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I found myself in the ruins again. I never imagined that I would wake up walking in the footsteps of an exo-archaeologist on a planet orbiting the red dwarf star Kepler 438b. No matter what I do, I wake up again in the ruins. On Earth almost a century ago, people thought the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamun came with a curse. The curse turned out to be a myth, but it spawned any number of horror films, television shows, and novels. On Kepler, it turns out to be real, or real enough to keep me trapped here in a recurring nightmare.
How did I get into this mess?
As far as I know, my name is Jonathan Cypher but I only know that much because it’s what Raven told me. She also said I’m sometimes known as the Never Man, but so far that means even less to me than being Cypher.
All I know for sure is that I woke up one day in what looked like the bombed out ruins of Los Angeles. Then I kept waking up into a different world and a different life, including a particularly hideous nightmare. My most recent set of dreams had to do with saving someone who would otherwise have died in the London Blitz in 1940, but depending on who I saved or which other option I chose, subsequent history changed, usually meaning thousands or tens of thousands of people died who would otherwise have lived.
I finally managed to figure that one out, but now I’m in this mess and again it’s thanks to Raven.
Who is Raven? I wish I knew. One time I woke up in something I call “noplace” because I don’t think it exists. I don’t think I exist either because of some of the things Raven has said, but I must, because I’m here. I can’t be an illusion in my own mind, can I, and even if I am, my mind has to exist to imagine.
Anyway, Raven, who looks like the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, tells me she’s not a woman at all. She’s not even human. She could be any age from twenty to thirty, soft mocha-colored skin, long auburn hair, deep brown eyes, lips painted pink. I think she’s Eurasian, but it’s hard to tell. Her lavender dress is long and seems to flow and shimmer of its own will. Where it touches the ground, the cloth, if you want to call it that, changes to water and pools around her feet. I haven’t had the nerve to go anywhere near her let alone try to see if the water is real.
Noplace can probably look like anyplace but to me it resembles endlessly rolling hills covered with long grasses. There are a few large trees dotting the landscape but otherwise there’s not a lot of detail. It’s always night and there’s always a full moon just coming up over the horizon, but the moon looks dozens of times larger than it should, as if the whole scene is a fantasy painting.
Maybe it is.
“I want to show you something, Jonathan.”
I had just awakened after an interminable number of times waking up in 1940 London. Each time, I saw myself saving a little girl from an exploding bomb. The rest of her family died. I could only save her. Somehow it was the right thing to do but I had to make sure. After I don’t know how many times repeating the dream, it was finally over.
I had asked her if I could go home, if I could really wake up and go back to whatever my life was really like. Then I found out I couldn’t remember anything but these dreams, as if I too were a dream. She told me the only way to find out who I really am was to wake up. Then I woke up and she was showing me a door standing next to a window.
You might not think that’s unusual except the door was standing all by itself and the window next to it was suspended in mid-air.
“Look through the window.”
I did. I figured I had nothing to lose. I saw what I’m looking at now, the ruins in the Barkon lowlands of the Glisel region of Kepler IV. Then I was there.
I don’t remember doing anything except moving my face toward the glass in the window (if it’s really glass) and then suddenly I was on the other side. I was standing in the ruins.
The ruins were in some sort of rain forest. I couldn’t identify any other the trees but they’re on an alien planet so that makes sense (I didn’t know I was on an alien planet at the time and technically speaking, I wasn’t really there).
The ground beneath me was stone, irregular, large, flat pieces of pavement covered with moss. Columns made of the same stone were on both sides of me holding up arches, but if there had been a roof before, it was gone. Rubble from the collapse littered the ground in front of me but it didn’t block my way into the dark, rectangular entrance directly in front of me.
I heard a squeak and saw something that might have been a monkey sitting on a pile of rocks, but it was covered with all-black skin instead of fur, though it did have a short, curled tail. It was looking around and when it turned toward me, it didn’t react at all.
