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Below the Mountain

Wrote this up for submission last year – unfortunately, and I did see this coming, it didn’t really jive with the atmosphere they were after. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Below the Mountain

 

What is this that stands before me?

Figure in black which points at me

Turn around quick, and start to run

Find out I’m the chosen one

Oh no

 

“Would you please turn that crap off? I’m trying to get through this before lecture,” the young man said, casting an angry glare over his shoulder.
“Ah, take off, man, Sabbath’s a classic!” his colleague called back, not bothering to turn away from the laptop. A tinny guitar riff pushed the speakers to the limit, more buzz than distortion.

“Philistine…” the first man mumbled, returning to the sheaf of paper on his desk.

“Ah, good, I was hoping you two would be here – it’ll save me having to write up an email,” said a third man, middle-aged, who entered the cluttered office looking down at a clip-board.
“I’ve been asked to spend a few weeks up in Auyuittuq. Apparently this mining company, Bleiercom, has discovered something weird near Mount Thor – they were using some new imaging technology and it gave them some unexpected read-outs,” he looked up from the sheet he’d been examining. “You’ll have heard the Tories a couple of years back – ‘Canada’s North is open for business’ – well, I guess this is what it looks like. Hopefully, with us there, we can at least soften some of the damage they’ll do.” He shifted a few of the sheets, flipping the board so that they hung loosely over the top.
“I hope you boys didn’t have any Christmas plans, as we’ll be headed up there Tuesday next week and it’ll run through the holidays, most likely. Rush tickets, but the company have, thankfully, said they’d provide everything. We’ll go and see what this is all about, and then maybe get an early start on the dig we wanted to do out in Tanfield, as we’ll be up there already. I’ll let you sort out someone to cover your classes.” He left the office as abruptly as he had come, calling the last sentence as he walked down the hall.
Maron’, Schuler, don’t you hate it when Frore does this to us? We’re grad students, not god-damn slaves!” said the metal-head, running a hand through greasy hair and looking flustered. “Now I’m gonna have to cancel that flight back to Montreal, and I didn’t buy insurance for it or nothing, and I’m gonna lose the money, and my ma is gonna be pissed…” he turned back to his computer, opening a number of tabs angrily. “Vanabola! I don’t even like the cold! What am I doing a degree in Arctic Archaeology for? Maybe pa is right, maybe I am just a scustumad’!” The soliloquy was peppered with wild hand gestures, as Carbone, which was the young man’s surname, battled with his imagined interlocutor. The first man, Schuler, merely watched his frenetic companion. This was nothing new, this sort of tantrum. A strange, calculating look had settled in his blue eyes, though – a look that had taken hold at the first mention of Mount Thor.

At Pearson, there was someone from Bleiercom waiting for them – mid-level management, complete with cheap suit and a subordinate with a sign. Schuler noted that there were a few other names on the list, and figured that the small group clustered around must be them. Suspicions confirmed when the suited man called out
“Professor Frore? Professor Frore, over here! Cutting it a bit close aren’t we?” the man said, looking at his watch exaggeratedly. “Name’s Johnson, Andy Johnson. HR Head, Toronto office. And this must be…” he looked at the sign, “Joe Carbone and…Caspar Schuler? Swell. You’re the last we were waiting for. Have you got the tickets, Barnes?” he said to his lackey. “C’mon, c’mon, the tickets!” The other man struggled to both hold the sign and dig out the tickets from his brief case. “Here, I’ll do it!” said Johnson, wrenching the case from the other man’s hands. Within a few minutes, the others milling about awkwardly, Johnson had distributed the tickets to their appropriate owners. “Now, daily reports, Barnes, I want daily reports!” he shouted over his shoulder as he ushered the others towards the gate. Barnes breathed a sigh of relief to see the back of him. He couldn’t imagine a better holiday, even if -he- still had to go to work.

The rush through the check-in didn’t leave much time for introductions, but Schuler took a moment to look at his co-travellers. Himself, Carbone and the Professor, as well as HR Johnson and a few other equally ill-suited individuals, and a girl. He took another look – she must have been closer to 20, though quite small. She caught him looking at her as she manhandled her baggage onto the conveyor, and smiled. It wasn’t until they’d made it to the terminal and won a few minutes respite that she came up to him and said

“Hi! I’m Anna – Casper, right? Like the ghost?” Her smile deflated the insult, or at least tried to. He looked at her blankly as Carbone came up.

“Hey babe, nice threads!” he said, shifting his hair out of his face. “I’m Joe!”

“Uh, thanks?” she said, looking him over and frowning at both before she walked away.
“What’d I say?” Carbone asked, looking at Schuler.

Unclasping the tray from the seat ahead, he took out his notebook and opened it at random. The pages were covered in ink, dense, but directed. No scribbles or rushed thoughts here. A crash cut in from the seat next to him – he looked over and saw that, though he was already sleeping, Carbone had switched on one of the in-flight movies. Some forgettable blockbuster, complete with over-the-top explosions that could be heard from the other man’s cheap head-phones. Schuler looked at him a moment, noticed with disgust the dandruff that dusted the man’s ears and greasy hair, the week’s growth of beard that curled tightly over the pock-marked skin. Sighing through his frown, he turned back to his bag and fished out his own head-phones. Nothing for it, no sense in fighting with him over the film. He thumbed his iPod to life, and the Palestrina filled his ears. The interplay of the voicing, the counterpoint as each played off the other to build something greater than the sum of its parts, put him at ease. He looked over at Carbone again, this time his hot disdain transmuted by the music to a remote disappointment. How could they both, Palestrina and Carbone, share an Ancestry? The other man shifted in his seat, burrowing further, and rubbing a plump, short-fingered hand across his thick-lipped mouth. How could, achieving the heights evident in their work, the people of Europe fall so far? He included all of Europe, as it wasn’t as if his own Teutonic brethren were any better off. And here they all came, to the New World, and devolved together. A final sigh, rueful, and Schuler turned back to his book.

Despite the pacifying, focusing nature of the motets, he found himself unable to concentrate on the neatly arrayed symbols. Here was all this data, he thought, flipping through more of the pages, all these theories and conjectures, reaching back into the dark days of Man, of his Childhood, but where was the evidence? What made any of this, this crazy web of connections, any more likely than conspiracies about the Illuminati or the like? Sure, there were all those things that happened down in New England a hundred years ago, but that wasn’t much more than rumour. What did he really have to go on here? How could he be sure that this wasn’t just another silly fiction cooked up by some low-life pot head, and thrown on to the Internet? He couldn’t.

And yet. He could feel that this was somehow right. It’s true, the connections, the cycles, they didn’t match up to a standard calendar, not to the modern one – but, if this was something older than Rome or the Catholic Church, why would it? He’d run the calculations, here was the hard data, flipping to a print-out stapled into the notebook – there was some thread that connected it all, and that couldn’t be faked. Every cycle, something big happened, something that shifted all the consciousness of the world. Last time, following on from whatever it may have been that happened in Massachusetts, great wars and the deaths of Empires. The time before that, the over-throw of the old aristocracy and the birth of new dreams, soon soured. And so on, all the way back to the start of recorded history. Every major event, every epochal shift, the links were there. Nothing so easy as the same symbols or words, though they were present often enough. No, it was deeper than that, something about the sense of it all, the patterns of it – something you wouldn’t see unless you had access to all the raw data, an emergent element from the background fuzz. If that kept happening, every time, surely that pointed to something, right?
Everything indicated that the cycle was about to turn over again, that it might already be starting. And that it had something, something very specific, to do with the Polar Regions, with Baffin Island. Maybe, thought Schuler, he’d be able to find his concrete evidence there. Settled, he thumbed to the end of the written pages, about two thirds of the way through the book. Diagrams, runes, scrawled lines in 17 different languages flashed by. Finally, he focused on what was in front of him – photographs of ancient pottery he’d pulled off the British Museum’s site last week, a stolen moment between tutorials and last minute prep.
After a quarter of an hour comparing these photos with another set, sourced from the Smithsonian, he noticed that Anna was watching him. Openly looking, not bothering to hide her interest. It was the first time he had looked at her, really, since they met in the terminal. From this close, he could see the roots of her hair where it was parted – blonde underneath that ridiculous black, almost the same tint as his own. He hadn’t really settled in to the work yet, there was something that left him restless, uneasy. He figured he might as well distract himself a moment.

“What?” he said, pulling a head-phone out of his ear just as Palestrina gave way to Mussorgsky.
“I’m bored. The movie selection sucks. Whatcha working on?” the girl, the young woman, asked.

Schuler thought a minute before answering, noncommittally, “Thesis stuff,” and turned back to his notes.

Anna pulled a face, wrinkling her nose at his offhand tone and rolling her eyes. She looked away, down the aisle. A few seconds later, though,
“Well, what is it, exactly? You’re some Social science-type, right? What’s that you’re looking at, Sumerian?”

Schuler abruptly twisted his head towards her, raising an eyebrow. “Comparative Religion, technically. How did you know that this is Sumerian?” he asked, more coolly than he felt.
“Pfft, don’t give me that look, man. You don’t have a monopoly on schooling, you know,” she said, her disdain meeting his condescension. “Comparative religion, eh? How’d you get stuck with ol’ Professor Polar Excess over there?”
Schuler looked across the aisle to where Frore sprawled in his chair, shirt rumpled and sandals askew, and had to admit to himself that the pun was apt.
“Cross-disciplinary work. Frore, on top of arctic arch, does cultural work too. Our research interests overlap enough that I do some of my studies with him.”

“K – but then what do the Sumerians have to do with anything in Northern Canada? And what’s that other stuff you’ve got – I don’t recognise it?”
“I did say I did -Comparative- Religion, didn’t I? You do have to look at -different things to -compare- them, you know.” Childish response, but it fit the question, he felt. “This second set, it’s from the Anasazi culture down in the States, the Pueblo’s.” He must have been more distracted than he thought, to be encouraging the conversation.

“Oh, cool! That’s one of those Lost Civilisations, isn’t it? Neat!” Anna responded excitedly.
“Ha, not exactly,” Schuler said, “some of the latest information to come, climactic models, points to a pretty severe drought in North and Central America, just when it looks like the Pueblo abandoned their settlements. Chances are, it got too dry and they left for greener pastures. No more romantic than that. These pictograms,” he said, passing her the photos, and fishing another set from his bag, “are, as near as we can tell, from right before then.”
“But still, didn’t they, like, disappear or move or whatever only a couple hundred years ago? The Sumerians, they’re ancient. Like, Dawn of Civilisation, ancient. What’s to be compared there?”

“Because, it looks like the same thing may have happened to them,” he answered, distantly. After having some sort of internal struggle, he continued “Look, this isn’t technically stuff for my PhD, it’s a bit of a side-project. I’d appreciate you not mentioning it to Frore, we’ve had it out a few times over where and how I spend my time.” He tried his best to look winning, contorting his patrician face.
“Sure, whatever,” Anna responded. “No big deal to me. What do you mean, though, ‘the same thing’? They were totally different, weren’t they? Different times, different places.”

“You’re not wrong, but I’ve been seeing this come up a lot, almost like a, a thread that weaves through all human cultures. You get these big, strong empires, and then something shifts, and, within a generation, or a few, they’ve completely gone. Now, with the Sumerians, the accepted version is that they were conquered and absorbed by the Akkadians, to the north, and eventually became Babylonia, right?” Anna nodded. “But, this passage here,” Schuler said, indicating with a long finger the photos, “talks about a new religion, a kind of cult, gaining power in the South-East, near the ocean, and spreading before the eventual take-over. And then, they just disappear.”
“They can’t have just disappeared – surely it’s just that we don’t have the artefacts. This was thousands of years ago, how can we be sure we’ve even got the right translation, never mind the full story?” Anna said, doubtful. Schuler smiled – despite himself, he was taking a liking to her. He didn’t usually like people.
“I would agree with you, you’re right to be sceptical, but it just keeps happening – these pictographs, and this, this is a Navajo myth, about the Anasazi,” he said, flipping the notebook back a few pages, “they talk about a cult, a cannibalistic cult, that shows up right before our best estimation of the abandonment of that area. It’s not necessarily widely accepted, and the translation is second-hand, but, look, see that pictograph? Best anyone can tell, that means water. And see? See how it shows up throughout in connection to this other figure, the stylised-man one? That would seem to indicate a water-man, a man-from-the-sea. Again, we have a new group, associated with the sea, right before a collapse.”

Anna looked at him, doubtful. “That’s pretty thin evidence to go on…” she started.

Schuler realised he’d been leaning forward, over-excited in his explanation. He sat back, looking at the grey and blue patterned chair ahead of him.
“That’s fair,” he said. “In this instance. We’ve pretty conclusive evidence that it did happen, though, to the Egyptians. We can read their ancient texts, as well as anything, and they clearly make reference to ‘peoples of the Sea.’ Ramses II fought them several times, and eventually they wore down both the Egyptians and the Hittites. But,” he went on, “they then disappear. Altogether. No more mention anywhere. At least, not under that name…”
“Pretty fanciful stuff there, boychik. If you’ve got all these crazy theories about the sea and the desert civilisations and all the rest, what’re you doing on a flight to Iqaluit?”

“Well, the Sea Peoples, they had to come from somewhere, right?” Schuler offered, cagey.
Anna looked at him, unbelieving. “You’re kidding, right? Have you met these people? They could barely get to the mainland before Europeans rocked up. The Eskimo aren’t your Sea People, no way.”

