Aphelion Issue 257, Volume 24
December 2020 / January 2021
 
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The Line Of The Reality

by Sergio “ente per ente” Palumbo
edited by Michele Dutcher

A Mare Inebrium story
Mare Inebrium Universe created by Dan Hollifield



Blanche was hurriedly walking across the hall of the Mare Inebrium, the most famous Space Bar on planet Bethdish, and her height of about 5'2" made just her look like a giantess compared to the group of beige-colored dwarf-sized aliens Nklo-xhe. They were from a world known as Ilh-tho and were talking and drinking in the middle of her route. Their hair almost reached their feet and was of a vivid color, which was weird, though they were certainly not the usual regulars they had here every month. But they drank almost anything and paid without muttering about the prices, which made them good customers in the eyes of the owner.

The waitress also had to go around another keyed-up group of customers, unmistakably members of the Klahf species who were dressed in dark-gray suits. Usually, members from that alien world who could be seen here were, or had been, soldiers, and their extremely whitish facial features looked very similar to humans from Earth, even though they had nothing else in common with them, as you could easily figure out by looking at their strange seven-fingered hands. At that exact moment, some of the dark child-like creatures who sat at a large table all yelled at the same time and started running up and down the hall adding more disorder to the scene.

On that night, there was more hurly-burly than usual, as a new Scottish themed event was being held in some rooms inside the venue, and people were dressed in typical fancy costumes from that legendary country on Old Earth. However, she couldn’t understand why some aliens were wearing kilts on their faces and on their backs instead of where they should have been… Perhaps they hadn’t been completely informed about the traditions of this style of clothing - used by humans in ancient times - or maybe they just were already drunk and didn’t care of course.

The woman was heavy-set and a bit too muscular – but she was from a place named Hardcase whose heavy gravity made everyone born there bulkier and stronger, of course – and she wore a long skirt the same color as her curly black hair. Her clear eyes darted from one corner to another so she could have a better look at the customers, made of a mix of regulars and new faces - who were present tonight in the bar with its many crowded rooms. But this was business as usual for the Mare Inebrium as this was a very popular dining destination and their kitchens produced thousands of different main courses from hundreds of different planets, of course, along with their daily specials. After all, they enjoyed a well-deserved high reputation in this area of space for many reasons.

There was no sign of Max, the Bartender, though Blanche was sure he was somewhere in the main room. His human appearance, very average-looking, with his short, dark hair wasn’t something you could miss in a place like that. But she also knew this was a very busy evening and it would have been easy to overlook him.

Then the eyes of the waitress saw something, or better somebody, that she remembered seeing in the bar for the past four nights. He was about to become the most habitué person that week…

Undoubtedly human, the chestnut-haired man of about 40 had an untidied haircut and some wild curls, a noteworthy large nose and a thin, straight line that defined his mouth. But in his own way he was attractive, she thought to herself. His blue eyes seemed to be glinting in the light, drawing out the character’s emotions very vividly. Or, at least, they clearly displayed his interest in every step the customers situated at the tables nearby him made and everything else happening around him, too. He wore a long brown, wrinkled jacket that had certainly seen better times, while his trousers showed the slenderness of his legs and his waist. At times, he even seemed to stare at the air, in silence, while saying nothing… What was he looking at?

The waitress thought that, although she had seen that new customer a few times, she was sure she hadn’t spotted him here before this past week. Maybe this was his first trip to Bethdish, and perhaps he had discovered and liked their Space Bar only by chance. Which was good for their profits. Or maybe he had traveled to Bethdish for reasons pertaining to his own business and would never be seen here again after tonight, who knew?

Anyway, as far as she was aware, he paid his bill while drinking a lot. Moreover, the man seemed to always come here alone, spending time in the lounge, but he always sought out the most crowded areas of the bar. In a way, he seemed to prefer the crowds of the Mare Inebrium, which was a little weird. It was as if he had nobody to join him here, but at the same time he didn’t want to spend his nights completely alone, secluded from others. Maybe he had come to this bar to get acquainted with people: this was what Blanche had thought at first, as many customers came here exactly do meet people. But after the subsequent evenings and nights she had seen him here, she had changed her mind. Undoubtedly that man preferred crowded areas of the Mare Inebrium but not for the purpose of getting in touch with others or making new acquaintances anyway... which was even stranger.

