Inspired by western/space opera, Red Rock Canyon Nevada and a rhinestone encrusted duesenberg, as suggested by Rebecca Goldman
The dust was part of life; red dust from the twisted arcs of rock, dust from the plateaus, which entered your nose, mouth, and dried your skin. The canyon had more wildlife then the surrounding desert areas, the tufts of green that carpeted the ground, and the striking blue sky created such a contrast against the rusty rocks, making the landscape breathtaking.
I tasted it for the first time on a breezy June day. Stepping out of the transport, I loved it immediately, despite the dust, the glaring heat and whipping winds. Everyone goes to Mars for red rock but the Earth deserts are phenomenal.
We were there for – what else? – Archeology. Earth had been void of human life for centuries, allowing the luscious foliage and animal life grow abundant once again. It was the beginning wasn’t it? Remember how exciting it was to rediscover Earth? Did you watch on the television, as the first transport landed in what used to be San Francisco? Strange to think that city was a fulcrum of culture. Buried under two hundred years of wild growth, there was hardly evidence that humans lived there.
We’d actually gotten to Red Rocks via San Francisco; an Archeological hub had been set up there, as well as New York City, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro and Lima. Smaller teams such as mine would then splinter off into places least known to us. Towards the end of our time on Earth there was hardly an area not scorched by progress, however the deserts of Earth were probably the least exploited.
There was some issue with us exploring such untouched territories; the Earth Protection League was adamant that we use old means of living. It reminded me of the camps on Thransic; all canvas and open fires. The desert has a mean streak, you have to be tough and you have to have patience. The eight of us were scientists, but we had also spent time in severe climates, in areas with savage beasts or even unfriendly bipeds. We each carried a stunner and our caution ended up being well founded. A few times we had to kill the large, evolved mountain lion. What used to be a smaller, loosely related to a pet cat was now quite big and very ferocious, more like the lions of Africa. It was kill or be killed out in the desert, a lesson I learned all too well.
I don’t know if you remember, but all this exploration was started because of the Maps. The Grand Library on Odessa was going through a renovation and they uncovered a vault with original maps of Earth…ah, you were too young? Well, that was almost more exciting then the transport landing in San Francisco. We were frontiersmen and women again, getting to explore what once our race had called home.
I fell in love with Earth the second we landed but it was the Red Rocks of Nevada that stole my heart. T’was was not the most popular endeavor, most people wanted to explore the cities where it was more exciting; so ours was a small group, five scientists and three assistants. Calvin was unofficially more of a historian than anything else, knew all corners of Earth living. Officially though, he was an expert in geology. We spent hours together; finding samples, studying them. Then there was Rhonda, the only other female. She and Vale were the bone docs, and Parker was the environmental archeologist. It was a dream come true for me, no distractions, no noise, just us, dirt, our make shift labs and our observations. The long winding walks accompanied by our cameras and the excitement at discovery. We all got along for the most part, but Vale’s second job was liaison to the greater hub in San Francisco. One of those men who want the center stage and all the control, he tended to be more of a pain in the ass than an asset. Always reporting back on his computer, it sometimes felt like we had a spy in our midst.
I was working on samples I’d collected one day; if I remember correctly, it was samples I’d pulled from two hundred feet down. See, I had a large cylinder of soil and was systematically going through it all to see what had, and hadn’t grown over the years, see there were these microbes…oh, no? Right, this ain’t about science. Should be, but anyway, it was that day that they came. I remember seeing a group of coyotes heading our way, slinking around like they were being sly. I was getting nervous and couldn’t concentrate when in the distance we heard a strange roar. It was not of an animal but machine, like a chug of an engine. The coyotes pricked their ears and began running towards it; I’m telling you these animals were not scared, until they saw IT. We thought it was alien because of how it shone and glimmered. That day the sun was bright and so hot we had to create shade with tarps, so this ‘thing’ quite looked like a star on Earth. We all stopped what we were doing, all of us astounded at what we were seeing. The coyotes must have been blinded because they ran away fast.
