Bits and Pieces

sprite2

Fingernails were the first to go.

No pain accompanied the loss; the victims went to sleep one night and simply woke up without fingernails. The events occurred in Donglu village, located in China’s Shandong Province. There are limited medical resources, so few sought treatment. The affected went about their lives.

Teeth came next.

In Pinellas County, Florida, between November 3rd and 16th, 19 people checked themselves into local hospitals and reported they had woken up with jaw pain, bleeding gums, and missing teeth. They were all wisdom teeth. No one could explain what had happened.

On November 20th, 82 people in Lahore, Pakistan woke up without arms and legs.

Continue reading “Bits and Pieces”

The Pilot

meteor

Like so many things, it started with a bright spot in the night sky. As I watched, it grew brighter. Closer. Before long, I could hear it. It was loud and constant; a freight train riding a persistent thunderclap. Birds were roused from their sleep and they took to the sky, soaring away from the threatening light and sound. I didn’t move, though. I had to see.

It struck the ground in the woods outside my property, perhaps a quarter mile away. A second later, a searing blast of heat and pressure singed my eyebrows and threw me to the ground. My daze, while not insubstantial, was pushed to the side by excitement and wonder.

I scrambled to my feet and ran toward the impact site. The woods were alive with fire; orange plasma licking the evergreens as the sap within boiled and hissed. I passed the charred bodies of squirrels and deer as I darted around the hottest spots of quickly-dying flames. Before long, I was there.

The crater was about as wide and as deep as a backyard swimming pool. At its center was a red rock. Bright red. Fire-engine red. Its color wasn’t from heat, I noticed with some surprise, as feathery rime crept with fractalic persistence over its exposed surface.

For a moment, there was no sound.

I peered into the crater and watched the rime crawl up the rock, wondering how ice could form so close to the still-smoldering brush and dirt alongside it. On the other side of the object, out of my view, a sliver of yellow light flashed. Before I could go around to investigate, a crack spread on the surface of the rock. Dazzling, hypnotic sparkles of yellow and green filled my eyes.

I woke up on the forest floor at some point in the morning. The fires were out. Whatever had been in the crater had crumbled to dust. Without any knowledge of how I’d lost consciousness, I felt fear tickle the back of my neck. Almost as quickly as it started, though, the feeling evaporated. All my concern evaporated. For the first time in my 40 years of life, I felt wonderful. At peace.

I followed the trail that had been left for me. It led to my garage. Impelled to write something to let the world know what had and would be happening to me, I took my phone from my pocket and started to type.

And here I am.

Here we are.

I hadn’t noticed the gossamer-thin tendril stretching from my forehead to the pilot until we’d officially met. Its eyestalks perked up upon seeing me enter the garage, and it extruded newer, thicker filaments from its bulk to greet me. They stopped at my clothes, slapping weakly and wetly against the fabric until I got the message and stripped them off. Unhindered, the finger-thick filaments, now perhaps tendrils, pushed into me.

I tasted the cosmos with my skin, and every exposed surface of my body sang in an electric choir of caressed nerves.

“Let them know how it feels,” the Pilot whispered in me.

The sensation was that of being licked by ten thousand tongues, if ten thousand tongues were the emissaries of ten billion galaxies. I felt stars blink into existence on my chest and detonate in supernovae chaos upon my hands and feet. Pulsars fondled my shoulders while civilizations discovered fire and tamed the atom on my cheeks and under my scalp.

“Have them come to us so we can let them feel,” the Pilot breathed throughout me.

I dialed 911 and sighed the words, “officer down at 133 Rural Route 5.”

It didn’t take long.

The Pilot kissed each one with its tendrils the moment they arrived. The stellar choir of skin and taste grew by nine.

The Pilot, too, had grown. It filled the entirety of the garage; its filaments and tendrils and tentacles poking and pouring out of windows and doorways. The ground grew slick with its excretions. We stood – we stand – inside, all connected. All consumed and all consuming. All feeling.

More calls have been made and our network of flesh will only increase. The Pilot is gifting us with poetry to swallow; concepts that can only be understood once they’ve been tasted. Once they’ve been digested. Once they’ve been incorporated.

