The dream, when it comes, is as alien as always. I'm at the Kenyan Floyd concert, they're going through The Wall highlights, playing familiar songs with their own flair and unique rendition. A huge inflated balloon in the shape of a zebra floats through the stadium. The crowd hums and thrums, sings along to the decades-old songs as if this was opening night.
There's an aquarium on stage. A fish about twenty feet long swims upwards through a torrent of air bubbles. Two men stand at the bottom of the aquarium, their hair moves back and forth with the currents, as they describe their account of the grizzly murder scene to a single blue-hatted police officer. The victim lies at their feet, its robotic body mangled and torn at random spots, its right arm hangs by a single power cable.
Six green laser paths hang in the air over the audience and vibrate whenever the Gilmore-masked band-member strums his guitar.
Dog-headed Anubis stands on a cliff high over the crowd and holds a fishing rod, trying his best to catch the more out-of-it members of the audience.
I'm jostled awake, the dream is gone, the song is over. My seat belt digs into my right shoulder as the police drone dives down in its final descent.
We circle a cluster of buildings, a deep dark hole in the space between them. Red and blue lights blink in a perimeter around the buildings. The drone approaches the north end of the cluster, where there is a heavier concentration of blinking lights.
We touch down and I am met by a beat cop droid, Walenski. It leads me through the hazard-yellow holo barrier that momentarily flashes green as we cross. We walk between the buildings and toward the dark center that I saw from the sky.
My assistant droid Jermane keeps pace about a dozen yards behind me. It carries my go-bags of supplies.
There is a staircase and we descend it. I get a flashlight out of my jacket and check out the strange industrial spaces around us. Thick pipes run alongside walls and under the grated floor. Walenski has night-vision, so it doesn't bother with a flashlight. Neither does Jermane.
Two landings down I can see a light-source in one of the side tunnels. We follow the tunnel to a large high-ceilinged room.
Light drones hover up above us, practically in the rafters of this underground warehouse, and provide illumination. Two detectives are standing over a cluttered workspace in the corner. They look up as we enter.
Toombs and Herald, Major Crimes, they work murders. These guys don't particularly like my type.
"Detectives, good evening."
"Anne," Toombs nods in my direction. Herald waves and gets back to investigating the workbench. Toombs comes over to us and glares at Walenski. "Get outta here, go be a crossing guard or something." The beat droid nods and high-tails it out of the warehouse and back up to the surface.
"What is this place?" I look around and try to make sense of my surroundings.
"This whole spot is one of those off-the-grid compounds, you know, self-reliant. We're in the treatment plant, which takes in the output from the six apartment buildings around it, uses bacteria to clean the shit, pumps the clean sludge back to them for recombination or for use as fertilizer. Even use the methane from the bacteria for power. Welcome to Waverly Downs." Toombs has to look down at his notes to find the name of the compound.
"Huh, OK. And this room? What's it for?" I wave around us. Shelves of chemicals line the walls.
"Chemical workshop for the recycling plant. They need these chemicals to keep the algae alive and happy."
"OK. So, what happened?" I nod over to Herald. He's investigating the workbench with a pair of high-res specs.
"The security guard found a body, called us. He first thought it was just a break-in, a junkie OD'd or something, but then one of the beat bots found an eye."
"Just one eye? Nothing else?" I ask.
"It's not a human eye. That's why we called you." Toombs shrugs in a familiar manner. He doesn't really care about this case. "We've got two dozen drones crawling over this place, we'll have a map for you in a bit. Want to talk to the security guard?" Toombs hooks a thumb in the direction of a small man seated on top of a transport droid.
The man starts moving toward us, the droid's steps echoing sharply through the big room. The short man is holding a cigarette, practically inhaling it, the red ember visible as his lungs expand and pull in smoke.
"Anne Webb, Incursion." I extend a holo card to the security guard. He takes it and hands me one of his. Sylvester Roth, it reads. "Sylvester, can you tell me what you saw?"
