To whomever might discover these stones,
The remains of the metallic suit next to these inscribed stones, if it has not been more than a couple hundred years or so, should have electronic copies of what is carved here, as well as electronic recordings of the events leading up to my death. This is the year 2014 AD, as measured by the Christian calendar. I was a human, homo sapiens, named Zeke Collins. I resided in the state of Georgia, in the country of the United States, on the world of Earth. I was a super-powered individual, known to the public as ‘Strangest.’ My wife is Anne Collins, if she is still alive. My son is Danny Collins. My ashes, if I have properly instructed the suit, will be stored in a clay-sealed left gauntlet, stuffed into the right boot, which itself will then be sealed with clay, and placed in the body cavity of the suit, which will itself, in turn, be packed with clay. The suit will then heat itself slowly and cure the clay.
If not too much time has passed, please get these ashes to Anne, or whatever other relatives of mine may still exist. If possible I would like to be buried next to Anne. If not possible, feel free to experiment to your heart’s content with most of what’s left of me, but sprinkle a little bit on the ground, on Earth, please. I’d like to think that at least some part of me will one day make it back home. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Now that I know that magic, souls, and gods exist, I know that things like that matter.
The creator of this place, at least I assume he was the creator of the place, was known to me only as Ahmed. He has many children, I have been told, but I know the names of only two. One, a male roughly four hundred years old, with the appearance of an eight-year-old boy at the time of my death, is named Ali. The other child is named Matty, and is around a thousand years old, if I remember correctly. At the time of my death, Matty had the appearance of a young woman in her late teens. No matter how much time has passed, these two might still be alive. Their father was sentient before the Earth’s moon was formed. He had stories about that time, I was told, though I never had the opportunity to hear one. As far as I’m aware, Ali and Matty are immortal. Even if humans no longer exist, they could both still be around.
On that note, no matter how long it’s been, if you publicize these inscriptions, I would appreciate it. I’m giving you something interesting to find, do the dead guy a favor, please? If Ali and Matty are still around, and you bring this find to their attention, I strongly suspect that you will find yourself on the receiving end of some good fortune. Even if I might seem to be some sort of prehistoric, ignorant savage to you, my ramblings will probably be amusing enough to find their way into a few books. Ali and Matty, or someone who knows of them, might discover references to this place. I am absolutely certain that they will want to know if this place is found, as it is the place where their father died.
Ahmed and I killed each other here, but we were both victims. Ahmed was the greater victim, he was forced to kill me, and had apparently killed many others before me, as a result of a geas laid upon him roughly seventy-five million years before my birth. I still don’t know the entire story, but from what I’ve been able to piece together, the Troodon gods were some truly nasty, vindictive deities. The Troodon civilization was extremely bloodthirsty by human standards before they created their own gods with soul wells, by accident. The Troodon were pack predators, every one of them was a magical practitioner, but they had problems working with technology. They apparently created the Svartalves to better combine technology and magic, to create more potent weapons. He never confirmed it to me, but I suspect Ahmed helped the Troodon create the Svartalves. After Svartalve-made weapons allowed the Troodon race to annihilate themselves in a matter of a few minutes on one terrible day, the Troodon Gods were a wee bit angry, and used their power to curse the Svartalves, and place a geas on them. They did the same for Ahmed.
Ahmed was forced to become the guardian of the Svartalve’s eternal punishment. For seventy-five million years he made certain that no being removed or adjusted the curse or geas on the Svartalves. He was forced to do so by geas, but disguised his forced behavior behind a false hatred of Svartalves. I say false hatred, because of how the Troodon gods chose to punish him. His geas required that anyone who discovered that he was being controlled by the Troodon geas would have to be killed, slowly, and, if possible, by Ahmed in the shape of a Svartalve. This would include family and friends. He was required to kill slowly. Since Ahmed was allowed to deaden all my pain before he started attacking me, this requirement to kill slowly was clearly not to cause pains to others, but to cause pain to Ahmed. Imagine being forced to slowly dismember your own family and friends. He was required to kill in the shape of a Svartalve, I suspect, because Ahmed had a hand in their creation and likely cared about them. From what little I’ve been told about them, I’m confident that the Troodon gods wanted to twist Ahmed’s care into pain, to make one thing he cared about the tool he used to destroy others that he loved and cared for.
