ATLANTIS VORTEX – CHAPTER ONE

Sci/Fi – Fantasy – Erotic

Author’s Note:

The read that appears on the publisher’s website is the preface.  This is Chapter One:

     Florida’s bright noon sun glinted in her eyes. Jessica blinked. Behind closed eyelids, she glimpsed the treasured memory of his worried aquamarine gaze fixed into her own. Desperate to retain the remembrance of her elusive rescuer’s face eclipsed in a haze from five years earlier, Jessica’s eyes remained closed a fraction too long. For her lapse in concentration, she paid a painful price. Instead of maneuvering around a rock embedded in the shale-limestone material of the trail, the front tire of her mountain bike impacted the obstruction and stopped. Her momentum halted. Forward motion transferred through the aluminum frame of the bike to the back. Unable to continue further, inertia lifted the back tire off the ground, catapulting her off the small seat and tossing her over the handlebars. Jessica felt oddly light. Her eyes snapped open. Time transformed into slow motion. She flew over the shale-limestone trail, soaring a short distance to land on the hard, cutting, and sloping ground.

Air was forced from her lungs in an agonizing whoosh upon impact. Bright flashes burst before Jessica’s eyes from the sudden lack of oxygen and a gray haze shadowed the edges of her vision. Unconsciousness threatened. Despite the ache in her chest, she gasped for air.
Her limp body started rolling out of control down the sloping levy bank of dead grass. Sharp limestone pebbles, mixed with crushed seashells dug into her body as she plummeted, inflicting abrasions through her thin riding jersey, padded riding shorts and bare legs. Jessica’s vision blurred and became a nauseating, spinning kaleidoscope of brown-green grass, and blue sky.

A barrier of large rocks lined the water’s edge to prevent the alligators from coming on the levy. If she couldn’t stop, impact with the rocks was imminent. In desperation, she spread her legs, slowed her momentum and managed to stop. Thankful her helmet afforded her face and head protection, Jessica closed her eyes against the dizziness.

Despite pain from being flung over the handlebars and vertigo from her spin, a flicker of his unusual aquamarine eyes remained in the forefront of her mind. Laying still for a moment, stunned by the hard fall, a short loss of breath and the rough roll, she found quick movement yet among her abilities when the bites of fire ants nettled her ankle. Her left leg felt like it was on fire from being bitten by the ferocious insects, her foot had landed on their mound. Jessica sat up slapping at the beasties, killing several, brushing off the rest. She had been lucky; it could have easily been a swarm. Just a couple of bites were severe enough. The chemical burning and itch from the venom of their sting could last for hours.

A few hikers and other bicyclists gathered around asking after her condition, inquiring if she required the paramedics. Several were attractive men interested in a fit, pretty young woman. Dazed, Jessica failed to realize the strong apprehension for her welfare radiating from the man who knelt next to her was more than gallantry. His attentiveness discouraged the others, and the crowd dispersed. He took her gloved hand in his bare one. A charged current rushed through her body from his.

“Ms, are you positive you are not in need of assistance?” His smooth, low, strangely accented voice stirred an odd flash of memory, quickly gone. He produced what appeared to be a water bottle and before she could object, poured some of the contents over her bitten ankle. The sting and itching from the bites—stopped. The bites forgotten, she tried to ignore the sweet sensation his touch elicited even through her fingerless riding gloves, and found it impossible. As if drawn, with her free hand she reached toward his heavy, dark sunglasses.

“Can you stand?” His question distracted her from removing his eye protection.

“Yes, thank you,” Jessica told him. But it was with his assistance she gained her feet. His sunglasses drooped down the bridge of his nose. Their gazes joined, and she glimpsed his remarkable eyes. She gasped as another fleeting glimpse of memory clicked and flew leaving her breathless. He pushed the shades back up.

“Are you sure you are well?” he queried again. Jessica nodded, mesmerized.

