New Employee Orientation Day: 1999 • Daath the Angel • Just an Earthquake: August 2000 • Daath the Angel
Soundtrack: “Subdivisions” by Rush
Note: This story is being pubbed in serial form. You should probably start with EPISODE 1.
New Employee Orientation Day: 1999
They are the first batch of hires since the accident. Each carries a glossy new employee orientation folder, filled with simple doodles and diagrams. They follow Tyler down through the levels of DimCor: Administration and Finance, Shipping and Receiving, Production, Engineering, Maintenance, all signified by signs with cheery icons. And finally: the warehouse, also known as Human Resources.
“The Organics are well-controlled by a potion called Formula Forty-Five, created by our chymists, in conjunction with specific rhythmic tones emitted by the Jukebox—my personal design,” Tyler explains, leading the group into a storage bay and stopping before a cluster of large, egg-shaped containers—each roughly the size of a standard elevator car, DimCor’s corporate logo displayed on each curved surface. “The Forty-Five is a gas made from cyclovodephane infused with a binding spell. It triggers the neural reaction that makes them obey the music. However,” he continues, “we’re still working to perfect a formula that’s one hundred percent effective without shortening the life of the unit. Until we reach that sweet spot, there’ll always be a few snappers. What’s a snapper?’ Glad you asked!” The newbies laugh as he gestures grandly at an enclosure beyond the circle of containers. Each container is connected to the enclosure by what appears to be a loading chute. There are faint voices behind the enclosure’s curving wall. Sobbing, screaming voices.
“Bots—excuse me, that was not very PC of me—Organics occasionally ‘snap.’ They wake up from the spell, brains scrambled, no memory of who they were. Now, is the flaw in the Forty-Five, or is it in the snapper? Because we don’t yet know the answer to that question, we don’t want any trace of that Organic’s material left behind, where it might contaminate the others. And that”—Tyler pats the smooth curve of the nearest container—“is where the hyphistasis chambers come in. Hyphistasis chambers are magical transport devices that send the snappers back to World Two. For some reason, they always reappear at the exact same coordinates where we recruited them—mostly in the area of World Two known as the North American Midwest. We’re not sure why that is, but…who cares, right? They’re out of our hair.
“Once we send them back, they mostly just wander around homeless. Now, if there’s any threat of a snapper exposing our operation, we do have a reverse mechanism to yank them back, but we’ve never had to use it. They don’t have enough brains left to tell anyone where they’ve been, and even if they did, who’d believe ’em, right?” Laughter.
Tyler frowns admonishingly. “And before any bleeding hearts start feeling sorry for them, remember what they are. What they—the bastards of World Two—did to us. They cursed our people. That means, none of us—the Divine—can leave Robadu without a Bypassport—approved by someone up there on Number Two, of course. Nice, huh?
“So, what about those poor, abused Organics?” He pauses a beat, beaming out over the group. “They’re our best-kept secret, that’s what! We love our bots, don’t we?” All the new hires are laughing and nodding. All except one.
In the vastness of the warehouse, the empty pods gleam faintly, awaiting their silent occupants, the soft white light of the floating globes falling through the gloom that conceals the cathedral ceiling. “At the end of the day,” Tyler says, “They all come marching home like good little bots, the lids seal them in, and we dose them with Forty-Five.”
At the back of the group, a hand waves in the air. Tyler turns away, opening the transparent lid of the nearest pod. “Uh, ‘scuse me?”
Tyler continues as if no one has spoken. “Now, as you can see—”
“How long does the Forty-Five stay in their system?” Marissa interrupts.
“It’s never out of their system,” he says shortly. “They’re dosed every twenty-four hours. Now, some of you are probably wondering—”
“Yeah, but if you stopped dosing them. How long would it stay in the body?”
