There are those among us that are not as they appear. The world has succumbed to the idea that the fantastic is mere fiction; that vampires, werewolves, demons, giants, elves, trolls, and magic – especially magic, are nothing but figments of imagination from the minds of storytellers throughout the ages. As it often is with fiction, a kernel of truth is found if you look hard enough, and more importantly is the understanding that what we know of the universe is limited to that which we can observe. When a matchstick is struck, and a flame bursts forth, no one marvels, as we accept chemistry and friction as governing laws of the universe. Take that same match a thousand years back, and it suddenly becomes magic. Magic to the matchstick has been a driving force of humanity, relegating that which is unknowable to the gaps where mystery and the fantastic can flourish. Does benevolent commonality make a matchstick any less magical? If someone – or rather, thirteen someones, possessed a technological understanding of the universe that far exceeded anything we understand, would we see magic or the matchstick?
We know the universe is vast and enormous, and that our understanding of physics limits our current capabilities to explore that universe, our limitations of technology, and perhaps the limitations of our will – but while that is true for humanity, it isn’t true of those that have visited us.
Their timing couldn’t have been worse. They folded space and journeyed the vast distance to our world to see if it was compatible with their biology. There were thirteen of them, pioneers of their world, the first to manipulate space and move through it faster than light. When they arrived, they found humanity, tribal and raw, on the verge of becoming civilized. That’s when the impacts happened.
It rained down from the heavens and set the world ablaze. They couldn’t escape – they knew they couldn’t. They had a contingency plan, but it meant possibly never seeing their home again. They’d be lost to this new world, until the day that our primitive world achieved what their home world had achieved – and only then could they return to their little blue world so far away. They activated their contingency plan and waited. It didn’t feel like anything, but they knew it had worked. They sat in a circle, the thirteen, and held hands as the cave they were in collapsed and the mortality of their birth, like a matchstick having burned to the fingertips, went out.
Their cave was undisturbed for many millennia while some small part of them waited unconsciously to be found. When their cave was finally breached by a lone man who sought shelter from a storm, the contingency they had enacted so long before finally became realized. The man wouldn’t have known that he carried with him thirteen similar, but unique strains of a virus. Nor would he have known that contained in the DNA of those viruses were the memories and lives of those thirteen explorers. He returned to his village, to his pregnant wife, and as it was engineered to do the virus replicated and found its way into the body of the unborn child. Likewise, the other twelve strains also found their way into the bodies of the unborn children of the village.
That first child was born healthy and vigorous – perhaps stronger than he should have been. He grew into a strong, healthy child, and eventually into a strong, healthy man. When sickness ravaged his village, he seemed unaffected – as did the other affected children of the village. In his eighteenth year the first of them became gravely ill and his parents, having lost three other children to illness, saw the signs and prayed to their gods that he be spared. He turned cold, his breathing so shallow that he could be mistaken for dead, and stayed that way for three full days. On the third day, as his parents and friends gathered around his body to wish him well on his journey to the afterlife, he suddenly took in a great breath and sat up. He recognized everyone around him, remembered every detail of his life to that point, but he also remembered more. Significantly more. He recalled the journey from his home world, his exploration of this planet, the comets falling, holding hands in the cave – and darkness. He remembered everything.
The other twelve children followed the same path. In their eighteenth year, they fell ill, appeared near death, and suddenly awoke to a world of memories that had for millennia been dormant. The first of them had guided the rest as they re-awoke to a world they’d only barely known when their first body had died.
When the last of the thirteen had awoken, they gathered together and assessed all that had happened and all that was yet to come. They knew by looking at the starts that much time had passed. They journeyed beyond the village to find the cave where their first bodies had perished and worked to destroy any remnants of the technology that had brought them. They knew it might take thousands of years, perhaps hundreds of lifetimes before humanity could send them home, but that humankind knowing they were not alone had the potential to alter too much. They’d have to wait, living the lives of humans before dying and having their engineered virus find its way into another child waiting in the womb to be born.
They lived that first lifetime together, as members of the same village. They taught the village much about the world, but it was still a primitive time for humanity. They showed them easier ways to make fire. How to grow and irrigate crops. How to prepare and survive the long winters. How to properly cook meat. With the thirteen as their guides, the village thrived, declaring them deities for their power and knowledge in manipulating nature. For the thirteen it was merely applied science. Combine nitrogen rich materials with the earth and crops could feed the whole village. Cook meat thoroughly and no one would get sick. Clean a wound properly, and infection could be staved off.
