Other Earth stories, with Zenith: The Perfection Stone Jun 18, 2017 23:48:57 GMT
Post by dans on Jun 18, 2017 23:48:57 GMT
Indus River Valley, Punjab, India
Indus River Valley, Punjab, India
The Waltyngfeld Expedition!
‘The Waltyngfeld Expedition!’ Several times a day, H. Alton Waltyngfeld, PhD Archaeology, Master of Classical Archaeology, F.S.A, Dunsworth Lecturer on Vedic Civilizations, Oxford, Senior Research Fellow of the Royal Archaeological Institute, First Fellow of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, Associate Fellow of the Sussex Archaeological Society, and Leader of the Waltyngfeld Expedition, repeated that name in his mind, smiling with satisfaction. ‘The penultimate achievement of my career!’ Then, if he wasn't busy with camp administrative work, he might spend a few minutes daydreaming, reliving his fantasy for the future: his triumphant return to Oxford, bearing proof that his unorthodox theories were correct, universal acclaim among the professionals in the archaeological community who currently ignored him as a parvenu due to his late start in the field, perhaps the sinecure of a department chair for a few years, followed by ultimate retirement to his ancestral manor in North York, to spend the rest of his years as Baron Silverhall, occasionally venturing into the heather moorland to investigate the lives of the Beaker folk who had lived there during the Bronze Age. And then he'd have to snap his attention back to the present, and willingly deal with all the details required of the leader of an archaeological expedition. ‘The Waltyngfeld Expedition!’
While in his 20s, Horatio Alton Waltyngfeld, Baron Silverhall, was a British military officer based in Pathankot in the north region in the Indian province of Punjab. It was there that he'd met Saroop Kapoor, his future wife, who had introduced him to the legends of the lost First Temple of the Creator. He'd married Saroop shortly before his return to England in 1918, and brought her back to his ancestral home of Silverhall. Her recounting of these legends so fascinated him that he returned to school to pursue a degree and then a career in Archaeology. After 20 years of expeditions, interrupted only by his recall to active duty in World War II, beginning as the lowest errand boy when he was a graduate student, followed by roles of increasing importance, his seniority and command experience during the war convinced Oxford to put him in charge of his own expedition: the Waltyngfeld Expedition. The Expedition's charter was to research the Indus Valley Civilization, but Alton was really searching for the lost First Temple of the Creator.
His passion for archaeology had cost him his wife 10 years ago, as Saroop and half of an earlier expedition had fallen to a bug which had been confined in a tomb for thousands of years. And it had cost their daughter Victoria (named for Queen Victoria, born in 1930), who grew up as an archaeological vagabond instead of a minor member of the British nobility. Victoria had grown up in the company of academics. Travel to five different continents taught her the strength and skills to deal with the many hardships of often poorly-equipped expeditions in remote, primitive and dangerous locations, introduced her to the profound satisfaction of adding new knowledge to history, and left her strong, confident and self-reliant, proud of her exotic beauty and her heritage, able to interact easily with people of many cultures around the world.
At least he'd finally got a chance to reintroduce his daughter to the culture of her mother. His in-laws had little use for him – he'd stolen their daughter and she would never return to them. But they were delighted to meet and get to know their granddaughter. Victoria could easily have spent 27 hours a day, surrounded by relatives who would hang on her every word, eager to hear stories of life around the world, if she hadn't set limits:
No one was allowed into camp or their work sites without invitation, and she would spend as much time with her relatives and friends as her duties in camp allowed.
So far, the arrangement had worked out well, and even benefited the expedition, as local guides had willingly led her to important sites that they would never have shown any other outsider. And shortly, information provided by Victoria's relatives would save Alton's life.
Saroop's retelling of the legends of the ancient First Temple of the Creator, legends that she'd learned growing up, fascinated Alton. As she'd heard it, the First Temple was an ancient Shrine to the Creator of All. Centuries ago, those followers who tended it had hidden it mystically during one of the many wars that had ravished the region in antiquity. They never returned, victims of that same war. Since ancient times, thousands of curious adventurers had searched for it, fruitlessly, as the legends proclaimed that secreted in the First Temple was the Sapūranatā Stone (the Perfection Stone, or the Stone of Perfection), which would give its bearer great powers, but none had succeeded. Every adventuresome youngster in the region claimed discovery of the Temple, and usually described it as sitting on the shore of a small lake in a remote mountain valley. But none were ever able to find their way back, no matter how well they claimed to have marked their path. Saroop thought that making up an exciting story of your discovery of the First Temple was just a rite of passage for her peers, and none of them had ever actually seen it. But she had believed strongly in the existence of the First Temple.
