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In the Time of Man
(What follows below is the opening chapter of a novel I have been working on for many, many years. This has been rewritten more times than Donald Trump’s divorce decrees. But I think it’s time to give it a go and put it out into the wider world. The story falls into the category of science fiction but I like to believe there’s a bit more transpiring in this narrative. I’ve already written my marketing copy for the book, which is also below, and I got a front cover design from an independent graphic artist, also included here. Not sure yet whether I will serialize the chapters here and put them behind a paywall, or just offer it up all at once for a modest fee. Hell, maybe a publisher will come along and offer me enough to get a new motorcycle. Anyway, I’d appreciate any and all feedback on this first chapter, which is being submitted to the Lunar Awards for science fiction and fantasy on Substack. - JM)
Marketing Copy: From the Dogon Tribal villages along the Great Bend of the Niger River, to the glassy towers and glamorous lives of the American Southwest, "In the Time of Man" is a story of people confronting both the history and the fate of humanity. A reporter and two scientists are determined to prove that another intelligence has been operating on planet Earth since the beginning of mankind's evolution. Humans have received external help to make it through the new millennium and there are clues there is more intervention underway as a result of a failure to manage the world's resources. Cattle are being mysteriously mutilated, people are growing inexplicably ill, and researchers trying to understand these phenomena are being threatened by a government that might just be facilitating a culling of the planet's population. Telling the truth is dangerous and love and sex can be fatal. But who is responsible for the present plagues of our world and how can they be stopped? "In the Time of Man" explores the facts behind the theory that ancient aliens have guided humanity to its current station and that they are still engaged in determining our destiny. The essential question asked by this story is what will we know before we meet our fate? A Nobel Laureate, a decorated female TV news correspondent, and a renegade researcher all race to discover the truth and share it with the world before they are silenced, or no one will ever know what happened "In the Time of Man."
“Your current safe boundaries were once unknown frontiers.” – Unknown
A hole appeared in the gray mass of clouds and a slip of green and dusky red earth passed beneath the wing with a stark contrast of color. Circling around, the pilot lowered the Cessna's nose and poked down through the cloud break into the high country of Mali.
Elliot Anders was as enthralled as always by the great bend of the Niger River and the Cliffs of Bandiagara and felt the unbounded optimism of a man gone too long from his work. Whenever he returned from trips to the states, Elliot became increasingly baffled by popular response to his research. Although he perceived himself as a soft pear balanced on spindly legs, reporters kept trying to characterize him as a “real life Indiana Jones,” the hero archaeologist of old adventure movies. Elliot, though, was squat and pale and there was barely enough hair on the top of his head to keep his skull from shining when he was sweating in the African tropics. But he did not care. Little mattered to Elliot Anders other than his mind and all the places it was leading him.
He admitted to himself, however, that he was desperate for legitimacy. Scientists chasing archaeological and historic evidence of UFOs, and an alien intelligence on Earth, tended to suffer ridicule. There had been a lessening of the condescension when the Pentagon had acknowledged U.S. military aircraft had chased objects that defied natural laws of physics. The “tic tac” UFO flap had subsided quickly, though, and scientists like Elliot were marginalized by people like the Ancient Aliens television producers, who became the subject of Internet jokes because their explanations for every inexplicable event in human history was, “Aliens did it.”
While the plane banked sharply, he looked out the window and saw a gathering of tribal members at the end of the weedy dirt landing strip on the plateau above the escarpment. Elliot did not remember the Dogon ever paying the slightest attention to his numerous arrivals and departures and he was curious as to why they might be awaiting his airplane. The pilot lined up with the strip and Elliot stared again beyond the construction of the Dogon’s sandstone huts along the face of the cliffs and out to where the Bongo Plains rolled off into a rocky redness and tropical haze. The remarkable isolation was both inspiring and comforting. Wasn’t it reasonable to think humans living so isolated for centuries might dream up stories to make their lives more interesting? The question nagged him, but so did the evidence he was uncovering that their tales might be true.
Before the propeller had stopped spinning at the end of the runway, Elliot’s research assistant, Phil Traynor, had popped open the cabin door. The thin and intense graduate student was followed by a small crowd of Dogon children and a few adults, who surged toward the airplane chattering excitedly in a language Elliot had still not begun to comprehend.