To confirm she was uninjured, Jessica walked unassisted back to her fallen bicycle. Standing it up on its wheels, she leaned the bike against a bench next to the trail. She turned, a smile on her lips expecting to see her rescuer. He had vanished. Jessica stretched to look for him, squelching the lonely feeling that washed over her. He had blended into the passing crowd. Dumbfounded, her legs now wobbly and not from her fall, she sat on the bench and took a break. The normal passage of people had resumed, and she tried to ignore the aches and bruises from her fall. Jessica found she was more bothered by the reason she crashed and the incentive for today’s ride. She was further disturbed by the appearance of the stranger who had helped her then disappeared.

Until last week, the haunting gaze of her and her family’s rescuer from five years ago remained manageably in her subconscious. Upon completion of her master’s thesis, the incomplete memory had inexplicably began popping back into her conscious, if undirected thoughts. The fateful day of her family’s rescue was etched in her mind, as was the gaze and essence of their inscrutable young savior. Oddly, the only reminiscent consequence of the traumatic diving accident, other than the vague and transitory memory, was a redundant, disturbing dream she thought exorcised. But it too had returned. With the dream’s revival came the recollection of his poignant touch and his ardent stare appearing at times when her thoughts were unfocused or distracted, such as when the glint of the sun caused her to blink. At such times, she felt in some manner connected to the enigma she couldn’t quite, consciously, remember.

She concluded the stress from her master’s thesis had affected her subconscious, compromising her mental disciplines and allowed the dream’s return. Hoping to release
the pressure with strenuous exercise and purge the demon, she had taken a long ride on the Okeechobee Levy Trail. It hadn’t helped. If anything, now, she had imagined his gaze in that of another man who had assisted her. To her shaken thoughts, it was his eyes she had seen today when the gentleman’s sunglasses had slid down.

It wasn’t possible. But where had he gone? As the first man had disappeared, so had this man, it had to be a coincidence.

His compelling gaze continued to stare back at her when she closed her eyes. Was she forever to see his face lost in dreams? Like a lingering song, heard and unforgettable, yet not quite recalled, a vague memory. His caress had aroused her in those few moments as no other man’s had since. She disregarded the same poignant touch of the stranger today, convinced the fall had shaken her.

Standing alone, she drank from her water bottle, thankful for the slight breeze. She looked out over the drought-lowered level of Lake Okeechobee. Having ridden this trail many times she loved the scenery, but preferred the normal, greener and bluer view.

She stood and stretched, willing her muscles to relax. Removing her helmet, she allowed the breeze to evaporate some of her sweat, cooling her off. Jessica scanned over the brown sawgrass, saddened by the lack of water. With a heavy sigh, she grabbed a nutrition bar from her bike bag for a snack.

Her scrutiny returned to the lake and came to rest on a large protuberance of mud jutting upward from the bottom muck where the water usually was deeper. The dead, brown cattails and dry sawgrass were broken and bent exposing the lump. When rainfall was normal, the vegetation grew several feet taller and greener than now. Jessica’s attention fixated on a mass of mud and the imperfect, yet geometric shape it formed. Clearly the protrusion was rarely exposed, but with the water level lower it was revealed as a definite shape, drying in the sun.

Staring at the shape, she finished her snack and washed it down with more water. She continued to study what she might have found; a fascinating impossibility… a pyramid.

Ghost flashes of the re-occurring dream flickered through her mind seemingly triggered by the shape. Intrigued, she pondered the object and sat down again, on the bench her bike leaned against. Vague recollections prompted by an inscrutable knob of oddly shaped mud became more unsettling than her tumble. Why, she couldn’t fathom. But the unusual stare of her mysterious rescuer from years ago looked back at her, amused, from deep inside her mind.

She straightened her sock over the ant bites. Strange, normally fire ant bites itched and were irritated for days, these were—gone! No red, blister marks were present from the attack of the insects. The cooling affects of the stranger’s water bottle came back. Oh heck, it was just water.

