0093: Crystal Palace
He looked up, expecting to see the glimmer of light that was the London GeoStat, but instead he found the sky blotted out by the dark outline of a spaceship. “Wait!” He objected. “Where are we going?”
The mushroom-shaped cloud spread slowly across the charcoal sky, and with it came a kind of serenity. It was the silence of finality, a five megaton exhalation that relieved a buildup of tension caused by indecision. At its base, the horizon was an angry red; the color brightened and widened at the edge of perception. The distant glow of fires that would burn until there was nothing left to consume.
“France,” Lamont speculated, tipping the dregs of a spot of tea down his throat before tossing the paper cup into the water below, where it joined a collection of other flotsam. “Probably Paris.”
“I didn’t know one could see Paris from here,” Elizabeth remarked. She was leaning against the railing of the boardwalk, the hot breeze licking at the laced hem of that old-fashion skirt Lamont loved.
“You can’t, normally,” Lamont agreed.
“I’ll bet the view is better from up there,” Elizabeth said.
Lamont followed her pointed finger away from the English Channel, toward the glistening glass structure of the New Crystal Palace, with its elegantly modern towers and parapets. There was a moment of disorientation as two geographic features made a connection in Lamont’s mind that didn’t feel quite natural, but he was caught up in the moment, in the scent of Liza’s perfume on the warm salt breeze. At the base of the Crystal Palace was the space lift pavilion, and from here they could see the glimmering disc of light that was the lift itself, descending slowly from a sky that, in this direction, was a more normal shade of concrete gray. “If we hurry, we could catch the next trip,” he suggested.
Suddenly, he was standing under the cathedral-like pavilion, ticket in hand.
“All aboard who’s coming aboard,” said Benjamin Schultz, his features silhouetted against the bright glass of the elevator. As always, Lamont tried to make out the details of his face, but was hampered by a sudden wave of confusion.
“I’m waiting for my wife,” Lamont explained, glancing around.
“She’s way ahead of you,” Benjamin chuckled.
Hesitantly, Lamont stepped aboard the ramp of the lift and, before he had a chance to reconsider, the floor was shuddering as the elevator rose slowly from the ground. He looked up, expecting to see the glimmer of light that was the London GeoStat, but instead he found the sky blotted out by the dark outline of a spaceship. “Wait!” He objected. “Where are we going?”
“To the stars,” Sighed Phobos, his ten-foot Martian figure looming mantis-like over Lamont.
“No!” Lamont shouted, angry and desperate. “I can’t leave her! Not again! I demand that you take me back to Liza at once!”
“If that’s what you want, you’ll need to go down. Down deep,” Phobos intoned.
“That’s what I want,” Lamont insisted.
He was just in time to see the Martian pushing a comically large lever and then he was falling, as if having dropped through a trapdoor; falling, falling through empty space. Or was it space? It felt like space, but it looked like water. The stars dissolved into drifting particles and a feeling of numbing cold came over him. His descent slowed into a helpless sinking, a mounting pressure of suffocation. He tried to breathe, tried to scream, but he was paralyzed. Past him drifted a monstrous form, a giant mouth filled with crooked, ridiculously long and needle-like teeth, illuminated by a green-glowing lure that dangled from a corpse-like body.