Archer was back in the shadow of the Space Foundation Headquarters, wondering what his visit would unearth this time round. It was a bright, clear, crisp winter's day in January of the year 2057. He craned his neck up from where he stood at street level to comprehend the size of the Iceberg Building. The tall glass spire towered above the dynamic London skyline, but he knew that the dark basement levels of the structure ranged into the thousands. Two years ago he'd ventured into those depths, summoned by his father to help with an emergency of apocalyptic proportions. He hoped now that he was here for something less frightening.
With him was Geek, the brains of the Axiom Few; Archer's small band of freelance techno-graduates.
'I know it's hard. Dealing with him,' said Geek.
Archer nodded slowly, composing himself. He often found his work with the Few was at odds with the personal life he struggled to keep at bay. But their business had to come first. 'Let's do it.'
They walked through the automatic doors into the grand reception. Light from an atrium flooded into the space and illuminated a fountain of globes that moved in sync with the planets of the solar system. The only sounds other than rushing water were the echoes of important footfalls that tapped across the expanse of marble floor.
Goddard was waiting for them. Archer's aged father leaned on that same old wooden cane. The result of an injury Archer himself had delivered. Yet again the memory of that fateful night invaded his senses: the night when the two of them had fought each other violently in the confines of a small terraced house in Brighton. That night Archer had, with a bleeding face and racked with despair, leapt into the cold sea, hoping never to be rescued.
Goddard shook Geek's hand but regarded Archer with unhidden hurt when Archer dug his hands into his jeans pockets.
'Very well. Follow me,' said the older man.
They walked towards the lifts and rode up to the twentieth floor in silence, where Goddard's office overlooked the sprawling city that stretched to the hazy West London horizon. As Archer stared out at the shimmering outskirts of the urban-sprawl, he caught sight of a SuperPlane descending towards Heathrow Base, its wings glinting in the unadulterated noon sun.
Goddard motioned for them to sit on one of the sofas in a cosier corner of the office. 'Drink?'
Geek said, 'Thanks I'll have a...'
Archer interrupted, 'He doesn't need a drink. Dad, what's this all about?'
Goddard held his stare for a moment before leaning back against his desk, resting his cane beside him and letting out an audible sigh. 'You are singularly determined to make this difficult aren't you?'
Archer folded his arms and sat back.
'To business, then,' added Goddard. 'Geek, have you been monitoring the Space Foundation web-forums lately?'
Geek shook his head. 'I can't say I have.'
'Well you might do well to. Someone's been posting there for the last seven months under the name Voidant underscore M.'
'Voidant?' Geek sat forward.
Goddard raised an eyebrow. 'Have you heard that word before?'
Archer had heard Geek mention it before. A few years ago while he was sitting in the back of Archer's car, he had been in remote communication with an ultra-intelligent computer called Brenda. In fact, Geek's exact words at the time had been "I've never heard of the Voidant War," in response to something Brenda had said to him. Geek had never disclosed the full content of that conversation. A key part of the Axiom Few's modus operandi was "No questions". Their team worked on a basis of extreme trust.
Archer looked at Geek. Geek held Goddard's inquisitive gaze and said, 'No, I haven't.'
'You're a bad liar, but I will not press you for details. If you want to come forward with them, you will, if you think it necessary. Perhaps I can convince you.'
Geek remained expressionless.
Goddard raised his voice, 'Computer?'
'Voice print verified. How can I help you Goddard?' came the smooth female electronic reply, which emanated from speakers around the office.
'Print all threads of the Voidant underscore M forum postings.'
Goddard looked at Archer. 'Voidant underscore M refers to himself as the Messenger. His circumstances are contradictory to say the least. He says he is a virtual entity that has existed on earth for seventeen thousand years, waiting for us to develop the technology to enable him to talk to us. Confusingly, his IP resolution places him off planet, indicating that he has been posting from somewhere on the La Luna orbiting hotel. Virgin Galactic's passenger logs have been scanned but understandably they have no record of anyone using that name to fly to, or from, La Luna. He's a ghost to us.'
Archer shrugged. 'I'm not surprised. So what has this Voidant guy been posting about?'
