9Volt 2

Title: A Hole in Mars

rating: +1+x

The New Houston crater is as wide as the city it now exists in the place of and is deeper than any other crater on the Martian surface. It is impossible to the see the bottom — even with midday approaching the shadows within it still mask the interior. Agent Alessio Calabrese stands several meters from the edge, at the point where the western dunes enter their gradient from dust to shrubs to trees, ending in the forests to the east. He peers in. What little of the crater's walls he can see are completely smooth, like the city had been cleanly cut from the planet and whisked away.

"The whole day felt, odd, you know," says Gareth Traves, standing next to Alessio while trying to ignore the complete lack of city. He's a squat man with an unkempt beard who's spent far too much of his life working in the iron mines, and he's one of few New Houstoners to have been out of town when it vanished.

"How so?" Alessio asks, continuing to take in the full scope of the crater.

"Felt like I was… Waiting, for something I didn't know about."

"Was there anything else in your life you could've been nervous about?

"Nothing. Wasn't just me, too. Everybody at the mine felt the same. We all had that look on our faces, y'know, the teensy bit of worry. Tried to talk it out but nobody could guess. Like we were all expectant of something nobody was ready for. Some people shrugged it off but no, you gotta trust these feelings, y'know?"

Alessio gives a slight nod.

"So I stayed the night shift. And then I stopped feeling it at the time… At the time…"

"The time the crater showed up?"

"The time the crater showed up."

The only reason they consider it a crater, instead of some demented sinkhole, is from the unidentified object that cut a blinding trail through the sky and boomed over the downtown markets at midnight. Exactly one minute later all communications from the city cut out. In that time the few AresNet communications from the populace were all confused shock over whether it was space junk that just hit them or, worst case scenario, a missile. The hole left behind was found an hour later, when a transporter truck nearly drove off the road's end and straight in. Its driver called for emergency crews and the Foundation scrambled.

Even if they assumed this was a "meteor" impact, what the hell had it done?

Gareth crosses his arms and taps his foot. "You know, I dunno about you, but I get the feeling it was the Martians that did this."

"The Martians."

"Them tripods have always been up to something, I'm telling you. They want their planet back and they're gonna— I'm telling you, they're gonna make more of these craters until we got nothing."

"You honestly believe they have the technology needed to do this? Think that weapons that could do this survived that war of theirs? And the reset?"

"Well maybe not the Martians, but the cones. Cones could've done it."

Alessio raises an eyebrow. "Cones?"

"The cones, those arthropod things with all the tumors on them. They're hiding in the shadows enough that they have to be doing something." Gareth's eyes keep tracking invisible shapes, like he's expecting a clue for a grand conspiracy to emerge before him any second now. "Oh! One of my pals in New Houston said he saw one in the woods last night, and a guy I heard about in Luna Korea swears that something like 'em exists in… In… where was it…"

"Can I make a request, my friend?"

The rapid fire theorizing stops. "What?"

“People will say a lot of stuff to get attention. Don’t believe every urban legend you hear.”

Alessio walks off and hopes the conversation ends at that. It’s too early in the morning to be amnesticizing anyone.

Low rumbles. More of the Foundation's trucks roll out of the forests, carrying their burdens of scanners, satellite uplink masts, personnel habitation modules, and, in the event everything goes awry, the massive cylinder of a Scranton Reality Anchor. All around the crater emerge monitoring outposts of bulky, cubic electronics, with researchers darting between them and the trucks to drag more equipment out. It feels like a containment site is growing before his eyes.

He walks along the sand to the outpost nearest to him. Beneath a small tent Researcher Marika Pentti unfolds the solar panels of a soon-to-be backup electrical generator, barely noticing Alessio enter.

She jumps up when she hears his footsteps. "Anything from him?" Marika is just a few inches taller than Alessio is and her hair hasn't been washed in a week, likely from how much lab work she's been stuck in. Unlikely she'll have any time soon now that New Houston is gone, too.

"No. He's in the dark like everyone else we've interviewed. Only common thread is sneaking dread before the event."

"Drat. Hold this for me." She throws a liquid nitrogen cooling unit into his hands while she shifts focus from the panels to an aetheric resonance imager's computer screen. "Best progress we got is the satellite readings from when this happened. Massive ARad surge from the spot when the meteor came. Like a thaumonuke went off. Thanks." She pulls the cooling unit from his hands and hefts it into a slot on the imager's chassis, slamming the slot's lid shut.

