Friday, August 14, 2015

The Apocalypse Trigger - Douglas Misquita

It's been an interesting review to write, trying to knit the story elements together. It is not something one can sprint through. It is a very visual book, a page-turner. It has thrills, imagination and literary entertainment. Misquita is a prolific author; he is creating his own oeuvre in the action-adventure-thriller genre, and uses history, technology and fiction quite effectively. His narrative style is stories within a story; the reader never feels an Indian author has written it. The book production quality is good. A slightly better editing, however, would have made the narrative more consistent (seamless, smoothly continuous) and pruned the typos. (ISBN: 978-93-5196-037-9). 

The narrative threads: In 1947, a freighter (SS Ourang Medan) in the Malacca Straits sinks to her watery grave. A ghost ship? All the officers and crew have the same contorted expressions and the same desperate frozen bearing/manner: a mask of agony and desperation - all making a great effort to escape. Whatever was the cause had left no mark. Captain Silas and Chief Officer Andrew Foley are confused, stupefied. They have never experienced anything like it before. They were also unsure about contamination (epidemic). Foley was thankful they wore gas masks. (Towards the end of the War [World War II] there was much research into nerve agents.) The Morse messages they had received had been frantic and at one point incoherent. Silas watches in astonishment the Ourang Medan sink to her watery grave.

There were far greater conflicts and battles to be won – and power to be gained from events that were yet to unfold. Alexander Tremblay thought history would turn on his actions. Weapons of intimidation and monopoly of an efficient fuel source will become the most profitable and strategic assets anyone can hold. Nuclear energy and other such new energy sources would outlast fossil fuels and, at some point in the future, if one owned enough of the stockpile [inventory] one quite really owned the world given projections of energy consumption. Tremblay saw the power and the benefit of being on the winning side of a long-term investment. They were well on their way to securing their position in the weapons race. However, this was one side of the coin. On the other side of the coin, a crucial/essential asset (to the Chinese) in the energy race was Dr. Steve Eigel of the Manhattan Project. (The coin analogy: samudra-manthan?).

Christian Black – on the side of the competition, the French (who according to Black were more reasonable than the Chinese). Black promises to double Alexander's offer to Dr. Eigel. The Oak Ridge report had brought about a power race.

Future Energy Group (FEG) of France, a global pioneer in renewable energy sources and a frontrunner of solutions to the growing energy demands of an insatiable human race. Their latest B-Energy Cell prototypes: the 'B' stood simply for blue because the energy-substance of the cells glowed with a luminescent shade of blue. The vapours of the cells could cause acute respiratory problems. ('Naagpas' of the Ramayana?).

With the introduction of an upgrade to the C160 aircraft, countries were ready to dispose of these military workhorses. Under these financial circumstances FEG had purchased three C160 aircraft at a bargain from the French military with the express blessings of a number of high-ranking politicians. (Later the aircraft were refurbished to hold cargo of a very specific nature.) One of these C160 went down in a storm. It was ferrying Future Energy's latest B-Energy Cell prototypes. Jacques Andre, the co-pilot, perished. Dubois, the pilot, clearly understood the implication of [alleged] toxic pollution of the Great Bear Rainforest because of FEG's hitherto well-regarded patented B-Energy Cells.

Billy Bradford - cursing his luck for getting caught in the storm on Royal Princess Island - rescues Dubois (from hypothermia). Dubois finds himself among Klemtu people. Morrel Jameson wants to see what sort of pollutants had been brought there. Dubois knew FEG would send a team to clean up the mess. Until then, he had to keep these people away from the aircraft. Bradford, clearly the more rational man, asks Dubois whether there was sensitive cargo aboard. (Bradford was a decorated hero. He had served with the Canadian Special Forces (Joint Task Force 2) and had been in Afghanistan and Iraq... and returned a changed man. He didn't jump to action. He [according to Jameson] thought and thought and thought and spoke in a calm voice. "... The special forces turned you into this. Before you joined JFT, people thought twice before they said anything to you." "The special forces change people," was the soft reply.) Once Dubois shares the details about the cargo, Bradford wants to take the legal way. He understood FEG is vital to Canada's economy, and that many people have a stake in FEG. The group had already bribed politicians with visions of economic prosperity and fat bonuses. Jameson was skeptical. He did not really believe the courts or the newspapers would listen to a bunch of natives. Bradford knew FEG was aligned with the right people; some of them will stonewall.

Randall, a Klemtu, was an excellent marksman. Natasha's small stature belied her surprising strength and fortitude.

There were proponents of the technology and those who had vested interests in the solutions by FEG. There were spin-doctors and opinion-makers to stay in business. The opponents consisted of environmentalists and traditional fuel companies who stood to lose financially should the B-Energy Cell be realised as a viable option to traditional sources of power. (There was a possibility that the opposing parties were backed by the Middle East and China.)

A female Deity signifying the creative force in nature, and her consort, a Horned Lord, representing animal facet of nature. The Horned Lord was in existence long before the concept of Satanism was invented. Religions that proclaim Monotheism moves worship from creation to the creator. Through history there are religious, political, cultural and social forces responsible for routing paganism. Including a fledgling medical industry. In the 1970's, a chemist, James Lovelock proffered [came up with] the Gaia hypothesis, which essentially states that all organic and inorganic constituents of a globe/world will interact with each other to produce an optimum life-sustaining condition on that world. The Gaia theory promulgated a Gaia philosophy that involves a positive interference or intervention to correct an undesired imbalance in this complex interaction. (Gaia is the Greek deity of the Earth. Paganism is a polytheistic or pantheistic nature-worshipping religion, as in; it represents a wide variety of traditions (or "paths") that emphasise reverence for nature, worship of nature or the earth. Polytheism is about pluralism and diversity, an understanding [and veneration] of the diversity of Nature. The pagan way of life recognises the feminine face of divinity.)

The Great Bear Rainforest (25,000 square miles and stretching 250 miles along the coast of British Columbia) is under constant pressure of 'human civilisation'. Conservation has always been vigorously negotiated and threshed (between the Canadian government, environmentalists, and the aboriginal First Nation People). The costs run into hundreds of million Canadian dollars annually. In recent months, the protests had intensified. The soon-to-be-opened Orb – the world's most opulent floating hotel would bring large crude carriers and pleasure cruises to these waters. A ferry had sunk in fourteen hundred feet of water and was still leaking fuel-oil into the channel. Misgivings of a similar environmental hazard overshadowed promises from the government that the crude carriers, the oil depot at Kitimat port and the Orb would be powered by a trendsetting/innovative, clean and biodegradable technology developed by the Future Energy Group Industrie of France.