That rumination was Alton's last comprehensible thought for several hours. At that instant, he heard faint screaming, quickly growing louder, and he rushed from his tent.
"Flash Flood! Evacuate to higher ground!" Victoria was screaming as she raced toward the camp.
Flash Flood, the bane of exploring mountainous regions! Suddenly, in a period of seconds, without warning, a bone dry valley could become a raging tsunami, a wall of water moving too fast to escape, inundating and sweeping away everything in its path. Though it wasn't monsoon season yet, Victoria's grandparents had warned her that floods were not unknown at this time of year. With that in mind, the Baron had set camp on top of a small hill in a shallow valley, well above what appeared to be the high water mark from the most recent floods. By now, he could hear a faint rumbling, which quickly became a terrifying roar, and then he could see a muddy tidal wave roaring toward him, pushing before it a churning mound of detritus.
Almost all the expedition workers had been sitting near the mess tent, having supper, and by now most of them had reached the highest point in the center of their encampment. But all Waltyngfeld cared about right now was his daughter. She was returning from a visit to her relatives, and she'd taken a shortcut through the deepest part of the small valley. She couldn't possibly get to safety in camp in time. He watched her huddle on the lee side of a large boulder, which broke the wall of the first wave and saved her from being smashed by the churning debris, but then water closed in on her from both sides like the jaws of some unholy monster. She disappeared, and he would have rushed to her aid and likely his own death, but two of his fellows grabbed him and dragged him, kicking and screaming, to the top of their small hill, now an island and still shrinking.
Victoria squeezed as far back under the overhang of the boulder as she could reach. If the flood surge had caused the rock to roll, she would have been squished before she could drown, but the large pile of debris jammed against the upstream side of the boulder suggested it had stoically withstood many prior floods. When the water crashed over her, she tried to hold the boulder as long as she could, even when the water rose over her head, to let the first wave and the rubble it was pushing sweep as far away as possible. But she was quickly torn free, and struggled to reach the surface. Just as her head broke into the air, something big and solid and moving very fast barely brushed against her; she frantically wrapped her arms around it and clung desperately. She was clinging to what might once have been a telegraph pole, until it was snapped off by the current. There was so much turbulence that she couldn't consistently keep her head out of the water. Though she occasionally clawed her way back to air, she was being battered by water and debris, and the water was cold, and see was starting to become woozy, and a part of her accepted that she didn't have much longer to live.
Suddenly the turbulence and battering all but ceased, although she was still being carried at tremendous speed, and then her head again cleared the surface of the water. She saw that the flood had carried her over the edge of a cliff, and now she was falling. She had a quick ironic thought 'I survived the flood, but now I'm falling to my death.' This realization was the last straw, and she faded into unconsciousness. If she'd still been thinking coherently, she would have thought what happened next was a near-death hallucination, as she thought she saw the mist rising from the valley below take the form of hands and reach out to catch her.
‘I'm alive!’ was her first thought. Then she opened her eyes. ‘Or maybe not?’ She sat up, and realized that she felt amazingly well, for someone who'd almost been battered to death - but how long ago had that been? And where was she? She was wrapped in damp, heavy fog, so thick she could barely make out her feet. From the fog around her came a muffled roar; it sounded like a million people all whispering at once, and she thought that if she concentrated she might almost make out individual voices. The whole environment combined to disorient her; she hardly noticed that her clothes were in tatters and she was covered in mud, or that while she was sopping wet, the temperature was very comfortable. ‘Can this be the afterlife?’
She yelled for help, but no one answered, except the constant background roar. This place was very spooky, whatever it was!
With nothing else to distract her, she concentrated on herself - to convince herself that she was all there, and still alive, but how could she be sure? She gradually became aware of a strange sensation in the middle of her forehead; nothing unpleasant, but as if she might feel if she were lying on her back and someone put a shilling there. Without moving, she gradually became convinced that something had attached to her forehead, and she reached up to find out what it was.
She brushed her hand across her forehead, flicking back her unruly hair. At that exact instant, the chaotic whispering around her somehow synchronized into an eerie voice, eerie because it sounded exactly like her own. This mysterious voice spoke three words, powerfully and confidently, before the millions of whispers lost their syncopation and fell back into a chaotic babble. "I become perfection!"
Something like a miniature comet materialized in the air above her head, and moved around her in a spiral, descending to her feet. It moved too fast to follow, and left behind it, for a fleeting instant, a glowing tail that encompassed all the colors of the rainbow, almost as if painting the air. In another fleeting instant, the rainbow cocoon was gone - and Victoria was… changed.
