Not that it was all bad. Such operations on Mars had led to the discovery of this gateway, for instance.
The light finished forming in the sky and a cheer rose up from the crowd, causing Trent to glance over to the media representatives who were capturing it all. And thinking of his father got him wondering who else might be watching. Shrina Collins was the woman who, in some ways, was largely responsible for him being there today. Sending regular men and women through a gateway to the stars was one thing, but sending genetically engineered warriors capable of enhanced speed, super strength, and healing—that was another matter altogether.
Even if the situation went south, they had a better chance of survival. Hostile aliens, if they existed, would have a tough time against these devil dogs. All of that had to do with his breakup from Shrina years ago. The government had since revamped the program, seeing to it that these attempts at control and loss of freedom were taken away, and that no rage-related faults continued. Two Marines approached, laughing, but slowed at the sight of him standing there alone. Mercer was grinning at Trent as if all of that had been erased simply because they were going into space together.
Besides, this was for the best, he often told himself. Why distract himself with relationship issues when he wanted to be the top of the top? Instead, he focused on his training and preparing for their journey. He was likely drunk, as he often was. Trent imagined it might even be her way of dealing with her guilt over cheating on him, like she deserved no better. But if the son of a bitch ever hit her, Trent would be waiting to throttle him.
An awkward silence passed between them and Trent thought they were about to walk off, giving him freedom, when Captains Aarol and Thomas approached, all grins. Both were pilots, and the blue-wing symbols on the shoulders of their space fleet armor were prominently displayed. This reminded Trent of his ultimate goal—go the officer route, become a captain, and fly in the next mission.
Aarol had that quarterback confidence to him, with his perfect hair combed over in a wave.
Thomas was African-American and had a nerdy look to him, one that he often overcompensated for by hanging out with Aarol. Never a good idea. She gave Trent a glance that said she felt bad, or maybe she was wishing she could have that three-way. Men and women stood in a line, checking the plating and internal tubing on their suits.
An inspection team went over weapons and the built-in computers and analysis tools, and then gave them the final permission to set off. Stopping by Sergeant Espinoza and Corporal Brown, Trent gave them a nod and asked if they were ready. Gunnery Sergeant Ellins, the legend of Dubai. He was reminding himself that he was the gunnery sergeant in this little group and it was best not to get into bragging or gossip.
Trent scrunched his nose at Franco. The guy was a loose cannon and had been a corporal twice now. As stupid as Trent felt rules like underage drinking were when applied to the military, he thought a Marine needed to know how to follow rules. If someone decided not to follow the rules at the wrong moment, people died.
While Trent had been lost in thought, Espinoza was busy defending himself, blushing as he tried to convince the other two that he had no crush on anyone going to space with them. When she later showed up in his life, it had been a pleasant surprise. With a sigh, he pushed such thoughts from his mind, wondering what it was about preparing to fly off to space that made him start rehashing the past. At that point he could decide if he wanted to stay up there.
She was a nice girl but sometimes a little too nice. As Corporal Kim spoke, Sergeant Belmes approached and stood nearby, awkwardly, not even turning to acknowledge Trent. You see that one? Loved that movie with a passion… you know, until I grew up. She turned back to Belmes with a raised eyebrow. Trent was called forward, glad to leave the conversation behind. As much as he cared for each of these Marines and would give his life for them in combat, right then he wanted to enjoy the moment without the interruption of small talk.
Since there were no issues with either his suit or his gear, he was approved and given permission to head over to the launch field. The moment had finally come, and Trent was near the lead just behind the colonel as they approached their ships. Seeing the gateway above while walking toward the ship that would take him through it was a different experience altogether. This was neither a test nor another drill.
This was real, and he was about to travel not only through space but into what they were quite certain was another galaxy altogether. Some snippets he could piece together—travels to places that had pyramids like in Egypt, ancient races, and even Atlantis. The bas-relief was a rough rectangle less than an inch thick and about five by six inches in area; obviously of modern origin.
