The Staff of Atlantis
James Thompson was an archaeology professor with dreams of Indiana Jones. But his latest treasure may be too much for him...
PDF version of this story available here.
Chapter 1 — James Boldly Goes…
I reached for the staff… and everything went black.
Chapter 2 — 48 Hours Earlier
Like any other self-respecting archaeology professor, I did only one thing when Miles told me about this supposedly “Atlantean” artefact (from his descriptions, it could have just as easily been Atlantean import, they did trade quite heavily with Mu, after all… but I digress) — I went to the dean and asked for two months’ leave. This was clearly a way to irrefutably once and for all prove the existence of Atlantis — most importantly to that insufferable jerk Jeremy Dodgers. How dare he claim that my last year’s dig was Incan! Alright, alright, when I looked at the artefacts we found, it was Incan. Still, he didn’t have to write 20 pages about that! Ehm. Anyway.
The dean of course agreed — the school does make a nice sum selling my artefacts to the galleries and musea (although the idiot once sold a burial shroud from the Ultima Thule as a Viking cloak! I tell you, I wasn’t speaking with him for two months after that.) and although my publicity isn’t always stellar, ever since I started teaching here, the number of students doubled. In the archaeology department. And, for some reason, the psychology one as well.
I packed my travel bag — it’s easier if you know what you’re going to need — and booked a flight to the continent. It was leaving in five hours, enough time to drive to the airport and board the Channel jumper. Oh, by the way, my name is James Lewis Thompson II, my father was the famous James Lewis Thompson I, and no one really knew my mother, which she liked very much. I was inspired to study archaeology after watching (what else?) The Raiders of the Lost Ark, and now, couple years later, I’m flying all over the world, proving to the rest of the “enlightened” community of my peers that their knowledge of our prehistory is really flawed. But I’m rambling again. Excuse me.
* * *
Suffice it to say, the flight was not to my standards. The less said about the food, the better. The stewardess was… oh, sorry — the flight attendant was downright rude when I asked her for a new bottle of clear water, as the one she gave me was awful. Apparently, I should have chosen a different airline. Luckily, the pilot was braving the weather very… bravely and we soon set down in Prague.
Thankfully, I had managed to book a hotel room before I left; at four in the morning, I doubted I could get further east and closer to my destination (the location of which will remain a secret; I have no intention of the likes of Mr. Dodgers mucking up my dig), but the airport provided a taxi service to the hotel. And let me tell you, the plane seats are not made for people with the right height. Midgets.
* * *
* * *
In the morning, I had my first real contact with the locals when I tried to purchase a train ticket. The ticketlady-person’s English was barely understandable — Good Lord! Will I need to brush up my Russian to have myself understood? — but eventually I managed to explain to her my need to buy a ticket. I do not think, however, I’d have been able to get a destination from her as well, were it not for another of my co-passengers, waiting in the queue behind me. The children in this country seem to speak almost passable English. Good to know. I thanked my saviour — she couldn’t have been more than fifteen or sixteen, so I might have been a little brusque, but I’d rather have one young woman think me disrespectful than the whole ticket hall see me bent. I am not entirely sure what she said to me as I was leaving — wasn’t their language supposed to be similar to Russian? — but I am certain I did not merit her gesture.
The train ride was uneventful — barely two hours to read. I only brought a few books, so I tried to pace myself — it’d be a miracle if I found an English book outside Prague. Finally, the train arrived to my stop and I got off. I was supposed to switch trains here, but from what I could understand, the next train wouldn’t be around for thirty minutes at least. Oh well. More reading, then.
As I was waiting for the next train in the station hall, I suddenly became aware of someone’s stare. I looked up from my book and peeked around surreptitiously. The only other person in the hall was an old bum, who… was looking right at me! As I had no intention of getting into fights — who knows what he had under that coat of his — I quickly returned to my book. It didn’t stop his cackle, however, or his crooning. ”žPrej se jedeÅ¡ mrknout na tu hÅ¯lku, co? Jen aby tÄ› to pÄ›knÄ› nevypeklo, holka!“
After few minutes of silence, I looked up carefully. The bum was gone, and my train arrived.
* * *
Finally! I swear, if I see any more villages that end with ‘ice’ (although they seem to pronounce it “ee-tsay”), I am going to be rather upset. I got off the train — if the previous one was passable, if a little old, this one must have been here since they built this track!
I pulled a map from my pack and found out that my final destination was barely ten kilometres away. What joy, I wouldn’t have to find a hotel in this place. The thought filled me with optimism and I set out.
* * *
Unfortunately, ten kilometres on the map proved to be somewhat more difficult in reality, as the path I was supposed to follow for the most part just wasn’t there! Still, four hours later, I stood in front of a, well, hole in the ground. Or, more specifically, a hole in the slope. That was hopeful. The Atlantean architecture was clearly holding after all the millennia.
