Short story for a Talecraft contest, completed but very unpolished.
Like an eternal monument, the ancient grandfather clock stood unmoving, its hands forever fixed at a half past one. The brass pendulum hung a few degrees off apogee, but neither rose nor fell. Remnants of the glass window, smeared with blood, were as jagged teeth of the broken case. From one of the jutting splinters a fresh crimson dollop threatened to fall, yet clung stubbornly to the wood.
Desmond regarded the unmoving scene, bemused by the irony. Time was all he had now. Well, time and his own sardonic self. Nothing more to do, then, but dwell on the sins that had brought him thus.
Even now, Desmond's thoughts flew back to the diamond. Yes, the diamond, that which called out to him with its irresistible siren song, seducing him with its window to infinity.
That the diamond was of alien origin, there was no doubt. By the scientists' estimations, it was immeasurably old. These were the quaint oddities that had piqued his curiosity that night he attended the function at the Singh-Meyer Space Institute. Little did he know that it would become his deadly obsession.
He recalled that he had not even wanted to go. Nigel, being one of Institute's investment angels, had insisted on his company for the exhibit's premier. "I'm delighted you'll turn another billion, Nigel, love," he had said, "but must I tag along? Scientists and explorers, phooey! I'll simply be bored to tears."
In the end, Desmond found himself at the Institute that evening. It had been just his thing, too, an affair with coattails and fancy dress. That night belonged less to the scientists and explorers than to the venture capitalists who had funded Meyer's Europa expedition. His head was simply swimming with possibilities!
Desmond kept up his charming demeanor, though he groaned inwardly, when the time inevitably came for Hank Meyer's presentation. The guests filed into the auditorium, the lights dimmed, and the spotlight fell on the gigantic figure at the podium.
The great space conqueror! sneered Desmond to himself. While Meyer had led the expedition to Site 21 at Europa, he looked every bit uncomfortable up on the stage. But he was the man of the hour. That was the only reason he and not Singh was doing the presentation tonight.
Meyer was soon lost in his team's account of the Site 21 expedition, much to the chagrin of Desmond and the rest of the non-technical audience. Desmond rolled his eyes as Meyer droned on about landings and quarries and excavators and carbon dating.
Just when Desmond was about to nod off at the rolling monotone, Meyer came to the point that everyone had been waiting for.
"As you know, the reason Site 21 has been of great interest to us is because of the unusual Hawking radiation emanating from the area. Simply put: there was a mass anomaly that clearly did not belong to the Europan landscape," Meyer droned.
"And for some time we have been receiving curious non-random signals on the lower band carrier frequencies that simply cannot be attributed to background space radiation. In other words, ladies and gentlemen: the strong possibility that there may be intelligence behind these signals.
"This is what we found."
The screen transitioned to show, embedded in the rock face, a metallic rectangular plate with indecipherable hieroglyphics. There was a collective gasp from the audience, Desmond included. Meyer flashed more pictures: octagonal canisters, recessed discs, lattice networks, and finally, what looked to be machines with mazes of tubes running through them.
An eager hand shot up from the audience, and impatiently, its owner's voice followed suit: "Have you determined any usable technology from these artifacts?"
"We're still in the early stages," Meyer cautioned, "and, of course, there's still much that we don't understand."
"This is the find of the millennium, man!" said another voice, Nigel's. "Show us something for our money!" The room erupted in an uproar of assent. "Yes, show us!"
Meyer scanned the room, eyes wide with bewilderment. Excited investors had risen from their seats, forgetting all decorum (but not Desmond, who watched the entire proceeding with detached bemusement.) Rajiv Singh finally came to Meyer's rescue.
"If you please, ladies and gentlemen," Singh intoned pleasantly but irresistibly, "Hank will have something to be showing you soon enough. Hank?" Singh signalled to someone offstage, and two attendants rolled in a tall cylinder.
Meyer looked darkly at the unflappable Singh, and then finally relented.
"We're studying the artifacts in their original environment," Meyer said. "Except for this one."
He pressed a button. The cylinder split lengthwise. A spotlight illuminated the display, probing its contents, but it seemed to suck in all the light. Not for a while did everyone finally realize that the case was open, and even then the darkness within persisted.