The tattered rags of her camp outfit were replaced by a red and black Shalwar kameez, the traditional Punjab suit. A tight black top with sheer black long sleeves, red decoration on the scoop neck and wrists, slightly longer than the waist, over red salvar pantaloons with black floral patterns, open toe sandals with black and red straps and tall wedge. Her long, straight hair was swept back from her face. In her hand she held a dupatta, a long red scarf with patterns of gray, pale blue and black.
Floating nearby she saw 4 silken scarves, two red and two black, swirling sinuously around her, and she knew instinctively that these would follow her as she moved. There was still an unusual sensation in the middle of her forehead; she investigated cautiously with her hands and was stunned to discover what seemed to be a third eye. She blinked, and she could feel her new eye blink as well.
Perhaps she was still in shock, but she accepted this discovery without screaming - at least, not just then. 'If it's a new eye, I should be able to see out of it,’ was her first thought. She tried to concentrate her attention on the unusual sensation in her forehead and as she concentrated, her vision seemed to blur, as if she were trying to look at two photographic negatives, one on top of the other. She closed her normal eyes, and her vision cleared again - but it wasn't the same. The fog had vanished!
She was floating several inches above the floor in a vast room. Even with her new vision, she could only see one wall. The floor was a vast checkerboard, with each square made of some different material: dark granite, polished to a mirror finish, bare dirt, gravel, grass, wood, even precious gems and watery squares, each the size of a cricket pitch. At the corner of every square, there was a pillar, and the pillars were as varied as the floor: rough, unfinished rock, beautifully finished fluted columns of stone and plaster, bare wood, polished metal, and materials she couldn't identify. Far above her, she could see a shadow which she knew must be the ceiling of this tremendous room, and somehow realized that it was as varied as the floor and pillars. And as far as she could tell, except for her, the room was empty.
She was near a wall, which was constructed with similar variations to the floor and pillars – and one section of the wall was actually a waterfall. It was the waterfall which was making the whispering voices that seemed to come at her from all directions. ‘I must have come in through the waterfall,’ she pondered. ‘I wonder if that’s how to get out of here – whatever here is!’
When she opened her original eyes again, the pictures in her mind were confusing. She concentrated on seeing through her normal eyes, and the fog returned; she concentrated on seeing through her new eye, and her clear vision returned. 'I can see what is hidden!' she thought with excitement.
She then remembered that she was floating, and somehow that realization broke a spell - and she fell about a foot to the floor. She landed lightly on her feet, hardly even noticing the jolt. As she looked down, she realized that her head was much higher off the floor than ever before - in this new form, she was at least two meters tall, and the wedges in her sandals added another 10 centimeters!
As she stood, surrounded by fog, wrapped in thought, it came to her that she had found the First Temple of the Creator - and had somehow been gifted with the Perfection Stone, which was reputed to grant great powers to its possessor. And she realized that her thoughts seemed somehow brighter and sharper, and some things which had puzzled her before were now clear. And then she remembered her father and the flash flood!
"WHAT ABOUT BILL AND DAD?!!?" her mental voice roared at her. "I have to see if they're OK!"
With no conscious effort on her part, she was flying, rocketing at the wall of water, and before he could react, she smashed in to the thunderous flow - and realized that she could hardly feel the tons of water crashing down on her.
"I fell to get here; I need to go up to get out," she reasoned and as soon as she formed the intention, she was rising. The torrent of water was no hindrance, and as she rose, she had a few seconds to think. "Something like this must have happened to Major Power to give him super powers," she realized. "And now it's happened to ME!"
She quickly broke out of the stream of water into open air. Below her were vast billows of mist, splashed high into the air from the base of the falls. She realized she couldn't see the huge building she had just escaped, even though the enhanced vision of her new third eye saw through the thick cloud of mist as if it were crystal-clear air. By now she'd reached the top of the cliff over which the waterfall roared, and she started to drift up river. "I have to hurry - every second might count!" she screamed in her head, and her flight speed increased. It only took her a few seconds to reach the site of the Waltyngfeld Expedition.
Victoria's family had warned her about flash floods in this riverbed, so the camp had been set up on a hill, which was now surrounded by water. The water level was already dropping even as she approached. She was thrilled to see the people standing on that small island - she could see that everyone else from the expedition was safe. She'd been coming home from a family visit when the flood hit; everyone else must have been in camp. A minor miracle on the same day as a major miracle!
She landed on the growing island, announcing as she did: "The waters are receding, and you should be able to leave this island safely in a short time."
