possibly too late to return to the world he knew. There could be no fathoming of the rhyme or reason to these peculiar discontinuities in reality. What would happen if the warp closed with him on the wrong side? He quickly went to the crack in the door and peered out. The corridor seemed the same, there was no disturbance apparent. Torn between the desire to safely escape this marvelous miracle and the desire to explore it, he hesitated.
He opened the door and saw the gnome-like library official in the distance along the corridor. He believed he or she was approaching. Wheeling around, he returned to the projected Avesta and began to hastily move forward to where the wonderful story of the Cup of Ahura Mazda, and how Zarthust had used it, should be. The hide containing the formula should be coming up very soon, he flipped the switch and stared at the new projection. This hide was not whole, it was damaged, and consternation shook him. All the other hides had been immaculately whole, but a very neat hole had been cut in the hide where the story should have been. The translator was no help, she fell silent then resumed after the critical passage. He straightened up, apparently not everything was readily available in this strange archive. Who, or what, had removed the critical part of the text and for what reason?
The gnome had reached the door and was peering in. Robert decided to take the initiative himself.
"Well, I have made a good start, but there is so much material that I must come back again."
"Of course, sir, you are welcome to come back any time."
Robert was wondering if he really could find his way to the entrance, when the gnome like official of the archive suggested, "Let me accompany you to the entrance, sir."
As the pair walked, the small figure murmured sympathetically, "Ah yes, sir, I know how you feel, it is so troublesome missing critical material."
Robert presumed that this referred to the ellipsis in the Avesta, had he been here before, he would have known about that strange hole in the cow skin, of course. He pondered the problem of learning more without giving himself away and wondered if he really cared any more. It seemed to him that it was unlikely that he could ever return here, and there was so much that could be learned. He decided on the tact of striking straight to the heart of the mystery, rather than blundering with the confession that he had no idea where he happened to be, and that he had never, never been here before.
"There was a rumor, you know," he said thoughtfully, "That the Cup of Ahura Mazda was found by an eccentric American millionaire who smuggled it to the United States and started some sort of cultÑwell, that's how the story goes."
"Oh yes, sir," agreed the librarian, "B. J. Thomas, I believe his name was. B. J. Thomas was said to have concealed it in a mine shaft in a ghost town in the American West—Colorado or Arizona possibly. The story has it that old B. J. bought the town itself. But it's the single survival if that is true, sir."
This revelation startled Robert profoundly. It was a complete confirmation of the old priest's story, which meant that the tale was known here.
"Do you think there's any truth in the story," he inquired cautiously.
"Well, sir," remarked the librarian, "there's truth in a lot of things. The question is, could there be a recovery? As you see, that's all we have here."
Robert's head whirled and he struggled frantically to gain a purchase on how he could learn more. "Well," he murmured, "what do your references say about the location of the ghost town?"
The librarian looked at him with a small smile and said "the location of the ghost town is still, as far as we know, unknown," and then pausing said unexpectedly, "is this the first time you remember being here?"
Robert looked at the many horns of the dilemma now looming up. He had asked just the wrong question, apparently. Could he deny that this was his first visit? Should he confess and hope to learn more? Who was the person he had been mistaken for, someone of stature and importance? What would be the consequences now that he was apparently found out. Unable to decide, he chose the simplest route.
"Well, um, yes," he spoke softly, slurring his words, hoping to change the answer if the consequences of "unauthorized" entry were dire.
The response surprised him, the gnome like librarian giggled, then broke into peals of laughter which at first sent unwelcome chills down Robert's spine.
"Ah," said the small figure, "you scholars!"
To Robert's relief, he or she seemed to regard the mistaken identity business as a great joke on himself or herself.