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 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