Her ankle bracelet, a souvenir from the fateful dive several years before was on the same leg. She covered it with her sock to protect it. A treasured piece of jewelry, it had enigmatically ended the event triggered nightmares the first time. Jessica began wearing the ancient adornment again since the dreams’ returned. Found on the wreck of the Mitzpah the traumatic day of the diving accident, the ankle bracelet consisted of ancient, alternating white gold, and yellow gold dolphins leaping nose to tail. At the time, the jewelry had become a talisman against the dreams. Now she found its presence comforting, but it didn’t diminish the dream’s frequency. Jessica’s other reminder of that day besides the ghost memory of his eyes was despite the heat of summer in South Florida, chills from his touch returned and still did if she allowed the memory to go unchecked. Jessica rallied her strong will and exiled those haunting eyes from her consciousness. Instead, she focused her thoughts on the mysteriously shaped chunk of mud and with effort blocked-out her tumble and the disturbing stranger.

“Only way….” she mumbled to herself, then looked around to be sure no one was listening. “To be sure that lump of mud is or isn’t an ancient pyramid, is to rent an airboat and check it out. Oh hell, it’s probably someone’s pile of oyster shells.” She smirked, and, due to her crash, did a quick safety check on the bicycle before starting off again.

With a last look at the mound of oddly shaped mud, she mounted her bike and peddled toward the levy at Buckhead Ridge. Earlier she had parked her Jeep at a convenient public spot. Luckily she could rent an airboat at Buckhead marina.

Leftover adrenaline from her crash combined with her scientist’s mind, and coupled with her curious nature sent her intuitive awareness into overdrive. Excited at what her instincts persisted she had found, she discarded the ridiculousness of its location.

Given this area of the world, she expected the pyramid to be built by the Mayans or Aztecs. Knowing such a structure had never been found outside of Central or South America, to date, she concluded her first theory. Considering any other didn’t seem plausible, but the lump of mud didn’t resemble a Mesoamerican pyramid.

Back at her Jeep, Jessica locked her bicycle on the bike rack. She scavenged a small tool bag from items in her vehicle to examine the lump of mud and grabbed the cameras she generally kept with her. Changing in the public facilities from her riding gear into the clothes she brought to wear after riding; a fresh set of khaki shorts, a light beige, cotton blouse, and hiking boots, she assumed the attitude of a skeptical scientist.

Feeling refreshed by the crisp, clean clothes, she walked a short distance to the Marina’s office, ignoring her sore body. Some of the endorphins still remained, natural pain killers, taking the edge off the aches from the crash on her bike. If she kept moving, she would avoid stiffening up—until later.

“I’d like to rent an airboat,” Jessica told the weathered, white-haired clerk behind the worn counter in the rental office.

He looked at her with a dubious expression, obvious doubt of her abilities in his weathered gaze. “Miss, have you ever driven an airboat?”

“Yes, on several occasions. If you check your records you’ll find I’ve rented one here twice in the last three years,” she assured the clerk. Jessica handed him her driver’s license for identification and a credit card to cover the costs. Familiar with the attitude of the locals, she was unbothered by his skepticism. In a few minutes, the clerk placed the necessary forms on the counter for her signature. Afterward, he escorted her outside and checked her out on the controls of the airboat.

Satisfied Jessica could handle the craft, he informed her, “Have the boat back by dark or you’ll have to pay extra.” His Florida Cracker drawl and his no-nonsense manner were common to the older folk of the area.

“No problem, I’ll be just west of the locks.” Jessica set a small cooler from her Jeep she had stocked with drinks for after her ride and her tool bag, in the airboat.

Starting the hybrid craft’s loud engine, she backed the boat out of the slip, eased it into forward, and slowly maneuvered the levy canal up to the lock. After a few minutes, the lock’s operator opened the gates. She eased the boat in, and he closed the doors behind her. While waiting for the water elevator chamber to fill, Jessica mentally reviewed what history she could remember about the area.

A hurricane had wiped out the City of Okeechobee and surrounding farms in 1926 and again in 1928 by flooding, killing a large number of the area’s citizens. One or two of the oldest building, like the historic red brick water-plant pump house, still showed the marks from the height of the flood waters. That prompted the Army’s Corp of Engineers to construct the Herbert Hoover Dike, and a flood system to protect the communities around the lake. Jessica wondered why the pyramid wasn’t found when it was built.