Its designs, however, were far from modern in atmosphere and suggestion; for although the vagaries of cubism and futurism are many and wild, they do not often reproduce that cryptic regularity which lurks in prehistoric writing. And writing of some kind the bulk of these designs seemed certainly to be; though my memory, despite much familiarity with the papers and collections of my uncle, failed in any way to identify this particular species, or even to hint at its remotest affiliations. Above these apparent hieroglyphics was a figure of evidently pictorial intent, though its impressionistic execution forbade a very clear idea of its nature.
It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful. Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cyclopean architectural background.
Wilcox, 7 Thomas St. Legrasse, Bienville St. The first half of the principal manuscript told a very peculiar tale.
It appears that on March 1st, , a thin, dark young man of neurotic and excited aspect had called upon Professor Angell bearing the singular clay bas-relief, which was then exceedingly damp and fresh. His card bore the name of Henry Anthony Wilcox, and my uncle had recognised him as the youngest son of an excellent family slightly known to him, who had latterly been studying sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design and living alone at the Fleur-de-Lys Building near that institution.
Wilcox was a precocious youth of known genius but great eccentricity, and had from childhood excited attention through the strange stories and odd dreams he was in the habit of relating. Never mingling much with his kind, he had dropped gradually from social visibility, and was now known only to a small group of aesthetes from other towns. Even the Providence Art Club, anxious to preserve its conservatism, had found him quite hopeless. He spoke in a dreamy, stilted manner which suggested pose and alienated sympathy; and my uncle shewed some sharpness in replying, for the conspicuous freshness of the tablet implied kinship with anything but archaeology.
Upon retiring, he had had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror.
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This verbal jumble was the key to the recollection which excited and disturbed Professor Angell. He questioned the sculptor with scientific minuteness; and studied with almost frantic intensity the bas-relief on which the youth had found himself working, chilled and clad only in his night-clothes, when waking had stolen bewilderingly over him.
My uncle blamed his old age, Wilcox afterward said, for his slowness in recognising both hieroglyphics and pictorial design.
Many of his questions seemed highly out-of-place to his visitor, especially those which tried to connect the latter with strange cults or societies; and Wilcox could not understand the repeated promises of silence which he was offered in exchange for an admission of membership in some widespread mystical or paganly religious body.
When Professor Angell became convinced that the sculptor was indeed ignorant of any cult or system of cryptic lore, he besieged his visitor with demands for future reports of dreams. This bore regular fruit, for after the first interview the manuscript records daily calls of the young man, during which he related startling fragments of nocturnal imagery whose burden was always some terrible Cyclopean vista of dark and dripping stone, with a subterrene voice or intelligence shouting monotonously in enigmatical sense-impacts uninscribable save as gibberish.
On March 23d, the manuscript continued, Wilcox failed to appear; and inquiries at his quarters revealed that he had been stricken with an obscure sort of fever and taken to the home of his family in Waterman Street. He had cried out in the night, arousing several other artists in the building, and had manifested since then only alternations of unconsciousness and delirium.
My uncle at once telephoned the family, and from that time forward kept close watch of the case; calling often at the Thayer Street office of Dr. Tobey, whom he learned to be in charge. He at no time fully described this object, but occasional frantic words, as repeated by Dr. Tobey, convinced the professor that it must be identical with the nameless monstrosity he had sought to depict in his dream-sculpture. His temperature, oddly enough, was not greatly above normal; but his whole condition was otherwise such as to suggest true fever rather than mental disorder.
On April 2nd at about 3 p. He sat upright in bed, astonished to find himself at home and completely ignorant of what had happened in dream or reality since the night of March 22nd. Pronounced well by his physician, he returned to his quarters in three days; but to Professor Angell he was of no further assistance. All traces of strange dreaming had vanished with his recovery, and my uncle kept no record of his night-thoughts after a week of pointless and irrelevant accounts of thoroughly usual visions.
