Chapter 2 – Beverage Service

“Hey, I know you. You’re that fellow, aren’t you?” came abruptly from nearby.

The recipient of this rather obnoxious query lazily opened his eyes.  He had somehow already known that attempting to sleep on the flight back would be a lesson in futility.  Annoyed, he looked over to the first-class seat next to him, and the large sweaty man that occupied it, staring intently back at him.

The sweaty man continued in a thick Minnesota accent, “Yeah, you’re that Pyramid fellow. I recognize you from the news feeds. You’re the scientist.”

The man’s dingy reddish mustache nearly covered his mouth, and it bristled with every other word that he spoke.  His pale yellow business shirt was unkempt, and exhibited the slightest grease stain below the breast pocket.  His loosened tie hung unashamed around the man’s massive neck.

The recipient raised his seat up from its previously reclined position.  Although, the mere three inches of travel that the airline seat allowed could hardly be described as reclined.

“I suppose I am,” said the sleepy man in an exasperated tone.

The sweaty man let out an excited squeal of a laugh and promptly thrust his open hand out toward the other man, “Ha, see I knew it!” he exclaimed. “The name’s Malcolm, from Minneapolis.”

The sleepy man reluctantly obliged the offer of the handshake and forced a half-hearted grin, “Dr. Andrew Lanigan,” he replied.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir” said Malcolm. “What brought you to the Big Apple?”

Lanigan let out a long sigh as he formed his reply, “The Alliance just held its annual weekend conference.”

Malcolm attempted to shift in his seat, facing Lanigan more directly. His large stature, and the overly constricting airline seats, while still roomier than coach, made the repositioning a fairly awkward maneuver. “I’m traveling so damn much these days that I’m never in one place long enough to keep up with the news,” he said.  “Exciting event?”

Eyes still blurry, Lanigan retrieved the official airline magazine from the seat pocket in front of him, wedged between the safety instruction card and the vomit pouch.  He began blindly thumbing through its pages in a passive attempt to indicate his intense level of interest in the conversation.  Malcolm, however, was not deterred.

“I suppose so,” Lanigan replied.  Perhaps if he kept his responses brief, the man would take the hint, he hoped.

“Forgive my ignorance Mr. Lanigan, I haven’t been able to follow your work as closely as I’d like” said Malcolm. “Medical supply salesmen don’t get much free time if you can imagine.”  With this, Malcolm began digging into the right pocket of his trousers and pulled out a wad of crumpled receipts, dollar bills, and a tissue.  From the wad, he retrieved a crinkled business card and promptly displayed it to Lanigan while handing it over.

With another forced grin, Lanigan reluctantly accepted the card and eyed its contents.

“Easy-Flow Medical Solutions,” said Malcolm proudly. “Catheters and Urological Accessories.  We’re the premiere supplier to hospitals, retirement homes and such, east of the Mississippi.”

In his head, Lanigan briefly chuckled at learning this. Somehow Malcolm’s personality and overall unaesthetic appeal seemed to fit perfectly with a man who dealt in bags of urine every day.  He attempted to return the card to its owner.

“No, you can keep that one,” said Malcolm. “Just in case you’re ever in the market.”

Lanigan decided against a reply.

About this time, a rather attractive young woman donning an airline uniform and pushing a beverage cart made her way from the rows ahead to where the two men sat.  She looked down at the two men with a smile, “Can I offer you gentlemen a complimentary beverage?”

Malcolm wasted no time. “Double Gin and Tonic, if you please.”

“And for you, sir?” said the stewardess, directing her question to Lanigan.

“Coffee. Black.” He replied.

“I’ll have you know, Mr. Lanigan, that I’m a bit of a scientist myself,” Malcolm stated, as the stewardess handed over the two beverages. “Thank you, dear” he said, retrieving his cocktail.

“Is that so?” replied Lanigan.

“Indeed, although nothing as esteemed as your line of work” said Malcolm. “It’s really more of a hobby.  Rare plant breeding.  Have you heard of it?”

“I suppose I have” said Lanigan, again, trying to be brief.

