Spoiler: Chapter 16, draft 1 Chapter 16 From the cockpit, the view of the looming Rocky Mountains looked utterly imposing and mysterious, utterly befitting as a place from a long forgotten fairy tale. Numerous tall white peaks, topped off by the never-melting snow and partially obscured by the gray clouds; framed by the backdrop of the clear blue sky, the mountain range stood majestically, waiting for the mere mortals to converge at its feet and offer worship. At least, that's how Jack felt after catching the sights of the magnificent natural wonder. And since he had never come here before, not even as a family holiday, his awe was understandable. Even more so, as his awakened self possessed better than average eyesight as well as perceptions that could pick up on other things of slightly preternatural origins rather easily. The distance was not an issue – he still could, instinctively, sense that there were hidden wonders somewhere within the mountains, waiting to be plucked by the enterprising, adventurous hands. The futuristic aircraft was put on autopilot so Mylorne Akkad could work on things that needed his urgent attention, which mostly included calling his subordinates to deal with the more mandate elements: the business of making money. To facilitate that, communication tools were built into the plane. Akkad connected to his head office and spoke to someone charged with running the day-to-day, nitty gritty details of the operation and began the conference call mid-flight. Jack obviously didn't want to eavesdrop, but since he was sitting right next to the man, he ended up overhearing quite a few of the sensitive business-related strategy and all that. It sure felt like he was listening to something he shouldn't have, especially when the discussion became heated over the matter of firing close to a ten thousand people worldwide in order to protect the interests of some shareholders and such. The on-goings at New York was also briefly discussed by Mylorne Akkad and the other person at the end of the line, but it seemed that the stock markets there were trading at roughly the similar levels as before, so the two of them agreed to keep an eye out and not act too rashly just yet. During the call, Mylorne exhibited various facial expressions and temperaments, none of them staying any longer than absolutely necessary to get his messages across. It was like watching an accomplished stage actor switch out different glass masks to play a new role every five minutes. Jack thought that was quite spooky and unnerving to witness, but didn't say anything because he figured that, in order to stay competitive in the world of multi-billion dollar deal-making, one needed to become a ruthless chameleon and adapt very quickly to the changing circumstances. Who was he to criticize that? Surely, it must be just as tough going for the one doing it. “My apologies, Mister Mercer. That must have been rather unpleasant to listen to.” Akkad smiled wryly after ending the call to his office. “Even with the threat of world's end lurking right around the corner, it seems that there are many packs of greedy hyenas out there trying to take advantage of the slightest lapse in my judgment. It's quite appalling at times if I say so myself.” “Yeah, well. People gotta act like people, right?” Jack tried to sound wise, or at least as if he was unaffected by it all. But he thought that his response was too lukewarm and unconvincing and couldn't fool the eyes of Akkad. “Quite,” Mylorne Akkad chuckled softly, shaking his head. “We'll arrive at our destination in about ten minutes or so. Please be ready to disembark at a moment's notice.” “So, uh, still not going to tell me where we're going?” Jack glanced at the ground visible through the cockpit window. Other than the undulating, mountainous scape, dark green forests and a wide, pristine river cutting through the land like a blue-gray snake, he couldn't see a speck of civilization out there, not even a quaint little log cabin. Not that he could see one at this altitude anyways. Honestly, Jack was confident that Akkad wouldn't be forthcoming with the truth, but his expectation was slightly subverted with a sort-of answer. “About ten years ago, a survey team I employed for a purpose of finding ore deposits encountered an archaeological site of some significant value. Now normally, the proper authorities should have been notified of the discovery, but after I personally confirmed of what the site actually was, I moved immediately to purchase the entire area and had it sealed off. Three years ago, the technology has finally caught up to a level that allowed me to take a good peek into the secrets of this site, then I had set up a small enclave of researchers tasked to unlocking all the mysteries this site has to offer.” Jack nodded slightly before frowning when he thought about something that was seemingly too crazy to happen. “Wait a sec. You are not going to tell me that this site has something to do with Gilgamesh and his legends, right? I mean, that would be.... uh, impossible?” Akkad checked the current coordinates displayed on one of the monitors directly in front of him and disengaged the autopilot. He grabbed the twin joystick-like controller bars and began to slowly lower the altitude of the craft. “Well... not directly, no. This site is a good few millenniums older than even the ages of Gilgamesh but crucially, its secrets are yet to be fully exposed so for the time being, we assume it does. And please, do remember this, Mister Mercer – nothing, and I do mean nothing, is impossible. Yes, there are improbabilities but