This was not inspired by any events that may or may not have occured in a certain country towards the end of a certain year.
Or I could be lying.
"Sir James Lester to see you, Prime Minister!" announced the secretary, with two knocks to the door.
The newly elected Prime Minister refused to look up, still fresh from leading a spiteful campaign against his rivals after several long months of opposing everything the weak prior government had attempted to pass. "Enter" he commanded, signing his name with a flourish on the bottom of yet another letter to some government he barely knew. Seriously, who had ever heard of Tuvalu?
He heard, rather than saw the object of his current attention enter the room and approach the desk. There was the sound of a suit jacket being straitened and a quiet huff on impatience. It was only then that he looked up and gestured his visitor to a seat. His years at Eton had taught him the wisdom behind always waiting to give an underling his attention – the chain of command must be respected and adhered to above all else.
"Welcome, Sir Lester" he began, "Please, take a seat." The man did as told, settling into an armchair brought over from Thatcher's old office. "I imagine you understand why I have asked for you to visit?"
"I do, Minister" the man replied. The Prime Minister wondered if that was indeed the case. He seemed entirely too relaxed and – if that was possible – amused for a man faced with budget-cuts; not that he could reasonably protest considering the current climate. It was a wonder 'The Arc' had not apparently suffered cuts before, not even during the days when Cameron was cutting government expenses wherever possible.
"Excellent. Then I shall not bandy words – your department is taking too many precious recourses that could be better used elsewhere. I am not demanding a complete shutdown – finding new sources of Green Energy is important – but I hardly see why 'The Arc' requires such a large security force, or such a large administrative team, or a fleet of vehicles larger than many police forces. In general, your staff are also paid significantly above the reasonable rate for their occupations – particularly in cases like this 'Abby Maitland'. A vet – a vet paid 100,000! Even the most senior of her profession elsewhere in the country are paid 70,000 at most!"
Surprisingly, Lester didn't seem worried by his (reasonable) outburst. "I understand completely, Minister. However, I am afraid you are mistaken about the actual purpose of my department and for that matter, Mrs Maitland's profession. Please, don't be offended, the Arc's actual mission statement is only known to a few outside the department; the respective heads of the Armed Forces, the Home Secretary, the Defence Secretary, the Minister of State for Security, and the sitting Prime Minister and his senior secretary and advisor. And the Queen, naturally. I have had this very conversation with your predecessors when they took office."
The Prime Minister was suspicious. What could be so secret that only a tiny part of the elite and the armed forces were allowed to know the truth about it? Was this another of the secret MI5 Branches? If it was, why was the Foreign Secretary not allowed to know of it while the Home secretary was?
"Then what is the true purpose of your department?" he asked.
"I have prepared a presentation on that matter" Lester replied, "If you would be willing to see it?"
The Prime Minister nodded. The Head of 'The ARC' retrieved a silver laptop from his bag and went about loading it up, selecting up a file location containing a large number of media files. He also drew a large paper document from his bag, with the ARC logo and the words TOP SECRET blazoned across it. Lester handed the document to the Prime Minister, while selecting the first video and pressing play.
What the video showed made the Prime Minister lean backwards in shock.
Lester began talking: "Unbeknownst to the vast majority of the British Government as well as the populace, the United Kingdom has been facing down an insurgency for almost a decade and a half. But this insurgency is not the result of Russian or Chinese action, or even espionage from our American 'friends'. Indeed, it is not the result of any human action."
The Prime Minister found his voice. "Is that a Stegosaurus?" he said; "In the House of Commons?!"
"Yes, Minister" Lester appeared amused, "Your eyes do not deceive you. This insurgency is at the hands of prehistoric wildlife deciding to leave behind their past habitats and emigrate to the British Isles. Once here, they invariably cause mayhem, panic and usually a great deal of paperwork."
"Is this-" the Prime Minister gestured at the footage on the laptop; "-some kind of joke? Do not think me so easily given to laughter that I'm willing to make policy changes based on it."