"…You believe a thaumonuke went off?"

"Nope. No fallout. But it had comparable power."

"So it was magical in nature."

"At least to a degree. Problem's that…" A moment of pause while she concentrates on adjusting dozens of dials on the imager to the precise settings. "Problem's that we got nothing else. No EM rad, no Hume weirdness, absolutely nothing we can detect. Aside from how ill-fitting your clothes are in the damn Martian outback."

Alessio frowns and tugs on his shirt cuffs. "This is standard issue. Designed for this terrain, too."

"Stillllll stupid. Okay, done."

A last switch is flipped and the imager whirrs on. Its main sensor, an insect eye array of small cameras that's as wide as Marika is tall, starts receiving all of the thaumic particles given off from the surrounding area, displayed as a heatmap on the computer screen. Nothing from the crater is detected.

"Up to help wheel this and the panels outside?"

"Well, you have caused severe emotional trauma by insulting my clothing…" He smirks. "But yes, I can help."

All around them the Foundation continues to thunder in.

* * *

Midday arrives and the crater remains an abyss. The shadows didn't leave as the sunlight entered, only flowing over to keep the bottom obscured. Alessio bites into his lunch sandwich, watching the green reflected light of scanning lasers drift along the crater walls. The moment they touch the shadows the lights vanish.

"Best guess is it's either perceptual or a visible light barrier." Marika's face is practically in her laptop screen, catching all the new data the instant it arrives.

"Maybe both?" Alessio says.

"Maybe both… Oh. This is odd."

To make his life easier, she projects the computer model on her screen into a hologram — a ring-like rendering of the visible portion of the crater.

"If the scans are giving the right hints about this structure, it may be… less cratery then expected." Keyboard clicks and the rendering extends down, walls sloping into a central point.

"A cone?"

"Yup. Approximately 10 km deep."

Alessio idles, trying to piece together the implications. Assuming this wasn't an impact crater, which it was becoming increasingly unlikely to be, and ignoring the possibility of the whole city and its chunk of land popping out of existence, then there was was the possibility of the ground losing its cohesion, causing the city to sink down a narrower and narrower chute while being crushed into itself. Attempting to take the ever enigmatic shadows into account only led the theories down darker paths.

His walkie-talkie buzzes.

« This is Agent Lovell. Get back to the base pronto, the media's taken notice and we need as many people to handle the situation as possible. »

"They've found out already?" The overlapping chatter of a nearby crowd comes into focus.

« Yes. I'd advise you start thinking of cover stories now. »

"Alright, over."

Throwing his half-eaten meal into his bag, he says a brief goodbye to Marika before leaving — depending on how engrossed she is she may not have even noticed. As he jogs to the Foundation's perimeter around the area, he becomes disturbed with how his sole thoughts on New Houston are how glad he is that it wasn't an actually important place that was lost.

* * *

The sun is halfway down the sky and the horizon is hues of flame orange. The provisional containment site slows its growth for the day, having successfully formed a ring of research stations and security outposts around the crater. Agents usher the New Houstoners from the area despite their protest, providing them with empty promises of how they will be informed on any updates to the anomaly to ease their nerves — the situation is beyond them now. Alessio exits the provisional office, having bid his farewells to the civilians, and takes a deep breath of the chilling Martian air.

This is when he and everyone else hear the horns.

They are discordant cries, like an off-key orchestra of trumpets and humming. At first it bellows from everywhere around them, blotting out any other sound, but after several seconds of its wailing it narrows in origin, first from the crater then from somewhere deep inside it. Tremors shake the ground.

Alessio fumbles for the walkie-talkie. "What the hell is happening?" He spots Marika dashing from her outpost to the provisional office.

« We don't know, » says Lovell. « I'd advise getting away from… » The voice turns to white noise.

Gauging the distance between himself and every nearby shelter, Alessio doubles back on himself, sprints to the office door, flip his keycard over the scanner and steps in. The door slams shut. No staff are on this floor, every cubicle left unoccupied. Up a stairwell comes hushed speech. He quickly ascends the stairs to Floor 2, where researchers take nervous glances out the windows while hiding under them, then ascends again up a ladder to the top of Observation Tower 3. Marika and several other huddle around the same computer terminal. Agent Vivian Lovell keeps watch on the crater through the tower's wide windows.

