The Artifact

6 06 2010

Olaf Speckman is a First Watchman at Piazzi Decom. It is quite a privilege, although it seldom seems so after a long weekend. If he were a Second or Third Watchman, he would have more time to sleep off the weekend before he starts his shift. This Janusday is no different than any of the rest, however. It is time to start the work week. He carefully pulls back the Velcro edge of the comforter and extracts himself from the bed. No matter how slow or deliberate he is, the ripping sound inevitably induces an unhappy moan from his wife Kendra. But thanks to the low gravity, the rest of his movements can be done in relative silence. The ease with which Olaf moves is a testament to the ability of Mankind to adapt. It certainly took him several months of practice to acclimate himself to the 3 percent Standard Gravity available on Ceres, but now he moves effortlessly.

His preparations for work are finished when he pulls the heavy down parka around his shoulders and exits the apartment. His complex consists of several squat buildings which he hardly gives a second thought to. He propels himself forward, breath condensing in the still air. The climate is carefully controlled in the underground city of Piazzi and hovers just below freezing. The reason has to do with the composition of the dwarf planet of Ceres. Piazzi had been dug into the thick mantle of ice that covers the clay core of Ceres. The ice is very thick. In fact, there is more frozen water on Ceres than there is fresh water on Earth despite the fact that Ceres is one sixth the diameter of Earth.

As Olaf presses forward to the ped complex, he absentmindedly looks up at the ice dome ceiling that acts as the sky. The sky has the same white glow it always does. His destination, the lift tube, is visible in the distance, a gray metal shaft rising to the heavens. At the ped complex, he attaches his tether and rides one of the moving walkways towards the tower. Walking, or the leaping that approximates walking on Ceres, is discouraged in the almost shoulder to shoulder crowds at the ped complex. Mid-air collisions can turn pedestrians into billiard balls of broken limbs during a commute. Olaf is used to the convenience of letting the sidewalk do the work for him. It gives him the chance to catch up on the news.

Commuters are boarded on the lift in the order they arrive. The kilometer long ride to the surface doesn’t take long. The acceleration is not quite enough to give the feeling of a full Standard G, but is enough to remind Olaf of the Earth he left behind years ago. The light from Piazzi disappears for a moment as the lift passes through the tunnel and is replaced by the unadulterated light of the sun at the surface. Although the sun looks about a third the size as seen from Earth, it is still nearly as bright. Watch turnover always takes place with the sun at its apex in the sky. That way the station hub is only peopled when it is the warmest, thus conserving heating resources. Even at the warmest time of watch, the average temperature is still negative 40 degrees Celsius on the surface. Each Standard Ceres Day, or SCeD, is made up of three watches consisting of one planetary revolution each. At 9 hours per revolution, First, Second and Third Watch are almost equivalent to Day, Swing and Graveyard Shift on Earth.

When the lift doors open at the top, he and a third of the peds catch the covered walkway marked Decom and begin the final stage of their commute. Olaf tries not to think about the thin membrane separating him and his fellow workers from the even thinner atmosphere. He is eager to get to work today and as he glides along on the moving walkway he can see the object of his anticipation coming into view. It is the Pytheas. Boasting the latest in propulsion technology, it had been the first Earth ship to breach the Oort Cloud, the halo of comets that crown the Solar System. Unfortunately it had never gone back. The view of it quickens his pulse. After so many freighters and system cruisers, he considers a starship a welcome change of pace.

Olaf arrives at the embarkment area and enters the torch shop hang-out. Many of the men had already arrived and were in various stages of dress in front of their lockers. His arrival does not spark much interest until Frank sees him.

“Olaf,” Frank approaches him with his hand firmly on a young man’s shoulder. “We got a new apprentice I wanted you to meet.”

“Nice to meet you, sir,” the man says, gripping his hand firmly.

Olaf regards him coolly, his expressionless eyes boring into him until he looks away. “Ceresian or outsider?” he asks.

The younger man stammers under the scrutiny. “Uh, I was born on Vesta, sir. My family moved to Ceres when I was five.”

