Nanotroopers episode 19.., p.1
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       Nanotroopers Episode 19: Mount Kipwezi, p.1

           Philip Bosshardt
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Nanotroopers Episode 19: Mount Kipwezi

  Episode 19: Mount Kipwezi

  Copyright 2017 Philip Bosshardt

  A few words about this series….

  *** Nanotroopers is a series of 15,000- 20,000 word episodes detailing the adventures of Johnny Winger and his experiences as a nanotrooper with the United Nations Quantum Corps.

  *** Each episode will be about 40-50 pages, approximately 20,000 words in length.

  *** A new episode will be available and uploaded every 3 weeks.

  *** There will be 22 episodes. The story will be completely serialized in about 14 months.

  *** Each episode is a stand-alone story but will advance the greater theme and plot of the story arc.

  *** The main plotline: U.N. Quantum Corps must defeat the criminal cartel Red Hammer’s efforts to steal or disable their new nanorobotic ANAD systems.

  Episode # Title Approximate Upload Date

  1 ‘Atomgrabbers’ 1-14-16

  2 ‘Nog School’ 2-8-16

  3 ‘Deeno and Mighty Mite’ 2-29-16

  4 ‘ANAD’ 3-21-16

  5 ‘Table Top Mountain’ 4-11-16

  6 ‘I, Lieutenant John Winger…’ 5-2-16

  7 ‘Hong Chui’ 5-23-16

  8 ‘Doc Barnes’ 6-13-16

  9 ‘Demonios of Via Verde’ 7-5-16

  10 ‘The Big Bang’ 7-25-16

  11 ‘Engebbe’ 8-15-16

  12 ‘The Symbiosis Project’ 9-5-16

  13 ‘Small is All!’ 9-26-16

  14 ‘’The HNRIV Factor’ 10-17-16

  15 ‘A Black Hole’ 11-7-16

  16 ‘ANAD on Ice’ 11-29-16

  17 ‘Lions Rock’ 12-19-16

  18 ‘Geoplanes’ 1-9-17

  19 ‘Mount Kipwezi’ 1-30-17

  20 ‘Doc II’ 2-20-17

  21 ‘Paryang Monastery’ 3-13-17

  22 ‘Epilogue’ 4-3-17

  Chapter 1

  “An Entangled Web”

  Yucatan State


  October 10, 2049

  2245 hours (U.T.)

  Dr. Heinz Richter hopped down off the rope ladder and helped his assistant, Dr. Erika Volk, down. They were in an antechamber above the burial chamber, lit with small lanterns and surrounded by ornate friezes in remarkably good repair. Stucco friezes at Kokul-Gol were rare and fragile. Volk and Richter studied the ten-meter frieze for a moment, tracing the outlines with their fingers.

  The image depicted three men, including a Holmul king, rising from the mouths of strange monsters flanked by underworld creatures, entwined by two giant, feathered serpents. The colors and the textures of the frieze seemed to make the figures vibrate with energy in the lantern light.

  “Fabulous,” breathed Erika Volk. She probed with her fingers along a ribbon of Mayan text in glyphs at the base of the frieze. “As well-preserved as anything we’ve found. Look at these snake figures…”

  Richter agreed. “Just what you’d expect from the tombs of the Snake Kings…marvelous to be sure…but Erika, you’ve got to see what we found yesterday down below, inside the burial chamber. It’ll blow you away. Come on—“

  The two of them eased their way around a corner, teetered on a narrow crevice and came to a small opening in the stone floor. The floor was littered with broken pots and jars, all done up in late Holmul style.

  “It’s barely big enough for one person, but you should be able to slip through okay…your shoulders are narrower. We just put this ladder in yesterday. I’ll go first—“

  Richter dropped to his knees and eased himself down the rope ladder, through the narrow opening. Volk handed him another lantern as he descended. She heard his boots hit the floor.

  “Okay, I’ve got all the lights up…easy does it…hold on to the edge…I’ll support you on the way down—“

  Carefully, Erika Volk made her way down the ladder and stood in shadows while Richter moved the lanterns around for better illumination. The burial chamber was barely larger than a walk-in closet.

  A portion of a skeleton lay on a stone bier, surrounded by tattered remnants of a shroud and piles of jade and shell beads. Bird feathers were heaped in a wreath around the skeleton’s head. The walls were adorned with more friezes, fantastic images of serpents, giant colorfully plumed birds, snakes and jaguars.

