archaeology, Army chaplain, Cadet Chapel, Eden Thrillers, Egypt, Jaime Richards, Plagues of Eden, Plagues of Egypt, West Point
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Saturday, November 10, 2007, 6:38 p.m. Tell el-Balamun, Egypt
Dr. Samuel Golding squinted, trying in vain to focus on the mud-yellow brick from the porch of the ancient temple he was unearthing . The young archeologist had spent the last three hours on his knees, painstakingly brushing silt and dirt from the object. With a sigh, he leaned back to squat on his heels and survey the dig site. The temple was much older even than the 3rd century library sitting above it, and he no longer had enough light to continue.
Another day was now over on this, the strangest dig he’d ever worked.
Sam was the Assistant Project Leader for the British Museum excavation at Tell el-Balamun and the de facto project head, since the team leader was not available due to the unusual timing of this off-cycle dig. This project in the Central Nile Delta of Egypt would not unearth the type of tourist-frenzied structures like Luxor or Giza—which suited him just fine. The team’s work on these ancient Egyptian temples could progress with little outside interference.
He started packing up his tools for the day. The porch would wait until tomorrow. It wasn’t going anywhere.
“’Night, Boss,” said his assistant, Ibrahim. “Going into town tonight?”
“Don’t think so,” Sam replied. He brushed the dust off his signature Sandhurst t-shirt and shook out his cargo pants.
It wasn’t simply that he was tired. He wanted time to mull. Odd things had been happening on this dig, and he wanted some peace and quiet to think.
He sat down on a canvas camp chair and poured himself a glass of chardonnay from a bottle he kept in his cooler. Sometimes, these bricks seemed to him to be miniature time machines. When he touched one, it was as if he were propelled back, hearing the voices and conversations of those who had stood in this place many centuries ago. He envisioned what they were wearing, heard the sounds of the city around them, smelled the odors of animals and incense.
But now there was a discordant note. He had found several objects in this dig that, while ancient, were not from this place or time period. In fact, not even close. How to report these?
He didn’t want to do anything that would call the validity of the whole dig into question. And yet…the pieces didn’t fit.
It was the time of evening military called EENT, or early evening nautical twilight. The horizon was becoming indistinct and stars were just beginning to twinkle. It looked like there would be little haze this evening, and the clear Egyptian night would provide a nice backdrop for the heavens in all their glory. Maybe he should have been an astronomer instead of an archeologist. No, scratch that. He could enjoy the night sky without knowing how far away the stars were or what made them twinkle. But he could not pass by a mound of earth without wondering what ancient treasure might be hidden beneath.
Sam sipped his wine and looked to the northwest just in time to spot a falling star.
Wow, what a nice tail on that one…
But it didn’t fade. Instead, it seemed to grow brighter, larger.
He stood and stared, unmoving, as the fireball plummeted, hitting the ground with a loud explosion a half mile to his east. In one fluid move he dropped his wine glass and dove behind the nearest dirt pile, his mind flashing back to bombs exploding when he was a young officer in Northern Ireland.
Heads began popping out of tents, just in time to see another “falling star” close in and burn up just before hitting the ground a quarter of a mile to the west.
Within moments, the camp was in pandemonium, everyone running back and forth, searching for cover. Ibrahim and one of the local diggers who were heading into town were caught between the tents and the dig’s rattletrap car. They both made a run for the extra protection of the vehicle. It was a rusty old station wagon that had survived 20 years as transport for the team. Sam watched as they each dove in a door and rolled up the windows. He wondered if he would be safer joining them than lying sprawled behind a dirt pile.
What was going on?
And then there were more. It was like a hailstorm—if the hail was made of fire.
A much larger piece headed straight for Sam’s hiding place, then split in two at the last minute. One part burned up before reaching the ground, the other impacted the car where his fellow workers had taken cover.
