Feathered Serpent 2012

Junius Podrug

Tor Books

Teotihuacán Archaeological Site, Mexico, Today
“We’ll drive you from our land, we’ll drink your blood.”
Caden Montez watched men performing as werejaguars, legendary man-beasts of ancient Mexico, strike at each other with wooden swords, drawing blood to satisfy the covenant with the gods—blood for rain. With snarling jaguar headpieces, claws on their hands and feet, bare chests, and legs covered with gray ash and black spots, they were in the chilling guise of the infamous night creatures of the jungle. But the blood is real, she thought.
Watching the performance from the steps of the ruins of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, Caden found the brutality ugly. And the taunts bothered her. The show was for tourists at the ancient ru­ins of Teotihuacán, Mexico’s largest tourist attraction, and the crowd that had gathered to watch the performance had no idea that the words sung in the old Nahuatl tongue, the language of the Aztecs, were threats.
An expert in both astrobiology, the scienti.c search for extraterres­trial life, and archaeology, the study of antiquity, her specialty was ancient Mexico. She spoke Nahuatl, and she didn’t .nd it amusing that the men were using the ancient tongue to shout murder threats at unsuspecting tourists.
The shouted threats had increased the sense of unease she’d felt all morning after a strange phone call from her assistant, Julio. Wrapped up in research for her into a dark legend of the ancient city, he appeared to have enmeshed himself in the project in unhealthy ways. That the re­search had been related to the ancient tales of Nawals, the  blood- drinking werejaguars the dancers  were mimicking, intensi.ed her concern for Julio.
“We’ll drink your blood,” they sang to a norteamericano with a cam­corder who stepped in for a  close- up.
“What exactly do the performers represent?” Laura Gillock asked.
Gillock had come to the site to do a National Geographic piece on Caden’s work at Teotihuacán. This was Caden’s .rst meeting with the magazine writer, and she wanted to make a good impression.
“They’re performing a blood covenant dance. The small cuts are sacri.ces of blood so the gods give rain for the maize crop. The men snapping whips make sounds that mimic the thunder god.”
“Why do the gods want blood?”
“The gods of ancient Mexico  were nourished with human blood. It gave the sun god the strength to rise each day, the rain god the strength to water the earth, the war god the strength to win battles. So the gods made a covenant with mankind: Feed us blood and we will give you rain and sunshine for a good harvest, and strength and courage for victory in war.”
“Those black spots and ash make the players look like leopards.”
“Jaguars, they’re dressed as werejaguars.”
“Werejaguars? You mean like werewolves?”
“Exactly, with vampires thrown in because werejaguars also drank their victims’ blood. Legends of  shape- changing beasts exist all over the world— European werewolves, African  leopard- men,  tiger- men in India. Here, it’s jaguars because the beasts have a special place in the lore of Latin America. They’re the only great roaring cats in the Americas, creatures of dangerous grace and savage power, but at three or four hundred pounds, not something you’d want to pet. The indigenous people have always feared and revered them. The word jaguar comes from their word yaguar— he who kills with one leap.”
“Wasn’t there a murder cult like the Thugs of India  here in Mexico?”
“Cult of the Jaguar, a secret society that arose to drive out the invaders after the Spanish conquest. Members dressed as jaguars prowled the night, stalking and murdering Spaniards. A legend arose that they  were  shape­changers who could transform into werejaguars, hideous creatures called Nawals. The king’s men .nally put an end to the cult with the hangman’s noose, but the legend of Nawals didn’t die in the jungles of Mexico where modern culture is still barely felt even today.”
Caden knew millions of people still lived in jungle areas and had never assimilated into the general population, even though it had been nearly .ve centuries since the conquest. Periodically, these people whose culture lagged behind modern Mexico  were in open warfare with the government. She hoped that shouting threats to tourists was just a private joke among them.
At the time of Christ, Teotihuacán was the largest city in the western hemi sphere, the center of a powerful empire and a metropolis that rivaled ancient Rome in size. Now it was Mexico’s biggest tourist attraction. Thirty miles northeast of Mexico City, the ruins of the ancient city had two mag­ni.cent pyramids: Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. The pyra­mid dedicated to the sun god was only a hair smaller than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
“How do you pronounce the name of the city?” Gillock asked.
“Tay- oh- tee- wah- kahn. Most people just call it Tay- o or Tee- o. Teotihuacán meant ‘city of the gods’ in the Aztec language. No one knows the real name of the city or the culture that built it. Or even why the largest city ever built on the American continent before Columbus was abandoned.
“All of the civilizations that  rose afterwards in  Mesoamerica— the Aztecs, Mayans, Toltecs, and  others— mimicked the structures they found here in building their own temples and pyramids, but never created ones this large. And none of them tried to populate the deserted city.”
