Seeing Through The Wire Skin

“Sidney?” the upper-class Dublin accent broke into Sidney’s thoughts, causing him to mentally kick himself at the fact that somebody had managed to walk up behind him in spite of the mirror that ran behind the bar. The man who addressed him from his left was taller and thinner than himself, with slicked-back blonde hair. Pinned to the man’s left lapel was a yellow badge with the insignia of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

“Robbie Hickie! Fancy meeting you here.”

The other man grinned, exposing a missing canine tooth underneath the blonde moustache that had been waxed to points. “My favourite watering hole, actually. Haven’t seen you since New Year! I take it you’re on leave?”

“Indeed, I am.” Sidney turned back to accept his glass of whiskey, automatically thanking the barman as he paid, before looking back at Hickie. “What are you having?”

“Actually, myself and the boys already have our drinks. Will you join us?” Hickie waved a hand towards a round table about forty feet away, where two heavyset officers leaned back in plush black armchairs. Sidney’s eyes quickly danced over the two glasses on the table, the third in the hands of the one on the left, and the slight glow from the end of the cigar that the other puffed on. He shrugged internally.

“Why not. How is Gladys, by-the-by?”

“She’s expecting,” Hickie grinned as he turned back towards the table. As they drew closer, Sidney’s eyes flickered over the two gentlemen. Both were older and, to his eye, past their physical prime. Both had neatly-trimmed black hair and moustaches, but the cigar-smoker wore his parted down the middle, unlike the comb-over that the other sported. The smoker had a rounder chin, ruddier complexion and hazel eyes; his companion bore a narrower and paler face.

“Sidney, this is Captain Betram Ardsbury of the Dublin Militia and Major Andrew Kane, RASC. Gentlemen, Major Sidney Nettleson of the Hampshire Regiment. Well, originally anyway.” Hickie waved a hand towards the cigar-smoker and then the other man.

“The Hampshires?” Kane echoed, narrowing his brown eyes into a frown over his tumbler. “I thought they were back in Winchester. Which battalion are you with?” Sidney managed to suppress a faint smile. Of course one of the Service Corps would keep track of whichever regiments were rotated into and out of Dublin Port.

“Actually, I’ve been attached to the West Connacht District for about seven years,” Sidney replied as he sat down. Kane’s eyebrows rose as he lowered the tumbler. Beside him, Ardsbury lowered the cigar. “But I can’t really comment too much. Loose lips, and all that.”

“Really, Major? Not even this absolute tosh about ‘gravity reversing’ that I’ve heard about past the Corrib?” Ardsbury chortled, eyes twinkling with merriment. Hickie and Kane both smiled with him at first.

“I’ve seen that happen a few times, and it’s not the strangest thing I’ve seen happen out there,” Sidney replied before taking a sip, noting detachedly that their smiles vanished like a rat down a serpentoid’s throat. “Some of the…effects can be quite unpleasant. But some are merely bizarre.”

“Such as? Tell us, old bean!”

“Well…something that won’t ruin one’s appetite, perhaps.” He glanced over at Hickie. “Tell me, Robbie, have you ever wished to see through a man’s skin?”

“Without handing him over to the medics?” the other man snorted. “Bet they’d find it helpful. When did that happen?”

“About two months ago. I was on Inisboffin-”

“Isn’t that one of the islands off the coast that’s almost in orc territory? What were you doing out there?” Kane again. Sidney could see the penny dropping in the other man’s eyes.

“Can’t tell you, I’m afraid. What I can tell you is that Inishboffin is not immune to whatever happened out there.” Another sip. “I was speaking with somebody – call him a local guide, if you will – when the air changed. I haven’t the foggiest idea how this happened, but it was as though the skin and clothes over everyone around me suddenly disappeared.”

“Disappeared?” Arsdbury echoed, smiling and suggestively waggling his eyebrows. Sidney quelled his irritation; it had occurred to him as well, but it simply wouldn’t do to mention it out loud.

“Well, not so much disappeared as was replaced by a set of glowing green set of wires roughly where the skin had been. And through them, I could see everyone’s organs functioning.” He waved a hand over each organ in turn. “The heart, right up here, flanked by each lung. Below that, the stomach, the liver and the other digestive apparatus. Above it all, the brain and eyes.”

“Surely you saw the musculature at work? What about the nerves?” Hickie asked, leaning forward with a look of intense fascination. The other two men looked unnerved. Kane’s cheeks were paler than they had been a minute earlier.

“Strangely enough, no. Merely the internal organs. But I could see them moving as well, even when I felt I my eyelids closing.”

“Internal organs only? So, not the…eh…the long sausage?” Ardsbury added, clearly trying to cover his discomfort.

“No, I didn’t see that at all. It was a bit strange, I’ll admit, but within a minute I had stopped noticing.” He smiled faintly, not telling them that the smile was because a couple of the Fomorians immediately discovered that covering their faces with their palms did not hide the view from them. It had only served to increase their exasperation.

“That would be damned helpful for a doctor,” Hickie mused. “Nobody has any clue why that happens out there? I’ve heard rumours that the Fomorians believe it’s another world interfering with ours.”

Snorts, snickers and smiles greeted this silly suggestion. Sidney privately wondered how they would respond to hearing that the Fomorians had told him precisely that, and that it was based on some of their own discussions with the serpentoids and banshees. Alas, it was still need-to-know.

I’m not entirely sure about the framing device here. It doesn’t really focus too much on the bizarre effect; perhaps Sidney Nettleson is just too used to this sort of thing? He basically does reconnaissance into the zone for a living.

I had originally thought of doing something like the invisible faces glitch in Assassin’s Creed Unity, since I find that sort of thing hilarious. Perhaps that will be another story another time.

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