King Stephen, the Silver man and Greta the Witch

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Chapter 13 - Zurich

The next day Keith opened his email in his office. He didn’t read his supervisors email about the trip to Zurich, he just forwarded it to some students he thought may like to go. He typed the email list, by looking at the list of names on the department contact list chart stuck to his office wall. He was terrible at remembering names, but fortunately it included photographs. So, he sent it only to those he thought would be ‘gullible’ enough to want to do it. His covering message simply said, ‘Anyone fancy an all-expenses paid trip to Switzerland?’

That done, he ignored all his other messages because he wanted to know if there was any more readings from the site on Hazeley Common that he had visited yesterday with Patch. He looked at the new set of data from NASA that included three new graphs and a map of showing where the points of detection had occurred. He zoomed in using the tracker ball on his computer mouse, and there it was again, a reading from exactly the same spot he had marked with the three stones.

Now all else was forgotten. He printed the graphs and the map using a large flat-bed plotter located on a different floor. He walked down a flight of stairs and retrieved the print-outs. Back in his office, he cleared a small round table by pushing aside stacks of papers. Some fell on the floor but he didn’t care. He then spread-out the graphs and map for detailed examination. The papers had a tendency to roll up at the edges, so he weighed them down with half-drunk cups of coffee, a stapler and a hole punch.

He then spent the rest of the morning making detailed notes about the site on Hazeley Common in his laboratory notebook. He planned a thorough examination of the site the following day.

At lunch, he called a colleague who was a mathematician of some repute, for some advice on a particular calculation. They had lunch together in the staff restaurant, and Keith borrowed some equipment from him. This included a very advanced Geiger counter to measure background radiation levels to very high levels of accuracy and a foldable spade. Keith promised to return the equipment on Monday.

Other than that, he interacted with no one else during that day and was home in good time for dinner. The Lab closed early on Friday’s.

On Saturdays, Patch knew she was in for a nice long walk. She knew because Keith had his weekend clothes on, not his normal work clothes.

They set off at their normal time, but today Keith carried a rucksack slung over one shoulder. The weather was still unseasonably warm, but he wore his trusty Barbour green wax jacket. When he arrived at the spot where he had left the three stones, he put the rucksack on the ground and opened it up. Patch came over sniffing hopefully, hoping Keith had brought a snack with him. But she went away disappointed when what emerged was just the foldable spade and the Geiger counter. Patch resumed her sniffing for rabbits.

Keith took out his iPhone and verified with the GPS app that the data received yesterday from NASA showed that this was still the right spot. Indeed, it was. He put his iPhone back in his jacket pocket and picked up the portable Geiger counter that he had borrowed from his colleague at the Lab. His colleague had given him a detailed demonstration on how to use it. The mathematician was very proud of the Geiger counter, it was the very latest model and had cost him a considerable proportion of his department budget to buy it. The unit was about the size of one of the scanners used by supermarket workers to scan barcodes. Keith switched on the unit, and a red light came on. The Geiger counter let out a series of low beeps and clicks as Keith set it to check the background radiation.

He walked in a wide circle with the Geiger counter switched on and tried different settings and variables. There were no abnormal readings at the higher radiation settings. He switched the instrument to a more sensitive detection setting. He approached the pile of three stones and as he did so the radiation levels rose. Not to any dangerous level, but enough to be detected by the highly sensitive instrument. He held the Geiger counter close to the three stones and the needle went off the scale. He picked up each stone in turn and held them next to the instrument, but it wasn’t the stones that were emitting the radiation but something under the ground. He discarded the stones and began to dig.

Patch thought this was great fun and began to dig too. Thinking at last Keith was digging for rabbits, very sensible. In fact, Keith didn’t know what he was looking for. He shooed Patch away playfully, and she went off towards the old World War II installations to sniff in peace.

He dug carefully, gingerly, because he didn’t want to damage anything under the ground. After about 15 minutes he had dug through the top turf and cleared a hole large enough to stand in up to his calves. It was hard work the grass and vegetation had deep roots and the soil was dry and hard from the warm weather.

He ran the detector again. The sensitive instrument still showed a high reading. Whatever was pinging the instrument, it was deeper. He took off his jacket, wearing only his shirt and cricket sweater in the early morning sun. Fortunately, few people came this way, so nobody came to challenge him. It would be odd for a man to be digging a hole on the common.

He was a tall fit man, and he had soon dug a hole down to his knees. Once again, taking his time. Still nothing distinguishable in the rocks and the earth, but the reading was still high. He stood-up for a breather and as he stepped out of the hole he caught his trousers on the thorny branch of a bramble and the thorns scratched his skin. He felt the fabric of his trousers snag and rip a little. On Saturdays, he wore his smart new corduroys that his mother had bought him for his birthday, not his scruffy jeans he wore to work.

‘Bother!’, he swore under his breath, at both the tear in his new trousers and at the pain from the scratches. Hearing her masters voice Patch came trotting towards him. In his anger and frustration, he lifted the spade high, and jabbed it into the earth hard, a move accentuated by the honed muscles in his arms from many hours in the gym. The flash of light sent him backwards and he landed on his backside several meters from the hole. At first, he thought he must have ruptured an electricity cable. But then several things happened all at once. Three mounted horsemen in fancy dress and a white haired old lady appeared. The old lady carried a spear, poised to attack. With an angry scream, she hurled it at Patch.

The spear impaled the poor dog, and Keith ran to her instinctively, horrified.

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