It is with a fleeting sense of loss that I recall the man who I’d once been. A man who, just last night, succumbed to his fervid curiosity and ran toward the fire. Never once did he care about being burnt; never once did he worry about what may happen. And now he is here. Now I am here. Now we are here. It was his desire to learn – and now he knows everything.

The Pilot has broken through the roof of the garage and is towering above the forest. It tells me if I were to measure, it would be a mile. One mile of the Pilot stretching like a gray-green obelisk toward the cosmos which birthed it.

More sirens puncture the tranquility of our home on the outskirts of the forest. Soon, they will stop. The Pilot can now reach aircraft with its tendrils, which have grown strong enough to break through. And those bodies inside are now with us. We all taste stars – we all bathe in radiation and fling ourselves toward the expanding borders of the universe in simultaneous orgasm.

The Pilot whispers he is 20 miles tall now. Depending where you are, if you look outside, you might see it. If you do, don’t be afraid. Don’t be anxious. Just feel the one, final moment of your loneliness. Of your solitude. Then open your windows, smile, and wait.

It’s time for you to meet the universe.

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In our quest to drill for more and more oil, I think we finally went too deep. Part 2.

plain

Part 1.

The following hours passed in a blur of frantic calls to corporate, systems checks, and a near riot when the divers refused to collect the rapidly-dispersing grease slick that used to be John Edmundson.

The tension broke when Gervaso Zaragoza, whose headache had returned with a vengeance, grabbed a wrench that weighed almost as much as he did, hoisted it over his head like he was going to hit someone, and then toppled backward and fell on his ass. It’s amazing how the humor of someone falling down can diffuse a volatile situation. After a few minutes, the divers stopped complaining and did their part while the rest of the crew shut up and went back to work.

I hadn’t told anyone what I’d seen in the water. As far as corporate was concerned, a catastrophic failure in the hydraulics system was what had pulped their employee. Yes, people with knowledge of the systems involved would be able to dispute it, but at the moment, which was what mattered, no one did. I’d be able to talk with corporate later in the week, once I knew what was going on, and they’d appreciate me keeping it from the rest of the crew. A plausible lie is always better than a disruptive truth.

During the commotion, when I was trying to get everyone to calm down, the “tentacles,” or whatever they were, had fallen back to the floor of the plain. They sat in straight lines at the bottom. I dumped all the data showing their movement to a pair of USB sticks, pocketed them, and purged the storage array of the evidence.

For the rest of the day, I sat at the console and did my best to work without interruption. While the calls to and from corporate had slowed, every 45-or-so minutes, I’d be forced to respond to another board member’s secretary asking the same questions I’d already answered a dozen times. Thankfully, as the day came to an end, even those calls died down. It was quiet.

My direct supervisors left via helicopter in the early evening. I was in charge for the weekend. It wasn’t a new experience; the upper management of the platform had the freedom to go back to the mainland and visit their families a few times a month, and they did so as frequently as possible. I was used to being in charge. In fact, I enjoyed not having anyone breathing down my neck.

In the morning, more of the crew were reporting headaches. Gervaso was not one of them. He said he felt a lot better, and even volunteered to take the shifts of a few of his colleagues who were under the weather. His supervisor, Quan Williams, who felt like shit, told him to do whatever he wanted. I found out about that much later.

I’d been busy since early in the morning, working remotely from my dorm, and using my laptop to control one of the drones. I was studying the tentacles. Overnight, one had moved. Not much, but enough to warrant my investigation – especially because it was touching one of the platform’s support beams.

To make matters worse, the bottom was exceptionally murky. Sediment was floating in a thick cloud. Visibility was awful. While I could see the tentacle touching the platform through a visual/sonar composite, the resolution was low. It was obvious there was movement on the floor of the plain, but its source was invisible. Part of me was certain something was being intentionally hidden.

Around noon, Anand, the head medic, knocked on my door. I met him in the hallway. He informed me that 34 of the 66 crew members were sick with debilitating headaches. I told him to keep me abreast of what was going on, and if anyone took a turn for a worse, to keep it quiet and come to me immediately. He nodded. I think he understood the importance of avoiding another commotion.

I didn’t have to wait long. Anand came back at 2pm. He looked upset. When I asked who’d gotten worse, he looked around, then put his finger to his lips, shushing me. I nodded and he beckoned me to follow him. I did.

