Bullying Gravity

rating: +12+x

The bar smelled of smoke and stale beer, which was impressive as the no smoking ordinance had been in place ten years or more. But 31 Main, the dive bar of all dive bars in Amber, Pennsylvania, still smelled like smoke.

Captain Lyydia Sanksa, of the Mobile Task Force Xi-5 (“Newton’s Bullies”) sipped at her red ale. She sat at the bar on a honest to goodness bar stool, trying to ignore the rambunctious group of middle-aged white men yelling about sports in the corner. She looked at the mirror and saw a ragged, aged poster of a cartoon turkey wearing a red jersey with the number 31 on the front. She smirked at the bird.

“Whatcha got going on, Turkey?”

“Who you calling a turkey?” a voice behind her said.

Sanksa turned on the stool and grasped Agent Higashi’s hand, pulling him into an embrace. “Oh alright, alright, I missed you too, Captain.”

“Loosen up, Higs. You’re fresh off administrative leave and got completely cleared by the tribunal. We’re celebrating, you goon.”

Higashi shrugged and sat astride the stool next to Sanksa. She passed him a beer that had been waiting for him.

“I thought Volkov and Fletcher were going to be here,” he said.

“They will be, but I wanted a few minutes just the two of us.”

Higashi sipped at his beer with wide eyes. She hit him on the shoulder. “Oh, you wish. No, I just thought we haven’t had much chance to talk after the thing with the play, and it would be good to check in.”

“That was a strange one. But at least no one died.”

“Thanks to you.”

He laughed. “Director Morgan didn’t seem to think so.”

Sanksa sighed. “I’m sure her priorities were in the right place. We were sent into that theater to neutralize or contain whatever was holding those people hostage. Instead all the civilians were freed, but so was the cause.”

“That kid. Reality bender. Jesus.”

“Yeah, when you talked with him it seemed to break the spell, and he let everyone go.”

“That was the most stable anomaly I’ve ever seen. The play just kept going for two years and everyone inside went right along with it. How was I supposed to know?”

Sanksa put a hand on his shoulder. “I don’t see how you could have. I didn’t. Obviously, it was a possibility the whole thing was reality warping but there was zero indication the kid had anything to do with it.”

“I just saw a kid suffering.”

“What made you talk to him?”

“Director didn’t say anything?”

“Nope, just informed me you were on suspension and there’d be a tribunal. Goddamn Foundation loves its secrets.”

“What was your family life like, Lyddia? When you were a kid.”

“Okay, I guess.”

“Mine was trash. My parents refused to get a divorce, despite everyone thinking they would be happier. If a week went by without someone smashing something in the kitchen, it would’ve been a shock.”


“Not like they ever hit us or anything, but…”

“But still fucked up.”

He nodded and sipped his beer. He put the glass down and stared into the amber liquid.

“I saw that kid, just standing to the side as his parents lit into each other, making himself seem invisible. I was that kid. That’s me, I thought, just trying not to be noticed. Afraid, but also just ashamed of the spectacle they were making. I couldn’t not say something. Just didn’t think he was the one making that whole anomaly.”

“What did the play have to do with the kid’s parents anyway?”

“What do you mean?”

Sanksa downed the rest of her beer and wiped her mouth. “He was the source of some play lasting for two years, changing the laws of physics and people’s perceptions of events. Was he punishing the parents?”

“Maybe. Maybe everyone around him for not saying something. How much time can you spend feeling invisible before you’re angry at everyone around you? I know that’s how I felt. Seemed like people avoided me because my parents were such a trainwreck.”

“Well, I’m glad they reinstated you. Volkov and Fletcher are good people, but it’s not the same. What with Adamson and Banks gone, we’re the last of our original crew.”

“Yeah. Shame what happened.”

“I wish I had been there. Wish we both had been.”

“Then we’d be dead too.” Higashi signaled the bartender to come over and indicated the two empty pints in front of them.

“You don’t know that. If we hadn’t both been compromised, maybe we could have seen or done something.”

“You heard the logs like everyone else. Banks never should have messed with that machine; the techs should have analyzed it before touching it.”

