A phone rang.
“Mr French, I presume?” A gentle baritone voice answered in perfect Received Pronunciation.
“Yes. What? How did you…?” Max asked.
“You’re calling from Turkey, Istanbul area,” the man said. “Caller identification; modern technology never ceases to amaze me. This means you received my message. And that you haven’t taken up my offer yet.”
“No, I haven’t. Who the hell are you?” Max was calling from a small cupboard of an office that was appointed to Nadja by the Istanbul Archaeological Museum; the message had a phone number written on it with United Kingdom country code.
“Now, now. No need to be rude amongst friends, Mr French. I believe you need my help. And I need yours.”
“Help with what? No. How did you find me? No. How do you even know who I am?!” Max hissed, more paranoid than angry.
“All in due time, Mr French,” the man said. “You have stumbled upon something much more… involved than you can imagine. And all in due time, Mr French. I will explain everything once we can have a friendly chat over tea.”
Max was silent for a moment.
“Just a moment. I’m thinking,” Max said. “I’ll need to discuss this over. I will call you in a moment.”
“Very well, I will not… cannot force you. Please, be timely about it,” the man said.
Max hung up and looked at Nadja.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“He find you from England. Resourceful man.”
“You can say that again. I kinda have to believe the guy; I mean, there’s more going on here than meets the eye.”
“Da. He know more. He can not say on phone?”
“No. Well, that’s what he told me,” Max said, the feeling of being watched growing stronger. “I don’t wanna have anything to do with the whole shebang, whatever it is.”
Nadja gave him a frustrated look, stood up from the quest’s chair she was sitting and started pacing around the room. After a few moments of internal dialogue, she opened up.
“Look. They shoot Mehmet. Find you here. Know your name. You already have something to do with this. Like or not.”
Max leaned back in the chair. He sat there, arms crossed in silence, for an uncomfortably long time. The only noise in the room was a wall mounted fan humming away accompanied by the buzz of the fluorescent lights overhead.
“Max. The man who shoot Mehmet, he find you again. You need help.”
“Why should I trust a random guy on the phone? Just because he said so?”
“Because there is no one else.”
Max sat down for a moment in silence.
“Will you come with me?” Max asked her, eventually.
“Yes,” Nadja said. “I need know who do this. Not safe here. Not safe in Göbekli Tepe.”
Max dialled the number again.
“Mr French. I do hope you have made up your mind.” the gentle baritone answered.
“Yes, I have. We’ll take you up on your offer. But on two conditions,” Max said.
“One: You will tell us what the hell is going on.”
“I will give you my word.”
“And two: we need assurances we’re not gonna get hurt.”
“Please, don’t take this the wrong way, Mr French; if I wanted you dead, you would be already.” The man said in an exceedingly polite voice.
After the two were convinced the man on the phone would hold up to his word, they spent the evening and the following morning before their flight running errands. Nadja called the hospital to check on her colleague. Max checked they were cleared by the police to leave the country. Mehmet had collaborated with their story and was now was the prime witness.
The overnight flight to London was uneventful. Both slept most of the way there, and the plane landed at Heathrow Airport in the small hours of the morning. After claiming their luggage, Max went to the first payphone he could find and dialled the number.
“Mr French. I see you have landed safely.” the man answered the call.
“Uh… Yes. How did you… Nevermind. Do you ever sleep?”
“There are only two connections each day from Istanbul to London; I prefer to stay alert for my… affiliates.”
“OK. So, we’re here. What do we do now?”
“At terminal five parking lot you will find a black London taxi-car. My employee is waiting for you there. There are… refreshments waiting for you.”
“Thanks… So, umm…”
“To your left, towards the car rental agencies.”
“Yeah, I see them. Wait, how did you—” Max said, after spinning his head for a moment.
“You are most likely calling from the first available payphone, just after passport control,” the man said.
Max and Nadja stepped outside the terminal into a misty early morning, the sun was yet to rise. The parking lot was heavily lit with bright street lamps, the mist creating cones of yellow-tinted light underneath. The two found several black London taxis cars parked, but only one had a driver waiting outside.
