Les Sklaroff

It's all true. Look it up.

Myksos was full of noises, though they were not all sweet enough to send Caliban back to sleep. The high-pitched pulsing of cicadas, roars from argumentative old men comfortably pissed on ouzo, bursts of karaoke from bleary tourists fobbed off with cheap retsina, tavernas blaring bazouki music amplified beyond sensible recognition. And of course the persistent wash of the Aegean lapping against the surrounding shoreline.

Inland, beyond the groves of twisted olive trees, dull bells clanked from scrawny livestock on the hillside. Higher, hidden from the ground by stony outcrops, halfway up the steep seaward-facing slope where a few thorny shrubs had rooted in rock clefts, a trick of the wind gave rise to a deep hollow fluting as it gusted fitfully across the narrow entrance of a concealed cave. This inhuman sound was once believed to be the voice of a Sibyl.

After some months of bureaucratic delay, Garron had eventually been granted official access to the site. Local inhabitants avoided the area, whether through lingering superstition or simple inertia, he did not know. For whatever reasons, no research had been done here in recent times. Unlike the legendary oracles at Delphi or Cumaea there was no record of association with Apollo, or indeed with any other deity from the archaic pantheon. It was this anomaly, coupled with the Myksos Sibyl’s gnomic prophecy about burning stones, that had first piqued Garron’s curiosity.

Clouded by legend, the origin of Sibyls dates back to the Bronze Age. According to the Roman scholar Varro their generic name derives from the Doric form ‘sios bylla’ of the Greek ‘theos boule’, meaning ‘she that tells the will of Zeus’, although this is now disputed by etymologists. Traditionally female, divinely inspired, they were given to blurting out ecstatic predictions, a behaviour which some say was the result of inhaling narcotic gases.

Under the Romans the original Sibylline Books, written in Greek verse, were guarded by life-long custodians in the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. They would consult the oracles and prescribe appropriate rituals to avert calamities. Unfortunately the temple was destroyed by fire in 83 BC, and only fragments of these oracles survived. A subsequent collection was made, and duly consulted for the next four hundred years, but these too were eventually burned, this time for political reasons.

Texts mentioning the Myksos Sibyl are very few, but they agree on her oracular words: “την επίτευξη σοφία πριν από τις κρύες πέτρες φέρνουν φωτιά”, which translate roughly as “Grow wise before the cold stones burn.” No-one had been able to make sense of this apparent instruction. Garron hoped that by exploring the site he might at least stumble upon a clue.

Among those visitors who strayed off the hill path favoured by goats, even the most intrepid climbers, finding footholds to be unusually treacherous, soon chose less precipitous routes. But Garron had trained with a rescue team in the Cairngorms led by the redoubtable Andy McKyle, a scrupulously safety-conscious instructor. After making a careful study of the terrain, Garron had discovered a way down from the top; difficult but accessible, especially with the benefit of his lightweight climbing gear.

There was nothing to indicate the nature of the site; no ruined walls, no ceremonial markings, no evidence of cultivation. Whatever there was to be found had to be within. As he manoeuvred himself to peer into the recessed cave-mouth a penetrating shaft of sunlight caught the green iridescence of a beetle's wing-case. It glowed like a dropped jewel against the dark interior. Garron smiled approvingly. A proprietary talisman, he thought.

The entrance was narrow. Easing his torso cautiously through to its inner ledge he flicked on his headlamp. At first the light dissipated into sheer emptiness. He shifted his cramped position, accidentally dislodging some loose fragments from the ledge. Trying to keep the powerful beam focussed, he watched them plunge silently into the abyss. No wonder others have been deterred from exploring this place. As the light swept down into the unmeasured depths Garron swore softly to himself when he suddenly glimpsed what was illuminated at the very foot, and knew he had to make the descent.

