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Thread: Sunlight Through Water

  1. #11
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    Hank was running out of things to do. He had been working tirelessly and Emile was sure that he had uncovered every dark and dusty corner of the computer system. It seemed like that should have been a good thing, but Emile knew better, and Hanks edginess confirmed it. Hank’s self imposed distractions were over and now he had to face the real problem; the one which had been looming for weeks. Why couldn’t he manipulate the system?

    Hank had always complained about his console, but lately there had been a steady and relentless stream of curses coming from his corner of the room. He had started borrowing note cards from Serge and filling them with calculations and diagrams. In fact his desk top had almost overtaken Serge’s as the dirtiest in the room. Emile had tried to help, but when Hank got upset he would vent his frustration on the nearest human target, and Emile learned quickly to take himself out of the crosshairs.

    Emile would have offered his help to Serge instead, but Serge wasn’t doing much better than Hank. He continued to write his translations down but hadn’t discovered anything new since Emile had last listened to his phone. In fact, the tired and bitter expression on Serge’s face was enough to keep anyone away. He was the polar opposite of Hank. When Hank was upset everyone in the room would hear about it, but when Serge was in a bad mood he would lock down tight, bottling up his emotions and refusing to speak.

    It was frustrating for Emile as well. He wanted to help, and he probably could have if they would just let him, but their stubbornness was blocking any progress that might have been possible. All of this was adding to the overall sense of hopelessness that hung over them these days. It had rolled into their little room like a storm, darkening all of their moods and extinguishing the hope and excitement they once felt. The memories the light had first brought had almost entirely faded from Emile’s mind, and he was able to bear each day only by holding onto that last little bit.

    The loud crash of a fist striking metal startled Emile from his bored stupor. He wheeled around to see what had happened, and saw Hank raging at his console.

    “You stupid god-damn machine!” yelled Hank, staring furiously at the light. “I’m so sick of this crap!” He crumpled up a stack of note cards and threw them to the floor.

    Emile was about to shake his head and turn back to his console when he heard the phone slam down onto its cradle.

    “Would you just shut up?! Every day I have to listen to you complain about that damn computer system and I’m sick of it. You’re not the only one who has something to concentrate on around here,” said Serge. His face was bright red as he yelled angrily at Hank. It was about the last thing Emile expected from the normally quiet and subdued Serge.

    “Excuse me?” said Hank, getting up from his seat. “I’m so sorry I broke your precious concentration Serge. I can see your putting it to valuable use over there.”

    “Well maybe I’d accomplish more if you could shut your mouth for five minutes,” said Serge, also getting out of his chair. Here we go, thought Emile.

    “Oh you’d accomplish more, would you? I accomplish more scratching my ass in the morning than you do sitting at your console all day. In fact I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who has accomplished anything around here, so don’t snap at me for making a little noise,” said Hank.

    “Okay Hank, let’s list off all of your wonderful accomplishments. You found a pretty little pattern of blinking lights. You have absolutely no idea what it does or what it’s for, and it’s about as useful to us as a wet fart, but aside from that it’s miraculous. The only other accomplishment I can think of is the fact that you’ve managed to piss me off every day for weeks on end,” said Serge.

    “At least I have some understanding of what I’m dealing with. What do you have Serge? All I see is a bunch of voices in a phone that no one else seems to hear and a desk full of useless Spanish scribbles. How exactly is that supposed to help us?”

    Emile needed to put a stop to this before they started throwing punches at each other. Couldn’t they just admit that they were both idiots and be done with it? He brought his knuckles down hard on his console and the sharp rapping cut through Hank and Serge’s argument like a knife. When Emile was satisfied that he had their attention he walked over and stood between them.

    “So is this how it’s going to be from now on? Are you two going to keep destroying each others confidence until we lose our will to continue?” said Emile, looking at each of them in turn.

    “I wasn’t undermining anything,” said Hank. “I was just stating the facts.”

    “I was just stating a fact as well. The fact that your constant complaining is the one thing that’s keeping us from moving on,” said Serge.

