Wind was howling incessant on the break and filtering eddies of snow into Dr. Starlin’s eyelashes as he crouched down to reach eye-level with the latest find. The current stratum was down as low as the Carboniferous period, bits of compressed coal gleaming up brilliant black out of all that white snow. The Kamchatka Peninsula was the sort of place that you’d be perfectly happy with only having seen on a postcard. Once you got here and could feel the icicles clinging to your nostrils and the bitter sting of your eyes trying to freeze themselves shut, you couldn’t help but feel duped by all the beautiful sights.
He was here to study anthracite, its origins and formation. It was a strange type of coal, looking far more crystal-like than what you’d expect to have burning up in your furnace. Light from the dim, cloud-blocked sun would just barely break through from up above, send shimmering reflections of itself dancing off the coal’s surface and into Dr. Starlin’s eyes. This was his home. He was more comfortable being around rocks than other people, where the data was consistent and the variables were few. Things just made sense here, and there were very few surprises, even for a scientific venture.
He wasn’t one to rock the boat. The more consistent the finds the better as far as he was concerned. He didn’t want money, or fame, or the possibility of upheaval of accepted theories on the way the world works. If he could just sit there alone with his rocks and somehow get paid for doing so, then all would be right with the world.
One of the bits of anthracite stood out from the rest, even as it rested clumped among that lumpy pile of coal. It glimmered as if to beckon the doctor over, like it had a secret to tell and he was the only one authorized to hear it. Dr. Starlin approached cautiously, as if expecting a trap to be sprung at any moment. But there was no trap and the coal was just coal. He fetched his tools, picked the heavy piece of anthracite up and began to break it apart. He didn’t know what it was about this particular specimen that told him to pick it apart himself, not just toss it aside with the rest for an aide to analyze later, but he pressed on even so. And when he got to the center of the piece, he had his answer.
There, gleaming brighter than even the sides of the anthracite itself was a solid hunk of metal, dirty from the coal that still clung to it but shining all the while. Dr. Starlin worked tirelessly, picking apart the coal that rested around the hunk of metal, dusting off debris, and polishing it up so he could get a better look at what it was. And when it was all done, and the coal was nothing but powdered and chipped remains left at his feet, he held a glimmering pocket watch in his hands. It had foreign symbols in place of each of the twelve numbers, glyphs that Dr. Starlin had never before seen in his life, but it was a pocket watch all the same.
But how could this be? This piece of anthracite had been buried in the earth since the Carboniferous period, 300 million years at least. It was packed hard as stone, buried in the same stratum that fossilized, ancient insects had just recently been found at. Either this pocket watch belonged to a very fashionable arthropod or something very strange was going on. And even worse was the button on top of the watch itself, which button had just started to glow as if wanting to be pressed. There was too much going on for Dr. Starlin to handle. Too many variables, too many unanswered questions… This wasn’t a comfortable situation at all.
Despite his better judgments, Dr. Starlin wanted to press the button. Maybe it was one last holdout of curiosity from his childhood days, that indomitable sense of adventure that the doctor had been trying all these years to crush. He looked at the button, how it glowed a golden hue against all that white of the snow. Before he could stop himself, he pressed it.
Dr. Starlin had the immediate sensation of being shot out of a cannon and into a tunnel of unending light. He lost all feeling in every limb, his body being lost in some vapor that was as all-encompassing as the Kamchatka snow, but warm all the while.
When he came back to, he was standing on a plateau in the summer heat, rain falling in drops the size of dimes. There was flora all around, luscious green as calls from strange-sounding animals echoed all around him. He looked at the ground. Insects the size of his feet wriggled around, exoskeletons like plates of armor as strange birdlike creatures dropped out of the sky in hot pursuit. He looked at his hand. The pocket watch was still there, clutched tightly from the stress of the journey he just made. But the hand was not his. The fingers were long, spindly gray monstrosities, only four of them total. His body, too, felt much too long. Looking down at his torso, it seemed to stretch like some disturbing taffy. He noticed a puddle a few feet ahead. Running over, he looked desperately at his reflection. A long, gray face greeted him, massive black almond-shaped eyes peering back at him. He looked up. Several figures with the same appearance were there before him, crouched over ancient creatures as they studied them and took samples.
Dr. Starlin slammed on the watch’s button and was whipped quickly through that tunnel he had just come through. He was back in the snow and cold, never more thankful to be in that climate in his life. He stuffed the watch into his pocket and rushed off into camp.