Gravity’s gone into reverse. Skyscrapers, houses, streets sucked into the skies. Everyone is racing out of town. Except Kyla. And she’s feeling sleepy.
Echoes | Disintegration
The skyline melted upwards. At first just fragments of the buildings had fluttered up to the thick clouds above, but soon a steady stream of masonry, dust and metal particles drifted to the skies .
“Where’s gravity when you need it?” Kayla muttered to herself, she stood on the other side of what had once been a vast lake and watched the city of her birth crumble in the distance.
She looked down for a moment and grunted at the presence of her titanium footwear, courtesy of a locked cellar in the family home. She remembered the day she discovered them.
“Come on dear, everyone’s leaving.” her mother’s best friend, from next door, had called at the house, knocking loudly. Kayla had felt sleepy. It was the middle of the day and she had slumbered peacefully on the sofa by the front door, for what felt like days.
“Hold on!” She shouted from the depths, struggling to emerge from the gentle waters of her dreams. She pushed herself upwards, uncertainly, the knocking at her door battering her senses, “ok, ok. I’m coming!” She tried to shout, but her words slipped through her lips like sliver fishes.
Cautiously she turned the latch.
“Come on Kayla. We’ve got to go!” The door opened to the panicked face of her neighbour, her children, slung around her like a cloak, all of them squealing and bawling.
“What’s going on?” Kayla asked, rubbing her eyes.
“Haven’t you heard? It’s all over the news: internet’s down, no phone lines, look!” A shaky hand poked at the trails of dark smoke across the hills. “That’s New Chicago.”
Kayla, peered though narrowed eyes, picking out not just one, but several thick funnels of smoke. “Doesn’t look right to me.” She shook her head, and winced.
“Of course it’s not right,” her neighbour threw a nervous glance at her children. “Oh, God, come on.” She looked back at the car, waiting impatiently on the street, her husband in the driver’s seat, leaning over, shouting, revving the car, “Kayla, if you don’t come now, you’ll be caught. It’s coming this way.”
“Ok, ok, you go. I’ll follow on, I just need do ––.” She watched her neighbour whirl regretfully towards the car, tumble in then screech off, dust heaving at the sidewalk, just avoiding several other cars, all heading out of town.
Sleepily she fumbled for her car keys.
“Oh, what’s this?” Instead of the expected bundle, she fished out a crumpled note, long forgotten in the coin pocket of her jeans. Wrapped inside was a key. She read the scrawled text and was reminded of its origins.
“Use it. You’ll need it some day.” Never one for long speeches her grandfather had stuffed it into her hands just before he passed away. She remembered his calm voice, a leitmotif of her early years, comforting and guiding, rolling fables and facts across the landscape of her youth. For years after his death it was his voice that accompanied her to her job interviews, that forced her out to the store, that pushed her on her runs. His voice faded now, still soothed her when she fell ill, as she withdrew slowly from her friends and family, her work, losing all connections with life, drifting around her home, tripping over the unwashed clothes, the growing list of broken disorder.
She stared at the paper and the key, and in her sightline she eyes glanced idly at the door beyond, under the stairs, locked for as long as she could remember.
She walked unsteadily across the living room, and carefully aimed the key at the lock.
The door yielded without a murmur. She felt for a light on the inside, but finding none, proceeded down the precarious gloom into the darkness below where she found a tiny space, a pair of titanium boots and another note from her Grandfather, stuffed inside.
She reached for the note. “If you’re reading this, you’ll need the boots. Keep your head down for as long as you can bear.”
She knew better than to question her Grandfather. Tentatively she slipped her feet in, and found them surprisingly comfortable. She realized that the house above her was beginning to rattle, the winds she’d seen in the distance now breaking across the street, slapping and crashing at everything.
She closed her ears, took a last look around, then crouched down, her eye scrunched up like a little girl on a hide and seek mission. She felt the ground rumble. The floor of the little cellar seemed to buckle, but her lead shoes held her steady, and she smiled in the comfort of her grandfather’s protection.
The house around her ripped apart, wooden panels flapped away, the windows smashed out, every item in the house began to disintegrate, pulled into the skies above, as though a gigantic magnet pulled at the iron within every atom.
Kayla’s legs ached, so much she began to cry. And her head screamed at her, the muscles around her eyes burning with the effort of forcing them shut.
Finally she allowed herself to surrender, and all at once she stood up, inhaled deeply and opened her eyes.
It was night time. Or, dark at least. There was almost no sound. And she found that her home had disappeared, and all the houses and trees, and yards that marked out the neighbourhood, all gone. Thin trails of smoke flickered around her, feeding into the dark skies above. And she looked out, across the bay, towards the city of New Chicago, a steady stream of masonry, dust and metal particles drifted up to the skies from the remnants of the skyscrapers.
“Where’s gravity when you need it?” Kayla muttered to herself, she stood on the other side of what had once been a vast lake and watched the city of her birth crumble upwards, in the distance.
She looked down at the lead boots, thankful for the presence of her Grandfather.
“So how did he know?” She didn’t remember him as a scientist, although she had been too young to think of him as anything other than a kind, comforting soul.
As she peered intently at the disassembling world around her she saw a curious motion disturb the upward flow of matter. It sliced across the skyline, creating a disturbance that rippled in its wake, lapping against the banks of destruction, rolling behind, gathering strength and speed, opening a chasm in the destruction that fell upon the air around Kayla until she felt herself eroded by the waves, lapped and licked by the disintegration until she too began to disappear.
* * *
“What the Hell?”
“We nearly lost you on that one Kayla.”
“How did you––?”
“Tried everything: not sure you wanted to leave, sent so many different avatars after you. It was the boots in the end. Nothing else worked. The programme nearly finished, you’d have stayed there forever…”
“Did you get enough data on the anti-matter particles?” Kayla smiled at the kind eyes of the old scientist who carefully unplugged her from the anti-gravity machine, and helped her from the gurney.
“I suppose so. We’ll have to start real-world testing soon.” They looked out at the thin atmosphere of Titan, one of Mars’ many moons.
“Well I wouldn’t recommend it yet. Didn’t you see what was happening?”
“Yes, but we’re under pressure from the shareholders. They need results, they want some return on their money.” The old scientist pushed the hair back from his forehead.
“Perhaps they’d like to go into the next virtual model,” said Kayla, “and see how they feel about it then!”
“We’re under so much pressure, you don’t realise, from the shareholders.”
“But it’s not ready yet ,the programme won’t finish properly, it doesn’t generate enough gravity.”
“I know but it doesn’t matter to them.”
“Well it would if they were here.”
“Huh, they’ll never come here. These sorts of corporations don’t risk the lives of their shareholders…”
More in two weeks, (more from What is Time? next week)
There are many other great stories in this series, including:
Here’s a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts.