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Legends of Amacia: Path of the Ancients

By Robert_Downing All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Scifi

The Argentinian Expedition

Hannibal Smith surveyed the scene intently after passing through a portal generated by the ancient alien machinery of Tiamat with Harry, Selina, and Nathanael moments before. Before them lay a large World War II-era hangar that stood some forty feet high by sixty feet wide by seventy feet long. Four vintage WWII P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes sat parked in the hangar, rusting. Several huge trees had grown out of the floor and broken through the roof. Vines crawled over everything and giant cobwebs hung in the corners near the office entrance. Dan Zubriar had set up a laser perimeter alarm around the interior perimeter of the hangar with sensor-operated machine pistols on tripods guarding all points of access to the camp, but left the equipment unactivated. Tents lay set up with the supplies laid out inside the encampment, from guns and ammo to MRE’s and first-aid supplies. A small lap top computer controlling the laser perimeter and sensor-operated machine pistols lay set up on a small table. Four all-terrain vehicles sat parked near the planes. Hannibal looked around with satisfaction as the portal closed behind them with a pop.

“What do you think? Does Dan know how to pack or what?” Hannibal asked with an added chuckle.

Harry smiled as he took off his backpack. “Looks like it,” he replied. “You know what they say. When you’ve got it, flaunt it.”

Selina smiled at the comment as she, Nathanael, and Hannibal followed Harry’s example and removed their packs, sitting them in front of the tents.

“I think we should double check this hangar and the perimeter once more before we get too comfortable,” Nathanael commented while looking around, “just to familiarize ourselves with the area.”

“Good idea,” Hannibal agreed as he opened a pocket on his pack and produced a rolled up bull whip. “Nathanael…you and Selina check out these old P-47 Thunderbolts and the far side of the hangar. Harry and I will check this side and the office area,” Hannibal ordered.

“Watch out for the bird-eaters,” Selina cautioned. “Dan said they had nested in the office area.”

“We will,” Hannibal replied soberly, seeing Nathanael and Selina disappeared among the old planes. Hannibal and Harry advanced into a dark cavity that led away from the main hangar into the office area. They pulled small flashlights from their belts and pushed through the growth in the hall. It was dark, and heavy cobwebs barred their advance. Vines hung down from the ceiling and crawled all along the walls and floor. Hannibal briefly paused as he looked over the hallway, which was about sixty feet long with several doors to the right. On the far end, light shined through the broken windows in the double doors. He immediately noticed that the cobwebs had been pushed through recently by what he decided was the team who set up the base camp. “Come on,” Hannibal said, waving to Harry.

“Looks like Dan wasn’t kidding about the spiders,” Harry murmured, noticing the webbing coating everything. “These webs are huge.”

“Yeah,” Hannibal agreed. “Be alert, bud. These are fresh webs so the spiders may still be around and active.”

“Right,” Harry replied.

They walked slowly down the hall toward the end doors. About half way to the end, Harry noticed several large palm-sized fuzzy spiders crawling on Hannibal’s back. He then became aware that he had several spiders on himself as well. “Hey,” Harry called out softly but urgently. “I think we have acquired some unwanted passengers, Hannibal.”

Hannibal stopped in his tracks and remained cool as he noticed one of the spiders on this shoulder, eyeing him. “Hmmm... Bird-eaters akin to the giant tarantulas of the Amazon basin, but not as big; Dan was right. This is truly unusual. They aren’t usually found this far south. They usually stick to the rain forests far to the north of here,” he said in an intrigued tone as he carefully brushed the spiders off him with the whip. “But that does explain the size of these webs. Now just stay calm and don’t move. These guys are venomous as shit. It’ll hurt like hell if they bite you.” Harry froze while Hannibal proceeded to brush them off him.

“Is their venom lethal?” Harry asked.

“No,” Hannibal stated as he knocked the last of ten spiders off Harry. “The bird-eater’s venom is not lethal to humans, but it’s not nice to us either. It’s about as bad as being stung by a bell hornet. Hmmm…it’s strange. These spiders tend to be very aggressive but for some reason, they’re rather docile right now. Maybe the cool temperatures and altitude are slowing them down.”

The spiders scurried away as Harry shuddered. “Maybe,” Harry replied. “But I’m not very fond of any spider crawling on me, especially when they’re that big.”

“Me neither; those giant spiders in Tiamat cured me of that,” Hannibal agreed as they made their way to the doors, going outside on to the airfield.

“Why do you think they’re here when they’re not indigenous to this area?” Harry asked as they scanned the airstrip from the hangar door.

“Who knows,” Hannibal answered. “Maybe somebody had one as a pet and it got away or several of them hitched a ride in some cargo out of the Amazon. They could have gotten here any number of ways and used the hangar as nesting area. Regardless, we’re going to have to be careful in the hangar because of them.”

“I’m all for getting rid of them,” Harry admitted. “The last thing I want to see is one of those shits sitting on me when I wake up.”

“I think that might be a wise precaution,” Hannibal admitted, turning his full attention to the airstrip before him. “But let’s finish our recon before we play exterminator.”

“Okay,” Harry agreed as they stepped onto the airfield.