“Everything I’m showing you now,” Tyler says, addressing the group and not looking at Marissa, “is basic stuff every employee needs to know. As you begin your various assignments here, you’ll get job-specific information on a need-to-know basis.” He cocks his head and winks, causing a ripple of light laughter. “Now, as I was saying—” He turns back to the open pod, indicating the two small pipes snaking down the sides of the lid. “You may be wondering how they eat. No lunch breaks for machinery, after all.” Tyler flips a small lever on the side of the pod, and dual black tubes begin to snake out of the pipes, each one terminating in a needle, out of which oozes a slow, black goo. Marissa involuntarily glances down at the scarred tracks in the antecubital of each elbow.
The tubes twist, wormlike, as if probing for a target. “Many floors below this one,” Tyler continues with a hint of glee, “is a big lab filled with vats of this stuff. We call it the Kitchen. It’s the final stop for the Organics, after they’ve worked themselves to death. Their remains are fed into the processors, converted into liquid nutrient, and fed intravenously to the living bots while they sleep. The wage down there is double, by the way, for anyone who’s got the stomach for it.” His gaze lingers on Marissa, who stares back at him with her small, polite smile.
At the corner of the warehouse is the gateway to the crank room, where the skudder coil turns its endless fuming cartwheels within the Jukebox’s armor-plated chamber. Marissa lingers as the others move on, staring up at the pulsing chamber, one tiny seam of golden light spinning out, briefly igniting the steel of her eyes.
Even more enormous is the production floor, where the clash of the hypnotic music wars with the cacophony of machinery. Blank-faced people bend, dip, and pivot like an army of hydraulic machines, welding, drilling, assembling, riveting. The worst of the damage has been repaired, with maybe a third of the lines back up and running.
Although her last fix of Forty-Five is still in her blood, she has grown steadily numb to the pounding music.
Tyler stands with his back to the Jukebox, its colorful carousel spinning overhead. Its main control panel is now protected by an invisible force field, to which only Tyler and Kelley have the password. “We call it the Jukebox,” he says, his chest swelling visibly. “Designed, constructed, and configured by Yours Truly, I might add. You see here…”
While Tyler lovingly details some of the contraption’s finer points and his inspiration for them, Marissa is still seeing the simmering beauty of the skudder.
Feeling freedom’s wild rush, behind the Caregiver’s controls.
High in the administrative towers of DimCor, on opposing walls of her luxurious office, are two vaulted windows.
One window looks out over a dizzying constellation of winking lights in the darkness fanning out to the horizon. Spires and towers twist up from the cavern floor, massive sculptures of stone and metal, laced with corrosion, scarred with age, encrusted with twinkling globes. Robadu, from this great height, is a kingdom of color and pattern, outlined in ghost trails by whispering trains, a blanket of shadow alive with fairy lights. The galaxy of planet-like glitterballs spins slowly, casting mirror-jewel light across the bedazzled city. It’s as one descends…closer to the cliffs, the towers and bridges…that the smells of frosting, of alcohol, of rot, become dominant. Down in the narrow streets and tunnels, one can see last night’s sparkle, now ground to crud; the deflated balloons; the violence; the vomit in the gutters. The things that slither in the dark, waiting to devour the fallen.
The opposing window admits the hazy sunlight of a late afternoon. From this enormous height, the symmetrical patchwork of the Division, with its pristine housing complexes and lush green lawns, looks like a toy town in a golden bubble, gated against the surrounding darkness.
But those who live there and work for DimCor long subconsciously for the decadence from which they were elevated. At the end of the workday, they light out eagerly for the dark and violent city, cruising for the action. In the artificial dusk, little monorails streak away toward the night land beyond the Factory, streams of multicolored glow worms, carrying the chosen out into the world to devour, to fuck, to ingest all the stinking city has to offer them.
She is not yet one of them. She follows them, unseen, a shadow among shadows, forgetting nothing.
Daath the Angel
No other way to put it: World One was a fuckup, a failed experiment, sealed away in darkness where it could not spread its infection. Whose fuckup, some might ask? And some might be sorely disappointed to learn we may be large, we may be old, but one thing we’re not is omniscient. Someone or something far older created the Worlds, created us, created the Laws.
