A graceful, older gentleman strolls along the edges of golden waving fields on a narrow paved road outside Spokane. He is fairly tall and sturdily framed. His grizzled, dark hair, simply cut, covers his head and fills the beard that covers much of his face. A thick set of goggle-like sun glasses bury most of his expression. Still something about him is quite likable. Perhaps it is the joyful interest he takes in his surroundings or the humbleness that shows in his gait. In spite of this he finds that the people here, while not hostile, are slow to open to him. He has been offered water and use of their communication devices but no one has shared a meal or listened to him. He is not afraid. As always, he carries some small provisions, and should all here fail him, he will simply disappear as he came, never to be seen again. It has happened before. He would simply shake the dust off his shoes and leave. The people never knowing what they had missed.
But it will not happen this time.
At last he comes upon a humble farmhouse.
They have not seen him yet, the one who will change their lives.
Two young men stand outside the plain structure in amiable disagreement on what they should make next. They are brothers, but also skilled and brilliant young programmers who have recently started their own little company. Just now they are very concerned. The electronic market is filled with simple, glitzy entertainment’s that are being churned through like clockwork by large companies with enormous budgets. Many of these are unwholesome offerings, serving up gore by the virtual bloody platefuls. They will not follow this trend. All that they hold dear forbids it, and yet it is unclear whether the people will choose something more restrained, a cleaner alternative if they should dare offer it. Their own previous efforts have been mostly aimed at children, and while these were imaginative and fresh they were also largely buried in the landslide of better known companies. They need to do something different, something that will establish them at least well enough to feed their growing families. In truth, however, their dreams are larger. They would like to change worlds if it were possible. The question is...is it possible? Robyn lifts his head, looking over the fields as he considers his brother’s words. He focuses on the moving figure. Rand follows his gaze.
They see him. Being the friendly souls they are, they come forward to greet him. They notice his outfit with some astonishment, but politely make no comment. He looks like a cross between an near-east Arab and an old world explorer. Still he seems clean in his habits and of intelligent, gentle disposition. The amazed brothers take his measure silently, and then invite him in, and offer what hospitality they can. There is no food ready, but their new friend indicates his satisfaction with a proffered bowl of hard candy. The elder of the two begins to introduce himself, inviting the stranger to do the same.
The traveler, pleased with their warm response, begins to speak to them. His skillful hands easing them into communication at once familiar and strange. At first they listen in polite, entertained disbelief, but slowly an impression of his honesty grows upon them. A sense of wonder descends upon his small audience. Their minds open to the incredible possibilities suggested by his words. His soft voice, and elegant gestures paint pictures of far away places, of distant lands. All work comes to a halt as the small group of colleagues and friends listen spell bound to their unusual guest.
The reality he suggests, worlds connected by words, seems highly improbable at best. And yet, nothing they have learned can contradict the possibility. He can prove part of what he says. He has brought a round stone that glows from within, a strange watch that measures the day in thirty hours, and a number of books. Most are in a strange tongue he calls D'ni. Robyn, especially, is astonished at the stone. He plays with it in the glass dish, rolling it this way and that. The soft red light illumines the hard candies like so many jewels. Amazing how the light inside completely alters what seemed so mundane a moment before! The fire-marble shines as a burning allegory of the changes to come, if they will allow it.
At last a meal is prepared and, they invite him to partake. Their guest adores the chicken-teriyaki sandwiches, indicating by many gestures and an appreciative appetite that this was a feast indeed! Silently young programmer sitting in rapt awe decides that in honor of this occasion he will never eat anything else for lunch!
His visit lasts until the setting of the sun. At last he bids his new friends farewell, promising to return and tell them more of the strange history he has unfolded. For now he leaves them with a phrase book he has made and very old journals for them to translate as best they may. He has discovered that they are similarly minded and asks for their help in a strange venture.
The brothers discuss that night whether to accept the challenge. It is everything they had wanted. It is a unique tale, a focus that allows both use of their fullest imagination and a chance to make a difference in their own world. Such a story could influence millions for the better, perhaps even challenge people to seek deeper truths and make better choices in their own lives. It is decided. They will tell his story, though they have but the sketchiest notions of what these places might look like. It will take a great deal of work to bring it to life. For it is they who will have to flesh out these skeletons of ages into an interactive journey others can share. It is not even certain that it CAN be done. A story told by visuals alone is difficult to do with computers, technology for such a project being primitive. If not for the recent invention of CD-ROMs it would be impossible to get into any marketable form. But CDs do exist, and if they were to succeed....
