Here is Chapter One:
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Ambigo Thomas was on the golf course when he received the call. He felt his phone vibrating on his hip and glanced at the number. It wasn’t one he recognized, so he continued to play through with his friends. He knew that he wasn’t needed by the hospital at the moment and the progression of his research had reached the point where his graduate students handled nearly everything. Still, the message that the unknown caller had left him vibrated on his hip every few minutes, reminding him that he had not answered his phone.
On the fourth hole, he picked up his message, while one of his friends teed off. The rest of them watched the ball fly in the air landing a few feet from the hole, so they didn’t notice the gray pallor that came over Ambigo’s face. He stood still on the course, listening to the voice on the other end of the phone. It didn’t take his friends long to realize that Ambigo would not be finishing the course today. He said that he couldn’t tell them why, so they feared the worst.
The worst had come to Ambigo before. He had been called to man the task force when a band of home grown terrorists had poisoned the water supply of a small town in Kansas. For months, he and a team of doctors analyzed the corpses of the victims, trying to understand the poison and create an antidote. They knew that one existed because the terrorists had offered one in exchange for their demands. The demands went unheeded, the victims died and Ambigo was one of the doctors that created the antidote so that no future victims needed to die. It was someone else’s job to provide retribution for the deaths.
This time, there wasn’t a town full of dying people. His friends were just as unable to finish their game of golf, worrying about what sort of mission Ambigo would be part of now. They worried about their own safety and went home to their families to count their children and pay vigil to the cable news networks. They would not find out anything on television. They would not find out anything in the newspapers. They would have only been able to find out the information on the Internet if they knew what they were looking for. They didn’t, so they just stayed at home for a few days, worried and wondering about their friend who had suddenly left town.
He arrived in the airport within an hour of listening to the message on the golf course. Since he had been assigned to the task force, he kept a bag of essentials packed and ready at all times. All he needed to do was go home, pick up the bag and head to the airport. Like a firefighter, he was ready to go at every moment. Most of the time, he was just needed for a simple consultation and the agency that had called for him had a hard time discerning emergency from urgency. This time, however, it seemed more imperative.
While he waited for his plane, he called the hospital and the lab. Replacements were found. Orders were given. Both would run seamlessly without him and he had an odd sense that they never needed him in the first place. At both the hospital and the lab, he had a chosen second that knew all that he knew. He had never felt a sense of regret about that before now. Something about this job made him feel like the time that he left Boy Scout camp after getting his Eagle Scout. He felt as if he was never going to return. He felt as if there was no reason to return.
During the flight, he sat next to a woman who pretended to sleep. She was thin, immaculately dressed and beautiful. Ambigo thought that she was pretending to sleep so that she didn’t have to talk to him. Had he noticed how personally he took the actions of other humans, he might have enjoyed the flight better. Instead, he analyzed his appearance, trying to find the reason that the woman may have thought of him as a threat.
The concierge met him at baggage claim, even though his sole suitcase was carry on. That was the traditional meeting place for these things. There was always some soldier or suit waiting in baggage claim with a sign with his name on it. They never knew anything about the reason he had been called and he had stopped asking them or trying to make small talk long ago.
The process was different this time, however. Instead of taking him to the hotel, the concierge took him directly to the meeting. The meeting was in a university laboratory much like his own, except it was a physics lab. Instead of test tubes, centrifuges and Petri dishes, there were unfamiliar machines the size of amusement park rides. The uneasy feeling that he experienced in the airport returned as he took a look at the faces at the meeting.
The concierge spoke to the man in charge. “Ambigo Thomas, sir.” Ambigo was left in the room, holding his suitcase and choking back the feeling of impending doom. There was only one face that he recognized in the group, Daniel Baker. The two of them had testified at the FDA hearings. Daniel testified for the herbal supplement moguls and Ambigo testified against them. Two brilliant doctors on opposite sides of a heated issue, both fervently believing that the other was wrong. Ambigo blew out a lungful of air and tried to hide his ire.
Daniel stood up. “Here he is. Ambigo, sit next to me.” He indicated the metal stool next to his and smiled. Ambigo tried to reconcile the heated arguments that the two of them had spat at each other across the televisions and the smile that Daniel gave him now. He looked like a boy who had been kicked out of the clubhouse for talking to girls. He seemed embarrassed and apologetic. He had never seen his former opponent like this and it made him feel uneasy. Daniel waited to sit on his stool until Ambigo sat down. All eyes went from Ambigo, back to the man in charge.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice, Dr. Thomas. I am Dr. Tate. We’re on a tight schedule, so we’ll have to make this briefing short. You have been called here to be part of our team. I don’t know if you keep abreast of news in the physics world, but my team had a remarkable discovery five years ago that could change the world.” Ambigo thought about his own team of researchers back at the lab working on a biological anti-virus for AIDS. If they were successful, they could also change the world. Why was he in a physics lab?
