Breathing a little heavily in the Andean air, and still dazed at the
urgency with which he had been whisked southward
via jet bomber
Dr. Luis Craig walked across packed earth toward a powerful-looking
helicopter which, he had just been told, was to take him on the last
leg of his trip. He listened tiredly to the unctuous words of his
escort, a Lieutenant Rabar who wore the uniform of this Latin American
nation's Air Force and who was to fly the helicopter.
Shouts erupted behind them, at the edge of the field. Something snarled
at his left ear. The sound was familiar, though not recently so: the
crack of a rifle. He hit the dirt.
Another bullet came searching, but now the shouts got themselves
organized into crisp Spanish. Sidearms and at least two automatic
weapons blatted. There were no more rifle shots. Cautiously, he raised
his head to look at the knot of uniformed men where the sniper had been.
Rabar stepped forward, offering a hand. "Are you all right, Doctor?"
Craig ignored the hand and got up without help. "Quite, thank you." He
had disliked Rabar from the moment of introduction; and now it was in
his mind that Rabar had stepped carefully away from him _before_ the
first bullet came.
As casually as he could, he walked to the aluminum ladder hung upon
the helicopter's side and hauled himself up. He stopped in the hatch,
dignity forgotten, startled at the disparity of the three men already
in the ship.
Directly across the cabin sat a gaunt scarecrow of a man in a black
priest's cassock. An oxygen mask dangled on his thin chest, suggesting
a bloated crucifix. The long, swarthy face was pockmarked, dour and
without animation at the moment, except for fierce black eyes that
burned steadily into Craig's own. Craig thought of a condor, perched
near some nearly ready meal. He was immediately ashamed of the thought.
Forward of the priest sat a brown Indian. His face mirrored dignified
resignation to being carried in this hellish contraption to horrible
death, or worse.
Occupying the only seat on the hatch side was a tautly uniformed man
who eyed Craig coldly.
The priest spoke. His voice was deep and gently strong, caressing the
Spanish syllables like a great soft bell. "We are abject, Doctor. We
had tried very hard ... but there are fanatics."
"Eh?" said Craig. "Oh. Well, I am unhurt, as you can see."
"For which, thanks to the Almighty. Our humblest apologies. You speak
Spanish exceptionally well, Doctor."
Wondering if there were a question behind the compliment, Craig said,
"My mother was Mexican." He did not think it necessary to add that he'd
grown up near the border, and had once spent two years as an exchange
Professor of Physics at the Mexican university.
The priest nodded once. "I see. It was thoughtful of your government
to choose you. And more than kind of you to come. But, forgive me;
the shooting has made me forget my manners. This--" indicating the
uniformed man--"is General Noriega." He laid a hand on the shoulder of
the Indian. "And this one prefers to answer to the name Dientes."
Craig looked at the brown face with interest. Archeology was one of his
hobbies, and in this part of the world ... 'Dientes' was Spanish for
'teeth,' he mused. Abruptly, under his gaze, the immobile face split
into a wide nervous smile revealing the source of the nickname. They
were large, even and very white.
"And I," the priest was saying, "am called Father Brulieres. Won't you
Craig tensed in surprise. The name Brulieres had been very much in the
news of late. A priest by that name had led the movement which put the
present government in power--and was still reputedly, the man who
actually ran it.
Craig realized he was still perched awkwardly halfway into the cabin.
Mumbling something, he squeezed his bulky mountain gear through the
hatch and took the empty seat beside the priest.
Rabar came in, closing the hatch behind him, and went forward to the
pilot's seat. He glanced around at his passengers.
It seemed to Craig that he was more interested in faces than in the
condition of seat belts. Rabar worked at switches and buttons. Engines
coughed, then roared. From overhead came the rising "whoosh" of the
vanes. The craft shivered and lifted.
They went on oxygen at once, and Craig, under the eyes of the other
passengers, was glad to put the breather over at least part of his
face. Imitating the others he pulled down the earflaps of his helmet.
It seemed to have built-in radio, as he could hear Rabar advising
them to strap in. A moment later, clearing his throat, he discovered
that his breather contained a mike. He was surprised at such advanced
They were quickly closed in by mighty cliffs. Below them, a river
tumbled wildly. Where it could find root-holds, fantastic greenery
burgeoned, but it did little to disguise the menacing rock. The
cabin's plastic windows gave all too clear a view.
Turning from the window beside him, Craig found his eyes wandering to
the insignia pinned to the priest's cassock. Of elegantly wrought gold,
it was the same emblem he'd noticed on buildings, vehicles and other
government property here. It looked like a set of football goalposts
with the uprights moved in close together, leaving the crossbar
extending to the sides.
The priest caught his look and gave him what might be intended for a
smile. "You wonder about our emblem? It represents the Church and State
standing--what is the expression in your own language?--'four-square'
"Oh." Craig realized that the symbol was simply a cross with two
posts instead of one. He felt a little annoyed. His own government
had told him enough to make him eager to come on this job, but they'd
also warned him emphatically not to discuss politics or religion.
He supposed the United States needed friends wherever they could be
found, but a dictatorship wasn't his notion of a good alternative to
He realized that the warning had point. He didn't know how ruthless
these people might be, but the shooting back at the airfield hadn't
been any game of marbles. For that matter, the whole country, or what
he'd seen of it, had an armed-camp air.
He decided the thing to do was to concentrate on the scientific reason
for his visit, and now was as good a time to start as any. He leaned
toward Brulieres, then realized that wasn't necessary. "Er--are you at
liberty to tell me anything about the explosion?"
Brulieres eyed him for a moment, and again there was the hint of a
smile. "We could hardly be secretive with _you_, Doctor. You are the
expert. How much were you told?"
"Just that there'd been a nuclear explosion of unknown origin. They
said there was something spectacular about it."
"Spectacular? _Si!_ Your government was gracious enough to accept
our request for technical help without demanding details. Security
is very difficult, as you comprehend." Brulieres looked absent for
a moment. "The explosion occurred at a spot famous in pre-Christian
legends, which is why friend Dientes accompanies us. He is considered
_experto_." The intense eyes turned upon the Indian, with a hint of
mischief. "Not that he fails to be a good Christian as well."
The Indian crossed himself nervously.
"The explosion," Brulieres went on, "seems to have uncovered some very
ancient tunnels. We wish to explore them, but we felt we needed a
nuclear physicist along. Especially since there appears the possibility
that the explosion originated from the tunnels."
Craig heard Noriega clear his throat. Brulieres glanced at Noriega. "It
has also been suggested," the priest said, "that the uncovering of the
tunnels is coincidental, and that the explosion was of foreign origin."
Craig thought that over, and was annoyed. "That does not seem likely,"
he said, a little stiffly. "Nobody is tossing live warheads around."
Noriega spoke for the first time. His voice was crisp and rather high.
"You can perhaps speak for your own nation, Doctor Craig; but others
too possess missiles."
Brulieres interposed, "You no doubt know, Doctor, that a communist
putsch very nearly took over this country. The present government has
been compelled to very strict measures against a further attempt.
Therefore we are not popular with the communist nations."
Craig waved a hand impatiently. "Yes, I know that, but...." He realized
he was being careless. "I only wish to approach my investigation with
an open mind. You say the tunnels were ancient? Incan, perhaps?"
Brulieres shook his head slowly. "They were hardly capable of anything
on this scale. One cannot speak so surely of those who preceded the
Incas in this place."
Craig pondered, and felt his pulse move faster. "How much have you
learned so far?"
"What can be seen from the air. We will be the first to land, if you
decide it is safe."