Night Intercept -- 7-20-2006 - Ramon Gandia (v9)

February, 1954

"Duster 54, Duster 54, this is Tehran Control. You are cleared to Nowshahr NDB via direct, angels 3-0, intercept vectors to follow. Target appears to be Soviet fighter, angels 2-5, heading 210. Be advised solo intercept procedure in effect, flight leader cannot join, do not close within 1 mile of target. Border crossing on bogey expected at 0415. Contact Nowshahr control channel B when able, over."

In the cockpit of the F86, First Lieutenant Stack replied: "Tehran Control, Duster 54, roger, now climbing thru angels 2-0, Nowshahr's on ADF, fuel status 8 thousand." Stack looked out his right and left sides and could see the rounded nose of his aluminum drop tanks. His F86 was running well, the only worry being the solo intercept ahead of him.

Normally, a pair of F86's was sent up to investigate aircraft that came up to the border, but this night the flight leader's plane evidenced a fault in the Electric-Electric control system. The F86 had hydraulically boosted controls with an electric backup. Without a working backup the plane could not be safely dispatched. Stack would be doing it alone tonight.

He thought about this. He had never intercepted a Soviet plane alone at night. His experience in Korea had been all daytime. Now, looking out of his cockpit at the solid clouds, he felt unsure of himself. He was flying on instruments, and at the mercy of the radar operators.

"Duster 54, switch now to Channel B. Good hunting," Tehran Control said.

February 1954

Over the Caspian Sea, miles to the north, Valerina was also flying in solid clouds. The Radar Warning light was blinking, and she knew Soviet radar had her pegged. If not for the weather, Soviet MiG 15's would have nailed her by now. She had the throttle as slow as possible, to conserve fuel.

Back at Baku Air Base, Valerina had watched as the Soviet MiG 15 being wheeled out of the hangar. She knew a bit about MiG 15's for she had gotten lessons in the two seat version, until the lessons were cut off by higher command. Now she was just a courier pilot. Women fighter pilots, apparently, were not as welcome today as they had been during Stalin's days.

Rain, sleet and snow pelted the runway, and there sat this plane, fully fueled with drop tanks. "Well," she found herself muttering, "an opportunity like this does not come often." With that, she strutted out to the plane, looking like any other ground crewman. She yanked off the red ribboned wind locks and intake covers, grabbed the hand holds and swung herself up into the cockpit.

Seated inside the MiG 15, she studied the layout. It was very similar to the one she had studied. The MiG 15, unlike the similar looking American F86, had an electric starter built in, and very simple, reliable systems. Not the Electric, Hydraulic and Hybrid control nightmare of the F86. It was as just as fast, more reliable, and packed bigger guns. In fact, she suspected that most of the maintenance done on these planes was bureaucratic make-work.

She flicked the electric switches on, and was gratified to see that the fuel tanks read full, and that the drop tanks were taking on pressure. A growing whine and a whoosh told her that the engine was lit. All right.

Looking over her right shoulder she saw that pompous ass, Major Jurievich, standing outside the building looking her way. Suddenly he started gesticulating, jumping up and down. In sight, but out of earshot, he looked rather comical. But she could well imagine what he was yelling about. In seconds, the airfield would be on full alert!

The hangars were at the end of the air base, and the runway stretched away into the murk. The wind was not from a favorable direction, but she knew that the runway was extremely long, and ample for her needs. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a guard come out of the ready shack, a Kalashnikov in his hands. No time for the runway. I will use the taxiway. A quick wiggle of the control stick to make sure the controls were free, and she just pushed the throttle smoothly to takeoff torque. But not before a bullet pierced her canopy, missing her head by inches.

The plane hurtled down the taxiway, fully as long as the runway itself, and the plane lifted into the overcast, where clouds and snow swallowed her up.

She was free!

Not that all was perfect. Far from it. She had no flight suit, no helmet and no parachute. The helmet situation was serious. Helmets contained the oxygen mask, microphone and headset. First things first. Turn south over the Caspian, stay out of sight in the clouds at 5000 meters. Then sort this mess out!

Valerina wrapped a scarf around her mouth and stuck the oxygen hose under it. Quick and dirty oxygen mask. If this canopy did not shatter from the bullet hole, she was sure that she could fly at 10,000 meters.

After a while, Valerina eased up to 8000 meters, and fiddled with the radio direction finder. She knew Nowshahr was on 347, and the signal was powerful over the water. She carefully tuned the dials to 347, and was gratified to see the needle swing around and point dead ahead. Not bad for no headphones. All I have to do now is to keep this baby in the air, find good weather, land someplace in Iran and all will be fine.

With that in mind, she settled in for the flight. Soon she would be walking around in New York City. I won't have to put up with that pig, Major Jurievich and his vodka breath and groping hands!

If she didn't get shot down.

February, 1954

"Nowshahr Control, Duster 54 on Channel B, please repeat."

Over the static the voice came faintly: "Duster...... target .....mately 40 miles North ..... 020 degrees ..... two five...."

