To next chapter (Chapter 10)




The day after Robert arrived at the guesthouse in Fresnaye, he went up to Nell’s Koppie for the morning meeting.

“Any revelations from Suomi?” Orten asked, using the Finnish word for Finland, when Robert climbed into the camper to join the others.

“I’m still thinking about it,” Robert said. He had had revelations—one, for instance, on the icy shore of the Baltic Sea—but he couldn’t tell these people about them. He could imagine Orten’s reaction to hearing about his seeing the alien and its lighted craft. “I found the astrological pages. I’m translating them,” Robert said.

At the meeting, Robert learned that nothing much had happened during his short absence. He asked about the door to the basement, and Orten said they planned to start working on opening it soon.

After the meeting, Robert returned to the guesthouse to start his examination of the Atlanian astrological system. With the astrology book he’d bought and his lexicon at hand, he sat down with his photos of the astrology pages and began the translation. He decided to continue his work at the site the next day and spend this evening and the next translating the astrology pages.

The next morning, wanting to get a better idea of which areas of the house Kholoruuf had conceived of as having a special connection with Goodness, Robert went into the space on the main floor where the empty bookcase was located. The team members had been calling this space the “Back Room.” He examined the large round table in the center of the room.

the ornamented table

The ornamented table

Attached to this table along its rim were twelve curved golden ornaments with an inscription on each. He looked closely at one of the ornaments. The words on it were “penshantak—kezhtankk—ta-met.” Robert recognized the second word from Kholoruuf’s “Notes on Goodness.” It meant “egalitarian.” And he recognized the third word, ta-met, as being part of the word for Uranus, ta-met-shaak. On the next ornament, all the words, “Kholoruuf—shomash—ma-shem,” were familiar: Kholoruuf, utilitarian-egalitarian, and part of the word for Saturn. So the pattern was: name, moral theory, astrological element.

Taking a pen and pad from his pocket, and working his way around the table, he made a list of the inscriptions. He found that the order of the astrological sign names matched their order around the horoscope. Consistent with the list in “Notes on Goodness,” only seven different moral theories appeared on the ornaments, some of them two or three times. So it was clear to Robert that this room belonged in the Goodness category.

Against the wall stood a cabinet with several game sets inside and on top of it. Robert looked at the games, wondering how they might have been played. He noticed that one of them was a differently colored version of the game in the Theoretics Library; and he had seen other examples of the same game in the Foyer Nook and in the Room of the Truth Examiner.

Robert went over to a painting on the west wall and realized this watercolor depicted an event that had taken place in this very room. The Back Room’s main bookcase, the distinctive column in the corner, and a second book cabinet all had been accurately represented by the artist. The text underneath the picture was in a language that was similar to Kholoruuf’s Atl but not the same. Robert could confidently make out only several expressions: “great debate,” “musicians,” and “in the evening.”

So this is what a live Truth-Engine debate was like, he thought. Clearly there had been musical interludes during the debates: In the painting seven performers, standing on decorated platforms, played instruments and sang for the spectators, who sat on the floor in front of them.

the painting in the back room

The painting in the Back Room

Robert noticed that two of the spectators were playing a board game, and he immediately recognized it as one of the games he’d just looked at in the room. He turned to the cabinet on his left and saw the game on the top shelf. It was definitely the same game, its pieces topped by tiny shapes that resembled silver moons and golden suns. Turning back to the painting, he saw that the game board in the picture had a drawer sticking out of its side.

He went over to the cabinet and, carefully inspecting the actual game, was able to discern a very fine groove in the same location on the game board. Slipping the edge of his fingernail into the groove, he pulled out the drawer. Inside was a key with a single shaft and notches along its length.

the game sets in the back room

The games near the ornamented table

The group had been looking for the key to the door that led to the basement. Robert took the key out of the drawer. Maybe this is what we’ve been looking for, he thought.

He pulled his flashlight from its holster and walked through the kitchen, around the central Core Room, and to the opening in the floor. He turned on his flashlight and walked down the steep staircase into the tiny room where the basement door was located.

Robert inserted the key into the keyhole and turned it. After he felt it engage, he placed pressure on it and felt it moving the lock’s mechanism. When he couldn’t turn the key any farther, he pulled it out and pushed on the door. He budged it slightly and kept pushing, slowly opening it. He’d expected to be able to walk into a room at this point but instead found himself looking down a long staircase toward the back of the house and into a much deeper space.

