From a Time Before
The Expedition to Malo-Moko Island
© 2016 by Richard Messer
“Dolt! Fool! Idiot! What the bloody hell were you think about, jumping through that doorway like that!”
Sir Albert Wednesday raged at the young whitetail buck who had been knocked into the railing. James Baxter hung from one arm while wiping the blood from his mouth with the back of his other hand.
“I was thinking that my world might have been on the other side, which was what I was thinking!”
All friendliness was gone from his voice as the buck pulled himself up to his feet. He stared at the chimpanzee from under hooded lids, preparing himself for another blow should it come. He fought bullies in grade school; not won many fights but showed everybody that this small buck wasn’t going to back down.
For a whole minute the two archaeologists stared at one another, waiting for someone to make the next move. Then the British ape pointed a thick brown finger at the deer.
“That kind of irrational action will get you killed, if not thrown off the dig site of any other project.”
Baxter snapped back. “Fine, throw me off of my own dig! See if you can get those students to work for you, or any further support from the university! Hadn’t you done anything as rash in your early career?”
It was another minute before the hardness began to flow from the simian’s countenance.
“I may have done foolish acts in the past, but not where it involves my passing through a door or gate to . . .” He threw up his hands as Sir Albert took in their surroundings for the first time, “here, wherever the hell here is.”
Throwing a hand out to the vast room James Baxter, replied, “As I’ve said, this may be my world, from my dreams. At least the outside part. But here, I don’t even have the vaguest idea what this place is or what its function may be.” He threw in a shoulder shrug to emphasize his point.
The older archaeologist walked past the buck to stand at the railing, large hands resting on the top bar. The simian swept the place with his gaze, a look of wonder settled onto his dark countenance.
“This is new, lad. Entirely new, and not just to archaeology. But to science and electronics as well.” He turned his head to gaze at Baxter. There was a faint ghost of a smile on those thick lips. “But what amazes me just now is that we can breathe this atmosphere and walk within this world’s gravity.” Then Sir Albert’s beetling brows knitted together. “How?”
The whitetail stood next to his senior, all animosity forgotten.
“This commonality would have to be close for whoever visited Earth in its past.” He paused, a sudden thought furrowing his own brows. “Now I’m starting to sound like one of those pulp novels dealing with science fiction.”
Lightly pounding the railing the chimpanzee stood up and turned. “And that maybe our only point of reference we have.” He swept a hand as well to indicate the totality laid out before them.
“Whoever constructed this, this, operation, must have been at least – what? – two hundred years ahead of us in terms of technology!”
Gazing at the panels on the walls, around the tall platform, and the furniture for whoever, or whatever, operated them. “No, Sir Albert. I believe this advancement must be, at least, five hundred to, maybe, a thousand years beyond anything those pulp writers could have thought up.”
“What makes so sure of your analysis?” The English ape gave Baxter a severe sidelong glance.
With another sweeping gesture, James Baxter answered him. “There is no wiring of any kind, anywhere. Look closely at those glass panels. If they are glass, they’re not as we know it. You won’t find a single cord, cable, wire, or conduit linking them to anything. A complete lack of interconnection.”
The simian gave a low rumble of a chuckle. “You sound more like an electrical engineer than an archaeologist.”
The young buck smiled. “What can I say; it was my minor studies at Miskatonic.”
They continued to stare around the cavernous place until the simian stepped down to the main floor and approached the platform. He ran a large hand across the top of one of the chairs, studying the milky glass plates before and above the chair. The lower panel looked to be about two feet wide and one and a half feet in height. Sir Albert glanced up at the larger one above. It was a good four feet by three. Then he bent around the first panel to look at it from behind. There was a free-form arm of some dark material rising out from the side of the platform, to end in a flat plate to which the glass plate was somehow attached. Then the chimpanzee eyed the edge of the plate. It looked no thicker than an inch. And it was translucent, which he proved to himself by passing a brown hand behind while looking from the front where he could barely see his wiggling fingers.
“This is amazing, totally amazing,” the English ape stated in a hushed voice. He turned to the American. “And there is no evidence of any form of wiring to it, as you said. But it begs the imagination: How does it operate?”
Baxter had been standing with his thumbs hooked into his trouser pockets, watching how his guest and archaeology associate was puzzling out this mystery. Now he stepped beside the peer, reached out, and touch the screen with a fingertip. Immediately the panel lit up with that blue glow like the one in the other room. But the script on this panel was different.
Giving a yelp the simian took a step back and stared. Even Baxter was amazed at the layout. The lower portion of the screen bore a rectangular outline that was filled with small squares, and each square held one of those odd markings found on the wall of that cylindrical chamber. And up both sides ran a narrow strip of other markings either hadn’t seen before. After a moment the glowed faded, taking the markings with it.
Sir Albert’s beetling brows furrowed as he began rubbing his lantern jaw.
“Did something appear familiar to you, James, about that layout?”
The young buck paused before speaking, scratching between his antlers. “There was but I can’t put my finger on it.”
The simian brought both hands up, the fingers spread and began making wriggling motions with it. He then punctuated these gestures by bringing up his left hand and made a batting swipe to the right. The buck’s brown eyes widen in recognition.
“It’s like a typewriter keyboard!” he exclaimed.
Sir Albert nodded in agreement. “Yes, very much so. Which means whoever developed this equipment must have followed certain traits that arose in our world.”
Baxter looked at him. “Now you’re starting to sound like one of those pulp writers.”
The English ape stepped back to the landing and grabbed a large canvas knapsack that sat by the railing. Baxter didn’t see Sir Albert bring it in.
“What did you bring?” he asked, making a gestured towards the pack.
The chimpanzee dropped it by the chair they had been standing by. “Well, I figured to bring a few items I thought we might need, should we survive the passage.”
“Oh, some food, water, torches and spare batteries, paper and pencils. You know, the usual kit an archaeologist would need when he steps across the threshold into the unknown.” Sir Albert added the last with a broad grin.
This only made James Baxter nodded his head as he realized his neglect in taking such provisions. Then he looked at the ape.
“Wait a moment! If we’re both here, then how are we going to get back?” A note of panic entered his voice, causing it to rise in pitch.
In answer the larger of the two archaeologist reached into a pocket on his field jacket. He brought out the disk that bore the smiling face of the mysterious beauty.
“On a hunch, as you Americans would say, I pressed the disk in and was surprised to see it pop out into my palm. The ‘door’ began to close so I set it back into the hole and the door stayed open. That was when I went outside to the upper campsite and gathered what I thought we would need. Took some time as I had to assuage the fears of your students of your disappearance. Then I had to get a strict promise from them that nothing was to be said to anyone else who had not been to the dig site. Hush, hush, ‘Top Secret’ and all that, you know.
“When everyone was calmed down, I made my way back to the door and ‘opened’ it. As an afterthought I removed the disk and stepped through the door before the panels closed. Thought it might be necessary to have it should we need to return to our world.”
Again the whitetail buck nodded, seeing the logic of that decision. Now that they were here – wherever here was – it was time to do something. And that something was to make like the archaeologist he was supposed to be.
“Well, as you said you had pencil and paper,” the American said as he touched the glass panel once more, “let’s start with figuring out their alphabet, okay?”