I

Sasha Louis’s black braids hung loose behind her head from the dampness in the room. Disoriented, she laid in the deep corner of  the local Chinese fish restaurant’s basement. It was cold. The gray floor, large silver freezers, and old brown boxes surrounded her as tightly as the rusted metal chains holding her hands behind her back. The sound of side chatters, plates, and metal forks rang through the air, giving her solace. Then suddenly there was deafening silence.

What is happening? Her body ached in pain. The last thing she remembered was talking to Jan at the archeological site.

How long have I been out?

Only footsteps could be heard, an eerie apocalyptic sound as the figures became louder, descending the stairs. Men in black robes appeared, wearing flat shoes and dark masks. Sasha backed into the corner. As they approached to grab her body,  she screamed.

“Stop, stop! Who are you? Why are you doing this? Somebody please help! Help me!”

Suddenly, Sasha’s eyes radiated a glow that lit the entire room, every corner of darkness. The hooded men froze, inundated by light and the heavy pressures that rose. Sasha’s chains began melting and falling on the ground floor.  

II

28 hrs. earlier…

Sasha’s thick glasses stood on her head as she grabbed the purple book with golden markings on ancient Chinese mythology. The airplane ride would be a long one, twelve hours to be exact, in a self-flying plane across the mid-Atlantic. Her feet intertwined like spaghetti, her red backpack holding her sophisticated digging tools nicely packed together. She smirked as she watched her team across the long, dark blue plane, each finding ways to distract their minds on the tedious journey. Some were using the virtual reality glasses the plane had provided, waving their hands into the air, looking insane. Others used the glasses to project the performances of their favorite artists right in front of them in miniature. So consumed by this trance experience, none talked to each other or even looked each other in the eyes anymore. Then there were the sleepers, snoring like lions. Out the window, Sasha was mesmerized by the gigantic sunset that made the clouds dance as it lit the distant horizon. She grabbed her phone to take a shot.

As a kid, she had been strangely fascinated by Chinese culture and how the clouds held deep mysteries. Her favorites were the mysteries of the golden dragons. They had captured her imagination since she was a little black girl living in Brooklyn. Her parents, Haitian migrants, had arrived in the eighties as children escaping the might of the brutal dictator Papa doc who was killing thousands.

She grew up in a small neighborhood where gunshots were heard weekly, and the streets were always dirtied with the sorrows of people who had no other means to make a living. All of Sasha’s friends became something they hadn’t aspired to. Lily Bender worked all day and all night at the convenience store of K street. Alain Lace fell in with the wrong crowd, joined a gang, and was now doing life in prison. But Baba Mead was the only one that had made something from the world of that neighborhood. He’d made a series of online videos talking about bootstrapping on the streets that had reached millions across the globe. Sasha, on the other hand, only had time to live in her studies as her parents forced her to. A level of excellence was expected of her.

When she had received a B on her test, her mother only responded, “Why did you not get an A?”

Sasha spent night after night studying and perfecting her knowledge, her discipline as a black woman in the world. She grew up in a poor family household, so Sasha knew early on what was at stake. She knew she needed to carry herself as an adult and care for her growing-old parents that worked too much for their own good and made silent sacrifices. From her broken down high school she would walk home in the cold winter night, always heckled by unknown men cat calling her small body as she headed for her job at the local movie theater Regal 12 in Brooklyn to help out with the bills. Despite all of her troubles, she persevered, graduated from high school top of her class, went on to Columbia University, and finished with her Doctorate in Archeology. She was the first to get such a degree. Now she was leading an expedition.

Sasha was headed to a small commune in the province of Sichuan where a small group of American and Chinese archeologists had gathered to collaborate over the past decade and unearth what was set to be their biggest excavation yet. Sasha was leading the project to recover ancient dinosaur bones and relics from a time long ago, things buried deep into the earth for millions of years. Some had transformed into rocks, built by the pressure of the planet and compacted together over time. Just like her life and the odds of making it out of poverty, Sasha’s existence too was forged by forces external of her condition, from the odds of her parents making it out to America to her growing up in the hood of Brooklyn, despite not knowing what she would eat for dinner most days. Yet graduating high school top of her class and taking care of her parents, all this made her who she was: resilient. It forged a heroine out of her.

