Revelation • Fuck Robadu
Note: This story is being pubbed in serial form. You should probably start with EPISODE 1.
The first thing she is aware of is the sound of howling. Something ravenous in the darkness, something clawing, scrabbling closer, closer…
She is the ravening beast, and her teeth snap viciously in the space previously occupied by Virgil’s face. Each breath a blast of agony. Virgil emits one ragged sob, pulling her into his embrace while holding her head against his shoulder in such a way that she cannot bite him.
“You were right all along about needing it to live. Goddamn CPR didn’t work for shit, either. Not ‘til…” His voice breaks. That’s when she registers the silver glow of his irises. Like two dimes in the gloom. There is a clink as the cylinder rolls out of his pocket and comes to a stop on the stones. Its shimmering contents now depleted by half.
Her rabid eyes fall upon it, and she lunges against him with a snarl, clawing for the last tiny draught, her speech dissolving into howls of rage. But the tremendous fight against life’s return has left her with no strength, and Virgil pins her to the ground long enough to get the cuffs back on. “Why?” That memory is drifting out of reach, of being free at last, as innocent as air. All she can see now is her tormentor who has wrenched her back, back into this living damnation. “Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why…” She gags on the word, sagging against the wall, kicking weakly when he tries to come to her.
He slips the cylinder back into his pocket and sits just beyond her reach, his face wretched, watching at the ready to administer the last trace of evidence against DimCor.
“I think I’m okay now.” On the fourth night, the soreness in her body from being unable to move is almost equal to the heat. She manages to keep her voice steady and sincere. “You can unlock these things, I won’t go anywhere. I promise.”
“Drink.” He is holding a cup to her lips, but she keeps talking.
“Didn’t you hear me? I’m straight. I think dying might’ve somehow actually healed me. I swear, I can go the rest of the way without being locked up. I’ll just stay right here. Please, it hurts so bad.”
He is running a cool cloth over her burning limbs when her heel catches him across the face, and blood trickles from one nostril. “Go fuck yourself! Go kidnap more of my people and bring them here to die! Go be Kelley Robadu’s favorite pet!” She eyes his pocket, searching for the shape of the cylinder.
From somewhere far below, music and voices drift up, carrying the Sky Song, and the sound of it is like a gentle breeze in her fevered mind. Her eyes close.
In the dream, she is walking. Walking, and beneath her feet the crunch of bones.
“I can see them.” She is lying against the stone wall, exhausted from the spasms that have wracked her body for days. The flames burn lower tonight.
“You can see what?” Virgil’s voice is hoarse, exhausted. For the first time, she notices how haggard his features have become. Until now, she has been too deep within her own hell to see him as anything other than her persecutor.
She longs to touch him, assure herself he is real. “The bots…the people. They talk to me. Like before they were brought to Robadu.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Marissa.”
“No, I need it. It helps.” Her eyes are closing.
On this night, instead of writhing in a kaleidoscope of nightmare hallucinations, she sinks into a dreamless sleep.
Doomsday’s the smart one. He can talk to the animals.
One breath at a time.
P.T.’s the cool one. He can smell a clue from ten miles away.
Something is touching her burning face.
Bugs is super-strong, but he hates bananas.
“I can make you feel better,” says the young man leaning against the low stone wall. His hip juts out at an angle, his greasy hair hanging over one heavily-lined eye. “Show me a fifty and I’ll let you do anything…I can be your rag doll.”
“I wish I could help you,” Marissa says. “But I’m lost, too.”
Bathing her face with cool water, Virgil listens helplessly, unable to hear what she hears.
“It’s so dark.” The young man looks even younger, just a kid, trying and failing to pull off elegantly detached. “I just need a place to crash. Okay?” As he speaks, the makeup disappears, his clothing turning to rags, his hair becoming thin and colorless. These, then, had been his last words before Cowboy Virgil asked him his name.
It is the sixth night. When Virgil gives her food and water, she does not ask to be released. She has been thinking of silver syringes, yes, but also of the young runaway who passed through her mind on his way to oblivion. Of all who passed by as she lay here chained.
“Where else do the Channels open up in my world?” she asks.
His hands pause briefly in their work, then return to buttoning the oversized brown shirt he has brought her. “Different places. Mostly around the Midwest, where DimCor does the most business. Some come out in other parts of your world. Some are only open at certain times, and then they disappear. Like the A-10.”
“Why are they there? Who made them?”