I never had the chance to even ask, but I would be willing to put money on Ahmed somehow protecting the Svartalves and allowing the Troodon to die on that day when the Troodon mutually annihilated themselves. Perhaps they might have even sheltered in this very same pocket of space where you find this inscription, and perhaps evidence of my own existence.
Me? I just got in the way of a being who was literally a force of nature. My power prevented Ahmed from altering my mind when it was active, and restored memories I experienced when I was powered, if the memories were removed while I was not powered. It sounds a bit complicated, but after I was introduced to Svartalves through an unfortunate mistake involving the very armor I brought here, Ahmed was not able to prevent me from slowly building up an understanding that Ahmed himself was probably the warden of the Svartalve prison. It was always clear that Ahmed was strongly opposed to freeing the Svartalves. He was even, apparently, known to kill in defense of the Svartalve geas. This seemed extremely strange for a being so easily capable of editing people’s memories to resort to killing them, especially when I remembered our first encounters, and it became very clear that individuals with my resistance to his mental editing abilities were very rare.
I came here expecting to possibly die, thinking that perhaps Ahmed was so afraid of the potential of Svartalves, or so hate-filled towards them that he might kill me just for suggesting that the Svartalves might have another geas added to their present geas. I imagined a new racial geas to be added to the Svartalves which would require them to become protectors of the dimensional layer that Earth resides in. Any attack on Earth would result in a simultaneous counter-infiltration of Svartalves into the attacking dimension. They would first disable the technology or magic generating the cross-dimensional portals, and then prevent any cross dimensional portals from ever being created to leave the attacking dimension ever again.
Using the Svartalves as an antibody analogue to prevent different layers of dimensions from warring seems to be a good idea to me, even now, provided that it wouldn’t destroy the universe or something – people who know something about magic would surely have to look into the consequences of my suggestion. The biggest problem with the possibility of enacting a secondary geas after Ahmed’s death being that without Ahmed’s existence and constant efforts holding them back, I strongly believe that the Svartalves will be free of their geas and curse within a few years at most, and trying to convince them to accept another geas of a highly restrictive nature will likely be the next best thing to impossible. Perhaps they might be willing to take on this task without a geas?
Another option I considered when I first started contemplating Svartalves, but was certainly not in my plans for this visit, was to allow the Svartalves to be bound by a much less restrictive geas which would require only that they maintain an effective oversight board, to monitor the efforts of Svartalves and tinkers and protect all races from runaway magic and technology. A geas requiring them to monitor themselves by reporting all of their projects, would go a huge distance towards protecting the rest of us from Svartalves and tinkers. This could, perhaps, be a cross-racial geas, and allow human tinkers to be bound into the geas as well.
There’s a pretty good chance that I just gave some practitioner a headache by mentioning a cross-racial geas. I’ve never heard of one before, and I am not a practitioner, so please excuse me if I just gave you a headache. But back to the discussion. Such a geas, however it’s structured, provided that it’s a global geas (or two of them) across all Svartalves and tinkers, might allow human tinkers to be freed from the mental illnesses they were genetically designed to be burdened with. When I imagine what tinkers and Svartalves might accomplish if they could act almost-freely, with oversight to protect the rest of us, I cannot help but sigh and wish I could see it. I’ve seen a small taste of what Svartalves can do.
Personally, I cannot even imagine the magnitude of the effort that would be required to implement such an oversight board, but from my experience with Svartalves, if it’s presented in the right way, and made to seem suitably challenging, they might well demand that they be given such a geas. I would be extremely surprised if they were not cognizant of the danger they would represent to themselves, racially, if they are freed of all limits.
Those who read deeply and are good at seeing potential problems might note that if Svartalves are so damn smart, how is any sort of oversight system going to control them? There’s a very simple solution for that. Have the Svartalves themselves, under geas, design a foolproof oversight system with as little bureaucracy as possible. Do not forget the bureaucracy part. Even I can imagine a system that is so heavily controlled with rules that one must follow under geas that doing any tinkering would be impossible. Several of my competitors had business models a lot like that, I think. Ha!
Yes, I am trying to use words scratched into rocks to shape the future here. The Rosetta stone managed it, in a way, right? I came here hoping to create change, knowing I might die, but hoping I wouldn’t. I have created change, or at the very least I have made it more possible for change to happen. Unfortunately, I’m dead now without any opportunity to shape that change, but I’d like to get my two cents in anyway. Even if you’ve already done all this, or found a better way. I guess I’d just like to think that maybe I can offer just a little more to you future folks before I die.
