The searing desert wind blows past, scarring its way across the open sands, curling around abandoned railway tracks that twist away into the scrubland. Two men stand on a rooftop in the desert heat, the first at ease in military fatigues, the second overdressed for the hot weather, leaning forward onto the white metal railing. And at the edge of their vision, a lone human-shaped silhouette crests over the horizon.
"That's him?" the suit asks, pulling up pair of binoculars slung around his neck.
The soldier glances at his watch. "Looks like it. Right on schedule." He stamps twice against the floor, stirring a rustle of movement from the building below. Two more soldiers scurry out of the guardhouse and array themselves on either side of the chain-link fence.
The silhouette takes its time approaching the facility, balancing along the rail, and as it approaches, details resolve: a man with ruffled blond hair under a tan sunhat, short collared shirt, a half-full water bottle in one hand. It takes a good ten minutes for him to enter hailing range, and the soldiers at the gate raise their rifles. The man pauses to take a drink out of his water bottle before continuing forward.
"This is a military installation. No civilian access. Please turn around and walk away."
The man drops the bottle and raises his hands in the air. "I'm here to talk to whoever's in charge of the Anomaly division."
"No civilians allowed."
The man looks up to the rooftop and spots the suit. "You look like you're in charge. I'm guessing this isn't my first time here. I spotted your drone, by the way."
The suit stares back with mild interest.
"Come on. You know what I can do. Let me in." He takes another step forward, and the soldiers shift their aim through the fence. "I don't have all day. You know I don't have all day. We're just wasting time here." He pauses. "And you're not gaining anything by keeping me out. I'm just going to show up again tomorrow."
"Turn away. This is your final warning."
"Oh what are you going to do, shoot me? You kn—"
The silhouette takes its time approaching the facility, balancing along the rail. The suit puts away his binoculars, pulls out a phone to check the time, then waves at the guards at the gate, who drag open the fence. The silhouette approaches, has a short conversation with the guards at the fence, and is escorted in by a pair of soldiers. The suit watches from the rooftop above, then descends the ladder and follows behind, entering the mouth of the mountain.
The Yucca Mountain Military Research Facility was dug directly into the side of the mountain and into the bedrock below; originally designed as a nuclear waste depository, the facility was closed before any waste could be stored. With the facilities dug out and transportation network already in place, the facility sat, abandoned, until the Department of Defence sought an underground facility to carry out Anomalous research.
Top secret, underground, with access to the cutting edge of experimental physics. They recruited the top minds in the country to the facility to research how to reproduce an Anomaly, or at the very least predict or protect against it. And left the rest of the physicists to pick at the problem on their own.
But this isn't Bletchley Park, this isn't the Los Alamos; there is no war going on (that anyone knows about), no abject need for absolute secrecy, and it took all of three weeks for the internet to determine that the government had started their own Anomaly Research Division at Yucca Mountain, given the recent activity at an otherwise discontinued site. After all, given the disappearance of many prominent researchers around the world, other countries were doing research into the Anomalies as well. And, as with anything with potential military applications, the United States doesn't want to be left behind.
The government neither confirmed nor denied these reports; the conspiracy theorists thought that it was too easy, a decoy, but otherwise the site became an open secret. Security was stepped up, equipment continued to roll in. And no progress was made.
Until a civilian approached the facility, three weeks before.
He was trying to make his way through the front gate, and despite multiple warnings to back off, was finally shot and killed. The facility, still at its bare functional capacity and lacking a morgue (who would have thought physicists needed a morgue?), sent the body to the cold room, pending identification and analysis. Only to vanish, an hour later, along with a good portion of the walls and floor.
The next day, the same civilian approached the facility. Shot, buried, and anomalied out of existence an hour later.
At this point, those in command begin to get concerned. They send a forensics team down to examine the next body, and by the afternoon they have dental records, fingerprints, some DNA and high definition facial scans. They run it through the FBI and find a match to a man in New Jersey.
They pay him a visit. An electrical engineer, wife and kids. Supporting his ageing parents. Anomaly enthusiast. Still alive. They watch him for a day. Wakes up. Goes to work. Goes to the gym. Heads home.
At the same time, he appears in a desert in Nevada, gets shot, and disappears again.
This goes on for a week.
The physicists still don't know anything, just wondering why there's no fresh food in the cafeteria anymore. The military, on the other hand, have the man's schedule down to a hair. He appears between the hours of 12 and 3, and disappears anywhere from forty minutes to an hour later. Always drops his water bottle, always raises his hands to the air. Always unarmed, save for a small pair of needle-nose pliers from an unknown manufacturer. Always unknowing of the day before.
The guards never shoot first. They've all heard of him from the previous guards, and the new guards are both excited and afraid, but each day is just an eerie pantomime of the day before. The same statements said, the same responses replied. Always ending in a gunshot. But they need the justification to shoot.
After the shot, things change. The military may not be physicists, but they can still be scientists; desecrating the body out in the desert, dismembering it to test the limits of the Anomaly, measuring the size and shape. The water bottle disappears each day, along with the pliers and clothing, no matter how far away they are from the body. So do any body parts. They incinerate the body, and the smoke and ash stay behind, but they receive a call from the FBI. The man from New Jersey was gone, Anomalied in his cubicle.
They stop experimentation after that.
They try tracking him, surveying the rail with their drones, but he approached from a different direction each day. No record of him entering or leaving by any of the local roads, and the desert was too large to search through by hand.