Malcolm continued. “It’s quite simple really, I’ve got a small greenhouse in my backyard; my own lab, if you will.”  He chuckled.  “By controlling pollination between certain plants, I can create offspring with certain desired traits.  My specialty is purple daffodils – my wife loves those.”

“Interesting” Lanigan replied, as he slowly sipped the steaming cup of cheap airline coffee.  It always amazed him how airline coffee was either lukewarm at best, or scalding hot to the point of causing third-degree burns.

The stewardess moved on and Malcolm continued his rather one-sided conversation.

“You know, it’s funny” he said as he took a swig of his cocktail.

“What’s that?” Lanigan replied.

“Here I am going on about myself, when in truth, there’s a hundred different questions that popped into my head when I recognized you sitting here.” Malcolm stated.

“Oh? Splendid,” said Lanigan, only partly trying to hide the exaggeration in his voice.

“That is, if you don’t mind,” Malcolm asked.

Lanigan let out another long sigh as he spoke. “By all means, Malcolm, ask away,” he said, now having fully accepted the fact that the remaining forty five minutes of the plane ride had already been determined for him. Why fight it now.

“You know, I was only a youngster when the first one of those – those things­ – were found, in Egypt I think.” Malcolm stated.

“By things, you mean the resonating chambers,” corrected Lanigan.

“Right, right. The resonating chambers!” said Malcolm enthusiastically. “How many of them now, do you suppose?”

“There’s four, Malcolm” said Lanigan, his feigned pleasantness quickly eroding. “Egypt, China, Mexico, and Illinois.  At least, the one’s we’ve found so far.”

Malcolm continued, but with a puzzled look. “What I never really understood was, how in the hell did they get those things – those chambers – underneath the pyramids?”

Lanigan followed up, “And by they, you mean…” he said, pausing.

“Well,” began Malcolm, “the aliens – I suppose.”

Lanigan took a moment, wondering if everyone from Minnesota was this aloof.

“Well, they were here long before we were, Malcolm,” said Lanigan. “And so were the chambers. The pyramids were simply built on top, much later on.”

Malcolm, for the first time in the entire conversation, didn’t have an immediate response. He looked at Lanigan with an odd expression on his face, as if he didn’t quite make the connection.

“You see, we’re not really sure when the chambers showed up here,” Lanigan continued. “But we are fairly certain that the ancient people who built the pyramids on top of those chambers most likely had some help – or in the least, guidance, from whoever first put the chambers here on our planet.”

Malcolm gave Lanigan a blank stare. He had heard all this same information before, as did everyone else in the world, but in all likelihood, he had failed to let it sink in before returning to his purple daffodils.  The news briefings from the G.R.A. had always been as candid and forthcoming as national security would allow.  Once the first analysis came back on the metal alloys that were recovered from the first chamber dig site, it wasn’t long before the current hypothesis, now officially referred to as Extraterrestrial Intervention, became the generally accepted theory. In periods of time where new information was few and far between, sometimes years, the general public often lost interest. That is, until a new piece of evidence would emerge that would turn the news media upside down once again.

After a few moments, Malcolm seemed to finally slip out of his stupor.  He up-ended his cocktail, slurping the last bit of liquid from the ice cubes.  He brought his arm up to his face and wiped his mouth with the upper part of his shirt sleeve.  He then spoke slowly, and in a lower tone, as if he were uneasy about what might follow.  “What do those chambers actually do?” he asked, wide-eyed. “And what do they want with us?”

Lanigan smiled, another first for this conversation. “Those are excellent questions, Malcolm,” he replied. “And the truth is – I have no idea. It’s my job, and the job of every other researcher at the Alliance to find out the answer to those exact questions.”

After a moment, Malcolm gave a nervous smile.  He was looking at Lanigan like he had been severely disappointed by this response, as if he wanted a more matter-of-fact answer than the one Lanigan provided. With a furled brow, Malcolm brought his hand to his upper lip and began nuzzling the bristles of his mustache with the edge of his index finger. He was clearly deep in thought, which brought another internal snicker within Lanigan.

“So, why – Why do you call them the Architects?” asked Malcolm.