  “Is it Yuknoom…the Snake King, you think?” Volk leaned over to examine the skeleton’s shattered skull and face.

  “Possibly,” said Richter. “At the very least, an ahau…one of the high chiefs or priests. Hard to be sure until we examine it more closely. But that’s not what I wanted to show you. Here, take a look at this—“

  Richter bent down below the bier, behind the skeleton’s head. There, amid a pile of broken ceramic figurines was a small sphere, perfectly round, glowing with an ethereal light, almost vibrating. The sphere showed no markings or texture at all.

  “We found this late yesterday…I’m not sure what the hell it is. I’ve never seem a totem in Kokul-Gol…or anywhere around here like this. It doesn’t fit in with any of the imagery, the pots, the figurines. Have you seen anything like this elsewhere?”

  Volk felt an electric chill go down her spine. She had seen spheres like this…at Engebbe Valley in east Africa. And at the Paryang monastery in Tibet.

  My God, she said to herself…another Keeper device. But she said nothing to Richter. Richter didn’t need to know. Richter…nor anybody else, could ever know about this.

  “No, I haven’t,” she lied. She bent down closer but didn’t touch the thing.

  “Don’t touch it…yet,” Richter advised her. “Until we’re sure what it is. It seems to be under some kind of power…like a generator. I’m going to contact the Quantum Corps people at the base. They have engineers there…they may have an idea what this is.”

  Volk stood up and leveled an even gaze. Quantum Corps had come to the Yucatan a few months ago and built a base called Mesa de Oro, less than five kilometers away. There was no way she could ever let Quantum Corps know about this sphere.

  She felt a faint tingle in the back of her head and she knew what that was. Her halo, the neural implant the cartel stuck in all its operatives’ heads, was waking up. Probably responding to the aural signal of the words Richter had just spoken…’Quantum Corps.’ The cartel’s mortal enemy.

  In a few seconds, Volk had already fashioned a plan but she said none of this to Richter. “Perhaps, you’re right, Heinz…but we should discuss this with the rest of the team.” She chose her words carefully, not wanting to trigger the halo into waking up.

  They left the burial chamber of the Snake King and made their way back to camp, a kilometer outside the fenced perimeter of the Kokul-Gol temple. In the fading purple twilight, they could see spotlights through the jungle canopy, highlighting the upper façade of the great pyramid.

  Richter and Volk had a quiet dinner with others of the dig team. Knowles, Radcliff, Montserrat and the rest were bubbling over with news of their day’s work, their finds and discoveries. Speculation and theories flew fast and thick around the mess tent, like the hordes of mosquitoes that flocked and swarmed just outside the netting all night long.

  “The Holmul were doomed…only they didn’t know it…”

  “Over farming and fishing…they used up all their resources…”

  “Richter, can we get a scanner into that opening…we really need spectrographic data on the Snake King…”

  After everyone had disappeared, wandering about the camp late into the night spinning theories in small knots of people and the lights outside the camp were
guttering low and smoking, Erika Volk stole out of her own tent and made her way back to the great temple. She used a fingerprint ID scanner she’d filched from the main tent to let herself in through the barriers, shut down the bot swarms that protected all the entrances and found herself once again in the burial quarters of Yuknoom, the Snake King.

  But she had no interest in the skeleton.

  Below his head, situated in a bed of broken pottery, the sphere glowed as before, seeming almost to pulse and vibrate in the flickering shadows.

  If the device worked as the others had, it functioned as a kind of portal. A gateway to other places and times. The cartel had used the other devices as a means of rummaging through the archives of their off-world benefactors—some called them the Old Ones—and grabbing what- ever secrets and schematics they could find in these short trips to bring back and reverse-engineer into weapons and comm gear and other gadgets that would give them a leg up on Quantum Corps and smash their adversary once and for all.

  Erika Volk knew it was a risk but the only way you moved up in Red Hammer was to throw long and do something that gave the cartel a decisive advantage. Maybe today, just this once, she would be the one to make the short trip and bring back the decisive edge, the ultimate weapon, the one tool or device that the atomgrabbers couldn’t counter.

  Cautiously, her heart racing, Volk dropped to her knees, brushed aside pieces of broken pottery and reached out to the sphere.

  Her fingers had just barely brushed the surface when—

  --there came a blinding flash of light and a roaring rush of deceleration….

  Then nothing.

