1728 c/o Peter Bloxham


He enters the hall somewhere in the middle of the queue with Will next to him and the lighting guys have set up a holo of the spires that’s almost life-size resolution. They’re playing pop music quietly which seems dumb, he says to Will and they sit down and just look around as everyone involved in the project wanders in, clumps of threes, fours and fives. They enter and see the huge holo and it sets a few people off and as the auditorium fills up there’s a goofy atmosphere, people making stupid jokes, people laughing too loud.

Think about the 20th century, he says to Will. Those guys were scientists. Tesla, Turing, Einstein... When did we swap Scientists for fucking Nerds?

Will snorts. Starting to share my concerns again?

He doesn't say anything.

We cannot be the only guys talking about this stuff, Will had said the night before. They were sat in the pub drinking pints of Old Bear and eating crisps from packets torn open on the table.

I mean seriously, Will said. They’re relying on us to handle nearly all of this coding - we don’t even have a decent idea of the larger framework. And there are basic things this timescale doesn’t allow for. Imagine what it’s like higher up the chain. The guys doing those adaptations to the power supply and only one live test on that reactor, not even...

Will, you’ve been reading the tabloids too much, he said, wanting to shut the conversation down.

Don’t talk to me like I’m a prick, man.

Jesus, he said. Will. Chill out.

He flicked away a message notification on his lenses and took a sip of Old Bear. Will, he said, pointing, People shat themselves over the shape of the earth, computers, electricity, atomic power, the hadron colliders, fucking hell, wireless power, antimatter testing, neural interfacing, reproductive administration, cloning, light-tunnels... Basically every major scientific discovery that has preserved us as a species since the dawn of time has had people predicting the end of the world. It’s just progress.

He ate three crisps.

Anyway listen, man, he said, chewing on the other side from his ulcer. Science has a will of her own. We couldn’t stand in her way, even if we wanted to.

Will raised an eyebrow. I can’t believe you just said that.

They sat in silence for a minute. He idly blinked through some unread email, flicking them into the trash.

Look, Will eventually said. I’m not predicting the end of the world, I’m predicting an unforeseen disaster due to the rush-job we’re on to satisfy Lloyd’s ego. I don’t know why you’re suddenly giving me the PR shit… I’m going for a piss.

Dr Lloyd walks out onto the stage in front of the company logo and there’s the obligatory whooping, they’re playing a piano song with a glitchy vocal thing that says ‘it’s now, it’s now, now is now’ over and over again.

Oh god, he says and looks at Will. Will suddenly seems pretty focused on the stage so he just looks back and watches Dr Lloyd up there with his arms in the air between the two huge holos while the music plays and then there’s a huge flash of light from the fake spires and everything turns blue.

The music cuts.

Are you ready to make HISTORY? Dr Lloyd’s voice comes thundering out of the PA and everyone goes bananas, they’re on their feet cheering and clapping and even the maths club are over there doing fist pumps which is pretty funny but when he looks over to Will he’s just looking up at those two holos as if they’re about to fall on him.

Dr Lloyd holds the position for a moment with fists in the air and the spires shimmer and look as if they’re being fired up, which almost seems cool but the whole scene is clearly someone else's idea, the choreography is far too obvious and he’s looking worried that the stance he’s in seems a bit ridiculous, which it does. He puts his arms down and walks onto the middle of the stage and throws a holo down of James Bradley and walks around him, waiting for the noise to quieten down.

Eventually everybody sits down and he starts pacing and gesturing. In 1728 James Bradley here calculated the speed of light, he says and the holo changes to a map of the galaxy. It was the first step of a journey mankind has been on for more than four hundred years. Today, project CASSANDRA and the Pythian Spires mark a moment of destiny for the human race. Building upon centuries of trial and error, layer after layer of human endeavour, enquiry, we will finally reach up into the universe and begin to pull that curtain of mysteries back.

He’s going to turn them on, Will whispers. Fucking hell, he’s actually going to turn them on tonight.


Dr Lloyd brings up a holo of an old-looking space drone. Starting this week, he says, the drones that our grandparents launched will emerge from their light tunnels and begin transmission. With the technology in our spires and the drones in their exact positions, we will be able to see what they see. We will be able to see the echoes of time, we will be able to watch history.

And it just so happens that the first of them, the Sallust, is arriving at its predetermined place in the galaxy and activating... TONIGHT.

A deafening cheer goes up but there is also a fair number of people nervously looking around, he notices, and now he realizes that the holos must actually be a live feed of one of the sites.

Jesus, he says.

They’re going to turn them on because they sort of have to, Will is saying. I seriously hope it doesn’t work. I hope that power supply fails or something.

Trillions of taxpayer’s pounds, says one of the guys from engineering, leaning forward. And for the contract that they made me sign, it had better fucking work.

Centuries of firing probes into the howling emptiness! Lloyd is saying. A millenia of ignorance, of guesswork, of mystery. Tonight, we end it all!

No media, no outsiders he starts to say but then a noise goes up from the crowd because as Lloyd leaves the stage and the company logo flashes past they’re very quickly looking at what seems to be a field somewhere, grassy, but it’s difficult to tell where, if it’s natural terrain or not, and the huge camo barrier is rippling all around and people are chattering, someone shouts out Which site is that? but then there’s this crackling sound and a noise like a starship in-atmosphere - this huge, God-like whine and the spires are shimmering again and a fierce platinum light washes into the room and it actually hurts to look up for a few seconds.

And then all of the grass is gone and there’s sand in all directions and no camo field and there’s a man wearing strange, roughspun clothing on his knees with his hands clasped and he looks up and seems to stare straight out of the holo into the room, taking everything in.

And there’s a moment of powerful quiet before he starts to scream and cry and shriek very rapidly in a strange language. And people in the auditorium are all shouting and Lloyd’s voice is on the PA saying NO NO NO NO NO NO and then the security team are everywhere shouting orders but nobody hears, nobody listens.

At some point he realizes that Will is grabbing his arm and his mouth is making shapes that say We Need to Get Out Of Here but then there’s a new sound, a humming, warm like a human voice, but vast, welling up like a huge wave, horrible, powerful and then more light and then as people are starting to shout and jostle a glimpse at an impossibly tall figure that apparently steps out of the holo and then screaming starts and everyone is moving and it’s swirling around like hot air from a fire, rising, there’s panic in the room, people are running and pushing and clawing past him.

And he turns to look at Will as another wave of that sound is building but Will has vanished and as he turns to look back somehow he’s now standing on the precipice of this yawning hole in the air screaming and terrible and gravity seems to be shifting around him.

God, he tries to say. Oh. Oh god.

And then he isn’t in the auditorium. And for some reason, even with his jaw clenched shut, in the grips of his panic as another pulse of blue light overloads his lenses and rushes through his pinpricked pupils, blinding him, he can hear his own voice calmly repeating, echoless, in time with the clenching of his muscles, one word, over and over again.