“I Want Money…”

Lower-Manhattan-pre-9-11

Carmen de la Rosa Sanger Peters Anapopolis Rahim Martin Johnson Ross so-on-and-so-forth, etcetera, etcetera Weinstein had finally laid to rest poor, dear Leonard Weinstein, the former and now late CEO of the financial services of Weinstein, Sheckelman (husband number 9) and Johnson (number 6) in Greenwood and was on her way to the law offices of Ross (number 7, divorced him back ‘83), Jorgensen (number 8 for 6 months a year later) and Haims (he’s gay) to hear the will. Not that there were going to be any surprise, she already knew (with the help of an ex-husband whom she promised as a client her next victim) that all 90 million dollars in net worth, not including the stocks in some dynamic portfolios, were incontestably hers.

“And rightly so considering how hard I worked on this one,” she thought as she drove her silver-gray Porsche 911 down the road and into the tunnel. “I thought I was going to have to divorce this one before he croaked. Thank God, for the hidden dangers of prostate cancer and the over-inflated male pride.”

At 56, and the best looking 56 money can buy, Carmen was not getting any younger and found that staying that way was getting harder no matter how much money it took for upkeep. The way she saw it, she probably had enough time for 2 or 3 more husbands (if they all lived) maybe even a 4th (if any one of them didn’t). One good lucky strike that could knock the ball out of Yankee stadium would shorten that number to one or two if it became necessary. But, as she gave it another thought, that wouldn’t make it anywhere near as fun and enjoyable. The thrill of catching them, after all, is what helped make the time go by every time she found one of these lonely, pathetic and rich morons to marry. Yes, she’s been everywhere that’s anywhere several times over and even owns some of them. She has plenty of toys, both the material and the living kind, and could always get new ones of either kind whenever she got bored. Friends? As many as money can buy.

“Fuck friends!” she answered that thought as it came up, “Actually, that is the only kind of a good friend, a ‘fuck friend’, ha ha ha.” She laughs aloud at her own joke as she was still trying to make her way down lower Manhattan and into the Wall Street district. “The sooner I get there, the sooner I can get out of this black shit and on a plane for Sidney.” Australia was going to be her next stop. Seemed to her that she ran into a couple of promising prospects while visiting there last Summer. “A rugged Aussie type- that’ll be exciting. Hell, I may even fall in love! Love, ha-ha-ha-ha, you’re a real crack-up today, Carmen.”

She finally arrived at the buildings where the offices were located and had the valet parked her car. Alone in the elevator, she noticed that it was only 8:40 in the morning and thought over possibly having breakfast at the “Windows” restaurant. She decided against it thinking better to grab a bite later. Carmen had noticed how beautifully clear the September sky was today and tried to remember if Spring was coming to the ‘down-under’ at this time. She didn’t care. All she knew was that by this time tomorrow, on the twelfth, she was going to be basking on some sunny beach, sipping her drink, and feeling the warmth of the South Pacific wind in her face. She checked her make-up before saying to herself, “In an hour I’ll be done here at the Twin Towers and on my way to JFK. With any luck, I’ll be a new bride by New Years of ‘02.”

At 8:46, the elevator stopped and the lights went out.

-A. M. Holmes

In the Dark of the Matinee

via Daily Prompt: Disrupt

Roy woke up blearily around noon. At least it’s in my own bed, he thought to himself with some relief. There have been mornings after a long night when he would wake up in an unfamiliar in a house/apartment/hotel room with some chick he had hooked up with the night before. There would be that awkward moment for her when she wasn’t sure what to say to get him to leave not knowing nothing needed to be said. He got, they both got what they wanted and there was no point lingering. Which, reminded him, is she still …?

He got out of bed not bothering to put anything on (“it’s my apartment, dammit.”) and started walking around exploring starting with the bathroom. Seeing no one there he went over to raise the lid to the toilet and began to relieve himself (“ah, that’s good.”). When he finished he turned and walk out into the hallway slowly meandering into the large living room-kitchen that made up the rest of his studio picking up a packet of cigarettes and lighter front a small table in one leisurely pass. He stopped behind the couch in the middle of the room, took a cigarette out with his lips, lit it and survey the scene.

There were the most drank wine bottle and the two empty glasses on the coffee table (“check”). His dark pants (“check”), a dark shirt, his, (“check”), his t-shirt (“check”), his underwear (“check”), his tie…(“-Oh, yeah, last night”) was not there, but that wasn’t troubling (“check”) and …no girl (“what-ever-her-name-was”). He cleared his throat with approval and put out the cigarette in the ashtray on the coffee table. Circling around he picked his clothes and started to put them on. He looked suspiciously around the room feeling like at any moment “what-ever-her-name-was” would pop out of somewhere and take him by surprise. When she didn’t Roy was finally convinced that she indeed had left. Then it hit him. His phone! He stopped without his pants on and start looking for it.

