by Roger Crow
Three: The Cascade of Mercury
In a canyon on the moon, surrounded by bubbling lava, the pod emerged. Buried on the satellite for 100 years, it started glowing a radiant blue.
As the small party started to climb the enormous staircase, the skies grew dark with rain.
Stretching away into the clouds, the team saw the orb on the horizon.
In the blink of an eye the pod rocketed to earth and arrive atop the staircase.
It looked like a silver egg, mottled colours rippled across its surface.
Aibork took a whistle from his pocket and started to blow a two-tone note.
Kate looked at him and cocked her head, waiting for an explanation.
"Sub-sonic lock. That egg is a lunar probe. Been up there decades, waiting to be released."
"And how do you know that?"
"Because I put it there."
"How old are you?"
"How old do I look?"
"That's about right. There's a rift in time; not very big, but wide enough to fast-track an egg-shaped thing back a century."
"Would that transport a person?" asked Kate.
He shook his head. "Inorganic matter only. And no, you couldn't send lottery number back to your granny. I tried. Doesn't work"
"You tried sending lottery numbers to my granny?"
"Yep. Err, no." Kate was smiling for the first time in an age.
Just then there was the sound of a ripping sheet across the heavens.
"That's my cue."
Aibork approached the egg, put his thumb in a small indentation, and a few seconds later it rocketed into the rift that tore across the sky.
Kate was slack of jaw.
Aibork took her hand and placed the whistle in her palm.
"If anything happens to me, you'll know what to do," he smiled.
The tear in the sky healed, and slowly the staircase turned into a hillside; the battle lizard; the cobbled streets of teeth; the random candy floss manifestation all vanished.
Kate felt her stomach lurch; a hump backed bridge sensation.
"I need a lie down," she said.
Alexandria started returning to normal. The Torpedo Factory art installation shimmered from the ice sculpture it once was and became bricks and glass again; the picturesque streets and shops were as before.
Kate gingerly tested the street for a reaction, but it was solid. Dull. Reliable.
There was no trebuchet, lizards were nowhere, and as for vegetating samurais. All gone.
It was all just a little dull.
That's what concerned her.
Kate was bursting with questions and Aibork knew it.
"The unreality pearl creates shock waves. Normality is a thin miniscus which can be punctured really easily."
She was confused.
He took a half-drunk glass of water from a nearby table and put a stirrer in it.
"What do you see?"
"A stirrer in water. Slightly displaced because of the water... Oh, you're saying it's a bit like what happened just now?"
"And the pearl created that to stop the alien ship doing any more damage?"
Aibork took a step back and steadied himself. Kate regarded him with concern.
"I need coffee and cake." He said.
"Effects of the anomaly?"
"Low blood sugar."
They followed a beckoning Bob Jones who took them to a cosy cafe with a Tolkien theme.
Aibork ordered coffee and cake; Kate had water and a sorbet; Bob Jones had tea. One sugar. No milk.
"We need to know the state of the probe by Jupiter," said Kate.
Jones nodded and handed her a tablet with the latest intel.
Scanning it, she breathed easier.
Aibork also relaxed a little.
"This cake. Mmmm."
Kate showed him the report.
Five minutes later they paid the bill and took to the streets.
"That it then?"
Aibork nodded again.
"No more threat?"
He shook his head.
Kate's happiness soured a little. Alexandria was beautiful again. And just a little dull.
"It's normal. Always happens with level threes. Post-Christmas comparisons are the best ticket for explaining it."
"So I'm suffering January blues?"
He patted her on the head. She didn't know whether to feel appreciated or insulted.
"Err, What was that for?"
"Takes your mind off the January blues."
Bob Jones hurried behind them and handed Aibork a bag.
Kate eyed it with suspicion, and waited for him to tell her what it was.
He kept quiet.
The suspense was killing her.
He smiled as they walked down the street.
A waiting limousine opened its doors, they got in and it whisked them away.
Within the hour, they were back in Washington DC. The Reflecting Pool was still being repaired; it was still incredibly hot, but the air smelled of ozone like rain after a hot spell.
"Well, this is where I leave you."
Bob Jones stepped from the vehicle, entered a neighbouring car and was driven away.
"Well, he was a nice guy."
"Yes, for a G-man," replied Aibork.
They arrived at the White House, and were debriefed for an hour by some very serious looking presidential agents.
As the debriefing finished, Aibork handed the president the bag.
"I want to thank you for your excellent work out there."
"Aye, you're welcome sir."
"Would you mind staying in Washington a few days?"
"Is that a rhetorical question?"
"You know it isn't, but you are free to go any time you would like."
"I'm guessing with a few friends in dark suits watching me on every street corner?"
"No, not at all… They dress much more casually these days."
The two men smiled, the president whispered in his ear, they shook hands and parted ways.
Kate bowed before the president, turned on her heel and left the room.
"What did he say to you?" She asked.
"Ah, that would be telling."
On the hot and clammy street, they said their goodbyes.
"Well, it's been a pleasure". He said
"Yes, I guess that's one way of looking at it."
Kate kissed him on the cheek, found her bike locked to a nearby rail, unlocked it and set off.
The ride up to Capitol Hill was hot and clammy. She pressed buttons at the traffic lights, wondering whether it made a difference; cycled across the road and back to her hotel.
After locking her bike, she entered the lobby pressed the button and waited for the elevator. Once more, it took an age to arrive.
It seemed to take even longer to take her back to her room.
The room was 23 ft². Dark except for a single white blinking light.
Kate lay on the bed staring at the ceiling while the answer phone message winked in the gloom.
It was too hot to sleep, and she was too excited to snooze anyway.
The weird memories of what had gone on over the past 24 hours haunted her. She had no visual scars from the experience, and started to doubt whether it had happened at all.
Swinging her legs out of bed, she went over to the window and looked down the street below.
How could life go on as normal, when so many unusual things had rocked the universe and the day before?
In the world where everything made sense, she started to wonder whether she preferred the anomalous alternate reality.
The world of samurais, trebuchets and strange battle animals.
She pressed the button on the answer phone, and the message played again.
"Kate, it's your grandmother. Oh, I hate using these things. Anyway, I've come into some good news. My lottery ticket came up with six winning numbers. Call me, when you get this mess…"
The message had been peppered with beeping every few seconds. She didn't know whether to laugh, or burst into tears.
The next morning Kate went downstairs to breakfast, turned left followed the street for a minute, turned left again and entered the breakfast annexe of the hotel.
At the next table, a man in his twenties, dark, handsome, slim addressed her.
"Morning Miss, and how are you today?"
"I'm okay, I think."
He looked familiar.
She regarded his glass of water and stared at the stirrer.
She smiled and took his hand.
"My name is Kate," she said.
"I'm Jeremy," he replied. "Jeremy Kwaith."
She noticed he was wearing Kevlar body armour.
"How about that?" she smiled.
"I have a message for you."
He handed her a silvery slip of paper inside an envelope.
'The Cascade of Mercury.'
She thought about it for a minute, searched her memory banks, and realised she hadn't got a bloody clue what that meant.
Jeremy Kwaith took a pen and wrote a series of numbers on the back of her hand.
He tapped a teacup, turned on his heel and left.
She wanted to go after him and ask him more, but there was something about him that made her realise that was not going to happen.