FEG's CEO: Henri Laurent. Christian Black: Laurent's right-hand man. He looked as ancient as a medieval knight with his flowing white hair and a heavy French-beard to match. He had a poker face. His watery green eyes shimmered. (Green eyes: jealousy?) Luc Fortesque: FEG's head of security - a stern-looking man with close-cropped white hair, a scar besmirched his face. He was Laurent's chief security officer for special projects. Fortesque had Laurent's ear. He also had respect for the influence and power that this one man [Christian Black] held. Christian Black, though American, was Fortesque's idol: a man who could get almost anything done with just a word.  Charles: Henri Laurent's son. Henri did not see much in him – something that irked Charles beyond measure. He was given boring/unimportant task (to keep him out of the father's hair); it showed where the boy stood in the father's eyes.

The team FEG had sent to clean up the mess [in British Columbia] was lead by [the very efficient] Fortesque. However, this time they bungled it, largely because of Fortesque's ego and incautious thinking. (The response team from FEG [under Dr. Eduard] had arrived in Vulture One; they had been competent.) Henri Laurent asked the news channels to refrain from any further presumptions until the French and Canadian authorities arrived at a conclusion into this new set of incredible allegations that, he was sure, were fabricated to destroy FEG. The truth would prevail, he promised loudly and sincerely enough for everyone to believe him. (FEG could even concoct a prominent sex scandal to divert people's attention. It had happened before.)

Fortesque had to make effort to bring himself into Henri's graces. And so had Charles. (Grace - a word Charles uses with much contempt.) He tells Fortesque they find themselves in the unique position of having to collaborate to bring themselves into grace. He tells Fortesque how they can redeem themselves in Henri's eyes. ... While Henri has become more and more involved in his energy projects, Charles has been trying to understand what happened to the Ourang Medan and its cargo... with some success. He gives a history lesson. All records of the Ourang Medan's existence were erased and her disappearance is replete with rumours, from aliens to a mishap caused by leaking toxic materials that she was taking from a secret Japanese installation after WWII. Henri has long suspected that whatever happened to the ship was because of the Chinese. He believes the Ourang Medan was carrying a secret cargo of great value. He also suspects that Qin Zhou, a long-time rival of FEG, was behind it. Henri had learned that the ship was carrying very potent weapons technology. "Anyone who can produce the secret of the Ourang Medan can redeem himself in my father's eyes." After WWII there was a race toward nuclear armament and nuclear energy. There were powerful groups who understood correctly that energy and weapons technology would dictate the balance of power in years to come. Everyone involved in the Manhattan Project or at Los Alamos was potentially useful (depending upon their knowledge and what they could do). And though Christian Black successfully brought over a very knowledgeable energy scientist from the Manhattan Project, they failed to catch up on the weapons technology. Qin Zhou (premature gray-white hair, a weapons manufacturer in China and a long-time rival of FEG) had already acquired the technology. (Charles wanted to get the weapon and slap Henri in the face. He had not bothered about Father's Day cards after he crossed fifteen. He tells Fortesque that they should first steal the weapon from Zhou's facility and then both of them can slap Henri in the face.) The unctuous Xu Hua tells Luc Fortesque and Charles that the cargo included samples of a rare-earth element, a survey map of a potential deposit in China, military applications and prototype weapon schematics. (Tibet could be a possibility?). Xu Hua also tells them that Qin Zhou's facility is set-up over the mineral deposit. The first order was to keep the deposit away from the Japanese.

'Rare-earth' metal are not rare, the concentrations aren't large enough to be mined economically. Until the 1980s the United States dominated the rare-earth global production. China currently provided 97% of the global needs. Rare-earths have numerous commercial, medical, military and energy applications, and given Chinese policies, the quest for equivalents to compete with Chinese monopoly is intensifying. In 2010 China imposed an embargo on sale of rare earths to Japan over maritime dispute. This move highlighted the impact of the interruption [discontinuance] on defense programs. There was concern that the People's Republic had a new source of geopolitical influence [bargaining power] that could essentially unstrengthen nations dependent on rare earths. According to Xu Hua, the prototypes [of an equivalent: Apocalypse] were being developed by an ace Japanese unit before the remnants of the Japanese Imperial command decided to move everything to keep it out of the hands of the Allies. "Had it come to fruition there would be no America." Charles nodded in understanding. With nuclear armament being the buzzword [policyspeak] at the time, an effective equivalent method that could influence the balance of power would surely be a prize. Fortesque was pensive. It would explain the hysterical reaction of the US to China's rare earth policies: not so much about the availability [the distribution process] but rather about a real weapon. (He was referring to the numerous committees set up by the US government on rare earth stockpile and research. Mining and defense research companies had been offered a cornucopia of benefits: subsidies, funding, etc.)

Xu Hua (a portly man with an oily expression, pencil thin mustache, and shiny hair parted down the middle) was also Wei Ling. He was Qin Zhou's adviser.

The Apocalypse weapon system didn't look like anything Fortesque had imagined. It was a series of seven thick silver cylinders mounted on a circular rack. The cylinders were connected to a central sphere adorned/brightened with yellow-with-black-stripes [hazardous]. The entire assembly was mounted on a rectractable spindly bracing and looked almost delicate. There were three Apocalypse weapon systems – the entire stock. (Thick - Puru or Porus: thickheaded, obtuse, a dullard? Porus - Chedi, loopholes? Shishupala [Śiśupāla], the king of Chedi and a vassal of Jarasandha [the tyrannical emperor of Magadha], was a cousin of Krsna. He was also Krsna's implacable foe; due to his hostility he was contemptuous and also used pejorative language (opprobrious invectives). Krsna forgave him [his misbehaviour, incivility] a hundred times – as per a promise to his mother. Shishupala - a foster parent to impoverished or orphan children, or depraved appetite? Spindly: reed-thin, lanky/elongated, gawky. Spindle is a shaft or axis around which something revolves. ... The Dhanush takli, a kind of spindle used in hand-spinning without the aid of spinning wheel, became a symbol of peace, goodwill and love. Tagore did not like [the command of] "spin and weave" or the movement for spinning wheel. He was never enamoured of the primitive spinning wheel; he did not think spinning a wheel could bring about great personal improvement, or that compulsory hand-spinning and hand-weaving [somewhat of a daily mahayajna] could bring about economic and moral regeneration of India. To him the spinning wheel not only made little economic sense, it did not require anyone to think and so, it was also not the way to make people reflect on anything ("... one simply turns the wheel of the antiquated invention endlessly, using the minimum of judgment and stamina.") The spinning wheel did not remind him of "the ever-moving wheel of the Divine Law of love"; instead he felt it distracted attention from other more important factors in the task of all-round reconstruction. He was unconvinced of the spinning wheel as a symbol of national resurgence and as an economic and political instrument. He advised that we should not be willfully blind to the grand vision of whirling forces, which science has revealed, and that those who use science to better purpose will progress and spread their dominion.)

