0101: An Uninvited Guest

Ziggurat #9

Clyde grimaced and plucked the cigarette from Lamont’s lips with thick fingers. “You keep sticking your nose where it don’t belong and see what happens,” He threatened grimly.

So accustomed were Lamont Townsend’s thumbs to the small mechanical keys of the stenograph in his recorder, that he had no need to look down at them, nor to watch the slit of curved glass through which their output could be observed, a line at a time, on the roll of thin paper inside it. But, tired as he was, he had become mesmerized by the rhythm of the quiet clicking in conjunction with the slowly drifting kaleidoscope of color outside the panoramic glass windows that looked out over the hull of Westward. It dawned on him slowly that a new sound had been introduced to the now familiar ambience of domesticity: A clanging bell. It was the bell used for dinner, or at community meeting times. Within moments of his noticing, he saw that colonists scattered across the deck had concluded their various occupations as quickly as possible and were moving together in a single direction: Toward the common hall. He checked his wristwatch. It was 6:18pm on a Tuesday. His brow furrowed in perplexity.

He caught up with the small crowd of people, gravitating toward the familiar sight of Constance Beckett, the young colonist he had met a month earlier at the New Year party. “What’s all this, then?” He asked her, raising his voice among the murmur of conversation.

The girl shrugged her shoulders. “Beats me. Some kind of special meeting’s been called—no one seems to know why.”

The two found themselves near the back of the group as everyone took seats in the simple wooden folding benches of the meeting hall. At some times, these benches were placed around communal tables that were presently folded upright in the wings of the hall, but generally they were arranged, as now, in neat rows facing the front of the hall. This placement left just enough space at the front of the hall for a small stage, large enough for a speaker or a few musicians. Tonight, there was a single chair placed in the center of the stage.

A large man lumbered by the bench on which Lamont and Constance were settling. Lamont recognized him immediately from his buffalo-like shoulders and distinctive sideburns: Clyde Jackson, whom he had also seen at the party when he tried to bully young Miss Beckett into returning to the colonist deck. Reflexively, Lamont tensed. Jackson settled his wife and young daughter onto the next bench over before standing again, his eyes locked on Townsend’s.

“Constance Beckett,” Clyde rumbled, standing over them. “Is this your doing?” His hairy hand gestured in Lamont’s direction. 

The girl shook her head. “Mr. Townsend was already up here. He just followed the rest of us.”

“You weren’t invited,” Clyde stated. “This is colonist business.”

“Bell didn’t ring no names,” Constance shrugged defiantly.

Lamont’s nerves were vibrating with adrenaline. Jackson was an imposing figure; he would be a fair match for the rather massive Rico Estevez. But Despite an intense physical urge to duck away, the newspaperman found himself affecting a calm indifference. He pulled a cigarette from his shirt pocket and hung it between his lips. “If you’ve got something to say, mate, you can say it to me,” He said, his London accent veering toward the Cockney as it did under times of stress.

Clyde grimaced and plucked the cigarette from Lamont’s lips with thick fingers. He snapped it in half, tossing the scraps of paper and tobacco on Lamont’s lap before pointing the smudged digit in the newspaperman’s face. “You keep sticking your nose where it don’t belong and see what happens,” He threatened grimly.

Before Lamont could formulate a witty retort, the large man turned his head, distracted by activity at the front of the hall. He seemed to immediately forget about Lamont, abruptly standing straight and making his way to the stage. Lamont brushed off his lap and straightened his collar.  “The nerve,” He muttered.

Constance shook her head, her brown hair bobbing from where it was tied back with a simple white ribbon. “He wasn’t always like this. It was—” She stopped mid-sentence, then whispered: “Here she comes.”

From a door on the side emerged a feminine form, wearing the simple style of dress favored by colonist women. The unbleached white of the dress contrasted with the brown of her skin. She walked with slow, halting steps that suggested the unusual affect of being tugged by a string. As soon as she appeared two men—Clyde Jackson and another fellow of above-average stature—hopped on the low stage and stood at either side of the chair for which she was headed. Lamont studied her features carefully. She was not old, perhaps in her early 50s, but that made her an elder among the colonists. Her features were not pretty in a conventional sense, but were striking; especially her wide-set eyes, which even from four yards away seemed to flash like gold leaf as she gazed beyond the gathered group into some unknown distance. “Of course it would be Miss Anna,” Lamont muttered. After weeks of paying daily visits to the colonist deck, he had rarely laid eyes upon this woman who exerted so much influence over the community, and then only in passing.

Miss Anna took a seat on the single chair at the center of the stage, the two men standing at either side like sentinels. She placed her hands neatly, palms-down, atop her lap. She spoke, and her reedy voice carried easily to the back of the room where Lamont sat. “I have had,” she announced, “A vision.”

Next: The Cyclops