The lake side of the lock opened, her thoughts returned to concentrate on maneuvering the airboat, and she idled out onto the lake. A strange theory popped into her mind.
Because of the location, she assumed it was a Mesoamerican pyramid. The first found outside of Central America, its existence would strongly impact archaeology. But what if it were an Egyptian pyramid? It was too ridiculous to consider—she dismissed it. Laughing, Jessica accelerated the engine up to speed, turning the craft west toward the mysterious mound of mud.

Thrilling, describes an airboat ride. The feel of air rushing by, invigorated her. Glancing down, the sawgrass became a brown and green blur with patches of blue beneath the boat as she skimmed by on a thin sheet of water. Looking out over the lake, she saw two anglers well out in the channel. Good luck in this drought! The fish weren’t biting in the hotter than normal and less aerated water. Scanning to her left, an alligator lay on a sandbar sluggishly basking in the sun on a cracked, dry piece of mud among the cattails. She estimated the relic measured fifteen feet long. His head moved, watching her; otherwise he remained on his comfortable mound.

Jessica laughed. “Lazy!” she called out at the prehistoric beast. Feeling energized despite the earlier mishap. The heated air blew through the loose strands of her braided hair. With the thrill of a possible discovery looming, laughter turned to excited giggles.

Ahead, the knob of mud came into view. From this side, it looked more like a pyramid than from the top of the levy. Giggles faded to anxious disbelief. Slowing the airboat, she gently edged the boat up to the object. Gratified it was solid and didn’t move, she tied the boat off to a large log.

With excitement in her blood, she drew out her digital camera to take a series of still pictures, then used her video camera and scanned the area. Documentation was crucial. If her theory were correct, the burden of proof she found the pyramid first was her responsibility, as was certification of the condition of the find. Verification complete, she tried to still her unsteady hands. Her next actions could prove decisive.

Using tools gathered from her Jeep, she employed a light hand with a gardener’s trowel, a wide, flat head screwdriver, and a soft, steel brush. All served as base, facsimile tools of her science as she took considerable care removing layers of grime from centuries of a small, foot square section. Careful not to damage what she hoped was beneath the muck, its water sodden condition made removal easier. An hour passed. She was drenched in sweat, but no skepticism remained.

Thrilled at what was before her, despite the heat, humidity, and incredulity, a wave of precognizant wonder mingled with fear washed over her. She had found an Egyptian pyramid. Impossible screamed in her head.

From experience gained on digs Jessica had assisted on from Egypt to Central America only emphasized the importance of her discovery. With care, using her bare hands, she wiped away more of the loose mud and revealed a little more of the structure. She filled an empty water bottle with water from the lake and poured it on the area just cleared, washing away the loose grime. The markings became clearer. Dumbfounded, Jessica sat and stared for a long time.

With shaking hands, she picked up the digital camera to take another set of pictures. Making sure the date and time were accurate, she repeated the same actions with the video camera. Dismissed thoughts of “What if” came back to haunt her. Before her was the unmistakable cartouche of an Egyptian pyramid. Her discovery would shake not only the foundations of archaeology, but world history. Jessica understood, first hand, why archaeologists were secretive with new discoveries. Young, unknown, and fresh out college, her credibility was going to be questioned.

She wanted to, not sharing credit with just anyone. A sudden phobia of older and more experienced scientists than she stealing her discovery slipped through her mind. Who could she tell? Who should she tell? Jessica thought about Bruce, her best friend finishing his thesis at college. There was Anthony Sutherland, a family friend, who worked for the State of Florida in the Governor’s office as the head of the Bureau of Archaeological Research. This was his area of influence.

After finding the shipwreck the Atochia off the Florida Keys, Mel Fisher was forced to fight a court battle with the State of Florida to maintain a significant portion of his discovery came to mind too. Jessica considered a lawyer and dismissed the idea. She trusted Anthony.
The glinting of the early afternoon sun caught her eye. She needed better tools to do proper work, and she needed security to be sure no one jumped her claim.