With my torch in hand, I entered the hill.
* * *
The first couple of metres were disappointing. After the journey, standing inside an Atlantean building felt remarkably similar as standing inside a cave.
With my enthusiasm dialled down, I noticed that I truly was in a cave. More precisely, I was in an Atlantean antechamber! From several previous encounters (from which I came out empty-handed, having been stymied by grave robbers each time) I knew that the ancient Atlanteans built their sacred places — their temples, if you will — outside Atlantis with traps and protections against thieves, and this was just like one of them!
For the next twenty minutes, I was busy pressing every suspicious rock, reaching into every possible crevice, and — eugh! — cleaning out more bugs than I care to mention. Finally, I found what I was looking for — a small part of the wall that was reflecting the torchlight! I cleaned the surface and voilá , the familiar Atlantean runes appeared in faint golden lines, inlaid in the stone. Further inspection revealed the almost invisible seams around the ancient doorway. I took a deep breath and started reading the runes.
“U leta!” And illuminate!
The lines started glowing more brightly with each name, and when I all but shouted the last rune, the stone groaned and…
* * *
“Eth… Ruch… Harana… Etishu… U leta!”
The doorway stubbornly resisted my repeated attempts to open it. Neither kicks nor stones had any effect on it (although the kicks did have an effect on my poor boots), and I was getting hoarse from the shouting. Clearly, I was missing something.
At this point, I was willing to try anything. Even a phrase that I was pretty certain was fairly offensive. Of course, the door did not move.
Rumbling in my stomach reminded me that I have not had anything to eat since breakfast. I brought the backpack into the cave and took care of the two sandwiches I bought at the train station.
Still cleaning the grease from my fingers — haven’t these Czechs ever heard of healthy food? — I considered the runes. Maybe, and that’s a big maybe, I was reading them in the wrong order. But every other Atlantean doorway was opened clockwise!
Still, can’t hurt to try, right?
Whoa! The command suddenly filled the runes with bright light. In fact, I turned off my torch to conserve batteries. Maybe I was supposed to read them backwards!
The door started creaking.
The runes were suddenly connected with an intricate net of silvery lines, and a deep thrum resounded from behind the door.
The light filling the cave pulsed painfully, my head throbbing in response, and I had to shield my eyes with my forearm as I shouted the last rune.
The thrumming behind the door and the throbbing in my head synchronised, and I lost consciousness with a loud cry.
* * *
When I came to, it was dark. I reached around for a moment before I found my torch, then, the ray of light illuminating the dark passage behind the now open door. I think my happy shout must have surprised a lot of locals. I gathered my belongings and boldly entered the passage.
Finally! It looks like no one has got here yet. Whoa! I jumped as my foot pushed one of the stones down into the floor and I heard a swishing sound to my right ear…
Luckily, wood is clearly not the material you’d want to use if you want your traps to work after thousands of years — instead of a spear that would quickly make all my problems unimportant, I was treated to a sight of a green-black mould oozing from a small hole near my head. I’ll have to watch out for traps. No one has been through to set them off yet. I followed the passage with greater care and escaped death from above in the form of a large pointy stone that cut into the floor with dangerously sharp ease, death from below (well, perhaps, I think the pointy stakes in there must have gone the way of the mould) and death from all around me and little to the side when a steel and very very sharp plate swung through the corridor.
With my experience, however, I quickly overcame these obstacles and reached the inner chamber, the golden and platinum grail of my work, the sanctum sanctotum of the temple, where the sacrificial tools would be kept.
* * *
The weakening ray of light from the torch — Damnit, are the batteries dying? — swung across the large room. The empty holders on the walls must have been used for torches — real ones, not the electric pencil I had — but the wood had long ago rotted and disappeared.
I almost ran towards it when the indistinct shape in the centre of the room turned out to be an altar under the scrutiny of the torch; then I remembered the traps, and progressed slowly towards the stone table, feeling giddy with excitement when the light revealed a large staff lying on the altar.
One step. No traps. Another step. No traps so far. One more step. Getting a little boring. Maybe I could take two steps the next time? I decided to try it. No falling stone blocks. Okay, so how about three? That brought me about a metre away from the altar. I checked the floor between me and the table, and the floor directly around the altar — no traps! Call me paranoid, but I’ve never been in an Atlantean temple that wouldn’t have a trap in the inner sanctum for the overconfident robber, yet here… nothing. I took the last step, and safely stood next to the altar.
* * *
The staff looked wooden, but from the occassional glint I guessed it was probably metal, maybe some golden alloy? Too little light to check properly. I nearly reached for it, but then stopped. This has really been much too easy. There must be a trap in the altar.