never true impossibilities. Our very existences attest to that fact.” Jack couldn't really disagree with that notion. Akkad was right; his own being should have been impossible. Being a clone of someone was one thing, but inheriting memories of the previous life was something else entirely. Science simply could not provide adequate answers for this phenomenon. But still, Gilgamesh was a figure from the Middle East. He was in North America, for crying out loud. Thousands of miles away, separated by a tempestuous ocean. How can an ancient civilization even hope to cross that, and then the vast expanse of the continent itself, to build a historical site here, of all places? Nothing's impossible, huh..... Jack mulled this line over and over. Sounded like a good advice to remember, even if it was a hard one to swallow. “We're here,” said Akkad loudly as he clicked on some buttons before connecting to the ground control, asking for the permission to land. Jack took a deep breath, trying to settle his confused head. He knew that it'd do him no good to stay flustered and indecisive. It was time for him to man up and follow through with whatever he chose to do in the beginning. He thought wryly that the number of times he chided himself for wavering had gone past his ability to keep track of. That was a rather shameful matter to him. Jack looked out of the cockpit and at the approaching landing area. It was a wide clearing in the middle of a dense forest with tall, straight trees right at the foot of a mountain. There were several temporary lodgings built like the foreman's trailer offices commonly seen in construction sites with dozens and dozens of satellite dishes pointing towards various directions. Funnily enough, these trailers were all painted in green camouflage to seamlessly blend in with the surroundings. Next to them, a huge tent, also in full camo. The tent was big enough to hold a circus or a carnival inside. There were people coming in and out of then entrance to the side. The landing pad was next to the biggest trailer. Only after the craft touched down noisily kicking up a whirlwind of dust and grass did Jack realize there was a hangar situated right next to the pad; it was that well disguised, nearly impossible to discern from the air. The roof of the hangar was camouflaged but with the addition of mock vines and grass to seal the illusion further. The hangar was well stocked with several jeeps, a couple of helicopters and all-terrain vehicles, as well as crates of stuff, parked neatly to the side. It was all so very professional. Akkad and Jack exited the craft in a hurry and met with the crowd waiting for them outside. Jack quickly scanned the group of men and women, trying his best not to form a wrong impression of them and not give one of himself. Both of these goals were easier said than done, however. The group that came to receive Jack and Akkad were more or less comprised of what would be classified as the archetypal academics – scruffy beards, messy hair, uncoordinated fashion sense, thick glasses, pale skin and slightly hunched shoulders from sitting in front of computers and staring at the monitors for too long. There were always exceptions, of course – two men who looked like soldiers and geared up in simple camo. Also, underarm holsters with pistols were a dead giveaway so there was that. Akkad greeted the team leader who happened to be a man wearing the thickest pair of glasses Jack had ever seen in his life. Also, the lumberjack-wannabe beard, too. Jack inwardly rolled his eyes. “Doctor McLean. Apologies for the short notice. How far along are the preparations for the foray into the Incubation Chamber?” Akkad firmly shook the man's hand and asked. “Yes, sir. The overall system is up and ready as you have specified. No errors and inconsistencies, so far. Which is rather swell news.” “Good. Doctor, this is Mister Jack Mercer. Mister Mercer, this is Doctor Norman McLean. He oversees this facility on my behalf. And he will also supervise the overall process.” Jack frowned but still didn't forget to shake the hand of the bearded doctor. “Uhm, how do you do? Nice to meet you, doctor. By the way, what process are we talking about here?” “Since we are already pressed for time, let's talk while we head inside,” said McLean as he ushered the group towards the big tent. The entrance was actually less of a door and more of a mobile quarantine facility. Those wanting to enter had to relinquish all metallic and personal items that could hide potential contaminants. After that, a pressurized chamber, where the clean air was blasted into the bodies. And finally, changing into a set of white Hazmat suits fitted with Geiger counters, LED lighting and shoulder mounted cameras as well as short-wave radios for communication with the others. Each of these rigorous processes was overseen by a stern-looking man who seemed to lack any sense of humor whatsoever. Jack felt like that after wearing the Hazmat suit he was walking into a disaster zone or something just as sinister and forbidden. Then it was finally the turn to enter the huge tent itself through an automatic metal door. It was thick enough to repel an explosive shell fired by a tank, or at least according to the proud explanation from the good doctor McLean. Further up in the tent, the first thing Jack saw was the metal railings where observers could lean against or grab hold onto, in order to view what's up ahead. And that was a huge depression on the ground. Inside this hole, were nine slender stone pillars arranged in a circle, while nine thicker pillars arranged in also a circle