When the alarm went off, the soft music and chirping birds growing louder and louder, Audrey already knew that it was far, far too late.
When the young woman appeared, garbed in robes of green and a wide belt of scarlet, the two treasure-seekers understood at once that she was the temple guardian. And they did not hesitate to approach her.
“Greetings, travelers,” the temple guardian said. “Give me your names.”
The two treasure-seekers gave her their names freely.
She did not return their offer of names, nor did she return their smiles.
“Turn back, travelers,” the temple guardian said, her voice calm and measured. “Go no further than the spot where I now stand.”
The Shifting Night Anomaly was so called at first because its margins seemed to change every so often, making it difficult, if not impossible, to map. We had sent probe after probe inside for three generations. Out of the near thousand probes that were deployed, only forty-seven were recovered. The more we learned about the anomaly, the more we realized how fitting the name was. There were no systems and no stars within, only remnants of dead worlds. Only strange and exotic gases. Only nebulas haunted by the ghosts of stars that flickered and faded before they could burst into life.
“So you…want to go into stasis, sir?”
“For seven to eight hours a night, yes,” I said, nodding to the only person I trusted to help me carry out my latest endeavor.
“But the technology doesn’t work that way,” Leeke said. “No one has yet managed to develop a program this sophisticated that wouldn’t require continuous stasis for at least several months, probably more. At least, not with the information that the agency has released so far. Sir, at best, I fear it would be a waste of your time.”
“Me for? For…me…only? No, not. For all.”
Quin peered at the man who was her mentor, her friend, and now, her charge. It was late, and they were both tired. But she believed that she understood what he was trying to say, as he took in the flurry of effort that was being directed toward the singular aim of helping him.
Just me? he was saying. What about everyone else?
She had learned to listen to more than just his words in the five years that she had been studying with him, or rather, he had taught her to listen to more than just his—or anyone else’s—words.
“By accepting this challenge when you are so obviously unready for it, you are jeopardizing the peace meal—“
“No, you’re jeopardizing the peace meal,” Jae said, as she took a step toward her challenger. “By your obvious poor example of what peace means. There is no graciousness or humility in your demeanor. There is no generosity or compromise in your attitude toward those who have been chosen—or even those who did the choosing. By questioning me, you are questioning, doubting, and disrespecting those who chose me.”
I noticed the magician when he slipped in behind the last person to enter the golden-walled elevator, and I sucked in a breath. I held it, half-subconsciously, as if it would make me invisible to him. It did not. I started feeling thudding of my heart as soon as he started turning to people, one at a time, handing them scraps of paper, touching their hands. I exhaled when he turned to me and handed me a scrap of paper too. He grinned and told me what I was supposed to do the next time he called upon me.
When he turned away, my gaze began to dart around the tiny box in which we were all trapped, looking for a way, any way, out. I glanced up. I glanced at the large tall man whom I could easily hide behind, if he weren’t so far away. I saw no way out, and so I took a deep breath and braced myself for when the magician’s attention would once again return to me.
“I hope they paid you double the salary for working on both shows,” I said.
Cal chuckled. “Well…” He trailed off with a wave of his hand. “A shame about the fire. They were pretty good those episodes, as I recall. But since we only showed them once a year, we didn’t keep them in the same place we kept the other reels.”
The Contest Chevelure was a time-honored competition held in a modest town in the middle of a modest country. It was a contest to see who could have the most extravagant and beautiful head of hair. Only, there was one notable detail. None of the people in the town had any hair on their heads.
Andrew saw it first. About a month into our six-month rotation maintaining the company’s Arctic monitoring station. He was doing weekly maintenance on all the pumps on the north side when he thought he saw some motion. At first, he thought he’d just imagined something.