Sandi Hartwell woke with a start. What was it? A sound? A smell? She lay on her cot in the predawn darkness of her tent. She felt on the verge of the answer to an important question, but she couldn’t figure out what the question was. Then she realized that it was a dream—only a dream. Was it about the child? The dream was an ethereal cloud that she could not catch. Sandi relaxed, trying to remember, but she could not stop thinking about the child. For days, the child had haunted her. Puncture wounds in the child’s skull indicated coldly, forensically, how the child had died. Did he suffer? Forensics could not answer that question, but somehow Sandi knew that the child had not died quickly. The child was loved, else why had it been ritually buried in the cave? Sandi knew that a mother had felt heartbroken and abandoned by the death of this child.

This deep feeling about ancient people was something Sandi could not help. When she first read about the discovery of the bones of the pre-human hominid called Lucy, she wondered about her, even though she was only an australopithecine afarensis on the evolutionary path to modern men. What had Lucy been thinking the morning of the day she died over four million years ago? What did Lucy feel about death?

This child was different. Sandi had helped uncover this child. She had touched its small bones. It was a nearly complete skeleton of a Neandertal child. It was all packed away for transportation to the lab in Arizona where it would be studied on loan from the Pakistani government. The examination would tell much about the child. When had it lived? About thirty to forty thousand years ago, Sandi guessed. The child could have died yesterday as far as she was concerned. The lab would provide an age at death, but Sandi could already tell that it was just a toddler. So much could be known, but what Sandi really wanted to know, science could not disclose.

Sandi rubbed her eyes, blinked, and looked at her clock. 4:37. It was too early to get up and too late to go back to sleep. She sat on the side of her cot. It would be hot later in the morning, but it was still cool. She lay back down on the cot and relaxed—trying one more time to recreate the dream. At first, the images were vague. Then her dream began to return.

Sandi stood in front of a cave facing the rising sun. An eagle circled above trees north of the entrance and disappeared behind them. Sandi walked to a large rock about eighty feet from the front of the cave. It held a secret, so she started digging around the edge. At the foot of the rock, she found an important key.

“This is a holy place. This is from the very beginning of religion. It was never meant to be seen with steady bright lights of our time.” Garret’s voice was shaking.

“What do you mean?”

“We should not invade this place with bright lights and cameras. At least not now.”

“What do you propose to do?”

“We will make torches and light it as it was meant to be lit—the way it was lit when it was created. Look,” Garret said as he panned his light. “There are eight small rock piles with open spaces in the middle. I’m guessing they were used to hold lighted torches.”

“I see what you mean. We can give Jektu a note and send him to get the others. That will give several days before they get here with the lights and equipment—time for us set it all up as it was originally.”

“I am not sure about telling Marc just yet,” Garret said.

“But this is his expedition. We have to let him know.”

“This place is not mine or yours or Marc’s.” Garret faced her and put his left hand on her shoulder. “What will happen? First, Pakistan will say that it belongs to them and close it off to the world. Then maybe some fundamentalist, Taliban-like people will decide that these paintings threaten their beliefs or their God. Then they decide to use bombs to destroy it. It has happened before. A find like this cannot be risked in this kind of world.”

As Sandi listened to Garret, she felt his hand on her shoulder. It was as though he were sharing something very personal with her. Suddenly, a strong feeling came over her—like something she had never felt before. “We are not alone!” she said in a loud whisper. “Someone is in here with us!”

“Who?” Garret asked.

Sandi began moving her light around almost frantically. Then her light landed on it—it was a motionless shape against a large rock in front of the wall with the great aurochs. As she stared at it in the beam of her light, she began to make the form out. It was a skeleton—the bones of a man in a pile facing out from the large rock, as if the man had died sitting against it, maybe staring up at the giant aurochs.

Sandi held her light as Garret slowly moved toward the man. Carefully, Garret moved in front of the bones and shined his light on the skull. Garret fell to his knees and cried, “The Guardian!” Then Garret put his face on the floor of the cave. He looked like a Muslim man at prayer. Sandi could not move as she watched and wondered at Garret’s strange antics.

Finally, Garret got shakily to his feet. Sandi had not moved. As Garret came to her, she shined her light in his face. She could see the courses of tears in the dust on his cheeks. The cool darkness outside the beam of their lights seemed to breathe, maybe sigh. Sandi realized that she was on holy ground. “Who is the Guardian?” she asked reverently.

“This cave is your history, Sandi. This is not the Heart of the Bison, but I know this place. We are on the cusp of eternity here.”

“Too late!” Garret exclaimed. He pulled Sandi slowly toward the gravestone.

“Lie flat!” one of the terrorists ordered as they came from the trees. Jektu ran to a small hill and threw himself flat behind it. Garret pulled Sandi down behind the gravestone. The others laid down where they were, except Marc.

“What do you want?” Marc shouted.

“We just want to talk,” one said with a heavy Arabic accent.

Garret pulled a radio from his pocket and pushed a red button.

“Stay where you are,” Marc ordered the four men. Perhaps it was his military training, but his voice and tone carried authority. The four men stopped.

“Are you on the panic button?” Sandi could barely hear the muffled voice that came from Garret’s radio.

“What?” The lead terrorist said to Marc. “You’re in our country. We just want to talk to you.”

“We have a terrorist group attacking us,” Garret said softly into his radio. “We need a code red.”

“Talk—but stay where you are while you do it,” Marc commanded. The terrorists looked at one another.

“Coming in. We are twenty seconds out on my mark—mark.” The quiet message on Garret’s radio just confused Sandi.

“You don’t give the orders here,” the terrorist said. He seemed uncertain. Then he shouted, “Fire!” Marc fell and rolled to his left. The quiet morning exploded. Sandi could see some of the members of the crew get up to run, only to fall limp and broken to the ground. Then, in what seemed like a lifetime, it was eerily quiet again. Sandi could smell the sickening odor of gun smoke.

“You—behind the rock—stand up,” the leader commanded.

“Why? So it will be easier for you to kill me?” Garret answered.

“We are taking you, the girl, and Big Mouth as hostages,” the leader answered with a thick Arabic accent.

Sandi looked over at Marc. He was sitting on the ground, and it looked like he was unharmed. The voice on the communicator said, “Ten seconds out.”

Garret stood up slowly. Sandi started to stand with him, but he pushed her down with his hand on her shoulder. All around were the bleeding bodies of the men Sandi had worked with all summer. Just to her right, Hanna lay like a broken doll. Marc stood up. Sandi felt nauseated. She wanted to stand, but Garret still had his hand on her shoulder. She could see the four men standing as the cloud of smoke gently blew from them toward Marc. Other men, dressed in black, were coming from the trees.

The four men started walking across the clearing. “Don’t anyone make a move. You’ll be dead before you—”

Suddenly a flying machine came over the hill behind the cave. At first, Sandi thought that it was a helicopter, but it was silent! When she saw it clearly, she could tell it was disc shaped. It had no wings or rotors. It hovered for a second, and then it made a sound that was so low Sandi felt it in her chest more than heard it.

A loudspeaker from the flying machine gave an order in Arabic. Sandi understood enough Arabic to know the order was to throw down their guns. One of the four dropped his gun, two stood motionless, and one aimed his gun at the flying machine and fired.

“Oh, shit!” Garret exclaimed.

“Oh, shit, what?” Sandi cried.

“The EMF is not armed,” Garret answered.

“What do you mean EM—” Suddenly, the flying machine rocked, made a rotating maneuver over the four men, and then shot straight up. The four men and everything around them were flattened.

“That was clever,” Garret said.

“Here we are,” Garret said as the train pulled into a station like the others Sandi had seen. They got out of the vehicle and walked to a large reception area. There were Thinkers, Gatherers, Watchers, and a few of the Ancients. They all wore white jumpsuits. Some of each breed were smaller and had developed chests, though there were no differences in hair, makeup, or dress.

“We are at the religious center of Mother Earth. The Ancients here will hear everything we say.”

“Even if we whisper?” Sandi asked.

“If I can hear you, so can they,” Garret answered.

“So Big Brother is always listening,” Sandi said.

“It is not that they are listening—it just cannot be helped what they can hear. I have made arrangements to show you the heart of the Earth People religion. Come with me.” Garret walked to one of several doors. He showed a card to a man behind a counter, an Ancient. The man nodded, and Garret walked through the entrance. Sandi followed.

The room was noticeably warmer than any of the other places in this underground world. It was almost circular, about eighty feet across. Most of the walls and ceiling were natural rock, but there were several veins and patches of the creamy green material. The ceiling was about forty-feet high, with no paintings on the walls and no furniture—just a plain, almost empty cavern.

Across the space a little to her right, a fire was burning. Three Ancients stood not far from the flames. Sandi had been to several ornate, even opulent religious shrines and places of worship in her life. She always found them awe inspiring. Never in her life had she felt the spiritual awakening she felt in this simple cavern. Not even the living paintings in the ceremony cavern had given her such a deep reverence as this unadorned space. She had a thousand questions, but she was speechless as she stared at the fire.

Garret took her hand and led her closer to the fire. She could see that it was in a circular pit about fifteen feet across. The outside of the pit was constructed of the green material she had seen everywhere. There were ten symbols etched around the edge. The fire occupied a small space at the edge of the pit. The half of the circle going counterclockwise from the fire was covered with ashes. The rest of the pit was cleaned out. Sandi noticed four wooden trunks about three feet long by two feet wide by two feet deep. Three were closed, and one was open. The open trunk was about three-fourths full of ashes.

As they stood close to the fire, Garret turned to her. “This fire has burned continuously for twenty-five thousand years.”

“This is the Spirit Fire!” Sandi gasped.

“Yes. This is the Spirit Fire of the East that Ronaldo talked about. This is the cave where Sotif found it.

Sandi looked at the flames as they danced yellow and red inside the green, circular hearth. Through the history of her people, this fire had burned. Through the great scientific discoveries and men walking on the moon, the great wars, and the origination of the great religions of the earth, this fire had burned. This fire was already ancient when the pyramids were first conceived.