Friday, October 11, 2013

After His Burial And Before His Death

At first, Professor Bradley Quatermain thought he was talking to the Lord.

In 1896, the Professor was dynamiting bentonitic mudstone in Wyoming.  After the dust and noise had cleared, he tramped down the hillside to see what had been unearthed by the explosion.  He found ceratopsid tracks, a single fossilized tooth, and a message carved into 60-million year old stone.  The message addressed him by name, and described where he should dig next.

His wife, Minnie, declared the slab to be a hoax.  The professor declared it to be a sign of divine intervention, and gave thanks to the Lord, although he only half believed it himself.  Terrified and optimistic, they drank their only bottle of wine. They pushed their sleeping bags together, and ruined each other's sleep with happy conversation that lasted almost until dawn.

The second dig revealed another message.  And then a dozen more.  They were all a set of instructions.  The slabs instructed Professor Quatermain to take all 14 slabs with him back to the American Museum of Natural History.  The slabs mentioned where land might be found that had a large amount of oil beneath it.  The slabs also mentioned where to dig next year, in order to receive more messages.  The last slab mentioned the need for secrecy, in crude, scratched letters.

“Praise God,” said Professor Bradley, as he carted the slabs off to New York.

Next year brought Quatermain back to Wyoming with a quartet of skeptical scientists and as many graduate students.  The fact that Quatermain had made a fortune in oil speculation did little to allay their doubts.

By following instructions, the second dig team unearthed thirteen more tablets.  They also unearthed the author.

In a pillar of mudstone, the archaeologists exposed what they at first thought was an external cast of a therapod foot.  But as they unearthed more of it, they realized two things.  (1) The creature was badly deformed.  One man joked that it looked like elephantiasis of a tyrannosaur.  And then they realized (2) it wasn't a fossil, but a mummy.

The tablets ordered the scientists to return to the Museum of Natural History with the tablets, mummy, and instructions for next year’s dig.  It also gave instructions for another oil field and made predictions about how the dinosaur mummy would be received in New York.  The predictions were completely accurate.

They tried analyzing the mummy as well. They determined that it was a male, but got contradictory results when they tried to figure out how old it was.

The third year’s group excavated more tablets, but these were numbered, and came with the stern restriction that they must not be read unless they had a question to ask the author, in which case they could turn over the next stone and read it.

And that’s how it went, for at least a few years.  The slabs predicted all sorts of things: stock market crashes, gold mines, lotto numbers, and the people who threatened to expose the Museum of Natural History.  Not that they were breaking any laws.  It’s just that it would be a lot of trouble to explain.

They mounted the mutant Tyrannosaur mummy in the center of the lobby.  They gave it all sorts of names.  Tyrannoscribus rex.  Our Cretaceous Benefactor.  Caesar.  The dinosaur certainly never gave himself a name.

In the years that followed, the Museum of Natural History became a financial and scientific powerhouse.  They seemed to be prepared for everything that came their way, seemed to have no problem debunking their critics’ assertions, and even explained away the missing persons reports.  They made a lot of money by selling gold mines that discovered by their new surveying techniques.  "We have developed a new method to predict the location of gold mines based on geologic analysis," said the president of the Museum.  "You'll understand, of course, why are leery of disclosing the exact methodology to the public."

Every year, they go out and dig up another set of tablets.  Caesar’s advice didn't help them much in their research, but the dead dinosaur’s writings have been invaluable in stealing other researcher’s work before it was published.

Because Caesar can see things.  Through time and space, the creature’s bloodshot eyeballs float around the world, incorporeal and persistent.  The eyes move through walls and see inside pockets.  They fly backwards and forwards in time.  

Most of the men of the Museum of Natural History have developed an intense paranoia.  They feel like they are being watched by a creature that was buried 60 million years ago.  Because they are.  Even at home.  Even under the sheets. Over coffee, they joke that the tyrannosaur mummy in the lobby is till alive. All of the staff wish the mummy good night when they leave at the end of the day, perhaps with an uncanny amount of respect.

They rightly suspect that if they ever go to the press, or in any way compromise the ambitions of the dinosaur or the institution, Ceasar alerts the museum president, Morris K. Jesup, who sees to it that the offending individual is taken care of.

They disappear before they are ever a problem.  Sometimes they're never hired in the first place.  Sometimes they're killed.  A week before, a month before, a year. . . Caesar’s eyes wander through time. So do his solutions.

If one of the scientists wants to ask a question of Caesar, they stand before the mummified dinosaur in the lobby and voices it aloud.  (“Is my wife cheating on me?” or maybe “Did parasaurolophus vocalize through its crest?”)  Caesar alerts President Jesup through a pre-arranged tablet reading, who then writes the reply himself, signs it with an X, and then sends it to the petitioner.

Some of them find religious inspiration in it.  Some of the staff find this creepy.  "Don't worry," President Jesup reassures them.  "Everything is under our control.  Worst case scenario, we throw all the tablets in the Hudson river and buy everyone cars.  How would you like a Ford?"

President Jesup would never throw the tablets in the Hudson.  He has ambitious, too. 

