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Archie Phoenix


Marshall Bendeaux stood in a light tube in City Ring 5 overlooking one of the strangest scenes he’d ever witnessed. He’d situated himself so that his feet were pointed away from the City Core. Beneath them was District 6-82, where contact with the District Watch office had been broken shortly after report of strange phenomena in the energy grid. It seemed that the situation had taken a turn since that report; what the Marshall was seeing went well beyond energy walls flickering off.


Normally, the Marshall would be seeing the customary Aetherian energy conduits, strips of light flowing along the city’s multi-directional transport conduits; perhaps a few walls dimmed to opacity where residents desired privacy, but most of the city’s inhabitants visible as they went about their daily business aligned along various gravitational vectors; and beyond it all the stars in Aether’s sky. But the Marshall could see none of this.


Instead, Marshall Bendeaux saw structures … actual, visible, material structures. The only such thing he knew to exist on Aether was the City Core … but these structures were nothing like the City Core. They were like nothing he’d ever seen, even in light-projections of Aether’s ancient history. There were spheres and half-spheres, great domes of gold atop spiraled and stunted bases, none of it transparent save for thin strips of glass panels around their peripheries. There were spires wide and slender, with rounded tips and pointed tips and needle-thin tips. Narrow bridges crisscrossed every which way throughout the District, linking these strange structures.


They were the buildings of District 6-82. But they had been transformed. The energy which had made up the walls had been morphed into these structures which no Aetherian mind could imagine, the conduits into this network of bridges. In the spaces between it all were great lawns of emerald grass, the kind of thing one could only see in Aether’s few small greenhouse facilities. There were even two large pools, with a stream of water flowing past two bridges from one to the other.


It was a breathtaking sight, Marshall Bendeaux had to admit. And it was freakishly out of the ordinary. ‘Alarming’ was the word Officer Charltrey had used before he witnessed any of this. ‘Alarming’ was no longer adequate.


Bendeaux’s eyes shifted to the left, to the border between the anomaly and the rest of Aether. There, he saw the gradual shift from the stone of the bridges to the usual light conduits, from the domes and the spires to energy walls which freely revealed citizens who had gathered to gape at the phenomenon … or to run in terror from it. For the phenomenon was not still. The border was moving. The Marshall could see the energy barriers flashing and flickering as the alien district spread outward. People were only now starting to panic.


“There are others trapped inside!” The Marshall looked to the right, at a man fleeing up the light tube toward him. He’d recognized the uniform of office. He waved his arm toward the anomaly. “They can’t escape it! A wall holds them back! They couldn‘t get out before they realized what was happening!”


“What -is- happening?” The Marshall asked.


“No one knows. But it came from there …”


Bendeaux knew where the man was pointing before he looked. He’d seen it as soon as he surveyed the anomaly. One of the great lawns of the transformed District 6-82 rose up to a flattened hill. Atop that hill was a domed structure larger and grander than the others -- a Palace. It was at the very center of the transformed district, overlooking all the rest of this aberration. The Marshall recalled Officer Charltrey’s words -- ‘the building at the very central point of the anomaly.’


‘Aether’s Caress.’


The Marshall thought-projected a message to his office. “Get me someone from the Core.”

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