HK Anomaly

A wordy shaggy dog SF short story of the above title is below the fold.

In other news, damn Charles Stross is a fine writer. I’m stuck deep inside the Atrocity Archives at the moment.

* * *

Randall can tell you it all began with a news report of an atmospheric disturbance over the Pacific.

He can tell you it really began before that, too, but amateur astronomers like him aren’t too keen to ring their local news station — too many cranks too interested in heavenly things to make trumpeting without triple-checking all calculations and asking if anyone else saw what you did worth it. It really stings when an astronomer is mistaken for an astrologer. It stings even more when you’re whispered you can have a soundbite, you astrologenomer or whatever you, if you put some superlative in it.

Besides, when the thing was far, it was too small to be seen except by accident, and when it was close it was initially thought to be a de-orbiting satellite; a big one, maybe one of the Russian dinosaurs.

The Pacific fireball quickly became the Japan fireball, then the Peking fireball; then, utterly perplexing newsman observers, it ended up as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (somewhere south-east of Ürümqi) fireball, and was “the China fireball” after that. The place it hit was (you guessed it) a barren mid-Asian plateau bereft of life and importance, a veritable Leng and Kadath of Lovecraftian dimensions of inaccessible secrecy and emptiness.

The emptiness was, mind you, not the work of something squamous and rugose, but of the most shut-mouthed parts of the most old-fashioned branch of the People’s Army of the People’s Republic of Red China. Long story short, the thing couldn’t have chosen a better hit spot for perpetual secrecy and denial if it had hit the Marianas Trench.

Whatever the thing was — and pretty soon it became clear it was not a satellite, and nothing man-made unless one of the Voyagers had decided to come back. (Sorry; the universe is a glass sphere; spoink! and back you go, eh?) Whatever it was, it had used peculiar trajectories, and some boring-work into archives revealed supposed small comets and such that might have been just it a year or so before, supposing that it was something with a better grasp of gravity assists than most comets have. Something that, well, manoeuvred, as the Brit that pointed this out said.

You guessed it; the Gray-and-Little-Green folks came out of the woodwork everywhere soon after that. Randall could tell you tales about how hard communicating science and stuff to the public becomes when you’re sharing the screen with someone that’s “communicating with the people of the Stellar Messenger of Eternal Peace through the Rabbit-Spirits of her Indian ancestors”. When the majority of commenters are either mildly crazy or hopelessly ignorant, the rational voice becomes a part of the fringe; not that such observations cheer you up once you’re in the same segment with Miriam Lifestyleindian Rabbitwhisperer.

It was a perfect environment for the UFO Brigade, too, because there was so little to know. The Chinese denied anything had happened, or landed down in that isolated giant splotch of arid Central Asia, and they weren’t going to allow anyone to fly over the spot to check the fact. One daredevil was detained by the Mongolian Secret Service when he tried to rent a plane for such a flight; the Mongolians know better than to irritate their neighbors because, frankly, the days that Mongols ruled as they wilt over all of Asia are kind of gone.

There were satellites that the Chinese could do — well, would do — nothing about, American ones mostly, but military Americans can be just as institutionally closemouthed as their Asiatic kin, and the official statement ran along the lines of “there is nothing that this Department is prepared to release at this time” half the time; the rest it came back with bitching about the insufficiently stuffy formatting of the FOIA request.

Beyond that, well, there are places that just aren’t within the reach of Twitter and Youtube. Chinese military testing grounds in Xinjiang are pretty much like that. (Not that that stopped the pranksters and the hoaxers; someone tried to peddle a suitably photoshopped version of the Cydonia Face as a satellite image of what the landing spot looked like. One of Randall’s pet peeves is that there still are people that believe that damned thing.)

Whatever hit down was silenced, squashed, contained and boxed away by the Chinese; and all the while they didn’t even admit anything happened there at all. Some stories filtered out, but they weren’t exactly reliable: the local Uyghurs had no reason to love the Chinese military. The tales were terribly vague: entire villages uprooted and moved a few hundred kilometers away from the crucial spot; relatives lost when they took the digital camera and snuck out to document these new acts of reprehensible repression by the ruthless regime; trucks that wheeled out bodies either Chinese-military or Uyghur-civilian or, if you believe it, even Alien-humanoid, bound for some secluded spot of hurried burial.

