Kevin L. O'Brien
Ethan Oliver Hawthorne was worried. But he had a right to be. As head of Black Omega it was his responsibility to identify potential threats to US security and, if possible, neutralize them. Anyone who wouldn't be worried in his place was either incompetent or a fool or both.
Black Omega was a loose organization of like-minded people who worked in every department of the US government. Their duty was to forward copies of reports, documents, and other publications produced by their department to Hawthorne for his review. He would then look for patterns that signaled the existence of a threat. As such, if Hawthorne was worried, then there was definitely something to be worried about, and chances were it was rather grave.
In this case, however, his worry stemmed more from uncertainty than assurance. The threat he had just uncovered had him baffled, and he was currently heading to the one person who could clear up his confusion.
Black Omega was so-called because Hawthorne was meant to be the ultimate super-secret operative, the blackest of the black, secret even from the President and answerable only to his own conscience. That put him in a rather unique position. The one major problem with any modern bureaucracy was that it tended to be so large, with so many departments, and so much information flowing through it, that it was difficult to coordinate its activities. If that was then combined with interdepartmental rivalry, as it often was, the bureaucrats routinely made decisions and took actions based on only a very incomplete picture of the situation, and then only from the perspective of their own particular interests. By auditing, and thus coordinating, the information coming out of the various departments, Hawthorne was able to see the whole picture, and so was able to form the patterns that worried him by piecing together clues that would otherwise be missed.
The latest pattern, which had caused him to catch a train out of Washington, DC, headed for Arkham, Massachusetts, started out innocently enough. The presidential election was coming up fast, and James Carter's chances for reelection didn't look too good. Ronald Reagan was extremely popular with the people, mostly because he fueled their twin delusions of fear of the Communist world and distrust of their own government. The Carter administration hoped to spring an October Surprise by arranging for the release of the hostages held in Iran, but Hawthorne knew that was not to be. Members of the Reagan campaign, with the blessing of the candidate himself and the help of his running mate, George Bush, had been negotiating with representatives of the Ayatollah Khomeini to keep the hostages in captivity until after the election, in exchange for freeing up assets frozen after Khomeini's revolution. Hawthorne had information that the Ayatollah himself had agreed to the deal, and he had learned that the Carter administration had also found out about it.
Desperation has often made otherwise sensible people do bizarre things, and the people of the current administration were desperate indeed. Fortunately the most powerful were far too public to do anything significant, but there were many lower echelon people who, though they may not individually possess power themselves, nonetheless tended to run their departments, and so exercised the power of their bosses by proxy. Collectively, therefore, they wielded great power, but out of the public eye, so they felt fewer restraints on their actions.
Hawthorne had pieced together enough clues to tell him that a group of these aides, from both the administration and the military, had gotten together and hatched a plan to manufacture a new October Surprise out of a very real, but so far highly secret, threat, one that made the threat of international communism pale to insignificance. Ever since its 1928 raid on Innsmouth, the government had been monitoring the activities of the creatures known as the Deep Ones. Unfortunately, not much hard information had been learned. As such, the government had decided that the existence of the Deep Ones would be kept secret from the American people, for their own good. The aides had decided that it was time to change that, and they planned to leak information to the press before Halloween. However, they needed something spectacular to give the information believability and real impact.
Using occult sources, informants, and people like the man he was going to see, the government had been able to identify possible locations for Deep One cities. One such location was a submarine mountain in the eastern Pacific less than a hundred miles from Easter Island. High-resolution sonar had confirmed that there was a complex of structures sitting on top of the seamount, and it was one of the few locations that existed within the depth range that humans could operate, so the navy was actively keeping tabs on it. The aides had decided to destroy the city to underscore both to the press and the public just how great a threat the Deeps Ones were.
