The Society of Orion Book Five: The Tayos Caves

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To be Published 8/05/2015

Chapter One

 

The large brown off-road vehicle called a hummer bumped and swayed along the rutted path that passed as a road in the jungles of eastern Ecuador. The travelers had been bouncing along the route for almost an entire day. It was hot, smelly and very humid in the military styled vehicle. Some of the people were getting seasick from the constant jostling.

“Do you think that this thing will have any paint left on it when we reach an actual road?” Steve Pellegrino, the driver complained as he brushed by a huge dark green plant. They had been passing through the thick brush for what seemed like an eternity.

“This thing has kept us safe for several days now,” Kenny Cole replied. “Be nice and quit complaining.”

“Well we’ll need to find some gas soon or you’ll be pushing this tank,” Steve replied with irritation in his voice.

“Relax,” Carol Cole, Kenny’s sister and the navigator, said. “We are almost to the highway.”

“Good thing,” Colton Banyon replied. Not because he was worried about the gas situation — he was worried about the level of bickering and general restlessness of the seven occupants of the vehicle. They had left the Salesian mission compound five days ago with great expectations. They had an ancient map and intended to find the Tayos caves and untold riches. Instead, they had been forced to rummage around the jungle, had to defend themselves against thirty armed supremacists, fight off the creatures of Mother Nature, all sleep in one tent and in the end they had found that the cave entrance was underwater. A large lake hid the caves and they had not packed scuba gear. The trip was a complete disaster. No one was satisfied.

“I can’t wait to get my hands on that damn Father Hector,” Steve threatened as he pounded the steering wheel with his fist. “He lied to us. We almost died.”

“Actually, he didn’t lie,” Loni Chen said politely. She was Colton Banyon’s petite Asian companion, partner and lover. “He just omitted the part about the entrance being underwater. I’m sure that there was a reason. He is a very devious monk.”

“I just hope that he doesn’t have another task for us to perform before he gives us the real truth,” Maya Patel added. She was the only member of the Patel clan on the mission. Her two sisters and Eric were stuck in India and could not make the trip.

“I thought that it was fun,” Mandy the seventh member of the Forever Ours team, piped up. “There were some real life experiences.”

“You’re just saying that because you got to sleep on top of Colt when Loni was on guard duty,” Maya said sarcastically. Everyone knew that Mandy had more than a crush on the much older Colton Banyon.

“And what should I tell Heather when we get back to the office,” Mandy replied with equal sarcasm. “You were draped all over Steve all night — every night.”

Heather Vance was the last member of the team. She was very good friends with Mandy and was also Steve’s girlfriend. Heather was in Chicago running the law offices that had been recently acquired by Forever Ours, LLC.

“I only put his hands where I wanted them,” Maya responded evasively. She then turned her head towards Mandy and smiled.

“Okay,” Banyon yelled out — “that’s enough squabbling. Let’s try and figure out what we will do when we reach the mission. It is only a couple of hours away and I don’t want us to go there acting like a bunch of hotheads.”

Chapter Two

Steve eventually found the highway, but noticed that it was void of traffic. Theirs was the only vehicle on the road — in either direction. While he thought that it was strange, he didn’t comment to the others. They were busy working on a new plan.

As the hummer sped down the road, the Forever Ours team spent the next hour and a half discussing what happened in the jungle and what they would do next. The conversation was lively and productive. In the end they developed a new plan. But as they rumbled onto the hard-pack dirt near the Salesian mission in Cuenca, Ecuador, the team became quiet and began to once again stew in their contempt for the diminutive catholic monk, Father Hector.

By the time that Steve pulled into the compound, Colton Banyon was not sure if he could control them. The monk had knowingly put their lives in peril. Nobody was willing to forget that fact.

The perceptive Loni was the first to notice that something had changed in the compound. “Stop the car,” she screamed.

Steve immediately slammed on the brakes and the large hummer skidded to a stop a hundred feet from the first building. The team had worked together for a long time and knew to take the warning seriously. As the trailing dust from the dirt road blew past the vehicle, five guns immediately were cocked and the travelers began searching their assigned lines of sight for anything out of the ordinary.

“What do you see?” Banyon quickly asked.

“It’s what I don’t see that worries me,” Loni replied. “This is the middle of the school day isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Banyon replied.

“Do you see any children? In fact, do you see anyone?”

“You’re right,” Steve uttered, as he peered out of the window. All they saw were the majestic white stucco buildings standing silently against a dark blue sky.

“Maybe the school has been attacked by some remnants of the supremacy group that died in the jungle. Remember the stupid supremacy group had attempted to attack the compound six days ago,” Loni reminded everyone.

“We’d better proceed with caution,” Banyon replied. “Steve, take us in close to the front door over there,” he added as he pointed.

As soon as Steve stopped the hummer, the team jumped out and took up defensive positions. They only had five guns, but seven people, so Banyon and Maya held machetes as they made their way to the door.

“Look,” Mandy cried out as she stared above the doorway. “The bell has been removed.”

“That’s not a good sign,” Loni quickly noted.

“Try the door,” Banyon ordered. Loni immediately went to it while she pulled out several lock picks from her fanny pack. The rest of the team spread out in a semi-circle to protect their flanks. There did not appear to be any other things out of the place in the compound as far as they could determine. They faced open empty arid meadows in all directions. It was eerily quiet.

“It’s unlocked,” Loni sounded out with a little fear in her voice as she pulled the big wood door open.

“That is also not a good sign either,” Maya commented.

They entered the building using the practiced moves of a SWAT team and proceeded up the long wood paneled hallway. When they came to the first door, Steve kicked it open and the rest of the team poured into the room. Everything looked normal. There was no blood or evidence of a struggle.

Back out in the hallway, they checked out the next room. It was also undamaged.

“What the hell,” Loni lamented in frustration.

“Wait,” Carol suddenly spoke. “I hear something.”

The team dropped to their knees and listened.

“It sounds like singing,” Maya commented. “It’s coming from that way,” she added as she pointed down another hallway.

The team stealthily slithered up corridor. It ended with two massive wood doors blocking the way. At the count of three, they went in with all their guns pointing ahead.

The scene was surreal. It was a chapel. All the children were dressed in white, sitting in pews and singing. Several people lined the walls. Black drapes covered portions of the walls. Incents filled the air. Four monks stood at the front. One was on a pulpit leading the singing. Father Hector wasn’t there.

Several children heard the commotion and turned their heads to look. Banyon’s team immediately hid their weapons and stood in amazement.

“Those are funeral songs they are singing,” Carol noted. She understood Spanish.

One of the monks noticed them in the back of the chapel and made his way over to their position. He walked very piously with his hands hidden in his sparse brown tunic and kept his head bent down. Banyon recognized him as father Ruiz. He had met the monk six days ago.

When he reached the group, Banyon quickly asked, “Where is Father Hector?”

“He is no longer here,” the monk replied. “He is dead.”