“No one really knows. It was millions of years ago. But there’s stories, legends, that tell of a species of gigantic, invisible creatures—guardians against the destruction of your World. They only show up when there’s an imminent threat. These critters are supposed to be surrounded by their very own atmospheres, so whenever one shows up, it brings some hell-acious storms with it. Their home is supposedly my home, World Three, and that’s supposedly why we’ve got all that violent weather.”
“What sort of creatures?” Deep within her heart, something stirs. A shudder runs through her wasted body.
“Well, this is gonna sound pretty funny.”
“I could use a little funny right now.”
Virgil’s face softens, and he leans down to find her mouth, kissing her dry lips before speaking again. “It’s said they’re shaped like giant serpents, miles long. It’s said each one of their eyes is big as a baseball diamond and burns like a pit of fire. Story goes, they built the Channels, to get from one World to another in a quicker shot…Miss Marissa? What is it? You gonna be sick?” Under his hands, her body has tightened like a bowstring.
“Tell me…if the guardians are invisible, how do you know they look like snakes?”
“I—er, don’t know, never thought about it before. I suppose it’s on account of the shape of the passages—you know, like giant wormholes. Supposedly, only a very special kind of World Two-er could even see them or communicate with them.”
“Like a—a magus? A sorcerer?” A new energy has begun to surge through Marissa, sharpening her surroundings, washing all thoughts of death and sorrow away.
“In World Two terms, yeah, I guess. The legends say these folks were rare, only one born every few thousand years, when Two was in immediate danger. They were called the Speakers of the Sky, and were the earthly right-hand of the guardians, the communicator between them and the magical community. They’re supposed to have cognizant memory from the day they’re born. But, main thing is, they can call on these guardians in a special language only they can learn. If the Speaker dies, the guardians lose the ability to protect World Two, and the curse that keeps World One from breaking through will be broken. So, they’ll use all their power to protect the Speaker—with one exception.
“If the Speaker ever comes face-to-face with the evil of One, to keep it from taking his or her power for itself, they’ll circle ’round, converging to destroy the evil, and all that atmospheric commotion will form a giant funnel cloud. The stories say this hasn’t really ever happened, but if it did, the resulting storm would obliterate everything for miles around. And if it can’t be avoided, the Speaker may get killed right along with the evil.” He shrugs. “But nobody really believes all that stuff. It’s just stories people tell the kids at bedtime.” His hands rest on her neck and shoulders. “Why’s all this upsetting you?”
“I’m not upset! There’s something I haven’t told you! I’ve never told it to anyone before. It’s about Tori.”
“Your friend? What about her?”
“She’s one of them. Or she’s the one, I guess. A—A Speaker of the Sky.” Virgil goggles at her in confusion. “She always called them the angels. Ever since we were little kids, she’s seen them in the clouds, every time there was a big storm. She can predict what the storms are going to do—like, how many hundredths of an inch of rain, if there’ll be hail or tornadoes. And…she remembers the day she was born. In the middle of the night there was a giant, orange sunrise.”
“But—” Virgil stammers. “It’s all made up—except for the Channels existing, obviously. Just legends, like your Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, shit like that.”
“This is real! Listen! You asked me how I survived. What kept me strong instead of being worked to death, why the potion stopped making me a bot and by some twisted joke made me a junkie instead.”
“You said you didn’t know how all that happened.”
“I was lying, Virgil. To protect her. When we were little, there was this long drought, everything was dying, no end in sight. So, Tori and me, we tried to make it rain. First, we did a rain dance. And then she held my hand in the…in the garden.” Her voice is trembling. “We didn’t even know what we were doing. But I felt something move inside me, and then this huge storm came up out of nowhere. And this giant twister started coming down, at least a mile wide. It would’ve wiped out half of Lincoln, but Tori said an angel appeared and reversed it.” Virgil is listening closely, head down. “When she held my hand, when she said push…something happened. It gave me something, even though we didn’t know it back then.”
“But this is nuts.” His voice is uncertain now. “Even if this was somehow real…why wouldn’t she know who she is? She should’ve been raised as a Speaker of the Sky from day one, educated in the known history of magic, the Sky Tongue…”
“By who? Her dad’s not some powerful wizard. He’s an obstetrician at Bryan LGH.”
Virgil’s expression has frozen now. “And her mother…?” he asks slowly.
“Tori never knew her. She died in childbirth.”
He is gazing off into space, his eyes full of wonder. “The mother always does.”