It had to be a decisive stroke, one that could be accomplished by a small group of men. That's where Abigail Dexter came in. She was the daughter of Dr. Ambrose Dexter, one of the chief consultants on the Manhattan Project, and a nuclear physicist in her own right. She had developed a new way to achieve nuclear fusion in weapons which produced yields twice to three times greater than was currently possible, and since it did not depend upon a fission reaction the weapons could be made smaller and produced almost no fallout. She had leant her support to the plan; in fact, Hawthorne suspected that she was the source of the idea to destroy the city. In any event, she would provide an experimental nuclear device to be used for the attack.
As straightforward as all this sounded, there were aspects of it that puzzled him. Why destroy a Deep One city? It made more sense to destroy an American city and frame the Deep Ones. And why that specific location? There were a dozen other sites that could provide just as good or better an example that were also closer to the US but far enough away so the explosion would not pose a threat to American lives and property. In addition, what possible interest could Dexter have in this plan? Hawthorne believed that the key to all these questions was to find out what, if anything, was unique about that location. Which was why he was on his way to see Laban Shrewsbury.
Prof. Shrewsbury was himself a singular individual. An anthropologist and philosopher, he was also the world's leading authority on the Cthulhu mythology. He wrote three books on the subject, his most famous being An Investigation into the Myth-Patterns of Latter-Day Primitives with Especial Reference to the R'lyeh Text, published in 1915. Despite its age and the erudite title, it was actually a fairly accessible book, easy to read and understand, which accounted in part for its popularity. The other part was that the subject matter appealed to people's lurid tastes in pseudoscientific mysteries, like UFOs or Bigfoot.
What was perhaps most singular, however, was his personal history. He had disappeared shortly after his book came out and was presumed dead, but he turned up in 1935. Then a fire gutted his house in 1938 and again he was presumed dead. Again, however, he turned up in 1947, when he became involved in the Black Island affair, which was officially described as a test of a new type of fission bomb, but was actually an attempt to contain or destroy a servitor of Cthulhu. Hawthorne first met him at that time. He disappeared yet again in 1949, and as far as the public was concerned has never reappeared, but in fact he showed up secretly in 1975, when he contacted Hawthorne for protection. Hawthorne hid him away in Arkham, where he eventually reemerged, under his own name, but with a new identity. Hawthorne was one of the few people who knew that Shrewsbury was actually on an alien planet during the time of his disappearances.
The train pulled into Arkham by late morning and Hawthorne went straight to Miskatonic University. Shrewsbury was a professor in the philosophy department, and taught classes on metaphysics, the philosophy of science, and the occult. Though he warranted a chairmanship, he preferred the relative anonymity of a lecturer and scholar. In fact, his office was located in the basement of the School of Liberal Arts, where he had both room and privacy. The department secretary assured Hawthorne that he was in at that time, and when he descended the stairs he was relieved to find the professor's door open.
Shrewsbury sat behind his desk, perusing a musty old tome. He was a distinguished looking elderly gentleman of indeterminate age and average height and build. He wore his white hair shoulder-length, such that he tended to resemble Franz Liszt. His face was smooth, but strong, with a prognathic chin and Roman nose. His most singular feature, however, was the pair of dark glasses he wore, with side shields. Most people who saw him thought he was blind, but Hawthorne was at present the only person who knew that where his eyes should have been were only empty sockets.
When Shrewsbury realized he had company and recognized who it was, he stood and clasped the hand of his close friend. Hawthorne sat without waiting for an invitation; none was necessary in any event. They spent a few minutes engaging in casual chitchat, before Shrewsbury decided to get down to business.
"And what brings you up from Washington, Ethan?"
Hawthorne briefly outlined what he knew. Shrewsbury listened without interruption, his face growing more grave as Hawthorne went on.
"So, what I need to know," he concluded, "is whether there is anything special about that location."
Shrewsbury sat still for some moments, deep in thought, then he suddenly stood up and went to the bookcase on his left. Three of the four walls of his office were covered with books, most of them as ancient and moldy as the one on his desk. He quickly scanned the titles, then selected one and took it back to his desk. Hawthorne recognized it as The Book of Merlin, reputed to have been written by the Arthurian wizard. Shrewsbury unceremoniously dropped it on the book already there, raising a small cloud of dust. He then opened it and began to rapidly flip through the pages.
"The seamount is indeed significant," he explained, as he continued to search. "It is a mountain of ancient Lemuria, one of the five continents that formed the landmass of Mu, now drowned beneath the Pacific. When the Xothians came down out of the heavens some 365 million years ago and claimed Mu for their own, each member took possession of one of the continents for its demesne. Cthulhu claimed R'lyeh; his sons Ghatanothoa, Ythogtha, and Zoth-Ommog claimed the central continents of Ponape, K'naa, and Yhe; and Cthaeghya claimed Lemuria."
Hawthorne sat up. "I'm not familiar with that last one."
"The sister of Cthulhu. Ah, yes," he said when he found what he was looking for. He read for a few moments, then sat down and began reciting the passage aloud.
" 'There came the day when the Great Azathoth, King of the Daemons, threatened the Elder Beings and they did make war upon him. They were unable to defeat him, for his strength was too great, but through their combined power they called upon Tum, and He came. He opened a pocket in the fabric of the cosmos, into which He cast away Azathoth and closed it, trapping him forever.
"'Cut off from Nu, the Source That Is, Azathoth was blinded and reduced to idiocy, but his power was undiminished, since it stemmed from his Being rather than from Nu. He flexed his body, testing the strength of the walls of the pocket in which he was trapped, and they fled from him. Azathoth pursued, but the effort split him asunder, releasing fragments some of which he could not recapture. These fragments fed off his Being and grew strong; they became the outer gods.
"'One of these was Cxaxukluth, the Androgyne. It fled in fear from Azathoth, and wandered the pocket, eventually coming to a black star in the center of a grand nebula. There it settled and in time birthed many progeny, among the greatest of which were the brothers Ghizguth, Hzioulquoigmnzhah, and Rahb, and the sisters Zstylzhemghi, Klosmiebhyx, and Cthaeghya. In time Cxaxukluth left, taking most of its family with it, and journeyed to Yuggoth, where it remains to this day.
"'There Ghizguth was mated to Zstylzhemghi, and she bore Tsathaggua. Hzioulquoigmnzhah was mated to Klosmiebhyx, and she bore Ysbaddaden and Scathach. And Rahb was mated to Cthaeghya, but she was barren. However, Cxaxukluth began feeding off its progeny, so those who could, fled. Ghizguth and Zstylzhemghi hid themselves and Tsathaggua in caverns too deep for Cxaxukluth to reach. Hzioulquoigmnzhah, who was the strongest, contended with his father, but when Cxaxukluth caught and devoured Zstylzhemghi, he took Ysbaddaden and Scathach and fled to Cykranosh. Tsathaggua joined them later. Rahb and Cthaeghya fled to Xoth, but there Rahb dallied with Idh-yaa, who bore him three sons, Ghatanothoa, Ythogtha, and Zoth-Ommog. Incensed, Cthaeghya destroyed Idh-yaa and then left for Magmhel.'"
Shrewsbury then paused as he flipped a few pages ahead. When he found the new passage, he resumed.
"'When the Old Ones stole the secrets of the Elder Beings and rebelled, they fled to the pocket, believing that their former Masters would not follow for fear of loosing touch with Nu. Some came to Xoth, to seek sanctuary with Rahb; in return they taught him the secrets of the Elder Beings. But the Old Ones did not reckon with the servitors of the Elder Beings, who followed them, seeking revenge for their betrayal. Chief among them was Nodens, and second was his consort, Danu. They settled on a world of the star Betelgeuse, from which they launched their attacks.
