Anomaly: the fifth chapter
There are seventeen colours in the rainbow. Modern science tells us only seven combine to make white light, but modern science is lacking in so many things.
At one time, it was believed the thundergods cleaved the heavens in their struggle for dominance of the higher realms. This was proven wrong when mankind took to the skies and, in reaching the heights only gods had previously trod, committed mass deicide.
That cruel, albeit unintentional, nature has littered our past with
The thoughts were jolted from Deke’s mind as he collided heavily with solid ground. With a head aching as though he were hungover, he opened his eyes – his own eyes, not those of the octopus he had recently inhabited – and was relieved to be back in his office. Beside him lay Roman Zorić, his research assistant, and Vaughn Lynton, a man suspected of murder, each groaning in pain.
Deke tried to recapture the train of thought, wondering if it could shed any light on the predicament they were facing. A seventeen-coloured rainbow, the death of gods and… it was no use. The ideas were fading as quickly as a dream upon waking.
Looking up, he saw the white ring which had transported the three men to the seabed of an alien world hanging motionless in the middle of the room. Through its centre, he made out the figures of Chō, Esme and Rosemary, his until-recently late wife. The worry on Rosemary’s face melted away when she spotted him. Running around the interstellar object, she rushed to his side and helped disentangle him from the other men.
‘Where have you been?’ she asked.
‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,’ Deke said.
‘Considering everything else you’ve told us today,’ Chō said while still intently peering at the space-ring, ‘I doubt there is anything we would dismiss.’
‘Alien octopi,’ Vaughn said in a doubtful voice.
Chō raised an inquisitive eyebrow, reminding Deke of William Bradshaw. One difference between the two of them – aside from gender, nationality and, since a short while ago, existence – was that Bradshaw would not have missed the opportunity to inform Vaughn that, as the word octopus is derived from the Greek, it is incorrect to use a Latin suffix for the plural.
Once the three intergalactic travellers had lifted themselves from the floor and ensured none had suffered any damage in their graceless return to Earth, Deke informed the others of their encounter with Queen, the leader of the alien octopus race.
‘Their scientists confirmed time is disappearing,’ Roman concluded.
‘Which explains why last Tuesday didn’t happen,’ Rosemary said, referring to the day she had died, ‘and why we don’t remember Marika.’
‘But it doesn’t answer how Roman and I remember Marika,’ Deke said, ‘or why the three of us can see her ghost.’
‘So our idea of one or more dimensions intruding on one another is wrong, then?’ Esme said, dejectedly.
‘Not necessarily,’ Chō stated. ‘All we have against it is the word of an alien creature.’
Deke felt his anger rise as the Japanese woman spoke so dismissively of Queen.
‘It was you who said the crossing-dimension theory was unlikely,’ Rosemary countered.
‘Yes, “unlikely”,’ Chō concurred. ‘But that does not mean we should categorically rule it out, not until it has been disproved. What interests me more is that these anomalies which have affected us today were felt all the way across the galaxy. Not just that, but this alien race had the time to locate the source of the anomaly and send this…’ she indicated the floating ring, ‘device across countless astronomical units, all in a matter of hours.’
Deke fought the urge to grab Chō by the lapels and shake some respect into her.
‘Are you suggesting that Queen caused this anomaly and lied to us about it?’ Roman’s voice was dripping with the same vitriol Deke felt. Eyes wide in shock, Esme glared at the man she and Deke had once called the most mild-mannered person on the planet.
Chō looked him levelly in the eye.
‘I am suggesting nothing at the moment,’ she answered calmly. ‘I am simply keeping an open mind to any and all possibilities. The only thing I am certain of in this puzzle is that, of the six of us in this room, three of us remember a different past to two of you. I’m not sure where this gentleman fits in,’ she added looking at Vaughn.
‘He remembers the same things we do,’ Deke snapped. Her words had abated his anger somewhat, but he still felt a strong animosity toward her.
‘Then three remember a Gareth-world and three a Marika-world,’ Chō said, referencing the receptionists to succinctly sum up the situation.
‘Three and six,’ Vaughn said. When they all looked at him in confusion, he elaborated. ‘I might not know what the hell is going on, but I do know that we came back with the minds of the octopi with us.’
Deke recalled Queen’s message: My subjects do not fare well on alien land. I will permit their consciousness to join you.
Of course, he thought. The feeling in my head is not a hangover, it’s the presence of another being.
That would explain his surge of rage. When Chō had seemed to speak ill of Queen, it had been her subject that had grown angry, not him.
He tried to mentally reach out to his internal companion but received no reply. It wasn’t surprising given that they were different species from different worlds. The only reason he had been able to communicate with Queen was because the body he had been inhabiting could read her body language. He doubted the passenger in his head understood verbal communication well enough for them to read each other’s thoughts, but they appeared to sense one another’s emotions.
‘Even if Queen was right,’ Roman said, ‘and the locus of the anomaly is here on Earth, we still have no idea where it is or what caused it.’
‘Or why you are the only ones to remember the altered past,’ Rosemary added.
‘What if this is not an anomaly?’ Esme asked. ‘What if this is how the universe ends, slivers of time disappearing from the past unt’
‘Not another one,’ Vaughn shouted, much to the shock of Rosemary and Chō.
As the two women looked to Deke for an explanation to Vaughn’s outburst, Deke could only stare at the pale image of Esme which stood in the place her solid figure had been. Her mouth continued moving – Deke thought he saw the words ‘until there is no more history?’ form on her lips – but her voice was gone. Esme had become a ghost in the same manner Bradshaw had.
‘No, no, not Esme,’ Roman sobbed.
Deke noticed the changes in the office. Esme’s desk had vanished, the stain on the windowsill where she had spilled coffee was gone.
‘Should we know who this Esme is?’ Chō asked. There was a fearful light in her eyes which Deke found perversely satisfying.
No, he reminded himself, not me; my cephalopod companion.
‘Esme has worked in this office with me for seven years,’ he said flatly. ‘We’ve known each other since university.’ Looking at Rosemary, he said, ‘She was one of our bridesmaids.’
Deke guessed that neither she nor Chō could remember Esme, but he knew they would be aware that someone had just been claimed by yet another anomaly in time. And if a person could disappear from memory, from existence, so quickly and arbitrarily either of them could be next.
The spirit of Esme opened her eyes wide. She seemed to realise what had happened to her. The look of dread on her ghostly face was more terrifying than anything Deke had seen before.
Earlier that morning, at the front desk when Marika had realised he could see her, she had looked lost and confused. Her spirit had no idea what was happening whereas Esme had been party to the discussions around the anomalies and their repercussions.
Deke could not comprehend the fear that comes with knowing she could no longer interact with the world or the realisation that her existence had been erased, that her life had meant nothing. Her parents would no longer remember her, her husband not graced with her love, her children… her children could no longer exist either, he reasoned with a cold shudder.
‘We’ve got to stop this,’ he muttered.
‘But how?’ Roman said. ‘How do we even begin to look for the cause?’
Before Deke could answer, the motionless space-ring began to turn. Deke felt – no, his octopus passenger felt – a swelling pride and just a touch of apprehension.
‘I think they’ve found it for us,’ Deke said, reading the emotions.
‘Who?’ Rosemary asked.
‘Queen’s octopi scientists,’ Vaughn answered. He glanced at Deke, trepidation on his face. ‘Standing around here isn’t helping. Let’s see what she found.’
With a deep breath, Vaughn jumped through the centre of the ring and vanished.
Deke looked at his wife.
‘I love you,’ he said as he followed Vaughn into the unknown.