Inside was the diamond, but it was a fact perceived rather than seen. One felt it when one was not looking at it directly. And though one could not see it, one knew it came in the shape of a diamond.
No, not a diamond, Desmond thought, rising finally from his seat. The Diamond. Its blackness captivated him. A pleasant buzz hummed in his ears. He felt a tear roll down his cheek.
"Do you hear that?" Desmond whispered to Nigel. He did not take his eyes off the diamond.
"Hear what?" Nigel said. Desmond ignored him.
"This is Specimen Alpha," Meyer said. "We found it in one of the inner chambers of Site 21. It was encased in rock. The only reason we found it was because it was the source of the non-random signal. The encasing rock itself was carbon-dated three point four million years."
"But what does it do?" someone demanded.
"We're not one hundred percent sure," Meyer said, "but it seems to be the central power generator of the Site 21 complex. It magnifies applied force in an exponential vector. So far we've produced 3.2 gigawatts in a controlled laboratory environment. That's as high as our instrumentation goes."
A buzz of excitement filled the room. Desmond was annoyed. It interfered with the song playing in his head.
"Can we touch it?" Desmond asked above the murmurs.
"No!" Meyer said emphatically, startling the entire room.
"Touch it and it shows you...images. Of what, we don't actually know. It's a jumble, really. It's so...alien....
"We...I...lost two people to this. It doesn't have that great an effect on most people. But to folks ranking high on the Sheldrake psionic scale, it's particularly strong," Meyer said. His voice was quaking. "Those two of my crew are still in a coma."
A visibly irritated Rajiv Singh wrested the podium from Meyer and restored order with assurances of the proper safeguards, the potential of unlimited energy, and most importantly, a guarantee of wealth. That put the audience back at ease, and soon Meyer's outburst was forgotten.
The gathering retired for cocktails. Desmond watched achingly as the attendants closed the cylinder and rolled it away. But the song still played in his ears. For his ears alone, he thought proudly.
From the corner of his eye, Desmond followed Meyer, saw him brush past two distinguished gentlemen who had questions for him, and make a beeline for a young but plain looking woman. The women patted Meyer's forehead with a handkerchief, and for the first time that night, Desmond finally saw Meyer at ease. Only then did he submit to the inquisition of his investors.
Desmond licked his lips, brushed back his long locks, and put on his most charming smile as he closed in on the woman, now standing alone. This was going to be easier than he thought.
The grandfather clock struck the midnight hour. To the cadence of the dulcet tones Desmond followed the arc of the brass pendulum. The clock was very old, dating back to the late 19th century, and it was very expensive. Desmond admired it for its elegant antiquity, just like the many other ornaments in the Meyer estate. He wondered that Meyer was capable of appreciating them at all.
"She's not here," a low, level voice said from behind him. Desmond stiffened, then caught himself.
"Mr. Meyer, an unexpected pleasure," Desmond said, flashing Meyer a confident smile. He extended a hand, one that Meyer resolutely ignored.
"She's not here," Meyer repeated. He was scowling, and his breath carried the smell of whiskey. In his left hand, clutched tight, was his whiskey glass. "Keep away from her, damn you," Meyer hissed.
"Rosalie and I are in love," Desmond said defiantly. "Surely you must see that."
Meyer threw his head back and roared with laughter.
"Love? Let's drop the charade, you insufferable fop," Meyer said. "It's not Rosalie you're after, is it? It's the diamond!"
Desmond thought to deny it. But for the past six months he had been meticulously laying down the cards, and now they were stacked in his favor. He had bribed, inveigled, influenced, and seduced. There was nothing that poor, straightforward Meyer could do.
"So..." Desmond said ambivalently, smiling.
"You fool! You have no idea, no idea at all, what you're playing with." Meyer staggered with rage.
"I only know that I must," Desmond said, pacing slowly around Meyer to stay out of his reach.
"It's the music, isn't it? That infernal music."
"So, you hear it, too?" Desmond was surprised.
"Just one of the side effects. Prolonged exposure, you see. But I saw you -- I remember you -- that night at the exhibit. Saw the effect it had on you."
"My God, man! Don't you even care what it could do to you?"
