This story was prompted by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge at http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/03/22/flash-fiction-challenge-ten-words-will-give-you-five/. It was supposed to be 1,000 words, but I ran over by a hundred and a half.
The words I chose were Library / Storm / Satellite / Cube / Ethereal
Jared spotted it on the satellite feed after the storm had passed.
“Hey Billie,” Jared said. “Look at this.”
“Whatcha got?” she said, rolling her chair over to his console.
“Huh,” he said. “It’s gone.”
“There was something on the feed a minute ago, but now it’s gone.”
“Rewind it and let’s see. What did it look like?”
“It looked like a building,” Jared said.
“There are no buildings on this planet. It has no life forms higher than plants, worms and a few insects.”
“Well, that’s what it looked like. Here, I’ve got it now. Watch.”
They both watched the display as the trailing edge of the storm swept over the plain. A final triple strike of lightning silhouetted a single cube standing alone in the middle of nowhere. As the replay of the storm moved on, the cube faded and disappeared.
“What the fuck!” Billie said. “What was that and where did it go?!”
Jared tightened his lips. “I don’t know,” he said.
Billie glanced at him and sighed. “Sorry,” she said. “I know you don’t like the language but I was surprised, that’s all.”
“I know,” he said, “but you should try to watch your language. If you don’t break that habit now, when you have kids that will be their first word.”
Billie smothered a giggle. “When I decide to have kids, I’ll stop it then.”
“Might be too late by then,” Jared said.
“Whatever. Let’s get back to that thing.” Billie gestured at the screen.
“According to the ephemeris it’s a couple of hours from here,” Jared said.
“What do you think? Should we check it out?”
“We’re here to explore and catalog. What else?”
Billie slid back to her own console. “I’ll change the course. You try to pin down exactly where that was.”
Jared and Billie stood in front of an impossible cube of stone twelve meters on a side. It wasn’t the object itself that was impossible but the fact that a stone cube that large should have been easily visible from the satellites. That and the fact that from more than a hundred meters away it simply wasn’t there. Even standing this close to it, the edges were both razor sharp and indistinct, as if it was fuzzing off into the distance.
Jared kept his eyes on the cube or the ground. The blue grass combined with the green-tinged sky gave him vertigo whenever he moved his head. He felt like he was about to fall up into that weird, weird sky. The not-there edges of the cube weren’t helping.
“Let’s go,” Billie said, starting forward.
“Wait a minute!” Jared said. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m going to check it out,” she said. “We’re here to explore, remember?”
“Yeah, but that’s not natural,” Jared said. “We should call in for a full team.”
“Look,” billie said, “our instruments don’t detect that thing at all. When I stood on one side, the sensors could detect me, but not the object. But we can see it. I just want to see if we can touch it.”
“So throw something,” Jared said.
“Where’s the adventure in that?”
“You and your adventure. No one else is close enough to get here for a couple of days.”
“Come on,” Billie wheedled, “just a quick, close-up look then we’ll call it in.”
“All right,” Jared said with a sigh.
Together they walked closer to the thing.
Billie started to reach out, but Jared stopped her with a hand on her arm. She hesitated, then pulled a stylus from her pocket and tossed it gently. It disappeared into the cube without a trace.
“Is it a holo projection?” Billie said. She leaned forward and placed her palm on the object. “Nope, it’s real.” She grinned at Jared.
“You..!” he exclaimed. “You just had to…” he trailed off at the expression of surprise and fear that flitted over her face. He lunged forward and grabbed her free arm to pull her away.
Billie and Jared staggered forward and halted, clinging together. They gaped around at a vast space covered with short pillars crowned by spheres. They spun around at a quiet click behind them.
They stood in front of another pillar-sphere. A small drawer jutted from the pillar on which rested two small cubes that matched the look of the structure they had been standing in front of just moments ago.
“Welcome to the Library.”
They jerked around with startled exclamations.
An ethereal something floated in front of them. It looked like a half-familiar human figure wrapped in sheer veils that floated in a wind they could not feel.
Jared gulped. “Who–what–where are we?” he managed to stammer out.
“This is the Library of Worlds. As new patrons, please take your Library identifications. Please do not lose your identification, as it will be impossible to replace one.”
“How did we get here?” Billie said.
“You entered through the Interface,” the figure said. It gestured to the pillar behind them.
“How do we get back?” Jared said.
“Through the Interface. Just touch the map at the location you wish to exit the Library.”
They turned to look at the sphere. “That’s a map?” Jared said.
“Yes!” Billie said. “Look, you can see the seas and rivers and mountains. This is Franklin Four! Where we were exploring!” She turned in a slow circle. “This is incredible! These are all planets! Just think what we can learn from this place.”
“Bilie,” Jared said quietly.
“We have to go back.”
“What?! Are you crazy? This is the most incredible find ever and you want to go back?”
“Yes,” Jared said. “At least to report what we’ve found.”
She stared at his set face. “But, at least let’s look around a little before we return,” she pleaded. The look started to fade a little.
“All right, but just a couple of minutes.”
“Yes!” She grabbed his arm and started to drag him toward a nearby pillar.
“Do not forget your Library identification,” the ghostly figure said.
“Right,” Jared said. He picked up one of the cubes a looked it over. It looked exactly like the stone cube of the Library, except for the side it had been resting on–that was a deep, rich black that drank the light.
“Just place it on your skin and it will adhere there,” the figure said.
“Later!” Billie said. She snatched up the other cube and dragged Jared away.
When the two humans’ signals had vanished, the exploration van screamed an emergency. Two hours later an emergency ballistic drop of security and medical personnel found the abandoned vehicle and two sets of tracks that stopped abruptly in the middle of an empty plain of blue grass. A common stylus rested a meter in front of where the tracks stopped.