The Castaway From Unreality

I don't have an office.

In the time I've been at Site-19, I've done maybe one or two things that could be considered actual work. Ever since a filing mistake assigned me to a non-existent "Department of Unreality," I've had nothing to do.

I most certainly don't recognize the door in front of me, whose plaque very clearly reads:

Alex Thorley

Reality Liaison

Dept. of Unreality

I think about what to do with the sudden appearance of an office with my name. This has happened before. I think back to the dossier incident. It doesn't make sense. The department isn't real, and its whole thing is researching things that aren't real, but why do things keep appearing? Why me?

It's been two months since I started my search into the confusing mess that is the Department of Unreality, and the only lead I have is the name of the director: John Doe. I say lead, but that's awfully optimistic of me. It's a placeholder name at best.

And now, an office. An office that reads "reality liaison," my supposed position within this department that doesn't exist. But what does reality liaison––

I'm struck by a memory. The dossier. The dossier whose list of department members named John Doe the director also identified me as the reality liaison for the department. The pieces fall in place. I know what I have to do. I grab the door, and enter the office.


My office.

The room is barren, save for a couple of paperweights and a desk with my name on it. A simple plaque reading Alex Thorley serves as the only decor, with a couple of folders neatly organized in a drawer next to a penholder. Out of instinct or habit, I flick through the folders. I find them organized alphabetically, with tabs indicating the urgency of the task they summarize. Just as I like it. I flick to the files marked with a red line, the sign I use to identify the most urgent things I have to do. I pull a yellow folder out, and close the drawer. Inside it is a singular form, already filled out for me. A transfer request from Site-19 to Site-184, authorized by one John Doe, director.

My head starts spinning as the room seems to get smaller. This is it. This proves something is going on for real. I start thinking of what to do next. I could get out and seek out a site director, a project lead, or whomever. This room never existed before, that's got to be something, right? This is proof that I'm not just unlucky, but that something is happening.

Suddenly, I feel the entire world stop making sense.

I'm back in the room. Some time has passed. Thinking hurts, but I start feeling like myself again. That was weird. I must have lost my balance for a moment or something. I stand up from my desk, and I head towards the exit. I open the door to a small contingent of guards and wide-eyed researchers that immediately descend on me and power on a small portable device emitting a blue light, which I recognize as a portable reality anchor. Suddenly, the room blinks out of existence, and I'm left staring dumbfounded at the guards as they immediately tell me to stay where I am and start talking amongst themselves. After a brief deliberation, they ask me to follow them. I look out the nearest window as I'm taken to a containment cell, and I see waves as far as the eye can see.

I think I fucked up.

Several hours later, my identity is verified, and a different set of questions related to the room I came from starts setting in. The site I've materialized into is Site-184, in Canada. I explain everything to the best of my ability, but there really is nothing more than what I've observed so far. As I'm told, a number of similar rooms started appearing throughout almost all major Foundation sites overnight, and that the phenomenon is already being investigated.

When I'm finally let go, I'm given a small room on-site, and a very thinly veiled order not to leave the site at all under any circumstances until they gather more information on what happened to me. I look at the small digital clock on the nightstand: Six o'clock. So much for sleep. I decide to take in the sights of wherever I ended up. The nearest map of the facility gives me a pretty clear view of what's going on pretty fast. A dock, some sort of art and artifacts building, and a couple facilities dedicated to aquatic anomalies. The focus on the ocean is pretty obvious, and so I set out to see the sea for myself and head to the docks. As I make my way there, I fail to notice the people who are very clearly already there until it's too late. Someone notices me.

Hey, you here for the Fishing Council meeting?

The voice comes from a woman in the crowd of half a dozen people, all holding an assortment of fishing equipment. She gestures at me to come closer, and as I approach I notice that her equipment is noticeably newer than that of the rest of the gathered individuals. Among the crowd I sense the stare of a few guards who I recognize from my welcome party, although their interest seems to fall mostly on their gear. I arrive at the congregation, and introduce myself to the woman who noticed me.

Hey. Uh, I don't know what the fishing council is, but I'm guessing it has to do with fishing?

The woman looks at me funny. Which, fair enough, I guess.

An astute observation. First time visiting one eighty-four? My name's Emma.

Emma stretches out their hand, and after a short pause I shake it. I guess I am technically at Site-184 for the first time. Even if by accident.

Yeah, you could say it's my first time "visiting". The name's Alex.

I do air quotes at the word visiting, which catches Emma's attention.

Oh, are you the person that came in through that extra room we had for a while? Some of the guys mentioned it briefly.


Yup, that's me. Still don't know what that was about, to be honest.

She pauses for a moment, mulling something over.

Hey, why don't you come with us for a bit? We can get you a fishing rod; we have a bunch of spare ones ever since we started inviting people on these fishing trips.

I'm kinda on site arrest right now, I don't know if I'm allowed out on a boat.

Emma turns towards the crowd, and makes a series of gestures at a man standing near one of the fishing boats. I can't quite understand what she's miming, but she points at me and at the boats, and the man responds with a thumbs up. Emma turns back to me.

Alright, I just asked security, and it looks like you're all set if you wanna join in.

I think about my options for a bit.

Sure, why not?


The sea is a welcome sight.

The sea is nice. I haven't really been at sea before, but the quasi-hypnotic lull of the waves tranquilizes me plenty. I make idle conversation with Emma on Site-19, how I got here, and the lingering concerns I have of having been transported across an entire country almost seamlessly. She talks about her work on the Department of Anomalous Art and Artifacts, and I crack an attempt at a joke about my own department.

The boat glides over the waves at a steady pace, and soon we find ourselves drifting silently in a quiet spot, surrounded by sea on all directions. The anchor drops, and without so much as a sound, everyone casts out their fishing lines.

The next couple of hours are a blur in the sense that there's not much to note. There's an air of tranquility throughout the scene, and it is in moments like these where I get to thinking outside the noise of regular life. I've had too many close calls in too little time. I'm new to the Foundation, and I've done nothing but squander my time because I've been able to? That doesn't seem right to me. I don't want to coast by doing nothing and passing it off as work. And yet, I'm plagued by these small moments involving the same themes, over and over again. Something happens, and I barely blink at the situation until it's far past me. I make a decision right there and then. I'm gonna find out what's going on. No more half-assing it.

Hey, you alright? We're going, so maybe reel in your line before we leave.

Emma has been looking at me for some time. By this point I'm the last person left fishing, and I quickly begin to reel my line in. It feels tense, and for a moment, I think something's hooked onto it, but the line comes out of the water empty. Emma gives me a sympathetic look.

Don't worry, there's not many fish out here this time of year.

We leave our fishing spot, and head towards Site-184.

Back at the site, I find a couple of people waiting for me. They explain that a new room has appeared inside Site-184 and ask for my help in going through it again as soon as some basic testing inside has been conducted. I agree. The woman who explains all this to me introduces herself as Jennifer Williams, of the Department of Memetics. I choose not to question why Memetics is looking into a spatial anomaly, and answer as many questions as I can. Towards the end of my conversation with her, I ask for specifics on the room, given that I won't be entering it anytime soon. Williams describes a plain office, similar to what I remember of the one I'd been to, but towards the end, she makes an observation.

She notes a desk with an empty fish tank, decorated as though it contains a fish.

I smile at that. It's a solid catch.

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