Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Falling Sun
by Arley Sorg

With Hostile Intent
by Eamonn Murphy

Between First Dawn and Last Dusk
by Emily McCosh

by Stephen L. Antczak

Black Starburst
by Barry Charman

Captain Loop Jamaan’s Conversion
by Trevor Doyle

Tumbler’s Gift
by Geoff Nelder

Zoo Hack
by James Van Pelt

Shorter Stories

Terminate and Stay Resident
by Robin Wyatt Dunn

World Champion
by Sean Mulroy

I Love Lupi
by Holly Schofield


It’s a Puzzlement
by Terry Stickels

It’s Invisible
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




Tumbler’s Gift

By Geoff Nelder

TUMBLER COULDN’T RESIST IT. He should have kept strolling down this pavement with its smooth marble stones shaped like a giant linear jigsaw but for the girl. Yet, it was not her sleek red hair, curiously upturned nose and sandy one-piece that attracted him. A coruscating speck of sand fell from her sleeve to the paving. No surprise as her arm agitated so much and in tune to her swearing and pounding at the lock. Tumbler took in the sky blue velo parked behind the locked gate. He stopped, coughed an excuse-me, and placed his hand over the lock. The mechanism whirred and the gate opened.

“How did you do that?” Her voice melted him, ruby lips from which flowed a red wine sound. She stood back a step to study him. Tumbler wished he’d dressed more carefully. Perhaps his Uglee T-shirt instead of this interview suit, and roughed up shock of straw hair instead of it being slick, flat and business-like. Why, was he really expecting a date from this grateful young woman with her emerald green eyes, touched-up freckles and citrus fragrance?

He’d better answer with his chancer voice, lower than his normal too-high squeak, “A gift.”

She narrowed her eyes making her ridiculously long eyelashes look as if they were knitting a black scarf. She turned to her velo. “I suppose you can unlock vehicles too?”

“Anything, absolutely everything.” He held out his hand. “Tumbler.”

She ignored his hand, probably not wanting to reveal further the chips in her photo-nail varnish from assaulting the lock. “Suppose it is not mine, would you still unlock it?”

Trick question. Not that he possessed a moral dilemma here. He was so adept with the sensory locks, he could open them just by being close. Although he’d rather his clients think he had to be physical. He worried about losing this fish before she’d properly bitten. Correct answer then. “Yes, if that is what you desired.”

She turned to him, smiled and said, “Right answer. It is mine. Ember.” She took her smile away as quickly as she gave it. “But I was trying to lock this gate. It was jammed open. Can you undo your interference and lock the dumb thing?”

“Well ... that is another curious thing about my gift.”

“I see, no.”

“Do you have a key for this gate, as in a metal. Or is it a fob or voice activated, wireless, IR, nanobot, alpha-brain synched—”

She held up an old-fashioned, steel cylinder-lock key.

He took it, turned it over in the bright sunshine, and gave it back. “You bent it.”

Her eyebrows rose in the middle. “Can you fix it?”

“It would likely break. Try a locksmith.”

“I thought that’s what you were ... CitZen Tumble?”

“Recks, Tumbler Recks. Just born with a gift for—”

“Then what are you?”

He walked to the hinge of the gate, placed his hand over it and steadied the gate as it became unhinged, lowered to the ground and thus immovable by hand. “Ah, late for a job interview. Say, meet me at ten at the corner of twenty-five and sixty—the Blue Call.”


“To see if I got the job, and if I can tell you what it is, and to arrange for your gate to be fixed, unfixed, your choice.”


Two hours later, Tumbler tousled and scratched his now spiky hair, thinking he’d overdone the gel. And his hand reeked of orange.

The number 273.6 bus glided up. Tumbler stepped to the scanner and waved his palm at it as if he possessed the pass everyone else had to pay for. He thought back to the interview at the CrimPolice offices.


“Clarify, you do not want me to open an agency safe for which you have lost the combo? Or unencrypt the enemy’s Enigmatic Machine?”

His knees steepled as he sat on the too-low chair they’d indicated. The two-person interview committee, both in blue, behind a large desk, didn’t like him, he could tell by their curled lips and cursory swiping through his resume as if it would contaminate their eyes. Maybe they’d called up his references.

He cringed at the thought of them knowing of his many unsuccessful employment attempts. He thought he’d make use of his gift but the locksmith danced the angry jig when his wares unlocked themselves permanently when Tumbler got too close. The air steward trial during which overhead lockers fell open and their contents cascaded on the passengers when he walked the aisle. Of course, he could control his powers better now. However, the last job—simple enough, as a snake milker for a pharmaceutical company, Venom Solutions Isn’t It psd—went swimmingly until his concentration slipped and so did a lock resulting in the escape of a dangerous Mamba.

