The basin was unbelievably large, beyond the scope of imagination. Unseen by Google, hidden by the dense jungle of the Congo, the ancient city covered in feathery combs of moss sat for thousands of years under the dense canopy of African oak, mahogany and cedar. The battle for light in the jungle was only won by height with trees growing as high as forty meters off the ground, and below, ground fauna grew with whatever light they could steal from the ancient giants. Teeming with life, the rain forest was Earth’s oldest living ecosystem. With more life per square meter than anywhere else on the planet, it could hide another world if it chose to do so. And do so it did.
Professor of Archaeology, Richard Parson and his colleague, Professor Anthony Banks, put the expedition together in just under a year. In addition to three of their best students, three members of the Mbuti tribe, natives of the Congo, accompanied them. The small men were there to teach the students, as well as Richard and Anthony, how to survive and travel through the jungles of the Congo. With civil unrest high and security measures low, the men from Mbuti took special care to avoid contact with the notorious Congolese army. Known to kidnap, kill, rape, and pillage, it was a dangerous time to be wandering around in the African Congo. Despite all of the warnings and for the sake of science, the group continued on their trek to search for Makgodu, an ancient city experts claimed was just a legend until six months ago. Richard Parsons received a strange package out of Africa from a long time colleague and friend, Dr. Albert Van Vrankan that changed his mind.
The package, delivered by a strange little man in a black suit and dark sunglasses, was placed with utmost care at Richard’s feet, almost reverently. Without so much as a word, he scurried off, leaving the Professor scratching his head. Bringing it inside of his eleventh floor condo, he placed it gently on the coffee table to contemplate. Richard examined the package for a moment before deciding to open it. It had no return address and no distinguishing post marks. Curiosity let him linger no longer and he unwrapped the plain brown paper. Inside, buried beneath the abundance of packing peanuts, Richard pulled out a heavy object wrapped in bubble wrap and thick linen which he lay on the table next to the box. Taking great care unwrapping it, Richard was stunned when inside revealed a pure gold chalice in perfect condition. Because gold does not oxidize or tarnish, it was magnificent in its natural state. Sitting back in astonishment, he studied the piece and saw it held tiny symbols all around the rim and the base. But who sent this? he thought. Searching through the peanuts with his hand, he felt something else. An envelope. Pulling it out, he opened it and was shocked to discover who the sender was. His teacher and friend, Albert Van Vrankan.
I’ve found it, the ancient city of Makgodu. Unfortunately, Richard, if you are reading this, I’ve met an untimely demise and will not have the utmost pleasure in discussing what I’ve discovered. You must come and see for yourself, Richard, but it’s not what you think it is and the ones protecting it are extremely dangerous and unpredictable. They will stop at nothing to keep you from reaching it as they are guarding a secret so huge, so astonishing, it will change everything you’ve ever believed or have been taught. Come with an open mind and tell no one. Pick three of your best students and go to Lubumbashi to the Hotel Grand Karavia where you’ll ask for Adisa Abimbola. He’s the only one I trust. Say my name to him and he will take you to his village straight away. Do not converse with anyone else, Richard, understand? This is very important. Adisa will instruct you on what to do. What you are going to see is beyond your wildest imagination and its indications are horrifying. Brace yourself. Your whole way of thinking, your whole life is about to be turned around. Above all, my friend, listen to them! Hear what they are going to tell you and do not be afraid! And Richard, trust me when I say all of mankind is counting on you.”
Shaking with excitement and more than a little fear, Richard immediately dialed his oldest friend and colleague , Anthony Banks, imploring him to come right away. How he wished Katherine was here, he thought sadly. His wife lived and breathed for moments like this. He met her in college, a shy, sweet girl with a voice like the finest spun silk, rich and soft. A brilliant anthropologist, she caught his attention by her intellect, fearlessness. and insurmountable beauty. Her long, wavy hair was like spun gold and her mouth, always smiling, with lips as plump and juicy as ripe strawberries. She had heterochromia; two different colored eyes. While one eye was honey-brown, the other was as green as a stormy sea. He could have spent a lifetime just looking into her eyes. Katherine was full of life, and their common interests kept their relationship alive with excitement and travel. He fondly remembered their trip to Peru to visit and take part in the partial excavation of the Machu Picchu ruins. The memory of how her eyes lit up with wonder and her hands, rough from always being in the dirt, touched the stones of the ancient Incan temple reverently. It was a magical time for both of them, and it was there he proposed to her. Two weeks later she found out she had stage four breast cancer. It took her from him swiftly, without mercy. He gave no more thought of God after she was taken. God was dead to him.
Richard waited patiently for Tony to show up and when the knock finally came, he hastily opened the door and ushered his friend in, pouring him a glass of his best Cabornet.
“Wow, this must be important!” Tony said, taking the glass, “You’re usually very stingy with the Cabornet, my friend.”
