“We are nearing the destination. Changing our approach to hide us behind their moon. They can detect us now if we are not careful.” The guide prodded the holographic console, altering the trajectory of their ship without any effect of inertia.
“I don’t see why we need a guide get us on the ground,” said Daude.
The guide looked back at Daude and the others. “The latest security measures are adapting very rapidly lately.”
“How so?” asked Vafir.
“They–” The guide stopped short when he noticed the perplexed looks on the faces of his passengers. “You don’t know who ’they’ are do you?” After letting the silence confirm his suspicion, he continued. “They call themselves humans. Organic creatures of simple intelligence brought in about fifty thousand years ago. Oh and before I forget, make sure you take your translator capsule before you get off. You don’t want to be speaking like us down there. Humans are vocally monotone. Um, oh yes, they have advanced recently to reach into space and littered it profusely. Needless to say, they can now see us if we are careless.”
“I don’t remember hearing of any humans being set as guardians of the old ones,” said Daude with a scowl.
“The old ones are a dying myth,” retorted Vafir.
“Then why did you tag along?”
“To prove you wrong of course.”
Daude snorted in response and averted his gaze.
“Sooo…” said Forvi, breaking the silence. “Why don’t they mention humans on R113–er, Earth?”
“Yes, remember to use their naming from now on. It’s their planet and it will rouse less suspicion that way. As to your question, Earth is not interesting. At least it wasn’t up until recently. With so little interest from the council, they didn’t see the need to update the records. I mean it probably says that the current defensive measure is a massive ice mass. At least the reptilian beasts of the previous era were a better deterrent.
“Luckily, Earth doesn’t get many visitors. Just the occasional doubter. Sometimes those who are simply curious about the prison of the old ones. There are others who wish to ensure the security is tight. And those who wish to attempt to awaken the old ones are caught long before even they know they wanted to. By the way which are you?”
“Well I’m definitely the curious one,” said Forvi.
Vafir said nothing for as long as he could. The stares from Forvi eventually drove him from his silence, sighing heavily. “I’m the doubter.”
They all turned to Daude who never looked away from the screen showing the ship coming to rest in a small clearing in a densely wooded forest. “Must I have to fit one of the remaining stereotypes? Why do I have to fit one at all?”
“I bet your checking the security,” smiled Forvi.
“This is it,” interrupted the guide. The screen flickered away from the outside camera and to that of Earth’s map. Pointing to a region on the map, he continued. “We are here. Do either of you remember what place this is called?”
“Uh, Kandahar?” asked Forvi.
“Canada,” corrected the guide. “Specifically Manitoba Canada. It’s important to remember. If you forget, just say you are tourists. The humans will accept that.” The three gathered their things and stood at the exit of the ship. They received many more instructions before they finally stopped out into the crisp Canadian air.
The guide waited until the took the last step off the ramp of the ship. “This is where I part. I’ll be back in seven Earth days. Don’t be too disappointed when you meet the old one.” The door hissed closed before they question him further. The ship lifted into the air silently and popped away instantly. The three wasted no time in heading to their next destination.
Hours had passed until they reached an otherwise insignificant lake. One scan of the lake confirmed their hypothesis, a small cavern resided deep at the bottom of the lake. Daude took an eager step into it before Vafir yanked on his arm.
“Look. Out there, someone sits on a tiny island. Think it’s a human?”
“Might be,” said Forvi. “My human disguise still holding up? Good. We can’t use our regular rebreathers then. We have to use the ones that humans appear to use. The scrubs?”
“Don’t matter what they are called,”said Daude. “Let’s just get these on and get going.”
They struggled fiercely to get the suits on. Daude and Forvi had to help Vafir get the tank attached to his back. Neither of them heard the low rumble of the approaching motorboat.
“Greetings fellows,” called an older man from the boat, looking then up and down. “Looking for a swim?”
The three, startled, looked at each other. “Uh, yes. Just a swim.”
“You with the Ministry?”
“Ministry? What do you mean?”
“The weird scuba suits and all that fancy techno gizmos you got there,” he said, pointing to their partially covered gear.
Vafir stepped in front to obscure his view. Daude splashed loudly to his side, distracting the old man. “Uh, no. We are, uh, under water swimming. Looking for caves. Know of any?”
“Caves,” laughed the man. “Heavens no. No caves around here, not this lake anyway. I don’t dive though so take that with a grain of salt.”
“Take a grain of salt?” asked Vafir.
“You what now?” Asked the man in return, the wrinkles increasing on his brow.
“Where is the lake the deepest?” Asked Daude, once again distracting the old man.