We traversed the labyrinthine staircases of the platform. We were heading toward the mechanical room. I hated the mechanical room.

The mechanical room was where all the heaviest equipment was located. It was always loud, always filthy, and always dangerous. Pumps and engines rattled and expelled noxious fumes while hydraulic cables transported fluids under pressures so high that a leak no wider than a human hair could cut a man in half. The crew who worked down there were a mixture of brave and insane. They’d been putting in double time over the last few weeks as they tested and prepared the platform to begin its main drilling cycle.

Anand and I reached the room and found five crewmembers being kept at bay by their supervisor, Karen Vant. When they saw me, they started asking questions – all relating to Gervaso Zaragoza, who’d volunteered to work there for the day, and Frank Panagakos. I’d never met Frank before, but I knew he was one of the newer mechanics on the platform. Karen told her guys to shut up and let us through. To their credit, they did.

Karen, Anand, and I walked down the main corridor between two massive generators. Karen told us how all the holes in the platform from the accident with Edmundson had been patched. All but one. The one we were coming up on.

The mechanical room was essentially the basement of the platform. Below it was nothing but pipes, cables, and water. I saw the hole ahead of us. As we got closer, I saw there was something coming out of it. Something bright red and glinting in the harsh, overhead fluorescent light. My breath caught in my throat.

We approached the hole. A hundred feet below, greenish-gray waves heaved against one another. I got on my knees and peered down, making sure not to touch the thing coming out. On the northern support beam, a thin line of red rose out of the Gulf, all the way to the underside of the platform and over to the hole. Once inside, it stretched down the corridor. Karen asked me if I had any idea what it was. I lied and told her I had no idea. Anand urged us forward, and we continued down the corridor, following the red tube.

We turned corners and ducked under cables and piping until we reached one of the hottest, noisiest, and filthiest corners of the room. Gervaso was there, facing Frank. They stood, motionless and open mouthed, staring at one another as we walked toward them. They didn’t move or acknowledge our approach.

The closer we got, it became obvious something was very, very wrong with them. The red thing had grown up Gervaso’s leg and chest and appeared to have entered his face under his chin. But that was the least disconcerting part.

The light was dim over here; blocked by the piping and machinery. I had to get in close to see exactly what was happening. Karen produced a flashlight without my knowledge and as soon as I was within a foot of their faces, she flicked on the light. I gasped.

Gervaso and Frank were joined by thin, red veins. They appeared to have sprouted from Gervaso’s eyes, and they entered Frank’s face at various spots in his mouth, eyes, and forehead. They trembled slightly, almost like they were shivering. As I watched, another cilia-like vein pushed from the center of Gervaso’s eye and twirled outward, searching for purchase, before settling on Frank’s temple and slipping inside.

“What is it?,” Karen asked. I looked at Anand. He shook his head. A string of drool oozed out of Frank’s mouth.

“We can’t leave them here,” Anand said. “They need to get to a hospital.”

“Can we move them?,” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Anand told me. “They might move on their own if we ask.”

“Gervaso, estas bien?,” I asked. He didn’t answer. He didn’t move. “Frank?” Nothing.

I took the flashlight from Karen and touched it to the veins. They stretched under the pressure, but didn’t react. I pressed harder.

“Maybe you shouldn’t –” started Anand, but I’d already pressed hard enough to detach one of the veins from under Frank’s tongue. Frank exhaled heavily and his left eye turned to look at me. Before any of us could react, the entire platform shook.

“What the fuck was that,?” Anand practically shouted.

“I have no idea,” Karen answered, wide eyed. “It felt like something just crashed into one of the support beams.”

Will be concluded.

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In our quest to drill for more and more oil, I think we finally went too deep. Part 1.

plain

I’ve worked in petroleum engineering for 35 years. Most of it has been in the Gulf of Mexico, though I’d done a bit of contract work in the Middle East and Canada. After the BP disaster, there’d been quite a bit of pressure on the major petroleum companies to use extra caution and increase their R&D budgets to design safer technologies to prevent another environmental catastrophe. For most of the people in my position, that meant more work and less pay. Of course.