Stack knew that Nowshahr control, for all the fancy USAF name, was merely a pair of Deuce and a Half Trucks with a commo and radar trailer. It was not a certain thing that the Iranians would ever allow the USAF to build a permanent facility. Under that new guy, Reza Pahlavi, the Persians were acting very independently.

"Nowshahr, this is Duster 54," said Stack slowly. "Understand my target is Angels 2-5, 40 miles, intercept heading 020. Confirm."

Crackle ... pop ... hiss "affirmative...." The voice of Nowshahr control was rapidly fading. And the clouds were solid from 25,000 feet on down, apparently. A weather report from Tehran said this freak winter storm was rapidly enveloping the area. But at 30000 feet Stack was above the clouds. Up ahead, in the direction of the intercept, a full moon illuminating what seemed to be a roiling mass of clouds. His target was somewhere out there. Apparently heading for the port city of Nowshahr, somewhere below him in the developing storm.

These Iranian winter storms reminded him of Korea. A seemingly warm country could turn into a frigid icebox with snow and everything. I bet that next week it will be hot enough to cook eggs on the hood of the Jeep.

"Nowshahr control, this is Duster 54, over." No reply. Just a hiss on his headphones. Well, maybe its my radio. He quickly went to his emergency set and called "Nowshahr Control, Duster 54, Duster 54 on Guard." But only a hiss came out of his headphones. "This is Duster 54, Duster 54, any station please reply on Guard."

Guard was a frequency channel that every Air Force plane and ground facility monitored. When the other channels did not match, you could always talk on the Guard channel. The other three channels, A, B, and C, were set individually to the nature of the mission before each flight. Not that they changed much....

But tonight, neither radio was able to communicate on any of the four channels. He noticed that the Direction Finder was not making sense either. Normally the signal from Nowshahr was adequate on 347 kilocycles, but now the needle was just going in circles. He turned the volume up on the Direction finder. There! Weak in the static and hiss he could hear the Morse Code identifier "E....P....N....S...", but not strong enough to activate his direction finder. Dang storm!

Some 10 minutes later he was surprised by the appearance of a Jet fighter plane coming out of the cloud bank ahead and below him. Bathed in the moonlight, and painted some sort of greenish hue, was a MiG15! Time was 0425 ... it was in Iranian Airspace already!

February, 1954

Coming out of the clouds near where she had dead-reckoned Nowshahr to be, Valerina also caught sight of the other jet ahead and above her. For an instant a cold fear that it was another MiG15 gripped her, but then she saw it was not. Pointy nose, non cruciform tail ... this is a North American F86, the most advanced fighter in the USAF; one that was rumored could briefly break the speed of sound! And as experienced had shown over the Yalu River, also the deadliest.

A lone interceptor was most unusual. She had expected two planes, yet a single airplane would be more dangerous. The lone American pilot would be that much more nervous. A misunderstanding here and I will be a flaming fireball falling to the ground. Or the sea. She reached to her electrical panel and turned on all her lights, including the powerful landing lights. This, she hoped, was a sign of friendship - or surrender. But, she was ready to nose down into the cloud deck if the American tried anything hostile.

With her attention drawn to the other airplane, she did not notice the radio direction finder needle spinning around aimlessly.

February, 1954

In the American fighter plane, Stack saw the Soviet pilot turn on his lights! "Incredible! I bet he is a defector!" He shouted under his oxygen mask.

Keying his radio he called: "Soviet Aircraft over Northern Iran, this is Duster 54, United States Air Force. Answer on Guard. Guard. Over." He wondered if his opposite spoke any English. In most parts of the world, the English language was required of all pilots. But behind the Iron Curtain that was not a given. Yet, he should have got some sort of answer, for he knew those planes had several radios and they also used the same Guard channel.

Instead, what he saw next was a blinking of the landing lights. Blink Blink Blink, pause, Blink, Blink, Blink ..... an SOS! With a look around, he slowly drew up alongside the Soviet MiG 15. Speed was 220 knots, a very economical speed indeed. He noted that the Soviet plane also had drop tanks. He had considered shedding his, but with the bum weather there was no telling if he would need the gas.

He tried his radio again: "Soviet Aircraft, this is Duster 54 on Guard, over," but only a hiss came over his phones. He pulled up closer to the Soviet plane and saw that the pilot there did not have a helmet on, but his face was wrapped in cloth, like Pancho Villa. It did not take long for Stack to realize that this Soviet Pilot must have just walked out and stole this plane. The pilots looked at each other over the 100 feet or so separating them. He waved at the Soviet Pilot, and he waved back at him. He pointed ahead, and then himself, then made a beckoning motion with his hand, and saw the Soviet pilot give him a thumbs up!

Great, he is just going to follow me. A short flight to Tehran and he would deliver this new looking MiG 15 to the Air Force there. I wonder if I can be credited with a 'kill' just for bringing this guy back?

In the Soviet MiG15, Valerina smiled. All she had to do was follow this guy to wherever he led, and soon she would be walking the streets of New York!

