Entry 49 – Monolith
With over a hundred miles of desert roads behind us, I could feel we were nearing the end. Despite the rigors of the journey, none of us dared break camp again. With the skies clear once more after several hours of rainfall, we stuck to our vehicles using only blankets for cover and preferring to sleep rough. The rest of the journey was uneventful despite the rumors spreading through our forces like wildfire.
We were lucky though. With the truth defying human comprehension, many of the accounts of the events were dismissed as embellishments or outright lies. Several versions of the oasis story started making rounds and in the end, nobody knew what to believe. Questions were raised about Gail and the sentries missing, but Jim carefully disseminated a version where she took the scouts and departed on a recon mission despite him never really having confirmed it.
Merciful lies, I told myself – should things go right, we’d have Gail back in no time. And should things go terribly wrong, none of this would matter anyway.
By the noon of the third day, we reached the designated area. We knew we weren’t far from the Nile but could not see traces of life anywhere, just vast sea of brown surrounding us. Doctor Az’dule and his team broke out some very advanced looking equipment and navigated us through the last stretch of the journey until we finally arrived at the precise coordinates.
And there it was, a metallic monolith standing on top of a dune, all alone in the desert. One of the scientists informed us the readings of the energy emanating from it were off the charts but what truly concerned us was the fact that no trace of Gail could be found anywhere. No trace of anything for that matter, only the monolith with its smooth, reflective surface that somehow seemed to shimmer every now and then.
With no clues regarding our next steps, we decided to set up a camp around it despite the previous reservations. Jim strictly forbade anyone from interacting with the mysterious object but we knew that, sooner or later, someone would have to try something. And that someone would be me, Jim correctly pointed out, as I seemed to be tied to the entire mission far more than anyone else. I agreed.
A few hours later, I was almost ready. Here goes nothing, I thought, as I was finishing my preparations to... I wasn’t even sure what my goal was. Before me, the monolith almost glittered in the sunlight as the afternoon rays reflected off its surface. I took off my right glove and approached the object to touch it with a bare hand.
I fully expected to get burned as any metal was bound to be searing hot from the sun, but despite the heat outside, its surface was cold to the touch. It was an almost pleasant sensation but not one I dared to prolong. I removed my hand from the metal.
Or at least tried to.
My body was no longer my own it suddenly seemed, as my arm wouldn’t respond to my commands. I watched in amazement as the world suddenly stood still and grew dark, just like in one of my nightmares. The sun became eclipsed by an object too big to be the Moon and in the twilight, a great pyramid rose from where there once had been an empty stretch of land.
Only once the scene was set did the monolith release me from its binds and, judging from the terror-stricken looks and shouts around me, the phenomenon wasn’t limited to my person like the last time. The entire camp bathed in the baleful glow of an obscured sun and the air positively glowed with power, such was the magnitude of what was unraveling in front of us.
Our attention was drawn to a sudden flick of movement ahead, too far to see with a naked eye. It was our binoculars that revealed the horrible truth. Gail Espinoza levitated in the air in a crucified position in front of an entrance to the pyramid, her naked body glowing with strange energies. She was clearly in pain and while we were too far to hear her cries, we could see her mouth periodically open and close with screams.
It was the most disturbing sight I’ve ever seen and I quickly suppressed the urge to grab a rifle and just run to her to rescue her, to protect her, to do anything. Jim, sensing my distress, grabbed my shoulder.
“Not like this. Let’s prepare.”
His was the voice of sanity that broke through the cloud of terror that engulfed my mind and I slowly lowered my gun. Jim started barking orders left and right but he didn’t really have to – everyone who’s witnessed the abominable scene was on the move already without requiring any further instructions. Several engines roared as vehicles all around us started to move to combat positions, leading amongst them the single mighty rocket launcher, our armored hammer with enough firepower to level a city block.
The self-identified traveller stood beside me, impassively watching everything.
“Have you brought the Exile?” he asked calmly.
I froze with shock for a moment but, almost instantly, my chest swelled with rage.
“Let her go, now!” I yelled at its face, my fist curled and ready to strike.
“No,” the wraith responded, completely unfazed. “Have you brought the Exile?”
“What the fuck is an exile?!” I yelled at it.
Around us, people ran in all direction carrying guns, grenades and armor... whatever they could use in a fight. Nobody paid me any attention or seemed to have noticed my companion. By now, the noise around us was overwhelming and yet I heard the response as clearly as if we were alone. Two short sentences that caught me off-guard but, looking back, they shouldn’t have as at that very moment I realized I suspected all along.
“He has many names. You know him as Marduk.”