Lanigan recalled his speech given earlier in the weekend, addressing the G.R.A. community, and the general news media. He’d always been encouraged by the P.R. department to simplify things, don’t use unnecessarily complex words – pretend that you are explaining yourself to a group of fifth graders, while also refraining from insulting their intelligence at the same time. He had always found the latter part of that to be easier said than done.

“The purpose and origin of the resonating chambers is unclear, and that remains the primary focus of the Alliance,” Lanigan stated. “However, the research community is fairly certain that the pyramids which sit above these chambers were actually built by human hands.  But the only logical explanation for the similarity in the design and construction of these monstrous piles of earth and stone, by civilizations who were completely isolated from each other both geographically and chronologically, is that they all shared a common designer – one true Extraterrestrial Architect,” he replied.

Lanigan had used this response many times before, and it always seemed to allow the general public to more easily understand the reference. Lanigan continued, “So, in our eyes, that’s exactly what they were,” Lanigan replied. “They devised a design – and a plan of implementation – for some of the most colossal structures on our planet. And that, by its very definition, is the role of an Architect. And the name simply stuck.”

No longer sporting the furled brow, Malcolm had a look on his face that Lanigan had seen many times before, after giving this same epithet. It was a look of understanding, but above all, one of pure and undefiled fascination.

Lanigan cracked a smile; The P.R. department would be proud, he thought.

A man seated behind a large antique desk was focused on the television screen across the room. He leaned back in the plush leather office chair and propped his feet up on top of the desk. A news program played as the man looked on:

“After nearly three weeks of investigation by the federal authorities, there is still little known about what motivated the attempted bombing at the G.R.A. facility in Puebla, Mexico last month.  Investigators have identified the suspect as a Missouri man in his late twenties, who is survived by his wife and newborn daughter. After interviewing friends and family members of the deceased, authorities found that the man belonged to the religious sect known as the Hands of God, based primarily in the Midwestern United States. At this point, however, there has been no official release from investigators that suggests that his ties to the Evangelical group played a part in the attack.  The sect, led by their pastor and former Iowa congressman Eli Graham, is not without controversy, as many will remember the string of arsons that were linked to members of the organization late last year. We reached out to the office of Reverend Graham for comment, but have not received a response. We’ll continue to follow this story as it develops.”

The man, continuing to lean back in his chair, picked up the remote control for the television and turned it off.  He removed his feet from the top of the desk and swiveled around in his chair to face the window.  The warm summer sun cascaded in through the window and fell upon the man; he closed his eyes briefly, soaking in the warmth.

Moments later, a knock on the door interrupted the moment of silence and the man broke from his thoughts, returning his chair to the forward facing position.

“Yes,” the man exclaimed, loudly enough so that the person on the other side of the door could hear him.

The door opened and a young woman in a pantsuit and shoulder length auburn hair poked her head in through the partially open doorway.

“Reverend Graham, she’s here,” said the woman.

“Thank you, Margaret, send her in,” replied the man. “Oh, and please hold my calls until we’ve finished. We’re not to be disturbed.”

The woman did a half-curtsy in the doorway, “Yes sir,” she replied.  Leaving the door still partially open, the woman turned and disappeared from view.

The man once again turned his chair to face the sun-drenched window. He leaned forward this time, resting his forearms on the tops of his knees, and let out a heavy sigh.  After a few moments, he heard the unmistakable click and clack of a pair of stilettos on the hardwood floors. The sound drew nearer with each retort, eventually coming to rest directly behind him just inside the doorway of his office.

“New assistant?” came a voice from behind the man; the words thick with an eastern European accent.

Graham took a deep breath and turned his chair for the final time, coming full circle to face the tall, blonde woman standing in front of him.

The woman wore a tight black skirt, which hugged her thighs and stopped an inch or so above the knee.  Her white blouse, the top three buttons left undone, was tucked neatly into the top of her skirt; a string of small white pearls hung gently around her neck.

“She’s cute, did you pick her yourself?” said the woman, in a semi-sarcastic tone.

