London versus... by Adam Marks

In the foyer of an averagely busy, official-looking building one man greets another with a shake of the hand. "Hello, Sir. I must say it's really wonderful to have you here at our little base, a real honour it is. Welcome to the Stanmore facility. I am the Site Director and it is a real honour to have you come visit our little set up. Of course..." he nods, " congratulations on your election win...  I know you didn't really win..." The Site Director laughs nervously. "But who does these days...?" He resumes: "The civil service is great, isn't it? I mean, I, um I shouldn't but... between you and me, Mr Prime Minister." He lowers voice. "I don't vote but I am so glad we've got you in now and not that other guy." Now he laughs hopefully, "Ha!" then speaks up again. "No, but, seriously, you must have seen how much make-up he used to wear just to look normal on TV. Eh...? But... I digress, eh? An honour... yes... an honour and I hope you enjoy your tour."

He waits a short while for a response. The Prime Minister responds. "Good, good..." the Site Director says, nodding. "Pindar's really something, isn't, hmm...? But it's not Stanmore, oh no... It's been a long day for you I'm sure and you must have seen a lot of new and quite strange things and we're quite a long away out of town but this should be the last bit, I promise." He gestures. "You'll see why... Let's, um, let's go inside."

The pair go inside. Once inside they approach a door. The door is locked. The Site Director produces a swipe card from his suit pocket. It gains them access. They got through and are now in a hallway between offices, there is daylight evident, work going on and people passing by. The pair walk on.

"You probably know little or nothing about this place and the programmes we have going on.  This is a very special facility, para-state, permanent D-notice blackout. If only people knew the truth, what they go past every day" he says, rolling his eyes, "my goodness me; without a second thought...Yes... I bet you wondered why you were being brought here, eh? Now that the, uh..." He laughs, a little bit embarrassed, "the show business is out of the way it's time to get down to, well, the real business." The Site Director stops to take a deep breath. "What we, uh, what we specialise in here is anomalies, anomalous objects mostly, but not always..."

The Prime Minister has a question. The Site Director listens to the question then responds.

"No, not always dangerous, at least not if they're handled properly. I mean, we have a, um..." He chuckles, "we've got a self-replicating cake recipe. It's got a special ingredient, a, uh, rechronologic oxy-catalyst...What that means is, unless fully digested the cake will renew and reproduce itself every twenty-four hours. Sounds great, doesn't it?  Except, if left to its own devices, the cake would produce 1,073,741,824 copies of itself in thirty days..."

The Prime Minister has another question.

"We found it in the canteen here, six, no, eight months ago and we're still trying to determine what the catalyst is. I think it was someone's idea of a practical joke, one of the lab-guys... I'm just speculating obviously but, you know, there's other stuff too, mind you, like, uh... yes, we've got a man who lives by entirely photosynthesis. Oh, and there's also the door that leads to random locations... There's an eight-ball that predicts the exact opposite of what's going to happen with over 97% accuracy. That's one is kept under very strict control." The Site Director smiles again.

"Now, of course, you haven't been brought here to look at amusing oddities, although I must say we are trying to develop the Door to Anywhere's obvious capabilities for espionage. However, there's one thing in particular that we're all very keen for you to see. It's all part of helping you, Sir; helping you to see the big picture. It's important. This is important. We're all subject to Official Secrets..." He pauses and stops walking.

"Very few people have seen or will ever see what I am about to show you. Most staff work on the tiniest sections of the grand fresco we call the United Kingdom. Even at this level of clearance a secret shared between three people is no secret at all but, as First Minister of the Realm, you need the biggest picture, the biggest of them all. You cannot be kept in darkness... That is why we share... If you may, Prime Minister, before we go through this door..." He gestures to the door, "we will both need to put on these suits..."

All-body, anti-static suits are waiting on a coat hanger by the door. They put them on. The Site Director uses his swipe card again. This door opens to reveal a lift. The pair get inside. The door closes. The Site Director punches a long obscure number into a keypad. The lift goes down an uncertain number of floors. "Would you believe me if I said the lift was here when the facility was established...?" The lift stops, opens and the pair step out. They walk together along a blank, strip-lit hallway. There are numbered doors but no windows. There is silence except for the faint hum of the lights, no footsteps. The hallway is empty. It is anechoic despite not obviously being sound-proofed.
"What I will show you is very old... It's hard to describe, easy to define but hard to describe, yes. It is somewhere between..." The Site Directors thinks about it for a long time. "Between a phenomenon and a thing, if you see what I mean?" Laughing he then says, "well, you don't yet, do you? You can't... but you will soon... That's why you're here... It's protean is what it is...Yes, it flitters between substance and abstraction. It's shape-shifting, certainly. It's sentient too, or seems to be. Sometimes it seems almost human. Other times it's just a swirl of, like, I don't know, rods and cones. Like I say it's very old..."

