He sat quietly in the theater, alone in the darkness, oblivious of the people moving around him. For a while he let his mind wander back, back to before, when his wife and children had still been alive. Before Rycliffes curse had stung them all. Now they were trying to undo it. That was why they were here. All of them. All the Survivors. Gathered in a deep, dark bunker under the Rockies. A fragile remnant of humanity struggling to find a cure for the dread curse that had afflicted the rest.
He saw motion up at the front and saw that the lecture we about to begin. This year it would be given by Laura Cox, who worked in the bio-chemical group. They seemed to be having more success that the others, although even that was not much. As usual the lecture would start with a recounting of Rycliffes damned expedition.
A thin, lean woman, her hair in a dark bun, got onto the stage. The bright lights illuminated her white lab coat and her glasses. Silence filled the room and then she started to speak.
'Greetings fellow researchers and survivors. As you know we are here to review what knowledge we have of the source of Rycliffes curse, and to share what our researches have so far uncovered.' The lights dimmed.
'Professor Jonathan Rycliffe was an archeologist.' A screen lit up, showing the face of a middle aged man, white, clean shaven with a good suntan. 'He based at Oxford University in England. He perused a number of unusual lines in his research and was one of the prime proponents of the theories about the Hyperborean age. Maybe if more of the scientists then had been less derisive of his work we may have avoided his curse.'
The picture changed to show a view of three rather old books. ' During his researches he had access to many forgotten, discounted and, supposedly, mythical tombs, most of which were stored in the Universities Bodlin library. We don't have access to any of these, or to any of his research notes.'
The picture changes to show the burnt out remains of an old university building, against the ruins of a crumbling city. 'Earlier this year we sent a long range salvage mission to the city of Arkham, over 2000 miles away. They were to locate the library of the Miskatonic university and retrieve any tombs they could find within the lock library.' She gestured at the picture. 'This is what they found. The library had been destroyed, greatly reducing our chances of getting access to any of the arcane tombs that Rycliffe used for his research. Please, if you have any memory of even rumors or legends about where copies of the Necronomicon, the Book of Eibon or the Tablets of Ur might be found, report them to the librarians.'
The screen turned black, then the faces of three people appeared, two men and a girl. The pictures looked like they had been cut from larger photos. 'During the retrieval trip we lost three people. Claudine Montrel passed over, Dan Tucker and Steve Carter were killed in the ensuing confusion. Can we have a moments silence for their memory.'
A minute later the screen changed again, showing a picture of Oxford College. 'Sometime in 1997, using information from the tombs, Professor Rycliffe came to the conclusion that there was a city, a long lost city, buried in the Saudi-Arabian dessert, approximately 500 miles east-south east of Ryda. We know his location was accurate. Very accurate for such research. More accurate than any such research had any right to be. He persuaded the university authorities and the Saudi Arabians to let his take a satellite photograph of the area he thought the city was in. Long range field work.'
The picture changed and showed an undulating field of grays, browns, yellows and blacks. 'The satellite photos were taken at 11:03:36 GMT on October 17th, 2008. Three photos were taken, each with different filters - visual, infra-red and ultra-violet. They were all recorded with wide spectrum recordings though. The one you're looking at is the visual image.'
The screen changed, showing waves of red, yellow, green and blue. 'This is the infrared image and this' the screen turned mostly splotchy purple 'is the UV image. Theses are of course simulated colors.'
'Now, we don't know how he did it, and we've been trying to reproduce it for a couple of years, but Rycliffe managed to filter and overlay the images so that they showed this.' The original visual image returned, but overlaid with a strange grid of lines, a swirl of three, five and seven sided shapes centered exactly upon the middle of the image.
'Professor Rycliffe said that they were the last traces of a once forgotten city, the ruins of which lay under the sand. There was quite some controversy when he published this, with a number of other professors casting considerable doubt over the validity of Rycliffes research. There were also a couple of protests from people who claimed that they recognized some of the symbols and that the site should, on no account, be disturbed. In hindsight it appears that they were correct, but they were dismissed as lunatics at the time (and two of them were indeed incarcerated at that time).'
'Rycliffe got the funding for his expedition from the University and a private sponsor - someone we still haven't identified - and the expedition set off for the Saudi Arabian desert in January 2009. Professor Rycliffe was accompanied by several post graduate students, an official of the Saudi-Arabian government and a squad of 20 Saudi troops. The location of the dig was kept secret to discourage looters.'
The picture changed to show Rycliffe standing besides an old, weathered stone wall, the surface of which appeared to be covered with intricate carvings. 'This video was released 10 days later, along with a statement by Rycliffe.'
The film started rolling:
- Rycliffe standing by the wall
- Well gentlemen, doubters, here we are, in the Saudi Arabian desert.
- (He tapped the wall beside him.)
- This is one of the ancient walls of Zamboula.
- Exactly were I said it would be.
- The filtered image, showing the mesh of lines overlaying the dessert image.
- A small part of one of the main triangles is marked in white.
- This section is what we have uncovered so far and I am confident that we shall find the rest where they should be.
- (A circle in the center of the image turned yellow.)
- The greatest treasure awaits us here though, in the high temple. Here we will find written the greatest secrets of the hyperborean mages.
The film stopped, still showing the mass of lines and the white wall and circle.
'Now, this video creates a good many questions. First it is apparent that he found (or maybe built) something in the desert. This is the first time the city under the site has been named. The name he used, Zamboula, does not appear in any standard archeological text, although it does appear in Robert E Howard's fictional stories about Conan the Barbarian, a Hyperborean hero. The location given on Howard's map does not, however, correspond with the location in which Rycliffe was digging.'
