She didn't know why she had come back here. It wasn't a place she liked to remember, much less experience. It also concerned her that there was no one at the outpost a little way back up the road, ensuring no one else came here either.
The cube stood exactly where they had left it on the side of the road. Still standing in the dune it had landed in, still as large as ever. Three of its 50 feet wide faces hadn't survived the desert winds, even in the relatively short time since they had left it here. As she approached it, the usual pattern of sharp blue lines raced across the intact faces and it began to hum quietly. It was still alive, she realised. Still reaching out to her.
In some well hidden, almost never used portion of her mind, she wondered how many others could hear it.
She kept a safe distance from the cube, watching it carefully. She wasn't afraid of it, but knew better than to get too close. It hadn't, and wouldn't, hurt her, she knew that deep down. She was more concerned that the entire structure could fall down around her.
It had hurt others; the nearby city was testament to that, and it would have hurt more if it weren't for her and her team.
She had spent the time between then and now mostly regretting what they had been forced to do. She had tried to convince the others that they should try to communicate with the cubes but even she had to concede that force was the only option when the cities began to fall.
It had been just under a year now, and while her and her team had ended up making the correct calls, they all faced a lot of criticism in the days following. She knew it wasn't entirely over. Many of the cubes were still there, and as she was learning now, still alive. But it was just her now. No guns, no gung-ho commander itching for a medal. Just her and the quote-unquote memorial news clip that kept playing in the back of her mind as she wandered the edge of the desert.
The cubes had arrived over 18 cities virtually simultaneously. For almost six months, they had done nothing, just sat there. Dull, black boxes with sharp blue trim across their faces. For all intents and purposes and so far as we could tell, they were all identical.
Eventually, the world decided they were harmless, and we moved on. The constant broadcasts stopped and they became a part of the skyscape. Life returned to normal.
What we didn't know back then, what we had not been told, was that once we stopped talking about them, the military sent a group of people out to board one of them.
Of course, as we all know now, that was when things started to go wrong.
She sighed and leaned against the side of her car, watching the half dead cube pulse softly. She spun the ring on her finger with her thumb almost absent mindedly. She could feel it vibrate in time with the cube, just as it always had when she was this close.
It was a gift, something small from an old friend she no longer knew. Beyond that, she had no idea where it came from or why it vibrated like this. Some connection to the cubes, perhaps? She couldn't say. He would know. He always knew things like that. She turned her head and stared down the road to the darkened city at the end of it. He was in there somewhere, probably dead, certainly changed.
She considered heading down the road to the city. Half to see what had happened and half to see if any of the others were still in there. A crack of thunder from the bank of clouds building up over the ruined skyline was too much of an omen for her, and she decided against it.
The storm had been building for a while, but she lost track of time sitting there, and now it was almost on top of her. The darkest clouds hung, stagnant, over the city, while the rain front dragged across the sky in all directions. She sat in the car and watched it, hearing the first drops of rain hit the roof before the heavens opened and it poured down on top of her. She remembered the storms, the rain, and she once again felt the tears well up.
“No, stop!” she yelled. The research team she was supervising were standing at the edge of the building, their equipment had been dropped off the edge, they were all looking up, side by side at the cube floating some hundred feet or so above the city and they were chanting that same mantra. Exactly the same as all the others.
She keyed her radio and again screamed down it for someone, anyone, to come up here and stop what was happening, but just as she expected, she received only static back.
One of the researchers turned and faced her, with his blank face and his black eyes. “They come for us, the Squares of Knowing. We must go to them too.”
“No!” she screamed again as each of them, as one person, took that one extra step over the edge.
The rain was steady and heavy now. The dark clouds that had hung above the city now hung above her too and the city was totally hidden behind the fog and rain. A roll of thunder interrupted her thoughts and a flash of lightning followed quickly, dulled by the thick clouds.
The ring on her finger flashed violently and grew hot on her finger. She flung it to the floor and stared at it as it grew white with heat and then popped in a orangey-white burst of flame.
She heard her phone start ringing from inside her purse on the passenger seat, but she ignored it, her attention was focused on the cube, now floating ten feet off the ground and glowing red instead of blue
She felt the cool breeze blow around the back of her neck and the fine hairs stand on end. She turned and saw a bright beam of light burst out from the cloud cover and head straight toward the city.
"Not again," she whispered.