It was a strange year, of dark suns and light rains, when unholy clouds swarmed in the ultramarine expanse of tortuous skies. The air was filled with ominous portents, the earth crawled with sinistrous disquiet. They called it the year of the Minotaur, and like the fantastical beast, it demanded blood from all.
Three hundred years had passed since mankind entered the age of the apocalypse and the old ways of life were gone for all time to come. At the pinnacle of human civilization, death and doom had swiftly descended on a world that was engrossed in its ephemeral glory. Rapidly advancing deserts had replaced vast stretches of forests, and the tumescent waters of rising oceans had submerged many habitable lands. In this bleak and cheerless habitat, the only reasonable means of locomotion was through air. Though humanity had lost much when their civilization crumbled, their boundless creativity flourished more than ever in such depressing times. Our customary manner of living was replaced by new, more extravagant forms.
I remember that year as though it were yesterday. I worked as a janitor at one of the countless airports that we had built after the tide had turned against our relentless march. My job was easy, and I had an immense amount of time on my hands, which I spent observing and studying the countless people that passed through the gate every day.
The age of the apocalypse had brought a few evolutionary changes in the human species. The most noticeable among them was the complete loss of hair, even on the head, among a majority of them. The few that retained crown hair were considered freaks, oddball remnants of a bygone age, to be jeered, mocked, patronized or shunned.
One afternoon, as I relaxed at my desk, I was surprised to see a man standing in the disembarkation area. My amazement was due to the fact that his head was full of hair, aureate strands that glittered in the neon lights of the arrival chambers.
As I observed him further, my curiosity was increased by the fact that he appeared to be a mixture of various quaint but oddly familiar characteristics. I could not take my mind off him because of his eccentric mien. That night I lay in bed thinking of him, wondering whether he was some chimerical creature from the past, an evolutionary abnormality of the last three hundred years, a mishap that nature loves to periodically unleash among her unsuspecting children.
The succeeding day I was perplexed to see the man standing again, at exactly the identical time and place. He exuded the same exotic appeal he had the previous day. After an hour, the man (whom I shall call the Golem, for I was never able to know his name, and like the mythical being he was a mixture of multitudinous elements) left, like he did before.
This ritual of arriving in the afternoon to stand at the terminal and leaving alone an hour later continued day after day for three weeks. By then my interest was roused to an extreme extent and one afternoon, I ventured to approach him and enquire the nature of his business at the airport.
“Greetings, sir, are you looking for someone? Perhaps I can be of help. I am the janitor at this gate,” I proclaimed.
He was startled by my sudden appearance and questioning, but he quickly proceeded to reply that he was not waiting for anybody.
“In fact, I am waiting for my conveyance,” he smiled, revealing a set of flawless teeth that had a tinge of titanium in them.
Confounded by his reply, I asked him what kind of conveyance he was waiting for at the airport, apart from an airplane. It was then he told me the reason for his afternoon ritual and extended an invitation to visit his lodgings in one of the obscure parts of town. I do not know why he chose to reveal it to me, but they say that men like him are rare and extraordinary, that they possess a sixth sense that the rest of us mortals do not. Whatever the reason was, the revelation of the Golem left me bewildered beyond belief, filled my soul with a paradoxical melange of hope and fear, and left me with a peculiar feeling of comfort and torment in this grim epoch of cataclysmic changes.
The Golem informed me he was expecting an autotransmobile. I declared my ignorance of any such means of transport.
As I listened intently, he replied, “I did not expect you to know of it. It is certain you have never been in one. An autotransmobile is an advanced type of automated chronoteleporter, which itself is a vehicle that moves people and objects through both space and time, instantaneously, in either forward or backward direction, as desired by the passenger.” I was thoroughly astounded by his disclosure.
He continued, “I am a chronicler at the Academy of Universal History. My metier involves the gathering and recording of all the events of the past, the present and the future, at every single point in the known cosmos. I was involved in developing a new model of the chronoteleporter, having the ability to port only the mind of the individual, leaving the body behind, safe and secure in its native time and place. This would be a singular leap in the field of multidimensional motion since so far the physical body had to cope with extreme hazards, not only in the process of chronospatial mobility but also in the event of porting into hostile worlds or epochs.”
He paused for a while and took certain readings from a complex looking watch he wore on his arm. He then resumed his narration.
“The main problem of the original chronoteleporters has always been the substantial harm that can result to the physical framework of an organism from multidimensional motion. As astronomical forces are involved in the operation, not to mention the inherent dangers in such processes of unpredictable journeys, injuries were frequent and sometimes grievous and fatal. Any anatomical trauma has so far been dealt with by replacement. The prostheses are excellent and durable but suffer from a lack of certain properties of the original tissue. They are non-self healing and devoid of replicating functions of autochthonous organs. Hence, the project for a new model was created and I am one of the first members recruited to test the prototype.”
Though his account was full of technical jargon, I was utterly fascinated and immersed myself in his extraordinary recital.
“Some time ago, during one of our routine tests of the prototype, we suffered from an engineering failure that caused a psycho-termination of my co-passenger and left me stranded here.”
I interrupted him to ask what psycho-termination meant. He answered it was the death and dissolution of the mind while the body remained intact and alive. He said it was very common during the initial stages of testing of the prototype chronoteleporter and was the greatest hurdle it had to overcome, for successful completion.
“I expect the fault to be rectified any day and my ride to materialize at this exact spot and time of the afternoon.” He told me that autotransmobiles use a special and unique system of space-time coordinates for their multidimensional motion, hence the precise and regular nature of his everyday ritual.
