Through Dark Glass

“That’s odd.” 111a’s voice sounded metallic and flat over Rygard’s helmet speakers but there was nothing odd in that, everyone’s voice sounded metallic and flat over the voice circuit. It was a feature of the equipment. Then there was the fact that 111a’s voice always sounded rather metallic and flatanyway, owing to his origin in a robotics factory in Kourou, in what used to be French Guyana. The same penny-pinching that gave them cheap suit communicators teamed them with a survey bot from the lowest bidder at tender time.

Rygard wasn’t happy. It was something to do with the fucking scenery. The horizon was about ten kilometres away and dead flat in all 360 degrees of view except for the highly detailed silver shape of their ship about a kilometre behind them. The sky was as white and featureless as a sheet of untouched writing paper. The ground was a uniform rust red everywhere. And everywhere rust brown rocks, approximately round, from boulder size to the general dimensions of a clenched fist. Shit, if you had the right people you could have one fucker of a rock-fight. Of course it’d be one where if a participant’s suit was breached by a thrown rock they would die in very short order by explosive decompression, “But hell! its all in good fun, right?” Rygard had vaped a gram of the good hash he’d brought with him before he came out on this walk, but it didn’t seem to have helped his mood much.

“That isodd!” 111a repeated. “It’s square.”
That wasn’t odd, it was downright strange – Rygard had no idea what 111a was talking about.

“What’s square?” His voice was rather sharper than he cared for so maybe the Hash was having an effect after all.

“The ground. It’s square.”

Rygard gave up. He turned around. The shuffling of his boots on the coarse red sand carried up to his ears through the air on the inside of the suit, muffled, attenuated but still clear enough to remind him of the utter lethality and almost nonexistence of the atmosphere that surrounded him – 95 percent Carbon Dioxide, 0.8 percent Carbon Monoxide, small amounts of other poisonous shit, a bit of Chlorine, fuck all percent other shit, all poisonous and the whole horrible mixture at a pressure so low it could almost be called vacuum anyway, so anyone exposed to the surface without a suit wouldn’t have time to be killed by the shitty atmosphere because they’d be too busy having their lungs collapsed and probably sucked all the way out through their throat to float away in the low gravity like a nasty, squishy translucent balloon.

The vision was oddly clear and made him think suddenly of the shop he’d bought the hash in; One Shop in the “Eternity” Mall – the logo the word in lurid pink cursive script/purple neon balancing a cartoon flamingo in yellow. The service droid had assured him that the hashish was genuine, imported from the area once known as Afghanistan and was not synthetic or sourced from hydroponically grown plants and, at the time Rygard had chosen to believe it, but now he was not so sure, his imaginings had a tendency towards iridescence that seemed almost chemical. It wasn’t that they were unpleasant, just rather more vivid than comfortable.

“So, what’s square you rubbishy robot?”

111a had launched the drone he kept in his head like a hat thing. At present it hovered, a barely visible black smudge, about fifty metres above them.

“The ground. Look. I’ll feed it through my chest.”

Definitely communications were too shitty to transmit direct to Rygard’s helmet screen. He walked over to the robot, stopped.

“The ground, look down.” Directly under the toes of Rygard’s boots the ground suddenly changed from red oxide sand to black, what looked like tiny melted balls of volcanic glass. In a perfectly straight line.

“It’s a square exactly thirty-five metres on a side.” 111a turned to face Rygard, its chest screen showed two tiny silver figures at the edge of a perfect black square on a field of red-brown.

“So you can do it?” Ambros3 hadn’t been CEO long and he was still finding his feet, one in a bucket of oily threat, the other in a puddle of back-alley knife-fight .

Tim didn’t give two fucks, he didn’t get brought to the boardroom often but it didn’t faze him. Attard, the CFO was smoking so it was obviously alright if he did, too, and if Attard was smoking a cigarillo of Columbian Gold at two-hundred-and-seventy dollars a stick, from his Platinum case and Tim was burning holes in his swollen Jumper with filthy Indian Bidis – was there a shit to go with the fucks? Tim blew smoke.

“Well I don’t really see any reason why not, we’ve sent the Locus further back than that heaps of times and further than that, quite often. Its just a big job, and it’ll take a lot of power, which is of course, budgetary, if there’s no problem there.”

“The project has a diamond rating.” Attard loved other people’s money.

“Then there’s no problem, we’ll liase to bring the fusions on board.”

“By the end of the week.”

Shit. Today was Tuesday. Tim was indispensable, he could get away with the look on his face. Not that he gave much of a fuck about that, either, but he got busy anyway.

“So its roughly 131million kilometres and increasing at 11 thousand a day?”
“Yep, that’s about right.” Yazhen sounded bored. Tim knew she had been on shift eight hours already and wanted her lunch but he was miffed. This was interesting- about as interesting as it could get.

The Mars team were up to the challenge. They assembled a Tr00 locator beacon out of the remnants of a rover microwave radar system and placed it dead centre in the target. It took power from the rover’s remaining fuel cell, and a small battery of Solar panels. The Mars team worked very long hours to get the system running in time, but since the only other alternative was to send a Tr00-specific beacon from Earth, a hundred and eight day trip on what would have to be a special trip with a price tag that would easily run into billions, the team who were already on Mars got little but some rather insincere compassion for their short, frenetic work-overload. But, as Attard pointed out, they were scientists and largely motivated by curiosity – and in this instance curiosity would be a powerful motivator; so he was sure with his inexorable logic, that no bonuses need be forthcoming.

As it happened. He was completely correct. As Rygard groused to Monica Kahn, “There’s nothing to spend it on out here anyway.” Monica, who could get blood out of a stone and ten percent interest out of a billiard ball, stayed diplomatically silent.

“It’s a much more complicated hookup than normal.” Tim told Attard while snipping the end off a pre-rolled filtered “ThaiBomber” which, while it cost far less than Attard’s “Columbian Gold”, would have much the same effect. Tim was in his element. The only thing he loved more than the hardware was telling people about it.

“The Locus is quite powerful enough in its own right to examine the surface of Mars as it was five thousand years ago. Here, the chronological element is comparatively minor when seen against the dinosaur and mega-fauna work we were doing last year. And the tricentennial special investigation into “Abel” the first Aboriginal to land in Australia was twelve times further back. This isn’t even as far back as Atlantis – that was two terra-watt days, from memory and my memory is good.” He dragged deeply on his ThaiBomber. His exhaust smoke glittered like a rainbow. It was a publicity gimmick until the end of the month.

Attard continued to lounge in the doorway of the office. but his exhaust smoke was plain boring grey. “You’re right, two T Days, all five fusion stations linked, we even called in Braid on that.”

Tim had a bit of a coughing fit, which they both politely ignored, and responded through gasps for air. “This’ll be the same, for about half our window the target site is on the far side of Mars, there’s talk of bouncing the beam off their comms satellite. Can’t see why myself just shoot straight through, even at this range, it worked often enough before.” He coughed once more, wetly.

“Anything that keeps costs within reason is Athena for me.” Attard had recently converted to classic.

Tim, who’d been brought up conventional Norse, blew more rainbow smoke, but it didn’t mean anything. “We’re scheduled to start in five when Phobos has passed.”

Together they made their way to the central hub.

“Ok, Clear.”