It was not under the coffee table, the couch, the lounge chair, the cushions. He knew it wasn’t in the bedroom because he didn’t want any interruptions. Maybe? He walked to the counter that separates the kitchen area from the living room and there, sitting so benignly was his phone “Did I leave it there? I had to have?”). He picked it up and looked at the screen. No calls and one text and he recognized the text. It wasn’t from her (“Now I’m beginning to resent this.”) but it was important enough. It was a job.

“There’s a good Charles Bronson marathon at the Civic”  

Roy smiled. This was going to be a good payoff.

Roy was a specialist. If someone wanted a person knocked off and was willing to pay it was his job to make it happen. He got the jobs through text from an unknown phone with instructions to go particular spots in town, like the Civic Theater, where he would find a manilla envelope with the details, money, and picture. How he did it was left entirely to him just so that it was done within the time allotted. His favorite was this long-distance sniper, a bit more difficult to set up and a bit stressful because the timing was everything, but the effect was spectacular. It gave him the chance to play with his Mk 12 and watching through the scope at his target always gave him a thrill. He felt like God. One squeeze and in almost an instant you see the target jolt, blood beginning to spurt out, they fall down with that dumb expression of confusion on his face and those around him. The best ones were the headshots. Bone, blood, and brain flying all over spraying bits and pieces to the surrounding crowd. Yeah, like God! But, that didn’t mean he’d avoid the simple hit. His most common was the casual walk up with his Smith & Wesson and silencer, one quick pop, and the job is done. Yeah, they lack finesse but they paid the bills.

“The Civic?”, he thought to himself, “at least I wouldn’t have to go far.”

The Civic Theater was only a few blocks from his studio apartment and down by the university. It was a popular hangout for the “college artsy types” he disliked so much but being still early enough, most don’t come out until late, the place will be empty.

He put the phone down, went to the frig for V-8 (“No time for a kale and carrot.”) and headed back to his bedroom. After a shave, shower, and a change of clothes he made his way to the matinee on foot (“Blue sky, birds singing, and a job to do. It’s a gorgeous day!”).

In fifteen minutes he was at the ticket window and bought his pass (“Yeah, big Bronson fan. What? ‘The Mechanic’ is playing now? Love that Bishop guy.”).  As always he walked four rows from the right door and sat eight seats from the aisle. The movie was about an aging hitman, Bronson befriending a young man, Jan-Michael Vincent, who wants to be a professional killer. Later in the movie, Bronson suspects that someone has betrayed him. Roy wishes he could sit and watch it because of it really one of his favorites. It was this movie that inspired him to go into specializing in his craft after his tour in Afganistan but business came first. He reaches down under the seat and found the envelope he was sure would be there. Just then, with that sudden move, he felt the inner rumblings of something not waiting its time to exit. Roy stood and with an envelope in hand, he made for the men’s restroom.

He had made it just in time to the second stall for after pulling down his pants and sat it felt as if his entire internal organs were evacuating his body. Someone walked in and conscious of his own reek he gave a courtesy flush. He then bends forward to pick up the manilla enveloped from where he had dropped it in his rush. To Roy, it seemed unaccustomedly light, as if it only had a sheet of paper in it and nothing more. He opened it and sure enough, that’s what was in it, a folded over sheet of paper. He took it out, opened it up, and there, in words written with a marker were the words,

Sorry

The door to the stall was suddenly kicked open. The message on the sheet had disrupted his concentration and he had forgotten about the person who had walked into the restroom. There, in front of him, holding a very nasty 9 mm was “what-ever-her-name-was”. Staring directly at him, she gave a little shrug before squeezing two slugs into his brain.

-A. M. Holmes

“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…”

1

Author note: Some beginnings just start badly.

“It was a dark and stormy night…”, so began Niles Steinberger’s latest literary effort making it the fifty-eighth time he produced a piece to submit for publication that would most likely end up becoming his fifty-eighth rejection. This, along with the one hundred and sixteen short stories he had submitted to various periodicals, all returned, and the twenty-two thousand posted blogs he had on eighteen different online writer’s groups, none commented on, made Niles the unrecognized most prolific literary failure of all times. It wasn’t that his writing was bad, it was that he wrote badly. None of this, though, discouraged Niles from continuing to pen unexceptional prose. He was like the ant who was stuck at the bottom of a deep cup going around in circles and not realizing he wasn’t getting anywhere. Surprisingly, he was optimistic that someday he would produce a winner, a story that will resonate with readers and finally give him his first break.