The largest part of the rock had crashed through the roof of the car; other parts had shorn off and hit the doors of the vehicle. One had apparently ruptured the gas line. From where he was, Sam now smelled gasoline mingling with the burning sulfur from space.
“Get out!” he screamed, standing and rushing for the station wagon.
But it was too late.
Fire continued to rain down, and some landed, still burning, close enough to the vehicle that the fumes, then the spilled gasoline on the ground, and finally the remainder of the tank, ignited.
Sam covered his head but he felt the ground shake as the car exploded. He stayed flattened against the ground, fully expecting to be hit by debris from the explosion or the sky, fully expecting the next second to be his last on Earth.
It took a moment after the explosion for the ringing in his ears to stop, and for him to regain enough equilibrium to discern which way was up. Then he raised his head, saw the burning vehicle, and launched himself toward it.
He disregarded the continuing rain of fiery meteors as he tried desperately to get to his friends. He circled the car, looking for an opening, but the fire was so hot he couldn’t get close enough to open a door. He looked through the flames for some hint of movement within, but saw and heard nothing. Several others saw what had happened and also ignored personal safety to come and try to help.
There was nothing to be done. The car was obliterated.
Another five minutes of chaos, and then darkness, and silence. As suddenly as the firestorm had begun, it was over.
Team members began emerging from tents, moving slowly and carefully in case the danger wasn’t over. Grabbing flashlights, they looked for anyone who might require assistance.
What they found was Dr. Sam Golding standing motionless in front of a burning station wagon, wondering how the ancients would have responded to the gods showing their anger by sending a mighty firestorm to obliterate whatever and whoever was below.
For this was an act of destruction, one whose consequences would reverberate for years to come.
Why had it come into their dig? Their lives? Why had it taken two of their own?
Strands of horror, hurt, anger, and loss wove together inside of Sam, a feeling as primal as had been felt in this very spot, millennia before. He dropped to his knees, screaming from his gut, until he could scream no more.
Saturday, November 10, 2007, 1:05 p.m.
Cadet Chapel, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York
Jaime stood in the back of the Cadet Chapel at West Point, hidden from view by a series of screens and surrounded by her bridesmaids: best friend Lexi Kent Monroe, sister Susan and sister-in-law Dani.
Jaime didn’t mind officiating at weddings, though given her druthers, she’d choose a funeral any day. At funerals, people were always grateful. Weddings—well, weddings were never quite the dream-come-true, and you were likely to run smack into a dozen sets of expectations.
For many years of her life, Jaime had assumed she would never get married. Not that she had anything against marriage, but she tended to fall for knight-errant types who were too busy slaying dragons to consider applying for a mortgage.
And yet, ten years ago she had become engaged to, and had married, her first knight-errant, her long-time boyfriend Paul, in the space of a week so their dying friend could help plan and host the wedding. Paul had been killed three months later. Case in point.
Even knowing the very real dangers of marrying a knight-errant, Jaime had managed to find herself another one.
“Okay, okay, I have to say it,” injected Lexi in a stage whisper. “I can’t believe Shepard’s here! A freaking rock star! And you’re not having him sing!”
The mention of Mark Shepard’s name brought Jaime up short. They were all beyond excited about having an A-list celebrity among them.
“He sang at Jaime’s first wedding,” said Susan, then she stopped herself. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up Paul. Oh, I mean—”
“It’s all right,” Jaime smiled. “Shepard and Paul were close.”
“Having him here is like having Paul’s blessing,” said Lexi.
Truth was, Jaime did feel like she had Paul’s blessing. Paul would have enjoyed Yani.
However, unbeknownst to the others, Jaime no longer thought of Mark solely in the context of Paul. It was hard to hear Mark’s songs or see photos of him without remembering a particularly wonderful afternoon in France in a hot tub—and remembering Mark’s sculpted torso and the happiness she and the musician had shared in each other’s company.
That particular night had not ended well, through no fault of Mark’s or her own.
Get a grip, Jaime, she breathed.
But why was he here?