Another pause. The Site Director and the Prime Minister stop walking.

"Have you ever wondered why there are so few skyscrapers in London? Yes, well, like always there's a good reason and a real reason. This, this is the real reason. This is the Phenomenon." They start walking again at The Man's instigation.

"It's very hard to contain, let alone interrogate, even in its more humanoid form. What we know, though, is it is implacably opposed to the existence of the capital. The first documented attack on London was in 1091, in the form of what was probably an F4 tornado, a twister at least a mile wide. They do happen, Sir, and this one was probably the reason why London lost two thirds of its residents between censuses. There may have been other attacks and this thing does vary its approach though, primarily, it seeks to attack the city explosively or meteorologically. I mean, give you some examples... yes, the Fatal Vespers. Everyone's heard about the incident in Blackfriars. OK, everyone who has heard about the Fatal Vespers has heard about the Blackfriars incident. 1623, the 5th of November or the 26th of October depending on whose calendar you might have kept, 300 people were gathered in the French Ambassador's house to listen to a Jesuit priest give mass and the building collapsed. Some at the time took it as god's terminal judgement on Catholicism, this being only eighteen years after the gunpowder plot. You or I might think, well, there were no building codes back then but there were about a dozen of these incidents that year alone, very common, public venues coming apart in violent, explosive fashion, very common. This is just the one we all know about those of us that know... Anyhow, not long after this we understand that Cromwell and his Ironsides were able to capture and bind the Phenomenon though, sadly, we don't know how. It was kept at the bottom of the Tower until Charles the 2nd had it released. Then, of course, there was the Great Fire... More fool him."

The Site Director lowers his voice.

"Of course the Phenomenon has also been more meteorological at times... Sort of meteorological... It was mostly uncontained in the nineteenth century. It led to the Great Stink of 1858. When the sewage system was built and as a result the men underground had to fight it practically inch by inch, underground. They realised, at least then, that it could be driven back with fire. That was when the Department of Metaphysics started Operation Gogmagog, to capture and contain the Phenomenon. They got close too... Dr Cumming, with his relentless eschatology was a suspect for a while. Then he 'retired' if you know what I mean?" He grins.

"Jack the Ripper wasn't anything to do with the Phenomenon, no, though Spring-Heeled Jack might have been. It took years but the Phenomenon was tracked, tabulated and trapped, cornered finally in a house in East London, Sidney Street. The Department would have had it but the Home Secretary intervened and bungled the raid. The Phenomenon was free again and changing, more elemental now. In the 20th century, there were the three Great Floods. Interesting though, it seemed to tail off, the attacks, during the two wars. Yes. The Phenomenon only changed again in 1968, with the Ronan Point explosion. From then on we were able to reel it in, slowly, the same kind of method, Operation Son of Gogmagog. Anyway, long story short, we finally, eventually caught it in 1993."

They reach the end of the hallway. "Have you noticed something, Sir?" The Site Director waits but does not get an answer. He does not need one.

"No guards, Sir. I've also been whispering. We keep it, now, in silence. There was a phone call to a BBC technician, see? The Phenomenon delivered a threat but instead of putting the phone down on the hook, the engineer, she put it down on the table. She trapped it... she trapped it in silence. When she put the phone down the Phenomenon was held, kept waiting, the call was traced and it was there, still waiting, when our agents arrived. It was paralysed and unable to evolve. That's right. We've kept it in captivity, in stasis. Sir, when you go through this next door I want you to be very quiet. This thing absorbs energy, any kind of energy. Sound energy especially.  It absorbs energy and multiplies it. It has no known limit. Can you imagine it, Sir? Something with the potential of an H-Bomb lurking under London. In the next room, Sir, I will take you to a portal. I want you to look through, Sir, but I want you to be very quiet and very still. I will turn the lights out then you will see it."

The Site Director pushes a button on the wall and the door slides open silently. They both step inside. The Site Director closes the door behind them manually. He speaks very quietly. "This way, Sir." He points. "See, there..."

The Prime Minister steps up to a closed hatch on the far wall.

"Wait there..." The Site Director turns off the light inside. The portal opens silently. The Prime Minister peers through. There is a sickly, luminous glow coming from the portal. It envelops the Prime Minister's face. The Prime Minister is agog.

"Can you see it Sir?" The Man asks. "Can you see it?"

He can.