I saw vines, leaves, and branches swaying in the breeze but I couldn’t feel any wind.
“Boo!” I yelled at the strange monkey but it did nothing more than continue to preen itself, occasionally picking insects out of the rubble and popping them in its mouth.
“You aren’t really here, Jonathan.”
I must have jumped a proverbial mile. Raven had been standing just a few feet away but I hadn’t noticed.
“How did you get here?”
“The same way as you, Jonathan. I looked through the window.” She spoke with the same impassive voice she always uses, as if the most fantastic things are so ordinary to her, they’re actually boring.
“The worlds you wake up to can be accessed either through doors or windows. A window allows you not just to see through a transparent barrier but to see the totality of the environment.”
“You’re talking about a hologram.”
“You can consider it thus, Jonathan. Experiencing an environment through a window allows you to see and hear events as if you were actually present, but you have no physicality.”
“It’s why the monkey didn’t notice me, even when I yelled at it.”
“It is not a monkey and in fact, this environment is not any version of Earth.”
Somehow I was abruptly aware of exactly where I was though time as well as space tends to be extremely fluid so the matter of “when” was another question.
“I guess it’s the next best thing to being the Invisible Man. I can see and hear everything but no one can see and hear me.”
I remembered that in one of my “dreams,” I had witnessed a home invasion. Two stoners had broken into a place because they’d heard the narcotics used by a recently deceased cancer victim were still in the house. Unfortunately, so were the man’s young wife and infant son.
I tried to stop them but my fist went right through the first guy. The woman couldn’t hear me yelling at her but she was pointing a shotgun at the first assailant. She pulled the trigger. The buckshot went harmlessly through me but made a mess of the guy she was aiming at. That’s when I woke up. I must have gone through a window that time.
“Walking through a door places you physically in an environment thus.”
I started coughing. The air, I was breathing air now, was hot and thick. It was humid and smelled like things I’d never smelled before. I could feel I was standing on the ground. Moving my feet let me feel the gravel under my boots.
The “monkey” jumped up and then launched itself up over the wall just to the left of me and disappeared. The jungle sounds, probably birds of some kind, that I hadn’t really paid attention to before went silent. I’d gone from ghost to there.
Raven was still next to me, but I knew she was still a “ghost.”
“I didn’t step through the door. Don’t I have to go back through the window and then…?”
“These are metaphors, Jonathan. They are for your convenience so you have understandable frames of reference. Try not to be so literal.”
I could hear something like the buzzing of insects and thought I’d have to ward off some alien mosquitoes, but they only came near for a few seconds and then they were gone, too.
“You are as human here as you are any place else. The parasitical insects in this environment are not adapted to feed off of your species.”
“I’m grateful for that. What now?”
“You would consider yourself in the future although these events do not take place in your native quantum universe. Three previous exo-archaeological expeditions to these ruins have disappeared without a trace. The personnel, equipment, all signs of them have vanished. The Basecamp for these expeditions is some twenty-five kilometers distant and they have sent over airborne drones to verify this. Currently, they are attempting to determine their next course of action.”
“Maybe they can send in robots.” I was making a joke because she was talking science fiction now. Then again who am I to talk?
“You will be able to enter the tomb through that opening ahead and determine the cause of the disappearances.”
“What is this, Mission: Impossible?”
“This is no different from your previous experience in London. Depending on your actions, subsequent history will be altered. All we can do is sense the anomaly. Only you as a human being, one with access to unique tools and skills, will be able to determine which outcome is the most optimal.”
“I’m supposed to play God again, Raven.”
“Conceptualize your role as you wish, Jonathan but seventeen human beings have died in the past five weeks. There are also events, prior and subsequent, which the humans at Basecamp cannot evaluate, and which might result in many more deaths past and future. Only the Never Man can change that.”
“You keep calling me that, but you’re the only one.”
“So far, Jonathan.”
“So you want me to march right into the dark. I don’t even have a flashlight.”
