End of Places
by Harry J. Bentham
I had always been afraid of folder-gates, even when they were trending and vast numbers of working people were using them to travel across the Earth. For me, something about the body being warped (“spaghettified” as my brother once called it) and reassembled through a spatial fold less than a centimetre wide rather than using the door was enough to make my skin crawl. But eventually, the only vacancy available to me was based on the Moon, and folder-gate was the only method of travel available.
On the date of my interview, I had finally abandoned the bearded look of a marooned writer and I was ready to depart from my Luddite ways. Still, everyone else casually bolted through the folder-gates without any thought of the hazards I had always feared. I was filled with the usual dread as I approached the metal grid of the exit pad. What if this thing simply jettisoned me into the vacuum of space?
My heart was racing and I also knew I was close to hyperventilating, like the time I last moved through a folder at the age of sixteen. But no employer would ever tolerate me if I was late and unreliable, just as my bank accounts would never tolerate me relying on shuttle trips every week morning. I had to discard my fear, and so I stepped forward onto the pad!
My mind lapsed as the process began, and my body morphed and was shot into the machine’s burrow in the fabric of space. In my own eyes, the metal of the complex grew faint around me, until finally all the shapes seemed to converge again and find solidity. As I stepped down from the pad, it was precisely as though I had never moved, but now the whole Earth glared beyond the pane of the complex against the bright constellations. This was a sight I had not seen in years, and a chilling reminder of the sheer power of the incomprehensible machine that had sent me. It was, in fact, a reminder of everything that could go wrong.
In the interim between this first folding and my next, I struggled embarrassingly with the interview. Having been unemployed for some time, I had almost nothing to offer, but the government cash reward available to the company was just enough to entice them into giving me the job. Still, my thoughts were not on the simple lunar vacancy I had won, but on the chilling dangers I still imagined the folder to pose.
The time of my next fold had arrived, and I was filled with irrational dread once more, but I quickly learned to suppress such thoughts by focusing on the logic of my situation. Perhaps I had no choice! Surely it would be better to take such risks, even very severe risks to my person, if they were really necessary for me to end my poverty and achieve an appreciated role in society?
I underwent a fourth fold on the way back from a relaxed day of training. This time, klaxons sounded as I stepped onto the pad. Before I could think to react, they were quickly accompanied by a devastating screeching sound as power levels escalated beyond measure in the machines, and the generators roared all throughout the complex like a thousand wheels. The last detail I caught was the failing of the lights in the lunar complex, as the power of the whole facility surged and everything but the folder-gate machines began to shut down. The meter! As I occupied the pad helplessly, the selected travel distance shown on the meter raced off to incomprehensible heights, indicating a journey of many quadrillions upon quadrillions of light-years beyond anything men had ever dared to dream possible.
Now, I experienced the metal of the complex take on a very strange form throughout the long folding. Instead of arriving at the familiar walls on Earth, I was surrounded by blossoming plants of the whitest shade of pink. Not flowers but entire plants, including pink roots and leaves of entire trees. I was struck with terror as some creature moved above me, and white beams of light flickered and flared through to me as a violet spore rained down and filled my lungs with its alien touch. I clutched my chest in convulsion, already distracted by the hostility of this place before I could even begin to consider my location, and it had soon affected my eyes and the rest of my senses in such a way that I can describe nothing more of how arrived there. Instead, I have no choice but to move on to what happened when I regained any comprehension of my surroundings.
I was in the company of a woman, or so she seemed. As I achieved the details I was looking for, I sensed something incredibly alluring about her even when her lack of humanity had become evident. She was certainly a beautiful creature, although not human. Her complexion was white beyond white, her hair’s pigment indistinguishable from the pigment of her skin. Although the basic profile of her body was human, her ears were remarkably different, as I remember them being double-pronged and rising higher than her own scalp to create the almost elf-like appearance shared by all her people. Her pale hair was astounding, moving like the mane of a mythical being against the blossoms of the forest and the ornate columns of her palatial dwelling among the trees. I admit that my strange description cannot convey the full reality, because I was still under the constant affliction of the spores for as long as I remained in contact with these creatures.
The female did not understand my language, and I had great difficulty accepting her hospitality at first. The only nutrition consumed by her people was vegetarian, taken from the pink flora of her world. After a truly long time recovering from my asthma under her care, I could understand some rudimentary words in her people’s language. I witnessed how her people were seemingly angelic, incapable of any lies or hostility. Furthermore, they were aware of no fauna other than their own kind in their world. This was astonishing to me, but it explained why they were so eager to protect and nurse me like one of their own. They had absolutely no prejudice towards me for looking different to them, even if I was so brutish in comparison with the elegant forms of her people.