"Sure sure sure, there was a light, I followed it, saw a man with torch, then he gone. Thief, methinks? Methinks, yeah. I call beats, we find man dead. They find eye. Is I safe?" Sylvester nervously drops the nearly-depleted smoke on the ground and fishes a brand new one out of his jacket.
The detectives send over the scans of the facility. I quickly glance through them, see that the facility is empty except for the police presence and Sylvester. I haven't felt any active incursions either. "Yeah, you're safe Sylvester. Thanks for calling this in. Where did they find the eye?"
Sylvester extends the arm with the newly-lit cigarette, I follow it to the corner of the room close to the entrance. A short holo barrier is setup there.
Sylvester follows me as I walk over to the barrier, the click of his droid is the only sound in this place. Jermane follows us, but its feet are padded and it moves silently. Toombs and Herald are back to examining the workbench, bent over the corpse in a blue uniform.
Inside the holo barrier is a strange scene. A large glass jar sits broken on the ground, some liquid is still pooled around its partially-intact bottom. There's more of the strange goopy liquid on the ground around it. And there, as advertised, is a huge non-human eye. The jar looks old, dust and grime cover its exterior, but the eye looks practically fresh. Is it well-preserved, or just recently removed?
"Thanks. And what about the man? What happened with him?"
"You not interested in eye? You Weird Cop? You look at eye!"
"Yeah, I'm a Weird Cop," I admit and wince inwardly at the nomenclature, "but this isn't a Weird eye. I'm going to see about that body." The security guard is still giving me a confused look, so I just brush past him and walk over to the detectives.
"What happened to him?" I ask and point at the corpse.
The body is that of a man in his early 30s. He's wearing a blue uniform with a biotech company logo on it. He's lying on his back, in front of the workbench. The grip of a screwdriver is sticking out of the man's chest, around where the heart would be. Screwdrivers with a similar grip are up on the workbench.
"Security guard found him like this," Toombs offers.
"Guard said he saw a man with a torch?" I'm looking around for a light or whatever might fit the guard's description.
"Haven't seen a torch yet," Toombs replies, dismissive. "You're all done with the eye?"
"For now. What about this?" I point at the corpse. "What do you know so far?"
"He was killed with this screwdriver, right here, in front of the workbench. Pretty much an instant-kill. Probably works here at the treatment plant, we're running down his employment information now. Angle of entry suggests a tall attacker. Probably male, based on the shoe-prints. At a guess, it's a coworker romance that turned sour. Happens all the time." Toombs shrugs, as if he deals with these murders every day.
"Think we've got our scenes mixed up, Toombs." I point back in the direction of the eye. "That is a perfectly normal preserved colossal squid eye. Unless I'm mistaken, it was stolen from the University last fall. And this," I point to the corpse, "is an incursion. I can feel it. Feel it."
Toombs and Herald exchange a look. Herald's head drops and he growls out a string of expletives.
"When did you say the eye was stolen?" Toombs asks as his partner goes off in the direction of the broken jar and Major Crimes' newest case.
"Last summer, July, from Union Hill. There were two eyes in that jar. Good luck tracking down the other one," I wink at Toombs as he follows Herald.
The corpse is as Toombs described it. Pretty obvious stuff, and pretty straight-forward, aside from the fact that this guy is from not around here. As I get closer to him, I feel him, an invisible but eerily radiant heat source. The closer I am to the corpse, the more this other-worldly heat burns my skin.
What were you doing here? I ask the corpse.
I look toward the jar. Did you have anything to do with that?
I look around for the security guard, but don't see him. I pull out Sylvester's card and send him a message: "Did the dead man work at the treatment plant?"
After a short delay, the guard messages me back: "No no no, not ours, definitely, uniform all wrong, hobo, no one, stole old clothes."
I glance back at the detectives as they're bent over the shattered jug. Seriously, good luck..
"Jermane, tools. Start recording." I barely raise my voice, and the droid is at my side, its top is open to my assortment of tools. A red light glows to let me know that I'm now on camera.
I pull out the IFD sensor, take a handful of samples from the mouth, ears, nose. "Looks like our victim has been in our world just two hours. He crossed over around 8pm."