“You have no idea,” Richard said excitedly, “Come, sit down.”
When they were both seated and comfortable, Richard presented him with the wine and the letter. Putting on his reading glasses, Tony read the letter and when finished, looked up at Richard with an arched eyebrow.
“This is incredible,” was all he could manage.
“That’s not all, my friend,” Richard told him, “Look at this.”
He handed Tony the relic, satisfied at the incredulous look on his friend’s face.
“My God, old boy!” he breathed, turning it over in his hands to study it, “This is absolutely astounding! Look at the symbols!”
“Yes, that was the first thing I noticed, too,” Richard told him, “But what do think about what Albert said, Tony? Doesn’t that intrigue you?”
“I’m not sure what to think of it, honestly,” he confessed, “What could he have possibly seen to generate such excitement and fear? What I really can’t believe is the fact that he’s dead. He was always so vibrant and full of life, even at his age!”
“Unfortunately, I feel it is, my old friend,” Richard lamented, “He sure put us in a predicament, now, didn’t he?”
“He most certainly did, my friend,” Tony agreed, “He most certainly did.”
“Are you in?” Richard asked.
“What about the dangerous part?” Tony asked, “It sounds like some pretty ruthless people are aware of the delicate nature here. Doesn’t that make you just the least bit afraid?”
“Of course of does!” Richard exclaimed, “But when has a little danger ever stopped us, Tony. Now I ask you again; are you in?”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Tony said, meeting his friend’s eyes intently.
They raised their glasses of wine and toasted. He and Tony had been friends since childhood, meeting in grade school when, in the school courtyard, Tony was being targeted by the school bully. Wanting to help, but knowing he himself would be regular target, Richard stood by helplessly as the larger boy demanded Tony’s lunch. But Tony surprised him with his intellect. Instead of cowering and handing his lunch over, he asked the bigger boy if he liked liverwurst, getting his answer as the bully wrinkled his nose in distaste.
“How about if I split it with you? Fifty-fifty.” Tony suggested, smiling, “That way, you’re happy, I’m happy, and no one goes hungry today. My mother even put extra gobs of ketchup instead of mustard. I hate mustard.”
“Keep your gross lunch, idiot,” the bully said, his face looking a little green, “But tomorrow, you better have something good or I’m going kick your ass, got it?”
Richard, amazed the smaller boy didn’t get beat up, caught up with him on the way to class.
“Hey, that was pretty cool what you did back there,” he congratulated, walking beside the smaller boy, “By the way, did you really have liverwurst in your sandwich?”
“Of course not,” Tony chuckled, “That would be utterly disgusting. No, I have a nice, thick roast beef and Swiss on rye. Be damned if that idiot was getting it!”
Richard threw his head in laughter, liking the smaller boy immediately, “Hey, wanna hang out after school? My dad just got this awesome telescope that lets you see without it being dark.”
That was how their friendship started, right on through college and here they were today about to embark on the biggest adventure of their lives. It was going to be epic, he thought.
It took the men exactly eight months to come up with funding on the pretense of a major school trip. After much deliberation, they chose the students and painstakingly put the expedition together. Spanning over six countries, the Congo Basin was an enormous area, approximately 1.3 million square miles of forests housing the largest river in the world; the Nile. Hiring guides was a must, for no one would last a day in such a hostile environment without the help of someone who was intimately familiar with the jungle. Snakes, mosquitoes, scorpions, fire ants and hot, moist air as thick dense as the jungle itself. The students they chose each excelled in different areas of jungle ecology. At just twenty-one, Jason Brooks was a brilliant etymologist in the making, his knowledge of insects impressive. Also chosen was Andrew St. Clair. At twenty-four, his knowledge about fossils, rocks and minerals exceeded anyone Richard knew. His essay on ancient Mesopotamia drew conclusions that astounded scientists worldwide. Andrew also had a knack for identifying rocks that held prehistoric plant life. Lastly, they recruited Zane Frost, though not for anything academic. Zane, twenty-eight, spent the last four years after college doing scout/sniper training in the military. He was a much needed addition to their group to scout for groups of militants that used children to do their dirty deeds. These terrorists would kill them on sight. Before the group even left America, Richard and Tony stressed to them just how dangerous this mission was and what they were going to be up against. It definitely was not for the faint of heart. The students were given the option to back out, if they wanted, but none did. Each was excited about the magnitude of what they were about to undertake. Perhaps even the chance to make a name for themselves over a discovery that could change the world, or perhaps destroy it. For all of them, teachers and students alike, the burning curiosity far outweighed any trepidation they may have felt. The five men met at the JFK airport in NY, the 6,255 mile, twelve hour flight giving them time to speculate what it was they might find in the Congo Basin.
© 2018, RissRyker518. All rights reserved.
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