The Gallery is a bit of balderdash that set Pete, the Swede, and their women off on a wild goose chase across the universe which eventually became The Perihelix. And I wrote it ten years ago! The fact that it’s still here on my blog suggests that I eventually dropped it from the Perihelix, which had (as my books often do) far too slow a start and an uninterpretable message. It may indeed be balderdash, but it’s fun, and worth a bit of flashback, I think.

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Chuck Wendig presented us with this challenge [May 2014]: fortunately I read the brief and thought of something pretty much straight away.

  • “The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins.”
  • “A poetic pattern retains inertia.”
  • “The criminal disappears after the inventor.”

“You will choose one of these three sentences and include it in a piece of flash fiction, maximum of 1000 words. (For bonus kudos, use all three sentences in one story. Ooooh.)”  So saith Chuck.

And I thought: this sounds like a case for Pete and the Swede.

The story so far: Pete and the Swede have mined some orichalcum in the asteroid belt of the Viridian System, returned to Pleasant Valley and sold it, taken a vacation villa on Sunset Strip along with Dolores and Maggie in which they invented a new cocktail, and now Aramintha has joined them, to the Swede’s joy, but she’s acting oddly, which has upset him again.

The Gallery

It was definitely the classier side of Sunset Strip. Harborside was a million miles from the brash holiday resort around the headland. Quiet, tasteful streets with attractive buildings, colourful stores and murmurs of conversation and laughter to let you know there were people about. People enjoying themselves in a civilised fashion.

Pete and Dolores wandered round the gallery, arm in arm, glasses in their free hands, sipping wine and gazing politely at the exhibits on three walls. The fourth wall was open to the elements, but shaded by an overhanging roof and billowing gauze floor-ceiling drapes. The Swede leant morosely on the balcony, staring at the water lapping on the sand below, taking his wine in rather larger gulps.

“A poetic pattern retains inertia. M T McGuigan” Dolores read out the label beside the installation in the centre of one room.

Pete extracted his arm and stepped around the sculpture, figuring it out.

“I would say it’s a transwarp drive dressed up with a recycled drive chain and some spun copper,” he said. He peered into it and read some markings on a plate on the innermost chunk of metal. “Remember 547Y5T9HF39000TY, will you?”

Dolores blinked a couple of times and nodded.

“You know, if you put a DC through there,” Pete continued, pointing at a connector, “the whole thing could be very exciting. As it is….”

“Passive,” Dolores supplied.

Pete screwed up his face and scratched his eyebrow. Art was art, but he wouldn’t give this houseroom. He sighed as he gazed around at the rest. He wouldn’t give any of it houseroom.

“Mr Garcia! Ms… “ a suave-voiced Arturian came up to them, slurring some vowels to cover his lack of knowledge of Dolores’ name, and coaxing the Swede alongside them with one of his other arms. “So pleased you could come! And you are admiring this highly meaningful installation, I see!”

“Meaningful, yes,” echoed Pete politely, while the Swede just grunted and looked away.

“I understand you are, shall we say, in the market,” the Arturian lowered his voice and smiled at them confidentially.

“Only if we see something we like,” the Swede growled.

“And what have you seen that you like?”

“The sea.”

“The wine is very good.”

“I quite liked the pinky-orange one over there,” Dolores added, hoping to keep the men from insulting the gallery owner.

“Ah, yes – The borderlands expire thanks to the hundred violins. One of our best up and coming artists. Douglas M Rebex. Talented but driven.”

“Driven by what?” Pete enquired, hoping to cover the swearwords that the Swede was emitting under his breath.

“Her muse.”

“Her… oh, ok.” He looked at the Swede, who had stopped swearing, and was staring rather fixedly out to sea again. Pete raised an eyebrow at him. The Swede shook his head, extracted himself from the Arturian’s genial grasp, and set off round the room, checking other labels.

He returned as the trio tucked into the smorgasbord at the edge of the gallery.

“We’ll take that, that and that. How much?”

Dolores laughed, then coughed as some crumbed nilsi beans went down the wrong way. Pete patted her on the back as the Arturian swept the Swede off to the side office.

“What…” she gasped. “Has he gone mad?”

“Probably not. There is always reason with the Swede. Are you okay now?”

Receiving assurance that she had recovered, he escorted her over to the third painting the Swede had apparently bought.

The criminal disappears after the inventor. Ah.” Pete tugged at his moustache.

“Ah?” echoed Dolores.

“We’re going to have some fun with these, Dolores. Don’t forget that engine number. It may take a day for them to get that thing over to our place. And we may not be there by then.”


Pete was correct in his estimation. Two hours after the gallery closed, the paintings were delivered to their villa, high on the hill overlooking the bay. The Swede directed operations as they were mounted in the living area, side by side, and the prints they replaced relegated to the bedrooms and a bathroom.

They sat with Dolores, Maggie and Aramintha on the wide sofa, staring at the artworks.

After five minutes, during which facial expressions went from blank astonishment through screwed up perplexity, to faux understanding, Pete stood up and faced them.

“It’s a code.”

The Swede smirked.

“Do you know the key?”

The Swede shook his head.

Pete grinned broadly. “I do.”

The Swede pouted.

“Come on, Dolores,” Pete said, pulling her to her feet. “We have some work to do, thanks to your exceptional brain.”

They headed off toward his workshop in the basement, but he paused at the top of the step and turned back.

“Can you three be ready to leave in three hours time? We need to get out of here before they realise we know.”

“Who’s ‘they’?” asked Aramintha.

“The Grand Federation of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.”


Since Pete and the Swede’s spacecraft was not built for five, they rented a three person pod and stowed it inside the ore processor. It was hardly luxury accommodation. The girls were given the opportunity to stay behind, secure in the knowledge that they were reserved for two more months. Only one thought about it for more than a millisecond. Whatever they were in for, it was better than staying behind.

Dolores tracked down the serial number she had memorised. The Swede revealed the meanings of the artwork titles. And Pete put them all together to get the final questions, the questions that could lead to their doom.

What was the transwarp drive for an Imperium experimental lightcruiser doing in an art installation in the Viridian system? Who had known they would visit the gallery that day? Why was the Grand Federation trying to ensnare two orichalcum miners? Who was the master criminal on their trail?

And, thought Aramintha to herself, how do I make sure nobody realises I’ve been surgically enhanced to spy on them?

(c) J M Pett 2014

I forget now what I finally wrote to send them off on this wild goose chase, but I think the messages were passed in the first chapter of the second edition, by the bank manager.

The Gallery | Flashback Fiction
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4 thoughts on “The Gallery | Flashback Fiction

  • 22 May, 2024 at 3:50 pm

    I remember this! And that first realization of Aramintha’s problem. Recognize a couple of reorganized names in there, too :D.

  • 23 May, 2024 at 4:59 pm

    This was so good! Your characters feel so alive, and they’ve each got such distinct personalities and quirky mannerisms. A fabulous read!

  • 28 May, 2024 at 2:56 pm

    Galleries, people with a glass in one hand, instantly there,. And an ore processor ?
    Great read


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