Rules of Causality, Chapter I
With the sound of a shovel hitting something rocky, Pavel finally awakened. He had retreated into his mind to hide from the scorching sun, and immense heat, and this weird buzzing feeling he had. In these conditions, a cup of coffee would bring more harm. Cold water is in short supply. Not waking up at 6AM isn't an option since the camp adheres to a strict schedule. Gladly, it is easy for an archeologist to wake up if they hear a sound of their shovel hitting something other than dirt and sand. Pavel found something. News traveled the camp at the speed of light. 'Pavel found something!' By the time he finished shoveling dirt from around his find, a small group had formed around him. 'Pyramid-like shape, but thin. Like a small obelisk. No more than forty centimeters in diameter, by the looks of it, but it widens towards the base', Pavel said in a slow fashion, making pauses to allow his friend Salvat to write it down. In the camp, others often laughed at how they contrasted each other so much. Salvat was a huge guy, two meters tall, with a lot of meat on his bones. If he wanted so, he could easily lift Pasha up while he’s holding this heavy-looking obelisk that he found. On the other hand, you could fit three Pashas into one Salvat, leaving some extra space. Pavel was slender, average height, looking too weak to hold a shovel, let alone use it. They had been friends since an expedition a year ago, and thanks to Salvat and his local connections, Pasha had an opportunity to teach at the Samarkand State University when he would have graduated. 'There are small markings on the walls. They may very well be some kind of writing, but they must have eroded by now. Linguists won't be happy about that', Pavel concluded. He waited for some kind of a reply from Salvat, but instead he heard another voice, which was on the lower end of the female voices spectrum. 'We'll see about that. I'll need a couple of hours with this artifact as soon as you're finished, so hurry up', the voice said. Pavel turned and saw a very angry looking young woman. It was as if the expression on her face told him that she doesn't like heat, doesn't really like this expedition, doesn't appreciate other students and now he stands between her and the only thing that has a very remote possibility of being interesting for her. Pavel took a step back and raised his hands. 'Oh, we're done here', he said. 'I don't think so. You are to move it to the tent. Professor's orders,' she said. Pavel sighed and turned to the stone with the intention of trying to lift it, when he saw Salvat already embracing the finding in order to carry it. 'Which tent?' he asked. While their new acquaintance explained to his friend how gentle he has to be with the artifact, Pavel took a good look at her. He had seen this girl before, during one of the camp meetings in the big tent. She had been sitting separately and drawing something in her notebook. There isn't much to do for linguists on an archeological expedition. The chances they'd find something with writing on it are slim, though not non-existent. Being one of the most useless members of a team would make anybody cranky. To complete a mental portrait of an edgy persona like this one, she looked completely local. An Uzbek girl studying for a degree in a university while girls her age are preparing for their second children - that can't be easy. Social pressure is a hard thing to endure. Suddenly, Pavel felt a great fascination with her, or at least with the potential of a story she could tell. He straightened out, trying to make his shoulders at least appear somewhat wide. He became concerned with what she thought about him. Why was she cold with him before even saying hello? Actually, she still hasn't said that. Was it something he did or said earlier without even noticing her? Maybe he failed to notice her where she'd wanted him to? 'Nah', he thought, 'That's not it. She probably took me for a local student, that’s all. They're all behaving more familiar with each other, than with guests from Moscow.' It was easy to mistake Pavel with locals. He looked like them. Pasha was half Asian, a child of a refugee who had successfully ran away from the Korean War back in the 50s. There were a lot of Koreans in Uzbekistan for this very reason, which must've prompted the confusion. Pasha was throttled back to reality by a question. 'What's your name again?', the young woman asked. Salvat had been already carrying the stone to the tent. 'Uh... I didn't have an opportunity to tell. It's Pavel. Pavel Kim', he said 'Nargiz Chagatayeva. I'm a linguist', she stated, 'here against my will, cause I need that archeology professor's favor next term ' Pavel nodded. Good old Soviet educational system: everyone should know at least a little of everything. Physicists study history, historians brush up their math, and linguists, apparently, have a whole archeology course. That's a good conversation starter, he thought. 