Fiction Friday: Dreams of Avarice
Today we look at part of the Translator’s Preface of Dreams of Avarice, an artifact book for Mummy: The Curse written by Malcolm Sheppard.
The groups had weird profles: multi-ethnic, but never members of the usual channels for foreign fghters. No Qurans, but no alternative literature either. They weren’t anarchists, communists, Ba’athist revivalists, local monarchists, or anything else that fit our early conflict models. They had money, but never too much cash in one spot, and that meant they had steady incomes. Yet the biggest anomaly sat far outside my area of expertise. Sometimes the usual people took them out with bombs, rockets, and guns, but sometimes they died after weirder events like meteor strikes and earthquakes. That’s why it turned into a No-Name Gang affair.
Whoever turned these people’s homes into graves paid special attention to texts. I found burned, shredded, and buried pages. In each case, the content was the same, but written in various languages, with the broken-telephone artifacts that accompany translations. They were parts of a broken Rosetta Stone. I could almost taste the original language, and called it “Pre-Archaic Egyptian,” though of course… in a way, every word of that name is a lie.
After three years I collected half a complete text and a few interesting artifacts. I’m not an archeologist but then again, not all of these were ancient. One of them featured hieroglyphs etched in stainless steel. Some of them did things. Miracles. Curses. The Gang told me not to touch them. Evidently, there’s a whole protocol for the stranger things operations uncover, especially in the Middle East, Africa, and anywhere else, warfighters tread along the paths of ancient migrations. Sometimes we recovered “active artifacts” that used to be tucked in museums and other collections before unrest swept them away. Sometimes we caused that unrest on purpose, to spirit things away in our briefcases.
Despite the resources available, the Gang left me to my own devices; and SOCOM practiced so much compartmentalization that it was easy to plead need to know when, well, only I needed to know. We weren’t the only paranormal researchers with ranks and badges, but the history of US work in this field has been a continuous fuckup. Stargate. Midnight. The Earth First Battalion. Task forces and research groups. Various Ominous Acronyms. They were either walking jokes or security threats. We were autonomous, slippery, evidence-focused and, ironically enough, vulnerable because of our virtues.
I wanted to master the Pre-Archaic language. I could give you plenty of reasons, like I did the bosses. We could use it to track and lure these cults. We could better identify active artifacts. Mostly though, I just wanted to know the language for myself. Languages are beautiful. They’re like people in the way they take on their parents’ characteristics, age into their prime and eventually enter senescence, overwhelmed by social contamination. I sensed Pre-Archaic grandeur in its Afro-Asiatic descendants’ confdence and gaze toward eternity. I fell in love with it.
So imagine the Gang: trained operators rocking the Fertile Crescent and various ‘Stans in active mode, directing our own missions, packing not only the finest heat tax dollars can buy, but a variety of active artifacts seized from these cults. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, let me tell you.
We attached ourselves to an anonymous group of Acronym Agency types. They were handing out battery powered routers and protest manuals in Cairo. You know when. They weren’t supposed to be there, so they could hardly object to a few spare hands to help them out and take a stroll around the Valley of the Kings just down the river. We put down near a cluster of minor tombs and thanks to the political situation, dealt with nothing worse than a few security guards on the cheap, for bags of US dollars, flash-bangs, and zip ties. Our last op had provided the GPS coordinates. We arrived to a freshly dug and shored up site. We schlepped in, and when sand gave way to red stone I looked on the walls, and saw pure Pre-Archaic, with its confident circles, suns, and scorpions.
We were professional, too quiet to sense, but of course, that didn’t matter. The Heretic tells me they could smell the Sekhem in our unconventional gear. That made sense. I had a night vision lens on one eye, and an amulet that let me see “life force” on the other. That’s what Sekhem is: the stuff of life made of memories, urges, and the million selves of consciousness; cell mitosis; love, and everything else life does. I’m going to leave it untranslated beyond that. I’m not qualifed to find another word that describes its occult complexities.
So, they were ready for us. That almost didn’t help. Without training, people with more bravery than sense default to human wave attacks. This wasn’t your average tomb — it was the size of a small theater — but even then, running at three operators and packing heat in a confined space is the closest you can get to suicide without pulling the trigger yourself. They had knives. It was ridiculous, but they kept coming, with intent to kill. What else could we do?
There was a woman with them. She was beautiful, at first. She raised her hands and changed. I remember a blue-gray corpse and a pair of blazing falcon’s wings. I had a seizure of some kind. It was like every time I’d imagined that angel in my grandmother’s church coming to life invading my head, or when I looked at the stars in the vast black canopy of night and felt small, pathetic, and afraid. I tasted copper and salt. I was crying, and I’d bitten my own hand to keep from screaming.
The Heretic saved me, but not the others. I could barely see straight. Everything had migraine halos, including the husks of Rick and Guang. It looked like something had burned them out from the inside. They were dried dead insects, magnifed to grotesque size. I saw that and floated away from my body. I only felt it sway to the rhythm of his steps as he carried me. I heard the Heretic trade words with the woman, the horror. It sounded like a clash of battle hymns. His song won and his last word was a thunderclap, accompanied by a sharp white light.
One of the first things I remember when I came to by the Nile was him rummaging through my gear, tossing active artifacts into the dust like they were garbage. Later, the Heretic said he’d followed us by the Sekhem in them. He had a boat moored on the shore, too, and I laughed hysterically at the mundanity of it. I imagined that thunderous voice haggling in Arabic with a local over the price, or standing by, tapping his feet as the boat’s owner topped off the gas. I thought back to our chopper. We left it on the ground at the Valley of the Kings with its pilots. They were probably dead now. I was in shock, I realize now. My laughter turned to screams, and the Heretic whispered in my ear.
Learn more about our Translator, and the Heretic himself, in Dreams of Avarice, now available in PDF and print on DriveThruFiction.