Olaf turns and opens his locker, seemingly uninterested in the reply. After an awkward moment of silence, Frank says, “This here is Jonson’s boy, Timothy.”

“Jonson, eh?” He smiles, but the smile does not reach his eyes. “I was on his crew before he retired. I expect he taught you all about the ins and outs of torching. Did he? I thought so. You know you are pretty lucky to get on this crew. Have you heard of the Pytheas, son?”

“Uh, yeah, it’s the ship we’re cutting up,” Timothy says.

“It’s more than a ship, son. It is the ship, or it was anyway.” Olaf waves his hand dismissively. “You ever hear of the Aurora mission? She’s it. Only ship to break the light speed barrier, transit the Oort cloud and travel in interstellar space.”

“Why are we cutting it up then, shouldn’t it be turned into a museum or something?”

Olaf’s smile finally spreads to his eyes. “Why has she been parked in orbit around Triton for decades before coming here? Same answer, radiation.” Olaf’s smile grows bigger in parallel with the young man’s eyes. “Wasn’t it obvious with all the radiation training you doubtless received before you were issued your suit?” Olaf lowers his voice. “She encountered something out there, something nasty. Why do you think we’ve never been back?”

The conversation stalls and Olaf starts pulling on his anti-contamination suit. He watches the new apprentice out of the corner of his eye as Frank fulfills his role of mentor and continues talking with him. The conversation is distracting enough to Timothy that he struggles with his ANTI-Cs. The conversation begins to become engaging, but Olaf keeps himself aloof.

After everyone is dressed they stream into the briefing room for the daily safety briefing, helmets under their arms. They come in groups of twos and threes except for Olaf. He comes alone. Olaf finds a place next to Frank as the supervisor starts the briefing.

“Alright, let’s get started. The third watchmen pretty much got the Probe Bay job finished, there are just a few components left that need to be cut down. Olaf, I’m going to assign you and Timothy to finish that job.”

Olaf raises his eyebrows and nudges Frank in the side, “Ouch, man. Can’t say I didn’t see that coming.” He says it loud enough to get a sour look from the supervisor. Frank does his best to ignore him.

“I just want you to fill in for Frank this evening while he’s at his physical. What’s left is relatively easy so you should have no problem showing him what you do. Frank will be back after lunch and I expect to be able to close that job before then.” The supervisor says this while staring at Olaf until the latter looks away. “That area’s been cleared from radiation controls so it should be a good place for Timothy to start. For the rest of you, we are going to be starting on the Forward Wardrooms.” Olaf’s interest in the rest of the briefing wanes as the supervisor continues. He shows relief when the meeting adjourns and hurries out to his assigned job. Timothy has a difficult time keeping up with him, but Olaf fails to notice.

Timothy finds Olaf in the assigned space and joins him staring into the room. Olaf puts his hand on Timothy’s shoulder and abruptly pulls him toward him until their helmets are touching. “Those third watchmen are second rate, look at this mess!” Olaf chuckles when he sees Timothy’s reaction. “You haven’t spent much time outside of Piazzi, have you. The old man can monitor our radios. This way we can talk without someone looking over our shoulder.” Timothy starts pulling away, but Olaf’s grip keeps him close. “I don’t know what your pappy told you about how we do things here, but pay attention and maybe you will learn something useful today.”

Olaf releases the apprentice and starts his torch. After several rude gestures with it, he starts carving up the closest piece of equipment. “See that? Now you try.” Olaf shows Timothy how to start the torch and gets him started on one of the launching mechanisms.

He works methodically for most of an hour attempting to include Timothy in the work. It is a frustrating process for them both and Olaf finally loses his temper when the apprentice questions his techniques. “But in class they told us to do it this way,” Timothy says.

Olaf pulls Timothy’s helmet close again. He speaks through clenched teeth, giving his voice a menacing quality. “Those posers don’t know how to do this. Why do you think they are teaching instead of out here doing the real work? This is where you get the real experience.”

