Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Bone Cathedral

Here’s another flashfiction from Chuck Wendig’s site Terrible Minds.
This week, we’re down to a random title and take it from there. I chose The Bone Cathedral.

The Bone Cathedral

   “Don’t do it,” the bald old chap said as I took a breather from working in the crypt. He looked about eighty and was dressed in worn, tattered clothes. Rheumy eyes stared from chronic sunburn from an unshaven face that twitched every fifteen seconds as he grimaced, eye-blink fast, and then returned to normal with equal speed.
   “Don’t do what?” I asked, pulling out cigarettes.
   “Don’t use the Displacer to examine the ossuary. You’ll use too much power and displace too much of the Combined Force in both temporal directions and disrupt many complex systems. Use geophysics radar instead.” I curled my hands to shelter the cigarette from the wind. The old chap had read my doctoral thesis and perhaps the Submission to Treasury as well. He must be a Physics Fellow from College. Not content with refusing support for my epoch-defining work, Oxford had obviously kept tabs and were now trying to scupper my marketing Displacer technology; using it to examine the insides of objects for faults or structural weaknesses. Objects such as the unique (and tourist-attracting) bone-built crypt of Ledbury Cathedral. Money from construction and restoration commissions helped to feed Sarah and me and supported my research into Displacer applications. If academia had turned me down and turned me out, I was going to make sure that business would reward my genius. When I looked up, ready to give him what for the old chap was gone; having fled my obvious anger at record speed.
    Later I took multiple readings through the fabric of the crypt; sixteen snapshot slices ten centimeters apart through the cement, bone and rock on which the cathedral stood. The field model Displacer cooled rapidly as its core of rhodium and quartz wafers displaced time and space forward and backwards in uneven - and irritatingly still unpredictable - lengths of time using the combined Weak and Strong Nuclear Forces in conjunction with a little trick of my own using virtual gravitons. The echoes or ‘shadow’ that the Displacement Field generated produced beautifully detailed pictures of the inside the crypt’s construction. One complete skeleton had been stuffed among the respectfully laid and ordered bones of the ossuary; skulls here; ribs there; femurs all lined up as if for inventory there. He was a robust-looking chap; curled up like a mediaeval fly in amber from Ledbury’s mysteriously brief plague month of October 1398. He upset the regularity and respect with which the dead had been cemented into the cathedral, athwart the solid herringbone underpinnings of the apse, and might be the cause of seepage from the subterranean river that was threatening the cathedral’s integrity.
    That evening I discussed the shoot with Sarah. She looked drawn; more so than her usual gaze of weary affection that she has given me from the night she appeared out of nowhere at a University dinner in honour of a physics groupie (a potential patron for my College) from the Bretherton Construction Group. Sarah had made straight for me after dinner; her heart-shaped face framed by masses of mahogany hair, and took me to bed and enrolled me in her life like an addict finding a safe and plentiful source of her drug. It had been her presentation of Displacer technology applications that had almost won me the first Bretherton Scholarship the following summer. Almost; but not quite. Sarah had been with me ever since; following me into academic exile and helping me move into non-destructive testing and encouraging me to develop alternatives to the Displacer, which was expensively energy-guzzling to run and maintain. Sarah had always supported me despite her nerves when my garage laboratory Displacer first sent a coin thirty seconds forward in time and days later when it displaced a dead rat fourteen hours into the future. The rat came back alive: disoriented and relentlessly aggressive but Sarah watched me loyally as I tried to kill it for an autopsy. It took three tries: gas, electrocution and finally the decapitation that actually worked. She never understood why I loved the Displacer aside from the income stream. I lie awake at night looking at her slim, beautiful body as she slept; utterly lovely and unflawed apart from some scarring on her ribcage from a childhood misfortune and remind myself that when rich enough to complete and publish my research despite the prejudices of academia, the pantheon would change to Galileo, Newton and Horton. The laws of nature I had discovered will displace Einstein to footnotes in my biographies.
  That first crypt scan was yesterday.
  Before I came to work today Sarah gave me a watch with a jazzy band she had made from scraps of quartz and rhodium.
 “Can we afford to waste valuable stock on this?” I asked, perhaps a touch churlishly.
 “Think of it as a down-payment for the future.”         
  “Sarah, why haven’t we had children when you love life so much? You never stop touching and smelling and gazing at animals and plants and admiring them.”
   “Might as well ask why I’m called Sarah. And what kind of a world would we bring children into?”

   So here I am in the crypt looking at yesterday’s scans of the twisted skeleton; a big, hefty man for the Middle Ages though he’d be rather short and stocky in this century, rather like me. I wonder what the metallic discolouration about his wrist is. From above I hear footsteps coming closer with that accelerating clatter that Sarah’s boots make when she starts to panic and runs to me with advice about the Displacer. Before she clambers down and advises me not to use it, I decide to do a new scan of the crypt right back to the month of the plague and to juice it up with enough power to take video of the last moments of the skeleton’s life. I simply must know how he died.
   I press the swi

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