Graham rose from his seat, buttoning his suit jacket as he stood.  He let out a long sigh and tilted his head slightly upward, looking directly into the steel blue eyes the sat behind a set of petite glasses resting on the bridge of the woman’s nose.

“Her name is Margaret,” Graham replied. “And yes, I hired her last month after my previous assistant was – let go.” The man paused briefly, “Close the door, would you?”

The woman smirked, as she turned and pushed the door closed behind her.

“You know Eli, firing someone for not sleeping with you could be considered unethical.”

Graham returned the smirk, “What makes you so sure she didn’t sleep with me?”

“Let’s not kid ourselves Eli,” replied the woman. “And Margaret seems very eager, perhaps you’ll have better luck this time around.”

Graham chuffed under his breath and brushed off the insult.

“Does the Kremlin tolerate your sense of humor as well as I do?” he asked.

The woman replied, “You’re forgetting, Eli – I don’t work for the Kremlin anymore.  The counter-intelligence department was de-federalized five years ago, in an effort to shield the Russian government from liability. We operate autonomously now.”

“Of course, my mistake,” Graham replied sarcastically. “Please, make yourself comfortable,” he continued, motioning toward the leather couch adjacent to the office door.

The woman took a seat, crossing her legs. She retrieved a file from her slim briefcase that lay next to her on the couch.

“Now that we’ve got the pleasantries out of the way, do you care to tell me what the hell happened last month at the Puebla facility?” said the woman, her smug tone now replaced with clear indignation. She opened the file folder, placing it on her lap.

Graham let out a deep sigh and leaned forward in his chair, placing his elbows on the desk and clasping his hands together in front of his face, covering his nose and mouth.

“Clearly, things did not go – as planned,” he replied.

“Are you trying to be funny?” The women retorted, “Because I’m failing to see the humor in this.”

“Valentina, listen – ” Graham began.

“No, you listen,” The woman harshly interrupted. “I’m not sure if you understand the severity of the problem here.” She closed the file and gripped it in her hand, holding it up for him to see.

“Trust me, I do,” said Graham.

“We spent two years planning that operation,” said the woman. “And it seems your man couldn’t quite hold his wad. A bit trigger happy, he was.”

Graham leaned back in his chair. “The man’s cover had been compromised Val, what the hell did you expect he would do? Ask for a parlay?”

“Again, your sarcasm is not going to serve you well here.” Replied the woman. “And it’s Special Agent Belinsky, Mr. Graham. Or did you forget that as well?”

“The man was given the gun for a reason,” said Graham. “We couldn’t risk him talking if things went south.”

“Understood, Mr. Graham. But not only are we back to square one here, we’ve now given the Alliance an opportunity to bolster their cyber security protocols. Your esteemed colleague failed to destroy the data stick before offing himself, and it’s only a matter of time before they can crack it,” said Belinsky. “Luckily for you, the source of the hack is untraceable, but now they are wise to that particular method of data interception. We have to devise a whole new route of getting access to their network.”

Graham rose from his chair and walked around to the front of the desk, leaning back on the edge of the desktop, and folding his arms across his chest.

“What do you suggest we do now?” replied Graham.

Belinsky shifted in her seat and took a moment to compose herself.  She looked up at Graham with the familiar smirk that he knew all too well.

“I suggest that you offer me a drink, Eli,” she replied.

Graham allowed the faint hint of a smile to manifest, and once again chuffed under his breathe.  He retreated to the wet bar that was conveniently concealed inside an antique bookshelf that lined the side wall of his office.

“I’m out of ice,” Graham stated.

“Straight up is fine, as always,” Belinsky replied.

Graham returned with two glasses in hand, offering one to Belinsky. He sat down next to her on the couch, taking a sip of the aged single-malt scotch.

Belinsky settled in closer to Graham, propping her glass up on his knee.

“Has the media picked up on the connection to the organization?” Belinsky asked.

“Yes,” Graham replied. “But without an official comment from investigators, it’s merely speculation at this point.”

Belinsky paused for a moment, “Well for your sake, let’s hope that the Kremlin will still find your services worthwhile. After all, bankrolling a cult isn’t cheap, you know.”

