part I

Mars. Sacra Mensa Mesa. 2188. 309.03.15.

Carter wiped the fine layer of dust that had accumulated on his desk in the few short hours he had spent lying in bed, failing to get a moment's rest.

The winds had finally begun to calm, but he still had to steady the swaying lantern hanging from the center of his tent before switching it on. Earlier that night, everyone had breathed a sigh of relief, as the storm to the south ravaging the Lunae Planum was projected to only graze their encampment before dissipating to the east.

His desktop lit up, projecting a series of graphics and maps into the air above it, as he leaned forward in his rusty chair and rubbed his grey-stubbled chin with a great yawn. He gestured through a few of the cave’s preliminary depth scans that the team had performed earlier that afternoon after arriving and finding its entrance collapsed.

He had never needed much sleep, even as a child. Though, back then, there wasn’t much to be had. He didn’t know why his once distant memories of growing up during the AI Wars had begun to resurface in his mind, but he had decided to blame the mind’s usual propensity for nostalgia. For those periods in life long lost to time.

It was an odd feeling, this nostalgia. And the strange distances it brought with it. How could something feel so close yet be so far away? Something over one hundred years ago feel so recent? Someone so dear to you be torn from... No, he thought, stopping himself. Not right now, dammit. There’s work to be done.

Cordts, the Adaraian head of the expedition team, had told him the team would be able to begin the excavation by dawn, presuming the forecast was correct, and, judging by the now gentle sway of his tent walls, that would indeed be the case. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary on the initial scans as he combed through them, but, if his decades of studying the Creta and working with the Adarai had taught him anything, it was that nothing was ever ordinary.

He sighed, waving away the projections, and leaned back in his chair. He couldn’t shake it. This restlessness. And it wasn’t the sleeplessness. He knew that much. He hadn’t felt this way in a long time. Maybe it was this prophecy and his supposed role in it. This “Knowing.” Few things surprised him these days, but there was something strange about it all. But, as he'd learned over his long life, it wasn’t for him to decide. He was caught up in it now, and, hopefully, this cave would at least hold some sort of clue or answer to who or what was supposedly on its way.

But maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe it was his past. And the piece of it that was currently on its way to meet him right now. But was she still? The Adarai said they had not arrived in Supai. And that there had been an incident on the train involving two young women who had mysteriously disappeared.

Maybe she didn’t want to come. Had gotten cold feet. Thought better of the situation and all its apparent magical madness. Maybe she had convinced Ari to leave along with her, never to return.

But he knew that wasn’t true. Ari would never abandon her training or her work with him. It was too important to her. And her family was an integral part of the Adarai. The Temple was her home.

No, he could feel it. They were on their way. He didn’t know how he knew it or through what means they would arrive, but they were coming.

He scoffed, muttering to himself under his breath as he rose to his feet, “You old fool,” before making his way to the portable kitchenette in the corner for a cup of coffee. He pressed a few buttons on the machine and leaned against the small counter as it began to pour.

113 years and this is what it’s come to? Your mind wandering from place to place, from time to time? Afraid of seeing your twenty-something-year-old granddaughter? Or how old was she now?

He sighed once more, as he pulled the cup of steaming caffeine from the machine. Sipped it. And before his mind could return to his scattered thoughts of restlessness and prophecy, a knock sounded from the clear plastic window of his tent door.

“Come in,” he called after clearing his voice.

Cordts stepped in through the door with the faint light of pre-dawn just beginning to glow behind him, “We’re ready to get started, Doctor.”

Carter grinned, “Alright then. Let’s get to work.”