The airfield was a complete wreck with huge holes blown everywhere and burned-out equipment. The forest loomed immediately behind the hangar and around the entire airstrip, which was large enough to handle planes like those in the hangar. The hangar itself sat on one end of the strip and a small road led off into the forest about seventy yards away. Hannibal surveyed the scene with a frown. “What a mess. Someone really went to a lot of trouble to destroy this place. Watch your step,” he warned Harry. “There may still be some live ordinance out here. The last thing we need is for one of us to blow a limb off by accident.” They walked out a few paces and stopped in front of a crater with a burned-out jeep in it. He squatted down, examining the wreckage and the ground. “This jeep was destroyed by a rocket. Just look before you step around here,” he ordered. They scouted the perimeter of the hangar, and then returned to the hallway where Hannibal said, “Let’s check these rooms. I’ll meet you at the end of the hall.”

Harry nodded and they split up, each taking a room. Five minutes later, Harry called out, “Hannibal…I think you need to see this.”

“What is it?” Hannibal asked as he came out of the last room on the hall. “Did you find something?”

“Yes,” Harry replied urgently. “I think I found the spider’s nest in this room. I saw webs everywhere with an egg sack the size of a five-gallon bucket hanging in the web. But there’s a bunch of spiders in there acting very weird.”

Hannibal’s face fell as he darted to Harry’s position in front of the door to the fourth office. The door was shut, but it had a sixteen-inch square window up near the top that had been broken out. An over-abundance of silk lined the broken window in the door. “When I saw that broken window lined with silk, I decided to look before I opened the door. I’m glad I did. That room crawls. I saw at least a dozen spiders like the ones that dropped on us out here in there, maybe more.”

Hannibal cautiously peered into the room and saw it encased in thick webbing and a huge egg sack the size of a five-gallon bucket hanging in the far corner. Eighteen of the hand-sized bird-eaters roamed the web and tended to the egg sack. Just then, a bird-eater the size of a giant tarantula jumped into the broken window and reared up with a hiss, spreading its front legs in a provocative display. “Whoa!” Hannibal cried, jumping back from the spider as it confronted him, “Back up, Harry!”

Harry instantly backed away as Hannibal got over the initial fright of seeing the spider. “What is that?” Harry asked. “It’s way bigger than the spider that dropped on us out here.”

Hannibal gazed at the spider with great curiosity as it stood guard, dropping its legs when Hannibal moved back. “It looks like a bird-eater, but it’s the size of a giant tarantula,” he said. “And it has the markings of both species. I bet this is the male of these spiders standing guard over the nest.”

“You don’t suppose the bird-eaters crossbred with the giant tarantulas, do you?” Harry asked as a cold shiver raced down his spine.

“It’s possible,” Hannibal conceded. “But there’s something amiss with this. When I looked into the room and saw the sack, like you I saw eighteen of the spiders like the ones that dropped on us out here working the webs in there and tending to the egg sack. These spiders aren’t normal spiders. They’re acting like ants in an anthill. Both the bird-eaters and the giant tarantulas are generally solitary and only congregate when they need to mate. Never do they come together in these numbers.” A thought hit Hannibal that sent icy chills down his spine. “Harry…I think we may be looking at a potential bioweapon,” he declared. “We must destroy these spiders now. Come on. Let’s get back to the camp and get something to deal with them.”

“I’m all for that,” Harry replied, starting to move.

Hannibal suddenly restrained him. “Hold on, Harry,” he ordered, watching the large spider still eyeing them from the door. “Don’t run…just back down the hall slowly. If we run, it’ll chase us and I doubt we can outrun it.”

“Right,” Harry stated, backing slowly towards the hangar bay. Hannibal followed him, keeping an eye on the big spider guarding the door. Once they entered the hangar, Harry and Hannibal checked themselves for spiders and found none. “Whew,” Harry breathed in relief. “Why do you think the spiders are a bioweapon?”

“Because of the way they’re acting in that room,” Hannibal stated as they walked to the tents. “Only the female should be tending the nest. If she’s a true bird-eater or giant tarantula, she should kill anything that comes into her nest. However, there were a bunch of other spiders in there doing her job and those aren’t hatchlings in there. In fact, I didn’t even see the female that laid those eggs before the big one jumped into that window. She must be hiding and that worries me. Spiders don’t act like that; not any spiders that I know of.”

“So, how do we deal with this?” Harry queried.

“We burn them, or at very least seal them in that room,” Hannibal declared. “But first we need to let Nathanael and Selina know the spiders are more dangerous than we thought.”

“Okay,” Harry answered.

Upon reaching the tents, Hannibal and Harry looked and did not see anyone. “Selina! Nathanael! Did you find anything?” Hannibal called out.

Silence reigned for a few seconds, and then Nathanael stepped out from around the nearest plane. “There’s nothing over here,” Nathanael said as he walked up. “Just several old 10 gauge steel plates and other scrap scattered around. It looks like they may have been used to repair the planes.”

“Why do you say that?” Harry asked.

“Because the plates have holes bored in them at regular intervals along the edges for rivet placement or bolts,” Nathanael asked.

“That’s strange,” Harry murmured. “By the way, where’s Selina?”

Hannibal sensed her location and said, “Up there. Hey Selina…What’re you doing up there?”