"I would never assume that, sir" remarked Lester; "I'm not one to make jokes myself. The footage you see there is entirely accurate, merely covered up as my department has been doing since its foundation. For instance, this occasion is from the 14th February 2010 and was blamed on a fire, which provided security the perfect excuse to evacuate the building. But if that will not convince you, then there are plenty of other examples that should. This one-" He deselected the stegosaurus video and chose another with the dating of 16/02/08. "-is from an incident involving the release of a mammoth onto the M25. Another is taken from footage of a Liopleurodon in the Irish Sea. Another is from the London Underground, under occupation by giant spiders."
"This is impossible!"
"Indeed" Lester agreed, "Nonetheless it is the case. The purpose of my department is two-fold – containing anything that comes through from the past and preventing the incursions from becoming known to the public."
The Prime Minister tried to regain his composure. "Assuming what you say is true, how is this possible? You swiftly denied any possibility of this being the act of a foreign or domestic power, so one assumes your scientists propose this to be natural? Unless you and your team have been visited by any angels in the night?"
"A natural cause is the current hypothesis, Minister" Lester agreed. He thought for a second, absently twitching a finger. He closed the current video on the laptop, opening another marked 'Permian-Forest of Dean Surveillance'. The video showed a strange object floating amid a wood, resembling nothing more than an exploding glass orb. "As it has been explained to me – do understand that I handle the logistical aspects of this problem, rather than the scientific – the past does not function as a simple straight line receding into the cosmic foam 'behind' us. It instead acts as a variable and needlessly complex 'ball', wrapping around itself and in places alongside itself. And when two parts of the past, or the past and the present 'touch' it is possible to move from one epoch to another. These doorways in time are commonly referred to as Anomalies, a suitably vague name to assist in keeping them a secret. That is also where the name of my department originates from, the Anomaly Research Centre."
"Modern science would point to that being almost impossible" the Prime Minister stated, "Why would your scientists know better?"
Lester smiled, smugly. "I imagine that would be because they have had access to sources other scientists do not. The late Hawking, for example would have had difficulty writing about anomalies, having never seen one or even evidence that one exists. Therefore, I'm willing to put some of my faith in the ARC's own scientists; principally the late Nicholas Cutter and his successor Conner Temple. Some, being the key word."
"I confess myself still unconvinced" murmured the Prime Minister, "If you were not a member of this government, I would have had you thrown out already. As it is, I am still tempted. I don't suppose you have one of these 'anomalies' available as proof? Or some of these creatures?"
Lester frowned. "We have several creatures in the off-site menagerie on Guns Island, which could be visited at your earliest convenience; though I'd warn you that the island is...unpleasant to visit. As for the first part of your question, that is rather complicated-"
"Hold off on that for a second then" the Prime Minister interrupted, who had noted a particular detail in Lester's speech; "Guns Island? I recall Brown's purchase of that island from the French and Irish; curiously cheap as I recall despite the oil reserves nearby."
"The vast majority of the oil reserves remain property of the Irish and French, sir" Lester replied, "Guns Island itself is not considered valuable to either of the nations involved; henceforth they were willing to part with it for a few million and my department's aid in setting up their own Anomaly Research Centres – the 'Roinn Taighde Aimhrialtachta' and the 'Département de Découverte des Anomalies' respectively. The ARC collaborates with them frequently, along with 'The Special Projects Group' in Canada."
"I assume Guns Island was the site of an Anomaly?"
"Several, Minister, dating back to at least the World Wars. A previous observation base had been established to experiment on them, though it was abandoned following the Cold War. Thankfully, the general isolation of the island, as well as the unpleasant weather kept the several creatures who came through isolated even after Britain withdrew. Most of them actually died when they couldn't adjust to the climate."
The Prime Minister nodded. In his prior position, he'd certainly heard enough complaints about the British weather to not underestimate the effect it had on foreigners. Even those born and bred in Britain found it convenient to complain about when nothing there was nothing better to do.
He leaned in. "Back to my earlier question, on the matter of the anomalies themselves?"
"None are open at the present moment Minister" Lester stated, "When one does open, I will contact your department if you wish. However, while my department has made a great deal of headway in the art of predicting them, we do not have control on when they appear. The common situation is that they appear at the worst possible time, usually during a meeting. Furthermore, while it is possible to make artificial anomalies I would highly advice against doing so. I have forbidden any research on them at the ARC, after the last attempt resulted in a horde of beetles nearly destroying the entire building. You can imagine why that would make me unwilling."
"Indeed." The Prime Minister thought for a further second. "Yes, I can understand why this operation is kept top secret. Outside of the panic randomly appearing dinosaurs would cause throughout the electorate, the existence of the past – as an environment that can be visited, explored and interacted with – would cause a meltdown for half the world's institutions. The Greens would be up in arms over the environmental possibilities, the Church likewise over the ecclesiastical implications. Every scientist from here to Hong Kong would have a heart attack. Various parties would see the potential of stripping the past for resources; wood, fuel, luxuries – think of the potential for rare pets alone, how many Hollywood Stars will want to be walking down the carpet with a dinosaur in their handbag! I can already see-" A nasty thought occurred to him. "You have stated that people from the present can pass into the past through these anomalies, correct?"
"Then, taking that as fact – is it possible for those people in the past to rewrite history? Particularly, recent history; anything from the dawn of the 20th Century onwards?"
Lester nodded. "As far as my department knows, it has already happened on at least one occasion. Another attempted incident was thwarted."
"Explain, fully. What happened? What changed?" The Prime Minister was worried. If history had already been changed, did that mean that this timeline wasn't the 'good' one? Had another happier timeline already been displaced by time-travelling madmen? What had changed?
"Thankfully, the changes seem to have been very minor" confirmed Lester, taking somewhat of the weight off his sagging superior; "As I understand it, the main changes were localised to the ARC specifically – in the old timeline (this all occurred in 2007, for reference), the ARC didn't exist and the entire Anomaly operation was directly under the control of the Home Office. One member of my staff who has now retired apparently existed under a different name and identity as well. I do not believe there were any major changes to world history, as the man from the previous timeline – the aforementioned Cutter – didn't stir a fuss over the layout of the world map."
"Quite. The other occasion was an intentional attempt to change history by Helen Cutter-"
"Any relation to Nicholas?"
"Ex-wife. Be glad you never met her; she was one of most delusional psychopaths I've had the misfortune to meet. And I have worked in the Home Office. She caused a great deal of problems for us over the years, everything from murder to arson to unauthorised cloning. The climax of her delusions was an attempt to wipe out early humanity back when we were all living in Africa. Thankfully, an ex-member of my staff and a velociraptor rendered her unrendered."
The Prime Minister boggled at the audacity. "She does sound the kind of woman you'd remember."
Lester shrugged. "I tend to recall every woman who decides to point a gun at me."
"So…let me get this straight. Time-travelling dinosaurs, strange glass portals, possibility of worldwide anarchy, genocidal eco-terrorists. Is that everything?" exclaimed the Prime Minister, now wishing for nothing more than a visit to the nearest alcohol cabinet (due to this being the British Government, there were at least three within spitting distance).
"There is one final matter we have yet to address, Minister" said Lester; "That being the unfortunate reality that the anomalies are not limited to just connecting the past and the present." He quirked one solitary eyebrow.
The Prime Minister stared back at him for a moment, then had the implication of what he meant hit him with the force of a small missile. "You mean…these things can connect to the future as well?!"
"I do" Lester replied, "By your reaction – which coincidentally is much more dignified than your predecessor's – I believe you can understand the implications of such a scenario."
"Absolutely!" barked his superior, "So tell me; which seceded first, Scotland or Ireland?"
Lester blinked. "Well, that is to say-"
The Prime Minister looked horrified. "Good Lord; Wales went first?! Cripes, the only people who seem less likely to secede are the bloody Falklanders! God knows what that means for the economy, I mean we may still be floating but we'd have to ramp taxes up again…"
Lester coughed, once to draw the man away from his tangent. "To the best of my knowledge Minister, no part of Britain seceded from the union in any of the currently known futures. However, that is less due to the popularity of your or future governments and more due to there not being a Britain to secede from, in the future."
"You believe that the United Kingdom collapses in the future?" This was not music to the Prime Minister's ears.
"Regretfully, I am certain of it. All three of the known futures-"
"All three?" the Prime Minister snarled, "You mean to tell me that there are multiple futures? And in every single one the UK ceases to be?"
