Tilrader entered his office after orning ablutions and froze in the doorway. His eyes were locked on a device resting upon his desk. With a slow and deliberate movement he drew his robes tighter about himself without removing his eyes from the strange device.
It hadn't been there when he left the office last night, so that meant that one of the initiates must have placed it there this morning. It was predominantly coloured white and structured in a roughly cylindrical pattern.
He pursed his lips as he made his preliminary observations. It was clean, so had either been discovered in some cache or some innocent soul who didn't know the dangers had cleaned it in a stream before bringing it to the monastery. He noted the lack of visible luminescence or audible transmissions. Indeed, it rested unmoving so probably required some sort of activation process. He didn't recognise the item, it was entirely new to him. Its configuration didn't speak clearly of any of the previous world's artifacts. He gave a little huff, and chided himself. As he well knew, the artifacts from any of the previous aeons were so varied that to assess such a device using that premise was all but meaningless.
He turned back to the corridor and called to his personal assistant, an initiate of three years standing. The young man came running along the corridor in answer to the call, robes flapping and hood thrown back.
"You placed this device on my desk?"
"Where did it come from?"
"An abhuman brought it to the gate."
"And?" This young man should know better, thought Tilrader. Information, data should be forthcoming not stinted.
His youthful assistant straightened, closed his eyes and entered the priesthood's trance state.
"The bell was rung four times in quick succession. I opened the gate, an abhuman stood there holding the device in his third hand on the right side. He appeared to be an aged member of the Gilachut tribe. Two of his hands were dirty, as were his knees. His clothing seemed in good repair. From his plats, I took him to be in his eighth decade. He wore no shoes. He handed the device to me with reverence, and when I offered the usual bounty of three shins he refused, bowed and turned away.
"The device felt cold at first touch and seemed otherwise inactive. I carried it directly here and placed it on your desk. It started to roll off the desk, but I stilled it with a touch. When I left the room it remained as I had left it."
Tilrader smiled. "Thankyou." The youth's eyes opened and he turned to go.
"One moment, please." The initiate turned back to see Tilrader gesturing through the door. "Does the device seem exactly as you left it?"
The younger man, examined the device for a second or two, cocked his head slightly to one side and then nodded. "As I left it sir."
"Thankyou, you may go." Tilrader moved back into the doorway and stared at the device. Whatever it was, it was unlikely to be dangerously unstable. The gilachut he'd described was most likely one of the locals who owed a debt to the monastery. From the description the boy gave he probably worked at clay extraction by the river. Therefore the device may well have been recovered from the river itself or buried in the clay. He considered the cleanliness of the device for a second. It appeared pristine, shiny, polished, as if removed from a traders shelf.
With a shake of his head he dismissed the cursed miriad of the possibilities. A thankful gilachut may have spent days cleaning it before presenting it at the gate, or it might have an intrinsic self cleaning function. A small smile slid slyly onto his face. The gilachut had dirty hands and knees, he'd been at work and therefore must have just found the device. That was significant! This apparently inactive device, was active, it was keeping itself clean.
If it's active, then it's not as safe as it appears. He assessed the device in this new understanding. He would have to be careful. He considered the shape again, it did suggest a possible third-world origin, and other third-world artifacts had turned up in the bed of the river. He reconsidered that assessment, was it accurate, or was he engaging in confirmation bias again. He shook his head, this self diagnosis did not resolve the issue of the artifact's dangers or usefulness.
He tugged at the rope around his waist,released his script and fished out his glasses. He perched them on his nose, and looked again at the device. The glasses improved the focus of his aging eyes but that wasn't what he used the glasses for. He adjusted a control on the side of the right lens and the glasses switched into a polarising mode. The object changed from a simple white cylindrical object to a whirling mass of pale blue lines spinning rapidly about the centre. He blinked in surprise, removed the glasses and saw that the object was unchanged. Slowly he slid the glasses back into place. The blue lines returned. They swirled and spun. The patterns they made, reminded him of something, but what?
He removed the glasses again and glanced around the room at his collection of tools. He tapped at his chin absently as he pondered where to start. Then, with a slow gait he crossed the room, keeping as far from his table as possible, and took down a glass vial. He read the label to confirm this this was what he wanted. Scrapings of iron. Cautiously he edged up to the table and crouched beside it. He slipped the glasses on and studied the whirling blue lines. Then with a hand that shook, not just with the oncoming of age, he poured a small pile of the scrapings onto the table near himself and carefully re-corked the vial . The small pile was a good hands breadth from the spinning lines.