Olaf pushes himself away. “Let’s try this again from the top.” He has Timothy make a few more cuts until he trusts him enough to let him work on his own. He leaves him cutting apart the last remaining launching mechanism and turns his attention to the Probe Conveyors.

He starts with the foundation and cuts a clean line through the closest conveyor foot. The conveyor shifts suddenly and an object rolls out onto the ground. Without changing position, Olaf reaches for the object and examines it. It is cylindrical, about three centimeters in diameter and ten centimeters long. One end of the cylinder is cut in at seventy-five degrees while the other is at a right angle. It is heavy for its size considering the low gravity and this is somewhat fascinating to Olaf as he hefts it in one hand and then the other. After several moments, he slides it into his pocket and looks over his shoulder toward Timothy.

Timothy has his back to Olaf and is making a jagged cut through one of the last launching mechanism supports. Olaf decides to continue ignoring him and gets back to his task at hand. He is relieved when the lunch buzzer sounds.

♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

Olaf walks into the cafeteria and goes through the motions of picking out his lunch for the shift.  Food selected, he starts into the eating area.  It is a windowless room about the size of a small gymnasium.  No one really pays much attention to the large photographs of Earth scenery that cover the walls, least of all Olaf. The idea behind the decorating motif is to improve employee morale and mental health by having them look at scenes from home, albeit few had ever been there. Olaf sees Frank sitting at a table with a couple of the other guys.  The look on his face betrays obvious disdain for the other guys, but considering that Frank is his best friend, he decides to sit with them.  As he approaches, he hears one of them mention the Jupiter Opposition.

He sits down and says, “I almost forgot that the Opposition was coming up.  My old battle ax at home’s got some big party dreamed up that she wants to throw.”  He ignores the eye-roll of the man to Frank’s left and continues.  “The old lady and I went to one of these Jupiter Opposition parties at a neighbor’s when we first moved here from Earth and she’s been waiting to surpass it ever since.”  Olaf shakes his head and starts picking at his food.  “I’ve never understood what the big deal is anyway,” he says between bites.  “I mean, who cares.”

“It is a big deal,” the man to Frank’s right says, pointing at him with a green grape between his fingers.  He pops it in his mouth.  “Have you seen the sky recently?”

Olaf exudes an air of boredom.  “Yeah, I’ve seen it.  So what, Jupiter doesn’t look even half as big as the moon looks when you’re on earth.”

The man dismisses Olaf’s comment with the wave of a hand.  “It’s actually about a quarter the size, but you’ve already made my point.  When you look at it, you think of the moon on Earth.  We go years and years between oppositions; when it does happen, folks get excited.  The human psyche is used to seeing a moon in the sky and out here Jupiter’s the closest thing we got. ”

“‘The human psyche is used to seeing the moon,'” Olaf says mockingly.  “What are you, some kind of psychologist?  It’s just a whole lot of psychobabble if you ask me.  All it is is just an excuse to throw a big party.  Besides isn’t it always up there?  So what if it’s at its closest on the opposition,” he says dismissively.

“Actually it isn’t always visible.”  He takes Frank’s apple and sets it in front of him on the table.  “Let’s say the apple is the sun.”  He then takes a couple of his grapes and places one about ten and the other twenty centimeters from the apple.  “And this is Jupiter and Ceres.”  Olaf rolls his eyes and continues munching on his lunch.  The man continues.  “Now, Ceres orbits the sun a little faster than Jupiter does.  So after the opposition, Ceres continues on its way around the sun gaining more and more distance from Jupiter until it disappears behind the sun.”  He moves the fruit to demonstrate the motion of the planets.  “When Ceres completes its revolution, where is Jupiter?  It’s over here.  It’s been moving this whole time and now Ceres has to play catch up.”

Olaf chuckles, picks Jupiter up and pops it in his mouth.  “Where’s Jupiter now?”  He looks at Frank with half a grin on his face.  “I got it wrong, he’s no shrink, he’s a freaking astronomer.  What’s he going to be next, a surgeon?  Hey, you want me to lie down on the table and you can perform open-heart surgery on me?”  Olaf laughs so loud that other people in the cafeteria start looking at him.  He barely notices Frank’s two companions gathering their trays and leaving the table with reddening faces.  He finally gets a grip on himself and asks Frank in a loud voice, “Where did you come up with those guys.  Ho-boy.  What a riot.”