He returned to the present. A woman with rusty hair the shape of a mushroom turned to a giant on her left. “I told you, Ap Tor, too flippant. We cannot trust this wisp of a youth with something this important.”

“Hey, I am trustworthy. I did not unlock that sealed cabinet in the waiting room. That was a test, yes?”

A huge man with skin the hue of an aubergine waved his hand as if swatting a mozzie off his much-lived-in nose. “Not only not a test, you’d walked into the wrong room. CitZen Recks, in this organisation when we lock things we want them to stay that way. Having your alleged ability within nine blocks of here could compromise our integrity.”

Tumble bristled at the alleged and looked around for a lock he could wave his hand over. Seeing none he said, “So, why am I here? I am only average at making cofftea.”

The woman, her fashionable pearled eyebrows level, stabbed at a golden square on the desk, said, “My numero two here, Ap Tor, believes you can unlock a portal. What do you say?”

Tumbler stood. “Whoa, what have peeps told you about me? I do small stuff, and tangibles like real metal locks not those new entanglement abstract portals.” He didn’t want to tell them that he didn’t know the limits of his capability.

Ap Tor rose to his feet. “Calm down, CitZen Recks. Sit, please. Intelligence misled us into thinking you are greater than your parts.”

Tumbler sat while he thought through the doublespeak.

“Course I am. I have hidden depths. Before I say no, what can you tell me about this mission?”

The woman coughed into her hand. Tumbler thought it was a cover for her rapid-speaking a word to Ap Tor. Odd that she’d not been named. He could just come out with it, ask her. Or ... He stood again and strolled to a wall decorated with the older type of holo-images. They were muttering among themselves at the desk. Tumbler spotted an image of her. He casually waved his hand into the holo as if asking a fly to leave.

“Please come and sit down,” she said.

“All right then, La Bis.” He studied her white face expecting her pearled eyebrows to jig a little, but she was a professional.

“You unlocked data in the holo-image?”


“I would be more so ... if it was my name, and not my mother’s. I am Li Bis.”

Tumbler rubbed his chin, rueing his faux pas. “Which portal is stuck on locked?”

Ap Tor and Li Bis exchanged curt nods. She glanced at her e-square, her eyes nictating, turning the pages as if yet undecided to trust him.

“All right, enough people have been affected by the delays, so it would be in the public domain soon. The portal is at the west pole. It is used to transfer goods to other portals here, in orbit, or to the mission on Marz. It is also used by VIPs. Not you—unless you fix it.”

Tumbler sweated. “I do not know. Could go badly wrong. Might be unlocking the malfunctioning portal but find myself sucked through it, recycled particles in outer space.”

Ap Tor’s mouth slanted at a disturbing angle until it opened. “Two drillion credits.”

Tumbler stood and half-turned away. “Can I think about it?”

They must have expected his response. Li Bis said, “Back here at fifteen, but you know you do not really have a choice.”

Before he could ask her to elaborate, they upped and left.


Where was she? He’d energised himself with a shot of red at the Blue Call and it was now eleven past the time. He thought he’d judged her right, especially with the need to reopen her gate and his gift must have piqued her curiosity.

“Daydreaming, the magician of locks? You can order me a long cobalt—with ice.” Ember’s voice sneaked up behind him along with her familiar lemon fragrance and brought a smile to his lean face.

“Ember, I hoped you’d come. Let us enjoy a drink and perhaps a sway?”

She swivelled her hips to the beat of the syncopating harmonics from the ceiling, encouraged by the rhythmic floor hues. Tumbler threw himself into the mood and onto the floor in curved leaps. In time with the music, the two of them conjoined with arms around waists and interlocked legs. Such energy use couldn’t be sustained for long but with restorative breaks until 14.

“I have to return to the interview room. Submit my response.”

She peered into his cool blues. “You must go for it, otherwise you would—”

“Drift? Live a life not knowing what could be? Or have you another agenda, Ember?”

They’d left the hot bar to shudder in the misty moist of the evening and huddled with a small group waiting for the 273.6b to the CrimPolice offices. It was the largest employer in the district and, in time, everyone needed permits, dox, retribution forms, and punishtags.

Ember linked his arm. “Succeed in this mission and we could achieve much more.”


Ignoring tuts from the bus stop huddle, she pressed her body against his and nibbled his ear. “I have the strategies, connections and go-go, while you, Tumbler dear, have the gift.”

“And credits if I—”

“You see, a team. Here’s my ident, let me know how it goes.” She kissed, bit, then kissed more his bloodied, grateful lips.