Fortesque had been expelled from university. Miffed, he became involved with spurious art and unscrupulous units involved in Africa and Central Asia, missions in Afghanistan and Iraq (including opium in Afghanistan); they also smuggled historic artifacts out of Iraq until the odds turned against them. On one such mission, his unit abandoned him. While he was recovering in an Iraqi village [from severe trauma to the brain: the cause of his selective amnesia], Christian Black offered him a clean record (among other things) to be the chief of FEG's security. Fortesque had readily accepted. ... The quest for Ourang Medan's cargo brings Charles and Fortesque to Lake Balkhash, Kazakhstan. Fortesque unexpectedly re-connects with his former unit (lead by Evangeline) and learns [from Dragon] that the guy who screwed their mission in Iraq is Captain William Bradford, ex-JTF2. Charles is mesmerised by Evangeline's fragrance and green eyes, even though she had a Desert Eagle pistol pointed at his face. Dragon: a burly guy with a tattoo of a dragon on his shaved pate. Fortesque realises he disliked Dragon. Charles hires this unit (at fifteen million US dollars) to get the weapon from Qin Zhou's smooth fortress-like research facility. 

Vatican had remained controversially neutral during the War, but there were political maneuvers as cities struggled to rise once again from the ruins of the War. There were imperceptible/inconspicuous forces that had learned from the failures of imposing ideologies by force. These forces now supported a more unexcitable and insidious manner of corruption of the organisations that the world now looked upon to lead their destabilised lives into some semblance of normalcy. And the Catholic Church, one of the largest and strongly-rooted organisations, was perfect for their activities. 

A young rogue priest (Luigi Vincente): He did not agree with the Pope's line of thinking (to seek counsel) and instead tells him about the Vesuvius Group. The young priest was religious no doubt. He was still faithful to the Church as the singular [distinct, unordinary, rare] organisation that could influence so much. And he was not going to give up that power, especially now that he had the blessings and grace of the Supreme Leader of the Catholic people (Pope Pius XII). He dreams of the wonders he could do in the years to come. While the Pope wonders: "I only hope I have not created a demon."

Thirteen men and women - the Vesuvius Group: They appeared as everyday people involved in everyday activities. However, each of them belonged to a cabal that exerted tremendous influence over the world. Over the centuries their families had carefully and insidiously [surreptitiously, fraudulently] seeped themselves into the power structures of world economics and politics and even had governments do whatever they wanted them to do. The cabal had shaped history and their decisions influenced the shape of the human race. They met only for administrative and important matters - to keep their presence/actuality and connection [common interests] as unobtrusive as possible, supervising their web of business from the shadows. The world was their playground and like every game, there were rules; their rules were very strict and unforgiving. There were three founding families who oversaw entry and banishment; the Ferruccio family was the oldest. (From shaping things out of metal in Pompeii, through a series of shrewd maneuvers, they found favour among the Roman upper class and the Governor. At a drunken orgy hosted by the Governor of Pompeii, Ferruccio wagered with several of Pompeii’s social elite that Vesuvius' eruption was impending. Ferruccio returned to Rome rich and powerful. That was more than eighteen centuries ago. Vesuvius erupted in AD 72. It erupted again in 1944.) Giovanni Ferruccio was very much in control.

Laurent was about to retort to Zhou, when a voice cold as steel said, "If you are done bickering..." Zhou and Laurent turned to see Giovanni Ferruccio standing on the balcony. The two fell to silence, in deference. "Good," Ferruccio said. "Now let's step inside and toast Herr Mauer." He motioned them to follow him to where the other members of the Vesuvius Group were waiting in a loose circle. In the center of the gathering stood a German built like an ox. He had a contented baby-smile on his ruddy complexion that was oddly disparate with his physical appearance. (Naandi, depicted as an ox or bull, is an insignia or steed of Lord Shiva ['the good' or 'the auspicious']. A zebu (Zebu Bull) is a humped cattle, characterised by a hump on their shoulders, drooping ears and a large dewlap. The Zebu bull or Brahma bull (knowledgeable and wise?) is the contemporary representation of Nandi. Dharma is symbolised by the bull, Vṛṣabha. Dharma is a set of qualities, ethics and ideals (individual and vis-à-vis societal aspects) that not only help in self-improvement (to be a better human being, to be a better people); it is also vital for the betterment of society [humankind], for the benefit of the country. Dharma is also to be just, to be fair-minded, as well as responsibility as per one's true nature. According to the Bhagavata Purana, there are twenty-two avatars [forms, appearances or representations] of Lord Vishnu. Rishabha is the eighth. Tirthankara Rishabhanath, the first Jain tīrthaṅkara, an enlightened soul, is regarded as the incarnation of Lord Vishnu.)