“Hey Ho, Lets go.” Tim rammed his ThaiBomber butt into the bowling ashtray from Sydney Australia. An explosion on butts leapt forth, some pattering into the crumpled paper in the wire mesh bin next to the desk.

“O.K. sixty metres directly above the mathematical centre of the square minus five thousand, two hundred years. Right on the sweet spot – good targeting people.”

Text versions of the acknowledgements appeared on the screen at his elbow, the words themselves faint chirps in his headset, just the way he liked it.

The screens all showed the same thing. Pure, featureless rust red with a black square dead centre. The black square had been enhanced by a bright, almost too bright equilateral triangle on the right side, the triangle’s point, exactly dead-centre of the square. Tim gaped and the image changed in his head. He was looking straight down on an obliquely lit pyramid.

“Mars team; that light possible for the sun?”

Rygard’s response was reasonably quick, but tonally neutral. “It’s not really my department, but it looks right enough. Don’t you have people for that sort of thing?”

Tim swore. They did; and it was their department and he didn’t need this arsehole pointing it out.
”Cara, get me investigations; what’s his name? Owen something?”

“Can’t Chief.”

“Why the fuck not?”

“He isn’t rostered on. Its a long weekend topside.”

“Fuck.” Tim lowered the Locus to ground level on the bright side of the pyramid, rotated it 360 degrees at a distance of some two metres from the smooth glass wall. Over the flat horizon the distant sun peeped the brightest star among millions in an inky black sky.

“Ok.” Breathed Tim, “I think its Time to go
inside.” His hand shifted inside, the reader field and the Locus rotated one-hundred and eighty degrees, moved forward and passed into the pyramid like a ghost.

“What?” His first thought was that he’d finally managed to break the Locus, somehow, without meaning to and without having done anything anyway and the sudden rush of guilt, false accusations of oneself and righteous denials that took over his internal dialogue made his hand twitch, which made everything worse.

“Hey! Fuck!” Tim didn’t recognise the voice, but he understood the sentiment. Trillions of reflections in every direction. It appeared that the pyramid, wasn’t, but was rather a pyramid equally above and below the surface at the same time, each facet of the shape was not a solid wall but an infinitely long corridor extending outwards to who knew where. The corridors did things to the vision field of the Locus that had unpleasant effects on the human eye.

“Fuck! Fuck! Turn it off!” Tim thought he recognised Sandra’s voice from out in the main control, but the horrible migraine he was suddenly suffering from made it difficult to tell and far more difficult to care. Without warning, in perfect silence and with a reassuring lack of sparks, the image vanished from all streams.

Tim, who found his cluster migraine dissipating almost instantly, was both relieved and terrified. The ultra-speed strobing had obviously neither been good for the system, or for the millions who had been watching the live feed; and now the Locus appeared to be broken, who knew how badly.

“What the fuck was that all about Tim?”
There was a distinct edge to Attard’s voice and Tim looked up at the man standing next to the myriad of lights that were the power input unit. The lights bounced off Attard’s bald head and glinted on the golden rims of his round laser holographed spectacles. Each lens looked to be a gold penny. Attard’s eyes were invisible and his lips gave no clue as to his mood

“Y’know Torlg, I don’t really have the faintest fucking idea, but if I had to guess…”

“And quickly,”

“I’d say that the pyramid tetrahedron, and whatever the fuck it is, it is something very like the Locus itself – Transdimensional and existing in time and space only intermittently. When the Locus encountered the tetrahedron field the two failed to mesh perfectly and there were side effects, “

“I noticed.”

“Now if I had to guess, I’d say probably the tetrahedron field occupied a different point in chronology than the Loc was set for – that the tetrahedron was interfering with the Locus location controls.”

“Why did it cut out? Did we blow a fuse or something?” Attard’s pointed teeth really were an odd fashion, one that Tim didn’t especially care for.

“You know, I don’t think it was us, I think it was them.”

“Who is Them, exactly?” Tim pointed, Attard turned and looked. From a dark area on the grey main screen tall figures approached. Attard gaped and slowly realised that the screen was tracking to follow the figures’ procession. They approached in a group of six, three and three surrounding the blue stone. Tim’s voice spoke behind Attard, “Whatever it is, its one-point four metres long and has a mass of forty tonnes. It tests as transparent.”

“What is it?”

“Fuck knows, looks important.”

The procession stopped. The six figures withdrew from their burden which remained motionless. They were perhaps not tall so much as thin. Tim and billions across the system found the faces arresting, the high smooth foreheads the angular golden skin and brilliant tortoise eyes; somehow they looked familiar and Tim found himself weeping slightly. He blamed the rainbow smoke.

On the surface, Rygard watched the feed on 111a’s chest screen. It was disturbing to think that they were so close to the most watched point in the Solar System-but five thousand years late.

“Any number of registered ocean going cruisers, over one hundred and twelve thousand so far.”
111a’s metallic drone of a voice was rendered more worrying by the completely unfathomable information it was presenting without prompting

“What are you on about?” It was unnerving being looked at by 111a’s blank plastic face while standing on an alien planet, 400 million kilometres from Earth, when the blank face in question started spouting, frankly, weird shit.

“18 minutes ago you vocalised the question ‘why is it 35 metres?-seems an odd size.’ So I ran a cohesive search for everything with a recorded length of thirty-five metres most of the results were small-to-medium-ocean going-cruisers.”

“Well I doubt that this alien super-race looked into Earth’s future and based the size of their time-travelling tetrahedron on some rich bastards marlin killing boat.”

“I agree entirely Officer Rygard. In any event I found what I believe to be and interesting correspondence almost immediately.”

At first I was expecting one of the pyramids on the Gizeh plateau to match but all are larger. The pyramid of Kufu, in fact, is over twice as big, at seventy-five metres on a side.”

“Don’t waste time.”

“I’m sorry sir. In the city that was Paris back one hundred years ago; there was a big art gallery, before the moon worshippers exploded a hydrogen bomb.” Rygard nodded, his head moved freely inside his helmet and he felt slightly silly even as he did it; 111a had a program for body language but he wasn’t human. Then again Rygard had seen a vid once about the death of that city and it had affected him.

“So what is your point?”

“In the courtyard of the art gallery there was a pyramid, it was exactly thirty five metres on a side.” 111a’s round, flat, white plastic face was round, flat and plastic. It’s recessed round eyes didn’t convey any emotion, either. “The Pyramid was glass.”

Rygard looked at the melted looking globules under his feet, and back at the horizon.

(c) Alex Rieneck 2019

The Ring

A Short Story

Maggi had a feeling that Pamela’s party was going to be one she couldn’t miss, so she’d made special efforts to prepare. She’d cleaned the apartment and done the washing up, spent the first sunny Saturday morning in weeks vacuuming the carpets instead of lolling around on the grass next to the Serpentine and perhaps even feeding the ducks.

Instead she started getting herself ready at two in the afternoon, even though she had worked out exactly what she was going to wear days earlier so that it was easy to fish it out of her wardrobe when the time came. After her long and rather pleasant shower, where she’d taken the time needed to relax herself with the hand-held shower-head so she wouldn’t be too tongue-tied if a man spoke to her. She had to be careful. She’d taken care to buy a new soap without scent, so that Thierry Mugler’s “Angel” would not have to compete with the aroma of cheap Strawberry from the Gel. She was quite sure about her underwear too, having long ago written “Bridget Jones’ Diary” off as simplistic rubbish. She slid into her lacy Pierre Cardin cami-knickers, and felt a rush of raw sexuality shiver through her that exposed the concept of “lucky” unattractive panties as simple-minded idiocy. Her apricot beige trousers, that looked like silk but actually weren’t, covered the Cami-knickers that looked like silk and actually were, wafted around her legs in a luxurious dream that made her feel somewhere between naked, and armoured. The trousers didn’t especially flatter her bum, but they made her tummy far less lumpy. Smoother. It was almost sinful, but she knew she needed to look her best tonight. The vintage white ruffled silk blouse that had cost such an astronomical amount that she was still almost scared of it. Her favourite war surplus puffy quilted jacket with the furry hood that she’d had dyed Burgundy red and her spring-loaded six inch knife, because well, it made her feel safer than the crucifix she no longer wore. Funny that. She was finishing her hair when the taxi rang the downstairs bell.

The feeling of Deja vu washed over her when she saw the letterbox in Pamela’s front door. She’d seen it before but somehow tonight it was different, somehow the light was oddly familiar and tonight a group of three young men in dinner suits were standing at the door at the other end of the hall, talking. Maggi’s head felt light and wobbly as if it was a balloon tied to her shoulders. A green balloon, an overinflated one. She put out her hand to steady herself against the wall, and faced up to the party. It turned out to be easier than she expected. True, when the young men stood aside and ushered her through the door into the front sitting room, the room was mostly full, all the armchairs pressed up against the Burgundy and gold embossed wallpaper were taken and every eye in the room did zero in on her when she walked in – especially the sociopath Jennifer who was something-or-other in publishing on what had once been called Fleet Street, but Katherine was there and Louise and Monica, so at least she had some like souls to talk to. She acquired a Moet and found a vacant patch of wall to take root on.

She felt absurdly grateful when Monica got up from the spot where she’d been crouching next to Pamela’s chair. It made her feel valuable and interesting – until the doubt set in, as it usually did. Had Monica just taken pity on her and come over to talk because she’d looked alone in the increasingly crowded room? She mumbled something that sounded like English and scuttled to the bathroom to fix her makeup. Her palm was sweaty on the doorknob and her spot on the wall was almost the same size when she returned. Monica had waited for her. Mostly Monica talked, it seemed that Monica’s mother was increasingly old and after some problems had reached some kind of rapprochement with the pixies, and Monica actually wanted to talk. Maggi wallowed in the attention, and in being at a party and in actually having quite a good time; all things considered. Monica listened hard when Maggi talked about her own mother too; first they laughed, then they cried. That bit wasn’t much fun but they both knew it was good for them. Monica talked about a man she’d been seeing who she thought had the kind of issues that made continuing to see him a mistake, and after she’d heard only a few pennies worth of back issues, Maggi agreed completely and told her to stop seeing the man, and quickly. After all, it was easy for her, she’d never had a relationship herself; “Not a proper one”, she amended.

She was staring blankly at the open kitchen door when he walked through it. An easy stride, no sidling or scuttling. Tall enough to be seen over Magda Brownloe’s hat. Light sandy hair, good skin. What looked like a good suit, straight back and nice square shoulders – but on a man those three things in conjunction could be as deceiving as the right bra on a woman. He must have felt her looking at him, he looked up; she felt as if she was suddenly, unexpectedly made of lightbulb glass and he could see right into her.

They spent two hours talking in the kitchen while the party in the rest of the house became increasingly raucous. His name was Crispin and he was something in the foreign office – a job that sounded like an article of luggage and was obviously available to the “right” people, and Maggi could tell that Crispin was definitely that, with ancestors who’d probably owned the ship William the Conquerer came over on; and who’d done well for themselves ever since – and not by as vulgar an activity as trade; no, by simple dint of doing as little as possible but doing it with the aplomb to impress the powers that be. Maggi gathered that Crispin’s family was “ Quite well off” but not from anything that Crispin said – the subject was far too gauche for him. No; Maggi found out when she met Pamela in the bathroom, when Maggi was repairing her lipstick and Pamela was peeing as only a profoundly classy woman can when she finds herself sharing the bathroom with someone she knows.
“He Maggi, is Crispin Montague the third, equerry to her majesty herself and almost surely within grovelling range of a knighthood in the next year or so – a knighthood at least” she amended. “Ask him about his time in the army, he’s been a very busy boy.”
Pamelas’s lipstick could do with some fixing too, Maggi thought. All-in-all Pamela looked rather dishevelled. It was very unusual for her. In fact Pamela looked rather scatty, distracted. Maggi wondered what was going on. Pamela finished, wiped herself, washed her hands, but didn’t leave. Maggi was outside in the rear sitting room when a man she didn’t know knocked on the bathroom door and Pamela let him in. Maggi shrugged and went back into the kitchen. Crispin was talking to an attractive woman called Susan who was somewhat the worse for Champagne, but he seemed very gratifyingly pleased that she’d returned.

They pushed their way through the solid mass of people and the wall of music in the main room and fucked on the thick rug in the narrow space between Pamela’s bed and the French doors. Maggi orgasmed multiple times which was unusual for her. It was probably the urgent gusto with which Crispin ravished her and the wanton harlotry of the whole experience, being fucked doggy style directly in front of the windows to the courtyard that did the trick. She was rather surprised at herself. She’d found some core in herself where she was quite free of her mother, her school and her Catholic guilt. Who knew how long it would last? Who cared?

Maggi and Crispin were married nine weeks later at the delightful village church in Whittlesford near Cambridge where Crispin’s family came from. The wedding reception was quite small, only eighty guests at the Red Lion Inn near the church. After the usual activities that occur at such events, the Newlyweds retired upstairs to discover whether the Maritial vows made any difference in the performance of their favourite activity.
Maggi was ecstatically happy and entranced by the village church, the village itself and the pub they were in, which had hand-worked roof beams which, it was thought, dated back to the eleventh century. Maggi barely had time to wonder how many bonking couples they’d supported in the nine-hundred years they’d held up the first floor. It was a sobering thought.

The upstairs corridor made her head spin. Built up over the hundreds of years, the building reminded her of the crazy house in a carnival she’d been to once when she was growing up, in Swindon. The floor was completely uneven, angling up and down while never being level either. The ceiling was so low in places that she actually managed to bang her head on a beam and she was only five foot five. Crispin walked bent double, sometimes using his hands for support. It was hard for him, he’ drunk more than her. It got stranger still though, the loopy corridor ended in a blank wall with a hatch in it, the bottom of which was roughly at the height of her shoulders. Their guide, the Publican’s wife, did her best to calm Maggi’s qualms, opened the door and let them make their own way in. The room was tiny and delightful. So tiny that the double bed almost filled the room and swallowed all the available floorspace. They teetered over the bed on the bed, laughing. Lying down would the room seem bigger.
“Woman!” Crispin acted his favourite character from “The Muppets”, he pushed her backwards onto the bed. The mattress caught her behind the knees and she bounced weightlessly on the thick foam, and Crispin threw himself on top of her. Maggi loved her Muppet. He made her blonde and young.