    “Both of you stop it!” said Emile, forcefully enough to silence them both. “Have you ever looked at the people out there in the cafeteria since things started changing? Their like zombies: completely useless sacks of meat that wander around mindlessly. We were just like them before all of this happened. Do you realize how close we are to returning to that? If we lose focus at all, were one more step closer to giving up, and if that happens things will be exactly like they used to.”

    “Well I don’t see you helping out much,” said Serge. Emile turned and stared at him coldly. It was a low blow, and Emile could tell by the way Serge blushed and looked at the floor that he regretted saying it as soon as it left his lips.

    “You may think that I’m oblivious to everything that’s happening, sitting in my corner like some kind of idiot, but I’m not. I have just as much at stake as both of you, and I’m not going to let this slip out of our hands over some stupid argument. This isn’t a joke. I don’t think either of you realize just how fragile this whole thing is,” said Emile.

    They were silent, looking at their shoes and squirming under Emile’s gaze.

    “I think you should go back to your consoles, cool down, and get back to work, unless you want to stay down here and return to your old jobs,” said Emile.

    They both headed quickly back to their consoles, eager to get out from under Emile’s steely gaze. Emile stood there for moment longer, and when he was satisfied that everything had settled down he walked silently out of the room and headed for his bunk. When he got there he sat on his bed and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked at his hands and was surprised to find that they were trembling. His whole body tingled with a kind of giddy nervousness. ‘Where did that come from?’ he thought to himself.

    He could never remember himself snapping like that before, but when he thought back on what he had said, he knew he was right. He really did feel like they were hanging onto to their new reality by a thread. The fear, frustration, and hopelessness that he felt over the past weeks seemed to be sucking him into the same pit of ignorance and apathy he had struggled so hard to escape from. Then it hit him. They really were addicted to that old reality, and all the pain and sorrow that they felt now were the consequences of breaking that addiction. They were withdrawal symptoms. It seemed so clear now, and although it was terrible to think of his life before, when the drug of that old reality had rendered him practically comatose, there was some good in the realization. Now he knew the cause of these feelings, at least partially, and he would not let himself relapse.

    He got up from his bed and strode back into their room. Hank was picking up the note cards that he had scattered carelessly across the floor, and the silence from the argument still hung heavy in the air. Emile bent down and helped him pick up the last of the cards. When they were done, Hank mumbled a thank you and sat back in his seat.

    “I think you should let me know what the problem with the system is,” said Emile, casually leaning against the console.

    “Why? You’re not going to be able to solve it. I’ve been trying for weeks and I’ve found nothing but dead ends,” said Hank.

    “Just tell me Hank. It’ll be good for you to get it out into the open. I might even be able to help you find an answer. It happened once before, didn’t it?” said Emile. Hank smiled at that and nodded in consent.

    “I guess you did help me out a few times,” said Hank. He tapped the button in rapid succession, almost like he was sending morris code into his console. Emile was once again baffled at how deftly Hank had managed to tune into the strange computer system.

    Hank stopped suddenly and pointed. At first Emile only saw a random sequence, but he had spent plenty of time looking into Hank’s light, and it wasn’t long before he noticed that the seemingly random sequence was actually one relatively short pattern repeating over and over again.

    “It’s a repeating sequence,” said Emile. “It begins with two red flashes and runs over and over.”

    Hank looked up from his notes with a startled expression on his face.

    “How did you know that?” he asked.

    “I didn’t spend all that time at your console just to watch the pretty colors. Although I have to admit they are nice,” said Emile.

    Hank looked at him skeptically for a moment more then shook it off and sat back in his chair, looking up at the sequence.

    “I’ve exhausted almost every possibility I can think of to break into this system, but nothing has worked. I’ve had my eye on this sequence for a couple of days now. Those two red flashes that you noticed are the identifiers of the sub-group that it belongs to. I picked this sequence because it’s the shortest one in its group. I figured that because it’s so short it might be easier to find the access code for it, but once again I was wrong,” said Hank.

