Planet means wanderer – and that’s exactly what Nibiru was. At once a planet and a ship, it ripped its way through space, bending and indenting the black matter.
It was almost hyperbolic in size. Jupiter could have fit thirty times and still had growing room; and everywhere the ship went, it left a gravitational impression. Yet it could not be seen – much to the puzzlement Earth’s astrophysicists, who picked up strange mathematical anomalies in the solar system that could not be reconciled with known physics.
Far beneath the planetary surface was a laboratory, an array of instruments, strange devices of metal, glass and imagination. At the back wall was a viewing screen, so large and clear it was easy to mistake it for a window. At the moment, it displayed the ocean of space they were submarining through.
Quetzal watched the screen, unmoving, waiting for the blue dot to appear. His great hands were clasped behind his back. His long fingers mixed with the velvet of his long golden robe, embroidered with arcane ancient symbols.
A monument, he towered over eight feet with his headdress, which covered an elongated head. His skin was the colour of autumn leaves and his arms – extending from brief black sleeves of leather – were vined with hieroglyphs, one for each battle he had won. His hair gleamed like black beetles crushed into thread and flowed like a cape across his back. His eyes were long and narrow, angled up at the outer corners and heavily lined in black, drawing out the fire of his irises.
His most defining feature was his long nose, reminiscent of a bird. In fact, everything about him gave the impression of a golden eagle soaring proudly through endless sky.
The door opened behind him and someone entered the laboratory. Quetzal’s chest tightened with anticipation. He turned slowly to face his visitor.
Horace, too, was tall and broad of chest, with an elongated head. His arms were snaked with hieroglyphs – almost as many as Quetzal’s. His hair was also black, thick and long, and his skin a shimmering gold. And he had the same slanted eyes – but his stare was less fire and more like ash falling from the sky in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption.
He wore his own robe of velvet, but his was the colour of tar and woven with gold thread. The symbols on Quetzal’s robe spoke of triumph and strength; Horace’s told a story of domination. And while Horace, too, looked bird-like, his nose was more hooked, giving the impression of an angry parrot.
Horace crossed the room. Each step shook the metal clips on his hulking boots. He stopped beside Quetzal and said, ‘It's time.’ His voice was deep and resonant – like Quetzal’s, but with none of his natural presence.
Quetzal didn't reply. He turned back to the viewing screen. As if it had been waiting for him, the blue dot suddenly appeared. Quetzal suppressed a gasp. It wasn’t much, not yet, but it would grow and grow until it was close enough, and then they would –
‘Why are you so fascinated with that insignificant speck of dust?’ Horace wondered.
Quetzal shook his head. ‘You would call your birth home insignificant?’
Horace bristled. Quetzal knew he didn’t like being reminded that he’d been born on Earth.
‘Sometimes,’ Horace philosophised, ‘the past is best left where it is: in the past.’
Quetzal was a silent for a moment. Then he said, ‘Be that as it may…the only way to embrace the future is to understand our history.’
Horace eyed him. ‘Is that what you think this is? Is it your way of reaching the future?’
Quetzal glanced at his companion. ‘We’re dying,’ he stated in his simple way.
‘And you think the child can save us.’
Quetzal dipped his head. ‘Perhaps,’ he said. ‘It was a mistake, leaving the Wisdom behind.’
Horace shrugged his enormous shoulders. His robe rustled on the granite floor. ‘Accidents happen,’ he said.
‘Besides,’ Horace noted, ‘we don’t know for certain that we left the Wisdom there.’
‘I do,’ Quetzal spoke with finality. ‘I’ve seen it on my sensors. It’s out there.’
They fell silent and watched the blue dot grow on the screen. Quetzal’s heart fluttered with anticipation.
After a moment, Horace said, ‘Charon has asked to see us, first.’
Quetzal’s lips parted, and he heaved a great sigh of defeat. He closed his eyes in an effort to centre himself. ‘Yes, alright,’ he said. Then his eyes flashed open and he turned for the door.
Horace followed, but paused at one of Quetzal’s instruments: a set of small metallic balls caught in a whirlwind of energy, endlessly spinning in the air, suspended from nothing. ‘What do you hope to do with all this stuff, anyway?’ he asked.
Quetzal pulled Horace’s hand away before it could disrupt the balls, his expression one of a father exercising tremendous patience with a disobedient child. ‘Do you know what that does?’ he asked quietly.
Horace smiled. ‘What do you think?’
Quetzal smiled back. ‘Then don’t touch it.’ His tone left no room for argument.
They exited the room and walked heavily down the long winding corridor that sloped the interior of the ship. They stopped at the lift, which hummed up to their floor and yawned open. It was made of translucent glass; when they stepped inside, they could see the seemingly bottomless pit of darkness and wires beneath their feet. Horace cast his hand over a control panel and they plummeted down 463 decks of ship, to the Director’s quarters.
When they arrived at her door, Horace remembered to knock. It was a politeness he seemed only able to afford the Director. There was a low beep. The door opened and they were permitted entrance.