Perhaps he was a Holo-Media journalist, sent here by someone who studied the people who frequented this Space Bar and would later write about them. Or maybe he just was a traveler who liked to see other people and what they drank, or ate, or perhaps what they were after.

That night, the woman thought, she would take the opportunity to approach him while serving his table and ask him a few questions - of course without looking too curious, or too inappropriate. Why not? – as a little polite conversation was always good for business.

The rest of the late evening was spent on several different tasks and varied orders, until the time came for her to take a break. At that moment, since she had some free time, the woman thought that maybe this was the right chance to approach that lonely customer and get to know him better. Her chance came as an order was made and it needed to be delivered to that man’s table! What a coincidence. Without waiting for anyone else doing the job, the server immediately took that duty and so brought him the liquor he had requested.

“Here is the bottle of rare Dlaght you ordered. It is an expensive liquor that we like to serve in person, as it is a duteous rule here.” Blanche appeared before the man with a smile on her face. “Are you planning to spend the whole night here, if I may ask?”

“Yes, yes…” the other replied, in a wary voice, and looked to the right and to the left, as if he was suspicious. “This is an excellent liquor… it helps me forget some things I have on my mind.”

“Of course, you’re right. It’s one of our best sellers,” she added.

The customer put aside the snacks he had previously ordered and took the bottle without saying anything more - after using the device on his table to pay for the bottle. 

Blanche remembered that this alien beverage came from a planet named Vwlke that still looked ancient-like in its buildings and streets, whose villages were said to be full of many buskers on the main roads. The Dlaght liquor was brewed in the peaceful surroundings of urban sites owned by the few family inns sourcing their ingredients daily from the local produce. “So, you are a drinker who enjoys rare and costly beverages like Dlaght. Maybe I could suggest some other liquors you might like…” she added.

“No, no reason to do that. I like to drink but I don’t want to get too drunk. I just want to get inebriated enough to forget some things, but not exceedingly… ” he made it clear in a low tone.

“So, do you drink to only dull your memories? I know that alcohol can also help to lower inhibitions, and to break the ice… I noticed that you always come here alone, and it’s the fourth night you’ve done so. Maybe you just need a sort of shove to start speaking to others, or to get someone’s attention? Do you want me introduce you to other regulars who also drink on Bethdish?” the woman dared say.

“No, actually I’m not here for talking to other customers… I don’t come to this bar to get to know people…” the man answered in his usual low tone.

“So, you just like our bar? It is a fun place, isn’t it?”  

“Yes, it is… and what I like most is that it’s always crowded, already in the early evening. I need places full of people, for my own personal reasons,” he explained in a hurried way.

“I see. In any case, whenever you need a listening ear, or if you want something else just place your order and I’ll be here. We have many other costly liquors like this for our best customers… ” Blanche smiled. What the man had told her didn’t remove her doubts, nor did it satisfy her curious mind, but he didn’t seem eager to say too much about him himself, or his plans. So, she made another try. “Or if you just want somebody to talk to, just call and I’ll come right over. We are busy for most of the time, but I can always find a few free moments of course. Provided that you would like to tell me something more about yourself, of course. Mr… ?”

“I’m   Dwyn Yrddy, from Dlk Moon…“ the customer said.

”I’m Blanche! At your service…” After speaking, the woman eyed him in silence, ready to move away if she spotted a sign of anger in the other’s pupils or on his features. Of course, she didn’t want to irk him. As she stood waiting for what he might say, the woman was getting ready to leave his table when the other spoke again.

“Okay… Yeah, I can tell you. After all no one ever believes me, so one more skeptic won’t be a problem…” the man had whispered in a sad tone.

“So, what brings you here, and why did you choose our Space Bar? You’re very far away from your Dlk Moon…” Blanche said to the man.

“Yes, right, Dlk Moon… I was born there, but it’s been almost 30 years since I’ve been back…” Dwyn said. “So, we must start from the beginning of my problems, of course. The first time, it happened about a month ago, far away from this planet… I’m a scientist, you must know, though my interest in science caused troubles for me.”

“Why? What happened?”

“During my research, I found a way to see through the reality that surrounds us… well, it’s not easy to explain… I call the boundary I found, and that I studied, The Line of the Reality. It’s the separation between our dimension and theirs, so to say... " the pensive man revealed, sharing his beliefs.

'Oh…  Another airy-fairy customer... ' the waitress thought to herself. 'What a pity! He’s so handsome!'

