Author : Dee Harding

I have it in my hands, but I don’t understand it. Mirah peers over my shoulder, grins in my periphery, and pokes at it. The amber clouds react to the gravity of her digit instantly, particles drifting into a new configuration of spin. As she removes the finger, it spirals back into something like its original shape, spitting out loops of fire and tiny shrapnel as it goes.

“Where did you find it?”

I’m motionless with awe, listening to its low rumbling growl and very much aware of the plume that keeps it afloat. I’m afraid that I’ll drop it. I’m afraid that it will burn through my hands.

“The Monks. The Physic Monks.”

She says this carelessly, idly, as if the fact is not important, staring at the thing in front of me all the while.

“The Monks? The Physic Monks? The same Monks who split atoms for ritual? The same Monks who keep a pet black-hole on the Mountain? The same Monks who will murder us if they know we have…whatever… it is?”

“In the Mountain, and they call it a tamed Singularity.”

Mirah is suddenly an expert on these things, on the monks who worship Shiva and live on the Mountain. All the rest of us know is that they idolise creation and destruction, that they make bombs too small to see, and then wipe them away. Somewhere in their temple is a wheel, a torus, which pulls strange matter into the world. Suddenly the thing in my hands is sinister. Suddenly it has the capacity to not just burn me, but unmake me, as if I never was. Fear and wonder orbit its shrouded centre amid a multitude of glowing embers.

“Think of it as a glorified lock-pick.” She says, “Think of it as a key. That’s what it’s for.”

I’ve never been able to leave well enough alone. I always ask the inevitable question.

“But, what is it?”

Mirah smiles the widest smile I’ve seen on anyone, ever, and points upward. She points at nothing. There is no moon tonight, there are no clouds, no aircraft since the coming of the Second Dark. There is nothing in the clear night sky but the distant light of a thousand galaxies, each drifting slowly in its own mystical configuration.

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