Niles imagined himself doing massive book signings and guest appearances on popular talk shows. He had even gone so far as to practice imaginary interviews with his cat, Mister Muggles, playing the part of the host. In Niles’ dreams, the host would encourage their ongoing banter as the audience laughed at his lame jokes. He fantasized about his likeness not only featured in literary magazines but in popular publications like The New Yorker, Variety, the New York Times Sunday edition, and the cover of Entertainment Weekly. He envisioned the movies deals, the script consultations (he would write those too!), the film versions of his stories, and maybe even an Oscar for best picture, screenwriting, and book adaptation. He knew he would become famous AND RICH! All he had to do was to do something with those seven little words on his computer monitor. Unfortunately, the difficult part for Niles wasn’t that he didn’t know where to go beyond those seven words. His problem was that he just could not express it in a way that was… interesting.

Writing “uninterestingly” didn’t fully described his shortcomings. Nor did “unimaginatively” or “incoherently”. One way to describe the effect of Niles’ work would be that if given the choice between listening to a reading of one of his masterpieces of mediocrity or be waterboarded one would be inclined to choose the latter as the least painful method of torture. Another way to put it would be that if there was such a thing as intelligent design and God knew of Niles beforehand, He would have scrapped the entire idea of Creation, gone home, write a letter on why He had given up, entirely blaming Niles, of course, take out the .45 caliber He had hidden in a shoebox on the top shelf of His bedroom closet, and then proceed to blow His Divine Brains away. For example, “Fatima’s Fabulous Fancy- A Taliban Tale”, one of Niles’ most infamously tasteless and obnoxious submissions, would have been enough to justify the call for a jihad on Western civilization.

Yes, he was that bad.

“It was a dark and stormy night…”, he read it again to himself contemplating on what to say next. Finally, feeling an idea stirring in his mind he typed, “and the rain made a sound on the roof like the beat of a crazed heroin-addicted negro jazz drummer.” He stared at his computer monitor for a minute feeling quite satisfied with himself. He wasn’t sure what a “crazed heroin-addicted negro jazz drummer” sounded like but he was quite sure it probably sounded like rain falling on a roof. He leaned back on the wooden chair to stretch his legs and looked around the cluttered living room of his small home for more inspiration.

He once heard that Ray Bradbury had drawn inspiration for his stories in this manner so he tried to do the same. Scattered among the trash and stacks of magazines were pulp novels written by his favorite author and literary mentor Lance Kilright. The pulp novels had titles like ‘A Grape in the Shade’, ‘Of Moses and Hombres’, and, Niles’ personal favorite, ‘The Wasp Queen of Neptune’. ‘The Wasp Queen of Neptune’ was dear to him because it had the what he thought made a great story, adventure and sex. That the story lacked a coherent plot, was a grammatical nightmare, and plagued with many misspelled words didn’t trouble him at all because Niles believed it was just Kilright’s distinctive style. Most of Kilright’s critics had concluded that the book must have been written by a twelve-year-old, mentally retarded child. The rest never got past the acknowledgments.

Before his untimely death from a virulent venereal infection (he was in Thailand doing research for his next book, ‘The Yellow Slave Girl of Neptune’), Kilright had managed to publish 26 “Neptune” novels at a rate of three a year. His last novel, ‘The Yellow Slave Girl of Neptune’, was rushed into publication by Kilright’s publisher, Amalgamated Ace, so soon after his death that it wasn’t until the first, and only, edition that it was realized it was unfinished. ‘The Yellow Slave Girl of Neptune’ has the double distinction of being the only novel ever written to abruptly end in the middle of the story, as well as, going from “New Book” to “50% discount” to “Free Used Book” status in just under twenty-four hours.

The rest of the room was littered with empty food boxes, old yellow newspapers, and odd and ends of miscellaneous useless or broken objects stacked precariously on top of each other like a trash version of the stone formations found in the southwestern United States. It was the general flotsam of a lazy and disorganized mind and nothing there offered much inspiration. There was also an ashtray placed in a strategically by his mouse. It was filled with cigarette butts packed so closely it resembled a nicotine artichoke.

Niles didn’t really like smoking. He had heard that Lance Kilright was a connoisseur of cheap tobacco and wanted to emulate his hero. Kilright was also a heavy drinker, but anything stronger then soda-pop made Niles queasy. Niles suspected that even if Lance Kilright had been a bit more careful with his sexual escapades he would have eventually succumbed to lung cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. Stumped at not finding anything interesting he reached for his copy of ‘The Little Blue Book for Writers’.

