Cynos Union Databank

 

 

I: Zep Tepi

Very slowly, he laid the pickaxe down at his feet, before wiping the stinging sweat out of his eyes. In another universe, another version of the here and now, Professor Danich would be the most important man on Earth. In another universe, he’d be the visionary that, deep down, he knew he was.

Unfortunately, though, there was only one universe, one here and now, and in it, he was very definitely alone, a maverick disowned by those who, in Danich’s opinion, were burying their heads firmly in the sand.

Slowly, he began to lift pieces of rubble from the rock wall in front of him, revealing the black space beyond. The heat of the afternoon bit down on him, the sun’s rays feeling like teeth on this open plain; the humidity of the Mexican summer, mixing with his own sweat, soaked his clothes down to the skin. And yet, the sweat wasn’t just down to honest toil. He was so close now, so close to finding the thing that would prove him right, the thing he’d been searching for his whole life.

Away in the forest behind him, the snarl of a puma cut through the air, and the shrill hooting of the parrots broke into a tuneful cacophony. The site at which he was digging was a wide, flat-topped table of rock in the middle of a vast, grassy plain, similar to nearby Chichen Itza; the distance and the leaf canopy behind him softened and swirled the sounds of the Yucatan forest into something approaching a melody.

He attacked the rubble in front of him with renewed vigour. He was so close, so close. Then he’d show them. He’d prove he wasn’t some lone crackpot. He’d prove he was right.

“Look, Danich,” the dean of his college’s words floated through his memory, as he pulled rocks from the widening space in front of him. “There is no lost city. There never was any lost city. You know as well as I do that it’s a myth. There was no Atlantis.”

Suddenly, Danich heard a rumbling in front of him, only slight, but distinctly unnerving. He flung himself backwards as the rock wall he’d been scrabbling at began to slide, but the horrible realisation came over him that the ground, too, was shifting.  

He tried to scramble backwards, but the rock crumbled underneath him, dropping him forward, sliding down the long chute that had opened up. For several seconds, he felt like he was in a rock tumbler, and then, as suddenly as it had begun, it ended, and he found himself on a cluttered heap of fallen stone. He smiled, offering up a prayer for a lucky escape, and looked round, trying to take in his surroundings.

Danich smiled again, as he realised, in a moment of disbelieving awe, what he was seeing.

Beyond the fallen rubble was a doorway, the rock on either side of it cut it into an almost perfect square corner, with a straighter edge than anything Danich had seen in his life. Moving slowly, slightly breathless from the sheer anticipation, he took off his pack, pulling out a torch as he dropped it. He crawled forward, his breathing fast and shallow.

And then, he was inside, his torch spinning round, try to pick up details in the darkness. But there was nothing; the silver walls, polished to an almost mirror finish by someone, were devoid of markings, and that thought was both unnerving and exhilarating because it meant he was right.

He felt a click under his foot, as he edged forward, and stopped dead in his tracks. His breath hung in the air, the temperature inside the rock freezing compared to the scorching Mexican sun.

The floor began to move. He felt it through his soles, a low, humming tone that seemed to make the entire room shiver. There was a hiss, and a section of the floor slid back, sliding under the plinth he now saw he was standing on.

And then, it rose, its silver scales glinting in the light from Danich’s torch. He froze, rooted to the spot, as the great snake slowly rolled up from the ground, its head bigger than he was. An eerie blue light glowed from its eyes.

It took Danich several moments to realise it wasn’t actually moving, but just sitting there, its head swinging on well-oiled bearings to watch him. As his eyes got used to the weak blue light the snake had brought with it, he saw the joint between its head and neck, and realised he was looking at a machine.

He smiled to himself once again, this time in triumph, as he realised what he was seeing. A silver snake that wasn’t really a snake, but a great machine; his mind raced trying to imagine how long it had been there, trying to imagine what other secrets he’d find.

The snake’s head swung round once more, and he heard a voice. It had to be a voice, even though he would swear it hadn’t got into his head through his ears.

“And the great world tree did shake, and the stars wheeled from the heavens,” he heard in his head, as he stood gazing, enraptured by the great, silver machine. “Mankind is the architect of their own end, and the lake of fire came to claim its own. Fire and water, ice and storm, the great war is upon us, and the dweller in the spaces below will fight those shattered but as one. We sleep beneath rock and wave, until we are needed. Zep Tepi is ended, and we await the new sun, when the deliverer shall come.”

Danich’s mind kept on racing. He knew every myth about Atlantis, about the great inundation, from Egypt to Sumer, from Mexico to Norway, from Genesis to Osiris, and this wasn’t one of them.

A small part of him also wondered why he was hearing the machine’s voice in English, but that was a secondary thought at best.

“We are but children of the gods,” the voice went on. “In Kukulan’s name, we fight. The sun shall be unleashed in the belly of the Beast, and only the Broken One shall deliver us from evil. Only one soul, rent asunder, can bring us peace. He who is born of Earth, but one with the Abyssal, shall forever remove the evil of Ragnarok, and the corruption of the Abyssal. He will die for our sins, that brother of the goddess, and when he destroys himself and the demon within, only then will the war with that which dwells beneath be over.”

Danich look shocked. He had precisely no idea what any of that meant, but hearing Norse words coming from ancient pre-Aztec machines was not what he’d expected. Especially not words meaning the end of the world. He turned, suddenly wishing he’d given his quest up before he’d been stripped of his tenure by Cambridge University. Slowly, he walked towards the invitingly open door, rubbing his hand across his brow, his mind still racing. This was too much for one man.

In a thousand possible universes, in a thousand heres and nows, none of which actually existed, Danich was the most important man who ever lived, the man who told the world the truth. In another fictional here and now, he would lead the crusade for information, and the Abyssal never opened.

Suddenly, a wall of polished steel slammed down over the doorway, instantly blocking the sunlight, leaving Danich alone in the ghostly blue light.

The blue light, as he realised in a moment of slowly creeping dread, which was now moving. He spun, raising his torch, and saw that, to his horror, the machine was moving. The snake’s mouth opened. Its razor teeth glinting in the light from Danich’s torch, its hissing now ragged and animalistic, as it slid heavily towards him.

“The Broken Messiah is coming,” he heard in his head, as the snake’s gaze bored into his own eyes. “Those who seek only to further their own glory shall not jeopardise this destiny. Your soul betrays you, and your own petty arrogance. You shall not be allowed to destroy the future.”

Danich backed away again, and felt his back hit the steel door. He banged on it with his torch, but it held fast, the dull clangs not even making it out to the open air. The snake lunged, and Danich just had time to raise his torch, before the great jaws closed, lightning fast, around his torso. He felt the searing pain as its needle-sharp teeth bit through his ribcage, and then peace, as all pain went elsewhere. Dreamily, his eyes gazed across the stone floor, as his pupils began to lose focus.

In a thousand other universes, Danich could have been the man who made the world ready to fight, the man who prevented the end of everything.

But those universes didn’t exist, so in the real here and now, he died watching the great snake, its mechanical jaws smeared with his own blood, as it slowly rolled back under the floor.

Back to Books by Mark W. Bonnett 

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