The newsreader put on a serious expression and turned to look at the camera.
“We at channel 6 would like to apologize for the previous story,” he said. “Whether it was an innocent mix-up or a prank, obviously there is no such place as ‘The Bleak, Black Pits of Desolation’ and no ambassadors have been recalled from it.”
“Maybe someone’s a little too excited about the new Hobbit movie, huh, Steve?” his co-anchor said. “It sounds like something straight out of Middle-Earth.”
“I guess you’re right, Susan,” he said. “We turn our attention to the weather, where Scott has the latest on that cold front that’s sweeping in from the frozen maw of… is that… that’s not right, is it? They’re doing it again. Well, here’s Scott with… no?”
Behind the camera, the producer was waving frantically to cut talk of the weather. Steve glanced over to the weather desk, where the reference monitor showed an elaborately painted map of an unfamiliar landscape with names of towns and kingdoms written on in calligraphy superimposed over the blue screen behind a hapless Scott.
The producer held up a hastily-scrawled cue card that had the words “tech. diff.” and “c/2 remote” on it. Susan gave a barely perceptible nod and glanced down at the top sheet on her desk.
“Ladies and gentleman, we appear to be having some technical difficulties here in the studio, but while we sort that out, let’s go to our own Katie Sedgewick and the channel 6 newsvan. It seems there’s a new arrival at the zoo, and it shows that sometimes… nine heads… are better than… one?”
They only showed a few seconds of the live feed before it was cut off, but it was more than enough.
“Oh my God!” Steve said. “What the hell was that?”
“It just… it tore right…” Susan said as the producer lost her lunch off-camera.
That was the last thing that any viewers at home saw on the television before it cut to the 21st century equivalent of a test pattern, the brief station identification clip where the reassuring voice of none other than Channel 6′s own Steve Windsor announced that Channel 6 was there for you, and all the viewers like you.
“What the hell kind of crazy ratings stunt was that?” one such viewer said aloud. He changed the channel with an angry stab at the remote, but Channel 8 was broadcasting nothing but blackness. He grunted and switched to a cable channel that was airing sitcom re-runs. “How the hell are we supposed to trust the news if they’re going to pull crap like that? I mean, did you see that?”
“Edgar?” his wife said from over by the big bay windows.
“I said, did you see that?”
“The thing on the TV,” he said. He froze as he said it. What did she mean, had he seen the sky?
“I think you should come take a look at it,” she said.
Slowly, he got to his feet.