by Roger Crow
Four: A Matter of Time and Tides
Kate had spent the last 45 minutes searching the 'net for answers to her question.
None were forthcoming.
Bob Jones was staring out of the window when there was a knock at his door.
"What's on Earth is the Cascade of Mercury?"
"Hello Kate, you must have a series of numbers somewhere."
She nodded, unrolled a map, put it on his desk with the coordinates scribbled on it.
"The thing is, when you use an unreality device, it may knock out the immediate threat..."
"But it creates new ones?"
"The pearl created a shock wave which largely went unnoticed in space... except for a lump of rock en route to Earth."
Kate masked her mouth with a hand.
"What happened to the rock?"
Bob handed her a buff envelope with a series of glossy photos, each one a magnified version of the last.
The first three were fuzzy and non-descript, but the fourth was clear as day.
"The Cascade of Mercury was a response to such an occurrence."
"Will it work?"
Kate ran a hand through her blonde locks and looked to the sky.
Somewhere, up there, an object was heading to Earth, and it could spell disaster for every living thing on the planet.
"No pressure then."
"Do you have any idea what that will do to the Earth?"
"I can't even begin to comprehend."
"Okay, so how do I get to this Cascade of Mercury?"
Two hours later Kate's helicopter touched down.
"So, this is it then," she said.
Bob Jones nodded.
Aibork was waiting for them.
"Nice of you guys to show up," he remarked.
"Why does this thing look like a giant teacup?" said Kate.
"It's part radar, part weapon."
"Does it hold tea?" she asked. No one said anything, so she pressed on, while stepping over assorted bottles of helium. "Who created something like this?"
"Actually, I did it," replied Aibork.
"Why am I not surprised?"
"I designed this when I was 22, what were you doing?"
"Graduating from MIT I think."
"No you weren't, I checked."
"Oh really? What was I doing then?"
"You graduated top of your class in some backwoods University. Two years later you went to MIT."
"Wow, you have been doing your homework."
"I hate to break up the party you people, but you might want to look at that."
Bob Jones was pointing at the dark mass that started to block out the stars.
It started spinning lazily, that large dark mass as it approached the Earth's orbit.
"I meant to ask you, what was it that you gave the President?"
"Let me ask you a question... have you checked the numbers that came up on your grandma's lottery ticket?"
"What is this? Answer questions with a question?"
"Ask her what numbers she won with."
"I feel like I should be doing something more important than asking my granny about her lottery numbers."
The mass started to smoke as it entered the earth's atmosphere.
"Hi, yes it's me, Kate."
Parts of the object started to break off as it rocketed through the skies.
"Is it my imagination or is that heading for us?"
"Go on, ask her."
"Hello dear, yes I've got them here. 6 17 21 28 36 42."
"Now check the coordinates you were given," said Aibork, fiddling with the controls on his device.
Kate took out her phone, thumbed through the photos and found the shot she taken of her hand.
"2463 821271 6"
Kate didn't know what to be more amazed by - the fact that the lottery numbers were the same as the coordinates, only in reverse, or the large shape that was careering towards them.
"Is it my imagination or is that…"
Kate wasn't sure how much damage it could cause, but it would be one of the most remarkable phenomena in human history.
Just then, it started to rain pink candy floss.
Aibork took out a collapsable cane and started to draw a line in the sand; before long it was a square.
The box was 23 ft². Aibork stood in the centre of it.
Twenty feet from the falling object, an Earth ship approached silently. Sat in the pilot's seat, Fe, a woman in a grey jacket sipping a protein shake gently adjusted her controls. Behind her, the pearl started glowing.
On her heads up display, crosshairs aligned with the square in which he stood.
Ripples surged through the ship's skin and made their way forward to the falling object.
"Do you want to give me any idea of what is going on?"
On the shimmering horizon a woman appeared, walking slowly, Omar Sharif-style across the dusty landscape.
The object started slowing.
It was still moving forward, but the descent had been coaxed from its inexorable drop.
She waved back.
"This is Meg," said Aibork.
Bob Jones embraced the newcomer, and she lightly slapped his face affectionately.
Then she embraced Aibork and nodded at Kate.
Raising binocs, she examined the slowly falling mass.
"How long have we got?"
"I've done the maths. We have about three hours."
Meg nodded, produced a table and a gas stove, and slipped a collapsable kettle on the top.
"I never knew you could get kettles like that," remarked Kate.
"Inflatable aluminium." Meg remarked. "Your man here designed it.
Aibork looked smug.
