Jack had a lot on his mind these days; it seemed he was always preoccupied with something. The Lab was busy and stressful as they were always way too close to having their budget cut. Archaeology doesn't garner the same respect and patience as it used to. Jack’s team had just brought back some pottery fragments and an odd stone cube from a recent dig in New Guinea and they were excited to start cataloging them.
The drive to work was a normal one; traffic and rain, never a good combination. He listened to Nirvana on the radio as he pulled into the museum parking lot. The Museum of Natural History was a huge series of buildings, most impressive were the underground labs and storage facilities. Jack grabbed his satchel and coffee cup and walked from his car to the employee entrance of the main building. He struggled to hold his coffee and satchel in his left hand while he searched for his card key in his coat pockets. After a few seconds he opened the door and went inside, shaking the water off of his satchel as he strode in.
Jack went into his office and set down his coffee and satchel on his desk and sat down in the chair. He feebly attempted to organize the messy desk, gave up and took a long drink of his java. He shifted his lanky body in the chair but couldn't get comfortable; his legs were too long for this seat and it was already adjusting to its highest setting while having his legs actually under the desk. So much for ergonomic he thought. He tried to settle in as he had some paperwork to get caught up on.
The phone rang, Jack picked it up. “Dr. Jennings.”
The man on the phone was Bill Fredrickson. Bill was the Project Planner for Jack’s expedition to New Guinea. “I see you made it back okay, how was the trip?”
“It was good, Bill. We uncovered some pottery and a strange idol, at least, I think its an idol.” Jack thought back to the day it was discovered. His team was in Quadrant 147, along a trail that was once the main road to the little village they were unearthing, and dug up a strange stone cube. The cube was unremarkable except for its weight. It should have weighed in at about two hundred pounds, but only weighed twelve. It was slated for radio carbon testing later today; Jack anxiously awaited the results.
“Good. Listen, I have to get all of your receipts from the trip so I can reconcile the books before I turn in the expense report to the foundation. When can I come by and get them?” This was all standard operation procedure for both Bill and Jack.
“Can we do it tomorrow Bill? I have a lot to catch up on today.”
“Sure thing. Well, I’ll let you get back to it then... Oh, that reminds me! Kaitlyn wants to have you and the girls over for dinner soon. Nothing urgent, just let us know when is best for you. Have a great day and welcome back!” Bill hung up without waiting for a reply. He didn't want to give Jack an “out” for the dinner.
“Okay, I’ll think...” Click.
Hanging up the phone, Jack went back to work. He managed to get through most of his paperwork and created folders on the server for the cataloging that was to happen tomorrow morning. After lunch, which he always brings from home, today, a Healthy Choice frozen Whiskey Steak entree, he went over to the Dating Lab and opened the first of the two doors. This was one of many sealed rooms where the temperature and humidity were kept at a constant. Artifacts, buried for centuries, tended to decay faster if not pampered and kept in the proper atmosphere. The first door closed and there was a loud hissing as the air was sucked out and then replaced, adjusting the atmosphere in the little ante-room to match that of the Dating Lab. The inner door opened and Jack walked into the dimly lit lab.
“Jack Jennings! How the hell are ya?” Colm greeted Jack once the inner door closed, extending a hand to Jack.
“I’m good Colm, how are you?” Jack shook his hand and searched the room, nonchalantly, for the cube, but didn’t see it.
“Good, good. So... You've come for some answers? The cube?” Colm backed up, still keeping his gaze on Jack, his arm searching for the back of his chair as he went.
“Yeah. It’s the damnedest thing Colm. We found that in New Guinea, along with several other items of pottery and pottery fragments. As far as I can tell it’s some kind of idol, but I have no idea of what.” Jack followed Colm as he found his chair and sat down.
“Let’s see what we can see. It’s in the mass spectrometer now.” Colm spun in his chair to face the series of keyboards and monitors. This lab was a permanent fixture at the museum, it never had to worry about grant money or the foundation's board of governors review processes. Colm was on salary and will be here as long as he wants. Jack, however, was not as fortunate. His length of stay was directly proportionate to the amount and quality of the results he and his team produced. It weighed on him heavily at times, like now.
Colm started typing and the process began. Through a monitor that was now active, Jack could see the cube in the spectrometer, a pale light illuminating it as the test began.
The data started streaming into the computers. Colm looked at the results as they appeared and cocked his head. “When did you say this village was active?” He turned to look up at Jack who was still standing.
“Four hundred years ago, give or take a few decades, why?” Jack was curious, as he always was, about the cube, the results and it’s meaning in the world.
“Well... According to this, it is much older than that.” Colm turned back around and started parse through the data into a report to be printed.
“Yeah, but the stone itself could be old, but made yesterday, right?” Jack leaned in to see the data on the monitor in front of Colm.
“Right, but there are tool marks and metal chips from the carving of this that would be more accurate to test, which I did... This isn’t my first rodeo. It is over two thousand years old!”