Herr Mauer has a toothless grin. There was a hiss of coolant gas as he opened the box and turned to the gathering saying, "A gift for all of you." Cushioned inside the box were thirteen vials. "The Elixir of Life. ... This is the only casement. Each vial contains a solution that decelerates the body's aging process!" His eyes shone. (A reference to humankind's movement towards satya-yuga, an enlightened time? The human body has different phases: childhood, youth, old age and fadeout. This can explain the different phases in a kalpa [a time-cycle: Satya-yuga, Treta-yuga, Dvapar-yuga and Kali-yuga – symbolising the intellectual, cultural and spiritual evolution/progress of humankind]. Pralaya is renewal or rejuvenation of the mind: the remaking of humankind, to positively shape society [societal aspects, mindsets, attitudes, behaviour etc] and [thereby] bring progressive change, a turnabout.) ... "The rumours are then true," a woman said. "No more a rumour," Mauer said proudly. He opened one of the vials and swallowed its contents in a single gulp. One by one, the twelve men and women stepped up and drank the contents of a vial. The liquid was tasteless and cool. When they were done, and the casement held thirteen empty vials, Ferruccio declared, "... There is a matter we must tend too." He wrinkled his nose at an odour, "One that is not so pleasant." (Frankincense and myrrh: aromatic herbs. Both of the herbs are very bitter and pungent, and are often used together to enhance the therapeutic effect. Hiss - Naag, euphemism for wise, thinking people: intellectual mettle, intellectual maturity [logical, commonsensical thinking], or intellectual strengths. (Kaliya Naag is malignant.) The Elixir of Life: Piyusha, to dispel [clear away] tamas (the thick 'fog' of ignorance [illiteracy - darkness, puerility, illogic, half-knowledge, lack of scientific temper - an attitude which involves the application of logic and common sense], regressive aspects, deception/trickery, moral decay etc) and to rejuvenate the mind, the thinking process [beliefs, attitudes and behaviour, ethics etc]. Attitudes shape behaviour. Thirteen is trayodashi, considered very lucky.) 

The Orb: the luxury hotel-amphitheater was exactly that – a pearl-white sphere in the waters of the Inside Channel. The Orb represented the latest and most-advanced in hospitality innovation, engineering and of course, the most lavish in luxury. It was dedicated to Charles Melville Hays, founder of Prince Rupert Island, whose plans for turning the island into a major attraction perished with him on the RMS Titanic. Opening night attracted the glitterati of the world and even royalty. There were also prominent critiques that had been sufficiently pampered to ensure they would only praise. They would rub shoulders with environmentalists and eco-philanthropy barons. FEG's clean energy solutions powered the Orb. And Henri was there to make a statement, especially in the wake of whatever happened in the Great Bear Rainforest. The Orb would set a precedent to various future ventures [potential business opportunities] for FEG.

The floating and floundering Orb: Morrel Jameson [and Akira - a journalist, the fragrance of her perfume was heady] stared at the bright flashes of light in the Channel. A moment earlier the Orb had been shining brilliantly and in the next it had ceased to exist. 

It was making the first three pages of newspapers all over the world and gaining continuous coverage on television news. The waters around the ruins of the [rapidly sinking] Orb were churned to white froth by all manner of boat. (Noah's Ark as metaphor?). There were helicopters and seaplanes. ... And it was Canada which as one arrogant politician put it, 'wasn't the Central Asian wasteland'. (The politician was asked to resign for that tactless statement.) Abraham Davis, Orb Security (squad captain). A cabin cruiser [illegally] under 'Save the Whales' banner. ... The man marveled at the images of Henri Laurent deplaning at Charles de Gaulle airport, his arm in a sling, putting on a very good impression of a wounded old man. Following him was Christian Black. ... A conspiracy theorist was claiming that whatever happened to the Orb was organised by FEG to draw attention away from the fiasco in British Columbia and the C160 cargo. Fantastic, the man thought, Henri would certainly have to be at the Casa del Ferruccio.

"My dear Henry!" "Giovanni," Laurent replied with forced graciousness. Black could hear him wheezing, but when he spoke, his voice was clear. "Christian Black. ... Unfortunately you see me as a paraplegic." He laughed as if it were a joke, and then had a coughing fit. When it subsided, he continued, "Welcome to Casa del Ferruccio. I am Giovanni Ferruccio." (Cough - kashi?) He put out a gnarled hand. Black took his hand, feeling the age. "Good, good," Ferruccio said pleased at something only he was aware of. "What would you like to drink?" ... "Surely you have guessed the reason...?" Ferruccio cocked an eyebrow. Laurent said, "The C160 incident in British Columbia." And Black instantly knew it was the wrong answer. Ferruccio snorted irritably. ... Powerless to break the vice-like grip that held him, Black watched as Laurent was dragged to a stone pedestal in the center of the hall. "That pedestal was unearthed in Pompeii," Ferruccio explained, following in his wheelchair. "Presumably it was used for scourging [punishment]." A man spoke rapidly in Italian telling Ferruccio that the sling was a ruse. "I'm not talking about your C160, Henri." At this Laurent told him that they were not involved with whatever happened to the Orb. Ferruccio, however, insists that they tell him everything. ("Tell me everything and then we shall tend to your arm." Laurent's forearm was broken – this time for real.) Then turning to Black, "And you can fill in where required. And please do not lie." Half an hour later, Ferruccio said "You do realise that this [whatever happened to the Orb] is... how else can I put it... incredulous?" Black said softly that Sebastian took more than he can handle. At this Ferruccio asked whether Black realised that Sebastian could claim he was acting on FEG's orders to draw attention from the C160 incident and to showcase how safe B-Energy Cells are. Black says that's ludicrous. At this Laurent advises Christian not to contradict him again. (Giovanni Ferruccio was now a paraplegic: a withered old man in a sophisticated wheelchair smiling lopsidedly at them. His wrinkled fingers clutched the armrests of his wheelchair and his legs were shriveled. He was wheezing and coughing. He spoke in a voice bereft of any emotion. He had cold eyes. His voice was cold as ice. And he was a worried man, anxious that this time no bribe will be sufficient. Everything they have done to ensure FEG's technology is accepted will be revealed. And it won't stop there: the Pandora's Box will be open. The trail will lead to the Vesuvius Group. His hooked nose was inches from [the whimpering] Henry.)

Ferruccio turned to Laurent with a happy gleam in his eyes and told him that he had recently come into ownership of the most rare/excellent wine. He had wagered that Father Luigi Vincente would be elected Pope. "If you've been watching the opinion polls, it appears that I have a very good chance of winning that wager." Christian Black stared in disbelief.

Adrian Klausman allowed himself a congratulatory toast of the finest scotch. (Nicolas Klausman was put through a primitive gadget. His empire was taken over and distributed among The Vesuvius Group. The man who framed him - Luigi Vincente. The man who abetted him within the Vesuvius Group - Giovanni Ferruccio.

