Guest Art Courtesy of Mogodore J. Bivouac
Chapter Two: "A Briefing In The Desert On a Force With No Name"
Even if one closely watched the shimmering waves of heat on the tarmac, that person would have barely seen the white plane blending with the scenery of the sands as it headed for the Nile. But such an individual would have easily spotted the four men in dark green uniforms, approaching the plane as it pulled up to a makeshift dock near the men.
A man in a brown suit emerged from the plane and shook hands with the men. “General Donovan, General Nessmeyer, Colonel Thornwald, Sgt. Payne, it’s a pleasure,” said Fred Jones. Donovan curtly nodded, but his expression indicated a degree of urgency. “Dr. Jones, assemble your team for a briefing in five minutes. We got ourselves a mess on our hands.”
Five minutes later, Fred led Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and Scooby into the metallic windowless hangar. The blond archaeologist was disappointed to see only a few fans to cool down the hot building, but he did spot something better. “Professor Hyde-White…it’s good to see you again.”
The brown-haired mustachioed professor from England vigorously pumped Fred’s hand with an enthusiastic handshake, followed by a safe hug for his colleague Velma and a small peck for Daphne. But for Shaggy, his expression soured slightly. The professor shook his head at his school’s research assistant and muttered. “The Yeti…my word.”
“You have to admit, for a guy nicknamed Shaggy, studying the Yeti is perfect,” observed Fred, to laughs from others. As Shaggy self-consciously rubbed his beard, Donovan gestured for the group to sit in chairs while Sgt. Payne wheeled out a blackboard.
Dispensing with any pleasantries, Donovan spoke sharply. “One of you will have to take notes for everyone. The young lady can do the honors…” he gestured toward Daphne “…unless she has forgotten how to do shorthand since she became the
New York Chronicle news editor.”
“Your hand’s gonna’ be a lot shorter if you don’t stop with the wisecracks,” snapped Daphne, earning a private chuckle from Fred, which made Donovan scowl.
Donovan, however, brushed off the insult and began the briefing. “Our OSS agents in Italy uncovered correspondence between a member of Benito Mussolini’s intelligence agency and a prominent archaeologist. In this set of letters, the two discuss locating a powerful element associated with the destruction of Atlantis. Is this some far-fetched story or are these gentlemen about to locate something we don’t want them to find?”
Hyde-White began the response. “Velma, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t these gentlemen talking about
All eyes swung toward the bespectacled girl, whose expression was mixed between a nodding approval and a frowning dissent. “A lot of the Atlantean legend is just that, but there’s some scholarly work that focuses on mysterium. Today’s scientists call it that, even though no one’s been able to study it for years, because its properties…even its existence, are simply a mystery.”
Fred provided a skeptical look. “Then how does anyone know it is so powerful?” he inquired. “I mean…if no one has seen it…”
“What scientists have speculated is that this element may have been responsible for the most powerful explosions mankind has ever witnessed
on this Earth,” Velma responded, placing additional emphasis on the last few words.
The effect was dramatic. Donovan’s eyes widened. Fred whistled. Daphne gasped. Shaggy’s mouth dropped open. Hyde-White merely stated “That assumes the stories linking Atlantis and Thera are true.”
“Thera?” Nessmeyer asked, not comprehending the word.
“Thera is a volcano located on the island of Santorini that legends claim destroyed Atlantis,” Velma began, as if she were a professor providing an interesting lecture to her students. “Roughly 3,000 years ago, the Mediterranean island virtually disintegrated in a massive blast. It destroyed the Atlanteans that Plato wrote about. You’ve heard about Krakatoa?”
“I assume you’re referring to the Indonesian volcano that erupted in 1883, killing nearly 36,000 people,” said Donovan calmly.
“Well Thera’s blast was several times worse. In fact, the destruction was so great that they never found any of the tens of thousands of island inhabitants like they did at Pompeii. It broke the island into several smaller pieces.” Velma shook her head, awestruck at Thera’s power. “It wiped out the Minoan civilization in nearby Crete. Huge tidal waves traveled hundreds of miles, drowning millions on the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. The sun was blocked out for a long time.”
“I still don’t get it” ventured Daphne. “What does this have to do with mysterium?”
Professors Dinkley and Hyde-White exchanged nervous glances before the she responded. “What Velma is getting at is that this explosion may not have been entirely related to a normal eruption,” the British man noted.
“A gigantic column of fire an estimated 25 miles high was spotted thousands of miles away, yet the magma cone evidently collapsed into the sea in an unusual manner,” Velma offered cryptically.
“Such an event is recorded in the bible,” noted Hyde-White. He took a small book from his bag. “From the Book of Nahum, it is written
‘Bashan and Carmel wither, the bloom of Lebanon fades. The mountains quake before him, the hills melt; the earth is laid waste before him, the world and all that dwell therein…but with an overflowing flood, he will make a full end of his adversaries…Nineveh is like a pool whose waters run away… Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end…’”
“Good God!” shouted Fred.