“It’s a sect, not a cult,” Graham replied, with a hint of disdain.  “And I seem to recall that you sought us out – not the other way around.”

Belinsky smiled, “Arrogant as always.”

“Clearly your government has an unprecedented level of interest in those chambers, enough so that they are willing to risk international exposure,” said Graham.

“I can’t speak for the Kremlin,” Belinsky replied. “I’m simply doing my job.”

Graham took another sip from his glass and placed it on the side table next to him.

“And does your job description include fraternization with those you conduct business with?” Graham asked. “You know Val – that could be considered unethical.”

Belinsky blushed and cracked a smile.

“Well I don’t hear you complaining about it,” she replied.

“Point taken,” said Graham.

Belinsky got up from the couch, handing her glass to Graham as she rose.  She stowed the file folder back in its place inside her briefcase.

“But in all seriousness Eli, this fiasco does not look well for either of us,” Belinsky stated. “My team and I will find another way to breach their network, but we can’t do it alone.”

“Understood,” said Graham.

Belinsky headed for the office door, then turned to face Graham.

“And I suggest that you find a new mole, preferably one that is not suicidal,” said Belinsky.

She reached for the knob and opened the door.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Graham. I’ll be in touch,” said Belinsky, as she turned and exited through the doorway.

The light morning breeze was warm, and carried a mixture of fragrances, some familiar and some not.  The soft smoky haze emerging from inside the café was an off-putting blend of what smelled like cigars and overly sweetened fruit.  Mixed in with this aroma was the unmistakable essence of engine exhaust, the acrid sort that one would usually associate with an old beat up car or perhaps a diesel truck.  To top off this eclectic bouquet was the pungent wisps from the food stalls on the opposite corner, cooking up the mid-morning meal, normally a combination of grilled lamb and fried chickpeas.  Alone, this would have been quite an enticing scent, but when paired with the other smells that emerged from the busy Cairo street on this morning, the overall olfactory concoction was strange and disorienting.

A young man carrying a serving tray, no more than fifteen years old, approached a woman seated at one of the small tables on the cobblestone patio just outside the entrance of the hookah café. The woman’s light brown hair, long, and while usually would be left to wave in the breeze, was now pulled tightly into a neat bun behind her head.  The young man carefully set a saucer onto the table in front of her, followed by a small teacup that he placed on the center of the saucer.  From a metal craft, the young man gingerly poured steaming liquid into the teacup to the appropriate height and then presented the woman with a small dish of cane sugar and mint leaves. The drink was a lightly steeped black tea that was a staple in the Egyptian capitol city – a beverage the woman found very enjoyable.

“Thank you,” said Claire as she gave the young man a smile.

He returned the expression in a heavy Arabic accent and lightly bobbed forward in thanks, smiled, then turned and walk back into the entrance of the café.

Claire sat at the small patio table and carefully sipped her tea, recounting in her head the past thirty six hours since she had touched down at the Cairo airport.  The feeling of actually being here, in Cairo, was a feeling that she was still trying to get used to.  Never in her wildest dreams had she thought that she would be sitting on this street corner sipping tea, much less reporting to the Giza facility in approximately one hour, for the first day in her new position as a research assistant at the Global Research Alliance.

After several minutes of taking in the sights, sounds – and smells – of the bustling street corner, Claire sipped the last few drops of her tea and retrieved a small data pad from her purse.  She accessed her mailbox, thumbing through the various messages that she had received since her arrival.  Eventually, she found the particular message that she was searching for, the one from the Alliance’s human resources coordinator, which contained the onboarding information and details on how to reach the research facility from the city.

The Alliance provides a shuttle bus that transports its employees from downtown Cairo out to the site, roughly a half-hour drive, and then back again at the end of each work shift.  The waiting spot for the shuttle bus was several blocks away from the café, and Claire certainly did not want to be late.  From the message, she retrieved the address for the bus stop and loaded it into the navigation program that ran on her data pad.

Sixteen minutes away, on foot – the program estimated.

Claire was about to get up from her seat when she realized she had not yet paid for her cup of tea.  From her chair on the patio, she turned and peered into the café through the smoky entrance, trying to spot the young man from before, but he was nowhere in sight.

