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by Max Scratchmann

The big sphere has been in the town hall foyer for as long as anyone can remember, but no-one knows what it’s supposed to represent. The official plaque says that it’s a primitive sculpture from the time of the Old Ones, of course, but other than that the professors are pretty hazy about its purpose.

There are theories — as there always are whenever anything’s a mystery — and some people believe that it’s a pagan symbol of worship, that the round fat ball represents fertility or pregnancy. Others say that it was an instrument of torture, that sacrificial victims were laid down in front of its path and ceremonially flattened as a homage to the gods. Me, I’ve always considered it to just be decorative, but, between you and I, its colours have always fascinated me, all those clear greens and blues. We don’t see much of those tones in our world, we just don’t have the pigments any more.

However, Columbus says that the globe represents us, that it’s the surface of the planet that we live on, the world that the Old Ones inhabited before the atmosphere turned foul and drove them underground. Columbus says that out there, high above us, there’s light and air and something called green grass. And that there is water in abundance, clear as crystal and sparkling blue to reflect a limitless space up above. He says that’s called the sky.

Needless to say everyone laughs at Columbus. In fact, there’s even been talk of having him certified, and rumours that the Force Captain keeps a Dissident’s File on him and has contemplated sending him to the Abyss. But none of that daunts him.

Columbus says that our days our numbered. That one day, maybe not today or even tomorrow, the photon generators will grind to a slow and painful halt and that we will all gradually suffocate in the darkness. People don’t like it when he talks like that, of course, and there’s always more whispering about the Abyss.

But Columbus goes on and on, asking merchants to finance his expedition to find the doors to the Old Ones’ sealed shaft that he believes is hidden in the heart of the settlement. And, it’s whispered, he already has more than a thousand credits saved towards the vessel that he’s been planning, a subterranean ship with a huge drilling blade to cut through the layers of concrete and rock that protect our settlement.

And, sometimes, through the laughter, I sense just a hint of fear in the Elders’ eyes, an imperceptible hesitancy when the overhead lights flicker and they wonder, for just a split second, if there might be any truth to the madman’s ravings.

I know it’s all nonsense, of course, and that we’ll go on forever. But when I look at that big solid ball on its plinth I sometimes try and imagine the ocean and the sky.

It’s out there, Columbus says.

Max Scratchmann is an illustrator, writer and performance poet, equally well known for his dark art and black comedy. He was a big hit at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival with his one-man show, Moving Pictures, and was one of the four Inky Fingers Poets on a Bus at 2013’s Edinburgh History Festival. He is the author of thirteen books and lives in Edinburgh in a depressingly cat-free household.