'That's fine, I had this geometry class back in Moscow where our prof kept trying to prove that we should know this stuff if we wanted to understand how ancient buildings were built', said Pasha with a smile. 'Oh, you're from Moscow, then! Thought you were local. Listen, I'm sorry if I seemed too harsh back there, I'm just...' 'Tired and feeling useless here, I understand', he interrupted. A moment of silence ensued. 'Well I see you've already grown accustomed to the local tradition of not letting a woman speak', she said, spitefully. 'I'm sorry', he looked embarrassed, 'That's more like Moscow speaking. We interrupt everyone regardless of gender. Equality, just like grandpa Lenin wanted.' Nargiz laughed, and Pavel allowed himself to laugh with her as well. 'Anyways, I'm gonna go study that stone for now. See you around!' she said, turning away from him. 'Wait! Me, Salvat and a couple of other guys are planning to drink some beer tonight, you wanna join?' 'Tell me you're not drinking local beer', she begged. 'No way. One of the guys is due to arrive today, and he's bringing some from Moscow. I mean, they make it in Ryazan or something, but he bought it... Nevermind. We wanna cool them in the river, since it gets really cold here at night,' he confessed. 'So, a free bottle of Zhiguli. I'm not passing that one up, I'm gonna be there.' Nargiz replied. 'Great!' 'Awesome!' 'Marvelous! See you tonight, then. Bye!' ______ Every evening in the camp turned into a wild party without music, without a pool and without snacks. It was basically neat vodka or beer, sometimes both in equal proportions, a hellish cocktail known as "Yorsh", first mentioned in the"The Tale of Woe and Misfortune" written back in the XVII century. Every single person at that party would gladly tell you this "fun fact", and then they'd turn to arguing about historical sources. Archeologists and alcohol are inseparable entities. In a literal, and even “letteral” sense: you can almost assemble the latter using the letters from the former. Soviet archeologists weren't any different. And thus, every evening in the camp meant people partying like it was 1989. Which it actually was. Nargiz wandered around the camp looking for that guy who found the stone. She had recently had a breakthrough, and she was desperate to share it. She couldn't tell the professor yet, since it was customary to get at least someone else to confirm a hypothesis. But Nargiz was shaking from excitement and fear at the same time. She didn't know anybody at the camp and kept to herself, but now she had to find at least someone. That Pavel guy felt like a safe bet: he was the first to actually have a conversation with her in three days, and it wasn't a condescending one, he didn't try to explain something she clearly knows already, but everyone around her feels like she doesn't. No, Pavel was sincere. He even invited her to the party: an offer she never intended to accept, but circumstances have now brought her to his and his enormous friend Salvat's tent. Nargiz found Pavel outside with a group of young archeologists, drinking, of course. She didn't even notice at first as she was deep in her own thoughts. 'You made it!' Pavel seemed excited. 'Sure did', Nargiz replied, starting to feel embarrassed. 'Look, there's one thing I need to...' She was interrupted by that gargantuan man, Salvat. 'Heeeey, there's a tax for those who wanna join us today! You have to drink this!' Salvat handed her a faceted glass with thick tainted walls. 'Whatever happened to “from each according to their ability and to each according to their needs?”' asked Nargiz. 'Well, you're able to drink it, and you clearly need to join us, so...' Salvat laughed. 'You're hilarious. What is it? Smells weird. It's not a Yorsh', asked Nargiz. 'It's a Brown Bear. All the rage in Moscow nowadays, since they've started importing cola drinks', Pavel clarified. Nargiz shrugged. She remembered that in cases like this she should make a toast. 'Let's drink to many sweet discoveries we're about to make here', she said and emptied the glass in one go. People started clapping. 'Wow', she thought, 'these bright minds are the future of historical sciences. Looks like we're doomed.' Two hours and countless bottles of beer later, and there were now three of them: Pavel, Salvat and Nargiz. 'I'm starting to forget the reason I came here', she said. 'You had no choice but to come here to earn the favor of your professor', Salvat reminded, gently. 'I didn't mean... Well, yes. Have I...', Nargiz was properly drunk now. Her childhood experiences prepared her for such eventualities, but at this point, it was almost too much. 'I mean, I thought the hardest part would be to get into a university, not to hold on to it', She shared. 'I had no useful connections, so I've spent a year of sleepless nights, studying, trying to become good enough... Only to learn that I didn't need all that. All I needed was to know how to talk to people...' 