She did notice, however, another man sitting just inside the door, at a table against the wall, facing Claire’s direction.  He held a newspaper in his hands, propping it up in front of him. The man’s face was visible and after a moment, Claire saw that the man did not appear to be a local.  He was Caucasian, with a light salt and pepper-colored scruff on his face that suggested he had not shaved in two or three days. What caught Claire’s attention was not the color of his skin, or the facial hair he exhibited.  The man was holding the newspaper as if reading, but his eyes were fixed on her.  Even when Claire was clearly looking in his direction, the man did not look away; his eyes remained trained.

For a moment, Claire thought that maybe the man was a fellow employee of the Alliance, and perhaps that’s why he was looking at her so intently.  Perhaps he was guessing the same thing about her, and was wondering if he should come say hello.  But each millisecond that passed, her large brown eyes locked with his, Claire grew increasingly uneasy.  After a few moments, she broke her gaze and began ruffling through her purse.  Her hand emerged with a few loose dollar bills, folding them and placing them beneath the saucer that held her now-empty tea cup.

Claire hurriedly stashed the data pad in her purse and rose from her seat.  Doing this she glanced back toward the café entrance and saw that the man had lowered his newspaper to the table, eyes still locked on her.

She turned away from the entrance and walked quickly out of the patio area and onto the sidewalk of the street.  Just as she did, the young man that had served her tea appeared in the open doorway of the café and gave a hurried wave, repeating the same broken expression he had given earlier, but this time in more of a shout.

Claire heard the young man’s thanks, but she did not look back in his direction.  She continued several yards along the sidewalk to the next street corner and stopped, watching as the cars whizzed through the busy intersection in front of her.  She briefly wondered if this was even the proper direction to reach the shuttle.  In that moment, though, she didn’t care. She just wanted to get away from the café as quickly as possible.

Claire glanced back in the direction of the café, but there was no sign of the man she had seen.  A lump grew in her throat, worried that any second, the man would appear.

After what felt like an eternity, but was merely a few seconds, the blur of cars in the intersection came to an abrupt halt as the traffic signals changed, allowing pedestrians to cross.  Claire wasted no time and hurried across toward the opposite street corner, glancing back over her shoulder every few steps.  As she reached the curb, she pulled the data pad from her purse, and was relieved to see that she was in fact traveling in the correct direction.  Standing on the corner of the intersection, she took one last look back in the direction of the café – this time, taking several moments to scan the faces of the people within sight, hoping the man with the newspaper was not among them.

He was not there.

Still uneasy, Claire took in a deep breath followed by a long exhale.  She looked down at the data pad.

Fourteen minutes away, on foot – the program estimated.

The pyramids were breathtaking.

Claire stared at them from her seat on the shuttle bus, her gaze undeterred by the dust covered windowpane through which she viewed them. The shuttle was still a few miles out from the plateau, winding its way through narrow streets in the village of Nazlet on the outskirt of Cairo; but even from a distance, the monolithic grandeur of the massive pyramids, rising high above the tops of the surrounding buildings, dwarfed everything else around it.

The shuttle bus, carrying approximately forty members of the research staff, emerged from the last few shanties and scant trees that marked the edge of the village and the beginning of the plateau.  The bus proceeded along a winding road onto the Giza Plateau, passing the outstretched paws of the mighty Sphinx by only a few dozen meters.

From her vantage point near the front of the bus, Claire could distinctly see all three of the major pyramids which presided over the massive complex. They were arranged in a fairly straight line that stretched northeast to southwest, with the largest of the three on the northeast end, and the smallest on the opposite.  Over the decades, Egyptologists preceding the GRA had surmised dozens of different theories on the linear arrangement of the three grandest structures on the site – most notably, and perhaps most withstanding, was the notion that the three peaks align near-perfectly with three prominent stars in the night sky, and that the north-south axis of each are within five one-hundredths of a degree of pointing true north.

