Artemis

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7

The seed banks meant to save the Earth had been discovered by a little known faction calling itself TNP which stood for Take No Prisoners. TNP was formed by an ex ISIS member who had joined up with an IRA member, supporting a Colombian drug lord. The drug cartels had coalesced to gain political clout over the pope who had long since lost respect with her following.

She was of the opinion that the Vatican was the seat of God and she, its personal messenger. She could therefore do as she pleased at the expense of the populace. Under a crumbling political climate, this didn’t find favour anywhere. Popess Santa Maria Esmeralda was driven from the Vatican when the TNP arrived to plunder it of its secret stash of treasure. At first it sounded like a bad rumor but when the Swiss

Guard was attacked, Popess was whisked away by her personal assistants who found it no easy task to unlock the heavy wooden doors that hadn’t been moved for more than one-hundred years.

The Keeper of the Keys knew exactly which key to choose on the wall of keys. It was the largest and heaviest key, fit to be used as a weapon when the occasion arose. He called to Popess to hurry, as he hastened down towards the tunnels, not counting on the water that had collected after the heavy rain. There was no time to stop and check on damage to his shoes or his raiment. He pulled up his raiment with one hand as he ran towards the dungeon door creating a hollow clop-clop sound with his wooden heels on the ancient stone stairs. He tried his best to propel his seventy-six year old body forward with his arms driving as hard as he could while holding tightly onto the gigantic key.

When they reached the tunnels, the golf cart awaited them as was protocol when escaping during a threatening situation. They decided to keep the Maltese cross key just in case there was a chance of returning.

The Prior drove the golf cart about two kilometers before stopping. In the semi-dark they could see the ladder that would take them to the street above. First they had to change into civilian clothes to disguise themselves, else they wouldn’t make it safely up the rusty iron ladder. To all intents and purposes they looked like a rag-tag bunch of hooligans looking for mischief.

In the meantime, the last of the Swiss Guard, if they were lucky enough to escape the attack, had fled the hallowed grounds to seek asylum in unknown destinations. In the meantime, Pope Santa Maria and her assistants walked through the dimly lit street for four blocks turned right into an alley and entered the Catholic Church.

Pope knocked on the door three times as was agreed to notify the priest that they had arrived.

“We believe that there is a secret tunnel on your property.” This was the secret code for the priest to know that the visitors were the real deal.

“Indeed there is.”

“We need to get to France in a hurry.”

“Come this way then.”

He led them to the back of the church up a short stairway where he opened a door. Out the back door, down the steps and across the garden, the priest had to clear the cobbled path where the bramble had overgrown to reveal a smallish door with a copper handle and keyhole, now green with age.

The priest struggled to open the ancient door but after a few hard turns and pushes, it finally creaked open and with one final heave, it gave way. The foursome had to lower their heads to enter the secret passage way that would take them all the way to France if they were willing to walk the last ten kilometers. Someone would be waiting on the other side where she would find sanctuary in a little-known enclave called The Crusades. Whether her assistants would be allowed in was a moot point, but we never received any news about them again.

Along with untold ancient treasure in pure gold artifacts, the TNP found the remains of several children buried in the catacombs three levels beneneath the cathedral.

They had no concern for the Pope, being more intent on finding the gold but first they had to test every key on the wall of keys. In their impatience they tried shooting at the locks but these proved too hardy for a round of bullets. They were forced to test every key they could find before they could make any progress in the labyrinth of corridors. Their first vault was a library of art dating back to the time of Leonardo da Vinci. The magnitude of the collection was astounding. They gasped at the enormity of the vault as they stood on the threshold. Carlos whistled through his teeth and standing akimbo remarked that over the years the Vatican must have consisted of many thieves.

It was here where they found hundreds of paintings of an olive-skinned Jesus, hidden under sheets, yellow and dusty with age. Many were life-size while just as many were portrait-size.

“Hey, he looks like one of us,” one commented in a Colombian accent. Just as hansome too. That is why they hide his picture here where no one can find it. The white bastards. Let’s take photographs and show the world that Jesus wasn’t white. Come, let’s do that!”

“You sure it’s not just darkened with age and dust, Romeo? Look carefully, man.”

Romeo swept his hand across a portrait but even after the dust was removed, the colouring seemed genuine.

“Ahh... So they deceived us all these years, hey? They want us to believe that the Saviour is white. Always lies with these damn white people.”

One painting after the other was uncovered, consistently revealing the same thing. Carlos collapsed crying. The others too had tears in their eyes as they made the sign of the cross and asked for forgiveness before the paintings.

