Two months had passed and Lombo lived as he always had. No Constables from Authority visited him. The Orb hadn’t reappeared. He travelled about Rohr without hindrance or recognition. No one questioned him or cried out felon as he walked by.
He travelled again to different points across the globe. He kept himself discreet and out of trouble. His situation had gone unchanged since the Orb’s visit and he didn’t know what to make of it. He no longer dared hope he’d been forgotten. The Orb would certainly haunt him afresh. The longer time lapsed the more suspicious he grew. What had seemed complacent and safe became amiss.
The town of Rohr he began to loathe. Its people, who’d been indifferent, now appeared too indifferent. The more he watched them, the more exaggerated seemed their attempts to ignore him. There was a conspiracy in the town and he’d almost recognized it too late.
Amidst his more recent trips, he could no longer doubt it. He knew what entity moved against him. He suspected the townspeople were its agents. He looked into their black pupils and saw its presence. Those little, bulbous spy-holes followed his every move. They were reporting on him. The black Orb had spies in the hundreds.
Increasingly, he just kept to his property, constructing more and more sheds. He didn’t yet have a specific need for them, but he continued nonetheless. His property was too empty and devoid of purpose with just his house. He wanted to create a compound, a testament to his berth in the world.
Sheds of different sizes sprung up all over his land. His was a kingdom of metal. He ruled over a city of iron, free of persons. No maggots would ever abide there. The world would find him in his keep, the king of steel.
There were many times in the night he was certain the Orb had been there. He would awaken convinced it had been hovering over him. But whenever he opened his eyes he found his room empty. He would yell at it to show itself, but it never did.
Any inexplicable movement on the periphery of his vision jolted him. It was so small it could materialize from nowhere. The inside of his home he began to detest. There were too many nooks from which it could instantly pounce. The house was old; it creaked and groaned incessantly. Most he knew, but any new sound sent him up from where he sat.
Then one morning he awoke to the sound of construction outside. He peered down from his window and found a contingent of Automata hard at work. Heavy machinery was being brought in. Before long, massive cones began pulverizing into the soil. Great earth-tearing claws scraped large sections of his land away. He stormed out, placed himself in their midst and shouted obscenities at them for what they did.
But they took no notice. Their traffic was too dense, the Automata blurs. There wasn’t one he could isolate to feel the brunt of his anger. Their continuance despite his forceful stance, as if he were some irrelevancy, infuriated him.
He raced back into his house for his hammer, returned and began taking swings at them. There was nothing sly about his approach and he missed each time. Just one he managed to dent. This Automaton in response, like some blind and bobbing jellyfish, extended one of its tentacles and stung him.
There was no sign of injury except for a small burn mark, but he held his right arm as if it had been severed in two. Defeated, he picked up his hammer and went warily away. He retired from the construction site, threw it in disgust and sat with his head in his hand.
From that point onward, he kept to his lawn and watched from there what was being done to his property. He abandoned his own construction plans. They now seemed futile. There was no point in labouring on something that might be dug up at some future date.
From where they’d arrived, he couldn’t guess. They’d been obtained through the machinations of the Orb, certainly. But for what he failed to see. To torture him they could do in a fraction of the space. His own home would suffice. They didn’t need so much land to devour him from his mind.
Their work went on night and day. In pitch dark, the metal tentacles of the Automata and the heavy arms of the giant digging machines could be seen, just barely, twisting and turning, feverishly delving into the earth as if on some obsessive drive to come out on the other side.
They would gleam tirelessly in the morning, the depths of their chasm that much greater. As if proof of treasure, great concrete and metal structures began lining the bottom floor of their pit. They were building a massive chamber and a series of smaller ones from what Lombo could tell.
From his spot on the lawn, he eventually inched closer, the rage in him quelling. His tentacle-sting had proved effective in confirming his impotence. They weren’t maggots to terrorize and crush. These were machines of metal, impervious to fear and quite adept at restraining one man with no more than a hammer as weapon.
He forewent attacking them and even despising them, though his loathing for their master, be it Orb or Authority, still held firm. As a great constructor himself, he was in the end taken in by the magnitude of their project. They’d unearthed and clawed away with such unwavering thoroughness, he couldn’t but marvel at it.
It didn’t have the terrible beauty of a storm, but it was an orderly, mechanized version of one. Once the land had been made barren for their use, they immediately began building anew. Devastation followed by a reworking, remaking, that is what he saw in their work.
A week went by and it didn’t stop, though the end seemed nearer. The chambers were finished, their walls smooth and black. Retractable roofing was installed where the area was most open. A layer of grass was laid on this and clearly for the purpose of concealment.
He stood amongst the Automata and watched it in operation. The land would depress, or seem to. In fact, a large section of ground would suddenly lower by half a metre then shift and slip under the rest of the lawn. Revealed underneath was black concrete roofing with a thin slit running through it, dividing it in two. This in turn would open and the massive chamber below was exposed to the sky. The entire process was no more audible than a whisper and took but a minute.