The first notes of Handel’s “Water Music” reverberated through the huge Gothic chapel, and everyone’s adrenaline level skyrocketed. As Dani walked out from behind the screen and started up the aisle, Jaime closed her eyes. You’ve been in war zones. You’ve been kidnapped. You’ve locked yourself in the trunk of a maniac’s BMW. If you survived that, you can surely survive this.
Susan was off, and Lexi was ready to move into place.
“Hello, Jaime,” came the familiar voice that saved her, that pulled her back to herself. It was Abe Derry, under whom she had served during Operation Iraqi Freedom. There was no one, save her own father, whom she would rather have walk her down the aisle. Not to mention, as a two-star general, Abe looked extremely impressive in his uniform.
And as a Gardener, Abe knew Yani in a way that very few others here did.
“You’re marrying Sword 23, Jaime, really?” he said with a grin.
Yes, Sword 23—as Yani was still known—was a legend among Gardeners. And yes, she was marrying him.
At that moment, the first notes of the Trumpet Voluntary began, and she and Abe took their place at the center of the very long aisle.
Jaime looked forward, under the gothic arched ceiling, past the flags hanging from the walls on either side, past the rows of brown wooden pews crowned with red hymnals. The bridesmaids had taken their places to the left. Her brother Joey and the other two groomsmen stood to the right, and Lexi’s father, the Rev. Asher Kent, stood in the center of the aisle. Everyone had turned. All eyes were on her.
Yet all that mattered was Yani, standing at the front of the chapel, at the foot of the steps, smiling at her. Even now, there was a catch in her throat whenever she saw him. When she came home from a day’s work and walked into the kitchen to see him pulling out pita bread and opening hummus, she had to pretend everything was normal. But how could it ever truly be normal? Sword 23—Yani—William Jonathan Burton, according to his Terris birth certificate—was in her kitchen.
In her living room.
In her bedroom. In her bed.
Like it was a normal thing.
She would marry him fifty times, if she had to, and she would pretend he was just another groom, every time she did it.
By the time Jaime reached the rows of her family and friends, her mood had lifted considerably. It had finally become real to her that after the reception, she and Yani would have a week away, just to themselves. A whole week. That had never happened Terris-side. And what a reception it would be!
The bride glanced to her left and saw activist and rock star Mark Shepard sitting on the aisle. Seated next to him was Chaplain Sherer, an old boss and mentor of Jaime’s, who’d met Mark at Jaime’s small wedding reception in Hochspeyer. The two of them got along well.
As Jaime passed their row, she saw that Mark was distracted. He smiled at her as she passed, but kept glancing down. As she moved on up the aisle, she saw him lose his battle with himself and thrust his hand into his pocket to dig out his phone.
Really? I know you’re a rock star, but you can’t turn your phone off at a wedding? What could be so important that it couldn’t wait fifteen minutes?
Then they were in front of the chapel, and Abe had handed her off to her husband. Together they followed Reverend Kent past the choir stalls and up the five marble steps to the altar. Yani’s jet-black hair was cut just below his ears, and his dark eyes flashed fire. His face was nearly perfectly oval, with a square jaw that could be set at a dangerous angle. But now his whole face was smiling.
As they turned to face each other, to join hands to take their vows, it happened.
Jaime saw Yani’s watch, his top-secret watch, buzz, nearly silently, just once. For the merest split second, the watch face glowed blue. Probably no one but Jaime and Yani noticed it.
That never happened. It meant something was up – an emergency of international significance.
Now. Of course.
Buy PLAGUES OF EDEN here, and keep reading!
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The Eden Thrillers have sold over half a million copies worldwide. Plagues of Eden is the first book in the second trilogy, and a good place to start…unless you want to start at the beginning. The first book is Chasing Eden.
BIOS: Sharon Linnéa is a biographer who also writes thrillers and mysteries. She lives outside New York City with her family. B.K. Sherer is a Presbyterian minister and an active duty chaplain with the U.S. Army.