“What to do?” she mumbled. Tomorrow she’d call her friend at school. For now, she’d call in a favor from a family friend. Jessica picked up her cell phone and punched in Anthony Sutherland’s office number. His secretary answered.

“This is Jessica Carter, is Skip… ah, Anthony in?” Skip was Anthony’s nickname, only a few of his closest friends and family knew him well enough to use it.

“Yes, he is,” the secretary answered, “Who did you say was calling?”

“Jessica Carter. Mr. Sutherland knows me.”

“Hold, please.” Pleasant enough, but Jessica sensed by her tone, she was annoyed by Jessica’s familiarity with her boss.

“Jessica! How are you? Where are your parents?” Anthony’s pleasured greeting dispelled her apprehension, some.

“Hi Skip, they’re good last time I heard, and still in Hawaii on vacation.” Her voice sounded tense even to her ears.

“Jessica, is there something wrong?”

“No, Skip, I can’t say anything is wrong, something may be very right…I was biking around the Florida Trail on Lake Okeechobee and I’ve found, well…I don’t really want to talk about it on the phone. It’s an archaeological matter. As the head of the department that handles such things for the state, I thought you’d want to know first. Since I know you, I figured we could cut through the red tape. Skip, it’s important for us both. I don’t want to lose credit for this discovery and believe me…the state doesn’t want to lose what I’ve found.”

“Gee Jessica, sounds real mysterious. What do you suggest?” Anthony tone was serious.

“First of all, no one else knows about this and they won’t until we announce it. Right now, it looks like a big lump of mud except the part I’ve cleared which is small. For today, and probably the next day or so, it will be okay if the sheriff just keeps a close eye on it…I think you’ll want to come down here within the week. I’m going to call Bruce about it tomorrow.”

“Will you tell me what it is?”

“Not over the phone, but it is worth a trip down here.” Jessica assured him.

“Ok Jessica, I’ll call the Glades County Sheriff’s Department, and the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Department, tell them to expect a call from you and to give you their cooperation. You know where you are, is on the county line.”

“Can’t help that, sorry. I’ll call you tomorrow. Thanks!” She closed her cell phone.

Jessica started the airboat, turned it around, and at full speed, flew back to the lock, and cleared through to the marina. She docked the boat and checked in with the clerk.

“I’ll be back, I need to go and pick up some things at the store. Please just fuel up the boat and put it on my charge card. I’ll need to retain the airboat for the rest of the week.”

“Okay,” he drawled. “What you do’n out there Miss?”

“I’m a biologist from the University of Florida and I’m studying the effects the drought has had on the Apple Snail population.” Jessica produced her still active student I.D. She didn’t like to lie, but under the circumstances, she wasn’t about to tell him what she was really doing.

Jessica drove into the City of Okeechobee and grabbed a quick lunch on the way. Stopping at a hardware store, she bought several tools more suited to her purpose and returned to the marina. Her airboat was fueled and ready. The clerk had filled her cooler with ice and put in a couple of bottles of water to boot.

“Thanks for the extra stuff.”

“This drought’s been hard on us here, and if you’re here to help, well…” he shrugged and smiled then cast off her line.

She started the airboat and headed out. Because of the pyramid, Okeechobee was in for a business boom that had nothing to do with the sport fishing industry.

* * * *

From a comfortable distance out on the lake, two fishermen sat in an expensive bass boat appearing to do what most tourists did on Lake Okeechobee—fish. In their wet fish wells were two legal size bass, still alive. Their poles, for now, were inside and they were eating a late lunch. Neither was a fisherman. Both were observers sent to look after the security of the pyramid and what it concealed.

When Jessica arrived earlier they were concerned with her just looking at the structure, but she didn’t appear to pose a threat. Had they suspected who Jessica was, what she was doing, and that she had caught them on film, they would have been aghast. As instructed, they took her picture. When she left they sighed and turned their attention to lunch. Her return caused them concern. Their observance grew more detailed as did their photography of her actions.