    “How have you been trying to find the access codes?” said Emile.

    “It’s little more than guess work,” said Hank. “I’ve been starting with the tapping pattern that I use to view this set, and then modifying it with elements from the sequence itself, but none of it has worked so far.”

    Emile noticed the note card Hank was holding. It had a list of numbers and below that a list of colors written on it.

    “Is that the sequence?” said Emile. Hank nodded and handed Emile the card.

    Emile studied it closely, looking first at the colors. It started off with two reds just like he saw in the light, and then a seemingly random list of colors followed. Emile figured that they all probably identified smaller and smaller groups, but only Hank knew that. He turned his attention to the list of numbers above the colors, which he thought must be the tapping pattern to view the sequence. As he studied each digit carefully he felt a faint glimmer of recognition. Had he seen this sequence at his own console? Emile realized that with the amount of numbers he had counted he most certainly had come across this sequence a few times in the past, but he felt he had seen it more recently, and he hadn’t been this high in his count since the light changed.

    “Any breakthroughs?” said Hank, an amused smile on his lips.

    “Do you mind if I keep this?” said Emile, holding out the card.

    “Sure,” said Hank. “I’ve got that damned sequence memorized from back to front.”

    “Thanks,” said Emile. He turned back to his console with his eyes still fixed on the card.

    “Emile?” said Hank. Emile turned around and Hank was leaning forward in his chair.

    “Does it really bother you guys that I talk so much while I work?” he said in a hushed voice. Emile walked back and crouched in front of Hank. Hank obviously didn’t want Serge to hear them.

    “It doesn’t really bother me that much,” said Emile. “I kind of learned to block it out after awhile. You seem to be doing it a lot more though. It’s just been really tense around here lately. I think something like this was bound to happen sooner or later.”

    “I don’t mean to be annoying,” said Hank. “To be honest, I didn’t even know I was doing it so much.”

    Hank was silent for a moment, studying the floor.

    “Do you really think that we might go back to the way we used to be, if we’re not careful,” he said finally.

    “I absolutely believe that,” said Emile, gazing steadily into Hank’s eyes. “I think some part of our mind actually wants to go back, and when we bicker and fight with each other we’re giving that part the opportunity to take over. We can’t let that happen.”

    Emile got up and walked back to his console. He gently set the note card against his monitor and let his eyes wander over the numbers, studying each digit like a painter would study a landscape. There was a secret in there, locked inside the sequence, begging to be freed. Emile knew that the key to that secret lay buried somewhere deep within his mind. All he had to do now was start digging.

    "The living room looked like Sesame Street after a nuclear war. Toys were strewn everywhere and the smell of little kid hung in the air like radioactive fallout"

  2. #12
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    It had taken the better part of two days before Emile finally realized how ignorant he had been. Hour after hour he stared at that silly note card, running laps through his mind trying to find the lost memory of the sequence. His eyes were red and puffy, and his head hurt from focusing so hard but still he sat there, gazing at the sequence expecting that the answer would just come to him if he waited long enough. Well it hadn’t come to him, and he was on the verge of giving up when he heard a stack of note cards slide off of Serge’s console and flutter to the ground. As he watched Serge put the cards back on his console, Emile’s fatigued mind finally grasped something. He hadn’t seen the sequence at his console, and if the answer was in the system itself, Hank would have surely found it by now. The only other place Emile could have possibly seen a number sequence was in Serge’s notes. He cursed himself silently, baffled at how careless he had been.

    Serge hadn’t spoken since the argument and Emile could see that he was still upset. He couldn’t really blame him either. Hank had said some very hurtful things, and although he probably didn’t mean them, there was no way for Serge to know that. Emile was just glad that he’d shut Hank up before he said something that couldn’t be so easily forgiven. Emile watched Serge, hunched over his console, gripping the phone tensely, and knew that he needed a couple more days to wind down. But when Emile thought about the possibility of the sequence hiding somewhere in those note cards, waiting seemed out of the question.

