Thursday, August 17, 2006

53: Storyline 1.16

It was about an hour later that I reached the surface. I climbed up out of the hole and found myself standing in the light of a noonday sun. It wasn't direct sunlight, mind you; the sun was evidenced only by a bright spot in the canopy of fish that covered the sky.

The reason I knew it was noon is because that's the only time of day that sunlight falls across the entrance hole of the Complex. The hole lies in a very narrow alley between two tall buildings, behind a perpetually smelly dumpster and a dead dog in a state of eternal decay.

When new people ask why the entrance to the Complex is in such cruddy environs, the answer is usually something along the lines of, "It's tradition." I'm guessing that's not really the brush-off answer that it might at first seem to be. My theory is that at one time, the dumpster and the dog were the only means of discouraging unwanted investigations by local citizenry. These days, there's a full hologrammatic projection of a brick wall across the entrance to the alley, which is reinforced by subsonic hypnotic suggestions to stay away. As such, the garbage and canine corpse seem superfluous. Tradition, I think, is the only plausible explanation for their continued presence.

I went to the mouth of the alleyway and strolled through the hologram. I used to worry about leaving the alley the moment when someone was watching, thereby giving away the secret. But that fear wore off fairly quickly. In the history of the Complex, only two outsiders have ever entered uninvited. Both were offered jobs in the Complex, and they both ultimately took those jobs.

Once in the street, I made my way to the nearest business that sold newspapers. There was a coffee shop nearby (isn't there always?), and I went in and bought the city's paper and a national paper. My goal was to ascertain the extent of the phenomenon, and to get the public perception of the fish situation. To all appearances, people were getting on with their day. To be sure, there was more sky-gazing going on than usual, but the fish in the sky didn't seem to be getting in the way of capitalism. Businesses were open, people were going to work, the airlines were running, and there was no widespread panic or anything of that nature going on.

I sat down with my newspapers and some iced black coffee. On the national paper, there was a full-color photo, rather nicely shot, of the fish-filled sky over the Rocky Mountains. "Something Fishy," said the headline. So it was at least a nationwide phenomenon. I was assuming it to be a worldwide phenomenon, but I like to get verification. I hoped the article would have details as to the extent of the situation. I set the national paper aside for the moment and checked out the city paper. There was a news item on the front page, but it was below the fold. This surprised me a little. "Scientists Mystified by Fish in Sky," read the headline. I began reading.

By the end of the first paragraph, I knew the article was going to be of little use to me. I did glean one piece of information: the fish were a worldwide phenomenon. Beyond that, it was just clumsy prose quoting wild speculations.

I was debating whether or not to forge my way into the second paragraph when a man came into the coffee shop. He was a gruff-looking man, and he was wearing a wimple.

Note to readers: I am on vacation next week and will be sans computer. Therefore we'll be skipping a week and the next episode will be posted August 31, 2006.

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