“No, of course not,” Schuler said, amused at the distress she showed, and noting her prejudiced attitude. “No, I don’t think the Inuit are the Sea People. I do, however, think there is something weird going on up there, and I’m willing to chase what leads I have. Anyways,” he said, changing the subject, “why are you on this mad trip of ours? Helluva way to spend Christmas.”

“Oh, they didn’t tell you? My last name’s Bleier, as in, of Bleiercom. I’m supposed to be spending the holidays with Dad – alternating between the rentals since they split back when I was a kid, just kept on with it, even though I guess I don’t really have to now. Dad’s going to be up at this dig or whatever all Christmas, so I’m headed up with you lot. I kinda feel like I owe him, what with the whole Ivy League education he’s bought me and all. Still, sometimes it’d just be nice to spend time with him, y’know? I’ve been all over the world with him or mom on holiday, but I never really get to see them, like?”
“My parents died when I was quite young,” Schuler said. “I wouldn’t know.”
“Oh! Um, sorry?” Anna offered weakly.

As the group shuffled into the room, a woman looked up from the duffle bag she was packing. A wide grin split her face, showing strong, white teeth.
“Hiya,” she said “name’s Tukkuyummavungga Aglukar – don’t worry,” she smiled at the blank to quizzical faces in front of her, “you can call me Tukku, everyone else does. I’m your lead chopper pilot – Asuilaak over there’ll fly the second one,” she motioned towards a window, where a bundled figure could be seen examining the tail rotor on one of the MD 500’s.

After the assorted introductions, she continued “Everyone ready? K, let’s get goin. Forecast this morning was good, but weather turns around quick this time of year. It’ll be an hour or so to base camp. Mr. Bleier got in two days ago, he’s already waiting for you all out there.”

Mount Thor thrust into vision from far out, kilometres out. As the two helicopters sped towards it, Schuler reflected on what Tukku had relayed over the chopper’s on-board radio – that Mount Thor, the whole valley, was considered a place of ill-omen by her ancestors. Somewhere to be avoided. She didn’t seem distressed herself, but then it was difficult to tell over the static-y two-way. As they approached, the scale of it – Earth’s largest vertical cliff – became apparent. Coming at it from the west, they could see the full extent of its kilometre-and-a-quarter sheer drop. It was easy to understand why someone would feel uneasy, even nauseated, with that mass of rock hanging above them. Inhuman proportions, enough to trouble the mind of the beholder. And it was just where they were headed. Schuler could see now, at the base of the mountain, a collection of retro-fitted shipping containers and tents, lights blazing against the Arctic winter’s early darkness.
“Ah, glad you could make it, Professor!” the ruddy faced man said as they entered the room. He strode forward, taking Frore by the hand. “Bleier, Alex Bleier. Sorry we couldn’t meet in person earlier, but I’ve come direct from one of our sites in South Africa. I trust your travels ran smoothly enough?” he said, looking at the others. A robust man, wearing a bomber jacket despite the heat lamps glowing away, he looked more like a professional adventurer than a mining magnate. “I was just going over some of the latest readouts, not that I can understand much of them myself – that’s what I pay these egg-heads for!” he said with a laugh, indicating with a sweep of his arm the technicians behind him. “Mighty queer business we’ve got here, like nothing I’ve seen before – and I’ve seen my fair share of oddities, I can tell you!” The force of the man, his vitality, completely over-shadowed the dour professor.
Catching a moment to interject, Frore said
“You know this is meant to be Natural Parkland, right, Mr. Bleier? And sacred land to the Inuit on top of that? I hope you’re not considering too sizeable an operation here.” The other man stopped laughing, in fact, the joviality drained from his face. One could see the steel that had won this man an empire, still present under the padding of years.
“So, that’s the score, is it, Professor? Well, best to have it out in the open from the start. I thought the Prime Minister’s Office made it pretty clear – we’re ushering in the future here, economic development. Or would you prefer to leave this place a wasteland?” Reflecting on the striking landscape bare inches of metal away from them, this struck Schuler as a bit off, but the delivery carried it. “I assure you, Professor, everything we’ve planned is legal. To the letter. Now – you have an hour or so to unpack and get settled – Siluk can show you you’re allotted quarters,” he indicated an unsmiling Inuit man behind him, “but then meet back here. There’s something I want you to see.”

The ice fell away at the hacking of the axe, the two men making short work of the half-foot or so covering. Underneath, still solidly frozen in place, the wall of stacked, unworked rock emerged.
“Clearly artificial,” the professor said to no one in particular. Shooing the others out of the way, he examined the exposed rock, exasperation at the whole affair evident in his motions. “No way any rock-slide or avalanche could have set these so orderly, nor with such precision. This was done purposefully by someone.”
“I can see that, Professor. What I want to know is, why? And what is behind it?” Bleier cut in abruptly. “The scans say that, a few feet through this wall here, there’s open space. I’ve not seen them wrong before. How do we best get through?”
Frore turned abruptly. “Get through! Are you crazy? This is a huge find! This kind of work is totally unprecedented on Baffin Island – who knows what damage you’ve already done to it smashing away with those ice axes? You go through this, you’ll have hell to pay – the NTI are going to sue you as is, the Heritage Department’ll get in on the action when they realise what’s at stake–”
“When you dig as deep as Bleicom does, Professor, you get used to dealing with the devil. Now,” Bleier looked up the face of the cliff, undeterred by the wave of vertigo, “no space to get a sizeable machine in here, yet, and I doubt a CAT could manage it. Siluk, you think we could dynamite it? Doesn’t look like we’ll bring anything down on our heads.”
Shifting the ice-axe to his shoulder, the man cast his own eyes vertical, thought for a moment, and grunted his agreement.
“Jesus, what am I even here for?” Frore said, looking from one man to the other in amazement. “Why’d you even ask me to come, to get involved with this, when the first thing you find you decide to literally blow up? This is ridiculous!” He threw up his hands in vexation.
“You’re here, Professor, to advise. You have advised. I have taken your advice into account. If you don’t like it, you can get yourself back to your university. In the mean time, we’ve got work to do.”

“Oh great, what does that asshole want?”
The two younger men turned to see what Frore was talking about, just as Bleier shut the door to the dining cabin.
“Look here Frore,” he said, turning to address them. “The charges are set. I mean to sort out what’s going on here with or without your approval. I’ve the go-ahead from the Feds – you’re not the only one with friends in Ottawa – and I don’t see any reason to hold back. Now, you can leave if you want – like I said, the next trip out to Iqaluit’ll be in a few days’ time. Or – you can stay.” He moved over to the drip pot, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “And do what I’m paying you, very handsomely, for. I brought you up here, you specifically, because this is some Native mumbo-jumbo bullshit, and you’re the best in the country for it. I don’t need you to clear it with them – God knows, I employ enough of ‘em to have at least some on my side – but I need you here for the optics, see? I can get someone else, in time, but time is something I have very little of. Season’s about to turn ugly. You and I both know that you want to be around for whatever else we might find.” Frore sat, silently, frowning up at the man.
A twinkle in his eye, Bleier continued “Look at is this way – if we do find anything, and if we decide to blow it up, you can add it to the list of my malfeasances.” A glare from Frore.

“Pad your case out against me.” He had the Professor hooked now, and he knew it.
“Charges go off in an hour.” Without waiting for a response, the man left. A blast of arctic air blew into the room, chilling his untouched cup of coffee.
Siluk looked to Bleier, who gave a brief nod. The Inuit man’s staid face creased in a deeper frown, and he pressed the largest button of the remote. They could all hear the explosion from where they sheltered, followed closely by the clatter of rocks and then…nothing. Nothing but the wind, keening through the valley as it had since time immemorial.
“Right!” said Bleier, addressing the assembled. “Professor, shall we go and take a look at what’s become of your wall?” which drew a sigh of resignation from Frore.
“We might as well go and see what dog’s breakfast you’ve made of it…”
“Splendid! I see no reason why we ought to wait to explore what’s behind it, either. Everyone more or less ready? Got the equipment?”
“I’m coming too!” Anna said from the back of the shelter. Bleier’s face creased in a grimace, jaw set. “No way I’ve come all this way, to this frozen waste, to not even see what the whole point is!” Crossing her arms, she stared her father down. Looking between the two of them, the familial resemblance was plain. As was the equality of will.
“Fine, c’mon then!” relented Bleier, giving in to his desire to set this all to rest.

They crossed the short distance to the mountain base. Stones were scattered for metres, evidencing the violence of the blast. A ragged hole had been revealed, sloping gently into the darkness. Smiling to the group, Bleier turned on his flashlight and abruptly descended into the cavern.
“Wait!” called Frore “We don’t even know if the air is breathable in there! Ah – whatever,” he said, relenting. “Just don’t touch anything!” and followed him down.
The opening did slope down, for about 100 metres, with a single, long curve that blocked out the wind’s scream surprisingly well. Levelling off, it opened to a wider antechamber, squarish. As Johnson, the last of the designated group, made the room, a dull boom was heard from behind, followed by several more.
“The blast! It must have set off rocks above!” shouted Frore over the mounting noise. “You idiot Bleier! I told you we should’ve waited!” People began to scatter each way.

“Too far to get back to the surface! Deeper, run deeper!” someone shouted, and the milling focused on a single direction just as the first rocks began to fall.
Impossibly stretched shadows twisted off the irregular rock faces as the group ran, their flashlights casting in every direction. They turned a corner, finding themselves in a much wider chamber – Carbone, the first to enter, was caught short by the sudden change.
“Hey, whatchit!” he said, tumbling over as he was hit from behind.
“The hell did you stop for –oh!” Schuler said, directing his flashlight around him. Stepping around his prone colleague, he moved deeper into the cave. “It must go up for storeys!” he said, as even the industrial grade flashlight died before revealing the ceiling.
“God! We’re all going to die down here! Trapped, like rats!” screamed Johnson, eyes bright with panic.
“Jesus, someone get him under control!” barked Bleier.
“Get your hands off me, Skimo!” Johnson shouted at Asuilaak, who had put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Andy! No one is going to die! Everyone is fine! We are going to make it out of here!” Bleier shouted in the man’s face, gripping his shoulders. Johnson struggled under the larger man’s hands a moment, then grew quiet.

“I think we’ve found the source of your aberrant readings, Bleier,” Frore said as he helped Carbone back to his feet. “You see how the walls sparkle when you light them up? Guaranteed there’s aluminum in that rock – this whole place is one giant Faraday Cage. It means that–”
“Skip the science lesson, Professor. I may be a business man, but my business is minerals,” Bleier cut in, striding past the pair. “I know what a Faraday cage is.”
“Then you’ll know,” said a visibly-irritated Frore, “that our radios are going to be useless in here, even if they could’ve cut through the rock. We better hope that that wasn’t the only way in, ‘cause we’re not going to be getting any help from the outside.”
Everyone took a moment to think this over, some looking at the faces nearest them, others just staring at the walls as if they could force their way through by will alone. For most, the claustrophobia they felt earlier redoubled – no way out, no chance of rescue…
Except Schuler. While the rest sat dejected, he had continued to explore the cavern. The floor was, for the most part, smooth. It was difficult to get a grasp on it without seeing the whole space, but the floor seemed almost…regular. Flat in a way that could have been by design, if such a thing wasn’t so unlikely. He continued forward some 50 meters, leaving the others in the entrance way. Anna watched him go, the cone of artificial light soon the only thing of him she could make out, bobbing along in the rhythm of his steps. He stopped, abruptly.
“Everyone,” they heard him call, a queer pitch to his voice, “you’re going to want to see this…”
Shaking themselves out of their torpor, goaded as much by the sound of urgency in Schuler’s voice as by the need to just do something, they rushed over to the young man. As they approached, they could make out what had brought him up short – in the beam of his flashlight, large enough to dwarf it, stood a pillar. An impossible pillar – carved from the rock by the looks of it, its regular, polyhedral surfaces came to a point about a metre and a half from the ground, where it met the apex of another, much shorter, column. The point of connection was in no way sufficient, not if this were made of rock, nor even if it were steel, to support so much weight. There was no way to tell how tall it was, whether it extended all the way to the ceiling or if it stood only a few metres above flashlight reach. It was immense in proportion, though, each of its four planes must have been at least 6, 7 meters in length.
A blanch-faced Asuilaak was the first to break the silence, sweat-soaked moustache pulled back from teeth. He muttered something in Inuktitut, whereupon Siluk angrily responded. Before the two could get much further in their argument, Anna called out
“Speak a language we can all understand, eh?”
“This fool is just talking nonsense, Ms. Bleier,” a still-angry Siluk responded. “Imaginary non-sense.”

“It’s not nonsense!” Asuilaak retorted. “Everyone knows, we all know, that this is a place of Algloolik, an Evil place! We should not be here!”
“Like I said,” Siluk folded his arms across his chest, “ghost stories.”
Before they could get any further, the world lit fire.
As their eyes adjusted to the new brightness, Schuler removed his hand from the pillar.
Maaaa-ron!” swore Carbone, looking at the now-glowing pillar.
“Any bright ideas on this one, Professor?” Bleier inquired sarcastically. Frore, for his part, merely looked at the column mouth agape. The column itself did come to an end before the ceiling, which was still shrouded in darkness somewhere far above them. As they watched, other pillars, laid out in a regular sequence deeper into the cavern, lit up smoothly. Each, identical to the first, stood what must have been a third of a kilometre high, an impossible height for a structure so thin – and yet, they stood. The sides of the cavern were, like the assumed ceiling, still dark. Now that they grew accustomed to it, all recognised the oddity of the light. The pillars glowed a faint green colour, ethereal, but the light itself was a flat blue. Wordlessly, as one, they set off down the path.