It’s been two months now, and I’m fairly certain nobody is going to get here in the few days I’ve got left. Since I’ve started hallucinating regularly, I’ve directed the suit to inscribe all three sets of the third and fourth stones with my personal goodbyes. Then the suit will seal the stones with amber, clay, and glass, before burying them under a cairn of stones. They should remain readable for thousands of years that way, but you know that by now, at least how the messages were protected, anyway. I know I already did this once, with letters I know you will have gotten, but that was then, and this is now.
It’s almost impossible for me to start this letter. I am terribly sorry that I had to leave you alone the way I did, and I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me for knowingly putting myself in harm’s way, and giving you no warning that I might not return. I can only hope that our last night together will be a memory you will cherish as much as I am cherishing the memory of it as I write this. If anyone ever re-discovers this place and you get an opportunity to read this and the other two stones, you will understand, I hope, that I could not allow even the smallest chance that Ahmed might come after you because of what I told you.
It will probably come as no large surprise to you that Ahmed was Ali’s father, even though I wasn’t allowed to tell you that. You’ve always been good at figuring out people, and Ali and Ahmed had several mannerisms they shared, even if they looked nothing alike. I knew Ahmed was killing people he didn’t need to kill, but I didn’t know exactly why. I now know I could have at least warned you that I was going to do something dangerous. It hurts that I could have warned you, but didn’t.
I won’t tell you to find another man and remarry, because that would probably just make you mad. I will say that I wouldn’t disapprove, as long as it isn’t Carl Duncan from my homeroom. The way he stared at you made me want to punch him way too many times in my senior year.
If Carl reads this, too bad. It was never any secret that I didn’t like you.
I think we did a damn fine job raising Danny, but the job’s not done yet. I know that your father and I had our differences, but if you need an older man to give Danny advice about marriage things, I would certainly suggest your father over my father. Your parents have always had what seemed to me to be a better relationship than mine. To be fair, if you think he needs some guidance from an older man about work ethic, I think we can both agree that my father would be a better choice.
If my father, or your father, is still alive to read this and get upset, tell them to get over it. In fact, if they are reading this, I can tell them myself. Get over it. I’m dead. You’re both good men, but you took slightly different paths to get there.
Again, I don’t have words to explain how much it hurts me to leave you like I did. There are no apologies that will really matter. All I can do is sniffle and wipe the tears away as I dictate this to the suit.
I love you.
Son, as I said above to your mother, I am very sorry I was not able to warn you in any way that I might not return. I was very focused on your mother the last night we spoke, and I’m sorry that I didn’t leave you with better memories of our last interactions than I did. It wasn’t anything bad, of course. Neither of us said anything we would regret saying, but damnit son, I want to give you a quick hug and thump you on the back so much right now, just a quick man-hug. Just a last moment to see that you really are a grown man, even if you are a couple inches too short, and clearly cheat to be able to run faster than me.
Other men might be as proud of their sons that I am of you, but I’ll damn well guarantee that none are prouder. You’ve seen what I said about your grandfathers above. I’ll stand by that, but if either of them passes away, and you need advice from someone who’s a man, who’s been there, done that, and loves you, either of them will give you sound advice, even if the other might have given better, had they still been alive.
If your mother is still alive when this is found, please be there for her as much as you can. Don’t you dare give her a hard time about re-marrying. Unless it’s Carl Duncan who went to school with me. If it’s too late for that, and you’ve given her a hard time about someone other than Carl, apologize to her, NOW (unless he’s a real creep that’s not Carl). If she married Carl, you have my permission to give her a hard time, but only if Carl’s still a creep. He might have changed. I doubt it, but I’ll leave it up to you to make that call.
I hope that things work out between you and Jane. I suspect that they will, since you have been dating for four years, unless some new variable pops up and messes with your relationship. My disappearance might cause that, but I hope not.
As for the business, I think I cleared the path for you to learn to run the company and eventually take over after you prove your competence. I will warn you though that I can see it in you, the same thing that I have in myself. Be very careful that you don’t invest too much in work and too little in family. I went that road myself for a few years, and you might not remember it, but I damn near lost you two over it. It’ll sneak up on you too. Watch for it, and tell Jane to watch for it too. I guarantee she’ll see it before you do.
The Proudest Father Ever.