“Really? So then the question is, how did this cube end up in this village?” Jack loved puzzles and this appeared to be a good one.
“Here ya go!” Colm reached to his printer and handed the documents to Jack. “Let me get the specimen for you.”
“Thanks Colm.” Jack perused the papers for a minute while Colm went and got the cube.
Suddenly Jack heard what sounded like a shock or spark and then a slumping sound. He rushed over to Colm, who was on the opposite side of the mass spectrometer. Jack was aghast when he got to Colm, his jaw dropping and eyes widening. Colm was on the ground, eyes open, skin charred from head to toe. There was an inky black substance dripping out of his nose and the corners of his mouth. Jack knelt down, unwillingly smelling the burnt flesh, and checked to see if Colm was breathing; he wasn’t.
Rushing to the phone, by the keyboards and monitors, Jack called 911 and told them what happened. He hung up and dialed security, who told him they were on their way. He hung up and started to go back over to Colm, that’s when he noticed the cube on the monitor.
The cube, when it was brought into the lab, and when Jack saw it just a few minutes ago, was a gray, roughly carved stone cube. It was one foot on all sides and weighed next to nothing compared to what it should have. There were no markings on it of any kind and was relatively unremarkable. Now, however, the cube was opened. There was a side of the artifact missing, as if it had never been there and inside, utter darkness.
“What the...” Jack stopped abruptly as he watched in horror and fascination as a small, pinpoint of bright light emerged from the cube. It was white and seemed to radiate it’s own light like a Timex Indiglow watch. The object was about the size of of a pencil eraser. It slowly, cautiously hovered out and onto the vacant space above the testing surface the cube was placed on.
The outer door opened with a hiss, as the security team arrived and four men walked inside, waiting for the pressurization to initiate. The door closed and the stabilization commenced.
Jack was not even bothered by the doors as his curiosity compelled him to keep watching the entity. It was, however, noticeably bothered by the sound and flew out of the spectrometer and out of Jack’s view. He ran back over to Colm to see where it went but could not locate it. The inner door opened and the security officers came into the lab.
“Hello? Anyone in here?” The team was looking around for movement when they saw Jack stand up, motioning them over to Colm. They started walking around the spectrometer unit when the officer in the rear let out a gut-wrenching scream and fell to the floor.
Everyone gasped in horror when they saw the glowing white light move up the officer's leg, which was dissolving at a fantastically rapid pace. The officer writhed in agony while the object left a trail of what can only be described as acid, up the officer's body. The monster finally came to rest, hovering above his face and his body tensed up as if he were having a convulsion and let out a terrifying gurgle, then fell silent and still. The object remained motionless, hovering just above the dissolving security officer.
Jack backed up against some file cabinets, trying to put distance between himself and the light. He looked to the cube and was shocked to see another side had disappeared. He looked around for some kind of weapon, anything that could help him if another one of those things came out. He found a pair of scissors on top of one of the cabinets and held it up like a dagger, waiting for anything.
The cube started emitting a pulsing sound, like a car with too much bass playing loud a couple blocks away. It was faint yet deliberate. The sound grew louder, with deafening speed, quickly over taking any other sound in the room. The remaining officers covered their ears and knelt down on the ground, restless in pain and anticipation. The creature, king of it’s hill, watched, seemingly unaffected and unmoving. The air in the entire room pulsated with the sound, in and out, like being directly in front of a sub-woofer. Jack slid down the cabinet and sat on the ground, knees to his chest, covering his ears while still holding the scissors.
The lights flickered wildly then the room went dark, the sound still getting louder and the airwaves becoming more violent.
The top of the cube dissolved into nothingness, a faint light emanating from within. The glow from the cube’s top was like a beacon in the darkness and shot up and out of the cube, bathing the ceiling of the spectrometer unit in increasingly bright light.
Jack found it hard to keep his eyes open for any length of time due to the pulsing air around him and the rapidly growing brightness of the cube. He did, however, mange to see the mass of little creatures pouring out of the cube like lava pouring down a volcano. They moved slowly but seemed to be pushed out of the cube at a consistent rate.
Oh my god...
Just before Jack had to shut his eyes to lessen the pain of his environment, he saw a thick, fluorescent fog drifting up and out of the top of the cube, then another. He shut his eyes, hands still over his ears. He felt something on his legs. It was like sliding into a warm hot tub, slowly. The sensation grew up to his waist, then his chest. He felt tiny things crawling on his face and arms, that’s when the pain started at his feet. A burning pain that he had never felt before, engulfed his every sense. The acid started dissolving Jack, starting at the feet and traveling the same path as the creatures.
Jack screamed but couldn't hear himself over the noise. He felt little monsters crawling in his mouth, leaving a strong, vaporous taste. Something tugged at his hand and he felt himself fall to the side.
The pain overtook him as he passed out, unable to hold on any longer.
The last thought that Dr. Jack Jennings had before he died was What have I done?