Author: Mike Bailey
The box sat upon the table. It was inanimate, but strange waves of light moved across its surface and Roman felt a tingle in the back of his head like the beginning of a headache.
The box had been carefully placed there on that smooth glass table and there it sat, rather stoically, in that dimly lit room. Roman knew that it was inanimate, but still there was something about it that was more alive than he and that made him very uneasy. It was as if this box was effortlessly reaching inside of them, hearing them, silently judging them, selfishly holding all its answers from them. Roman had always heard tales of such a thing from the old wives. He even felt that there may be a chance he would see a glyphtograph in person one day in some museum or exhibition. But here they were now in their home and there it was. No glass enclosures lined with brainwave resistant material. No Praetorian Guards armed to the teeth, holding back the curious phalanx with only the knowledge of what savagery would happen should they come too close.
“I can’t believe it’s here in our house,” Gregory said. “I was just thinking the same thing,” said Roman. “I wish I knew how it worked.” “It wouldn’t matter if you did – you can’t read,” Gregory said as he walked from the kitchen over to the living room chewing a protein bar. Roman saw this, and with a furrowed brow exclaimed “Don’t eat all of those, man! We only have 15 left for the whole month.” Gregory sat down beside him, never looking at him – only the box – but talking to him all the same. “After we sell this we’re never going to have to worry about being hungry again.” Conflicted, Roman turned his gaze back to the glyphtograph. He liked the sound of that but had started to have doubts about how this deal was going to go down. The box lit up and then darkened.
How could two young boys from the Panormus District wind up in this situation? The odds must be astronomical. This was nothing like the simple emulator game food ration credit hustles that had afforded them this shabby apartment in the slum. The small trinkets and jewelry that Gregory would steal from the upper-class denizens of the wealthier districts did not shine as bright as this. The valuable, technically sophisticated machines of business import that they managed to relieve drunken Arbiters and careless Scribes did not hum and vibrate to the degree that this motionless machine did. This was an incredible windfall. Where did Gregory find this? How had he come to bring it here with no one knowing? He knew possession of this object was so beyond them that it had started to feel too good to be true. The glyphtograph cast a symbol against the wall but then disappeared. Roman was scared.
They heard heavy foot falls approaching their room. “This must be Tiberius, now. He will show us the way to the meeting place. Mark my words, Roman; the brotherhood will pay fortunes for this. So many credits that your head will spin.” Before Gregory could reach the door the glyphtograph lit up the walls with strange symbols.
“Hey!” Roman called to Gregory his voice shaking. “What is this?” As Gregory turned around to behold the symbols his eyes widened as he realized all too late that they were a warning. The door exploded as Praetorians stormed the room killing them both in seconds and reclaiming the property of the Emperor.
I enjoyed all the little hints of aspects of this world you created. For me it made the fact that the entire story is set in one room all the more vivid. Also loved your descriptions of the box – having it hum and vibrate though motionless. Very nice.
Thank you, Hari. I enjoyed writing this; six hundred words is a great limitation.
I detect the influence of a very specific science fiction universe… And of course, you leave me wondering just what it is a glyphtograph does!
I have not read many traditionally Science Fiction authors, to be honest. As far as I can remember, I’ve only read Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick, and just recently I got into Andy Weir. I guess that you could lump Michael Crichton in there too. I used to watch Star Wars and Star Trek as a kid. Which universe did this remind you of? Thanks for reading!
The merciless romanesque warriors are very reminiscent of space marines from warhammer 40k universe.
Great story! Be careful what you steal…
Ah, okay. Thanks AJ. I’m actually not familiar with the 40K Universe. I’ve heard of it but don’t really know anything about it.