“I know. But maybe we could have stopped him from doing it.”

“I miss them too, but they’re gone.”

“They should have let us go in there.”

“It’s a nuclear explosion that’s just repeating a loop, Lyydia. I wanted to try too, but what could we have done?”

“I don’t know.”

The bartender brought over two more beers. Both agents took the drinks and sat silently for a moment.

“Look at these morose old timers, Volkov!”

Sanksa turned and saw Sam Fletcher standing next to the final member of their group, Volkov. Sam carried four shot glasses with amber liquid in her hands.

“Hey, I’m like two years older than you,” Sanksa said.

“But Captain, you’ve been in command for more than a year, that’s like seven normal years,” Volkov said.

Sanksa took one of the shot glasses as Sam passed them each one.

“Lupercal!” Sam shouted before knocking back the whiskey.

“Fucking nerd,” Volkov said. “Поехали!” He also downed the shot.

Higashi raised his glass to Sanksa. “To Banks.”

“To Adamson.”

They both drank. The four laughed and Higashi signaled the bartender again, when all four agents’ communicators pinged.

“Shit,” Sanksa said.

They took their drinks to a corner booth away from the crowd and called in.

Mobile Task Force Xi-5 is activated for duty,” the automated message intoned. “Attendance at Site-24 staging area at 19:00 hours. Mandatory.

Sanksa hung up and dialed the Director’s line.

“Director Morgan’s office.”

“This is Captain Sanksa, connect me to the Director please. This is urgent.”

“One moment.”

The call clicked through and Morgan’s voice came through.

“Captain Sanksa, we need you at the assembly area, post haste. I know your team had this evening scheduled for R&R, but something has come up.”

“Director, I need to inform you that we’ve been drinking.”

There was a pause, then Morgan spoke again.

“Honest assessment. Are you capable of performing your duties, Captain.”

Sanksa put her hand over the phone. “You all feel up to it? Better to say no, if not.”

Volkov gave a thumbs up. Sam nodded. Higashi smiled. “Right back into it.”

“Director, we think we’re good.”

“Then get moving.”

The jump jet jostled violently in the turbulence, sending Sanksa’s shoulder careening into Sam’s. They were all strapped into their seats, geared up and watching a screen with Morgan’s face.

“Target is a coal mine in West Virginia. Word of a collapse, several miners trapped. Rescue teams went in and only half of them came out. What they complained of sounded non-Euclidean.”

“Spatial anomaly?” Volkov asked.

“That would make sense, but they didn’t have much concrete information. Field agents are on the scene taking statements, but I need you four in there and cataloguing what’s happening.”

“We’ll get it done, Director,” Sanksa said.

“You’re to keep yourselves tethered to each other and take in climbing gear, you know how non-Euclidean environments can get.”

The screen shut off.

“You heard the Director, we keep ourselves tethered and make sure to watch each other’s six,” Sanksa said to the other three. Each nodded assent.

Sam leaned over to Higashi. “Glad to see you back, by the way. Didn’t get a chance to say before.”

“Thanks. It’s good to be back.”

“And right back in the shit!” Volkov yelled.

Sam shrugged. “Russians.”

“I heard that.”

Sam playfully punched Volkov on the shoulder.

The green light over the cabin started blinking, indicating they were coming in for a landing.

The mine entrance looked like any other, a gaping hole in the side of a mountain. Nothing looked amiss from the outside. Higashi stared into it, double checking his climbing gear and rappelling rope.

Sanksa walked over with a field agent.

“Six went in and only three came out. They said the others fell; or at least, that’s what we could get out of them. Layout of the mine is loaded onto your tablets, but I doubt it’ll help.”

“Thanks, Anderson. You’ll be on coms?”

“Yeah, holler if you need anything.”

“I’ll be monitoring you from the Site, so please provide regular updates,” Director Morgan said via the team’s communicators.

Higashi gave him a thumbs up and made sure his rigging was secure again.

Sanksa connected herself to their daisy chain – each agent had several meters of rope trailing to the next, connected to their rigging.

