Graphic novels by Nicholas Romer

Uncharted

Science fiction

It’s up to you to start the animations while reading

My dad was a survival freak. His savage’s death through a rudimentary spear was truly ironic. He had the financial means of his whim. His company’s portfolio was valued just shy of 2 billion a month ago. 

In march of this year he unveiled his last fancy, a rakish e-sail yacht. I, along with my Gin tonic expert mom, were invited to a worldwide sea tour on this 12 millions euro high tech vessel.

Zombies can’t swin… He quipped before unrolling the moorings. Deep down he truly believed we were safe in the middle of the ocean. And he sensed some major troubles looming ahead.

His fears that he was prone to share with me triggered some upsetting nights. The nuclear blast was still a vivid memory to this day.

We left San Diego for Australia and then we headed to the Indian ocean. Everything onboard was AI controlled. Our meals were stocked in a cold chamber and heated on order. We never experienced the same dinner for 85 days. 

Trouble popped up when the delicate e-sail system went off. The sails would reflect the sun rays instead of converting them into energy. All of a sudden, we stood still in the middle of a glossy ocean.

We spotted an island around 2 miles away. But my dad got nervous and spent two days coding frantically to reset the AI system. To no avail. Things got worse when we had to chew cold meat.

Then, they assaulted us at dawn.

I managed to ninja my way down to the porthole. My grip was flimsy. And facing the eyes of my dead dad bulging out of their sockets was too much to endure. I let myself plop into the water and I swam underwater towards the island.

My dad had taught me how to hold my breath over 3 minutes. 180 seconds. Sounds easy right ? Well you try it.

Water was warm and crystal clear. Swarms of rainbow fishes gave way before me. But above all I distanced myself from the natives. I emerged and stepped onto a thin strip of white sand and rushed into the greenery. Those foliages were massive, almost impenetrable. I crawled my way out with a dozen bleeding scratches and I ran until my legs couldn’t make it any longer.

I faced a dense forest with foliage acting as a protective dome. It was dark and cold. I got shivers down the spine, jerking movements I couldn’t stop. Drum beats started to ramp up not so far away. Fear and exhaustion interweaved into some sort of a ritual dance.

I couldn’t stifle tears of despair and rage. If only I had the Beretta handgun that my dad kept at bay in his safe box I would manage to knock off a few of them.

A few days ago, in the pilot cabin, infuriated and exhausted by his failure to reset the AI, my dad filled me in on why this nearby island made him nervous. He told me about this young american evangelist who attempted to communicate his faith to the sentinels. This endeavor ended badly. And my dad didn’t have the least desire to replicate the experience.

They won’t catch me and suck my brain out. Never… I mumbled to myself. 

Despite the warm drizzling, I blacked out again. I fell into some sort of endless void, as if sucked by an air flow.

The more I fell the more this rotten flesh whiff became intense. A greenish swamp languished at the bottom of this huge hellish pit. All of a sudden a gigantic gaunt arm emerged from the bottom. It was as thick and gnarled as an oak branch.

I woke up in time. In time to overhear the drum beats closing in on me. I zoomed off in the opposite direction. The sentinels were on my tail, eructing weird sounds from the bottom of their throat. And they were also banning me from fleeing to the center of the island.

But some kind of magnetic force drove me towards the center of the island. My fear of the sentinels couldn’t offset this powerful spell. I landed smack in front of a gargantuan crater. The foliage must have acted as an umbrella for two thirds of the cavity.

I was mesmerized by this cold and stinky 300 feet wide cavity. I stood still on the edge with the sentinels howling and getting closer by the minute. 

I took a deep breath and I started scrambling down a very narrow path. I lost my balance several times but the growing clamor from the sentinels fueled my last bit of stamina. I could make out their presence on the crater edge but they clearly had no will to follow my path…

I managed to walk down a hidden built-in stair and my descent became kind of smooth. As I got closer to the greenish slush below the stench got unbearable. It was as if all the island animals were ending their lives and rotting there.

