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Igms issue 4, p.8

IGMS Issue 4, page 8


IGMS Issue 4

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  The shifting hypercube leapt off the screen and floated in the air in front of me, transparent but steady, slowly spinning. Lines of light flickered from the hypercube, extending away into the distance and then vanishing. It was beautiful.

  And it was making sense. At first I just saw an odd shape, but the more I looked at it, the more I understood. I don't know how, but information was simply appearing in my mind, not like being told , or reading , but like remembering! Information was being written into my memory, giving me the odd sensation of learning something that I already knew.

  But it wasn't the information I was expecting. It wasn't about how to build a gate to travel to alternate universes.

  "Hey!" said Max. I jumped and let go of my laptop. The hypercube vanished and reappeared in its original form on the screen. I turned.

  Even in one syllable you could tell this was a guy used to being obeyed. He stood in front of me, breathing hard and a little sweaty, which made his bald head gleam. He wore a dark green suit and a red tie. I realized he'd probably been talking to me for a while.

  "I told you," said Marta. She was standing in the doorway with her arms crossed.

  Max got right in my face. His breath smelled of cigars. "What did I tell you to do?" he asked. Each word was punctuated with a finger poke to my chest.

  "Did you see anything floating in the air just now?" I asked. I wasn't trying to be a smart ass or anything. At that moment it just seemed like a good question. Was I the only one who had seen it?

  A look more of disbelief than confusion flashed across Max's face. He grabbed the front of my lab coat and slammed me against the work table. I felt a sharp jab of pain across my lower back, but all I noticed was that my laptop was jarred a few inches closer to the edge of the table.

  "Careful!" I said and reached for it. I got my hand on it and the hypercube sprang into being again, remaining in the middle of my field of vision no matter where I looked. Max shook me hard, and when I looked back at him the orange hypercube seemed to contain his head.

  "When I talk, you listen!" he said, punctuating his sentence with fist to my gut. I doubled over in pain and dropped to the floor. The hypercube vanished again.

  "Mess him up, baby!" said Marta.

  "Shut up," said Max as he took off his jacket. He tossed it to Marta.

  I could barely breathe. I propped myself against the wall and looked up at him.

  Max reached across the work table and picked up my laptop. He held it in one hand while staring down at me. The hypercube pattern still flowed on the screen, but Max gave no indication that touching the laptop allowed him to see anything unusual.

  "You talk back to me again and I'm gonna shove this thing --" said Max.

  "Millions," I said. It was hard to talk.

  "What?" said Max. He looked really mad. I was terrified he'd smash the laptop against the table or throw it against the wall.

  "What's on that computer is worth millions," I said. A vast understatement.

  "Really?" said Max, sneering. He didn't believe me. He casually tossed my laptop to me. "Prove it."

  I caught my computer, fumbled and nearly dropped it, then got a good grip on it. The hypercube appeared again and I willed my thundering heart to slow down. I watched the hypercube spin and flicker and steadily lose color, becoming less orange and more white. It was a progress bar of sorts, and as the color faded I "remembered" more and more.

  "Prove it!" Max repeated, making me jump. "Prove it right now or I start breaking things."

  Marta smiled at me. She was enjoying this.

  "Okay," I said. I paused for as long as I could. Almost done. "I'll show you."

  Another long pause. To Max and Marta it must have looked like I was just sitting there, staring at nothing. But I knew better. All I needed was a few more moments.

  The hypercube turned completely white and then vanished.

  Max swore and came at me fast. He reached for me.

  "I don't like you, Max," I said. There was a sharp crack as the space he'd occupied became a vacuum and air rushed in to fill the void. He was gone.

  Marta stared, frozen in place, still clutching the green jacket. I looked at her and said, "I'm not too fond of you, either." She dropped the jacket and ran.

  I stood up, closed my laptop and put it under my arm, and walked carefully out of the lab and down the hall. I felt pretty good right now and didn't want to ruin it by puking. Max had hit me pretty hard.