The straw crackled scratchily under them. It was crazily, brutally cold in the suddenly huge room. Across from her someone was crying, habitually keeping the sobs fuelled with frequent snotty nasal inhales. Maggi was utterly familiar with the snivelling and wished the bitch would die. Crispin’s eyes were a cold hard blue and his cock rasped in her dry clenched vagina. She wanted to scream but she knew what happened to girls who screamed. Up the chimney. She clenched her teeth and grunted at each impalement hoping that her noises would be taken for passion and hopefully, please god spur him to come soon, and stop. It took an eternity. At long last, after a final frenzy where he held her spreadeagled against the wooden shelf that the straw mattress laid on, he screamed like some kind of carnivorous bird and ejaculated deep into her. The next few thrust were far less unpleasant, being lubricated by his ejaculate, but simultaneously accompanied by liver-lipped kisses that seemed to cover the entire bottom of her face like the application of a large affectionate snail.
Somehow it stopped. Crispin’s face changed into the Crispin she’d married, not this monster who’d loosed over her, lit intermittently by the searchlights from the guard towers, soundtrack furnished by the brutalised bitch in the corner near the door, the twisted waterlogged voices from the public address system and the multitude still rheumatically breathing of this room of the dead.

She rolled across the soft mattress and dishevelled bedclothes till she sat, her bare toes brushing the thick carpet and the reapproachment began. “Maggi! Darling, what’s wrong?- Why are you crying?” Of course questions like that are infuriatingly obtuse and only serve to show the lack of understanding of the male sex, within a realisation that requires the production of more tears which in turn can only result in more obtuse questions and fumbling attempts at stilling existential terror with body contact. As far as Maggi’s heightened senses could tell Crispin’s attempts were honest and they fell asleep in the warmth.

In the deep still of the night Maggi eased out from under her husband’s arm, slipped out through the French doors, dropped the short distance to the garden and sneaked across the road to watch the guards unload a new load of prisoners from a transport train. She was found by a station worker huddled on a bench, shivering in her nightdress. Crispin was woken and brought her back to the room at dawn. The station was empty of all but ghosts. Her eyes flicked around, examining details, filled with terror. Crispin told the Stationmaster and the Publican that his wife was prone to sleepwalking. He hugged her close when he said it. Their honeymoon proper was in the far north. Way back in their relationship, when they been talking in Pamela’s kitchen, they’d discovered that they both had a life ambition to see the Northern Lights. When Crispin’s mother had heard this, she told her brother, who was something important in the foreign Office. He’d pulled strings and mother had bought them a week in a glass igloo in Kakslauttanen Hotel in Finland. Better even than that, the week was in the “high” season for seeing the lights which minimised the risk of them freezing their tits off for nothing, which was what had happened to Antonia – a girl who they both knew. Antonia had been disappointed; But on the other hand her boyfriend had proposed marriage under a sky filled with nothing but stars.

Maggi discovered that smoking marijuana kept her “waking nightmares” as she had learned to call them, at bay; either stopping them completely if she was so stoned she made no sense to anyone who wasn’t in the same condition as her, or greatly reducing their severity if she was merely “enhanced”. Needless to say, she held very high hopes for the honeymoon trip to the Northern Lights. She told Crispin that what she wanted was to get very stoned and lie naked in a big warm bed under the Northern Lights, while went down on her. Crispin’s reply was chivalrous and sensible in the extreme. He said that while was doing her he would not be able to see the lights himself and that that would “suck”- but that he would be overjoyed to do the work required provided his good lady wife would be so kind as to return the favour.

It was not for nothing that he came from a family of diplomats.
The flight to Finland was highly unpleasant for Maggi. Due to a highly developed fear of drug-sniffer dogs inculcated in her by the media, she took care not to use Marijuana on the day of their departure, and definitely not to carry any with her. She slept fitfully on the night flight convinced that she’d been packed into a train that rattled through a snowy black night, packed with the living dead. She awoke during a patch of turbulence, in Crispin’s arms, screaming and crying, sure that the train had reached its destination. The hotel was everything they’d been led to expect and hope for. But the Northern lights weren’t. They spent the first three nights in their warm bed, under the bright stars. They were happy. Then as such things happen, Maggi rolled across the bed laughing wildly and her left arm flailed out limply over the edge of the bed. Her knuckles stopped suddenly on the glass top of the bedside table. The part of the sound which hurt and stopped her laughing was the dull undramatic “thunk” of bone, insufficiently cushioned by flesh, hitting glass. The other part of the sound was a sharp peremptory “clack,” that sounded like it would have broken the glass if it had been allowed to. Her wedding Ring. Maggi rolled slightly back toward the centre of the bed and pushed ineffectually at Crispin’s loins so she could see her hand up close. Crispin responded by selflessly trying to reinsert his penis in her mouth. Maggi did not try to stop him instead she tried to say “Its inscribed!” With her mouth so full the words did nothing more than penetrate Crispin’s dedication to the task in hand and cause him to enquire rather grumpily. ”what?” 
“It’s Inscribed! The words fit funny in her mouth and her jaw hurt.
“What is?”
“My wedding ring! You had it engraved!” Maggi rolled around on the bed, held the ring to the flame of the candle, and squinted.
“No I didn’t!” It must have been from before. I told you, that ring was my mother’s. My father brought it back from the war and married her with it. She wore it until my father died. What do the words say?”
Maggi was squinting hard in the dim light through a haze of the Afghani has they’d got by asking the right person, in the right bar.
“ I can’t read it, it doesn’t seem to be in English.”
“Really?” “Give it here!
“Don’t snatch, its rude!”
“Sorry. You’re right. It isn’t English. I think its Yiddish.Hebrew.” Oh”
The letters danced with strange fire, far above them the Norther lights had started.

(C) Alex Rieneck 2019

Apocalyptica

(C) Alex Rieneck 2019 All Rights Reserved

The new one was different, he could tell. She already had more than the fingers of his hand, lying in a pile on the rock floor, howling, always hungry, but still they’d find something to push out of their bodies. He’d eaten the first one, it was the way. Swung it into the wall, thrown it on the fire to crisp. It was the way, eat the first one, or wait for it to eat you. That too was the way.
It had been one of the best meals he’d ever had, but the Gods were still harsh. The snow and ice was still as deep as his hips, too soft to walk on, a misery to walk through. He’d die out there sometime, that was obvious. A mist would come or something, he wouldn’t be able to find his way back to the hole. It wouldn’t take long, he was usually halfway dead when he got back with the bucket of snow and ice to be melted on the fire for drinking water.

He looked at the new one again, looked closely. It didn’t have a name. No-one had names now. The wind had blown through the world and taken all the names away with it. There was just him, and her, and the pile of wrigglers. He remembered where he’d started, picked up the new one and started examining it. Her made a noise of protest, grabbed at it, her eyes wild. He twisted it away from her, grunting deep. It started howling, which started off a couple on the floor. She‘d had half of the other one. What did she think?

The thing was different. The blue bits of its eyes covered the whole eye, lid to lid. Its hands were different too; Its fingers were pointed, had no nails and wriggled like the insides of an open body. It writhes around in his hands, an unsegmented worm, reached up to grasp the hard amulet that hung around his neck, the colour of the night sun, the shape of the night sun. He’d found it in the other hole where the others were. He liked it. He killed the them her and took it. It was his.