"I wonder what His Holiness would have to say, Father, if he knew you had a part," Ferruccio taunted. "It is not for him to know. ... Even the Holy Father in all his wisdom is incapable of comprehending all that must be done to ensure the Church's position in the future." Ferruccio nodded. "Our agreement is effective immediately, Father..." "Very well," Vincente replied. "The Church thanks you..." Ferruccio laughed. "Not the Church, Father. You thank me for what I have done.")

The Holy Father's health had deteriorated further. Some of the notable reforms the last Pope had brought about in the Church: his historic visit to the Middle East and his policies to reinvigorate the European Church and endear the institution to the gay and lesbian community. Cardinal Luigi Vincente (hawk-faced wiry man with keen, deeply perceptive eyes, and balding head above wisps of gray hair) too has done a lot for the Church and for the rehabilitation of war-affected people in the Middle East. But one man (sitting in a comfortable armchair in his jet) had total disregard to whatever good the Pope-elect may have done in the world over the last decade.

A host of drugs and procedures (to enhance reflexes and stamina) were developed at Qin Zhou's research facility - to create the perfect front-line super-soldier for the People's Republic of China. Fortesque was a living experiment - to test the potency and viability of his drugs.

Cloaking techniques using the bifringence properties of calcites – metaphorphic materials that bent light at just the right angle so as to eliminate light diffusion – the phenomenon that made everything visible. 

Cloaking technology: invisibility cloaks with a monocle. One could only make out a ghostly outline (if one peered very hard from an angle), a slight ripple when someone moved. If one laughed, it seemingly emanated out of the ether. (They had forgotten the monocle that was equipped with a thermal sensor thus allowing the wearer to lock on to the heat signature of people around.)

Evangeline and her unit use cloaking technology. Someone wanted Zhou to think Laurent was involved, that he stole from Zhou.

The invisibility cloaks were full-body jumpsuits that Evangeline and her unit wore after stripping out of their insulated clothing. She must have pulled on a cowl because even her head vanished from sight. For all practical purposes, Evangeline (Hotstuff - for all her beauty she was the baddest ass amongst her unit) had just turned invisible! Dragon held out a jumpsuit to Fortesque. He took it with a wide grin. (Sharp – because of his sharp-shooting ability. Dash – an allusion to his skills at quick getaways in any type of vehicle over sea, land or air. Clay - Claymore.) They were like some invisible force to the chief-of-the-watch. There were two floating micro-Uzis, and a silenced H&K Mark 23 pistol danced in mid-air. Evangeline had a Heckler and Koch UMP. Fortesque had a K-bar in one hand and an AK5 assault rifle in the other.

Dragon had a Hernstal P90 submachine gun - his essential weapon. Fortesque, a SCAR-H automatic rifle. They had observed a Chinese Mil Mi-17 helicopter descend into a concealed heliport in the upper levels of the research facility (which rose as an extension of the sheer rock-face on which it stood.) The guards are armed with heavy duty tasers and Ukrainian Fort 14TP silenced pistols. Some guards are armed with JS9s. All access is controlled via biometrics. "We'll need to find us a thumb and eyeball that can open the door we need."

The Sukhoi Su-80 TD – this aircraft had been stolen by Evangeline and her unit a year earlier and since then had been used for most of their airborne stuff. They outmaneuvered the Chinese J8 interceptor jet. The Chinese pilot had attempted to rip the wings off the Su-80 with his 23-mm twin-barreled cannon. There was a whoosh and the rocket (Stinger missile) shoomed out of the Su-80 through the open ramp. The Chinese had a PL-5 SRAAM missile. Evangeline said, "We lost the 'Bird Brothers'" (the pilots). Developed jointly by the Sukhoi Company and Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Company the Sukhoi is a twin-engine [all-weather] aircraft. (Bird Brothers: Jatayu and Sampaati?)  

Jet wings (inverted V-shape wings) - they could be deployed or automatically deployed at a pre-determined altitude. The folded wings swung outward from their V-shaped position. The jet-wing unit was surprisingly light. Wing-suits (wing suit fabric) – they spread out under Dragon's arms like a flying squirrel's web or flap. A propulsion unit on the starboard wing powered it. Once the wing-suit filled with air one could savour the thrill of flight, riding on the waves of air currents. (Evangeline and her unit use wing suit.) "Yee-haaa!" Dragon circled around like a bird that had just learned to fly. He was determined not to jeopardise things the way Luc Fortesque had years ago. (The propulsion units - silver canisters about a foot-and-a-half long, after sliding them into the grooves on the jet-wings they had to be locked [with a satisfying clack]. Fortesque had noted the familiar blue-glow emanating from the canisters. He was unaware that FEG made them. The B-Energy Cells did not leave an exhaust trail though Dragon wondered whether the bluish-glow of the cells could be seen.)

Bradford clutched his 'borrowed' QCW-05 rifle. Akira had a Remington 700. She heard the slaps of Sebastian Laporte's fists on Jameson's face. ... The official Canadian Joint Task Force 2 tactical team and Black's team, a rogue 5-man JTF2 unit. The later very silent, like wraiths, their faces were masked in black balaclavas, revealing only furtive eyes. They had Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns, the combined selector/safety switch in the single-round position. Their secondary weapons consisted of SIG Sauer P228's and a wicked-looking knife. Spare ammo was in their combat webbing.

Laporte's speedboat and fleet and Bradford's boat: An unmarked CH-146 Griffen helicopter thundered over the Channel and hovered above the two boats like an insect. A M134D minigun pointed out of its open bay doors. Aimed down at them. The Gatling cannon sprung to life. A withering 2000 round per minute shredded the two boats instantly, but spared Bradford and Laporte who were locked in combat. The rogue JTF2 commanding officer raised his palm. As the Griffen hovered over the sinking boats, the officer brought a bullhorn to his lips. Sebastian Laporte was asked to put down his weapon and come with them. "Mr. Bradford, you too will come with us. ... You have five seconds to comply." Five minutes later, both men were sitting in the Griffen. Their hands were cuffed behind their backs. The minigun was retracted and the bay door was pulled shut. Bradford watched as a black sackcloth was put over Laporte's head. He put up a resistance but was subdued by a sedative that was injected into his neck. "Why me?" Bradford muttered as the sackcloth came nearer. In response one of the men pulled off his balaclava. "It was the best I could do, Billy: buy you some more time." Billy recognised one of the men from the rogue JTF2 unit. They had served together in Iraq. The man looked sheepish but resigned to the decision he had made. "You watched our backs in Iraq..." He trailed off and held up the sackcloth. "We won't sedate you." ... As the sackcloth came over his head, Bradford felt something cold and metallic being pressed against his palms. A knife, he thought. And then it was shoved into his back pocket and he felt an inconspicuous reassuring tap on his shoulder as the sackcloth was cinched around his neck. 