“Oh, uh, it’s just a little off center, closer to the east bank. I can take you there if you wish. Save you from having to swim there yourself.”
“That would be kind of you,” said Forvi.
The gear neatly packed away during the distraction, they awkwardly piled into the boat and sat patiently as the old man drove to only where he knew to go. They politely listened to him blabber on about the new motor his son has purchased for him and he quiet it was. He stated baseless facts on how this has an effect on the fish. None of this made any sense to the three and they were relieved to be at the location the old man had indicated at last.
One by one the jumped over the edge and sank into the water. With each jump, the boat rocked harder and harder until finally the old man began spouting curses and flailed his arms in anger. Forvi looked up at the boat as it started to fade from view. As it settled down to a gentle sway, he continued on with the others, knowing their human friend was safe.
The swim down did not take long, but it was dark at the bottom of the lake. The lights on their headgear lit up the floor for a small distance. Daude pulled out his flexible tablet and held it out in front of him. The surface he could see was reflected in a wireframe representation on the tablet. Turning slowly, he surveyed the lake bed all around him. Finding nothing, they continued on.
“Hello? Does this? I can speak in this mask. Good. Can you hear me?” Said Forvi at last.
“Yes.” Replied Vafir.
“So do you honestly hope to find nothing?” said Forvi at last.
“I didn’t say hope. Honestly, I don’t know. I had no idea that humans existed so I don’t know what to think.”
“I’m surprised the council would slip on updating information on Earth.”
“They are a useless bureaucracy,” said Daude coldly, still scanning the floor.
Forvi gasped. “They’ve kept us at peace for millennia. Hardly useless.”
“History is written by the victors right?”
“Why are you here if you are so cynical of the council? Why work on the security measures of this place?”
“I like to point out there flaws. They run things horribly. What better way to improve than to have someone reveal your weaknesses.” Silence once again followed until Daude saw the tablet reveal a blocked cave entrance. “Over here.” a few moments of clearing the entrance and they saw the way in.
The cave stretched on for what seemed like forever. Forking and merging with other passageways. Daude motioned for Vafir to release his device. A tiny flashing red light split into a hundred smaller lights and took off quickly in every direction. They gathered around Daude’s tablet and watched the cave structure appear. Reach probe further mapped the cave system. One probe found a path that led straight down until it vanished from the screen. The three looked at each other briefly before setting out for that deep lone tunnel.
“This must be it,” said Daude. “The probe didn’t make it this far.”
“I think I see the end,” said Forvi. The dimly lit cave floor brightened as their helmets illuminated the small area. Forvi stood frozen, staring at another tunnel, too clean cut to be a natural formation.
“What’s the matter?” Asked Vafir. “I thought you were excited to see an old one.”
“What about you? I thought you didn’t believe.”
“Haven’t met one yet. I can still doubt.”
“Enough talk,” spoke up Daude. “We are close.”
The walk was short but slow, the pressure from the water still present. A glow ahead flickered inconsistently. It was then they realized the water mysteriously ended held back by an unknown force. Daude took the first steps beyond the threshold.
“It’s ok. We don’t need the helmets here.”
“About time,” sighed Vafir in relief.
“Who disturbs me,” boomed a deep resonate voice.
They all stood still, glancing around with their eyes only. The sound originated somewhere deeper in the cavern, closer to the source of flickering light. Daude once again took the first step towards the light to get a better view. The massive object blocking the light from them shifted. A single eye came into view, peering at them.
“Are… are you a great old one?” Asked Forvi, voice quivering.
“It is as you say,” the voice boomed back.
“How are you awake?” Daude asked.
“The humans, with their radio waves.”
“And you sit and do nothing?” Said Daude, annoyance creeping into his tone. He walked around to get a better look at the source of light. “What are you looking at?”
“Humans call it television. This screen is the internet. Vastly entertaining.”
“That’s it? They lull you to laziness with screens?”
The old one groaned and returned to stare at the television.
“How did you get these to work down here?” Asked Forvi.
“I always could interpret their signals. This is easier.”
Daude threw his hands in the air in disbelief. “Did they lull the others too then? Are all the old ones as lazy as you now?”
“Oh, no. But passage to them are barred.”
“For what purpose do you wish to know?” rumbled the old one.
“Uh. Ensuring their security is intact,” responded Daude.
“You cannot hide your motives from me, not that I care.”
Daude’s face flushed.
“Such sorrow. You carry a heavy burden. You would make the choice, I can see.”
“I’m here to look at the security,” snapped Daude, looking nervously behind him at Forvi and Vafir.
