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Chapter 1: Where the Past Lay

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Chapter 1: Where the Past Lay

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Dr. Issac West wiped the sweat away from his forehead with his sleeve. The hot afternoon Sun of Iraq had been beating on him and his team for the last…what? Four hours? Six? Maybe seven? It didn’t matter to Issac how long it had been, only that the rock was removed and the dust had cleared. Below him were the remains of a dead man. His skeleton was half embedded in the earth like a chained prisoner.

Issac had estimated that the dead man was around 4,000–5,000 years old. Old enough to have seen the ancient civilization of Sumer in its original glory days, back when it radiated the glimmer of lapis-gold from its temples and ziggurats. The tablets and ancient clay pottery found corroborated this fact. Their exact writings and the stories they told had been eroded and lost to time, but the indents that had survived were definitely Mesopotamian.

Issac had a conjecture that this man was a nomad trader who bartered his goods as he went from city to city. That wasn’t surprising to Issac, nor to the other anthropologists at the dig site, not in the slightest. What was odd, however, was the manner in which this nomad had died. This man had not simply died before being buried away beneath the sands. He was, quite literally, embedded within the bedrock of the hill they were excavating.

The formation they were digging him out of had been cut into several terraces that indicated different points in time. This site, now called a paleo-archaeological site by the public, had been a hotbed of discoveries for both early human civilization and the prehistoric ages that came before—the Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian. These three eras of prehistory have shown themselves to be far more complex than previously thought by current academia. Paleontologists were hard at work carving out fossils of million-year-old creatures that had been dead for longer than mankind was alive. Near the top, archaeologists and anthropologists like Issac were studiously working and examining the remains of the dead.

They found this site through the impressive discovery of a single sandstone column, half submerged in the dirt. They initially believed it to be some kind of ancient hidden temple that had been lost to time. To find this deeply buried temple, they dug and transformed the once-sloped hill into something resembling stairs that a giant would use. Alas, no further forms of architecture had been found, which had been strange enough. What was even stranger was the amount of human fossils found.

Everywhere, the skeletons of the dead littered the inside of the small mountain. If one were to dig a meter in, they probably would have found at least five fossilized human skulls. The dead man that Issac West had been uncovering was one such victim. His skull, ribs, spine, and even his fingers were nearly perfectly preserved and in correct articulation. It was as if in the moment this ancient man, and all the others at this site, had died they were all suddenly teleported into the rock. Or maybe the rock melded onto into them?

Regardless, it was still quite a find for Issac and his colleagues. With the media coverage, and him as chief lead of the project, they had all gotten famous off the anomalous discovery. But while Issac enjoyed his work being covered by the news, he enjoyed the unpacking and declassifying of it more. He picked up his metal stake and hammer and began to chisel away at the hardy bedrock.

In the skeleton’s thin hands, half buried was a small dagger made of rusted copper, its wooden hilt petrified to stone. Now that was something interesting to report on. But he had to be careful with his movements. Any strike too powerful might damage the fingers of the dead man or a misplaced swing might destroy them entirely. With a turn of the angle and change of sitting position, he raised his hammer to the spike and—

“Hey, Dr. West!”

—lowered it before it could hit its mark. He sighed, put down his tools, and stood up. He dusted his pants of dirt and clapped his hands of dust. “Yeah, what is it?!” he shouted across the site. A younger man, looking 27-ish perhaps, was calling out to him from the other side of the mountain-hill. Issac knew they met the day prior but, honestly, he couldn’t even begin to remember his name. In fact, he’d been so wrapped up in digging he’d forgotten most of the names of the people at this site. Still, they were his colleagues and he had to pay attention to them and what they found.

“You’re going to want to take a look at this!” the young man yelled.

Everyone who heard that suddenly had their curiosity perked. Some stopped digging to pay attention to Issac and the young man, while others chose to keep chipping away at the rock, wanting to hear of it later. Issac began to walk to the man and followed him down the slope. Down to the Silurian-Devonian era rocks.

Why would I be needed down here? Perhaps the team found a new species or something, he thought to himself.

As they traveled down, broken rocks and rubble that had been tossed aside had found new resting spots in a loose pill that covered the lower part of the hill. These rocks held tiny little secrets inside them. Not geodes or crystals or anything of the sort, no, but instead had the remains of long-dead, ancient life. Brachiopods, trilobites, the first fish with jaws, many of them were hidden in these tiny bits of rock, waiting for a hammer to crack them open in two so that they may see the light of day once again.

