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Author: Alex Archer
Publisher: Gold Eagle, 2009
Series: Rogue Angel: Book 21

19. Seeker's Curse
21. Paradox

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Archaeologist Annja Creed reluctantly accepts an assignment on behalf of a covert arm of the U.S. Government. She is to lead an expedition to the top of Mount Ararat to find the truth about what is thought to be the remains of Noah's Ark. But while she doubts the massive anomaly is really the Ark, she can't help but wonder what is up there.

Annja must escort a group of militant fundamentalists through civil unrest in eastern Turkey, but the impending war is nothing compared to the danger that lies hidden within the team. With lives at stake, Annja has no choice but to protect the innocent... and get them out of there alive. Legend says the Ark once saved mankind, but this time it could kill them all.


"Such exquisite form," Roux said. He glided to a stop easily on the ice of the outdoor skating rink. "You make falling upon your wonderfully sculpted posterior a balletic act. Pure poetry." He kissed his kid-gloved fingertips.

"How about a hand, here?" Annja Creed asked. She sat like an abandoned rag doll with her mittened hands on the ice and her legs stuck out in front of her.

She regretted the request at once. The slim old man with the bright blue eyes and the carefully trimmed white beard began to clap slowly.

Seeing her expression start to resemble gathering thun-derheads he desisted and extended an arm. All around them cheerful skaters passed by emitting dragon puffs of condensed breath against a black night sky from which the bright multicolored rink lights banished stars. She fought the impression they were laughing at her.

With the help of Roux's strength, surprising in a man his apparent age, she found herself back upright with her

feet beneath her. Temporarily, anyway. She teetered, the blades of the rental skates strapped none too comfortably to her feet that slipped back and forth over the ice. Roux held her by the arm, steadying her.

"Where is your vaunted sense of balance, which you have supposedly gained through rigorous study of your black arts?" he asked.

"Martial arts," she said. " And the problem isn't lack of balance. It's lack of friction."

"If you say so. Now, pay attention. The principle is simplicity itself. When you go with the direction of the blades, you move without effort. If you press at an angle to the blade, you push. You see?"

Annja did. She was starting to. Sort of. She made herself draw deep breaths to the diaphragm, calming, centering herself. You can keep your head while people are shooting at you, she reminded herself sternly. So you can keep your head while doing something little children do effortlessly.

The fact was, she was determined not to let this get the better of her. She wasn't in the habit of backing away from challenges. It made her curse Roux all the more for talking her into this despite her reservations.

As she propelled herself forward a skinny septuagenarian a head shorter than Annja easily passed her by. Not a yard ahead of her a tiny girl, elfin face bracketed by enormous white puffy earmuffs, skated fearlessly backward.

Annja sighed. "I thought the Quays of the Old Port Skating Rink didn't open until December."

The outdoor rink was in the old St. Lawrence River dockside district appended to Montreal's downtown. Like every other run-down waterfront in every other major North

American city, it had been renovated and gentrified at enormous expense sometime in the last quarter-century. Now the skaters glided and chattered to saucy French techno-pop before the broad, benign domed edifice of the Marché Bonsecours, the old market that once housed City Hall.

"Customarily it does not open so early," Roux said, tipping his hat to a passing pair of handsome middle-aged women. "But the winter has come early to Montreal, as you can see. This global warming, it fails again to materialize, it seems."

He shook his head. "I do not understand you moderns and your superstitions. Even should the good Earth be warming, why is that bad? I lived through five centuries of what your scientists now call the Little Ice Age. Including times in which it lessened. In the times it grew cooler again, the people suffered, grew sicker and poorer. Crops failed. And whenever the weather grew warmer, prosperity and happiness returned."

She said nothing. From her own detailed knowledge of history, especially European history, she knew her mentor was right about the previous effects of climate warming.

She also knew he wasn't kidding about having experienced it for himself. What was worse, he wasn't even delusional.

"All right," she said to her companion as they picked up speed. She was finding a certain degree of control. She learned things quickly, physical or mental. "You've brought me here. You've established your dominance by ritually humiliating me. What's so urgent that you had to see me?"

"What else but the offer of a job? At a fee most welcome, given the sadly depleted state of our exchequer," Roux said.

Annja knew Roux was fabulously wealthy but he loved to cry poor. However, she also knew for a fact that their occasional joint covert enterprises, while tending to command high fees, were phenomenally expensive. For one thing she burned through all-but-bulletproof fake identities, with attendant documentation, the way some people smoked cigarettes. Even with volume discounts, the requisite quality was costly.