“Alright. Let’s move. Priorities are information gathering. But if we see those miners, let’s try to get them out in one piece.”

“What if they’re a reality bender?” Volkov asked, a grin on his face.

Sam slugged him again and pushed him towards the entrance. “Communism drained your people of all comedy.”

“Actually, Marx invented comedy,” he said as he turned on his headlamp and body camera.

Each of them did the same, and then followed him in.

The entryway to the mine seemed normal. A cargo elevator surrounded in a cage stood against one wall, over an open shaft. The collapse had occurred several hundred meters down into the mine. Sanksa opened the cage doors and ushered her team in.

The cargo elevator descended for several dozen meters before the light flickered and the elevator shifted directions as if it were descending at a forty-five-degree angle. The four slid sideways into each other and the wall of the car. They braced against the wall and each other to stop from falling as the lift gained in speed. The lights flickered again and the downward motion stopped suddenly; the doors to the cage opened and the team hurried to exit.

They were in a mine shaft lit by strung electric lamps. Sanksa turned to look at the elevator; the car sat on its corner like a top, suspended as usual but at an angle which defied gravity. The cables were taut, but they made a perfect forty-five-degree angle to the floor of the shaft, instead of the expected perpendicular arrangement.

“Well, that’s confirmation enough for me. Command, we definitely have a non-Euclidean space here,” Sanksa said.

“Noted, Captain. Proceed.”

The four agents proceeded down the length of the shaft, away from the elevator.

“You smell that?” Volkov said.

“Yeah, cinnamon and cloves. What the?” Sam said.

“Kant Counters are reading all over the place,” Sanksa said.

“What’s the range of the variation?” Morgan asked.

“There’s no range, it’s randomly shifting from reading to reading. No observable pattern.”

“Keep an eye on it but proceed as best you can.”


Moisture in the air increased as they traveled further down the shaft, Volkov noting the shaft was actually rising subtly as they moved. After an hour – having far surpassed the length of the shaft according to the layouts they'd been provided – Sanksa noted the moisture had started to coalesce into a fine mist hugging the floor.

“Anything out of the ordinary about it?” Morgan asked.

“It’s glowing and exhibits a pale blue tint.”

“Kant readings?”

“The readers are not providing any results, just error messages.”

“That’s concerning. Assessment?”

“We haven’t seen anything that can be considered dangerous so far, let’s push in deeper. Maybe we can find out what happened to the miners.”


Volkov was roughly five meters from the rest of the team, at the absolute limit to the tether.

“Volkov, stay with us here,” Higashi said.

“Captain, you’re going to want to see this,” Volkov said, staring around a bend in the shaft.

As they approached Volkov’s position, a stronger blue light played out across his body from around the bend.

“Careful,” Volkov said as they approached.

Sam reached him first and peeked around the bend, her eyes widening. “What the fuck?”

Sanksa and Higashi squeezed in between them and the shaft wall, peering into the blue light. The shaft ended roughly a meter past where Volkov had stopped, dropping away into a cavernous space. The walls stretched out for hundreds of meters in a roughly oblong shape, its center dominated by a warped pyramid of glowing blue stone. Symbols were etched into the surface of the structure, seemingly many meters tall. The floor of the cavern was dark, almost impossible to see but for the mist coalescing on its surface. That same mist crawled up the walls and flowed into the shaft they were standing in.

“Command, you getting this on the cameras?”

“Yes. One second.”

The communicators went silent for several minutes.

“Any ideas?” Sanksa asked the team.

“We have enough rope to rappel down to the cavern floor, and from there we could start climbing the pyramid, if that’s what we want to do,” Higashi said.

“There’s something off about that thing,” Sam said.

“You’re right, its angles are moving away from us. Like someone took the stop of it and pulled it back, stretching the lines,” Volkov said.

Sanksa activated the communicator. “Command, please advise?”

“We’re not sure what the symbols mean, but the fact that the perspective is changing as you look at it doesn’t seem promising. Almost like the reverse of black hole, stretching instead of compressing.”

“Higashi has noted we have the equipment to descend to the cavern floor and continue up the pyramid on foot, what do you think?”