The Director was not a woman to be trifled with. She did not respond well to Horace’s efforts at flattery when he bowed to her with forced graciousness and commented upon her health. She was unpaired and had never been known to take a lover. But she offered Quetzal a begrudging degree of respect for what she had once referred to as strength of character.
She sat behind a fat desk made entirely of glass, like the lift. It was a common theme of Nibiru, the design of the brilliant architects whose genius it had been to build underground, under the surface of the planet, and harness its energy – in short, to transform a whole world into a spaceship.
Charon wore a velvet dress the violet of royalty. It was so long, it seemed to sink into the floor beneath her, obscuring her feet. It flowed out from her waist, but the bodice was tight across her chest. The sleeves hugged her upper arms, before waterfalling down at the elbows. Her hair, the colour of straw glinting in sunlight, cascaded from her towering head in tempestuous waves, creating the impression of a statuesque lioness.
Behind her was another enormous viewing screen displaying the universe outside. It made her look like she was flying amongst the stars. She’d been writing something, but now she looked up at them.
‘Director,’ Horace greeted her with an awkward bow. ‘May I say how well you look today.’
Beside him, Quetzal merely dipped his terrifying head in acknowledgment of the meeting.
Charon sat very straight, her posture untouchable. ‘Horace. Quetzal.’ Her eyes lingered on him for just a second. ‘Sit,’ she ordered.
They sat in the glass chairs across from her.
‘You wanted to see us,’ Quetzal began things.
‘I did,’ she said. ‘We’re almost there.’
‘Yes, Director,’ Horace agreed.
Charon spun around in her chair and looked at the screen. The blue dot had grown to the size of an orange.
‘Earth,’ she announced. ‘It’s been a long time. Perhaps too long.’ She eyed Quetzal, who was deeply discomfited. ‘Are you ready?’ she asked him in what was the gentlest tone possible for her. She overlapped her arms on the table. The edges of her sleeves lifted and revealed her own battle marks on the skin beneath.
‘Yes,’ he said after a time. He hoped he sounded convincing.
‘Why do you look so restless?’ Charon asked. Her stare missed nothing, not one crease in his forehead, not one lick of his lips.
He frowned. ‘My tracking devices indicate we may have finally found something our people have been seeking for millennia,’ he said. ‘How could that not make me restless?’
Charon’s mouth bent into the closest thing she had to a smile. Her long eyes narrowed yet further. Like Quetzal’s, they were lined in charcoal and burned like fire. Against the backdrop of her golden hair, they made her look like a star at the height of its glory.
‘You worry you will yet fail to locate the Wisdom?’ she surmised from Quetzal’s expression.
‘It’s possible.’ He shifted in his chair and tried not to notice the way Horace watched him out of the corners of his dark eyes.
‘It’s not,’ Charon returned. ‘That’s why I chose you to do this. The child has made a decisive move. It’s clear something has changed. You will retrieve that child, and when you do –’
She didn’t have to finish. They all knew how that sentence ended. It had been their mission statement ever since Quetzal had shared his ‘brilliant’ idea with the Council after he’d had too much Saturnian wine:
Track the child, find the Wisdom. The Earthling would unknowingly lead them to the very thing they had all been seeking – if everything went according to plan, that was.
On the viewing screen, the orange had grown to the size of a football.
‘Time for you to go, then,’ Charon said as she rose to her feet. Her dress fell in heavy pleats down her sides. Everything about her spoke of majesty – which it should have, bearing in mind she’d been the Director for ten thousand years.
Her guests stood too. They put their right hands over their waists and bowed at perfect 45-degree angles, before straightening.
‘Good luck,’ she told them. Her eyes again lingered on Quetzal.
‘Thank you, Director,’ Horace answered for both of them.
They took their leave and doubled back down the corridor, making for the lift one final time. This time, Horace rocketed them up 312 floors, to the Deck of Descent.
Others on that deck, busy with their tasks, stopped and stared as the godlike pair made their way past.
Horace pushed a button on the far wall, revealing a doorway. They passed through and the door closed behind them. Now, it was just they two, as it would be throughout their mission.
They stopped at an expansive window, the largest on the ship, and stared out at what was now very clearly Earth. No longer was this an image on a screen; this was real.
‘Are you ready?’ Horace asked.
‘No,’ Quetzal confessed, ‘but that doesn’t matter.’
He reached under his robe and patted one of the deep pockets woven into his clothing. He pulled out a black cube. It was black, shiny and reflective. He cast one of his hands over it and activated an invisible atmospheric bubble around them
‘It’s complete,’ he announced.
Horace nodded, and they outspread their arms, ready to take flight.
‘Open,’ Horace instructed the ship.
In obedience, the window slid up. The oxygenless air struck them and sucked them out into space.
Track the child, find the Wisdom, the words echoed in Quetzal’s head as they flew.
Not long after, their robes ballooned above them like parachutes as they made their descent to Earth.