Damian Lillard woke up feeling refreshed and tranquil, but this was no surprise to him; tranquility was an easy state of mind to reach when one had relocated to a remote cabin in the Oregon Cascades for the off-season. Morning sunlight, filtered by a thick pine forest, served as a much more peaceful alarm clock than that of his phone, and he got dressed feeling blissfully free of the external pressures that were ever-present whenever he was home.
As he looked out the window, he smiled at that latest thought. This was home just as much as his place in Portland.
He walked to the cabin’s small kitchen and began preparing his breakfast, a bowl of oatmeal with fruit. It wasn’t a struggle to eat healthily while out in the mountains; a simple, wholesome lifestyle begat simple, wholesome meals. While his breakfast warmed up, he took the time to check his phone for new emails. There was no cell service, and thus no texts, but he had a wifi hotspot that got satellite internet as long as there was enough sunshine to power his solar panels.
Damian was glad to see that he had not received anything since the last time he had checked. The few people who had knowledge of his firstname.lastname@example.org email address were under strict orders to not contact him unless there was an urgent need. He put away his phone without checking anything else.
When Damian sat down with his breakfast at the one-chair dining table, his mind was occupied with thoughts of the day’s workout. Much of the space in the combined living/dining area of the cabin was occupied by strength-training equipment, so he had no shortage of options when it came to exercise routines. However, as his eyes scanned over the various weights and machines, he noticed something odd: what seemed to be a new piece of equipment nestled in with the rest against the wall.
Leaving behind his breakfast, Damian got up to investigate this strangeness. There was no way anybody could have gotten in to leave something for him; only two others even knew the exact location of his cabin, and the road it was on was not on any public maps. But there was also no way for him to have forgotten about something, given that his possessions were so few up here. As he got closer, he could see that the object was made out of some smooth, light bluish-gray metal. It was a sort of cuboid framework, about a foot on each side, on which were a number of beads or spheres. Damian tried to remember what it reminded him of, and it finally came to him: an abacus.
He picked it up in his hands and looked at it closer. The intersecting branches of the thing crossed each other in ways that seemed to violate reality. He grabbed one of the spheres on the outside edge and tried to move it; it slid along its path smoothly and silently. However, when he reached inside to grab one of the inner spheres, his hand missed its goal entirely and he grasped a sphere that should have been inches away from his fingers.
It was some kind of optical-illusion kids’ toy, he decided as he set it down. But it still worried him that the object had just randomly showed up in his cabin. He had never seen it before in his life, so there was no way it was his. The only possibility that made sense was that it had been left behind by careless trespassers who had visited sometime before summer.
He decided to forget about it and proceed with his workout. It worked; thoughts of the mysterious abacus couldn’t intrude when he was singularly focused on his fitness goals. Even when he finished his day with dinner and then a few hours of reading, the unknown object didn’t enter his thoughts. Only when he was drifting off to sleep, in the hazy realm between consciousness and unconsciousness, did it reappear in his mind’s eye.
The next morning, Damian woke up and immediately noticed that the tranquility which typified a Cascadian morning was not with him. On the edge of his memory clung the remnants of some unsettling dreams, but the specifics of those dreams had been ceded to the night.
After dressing, he walked into the living area. His gaze immediately sought out the abacus, hoping against hope that it had disappeared just as unexpectedly as it had appeared. His noted with disappointment that the bizarre cubic meshwork was still there, but it was the sight of the new object next to it that completely deflated his mood.
Another puzzling gadget had appeared in the cabin overnight, slightly larger than the first, and with more curvature in structure than the first, but still with those counters placed along all the edges. Reluctantly stepping towards it, he picked it up to investigate it closer. Unlike the first abacus, this one had tetrahedrons in addition to spheres to assist in whatever strange tabulation the device was capable of performing.
Feeling a sudden, fleeting jolt of understanding rock him, he threw the device away from him, where it clattered harmlessly to the floor. What had just happened?