"'When they came to Xoth they took Rahb along with the Old Ones, but let his sons escape. They fled to Magmhel, where they told Cthaeghya of their father's capture. She journeyed to Xoth and through trickery freed Rahb, who fled with her back to Magmhel. But the servitors followed. Cthaeghya and the Sons of Rahb fled to nearby Aihai, but Rahb was caught once more when Magmhel was destroyed. To prevent his escape again, the servitors split Rahb in two, creating Cthulhu and Hastur. While Nodens and Danu took Hastur to be imprisoned on a dark world in the Hyades, they left Cthulhu in the keeping of Ousir and his company. But Sutekh and his followers, Sekhmet, Anpu, and Suchos, in exchange for the knowledge of the Elder Beings, betrayed their fellow servitors, slew and dismembered Ousir, and allowed Cthulhu to escape. He fled to Aihai, where he was reunited with Cthaeghya.
"'Cthulhu was weakened by the division, so much so that even his sons were now stronger than he. Cthaeghya took pity on him, and she gave him the greater portion of her power. Now invigorated, but still weaker than the servitors, Cthulhu raped Cthaeghya, using his own flesh as seed. Cthaeghya conceived and gave birth to the Cthulhi, the spawn of Cthulhu, who would be their servitors and their army. They then fled with the Sons of Rahb to Tellura, which is the world of man.'"
Shrewsbury closed the book carefully. "The rest you are familiar with. The Xothians, as they were named, settled on Mu. But because they were now weaker than the other members of their family, they were vulnerable to the cosmological cycles of this universe. Some 286 million years ago, enough of these cycles passed into unfavorable phases that Cthulhu and Cthaeghya fell into a form of hibernation, in which their bodies lie as dead and their conscious minds sleep, but their subconscious minds dream. The three sons placed them in tombs and set the spawn to watch over them. Then the servitors arrived. They were looking for a location to imprison Sutekh and his followers when they found the Xothians. They destroyed as many of the spawn as they could find; those who escaped hid in the secret places of the world and eventually fell into a deathlike sleep of their own. They imprisoned the sons along with the traitorous servitors, and they sealed the tombs, setting the sign of their Masters on the seals. Then they left."
Throughout Shrewsbury's recitation and subsequent lecture, Hawthorne had tried to stay alert and interested, since he knew the information was important; still, it was difficult. But when the professor stopped, the full implication of what he heard rang through Hawthorne's head. He leaned forward, a troubled expression on his face, and said, "The seamount is one of those prisons."
Shrewsbury nodded. "To be precise, it is Cthaeghya's tomb."
But then Hawthorne leaned back in confusion, one hand gripping his chin. "But they can't be planning to kill her; even a 100 megaton explosion couldn't destroy an underwater mountain," he mused aloud.
Shrewsbury said nothing; he simply waited patiently.
Suddenly, Hawthorne's eyes grew wide and he stood bolt upright. "My God! Dexter plans to release her! But how?"
"A nuclear device may not destroy the mountain," Shrewsbury replied quietly, "but it can destroy the Elder Sign on the seal, and perhaps crack the seal itself. At the very least, without the Elder Sign, Cthaeghya will be able to break out on her own."
"But what about the cosmological cycles?"
"The stars are not yet completely right, but most of the cycles have moved into neutral or favorable phases, so she can be awakened and she can break free, though her strength will not be completely back to normal."
"But what can she do if she were free?"
"She can release the three Sons of Rahb and the remaining Cthulhi, and together they can free Cthulhu."
"But won't he be weak as well?"
"Yes, but even the weakest spawn is more powerful than the combined might of man's armies, and its physical and metaphysical knowledge is far beyond anything we can even imagine. Besides which, Cthulhu and Cthaeghya are still alien beings; though they may be of our universe, their origin is from beyond it, and thus their powers are virtually omnipotent, even in their weakened state. All together, the Xothians would be unstoppable, and they will only get stronger with time. And remember, Cthulhu knows the secrets of the Elder Beings. He can free all the other Old Ones, as well as the traitorous servitors."