“Dr. Anders,” Traynor sounded relieved. “Am I ever glad you are back.”
“What is it, Phil? What’s going on? What are all these people doing out here by the airstrip?”
“I’m not sure but I think that word is everywhere throughout the village and up and down the river that the Yougo Rock is glowing red.”
Elliot stopped and grabbed his assistant by the shoulders. “What? Are you sure? That’s not supposed to happen for decades, if we believe it even happens at all.”
“I know,” Phil said. “But it’s happening right now. I’ve seen it, Dr. Anders. And it’s the weirdest damned thing I’ve ever seen.”
"And you're certain it's not a trick of light or something? Maybe the sun is somehow getting in there?"
“No, it’s nothing like that, I’m sure. The light is coming from inside of the rock almost like there are red bulbs inside the stone. It sort of pulsates. Very strange. Seems almost like it’s alive.”
Elliot quickened his step in the direction of the village center as the Dogon children scattered and their parents drifted off to talk in small groups. While hurrying through the groups of clustered huts almost dragging his duffel bag, he tried to determine how far off the timing was for the glowing of the Yougo Rock and a Sigui ceremony. As accurately as could be determined, the last one was sometime between 1967 and 1974. At the earliest, the next occurrence was not expected before 2027. The only research ever conducted with the Dogon had been the work of French anthropologists Marcel Griaule and his associate Germain Dieterlin. They had published their findings during 1965 in an English translation entitled, Conversations with Ogotemmeli: An Introduction to Dogon Religious Ideas.
The Yougo rock was reported by the Dogon to glow an iridescent red about a year before the sacred ceremony of the Sigui. For the Dogon, the ritual of the Sigui was the way renewal was delivered to the world and the earth was sanctified again to give up healthy millet, cotton, and sorghum crops to feed the tribe. If any person from a more civilized culture had ever seen the unnatural illumination of the Yougo Rock, none had ever reported the phenomenon. The inauspicious college student in sandals, gym shorts, and a dirty tee shirt walking next to Elliot Anders was most likely the first witness from beyond the thousands of years of Dogon lineages in Africa.
“I assume you’ve made a recording,” Elliot said.
“Of course,” Phil answered. “I’ve got about twenty minutes of it on my phone, and I’ve loaded it to a private cloud and my hard drive.”
“Good, because all we really have after almost a year of living with this tribe is our recordings of their stories.” Elliot glanced to his left and noticed a little boy peeing out the front of his family’s hut. He smiled and turned to Traynor as they continued walking.
“We need more than narrative evidence, Phil. I’m convinced the Dogon story is true but we’re obviously scientists and we’ve got to come back with something more convincing than an interesting story from a tribal elder. That was the central criticism to Griaule’s writings, and never mind the donors underwriting our work, who are growing weary of being dismissed as UFO nuts.”
“Of course,” Phil nodded.
Elliot had been fascinated with the Dogon for more than a quarter century and he had finally realized his dream of acquiring funding for a research project at the Cliffs of Bandiagara. He had come across Marcel Griaule’s research when he was a graduate student, about a decade after it had been translated and published in the U.S. Elliot was determined to use his current project to ascertain the validity of the anthropologist Griaule’s claims about the Dogon. The Frenchman’s research indicated the tribe had evolved beyond being hunter-gatherers when it was first encountered by British missionaries early in the 19th century. The Dogon had forged iron to make crude farming tools for cultivating onions, millet, and sorghum grains, and they had art, created pottery and other cultural artifacts, fished for sustenance, made crops grow in arid land, and had developed a sophisticated cultural order in their population of about 300,000 living in more than 700 villages scattered along the Niger River. They were also inexplicably in possession of astronomical knowledge they simply could not have acquired on their own.
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According to Griaule, who had lived with the tribe in the African back country for fifteen years and studied them for twice as long, the Dogon worshipped a God who lived on a star the tribe called Digitaria in the Sirius system. Digitaria was invisible but the Dogon said they had always known of its existence. They had astronomical data far too complex for a relatively primitive culture. Dogon elders had precise information on the orbit of Digitaria around the main star Sirius.