My most recent employer has been one of the big American oil companies. I’ve been stationed on an experimental, semi-secret offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico. I say “semi-secret” because we’re using a lot of new, highly-proprietary technologies. If our competitors were to learn about them, we’d be set back a few years and countless billions of dollars. All outward appearances would suggest we’re a normal platform that’s outfitted for extreme-depth drilling. If only the competition knew how deep we were going.

The platform is right near the edge of the drop off leading to the Sigsbee Abyssal Plain. One of the new technologies we’ve employed involve our remotely-operated submersibles. They’re basically just submarine drones with lots of cameras and equipment on them that can go super deep. All the ones we’d used in the past needed to be tethered to the surface using a fiber optic connection.

The physical connection had its pros and cons. Fiber optic connections are speedy as all hell, which means commands and data can be sent back and forth to the drone with no meaningful lag. A major downside, though, is that a physical cable limits the maneuvering capabilities of the drone. At the depths we were hoping to reach, the topography was unknown. Previous attempts to send tethered drones ended in failure when the cables were severed by the terrain.

Even with our best satellite, sonar, and early-drone imagery, our knowledge of the area we wanted to drill was terrible. The resolution was too low for any meaningful data to be gleaned. We knew there was oil down there – lots and lots and lots of it – but until we could develop new ways to map the bottom, we were screwed.

A guy named Masaharu Ajibana changed everything for us. He’d been a materials scientist we’d brought on to work on some of the ceramics composites in our drill heads. When he saw the new, undisclosed materials we’d been wanting to employ in the future drills, he must’ve spent four straight days poring over their properties with an enthusiasm I’d never seen in a person over the age of five.

At the end of those four days, Masaharu not only understood the materials better than the team who invented them, but he’d gotten an idea about how to transmit data through miles and miles of murky saltwater using some bizarre form of piezoelectric resonance unique to the properties of the new ceramics. Essentially, a transceiver on the drone would resonate at the same frequency as one on the platform. Once the transceivers were locked in an oscillatory pattern, smaller, tighter waveforms from a second set of transceivers would traverse the oscillation “cable” linking the drone and the platform.

Nearly every scientist in every department in the company said this was entirely impossible. Still, there was enough support from a few key players in R&D that Masaharu’s claims were investigated. Investigation led to cursory confirmations. Cursory confirmations led to experiments. Experiments led to shocking successes. And shocking successes led to the fastest development and deployment of a new technology in the history of the company.

It’s that technology our company employed three weeks ago. We’d been using a fleet of nine drones to map the abyssal plain of Sigsbee Deep. There’s one “hub” drone and eight “mappers.” The hub has one main resonator which communicates with the platform, and eight smaller ones which communicate with the mappers. We were dumbfounded not only by the simplicity and ease of the data transmissions, but by the richness of the data we were seeing.

Another technology we’d deployed for this project was a small, cable-form drill mounted on the mappers. Its drill head was equipped with our new ceramics and could cut through the bottom of the plain with ease. The cables were 3000 feet long – not anything major – but they allowed the mappers to confirm the massive salt sheet we’d assumed was covering the oil deposits.

Once the drill cable maxes out, a tiny device gets deposited in the cavity. It’s mostly multilevel sonar with some seismographs and embedded communicators. Nothing too advanced. It measures minute seismic activity and sends it back to the hub. The data gets processed by our CPU cluster and is incorporated into our future drilling plans.

As I said, we’ve been mapping for three weeks. A week ago, the seismographs started picking up some bizarre activity. And something else happened. It’s something neither I nor the onboard medics can adequately explain.

Last Tuesday, Gervaso Zaragoza, a member of my team, went to the infirmary complaining of severe headaches. He had no history of migraines and until the headaches started, seemed to be in perfect health. The severity of the pain grew as the day went on. After a couple hours, he was screaming. When I stepped out of the infirmary, another team member came to me and casually mentioned the seismic activity of the plain had been rising all day. On a whim, I asked him to send a sleep command to the seismographs. A minute later, Gervaso was fine.

We resumed the operation of the seismographs later in the afternoon. Gervaso, who was resting but otherwise alert, was unaffected. I knew it had to be a coincidence and did my best to put the event out of my mind.