Then in a spontaneous burst of affection and camaraderie, he solicited me to accompany him to his quarters so that he could disclose further details of his sojourn, while he patiently awaited his extraction.
It was thus that I came to the dwelling of the Golem and experienced the most bizarre and fascinating moments of my life. He had taken abode at one of the many rundown areas of town which provided him with the anonymity and invisibility he thought would keep him undisturbed.
Presently we arrived at a small nondescript building and entered it. Before long, we were seated, and he recommenced to recount his tale.
“You might think of my occupation of vaulting through worlds in space and time as a memorable adventure but it is nothing of the sort. Allow me to show you the damages chronoteleportation can inflict on the physical body.”
The Golem paused. He then proceeded to show me the most surreal thing I have ever witnessed in my days in the age of the apocalypse. The Golem raised his hands to his eyes and gingerly removed them and placed them on the table. It was an exceedingly grotesque scene albeit very remarkable indeed.
“The eyeballs that you see on the table are prosthetic, made of the rhodium, one of the rarest and most precious of metals. It is its extraordinary reflective property that allowed it to be fabricated to imitate the retina. A clinker in the port procedure caused my eyes to disintegrate in my orbits. They had to be replaced with these replicas so that I could regain my vision again. But like the forgery of a masterpiece, these eyes fail in their denouement. I can no longer perceive the world in color, the whole kit and caboodle is in grey.”
In spite of the profoundly disturbing nature of the entire episode of the eyes, I almost burst out with laughter to hear him use such a slang phrase as kit and caboodle. He was very perceptive and began laughing himself. Together we laughed, long and hard, for a time that seemed like all eternity. At that moment, an intense bond formed between us, and we became like old friends who meet after years of separation. The memory of that fleeting friendship cuts through my heart and bleeds me with agony even after all these years.
When we stopped laughing, the Golem slowly started removing both his legs of platinum, his left arm of germanium, his teeth of titanium, his ears of iridium, his hair of gold…till all that was left seated before me was an outlandish monstrosity.
This time I did not laugh. He discerned my seriousness and quickly put himself back together and sat in solemn silence.
The quietude was broken when I spied a book on a shelf in the wall adjacent to my chair. I was attracted by the perplexing title, The Homunculus Chronicles. I asked him about the unusual volume.
The Golem placed the book in my hands and replied, “The Homunculus Chronicles. It is the chronicler’s bible written by the legendary Alizaar, first of the chronospatial travelers. The entire book is written in obscure language interspersed with various symbols and allusions. It is said the fabled Alizaar had seen both the past and the future and was worried that his chronicles would be misused for manipulation of existence itself. Therefore, he wrote the book in cryptic sentences to protect it from being abused by malevolent persons. No one has been able to decipher the book in its entirety till this day.
“The only thing for certain is that the Homunculus stands for the little man, that is you. The Human is the big man, that is me, who shall evolve in a future time.”
I was utterly dumbstruck by the statement and could not say a word. I sat there mutely glancing through the pages of the baffling book. I can still recall the puzzling and macabre lines –
Centimus 10:3 When his children will breed like flies on festering flesh, the Cannibal God will devour his progeny.
Centimus 10:4 A holocaust unleashed, the terra firma will turn scarlet and the fiend will rampage in the fields of paradise.
Centimus 10:5 The almighty satiated by the sumptuous feast shall forgive his erring offspring.
The arcane nature of the book with its accompanying scary illustrations made me close it. The time was late and I decided to take leave of my strange but already dear friend. We departed with the resolve to continue our conversations the next day.
Scarcely did I know it was the last time I was to see my new friend, at least in his intact form.
The following afternoon I eagerly awaited his coming. But he did not come. He was so precise every single day that I was decidedly alarmed at his absence. That evening I went to his lodgings but he was not there. I enquired his whereabouts with the neighbors, but none knew of him. Dejected and despaired, I stood thinking beside a narrow street.
A little boy came running to meet me, he said he saw me last evening with the Golem. He told me that some men broke into the Golem’s house last night and assailed him. The young boy had seen the men come out of the building carrying bags, which they took to a place at the farther end of the street. He had not been able to make out what was in the bags.
Worried, I rushed back and pushed through the door of my friend’s lodgings, only to find it empty. Only The Homunculus Chronicles sat on the shelf alone.
Shuddering with a dire premonition, I ran down to the farther end of the street where there was a large scrap yard. A man was busy segregating sundry pieces of metal. I asked him about the consignment he received the previous night.
“Where are the bags you purchased yesterday from those thieves?” I shouted in a fit of anxious rage.
He motioned me to the heap that lay before us. “The bags were cast here for sorting out.”
“How much money did you offer them, you scoundrel?” I screamed in a paroxysm of impotent anger.
Then a Goliath of a man appeared and pushed me forcefully out of the yard. I tried to resist, but he was too big and strong even for a janitor like me, and I was forced to retreat or he would have harmed me.
I walked away slowly. Suddenly tears welled up in my eyes and I burst out crying. A torrential downpour of sorrow erupted from the depths of my soul, for I knew my dear friend was forever lost and gone.
As I relentlessly wept, I remembered the last image I had seen in the yard as I was thrown out. Among the heaps of scrap metal, I had momentarily discerned the eyes of the Golem, the bright reflection from the rare and precious rhodium of his orbs.
The goons of that rundown place lusting after the exceptionally valuable elements of the prostheses had murdered my friend.
They called it the year of the Minotaur, and like the fantastical beast, it demanded blood from all, from us all.
The memory of that fleeting friendship cuts through my heart and bleeds me with agony even after all these years, oh so many long years.
The evil in the hearts of men doth never perish. Even after all the cataclysm, even in this age of the apocalypse.