Using drawings in the sand, tribal priest-chiefs, who were known as Hogons, had revealed this orbit to modern researchers, pointing directly at Sirius in the night sky as they drew and talked by a fire. Griaule wrote that tribal leaders had been passing on the knowledge for thousands of years using the carefully proportioned sand drawings. This sophisticated astronomical chart on the ground, which was meticulously created with sticks and sharpened farming tools, portrayed an unconventional orbit with the star Sirius off to the right side and not at the center of the ellipse.
To the naked eye and through the polished lenses of the largest telescopes in the first half of the 20th century, there was nothing visible orbiting Sirius, which had been known by the traditional name of the Dog Star. The story told by the Dogon, though, claimed the star they knew as Digitaria required fifty years to orbit Sirius. Hogon priest-chiefs also explained to Marcel Griaule that the invisible Digitaria rotated on its axis and was made of a very heavy material. They referred to the invisible Digitaria as Po Tolo; Tolo translates as “star” and “Po” is a term meaning “smallest seed,” an indication to anthropologists of a connection to Dogon creation mythology. The star was described by tribal leaders as being “the tiniest thing there is” and made of a substance the Dogon called “sagala,” which they claimed was heavier than all the iron on earth.
How, Elliot had constantly asked himself, did the Dogon even know of the concept of an elliptical orbit? Yet all this detailed information had been an integral part of tribal beliefs for centuries. Dogon oral histories revealed their people may have migrated to Mali from ancient Egypt and Griaule speculated that the advanced astronomical information might have been carried from the more advanced civilization. Of course, there was the next question, which Elliot often asked Phil Traynor, “How in the hell would the Egyptians have known such a thing?”
In the second half of the 20th century, technology had advanced to the point where radio telescopes were able to measure the wobble in the axis of Sirius, the Dog Star. The unsteady axis was evidence there was an invisible gravitational effect on Sirius. Further analysis and technological improvements ultimately led to a photograph in 1970, which confirmed the presence of the invisible dwarf heavy star rotating around Sirius. The Dog Star then became known as Sirius A and what the Dogon had referred to for centuries as Digitaria was formally identified by science with the decidedly unromantic designation of Sirius B. When data had been collated on the orbit and speed of the invisible Sirius B, astronomers discovered it traveled around Sirius A in an ellipse and it took fifty years to complete the orbit, exactly as Dogon elders had been proclaiming. Though they had no way of knowing of such a concept, the primitive tribe had been describing a dim but dense and heavy, white dwarf pulsar. Griaule and Dieterlin had reported all this in their paper “Un Systeme Soudanais de Sirius” that they initially published in 1950, which was followed over a decade later by their more comprehensive book.
“How many times did you read Griaule’s book, Phil?”
Elliot and the graduate student were passing the House of Words, a structure made of sculpted tree trunks with a low, thatched roof. This was a place for discussion of ideas and information among the Dogon and the roofline was lowered to inhibit fighting within the building’s confines. Conversation stopped as a small group of Dogon men and women stared at the two scientists, who were hurrying to their destination.
“I don’t know, Dr. Anders; three, maybe four, I suppose. But I’ve gone back to it as a reference more than a thousand times, I’m sure. Why?”
“Do you suppose it never attracted great international attention or became any kind of a commercial success because it was just a conversation with a tribal elder from the African bush? Or maybe Griaule should have provided more analysis or have been more skeptical of what he was being told?”
“Temple’s book didn’t help, either Dr. Anders. It was a disorganized mess, even though what he did with Griaule’s data and all the other information was compelling, not many people could absorb that book.”
“Yes, but taken together, The Sirius Mystery and Griaule’s work come very close to scientific proof of the existence of something other than human intelligence. And they were largely met with a resounding intellectual yawn, don’t you think? And if you accept Griaule’s data, it opens all sorts of questions nobody wants to ask, much less answer. How long has this ‘external source’ been involved with us? In that context, all human history must be rethought, no? I don’t think we can even begin to imagine the past shock and cultural reconfiguring that would have to take place once an historic involvement with humans has been proved.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s true,” Traynor said.
“It’s also what we are up against, Phil. We must leave here with more evidence than Griaule had. We need something physical, or we’ll get the same reception in the scientific community he did. That’s why we absolutely must get our hands on the Sigui masks.”