He put the key in his pocket and carefully walked down the staircase. To his left, near enough to touch it, was a wall. Is there another room beneath the Core Room? he wondered. To his right, several yards away, another wall appeared to run the full length of the building. Shining his light along the bottom of that wall, he saw what seemed to be a natural surface of soil and rocks. When he got a little farther down, the wall on the left ended, and he saw that its edge formed the corner of an enclosure that he thought might indeed have contained a room. He walked farther down the staircase and stopped. Shining his light into the main basement space and toward the front of the building, he made out a hulking form some distance from the staircase.

He realized he needed a brighter flashlight, so he went back upstairs and over to the collection of equipment the team stored in the main room. He quickly found the Fenix TK70, turned it on low, and went back into the basement. When he neared the bottom of the stairs, he cycled his light to the “turbo” setting and shined 2,200 lumens into the space. What he saw stunned him.

As he moved the beam around, Robert saw that the basement was wider than the house above it and that, entirely enclosed within the basement, in a pit, stood a small building. Robert easily made out this small building’s weird, almost frightening design.

the Room of Dangers

The Room of Dangers

The building had a strange, organic shape. The only opening into the edifice that Robert could see was an open doorway in front. Along each side at the top of the building were four pairs of huge spiked ornaments whose shape reminded him of the curved horn of a bull. Below these ornaments were appendages that he thought resembled a cartoonish representation of human arms and hands, and a row of vertical spikes ran along the ridge of the roof. In front of the spikes was a big, light-colored vertical disk surrounded by outward-directed points. Thornlike shapes and small disks studded the building’s surface.

In the pit, almost as if scattered there, were voluminous sculptural pieces in spherical and columnar shapes.

Robert thought this would be a good time to tell the others about his discovery, especially since he didn’t want anyone wondering where he was. He walked back up to the first floor then up to the first landing near the foyer. He heard Orton’s voice coming from just outside the open front door, so he went out to the porch. Robert found him sitting on the bottom step, talking on his cell phone.

“I’ve gotten into the basement,” Robert said.


“I’ve unlocked the door to the basement.”

“I’ll call you back,” Orten said into the phone, shut it off, and put it in his pocket as he stood up. He looked at Robert. “What’s down there?”

“It’s incredible. You have to see it for yourself.”

The two men hurried into the house.

“How did you unlock the door?” Orten asked.

“I found the key in a drawer in one of the game sets.”


For the first time since they had entered the house, Robert was feeling a rapport with Orten and sensed Orten felt that same rapport. For the moment they were partners in an archaeological adventure and not adversaries—but Robert knew the bond would disintegrate as quickly as it had formed, which was fine with him.

At the top of the basement stairs, Robert handed Orten the TK70 and gestured for him to go first. Orten took the light, stepped down into the opening, and started down the stairs with Robert following.

When Orten approached the bottom of the stairs, he shined the light into the space and onto the strange little building. “What the hell is that? What’s in it?” he asked.

“I don’t know. This is as far as I got.”

“Let’s go take a look.”

At the bottom of the staircase, they stepped onto a floor that, at first glance, seemed to be made of natural dirt and rock. “This ground looks a little shiny,” Orten said. He reached down and touched it. “It’s metallic.”

They walked down a ramp into the pit and over to the front of the little building. Orten set the flashlight’s intensity on low and shined the beam through the building’s open doorway. The space inside was in disarray. Wooden planks lay on the floor and leaned against the walls. Metal objects of various shapes and sizes were scattered about on the floor, and ancient lamps hung from the ceiling. A central aisle ran from front to back, on each side of which was a row of six crumbling compartments. In each of the twelve compartments stood the figure of a different kind of strange-looking animal. These figures—made of skin-like, hairlike, and hornlike materials—depicted animals like none found on Earth.

Between each pair of figures was a post. Robert surmised that each of these posts originally had supported a wooden wall that separated the figures from one another. Hanging from each post was a piece of paperlike material with writing on it. After turning on his flashlight, Robert walked over to the first post on the right and illuminated the document that hung on it.

The words at the top of the sheet were familiar to him. He read them and turned to Orten. “This is the Aries creature,” he said.

The beast in the compartment was about the size of a cow. It stood on two legs and was covered in dense, brown hair. Its huge leathery arms reminded Robert of the claws of a giant crab. The creature’s face was small, smooth, and button-like. On the top of its head was a red protuberance that resembled a chicken’s comb—in fact the overall impression was of a huge chicken with claws.

the Aries Creature

The Aries creature

Orten went to the first post on the left and looked at the little poster hanging on it. He sounded out the words. “Mah pah ahk.”