This all was what Professor Henry L. Kirkwood told him when he first came on-site. Issac had a good memory for things and was well accustomed to Kirkwood’s many rants about whatever fascinated him in the moment. As the two of them trailed down the rough terrain of rocks, Issac saw many of the paleontologists huddled around something in the rock face. He shouted out, “What’s going on?!” The whole of them turned their heads to the descending Issac West.

Dr. Alfred Grann approached him. “Uh, we uh, found something that we can’t quite explain.”

“Oh, uh, what do you mean?”

Alfred turned his head to the group behind him and then back to Issac with a look of uncertainty. “Well, um, it’s not really, uh. Shit, it’s uh, uh. May- maybe it’s better to see for yourself.”

Issac sighed. “Haa, okay. What is it?”

The whole group backed off from the rock terrace. There, buried at the very bottom of the rock face, was an object of pure silver. It immediately reflected the light of the Sun straight into Issac’s eye. Upon blocking the sudden light with his palm, he got a better look at the marvelous object.

It was oval-shaped, with a sleek chrome surface and a metallic shine. Across its glistening surface, uniform yet smooth spikes ran along its body like quills. On one end, however, was something Issac’s eyes strained to see, in both the reflective light and almost in disgust of the sight before him. At the end of its body were vain-like bulges that rose upward from its surface and grew in size, density, and amount the further they trailed up to its end. They slowly pulsed like a heart, as if the object was alive.

“What…the hell is that?” Issac said.

“No…no idea, sir. We found it just now. It just kinda…well, we were digging and it just appeared in the rock.”


“We’re extremely concerned Issac,” Professor Kirkwood said as he made his presence known to Issac. “S-should we contact Oxford?”

“Um,” Issac dulled the thought. This was not natural, he rightfully thought. No, not just unnatural but wrong. Wrong in every sense of the word. The thing sat there, lodged in the rocks. Not a single bit of dust or rock covered its chrome body. Not a scratch, not a pebble, not a dent. It just sat there unmoving, save for the slow pulse of its almost organic-looking veins.

Issac could’ve sworn that it felt like this thing, whatever it was, was watching him, his every move and every breath.

“Issac? Issac?!” shouted Professor Kirkwood. Issac shot up from his fearful trance to look at Kirkwood. Both men held the same face of confusion, yet Kirkwood’s was far more determined. “Should we contact Oxford?” Issac looked at Kirkwood as if we didn’t understand what he was saying until finally his brain processed what was happening.

“Oh, yes, YES! Get…get Hale on the phone. Um, all hands on deck for this one.”

It took an hour for everyone to see the silver object and their reactions were mixed, to say the least. Some, like Issac, were filled with vile disgust or fear for the object. Others found it fascinating, while some were wanting to touch its damned surface. As if I’d ever dare to, thought Issac as he watched a team begin to chip away at the rock it found itself in.

No one spoke to each other the entire time it was dug out of the solid bedrock. Issac and a few others refused to even get near it, much less mine it or touch it. Kirkwood watched alongside him, taking notes and drawing a simple sketch in a yellow notepad. It was a surprisingly good drawing; Issac supposed that the professor had to be to graph the locations of bones.

Crack! A loud noise came from the rock face. The object had been pulled free of its earthen cage and revealed itself in its full glory. Its full ugly, yet beautiful glory. Issac had to admit that much, that it was a sight to behold, even if he couldn’t describe how wrong it felt to be around.

As it was pulled from the earth, it revealed two more parts of itself. One was that it had cables on the other side of its body that had been hidden by the dirt. They were large, slivering things that dragged along behind its main body—a tangle of metal tentacles that made it look like a kind of squid or a Portuguese man o’ war. The second was its massive weight.

Once it was pulled out, the team struggled it hold it. With their hands slipping off its chrome surface and its large hefty body, it slowly and unsteadily tumbled out of their hands and landed on the ground with a large thump. Hastily, the team once again tried to pick it up as soon as it hit the floor.

They grabbed it by its smooth, rounded spikes, which were the only thing to grasp onto. They managed to pull it up from the ground as an entire layer of dust and small pebbles fell off its bottom surface, not even sticking to it in any way. With speed, they carried it into a tent that was originally used for processing the fossils found here. Strange, thought Issac as he and Kirkwood watched. A faint red smear of color was seen on the palms of the people who were carrying the object by the spikes. And then, just as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone.

