Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

There’s a smashed petri dish in the sink, the splashes of water on the pieces syncopating with the drumming of the water pouring into the steel basin. I look down at a hundred moving reflections of my face as the water rushes away. The flow carries an occasional crimson blossom with it as my grip slips about the gash I’ve inflicted on my right hand.

“Simon! Put this on it.”

Limala hands me a clean cloth. The wound is soon staunched in layers of blue-striped cotton.

“What were you thinking?”

“Fredor’s Hall.”

Her eyes drop. I met Agoryn Fredor after I got mugged in Gagra. He was the translator the police called to make sense of what the battered Englishman was ranting about. Over the subsequent years, he and I corresponded about many things. Mostly based around our mutual fascination with alternate history.

I have always been claustrophobic, otherwise I would have accompanied Agoryn and his wife on their expeditions, including the one that made their name and caused their deaths.

Deep in the Krubera cave system, they found a narrow chute off the passages between Big Junction and Perezagruzka. They kept the base camp informed as they plunged deeper and deeper, heading beyond 1900 metres. Then they went suddenly, awfully quiet. It took the rescue teams a week to find them, lying at the bottom of the hundred-metre-high chamber they had plummeted through the crystalline ceiling of. The walls were carven with diagrams and glyphs in a language unknown to man.

I took it upon myself to translate the writings in the Hall, in memory of my friends. Three years later I married my research assistant, Limala. Two years after the honeymoon, we succeeded. Two days later we publically conceded defeat and published our research to help others in the field – all bar one item: it was sheer chance that allowed us to crack the strange alphabet, and it is unlikely that ‘serious’ linguistics specialists will come across what we used for a while, at least. It’s just a document from some long-defunct alternate history site – we’re not hiding anything; we just don’t want to be the ones to have to tell everybody.

I’ve read the creation myths of a hundred cultures, and listened to the ravings of more alien conspiracy theorists than most. Not one comes close.

We’re a small planet at the edge of the Milky Way, once used as a waypoint on a great journey. They built an infrastructure here to support the vast starships passing through. That infrastructure was salvaged by the last vessel. As a final act, they purged the grounds they occupied so nothing would taint the evolution of the planet.

But they missed some of the primates they had modified to assist. These were initially sickly and scared, but smart enough to adapt. Their descendants were the legendary prehistoric giants who interbred with the early Denisovans. After that, they ravaged the dawning world, scaring early man so badly he either banded together to drive them out, or worshipped them as avatars. But eventually, each civilisation they haunted no longer had a place for monsters. Routed from the societies they depended on, their last mention is as the Fomori of Irish myth.

We’re the bastard descendants of something that should not have survived. I reach out and turn off the tap, looking down at the petri dish. When we’re done, we sterilise them. I cannot shake the fear that those who went on that journey may eventually come back. What then, for that which has grown, unwanted, from their leavings?

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