“They  were afraid. Even the Aztecs, the storm troopers of ancient Mex­ico, feared the ghost city. They sensed dark magic at the huge pyramids and temples along the broad boulevard called the Avenue of the Dead. I suppose they sensed something we moderns  can’t relate to. All the cultures that came afterwards adopted the infamous blood covenant and sacri.ced humans to the gods. And Teo was where the covenant began. The main god and leg­endary builder of the city was said to be particularly bloodthirsty.”
“Sounds creepy. But great stuff for my article. Is the dark mystery of the city part of your research project?”
Caden knew there was a possible connection, but the theory that the magazine writer had come to interview her about was controversial enough without adding an  ancient- murder- cult angle. Besides, it wasn’t a pleasant subject with her. Research into the dark legend was the assignment she’d given to Julio.
“Not directly, though I’m back in Teo because of the legendary .gure that began the blood covenant. Are you familiar with the .eld of astrobi­ology?”
“I looked it up before I came. Search for life on other planets. NASA has you astrobiologists looking for life on Mars. SETI people with those enormous satellite dishes are waiting for ET to call. Jodie Foster had that job in the movie Contact, didn’t she?”
Caden laughed. “Well, I suppose that’s the public’s conception. Astrobi­ology is usually thought of as the search for life outside of Earth, but it’s re­ally the study of life in the universe, Earth included. We begin by studying life on Earth and extend the investigation into the far reaches of space.”
“I read that you search for water on other planets.”
“That’s one focus. Water is the universal elixir, the magic potion that is necessary for life as we know it. Science believes life began in the ocean. When our primeval ancestors crawled onto land, they carried water with them inside their skin. I’m sure you know, humans are about two- thirds water, which is about the same percentage of water on the surface of the planet.
“So if we’re going to look for life as we know it in other parts of the cosmos, we look for water. So far, the prime candidates for having water are comets, a couple moons of Saturn, and maybe beneath the surface of Mars.”
“Water’s the blood of Mother Earth.” Gillock grinned. “Something I read when I was doing a piece on a Gaia group, people who view the planet as a living organism. Speaking of water, have you heard about the incident in the Gulf of Mexico?”
“The dead .sh? I know a few weeks ago dead .sh suddenly started sur­facing, but I’ve been so wrapped up  here, I  haven’t followed the story.”
“It’s getting worse. My editor wants me to check it out on the way home. The government says there’s a leak of methane. I understand that’s essentially natural gas, the stuff we use in our stoves. Apparently the bot­tom of the Gulf is full of the stuff.”
“There are enormous methane deposits in many places under the seas. Some scientists believe that methane eruptions on the ocean .oor are what’s behind the mysterious disappearances of ships in the Bermuda Triangle. Methane is also called swamp gas because it kills life in water, creating dead ponds.”
“So if it’s a search for water, why Teo? Not much around  here.”
“My search is for life on Earth that originated elsewhere. It’s a theory scientists call panspermia. The concept is that the seeds of life are scattered and carried throughout the universe, with planets like Earth having a friendly environment for life to evolve into higher states.”
“How would life get  here . . . from there?”
“A comet carrying microbes is the best candidate. There’s even evi­dence that an impact with a big comet billions of years ago left the water that got our oceans started. That water could have contained organisms in microform. For sure, over eons,  we’ve been hit with ice from space mil­lions of times. And any piece of it could have carried microlife.”
“Comets are big chunks of ice, aren’t they? They call them dirty snow­balls?”
“Halley’s comet is a  potato- shaped chunk of ice about .ve miles wide and ten miles long. Many other comets are also enormous. Earth is also constantly being bombarded by much smaller pieces of space ice that usu­ally vaporize in our atmosphere.”
“How could microbes survive in space?”
“On Earth microbes survive in volcanoes, under miles of ice pack, and under the .oors of oceans. A  ride on a comet  wouldn’t be that big a leap.”
“So why are you at Teo if you’re looking for comets?”
This was the tough part of the interview. Gillock was playing dumb, but Caden knew why she had asked for the interview. The controversy Caden had generated with a scienti.c paper had prompted the  interview— along with unwanted attention from the media circus that thrived on sto­ries about farm girls giving birth to  two- headed babies after being raped by aliens.
She took a deep breath and plunged in. “Most scientists pursuing panspermia theories are looking for microbes that hitched a  ride on a comet or a meteor. I’m sure you’ve heard, I have a different approach. My re­search focuses on the search for evidence of larger  life- forms—”
“I prefer to think of them as visitors. The word alien has a sensationalism derived from movies and tabloid stories.” Caden stopped and faced the magazine writer. “Laura, I know how weird some of my theories sound, but I’m not a nutcase or someone deliberately provoking controversy. My paper on visitors was published in a scienti.c journal that only astrobiolo­gists read. Now I’m getting the sort of ridicule that was thrown by the sci­enti.c community at the Chariots of the Gods type of books back in the 1970s.”