Frank picks up the apple from the table and sets it back on his tray.  “Uh, I better go find Jonson’s boy.  I’ll see you around.”  Frank stands up and hurries to the bin where he dumps his tray and then exits the room.

Olaf shakes his head and chuckles to himself again. “Human psyche,” he says.

♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

The workday is over and Olaf finds himself tethered to the moving walkway headed back toward the ped complex and his home.  He absent-mindedly fingers the object in his pocket, oblivious to everything else around him.  He had slyly transferred the item from the pocket of his anti-c’s to his parka pocket back at his locker.  He seems to be weighing the object in his hand and in his mind.   At the ped complex he untethers himself and starts toward the apartment.  He is in quite a hurry and manages to bump into someone along the way.  “Hey, watch it!” he yells as the other man is sent sprawling in slow motion to the pavement.  “Some people need to watch where they’re going.”

“Kendra!”  he bellows after walking through the door.  We waits, but there is no answer.  He calls a couple more times before he gives up.  He shrugs and heads into the kitchen where he draws the object from his pocket.  He hesitates slightly.  It’s as if he just now realizes that he broke the rules by bringing the item home from work.  He shrugs again and pulls it all the way out, examining it.

He marvels at the weight of it and examines it closely. He sees intricate detail he hadn’t noticed when he had looked at it at work. Small symbols are etched into the side of it that make him think of jumbled golf tees. The tool markings on the object suddenly give him the feeling that this item is very old and did not originate on the Pytheas. He finds himself in a thousand yard stare, his eyes striving to penetrate the roof of his house and the shell of Piazzi city. His hand relaxes and the object falls from his grasp as he realizes that it must have come from beyond the solar system. The low gravity enables him to catch it right as it hits the countertop.

A wave of dizziness passes over him and he reaches for the counter to catch himself. The object starts to feel slightly warm to his touch, but this sensation is overshadowed by his feeling of vertigo. He brings his free hand up to rub his eyebrows and becomes startled. Unsure of what startled him, he knits his brow in confusion. He holds his hand in front of him and realizes that he cannot see it. Further examination reveals that he cannot see any of himself.

Object still in hand, Olaf makes his way into the washroom and finds an empty mirror facing him. He becomes genuinely frightened and drops the object into the sink. Instantly, he sees himself in the mirror, eyes wide and mouth agape. He looks into the sink and sees the object lying there. A small smile gnaws at his lips as he picks it up and glances at the mirror again. He sees his own smile dissolve to a frown and then stares at the object in his hand. He turns it over and over again in his hand looking for the “on” switch until an idea strikes him. It seemed to have activated itself when he dropped it on the counter. He taps it gently on the sink counter and gazes up at a once again empty mirror. The dizziness this time is overshadowed by elation over his discovery. He hurries to the front door.

As he reaches for the latch, he hears voices on the other side of the door and hesitates. Olaf steps back as the door swings open and Kendra enters. She is talking to a neighbor who is lingering on the door step. “I’m really looking forward to it,” she says to the woman. Kendra turns her head and calls sweetly, “Olaf?”

Olaf is about to answer when he realizes that he has no idea what he would say. Kendra turns back to her guest, “He’s usually home by now, I wonder if he got held up at work.” Olaf’s eyebrows go up and immediately becomes interested in where the conversation is going to go. He feels torn between the guilt of eavesdropping and the exhilaration of getting away with it.

“It’s sweet that you’re worried about him,” the woman at the door says in a somewhat sarcastic way. Olaf looks at her, confounded. “I don’t know how you do it, Kendra. He is such a difficult man.” Olaf’s jaw drops and turns his attention back to his wife, curious as to how she is going to defend him.

“Tell me about it. You know they say men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but sometimes I wonder if he’s on Pluto the way he ignores me.” Both women laugh and Olaf sets his jaw.

