Submerged beneath an icy depth, head in an oak whisky barrel, he rose and flicked back his hair and looked to the sky. Fresh. Under the candour of stars.
Have the constellations of this Terra-System been named, he wondered.
A towel provided imbalance to his nude. Best to wash after travelling. Washes away fatigue. He picked up his white linens and pulled over his shirt and worked into a pair of loose-fitting trousers.
His journal awaited his entry, resting on a wooden crate with the typographic: 3466e.
Terra-system 0’s current fixture in time.
He picked out the pen from its leather thong that bound the covers and opened to a blank page and started noting:
No locals spotted.
No signs of Colt, either.
He looked at the fire. Troglodytic. Twigs and sticks and leaves. Simple.
Maybe not for this system, he thought. A new revelation.
Colt couldn’t have strayed far; the terrain was flat, resembling Terra-system 0’s Arizonan desert, parched. Colt’s arrival was just shy of twelve hours ago. He was asked to report to me after finding the locals. But nothing so far, he noted. Now it was his duty to track down his missing partner, and doing so, fulfil their mission.
He stomped his steel-clad boots on the dry dirt floor.
Below me. No other place for them to hide.
The moons. There were two. Each as big and white and pearly.
To reify his appreciation of the sight, he sketched a simple piece into his journal.
A memoir. Flicking through his dozens of sketches, each denoting a system he was now familiar with, a system untouched by graceful civilisation, until the flicker of the flame.
He had been on this system for four hours. The moons didn’t falter from their heights. Perhaps this system has a longer night cycle, he thought. Had Colt really come here? Odd. He opened the crate and lifted out his wristwatch, a bulk piece metal with an intricate circuit system hidden behind a screen.
He turned the dials and watched the different Terra-systems flick past him in holographic display.
It was definitely the right system, he noted.
Terra-system 16c. No. Terra-system 9. That was next. Terra-system 14. That’s it.
Scrolling through nuances of information:
Anthropological similarities to Homo Sapiens of Terra-system 0… Detrimental sociological development… evolutionary standpoint has surpassed Homo Erectus in accordance to Terra-system 0’s frame of time… most advanced tribe are comparable to Homo Floresiensis… still with initiative, they lack an ability to produce fire… located in cave systems, accustomed to darkness… rise to surface in order to hunt and feed… capable of violence… provide Terra-system 14 with light…
Rotation around its sun: N/A…
He sat by his fire and began warming a brew.
Colt would be safe, he convinced himself. His training made him over-qualified for primordial territory like this. Worse came to worst, Colt’s watches transmission had been jammed and he’d already logged off this system. Wishful thinking.
Shattered. The harping wind frayed his nerves. The thought of descending knotted his stomach.
Rest. Briefly. Travel had grinded him to smut.
It had been successful, if not for the minor fright it caused Peck.
She stirred and brushed up the dirt with a hoof, her head turning to his pockets where he withdrew a lump of sugar and fed her one. She scrutinised him with her black equine eyes.
“We’ll find him,” he said as she nuzzled up to him, “then we’ll be onto the next system.”
He caught his own reflection in the glaze of her eyes.
Salt white, he made out, even through the dark looking glass.
Travel by Tempus was the only tribulation of such a fulfilling occupation.
He looked to the carriage that Peck was bound to. Draped in black curtain like a magician’s prop for his prestige. Beneath its cover was a – still experimental – contraption of peak human excellence. It was his way of travel. As an itinerant salesman, his only goods being the spark to a prolific, soon-to-be modernistic society, given the hundreds of thousands of years that would follow. And the cost for such society? Nothing. His product to sell – give away – was fire and the ability to use it. Give an evolutionary push to beings that required one.
Each system displayed gratitude differently. Some gifting intricately hand-crafted ornaments. Others pronounced him as a God, if they even knew what that was. Some systems caught onto the fires capabilities early. Others shied in fear. Focussing on its dangers. Some disregarded his gift completely. Subservient to darkness.
There was no better way to flip-off the evolutionary scale than denying the existence of one of Terran’s greatest discoveries.
To them, he’d proclaim a system unworthy to thrive. One meant to dwell in the shadows and never break towards light.
The moons remained. He had placed his one-man camp besides a cave mouth, one of Colt’s last known coordinates. He hoped to catch a cave inhabitant on their way to a hunting rally. None showed. Strange, he thought. No animals crossed his path. Neither did Colt.
Experience taught approaching tribes on the surface. Plenty of space to run, if it ever came to it. Travel in Tempus was confined enough. He looked into the black gash on the rockface. Damp walls and dark crevices were inevitable
A whinny sounded from afar. He traced the sound. Distinct. It was Trigger, Colt’s mare. She bounded over the plains, her fur catching the moonlight, candescent in the humid air. He waved Trigger down. Frightened. She pulled a load. Colt’s Tempus. He calmed her by pressing his face against hers and feeding her a sugar cube. She caught sight of the cave entrance. Bucking. He fell back. Colt definitely went inside. Clearly, he hasn’t come out.