And over the Northern Iranian skies....the full moon shone on a surreal skyscape of solid, yellowish cloud, while both fighter planes hurled themselves southward.

PURDUE UNIVERSITY, Lafayette, Indiana
November 2006
Department of Archeology

"Mr. Knox, you have a call on line 3." Lizzie, his graduate assistant was answering the phone today while he worked on that Papua, New Guinea report. He really did not want to work on anything Papuan. But his coworker's Fritz sudden heart attack had left the department shorthanded. He was the unwilling victim snared into overseeing the Papuan find.

"Probably more Papuan stuff," said Ronald Knox icily, then punched the key on the phone and picked it up. "This is Knox, how can I help you?

But the person on the other end surprised him. This call had nothing to do with Papua, or New Guinea, or even anything in the Pacific.

"Mr. Knox, my name is Major Sam Marker, with the U.S. Army. We have a potentially significant find, and we need your help. It's an Archaeological matter in Iraq."

Knox had been under a retainer from the Army, should they need help with anything archaeological. Apparently, this was related.

Hmmmm, with any luck, they will get me out of this office and the Papuan thing, thought Ronald. Out loud he said, "Yes, I suppose I am available. Exactly what is the nature of the problem?"

The answer was what he expected: "Mr Knox, we'd like to pick you up in the morning, and discuss this matter."

Knox kneaded the phone. This was the perfect excuse to take time off. The US Army! "Very well ....Marker I believe you said?....OK, what do you have in mind?"

"Mr. Knox, we could pick you at your residence at about 08:00." The tinny voice on the phone paused, "We need to fly you here to Washington, DC. Would that be OK?"

Washington! Even better. I could parlay this into a full week. "Could I bring my graduate assistant, Lizzie Walters?"

"Mr. Knox, we prefer to keep things under budget. Please do not involve your graduate assistant in travel. Is that 08:00 all right with you?"

After hanging up with Marker, Knox spun in his chair and told Lizzie that he had some Army thing in Washington and would need the next few days off. Let her handle the Papua thing!

"Yes Ronald," purred Lizzy in her silken voice, for she was more than on a first name basis with this Professor. "In fact, we could cancel all the work for the rest of the day." Lizzie looked directly into his eyes, and added, "That would give you time to pack.".

"Yes, Lizzie, perfect. Lets lock up and play hookey." And with that the two of them walked over to the parking garage and soon were heading to where people 'on first name basis and other things' head to. Smart, didn't do drugs or drank. And beautiful. What more could a guy want in a graduate assistant?

TEHRAN, IRAN: USAF Control Center
February, 1954

"No sir, there has been no contact from here since 0350, and since 0410 from Nowshahr. They say the plane's radio just faded away into the static." Pause. Pause. "Yes, sir ........ Yes sir ...... No, sir ..... yes sir." And Airman 3/c Harris hung up the red phone.

Turning towards Major Halbert, at the next console, he said "That was the Liaison officer from Wheelus, over in Tripoli. Their asses are on fire over there about this F86 and want us to do something."

"Well," Halbert, the night duty officer said, "there is not much we can do. The weather has really gone down in the last 2 hours, but Duster 54 has lots of gas. We should hear from him soon."

But Harris was less optimistic. "Or about a crash."

The clock now said, 0630.

February, 1954

In Duster 54, Stack was now worried and scared. At 25000 feet the two jets had flown south for a while, until he estimated that they were over Tehran. They were solid in the clouds, but that Soviet pilot stuck to his right wingtip like glue. Stack made all his turns gently, and he kept all lights on. He did not want to lose the other guy.

Nothing on the radios, and can't see nothing in these clouds. He thought back to the weather briefing late last evening. Storm coming in from the North, but not expected to reach Baghdad or southern Iraq. He may as well head that way. Iraq was friendly, and the British had RAF bases there. When he came out of these clouds he could get somebody on the radio, or just land at one of the British bases.

Pointing his nose on a heading of 240, he waved the Soviet plane to follow. Which it did.

FORT MEADE, Md. Near Washington, DC
November, 2006

At the Washington-Baltimore airport, Major Marker met the Grumman G-IV Jet. "Come with me, Mr. Knox, we have but a short ride to Headquarters. All will be explained there." Marker was silent after that, and it was not for another half hour until they got to the gate. With a mere show of his pass, the guard waved Marker's limo through. Big shot thought Knox.

"That's the easy checkpoint," said Marker, as if reading his mind. "Getting inside the building is much harder. But not to worry, we will be escorted inside which makes it that much simpler." Sure enough, where the limo stopped, a woman in Army Uniform and two beefy guards were waiting. "This is the end of the line for me," continued Marker, "here is where Grace takes over."

The building was a colossal structure of steel and glass, and Ronald was led through a labyrinth of corridors and passageways, and finally into a windowless air conditioned conference room deep in the bowels of that part of the Army no one ever sees. Grace pointed him at a cushy chair, and left him there.