There is a new prototype of artificial grass developed by FEG; each of which was a nano-factory that harnessed sunlight and wind energy and also kinetic energy from rain to generate electricity. (Like the artificial grass, the solar panels on the walls of the FEG building also utilised nanotechnology to harness wind and rain energy.)

Nano-trackers - a traceless solution of nano-machines that embedded themselves in the fingertips. The nano-machines drew their power from the electric impulses of the nervous system, and once they were charged sufficiently, was a tracer beacon. (When Charles and Fortesque held the map [coated with a traceless solution of nano-machines], the nano-machines had crossed over the epidermal layer and embedded themselves in their fingertips. Klausman had paid a small fortune for the technology. The unctuous Xu Hua/Wei Ling was unaware of nano-trackers.)  

Alder – a dapper-looking man with an unsmiling face. A shadowy figure was using Adler's services. Someone had Adler retrieve the weapon from Lake Balkash.

A hologram simulation of St. Peter's Basilica fronted by St. Peter's Square. The detailing in the hologram was impressive, from the statues of the apostles surmounting the balustrade over the façade and massive egg-shaped dome to the stone that marked the attempt on Pope John Paul II. The simulation had been developed by Qin Zhou for demonstrations to the People's Republic Army.

Sebastian hated the Catholic Church. He was a certified psychopath. He had a hooked nose. Adrian had offered him an alternative - "You will truly be the Antichrist." He would exceed/better history's greatest villains. A smile pasted itself across his face. (He was the mastermind of whatever happened to the Orb.) Adrian Klausman - a giant of a man. He walked gracefully in a manner that showed good upbringing, his graying hair was parted neatly down the center; the eyes keen and calculating; the voice was deep, confident. 

Christian Black tells Fortesque about the Vesuvius Group. "I'm an old man, Luc. Done a lot in my time and now its catching up with me." He has cancer.

Fortesque hadn't been aware that Black had cancer. "I find Adler and he will lead me to the mastermind." (He also understood that Klausman's heir was using Adler.) 

"I don't know how you got out of Qin Zhou's clutches but it wasn't Henri or me who put you there." Black tells Fortesque. (At the grand Gothic Cathedral of St. Nicholas, Henri had hired a team to take care of Fortesque. They had bungled. One lay at the shrine/pedestal of the cathedral. The other plunged into the Sarine River. His damaged larynx could emit no scream. Laurent had not taken Christian Black into confidence. | Ramchandra [and Lakshmana] voluntarily entered into the Sarayu River. Does it imply a shrinking brain?)

Black watched as Fortesque injected a drug into his forearm and wondered when the drug would manifest side-effects. As far as he could remember, super-soldier experiments had always been plagued by failure in fact and fiction. He also tells Fortesque about Wei Ling. That Ling underwent facial reconstruction and is like a shadow in Zhou's organisation. "Whatever Zhou did to you in China, had Wei's approval. Zhou doesn't take a piss without Wei's approval." Fortesque tells him that it was Wei Ling who told Charles and him (in Fribourg) about Qin Zhou's research facility. Now it was Black's turn to be startled. "What?"

(Wei Ling (ex-PLA) was also Xu Hua. He had facial reconstruction. Could this imply facial paralysis or mask of deception?)

Christian Black meets Arella Isaac (grand-daughter of Yasmin Cohen) and offers to buy Yasmin's research.

Black crumpled to the sidewalk. Fortesque hoisted the older man onto his shoulder and ran to the Mercedes. Black's face was glistening with sweat and his hands were trembling uncontrollably. His breath was coming in ragged gasps and he was going into shock. He saw Fortesque and said, "Did we make it?" "Yes we did..." Black reached into his jacket and thrust Yasmin's research at Fortesque. "Take it. Use it well."

Black was breathing shallowly, clutching at his chest. In a feeble voice he said, "He has a mission, I expect that you give him your full support when he comes around." "I will." ... Fortesque looked over to where the steward was pointing and for the first time saw Christian Black's body slouched in the chair, a dark blotch across the front of his white shirt. They wrapped the body in bed sheets. ... The callous [apathetic, indifferent] burial complete, he sat down to make sense of Yasmin's research.

Unable to move, Bradford craned his neck and watched with detached peace as a large trailer-rig rumbled toward him. A shadow fell over him, he was aware of the thick wheels. Billy Bradford stirred to the chimes of church bells. His eyelids fluttered open; the smell of antiseptics reached his nose. The bells continued to ring, their peals interspersed with beautiful silence. After a few moments of disorientation he realised he was in a cozy room, in a bed, a blanket draped over his body. Cool breeze gusted in through an open window. The bells ceased ringing and he looked around. An IV line ran from one arm, rising into a clear plastic baggie. He became aware of an ECG monitor near the bed running a heartbeat line. ... It was seven in the morning. He was in a hospital room. He lay motionless, just aware that he was alive. The last thing he remembered was the truck rolling toward him. Was he paralyzed? He wiggled his toes and his fingers. Everything seemed normal. But his breathing was constricted. He gingerly felt bandages wrapped around his chest, which explained the constriction. He tried to move and a sharp pain shot up his neck and brought tears to his eyes. He sank back into the bed, breathing heavily, blinking back tears. ... A grandmotherly woman came into the room and was by his side in a moment. She spoke slowly, looking at him, her eyes wide with concern behind her spectacles. He began to comprehend a few words. "Monsieur, do not move too much." She smiled at him and he felt comforted. She told him he was brought in the previous day, unconscious. And that it is only God's grace that he [only] had broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder. She pointed at her nape [the back of the neck]. "And abrasions on your neck and back. The doctor stitched you as good as new." She told him he was in Susten. (The Dasavatara depicts the ten avatars of Vishnu. The fourth avatar is the lion-headed Lord Narasimha or the Narasingha avatar: the Lion Man or lion human. The seventh avatar is the Rama-avatar. Rama – Rome? (The question is: Is "Rama" a reference to Ramchandra or to Sri Rama/Sita? (Sita is Mary/Christ/Krsna.) Sri is honorific for Lakshmi [Sri Vishnu]. Rama: from Manorama. Manorama is the same as Mohan or Mohini [attractive, likable, a pleasant personality, a magnetic personality: self-confidence and positive energy/vibes]. Mohini is [very likely] the feminised version of Mohan.) Sīta [Seeta] is one who stitches, a mender that specialises in mending or healing (of hearts and minds - to reform or to correct?). 'A stitch in time saves nine'. This proverb is a counsel of prudence. Timely effort leads to better success.