  My extra-dimensional friend had said traveling between universes was beyond my understanding. Maybe he was right. I still had no idea how to do that. But my laptop had been altered somehow into a timeline machine, able to jump itself, me and whatever else I wanted into other universes. And now that the user's manual had been downloaded into my mind, I was ready to do some exploring.

  First, however, I was going to take the elevator down to the street. It was unlikely that an alternate universe would happen to have a twenty-two story building in this same spot.

  But who knows: maybe Max got lucky.


  by Peter Friend

  Artwork by Nick Greenwood

  * * *

  Three days later it happened again -- knock, knock, knock at Tom's front door, just as he was brushing glue over a papier-mâché hill.

  Probably that bloody social services woman again, wanting to drag him along to a Seniors' Sing-Along or some such witless nonsense. Couldn't she get it into her thick head that people came to a retirement village for a bit of peace and quiet? He yanked his door open, ready to give her a good earful.

  And stopped. It wasn't her at all; it was one of them alien interviewers, looking twice as ugly in real life as they did on the television. Still, he'd seen worse. He wasn't scared at all, not like some folks.

  "Morning," he said, because Ruth had always insisted on being polite to strangers.

  "We may talk please, random human," it said, each word in a different voice.

  He snorted. "Me? I've never done anything you fellas would be interested in. And I'm busy. This place is chockfull of silly old fools with nothing better to do than gossip all day -- go interview one of them."

  That got a reaction, not from the alien but from the other residents, watching through their half-open doors and lace curtains. Served them right.

  "You are random," the alien told Tom in three voices, and waved a hundred dollar note at him.

  "Well, why didn't you say so before?" he said, because he was always happy to help out folks with more money than brains, no matter what planet they came from. "But I've got glue drying in here, so we'll have to talk while I work."

  The alien waddled inside on three stumpy legs. Tom poked his tongue out at his neighbours and closed the door just to spoil their view.

  "What is this thing?" the alien asked, pointing its head at the benches -- well, pointing its front end at least, because it didn't seem to have a head as such.

  "A model railway. Haven't you fellas seen one before?"

  "Model railway," it parroted back to him in his own voice.

  For a moment he thought it was making fun of him, then realised this must be how it always talked, by copying people's voices.

  "Yeah, like a real railway, but . . . um . . . with models," he said as he spread green sawdust over the sticky hill. "Sorry, don't think I've ever needed to explain it to anyone before. Even little kids get the idea straight away."

  The alien pulled out a shiny gizmo from somewhere and suddenly a little black and white movie of an old Wild West train appeared in mid-air, puffing smoke as it rolled past. The alien fiddled with the gizmo and the little train reappeared on Tom's model railway, right on the tracks in front of Pumahara Station, then vanished.

  "Understanding," said the alien. "Miniature reality."

  Tom laughed. "Yeah, you got the idea. That some kind of hologram projector, huh? Mighty nice. Sell a few billion of them to us dumb humans -- make yourself a fortune."

  "Why?" it asked, peering
at the rails.

  That had Tom stumped for a moment, because if the aliens didn't understand money then why were they handing out hundred dollar notes?

  "Why?" it repeated. "This reality, why? True or imagining?"

  "Oh, now I get you. Yes, it's all accurate, just like the real places were at the time. See, over here's Pumahara Railway Station, that's where I met my wife-to-be, Ruth, one Saturday morning back in '63. This red brick building is the tea room where I saw her for the very first time -- she was eating a huge pink Lamington and getting coconut all over her face -- I fell in love at first sight. Walked right over to her and told her so, would you believe it? And she raised her pretty little eyebrows, said 'hmmmph,' stood up and boarded her train. Sensible girl."

  "Train is human mating ritual?" the alien asked.

  "What? No, no. But then again, I suppose for us it was, in a manner of speaking. I came back the following Saturday morning and there she was again, eating another Lamington --chocolate, but just as messy. This time I made a slightly better impression, enough for her to tell me her name was Ruth, and that she visited her parents back in Paenga Kore every Saturday. I mentioned I just happened to be catching the very same train. She didn't believe me for a second, but nevertheless most graciously allowed me to accompany her on board and to sit across the aisle from her. Three hours later we arrived at tiny Paenga Kore Railway Station -- that's the little green-roofed building over there in the far corner. And she invited me to stay for lunch with her parents."