“You will be able to see. Enter and then proceed as you think best.”
“Do I have a choice?”
“You always have a choice. You can choose not to enter, but then what would you do?”
“Where is home? How can you get there?”
“Show me the door.”
“You humans have an expression. Good luck.”
I blinked and she was gone. All I could hear was the rustling of leaves in the warm, humid breeze. The tomb’s opening loomed before me like the mouth of a skull.
I stepped forward into the darkness. Even outside the light seemed dimmer than I was used to. I guess that’s because I’m on a planet circling a red drawf rather than Earth’s Sun. I think I feel a little heavier, like gravity here is stronger than on Earth but something’s compensating for it. I’m physical. I’m a person here, but something’s different. I remember Raven said I was as weak or as strong as I wanted to be, sort of like lucid dreaming. Once you know it’s a dream, you can do anything you want.
But she also said this wasn’t a dream. All of this is real, at least in somebody’s quantum reality.
Steps going downward. She’s right again (though I’d hate to admit it to her). I can see, sort of like night vision glasses except its my eyes or how I perceive “dreamtime” or whatever.
Stone steps, broken, crumbling. Who knows how old this place is?
“On the order of ten thousand years old according to our latest sample.”
It wasn’t like a voice. More like a memory of a voice. Not mine, though. Dr. Phillip Johns, leader of the first expedition. I keep getting these little epiphanies out of nowhere.
“They were supposed to be humanoid like us, Professor. That’s what the wall paintings at the other dig revealed.”
Dr. Ambline Carter, Johns’s partner. Basecamp. The other dig. That’s where they found the collection of glyphs that led them here. A civilization that died off at least ten thousand years ago. Alien humanoids. This was the only known site on the planet where their remains could be located.
“The last transmission from the Johns party was pretty garbled but it said something about being slaughtered.”
That’s Rodgers, Dr. Kimble’s assistant. The second expedition. One of the scouts managed to get back out of the tomb in time to send a warning before he was cut off.
“So far there’s nothing, Dr. Kimble. No bodies, no blood, no equipment. Randolph got outside to radio basecamp, but there was no sign of him either.”
“Wild animals? Scavengers?”
“Not likely, Doctor. The indigenous parasites and predators have shown no interest in us. We probably don’t smell too appetizing. Wrong body chemistry. Besides, no equipment either. Scavengers don’t take lab equipment, tents, electronics, and all the other stuff we haul around.”
That’s Rodriguez, one of the scouts for the second expedition. They disappeared without a trace too, just like Johns’s party, except no one got a warning out that time.
I’m at the bottom of the stairs in an empty stone chamber, and I mean completely empty. No furnishings, no sign of the three vanished groups of explorers, not even any rubble. Lots of dust. Air is cooler down here but thicker, harder to breathe. I seem to have an edge over greater gravity, how about one for the atmosphere?
“Magic.” I’m whispering and I know it’s not magic, but I can breathe easier now. I can manipulate either my body or my environment. I wonder what else I can do besides that and hearing voices from the past?
My vision clears up enough to where it looks like broad daylight and on the far wall, I can see two identical entrances, one to the left and the other to the right.
“The lady and the tiger.”
I don’t know why that popped into my head. Like one way is wonderful and delightful and the other will horribly kill me.
Did each party pick the same doorway?
“Let’s try the right one first, shall we?”
That’s Miles Heyworth talking to his lead scout Leigh Colbert.
“Whatever you say, Doctor. I’ll get the sonic probe set up.”
Right. They’d try to scan the interior with radar first, then drill through to take an air sample. An air sample. I look at both doors. No drill holes. Yet I have a clear memory of each party getting past that point and opening up each entrance. Johns and Kimble chose the left door while Heyworth took the right one. Neither door shows the slightest sign of tampering, as if time re-winded after each visit.
I’ve seen stranger things happen.
Each party carried Hazmat suits and respirators in case the environment inside turned out to be toxic. I don’t have any of that.