Luc Fortesque and Billy Bradford (iciness staring out of Fortesque's eyes, anger in Bradford's eyes): the two men sized each other up. They made an unlikely duo.  

"We have a history, do you know?"

"We picked our destinies, Luc," was Bradford's only answer when Fortesque had finished.

... "I cannot stop at the Vatican."

"I'm not asking you to." Bradford smiled sheepishly. "I have a propensity for jumps."

On the way from Susten to Lucerne, Bradford had convinced Fortesque there was no need to involve the flight crew anymore. The Gulfstream G650 was marketed as the most technologically advanced executive jet with several trendsetting innovations to pilot-assistance. As a testament to the uneasy truce between the two men, Fortesque relieved the flight crew and the steward and in the early hours of dawn, Bradford and he readied the jet for takeoff. Compared to the utilitarian cockpit that both were used to, the PlaneView-format cockpit of the G650 was alien in its comfort and setup. It took them less than thirty minutes to appreciate the functionality and customisation that the HUD and LCD screens offered. The trademarked Synthetic Vision and Enhanced Vision guided them. ... They had just crossed into Italy when Fortesque said, "You will need help." Bradford's response dripped with sarcasm. He was nervous about the task that lay ahead. Especially in his weakened/enfeebled condition. Fortesque unstrapped his seat-harness and disappeared into the main cabin. He returned with a silver case, snapped it open to reveal two ampoules of amber-coloured liquid. "Powerful concoction," he explained. "I've been running on this for a week now. Enhances reflexes and stamina. "Side-effects?" Fortesque shrugged. Bradford considered this for a moment and then reached for an ampoule. "You'll need a gun," Fortesque said. He held out his SIG P228 and extra ammo clips. "Good luck."

Bradford adjusted the shoulder straps of his parachute and snapped the waist-belt. The Gulfstream was descending steadily to jump altitude. He could already feel the effects of the steroids; he had become less aware of the pain in his chest. "Three minutes." ... Looking down he could see the lights of a city spread out and twinkling yellow and white. And the snaking Tiber River. Rome. (One of the most remarkable avatars of Vishnu is the VarAha avatar, depicted with a boar's head. This is the third avatar of the Dasavatar. This avatar rescued the earth from rasatala [utter degeneration, including moral decay] because of the malefic demon Hiranyaksha (younger brother of Hiranyakashipu).

"Go now!" Fortesque said. Bradford let go... He felt a multitude of anxiety overcome his senses. He pushed them away, clearing his mind, convincing himself that there was nothing to it. There were millions of jumpers. ... The lights of the Vatican rushed up to greet him. How far had he fallen?

The sky was turning indigo, as the deepest part of the night gave way to the dawn. The wind currents were taking him right at the massive cupola of the basilica. It loomed in front of him, so large and unmovable that he felt positively puny and began pulling on the guy-lines to avoid being splattered against the egg-shaped edifice. Another gust of wind caught in the canopy of his parachute and he was yanked sideways away from the dome. ... The canopy began to crumple above him. He glided over the Fountain of the Eagle. Bradford put his hands up to shield his face. Branches and leaves grazed and slapped at him and then abruptly he came to a halt, the canopy caught in the boughs of the trees.  He swayed on the lines and looked down.  He released the harness and fell ten feet to the ground, landing on the soft grass, absorbing the impact, stumbling a bit before regaining his balance. Not too bad for someone pushing the late-forties, he thought as he dusted himself and spat out bits of leaf. Or perhaps it was the steroids.

Bradford unzipped his jacket, unpacked the SIG and shoved it into his jeans. He took off at an easy run. He had hardly gone a few yards when shadowy figures emerged, encircling him and shouting at him in English, French and German, asking him to stop, put his hands up and get down on his knees. Powerful lights brightened where he stood. Slowly, Bradford complied.

As he knelt down, two men left the group and approached him. They fanned out and he felt someone reach for his hands and twist them painfully behind his back and flex-cuff him. He was checked thoroughly. Then he was roughly pulled up. One of the men approached him. He was young, mid twenties, with close cropped hair and spectacles, but moved like a soldier. "Who are you?"  

"Are you the Swiss Guard?" Bradford responded. "I am Captain of the Guard..."     

Qin Zhou had a smug look upon his face as he stepped into the scenic balcony. He breathed in deeply while savouring the breeze from the Tyrrhenian Sea. He felt a sense of self-importance well up within. So much had changed in the world since World War II but the influence and control (shadowy decision-making and strategising) that the all-powerful Vesuvius Group wielded had only grown more deep-rooted and powerful. He had experienced the intoxicating effect of that absolute power several times, watched it evolve and permeate even the noblest of institutions. He thought he would soon have control of Laurent's energy empire and a decades-old feud would finally be won. Zhou would manipulate the younger generation of the Group. ... Giovanni Ferruccio rolled out onto the balcony in his electric wheelchair. A number of tubes dispensed medicine into the withered old man from an apparatus mounted on the back of the wheelchair. A faint blue glow emanating from near the wheels of the chair showed, ironically, that the wheelchair was powered by FEG technology. Zhou's smugness deserted him; he was reminded that as long as Giovanni was there, control of the Vesuvius Group was but a dream.

St. Peter's Square: Bradford saw a multitude of nationalities and features, people of all races and faiths, and perhaps even atheists and agnostics. Different languages emphasised by prayers, applause, and shouts of support, placards and posters for the cardinals.

Ferruccio tells Henri that he was accused of stealing from Zhou. "The accusations are false." "Do you have proof?" "It is this: I would be foolish..." Henri tells the Vesuvius Group that Fortesque was suspended after whatever happened in British Columbia. And that he had even sent a team to take care of him in Fribourg. At this blatant confession, there were murmurs, which Giovanni silenced yet again. Henri did not accept Zhou's accusation. "... It is you who are trying to turn the Group against me so that you can rise to power and assume control over the others in the Group." 