The airport smelled sweet as she passed by someone eating a bowl of fried rice. The smell merged with the hundreds of other restaurants. Emily Donahue was an African American woman, Sasha’s direct assistant. She looked at the world with a sureness of direction, and her loud personality made her mesh well with Sasha; they had both grown fond of each other. Emily was the glue to her business interests, her meetings, and all her flights.

A large van had arrived just out the front of the building, yet another one without drivers. People no longer drove cars, no longer directed airplanes, the world had been digitized. People immersed fully within the world, lacking human connections. They lacked a certain sense of humanity from human interactions and spontaneity that so many took for granted in the past. People on sidewalks never looked at each other anymore, they were too busy observing the next deals of passing clothing stores flying in front of their eyes, tasty food stores moving food in the air showing how certain dishes were made, or others could be seen with their hands shaped like weapons playing to attain levels of a game brought to life by advanced augmented reality lenses. This was the age of the hyperreality manifested. However, it came with many consequences. Just last week, the news ran a story on the suicide epidemic that had cut deep across New York City.

In this world, everything ran smoothly according to plan. Special algorithms, and artificial intelligence machines worked without a stop, without rest day in and day out. Yet, back in college she still remembered her old father, a taxi man. The only way he could make any money to put bread on the table was to drive around the late hours of the night. She held those memories very dearly, for the world she lived in now was no longer the same. Her parents were dead, buried deep in a cemetery in Brooklyn.

Sasha and her team all hopped into a large, elongated grey van, looking like faraway travelers. Some of the seats retracted so they could fit their expedition tools. The archeological dig had been years in the making. They were setting out to prove the missing link that blinded the world of a past in disarray.

They arrived to the local hotel deep within the mid-town forest. It had wooden floors, rocky pillars engraved in Chinese markings, red towers with warrior-like sculptures, and vine plants wrapped around the entire building. It was in a small village, where the gardens and lakes stood still against the wind, and the crickets sung into the evening. A number of small bridges rose in the air over the pond to the second and third floor terrace. To Sasha, the felt place felt magical.

She pondered how the large forest was growing at the center of a busy and large Chinese city.  Not too far from the entrance was a small monastery, and monks with bald heads frequented the reception desk, and meditated outside. The expedition team asked for their rooms, still in awe of the scenery. Emily quickly tapped a tired Sasha on the shoulders and told her she was going to miss the online VR class she taught; it was starting in less than 45 minutes. The dig was tomorrow. She had no time to rest as she sprinted to hotel room 246 to set up her Obion, an augmented reality platform that allowed her to beam herself into a room with thousands of students from around the world.

III

They all woke before the sunrise and headed to the remote mountainous part of the region. The earth was red and moist. They had hired a local to drive a rare, manually operated rusted blue jeep. No one in Sasha’s group had seen one in decades, yet this was the only kind of transportation that could truck all the dangers away manually as that could occur on this remote region in the mountain. The morning dew still held its circular shapes over the green leaves in the fauna. Metal tools were scattered over the area and large blue tents enclosed with air conditioners quickly unfolded from small cube boxes. The most interesting part of the dig was the small fan of hair tube that delicately sucked all the surrounding dirt from the large structure of bones that had been laid on the ground like a massive piece of art at a museum. The museum of planet earth. However, this was very real, this large monster had lived once.

Sasha was excited for this find, and was called a bit further up into the rocky platform that enchanted everyone. The view was of a large valley and the green tops of trees – another large forest. Right on the platform of the sunny day, a device had noticed other formed bones 15 feet below. That puzzled everyone, as the bones were even older. As they were unearthed, Sasha saw what looked like a strange blacked tooth from a creature she did not recognize. The scanning device and DNA sample could not give a positive result, but it looked snake-like. Sasha grabbed it from the dirty floor with her special gloves. The black tooth suddenly felt heavy, and a shock from below ringed her entire body as she collapsed, passing out in the background.