behind the slender ones. The whole thing was almost a carbon copy of Stonehenge in England, except that they were a lot more intact, the stones were colored red, and were below ground. There were step ladders to enter the hole. The group descended down and Jack got closer. An inexplicable chill ran his backside as he got near one of the outer stone pillars and its utterly insane dimensions; it was huge. Easily twice the height of the aforementioned monument in Britain, this outer stone pillar was richly decorated with carvings depicting wildlife. Birds of unidentifiable characteristics, bison-like bovine creatures, and wild, untamed horses as well as primitive men were the subjects of the artists' focus. Without a doubt, they were quite striking to look at, seemingly enticing all those who gaze upon the pillars to come and unlock the hidden mystery of these monuments. Obviously, Mylorne's researchers agreed, since plenty of scientific measuring equipment were placed on and around every pillar here. But they weren't the most important objects inside the tent. A man-made hole right in the middle of the inner circle of the pillars, was. The inner circle was at least twenty-five meters in diameter, and the hole was slightly off to the side of the center, where there was yet another pillar but this one was very short, not even as tall as a grown adult's height. A big crane and an electric motor operated the elevator system, the only way to go in and out of the hole. McLean stepped into the elevator and motioned the others to follow him. With a creak and a noisy whirr, the elevator descended. Every few meters, strong fluorescent lights illuminated the darkness and Jack could peer down the edge of the lift to see just how deep this hole went. And it was pretty deep. The bottom of the hole led to a large natural cavern. The area around the elevator was fashioned into a hub for the researchers. Temporary tents and laboratories were set up here and there, with electric buggies and large spotlights and people wearing Hazmat suits everywhere. Jack took in the air which was slightly warmer than the surface. He remembered reading somewhere that the deeper a person went into the earth's crust, the warmer it got. He wasn't sure of whether that was true or not, but hell, here was his proof. Past the immediate area around the hub, there were three passageways to the right, left and in the middle. Thick electrical cables lined the floors and the walls; there was a low hum coming from one of the tents, with a number of servers inside. In another, Jack caught a glimpse of metallic crates that might contain weapons at a first glance. The markings on the side said “Property of Akkad Industries, Inc. Do Not Touch.” McLean hurriedly introduced some other important people to Jack and Akkad before leading the expanded group down the middle passageway, the biggest of the three. It was also the brightest of the three, with a lot of lamps illuminating the walls and the ceilings. All that light played with the numerous stalactites and stalagmites creating an eerie shadow puppet show on the smooth walls. It was on these said walls that Jack noticed the details on them. “Wow, are these genuine cave drawings?” Jack pointed at the fading murals on the walls, his eyes wide open. He did feel a bit stupid for asking this question right after asking it, though. “Yes, of course they are. And we estimate each and every one of them are at least twelve thousand years old or more, so please, refrain from touching them carelessly.” McLean's expression was apologetic when he said that, but Jack was sure the man was feeling anything but that. Not that he was going to touch these drawings, though. The subjects of the drawings were not too different from the pillars outside the hole. Freely roaming animals, primitive men chasing after them with spears, homesteads with cultivated fields and the majestic mountains – the usual. But as Jack went in deeper into the cavern, the depictions began to take on a more strange, The Twilight Zone-esque flavor. The scenes of men encountering, and fighting, even offering worship, to monsters and strange figures were becoming common. Jack couldn't just chalk the drawings up to cavemen acting out in superstitions since there was the real possibility that these monsters were exaggerated depictions of Supers in the ancient times. But then, it was harder to make that call as the monsters became more bizarre and horrifying; in one, it was a huge black tentacle thing with a red eye in the middle. In another, a giant with six arms and three heads, busy eating humans. And then there was the biggie: Jack could swear the mural could be mistaken for a UFO. Although it was not round and disc-shaped nor silver in color, the thing was undoubtedly hovering in the air – yep, it had to be a freaking UFO. What else could it possibly be?! Jack felt like his head was spinning like the proverbial saucers in the old Sci-fi movies. What the hell. Is this some kind of a practical joke?! He glanced at Mylorne Akkad and Doctor McLean but they didn't seem to care about the murals and were resolutely walking forward. Seeing them, Jack lost any motivation to ask for the veracity of what were on these walls. Down further into the cavern, they finally arrived at their destination. And Jack did a double take on what he was seeing at the moment. He was getting real tired of more surprises right about now – he had been in constant state of being in one form of shock or another since yesterday and he could use some amount of “back the eff off for a second” currently. The area was