« They're all silent. All of them, » buzzes a radio. « Even Traves stopped talking. »

"Hello, Lovell?"

"Are they doing anything else?" he says, still focusing on the crater.

« Just… Staring into… Wait. One of them's humming now. »

"Humming?"

"Lovell?"

« It sounds exactly the same as… » White noise then radio silence.

"Lovell."

"Oh, yes Calabrese." They glance at Alessio, nod, and turn back to the window. "Good to know you made it inside."

"Does anyone know what's going on out there?"

"No. It felt safe to get everyone… in…. doors, though…" Their eyes are drawn to something.

Leaning over, Alessio peers over the landscape, the Foundation's perimeter, the crater, searching for anything that could have drawn Lovell's attention. Behind them, the crowd of researchers around the terminal turn silent.

"What is it?"

"…"

He spots it. The rust colored sands. Lines emerge in them, as if the fingers of an invisible hand are dragging themselves through it. And as if the hand pushes its palm downwards, three imprints of a six-fingered hand emerge. The imprints shift and leave fractal trails, expanding in size to fill the full space between the Foundation's buildings and the crater edge, fingers twisting to individually "grasp" each outpost before moving to the next and the ones after. Dust turns to glass and blinks crystal eyes at the onlookers in the tower.

The horns blare again. The glass and imprints are blown away in torrents of winds from the crater's center, scattering equipment from the outposts and dousing the buildings in red iron dust. What Alessio sees as an absence of a body retracts into the pit, vanishing.

They are both silent. Marika taps Alessio's shoulder and beckons him to the terminal. Pushing aside the crowd, he sees the aetheric heatmap of the crater on the computer monitor. Something was in the crater. Something with a pyramid-shaped head, body blinding white with intensity unrivaled any other source of thaumic energy detected by the imagers, dragging a tangle of three arms into the pit depths. Something that slinks into the crater's shadows and drops off the heatmap.

The horns hush. Alessio swears he hears a voice saying "It is nothing, only onlookers" as the last trumpet goes from whisper to quiet.


Nightfall. For kilometers around the provisional containment site is the sole light source in this part of the Martian outback, even then still fainter then the bustling cities far away. The crater remains pitch black.

Drones lift from the edge and arrange into triangle formation over the pit, hovering in circles as a test to ensure their rotors are in working condition. Each ones trains a laser — intended to detect any potential spatial distortions — on the other, the camera lenses focus themselves, and the radios bleep out a message confirming that all equipment is operable. STALKER tracking units complete the psionic triangulation startup while feeds of orange data stream along computer terminals before the eyes of researchers. They are go for descent.

In-sync, the drones lower, passing the edge and clicking their floodlights on to illuminate the crater wall. At first the interior seems identical to the imaging of it from the edge outposts, up until scanning lasers pick up an irregularity. The walls lack the progressive sloping inwards observed earlier. The outposts run their scanners again. Same result: conical when viewed from outside, cylindrical drop straight down when within. The spatial alterations are noted and the drones continue further.

At the two kilometer mark come the shadows that had kept obscuring the bottom enter. The darkness forms a literal sea of blackness beneath the drones, which oscillates and blows around as the rotors near them. A mechanical arm extends from Drone 3, lowering past the shadow's surface, finding that below it is just more empty space. They lower further. Static floods the radio feeds then ebbs out. Under the shadows is more of the same, with no bottom in sight.

They lower further, and further, and further, witnessing no changes in structure, spotting no sign of New Houston or any remnant of it. The drones break formation. No orders were sent to shift position and yet it happen in the span of seconds. The lasers they had trained on each other are still detected exactly as they were before, despite camera feeds showing meters of displacement between them. The walls lose the rough Martian dirt texture and smoothen out. Lights like broken pixels flicker in the dark.

Reality glitches. Zig-zags of fluorescent light spasm out of the broken pixels and the drones instantly shift into horizontal linear formation. Shards of energy rain from overhead and they shift into vertical linear formation, then back to horizontal, then to square formation, with a fourth drone emerging from nothing then disappearing back into the nothing. The crater walls shift hue from rust to bright red. It jerks like invisible arms are tugging it in opposite directions.

CRUNCH. The walls smash into Drone 1's rotors. The drone launches through a hole of blue into another tunnel, and another, and more as the tunnels branch into a luminous fractal that leads nowhere. A six fingered hand descends and dices the machine into microscopic slices from the sheer force of its presence.

