Saqqara, Egypt

Yong-Su Kim looks at the pyramid, raising his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. It’s hard to believe that just yesterday he was having a date in South Korea and that now he’s in front of Djoser’s Pyramid, the first of its kind in Ancient Egypt.

While Noriko Null is busy discussing in Arabic the arrangement with the guide, a tall red-haired woman approaches the Korean visitor.

-Hello. Are you Noriko’s date? – Vesta asks him with a disarmingly warm smile; even if she’s speaking English, thanks to her divine nature he can understand every single word.

-Yes, but don’t use that term around her, she’s very sensitive about it – he answers, shaking hands.

-Tell me about it. First time in Egypt?

-Yes. How about you?

-I loved coming here. There was this shop in Hut-waret that made the best linen Kalasiris you… – she starts to answer, before remembering that she’s not talking with a member of the Vanguard.

-I mean, I’ve been here often – she quickly corrects herself.

-It’s done. They’ll let us get inside alone if we promise not to break anything – Noriko announces, leaving the guide behind and approaching Yong-Su and Vesta.

-How did you convince them? – the latter asks.

-I bribed them – Noriko calmly admits.

-Did you really have to? – Vesta sighs.

-Should I have told them we’re here because we’re searching for alien artifacts?

-Wait, so we’re not just here to see the pyramid? – Yong-Su asks.

-I’ll explain on the way. Vesta, would you mind showing us the way?

-The way to what? I’ve never been inside.

-What? I thought you said you lived here!

-I lived in Memphis, not inside a tomb!!! – Vesta objects, right before an African-American man wearing a mask appears next to her.

-You lived in Tennessee? Kind of a random fact to bring up – Quantum adds.

-You see what I have to work with? – Noriko asks her date, rolling her eyes and taking the initiative to enter the tomb. Yong-Su follows her after a moment of hesitation.

-Why exactly did she bring him here? A burial site is no place for a date – Vesta wonders.

-Maybe it’s her version of going to a scary movie. So, uhm… you really lived in Ancient Egypt?

-Yes. And no, aliens didn’t build the pyramids and most Egyptians didn’t have black skin.

-What? No, that wasn’t what I wanted to ask.

-Oh. I’m sorry, Max, I’m just tired of hearing the same questions every century. What is it?

-Mummies aren’t real, right? They kind of freak me out.

Vesta chuckles, remembering why she hangs out with these mortals. She passes by Max on the way to the pyramid, messing up his hair.

-Why don’t we go find out?


Under the surface

There are several miles of underground tunnels under the pyramid; the section that the four are now exploring is only illuminated by Noriko’s phone, and she’s the only one who doesn’t have to hunch to fit into these abandoned corridors.

-I keep forgetting how short people were at the time – Vesta comments, finding herself whispering.

-What exactly are we looking for? – Yong-Su asks Noriko. They’ve ventured away from the area open to tourists, and he’s starting to have his doubts.

-I know this will probably sound crazy…

-Try me.

-During the Guild invasion, the Scribe showed me his memories of finding the Nexus back when he was building the pyramid; specifically, he took it from the body of a grey-skinned alien woman he found during an excavation. Yesterday, Voron told me that the Lar used to live on Earth millions of years ago, and since the Lar are grey-skinned humanoids…

-It does sound crazy. I have to accept that aliens exist, after the whole invasion thing, but in Ancient Egypt? Really? Wouldn’t we have found some evidence by now?

-I have better technology than anyone else who tried. If there’s something here, I’m the only one who can find it – she boasts, her silver eyes glowing in the darkness.

She looks at her phone, moving it around to examine the area and focusing on its screen.

-Well I’ll be damned. I can’t find anything – she admits.

-Do that again – Quantum tells her.

-Do what?

-I saw something while you were scanning. A faint glow, right where you are standing.

-I’ll run another scan. There, see anything?

-Nope. Maybe it was the eye thing?

-“The eye thing”? – she repeats.

-You know, that thing you do when your eyes light up?

-It’s a byproduct of a surge of electric power in my brain reflected by the iris.

-Whatever, do it again! Just… think hard about something!

-I’m not sure how it could help, but I’ll give it a shot. Cover your eyes – she warns them, closing her own and taking a deep breath.

When she opens her eyes again, they’re bright as a torchlight. But they’re not the only light: the walls also emit a faint red glow, which flickers for just a few moments.

-I think it’s working! Think harder! – Quantum encourages her.

Every muscle in Noriko’s body tenses and she grimaces in pain. Her eyes emit more light than a car’s headlights, and the glow becomes permanent. Not only that, the walls seem to be transparent now.

Noriko lets out a primal scream of effort, and everyone simply has to look away. When she’s done and her eyes return to normal, she loses her balance.

-Are you okay!? – Yong-Su asks, catching her before she hits the ground.

-I think I just solved the Yang-Mills existence and mass gap – she proclaims, exhausted.

-Does… does that mean anything to you? – he asks to her colleagues.

-Nope. Which probably means she’s alright – Quantum shrugs.

-Uhm, guys? I don’t think we’re in Egypt anymore – Vesta says, lifting her hand: the fire she’s holding is illuminating the room… which isn’t an underground tunnel anymore.