I passed out 20 feet above the swamp.

I open my eyes.

Am I being locked up ? Am I dreaming again ? I squint in the dark to make out two weird egg-shaped slits. I get closer to what I consider to be janky windows of a poorly manufactured sentinel’s cell. I notice some kind of bats whooshing past the windows.

Thanks Sarah…

An unknown husky voice echoes in my cell. It sounds so close and yet so far away. I turn my back to the dim lights but I can’t figure out what is lying in the back of the room.

Im in you and I thank you for your invitation…

Who is it ? I whisper

Astaroth… But you can give me any names

Where am I ?

At your place… In you…

I back away towards the darkest side of the room. But my backward walking is blocked as I bump into a massive object.

I borrow your body, Sarah, because I have no other choice… I must travel around and I fear that my exhibit won’t let me through airport gates…

I don’t understand a word of his mumbo jumbo. Nevertheless, in the back of my mind, some awful reality starts to prevail.

Im… In my head ?

At last I grasp the utter madness of my situation. Those quaint windows are just my very own eyes. And those bats flying by are my eyelid lashes in motion. I shut down my brain, unclinging to my last bit of relevance fueled by some overheated synapses and I’m falling down in slow motion.

It’s pitch black when I emerge from this fifteen round slug fest. I endure a nasty headache. The ‘windows’ are closed and I suspect this thing needs to sleep too. I fumble the blackness with my arms stretched forward. This room seems huge. I smack into a humongous piece of wood. My hands grope around shelves filled with massive leather books. I have no clue why this librarian’s massive bookshelf fills most parts of this room.

He wakes up in turn.. I guess we are kind of symbiotic.

Outside, through ‘my eyes’, I can figure out his path. He’s walking toward the beach. As I turn around I can make out at last a huge wooden bookshelf.

Those books are your memory hard drive, Sarah…

My feet drag me slowly to a ladder and I ninja my way up to the third shelf. They all show the same pattern. Days, months and years act as titles. I grab the one in front of me which is named January 3th 2024. This was merely a week ago.

I reluctantly open it and a white beam hit me in the face. I’m sucked into a tunnel at the speed of light in a matter of seconds until I’m thrown into my daily actions on January the third. It feels like watching yourself through a TV set. Awful.

I slam the book back while promising myself to never experience this again. I have enough trouble with the present time, not to mention the past. 

Sarah…

He seems out of breath. He’s unused to walking. I feel warmth and moistness under my armpit. Like him. Like me. This whole thing is an utter mess.

Any trouble ? I ask

No… I just stood idle too long… Millions of…

Obviously, this last bit of information slipped his mouth. He must have hibernated like a bear in a cave. But for how long ? Billions of years ? Was he the opposite of god ? A demon willing to take his revenge when appropriate ?

You said that I could call you any name ?

Indeed…

Right… When will this mishmash end, Deadbeat ?

As an answer, I feel rumbles around me outside the room. I perceive roaring streams of untamed water getting closer while the heat rises all of a sudden.

Deadbeat is obviously infuriated. My heartbeats are getting as loud as the Sentinels drums. I sense that those furious streams are my blood running wild through my veins.

Deadbeat’s anger pressures down after one endless minute or so.

Don’t play wiseguy with me, Sarah… You have no idea what I can inflict to you…

If you kill me you got no more body… I mumble

Roaring streams echo again but less rowdy.

You nailed it… That’s why we must work closely together… I can make all your wildest wishes come true you know… Help me climb up this last stair towards a new age… The year 1 !

At this exact moment, sporadic images whoosh past me. I find myself before a crowd on Santa Monica lecturing them about the final days of this world… Fast forward and I’m now surrounded by hundreds of thousands of followers in London… They raise candles while I’m hovering 5 feet over the ground !

Then, I’m standing 50 feet over the Vatican square in a ring of plasma, ready to strike down upon a million mesmerized worshipers ! This fiery and fuming angel can’t be me… But as much as I want to be proven wrong on this I must admit that anger just distorts my childish face beyond recognition.