Dr. Tate continued explaining in excruciating detail the trials and tribulations of being a research scientist, leaving few hints about what his research had entailed. Ambigo looked around the room. The man that left Ambigo feeling the most uneasy was the priest. They sat opposite each other and after a few seconds, he noticed that Ambigo was staring at him and returned his gaze. Dr. Tate’s voice droned in the background about funding and failed attempts and it became obvious to Ambigo that this briefing was going to be anything but brief. The priest interrupted, “Considering our time constraints, Dr. Tate, maybe we should allow Dr. Baker to brief him on the details and introduce the team.” Dr. Tate chuckled and agreed with the priest and everyone looked to Dr. Baker.
Ambigo tore his eyes from the priest and looked to his former opponent, hoping that all of the debates and name calling during the hearings were truly behind them. He watched Daniel suck in a large breath. “Dr. Tate and his students discovered a way to travel through time. They have sent a couple of teams out and I don’t really understand all of it. They have been playing with this stuff for a few years.” Daniel paused to let the news sink in. Ambigo looked around the room and the faces were serious and earnest.
He turned back to Daniel, wondering what his role in this would be. Daniel swallowed and took in a pained breath of air. “It’s very expensive to keep up this kind of research. Dr. Tate was almost shut down due to lack of funding. Just the electricity,” He held up one finger. “to send one person back in time is enough to power a large city for a year. That doesn’t even include the other costs,” He glanced at the sole woman at the table. “of an operation like this, but they finally got a sponsor that is willing to foot the bill for it.”
Dr. Baker paused and looked to the priest for guidance. The priest nodded quietly at him and Daniel continued, “The Catholic Church is willing to shell out all the money to send a team back in time to find Jesus Christ.” Daniel’s uneasy laugh reverberated in the large room as he looked Ambigo straight in the eye.
Ambigo choked out a laugh and looked around the room. His eyes fell on the priest. The man across the table from him nodded his head in an attempt to verify the words of Dr. Baker. The two of them looked at each other while Daniel continued, “The way this thing works, we only have two days until the next window. If we don’t leave in two days, we have to wait something like five years or so until the next window. I have been training with the team, but I can’t go…” Ambigo turned toward Daniel when his voice trailed off. “Why not?” Ambigo finally noticed Daniel’s eyes. They were red and swollen. His cheeks were sunken and wasted. “It turned up in the physical. I…have cancer. I have to go through chemotherapy and I am definitely not going over two thousand years into the past.”
Ambigo felt the bitter and angry response rise up within him, but he didn’t say it. He held back the first thought that came to his head. “Why don’t you try chelation?” The man who had so vehemently defended the herbal remedies and the ancient therapies was going to have chemotherapy. He wasn’t going to the Ayurvedic Clinics that he had so strongly defended. He was going straight to the “harsh and unnatural” medical world. Ambigo swallowed his anger. He had won. Not only did he win when the FDA removed all herbal supplements from the market and required them to prove their claims with double blind studies. The doctor that had so ardently defended herbal remedies was using chemotherapy to get rid of his cancer; not healing chakras, not Ayurvedic methods, not herbs and most definitely not prayer. He had won and Daniel had lost.
The priest broke the silence, “Maybe Dr. Thomas is not the right man for us. It appears that he is still consumed by a previous debate and might not be able to fully dedicate himself to this mission.” Ambigo barely heard him, but the rest of the room was in an uproar. Their voices of protest echoed in the large room and bounced off the huge machinery. The loudest of them was Dr. Baker. “No! I tell you. Dr. Thomas is the best man for your job. We’ve gone through this. There is no other man who would be better for this.” Dr. Tate quieted the group and responded to the priest’s concerns, “Unless you are willing to open this position up to women or people of Asian or Caucasian origin, we are stuck with Dr. Thomas.”