“The lady and the tiger. I guess it doesn’t matter.”
For a second, I try to “see” inside the door on the left. Nothing. I guess X-ray vision isn’t part of the deal. I walk up to the big stone slab. It must be nine feet tall and four feet wide. I bet it weighs tons. No equipment, just me. I give it a push.
Nothing. I might was well be trying to push over the Chrysler Building. I remember trying to lift the heavy wooden beam off of that man’s legs in the basement of a bombed out building during the Blitz. I could barely move it. I remember using a pry bar to effortlessly open a car trunk. I didn’t even work up a sweat, it just came open.
I push again, this time doing my best to expect it to move. Then I hear the grating sound of stone scraping across stone and the slab starts moving inward. Dust is being thrown up around me but somehow it misses my eyes, nose, and mouth because I’m still breathing normally. I can feel the resistance but not much effort. It’s not like being Superman, more like doing something…well, you know…like doing something in a dream.
There’s a hiss as atmospheres are equalizing. The air inside smells old and musty but it’s the same air as on the outside.
It’s pitch dark and I can still see just fine. Those archaeologists missed out on a lot. No, it doesn’t look even remotely like Egyptian or Mayan or anything you’d find on Earth. So much for ancient astronauts.
But the analogs are here. Pedestals, platforms, tables, objects placed on all of them. Some could be gods, some objects of utility, some I have absolutely no idea. Plants? Animals? Servants? If this was a tomb, they may have believed in an afterlife, but burying the dead with what they used in life seems pretty Egyptian. Maybe the concept of a life after death is universal to sentient lifeforms. Who knows?
The walls are covered with designs. They don’t seem to represent people, places, or plants. Maybe its their language. Scientists would probably spend many happy decades trying to decipher it all. Even with my abilities, I can’t make heads or tails of it.
“I was right. It’s a tomb. Their dead weren’t placed in a sarcophagus as we understand it, but there, that oblong object leaning at an angle against the far wall.”
Johns called it. It sure looked like something you’d put a dead person in. About seven or seven-and-a-half feet tall. More or less rectangular except the corners were rounded. No carved or painted designs. It was plain off-white, like it was made out of bone.
“See what the probe can make of it.”
Smart move. Johns wanted to find out what was inside without disturbing the contents. Everyone else was fanning out, photographing everything in infrared and ultraviolet, afraid that visible light might damage the wall graphics.
“Something’s happening, Doctor.”
Carter’s handling the probe herself. She looks worried. Oh crap, I can see them. I’m watching what happened. It’s like looking at shadows or ghosts. I can see through them. I know they aren’t really here and I haven’t gone back in time but I can still see everything.
“My God, Doctor. I think it’s blood.”
The area around the probe gets soft. There’s a liquid, dark red. It looks like blood to me, too.
Then it’s all chaos, bellowing, screaming, I can hear bones shattering, something has cracked open Carter’s torso and is violently scooping out her organs.
A strobe light is flashing so I’m only getting disjointed images. There’s a lot more blood now than there was before.
The bodies! What happened to the bodies?
I’m back. I’m alone. This must be how Kimble’s expedition bought it too. What about the other chamber? I start to go out of the tomb when I hear a sickening wet sound. I turn back. The sarcophagus is dripping, a large red stain expanding from where the heart would be all over.
He roars out at me! It has claws! My chest! I’m…!
I found myself in the ruins again.
No Raven this time, but I know I’m here physically because the monkey takes off right away. Light a little dimmer than I expect it to be. I feel a little heavier. The entrance to the tomb is standing directly ahead of me.
The monkey was in the exact same position as when I first arrived. Time did reset itself. Vosloo killed me just like he did the first two parties and then I woke up back here.
Vosloo. That’s his name. How do I know that? Something about his tomb. I absorbed information without consciously being able to read the symbols on the wall or understand the objects in the room. Vosloo. One half of an eternal couple cursed for all time. The answer wasn’t with him.