If any of them are a little bit worried about what will happen when Caesar’s plan is realized, they’re too smart to say anything.  Because Caesar’s not doing this for free.  He’s purchasing his resurrection.

It’s not as impossible as it seems.  He’s already been resurrected once before, in 1712.  Not everything went according to plan, and he remained entombed.  He was only alive for a few seconds before he was crushed and suffocated.  Trapped so far beneath the surface in an anoxic environment, his body quickly mummified.

He achieved his first resurrection with the help of hundreds of Arapaho and Shoshone shamans.  They failed to get him out of the ground before reviving him, but it was still usefull, since it taught him how the magic could work.

Now, his partnership with the Museum of Natural History has allowed him to begin the process again.  It's not a simple endeavor.  It will take time, resources, and magic.  But Caesar watches over his own corpse from across 60 million years, ignoring the hunger in his belly and the pains in his warped bones.

He’s in a hurry.  How long does a tyrannosaur live?  He doesn’t know.  He can’t look into his own future because as soon as he observes it, his plans change and therefore his future.  Looking into his own future is like stepping into a seizure.  It's like vomiting strobe lights. Fractal déjà vu.

And so he squats in the mud by the riverside, painstakingly writing messages in the mud while thousands of insects alight on his eyelashes and parasites crawl over his body.  At night, he sleeps fitfully, dreaming of the distant future, of his rebirth, and of the end of time.  His body is malformed.  It hurts to breath.  He has never known a mate.  He has, since reaching adulthood, been too sick to hunt anything, and his breath reeks of carrion.  He is misses the hunts, misses the crunch and the warm snout.  Whatever gave him intelligence and magic also gave him a crippling deformity, and he is convinced he got the lousy side of the trade.

His life is slipping away.  Every time he goes to sleep it feels like dying.  His emotions are too alien to describe in human terms, but it is fair to say that he is not a happy dinosaur.

And so he dreams of the future and writes messages to the mammals he sees in his dreams.  He wonders if he has gone mad.  Is it all in his head?  He knows arithmetic and the subways of New York.  He can understand five languages.  He has even tried to speak French to a hadrosaur once, poorly.  But what if there's no such thing as time?  What if there will never be a president Woodrow Wilson?  What if these are the products of a malformed mind, a soul that is as twisted as the body it inhabits?

Quickly, before death, the dinosaur must finish this work.  He is racing against his personal extinction in the Cretaceous, just as the humans are racing against their extinction in 1950 (he knows—he’s looked ahead).  His warped spine grows more warped from bending over muddy river banks.  He roars impotently when alamosaurs trample his careful inscriptions.

He doesn’t care about humans.  Brotherhood is a completely foreign concept to him.  Pity is just a two-syllable noise that humans make.  And so, when he dreams of a human who makes his plan more difficult, he just writes a note addressed to Jesup a week earlier in 1929 and asks that they be killed.  The next night, he dreams of a dead curator and a future that seems more on track for his resurrection.

Once he requested that a dead man be taken to the lobby and placed in the mouth of his mummy.  Jesup leapt to obey.  Across 60 million years, the dinosaur looked at the dead mammal laying in his corpse’s mouth and mused: “Corpses eating corpses”.  He thought that was an interesting thought—the closest thing he’s ever known to humor—and wrote it on a couple of tablets for other humans to read.  It’s the only thing he’s ever wanted to express for its own sake. 

 “Corpses eating corpses.”

Sometimes, though, causality bites him in the ass.  He’ll write a set of tablets over the course of a month, and then something in those tablets causes something bad to happen at the end of 1929, and so he’ll have to erase those tablets and go back.  It works both ways, too.  Sometimes he’ll change A in the future, and this will cause him to change B in the past, which will cause something to damage one of the tablets that causes A in the first place, and the whole set of it is ruined.  Sometimes this happens for reasons that he can’t figure out.  He’s had to throw away most of 1928 once.  And then, when he redid it, he had to redo the winter of 1928 another time because of some paradox he didn't catch in time.  His frustration is immense, and he has no one to vent to except the fucking mammals.

He doesn't always get his way.  Once he museum was vandalized, and he was asked why he didn't prevent the vandalism in the first place.  Too much work.  Too many fragile threads that he has to weave together.  And causality has such sharp edges.

When he doesn't dream of 1929, he sometimes dreams of hunting paradoxes through Cretaceous bayous and happily choking on their blood.

Morris Ketchum Jesup is too rich for work a nine-to-five.  He sometimes runs with J. P. Morgan and Rockefeller, after all.  But when he is at work, you’ll find him behind an immense red oak desk, covered with all the interesting stuff that you might find on the desk of the President of the American Museum of Natural History.  He probably sent for you because Caesar asked for you by name.  He’ll probably want you to retrieve a totem pole or hair from a Salem witch or some other black magic thing.  (Jesup is fascinated by the concept of black magic.  He intends to write a book.)

If Caesar thinks that you’ll be more likely to succeed if told the truth (and he’s always right about these things), you’ll be told the abridged secret of the mummified dinosaur in the lobby.  If you want to ask any questions of Caesar, you may ask them now.  Jesup will just smile and flip over the stone tablet that has been sitting on the table during this whole conversation, revealing the answer to your question.