While Knox was a ladies' man, this Grace was not exactly what he would even remotely consider chasing. She was a genuine, US Army minted, secretary. Late 40's or early 50's, shapeless dress over her thick middle, and graying hair tied up in a tight bun in the back of her head. God help me should she become my mother-in-law. He thought.

But soon enough, his thoughts on the various qualities of the females of the species was cut short by the entrance of Mutt and Jeff. These two officers were even more classical. They exuded Army from every pore. They had impeccable class A uniforms complete with black, polished shoes. They sat down, looking at the door instead of at him. In a few seconds the door opened again and in walked one of the largest men that Knox had seen in his life. Not fat, just big. Fingers like sausages, hands like baseball mitts, and a head that looked like it had been chiseled off a block of cement. This was a full bird Colonel.

This unlikely trio faced him across the conference table. Cement Block introduced himself, "I am Colonel Frank Ferguson, and these are my two aides." Knox noted that no names were offered for Mutt and Jeff.

Colonel Ferguson continued: "We have a finding near Baghdad that requires an expert to assess for us. You were on call, and we are laying it on you. Here is what I can tell you for now. There is an ancient temple, discovered when we were searching for hidden weapon caches in Iraq. There are security implications, and we would like you to to over and investigate it for us. It is a confidential for now, as we do not know what you will find. We know about you and Lizzie, and we'd appreciate if you were to say nothing to her about it until after your return."

Knox nodded. Lizzie would have it all out of him within the first 5 minutes in bed. In fact, mused Ronald, it usually only took her 7 minutes to earn an A in any test he gave. To be fair, despite her blond locks, Lizzie was no dummy and usually earned A's anyhow.

"What is this 'temple' you are talking about?" he asked.

"Mr Knox, what we need from you is to sign a statement. Its a simple, Non Disclosure Agreement. Standard form. Read it through. Basically all it says is that if you keep your mouth shut, you get paid as agreed, and if you don't, we can refuse payment." OK that means it will take Lizzie 10 minutes instead.

Seemingly out of thin air, Mutt produced a legal looking document and slid it across the conference table to Knox.

Frank continued, "You will notice that your stipend for this is $20,000, that your government employ will last no more than 2 weeks, and there is a per diem of $600 per day. Should you finish before the two weeks, the balance of the time is yours. We can drop you off wherever you'd like."

"Definitely not Tahiti," said Knox, dreaming of the $20,000. "Its too close to Papua New Guinea."

But Frank ignored his remark. "You will note that it requires that you travel at government convenience. All expenses be paid by the USA, of course." The terms, thought Frank, were generous, and Knox suspected that they had no one else on call.

For a few minutes, archaeologist Ronald Knox tried to milk more information from Frank, to no avail. Mutt and Jeff, of course, did not even possess vocal chords. With a shrug, he signed the papers.

"Very well, you will be flown to Baghdad. You will be escorted at all times, and should not be exposed to any danger. You will leave for Baghdad within a few hours on our Grumman G-IV jet. We will refuel in Paris and Tel Aviv, then Baghdad. You will then be taken to the site."

"Where is this site?" asked Ronald.

"Mr. Knox, please. My job here is to persuade you to accept our assignment, and to give you a brief outline of what happens over the next few hours. I am not really versed in the details, but the crew over in Iraq will fill you in as soon as you arrive.

"What about this so-called temple?"

"Not a clue, sir."

February, 1954

At last the clouds were thinning up below them, and once in a while he could catch a glimpse of the ground. The country was now basically level, so they were west of the Zagros Mountains. Those things towered to over 15,000 feet.

"Baghdad tower, Duster 54 on guard. Do you copy?" But no answer. This was his third call. The British were not answering, and the fuel gage was approaching Bingo. He imagined that the Soviet plane was in the same situation. "Any station, any station. This is Duster 54 on guard, over."

With the sun rising behind them, the countryside opened for view. It was wonderfully green, with just a few hills. The clouds scattered, then vanished. Stack tuned his Direction finder radio over the Beacon band, then the Broadcast band. The AN-ARN7 radio was a good one, but not a peep, other than the hissing noise normally heard between stations. There were simply no stations. Nothing. Maybe a tube has burn out. The only problem with that theory, Stack kept thinking, is that none of the other radios have registered a single signal since Nowshahr.

Also, and even more distressful, where is the desert? Where the heck was he?

November, 2006

Knox was severely jet-lagged. He'd been whisked across the Atlantic and across Europe. Only, he thought, whisked is a relative term. It had been a 20 hour trip so far, and they still had to reach Baghdad. Yet, he had to admit, the Grumman G-IV was a beautiful plane. The only markings were a subdued "US Army" and the white star emblem on the rear fuselage. A real executive plane, thought Knox. Still, he could not complain. The air conditioning was perfect, and the young female sergeant at the head of the cabin had brought him several drinks and meals over the last few hours, and left him to sleep much of the way. He dreamed mostly of Lizzie.

