Tod Fortuno opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling of the cave. The rocks were colours he didn’t have words for, impossible protrusions that folded across and through each other in defiance of geometry. Tod hadn’t even whimpered when he’d broken his leg during a cage match gone out of control, but looking at that ceiling made him want to scream.
At least it was better than the sky outside.
“Where are we?” he said, still trying to make sense of the rocks.
“Another dimension,” Captain Lesting said, grinning as she brushed dust from her dress uniform. “Pretty cool, right?”
“The maths of this place, mostly. It’s not often you see somewhere so spectacularly at odds with our universe.”
“I mean why did you bring me here?” Tod forced himself to sit up, despite the wild spinning of his brain. Now he knew why only a select few entered the Interdimensional Corps – it must take a twisted sort of mind to cope with this.
“I asked if you wanted to go somewhere that would blow your mind, and you said-”
Tod groaned. “I thought it was a chat up line.”
Lesting looked down at her feet.
“It kind of was. I’ve always had a thing for wrestlers, and the party was boring anyway, so I thought maybe…”
“Just take me home.” Tod closed his eyes. He’d thought that Lesting was his type – short, brunette, dressed in a uniform – but it turned out that his type didn’t include interdimensional joyriders.
“About that…” Lesting held up the device she’d been playing with before the real world vanished. It could have just been a smartphone, if not for the eerie light pulsing on one end. “Coming here drained the battery. I figured that once we were on our own it would have time to recharge, but-”
Outside the cave, something howled. The sound was closer than the last time, which had been closer than when they’d seen the creature outside, a clawed cross between a jaguar and the aftermath of a bomb blast, muscled legs covered with jagged protrusions and swirling with toxic grey dust.
“That thing is coming for us!” Tod yelled.
“Ssh!” Lesting pressed a finger to her lips. “You don’t want it to hear us – not until the opener has recharged.”
“What difference does hearing us make? It saw me. It looked into my soul and I swear I could feel its hunger, like a maggot trying to eat me from the inside.”
Lesting tipped her head on one side and looked at him.
“You should be a poet,” she whispered.
“Are you high?” Tod asked, narrowing his eyes. “Or are you just insane?”
“Little of column A, little of column B.”
Tod pressed the palms of his hands against his head, as if he could somehow press down the mounting pressure that came from his anger and the dizzying weirdness of looking around this place.
Part of the cave wall melted, turned briefly into something like a pile of silver bricks, then returned to its original form.
Lesting smiled at her device. “Halfway there.”
The howl sounded again. The creature had come a lot more than half way.
“What do we do if it gets here?” Tod asked, looking nervously towards the cave mouth.
“Usually I have guns and bombs and emergency transponders, but apparently you’re not allowed to take those to parties.” Lesting’s look of baffled frustration turned suddenly to excitement and she looked up at Tod. “You could wrestle it!”
“That thing’s seven feet tall and covered in claws!”
“You wrestled the Overtaker. He’s seven feet and he was wearing a robot suit.”
“But that wasn’t real. That was TV. That was us faking for an audience!”
“Yes, of course, you mad b-” Tod stopped, seeing the glitter of mischief in her eye. “You’re messing with me, aren’t you?”
“Little bit.” She held up the device. “Battery’s charged.”
The howling came again, so close it shook Tod’s teeth. Fear had replaced nausea and confusion in the wrestling match for control of his mind. He grabbed hold of Lesting’s hand, squeezing far tighter than on their way out of the party.
“Get us the hell out of here.”
“I love it when you take charge.” She grinned at him, then pressed her thumb against a blinking light.
A bright flash forced Tod to close his eyes. He felt himself lifted for a moment, then settled back onto his feet and looked around.
“We haven’t moved. Why haven’t we moved?”
Lesting looked down at the device. The blinking light had turned to a dull glow.
“Sorry about that,” she said, letting go of his hand so she could tap the top of the screen. “These things don’t always work first time. We’ll just have to wait for a fresh charge.”
She looked at the cave mouth and her face went pale. The howling rang out, closer than ever, and the cave walls rippled in response.
“Oh shit,” she whispered.
The creature prowled into view, its single eye glowing like a supernova. Tod looked from it to Lesting to the light that was slowly building in brightness on her device.
He turned back to the beast and squared his shoulders.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m gonna wrestle it.”
“But your wrestling’s fake!”
“You think they know that in this dimension?”
He raised his hands. The beast bared its death-black teeth. Tod’s head spun as he tried to make sense of the way the beast moved and the cave walls warped around it.
“You were right, this place really did blow my mind.”
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Lies We Will Tell Ourselves
A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.
A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.
A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.
We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.
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