Dwyn continued. “Many centuries ago, a famous Russian professor of physics named Linde advocated what he called ‘chaotic inflation’. This idea allowed for many ‘self-reproducing’ or ‘parallel’ universes to branch off from a parent universe. Since then, there have been many scientists, like me, who have believed that those separate universes could differ completely from one another in their properties. Another professor of old, named Susskind, using different principles, highlighted the large number of universes that could, maybe, exist, forming a ‘megaverse’. This megaverse might mean that there were other universes with the necessary conditions for life to exist…” Then he looked up to see the doubtful look on the woman’s face. “Perhaps this theory is too complicated for your ears… So, let me ask this first: do you know what a LIDAR is?”

“A LIDAR?” replied the waitress looking interested. This was something that she had heard about. She also remembered something about parallel universes, and something that had once happened in this bar itself, long ago…  “Isn’t that a device used in archaeology that helps in recording from an aircraft, a satellite or also a spacecraft, of detailed variations in the height of a world’s surface by means of reflections from a scanning pulse laser? Actually, I once had a friend who traveled a lot and did business in the archaeology field. He taught me many things about it. And he was, in fact, renowned for his ancient finds on many planets.”

“Yes, precisely, so you know what I’m talking about, good. In a way, LIDAR-like devices have been used to map entire areas that are covered in dense jungles without excavation, or before digging, anyway. It usually lets the archaeologists get a high-precision holo-video and useful images of the ground, and things buried just under the surface. But what I discovered is a whole different matter. I just thought the comparison with the LIDAR might be helpful to build better understanding. Well, what I built is a new device that helps to a reveal a further area of reality… It can show another dimension, one lying next to me or to you, let’s say next to us all. In a way this other dimension is just past us, I mean just past me and your body as well. Though these dimensions can’t reach each other, or communicate, they supposedly can look at each other from afar indeed… ”

“The device you’re talking about is new to me. It’s something I have never heard of before. So, you must be one of those scientists that study new fields, and delve into new grounds, aren’t you? Experimental science?” asked the woman, staring at the other.

“Yes, that’s it… exactly!”

“So, what did you discover, if I may ask? Something unprecedented? Something interesting?” she insisted in a curious voice.

“Yes, I found something, something big, and worrisome… I remember very clearly the day when I first started the new machine I had built on planet Wihbl, and it worked…” a pensive Dwyn recounted. “The wind whispered over iron wreckage outside of the building my labs were in. It whistled through rusted devices. Metal creaked against metal, the land was slowly reclaiming the empty region of what had once been a thriving country before the planet fell into disrepair. Also, you could almost hear in the distance, outside the room, the waving of the struggling small local shrubs that appeared blueish in color… This was why I had chosen that place as the site for my labs, as no one would interfere or come there to upset my research for the time being. After all, the only company that offered to sustain my efforts and provided me with money had no other free and safe location but planet Wihbl available where I could continue my work. I myself had told them that I needed a place with no one else around. What could be better than an alien world like distant Wihbl with no living things except vegetation and whose surface, in the surroundings, was already full of the ruins of a previous base built there by settlers who had long gone… ? The owners of the company didn’t put much stock in what I could discover, but some of their managers thought that it was worth the monetary expenditures, at least for a few months… And so the company paid to set me up and allowed me the freedom to do my job…”

“You were completely alone there then? - Weren’t you… ?” the woman asked the man.

“Yes, of course…” he replied. “Anyway, it was the last day of the second week, when that full image appeared, and the recorded footage caught the base of a staircase, crumbling and stained, a hundred yards ahead. This was the first proof of what lay beyond our reality, of another dimension past our own of course. It was a strange sight, and something that is still vivid in my mind anyway. It was like a window that allowed you to stare at the inside of a wide-open chamber, full of a webwork made up of hundreds of platforms and other strange streets. I could look at those things, and at that scenery of another world that was next to ours and almost attached to its surface. Its scenes were only a few angstroms away from our reality…  Only a thin sheet of alien matter separated that strange dimension from the matter we all, and even our existence, are made of. It was like viewing a place situated only a small and imperceptible vibration away from us.”

“What happened then?” Blanche couldn’t wait to hear what he would say next.