“I recall most of those books claimed that evidence of ancient astro­nauts visiting us is found in the pictures draw by the ancients on walls and vases.”
Caden nodded. “And landforms that resemble giant air.elds, the amaz­ing movement of enormously heavy objects long distances, all kinds of things that seemed impossible for ancient cultures. Right off, the scienti.c community howled with laughter and  derision— which is why I should have proceeded with more caution.”
“What’s your premise?”
“That because ridicule was heaped on the theories, scientists avoided serious study of many phenomena for fear they would be laughed at. Just because most of the theories lacked credibility  doesn’t mean we shouldn’t investigate whether there’s evidence of extraterrestrial visits in ancient times. But it isn’t surprising that scientists don’t line up to commit career hara- kiri.”
“But you’re into career suicide?”
Caden thought about the question. “I’m into .nding the truth. I don’t want to damage my career, but I also don’t want to hide my head in the sand out of fear that I’ll take an unpop u lar stance. Science is not as open-minded or as friendly to new ideas as one might think. The numbers of scientists hounded for advocating theories that  were later proved correct are legion.”
“Isn’t there a famous misconception about anatomy?”
“Right. For .fteen hundred years, medical students  were taught human anatomy based upon a Roman study that used the anatomy of dissected monkeys, pigs, and dogs rather than the human body. Scientists who ques­tioned the accuracy of the data  were  persecuted—one was burned at the stake. Which is about what I’m facing when I advocate that scientists do an in- depth analysis of whether ancient astronauts visited Earth rather than simply dismissing the idea out of hand.
“Scientists who have no problem theorizing that life could have arrived on a dirty snowball from trillions of miles away, or spend their lives listening to static from the cosmos in the hopes it’s a message from ET, tremble at the notion of meeting  head- on issues of whether  we’ve already had visitors.”
“Would you call it thinking out of the box?”
“I’d call it keeping an open mind and having the courage to question anything. The most important thing I’ve learned as a scientist is that sci­ence doesn’t have all the answers. You  can’t .nd God in a test tube.”
Laura raised her eyebrows. “Maybe God was an ancient astronaut?”
“Of course He was an ancient astronaut.”
“Come again?”
“He wasn’t of this world, was he? He created it. He lives in the celes­tial heavens, which are somewhere in the cosmos. How could God be any­thing other than a visitor from the far beyond?”
Laura laughed and shook her head. “Good Lord, I’ll put my editor in an early grave if I turn in a story that God was an alien. Is that your the­ory?”
“Not at all, I was just playing dev il’s advocate—excuse the pun. The hypothesis I’m investigating is that the great civilization that suddenly rose at Teo—and disappeared as suddenly and  mysteriously— was created by a being of superior intelligence. And that being most likely was a visi­tor from the beyond.”
“Why someone of superior intelligence? What makes Teo so unique?”
“It’s high state of civilization suddenly appeared in a region of the world isolated from the march of progress.” Caden gestured at the enormous pyramids and ruins of temples. “This was a great city. In thousands of years, nothing to compare came about on the entire continent. It ruled an enormous empire and built  world- class edi.ces.”
“Egypt has pyramids and temples, the Greeks had—”
“Exactly. The great civilizations of the ancient world all had incredible monuments. But the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Babylonians, Chinese, Hindu,  were all physically close enough to have borrowed and learned from each other. Each succeeding civilization learned from the prior ones and improved upon it.
“What occurred here at Teo was a sudden explosion of progress and the rise of a empire with a territory larger than Western Eu rope. Even more astonishing is that the region basically relied upon a single  crop— corn—and had no beasts of burden.”
“No  horses or mules?”
“And no donkeys, oxen, cattle. If you think about it, the  horse was prob­ably the greatest technological invention in history. Without it, Alexander wouldn’t have conquered everything from Greece to the Himalayas, the Romans  wouldn’t have ruled the Mediterranean world, Genghis Khan’s Mongols would never have conquered half the known world. But  horses and other beasts of burden didn’t come to the New World until the Span­ish brought them.
“Look at the Pyramid of the Sun. As high as a  twenty- story building, and if it were hollow, the Houston Astrodome could .t into it. It’s bigger than two of Egypt’s three biggest pyramids. And the city around it went for miles in every direction and ruled an empire that extended two thou­sand miles. Ancient Mexicans and ancient Egyptians who lived halfway around the world from each other and never could have interacted had amazing  similarities— both worshipped  feathered- serpent deities, built the largest pyramids on Earth, used hieroglyphics as their writing system, in­vented paper, developed sophisticated mathematics and astronomy, and had a  365- day calendar.