“Yes. I’m sure you are. Very well. There is an old one in the place called the United States. The humans there are aggressively defensive. You will not find success there. Another is blocked by poverty and the diseases they carry. You best avoid that one. A third is under a place known as Chernobyl, now heavily irradiated. There is one, however, to which the only barrier is that it’s location has been lost. The humans call this place Atlantis but even they no longer know where that is.”
Daude stepped forward but before he could speak, was interrupted by the old one.
“I know what you will say. It is futile. I will not help. Now if you the don’t mind, I would like to return to my shows. I have Reddit posts to make.”
The boat swayed slightly off the coast of the European shore. Daude, Vafir and Forvi were once again suiting up to enter the deep water. The self proclaimed Atlantis expert and human navigator rambled on about his Atlantis theories, proud that their current location was discovered by him alone. The three nodded politely, not wanting to give it away that they were not listening.
“I apologise for the interruption but we must get going,” said Vafir. They jumped off one by one again but this larger boat did not rock like the previous one. They reached the bottom without issue.
“What are you looking for Daude? The guide is going to be back later today. We must be ready.” Forvi said.
“This is the last possible location of the mythical human city. I must make sure I check thoroughly.”
“This is nonsense. We already met an old one and it was already a letdown.”
Daude looked around then at his tablet, straining to correlate something he couldn’t see. Looking back and forth until he slipped the tablet onto his back. Extending his hand, he said “Forvi, the excavator.”
“Aren’t you listening?”
Daude’s hand remained extended.
Forvi tossed the tool to his feet. It barely traveled deep in the water. Daude was forced to walk over to pick it up, letting a sigh out in the meantime. The use of the tool kicked up a huge cloud of dirt. When the cloud was pushed aside, an odd cylindrical some structure was unearthed.
“What is it?” asked Forvi.
“I don’t know. But it leads down. I suspect this was a tunnel into the ground in this Atlantis place. This was flipped upside down.”
“Enough!” demanded Vafir placing a firm hand on Daude’s shoulder. “We’re leaving, now.”
Daude smacked the hand away. “Leave then.”
“You’re no security specialist are you?”
“I can’t let you continue.”
“You know that each old one is awoken differently?”
Vafir grasped at Daude and the two wrestled violently, kicking up the dirt again. Forvi could only hear the occasional grunt over their comms intermixed with heavy breathing. A gurgling sound followed by silence.
Cautiously approaching through the sandy fog, he found Vafir grabbing at his throat, helmet off somewhere on the ground. He rushed over and motioned that we was about to share his helmet. They exchanged the helmet several times until the dust settled and they spotted Vafir’s helmet.
Reunited with each others helmets they looked around for any sign of Daude. Calling him over the comms proved fruitless as well. They saw a whole now existed where the human cylinder was discovered. Looking at each other, they dropped down.
The water was fairly clear on the bottom and they could see the silhouettes of the ruined buildings of a list society. The sense of dread they both felt kept them from admiring the view. They noticed a small dust trail kicked up by Daude moving quickly to an unknown location.
The trail was easy to follow and they eventually found Daude once more, standing alone in an empty chamber.
“It’s over Daude. There’s no old one here. We need to go,” said Vafir. “I’ll overlook you trying to drown me if we just go.”
“What’s this about?” Called Forvi.
“Revisionist history. The council doesn’t give a damn about me. Or my people. Wrote our genocide out of the history books. All in the name of peace. Took away my second family and left me for dead.”
Daude sniffed loudly a few times from within his helmet before continuing. “Twelve children dammit. I had to bury twelve of my children. I wanted to expose them and get justice but the higher I went up, the more corruption I found. I wanted to end it all several times. But then I learned of these great old ones and the fear they brought. I learned all I could until I figured out where they are and how to get here.”
“We can help, Daude.”
“That’s kind of you but you have no idea how many friends have said that to me and either abandoned me or wound up dead. I’ve given up. The old ones will return and they can sort the rest. I’ll see if they can spare you two.”
Daude switched off the light on his helmet and he vanished into the darkness. Vafir and Forvi rushed forward but could not find Daude. Forvi tripped over something only to see that it was Daude’s helmet. Vafir called out and pointed away from Forvi. There in the distance they saw Daude kicking furiously. But before they could approach, his movements stopped and his body relaxed.
Dread filled the two as the light in the chamber faded to complete blackness. A low rumble reverberated within the chamber. Eighteen glowing amber eyes blinked, casting unusual shadows along the walls.
“Sacrifice,” growled the great old one.