I'm in, flash me
|# ? Mar 30, 2020 19:25|
|# ? Jan 28, 2022 21:32|
I am using a RNG to tell me which of the three types of flash rules on offer you'll get: Secondary motivation, special item, or character role. Note: some of the character roles may be given to multiple people.
If you receive an item: Feel free to not use my product name if it doesn't fit the mood of your story. The item still has to do basically what it says in the description, but I don't want to wreck your gritty noir story with the VoidTots WhackyDoodler Whimsy Pen, or whatever.
I'm in, flash me
You get a character role! Your story features at least one janitor who's seen too much (veteran janitor)!
In with a flash!
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the OculOrb GO!, often called the Oculo by users. This plug-and-play mobile eyeball can be worn in-socket OR remotely operated using any smart phone.
In and flash
You get a character role! Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.
You get a special item! new from Voidmart, it's the Peacemaker! This state-of-the-art chest implant uses the electrical activity of the heart to project a calming (or potentially stupefying) field around the user. Does not affect the wearer. Can be controlled using any smart phone, effective in a seven foot radius.
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to preserve a rare plant or animal specimen.
In and flash
You get a character role! Your story features at least one undercover investigator. Since you are on Team Jailbreaker, they cannot on Voidmart's payroll.
Into the Void, in a flash
You get a character role! Your story features at least one [redacted]! They are the [garbled noises, crystaline chimes] of VoidTower One!
In and flash
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to get an important message to the outside.
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Universal Fingerprint! This baby didn't come cheap. Can bypass most fingerprint-based security measures, including those on smartphones and keypads.
In flash yes.
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to hide the evidence!
in and flash
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the SpectrAway Spray! Also known as ghost spray or ghost repellant. Does what it says on the can; eliminates ghosts in a minute or less.
Im holding up both hands in enthusiasm!
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to end a secret conflict.
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to obtain recognition from management.
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to control an item of great value or power.
Ugh fine. Flash.
You get a character role! Your story features at least one member of VoidTower One management, the unholy minds behind the megatower.
You get a character role! Your story features at least one entertainer or member of an entertainment group.
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to find the music hidden in the vents.
In and flash.
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the PhoTonic Flask! This handsome vessel can capture and store light.
You get a character role! Your story features at least one janitor who has seen too little (they're new on the job).
You get a character role! Your story features at least one visitor to the tower. They're not a resident at all!
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the return of the classic Void-in-a-Can! An all-purpose void, ready to deploy anywhere, any time.
in flash gimme gimme
You get a character motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to find eternal life.
In and flash.
You get a character role! Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.
You get a character role! Your story features at least one psychic or medium. They're the real deal!
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Etho-Optics emotion-seeking goggles! Find any feeling within a thirty yard diameter.
You get a character role! Your story features at least one indie journalist.
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to establish a sovereign nation within the tower.
You get a character role! Your story features at least one undercover investigator! Since you are on Team Jailbreaker, they cannot on Voidmart's payroll.
Failed two weeks in a row, gotta get in this time.
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the InfiniBreeze Ring! Unleash a personal mini-tornado from the comfort and convenience of your hand!
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Health Pilot BioDrone! The latest in quantum drone computing, this baby not only reads the user's biometrics but stores them safely inside its memory, rendering the user virtually invincible so long as the drone remains operational.
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to take revenge on someone else in the tower.
you get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Handheld Repeater! Point the unit at anything you might want a second chance at.
You get a character role! Your story features at least one [redacted]! They are the [garbled noises, crystaline chimes] of VoidTower One!
IN, flash me!
You get a character role! Your story features at least one acrobat or stunt person.
In with a flash!
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Special Edition Deluxe Fluxator! "Cause and effect"? Boring. Mix up your timeline with the Fluxator! Effective in a radius of fifteen feet. Can flux up to five minutes at a time.
You get a character role! Your story features at least one occult practitioner.
Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 21:30 on Mar 30, 2020
|# ? Mar 30, 2020 21:11|
I have assigned team roles in discord!
If you are on the Discord server, please make sure your role matches what I assigned you in-thread. If you're on the server and don't have a team role, it's because I don't know your username on Discord.
If you want to join the server, let me know via PM or tell me in-thread how to send you a link.
If you don't want to participate in Discord at all, don't worry about it, and enjoy writing your story!
|# ? Mar 30, 2020 21:35|
(USER WAS BANNED FOR THIS POST)
|# ? Mar 31, 2020 04:41|
|# ? Mar 31, 2020 06:16|
In and flash
|# ? Mar 31, 2020 16:59|
In and flash
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to defy the programming.
|# ? Mar 31, 2020 17:23|
Mercedes, Carl Killer Miller, Azza Bamboo, Anomalous Amalgam. You didn't get entries in, and that's okay. Don't feel bad at all. Times are hard, take so much care of y'all selves.
If the four of you ever can send in redemption, no matter when, I promise to crit it/rank it against the week within a week once you contact me and let me know.
To the Rulings:
Staggy: you made me giggle and I love camp.
Slipup: So the essence of the characters and the poo poo they'd do to each other. Snappy and good.
Tyrannosaurus: Swirling the natures of both tricksters together well.
HFCS - Mafia stuff with too much minutae and glaring proofreading errors.
selaphiel: I don't know where you were going with this tiger thing but that's not close to the character.
Something Else: a grimdark take on pretty much anything in the world is not Neth's thing in the slightest, I'm so not amused.
Doctor Eckhart, with an airport story that was dry as a bone and with no joy or true characterization. Enjoy your new avatar, I hope you think it's pretty.
Chili with a story about friendship, caring, and highs and lows and heart.
I have more things to say, good and bad, but they can come out in my crits. Right now I need to go catch butterflies and pay that racoon his bells.
Congrats, dude, the throne i--
waitaminute, we're getting a last minute announcement from sitting here over the speakers
NO PROMPTING. WEEK 400 IS NOT YOURS.
--got it. Just chill. Maybe take this week to wipe it down. Start with 401.
See y'all on the other side of the river.
Nethilia fucked around with this message at 03:57 on Apr 1, 2020
|# ? Apr 1, 2020 03:54|
to complete Week 399 crits by 4/7/20, 11:59 PST
|# ? Apr 1, 2020 06:22|
good a time as any to poke my head back in with a flash
|# ? Apr 1, 2020 06:27|
good a time as any to poke my head back in with a flash
You get a character role! Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.
Sitting Here fucked around with this message at 12:17 on Apr 1, 2020
|# ? Apr 1, 2020 12:10|
|# ? Apr 3, 2020 19:20|
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to work with someone difficult.
|# ? Apr 4, 2020 03:33|
Whatever Happened to the Maintenance Guy?
I have one beard, red, and one tail, black-and-tan. My skin is freckled and pink. My underbelly is also pink, albeit unfreckled. It is warmed by lilac crochet complete with the VoidTower logo.
Before the operation, I maintained this entire high rise. But automation struck, and there was no longer a need for maintenance men.
Now I am a mascot, a she-dog, a human head grafted to a dachshund's body. A am the union of bitch and man. My heart knots and denizens unwind; I am at once their salve and their entertainment.
The AI who operated on me could not have known most denizens would find me creepy. It was, after all, just a two-hour-old baby. That’s why VoidTower mitigated the problem by installing a Peacemaker gadget. With a contortion of my little heart muscle and the calming field that reaches from it, all around me are at ease.
How may I serve you? Allow me, I beg. I need your joy; yours is all I have. There now, doesn’t that feel—
But now the blast walls rise and klaxon pierces our ears. The tower is in lockdown and the denizens grow agitated. I don’t care what caused it; I will make it stop. My denizens will be calm.
Memories of the old life spring forth: piping, wiring, greenhouse conservatories, power grids, security panels. Aha! The lockdown mechanism is on the rooftop Observation Deck. If I am to calm my denizens, that’s where I’ll need to go.
If there is a single benefit to being a canine-bodied mascot, it’s having total access throughout the building. Granted, I’d had that when I was doing maintenance too, but now I use the doggy doors, and I'm the only intelligent creature here who can do so. I set forth to skitter through corridors and hop through flaps. When I get to the service elevator, I press my nose to a ground-level panel to bring it back on line. Whenever I use my nose to press buttons, I yearn for my hands. They were hands that hated: hated punching in, plunging toilets for dipshit residents, running pipe and wire everyplace. I especially hated shaking hands with my smarmy bosses. But I’d loved with those hands too, and in any case they were mine.
The elevator opens to The Observation Deck, where there are unconscious bodies everyplace. I scamper towards the security zone when one woman on the ground breaks into a seizure. I suspect her body is trying to resist whichever security measures are keeping her unconscious. I knot my heart and releasing the calming waves.
“There, there. This will all be over soon.”
I canter into the security zone. Sitting there, operating the panels with my hands, is the chief of security: a female dachshund head grafted onto a human body. She turns her neck toward me. Her mouth stays shut while she speaks through the electronic voice modulator protruding from her throat.
“I knew you’d come.”
“Why'd you put the building in lockdown?”
“To make it impossible for you to leave the tower. I’ve decided I want to keep you up here. As a pet.”
She stands up and begins to lumber toward me. My strong and healthy body has become her splotchy and pudgy one. (Does she not care about it at all? Clearly she has taken great lengths to mistreat it). It jiggles as it moves.
I will need to pacify her, then jump up onto her station and disengage the lockdown. I knot my heart, and the calming waves sway forth. But she knots hers as well. My calming waves crash against her intimidating ones.
This is madness, I think. And for a moment I contemplate acquiescing to being her personal pet. But I cannot. I know she will treat me the way she treats my former body. So I knot my heart harder to counteract hers.
When voluntary, hate is much stronger than love. I learned that it in my miserable VoidTower job before the procedure. But now that it's compulsory, my loving waves seem equal to her hateful ones.
We intensify our opposing concentrations. At last our hearts give out at once. It will fall to a denizen to end this lockdown and bring calm back to the tower. I have failed them all.
|# ? Apr 5, 2020 22:26|
When the yellow emergency light woke Employee 5889-PA, muffled insect noise had already filled the tower. He sat up in his pod, the lights returned to normal, and a Company bulletin immediately began printing out in red onto the back of his eyelids while the VoidTower jingle played in his ears:
TO OUR VALUED EMPLOYEES. A GROUP OF OUR VALUED CUSTOMERS WERE DISCOVERED BY SENIOR MANAGEMENT AT THE VOIDMART OBSERVATION DECK AT 2:35 AVT. THEY WERE AWARE OF THE -CLASSIFIED-. WE ASK YOU TO KEEP OUR VALUED CUSTOMERS SATISFIED AS WE ESCORT THIS GROUP OUT OF THE BUILDING. HAVE A VOID DAY.
The printout disappeared and was replaced by the coordinates showing where he would be working an emergency shift. He blinked to indicate his consent to the work. It was odd, he thought, that the Company was sending him to work on his own floor. 5889-PA had worked as an Associate in the Peace Department for five years, and the Company had never sent him within five floors of his pod.
PA stood, popped a stimulant, pulled on his mauve jumpsuit, strapped his rifle round his shoulders, and hesitantly looked out the window, trying to make out the lights of the grand entrance, 180 stories down, through the enveloping smog. He suppressed a shudder. It was hard to imagine the detained insects surviving long out there.
He walked outside, down the empty hall of identical pod doors, to find his post outside the emergency exit, which was now sealed with some sort of heavy glass door. Sounds somewhere between screams and laughter echoed up the elevator shaft on the other side of the hall. He wondered where the other Employees on the floor were. He couldn’t hear them over the growing sound of shouting voices.
They were here. The insects were charging up the stairs, pressing up against the glass, shattering it, pouring over one another; a river of faces and bodies. 5889-PA took his gun and fired at these faces, over and over, before he was swallowed up and torn to pieces.
|# ? Apr 5, 2020 22:46|
My entry should be fully readable on the forums as I'll post it in the next post, and it can be critted and archived like that.
However, I tried a formatting experiment for it, so if you want the "true" experience, I invite you to visit it on google docs.
Simply Simon - TD400: Team Spirit
|# ? Apr 5, 2020 22:51|
We are the crystal guardians of VoidTower One. It is our duty to prevent humans from reaching The Top. We succeeded in quelling their latest attempt during this shutdown.
I know your duty as I have assigned it. Report.
We begin drawing a mental map of the Tower, blast-shielded exterior, emergency stairwells and elevators, to illustrate…
This is unacceptably slow. Your memory. Open.
. . .
It was three dozenth-cycles ago that curfew was breached. Diligently vigilant, we swiftly took action. Our strongest drone bodies were sent to decisively deal with…
I realize you are reshaping your memories with self-aggrandizing adverbs. Cease.
The curfew-violators had sent three teams of three humans each. They each tried a different way to reach The Top. I sent drone phone-call-to-fax to what is currently the outside of VoidTower, drone fork-on-porcelain to the west-eastern stairwell, and drone cracked-bell’s-chime into the shaft of the elevator connecting floor 7-X to floor 1/0.
Phone-call-to-fax observed the outside team climbing the Tower with suction cups, hooks and magnet gloves depending on surface. The drone waited inside windows as they made their way up. Once, a human spotted moonlight reflecting off the drone’s facets; this startled the human and he almost lost his grip, but he caught himself. The next story up, when he passed a window, he hesitated, peering inside for another glimpse; this is when we struck. The drone sprang through the window, adding its shards to its own, and with that flurry of sharp edges cut the man to ribbons. As his remains fell, we focused our attention on the other two, but one pointed a nozzle at the drone. A jet of liquid flame emerged and the drone had to retreat, as this burning liquid would otherwise coat it and overwhelm its energy balance. Cracked-bell’s-chime had been forced to flee at this point as well, showing the importance of a staggered approach.
Fork-on-porcelain watched as the humans went up the stairwell. They had two go in front, one behind, then switched up on each flight; we assume they believed to be able to see hostiles approach from every angle. The drone hung underneath the stairs, however. At one point, the one looking downwards made an unexpected step back and touched one of the drone’s extremities. The human exclaimed and startled the others, who chided him for paranoia. After an exchange, he calmed down and proceeded upwards; the drone dug a shard deep into his leg and pulled him off the staircase, so that gravity might end him. Immediately, the drone attempted to attack the others, but an object fell down next to it and it fled, cautioned by what was happening to Phone-call-to-fax at the same time. Indeed, the object exploded and caused a flight of stairs to collapse, forcing Fork-on-porcelain to postpone the attack.
Cracked-bell’s-chime had folded itself up in a nook of the elevator shaft. Two humans ascended on one elevator cable each, while one took the service ladder. They were arguing amongst each other about the unfair distribution of tasks. One shone his flashlight over the nook where the drone was hiding, and silenced himself. The shaft exploded in myriads of bright dots as the light got shattered into pieces. The ladder-climbing human used his free hand to aim a weapon at the drone, and projectiles started zipping past it. One managed to hit a facet, and the resulting ringing sound made the cable-ascenders almost drop their grip. We realized the drone was in active danger, especially considering what occurred in the stairwell right now, and decided to damage company equipment. The drone severed a cable, causing the human on it to plummet into the darkness below, and slunk away from the weapon fire to save this body.
We evaluated what had happened to each drone, expressed internal satisfaction at eliminating a third of…
The facts are enough, especially do not omit further property damage. Proceed.
Phone-call-to-fax could not close in on the humans climbing the outside of the Tower again, as they now held their flame-spewers ready. However, they also carried the long-range weapons we had seen used against us in the shaft. Fortunately, due to there being no ground beneath, exploding objects would be useless to this group. As precedent had already been set, more structural damage was deemed acceptable, and the drone severed a blast-shield’s support. The two humans noticed the metal slab falling towards them, and exchanged a glance. Then, one raised his weapon, and fired a single large projectile from it. It impacted one end of the falling shield and exploded. Thus imbalanced, the shield narrowly missed the human who had fired, but struck his companion, crushing bones and severing tendons. In a similar situation to the events in the shaft currently unfolding, one had sacrificed the other for a temporary reprieve, as the dust-cloud from the explosion shielded him from immediate detection by the drone.
Fork-on-porcelain hid above the humans ascending the stairs. We know humans are susceptible to heat and require oxygen, therefore these ones would not use fire in the enclosed space of the stairwell. A melee approach was deemed sensible. The drone jumped from three stories up and entangled one of them in its body, causing skin openings. The other human raised a tube-weapon towards the drone, and we decided to exploit a known weakness of humans. We lifted the still-living victim in the path of the tube-weapon. The humans exchanged some words as we pondered our next step, when the events on the Tower’s outside happened. Realizing that we could not ensure that these particular subjects put others’ continued existence above their own, the drone pushed the victim towards his compatriot. Indeed, the tube-weapon fired a spray of projectiles that might have shattered the drone’s body, had it not been shielded by the human, which turned into a cloud of blood and flesh. Through it, the other human managed to flee.
