Sam could see rows of large stacked cubes. They were polished bright, reflecting the light from overhead. Sam cast a questioning glance at Reb.
‘Would it make sense if I said they are a by-product of the process? To be precise, they are two-metre tall cubes of solid steel or eight cubic metres of steel weighing over sixty-two thousand kilogrammes each. Does that help?’ The sarcastic tone failed to mask Reb’s amusement at Sam’s quandary.
Sam touched one of the cubes as he walked by. The sides were perfectly smooth, and he couldn’t see the top as it was above his head height. The edges and corners were rounded, giving the cubes a look of gigantic dice.
A subdued glow was faintly visible from the end of the conveyor. Sam calculated it to be a quarter of a mile away. He didn’t bother to figure out how many barrels were passing him on the conveyor. A steady stream of them, spaced six feet apart, were travelling lengthways, slightly faster than the pace they were walking at. They disappeared ahead, near the glow. Sam could not make out what was happening, it all seemed to be occurring in shadows, which didn’t make sense as it was also glowing.
He picked up his pace a bit, subconsciously eager to solve the mystery. ‘Do I need to wear a suit or anything?’ he enquired.
‘No, but do not and I stress DO NOT touch anything. In fact, put your hands in your pockets when you get there,’ Reb replied cryptically.
He could feel the heat; it was definitely getting warmer as he drew nearer to the glow. The air had the feel of a smithy he had once visited. It had a perceptible ferrous taste. He could partially see the end wall of the tunnel thirty or forty feet behind the glow, but something large and dark was obscuring the view.
The conveyor ended suddenly with a short downward section. The barrels seemed to enter a dark cave. Bastards, he thought, they are dumping the drums, after all, that bullshit and holier-than-thou crap he had been fed. The bright glow prevented him from seeing into the new cave or tunnel entrance. It seemed to be a set of ultra-bright strip lights. In his haste, Sam had gotten ahead of Reb at this point; he looked back with anger in his eyes.
‘You go ahead, I’ll catch you up. For your own safety, please do not go up the gantry steps or go into the red zone.’
Sam didn’t realise it, but he had broken out into a small jog as he strained to see clearly what was happening. What seemed to be a tunnel entrance from further back must be the opening of a large twenty-foot diameter pipe, whose opening was facing directly at him as the opening was floating in the centre of the tunnel.
He could see the barrels rise to the top of the conveyor’s apex and then descend, lost in the illumination from the bright strip lights. At thirty feet, his assumptions fell apart. He could see that the glowing strip lights were, in fact, a constant stream of bright luminescent liquid flowing into a grill in the floor. ‘None of this makes sense,’ he muttered to himself. ‘If the liquid was the toxic waste, what’s the pipe for?’ He looked back at Reb. ‘I don’t understand, you’re just dumping it all into the ground, but what’s the pipe for?’
‘Look closer, Sam, you not allowing yourself to see the truth.’
Sam paused at the railings which separated the danger zone from the walkway with the aid of red markings on the floor, defining a twenty-foot radius from the illicit dumping area. The whole area was brightly lit. The liquid wasn’t luminescent. It was white hot. He could feel the heat searing his skin even from this distance. The pipe was blacker than night. It was void of any reflection from the incandescent liquid that was pouring down. The barrels moved along the conveyor, and they should have fallen into the centre of the dark yearning chasm and rolled away. Instead, they seemed to hit a solid barrier. Where the metal met the beginning of the opening, it instantly became molten liquid, running down across an invisible surface and into the grate in the floor.
Sam walked around the railing to try and see the process from the side. He didn’t hear Reb as he eventually ambled alongside him. There was no pipe, there was no nothing. From his vantage point at the side, the barrels stopped their descent from the conveyor in mid-air. The metal simply melted as if it were merely chocolate touching a white hot skillet. It ran down and back towards the direction of the conveyor. A river of molten metal floated in the air as if it were on top of an invisible thin sheet of glass that was set at a thirty-five-degree angle. Sam walked further round to see if he could make sense of what he was seeing. All he could see was blackness, a huge disc of blackness.
‘I don’t understand.’
‘My ancient ancestors with their primitive minds called it “Dia Kuklos” because they could go through the circle. This is the cause of distortion here in Minera. This is what we guard, keep secret and safe. This is our primary duty.’
‘So is this a black hole? Shouldn’t all of our solar system be sucked into it?’
‘No, you’re not seeing what is in front of you, Sam. Come back to the front and watch.’ Sam and Reb walked back along the railing to view the barrels landing on the Dia Kuklos.
‘Think back to the balloon model we discussed. If two distortions happened to touch each other, they’d perforate the fabric of space and link together. You can literally step through one side to the other. Your scientists theorise about this and commonly call them wormholes. There’s no tunnel connecting them. Both openings occupy the same space at the same time. They have many names in different cultures throughout the universe such as spatial apertures or perforations, portals, Quantum eyelets, interstices.’
He looked at Sam, beaming. ‘Cool, eh? So we are using this cosmic abnormality to dump your toxic waste. Just not where you thought. The metal can’t get through the surface tension. The reaction is so volatile that it melts upon contact. We use this to allow the waste to escape and flow through while collecting the metal for recycling.’
‘So you’re saying I could step through to wherever you are dumping this stuff?’
