Authors: David Sakmyster
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Short Stories, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Anthologies, #One Hour (33-43 Pages), #Anthologies & Short Stories
Author’s note: this story, a prequel to
The Pharos Objective
(part one in the Morpheus Initiative series), originally appeared in the anthology,
, by 7RealmsPublishing, which includes many other excellent stories updating and paying homage to the classic Richard Connell story,
The Most Dangerous Game.
It’s available for ebook download (or print format) here:
And also go and follow more of the adventures of Nina and the Morpheus Initiative in:
The Cydonia Objective (summer, 2012)
The Shiva Objective
by David Sakmyster
"Let the splendor of diamond, pearl and ruby vanish. Only let this one teardrop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever."
- Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore
Agra, India – Oberoi Resort Hotel
Nina Osseni entered the luxurious lobby from the street, feeling immediately refreshed by the blast of cool air. She pushed her sunglasses up into the sleek curls of her jet-black hair, while her long, golden-tanned legs moved swiftly, cat-like, her Italian leather high-heeled sandals
barely making a sound on the polished marble floors
. She wore an ostentatiously bright red sundress, cut low to hint at her ample chest, while her eyes – the color of her subtle emerald earrings – flashed left and right, taking in everything, sizing up the hotel staff and guests, determining who might become a threat.
She ignored the elegant tapestries, gold-trimmed walls and the small party of well-dressed high-rollers at the front desk. The bubbling fountains likewise made no impression on her as she headed toward the private elevator, following the strides of a massively-built man wearing a white turban and sporting a spindly black beard.
She was not unused to luxury, living for the past year on a ninety-foot yacht, sailing the Caribbean and then the Mediterranean, in the employ of a man who spared no expense for the members of his team, members with certain abilities like hers. She and her colleagues, all of them psychic to some degree, were well-suited to pursue the world's most elusive – and dangerous – mysteries. Or
, as her boss insisted on calling them, a stickler for using the common lingo. As if anything was
about what they could do.
But Nina had no illusions about this assignment, and as she smiled demurely at her escort and stepped into the spacious elevator, she held her little faux-diamond studded purse in both hands and leaned back against the wall as her escort pressed the button for the penthouse suite.
Her fingers caressed the gems on her purse, drawing comfort from the knowledge that inside, next to a credit card and her passport, was a black Walther .22 loaded with nine rounds of Remington High Velocity bullets. A girl's best friend at a time like this. And as she slid out of one sandal to flex her toes, she felt the reassuring touch of another friend on her inner thigh: a .45 PCP tucked under a leather garter.
She was surprised that no one had yet searched her, expecting to at least have to give up the gun in her purse, but confident that with their cultural prudishness they'd miss the other one. Apparently they were careless.
Or was it something else?
Either way, one wrong move by anyone up there and she was going to transform into a dual-wielding assassin and put down anything that so much as breathed wrong. And then she'd get down to business and find out what was really going on.
Maybe I'll do a little fishing now, see if this oaf knows anything.
"So," she said as the elevator's vertical thrust caused a moment of disorientation.
"I hope your employer isn't going to be upset that I answered his invitation and came alone, without any of my teammates."
His shoulders gave a slight flinch. But he remained silent while the lights on the elevator panel switched from floor to floor.
"I can understand," Nina continued, "if he's ticked off – disappointed at least. I mean, he asked for as many of us as could be spared, hinting that the object he's seeking might be quite difficult to locate. And then I'm the only one that shows up? I'd be a little miffed, myself." She smiled and scratched a black-painted fingernail against her lower lip. "But if you're only to get one of us, believe me, you could do a lot worse."
The man made a grunting sound. The elevator slowed. The doors opened and he turned, making a slight bow as he swept his big arm into the penthouse foyer.
Nina shrugged and walked out, turning as she blew him a kiss. When he straightened up, she caught sight of something inside his suitcoat. Not a gun – it was wooden and thin with an intricate design. Then she calmly strode into the waiting hallway toward a set of intricately-carved mahogany doors that opened at her approach. Framed in the doorway were two more goons in black suits and turbans.
And packing heat,
Of the more conventional kind at least.
She stepped past them, nodding demurely as she entered the next room, a lavish office, complete with plush cushions and pillows on the floor. Gold-trimmed tapestries on the crimson walls depicted elephants and their riders charging into battle. A man, concealed mostly in the shadows at the far side of the room, sat at a massive oak desk. By the angle of his head, Nina could see he gazed out the opposing wall-length window overlooking Agra – and specifically, the Taj Mahal.
In the bright sun of midday, the marble walls and columns of the magnificent attraction seemed a shade rosier – a common optical effect Nina had read about before coming here. The mesmerizing structure appeared to change colors along with the time of day, just one more in a slew of impressive architectural features about the Taj Mahal, one of the modern wonders of the world.
Nina had learned more than she ever imagined about the architectural marvel in the last week as she and her teammates were able to determine that their mission most likely involved it in some way.
But they hadn't found anything definitive and were unable to discover the true reason for this summons. Turning away from the view, her eyes caught sight of two more bodyguards lurking in the shadows at the other corners of the room.
