May. 31st, 2017

barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
"You have any experience fighting nonhumans, kid?"

I hesitated for a moment, wondering how much I should reveal. "A little bit. Three years ago we took out a wizard in Salamanca going by the name of Diego en Fuego, and before we reached his inner sanctum he sicced some sort of hellhounds on us. They put up quite a fight; we managed to put them down but the Security agents carted off the bodies under wraps before I could get a good look at them."

"Huh," said Molly. "I read through your file last week; you've done great work in Mage Control, by the way; but I don't recall any mention of en Fuego having any sort of summoning ability."

"Yeah, uh, our team got another visit from Security after the mission," I explained, feeling a little embarassed; "they informed us that our official report was required to say that en Fuego had only elemental magic, and that no summoned beasts were present during the entire mission. Special orders from higher up. So I'd appreciate it if you don't tell anybody I told you about the hellhounds."

In the darkness, I heard a case being opened

"What hellhounds?"

"Thanks."

Molly pulled something out of the case and began plucking strings. Under the whir of the helicopter's engines, an ancient-sounding melody formed, at a fast pace in a haunting minor.

"Is that... a banjo?" I asked incredulously.

"Banjo ukulele. It's small. We're allowed a few personal items on missions, right?"

I shrugged, and Molly started to sing.

There is a wild hog in these woods,
Diddle-um-down, diddle-um-day.
There is a wild hog in these woods,
Diddle-um-down a-day-o!
There is a wild hog in these woods,
He'll kill a man and drink his blood.
Run him down, cut him down, catch him if you can.

We tracked that hog down to his den,
Diddle-um-down, diddle-um-day.
We tracked that hog down to his den,
Diddle-um-down a-day-o!
We tracked that hog down to his den,
And found the bones of a thousand men.
Run him down, cut him down, catch him if you can.


"Well that's cheery," I said.

"My da used to sing it to me when I was young, back in the hill country long ago," Molly replied, silencing the strings. "I thought he made it up, but later I learned it's old, very very old. At least Arthurian, maybe older still."

The helicopter touched down with a thump.

"We're here," snapped Molly, unbuckling and standing up. "Eyes open and have a look around."

I removed my blindfold and was dazzled by the bright sunlight. Through the now open door of the chopper I could see desert from horizon to horizon, a few big quonset huts and a variety of tents scattered around the landing pad... and one big shimmering obelisk stretching towards the sky, its true height difficult to estimate in the stark surroundings. Next to it was a pile of rubble that could have been the ruined foundation of its twin.

"Sorry to keep you in the dark on the way here," said Molly. "I figure at this point you're ready to learn a few company secrets, but the exact location of this site ain't one of them."

We stepped down onto the sand-strewn concrete. A small man in a lab coat and dark goggles greeted us.

"Good morning, Captain Clebban. This is the guest you mentioned?"

"This is Jackie, from Mage Control. I figured now's a good time for her to learn a little more about what we do here at Tower."

"Very well. Did you get my report on the field reading fluctuations yesterday?"

"I did. That's one reason we're here. Jackie might learn something useful."

"I see." Lab coat looked perhaps disapproving, but it was hard to tell with the dark goggles. "I shall leave you to it, then. You know your way around the base."

He returned to the nearest quonset hut, and Molly started walking towards the obelisk. I followed.

"What was that all about?" I asked.

"I'll explain in a bit," said Molly. "First, though, let's see... how much do you know about the Deluge?"

"Just the usual story from Sunday School. God creates Man, Man displeases God, God sends flood to drown Man and start over with one righteous family."

Molly chuckled. "That's one way to describe it, sure. Noah, or Noach, or Nuh, or Utnapishtim or Deucalion, depending on where you're from."

As we approached the towering structure I noticed scaffolding covering parts of it, with more workers in lab coats and dark glasses studying it and typing away on smartpads. I noticed for the first time that looking directly at the surface made my eyes feel uncomfortable.

"Do you know anything about the Pillars of Seth?"

"I think you've hit the limits of my Sunday School curriculum."

"Seth was one of the children of Adam and Eve. The story goes that he gathered up all the knowledge of the world at that time, including prophecies about the future of humanity from Adam himself. He knew from the prophecies that the world would soon be destroyed either by fire or by flood, but he didn't know which, so he built two colossal pillars, one utterly fireproof and the other utterly waterproof, and inscribed a copy of all his knowledge on each pillar, that the knowledge of the world would not be lost."

I let out a low whistle. "So this is the accumulated wisdom of the antediluvian world?"

"That's what the hieroglyph-jockeys up on the scaffolds tell me. They've still only just begun to translate it."

"So what happened to Seth?"

"Supposedly he hollowed out a room in one of the pillars, hoping to ride out the end of the world. Of course, there was only one Seth..."

"...and he guessed the wrong pillar?"

"Bingo." Molly gestured broadly towards the crumbled ruins near the surviving obelisk. "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."

"Ozymandias?" I felt a sudden insight. "Did Shelley know about this place?"

"Not directly. He might have dreamed about it. Some other artifacts from this era act as psychic broadcasters under the right circumstances; we don't know if this one does or not."

Molly stopped and took a swig of water from her canteen.

"So why me? What does all this have to do with my experience with Mage Control?"

"You're good at what you do. And like I said, you're ready for a few more secrets. Here's a big one for you: how many times do you think God has destroyed the world and started over?"

I was taken aback. "One? I mean, assuming that the flood myth is true, and that all the different flood myths are referring to the same global event."

"Yeah. That just means one that we were permitted to remember. The Eden story--any creation myth, really--could just as easily be the 'and started over' half of a story that lost its 'destroyed the world' half."

"I... I guess so. But what difference would it make? If the whole world was destroyed and remade, there would be no evidence of the previous world."

Molly nodded meaningfully at the obelisk. "Some things survive." A dark look passed over her face. "Some things survive that shouldn't."

She shook her head, and asked "Have you noticed anything funny about that obelisk?"

"You mean like the way it shimmers, even in places where the sunlight doesn't hit it directly? Or the way it hurts my eyes to look at it for too long?"

"Yeah. And the corners don't add up to the right number of degrees, and rocks dropped in its vicinity don't fall straight down, and the whole mess just don't look right."

"Why is that?"

"Because it was not built using the laws of physics we have today."

"Oh, come on!"

"No, seriously. As far as the researchers can tell, every time the cosmos is destroyed and remade, the laws of physics change slightly. The pillars were made using the laws of the previous version, so they don't quite work the way they should in the current version. The physicsts working for us have figured out ways to tell how many times the 'destroyed the universe' counter has been incremented by examining antediluvian artifacts like this one. Apparently statistical analysis of numbers in various sacred texts supports their findings."

"So how many times?"

"We are currently living in universe number five hundred forty seven."

"Five hundred forty seven??"

"At least."

I ran my fingers through my hair in disbelief. "That is one indecisive Creator."

"Ayup."

(That's as far as I got so far.)

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