Selina smiled as she looked down from her perch high in the tree. She then flitted effortlessly down the tree with the agility of a monkey and the speed of a cat. She dove off the lower limbs and somersaulted, landing on the fuselage of the nearest plane with one knee down, in a crouching position. “My, you’re a nimble little minx, aren’t you?” Hannibal crowed as she slid off the plane and walked over to them.

“I just couldn’t help myself. It’s just so much fun,” she purred. “I didn’t have much chance to work out like that at the Temple.”

“So, why were you up there?” Harry asked.

“Dan mentioned someone trying to hide activity in here so I decided to take the high road with my search. I figured an aerial search would be more profitable and was right. There’s a trap door over here,” Selina said as she walked twenty feet from the campsite and reached down, grabbing a large iron ring in the floor. “Give me a hand,” she ordered as everyone followed her to the ring. “I saw the ring and outline of the hatch from the tree. There’s something below this thing someone went to a lot of trouble to hide.”

“I can see that,” Hannibal stated. “But before we open this thing up, I should let you know we have a problem.”

“And what would that be?” Nathanael asked.

“Harry found the spider’s nest in the fourth office,” Hannibal reported. “These bird-eaters aren’t normal bird-eaters. They’re some kind of crossbreed, maybe some form of bioweapon.”

“That’s a serious allegation,” Nathanael replied. “What makes you think that?”

“The spiders in the nest are acting like ants,” Hannibal replied. “Come see for yourself.”

“We’d better take a look, Dad,” Selina said. “Hannibal’s not someone to make rash statements.”

“I know,” Nathanael stated. “Lead the way, Hannibal.”

Hannibal led them back into the office hallway. “It’s in the fourth room from the front,” he said. “Approach it very carefully and if the big spider guarding the entrance isn’t in the way, you may be able to see the egg sack. It’s the size of a five gallon bucket.”

Cautiously, they approached the fourth office. “Keep your eyes open,” Hannibal warned. “If these spiders are some form of bioweapon, then their bites may be lethal.”

Nathanael edged toward the door slowly, smelling the sour stench of death emanating from the room. “You may be right about these spiders,” he said while inching toward the door. “I smell decaying death emanating from that room.”

“Careful dad,” Selina urged as Nathanael peeked into the room through the silk-lined broken window.

“Upon my word,” Nathanael purred in amazement, seeing what Hannibal told him and more. “I see what you mean. Moreover, I see several desiccated human bodies wrapped up in the web of the room. And that sack is being tended to by the spiders much like workers would tend to a queen. You may be right about these spiders, Hannibal.” Without warning, the large guard spider that threatened Hannibal earlier jumped into the broken window with a hiss, raising its legs in a provocative display. Nathanael quickly stepped back as it hissed. Noticing the venom dripping from its one-inch fangs, Nathanael’s eyebrow rose as his scientific curiosity kicked in. “Well, look at you, so fearsome there,” he said to the spider.

The spider lurched forward just a bit, hissing back. “Is this the guard spider, Hannibal?” Nathanael asked.

“It is,” Hannibal stated, drawing his pistol. “It’s very aggressive, much more so than the smaller spiders that dropped on us out here earlier.”

“I can see that,” Nathanael stated. “He’s a wild one, all right, and this spider is very intelligent. I can sense it.”

“Is it any known species of this planet, Dad?” Selina asked.

“This species is unknown, princess,” Nathanael stated. “I’ve studied the spider species of this planet extensively because of the spiders we found at Tiamat. No one on this planet has ever seen this type of spider before. It’s definitely a new species. We need to capture it for study.”

“You have to be kidding,” Harry balked. “It’s dangerous.” As if to prove Harry’s point, the huge guard spider jumped at Nathanael unexpectedly. “Look out!” Harry shouted.

Nathanael stepped to the side as Hannibal fired a single shot from his pistol. The bullet struck the spider in the thorax, killing it instantly as it flew back against the wall. The bullet penetrated the wall, flying into the room. Hisses rose from the room as three more guard spiders and a dozen slightly smaller spiders swarmed the window. “Now you’ve done it, Hannibal,” Harry rebuked. “You made them mad.”

“I suggest a strategic retreat,” Nathanael stated urgently. “Your bullet disturbed the nest. We need to let them calm down.”

“Right,” Hannibal agreed. “Don’t turn your back on them and don’t run.” Everyone slowly backed toward the hangar bay as the spiders poured out of the hole like yellow jackets whose hive had been disturbed. In less than a minute, they had reached the hangar and secured the doors to the hall. “Man…that was close,” Hannibal breathed with relief.

“But we’re not out of the woods yet,” Nathanael stated. “I hate to say it, but I think you may be right about those spiders. It’s obvious they’re a crossbreed of the giant tarantula and the South American bird-eaters. Their markings show that. Moreover, they’re definitely acting in a hive fashion, which indicates someone or something may have bred them like that. We unquestionably need to secure and get rid of that nest before we do anything else, otherwise, we may end up like those poor fellows I saw in that office.”

“But how do we do it?” Harry asked. “Hannibal said we needed to burn them or seal them in, but we didn’t bring anything like that.”

“I’d suggest first sealing off every way into that office,” Nathanael suggested. “Then we can figure out how to exterminate the spiders afterwards.”

“With what?” Harry asked bluntly.

“Those are steel doors,” Selina reported. “If we block that window with a plate and fasten it to the door, they shouldn’t be able to get through it.”