‘Well, you could step through, Sam, but you wouldn’t last very long. The other side is in a fixed position near a star you call Canopus. Over the course of a year or so, the waste is gently drawn in by its gravitational pull and destroyed. The aperture itself is black because neither side opens facing the star. If you could pop your head through and look to the right...’ Reb shrugged and put his hand on Sam’s shoulder. ‘I was hoping to have thought of something witty to say by now, but, there you go. What else can I do to prove to you we are the good guys?’ He handed Sam the small stone from his pocket. ‘Go ahead and toss it in, watch it float away. Do it from the other side to get a better view.’
Sam walked to the rear side of the aperture and gently, with an underarm throw, tossed the stone through the portal. It physically slowed as it passed through what Reb had called the surface tension. It carried on into the darkness with its left-hand side clearly visible as it was being illuminated by the unseen sun.
‘Why are you guarding these, why the secrecy?’
‘Why? Well, that’s a long story, but I’ll keep it brief. My race evolved on planet Minera long before the Overseer arrived. As our population spread over the planet, legend says they found a portal and called it “Dia Kuklos”. It happened in the midst of the harshest winter in history. My primitive ancestors found a window to a sunny world; it saved thousands of lives. They sought refuge through it and others harvested food and brought it back. Over the centuries, we eventually learnt how to detect the distortions in the fabric of space and found thirty more on our planet. Because of the nature of their original creation, these portals were always located within spatial distortions like Minera, making them difficult to find unless you know what to look for. Not all distortions contained a portal and many, being like this one, open into empty space, or hundreds of feet above the ground. As our technology evolved and resources dwindled, we abused these portals to other worlds to carry out raids and wage war.’
‘We discovered one portal close to a black hole. The conflicting forces waged between the portal, and the event horizon of the black hole made it jittery. The other end wasn’t permanently fixed. It sporadically lashed across the universe, momentarily setting on other portals. We learnt how to manipulate it with gravitational and spatial distorting fields. We could lock onto other portals within its original range. It is, to this date, the only one we know of with this ability. History says we were ruthless, relentless and barbaric. To the unwary, we came out of nowhere. Whole armies massed secretly in the distorted areas, unseen by the local population. It was an era of terror that we waged covertly over the universe and a shame we still carry. The Overseer stopped this. Somehow he changed the surface tension on all of the portals. Nothing but light passed through; they became useless windows. In one fell swoop, he had isolated us. We had no long distance space travel technology as we had never needed to develop it. Our planet was over populated, and resources strained. He gave us an ultimatum, either we sign up and with our knowledge locate these portals throughout the universe and guard them against further abuse or he would cause our extinction.’
‘The elders in their vanity would not bow down to an unknown enemy, and millions died as ruthless factions fought amongst each other for the dwindling resources. After 225 years of planet-bound war, they realised no children had been born. We had been sterilised. The last generation to be born were now in charge, and the war machine had fizzled out long ago. The remaining populace had reverted to a simpler way of life. The preservation of life and the recovery of our planet became almost a religion. It was a hybrid of high technology and ecological, environmentally friendly living. On the eve of 250 years, the Overseer spoke again. The message was clear: police the portals for him or die out. The rest is history, as they say, they capitulated, and we have served him ever since. The Overseer returned to us the ability to reproduce and the use of the portals, though he has never allowed any metal to pass through since.’
‘Well, that’s not what I expected. I don’t know what to say.’
‘There is nothing to say, but you can see a similarity between our chequered history and how your civilisation’s developing. It took a long time for our planet to recover from our greed and negligence.’ Reb ushered Sam back around with his arms. ‘We try to keep the portals secret to make our life easier. There are only a few races out there that are partially aware of them. For some they are a thing of myth and legend, magic gateways to other worlds, but nothing more.’
Sam subconsciously switched the case to his left arm as he walked back around.
‘The process,’ swinging his arm at the conveyor, ‘should end in a few minutes, then we have a few people to see.’
Author Bio: Born in England and raised in Wales, I started my working life on a farm in the glorious rural Welsh countryside. I retrained to become an IT Consultant and having spent thousands on Microsoft, CompTIA and Cisco qualifications; I also obtained a contract to run and teach at a Cisco Academy in England. After this, I became a small business IT Advisor for WCBC and the Welsh Government. As this funding dried up, I retrained as a Business Advisor and have since helped thousands of people start up their own businesses. In my leisure time, I work my way through a comprehensive bucket list with my Fiancée, Cath. This has caused us great delight as we have attended various courses and fun days out, such as beekeeping, pottery making, stained glass making, painting course, cooking courses, hawk walks, animal experiences, quad biking, gorge walking and much more. Ourfavourite one is learning to dance. This activity has remained with us and will hopefully do so for the rest of our lives. We can do a reasonable Waltz, collapse in laughter trying the Viennese Waltz, but it is the 1920’s Lindy Hop that we have fallen in love with. After three years of dancing, we still attend regular dance classes and events. Strangely, for an ex-geek, my favourite gadget is my Italian Marcato pasta machine. I love real, unprocessed food and my freshly made pasta with a home cooked sauce is amazing. I have always enjoyed reading, and in my early teenage years, I read authors ranging from Harry Harrison to HG Wells. Later in life, I turned to thriller writers such as the 3 C’s; Clancy, Cussler and Child. Also, I will always have a Pratchett book on my phone for light reading. His imagination was and always will be, inspiring. I have wanted to write the Mineran Series for several years prior to actually starting and with the encouragement from Cath, who has suffered my many varied, imaginative pranks over the years, I have begun.
Facebook: /pnburrows Twitter: @pnburows Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28531297-mineran-influence
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mineran-Influence-P-N-Burrows/dp/1540536785/
Amazon USA: https://www.amazon.com/Mineran-Influence-1-P-Burrows/dp/1540536785/