“But Dr. Anders…………”
“I know, Phil. I know. But believe me, we have no other choice.”
They had reached the edge of Yougo Dogouro, the village where they were staying, and walked past a cluster of the smooth-walled sand and mud structures located along an expanse of dark volcanic rock. The field of stone rose for about a half mile toward a formation of rough, grey foothills, which Elliot had concluded were the product of an ancient up thrust associated with the creation of the escarpment where the Dogon had settled. Less than half mile distant was the sacred Yougo Rock and beyond were the green hills of Africa.
“Are you sure they all know about this, Phil?” Anders asked his assistant. “Are they aware in all the villages?”
“Oh, I think so. All the Hogon priest-chiefs have been sent for. Nobody seems to be doing much of anything but talking since the rock started giving off red light. Both times I went to see it there were hundreds of villagers just sort of quietly staring.”
A sandy path led them off the lava and in the direction of the Yougo Fault. After a hundred yards, Anders and Traynor crested a bare rise and had an unobstructed view of hundreds of Dogon encircling the Yougo Rock. Even in the harsh sun of the tropical afternoon, Elliot clearly saw the bright color of the stone, which appeared from that distance as though it were red hot.
“Lord lovin’ Jesus, Phil.”
“I know. I just couldn’t describe it.”
Elliot had always thought the Yougo Rock looked like a giant loaf of bread that had been cleaved in two by a great knife. As Phil and he got closer they saw the pulsation, as if someone were turning a rheostat up and down every ten or fifteen seconds to increase illumination. The stone was suffused with light; nothing was being reflected. An eerie luminescence, the metallic redness appeared to melt into the air. Elliot wondered how odd it must look in the absolute darkness of night in their remote locale.
The two scientists eased their way through the hundreds of Dogon. Most of them, Elliot assumed, were probably from the Arou tribe in Yougo Dougoru, though there were many who had to have walked as much as twenty miles to see the unnatural spectacle.
The Arou tribe’s fascination with the phenomenon was also connected to its responsibility for calculating the correct date for the sacred Sigui ceremony of renewal. In recent weeks, the Arou had begun gathering the strange, elongated gourds that, according to Griaule, were historically the indication for all Dogon that the time was approaching for a Sigui ritual. The gourds appeared inexplicably in Dogon fields and vegetable gardens at sixty-year intervals. No one ever recalled planting special seeds to propagate the misshapen vegetables. They simply grew when the time was correct. Only a few of the Dogon surrounding Elliot and Phil had been alive long enough to have ever seen the Sigui gourds, which were now almost daily being laid at the door of the Hogon of Yougo Dogouro, who was also the leader of the Arou tribe.
Elliot listened to the soft tones of the conversations among the Dogon. He had only managed to learn a few dozen words from the eight different dialects that the larger tribe spoke, but he hoped to hear something that might help him get a sense of their reaction. Were they curious or afraid?
“Hey, Dr. Anders. Over here.” Phil Traynor had already shouldered his way through the crowd. Elliot squirmed past people toward the young man’s voice.
“What is it, Phil?”
“Over there. It’s Abu-Ri.”
Phil nodded in the direction of an angular, leggy man standing apart from his fellow tribal members. The Hogon from the village closest to Yougo Dougoro, Abu-Ri spoke halting English after years of dealing with a succession of researchers who had turned to him when they became frustrated by communication challenges. The chief appeared solemn before the living stone.
“Let’s go over there,” Elliot said. “See if we can get him to talk.”
“Okay. I’m game.”
The chief was less than fifty feet away and Elliot approached slowly, respectful of the Hogon’s station among his people. A Hogon was not allowed to shake hands or touch another human being and once selected to the role spent the rest of his days in absolute celibacy.
Stopping less than ten feet distant, Elliot took his handkerchief out of a pocket in his khaki vest and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He had done this so often that after decades of working in the tropics he had begun to wonder if the constant wiping of his brow was a cause of his receding hairline.
The chief did not turn to acknowledge the two scientists but continued his silent appraisal of the mystery. Abu-Ri was one of a few Dogon known to have ever seen the Yougo Rock in this luminous state. Elliot edged forward to make certain he was within the range of the chief’s peripheral vision.