"Then give," she said. The old man loved to hear himself speak and would ramble all night, or possibly for days, if she didn't occasionally boot him back in the general direction of the subject at hand. The trouble was, he was highly entertaining to listen to. Being a raconteur was another skill he'd had a long, long time to develop.

He clucked and shook his head. "You moderns have no sensibility of the rhythms of life. Everything is always 'hurry-hurry-hurry.'"

"You got that right, old man," Annja said with a grin.

Roux sighed. "A consortium of wealthy American Protestant fundamentalists are organizing an expedition to examine the so-called Ararat Anomaly, believed by many to be Noah's Ark. They wish you to come along and direct excavation and preservation."

"No," Annja said without hesitation.

His fine brow creased in a frown. "Why must you always make things so difficult, child?"

" You're trying to hook me up with a bunch of Biblical literalists? They're like the archenemies of anthropologists and archaeologists."

"Why must you be so dogmatic? You really should be more open-minded."

"The Ararat Anomaly is a total crock. The mountain's

sixteen thousand feet high, for God's sake! How does a flood plant something up there?"

"It is, in fact, Turkey's highest mountain at 5,137 meters. Or 16,854 feet, as you Americans would say. I'm with you, by the way—the metric system was another unlovely conceit of the French Revolution. We might as well have kept their ridiculous calendar, with its ten-day weeks and its months with names like Heat and Fog!"

"Okay. Almost seventeen thousand feet, then. Thanks for making my point for me."

"But what of the photographic evidence? The Ararat Anomaly has repeatedly been photographed by surveillance aircraft and satellites. Some analysts claim it resembles the Biblical description of Noah's Ark."

"It's just a natural formation."

"Ah, but do you know that for a fact? How? Is this your science, to determine truth by decree like His Holiness the Pope? You've not been there. No one has, for very long. No expedition has ever succeeded in examining it in detail."

"Of course they haven't," Annja said. "The Turkish government won't let anyone in because of trouble with the Kurds. And with the fighting between the Turks and the Kurds continuing the way it is, the Turks are especially unlikely to let anyone in now."

"Just so. Yet the expedition sponsors and organizers, who I assure you are serious men who are not to be taken lightly, believe they have a way to get to the mountain and climb it with ample time to perform at least a site survey and preliminary excavation."

"You mean go in illegally, don't you?" she asked.

"It's not as if you are a stranger to that sort of thing, Annja dear."

She shrugged. The motion momentarily unbalanced her. She felt proud that she managed to right herself without clutching at Roux. He had them skating in a circuit about the rink's long oval now. She noticed he also kept them clear of the rail, most likely to prevent her grabbing it and vaulting to solid ground. Or ground with friction, anyway.

Roux had declared himself her mentor when she first came into possession of Joan of Arc's sword through some kind of power she did not fully comprehend. Even now she didn't really know what that meant. The sword traveled with her in another plane and was usually available to her in times of trouble. She could call it to her hands by willing it there if conditions warranted it. It was a privilege and a burden at the same time and Roux, who claimed to have been Joan's one-time protector, came along as part of the deal. He was always pressing her, pushing her to extend her boundaries, challenge herself.

For the most part Roux seemed content to play business manager for her unorthodox archaeological services. She knew, though, that he had an agenda entirely his own. And she had no real clue as to what it was.

"Where is your dedication to the scientific method?" he asked. "Where's the spirit of scientific inquiry? Where, even, simple human curiosity? Absent investigation, child, how can you be so sure what it is or is not?"

"Well," she said, "I mean, how likely is it?"

"My principals claim to have in their possession relics recovered from the site. Allegedly these substantiate that it is, at the very least, artificial in origin."

His gloved hands gestured grandiosely. Other skaters glanced their way and giggled. But it didn't disturb his

balance in the slightest. In fact he skated with the same ease with which a dolphin swam. He's had a lot of time to practice this, too, Annja reminded herself

"Think, Annja!" he exclaimed. "Even if it doesn't happen to be the Ark, would not a man-made structure atop the mountain be a magnificent archaeological find? Would it not also be in dire need of professional preservation? And also, the Americans offer quite a handsome fee."

"There's that."

"You won't even have to organize matters, nor run the expedition. That burden is borne by others. You'll be there purely as chief archaeologist."

She sighed. Roux could be devilishly persuasive.

He was right about one weakness of hers...

Copyright © 2009 by Alex Archer


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