A selection of images including the cover to Titanic Terastructures, A Quiet Afternoon 2, Thirty Years of Rain, New Maps, Shoreline of Infinity, K-Zine, Flotation Device and Magical Crime Scene Investigation.
In the centre are two painted images, one of a frazzled ginger haired woman drinking tea and one of a Sikh gentleman holding a bucket and sword and facing pink tentacles

The Oculus at the Edge of the Universe

The Oculus at the Edge of the Universe

Brian M. Milton

    “I’m really not happy about this.” Siobhan lifted the front of her dress up, bunching the petticoats underneath as she began up the wooden staircase. The steps creaked alarmingly but this was quickly drowned out by a bell tolling from further back in the House. 

    Thomas turned back to look down at her, his coattails swishing behind him and disturbing the dust piled at the edge of the steps. “It’s too late for that, she’s already there and we can’t say no to her now. That’s the East Bell ringing, we’ve only ten minutes to midnight and then it’s her birthday.” Thomas turned back and started off down a wood lined corridor with a bare bulb dimly illuminating it.

    Siobhan followed along, trying not to breath in the dust. “Everyone has birthdays, we don’t have to give in to her every whim when we can’t be sure of the consequences. I’ve been in the third library reading Great Uncle’s notes and he believes the Oculus can affect the worlds it looks at.”

    “Oh, poppycock! Great Uncle was just a tinkerer. He had as little idea of what the inventions do as any of the rest of the family. The Oculus simply shows you an image of somewhere in space.”

    “And lets you manipulate it. How can we let a child play with something that could change whole worlds?”

    “It doesn’t do that and even if it did, these worlds are far away, so who cares what happens to them?”

    “The people living on them, for a start.”

    Thomas opened a door and stepped out on to a thin walkway over a four storey drop. Down below giant pistons chugged back and forth and the roar of a mysterious power system fought with the clanking of giant chains. He took hold of the thin wire that ran alongside the walkway. “Watch your step, this won’t be easy in that dress.”

    Siobhan came up behind and grabbed tightly to the support wire. “Given the option I’d not be wearing this dress or coming this way. But you had to come to the East Wing and since the Ballroom flooded this is the only route we can take and still make it in time.”

    Thomas smiled thinly. “You could have had a suit like this. She only asked for us to dress up for her birthday, she didn’t say how.”

    “Yes, but the security protocols up here only accept the Victoriana archetypes. That’s how we lost Cousin Primrose, she came exploring this way in trousers.” Siobhan paused. “I liked Cousin Primrose, she tried to really understand the House and the Inventions, not just accept the simple explanations the Aunts tell us in lessons when we’re wee.”

    Thomas stepped off the far end of the walkway and pushed open a steel door with a large metal wheel on the front. “Yes, and that got her killed. The Founder built the House this way for a reason and so long as it continues to feed and clothe us I, for one, am happy.”

    Siobhan followed through the door, muttering, but Thomas ignored her as he led the way down a long viewing gallery which looked out on the cold, unwinking stars. As Siobhan passed she looked down at the grey planet’s surface which starkly opposed the duck egg blue of the open ruins of the West Wing. At the far end a rattling lift cage, just big enough for the two of them, took them up three floors and into the Oculus Tower. 

    They emerged from the lift to see the rest of the family already there. Aunts, Uncles and Cousins from as far away as the Wine Cellar were arranged around the great glass screen with Cousin Violet, resplendent in a pink, frothing monstrosity of a party dress and with a large ‘I am 5’ badge on a sash draped around her neck, stood directly in front of the buttons and levers. The brass and chrome of the Oculus reflected the dim lights of the room into a thousand points of lights, winking and flickering as the family shifted to improve their view.

    Great Aunt Ermintrude, or her corsetry, creaked as she turned to look at the late arrivals. Somewhere a clock began to chime, soon joined by multiple bells both high and sharp or dull and sonorous. “Good, we’re finally all here and that’s midnight. Now then, Violet, have you chosen what you want to see.”

    The girl giggled. “Yes.” She spun a dial on the main console and flicked down three switches. The Oculus screen lit up with a greyish light and, out of the milky blurriness, a world appeared. Green and blue with two major landmasses, one long and thin, the other a larger landmass with offshoots and numerous islands. Violet turned a second dial and the image zoomed into the long thin continent, finding a city on the top, left-hand side and, eventually, zooming right into a gaudy, ornate gold room and a man applying orange colouring to his face. A murmur of disgust moved through the family as Great Aunt Ermintrude leaned over, her corsetry complaining all the way, to look in the little girl’s face. “Is this really what you want to see for your birthday?”

    The girl nodded, a twisted grin spreading across her face. “Yes, I’m going to make him President of this stupid world and watch him destroy it.”

    Siobhan pushed herself forward. ‘No, you can’t let her do that, all those people, it would be terrible.”

    Ermintrude gave Siobhan a very hard stare. “It is Violet Elizabeth’s birthday and she can do what she likes. We’ve had this conversation before, Siobhan, and I will not have it again.” Ermintrude turned to the girl. “On you go, sweetie. Happy Birthday.”

    Violet laughed and pulled a brass lever. The family, minus Siobhan, began to sing Happy Birthday and somewhere, far away, a world burned.

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