The Professor snorted in triumph and jabbed a thin finger at the open book, tapping the circular image carved into the Druid’s staff. ‘This circle within a circle is a basic, yet ancient symbol,’ she said. ‘It has been used to represent the gods of heaven and earth; night and day; a god for the skies and another for the underworld. In this context the external disc represents the Sun and the central disc is Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Although once common, this symbol has more or less disappeared from public consciousness. But if one were to look, you can still find it scattered throughout the world; omnipresent in our art and architecture, both ancient and modern.’
‘Omnipresent?’ asked John.
‘John Hunter,’ said the Professor, feigning surprise. ‘How you ever got a first class degree, I’ll never know. Haven’t you seen an aerial photograph of Stone Henge?’ She plucked a selection of books from her shelves and dropped them one by one on the desk. ‘Stone Henge; Avebury; Thornborough. In fact Neolithic Europe as a whole is teeming with examples of this symbol. If you want modern examples, try looking at the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral from the air; the Pantheon in Rome; St Peter’s in Vatican City; the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, or indeed any domed building in the world. More often than not they are buildings with a religious connotation, either current or hidden in their past.’
John nodded. ‘So this Order was created to venerate the Sun and the stars?’
‘Well, yes and no. There is an alternative interpretation.’ John leant forward. ‘During my research phase I discovered that, although the sun symbol remained, over time the inner circle came to represent something quite different. It symbolised a weapon of some sort, a weapon of such power it was said to displace the will of the God into the hands of man.’
‘What the hell does that mean?’ Sara snorted. ‘The will of God into the hands of man? Are you implying this group developed some kind of WMD?’
‘I am not implying, Dr Reed, I am telling you they achieved it. A weapon of such unparalleled power that, on the one occasion our ancestors activated it, it devastated and wiped out an entire civilisation.’ She paused for effect. ‘A civilisation now symbolised only by its capital.’
Sara rolled her eyes. ‘Come on; a WMD sank Atlantis? No way. Do you not think that minor detail would have made into Plato’s account? You aren’t buying this are you, John?’
John ignored her and watched as the Professor plucked another book from her shelves. This time it was one he was familiar with; Plato’s dialogues of Timaeus and Critias, the starting block for any self-respecting Atlantis crank and conspiracy theorist. Cleary thumbed through its pages and found what she was looking for. John knew the passage by heart.
“There occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.”
He wiped his brow. He’d expected this kind of talk from Sara but not from the Professor. ‘Are you telling me the Greeks destroyed Atlantis with this weapon during a phase of war?’
‘Given Atlantis is a Greek word meaning daughter of Atlas, I doubt the landmass was ever called “Atlantis”.’
‘Agreed but I must press you on this. Do you believe the Greeks destroyed it or not?’
‘Inside this room I have certain theories, Dr Hunter.’ Cleary cocked her head to one side. ‘Outside this room this conversation never took place.’
‘Assuming you are correct, where did you get this information?’ asked Sara. ‘It’s certainly not clear from Plato.’
‘From the horse’s mouth, Dr Reed,’ whispered Cleary. ‘From the horse’s mouth…’
There was a brief silence as both John and Sara processed the magnitude of this revelation. John’s jaw dropped, ‘Shit, Professor, are you saying you have had contact with this Order of Ra?’
The Professor nodded. ‘They aggressively advised me to give up on my research and destroy my notes. In return they agreed to fund my first book and ensured the success of my application for Professorship. These people are not amateurs, Hunter. Their ranks are brimming with power and influence, even now.’
‘What if you’d refused?’ asked John.
‘I doubt I’d be talking to you.'
John registered a little bile rise in his throat and coughed. ‘So did these people know this cylinder could be found somewhere in the Lindow Bog? Is this the reason you tried to discredit my theory the other night?’
‘I’m not proud of what I did and I apologise. The bog was an avenue the Order hadn’t explored, and they wanted the opportunity to search it themselves. It appears Mr Hans Hoffmann beat them to the punch.’
John bit into his upper lip and mulled over Cleary’s words. ‘What you’ve told me clears up a few issues.’ He reached into his bag and pulled out a file. ‘Before we leave can you give the three maps we found in the cylinder a once over?’