In Tel Aviv, the plane taxied to a small hangar where he was met by two American civilians. These guys had crew cuts, sunglasses, dark suits and Knox pegged them as part of mercenary security, like Haliburton. Neither volunteered any information.

Inside was the cafe. The establishment was obviously not one frequented by the locals or traveling public at Ben Gurion airport. A middle eastern waiter appeared at his table.

"We have coffee, tea, pies and the usual beverages. Our meal of the day is baked lamb with potatoes. I hope that will be satisfactory."

Nodding, Knox said, "Tell me, is this an American facility?"

"Not at all, sir. This is an Israeli military facility, used mostly to assist friendly forces in transiting our airport. We see a lot of Americans. But as this is also a civilian airport, so we do not flaunt our Military presence here.

"What about yourself?" asked Knox leaning back in his chair. "What is your story?"

The waiter looked a bit uncomfortable. "Actually, sir, I am a Palestinian. Born and raised right here in Tel Aviv. Many of us have jobs with the government."

This was a revelation to Knox. The fox working at the henhouse. He just stared at the waiter, who was unnerved by Knox's unblinking stare.

"Excuse me?" Said the waiter, shifting to his other foot.

"Oh, never mind. Please bring me coffee, black, and the lamb. Tell the cook to make it smallish portion, I had something to eat on the flight."

February, 1954

Stack checked his map. Absolutely weird. That river there, and the one over there.... they looked like the Tigris and the Euphrates. And here, they came close to each other. Looking at the map, the details pretty well matched. Except this land was green and lush, and there were no towns. No Baghdad, nothing. Not even a village. No roads, no bridges, no power lines, and nothing on the radio.

The soviet pilot wagged his wings and drew his finger across his throat. What is he trying to tell me? thought Stack. Just then, the fuel warning light came on. Only 15 minutes of fuel left! That must be what the other pilot meant."

With a final, fruitless call on the radio, Stack started a descent. The Soviet pilot followed him down. Stack flew up the river and saw a meadow to his left. He circled the area and thought I may just be able to put this baby down in there. The Soviet pilot had the same idea and left formation to circle over the clearing. Stack pulled up and let the Soviet plane land first. Its wheels came down, then the flaps and the plane came in for a perfect approach. Then touched down. Then veered to the side and flipped over!

"That place is not as good to land in as I thought." Stack said. He circled once more, and saw the Soviet pilot crawl out of the wreckage on all fours. My turn next.

But, he did not want to break his neck. He flew over the Soviet plane and saw wheel tracks in the turf. This stuff is soft. And the tires in the F86 were much smaller than the MiG15's. He pulled up and from 3000 feet, saw another clearing a mile away, and lined up on it. His landing was much better. He did not flip, but only collapsed the nose landing gear.

CAMP ANACONDA, 30 Miles North of Baghdad, Iraq
November, 2006

Arriving at night at Balad Air Base, the Humvee took him to a temporary building cocooned in sand bags. The Army part of the compound was known in Army circles as Camp Anaconda, and his new escort was a pragmatic sergeant: "Nothing to worry about sir, the odds of a rocket hitting here are 500 to 1." Yeah, right.

"What's next?" asked Knox.

"Get settled in. In the morning I'll pick you up and take you first to breakfast and then to the place where they are expecting you."

"What can you tell me about it?" ventured Knox.

"Actually, nothing," the sergeant said, "Only a few minutes before you landed did I get the word to take care of you."

"Figures," said Knox.

"Only three months ago we had another civilian," bantered the sergeant. "He showed up here briefcase and all. I housed him like I am going to do with you, but we never figured out where he was supposed to go. After a couple of weeks of touring the base, and learning the name for every type of insect and dust particle, he went to the Baghdad International Airport and took an airline back home."

Reassuring words, thought Knox. But out loud he said, "I have a name or two and phone numbers to call in that case. They are not going to lose me!"

"Of course, sir, you must be absolutely correct." The sarcasm, was not lost on Knox, who thought this sergeant does not think much of civilians. Or officers.

February, 1954

1LT Stack approached Valerina. He could see now that the Soviet pilot was actually a woman. And although she had been banged up pretty good in the spectacular crash, she still was obviously youthful and attractive.

"Hello," he said. I hope this gal speaks English.

The Soviet Union was never one to stint on education for its officers. Valerina, although not exactly a front line pilot, had nevertheless received the obligatory courses in English. What she found fascinating about America was not so much the language, but the whole culture and lifestyle. Back in the USSR the top government officials would have been horrified to know that the secret desire of all Russian girls was to wear tight jeans and date Elvis Presley or Audie Murphy.

Valerina was not a teenager, she merely wished to experience New York and see what she could find over there. Just think! New York! The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State building, tallest in the world, Coney Island, A&W Root Beer! Rock and Roll! Hamburgers! Yes, she could even own a convertible! In fact, she was not too far wrong, because the American government was generous and gracious to defecting pilots. And this plane was now in western hands. Soon the British or their Iraqi puppets would show up and all would be well.