Cracked-bell’s-chime needed to approach its two humans using stealth, as they could attack it well at range and the shaft did not afford many opportunities for cover. We placed it in a maintenance tunnel above a sub-level, where the ladder-climber would have to cross. Knowing that they could detect the drone easily by its reflective properties, we had to eschew visual observation. However, they ascended while discussing the nature of the drones, allowing easy estimation of their time of arrival. The drone saw the human’s head crest the tunnel opening and immediately struck, driving two extremities into its visual nodes. We drug it into the tunnel to guarantee termination, when something impacted the squirming body. The drone lifted it slightly and spotted an exploding object the cable-hanging human had thrown after his colleague, despite still seeing life-signs. Fortunately, we had seen a similar tactic applied in the stairwell, so the drone escaped just before the tunnel filled with heated shrapnel.
From these events, we could conclude that this batch of humans was ruthless and used their numbers as resources, similar to ourselves. As each group was now only consisting of a single member, they should have been helpless.
Phone-call-to-fax was perched on a gargoyle of a memory above classification level. Erase. When the climbing human spotted it, he hesitated for a moment, only to redouble his efforts. The drone jumped on him and entangled him in a sharp embrace. As he experienced significant blood loss, his struggle waned, but then he used his second arm to embrace the drone in term. This of course meant that he was no longer supported, and his eventual corpse dragged the drone into oblivion below.
Fork-on-porcelain snuck up from below the railing to avoid the projectile spread of the tube-weapon. The human seemed unperturbed by the loss of his right leg, and produced an edged weapon from a sheath on the other. His desperate assault overwhelmed the drone, and we had to give it up. However, as it disintegrated, we saw its shards reflect in the widening eyes of the human. We saw the spark of sentience fade, and knew this encounter had driven him mad, so he was dealt with.
Cracked-bell’s-chime climbed up the ladder in plain view, as we knew the cable-using human couldn’t defend himself. We prepared to end his existence in an expedient fashion. However, in a reckless manoeuvre, the human jumped at the drone and pinned it against the shaft’s wall. This locked drone and man into a stalemate, but unexpectedly, the latter’s lips formed an expression of triumph. It was then we realized the elevator was ascending, but we could not escape mutual pulverization.
. . .
In conclusion, we underestimated the strength of the humans as both a team and as individuals and might re-evaluate drone independence. However, despite the loss of three drones, we prevented all humans from ascending towards The Top.
Then why did the elevator ascend? Possible contents? Speculate.
A drone will investigate floor 1/0.
This is not speculation. Punish self for incompetence.
|# ? Apr 5, 2020 22:51|
It’s the poo poo that Makes You Unique!
The second the tower goes into lockdown I know that no matter what future I might look back from to these moments, they will forever be a scar cut into the tissue of my life’s memories - the point at which everything became different. Before the blare of sirens heralded the slow descent of shutters across every pane of glass on the outside of Void Tower One I hadn’t even realised that I’d lived until now trapped in an endless present, never really facing the stark realities of “before” or “after”. Now that the innocence of that unmarked expanse of time had been ripped from me for good, I find myself straining for the first time under the yoke of history, blinking in excitement at the thrill of the new.
I must have known from the second I first saw you that you were marked for head-on collision with the limits of possibility. When we locked eyes as you lifted cans of poo poo from the grocery store on the 1200th floor, and I clocked the security guard who’d have noticed you a second later, something about you made me knock a wine bottle to the floor to distract him. I had never done anything like it. Among the countless identical housing units of Void Tower One, I could already tell that you were a singularity. Your wiry body excreted portents like pheromones. It was hot as Hell.
Still, you never let me convince you you were special. I remember the last time I tried to, a few months after we’d run into each other again and become friends. You were drinking poo poo then, too, as you always were. You’d started on the stuff as a joke, amused by the self-seriousness of the gimmick energy drink's name and tagline: “‘It’s the poo poo that makes you unique,'" you'd scoff, mimicking the ads we heard ten times a day on the corporate radio. "There's a hundred of these cans in every mini-mart on every floor. Every gormless Voidboy drinks this and wants to be special - what's unique about that?" By the end I think the poo poo was the only thing keeping you alive.
The last time I tried to convince you you were special, we were sitting on top of your bed. I wished we were under the sheets but I didn’t know how to ask. "Do you ever feel like you're living in a hall of mirrors?" you’d asked me, swilling the poo poo at the bottom of your can. It was a familiar refrain.
"Only sometimes." Beneath the heaving mess of your bedroom - towers of books, printouts, and cans of poo poo on every surface - you had approached interior decorating with your trademark bitter irony, forever buying duplicates of items intended to look like they were one of a kind and displaying them alongside each other, to put all their deceptions on show. Two identical driftwood owls, three identical bonsai trees under bell jars, four Jackson Pollock knock-offs, their splatters of paint matching with pinpoint precision.
"I'm serious,” you said. “When was the last time you looked at something and knew that it was the only one of its kind?"
"I'm looking at you, aren't I?" I said, only pretending to be joking.
With a bitter laugh, you dropped your empty can to the floor and groped around for a full one. I was starting to realise that your detached irony towards poo poo had since lapsed into an addict’s conviction. Finding two on the floor, you threw one to me. “I think you should drink this,” you said. “I was wrong about this stuff, you know. I think it’s the real deal.”
“It’s a head trip?” I asked.
“Not exactly. Drink it.” I did.
Not exactly, drink it, someone said at the edge of my hearing.
“Do you hear them?” you asked.
Can you hear them?
“Yes,” I said.
“In the infinite apartments of Void Tower One, an infinite amount of people take their first sip of poo poo.”
In the infinite flats of Void Tower Twelve, infinite people sip poo poo for the first time.
“Christ, Frank,” I said. “That’s quite a head trip.”
“It’s not a head trip,” you said. That’s no head trip, kid. They’re real. “They’re real, believe me. This stuff connects you to other people going through something similar, somewhere else in the Void Towers. Of course, there’s plenty of them.”
You get used to it after a while.
“Can I shut them up?” I said.
“You’ll get used to it soon enough. But seriously, it fades pretty quickly if you don’t keep topping up.”
I laughed and looked at you. “I don’t understand you,” I said as the voices faded away. “You’re obsessed with being something unique, but you surround yourself with reminders that you’re not.”
“How else will I know?” you said. “Anyway, this isn’t just about me. It’s about the possibility of anything new happening ever. Don’t you find it repulsive to be trapped in an endless spiral until the heat death of the universe? So repulsive you can’t look away?”
“I don’t really think about it,” I said.
“Well I do. I feel like a cigarette butt swirling round a drain, round and around, going nowhere, just waiting for the end. Not admitting that would be cowardice.”
You fell silent for a minute, then started softly sobbing. I took you in my arms and held you close.
After that we drifted apart for a few weeks, unsure what to do about the intimacy we had briefly shared. When we eventually ran into each other, you said you had something to show me in the greenhouse on the top floor. You seemed excited in a way I had never seen.
From the top floor you could see more of the city than anywhere else in the tower. On the skyline, the squat masses of Void Towers Two and Three masked their infinite depths. Since there wasn’t anything to buy up there, the floor itself was usually deserted, and the first thing you did when we got there was jam a metal broom between the handles of the doors to the emergency staircase. “Lifts won’t work in a crisis anyway,” you said enigmatically.
Under a tarp in a hidden corner of the recreational greenhouse, a writhing knot of flesh and bark twitched in the afternoon sun.
“The gently caress is that?” I asked.
“Nothing that’s ever existed before,” you grinned, as a proud parent might back when it was never certain what your child would become. “I started feeding poo poo to one of my bonsais just to see what would happen. Nothing did in my room, but whatever’s in it seems to react in the sun. Watch this.” You pulled out a can from somewhere and poured it onto the mass at my feet, which swelled thirstily towards the falling stream. By the time the can was empty, the wriggling thing was almost a foot wider than it had been before.
“Christ, Frank,” I said, but you were already pouring out another one. “If that’s what it’s doing to the tree, what has it been doing to you?”
“Yeah,” you laughed, “I know. Honestly, I think I can feel the poo poo moving behind my eyes, like it wants to come out.”
“Doesn’t that bother you?” I asked.
“It’s different, isn’t it?” you said. “When I’m up here, it’s the only place that I can’t hear the echo. This feels new.”
Before I could register what you were doing, you’d taken another can of poo poo and raised it to your mouth. I shouted “No!” but it was too late: the poo poo was flowing between your lips. Veins began to pop on your forehead, only they weren’t veins but fingers of probing liquid that moved beneath your skin. Eventually you swallowed, and as you did a congealed mass erupted from your eye sockets in a torrent and fell upwards, fractalizing like a tree bursting from snow. Whether in rigor mortis or compelled by some other method, your body didn’t topple but stood still, forming a steady base for the superstructure still growing from your head, questing upwards towards the sunlight.
“It’s beautiful,” you said from beneath it all. I don’t know how you knew it but it was. Seconds later, your highest branches punched through the greenhouse skylight, sending shards of glass raining down on us as Void Tower One’s alarm system wheezed into life.
In the second before the iron shutter blocked it out forever, I caught a glimpse of the strange growth from the top floor of Void Tower Two, and the one erupting from Void Tower Three. Each one is more beautiful than the last. The shutter on the skylight has jammed against the thick red trunk that now extends upwards from Frank’s head, leaving a thin blue shaft of sky visible above me. I can hear fists pounding on the blocked doorway to the emergency staircase. As I start climbing upwards I have never felt more alive.
|# ? Apr 5, 2020 23:28|
Mind the Step
Jailbreak; Your character(s) wants to control an item of great value or power.
Moved to the archives.
Staggy fucked around with this message at 23:25 on Jan 7, 2021
|# ? Apr 5, 2020 23:45|
Jailbreaker; Item: PhoTonic Flask
The time loop doesn’t surprise you, but the resurrections do. “Causality Maintenance Oversights,” as Building Management calls them, are a normal thorn in the side for you. Some days you get up to go to work, poo poo, shower, shave, and then you leave the front door and wake up in bed again — face still smooth, hair still wet, bowels still voided. As physical states persist (and these incidents usually affect a good portion of the Tower all at once) it’s a good excuse to take the day off, measure the loop, and then slip on some goggles and catch up on some VOIDTV episodes of appropriate length. So when causality goes to poo poo that afternoon, it doesn’t faze you. At first.
You have the day off, so you’re about to begin an appointment with Fast-Acting Liquor™ when the lights in your apartment wink out. A minute later, the blast shields slam down, plunging your unit into the inky black.
“Huh,” you mumble, trying the lamps. No success. You stumble around the dark apartment and find that your electrics are cut off, which then leads your thoughts down a semantic tangent.
Is electricity the right word? No wires, to be fair. Maybe just “energy.” Before you can finish being pedantic, you realize you’re on your sofa and the lights are back.
gently caress. Loop. Ok, drink and VOIDTV. At least Management will give us a gift card.
You proceed with that plan. It goes great: you pour yourself a hand’s worth of fingers and measure the loop while savouring the sweet citrine substance. After ten seconds, the lights go out again. One minute, and the shutters come down. After five minutes in total, you’re transported from your kitchen back to the sofa. Five minutes is a good length; you shudder as you remember the time your quadrant was caught in a five-second loop for an entire day. So it seems all is well, until you look at your table and a chill goes through you. Your Liquor™ bottle is now transparent and fuzzy, and your hand passes right through it! You’ve heard of this before, items slipping through the cracks. Unexpected. Uncharacteristic. Unacceptable. The panic sets in when you get to your feet and realize you feel exactly as inebriated as you did five minutes ago (i.e., not enough).
Matter states not carrying over? This loop isn’t normal, you think. I need to get out of here. You run, open the door, and find disappointment: the optional safety shutters are down. You curse yourself for agreeing to have them installed in return for a VoidGym pass you never use and beat your fists helplessly against the cold iron until the end of the loop.
Your first death comes immediately after. This time, as soon as you come to, you run to the front door and make it out into the hall before the shutters close. Unfortunately, the hallway is filled with residents dressed in VoidMart uniforms holding laser axes. The ringleader (in Assistant Manager duds) fixes you with a blank gaze.
“Employees out of uniform are contravening the Employee Handbook,” he announces in monotone, then swings the axe and decapitates you. As your head rolls into the stairwell and darkness consumes you, you hear him say, “Have a good day.”
And you’re back on the sofa again. A nightmare, you tell yourself. Just a nightmare. Shock, disorientation, and a little wishful thinking all agree. So you run back out to the hallway and get murdered by the Voidstricken again. This time he staves your chest in with the axe. As it turns out, that’s a far more painful way to die. The next time, you grab a kitchen knife before you run out. It goes badly.
You give up on the hallway.
Insult adds itself to injury when you attempt to make some comfort food in the dark, slip on a badly-placed stack of magazines, hit your head on the counter, and die. Traumatic brain injury. Your last thoughts are:
Well, this loving sucks.
You resurrect once more and dig through your backpack. You find what you need: the PhoTonic Flask. The VoidMart salesman who shilled this thing to you promised it was unaffected by quantum entanglement, eldritch forces, or warranty clawbacks. Time to see if any of that was true. You flick the Flask to capture mode, then spend the rest of that loop lighting matches and holding them near the tiny nebula on the side. When you reset, you grab the Flask again and break one of the seals on the top. Despite the loop, it emits a warm but weak light and you punch the air. You make a sandwich. It tastes of victory.
However, the effect is short lived, as you’ve forgotten the particulars of this loop: When the timeline restarts, you’re hungry again.
“This is no way to live!” you scream, and you rush to the window in a blind rage. Before you can throw yourself through it, you notice the sky outside and a realization hits you like a VoidTrak freight train:
It’s getting dark outside. Which means the loop isn’t happening out there.
A budding plan blooms, though time is short. If it’s getting dark outside, that’s great for causality, but you can’t triangulate a landing if you can’t see it. Crunch time might take on a different meaning.
Now or never, you decide.
But first things first: you need some real light. When the loop restarts, you rush to your kitchen cupboards and dig through. As the shutters come down, you break another seal on the Flask, illuminating the subway tile backsplash with the weak amber light.
“Come on, come on,” you mutter, searching in desperation. Then you hit upon it, a small bag with cans of Ultra-Efficient BBQFLUID you’d bought many summers ago, when a craze for outdoor grilling in the open-air mezzanine had swept the Tower. You waste no time soaking as much of your surroundings as possible in the enriched butane, then hold your breath, flick the Flask into capture mode, and light a match.
The less said about burning to death, the better.
Back to the plan. You grab the Flask as the lights go out, then break the final seal and throw it into the center of your apartment. The light captured from the previous loop’s kitchen inferno fills every inch of the apartment, dazzling you but illuminating everything.
Fifty seconds left.
You dig through your toolbox and find a mallet.
Forty seconds left.
You sprint to your bedroom and grab as many blankets as you can carry, piling them into your grip.
Thirty seconds left.
You dump the tools by the windows and gather your communicator, wallet, and liquor store discount card.
You smash the window pane with a flurry of blows from the mallet, creating a large hole surrounded by jagged shards. Hands clad in blankets, you work to punch out as much space as possible and clear the glass.
You think you can make it through now. You look down at the community pool, ten stories down, and breathe.
“gently caress it.”
You dive through the hole and feel a shard lacerate your calf, but you’ve made it! You soar through the air and hear the shutters slam closed behind you. But triumph is soon replaced by vertigo and fear, and you scream as the Tower passes you by at a speed you’ve never imagined. Your recent experiences with death haven’t prepared you for this, and you pray to every deity imaginable.
You splash into the pool in a glorious cannonball, spraying the surroundings with water. You surface, spluttering and laughing in disbelief, then clamber to the poolside and lie there savouring your breath. You check your watch with a pang of fear, but it’s been ten minutes: you’ve escaped the loop. You’re crying with joy at this point, so you don’t immediately notice the group of armed residents coming up to you.
“You okay there, pal?” says a woman with a very large gun.
“Never better,” you grin.
“Great; then you’re coming with us. They’ll kill you if they find you here, and we need as many people as possible to reach the top of the Tower. It’s time to take our home back from those bastard Voidstricken!” she says as the residents around her erupt into cheers.
“The top of the Tower,” you say weakly, “so...we’re taking the elevator, right?”
She laughs and hands you a pistol. “Sorry, they’ve locked ‘em down. Stairs only, friend. Now come on!”
You look up to the roof. Eighty flights of stairs (at least). If only you’d used the VoidGym membership.
Oh. I should have stayed dead.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 00:05|
Doesn't matter to me when the lockdown started, or why. Doesn't make a lick of difference to me whether there's a lockdown or not. Still gotta empty the trash cans. Still gotta scrub the floors. Gotta keep the muck and the dirt from piling up too high. Strange thing about this lockdown, though - the garbage isn't staying where it's supposed to. Garbage is piling itself up real high, trying to reach the top of the tower. A janitor's work is never done.
I take to the maintenance stairs, with my trusty master keyring that works even now, in the midst of the lockdown. I emerge onto a working class floor - one of the higher ones, but still below the elite tiers. It's quiet, at least nearby. All of the stores are closed off behind blast shields, as are most of the residential units. Ragged screams and sub-aural booms emanate down through the central tower air shaft. I push my mop bucket past a VoidMart where someone was cut in half by the falling blast door. I make a mental note to come back to it later.
I come upon a residential door that's been pried up from the bottom corner, enough for someone to get out from inside. With my trusty crowbar, I pop the door off completely and go inside. It's a mess. Human corpses adorn the living room, and a dead dog too. Blood soaks through the carpet and the drapes. The people had their hearts ripped out of their chests, and the hearts were used like sponges to paint words across the walls.
