Pulse

Jeremy Robinson

Pulse

DEDICATION

For Hilaree, again, my best, still

EPIGRAPH

If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.

— Bertrand Russell

Where does the violet tint end and the orange tint begin? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blending enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.

— Herman Melville

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error.

— John Kenneth Galbraith

PROLOGUE

Nazca, Peru, 454 B.C.

Hundreds of feet pounded the dry soil, filling the air with the ominous sound of soldiers on the march. But these were not soldiers. They were followers, worshippers of the man whose strange ship had landed on the lush Peruvian shore only a week before, the man who now led them on a trek away from their fertile homeland and across the arid, lifeless Nazca plains.

He marched without cease, without pause for food, water, or rest. With each merciless day their numbers dwindled. The women and children turned back first as hunger and responsibility to their kin overruled their desire to worship the visiting deity. The men who continued following the silent stranger fought against their parched throats and scorched feet, determined to see where the giant would lead. One by one, the weakest men fell to the hard-packed, roiling hot sand and died slowly under the blistering gaze of the sun.

When the man finally stopped in the shade of a tall hill he turned and cast a cool gaze at the remaining twenty-three men — all that remained of the one hundred thirty-seven who'd begun the journey alongside him. They were the strongest and bravest of the tribe, surely worthy of whatever honors the man-god would bestow.

Without a word the giant man removed the lion skin that covered his head and back, pulling the intact beast's head up and away from his own. His sweat-dampened, curly black hair clung to his forehead, but the man paid it no heed. Nor did he wipe away the beads of sweat rolling into his dark brown eyes and into the heavily scabbed gashes running across his chest, back, and legs.

When the giant first arrived on the sandy shore of their village, his resistance to the deep wounds coupled with his tall, six-foot-five height — towering more than a foot above the tallest man in the tribe— had convinced the native Nazcans of his god-hood. The mysterious lion skin that covered his head and back told them he had journeyed from the land of the gods. The club he carried, stained dark with old blood, showed him to be a warrior worthy of respect and awe. But the blood-soaked, woven sack he carried, which wriggled and twisted in his hands and filled the air with a strong copper flavor, revealed he guarded the remains of some ancient evil. At first glance, the size of the object held within the sack made many think he had killed a large boar, but the copious amount of blood constantly dripping from the still-moving body within convinced them otherwise. Nothing mortal could survive so much blood loss.

The giant man knelt and plunged a finger into the hard earth. The small stones and sand that made up the surface of the plains slid away as he outlined a pattern with his finger. After finishing, the man stood again, met the eyes of the men still standing, and waved his hands out over the flat plain at the base of the hill. He then pointed to the central aspect of his drawing, then to a large stone, fifty feet away. The side facing away from the hill looked flat and stood more than ten feet tall and just as wide, but the back side curved out like a boulder. It stood on its edge where the flat side met the rounded, and balanced precariously. To the men it looked like a gnarled, giant melon that had been halved and discarded aeons ago by some ancient god.

The men understood. The strange stone would be the central head of the unearthly creature the man-god had drawn. As the sun set, the men worked in the cooling air. As night came, they labored under torch and moonlight and fought against the frigid, desert air, desperate for food and water, but craving to please the man-god. By morning the oversized reproduction of the giant's drawing was complete. From top to bottom it measured five hundred feet; from side to side, three hundred feet. The light brown lines of the drawing stood in stark contrast to the dark pebbly skin of the plains, making the massive illustration truly magnificent.

The men staggered under the fresh blazing sun as it sapped the rest of their strength and sucked the remaining moisture from their bodies. With each drop of blood from their raw hands, their lives ebbed farther away. Each man knew his life would end in the desert, but they fought the urge to flee, believing that the man-god would reward them for their faithful service. They staggered as a group, dazed and bewildered, toward the head of their drawing, where the giant waited.

He stood next to a deep pit he had dug in front of the large stone, where the two lines from either side of the drawing converged. The men stopped on the opposite side of the pit and waited. The giant raised the sack over the pit, allowing the still oozing blood to drip down into the sand below, where it dried instantly and turned to ash. The men murmured about the strange magic that turned blood to ash, but all remained rooted in place, as much from exhaustion as from a desire to see what might happen next. As the man freed the sack from his grasp, it fell into the pit, landing atop the ashen drop of blood.

Upon striking the hot, dry earth, the sack began to writhe, violently at first, but then more slowly. As the wet blood on the outside of the sack turned white and dry, it stopped moving altogether.

The men waited breathlessly for what might happen next. When the man-god raised his hand and pointed, fear and horror gripped their exhausted bodies. Had they known their fate, not a single one of them would have followed the giant or helped carve his design. Their eyes filled with fear and desperation, but as the giant's grip tightened on his club, they knew flight would serve no purpose. Not one of them would make it outside the borders of their drawing without meeting a blunt end.

The man pointed again, stabbing his finger into the pit. This time the men obeyed, crawling down into the pit. With quivering legs and shaking hands, the men waited to see what would happen next.

The man drank from a wineskin that hung at his hip. The last few drops of the black liquid within dribbled onto his tongue. He swallowed and turned to them again, his body appearing stronger than ever, but his face revealing something more — remorse. The look of regret lasted only an instant as resolve returned to the man-god's eyes.

For the first time since arriving, the giant spoke. His voice shook the sand at the edge of the pit. They didn't understand a word of the man's speech, but found the tone of his voice, the strength of his frame, and the energy of his gesticulations to be inspiring. Confidence returned to the men and several even smiled, as the man-god raised his club to the sky and shouted. They cheered with him, raising their bloodied fists and shouting at the sun.

But their shouts of victory turned to screams as a large object suddenly blotted out the sun above them. Before their tired minds could make sense of the massive object, it descended and crashed with a thunderous boom, after which only the sound of a single pair of sandaled feet could be heard, crunching across the plains, headed east, toward the coast.

ONE

Peru, 2006

Todd Maddox stepped out of the Eurocopter EC 155 and ducked instinctively as the rotor blades continued chopping the air above him. The flight from LAX in Los Angeles to Captain Rolden International Airport in Peru had been uneventful, and the copter ride from the airport to this unknown destination blessedly smooth. But discomfort struck him hard as he exited the copter's air-conditioned interior and entered the humid jungle air of eastern Peru's Amazon rain forest.

His sunflower yellow shirt became like sticky, wet papier-mache, gluing itself to his body. His styled hair, held in place by a thick film of pricey Elnett hairspray, dissolved into a heavy goo that oozed over his forehead. Out of his dry, Los Angeles element, Maddox grunted and cursed under his breath as he held tight to his briefcase and jogged toward the glass double doors that seemed so out of place in the thick green jungle.

Doubt filled his mind as he neared the doors. Was this worth it? Could he stand all this heat and humidity? The pay would no doubt be amazing and the company, Manifold, was renowned in the worl ...

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