Tumbler didn’t enjoy his VIP treatment. He’d hoped to exhilarate in the journey to the west pole, travelling by sub-orbital flier, admiring the oceans, clouds and mountains en route then waving at wonder-gazers staring at him and his escorts in the land vehicles. Instead he might as well have been inside a windowless box.

He’d not seen pictures of the portal—they were banned in the media—but he thought they’d be like in the movies: an arch, a circle or a wardrobe. None of those things. It was in a warehouse filled with electronic equipment with only squeeze-by space between towers of fluorescent green boxes exuding a whiff of plastic and ozone.

In a clearing, the portal was pointed at by a green-jump-suited scientist, whose arm led Tumbler’s eyes to a black plinth on which rested a white spot.

“That’s a portal? How—”

Ap Tor chuckled then in his bass voice said, “If only you had understood your school QM.”

“Hey, I excelled in school. Performed well in Quantile Mechanics. I subbed a paper on Mileva Einenstein and her Special Relations. Ah, I see, mathematically the portal could be a point. This spot isn’t it, is it?”

The big man smiled.

“The white spot just indicates the location of the invisible point?”

“You have the gist of it. You are in the midst of a cube outlined by a thin blue line.”

“Oh, I walked right across and into it. Should alarms have gone off?”

Ap Tor held apart his arms. “Everything is disengaged until you unlock this portal.”

Tumbler leapt back out of the marked area. “What used to happen when it worked?”

“The controllers set a countdown then everything inside the cube goes to the portal address elsewhere. We receive a signal when another portal wishes to transport goods and people to us, but that’s not happening either.”

Tumbler paced around massaging his chin.

“If I have to be in the cube, and unlock the portal, what is stopping me disappearing down its plughole?”

Ap Tor laughed. “Our controllers will know if it is operational and will prevent any such activity. However, even if that happened you would reappear, intact at one of the other portals.”

Tumbler was disturbed by the big man’s hilarity. Was it a cover up for his uncertainty? His hand trembled with the anticipation of unlocking the portal. It would be the pinnacle of his abilities.

The woman, Li Bis, pushed an epad into his hands. “We need you to validate this agreement.”

“Ah, a waiver so I cannot sue for a catastrophe.”

“For you to receive two drillion credits.”

“Good point. Why would I sue if I had that much?” He scratched his stuck-up hair—definitely too much gel this time. “It is not just me that could end up as non-baryonic matter in a dark place, so could this cube, this room and the whole of Terra. Does this agreement absolve me of the end of the world?”

Her raised eyebrows confirmed that the question was rhetorical. Even so, as he presented his fingerprint to the epad he unlocked clauses that he guessed might deny him his cash.

“Could it be a software glitch, or a hardware problem?” He pointed at the batteries of humming machinery.

“The best IT brains that money cannot buy ...” she uncharacteristically snickered “... confirmed only this one is jammed, blocked, locked ... whatever.”

He should run, but more than the money, it was the fascination and the notion of unlocking something so different. In febrile excitement he glanced at their faces. Ap Tor’s slash of a smile, Li Bis’ return to her usual mode of rectitude. He thought of Ember and her secretive plans for his gift with a promise of as much rapture as he could take if this unlocking worked.


Usually, he’d be able to unlock any device merely by waving his hand over it, not even touching, as if an electrostatic charge between his skin and the object was enough, or a miniscule change in the magnetic field, along with a focus, locus, of quantum untangling occurred. Whatever the real cause, he didn’t like to dwell on it too much in case the gift departed.

The portal was an unknown. Should he wave his hand then jump away from the blue lines? Locks unlocked instantly for him. Sometimes accompanied by the syncopated orchestra of a whirring of cogs, electronic protesting humming, or a clatter of pins, twang of springs, tumble of brass, clunk of tumblers.

His rumination was interrupted by Li Bis. “You do not need to worry, CitZen Recks, nothing will happen. This portal has become jammed, possibly inert. We will build a new one even though we are not sure how Tezla Tring disappeared. Go ahead, do your thing.”

So he did. Tumbler approached the black plinth, his eyes fixed on the white spot. A tinnitus-like background hum of the computers added to the aroma of plastic, metal, and orange zest from his hair gel.

He stuck out his hand.


Tumbler awoke slowly in a hospital bed. He smelt pine disinfectant, an antique aroma, and was surprised at the pattern of interlocking squares decorating the screen around his bed. Back home in Deva the hospitals floral designs abounded everywhere, by law—a notion they calmed patients and accelerated healing. The bedding was white whereas at home the ubiquitous shade was green, by law. So he was successful in unlocking the portal. Yeah, but ended up somewhere strange.

He looked for a wrist alert button but instead found a plastic band with John Doe written and some numbers that could be dates, but not as back in Albion. Was he supposed to be this John Doe person?