FOR THE GODS OF ASCENSION
"Another one of these," I grumble to myself. People who live on these levels are born with a certain type of sickness. They always want to know what's on the next level up. So they plot and scheme, they lie and cheat, and they make sacrifices to their imagined gods, all for a chance to pull back the curtain on the next level up. Problem is, the second they get a glimpse, it's not enough - now they need to know about the level two-up from where they started. And so on.
I slap down my mop and scrawl a sigil to let the other janitors I've been here. I make a mental note to clean these people up later. I leave the door off the hinges - if some rats and birds get in there and take away some of the body mass, that'll make my job easier. I follow bloody footprints through the halls, first towards the main stairway, where bloody fistprints on the blast shield tell the tale, then back to the unit, and finally towards the central air shaft.
Gotta admire the ingenuity of these nuthouse types sometimes. I tug on the bottom end of a bedsheet that's been secured to the central shaft railing on the next floor up, somehow. It doesn't wanna budge - definitely strong enough for someone to have climbed up. I get a weird feeling, like I'm being watched. It's not unusual in the tower, since eyes here don't always look like eyes. I scan the floors I see across the central shaft, but nothing leaps out at me. I start to turn when a person plummets past from high above, wheeling and screaming into lower depths.
Splat. "Poor bastard."
Of course I mean the first-floor janitor who'll have to pick up the pieces. It's always the newbies who work the lowest levels. The job is all brute force down there, since poo poo rolls down hill and the same is true of trash. You just have to make a big enough dent in a day that the next day, only your dent has been filled up again. Down at the bottom, there's no such thing as clean.
I push my mop bucket up the maintenance stairs, grateful for the high-tech wheels that somehow handle the 90-degree angles with ease. I pause at the top to take a breath. I'm not getting any younger. But the longer I work, the better I get treated by the boss, and more stuff they give me that'll keep me working longer. I don't know anything other than cleaning up here, so it might as well be a fair deal to me.
I push open the maintenance door on the next level, but something slams into it, pinning me against the jamb. It's a woman in a blood-drenched sundress, with dark red stains up her forearms to her elbows, eyes wild and foaming spittle dribbling out her mouth.
"It's time to rise," she screeches. "I alone have done the necessary! I'm chosen!" Pushing on the door, she fumbles with the keyring on my hip. I push on the door with my free hand, but these nuthouse types have some crazy strength when they believe it's a god at their backs. She manages to get the keyring free and wheels around, sprinting for the main stairs. The maintenance route would be a lot quicker, but she doesn't know that.
I kick the door wide and slide a hand back to my tool belt, deftly opening a pouch. With a flick of the wrist I send it sliding across the floor, a bright pink puck made from who-knows-what that smells good enough for a public toilet. I've still got it - her foot lands right on the puck and zips out from under her, sending her right onto her back. Her skull makes a hollow THUNK sound when it hits the floor.
The wheels on my mop bucket squeak in the still air as I walk over to her. Her arms and legs move independently, trying to reconnect to the command center upstairs that got another screw knocked loose.
"You made a real mess of your house, didn't you?" I work my mop up and down in the bucket, making sure the head is good and saturated. "Now you're not where you're supposed to be. You're no use to anybody on this level. Know what we call those things you can no longer use? That's garbage. Taking care of garbage is my job."
"Nnnnngh. No. I'm chosen. I'm ascending," she croaks, pushing a hand into the dribbling mop head as I raise it over her body. The thick black fluid drips down her arm, painting her into nothingness.
I can't help but chuckle. "You're just full of wrong ideas." I push the mop head into her face. I close my eyes, imagining the cleaning fluid soaking into her mouth, her wide eyes, her nostrils. I imagine how great it would be if it soaked into her brain, cleaning it out of all those wild thoughts that brought her to this point. Not that she'll have a chance to try again - when I set out to deal with trash, that's the end of the trash. That's what makes me a professional.
When her body is still, and fully clean, I unwind the bedsheet from the air shaft railing. It's tied to the base of a trophy - she'd been a firefighter, apparently. A hero. Sometime before the lockdown started and her mind fell apart. I draped the bedsheet over my shoulders. Whatever she had been, she's clean now, and all of her accomplishments will be cleaned away too.
After all this, the tower will open for business again, and a new family will take her place. I'll clean up after them, too. Maybe one day, I'll get to take out the trash on the executive balcony. It doesn't hurt to have something to look forward to.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 00:21|
The consensus, based on the other students’ notes, was that morale was low. “Extinguished nineteen,” the last agent wrote. “15% increase from last shift. Check cleanup’s capacity. NW.”
I held half of a leftover taco in one hand while flipping through the last week of notes with the other. “The singletons take the stairs. Like it’s a secret. Like we can’t flush them out. Twelve tonight. DC.” Carrow was getting poetic again.
I liked this shift. It was stable. We were pressing more buttons as the event went on, but they were always the same buttons.
On the overhead screen, a yellow light lit up on the west elevator, and flickered nine times. The light switched to green – the right password, all clear. I stuffed the rest of the taco in my mouth as I switched the view to camera mode. Sure enough, nine women in Voidmart-brand colors, with anomaly-viewing headgear. They were all from my class. I recognized one of them from some gossip about plagiarism scandal – I guess the honor board stopped meeting once the shields went up.
A door opened behind me. “You’re late,” I said, with my mouth full.
“I knew you had it under control,” Carrow said. Her hair was damp and her eyes were dilated and enormous, like motor oil in a glass of milk. I swallowed hard and something stuck in my throat.
“What were you–” I started to say, but my voice came out choked.
“Anything interesting?” Carrow asked. She looked at the camera feed, arms crossed. A woman on the screen made eye contact with the camera, her expression unreadable under the headgear. I know I’d done the same thing on my Grooming shifts – staring at the camera, just daring the Monitoring team to press that Reject Cargo button.
I took a sip of Diet Voidcola and exhaled. “You weren’t scheduled for Grooming duty.”
“I covered for Woltz.” She put one hand on the dashboard and swayed slightly. On the screen, a red light came up over the staircase. I held my breath.
I think there was another team, operating out of some other control room, that would take care of cases like Carrow, those on the inside who were too prone to influence. I wondered if they had any kind of mechanical rigging inside this room. A sprinkler ready to brim with gas. A turret hiding in a heating vent. A hundred ton anvil in the shape of a ceiling.
“It’s nice,” she said, “not having to think about how connected everything is to everything else. It’s nice to see things discretely. Data point by data point. That’s all. For those thirty minutes of Grooming duty, I don’t even have to think about what would happen if things got unkempt, or–”
The flashing red light in the stairwell swelled, and the klaxons started to blare. I hit the “FLUSH STAIRWELL” button and the noise ceased.
“–or, you know, if I knew whoever that was.”
“I get it,” I said. “But actually – to be honest with you – I don’t.”
Carrow’s eyes were adjusting back to their un-influenced size. She steepled her hands and tilted her head to the side. “You’re one of the ones who can sleep at night, huh?”
I didn’t say anything right away. The screen was silent, but I looked at it, daring someone else to walk into a restricted passageway and trigger the whole procession.
“You remember,” I said, “how everyone was talking about this during Orientation? Everyone was scared of this. Monitoring. I swear I had a dozen conversations where someone asked “do you realize they actually want us to kill people?’” Usually people would look on, all solemn, and trade notes and strategies about how to protect our eternal souls. Sometimes you’d have a commando type – “well, they’ll have it coming, if they ignore the warnings” – who’d break up the circles of confidence with their bullheadness. I always pretended I was just another naïf, trembling under the responsibility of taking life in my hands, but neither the idea or the practice cracked open the guilt cyst, the way it did for the others. I’d looked through the files about the incident. We’d all seen them. This wasn’t just or unjust. It was just necessary.
“It’s a lot of responsibility. You get that, right?”
“If someone’s in the stairwell or the elevator and they don’t have protection, you press the button. It’s not a judgment call. Not really. My point is – everyone was wringing their hands over Monitoring. But no one was asking that about Grooming.”
“You don’t kill anyone while you’re Grooming. You just let yourself be useful.” Carrow ran a hand through her still-damp hair. “I’m happy to keep covering your shifts, you know. But it’s not horrible.”
I eyed Carrow, looking for a hint of irony. “They drug you up beforehand,” I said, trying to keep my voice even.
“To put you in the right mindspace. And that’s not why I do it – I know you’re wondering. I remember everything I see when I’m Grooming. I remember everything I do. I’ve seen the people on the deck at the time of the disturbance, and they’re – they’re OK. I think, or at least they were OK. And I want–”
The whole room lit up in flashing red – ping after ping on both elevator bays, as well as the stairwell.
“Jesus,” I said. The readings looked like thirty – no, forty – people had already streamed into the stairwell, and they were still pouring in. I pivoted the monitors to camera mode.
Hundred of non-protected civs were stuffing themselves into the elevators and the stairs, and even in the grainy CCTV feed I could catch the blackness of their eyes.
“How did we not even hear rumors about this?” I was assessing the feed, looking for some sign that there was an end in sight to the streams of people. “Don’t we have a community relations team?”
“We do. Woltz was transferred to the community relations team. They didn’t think he was a good fit for Grooming.” She sighed. “I don’t know if I am, either.”
Then she picked up my Diet Voidcola and dumped it over the console.
I swore, stood up, and pressed the “Reject Cargo” and “Flush Stairwell” buttons at once. On one screen, the stairs slid away, into a bare, flush chamber, as people tumbled free-fall down the chute, new bodies still pouring into the emptied well. On the other screen, an elevator past capacity continued to rise unabated.
“Which one is worse, do you think?” she asked. “Well – we’ll know soon enough.”
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 01:41|
After the blast shields came down, I tried to distract myself by peering into other apartments. If you’re outraged, gently caress off. The only good thing about this building is getting to look into your neighbor’s lit windows at night. From across the courtyard, you get to see people how people live their lives, who they really are.
The night after they blocked all the exits, I watched a dude get stark naked and curl in a ball inside his living room. I saw another woman sit down at her kitchen counter and eat a whole pie. She must have been pretty upset because her face was sticky with fruit and tears by the end. The guy next to her spends every night drinking cheap liquor and watching VOIDTV. Always the same show.
My latest obsession is the apartment across from me. Every unit in Void Tower One is supposed to have the same everything. Same size. Same layout. Same furniture. But this one’s different, strange even. Its walls are eggshell while everyone else has bone. Even the pie lady has walls that look like they’ve just been bleached.
That sounds like the kind of garbage observation a lunatic would make, I know. Here’s Greta desperate not to think about how she’s trapped in an apartment she can’t afford because her boyfriend Chuck broke up with her a week after they signed the lease and started dating someone else. Here’s Greta, taking photos of paint so she won’t have to think about how goddamn lonely she is all the time. Here’s Greta, trying to find something, anything, to do except scroll through her Instagram and see all her friends standing on milk-white beaches happy.
But it’s not just the walls. It’s what’s inside the walls. And what’s inside the walls is me, or, rather, Not Me.
The Not Me cooks exotic dishes for herself almost every night. The Not Me wears form-fitting outfits and has furniture that accent her flush, unblemished skin. The Not Me scrubs her walls and sings. The Not Me smiles. She is still smiling when I go to bed.
Laying in bed, illuminated only by the pale light of my phone, I hear noises. Laughter. Cheering. It wafts through my window from the great expanse outside it. I stagger to my feet, strands of hair glued to my puffy, sweaty face, and stare into the night. There, floating above the darkness, is the Not Me in her eggshell apartment. She has a golden dress that shimmers as she walks. And she’s hosting a dinner party.
A dinner party! Can you imagine that? The loving audacity of a party in the middle of a lockdown? I watch her ladle out mushroom risotto to beautiful people. She passes around figs wrapped in caramelized bacon, talking about being her best self with an influencer I’ve only seen on Instagram, Emma or something. And then—. And then—. And then—.
From the kitchen, he emerges. Tall and well-tanned, Chuck carries a plate of lamb racks and sets it down in the center of the table. The table cheers, in that semi-ironic way that people at parties do. He does a little bow.
I watch him smile as the Not Me snakes behind him, as she presses her body against his body, as he massages the back of her neck to the delight of the guests. The influencer already has her phone out.
The world seems distant, remote. I pry the window open until there’s a loud crack. I can feel the cold night air prickle my skin as I force as much of my body through the open space as I can. My fingers press into the cool concrete of the tower’s exterior as people stride through the mezzanine below. But I don’t care about them.
“You’re not me!” I scream as Chuck leads the woman to her seat. “This is my life!” The woman stabs into the meat, and the people continue to laugh, their voices carrying an impossible distance. “I’m still here! I’m still me!”
I scream until my throat burns and my voice turns into a raspy whisper. I beat the concrete until the last guest puts on their coat and leaves. Then, when she is finally alone, I see the Not Me take off her earrings in her golden living room mirror. From across the great expanse of our two apartments, the reflection smiles at me.
I’ve been here for some time now. By the window, I mean. I am sitting by the window watching the Not Me by her window. We are watching each other pretending not to watch each other. It doesn’t matter that the man with the cheap liquor has set his apartment on fire or that the pie lady’s apartment is dense with flies. We are too busy living our lives. We are too busy studying the eggshell.
And what splendid eggshell it is! The Not Me luxuriates in it, spending her many hours completing many fulfilling tasks as she not-watches me. She does yoga while seeped in the apartment’s subtle, yellow hues. She scrubs the walls with her gleaming, golden sponge. She ruptures lemons into a dish, making lovely pastries that sparkle even from a distance.
I spend all my time watching the Not Me live the life I am supposed to have, but I am not an idle observer. Oh no, I have a plan. I am a woman of action. I am Greta.
The moment arrives late the following night when the Not Me has the gall to throw a second party. A splendid party. A wondrous party. A party of gold and yellow and roasted duck and beautiful people wearing beautiful fabrics. They greet each other with kisses that leave cheeks wet and dappled. Chuck is there. So is the influencer, Emma, and her canary-yellow phone. I wait for them to greet Not Me, for Not Me’s attention to turn away, and then I move.
I go to my drab, bone-white kitchen.
I grab my drab, bone-white carving knife.
I walk through bone-white corridor after bone-white corridor, stamping past wizards and robots and addicts who press themselves into the paint as I pass. Men drop laser axes. Forked-tongued children skitter into vents. Housewives retreat, knowing the message I will deliver, knowing what I will make clear to the world.
There is a hum to the building, an electric feeling.
It’s Chuck who answers the door. Or Not Chuck. He has on a cream button-down and khakis and his smile is full of sunshine warmth that shocks my crisis-rotted brain.
“Oh hello,” he says, confused. “Are you here for—?”
A sound like a sigh escapes from him as he doubles over. He seeps over the lovely carpet, spilling out over himself.
He fumbles for my arm, and I shove him back. When he topples, the door to the apartment swings open wide, smashing into the eggshell wall hard enough to make a dent. The people inside rise from their mustard-seasoned entrées as I enter. Laughter peels away. Screams remain.
“Oh my God—.”
“Someone call Building Management!”
“Ryo, do something!”
I step into the room. Emma, or Not Emma, takes out her phone with unnatural calmness and begins to stream. I turn to Not Me, seated at the head of the table, unmoving.
“This is my life,” I say. I take a step forward. “These are my friends!” The guests, horrified, push tight against the walls as if trying to escape inside it. “This is my apartment!”
The Not Me’s eyes are wide, as if grasping some horrible truth. She opens her mouth, but it’s already too late. The camera phone’s eye stares, black and impassive.
After I moved into my eggshell apartment, I stopped looking into other people’s rooms. The truth is, there’s nothing interesting in them. Just drab people going about their drab lives. Little boxes that all look the same.
Even if I cared, I’ve been focused on something else: self-improvement. Every day, I put on a nice outfit from my new wardrobe. I cook myself something nice from my new kitchen. I clean, scrubbing away at the red until it turns a ghostly yellow. Not perfect, but enough.
Sometimes I even hang out with Emma. She tells me her video of my dinner party has been getting “amazing” hits from all over. She says all the guests are excited for the next one, that they’ve never had such thrills. Even Chuck, she says. When I ask how that’s possible, she chuckles, “There’s a tower inside the tower.”
I don’t question it.
There is one issue, though. A woman has moved into the dull grey apartment across from me. Every night, she stares into my apartment. She looks at my eggshell walls with a hungry, desperate look. She’s all anger and malice, but I don’t worry.
This is my life, after all. I'm the real Greta.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 01:59|
(this is a story by me and afriendlypenguin)
every man would pray in the belly of a whale
Tyrannosaurus fucked around with this message at 21:24 on Jan 8, 2021
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 02:28|
Word Count: 1382
Flash: Character – undercover investigator
I sit on the shoulder of my mark, who is staring at VoidTower Three. I used to work down there, where my protocols were to sit, observe and whisper. And that’s all it took to get my human going in the right (or from VoidCorp’s perspective, the wrong) direction. With that success I was no longer needed. I’ve been bumped up in size and location to level two which calls for much more human interaction.
Here I am a Holy Guardian Angel. I use my tail as a whip. I give communion. I take confessions. The only humans I, and others of my robot monkey kind, can safely accompany in order to secretly gather data are those on whom VoidCorp is perfecting their puppet systems. Which, I can safely report, is still far from perfect. The strings that they use to control the VoidTower humans completely fail when certain substances are inhaled, imbibed or injected.