“We have been hoodwinked! We will get that bloody Pope come hell or high water. We will beat her till she’s dead.”

“Oh.... Carlos....look here.... The last supper. There is a note at the back that says Darius posing as Jesus 1593. See now? Look at this one. Says Joseph D posing as Jesus 1411.”

They continued sifting through the vast collection finding various names and dates noted behind each painting.

Pictures were sent to the television networks causing a stir among Catholics and others alike. They reported that many of the paintings were over three-hundred years old and had gone missing without a trace until now. Everyone wondered what else the TNP would find.

They made their way along the lengthy dank, stone corridor to find the next vault. They noted the unusually high ceilings and poor lighting.

“All the better to deceive you, my dear,” was Romeo’s observation, ever the witty one. “Geez, it’s like Harry Potter and the labyrinth ... What was that movie again? Something about the labyrinth? Was also a book, right?”

The next great find was the most extensive library of ancient manuscripts written in Arabic, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. One side consisted purely of rows of Bibles re-written in various forms of English at the behest of different rulers. One large tatty Bible was written in large gold font. The old English was strange and barely comprehensible. They were amused at the quaint turn of phrase they’d never heard before.

“Why are there so many Bibles?”

“Can’t you see, they were written in different years.”

“I thought they couldn’t re-write the Bible?”

“Yeah, they are not supposed to re-write it, man.”

The TNP saw for the first time how scripture had been changed to suit different politicians at any time.

“Romeo, check this out. In 1234 the Bible read, thou shalt commit adultery. Wasn’t that during the time of the Crusades?”

“Bastards! So they’ve been writing their own shit and telling us it’s the word of God? Bastards! And check here. It says when we die we go to another planet and return when we are through with reviewing our lessins. Look at the spelling of lessins. We must take some of this shit with us. It will be good to know what else they been fucking us with.”

"And look here. The sky god went up into a cloud in heaven in a fireball and didn’t come down again for a long time. By this time the people had lost faith and returned to their idols. When the sky god returned he was very angry and burned all their idols. You are shitting me! Let me read more. The people trembled and fell to the ground, wailing and gnashing their teeth in fear.”

“Sounds like God was an extraterrestrial.”

“Maybe there were many. Check this out. When the new god came down from heaven to the land, having conquered the old God, he was dressed in silver raiment. He walked like thunder and spoke like lightening. The people prostrated themselves before him and when he was gone they stood up and sang all day, foregoing their work in the fields.”

“Interesting, Manuel... Interesting...we should definitely take this stuff home with us.”

“So, when are you going to find time to read, Carlos, among all the shooting and running after women?”

The group emitted a collective guffaw, followed by raucous heckling.

“You didn’t even pass junior school, now you want to read the Bible. Brother, don’t try to fool yourself.”

“Well, maybe now’s my chance to read and leave that other shit alone, you know. I’m interested to know more about these books now that I’ve seen the light.”

“Hahaha.... The light, hey? Who’s to know that this isn’t a hoax and that is why they hide it away down here?”

A heated argument ensued until they realised that they were wasting valuable time. They needed to reach their goal of finding the gold. By the time they found the vault filled to capacity with ancient gold jewelry, they were less interested than they thought they’d be and were still eagerly discussing the Bibles, expressing anger over how they’d been made to believe so many lies posing as the truth.

“So, you want to tell me that all this time, government has been writing the Bibles? Unbelievable! So, maybe there is no heaven and hell, you know? Maybe heaven is just another word for sky. If there was a sky god and he went up into the heaven, then heaven is just another word for sky.”

They were only vaguely interested in the jewelry which by today’s standards were unwearable. The stones were enormous and the chains seemed more like instruments of torture than something one would wear on one’s body. There were also sceptres, chalices, cups and plates in solid gold and silver.

The TNP declared themselves the new guardians of the Vatican and challenged anyone to oppose them or be killed.

Fear took hold everywhere as news reporters were killed reporting on the breaking news. Mayhem erupted as underground churches tried to defend their faiths. The news networks needed to quell the latest uprising following the breaking in of the Vatican. People fought each other over what constituted the truth, whether it was God’s will that the Bibles be found and how would they be punished. Surely God wouldn’t be happy that such lies were being spread.

Reporters confirmed that Bibles had indeed been written by Governments, that it was they who instigated the Crusades against the Muslims in the 1200s, that it was all a cover-up to steal the artifacts and hide it in the Vatican. While people were distracted by their own fears, government was secretly stashing away everything they wished to hide from the public.

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