Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

Doctor Jessup is terribly polite. We’re stirring our coffees before he asks his first question.

“What started it?”

I smile: “Why do they all add up to six?”

“Pardon?”

“You asked what started it. That question is the answer. I can’t remember when it became an actual question, though. I knew about fifty-one and forty-two, then Rory got shot while trying to climb into some facility north of Vegas. Said the Humvee they dragged him into had an ‘Area 24’ plaque on the dashboard. I asked my sources a lot of questions, got answers that ranged from outright ridicule to scrotum-shrivelling religious fanaticism. I let it go. There’s only so much time you can waste.”

He nods, then gestures for me to continue.

“Two years later, I’m on a helicopter bound for Yellowknife.”

His expression conveys the unasked question.

“Oil rig maintenance.”

Another nod.

“Storm came out of nowhere. Pilot saved us, but we all thought our chances were slim, lost in a snowstorm in the wilds of Alaska. Until a camouflaged, balloon-tyred Humvee turned up. It had a plaque on the dash, too: ‘Area 33’. When I asked, they said nothing. Just drove us south for ages, in silence, to a waystation. Then unloaded us, turned round, and drove off.

As soon as I got back to civilisation, I started making a fuss on alternative media. A few people contacted me. Areas 1 thru 30, they’re mainly Nuclear Test Sites. Six is one of the most irradiated areas on the planet.

It took me a long while to work through the rest of the chaff. But, last month, I got down to one area: 60. Not the Philly AA, but some vague location referenced in conspiracies featuring disappearing people, lost villages and flying battleships.”

He puts his mug down: “So what happened?”

I smile: “You did. The timing is too neat.”

Jessup laughs: “You think I’ve been sent by some secretive government organisation?”

Our gazes lock: “Would I be wrong?”

“I’m here at Serena’s request.”

“Just a moment. My girlfriend asked you to pretend to be a doctor?”

“I’m a psychiatrist. Serena asked me to check on your sanity.”

My world lurches. Jessup rises. While I gasp for breath, Serena takes the seat he vacated.

“Carlos, please stop this.”

I do a double-take, then stare at her: “I thought you, of all people, understood. I also thought you were at your sisters.”

She smiles sadly: “Doctor Jessup called, said he’d finally arranged to meet you.”

I feel hot and queasy. As I lurch to my feet, the worried look that flashes across her face decides me.

“Let me take a leak, then we’ll go.” It’s time to stop this, for her – no, our – sakes.

Shakily, I head for the toilets. Jessup has a hand against my shoulder, concern clear on his face. I’m through the door, looking for the sign to the gents, when it hits me: my shoes are ringing on steel deck plates.

His voice has a lazy southern drawl it didn’t possess just now: “Area 60 hasn’t been entirely in-phase since 1943. Getting attention drawn to it makes it more difficult to shift; a limitation loosely related to influencing quantum states by observation, I’m told.”

He stabs me in the back.

Selena catches me as I fall. Over her shoulder, I see the bulkhead door closing on a view of the restaurant – in a reality I’ve just left.

As the lights start to dim, I hear her whisper: “You’re too righteous to recruit, so it’s burial at quantum sea. Goodbye, dear fool.”