"Dobre denx," said Valerina, "Oh, sorry. Forgive my words. Good day to you, sir."

"You speak English?"

"Yes, I have English, no problem. Study English in institute."

"Are you hurt?"

"Hurt? Some scratch, some cut. Nothing bad. Where are we, I have no headphones, no radio. Where is this place?"

"I am trying to figure this out myself." Stack found a stick and drew on the sand. "Here we met over Nowshahr, and ..."

"I know this Nowshahr," interrupted Valerina. "It was in clouds below us."

"Yes, yes. Then we travel south to Tehran. Not on radio, my radios did not work. I had nothing on ADF, could not talk to anybody on the radio anywhere."

"My name is Valerina, I captain in Soviet Air Force. You say, no radio? Why did they not want to speak you?"

"Valerina, hi. I am Lieutenant Stack. I did not get anything on ADF. No music stations, nothing at all. I called and called, and I heard nothing. Last thing I heard was the voice of Nowshahr radio fading into static and hiss."

"This is most unusual, Stack," said Valerina. "So where we are?"

"Look at this map from the airplane. See this river here? This is the Tigris, and this is the Euphrates. You saw where they come together farther south?"

"Yes, I saw."

"OK, we are farther north now, maybe 50 or 100 miles from Baghdad."

"You mean 150 kilometers. But if this is correct, where are the towns. The roads, the bridges? I saw nothing."

Neither had Stack, and for the rest of the day Stack and Valerina discussed all the possibilities. They both agreed on their altitudes and headings, and there really were no other rivers or land formations that could be anything else other than the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

November, 2006

"Mr. Knox, time to wake up. You are up for an early start."

"Where are we going?"

"First thing clean up, then breakfast. Then we take a helicopter trip south."

"Any idea where to?"

"I am told to the 'Temple of Medea', whatever that is. It's about 15 miles to the south of Baghdad. The officer in charge will meet you there." The sergeant went towards the door, "Just come along. I'll show you to the latrine and the mess hall."

For the soldiers at the base, the conditions and boredom were unimaginable. But for a newcomer like Ronald Knox, archaeologist from Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, this was all a new and high adventure indeed.

Men in tee shirts and shorts ran here and there. Sergeants barked orders. Privates tried to evade sergeants. And over the whole thing hovered the fiercest sun that Ronald had ever endured. It was vastly hotter here than in Death Valley, he was sure. In fact, he fully expected to come across the gates of Hades itself with a sign bearing 'Abandon all hope Ye that enter here.' A pall of dust settled over everything. He checked his pockets, and was not surprised at the half a handful of dust and sand he took out.

Not too far away a military helicopter came in and landed. The cloud of dust it raised blocked out all view for a mile.

"Yes sir," said the sergeant as if reading his mind, "they paved that helipad over there two weeks ago. You should have seen it before. When the choppers landed, they raised a bit of dust. As you can see, its not bad at all now."

If this isn't bad, then I don't know what bad is. But there was not a dull moment for Ronald. The latrine, for instance, was an excellent example of US Army architecture. A stark cement block building. Inside, against one wall stood a vast urinal, and a collection of GI's of all ranks stood before it, offering their precious body fluids to the Gods of the Scorching Desert. On another wall was a row of shower heads fronted by a three foot tall divider. Against the other wall, a row of toilets. No dividers, no partitions, not even the remotest semblance to privacy of any kind. Just a row of toilets. A couple of soldiers perched on two, chatting away like a pair of magpies. An island of sinks and mirrors was centered amidst all.

When in Rome, do as the Romans, thought Ronald, and he pulled down his trousers and sure enough, nobody paid him the slightest attention when he sat down. Lizzie will never believe this.

The mess hall, on the other hand, was fully air conditioned and bore a resemblance to a real cafeteria. Going inside was like going from the eternal fires of damnation to an arctic paradise. He fully expected to see Eskimos in parkas waiting on tables, but rather was greeted by a uniformed orderly that directed him to the chow line. Picking up a tray, he walked the line and got himself a generous portion of potatoes, toast and eggs. The clock on the wall said 0610. Rise and shine!

February, 1954

The two pilots had conferred into the night, and soon had broken off their meeting to gather firewood and build a fire. The air was chilly. Stack figured it was 45 or 50 degrees, once the sun had gone down. The area around them was foliated, with many large trees, some carrying fruit. The fruit was welcome because all they had for food was Stack's candybars. The Euphrates River, for that is what they decided it was, lay about a mile to the east.

That night, the howling and bleats of various animals could be heard, and glowing eyes were visible just outside the firelight. Stack had his Colt .45 Automatic, and he kept it handy. For all he knew, Lions or Tigers were roaming about.

"What you think, Stack? Think we find someone soon?"

The answer, however, would be some time coming.

November, 2006

"This is a typical Saddam Hussein temple," said the officer. He either fixed up or built from scratch all sorts of temples, palaces, etc. If you ask me, he was an ignorant savage, but he had some sort of appreciation for Archaeological treasures. If you will please follow me."

