This story was first serialized in 28 daily parts during February 2021 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity. Twitter Poll choices included here will dictate story direction when this narrative stream continues in May.

I produce fiction bi-weekly on Ko-Fi: this includes flash fiction (250 words) which is being put together to form a long-form narrative, plus a bi-weekly full novel presented in episodic format.

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Please Hold

You look at your package from UltraReality with a sense of mounting unease. This morning, the Internet is full of stories about the company, how one of their customers has allegedly disappeared whilst using this gadget… which is clearly a fabrication to generate more sales… Except, you are aware that something is not as it appears. Reading the Terms and Conditions, it is very apparent the company hasn’t just produced a game, or a displacement activity. That philosophy degree your parents laughed at you for taking suggests a deeper significance here.

There’s a recall of all their units, but you don’t have time to repackage this before work, it’ll have to wait. However, it might be an idea to read those T’s and C’s one more time, as you’re pretty confident that quantum physics was mentioned somewhere in the mix. Leaving the house, it’s a short walk across the park to the station. Normally this is an unremarkable journey, but not today. A large group of people are gathered at the bottom of the hill: many of them in uniform. You’re normally not a gawker, but this morning you want to see.

It’s worth the short diversion too, because something unexpected is in the park, that should absolutely not be where it now is. You’re also pretty certain this boat wasn’t here yesterday either but there it sits, stem to stern buried quite deeply into one of the cricket squares. There are no tracks either in the wet earth to show how someone would have bought it here: this isn’t a rowing boat or dingy, after all. The boat itself looks as if it’s close to collapse too, with a scarred and damaged hull. It could be art, you suppose, a prank by students… except every single atom of your being knows that’s not the case.

It is a feeling you can remember experiencing once before, as a student yourself, but that was a long time ago. You are compelled as a result to take out your phone and photograph this scene, before heading on. Arriving at the station, it is a surprise to find this too has been closed: there’s no replacement bus service either because whatever it is that’s blocking the line appeared overnight. Jokingly you ask the staff if it’s a boat, like the one in the park. Stunned, they reply yes. Back at home, it transpires there are thirteen vessels, of various shapes and states of disrepair, scattered across a two square mile area. Police are treating this as a large scale prank, but have absolutely no idea as to who may have created it.

The Internet is having a meltdown.

In amongst various conspiracy theories and prank users hijacking UltraReality’s ‘idea’ for their own ends sit a number of genuinely odd, seemingly unconnected events. You decide if you’re not going to work, it’s time to do some digging here for yourself and are about to start reading when you grasp the UltraReality headset’s not by the computer, where you were pretty certain it was left this morning. You’d taken a picture of the box, intending to post that as proof you were almost fooled into being a user… but that too is gone. This is now genuinely unsettling, and the first thought is to look for the instructions you pocketed… which still exist, but will stay where they are. The picture taken hasn’t vanished, it is now a blank rectangle on your phone, which clearly suggests something was there…

Then, out of nowhere, you’re rummaging in the kitchen drawer for that UV Lamp that shows what major devices are security marked. Running it over the space on your desk where the UltraReality box was left, there it is, effectively camouflaged from your sight. How did you know?

‘Yes, I can hear you. Whoever or whatever you are, you’re not alone.’

It seems strange, talking into thin air, but you know there’s a presence with you, has been since you woke up to this whole ridiculous mess. Now, it’s time to find out who they are and how they arrived here… The first step is to find them online: you have a lot in common, as it happens. They didn’t believe the hype over the UltraReality either but got sucked in before it managed to completely hypnotize them; but by doing so, they appear to be stuck ‘somewhere else’ outside normality.

Your first thought is to contact Real-ality, who supplied your headset, but it is apparent that if their tech is capable of camouflage, this current turn of events may have not just been expected but summarily anticipated. Using your UV light to examine their headset, to be camouflaging itself it must possess some kind of power source, and does, but not a battery. Instead, there is what looks like an amethyst crystal, which appears to be glowing without any discernable means of energy input. Holding the unit also renders you invisible… and crucially, you can now see the outline of your unexpected house guest, whose joy and emotion at their plight finally being highlighted is clearly apparent.

Going to the Police with this is a waste of time. You need a scientist that can be trusted with the information.

You’re interested to know at this point what the company is saying: their website in the last hour has become a wall: no links work, and there appears to be no means of contacting them either… except you still have the T&C’s in your pocket, on which is a Tech Support number. Automated software reminds in an oddly sinister tone that ‘your call is important’ to them, but nobody is answering. Except, there’s a sudden vibration from what was the power supply for your headset, now placed in a glass container, which quietly vanishes in front of your eyes.

The UV light shows you the container still exists: picking it up triggers a peculiar sensation, and you’re suddenly curious. Going to the hallway mirror, a suspicion is confirmed: holding this power supply renders you invisible. You spend five minutes playing with this new toy before it registers that your unexpected house guest is no longer sending messages. Checking your PC, it seems impossible to exit the phone call, forcing you to disconnect the computer. This returns you to visibility whilst highlighting that the headset’s inexplicably vanished.

Rebooting your PC, there are no references to UltraReality in your inbox, plus the emails proving you purchased anything from them have ceased to exist. Their website has also completely disappeared: it’s now time to consider all of these disconnected events as anything but that. If this had happened to anybody else, you know that the consequences of this morning’s revelations could be so very different. As a journalist and science fiction fan, however, there is only one way this story will end, and that’s with the truth, on your terms and those alone.

If one person is lost, there will be others: it’s your job to find them. If a company’s engaged in illegal activity which has caused this then absolutely you’re not going to the Police or the Government, because for all you know they’ll be in on this too. It’s time to go it alone. The key to all of this is this purple crystal which, on closer inspection is still glowing. No, that’s the wrong word for it, because that would mean a constant, comforting source of light. What sits in the container is making you itch, uncomfortable at its existence. It throbs.

That throb is the answer: you’re now reasonably convinced that this shard is somehow a living, vital part of something far larger than just a power supply. Two words, whispered by the person who was here and now is lost, come back to haunt you: ‘organic remit.’

It is time for answers.

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