They’re inside a completely different room. Walls, ceiling and floor are made of metal, making the place an empty box. Noriko works on her phone while Vesta and Quantum inspect the place.

-I don’t detect any changes in the gravitational field, so it’s probably still Earth. I don’t think we’ve moved at all. Somehow this room occupies the same space of the tunnels, perhaps forcing its atoms into a quantum superposition.

-Yeah, that was my first guess as well. How do we get out of here? – Quantum asks.

-Already? We haven’t found what we were looking for yet – she notes.

-It’s an empty room, there’s nothing to look for!

-Who goes through the trouble of breaking the rules of physics to hide an empty room for thousands of years? There has to be more to this – she insists, touching one of the walls.

The wall responds by lighting up, drawing three red triangles. Then all the other walls do the same, followed by the roof and finally the floor: the latter releases a small object, a black cube that floats into the air and hovers right before Noriko. There’s a red infinity sign on the side facing her.

Her hands gets closer to it, before Yong-Su Kim grabs her wrist.

-What are you doing? It’s dangerous! – he warns her.

-It’s what I do – she insists, grabbing the mysterious object.

Then there’s darkness, as if reality just blinked.


600,000 years ago, the land that will one day be Egypt

Noriko has been through enough out-of-body experiences to be used to it by now. But she didn’t expect the transition to be so sudden: she’s in the middle of a grassy field, surrounded by dead people. They don’t look quite human: the proportions are wrong, especially in the size of the head and the shape of their faces. They’re wearing loincloths, but they wield plasma guns.

The sound of an explosion gets Noriko’s attention: a dozen ships fly toward their target, which even at this distance she can identify as a woman with green hair wearing a green evening gown.

Is this all that’s left of the once proud Lar Empire? Toys and primitives? – she asks, tossing around the enemy ships with her telekinesis without much effort. The last ship crashes directly against her: when the explosion dissipates, the goddess is holding by the throat someone wearing a metallic suit. They float towards Noriko’s position, where she can confirm that this is Demeter.

I gave your people the same choice I gave this planet’s animals: submit or die. As primitive as they are, they proved to be smarter than a Nexus – she insults her prisoner, dismantling the armor with her telekinesis and revealing the person inside it as a grey-skinned woman.

-This is just one outpost. Others will rise against Olympus – the alien declares. Noriko sees her reach for something in her belt: a device that glows blue. Demeter doesn’t seem to notice it: she just holds her open hand above her victim’s breast, leaving herself vulnerable.

Let them. They will all suffer your fate – Demeter says, closing her hand into a fist.

The alien screams as her main heart is extracted from her chest. She takes the blue device in her hand and seems ready to use it, but she hesitates too long: Demeter extracts the two auxiliary hearts, and the alien lets the device fall to the ground. The grass freezes instantly upon contact.

The alien collapses in a pool of black blood, having lost Demeter’s attention; instead, she telekinetically lifts the device and inspects it with a malicious look on her face.

Hm. What a curious contraption. I wonder if Hephaestus can carve me a necklace with it.

Demeter flies away, completely ignoring Noriko’s presence. The human rushes towards the alien: much to her amazement, she’s still alive. Even more amazingly, her silver eyes shine.

Two more aliens, males of the same species, materialize on the place: judging by the red glow that signals their arrival, they must have been using the same phasing technology of the empty room.

-Why didn’t you use the Endless Winter, Sefer!? You would’ve killed her!!! – the first one protests.

-And this planet… would’ve died… with her… – the wounded alien answers, trying to stand up.

-Don’t move. This body is about to die, but there’s time to transfer to a clone – the second says.

-We don’t have the equipment to grow one, or a safe passage to another research station. We have to save the Nexus – the first insists.

-How? Demeter has killed every other female in the outpost, so Sefer can’t transfer it to anyone.

-The locals… they will be… the next Nexus… – the wounded alien says, getting much paler.

-They’re too primitive. Even if they find a way to activate it, we can’t trust the full power of the Nexus to such a violent species.

-No choice… the Black Box… – Sefer pleads, coughing more blood; it’s amazing that she’s still alive despite losing all her hearts, but she’s on death’s doorstep.

One of the males materializes the black cube in his hand, handing it over to the dying woman. When she touches, her silver eyes shine.

-There… all the knowledge of the Lar… downloaded into the Black Box… get it… in the safe…

-What? We can’t just leave this here!

-Locked… higher functions… Nexus… until… they’re ready – Sefer slowly slurs, until the light in her eyes fades away. She may be an alien, but Noriko can tell she’s dead now.

-Rest in peace, Sefer. You made our ancestors proud – one of her brethren says, closing her eyes.

There’s a long moment of silence before anyone speaks; even Noriko, who knows this is just a recording, feels a strange connection to the alien that died thousands of years ago.

-What do we do now? – one of the last two remaining aliens asks.

-She was the Nexus. We’ll do as she asked – the other answers, staring at the Black Box.

-I pray to our ancestors that someone finds this before the Endless Winter destroys this galaxy.

-Maybe you should’ve left better instructions – Noriko complains, her voice unheard by time as she feels her mind leave this era and return to the present.

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