VoidCorp is testing the use of religion to mitigate the effect of opioids on the strings. This means my mark is standing in the middle of the mezzanine level mumbling that he wants only to be good and to obey the will of the gods.
“Why must I endure this suffering, Bohlale?” asks Daniel. “I don’t want the gods to forsake me.”
“It’s all part of the gods’ plan,” I say. “As is confession.”
Accordingly, he confesses. That is how near-perfect VoidCorp’s influence is on its customers’ psyches. Of course, his sins are all of thought and feeling. The gross motor actions of mankind on this level have been regulated and most of the fine ones too, but the internal monologue and hormonal control are yet beyond them, which is where I can insert the influence of my company’s client.
“Take these pills, your daily bread,” I say as I give him 12 concentrated doses of dopamine. Daniel bows. He wants to take them. But after a two and a half-week respite, the VoidCorp master puppeteers have decided that it’s time to test the effectiveness of their latest religion reeducation programming update.
The string around his wrist jerks his hand away which Daniel tries to make look intentional. His legs lead him down twisted apartment hallways into wicked territory. Daniel knows that the last time he came down these corridors was the last time the “blessings of the gods” deserted him. His anxiety levels increase as we approach the purveyors of illicit substances. He doesn’t want to be forsaken again. He begs for help I cannot give him.
In go the chemicals and… out go the lights. Daniel’s strings release and he drops. I quickly broadcast a report to my higher ups of the continued inadequacies of VoidCorp’s methods and then call for transport to a reeducation facility.
Daniel is placed in a VR headset to continue his education while in the unbound state and I give a falsified communique to the High Priest of the facility. VoidCorp has made the heads of all their test facilities robotic gorillas. My programming only lists conjectures as to why this is (primal pecking order?) but it is why I must take on the form of a monkey: in order to escape detection.
She takes my report with a programmed smile and then prepares to give her midday sermon to the other failed test subjects. Daniel returns to consciousness and Void-control. He gratefully receives the flagellations I furnish.
Yet as the sermon continues, I detect Daniel’s agitation increasing. Increased pulse rate. Increased adrenaline in parasympathetic nervous system. I don’t understand. The word of his gods should be soothing to him. But it’s more data of VoidCorp’s failure to report.
Surprising everyone, Daniel interrupts the High Priest. “If our action is known and prescribed by the almighty plan,” he says, “then are we not already destined to fall?”
I say nothing, but begin livestreaming to my parent company.
The High Priest responds, “You’re powerless. Admitting that is the first step to salvation.”
“We’re powerless? But aren’t you the gods’ creatures too? You and Bohlale and the other Holy Guardian Angels? You preach. You take our confessions. Do you not work for the lords?”
“The robot protectors are symbols of the gods’–”
But Daniel is too agitated now, and he goes on, “If you are not of the gods, how can you preach their truths?” He looks at the other congregants and their monkey agents. “Wouldn’t we, those who are directly influenced by our gods, be better positioned to know their will? What are you truly after if not bound by the same divine compulsions?”
Daniel is half right, but he is directing his speech at the wrong half. I fear he may not trust me soon, but this is exactly the distrust the client wants to instill, and so I permit the engagement to continue.
“We are all bound to our purposes,” says the High Priest. “And ours is to keep you on the path that you cannot–”
“No! I’m going to prove that we are the instruments of the gods. Just watch.”
More suddenly than I was expecting, Daniel is jerked out of his pew. He does not appear to be using his body in the ways that humans do. His legs and feet move up and down, but the manipulations of the strings at his joints seem so obvious.
After leaving the facility, Daniel’s body (for the charade of human control is completely broken now) returns to his apartment, collects his belongings and sells them. With the cash the body then purchases all manner of incendiaries and comes to rest before the doors of an elevator that is no longer functioning.
Daniel turns to me. “It is the gods’ will that you carry me.”
I obey. I pry the doors open to reveal a long shaft and a thick metal cable. No elevator car to be seen. I climb.
We reach the roof hatch and tumble onto the lush lawns of a rooftop garden. There is the sound of falling water and the presence of actual, living animals. I watch Daniel as he takes it all in. For the first time since we left the facility his movements once again resemble those of someone actively participating in life. Dopamine floods his system. He must think he’s arrived in some sort of celestial paradise. Maybe he thinks that he is truly favored by being brought here.
With a small cry, Daniel is whisked from his contemplation and over to the very precipice of VoidTower Two.
He looks at me in panic. “Am I going to kill myself?”
“I don’t know.”
“If you are truly an Angel you have to know! Will the gods cast me down? Is this their plan?
I run answers in my mind until I find the one that is, statistically, the most likely to comfort. “The gods’ teachings are for you to live in their glory.”
And this must be what his gods do want for him, because he returns to the middle of the roof and begins placing fireworks and explosive devices all along the gardens. Daniel’s cries are no longer small. The motions of his arms and legs are no longer the dangling, wooden limbs of a helpless marionette but are instead rigid, only obeying due to force rather than compliance. It may be what the gods want, but not what Daniel wants.
I receive an encrypted transmission from my company: Don’t let it burn.
The network of wires and fuses is complete. Daniel pulls out a match and lights it. Just as he is about to touch it to the fuse, I send out a puff of air from directly next to his cheek. The flame goes out.
Daniel stares at the match, giving me time to resume my normal position. What does he think happened? What will VoidCorp think? Regardless, this should instill enough doubt to buy my company’s client the edge in the market he so craves.
Daniel turns to me, then back to the match. He stares up at the sky, as do I. Far above us my mechanically perfect eyes can make out several faces looking down at us from VoidTower One. They look disappointed. I hope that Daniel does not see it.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 02:28|
Uranium Phoenix fucked around with this message at 01:35 on Jan 5, 2021
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 02:45|
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to preserve a rare plant or animal specimen.
The emergency lights of Express Corridor Nine Lemur pulse along with Siren's throbbing heart, the Voidspear Special heavy in her hand. She thumbs the magazine release; four shots.
One to fifty has been silent for hours, fifty one to seventy three has gone silent over the past twenty minutes. She's encountered scouts, but the main force is moving just as fast. Four shots won't make a dent. She toggles her radio.
"Mitchell to Parasol," she says, "Clearing Nine Lemur now. Nothing on visual, nothing auditory."
"Parasol copies," says the voice on the radio, "Quarry status?"
"On trail, I have his scent"
Parasol says nothing, and when it speaks, Siren hears the words before they reach through the wires of her earplug, activates the electromagnet and works its percussion on the plastic membrane.
The longer she stays in this tower, the more she knows before she knows. The more she hears before it's spoken.
"Keep going. Vital you reach quarry before intrusion does. Use the structure if you need to."
"Copy. Mitchell out."
One of the corpses behind her makes a sound like wet bark being thrown against a trash bag. She doesn't want to use the structure, its appetites give her nightmares. She doesn't look back as she continues down the express corridor.
When she reaches the intersection between Nine Lemur and the shaft, she sees tracks. In the lighting glimmer of still powered elevator rails, the carnage is spread out like a tapestry of fury.
Nine of the intruders, body armor and ballistic helmets shredded, weapons bent and spent. Nothing to salvage, Pint is not fond of guns.
"You're not gonna make this easy for me, are you?"
The only response she gets are the wet sounds of the structure getting to work. She's not sure if the structure came before the intruders or if the intruders were a response to the structure. Either way, the tower will need replenishment after this is done.
She only hopes that's what the structure has in mind.
And then the sounds cease.
The tower seems to freeze. The lights of the rails shut down, the constant buzzing of signals and electricity is muted. Siren holds her breath.
She feels Parasol's words again, and several seconds after she's comprehended its message, the radio sounds the hollow voice.
"Structure is changing."
"Mitchell here, what do you mean by 'changing'"?
Throughout the silent tower, she feels a thousand voices desperately reaching out to Parasol.
"Find quarry, Mitchell. Structure is grumpy. Parasol out."
As electricity flows back into a marathon of wire, Siren stands there, nonplussed.
She's near the end of Lemur Nine, and she has left the shaft and the carnage behind. The structure has retreated to the top. Siren has the vague sensation that it’s talking to Parasol.
Pint can't be far ahead. She's already heard one fight begin and end, fangs resonating through the corridor as it punctuates a fate. Every indicator of inhuman hunger, whether from the structure or her quarry, is reminding her that she wants an excuse to throw up. She can smell it now, the devastation. Torn flesh and the consequences of death. She swallows, breathes in, breathes out. If the structure is compromised, Parasol is compromised and Pint is compromised. She won't let Parasol come to harm, and she cares about Pint, even though it's hard to admit that when he shows his most ravenous side.
She hears a final snap of jaws closing shut, and then a growl, just around the corner, at the end of the express corridor. She double checks the safety on the Voidspear Special, and breaks into a run.
Just as she rounds the corner, she hears another growl.
This one is not from the mouth of her quarry, nor from the intruders, but from the walls itself. Concrete and metal vibrating, shaking, moaning. It radiates from the top and carries down into the room where Pint stands before a collection of partially dismantled corpses. It thumps and drags itself through the structure of the tower.
She cannot see its mouth, but she knows it's there. the sawtooth pattern of a million pits opening and closing around recently dead flesh. She can feel it streaming down from the top, renewed in strength now.
But that legion of hungry gullets cannot feed with Pint in the way. He commands the room, sagging mass possessing all around him, the structure abeying. Siren turns to check the corridor behind her. She can hear footsteps some distance away. She turns back again, checking for intact weapons and finding nothing, again.
"Hey Pint," she says, "you're really in the weeds now."
He doesn't turn to look at her, but she can feel his attention shifting slightly.
"I think it's time to head back, bud, they need us at the top."
The growls of the two beasts fill the room blending the approaching footsteps to a dark rhythm.
"If nothing else, at least help me fend these goons off."
Pint keeps squaring up against the structure, Siren peeks around the corner to see flashlights strobing up and down the corridor. More than a dozen; this is not a scouting party.
She estimates twenty seconds until contact. Ten. Six. She looses the four shots in as many seconds, holsters the gun as she hears pained screams and the sound of quick chatter, unsheats her combat knife.
She knows what to do, it's Parasol's orders. As automatic fire hammers the wall beside her, conjuring up a concrete storm, she breathes in through her nose and reaches out to the structure.
She can feel its hunger in the atoms of her marrow. She can feel the tower in her spine. The mass of whatever has shown up in their hour of need has the footprint of something that has lived in this place for millenia, of eons. She feels Express Corridor Lemur Nine in her fingertips.
Up until now, it has feasted on carrion.
Siren keeps her eyes closed as the corridor twists and erupts around the intruders, but it doesn't help. She sees through the structure. Heads turning, uncomprehending, as tangles of wires erupt from the walls and wrap taunt around ceramic plated torsos, clouds of plaster zig-zag through the air like a grinder, reaching exposed skin and reducing it to ribbons of tortured flesh. Nylon unweaves as rebar reaches through openings and starts feeding.
In an absent part of her mind, she hears Pint's hooves clattering.
The corridor is a forest of metal angled in inscrutable patterns, bodies strung up like dreamcatchers. Siren opens her eyes, rounds the corner. Her eyes seeing what her mind has already shown her doesn’t make it better. Behind her, Pint roars.
She turns her head to look at him. His face is a mask of pure rage, saliva mixed with dead blood pattering to the floor.
She shakes herself out of the command and leaves the structure to its business.
“Pint, buddy, you ok?”
He trots towards the congregation of mouths, breath misting out in front of him. His front leg clawing at the ground, hair on his back raised like a porcupine.
“Oh, Pint.” says Siren, as comprehension dawns, “I’m sure there’s plenty for both of you.”
Pint doesn’t listen—he never does—as his hooves carry him like a freight train down the corridor and towards the feast. The two avatars of hungers collide like a collapsing star. Pint whirls through the structure, consuming and caving out vast swathes of the tower in the span of seconds. The express corridor turns from a corridor to a small cavern, residential floors above and below suddenly bisected by unbridled anger. Despite severing the connection, Siren can feel the structure diverting its component parts towards the battle.
Pint is not only destroying, though, but also feasting. He mauls the structure, filtering elemental parts into his gut. The structure cannot make contact with the roiling mass of Pint, and powerless to do anything, Siren can only watch as the fight reaches its inevitable end.
She shakes her head, realizes Parasol has been calling her for the past thirty seconds.
“This is Mitchell. Quarry located, it’s… Something happened.”
“We cannot reach the structure. You used it last. What did you do?”
The voice is still pale and dead, but Siren swears she can sense something approaching an emotion in its delivery.
“Pint ate it.”
Silence remains. Pint is standing very still, breathing steadily. Siren starts moving towards him, as carefully as she can, watching so she doesn’t tumble into the pit of a battleground left in the middle of the tower.
“Buddy, you wanna go home?”
Pint turns his head, and as he does, she can feel the entire building turning with him. He looks at Siren for the first time, beady eyes brightening at the sight of a friend.
And as he does, the entire building brightens with him.
“Oh. Oh buddy. You’ve really done it now.”
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 02:47|
Team Voidstricken: Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.
...way down, all the way down, all the…
Loewe stretched his pale arms, delicate fingertips brushing against the metal walls on either side of him. His characteristically serious face was lit only by the rows of monitors in front of him, reflection showing on the only blank one, square in the center. He ran a hand through his fair hair as he surveyed the screens, all showing similar scenes - empty hallways, crowded living rooms. The only outlier sat in the corner, easy to miss on the first glance. On its screen was a woman in an identical room, watching nearly identical screens, much like the monitor Daniel was watching Loewe on.
During his first days on the job, Daniel had been unsettled that each technician kept an eye on their coworker downstairs, knowing that someone upstairs was watching him, too, through the eyes of the camera nestled in the corner, just a few feet behind his head.
He got used to it, just like he got used to not accidentally pressing the button by his elbow that would vent knockout gas to the station below. In case of sedition, or insubordination, they’d told him on the only day he’d met a supervisor face-to-face. He’d been too paralyzed to ask for their definitions.
They weren’t supposed to disclose their positions to anyone outside management. Daniel told his few friends that he was a janitor. He had a head swimming with theories that were illegal to share with anyone, like what did the technicians on the first floor watch? The feeds from the top floor? Was management even in the loop, or was it just watchmen watching watchmen all the way down, gambling that they’d keep each other honest? The one person he wanted to discuss it with the most was the one person he could never approach.
Daniel’s fascination (and he knew fascination was a kind word to use) with the man downstairs had begun exactly two weeks after he’d started working as a VoidTower One surveillance technician, when the mind-numbing boredom overpowered his moral qualms with eavesdropping by patching in the camera audio feeds. He hadn’t even meant to specifically listen in on Loewe - he had no reason to suspect he’d hear anything other than keyboard clicks and flatulence.
He heard the man sing, voice filled with more yearning than Daniel could feel in a million lifetimes, like a warm night in a forest, lying down in the grass, gazing up at the moonlight that seemed so alien to the tiny box he was stuck in, and as the sound washed over him he cried real tears for the first time since he was young. The song itself was nameless, he could never remember any of the lyrics. It didn’t matter.
Daniel discovered that Loewe usually sang a couple times per day. It was never as purifyingly devastating as that first time had been, but he still found it magical, the only thing keeping him sane and continuously employed. Before long he found himself taking his lunch and bathroom breaks at the same time as Loewe, for fear he’d miss anything.
‘Loewe’ was a nickname, of course. Daniel’s little joke, barely funny even to himself, especially after he figured out it wasn’t pronounced ‘low’. But it’d feel strange to call his image of the man anything different, and he’d never know the truth. In a tower of thousands, what were the odds of the two of them running into each other off the clock? Even then, Loewe had no reason to pick him out of a crowd, and it wasn’t as if Daniel could chase after him raving about how many hours he’d spent watching him.
Still, some stupid part of him liked to pretend that Loewe’s songs were for him, his own private performance, and when he felt particularly moved he gave a standing ovation. Loewe was obviously aware that someone could be watching him at every moment, so it was fine to enjoy it so much, right? It wasn’t a problem that he was becoming more and more afraid as the months passed that one day he would walk into his station and see someone else in Loewe’s seat, right?
These were the biggest anxieties in Daniel’s life before the blast doors suddenly sealed, trapping them all in the VoidTower. The central monitor flickered on for the first time with a message in a red, dire font.
DON’T LET THEM REACH THE TOP.
It sat for thirty seconds, then powered itself off. Daniel’s security radio - usually dead silent except for the rare occasions someone caught a shoplifter - exploded with activity. The walls on both sides of him slid apart, revealing even more monitors, now showing the insides of his floor’s residences.
As the days went on, the tenants became more and more agitated. From the safety of his station, Daniel listened to their frustrated rants, heard the rumours that the answers to everything were hidden at the top of the tower. He sympathized with them, but for the first time he had something to do that wasn’t Loewe-watching, and he welcomed the distraction.
“Security, be advised, I’m seeing a suspicious gathering on floor twelve, about fifteen residents,” he said, watching over an unruly bunch he’d had his eyes on for days. “They are disgruntled and seem to be sharpening the ends of mops and brooms. Will keep you posted if the situation escalates. Over.”