After forty years, the oldest of the thirteen, now nearing seventy-years-old, told the others he was leaving. He surmised that they should disperse, live separate lives, and help guide humanity towards morality and progress. One by one the thirteen left the village to find something more. They’d been human for decades, but their original nature still drove them. Some were leaders, some were soldiers, some were scientists, some were physicians. As they went out to the world to live lifetime after lifetime, this nature remained. They’d come together on the sixth day of the sixth month every hundred years, meeting at the village in which they all experienced their reawakening. Sometimes only eleven would arrive, the twelfth having died and not yet found themselves awake in their new body. The village eventually faded from existence, and only a small clearing in a forest remained. Still, they gathered there, every century, telling tales of the lives they’d live and remembering the world they’d once known across the stars.
Six thousand some odd years later a girl was handed a plain white envelope. The letter looked like any letter you might receive in the mail. It had the required amount of postage; the address was printed on a self-adhesive white label affixed to the front. There was no return address. It wasn’t the only piece of mail she received that day, as she also received her monthly tuition statement from the prestigious Barry Matthews Academy, the boarding and preparatory school she lived at with her younger brother. As per usual at the bottom of the statement, the balance read that she owed nothing, noting that the account had been paid in full. This was always the case and had always been so ever since her mother and father had received a visit from a lawyer named Thompson.
He’d told them that they had a distant relative who had taken an interest in her and that, if they wanted, she and her brother could attend Barry Matthews at the expense of her benefactor. Her parents were at first skeptical, but when they received airline tickets flying them from their home in San Diego to Sonoma so they could visit the campus, they knew it was a serious offer. The children, she was twelve at the time, he ten, fell in love with the school immediately. The school offered courses in all the relevant subjects: History, English, Foreign Languages, Mathematics – but it was the extracurriculars that excited the children. Mazzlyn – Mazzy for short – had been competing in gymnastics since she was nine, and the school was renowned for having one of the finest teams in the country. Cairo had been taking lessons in martial arts, and Barry Matthews’ athletic programs included Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA classes. The school was far from home, but as part of the offer presented to the family was a promise that their benefactor would also pay to have their parents visit at least once a month.
Mazzy put the tuition statement back in the envelope and placed it into her backpack, making a mental note to take a picture of it and send it to her parents. It’s what she always had done, as they wanted records for themselves. Taking the second envelope, she slid her fingers under an unglued flap in the corner and moved them upward, quickly separating the glue. As she unfolded the letter inside to read it, she saw that it was addressed to her by name.
Ms. Mazzlyn Brown
Barry Matthews Academy
65063 Old Redwood Hwy
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Dear Ms. Brown,
I am writing to inform you that your life, and the life of your brother, is in grave danger. They will be coming soon, and you must be prepared. Keep a watchful eye out for irregularities, strangers, and other people whom you might not recognize.
Help will be coming.
Mazzy was taken aback by the content of the letter. It’s certainly not every day that a fifteen-year-old was told that she was in grave danger and that someone would be coming to get her. “I would have expected that a letter threatening my life would have been on better paper, and who is Horus Parr?” she thought to herself.
It’s not that Mazzy wasn’t scared by the letter, she was, but she was a practical person, not one to panic, and started to work out what it meant and what was next. Surely she’d have to tell her parents about it, and of course Mr. Tsai, the Headmaster of Barry Matthews, but first she should check on her brother.
Cairo Brown lived in Dormitory Five, across the vast courtyard to where Mazzy lived in Dormitory Eleven. She saw her brother for dinner every night, but it wasn’t yet past four, and she figured this was a matter that shouldn’t wait.
The campus of Barry Matthew Academy is arranged as a large clock, with a six-story wedge-shaped building, large and imposing, at the six o’clock position. This building housed the majority of the classrooms and academics. At the twelve-o’clock position was a great hall with a soaring steeple and clock tower that was visible from anywhere inside the inner courtyard. From the steps of the hall to the steps of the academic building was precisely one-hundred meters, as it was for the buildings at the three o’clock positions and the nine o’clock position. Mazzy knew this because during her first visit with her parents she’d received a thorough tour with a detailed explanation of the school design and layout.
