17 June 2011

"No Longer Buried"

By Curtis C. Chen

Light flared in Ralamudi's eyes. He tried to shield his face, but his arms would not move.

The light went away. His throat felt parched. After a few experimental croaks, he was able to ask: "Where am I?"

"You're alive!" said a male voice with an unfamiliar accent. "Thank the gods! Here, drink this."

Ralamudi felt warm liquid splashing into his mouth. Water. It eased the pain in his throat. Feeling tingled back into his arms.

"We need your help," the voice said. "Your family built the kyu-essem engine, yes? You know how to operate it?"

"What's happened?" Ralamudi asked. "How long have I been asleep?"

The blurry shapes around him started to resolve into recognizable objects, including a bearded man standing in front of Ralamudi's stasis chamber.

"There's no time," the man said. "Can you operate the kyu-essem engine? Can you change the para-meters?"

"Slow down," Ralamudi said. The man's accent made it difficult to understand his speech. "You're talking about the QSM engine? The Quantum Substrate Manipulator?"

"Yes! Yes!" The man cackled. "I knew you'd be able to help. Come. Quickly!"

He grasped Ralamudi's forearm and tugged. Ralamudi grabbed the sides of his stasis chamber and held his ground. He wasn't going anywhere until he understood the situation.

"How long has it been?" Ralamudi demanded. "What happened here?"

His eyes had remembered how to focus, and he saw that the lab was in ruins. None of the normal displays were powered; even the overhead lights were out. The space was illuminated by flickering yellow lanterns.

The bearded man said nothing. Ralamudi shoved him aside and tapped at the nearest control panel.

Only three other stasis chambers were still functioning, and their power reserves read less than twenty percent. Ralamudi checked the relays and saw that the solar chargers were offline. But it should have taken decades to drain those batteries—

Ralamudi turned back to the bearded man.

"How. Long?"

Anger flared for a moment on the man's face. "Over four hundred years, we believe."

Ralamudi's legs felt weak. He braced himself against the wall until the nausea had passed. "We sealed ourselves inside this facility. Nobody knew where we were. How did you find it?"

"It wasn't easy," the man said. "But there were stories, legends, clues. We knew the inventors of the kyu-essem engine lived underground, near a—"

"Who's 'we'?"

"I was part of an archaeological expedition."

"Where are the others?"

"Killed in a tunnel collapse."

Ralamudi hadn't taught university for six years without learning how to read his students. "You're lying," he said.

The bearded man's eyes flashed again. He took a step backward, simultaneously reaching into his jacket to draw out a small gray sphere with a circular opening. He aimed the opening at Ralamudi.

"You killed them," Ralamudi said.

"They had served their purpose." The bearded man's accent was gone, replaced with a tone that dripped arrogance and scorn. "Now it's time for you to serve yours, Doctor."

"And what might that be?"

"You're going to help me kill a god."


Photo: main junction v1 by Sean Head, January, 2008