“That’s how the stories go. The Earthly parents are secretly called to accept the duty, the honor, of bringing the next Speaker into your world in order to protect it.” Virgil slowly shakes his head. “The effort of carrying and delivering this child is too great for the mother to survive. Both parents know this going in and accept this sacrifice.”
“But that would mean Edward…”
Tori’s dad, whom Marissa had wished her whole life were also her dad. Edward, who seemed not at all surprised at the conjuring of a giant tornado by two little girls; who’d kept a quiet watch over them both as much as he was able; who’d patiently assured them time and again that no, there was still no key to the bottom right desk drawer. In the end, however, he’d been unable to place his daughter in the path of evil, hiding her from herself, trying to give her instead the life of a normal child growing up in Nebraska.
“I’ve never told anyone about her before. I didn’t even tell you, because I didn’t want there to be even the smallest chance of Kelley finding out. Because if she knew…” Marissa collapses back against the wall, exhausted. “…she’d have Tori down here, too.”
“Maybe.” Virgil’s disbelief is slowly being replaced by determination. “And maybe not.”
Virgil is still looking down as he speaks, thinking hard. “If Tori knew she was a Speaker—”
“She doesn’t have a clue. She always used to think she was crazy.”
“But if she were to find out…” He raises his head at last. “Up ’til tonight, I didn’t even believe the stories. I’m still trying to get my head around it. Miss Marissa, Kelley might be a powerful demon, but hell, it looks like your friend has got a direct line to the angels!”
“You have to tell her!” But now Marissa’s thoughts are racing head, and her expression darkens. “But how do we contact her without leading Kelley straight to her?”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re hiring at the Nebraska Foundation for Magical Arts. We make sure she applies.”
“But they’re our—DimCor’s—customer!”
“Customer. Not in league with them, just a customer. And there are good people—like my uncle Karl—working there. Miss Tori’d be surrounded by ‘em. Then she could learn the art of magic under their protection and fully realize her power.”
“Even if she does apply, there’s no guarantee she’ll get hired.”
“Be a pretty good chance, if they test her.”
“Test her? For what?”
“To see if she’s magical.” As he speaks, he pulls out the key and begins unlocking the manacles holding her wrists. “Also, we’re going to spill all this to my uncle, who’ll be more than happy to recommend her glowingly.”
“What’re you doing? Day seven isn’t ’til tomorrow.”
“I know. But you’re through the worst of it—wouldn’t you say, Miss Marissa? Let’s blow this joint, and then blow the lid off their whole operation.”
“No. I’m getting my mind back, but I’m just learning to compartmentalize the pain because I’m chained up.” She looks away from him. “One more day. If you let me loose now, there’s a good chance I’ll fight you. I’ll want to head right back to the Factory looking for the koolaid.” As she says it, Marissa inhales deeply, turning her gaze upward. There is nothing there except the Ceiling of this underground world of eternal darkness. But, as the Sky Song promises, there is something up above, and she puts all her hope and faith into this single thought.
Virgil sadly reengages the locks, then pulls her against him, stroking her sweaty hair as her eyes are closing again. “You’re made of steel, Miss Marissa. I’ve never even seen you cry.”
As she awakens, a hand is touching her hair, exploring her face. She turns her head, then recoils, realizing it is not Virgil. Klio withdraws her hand, smiling. Marissa stares up at her, speechless. “You’re alive,” she finally falters.
Klio touches the manacles holding her to the wall. “And so are you.”
Virgil is gone. So is the truck. “Where…what?”
“I found you two up here. Virgil wanted to deliver the last bit of Forty-Five to his uncle Karl at the Nebraska Foundation for Magical Arts. Their tests will prove what DimCor has been making down here with the cyclovodephane. But he didn’t dare leave your side, after you died on him and all. I told him I’d stay with you.” Klio touches Marissa again, shyly. “I was just checking your temperature. Fever’s almost gone.” Smiling, Klio holds up a key, then inserts it into the locks on the manacles, which are blood-rimmed and bent, one nearly ripped from its wall anchor.
Just as Klio is helping her to her feet, the sound of a motor, faint at first, grows louder, and then a big square shape is circling the rooftop of Skidmor House, lights extinguished, gliding in for a landing. He climbs down from the driver’s chair and sees Marissa walking toward him. A slow growl builds in his chest as his arms close around her. “Miss Mimosa,” he rumbles. “Tell you what I’m gonna do when I get you back to my world…”
“What’s that?” she whispers.