“Good call, Selina,” Hannibal stated. “Nathanael, didn’t you say there were some old steel plates on the far side of the hangar?”

“I did,” Nathanael stated. “But there’s nothing we can use as fasteners there. We’ll have to call Dan to get some.”

“Then let’s do that,” Hannibal replied, pulling out his communicator. In seconds, he called Dan and updated him the situation. Two minutes later, the portal opened in front of the planes. Dan came through with Chris carrying a special rivet gun, a large box of rivets, and Jerry hauling a backpack sprayer on his back loaded with poison.

“Sorry about the nest,” Dan apologized. “I’m as surprised as you about it. I’m going to have to have a talk with Gus’ team. They were supposed to check the offices and outside for hazards. They obviously didn’t do what they were supposed to.”

“Don’t grill them too hard,” Hannibal ordered. “The spiders may have spooked them when they checked the rooms. I’m glad they didn’t go in room four. If they’d opened that door, those spiders would have swarmed and killed them. I’m sure of it after what we just saw.”

“Okay,” Dan replied. “But I’m still going to scold them for it. They really dropped the ball on it and furthermore, they lied to me about it. They need to be reminded that lying cannot be tolerated.”

“Very well,” Hannibal stated. “I’ll let you decide what punishment they should have. Maybe dishwashing detail for a month would be good. I know they don’t like doing dishes.”

“That’s a very good idea, Hannibal,” Dan chimed. “But for now, let’s deal with your spider problem. Jerry, is the spray ready?”

“It sure is,” Jerry stated. “This witch’s brew should kill any spider that tries to attack us while we’re working.”

“Good,” Dan stated. “Now, let’s get to work. Where do you want to start, Hannibal?”

“With the broken window on the door to the fourth office,” Hannibal stated. “It’s the most obvious way into the nest. Then we’ll go into the other rooms and seal the vents.”

“What about outside windows?” Chris asked.

“For some reason, office four doesn’t have a window to the outside,” Nathanael reported. “I noticed it when I looked in there. That room may have been where the money and records were kept.”

“Could be,” Dan admitted. “Let’s get those plates and get started.”

Nathanael trotted to where the old steel plates laid and picked up five of them. Harry accompanied him and picked up three more. “This should make for a good start,” Nathanael stated. “Did you bring anything that we can secure the door itself with, Dan?”

Dan nodded, pulling a box of long tungsten carbide nails out of his pocket. “These nails should do the job,” he stated. “The riveter has enough power to drive these carbide nails through the steel door into the doorframe.”

“Excellent,” Hannibal crowed. “Let’s do this.” With that, he led everyone back into the hall.

“Careful, guys,” he said softly. “Jerry, get up here with that spray.” Jerry came to the front with the sprayer primed and ready to go.

“Keep your eyes open,” Nathanael cautioned as he sat down all but one of the plates next to the wall just inside the hall doors. Harry put his plates down next to the other plates at the same time. Nathanael quickly moved to the front of the group with Hannibal and Jerry. When he saw one of the guard spiders and five smaller spiders crawling around the broken window, Nathanael stated, “Jerry, on the count of three spray the spiders on that door. When they fall off, I’ll slap this plate over the hole and then Chris and Dan can nail it up here. Got it?”

“Ready whenever you are,” Jerry said, taking aim on the spider. “God, those are some big-ass spiders.”

“Ready here,” Dan and Chris called out simultaneously.

“We’re ready too,” Hannibal stated, his pistol drawn. Harry and Selina drew their pistols as well, just to be safe.

“Keep an eye on the ceiling too,” Selina suggested to Harry, who nodded.

“Okay,” Nathanael said, “One, two, three!” Jerry opened fire with his sprayer, dowsing the spiders on the door. The smaller spiders writhed and curled up in seconds as the poison finished them off. The guard reared up and hissed, drinking a sizable portion of the poison before falling back into the nest. Hisses rose from the other side of the door as Nathanael darted forward, slapping the plate over the broken window in the door just as another swarm of spiders tried to escape. Nathanael crushed several of the spiders as he pressed the plate against the door. “Dan…Chris, secure this plate right now!” he shouted. Dan and Chris quickly moved in tandem, with Dan placing the rivets in the plate holes while Chris operated the rivet gun. The rivet gun slammed the rivets into the metal door, safely securing the plate within thirty seconds, but further stirring up the spiders behind the door.

Nathanael backed off and sighed. “Good job, guys,” he commended. “But we’re not done. Let’s seal the vents in the other rooms before these spiders find a way out of there.” Grabbing the other plates, Nathanael led the team securing the rooms, starting with the rooms to either side of the nest. Hannibal, Harry, and Selina kept close watch on the ceilings of the hall and the rooms as Nathanael, Dan, Chris, and Jerry worked. In ten minutes after sealing every vent and hole they could find, everyone gathered at the door to office four where the nest sat. Dan nailed the door shut himself with the riveter and the carbide nails. Once he sank the last nail, he sighed deeply.

“That should hold those little monsters,” Dan stated.

“But it’s not going to hold them forever,” Selina pointed out. “They’ll eventually find a way out of there. We have to destroy them.”