“Abu-Ri? What is it? What does it mean?”
There was no answer from the Hogon. Elliot thought the man was as immobile as the stone he was appraising, and he did not know if the Hogon even understood he was being asked a question. The scientist turned and looked at the tribal leader.
“Chief? Abu-Ri. What’s happening? What does this mean?”
Abu-Ri did not respond. Resigned to the silence, Elliot and Phil examined the rock fault from a short distance for several minutes and listened to the whispers of the Dogon. Eventually, Elliot decided he had seen enough.
“Let’s go, Phil. We’ve got work to do,” he said.
Just as they turned to leave, Abu-Ri spoke. The chief’s face was emotionless when he looked at the two white men and used their language.
“Nommo come,” Abu-Ri said. “Nommo come soon.”
Elliot wanted to be sure of what he had just heard. “What, Abu-Ri? Nommo is coming? Nommo? When? How soon?”
The chief offered no further detail. He returned his attention to the red, shining igneous. Elliot put his hand on Phil’s neck and pushed him ahead through the press of Dogon.
“That sort of resolves the question of whether I go down into the Sigui caves, Phil,” Elliot said. “If the Dogon’s tribal leaders believe Nommo is coming, we have a limited amount of time to get unimpeachable evidence of where they got their data on Sirius. I guess we could just wait and tape the arrival of Nommo, though, eh?”
“But how does Abu-Ri know that Nommo is coming, Dr. Anders?” Phil asked. “He’s seen the rock glow before. Did he think Nommo was coming then? If so, it’s not a part of any of the traditional stories we’ve heard. They might have expected Nommo last time it glowed, and he didn’t show. They’ve never said. Maybe the chief’s wrong.”
“And maybe he’s not, Phil. Maybe the color and intensity of the Yougo Rock are different this time and that’s how he knows. Or maybe the fact that this is happening decades early is why he believes something big is going to take place. Either way, I am not taking the chance he’s wrong. We need a mask, and an ancient one.”
“But what about the guards in the caves, Dr. Anders? The Chief of Masks warns his own people of blowguns and poison darts and spears. Is it worth your life?”
“I don’t believe that stuff, Phil. Have you ever heard of any Dogon male being assigned guard duty down there in the caves? Wouldn’t that be something the Chief of Masks was responsible for? But we’ve never known about anything like that. I don’t think they guard them; nor am I worried about getting killed with a poison dart. I’ve never seen a Dogon kill even a chicken. It doesn’t necessarily matter if Nommo is coming if they believe he is. It will disrupt everything so it will give me my chance. Remember Dieterlen saw an artifact she said depicted the Sirius System orbits and it was at least 400 years old. Too bad for us she never got a photo. I am sure there is a place where there are masks dating back much further than her artifact and I’m going to find them.”
“But Dr. Anders….”
“Never mind, Phil. I’m going.”
Through his research and the studies conducted by Frenchman Griaule, Elliot knew the legend of Nommo before arriving in Mali; in fact, it was a part of his motivation to begin the research project. The story appeared to rely on the same archetype used in Christianity; God had a son and sent him to earth. Nommo was the son of Amma, the most important of the Dogon’s gods. Nommo was taught by Amma to be the instructor of the New World and this education was to be passed on through the Sigui ceremonies. If Nommo, however, had attended the other Sigui ceremonies, the Dogon did not speak of his presence and there had been no outsiders to report on the arrival of their god.
“We may be here at precisely the right moment in tribal history, Phil.”
Elliot and his assistant were back at the high point of the trail that had been worn by centuries of Dogon walking to the Yougo Rock. Storm clouds were building over the Cliffs of Bandiagara from the west and the sun was partially obscured. Elliot stopped to look down on the great fault line dividing the stone and how its iridescence had changed in the reduced light. He noticed Abu-Ri moving through the gathering of his tribesmen and they pressed near to him to hear the village leader speak as he departed. Abu-Ri was nodding his head and saying something as he passed and by the time he had reached the footpath his words had spread through the crowd on the edge of the rock. In a matter of minutes, Elliot noticed the focus of the Dogon had turned away from the Yougo Rock and its unnatural glow.
They had almost all lifted their heads to look toward the sky.
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