    Emile grabbed his card and walked over to Serge’s console. Serge didn’t hear him approach, and when Emile cleared his throat it startled him slightly.

    “Oh… hey Emile,” said Serge, hanging up the phone gently.

    “You’ve been awfully quiet over here lately. Is everything alright?” said Emile.

    “Yeah I’m fine. Just busy working,” said Serge.

    “Look, I hope you’re not too upset by what Hank said to you. He didn’t really mean it. You know how he is. He’s always talking faster than he can think. Sometimes I think the filter between his brain and his mouth is broken.”

    Serge looked up at him strangely, and shook his head.

    “I’m not bothered by what Hank said, Emile. I actually think he was right. He works his ass off and has a lot more to show for it than I do.”

    “Then what’s the matter?” said Emile.

    Serge hesitated, quietly studying the lines in the palms of his hands like they were the most fascinating things he’d ever seen.

    “I was wrong to talk down to you,” he said finally. “You’ve helped me out more than you could know, and I treated you like you were useless. I’m the worthless one. It’s been two days and I couldn’t even get up the courage to come to you and apologize. I had to wait for you to be the bigger man and come over here. I just want you to know that I’m really sorry for saying what I did.”

    Emile was taken aback. He had hardly given a second thought to what Serge had said to him. To be honest, he could barely remember what it was. Emile was so caught up in trying to find the lost sequence that he’d thought of little else in the past two days, but this was obviously a big deal to Serge.

    “It’s all right Serge. I wasn’t getting too hung up over it,” said Emile. Serge looked up at him skeptically, searching for some hidden bitterness in Emile’s face.

    “Seriously Serge, don’t worry about it. I know you didn’t mean it. We’ve all been under so much pressure lately that I’m surprised we didn’t start throwing punches around. All in all I think it went pretty well,” said Emile.

    Serge looked perplexed for just a moment, and then cracked up laughing.

    “You’re something else, you know that Emile?” he said, trying desperately to catch his breath. Emile patted him on the back as Serge wiped a tear from his eye.

    “Just remember something Serge,” said Emile, after he had settled down. “You’re not worthless.”

    “Well, maybe just a little bit,” said Serge.

    “Yeah, I guess we’re all a little bit worthless once in awhile,” said Emile. “But no matter how bad things may get, we always bring something to the table. We’re never completely useless.”

    Serge nodded and sat back in his chair. Emile leaned against the console, expecting to bump into Serge’s bulging pile of notes, but when he looked down he noticed several neat stacks of cards laid out in an organized grid.

    “It looks like you’ve been doing some house keeping over here,” said Emile.

    “Yeah I guess I have. I was just sorting out my notes into groups of phrases. That pile was getting way too big to handle,” said Serge.

    “You mean there’s a pattern behind the calls?” said Emile, suddenly alert.

    “I’m not sure if it’s a pattern. I just noticed that a lot of the phrases and numbers were repeating. I figured I might as well sort them out rather than junk up my desk any more than necessary.”

    “Why didn’t you tell us about it?” said Emile, feeling slightly frustrated and trying to keep it out of his voice.

    “You guy’s never asked about it. I didn’t even think it was a big deal,” said Serge.

    Emile watched Serge nonchalantly sort out the remaining note cards and shook his head. Typical, he thought. If the world were coming to an end and Serge was the one person with advance warning, he would probably just sit at home and wait. When everyone else eventually discovered their impending doom they would ask Serge why he hadn’t told them. ‘I figured you would find out eventually’, Serge would most likely reply. There was no use in getting upset with him about it. That’s just who he was.

    “Is that one of mine?” asked Serge, pointing at the card in Emile’s hand. Emile looked at it, momentarily forgetting why he had come over in the first place.

    “Oh yeah, I was going to ask you about this. It’s one of the sequences that Hank’s been having trouble with. I know I’ve seen it before and I was hoping it might be buried in your notes somewhere. You don’t recognize it do you?”

    Emile passed the card to Serge. He studied it for a moment and shook his head, handing it back.

