The tragedy of Gallows' Fell

Gallows' Fell, Nx-98, England — ##/##/####, 13:03

David Remes was cold. Something about this place seemed to drain the warmth from his soul — walking down the high-street felt like stepping through the door to a morgue. It was cold, and quiet, and the thin trickle of afternoon sunlight barely penetrated the fog that swirled at his feet.

He consulted his map again. An area of woodland is bordered by a dark red ring, with "98" scrawled above it. Pinned to the corner is a rough town layout, covered in symbols and letters. "Amenities here", "train line (disused)", "butchers". "Exit", of course, though that's scribbled out. The town of Gallows' Fell, heart of the Staffordshire Nexus, is not a place you can easily leave. He traces the roads with his finger, mentally plotting a course to what he euphemistically calls his 'destination'.

It is, of course, the pub.

todo

"It's a nice clock you've got, up there."

The old man grunts, not turning away from his work. "That old piece of junk? Sure, it was nice once, but we broke it up for parts years ago. Hasn't worked since."

I stare upwards and, sure enough, the its hands are exactly where they were when I arrived. The clock is resolute, solid, unmoving. A dull piece of wood. I feel my mouth go dry, as I finally place the source of the prickle on the back of my neck. The old man turns around slowly, grinning — in his eyes, I see the telling shimmer of metal and glass.

He clambers over the countertop and presses a hand to my cheek. It's cold, and leathery. I don't bother turning to run. Somehow, I know the door will be locked tighter than anything of painted wood has any right to be.

In the butcher's left hand, swinging at his side, is a cleaver. In the sharp clarity that comes with moments like these, I see the rivets through his fingers, and the glinting metal where the false skin has come away. The ticking grows louder. Almost like a heartbeat.

Thump, tick, thump, tick-tick, thump, tock.

Maybe not that much like a heartbeat. Not close enough to be human.

I see gears spin in the old man's mouth as rows of teeth readjust, and everything goes black.


Provisional Site-##, England — ##/##/####, 04:35

Researcher Anthony Doyle is tired. Worried, too. Generally filled with a cavalcade of unwelcome emotions. Being roughly awoken by a pair of black-suited grunts tends to have that effect on a man.

Right now, Anthony is frantically trying to push these emotions to some empty corner of his mind, where he can release them later in the company of the Site psychiatrist. This is because his significant other and immediate superior is sitting in front of him with her hands folded — a telltale sign that shit's going to hit the fan, if it hasn't already. He coughs lightly, jerking her out of her internal reverie.

"Oh, yes. Right." She runs a hand through her hair. "You are aware, of course, that we sent Agent Remes on an expedition to NX-012 five days ago, with orders to initiate contact with base every twelve hours?"

Doyle nods. He was part of the committee that approved it. "Have there been… complications?"

"Yes. Of a fashion. We've had confirmation that he's safe every eight hours since dispatch, right up until last night. Apparently - and this is just conjecture at this point - the cogs' presence in the area was greater than we initially thought. Much greater."

"Shit. What do we do, then? Do I give the Task Force scramble order?"

"No no, you misunderstand. He's perfectly… well, not fine. But safe. Or rather" - cue air quotes - "'Safe', with a capital 'we fucked up'."

"Double shit."

"Indeed."

"What's the damage?"

She slides an envelope in front of him. Anthony knows what's going to be in it, even before he tears it open.

"Triple shit."

His wife nods solemly. "They sent him back all right. Problem is, they sent him back ticking."

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