Area 54 - This article is part of a series.
Grey clouds, looking like long bundles of soot filled sheets, pressed their gloom down onto the otherwise pastoral setting of the Abbey. A young man sat at an uncomfortable bench, waiting. His drab overcoat pressed against him, with collar pulled up, shielding him from the worst of the damp chill that permeated every aspect of the day. Dark clumps of hair hair stuck to his face, blending with the black plastic frames of thick glasses. Gloved hands held a newspaper, a bold headline pronouncing peril with the Gemini 8 mission far above them in space. Though his head was bowed down, the man’s eyes were looking over the top of the paper, fixed upon the closed doors of the Abbey.
A dark gap appeared between the doors, growing as they were pushed open by a tall robed man. With a glance towards the sky, he surveyed the courtyard, lingering his gaze on the man at the bench. With a sage nod, the robed man disappeared back into the Abbey. The faintest of lights illuminated the inner sanctum, resembling distant flickering stars.
The man on the bench folded his newspaper, and tucked it under his arm as he stood, and strode forward towards the open doors. Pausing at the steps, looked behind him, scanning the empty courtyard. With a deep breath, he entered the Abbey.
The tall robed man that had opened the doors was moving around the front, lighting candles. There were two or three people, dressed in black, kneeling at the pews. The young man awkwardly removed his overcoat, draping it over his arm. The robed man glanced at him, smiled, and moved towards another row of candles.
At the front of the chamber was a coffin, it’s lid open. His shoes squeaking against the wooden planks, the young man walked down the aisle, fixing his eyes to the floor. Upon reaching the coffin, he quickly scanned the pews. The handful of people were still kneeling, their heads bowed. His view of the robed man was blocked by the raised lid of the coffin.
Slowly, he moved his right gloved hand into the coffin, resting it against the chest of its occupant. With a quick motion, he ran a finger down the side of the corpse’s neck, surfacing a gold chain. With a gentle tug, a silver key popped from beneath the starched shirt. Making a fist, he coughed as he tugged upward, and felt the clasp snap while the sound of his cough echoed throughout the room. Keeping his head bowed, the young man counted to ten as a drop of perspiration rolled down the side of his face.
With a deep breath, he turned and started back down the aisle. From the other side of the coffin, the robed man appeared, startling him. Speaking in a soft voice, he said, “Are you related to the deceased?”
The young man nodded, moving his overcoat to cover his right hand.
“I thought I could see a resemblance. Will you be staying for the mass?”
“Sorry, can’t. I have to be getting back,” the young man stammered.
The robed man smiled, stepped to the side, and said, “Then go in peace.”
The young man nodded, and walked a little too fast down the aisle. The squeaking of his shoes echoed about the chamber like the cawing of a dozen ravens.
At the front of a restaurant an old man sat at an empty table, gazing outside as sheets of rain flooded the gutters. His focus shifted, and he was looking at his reflection, a ghostly shade against the backdrop of the pouring rain. Wild white hair stuck out in all directions from his head, looking like dozens of tethered will-o-the-wisps trying to escape. Deep wrinkles dug into his forehead. From behind thick black rimmed glasses cold blue eyes stared back at him.
The old man jumped as a figure thumped an arm against the outside of the glass, peering into the restaurant. Seeing him, he quickly stepped inside, shaking off water onto the already soaked floor mat. The old man caught his attention, and nodded. The soaked figure approached the table, and pulled back a chair, making to sit down.
“No,” the old man said, his steely tone belying his diminutive appearance. Reaching a gloved hand into his overcoat, he produced a thick manilla envelope, and sat it on the table. “Do you have it?” he asked.
The man at the chair, still standing, glanced around the half full restaurant before swinging a backpack off his shoulder, placing it in the chair. Unzipping the top, he looked at the old man, raising his eyebrows. The old man nodded. From the backpack he withdrew a locked metal box. The sides were scuffed, and pocked, almost resembling the scarred surface of the moon.