The screen parted and in walked a woman in blue, her brown hair mostly hidden by a ridiculous white hat affair. “Shush, luv, we mustn’t disturb the others. Here, now you’re in the land of the living, we’ll have your details.”

At least she spoke Anglian but only just and with a strange twang. No one would be so bold to call a stranger “love” and what did she mean by “land of the living?” Was there another kind of land he was expected to be in?

She sat on the chair next to the bed and from her pocket produced an old-fashioned pen and pad.


“CitZen Tumbler Recks. Yours?”

She scribbled on her pad and repeated in her foreign accent, “Sitson Tumberler Wrecks Yaws, that’s quite a mouthful. Address?”

He understood little of what she said but took in that she was waiting for the next answer. Probably his age.

“Reev ar leyn.”

“What number River Lane, luv?”

Her blue eyes softened his worry, bringing on one of his smiles. He should try his own questions.

He spoke slowly, carefully, “Where am I?”

“Hospital, luv.”

“What is the name of this city, and country?”

“Good Lord, ‘ave you been worrying over that? This is the Countess of Chester Hospital, in Chester, England, of course. Where did you think you were?”

“At the west pole, or Cit Deva, country Albion. Are they in this hemisphere? A portal nearby?”

She sucked on her pen. “Heard of Deva. There’s businesses with that name here in Chester. Oh, and there’s the Albion pub. Not heard of no portal, luv.”

They exchanged glances, Tumbler realizing what had happened but the nurse’s raised plucked eyebrow indicated he was a plaster short of a first aid box. Even so, he needed to exit.

“I am well. Nothing broken. No bleeding. May I leave now?”

She shook her pen. “Not until the doctor says. Anyway, the police are waiting to talk to you.”

For a fleeting moment he wondered if Ap Tor had followed him through the unlocked portal into this other-dimension-parallel-world place but it was more likely this place’s CrimPolice. What crimes might he have committed, illegal entry?

“Excuse me, nurse, where was I found?”

“You kind of appeared—they said materialised like in Star Trek in front of a queue at Rosie’s night club. Caused quite a stir with people wanting you chucked to the back. The bouncers decided you were drugged out of your ‘ead and called 999.”

So many terms he couldn’t comprehend: Star Trek, queue, astir, and what on Terra could bouncers be? He should rapid leave but the only way from the bed was through the nurse, the screen and whatever lay beyond. Where was a locked door when he needed one? They’d never suspect he went that way.

At least he wasn’t naked but the thin, matching white jacket and bottoms might be conspicuous outside.

“Where are my clothes?”

She pointed at a bedside cabinet. “In your locker.”

Lock? Good that locks existed here. It was ajar and his travelling garments were folded there. Browns, and black slip-ons. He slid out of bed and took off his jacket.

The nurse hastily left while he changed bottoms.

Before he could leave, a woman in a black uniform brushed aside the screen. Blond hair in a tight knot, and a serious frown approached him with her hands on her hips.

“I’m Sergeant Stubbs, you want to answer questions here or at the station?”

Tumbler took a step towards the police officer holding out his hand palm up in greeting. “Hey, Sar Jent, I am CitZen Recks. Is the station a portal or—?”

With unnecessary roughness the woman grabbed his hand, snapped a metal clamp around his wrist, twisted and pulled so his other hand joined in. All the time she was talking at him.

“Smart-arse words doesn’t cut it with me. You’ve some explaining to do. We know you’re a terrorist trying to create unrest by causing havoc in a popular club.”

Tumbler wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or scared at the misguided accusations, but he was amused that the presumed CrimPolice woman thought a simple locking device would hold him. He decided to go along with her for the present. She might be armed and would have colleagues nearby.

Leaving the ward in front of Sar Jent he found himself surrounded by more black-garmented men and women all pointing what he presumed to be weapons at him. Nurses, doctors, and bewildered patients gawped. A volcano of heat built up in him fuelled by embarrassment. Everything was sufficiently off-kilter to confirm his suspicions that he was not on the Terra he knew. He stopped at the exit to take in the sky—the same blues with cotton-wool clouds; many individual vehicles. A dusty, metallic odour and sparse vegetation with all the concrete. His observations were cut short by being bustled into the rear compartment of one of the autos.

A wailing siren accompanied their journey to another building. He should escape before he was interred, so he looked at the doors and surmised a simple locking mechanism. He should be able to unshackle his wrists then run out of the door.

The vehicle decelerated so he glanced down at his wrists and willed the restraints to fall open.

They remained locked!

Up to now he’d been confident he’d escape from any situation. Nothing held him even at the academy when he’d been deliberately tied up with thick rope by the upper echelon. To their amazement, the rope untwined itself and chased them.