Robert knew the word. “Ma Paak,” he said. “Taurus.”

“Is this a zodiac?” Orten said, looking around. He studied the Ma Paak creature. It appeared vaguely like a bulky, flat-faced camel with star-shaped hind feet. “Doesn’t look much like a bull,” he said.

Robert looked down the length of the building’s central aisle. “Six creatures on one side and six on the other,” he said. “It’s a zodiac all right.”

Orten tensed his lips and nodded. “It’s a very creepy version of it, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Robert said. “I think they thought of the zodiacal elements as being negative, something to overcome. They called them ‘curtains’—prejudices that obscured reason and therefore obscured truth. Their presence in a person’s psyche could destroy that person. That’s why these are threatening-looking monsters.”

“A room of dangers,” Orten mused.

“I think you just gave this place its name,”

“Astrology is all bunk,” Orten said, “but it’d be helpful if you could bring in your translation of the astrology pages to our next meeting so we can see it.”

Robert shined his light down the center of the aisle toward the far wall. “What’s that down there?” he asked. Surrounded by debris was what appeared to be a thirteenth creature, isolated from the others and standing upright on a cubical platform.

They walked over to the creature to see it better. It was small, about three feet tall. Its hair-covered form was generally conical, broad at the base and tapering to the peak of the head. It wore a metal breastplate and other coverings that might have been a kind of armor. Attached to a shoulder strap was an O-shaped metal implement with a handle along with a small red flask. Covering its face was a wooden mask, and in its left hand the creature held a miniature dead archaeopteryx.

the archmonster

The thirteen creature

“Pretty demonic-looking,” Orten said. He looked back at the twelve compartments and the door. “Let’s go tell the team about this.”

As they walked past the Aries creature on their way to the door, Robert stopped to take another look at the paper on the post. “Ta-Paak, Aries,” he said. “Kashatl, creature. Um…There are two dots connected by two curved lines. The top line is labeled ‘same act time,’ and the bottom one is called ‘different act’—an analysis of the meaning of the Aries curtain?”

paragraph containing Atl letters


“A curtain being, as you’ve said, a prejudice, an irrational quality of mind,” Orten said.


“What else does it say?” Orten asked.

“Let’s see.” Robert said. “Under the curved lines, some little strips of paper are pasted there. On one of them I see ‘Kholoruuf.’ The others also appear to have names written on them. Then, below the strips is the sentence ‘These stood against’…or, I guess, ‘confronted this curtain.’ Below are some words I don’t know. Maybe they’re names too.”

Two dots connected by lines—Robert had seen such diagrams in one of the big books in the Grand Truth Engine, the book he’d named The Philosophical Language Text, or PLT. He hadn’t been able to make any progress translating that book, but as he looked at the Aries creature’s placard, the thought occurred to him that the clear labeling of this symbol might help him understand the PLT.

the two connected dots

The two connected dots

Robert and Orton went up through the house and brought the others to the basement. The rest of the day, the team documented the strange room, which everyone was now calling the “Room of Dangers.” Orten assigned Will to take pictures of the placards, and Robert made sure to get copies. Later that evening at home, Robert translated the placard texts. He then finished his translation of the astrology pages he’d photographed in the House of Birth. On two sides of a piece of paper, he sketched a diagrammatic synopsis of the translation, in which he included a comparison of the Kholoruufian system to our modern Western system of astrology.

The next morning he stopped by a copy shop on Longmarket Street and made a copy of the placard translations and a copy of his handwritten synopsis for each team member. He got up to the site just in time for the meeting and handed out the copies before Orten gave him the floor.

astrology document 1a

astrology document 2a

Robert’s synopsis of the astrology pages

Orten waved a hand at Robert. “OK, Dr. Bennett,” he said. “Let’s hear your spiel.”