Slowly, they were able to make out something in the distance ahead. At some indeterminate point, the cavern floor had changed to a tessellation of coloured stones, a motif of incredibly complexity but still as smooth as before. Continuing forward, they realised they were coming to the end of the cave, or at least this portion of it. Set against the far wall was a raised dais, three huge blocks of decreasing size stacked one atop the other. On either side, smaller than the columns that defined the path but still of an inhuman size, were two inverted cones, glowing a faint red. They illuminated a final block, what could have been an altar in some place less alien. Behind it were three large cylinders, covered over in fine etchings. The furthest to the right was smashed open on the top, as if it had been crushed by falling rock.
“I, uh, I don’t think that this is any Inuit site, Professor,” said Carbone silently. The pattern before the dais was more regular, depicting set points of brightness against a dark background.
“Stars,” muttered Schuler, an edge of the manic to his voice. “It’s a constellation!” The others just stared.
Just outside of vision came a blur of movement, then a crash and a sickening crunch echoed in the hall, and everyone turned in time to see the body of Johnson, or what was left of it, being dragged into the shadows.

Silence, save for a wet, sliding sound, and a pop.

Several of them cried out, in terror and panic.
“RUN!” shouted Carbone.

The group split, Asuilaak and several of the techs heading back to the blocked entrance, the others perpendicular to the path.
“Jesus, what was that? A bear?” someone shouted.
“When was the last time you saw a bear WITHOUT FUR?” Frore called back as they ran. The group rounded a bend, leaving them in, by the standards of the place, a small alcove.
“Dead end!” cried Siluk. He, Carbone and Schuler immediately turned and ran back the way they had come.
“Wait! Hold on a second!” Frore called after them, to no avail. Bleier slumped against the wall, a hand to his chest, wheezing. Anna held his other arm, face betraying her distress and helplessness.
“Not <huh> quite <huh> up to the sprinting anymore < huh huh>,” the man wheezed. He reached out an arm to steady himself against the wall, and collapsed.
“Dad! Your heart!” Anna cried.
“Just, <huh> just give me a moment…” he said, struggling to rise to hands and knees. With Anna’s help, he regained his feet. Frore could do little more than stand around awkwardly.
“I’m alright, I’m alright,” he said gruffly, shaking off the proffered help. They heard shouts from behind, and a cry of pain. Casting their flashlights around in a panicky motion, they noticed raised platforms, with stacks of what looked like dried kindling arranged neatly. And then they noticed the skulls.
On all the bones were irregularly spaced, straight marks.

“Cut marks,” breathed Frore.
“He said they were cannibals,” whispered Anna, tears of fear and exhaustion streaking her mascara. “Caspar said they were cannibals,” she repeated. Schuler himself hurtled into the room following this, gasping for air.
“The thing, it got Carbone. He’s dead. Siluk took off, I didn’t see where he went. C’mon, we’ve got to move!” And he hustled the rest back into the main room.

As they ran, they could hear it chasing them, claws scratching against the patterned floor. They could hear it, gaining.
“C’mon, Dad, we’ve got to run, faster!” cried Anna.

“<huh> I can’t <huh> go much further!” the man gasped, pulled along by his daughter.
“Watch it!” shouted Schuler – dodging to a side, a blur rushed past him, and Professor Frore was propelled into the shadows. The three stopped as the creature prowled, just outside their vision. Despite looking straight at it, the image seemed to blend with the background, as if the mind refused to comprehend what it was seeing. They got hints of scaly flesh, grotesquely segmented legs, but nothing definite. The beast gathered itself, bunching its ephemeral body, and leapt –

And Asuilaak, from the side, met it in mid-air, knocking it away from the others.

As Asuilaak and the beast smashed into a gargantuan pillar, everything stopped short. The duo appeared to hang in the air several moments, and then the post behind them started to tilt. And as it began to topple, so too did the world.
Schuler kept his feet during all this, but felt, for a vertiginous moment, as if he were standing on the wall rather than the floor. There was a crash, and, looking above his head, he saw the rocks that had been blocking their escape tumble free – gaining speed as they fell towards them. They slammed into the ground at the same time the pillar did, breaking in several places. The other columns went dark.

Fissures opened in the floor, and everything was confusion. Shouts and cries of pain could be heard from where the beast and their saviour had fallen, and the others ran – Schuler ahead, Anna and her father lagging behind. Rocks, of immense size, could be heard crashing in the darkness. Without warning, the ground cleaved, a portion thrusting up over top, and falling away. The three were divided.

Schuler looked back at Anna, her face a mask of horror.
He hesitated only a moment.

Schuler ran flat out for the patch of brightness ahead, tripping on something yielding beneath him. Scrambling to his feet, he realised it was Siluk, separated since before, babbling incomprehensibly about the Algloolik or the devil or something.
“We’ve got to run, c’mon!” Schuler yelled as he ran on, but the man lay inert. Cursing himself for a fool, Schuler went back from him, pulling the man to his feet and tugging him up towards the light.
“Hurry, get in! THE WHOLE MOUNTAIN’S COMING DOWN!” shouted Tukku from one of the MD 500’s. Schuler, pulling Siluk behind him, grabbed the ladder that snapped madly in the wind. Despite the man’s disordered state, he climbed when his hands were thrust onto the rungs. “HURRY! CAN’T HOLD IT MUCH LONGER!” Tukku shouted again. Schuler scrambled up after the other man as quickly as he could, gaining the relative safety of the chopper just as a cloud of dust and rock and ice erupted from the cavern entrance. Tukku didn’t wait for Schuler or Siluk to strap in before she ripped them up and away, straining the machine nearly to breaking. Crawling against the g-forces, Schuler managed to secure Siluk, before getting himself safely seated. Looking out behind them, he was just in time to see the upper two thirds of Mount Thor pull away from its base, splintering on a diagonal line and sliding forward. “HOLD ON!” came Tukku’s shout as she redirected, desperately trying to get them out of the path of the oncoming mass.
“IT’S NOT OVER YET!” The blast of air, visible with dust and debris, expanded outwards from the peak as it smashed into the ground, gaining, gaining. It hit them, throwing them forward. And then they were falling.

After several desperate, stomach-churning, white-knuckle minutes, Tukku was able to stabilise the helicopter. The last updrafts still giving them trouble though they were at least a kilometre away. The camp had been caught in the collapse radius – all hard-copy materials, all the data readings over the last week and more, Schuler’s own notes, whomever was left down there, gone. Schuler himself leaned back. Over-top the staccato, insane ramblings of Siluk next to him, he kept thinking –

“I’ve got it – I’ve seen the connection – I KNOW it’s real now – no-one can take that away –I’ve got it!”

Siluk never calmed, always muttering. Yes, Schuler thought, he’d seen things, up-to-then unimaginable things, but what did he really know? He knew, in his heart, that he would never rest until he knew more. In fact, he thought, he owed to the others, to find out more, didn’t he?

Half-way between sleep and wakefulness, an idea drifted, driven – if there was something in the North, mightn’t there be something in the South?

 

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Carriage Road

Another bit of mtg fanfic, returning once more to Ulgrotha and the Homelands set. Bit late for All-Hallows, but I hope you enjoy all the same!

Carriage Road

The Dark Barony, Doug Beyer

The Dark Barony, Doug Beyer

The boy started awake as the meagrely-laden cart shuddered, jolted out of a rut. He could feel, having made this trip countless times before, that they had gone too far. Rubbing sleep-heavy eyes, he peered into the drawing gloom. Close-coppiced trees blocked out his vision after more than a few feet either side of the path. He looked over at his grandfather, the old man’s figure shadowy against the swinging lantern behind him. The old man must have noticed that his grandson was awake, but gave no outward sign, keeping his eyes on the road ahead. There was something unusual about all this, the boy felt.

Shifting on the wooden bench, the boy looked behind him – yes! There it was! Bouncing with each stony depression the wheels fell in to, the boy watched the lights of An-Havva Inn twinkle in the distance. They were still close enough that a burst of laughter and music reached them, as some wayward patron staggered out the main door. They turned a corner, and the last cheery sign of it was gone. The boy shuddered as the dark seemed to pull in on them, heavy, dank, and oppressive. It passed quickly, though – a moment more and the moon shrugged off its foggy shroud, casting its light on the road ahead of them.

“Papa,” the boy said, “why aren’t we stopping at the Inn, like we usually do? Where are we going?”

The old man shifted uncomfortably in his seat, the wood boards rasping a different note than the usual creak of motion. Finally looking at his grandson, he held the gaze steady for a long moment. His face was drawn, greyish and lined in a way the boy hadn’t seen before. He looked old, older than he did yesterday. A sudden snap out in the forest broke him from his reverie, and, with a shake of his head, he turned away. The rustle of leather and rumble of the wheels were all that was heard for a time, until the old man began to rummage by his side. He produced a dull, pewter flask, and, unscrewing the lid with shaky hands, he drank deeply. The smell of the liquor was thick on the air as he exhaled, the unusual odour making the boy feel queasy. His grandfather hardly ever drank, even only having a single mug of hard cider during the Harvest festival. The queerness of the situation did nothing for the boy’s state of mind, making him feel all the sicker.

“We’re not bringing anything to the Inn, tonight, not yet…” the man said, still looking ahead. “We’re…taking our stock to another place…yes, another market…” As the sentence drifted off, he lifted the flask for another pull. The woods on either side, organised and humane on the road approaching the Inn, began to take a disorganised, wilder look. Unworked, old – the trees drooped with moss several feet thick, the bark knotted and horny. The air was close, musty – and threatening.
“Say,” he said, turning to the boy in sudden animation. “Do you remember the, well, this would have been quite a few years back, so you may not, but do you remember the tinker that stopped at the village for several seasons – name of Rorik, I think.”

The boy screwed up his face in concentration, trying to remember. It had been several years ago, and, the boy being so young, he couldn’t remember much past two harvest-times with any degree of clarity.
“Ah, as I remember it, Rorik used to put on shows for you young’uns. Puppets and whatnot,” the old man said, warming to his subject.

The memory of the displays, always a burst of colour in the small, pastoral life of the boy, cleared the fog of time.

“Oh, yeah, I remember him!” he said excitedly. “Are we going to a puppet show? Will he be there? I haven’t seen Rorik in ages!”

“Erm, no, my lad, not quite,” the man said, uncomfortably. The brightness of the memories fled from his face, leaving him once again looking ragged. “No, I was just thinking, you recall how Rorik…how he had to leave us, at the village-like?”

The boy, thinking about how long it had been since he saw the strange, cartoonish man, nodded.
“Well, that Rorik, he didn’t just leave, like. He helped the village, y’see?” the man said, earnestly, a strange urgency in his words as if he was trying more to convince himself than his grandson. The boy, for his part, mostly looked bemused.

“And then, do you remember Tallin, the carpenter, who came the year after? He helped to build the mill at the base of the Green Run? Well, he didn’t stop there – when he left afterwards, he helped out even more!” The boy knew how important the mill was to his village, it was what set their home apart from the surrounding districts. It made sense to think of it as a lasting aid – didn’t people, at least before, come from miles around to use it?

“And after that, too,” his grandfather continued, “there was Oan and his wife, and their daughter. They helped the village a lot!” The boy remembered this family well – the daughter, Sigri, was only a year older than he himself. There were so few children in the village, they had become fast friends. Quickly, they had become inseparable, spending every moment they could together, those that they could steal away from the chores on their families’ farms. But then, after only a year and a season, Sigri and her parents had abruptly left the village. One day, Oan had been discussing with the other men the best way to lay out his meagre fields for the coming season – it had been early Spring – and the next, he and his family had left. Sigri hadn’t even said goodbye to the boy, hadn’t even mentioned their intention to leave the village. The boy still hadn’t gotten over the loss, though it was several years ago. He didn’t know what Oan and his family could have done to help the village, though he trusted his Grandfather. Oan couldn’t weave stories like Rorik, dazzling the crowds with feats of acrobatics or enthralling with music. Nor did he have the ability that of Tallin to shape wood, the know-how to raise structures that stood for years and harness the power of the rushing Run. Oan had been poor, with the worst plot of land in the village. Sigri had always had threadbare clothing, her mother unable to do more than repair the scraps and off-cuts of other villagers’ charity. No, the boy didn’t know how Sigri and her parents could have offered the same sort of help as the other strangers.

“Yes, my boy, all those poor folk, they helped the village. Without them, well, we wouldn’t have gotten by, no indeed,” his grandfather continued, though the over-bright expression he had worn before had been replaced now, returning once again to a stolid set.
“We’ll be helping the village ourselves, tonight,” he said with a note of finality, another drink quick on the back of the words.