The old man pushed the envelope across the table, and pulled the box to him. As he examined the lock, the other man said, “It’s sealed tight. You’re gonna need a crowbar to get that thing open,” as he placed the envelope into his backpack.
“I have a key,” the old man said, as he rose from the table, and stepped out into the rain.
Clicking on a light, the old man sat the metal box on a small table next to an armchair. Standing in front of a softly burning fireplace he held out his wrinkled hands, coaxing warmth back into them. The logs, now half cinder, cracked and whistled. Settling into the chair, he placed the metal box onto his lap. From around his neck he withdrew a small silver key attached to a fine gold chain. He could hear his heart beating in his ears as he placed the key into the lock. With a sharp snap, it turned, and the lid eased open.
Inside were four vials, and a partially burnt notebook. Lifting one of the vials, it appeared empty. Holding it up against the light of the fire, he saw it was full of tiny glints of light. Smiling, he placed the tube back into the box with the others, and returned the box to the table.
Removing the battered notebook, he looked at the first page. In thin flowing script was written, “Journal of Dr. Gilbert Rahm”.
October 15, 1922 #
Today I have witnessed the most incredible events, and I fear that my slumber will be slight if I don’t first commit to words these observations. This morning I examined the collection of tardigrade specimens from …unintelligible… The specimens showed ambulatory movement underneath the microscope, as …unintelligible… coloring of the specimens was vibrant. I attribute it to being habituated to the extreme environment of the volcanic hot springs where they dwelt.
…unintelligible… placed into a steel dewar. Slowly, I poured the liquid nitrogen until the specimens were covered. Placing a wooden seal upon the top, I retired for an hour.
Returning, most of the liquid nitrogen had evaporated. The interior walls were covered with a hard icy crust. I scraped out all the material, and observed as it was warmed by the afternoon sun. Applying a sample to a slide, I witnessed the same ambulatory movements as before, even after being hard frozen for hours. I cannot imagine …unintelligible…
June 8, 1928 #
Under the microscope, these creatures have three pairs of stubby legs, each terminating into three claw like structures. There is a clear head and tail orientation. The head shows a ring like structure that is populated with small dots. I am reminded of the antennae found in the new visual transmission device that my colleagues in London have been writing to me about. The device can attune itself to electromagnetic vibrations, and transform those vibrations into pictures. I am anxious to return and witness it first hand. At the center of the creature’s ring of antennae is what looks to be a mouth. I wonder if the antennae can also serve as mechanical aid for guiding food towards the mouth.
At room temperature the specimens are almost motionless. Applying a flame to the bottom of the slide they become energized. Unlike other tardigrades, this new species exhibits behavior that appears social. It is late, and maybe I’m …unintelligible…
December 10, 1930 #
My plans to travel to America to present my discoveries have been scuttled. The financial collapse seems dire, but it might be a blessing in disguise. I have gathered more specimens from around Mount Unzen, and continue to develop experiments to …unintelligible… started to have strange dreams …unintelligible…
March 23, 1932 #
The specimens have grown significantly …unintelligible… into direct contact with them. I’ve noticed a strange itching sensation at the back of my neck. The dreams have intensified, and …unintelligible… vitally important that I collect more data. Sometimes I think I can sense an intelligence just under …unintelligible… as any sense of self seems to slip away.
July 25, 1937 #
An earthquake as reduced my lab to rubble. While disastrous, I can’t help but feel a sense of relief, being finally free from …unintelligible… collection of desiccated specimens are all that remain …unintelligible… bring myself to destroy …unintelligible… locked away.
April 14, 1954 #
The nightmares returned, after all this time. I feel myself again drawn to the …unintelligible… my time is short. …unintelligible… instructed to bury the box. The key will be buried with me, forever hiding away the …unintelligible… like a modern Pandora’s Box, I pray it is never opened again.