“Yes, that’s just what the Hebrews thought” said Hyde-White with a wry expression.
“So what are you two suggesting?” demanded Donovan, becoming nervous.
Hyde-White began. “A French team investigating volcanic activity using nearby samples could not even verify that a traditional volcano even took place. Many factors such as the relative absence of pumice and the lack of a lava flow, confused them.”
Velma took up the conversation like a relay runner grabbing a baton from a teammate. “Those who believe in mysterium believe that Atlanteans were actually experimenting with a special element which they planned to use in battle. Something went wrong with the test and nearly destroyed every civilization on three continents.
Thornwald interrupted. “So all of the mysterium was destroyed?”
Velma shook her head. “Not necessarily. Legends write that some mysterium was smuggled out to Greece before the ill-fated test. Those who believe in this theory point to the mysterious destruction of the Persian fleet in the wars with the Greeks. Some say a storm destroyed those boats, but no one can confirm the presence of such a hurricane like force in the area at the time. Others note that Alexander the Great may have had a little help from mysterium in conquering larger armies with his smaller band of Macedonians.”
Shaggy looked confused. “Like where is the stuff now?”
“No one knows for sure, my dear Shaggy,” Velma said in her cute nasal voice. “The last anyone has heard or seen the element occurred during the Roman Empire when it disappeared from all accounts. A general named Publius was supposed to retrieve it from Macedonia, but he disappeared, as did the last known record of mysterium.”
Donovan bit his lip. “I’m beginning to see the Italian fascination with this dangerous element.”
After a nervous pause, Daphne broke the stillness with a question. “So who is on the trail of this element now?”
“Well,” said Donovan. “There’s the fascist government of Benito Mussolini, which is just one or two steps away from being the next Hitler. The archaeologist’s name isn’t as well known to us. The correspondence reads Vicente D’Antonini…”
“Biscia!” spat Fred Jones in anger and disgust, earning shocked expressions from the other members of the briefing. Velma put a hand on his shoulder. Donovan let out an exasperated grunt.
“So who is…” Velma began, but she was cut off.
“Il Biscia is his nickname…. it means ‘the snake’ in Italian,” Fred said through clenched teeth. “And he’s earned the title. Most folks in our profession think he’s responsible for Italy’s murderous invasion of Ethiopia and the slaughter of many innocents, just to claim a few archaeological treasures. During the bloody Spanish Civil War, he was spotted looting museums in Madrid and Barcelona.”
Donovan swore and kicked a chair. “This is just great! Not only is the world’s most dangerous chemical element in the backyard of one of our enemies, but some of the most ruthless people in the world are about to uncover it.”
“What we need is a plan, man,” said Shaggy, a little shaken by Donovan’s outburst. Scooby nodded in assent.
“I could fly us to Italy,” Daphne volunteered. “We’re not at war with them yet.”
“What about that intelligence network you said uncovered the correspondence?” Fred asked. “If they found this important letter, they might give us clues to where the mysterium might be. What do we have to lose?”
Donovan gritted his teeth. “I see your point. It isn’t much to go on, but with this smart scientist…” he gestured toward Velma. “…we might have a chance to figure out something they don’t know. Let me know your supplies and Sergeant Payne will retrieve them from the quartermaster. You leave this hour!”
* * *
Donovan pulled Fred aside as the others left the room. “Shhh…wait until the others are gone.” Fred’s eyes widened, but he said nothing.
“I have to let you know this in private, but there’s something else you should know,” Donovan whispered. “I have strong reason to suspect that there’s a spy among our Italian operatives.”
“How do you know?” said Fred, not really wanting to hear the rationale, given that he was on his way to meet with these individuals.
“You’re not the first to go looking for this item,” Donovan noted. “Two other agents were searching for the same thing you are mysteriously vanished. Since only a few people knew about their mission and travel plans, we suspect it was inside information that did them in.”
“Any thoughts about the person responsible?” Fred asked, now becoming notably worried.
“The people who would have had the best idea are missing,” Donovan said in an agitated tone. “In addition to retrieving the mysterium, you’ll have to track down our agents and confirm they are dead or rescue them if they are alive by some miracle.”
Fred sighed. He wondered whether the spy game was really for him. As boring as the AAAA lectures were, his chances of death were significantly less likely than these types of missions. It was possible to have a career that was too exciting. “So who are we looking for?”
Donovan’s tone became a little more genial at learning that Dr. Fred Jones would go along with the additional mission. “I’ll let you find out from our agents in Italy.” As Fred began to interrupt in protest, the OSS chief waved off his concerns. “It’s better that you learn about it from them. One of the three might accidentally let something slip, and you or your brainy colleague or that snoopy reporter might figure out who is the spy.”
There was wisdom in General Donovan’s words, Fred concluded. Yet it meant a doubly risky mission. The last time he juggled responsibilities of saving someone while completing a task nearly led to his doom. At the time, he vowed that his adventuring days were done. He couldn’t risk his life or anyone else’s.