The abominations of the past have been forgotten. That which was sealed long ago has been reopened, and what stalked the earth in human form is breaking free again. Gee, I wonder what could have caused all this. Maybe it had something to do with some crony capitalists deciding it would be a great idea to enable the Nameless to walk again in the name of profit, necessitating the birth of a new Speaker for the first time since the Deluge and forcing us to keep guard over the Central Plains in case all hell, literally, breaks loose.
But does anyone listen to me? I’m just hanging out up here for my health, apparently.
Progress. Gotta love it.
Just an Earthquake: August 2000
“Why do you always have to do that?” In the big window’s reflection, Ronnie was right behind me, wiping my already-clean table.
“You know what. Act like that around them.”
“Christ, Tori. You really pissed Dad off tonight—as usual.”
“Well, someone has to.”
“They’ve done a lot for us. Sometimes I wonder if you even comprehend that. We won’t have to worry about what we’ll be doing fifteen, twenty years from now…at least I won’t.”
“Yes, and we will owe our lives to—wait for it—the great DownHome Dynasty.” I had the makings of a headache. “I need some air.” I went through the galley, down the hall past the restrooms and break room, out the back door.
Out here in the deepening shadows, the day’s heat was still baking off the concrete, the humidity still stifling.
The last remnant of sun was gone, but its red glow still faintly limned the towering cumulonimbus cloud that had now hit the stratosphere, spreading out in that beautiful anvil formation, a throb of lightning igniting the deep merlot of its center, a momentary champagne. Against that faint glow, a titanic shadow circled upward with deliberate grace, the shape of a serpent but the size of a superhighway, turning slowly until only the tail was visible. “Please, what’s happening to me?” I said out loud. Then that, too, disappeared into the blackness of the anvil.
The air stirred sluggishly, sighing through the marijuana patch growing wild just beyond the fence. There was a time when there’d been no fence, just the end of the tarmac, and instead of a few straggling plants, it had been a thriving, green forest of pot back here, thanks in part to the Miracle-Gro Marissa and I had regularly fed it. In my heart, it was a small victory the Gillespies had never succeeded in completely eradicating it.
The back door creaked, and Ronnie stepped out. He strolled over to where I stood and leaned his back against the bricks next to me. “Hey.” No one can say “hey” like Ronnie. Often, that was all it took to end a fight.
“Hey yourself,” I replied.
“Gonna be a big storm?”
“Gonna kick ass.”
“Not for business.” I knew he was thinking of lost revenue, of the ratio of clientele to staff, of his father. I pictured him hunched over the same ledgers, only this cramped office resided not in the back of a restaurant, but above a mysterious little shop with strange rooms full of hutches, hatstands, davenports, tables—all so rare and beautiful folks from around the world paid a fortune to take them home.
I sighed, familiar emotions warring with one another. I usually avoided articulating them these days, but my recent discovery in the downstairs storage closet in our apartment building wouldn’t allow my mouth to stay shut. “I was hunting around for the step stool,” I said. He pushed away from the wall, no longer relaxed. “I haven’t been down there forever. Had to look everywhere for the padlock key.” I hesitated. “I thought maybe you’d gotten rid of your old drafting tools, I hadn’t seen them in years.”
“I meant to sell that stuff. Guess I just forgot it was there.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Everything down there was covered in about an eighth-inch of dust, Ronnie. Everything except your toolkit. And some brass stencilly things. All shiny and clean.” Ronnie turned, heading towards the back door. “C’mon, if you’re working on something I’d love to see it.”
“Just getting it ready to sell, like I said.”
