Catherine Asaro does, well, everything. She is a scientist and science teacher who has published several novels, along with plenty of shorter works. Her book The Quantum Rose, part of her epic science fiction series, won awards for both science fiction and romance. In this short story, she lets you know that however awkward family may be over the holidays for you, someone definitely has it worse.
I stopped in front of the house, faced by two imposing doors made from mahogany. The mirrors of a solar collector were set discreetly into the wall above the door frame, their surfaces tilted to catch the sun. When I rang the doorbell, chimes inside played a Mozart sonata.
No one answered. After a while I knocked. Still no answer. I looked around, but there was no other entrance. Nor was there any way around the house. A rough stone wall bordered both the east and west sides of the courtyard, and on the other side of each wall, cliffs dropped down in sheer faces. Beyond that, the spectacular panorama of the Rocky Mountains spread out for miles.
“Hello?” My breath came out in white puffs. I rang the bell again, then pulled on the door handles.
“Bridget Fjelstad?” the door asked.
I jumped back. “Yes?”
They swung open. “Please come in.”
I blinked at them. Then I walked into a wonderland.
Tiles covered the walls, the floor, even the ceiling of the entrance foyer. Shimmering globes hung in the air in front of each square. The spheres weren’t solid. When I stretched out my hand, it passed right through them. If I moved my head from side to side, they shifted relative to each other as if they were solid. When I moved my head up and down, their relative positions stayed fixed but they changed color. Rainbows also filled the foyer, probably made from sunlight caught by the solar collector and refracted through prisms. It was like being in a sea of sparkling light.
I smiled. “Sadji? Are you here? This is beautiful.”
No one answered. Across the foyer, a doorway showed like a magical portal. I walked through it, coming out into an empty room shaped like a ten-pointed star. The doorway made one side of a point on the star, with the hinges of the door in the tip of the point. The three points on the east side of the room were windows, six floor-to-ceiling panes of glass. Pine tiles covered the other walls, each a palm-sized square of wood enameled with delicate birds and flowers in colors of the sunrise. Light from the foyer spilled out here, giving the air a sparkling quality. It made faint rainbows on the wood and the white carpet.
But there was no Sadji. I felt strange, alone in his oddly beautiful house. I went to the windows and stood in a point of the star. Outside the wall of the house fell away from my feet, dropping down into clouds. All that stood between me and the sky was a pane of glass.
Something about the window bothered me. Looking closer, I realized a faint glimmer of rainbows showed around its edges. Was it spillover from the foyer? Or was that breathtaking view only a holo? It wouldn’t surprise me if this place had the best holographic equipment the twenty-first century had to offer. If anyone had the resources to create a mountain-sized holo it was my absent host, Sadji Parker. Why he would do it, I had no idea.
Then I had an unwelcome thought: what if the view was real but not the glass? Although there were no sounds to make me think I stood in front of an open window, there wasn’t really anything to hear out in that chasm of sky. And I had been in stores with exits protected by moving screens of air that kept heat in and wind out better than a door. The newer ones were so sophisticated you couldn’t detect them even if you were right next to them.
But if this was a holo, where was the hologram? My only knowledge of holography came from a class I had taken in school. This much I remembered, though, to make a holo you needed a hologram, a recording of how light bouncing off an object interfered with laser light.
I shook my head and my reflection in the glass did the same, showing me a slender woman with yellow hair spilling over her wool coat down to her hips.
Then I smiled. Of course. This couldn’t be a holo. There was no way my reflection could show up in it unless I had been there when the hologram was made.
I reached out and pressed glass on both sides. It wasn’t until my shoulders relaxed that I realized how much I had tensed.
There’s no reason to get rattled, I thought. Then I went to look for Sadji.