Hawthorne went white, but he learned forward over Shrewsbury's desk and declared forcefully, "Then she must be stopped, now, before she can detonate her bomb."
One week after his meeting with Shrewsbury, Hawthorne was on board the USS Cairnsford, a Los Angeles Class nuclear attack submarine, as it neared the seamount. One of the military members of the cabal was high enough in the navy to commandeer it, with the help of a group of sympathetic officers. Fortunately, Hawthorne had higher support: an admiral in ComSubPac who was a member of Black Omega. Hence he had papers and credentials making him a liaison officer with the Office of Naval Intelligence. It wasn't the ideal cover, since it made him obvious, but at least he had been able to convince the cabal that he was one of them.
After the meeting with Shrewsbury, Hawthorne was faced with the tricky problem of how to decisively disrupt the plan. He had to walk a tightrope between stopping the cabal and seizing the bomb, and not allowing the affair to become public knowledge. He also had to make sure the bomb wouldn't be set off, or salvaged and used somewhere else. As such, he couldn't just inform the White House or have the navy arrest them. He had to be on board the submarine when they planted the bomb; then he could sabotage it. Once that was done, the submarine could be captured and the cabal arrested.
He also needed to know who all the members were, so none would be overlooked in the sweep. Fortunately, being one of their number made it easy to gain their confidence. Since technically they were committing treason and knew it, but were not actual traitors in their hearts and minds, they were all nervous and on edge, and relished a sympathetic ear who could give them moral support. Except that is for Dr. Abigail Dexter. While she seemed to accept him like the others, she refused to open up. No doubt, he believed, she suspected him of being a mole, but as long as she had no proof, there was nothing she could do. Yet she did try to draw him out even as he worked on her. What was especially amusing was that they both tried the same tactics, including seducing each other. Both turned out to be too disciplined to reveal anything even during orgasm, but at least they were able to keep each entertained during the monotonous trip.
The one advantage he derived from this, however, was that she allowed him to inspect the bomb. It was a device the size of a torpedo, and encased in a featureless metal housing that nonetheless had an exposed control panel. It stood upright in the forward torpedo room, ready to be loaded and dropped from a tube. Dexter was even cooperative enough to explain how the panel worked, though she would not explain the principles behind her new design. All she would say was that the warhead was only as big as a basketball, but would yield twenty-five megatons. Enough to level a good size city.
He also learned something of her personal history, and that of father's. Dr. Ambrose Dexter had been a Providence physician until 1935, when he inexplicably quit his practice to become a nuclear physicist. In addition to advising on the Manhattan Project, he assisted in the development of thermonuclear weapons. Then he disappeared in 1951, only to turn up behind the Iron Curtain: he had defected to the Soviets. For twenty years he aided their nuclear weapons program, but he was finally assassinated by a British agent somewhere in the South Pacific in 1973.
He had fathered a daughter before he defected, and she grew up under government supervision. She became a physicist like her father and after receiving her doctorate she worked for the government at Los Alamos. She proved herself to be a genius, and she helped develop many new innovations which improved the yield and efficiency of America's nuclear arsenal. Of course, her government handlers were surprised when Hawthorne informed them of her involvement in the cabal, but he suspected she was doing it to avenge her father's death. Though what she expected to gain from Cthaeghya's release he still couldn't guess at.
Upon arriving at the seamount, the first thing Dexter did was to order a detailed sonar scan of the summit, to discover the best location to place the device. It proved to be flat, but it was completely covered by buildings. However, the scans revealed that it wasn't a city; in fact, it looked to Hawthorne like a temple complex, a speculation Dexter agreed with. In the exact center of the complex was a huge circular open area, containing some kind of pattern. Though indistinct, Hawthorne recognized it as an Elder Sign. And from the look on Dexter's face, Hawthorne knew she recognized it as well. Then for a brief moment, a look of such cold fury as he had never seen in a human before flickered across her face. It disturbed Hawthorne, but he wasn't sure why, and in any event he had no time to worry about it.