Donovan sensed Fred’s doubt. He put his hand on the archaeologist’s shoulder. “Your country needs you, son,” he said in a serious tone. “I don’t need to tell you what’s going to happen when the Italians and their German pals get their hands on this stuff. You heard what your friend Velma said about that explosion that destroyed millions. We can’t afford another one on our shores.”
* * *
As the seaplane left the Egyptian runway behind, Fred called the group together. “Donovan told me that one of the Italian agents may have betrayed the other Americans to the enemy.”
All showed signs of shock and disbelief. “What we need to do is pretend as if we don’t suspect them,” Fred said in a serious tone. “Just act natural. Otherwise, we won’t find out who the spy is until we’ve disappeared too!”
While the seaplane climbed higher into the air, Velma buried her head in a book, but her mind was far from the subject of Greek Wars with the Persians. As a little girl, she had been intrigued by the story of Atlantis. The people appeared to have built a perfect utopia of democracy, science and peace, only to have the misfortune of building their civilization so close to a volcano. Later, in her research, she discovered the truth about Thera and mysterium. Her dreams had been shattered. Realism had replaced romance. No longer did she see this idyllic little island as a role model for society; now she saw them as a lot that strove to create the world’s most deadly technology for war and paid the ultimate price in the process. She hoped she would not be disappointed by humanity’s use of science for deadly weaponry on the scale of mysterium again.
As Velma remained lost in her thoughts, Fred was focusing his on Daphne. They had spoken little since they had declared an “armistice.” Perhaps it was time to try again. Though the redhead reporter appeared focused on flying, she sensed Fred had entered the cockpit. “Hello, Dr. Jones,” she began in a neutral tone. He noticed that she didn’t call him Fred.
“Velma’s busy reading again and Shaggy and Scooby are munching on something in the back. I just thought you might want some company up here.”
Daphne did not respond immediately, but focused on working the controls to avoid what appeared to be a rough patch that could produce a bumpy flight. “I’ve got some tough weather to keep me busy,” she finally noted.
Now, his excuse for restarting the conversation seemed to be fraying rather rapidly, Fred thought. She’s even talking about the weather, he mentally gasped. He tried a different conversation starter. “What do you think about the possibility that one of our agents might be a spy?” he added weakly.”
“I’m trying not to,” she said quickly. “Frankly, I’m more worried about getting us to Venice than I am in what we’ll find there,” she said, suddenly jerking the plane as it shuddered slightly.
“Do you think we can find the mysterium in time before…”
“Look Fred,” she said, as if trying to control her temper. “This isn’t a good time to have a conversation. I’m pretty busy, as you can see!” Then, noticing Fred’s hurt expression, she added, “Listen, when we hit the ground, we’ll try and find some free time to talk about our future.”
Fred nodded weakly. He ducked out of the cockpit and headed back to an empty seat. He made a vain attempt to get interested in some reports Donovan had provided him which expanded upon the briefing, but all he could think about was her.
* * *
Vicente D’Antonini, alias Il Biscia, stormed from the military headquarters of the Italian army with Captain Luigi Graffanino of his country’s espionage unit. Italy’s military, once in strong command of Albania across the Adriatic Sea, had nearly been driven from the country by Greek forces, with backing from the British. He was enraged that his nation’s leader, Benito Mussolini, was bowing to pressure from German dictator Adolf Hitler to reduce his country’s presence in that tiny East European country in order to maintain a larger force in Southern France and Northern Africa in the colony of Libya. Biscia thought he had made it perfectly clear in his communication with Mussolini’s military chief-of-staff that the item he sought, perhaps located somewhere in the Balkans, could bring the war to an end in a manner of days, but the stubborn general simply refused to listen. Thanks to Graffanino’s influence, he had won some degree of autonomy over the remaining forces in Tirana, but unless he had a clear idea of where they should be positioned, their value was hardly worth the effort.
His spy, turned by Graffanino, did show some promise. The turncoat had helped net two key American agents, but so far, it had not provided the information he needed. Though captured, they were resisting his promises and threats. He suspected that at least one might know where in East Europe he needed to look for the mysterium.
Many had assumed that Biscia’s fascination with the old Roman Empire had to do with nostalgia, but that was not necessarily the case. He could care less who was Emperor after Claudius, or where Scipio was buried. He was looking for clues about a Roman General, Publius, who was sent to recover mysterium from Macedonia. Alas, the man had disappeared, along with all traces of the element. Through his searches, he would rediscover mysterium and then restart the Roman Empire.
Biscia knew that not everyone approved of his methods. Critics pointed to his looting, his pressure upon the government to slaughter innocents in Albania and Ethiopia to further his aims. But Biscia was a disciple of the writings of Machiavelli, who showed the world that you had to be ruthless in your quest to get what you wanted, or other ruthless men would do you in. It was a kill or be killed world, and Biscia would do what it took to rule it. As the master Machiavelli put it
“Whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it...”