Maxwell slept in the tepid illumination of the smaller of this world’s two suns. He had improvised a mat by piling up some grass from the riverbank, and rested his head on a rot-softened piece of wood from a tree that had fallen by the ruins.
Something to do with the tachyons.
He dreamt, his shadow self walking through wind-rippled plains, with giant, pillowy cumulus clouds skating low across the sky. They made shapes, but not pleasant ones, and every effort Maxwell made to determine what one looked like filled him with dread. Strange, rabbit-like beasts and feral dogs the size of bison bounded through the grass on faraway hills.
After a long walk, he came to a cluster of trees, with wooden structures girdling the larger trunks. Each house held a small porch, giving the cluster of buildings the feel of a small one-horse town from the movies or TV. Maxwell scanned around for a general store with a couple of old-timers sitting out front on rockers.
Instead of folksy, down-home residents, the villagers in this place came straight out of a National Geographic feature on New Guinea. Except some wore white lab coats. The nearest villager’s was studded with rhinestones in a fountain pattern. He didn’t look like Elvis.
As he walked into the village, Maxwell noticed there was now a dirt road under his feet, and every step kicked up a little cloud of dust.
None of these villagers seemed to care that a complete stranger just walked into their midst. He waited until it became obvious nobody was going to talk to him, and he grabbed the arm of the nearest villager, the one with the Elvis-studded lab coat.
The man didn’t talk to him, but at least raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement.
“I’m going to need some copper wire, and some really large magnets. Any idea where I can find some?”
Shaking his head, the villager let loose a string of unintelligible syllables. Maxwell tried asking something else, and found that he, too, spoke in the strange, hubbledy-bubbledy dialect.
Elvis-coat turned and walked a few steps to a whitewashed clapboard garage wedged between two of their tree-buildings. He stooped over, grabbed the door at the bottom, and lifted. As it swung up, Maxwell could see some of his equipment inside. It had aged, barely recognizable under a shroud of dust and spider webs.
He bobbed his head at the man, eagerly, up and down.
In response, Elvis-coat only shook his head, and the whole garage burst into flames behind him. Not the soupy, otherworldly fire he’d been seeing, but good-old-fashioned, quick-burning, all consuming Earth fire.
He called for help, but Elvis-coat, hands clasped behind his back, walked away from the garage, still shaking his head. Maxwell whirled, calling to other people, but everyone had either gone or peered out from windows in the other buildings.
Except for one woman, who stood in the dust-choked intersection that marked the center of the town. With a headful of curly, ginger-blond hair and indigo eyes, she didn’t carry the same jungle-dwelling headhunter vibe as the others. She reminded Maxwell of a Haitian voodoo priestess. She turned her head, this way and that, sometimes cupping a hand to her ear, as if listening for something. Maxwell called out to her, and she looked startled, but she still couldn’t see him. And he was only twenty feet away!
He took a step toward the strange woman, but his foot found nothing but dusty air under it; he fell forward into a dark, yawning pit.