the smuggler’s bible

Hollyhock

They quarantine Hollyhock for sixteen months somewhere in the desert. She sits cross-legged on the thin mattress wrapping and unwrapping her pillow in the green wool army blanket. The doctors cease, after much frustration, to attempt treatment with sedatives.

Finally, in winter, she stands before cameras. The Christmasseract is very close now, glowing warmly, brighter than the moon in the night sky.

The crowd is silent. After a moment, someone asks, “Will it hurt, when he comes?”

Hollyhock shakes her head. “Don’t worry. One silent night,” she says, “and all of us, good and bad, shall have what we deserve.”

Hollyhock

Days inside, maybe weeks. Time fold over itself, twists and pulls into bows.

“There is much to see,” he says. “Soon you will understand.”

“How? How is it possible?” Hollyhock holds a up a hand to block her view of the figure. His eyes shine so brightly. He reaches out to guide her. She stumbles, leaving bare footprints in the snow.

“You will receive and then carry it to the others.”

“And then what?” she cries “What happens next?”

Hands shaking her against a metal floor. A distant voice.

“She’s regaining consciousness.”

“My god,” Hollyhock gasps. “It’s full of gifts.”

Hollyhock

The shimmering, glassy surface of the Christmasseract—what little of it can be seen in the three dimensions and narrow spectrum of light visible to the human eye—is roughly spherical with a single annular protrusion jutting outward, a black portal at its center. It fills the shuttle’s slender viewport. Hollyhock cycles the scanners through infrared and radar. As far as the instruments are concerned, the anomaly is empty space.

“How long?”

“Three minutes out. The aperture is steady. No movement.”

“All right, wrap her up. Let’s get down this chimney,” Hollyhock says, “and hope nobody left the fire burning.”

Hollyhock

The stars shine and twinkle deep within the spreading branches of the tree of night. Hollyhock stands at the bulkhead viewport and watches, lost in thought. A door hisses open. Behind her, a technician coughs politely.

“Apologies. We’ve received a transmission.”

“From Earth? Luna?”

“No, ma’am. Point of origin is within the anomaly. It’s coming from inside the Christmasseract.”

Hollyhock turns slowly. “Forty years and he finally has something to say. Encryption?”

“None. The same message repeating in eight different languages. It’s a list of names.”

“Cross-reference them immediately against all databases.”

The tech hesitates. “Ma’am,” he says, “they’re ours.”