  The alien shuffled over and examined the green cardboard railway station intently. "This long ago one journey. You recall such many details."

  "Oh, not just the once. We made that same journey nearly every Saturday for over a year while we were courting. That train was slow and noisy and blew soot all over our clothes, but nevertheless . . . sitting there, holding hands and staring out the window without a care in the world . . . it was magical.

  "When Ruth passed away a couple of years ago, I wanted something to remember her by. We were married forty years -- and damned good years they were too -- but of all our time together, those train journeys are what I like to remember the most. So I went down to the model shop in the mall and . . . well, to cut a long story short, the result's in front of us. I got a little carried away perhaps -- never intended it to take up most of the lounge -- but that's ok, I don't get many visitors.

  "The research is the hardest part. Back in '63 I didn't care tuppence for the train itself, only for the pretty girl on my arm. A couple of them trainspotters down at the model shop told me it was a K Class steam locomotive, and that's confirmed by an old snapshot I had of Ruth next to it. But the carriages aren't so easy to work out. I know they were second-class 56-footer day-cars, almost certainly built in the late thirties. But that's the whole problem -- there were hundreds of them, and by '63 they'd been repaired and redecorated and refitted so many times that . . . well, the model over there on the track, it's close, but it's not quite right."

  The alien peered at the carriage and started fiddling with its shiny gizmo again.

  "See, here's an old photo of Ruth," he continued. "Isn't she lovely? That shows the seats and a window, and as you can see, the window size doesn't match the model. And here's the only other interior snapshot I've got, the two of us grinning like idiots because we'd just got engaged -- that's a better one of the window and the luggage rack, but it doesn't --"

  He stopped. A flickering image of the train carriage floated in mid-air, looking just like his model at first, although larger, and then the windows stretched to match the photos and intricate tiny luggage racks appeared inside the windows.

  He crowed in delight. "That's a mighty fine party trick. You can change anything? Can you make that paintwork a darker blue, and not so glossy? Yes, that's it. And I remember the seats were vinyl, imitation leather in shiny green, yes, but a little yellower. The seat legs were chrome, with rusty screws. And the floor was a splotchy white and brown linoleum; Ruth always said it looked like dried bird poop, and made me promise we'd never have linoleum in our home. Oh heck, just listen to me babbling on, I'm the silliest old fool in this whole place. You fellas didn't fly a zillion light years across the universe to listen to this sentimental rot."

  "Thank you," said the alien.

  The carriage shrank, and dropped into Tom's hands. He only caught it by reflex, expecting just a hologram, but somehow it had become solid, real. He peered in the windows and saw tiny figures of Ruth and himself, exactly like in his snapshot, and all of a sudden he found himself crying.

  He wiped his eyes and blew his nose, doubly glad that he'd closed the front door. He hadn't cried since Ruth's funeral. Wouldn't want the neighbours seeing him like this.

  "Thank you," he snuffled, then realised the alien had gone.

  Gently, he placed the carriage onto the rails, half-expecting it to crumble to dust or disappear, and discovered without surprise that it was perfectly scaled to match the rest of the train -- yeah, that alien knew more about model trains than it had let on, that was for sure. He tried to roll it behind his K Class locomotive, but there was something wrong with the carriage wheels. He turned it over for a closer look and discovered the wheels had no axles and couldn't turn, and that made him laugh and cry and laugh all over again.

  "Doesn't matter," he muttered to himself, and softly rubbed the carriage's dark blue paintwork. "The train itself was never the point. The memories are all that ever mattered."

  The aliens clustered around the tiny train, stroking it and each others' heads, sharing the human's memories. Then they shrank the train and carefully positioned it amongst the billion other objects in their portrait of Earth. There was much to contemplate in this piece, especially the train's mysterious place in human culture. Still, the train itself wasn't the point. The memories were what mattered.