Death anyway; kilodeaths probably. Eventually the Chinese government made some faint noises about separatists and terrorists and revolutionary people’s movements and the like, and them the peaceful folk being forced to utilize the gentle high-explosive uranium-depleted hammer of loving correction; these whispers were roundly condemned, either as contemptible lies or evil tyrannic actions, depending on your commentator. The Chinese Firewall grew a few feet upwards in response, Twitter and Youtube were banned for a few months, and so on.

There was even a story they had used an atomic weapon there somewhere! Randall says his personal approach to this particular rumor was the proper scientific-skeptical one: distrust, inability to find evidence, provisional decision, mockery at the moonbats, mockery at the credulous media, a startling discovery, gawping at the new evidence, and acceptance of that fact that doggone it, they did nuke something there. (Won’t do to keep a position if it ends up being the wrong one, huh?)

That’s where it could have ended, because nothing more came out of Xinjiang about that thing; all quieted down, and it was generally accepted that there was a smoking rubble-pit with glassy walls, full of curious shards, or then a warehouse of Jonesian style somewhere there, all dead, quiet and buried waiting for the probabilistic coming of some upheaval in social order that would let the (space?) dogs out; some Third Reich-like collapse would seem to be necessary to break the chains of not-poking-the-elders-if-you-aim-at-elderhood-yourself. (That’s the reason, you know, why presidents don’t generally prosecute their predecessors for their high crimes and contempt of humanity; precedents like that tend to come and bite the current when he’s the ex.)

The oppression of Uyghurs fell to its normal levels, as did the condemnations of China; and for a while it seemed whatever had happened would remain a mystery for a long time, a bit like the Tunguska thing had remained a long-unexplained thing because of the double coincidence of hitting the arse-end of nowhere, and the eve of the Russian revolution and similar difficulties of travel and communication.

Randall, being a geek of astronomical interests, and a keen observer of the goings-on in the conspiracy zoo and nut garden, was quick to see the leak; and somewhat shaken to discover that this particular leak seemed to be a quite genuine and real picture taken by a quite plausible satellite, and there were no curious gaps in its transmission; the rare real deal, and more exciting than factual things usually are.

Randall’s first thought was it had to be pareidolia; then (returning) that it had to be a hoax. Then the other pictures of the sequence came in, three minutes’ worth of glances into the grey dust of Central Asia from high above, showing something organized in a familiar form, and apparently attacked by the godless Chinese.

The word “godless” chosen here since most news articles eventually gravitated towards using it; really, you can’t avoid the thought when you see atheist communist meanies firing at something that looks like a white cross, with the proper Orthodox foot- and nameplates and all, stretching blindingly pure for two hundred meters across the flame-scorched dark grey ground of godless Central Asia like a decal on the world’s biggest bumper.

It probably was the Eastern Orthodox appearance of the cross that kept the Vatican silent and thus saved it from an embarrassment while all the other religious outlets went crazy over the news; more crazy than usually because whatever the damned thing was, it really had been there. The sequence of pictures shows it changing shape, as if morphing into different kinds of crosses, as the bullets and rockets hit it; it also shows it counterattacking in ways that make one glad one can’t zoom in without pixellation.

As said, the UFO ecstasy turned into a God-botherer nirvana; it was a most irritating period of a few weeks because the religious ones are even more difficult to reason with than the conspiracy people, their secular twins.

Thus, when the rest of the pictures became public (and I suppose people lost their jobs over those leaks), Randall was mightily satisfied. Seems the first leak had been a carefully picked and limited one, showing only the cross; probably one of those pious forgeries, or then someone with a really peculiar sense of humor.

The full range of pictures ran for hours and hours, and did not even include all the shapes that damned alien thing had taken. Some shapes were those of our familiar representation of a heart, a hand giving a thumbs-up, a crescent moon, five filled-in stars, an epsilon (Randall says it is a McDonald’s double arch, and I don’t know if he is joking), the Olympic five-circle symbol, and the like. All symbols that one thinks would be chosen to show ease and peacefulness and the like. Depends on your level of cynicism if the thing’s counterattack and the kilodeaths are a peaceful thing in a monstrous huff of desperate self-defence, or the space monster going “Zounds! My evil trickery is revealed! Die earthling scum!”

Randall, by the virtue of his quick wit, was the one that after this final revelation gave the whole mess, this mess of a first contact, the name that has stuck with it since, despite stern official disapproval and continuing denial. And hence, by one of the final shapes the thing took before shriveling and dying away, it has ever since been known as the Hello Kitty Anomaly.

I agree wholeheartedly with Randall that we don’t want to be the ones to explain mankind’s ways to the next aliens that come a-calling.

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