She was surrounded by expeditioners and a loud babble of surprise, excitement, and wonder, but two strident voices overrode everything else. Her father: "You came from downriver - have you seen my daughter?" Her fiancé, Bill Mandel, an American: "Do you know if Vicky is OK?" It was clear that not even those who knew her best recognized her as Victoria.
‘What if I'm stuck like this forever?’ the horrible thought flashed through her mind, but before it could vanish, she caught it and examined it more closely. ‘Would that be so horrible? Taller, and stronger, and I can fly, and see that which is hidden. On the other hand, I'd be a three-eyed freak.’ She decided not to deal with that issue unless she had to.
"I'm Zenith." She hadn't planned to say that - the name had just popped into her mind, but she liked it. She noticed that her father jerked as if startled to hear that name. "I just assisted a young lady from the water, a mile or so downstream. I was going to bring her with me, but she insisted that I put her down - she didn't need any more help, and that I should hurry here and help other people." It sounded kind of lame, but it was the best she could come up with on short notice.
But they bought it - her father and Bill, limp with relief, smiled and hugged each other. "That does sound like her," Anton agreed, "never wanting anyone else's help!" He turned back. "The water is receding - we should be OK now," he told her. "I don't know where you came from, but there are others who need your help more than we do right now."
"I'll be off, then," she agreed. She lifted from the ground, planning to fly upstream looking for others that needed aid, and then she'd circle around unseen to where she'd 'left' Victoria - and figure out if she was indeed Zenith for life.
"When you're finished, why don't you come back and tell us more about you - where you're from, and how you got your powers?" Bill shouted after her.
Victoria wasn't sure she liked his intense interest in another woman, but surely, his intrigue was natural, wasn't it? "Probably not today," she declined. "But you'll probably see me again. I'll be around for a long time, and I'm not shy." She turned her attention to the waning waters upstream and flew off.
Using her third eye to be sure she didn't miss anything, Zenith traced the flood upstream. Along the way, she rescued several people, gently placed the bodies of several others she was too late to help out of reach of the waters, and saved a lot of animals as well. Eventually, when she was sure she'd reached the limit of human habitation in the area, she turned downstream and retraced her path, searching carefully for anyone she'd missed on the way up. And then, finally, as she approached the expedition campsite, it was time to take care of herself.
She rose until she would be just a speck in the sky until she’d passed the campsite, then dropped back down and raced farther downstream. She reached a spot where the flood had turned to follow the valley and left mounds of debris against the wall. It seemed a likely spot for Victoria to be thrown to shore by the ravening flood. But how would she get Victoria back?
She landed, found a place to sit, and thought. The last thing she’d done as Victoria was to rub the middle of her forehead, where her new eye now was. She closed the new eye and cautiously ran her hand across the spot, flipping a stray lock of her hair back at the same time. Nothing happened. She’d heard the waterfall speaking with her voice at the same time, so she tried that: as she rubbed her forehead, she spoke, loudly and clearly “I become perfection”, while at the same time concentrating as hard as she could. Nothing!
Just because, she clicked her heels together 3 times and chanted “I want to be me!” with no results. “I want to be Victoria!” had no effect either. She thought furiously, and several other phrases came to mind, but none did anything.
Just as she was beginning to think she was stuck as Zenith forever, it came to her. “I become Victoria!” The change was similar to the last time, though reversed. A miniature comet, with a swirling tail of all the colors of the rainbow, spiraled upwards around her, weaved a shimmering cocoon of light around her, a cocoon that vanished almost before she became aware of it, and Victoria was back!
She cautiously rubbed her forehead – as far as she could tell, there was nothing there, and simply rubbing didn’t cause her to change. Speaking the words “I become perfection” by themselves didn’t do anything either. She hesitated before trying them together. What if it worked, but this time she was stuck in the new form? What if she changed to yet another form? And perhaps as bad, what if she DIDN’T change?
She realized that she might put it off, but sooner or later, she was going to experiment – so it might as well be sooner! A touch to the middle of the forehead, a flick of her finger to throw back her hair, "I become perfection!" Again, the mystical rainbow comet, and again, she was Zenith. Her fears of being stuck in her new form were groundless, as well, as she found she could change back easily.
'I could be a mystery hero!" she thought in wonder. She dismissed the thought of becoming a mystery villain – she just hadn't been brought up that way. "Or, I could just go back to being Victoria, and forget about the whole Zenith thing." Honestly, she found that last option quite appealing. She was going to have to give the whole mystery hero thing a lot of thought before she made any decisions.