From a Time Before
The Expedition to Malo-Moko Island
© 2016 by Richard Messer
He could not believe the scene laid out before him! The plaza was silent as it was empty! James Baxter stood on the balcony where he had been before, only now it seemed the entire city was deserted.
Doors and shutters were closed as he stared disbelieving up and down the street. Far to the south the bay lay vacant of ships and boats, the docks bare of cargo. The buck looked up towards the temples and what he thought of as government buildings. No movement there, either.
Shaking his antlered head the American couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a living soul around. Something was wrong, very wrong, and it stuck in his craw that there wasn’t any evidence for the city to be deserted. Everything was as James remembered in his prior dreams. Only the absence of the people brought a chill to his bones. In frustration he slammed his fist against the red-painted railing, only to curse himself from the pain it gave him.
As he shook his hand to ease the discomfort, James Baxter soon became aware of a sound on the edge of his hearing. It seemed as if a low throbbing was working its way into his being. He looked around for the source as the volume and frequency of the throbbing began to rise. The buck glanced up the hill towards the temples on the knoll, and the source of the sound. Above the foremost structure of white stone there arose a truncated tower upon which sat what the whitetail could only think of as a mammoth discus. As he continued to stare at this improbable architecture Baxter saw that the rim of the discus was turning. Staring in stunned disbelief, the American watched the rim begin to turn faster as that throbbing increased, becoming a painful intrusion deep into his brain and into the marrow of his bones.
With hands clamped tight over his folded ears, the buck watched through blurred vision as the rim was now passing at great speed around the discus construct until this discus began to rise from its mount and launched itself into the sky. Before passing out from the sound beating against his being James Baxter watched this discus rapidly launched itself into the clouds before winking out . . .
A large black hand was roughly shaking the young cervine’s shoulder.
“Time to get up, James! Your students are already up the hill and clearing out the last of that plastering!”
Sir Albert’s good-natured grin turned to surprise as the buck’s hands gripped his wrist. Baxter’s brown eyes were large and filled with fear as he stared up into wide black ones.
“They’re gone, sir! Gone! No one left! Just a ghost town now!”
The English ape managed to twist his hand loose before grabbing the young American by the shoulder.
“What ails you, lad? Who’s gone, and what ghost town are you carrying on about?”
It was a minute before the whitetail calmed himself to try and converse in soft but clipped words. Without thinking Baxter reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out the disk he had found on the freighter. In a low breathless voice the buck related the dreams he had to the older chimpanzee; the layout of the town and its inhabitants. He even mentioned seeing the figure of the femme whose face graced the disk.
“And she even smiled up at me!”
That drew a chuckle from the deep chest of Sir Albert Wednesday. “She must have been taken by your good looks.” Then he clapped the other on the shoulder. “But it’s time to move along, old chap. We’ll grab you a quick bite at the mess tent before heading up the hill.” And with that the simian was out the tent.
Baxter could only stare in disbelief at the opening. It was as if the English ape either didn’t understand the significance of what the whitetail was trying to convey, or else was reserving judgement until the end of the day. With a sigh James Baxter rolled out of his cot to a camp chair and laced on his work boots.
He paused at the tent where the leftovers of breakfast were being cleared away. The young American grabbed a couple of pancakes, dribbled some maple syrup between them, and started munching on them after picking up a cup of coffee. With his quick meal in hand he headed up the trail towards the excavation site. Partway up the slope the older archaeologist was waiting for his junior colleague before turning back to the hike.
When they reached the opening in the stone wall, Baxter set aside his empty cup on a table and followed the English peer inside. The room had been stripped of its plastering, revealing a cylinder with a shallow domed ceiling. There were no signs of any engravings or carvings, nor anything that would suggest a switch or control of any kind. Drawing his fingertips along the wall, the young buck marveled at the cold smoothness of the material. It was like porcelain, as the simian had said. Next he crouched at the floor and felt along juncture of wall and floor. There was a very slight curvature where the two met but no seam of any sort. Baxter stood up, unconsciously brushing his hands across his trouser before resting them on his hips.
“You’re right, Sir Albert. It does feel like porcelain. But there’s a coolness to its makeup, kinda like Bakelite.”
The chimpanzee nodded. “In a way it does. And if you’ll notice there are no seams of any kind anywhere within this room.” He emphasized this statement by sweeping the whole with a thick brown finger. “But I believe you’ll truly enjoy this next piece of the puzzle.”
Turning on his heel the simian archaeologist led the way to the next room, but only after pausing long enough to point out the doorway between the two. It reminded Baxter of one of the freighter’s watertight doors; it had a rounded rim that encircled the doorway. Beyond was the short corridor that led not to a blank wall but an entrance of the kind neither English nor American had ever encountered.
The frame was similar to the one they had just passed through. But there was a panel of sorts that bore a faint seam that ran from the upper left to lower right corners of the frame.
“Sinister Chief to Dexter Base,” muttered Sir Albert as he stroked his thick chin with thick fingers. The words were a faint echo in the closeness of the room before fading away.
“What?” Baxter looked confused.
The simian eyes him. “Heraldry terminology, old boy,” and began giving his colleague a quick course in European coats of arms. “And if it ran the other way then this would be a bastard door.”