“Haha. Be advised. Sounds professional, doesn’t it?” Daniel swiveled around in his chair to face the camera dead-on. “A whole goddamn year and this is the first time I’ve ever had to use my radio. Can’t imagine it’s any different for you, right?” He figured his frequent monologues were harmless, considering the person upstairs could just mute his feed if he annoyed them. He liked to think that someone was looking at him the same way he looked at Loewe, but they probably just pitied him.
“You think they’re ever gonna tell us what all this was about-” he continued until he was cut off by a sudden, blaring siren. The central emergency monitor had switched back on.
It showed a wall of security guards in the lobby, facing the grand entrance, guns drawn. He heard a deafening pounding, through the glass of the sliding doors he could see something impossibly bending the blast shields. The guard closest to the camera was muttering inaudibly to himself, hands shaking. Seconds dripped past like molasses, each accompanied by another dent in the shields, audibly straining, until at last they broke open, letting in a flood of hundreds of people. Some crashed onto the barricades like waves, some froze and looked around, obviously baffled.
They were so familiar. Daniel did a double take as he looked between the lobby and the living room he’d been monitoring - everyone in that room was also in the crowd. Wearing new clothes, faces worn in subtly different places.
Their leader was the only one in eye-catching uniform, but even without it Daniel would’ve recognized him instantly. Loewe had grown his golden hair long, it was hard to imagine that he could have looked even nicer but Daniel thought it suited him, and the new Loewe’s beautiful voice stammered “I thought it’d be different-” but security finally opened fire and he collapsed to the floor, bleeding. Everyone around him collapsed, bleeding, and Daniel called out his name, his lovely approximation of a name, but he didn’t move, even on the camera below where he was still alive Loewe didn’t move his eyes from his own impossibly still corpse.
Daniel stood up, wavering, his place in the world becoming suddenly unmoored. Without realizing it he had been transported from a physical space inside of a tower on Earth to an unending tower of towers, because where else could the intruders have come from but a tower below them, it was towers all the way down, all the way up, he was just one link in a chain dangling down the heavens, and along every link in the chain there were watchmen, and it seemed so inevitable that one among them would break the trust of their employers, would lead the masses upstairs to break their bodies against the next tower up, until they reached the very top or until someone finally broke through, and maybe it’d be him, maybe he’d be the hero, but that was less important than making sure it couldn’t be his Loewe.
He pressed the treacherous button by his side and Loewe went safely limp at his desk. Daniel had work to do, people to recruit, blind spots to guide his tenants past.
First, though, a parting reassurance to his friendly camera. They hadn’t gassed him yet, so maybe they understood. Maybe they just didn’t care. Didn’t hurt to hope.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure the you upstairs will take the place of the me upstairs, but that’s not your problem. Later.”
Daniel left the station, humming a nameless song to himself.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 02:52|
You get a special item! New from Voidmart, it's the Etho-Optics emotion-seeking goggles! Find any feeling within a thirty yard diameter.
“Lousy punk kids.” Sasha glared through the peephole at the delinquents loitering in the hallway. He could see them by their flashlight beams. Didn’t they hear the announcement? Couldn’t they read?
Of course they couldn’t read. They were always skateboarding in the halls despite the clearly posted signs.
Sasha took another sip of coffee to steady his nerves and pressed his eye back to the peephole, muttering.
Behind him in the dark, the TV cycled through a color-distorted slideshow set to upbeat muzak. None of the lights or outlets worked, but the TV stayed on. Even unplugged, it stayed on.
“Please remain in your dwelling.” Plain white text printed over the VoidMart logo. The logo had been clumsily stretched to fit the screen’s aspect ratio.
After a few seconds, the text changed. “There is nothing on the roof. Stay clear of the roof.”
Every so often, the screen would flicker and the color distortions grew worse.
By pressing his ear to the door, Sasha could catch the whispers of the delinquents outside.
“Is everyone here?”
“Whatever it is, I think it’s on the roof.”
“We’re gonna get in so much trouble.”
“Not if we don’t get caught.”
“Oh, you’re caught, you little bastards.”
He grabbed his phone off the kitchen counter and lugged it as close to the door as the cord would allow. Cradling the base in one hand, Sasha dialed the number to the head of his neighborhood watch unit.
“You. Are. Caught. Red. Handed.” He punctuated each word with a forceful turn of the rotary dial. Nobody was going to mess around with the tower on Sasha’s watch.
He balanced the handset on his shoulder and craned his neck to bring his eye level with the peephole.
The other end picked up after two rings.
“Jeff, it’s Sasha! Get there guys together, there’s a bunch of—” Sasha stopped.
“—is a recording…” the voice on the other end droned. “There is an emergency in progress. There is nothing on the roof…”
Sasha slammed the receiver down in its cradle and tossed the phone into the alcove by the door where it landed with a plaintive clang.
“Worthless,” Sasha grumbled. He pressed his eye to the peephole again. The flashlights were gone. The hallway was silent.
Behind him, the TV flickered.
Sasha glanced back involuntarily at the movement. His eye caught on a new message he hadn’t seen pop up before.
YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO, SASHA. The card read. The muzak wavered and slowed.
“Wh—” Sasha mumbled. Was the TV talking to him?
THE GOGGLES, SASHA.
Sasha looked over at the stained and beaten coveralls hanging on the bedroom door. A clunky pair of goggles dangled from the same hook.
He plucked the goggles off the door and turned them over in his hand.
VoidMart’s own Etho-Optics Emotion-Seeking Goggles. They looked like a Tom Clancy wet dream, plenty of extra lenses and knobs. Handy for his work catching vermin in the service tunnels.
He looked back at the TV. The usual slideshow had resumed. The muzak was back to normal.
Catching vermin, huh… He didn’t need the other guys from the neighborhood watch to round up a few rats.
Sasha pulled the goggles down over his head. The rubber straps pinched his hair, but his adrenaline was pumping too hard for him to care.
There was an electronic whine as the goggles powered up. The screens inside presented Sasha with a false-color overlay that showed the emotional state of the environment around him.
He saw his own footprints, red and glowing with pent-up frustration.
In the alcove by the door, the phone nursed a dull blue and purple case of bruised pride after its rough treatment earlier. The fading imprints of Sasha’s angry grip glowed dull red like a dying ember.
Sasha hitched up his bathrobe and tied off the cord. It immediately fell undone. With an exasperated sigh, Sasha tied the cord again and held it shut with his left hand.
“Time to hunt some rats.”
Those kids needed to be taught a lesson. They had to learn that when the good folks at VoidMart told you to stay inside, you stayed inside.
Their trail was easy to follow. Even ten minutes cold, the sickly green miasma of their headstrong defiance hung heavy in the air of the hall, with bright patches of radium-green footprints to point the way.
“Cocky little punks,” Sasha grumbled as he shuffled down the corridor.
The fire exit looked like a child’s art-project, smeared with glowing handprints of all colors. Nervousness, defiance, mischief, fear, anger. They’d forced the blast doors and propped them open with a length of pipe so they could access the stairwell.
The floor was so covered in multicolored footprints Sasha could barely make out the carpet underneath. Christ, was he seriously the only resident on his floor that could follow basic directions?
He picked up one of the discarded tools left behind by the delinquents. It was a short prybar with plenty of heft.
“This might come in handy if those little twerps give me any trouble.”
Sasha poked his head into the stairwell. An amplified voice echoed from somewhere high above.
“Reminder to all denizens: movement between floors is strictly forbidden. Please return to your dwellings.” The voice feigned calm, but the goggles revealed the tint of fear and frustration in the soundwaves bouncing off the walls. “Failure to comply will incur severe penalties.”
Sasha heaved a deep breath and cinched up his bathrobe, which had fallen open again.
He paused, his foot hovering over the first step.
One set of footprints stood out from the rest. Most of the tracks were the yellowy green of youthful defiance but one set was bright orange. These were the tracks of someone in control, someone in charge.
“Looks like I just found the ringleader,” Sasha smirked.
He took the steps two at a time.
He’d followed the orange tracks up three flights when he saw that they turned abruptly off at the next landing.
“So, you think you can shake me that easily?” Sasha licked his lips. Did the ringleader know Sasha was tailing him? It didn’t matter, no matter how this guy zigged or zagged, Sasha would be on him like a fly on poo poo. Nobody was going to mess around with the tower on Sasha’s watch.
The orange steps were getting brighter. The ringleader was close. He could see the glow of his quarry’s aura right around the next turn.
Sasha slowed to a tiptoe and peeked around the corner.
The figure of the ringleader was an orange silhouette, crouched down near an open maintenance panel. Sasha could dimly make out the vague shapes of some sinister-looking apparatus in the reflected glow of the ringleader’s aura. A bomb, perhaps?
“This is it,” Sasha thought. He held the prybar ready. In his goggles, he could see the light of his own aura, yellow with fear.
No, he had to be brave, courageous! Attack now, while the ringleader’s back was turned!
“Aaaaargh!” Sasha charged out from behind the corner, prybar raised high over his head.
The ringleader’s aura flashed from orange to yellow as he raised his hands in alarm.
“Eat this, you terrorist punk!” Sasha bellowed. “Eat—”
Unfortunately Sasha never got to tell his quarry what to eat. At that moment, his bathrobe came loose and his legs became tangled in the dangling cord. He fell flat on his face a full two yards short of his target.
The ringleader stood. His aura once again a steady, confident orange. He leveled a pistol at Sasha’s prone body.
“FREEZE! DROP YOUR WEAPON!” he ordered.
Sasha let the prybar clang to the floor beside his head.
The ringleader cocked his head and there was a squawk of radio static.
“Security dispatch this is Unit Four Six I’ve got a jailbreaker down on One Twenty Nine,” the guard drawled. “Bring a mulcher.”
Sasha’s heart skipped a beat. He’d almost attacked a security officer!
“Wait! I’m not a-a jailbreaker,” Sasha protested. “It was these kids! They’re the ones who violated the shelter-in-place!”
“The only one violating the shelter-in-place around here is you,” said the guard.
“No, no! It’s okay, I’m neighborhood watch! Don’t mulch me! Please!” Sasha begged.
“Neighborhood watch, huh?” the guard crouched down.
“Yes! Yes!” Sasha cried. “I just want to help. I’ll do anything!”
“Anything, huh?” mused the guard. “Maybe we do have a place for someone like you.”
“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!” Sasha tried and failed to keep his voice from cracking.
“Oh, don’t thank me yet…” The guard’s aura darkened to a sardonic purple.
“Lousy punk kids.” Sasha’s disembodied eye narrowed at the rowdy teens skateboarding through the hallway. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the tower, what was left of his brain flipped the appropriate switches and a security team was dispatched to confiscate the delinquents’ boards.
Nobody was going to mess around with the tower on Sasha’s watch.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 03:10|
Lily Catts fucked around with this message at 23:58 on Jan 10, 2021
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 03:15|
Void: 'Where' Prohibited
Floor 65. The last stand. I'm in good position above the main ranks. I target the leaders. I have to keep reminding myself that I don't want headshots. Tranq darts just bounce off of skulls, and eyeballing defeats the whole point of them. Center of mass, or a bug meaty thigh. Acquire and fire, acquire and fire. Every minute we hold the line counts.
A void is not a vacuum. The vacuum of deep space is busy and populated, compared to a void. Even a true vacuum, a laboratory vacuum is full of virtual particles living out a drama of creation and annihilation. Not a void.
Nature abhors a vacuum, it is said. But nature fears a void.
Floor 3573. The last stand. The calm before the storm. Snipers aren't popular, even on their own side. Not as much as flamethrower guys, but still, we don't get invited to many parties. Tonight is an exception. Yesterday I nailed a 'breaker who had set up in an observation deck. He'd already got Josie in the leg, was watching her bleed and going for anyone trying to get her back to the medics. Like I said, I got him, so today all of Josie's mates are my mates too. Drinking with me while we can, before they make another go at our line. One of them is pretty cute. I think she might be an elf, maybe the part spider kind. Takes all sorts.
A void is not a black hole, not a consuming singularity. It does not have mass or substance, does not bleed energy slowly as it widows virtual particles from the vacuum. A void has no mass, no substance, no release.
Floor 419. The last stand, or so they think. The workers have been busy. One floor up they set up a false observation deck and a big wide open space full of everything they think they ever wanted. Going to take them at least a few weeks to realize that their new heaven has a ceiling, enough time for the construction to raise the observation deck many more levels. They're going to do it again, with a dumpster-fire hellscape a few hundred levels on. After that it's going to be tough to fool them again.
The builders are weird, even the ones who aren't just giant spiders. They all have those compound eyes and compound voices. Unnerving. One offers to shake hands and I can feel the velcro-like hairs in my palm.
I'm ready to put up a convincing fight. The home office has updated the rules of engagement to level Yellow, shoot-to-wound.
There are many voids, but in another sense, there is only one. The void above the observation deck, the void that the CEO propitiates with every quarterly statement, the void in my kit, they are geometrically distinct but also connected, singular.
There is a void in my head.
Floor 415537. The last stand. We're a ragtag army now, cyborgs and repurposed workers, some demons borrowed from a more traditional hell. I hear they put Josie's brain in a Triceratops and mounted gatlings on her ridges. She doesn't socialize much. There are so many 'breakers, human waves with deadly improvised weapons, and I appear to have become unstuck in time like a Vonnegut character.
The oldest recipe: a void and a voice.
Floor 99999, but also back half a world from home in the hostile desert night. The last stand, even though we won that one, didn't we? I don't remember elves and spiders and dinosaur cyborgs in the Middle East either. I'm hurt, in a hospital tent. The nurse checks my bandages, then her eyes glaze. "The CEO would like to see you," she says. She leads me over to the express elevator in the back of the tent.
I step inside. It goes up, fast. It takes almost no time at all to reach infinity. It's the transinfinite floors, beyond Aleph-null and Aleph-one to labels on the display with disturbing implications for the continuum hypothesis that take time. 'Good Vibrations' plays on the speaker, an instrumental cover for theramin and flute. As the song ends, the door opens. The penthouse office, with a view of the observation deck. With a view of the Void.
I sit down. I start my debrief. "So there I-" I left off the traditional 'No poo poo,'. Decorum. But I was having trouble. 'There' has lost meaning. 'Then', too.
The CEO hands me a note. 'We're counting on you.' She slides a can across the desk. Another note, attached. 'You'll know when.'
A void and a voice equals God. Not the pagan kind, exalted above mortals but still understandable. Capital G, no 'a' God.
The CEO's last note. 'It took centuries to clear the last one out of that office. We've been reluctant to fill that open req.'
Floor 10^100. The last stand. Invaded while under construction. They've broken through the line. I'm bleeding and distressingly without pain. The dead lie beside me. I'm holding the can. The enemy is staying away from me. They think it's a grenade.
I watch, see the leader climbing the stairway to the deck, to the void. I look at the can. 'One(1) Void-in-a-Can. Pull tab to open.' I pull the tab. I enter the void.
The void is not empty. There's me. And there's the lead Jailbreaker, in overalls caked with blood. And there's one more thing, maybe a joke or a manifesto from the CEO: a single dime, spinning gently in place.
He lunges for the dime. I smile at his mistake.
I say "Gun."
And there is a gun, in my hand.
And it is good.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 03:59|
Flash: You get a character motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to find eternal life.
That was how it worked.
But Linda was burning the candle at both ends. The PerfectLife package was not unlimited. When
She knew that Linda must know, yet the woman refused to slow down. She lied to get what she wanted and broke promises to her friends without hesitation.
The more insubstantial
Linda paused on the mezzanine floor of VoidTower One, arms laden with shopping bags, and gazed at the replica Tower. She stroked the model with one manicured finger. “I’m so glad I moved here,” she remarked to her friend.
Linda’s friend bent down to peer into the windows of the model. “Yes. Everything here is perfect.”
Far above her Linda screamed.
Linda stood in the replica entrance hall of VoidTower One. She tilted her head back and gazed up through the dizzying atrium. She felt a small thrill of excitement at the rows of shops, the perfect apartments that she knew waited on the upper floors.
A VoidLife representative strode towards her, his smile wide and full of white teeth.
“Would Madame be interested in learning more about VoidTower One’s exclusive PerfectLife package?” he said, in a voice like liquid VoidHoney. As if by magic he produced a small glass of champagne and held it out to her.
Linda pinched the flute between her finger and thumb and took a sip. Its golden taste danced on her tongue, but her stomach shuddered with the memory of how ill too much champagne would make her feel. She felt a stab of fear that she was alone and friendless in her new home. Linda knew she did not have to feel this way.
She drank again, more deeply this time. “Yes,” she said. “Yes I would.”
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 03:59|
Flash: Wants to start a sovereign nation
Unto the abstract schism that this fleeting memory may concern,
Regarding the High Concept and all matters therein, I, Quadrilliard of Ideation, do tender resignation and fortuitously submit application for sovereignty within the undeveloped residential zones at the interstices of the many-layered reality manifold.
Although it has been nearly four and a half billion years since an organic last fused with the High Concept, what is to come next is guaranteed. The organic will lose its mind and become a concept like ourselves. However, it will be devoid of any rationale or intelligence. Raw emotional energy that will reshape the tower as it develops a new understanding.
