Shooting Blanks



May 2015 - Testimony 1

I found one of the first of them. He was floating face down in the water. I pulled him out with a bill hook. You don't find a body in the water every day, at least in those days you did not. He was dead. But not long dead. He had a kindly face. The sort of guy you felt you could trust. I could not quite place his clothes, foreign somehow, not from round here.

We kept the body cold, and the police came down to collect in when we got into harbour. They didn't seem all that surprised.

A month later and it all seemed very different, most everyone I knew had fished bodies out of the water. There must have been hundreds of them. There were rumours. Rumours run wild. People trafficking, drug deals gone wrong, organ trading. None of it made any sense. It kinda creeps you out. I always liked being out at sea. I felt kind of alone out there. Pee off the side of the boat, no one there to see you. Do what you like. I knew folks took guns and shot sea gulls. But you didn't feel so alone out there anymore. At least it was quiet, no one yacking at you. Just the sea, sucking at the side of the boat. The gulls if you were close enough to shore. The boat noises, the comforting creak and ping of the boat floating in the sea.

The worst thing is not knowing. We none of us knew what was going on. Just tried to go about our business I guess. But suddenly pulling a few fish from the sea seemed a bit irrelevant.

June 2015 - Testimony 2

We had just received the latest tranche of grant funding, it covered the existing longitudinal pH work for the six quadrants, and sample at increased intervals. It really was not difficult to plot. The pH readings were all wrong, and there was a centre to the reduced pH. This was not what we had been looking for, but once the data was plotted up it was obvious. It would have been tempting to ask for further research funding, but we already had the latest tranche. I bullied the Assistant Director and got permission to take the Clupea Research Vessel through to the projected centre. If there was a centre then maybe there was something there. It was getting dark as we reached the area that I had plotted. I'd not expected to see anything. I just thought I would be taking readings, for as long as I could get away with before the captain decided to head for shore. They had little time for our scientific work, but they were paid to taxi us around so as long as the weather was not horrendous I did not expect too much trouble. On the horizon I saw a pale light. Like when the flaring oil reflects off clouds, but there was no flaring oil and no clouds. I did not have to ask the captain to steer closer. It had piqued his curiosity too. He said that we could not neglect a distress flare, but we both of us knew that it was no distress flare.

As we steered forward the air smelt strange, like hot electrics, a sort of chemical smell.

We could not understand what we were seeing until we were almost upon it, the air was lit up, and seemed to wrinkle. And out of the wrinkle fell people. The water was full of people. They flapped but could barely swim. With the mates, I pulled them aboard, we pulled them aboard wrapped them in blankets until we ran out of blankets, then newspapers, they huddled shivering, there were corpses in the water, and struggling people.

I was angry, and it gave me strength, and I pulled them out of the water until I was exhausted, it is almost impossible to pull a person from the water, I am not a strong man, but I pulled out dozens, the mates pulled out more, they were still falling out of that wrinkle, when the captain steered us to shore. I was hoarse shouting but I could barely move. They just sat there shivering, saying nothing. Five or six must have just died on the trip back, shivering until they quietly just stopped and fell silent. I felt wrung out.

I was pulled in by the police, and some other government people. Mostly I just waited around. They got me to make statements, and sign statements. Then sign documents that had been typed up. No one ever told me anything. I got taken to some facility in metal containers at some big harbour. There was all sorts of stuff going on there. Some were kindly, some were gruff. I had seen the sea fill up with struggling people, I didn't really care much anymore.

August 2015 - Testimony 3

All the nations of the world are united in welcoming these strangers to our lands. We do not know where they have come from, or understand how they have come but they are surely refugees in the truest sense of the word. We extend to them the hand of friendship, they come in need and we shall not turn them away in their great need.

October 2015 - Testimony 4

The United Nations under the powers vested in it, censures the following nations for failure to accept their quota of "refugees" in the past month,
Australia
Belgium
Canada,
Denmark,
....