“That image just lasted a few moments… but in the subsequent days, and with a bit of practice, I was finally able to increase the energy of the machinery and adjust it to get a better video… And that shocked me in the end! I still can’t believe what I saw. Looking at it with my own eyes was so strange… but it certainly was a reality that I couldn’t deny anymore, undoubtedly!” 

“I see… so you’re going to become famous! What does the community of science of the galaxy think of what you discovered there?” the woman asked him.

“No, you’re very wrong about the outcome… ” the other said in a sad tone. “When I tried to send out papers about the first evidences I found, and the way I got to such evidences, in search of opinions and different theories from a few other scientists I kept in touch with, they stated that this was inconclusive… They refused to believe in what I saw and the results of my work. In fact, they told me that they were unable to get the same effects while trying to replicate the same experiments.”

“So, what did you do?” she stared at Dwyn.

“You know, the grand realm of quantum physics seemed a long way from the common-sense everyday world for many centuries, but it gave rise to a surprising number of technological advances that play a vital role in our lives nowadays. So, I thought that it needed just a little time for them to come to the same conclusions I had drawn. But it was only later on that I discovered that an important element was what they lacked, which was something I hadn’t appropriately considered… ”

“And that special element was?” Blanche insisted in a thrilled voice.

“It was a special mineral that caused me to get the results I found. It was what allowed me to see what I saw… and the lack of that mineral in the next process would never allow any other man to make the other reality appear before their own eyes… But this had occurred to me just by chance, and I wasn’t aware of it until I tried to replicate my experiments…” the man explained to her.

“Are you explaining that you were right but you didn’t know you were, because you only got there by chance, so to say… ?”

“Yes, after those terrible critiques from the other scientists I started believing they were wrong and that only I was right… but subsequent attempts I made on that planet proved that there was something else I hadn’t considered. I was unable to look at that new reality again because the machinery, even after making adjustments, never let me break the boundary of our world again and get to that different dimension, the one I previously found evidences of. Then, I saw why! When I was almost starting to think I was the one who was wrong, that maybe what I discovered was just a defect in the device, I understood the reason for it all. The first time I opened the boundary between realities and activated my machine, in the same room there were large rocks of orpiment, a sulfide that appears like a soft yellowish or orangish mineral. It was probably the remains of a dust-heap left by the previous settlers who had arrived on that world and had partly excavated its surface before moving away, leaving only a few buildings behind and some instrumentation. When I removed my instruments from that place and switched on the device again during my subsequent tries, nothing worked. So it was specifically that mineral, or the substances it contained inside, that reacted with my machinery and opened the boundary past our reality… That was it!” Dwyn revealed in a sort of smile, the first one the woman had spotted on his face since she had first seen him today. Probably, the first one he had shown of all the four nights he had come here…

“Oh, just a mineral, you say… I have never heard of that element,” the waitress nodded.

“It is widely distributed. It is typically powdery or massive, and it is found on most Earth-like planets in space. On that world it was available in great quantities anyway. It is also available on Bethdish today… ”

“So, you proved that your theory was certainly correct… And, as I said, you’re going to become famous… ” the woman sneered.

“No, actually I won’t. Anyway I don’t have time for this… I’ve some more serious things to be worried about at the moment!” was the phrase she got in an angered reply.

“Such as… ?”

“I have discovered how to recreate my previous results again, and why my machinery worked the first few times… But as I increased the power of my device later, thanks to new quantities of that mineral, as there was no problem in finding it on that world... well, I wish I had never done it! As I saw that the other dimension I had discovered was very different from ours, and there also were some strange creatures living there… creatures that make me still be afraid of them, creatures with fearsome behavior so gruesome that I feel lost any time I rethink of what I saw there.”

“What sort of creatures did you spot at that time?” Blanche was really interested in that tale of science, and experiments, undoubtedly.