Issac shook his head. He was tired, it had been a long day of digging after all. And with this thing that they had pried out of the ground, it had been a stressful one too. Kirkwood motioned for him, “Come on, let’s check it out.” He moved into the tent. Issac sighed, and welling of dread filling inside him, and gathered as much courage as he could muster. He followed the Professor into the tent.

There on an island table, massive and alien, was the object. It was larger than he had previously thought. The rock it was embedded in obscured much of its full body. Now, however, it stood in all its wrongful glory before Issac. Kirkwood and others circled the spiked silver orb with curiosity unlike any other. Issac kept his distance at the tent’s entrance, unwilling to approach.

“It’s not normal,” he said.

“Yes, yes indeed, it is not normal Issac."

“What are we going to do with it?”

Kirkwood looked to his notes. “Uh, I suppose send it to the University.”

Issac looked at the alien anomaly. The way it pulsed just unnerved him, like a resurrected heart after being brought back from death. Kirkwood noticed Issac’s apprehension toward the object and motioned with his hands to see it closer. Issac simply shook his head in disapproval. The professor’s face soured. “Aren’t going to see it in full?”

“Uh Uh, nope. No way. Not getting near that thing.” Issac said as he turned away and exited the tent entrance. It was almost sundown now. The beating warm air from the afternoon now being slowly replaced with a calm chill of night. Issac, however, didn’t notice the change in temperature and was instead moving as far away from the tent—the object therein—as possible. He sighed and whipped a bead of nervous sweat from his head. He looked around the camp.

Some of his employees had gotten back to work, still digging up old rocks and such, but most were centered around the tent he had just left. Many were in a seemingly trance-like state as they moved to the tent, their bodies stiff and straight as they walked. Issac looked at them in worry for their health. Whatever he saw in there, whatever they pulled from that rock, it couldn’t have been man-made.

He turned around and headed to one of the archaeology tents, one he knew had a phone inside. He pushed up on the flap of the tent's mouth and was immediately hit in the nose with the smell of dust. Old rocks, ancient tablets with Sumerian writing on them, rusted copper knives and swords, and even a small golden nugget all laid in different plastic containers. Small paper notes and index cards with labels sat next to the ancient artifacts and would be used later for more in-depth classification at a university.

Issac ignored the artifacts, and their earthy smell, and moved to the old rotary phone in the back. Issac didn’t have a more commonly used iPhone or Android than many others used. He preferred that he didn’t have the distractions that the modern 21st century had to offer constantly buzzing in his pocket. He dialed up a number he had known since his early days in college, one that belonged to a man who he knew was on his way but had yet to arrive.

The phone rang with a dull drone as it awaited an answer. After three short buzzings of a speaker, a voice on the other end responded.

“This is Professor Clark von Hale speaking.”

“Professor Hale, it’s me, Dr. West.”

“Ah, Issac how are you? Have you managed to unearth the artifact?”

“Uh, yeah…yeah, yeah the team got it out and placed it in a tent.”

“Great! So…what is it again? You didn’t really describe it well. Alfried said it was a ‘silver oval with red veins and spikes?’ Am I getting that right?”

Issac thought back to seeing the object in question. Its chrome surface and how it reflected light almost perfectly. Those smoothed spikes with rounded endpoints. Those crimson veins that bulged outward on one end of its oval shape and pulsed like a heart. Those alien, squid-like tentacles that dragged along behind it. The many feelings that flooded his head at the discovery: fear, wonder, fright, amazement, anxiety, bewilderment, and an aching dread of unknown origin.

How could he forget such an experience?

“Yeah, you’re getting that correct. It’s like a-”

The professor cut him off. “You’re not pulling my leg, now are you?”

“Huh? What? No, what are you talking about?”

“Sorry, but your guys’ story doesn’t make any sense. You guys told me that this large metal object just magically appeared in the bedrock of a mountain while you were digging. Then you find it to have, what was it? Some kind of organic components to its surface on one end?”

“Well, I didn’t tell them to say that!” Issac rebutted almost angrily. “I only told them to contact you!”

“Hey, hey, easy! Calm down. Jeez, it’s alright. Look, I just got sent images over text. I agree, it’s…weird. But I highly doubt it's something like aliens.”

“Well,” Issac paused to think on a response. “What do you think it is?”

“It’s most likely a prank,” Hale answered. “All be it a well-made one, and one made in Iraq of all places.”