The team that was sent to take care of Christian Black was defeated because he had help from Fortesque. Giovanni looked at Zhou. "Do you know anything about this?" Zhou was surprised. (Fortesque was supposed to take care of Christian?!). He made a mental note to talk to Wei Ling at the earliest.

At Giovanni's next words a flicker of concern flashed across Qin's face. "It is true that you did not dispose of Luc Fortesque but deployed him against Laurent." And that something changed Fortesque's mind and he did not take care of Christian. "Have you given this thought?"

"You only mentioned it to me a few minutes ago," Qin sputtered. "No, I have not given it thought."

"Idiot," Laurent murmured again.

According to Giovanni this case was not clear and easy to understand. He turned in his wheelchair to face the other men and women of the group. "What do you say?"

But they didn't say anything because just at that instant a dull-grey helicopter buzzed into view outside the manor and hovered beside the mountain slopes. The rockets in the two launch-pods on either side of the helicopter were aimed directly inside the manor. Adrian Klausman flashed a triumphant grin as the pilot kept the helicopter pointed at the cabal inside the manor. He could see the expressions of surprise, incomprehension on their faces. And he could see the old man, Giovanni Ferruccio sitting helpless in his electric wheelchair. 

Two rockets shoomed out with smoking trails, right through the arches in the manor walls – one through the arch on the left and one through the arch on the right – and into the manor. There was a shower of stone and bricks. With the supporting arches disintegrated, the balcony of the manor came crumbling down, debris avalanched down the mountainside.

From Vatican City to Naples is less than five minutes. Fortesque set a path directly for Naples and took up a holding pattern over the Tyrrhenian Sea. He didn't have a plan yet; he'd improvise depending on what Klausman did. ... Fortesque had watched without any emotion as the helicopter [a Dauphin AS565] pulverised the white manor, reducing it to rubble with rocket-after-rocket until there was nothing left but a smoke cloud that wafted over the debris. And then Fortesque pulled his goggles over his eyes, unbuckled his harness and cleared away the windscreen of the jet with his AK5. He pushed the throttle wide open and aimed the nose of the jet at the helicopter. Then Luc Fortesque climbed up on the control console against the force of the wind, grabbed at the windscreen frame for leverage and stepped out of the cockpit onto the nose of the Gulfstream.

Adrian Klausman felt a deep sense of satisfaction as the last wall of the Ferruccio manor came crumbling down. More so because he had seen the look on Ferruccio's face: the look of a man who knew there was no escape. Did Ferruccio recognise him, he wondered? Should he have been more theatrical? He pushed all thoughts from his mind and settled back to gloat. He had wiped out the entire Vesuvius Group and with holdings in all their businesses through several front companies, Klausman was on his way to become the single most powerful individual in the world.

He patted the shoulders of the pilot and co-pilot. But they were looking off to the right, not heeding his gesture.

Klausman turned to look.

Fortesque let go of the windscreen frame, closed his eyes and leaped off the nose, jumping as far as he possibly could. The Gulfstream jet's nose ran the helicopter through-and-through.

Fortesque tugged at the deployment lines and heard the rustle as his parachute deployed.     

Bradford broke into a run, leaping over the bawling baby in the perambulator. ... Though it happened in a fraction of a second, time seemed to slow. The head jerking back, the plume of brain matter, the shattering of the cranium, the ejection, in all directions, of Laporte's skull fragments. People standing nearby recoiled as they were sprayed with gore. Sebastian's fingers were clutching at nothingness, the signals from his brain severed by a sniper. Bradford looked around ignoring the camera phones and glanced up at the roofs of the Constantine colonnade and saw the sniper still looking down his rifle scope. Suddenly there were excited shouts from everyone. People were pointing upward. A clamour of applause reverberated all over St. Peter's Square. Bradford looked in the direction they were pointing. White smoke was emanating from the Sistine Chapel.  

Bradford turned to see Toulmin and his Swiss Guard and a contingent of Vatican police approaching, ordering people away. They came in very quickly and bundled Sebastian's body away, ignoring the camera flashes. Within a minute they had dissolved back into the crowds. Bradford stood, alone for a moment, over the porphyry stone in the pavement that marked the attempt on Pope John Paul II.

Billy Bradford closed his eyes, savouring the cool caress of the wind upon his face. He breathed deeply. ... Bradford, Colonel Philipp Toulin and the Captain of the Swiss Guard agreed that the world did not need to know about the Apocalypse. Bradford looked the other way while Toulin and the Captain sequestered the weapon, where it would remain until it could be dismantled. (Colonel Philipp Toulmin was renowned as a strict but fair commander with a very logical, fact-based approach to situations. His voice: calm and measured.)

Bradford learned that Fortesque's body had not been recovered, though it was likely he had taken care of Adrian Klausman after the later had taken care of the members of The Vesuvius Group (and destroyed the Ferruccio manor). As a closing note to his involvement in the whole affair, Bradford also learned that Fr. Luigi Vincente had not been elected Pope. A Jesuit Cardinal from Mumbai, India, had been elected instead.

The villagers gave the stranger a wide berth. The scar that besmirched his face did nothing to endear him to them. They did not interfere with him and he did not interfere with them. He carried a small waterproof pouch with him. (Pouch - kangaroo?). Two of the locals decided to find out what was in the pouch. Both were found the next morning, their hands, feet and jaws broken. Nothing was pinned on the stranger; the locals would not press charges and there had been no witnesses. A day later the stranger had a visitor. The stranger gave his visitor a mobile phone from the pouch and they parted ways. By the end of the week, they met again and a manila envelope exchanged hands. No words were spoken. (A manila envelope is a large, usually brown, envelope, designed to carry documents without them having to be folded.) About the time Bradford was reunited with his wife, Luc Fortesque stretched out under the trees and extracted a mobile phone – the same one he had been given by Qin Zhou's men (in Kazakhstan) – and a sheaf of papers from the envelope. The trail on the last dialed number was cold, but Fortesque knew with time he could figure it out. He was adept at tracking down long-lost artifacts; this wouldn't be much different. ... Fortesque extracted the portable hard drive with the Apocalypse research from the pouch. (He had copied it from Evangeline.) He contemplated his choice. The sun was at its highest point in the sky. A cool breeze rustled through the trees.  He made his decision.

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