Like a fool, I walk back inside but this time I’m going to take the door on the right. If the one of the left was the tiger, maybe this will be the lady. Not much hope in that, though. Heyworth’s party vanished without a trace just like the others.
No sign that the left door had ever been moved. If it had, if I had moved it, then the scrape marks, disturbed dust, that should all be here and it’s not. I know what I did. I even felt the…the memory of being…the sensation of it faded just as I was starting to…feel.
I’m trembling. I’m afraid. I don’t want to die again. I don’t even want to think about it.
“Screw it,” I turn around and head back toward the stairs.
“Depending on your actions, subsequent history will be altered. All we can do is sense the anomaly. Only you as a human being, one with access to unique tools and skills, will be able to determine which outcome is the most optimal.”
It’s her again. She’s not here but that’s her voice. Maybe it’s like the “memories” I have of the expeditions.
“Seventeen human beings have died in the past five weeks. There are also events, prior and subsequent, which the humans at Basecamp cannot evaluate, and which might result in many more deaths past and future. Only the Never Man can change that.”
Oh yeah, I keep forgetting. It’s not about me. People’s lives depend on what I do, whether I want it to be that way or not.
“You always have a choice. You can choose not to enter, but then what would you do? You humans have an expression. Good luck.”
I turn back to the two doorways. “This time the lady.” I don’t know why I keep thinking that.
So I walk to the door and give it a push. I don’t want it to give. In fact I wish it would weigh a hundred thousand tons, something I couldn’t push with a bulldozer or blast open with dynamite.
Naturally, it opens as easily as the left door.
The room is about the same size but the objects are arranged in a differently and there are a different number of them. There’s the same language on the wall, but I’d swear the characters aren’t the same, some of them anyway. The only thing that’s identical is the coffin or whatever it is on the far wall. It’s the same size and shape, same color, same exact angle of tilt.
Then it starts getting redder and I hear the dripping begin.
No wait! I’m as powerful as I want to be. Raven said that. I can overcome a higher gravity and breathe easily in air that isn’t quite air, so why should I be afraid of this prehistoric bitch.
She bursts out of the red, pulpy mess like she’s exploding out of a person’s heart, streaking toward me all claws and fangs, shrieking like a banshee.
I curl up in a ball. The lights start flashing all around me like before so I can’t see anything but momentary images. It’s Heyworth’s party. They’re being slaughtered by her just like Johns’s and Kimbell’s people were, organs, limbs, blood everywhere. Horrible screaming and the terror you could only experience knowing you’re being eaten alive from the inside out.
I found myself in the ruins again. It’s exactly the same as the last time. The monkey vanishes in an instant. Hot breeze rustling leaves and vines. Stone and gravel beneath my booted feet.
Mulz didn’t kill me like she did the others, like Vosloo killed me (I think he killed me).
Mulz. She is Mulz and he is Vosloo. A male and female both encrypted in side-by-side tombs, both under the same eternal curse, both tombs protected against disturbance.
To keep the curse from being disturbed, to keep the…lifeforce of Mulz and Vosloo in some transitional state between life and death as punishment for…the rest doesn’t translate very well.
They did something forbidden. On Earth, it might have been have an illicit affair, the High Priest and the Empress, an illegal pairing but here it’s more complicated.
I start walking back toward the entrance of the tomb.
Ten thousand years is a long time to suffer for breaking a taboo. Why did I care what happened to two people on another planet ten thousand years ago? Why did I care about what would happen to seventeen people on an alien planet maybe hundreds of years from now, especially since this is a different quantum universe, one that has nothing to do with the one I come from?
Why do I care?
I’m standing in the chamber facing two doors. “The lady and the tiger.” Except they’re both tigers. Disturbing either one triggers the curse and means a death sentence for whoever enters.
“What if I could open them both?”
Sure, that would work if I were leading an expedition. I’d just split my manpower in half and open both tombs at the same time. I have no idea why I think that’ll make a difference. It’s just a gut feeling, like all of the other stuff I know without knowing how I know.
Time was reset after each incursion. There’s no evidence that I opened those two doors. There’s no evidence that anyone else has either. When time was reset, I re-appeared in the ruins outside. What happened to everyone else?
I can’t open both doors at the same time…can I?
Then the ghosts start to reappear, members of each of the three teams superimposed upon one another and apparently I’m the only one who can see all of them. Fortunately they can’t see me, even though I’m really here in the flesh.
Johns’s and Kimball’s people push the door on the left open at the same time Heyworth’s people do the same at the right. Those people are see-through phantoms from my point of view, but the doors here and now are opening right in front of me. Now they’re free. I can see inside both tombs.
The ghosts are going but something else is here. The coffins aren’t dissolving in blood this time but there’s light and mist streaming out, twisting, undulating, curving.
They’re making a connection here in this chamber. It’s a mixing or merging between Vosloo and Mulz.
I can hear them or something. It’s not exactly talking or voices, more like I’m just knowing stuff again. They may look more or less human, but they’re really different. For one thing, reproduction is more difficult for them. It takes five of their species, a male, a female, and three other things I don’t have words for. Then they take turns doing…something…a fertilization process that replicates itself, but it’s cell division of cells that are as big as goose eggs.
They eventually produce the majority of their population but all of them are sterile. Only the five can reproduce. They create the “drones” and then five replacements, the breeders, like the queen plus four in an insect colony. This happened over and over again. A controlled population by design, at balance with the environment. They never grew more than about one hundred thousand people. They lived, worked, made a civilization, and then died. The royal quintet then started it all over again.
The last time something went wrong. Maybe it was a mutation, a birth defect, or what was considered perversion. The male and female chose to mate independently. It was always possible, but that form of reproduction could lead to a runaway population explosion that would eventually consume all of the world’s resources. It was absolutely forbidden, but then it was done. They could only mate once, and with the other three not part of the process, their race was doomed to destruction.
Punishment for breaking the taboo was an eternity of suffering. The other three had the ability to manipulate timespace and suspend Vosloo and Mulz between life and death in an endless torment. They set a trap in the twin tombs so that in the unlikely event either were disturbed, the invaders were murdered and time was reset so that there was no evidence anything had ever happened.
I was sort of hoping there’d be a way to bring back the dead archeologists, but they’re still gone. They’re dead forever.
Not so Vosloo, Mulz, and the other three. Like I said, the others had the ability to manipulate timespace so they didn’t die but they didn’t survive in the real world either. They were in between just like Vosloo and Mulz and they were in the lights and mist and everything else collecting in the chamber at the foot of the stairs. I started to feel heavier. Then I coughed. No. I was choking.
And then I wasn’t.
I found myself in the ruins again but the monkey wasn’t there. The sun looked like it was in a different position in the sky, lower to the horizon. I had changed something but I had no idea what.
I had to find out.
I stepped down the stairs one at a time. I could still see in the dark but there was a light source ahead of me. I could see it before I reached the bottom but I had to get closer to be sure.
It was an egg, maybe about twice the size of a bowling ball but more egg-shaped. The outside looked like greenish-yellow leather-covered with pulsing veins. This time X-ray vision or something like it worked. I could see inside the egg and it held lots and lots of really tiny eggs that all looked alike. At the very center, there were five little eggs that looked different, each one being unique.
I had it all wrong about the curse, the punishment, everything.
They’re going to recreate their species, all of them, in a way that looked a lot like the old method but one that was also new.
Maybe they had to do it this way because so much time had passed, but the curse wasn’t really a curse. I think Vosloo and Mulz did something to change reproduction on this planet and what the other three did was not to punish them but to…I don’t know…incubate them. This was the next stage in the evolution of their species but there was a missing ingredient…me.
If you opened one incubation chamber but not the other, you risked destroying the reproduction process, so the invader had to be destroyed. Only by opening both at once was the process able to be completed.
