May 2, 1997
Min Yu Zhang, servant of the New-Moon Emperor, wiped the sweat from his brow. He was not usually a man to tremble, but nonetheless he was humbled by the great stone tomb, finally freed from its own grave in the earth beneath the bleak wastes where Genghis Khan rode. The blisters on his hands from days at the shovel seemed insignificant in comparison to its smooth black façade. Great black chains wrapped around the cube tightly, ending in the gigantic circular lock on the vault door. Soon those chains would be broken, the door would open, and then…
Then the old ways would return and Great Night would begin. These men who uncovered the tomb would die, yes, but their sacrifice was to usher in a new age, an ancient, powerful age. Those who had been dead would return, and the Sleeping God now awoken would once again lead them to victory.
The cadre Speaker began the prayers in his high, quavering voice. The other workers dropped their tools, took their positions around the tomb and lay themselves prostrate in the dirt. The Speaker’s voice, unpleasant as it was in everyday speech, grew to magnificence as it echoed around the excavation site. The tomb’s presence did not allow for any of the faithful to be less than properly glorious, but even then, it dwarfed them, surrounded them, towered over them. The prayers were mere words, dribbling from the mouth.
The god within listened with dead ears.
The Speaker’s voice trailed off. This was not right. Zhang looked up. The speaker stood frozen, his arms outstretched in supplication, his lips parted in mid-syllable, and his eyes locked on the rim of the site. Zhang followed his gaze: there were men standing on the rim. They were not wearing clothing appropriate to the cadre: these were soldiers, government soldiers, guns aimed at the praying cadre.
“Well howdy-doody, motherfuckers,” drawled a scrawny, rat-faced man with a cigarette dangling from his lip. English. Zhang did not understand the words, but he could tell the intent: mockery of a defeated enemy. Oh, the fool. Such a fool.
A larger man who stood beside the ratty one gave his compatriot a sideways glance of exasperation. He clasped his hands behind his back, cleared his throat, and then spoke in heavily accented Chinese.
[Remain face down and place your hands on your heads. You will not be harmed if you surrender peacefully.]
Who? How? There had been guards! They had paid off the government!
The Speaker did not kneel. With a look of utmost disgust, he raised a thumb to the interlopers. He was answered by a pattering of bullets. Zhang watched him fall to the dirt.
“What the fuck, they’re all scrubs. Shoot the rest,” the rat-face man said.
More bullets. Min Yu Zhang died lying on his stomach. The gunshots echoed into dust and nothingness. John Dawson shrugged, tapping the ashes off of his cigarette.
“I love it when they do the fish in a barrel thing.”
“Is not honorable.”
“Not a fuckin’ scrap. The way I figure, with you working for the Russkies and me for Uncle Sam back in the day, we’re basically a walking honor deficit.”
“Says you, capitalist American swine.”
“Perhaps this conversation would be better suited for another time,” A man in an officer’s uniform walked up to them. He was older, with graying hair, a bristly beard, and a small triangular patch on his arm bearing an opened eye in the center, framed by an olive wreath. The man had introduced himself earlier as Agent Knight.
John tossed the cigarette butt on the ground and crushed it under his boot.
“What the fuck, let’s go check this thing out.”
The three descended the dirt ramp to the base of the excavation site. The soldiers remained on the rim, spreading out around its edge. At this point they would just get in the way.
“What can you tell us about tomb?” Dmitri asked Knight. "Our information was…not detailed."
“The tomb? Harmless. A block of warded stone. It is what is inside the tomb that is not. Interpretations of the Sleeping God vary: the name is Able or Ablel or Abln, in some works he is a honorable warrior, in others a mindless savage, and in a great many he is somewhere in between. He is supposed to be some prehistoric hunter-gatherer war-god, unstoppable in combat, at least by stone-age standards, and supposedly immortal. He grew proud, and so the ancients sealed him away in his tomb, asleep for eternity. Unfortunately, so long as he remains in the tomb, we cannot harm him.”
“So we're going to kill a god.” John took out another cigarette from his jacket pocket. “I can dig it.”
“That is the end goal, yes. The tomb must be opened and the Sleeping God woken in order to destroy it."
"Is great risk," Strelkinov said. "I do not think we have enough men. Or tanks."
"All you need do is observe, captain. We will take care of this."
Knight reached into his jacket and removed a metal flask.
“Whatever you do, do not move until the kill-op has begun.” He clicked the walkie-talkie clipped to his shoulder. "Prepare opening ritual."
Knight walked to the door of the tomb and began to draw a thin line of blood red symbols in the dust. The line extended thirty feet or so, and consumed another three flasks before ending in a circle around the three men. Up on the rim, the Coalition soldiers were doing the same, tracing their own circles and symbols into the dirt, as well as one around the entire dig site.