Although it was blue, the reference book was neither little nor actually very helpful in writing. Anyone who hopelessly tried to decipher its 4224 pages of complicated cross references would soon be driven mad by the poor editing and the many typos. Even if you could understand how to navigate the complex key system it still wouldn’t help because it was not written in grammatically correct English. This was because it’s publishing house, Amalgamated Ace, used non-English speaking Malaysian editors in its publications. After one attempt, most of its users either would utilize it as a doorstop or a paperweight. Niles used it frequently for Kilright had endorsed it. Kilright was also a co-editor of the book and he frequently used it as a doorstop. Most of the time Niles couldn’t understand the intricate way the book was put together so he would open it to a random page and start reading.

This time he opened it to page 1153. It said, “write something of you familiar with.” Niles thought about it and even though he was familiar with a lot of things none of them were particularly interesting. He tried again, this time a bit closer to the end of the book on page 3212. “Right about something unexpected”. Niles pondered this. He wasn’t quite sure what this meant or how he could write about something unexpected he could be “right” about.

It was at this moment, right as he was developing one of those migraines he usually got whenever he used the massive tome, that he heard a knock on his front door. Startled out of his momentary state of torpor he got up from his chair and threaded his way through a path in the clutter. Another knock, a bit louder this time, shook the flimsy door. He opened the door and was greeted by two strangely dressed individuals on the other side. It had been raining heavily that night and the two short, gnome-like men dressed in what seemed like clown outfits were soaking wet. Despite their condition, both creatures bore the two biggest and most foolish grins that Niles had ever seen. His first thought was that they were lost Little People from a passing circus. Then he remembered that the circus hadn’t been through locally for several months.

There followed an awkward moment where the greeter and his guest weren’t sure what to say. Finally, the one on Niles’ right, in the red jacket with green ruffled shirt and yellow pantaloons said, “Greetings! Are we to assume that we are speaking to the owner of this humble, yet honorable home?”

“Ah… yes, yes you are,” answered Niles.

The two little men stared at each other and started to giggle like a pair of Catholic school girls.

The one on the left in the blue paisley blazer, pale green shirt and purple polka dotted pants then asked, “And may we also assume that you are the Niles Steinberger whose very house this is?”

“Ye-yes” answered Niles once again.

The two ridiculous creatures turned to each once more and giggled.

Niles, very confused over the whole thing then asked, “Um, okay, eh. So, who are you exactly and what do you want? If you’re here to sell something-”

“OH NO! Dear Sir, please, nothing of the kind,” said the one in the red jacket.

“No, really, we don’t mean to intrude, kind Sir,” said the other before continuing. “Let us introduce ourselves. My name is Toby Mackwire and this is my associate, Asher Kutchton and we represent the League of Terran Righters. LOTR for short.”

“WRITERS!”, said Niles with sudden surprise and enthusiasm. He supposed now that these two were part of some nearby convention, the kind he had heard about, a Something or Other-Con and that they had somehow heard of him. He remembered the blogs and postings and guessed that they must have read his stories. FANS! He thought. I have an online following! With a sudden renewed sense of excitement, he stepped aside and hurriedly invited his guest in from the cold rain. “Come in, come in!”

His two-diminutive guest entered still looking at Niles with their huge wide grins.

Once inside Niles embarrassingly looked at his messy living room and cleared a spot on a forlorn loveseat in a vain attempt to find a place in which to seat his guests. He decided to stack the papers and empty frozen meal boxes higher on a pile of trash that was already leaning too far to remain standing. For himself, Niles sat atop of where his coffee table had once had been. Something underneath let out a dying rasped sigh of relief as it settled. Once they all were seated there followed yet another awkward moment of silence.

Finally, the one who called himself Toby Mackwire broke the silence. “As I was saying, we are representatives of the LOTR and are here to address a long-neglected list of grievances concerning you.”

“Yes,” said the one called Asher Kutchton. “You see, it has come to our attention that your writing has had much influence in current events and that it’s time to attend to it properly.”

Could it be, Niles thought, that he was finally getting the recognition he was due?

“Wow,” said Niles, “I am truly surprised- honored that your League of…”

“Terran Righters.”

“…yes, writers, you believe I have that effect? Wow, I don’t know what to say.” He came up with an idea he thought was brilliant. “Maybe you can introduce me to your group? Can I give a little speech? Maybe an award can be presented?”

The two creatures looked at each other conspiratorially and giggled once more before the one called Asher pulled out what appeared to be a rather authentic looking and nasty alien pistol from the inside of his coat. He as pointing it at Niles.

“I don’t think you understand us, Mister Steinberger, we are not here to honor you. You see, we are from the future and here to kill you.”

Niles laughed nervously. Then he saw that they had stopped giggling and were dead serious.

Frightened, Niles jumped up and yelled, “THE FUTURE! TO KILL ME!”

“Yes, Mister Steinberger,” said Toby, “we are from the future and here to kill you.”

“But, but why?”

“You’re a danger and a menace,” said Asher. “You see, although you never published-”

“Never?”