But as far as I could tell, the altar was just a simple slab of stone, and the staff was lying on it, apparently left there by the last priest to serve this temple. In fact, it looked almost as if someone just dropped it there. I couldn’t wait any longer. I reached for the staff… and everything went black.
Chapter 3 — Jana’s Awakening
I groaned and slowly opened my eyes. There was… a woman’s voice calling something? And who put — I checked — a blanket over me? And… I blinked the sleep from my eyes as my gaze revealed that I was having a rather strange dream and I fell back into the bed I was apparently lying in with another groan — and as I suddenly realised, I did not hear the voice I was used to. It was different, lighter, higher, almost… feminine!
That explains the breasts, my mind provided, and the nightshirt — I looked under the blanket. The lack of pressure between my thighs suggested that I was without the status of manhood as well. Why am I dreaming about being a woman? I don’t have any such leanings… do I? I checked my memories, but nothing suggested anything. In fact, I did not even have any memories that could form a basis for my current dream — whole parts of my body must come straight from old anatomy books, I chuckled. Or tried to. To my rather amused horror, it came out as a very feminine giggle.”žJani! Vstá¡vej, Å¡kola volá¡!“
There’s that woman again. What is it, Czech?
“Jana! Wake up, time for school!”
Huh? Okay, this is strange. Apparently, I understand Czech in dreams. Or at least in this dream. Wait, just understand?
“Testing, testing. This is Jana, speak…”
”žZkouÅ¡ka, zkouÅ¡ka. Tady je Jana, mluv…“
Wait, that’s not right. Let me try again.
“My name is Jana OÅ¡tická¡.”
No it’s not! It’s Jana OÅ¡tická¡, dammit! This is my dream! I…
I stopped as I realised I was standing in a bathroom, wearing a set of fairly modest underwear and cleaning up my face, and before I could stop myself, I deftly applied a faint layer of makeup, my mind reeling in autopilot. I managed to stop, but the damage was done — not that I minded that much, I realised as I looked in the mirror. It made me look rather cute, I noted, with my mane of fiery red hair, reaching — quick check — just below my shoulder blades, even though I wasn’t so sure I should be using that word, as right now I looked less than half my sixteen years — well, next Sunday, anyway…
I sighed and leaned against the sink — Why can’t it go the way I want? — and blinked in surprise as I felt tears well up in my eyes at my helplessness. Dammit, I don’t cry! I’m a girl!
Somewhere in my turmoil, my body took over again and I was walking out of the bathroom when I hit my toe against the doorframe.
“Ow! That h… urt…”
I barely made it to the bed before I fell like a puppet without a puppeteer. You don’t hurt in dreams. That’s how you know they’re dreams. But I…
“This… This is of course not a dream, is it?” I whispered quietly to no one in particular. The sobs came easily to me now, and I buried my head in the soft pillow.
* * *
Even though I still despaired, my body seemed to have other plans, as my tears soon stopped and I got up and walked over to the wardrobe. Dammit, Jana, get a grip of yourself! You can’t let this… thing take over! You need to decide what you’re going to wear today. I looked into the open wardrobe at the row of cute skirts.
“Don’t I have any trousers?” I bemoaned my fate. The closest I ever got to wearing a skirt was yesterday.
“Jana, you’re gonna be late!” my Mom called from the hall before I heard the loud click of the front door closing.
Chapter 4 — Jana’s School Life
I don’t know how long I would have stood there if it weren’t for the autopilot in my mind, as I put on a cute skirt reaching just above my knees and a light tee on the top — something to show the boys.
“The boys?” I… felt a little tingly when I thought about boys. I’m not gay, and boys are just what the doctor ordered. I giggled when I thought about some of the boys at school, then shuddered at the graphic imagery that started playing in my mind.
“Gah! Stop! Pause! Time out!” I managed to squeak out at myself, then took a deep breath. As much as I didn’t have the time! I decided to do a little check-up.
“My name is Jana OÅ¡tická¡, I’m almost sixteen, 158 centimetres tall, I’m going to the first year of Johannes Kepler Grammar School in Prague, my measurements are…” I stopped. I — I know why I’m doing this, but at the same time it feels funny. Gah! I glanced at the clock over the door. No time for this. I need to go. Just quickly check my makeup…
* * *
I sprinted out of the house to catch the last tram before I’d be late, considering that I was wearing a cute skirt, fairly quickly, and with a boyish gasp I managed to jump on just before the door closed. Whew! My backpack for today was fairly light — lucky I did my homework yesterday and Koblová¡ is sick, so I don’t have to deal with English today.
The tram ride was uneventful — although I’m sure two boys tried to look up my skirt. They couldn’t have been more than thirteen! — and I got out at what was my usual stop.
The school was fairly unimpressive, when I went to primary school, it was a big concrete panel cube. This one’s modern. And historic too.