'What we believe happened next is that Rycliffe got impatient. Rather than waiting for the lengthy process of triangulation and excavation required to locate and unearth the temple, it appears that he had several stones removed from the wall he had uncovered and began to 'burrow' his way towards the main temple.'
On the overlay a white line slowly extended from the wall to the central temple. 'From later videos it seems that a fair bit of the space he found had been roofed over and was free of sand, explaining his fast progress. It has also been suggested that his route is significant, as it intersects every single geometric shape that was present upon his filtered satellite image.'
The screen changed to show a long, dark corridor, barely lit with flood lamps. The image was a bit shaky and out of focus. 'This video was released two days later as evidence of the vast underground city that Rycliffe said he had found.'
The video started playing, the camera inexpertly panning around to reveal a large underground chamber, its roof supported by sandstone pillars. 'What's significant in this image is the line of rubble here.' The image froze. 'It seems to be a low wall, running diagonally across the chamber. We think it corresponds to the edges of one of the shapes on the satellite image. What's unusual about it is that here' she pointed to an area showing several loose bricks 'is that it appears to have been taken down. This is something of a deviation from normal archeological processes and is considered to indicate that Rycliffe know what he was doing, even if he didn't understand its consequences.'
The screen changed, showing a video image of Rycliffe, looking rather tired and haggard, standing in the subterranean chamber. 'At about this point, the Saudi Arabian government, in response to considerable international pressure, agreed to allow the media limited access to the site. The Saudi Arabian airforce flew several news teams and reporters in, including a CNN live broadcast unit. Its interesting to note that the man in charge of the unit, Peter Booker, was an old friend of Rycliffes, having met him ad college.'
The screen changed again, this time showing a strange, misformed humanoid figure shackled into a crude cage. 'Then, as well all know, Rycliffe captured the creature that came to be known as Alpha. The sound track has been removed from this tape.'
The image started moving, and the captive creature turned to look at the camera. Its face was almost human, but the jaws ware distended forwards, with pronounced canines and a snub nose. Upon its chest were two rows of teats. 'Alpha appears to be a female of the species.' It slowly raised its hands in front of it, each had three fingers and an opposing thumbs, all of which ended in thick, torn talons. It stared into the camera, a soulful look in its all to human eyes, it mouth moving silently as it gestured first to the camera and then to itself.
'This is the fateful broadcast that, when it went out live from the Saudi Arabian dessert of the night of February 17th, 2009, destroyed our civilization. Alpha, which Rycliffe claimed he found within the ruined city, has been subsequently identified as a Ghul. A supposedly mythical desert dwelling monster that tricked travelers and lured them to their death. They lived off of carrion, especially human corpses.'
'From the works of HP Lovecraft we have since discovered a more sinister aspect to Ghuls. Apparently they were all once human. It seems that a mechanism unknown to Lovecraft was capable of triggering a metamorphoses within a normal human that will change them into a Ghul.'
The image changed again, showing Rycliffes face again, this time looking red and puffy. 'What we know is that this metamorphoses is sound triggered. Something in the Ghuls chattering causes, with enough exposure, the transformation to start. CNN's live broadcast contained over 5 minutes of the Ghuls chattering and was seen world wide. In the days and hours that followed the CNN and other media organizations rebroadcast it many times. After all, the discovery of a new humanoid life form was big news. The discovery of a potentially intelligent life form was big news. The discovery of an intelligent humanoid life form that wanted to communicate with us was even bigger news.'
The screen changed again, back to Rycliffes normal face. It slowly morphed into a face which began to resemble that of the Ghul. 'The transformation you see here has been speeded up. From our observations we know that the complete transformation takes 6 days. These pictures of professor Rycliffe are taken from various video images that were transmitted from the Zamboula site over the next four days. The last transmission from Zamboula was on February 22nd. Over 6 years ago.'
The screen changed to show a big steel door inset into the side of a mountain. 'Here, inside the Advanced Bio-Chemical research facility, we were isolated from the world. From the news of what happened. Our colleagues in Maryland were not so fortunate. They were, however, able to work out the cause of the problem and to broadcast it over the internet. Fortunately we picked that broadcast up before we ran our weekly news tapes.'
'We reviewed the tapes, with the sound turned down. We edited the tapes. We analyzed the sounds. Several researchers passed over during this time and were destroyed. Eventually we learnt the rules - no one hears the sounds. Each exposure changes a little more and the change appears to be irreversible. My group, in the bio-genics lab, are fairly certain that its causing the gene pairs within our DNA to move around, changing their sequence, a change that simultaneously affects the whole body, morphing a living human into a Ghul.'
'Up to a certain point the transformation can be stabilized - as several of you are painfully aware - but once the dynamics of the victims vocal cords change they are doomed, as is anyone else within ear shot. The process commences irreversibly. The only way we found to stabilize someone at this point was to surgically remove their vocal cords. That's not really a viable solution.'
'So our work continues. Our retrieval parties capture Ghuls for experimentation, at considerable risk to themselves. Our technicians analyze the sounds waves and work with the geneticists to try and understand just how they work. Our composers try and create similar tunes that might reverse the dread effect. Until they can, we remain here, locked in our steel vault under the Rockies waiting for the time when we can venture forth and reclaim the world from these monstrosities.'
* * *
High in the Rocky Mountains, a tribe of gibbering, howling Ghuls made there way along a paved mountain highway, following the bitter sweet scent of their bitch-queen. They ignored the slowly rotting tarmac and the occasional rusting car abandonded along is sides. They leapt and cavorted around their bitch-queen, as she laboriously made her way up the deserted highway seeking a den within which she could whelp.
With wild, gleebing, howling cries that echoed from distant mountain sides, cries of joy and pleasure, desire for food, desire for the hunt, desire for mating the Ghuls celebrated. After a millennia of imprisonment they were free, their mortal foes vanquished, the world theirs again...