Drone 3 goes blind; too many irises block the views of its cameras. Planck temperature plasma shoots from the corneas and footage ends.

Drone 2 survives, if only for a moment. The walls detach from the rest of the crater into a hollow cylinder, thinning to a ring and thinning into sparks in a starlit abyss that becomes existence. Stars rearrange into an infinitesimally wide spindle with spectral threads looping around it and launching into the cosmos. The drone is tugged in. The drone burns.

On the Martian surface, computers register the STALKER tracking units as merging into a single point in spacetime, 9.999 km from the surface. One by one the units fall silent.


Murmurs fill the Central Command chamber. The researchers lean back in their chairs, still staring at the three wide computer displays at the front of the room and the red text marking them.

[CONNECTION LOST]

As much as some wish they could, the messages don't change. What the specifics of the drones' discovery mean are far from clear, but the ramifications certainly are. Everyone has come to the same realization. No one is comfortable enough to say it.

Two of the lead researchers start whispering to themselves about filing an SCP designation, turning the provisional containment site permanent. Chairs creak. The room grows stuffy. Alessio pulls his coat from his seat and leaves the room.

A corridor later and he's back outside, stepping down a few stairs to the stairs. His breath is visible in the heavy chill that clings to the Martian night. Phobos is a shining blotch in the sky, and if he looked hard enough he could spot the pinprick dot of Earth, but he doesn't bother. The world feels stiller than it had been at any other point that day, most of the Foundation's personnel either in the process of falling asleep or quietly moving through the motions of their night shifts. It's been a long day.

« Calabrese, are you outside right now? »

He lifts the walkie-talkie and turns to Observation Tower 3. "Yes. You're still awake?"

« I have business with regional site directors in a few hours, so I need to occupy myself. »

"Catching no breaks today."

« Indeed, but that's not why I'm contacting you. »

Light scratches echo from someplace far off. Probably just the movement of any machines that still need to be set up.

« I wanted to tell you that, as of now, you're the only person outside by the crater. »

"…The only person?"

« The only person. Outposts are running autonomously for now and the guards are being briefed. I doubt you'll encounter any problems but after the incident with the horns we need to ensure everyone's safety. One person alone isn't the safest. »

Further light scratches, somewhere nearby.

"Don't worry, I'm only here to here catch my breath. I'll be heading back inside…"

Scratching.

"…in a few…"

Scratching.

"…moments."

Scratching. Ten meters to the perimeter of of the site, between Central Command and a block of empty offices, is the electric fence the the sound likely originates from. He can't see the origins, though. A wall of unopened crates blocks it off from him.

"I'm hearing an odd scratching sound coming from the perimeter fence nearest to me. Do you have any visuals?"

« Negative. This tower only has a view of the top of it. Relaying this info to the other towers. »

Walking ahead and inching to the crater edge to keep a safe distance, Alessio peers past the crates. The fence is intact. The scratching continues.

« Towers 1 and 2 are spotting nothing. »

"Should I proceed?"

« Only do so with caution, we're sending in guards to accompany you. »

"Understood. I'm heading in now, over."

He hooks the walkie-talkie back onto his belt. With every step he takes forward the scratching intensifies, reaching a point where it no longer sounds like scratching, more like high pitched whispers. Red lights blink on a power box by the fence. It's out of power. No other lights are on.

Alessio clicks his flashlight on. It scans the shadows as he inches closer, warding them off and finding nothing abnormal. The revving of a nonexistent car interrupts the whispers. Behind the fence is nothing. Nothing but tire treads stretching out into the dunes. They stop just at the very edge of the fence.

The whispers seem to quiet as he takes out his walkie-talkie again. "I've only found tire treads leading to the fence. The scratching is—"

« ▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒ »

White noise screeches and he lunges back, instinctively hurtling the walkie-talkie. It ricochets from the fence. Ripples spread along the barrier's surface, wires dripping like they were fluid, tire treads swaying in invisible waves. As Alessio raises his gun the whole fence bursts outwards in a slow motion explosion while the space behind it morphs into the wreck of a United Mars Mining Co. transporter truck. Debris glitches and the thaumic illusion collapses. All there are now are broken wires and the truck that had been driven straight into it.

"Calabrese? What's going on over there?" shouts an approaching security guard.

But Calabrese can't respond. He's noticed the bodies inside the truck cabin. They're crushed under metal and shattered glass. They're still moving. Their eyes glow.