The female, whose name I learned was very close to “Serena” but much too hard to pronounce in English, was amused at my account of my origins. Even when I tried to negotiate a tale of my origins and my current needs by using only my simplistic grasp of her people’s language, she failed to understand sufficiently. Although she trusted me enough to believe my words, she did not give me any helpful information in return.
I tried to communicate a very basic understanding to Serena. “I came from a dish-like object, something that can carry a person very far,” I tried to assert, but she did not comprehend. I then rephrased, “I came from something, a machine, something complicated that can do magical things.” Now, she may have understood some vein of what I had said, and she gestured to a dark peak of incomprehensible geological origin, twisting up into the white sky. It appeared to be some miles away from the settlement. After I had pleaded with her, she agreed to take me there.
When I had found the foot of the mountain, I knew the strange shape of its now evidently veiny crystalline structure forbade me from ascending. It was simply too steep. Viewed this closely, it bore a much greater resemblance to a tall twisting tower than a natural formation of rock. Where did this leave me? I saw no answer in the mountain, and Serena never gave a satisfactory explanation about the signs of damage and struggle I soon began to see in the dwellings and worship places used by her people. I heard her innocent people believed in demons, and there seemed to be enough physical evidence to corroborate their claims. As I joined them in prayer, I learned how their doctrine taught them of “demons within,” demons that would destroy and ravage their world if they did not do penance. Soon, an acolyte said, the moment of expiation would return to them. I did not understand.
While I remained in the world of the Rose, which is the closest English word to Serena’s meaning, I felt like I was trapped in a place where time had no meaning. It was a silent domain, filled with nothing but blossoms and the beauty of the one species inhabiting the place. By my observations, one could experience no night or day in their world. Only the white mist of the sky dominated the heavens, and I wondered if stars and planets and all the junk typical of our own universe existed at all in the heavenly world of the Rose.
When I was nearly asleep, I heard the disconcerting sounds of Serena’s sudden distress beyond the chamber. I remember seeing her crawling hysterically away from a menacing shadow in the hall. At first I thought she might have been in the grips of hallucination, until I myself saw the menacing shadow of something large and dark stumbling violently towards her and making vicious guttural sounds. I rushed to her aid, and pulled her back into my chamber so she could not be clawed and bitten by the lumbering dark thing in the corridor.
A veil of darkness of no perceived origin rapidly descended on the forest in the ensuing carnage, until I saw black clouds manifesting from drifting apertures in the air without any observable source. Elsewhere, the buildings and trees were quaking and all things seemed to be undergoing destruction or contortion. I connected the chaos with my arrival in the world of the Rose, and a strange theory came upon me. Was the popular mechanical method of transportation in my own world analogous to something natural in the world of the Rose? Were the vanishing and manifesting apertures in space, together with the violent bodily transformations overcoming Serena’s gentle people, connected in some mysterious fashion?
Before I could fully interpret the meaning of the peculiar scene, an aperture in space had manifested in the very room and Serena attacked me. Her body had changed shape in the dark, and the full thrust of her membranous outstretched wings pushed her down towards me with demonic ferocity. I edged towards the aperture in the room, but it was not sufficiently strong to affect me, and she sought to wrestle me to the ground. The jagged tips of her feral teeth viciously extended at my throat, but ultimately I was assured that my human frame was still the stronger than her altered body.
As she pushed me from the room and into the corridor beyond, I saw the contorted face of another one of her once beautiful people rise from the shadows and grimace over my shoulder. But rather than dig its hideous mouth into my neck, it was instead drawn to Serena, so the two battled in the room as I stood and tried to make sense of the chaos. Looking back, I still cared what happened to Serena, because I could not discard the fact that her earlier form had been kind and had nursed me back to strength. I turned on her assailant, using a sharp fallen beam to send him fluttering away through the open window. I used the same beam to deter the degenerated form of Serena from attacking me again, and I defended myself until the apertures in space had become strong enough to carry me again.
I do not know what ultimately became of Serena’s uglier self after I left her behind, but my own fate was more fortunate than I had calculated in those final frenzied moments in the company of her race. Testament of my survival to tell this account, I was pulled into what I initially thought to be a black hole but was really a spatial fold of the very same construction used in our folder-gates.
Now, to conclude, I would like to say I may have been the last person in the universe to feel gratitude to such machines. When I had finally returned to the Earth, I had to pick myself up in a dusty basement where the last of the decommissioned folding gates had been stacked.