“Never! Never published. But, enough of your works survived after the Great Holocaust of ‘63 that, after three hundred years had gone past, we were plagued with a rebellion insurgency inspired by your writings.”

“I’m an inspiration to a rebel movement?” Niles strangely heartened by the thought.

“It was their hatred of you that bound them together and inspired a two hundred years long bloody jihad …”

“Oh.”

“that plunged the entire human civilization into a thousand year long Dark Age …”

“Oh.”

“where billions died of war, famine, pestilence, and disease.”

“Oh.”

“So,” Toby continued, “we invented the time machine to go back and right that which had wronged us for, so long. We, League of Terran Righters, took an oath to remove this scourge from history and to end all the suffering before it begins!”

“I hope you understand it’s nothing personal,” added Asher.

Niles wasn’t sure what to make of all this.

“So, if you would please, Mister Steinberger,” said Asher as he still pointed his ugly gun at Niles, “stand over in that clear area by that bookcase and we can get this over.”

Niles got up not sure what else he could do. As he did so he accidentally bumped over a golf club that had been set into place to hold up a tall trash pile of dubious construction. What followed could only have been described as the most spectacular display of a chain reaction ever to be a witnessed. The tall pile of trash spilled over a pile of garbage which knocked over a stack of books that, in turn, spilled over on to a makeshift shelf of cinderblocks and planked wood which catapulted a jar full of golf balls across the room. One ball hit Asher square in the head and he fell along with his gun to the ground in front of a heavily jam-packed bookcase. Another ball hit Toby on the side of his head and he fell next to his partner. Yet another ball hit a stack of empty pizza boxes which once dislodged from their job of holding up several boxes of rejected manuscripts fell over in a crescendo of catastrophic proportion as it struck the heavy bookcase causing it to fall. When the dust finally cleared, Niles saw that the two diminutive men had been crushed to death.

When Niles finally recovered his senses his first thought was surprisingly not of panic. Instead, with the help of a shovel that he had kept around much like the golf club, he made a quick job of his two little problems. With the broken bodies buried safely in the garden, for he knew nobody in the present would miss them, he went to the kitchen to clean himself up and had a bite to eat out of a day-old, and rather dubious, Chinese food container.

He once again sat in front of his computer. This time, though, he had a clear idea of what he was going to write about. This time he knew what to say and how to express it. After all, he thought, didn’t ‘The Little Blue Help Book for Writers’ say, “Right about something unexpected”?

-A. M. Holmes

Artifact

the artifactAuthor: How do you prove that something is of extraterrestrial origin? How do you prove that it may not be a threat?

I was called from the Heiman Institute on Domain to investigate the finding of a possible alien artifact on Alpha Calypso 5. Normally I wouldn’t travel so far out for something that couldn’t be confirmed, but the message from Paul Ruder made me think that this might the real thing. I know, 250 light years is a long way to go for a maybe but, to finally find another, 23 confirmed so far, would make the two-month journey in the cramp quarters of a transport ship worthwhile.

The T1.1 planet was the fifth one from Alpha Calypso and had a moderately heavier gravity than Domain’s T.093 (or Earth’s T1) and orbited well within the Goldilocks range so it sustained an active atmosphere and liquid water. The planet was in the process of entering a post-glacial period, so it’s been given a G-5 geological rating for surface conditions. Liquid water meant indigenous life and although most were oceanic a few species of moss-like trees and insectoids accounted for most of the terrestrial lifeforms. The landscape, with its sparse tree, huddled mostly along the waterways, resemble something from Earth’s primordial times. Thus far nothing in the way of intelligent life has been detected so if the artifact proves to be of an artificial origin it’ll imply interstellar visitation.  

The Ageas assumed a geocentric orbit around AC5’s equator, just above the research camp, and I descended to the site on one of the supply shuttles. After a turbulent entry through the cloud deck, the slow descent under the heavy clouds gave me my first view of a plain surrounded by receding glaciers and rough moraines. On my left, which would be the planet’s geographical south, I could see snowcapped mountains telling me that the camp was situated on the northern edge of a valley that was 50 kilometers at its widest. Even from a hundred kilometers off you could see two features that immediately stood out. One was a large extrusion of probable volcanic origin and the other was a rectangular plateau that was the artifact itself.

The object that I was called to examine was massive. From the air, it rose up several meters while occupying a space about five kilometers in width and, maybe, 3 times in length occupying what looked like an area tens of thousands of cubic meters! The structure’s alabaster coloration contrasted with the surrounding sandy colored ground. The top surface, though flat, was studded with several scattered objects that later I was to find out were pylons several meters high. We landed a half kilometer from the site and I accompanied the crew in their wheeled land carrier.