huge. Literally, huge. Even bigger than a football pitch, bigger than even an airplane hangar – it was a ridiculously huge open area. And on top of that, there was a miniature red pyramid, just like the one outside the city of Cairo, smack dab in the middle of this huge open space. This particular one was not as big, though – maybe only a tenth in dimension, but it was uncannily similar in appearance. The entire structure was quarantined in the clear bubble-like material. A laboratory was set up just outside of the quarantine, with a ton of equipment and computers set up. And yes, there were also lots of researchers standing around pointing at stuff on the myriad of monitors. Jack hadn't yet had the chance to fully digest everything he saw until now when McLean turned to face Akkad and spoke. “Okay, so here we are, The Incubation Chamber,” McLean said as he gazed at Jack and at his boss. “The boy can enter it anytime. The prototype Kevlar survival mech suit is ready to wear as we speak, sir. I wasn't sure of his measurements so we got the standard size. Hopefully, that'll be fine. While he's suiting up, we will place the Crystal in the chamber's core.” Jack's head was spinning from so many questions, so understandably it took a couple of seconds before he registered what was said. “Eh? Me? I'm going to enter that pyramid?” “Yes,” nodded McLean and Akkad almost at the same time. “Okay, uh, slow down, guys. First of all, what the hell is that thing?! Why is a pyramid doing underground here, in continental U.S, halfway across the world? And just what the hell did I see back in the cave? Aliens? Monsters?!” Akkad motioned McLean to speak up on the matters of the pyramid. After all, the doctor knew more of it than anyone in this facility, a fact that he was quite proud of. “Ahem. Well, Mister Mercer – can I call you Jack? Right. Jack, there are some things we don't have the concrete answers to, such as how on earth this pyramid had ended up here underground. We posit that it was deliberately built down here. We think an extremely advanced civilization that was not exactly terrestrial in nature built it. The Egyptologists all think that these ancient buildings are tombs of the Pharaohs and stuff like that, but heh, the one we've got here is definitely not a tomb of some crummy dead monarch, that's for sure. Instead.... well, uh, my researchers all consented to calling it The Hyperbolic Time Chamber. Unofficially, of course.” There was a gleam of excitement in McLean's eyes as he fervently spoke, hoping that his great witticism would find an appreciative audience. Alas, his expectant gaze was met with confused pair from Jack as the teen didn't get the reference. It was before his time, after all. And Akkad was pretty much apathetic to the name. Realizing that he had failed miserably, McLean's shoulders sagged just a bit in disappointment before he continued. “Inside the structure, it's almost empty, except for two things – a pedestal with a crystal on top and a flat plinth at the core where we can place an object such as the power source of the whole thing. We know that the pedestal acts as a switch, to turn the structure on and off. Once you switch the structure on, the time begins to flow differently inside. And, uh, certain things happen.” Jack tilted his head in further confusion. “What do you mean, the time flows differently inside? Huh? And what... things?” “Well, it's like this. Once you go inside and activate the structure, the time will flow faster compared to the outside. One hour outside is equivalent to 24 hours inside. So, a day outside, you'll be spending 24 days inside. See, almost like the Hyperbolic Time Chamber!!” Jack still didn't get the reference so he ignored that. “So you want me to go in there? And do what, exactly?” Akkad stepped in and replaced the utterly disappointed McLean. “It's easy. You are going to train inside. First, to reacquire the ability to.... use the red souls while not sleeping. And two, to absorb more of the red souls and further enhance your specs. I believe you will need a lot more than 24 days to accomplish this, but the time is of the essence and you need to hurry.” Jack gulped involuntarily. So he had to go in there and train – which was definitely easier said than done. As he was thinking about this and that, McLean added a few more info. “When the structure, the Incubation Chamber is activated, you can't leave it without switching it off. Just thought that I'd let you know. If you are worried about rations, don't worry, we've got you covered. MREs, baby. They might taste dry but all the necessary nutrients for a growing body, all in there.” Jack had a slight idea what was an MRE, but that was not what he was worried about. He was about to think of an excuse to not go inside that pyramid, but then, he reminded himself of the oath – that he'd become stronger and take down the two rogue Supers who caused the deaths of his friends. And that he'd not remain indecisive anymore. He but his lower lip and the sharp pain brought him to his senses. “Alright. Tell me what I need to do.” Akkad nodded and turned to McLean. “Follow Doctor McLean to the changing facility. You will be advised on the functions of the prototype mech suit before putting it on. It might be a little uncomfortable, but bear with it, as you will need it inside the chamber.” There were some ominous words in what Akkad said but Jack didn't pay heed to them. Too late to back out now, anyways. Jack followed McLean and entered a small tent; there was a single upright crate there. “Well, here it is; the pride of Akkad Industries, Inc. The prototype Kevlar