Wow, this one is late.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m on deadline for a project I can’t talk about yet, but that I’m very excited about. (Also? I will never contract for something that isn’t finished ever again. Never. Mark my words. And remind me of this when I think writing to a deadline is a good idea for me. Because, honestly, it’s not. People think I’m disciplined but I must have them fooled, because I don’t feel that way, at all.)
ANYWAY. A while back I wrote a flash piece, “Exile,” which was a denouement to a story that I actually hadn’t finished writing at the time—and still haven’t, if we’re being completely honest here. (And why not be honest? I have so many unfinished projects, I could never come up with a new idea for the rest of my life and I’d still have plenty of projects to finish. I guess that’s a good position to be in.) This month’s Flash Fiction Draw prompt—science fiction, in an auditorium, with a computer tablet—made me think of an alternate ending to this story that I still haven’t finished, and so, without further ado:
House Lights Up
Doyle knew the auditorium was empty before he walked in. His tap into the station’s surveillance system gave him access to all the audio/video monitors in the room, as well as the biometric scanners. He scattered his own bio signature so that his presence registered as nothing more than an elevation in ambient temperature. No one would ever know he’d been there.
Except, of course, for the person who asked him to meet there.
Matt’s heartbeat registered in the biometrics before Doyle saw him, emerging from the shadows at the front of the auditorium. He entered from stage left. The room was still mostly dark, and it was obvious, as he scanned the rows of empty seats, that he didn’t see Doyle.
Well, Doyle could help with that. He sent a command to the lighting system and brought up the house lights. Matt looked startled to find himself standing in the middle of a spotlight’s soft yellow glow. Squinting against the sudden glare, he shaded his eyes and stepped to the edge of the stage.
The room may have registered him as nothing more than background heat, but Doyle’s heart was beating faster now. And his heart, unlike other parts of him, was still flesh. He walked toward the stage.
“Nice entrance, Matt.” He said his name to keep from calling him Range. He hadn’t done that to his face yet, had he?
“So, you want to tell me who you really are?”
“I’ll buy that. It’s probably the first truthful thing you’ve said to me since I met you.”
Doyle shook his head. “I meant what I said about the sushi bar’s salmon rolls. Those’ll kill you.”
“Okay, that makes two truthful things. Anything else you told me that wasn’t a lie?”
“I wasn’t lying when I told you about Range.”
Matt nodded. “The man with the same face as me. The one you can’t go back to.”
Doyle shook his head. “More than just him. I can’t go back to anything from that universe. When I sent the Morellan agent back through the vortex, it collapsed the link between our realities. From now on, this is my home.”
Matt was quiet for a long moment. In that time, Doyle listened to the clicking of the ventilation exchange, the background hum of the gravity emitters below their feet, and read a terabyte of system communication traffic, looking for any signs that he might have missed a loose thread that needed tying—or cutting.
But there was nothing. This reality was refreshingly mundane.
“We don’t have Morellans in this universe,” Matt said.
Doyle’s artificial eye detected the tremor along Matt’s shoulders. For someone who lived in a reality where there were no other life forms than humans, he could imagine how unsettling they’d be. Doyle found Morellans mostly annoying. And kind of smelly.
“What’s to say they won’t come back again?” Matt asked.
Doyle stood at the edge of the stage now. “For a species with that many tentacles, their thinking is surprisingly binary, this or that. The Morellans tried to get the Dormany crystals here, but they failed. They may try something else, somewhere else, but they won’t try the same thing twice.”
“You sound very confident of that.”
“I’m not confident of many things, but that’s once I would bet money on.” He paused. “You have money in this universe, right?”
Matt laughed, humorlessly. “If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be much point in me trying to steal ten kilos of crystals for an interdimensional invasion force, would there?”
“They weren’t going to invade your universe. Not permanently, anyway. If they could have gotten their tentacles on all those crystals, they might have crossed the barrier en masse, but only long enough to get what they want. No, they would have left eventually.”
“So why did you come here, then?”
“You mean to this universe, or to the auditorium tonight?”
Matt paused, as if maybe he didn’t know which one he meant. Maybe, to him, there wasn’t a difference between the two. Doyle moved closer. He was at the edge of the stage now.
“Why did you want me to come here, Matt?”
The question seemed to stump him. He looked at Doyle, mouth half open, before staring down at the floor with an exasperated smile, hands on hips. His voice strained, he said, “I had to keep my promise.”
Matt opened up his palm, and a tablet sprang up in front of him. He tapped a set of controls on the holographic surface. “This.”
The lights dimmed, and for a moment, they stood in blackness. Then, in an instant, the ceiling above them pulsed with a soft glow, before becoming transparent. A spray of stars painted dim light overhead before the outpost’s rotation brought the planet in view.
“I still don’t—“
Matt shushed him. “Wait for it.”
The meteorites appeared one at a time at first, some of them as small as grains of sand, their velocity the only thing that made them flare brightly against the planet’s atmosphere as they incinerated. Others, larger, burned a tail of fire across the darkness as they plunged toward the surface.
Doyle sat on the edge of the stage and stared up at the meteor shower. It wasn’t real, of course—the planet had passed the debris cluster two days ago, it was out of range by now—but Matt must have talked someone at the station into letting him replay the holo recording. It hadn’t really been a date when Doyle had suggested it earlier, more of a pretense, but it was a meeting he would have liked to keep, anyway.
Matt sat next to him and stared up. They both stayed there for a long time, not saying anything, just looking up at the light show and hoping it wouldn’t end any time soon.