Chapter 39 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

It looks like I skipped a chapter, but I didn't. Some recent revisions added a chapter, so now I'm up to 39, where science, history, and religion briefly merge. Comments are welcome.

CHAPTER 39

Sasha Krupsky’s murder of Dr. Beria validated a decision Fyodor Stolypin made more than a decade ago. He would finance his own lab, his own scientists, men and women he could control with lavish salaries, whose loyalty and silence he could buy. The decision to use the private lab in St. Petersburg was a serious error driven by a foolish impatience. He would not repeat the error. Analysis of the recent find at the Echmiadzin construction site would be undertaken “in house,” as had the painstaking analysis of more than three dozen artifacts from a variety of locations around the globe, some of which continued to point to Echmiadzin and St. Petersburg, and others which turned out to be red herrings, elaborate fakes, some several centuries old and viewed by entire sects to be central to their belief system, their cosmology.

When deciding where to build his lab, Stolypin’s morbid sense of history kept drawing him back to the scene of what he considered to be the most horrendous crime in Russian history, Ekaterinburg. That history is a constant reminder to Stolypin of the righteousness of his cause. The city’s population of nearly 1.5 million would have provided the anonymity and cover crucial to a personal family mission approaching a century in the undertaking. But the city’s distance from the possible locations of the holy lance made it impractical. The logistics of properly transporting such an artifact, if and when it was found, rendered Ekaterinburg at best a reckless choice. Instead, Stolypin went with a hunch. The story, more than a thousand years old, of the holy lance being swallowed by the earth to keep it out of the hands of raiders from the east struck Stolypin as the most plausible of all the stories about the lance’s location his lifelong investigation had uncovered. But Echmiadzin was too small for the secrecy he required. So he chose Yerevan, with more than a million residents and no more than half an hour by car from Echmiadzin, for the lab that would sort the wheat from the chaff as Stolypin and his small army of coconspirators scoured the globe for its most fantastic prize.

The lab itself is, to a layman’s eye, not particularly impressive. Stolypin’s directive when designing and equipping the lab was simple: “Everything we need; nothing we don’t.” The floor is polished concrete; the fixtures are stainless steel; the computers are powerful and fast. A bank of flat screen monitors lines an entire wall of the 10-meter square lab. The middle of the room is occupied by a stainless steel table topped by a clear, airtight, Plexiglas case two meters long, one meter wide, and just as high. Each long side of the case has four eight-inch diameter holes holding rubber gloves secured to the case with stainless steel gaskets so that whatever is inside the case can be handled and examined without exposing it to the air. Inside the case is the box containing the lance from Echmiadzin. The box is open and the lance, minus its tip, sits on a bed of white silk as it has for centuries. In a similar, but considerably smaller Plexiglas case sitting on a stainless steel shelf to the right of the bank of monitors sits the spear tip taken from Baghdad, also on a bed of white silk.

Dr. Yevgeny Kirilenko–thin, balding, in a white lab coat, and sporting thick wire-rimmed glasses–stands in front of one of the flat screen monitors, a keyboard at his fingertips, concentrating through his thick eyeglasses on a set of declining numbers moving rapidly down the screen. The screen to his immediate left displays a digital image of the holy lance. The screen to his immediate right displays a digital image of the spear tip.

A buzzer goes off. Dr. Kirilenko goes to the vault-like door and looks up at the closed circuit TV screen above the door. Stolypin waits to be admitted. Kirilenko enters a six-digit code on a key pad built into the door and it opens revealing Stolypin and two guards, both armed with AK-47s and dressed in black and gray with black berets.

The guards remain outside as Stolypin enters. The door closes behind him. He walks over to the large case, stops, and stares at the holy lance. He is silent, overwhelmed, as he walks slowly around the case. He knocks gently on the case as he continues to stare.

“Bullet proof?”

“Of course. As you instructed. I received a report of an explosion at the site. Is it true?”

“Taking care of some evidence. Nothing to concern yourself with.”

“It seems a shame to destroy a significant site. There might be much more out there.”

“Doctor, you’re welcome to have a look when we are finished. I take it that all of the tests have been run or you wouldn’t have called.”

“Yes. All of them are finished. I was just reviewing the data to be absolutely certain of my conclusions.”

“And?”

“There is no doubt in my mind.”

“Show me.” Stolypin directs.

“Over here.”

Kirilenko returns to his computer monitor and keyboard. Stolypin follows. Kirilenko makes an entry on the keyboard.

“I first scanned the images of the tip and the lance itself to determine if this tip indeed comes from this lance.”

As Kirilenko types, detailed digital images of the lance and the tip appear on the screen. The images come together on the screen and appear to fit.

“They appeared to fit, but I had to be certain, so I took microscopic images of the two edges to eliminate the possibility that one was simply made from the other.”

Kirilenko types and presses enter. Sections of the edges of the two artifacts appear in microscopic close up on the screen. They move slowly toward each other until they fit together.

“I did the same analysis along the entire break. There is no doubt. That tip was broken off of that lance.”

“Is that it?”

“Of course not. The next task was to date the two artifacts. In addition to making sure the tip was broken from the lance, I had to make sure, to the extent possible, that the wood shaft of the lance was original, that it wasn’t a replacement added decades or centuries later. To that end I determined the ages of the tip, the metallic portion of the lance, and the wood shaft of the lance.”

“Are the dates consistent?”

“Yes. Without going into too much detail, it is a virtual certainty that all three pieces are approximately 2000 years old. The final step was to determine where the items came from. Spectroscopic analysis of the wood and metal confirm that both came from the same region in the Roman province of Gaul, quite standard for a weapon of a Roman soldier of the era.” 

Stolypin takes a deep breath and exhales.

“That’s it then.”

“There is one thing that troubles me,” Kirilenko cautions.

“Which is what, Doctor?”

“The only thing I did not find was any tissue residue or any sort on the lance or tip.”

“My God, professor, did you really expect to find the tissue of the son of God on the tip? I doubt there is any test conceivable to man that could detect such a thing!”

“I’m a scientist. I have to be open to all possibilities.”

Stolypin finds the suggesting jarring.

“It is too frightening to conceive.”

“What I can tell you with certainty is that the tip came from the lance, that they are both approximately 2000 years old, and they were most likely once in the possession of a Roman soldier. Anything more is speculation.”

“Speculation that we shall soon confirm.”

“All of the attributes certainly fit, and, as you know, we’ve eliminated the other artifacts from serious consideration.”

“I have much to do. If you’ll excuse me.”

Stolypin walks to the door and punches in the same six-digit code on the key pad used moments earlier by Doctor Kirilenko.

“There is the additional matter of my fee. I’m afraid I have yet to receive the final payment, a substantial sum to put it politely.”

Stolypin does not respond.

The door swings open. Stolypin walks through the door and addresses the two armed guards.

“See to it that the professor is paid in full.”

The guards step into the lab and immediately open fire on Doctor Kirilenko, sending him sprawling to the polished concrete floor where his life comes to a sudden and violent end.