Mom & Dad,
Thank you for always being there when you were needed. The horse trailer was a kick in the ass, but sometimes a young man needs a kick in the ass. I’m pretty sure that was a necessary kick in the ass. I told you once that I didn’t hold it against you that you kicked me out of the house. I tell you now, that I thank you for doing it.
You raised me and made me a good enough man that I was able to raise a good man myself, probably a better man than me, if I want to be fair about it, but that might just be the father in me talking.
(I know you’re reading this Danny, don’t get a big head, or Pops will have to take you down a notch. He can probably still throw a bale of hay farther than either of us, at least at the time I’m writing this.)
Thank you for all the kissed bandaids, and iced tea, the puppies and foals, the hard work that taught me that two good things come from hard work – rewards and more hard work.
Thank you for the discipline I tried so hard to avoid learning, but managed to get taught anyway.
Thank you for letting me sleep in your bed with you oh so many years ago when the monsters under my bed started acting up.
Thank you for showing me how important caring is.
Thank you for showing what it means to be strong but still love one another. If you two weren’t what you are, I would be less than what I am, my marriage would be less than what it is, and even Danny would be less than what he is, I’m sure.
You two built the foundation for me. Even though there are a few flaws, on top of that foundation, I built a strong family, a strong company, and right here, in this place, I brought peace to an ancient, tortured soul.
I don’t want to die. I’m still young. I had a power that would let me live forever, but it’s turned off. Perhaps that’s for the best. Otherwise I might be trapped in this place, forever, alone.
Thank you, again, for making me the man I am, even if that sounds a little over-proud.
Your Loving Son
Ezekiel Grant Collins
You were a good partner, and despite all the frustration on both of our parts dealing with one another from time to time, I think I would be right to call us friends.
I truly wish that I could have been kinder at the end, but if you investigate the writings on the stones, you will understand, I hope.
The Svartalves mentioned being able to scry millions of years into the past. I hope it hasn’t been that long, but if it has, and you’ve used scrying magic to be able to read the stones, or whatever, I will ask you to scry the past here and see your father’s last moments. What he did to you when you were last together shouldn’t be your final memory of him. His final request should be.
I barely knew you at all, but thank you for the compliment on the first day, and thank you again for giving Fifi to my wife and son, for their protection.
I wish I had gotten to know you better. (No, not like that.)
I didn’t see the exchange between you and your father when he ejected you from this place, but I hope it wasn’t like what Ali experienced. As with Ali, above, you really need to read the other stones and scry to see your father’s last moments.
Thank you again.
This has taken forever.
My single remaining hand cramped, again, and I dropped the claw. I had hated to desecrate Ahmed’s body like that, but the suit had needed it to sew me up. Painfully, I angled my wrist, and picked up the claw again.
I had asked the Svartalves to include a wilderness survival program in the suit, in case I was ever away from civilization, but didn’t realize what the Svartalves would consider wilderness survival. I certainly wasn’t expecting any sort of wilderness medical programs. Why would I have ever needed them? I was more worried about staying warm and having shelter in human form
I realized later that not only was it good for me that the Svartalves had included wilderness medical programs, but it really did make sense. I couldn’t heal other people with my power.
When the suit had finished Ahmed, it had automatically shifted into wilderness survival mode and activated the medical program. It removed itself from me, one piece at a time and reassembled itself next to me, which I had absolutely no clue at all that it could do. I thought I was hallucinating at that point, and was amused at my own near-death creativity.
As soon as it separated itself from me, the suit immediately put my feet up on Ahmed’s corpse to raise them a little, and then used a shredded section of its arm armor to saw through the connective tissue holding Ahmed’s left metal-shod killing claw.
Then it turned around to me with the claw in one hand, and used the claw to cut a crude needle out of another shredded section of itself.
After it examined the needle with a single close glance next to an eye sensor, it put down its two tools, and reached for my head, and started pulling out my hair. I remember laughing because it was too surreal. I wasn’t feeling any pain.
I was so far gone I barely remembered anything about the next two days, but when I next was conscious, the suit had moved me into a crude lean-to. Neither of my legs would move. My left arm was immobile as well, though I could control its thumb, and twitch the fingers. My right arm was functional below the elbow. I thought I was paralyzed, but then realized I could move my big toe on both feet.
My neck worked, and my shoulders, hips, and waist, so I was able to raise myself up a little to look at myself. The suit gently pushed me back down with its right forearm, missing the gauntlet, and used its left gauntlet, still attached, to raise the missing right gauntlet to my mouth. I was a bit confused, but my body understood as soon as the wetness hit my lips. I started slurping water out of the gauntlet before I realized it was being used as a cup.