"Calabr—"

The cabin explodes. He's launched back by the blast and his gun spirals out of his grip, witnessing the bodies inside throwing themselves out and shambling upright. One of them staggers out of the dust cloud.

"Sorry about the damage but we need to be let in," says Gareth Traves, voice oscillating between pitches under a layer of static. "We need to be in there." Glyphs arranged into a third eye stare at Alessio in synch with Gareth's normal pair, all three erratically flashing.

"Gareth? What happened to you?" Alessio reaches for his holster and grabs empty air.

Alarms across the containment site blare. The others, the rest of the New Houstoners who avoided the city's vanishing, shamble and slowly enter a mad sprint. The guards fire but their bullets vaporize centimeters away from impact. Space warps in trails behind their forms.

"The horns made us realize what was inside us. Never had a clue 'til we heard heaven."

"I don't know what you think is down that crater but trust me, you don't want to be in there." His hands shift further along his belt. He still has his hypercuffs.

"And trust me, New Houston needs us down there. We were supposed to be in there when the crater took it. Humanity needs us down there."

A monitoring outpost and its aetheric imager smash apart, a New Houstoner pushing through it like water. They all reach the edge simultaneously, leap up, and plunge in. Gareth is walking far slower than his companions, too focused on Alessio.

"If so then I don't think there's much I can do to stop you…" He fumbles for the cuff's activation button. "…but can I ask you one question?"

"What?"

He throws the handcuffs. Runes along their sides blast neon pink and it magnetizes straight to the thaumic signature Gareth radiates, latching onto his hand and pulsing electrical currents through his nerves. The third eye ignites, glaring. He careens forward while dragging spacetime along with him, whipping the sand and Alessio in a blur of twisted light. They shear over the edge fast enough that Alessio has no time to react. When he can finally comprehend what's happening the world is rapidly dropping out of view and the crater's darkness creeps in.

Gareth becomes a comet of arcane energies, his eyes the focal point from which it flares outwards. He joins the New Houstoners in being lances of light that shoot down at rates faster than Alessio can understand. Shrapnel from what used to be the hypercuffs trails off. The walls turn to blurs with the glitching reality the drones witnessed entering and transitioning straight to the starfield, the spindle entering view. Nebulas shift into visions of New Houston, a city on a conical spire of rock. Every third eye plots new courses and the New Houstoners fly to their home. Alessio doesn't. He soars on, only able to watch as the city contorts into appendages he can only rationalize as hands that crush the New Houstoners between their pincers.

And he keeps soaring. Soaring through constellations whose stars link by chains up higher-dimensional light. Soaring through planets that stretch out of space's blackness into white space and green space and an endless rainbow of spaces. Soaring through megastructures of pure crystalline information ringing lightning bolts of consciousness that dance through a matrix of shimmering hiveminds, Existential Planes 1 to 2 through $\aleph_{0}$ and onwards and that's ignoring how many other axes worlds are stretched along like daggers of light, everything orbiting the spindle in a tsunami of colors and concepts he never could've imagined.

A hand dredges him from the waves. Spacetime becomes a cage that loops on itself no matter what direction you run, ringed by flourescent nothingness that skewers thoughts no matter how hard you try to unthink them. It that grabs him stares into his sub-sub-subatomic structures with a head of obsidian eyes, bringing to mind images of burning worlds and deities gutted for their crimes, casting its Judgement: Alessio Calabrese does not belong here.

Pincers crush him—

—and he's back on the crater edge. Gun barrels are trained at his head. Marika stands by one of the two artillery cannon-like Scranton Reality Lasers that aim at him. She says something about ARad readings to the agents standing by, looking to Alessio nervously. He can't hear. The hum of the anchors is too loud. He shakes, experiencing gravity like he was a newborn child who had never felt its presence until now. To the east the sun rises.

"Put me into containment. Now." he says.

He faints.

* * *

Humanoid Containment Cell A21 is as cozy as a metal box with no access to the outside world can be. Alessio lounges on the chamber's bed, finishing a mental integrity-testing mind game for the 16th time since he's woken up, spinning the tablet it displayed on between his fingers.

« Calabrese? » Lovell says over the intercom.

"Aren't you breaking memetic hazard quarantine by speaking to me?" Putting the tablet aside, he leans up.