Normally, he could pass his hand over a lock, not even quite touching it, but these restraints were rigid, keeping his hands apart so that the fingers of one hand couldn’t quite reach the lock on the other. It shouldn’t make a difference. Perhaps his power didn’t work here, or not in the same way. He frowned and he never did that. He could reach the door handle by twisting his body around but whoa, the vehicle turned and accelerated.

The CrimPolice woman turned to him. “The situation in the town centre’s getting worse. We’re taking you to see what you’ve done. You can explain.”

“See what?” As far as Tumbler knew he’d unlocked a portal, fell through it back in his home town on the other side of the planet. Ah.

He laughed and said, “This is unreal. I am asleep, dreaming?”

“Then we’re in your nightmare. We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

He wondered what minutes were while pinching his legs then flinching with wakefulness pain. Not dreaming. He’d no choice but to confess.

“All right, Sar Jent, I will help but I fear you will not believe.”

The vehicle roared through just-parted road blocks.

She turned to face him. “Are you saying you’re not Tumbler Reck?”

“Well, yes I am but ...”

“You’re not from a place called Deva?”

How could he explain where he’d really come from when he could only guess?

Tumbler recognized much of the urbanscape from his world: the red sandstone bridge through the medieval wall that surrounded the centre. The shops were different and this place must have invested in religion because there were many churches while his Deva possessed one. They rounded the familiar market cross only to screech to a halt, bumping into a red RescueCar. Strangely, the Rescuers in their padded black suits and yellow helmets didn’t turn to remonstrate but stood with a crowd of assorted service persons staring towards the town centre.

A CrimPoliceman yanked him out of the vehicle, but didn’t undo the restraint. Another gripped his other elbow and the three of them barged their way through the onlookers, who gawped ahead without speaking. There was noise. Like a gentle hail, accompanied by the pungent odour of ozone. Within moments his stomach found itself pressed against a plastic barrier.

Through a haze of brick dust he could see that a block of buildings had gone, disintegrated or fallen down a hole. That was it: a sinkhole had opened up under the city near where he’d been found.

Sar Jent opened up the barrier. A Rescuer in a white helmet held up his hand.

“Too dangerous, Maam, it’s widening.”

She frowned at him as if the phenomenon was his fault. “How fast?”

“Tricky one, that, about half a metre a minute but accelerating. Reckon, if you stay there you’ll disappear with it in ten minutes. This chap an expert?”

The CrimPolice woman turned directly in front of Tumbler and jabbed at his chest. “Fire Watch Manager Brown, he is the one who caused this. Terrorist or idiot, he’s to blame.”

“Hey, I’m just a passing tourist. Anyway, have you not come across sinkholes before? They are where subsidence underground such as mines, ca—”

“There’s no hole,” she said, “as well you know.”

“No hole?”

“No hole.”

He peered across the now dusty tarmac to where a four-storey block of shops used to be topped by a huge nightclub. Like a red and grey mist, clearing and thickening in swirls settling on what looked like a bed of crumbs. No hole. The fabric of space here had disintegrated.

He could see the circular rim of fine debris crossing the road until it reached the kerb. It was as if the stone turned to sand, then vanished.

Everyone shuffled backwards. Tumbler frowned as he was being held still, then he had an idea.

“Have you tried sending a remote in there?”

They looked at him with raised eyebrows.

“You know, an unmanned vehicle? Oh, I give up. Here, let us see what happens when I kick this ...” He booted a metal clamp that had fallen off the barrier. It bounced along the paving and as it crossed the event-circumference it puffed out of existence. “Have you tried that with an organic substance?”

She smiled for the first time. “You mean like a volunteer? Why do you think you’re here?”

Tumbler tried to step back but was held fast.

“After all, you must have done something to create this. Some kind of new terrorist weapon, but you’re not going to kill yourself, are you?”

“I’ve tried to tell you. I was unlocking a portal in another version of this world and fell through into this one. Agreed, it is too much a coincidence for me to have appeared in the centre of that circle, but cause it, no!

“Yes, you did,” she said as she nodded to the two CrimPolice to drag him forward.

“I was doing your CrimPolice on the other side a favour.” He tried to distract them from throwing him into oblivion. “How high does it go?”


“Have you told your flight operators to keep your air-vehicles away? It could go up all the way to space.”

It bought him a few moments as they looked up and saw clouds overhead, then the circle widened. A nearby lamppost became as thin as a bamboo cane, wilted then went altogether, as shops lost their frontage on the other side.

The Rescuer shouted at everyone to get back, right back, preferably to another city.