Ambigo looked around the room again. Dr. Tate and the young man to his left were the sole Caucasian faces in the crowd. The rest of the team were dark haired and dark skinned. Dr. Baker stood up and started introducing the team. It was clear that they had bonded closely and were heartbroken at the loss of their doctor. “Firstly, this is Monsignor Garcia. He’s in charge of the team. He’s the foremost scholar on the life of Jesus that the Catholic Church has to offer.” Father Garcia shook his head and interrupted, “Not so. I’m the most physically fit and dark skinned scholar on the life of Jesus. There are others who know more, but they are old, fat and white.” Everyone at the table laughed and leaned back on their stools a bit.
Ambigo looked down at his brown skin. After high school, he never again thought of his skin as an asset or a hindrance. He thought of the woman on the plane, pretending to be asleep. Had she feigned unconsciousness because he was dark skinned? He looked at his dark hands that could cure diseases and nurse wounds. Were they chosen because they were dark instead of gifted? Did he care?
Dr. Baker continued with the introductions, “This is Jaime Alphaeus and Madi Unsari. They are on our filming team.” Ambigo looked at the only woman on the team. “I thought women weren’t allowed.” Madi looked him straight in the eye. “Jaime and I are the only two people willing to undergo the implants.” The vague memory of a paper that had passed his desk several years ago flew into his mind. “Implants?” Father Garcia answered his question while Madi held her icy stare. “We were unable to find many people who were willing to undergo the painful and experimental surgery required for the filming team. Madi is a professional photographer who has had several shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Jaime just graduated from NYU with a double major of cinematography and theology. They are filming everything that is happening in this room. We are still testing their implants, but it looks like they have the best that we have to offer.”
There was a silence in the room and Dr. Baker spoke again, “This is Father Tad Judean. He’s our language specialist. All of us have had Latin in our background, but he has researched ancient languages in their spoken form.” Ambigo nodded at the young man and remembered his years in Catholic School, learning Latin. The conjugations rang in his head, “ambigere, ambigo, ambigora, ambigoribus, ambigorum, ambigos…” It all left him when he stepped foot into his first undergraduate class, now they were expecting him to remember. “I can’t speak Latin. I haven’t used it since I got out of school.”
Father Garcia raised his hand to silence him and Dr. Baker continued introducing the final members of the team, “To the left of Dr. Tate is his assistant, Jeffery Anderson. He will not be going with the team. He’ll be helping Dr. Tate get us there and to your left is Simon Sedulitas. He’s… well, Simon is a little strange.” The group laughed while Daniel struggled to continue, “Simon is a sociologist with a strong background in anthropology. He’s here to make sure we don’t screw up. If we screw up, your job is to keep us alive.”
They all laughed uneasily at Daniel’s joke, but Ambigo could tell that they were serious. This wasn’t a joke. These people were sincere. That’s when it hit him. They were asking him to travel back in time to find Jesus, a man who may have never existed. The laughter died down and all the eyes of every member of team were on him. They were waiting for him to give them an answer. Ambigo wiped his hands on his pants and slowly shook his head. “Let me get this straight. All of you are going into the past in an effort to find Jesus?” They all nodded.
He sat there looking at every set of eyes. His eyes finally rested on the leader, Father Garcia. “You DO know that I’m an atheist, don’t you?” Father Garcia smiled calmly as if he were expecting the question. “Simon over there has enough religious conviction in his little finger for the entire team. Any other questions?” Ambigo turned his gaze to Simon. The dark man shrugged at him and listened intently. “Doesn’t it bother any of you that the person you’re looking for may have been a myth? How do you even know when to go?” Ambigo watched Simon’s eyes turn to Father Garcia. “The Catholic Church is in possession of documents that tell us the date of Jesus’ death. The Roman Empire was very thorough.”
Ambigo looked around the room. That was enough. Father Judean nodded and even Madi looked at Father Garcia with a calm trust that he had never seen before. He faced Madi. “Have YOU seen it? This… document?” Madi’s steel gaze burned into him. “No. Father Garcia is taking care of that portion of the mission. I’m doing the filming.” She squinted at him and he felt her eyes on him, focusing. That was enough for her. Father Garcia said it was so, so it must be so.
“What about you…man, I forgot your name. NYU boy? Is it enough for you?” Jaime looked at him with a similar icy stare, squinting. “I majored in theology. I guessed the date of Christ’s death in my thesis within two years. Two years. We’re going out for five years. Even if Father Garcia’s document is not authentic, we’ll be there for the show.” Jaime continued his gaze on Ambigo. “Five years?”
Ambigo saw it all fall away from him. He had been working on the AIDS anti-virus for most of his adult life. His hospital would be entirely different in five years. His interns would be established doctors in five years. His lab assistants would be heading their own labs in five years. He couldn’t leave for five years. “I can’t be gone for five years!”
Three of the team reached toward him with explanations. Daniel Baker stood up, wincing as he did. “No, Dr. Thomas. You won’t be gone for five years. Well, you will be gone…” He looked helplessly to Father Garcia. All eyes were on the Monsignor again. “Had I not interrupted what would have been an intricately detailed explanation of the process by Dr. Tate, you would have known that. Dr. Tate, can you give Dr. Thomas a VERY brief description of the mission.” Ambigo turned toward Dr. Tate, who eagerly stood up.
“To us, it will seem as if you were not gone. It will appear that you aged before our eyes. To you, it will be five years. You will be spending five years in ancient Israel. Due to the nature of the travel, you can only take your body. If you agree to join the team, you will have a device implanted in your teeth that will send you and bring you back after five years have elapsed. That is why the filming team had to undergo more surgical procedures than the rest of the team. They can’t take cameras with them and even if they could, it would be strange to see them in ancient Israel, don’t you think? I guess Simon can tell you more about that later.” Dr. Tate looked at Father Garcia. “Was that brief enough?” The priest gave him a grateful nod and returned his gaze to Ambigo.
“What Dr. Tate didn’t mention is that this mission is very dangerous. Simon should be able to prevent us from making any tragic cultural mistakes, but there are many hazards that we can’t even imagine right now. If you pass your physical,” Father Garcia’s eyes flitted briefly to Dr. Baker. “then we have a battery of vaccinations and anti-viruses to protect you from known contaminants that may lurk in the water and food. The problem is the unknown. We cannot take anything with us, so we cannot sterilize the water except by boiling, which you know isn’t sufficient at times.”
Father Garcia paused and Dr. Baker continued with the warnings, “We can’t take anything with us, Ambigo. No medicines. That’s why they came to me first. I have so much experience with homeopathic and natural remedies that I was the first choice. We have two days to teach you all that I know. There’s no aspirin, only meadowsweet. There’s no morphine, only poppies. You need to know how to recognize these plants because they might mean the difference between someone coming home alive or not.”
“Considering your past…” Dr. Baker paused. He looked as if he was remembering all that was said during that bitter battle. “I have a feeling that you already know the basics and I just need to fill in the gaps.” He looked at Ambigo closely and the eyes of the filming crew squinted at him. “I’m not going to lie to you. This trip is dangerous.” Ambigo turned and looked at Madi. She responded to his gaze. “It’s basically a suicide mission. They will zap our cold and dead bodies back from the past, retrieve what Jaime and I have filmed and figure out what went wrong. The second team will probably have more success, but only if the Vatican is willing to shell out the big bucks for a second team.” Daniel laughed uneasily. “What Madi is trying to do is fully explain the risks involved in as much gory detail as possible. Don’t let her scare you. If you’re the kind of doctor who doesn’t hide behind the AMA and the FDA, we’ll survive. If you have any doubts about your medical abilities in the worst of conditions, then we could have some problems.”
There was silence in the room except for Daniel’s labored breathing bouncing off the walls of the massive lab. The eyes of the film crew squinted at him. Suicide mission. He had never been called on a suicide mission before. He hadn’t even been first choice. First choice hit a lucky break and gets to die a slow and painful death with the aid of chemo. He thought about his hospital and his labs and his seconds in command at each. Did he really have anything to go home to? Empty house, a lab run so efficiently that they would finish his work without him and a hospital at which he was merely a cog, a rather large cog, but a replaceable piece of machinery, nonetheless.
What would he be sacrificing his life for? Proof. Either way it would be proof. We would know for sure when he came back that Jesus was a myth or that he was just some guy that said some cool things. There would be no more questioning whether he was divine. They would find him. They would prove the Vatican wrong. Was it important enough? He blew out a breath of air. No. It wasn’t. He didn’t care about Jesus.
But the adventure, that was tempting him. He was drawn to this mission. He had spent his life alone. He had no partner to share his experiences with and he had suddenly been given five partners in the greatest adventure he could imagine. Better than Indiana Jones, he would perform archaeology before the evidence became buried. After years stuck in a lab, the thought of immersing himself in the lost land of the past called to him stronger than proof or honor or glory.
He looked into Father Garcia’s eyes and the priest knew. “Daniel, time is short. Will you please give Dr. Thomas his physical immediately. If you can teach him while you draw his blood, more the better.”