John pushed the papyrus documents in front of Cleary. She studied them for a few minutes in silence, placing each of them under a strong magnifying glass. She raised her gaze to meet John’s eyes and beamed. ‘I believe the phase my students use is, OMG. If these maps are real, then you are sitting on the find of the century.'
‘That’s more like it,’ said Sara.
‘They look Egyptian,’ said Cleary, sliding the maps back in front of John. ‘Could be one of the few examples to escape Caesar’s fire in the Great Library.’
‘So these maps are originals?’ said Sara.
‘I’d like to see your carbon date verified, but yes, my first impression is that they are genuine. If I’m wrong, they are exceptional forgeries.’
John cleared his throat, delaying his response and plucking up the courage to ask what he knew Sara was thinking. ‘Could these maps guide us to Atlantis? I mean, I know there aren’t any land masses we can’t account for, but...’
Cleary snorted, as if suppressing laughter. ‘Are you kidding? In a word, no.’ John’s heart sank. ‘Apart from the coastlines, I doubt the maps are accurate enough to find anything.’
Sara smirked at John. ‘Are you referring to the curvature of the Earth anomaly?’
Cleary nodded. ‘Correct. The coastlines might be accurate but I expect little else will be.’ She set each map down in front of her and scanned them one by one. ‘Plus, you are right, John, there does not seem to be anything that could constitute the missing continent.’
‘What about the Antarctica theory?’ said Sara. ‘Is there a chance the lost continent was forced underneath the ice cap by a comet strike?’
‘It could, but you better pray it isn’t.’ Cleary brushed her finger over the southern pole. ‘There’s the small matter of a few billion tonnes of ice covering the entire land mass. I doubt even Hoffmann has pockets deep enough to excavate that lot.’
She tapped the world map. ‘Forget Atlantis; for me the more intriguing question is why the mapmaker has seen fit to scatter these circular symbols on each land mass. Give or take, they seem to correspond with several major religious sites around the world.’ She paused and wrinkled her brow. ‘Yes, I’m convinced of it. The symbols along the African and South American coastlines seem a little random but higher up…’ She tapped the map. ‘This one is printed above the Pyramids of Giza; the smaller one lower down the Nile must represent the Temple of Karnak.’ She circled Southern England. ‘There’s even one above Stone Henge. There is a correlation without question.’
John dipped his head in agreement. ‘What do you make of the hieroglyphs below each symbol? My first instinct screamed co-ordinates.’
Cleary frowned and perched a pair of wire rimmed reading glasses on the end of her nose. ‘My hieroglyphics are a little rusty but they do translate as sets of numbers. Then again if they are co-ordinates, they don’t relate to their modern counterparts. Take Stone Henge; they’ve labelled it 36-00-30. Now I know for a fact the actual co-ordinates are Latitude: 51° 10′ 0 N, Longitude: 1° 49′ 60 W.’ She cocked her head to one side and pursed her lips, contemplating the problem. ‘I guess they might make sense if one substituted the Greenwich Prime Meridian for another. We’ve only been using Greenwich since 1884 so I suppose it’s no surprise they don’t match up. The problem is the map’s Prime Meridian could be anywhere in the world. Where do you start?’
Sara rose from her chair. ‘Thank you, Professor,’ she said. ‘You have been most helpful, but I feel we have imposed upon you long enough.’
Cleary nodded and watched John roll up the maps and slide them inside the cylinder.
‘Yes, Professor,’ said John. ‘Thank you so much for agreeing to see us on such short notice. Your insights have been most helpful. Can I assume you will not want your name to be linked with any of this?'
‘You assume correct,’ said Cleary. ‘I tend to try and avoid professional suicide when I can.’ She stood to see them out. ‘If you truly want my advice I suggest you hand everything to the British Museum. Take the acclaim for the find and wash your hands of the matter. You are risking more than your careers by treading this dangerous path.’
John shook the Professor’s hand and smiled, both of them aware the advice would fall on deaf ears. Sara waved a hand in thanks and left the room. John turned to follow.
‘John?’ John poked his head back through the door.
‘Should you choose to ignore my advice, and I’m sure you will, I feel I should tell you the cylinder you’re carrying is made from a material known as orichalcum. Look it up. Trust no-one.’