 Climbing out of the carrier the first thing that struck me the was the temperate climate. It was overcast and it had just rain so that there was the smell of wet granite in the air. The oxygen level was surprisingly high enough that breathing was easy and carbon scrubbers were not required. I had read in the reports that the reason for this was because of the great abundance of phytoplankton in the oceans. This may explain what provided early water-bound creatures the means to evolve and exploit terrestrial niches. It felt like I was not only on the new planet but in a different time.

The first thing I did was to make my way to the great wall. I felt its lightly pitted surface with my bare hands. Up close you could see that it was milky white like quartz and where it was smooth it had the feel of liquid softness and warmth like that of glass. Coming close to it, touching it with my cheek, I then looked first south and then north along its length and into infinity. The top edge was 40 meters in height and from where I stood I marveled at the straightness of the line that separated the bleached flat surface from the gray tumultuous sky. Left to my moment of elation, I came to the belief that only gods could have created something this perfect and beautiful. So it surprised to find out I wasn’t alone.

“You know, Yoshi, the use of state property for personal use is a punishable offense carrying a term of no less than three years in a rehab institution.”

It was Yon Kimber, the site aid from Heiman and a friend I have known for past 10 years. Tall and lanky, he was jovial by nature and very intense when it came to his work. He was assigned to the survey as the team’s geologist and was very excited to hear that AC5 had glaciers. At first, finding a flat surface of granite in a wide valley didn’t mean much to him, that is until he realized that it had nothing in common with the surrounding geological strata. What really got him going was the fact that it was not made of anything that was natural at all. When he ordered its excavation four months ago they managed to clear only what I was able to see and there’s seems to be significantly more hidden underground. It became clear to Kimber that he was dealing with something artificial and convinced Field Director Nat Ibaria to contact the Institute and the Department of Exo-biology and Natural History.

 “My god, Yon, this is wonderful”, I said to him as I embarrassingly detached myself from the wall.

 “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

“What’s it made of?”

“Some kinda of molybdenum disulfide silicate crystal in a carbon graphene-iron alloy matrix with a few other earth metals thrown in for variety. It’s nothing like the surrounding granites, heck, it’s nothing like anything I’ve seen or read about.”

“And the surface, it’s smooth. It has no seams or lines. Don’t tell me it’s all one piece?”

“As far as we know it’s made of one solid block all uniform in composition with very little variance. The only disparities we’ve been able to find are cupric chloride nodules embedded randomly 20 meters beneath the surface.”

“Do you know what they are? What they do?”

“Hell, we don’t even know what IT is! And then there’s the age.”

“How old is it?”

“Well, let’s discuss this and a few other things at the campsite. Ibaria and the team want to meet you and you’re probably a bit hungry.”

“After looking at this I don’t think I can eat.”

“Professor Yoshu Ishimoto”, said the squat, bulldog face man that was Field Director Nat Ibaria of the Dominion Department of Planetary Exploration and field director the survey team, “of the Heiman Institute Exo-biology and Natural History, I presume?”

He sat at his desk looking up at me with a stern look on his face.

“Yes, Field Director”, I said as I held out my hand.

“Yes, well, around here we follow protocols one of which is that we report to the main camp upon arrival.” I let my unanswered hand drop down without comment.

“I do apologize for the indiscretion, Field Director, but when I arrived I just felt the need to see the artifact up close.”

“Around here we call it the geo-anomaly. It is your required presence here that will make the final determination as to whether it is an artificial artifact or remain a geological anomaly. Until you make that determination we will continue to refer to it as an anomaly. Your credentials, please?”

I handed the small I-Data chip to the director who then inserted into his tablet.

“Well, it all seems in order. If you and Mister Kimber will follow me, we’ll go into the lab module where you can meet the rest of the team leaders.

We left the modular habitat that made up his office and entered a larger one that was the lab itself. In there I saw several tables with a variety of samples, both biological and geological, and an assortment of testing equipment. Present there were what I assume were the two lab specialist that made up the rest of the team leaders.

“Professors Mark Harmon of biology, Elaine Melon of hydrology, I want you to meet Professor Yoshu Ishimoto of the Heiman Institute Exo-biology and Natural History.”

“Professor,” said the shorter man who was introduced as Harmon. The other, Melon, just nodded in acknowledgment.

After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Iberia finally said, “Well, now that we have the introductions out of the way we can discuss the matter at hand.”

“Before we begin,” I said, “I would like to say a few things just so that there won’t be any misunderstandings.”

“Oh, and what misunderstandings could there be?”

“Here we go”, said Melon as she crossed her arms and began to turn away.

“Mister Director, let me make this clear, I’m not here to question your work or to take any credit away from you or anyone on your team. I’m not here to oversee, or to be critical in any way. My job is to make an assessment of what you have found here and, hopefully, to help in any way I can. If it turns out to be what I suspect it to be, that is of an artificial origin, I will see to it that do credit is given to all that have done the work. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m not here to take charge. I’m here only as a professional courtesy and nothing more.”