  The Moon-Eyed Stud

  by Justin Stanchfield

  Artwork by Liz Clarke

  * * *

  John Garret had never met the horse he couldn't break.

  Until the last one.

  The staircase creaked so loudly it sounded like someone dogged his footsteps. He crossed the Antler's lobby then stopped to button his long black coat. They had buried him in his suit, the white shirt with the scratchy collar and the long brown pants. But, they hadn't nailed him in the box with his new boots, just the floppy old pair he wore the day he died. Some might call it a tribute, a way to let the devil know he'd died with his spurs on. More likely somebody at the K-Bar decided it was a waste to plant a man with a pair of fifty dollar boots on his heels. He reached for the door.

  "Ever think Hell would be like this?"

  Garret tried to ignore the voice from the other side of the room, but Shorty O'Dowd wasn't having it. He stepped out from behind the hardwood bar with the fancy brass rail and shuffled across the floor. "I was expecting a lot worse. How about you, John? What did you expect Hell to be like?"

  "Never gave it much thought one way or the other." Morning sunlight slanted through the windows, and for just a moment even the Antler seemed cheerful and warm. He stood in the sunbeam and rolled his left shoulder to work the stiffness from it. Seemed the longer he stayed here, the harder it got to rouse out.

  "You want breakfast?" Shorty asked.

  "Don't see much sense in it."

  "Reckon you're right. Ain't like a man gets hungry down here, is it?"

  "Nope." Garret knew damn well it wasn't breakfast Shorty wanted. Soon as he left, O'Dowd would pull out his bottle, the one that never seemed to run dry, and try to get stinking drunk. He might as well throw down shots of horse piss. Whiskey, like food, was something a body could do without once they shoveled dirt over you. He buttoned the last hole on his coat and stepped outside.

  Wind grabbed his coat tails as Garret cinched his hat down. His boots crunched against the frozen dirt as he neared the abandoned livery stable. Like every other building in town it was grayed, the paint peeling off the false front. Ru
sty hinges groaned as the barn doors swung open. He stepped inside and pulled out his tobacco. Shorty had his vices, and he had his own. Fingers aching with cold, he twisted a smoke then struck a match, the flame cupped so close it singed his long gray mustache. The wondrous scent of Prince Albert mingled with the musk of old horse crap and dry hay. He took a long drag.

  Smoke rolled down his throat and vanished as if it had never been. No pleasant kick, no mellow taste lingering after he exhaled. Nothing to prove he smoked at all except for the hot cherry burning his thumb and finger. Disgusted, Garret snuffed the cigarette then headed round back.

  A dozen houses made up the town, silent as death. Nobody in town but him and Shorty. Nobody in a thousand miles for all he knew. He stepped toward the old corral and smiled coldly. Not another soul alive except for the moon-eyed stud dancing circles inside the pen.

  "Good morning, you hateful son of a bitch." Garret's voice was loud and cheerful. "I hope you hurt as much as I do."

  The rangy palomino threw its head, ears flicked forward, nostrils flared as he caught Garret's scent. He stood sixteen hands if he was an inch, with high withers and white front feet made for striking. A tangled yellow mane whipped around his bald face. But it was his eyes that grabbed. Black on the right, pale-blue on the left, rimmed red and split up the middle. A billy-goat's eye, or a snake's, ice cold and vengeful. The stud dipped his head but never let Garret out of his sight.

  "Good to see dying ain't changed you a lick."

  One moment he and the stud had been hogging around the pen at the K-Bar, the next he was here. He remembered hanging over the saddle, desperate not to get thrown, when the crazy bastard kicked high. Up and over they went, ground and sky changing places as the animal fell. Garret tried to get clear, but his foot tangled in the stirrup. Crushing pain took him as the stud lit on top of him. But the horse had paid for it too, his back broken in the fall. Last thing Garret heard before waking up here was the gunshot as the boys put the horse down.

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