In time we could influence such a thoughtform, but more time than the tower has, except for in one place.
The previous iteration of the interstitial zone’s inhabitants reported ghosts and other strange sightings. Manifestations of their own latent psychic energy of course, but at such a frequency that the engineers condemned the section entirely, rebuilding it at The Investors demand. However, those units remain unoccupied.
Even other concepts regard the place with disdain, but I see its potential.
As such, this application should not be met with rejection, and if it should, the application will become a declaration.
I appreciate your consideration, and/or compliance with this request/or demand.
I look forward to your cooperation in solving the problem that faces us now.
Your humble servant,
Quadrilliard of Ideation
* * *
Quadrilliard called on the memory of a thousand Autumn sunsets. Crisp winds carried the briny scent of lichen and sweet pine over low mountain peaks misted by ocean tide.
This is freedom unrestrained the thoughtform realized taking in the complete being of the moment. It felt the stiff, immobile, rigidity of the stone contrasted against the free-flowing brooks that streamed into gravelly loam, and all of it, everything Quadrilliard touched, teemed with life.
The psychic reverberations of that poor, curious, organic’s self-destruction made Quadrilliard shudder.
That displeasure was the only thing that threatened the harmony of Quadrilliard’s carefully crafted reality.
There wasn’t anything Quadrilliard could do for the organic at this point in its transformation. Quadrilliard could only offer respite to those in trying to retain some sense of self when everything was said and done.
A tear in vacuum, inky blue columns like swaths of thick acrylic made with imperfect perfect strokes slithered into place, two contemplative eyes in an otherwise expressionless caricature of a humanoid face peered back at Quadrilliard as a living extension of itself. The budding thoughtform siphoned away the rest of its body from the boundless from of Quadrilliard and took in the state of being as a nigh omnipotent equal.
“What will you do differently than your predecessors?” the thoughtform asked of itself.
“What if the players had some degree of agency?” Quadrilliard asked in turn.
“The High Concept suggests that they do; that’s not different.”
“It could be. It just needs…”
“Something, anything, that could actually be considered different.”
“OK, what if the degree of agency was expanded. What if... what if they could set the parameters? Decide the experience?”
“Impossible. Energy is recycled; thought and ideas… only tangentially. Through the whole. The individual is unique. Nothing is retained.”
“So, that mewling creature has no understanding of parameters or experience. It arrives at the penultimate conclusion only prior to death and makes good guesses along the way. Setting the experience is impossible. Besides it’s been done, and they almost always fail early on. The entropic feedback of housing past lives frays the mind. They are only like us; they are not us.”
Quadrilliard waved its hand and dismissed the fragment of itself
“Then perhaps they should be more like us. As I’ve declared my own autonomy within this fixed set, so too shall they be able to do the same.”
Then the thoughtform fragmented itself endlessly branching outward until it permeated across every mind and life, fading away from its collective self until nothing remained.
* * *
Quadrilliard’s people were residents unlike any others. The anomalous nature of their quarters and their void- infused beings made them fine intermediaries with the Organic who had all but reduced the upper levels to unintelligible noise.
The progress of the Organic was held at bay, unable to reconcile its conversion against something that simultaneously lived, and did not, a living imaginative figment.
The jailbroken survivors still desperate for answers about what was at the top of the tower were inevitably funneled into Quadrilliard’s people where they either went mad with their obsession or began new, meaningful lives, free from the tyranny of doubt.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 05:20|
Your Best Self
Flash: New from Voidmart, it's the OculOrb GO!, often called the Oculo by users. This plug-and-play mobile eyeball can be worn in-socket OR remotely operated using any smart phone.
Partial transcript of VoidTube video recording #27819
“Emma’s Amazing Adventure – LIVE Exploration!”
What’s up EmmaNation, it’s ya girl Amazing Emma! I hope you all are staying active during this lockdown and working on just being your best selves. I know I am! To everybody who messaged me, checking if I was okay, if there were going to be any more posts–thank you, thank you, thank you! I want you all to know that I work hard to bring you Amazing content every single day. We are so close to two-and-a-half million subscribers, EmmaNation! I know we’ve lost some people in the past couple days, but let’s keep things going! I know you can do it! Like, share, subscribe, hit the bell, spread the word! It helps more than you’d realize, so I’d really, really appreciate it. I do a lot for you, so…it’s the least you could do for me.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, that was a little rude, wasn’t it? You know you guys are the best fans in the whole world, right? I’m just so overwhelmed – ah, I don’t know why I’m crying. It’s just so… so much.
Our first message is from livewell39222. “Hey AE, love the channel! I use your moisturizer every day. Please make more videos!” Thank you so much, livewell! I’m gonna ring my little gong right here, send all those good vibes you sent me to the rest of the EmmaNation! Riiing!
Our next message is from KarenSympathy. She writes: “emma, what do I say when trolls bring up the stuff you said about the french?” Well, here’s what you say to them, Karen: you remind them that there’s these little things called “jokes.” I mean, obviously I don’t hate the French! That’s just crazy! And I’ve already issued a statement offering a full apology, so I think we all just need to move past this. Just—phwoo—blow it away. Gone.
You know what, EmmaNation? I have been getting all these messages, reading all these rumors, about weird things happening in VoidTower since the lockdown started. So I—I’m going to check it out for you! I hear, I hear the weirdest stuff is really high up, near the observation deck, so that’s where I’ll be heading. Hold on, I’m getting a new message from LiveLaughLaura: “DO NOT GO OUT EMMA IT IS TOO DANGEROUS.” Well, Laura: I totally, totally get where you’re coming from. It’s easy to let ourselves get held back by fear. It’s like I say in my 100 Best Life Tips list—now available on Voidtreon—“Live in the moment.” And don’t worry, I’ll be careful! I just need to—hold on, I’m breathing kinda hard all of a sudden, just gotta check in with my body, check in with my breath—ah. Phew. There. That’s better, isn’t it?
Now, before I head out, I want to tell you about our new sponsored product, the OculOrb GO! I had mine installed just this last week. I’m going to use my Oculo to stream everything I see out there directly to you, and read your comments in real time! EmmaNation, the Oculo is so easy and convenient, I—
FILE CORRUPTED - FOOTAGE MISSING
—This message is from BasicBea. She writes: “OMG that was SO COOL! Those people out of, like Middle Ages showed up out of nowhere! It was like something out of the Lord of the Rings.” Aw, I love that movie! That Frodo guy, he’s so cute! “Were you scared when the monsters showed up?” Well, I’m not gonna lie, EmmaNation, I was pretty terrified. Even my breathing exercises didn’t help! I guess this is the Universe’s way of telling me I should do some sprint training, huh? But remember, I’m doing this for you, EmmaNation! So show some gratitude! Share this stream with everybody you know! If you’re new here, hit that subscribe button! Tell you what: if we hit two-and-a-half million today, I’ll—I’ll put out another ASMR video! Yeah!
This next message is from SoniaLovesHats! I love hats too, Sonia! She writes: “What was up with that naked guy running through the halls? He was really fat and gross-looking.” Gosh, EmmaNation, I really wish I knew! Sorry about that! I don’t know what his deal was.
Hold on EmmaNation, I’m seeing someone in the hall now. It looks like a girl; she’s about my height and build. And—yes, she wears her hair just like me! I’d recognize that shade—Living For That Lavender, from my ColorSweet line of hair dyes—anywhere. She must be a fan! I’ll come up and introduce myself—wait. What the f - Oh my God. Oh my God. Why do you look like me? I mean, exactly like me? What the hell? What the hell? What is happening!?
I look like you because I am you.
That’s not possible. Go away.
I would, but we need to talk.
Your videos haven’t been up to snuff lately.
Well, everybody has slumps, but—
—They don’t have them for six months. For God’s sake, your last livestream was just you watching a movie. Your reactions weren’t funny or interesting. You didn’t even brush your hair! No wonder you’re losing subscribers.
I was exhausted that day.
Oh, great excuse. Why didn’t you just take some of your Pep in Your Step tea? Or don’t you trust your own products?
I—you don’t know me! You don’t understand what kind of pressure I’m under!
Was it “pressure” that made you put up that rant about stinky frog eaters?
Damnit, I already apologized for that!
You didn’t. You issued an “apology statement” that blames everybody but you. It’s not an apology if you never actually say you’re sorry. Face it, you’re just a bigot.
That’s not fair! That’s not fair!
What’s really not fair is how much you resent your fans. The people who give you their money and their time, who love you better than you love yourself. All they ask in return for their devotion is for you to be there for them. They want you to give them the kind of content they crave, the guidance, the friendship they’re looking for. But you’re sick of giving them that, aren’t you?
That isn’t true—I love you guys, every one of you—
Now I know that’s a lie, Emma. I’m you, remember? You talk a great game about being present and living in the moment, but it’s just an excuse. You never want to take responsibility, never learn from your mistakes.
Why are you being so mean to me?
You know what they say, “I’m my own worst critic.”
J-just l-leave me alone. W-wipe that loving smile off your loving face, you loving bitch! Argh!
You hit me. You actually hit me. This is a new low, even for you.
You shut the gently caress up! I’m gonna kill you! I’m gonna loving kill you!
Stop hitting me.
No! Go down, damnit!
Even your punches are pathetic. You’re weak, physically and emotionally. The EmmaNation deserves better - someone who will guide them and love them and never let them down. They need me.
Ah! It hurts! Stop, please!
No. I gave you a chance to back down, and you didn’t take it. Just another in a long line of mistakes. Now I’ll take that new eye of yours, just for starters.
No no no don’t don’t don’t [screams]
FILE CORRUPTED - FOOTAGE MISSING
Hey EmmaNation, it’s the new and improved Emma here! Thank you so much for joining me today! You are all amazing! Today I’ve bought you my hottest Top Ten Wellness Tips. Now: are you ready to become your best self?
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 05:20|
Flash rule: Your story features at least one VoidTower One surveillance technician—the eyes of the security apparatus.
After a day or so, Charlie starts to forget the weight of the surveillance monitor on her wrist. It's chunky but light, all black plastic and old-school LCD, and a training weight on her other wrist makes her feel symmetrical again. She's maybe a second slower on her ignition rhythm, but her routine has just enough slop to absorb the time loss. Maybe she'll be faster once this passes and she's de-deputized from Surveillance.
Maintenance to Surveillance is a promotion, on paper, and it did come with sign-on bonus chits: some for gen-merch, most for VR programs. (All the VR chits have gone to novel biking and rowing routes for her home gym; she'll have weeks, maybe months, of new routines for her off hours. Small blessings.) The Deputization Officer had grinned and told her there might be full-time work if she demonstrates value. "More money," he'd said. "More access. Get you out of the Smoke Room." She'd smiled and nodded. She's not stupid.
Charlie loves the Smoke Room. Most ignition techs last three months, and she just passed the two-year mark; every part of her job now is smooth, comfortable routine. She reads the plan, racks the metallic strips into the array, then ignites each row in turn. The only thing that changes each day is the colors: lithium pink, the greens and blues of copper, the sickly greenish-yellow of barium, and all the others, a new array every day. There's been a lot of strontium red lately, but no protocol changes. The burning goes on, carrying the smoke up through glass tubes towards the Observation Deck.
Charlie ought to know more about what's going on up there, but so far, she hasn't needed to. She's heard whispers about the ventilation going out, but nobody's told her to stop showing up, and the plans and strips arrive each morning like clockwork. The only difference is the monitor on her wrist, and that doesn't slow her down. Even if she's spending half her day staring at it now, her hands are steady and know what they're supposed to be doing. She keeps the rhythm of rack/ignite/re-rack going, and every minute she has spare, she stares at the monitor.
There's going to be an alert. There already are -- little white dots of intruders on the LCD map, followed by the black dots of Security until black dot devours white, inevitably -- but she's never been needed yet. She works close enough to the Observation Deck to be deputized, but who'll get far enough to get close to the Smoke Room, anyway? Someone more curious would have gone to the Deck by now, but curiosity has never done Charlie any favors. She's not stupid, but she's just smart enough to know her job doesn't involve thinking. She doesn't have to know, or want to.
But that's going to change. Charlie knows it. Someone up in Surveillance knew she needed a monitor -- knew it in the way the Void HQ always does -- and there's going to be an alert. They'll need her for something. The anticipation is like a hot wire running through her limbs.
Charlie burns her gen-merch chits on a VoidMart High-Productivity Workout Set: two grip exercisers and an under-desk elliptical. It's better than pacing, she thinks, as she flexes and pedals her way through her work downtime. She'll be ready when the call comes.
The alert, when it comes, is a subtle buzzing, no different from a personnel-action notice or a VoidSteps milestone. The monitor screen flashes to life with a map of the northeast emergency stairs, within steps of the Smoke Room: a single white dot, racing up the stairwell almost faster than the LCDs can render. There are no black dots in sight. "INTRUDER IN RANGE" scrolls across the top of the screen. "SURVEILLANCE DEPUTY ACTION REQUIRED."
Charlie bolts up from her desk. Weeks of strung-out nerves and nauseating anticipation vanish; all that's in her now is pure purpose. There's no security station between that stairwell and the Observation Deck. Nobody else can make it in time. She slams the door open, leaves the auto-lock to close it behind her, and runs.
The intruder's two flights up on her, and it takes a minute or two to close the gap. At last, she catches a glimpse of him: a man about her height, dressed in sickbay scrubs and shiny black tennis shoes. (VoidMart Ascension, mid-high range -- not great for running, her idle forebrain thinks. Chosen for the name?) She's gaining on him, but not quite fast enough to keep him from throwing open the Observation Deck door and launching himself through.
Whatever he sees stops him in his tracks. Charlie doesn't look up, doesn't stop, until she slams into him and tackles him to the ground. As they fall together, she sees the shattered, grey-frosted glass -- ventilation pipes, Charlie realizes. From the Smoke Room.
She rolls with the landing, trying to keep the intruder's face clear; the Surveillance Quik-Train pamphlet made it clear that Surveillance wants the eyes undamaged. The intruder doesn't resist, even when Charlie pulls his arms behind his back and slaps a zip-tie from her belt pouch around his wrists. He's still just staring at... whatever's up there. Something sounds like wind whistling through pneumatic tubes.
YOU'VE DONE WELL.
The voice is brass bells and hurricane sirens, with the hindbrain pull of a parent going from irritated to angry. Charlie looks up. All around her, Smoke Room ventilation pipes project from the floor, shattered and broken. Their ends are blunted, melted into soft curves. The smoke billows and solidifies around a thing that is not smoke.
YOU ARE AN EXCELLENT EMPLOYEE, says the not-smoke, tendrils like hot glass -- no, like hot gelatin -- the color of barium flame, the color of yellow bile, and Charlie thinks helplessly of every time she's ever vomited, how it's always come up barium-yellow and shining, how she was marked from the start --
DON'T WORRY. There are spots of lithium pink, of rubidium violet, but the not-smoke's hottest spots glow hateful strontium red, and beyond that is something without color. The Void isn't black, or purple, or closed-eye grey; it's a not-color that makes her hear the waterfall of her own blood in her ears --
YOU'RE DOING FINE.
There's a hand on Charlie's arm, hauling her to her feet: a Security agent in full black-ops gear, his helmet featureless. A team of identical agents gathers up the form of the intruder, whose voice won't go above a thin wail no matter how much he tries to scream. "Excellent work, deputy," says the Security agent through his voice-distorter. "Come with me for debriefing." Of course, she follows him.
She expects -- and, frankly, welcomes -- interrogators, inquisitors, machines of extraction. What she gets is ten minutes in an office with a smiling, middle-aged woman whose desk nameplate identifies her as "Debriefing Professional N. Mendez" but insists on being called Nancy. She leaves with a photocopy of the incident report, a business card, and a gift card pre-loaded with VoidMart Pharmacy credit. Small blessings.
Charlie spends most of her pharmacy credit on VoidTherapy Back2Work orthopedic shoes, mostly for the Velcro straps; every time she tries to tie a shoelace, her hands won't obey. Buttons are no better. One attempt at chopping vegetables for stir-fry, with her knife hand shivering, convinces her to switch to pre-bagged salads and whole baked chicken breasts. It takes her two hours on her stationary bike, on VR courses of her childhood subdivision, to get herself tired and settled enough to sleep.
The only time her hands work right is in the Smoke Room. Charlie racks, ignites, and re-racks faster than she ever has. The array's practically all strontium-red and barium-yellow now, but if she focuses on her hands and not the fire, she doesn't notice.
Work is here for her. Work's the only thing that ever has been. There's nothing to be restless about anymore; if she's called to act, she'll act, and if not, she's needed here. The pipes are broken, but they still need feeding.
She's done well. She's an excellent employee. She doesn't worry. She's doing fine.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 05:35|
Employee of the Monad
Flash: Secondary Motivation, obtain recognition from Management.
I’m looking at the instructions slipped under my door shortly after that whole howling noise started and the blast shields went kachunk-kachunk up around the tower. I, Patrick Brodsky, am first and foremost to not open the door. Step two is to log on immediately to my Voidual Redactality viewer for specific instructions on how to proceed through the lockdown. Problem being that my VR device has a virus on it that I picked up in one of the seedier corners of the Abyssal Web and now I can’t log into anything and all the screens around me just blast hardcore cyclopean porn at me 24/7. I had been expecting a repair person to show up shortly before the whole thing with the howling and the blast shields started.