Here the first part of the manuscript ended, but references to certain of the scattered notes gave me much material for thought—so much, in fact, that only the ingrained scepticism then forming my philosophy can account for my continued distrust of the artist. The notes in question were those descriptive of the dreams of various persons covering the same period as that in which young Wilcox had had his strange visitations.
My uncle, it seems, had quickly instituted a prodigiously far-flung body of inquiries amongst nearly all the friends whom he could question without impertinence, asking for nightly reports of their dreams, and the dates of any notable visions for some time past. The reception of his request seems to have been varied; but he must, at the very least, have received more responses than any ordinary man could have handled without a secretary. This original correspondence was not preserved, but his notes formed a thorough and really significant digest.
Scientific men were little more affected, though four cases of vague description suggest fugitive glimpses of strange landscapes, and in one case there is mentioned a dread of something abnormal. It was from the artists and poets that the pertinent answers came, and I know that panic would have broken loose had they been able to compare notes. As it was, lacking their original letters, I half suspected the compiler of having asked leading questions, or of having edited the correspondence in corroboration of what he had latently resolved to see.
That is why I continued to feel that Wilcox, somehow cognisant of the old data which my uncle had possessed, had been imposing on the veteran scientist. These responses from aesthetes told a disturbing tale. Over a fourth of those who reported anything, reported scenes and half-sounds not unlike those which Wilcox had described; and some of the dreamers confessed acute fear of the gigantic nameless thing visible toward the last.
One case, which the note describes with emphasis, was very sad. Had my uncle referred to these cases by name instead of merely by number, I should have attempted some corroboration and personal investigation; but as it was, I succeeded in tracing down only a few. All of these, however, bore out the notes in full.
It is well that no explanation shall ever reach them. The press cuttings, as I have intimated, touched on cases of panic, mania, and eccentricity during the given period. Professor Angell must have employed a cutting bureau, for the number of extracts was tremendous and the sources scattered throughout the globe. Here was a nocturnal suicide in London, where a lone sleeper had leaped from a window after a shocking cry. Here likewise a rambling letter to the editor of a paper in South America, where a fanatic deduces a dire future from visions he has seen. Voodoo orgies multiply in Hayti, and African outposts report ominous mutterings.
American officers in the Philippines find certain tribes bothersome about this time, and New York policemen are mobbed by hysterical Levantines on the night of March 22— And so numerous are the recorded troubles in insane asylums, that only a miracle can have stopped the medical fraternity from noting strange parallelisms and drawing mystified conclusions. A weird bunch of cuttings, all told; and I can at this date scarcely envisage the callous rationalism with which I set them aside.
But I was then convinced that young Wilcox had known of the older matters mentioned by the professor. The Tale of Inspector Legrasse. The earlier experience had come in , seventeen years before, when the American Archaeological Society held its annual meeting in St. Professor Angell, as befitted one of his authority and attainments, had had a prominent part in all the deliberations; and was one of the first to be approached by the several outsiders who took advantage of the convocation to offer questions for correct answering and problems for expert solution.
The chief of these outsiders, and in a short time the focus of interest for the entire meeting, was a commonplace-looking middle-aged man who had travelled all the way from New Orleans for certain special information unobtainable from any local source. With him he bore the subject of his visit, a grotesque, repulsive, and apparently very ancient stone statuette whose origin he was at a loss to determine.
It must not be fancied that Inspector Legrasse had the least interest in archaeology. On the contrary, his wish for enlightenment was prompted by purely professional considerations. The statuette, idol, fetish, or whatever it was, had been captured some months before in the wooded swamps south of New Orleans during a raid on a supposed voodoo meeting; and so singular and hideous were the rites connected with it, that the police could not but realise that they had stumbled on a dark cult totally unknown to them, and infinitely more diabolic than even the blackest of the African voodoo circles.
Of its origin, apart from the erratic and unbelievable tales extorted from the captured members, absolutely nothing was to be discovered; hence the anxiety of the police for any antiquarian lore which might help them to place the frightful symbol, and through it track down the cult to its fountain-head. Inspector Legrasse was scarcely prepared for the sensation which his offering created. One sight of the thing had been enough to throw the assembled men of science into a state of tense excitement, and they lost no time in crowding around him to gaze at the diminutive figure whose utter strangeness and air of genuinely abysmal antiquity hinted so potently at unopened and archaic vistas.