I can no longer delay this, he told himself. “You’ll be alright,” he said to Peck and Trigger. He lifted up the hem of the cloak and rerouted his Tempus to a familiar Terra-system. A safe one, if anything were to go wrong and a swift escape was the only option. Before that came his hand gun – The Equalizer. Rigged with a plasma ionization core that turned the tide in favour to those that held the weapon. Never equal, only fair. If it meant he won.
He dropped the cloak back over Tempus and dialled in several numbers on his watch.
Tempus vanished. No one will hide my machine, he thought, Terra-system 0’s fiction was a doozy.
The mares remained by the fire, tied to a post that was hammered into the dirt.
He slung a back-pack over his shoulder.
“I’ll be back soon.” He didn’t question their safety. His concern wasn’t up here. It was below.
There was an interminable silence, other than the drips of condensation that followed him, until he came upon a smoothed-out platform, a centrepiece roofed under stalactites, and heard a sound uncanny to a voice. His watch casted it’s aura of light and he languished at the unseen. I have come here with purpose, he reaffirmed. This species was inept, he thought. Yet still he tightened his grip on The Equalizer.
I am a deity of peace, perhaps it would be sound to act like one, he questioned. Maybe Colt had crossed a traditional sacrilege of the locals and offended their sanction.
The holster rested on his right hip. If the ball dropped, it was a snatch away.
He followed the noise, calculating the direction which it originated.
Several paces later, the light caught etchings on a flat wall. They were drawings. Similar to those found in Terra-system 0, marked in prehistoric ages. Drawn with such care, deft scratchings of what, he asked himself. And how? In darkness, felt with their fingers, each engraving a guiding path? He switched to a photographic setting on his watch and snapped a picture of the art. A sign of intelligence, awareness, he reflected.
Following the arbitrary panoply of etches, he sourced them to the centre of the wall where they unfolded around the largest drawing.
A God. A hierarchy of some sort. Something worm-like, long, tapering in a coil. He looked South, the only direction the tunnel led. It widened. On the floor, an object. His jaw clenched; stomach flipped. A watch, like his own, like Colt’s. Discarded beneath a rocky alcove. Hidden. A green light flashed. He stooped and picked it up. A pre-recorded message.
He played it and listened, hanging onto every sentence, dreading each long pause and agonizing at the sound of Colt’s voice which undulated through octaves. He was speaking through pain:
The locals… they’re somewhat humanlike, primitive…
He checked the details of the message as it played. Less than an hour ago. Colt was trained, he told himself again. Whatever happened, he’d be fine. The message continued, he walked further, encapsuled by the watches light.
I saw a ritual – something like that…
His breathing was jagged, his pauses long. Had he been running, he wondered. His pace quickened and the tunnel widened. He crouched and shuffled beneath an overhanging rock, standing up on the other side, facing an open space. The walls around him were a chalk white, stabbed at by tools to create an art piece like something out of his sketch book. Everywhere he turned, drawings. A recurring image; something long, weaving in-between the fixed people.
They sacrificed one of their own. Their blood used as a libation. They’re ruled by something…
He perspired, trying to convince himself it was from his swift movements, not the anxiety that abounded each thought. Was it worth shouting Colt’s name, he wondered. To disturb the silence felt wrong. As if these hollow tunnels weren’t mean to be spoken in.
There’s something else in the caves. They live in darkness for a reason...
He twisted a dial on his watch and the light intensified. It was a cavern. Vast. Shadows pushed away, revealing the ribbed walls, and among them, hidden in a cluster of near thirty, people.
Don’t give them fire - it attracts it….
A groaning sounded from behind. Like stones rubbed together.
The image of the people were branded stills in his mind. Their eyes forlorn.
Did they even need fire, he asked himself. Fire – light, attracts it.
He turned. In that moment, he knew that Colt was gone. The message would be the last he’d ever hear of him. For himself, what would he amount to? Another scratching on the wall, he thought, the stranger with the odd bracelet, if they were to ever see it. But how could they?
Not without fire.
He would have appreciated the darkness in those final seconds.
The black, like the surface above, nothing to see. Nothing to fret.
Nothing to relay the uncoiling deity before him.
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This is a very ambitious story. I found the mix of techno-jargon, and mythic description to be too abstract to follow or relate to the main character. I blame myself. Perhaps something to help ground me in the story's reality would have helped.
Thanks for the feedback - i'll take it into consideration next time i write. Everything is always so clear in my head, it's just whether or not i can put it paper - not the case this time
What a creepy story! I liked the scientific time travel aspect of bringing one of the most basic keys to survival, the ability to make fire. The suspense leading up to figuring out Colt's demise while leaving the cliff hanger of what was to become of your main character. Some things are better left undisturbed... Well done! The horses were unexpected considering the level of technology described.
Thank you very much! The horse does seem dated, but in my head, the image for one just seemed right, not sure why. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Hey, ya never know! Plus, I liked the horses. What I should have written is while they were unexpected due to the future technology stuff, it left me intrigued wondering if the characters had to use them instead of other transportation due to time travel and not being able to find fuel or the different time period causing glitches in machinery and not biological (?) beings? Maybe?