It wouldn’t be the first time such an event occurred. Back in Utah, a group of scientists studying Native American culture discovered a venta black metal cube in an ancient burial ground. Of course, conspiracy theorists, generally stupid people, and malicious attention-seekers jumped at the opportunity to spout about ancient alien gods being worshiped by primitive humans who built pyramids and sacrificed in their honor.

In reality, it was later discovered through carbon dating of the soil that the cube was placed there 4-5 years prior. The supposed alien artifact the Natives worshipped was in fact clearly made by human hands and was placed there to mess with others. In the end, the US court system had to pay $1.5 million to the Native families who descended from that burial ground for desecration damages, for the malicious prank of the ordinary cube, the racist remarks against them about Natives still being savages, and for all the litter and stolen treasures by ‘tourists.’ Because yes, a lot of people are that stupid, stubborn, stupidly stubborn, and stubbornly stupid.

Yet, in Issac’s heart of hearts, he knew that this was different. This wasn’t some faked alien corpse presented to the Mexican Congress or some insane person’s ramblings while off their pills. The thing inside that tent was too dread-inducing, too alive, to be faked. It was a feeling Issac hadn’t been able to shake off his mind, yet he couldn’t explain why he felt as such.

Issac collected himself to talk. Even the mere idea of the artifact gave him a mild terror. “Uh, I don’t know about that Hale this one seems a little too—”

“Listen,” he interrupted, “Things like this have happened before and will happen again in the future. Some moron thinks he’s funny, makes a fake alien UFO or whatever, and puts it somewhere in the desert. People find it, short-lived conspiracy theories emerge, greedy people make a profit, scientists prove otherwise, stupid people refuse to listen to us, everyone else goes on with life, roll credits.”

“Um, okay.”

“Here I’m coming up on a ridge, you should see my truck.”

Issac looked outside the crack of the tent's mouth. Indeed, headlights were heading his way. “Yeah, I see your headlights. Hold on, I’m coming out.”

Issac hung up the phone and walked outside. The Sun had set a little farther the last time he had been out, now only a deep orange of light on the horizon. Hale’s truck bounced up and down on that same horizon as it traveled on the small rounded, stoney hills of the desert, heading Issac’s way. His car then began to slow down, coasting rather than driving, and found a comfortable place to park between the tents and the dig site itself.

The car door opened and out came a man of great renown. Clark von Hale, Professor of Archeology at the University of Oxford. He was in his mid-50s and was dressed in a plain white shirt with dusty old jeans. A tan vest wrapped around his arms and armpits and his white hair was combed back into a small ponytail. An odd sight to be sure, but Hale had always been a little odd.

Several of the site staff begin to surround him, offering handshakes and greetings. Kirkwood walked outside the tent of the anomaly, while Issac jogged over to the two men. “Henry, Issac, good to see you in the flesh. Now, show me.” the older man said.

“Right this way, professor,” Kirkwood gestured. The three men then walked toward the old tent. Issac hesitated for but a moment. He really didn’t want to enter that tent. He didn’t know why, he didn’t how, but something was causing him to internally scream out ‘No! Back away! Unnatural! Dangerous!’ in the back of his head.

But despite that, he was able to overcome his strange fear. He willed it to be quiet and stepped forward. Maybe it really was just an elaborate prank to get the attention of conspiracy theorists. The three opened the tent, and there laid out before them was the chromatic machine. It had men and women examining every part of its sleek body, from the curious metal tentacles at its end to the uncanny red pulsating veins at the right end of its oval body.

“Woah,” said Hale as he slowed his step. The machine stood imposing upon the wooden table. Again, the feeling of being watched then filled the stomach of Issac. Kirkwood, however, seemed unbothered by the device.

“So, this is it. This is what we found,” he said.

Hale just stared at the machine for a good few seconds. He stared with such a great intensity Issac almost believed he was possessed. He the old man blinked and moved in closer to the sliver thing. His hand touched the surface of the living machine. “Uhh,” Issac said nervously. Hale began to feel around the smooth surface of the machine. The impossible sleekness of its design, the large rounded spikes that jutted out from it, even the snake-like tentacles of its bottom end. Hale put his hand upon.

And what followed after Hale was Kirkwood, doing the exact same thing. Then Dr. Hellman, then Dr. Noketa, then everyone else in that tent. Except for Dr. Issac West—only he remained. Kirkwood looked to Issac, his eyes now a deep and alien blue, and stared into his soul. The fear washed over Issac once again.