The tour guide had led them to the center of the inner courtyard where a bronze statue of Barry Matthew himself, the founder of the school, stood as he must have looked in 1902. The statue was at the base of a spire that jutted fifty feet into the air and tapered down behind him fifty more feet into a large upright triangle. This structure effectively turned the center of the courtyard into a giant sundial, which was furthered by a large paved circle with ornate iron embedded into the relative clock positions. The guide, a somewhat foppish brunette woman, named Ms. Jones, pointed to the academic building, then the hall describing each. She then continued, “In the one o’clock, five o’clock, seven o’clock, and eleven o’clock positions are the student dormitories.” These were rectangular buildings, five floors, with the smaller side of the rectangle facing in toward the center of the courtyard. The buildings are named for their relative position on the great clockwork of buildings, not the number of buildings on the campus. She continued, “at three o’clock is the gymnasium and athletics building.” That building held several basketball courts, bleachers, locker rooms, weight rooms, and rooms for athletic classes. She pointed to a four-story building to her left, the bottom floor all glass windows, while the building above was the same classic red brick the rest of the buildings on campus were. “At nine o’clock is the student dining commons on the first floor and administrative offices on the three floors above.” She pointed to a two-story building, with far fewer windows than one would expect, none of which were on the first floor. “Two o’clock is for academic research and is off-limits to students.” She pointed to the building in the four o’clock position. “There you will find our theater, which also contains our drama and music departments, and at eight o’clock is our worship center. As we are strictly non-denominational, inside you will find a mosque, a church, a synagogue, meditation rooms, and multi-purpose facility, and several faculty offices. Lastly,” Ms. Jones said, “at the ten o’clock position is our recreational facility. This includes our banquet rooms, game rooms, student and faculty lounges, as well as our recently installed bowling alley.” It was the bowling alley that pushed the Brown family over the edge in deciding to take Mr. Thompson up on the offer to send Mazzy and Cairo to the school.
Mazzy walked out of Dormitory eleven and knew that it was exactly one-hundred meters to the door of Dormitory 5, where her younger brother Cairo lived. It was almost four-thirty in the afternoon so he would be in his room before meeting for dinner at six o’clock sharp. She rushed across the courtyard, staying on the cobblestone walkway that led from her dormitory to the great circle in the middle, and onward to Dormitory five. The courtyard, as it was most afternoons, was a bustle of activity with students of various years hanging out, kicking balls, throwing frisbees, and otherwise socializing in the warm sun of a spring afternoon. It was April, and the school would let out in a month and a half when Mazzy and Cairo would return home for the summer. Mazzy loved life at Barry Matthews, but she loved her summers at home with her family more. She finally made it to her brother’s building, entered and climbed the stairs to the third floor, before knocking loudly on her brother’s room.
The Dormitory rooms at Barry Matthews were shared, two students to each. Cairo’s roommate, another thirteen-year-old boy named Ivan, had been at Barry Matthews Academy since the second grade. Ivan yelled through the door after Mazzy banged on it for quite some time.
“Geez. Okay,” Ivan said opening the door, his black hair coming down over one eye. “Oh, hey Mazzy.”
“Hi, Ivan. Is Ro here?” Their parents had named him Cairo because they liked the nickname Cai and the name meant “The Victorious” in Arabic. Mazzy had always called him Ro. They had called her Mazzlyn because they wanted to call her Mazzy and figured it had to be short for something. They had made Mazzlyn up.
“He’s in the bathroom,” Ivan said, opening the door to let Mazzy in. She walked in and sat on Ro’s bed, waiting with the letter from the mysterious Horus Parr still in her hand. Ivan sat on his bed opposite Mazzy. “So, uh, how are your classes going,” Ivan said, feeling like he needed to say something.
“They’re going fine.” Mazzy didn’t really like Ivan and found him somewhat annoying. He’d been Ro’s roommate for the last two years, and as he’d gotten older, she felt him trying harder to get her attention.
“And how about Gymnastics? I went to your last meet. You were great.” He smiled at Mazzy, a little too broadly.
“Gymnastics is going great. Thank you. We worked hard to win that one.” Mazzy had been on the gymnastics team since she arrived at Barry Matthews and had excelled, becoming one of the stars of the team. Neither she nor her parents knew if her benefactor would also pay for college, so she was actively pursuing the idea of a scholarship just in case. She also loved to compete and found the release of stress through physical activity helpful. It’s why she also was taking Jiu Jitsu as an elective class. Mazzy tightened her ponytail, her preferred way to wear her dark brown shoulder length hair, feeling impatient at Ro taking so long. Finally, after a near eternity of Ivan awkwardly smiling at her, he came back.
“Oh, hey Mazzy. What’s up.”
“Ro. Read this.” She handed the letter to her brother, who flopped down on his standard issue navy blue bed comforter to read it.
Cairo unfolded the letter and mouthed the words as he read it. “We’re in grave danger? Is this a joke?”
“I don’t know. It’s creepy. I came here first to make sure you were okay,” Mazzy said, glancing up at Ivan who was still smiling at her. “You seem fine. I’m going to give Mom a call.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Cairo said. “What does ‘Help will be coming’ mean?”
“You know as much as I do,” Mazzy replied. “The whole thing is scary though. Maybe I should call Mr. Thompson, too?”
“Yeah, okay. I don’t like this at all,” Cairo said this while looking out of his window into the vast courtyard. No one looked out of place, but nevertheless, he was unnerved and a little scared. Mazzy recognized the concern on her brother’s face.
“Don’t worry, Ro. We’ll be okay. Let’s call Mom.”