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The Expedition

Andrew Sullivan was a wealthy man with his wife and his son before he made his billions from founding internet companies. His companies survived the crash that took out his inexperienced competitors and thrived in the vacuum they created. Time passed and Andrew and his family were happy. His son was growing up into a responsible, mature man. Andrew had seen what wealth had done to people, and he kept himself and his family humble. He taught his son that money was not the most important thing in the world, and led by example. Andrew would donate his money, most of the time anonymously, to various causes and didn’t spend his money on frivolous things like cars, planes, and boats. They lived in a house that was large but not larger than it needed to be. They had house staff, but they were treated more as family. Andrew never wondered how long their happiness would last; he didn’t want to tempt fate, but unfortunately it was never his decision to make.

It was around 9pm on a winter night; Andrew’s wife was driving home from a charity dinner. She was always cautious when driving on these roads especially at this time of night when ice could easily form on them. That night, no amount of caution would help her as her car slid off the road and into the rocky valley below. Andrew was assured that his wife’s death was quick; the impact would have killed her instantaneously, but her death was hard to take. He thought it would be easier for his son to handle since he had grown up, and at first he was right. There was an emptiness in their lives now and Andrew and his son tried to move on, even together, but the emptiness was still there.

Several months passed and the pain faded slowly only to be replaced by a pain felt nationwide; that day the twin towers fell.

Andrew’s son answered the call like many during that time and joined the Marines like his father. From then on, Iraq was more than a place on a map in the news. Andrew prayed daily for his son, but the news reports were not helping; more soldiers were killed by an IED almost on a daily basis. He received letters from Matt describing his life as an infantryman in Iraq. Andrew cherished those letters and kept them in a special wooden box.

****

It was late in the summer when Andrew watched a black car with government plates pull up his driveway. An officer in dress uniform stepped out of the car and walked to the front door with an envelope in his hand. Andrew’s heart sank and when he answered the door he was almost in a trance as the officer spoke apologizing for the bad news he was delivering and offered condolences for his loss. Andrew took the envelope but never opened it. He left it on the kitchen table and it sat there for days, even after his son’s funeral.

Andrew came back from the funeral service in silence. The envelope seemed to stare at Andrew from the table and it filled him with dread knowing he couldn’t had been there to comfort his son in his final moment.

Weeks passed. The funeral service was long over, the condolence cards stopped coming. Andrew was alone in his house surrounded by wreaths and flowers from friends and family. He collapsed and tears streamed down his face. Eventually, the tears dried, but the grief remained not just for Matt, but returned for Andrew’s wife. The pain and anger grew and overwhelmed him. Andrew began to drown his memories with liquor and questioned the point of his existence. After months of binge drinking Andrew sobered up enough to have an epiphany. Sorrow and self-pity were getting him nowhere; it was time to move on. Not just move on, but be a better person because of it. He decided to abandon his sheltered life and began to explore the world, not just for pleasure, but for knowledge; and the more exotic, the better.

****

Andrew took the time to better himself. He learned multiple languages in his travels the not only benefited him but his companies as well. He still did not buy lavish things but he enjoyed his money. Every trip he took was a chance to learn. Andrew would avoid going to where the tourists stayed and sought a “real” experience to learn the natives’ customs and more. This took him to places where few dared to travel, but the risk was well worth the reward. He would hear stories and legends of people, creatures, and places some too incredible to believe but seemed to be based on some truth. Andrew became a collector of these stories and often the relics they were about. From them he found that there was truth to myths and legends, and he was slowly becoming obsessed with one in particular.

There was a temple that had many names; it depended on where you heard or read the tale. No matter where you saw or heard it, the tale was always set in the mountains, the Himalayas seemed the most logical location. In the tale, the temple contained the ultimate knowledge and if it was true, knowledge that would give him absolute power. Andrew focused all of his energy to make this tale a reality. He poured funds into all avenues of research from scientific to paranormal. Within a few years, he was ready for his journey.

****

The expedition to the Himalayas consisted from everything low tech like the native Sherpa to the high tech like up-to-the-minute satellite mapping and tracking. Andrew had hired the best of the best in mountain climbing, survival, guides, medical staff, and security. They had helicopters and every state of the art vehicle designed to conquer the snow and ice, but they would learn that nature conquered all.

For the first few days, smiles were wide on everyone’s face, but they faded as the terrain became more difficult. The Sherpa laughed to themselves as the monstrosities their employers’ promised would make their journey easier were frequently becoming stuck in the ice. Several hours were spent digging out these vehicles so they could progress a few yards before getting stuck again. The days they spent digging out their machines dug into their supplies as well, and the valley they entered made the turbulence too dangerous for the helicopters to fly through and they were forced to send them back to base camp. The glacier the expedition was traveling on was a mixed terrain of hardened ice thousands of years old and fresh soft snow that had been falling since the morning. The combination caused their vehicles to sink in the soft patches of snow as they drove and be shredded by the ice. Within a few days, the expedition was down to just one of their vehicles which was now barely limping along.