“You would find hard to define such beings as they are very different from any life form humans previously saw, or met, somewhere…” the other added “They are only partly material and appear as floating, semi-visible, monsters characterized by several patterns of dark, gray or Rocket-metallic coloration with large flat faces, Nemertea-like bodies and noteworthy length. They can fly, and stroll over considerable distances over the surface using their numerous tiny feet. What is most surprising are their eyes which change shape continuously, because of their irregular and unexpected wanes into invisibility and also because of their monstrous modifications of appearance. It is difficult to figure out what organisms they might have descended from, and why they live in their strange underground cities made of windowless buildings that resemble no edifices men - or even the known aliens in space…  - have ever made. There they seem to have grown strong and numerous, anyway, and now they prefer that environment to the surface. What I later discovered, from subsequent looks at their scary dimension, was that they are a species that keeps itself hidden, a xenophobic world. They approach and study other life forms on their planet, reaching the surface through peculiar passageways through the rocks, and getting to them unseen, as I saw more than once, because they don’t like to be spotted, or revealed before the others’ sight. And when they have ended their study of other alien beings, they fire against their subject of research a stun ray of unknown power that seems to be able to make use of a sort of unusual memory-wiping technology, to be surer that their presence will never be remembered, nor recorded…”

“What you’re telling me is unprecedented, and very troubling…” said the woman and then held her breath for some time.

“I kept looking at their world, every single time I switched on my device, though I was afraid while watching that dimension. But I’m a scientist, and I had a job to do. I reported and detailed the behavior of those beings, telling my peers everything I had learned. That was, until something happened…” the customer said, and he stared at the people who were near his table with a wary look.

“Why? What do you mean… ? What happened?” The waitress eyed him in an implied intent. The man appeared ill at ease and had some difficulties at going on, so he simply sat in silence for a while. Undoubtedly, she would have liked to stay longer and listen to the rest of his story, but she had a job to do. There were other orders to take, main courses to deliver and so on, because the Space Bar was really busy. After she finished those duties, she was called to attend another duty. But she promised that she would be back later, as soon as she had some free time again, her next break coming in two hours from that moment. Eventually she did return though her break didn’t happen until after five hours later of exhausting work, and when she arrived it was half an hour before closing time. By that time, the customer was already leaving.

She got there just in time to glimpse Dwyn standing up, moving away from his table where three empty bottles still stood. She saw him walk over to the exit. ‘Too late to follow up today’, the woman thought. ‘But tomorrow he will be back, so I’ll ask him to go on with his tale then… ’

Just then, something caught the waitress’ attention as her eyes followed the images on the security holo-cams. She saw that man walking out of the side room and entering the public area. In fact, she thought she had spotted - or maybe it was just her fancy - a crackling in the night air, similar to a small energy burst, vivid in color that lasted for a brief moment before disappearing behind the customer himself. Who knew, maybe she had only imagined that, anyway it had been too short-lived to let her see what it really was. Perhaps it was merely electricity released from a device from any vehicle passing along, or something like that. But, as she admitted, she hadn’t had the time to look at it very well… it might have only been a light reflected off a small object which had glinted, though it was dark outside.

It might also have been that she was exhausted that early morning, and just needed to fall asleep, the sooner the better, of course.

*****

Another late evening of work with continual coming and going. That was what Blanche was thinking as she moved among the tables in the Mare Inebrium that were full of alien regulars, some of them being already tipsy. This was an enjoyable environment, with quality food and, well, steep prices. But this was a well-known venue, highly recommended, so quality had its cost.

Many things could happen, sooner or later, and some of them would surprise her: like the appearance or the clothes of some alien travelers who might enter the bar at any time to dine or have a drink.  But there were other things that she felt she could depend upon. And, as expected, there he was, the customer who was a scientist who had come here for the fifth evening in a row.

Going to his table, the waitress put a large smile on her face, and said in a welcoming voice, “Well here you are again, Mr. Dwyn Yrddy! I am so pleased to see you again in our Space Bar…  Indeed, I was sure I would see you in our cozy venue again today… So, if you’d like, you could continue to tell me what you have started yesterday. Sorry that I didn’t come back to your table last night, but I was very busy – and it looks like tonight won’t be any different given the crowd we have here already… ”

“Yes, pleased to meet you again, Miss Blanche…  You remembered my name… ” the man nodded, and he seemed to her to be calmer than the moment she had seen him leaving the venue in the early morning hours. Maybe it was because he hadn’t had a drink yet, different from the empty bottles of liquor he had left on the table the last night.

“You too remembered mine, sir, and I appreciate it… ” the woman smiled. “So, what can I bring you today, just as a start?”

“A bottle of Dlaght would be okay… ” he replied.

“Okay, I’ll be right back!” she said in her most pleasing tone.