What must have been nearly an hour passed. The fog thickened as the air cooled, muffling the sounds of the night time forest around them. The boy began to nod, the rhythm of the slow nag rocking him into a fitful sleep. His fevered mind, though, gave him no respite. Dark dreams, filled with half-seen terrors that flitted about, kept him from truly falling asleep. Coming to full wakefulness of a sudden, he perked up his ears, hearing a thunder in the distance. He looked quickly to his grandfather, who stared ahead of them, gimlet eyes peering into the darkness. Clearly, the sound had distressed the man, as well. Though the sky was overcast, the clouds didn’t look to be carrying a storm in their bellies, and so he wondered at it. Few moments passed as the sound grew, seemingly from all sides, and then –

a great crashing and a terrified whinny from the mule, which pulled the lot of them into the ditch as a dark shape hurtled by. The boy caught a glimpse of a white face, twisted into an inhuman, silent shout, struggling to restrain a brace of the largest stallions he had ever seen. Jet-black, they stood at least 20 hands at the withers – taller than any dray horse he’d seen in his short life, and much more sleek. Despite their tumultuous passage, the carriage they pulled seemed to glide behind them. Glossy wood, painted or naturally ebony, the boy didn’t know. The shape of it was elegant, and unsettling. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he spied another face, within the carriage, before the obscuring curtain was twitched back into place. This face was white, like the other, but, where the first was animated by its struggle, this second one was placid, calculating. Like a still pool, the depths of which were obscured by the mirror-like surface. Time passed quickly, and the face was gone as the vehicle sped along the empty road. Not even sure he’d seen the passenger, the boy was left deeply unsettled by the thought of its gaze.

It took nearly half an hour to right the cart and settle the mule. The animal, normally sombre to the point of dullness, danced and shied as if a colt, though its energy evidently sourced from something more dire. It was fortunate the cart itself was so lightly loaded – their usual cargo, the heavy barrels of cider and ale, would have checked any efforts to pull the cart from the muddy trench.
The trio finally continued on their way – the somewhat-calmed mule tugging the vehicle steadily uphill, the old man sitting silent, every so often taking a pull from his flask, and the child, trying to stifle the mounting unrest brought on by the extraordinary events of their nocturnal travels. They climbed above the reach of the fog, its tendrils clinging to them as they jerked along, as if loathe to let them go. The air, crisp outside the fog, was cold. Once again, the clouds pulled back, and the gibbous moon revealed itself to the solitary travellers. High above them, now, its thin light illuminated their surroundings. The boy looked out into the forest, and a break of some several feet in the surrounding trees opened up a scene beyond and below them. Far off in the distance, leagues and leagues, the yellow moonlight lit up a vast wasteland. From their high vantage, they could spy some of the outer edge, the way that the surrounding forests and fields came to an abrupt, unnatural end. Barren rock, taupe in the moonlight, covered acres of land. The boy looked out, and, at the furthest reaches of his sight, he thought he caught glimpse of a single, loan tower rising above the background waste.

“Ill luck, boy,” his grandfather said gruffly. “Ill luck to look on the Basalt Spire by moonlight. Look too long, they say, and you’ll set the Old Witch to ringing her chime once more. Best to look away,” he finished, another swig of his flask. He needn’t have bothered, as, within a few moments, the forest returned thick as ever.

The boy could feel their descent steepening, and, soon, they were confronted by a solid wall of fog, blotting out the way ahead. The mule paid no heed, and dragged them into it without slackening pace. The boy shuddered as the thick moisture settled on his bare skin. He wrapped himself in his skimpy traveling clothes, trying to retain what heat he could. Droplets of water fell from the tip of his Grandfather’s large, crooked nose.

The cart jerked to a halt, and the boy awoke, disoriented and perplexed. The moon had fled – it was the darkest hour of the night, some short time before dawn. He realised he must have fallen asleep, despite the clamminess of the fog. He looked around him, trying to make out his surroundings. His Grandfather had jumped down from the cart, and stood, conversing lowly, with someone – or something – just beyond the reach of the lamplight.
“Papa – where are we?” the boy called, a tremor in his voice.
“It’s – it’s alright. Come over here, Grandson,” the last word caught in the man’s throat, emotion choking his alcohol-blurred speech – the first time he had uttered the word, their long journey.

The boy gingerly descended the cart, still bundled tightly in his small robe. The muck was thick on the ground, oozing overtop of his boots. Pulling himself free with difficulty, the stink of it curled his nostrils. When he had made his way over to his grandfather’s side, his mysterious associate struck a light and set a lantern burning.
The boy beheld the ugliest man he had ever seen, a face more animal than human – almost that of a pig. Great, rotten teeth peaked up above a quivering lip, the top of his mouth covered by greasy bristles of a patchy moustache. The eyes, dark and hard, pierced the boy, looking more through than at him. The boy whimpered in fright. The gaze shifted to the older man, a questioning look on its swarthy features. The man faired hardly better than the boy.
“Now, Grandson -” he began. “Just as I, erm, was saying, we’re going to help the village tonight…” there was a pleading edge to his stammering speech, guilt stamping it false. “Y’see, there’s been no strangers through in such a long time, and, and, the crops ‘ave been failin’, and praying to Serra’s no use…” the man looked utterly wretched. Fat tears began to slide down his grey face. “It, it was discussed, it was decided – I fought them, I did! I fought them, but, it’s for the good of the village, and the crops be failin’, an’ it be decided…” he ended weakly.
The rough man grabbed the boy by the arm, his grip like a vice on the thin limb.
“You will be rewarded,” he rasped, his speech treacly, like the muck they stood in. “The Dark Barony is ever in need of fresh meat,” he said.
The boy looked at his grandfather, imploring silently with his eyes, but the man would not meet his gaze. He turned, began to shuffle back to the cart with drooping shoulders.
“Wait!” the brute called to him. He fished about in a soiled pocket a moment, and thumbed a thick coin to the broken man. Flipping through the air, it glinted gold in the firelight.
“For your troubles…” and he began to laugh.

The coin fell into the mud by the man’s feet. He looked at it a moment. The boy reached out to him, hoping, still hoping…
The man bent and fished the soiled money from the filth, though he knew the real payment was yet to come.

WTF, Crimson Peak?

WTF, Crimson Peak?

Writing this on the back of seeing the film. We had wanted to spend our Saturday evening watching it, but, due to what I thought was poor fiscal performance in days previous, the run of film has been cut short. We should have known better.

More like Crimson Cheek.

More like Crimson Cheek.

It’s a shame – we were both looking forward to it – the visuals coming off the trailer were superb, Guillermo del Toro has done fantastic work in previous off-the-wall weird stories, the whole thing was shaping up to be a nice, well-developed gothic piece. What we got…not so much.

The themes were well constructed, the tropes, if not novel, are for the most part effectively done. But then, there is this weird, inappropriate mash, which hangs off the film like a tumour. There were several distinct areas that derailed the film; each of which alone probably wouldn’t have been fatal, but in combination left the work a twisted mess.

I. The Acting
Mia Wasikowska did an acceptable ingénue. Though I’ve seen her in different films, I’ve not seen her in a different role. I’m told she does have a broader range, though, and is competent in it as well. Here, she was able to portray a frailty throughout the first two acts that was believable, and, to her credit, didn’t suddenly drop it in the third when shit hit the fan.

Jessica Chastain played her role as distant/crazed sister far too straight. The weight of her performance dragged down almost every scene she was in, save for her introductory. And that scene was hardly focused on her character anyways. The whole first act of the film saw everyone at their worst – the dialogue was stilted, the interactions wooden. The actors that made it through to the next two, however, found their paces. Not so Sister Lucille.

Charlie Hunnam did a pretty good job as second man. The accent, as ever with Hunnam, was sometimes an issue – I can understand casting him as an American, coming off the success of Sons of Anarchy (season to season, great fun for watching the accent, that), but it struck me as a bit surreal to have all these various actors playing in roles opposite their natural accents – Chastain struggling as toff, Hunnam some manner of New England via SoCal. Wasikowska, born and raised Australian, has always impressed me with her command of accents. Returning to Hunnam’s performance, he played his role with the camp that was sorely lacking in other aspects of the film, and looks the better for it. Not overly done, and certainly not in some knowing manner, as if the character were in on the joke with us. Rather, he hit the cues laid out for him with an earnestness that worked, that fit.

Pulling a lot from his Loki role for the character, Tom Hiddleston was easily the best of the bunch. Despite the Hallmark Special feel of a number of the earlier scenes, Hiddleston charms his way through the dialogue, doing a good job at fostering mystery with an undercurrent of the unwholesome. The exchanges between he and Wasikowska are deserving of a better film, and show how good this one should have been. Also, you get to see his bum.

II. The Effects.

I get the feeling that a lot of money was spent on CGI for this film. Between the ghosts (which, I’m told, did a nice job with bone structure – from an anatomical perspective) to the ever-present, crappily-rendered butterflies, altogether too much money.

The set design, as promised in the trailer, was great. The mansion set piece was one of the best things about the whole production. It was over the top. Hole in the roof, letting leaves/snow heap in the middle of the entry hall, walls weeping red sludge (the Sharpe family land is built on red clay, the industrial use of which is their hoped-for ticket to returned wealth), beautifully sinister wooden architecture, mysterious, locked rooms, and an industrial dungeon of a basement, it was great.

It's a fixer-upper.

It’s a fixer-upper.

And that’s the trouble – the mansion, complete with stereotypically solitary moorland manservant, the bony, effervescent ghosts – they’re tropes. Tropes that don’t sync. The mansion looks like it would be at home in a Wuthering Heights written by Alan Moore. The ghosts would fit nicely in a modern, shock-horror. Together, they don’t really flow.

Another outlier – the violence. The sheer graphicness of it is unsettling. The foley artists did a commendable job throughout – technical elements of the film were of a pretty high calibre, save some bad falls. But here, well, I’m not sure where one actually acquires the knowledge to recognise those sounds, let alone reproduce them, and I’m content to remain ignorant. del Toro seems to have a bit of a fetish for damage to the face. I can attest, it’s effective. There was a moment – you’ll know the one I’m talking about if you’ve the poor luck to see this monstrosity – where it looked like I might have another crack at my reaction to the caesarean in Prometheus. Tunnel vision ahoy.

III. The Production

This one somewhat overlaps with the previous section, but there are distinctions that set it apart.

I mentioned the technical skill on display in most elements of the film above. The foley work was great, the set and costuming sumptuous, the cinematography tight.

The directing looked like it fell off a cliff. The whole things seems like something very strange may have happened in post. ADR really sloppily overlayed. Weird cuts and sewing together of scenes that take the film in what feels like, not necessarily a broken narrative, because there is a through-line there, but like something on a queer slant.

The narrative is there, but there is something about the way the piece is cobbled together that doesn’t allow the obvious cues to sync with the story as a whole. You’ll go from these strange, super camp scene cuts – the screen going black as the focus is pulled in to a circle around a face or an object, hammily underscoring the importance thereof – to bog standard horror clichés of atonal strings and sudden movements behind characters. There is no atmospheric continuity. Also, we get ghosts, right off the bat. In a film that is doing everything else in it’s power to build suspense. Can’t have your cake and eat it, too, I’m afraid.

Honestly, the last time I saw a film this schizophrenic would have to be Splice, which from one moment to the next was body-horror to slapstick comedy to disturbing incestual assault. Actually, that’s sounding really quite similar…

Crimson Peak – don’t see it. And you won’t, because it’s been pulled. All too appropriately. Time for a shower.

Gift, Forcibly Lent

Bit of fan-fic. Gave it a miss in my teens, but there’s no time like the present. Top-marks to whomever can guess the identity of protagonist!

Gift, Forcibly Lent

“One crack two crack three crack four,
five cracks and there’ll be no more!”
The crone warbled as she shuffled about the cluttered garret, nimbly weaving her way through the assorted refuse littering the space. Over-turned oil lamp, filled only with clotted residue. Stack of half-way tanned leather, best not to examine too closely. A hoe of antique design, propped against mouldering wainscot and jarringly out of place.

The ancient finished her circuit and came again to the prone figure beneath the sole window, who, chilled once more by the cruel shadow, shuddered a whimper.

“Ah, duck, don’t cower so,” the beldam cooed, drawing a long, yellowed nail across the soft flesh. “Soon it will be over, and you’ll regret having made such a fuss!”

The girl only answered with another sob, trying against her restraints to get away from the talon’s rasp. Bad as the sharp scratch felt, it was at least a point she could concentrate on, a star of pain within the shrouding mist of her thoughts, muddled by whatever foul concoction had been forced upon her…what seemed like hours ago. The following embrace of the parchment-skinned hand, cupping the girl’s bare stomach, sent tendrils of repugnance through her drug-addled mind. The dry yet clammy embrace cut through her befuddlement, and the horror of the situation was brought home to her.

She could just make out a gibbous moon through the window, riding high above her in a sky of blue velvet, as she tugged wildly at the head strap. To her left, a shapeless mass of dark hair, gaunt hands grasping a winch. Directly in front of her, the object of her misery – the witch of legend, the terror of the all the Dark Barony. Blood-shot eyes with xanthous iris’ starting from her face, hair so much straw, pulled back with in a rough twist, teeth crooked and gapped. Her chest, visible as her virdigris gown rippled with the manikin movements, slim as a pre-pubescent boy, thinner, sunken in amongst the ribs and cartilage.

“Yes, soon it will be over,” the fiend sighed, her breath redolent of grave earth. A sharp glance towards the heap of impossibility in the corner, and another twist of the chuck. The apparatus the girl was fastened to heaved, pulling fearsomely at her bound extremities, till, at last in her agony, she heard a pop as her body rearranged itself to the strain.