The wriggler’s fingers wrapped themselves around the amulet. tightly. Its head fell back into his palm and its mouth sagged open limply. The wrigglers pointed teeth were the same colour that the amulet had been before it started running out between its fingers as a jewelled, oily liquid. The thing mewled with pleasure

The Thing in The Kitchen

The Thing in The Kitchen.

He knew something was wrong almost before he’d closed the front door and moved past the glass- fronted knick- knack cupboards the stairs. The house was silent, but that was to be expected. She was not given to undue noise. He’d peeked into the sitting room. The sofa seemed empty in the dim light from the mostly closed curtains. The Screen, always on, was off. The room smelt slightly of dust
“Grandma?”
Something definitely was wrong. She was tiny, but his voice would have reflected from her if had she been in the house. She wasn’t in the breakfast room. She wasn’t in either of the two bedrooms upstairs, the one she shared with Grandpa or the guest bedroom. For that matter she wasn’t in the dining room or the small cupboard under the stairs either. His sense of disquiet increased that he’d even looked there, still wasn’t it possible? Then again, she wasn’t. She wasn’t in the big linen cupboard, almost a room in its own right, or in the Laundry, so he took a few seconds to stare at the back yard, *so green* to calm his nerves by perhaps divining some message in the pattern of the scattered coloured clothes-pegs on the green grass and the disconsolate drips of rain on the wires of the Hills hoist.

He turned away from the window with a small inarticulate noise and entered the kitchen by the back door. The kitchen as it was, was effectively a small dog-leg corridor between the breakfast room at one end and the laundry and backdoor into the yard at the other, with the kitchen-related apparatus, stoves, ovens, the fridge and so on pressed almost haphazardly against the walls where they were less in the way if the area was a corridor and inconvenient to use. If it was a kitchen.

Gran had never been much interested in housekeeping. The ancient gas cooker appeared to have been built entirely from hardened brown stains built up over the decades into an increasingly limply mottled brown surface in places as thick as the skin of a dinosaur and so hard that millions of cockroaches had broken their teeth trying to chew it. The floor was so thick in places you could lift the shit in sheets with a paint scraper. He knew, he’d done a small area near the front right hand leg of the stove once and the back of his throat rippled with at the memory. She watched, for his exposure of almost half a square metre of dark slimy concrete. Almost embarrassingly grateful; but the contrition and shame were harder for him to bear. He’d tried to hug her quiet, she was shorter than he but she kept talking into the hollow of his armpit, rapidly, half English, the other half her almost impenetrable native Gaelic, he shushed her repeatedly. It was alright, it didn’t matter. He’d been glad to help. When she told him that she was a sloven and he could feel the hot damp of her tears soaking his shirt. He told her the truth in the best approximation of Gaelic that he could manage after all the lessons. He truly didn’t give a shit. She started laughing almost instantly but he couldn’t tell whether the laughter was at the sentiment or at his pronunciation of the words. He’d carried her into the breakfast room, planted her on a chair and gave her a choice between tea and instant coffee; She chose cigarettes, and back then, he’d been able to join her. Her filthy filterless “Navy Cut” king size would take the taste of anything out of your mouth. Soon, through the head-spin and clouds of smoke, he could barely see her.

It had taken her a matter of months to return the patch of floor to what appeared to be its natural ghastly state, but neither of them had really noticed since the accretion of shit was too gradual to be followed on a normal clock speed. The shit built up. He looked at it now and nothing gave any hint that it had ever been any different; in fact, it looked archeological. The graves of Inca kings might be beneath it.

That was when he saw the notice stuck to the door of the fridge. It was a A4-size piece of official colour printed flexible shiny plastic. Across the top, in large red letters in a red oblong box it said “ATTENTION”. He pulled it off the fridge and brought to smaller print close enough to read.

“To whom it may concern; be it known that Mrs Marianne Stapldon, having reached the age of seventy years and not presented herself to an office of the bureau of ageing, has been detained under the terms of the ageing act and sentence to twenty years in an official facility, in this case room twenty six tier four Wormwood Scrubs Aged Hospice. Relatives and friends are welcome to visit between the hours of twelve noon and four PM, but will of course be subject to standard age protocols. Check the bureau website for more details.(signed)
KKL6577aXX subset II (Supervisor)
Bureau of Ageing (Swindon HQ)

His arm dropped limply to his side, the plastic page protested at what it apparently considered rough treatment.

It had finally happened. He’d been expecting it, one way and another, almost all his life. He’d been twelve or thirteen when they’d passed the law and they’d heard about it together, as a matter of co-incidence, in this very kitchen, back then it seemed to him the floor had been immaculate and the sun had streamed in the window like a bath of warm life that gilded everything it touched. The BBC newsreaders voice had been firm, unarguable, each word as solid as a brick in a wall. The act would become active in ten years, to allow those affected to adjust to its implications and to allow GovCorp time to renovate the newly repurposed prisons. Almost as an afterthought the same bulletin announced that the definition of offences subject to the death penalty would be greatly broadened, and the change would be applied retrospectively in keeping with pre-existing judicial rulings. The change to the act now meant that any prisoner presently serving a sentence of longer than five years for any offence, civil, criminal, political or religious would be put to death as a matter of urgency; in the prison they were incarcerated in’s pre-existing death chamber, or in the cell by travelling squads of religious police.

The news bulletin had rather sapped the joy out of the afternoon sun, until Grandma had laughed and said “Well! I won’t have to worry about that for years! Decades!” At the time she had seemed quite happy

The Thing in the Kitchen

The Thing in The Kitchen.

He knew something was wrong almost before he’d closed the front door and moved past the glass- fronted knick- knack cupboards the stairs. The house was silent, but that was to be expected. She was not given to undue noise. He’d peeked into the sitting room. The sofa seemed empty in the dim light from the mostly closed curtains. The Screen, always on, was off. The room smelt slightly of dust
“Grandma?”
Something definitely was wrong. She was tiny, but his voice would have reflected from her if had she been in the house. She wasn’t in the breakfast room. She wasn’t in either of the two bedrooms upstairs, the one she shared with Grandpa or the guest bedroom. For that matter she wasn’t in the dining room or the small cupboard under the stairs either. His sense of disquiet increased that he’d even looked there, still wasn’t it possible? Then again, she wasn’t. She wasn’t in the big linen cupboard, almost a room in its own right, or in the Laundry, so he took a few seconds to stare at the back yard, *so green* to calm his nerves by perhaps divining some message in the pattern of the scattered coloured clothes-pegs on the green grass and the disconsolate drips of rain on the wires of the Hills hoist.

He turned away from the window with a small inarticulate noise and entered the kitchen by the back door. The kitchen as it was, was effectively a small dog-leg corridor between the breakfast room at one end and the laundry and backdoor into the yard at the other, with the kitchen-related apparatus, stoves, ovens, the fridge and so on pressed almost haphazardly against the walls where they were less in the way if the area was a corridor and inconvenient to use. If it was a kitchen.

