Author: William Gray
Exploring Callisto, stumbling upon curious cave drawings.
Erratic runes chiseled into rocky walls needed no formal translation. Illustrations below sufficed.
A staircase, a shrine, an altar, a robe-clad Oracle. Arrows circling from a child to an old man, and back again, indicating an infinite process.
Where nitrogen waterfalls once cascaded down, a partially eroded map gave directions to this fountain of immortality. A moon orbiting a planet somewhere past Saturn.
I found it on Neptune’s Triton.
The thousand steps were a mile wide. No handrail, nothing to catch me if I slipped. As I entered the shrine, my atmospheric sensors reported plentiful oxygen, comfortable temperature. I removed my helmet and approached a sandstone altar, behind which stood The Oracle.
His robes sagged from a bony frame. A liturgical hood hung down, concealing His eyes. Wrinkles spiraled out from rounded lips.
He touched my forehead with the tip of a bony finger. My mind stretched out, held for a moment, then snapped back. He nodded thankfully as if accepting a gift, withdrew His finger, retreated behind the shrine.
He emerged with a handful of glass shards, handed them to me. Their razor-sharp edges made dozens of superficial cuts on my hands. He touched my forehead again to communicate: The shards contained memories he had just extracted from my mind, to be arranged in chronological order.
The Oracle placed a simple hourglass on the altar, but did not invert it. Instead, He rested His palm on top. Sands rose, filling the upper chamber.
My first memory? Earthrise as seen from Mercurius Crater, my hometown colony.
In the middle, I placed my proudest moment-graduating valedictorian, a degree in Lunar Archaeology. Next? My professional debut, an excavation on Ganymede.
Somehow, the sands’ rising corresponded with rapid aging. My wrinkled face appeared in the shards’ reflections. Bones of my arthritic joints, lacking articular cartilage, ground against each other as I worked.
Little sand remained. My last memory to archive? My father died in the beryllium mines. I was young at the time, I do not remember exactly when.
I made my best guess. I was correct. Shards crumbled into shiny dust. I started feeling younger already.
After decades of archaeological exploits, I am thirty years young, getting younger every day. I remember Callisto’s cave drawing, that circle of immortality. I must return to Triton, play the game. Time to get older again, before I forget and drown in my youthful excesses.
The Oracle touches my forehead, exact same spot. Contents of my mind stretching, unraveling, unspooling…
He scatters shards before me, spreads His fingers out upon the altar like a card dealer, an intergalactic oddsmaker.
Is He smiling?
He places His palm on the hourglass. Sands rise, slower this time.
As I arrange the slivers of glass, becoming younger accelerates in time with the rising sands. It is refreshing. My concentration sharpens.
Approaching adolescence, however, “passion over reason” impedes my ability to think rationally. One of the shards involves a specific discovery-palladium carvings, used in some sort of fertility rite-but I cannot remember when, or even where, I excavated them. Impetuousness sets in. I want to kick The Oracle’s ass.
Younger still, I start to panic….
….All sands have risen. The Oracle’s lips are now long, thin lines. They peel back, revealing a thousand slender fangs. He cradles me, a fearful child, in His arms. His fingers are like leather stretched out over knitting needles. They poke and prod as He tries to comfort me, but to no avail.
I recall my memory of Earthrise. Everything fades away.