On Wednesday, the mappers were spread in a wide circle out from the hub. They were pinging the interior of the circle with extremely high-resolution sonar, as well as multi-laser topography measurements as the circle widened. The goal was to see if there had been any appreciable surface shifts since the last measurement three days earlier. With the seismic activity we’d experienced, I’d expected some shifts to be detected.

There were no shifts. Instead, there were a series of long, unbroken convexities lining the sea floor. The scan resolution was extremely sharp, and we could clearly see the digitized images of straight lines pushing nearly a meter above the plain. Even with the scans, I wanted to see a camera feed, so I directed the camera to send a raw feed to the platform. The light on the drone went on, and the screen displayed a long, perfectly-straight mound in the silt that stretched for miles. The other mappers displayed the same thing.

The onboard geologist wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a seismic event being the cause of the convexities. He said we knew very little about the seismological properties of the salt plate beneath the plain. The pressures of the silt and water above it and the oil and gas below made for an intensely complicated interaction model, and even though he’d never heard of the type of thing we were seeing, instances of symmetry in natural geology were well-known. He mentioned the basalt formations at Giant’s Causeway. And that’s how he left it.

I wasn’t convinced. Even though I’m not a geologist, it seemed odd that such obvious and large changes could occur with the comparatively-little seismic activity we’d seen. Even though the activity had increased as we’d observed it, it still hadn’t come close to reaching an intensity that would have moved such a large amount of rock and water.

Two days later, on another mapping mission, I took manual control of one of the drones. I’d had the guys from robotics outfit another couple cameras and lights to the outside. I guided the sub along the tallest of the convexities and positioned it about a foot above its surface. All the cameras and lights traced along the convex surface. No visible change from the other day.

I extended the drill. The drill head sank into the convexity and stopped. It was stuck. The transceivers on the hub reported error transmissions from the mapper. I reversed the drill, backed it out, and tried again. Throughout the platform, I heard a number of sharp reports that sounded like gunshots. In the other room, shouts of surprise and screams of fear rang out. I ran from the control panel to see what was going on.

John Edmundson was lying on the floor. A hole had appeared in his belly. A sucking sound filled the room coupled with John screaming with an intensity I’ve never known to be possible. He moved his hands to the wound in an attempt to plug it, but with a series of horrible, wet cracks, his hands and arms were pulled into his belly. Above him, a hole exploded in the steel ceiling, its ragged edges pointing downward. I realized John was being pulled down to the deck below.

I ran down the steps and watched with profound horror as the man was pulled through a series of holes the size of dimes, all the way through every floor in the platform, down to the water. I ran down each floor, watching the column of gore disappear ever downward. Two minutes later, a foam of pulp and entrails floated in heap on the choppy surface of the water.

I slowly plodded back up the steps, unsure if what I’d just seen could possibly have been real. I was jolted out of my contemplation when I realized, behind the shrill voices of my coworkers, an alarm was screaming from the drone control room. I ran back upstairs, past my traumatized colleagues, and made it to the control room. The camera feed was gone.

I rewound to the moment I’d left from the room and started at the screen with disbelief. The convexity below the drone shook like an electric shock had coursed through its bulk. Then, the silt covering it began to fall away. It wasn’t a rock formation. Ripples of peristaltic convulsions seethed along a gray, scarred surface. A hole opened in the surface of it and the drill cable began to get sucked inside. As the 3000 feet were being consumed, the camera showed a vacant column the width of a dime pointing straight up. I realized that must’ve been what had killed John.

Once the drill cable disappeared, the screen went black. The drone, presumably, was gone. The other drones were still mapping away with mechanical obliviousness. I called up the real time sonar data. The convexities had disappeared from the sea floor. I pulled back on the sonar map and tried to figure out what I was seeing. The sonar feed was slow; around 2 frames per second. Still, there was no mistaking what was coming on screen.

The convexities had all lifted from the abyssal plain and were waving back and forth through the water. They were massive; easily 7000 feet long. I couldn’t figure out what was causing them to move. Then, as the reality of John’s death started to sink in and the strangeness of what the camera showed before it went out began to take hold in my mind, I came to a realization that was impossible to ignore. What I was seeing wasn’t an effect of bizarre, deep-sea geology. They were colossal, writhing tentacles.

Will be continued.