“That sounds so much like my Henry. I try to have a serious conversation with him and he only responds with grunts. Then, the first chance he gets, he changes the subject to sports or something else moronic.”

Olaf’s face grows redder as Kendra responds. “Well, that’s a man for you.” They laugh some more. “Well, I’ll see you at the Opposition party, Sarah. I need to get dinner started before the ogre gets home. I don’t need him any more grumpy than he already is.”

“Well, good luck with that. I’ll see you at the party.”

Kendra shuts the door and goes into the kitchen. Olaf clenches his fists until they turn white around the object in his left hand. His frustration escapes his lips in a low “errrrrr” sound.

He hears Kendra call from the kitchen, “Olaf? Is that you? I didn’t hear you come in.”

Struggling to compose himself, Olaf responds. “Yeah, it’s me. I’ll be in there in a moment.” He takes several deep breaths and tries to relax himself. The color begins to go down in his cheeks as he unclenches his hands. He catches something out of the corner of his eye and turns quickly to see what it is. Not seeing anything, he attributes it to his highly sensitive state. He stares down toward the artifact in his hand before remembering that he cannot see it in his invisible state. Tapping it on the wall next to him deactivates it, but despite its becoming visible again, he only glances at it before he shoves it in his pocket and starts toward the kitchen. His jaw is still set.

“Glad you could make it,” she says without turning around to look at him. “We only have a few days before the Opposition, so we have a lot to get ready. I went ahead and invited Frank and his wife over for you. I don’t know why we don’t have them over more often, I hardly know, eh, what was Frank’s wife’s name again?”

“Mandy,” Olaf responds evenly.

Kendra continues as though she hadn’t hear him. “Anyway. I thought Frank was your best friend, but you never invite him over. Oh, that reminds me, Do you remember the Alstotts? They were the ones that had invited us over to the last Opposition party. Well, I ran into her at the grocery store and do you know what she had the nerve to tell me when I invited her family over for the party? She told me that she already had plans with the Jonson’s! Of course she sincerely apologized, but you know what, I bet she just can’t handle the competition. I know what it is, she heard about the caterer I hired and it’s driving her crazy. Do you remember that party? She had only one hors d’oeuvre and it was that awful pecan thing . . .”

Olaf could feel himself toning her out and decides to get involved in the conversation. He wants to disprove her earlier condemning remark. “I met the Jonson boy today,” he snaps. He marvels at the curtness with which his statement comes out as she stops talking immediately and turns to face him. She regards him with surprise and then coolness as she returns to her task. Olaf finds himself at a loss on how to continue as the moment stretches on in silence.

“Uh, he’s starting his apprenticeship at the station. He’s on my crew.” He nods his head as if to punctuate his last statement.

“That’s wonderful, Olaf,” she says absently before stopping to fully consider his remark. “Hey,” she says, turning to face him again. “Maybe you could talk to the Jonson boy . . . “ She shakes her head and purses her lips. “Never mind, I don’t want to put you out.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Olaf narrows his eyes at her.

Kendra waves her hand as if she is swatting away his irritation. “Forget it, the Alstotts and Jonsons would just ruin a perfectly good party anyway.”

“Oh.” He wants to be angry, but the weight of the object in his pocket is starting to distract him from the conversation. “I’m going to take a walk. I need to sort through a few things.” She gives a questioning look that compels him to elaborate. “It’s work stuff.”

“Alright, but dinner will be ready in an hour.” She dismisses him with a wave of the hand and returns to her task.

Olaf taps the object against the wall on the way out the door. He attempts to consider the possibilities of his newly obtained power, but finds himself lacking imagination. The world seems different from his new point of view. He is like a witness to the reality surrounding him but no longer a participant. However unattached he had felt to the world previous to this point is overshadowed by a feeling of being completely cut loose from the bounds of his life. Piazzi is not a large settlement; Olaf knows most people at least as an acquaintances. But now as Olaf walks toward the ped complex, the people he sees have taken on an almost foreign demeanor. There is a difference between being actively ignored and not being seen that was never as clear to Olaf as it is now.