They could see into timespace which means they knew one day at about the right time, an alien species from another star system would be visiting. They left clues on how to find the incubation chamber but Johns and the others botched the translation instructing them to open both doors at the same time.
Raven sensed the anomaly but I was the only one able to figure out what needed to be done, not just because I’m human because so were Johns, Kimble, Heyworth and the rest. It was because I’m human and able to see into part of the space that Raven sees into only I process the information differently. It’s like she’s blind and can only feel something’s wrong while I can feel it too, but also see, smell, taste, and hear all in Technicolor and surround sound.
I step back from the egg. It’ll hatch soon and the indigenous intelligent species of this planet will be reborn. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. If the people at Basecamp find out, what will they do?
I climb the steps back up. It’s twilight when I reach the ruins again.
“What do you think of the outcome, Jonathan?” Raven is standing right where I saw her the last time.
“I wish I could have saved them, the archeologists.”
“I understand, however you have saved over a hundred thousand others who otherwise might never have existed.”
“If the Basecamp people find them, especially before they hatch, what will they do?”
“In theory, the laws they have created state that they are forbidden from interfering in the natural evolution of an indigenous species, particularly an intelligent one. Those laws would require they immediately withdraw from the planet, although they could observe from orbit.”
“You could explain it to them.”
I found myself inside Basecamp. It was pretty sophisticated. There was another set of ruins but there were also three large artificial shelters set up around them. About a mile away I knew there was an ascent vehicle. It was their way back to the mothership in orbit.
“Halt. Who goes there?”
A sentry. I thought there’d be a more imaginative challenge by now.
“I want to see whoever is in charge.”
“Who are you?” She was clearly confused. The only humans on this planet are supposed to be the ones they brought with them. I was a stranger and that’s impossible.
“My name is Jonathan Cypher. I want to see whoever’s in charge here.”
She spoke something into a microphone attached to her collar while holding a formidable looking rifle at my chest. After what I’ve been through, it might as well have been a pop gun.
“Sir, I’ve called for reinforcements. We’ll take you to our Commander, Mr. Cypher.”
From what I could tell, this was a civilian operation but either the military or a private police force provided security.
Fifteen minutes later I had been searched and scanned and, having found no weapons or other devices on me, I was deemed safe enough to be taken to their Mission Commander.
“My name is Dashanique Okafor, Mr. Cypher. My experts tell me you are a human being but they fail to explain how you could be on Kepler. All interstellar travel is strictly regulated and yet here you are, obviously from Earth or an Earth colony.”
“I’m not here to explain my travel arrangements, Ms. Okafor. I’m here to tell you about what happened to your missing expeditions to the ruins Northwest from here, and what’s about to hatch in the incubator they inadvertently disturbed.”
I have to say that she took it pretty well. I couldn’t tell her how I knew what I knew and naturally she didn’t take my word for it. However it was night now and they’d have to wait until first light to send out a recon party.
I was kept in a secure area. They didn’t have anything like a brig or a jail, so they emptied a storeroom and put me in it along with a porta-potty and some food. Two armed guards stood outside the door which didn’t have a lock on it.
No appearance from Raven but I didn’t expect it either. I was hungry and their rations were reasonably eatable. Toilet design hadn’t changed much with the passing of centuries.
Three hours after dawn, the guards opened the door and took me back to meet Okafor.
“We can’t confirm what happened to our missing exploratory parties, but your information about what’s incubating inside those ruins is spot on, Mr. Cypher. Care to tell me how you know all this?”
“I could, but I doubt you’d believe me.”
“Why don’t you give it a try?”
So I did. She didn’t believe a word but she had no idea how to explain me. They had searched the area for any evidence of a ship including energy signatures and found exactly zip.
Dashanique Okafor didn’t believe me, but I got Carmen Swenson’s attention. “Excuse me, Commander.”
“May I ask Mr. Cypher some questions?”