He waited, he watched. He was patient. After a few minutes the pain in his knees became intense but still he waited. When it happened, it was so slow that he doubted what he was seeing at first. He pulled the glasses off,rubbed his eyes before replacing them. As the glasses slid in front of his eyes, he gasped and fell away onto his backside. From the floor he couldn't see the table top. Slowly, almost afraid of what he would see, he pulled himself onto his knees and peered over the table's edge. The tiny pile was scrapings was shrinking! A line of the tiny individual scrapings was forming and moving slowly towards the device. The shocking thing though was that a blue line so pale the glasses could barely see it had reached out to the pile of scrapings. Tilrader's eyes were wide with shock because at the end of the line a tiny translucent six fingered hand had formed and was twitching around moving the scrapings towards the device.
Tilrader slid backwards until he reached the wall beneath his shelves. He was shocked, scared even. Was this thing alive? What did it want with the scrapings? He'd planned to test the device for magnetism, but this was beyond his understanding. The device was reaching out, with a hand! A hand! What did it want with the iron? Should he take the iron away? Would it fight him if he tried to take the iron away? In a sudden wave of sickness and nausea he wished to be a simple initiate with someone older or wiser to ask for help. But there was no one for him to ask, he was the one that the initiates and priests came to when they had questions. He breathed deeply and used that action to start a contemplative trance.
When he opened his eyes he had a grip of himself. He stood up, put the vial back on the shelf and reached for two others which he carried to the table. With the glasses on he could see the "hand" was still shepherding the iron towards the device. Carefully he uncorked the other vials and poured a small heap from each onto the tabletop, then took a step backwards to watch the effect.
He gasped as two more hands appeared and investigated the piles before pulling backwards to be lost in the maelstrom of whirling lines. The device only wanted the iron.
This was beyond his experience. With a determined grimace on his face he crossed the room and pulled a copy of Lectus Contraptics out and opened it at the main index on the central pages. He followed the process by which you used the book but could not establish a general classification for the device. This was near fantastical. A new device, one that defied even the standard classifications. This might end up the discovery of the century. With a meticulous and almost joyous re-checking he went through the book a second time, checking and cross checking for anything that expressed this kind of behaviour. Nothing. In frustration but with a hint of curious joy, he slammed the book.
The device gave a soft beep.
The book fell forgotton to the floor as Tilrader rushed to the table. The scrapings were gone.
It had been a gentle sound, almost a purr. As he closed on the table he mentally noted changes that had taken place. There was a glowing ring a finger's width from the end of the device. The end itself he noted had also changed! Instead of a smooth, rounded surface a series of protuberances, prongs perhaps, had extruded themselves.
He bent down for a closer look, fascinated, the possible dangers forgotten for a moment as his inquisitive spirit blossomed in this moment. The delight he'd always felt when observing and investigating strange things flooded through him. As he watched small translucent spheres congealed out of nothing at the end of the prongs. Only they weren't attached to the prongs. He leaned in closer. The spheres simply hung in the air. Even swept as he was with inquisitorial euphoria, his mind noted the refractive nature of the spheres and the slight discolouration the tabletop beneath appeared to gain when viewed through them.
With a rush of conscious duty he realised he should be noting this down for future generations. A quill sat in the ink pot on his desk, but there was no parchment. He pulled open the draw where the precious writing material was kept and pulled out a sheet. He froze for the second time that day as he saw that the device was rolling towards the edge of the desk. Opening the draw had disturbed it. His hand instinctively went to stop it, then hesitated, after all he still didn't know what the device was. Yet the gilachut, and the boy had handled it, surely it was safe. He reached out and grabbed it.
The explosion was devastating. Tilrader never knew what he'd done. The raw force of it ripped him apart quicker than thought. The entire monastery was obliterated, everyone within its walls killed. Outside the walls, the whole community of traders, that had developed in the lee of its walls were also destroyed, except for one young girl. She'd been inside an oven, cleaning it. Some whimsey of fate allowed her to survive, although she was left deaf and crippled.
The gilachut settlement was showered with debris from the explosion, two of the tribe were killed and scores of others wounded, but life continued.
Many years later while gilachuts were digging out the clay from the river bank, one came across a curious thing. It almost popped out of the clay. It was white and shiny, not dirty, not covered in the dirty clay like the gilachuts themselves. The elders didn't like the feel of it and commanded one of their number to take it away and give it to the humans, as the humans craved such things. The elder was sure to warn the young gilachut who was to take the thing, not to accept shins from those he gave it to, lest the evil spirit, or essence of the thing, should transfer to the money.
Authors note : The above story was written as a piece of fan-fic and is situated in the world described within the role playing game "Numenera". (c) 2014