* * * *

Careful to ease the airboat up to the pyramid, Jessica secured the craft to the same log as before. Straightening, she stretched. The aches in her muscles reminding of her earlier mishap, but an uneasy notion of being watched distracted her. She glanced nervously around. Who’d be out here? Seeing the same fishermen as earlier, their poles back in the water, she concluded theirs’ were the stares she sensed. Her attention turned to the slow painstaking work of removing more of the caked on limestone mud and muck of centuries.

“Wow!” Jessica startled the alligators, and the blue heron flew. She stopped and stared at what she’d uncovered. The cleared area enlarged to a meter square.

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed. Uncapping a bottle of water she drank half while she looked closer at the cleared area. Shocked at what she could see, she dribbled the rest of the water in the bottle on the exposed area, revealing a larger part of an Egyptian cartouche. At an early age, Jessica had learned to decipher ancient Egyptian, drawn to the artistic symbols as if they spoke to her.

Mesmerized by the artifact and the implications of the discovery, she realized the skeptics, once they were alerted, would be malicious. Some would be jealous and claim what she found was a sham. She would allow them as little to criticize as possible. With greater attention to detail, Jessica was careful to go through the documentation procedures before reading the cartouche for the camera.

Drawing a deep breath, she read aloud as she filmed:
By the grace, and wisdom of the god Osiris.
In the morning of the day when Ra is reborn.
Behold!
The entrance to the Underworld of the West.
Enter here all who would visit the city that was once the capital of the vast, now sunken land of the gods.”

A breeze stirred, Jessica brushed a loose strand of her long dark red hair from her face. Further capturing the moment, she scanned the video camera from the pyramid around the area and back, documenting the location accurately. Without thinking anything about it, she caught the fishermen out on the lake—again.
Needing both hands to touch the indicated symbols to open the pyramid Jessica set the camera on its tripod, the camera focused to record the event. She continued to explain her actions. With unsure fingers she pushed the symbols indicated and drew a safe distance away.
A low, base rumble began to build growing into a loud roar, thunderous and strong enough to shake the lakebed and the surrounding levy like a minor earthquake. Since the lake was in a dry condition, little water poured into the chamber as the wall of ancient man-made bricks slowly slid back, scraping away eons of grime. Jessica heard the air equalize. The fresh air of the twenty-first century combined with the escaping air of antiquity from how long ago Jessica couldn’t yet theorize.

Feeling she was being watched again, Jessica looked toward the levy, there she saw two deputies observing her through binoculars. She waved to them and picking up her cell phone called the Sheriffs’ Departments. As promised, Anthony had spoken with both departments, and each had sent deputies for security before she called.

Her attention returned to the pyramid. Wearing a fiber mask over her mouth and nose, but with curiosity and daring she peered down into the once mist-filled chamber, now cleared, somewhat. A sudden whiff of stale air struck Jessica penetrating the dust mask. A flash of the persistent dream overtook her. A faint sensation possessed her.

* * * *
Conscious, yet a part of her was no longer on the lake, but under the warm water of the Atlantic Ocean ascending from the fateful dive with her parents. Jessica sensed danger, falling debris proof their boat was destroyed. Surfacing, she saw the abandoned barge drifting away after striking their boat, making splinters of it.

Dad was hurt. His blood billowed like red clouds in the warm blue waters, turning to surrealistic colors of purple. Another boat, a yacht came along slow but close, a handsome young man with aquamarine eyes at the helm.

Those were the eyes! He’d saved them! He helped her father onto his yacht, then her mother.

Her mother, more concerned with her father than their rescuer, hadn’t actually looked at him. The mysterious young man had assisted her next.

Why had he put on a hat and sunglasses over his exquisite aquamarine eyes?

Compelled to look into his eyes she took his hand as he reached out to help her to board. Their hands touched, his glasses fell off. Their gazes joined. For the first time Jessica realized their meeting had gone deeper, their souls became linked. He put the glasses back on, but the psychic connection between them once made, was unbreakable.