Tumbler was taken back to their CrimPolice vehicle. As he sat alone inside, he tried again to unlock his restraints but nothing happened.

Sar Jent finished a conversation with the others but when she tried to open the vehicle door it was locked. As were the other doors.

She scowled at him. How could it be his fault?

He realized what had happened.

The driver used his key to open doors.

As they sirened their way through the dispersing crowd, Sar Jent turned to Tumbler. “We’re heading for the Wrexham Police Headquarters. We should be safe at fourteen miles, unless you know different. We’ve observers radioing in so we’ll know what’s happening.”

“And cams, presumably.”

“Of course.”

As they sped down Wrexham Road the scenery was so familiar it was as if he was back home, yet they appeared to be a century behind. He wished he was back home, hadn’t taken this mission, then he’d be in Ember’s arms.

They reached the tall CrimPolice building soon enough, but he waited until they advanced on the glass doors before attempting to lock them. He couldn’t help smiling when they refused to auto-slide at Sar Jent’s approach. He enjoyed her scowl as she used her comms to make someone come to physically unlock it. In the foyer they all looked at him. He stuck out his tongue.

A big man rather like Ap Tor walked up to them.

“Throw him in Cell five, Sergeant Stubbs, while your team go to the obs room.”

“Sir, I’d rather keep him with us. His input is essential.”

“Your responsibility then.” He marched away.

As they waited for an elevator to arrive, Tumbler thought about how to experiment with his new locking skill. Precious little that wouldn’t inconvenience him too. He could try locking the elevator doors but he had an interest in surviving this situation. After a silent rise to the ninth floor, and still with his wrists locked, he emerged into a bright, airy room that was all windows, amazing views over the city and hills. Same sky, similar landscape, same-ish human beings, wrong world yet ... what? A dash of red hair drew his attention to a woman operative at a chunky computer terminal. His elbows were free from the grip of others so he wandered over.

The hairs rising on his neck told him it could be Ember from the other Deva. He detected a floral aroma rather than the fruit fashionable in his world, and her hair coiffured short instead of bouffant, but her reflection in the monitor had arranged her freckles in the same order. She turned—yes, her eyes the same emeralds.

“What you gawping at?”

Umm, the voice isn’t quite as velvet as Ember, nor the words.

“You, because you remind me of a young woman I know. Her name’s Ember.”

She sneered a guffaw at him. “That’s the worst chat-up line I’ve heard. Somebody’s told you my name, haven’t they?”

The whole situation was nerve-wrackingly surreal before, but this—does it mean there’s another Tumbler in this existence? He’d have to check out the gaols.

“Is your name really Ember?”

She stood and pointed at her name badge. Tumbler never liked those identity badges stuck on women’s chests. How did they know he wasn’t ogling? She wore a CrimPolice blue shirt with the top few buttons undone, the rest under tension.

Through the version of written Anglian he could see her name started wrong.

“Amber.” Not quite Ember.

She looked at his restraints as if for the first time.

“Ah, you’re the terrorist who set off some kind of absorption bomb. You gonna tell us how to disarm it?”

He hadn’t considered the mechanism of the oblivion event.

“Is an absorption bomb a real thing for your world? It isn’t in mine.”

She scowled. “I don’t know. Use that terminal to search for it. We use a search engine called Infoseek in conjunction with the PNC.” She used a key on her lanyard to unlock his restraint. “There, no need for handcuffs in here. Try to escape and I’ll floor you.”

He rubbed his wrists. He sat on a swivel chair and smiled at the primitive user interface, but as soon as he touched the mouse the computer froze.

“What are you doing?”

“Ah, unlike with your other self, Ember, when I could unlock anything at will, it seems my gift has not only reversed itself but locks anything even when I don’t desire it.”

“You’re nuts.”

“It could be awkward ... for instance trying to unzip, because I need to—”

“You’ll have to figure that out for yourself or get a man to help you. Uh-oh, incoming data.”

A speaker on another monitor was turned up for the dozen officers to hear.

“The edge of the destruction circle has reached the Wrexham boundary, five kilos from the origin. Its speed has risen from one kilo an hour to two in the last ten minutes. Emergency evacuation zone has extended to twenty kilos. This headquarters is closing in thirty minutes and relocating to Shrewsbury. All leave is cancelled. Public broadcasts and speaker vans are informing the public and the army are assisting in transferring care homes, hospitals, et cetera. Please be calm as the speed is still less than walking speed. Save critical data to your floppies.”

Tumbler’s stomach tightened as the realization hit that he might not get out of this. Nor anyone. Suppose the circle didn’t stop? Two kilos an hour would mean it would swallow Londinium in five days, half the world in eighty days, the whole world by half a year. Surely, it must stop soon.