The expedition had replaced the vehicles they lost with pack animals but they couldn’t carry as much as the machines so they had to decide what of their equipment to leave behind and the loss of their vehicles also meant the expedition was exposed to the cold, harsh winds. The cold weather didn’t just bite, it gnawed at the expedition as they walked, as they set up camp, and as they slept.

After a week and a half of travel, they were greeted by a calm day that morning. It was still cold enough to give anyone second thoughts but not enough to deter Andrew Sullivan. When the last of their vehicles broke down, Andrew climbed out and continued on foot without a word of complaint.
The expedition stopped to rest despite Andrew’s protest when they found themselves surrounded by masked men in furs aiming rifles at them. One of the Sherpa explained that they were bandits and the expedition had entered their territory. Andrew spoke to them in their own language and explained to them his journey. They laughed at him for believing in legends. The bandits suggested that he turn around but not until after they gave them all of their supplies and clothes. Andrew tried to reason with them but was given an ultimatum by the bandit chief: give them what they asked for, or they would take what they wanted from their corpses. Andrew pleaded with the bandits and approached their chief with promises of cash that would be theirs if they would just let them leave. Their eyes lit up once they heard money was involved and the bandit chief demanded to see the money, and Andrew agreed. Instead of cash, Andrew pulled a pistol from his pocket and fired two rounds into the bandit chief and quickly fired into the other bandits that were closest to him. The mercenaries Andrew hired immediately opened fire and killed the rest of the bandits. As the life faded out of the bandit chief, Andrew explained to him that he had come too far to turn around now. Andrew called for his physician.

The physician thought Andrew was injured when he called for him, but it was just time for his medication. The truth was that it would soon be Andrew’s time to go. Several years ago, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, but kept it to himself so it wouldn’t affect his companies. He secretly moved funds to research a cure but that eventually became research for a means to hold the cancer at bay so he could take this journey. Andrew only had enough medication to last him a few more days. If he failed, he had no intention of returning home and running out of medication made no difference but he was relieved to know that all of his affairs were in order.

Andrew took care of everything a year before this journey. He made sure he appointed a new CEO for his companies under the guise of taking his long deserved retirement. He even made sure that the families of the expedition were taken care of if any of them even if they made it back. But if he succeeded, he wouldn’t have to worry about the medication anymore or anything else for that matter. They were so close now and Andrew could recognize the landmarks described in the tale about the path to the temple. It would be over soon, and when they reached the last of the landmarks, a cave to the temple, they made camp for the night.

The next morning, there was some anxiety from the Sherpa. None of them had ever been this far and warned that they were entering an area that even the legendary Yeti would not enter. Andrew decided that he would take in a small team that included himself, two of the Sherpa that were willing to go, a couple of pack animals, his physician and a handful of his security detail.

The team cautiously entered the cave and Andrew found himself admiring the drawings that depicted the temple in question. Slowly and carefully the team walked through part of the cave that was a passage through a glacier. They noticed as some of the path crumbled away and fell as they walked over it. It was difficult to gauge the depth of the drop as visibility was only a few feet from their lights. The silence was suddenly broken by a loud cracking sound that was growing louder by the second. Andrew and his team moved as quickly as they could, but it wasn’t fast enough. Both pack animals, one of the Sherpa and two of the security detail tumbled off the path and into the darkness. It fell silent again before Andrew gathered what was left of his team and moved on.

The path led them back outside and in the distance was a wooden temple. As they walked closer, they could see that the temple was untouched by the ice. There were flowers blooming at the entrance. It looked like someone had been looking after the temple; there was no dirt and the flowers and plants around the entrance appeared to have been trimmed. Andrew led his team inside the temple.

The temple appeared to have been built over the face of the mountain as the mountain provided the back wall of the temple. In the center of that wall was a portal with a glossy surface like an oil slick. Andrew set down his pack and walked towards the portal despite his physician begging him to do the opposite.

Andrew could hear a voice address him.
“Welcome,” it said. “You have traveled far and you have a question that burns inside you. There is no need for you to speak; I already know your question, but are you ready to know the answer?”

The physician watched Andrew as he stood there, almost frozen, staring into the portal muttering to himself. A moment later, Andrew began to laugh, and laugh loudly and deeply. The physician cautiously walked up to Andrew and asked him what was so funny.

Andrew was still laughing when he turned to the physician and said, “Don’t you see? We are all Phone.”

-END.

Credit To – Papacat

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The Expedition

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