    “No, it doesn’t look familiar to me, but that’s not saying much. I’m looking at thousands of numbers a day and I doubt if I would even remember the last one I saw,” said Serge.

    “Do you mind if I check through your cards?” said Emile.

    “You want to look through all of those to find one group of numbers?” Serge stared at him like he was insane.

    “I’ve got nothing better to do,” said Emile.

    “All right,” said Serge. “Try not to mess my stacks up too much. I just got them the way I like them.”

    They were nice too. Emile started his search at the topmost stack and when he would finally finish one he would move onto the next. Losing his place wasn’t even an issue, and more than once he silently thanked Serge for sorting them out. Just the thought of going through a chaotic and unorganized heap of cards one by one drained the color from his face. Emile couldn’t believe that Serge hadn’t mentioned something to Hank about it when he was being accused of laziness. It had obviously taken Serge a hell of a lot of work to sort through the cards, and either he didn’t think of it at the time, or he had more restraint than Emile gave him credit for.

    It was still an incredibly slow process though, and Emile worked at it tirelessly, stopping only to eat and sleep. He wasn’t even sure how long he had been working. The days blurred together into an undistinguishable haze, and soon his progress through the stacks became his only real measure of time. He felt like his brain was turning to mush, and it worried him when he thought that this could be just another mindless task sucking him in, no different than the count. But when that thought came to him he quickly shook it from his head. This was something that had to be done, and no matter how boring it was, the emptiness he felt when he counted at his monitor was not present.

    Emile was about two-thirds of the way through the stacks when he picked up an unassuming note card, covered with Serge’s sloppy handwriting. If he found a card that missed any of the numbers on Hank’s sequence he would put it back immediately, and he had long since gotten over the excitement of finding cards that matched almost all of the digits. That’s why he didn’t pay much attention to this card, as he matched number after number with the sequence. When he reached the last digit and matched it as well, he just sat there staring blankly at the two identical cards. He checked them again, and then a third time, and gradually his exhausted mind cast aside its skepticism and wrapped itself around his discovery.

    “I found it,” said Emile, barely above a whisper.

    “What?” said Serge, putting down his phone.

    “I found the sequence,” said Emile.

    “You’re messing with me, right?” said Serge.

    Emile held out both of the cards for Serge to examine.

    “You actually found them,” said Serge, staring wide eyed at the two cards. “I thought you were completely nuts to dig through all of those cards. Hank! I think you better come over here!”

    “Can’t you see that I’m busy!” yelled Hank from across the room.

    Serge got up from his chair, walked casually over to Hank’s console, and tossed the cards in front of him. Emile heard Hank’s chair hit the floor when he jumped from his seat.

    “Where did you find this?” said Hank, his voice breaking with excitement.

    “Emile dug it out of my stack of notes,” said Serge. “I must have heard it in the phone ages ago.”

    Emile reached Hank’s console and saw him hunched over both cards examining them carefully. Hank’s hands were trembling and sweat was beginning to bead on his brow.

    “That’s the sequence all right! Could this actually be the access code?” said Hank, pointing at the second group of numbers on the card. “What the hell does ‘tres patos en un estanque’ mean?”

    Hank was looking at the Spanish phrase between the two sets of numbers.

    “Three ducks on a pond,” said Serge. Hank looked up at him like he was some kind of lunatic.

    “That’s what it means,” said Serge. “It’s the name of that group of cards.”

    “The name of the group…” said Hank, his voice an awed hush. Now it was Serge’s turn to look confused.

    “Well there’s only one way to find out,” said Hank. He picked up the card and began rapidly tapping patterns with the button. Emile looked at the light and recognized the two red flashes that identified the familiar sequence. Hank drew in a deep breath and fired away with more tapping. When he finally stopped, they all waited breathlessly for what seemed like an eternity, but nothing happened. Hank finally sunk back in his chair and let out an exasperated sigh.