Following Lt. Pulaski, for that was his name, Knox saw nothing of significance. The statues and decorations were ancient in style, but of obviously recent construction. This was more like a museum featuring reproductions of ancient Mesopotamian culture. Across the atrium, they came to a door. Pulaski opened it, and groped inside the dark opening. "Let me turn on the lights in here, its pitch black where we are going." When the lights came on, Knox saw that they stood at the head of a long winding staircase leading down into a subterranean chamber of some kind.

Knox's interest was immediately piqued. The steps themselves were obviously old, even ancient. The descended deep into the bowels of the underground chamber, hugging the wall for the staircase had no rails of any kind. At the bottom, in the center of the room, was the object, a Sarcophagus of a certain size.

Pulaski walked to it. "When we first came here, we were looking for Anthrax laboratories or plutonium stockpiles. Instead, we found this." Pulaski shifted on his feet, and caressed the sarcophagus with one hand. "A low level radioactivity came from it, or we would have just walked away."

An annoyed Knox exclaimed, "You are telling me that you brought me all the way to the middle east to look at a mere Sarcophagus?"

"Yes. And we've already looked at it some, but what we found was so outlandish, that we decided to bring in an outside expert to look at it too. Please, let me show you what I mean."

Pulaski motioned to Knox. "Notice that there are cuneiform writings on it." He paused to move into a different position. "We cannot fathom what they say, but notice that oddly the numbers '1954' and '897' are in the text."

"Are those are Arabic numerals?" Asked Knox, with a frown on his forehead.

"See for yourself." Pulaski stood aside allowing Knox to observe for himself.

"Have you opened the thing?"

"Actually, we did. We discovered several objects in there that were mildly radioactive, and because of Saddam, we had no choice but to look. Nothing was disturbed, other than to take some small samples. We verified these relics were not weapons or atomic bomb sub-assemblies. We got our samples, replaced the lid and called for you."

"Let's lift the stone." Proposed Knox.

Between Pulaski and Knox the stone lid was coaxed aside, revealing a deteriorated skeleton of a man in finery. Gold jewelry adorned his body, and traces of leather and cloth could be seen. A crude sword laid across his chest.

Pulaski produced a flashlight and aimed inside the casket. "Observe these oddities. There is a Colt .45 pistol at his waist, an animal skull at his feet, and an odd locker by his head. Take a look."

Knox pulled out a flashlight of his own and shone it on the locker. "Have you looked in there?"

"Yes we did, and the box appears to be made of aluminum."

"Aluminum!" exclaimed Knox.

"Yes indeed, aluminum. That is why we are able to open it today without it crumbling under our touch. Look inside," said Pulaski, opening the lid.

Knox did so. "I see some small objects, and a few scrolls. Those look delicate. Did you touch them?"

"No, we just waved a radiation counter around and did not touch the objects."

Knox then shone the beam on the animal skull. "What do you make of that?"

Observing the single, central horn, he said, "It is either a freak or a hoax."

The scientist then got on his hands and knees and circumnavigated the casket. He stared at the cuneiform writings for some time, frowning. "Did you try to read what it says?"

"We were not able to. There are not too many people qualified to do so in the world, you being one of them."

"Its actually in English," said Knox in a flat voice.

"English! Exclaimed Pulaski. "No way. That has to be Babylonian or Sumerian or something."

"The alphabet is cuneiformic, but if you take it phonetically, it actually comes out in some sort of crude English." Knox looked at the text some more. "It actually says that there is more underneath."

"You mean at a lower level?" Pulaski pointed down towards his feet.

"I assume so, either one of these flagstones move, or the Sarcophagus itself is the lid."

November, 2006

It had taken them a few days to inspect the tomb, and with some equipment that Pulaski brought in, they were able to ascertain that there was indeed a hollow cavity under the casket. As Pulaski explained, "This equipment is used to locate buried landmines and tunnels, but it is just the ticket for this."

"I think we have to move this Sarcophagus. If we put in the wedges here, I think we can get enough of a grip with the hydraulic lift to put it on rollers."

It took the better part of the day, but with a few soldiers working at it, the Sarcophagus was eventually rolled aside, revealing a staircase leading down. "I thought so," said Knox gesturing with his flashlight. "There is a second chamber underneath."

"Why do I think of booby traps and other nasties," exclaimed Pulaski.

"You watch too much Indiana Jones. Just follow me."

With that, the pair descended into the lower chamber, which was perhaps twenty feet square. One wall had crumbled, and the nose of an airplane could be seen amidst the rubble. Cuneiform writings were evident on another wall. "That is ancient, not some coded English like the one above," said Knox.

"Look here," said Pulaski, "this wall. It has cubicles. This looks just like a columbarium. The covers seem to have inscriptions."

"Yes, I agree," said Knox, adding "And we need to proceed with extreme care now, and perhaps even stop. I propose we analyze what we have here before we go digging some more."

Pulaski nodded. "We'll just look around for now, then."