Shaking his antlered head the young buck allowed his eyes to roam around the room. There was enough space to allow the two of them to standing freely without getting in each other's way, and that was all. Once more the whitetail eyed the door. He did notice that the panels fitted into the frame with the same type of seam as the one that split it. Lightly he ran his fingers around the rim, feeling that same minuscule curve as with the wall and floor in the outer vestibule.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say that these compartments were poured like concrete in a form, or plaster in a mold. These is no evidence of any seam, crack, or juncture anywhere, other than in this door.” With that he rapped the door with his knuckles. There was a dull, muffled thump.
Sir Albert could only nodded his agreement. “Whoever constructed this place was far ahead of us in terms of technological advancement.”
The whitetail couldn’t suppress a grin. “You think the Martians built this place?”
The English ape grinned in return. “Them, or the Venusians.”
That brought laughter from both of them to the point that the students began eyeing them as if the pair had gone nuts. When the guffaws faded away, James Baxter got down onto his knees to further study the door. Lightly he ran his fingertips over the walls surrounding the door when he stopped. Something didn’t feel right on the right-hand side near the rim. Asking the simian to bring one of the lamp stands over he began to peer closely at the wall there. Turning his head this way and that while brushing his fingers over the smooth porcelain-like material he found what felt like a bump.
Standing up he sought that bump again and found it to be about waist high. Well, it could be considered waist high on one of those odd Anubian characters on his dream world. Or maybe one of those tall feline creatures with the rounded ears and broad blunt muzzles. Then it occurred to Baxter why those slender denizens looked odd to him.
“Cat-bears,” was what he murmured under his breath.
“What was that?” asked the simian.
Quickly James Baxter recounted his dreams that he had mentioned to Sir Albert when the chimpanzee woke him up earlier, giving a greater detail to the citizens of the city. Then he stuffed his hand into a pants pocket to recover the disk. He stared at that feminine face. That graceful smile and the sharpness of the visible ear told the whitetail that this was not a flight of fantasy brought on by the longing for female companionship or the desire of closeness to a femme. It was a discovery that could only be brought on by fevered dreams or a drug-induced hallucinations. But it was neither. James Baxter knew that he had visited that beautiful world three times already, and now wanted to return once more.
A thought came to mind that he acted on without hesitation. Feeling for the bump he pressed it. Somehow he knew what the reaction would be; the bump slid in out of the way. But what he didn’t expect was something else filling that space. Kneeling once more the young buck studied that something, and was surprised at what he found. Now set into the wall was what looked like an engraving of some kind. The more he looked at the more he realized what that image represented.
“It’s her,” Baxter said in hushed words as he stood up to give the English archaeologist a chance to see it. Sir Albert knelt where the buck had been, turning his head this way and that while trying to see into the shadowy depression. He finally made out the impression within.
“You’re right, James, it is.” The simian stood and brushed his knees. “So what do you suggest we do next?”
What to do next was now the question of the hour. Baxter stood there, his attention fixed on that small hole in the perfectly smooth wall while he held that disk. The two images where mirror of each other. And he knew what the next step was to be.
As James Baxter stepped up to the door again, he palmed the disk to where the face of that mysterious femme was aligned with hole. Carefully the buck set the disk into the receptacle, turning it slightly until he could feel the obverse and reverse mate. As an afterthought he set the tip of his forefinger on the disk and pushed. Surprised and pleased, the young archaeologist felt it slide in about a quarter of an inch before a click was felt. Somewhere these came a kind of hissing sound that preceded a vibration through the wall around the door.
Then there came the sound of a stampede behind the pair as the students made a mad dash out of the outer chamber. With just the two archaeologists left, they watched as the panels of the door parted, sliding to left and right. Behind them were two other panels that bisected up and down. And beyond was a third and final set of panels that was the opposite of the first two. When all the door panels had slid aside James Baxter and Sir Albert Wednesday stared into blackness beyond. Light from the lamps behind them was absorbed by that blackness, as a sponge would with water. It was a dull lusterless wall of nothing they stared at for a minute before something unexplainable occurred.
An odd shimmer appeared over the surface of black, giving the impression of a still pool of oil. The buck and simian stared at each other, wondering and hoping one of them would give a conjecture of what this manifestation might indicate. Without a word Baxter reached out to touch it but was restrained at the last minute by Sir Albert.
“Are you sure that is the form of action you wish to take?”
For a moment the young whitetail stared at the shimmer in the doorway before turning to the other, swallowing.
“We need to find out, right?”
There was a brief nod of a heavy-jawed black head. “Yes, but not with naked flesh first.”
Glancing around the English chimpanzee noticed a broom in the outer foyer left by one of the students. This he grabbed and brought back. And taking the end of the handle in both hands the archaeologist slowly pushed the straw in into the inkiness of the door. A ripple spread out from where the broom entered, like pond water when a stick was pushed into it. And nothing else happened. Sir Albert then swirled the broom around with both males seeing how the blackness rippled around it. Finally the broom was withdrawn after it had been pushed all the way in before the simian’s large knuckles brushed the surface. They both examined the wooden handle and bundled straw. It was dry and showed no sign of any detrimental effects.
“Well,” began Sir Albert Wednesday after setting the broom aside, “what’s next on the agenda?”
The young American’s brown eyes turned back to their study of that Stygian portal. He swept it up and down, left and right, before a decision came to the forefront of his mind.
“We go in,” James Baxter announced softly as he stepped into the unknown.