Silverwood: Chapter 6

Doctor Julius Dinkle, esteemed member of the Council of Portals and renowned expert on Tromindox behavior and culture, was tense.

He was standing at one end of a long, narrow, gleaming table, waiting. He placed his bony hands on the table’s surface but decided that made him look feeble instead of authoritative. He pulled his hands behind his back but that made him feel awkward. He picked up his bowler hat from the table in front of him and fidgeted with that. He ran a hand over the strands of hair lying flat on his skull. He put the hat back down. He tugged his starched collar away from his thin neck. He pushed up his round glasses with lenses so thick they made his eyes look like they bugged out. His buggy eyes darted around the room.

The room Dinkle was waiting in was an elongated cavern carved out of solid rock and buried far beneath the city streets. He had stationed himself at the far end opposite the room’s only entrance, a substantial wooden double door which was currently closed. There were torches set at even intervals along the walls on both sides of the room which gave off an air of importance and ceremony and a warm flickering glow.

Maintain eye contact. How do you make eye contact with a thing that keeps moving its eyes around? Stare it down anyway. Don’t stammer. Be direct. Short sentences, Dinkle. This is your room. Get what you want and get him out of here.

Doctor Dinkle had good reason to be nervous. For all of his academic stature and expertise he was, and would always be, Tromindox prey.

The wooden door abruptly swung open and Dinkle visibly startled. In came Dinkle’s visitor. Tromindox T-441 ducked through the doorway and rose to his full height once inside. He was close to seven feet tall. He had on long black tattered robes and trailed an assortment of tentacles. Atop his head he wore a helmet fashioned from the crushed upper section of a human skull.

441 stood at the opposite end of the table. His enormous shadow shifted and flickered in the torch light. The Tromindox loomed over Dinkle, even at a distance. The door slammed shut and Dinkle jumped again.

From somewhere in his robes 441 produced an enormous leather-bound volume. He raised the book over the surface of the table and held it there for a moment like a present. Then he let it drop flat onto the table with a concussive thud. Flakes of the book’s leather cover fluttered onto the table and a cloud of dust puffed into the air.

441 then laid a long grey hand on the cover and shoved the book so hard that it slid the entire length of the table and came to rest in front of Dinkle. The council member looked down at it without touching it.

“There’s your stinking book,” 441 growled.

Dinkle leaned forward and peered at the volume, still not touching it. “How do we know it is complete?” he asked. He was glad that words came out and that his voiced hadn’t cracked.

“It’s not complete. There’s a page missing. You know that,” 441 said.

Dinkle lifted the front cover with the tip of his pinkie finger. The parchment inside was so brittle it made a crunching noise. More bits of the cover fell off onto the table. Dinkle turned a page or two but did not dare to look further lest he damage it even more. He closed the cover. On the front he could barely make out faded gold letters spelling the word, AVENIR.

“The rest of it is intact?” Dinkle asked. The torch flames reflected in his lenses.

“As far as I know. Now where’s my portal? We have a deal and I’ve got other places to go.”

Doctor Dinkle, Councilmember Dinkle, let out a sigh. None of this was a good idea. This meeting was not a good idea. This exchange was a bad idea. Resulting from other bad ideas and bad decisions which had laid a slippery path to this undesirable point. And now here he stood as the king of bad ideas.

Dinkle turned his back on his guest. Behind him was a massive stone cauldron about waist high. He raised a hand over it. As he did this the cauldron responded. It began to glow inside and shafts of blue light shone upward onto the ceiling.

The light from the cauldron intensified and soon an object that looked like a round shiny coin with a hole in the middle rose from within it. The coin reached chest-height and Dinkle reached out and snatched it. He turned with a scowl and flung the object in the direction of the Tromindox who during this process had come closer and was now lurking at about the halfway point of the table. Too close.

441 reached out and plucked the projectile from the air. He held it out in his palm and looked down at it. “I wonder if our two species share a common ancestor,” he mused. “Probably not. We’ve been around a lot longer than you have. We’re more – evolved.”