“Do it. But the first sign of trouble, exfiltrate.”

“Acknowledged, Command.”

Higashi placed an angled bracket against the floor of the shaft and fired bolts into the rock to secure it. He strung the rappelling rope through a wheel at the end of the fixture and lowered it until he was sure it could reach the bottom, then secured the rope to an eyebolt similarly attached to the stone floor.

“You all have your ascenders?” Higashi asked, pulling a motorized device from his pack that would clamp onto the rope. The other three nodded. “Good, we’re going to need those on the way out if we're in a hurry.”
She reached down and helped Sam up, then Higashi, and finally Volkov. She ushered them away from the edge, finally turning from the groaning, pitch black cavern. Suddenly, the light flared from behind her and she turned back towards the pyramid, seeing its shape crack and flare open like a flower opening in the sunlight. Blue mist poured from the opened structure and a beacon of white light filled the cavern.

“What in the hell?” Volkov said.

Sanksa just shook her head. She was speechless. The cavern shook even more violently, the stalagmites cracking and falling like trees in a hurricane. She could feel pressure on her skin coming from the beacon. All the while the glowing blue mist poured from the interior of the pyramid flower.

“Do you hear that?” Sam asked.

Over the sound of grinding stone, the peal of a gong could be heard. Long and deep in tone, it grew in volume until it was all they could hear.

Higashi grasped Sanksa’s shoulder. “We need to get gone.”

“Captain, what are you doing? Move it!” Morgan yelled over the communicators.

Sanksa finally tore her eyes from the beacon. She pushed Volkov in front of her. “Let’s go.”

They raced down the length of the shaft, the floor shaking and buckling under their feet. Just as the elevator came into view, the floor opened up behind them, the stone rending like paper. Blue glowing mist poured from the new wound in the rock. And Sanksa watched as the chasm opened up beneath Volkov’s feet and he fell into the hungry earth.

Sam reached for him but just missed his hand. They each braced as his weight tugged on the tether and then snapped free. “No!” Sanksa yelled.

“Xi-5, move it. There’s no time!” Morgan yelled.

The ground had momentarily stopped its quaking and Higashi crouched by the edge of the new chasm. “I can see him.”

“Where?” Sanksa said as she crouched next to him.

“There, see? Braced between those two rock spars, maybe fifty meters down.”

“Captain, get your surviving team out of there. That’s an order!” Morgan said.

“I can get him,” Higashi said.

“No, request denied! Evacuate the mine,” Morgan shouted.

“I wasn’t asking for permission,” Higashi said, looking into Sanksa’s eyes. She nodded.

Higashi fired a couple of securing points into the rock and handed one end of the rope to Sanksa, after passing it through the eyebolt affixed to the stone. Sam came over and firmly grasped the rope as well, as Higashi disconnected his tether to his teammates.

“Captain, you and your team are disregarding a direct order,” Morgan said over the communicators. Sanksa turned off the device. Sam did the same.

“Hope you know what you’re doing, Higs,” Sanksa said.

“Probably getting suspended again. But nobody else dies.”

She nodded. “Nobody else dies.”

Higashi climbed down into the chasm, bracing himself against the tight walls and slowing his descent. The rope pulled tight in their gloved hands as Sam and Sanksa fought to hold up his weight when they could. The light grew in intensity and the walls began to shake as Higashi neared the fallen agent. He attached the rope to Volkov’s rigging and used his ascender to rise quickly. When he reached the top, the gong was so loud he couldn’t hear Sanksa as he saw her lips move. He indicated the rope and started to haul up their fellow agent. Sam and Sanksa began hauling as well.

They got their hands on Volkov just as the gong went silent and the light began to dim. He was bleeding from the head and left arm, which was badly broken. Sanksa and Higashi carried Volkov into the elevator and hit the button for the surface. The light and mist flared again as the cage closed.

Sanksa turned on the communicator to hear Morgan yelling at her. She closed her eyes as the elevator started its warped ascent. She waited for Morgan to pause, then spoke.

“Newton’s Bullies responding, we are making our ascent. No casualties.”

rating: +12+x

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