Irene knew that Charlie would need to talk to the photo people. Before he could ask her to leave, she had already started to make her way upstairs. Whilst Charlie did not seem to have a problem talking to them, Irene got the strangest feeling out of them. Like it rubbed her soul the wrong way. It left virtually paralysed when they spoke. Just as she was going to close the door, she turned to Charlie. He gave her a slight nod, letting her know that all was okay.

The photo remained opaque but arguing and other noises could be heard behind that blackness. It was like calling for somebody when you have the phone in your hand and it’s not for you. ‘Hey, Cliff, there’s a phone call for you’ kind of thing, thought Charlie, but all in some noise that was not from Earth. Finally, it brightened and the thing called Cliff shuffled forward. After some strange hand movement that reminded Charlie of a salute, it talked.

The words were garbled, but after a nanosecond they cleared. He had always assumed there was a language convertor in the photo, as those initial words never sounded like English. Charlie had been in the war as a younger man and had seen lot of different places and, in his recollection, there was no language that sounded like that. It was full of mud, tweeps and twirps. Almost like an African language but still far more stranger.

Hello, Charles. How may I help you today?

Cliff looked at Charlie as Charlie looked at Cliff. In the few months they had known each other, building the machine, Charlie had thought Cliff did not look quite real. The skin on his face never sat right; seemed to wrinkle in the wrong way. The man’s mouth moved wrong for the words he spoke. Even when he had seen Cliff walk around the big, empty room on the other side of the photo, the leg movements were never quite real. Much like some forced action that had been learnt very quickly and not quite mastered.