“And we will,” Hannibal stated. “But we can’t burn them right now. It’ll draw attention to us. Once we locate the ancient road to Amacia and leave the hangar, we’ll burn this hangar to the ground. I’m sure we can find enough explosives at Tiamat to do that. Am I correct, Dan?”

“No problem,” Dan stated. “We have plenty at the Temple. A couple of blocks of C-4 will obliterate this place and the spiders with it. Just call me when you’re ready to do it.”

“Count on it,” Hannibal replied with a smile.

“Dan, can I get you to do something for me?” Nathanael asked.

“Sure,” Dan replied. “What is it?”

“Take these dead spiders back to Tiamat and study them,” Nathanael ordered. “We don’t know what they are, and Hannibal is convinced they may be some form of bioweapon. If we study them, then we may be able to determine if they’re a natural species that evolved here or if they’re some kind of bioweapon created in a lab.”

“Very well,” Dan stated. “But first I need to get something I can secure these specimens in. They look dead, but I’m not going to take any chances.”

“I understand all too well,” Hannibal answered. “Go get your equipment, Dan. We’ll stay here until you return with it.”

“Come on, Chris, Jerry,” Dan stated. “Let’s go.” With that, they left the hall, leaving Hannibal, Selina, Nathanael, and Harry standing there.

“They’re really upset in there,” Selina observed. “I can hear and sense them. Our blocking off their escape routes has them really pissed. It sounds like a hornet’s nest that’s been badly disturbed.”

“I sure hope we found all the escape routes,” Harry stated. “I really don’t want them coming after me in my sleep.”

“I think we’ve safely imprisoned them,” Nathanael stated. “I plugged every hole that smelled of those spiders. We should be safe for now, but Selina’s right. They sound very upset.”

A couple minutes later, Dan and Jerry returned with two large specimen boxes with locks on them, a pair of tongs, and rubber gloves worn by both men. They opened the boxes and cautiously picked up the guard spider killed by the poison and the one killed by Hannibal’s bullet earlier with the tongs, putting them in one box. After locking the box, they picked up the smaller spiders killed by the poison spray using the tongs, putting them in the second box. After securing both boxes, Dan sighed. “We’ll run some tests on these things,” he said, “and do some checking around to see if anyone has manufactured these little beasts.”

“Let me know what you find,” Hannibal stated as Dan and Jerry picked up the specimen containers.

“You got it, Hannibal,” Dan said as everyone returned to the hangar bay. “If you will excuse us, we have a lot of work to do on these spiders.”

“And we still have to finish securing our camp,” Hannibal reported. “Thanks for helping out on the spider problem.”

“Hey, it’s no problem,” Dan chimed. “We’ll see you later. Give us a call if you need anything else.”

“We will,” Hannibal stated as Dan and Jerry walked through the portal to Tiamat. Seconds later, the portal disappeared with a pop.

“Well, now that the spiders have been contained, let’s take a look at what’s beneath your trap door, Selina,” Hannibal state, heading for the large iron ring Selina found in the floor earlier.

“Harry, get a rope,” Hannibal said as they covered the distance. Harry quickly retrieved a rope and joined them at the iron ring. Hannibal looked closely at the floor and saw a seam concealed in the dirt around the ring. “Hmmm,” he murmured, squatting down and brushing the dirt away with his hands, revealing the edges of a trap door. “This is a pretty stout hatch. Harry, tie the rope on the ring.”

“Right,” Harry said, tying the rope on the iron ring.

Once everyone got on the rope, Hannibal said, “Okay now…heave!” They pulled together and a six-foot square slab of the floor rose, revealing a trap door of six inches of concrete. The slab rose on end and slammed to the floor after passing the balance point. The noise of it crashing against the floor echoed through the hangar. Gathering around the open hatch, everyone saw steps descending into the cavity to a previously unknown level.

“Well, how about that,” Nathanael purred, “a secret room.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed, “and someone went to a lot of trouble to hide it too. Something smells here, and it isn’t those spiders.”

“I agree,” Selina stated. “Something about that hole just doesn’t sit right with me since someone went to considerable trouble to conceal it.”

“Come on,” Hannibal said as he walked to the trap door with his team. “Flashlights on and guns up. We don’t know what’s down there. I certainly don’t want to stumble into another nest of those spiders,” he ordered as he started down the steps. Everyone pulled their pistols and flashlights, following Hannibal down the stairs. Tree roots clung to the walls and dangled from the ceiling. He carefully descended the stairs twenty feet and a narrow passage lay before them with a tangle of broken roots and old cobwebs hanging everywhere. Hannibal shined the flashlight everywhere as he carefully pushed through the growth.

“It looks like we’re not the first to come here,” Nathanael observed. “These roots and cobwebs have been disturbed recently, and not by our people.”

“I noticed that,” Hannibal replied, “and I don’t like it.”

The passage stretched for thirty feet and opened up into a room forty foot square by ten foot in height. Hannibal stood still and shined his light about the room as Harry, Selina, and Nathanael came in. He holstered his pistol as he saw the room filled with dozens of crates of every shape and size. Everyone followed Hannibal’s example, holstering his or her pistols as well. “What is this?” Harry asked as Hannibal went forth to examine the crates.

Pulling out his combat knife, Hannibal used it to open the nearest crate and his face fell. “Oh, man,” he declared in a concerned tone. “These are new mortar shells. What’re brand new mortars doing at this abandoned airfield?” Harry, Selina, and Nathanael pressed forward to see.