Two hours to get yourself killed? Light-weight, I think with full-on misanthropy and just enough self-loathing.
"The clothing is three pieces: hat, jacket, pants. They're different ages, show distinctly different wear patterns, and are even different sizes. The victim was working with what he had at hand. Wonder what kind of reality he came from." I glance around for any tiny critters, but don't see anything nearby. "Maybe the guard is right, this man got hold of some old uniforms in his world and used them to blend in. But blend in with whom? It's night, there's no one here." I shake my head.
Did you mess up an exchange? I wonder about the corpse being a mule, bringing things to our world, taking things back to his reality.
I slip on my goggles and look around. The corpse glows a pale yellow. There's a trail of footsteps to the workbench, from where the detectives were examining the eye. The ground glows where the man walked and his energy left residual energy spots. Like a creature of fire stepping on and killing grass as it strides through a field.
Something blue glows on the workbench. "Ooh, we got blood splatter here. Jermane, sampler." Jermane passes a small tube over.
I swipe a drop of blood and toss the sampler back at Jermane. It catches and deposits the tube into a small opening at the top of its body.
I look back at the corpse and see that the victim did not bleed much. I continue dictating. "The attack was quick and brutal, but relatively clean. Judging by the lengths of the other screwdrivers on the bench, the victim died pretty quickly after the weapon penetrated his heart."
"The murderer was bleeding. There must have been a fight. Maybe the victim fled here to grab a weapon?" I look around and try to find more droplets, and eventually I spot small bright-blue drops. They form a trail and I follow it. The trail leads in a different direction than the footsteps. The victim and the killer both homed in on the workbench from different directions.
"Jermane, swab this," I point down to one of the larger drops. Jermane squats down by the blood and one of his multiple prehensile limbs sweeps a sampler tube through the blood, then deposits the sample in the analyzer opening of its body. I don't look back, I just know that this is what the droid is doing.
The blood trail leads to the jar. The glowing footsteps are here as well.
Toombs and Herald are watching me.
"Were you planning on telling me about the blood on the workbench?" I ask.
"Sorry boss, slipped my mind." Toombs replies.
There's a small but bright bit of blue on one of the sharp edges of the broken jar. I point to it, "Did you get a sample of that?"
Toombs nods and pops up a detailed holo. "Female, markers indicate she's in her early twenties. And that she's pregnant. She's also not in our databases. Possibly lives here? They're OTG, after all."
"Can we get someone from management down here?" I ask.
"We called and they're sending someone, but you know these nature types, they don't have the best concept of time." Toombs shakes his head in exasperation.
Toombs and Herald are both watching me and it takes me a moment to recall that this is now an Incursion case. They're taking orders from me tonight. I don't like being in this position.
To the cops, this is a cut-and-dry murder. Jealous lovers, screwdriver embeds itself in someone's heart, what's so complex about that? But the fact that I'm here means that there's a Weird side to this that they don't get. Don't want to get.
"Want to run down what we have so far?" I yield the floor to the detectives for the time.
"The dead man and the woman fought here, there was a struggle, the squid jar went flying." Toombs points at a spot on a nearby shelf. The shelf is dusty, with the exception of a circular spot about the size of the glass jar. "Vic ran this way, perp went that way, they made it to the workbench and the perp stabbed the vic."
"What about the guard's statements?" I ask.
"Right. Guard sees a light - the vic or the perp must have brought it down with them - goes to investigate. Maybe the guard spooked the couple, made them drop the jar?" Toombs looks over at Herald, who just shrugs. "Yeah, that's about it."
Toombs looks at me for a beat, then follows my eyes down to the jar.
"Right. We pulled some fingerprints off the glass. Some of the older ones, they came back as University employees. Perp's and the vic's aren't in our database. There were a few smudged prints that belonged to Solomon Henson."
"He was killed in a bar fight before the eyes were stolen." I remember Solomon.
"Ahem," Herald speaks up.
