Secrets in the Mountain

Jason allowed himself one last unstifled yawn, then shifted his car into park and turned off the ignition. For a moment he sat in his seat, staring at the three-storied office complex in front of him, its many-windowed surface reflecting the gold of the rising sun. It was actually very pretty, but Jason was too lethargic to feel moved by it.

Brrr! Brrr!

The alarm on his watch buzzed, reminding him that the morning meeting started in ten minutes, and before it began he needed to be to his cubicle on the third floor, logged into his computer, and with his breakfast oatmeal microwaved.

“Perfect timing,” he sighed.

He pocketed the keys, grabbed his laptop and keycard, and stepped out of the car. Just as he closed the door he heard a caw from somewhere so near that he actually ducked for fear of getting razed. The dark outline of a bird passed over him and he looked up just in time to see a seagull swooping by. The bird craned its long neck downward, made eye contact with him and gave one last caw.

“What, am I too close to your nest?” Jason shot back, then tried to shake off the nerves as he made his way into the building.

“…because it’s not a question of whether the front-end needs to be updated, it does,” Jason droned into his headset a half hour later. “It’s just whether we can prioritize that over adding new features for the four-to-six months that it’ll take to do a full rewrite.”

“I still just don’t see why a rewrite is necessary,” Janice from Customer Relations spoke up.

Jason groaned, this was the last person he had wanted to have chime in. He stood up and began pacing the walkway that ran along the cubicles. If he was going to have to listen to her rant once again, he would need to be walking off the frustration.

“Look, if I understand you correctly you’re not even talking about doing a facelift to the UI. Just replacing already-existing code with new code that accomplishes all the same functions. How am I supposed to explain to our customers that their new features aren’t coming because we are making the web portal do the exact same things it already does?”

“Yes, at first it will be functionally the same as today,” Jason replied, “but the road ahead will finally be clear to do some of the changes we keep talking about. Support for newer browsers, turning the web portal into a single-page application, finally being on a framework that is still actively supported–“

“None of which the customers are asking for–“

“Yet,” Jason forced in. “They’re not asking for it yet.”

“Alright, but if they ever do, then let’s cross that bridge when we get there.”

“But then there won’t be a bridge to cross!” Jason raised his voice more than he’d intended. “That’s the whole point of–“

“Alright, alright, let me cut you two off there,” Nels’ weary voice piped up. “We’ve been through this all before, thank you both for restating your positions. But let’s be realistic. This is all a moot point with the Kronos Release ahead of us. Until we get that out, we don’t have capacity for any front-end reworks anyway. There’s no point in making a further decision now.”

Jason hastily reached up to the side of his headset and pressed the mute button so that he could vent his feeling in privacy.

“What do you mean ‘no point in making a further decision?'” he retorted to no one. “Not making a decision is making a decision! It means we’re still not getting our stack up-to-date.”

His pacing had brought him up to one of the wall-high windows that tiled across the entire length of the building. Out the window he could see the man-made canal on the other side of the office parking lot, and beyond that the rest of the city sloping down with the valley, with street lamps still shining in the dim morning light. Eventually the streets and houses sloped back up again, as the valley rose into the foothills, and then the suburbs gave way entirely to the hulking mass of the mountain that lay beyond. Mount Charon.

“…and at 4:30 we’ll have our release retrospective,” Nels was saying. “Last meeting of the day. Any questions? No? Alright, let’s get to it.”

Everyone said their farewells and then came the series of beeps as they all disconnected from the call. Jason switched his own headset off and turned to face the neat columns of cubicles before him. Office management hadn’t turned on the ceiling lights on the west side of the building for some reason, which cast everything on the floor into a strange half-shade. Jason was able to count only six other workers present, making the little cubicle-city feel like a ghost town. Where was everybody?

The mostly-absent building gave Jason a strange feeling, like he was missing out on something important. Like everyone else had remembered some event or holiday, and he was missing from where he was actually supposed to be. But no. It was August 6th, about as far away from a holiday or special event as you can get in the year. There wasn’t even a company party coming up. So what was it he was waiting for?

Jason knew that if he went to his desk he would just stare blankly at the screen without getting anything done, so he walked down the aisle instead, letting his thoughts spiral round and round. As he passed his own cubicle, he paused to kick his slip-on shoes under the desk, then proceeded marching on in his socks. With so few people present today, he really didn’t expect anyone to complain.

There was the droning voice of a news anchor coming from a television set mounted by a doorway. “…when the mining crew found an unexpected surge in heat, located at a point nearly four hundred feet beneath the summit of Mount Charon.”

Jason turned his head to look over his shoulder, back to where the real-life Mount Charon stood as a solitary sentinel over the city. Meanwhile the image on the television changed to that of a professor at the local University.