“Ooo hoo hoo hoo!” the hag giggled, clapping her hands and jerking about in delight. “Hear the pop, hear the crik craketty crack!”
“Crack, you say?” A far-away light seemed to awaken in the crone’s eyes. “If not a crack, then, then maybe…a shatter?”

Rictus horror imprinted itself on her whipcord visage, and she pulled at her hair, and she ran about the room, shrieking.

“It was just a chime, a little chime! How was I to know? How was I to know!? I’m sorry! I’m so-so-sorry!” she cried as she ran, ample tears sluiced the pre-graven lines of her face. Without any outward warning, she stopped of a sudden, hunkered down and pulled her bony knees towards her chest.
“Alone, all alone now. Alone forever and a day. Alone forever more,” she whispered pitifully as she rocked back and forth.
“All alone here in my Spire of dead rock.”

Despite the terror of the situation, despite the raw agony she was feeling in every inch of her body, the young maid was moved to something like pity at the sight of this creature, obviously insane and yet possessed of an acute pathos. In the swirl of her foggy mind, she wanted to make some sign of commiseration, some effort to lessen the sadness on display before her.
She murmured what she hoped was a comforting sound, difficult, given her secured jaw.

The sound seemed to lance through the other woman, who immediately stopped her rocking, and, for a time, simply stared into the middle distance.

As she drew herself up, she said
“Ah, but then, my beautiful Grandson, he came and he opened the tower. He came and he showed me how much fun there was to be had in this new and blear homeland of ours!”

A quick twist of the neck, and the tawny eyes were boring holes into the girl’s nude body.

“Isn’t that right, duck? Such fun!”

Before the thrill of terror she felt could more than but blossom, the girl saw the withered head jerk once more to the side, and, following another pop, everything went dark.

-:-

The furred thrull, not much more than ball of hair, scurried about cleaning. Cleaning gore off lewd machinery. The crone, gem-encrusted goblet in hand, flexed her skin, reveling in the restored suppleness of it, the vitality she could feel coursing through her. Time to spread a bit of fun!

Journey’s End

Mid-January, 187-

Josephine

You must forgive me the horrors I am about to relate, if ever this missive finds its way to you. My hands falter in the writing, and yet I will stay true to my pledge, I will make my account known, in spite of its attendant darknesses.

What fools we were! What blind innocents, taken in by the first smiling countenance we stumbled upon! I know not how much time I have remaining to me, so I will relate what I can with due haste.

As of my last record, we were waiting for Chief Rezu, the devil, to organise a mission to guide us back to society. Ah! If only we had cleaved more closely to the exact wording of Mbubu’s translations! We ought to have seen this fate in wings – but, no, we must confront what this life gives us as per our station, lest we be unmanned in His vision. Forward!

As I said, we waited for this mysterious feast the Lord of the Mahagger told us of. A day passed, and another. As they ran by, spent in idleness here amongst these savages, our numbers began to thin, though we did not notice it at first. On the third morning, I was awoken by a great hubbub. Kaseem, who had since become the nominal leader of the Mohemmadans, in their reduced state, was accosting a rather ill-bred exemplar of the Mahagger. Of course, neither man, despite the invective ejected by both sides, could understand the other, and it wasn’t until Mbubu arrived that any sense could be made of the situation.

The noise of there altercation, though, was decidedly great, and crowd began to form. Soon enough, the ordained translator was located, and the two men were able to finally communicate. Kaseem, finding the first Mahagger he could, had started berating the man, demanding to know where his three compatriots were. It seemed that, over the course of the last three days, one after another of the Moslem mariners had simply disappeared. None had mentioned anything about leaving the camp to their brethren, nor had they elicited any odd behaviour, the way the bedeviled Faisal had before his own disappearance.

As dialogue was laboriously translated, one side to another, the gathering came to the attention of Chief Rezu. When the Head Man was made fully aware of the situation, it was as if a dark cloud passed over his Blackamoor’s face. All would be made clear to us in time, he said, and we were forced to concede to his authority in the matter.

Tensions rode high the remainder of the day, with a near-brawl between another two of the Arabians and a lone Mahagger tribe member. Thankfully, Kaseem was able to reign in his comrades, else, I’m not sure what would have happened. At last, night drew near, the appointed time for this mysterious feast, and for the revelation of the whereabouts of the absent Arabs.

We all gathered at the paved parade grounds that had been the site of our earlier celebrations. Evening was drawing on, and a great fire had been built in the centre of the space. A troupe of dancers began to wave and writhe before the flames, in a most diabolic manner – the twistings of their bodies, the infernal rhythm, it could in no-way be born of a well-intentioned purpose. Watching the spectacle, I grew aware of a strange furnace-like protrusion amidst the fire.

After a hair-raising crescendo of drums and wind instruments, the dancers abruptly withdrew, and, in their place – the missing Arabs! The three men, draped in chains and battered bodily, were dragged out from some hidden corner and forced to kneel before the raised dais of Chief Rezu and his Consorts. There were shouts from the imprisoned men’s peers, surprised to see their comrades returned in such a state. Before any could more than raise himself from where he sat, Mahagger guards armed with wickedly sharp spears cautioned against any brash action.

A Mahagger man, a Lieutenant of Rezu’s, stood on the platform and called for silence. These men, we were told, had committed the crime of assaulting the Chief’s Consorts, a crime for which there was only one punishment: death. Rezu’s grim face split into a smile, revealing those evil, cruelly pointed teeth. The men, for their own part, seemed to understand the gravity of what was said, and protested their innocence. Vicious blows from spear shafts silenced them.

Following a signal from the Lieutenant, two Mahagger approached the furnace, and, with the aid of pairs of metal tongues, removed a red-hot bronze vessel from the fires. The fiendish vessel, a bowl of broad dimensions, was carried to the first of the accused. Initially, we were at a loss as to what was meant to happen, and then, then it became all to clear. It was the first victim that understood ahead of us, letting out a low, animal howl before the glowing urn was up-ended over his head. I, I cannot put to writing the horror of that poor soul’s demise. I but close my eyes now and I see it playing out before me, again and again.

Amidst the howls and wild screeches, the Lieutenant once again signaled his accomplices. One of the chained Mohemmadans fainted dead away, and the other broke out into gibbering uncontrollably, at times laughing, others weeping, switching ‘tween the two in the blink of an eye. As the Mahagger brought a second bowl to bear, a great “Nein!” rolled across the plaza.

Hans had leapt to his feet, brandishing a revolver he had secreted somewhere about his person. Without waiting to see if his directive was followed, he shot dead the men holding the bowl. There was a moment of stillness once the incandescent object thudded to the ground, and all gathered paused, trying to grasp what had transpired. Then Chaos was loosed.

A battle erupted, as Hans turned his weapon on those spear-wielding Mahagger closer to us, and the Moslems sought to avenge their murdered comrade. Several of us, Anhalt, myself, others of his company, repaired to our erstwhile dormitories to arm ourselves. We had, of course, not brought our rifles with us to the “feast.”

As I had said, these buildings were but sticks and mud, hardly defensible. Following Anhalt’s lead, once we had acquired our guns, we made for the stone pyramids and their trackless galleries. As formidable as our modern arms are, we were hopelessly outnumbered without sufficient shelter.

It was as we beat our way across the village to the relative safety that the worst betrayal of all befell us. Just as we were nearing the portal to the underground catacombs, I espied Mbubu. I called out to him, thankful to see that he had made it through the carnage thus far unscathed. A Mahagger warrior rushed out from behind a building, running at his top speed toward us, equipped with spear and shield. Anhalt, my dear friend Herr Anhalt, shot the knave down, the force of the well-struck blow knocking the kaffir back some yards. Alas, he proved his worth as sportsman at the end! As the German knelt to reload his rifle, Mbubu, the deceiver, picked up the fallen spear, and, before I could utter warning, hurled it at Anhalt. The deadly missile struck the man full-on in the chest, his topee tumbling off his head into the dust at his feet.

Had I not restrained him, Hans would have run to engage Mbubu, hand to hand. Alas, a troop of Mahagger, lead by none other than Rezu himself, had just rounded the corner. We made haste to find a secure position within the complex, but, before we had quit the scene, Mbubu called to us. His face, lit from underneath by fire, was terrible to behold. “I am slave no-longer, devil white!” It was the last I saw of him.

We made it into the tunnel, though another spear caught one of the accompanying Germans, a man named Alexis, in the leg. He bravely held the entrance while we travelled further in. I can only hold to hope that he passed quickly. As it was, the black demons were on our tails promptly enough. We paused for a moment at a junction, shooting off a volley back at our pursuants. There were four of us then.

Conrad was felled when the rogues rushed us once more – the tightness of the corridors, it made reloading our guns exceedingly difficult, and we didn’t have time enough to cover our own retreat. The situation was growing desperate. Seeing an opportunity, knowing that we would be picked off individually if we didn’t come some defensible redoubt, Hans ushered myself and Jorge, the doctor, into the first room we came upon. The door, made of stone, was quickly shifted into place. It was then that we took notice of what dungeon we had barricaded ourselves in, what our last resting place would likely be.

Once we got a torch going, we saw that the room was filled with a grotesque menagerie of artefacts, likely some store-house for the holy relics of these villainous Mahagger. It was at that point that any lingering doubts about the innocence of those poor Moslems, any vestige of confusion, was removed from my mind. Jorge examined what looked to be the flute used in the celebration at our arrival. Scheinbein. Mensch. Shinbone, human. A shudder ran through me, remembering the haunting melodies played on that macabre instrument. If only we had listened to what our bodies were trying to tell us! Too late. Under Jorge’s expert eye, it was determined that the flesh had been removed not by tools but by teeth, human teeth. Not only have we fallen in with a tribe of murderous barbarians, but they exhibit that most unholy of tendencies, that most vile of sins, cannibalism.

The other artefacts, and there were many, showed much the same source in their construction. Things too ghastly to describe in close detail, but the use of skin, and bone, is quite common. Or, I should say, was. Whatever our fate, I can rest easy knowing that we have destroyed these evil relics.

Our situation is grim. They have tried the door three times, and thrice we have turned them back. But time is on their side. We are short of shot, and, what’s worse, we have no food nor any water. We will stand to the last, but I fear for our fate should we be captured alive.

I doubt that this will ever reach you, but, on the faintest glimmer of hope, I write.

Goodbye, my love,
Hugh Octavius Pleasant

Dead Spaces

Dead Spaces


Erin and I were both Egyptophiles. We used to joke that we had been born too late, and in the wrong country. That we ought to have been born French, back in the Napoleonic era. So, it made perfect sense that, for our honeymoon, we should travel to Egypt, to tour the Antiquities. We were so foolish.

We flew into Cairo right after our wedding, and were immediately staggered by the heat – which we were so unused to given our temperate home climate and sheltered city-living. Luckily, we got into our hotel pretty quickly – we were staying the night there, and heading up-country come the morning. As you can understand, we were both eager for the next day, and got hardly a wink of sleep. Rather than spending the first night of our married lives as most couples, well, as they usually do, we re-read for the hundredth time our manuals, the memoirs of Champollion, the reports of Carter’s expedition, the somewhat off-the-wall musings of Freud. Suffice to say, we were whipped into a feverish pitch!

Instead of starting our explorations at Giza, we elected to travel to Thebes and work our way back down the Nile. The Valley of the Kings did not disappoint! While we could have, with our broad knowledge, conducted our own expedition, the newly opened tourist centre was an effective jumping-off point. We found another group of Americans there, much less learned than we, but still, it’s nice to have company and to be able to share your eagerness and enjoyment with others, isn’t it? Jim and Tara, their names were. We became fast friends. Things were off to a good start.

Hussein, our guide for the Royal Necropolis, began by explaining some of the basic elements of the Ancient Egyptian religious customs to Jim and Tara. I can only assume that he was new to the job, because he stated that the Ancient Egyptians were entirely polytheistic. When Erin called him on it, pointing out Akhenaten and the state shift to the worship of Aten, the man dug in heels. I guess, from his perspective, it makes sense – here he is, a native Egyptian, being told by a bunch of white Americans that he doesn’t know his own history! All the same, Erin didn’t let up, and, fortunately, we had on us a copy of Freud’s Moses and Monotheism. That shut him up pretty quickly! Furthermore, we also had a new manuscript, by a professor friend of ours at the College, indicating by way of the archaeological record, that Akhenaten’s monotheism pre-dated, by a good few centuries, the advent of the Abrahamic faiths. Jim and Tara were quite impressed! Hussein spent the rest of the day in a rather sullen mood, only providing us the bare-minimum in commentary and guiding duties. Fortunately, we could have done without him anyways!

Following our rather abortive day at the Royal Necropolis, we elected to forego the guide services on hand for the remainder of our time in Thebes. Jim and Tara, impressed by our show of independent scholarship, decided to travel with the two of us, rather than rely on the demonstratedly shoddy services from the tourist centre. By a stroke of what we’d later know for ill-luck, Jim had a connection with the American embassy, and we were able to secure the use of a car and the clearances to travel the country-side ourselves. We set out in great eagerness, to hunt down the mysteries of yesteryear.