There are other concerns even before it is well begun. The beauty of these places should draw attention, puzzles would entertain, but how much of the story could be saved in their first effort? It is a mammoth task and difficult decisions will have to be made. Should they keep the first part simple and hope to build upon it, or try to squeeze in as much as possible, at the risk of overburdening the "game." There are risks either way. If they give only enough to whet the appetite and there proved to be no market for it, they could never hope to do another. The whole story would never be told.
For their friend wants them to tell his tales, but also to build a test program. One that could determine the possible interest and intelligence of those on the surface of the Earth in helping an ancient world and -perhaps- even find those willing to assist him in his trials. When the brothers returned from their drive, they found the evening's work had just begun.
A solitary figure trails up the dusty country lane that leads into the pine forest. He has a fair distance to go yet before he will find the place where he has left his book. They saved him quite a walk by driving him most of the way there, but these last steps he must take alone. At least for now. He breathes deeply into the gathering gloom. The dark pines and nearer grasses flow back and forth, brushed by the large gentle hands in the late summer’s wind. Mead was it? Yes, its resinous scents intoxicated his senses. Well named this place. He smiled as he walked along, stooping now and then to bounce a pine cone off the half-hidden barks of distant trees. There is always joy in the journeying.
As the traveler walked on in the twilight, he thought over the days events. They are very nice young men, these Millers. He had found more than new friends, he had found hope for the future.
Still there were worries. Had he given them enough to work with? Would they be willing to devote so much time and effort to the problems of a stranger? That concern brought him up short. If they betrayed him also, what hope was left? He stood still in the increasing darkness. The low wind sought soft fingers to blow in the colder places of his soul, those old deep hurts scrabbling for hold on his heart. Outwardly he was still as the stones upon the trail, inwardly he shivered. He ached.
The rolling land slowly disappeared, an abundance of stars replaced them. Looking up, he marveled again at the one who made them all. There was one who he now understood would never abandon him. His Dear Lady always believed in destiny, that his steps were guided by the Maker of all. The longer he lived, the more inclined he was to believe she was right. She would say he had been guided today.
As he stood still, he felt his remembrance of her love warm him, hold him steady. He braced again for the tasks ahead and shook off his fears, releasing them back into the hands of the only one big enough to bear them all. Peace overtook his soul, filling him with sense of lightness. He realized that he was satisfied in their good character. There was something in their eyes that echoed his own. Yes, he would trust them and see what came of it all.
He removed the goggles, needing them no longer. He could see what he must do. Slowly he wound his way off the trail and into the mysterious darkness beyond the silver moonshine.
The moon was setting now, for it was late. It was very late. A clock sitting in the corner upbraided the exhausted man for abandoning his rest yet again. Its soft clicking and ticking announcing the passing of the night. Soft sounds filled the near silence. A page turned. Beyond the window, the frustrated wind rose and whined, begging admittance to the peaceful household. A little girl sighed in her sleep. Still the pen etched out the seconds in a steady pace, then suddenly hissed as ill-chosen word was scratched off the page. The writer groaned and bent over the desk. It seemed his work was never-ending. So many lives depended upon success, upon the successful completion of this work. It was hard at times to bear such a load. He paused for a moment feeling it press down upon him. How had it come to be that so many lives entertained with his own? Who was he when all was said and sifted? A sense of inadequacy prevailed for a moment. Perhaps he should rest, and work again when the shadows had fled.
He stretched and wandered over his sleeping household. The beauty of his wife and children moved his heart to awe. A soft smile lit his features. For their sake, it was worth all this. Just the chance to make a world a better place was worth all he could do. He thought again of those who were following him. They all had families too. He straightened, determined to his best, and a fresh strength came to his heart. His spirit was willing, but by now his flesh was very weak Yes, morning would now be best. He would rest now, in what was left of the night.