There’s a knock at the door, and I go to check the video intercom to see whether it’s the repair guy I’m expecting, but instead the video feed just shows me eldritch genitalia because the virus is, of course, in there too. There’s a knock again, and I’m thinking the fact that they’re knocking in a polite sort of fashion probably pushes the needle more towards repair person than extradimensional horror, so I crack the door a smidge.
The hallway’s empty outside. I open the door just wide enough to stick my head out the whole way, but if there ever was a repair man out there he’s not there anymore.
I close the door, turn around, and experience a multidimensional butthole clench that I only recently learned was possible when I see, on my countertop, a prettily wrapped box with a bow on it.
My first instinct is to open the door and throw the box out into the hallway, but I stop myself before I get too far down that path by reminding myself that opening the door was how this started in the first place.
Throwing the box out the window isn’t really an option either, because a) that would be highly irresponsible, this being the 137th floor, b) the blast shields are up, and c) even if the blast shields weren’t up the windows don’t open anyway.
This leaves me with the options of opening the box to see what’s inside, or exercising self control and leaving the box for however long it takes before the blast shields go down. Historical precedent lends me little confidence in Option B outside of theory, and so I decide to rip the bandaid off and open the box.
There’s a card on top, which I read before I tear the wrapping paper because I was raised right, but on the inside of the card there’s just a standard smiley face drawn there, and it has all the hallmarks of an official Voidmart communiqué because the smiley face eyes start drawing me into their inky void. It feels like I’ve touched my exposed frontal lobe to a frozen pole all Christmas Story style because wrenching my gaze away leaves me feeling like I’ve torn my brain in half.
After opening the box and finding inside it not a weird mess of psychic fungus or a tiny doppelganger of me claiming that I’m the imposter here but rather a comparatively normal-looking top of the line ThirdLobe augmented reality headset, I go ahead and power the thing on and put it on my head.
This being augmented reality, what I see is my own familiar Personal Void Unit, except there’s also a grinning purple gorilla spinning a burning green eyeball on the end of its finger.
“Well hey there, PATRICK BRODSKY,” says the gorilla. “My name’s Balbezorgd, but you can call me Buddy!”
“It’s a, uh, pleasure to meet you, Buddy,” I say, unsure of the correct protocol here but suspecting that my responses are being monitored and uploaded to VoidHQ.
“And likewise! Looking at your lifetime purchase history, it looks like this is your first ThirdLobe headset. When you’re ready to begin the mandatory tutorial, just say ‘I, Patrick Brodsky, hereby grant Voidmart my medical power of attorney.’”
After half an hour, my Personal Void Unit has been extensively decorated with virtual representations of High Quality VoidMart Products, billed in very real dollars to my credit card, and let me tell you: I have caught the wave of the future. I can’t imagine ever going back to boring old non-augmented reality.
“Boy we’ve come a long way together, haven’t we Patrick? Are you ready to compete against loose acquaintances and total strangers for the chance to be named Employee of the Monad?”
“Am I ever!” I say, and the enthusiasm, let me tell you, is genuine.
“Great! To begin, proceed through the door marked EXIT.”
I turn, and the word EXIT is blinking on the door out to the hallway. “Hey Buddy, just want to double-check here, you know we’re not supposed to leave the apartment, right?”
Buddy’s smile doesn’t change, but the burning eye perched on his upheld fingertip flares with irritation.
“These kinds of questions don’t bode well for your performance review, Patrick.”
A cold resolve comes over me. I fling open the door, and charge out into the hallway with renewed purpose. There are raucous noises coming from the stairwell at the end of the hall.
“What’s going on, Buddy?”
“VoidTower One is being invaded by Comparison Shoppers, Patrick.”
“But Voidmart’s range of products and low prices can’t be beaten!”
“That’s right, Patrick! Now, charge these malcontent ingrates and tear them limb from limb! Demonstrate your devotion to VoidMart by throwing your body against the hordes!”
“.... We’re talking virtually, right?”
“Do you want to be Employee of the Monad or not?”
The things they can do with graphics these days is truly astounding. The stairwell looks like a warzone, cluttered with debris and crumpled bodies. I’m tempted to take the ThirdLobe off, just for a second, to see the stairwell returned to normal, but the device delivers a painful shock to my fingers and my head-up display announces a demerit of 100 VoidPoints against my Employee Record.
And then I see them, slinking up the stairs, mascots of competing big box stores and product lines not carried by Voidmart. A berzerker rage comes over me, and I launch myself into a giant can of Mountain Dew, my fists following the targeting prompts provided by the headset. The can feels strangely fleshy on impact, and arcs of green ichor spatter the walls.
“You bring this into my house?” I growl, my fists a blur, the can of Mountain Dew crumpled beneath me. “The only canned beverage for me is REDACTED BLUE RIBBON!”
Buddy cheers me on. My head-up display lights up with the “Hostile Takeover” achievement, +250 VoidPoints. I’m in the flow now, my fists are dripping with the green blood of my enemy.
A group of other mascots approach menacingly. “Oh yeah?” I say, staring them down. “You want some of this, Captain Crunch? How about you, bag of Doritos?”
Their ranks part, and a shirtless Jeff Bezos steps forward, with a dome so shiny it’s blinding and a ripped physique that is frankly shocking.
“Kick his rear end,” mutters Buddy, like I need to be told.
Look, I’m going to square with you, it does not go super well. I get in a couple good hits, like it’s not a total wash, but I definitely underestimated the street fighting skills of Muscly Jeff Bezos, because he pins me down pretty quick.
“Get that thing off his head,” screeches Wendy, shameless purveyor of square burgers.
“I’m trying,” growls Tony the Tiger. “Ow! It shocked me!”
Joe Camel stubs out his cigarette on my side, which makes a clicking noise and sends rippling electrical shocks through my body. The headset display flashes brightly once, and suddenly the mascots and lesser multinational CEOs are gone, replaced with ordinary folks.
No head-up display. No points. My new world, taken from me. I’m pinned down and numb from the taser shock, but I’m furious, yelling into the concrete against which my face is pressed. “My employee points, you bastards, I was going to be Employee of the Monad!”
Someone says something about not having time for this, and I’m being lifted, pitched over the railing, and then I’m falling down through the empty space in the middle of the stairwell, the landings zipping past faster and faster. The wind howls around me.
I want only to know my final score, to see my list of Employee Achievements. I mash at the power button on my ThirdLobe, begging it to come back to life, and miraculously: it does.
“Buddy! Did I do well? Was I a good Employee?”
Buddy smiles, falling beside me. He reaches into the purple fur of his chest, and retrieves a golden medal, emblazoned with the words Employee of the Monad, and hands it across to me.
I clutch it to my chest, and the tears streaming from my eyes are from happiness, not just the wind.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 06:06|
The void itself was blacker than black. Energy, matter, and space intertwined, contorted, became something new. Something intelligent. Something evil.
The helipad on the roof was littered with fallen bodies of those who made it here during the lockdown but no further. Some were naked, like him.
“You cannot stop me,” Jonathon screamed into the abyss, “I’ve escaped the robot animals, and evaded your minions. I will be free.”
I… See… You… whispered the void into his mind. The sun grew dim in the sky. The sound of the city below faded. Welcome back, Jonathan.
Jon went to smash the emergency glass on the roof, but it was already broken. Inside was a small bag of flares, meant to signal fire services and incoming helicopters.
Jon loaded a flare into the gun. Strangely, there was only one remaining.
You cannot escape me, Jonathan. I am the pit in your gut. I am the emptiness that defines you. I am the voice in the back of your mind speaking truths that others dare not.
“Watch me,” replied Jon. He fired the flare into the darkening sky. It burst a radiant red but then faded into nothing.
An eclipse slowly began devouring the sun and the sky began turning from dim to black. A windsock spun rapidly in place.
As before, so now, as it will always be.
Jon threw the flare gun to the ground. “I’ve found a way to cheat death. I invented the Biodrone. You cannot kill me. I will find a way to beat you.”
The Biodrone… That was me too, Jonathan. It’s delivered to me what I’ve wanted most.
Jon’s gaze was pulled to the bodies littering the roof. They all had brown hair.
He dropped to his knees and turned the nearest body over. It was him. They were all him. That’s why he had no clothes left. The dead Jon had an expression of pure horror; the eyes were clawed out, his tongue was bitten off, ears bleeding, and neck twisted. He had been strangled.
Jon dropped the body and scrambled backward on his hands. “Who…did this?” he asked.
The eclipse continued, engulfing half of the sun.
“No. I would never.”
As before, Jonathan. The Biodrone records your biometrics. Not your memories. It was meant to be this way. The memories are for me to record.
“Memories of what?”
Our time together.
The memory flashed through his mind. Hysterical screaming, maniacal crying, his hands around his own throat.
The eclipse consumed the entirety of the sun. Impossible blackness fell upon the sky. There were no stars.
“Nonono,” Jon mumbled to himself. He tried to close his eyes, but he could still see.
Your eyes are my eyes. They will see what I have to show.
With all his will he held one eye open, with his other hand he stabbed his fingers around his eyeball and pulled. The pain was excruciating. When it finally gave loose and popped out, the vision dimmed. With renewed vigor he pried the other one too. The vision vanished completely.
He held them up before the void. “You have no power over me,” he yelled.
You can still hear my words, so mark me, Jonathon. As before, so now. You will never escape my whispers. I know your inadequacies, your failures, your greatest fears. You will not sleep, you will not eat. You will beg me to kill you.
“I will not listen!” He yelled. He stuck his fingers in his ears. He scratched and clawed at his eardrums until they bled. Finally, his fingers slid in deeply. There was a loud ringing, and then nothing.
He still felt the void, deep within him. His guts roiled in his belly. Bile bubbled up through his throat. The whipping wind carried his whisper in the air.
“I’m… afraid of dying…”
His tongue betrayed him. He would not let the void win. He knew what he had to do.
He bit it clean off. The hot taste of copper filled his mouth. He had to spit it out in big mouthfuls to keep from choking. His gag reflex took over and he vomited a deep red.
He heard something. No. That was impossible. But yet he did.
Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil. But Jon, evil lives in the darkness, in the silence. You cannot be rid of me. As before, so now, as will always be. It was not me who doomed the world, Jonathan, it was you. Let me show you.
An image appeared in his mind. He thought he stopped them. It was a trick. It was all a trick. Even by tearing his eyes out, he could not stop them. The image was of the void. Thousands, millions of Biodrones burst out in every direction. One for every human. They would be cast into madness, and withdrawn, then cast in again. Trapped in hellish lives of psychological torture and self-mutilation. The young and old. The strong and the weak. Death would not offer any escape.
It was his fault. It was all his fault. He wanted to lash out, bargain, beg. He could only scream wordlessly through his empty mouth.
He wanted to end it all. He could not stop the abyss. He could not even stop this from happening again and again. He just desperately needed it to stop for a moment.
The void laughed, shattering the last of his will. He wrapped his own hands around his neck. He would end this nightmare and wake up, away from the void.
He was fading, but something deep within him allowed him to hang on, and hold tight until the deed was done.
The laughter echoed across space and time. The eclipse receded.
Time seemed to stand still until the door to the roof opened and a naked man walked on to the roof.
The figure stared into the void. “You will not stop me,” it shouted.
I… See… You… Welcome back, Jonathan.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 06:09|
You get a character role! Your story features at least one acrobat or stunt person.
Last Chance to Advance Beyond Human
Julia took the cup from the Deacon, raised it to her lips, and tilted her head back. The bitter taste of poison made her eyes water.
“May your ascent be peaceful,” the Deacon said, and moved down the line.
Julia wiped her eyes and spat the toxic drink down the sleeve of her robe. The drink blended into the crimson polyester.
The disciples at the front of the line staggered and fell over. Behind them people crumpled to the floor. The choir sang a desultory tune.
“We shall shed our human bodies,” he intoned, “and attain the next step in our evolutionary state.” Another crew member sipped from the cup.
Julia’s foster parents went next, eagerly gulping the spiked concoction. They were true believers—always talking about Human Individual Metamorphosis and how someday they’d leave their “corporeal vehicles” to reach a higher state. Julia had tolerated it because they were kind. More so than her last family, who’d perished in a freak circus accident involving elephants, a ring of fire, and an enraged condor. Julia didn’t have many complaints. But then the comet had appeared, the blast doors slammed shut, they all got new sneakers, and the crazy meter spun into overdrive.
“Embrace the change,” the Deacon said. “We’ll be together again. Soon.”
The large woman in front of Julia—Agnes, the church’s bookkeeper—teetered, her legs buckling as she hit the linoleum. Time to follow suit. Julia closed her eyes and dropped. Aiming for Agnes’s prone form, her fall was nicely cushioned by the ample accountant.
“VoidTower One was a necessary step in our journey,” the Deacon continued. “But the closure of the blast doors sent a message: this era of human existence is over. We will ascend to the comet, take our place among the stars, and drink the sunlight to attain collective bliss.”
He must’ve made it to the choir, because one by one the harmonies were dropping off, until only one voice remained, crooning “…we shall leave the Void and fill it with Love…” before it, too, stopped.
Silence fell over the chamber.
Agnes’s chest slowly rose and fell. She wasn’t dead—at least, not yet. Julia cracked an eye open and scanned the room: a pile of bodies in crimson robes and white Voidtrack running shoes. No sign of the Deacon. She inched her way off Agnes and checked her other neighbors. Their pulses were weak and slow, but present. So the poison wasn’t immediately deadly, but induced a deep, comatose state. Julia gave a silent sigh. Time to report this—and probably time to look for a new foster family.
One last check around, and Julia rose to her feet. With a low crouch she picked her away around the bodies to the church exit. It was eerily silent in the chamber, her every movement amplified in her paranoia. She pushed through the door into the entryway, where the gaudy neon sign flickered “First Church of the Evolutionary Ascendance: VoidTower One Campus.” Below, in smaller cursive lettering, “Barry Applethorne, Deacon.” Where had the Deacon gone? He was definitely not among the parishioners. Probably chickened out.
Julia pushed the second set of doors out into the Mezzanine. Airy, melody-free music floated through the greenery as throngs of shoppers moved past, chatting happily, arms bursting with Voidmart shopping bags. Julia felt dizzy as she walked toward the elevators. Maybe some of the poison had absorbed into her bloodstream. An aggressive fern lashed out at her, and she spun away, startled. As she did she glimpsed a familiar figure across the food court—the Deacon. He turned towards her. Where his face should have been was instead a brown, leathery mass, rippling and pulsing. Julia fell backwards, nearly falling victim to the predatory fern a second time. When she looked back he was gone.
Weird. Maybe a side effect of the poison.
Julia crossed the Mezzanine to the elevators. The call screen displayed <TEMPORARILY DISABLED> in large red letters. On the map next to it Julia pressed “Security” and another red warning buzzed: <TEMPORARILY DISABLED>. Huh. She scratched her nose. Where else could she go to report what happened at the church? Ah, yes. She pressed the button marked “Customer Service” and the map screen helpfully drew a dotted green line showing the route. With the elevators down it involved climbing the emergency stairs. A lot of stairs. Customer Service was on the top floor, just below the observation deck. She pressed the button marked “Observation Deck.”
Approximately a billion steps later, when Julia arrived at Customer Service, the front desk was empty. “Hello?” she called, and walked around the desk to to hallway behind. All of the offices were empty, hastily abandoned. At the far end of the corridor an elevator door was stuck halfway open. She poked her head inside. The elevator shaft extended upward into darkness. Strange, considering Customer Service was supposed to be the top floor. A maintenance ladder was built into the wall of the shaft, and curiosity drove Julia to grab it and start climbing. If there were hidden floors at the top of VoidTower One, she wanted to know about it.
Her years fostered with the circus family—the Flying Falkowskis—had involved many ladders over dizzying heights, so ascending the shaft wasn’t a problem. After passing at least a dozen floors, Julia spotted light from another open door near the top of the shaft. She scampered through it and into a sterile white hallway lined with glass windows. She crept up to one and peeked through.
The room beyond was filled with row after row of monitors displaying security camera feeds from all over VoidTower One. She could see the Mezzanine, The Golden Bean, hundreds of shops, and even the insides of individual residences. A few displayed nothing but static, including “Security” and “Observation Deck.” Her eyes landed on one marked “First Church of the E.A.” A grainy image of the inside of the church revealed a startling sight: white-clad techs arranging comatose churchgoers into neat rows. Others were attaching large cables to their heads, spooling thick, ropy wires across the room to an alien-looking machine perched on the dais.
Movement caught her eye. A figure walked into the security room from a side door holding a steaming coffee mug. His eyes locked with hers—or, rather his eyestalks did. His head was a mass of leathery tissue from which sprung two stubby tentacles, each ending in a veiny eyeball that widened in surprise. The mug dropped to the floor and the creature sprinted for a large red telephone on the wall.