When the waitress was back and had given him his drink - once she saw that the man didn’t seem eager to start speaking again about his previous science experiences and his strange machine - she asked him to reprise his recount from last night. “Mr. Yrddy, you were telling me yesterday about your discoveries, and what you saw when you kept looking at that other dimension, past the Line of the Reality, as you called it… ”

“The Line of the Reality, yes…  and what I found later… ”

“You also said that at a certain moment something happened, if I remember correctly,” the waitress urged him.

“Well, actually I kept looking at their dimension, the world of those strange creatures, every single time I switched on my device, but one day something happened… ” Dwyn said, in a sad voice. “In fact, that day, at the end of my last recordings, I caught sight of an unexpected occurrence. It had seemed to me that one of those scary creatures, while moving through its dark passageways below the surface, had pointed its strange head to the exact spot where I stood, on our side of reality… Just as if it had eyed me, or had sensed my presence…  Which was unbelievable, as there was no immediate way of communicating, from the two ends of that opening through different strange universes…  But I was sure of that sensation as I, unquestionably, saw one of those monsters studying my movements in silence, and making a report of what I was doing.”

Blanche stood in silence now.

“Those creatures knew that I was watching them! I don’t know how they knew, but they were aware of my presence, of my eyes spying into their dimension. I had been looking at them for a long time and, eventually, they saw me in return on that occasion! Differently from the other times, they really seemed to have looked at me from the other dimension…  So, they knew!”

“That IS scary… ” the amazed waitress pointed out. 

“And it wasn’t just that. The following day I had some doubts before switching on my device again, and when I eventually did so I saw one of those beings working on a machine that wasn’t too different from what I had built. Incredibly, they had copied it! They must have been mega-intelligent, and capable beyond belief…  But what mostly surprised me, and left me shocked, was that they tried to fire that stun ray of theirs against me, as if they knew of me and didn’t like that I had been spying on their world until that day. I knew they didn’t like watchers who looked at them, even watchers who were native to their unusual world. So, maybe, now they wanted to keep their dimension a secrecy, and this was why they were attempting to make use of their memory-wiping technology to target me…  They didn’t want their life form to be remembered, nor did they want their presence recorded.”

“Well, so are you saying that they had discovered how to build the same device that you created, and that they also tried to affect our reality by pointing a gun at you from their dimension? Did they want to remove all your memory? Or perhaps just what you knew about them?” Blanche was openly worried.

“I think they aimed at doing more than that! Maybe they also wanted me dead. They wanted me eliminated – me, a stranger, who had dared study their presence, which they wanted to remain a secret… ” he said. “But I prevented them from getting the result they wanted as I switched off my machine just in time… Anyway I didn’t feel much better from that moment on… The deep fear I felt never left my mind!”

“Were you afraid of what might be next?” she stared at the customer that seemed a bit shaken now.

“Yes… I thought that if they had known about me, and had even tried to harm me, or kill me, they might be back sooner or later, especially now that they had found the way to recreate my device and activate it at will. They could reach our dimension at any time! They, too, had the necessary mineral at their disposal, so they could try it over the next few days… ” he exclaimed, then he made his unexpected confession. “I had to do something, and I did. So, this is the reason I always stay in a crowded area like this bar.”

Blanche almost couldn’t believe what she had heard. Really, that customer thought that those creatures, those living beings from another dimension, whatever they were, continuously could be spying on him from that moment on? Had he really been afraid of them the whole time? Wasn’t that behavior a bit psychotic, or was it too strange to consider that having been only originated by an unusual fear? “So, are you saying that you’re afraid of being alone? But that at the same time you don’t want to be connected to others, or stay among friends, because you are afraid that also they could be harmed by that species - those creatures that know of you - if you openly show interest in other humans that they could consider a danger, like you, to their secrecy? Isn’t this a bit, how could I say, a bit… ”

“Yes, strange, isn’t it? And I know it looks like madness, doesn’t it? But it’s real, I’m sure of that, and this is why I stay here in this crowed bar the longer I can,” the other insisted in a raised voice.

“I see… but if things are as you say, how can you always stay in a crowded area? I mean, where do you sleep at night? Doesn’t a hotel room make you feel alone, aren’t you afraid? Do you have guards?” the woman replied.

“Actually, I have a hotel room, but it’s just for storing my baggage and my machinery that I brought along with me from Wihbl. Of course, I always have my special device… But I never fall asleep in that place. I have some money left, of course, so I can get to other hotels, in case I need to. But I would never endanger someone else, like a bodyguard. Even if he were a superior fighter like a former High Marine, he would never see things as I see them, and could never comprehend how destructive their machine could be for him. Besides, those creatures might not publicly attack a crowd, but one or two people - and I mean me and an armed man alone - they might dare to try this one day. And, since I could never afford to pay a large number of guards for a long time, things are as they are,” Dwyn added.