Robert ignored the insult, put down his briefcase, and addressed the group. “As you can see in my synopsis, the Atlanians envisioned the sky, specifically the part of the sky called the ‘ecliptic,’ as a disk with a round hole in the middle and the earth as centered snugly in this hole—but not attached to the disk—and spinning on its axis. The stars didn’t move with respect to this ecliptic disk, but the planets rolled around on it. Modern astrology portrays the sky pretty much the same way. Now, if you were to think of this disk as being horizontal, with the earth’s North Pole above the disk and the South Pole below it, the earth’s axis would not be vertical but tilted. Viewed from underneath the disk, the South Pole would be inclining toward a specific point on the inner edge of the disk. Imagine drawing a line, on the bottom of the disk, from that point straight over to the disk’s outer edge. This line on the disk defined the beginning of a division of the disk into twelve equal sections—these sections are the equivalent of what we today call ‘signs.’ The Atlanians also, in a similar way, defined a second set of sections on the disk, starting with the direction in which a standing person at the place and time of birth tilts toward the ecliptic—these sections are the equivalent of what today we call ‘houses.’ You can see on the diagrams that I call the South Pole the ‘Geopole,’ and the house-defining pole the ‘Anthropole.’ What’s fascinating is how their definitions neatly match those of the modern Western system of tropical astrology.”

“Why is that fascinating?” Orten asked.

“What’s so interesting is that the systems are so similar, yet we can’t suppose that any traditions survived the seven or eight millennia between Kholoruuf’s time and the first known expressions of Western astrology. The similarities in themselves constitute evidence that there’s something to the planet-personality correspondence.”

“Why?” Orten said. “We’ve got documents from Kholoruuf’s time—maybe the Chaldeans had some too.”

“But the Aries creature for the Atlanians was a weird, furry, crab-like thing, yet in Babylon, the Aries being was a ‘hired man,’ or some say a sheep. There’s no continuity there.”

Orten frowned. “Look,” he said. “The bottom line is that it’s impossible that a planet sitting out there, millions of miles away, so far away that you can barely see it, could possibly influence your character or destiny. It’s crazy.”

“The idea wasn’t that there was influence,” Robert said, “but that the positions of the planets, being defined by a certain randomness, reflect the character of other parts of space. But whether or not there was a correspondence between the planets and man wasn’t all that important to Kholoruuf. What was important to him was that the Atlanians’ astrological system described a set of irrational dispositions that he believed were real. Remember the text on the dream sheet.”

Robert had expected this challenge from Orten. From his briefcase he pulled his translation of the page from Kholoruuf’s bedroom, the one on which Kholoruuf had written a description of his snake-bite dream, and read aloud to the group:

“So dreams apparently are oracular, but is astrology oracular? Can it reveal what we might otherwise expect to be unknowable? We should revive the astrology dialectic to find out. But whether or not the study of planets, signs, and houses is oracular, it is surely a true science of irrational dispositions (what we call the ‘curtains’), so it gives us a key to the primary irrational and destructive element in the psyche of a good person; whereas the Pangaea Theoretica represents the unification of the world via the Truth Engine, the Pangaea of Goodness symbolizes the unity of the individual, via the overcoming of the negative aspects of these predispositions. Individual (psychic) unity of the Truth-Engine participants empowers us to perfect the Truth Engine.”

Orten wasn’t impressed. “I feel like I’m being buried in an avalanche of irrationality,” he said. “But go on.”

Robert knew Orten had done work at Sumerian and Babylonian sites. Did he feel buried by irrationality then? he wondered. Is Orten talking himself into thinking that these discoveries are culturally worthless so he won’t feel guilty when he participates in covering them up? Or is he simply afraid that the Atlanian beliefs might overturn his world view if he gives them any credence at all?

“I find it very interesting,” Robert said, “that we have clues here of an Atlanian analysis of these predispositions. Forget about the astrology. What we’re dealing with here is Atlanian psychology. Each placard in the Room of Dangers has on it what could be named a ‘two-dot’ diagram. Each of these diagrams seems to represent two circumstances related to each other in two different ways; the lines that connect the dots represent the relations, and the relations are all either sameness or difference relations. For instance the relations in the case of the Aries, or Ta-Paak, predisposition are labeled ‘same act time’ and ‘different act.’ You can see how this could represent quickness—two different acts happening at almost the same time. This is the predisposition the Atlanians associated with Ta-Paak. Now, on the other hand, the Taurus, or Ma-Paak, relations are opposite. The Ma-Paak relations are ‘different act time’ and ‘same act,’ which can be seen to represent slowness. Each creature in the Room of Dangers is associated with a set of people’s names, apparently those who famously confronted the predisposition symbolized by that creature.”

“So why is this important?” Jimmy asked. It was rare for anyone but Orten to ask questions at the meetings.

“Well—” Robert began.

“It’s not important,” Orten said, breaking in.