“That’s all fine and dandy,” said Harmon. “But, don’t be offended if I say I don’t trust you.”

“You see, Professor Ishimoto,” Ibaria began, “you have to understand why we’re a bit hesitant to share our findings, especially since they are very preliminary.”

“I understand, Mister Director, and I’ve read the reports. Preliminary as they are, if you don’t mind me saying and it is not an exaggeration, I think what you have here may be the find of the century. As for trust, well, you’ll just have to accept that in my word.”

“You see, Yoshi, this team didn’t just spend the past six months here on Alpha Calypso 5, we’ve been working independently on this planet for 3 years before we got the go-ahead to come here. And for some A-See Fiver is looking like a life’s work for many more years to come. A discovery like this, well, it’s not only an academic bonus but one of lifetime notoriety as well. We don’t want it to be taken away from us.”

“We worked very hard on this, Professor Ishimoto,” Melon suddenly spoke up. “And we’re not about to let some bureaucrat from the Dominion take it away from us.”

“Professor Melon, everyone, please understand, although I’m a representative of the Heiman Institute I’m a scientist first. I want to know what the anomaly is every bit as much as the rest of you. If by chance you all agree that it is, or is not, of an artificial origin I will accept the opinion of the team and I will respect that. As for the Dominion, let me deal with the data processors. The Institute has significant clout in the government and we’ll you up all the way.”

“Mark, Elaine, Mister Director, I’ve known Professor Ishimoto for years. I’ve done research with him and you’ll never meet a more open-minded and honest individual than Yoshi. If he said you can trust him to believe me, you can.”

“Well, Mister Kimber, I guess since you vouch for the man we’ll just have to trust him too.” With that said from Ibaria, both Harmon and Melon took turns explaining their findings.

Their report was long and detailed and went straight through the night and into the early hours of the morning. Although we took several breaks we never stopped discussing what was discovered about the geo-anomaly. Besides what Yon had told me the rest left my head reeling. Fact, the dimension of the structure, and I will call it as such from here on, is mindboggling. Its width is 4.2 kilometers and length 12.6. What had taken four months to uncover was soon discovered to be only the top of the structure for seismographic readings tell that there are another thirty kilometers buried underneath! It is not only embedded into the continental craton but may even be sitting on the edge of a magma plume. Fact, it’s old, very old, 2.3 BILLION years old! It dates to the very beginning of the crustal plate it sits upon. And yet, despite its age, no profound underground deformities have yet to be found. As it was in the beginning, with one exception, it still is. That one exception pertains to its original height; at one point it may have been 8 to 9 kilometers taller. Scattered along the moraines on the south side of the valley were found polished pieces of the structure measuring anywhere from 3 to 45 centimeters in diameter. Cataloguing the pieces, they added up to an estimated volume large enough to add the additional height. Even if we took the lower estimate of its total height, the total volume would approximate 2000 cubic kilometers! Then there’s it’s density. Using gravity displacement readings, and samplings from the debris, it gave them a density of 21.3 to 22.7 g/cm 3 making it as dense as osmium, one of the densest naturally occurring materials known. Yet, why it hasn’t sunk underneath the crustal plate remains a mystery. But, what disturbs the team the most, as well as myself upon hearing this, is that about 253,000 years ago some catastrophic event sheared the top third of a structure, a structure that had remained unchanged for thousands of millions of years.  Facts and more facts, the data on composition, structural distribution, and the purpose to the nodules and pylons added more to the mystery of the anomaly.

After breaking for lunch, I went to my temporary assigned quarters and began my report to the institute. We had all come to the agreement that this was not a naturally occurring geological structure but one of alien construction, an artifact. Besides providing all of the team’s findings, I also included why it must be necessary for an increase in manpower and equipment in order to continue the investigation into the structure. Finally, as I promised, I gave credit to all who were involved and strongly recommended that the same team remains. After sending it out through the comnet I took a nap before dinner.

I awoke and freshen up a bit before going to dinner in the mess commons. On arriving I found out that an impromptu celebration party had been organized for the entire team of technicians and the crew of the Ageas. As I slept, the Institute had replied to my report and had agreed with all my recommendations. I spent most of my time around Yon, conversing with some of the techs, and had time to get to know the director and the team leaders better. Ibaria turned out to be not as bad as first impressions. As a matter of fact, he could be a quite a jovial guy …especially after a few drinks. Harmon, as well, seemed like a nice fellow. I was soon to learn that my friend Kimber and Harmon had attended the same university and had even finished their dissertations around the same time; in different fields, of course. Elaine Melon was a bit harder to get to open up. She spoke very little during the gathering and seemed to just drift from one group to another. Someone suggested taking the party up on top of “the slab” and soon the everyone was starting to leave the commons to get in line for the lifts up to the “roof”. Once there, the revelry continued in small groups scattering across the wide, flat plateau. A few “strictly prohibited” conspiratorial bonfires had been lighted here and there in the distance with the knowledge that in the Director’s present condition nothing would come of it. The view of the sky above the vast plane was awe inspiring.