Finally she faced the desk – and the man in the white suit stood to greet her. He was in his late fifties perhaps, long wavy hair, dark but sprinkled with distinguished lines of grey. His eyes were hooded, deep-set, yet confident and powerful.
"Ah," he said with a soothing voice. "Nina Osseni. So glad your employer could spare you."
She moved forward, holding out her hand, but he merely grinned. His hands stayed in his pockets for an uncomfortable moment, and then he took one out to motion to a velvet-lined chair one of the bodyguards was sliding into place for her. Lowering her hand, she nodded and graciously took a seat, making a show of slowly crossing her legs.
So he's done his homework on me,
she thought, confirming her fears.
"I am Davarius Malmud, as I'm sure you've guessed. Or perhaps," he said, showing off several perfectly-matched gold teeth, "you already knew that. Seen me in the news? Or… in your dreams?"
There wasn't a hint of amusement in the look Nina sent him. "I know you didn't mean that as a pick-up line, so I'll let it pass. But no, we didn't need to use any psychic abilities to learn about you, as it turns out you're pretty much a media hog." She set her purse down on the floor and crossed her arms. "Davarius Malmud, financier and… well there's not really a word that encompasses everything you do. Real-estate Mogul perhaps, but you dabble in casino ownership and run a fleet of luxury cruise liners. You've got a seventy percent share in this hotel, and you've been at the top of India's elite circles for decades."
"You're too kind."
"And there are of course, rumors that you also engage in arms deals with… less than savory parties."
Davarius never changed his expression. "But we're not here to talk about me."
"No." Nina leaned forward, keeping her focus on him while peripherally she tracked the motions of the other four men – five now that her elevator escort had appeared, shutting the office doors behind him as he blocked the exit. "So, tell me Mr. Malmud, what do you need the services of the Morpheus Initiative for?"
Davarius rubbed his hands together for a moment, keeping his eyes on hers; then he got up and casually walked past her, across the room to the window, where his body – sturdy and athletic, Nina noted – blocked the view of the Taj Mahal. The sun threw his shadow behind him and Nina had the impression that it looked like the black king on the chessboard back on the yacht – narrow and pointy-headed, with just the hint of a crown.
"As I told your employer-"
"Yes, as I told him, we have an objective particularly suited to the talents of your team." He turned his head, and his eyes were wet from the sun's intensity glinting off the Taj and the winding Yamuna River. "I believe only those with… exceptional abilities such as your own might be able to truly discover the whereabouts of a certain artifact that may have been under our very noses for centuries."
Nina considered him for a moment.
Have to be careful here. Remember Waxman's instructions.
He had told her in no way to trust him. That Davarius Malmud was obviously lying, hiding the real reason he wanted them there. She was to play it slow.
She was already tired of this city, the heat and the congestion, and she didn't like being jerked around. "Why don't you start by giving me the truth? If you wanted a psychic, we know you’ve already had one here, in your employ, for seven years."
Davarius paled slightly, took a step back.
Nina pressed on. "Mohammad Chaudhry. We tried on several occasions to recruit him, but he passed. Apparently, your benefit plan beat ours."
Davarius took a long breath, but still seemed relaxed.
Have I misjudged him? He should be sweating right now.
"Yes, it's true. We
a psychic. A Remote-Viewer like you and those on your team."
"But he went… missing." He said the word slowly, and Nina had the sense he was drawing it out to gauge Nina's reaction. She remained cool.
"Ah. Should have asked us. Finding missing persons is a bit of specialty."
"Yes," Davarius said quietly. "That and locating lost artifacts and treasure." He turned back to the window. "I've heard, however, that your abilities… they have limitations and are greatly dependant on the psychic's focus."
Nina sighed. "Yes, we're not all-seeing and even when we get valid visions, they're often hard to interpret." She thought back on countless sessions in smoke-filled conference rooms. All of her colleagues drawing pictures, sketching out what their visions – wrong or right – were showing them. Some had impressive hits; some could see and even hear things in faraway locations, and even in the past. Sometimes the future. But Davarius was right. There were certainly limitations – like why she and Waxman couldn't
exactly what was going on here.
"Right," he said. "Well, Chaudhry paved the way. Showed us the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. But then he disappeared, just as we were getting close."
Davarius placed a hand, fingertips first, against the glass over the distant façade of the Taj Mahal. "Inside our country's greatest tourist attraction, this mausoleum that has been the site of pilgrimages and adoration for four centuries, rests something besides the crypts of the fourth Mogul emperor and his favored wife."
Nina nodded, and leaned back stretching her legs. "Yes, Shah Jahan and his lovely princess, Mumtaz Mahal. Ah, what a wonderfully tragic love story."
"You know it well, then?"
She had only read up on it last Tuesday. And then, when she and another member of the group tried to take a 'look'… they discovered
"But of course," she said, "history and
are not always the same."
"So true," Davarius said, smiling broadly. "What we call history today has been written by the victors. They changed the past to suit their needs and let the ensuing centuries finish the job of covering the truth."
"No one's the wiser," Nina said. "Unless they can see into the past."
Davarius's eyes shined with excitement. "So I don't need to convince you…"