Dizziness was close to overcoming her. The sun was in her face, she couldn’t focus, for a moment the lump of mud was before her but reality wavered.

She was back on the ocean again, nineteen years old, in the arousing hands of their rescuer. He helped her out of her dive gear, his touch, a caress as he unsnapped the clasp across her breasts. Her breath caught in her throat, and her breasts tingled and peaked. His long, strong fingers were gentle and warm on her stomach. He decorously unsnapped the closure at her waist. Yet his contact sent chills through her. Jessica finally exhaled as he lifted the tank and dive vest from her. His hands caressed her shoulders, lingering a moment. In her youthful innocence, she’d never felt such a breathtaking touch. For the last time, he looked into her eyes, drinking her in. He neglected the sunglasses and helped her to sit next to her mother. Bright sunlight was in her face again and the vision-dream gone. This time she was fully awake but somewhat faint. She slumped in the seat of the airboat. The dream faded into her clouded sub-consciousness. But a recent glimpse of those eyes lingered.

* * * *
Jessica drew a sharp breath of air and weakly grabbed another bottle of water. She poured some on her face and drank the rest.

“What happened?” She stammered and wiped her forehead on her sleeve.

Thoroughly airing out a chamber, sealed for unknown centuries, was an unwritten archaeological law.

She thought she’d given it enough time!

Turning toward the levy, a warm breeze blew across the top of the barrier. She saw the two sheriffs’ officers standing and looking in her direction. Both appeared visibly concerned over her condition, one watching her with binoculars. Jessica waved. They returned the gesture, seemingly relieved to see her more alert.

Drawing a deep breath and holding it, she chanced another look into the chamber. Was she still affected by the stale air? Intuition told her the indistinct images she saw swirling in the fresh air were of the future, mingled with the decayed mists of the past. A shiver raced down her spine. She remembered more of the disturbing dream than before. Still, she couldn’t fully remember her rescuer or account for the ambiguous new memory. Was it real or imagined.
Jessica stopped the camera and stowed her equipment. She started the airboat and turned toward the Marina. Shaken and overwhelmed, she had experienced enough excitement for today. She resolved to call Bruce tonight instead of waiting until morning. After a good night’s sleep, she would begin proper arrangements for the dig.

* * * *
Out on the lake, the fishermen sent pictures of Jessica’s explorations and fainting spell via a highly secure uplink to their superior. High Lord Xerxes Kallias, aware of the exposed ancient, pyramid-shaped entrance and its possible discovery by an intuitive upper-world resident recognizing the “lump of mud” for what it was—had assigned them surveillance duty. Today, his concern serious enough, he came ashore earlier to see how obvious the camouflaged structure was. He had signaled his return to the city before Jessica’s discovery of the lump of mud. As the ruler of the largest underworld realm in this sphere of the planet, one of his duties was the security of the ancient, yet unused entrance to their underwater city.
The observers’ joint report mentioned Jessica was an inquisitive woman, who promptly found the way into the first chamber. Reference was also made to the minor fainting spell she appeared to have after its opening, but she recovered swiftly, leaving soon afterward. Special mention of the sheriffs’ appearance on the levy was included.

* * * *
As a courtesy, Xerxes had advised his councilors of the drought conditions around the upper-world Lake Okeechobee. This increased the possibility the ancient, unused entrance to their underwater world could be discovered. As a security precaution, he had assigned observers, and today he surveyed the situation himself.

What resulted came as an alarming but pleasant surprise. He unexpectedly encountered the woman he had watched for nearly five years since saving her life, and that of her parent’s in a diving accident. Those few moments from the first encounter he guarded as a treasured memory.

Today, surveying the situation from the levy his attention was drawn away to unexpectedly witness Jessica fly over the handlebars of her bicycle. It had been difficult to watch, hoping she wasn’t hurt. He had been relieved to be on the scene to again assist her. Xerxes made sure she was well and left quickly afterward knowing her memory of their first encounter was clouded and had to remain that way.

