Ned sighed as he wiped his sweaty brow and stared down at the black trap door. His crew cleared away the debris to reveal a 10′ x 15′ high metal door that was darker than any black he’d ever seen. The crew milled around the exposed door and mumbled to themselves. Even with the hot sun directly overhead, the spot they cleared up looked like a bottomless hole in the ground. The only thing that hinted at it being an opening was a crease that ran 15 feet directly down the middle. It could be felt and divided the door into two even sections, but not seen. After everyone had a chance to play with the mysterious door, Ned finally nodded at his assistant.
“Tell Ms. Sharp we found it.”
Two days later, Ned couldn’t believe his luck. Ms. Sharp allowed him to enter the door with her and her assistant. The pair of women arrived the day before with a larger crew and immediately took over Ned’s dig. He tried not to be resentful about it; it was what he signed up for. However, it irked him when her crew blocked off access. He had no idea how they breached the door even as he was lowered into the cavern below it.
It was deeper than Ned expected. He reached a point where the sunlight from the opening no longer reached him; he could not see anything around him. He managed to keep himself calm with the knowledge that Ms. Sharp and her assistant Melody were already on the ground.
Finally, light began growing from below him. Melody held her hand raised in the air with some sort of handheld flashlight in her hand. As he got closer to the floor, her brilliant bluish-white light grew brighter. Ned landed and looked around. Despite the flood of light from Melody’s hand, anything beyond the light was impossible to see.
“This way,” Melody said. She walked past Ned and he glimpsed golden stars in her eyes. Ms. Sharp followed Melody and Ned followed Ms. Sharp. They didn’t walk very long; if Ned had to guess he’d put it at walking from one side of a house to another. As they walked, Ned spotted a faint light growing in the distance. It grew brighter as they approached, but Ned could not identify a shape.
Finally, after what felt like a mile, Ned stood by Ms. Sharp and Melody in front of a seated giant. Ned’s eyes roamed up the man’s bulging, muscular body. The white glow Ned spotted came from several white bands keeping the man in place. His wrists, ankles, chest, and legs were all locked down by glowing white bands. He was bare-chested; Ned was shocked to see his chest slowly breathing regularly.
Ned looked to the man’s face; his mouth and eyes were also covered by white bands. Ned had questions, but he did not want to be the first one to speak and accidentally wake their host.
“Tell me about it,” Ms. Sharp asked in her normal tone.
“Calavera,” Melody replied, also in her regular volume. Luckily the sleeping giant did not seem to notice them.
“And the door?” Ms. Sharp asked.
“45 billion years old,” Melody replied.
“WHAT!?” Ned yelled out. As far as he knew, even the oldest universes he’d visited were only about 15 billion years old. Anything older than that shouldn’t have been possible. He clapped his hands to his mouth, but the sharp slapping sound only added to his ruckus.
It wasn’t long before a different sound drew all their attention; the faint sound of a large chain being jingled echoed around them. The giant stirred. However, another faint sound shook Ned more than the fear filling his body. Dana Sharp sighed at him.
“Mr. Lozano, I trust it’s crystal clear why I’m firing you,” she said. “Melody, send Mr. Lozano back to camp while I take the Calavera’s soul,” Dana Sharp said. She stepped forward and pulled out an electric-blue node. It was a node unlike any Ned had ever seen before, and he’d never see it again. He wanted to protest but didn’t have a case.
“Yes, Ms. Sharp,” Melody replied. Ned nodded in acceptance as the floor disappeared from beneath him. He was immediately blinded by the sun as he felt himself crumple on soft, hot sand.
“NED!” he recognized a familiar voice as he heard footsteps gather around him. His crew rushed to help him off the ground. “What happened!?” someone asked. Ned kept his eyes closed as he faced down to avoid the sun burning through his eyelids. Ned chuckled to himself as he realized the literal interpretation. He smiled and leaned on his friends as they guided him back to camp.
“I was let go.”