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The Blissful Insensate

zmachine

There’s a reason we don’t know about the things sharing the same space we do. The most obvious one is we can’t see them. Nor can we hear, smell, touch, or taste them. But they exist. They float in and through us; in and through each other. Space, to them, is an infinite series of fields in what we’d consider single positions. If it sounds like nonsense, then you’re showing you can think. You’re showing you have an epistemology based in logic and reason. The problem for us, a group of great thinkers by anyone’s standards, was it meant we were utterly unprepared.

I worked at the Sandia National Laboratories on a project called the Z-Machine. We made the news back in 2006 when we were able to produce the highest temperature ever detected, at around 6.6 billion degrees Fahrenheit. Since then, the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland has produced a higher temperature and gleaned loads more information than we were able to. That didn’t mean we decommissioned our Z-Machine and terminated the associated research. Far from it.

After 2006, we began to implement a series of upgrades to our power and containment infrastructure. The goal was to leapfrog the LHC temperature record and reach one quadrillion degrees Fahrenheit; a number nearly every scientist on the team believed would be unattainable for at least another 50 years. New computational models combined with advances in materials science and capacitor discharge timing, however, caused them to reconsider their doubts. Under a cover of secrecy, we continued our upgrades – and in late August of 2016, we were ready to test.

I should give a little background before continuing. In the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you a little something about myself: I was born blind. I endured my share of hardships, which, when compared to some less-privileged children, were paltry, but still unpleasant. Despite my disability, my love of learning was obvious. It became clear fairly early in my life that I was unusually good at mathematics, and thanks to the resources of my parents and a few generous people in my school, I was allowed to continually test and hone my mathematical abilities over the course of my educational career. I ended up at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and, eventually, at the Sandia National Laboratories. Whether or not this will help lend credence to my story is entirely up to the reader, but I think it is important to include.

Now, at the end of this past August, the days leading up to the test were fraught with difficulty. Small parts were breaking down, simple things that’d worked perfectly for the last test were failing in the models, and our capacitor banks kept refusing to synchronize. Some of us were reminded of the hardships prior to the first test of the LHC, when conspiracy theorists were claiming visitors from the future were sabotaging the components to prevent a catastrophe from occurring when the machine was activated.

Thankfully for our project and the stress levels of the engineers and physicists I worked with, the problems were ironed out. On August 29th, Dr. Wang Lin and Dr. Alasdair Greenberg were alongside me in the control room as countless people in all branches of the military and scientific establishment watched remotely.

We’d begun charging the capacitors a few hours prior to the test. Our onsite nuclear plant was chugging along and providing the power we needed, despite redlining once or twice as the capacitors absorbed every electron they were fed. I felt out the various readouts on my braille terminal and listened for any audio cues that were programmed to indicate any anomalies. There were none. We were ready to test.

At 11:10am, we started the countdown. The smell of ozone from all the nearby electricity was pervasive and mildly intoxicating. Dr. Lin’s voice was steady and tinged with controlled excitement as he read the last numbers: 4…3…2…1.

I heard a loud, clapping sound as the power was shunted from the capacitors into Marx generators, followed by a pop as the generators fed the Z-Machine. The test was over. All we needed to do was wait for the flood of data.

Before any data could pour in, though, I heard some commotion behind me. Drs. Lin and Greenberg were talking, but not to one another nor anyone observing remotely. It was as if they were talking to themselves, under their breath, but not in words I could understand. Then Dr. Lin said, “hello there,” as if speaking to a cat or other small animal. Similarly, Dr. Greenberg muttered, “what in the world are you, little guy?”

I asked them who they were talking to, but they wouldn’t reply. I felt some pressure in my chest and against my skin that reminded me of blankets rich with static electricity were being pressed and rubbed all over me.

“What are all these things?,” asked Dr. Greenberg. Someone viewing remotely asked him to clarify; they weren’t seeing anything on the monitors.

“Jerry,” said Dr. Lin, speaking to me, “do you feel them?”

“Feel who?,” I asked. “Feel what?”

“They’re all over us,” Dr. Greenberg told me. “Floating in and out and around like little squid or jellyfish.”

“What the hell is that?,” Dr. Lin asked.

“Jesus, what is…,” started Dr. Greenberg.