Toombs nods toward Herald then turns back to me, starts something that is clearly prepared remarks: "The eyes were reported stolen after Solomon died. The museum was still closed, and empty, when Solomon was stabbed at a bar just four blocks from here. Probably right after he stole the eyes and hid the jar down here, in the chemical warehouse of a mostly-automated treatment plant, in the shadow of his newfound accommodations, Waverly Downs."
"Fucking Solomon. He must have wanted the eye for an Incursion spell. Not one I'm familiar with, though."
There's a beep from Toombs' datapad. He glances at it for a moment. "The manager's coming down."
"Finally," I sigh with relief.
The manager is a tall skinny man with deeply tanned and wrinkled skin. He looks like he's lived all his life in the tropics, up until just an hour ago.
"Detectives. I'm Samba O'Neal, the manager of Waverly Downs. How can I help you?"
We ask the manager about the dead man, if he's employed by the Downs. Negative, the man is a stranger.
We ask about Solomon. Yeah, he lived here, about a year back. The cops showed up one day, said Solomon caught a blade in the stomach, asked about Solomon's effects. The manager doesn't think much of the guy.
We ask about the blood sample, then ask if he's seen a young woman with a cut. The manager gets angry and then grows quiet. He knows.
"Please give us access to your compound's DNA library," I ask and prepare to be met with anger, refusal. But he just nods.
Jermane pops up a holo listing: "Manjula O'Neal", match for the blood sample Toombs took off the jar, and a match to the blood droplets I got up off the floor and the workbench.
"Where's your daughter, Samba? Why did it take you so long to come down here?"
Samba is in tears.
"Please, don't hurt her, she didn't mean to. She's just a silly girl."
I put the goggles back on and examine Samba. His hands glow faintly.
"You've been near her recently. And she's been near this man. Toombs, track her down." Toombs leaves without a question. Herald comes closer and gets his service weapon out. I glance at him questioningly, he shrugs in a sort of "better safe than sorry" response. "Start talking, Samba. What happened?"
"Manjula, she found some people in the 'sphere, they taught her how to... make a sacrifice, to open a portal."
"That's a couple of federal crimes in there. When did you find out about this?"
My third eye sees a gigantic floating fish.
"FUCK! There's an Incursion nearby!" My gun is out, I tear the goggles off my eyes, I do not need them anymore. A golden light shines through the walls, past mounds of earth, through buildings, a light that only I can see. "Jermane, follow!"
My shoes grow longer, taller, and they are now bouncy. Every one of my steps now covers twelve feet of ground. I sprint out of the warehouse like a train. I leap through the empty space of the open stairwell, right past Toombs, and make it up to the ground floor in three long bounds.
I learned to run like this in Afghanistan and Brazil. It's easier when no one's actively shooting at you. Go figure.
The light is coming from a building on my right, second floor. I look at the supernova and count two beats, time enough for Jermane to notice where I'm looking and figure out the location of the Incursion. Just because Jermane can't see the otherworldly radiance doesn't mean that he can't figure out exactly where I'm looking. I may be a more primitive pointer dog, since I do not stand still and motion toward the prey, but my watcher is a lot more sensitive. Jermane can very quickly see where I am looking, just by tracking my eyes. I help him out, of course, by pointing toward the radiance with my finger, but that's mostly instinct from the rare times when I have to communicate such information to standard humans.
"Jermane, alert Home Office, we've got an active Incursion in Waverly Down!" I yell into the night sky.
I run towards the light, leap over decorative mounds and botanicals, reach the second-floor door in record time. Then it's a long hallway. I leap and fly toward the light. I land in front of the door, then quickly transfer the momentum toward the apartment.
I bash through the door and into the writhing, dancing mass that is Manjula. But it's too late. The light died down before I tackled her. The spell is complete.
I get up, shoot a sleeper round into Manjula, and whirl toward the Incursion. Jermane stands in the doorway, guns at the ready, waiting for my command.
The portal is a shimmering sphere six feet across and I have a hard time looking at it. The portal is that dark purple non-color that you see when you shut and rub your eyes. My vision can't focus and keeps skimming off the portal's unreal surface.