“Holy shit!” Harry cursed. “It sure is…a whole crate of mortars.” Harry looked closer and added, “These are of Russian make too. They still have the markings on them.”

“No kidding,” Nathanael replied, seeing the Russian writing on the shells. “This can’t be good.”

“Spread out…let’s see what we’ve got here,” Hannibal ordered and everyone spread out and began to open and examine the crates.

“We have AK-47’s over here,” Harry called out.

A few seconds later Nathanael declared, “There are land mines and claymores over here.”

Selina ripped the top off a crated and announced, “I have bricks of C-4 plastic explosive here…a whole crate of it. It also has the detonators in a separate box inside the crate. It looks like we don’t need any C-4 from the Temple to take care of the spiders now. There’s enough explosive here to level a small town.”

“So it would seem,” Nathanael replied.

Hannibal opened another crate and he said, “Grenades, hundreds of grenades…what’s going on here? What’s all this hardware doing here?”

“I have RPGs and ammunition for them,” Nathanael called out again.

Selina opened another crate and she said, “Speaking of ammunition, there’s a huge pile of it here. There has to be hundreds of thousands of rounds here.”

“What kind of ammunition?” Harry asked.

“It appears to be 7.62 by 39,” Selina answered.

“It’s the ammunition for the AK-47’s,” Hannibal said as he opened yet another crate. “Lord have mercy; there are full size sensor-operated twenty millimeter machine guns here.” He ripped another top off near it and found it filled with drums of ammunition for the machine guns. “And here’s the ammunition,” he added.

Harry gasped after he opened another crate that was the size of a coffin. “Oh, man…guys. I think you need to see this,” he called out urgently and everyone gathered around the crate Harry had opened. Everyone gawked in stupefaction at what lay there: a crate full of gold bullion.

Hannibal reached into the crate and heaved a sixteen-pound gold bar out. “My God…what’s going on here?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Hannibal,” Harry answered. “But there is one thing for sure. This stuff isn’t here just to gather dust. Someone means to use this.”

“Check more of the crates,” Hannibal ordered as he replaced the gold bar in the crate. “There may be more of this.” Everyone set about searching even more diligently.

“Hey…There are Barrett .50 caliber rifles over here,” Harry called out after opening another crate.

A few seconds later, Selina declared, “Here is the ammunition for it.”

A minute later, Nathanael announced, “We have a small crate of gold and silver coins over here.”

Everyone merged on Nathanael’s find and Hannibal reached in to procure one of the coins. He looked at it intensely and asked, “Do you know what this is?”

They shook their heads no and Hannibal enlightened them. “This, my friends, is a gold doubloon minted two hundred years ago when the Spanish conquistadors roamed these mountains in search of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold. They never found it, but they did find the Incas and pillaged their empire of every speck of gold they could find,” Hannibal informed as he passed the coin around so everyone could get a close look. “Where in the hell did the people who put this stuff here get these coins?” he inquired.

As he spoke, Selina tore the top off a small crate about the size of a large suitcase right next to the crate with the doubloons and she said as she reached into the crate, “Fellas. If you think that’s a lot, then take a look at this.” When she pulled her hand out, she had a handful of precious stones.

“Whoa!” Harry exclaimed. “Look at those diamonds, rubies, and emeralds!”

Everyone looked into the crate and found it filled with precious stones of all shapes, sizes, and types: diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, opals, etc.... Hannibal took a diamond the size of a grape from her hand and examined it. “What in the world is all this treasure doing here? We’ve done stumbled onto something big here and I’m sure it’s not good,” he said as he tossed the diamond back into the crate. Selina did likewise with what she was holding.

“You know,” Nathanael said. “It seems to me that this treasure is meant as payment for something big. I believe we’ve done stumbled upon something sinister here, so we’re going to have to be very careful. Those spiders may have been just the tip of the iceberg.”

“I believe you’re right,” Hannibal agreed. “This hardware wasn’t stored here for any reason. There’s enough money here in these crates to pretty much buy any kind of weapon you want, including nukes or chemical weapons. Someone is planning something big with this stuff. Come on. Let’s see what else is here.”

Harry went to the far corner of the bunker at a whim and opened a crate seven feet long by four feet wide by four feet tall. His face paled and he called out urgently, “Hannibal…you need to come take a look at this.”

Hannibal caught the urgency in Harry’s tone and rushed over. “What is it?” he asked.

“I don’t think they need to buy chemical weapons,” Harry replied in a deeply concerned tone, “because if I’m not mistaken, it’s already here.”

Nathanael and Selina approached as Hannibal and Harry looked into the crate, seeing large cone-shaped devices carefully packed into the crates. The devices had strange windows on them that revealed three strings of translucent green balls...each ball two inches in diameter. Hannibal’s concern went nuclear as he recognized the ordinance. “Oh, shit,” he breathed. “This is bad; really bad.”

“What is it?” Selina asked.

“These are VX nerve gas warheads,” Hannibal declared. “There’s enough VX here to kill several million people.”

“How do you know?” Nathanael asked.

“Because I’ve built and used these kinds of devices when I was one of them,” Hannibal growled. “If just one of those little balls ruptures, it would kill us in less than ten seconds, bursting our lungs and heart while melting our skin off. It’s about the most toxic brew mankind has ever concocted, so whatever we do, we cannot let anything happen that will break those warheads open.”