This apparition, it winded its way and then stopped next to one of the transports, it stopped in the shade the transport provided. Out of the sun we saw what it was; a vehicle. Yes, an automotive. I did not know what kind of vehicle it was but I’d studied pre-Galactic humans as an undergrad and had seen pictures of the absurd way they used to get around. Imagine, it took them days to travel from one side of the United States to the other, and, AND they used fossil fuel! Don’t know what that is eh? Imagine if we used the secretion that bones turned into of the long ago dead Uthlics that lived before us on Odessa? Yes, I know its crazy. But that’s what they did. Their version of Uthlics was called dinosaur. I have no idea to this day how that thing was still working. It was something I’d wanted to find out but…the way things went, thousands of questions were left unanswered.
We hadn’t had vehicles like that since, well, since late 2000s and even then they looked much different. I mean, you have to understand, this was a relic for people who lived in the 2000s, for people who lived in the late 1900s! For us it was like seeing cavemen come alive! The early evolution of human, don’t they teach you nothing nomore?
Calvin was the first to approach the car. He got to the – wha? Oh, why was it so shiny? Did I not mention? This automotive - a duesenberg we later found out – was covered; I mean every inch of it, covered in rhinestones. Yes, rhinestones. Well, I can only surmise it had to do with keeping the animals away. The way the coyotes reacted it seemed a smart thing to do.
Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, Calvin, he reached the car just as the door opened. I felt like it took minutes for the door to open but logically I know it was seconds. It seemed an eternity watching the boot step onto the dirt floor of the canyon, and even longer as the large, lanky body unfolded out of the car.
We have evolved, this we know, but to what extent we did not fully comprehend until I saw this man exit the automotive. He was different from us and yet we were both considered human. I’m talking, back; way back even before we were spaceborn is how he looked. His fingers weren’t as elongated as ours, his eyes set closer in than ours and they were smaller too. He wore a tattered suit and his hair was long but neatly tied back in a ponytail.
Calvin stood there for a moment and then extended his hand to the man, who looked down on it, paused and then shook it. I remember all this in such clear detail because it, and what followed were the most extraordinary things that ever happened to me.
As they were shaking hands, the driver’s side opened, and out stepped a woman, with long black hair, high cheekbones and a fit body. She too had stubbier fingers, smaller and close set eyes. There is no other explanation; they in no uncertain terms were from the time in history before us, way before us.
She walked around the car and Calvin bowed to her, and she curtsied to him and then opened her mouth. What came out was beautiful enough to make me cry. Her voice was as beautiful as an Arsp’s. No, I don’t exaggerate, it was able to transcend us into a realm of feeling no human has ever been able to do. She sang with sweetness and soon the man joined in, every bit as moving as she and together they did some kind of ritual song. When they were done we stood in silence for moments and when they began to look around at us, confused, we began to clap. There wasn’t one person that started it; we all did, wanting to show our appreciation for this gift of music. They looked even more confused but they did see our smiles, and smiles I guess will always be universal as a symbol of happiness and friendship.
Mind you we were way out in the middle of nowhere, but we showed them what little hospitality we could by offering water and protein bars. It became clear they wanted us to go with them. Parker had no interest; the assistants had no seniority so it was assumed that Calvin, Rhonda and myself would go but then Vale, slimy old Vale, decided because he was the liaison to the main branch he had to go. Which meant Rhonda would have to stay back. She was sorely pissed about that; she was more of an archeologist than his pompous pencil -pushing ass. But he had the final say so Rhonda and Parker stayed behind with the assistants. Our singing friends handed us each a pair of sunglasses, the shine of the car would have been too much to withstand for long. We got into the back seat of the automotive and set off deeper into the canyon then we’d ever gone before.
The ride was bumpy, and I’m putting that kindly, and it was long. We didn’t speak and neither did our hosts but the man in the passenger seat would look back at us and smile from time to time. Where the sun was in the sky I’d deduced we’d been traveling for two hours by the time we stopped. The woman pulled the car into a cave where we took off our sunglasses and handed them to the man, got out of the car and looked around. A normal cave, so it seemed, except for a humungous steel wall sealing the rest of the cave off. Vale touched the steel; he knocked on it and shrugged. Looked like the same material used to make our transports, the same steel used to build and destroy Earth hundreds of years ago. It began to move, this giant wall, and that’s when we realized it was a door, or gate. We followed our hosts in and what lay behind that door? An entire world; it was like market plus city streets plus a theater performance. I mean, the houses were tall and narrow but built into the rock behind them, the streets were wide enough for wagons to pass through but off of ‘em were narrow alleys with clothes lines strung between. Calvin excitedly told us that this was a mix between what San Francisco and Florence (a city in Italy) used to look like.
