John Gilbey returns to the Futures fold this week with his new story Geode. Regular readers will know John, as he has written several stories for Futures over the years (see below). When he’s not jotting down ideas for time travel, John can be found on Twitter. Here, he reveals how a chance discovery in his youth sowed the seed for his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.
More years ago than I care to remember, I had gainful employment with a university in the south of England. As a post-graduate research assistant in an environmental-sciences department, I was charged with sampling soil profiles across the moorlands of the region and performing various analyses on them to demonstrate the processes, both natural and human-led, that had influenced the development of the soil.
Monoliths were dug by hand from soil pits, and then described and dissected in the lab under conditions more suited to detailed work than a heather moorland where the rain was both heavy and horizontal. One day, I broke up a sample to reveal a piece of stone about 5 cm long and almost triangular in profile. It was outside the particle size range I was studying, but instead of discarding it, I put it in a small plastic box as an object of curiosity. Months later, an archaeologist wandered past and noticed it on a shelf above my bench. “It’s just a chunk of rock,” I told her. “Maybe not …” she replied and — holding the rock between her fingers in a way I hadn’t considered — used it to cleanly slice a sheet of paper from top to bottom, showing the stone-age blade for what it was. This, I now realize, is where the Geode story came from.
The location in the high, dry country of Utah came much later. On a train journey on the California Zephyr from Denver to San Francisco (which I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in geology and landscape), I stopped at Grand Junction, Colorado. To the north, an ancient, eroded set of cliffs — known locally as the ‘book cliffs’ on account of their resemblance to a shelf of tomes — loomed over the town, and I wondered what it would be like to do fieldwork on those arid, sun-beaten talus slopes. Moving the cliffs farther west into Utah merely made them more remote and isolated from points of reference.
Geode is a story of decision points, unknowns and unknowables. If the pickaxe had fallen a second earlier, or later, it would potentially have missed the geode — which might, perhaps, have then been discovered intact. But would a sphere that had withstood interstellar space and planetfall be so easily damaged? Well, perhaps it was designed to be partially destroyed by ‘deliberate’ damage, leaving only a subset of data available to potentially dangerous finders. It could divulge enough information to give the race retrieving it a second chance through limited time travel, but without enough scope to threaten other species and star systems.
Were the two visitors really prepared to shoot the younger man to prevent the geode being broken? Who knows? But perhaps, elsewhere in the multiverse, they did — branching away from the loop and spinning out another of the infinite set of potential futures.
Read more of John’s Futures stories
It never rains in VR | Finding a happy medium | Safety critical | Big Dave’s last stand | Meeting with Max | Permanent position | Commitment | Final protocol | Unfinished business | Corrective action | The last laboratory | Intervention | Visiting Bob | Communicant | Review of the year 2062 | Deep impressions | Infraction | Citadel