multi-purpose all-terrain survival mech suit, GS-011-PX. Now go in there and get out of the Hazmat suit. I'll help you put this beauty on.” Jack entered the clean air chamber located within the tent and stripped off the bulky Hazmat suit, then let the clean air scrub him down. As he was doing just that, McLean operated the crate and opened the lid. Inside, a set of unpainted combat armor, waiting for its new owner. Its surface was pitch-dark and non-reflective, as if it was actively absorbing all of the surrounding light. McLean helped Jack to put on the suit. First, he put on the black fabric that was harder than steel but as supple as silk. McLean explained that it was a new carbon fabric weave that Akkad Industries had come up with but due to astronomical cost it had never been implemented, remaining only as a prototype at this stage. Next was the armor parts. Each of the parts was tough like steel but light, as light as the black fabric. And finally, the helmet. The visor was black on the outside but from inside Jack had no problem looking out. It was a bit stuffy inside, though. And the sound was muffled as well. McLean explained that each of the armor was enough to reflect any regular small caliber firearms, well up to .45 depending on the distance. Combined with the fabric, the suit would even absorb almost 50% of the concussive force. Knives wouldn't even be able to cut it – only the industrial-strength laser could slice it. The suit also had the vital function of keeping the body temperature uniform at all times. It also had slots for shots of morphine in case the wearer was injured but it was empty now. On the hips, areas for holsters and weapons. On his left forearm, touchscreen miniature PDA computer, shielded by the same material as the armor. Fully suited up, Jack stood before a mirror and examined his appearance. To his dismay, he looked somewhat like a costumed hero wearing the type of thing that he'd never, ever wear unless he wanted to commit a social seppuku. Well, he was wearing one and it fit him like a glove. Suddenly thinking of something, Jack turned and asked McLean. “Hey, does this armor suit thing come in red?” “Uh... no, not really. What, you want one in red?” Jack shrugged his shoulders. “No, well. I was just curious.” McLean chuckled. “Whatever, man. Move around a bit, let's see if it's chafing up somewhere uncomfortable. Once you are happy in it, switch on the PDA and activate the suit.” Jack did as told, and moved around a little in it; nothing felt amiss. He then switched on the PDA, a dim orange glow emitting from it. The first lines it said was: Welcome, new user. Activate the standard settings now? Jack pressed the pulsing “yes” button without hesitation. The suit let out a short hiss, and a subtle beep, before Jack felt a slight tightening of the suit around him. Now, he didn't feel like he was wearing anything at all – as if he was completely naked. A weird feeling, that. And on the visor, orange texts floated up. “Initial calibration completed. In-depth calibration to the new user's specification unable to be carried out: insufficient data.” Even though he couldn't see Jack's confused face, McLean still helpfully offered up explanations. “Don't be alarmed. The computer will change some parameters of the suit to best accommodate you. You will need to perform a lot of actions so the computer can collect as much information as possible. Once the in-depth calibration is done for good, the suit will be able to show off its most amazing stuff.” “Okay, then. Is there anything else?” “Nothing much. Most of the functions the suit provides, you won't probably need it inside the Chamber, other than the body temperature modulation. If you have any other questions while inside the structure, the PDA has one or two FAQs so take a look. Alright, let's get going, then!!” ~ “Looking good,” said Mylorne Akkad as he sized up Jack. “You know, I initially took inspirations from the Armor of Crimson Starlight when designing the GS series. Who knew it would suit you this well?” Akkad had a gentle smile as he nodded, but he became serious as he and Jack approached the pyramid. “Okay, listen to me, Mister Mercer. The suit is linked with the monitoring system out here but because of the time difference as well as how the structure is constructed, we won't be able to communicate when you are inside. Once you enter, you will encounter strange situations. But ignore them and overcome them to your best abilities. In the beginning, it will not be difficult. But if you feel that your life is threatened, then do not hesitate and switch off the structure and escape. That is not up for a debate. Understood?” Jack nodded solemnly. Even though no one said out aloud, but judging from their expressions he could tell entering and withstanding even a single day inside the pyramid would be difficult, most likely deadly. Otherwise, why would he need to wear this armor? Or the advice from Akkad? Jack entered past the barrier and approached the entrance of the pyramid. Perhaps fittingly, it was shaped like the mouth of a monster; wide open and ready to swallow the next hapless fool who chose to step within. The Hazmat suit wearing technicians rushed out as Jack stood in front of the entrance. One of them shouted at him. “Hey man. Good luck in there. I'll pray for you.” Jack almost retorted that he was not religious, but saved his energy. The technician meant well, after all. Taking a deep breath, he stepped inside the doorway. Here's this Friday's chapter. Hope you enjoy it. Please comment if there's something you'd like to let me know. Thanks.