“Oh, dear,” Nathanael replied. “I guess you’re right to be concerned then.”

“What’re we going to do about it?” Selina asked. “We can’t let this nerve gas be used on innocent people.”

“And we’re not,” Hannibal declared sternly. “I’m going to call Dan and we’re going to dispose of this stuff where it cannot be used.”

“Shouldn’t we check to see if there’s any more of it?” Harry asked.

“Yes,” Hannibal replied. “Absolutely…check every crate in here. We have to be sure there isn’t any more of these things.”

The search resumed with much more vigor as they opened every crate. In fifteen minutes, they opened every crate, finding all manner of rockets, grenades, machine guns, ammunition, and mines. They, however, didn’t find any more chemical weapons or treasure stashes other than what they had already uncovered. After every crate had been investigated, Hannibal personally sealed up the VX crate before they returned to the camp. Twilight had fallen and they built a fire. Hannibal switched on the laptop and activated the perimeter defenses after which they settled down around the fire in some fold-up camping chairs, having a dinner of sandwiches, potato chips, and water.

“What do you suppose all that hardware is down there for, especially those VX warheads?” Harry asked as he nibbled on his dinner. “Who in their right mind would want to use them?”

“Someone who has a serious screw loose,” Hannibal replied coldly. “I can’t let that VX be used. Too many innocent people would die if it is.”

“What about the rest of that stuff?” Selina asked. “It’s just as dangerous as the VX.”

“I’m going to destroy it too,” Hannibal declared. “It’ll also allow us to destroy the spider infestation we just found. There’s enough ordinance down there to wipe out a city. If we hadn’t found the VX, I may not have thought something sinister is going on here. Someone or something has great plans for that hardware.”

“I agree,” Nathanael replied. “All of what we saw is new hardware too. People don’t horde hardware like this unless they’re preparing to wage war. Those VX warheads show how serious these people are. So, how are you going to deal with the warheads?”

“The portal is the only way to deal with it,” Hannibal answered. “We use the portal to remove the warheads from the bunker. Once we secure them, we open the portal to somewhere off the planet and simply shove them through. My thought was to dump them in orbit near the sun where the sun’s radiation would destroy the VX. Burning it is the only way to get rid of it.”

“Then let’s get rid of it now,” Selina suggested. “We have the technology. Call Dan and tell him what is going on. I can see that you’re not going to relax until that nerve gas is dealt with.”

“So true,” Hannibal said, rising from his seat. He pulled the communicator out of his pocket and called the Temple.

“What do you need, Hannibal?” Dan’s voice returned through the device. Hannibal explained the situation to Dan and he replied, “Give me ten minutes to gather a crew, Hannibal.”

“Call me when you’re ready,” Hannibal said into the communicator. “And be sure to have the antidote on hand just in case. I’ll be waiting in the bunker. Open the portal on my signal.”

“Yes, sir,” Dan answered, “will do.”

Hannibal picked up the flashlight and returned to the bunker without finishing his supper. “Go with him, Selina,” Nathanael ordered.

Selina nodded and followed Hannibal with her flashlight.

“I’ve never seen Hannibal so upset about finding a weapon,” Nathanael stated.

“That’s because he knows from experience what VX can do,” Harry replied soberly. “He’s not exaggerating the danger those warheads pose. There’s enough VX down there to kill every person in New York City.”

“How does it work?” Nathanael asked.

“Those warheads go on short to medium range missiles,” Harry explained. “From the size of those warheads, I’d say they’re for medium range missiles. You fire the missile with that type of warhead at a target and it explodes above the target, releasing the toxin in an atomized form that drifts on the air currents as it settles over the target. It will kill every animal, human, and insect it touches in the most grotesque manner.”

“Oh,” Nathanael murmured. “I understand now. It’s a weapon for destroying people and not the infrastructure of a target.”

“Right,” Harry said. “Only the major governments of the planet have VX with only a treaty between them keeping them from using it. But sometimes, shit happens and some of it gets loose. This may be one of those cases. I’d like to know how eight state-of-the-art VX warheads ended up in this hanger. Someone’s planning on killing a lot of people; that’s for sure.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Nathanael stated, rising from his seat. “Come on…let’s give Hannibal a hand.” Harry nodded, getting up and following Nathanael into the bunker. When they reached the room, the portal lay open on the wall behind the VX crate. Hannibal, Dan, Selina, Chris, Jerry, and two other men were carefully lifting the crate. Nathanael and Harry rushed to help, adding their strength to the crew.

“Good timing,” Hannibal said as Nathanael stepped in. “This thing is really heavy. We must be gentle. Now everyone move on three: one, two three.” With that, everyone carried the heavy crate through the portal to a waiting dolly. “Easy…easy,” Hannibal instructed as they gingerly set the crate of VX warheads down on the dolly. A relieved sigh escaped Hannibal’s lips. “Okay Dan…let’s find a good place to dump this shit,” he ordered, following Dan to the control panel of the portal.