I pass out. Again. 

I dream… I’m on dad’s yacht… He exits the pilot cabin after unsuccessful attempts to reset the AI… He looks drawn and in dismay. He ruffles my hair and stoops down.

Your magical bag, you still have it ?

I nod.

Right… A pen and a notebook may seem dull and old fashioned but they can also save your life if you find yourself lost… You can jot down star sightings as I instructed you how to do it… And the pen slit…

… An eye… And a whistle can make any predator run away…As I finish his sentence.

Good job, sweetheart…

I wake up with a jolt. I immediately rummage through my pockets. The two flank pockets are empty. Panic submerges me. I delve into my back pockets and adrenaline starts to ramp up. Here it is ! The magic bag.

The bag is the size of a travel cosmetic folder and holds a red whistle and a pen pinned inside a small notebook. As far as I can remember I haven’t used any of those tools. They just languished in my short pants as a fulfilling promise to my dad.

I grab the whistle and purge my lungs in it. The hissing is awful. It pierces your ear like a long dagger scratching your ear-drum. But Deadbeat’s reaction is awesome. I can hear him scream and smash his (my) hands on his (my) ears. For a moment, there is an eerie mute sequence in the room.

Don’t do that again !

Deadbeat is all piss and vinegar. I whistle again. For the first time I feel that I can overpower him. Roars bounce back from deep down my veins. Deadbeat is about to erupt like a dormant supervolcano. The shrill beep from this tiny whistle must be deafening in his ‘head’.

Books tumble down in a massive bang. Some just fly toward me like arrows shot by Deadbeat in a desperate act of vengeance. One of them smashes my forehead and knocks me down.

It’s winding down… Through my ‘eyes’ I glimpse at the ocean and its infinite horizon.

Sarah, let’s cut the crap… If you harm me I will harm you… I don’t ask you to bond with me or to revere me… For now… I suggest that this body shared by the both of us becomes a neutral common ground, like Switzerland… Agreed ?

I get up, wipe the blood off my forehead with my hand and walk slowly towards my ‘eyes’.

Agreed ?

This time his husky voice roars and echoes against my skull.

Agreed… I mutter.

Perfect… This sea keeps me away from my fate… You swim well and I have never left this island… Therefore you will swim towards your father’s yacht and I will take care of everything from there…

He walks down a slope of sand, a mere 20 feet from the seaside. Humanity’s future is murky if Deadbeat succeeds in reaching the continent. And by that time my body would be useless to him. Who knows what sick idea he has in mind for me.

I stare at my whistle. A frail item that could only save a few minutes at best. As I turn my back to the ‘eyes’ I set my sight on a hardcover that lay apart from the others. It seems to call me. While I walk towards it my hand clutches the pen in my pocket. And all of a sudden everything makes sense.

The book shows no title on its cover. I have a hard time containing myself. If this is what I think it is… I open it and it beats me hard. No flashlight, no woosh time travel, just blank pages.

Deadbeat steps into the sea unwillingly. I can feel a slight shudder down ‘our’ spine. Ultimately he let himself be absorbed by the warm water.

I grasp my pen and I start to write on the blank page… This book is empty because it awaits my future to become my past. This upcoming future that I’m currently writing down…

I don’t swim… I let myself drown… I hold my breath… Under 3 minutes but way more than Deadbeat can bear…

Here is my writing on the page and here is what’s happening right now… My future has just become reality…

I am a survivor. Twice. Enough to start up a new life hinging on brand new prospects. I’m hopeful that a rescue operation will bring me back on the continent without fearing a new assault by the sentinels. They protected us for thousands of years, shielding us against a maleficent force kept deep down inside a crater. I understand better their violence now. I don’t forgive them but I don’t have anymore resentment.

Something lay at the bottom of this ocean. Whatever its appearance or its soul I truly hope that the world is relieved from its presence.

The AI is back as if by magic and I’m about to send an SOS. And then I will sleep. A long time. A sleep devoid of nightmares.