"What is it, Meyer? Tell me! What is the secret? What is the diamond? Why do I desire it so much? Why does it call me?"
"It's a stable micro-black hole, that much we knew from early on. But don't you see? It takes tremendous energy to sustain it under stable conditions. We don't know how, but we suspect it's a fourth-dimensional construct projected by a psionic field. It's preposterous but it has to come from within the micro-black hole itself."
"And the music?"
"Psychic resonance. I've already made my own inquiries, Desmond. You must be congratulated on your Sheldrake scores."
"So what happens to me, Meyer, if -- when! -- I possess the diamond?"
"Do you really want it that badly, Desmond? Perhaps I should just give it to you. But no, no. Psionic imbalance, leading to collapse of the field. Strong possibility. Nearly happened twice with my crew."
"But I must have it! And I will!"
Meyer laughed. "I'm not a complete idiot, you know. I've taken my own precautions." Then his face contorted in anger. "But I can't forgive you for taking Rosalie from me."
Meyer flung the wine glass at Desmond. Desmond ducked, and the glass shattered against the wall.
Meyer staggered forward. A blow aimed at Desmond flew wild, glanced the grandfather clock, wobbling it on its axis. Desmond sidestepped Meyer with a dancer's grace, and tripped up the bigger man. Meyer howled with rage.
"You won't get the diamond, Desmond! I promise you that! You can't! I'll kill you first!"
Desmond bolted out the door, ran for his waiting car. The encounter with Meyer showed him how close his plans had come to unravelling. But no, not all was lost. He had a few more cards left to play. Now he knew he had to play them quickly and masterfully.
Behind him, he could hear Meyer charging out of the house.
The grandfather clock's hands read five minutes to half past one. The brass pendulum swung steadily, marking the passing of the seconds. The minute hand moved one tick forward.
Rosalie Meyer lay on the floor unmoving, her bloodied head having been smashed against the pendulum case. Remnants of the glass window were as jagged teeth. From one of the jutting splinters a fresh crimson dollop fell.
Desmond stood over Rosalie's body, heart beating wildly. This was another murder to add to his record tonight, that is, if he had succeeded in killing Hank Meyer when he forced Meyer's car off the road. The music in his head followed the tempo.
He brushed back the sticky lock that had fallen across Rosalie's forehead.
"Poor girl," he cooed, "I'm sorry it had to end this way. If only you hadn't had a change of heart. But you can take heart that if it hadn't been for me you never really would have lived."
He bent forward to kiss her.
Outside, he could hear a car crashing through the estate's gates. He heard the car stop, heard the door flung open angrily. Then an angry bestial roar. Meyer had survived after all.
With trembling hands he pried the canister loose from Rosalie's grip. A thrill coursed through his entire body. The music had never been as strong as it was now.
Any moment, Meyer would come crashing through the door. And then it would be all over. He had crossed the point of no return. But it didn't matter. To hold the diamond, to hold the diamond, that was all he wanted.
He fumbled for the code on the container's side. Six digits, each press taking an eternity to complete. At last, the canister split open. The darkness within beckoned to him.
The drawing room's doors shuddered once, twice. Another roar from Meyer. The bar splintered, and Meyer came crashing through, uncontrollably consumed with blood lust.
"Kill yo-oooooou!" Meyer screamed.
Desmond took no heed. He thrust his hands onto the blackness of the diamond. The music throbbed in his ears, white hot. His face registered pure ecstasy.
At his touch, the containment field fell. In a flash, the black hole exploded outwards, momentarily filling the room with an unearthly light. The field enveloped Desmond, Meyer, the room as the event horizon expanded, then collapsed again.
The music came to an abrupt stop. In his hands, he felt...nothing. Nothing at all.
There was no more music. There was no sound at all. The silence was maddening.
Where had the music gone?
He wanted to cry. No tears would fall.
Only Desmond's consciousness retained its internal movement. He was inside the black hole, all light stood frozen. All time came to a halt.
At the last moment, his attention had been drawn to that dollop of Rosalie's blood, just about to fall from the splinter from which it hung. In what had been his field of vision was the ancient grandfather clock, standing unmoving, its hands forever fixed at a half past one, the brass pendulum hung a few degrees off apogee, but neither rising nor falling.