He studied the photographs transmitted to him and abruptly sat down. That beautiful face with the long dark red hair staring at the nondescript lump of mud was Jessica Carter. Viewing the report from his observers, perhaps he should have stayed with her. Xerxes never expected she would be the one to find the pyramid-shaped entrance.

Xerxes sat alone for a time looking at the photos. He sighed. Obvious from the photos, Jessica knew what she’d found. Clever, intelligent, and insightful, she’d already discovered how to open the damn thing. Could this twist of fate answer his prayers to bring them together? His gift of insight wasn’t working today. Watching her fly over the handlebars of her bicycle had affected him more than he cared to admit.

An affable expression covered his face as a plan formed in his mind. Foremost, Atlantis’ security was his responsibility and must be protected. Jessica’s discovery necessitated her removal from the upper-world to protect the city. He’d prefer to wait, allowing her time, as an archeologist, to retrieve the artifacts inside the pyramid before the destruction of the structure and her abduction. Saddened by the necessary demolition of the entrance, this way the relics would be recovered as part of new Atlantis’ history. He would send his Head of Upper-World Security to oversee the situation.

“Xerxes?” Geb, his aid knocked lightly on his open office door drawing his attention. “Yes….”

“Lord Homes is here and requests a moment.”

“Of course,” Xerxes stood and welcomed the Head of Internal Security. “Please, sit.” He invited as he sat.

“Xerxes, I have a disturbing report I must present you with.” Homes laid a folder on his lord’s desk.

Xerxes scanned through the folder Lord Homes had presented him with. The report recounted an attempt to reveal the existence of their underwater city to an upper-world government official, but the evidence against the perpetrator was only circumstantial.

“Disturbing, to say the least…” Xerxes shook his head. “We must have proof before I will sign an arrest warrant on any citizen. But I won’t tolerate a traitor either.”

“I agree, of course. I merely wanted to alert you, as the suspect sits on your ruling council.”

“What would motivate this councilor’s actions,” he shook his head, “is beyond my comprehension.”

“I wish I could answer that…”

“His motives are moot.” Xerxes shrugged. “It’s my sworn duty to protect the security of our people and our culture…”

“You do an excellent job, my Lord.” Homes stood to leave, Xerxes stood with him.

“Thank you, I’ll get back with you later in the day on this.”

A young High Lord, Xerxes continued to make improvements in the city, in his father’s tradition. To his knowledge, his people were happy and secure, pleased with the direction of his leadership. He took their well-being seriously. His title and reign were hereditary, but his removal was possible, rule passing next to his sister, Alena. Such an impeachment hadn’t happened in hundreds of years. He didn’t intend to let it happen during his sovereignty. Xerxes’ reign was more than the trappings of power and privilege that accompanied his office. He considered it in Atlantis’ best interests to inform his governing body of the upper-world security breach, deciding to include his suspected councilor in the briefing. Exposing the ancient entrance’s vulnerability might prompt the traitor to expose himself.

“Geb, call an emergency meeting of my council in two hours, please. One other item, first have Councilman Marcus summoned to my office immediately.”

“Certainly, Xerxes,” Geb answered. Most of his close friends and family addressed him as Xerxes. He preferred an informal atmosphere. Only in decorous matters was his title used.
Xerxes scanned over the photos again needing the distraction. He didn’t believe in coincidences, but did believe in fate. He hoped destiny was working to bring him and Jessica together. After becoming High Lord of Atlantis, and her sister city, Pacifica, when his parents were killed, he continued to keep track of Jessica when she wasn’t traveling with her parents. During these years, she finished school and earned her master’s degree in archaeology. Their meeting on the fateful day of the dive proved decisive for him. No other woman touched him as she had. Xerxes planned soon to approach her in the upper-world and hoped to find the attraction they shared that day remained strong. If so, possibly they would marry. With these sudden changes in circumstances, Xerxes found he must make a life altering decision for her. The details of his plan took final form in his mind and he refined his strategy. Within the hour, Xerxes finalized a feasible plan, contacting agents already in workable positions.