ASH: Coherent Super Stories #27 - Secret of the Silver Skull

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Mon Apr 11 11:48:08 PDT 2011

     [The cover is mocked up as a fake cover for a late 1970s issue of
Science News Magazine, featuring a photograph of a strange silvery skull with
large eye sockets and a hooked beak.  Text in the lower right reads, "Strange
discovery in Egypt".]

 .|, COHERENT                                            An ASHistory Series
 '|` SUPER STORIES                        #27 - Secret of the Silver Skull
        Featuring the Silver Skull         copyright 2011 by Dave Van Domelen

SCIENCE NEWS Magazine, vol 113, no 22, June 3, 1978

"Mystery of the Silver Skull"

     Despite the uncertain political situation in the area, fossil hunting
expeditions continue to work the deserts of Western Egypt, notably around the
area known as the Fayoum.  A recent discovery has excited a great deal of
interest among paleontologists, as well as a great deal of confusion.
     A strange skull, tentatively classified as an unknown species of
ceratopsian, has been found in a new dig area in the Fayoum, close to the
surface and likely revealed by erosion like many of the fossils found in the
area.  The skull has a silvery sheen to it, indication of an unusual
permineralization that may be high in heavy metals.
     What makes this find interesting is that if it is a land-dwelling
dinosaur, it would be the first such find in the area.  Previously, all
land-dwelling creatures whose traces were left in the Fayoum were of
considerably more recent times.  The region was either undersea during the
"age of dinosaurs" or any fossil beds containing dinosaur remains simply have
yet to be located.
     Radiological dating will be attempted at Yale University, the sponsors
of this particular expedition.  However, some are wondering if it's even a
proper fossil, pointing out that the sand it rested in was still fluid, and
the skull was not encased in a matrix of solid rock.

               *              *              *              *

SCIENCE NEWS Magazine, vol 115, no 4, January 27, 1979

"Mystery of the Silver Skull Deepens"

     The mysterious ceratopsian skull found in the Fayoum region of Egypt
(Sci.News v113 no22) has been tested using radiological data, but this has
only raised more questions than it answered.  According to the results of
potassium-argon dating, the mineral content of the skull cannot be placed
anywhere on the timeline of Earth's past.  In fact, according to Professor
James DuPres of Yale, "A simple reading of the chart would place this sample
at a time several hundred million years into the future.  This is well beyond
measurement error, the sample must have been contaminated somehow."
     Meanwhile, physical paleontogists dispute that the skull could have come
from any ceratopsian.  The eyes are set in a binocular fashion, more like a
predator than like the herbivorous ceratops.  Additionally, while the skull
is broken at the connection to the neck, the intact portions suggest that the
spine would have had to connect in a location more in keeping with a bipedal
or semi-bipedal animal.
     On the other hand, the distinctive beaklike structure is strongly
evocative of the Protoceratops (native to the Gobi desert area) minus the
frill, and despite some indications that it is not fully fossilized, the bone
does contain more elemental calcium than it should, leading to the silvery
sheen that has caused it to be nicknamed "The Silver Skull".
     A growing minority opinion holds that the skull belonged to a member of
a humanoid dinosaurian race, possibly from an alternate reality in which K-T
extinction never happened.  A decade ago, such speculation would have been
dismissed out of hand, but the existence of alternate realities can no longer
be ignored in light of the "Dimension Z" invasion attempt.  Unfortunately,
with Violation Physics being such a young science, there are currently no
experts in that field with any significant background in comparative anatomy
or paleontology available to address this mystery.
     No other parts of the specimen have been located, although fossil
hunters resumed the search for them during the 1978-79 winter digging season.

               *              *              *              *

SCIENCE NEWS Magazine, vol 125, no 6, February 11, 1984

"Mystery of the Silver Skull: SOLVED?"

