Visit New Byblos in the Springtime

I am an enormous fan of Israeli sci-fi writer Lavie Tidhar, if you haven’t read his work, it’s worth checking-out. So, I was intrigued to discover that he has teamed-up with puzzle writer Jake Olefsky to create an interactive sci-fi puzzle story website. The concept is simple, you read a chapter of a story on the site and then try to solve a puzzle to unlock the next chapter. The non-linear story can lead down different paths to reach the conclusion. In fact, there are 30 puzzles to solve for 20 chapters. I have posted the first chapter below. If you are interested, continue the story at Puzzle Tales.

Down and down, I felt myself sinking.

The outside faded: New Byblos and the skylarks singing in the branches of the olive trees. A soft, warm breeze. The smell of lavender and thyme.

New Byblos in the springtime: outside the window I could see the mountains that surrounded this hidden valley lush with vegetation, could see rock hyraxes and dorcas gazelles as they clambered along the slopes.

Out here the sun shone down as it had since before the first microbes lived and died upon this Earth.

I would miss the sun, I knew, once I was in. I always did.

Ifrim’s calm voice at the controls of the dive rig: ‘Ready to go, Mai?’

Hearing his voice always made me happy.

‘Ready,’ I said.

‘Breach initiated in three, two…’

Then I stopped hearing it as the translation began. The world I knew vanished from sight and I fell. Thoughts converted into electric impulses, travelling down a narrow band into the secure vault.

#

. . . It was a bad one.

I knew it as soon as I dropped in.

Flickering lights, an insubstantial room rendered in two dimensions. Something inhuman was gibbering in the corner, hidden in the dark. I couldn’t understand what it said.

The lines of the walls and floor met disconcertingly to form a door.

‘Ifrim, can you hear me?’

Crackly static on the line, as though he were coming from somewhere unimaginably distant.

‘How is it down there?’

‘It’s still operational,’ I said. ‘But I don’t know that there’s anything salvageable.’

‘Do you want to pull out?’

I stared at the door. Four white lines in a black wall. Stared at my hands. Realised I was two dimensional too, a stick figure with crude lines for fingers.

‘Mai?’

‘No,’ I said.

I went to the door. The thing in the shadows gibbered mindlessly. ‘Checksum error, four oh four, four oh four!’

‘How big is the Bostrom Field?’ I said.

‘7.5 to 10.8 variable,’ Ifrim said. ‘About the size of what a large house would have been back when the vault was first made.’

‘Well, great. Anything sentient?’

‘You tell me.’

I shrugged and pushed the door.

In the last decades of the time of the Great Excess it was said many miracles had become possible. And as the seas rose and the storms built in savagery, the lords of the last era sought shelter in specially-constructed time vaults, shielding their minds from the coming onslaught of the planet’s rage.

There were thousands of them just here in New Byblos. Here, in this lost valley of kings, the caves and shelters housed an uncounted number of old, forgotten pocket worlds. Many had been lost to time and the climate, their technological underpinning destroyed despite their designers’ best intents. Some had the internal capacity of a small city, with thousands of thinking minds still inside. Others, like this one, were much smaller.

I stepped out into a maze of shiny white dots. Something whistled through the air at me. I looked up just in time to see a crudely rendered barrel coming at me fast.

I ducked and it smashed into tiny glowing pieces against the wall behind me and vanished.

For a moment, I thought I saw a monkey up there.

I took a deep breath of cold, stale air and stepped into the maze. I kept a wary eye for any more attacks as I went through it. I wanted to try and find the centre.

It was a weird vault, I thought.

Ghostly shapes came at me from three different sides. They wailed in waka-waka. I dodged through an opening into an inner corridor. Two of the ghoulies followed me in. I tried to lose them by using the right-hand rule but one kept after me. I spotted another break in the wall and dashed through it.

The ghoulie came after me and another materialised on the other side.

I was trapped.

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