"Yes, Minister" Lester replied, "Though I feel I must make a point clear – each future, as one of my specialists put it – is a possible chain of events. Every so often, something will affect this 'chain' causing the future to spin off in some other horrible direction. The first future for instance was one where humanity apparently – according to the deceased Cutter – evolved into seals for some reason, while in the meantime a hideous evolution of the bat ran around causing mayhem inland. The second future kept the bat-monsters – officially known as 'Pedicascor Chiroptera' or something of that nature, more commonly known as just 'Future Predators' – but took out the seal-people for giant wasps, sadistic little gremlins and the ruins of London inexplicably halfway up a mountain."
"How did that happen?" the Prime Minister questioned.
"I haven't the faintest idea" replied Lester; "Something, something, climate change no doubt. The Greens would have a stroke, I'm sure."
"And the third future?"
"The worst of the lot" said Lester, "Apparently the entire earth becomes a desert where the last humans erk out a pathetic existence in bunkers while slowly succumbing to poison and radiation. That is, assuming the bat-monsters – God's favourite animal apparently – don't get to them first. Or the various giant beetles. On the bright side, London is no longer up a mountain."
"What a relief" muttered the Prime Minister, "Any idea what caused these futures? It would do well for opinion polls if this government manages to prevent humanity's extinction." He laughed, rather weakly.
"For the moment we may have managed exactly that" stated Lester, "As all three of these futures have – to the best of my team's knowledge – been prevented. The first one, which we assume to be simply a product of evolution was seceded by the second. The second one – the one with mountain cities – was in some way linked to genetic experimentation according to the few recovered documents. Apparently, an alternate version of my department was responsible according to Helen, though I would trust anything she's said about as much as the Russians. She eventually went back on that actually and decided everything was the result of Christine Johnson's mad operation instead."
"What does Christine Johnson have to do with this? She's been dead for a decade!"
Lester agreed, "She has. Helen killed her, or rather let a Future Predator do it for her. As for what she was doing…I have absolutely no idea. She was interested in using the anomalies to gain power for herself…somehow. It backfired. Can't say I miss her, even Burton was less self-important, if more genocidal."
"Burton?" questioned the Prime Minister.
"Philip Burton" said Lester, "Former CEO of the now defunct Prospero Industries. After Helen Cutter's last hurrah, he became the primary investor for the ARC due to the cutbacks brought by Cameron. Unfortunately for everyone, he was Helen's back-up plan to ruin everyone's day – though why an eco-terrorist wants to reduce the world to an uninhabitable desert, I cannot understand. My suspicion is that – well regarding Helen, that she was utterly insane – but specifically that her 'involvement' with Burton was the event that brought about the third possible future. Or it could be the Christine really was the antichrist and that Helen killing her really was for the best." He shrugged. "Burton himself wanted to use the anomalies as a 'clean' power source."
The Prime Minister leaned forward; "And? Is that viable?"
"No, sir. Burton's attempt was the event that nearly brought about the third future."
His superior scowled. "This third future…" he began, "I assume this was likewise prevented? Presumably due to Burton being, how-to-say, a 'non-entity' anymore? I assume there is a fourth 'chain of events' waiting to doom us all now?"
Lester leaned back in his chair. "The current evidence seems to point to a fourth future for the moment, though we know precious little about it. Unlike the second and third, none of my team have visited it – so the state of humanity is unconfirmed. We do know that the bat-creatures are still around – one came through a portal in the Lake District last July – but as for the bugs, gremlins and seal-men we have nothing."
"How relieving" the Prime Minister muttered and thought for a moment. When he looked at Lester again, it was with the mind that had brought him through Eton. "On a strictly hypothetical level, I assume the ARC has of yet found no future technology that could aid this country."
Lester's features tightened. "None, except that related directly to the anomalies."
"And in regard to possible…information, about hypothetical parties unfriendly to the union of Britain?"
"Nothing that would hypothetically interest you, sir."
The Prime Minister attempted to hide his disappointment, before he straitened; "How many people a year die to these 'incidents'? In the UK specifically, mind you."
"Approximately 50-80" Lester replied, "Assuming no events such as 'the Convergence' reoccur."
"And your estimation of that number should your department suffer cutbacks?"
"At least double that number, sir."
"And if these 'futures' are not contained?"
The Prime Minister scowled; "All right, you can have the money. I shall remove any reference to 'The ARC' from the agenda."
Sir James Lester smiled, with only a hint of smugness. "Thank you, Minister."