  As Erika Volk’s last conscious thoughts drained away, she remembered feeling like this once when she and her Father were riding the Dragon’s Tail at Munich’s Spielgarten. The same whirling images: the mountains, the boardwalk, the faces of bystanders and riders still standing in line for their turn. A cyclone of sights and sounds and smells…snow cones, cotton candy, cold Alpine air and brats grilling…

  But when she finished racing at breakneck speed down a long curving corridor now filled with polygons and cubes and pyramids and things she could never describe, and she came at last to a hard bump and things slowed down and finally stopped spinning….

  She knew he wasn’t in Munich.

  Or Paryang, Tibet.

  Or even Kokul-Gol.

  She had come through the entanglement to a swamp of some kind. Lightning veined in sharp bursts across purple and rose-colored clouds, thick and steaming overhead. The ground trembled and through the trees, she could see the red glow of a volcano, simmering and smoking. It seemed about to blow.

  The swamp was extensive, filled with moss-covered trees, low-hanging branches and mossy patches on rocks surrounding the edge of the water. Cypress knees looked vaguely menacing in the twilight. A faint mist hovered over the water’s surface.

  Nothing moved. No screeches, no howler monkeys. No birds cawing in the air. Steam and smoke and shuddering ground were all that gave movement to the swamp.

  “I’d say I’m not in Yucatan anymore,” Erika muttered to herself.

  She started scouting along the swamp banks for a few minutes. It was a vast wetland, thick with ropy vine and large, lobe and ear-shaped leaves, damp with moisture and humidity and hanging nearly to the soft spongy ground. She picked her way carefully through leaf piles and clinging vine, occasionally hacking and smacking her way through heavy underbrush, wary of slithering things underfoot, but she found none. Nothing living at all, not even flies or mosquitoes. Still, Erika nearly turned an ankle in a small sinkhole nearly hidden between two tree trunks.

  After a time, she came upon a strange red hillock, a low mound in the path ahead. It was as tall as she was and several meters around.

  An anthill, she surmised. Then as she looked more closely, she could see that the surface of the mound was alive, throbbing and writhing with motion. Flies, she thought and decided to keep her distance, hunting for a way around the mound. At that point, she noticed that the air around the small clearing was thick with the same flies.

  One of them landed on her arm and she reacted without thinking, flicking it off. It returned and clung to her skin, but she felt no bite or sting. When she examined the creature more closely, she saw that it wasn’t a creature at all. It was a bot, a tiny mechanism with articulating wings and legs. Moreover, the air was thick with them. Clouds and swarms of bots drifted through the dense jungle growth, filling the air with strange, flickering mists.

  That was when she realized that everything she was looking at: the mound, the trees, the vines and brush, it was all bots. The jungle exploded around her and instead of a jungle, she was suddenly in the middle of a dust storm, only it wasn’t dust. The bots flew at her and clung to her skin and clothes and she ran shrieking and flailing out into the swamp water and ducked under, trying to get rid of the things.

  She stayed down as long as she could hold her breath but finally she had to come up, anxious at what she would find. She breached the surface, saw only humid, misty air and then she saw a form, a human-like form, moving along the shore of the swamp.

  It was like a man, only it wasn’t. It had a head, at least two arms, two legs and it was skulking through the shallows. And it had seen her.

  It came to Erika Volk that maybe she was still in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, but not in the same time as Kokul-Gol. Maybe this is some kind of prehistoric setting, she wondered. Maybe that sphere works like the others and can transport people through time and space to other places and periods.

  The figure now stood still at the water’s edge and motioned her to come ashore. Hesitant, at first, Erika realized that she couldn’t stay in the middle of the swamp forever. Already, something had slithered into the water a few dozen meters away and was gliding just under the surface toward her.

  She found she could stand in the bottom muck and eased her way shoreward as fast as she could.

  The man seemed familiar and when she reached the shore, Erika realized it was Symborg, the robotic messiah, head of the Church of Assimilation. Or at least, a version of Symborg. He extended a hand and helped her up onto the banks. She staggered a bit, and he caught her and kept her upright, but she quickly pulled out of his grasp and shuddered. Symborg’s grasp was like being enveloped in a swarm of bees or mosquitoes.

  “Where am I?” she asked. “What is this place?”

  All around them, trees were forming and dissolving. Even the distant mountains seemed immaterial, wavering in the humid air, as mists lifted from the swamp and thickened around the clearing.

  From the mouth of Symborg came a mix of voices and tones, all scrambled together, poorly synched but still audible.
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