The decision was made to place the device in the center of the Sign. Dexter and Hawthorne suited up with the naval personnel who would place the device on site. Hawthorne stated that his superiors wanted him to go along to make an inspection of the work, and to his surprise she agreed without demurring. He figured it may have been due to the fact that she wanted him where she could keep an eye on him, as well as deny him an opportunity to sabotage the submarine. She also probably thought it impossible for him to be able to sabotage the device with her around. Hawthorne mentally grinned at her naiveté.
Hawthorne and Dexter went through the diver hatch last, and followed the others down to the summit. As deep as they were, very little light diffused down from the surface, and the water was murky at that, but below them the complex glowed with a silvery green phosphorescent light. As they approached, the architecture resolved itself into a group of a dozen buildings surrounding a circular courtyard. It took up over a third of the top of the seamount, and was shaped like a shallow, flat bowl, rimmed by a low wall. The floor of the courtyard looked like the top of a huge plug, suggesting that it was actually the mouth of an opening into the interior of the mountain. Placed on top of the plug was a grouping of massive stone blocks; these were what formed the Elder Sign.
The buildings themselves displayed an odd mixture of artistic styles: he spotted details and forms that were Phoenician, Egyptian, Minoan, Greek, Roman, Chinese, Ankaran, and Ponapean, as well as those that represented no human culture he was aware of. It was as if the architect deliberately mixed and matched all the different styles he knew, or, as was more likely, this style was the source from which all human cultures borrowed their "unique" styles. Yet each building was based on the same overall design, something that seemed to be a fantastic cross between a pyramid, a tower, a beehive hut, and a gothic cathedral. On top of that, the appearance of the buildings seemed to waver and melt, as if the mind's eye couldn't grasp what they really looked like and instead constantly shifted its perception. He figured it was just an optical illusion, a trick of the phosphorescence and the murkiness of the water, but it disturbed him in a way he had not felt before. It was a kind of atavistic dread; he felt suddenly like a tiny mammal entering a world of gigantic dinosaurs, hoping that he could avoid being seen but certain they were about, somewhere, undetected, and could show up unexpectedly at any moment to squash him under foot.
The divers met in the center of the courtyard. Then the navy frogmen fanned out. They were the bodyguards, though in reality they were cannon fodder. They were armed with gas-powered spearguns that fired armor-piercing bolts at high velocity. Each contained a high explosive fragmentary grenade, but no one was under any illusion that they would be effective against whatever they might encounter here. At best the frogmen were expected to cover the retreat of the other divers, but that meant they had no hope of escaping themselves.
Once they were in position along the rim, Dexter radioed the sub that they were ready. Hawthorne heard the acknowledgment over his headset, and a moment later he heard a whoosh as the device was expelled from the torpedo tube. As soon as it cleared the submarine, special compartments were suppose to open to let out gas-filled balloons that would slow its descent. Hawthorne was just as anxious as the others about whether it would work, because if it didn't it would crash into their midst. It might even detonate prematurely. But after a minute or two they saw the device floating serenely down out of the gloom. They made way to it and it settled gently right on top of a stone block, the control panel right side up.
The divers got to work then, cutting away the balloons and tying the device down so it wouldn't move. Hawthorne watched for a few minutes, for appearances sake, then he tapped Dexter on the shoulder.
"I'm going to have a look around the city," he said, gesturing behind himself.
She shook her head. "That's not a good idea; we don't know what might be lurking around out there."
"I understand, Abigail, but I have my orders. This is the first time we've had a chance to examine one of these cities in person, and the ONI wants a report on its layout."
Dexter checked her watch. "We have fifteen minutes of trimix left, and we'll need five to get back to the sub. You have ten minutes, Ethan."
Created: October 28, 2006