“Are we done here?” Dinkle asked. He was sincerely hoping this would be the shortest meeting ever held in this room.

“That toss was dramatic,” 441 said.

Dinkle said nothing.

“It would have been even more dramatic if this were a real portal,” 441 said, turning the coin over.

Dinkle startled. His eyes darted around. He raised a finger. “What do you mean? That there is a perfectly good portal,” he said. But he was found out. He was no good at this. This was a bigger mistake by the minute.

441 rested a fist on the table. He lowered his head in exasperation. He sighed.
“I thought you were some sort of authority on our species, Councilmember Dingle Dongle,” he said. “But I have to admit I’ve no idea what books you’ve been reading.”

“Listen you overgrown squid,” Dinkle sneered, suddenly defiant. “You got what you came for, so now get out of my chamber.” He wasn’t going to stand here be insulted by this inferior life form. This heap of tentacles with a bad attitude and no culture. He wouldn’t have it.

“Oh, that’s bold from such a scrawny thing,” 441 said. “I don’t know why I don’t just eat you and get it over with. You must be useful for something though. I’ll figure it out eventually… oh, that’s right.”

441 liquefied into a mass of black shiny goo and surged forward across the top of the table. Dinkle yelped and scrambled backward toward the cauldron. A tentacle shot out of the goo quicker than the eye could see and caught Dinkle’s leg and yanked him to the floor. The Councilmember was lifted up by his coat like a rag doll. 441 held him in the air in front of the cauldron. Dinkle kicked his feet which had no effect.

“Thanks in advance for your assistance,” 441 growled and forced one of Dinkle’s hands out over the cauldron. Once again it lit up, but brighter this time. More energy. “Now that’s accomplishing something,” 441 said, watching Dinkle’s trembling hand. “Now this meeting of ours has achieved a purpose. Unlike when all you did was try and pass off a piece of tin foil as a portal. What a feeble strategy. We can always count on humans overestimating themselves.”

“This isn’t even necessary,” 441 said, “we all know this hand-waving thing is a stupid parlor trick. All you need are access codes. The cauldron is a nice touch, though. It makes this more fun.”

441 dumped Dinkle on the floor. The cauldron had quieted. 441 reached in and scooped out a good dozen or so coins. He looked down at the defeated councilmember. “I know you regard us as monsters,” he said, turning to leave. “It shows in your pathetic little faces when you look at us. But we are not stupid. To you, ugly is stupid. You think the unfamiliar contains no intelligence. And that’s where you are wrong and so foolish. You think your intellect will save you. You and your Council. You sit around this table and talk, talk, talk. Words and more strings of words. And then paper forms and files and then more talking. Well, talk about this. Have yourself a meeting. Invite everybody. Tell them that the mean old Tromindox took our portals and our book” – now he scooped up the volume too – “and now what are we going to do, wah, wah.” He half walked and half glided away as he spoke. His voice and its echo receded from Dinkle’s ears and toward the door.

“For our part,” the Tromindox said as he reached the exit, “we will be helping ourselves to the most plentiful food source ever to exist. Which is of course the future overpopulation of the human race. It’s been a real pleasure doing business with you.” He tossed the fake portal onto the table where it landed with a dull clink. “Oh, and I have a name, by the way. And it’s not a stupid number like 441. Not that you care.” The door slammed shut. He was gone.

Back at ground-level the Tromindox produced a worn-looking folded piece of paper. He unfolded and flattened it against the book’s cover. There was nothing on it, just some marks and the grid of lines where it had been folded.

441 flipped open the book and carefully inserted the paper. Nothing. He turned the sheet over and tried again. The paper’s edge lit up and it bonded itself into the book’s spine. This was the missing page from The Book of The Future, as promised and foretold. Words written long ago became visible again. The book was complete.

Now the book aged backward. The crinkled parchment pages were whole and pliable again and covered in text that was clear and bold. The leather cover was shiny and new and no longer flaky and the word AVENIR stamped on the front appeared in rich gold ink.

With all of this bother, 441 had worked up quite an appetite.

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