He eventually finds himself at the ped complex which is relatively empty at this time of watch. The complex is surrounded with a park area with a few heated planters and some gaudy sculptures. In the park area, Olaf sees a little boy with his mother. The mother is standing with a group of other women while the boy appears to be looking for something. He watches the boy for a moment, and then scans the park for the presumed missing toy. Olaf spots a red ball behind one of the sculptures and goes to it. The boy has his attention elsewhere as Olaf nudges the ball into the open. He taps it with his toe, sending it in a high arc toward the boy. Olaf cringes when the ball connects with the boys head. The boy is startled and looks about him as if trying to determine where the ball originated from. Olaf looks guilty at first and then remembers that the boy cannot see him.

The idea dawning on Olaf’s mind radiates as pure mischief from his grinning face. He looks eagerly about for his next victim but is disappointed by the sparseness of people. The mall is a perfect place to find people to prank, he decides. Attaching his tether to the moving walkway that connects to the mall, he sets off. He starts amusing himself by blowing or whistling in the ears of people headed in the opposite direction. Then he takes it to the next level by knocking off people’s caps or tugging on their purses. Their reactions of annoyance are pleasing to him on some level, yet he bores quickly.

Upon arriving at the shopping plaza, Olaf looks for a target. A young man is looking into a shop window. He is dressed in a rather ragged fashion as is the style with youth in Piazzi. A shorter, middle aged, rather stocky man is standing about two meters behind the young man with his attention on something across the avenue. Olaf walks up to the second man and shoves him hard enough so that he falls to the ground. The man looks up and sees the younger fellow walking away.

“Hey! What’s that all about, punk?!” he yells as he gets to his feet.

The younger man ignores him until he feels the older man’s hand on his shoulder. Olaf, at this point, is having trouble controlling his laughter at the situation. The young man turns toward him, but before he can say anything he gets punched in the face. The blow sends him sprawling several meters away. Olaf stops laughing as it turns into a full on brawl. Suddenly it isn’t funny any more and he decides to leave.

Tethered to the moving walkway and on his way back to the ped complex, he has the sensation that someone is watching him. He turns to look behind him several times, but the only eyes he sees are looking straight through him. Someone knows what he’s done. Walking back to his home, he has a distinct feeling that someone is following him. It is almost dusk and the shadows seem deeper than he ever remembered them. His heart rate increases and he begins to hurry, but the low Ceres gravity hinders his retreat. Then he spots something terrifying to him. His instinct is to let go of the artifact, but his hand doesn’t seem to want to let go. White knuckles grip it with increasing fear as he begins leaping in an attempt to go faster. This uncoordinated method of travel is too much for his bearings and he falls. When the artifact hits the ground, Olaf feels the fear slough off of him and he lets go of the object. Apart from some mild vertigo, he feels close to normal again.

He picks up the artifact and shoves it in his pocket for the remainder of his walk home.

♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

Although he doesn’t move it from its hiding spot for the next several days, thoughts of it constantly bombard him. He feels exposed, like everyone is watching his every move. He tells himself that it is just his imagination, that people are ignoring him on purpose just as they always had. But then he thinks of the artifact. With the artifact, no one could see him. No one could watch him. He could be free of their prying eyes and judging minds. It would make it so he could go back to the way he was before, the anonymous nobody that could easily be ignored. Every laugh, every hushed conversation would no longer be about him.

As he heads home from work he realizes that the opposition party is tonight and the thought of all those people in his house makes him shiver. Kendra is waiting for him with a list of things to do to get ready for the party. She sees his hesitation in taking the list. “Don’t act like this party is a surprise, I’ve been talking to you about it all week.” He ignores her stern comment and takes the list meekly. “What’s gotten into you lately, Olaf? You’ve been moping around the house all week.”

“It’s just a work thing, nothing for you to worry about.” He goes about his chores, trying to clear his thoughts of the artifact and telling himself that the party will be fine. These people are supposed to be his friends, but he knows it isn’t true. His only real friend is Frank and the thought that Frank is coming to the party relaxes him a bit.