Claire, still completely awestruck by her surroundings, reluctantly broke her gaze and briefly looked around at the other occupants of the bus.  Most were transfixed to a data pad or newspaper, some actually resting their heads against the window with their eyes closed. She couldn’t believe that the others were so uninterested in the marvelous sights that surrounded them. She quickly realized, though, that most of these people had likely been on the project for months, or even years, and were no longer captivated by the scenery.

The bus continued along the road, carving its way deeper into the shadow of the stone giants, and eventually rounded the corner along the north face of the largest pyramid, dubbed The Great Pyramid.  It was then that the next most impressive structure on the site came into full view, attached directly to the north face of the pyramid – a modern five story building that resembled an aircraft hangar, with large bay doors that could accommodate a jetliner. Surrounding the enormous structure was a myriad of smaller buildings, some connected to the larger by a web of above-ground roadway tunnels and pedestrian tubes. Large radio antennae protruding from the sandy landscape cast long slender shadows over the network of buildings and passageways.

Mesmerized by the scale of the facility complex, Claire had hardly noticed that the bus had come to a complete stop in a U-shaped driveway that arced around in front of the main entrance to the largest building, and that the other occupants of the bus were stowing their data pads or other implements and rising from their seats.

Claire joined the procession, filing out of the bus and toward the main entrance. A few yards from the bus she stopped, as the other employees continued on around her like water diverting around a boulder in a stream. She lifted her gaze to the giant structure in front of her, and beyond, to the massive north face of the pyramid towering above her. Overcome with a rush of awe, excitement, and a bit of vertigo, a grin stretched ear to ear across Claire’s face.  She simply stood there in the warm morning sun, eyes upward on the scene before her, enjoying this moment of pure bliss.  She could have stayed in that moment for an hour, if it weren’t for the call of a familiar voice in her direction.

Claire snapped out of her stupor and averted her eyes back downward. She hadn’t noticed until then that all of the other occupants of the bus were breaching the front entrance. A lone figure stood a few yards in front of the large double doors, facing her, as the others filed their way around him and into the open entrance.

The rooted figure was a man donning casual business attire.  He was probably in his mid-fifties, with a dark complexion and thin, partially balding black hair.  He wore thick-framed glasses – bifocals most likely – that made his eyes appear to be larger on his face than they actually were. Recognizing him, Claire smiled.

“Ms. Cartwright, I presume,” said the man, in a sort of half-shout, with a thick middle-eastern accent.

Claire quickly closed the distance between the man and herself, and approached him with an outstretched arm.

“Dr. Abadi, how are you?” said Claire, as she happily shook his hand.

“Great to see you again, Ms. Cartwright. Doing very well!” the man replied. “I see you’ve found your way here.  A good start, indeed.”

Claire smiled and laughed, “It’s a bit hard to miss,” glancing back upward.

“Of course, of course. No troubles finding the shuttle, I assume?” replied the man.

Claire thought back on the events of the morning.  The smile faded from her face as she recalled the piercing eyes of the man in the café; the unease of the encounter replaying in her mind.  She had been so distracted by the scenery coming in that she had nearly forgotten about the incident.  She quickly squelched the thought of the staring man and returned her attention back to Dr. Abadi.

“Yes, no trouble at all,” she lied.

“Good then. What do you say we head inside and I’ll introduce you to our team,” said the man with a smile.

He continued as he ushered her in through one of the large double doors, “And once you’ve made your introductions, I’ll give you the official tour of the facility.”

“Yes. That would be great, thank you,” said Claire.

“I’m sure you’re very anxious to see what all the fuss is about,” he replied.

Claire looked at the man as they were walking, cocking her head slightly to one side and smiling. “The fuss?” she asked.

Dr. Abadi returned the glance, “Well yes, of course,” he replied. “I’ll be taking you into the heart of the chamber. I assume you want to see it up close for yourself.”

Claire stopped mid stride.

Dr. Abadi also came to a halt once he realized she had stopped. He turned and looked back at Claire, noticing the look of apprehension in her eyes.

“Now, now. There’s no need to be nervous,” he assured her. “I haven’t lost a man yet.”

He winked as he ushered her onward. “Come along now, the secrets of the cosmos await!”

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