There was natural light coming in from above, it was not like we were in a dark cave at all; but very thin netting covered the mile wide openings. I almost wouldn’t have noticed except I saw the sun light bounce off one, creating a twinkle. I wondered if it was to stave off predators trying to come in that way.
But none of this is the astounding part. The real crazy thing was that no one was talking, everyone was singing. I mean everyone. At first no one noticed us so they went about their business; kids played games in the street, people greeted each other, and it was all in song, beautiful, heart wrenching song. As we walked through people started to notice us, and their music would trail off, soon creating a wake of silence behind us.
Calvin, Vale and I waved and extended our hellos, which were received with smiles. Many people just stopped what they were doing and followed us. I don’t blame them, they must have been as surprised and awe struck as we’d been only a few hours ago.
We finally reached what was clearly the center of town, and what must have been their capitol building. It was built into the rock like all the others; the magnificent steps leading to the front door, which was made of carved wood, leant to the entirety of an impressive building. Inside the hall was simple, a beautiful long carpet, the kind you can buy on Prafikin, woven with colors and patterns, led us to another door, smaller but still elegant. Our hosts opened the door and ushered us in.
I cannot explain what it was like going into that room. It was time travel, the antiques, the smells; I just don’t have the words to make you understand it all. There were things I’d seen in books, the tables and chairs and chesterfield, the cabinets and even the pictures, it was as if someone had re created what a room on Earth would have looked like before we became spaceborn.
Behind a behemoth desk - all made of wood, and not the kind of wood we know on Garmala, it was the wood from trees they have on Earth. I cannot honestly tell you I knew which trees they used to make the furniture, but it was well crafted and done by hand. Behind that desk a man rose and it was obvious someone had run ahead to tell him of our arrival because he was not as surprised as everyone else. Curious, even awed, but not surprised.
He came forward and like everyone thus far he began to sing. Must have been written on our faces that we did not understand him because he trailed off and looked questioning to the two who’d brought us here. They shook their heads. He knit his brows and then led us to a corner of the room where there stood a machine with a round thing on it. Calvin again got excited and explained to us what it was, it was called a record player; it was how they played music, starting in the 1800s. It’s popularity died out, he said, as better ways of recording music became the trend but that music lovers up until the end of the 2000s would collect records. There was a museum of ancient musical instruments on Odessa that had a few record players and even some records but because they were dear, no one was allowed to touch or inspect them. Calvin reverently touched the record player, placing the needle onto the disc. Orchestra first and then the singing, in the same style these people were using.
The man, who must have been their leader, watched as Calvin spoke, fascinated with the way we were communicating. He pulled out the record cover of what we were listening to and handed it to Calvin. Calvin held it up to show us. It was written in an alphabet, one of the same ones we use today, but I did not recognize the words. Calvin explained that it was Italian. Which made sense, the streets looked like old Italy so why wouldn’t they speak Italian. Calvin went on to explain that the record was an old version of Opera; a form of theater in which the characters sung everything, there weren’t no talking. It became clear to us over the next few hours, as we wondered this city in the rock, as we met its inhabitants, that these people were not time travelers but more appropriately, they were humans trapped in time.
There had been rumors, when humans left Earth that there was pockets of people who’d stayed behind. It’d always been more of an urban legend. No real scientist had believed that because there weren’t no way they could have survived. So we thought. But these people had done so, and through some form of evolution – or devolution? – they had forgotten how to speak and only sang in Operatic style. I don’t know where or who or how it all began but the evidence in front of us suggested that they had continued old ways of living, not from the 2000s but from the early 1900s. It was an archeologists dream come true.
Finally it was getting late and we made it clear to our hosts that we should go home. Calvin absolutely refused to leave, he was in his own personal heaven, but Vale was eager to go and I wanted to tell Rhonda all about it. So Calvin stayed behind and Vale and I left, promising to be back the next day.
Have you ever taken a life? No? Well, don’t take the chance to change that. It is something that never leaves ya, the haunting is so bad sometimes…not even a bottle of whiskey can claim back my sanity.