“How did this stunning relationship occur? We don’t know. While an­cient Egypt has been studied extensively for centuries, the wonders of an­cient Mexico have been barely scratched. And for a scientist to even suggest the incredible similarities  were anything but a pure coincidence would sub­ject the scientist to ridicule.”
Gillock nodded. “The cards  were stacked against Teo, but a mighty civ­ilization suddenly arose  here. No one knows what happened to it. What’s your opinion on why the city was abandoned and the civilization just sort of disappeared?”
“A signi.cant event occurred in the .rst century around the time of Christ, shortly before Teo  rose to become the greatest city of the Americas. A .ery object was seen .ying across the sky from east to west. Astronomers in China, India, and Rome recorded the event as a comet but noted that it was much brighter and appeared closer to Earth than any comet seen be­fore. Even more perplexing was a claim that the object changed course. It didn’t take much for ancient people to decide that this was a god racing around the world in a .ery chariot.
“The observations recorded in Eu rope and Asia coincide with the re­port of a .ery god in the sky  here in ancient Mexico. What really piqued my interest in terms of investigating the notion of an ancient astronaut was that the legend which arose about the god is connected to someone we know existed.”
“Him.” Caden pointed at monstrous stone heads poking out of a wall. “Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent.”
The creature was grotesque, with the head of giant snake, the jaws of a shark, and the plumes of a tropical bird.
“What we call an archaeobeast,” Caden said, “an ancient supernatural spirit or preternatural beast, usually associated with an archaeological site. Cultures all over the world have them. Quetzalcoatl is just more  ferocious-looking than most others.”
“You’re telling me this thing from a bad trip on Mexican mushrooms was real?”
“I don’t know what he actually looked like. Hopefully he was prettier than the stonework, but Teo was ruled by a  god- king named Quetzal­coatl. We’re standing in front of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. We don’t know whether there was a single king with that name or a series of them using the name. The legend was that he was a frightful creature, a feath­ered serpent that .ew in.”
“What about the .ery chariot?”
“No chariots because there  weren’t  horses to draw them. Instead, the ancient Mexicans identi.ed Quetzalcoatl with the eve ning star, a .aming object in the sky. Like the biblical Genesis, the legend of him is a creation story in which he creates humans: Descending from the sky, he found a deserted world in which everyone had died. He gathered the bones of the dead and anointed them with his own blood so that they  rose back to life. He, by the way, is the bloodthirsty gentleman who instituted the blood covenant.”
“Sounds like Night of the Living Dead. What’s your interpretation of the legend?”
“There’s usually an element of truth in the myths of ancient peoples. Teo arose after another city not far from here, Cuicuilco, was destroyed by .re and brimstone. Could have been destroyed by a volcano . . .”
“Or the arrival of your visitor with a bang.”
“Exactly. Many people were killed, we know that, and the city was abandoned. The survivors built a new city, Teo.”
Gillock shook her head. “Bottom line, a guy comes down in a space­ship and makes people build a new city after destroying theirs?”
“I don’t think that the story of a visitor from space building a city is any harder to believe than the biblical tale of a supernatural being creat­ing the world in six days or a Darwinian theory that this incredible mira­cle we call life started with an accidental mixing of chemicals in a primeval sea.”
“I didn’t mean to get you mad.”
“I’m not angry, I’m frustrated. I  haven’t accepted everything I just told you as gospel. I’m simply saying that legends supported by physical evi­dence ought to be enough to warrant a scienti.c investigation instead of everyone running and sticking their heads in the sand out of fear of being ridiculed.  Here’s how I break it down: Something happened about two thousand years ago. An object was observed racing across the sky, making a maneuver no comet can make. It was observed by astronomers around the world. Around that same time, a city is seeded that grows at an in­credible rate to dominate all of Mesoamerica. The city is dominated by a god said to have descended from the heavens.
“Someone—or  something— brought the knowledge to build im mense pyramids, among the largest in the world, to a culture that had not built anything higher than the roofs of their mud huts. And I’m not willing to simply abandon a search to .nd out who or what it was because some peo­ple will poke fun at the notion that  we’ve been visited before.”
“What about the Mayan 2012 theory? Does your  .aming- star god .t into that?”
Caden smothered a groan. She had enough problems with the scien­ti.c community already and didn’t need any more controversy. But she couldn’t risk antagonizing the writer by sloughing her off.

Excerpted from Featered Serpent 2012 by Junius Podrug.
Copyright © 2010 by Junius Podrug.
Published in March 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
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