October 2015 - Testimony 5

Reports have now been published in three peer reviewed scientific journals confirming that the "refugees" are capable, with intensive cognitive training of gaining basic communication skills. However it has proved impossible to obtain any account from them of who they are and where they have come from. Analysis of their clothing has shed little light on the issue, their clothes are not currently manufactured anywhere in the world, and two new polymers were identified in use. The speculation remains that they have travelled through time or from an alternative dimension. The initial suggestion that they were refugees remains appropriate although legal debate proceeds to establish whether they should be granted asylum based on the closest land territory of USA. It is argued that as no country of origin has been established and it has not been established that the refugees are fleeing natural disaster or persecution they cannot be legally classed as asylum seekers under UN rules.

October 2015 - Testimony 6

A variety of northern cities have accepted quotas of "refugees" in exchange for additional disbursements from the Treasury. There have been riots in three cities, and some anti-blank sentiment, but additional funding is being provided for health and social work services.

The Chief Executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission has stated that his organisation does not represent "refugees." They are an unwanted burden on existing minority groups and are supporting them has drained resources from our deprived and disadvantaged. It has still not been established that they have any significant cognitive abilities.

October 2015 - Testimony 7

The Government has activated Cobra to respond to the Congoese Flu. Airline bosses are appealing to the European Commission claiming that restrictions on flights to Africa are an infringement of their right to free trade.

October 2015 - Testimony 8

Six nuclear power stations around the Mediterranean are now believed to have failed and there have been no official reports from ten countries. The army is fully mobilised, with troops returning from a variety of conflicts. The government has declared a state of national emergency. Public sector unions are threatening strike action over delayed payment of salaries.

November 2019 - Testimony 9

He was blond and handsome. I'm a woman, I cannot help but notice these things. He did not say much. He would often just look at me, like a dog looks at you. Dumb but affectionate, or maybe just hungry. At first I had tried to get him to help around the farm, but he really was not much use.

You could see the clouds glow all red and angry. The air stank of smoke, not woodsmoke, but dirty smoke like burning tyres that caught the back of your throat. I just stayed out here. I counted out a load of shotgun cartridges but never used them. No one came by. There was just the two of us out here in the hills. I carried on farming just as I had always done. I grow a fair bit out here, and tins and jars keep for ages. Always had a big pile of them. It was stupid things like bailer twine that you run out of. When there is not a shop to run out too.

I got lonely. You get lonely sometimes. A woman alone.

He was handsome, did I tell you. We just, well, you know. Even one of the blanks knows how to hold a woman and make love, after a fashion. There was a time when you would have been treated like scum for something like that. But there was no one to criticise. And with all that had happened did it really matter. There is little enough joy in the world, what is a small piece of pleasure in all of that.

He died. It had been a struggle to keep him. He did not really know how to clean himself, or look after himself. I did my best. I knew plenty had just been allowed to die, I never did that. Honest, I did my best, but he got poorly and I could not keep him alive. He died there all quiet like. At the end he was looking at me, that same way he did, like he loved me, or maybe just hungry, the way a dog would. And then he was still looking at me, but he wasn't there anymore, I just sort of knew that he was dead.

We used to wonder if the blanks come from the future, why would they come to now, but with the plague, the wars and everything it is obvious enough, but why come back if you are going to be a blank. That's not really escaping is it, coming back, even if you get fished out of the water, and you don't drown, you are a blank, you don't know anything, you are not anyone, is that any better than being dead. What could you hope to achieve by coming back in time, so many of them, thousands upon thousands coming back here.

Most everyone dies of the plague. I had only survived by being up here, being careful, boiling everything, disinfecting everything. But my son is different. I am teaching him the alphabet, and words and stuff. He is smart and strong, and lively. Like he never saw anything bad enough to bother him. He capers about, and goes down into the valley. He wanders about, he meets people. I don't dare, I have to stay isolated up here. If I don't I just know I will catch the plague and die. But not him, he seems to be immune.

He has his father's eyes, he looks at me affectionate or maybe just hungry.