It was about an hour later that I reached the surface. I climbed out of the hole and found myself standing in the light of the noonday sun. It wasn’t direct sunlight, mind you; the sun was evidenced only by a bright spot in the canopy of fish that covered the sky.
It was this and only this time of day that sunlight falls across the entrance hole of the Complex. The hole lies in a very narrow alley between two tall buildings, behind a perpetually smelly dumpster and a dead dog in a state of eternal decay.
When new people ask why the entrance to the Complex is in such cruddy environs, the answer is usually something along the lines of, “It’s tradition.” I’m guessing that’s not really the brush-off answer that it might at first seem to be. My theory is that at one time, the dumpster and the dog were the only means of discouraging unwanted investigations by local citizenry. These days, there’s a full hologrammatic projection of a brick wall across the entrance to the alley, along with subsonic hypnotic suggestions for people to stay away. As such, the garbage and canine corpse seem superfluous. Tradition, I think, is the only plausible explanation for their continued presence.
I went to the mouth of the alleyway and strolled through the hologram. I used to worry about leaving the alley the moment when someone was watching, thereby giving away the secret. But that fear wore off fairly quickly. In the history of the Complex, only two outsiders have ever entered uninvited. Both were ultimately offered jobs in the Complex, and they both took those jobs. If you’re curious, I was one of those two people, and Harold was the other.
Once in the street, I made my way to the nearest business that sold newspapers. There was a coffee shop nearby, and I went in and bought the city’s paper and a national paper. My goal was to collect data and to get the public perception of the phenomenon.
As far as the latter was concerned, I wasn’t particularly worried. To all appearances, people were just getting on with their day. Certainly there was more sky-gazing than usual, but the fish in the sky didn’t seem to be getting in the way of capitalism. Businesses were open, people were going to work, the airlines were running, and there was no widespread panic or anything of that nature going on.
I sat down with my newspapers and some iced black coffee. On the national paper, there was a full-color photo, rather nicely shot, of the fish-filled sky over the Rocky Mountains. “Something Fishy,” said the headline. I skipped that article and moved on to the city paper, which had a good reputation. There was a news item about the fish on the front page, but it was below the fold. This surprised me a little. “Experts Mystified by Fish in Sky,” read the headline. I began reading.
I hadn’t gotten far when a man came into the coffee shop. He was a gruff-looking man, and he was wearing a wimple.