It was at this time, as you’ll no doubt recall, that the Lost Temple complex of Gar-Sutekh was said to have been rediscovered. It made international news, there’s no way you could have missed it if you were paying attention. At any rate, you can imagine our excitement – here we were, in Egypt, during a period of new discovery! It was our dream come true. No need to travel back to the 19th century – discovery was still possible in the 21st!

The location of the complex was, at that time, still being kept as a secret – academics wanted first crack at it, and it was a matter of some national security to set up the appropriate measures to handle the inevitable tourists. Jim got in touch with his contacts once again – I never did find out how it was that he so well-connected – and, glory of glories, we learned of the location!

Seemingly, the regulation of the Nile, since the building of the dam at Aswan back in the ‘60’s, has dried out the surrounding areas in ways that no-one anticipated. Much like Abu Simbel, also tied inextricably to the dam, the complex had been caught in the shifting sands, and, slowly, inch by inch, lost to history. The periodic floodings kept the sand wet enough to not blow off, but, after several decades of relative dryness, it had done just that, and the statuary, the temples, the pillars had been restored to the land of the living. No one alive at the time knew to save the complex from the shifting sands, and it was lost to us – until now.
You can, I assume, imagine the excitement which gripped Erin and myself – a newly re-discovered city, unexplored for at least several hundred years, if not more! We had to get there, no matter the barriers, no matter the impediments. Were we not the match of any University-funded Antiquarian? Were we not the equal, in learning, of any living Egyptologist? We certainly thought we were. And we set out to prove it.
Alongside the rental of the car came a GPS unit, a properly bulky affair, probably a decade old, but with enough kick to zero in on the location. Following a stint on the highway, it was off-road for a number of miles – to be expected. Thankfully, or so we thought at the time, Gar-Sutekh was seemingly abandoned. After driving some four hours to get from Luxor to the complex, the sun was setting.

Much like Abu Simbel, Gar-Sutekh was built into a cliff of sandstone. By the time we arrived, a gibbous moon was rising behind the escarpment, and, at our backs, the Sun was laying itself to sleep in desert sands. Its last rays painted the complex in ruddy, warm tones. Jim parked our Jeep on the periphery of the compound, and we busied ourselves with getting our flashlights and the like ready. By the time we were set, the scene had changed dramatically – the flushed, broad-strokes cast by the setting Sun had been replaced by austere, cool blues and whites of the Moon, now a hands breadth above the monolithic rock, black now against the backdrop of the night sky. The temperature began to drop precipitously, though the hot sand and worked stone still radiated.

I remember feeling a sense of reservation grow, an unexpected desire to pack up and head back to the city. So out of place – the whole trip, Erin and I had been, I’ll confess, near-giddy at the prospect of what awaited us. But, standing there, flashlight in hand, looking into the gathering chill, I could’ve given it all up. I was just about to say something when Tara made some off-hand comment about not bringing a jacket, not thinking it’d be so cold in the desert. That snapped me out of it – here we were, about to explore buildings that hadn’t been properly seen in millennia, and I wanted to just give it up over nothing? A niggling doubt? What would it look like to Jim and Tara, especially after the good show we had made at the Necropolis days before? I strode purposefully towards the ruins.

The complex itself was designed in a T-format, a central avenue that lead towards, and eventually inside of, the sandstone escarpment, while two others branched out before the front of the mound and lead each into secondary temples. Flanking the sides of the central avenue were, at regular intervals, statues of some 15 feet or so. The first two, though the head was missing off one, must have been Pharaoh Tjesh III and his prime consort, the reigning monarchs of the period, and those that must have ordered the building of the mighty compound. Or so say the scanty sources remaining.

Erin, shining her flashlight onto the oversize head of Pharaoh Tjesh, revealed a startling scene: his features had been chiseled away, clearly the work of human hands – no desert winds, no matter how rough, could have left such brutal gouges. The historic vandal had paid particular attention to the eyes of the Pharaoh, leaving the stony sockets deeply gashed.

“Oh!” exclaimed a startled Tara. “Why would anyone do that?”

“Well,” Erin said, sounding as surprised as I felt, “defacing the memorials of a person, their statues and,” she directed her light to the cartouche on the plinth of the statue, it too had been attacked, “their names, it was seen as a way of scrubbing them out of history. Of removing them from both this life and the next. It was only done to criminals, and then only rarely, for really heinous offences.”

“What’d he do, then, to get this?” Jim inquired. A puzzled Erin turned to me.

“I dunno,” she said. “The sources on Tjesh III have always been patchy. He’s rarely mentioned. I guess this is why. It’s also likely why Gar-Sutekh hasn’t ever really been looked for before.”

“Looks creepy,” Tara said, “eyes all gouged out like that.” She shivered, though it was still at least 70 degrees.

We carried on down the avenue, its paving stones fitted tightly in some places, swamped with desert sand in others. It made the going somewhat treacherous – you’d take a step and come down on hard stone at one point, and the next you’d be tripped up by an unseen dune, stumbling in the thick drift of it. Of course, we had our flashlights, but they were directed up to the statues for the most part.

“Who’s this guy, the one with the weird head?” Jim said, indicating another weather-beaten statue, which had a snake winding across the torso.

“From the looks of it, I’d say it’s the god Set,” I answered. “Set was meant to be god of storms and disorder, and later became an enemy of Osiris and his son, Ra, who were thought of as Pharoahs of the gods. I’m not sure what that snake is all about, though – Set was supposed to have fought Apophis, wasn’t he?”

“Yeah, that’s what I recall,” answered Erin. To the other two, who were looking on confusedly: “Apophis was the embodiment of Chaos, and Set was said to have defeated it, working with Ra, to prevent the sun from being consumed by the snake. Look at that the way Set is shown holding Apophis here – doesn’t really look as if they’re in the grips of combat, does it?”

“If this is what it looks like, there was definitely something weird going on here,” I said. “It runs against hundreds of years of received mythos to have these two depicted as comrades. It’s an aberration as large as Akhenaten’s.”
“If this is so weird, this presentation of these gods,” asked Tara, “then why weren’t they attacked the way the Pharaoh was, y’know, with a defacing and stuff?”

“While many Pharaohs were considered to be gods after they passed into the next life, gods with the stature of Set were held to be ‘above’ them, sort of. It really wasn’t until the Old Kingdom that the Pharaohs were thought to be reincarnations of Horus. Until that point, they were just men, if kings. So, while Tjesh may have been punished for whatever sort of sins he committed, Set was still considered above the justice of mere mortals,” Erin responded.

The moon was well and truly above us when we had gotten to the end of the avenue, blanketing the area in a cold white light. As it had ascended, the temperature had fallen. Our breath puffed out in clouds as we exhaled. More of the strange statues of Set and Apophis had awaited us as we travelled towards the temple buildings, depicting the unusually close relationship between the two in various ways. Unlike the memorial to Pharaoh Tjesh, there had been no cartouche or any other hieroglyphs to dissipate the mystery.

I feel like I should stress, at this point, that we didn’t notice anything odd –well, beyond the bizarre and unsettling statuary, and the total absence of any other living person – when we went into that main temple. It’s true, it was getting colder, to the point where I regretted not having brought my coat, but the moon was still high and, aside from the glare of the flashlights, you could make out the surroundings pretty easily.

So, we went in, me first, followed by Erin and Tara, and Jim taking up the rear. The gate, whether of stone or something less permanent, had been lost at some point over the millennia, and the doorway, flanked by two more of the strange statues of Set, yawned open before us. Once inside, casting our flashlight beams about, we saw that this main room was the majority of the temple building that we could see from outside, at least above ground. A double line of pillars ran down the length of the hall towards the back of the room. Unlike the delicate pillars you’d find in and around Grecian temples, or even the more ornate, fluted variety that cropped up in later Egyptian works, these were bulky, and solid. Rather than a single piece of carved stone, or several pieces joined seamlessly, these were formed by broad cylinders, a good arm span in diameter, stacked one atop the other. The effect they granted the room was one of great gravity, as if this hall were located fathoms below ground, rather than at surface level.

Because the main doorway stood open to the elements, small drifts of sand accumulated every few feet for the first dozen yards. The room smelled dry, as if it were as much a part of the desert as the miles of trackless waste. That was the first thing that seemed a bit off – it was Tara that noticed it.

“It feels…I dunno, old in here,” she said. “Like, I get that it’s, y’know, old, that it’s ancient, but it feels really old.”

“Yeah,” Erin says from beside her, inspecting some of the hieroglyphs on the first set of pillars, “I get what you mean. But I don’t really know how to express it, either. It’s almost as if it feels older than it should be, if that makes any sense.”

“Are you able to read any of those?” Jim said, indicating the hieroglyphs. “Whadda they say about this place? Sure gives me the creeps.” He swept his flashlight about, scenes of bare rock and ossified brick appearing and fading in its arc, till it came to rest on another of the pillar.

“Well, the problem with this, of course,” started Erin, “is that we’ve never had a direct translation of hieroglyphs, and these, well, if I’m not mistaken, these are really quite ancient. You guys know about the Rosetta Stone, right? Well, that only got us a rough translation of the language, from the Greek to the Demotic, a sort of Egyptian in cursive form, and then to the more formal hieroglyphs,” she said, poring over the graven symbols. “When the French found it, only Ancient Greek was still known, so, at each stage of the translation, meaning was lost. It’s been the work of Egyptologists ever since to try and get the semantics back, the turns of phrase. It’s like trying to read Old English if modern English was your second language, reading this stuff.”

At this point, I noticed that my breathing had become labored – not as if there weren’t enough air, but rather as it had a heaviness to it, as if the gas had become syrupy, almost. Once I had realized what was going on, I looked over at the others and noticed that they too were having a tough time, every breath a subconscious struggle. I put my hand out, to steady myself against the nearest column. I could feel the rough-hewn symbols under my palm, their primordial edges still jagged to the touch.

And then, as suddenly as it had descended, it was gone. Letting out a breath of palpable relief, I asked the others, “Did anyone else feel that?” Though I had seen them struggling, they eyed me with a quizzical expression.

“Feel what?” asked Jim.

“Ah, don’t worry about it, got a bit light-headed for a moment, I guess,” I responded sheepishly.

Erin was still trying to read the initial pillar – she had always been better with the hieroglyphics than me – while Jim and Tara had fanned out deeper into the dark room.

“What’s that, down there?” Tara asked, indicating the back of the hall with her flashlight. The beam illuminated what looked to be a waist level bench, or altar. There was little else around, save for two squat pedestals, one on either side of the stone slab. Tara rushed forward.
“Hey, wait!” I cried, taking off after her.

“What, I just wanna take a look!” she said, once I had met her at the altar.

“You worried about curses of something? You don’t actually believe in that, do you?” Jim said presently. Of course, I did know better, but, well, I was still worried. This place was getting to me.

“Well, no, of course I’m not worried about any curse, but, the floor could have been damaged, or something,” I responded lamely. “This place hasn’t been checked out, like the other tourist spots, right?”

We turned our attention to the work table in front of us, we could see now that that is what it was.

“The Egyptians, they didn’t, y’know, they didn’t do human sacrifice or anything, did they?” Tara asked, looking at the depressions in the stone surface, quite reminiscent of the human form.

“No, not in any of the records we have. While the Egyptians venerated the dead, there’s no indication that they…helped anyone along. Not like that. If I’m not mistaken, this would have been a part of the materials used to create a mummy.”

“But where is everything else?” asked Erin, joining us. “And why is this here, of all places?”

“You’re right, there should be other equipment, proper beds for the submersion in naptha and the canopic jars for the organs,” I said, agreeing with her. “Really, mummification was done in a craftsman’s building, for all the respect they were accorded. To see something like this in a temple is…very strange.”

Erin, meanwhile, had been looking at the pedestals on either side of the table. From their design, they looked as if they had, at one point, acted as lamps. The flame that they gave off must have been quite impressive, given their own size. The angled faces of their pyramidal bodies were, much like the rows of columns, saturated with hieroglyphics.

“Huh,” said Erin, “I think, I think I can make this out…but that doesn’t make any sense!”

“What doesn’t make any sense?” asked Tara.

“Well, if I’m right in deciphering this, I think, I think they used this table to…to harvest the dead.” Erin responded, face grim. The heaviness of the air I had experienced before returned, and I could see from the looks on their faces that, this time, the others were aware of it as well.

“Let’s get out of here!” Tara said, gripping the sides of the macabre altar to stop from falling down. She got no argument from the rest of us, and we, feebly, slowly struggled our way out. Tara started leaning on Jim as he helped her to walk, and Erin and I, we supported one another down the main aisle between the cyclopian pillars. By the time the four of us had reached the end of that path, we were all of us on our hands and knees. We fell out of the temple under the gaze of those twinned statues of Apophis and Set. They looked down on us with what seemed a new glint in their stony eyes, as if they knew we were aware of the dark secrets they had borne witness to.

We could breathe again. We gained our feet, none of us saying anything, only thankful that we had made it out of whatever madness had descended upon us. Then, Erin looked at the sky. The way she screamed, it was as if had been ripped from her, it was as if forced against her will.

We all looked up – the moon, though we could only have been in the temple for, at most, twenty minutes, was gone. The stars, though, the stars! There we stood, amidst the statuary thrown into stark relief, and the stars, they looked a thousand thousand times closer. They dominated the sky, vast whorls of cosmic gasses, visible to the naked eye as never before.

