Interlude #3

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Wynton Simons longed for the days of academic detachment. He'd studied Inter-Dimensional Theory and Logistics at university, had excelled, and was offered a job at the facility before he'd even graduated. The other students on the course couldn't believe how lucky he was and neither could he - it was the break of a lifetime, which would set him up for the rest of his years. Good pay, good benefits, surrounded by intelligent people working on cutting edge science.

More than that, the job would provide him with direct access to Locque, that mysterious Other World that everybody knew about but few had the privilege to know. He imagined it must be a little like the Moon back in the 20th century, before space travel became commonplace. Men had gone there, it had been mapped, but it was still just a dream to most people; hanging softly in the night sky, always there but out of reach. Even several hundred years after its discovery, Locque was strictly access-only. The early thoughts of dimensional tourism had never come to pass.

He remembered the first day, after a nerve-racking drive from his new (company-owned) house, passing through the gates of the facility and stepping out of the car. Row after row of other vehicles surrounded him and even from the car park he could see the bunker - as he soon found it was affectionately known - at the other end of the complex. That first week was all bureaucracy and health and safety, like pretty much any other job. It was the second week that they let him into the bunker and he saw the zero-point turbine, suspended in the centre and encased in its spherical cage. It had been built as a means to create unlimited energy reserves; it had instead opened a door to another world. Messy science, but it had changed everything.

This all happened a long time ago. In the age of information five hundred years wasn't quite the same as it used to be. From 1500 to the year 2000 was a period of seismic change only partly and irregularly documented. 2000 to 2500 had seen similarly gargantuan advances but they'd all been minutely recorded in encyclopedic detail. Every news report, blog post and tweet still existed, perfectly archived. It made history seem smaller, much like flight had shrunk the world.

Everybody wanted a piece of Locque. Marketing agencies wanted to conduct A/B tests. Military wanted to test new weapons. Big pharma had a new test ground before taking a product to the shelf. Scientists of every creed had a new live laboratory. And while some tiny protest groups still existed, for the most part the existence of Locque had become boring for most people, and thus moral oversight was negligible.

Wynton, though, had never wanted to work at the facility. He'd never even thought about it, until the rep arrived at his dorm and made the offer. The world's relationship with its parallel sibling had always troubled him, even when he was a child. Studying the subject was an obvious move, as history had always fascinated him and the interaction with Locque had influenced Earth as much as the reverse. It was a symbiotic relationship, even if the people of Locque had no idea.

But Wynton was an objector. And nobody knew.

Yet here he was, still at his desk, lights down low, everybody else already having gone home, or to the pub. Still at the desk, still in the job, still doing the work he'd grown up hating. This place, with its endless paperwork, ate away at people's morality in tiny bites. They don't notice it until they were way too far down the line. He'd seen it happen to other people but had told himself that he was working on the inside to understand the situation better. Maybe he could be a change agent, and influence the company towards a better position. He'd entertained a fantasy of bringing down the entire facility and destroying the turbine, thus freeing the people of Locque.

Instead, he shuffled files and tracked people and did what he was told. His historical qualifications didn't even mean anything - he'd been promoted out of that initial role and was now more of a self-taught psychologist and social analyst, attempting to predict cultural movements. As an analyst he had been brought in at an early stage to track 'patient zero', the latest in a long line of massive cock-ups by the genoshift department.

Genoshift. Now there's a project that should never have been given the green light. But that was way before his time - centuries before, in fact.

The flickering glow from the monitors lit up the room. He switched between cameras, bringing up occasional news reports. Hunting for a shape-shifting target was about as needle/haystack at it could get. It made him wish that they had allowed more advanced computing technology to surface on Locque - having a social observance element would make finding an individual considerably easier. Instead he was limited to crawling through archaic newsprint and primitive scheduled television programming.

Patient zero had caused a lot of headaches. They'd just about covered up the massacre in the Aviary, though it was touch-and-go as to whether the winged idiots in charge were going to be cooperative. A couple of squads being vaporised would test anyone's faith.

Then there was Holt. He was becoming more dangerous all the time - and not just to the inhabitants of Locque. He represented typical thinking, with Locque being nothing but a theoretical testing ground. Or a playground. Even though he was the only one on their team to have actually travelled inter-dimensionally, he had the least regard for Locque's people.

A message popped up on Wynton's wrist. It was his wife. Dinner was in the oven, ready to be heated up when he got home. Zane was already asleep, by some miracle. He scrunched his eyes closed, let out a loud sigh, then stretched and pushed away from his desk. Time to go home.

He grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair, slung it over his shoulders and pushed open the door, emerging out into the bunker's cavernous turbine hall. It was dark, the only lights being the blue of the turbine and the walkway guides. He shivered.

It was only a short distance from the office to the bunker's exit. He passed through the airlock and guard station, nodding to the guy on shift, then headed down the grey corridors towards the car park. He really needed to get back on the job search, but he already knew that he'd be too tired by the time he got home.

He'd get back, have dinner, head upstairs to bed with Sonja, be woken up at 3am by his son, then drive back into work for another identical day of fruitlessly searching for somebody who didn't want to be found.

Same thing, same job. Always the same.

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