After breaking up with his long-time girlfriend almost a year ago, Manny had thought he would never find love again. The relationship had always been a rocky one, and it had not ended well. He had gone so far as to take a new job in a different city just to get away from the memories of her and to put his old life behind him.
Now he was in the same place again, only this time his situation was even more complicated. It had been a little over six months since he had first seen the signs of his transformation. It had seemed like a miracle then, but he quickly realized that it was also a curse. If anyone was to find out that he could spontaneously heal from any injury, there would be a line of people asking him how he did it, and he had no answers for them.
Manny could imagine all the sick and injured people flocking to him in a quest for some respite from their ailments, eventually growing angry and resentful that he wouldn’t do something to ease their suffering. It was better to keep it a secret, he had decided, than to live the rest of his life as a lab rat. Perhaps that made him selfish, but he didn’t care.
When Sarah had come into his life, it had seemed like destiny. She, being overly strong and afraid of hurting anyone, and he, being unable to he harmed, had seemed like a perfect match. He could also be completely open with her about his ability, in a way that he couldn’t with anyone else. All in all, his life had looked like it was falling into place.
The first few weeks had been bliss, as they always were with a new love, but lately the relationship had begun to sour. It was partly his fault, he had to admit. He found her strength intimidating, even emasculating at times. Just being around her was a constant assault to his ego. To make things worse, Manny found it frustrating how naive she could be about things most people took for granted.
At the same time, she was clingy and insecure about the relationship. Granted, she did not have a lot of experience, but that was only because partners had been hard to come by. The few she had been with had not walked away without some kind of trauma; one had even needed a trip to the hospital for a broken pelvis. Now that she had found someone with whom she could be intimate on a long-term basis, she was having to learn whole new sets of skills, both physical and emotional.
In the back of the Havers Gallery, he pulled into his parking spot which was unglamourously sandwiched between the dumpster and an exhaust vent. Despite his personal troubles, it was an exciting day for him. The centerpiece for his first exhibit as the new director had arrived and had been moved into position in the main hall. The carved obsidian obelisk, dating back thousands of years, was the focus of much debate, both professional and from the ancient alien conspiracy crowd. More important to Manny at the moment was its ability to sell tickets to the gallery. His job depended on generating some badly needed revenue.
Havers had been an odd sort, even as far as eccentric billionaires went, and the gallery reflected his tastes by being a hybrid of art gallery and museum of antiquities. His love for rare art pieces was only exceeded by his passion for unique and unexplained artifacts. Some said that it was through one of these that he was able to generate his enormous wealth in a single lifetime, but Manny knew that was just crazy talk. After having studied the man, he believed that he was a savant, able to see patterns in the stock market that others could not.
On his way to fill his coffee mug before getting started for the day, he met Amanda, one of the museum’s docents, coming out of the staff lounge. She was like a second mother to many of the staff, and even in the short time that Manny had been there, he had come to be fond of her as well. “Good morning,” he said. “How’s the coffee?”
“The usual,” she answered. “Terrible. It’s an exciting day for you though, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I was just on my way to have a look now.”
“It certainly is big whatever it is,” she said. “I can’t wait to see it. Sarah must be so proud of you.”
Manny scowled. “Yeah, well…”
“What’s wrong?” asked Amanda. “Sounds like the two of you are having problems.”
“It’s a unique situation,” said Manny. “Frankly, I’m not sure our relationship’s going to last.”
“Trust me,” said Amanda. “I know a thing or two about bad relationships, and yours is one of the better ones.”
Manny shrugged. “I guess. It’s just hard. There are some unusual circumstances in our case.”
“That’s what everyone thinks at first. Like all things that are worthwhile, it takes some work to get it right. But look at me talking your ear off when you’ve got work to do.”
“That’s all right,” he said. “I’ve always got time for you.”
“That’s sweet of you to say,” said Amanda, “but run along now. I want to see what’s in that big crate almost as much as you do.”
Having filled his cup, he added two sugars to cut the bitterness of the brew. Amanda had been right about the coffee. He would have to see what he could do about getting a better grind, or he would waste half his paycheck on coffee shops.
He slipped around the barricade at the entrance to the main hall and took a moment to size up the room. It was a large oval rising up three stories to a skylight which spanned half the ceiling. His first job as director had been to get the leaking seals around the frame fixed. The rainwater that trickled in had made the hall almost unusable for months.
It had been the board’s wish that the hall, once the crown jewel of the building, be restored to its former glory. His newest acquisition would be just what was needed to fit the bill. The large wooden crate stood on a raise marble platform at the focus of the ellipse opposite the main entrance. It towered to twice Manny’s height, the top third coming level with the second floor mezzanine. It had taken all of yesterday just to get the enormous box into the room and placed on its dais.
Farid, one of the curators, was already in the process uncrating the obelisk. He was manning the forklift while his assistant was up on the platform unscrewing the sheets of plywood from the heavy wooden frame and removing the packing material. Manny sipped his coffee as he checked their progress. He could already see the top part of one face of the stone monolith poking through.
Like the Rosetta Stone, each face had the same text written in a different language. In this case, however, along with the Middle Kingdom hieroglyphics, Linear A, and a style of Assyrian cuneiform which dated the monument to around 1800 BCE, there was a fourth, previously unknown language. The characters were unlike anything seen before, oddly geometric and regular, especially for the time period when it must have been carved. It was this face that he had selected to face those coming into the hall.
The obelisk would have created a stir among academics when it was uncovered by a sandstorm in the Anbar province of western Iraq forty years earlier, but it had been immediately scooped up by a private collector before it could be studied. It had been the early years of the new president Saddam Hussein’s reign and he had been eager to sell off the artifact. He was more interested in solidifying his power with military might and that required hard currency.
The Arab prince who had bought it had guarded it jealously, refusing any except his most trusted friends to see it in his private museum. There it had remained, locked away and forgotten, until he had finally died. The obelisk had been spotted by a friend of Manny’s at the estate auction. It was just the sort of rare and mysterious curiosity that he had been looking for to highlight the grand reopening of the main hall.
Now that it was standing right there before him, he could also appreciate how beautiful it was. The highly polished surface gleamed like it had been cut yesterday. The letters carved into the stone seemed to hover in a pool of dark water and shimmered as he unsuccessfully tried to read them.
“Quite a sight, isn’t it?”
“What?” said Manny. Lost in his thoughts, he hadn’t seen Farid come over to stand beside him. “Oh, yeah. I knew it was big, but didn’t think it would be so…captivating.”
“That’s a good thing, though,” said Farid. “That’s exactly what you said you wanted.”
“It’s just now that I see it with my own eyes,” said Manny, “it kind of creeps me out.”
“You know what they say about it,” said Farid. “That weird things happen wherever this thing goes. That the carvings change. And that it hums. Some say it was this chunk of rock that finally killed him.”
“You know better than most the kind of superstition that springs up around artifacts. Besides, they just finished the high-resolution scans, and nobody found anything unusual.”
“Except for the unknown language that has been buried for four millennia,” said Farid.
Manny smiled. “You say that like it doesn’t happen every second Tuesday. I’m sure someone will figure it out eventually now that it’s out in the open. I’ve studied the scans myself on and off for the past few days. It’s fascinating.”
“That it is,” agreed Farid, “but perhaps there are some mysteries that should not be solved.”
“I don’t agree with that kind of thinking,” said Manny. “Everything has an answer, if you know where to look.”
“Perhaps, but you may not like the answer you find.”
To be continued…