     During an expedition to the Fayoum region of Egypt, paleontologists
discovered an anomalous skull (Sci.News v113 no22) that had radiological
properties that could not be explained other than to claim the sample must
have been contaminated (Sci.News v115 no4).  The mystery has now been solved,
thanks to a museum exhibit on cryptozoology at the Detroit Museum of Natural
History that had a reproduction of the infamous artifact. 
     Carla Bankert of Grand Rapids, MI, was visiting the museum with her
grandchildren and found the skull looked familiar.  Mrs. Bankert was present
at the January 1973 encounter with the alien Pranir race, and while she only
had a brief look at their true forms, it left a deep impression on her.
     Once the connection had been made, records of the few documented Pranir
encounters since 1973 were compared to the skull, as well as to various
reconstructions that had been made using casts of the skull.  While they warn
that their conclusions are tentative, paleontologists at Yale University say
that it seems likely the skull did belong to a Pranir, and it could have been
deposited in the Fayoum as late as a few years before its discovery,
depending on the nature of the alien's demise.  "The radiological results
make a lot more sense if you don't assume the artifact came from Earth,"
Professor Tsung of Yale pointed out.  "And the silvery sheen is simply a sign
that the Pranir solution to calcium storage in bones, while similar to the
Terrestrial solution, was not identical."
     What had been a paleontological conundrum now becomes an alien murder
mystery.  With the "usual culprit" of deep time as explanation for damage
eliminated, the damage to the skull is more likely a sign that the Pranir was
violently killed, either intentionally or in an accident of some sort.

               *              *              *              *

Yale Daily News, April 13, 1996

"Silver Skull Goes Home"

     The infamous "Silver Skull" that has been part of the Yale Peabody
Museum collection off and on since 1979 has finally been repatriated with the
kin of its original owner, a Pranir with the "starname" of
Opens-New-Markets, who allegedly met with an accidental demise while
exploring in Egypt.  His body was never found, but his skull sparked a brief
and intense debate over the fossil record in that part of the world.
     Recovers-the-Lost, a Pranir specialist in the field of retrieving the
remains of deceased Pranir explorers, negotiated with the university for
return of the remains, presenting proof not only that the skull was of a
Pranir in general, but forensic evidence that it belonged specifically to
Opens-New-Markets, ending two decades of speculation among cryptozoologists
and paleontologists.

               *              *              *              *

[The Citadel of Khadam - April 23, 1996]

     Karl Zugmann reviewed the reports from both the public news sources and
his private spies.  As best as he could determine, the Pranir really didn't
care who had killed Opens-New-Markets.  It was part of the price of doing
business in "primitive" markets, as far as they were concerned...sometimes
you got your head chopped off and dumped in the desert because you stuck your
beak into the wrong place.  And if the person dumping it was stupid enough to
drop it near an archaeological dig, well...there was always a need for
experimental subjects.
     However, the matter wasn't completely closed.  Even if the Pranir didn't
care, enough people now knew about the alien ship buried in Khadam that they
would start putting two and two together and realize Opens-New-Markets was
trying to find it.  And self-righteous "superheroes" did tend to care about
murders, even of alien interlopers.
     Karl filed it away to deal with later, however.  For now, he had some
interesting ideas about how to create the "dinosaur man" that one crackpot
had claimed the skull belonged to back in the early 80s.  And Karl had the
advantage of actual Pranir genetic material to use in the process.  How kind
of nature to generate proper DNA out of the primordial ooze of so many
planets, it made his experiments so much more fruitful!


Author's Notes:

     This was written for HCC #19, but when I went to look up the exact
wording of the challenge for these end notes, I discovered I'd forgotten a
fairly important part of the title: "WHAT IS THE SECRET OF THE SILVER SKULL
MACHINE?"  Yeah, as you may have noticed, there's no machine here, just a
silver skull.  I considered reworking the story to make it better fit the
challenge, but in the end decided against it.  I'll leave it up to Wil
whether to include it in the voting (assuming I don't come up with another
story that better fits the challenge before the deadline).

     Opens-New-Markets first (and last) appeared in Coherent Super Stories
#2.  The volume and number citations for the various issues of Science News
are correct for those dates, but obviously the real world editions of the
magazine lacked these stories.  I initially wrote the final "scene" as an
emailed report from one of Zugmann's spies using a disposable Compuserve
account, but after a few revisions realized that even then the phrasing would
have to be so elliptical that I'd need to translate it in the end notes
anyway, so I just skipped to the results of Karl reading the message (and
others).  Karl Zugmann is the father of Arnold Zugmann (aka Onslaught), and
while he survived past 1998 (being "normal" in the magene sense) he either
was killed at some point (by Arnold, most likely) or he's the unnamed brain
in the shell known as Alloy.  If Alloy is Karl Zugmann, he's hardly the only
member of his family to go for the full body prosthetic, as his grandson
Rutger went that route.

     Science News and Yale Daily News are trademarks of their respective
owners (Society for Science and the Public and Yale University,


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