The craft continued to slow the falling mass, and at the same time, the White House staff filed out of the Oval Office.
The president ran a finger over the bag he'd been given, and was about to open it when the phone rang.
"We have about three hours sir."
"Good man. Keep me posted."
Meg emptied the boiling water into four disposable cups.
Aibork, Bob and Kate took one each.
"Looks like it's shrinking," remarked Kate.
The others nodded.
Bob started constructing a lightweight aluminium ladder, 12 feet long.
Aibork gave him a hand while Meg started to inflate a helium balloon.
"Start the clock."
Meg produced an over large alarm clock from a rucksack and pressed a button.
The sound of ticking seemed excessively loud for the size of the timepiece.
If the slowly falling mass was a thing of ridiculousness, then it had to be challenged with equal amounts of stupidity.
It seems the unreality pearl needed a boost from the very real owner.
The phone rang.
He ignored it.
After a minute it stopped ringing.
"Mr Aibork. It's time."
He nodded, downed his coffee, and slipped on his jacket.
He was mumbling under his breath an old Richard Harris number from the 1970s.
"McArthur Park is melting in the rain. Ahh Jimmy Webb..."
Meg finished attaching the ladder to the balloons and as it started to rise upward, Aibork stepped on the last rung.
Hooking his elbow over the fourth rung, he waved and smiled at Meg and Kate.
"Goodbye for now ladies. Bob, keep an eye on them please."
Bob Jones nodded and thumbed the Bluetooth ear unit.
In the Whitehouse, the president watched Aibork's progress.
"What's he doing? asked Kate.
"He's going to create a black hole in the centre of that mass."
"Actually, it's more like a semi-black hole," replied Meg.
"So What's your story?" asked Kate.
Meg downed her coffee.
"We go way back."
Kate was hoping for a little more of an explanation, but in her heart she knew she was not going to get it.
Bob Jones sidled over to her and nudged her lightly.
"It's a long story that one," he said.
His ascent didn't take long at all.
The ship which had followed the falling mass opened its cockpit, a hand threw an object at him, and he caught it
Aibork thumbed a button on his jacket and a light flared.
Meg pressed a button on the Cascade of Mercury and it fired up.
A beam of light shot into the sky, hit the mass square on and created a hole.
Aibork's balloon ladder vanished inside.
A minute later there was a crack of thunder and the mass vanished.
"I guess that it works then", said Kate.
"I guess you are right," said Meg.
"But what happened to him?" asked Kate.
"Ahh, he'll be fine. Dinny worry."
Aibork felt sick, elated, dizzy, excited and nervous. He was displaced, set adrift in a dimension of eccentric space.
There were three possible galaxies open for business. The other two were the Hyperion anomaly, in which space was white and stars were black, and a designer universe called Plaid Fantastic, a chequered world in which the wealthy had lavish parties on silver hemispheres which hovered over lakes of mercury.
Fire licked across the sky in eccentric space, flames born and died in reverse, born of smoking ash.
The Cascade had created this bubble of the surreal, drawing energy from the sun, sucking photons into the saucer and pumping them up and into the slowly falling mass. The semi black hole hungrily fed on the former rock, reducing its size and very slowly its mass. However, the flavour became more dense.
Some rocks were igneous or sedimentary, but this was another phenomenon.
As blue green streaks of light whirled around his face and body, Aibork realised there was something very important missing.
The whirling vortex threatened to consume him, but it was held at bay by the circle of chaos, his pocket black hole.
"MacArthur park..." He whispered. Throat dry. "Is melting..."
Designing a unit which generated mini universes was perhaps his greatest achievement. Forget mastering the controls of stellar cruisers, hyper barges and Quadrillion Skiffs. Anti-grav buggies had been a challenge, but he'd managed to get the hang eventually, and as for super light unicycles, there was nothing to them.
Aibork inched his way toward the pulsing purple beam that beckoned.
Flipping a panel on his wrist scanner, he watched the countdown.
"Burn baby burn." He whispered.
The Boston-sized mass was now a mere three feet across, cooked, baked and ready to serve.
Aibork touched his headset.
"Thanks Fe. I'll take it from here."
The ship hovering outside the anomaly obliged, jetting away in search of fuel.
He nudged the smallmass and it lazily floated through the tear created by his black hole device.
"There's a rift in time; not very big, but wide enough to fast-track an egg-shaped thing back a century."
His words washed back on him as the time tides came in.
'If you want to exploit a rift in time, sometimes you've just got to give things a little nudge,' he thought.
Time tides do wait for one man it seemed.