I spotted Professor Melon walking alone by a cluster of pylons several meters from a lift and, gathering strength from my inebriated state, decided to walk over to her. She appeared to be in deep thought when I spoke up and startled her.

“I’m sorry, Professor, I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“That’s okay. I guess I was lost in my thoughts.”

“Nice view.”

“Yes. Being as close as A-See Fiver is from the galactic center gives us a magnificent view seen by few, Professor Ishimoto.”

“Yoshi, please. My friends call me Yoshi.”

“Okay, Yoshi, and I guess you may call me Elaine.”

We spend a few awkward moments continuing to look up at the sky before I spoke again.

“So, what were you thinking about, if I may ask?”

“Thinking? Oh, yes, thinking before you arrived. Questions. Questions we don’t have answers to.” I could tell now that she too was feeling the effects of a few drinks.
“About the artifact?”

“Yes, the artifact.”

I waited for her to continued but when she didn’t I finally looked at her inquisitively.

“Well, if you really want to know I have to have you promise not to mention it to anyone, especially in a report.” She winked at me conspiringly.

“Cross my heart,” I said overemphasizing the mark I made with my hand as I crossed my chest.

“Do you have any idea what this is? I mean ANY real idea what it could be?”

“Well, I can say something quasi-profound like, ‘can we ever really know what an alien culture was thinking when it built it?’ but, that won’t answer anything.”
Elaine looked down for a moment before looking away. She seemed to me like she had an idea but was reluctant to share with me. I drew her attention back to me by saying, “Alright, let’s figure it out by understanding what it is not. Obviously, it is not a building or a similar structure because it lacks doors, windows, any kind of interior passageways or chambers. It’s solid, and solid with little variation. Those variations we have been able to find, the nodules and pylons, for example, do not seem to serve any applicable function, like structural support, or if they were once part of a larger array within the monolith’s matrix they seem to be inert now. To speculate any further into that would be fruitless without knowing what they are and so far, they aren’t giving up any secrets. Was it meant to serve a more basic function like a docking port of some sort? Thirty kilometers high is a short distance from the ground. Maybe it was taller, or not sunk as deep as it is now? Well, okay, but why only one, and if there were others, why did only this one survive?

I came across a story once where a strange alien artifact showed up at the doorstep of our ancient ape-like ancestors. This artifact began to “teach” the ape-men and that’s how humanity got its start. Could our monolith serve the same purpose? Is it meant for the potential, indigenous intelligent beings that might arise here, or for some spacefaring race like ours to find? Why is it not doing anything? Why is it not on? Could it be broken? We may never know.

Elaine, I’ve racked my brains all the way around this thing half a dozen ways, asked Kimber, Harmon, hell, even asked Ibaria what his thoughts were, and everything that I just put to you sums it up; one big zero.” I didn’t realize how much I had expressed my frustration in the last sentence until I stopped and looked at Doctor Melon’s face. With a look of mock indignation and humor, she said, “Did you ever thought of asking me?”

Feeling trapped by my own folly I asked, “Okay, so do you have an idea of what it could be?”

“When I was a growing up I was one of the first settlers to colonize Avalon.” I looked at her quizzically. “Now, wait a minute, hear me out. I was part of the initial settlement and we found ourselves in wide open expanses of land ready to be plotted and claimed. The GPS sats hadn’t been put up yet and a lot of the land that people were claiming was rather featureless so settle any potential disputes, ground survey teams divided the land parcels into grids. Markers were placed on the ground and all anyone had to do was go to the nearest claims office to make a bid.”

“I still don’t get what you’re getting at.”

“Listen, I remember once there was a dispute between two landowners; one claimed that the other had moved the marker further into his neighbor’s property. To settle the dispute, the land had to be resurveyed and the matter was settled.”

“So, who won?”

“Doesn’t matter. It’s what they used for markers that I’m trying to tell you. All they were was coded transponder on simple graphsteel spikes stuck into the ground marking off a gridline, that’s all. And that got me thinking. What if the monolith is a marker, a spike, telling others ‘We claim this as our own’?”

I stood there dumbfounded. I could see what she was getting at, and it did make sense, that is until I found a flaw.

“How do you explain its destruction?”

“Someone obviously disputes the claim.”

-A. M. Holmes