This story was first serialized in 31 daily parts during May 2022 via the @InternetofWords Twitter feed @ 9am. It is now reproduced in this complete form, with a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.
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. I also record weekly videos.
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The Whole Truth
“I need you to look at something.”
“What’s the problem?”
“If I’m honest, there are several, but the main one is that I have no idea what I’m looking at.”
“That is NEVER a good sign. Where are you?”
“Ops, so it’s a ground level anomaly and not an airborne.”
“Right, two secs.”
The Cramond Clockwork Mortar is glinting in early morning sunshine, exterior cells already gathering sunlight to recharge internal batteries. Hamish Broad Jr puts down his mop and bucket: removing bird poop will happen later. He’s been waiting nearly three days for this sighting. Angel Fisk was the first officer to spot an anomaly, nearly three weeks ago. It was gone well before they could point a photographic plate at it for confirmation, to prove to their Commander that yes, some mightily weird shit wasn’t just going on in town, but also at the coast…
Broad Jr could take the stairs down to Ops, but there’s no fun in that: instead, today it’s a Munitions Wire from top of turret to base before a jog back to the C&C building. He’s breathing heavily as he enters, air that stops in his lungs as he registers what Angel is staring at.
“Fuck me sideways.”
Angel has already placed the box camera in its position, has a plate ready for exposure, and isn’t waiting for the command. Last time that happened, their anomaly had vanished seconds before the shutter had been opened. This time, however, there is no issue.
“We both know something is most definitely not right here. The next question therefore has to be… what do we do about it and who needs to know?”
“It’ll depend on who else chooses to report this, if at all. The last time, we just got silence. Even with evidence, it’s possible -”
“They’ll pretend we’re the problem: what did they say we’d seen last time?”
“We’d drunk far too much the night before and there was clearly an unusual atmospheric haze…”
Hamish finds himself laughing: it’s one way to deal with mounting terror. Drinking sounds like another…
“This time, I think we push them. At some point, somebody has to accept we’re not all hallucinating. It’s not somebody else’s problem any more. Maybe, this is the day.”
“You’re right, Boss, just like you always are. Whatever happens, I’ll support you. We need answers, and now.”
There is a chance to move their camera for a second exposure before the anomaly finally vanishes, which captures a squadron of seaplanes scrambled from the North Shore Station. The pair watch three saltire-marked vessels make a low pass across the Estuary before returning to base. If Command finally sent out spotters, it is time to Morse directly and admit they captured photographic evidence as proof: except it’s not necessary. Both are relieved an hour after the Estuary returns to what currently passes as normal, told not to speak to their replacements.
Things must be serious: a carriage has been sent for them, no need to walk into Cramond. There’s a picnic too, wicker basket with Grade One rations inside. After a brief consultation, both Angel and Hamish decide that they’ll pocket the supplies but not eat them, to be on the safe side. The latest anomaly is all anyone is talking about outside on the way into town: it’s been drawn by several people, one particular ironmonger using chalk on his own shop wall to capture the same image that Angel holds. Hamish knows now that senior officers will struggle to keep rumours contained.
As the whole town knows, it will only be a matter of time…
She kneels at the aquifer’s edge, taking several water samples. Of course, there is nothing within the town’s supply of any note, certainly nothing that could cause a mass hallucination on the scale Cramond saw. How the Foundation explain at Chambers is becoming untenable: they’ve sent Junior Tachyon Observer Morris out here on a hiding to nothing. All the sophisticated analysis in the world won’t cover up the fact that their latest experiment succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations.
Most endeavours of this kind have, it must be said, ended in unmitigated failure. A lot of this was manufacturing-based, until Ovid McDougall came along and threw the rule book away. Some call him dangerous, others just consider it a natural progression from the Order of Things. Optics are now hundreds of times more sophisticated than was the case even six months previously, plus the advances in Natural Science, Chemicals and Power Generation… some already argue that this level of improvement is unsustainable over time. Ida Morris knows this is correct.
The Visitors made their position perfectly clear: both with documents presented and the moving pictures they have shared, these anomalies are explained with an inescapable and terrifying clarity. To survive what has already begun to take place, the Foundation must act immediately. Capping the last sample, Ida is surprised: there appears to be something alive, inside the tube. Walking back to her handcart, it takes a moment to locate a larger jar, into which the sample is poured for a better view. Surprise quickly morphs into amazement: this is impossible.
She should not have been listening into this morning’s Visitor briefing, but curiosity had superseded common sense, as it often did. Something that was mentioned in passing, as an afterthought, is now sitting in a jar that will be carefully filled with aquifer water, then sealed.
Going back to the aquifer, her previous task is summarily ignored: this new one is suddenly far more important. If Junior Tachyon Observer Morris is going to show industry and independent thought, that’s a process that needs to be completed to a proper standard… to prove a point. Three jars are filled, each with undeniable proof that these anomalies aren’t some kind of illusion. Here is solid, tenable evidence. It will take longer to return to the Garrison than normal as a result, with precious cargo. The jars must remain intact and their contents alive.
Packing up the handcart for the return journey, Ida is aware of movement by the aquifer’s entrance. Patrols do not change for another hour, yet there are clearly two humans in the small clearing below, walking up to the gate. Without spyglasses, it is hard to discern features. They’re not military, that she can tell… and there is something about their stance and movement that seems odd. It takes a moment to make the connection, that there is an intimacy to them, between them.
The two women appear to be talking to a large, Tabby Cat.
Angel knows whatever this has become is now more than a big deal. Even without a timepiece, she counts six patrols moving past the window. Four times the same pair, these two as relief. That’s over an hour and a half sat waiting in a draughty corridor: Fisk was starving before…
“You look hungry. You hungry?”
She was too busy staring out the window to notice company had arrived. Into her eye line appears a large tray of what looks and smells exactly like goats cheese and chutney on fresh granary bread. These sandwiches are literally too good to be true: overly thick cut, heavy on the fillings, with the savoury preserve almost begging to be squeezed and spilt onto their uniform. Who is this person, and why is their accent so out of place? Is it ever a good idea to take food from someone you don’t know?
“It’s okay… they’re safe.”
The man has a friend, and as they come to stand in Angel’s eyeline, hunger is suddenly subsidiary: she’s not military. Absolutely foreign, but at the same time… worryingly familiar. That outfit, too: blue and black, the way it clings to both chest and hips with effortless grace.
“I understand the reticence: a stranger, proffering food, when you have sat both hungry and thirsty for several hours. Will there be a consequence of acceptance here? In this case, non. These sandwiches are neither drugged nor tainted. The Tachyoscope Foundation can be trusted.”
Of course. The scientists Angel has seen in town since these anomalies first emerged. The woman is French, the man American. Both have been taking readings at ground level and by the Mortar with odd, black metal instruments. They have rented the best room above the Saltire Arms. They are a clever combination of seduction and distraction, and Angel is having none of it. However, their sandwiches are fair game, and so she takes two with a cursory nod to the woman.
“You are hungry, you want water with that, kid?”
The man suddenly holds a bottle of water in his hand. Angel stares at him, then her, with mounting concern.
“I know what I saw. I wasn’t hallucinating ‘coz I’m hungry, you know?”
“Oh, we know, kid. We were kinda hoping that was the case, ‘coz that makes our job a helluva lot easier.”
This American’s not acting as Angel expects either… then there’s a touch, delicate and non-threatening on the fringes of her consciousness. He’s an empath, and his next question isn’t verbal, but sent directly into an incredulous brain:
“Hi, I’m Stan, this is Catalina. Tell us about the flying lizards you saw over the bridge…”