Sar Jent walked up to them, her face pinched with worry. Probably thinking of her Chester home now a dust cloud, perhaps her family in the panic escape. She had a tall, thin, man with her.

“This is Professor Tring, a physicist from UMIST. He’s only agreed to come on condition the police helicopter is on standby but we’re using it anyway to take you and him to Manchester.”

Tumbler wondered if he was related to Tezla Tring.

Tring waved his arms, which appeared to energise his eyebrows. “I have some QM theories to pass by you. It could be that a quantum entanglement event propelled you—”

“Professor,” Sar Jent said, “we have no time for this. I’ll take you back up to the pad after handcuffing the prisoner.”

Tumbler put his hands in his pockets. “I won’t cooperate if you put those back on me, and I want Ember, Amber to come with us.”

“No, she has duties in the evacuation.”

“I have a connection between her and my world.” He pleaded with his eyes to the professor. “It could be useful.”

The tall man nodded sending a drift of dandruff at Sar Jent.

She sneezed and said, “Okay then.”

“I don’t want to go with him,” Amber said, pointing at Tumbler.

“For God’s sake,” Sar Jent said. “It’s an order, now hurry.”


In the helicopter, the professor indicated the headphones. Amber sat at the back so she didn’t have to sit near Tumbler, mildly hurt but too distracted to argue. The professor talked into his headset.

“Recks, can you hear me?”

He could but his attention was taken by the view north. He could see much of the vast circle of oblivion, and they were not far from its relentlessly widening circumference.

“Pilot, we must not fly over the circle!”

The helicopter slowed its forward motion until it hovered near but not over the danger zone.

“Prof, I hear you but I am both scared to death and curious. What happens when the River Caer meets the circle?”

They leaned with their faces against the Perspex on opposite sides of the helicopter. Wiping his condensed breath away, Tumbler could see that the river ended at the circumference so the event was absorbing or disintegrating water too. Consequently, none was emerging at the estuary on the other side.

Tring turned from his window and nudged Tumbler’s elbow.

“Young man, we think we know what’s happened, but because the situation is urgent any solution has to be drastic.”

Tumbler raised his eyebrows. “You believe me?”

“I had a briefing from Sergeant Stubbs. I believe you came through a cusp or rift in a kind of time decoherence, in quantum mechanics terms.”

“I fell through a portal, though you do not have them here.”

“Yes ... you say you had a gift of unlocking and fell through a portal, so—oh dear, how can I put this?”

Amber butted in, “Just chuck him out.”

Tumbler couldn’t help an embarrassed laugh at her outburst. In so many ways she was the opposite of Ember, as if she possessed the mean bones so that the woman in the other world didn’t need to.

Tring tried again. “You’re aware of the notion of quantum entanglement—what Einstein called spooky action at a distance where even though entangled particles can be widely separated in space, they are intrinsically linked so that one affects the other.”

Tumbler thought back to his studies. “I believe it was Mileva Einenstein, whose husband worked in Patents and neither thought Quantile Mechanical entanglement had validity.”

“Your being here supports the reality of different existences we can’t normally detect. The interesting thing is, Recks, that if you hadn’t been found we’d not know how this disaster happened, nor any possible solution.”

Tumbler listened but his focus was on the widening circle. He was sure it was spreading faster, at least twice a comfortable walking speed. Intriguing how it was levelling everything, creating cliffs as it sliced into hills. Left behind was a mottled flat surface obscured by settling dust at the circumference. There were indentations, where the riverbed was lower than the height where it had started. He looked up and through the whir of rotor-blades, he saw a few puffs of white clouds. Evidence the effect had little altitude.

“Did you hear me, Tumbler Recks?”

He looked around at him. “Yes, my presence proves some kind of entanglement can exist and not just as a wavelength, although everything is constructed of wavelengths.”

“And a possible solution could ... everything you say? Is that what physicists now say in your world? Isn’t there a wave-particle duality? And larger objects are defined more as particles?”

Tumbler laughed at the man’s knitted brows. “I only did the compulsory hypno-course. I do not understand why I fell through a portal at our west pole and emerged halfway around the planet here in what you call Chester.”

The professor smiled, revealing uneven, discoloured teeth, something that never happened in Tumbler’s world. “We’ve thought about that. Of course the planet continued spinning, although in which direction is debateable if your poles are east and west. You emerged in a parallel city for which you had connections.”

Tumbler couldn’t tear his eyes from the teeth but stumbled on.

The teeth hid behind thin lips. “How has your ability to unlock things changed?”

“I could control the unlocking, but locking things happens when I touch them even without thinking. Let me see. I had better not lock this helicopter’s controls, though I have a feeling the door is already locked now. What do you have that’s lockable?”