Rand rubbed his weary eyes and set his glasses down upon the desk. These translations were difficult, but it was hard to stop. The stories held by these little journals were an astonishment to him. There were the tales of recent and more ancient days. Honorable men and horrible villainy filled pages and Ages. Yet for all that was explained, more remained mysterious and unknown. He really needed more pages. He turned off the desk lamp and looked at the pages under his hands, tinted blue by the moonlight. His tired brain turned over the pieces he had gained this evening, fitting them this way and that. He slid into bed and fell asleep...dreaming almost incoherently. His dark visions proved mysty portals into ancient pathways.....
In the ancient cavern, the light shining from his lantern showed him preparing. Had anyone watched from the dimly lit waters, they could have seen he was ill at ease. Already his load looked very heavy, yet the determined figure continued to move purposefully from one ruined building to another. He was collecting things, filling one bulging satchel after another. Finally he stopped, wheezing under the strain. It was time, he decided. It was time to return. He would go and see how they were doing. The traveler was more nervous than he would care to admit. One hand shook slightly as yet more maps and papers found their way from a great stone desk into the last aged leather satchel. It was hard for him to part with them, even for the necessary time. They made up what was left of his history. So much had been lost. ...so...much....
A ragged breath escaped him as he readied for his return. What would he find? He pulled himself upright and began his journey. Truly, he told himself, there was no point in further delay. The sooner he arrived, the sooner he would know.
A smile crossed his face as he realized that they soon would learn what he had once believed. His own small books would tell the brothers that this journey was an impossible one, but it was not yet time to explain. He barely had time now for the journey! He must continue his writing. Hopefully most of what they would need to know would be in the books. He just hoped they would understand how critical it was that they keep these secrets well hidden! Others might be watching! Well... he sighed... he would tell them when he saw them.
Heavily weighted as he was, he struggled up the ancient streets. He still had to pick his way through the pathways made through the debris. Finally he reached his first destination. He sighed with relief as he reached the pedestal. He stood and placed his hand on the link that would return him by stages to the kindly pines of Spokane. In moments only a soft amber glow marked where he had been. Small motes of dust danced down in the lamplight, flowing into the vacuum as arid rain.
The light drip ran slowly down the evergreen branch, eased along its graceful needles and gathered together for one last leap onto the increasingly solid coat, before finally sliding silently off the tan fabric into a bed of needles below. He watched its intriguing motion as he finished materializing. The traveler had returned. He struggled into motion toward the road, concerned at how long it had taken him to arrive. The satchels had been more of a strain than he had anticipated. How long would this young man wait? As he left the shelter of the trees his heart rose at the sight of a worried-looking Rand steadfastly looking in his direction. It seemed his young friend had been here for some time. He didn’t look like he was planning to go anywhere. Warmth filled him as he strode toward the road.
Rand leaned against his bumper and looked into the damp haze. He was slowly getting soaked. Here he was again, waiting for his future to arrive. He supposed he should feel excited and adventurous. That had worn off hours ago. The truth was, he felt like an idiot. Person after person looked at him and his old car and slowed to ask if he needed help. If he had a newer car they wouldn’t do this, he thought. Maybe a truck with a tool kit would reassure people? He didn’t want to take anything away from working budget, but this was getting ridiculous! He hoped that Myst would be at least a commercial success!
At least he would hear soon whether their efforts would be...suitable to the Mysterious Stranger’s concerns. Rand hoped he would be pleased, a bit nervous within himself about what could be done at this stage if he was not. There wasn’t much room for large changes. He had done the best he could, everyone had. Now they could only fine tune it and hope for the best.
Distracted by his thoughts, he barely noticed when a large Ford truck pulled even with him. It was a very nice truck, a simple black construction of utility and elegance. He found himself admiring it, even modeling it in his head. Within it was yet another friendly soul slowing down and asking if he needed them to call for him? Rand’s honest replies were non-committal, but getting a bit strained. Would the traveler come? Had he already come and he had missed him? Rand was getting good at not answering questions, but then he was getting lots of practice lately! He could just imagine what the reaction would be if he told anyone the whole story! At last the driver moved on and Rand resumed his task of scanning the forest, more hoping than expecting to see anything.