It took him nearly an hour, keeping to bedrock ridges, ensuring the security of ropes for what would be an even more strenuous climb back up. As he slowly neared level ground he entered a realm of baroque splendour; a receding vista of rock formations infused with a display of subtle colours. From the sloping ceiling there appeared to hang draperies like frozen aurorae, interspersed with a forest of cones, needles and more robust columns. There were what looked like outcrops of glistening coral, pillars festooned with spiral ornamentation, tapering spires rising from the distant floor, where the fantastic lithic architecture was reflected by a still pool, half obscured by a series of platforms or terraces, each with its own surreal configurations. Garron knew that he was witnessing the results of thousands of years of geological processes. Could these be the cold stones? He was aware that many of the apparently solid structures, so long undisturbed, were brittle enough to shatter if struck accidentally. His feet finally touched the surface about fifty metres from the clear pool, which he saw was enclosed by a natural rimstone dam. The sound created by the wind far above had now become an intermittent bellowing, which echoed and re-echoed among the encrusted columns. Even after the the echoes had faded he imagined he could sense a residual pulse which continied to resonate subsonically throughout the fabric of the cave, and wondered whether at an even deeper level there might be a subterranean river. This was a reasonable assumption, but he could hardly have guessed the truth. Switching on his camera, he began to explore.

Garron was relieved to note that the air was breathable, although he thought he could detect a faint tang of ammonia, which might suggest the presence of bat-droppings. Occasional scuttlings from the direction of the pool confirmed that the cave system had developed its own ecology, which he had no wish to disturb. However, he did find signs of previous disturbance; earlier probably by several thousand years, according to archaeological colleagues with whom he later shared his sequence of images. They also concluded that there must once have been a far more accessible entrance closer to the level of the cave floor, long since sealed by a rock-fall. Exact dating of the items would have to wait for proper sampling and analysis by a fully trained team, but the success of this preliminary survey meant that at least funding for future expeditions should not be a problem.

The skeletal fragments were undoubtedly human and almost certainly Neolithic, judging from the artefacts visible in the same sediment: ceramic shards, beads of shell and polished marble, even flakes of high-value obsidian, which his colleagues believed originated in Melos. A sheltered niche near the pool contained a blackened area with remnants of animal bones, possibly of jackal, wolf or lynx.

Although he came to be credited with the rediscovery of the Myksos cavern, Garron remained disappointed that in terms of Sibylline research he had returned empty-handed. Later expeditions, though valuable to specialists in other fields of pre-history, found nothing remotely oracular, at least, not for several millennia. This was not surprising, for the device conceived by long-term planners, and situated far below the site of any excavation in Garron’s era, was not intended to be discovered until a much later phase of human development. It was designed to continue functioning for an extremely long time, and was equipped to re-locate automatically if in danger of premature detection. This escape function had been programmed as an afterthought, when the craft in which the Installers had arrived was accidentally seen hovering near the foot of the hill by a startled woman collecting medicinal herbs. Her mind had been implanted with the necessary warning. She would spread the word in her own tongue.

There is a faint unremarkable star, smaller than our sun. It is called Gliese 710, and is almost 64 light-years distant. In astronomical terms it is a 9th magnitude main sequence suspected variable star, detected not many years ago in the constellation Ophiuchus. In relation to its distance its proper motion is unusually small. That means it’s heading our way.

It has taken more than four billion years to achieve the solar system’s current equilibrium. Gliese 710 is set to stir things up. At its closest approach it will pass within one light-year, generating swarms of comets beyond the experience of humankind. These showers will stream sunwards, disintegrating as they sweep close to planets, becoming meteors. There will be impact events.

Deep in the Myksos cave a steady subsonic pulse confirms that the predictive device continues to update information from that distant stellar source, calculating gravitational fluctuations, refining its vast store of accumulated data until the exact moment when those cold stones become incandescent as they fall to earth.

We have only 1,360,000 years until this occurs. Soon we should start to think about preparing to leave. It would, after all, be wise.

© L. J. Sklaroff 2013 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 15:46 Mon 02 Sep 2013
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