“Cook you up the best meal you ever had in your damn life and then tuck you in for a nice long sleep. Meantime, here’s a little sample.” From the truck, he retrieves a battered thermos and a plastic spoon. He unscrews the cap and pours the contents into it. At the smell, Marissa is instantly ravenous.
Sitting on the low wall, she devours the thick, heavenly stew he has brought her from Darphina, not even questioning what’s in it. With every bite, she can feel a margin of strength returning.
Faint, pink lights have appeared on the horizon in all directions, rising and falling gracefully like glowing rosebuds in a gentle breeze, distant but growing brighter. “They finally found us.” Marissa stands at the edge of the rooftop, looking out. She, Virgil, and Klio have worked hard to empty every floor of Skidmor, warning the Divine this is no longer a safe gathering place. She walks around to the back of the truck, opens the rear doors, and lifts the shoulder bag containing the object she has kept hidden since escaping the chamber of portraits. Turning, she places into Klio’s hands the ornate oval frame containing the ancient portrait of Kelley Robadu. “It’s called the Central Mindsynth. Or was. Now it’s called Fuck Robadu.”
Klio doesn’t move. “Hug me first. You told me they do that where you come from.” And Marissa puts her arms around the girl. Klio’s arms come up to encircle Marissa, awkward at first, then tightening. Then Klio turns and drops over the wall, scaling the building, swinging into windows and doorways, warning any left within to get out—now. Soon, the few last stragglers are fleeing down ladders and staircases, helping any disabled onto flying carpets, pouring out into the streets. The pink lights have resolved into a fleet of cyclopean machines streaking toward Skidmor House.
The big brown truck backs up, circling, then accelerates forward. As it hits top speed and lifts off from the rooftop, the Caregivers slam into the sides of the building. Multiple blasts crumple Skidmor House as these specially outfitted suicide bombers detonate, and its ancient walls collapse inward, sending a smoking fireball miles into the air. Any who have not run fast enough, or are unable to run, are consumed, little matchsticks.
Throughout the kingdom of Robadu, the puppet-muzic is still blasting. On walls, on lamp posts and flagstones, sensuous silhouettes gyrate to the beats, flaring pink hula-hoops spinning in hypnotic sequence. A metallic voice commands: “Don’t stop now! Virgil’s counting on you! Bring us the Organic and win a year’s supply of—”
But suddenly, there is a loud crackle and the music is silenced. Thousands of crystal balls go black—something that has never happened before in all of Robadu. There is a hiss of static, and the globes flicker gray and white. Then the picture resolves into a wide shot of what remains of Skidmor House. Smoke billows, and red flames illuminate the massive expanse of blackened ruins. Transducers skitter amidst the rubble like beetles, scavenging for the money shot.
A brown-skinned girl with short spiky hair, grayed with ash, steps into the foreground. “My first name is Klio,” she says. “I wasn’t born with a last name. But you know, I think I want one. Let’s see…I think I’ll be Smith. Klio Smith. How about you? Are you worth having a last name? Take one. Right now. If you don’t know any, make one up. Here’s a few: Jones. Nguyen. Li. Nelson. García. Lewis.”
She turns to survey the smoldering wreckage of Skidmor House. “Not everyone made it out. Those of us who did saved as many as we could.” She turns back, her voice still quiet. “The Factory did this. Why? Because we’re finally starting to wake up. Deprive Robadu of victims, we destroy her world. She feeds on our weakness, keeping us stupid, helping us die before any of us have a chance to really grow up.” With every word, steel hardens in her voice and eye. “We have been lied to for generations. Robadu is not our home. We came from World Two. Earth, where there is no Ceiling. Earth, where there is a blue sky full of light! We have always been told the way is cursed, that we can never go back. But we’ll find a way. We will search out the hidden Rehab centers, and we will free our friends before even one more dies. But that can only happen—” Her voice has risen to a shout. “When we throw away the candy, dump out all the booze, and sober the fuck up!” Her eyes are now ablaze. “And this?” Klio holds up a colorful wad of dolla, smiley faces crumpling in her fist. “This worthless shit they call money?” She snaps her fingers, and a small flame begins eating its way through the wad of bills. “Burn, baby, burn.” As fire consumes the paper, the transmission fades to black.
After a second, a song fills the air—a new song that comes like a cool wind, blowing through all that dark land.
The Science of Biology tells us all
Our blood we will spill, and many fall
For those who go to find the way
To finally see the Light of Day
Our faces free of paint and mask
Our faces smiling, free at last
Our faces smiling as we die
Our faces shining with the Light.
Around the world, small fires begin to burn.
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.