A hand reached outward and grabbed Issac forcibly by the wrist. “What? Hey!” he shouted. But the man who was once Professor Clark von Hale ignored him. He grabbed and pulled Issac forward to the living machine, holding on so tight that bruises already begun to form on Issac’s hand. His nails were cutting into his wrist in shallow lacerations—not enough to be deadly but enough to create two small droplets of blood.

Issac moved to resist but another pair of arms held him down. “Hey! Stop! What are you doing!” he yelled. None responded. They just stared dead-eyed at him. “Let-Let me go!” They stretched out his bleeding right arm to the machine and pushed him along to touch its surface. They succeded.

A bright flash of blue then filled Issac’s sense of vision and time.

It lasted for under a second from Issac’s perspective.  When he came to, he found himself outside behind Professor Hale’s truck. In the back of the truck, a large lump covered by a blue tarp lay secure. Just as soon as he noticed the sudden change from tent to outside, Hale’s car then began to drive away. It drove away with haste too, without the driver saying a word.

Issac looked around him and saw that members of the team were walking away from him. They began returning to their original posts or their personal vans. Some went back to work, silently hammering away at the main dig site, while others picked small artifacts and fossils and placed them inside the tents.

Tents, thought Issac. Wasn’t he just inside one? He…honesty couldn’t remember. What had they just put into the back of the truck? Issac searched his mind for answers but kept drawing blanks. All he knew was that they…found something. Was that right? That they found something out here in the desert? His head began to ache from the struggle of trying to remember.

He shook his head from side to side and cleared his thoughts. He was most likely just tired and needed rest. He began to walk to his trailer, thinking how nice it would be to finally rest. He climbed up the mountain hill and entered the small trailer park they had haphazardly built over the months staying here. He entered his trailer and closed the door behind him.

The inside was nothing special for someone like him. Crates, boxes, and plastic containers filled with rocks, fossils, and artifacts littered the kitchen. The sink had four plastic tubs filled with mild acid that he used to break down clay and dirt. The mini fridge, however, was quite clean in comparison to the rest of the trailer. Inside, Issac picked up a green apple and took a bite.

The moment he bit into the apple, his throat then suddenly became incredibly dry. Disturbingly so. He coughed on instinct. Tiny flakes of apple spat outwards from his mouth as a tightness then wrapped around the back of his throat and tongue. He moved to the sink, grabbed a glass, filled it with water, and chugged it down in seconds.

His throat hadn’t gotten any better. It still felt like it was being choked with some kind of sand. He reached for another glass and chugged down once again. Then again. Then again. And still, his throat burned. No matter how many glasses of water he drank, the tightness in his throat didn’t dissipate.

What was this, he thought. He didn’t have time to contemplate the idea, as great pain then erupted from his skull. A throbbing, blistering pain that echoed throughout his brain. He clutched his head and fell to his knees as the agony traveled down his body. He fell onto his side and screamed out in a bloodcurdling cry for help.

Then the pain stopped.

Just a sudden stop, like it had never existed in the first place. Issac West gasped rapidly, breathing in and out with exhaustion. Tears filled his eyes and trailed down his face and nose. Chills of cold crawled up his body. His fingers and toes twitched like insect legs. He felt like he wanted to vomit.

He slowly picked himself back up, trembling with confusion and fear. He moved to the small bathroom and looked in the dust-covered mirror. His face was a mess. His brown beard and hair were covered in dirt, as was his shirt. Black bags ran under his eyes–which themselves were red and bloodshot. His mouth was twitching with anxiety and lightly drooled on his beard, which he promptly whipped off.

He looked himself in the mirror and questioned once again. What had happened? What happened in that tent? He looked back through his memories and bits and pieces that previously alluded him then started to make themselves known. Still, it was hard for him to recall exactly what they were.

He was busy digging, a person told him to follow, and they led him down below. They found something there, didn’t they? Something…made of chrome? He was on the phone with…somebody, but he couldn’t remember exactly what. Why can’t I remember their name? Then they put something large in that car, the one who drove away so quickly.

But there was something else inside his mind, something that lay far away in the back of his memories. A bright flash of blue. The memory was vague and obscure, but it was there, appearing and disappearing as he tried to recall it. But he did know one thing—he remembered the color blue, that much was certain.

That meant he was certain about four things. One, that he had little memory of what had happened. Two, that the color blue was involved. Three, that they found something within the desert. And four, that whatever it was they found, it most certainly wasn’t human.

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