The guests arrive one after the other and Olaf attempts to go through the motions of being a friendly host, but he is not successful. He falls back on his instincts. “Well, if it isn’t Sarah and Henry. Nice of you folks to drop by. Hide the Booze! The McKinley’s are here!”

“I haven’t had a drink for two years now, you know that Olaf,” Henry says with his jaw set.

“Hey, don’t get testy, I’m sure your wife will drink enough for the both of you,” Olaf says.

“Typical,” Sarah snipes as she leads her husband into the house.

“We’ll talk sports later!” Olaf calls after them. Another knock on the door takes his attention off the retreating couple. He opens it to find Frank standing there with his wife. “Frank, so good to see you could make it. This party was starting to get dull.”

Frank gives him a short smile. “Hey Olaf, this is my wife Mandy.”

“So this is Mandy. Quite a looker you got there, pal,” Olaf says eliciting a blush.

“Uh, we can’t stay too long,” Frank interjects. “We’re going over to the Jonson’s later. Timothy invited us.”

Olaf feels as if a cold hand has closed around his heart. “So you and Timmy have gotten pretty tight. I see how it is,” he manages with his smile frozen to his face. “Oh well, the night’s young. You’ll have plenty of time to indulge your apprentice after . . . ”

“Actually, we really ought to get going. We just wanted to stop by to thank Kendra for inviting us over.”

“Ok, why don’t you step in for a moment and I’ll go get her.” Olaf numbly walks toward the kitchen. He can feel someone, a presence, staring at him and his nerves fray. A panic sets into his chest as he is certain that everyone in the room can hear his heart pounding. Looking wildly about, he is convinced that even the shadows have eyes and that everyone, everything is looking at him, boring through him with spiteful stares.

He takes a detour down the hall to his room. The artifact is calling to him. It beckons him with promises of escape. It’s the only way for him to hide from them. He pulls it from the back of his drawer and his hand locks around it. He activates it and feels a wave of nausea roll over him. The lighting in the room seems to take on a different hue as if his surroundings are oversaturated with light.

He stumbles back out into the sea of strangers in his front room. Frank is still standing by the door talking quietly with his wife. The other guests, all seemingly at ease, are talking with each other. He still feels as if he is being watched despite the fact that none of his guests can see him. The panic Olaf had hoped to assuage with the artifact, has not lessened. He walks cautiously toward Frank, careful at first not to bump anyone and give away his presence. The snippets of conversation that he catches as he passes through the crowd bite at him. There are unflattering stories with him as the punchline floating about against a backdrop of knowing laughter. Olaf pauses as the buffeting of truth overpowers him with waves of awareness. Although unseen, he feels completely exposed as he realizes that they are all right about him. He is a horribly insecure man, hiding his perceived inferiority behind a wall of disdain for others.

His eyes seemingly lock with Frank’s across the room, but it is an illusion. Frank is apparently scanning the room for him. Olaf’s heart sinks as the realization of his callousness moves to envelope his relationship with his friend. He redoubles his efforts to reach Frank, brushing startled guests in his haste. There is so much to say, so much recompense that needs to be made that he abandons his trifling modality of studied distance from people in order to get to the one true friend he has.

But before he can get there, Frank and Mandy are slipping out the door. The object has increased in temperature; he stares as it becomes visible in his hand. He attempts to let go of it, but his fingers won’t release. An icy chill, colder than a midshift Ceres night, creeps down his spine and he looks up. He sees me. My alien visage repulses him, but he cannot take his eyes away. His mouth drops in horror as he sees the entity that had been stalking him clearly for the first time. He screams but it is too late. No one can hear him; the subject of my study has crossed over into my dimension just as the crew of the Pytheas had so many years ago.

The artifact has at last unlocked the door to this solar system.

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2 responses

8 06 2010
David

Wow, this is awesome. Quite the little twist at the end.

9 06 2010
Mary W.

I love it! Kind of like Frodo in space. 🙂

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