“To be honest it’s a very hard thing to explain. We’ve been drilling holes and taking temperatures, trying to find out the shape and size of what we’re dealing with. And usually you would expect to find some sort of conduit, like with a mantle plume, which is when hot magma is pushing its way up from the rock below. But that’s not what we’re seeing. We have measurements from above, beneath, and on every side of this heat spike, and the heat really does seem to be coming from a single, localized point, right in the heart of the mountain. And that’s–well that’s just baffling!”

Jason turned all the way around. The other six employees on the floor were each standing in their cubicles or wandering into the aisle, eyes locked on the television screen above Jason’s head. Each of them exchanged bemused looks, then turned their eyes to the imposing figure of Mount Charon.

The mountain lay to the west, and therefore the morning sun was just starting to shine on it from the opposite horizon, casting a blanket of pink color over its natural green and blue and gray and brown. Jason was sure it was just his imagination, but it seemed almost as if there was a discoloration in the spreading sunlight. It seemed to be disrupted by a golden arc, right at the point that he imagined the pocket of heat was emanating from. And as the sun’s pink light continued to crawl down the face of the mountain, he imagined that the arc continued to follow with it, widening to a point, then narrowing to make an almost-perfect circle over the mountain’s rugged terrain.

Jason blinked twice to clear the image from his mind, but the golden arc was still there. Was it actually his imagination, then? Jason walked up to the glass wall until his nose only an inch from the glass. Out of the corners of his eyes he could see all of his coworkers doing the same.

“What do you think it is?” Jeremy the intern asked.

“It’s–” Jason started to answer, but he was cut off by the power suddenly cutting off. The humming of the fluorescent lights, the white-noise of the mounted speakers, the muttering of voices from the television silenced so immediately that it startled them all.

“What in the world?!” Megan from Customer Service exclaimed. All of the employees gave worried looks to each other, but then turned their eyes back to the mountain.

The glow was increasing every moment, building in brightness, size, and intensity. Several times it seemed to reach as bright as it could possibly go, but then it pressed onward. The employees had to hold their hands over their faces to block most of it out, staring transfixed through a narrow slit between their finger. None of them said another word. None of them tried to leave. What would they even be running from? Where would they even go?

The locus of heat had changed from its golden hue to bright yellow to pure white. It was brighter than fire, brighter than the sun, brighter than the heart of lightning. The rock beneath the face of the mountain had started to melt, started to ooze out of any opening it could find.

Then, all at once, the outer face of the mountain burst apart in a single, shattering explosion!

Though Jason and the others were miles away from the mountain, the shockwave struck their building instantaneously, bursting every window into glassy powder and slamming the employees backwards through the air. From the hole in the mountain a sudden beam of white light burst out horizontally. It was as focused as a laser, but more than thirty feet in width. It stretched from the heart of the mountain and across miles of the sky, scorching the overhead clouds and evaporating them into steam!

Jason tried to raise himself out of the middle of shattered cubicles where he had been blasted. His legs were still shaking too hard to support his weight, though, so he had to settle for sitting in the middle of ceiling tiles, smashed monitors, floating sheaves of paper, and spilled printer ink.

All of the other workers were moaning softly in pain, nursing wounds that ranged from rough bruising to broken bones. One of them wasn’t even visible anymore, having been blasted clear out the other side of the building. Jason tried to stand once more, and this time, legs still quivering, he rose to his feet.

Before him was a complete scene of destruction.

They had been lucky that their building was still standing. In the valley before him were many that had not. In fact any construct within a two-mile radius of the mountain had been entirely obliterated, reduced to a black scorch all along the foothills. All throughout the city fires were raging, streets were upended, and cars were littered like little toys flung off of a blanket. The bodies were too small to see, but Jason knew they must be sprawled about in the tens of thousands. There came a new sound of crumbling, and the office building next to Jason’s gave in to its structural damage, folding downward in a cloud of smoke and debris. There was a moment of shouts from everyone that had been inside, but all was quickly muffled into nothingness.

Jason knew he ought to check himself for injury, ought to tend to the others, ought to run for safety before his building fell, too. But he, like anyone else in that valley who could, still had his eyes locked firmly on the mountain.

Surprisingly the whole thing hadn’t been blasted to rubble. Only the section that the beam burst through had been expelled, and now that the beam was dying down there was revealed a giant, black hole right in the heart of the rock. It was like a lake-sized bullet-hole.

And out of that hole things were emerging.

Tall things. Giant things. Things that were generally humanoid in shape, but seemed to be hewn from the rock that they emerged from. Staggering Titans of unknown ages, marching down the slopes of the mountain on legs that moved shakily after millennia of not being used. But with each step they moved more confidently, finding their old strength restored in the light of the sun.

Jason watched them descend, and as they did his lips narrowed to a line. His hands curled into fists. His hair ruffled even though there was no breeze. And then he started to rise. Up and up, until he was floating halfway between the floor and the ceiling, feet supported by nothing.

Something long forgotten had been awoken.