An interrogation room is built. A suit from up high is sent down. He watches for a few days, and finally has the man is escorted in.
The suit follows behind.
The interrogation room is stark; fresh concrete walls with a concrete floor, one-way mirror set into a side wall. The steel table is almost four metres long, the man handcuffed to one end, and the suit sitting at the other. The water bottle and pliers lie at the middle of the table, in view and out of reach of both.
"Please state your name for the record." There's no recording device in the room, but a glance at the mirror tells all.
"Come on. You already know my name. We have at most half an hour. You already know that. We don't have much time."
The suit pulls his phone out of his pocket and sets it on the table. "Twenty-one minutes and you're wasting it. We know your name. State it for the record."
"Richard Haines, of the Sinoel Corporation, New Jersey office. You're a walking Anomaly, you know that, right?"
Richard nodded. "That's why I'm here."
"Tell us what you know."
"There hasn't been an Anomaly in Newark, has there? Corner of Mulberry and Commerce about, what, four months ago now? No, I thought not. It hasn't happened here, has it?
"I was there. Have you ever been in the presence of an Anomaly? Not the puny three-foot ones that I make when I disappear, but an honest-to-God seven-hundred foot one? Not as big as Seoul, thank goodness, but still. The split-second glance of a section of the world just missing, at the perfectly transected floors and walls, before the implosion knocks you off your feet? The deafening bang, the smell of gas and sewage? Almost two hundred were Anomalied out of existence, with another twenty dead from the implosion and collapse. Hundreds injured.
"I rushed into the rubble, as many did, trying to help. There was one woman down near the center of the pit, spine broken by the impact, drawn in by the vacuum. She was caught halfway in the Anomaly, one leg severed just above the calf, still conscious. I tried to stabilize her, stem the bleeding, but she was struggling, babbling, trying to put her necklace on me. I put it on, she cuts it with that," he gestures to the pliers "and the next thing I know I'm in a forest three days later with an intact necklace surrounded by a circle of street rubble and half of her body."
The phone counts down to fifteen minutes.
"I worked it out. Took another week of experimentation and figuring out what she said, but I worked it out. Whenever I cut the necklace before the time limit, I will reappear with everything in a three foot radius when the time runs out. Whereupon everything in a three foot radius around my old body disappears. Along with small spherical Anomalies around anything that I brought with me."
"Four hours, twenty-five minutes, sixteen seconds."
"And where do you reappear?"
"At the necklace, where else?"
"And where is that necklace now?"
"Wouldn't you like to know." Richard smiles. "The story's not over yet."
The suit remains impassive.
"You're still wondering about the Anomaly, why there's no recorded one in Newark. I'm sure that you of all people have full access to all the information, and also wondering why I'm still in Newark at the same time that I'm in this interrogation room.
"The necklace has three functions, I worked that much out from the woman's babbling. Each irreversible, and each causing an even greater change than the last. The first is the immortality I've so extravagantly demonstrated to get your attention. I lasted two months, cutting the necklace every four hours, ensuring that everything I bring with me is either safely disposed of or with me when I disappear again, before I tried the second.
"I went back out to the forest I found myself using as an experimental base, cut the chain, and nothing. No change. I walked back into the city, and it took two hours for me to realize something was wrong. Emails I never remembered sending. Reference to events I never remembered happening, and events I remembered never happening.
"I was already home when I walked up. I never went in.
"I embezzled some cash from my bank accounts and holed up in a motel for a few weeks, figuring everything out. I already new where you were, I just needed to figure out a way to get in. Without being held against my own will or involuntarily divulging information. Speaking of which, you haven't tortured me yet, have you?"
Nine minutes. "No, we haven't tortured you for information. And if we're being perfectly honest, this is the first time we've had you in here. The rest of you have been shot before they got through, but of course, you know that."
Richard nods. "So it worked. Although I had fail-safes in place in case it didn't."
"And what of the third function of the necklace?"
"I haven't tested it. The first changes you, the second changes the universe. I don't want to know what the third one does."
There's a pause in the conversation, and the suit interrupts the silence. "So what do you want?"
"A watch. A phone. A place to stay. A way to get out of this mess. Sleeping in four hour bouts takes its toll, along with ensuring that where you stand when you count down doesn't cause too much damage."
"And you'll give us the necklace?"
"Conditions, conditions..." He drums his fingers against the table. "One: the necklace remains in my possession, and my ownership. Two: any experimentation with the necklace must be personally approved by me. Three: I must be personally present at all experiments regarding the necklace. Can you agree to all of those?"
"Seems...rather restrictive. Any reason for those exact conditions? Six minutes."
"The woman who had the necklace before me, her body disappeared from the hospital, Anomalied in the same three foot radius four hours after the Newark Anomaly. And if someone else cuts the necklace, the same is going to happen to me. Caution, that is all."
"Fair enough. I accept your terms."
"And can I trust that you will stick by them?"
"I don't know, can you? It's up to you. Four minutes."
"You haven't tortured me yet, only killed me. I trust you."
"So where is it?"
"Three hours away, by foot. Tomorrow, when I arrive, have a Jeep ready. Speak the word CaÃ¯ssa and I'll understand. I'll guide you there."
The suit nods, and slides a handcuff key across the table. "Very well, and our time is almost up. If you'd free yourself and follow me, you'll find a safe place to Anomaly."
The two stand from the desk, and the suit leads Richard out of the room, keeping at a safe distance. A few minutes later, a pop echoes its way through the underground corridors.