he roused himself, reached out to the passenger seat to gather up a bulging folder of paperwork, and slipped out of his car, locking it with his remote and then crossing the lot to where the mother–of–pearl roof arched over the covered driveway at the front entrance of the California Resort.
It felt like coming to an oasis after an age in the desert, although Dave was all too aware that there was a convention waiting to be run and there were all sorts of other duties waiting to ambush him as soon as he stepped inside. Perhaps it was this thought that which made him pause just outside the glass doors, turning to look out over the curve of the driveway and a sweeping view of the ocean beyond – now just a glitter of stars in the darkening sky, and a slash of moonlight glimmering on water in the distance. A last look at something that still felt like a kind of freedom, a sense that there was still time to… escape…
He became aware that he was not alone, that someone very still and very silent was standing just a pace or two outside the doors, holding what looked like a computer tablet in one hand and moving the fingers of the other on the touchscreen with a speed that made Dave’s eyes water. At first he thought that he was just that tired and grumpy, that his own thoughts had slowed down sufficiently for everyone else’s thoughts and movements to appear superluminal in comparison. But then, slowly, it dawned on him that something very strange was going on around him. The view – with the distant islands now no more than a black–on–black oblivion – had begun to turn slightly vertiginous, and made his head swim; he felt, just for a moment, oddly weightless, as if his feet had literally left the ground and left him hovering an inch above the sidewalk before settling back down solidly on his heels; the horizon began to have a distinctly weird tinge to it, as though it was moving in ways a horizon had no business to be moving, and then stopped offering itself up as a straight line and started to curve downwards, a small but significant slope on the edges, turning into something that niggled at the back of Dave’s mind, something that he had seen before…
…that he had seen before in the movies…
The darkening land and ocean were a long way away and receding. Dropping away. Dropping down. As if he were taking off, vertically.
The horizon was not one he was used to seeing while standing on the same planet to which it belonged. He was seeing it from above. He was seeing a world not from within its point of view but observing it from the outside.
His ears popped suddenly.
A motion drew his eye and his head swiveled to where the other man was standing – just in time to see something that made his eyes water even more. In the moment that he finally registered the strangeness of his companion – something that he might have been forgiven for skimming over as he approached, since the convention was known for extreme costuming – he tallied up the things that had triggered his weirdness sensor. That stillness, of course, and the speed of the fingerwork, and the odd silvery sheen on the person’s very smooth skin… and now, as Dave watched, the way that the creature standing there calmly lifted what had looked like a tablet computer and pressed it against its abdomen, where it was instantly absorbed without a trace, leaving no bulge in the form–fitting garment. Dave let out his breath in a little hiss, and the man… the creature… turned to look at him – out of eyes that seemed backlit, with a dark circle which looked like an artificially designed pupil within sclera that glowed silver–white.
The man held Dave’s gaze, inclining that impossibly perfect head just a fraction, hands now empty and hanging by his side.
Dave looked past him again, and realized that in the world outside the portico things had changed radically. There was no longer any doubt that although he himself had not moved the ground underneath him definitely had done so, and he could see the difference as – improbably – a little island of planet Earth parted company with its world and lifted into the starlit sky.
“You,” Dave said, snapping his gaze back to his silent companion. “You’re doing something… you’re doing this. What are you doing? What’s going on…?”
“It is necessary,” said the silver man, and the voice sounded theatrically trained, as though he had practiced elocution. As though every syllable was carefully enunciated, precisely selected. “I will explain.”
“Put us back!” Dave blurted, not knowing how he knew that he wanted to be put back or where this ‘back’, exactly, was – knowing only that he was somewhere he was not supposed to be, that something utterly insane was going on. Knowing with the certainty of the true science fiction geek that he prided himself as being that gravity and atmosphere should not feel as normal as they did if what he thought was taking place was actually taking place. Knowing only that the ground underneath his feet, however solid it might look or feel, was no longer terra firma as he knew it, and feeling himself reel with that knowledge. “Put us back this instant!”
The silver man regarded him with that curiously cocked head, then straightened it back to a more natural angle and said, softly and with something that sounded like regret although there didn’t seem to be anything about him that indicated he could feel such an emotion,
“I can’t do that, Dave.”
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