Goddard retrieved the thin wad of paper from the printer built into his desk and handed them to his son, who proceeded to scan through the forum postings. 'In a nutshell, he's been talking about some sort of object of destruction. He refers to it by a number of names, the "Cleansing Spire", the "Obscurcissez la Tige", or "Darken Rod" in English and the "Torre do Desafio", but mostly he calls it the "Voidant Lance". He says it has different names in different dimensions, if you will.'
'And why haven't you ruled this person out as a crackpot?' said Geek, though Archer knew full well that Geek was aware of those other dimensions. He had encountered them before. He was clearly trying to deflect any implication that he knew more than he was letting on.
'Because he, or she, makes reference to a number of discoveries that the Space Foundation has not yet made public.'
'What sort of discoveries?'
'Page two, third post down.'
Archer flicked to the second page and read the relevant post.
The Obscurcissez la Tige will impact at the point of the 15th magnetic calibration marker. The position was chosen during the first wave of discussions between the Core Voidant AI Heads and the Fifth Lance Architects. As one of the Lance Architects, I was involved in the design and construction of the markers.
'As you can see, he refers to the Darken Rod in French, and refers to the fifteenth magnetic calibration marker. We searched our database and found an interesting photograph in our Anomalies Archive. Computer, please display Voidant Image Seven.'
The room darkened.
Voidant Image Seven appeared on a screen opposite Goddard's desk. It was a picture taken in bright mottled sunlight of a small stone bridge crossing a dried up brook.
'This is the entrance to L'Ermitage de Collias in the Gard region of Southern France. It's a difficult place to find if you don't know where it is, about three kilometres from the village of Collias, nestled in a forested valley. This is a picture of the roman bridge entering the small remote sanctuary. Computer, zoom in on exhibit four-one-three.'
The image enlarged to show just one single stone embedded in the rock beneath the bridge. Archer could see an engraving on it, though with no real scale to speak of it was difficult to tell its size. Etched into the stone were the words "Voidant MCM-XV".
'Magnetic Calibration Marker Fifteen,' said Archer.
'Notice how the two V-shapes on this engraving are much taller than the rest of the letters,' added Goddard.
'Graffiti,' said Geek.
Goddard uttered a small laugh. 'We've dated this "graffiti" as far back as the eleventh century. Computer, show Voidant Image Twenty Three.'
The next image to appear was an infrared picture of a V-shaped object on its side. Archer and Geek both twisted their heads to get a clearer idea of what they were looking at.
'This is a near-infrared spectral image of the Voidant Lance. We spotted it yesterday. Just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. It's heading this way from the Upper Scorpius region. Look at Voidant underscore M's final posting this morning. He points out that we should be able to see the Lance by now. We never found out if this person was warning us, or taunting us about our imminent fate. We haven't been able to contact him since.'
Archer was unable to take his eyes off the red glowing image of the triangular shape in the image. 'How big is it?'
‘Twenty kilometres from its pointed forward end to its flat rear. It's travelling at thirty-thousand kilometres an hour.'
'So the implication is that the Voidant Lance will impact Southern France?'
'The rotation of the Earth brings the Gard region into position exactly when the Lance strikes, in thirteen days. We've run the mathematics. It's timed to hit the marker dead on. I don't need to tell you what kind of devastation something like that would cause if it hit us. A Krakatoan winter would be a dream scenario under the circumstances. But we would more likely witness tectonic displacement of an immeasurable magnitude. Those who survive the initial shock-wave will have to contend with a compromised food chain, megatsunamis, acid rain, I could go on.'
'How long has it been coming towards us?'
'And why the hell didn't we spot it before?'
'Older images of Upper Scorpius do not show up any anomalies. Our thinking is that it has been cloaked till now.'
'But it must have been launched many many years ago, for the Messenger to have placed an engraved marker in the stone a thousand years ago, and to have claimed to have been hanging around Earth for seventeen thousand years.'
'Questions about Voidant underscore M's intentions, and the form he takes, will have to wait I'm afraid,' said Goddard, taking up his cane and standing before the two seated men. 'What I want to know now is whether it's true what they say about your infamous, but elusive, Epoch Bridge.'