When we got back to camp it was dark. Everyone came out of their tents to see us, happy that we were returned and excited to have a chance to see the strange humans again. They sang us a sweet song before they left; I think it was a good-bye from one of their records.
We all piled into the mess tent and Vale and I told of everything we’d seen and heard and of course that Calvin had stayed. Now, you remember we were scientists and researchers and this was a goldmine of epic proportions and everyone wanted a piece of it. Vale wanted to take it immediately to our superiors but Rhonda and I in particular, felt it important to keep this hidden. As soon as them higher ups knew about this the sooner we’d be cast aside and then who knows what would happen to the people. We convinced him, or so we’d thought, that we should do all the research first, then go back with our findings. As for studying them, we would do in a way that would not harm them, or make them feel like lab rats. Only those that were consenting would join in studies, and only a few of us at a time would go into the strange world.
I needed to relieve myself before heading to bed, everyone was leaving the mess tent and I detoured towards our improvised latrines. The dawn was just breaking. What I would give to see that again. The pinks and oranges sharply contrasted with the blue of the sky and the red of the rocks. As I said, I went to the latrines while everyone else went the opposite direction. Which is why I was the only one who saw him. Vale was walking in the direction from where we’d come; towards what we’d been calling the lost city. On his back was his pack and I knew for certain his computer was in it. I had no doubt Vale was going behind our decision and contacting someone about our discovery. Vale, see, he was in it for the money, plain and simple. Always. And fame, boy did he like his mug on the cover of a magazine. That’s probably why he was on the team; to bring in the money. I never trusted Vale and I wanted him to give him a piece of mind so I caught up with him.
I asked him what he was doing, where was he going? He told me it wasn’t none of my business and I told him it was. He became agitated and threatened me, telling me to go back and forget all this or I’d be in trouble. I never saw violence in my life, and I haven’t experienced it since, but that early morning he hit me. He hit me hard and I went down. He towered over me and kicked me in the stomach. I believe he would have done more damage had I not stayed still despite the utter pain in my abdomen. As I lay there, trying not to move, trying not to puke, I saw that he began to run. Well I just up and sprinted. He saw that I was in pursuit and ran faster but see, I was fit back then and young, so I kept up with him, despite my aching ribs. I guess that’s what adrenaline does. When it became clear he wouldn’t outrun me, Vale turned and started to charge me, screaming that I would pay for getting in his way. As he charged he took out his stunner and I had seconds to take out mine. I pointed it at him and he stopped, pointing his at me. There we stood, aimed at each other under the bight blue sky, against the rich red rock.
I have an eagle to thank for my life. I saw it out of my periphery so it’s loud cawing didn’t startle me the way it did Vale. He looked up and I pulled the trigger. The stunner was set to bring wild and large animals down, not humans. The voltage was too high and I hadn’t thought to bring it down and even if I had I wouldn’t have had time. I pulled the trigger and Vale was shot with more voltage than his body could handle and he went down. His body twitched until all life left him, and I waited until he was still. I could have saved him, but I didn’t. I waited until he died before turning back. I think I lost some of my spirit that day.
When Rhonda and Parker awoke it was afternoon, remember we were all getting ready to sleep as the sun came up. I hadn’t slept. I told Rhonda and Parker what happened and we feared the worst for our rock dwelling, operatic friends. It was unanimous. We would never go back to where the strangers lived. If we truly wanted them to survive no one else could know about them. Ever.
Our friends came to pick us up again but instead we sent a note back with them to give to Calvin. It took a while and a lot of pantomiming but eventually they got the idea. We gave Calvin twenty-four hours to come back; otherwise we were leaving without him.
You from one of the assistants didn’t you? I always knew at least one of ‘em would talk, eventually. We’re getting up there in age, and I heard Rhonda died last year. I suppose one of ‘em would have wanted someone to know what really happened out there in the wild desert, before time forgot us as well… I’m just grateful it’s taken this long to get the attention of the authorities…now you want to lead another expedition. I don’t know what you’ll find, part of me would like to know if they survived, if Calvin survived, if he even got our message. But the other part of me hopes you never find them. They don’t deserve to be lab rats and both you and I know this time you wouldn’t be able to hide their existence. Give Calvin, if he is still alive, this letter, will you? Promise me you will.