The two doctors gasped and shouted. I felt them pushing up against the control panel next to me, which was the furthest spot from the observation deck overlooking the Z-Machine.

“Guys, what’s going on?” I felt moderate fear starting to nibble at my spine, growing in severity as the doctors refused to answer me and only kept gasping and shouting.

I clicked my headset over to the observation channel and tried to get one of the remote parties to fill me in on what was happening. They were equally in the dark and wanted me to tell them what was wrong with the doctors. Other members of the labs were banging on the door of our control room, trying to get it open. It was locked.

“It’s huge…,” choked out Dr. Greenberg.

“Why is it here?,” whispered Dr. Lin. He was sobbing.

“I can’t look at it anymore,” Dr. Greenberg announced, matter-of-factly.

I heard something metallic, then the sound of Dr. Greenberg screaming. “I can feel it in my head – I can taste it – it’s in every part of me.”

Dr. Lin called out, “let me help you.” There were wet noises mixed in with the pounding on the door and the commotion on the radio as the remote observers saw what the doctors were doing in the control room.

All I could focus on was the feeling of static and pressure on my skin. It was suffocating and terrible, like those blankets were sliding in and out of my lungs and mouth and leaving little arcs of electricity with every move.

I heard the door slam open and the feeling dissipated. I sat slumped in my chair, trying to catch my breath, as security and other scientists rushed into the control room.

“What the fuck is going on?,” I yelled, and felt someone pushing me and my chair out of the room, down the long hallway, and into another lab.

And that was it.

I was sedated against my will and woke up in the hospital three days later. I was forced to sign documents making me promise, under penalty of treason, that I wouldn’t divulge what happened during that test. But I didn’t know what happened. I still don’t. Regardless, I need to tell you that something happened. Something monstrous.

As I waited in the hospital, a friend of mine from the labs, Dr. Marie Lenzetti, sat with me and said what happened to Drs. Lin and Greenberg. Both were dead. Dr. Lin had killed Dr. Greenberg and inflicted terrible injuries on himself. But Dr. Lin spoke to the other scientists before he died. He told them what it was he saw; what he saw, then as a consequence heard and felt and heard and smelled and tasted. It was something entirely beyond his comprehension; something entirely beyond anything he could have dreamt.

The doctors got a glimpse of what occupied the space we thought was our own. The Z-Machine experiment created conditions that allowed them to see how wrong we were. That moment, he said, lasted an eternity. As soon as its shape registered in his eyes, he experienced it in all his senses. Every sense was dominated. Cutting away Dr. Greenberg’s eyes, tongue, nose, ears, and as much skin as possible was the only act of mercy and relief he could give his friend. And when he was done, he tried to do the same to himself, only to be stopped before he could excise his own tongue and skin. He died of a massive stroke an hour later.

I’m writing this to let you know there are things outside the realm of our senses which pervade everything we do. Everything we are. Things that can prove, and in fact have now proven, that we are not the dominant actors in the space we occupy. The Z-Machine experiment last month showed my friends the atrocious nature of true reality: something too hideous for our senses to endure. I will never consider my blindness to be anything other than a gift for as long as I continue to live.

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The Face in the Clouds

sky

Our observatory received word about a meteorological anomaly in Himachal Pradesh, India. While our satellites didn’t pick up anything out of the ordinary, the frequency and diversity of the reports suggested something was, indeed, amiss. Further, the crowdsourced pictures and video of the area, all taken and sent by cellular phones, were all corrupted beyond recognition. Whatever it was these people were seeing, you had to be there to get a glimpse.

As I was stationed on a military base in Afghanistan and about three hours away by jet, I was chosen to investigate. One quick flight to a local airport and a short helicopter ride later, I was on the ground at the site of the anomaly.

The meteorological disturbance was gone. The sky was clear and the late afternoon sun cast a warm orange glow on the orchards and farms at the foot of the mountains. That glow was the only warmth to be found.

The locals who’d seen the anomaly were uncharacteristically quiet. I’d heard from folks familiar with the area that the people here were normally gregarious and outgoing. These people were the opposite. They were taciturn and skittish. Moreover, they were unwilling to discuss what they’d seen that morning. They spoke about the incident as if it’d been a trauma; more often than not, their eyes teared up when my translator mentioned it.