Their digging had long ago stopped. The chambers from his eye were for the most part complete. One such chamber he noticed was attached to the basement of his house and would be accessible to his stairs. It didn’t take long before the lawn around his house was completely restored.
Thereafter, there was no sign of any of their previous work. The complex they’d constructed, like an iceberg, hid its true berth below and only his house, its tip, was exposed. They so meticulously restored his property to what it had been he strained to point out discrepancies. Then one day he awoke and all of them were gone.
He went to his window and there was nothing to see. It was as if something from the woods had come out and swallowed all of the machinery. Then retreating back in continued hunger, it had devoured every last trace of them. His land had been licked clean.
He crisscrossed his lawns and felt with satisfaction the earth underneath. Only a short time ago he would have fallen and perished in some pit. He stood in what had been the centrifugal point of their extensive operation. Nothing of what they’d done was visible anywhere. The product of their labour was hidden from view. He turned in a complete circle and digested the implications of such deception.
Not for him certainly had such an elaborate mirage been made. He’d been a daily witness to it all and knew the truth of the land’s hollowness. But others, they were not to know of its existence.
There was deceit in the world and it lay underneath him. He knew not what it meant, but there was something sinister in it. He could feel the darkness of it. None of it was meant for his Rehabilitation. This realization pleased him immensely. It couldn’t be doubted now. There was something bigger at play. He was ignorant of what might come next, but he sensed black clouds forming.
He spent most of the day surveying his grounds. The chamber that connected to his basement he tried to access. He got no farther than a large featureless room and gave up after fumbling around in the dark.
Having discerned nothing more as to the project’s purpose, he decided to drop it from his mind. He returned to the site of his own constructions and though knowing it might be one day levelled, he resumed his work just as before. Whatever he did was just to keep himself occupied until the black Orb’s next appearance.
Several Automatons reappeared that night. They flittered back and forth across his lawn for no obvious reason. Their resurfacing, though, suggested something was afoot. He decided he wouldn’t awaken to the Orb’s plans in progress, but would be there from the start.
He’d plant himself as sentry and keep vigil. If the Orb came he’d be there waiting. He’d sit defenceless, his desire for the moment gone to attack it. He still hated it and was wary of its long-term designs on him. But the inquisitor in him wanted to know more.
His only hope was to be seen as an ally. He couldn’t rack the Orb. It had no human form to abuse and from which he could uncover hidden truths. He’d have to present himself as submissive and pliable, open to the Orb’s formulations. Once in good graces, he would probe and know to the best he could all operations imminent. There was too much peculiar and curious for him to leave as is. His mind, once so fearful of being devoured, now hungered of its own.
The night was clear and the stars so bright there was much he could see of his grounds. With that night sky as background, he watched the Orb come. Instead of hovering over him as it had done before, it came behind his right shoulder and remained there. He waited for it to address him, supposing some speech was forthcoming.
A great shadow then descended and covered much of his property. He looked up and saw a large vessel hovering just above. It was dark and otherworldly. He’d never seen its type before. It was like a dagger in shape, its edges sharp. In fact, it was so like a knife it seemed a giant murderous weapon.
He saw its potential for being red-soaked, its tip stained. By its size, it could sustain a hundred men on a long extra-terrestrial jaunt. He didn’t doubt it was meant for space travel. Its superiority destined it for far more than shuttling between earthly sites.
On cue, the concealing patina of grass depressed and slid away. The great concrete doors opened. The ship descended slowly into the chamber. The entire process was near silent. The chamber doors closed and the grass slid back. The undulating form of his lawn was restored, the night returned as it had been. There was no proof except his own eyes as witnesses to its arrival and submersion. What had come to his home was now swallowed and no one in the world would be any the wiser.
This has been brought here for you, Lombo Niall, said the Orb. The ship is vital to our immediate objectives and to stratagems more long-term. It is of an unparalleled technology. Once in it, we will be unstoppable.
“And where are we to take it?”
Wherever the storm takes us. We bring the storm, you and I, Lombo Niall and it will carry us where it may.
“When am I to leave?”
Not for the moment, it replied. There are elements not yet in motion. For these, we must wait.
“And what are these?”
They are different winds. They are to add to the storm and are of importance to it. I will come and I will go. With each return the momentum builds. Throughout the world we have foot soldiers that march to our will. They will beat and grind into the earth our enemies. They are the tornado’s edge, its blade. They will revolve around our core and lash out at the world in our path.
Soon will come the time of swift rupture. Union and order will end. That which binds will be smashed and the energy from it will propel all things outward. The wind of the universe is at our backs. We bring the universal storm.
Expansion comes to times present; Expansion comes in revenge. The force of attraction has held too long a sway. We are agents of Expansion and have come to kill Contraction in all its forms. We bring with us a time of tumultuousness, of Dark Energy. Vying and conflict, we bring the never-ending tempest.