“But I don’t understand… So, where do you stay when you’re not in our Space Bar? In crowded squares or elsewhere in town?” the waitress seemed uncertain now.

“I remain at the Spaceport of Bethdish, in the Main Terminal, and I usually fall asleep on one of the seats and stay that way until morning. Then I have lunch there, at one of the restaurants at the Spaceport, before walking along…  There’s always a come-and-go around, and too many people, everywhere, to let those alien creatures from another dimension try anything against me. If they really base their full existence on secrecy, they would never dare to try something before everybody’s eyes or where there are so many security holo-cameras at work. You can see what I mean, undoubtedly,” Dwyn explained as if that was the plainest thing to say.

“Uhm, so, you are saying you stay at the Spaceport? This is all really weird, I acknowledge that…  And how long have you been doing this?”

“Since I left my labs on that planet, a week ago. And I don’t see any other solution. It’s difficult, and very hard to do, but… You see, the dimension I discovered, the place where those creatures live, is not just on another world, somewhere far from here. It is not visible from just a single point in space, but thanks to my new machine, if used in the proximity of the right amount of that specific mineral I told you before, really you could look at them from everywhere, spying on what they do and plan, of course! Which means they could be capable of doing the same right now! As their dimension is near ours, like a sort of sheet of common reality under our own, not differently from another matter behind ours, I could reach them from this planet as well. Actually, I could reach them from any corner of any planet where orpiment is available. On the other hand, once they spotted me looking at them that day, and they also found a way to study me in return thanks to their technology - I knew I was in peril. They don’t want other beings spying on them. They want their existence to be a secret as they have always kept it that way, and they could never accept anyone who might interfere with their business!  This is why I must stay in crowded places until I find a way to take cover and escape their searching. Which I didn’t discover yet, if it really is possible to escape them anyway… ”

“You’re living like this, and it all started a week ago? Since you left that world… ? Really?” Blanche was staring at the man wide-eyed and surprised by now. “I don’t know how you can live like that. How long do you think you can go on? You need help… ” In saying so, the woman meant that he really needed to find someone who could gave him shelter, or better yet – someone to calm his mind, maybe a medical professional, or the like. Dwyn’s condition appeared a bit desperate, and seriously problematic.

“You haven’t seen the things I’ve seen… You haven’t looked at them! You’ve never felt their alien eyes on you… There’s no one I can turn to for help. It’s too late… I just need to find a way to keep my whereabouts covered, but I’m still working on that, no way to know if I can one day. But until then I will have to stay attentive, and wary, any time during the day. When I am asleep, the crowded places give me protection as I’m in plain sight and those beings would never try to approach me if there are others nearby. It would be against their best interests… ”

The woman stayed completely speechless for a few moments. Then a call from the device on her wrist immediately reminded her of her next duty and that her break time was over. She had to get back to her work in the bar, there were orders to be filled of course… But, also in this case, she told him that she would be back soon…

As a matter of fact, regrettably, the rest of that late evening, and most of the night was busier than any night in the past week, as a fight almost started between two different factions of aliens known as Qkli-ef - who had very different beliefs about religion and had come to this planet to protest the other side’s Convention. That had been their only reason for coming to Bethdish: so they could all meet up outside the building where the other’s Convention was taking place, to appear as fierce protesters and stop their meetings. Probably not content with the turmoil they had already caused in town, they wanted to continue their fight in this Space Bar, and they almost forced the workers to call the police. Anyway, that really made the whole day exhausting.

It was almost the end of the night when Blanche finally felt free to get back to Dwyn’s table. But it was too late, again… When the last bottle of his liquor had been emptied, the woman caught a glimpse of the man in the distance who appeared more tired and troubled than before, but he seemed to know that he had to leave. Outside it was almost dawn. So he stretched out his legs before also rubbing his clear eyes and slowly headed for the exit.  As he walked on, he appeared to be looking around to see if someone might come unexpectedly out of the shadows or approach him. The waitress was a bit worried about his present condition…

Blanche wondered if she should say something to him, but she was already certain she would see him again this evening among their customers. So, maybe she would also know something more about what he had undergone, and what else he had really discovered because of his strange machinery. Or what he planned on doing to solve his situation. Provided that also on that occasion she would convince him to be more talkative, or at least as he had done so far…

The woman her eyes follow the customer’s steps outside, as he was still visible on the many holo-cameras that highlighted the outside of the building. Then, at a certain point, he simply was gone!