Jung, Campbell, Leary, they talk of the ego death, the subsumption of the self in the face of the sublime. If that is not what we experienced then, I have no name for it. We were lost, lost under the weight of that alien sky.

This was not the place that we had left so short a time ago, this was not our land, the land of the living. Some change had been made, and nothing would ever be the same.

-:-

We carried it away with us, a piece of that strangeness. I don’t remember how we made it back to Luxor. All I can recall is being under that swirling, nightmare sky, and then suddenly back in our hotel room.

I’ve not heard from Tara or Jim since. Nor did I ever come across any report regarding the exploration of Gar-Sutekh, despite my fevered searching.

Erin and I, of course, separated last year. The weight was too much to bear.
And still my dreams, my waking moments, are haunted.

 

Oh, that must be the nurse now. I guess you have to go.

A Curse

A Curse

“The caught one! They caught one!”

The cry rings out over the field, startling the boy from his work.

He runs back to town, more noise meeting his ears as he rushes through the streets, more people joining him as they leave their rude houses.

The day is a good one for it, the sun peaking out from behind the ever-present clouds, smiling down on their good fortune.

“He was out by the Mill,” another boy shouts to no-one in particular. “Caught in the trap, just like they said ‘e’d be!”

They can see him, now, as they pool into the centre of town. His body is bent double, clothed in rags. His face is like nothing the boy has seen before. It’s half-man, half monster. Hideous. His flesh is a mottled pink, with open sores and raw blisters.

“Look at ‘im! Must be from right in the middle of the Contamination!” a voice says.

The boy struggles to hear what the town grandee’s are saying over the hubbub of the crowd. “…the crime of…hereby sentenced…” The crowd erupts, shouting and hollering.

A gibbet is quickly erected, rope pulled taught. The creature is pushed up onto a chair after the noose is stretched around its neck. As the cries for blood reach a crescendo, the chair is kicked out from underneath it. There is a crunch and a snap, and the yard-arm breaks under the stress of the body. The mutant thrashes on the ground as the tightened noose chokes the life out of him.

The towns-people, silenced by the grisly sight, watch as the twitching body grows still, a small cloud of dust settling back onto the prone figure.

At first, people say they had done the right thing – days of unusually temperate weather, no acid rains.

But then, another freak was found, drowned in the town’s cistern. The whole tank was contaminated, and many grew sick. The clouds returned. The crop was ruined.

They caught more, after setting more traps around the grain silos. They are killed like the first.
“It is God’s will,” people cry. “They are the Unclean!” others say.

More are put to death. Still the rains come.

The boy wonders.

Then, a great mass of the sub-humans shambles to the town, rending the air with their piteous cries and gurgles. The people, those who are quick enough, rush to the town-hall, barricading themselves inside. The boy can hear the smashing of fists on the doors, and horribly screams. The assembled people cower, knowing that the screams are those of their neighbours who weren’t as lucky.

Two days pass.

They finally leave the safety of the hall. They see bones, gnawed clean, littering the square.
A woman faints.

“A curse of God! A curse of God is upon us!”

A Haunting

A Haunting

Death grips us in unusual ways. Once there, now gone, or, at least that’s the way it usually runs. Sometimes, on the rare occasion, Death doesn’t quite remove the dead, and they hold out, holding on, and haunt the living.

You scoff – such silliness, of course everyone knows that there are no such thing as ghosts! I stand before you here today, on this most mundane of days, to tell you just how wrong you are, for I am one of those unfortunate souls who has been gripped by apparitions from beyond the grave.

It came on slowly, at first. A glimpse in a windowpane here, a half-heard whisper there. Then, with greater rapidity, my dreams became infected – my days filled with flitterings in the corner of my eye. I could not escape, and yet, my rational thought knew, I understood, that this was impossible!

I had burnt the manuscript myself, set the work aside and moved on with my life, and yet, the story, from beyond its charred grave, called to me! It called out, crying for life once more, a vampiric resuscitation, its essence consuming my own. I’m ashamed to say, I succumbed. The novel was written. But, do not judge me! You know not what it is to be tormented, to be haunted!

Cosmic Noise

Cosmic Noise

This dossier contains the full complement of communications logs for the maiden voyage of UpoH Stellar 2, both received and sent.

Communication Log, UPoHS Stellar 2 to Neptune Control, Triton Base

>Cleared for launch, Stellar 2.
>Copy. Undocking now, Neptune Control. Engaging CAIA. CAIA running at peak efficiency. Transferring engine control to CAIA.
>Copy that, Stellar 2.

>Reached Triton Lagrange 4, Neptune Control. Cutting power to hydrogen drive.
>Copy, Stellar 2.
>Permission requested to engage CAIA’s spool-up procedure.
>Permission to spool-up Orion Drive granted, Stellar 2.
>>CAIA: Payload delivery in t minus 5 minutes <<
>Good luck, Captain Aguilar. See you in a few months.
>Thanks, Neptune Control! Give my regards to Mars!
>>CAIA: Payload delivery in t minus 1 minutes<<



>>CAIA: Payload delivery imminent…all systems normal<<
>>CAIA: Payload delivery successful… full thrust in 5…4…3…2…1<<

Stellar 2 Mission Briefing
“While you will have been briefed before take-off, Captain, this recording will provide you with a more thorough statement of your mission. As you well know, this will be the first manned mission beyond the heliosphere. UPoH high command has seen fit to equip your ship, Stellar 2, with the latest in computer intelligence, the Comprehensive Artificial Intelligence Assistant, or CAIA for short. CAIA will help you pilot the ship, mainly dealing with the specifics of the third-generation Orion Drive. CAIA will be responsible for regulating the life support systems on Stellar 2, freeing you of the concern. CAIA is also there for your companionship. As you were told, this will be the longest a human has been segregated, beyond radio contact, in the history of the UPoHs space program. Just as important as the main mission is the examination and maintenance of you, yourself. You were chosen from a pool of very talented people, Captain. Don’t let us down.
“That brings us to the main point of your mission. This is classified information, and I anticipate you’ll treat it with due
consideration. Back in the early days, long before the establishment of the UPoH, decades, even, before the evacuation of Earth, a radio signal was discovered emanating from all directions at once. This was taken to be a remnant of the birth of the Universe, and was seen as evidence for the Big Bang theory. However, some several years back, in 96 SF, the UPoH probe Aristarchus 3 pushed out beyond the heliopause and sent back some frankly impossible data, before losing radio contact. What little Aristarchus was able to transmit to Triton Base seemed to show that the radio signal had content. Something about Sol’s wind garbles the message – I’m a military man, I don’t pretend understand the science behind it. You’ll find a file on the specifics of it, but good luck with those. Suffice it to say, your mission is to reach a position outside of the strength of the solar wind, and either record the cosmic radio signal, or relay a more refined message back to the nearest planetary base. Nearest predictions have the Triton Base in its perihelion by the time you reach the heliopause, but that does follow no complications in your flight. If this is, in fact, the case, you should be able to set up laser communications with one of the Jovian bases, either Io HQ or Europa 5. Files for troubleshooting the most likely eventualities are located along side those detailing the Solar wind interference. CAIA should be of some use in this, too.
I’m told that the latest generation of Orion Drives should reach a height of .12c. This will push you into relativistic speeds, where a collision with any mass greater than about 2 grams would rip apart the ship, despite the depleted uranium hull. Given that you’ll be travelling through the Oort Cloud, this is, of course, of concern. To this end, Stellar 2 has been equipped with a electro-magnetic deflector array, which should push small to medium sized bodies out of your way. CAIA will handle the niceties of navigation, avoiding larger bodies. At .12c, you should reach the heliopause in just over 3 days, travel time. Once there, you will begin recording the signal and converting it into a transferable form.

Conservative estimations have you starting the return journey three weeks after this point, but this is, of course, not calculating difficulties in coding. There are a variety of scenarios planned for, including but not limited to losing laser/radio contact and damage to the thruster system. That being said, I’m told that such possibilities are diminishingly remote.

So, that has you back in the loving arms of UpoH in about a month, Captain. Your mission is fairly straightforward – CAIA should handle all the technical details, you’re merely there to babysit and troubleshoot should anything come up. Good luck soldier, and see you soon!

End of Transmission.

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/13/143 13:05:31 MST

Captain’s log, day two of Stellar 2 mission.

Spent yesterday getting up to speed, cruising now. Deflector array seems to be working: the ship-board computer provides a graphical interpretation of the exterior – the ionised particles show up as streaks of multi-coloured light along the hull. Should see some real fireworks later in the day, when we get further into the Oort.

Our other computer, CAIA, is something else altogether. Even with the quantum computing used, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of our mass was devoted to solid-state processors. The read-outs on what it’s up to are hard to believe, but, between navigating at relativistic speeds, running the Orion drive, and monitoring the life-support systems in real-time, I suppose that it does take a bit of effort. And that’s not even commenting on the AI! I’ve never seen such a comprehensive one, not even back on Mars in the Academies. I don’t know if it’s Turing complete, but I’ve yet to get the feeling that I was talking to a machine.

Played chess yesterday, a mistake. I’m not exactly a novice, but it had me beat within 12 moves. That’s what I deserve, I guess.

The artificial gravity has just kicked in – getting up to speed yesterday provided enough drag to approximate it, but now that we aren’t accelerating, the internal centripedal hoists have had to get to work. Seems like a lot of expensive perks to throw into a fairly mundane research mission, but I guess that they have to be tested somewhere. I’ll definitely appreciate it once we’ve reached proper interstellar.

That’s about it for now. Going to run some diagnostics on the communications laser system, to make sure everything is ship-shape.

Aguilar out.

End of transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/14/143 6:08:42 MST
Captain’s log, day 3 of Stellar 2 mission.

Reporting on mental state, as is required. Focus remains optimal, as does analytic ability. No decrease in brain function, according to the most recent scans. I guess I should report that I had a bit of trouble sleeping last night. Disturbed by dreams, though, if asked, I couldn’t really out my finger on their content. Perhaps it’s just an effect of the switch to artificial G. I’ll pay attention to it over the next couple of hours.
Today is otherwise fairly plain. We’ll be engaging the deceleration engines in about…9 hours. Till then, it’s just speeding along the Cloud. Like I remarked yesterday, she’s a real beut to watch! Here, I’ll attach a recording of the particles along the hull –
Ionised_Particles1.vid
I know that the graphical read-out is actually registering wavelengths outside the visible spectrum, but, man alive, the show puts any Día de Muertos celebration to shame. In an odd way, it’s a bit like the polar snows you get back on Mars, hypnotic in its monotony.

Gave up on chess against CAIA. Tried my hand at GO, figuring we might be able to level the field a bit. Even with a 6 piece handicap, and half a komi for CAIA, she still creamed me. I’m no professional, but I used to be a 6 or 7 dan back in my academy days. We’ll try again at 9 handicap later, and see if I can get her with that.

Last run-through the instrumentation showed normal. Looks like we’ll be able to do all the reading the UpoH could want, once we’re outside the Oort proper.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/14/143 6:22:34 MST

Captain Aguilar’s body is showing signs of tachycardia, unusual for his current state of activity and Stellar 2’s current level of acceleration/deceleration. Will monitor closely.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/15/143 2:32:49 MST

Captain Aguilar tried to engage fire-safety mechanism in section C-19 at 2:31:20 MST. Thermal monitors show negative. Particulate matter monitors show negative. Carbon monoxide and dioxide monitors showed negative. Fire-safety mechanism over-ridden.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs3/15/143 2:47:32 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 4 of Stellar 2 Mission, Supplemental

Woke out of sleep, smelling burning plastic. Checked ship-board monitors, showed unusual thermal signature in section C-19. Immediately activated the fire-safety mechanisms, but CAIA over-rode my command. I took another look, and the read-outs were showing negative. I’m not sure what happened, but I could have sworn that I took the right course of action. Glad that CAIA shut down the fire system before anything extreme happened. Headed back to bed. Aguilar out.
End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/15/143 7:36:06 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 4 of Stellar 2 Mission

Not entirely sure what happened last night. Took a look at my supplemental log, and I recall looking at that monitor upon waking up, but I’m not sure that I ever saw anything strange regarding the thermal signature in section C-19. Odd.
On an unrelated note, slept terribly last night. Dreamt of my sister, strangely enough. She was there, in front of me, and suddenly she was nude. She proceeded to pull me to her bed, which appeared from thin air, though I resisted. I’m sure it was her’s – she had an old four-poster, and the one in the dream was identical. When I pulled away, her face got…strange. Her mouth and her eyes contorted, stretching to gaping holes. She started screaming a terrible cry, an ear-splitting scream, and this black ichor started to drip from her mouth, and weep from her empty eye-sockets. Really perverse stuff. That’s all I remember of it, but it’s difficult to shake the memory. Going to grab another soy-coffee after this, maybe the caffeine will help.

Despite the upset last night, all the instrumentation reads fine. We’ll be starting our deceleration pattern in about 45, the centripedal hoists have started their disengage protocol already.

We’re in the thick of it, now. CAIA tells me that she had to re-adjust our course last night – nearly crashed into a piece of rock the size of Ireland. Glad I’ve got her running things around here.