Gran had never been much interested in housekeeping. The ancient gas cooker appeared to have been built entirely from hardened brown stains built up over the decades into an increasingly limply mottled brown surface in places as thick as the skin of a dinosaur and so hard that millions of cockroaches had broken their teeth trying to chew it. The floor was so thick in places you could lift the shit in sheets with a paint scraper. He knew, he’d done a small area near the front right hand leg of the stove once and the back of his throat rippled with at the memory. She watched, for his exposure of almost half a square metre of dark slimy concrete. Almost embarrassingly grateful; but the contrition and shame were harder for him to bear. He’d tried to hug her quiet, she was shorter than he but she kept talking into the hollow of his armpit, rapidly, half English, the other half her almost impenetrable native Gaelic, he shushed her repeatedly. It was alright, it didn’t matter. He’d been glad to help. When she told him that she was a sloven and he could feel the hot damp of her tears soaking his shirt. He told her the truth in the best approximation of Gaelic that he could manage after all the lessons. He truly didn’t give a shit. She started laughing almost instantly but he couldn’t tell whether the laughter was at the sentiment or at his pronunciation of the words. He’d carried her into the breakfast room, planted her on a chair and gave her a choice between tea and instant coffee; She chose cigarettes, and back then, he’d been able to join her. Her filthy filterless “Navy Cut” king size would take the taste of anything out of your mouth. Soon, through the head-spin and clouds of smoke, he could barely see her.

It had taken her a matter of months to return the patch of floor to what appeared to be its natural ghastly state, but neither of them had really noticed since the accretion of shit was too gradual to be followed on a normal clock speed. The shit built up. He looked at it now and nothing gave any hint that it had ever been any different; in fact, it looked archeological. The graves of Inca kings might be beneath it.

That was when he saw the notice stuck to the door of the fridge. It was a A4-size piece of official colour printed flexible shiny plastic. Across the top, in large red letters in a red oblong box it said “ATTENTION”. He pulled it off the fridge and brought to smaller print close enough to read.

“To whom it may concern; be it known that Mrs Marianne Stapldon, having reached the age of seventy years and not presented herself to an office of the bureau of ageing, has been detained under the terms of the ageing act and sentence to twenty years in an official facility, in this case room twenty six tier four Wormwood Scrubs Aged Hospice. Relatives and friends are welcome to visit between the hours of twelve noon and four PM, but will of course be subject to standard age protocols. Check the bureau website for more details.(signed)
KKL6577aXX subset II (Supervisor)
Bureau of Ageing (Swindon HQ)

His arm dropped limply to his side, the plastic page protested at what it apparently considered rough treatment.

It had finally happened. He’d been expecting it, one way and another, almost all his life. He’d been twelve or thirteen when they’d passed the law and they’d heard about it together, as a matter of co-incidence, in this very kitchen, back then it seemed to him the floor had been immaculate and the sun had streamed in the window like a bath of warm life that gilded everything it touched. The BBC newsreaders voice had been firm, unarguable, each word as solid as a brick in a wall. The act would become active in ten years, to allow those affected to adjust to its implications and to allow GovCorp time to renovate the newly repurposed prisons. Almost as an afterthought the same bulletin announced that the definition of offences subject to the death penalty would be greatly broadened, and the change would be applied retrospectively in keeping with pre-existing judicial rulings. The change to the act now meant that any prisoner presently serving a sentence of longer than five years for any offence, civil, criminal, political or religious would be put to death as a matter of urgency; in the prison they were incarcerated in’s pre-existing death chamber, or in the cell by travelling squads of religious police.

The news bulletin had rather sapped the joy out of the afternoon sun, until Grandma had laughed and said “Well! I won’t have to worry about that for years! Decades!” At the time she had seemed quite happy

Praxis

It was a simple operation, great potential syndication rights from the education industry and probably more from documentary feeds. As he read the outline Lomax found himself wondering why this one hadn’t been done years ago. After months of using the Locus as an adjunct to the the legal system – separating the guilty from the innocent and searching out evidence for the courts; this one sounded ginteresting!

It had started simply enough. A young man, Mr Terry Sheinberg, had been moving boxes in his parent’s attic, prior to the house having a “Cape Cod” extension undertaken when, in an old trunk, he had found an old hard-cover notebook that had been written by his great grandfather while he was stationed at a French-Swiss border post during World War Two, some tone- hundred-and fifty years earlier. Mr Sheinberg was entranced. He was a history buff, with an especial interest in that period and genuine first-hand information on the subject, especially by a member of his own family was, for him, beyond price. If the simple existence of the document was not enough, what he could decipher of the faded meandering copperplate drove him to distraction. Not a rich man by any means he turned to his relatives for help and a week later was delivered to a remote landing pad in the South Australian desert and made his way into the client liaison office, in blockhouse #1 of Tr00 . It seemed a long way to travel to take part in a three way video link. But Sheinberg was wallowing in the adventure. Lomax understood the sense of keeping the communications as insular as possible, and  Houng just wanted to go back to her office for inscrutable reasons of her own.

“It started in 1922 – my great grandfather, who was working as a draughtsman in Berlin after honourable service in France during the war. He was still suffering from what they called ‘shell-shock’ back then, and we know as ‘combat fatigue’ now. In any event he wrote that the mathematical quiet of a draughtsman’s office suited him well. However one day in May 1920 he was leaving a delicatessen with his lunch when he was accosted by a gang of right-wing thugs. They beat him senseless, spat on him and destroyed the shop, a respectable business that had been there for almost one hundred years. When he awoke it was to discover that they had pissed all over him”

Apparently Mr Sheinberg’s great grandfather wasn’t one to hold a grudge; instead he cuddled it to his breast and nursed it on a diet of pure vitriol. Before long in a flash of clarity the answer came to him. The thugs who had beaten and humiliated him were nothings. Rudderless pus-sacs directed by an evil man to his own profit. The solution was obvious! Take his revenge to the puppet-master. He resolved to kill Adolf Hitler!

Lomax’s team had a twelve hour window to devote to this project. To this end. Tr00 had allocated twenty gigawatts from the Braid fusion facility at Bilga. Higher than usual shift allowances; Staff medical team to provide and administer stimulants for rush job and longer than usual shift. The geo-beacon would be in place in fifty minutes, it was being flown in fro Berlin Templehoff. Cadogan would be down directly to finalise matters with Mr.Sheinberg. Click. 

Lomax knew that Tim would be sitting up at his disgusting kitchen table drinking instant coffee and getting his grumbling up to speed. He’d already have one of his horrible rollie cigarettes going. Apparently he’d learnt to smoke in his sleep.

The control room was silent, quiet enough to hear the piped air arriving from the climate conditioners, to keep the electronics cool. Lomax, at his console beside Tim, found the smell of the other man to be oddly comforting by its very familiarity. Sweaty beard saturated with strong tobacco and marijuana smoke, dank woollen jumper, grubby jeans, Shalimar perfume, and huge warm armpit.

“Good lock, straight off; nice.” The rollie waggled sending tiny cylinders of ash down to scorch holes in the woollen jumper. “We can expect interference from the occasional passing asteroid and a… bigger blip when Mars interrupts us in about  nine hours.” 

That didn’t sound too bad, they’d have to be mostly finished by then anyway, probably. Lomax felt the tension settle in his neck and shoulders. He knew that his blood pressure had just increased markedly and cursed quietly to himself. Not that it would do any good, but once it all got underway. He’d be in his element and he’d forget about all that stuff.

The bierkeller was just about full when the Nazis arrived. A big bastard Lomax couldn’t identify by sight burst in the double doors in a good imitation of a towering rage, heading a rabble of assorted thugs and stooges who barged through the place before making a great show of setting up a heavy machine gun on one of the back tables where it could cover the crowd.