“I think I have a good place for this toxic mess,” Dan declared as he reached the controls. “I was monitoring the sun before you call about the spiders, checking on some strange readings we’ve been getting concerning it. The sun is becoming increasingly erratic and energetic. Radiation levels immediately around it are rising quicker than they have in the past. I think if we dump this shit inside Mercury’s orbit, the increased solar activity and radiation will incinerate the warheads with no trouble.”

“That sounds very good,” Hannibal stated. “Let’s go ahead and open the portal as close to the sun as you safely can. Make the portal aperture just larger than the crate and dolly and use a solar filter at maximum so we don’t get blinded when it opens.”

“Right,” Dan replied. “Opening the portal three million miles from the sun with the solar filter at maximum; that’s as close as I safely get.” The portal opened in a small ring just six feet across, hued in deep blue. The raging surface of the sun shined through the portal, casting shadows even with the filter a maximum, and hurting the eyes of everyone.

“Okay, let’s get rid of this shit!” Hannibal ordered, sprinting to the crate. “Don’t look into the portal either if you want to keep your eyes.” He, Nathanael, Jerry, and Chris pushed the dolly and crate hard enough that its momentum sent it through the portal into the blistering space above the sun. Once crate fell into solar orbit, Dan closed the portal while watching the crate of chemical weapons float in the superheated plasma coming off the sun in the hologram. Everyone gathered around and watched as the unshielded warheads exploded with a flash less than a minute after being dumped.

“The weapons are neutralized,” Dan said with a smile. “At least that VX will not be used against innocent people.”

“That makes me feel a lot better,” Hannibal replied, relief evident in his tone. “But I know whoever bought that shit is going to be majorly pissed when they find their VX missing.”

“It can’t be helped,” Nathanael said. “After everything we discovered it was the right thing to destroy those warheads.”

“Indeed,” Hannibal agreed. “Now, let’s get back to the hangar and relax. And since we’re throwing monkey wrenches into the plans of whoever bought those weapons, I want the treasure removed from the bunker, Dan. That way the prick can’t use it to buy any more weapons.”

“Consider it done,” Dan replied as he opened the portal to the camp in the hangar. “Just relax. I’ll take care of it. What about the other weapons?”

“Leave them,” Hannibal ordered. “If we’ve landed in the middle of a coup like I think, we may need them. I’ll destroy what we don’t use as a way to neutralize the spider infestation in the hangar. Whoever stockpiled those weapons and brought those spiders there isn’t going to use them against innocent people.”

“Right,” Dan stated. “Let me know if you need anything else.”

“I will,” Hannibal answered, patting Dan on the back. “Come on, guys. Let’s go.” With that, Hannibal walked back through the portal to hangar with Selina, Harry, and Nathanael. Once through, Hannibal sat down in his folding camping chair with a sigh as the portal vanished with a pop.

Selina handed Hannibal his ration. “Now eat something, Hannibal,” she ordered. “We have a big day tomorrow.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Hannibal replied, taking his dinner ration and nibbling on it.

Everyone else sat down and continued their interrupted supper in silence. “Now that we’re not sitting on top of a chemical weapon’s dump and the spiders are locked up, where do we go from here?” Harry asked after a couple minutes of silence.

“West,” Hannibal answered as he finished eating. Selina sat there in silence as the conversation ensued, finishing her portion. “The map shows the highway to Amacia is around here somewhere. We’ll need to scout the area in order to locate it,” Hannibal stated. “We can start to look for it tomorrow.”

“I don’t know about you fellas, but I’m going to bed,” Selina said as she rose and went to one of the tents with her pack. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“That’s not a bad idea. The time change will undoubtedly cause us some problems. I’ll be along in a few minutes,” Hannibal agreed, directing his final comments to Selina.

“You’re right,” Nathanael said. “The time shift has already started to wear on me.”

“Me too,” Harry agreed. “But shouldn’t someone stand watch? Whoever had that VX stashed here will obviously be keeping an eye on it.”

“No. I don’t think it’s necessary at this point,” Hannibal answered. “Number one: no one knows we’re here and number two: the perimeter we have set up will deal with any intruders, including something as small as the spiders. Besides, if anyone is stupid enough to try and breech the perimeter, if the alarm doesn’t wake us, the gunfire will.” Harry nodded and they talked for another fifteen minutes before going into their respective tents for the night, taking their packs in the tents with them.

Hannibal went into the tent where Selina lay quietly in that twilight zone between being asleep and awake. Her clothes lay piled in a corner next to her pack. She lay in the two-man sleeping bag wearing her pajamas consisting of sweat pants and a tank-top T-shirt with her head laying on one of two small pillows that came with the sleeping bag. He looked down at her, noticed her state of slumber, and quietly changed into his sweats. He then turned out the light, laid down next to her with his head on the other pillow, and zipped the bag up. He shifted to get comfortable and as he did, Selina moved over close to him, snuggling close to him. “You know, this is the first time I’ve been camping since I was six,” she purred quietly in his ear.

“Really,” Hannibal answered, turning to face her. “You’ve never camped like this before?”

Selina smiled sweetly at him. “No,” she murmured. “Not like this. I actually like this. It’s something new.” She slid one of her arms over his chest.

Hannibal kissed her on the forehead and said, “Sleep, my princess. Sleep. Tomorrow, we face our destiny.” Selina settled down as Hannibal put an arm around her and she purred, putting them both to sleep in minutes. The night passed for everyone without incident.

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