« "We would, if we picked up any hazards on you. Whatever you encountered down there spared you, seeing as the video feed your implants picked is one of the most potent infohazards we've come across. »

"Infohazards? Really?"

« Yes but they're dealt with, so the memeticists say. For now we need to temporarily let you out. »

One wall panel slides open, displaying garbs more suitable for outdoors, desert travel than the D-Class-style suit he is currently wearing.

"I'm assuming something has happened."

Lovell doesn't respond. Instead, another wall panel opens and folds into a computer monitor. An image flashes onto it.

« This is a live feed. »

"It— How is it—"

« Aside from Gareth and his crew of now comatose semi-thaumaturges, you're the only person that was down there. We're hoping you can figure it out. »

He rushes to the clothes and immediately starts changing.

* * *

The live feed didn't lie.

New Houston was back.

All of it.

The four skyscrapers in the city center, the amassed and deteriorated apartment blocks, the swaths of ramshackle homes constructed from 2030s-era colonist insta-home kits mixed with any scrap available, the solar panel farm. The trees, the grass, the citizens — none of them even realized something had happened until, from their view, the world instantly switched from midnight to midday — the animals, the few Martians wandering through.

All back and in perfect condition. Like the city had never even left.

Guards flank Alessio, who has a mechanical muzzle that screens his every world for memetic hazards strapped over his mouth and his hands locked behind his back with hypercuffs, and lead him through the markets of New Houston. They pass by rows of stores selling bootleg paratech until reaching a roundabout where several roads converge. In its center, where a simple patch of weathered concrete once resided, is an eight meter tall jet black obelisk. The only remnant of the anomalous.

The guards lead him past the crowds of onlookers, pushed back by additional security, and lift a hazard tape barrier so he can enter the roundabout.

"Is this what you wanted me to see?"

« Affirmative. Can you see the symbols along its sides? »

He looks closer. The shining sun hinders his inspection, and with hands cuffed there's no hope of blocking the glare. Despite this he still spots the glyphs, shifting along the obelisk's sides like waves. None have a definite form yet his head knows they are a language. This is the only conclusion his brain can rationalize. All alternatives are refused.

"I— I can. I can." His breathing quickens.

« Alright good. Would it be possible for you translate what you see? Memeticists have had no luck and, considering your exposure to— »

"Stop."

« Is something wrong? »

"S-s-stop. Stop."

The obelisk face was pulsating. The glyphs arranged into sequential blobs he interpreted as "open file."

« We aren't witnessing any unusual behavior. What are you seeing? »

The glyphs break apart, arrange, break apart, arrange. Thinking about the best possible response, he chooses "open."

"I'm seeing the glyphs—""

The obelisk side nearest to him twists into a corkscrew that extends and drills straight into his head. Alien concepts intrude into his headspace, swarming his thought process in a chaos of glistening azure light. The ones unrecognizable to humans weed themselves out, leaving behind a message etched into his thought and sight.

We regret to inform you that, during analysis of a sample size of your civilization, the following issues and errors arose:

  • Insufficient quantities of metaphysical organs within brain structures.
  • Deficiencies in third eyes and the lacking of knowledge for third eye-bearers to commence quickening.
  • Overreliance on the Thaumatic Body and its vitals for reality alterations to Existential Plane 0.
  • The complete lack of knowledge on infovores…

The mental equivalent of a record scratch occurs and his mind jumps past monolithic walls of text that extend for kilometers into his subconscious.

  • Attempts by third eye-bearers to alter the sample size.
  • Attempts by third eye-bearers to combat Inspection Hiveminds.
  • Inabilities to identify ▓▓▓▓▓

As such, HUMANITY has not been selected as a candidate for ascension. We wish you better luck next time.

"…"

« Calabrese, do you read me? »

"I'm here. I'm here. I was— I saw…"

A sigh of relief passes through the radio speaker. Alessio glances to the guards, then to the crowds. Nobody has reacted. Everything that happened had all been in his head.

« What did you see? »

"…Since I've joined the Foundation I've… I've never been sure about god, or the gods, or whatever else may be above us, so I don't… understand, everything that's happened. All I know is that we—"

Half a kilometer above them is a bang. The agents and the crowd turn to see a ball of light cut a blinding trail from a spot above the markets up into the air, turning into a bright mote over the horizon. As quickly as it arrived it fades out of being.

"…We failed a test and I don't know if we should be glad we did."



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