After a few seconds, the suit pulled the gauntlet away, and advised. “More water in one minute. Vomiting may cause involuntary muscle movements and reopen wounds.”
“Why can’t I move my arms and legs?”
The suit, in a patient, calm voice replied. “All major muscle group tendons in the legs, left arm, and upper right arm were severed at the joints.”
Crap, crap, crap.
“Why didn’t I bleed to death?”
“No major blood vessels were cut. You lost a significant volume of blood, but not enough to kill you.”
I looked at the wounds on my left arm at the base of the palm” What did you sew me up with?”
“Your hair, using the claw from the enemy biped to cut holes in your skin, and a needle made from the shell of this armor to pull the hair through.”
It didn’t answer. I spent the next four hours quizzing the suit about how we could improve my situation, and there really wasn’t much. The suit had already woven fern mats to keep my naked body out of the mud. I couldn’t get back into the suit, because its motions would reopen the wounds.
There was zero chance of restoring any tendon connections. Hair simply wasn’t strong enough unless the limb was held perfectly immobile, and the suit couldn’t guarantee that unless I occupied the suit, which would leave the suit unable to protect and provide for me.
The pocket, according to the suit, didn’t have any other animals, or even insects, that it had found, though it hadn’t found any borders yet. There were some microbes that were in the vegetation, but none that seemed interested in human chemistry. The suit had used some sort of combination of its gel shock-protecting layer and pressed fern juice to bathe my wounds. They didn’t grow infected as they healed.
I was very hungry, and the suit hadn’t found anything edible for me. I hated myself for doing it, but I asked if Ahmed’s body was edible. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, he would have been poisonous to me. Ahmed’s blood had apparently created a nasty welt on my foot, just from a small amount, when the suit tested it’s chemistry against mine. The suit had buried Ahmed immediately after determining he was poisonous, just in case it might attract predators.
For the next two days, I had nightmares about Ali and Matty breaking into the pocket and finding me gnawing on one of Ahmed’s drumsticks. The hunger finally started to diminish. After a week, the suit had still not found a food source, and gave me two choices. I would live thirty days one way, and perhaps as long as four months the other.
I chose to survive for four months.
It was probably the right choice. It let me get a lot done.
Not being able to run is driving me completely mad, I swear.
As I lay reclined in a cleverly constructed chair made of fern rope, palm-like wood, and fern padding, I scratched a few more times on the stone sitting on the crude table next to the chair. With Ahmed’s claw, even as weak as I was, the stone flaked off easily, requiring only the barest pressure. I had ruined two stones by cutting too deep.
I carefully set the claw down and, without moving my forearm much, turned the palm-sized square stone that I had carefully been shaping, tapping it so the stone flakes fell out of the grooves, and then read the inscription.
“To his children: I’m sorry, and I loved you. ~ Ahmed”
It was the only way I could think of to possibly honor my promise to Ahmed, now that it was fairly certain that nobody would come in time. I had wanted to make it myself. Today was the last day that would be possible.
“Please lift the memorial up to my face, at three inches from my nose, with the inscription facing me.”
The suit picked the stone out of my hand and put it in front of my face. I closed my eyes and blew hard. After a second, I opened my eyes and looked at my work carefully.
Not perfect, but pretty decent.
“It’ll do. Place it on Ahmed’s grave. Tomorrow I will have you duplicate it a few times.”
The suit was silent. It I didn’t ask it questions it could answer factually, it had no interest in conversation. Apparently, despite all the extra features they included that I hadn’t asked for, the Svartalves hadn’t seen fit to hide a full-fledged AI in the suit anywhere. I checked. Several times. Talking to myself was getting pretty old.
The suit returned and I clenched my fist a few times. A little dribble of blood came out. I apparently had nicked myself with the claw when I dropped it.
Thank you Ahmed, for the painless death.
“OK, now cut the next piece, as planned.”
The suit picked up the claw, carefully adjusting its grip. I turned my head to the left, and a few seconds later, felt pressure at my right elbow, and my right forearm started rocking back and forth, slightly for a couple seconds. A second after the rocking of my arm stopped, my elbow was pulled to one side and I felt warmth on the elbow, followed by a hiss and the smell of bacon. My stomach growled.
I watched the suit walking over to the drying rack next to the fire.