(If your players are joking, OOC, that their PCs should ask Caesar “What have I got in my pocket?” or some other cutesy stuff, it’s perfectly acceptable to put answers on the tablet in response to questions that the PCs never asked in the first place, as long as they are questions that are likely to be asked, or at least discussed on the way home from the museum.  Caesar can see the questions you ask in at least two potential futures (with and without reading his tablet) and so he uses this ability to appear as if he’s reading your mind (although he cannot).  He can however, see inside your pocket quite easily.

And after you head off to Massachusetts to dig up the bodies of the Salem witches, don’t think for a second that your success is guaranteed just because your employer can see the future.  If he sends you off to Massachusetts and sees that you will eventually die a horrible death there, it’s usually just easier to send another group than it is to rewrite history.

That’s one way to use him in your game.  Here’s another.

If you find yourself working against Caesar and the unscrupulous scientists of the Museum of Natural History, I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.  Expect every move to be anticipated.  But be aware that the museum might send people to kill you before you interfere with their plans.   They might try to assassinate you before you even plan to interfere with their plans.  This means that, from the moment the Museum of Natural History is introduced as a possible plot in your campaign, assassination becomes a possible thing as well. 

After you steal that meteorite from the museum, be aware that they already know where you’re going.  You could get straight on a plane and drive on a random path through the countryside for a couple of months.  It’s very inconvenient to Caesar, who has to watch your car every day to figure out where you are going.  He’s old and almost dead.  He might just decide that you aren't worth his time, tell Jesup to put a more traditional bounty on your head, and get back to business.

You can outfight him, too.  Once you beat a couple of his eventualities, Caesar will be so caught up in paradoxes and rewrites that it’ll take him a month (of his time) to sort out his mud-scratches.  Do enough unexpected things, change your plans often, react to the changes that Caesar has made, and you’ll be able to defeat the museum. 

Although, they can throw just about anything at you.  They don’t have an armed militia or an enclave of wizards, but they do have a lot of money (Jesup) and a lot of weird shit with spooky powers (that the Museum has collected on Caesar’s behalf.)

In the cold tonnage of the dinosaur’s brain, there are also nightmares.  He dreams of waking up, entombed beneath the earth, of blackness, and of crushing suffocation.  He dreams of these things because he knows that they will happen to him in 1712, when the Native Americans resurrect him inside his stone grave.  He’s watched it happen dozens of times, and is not looking forward to it.

The days are filled with biting flies and limping through mud.  The nights are filled with tedious observation of hairless mammals and their complicated little world.  He can’t see a future where he is fully resurrected yet, but that is slowly changing.  And when he is feeling optimistic, he goes back to the October of 1926 to watch the janitors haul the corpse up a ladder and place it in his mummy’s mouth.  These mammals look so easy to hunt, even a crippled dinosaur could manage it.  Only this thought lets him sleep peacefully.


  1. this is the sweetest most horriblest story ever

  2. This is amazing. Damn. Best thing I've read in ages.

    1. truly great Nephilim plot. Stealing next time I run CoC with a secret Nephilim substrate.
    2. I used to work at AMNH. I can't believe I never thought to use them as a villain. Have you read _Dinosaurs in the Attic?_ Do you know about the bronze dinos buried in Central Park? That is some Ken Hite level weirdness.
    3. Jessup is the best choice. The Jessup Expedition to the Pacific Northwest is one of my favourite cthulhoid moments. And the Cape York meteorite that's called Ahnigito because that's what Peary's infant daughter exclaimed when she saw it.

    Very, very well done.


      I hadn't heard of any of your bulletpoints, but now that I've googled them, my mind is enriched and my soul is happy. I might even buy that book.

      So you tell me, what does Jesup have on his desk?

    2. I'd never heard of the "buried dinos in the park" story. Neat!

      And this was a great, great bit.

  3. I never thought it was possible to feel sorry for an evil psychic omniscient t rex, but you've managed it.

  4. Thank you for this! Shared, and deeply enjoyed!

  5. Thank you for the thank you! I smile and bark happily at every bit of positive comment, like a golden retriever.

  6. My god, this blog of yours has just made my year. You win ALL of the god backslaps and time squelchers.

  7. A bit late to the party, but I have to say that this is one of the most creative things I have ever read!

    I am planning on adapting this to a Delta Green adventure, although I am a bit at a loss as to how one would organize this into a more traditional investigation scenario. Any advice?

    The one weak part of this is Caesar's end game. A t-rex is scary, especially an intelligent one, but as a cripple who is unable to see his own future, I can't see how he is going to go about preying upon humans without being gunned down by a swat team armed with machine guns or elephant rifles.

    1. I mean, Ceasar can't be stopped. Tablets will keep appearing that will inspire people to kill you.

      Honestly, if this was going to be a Delta Green game, I can't see it ended in any other fashion than a one-way time trip back to the Jurassic. To keep it interesting, let's say that the time machine cannot handle anything made of metal.

    2. "For my next trick Jessup, I need you to purchase me some tanks, and arrange for dirty bombs to be placed in the following locations. No, they won't be detonated. I promise."