"Yes, lets look and then secure it. We can always come back for further study."

With this the two men, and some assistant took many photographs, as well as some samples from various objects that were visible.

PURDUE UNIVERSITY, Lafayette, Indiana
November, 2006

At the Radiocarbon dating facility, a pair of white coveralled figures stood chatting next to the Mass Spectrometer. "Have you finished with those samples?"

"You mean the ones Knox sent from Paris?"

"Yes those. Are they dated? What is the variance?"

Radiocarbon dating had become a very exact science. With accumulated experience, and care to prevent contamination, an organic sample and perhaps other objects, could be dated within 30 years up to 50,000 or more years ago.

The theory behind this technique was simple enough. In the atmosphere, Carbon Dioxide gas is bombarded by solar radiation. Some of the carbon atoms, normally of the Carbon-12 or Carbon-13 variety, are transformed into the radioactive Carbon-14 isotope.

All living things absorb Carbon Dioxide while alive. Breathing, eating, or through osmosis, our bodies, as well as the stalks of plants, etc., are permeated with the Carbon Dioxide in the environment. Thus, in a living creature, the ratio of C-14 to the others is known. When the person or animal dies, it stops absorbing new Carbon Dioxide. Over the years, the Carbon-14 isotope in the cadaver decays by emitting a particle and becoming a normal non-radioactive molecule. Thus, a dead creature has less of the C-14 than a living one. How much less depends on how long it has been dead. Dating merely relies on the ratio of Carbon 14 in the cadaver to Carbon 14 in the athmosphere.

The science is established, and many commercial labs will date a sample for only $400.

Sometime in 1957

The pair of pilots had settled in for the duration.

Valerina had grown on a farm, and she proved adept at raising things. Stack had a knack for hunting, and thus he was able to feed and cloth them both.

Extensive hikes and exploration had not shown a sign of human habitation. They salvaged some radios from the wrecks, and finally rigging an earpiece for Valerina's sets, they were able to communicate with each other and prove that the radios actually worked. But nothing else was heard. Eventually the batteries died out and they abandoned their radio efforts.

A nice farmhouse was built out of stones and logs, and the two of them fashioned clothing out of animal skins for themselves and for their baby daughter, and they settled in.

Overhead, the sun provided warmth, the river irrigated their crops, and wild animals were plentiful. They wanted nothing except for just someone to talk to!

May, 2007

From behind the podium, a solemn Knox announced: "OK, gentlemen, I have my initial report..." Before the babble of voices in the room quieted down, Knox observed a crowd of Army types and some academics. Mutt, Jeff and Cement Block were there too, as was Pulaski. The four sat on the back row.

Knox, of course, was a college teacher and used to lectures, so his talk was smooth:

"I have finished my findings based on the preliminary investigation. There is enough in that tomb to keep a team busy for some time, but we can come to certain conclusions." Knox shuffled the papers in front of him, and drew his breath. "Here is what I got, with a variation of plus or minus 20 to 30 years for most of this material."

"First, the human skeleton itself. Radiocarbon dates it to the year 3,110 BC."

"The gold medallion and the sword tests to the year 3,200 BC."

"The scrolls, clothing and other organic debris dates at 3,110 BC."

"Some bits of metal, the aluminum box, and what appeared to be nuts and bolts were harder to analyze, but basically dated to 4,000 BC, just as the parts of the airplane that we sampled."

Knox shifted behind the podium, and continued: "Now, for the more strange stuff found in the Sarcophagus." He looked at Marker as he spoke, "We found some corroded dataplates. For instance, this particular dataplate," Knox, said, using his laser pointer effectively, "is from a gyroscope and bears a part and serial number. 'AN-5751, s/n 53-14771'. This particular gyroscope and its serial number were traced, by means of archived maintenance records to an F86 that disappeared without a trace in 1954. The dataplate itself was subject to very careful dating, and somehow it dates to 4000 BC."

The crowd tensed, everyone sat on the edge of the chairs as Knox resumed his narrative.

"The animal skull is that of a Unicorn, and does not appear to be a fake. It dates at 3,110 BC."

"Now, the scrolls themselves are in terrible condition, and at this point we decided to leave them alone until we are in a better position to study them. They are in a controlled inert atmosphere storage vault."

"The writings on the wall of the lower chamber were more productive. We were able to readily translate the writing. It is an epitaph, some of it lost due to water damage over time, yet what we got is this: 'Here is put to rest our ancestor Adam Stack, husband of Valerina 'Eva' Evanova, and father of ..... daughter Rebekka ..... daughter Nodia ..... son Kane ..... son Seth .... son Abel, Duster 54 ...... 1954, Tehran, Iran.' The designator 'Duster 54' was the clue that allowed us to trace the wreck and some of the pieces."

"At this point, I have nothing further to report. In particular, the other crypts are yet to be opened, yet they bear writings that appear to be familial data. I will leave all conclusions to you. Thank you for your time."

Story Copyright © 2006, Ramon Gandia. All rights reserved.