”The diary didn’t mention any of this” said Sheinberg over the Link from the client centre, on the surface and five kilometres off with great 360 degree views of tracklessdesert.

“spoze the history books would.” Tim mumbled flattening tobacco and marijuana into a cylinder between his palms. A cigarette paper flapped from his bottom lip as he spoke. 

“Might be a good idea to get an interpreter here;”  Lomax voiced the thought more to be social than in need of approval. ”I’ll see if Lisa is free.” 

He liked her, She was an adult who could accept the occasional “adult concept” as a joke rather than as an unforgivable affront to her long-vanished virginity. Spoke about ten languages too, at last count. Who cared if she had bad breath? In fact, Lomax found it oddly erotic.

“She’s on her way down now” Tim squinted through his smoke.

For the most part the crowd in the bierkellar simply ignored the way the Group at the back of the hall were behaving. Lomax decided that, by this stage in the evening everyone present had already consumed at least one of the milk-bucket sized mugs of beer and was already so drunk that all they could do was either fall face forwards onto a table and pass out, or argue vehemently about politics. At the front of the room a man in lederhosen pounded the table in front of him so hard that his plate bounced and his cutlery danced. He howled the same thing repeatedly in German.

“He is saying Hindenberg is a cunt.” Lisas laconic voice came from behind them. She stood in the doorway of Lomax’s office, leaning on the doorframe sipping tea from her office cup. It was an antique china collectors piece, oddly shaped and well over a hundred years old. She’d tried explaining its provenance to him once but it had meant nothing to him. Something about a twentieth century viddy show, apparently. “He seems awfully emotional about it.” 

In contrast Tim seemed quite disinterested.

“Due to crazy hyperinflation a loaf of bread now costs about one billion marks, and Germany has had to default on paying the fine imposed by the treaty of Versailles for supposedly starting World War One. In return the French and Belgian armies have seized the Ruhr – without a shot being fired. The Ruhr is the core of Germany’s industrial might – It’s all a big slap in the face for Germans who believe that they actually won the war – and didn’t start it either.” Lisa actually sounded rather emotional about it all. Outraged for something that had happened so long ago. Lomax looked over at her; she did seem to be clutching her tea mug handle rather tightly. 

“Well fuck me.” That was Tim’s input.

“I’d rather not Tim, but thank you for asking – I’ll keep you in mind.”

Lomax looked over. Tim was blushing; shifts in his beard indicated that his Adam’s apple was bobbing. He was scrabbling in his smokables pouch. Lomax resolved to talk to Lisa later, and in the meantime to create his own refreshing cup of whatever-the-hell-it- was they put in the little bags.

When he got back to his station Hitler was arriving on the big screen surrounded by a squad of thugs with pale set faces who looked like they had the collective intelligence of a garden snail. There was no question who it was, the same prissy moustache, the same beady rat eyes; Lomax could not understand the attraction. He had puzzled over the bare bones of the story and had watched document viddies long ago but while he could accept the story, he had never understood it, now here was the creature himself in six K true colour seeming to follow the locus into the packed room down a trench in the crowd that had opened around him and his bully boys. Tim’s hand moved gently in the reader-zone, moving the locus by sub-metre increments at a range of one hundred million kilometres and two hundred years. Hitler’s lips were squeezed into a bloodless line. “He’s nervous – he’s scared shitless.” Lomax thought. The Locus backed over the long wooden table, passing through a lamp as if it wasn’t there, and, by some strange glitch in quantum physics, the Locus wasn’t. In one big step, without breaking stride Hitler was standing on the long bench. In another step he was standing in a puddle of slopped beer and disordered meals on the table. He shrieked, a long, high ululating howl of pure wordless venom and hatred. The noise in the big hall muted, then showed signs of restarting. Hitler produced a Walther PPK from his trench coat and fired it five times rapidly into the ceiling. He was immediately wreathed in gunsmoke and clouds of dust, a layer of plaster-dust covered his shoulders and oily hair like atrocious dandruff. No-one laughed. Conversation stopped in the room. Tim stopped his rotation around the subject. The Locus was now directly in front of Hitler and approximately at his knee level where he stood on the table. Hitler’s crazy eyes blazed down into the Locus, almost as if he could see it looking at him, which was impossible of course, but Lomax found himself suppressing a shiver at the thought, anyway. Hitler, now that he had everyone’s close attention started to shout. Within seconds he was the source of an unstoppable tsunami of German vitriol.

“The jewish communist Cunt Bankers who started the war to kill off the flower of German manhood and bleed our country as dry as a Kosher lamb! These vampires have not slaked their hunger for Aryan life-blood yet! Now they have stolen the Ruhr for their knob jockey glove-puppets the French and stolen it without a shot being fired! Why must the blameless victors pay reparations to the beaten anyway? Our ‘republic’ is a puppet of the Jewish-Marxist conspiracy of big banking who started the war for no other reason than to gain control of the vast agricultural wealth of Russia, and now the entire industrial might of our beloved fatherland!” 

Lomax found himself marvelling that the man’s lung-capacity; he’d apparently said all that without breathing in.Tim split the Locus so that it was facing upwards towards Hitler as before but now had a secondary “eye” facing one-hundred-and-eighty degrees from the main. This wide -angle on the crowd showed Hitler’s words falling in fertile ears, there were smiles, snarls, shouts and shaken fists. In the front row the young great grandfather Sheinberg in his innocuous greatcoat, swastika armband and false name, and appeared to cheer with the rest of the room. 

“He’s either totally mad, or the bravest man I’ve ever seen” Tim grumbled, “and he definitely isn’t mad.”

“No *he* isn’t, but Hitler is barking crazy, I mean I seen him yammering away before but he must feel safe here and he must tone it down if there’s press and newsreel cameras about, his language is much worse here! Obscene! He just said the Jews were an alien syphillis that had polluted the body of humanity since the beginning of time by the way and before that, that the Jewish cunt priests sold Jesus to the Romans in revenge for Jesus fucking up their moneylending business in the temple – I wish this guy would get on with it and shoot the crazy fucker.”

Lomax looked at the big screen which showed Hitler, purple in the face, throwing such a tantrum that Lomax found himself wondering whether the man wore nappies under his trousers for his big speeches. 

“yo! Look at my great grandfather!” Sheinberg’s voice came over the link from the surface and Lomax’s eyes shifted to the reverse-angle screen. Sheinberg the elder was evidently a man under great stress, his face was pale, as sallow as piss-soaked paper, and was soaked in sweat. He held his pistol out of his pocket, at the end of his arm, parallel with his leg. His arm was so rigid with stress that it vibrated as fast as a plucked guitar string. 

“Fuck.” 

That was Tim. The locus looking up at Hitler showed his tantrum continuing. He was standing rigid, lit in the crazy dancing light of the room’s huge log fire and the light of the electric lamp on the table he was bouncing around on. His voice continued, the enraged squealing of a pig denied its swill. The shadows danced crazily across the wall and pillar behind him, across the dark beamed ceiling. As Lomax watched the shadows flexed, altered, became a pillar of dark that seemed so palpable that it appeared to occupy the space between Hitler and the rear wall, and as Lomax watched, the shadow flexed to form arms and the arms  wrapped themselves around Hitler at the same time that two reflections, surely they were reflections, blinked into existence like red eyes that glowed with the baleful glare of the log fire.