"I am United States Federal Incursion Officer Anne Webb, and by entering this reality you will be violating multiple federal, international, and interdimensional laws. Stand clear of the portal! Do not attempt to pass through the portal, or you will be fired upon!"
My mind splits open and I can't process reality.
I try to shout "Fire!" to Jermane, but I'm not sure if that thought reached my mouth, if the tongue and vocal chords coordinated, if Jermane registered the command.
I try to squeeze the trigger of my service weapon, but same issue, I'm not sure if I'm operating the fingers of my right hand or opening up my sphincter.
I'm at the Kenyan Floyd concert. They are playing Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
They are still playing Shine On You Crazy Diamond. It's been a few days now. I'm enjoying the song, but also starting to get restless.
"When will this end?" I wonder aloud.
Perhaps I was too loud. Every eyeball in the crammed stadium turns towards me. They watch me together, as one. When one blinks, they all blink. It's the strangest sound I've ever heard as a hundred thousand eyelids close and open again in perfect synchronization.
This is why we don't allow interdimensional travel, I think to myself. I look around and remember the familiar landscape. I've been here before. I struggle up the precipice, away from the Kenyan renditions of Space Rock, away from the detectives in their aquarium. I crawl up Anubis' lure, near to the fishing rod and up to his height, to the infinite plateau that stretches above the endless concert.
"What news have you for me, acolyte?"
"You wore out your welcome," I reply to the god of death. "Leave this reality, or we will kill you."
Strong hands close around my neck and pick me up into the air. The god of death does not like that kind of language.
"Who would dare?" Anubis looks into my eyes and I am swallowed by the universe.
Galaxies rush up to meet me. I fall through billions of light years of distance in mere seconds. I slowly approach a galactic disk, fall through its arms and fly past star systems, until a familiar system swims into my vision. I pass ringed planets and a swath of rocks, all to approach a tiny blue marble. The marble expands to be my whole world and I find myself falling toward the West coast of the US of A. I fall down down down, pass through the roof of a complex that looks like a hospital, down through several floors until I make contact with a just-born child.
I am then subjected to a sequential but accelerated first-person look at my life.
Anubis must be running this strange slide-show, and is making me recall my entire life. If I had a body, I would be tapping a finger impatiently and loudly.
We fly through early childhood, pause for a few moments in my awkward teens. I'm watching and waiting.
Eventually the Incursion period of my life comes up, and here the intelligence behind the projector slows us down. I remember University, the recruitment program, the training, and finally The Training.
I stare up at a PowerPoint presentation. The current slide has the University masthead in the corner, "Anubis" in big black letters at the top of the screen, and four rows of hieroglyphics. I spent so much time memorizing slides like these. I sit and stare for what feels like another eternity.
Eventually I blink and reality shifts. The next time I open my eyes, I am back in Manjula's apartment. I am sitting in an armchair in the corner of the room, and it feels like I've been here a while.
On the couch is Anubis. He is looking around. His gaze pauses on some items, then he keeps on looking.
He's taking in the strange apartment in a world without Anubis.
"How... did you kill Him?"
"Trade secret. I will say that it was very painful, for Him. We've learned to be more surgical since then."
"I have seen."
"Right. So, let's get you home?"
"Just a bit more time, please." Anubis pleads with me.
Jermane sits by the door and watches us, but the droid is relaxed, at peace.
I reach for the remote on the table, dial up an oldies station. The faux-oldies screen starts playing an episode of The Simpsons. Anubis sits and laughs. I call in to the precinct: "Incursion is under control. Estimated resolution time, twenty-two minutes."
The Gioconda watches us from behind bulletproof glass, as does The Constitution, and Lenin's corpse. Some things, we seal up to preserve them for all time. We keep them away from tourists, vandals, people who would destroy these objects of importance.
When humanity decided to isolate our reality off from others, we did it not to avoid the tourists. We did it to avoid killing any more gods.
Keeping foreign gods alive and out of our reality is my sole responsibility here at Incursion.