I did my best to glean any bits of information that I could, but my success rate was low. The most I was able to learn came from a little girl, who, in the course of recalling the incident, burst into tears as she mentioned a face in the clouds. She would give us no more information after that.

The translator and I decided to call it a night and checked into our hotel. It was small but pleasant enough; the meal that was included was sumptuous, albeit a bit spicier than I’d been expecting. As we ate, it was hard not to notice the quietness of the dining room. Despite all eight tables being filled with diners, few words were spoken. Many tears, however, were shed. It felt like a great tragedy had occurred, yet no one was willing to admit what, exactly, had happened.

At my suggestion, the translator was able to eavesdrop on a few commonalities in the brief, quiet conversations going on around us. They all talked about having intense discomfort with having to wait for so long. There were nods of resignation and more tears. Still unable to put anything into a coherent, let alone meteorological, context, we decided it would be best to retire to our room and try again the next day.

Our sleep was taken from us in the early hours of this morning. It was still dark, but there was a buzz of activity in the streets. We left our room and went outside. We recognized people from dinner and from the businesses we’d stopped in the previous day. In the glow of the streetlights, I could see their faces were all wet with tears. They wept and moaned and the translator, with some alarm in his voice, told me they were conducting a slow, disorganized countdown. They had just reached ten seconds.

I stared at the translator for a moment, trying to put it all together, but there just wasn’t enough. Nothing made sense. Then, as the first sliver of sunlight crested the mountains, the screaming started. Women, children, and men, in unison, shrieked with sorrow and pain and desperation and clasped their hands to their eyes. My panic, already growing in my chest, began to bloom as blood trickled down their screaming faces.

As more sunlight filled the street, the intensity of the hideous wailing grew. When it reached a point when voices were beginning to give out and people were falling to their knees, a cloud passed in front of the sun. Every scream was silenced. Faces drenched with tears and blood began to smile. Hands were lowered to sides. Now it was I who shouted. Their eyes were destroyed. It looked as if they had burst. From what, I had no idea.

The translator, who’d been looking at the sky, gasped. I started to turn my gaze in the direction he was looking, but he grabbed my head with great force and pushed it down toward the ground and the faces of the terribly-disfigured people who still smiled with their faces turned skyward.

“Don’t!,” he shouted. He inhaled a lungful of air and exclaimed, “Now I know what they saw!”

The panic and concern in his voice was combined with something else. Something far more disturbing. It was ecstasy.

“Oh my God,” he cried, over and over and over, still holding my head in a vicegrip to prevent me from looking up. I’d lost my desire to do so. In fact, something else had claimed my attention. The gaping holes in the faces of the townsfolk had started projecting strings. Fleshy, red filaments slinked down their faces, but then perked upward and became erect. More and more length poured out and stretched outward and up. I couldn’t see where, but I had a feeling.

“They’re getting to touch him,” whispered the translator. “He is letting them inside.” His voice cracked and his next words were punctuated by sobs. “They’re tasting him with their eyes.”

I scanned the faces of the people in front of me. Their smiles were rapturous and the thin tendrils pulsed and quivered and gently pulled their heads forward.

The sky brightened. All at once, the ropes fell from the sky. They draped over me and the translator and the townsfolk fell on their faces into the street. The sun broke through the clouds. None of the fallen people moved.

The translator released my head and I spun around and looked into the cloudless sky. I directed my gaze down and saw what had to be miles of red, meaty tendrils stretched across the roads and rooftops all the way to the mountain. Finally, I looked at the translator. He was weeping. I asked him to tell me what he saw.

“The face in the clouds,” he told me. “The face that lets eyes taste him.”

He wept for a minute without interruption before speaking up. “There is so much more I wanted to see with my old eyes. So many more sights. But my new eyes will allow to taste so much more than I’ve ever been able to see. All I have to do is wait.”

Flies began to investigate the bodies in the dirt, landing on the gaping eye sockets and extruded filaments. My thoughts wandered to what I should do next. The translator sobbed next to me and began counting down from 85,000. The number of seconds until the next sunrise, I realized. More and more flies descended on the corpses and tasted the townsfolk with their feet. As the translator counted down with breathless anticipation, my fear grew into something monstrous and unexpected: curiosity.

Curiosity and desire.

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