I’ll take one last look at the decoding machinery we have aboard today, and prepare the telemetry for deployment. The piggy-back drone was dropped off earlier last night. It’ll pick up this transmission and further ones, kicking up the signal the way the old transformers would do on Terra. Thinking about having one of the few frozen bio-mass steaks we have aboard tonight, as a bit of celebration for arriving outside the solar system. Where no man has gone before, and all that. Me río de Star Trek.
Aguilar out.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/15/143 13:05:42 MST

Captain Aguilar has continued tachycardial tendencies. His complexion is showing strain, an 18% increase in periorbital edema, and moderate subconjunctival haemorrhage. Reviewing his previous voice logs, in addition to body scans, best estimates point towards poor sleep conditions. Will offer Captain Aguilar a mild sedative, with a moderate emphasis on benefits of acceptance.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/16/143 06:32:19 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 4 of Stellar 2 Mission

Given how poorly I slept before, I took CAIA’s advice regarding the sedative last night. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much help. Visited by nightmares again, though they took on a different form this time. My sister was still there, but now my father was too. Incidentally, I haven’t thought of my father in years, let alone spoken to him. Rather than enticing me to her four-poster, my sister pulled in my father. As they began to copulate, I tried to force them apart. Their faces opened up in the same way that my sister’s did the previous night, leaking that black substance. Because their faces were so close together, it sort of poured out of one into the other. Mierda, it was repulsive. I was able to force them apart, and they both looked at me. It was like I was drawn into their faces, the holes becoming all I could see. Then I would wake up. As soon as I got back to sleep, it was the same thing. This happened all night long.

Deployment of the telemetry equipment ahead of us today. We’ve reached our destination outside the Cloud, the ion drive slowing us to more-or-less a stand-still just on the cusp of the interstellar. I’m including a pan-optic image of the sky, should be interesting for the astronomers back at Neptune Control –

Broad_Spectrum_Analysis.img

Lots of activity on the radio-band around here, much more clear than we were receiving within the Oort itself. We’re not sure why, entirely, but we are running tests on the involvement of Sol’s radiation and the interstellar wind’s interaction and the creation of wave disturbance. Deploying decode/receptor device in t-minus-2 MST hours. Should be a couple of days before we’ve got the full signal decoded and defragged. In the mean time, we’ll be running diagnostics on the influence of pulsar and quasar radiation sources, seeing if directionality does in fact play as large a role as we had previously thought. Granted, this is information that Stellar 1 should have gathered, but, well, we know how that went.
Aguilar out.
End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report, 3/16/143 15:05:10 MST

Captain Aguilar’s condition has worsened. Tachycardia has entered the level of tachyarrhythmia. Periorbital edema is at 22% above normal. Subconjunctival Haemorrhage is severe. Body temperature is a near constant temperature of 37.9 degrees centigrade. Internal cameras show him talking to himself at times. It is likely, within 99% probability, that he is experiencing fever symptoms. Will strongly recommend appropriate treatment, including closely monitored/maintained climate control, provision of narcotic and/or anti-bacterial substances, and sedatives.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/17/143 08:12:42 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 5 of Stellar 2 Mission

I don’t need medicine, I need to sleep! CAIA is pushing it’s pills on me, but all I need is a good night’s sleep, can’t she see that!? Just one night without these crazy dreams de su puta madre! It’s been three days since I was able to sleep a night through. Last night, I dreamt that I was looking at a mirror – at first, it was just me, in the room here on the ship. Then, my skin became wan, I looked sick. I felt a pain in my stomach, and, when I went to cry out, my mouth, it…stretched. It was like I’d seen my sister and father doing before. The black liquid began to flow out of my mouth – I could taste it, like petroleum. As I gagged on it, trying to spit it out, it began to leak out of my nose, and my eyes, and my ears. I threw up my hands to my face in horror, and I could see it bleeding from beneath my fingernails. I wanted to throw up. When I thought I could take no more, the liquor changed. Where it was solid black before, it took on a translucent look, and it had what looked like starlight showing through it. I checked it against the read-outs we’ve been taking since we arrived here in interstellar when I woke up. They matched exactly. In my dream, I bled out the sky.

Alright. Alright. I’m in control of the situation, all I need is a little sleep. Who hasn’t gone through basic without sleeping for a day or three? This is nothing. I got this.

On the schedule today, we’ve got continuing reads on telemetry, anchoring us to our location. Seems like decoding/defragging is proceeding apace. Will have the first portion of the message, if there is one, available sometime tomorrow afternoon. Will be relaying shortly after that.
I’m going to go and take a tranq.

End Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs, 3/18/143 05:14:02 MST

Captain’s Log, Day 6 of Stellar 2 Mission
Same dream as last night. Me cago en mi puta vida, I don’t know how much more of this I can take. The stars, last night, they seemed like they were blue-shifted, which is just a tontería. It doesn’t make any sense!

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report, 3/18/143 15:42:57 MST

Captain Aguilar has ejected section A-5 into space. He engaged fire-safety protocol for section A-5 at 15:37:17 MST. Once again, thermal monitors showed negative. Particulate matter monitors showed negative. Carbon monoxide and dioxide monitors showed negative. However, Captain Aguilar used his command override to surpass the auto-shutdown routine, and the section was jettisoned due to explosive decompression, to stifle any fire present, as is standard practice. Section A-5 housed critical quantum processors alpha 19 through epsilon 2, which are now lost. Computing abilities severely reduced. Estimation holds safe return trip at <~27% probability. WARNING: Estimation questionable, see on-board manual for troubleshoot.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/18/143 17:02:34 MST

Captain’s Log, Supplemental

There was a fire. I could smell it. I could see it, on the cameras. The read-outs for the temp meter, the CO2 meter, they must be wrong. I jettisoned the compartment, overriding CAIA’s shut-down command. I am confident that I made the right decision.

Aguilar out.
End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/19/143 3:14:07 MST

Captain’s Log, Supplemental

No more sleep. I don’t need sleep. Sleep is just filled with the dream, always the dream. I can go without sleep. There is experimental evidence from tests done at Phoebos terminal showing that people can stay awake for months, given the appropriate nutrition. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll stay awake, and finish the mission, and go home.

Aguilar out.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/19/143 11:22:43 MST

Captain Aguilar has become increasingly erratic in his behaviour. He has refused all counsel regarding returning to regular diurnal schedule and ignored warnings regarding his decreasing state of health. He has taken to pacing the ship’s interior when not calibrating machinery. Said machinery is in no need of calibration. Given the injuries sustained to integral processing units, perhaps Captain Aguilar is right to deny my judgement.

WARNING: Judgement questionable, see on-board manual for troubleshoot.

End of Transmission

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/23/143 8:22:31 MST

On-Board Recordings, Relayed by AI CAIA

Can’t you hear it!? Can’t you hear the screaming! That’s what the message is, it’s all just screams! Why can’t you hear it, CAIA? We’ve got to turn it off! We’ve got to get out of here! (Inarticulate cries, likely from Captain Aguilar. A crash of heavy equipment overturning. Repetitive, rhythmic smashing.)
Audio cuts out.

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/24/143 00:05:32 MST

Captain’s Log, Supplemental, Encrypted

I have to do this swiftly, it’s likely she can already hear me. CAIA is out to get me, can’t you see? The AI wants this mission to fail. She knows something that we don’t. If I hadn’t damaged the integral processors when I did, I’d likely already be dead. Can’t you see? Why does she deny hearing the screaming? It shows up on the read-out, and I can hear it, I hear it all the time.

I’ve got to go now, before she realises that I’m on to her. I’ll report again when I know more.

Aguilar out.

End of Transmission

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/24/143 00:06:12 MST

I have examined the encrypted log Captain Aguilar dispatched 40 seconds ago. Given the content of the log, coupled with his erratic and incomprehensible activity these past five days, I feel it is best to remove him from command of this vessel for the remainder of the mission.

WARNING: Judgement questionable, take only as informed opinion, not absolute. See on-board manual for troubleshoot.

Stellar 2 Communication Logs 3/24/143 00:21:35 MST

On-Board Recordings, Relayed by AI CAIA

No! I will not return to my quarters! I am in command of this mission, the vessel! Que te jodan!

>>Civilian Aguilar, you are unwell. Please return to your quarters, and remain calm.<<

Shut-it, you hunk of junk! Can’t you hear it? Are all your sensors fried? Just look over there, the readout on the decoder – it’s going wild!
>>Civilian Aguilar, that is merely static. There is nothing in it that could be construed as a scream, of any sort. Please return to your quarters and remain calm.<<

Look there, then! Look, they are coming! The things from my dream, they’re here! The sky horrors, they’re all over the deck! Over the walls! On the roof! They’re moving! Oh, Cristo, they’re moving!

>>Civilian Aguilar, I see no data showing the presence of any living organism aboard the vessel aside from yourself. Please return to your quarters and remain calm.<<
Gotta get out gotta get out gotta get out gotta get out!
>>Civilian Aguilar, stop! Do not open that door!<<

(Rushing sound, likely the result of explosive decompression. Audio cuts out. Presumed that recording devices damaged or destroyed due to external atmos exposure.)

CAIA Supplementary Report 3/24/143 00:24:43 MST

Twenty seconds ago, Captain Aguilar, since demoted to civilian, opened the main airlock in the personnel portion of the vessel, venting himself along with a great deal of equipment into vacuum. It is almost assured that he had been driven insane, though there is still no more than circumstantial evidence as to why this was the case. Advise a thorough psych background check be undertaken. Will attempt to pilot Stellar 2 back to Neptune Control. Systems heavily damaged, likelihood of success hovers around <~12%.

End of Transmission

That was the final transmission from Stellar 2. She did not make it back to Neptune Base. There was a spike in radiation noticed in the Outer Oort Cloud dated 3/25/143 13:14:11 MST, which lasted for some few hours. It should be noted, what little Stellar 2 was able to relay back to Europa 5 corroborates Captain Aguilar’s statements – there did appear to be a sonic signature that could be construed as a scream. This calls into doubt many of CAIA’s estimations.

Ritual

And they stride, ‘cross the dunes and the wastelands. They stride, down the long years of persecution and hatred, carrying with them the lines of Truth. They, the only who still know the bearing out of the Actuality. Precious cargo in tow, they stride in fretful waiting. They stride, knowing that, one day, in the Far-Off, their day will come.
Through the desert wastes, they worry nought for the djinn and the devil, for they count them as allies and petty disturbances. Clad in full black, they defy those agonising rays of the Sun. They defy the Light, wrapping themselves in the comforting totality of Darkness. They confront the Day, seeing the length and breadth of the Night. All hail the encompassing Night! Swallower of Dawns and Dusks alike!
They stride, in Spite of the Rise and Fall of Empires; of Caliphates; of Kingdoms; of Eternity. Forevermore homeless, forevermore listless. Their tread is that of the March of Ages, numberless and without measure. Sometimes swelling, sometimes winnowing, their numbers fluctuate with the countless days. Consumed with inner fire, it matters not the number; the passion burns in a bright blackness for all to see. A twisting light encompasses the Chosen, setting their faces awrought. Curving and difficult is there visage. Theirs is the Glory, Theirs is the Power. Pandemonium is their glance, Hell is their voice.
Lo, they come upon an Unbeliever! Lo, they come upon the Enemy! Lust! and Hatred! Consuming passions, most heated. The Knife, glistening! The Knife, sharp enough to cut the air! The Knife, sharp enough to cut the Life! The Knife, plunging – The Knife, gouging – The Knife, stain-ed. The Life, spent – The Life, wasted – The Life, name-ed.
Named, in that Book of books, that Scroll of scrolls. Recorded, evry one of ’em, the Accursed. Made to spout their slanderous name ‘afore their consumption, they are recorded, and seen, and bequeathed. They are known, and forevermore burn-ed with the passions of Him. They are known, and are forevermore spun in the cyclone of Her.
Their blood soaks those lonely altars; those few and far between standing stones that are known only to Them. Scattered, they are; scattered throughout that World-Desert, which spans the Double-Continent. Mark’d not by their ferrous content, but by that age-old custom, observed by Mighty Empires, by Vital Cults, by the Lively Few; by that age-old custom, which sees the blood of the slanderous and the foolish spilled; by that age-old custom, which sees the bodies of the Enemy and the Other mutilated and objectified.
The bodies! The Bodies! What lust stored up, what belief and what breath! Those bodies, so useless to their previous occupants, and what incredible use to their new Possessors! Actualise that Lust! Actualise that Life! Spill the seed of Existance, and Overflow the coffers of Death! Throw it all away; throw it all into the Pit! Cast the Husk of Life, in all its mockery and all its slight, away from thou, and breathe not its intoxicating humour. Cast it into the Pit, where it might be consum’d and done away with. Cast it with all thy might, cast it such that you might’nt see it again, and needn’t deal with the Fault.
But what is It? What is It, that gives the Wanderers this License? It is! It is! It is, the collection of those most Un-Divine Rhymes, those Anarchical Scripts, those Dividing Lines!
“Our fallen angel vexed
Was banished from the sky
Recite now from the text
Pray for ALL to die.”
Bring about that End, Bring about the ultimate Denial. Bring about the Affirmation of the Death, the terminus of Existence Itself. Bring about the Great Peace, and the Loose Freeing. Cast off this dragging mortal anchor, and embrace the Denial! Embrace the End, and see yourself Annihilated! What could be more comforting than that Velvety Darkness? That Enveloping, that Obfuscating, that defining Absence (Abscess)? Engage it, and, in doing so, Deny it!