At last! A figure had appeared out of the forest. Rand sagged with relief when he could see it was really him. Rand met him partway and offered to carry part of the considerable load suspended from his friend’s shoulders. The traveler thanked him and they walked in unison back to the car. Rand had a struggle to fit all the new papers in with what he was already carrying. Yes, he definitely needed a truck... a big truck!
Robyn tried to concentrate on his monitor, but his keen senses were focused on the road. Their friend would be coming today. They had done good work, he was sure of it. But would the traveler understand the choices they had made? His beloved little island was so totally transformed from the sketches he had left behind. The gameplay made this necessary. There were only so many images that could fit onto the disk. In order to make a coherent world, some parts of his world were now outsized, others rendered basically non-existent. And so it was also with the four Ages they had chosen. Five would have been more fitting, but since Myst island itself was an Age, technically there were five still. It was what they had time to do. The financial crunch was upon them, they must ship it soon. As to the name itself, Myst was better than the Rivenese original for marketing purposes. It also summed up the whole experience in his opinion. A mysterious island and a mysterious tale were about to be loosed upon the world. One day he would like Myst to be redone, completed. If only for their peace of mind, it would be worthwhile.
Robyn had tried especially hard with Channelwood. His own imagination had been captured by the Age. He could have worked a year perfecting that place, making it like the picture he now carried inside him. It was such beautiful place in his minds eye. His imagination had stretched out, filled in the arboreal-filled etchings they worked from with heavy oils of inspiration. This one satisfied him the most and the least. It was the most real looking of the Ages, but there was so much missing still, so much he wanted to do!
Rand, of course, would never agree to further delay. But then, Rand had to see and work with the whole picture. He weighted the needs of the project and their artistic desires against the realities of utility bills and employee salaries. It was a fine balance and, unsurprisingly, not everyone agreed with every decision he made. Someone had to make those decisions. Rand was that someone. There were days when Rand hated the job, and days when he loved it. Robyn wondered how his brother felt about it today, with their friend about to call.
Robyn knew this was how it had to be, but still the artist in him chafed at the restrictions that their needs imposed. If all goes well, he promised himself, the rest of this story will be told RIGHT. He looked up from the desk where had he felt chained all day.
AAHHH they had returned! Robyn leaned back and exhaled loudly. At last, he could leave this forgotten little corner of the world. He found it hard to concentrate in his new “office.” It was right next to the furnace and bathroom! He wondered if could there be in all creation, anything less prosaic than desk with a view of the toilet? Even his basement had been better than this! At last there he had been able to dim the lights! He rose and stretched his long frame, feeling tension flow through him. Soon, he reminded himself, this would be over. He would escape his dungeon.....
Richard came down the stairs and paused, noticing Miller’s eyes fixed on the road, “Can I help you with anything, Robyn?”
Robyn looked out the garage door. “I think, yes.” Then he noticed all the bags coming out of the car. One satchel spilled out its precious cargo of vellum, dust from the pages making fractal patterns in the black pavement . Robyn looked bemusedly at the scene. The moment seemed to call for a comment, so he made one. “RAWA, I hope you’re into books!”
As they walked out to assist, Richard responded in a puzzled tone. “I like history..” The Mysterious One beamed at RAWA. Yes! Better and better! He had found his historian!
The traveler settled in at the computer, bemused at the technology under his hands. In some ways this machine was more advanced than his, and in some ways it was far less so. His imagers were far more efficient with memory, for example, but the disks were a great improvement on the storage methods he used.
Their explanations washed over him as he traveled through the virtual world they had worked so hard to create. It was good work. They had all done good work. Their graphical writing was quite stable. He smiled, aware of the held breath around him. There was a release not unlike soft wind over salty seas. He enjoyed their relief, then spoke, “As an introduction this Myst game would do quite well. As you see, I have brought you more of my works and that of my people...”
“We have almost a book’s worth already....” Chris began.
“You have translated so much?” The traveler grinned his approval. “Now you have more my young friends...”
Rand and Robyn exchanged glances. Well the CD was nearly out of beta anyway. It was good thing. It looked like they had a book to write.
Rand brought out a pen and began asking the traveler questions about his beginnings, realizing that perhaps, ending of Myst would never be written.