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No recognised school of sculpture had animated this terrible object, yet centuries and even thousands of years seemed recorded in its dim and greenish surface of unplaceable stone. The figure, which was finally passed slowly from man to man for close and careful study, was between seven and eight inches in height, and of exquisitely artistic workmanship.
It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with undecipherable characters.
The tips of the wings touched the back edge of the block, the seat occupied the centre, whilst the long, curved claws of the doubled-up, crouching hind legs gripped the front edge and extended a quarter of the way down toward the bottom of the pedestal. The aspect of the whole was abnormally life-like, and the more subtly fearful because its source was so totally unknown. Totally separate and apart, its very material was a mystery; for the soapy, greenish-black stone with its golden or iridescent flecks and striations resembled nothing familiar to geology or mineralogy.
They, like the subject and material, belonged to something horribly remote and distinct from mankind as we know it; something frightfully suggestive of old and unhallowed cycles of life in which our world and our conceptions have no part. Professor Webb had been engaged, forty-eight years before, in a tour of Greenland and Iceland in search of some Runic inscriptions which he failed to unearth; and whilst high up on the West Greenland coast had encountered a singular tribe or cult of degenerate Esquimaux whose religion, a curious form of devil-worship, chilled him with its deliberate bloodthirstiness and repulsiveness.
It was a faith of which other Esquimaux knew little, and which they mentioned only with shudders, saying that it had come down from horribly ancient aeons before ever the world was made. Besides nameless rites and human sacrifices there were certain queer hereditary rituals addressed to a supreme elder devil or tornasuk; and of this Professor Webb had taken a careful phonetic copy from an aged angekok or wizard-priest, expressing the sounds in Roman letters as best he knew how.
But just now of prime significance was the fetish which this cult had cherished, and around which they danced when the aurora leaped high over the ice cliffs. It was, the professor stated, a very crude bas-relief of stone, comprising a hideous picture and some cryptic writing. And so far as he could tell, it was a rough parallel in all essential features of the bestial thing now lying before the meeting. This data, received with suspense and astonishment by the assembled members, proved doubly exciting to Inspector Legrasse; and he began at once to ply his informant with questions.
Having noted and copied an oral ritual among the swamp cult-worshippers his men had arrested, he besought the professor to remember as best he might the syllables taken down amongst the diabolist Esquimaux. There then followed an exhaustive comparison of details, and a moment of really awed silence when both detective and scientist agreed on the virtual identity of the phrase common to two hellish rituals so many worlds of distance apart.
What, in substance, both the Esquimau wizards and the Louisiana swamp-priests had chanted to their kindred idols was something very like this—the word-divisions being guessed at from traditional breaks in the phrase as chanted aloud: This text, as given, ran something like this: It savoured of the wildest dreams of myth-maker and theosophist, and disclosed an astonishing degree of cosmic imagination among such half-castes and pariahs as might be least expected to possess it.
On November 1st, , there had come to the New Orleans police a frantic summons from the swamp and lagoon country to the south. It was voodoo, apparently, but voodoo of a more terrible sort than they had ever known; and some of their women and children had disappeared since the malevolent tom-tom had begun its incessant beating far within the black haunted woods where no dweller ventured.
There were insane shouts and harrowing screams, soul-chilling chants and dancing devil-flames; and, the frightened messenger added, the people could stand it no more. So a body of twenty police, filling two carriages and an automobile, had set out in the late afternoon with the shivering squatter as a guide.
At the end of the passable road they alighted, and for miles splashed on in silence through the terrible cypress woods where day never came. Ugly roots and malignant hanging nooses of Spanish moss beset them, and now and then a pile of dank stones or fragment of a rotting wall intensified by its hint of morbid habitation a depression which every malformed tree and every fungous islet combined to create.