He was a clean shaven, sinewy man wearing a simple, but elegant black suit, white shirt and black tie, dark grey flat cap, polished black leather shoes and matching driver’s gloves.
“Mr French, Ms Novikova. This way, sir. Ma’am,” the driver said nodding and tilting his cap barely visibly. He took their luggage and placed it in the trunk as Max and Nadja climbed onto the back seat.
The interior of the car was luxurious, thick carpets, tan leather, and walnut trim everywhere. A small fridge blended into the panelling and fine drinking glasses were waiting for them. Max felt a little more at ease, but still nervous.
The driver sat down behind the steering wheel and looked in the rear-view mirror at his two passengers.
“My employee is a fine gentleman. There is nothing to worried about. It’ll be an hour’s long drive; please make yourselves comfortable. If you have any hesitations, you are still free to change your minds,” he said.
Max looked at Nadja, who gave him a nod.
“We’re good to go,” Max said.
The car took off gently and Max had a sense of déjà vu being driven to an unknown location for the second time in a few days.
After a while, he dozed off, only to wake up at a sharper turn when the car took off the main road to a small country path. Great oak trees lined the driveway on both sides, vast grassy fields behind them; the sun had just coloured the sky in pale red.
Max nudged Nadja to wake her up as the car arrived at the gates of a grand manor. They saw a grand three-storey stone-brick building with attic windows poking out the roof. Immaculately kept front garden surrounded a circular centre piece, where a marble statue of Zeus kept guard in front of the main entrance.
The car drove around the statue and stopped at a flight of stairs leading up to the entrance. The driver got out of the car and opened the door for the passengers, then got their luggage out. Just after Max climbed out of the car, the front doors opened and a man stepped out.
He was an elderly chap. But if it weren’t for his grey hair and finely trimmed grey beard, he could be mistaken for being just middle-aged. He wore a perfectly fitted dark grey four-piece suit and polished black leather shoes. His posture was upright, and he cocked his head a little at the two with a smirk.
The man came down the flight of stairs to greet them with an uncharacteristic pep in his step. He offered Max his hand.
“Mr French, so nice of you to come. My name is Gerard Oaksworth, I welcome you to Oaksworth manor. You can call me Jerry,” He said in the same soft baritone voice Max had heard on the telephone. “Please, come in.”
“What do you mean there’s another disc?” the Voice said, his office now basking in the dark yellow afternoon light. It had been over two days since the disc’s recovery.
“Sir, the information seems incomplete. It’s as if the dics we recovered is just a key to the code, but the code itself is missing,” one of the deciphers said. “We are, however, working on photos alone; transporting items through unauthorised means is taking longer than usual.”
The Voice sat in his chair for a moment, contemplating.
“Keep working. I’ll get you the second disc,” he said, and hung up the phone, immediately dialling another number.
“Sir?” Sebastian answered the call.
“At the safe-house Gamma, standing by.”
“Your work is incomplete, brother. There is another disc at Göbekli Tepe. We need it recovered.”
“I have only seen the one, they must’ve kept it hidden,” Sebastian said after a brief pause.
“You will have the information shortly. Search the dig site, tear down walls if necessary. We need it.”
“Confirmed. In Servitio Veritas.”
“In Servitio Veritas, brother.”
“You have quite the collection here, Mr Oaksworth.” Max admired the library that encompassed the entire west wing of the manor.
“Please, call me Jerry,” Gerald Oaksworth replied. “I have certain… topics I like to study. A well-stocked library helps.” Jerry said with a grin, while the serving staff brought in the tea on fine porcelain cup on an ornamental silver serving tray. There was a pot of coffee prepared for Max.
The library room was two stories tall. Two spiral staircases at the opposite corners of the room allowed access to a balcony that ran on three walls on top of the first floor bookshelves and cabinets. Countless books covered the shelves, most of which were leather bound in various colours with gold lettering.
All furniture was solid oak, genuine antique from the turn of the 19th century. All lumber was harvested from the Oaksworth family forests, Jerry had boasted. Several worn, but expensive carpets covered the tastefully squeaky floor. Two tan leather couches and two arm chairs surrounded a coffee table at the centre of room. Max felt right at home with his shoulder padded tweed jacket.