'Which you haven't mastered yet', Salvat noticed, attracting Nargiz's angry grimace. 'What he's trying to say is you seem to keep to yourself too much. You understand that you need to talk to people, but you still don't do it', Pavel clarified. 'Don't try to explain what I'm saying', Salvat responded, angrily, but then his scowl was replaced by a smile, 'But yeah. What he said.' 'Cause it's hard, man! I grew up in a home with a lot of other kids, but they all won't talk to me that much, so I kept to myself. It's hard to change your ways!', Nargiz replied. 'I feel you. Mom became more careful with me after dad went missing. I couldn't go out with my mates without her hovering over me. At least until last year', Pavel sighed. 'What happened last year?', Nargiz asked. 'Oh, I came here, she went with me, but couldn't handle living in field conditions. She became less restless when I made friends with this specimen', Pavel pointed at Salvat... Who was already asleep. Pasha and Nargiz silently exchanged glances. 'He'll get a sunburn', Pavel said, eventually. 'He'll get a cold first.' said Nargiz. We're in a desert, it's gonna be cold like in the mountains here in a couple of hours. 'I'll get a blanket', Pavel sounded unsure. 'He'll need at least five if we're leaving him here. One of which should be under him', said Nargiz. 'Can't we just wake him up?' 'Believe me, it's impossible.' Pavel said, firmly. 'All right, I have an idea. Let's take a couple of big sheets we use to cover our findings,' she offered. Pavel nodded. In the main tent, Nargiz suddenly stopped. She looked around with a skeptical frown on her face. 'I knew I forgot something', she said, 'Come'. The stone, Pavel's finding, stood there. Nargiz made a beeline through other artifacts, Pavel followed. He felt sleepy and tired after all the alcohol. 'Look', Nargiz said with a grin on her face. She looked like she just won a chess tournament or solved a four thousand years old mystery. Feelings of shame, slight irritation and fatigue started to overcome him. He had no idea what Nargiz was trying to show him. 'W-w-w-what am I looking at?' he asked with a slight stuttering, an affliction that plagued his childhood but was completely gone before he went to university. 'Are you serious?!' Nargiz asked, furiously, 'You just saw the damn thing this morning and you can't even see what's new?!' 'I can't see what's new exactly because I saw it only once, in the morning, and it wasn't cleaned up of dirt and sand at the time.' Pavel answered, in a melancholic fashion. 'Now if you don't want me to collapse right here and now, please, find some way to tell me what you want to tell and let's call it quits for today?' 'Ugh. Fine. Look at the letters', she said impatiently. Pavel shrugged and looked at the stone. There were ancient letters there, cuneiform, but they were there in the morning, too. Or were they? 'Wait, did they become more... Clear to read?', he asked. 'Finally!' 'But how?' 'The letters were chiseled in, but peeled away. I can't explain it but... I felt as if the stone somehow wanted to be whole again', she admitted. 'And you what... Reassembled it?' 'There might be a magnet of some kind inside, I don't know. I saw something, and I just took some sand, you know... It was as if the stone attracted it to itself. I don't know, maybe I'm stupid. Do ancient things do that? Do they have some kind of a magnetic field?' So this is it, Pavel thought. All those years trying to get away from the Fringe, and it still comes knocking. After his dad's disappearance, he tried to shut it out, lead a normal life. But evidently, it still comes for you eventually. 'I'm not so bright when it comes to physics, but I'd say no. Anyway, good job, bet you'll be praised for your reconstruction work. I-I-I-I think I'm gonna go, it's late. I'm tired', and with that, Pavel started walking the hell away from here. She felt the stone and reconstructed it. That's no magnetic field, nor is it a lucky guess. Nargiz remade the stone how it wanted to be remade. What was it? A magical artifact? A prison for an evil spirit? Because that is exactly what it is with the Fringe, always. Something sinister that seduces you with its mysteries. 'Hey!' he heard a yell. 'Hey, stop!' Nargiz looked furious. Pavel almost made it to the entrance to the tent, when she finally had beaten her initial shock. In her anger, she looked as if she was radiating power, the entirety of her body down to the tips of her hair felt like it was under strain. All ready to pounce like a tiger. Pavel started doubting her being human at all. ‘If you took an acting class back in school, you must’ve been completely shite at that. What are you planning? Are you reporting this as your finding?’ Pasha stopped and blinked. He was a bright guy, used to thinking a lot, reflecting on the realities of history and interpersonal relationships in, say, the XIII century. But all of that was in his “stable” mode. One tends to think when there is time to think since one doesn’t need to survive. Her notion was completely wrong, Pasha would never do that to, well, anybody. He never took credit for someone’s work, he never even copied other people’s homework, though he used to share his own. She was wrong, but she was right in a potential sense. If Pasha was a dishonest opportunist, he could’ve gone straight to professor Makarov, he would’ve told him about the finding “reassembling” itself, and the old archeologist would’ve believed him. If Nargiz challenged Pasha, Makarov would’ve chosen him over her just because Pasha was from Moscow and studied under Makarov for two years. So her accusation had some merit. Now try thinking when you’re drunk, it’s getting quite cold, and a furious woman is going at you and yelling at you. Any kind of analytical thinking gives way to instinct in this case. If it was Salvat, the instinct would’ve told Pasha to run. Since it was Nargiz, he just yelled back. ‘What the hell, woman?! What a complete bunch of nonsense! Why are you accusing me?!’ ‘Cause that’s what you all do! Take advantage, reap the rewards, get out. Like looters.’ ‘“We all”?’ ‘Muscovites! Nomenclature! Men! Take a pick!’ ‘Listen, you’re delusional. I don’t know if a tall guy whose dad works at the Kremlin seduced you or something, but after this insane fit, the only thing I wanna do with you is to be as far away from you as possible!’ This was a wake-up call for Nargiz. In the depths of her both drunk and offended mind the need for defending her right to a discovery was substituted by a prospect of losing the only potential friend she made here, and the expedition will still go on for some time. ‘Why did you run off so quickly, then?’ ‘I didn’t run to report to Makarov, I ran away from that thing!’ Pasha nodded at the tent with the finding. ‘Why?’ Nargiz asked, visibly surprised. ‘Remember I told you about my mom becoming more “caring” after my dad was gone?’ ‘Yeah…’ ‘Well everybody assumes he was an officer and died in Afghanistan. But he didn’t. He disappeared. Because of one of those things.’ Nargiz turned around and looked at the tent. ‘A stone? How?’ ‘You wouldn’t believe me, and even if you would, it’s better to leave it be. You don’t need this.’ Pasha turned away and kept walking. Nargiz caught up with him and took his hand. Looked into his eyes. She could see sadness, fear and a hint of hatred in them. ‘Tell me. Please.’ She pleaded. Pasha sighed. ‘All right. But it’s late and we have about four hours until we have to work again. We’re walking towards my tent so I don’t lose a minute of precious sleep. As soon as I’m done I’m going in and dozing off. Deal?’ Nargiz calculated that she’d lose about ten minutes of her own sleep in this case, but that seemed insignificant. ‘Deal,’ she agreed. ‘I don’t know how to begin, so I’ll start with The War,’ he said. Yes, the war in Afghanistan has ended, but the way Pasha said it, only one conflict could be meant. The Great Patriotic War, otherwise known as World War II. ‘The Nazis had this program called “Anenerbe”. They studied a bunch of delusional superstitious bullshit like energy, eugenics and magic. My grandfather was one of the soldiers who raided one of their labs in Poland and reported it to the superiors. Ten years later, he became an unofficial worker on one of the similar projects in Moscow. Turns out, not everything was bullshit. Magic, inhuman creatures, gods - it all truly existed at some point, but lately faded away. Mostly.’ Disbelief consumed both Pasha and Nargiz for different reasons. She just couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Magic?! Inhuman creatures?! And Pavel couldn’t believe he was saying all that. Four years ago he would’ve been tried for treason for telling her that. Or, more realistically, he would’ve been sent to an institution and probably classified as a lunatic or a serial junkie. But now, it was an era of state-approved Glasnost. You could say practically anything, a total freedom of speech. Even if the authorities didn’t like what he said, state security started losing its touch. Pasha continued: ‘They studied ancient texts and made assumptions, they found a pyramid full of ancient snake-people in hibernation and helped them wake up and eased them into the world. When my father grew up, he also joined them. By the way, they were among the few ones who were allowed contact with the outside world, since there’s a whole community that knows a lot about those things, it’s called “The Fringe Society”.’ He took a pause, letting the new information sink in. Nargiz didn’t say anything, she was all ears. Pasha realized that in a truly academic way, she wanted to let him finish before rendering judgment or asking questions. ‘My dad went further. He met an elf - basically a human with long ears and a very long lifespan - who told him about Time Travel. Well, the elf found him, to be precise. Sneaked into the Union for this very reason. He heard of dad’s childhood accident, he got lost somewhere near Lubyanka - that’s where KGB lives - and was later found with an old, XVI century rifle in a good condition. Apparently, Dad had “an affinity for wandering in time” through these “Sending Stones”, structures or rocks that let people enter something called “Time Current”. I believe the thing I found this morning is such a stone, or a part of it. Dad once described a stone he was “reactivating” and well, it looks really similar.’ ‘Okay… This doesn’t explain why you’re running from it,’ Nargiz asked. She would’ve let him finish first, but this question suddenly mutinied and broke out of her. Probably because she couldn’t just listen to all these bullshit sounding revelations without ever saying at least something. ‘He went MIA during one of his activation expeditions. The elf told my grandfather about what happened and vanished soon after.’ ‘How old were you?’ ‘Ten.’ ‘Did you believe in Father Frost at that age?’ ‘What?’ ‘Well, it all sounds like your Grandpa told you a load of bullshit to explain his son being executed or sent to GULAG.’ ‘I did warn you about not believing me, you know. Anyway, that’s my tent. Good night, Nargiz. It’s getting too cold.’ ‘Wait! Come on, do you expect me to believe that?’ Pasha sighed. It was becoming his condition of the evening - uncontrolled sighing of exhaustion. He had less than four hours to sleep, and a hangover coming for him in the morning. He uttered a few words in what Nargiz identified as Latin, his fingers made this “a stereotype about an Italian man explains something” gesture three times, and three dim lights appeared one by one on the ends of his fingers, growing a little and going into a free float orbiting Pasha. Nargiz reacted immediately. She didn’t scream, she didn’t run. Her reaction was the one of a researcher. She took his hand and forcibly opened it to investigate his palm. There was nothing: no matches, no mirrors. She tried to feel if he had anything under the skin of his palm, maybe, but Pasha’s response to this tactile intervention was a loud “Ow!”. Nargiz backed off. The lights were still orbiting him, and it looked as if they were dancing around. ‘Blyat!’ That was the only thing she managed to say. ‘Yeah. That’s not a trick. That’s magic.’ ‘How?’ The question was obviously idiotic. He did explain “how” it exists. Well, he did explain that it does exist. Thus, she needed to be more specific. ‘How can you do that?’ ‘Practice. Grandpa taught me. Anyway, can I leave you to reflect on this massive revelation tomorrow? I really wanna sleep.’ Nargiz looked Pasha in the eyes. The lights reflected in them. Slowly, she nodded. It was like a spell, these lights. Well, it was a spell, but they didn’t just lit the surroundings. They were enchanting and incited a lot of curiosity in the young woman. Then Nargiz realized she was staring in Pasha’s eyes for too long, and averted her gaze in shame. That’s a local reflex: he wasn’t her brother, fiancee or husband, looking in his eyes was very frowned upon in her culture. When she turned her head back towards Pasha, he wasn’t there already. From inside of his tent there were sounds of his belt being unbuckled and shoelaces untied. The dancing lights now orbited Nargiz. On her way back to her tent, she realized another thing. She was supposed to think about magic being real, strange long-eared men and time traveling rocks. But she didn’t. During her long stare at how the lights reflecting on his eyes, at least for some time she considered his eyes. This was a really bad feeling for her. Some girls are attracted to men because of their physical appearance. Some - because of their wealth or power. Some - because of their intellect. Nargiz considered herself to be one of the latter ones, but right now she was attracted to sadness in his eyes. This is the worst reason for being attracted, you always feel really bad for yourself right after. But she felt like that, and considering that she was still a bit drunk and she did suffer through a small emotional tornado just half an hour ago. Her whole body was confused, and she needed that confusion gone. Pasha had successfully chased away bad memories about his father and now was about to doze off already, when his tent doors flapped. He tried to sit up, but two very persistent hands on his shoulders suggested he should lay back down. A long hair touched his face with a tickling sensation, then he felt quite demanding lips touching his, and at the same time he felt slight pressure on his hips. That night the temperature inside the tent was on par with temperature outside during the day. Suffice it to say, Pasha didn’t feel cold anymore. And after, Nargiz realized she wasn’t hating herself for that. She actually felt really good.
This was actually intended for Manuscripts, but for WorldEmber's sake, I decided to put in here first. It's absolutely unedited and some sections of it might be written in bad English, but I'm planning to rectify that by the moment I'm posting the entire story in the Manuscripts.