Chapter 1 

Giza, Egypt

Present Day

 

SIR WILLIAM MARKHAM stepped out of a plush Mercedes limousine, barely fifty feet away from the largest pyramid in Giza.  The setting of the sun offered a small respite from the scorching heat. He ordered the driver to wait and walked away.

   Sir Markham peered up at the ancient construction, dwarfing him and making a harsh contrast to the luxury of his technological world. The horizon offered a myriad of colors, reds and yellows swirling atop the apex of the ancient pyramid. Reflective of his mood, the ominous sky warned of a coming storm.

   He strode with an arrogance born from generations of training. Most recent in the line of Markham's, he was a Master in the Society responsible for the affairs of England, groomed to rule with heartless brutality. He feared no man − no man except Helop.

   Helop had summoned him to a meeting in the Society's underground temple, the first such meeting in over two years. Why the urgency? Sir Markham was genuinely concerned, a striking difference from his usually staid demeanor. Why pull me away from the interrogation of the Gifted One?

   Sir Markham entered the great pyramid and approached a smooth wall of intricately carved marble towering twenty feet above his head; its lateral expanse disappeared into the dimly lit shadows. He was alone in muffled silence.

   Reaching forward, he touched four symbols in order; the outline of a door appeared in the marble wall. He gently pushed and a large, two-foot thick panel pivoted on its center, revealing an entrance to a tunnel wide enough for five men to walk abreast. He stepped inside and closed the door − the door silently melded into the wall behind. Recessed lighting selectively activated as he moved down the gently sloping tunnel, then faded after he passed. The sophisticated motion-sensitive lighting surrounded him with an eerie glow, seemingly alive and following his every movement.

   His solitude slipped away with the sight of human activity up ahead, the guard post. He approached four armed men with faces set in grim determination. No smiles, no indication he was expected, they stood barring his progress. They'd slaughter me and then sit down to eat; Sir Markham paradoxically smiled at the thought.  Well trained and a fitting choice to guard the Society's inner sanctum.

   With silent gestures, the guards let him pass, and Sir Markham walked deeper into the tunnels. His steps slowed; he sensed an evil presence, malice beyond his comprehension. A wave of panic washed over him, unusual for a man who had often watched, and even enjoyed, the torturing of his fellow man.

   In deathly quiet, Sir Markham reached another massive door; this one allowed him entrance into the Society's underground temple. He touched a set of ancient symbols and the door slid open.

  Inured to wealth from a life of luxury incomprehensible by the common man − still, he stood in awe. Gemstones of every color accented the simplest of items. Statues of the finest workmanship dotted his view. Fountains of gently flowing water beside intricately carved marble benches were prevalent as far as the eye could see. His trepidation about the presence was momentarily forgotten.

   He saw Helop seated far off in the distance at the center of the vast expanse. Sir Markham set out, making his way down steps periodically embedded in circular terraces. His foreboding increased, yet he knew it was not Helop alone that he feared. Someone or some thing was near.

  "Master," Sir Markham announced himself deferentially as he drew near.

   Helop answered with a quiet resolve. "Sit down Sir Markham. Tell me what has transpired with Dr. Malone."

   "As you know, we have invited him to visit us at our chalet in Switzerland; he of course accepted." Sir Markham smiled, knowing Helop had already been informed about the kidnapping. "He is there now," Sir Markham continued, though sensing a rather odd reaction from Helop. "We gave him a full MRI and it seems we were correct in our assumption; Dr. Malone has the thin skull structure and enlarged right-sided brain characteristic of a Gifted One. Unfortunately, he had neither the scepter nor the orb in his possession."

   A guttural growl ripped through the soul of Sir Markham, yet no sound was heard. Dark images flashed through his mind: fear, a man bound and naked, another approaching with unspeakable intent; tears, a child alone and in darkness, mommy, why did you leave me? ...pain, sorrow, futility. The hair on his arms stood up and he fought the temptation to run away screaming, to flee the temple and escape from the presence. With difficulty, he maintained a semblance of control.

   Sir Markham could see no such reaction from Helop; his calm demeanor gave no indication that he was sharing the dark thoughts. Instead, Helop threw him a lifeline by the simple act of speaking. "Dr. Malone has been rescued from the chalet by a special operations team sent by the President of the United States."

   Sir Markham struggled to break free from the morass of agonizing images, struggled to comprehend what Helop had said. Dr. Malone has been freed. How is this possible?

 


 

Helop stared at Sir Markham; he had seen this reaction before, and so he vaguely knew what Sir Markham was experiencing. The Mutant has proven useful, and may soon prove even more so.

 

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