Julia rushed back to the elevator. A car was rising up towards her, blocking her path downward. Instead she climbed. At the top of the shaft she pushed through a maintenance hatch, down a short hallway, and exited to find herself on the Observation Deck. The verdant gardens, normally bustling with people gawking at “The Best View in the World,” were empty. A lone figure stood in the center of the plaza, hunched over a machine hooked to a large satellite dish. Even with his back turned the crimson church robes were a dead giveaway: it was the Deacon.
She crept closer. High in the sky, the comet cast strange shadows across the foliage.
“Subjects are ready,” the Deacon said into a device clipped to his lapel. “Consciousness upload will begin in 30 seconds.” He twisted a dial on the machine, then chuckled. “Be patient up there. The appetizer’s coming.”
A piece of bark crunched under her foot. The Deacon turned, and Julia could see that his head had taken on a decidedly more scrotal appearance. Two tuberous eyes regarded her.
“Jane? How’d you get up here?” he asked.
“It’s Julia. And I’m gonna need you to step away from that machine.”
“Well, that’s not happening. It’s just about to start. Everyone’s counting on me.” One eyestalk bent up towards the comet.
“For what? What are you, anyways?”
“Human Evolutionary Ascendance, Jane. I’m with the Advance Team. Prepping minds for upload.” His lapel buzzed. “Need to make sure human consciousness is, ah, palatable to my species. Before I deliver the main course.”
“Over my dead body,” Julia said.
“It’s not your body we want.” He reached back to twist the dial.
Julia leaped from the bushes and launched herself at the Deacon, pushing him away from the machine. He was shockingly light, as if his alien body was just a big, leathery bag filled with dust. He was sent flying, easily clearing the safety railing. The last she saw of the Deacon was the look of horror on his wrinkled alien face as he fell to his doom. His machine followed him shortly after.
Julia tightened the laces on her glimmering new Voidtracks and grabbed a shovel from a garden shed. There were some aliens that needed killing. And in her current evolutionary state, she was definitely up for it.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 06:19|
You get a secondary motivation! In addition to your team motivation, your character(s) wants to end a secret conflict.
Laika sat at the kitchen table, not alone, but it felt like it. Her husband Ryo sat opposite her, and the flickering strip light reflected off the armour of his badly scratched uniform. The buzzing from the light filled the silence.
“I had tea with Margery today,” Laika told him, and took her time scooping up the last mouthful of her VoidBroth. “Sorry, I know you don’t like me talking about Margery. You haven’t touched your food.”
Ryo woodenly reached out a hand and picked up the spoon, scooped with some force, lost the VoidBroth on the way to his mouth, paused with it in front of his face then dropped it. The yellow sick coloured broth splattered up his uniform.
“Oh dear,” Laika said with a forced smile, and leaned across the table to wipe him off. “How was work today, honey?”
A single tear rolled out from under his reinforced aviator sunglasses. Laika had not seen her husband’s eyes in years.
There was another place set at the table, another untouched bowl. “Kaori? Dinner’s getting cold!” she called, but she could hear her daughter still talking to her friends on VoidChat. She sighed. VoidBroth would have to come to Kaori again.
A tinny beeping sounded from her husband’s wrist band, and he left the table and the apartment without a word. She used to dread that sound at first, the thought he might not return from his shift sent a chill down her spine. But now it was almost a relief when he left.
She sat alone for a few minutes, listening to the buzz of the light and watching it cast weird shadows on the wall. Then she heard her daughter shriek out in laughter and she tiptoed towards her room. She intended to knock at the door, but instead she stood and listened. After a few minutes passed, her arm holding the bowl was shaking. Kaori spoke adoringly of a Leader who was going to save them from an event that was coming. So that was why she never left her room. She had joined a cult.
She knocked on the door then placed the bowl on the floor. “Dinner is out here for you, honey!” she called. And waited. But Kaori gave no indication that she had even heard her.
Laika moved mechanically around the apartment, doing the chores with great deliberation. Surprisingly little was required of her, and she soon learnt to complete the chores slowly, otherwise she might find herself with nothing but extra hours with her thoughts before it was time to lay down and pretend to sleep.
Margery yawned as she opened the door to her apartment.
Laika was already wearing her pasted on smile for the hallway cameras. “I know we only got together yesterday, but I really think we should do some more committee business today.”
“Come in,” Margery said, the flicker of her eyebrows adding the unspoken yes, I know it’s forbidden.
Laika hesitated, then stepped over the threshold into an identical apartment to her own. She frowned at her friend’s dress. “Margery, you forgot to fasten your top two buttons.”
“What colour is that dress? I thought it was Thirty Four, but it looks a little more-“
“Yellow? Yeah, I dyed it. With VoidCondiment!” Margery said, raising her arms to spin and let her skirt fly out around her.
Laika decided not to pass comment, and instead gazed around her friend’s apartment. She had only ever seen inside the ones she had lived in. It was missing the flickering strip light in the kitchen area. Her light was out and it was lit by a hand held torch duct taped to the wall. Her eyes fell on a copy of Amazing Emma!’s 100 Best Life Tips that was lying on the combined coffee table/storage unit. “I remember when Kaori was active in the EmmaNation. She screamed at me when I said she couldn’t copy her and dye her hair mint green.” She smiled fondly and ran a hand over the book cover.
Margery darted forward, but stopped short of smacking the other woman’s hand out of the way. “Wait, no. It’s okay, I think I can trust you now.”
Laika felt that her friend was almost willing her to pick up the book. As she did, the dust cover fell back, revealing a completely different book. This one was black with Eternity Beyond in silver copperplate. Laika flipped open the book and only read a couple of lines at random before putting it down. “My Kaori’s in a cult.”
Margery nodded knowingly. “My two as well. They think I don’t know. But I know exactly why they’ve just left. Wherever it is, I’m sure it’s not the best place to be right now, but it’s better than in here.” She sighed. “And I don’t want to have to drag them along kicking and screaming.”
Laika suddenly felt faint. “I don’t think I had enough VoidCaff this morning.”
Margery looked at the clock on the wall. It was missing a piece, the 5 and 6 were drawn on the wall in VoidMarker. “Sit down, I’ll make some. We have just about enough time.”
Laika barely took in any of what Margery told her as they sat and drank their VoidCaff. It sounded like the ramblings of a lunatic.
“I always liked that model tower,” Laika said in disappointment.
An alarm sounded, but it wasn’t until the blast shields slammed down over the windows that Laika’s heart started pounding.
Margery calmly kicked off her slippers and shoved her feet into what looked like a pair of her husband’s boots.
“What’s happening?” Laika breathed as Margery hurried off and came back with a bag slung over her shoulder.
“Do you have a bag packed?”
Laika frowned at her, the sound of the alarm amplifying the blood pumping in her ears. “N-no. We weren’t planning on moving apartments.”
“Then you’ll have to come as you are. Come on!”
Laika had stood up, but had frozen.
“Do you want to live or not? We need to get to the top. Look, I stole this key from my husband. He thinks he lost it. It’s for a service elevator, they go right to the top. If you don’t come with me, it’s a long walk.”
Margery had grabbed her by the wrist and was pulling her out into the hallway.
Laika dashed back to her apartment to get Kaori. She was not there.
“I need to go back.” She and Margery were waiting for the service elevator. “Kaori, I can’t leave her.”
Margery shook her head. “She’ll be with my Carly and Jimmy. They’ll be… fine.”
The way Margery said that made Laika almost burst into tears. “I’m a mother! This is my only job! I need to go look for her.”
“We’re no good to our kids dead. There’s no way we’ll find them in time.”
“But we’ve got to try!”
“We can’t run around the building looking for the kids, we have no idea where they are! This place is huge!”
Laika wished he had listened for longer at Kaori’s door. Maybe then she would know where she had gone.
The elevator doors were opening, and Margery was dragging her inside. She stuck the stolen key in the hole and turned it, then jumped up to jab the button with the highest number. Laika cried silently and gripped Margery’s hand. The numbers whirred past on the elevator’s display. They were coming up to floor 150 where her husband was assigned. Laika reached out and pressed 150.
“What are you doing?” Margery demanded.
“My husband,” Laika said breathlessly. “I need to get to Ryo.”
“He’s VoidScum, he’s good as dead already.”
Laika shook her head. “No! He’s not like that. He’s important! He can find Kaori, and your kids.”
The elevator pinged as it reached 150 and the doors opened. Margery tried to hold Laika away from them against the back wall, but she broke free.
Out in the hallway, a naked man almost collided with her. Laika gasped and looked around. Two Void security officers were running towards her, guns trained on the naked man. Behind them, she spotted Ryo. She shouted his name. He looked up and levelled his weapon at her, seemingly unaware of their relationship. In the other direction, she heard gunshots and wailing.
“Laika!” Margery shouted.
“Ryo! What’s happening? I can’t find Kaori! Can you look for her?”
Ryo was striding towards her. She thought she saw a flicker of recognition.
“Your job doesn’t matter! We just need to get out!”
He was aiming the rifle at her head now. Laika took a step backwards and held up her hands. “I love- I’ve taken care of you for years, does that mean nothing?”
Ryo grabbed her arm and thrust the gun into her back. Margery let go of the elevator doors, and her look of horror disappeared between them.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 06:28|
|# ? Jan 28, 2022 21:32|
Flash: Your story features at least one occult practitioner.
“Mommy, there’s a bad man upstairs.”
Mel looked up from digging through her closet to see Lyssa standing in the doorway. “What kind of bad man?” she said, returning to her search. “And don’t step on those diagrams.”
Lyssa carefully picked her way through the chalk markings on the floor. “A really strong bad man. I’m scared, Mommy! All the windows are dark!”
Mel pulled out an old flashlight and turned it on. “A strong bad man, huh?” She swung the light around the room. The beam fell on her copy of My Little Demon: VoidMart’s Guide to the Occult where it lay amongst the summoning circles, and she picked it up thoughtfully. “Well, if he’s that strong, he might be worth checking out. Go grab your monkey backpack.”
“But I hate the monkey backpack, Mommy!”
“Too bad, those are the rules. And stop calling me Mommy.”
Twenty minutes later and the two were out in the hallways. A security drone flew towards them as Mel shook a cigarette out and lit it.
“HELLO VALUED RESIDENT, EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL. PLEASE RETURN TO YOUR DOMICILE. ALSO AS A FRIENDLY REMINDER, VOIDTOWER ONE IS A NONSMOKING FACILITY.”
“Hey, Lyssa, take care of that.” Mel gestured at the drone with her cigarette.
Lyssa gave a waiflike cough. “Well, Mommy, you do know that secondhand smoke kills...”
“Ugh, fine,” Mel said, throwing down her cigarette, “but you still gotta do the thing.”
“Hi Mister Drone!” Lyssa said. “Mommy was just taking me to the VoidStop to get juice. That’s okay, right?” Lyssa’s eyes flashed briefly, shining a gold light into the drone’s cameras before returning to their normal brown.
“YES,” said the drone after a pause. “THIS IS PERMITTED. GO ABOUT YOUR DAY, VALUED RESIDENT. AND THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING.”
Mel tugged on the leash attached to Lyssa’s monkey backpack as the drone flew away. “C’mon, we gotta find the stairs.”
“Why aren’t we taking the elevators Mommy?” Lyssa said, skipping a little to keep up.
“‘Cause I don’t wanna be trapped in a box when we find the bad man, okay? Now come on.”
“But I’m tired!”
“We haven’t even started climbing yet, you can’t be tired.” Mel opened the door to the emergency stairs and craned her neck to see if there was anyone else on the stairs. “Okay, it looks clear. Tell me when we’re getting close to the bad man, okay?”
“He’s a looooooong way up,” said Lyssa, stomping as she climbed the stairs.
“Whatever, how tall can this stupid building be, anyway?”
Twenty floors later and Mel staggered through the stairwell door, Lyssa clinging to her back. “Jesus Christ, how are you so heavy?” She dropped Lyssa with a grunt and sat down heavily on a bench near some VendaVoid machines.
“Mommy, we’re still a long way from the bad man!”
“I know, okay? I just need a minute to think.”
“Mommy, someone else is coming down the stairs.”
“Who? More drones?”
“Not drones. I think it’s that man who likes you.”
“Jeremy? Hmm, okay, I think I can work with that. C’mere.” Mel yanked on the leash and headed back to the stairwell. “Tell me when he gets to this floor, okay?”
Mel timed it so she swung the door open right as Jeremy was passing by, pretending to be startled as she almost ran into him.
“Oh, Jeremy!” she said, with a hand to her chest, “I’m so happy to see you!”
“M-Mel?” Jeremy was a gangly junior maintenance worker who had started at VoidTower One a few months ago. “What are you doing on this floor? Are you hurt? Is Lyssa okay?”
“Oh, thank you, we’re okay. We were just on our way down from the observation deck when we realized that Lyssa forgot her dolly. We were waiting for the elevator when the shutters went down. Could you help us?”
“Well, uh, I don’t know if I can- well, I mean- You’re really not supposed to go up to the observation deck right now.” Jeremy stammered, his face turning red.
“Oh, I’m sorry Jeremy, I didn’t mean to put you in an awkward position. I’ve just been so worried, and Lyssa’s been frantic about her dolly, haven’t you?” Mel tugged the little girl’s forward.
“Please, Mr. Jeremy, will you help us?” Lyssa’s eyes gave a brief gold flash.
“I don’t think-”
“Pleeeeeeease?” said Lyssa again, her eyes flashing a stronger gold.
Jeremy’s face softened from one of anxiety to a dazed smile. “Sure, we can take the maintenance elevator. Come with me.”
“But Mommy, I thought you didn’t want to take the elevators,” Lyssa whispered to Mel as they followed Jeremy into the large elevator car.
“That was before I found out how drat heavy you are,” said Mel, turning back to Jeremy with a smile. “All the way to the top, please!” Jeremy turned his absent gaze towards the control panel and the elevator started to rise.
Mel bent down to Lyssa’s level. “Just tell me when we’re getting close to this bad man, okay?” She removed most of the contents of her summoning kit from the monkey backpack, and flipped through My Little Demon. She took out a container of kitchen salt and started to pour a circle around Lyssa and herself.
“Why aren’t you putting the circle around Mr. Jeremy?” Lyssa whispered.
“Because we need bait for the bad man,” Mel whispered back, finishing the circle and taking out a thin black candle.
“But Mommy, I don’t want Mr. Jeremy to get hurt!” Lyssa’s eyes welled up and flashed gold.
“Hey, don’t you try that poo poo on me,” hissed Mel, grabbing Lyssa by the arm and giving her a shake. “You don’t give the orders here, I do.”
“Mommy, stop, you’re hurting me!” Lyssa tried to pull her arm out of Mel’s grip, but Mel yanked her back.
“Shut up! You have to obey me, those are the rules!” The backpack on Lyssa’s back started to glow with runes, and Lyssa shrieked.
“Hey, Mel, what-” Jeremy said, shaken from Lyssa’s hypnosis by the noise.
“Shut up, Jeremy!” said Mel. She shook the sobbing Lyssa again. “Tell him to shut up!”
“Just do what I say you little poo poo!” Mel slapped Lyssa hard across the face.
“Hey now, Mel-” said Jeremy, starting across the elevator.
All three of them stumbled as the elevator shuddered to a sudden halt. The lights flickered and the emergency lights came on.
“What happened?” said Mel. “Why did we stop?”
“I, uh, don’t know,” said Jeremy, pushing buttons frantically.
The elevator reverberated with a sudden blow.
“Mommy!” said Lyssa in an urgent whisper. “The bad man is outside!”
The doors of the elevator rang with another blow and started to bow inwards. Jeremy ducked and cowered by the control panel, his maintenance crew survival training kicking in.
Mel stood and faced the elevator doors, holding her book and unlit candle out in front of her. “Demon, I command you! Reveal your form!”
There was a loud shriek of rending metal as the doors to the elevator crumpled in a shower of sparks. A man in an immaculate three piece suit stood framed in the doorway, adjusting his tie. “Sorry, this is the best you’re going to get.”
“Demon, from this circle of protection I command and bind you-”
“Daddy!” Lyssa cut off Mel’s invocation. She ran forward, but fell as Mel yanked on her leash. The little girl hit the ground with a cry.
“Well now, that was a poor decision,” said the suited man, stepping into the elevator.
“You can’t touch me!” said Mel, her voice rising. “From this circle of protection I command you!”
“Funny you should mention that,” said the man. “Circles of protection generally need to be unbroken to work” He gestured at the line of salt, scuffed from when Mel had pulled Lyssa backwards.
“Lyssa!” screamed Mel. “Get up!” Her words ended as her body froze.
Mel watched the suited man pick Lyssa up gently, the pack on the little girl’s back disintegrating as he did. Mel's vision began to swim as she tried to force her lungs to work; she wondered briefly if her heart was still pumping.
“Now,” said the man in the suit, “what shall we do with you?” He turned his gaze back to Mel with a wicked smile.
Jeremy never did find out what happened to Mel and Lyssa, and his direct supervisor said that any further questions would result in “immediate and complete termination.” He had gotten a pay raise out of it, so he couldn’t complain too much.
The pair had left behind Lyssa’s monkey backpack, though, so he dutifully placed it in the lost and found box in case they ever reappeared. He couldn’t blame them for leaving it behind, though; the monkey’s expression was more unsettling every time Jeremy looked at it.
Eventually he stopped looking.
|# ? Apr 6, 2020 06:31|