Amber threw him a red leather book with a brass clasp. “It’s my diary, but the lock’s broken so it’s open all the time.”

Tumbler caught it and turned it over. He passed his hand over the mechanism and it sealed shut. He threw it back, more gently than the way it came.

“Oh great, now it’s locked forever?”

The pilot unlocked the door next to Tumbler. “It should slide open now.”

The prof leaned across and slid it open.

The noise level increased and loose papers flew around the cockpit, but they could still hear each other through the headphones.

The helicopter rose to cloud level, banked and flew over the circle’s edge.

“Hey, we should not fly ... ah, too late. Are you doing this for a better view?”

The pilot spoke in a gravelly voice, “Orders to hover over the centre.”

Tumbler shook with silent worry. More so when the teeth showed their gravestone view again.

“Sorry, Recks, but you are the only solution.”

In spite of the cold air rushing in, Tumbler’s face glowed with heat. “What do you mean?”

“He’s so dumb,” Amber said from the back. “How could my other self see anything in him?”

Dumb? What had he missed?

He looked out of the door and saw the dust had settled over the central area of what used to be ancient Deva but was now a giant empty car park. The helicopter tilted making Tumbler reach for the door handle and wishing they had seat belts. Before he could save himself, a hand pushed his back. They were forcing him out!

The fools must have thought his presence on the ground would lock the growing oblivion circle. He struggled but someone—Amber—grabbed his feet and was lifting them in the air so he couldn’t hook them around a seat.

He was pushed out as far as his waist—his hands holding back onto the doorway. The cold wind bit into his face and his eyes watered.

He yelled, “Tring this won’t work,” but his headset had pulled off and his appeal blew away. One thing to try.

Within moments he was yanked back in, and his headphones jammed on.

Everyone shouted at once but the pilot overrode the other two. “What have you done? I’ve lost the controls.”

Tumbler’s turn to grin. He’d locked down everything. The engine cut out and the rotors slowed as the aircraft started its downward plummet. Tumbler wondered if gravity was as relentless here. He heard Amber yell for a parachute but they were too low. Probably only fifteen seconds to impact. What a way to end a short life, but at least he was taking his murderers with him. Aeronautical if not poetic justice. His calmness was diametrically opposite to the panic of the others.

He watched the circle appearing to accelerate at them, then nothing.


All of Tumbler’s joints and muscles ached. He assumed he was in purgatory but through a mist saw curtains with holo-blooms around his bed and gardenia fragrance. Back in hospital on his Terra.

The blue diffused light from the ceiling became eclipsed and it took a while for Tumbler to realize it was Ap Tor.

So Tring was right, his locking had stopped the phenomenon of that Earth disappearing into this one. If he survived, so might have Tring and Amber, wandering around finding themselves.

“Ap Tor, I think Tezla has returned. He needs a dentist.”

“We were nearly concerned for you, CitZen Recks. Now the analgesics are working, we are discharging you from here in Beach Hospital to take you on a sightseeing tour.”

“Just show me on screen, I am tired.”

A beefy nurse pressed a button so that he was raised and ejected from the bed, landing on his unsteady feet. He stripped Tumbler of his gown and passed him a green all-in-one tunic.

Outside, Tumbler breathed in the fresh air filled with the herbal fragrances from the hospital gardens. “Why here and not Deva Hospital?”

Ap Tor chuckled. “You’ll see, but half your fee has gone into reparations.”

Half of two drillions was still a drillion, but it jarred and he snarled until he saw the other passenger in the parked flier.

“Ember? All this way to greet me?”

She half-smiled but her eyes were behind a fashionable sandy veil. “I had to be temporarily rehoused, as are you. These last few days I have been experiencing strange dreams about us. You really are a troublesome boyfriend.”

He grinned at her label for him, but was shushed by Ap Tor.

“We closed down the west portal so that mission was a waste of resources. You need to explain that.”

The flier took off giving Tumbler a view over the estuary to where Deva should be with its low buildings, trees and single tall spire.

“Is that a volcano?” he said at the sight of a triangular peak, the height of a mountain.

“It behaved like one in that it started in Deva Central as a small cone then puffed out dust until you returned. Analysis revealed it is from brick dust, soil, vegetation and water. Explain.”

Tumbler laughed. His seat belt clasp unlocked. Then, at will, it locked again.

Lock, unlock, lock, unlock. He couldn’t do that before. He laughed again. END

Geoff Nelder is a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society. His novels include “Exit,” “Pursued by Bee,” and the award-winning “ARIA” trilogy. His short stories have appeared in the “Twisted Tails” anthologies, magazines, and elsewhere.


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