Sheinberg the elder screamed, dropped the gun, which he had been aiming, arm extended, and collapsed in a limp heap. Blood glistened  from his ears and nose.

Short Story

Dinner Delivery

“Maxwell.”
“Max!”
Maax was curled up in the tiny corner in the hallway where the bottoms of the French doors almost met the thin carpet. It was an artfully chosen spot and, it must be said one of his many afternoon favourites. The curtains were Burgundy red and covered the whole length of the glass panelled doors, except for a height of perhaps an inch-and-d-half at the bottom. In this space Max could only be seen, or perhaps guessed at as a darker patch of shadow, but only then by those who looked closely, and those who looked closely might be rewarded with the realisation that the small dimple in the bottom-edge of the curtain and the small grey shape that caused it, was in fact the grey furry ear of Max the cat protruding into the North hallway to give warning of the approach of those who might cause disturbance to the delicate territorial boundaries of a meditative cat. In this case the warning system seemed to have failed due either to encroaching deafness on the ear of an adult tabby cat in the prime of his life or some other unquantified at failing that, had it been put into words would perhaps have reflected poorly on the character of the cat in question.
“Max!!”
“Yes, lady Burbage?” One frontpaw projected from under the curtain when it reached full stretch, it gave a politely short quiver of pleasure and then retracted far enough that the personage who owned it might consider putting weight on it. Unlike the paws of many(perhaps the majority) of cats called “tabby” this paw featured no white at all. In fact none of Max’s feet had white “socks”; where “God had run out of paint”. Instead, all his feet were brown grey tabby- the same colouration, as it happened, of a standard issue mouse,But with black stripes though this similarity of colouration had benefitted no member of the rodent species since Max, Though well fed by his human acolytes took pleasure in keeping the larder, the kitchen, the wine cellar and the library free of those he termed “little scuttlers.” a mission in life that earned him a position in Lady Burbage’s retinue somewhere between highly- valued retainer and the kind of long-term houseguest who had their regular place at table for meals. After a long moment, three further paws, each of similar colouration protruded from under the curtain, stretched taut, toes and claws splayed, quivered and relaxed. After a further small disturbance behind the curtain max’ sleek feline head appeared, eyes slitted as the lower edge of the curtain passed across them, and as his upper whisker array bent down and popped back up. His spine made a small dimple in the curtain as he passed under it and a larger one as his mostly vertical tail popped through. Max waled several steps into the hallway, looked up at his human and slitted his eyes slightly in pleasure and greeting. Lady burbage flitted her eyes slightly in return. Max almost quivered in joy. Lady Burbage’s understanding of the protocol s of the dance of life-apparently innate set her aside from the vast ruck of humans, who could only try.

“Good Afternoon Maxwell, I trust the day is treating you pleasantly?”
“ It is Mam, that it is, as a matter of fact that is a very pleasant spot, just enough sun through the glass to keep the topside warm, while the gentle cool breeze from the gap underneath the door provides both pleasantbfresh air from the garden an a cool waft up the furry offset the warmth of the sun, also, at this time of year the sun is at the correct angle to refract through the bevelling of the window pane and cast the most delightful rainbows on the white inner lining of the curtains. Quite wonderfully thought provoking!”
“Oh. I had rather thought you were asleep!”
“Lady Jane if there is one thing I hope you have learnt from me. It is that all sentient beings do most of their thinking while they are asleep- the most important stuff anyway.
“Surely that means that there is then at least half the time, being the waking hours left to think?”
“In my experience ma’m the waking hours are devoted to thought all too rarely indeed.”
“Judging by the quality of the conversation tendered by my last few luncheon guests, I can but agree.”
Max stretched his front paws forward, sunk his claws into the Axminster, and pulled hard against the resistance of the rest of his body, the effort made his tail arch upwards and the fur on his rump stand on end. When he spoke, it was with difficulty. “Precisely. I’ve been thinking you ought to draw the catchment area for your guest list rather wider than available local churchmen.”

“Be fair Maxwell.” They’re the only people in the area who can be relied on to be even slightly educate . For the most part the county is very rural and reading is regarded as a suspicious new invention.”
“Yes and in the village the comparing of phlegmy noises is regarded as conversation.”
‘I know what you mean.”
“ It’s doubly disturbing when you travel as close to the ground as I do.”
“An in an odd kind of way Max, that brings the subject of conversation around to my reason for seeking you out and awakening you.” Lady burbage sank herself onto the green velvet upholstered red cedar occasional chair that stood in the hall, mainly for riders who needed help removing their boots and looked down expectantly at Max. Max took two steps and sprung into the hammock of her lap
Lady Jane had fat warm thighs and favoured long skirts and Max loved her for it. He arched his neck and daintily touched the tip of her nose with his. His nose was cool and polite.
“Yes, your Ladyship?”
“Max there’s not really polite way to broach this rather delicate subject-“
“But Max did you-ah-mess in Mr Wymss’ shoes?” Lady Burbage very gently stroked the to of Max’s head, all the way down his spine to his so delicately that his fur was scarcely compressed to his body.
Max arched slightly with approval, Lady Jane was about the only human permitted such liberties.
“Yes Ma’m I must confess that I did..”
“ Why on Earth would you commit such a barbarous and uncouth act Max? And on Mr Wymss, too, our esteemed under butler!”
“WellLady Jane, not to tell tales out of school, I must say that my revolutionary activities were undertaken by way of revenge.”
“Revenge on Mr. Wymss? For what?”
Well, the night before last, Monday I think people call it, I’d decided to hunting the wine cellar. There’d been a delivery of a couple of barrels and changes in the environment usually put the scuttlers off centre; So I sneaked in as the cellar men took the cart away and I started hunting. Within an hour or two I’d caught eight. I only ate the heads; I like the crunch and because if I’m too full I can’t hunt and pounce properly.” Lady Juan queasily considered how close Max’s mouth had just been to hers.
“Anyway I was starting to think that eight was enough or perhaps even more than enoughwhen I realised that What I wanted more than dead squeakers was a nice chair somewhere upstairs and a bit of a think. So in the crack under the cellar door I see a light moving. Its a hand-held lamp and keys are jingling. Its Wymss doing his lock up round. So I wait till he’s right outside the door and I shout “Hey Wymss! I’m stuck in here! Let me out!”
“And he didn’t hear you?”
“ Oh no he heard me alright- he replied, and I quote; “ Fuck you cat! always sneaking around where you aren’t supposed to be, you want to be in there? You can spend the night!” And he walks off. The mice areAll jumping up and down and taunting me and laughing while I tried to think .”His voice became a fair imitation of a mouse squeak; “ cat! Cat! You keel my mother! Cat!Cat! You keel my seester! Cat! We poisons your foods!Cat! Hey Cat!Cat! !we poisons your meelky-weelky! All night. Sometimes they even ran over my tail and.. interrupted my thoughts. Ned opened the outside door about four AM with a small cask of Malmsey; I was out of there like a rocket, and straight to Wymss room- Did you know he leaves his shoes outside his room for the maid he’s seeing to clean? Charlotte?No? Anyway it was too easy, I had a bowel full of mostly digested mouse-heads and I’d been dreaming of my target all night. So: I confess and throw myself of the mercy of the court.”

(C)Alex Rieneck 2019 All Rights Reserved.