When Nadja had stepped in the room, she had stood stupefied for a good long while. After she recovered, she had walked to a bookshelf, found books on archaeology, and after been granted permission by Jerry, started browsing through them with an intensity of a child who has just received a Christmas present she had wished for years.
“Throughout history,” Jerry continued, “there have been several inexplicable discoveries… anomalies, if you will, from all over the world. The disc that was stolen from you, was just the latest. You wouldn’t happen to have brought photos of it with you?”
“We have copies. The originals are in a safe place.” Max said after a small hesitation.
“The Istanbul museum archives, I presume? Oh, don’t look surprised, Max. Remember, I tracked you down there after all.”
“You did. And how exactly did you do that?” Max said, slightly annoyed.
“I have… associates at Interpol. We have been monitoring several recent points of interest, and you’ve been under our eye since your discovery.”
Max felt somewhat uncomfortable about his questionable fame.
“When a report came in of a shooting at Göbekli Tepe, the assailant being German, I just put two and two together. The museum was the obvious place to try. There are four different letters waiting for you; the last one is waiting your office desk back in Ohio.
“Anywho. The photos?” Jerry continued.
“Sure…” Max hesitated a little, before walking to his luggage. He gave Nadja a quick look, who shook her head slightly; Max picked up the photos of the first disc only and brought them to the coffee table.
“Exquisite!” Jerry gasped. “I have never seen so many glyphs on a single artefact.”
“Glyphs?” Max asked; even Nadja snapped out of her books.
“That’s what we — my associates and me — call the markings on such artefacts. And yes, there are several such… anomalies found around the world.”
“This is first I know,” Nadja interjected. She stood up, walked to a chair at the coffee table, sat down arms crossed, and declined Jerry’s offer for tea or coffee.
“They are kept secret for decades, centuries, or even millennia, as sacred knowledge often is guarded. The Signal Max found was the first one that became public knowledge,” Jerry said to Nadja.
“There is more?” she asked, incredulous.
“More than you can think of. And I’m aware of just a small fraction of them,” Jerry said. “One peculiar feature stands out on all of them: signs of scientific knowledge millennia ahead of its time. We’ve found texts from the ancient Greeks that seem to describe the atomic theory, for example.”
“Atomos?” Max asked, intrigued.
“No, not just the simplistic idea of an indivisible unit of solid matter, or atomos, Democritus came up with over two millennia ago, but one which takes sub-atomic particles into account as well,” Jerry said.
Jerry took a sip of his tea, leaned back on his chair and continued as the two sat dumbfounded.
“There are several pre-historic stone tablets that depict the heliocentric Solar System to a high degree of accuracy. Not just the orbiting planets, but their moons as well; something that took until Renaissance and the discovery of the telescope to verify.
“It’s as if the prehistoric humanity had knowledge comparable to our modern scientific understanding, but eventually lost it all.”
“You’re talking about Atlantis.” Max said, rolling his eyes.
“Heavens, no!” Jerry laughed. “Although every legend has a grain of truth to it. Atlantis is a myth about a small, self-contained advanced society that vanished in a catastrophic flood. I’m talking about a global phenomenon.”
“Where this knowledge come from?” Nadja asked, accusingly.
“Now, that is the question!” Jerry laughed. “Tell me, Ms Novikova, Nadja, why most religions, past and present, depict gods and their messengers as arriving from the heavens?”
“Alien come to earth?” she stammered after a pause.
“Close, but no cigar, as the Yankees would say.” Jerry said with a smirk. “Tell me, Max, do we send people to outer space?”
“No, we use probes for deep space missions.”
“And why would that be?”
“Space travel takes time. Even at the speed of light, it would take decades to reach the closest star to us. Probes don’t need life-support.”
Jerry was grinning like a school boy who had just won the grand price of a bicycle at a county fair lottery, he was making ‘keep going’ hand gestures.
“Alien… send probe. Land on Earth. Man believe God send message.” Nadja said.
“Bingo! And if we can prove that, it would answer the largest question known to man.” Jerry proclaimed.
“Which is…” Max encouraged him.
“Are we alone in the universe, of course, my good man. And are we the God’s chosen children after all?”