“Why not at least try and find your friend again—that mechanical engineer? Your dream—”
“Dream would be the operative word here, Tori! Did you really think I was serious about all that, when I’ve already got my own business…practically? You think I’m crazy enough, ungrateful enough, to throw it all away on some fantasy?” We looked away from each other, both aware this was about more than just Ronnie. “When he passes the restaurant chain down to us…in a few years, we can sell it,” he said lamely. “Then we’ll be multimillionaires, we can invest in whatever careers we want.”
“You’ll never sell your dad’s chain, you wouldn’t be able to face him ever again. Besides, I’ve got no desire to mooch off someone else’s capital gains, and neither do you.”
“Right, ’cause waiting tables while complaining how you can’t get a job in your field is so much more fulfilling.”
Blood rushed to my face. “So, you’re saying we should just give up our dreams and become your parents.”
“I’m saying sitting around waiting for the stars to align is a pretty comfortable way to pretend you’re doing something when you’re really not. You always used to talk about how you were going to work for NORAD—”
“Whatever. But ten years from now, you’ll still be impressing everyone with your pan-dimensional weather mapping techniques while you serve them their pancakes.”
“That’s not even what it’s called!” I yelled as he went back inside, slamming the door on my words. I pressed my back into the bricks, waiting for my heart to slow down again. I tried to lose myself in a well-worn daydream of me, assisting geodetic survey teams with my cross-continuum training, while in my spare time filming tornadoes at close range, dodging out of their path in the nick of time, maybe even finally seeing an angel up close.
Instead, I found myself staring down at my beat-up, white crew sneakers, which would later be kicked out onto the balcony to keep them from stinking up our apartment. The drunks would soon be out in force, trooping in after bar close, expecting their late-night breakfast. Ronnie was right. Ten years from now…change still weighing down my pockets…still waiting for her to come back so my real life could start…feet still sore and smelly.
Still serving them their pancakes.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” I whispered.
The words had barely passed my lips when the wall I was leaning upon swayed gently, first one way, then the other. I jumped away from it, disoriented, then realized I was swaying, too. I stumbled this way and that, arms waving in the air, as the pavement under my feet seemed to ripple softly like lake water in a breeze. In the parking lot, the cars jiggled on their tires.
I looked around me, searching for…what? Gaping holes splitting the street? Everything disintegrating to sulfur dust? I rubbed my eyes and looked again. The ground grew still, and the swaying stopped. Over in Skeeter’s lot, a car alarm was whistling.
Not another crazy dark vision inside my head. Just an earthquake. At that moment, the back door burst open. “Marshall! You all right?” And Marki’s arms were around me.
I laughed out loud. Just an earthquake! “I’m fine! It was just an earthquake!” I laughed even harder, leaning on her like a drunk.
“Well, uh, good.” Marki loosened her embrace, looking at me strangely before leading me towards the door, and I followed her back inside, feeling light-headed.
Ronnie popped out of the broom closet. “Where’ve you been? We’ve got broken glass up here, and we need more ice waters!” He shoved a push broom into my hands and rushed off to answer the phone by the register.
Daath the Angel
“What’s happening to You?” Hell if we know. We’re not supposed to make contact, remember. So sayeth the great enforcer of the Book, otherwise known as Torgus who, having several trillion years on the rest of us, gets the last word. Mostly.
Yeah, we’re old as shit. We were here for the Big Bang. And the one before that. And the one before that. And we’ll still be here (fuck all) for the next one.
But—there’s something to be said for Laws.
After Jambi’s little tea party, his belches triggered the “Year Without a Summer,” which resulted in worldwide famine, disease, and rioting.
We do not eat or drink of the Earth. We eat ozone and ions, we drink cloud and rain. And what do we shit? Carbon dioxide. Sorry.
All we know about “what’s happening” is that Damballah is restless, says something’s coming. Says You know something, see something. But that isn’t possible. You’re The Speaker—not The Seer. There’s no such thing, despite the old fairy tales.
You want to know what’s happening to You? Join the club.
Copyright © 2018 by Shoshana Sumrall Frerking
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead, or otherwise, is purely coincidental.