Doubtful about how this might be, the waitress looked better and thought she might have spotted that strange crackling in the night air, similar to a small energy burst, like the previous day. Surprised about what she saw a moment ago, and still thinking of the frightening words the customer had told her the previous time - though not without a bit of apprehension - she ran outside to check if that man was okay, in the open, because he seemed to have disappeared on the several holo-videos of the bar.

But when she got outside, she couldn’t find Dwyn anywhere… He seemed to have really run off, as if he had never been there. And that was unbelievable. He couldn’t have moved at light-speed, and certainly wasn’t around the bar anymore. Worry and doubts overtook the woman who wondered if something terrible had happened to him. But how… ? She remained there pensive for a while, and kept looking around, until another call from the device she had on her arm made her turn around to go back inside as new orders were on the way.

It was at that time, as she raised her eyes, that she thought she spotted something… another unusual crackling of a vivid light… And through it she was almost sure to have seen some features, or more than that, but not human faces. And she couldn’t say what it exactly was, if that had really happened here! The light lasted a very short time. Then it ended. And only another unusual crackling of electricity remained in the air, before it was all over…

But the waitress could never be certain it had ever been there. It was anyway in a wary state that she entered the Space Bar again, and with a worried mind. Then she tried her best not to think about what had happened for the next few hours while she buried her fear with hard work.

But something, at times, made her look around, especially in the early morning. And she thought she might look strange, or anxious, if anyone caught her pensively staring at the air to the left, or to the right. What did she think would happen next? In the deepest part of her heart, the woman probably didn’t know, and didn’t want to discover the worse that could still happen, of course… 



THE END


© 2020 Sergio Palumbo

Bio: Sergio is an Italian public servant who graduated from Law School working in the public real estate branch. He is also a co-Editor, together with Mrs. Michele DUTCHER, of the new Steampunk Anthology “Steam-powered Dream Engines”, published in march 2018 by Rogue Planet Press, an Imprint of British Horrified Press, and of the new Fantasy/Sci-Fi Anthology “Fantastical Savannahs and Jungles”, published in march 2019 by the same Publisher. The subsequent book edited by him, together with Mrs. Michele DUTCHER, is the new Sci-Fi Anthology “Xenobiology – Stranger Creatures”, published in september 2020 by Rogue Planet Press, an Imprint of British Horrified Press.
 
The first Historical/Horror screenplay written by him, titled “Tophet- An Ancient Evil”, completed in 2018, won an Honorable Mention Award at The 2018 International Horror Hotel Award - script Competition held in Richfield, Ohio.

He is also a co-Editor, together with Mrs. Michele DUTCHER, of the new Steampunk Anthology “Steam-powered Dream Engines”, published in march 2018 by Rogue Planet Press, an Imprint of British Horrified Press.

He is also a scale modeler who likes mostly Science Fiction and Real Space models, some of his little Dioramas have been shown also on some  Italian (scale model) magazines like  Soldatini, Model Time, TuttoSoldatini  and online  on American site StarShipModeler, MechaModelComp, on  British SFM: UK site  and  Italian  SMF .

 Some Sci-Fi/fantasy/Horror short- stories by him in Italian have been published on Alpha  Aleph, Alpha  Aleph  Extra, Algenib, Oltre il Futuro, Nugae  2.0, SogniHorror, La Zona Morta, edizioni  Lo Scudo, Antologia  Robot  ITA  0.1, Antologia  Il Segreto dell'Universo,  Antologia  E-Heroes,  etc.’ 

Sergio has enough writing and publication crdits now to fill an entire website, so please excuse that those have been truncated here for brevity.

E-mail: Sergio Palumbo

Editor Bio:“Michele Dutcher, aka Bottomdweller,  lives  in a carriage house in Old Louisville Kentucky with her border collie – Daisy Dukes.  She has a BS degree in Elementary Education from Indiana University with minors in theology & sociology  and  has been writing Science Fiction stories for about a decade. She edits all the first drafts of Sergio’s short stories.” 

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