I shut the door to the apartment, leaving a dust cloud in my wake. Fine gossamer bits floated upwards in a cloud, finally settling with grim certainty on a pair of work shoes in the corner. I locked the door with a delicate gold key, and fastened the two deadbolts. I shoved the key in my pocket and headed for the kitchen table, a package balanced carefully in one hand.
“It’s here!” I shouted, nearly tripping over Puddles the house cat, who had been startled awake by my presence. In the distance, I could hear the harsh cacophony of a train whistle. A whistle that signified that the workers had returned, that the 9-to-5 shift was over. Soon all the dusty miners would be tramping home to spouses and children and pets, hoping for a hot meal after a grueling day in the gold mines.
“And it’s about time!” Whist shouted from his perch on a reclining sofa in the corner. He was a frail old man, but he sprang up the instant he heard my voice, reflexively dropping a yellow piece of paper that he had been perusing before my arrival. The faded parchment drifted until it landed on the carpet, coming to rest next to a bottle containing a milky potion. Whist grabbed the package before I could put it down, ripping it open with his bare hands. Puddles rubbed against his legs, mewling in approval.
I was about to ask what the big deal was, when Whist paused and put his fingers to his lips. With one hand he readjusted his patchwork spectacles, and with the other he held up the object for both of us to see. At first glance, it was simply a large, metallic object with a spherical shape. Judging from how Whist held it, it might have weighed ten pounds at most, and was no bigger than a small dog.
“A quantum combustion chamber,” Whist said, smiling so hard through his gap teeth that I thought his face would burst. “I told ya I would get us off this wretched planet, I just told ya I would!”
“How did you ever get your hands on one?” I wondered, running my fingers across the smooth metal. In a smooth, thin band across the surface of the sphere, some symbols had been engraved in a foreign script.
I was trying to puzzle out the syntax of the foreign symbols when there was a heavy knock at the door. Whist nearly dropped the object, and I grabbed it firmly in my hands. I continued holding the device while he ran to answer the door.
“Open up, it’s the constable!” a firm voice shouted.
Without needing to be told, I returned the object to its package and rushed out the back door, headed for the storage cellar. Whatever the origin of this object, it did not need to fall into the wrong hands.