Knight waited until they had finished before reaching to his walkie-talkie again.
“Stand by: I am opening the tomb.”
Reaching back into his jacket, Knight removed a palm-sized figurine, very worn with age. He set it on the ground and pulled a knife from his belt. One clean cut. Blood dripped down from his hand onto the idol. It began to pulse and melt, changing shape until it resembled a stone heart, each vein and fiber hyperreal, beating silently. Knight plunged his knife into it.
The air rumbled, sounding like an earthquake.
The chains dropped to the ground, thudding with leaden booms.
The lock turned slowly, stone grinding on stone.
The tomb door rolled away.
The dust cleared.
Able, the Sleeping God walked out of the tomb, no longer asleep.
He stood at least eight feet tall, with skin the color of sun-darkened leather, covered in tattoos of some forgotten and occult meaning. His hair was black and matted, hanging down below his shoulders. He was naked, all save a hide loincloth, and his features had a primitive look about them, a god of another age.
The god walked towards them, shoulders slumped, an expression of bored distaste on his features. It was an expression of “I am waiting to kill something, and you are keeping me from that.”
“Do not move. We are standing within the summoner’s circle: he is obligated to address us before killing us,” Knight whispered.
The god snorted with disdain before speaking in a voice that rumbled up from the pillars of the world. His breath was stale and foul.
“Athu basher. Kazikul ta faren ja-marl. Avskani?”
It was clear that he wanted a response. Knight reached for his walkie-talkie again.
“Initiate Code Cobalt-Triplet-Finnegan.”
The Sleeping God tilted his head slightly and shrugged. A shimmer in the air around his hand was followed by a long obsidian blade from nothingness. The Sleeping God raised it, with the same bored expression. This was hardly sport, his face said.
“Oh, hey there! What’re you doin’?”
The god froze. His sword arm lowered, and he turned around, back towards the tomb.
Someone was sitting on top of the cube, a tallish man wearing an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt over a worn Pink Floyd tee and patched khaki pants. His head was a tin of lutefisk, and he held a ukulele in his hands. Defying all sense of logic, he still had a mouth, stretched just beyond the edges of his metallic face in a Cheshire grin.
The man strummed a single chord and began to sing.
“What would you think if I sang out a tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?”
The Sleeping God stared dumbfounded, silent rage seeping out of every pore at this display of insolence.
In a blink the man was standing in front of the open tomb door. His head was a cauliflower. Another strum.
“Lend me your ear and I’ll sing you a song, and I’ll try not to sing out of key.”
He stood behind the god, looking over the right shoulder. His head was a toothbrush. Another strum, and then a pause.
“Now, I forget the next line, but I think it has something to do with grievous bodily harm.”
With the grin growing just a little bit wider and a little bit more joyful, he smashed the ukulele over the Sleeping God’s head.
“I must congratulate you, Agent Knight. You have done an excellent job with Francis’ conditioning. I’m surprised that the Coalition has been so cooperative with the project.”
“Agent Ukulele is as much use to us as he is to you, and we know how to dispose of his kind. Once he has served his purpose, we will dispose of him as well.”
“If the non-combat persona can be implanted successfully, that may not have to happen.”
“Perhaps. I make no promises on the matter, and neither do my superiors.”
“Understandable. Now, as we agreed, Francis will remain under Coalition jurisdiction until the non-combat persona is successfully implanted. The recovered entity will as well, as Francis is the only force we have available of resisting and overpowering it. Our staff on the project will remain the same for the second phase of his conditioning, and since there’s nothing else to report, I will allow you to take your men and leave. Francis has already been put back into his coma and is ready for transport.”
“Thank you, Dr. Crow.”
“Ah, Sophia. Please, come i…”
“What were you thinking?”
“You allowed the Coalition to deploy Francis in the field before we could confirm that the conditioning even worked! He could have leveled half the continent, if not worse!”
“Sophia, I appreciate your concern, but at the moment it is a non-issue. Francis managed to not only overpower the entity, but doing so proved that the conditioning did work: our project was able to create a stable persona for him and control his powers through it.”
“A persona that is a sociopathic murderer at best, based off of Soviet conditioning memetics twenty years out of date. He’s unbelievably unstable, Crow. If the conditioning breaks down, what then? The Coalition could have easily snuck in some sort of killswitch or designed him to fail as an excuse to kill him.”
“Possibly, but the Coalition can’t afford to lose a weapon like him.”
“What if he starts using powers outside of what the persona allows? What if he breaks free of our control? Will you be willing to accept those consequences?”
“Yes. Yes I will. Sophia, I know the dangers involved, and I know that the Coalition is begrudging in this project, but they have experience that we don’t in matters like this. We need them at the moment, and so we cooperate.”
“It's on your head then.”
“I never expected otherwise.”