“For what purpose?” Swenson was one of the guards, someone I hadn’t seen before.
“I think I know who he is.”
Okafor raised an eyebrow but otherwise didn’t visibly react.
She shouldered her rifle and her expression softened.
“Your name is Jonathan Cypher.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Do you know someone named Penny Craig?”
“No. Should I?”
“She was my great-grandmother. She used to tell me stories about Jonathan Cypher when I was a little girl. She told them to my Mom and to her Mom and Dad, too.”
Okafor looked annoyed but she let the conversation continue.
“I’m sorry, I don’t her. What makes you think I’m the same person she knew?”
“Do you have another name, Mr. Cypher? Well, not a name but like a title?”
“Just one. Someone once told me I’m also called the Never…”
“The Never Man!” She started crying. “It’s you. It’s really you. Oh my God, you saved her life. I’ve had dreams about you since I was five-years-old. You have no idea what you mean to me…to my family.”
“Swenson, would you mind explaining yourself?”
“Commander, he’s the Never Man. He came here to save whatever is in that egg. That’s why he appeared out of nowhere, no spaceship, nothing. He can go anywhere and do anything.”
“I’ve never heard of him, Swenson. You say you know this person?”
She turned back to me with a look of hope and trust I knew I didn’t deserve, not yet.
“Yes Commander, I do.”
I looked at Carmen. “I haven’t done the things your great-Grandma told you about yet, but I’ll remember you when I meet her.”
“Tell her that I love her and I miss her.”
“I will Carmen, but that will be a long time before you’re born.”
“Please tell her anyway. She’ll remember.”
I turned to the Commander. “Ms Okafor, you all have to leave this planet immediately. When that egg hatches, a hundred thousand lives will start to grow and spread all over this part of the world and none of you can be here when that happens.”
“I don’t who you are or what you mean to Swenson, but I do know the law, Mr. Cypher. I gave the evacuation order an hour ago. We’ll be gone in three days and leave no residual presence. Is that good enough for you?”
She was being sarcastic. Okafor was in command here and she didn’t like that I was telling her what to do, even though we agreed about this was the right decision.
“Yes. I’ll be leaving you now.”
“You’ll be accompanying us under guard.”
I ignored Okafor and her troops. “Good-bye, Carmen and don’t worry. I’ll tell her about you.”
I stepped through a doorway no one could see and then I woke up.
“My name is merely Raven, but I speak for one more important than I, someone who has never existed and will always exist. He walks the pathways between shadow and light, in the heart of reality and at the edge of fantasy. His name is Jonathan David Cypher, but in worlds both mundane and beyond imagination he is and will ever be called the Never Man.”
Jonathan Cypher has his most unusual experience yet, this time waking up in a different quantum reality on a planet 470 light years from Earth and trying to accomplish his most difficult mission yet.
I wrote this for the First Line Friday – January 19th, 2018 challenge. The idea is to use the posted sentence as the first line in a story and then finish writing the story. The first line is I found myself in the ruins again.
In my last Jonathan Cypher adventure, he experienced a recurring set of events he had to react to, changing his decision each time until he discovered what he thought was the “right” solution. Raven reminded him that all realities are valid but she also said that as a human being, he was the only one who could tell which outcome should be allowed to persist.
Given the first line, I felt like my character should appear in the ruins again and again and so made this Cypher’s next challenge. Unfortunately it took over 6600 words to express the full story not including this afterword.
I had originally meant to write this as a historical fiction piece, having Cypher solve the mystery of “the mummy’s curse,” but that’s been done so many times before. Instead, I decided to use that piece of cinematic horror as the rough basis for a tale about archaeology on an alien planet.
I really hadn’t intended to make the story this long, but as I was writing it just kept growing and growing. I hope some of you have had the patience to read all of it, even if you had to bookmark the page and come back to it two or three times or more.
Let me know what you think.
The previous Jonathan Cypher and Raven adventures are:
The next adventure is I Can Never Dream About Home.