“Jana!” I heard some of my friends calling to me. I stopped and turned, waving at Martina and Veronika as they ran panting from the other tram stop. “Hey,” I smiled at them when they got nearer and tapped my wristwatch importantly, “cutting it a little close, aren’t you?”
“What about you?” Em snorted. “Don’t tell me you’ve been here any longer than us.”
“Yeah,” V.V. piped in. ”I saw you coming from Hlá¡dkov.”
I shrugged and laughed a little. “We‘ve still got about five minutes before the bell rings. Plenty of time.” With that, I put my arms around my best friends’ shoulders and herded them towards the school door. “Come on, History awaits.” I giggled at their stereo groans and added my own.
* * *
With most of my classes done for the day, and really glad I didn’t have to do English today, because I’m not very good at it, I was lounging on one of the sofas in the corridor with Em and Kolo — that is, Klá¡ra — and talking about (unfortunately) our Czech language homework.
“What d’you have, Janina?” Kolo asked me.
“Ehh,” I flipped through my notebook, “Gilgamesh.”
“You’re in my group?” came an enthusiastic question from Em.
“I guess? Didn’t you have Ur or something?”
“Really? I had no idea,” I admitted and had to dodge Kolo’s Flying Book Whack-Up-the-Head with a laugh, which in turn got her laughing, and in moments we were turning heads of the other students in the corridor with our giggles.
I looked up to see whoever had need of my presence, and quickly eeped when I saw Tomá¡Å¡ stand there. He was as good-looking as always and I felt like blushing as my cheeks quickly overheated. “Yes?” I nearly squeaked. Get a hold of yourself!
“Can I talk to you?”
“Oooh,” I got from my two traitorous friends as they picked up their things and left me with this oh-so-cute! hunk of a boy before I could work up a good and scathing retort.
“Uh, sure,” I sat up on the sofa, making space for him. I didn’t really expect him to take it, but when he moved to sit down next to me, it made me all tingly and fluffy inside. “What — what do you need?”
“Uh,” Oh my God! He was even cuter when he was nervous and… embarrassed? Oh my God, if he’s going to ask me out, I’m gonna blow! “Um, are you okay?”
I suddenly realised I was shifting nervously, and forced myself to calm down. “Yeah. Now, y-you were saying?” Don’t lose it, Jana, keep calm, and whatever you do, don’t squeal like a little girl!
“Look, uh, I just wanted to ask if you perhaps maybe haven’t seen the new Avatar film and, uh, maybe wanted to go see it? With, um, with me? Tomorrow?”
I was actually stunned for a moment. A date. He’s asking me on a date! And he looks like a big puppy you just have to hug! ”Are… are you asking me out, Tom?” Dammit, just say yes!
“Uh, yeah, I guess I am,” he chuckled nervously and I really had to stop myself from squealing with joy.
“I’d love to,” I managed to accept, my voice threating to betray me if I said anything more.
“Cool. I’ll, uh, can I call you the details in the evening?” He got up and gave me this goofy grin — but it was still soo cute!
“Uh-huh,” I nodded with dumb expression and watched as he walked away. Such a cute butt. I sighed happily and felt like melting into the sofa.
“Well, well, well,” Em, with Kolo and V.V. in tow, appeared from behind the corner, “I do believe our little Janina is growing up, ladies.”
I gave her an indignant look. “Oh Em, maybe one day you will actually find a boy too.”
“You! Ladies, attack!” And Fort OÅ¡tická¡ was besieged from two sides as I tried my best to escape both Em’s and V.V.’s tickling punishment.
“Don’t look at me,” Kolo affected a disinterested pose when Em tried to get her in on the laughing torture, “I’m perfectly happy with Luká¡Å¡.”
“Bah, traitors, both of you! Come, V.V., let us leave this place of madness.”
I whapped her on the head with a textbook before she could giggle the poor girl away.
Chapter 5 — Jana’s Acceptance
Tom did call in the evening, as promised, and we spent hours talking. He wants to be a photographer when he’s older, and I offered to model for him. He laughed it off, but I think I’ll persuade him to consider it. Somehow, when I was lying in the bathtub, listening to him talking about photography, I realised that he’s not cute. That’s barely scratching the surface. He’s hot, plain and simple. That made me feel a little apprehensive about relieving myself, but in the end I decided that we’re not ready for phone sex just yet. I’d like to do it first without the phone anyway.
We said goodnight at maybe half past twelve, but he stayed on until I fell asleep. I think. I just hope he wasn’t listening to me snoring afterwards. But still, it was so sweet.
I still get a memory or two from the other version of me, but it’s pretty much just echoes at best, and mostly it deals with icky stuff, and I don’t wanna talk about that. But I hope that by next week, I’ll be just me again. Fingers crossed.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get ready for my date.
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