“Well,” Robert continued, “the Atlanians thought astrology was important because it described the irrational predispositions that get in the way of our being able to think critically and accurately—predispositions that get in the way of solid Truth-Engine book editing. Those who believed in the planet-personality correspondence would say, for instance, that if your sun is in Ta-Paak, you might be overly apt to argue for hasty action. We all have our irrational predispositions. The Atlanians said that when we overcome these predispositions, we achieve a personal unity.”

“What’s your sun in?” Jennifer asked.

Robert was taken aback by her personal question; it was completely unexpected. “Ah, Ma-Shem,” he said. “Capricorn.” He looked at Orten and saw he was smiling.

“So, Robert, what’s your predisposition?” Jennifer asked.

“Well…I guess that makes me overdeliberative. How about you?” Robert immediately regretted having asked this much too informal question.

Jennifer smiled and looked at the other members of the team. “Me? I’m not overdeliberative.”

Some of the others snickered.

Robert almost said, “I meant, ‘What’s your sign?’” but held his tongue, realizing how ridiculous that would sound.

Orten leaned back in his chair, “OK,” he said. “Anything else?”

“Well, it’s also important to note that the Atlanians paid special attention to two of the signs, Ta-Shef-Ka and Ma-Shef-Ka, Gemini and Virgo. For them Gemini pretty much represented difference per se, and Virgo represented sameness. They felt that predispositions toward difference and predispositions toward sameness affected every aspect of society in a major way and that one or the other often dominated a personality and actually was responsible for a culture’s way of thinking, its styles, its very character over long periods of time. It can be argued that our culture has detected the same tendencies and calls them the ‘Dionysian’ and the ‘Apollonian.’ Our Apollonian Enlightenment was followed by the Dionysian Romantic period, et cetera—there’s a cycle.”

“OK,” Orten said, brushing aside a point Robert thought was of great importance. “Enough astrology. Anyone else have anything?”

Robert spent the rest of the day in the musty Room of Honors, the only room he hadn’t yet explored that might belong in the Goodness division. He found that it undoubtedly belonged there.

the symbol carts

Symbol cart sculptures on the tabletop

In this room, extending toward the far wall, were three tables: a wide central one and two narrow ones to the left and right against the walls. On the tables were twelve pairs of objects—six pairs on the central table and three on each of the side tables. One of the objects in each pair was a miniature ivory cart, about eighteen inches long, into which had been placed a variety of small polychrome figures that Robert assumed had some symbolic significance. On the central table, the second object in each pair had a boxy or cylindrical shape; on the side tables, the second object in each pair was a box that contained a mask surrounded by a variety of colorful ornaments. Somewhere within each pair was a tiny replica of one of the creatures in the Room of Dangers—a different creature in each of the twelve pairs. On the sides of the tables were labels, one for each sculptural pair, and on each label was the name of a different dialectician (the word for “dialectician” was on each label), along with the phrase “Conquered this curtain and achieved personal unity.”

This was truly a room of honors. The fact that Kholoruuf had set such a room aside for the purpose of celebrating the subjugation of the astrological curtains was evidence of the value he had placed on this goal.

Robert knew that no one had done any work yet in this room, so he took photos and made notes. Later that night, at home, he wrote up a short description of the room and its contents.

At a little past 10:00 p.m., before going to bed, he went out into the warm night air to sit on the front patio for a while. As he sat there, looking out at the moonlit sea, he pondered his planned shift of attention from the Goodness rooms to the Beauty rooms. He thought about how it made sense that he had tackled the Truth elements of Atlanian thought before examining the Goodness elements, because the Truth principles could be understood outside of the context of those of Goodness, whereas the reverse was not true—the Goodness issues formed a subset of the Truth issues (that is, of all issues). He suspected the Atlanians must have cast the Beauty issues as a subset, in turn, of the Goodness issues by pointing to questions that concerned the moral goals of art, and he wanted to explore the Beauty parts of the house to prove that.

Robert thought about how Jonathan Miller had been working in the house’s art studio from the time the group had first entered it. If Jonathan had made any presentations concerning the studio, Robert hadn’t been there to hear them. Recently Robert had seen Scott working on a large device in the art studio’s northwest corner; Scott had told Robert that the device was an ancient version of a 3-D printer. But since then, Scott had shut the machine’s lid and taken his tools out of the room. Now Jonathan was working in there alone.

Robert stood up and walked back into the guesthouse. Tomorrow, he decided, he would ask Jonathan what he had learned during his investigation of the art studio.

To next chapter (Chapter 10)