    “I knew it was too good to be true,” said Hank. “Every time you get your hopes up something--”

    And then Hank was gone. Not only Hank, but the entire room as well. Everything had disappeared into a blinding white void, and Emile staggered backwards covering his aching eyes in a vain attempt to shield them. He hit the wall and sank down to the floor, involuntarily curling into a fetal position. He was about to cry out, but as quickly as it had materialized, the white void was gone, and was replaced by an impenetrable shroud of inky blackness, darker than anything Emile had ever experienced. He opened his eyes and blinked but he could see nothing at all.

    “I think I’m blind!” yelled Serge who was somewhere near him.

    “Just stay put!” said Hank. “I think the power went out.”

    As Emile rubbed his eyes and continued to blink, he realized that they were both wrong. The room was gradually coming back into focus. Muted grays and blacks at first, but getting brighter by the second. He looked around and saw Hank staggering clumsily across the room, flailing his outstretched arms in an attempt to find his chair. Serge was groping his way up the wall next to Emile.

    “What the hell was that?” said Serge. “I feel like my brain just got flash fried.”

    “I guess it worked,” said Emile. He was still too disoriented to stand so he just sat there, slumped against the wall like a sack of potatoes.

    “Quite the subtle observation,” said Hank, leaning against his chair to steady himself. “Now we just have to figure out what ‘worked’ means.”

    Hank sat back into his chair and looked at the light, which was now blinking steadily as if nothing had happened. He tapped on the button several times before stopping and scratching his head.

    “It’s gone,” he said.

    “What’s gone?” said Serge.

    “The sequence,” said Hank. “It popped me back out into the sub-group, and now the short sequence is gone. Every other sequence in the sub-group is where it should be except that one.” Hank sat there for a moment looking like a lost child, and then he suddenly perked up.

    “Serge, go get me another card quick,” he said. Serge jumped up and darted to his console, coming back with a fresh card in his hand.

    “Perfect!” said Hank, recognizing the pattern immediately. He quickly tapped his button and then looked at Emile and Serge.

    “I think you guys should face the wall and cover your eyes. We don’t know what this thing is going do,” Hank studied the access code briefly and then buried his face into his arm. Emile turned to the wall, but he was too curious to cover his face. He wanted to see if it flashed again, and he didn’t think the reflection off the wall would blind him like before.

    “Ready?” said Hank.

    Emile and Serge both consented and a chorus of tapping filled the silent room. When it stopped Emile watched the wall intently. He saw a faint white flash reflected from the light, but he knew it could be nowhere near the intensity of the first one.

    “Yep, this one’s gone as well,” said Hank. He was back up and furiously tapping away at the button.

    “What do you think is happening to them?” said Emile.

    “Well, either we’re accessing the system or we’re destroying it,” said Hank. He paused for a moment. “I don’t even care if we are destroying it. At least it’s something. Maybe were even supposed to.”

    Hank reclined in his chair and stroked his chin, deeply lost in thought. He rapped his fingers on the console and tapped his shoe on the floor, creating a chaotic rhythm. He abruptly jumped out of his chair and pointed at Serge.

    “Alright Serge, you have to tell me everything you know about your notes. If there’s an answer to this, it has to be somewhere in that phone of yours.”

    Serge was about to say something but Hank was already at his console, picking his way through the stacks of notes.

    “Be careful with those! I just got them organized and I don’t want you messing them up,” said Serge. He walked briskly toward Hank and Emile joined him.

    “I can’t believe it,” said Hank, shuffling through the stacks. “They’re all here. Every single sequence along with its access code, and all this time they were right under my nose.”

    Serge gently picked up a medium sized stack and handed it to Hank.

    “The sequences that you just accessed came from this group,” said Serge. Hank flipped through the stack slowly.

    “Tres patos en un estanque,” he muttered. “Three ducks in a pond, the name of the group. I can’t believe it.” His voice was full of wonder.

    “Here, I’ll show you the rest,” said Serge. He went through each stack giving its Spanish name and its English translation while Hank listened intently. When Serge finished Hank told him how the groups were arranged in the system, and they rearranged the stacks accordingly. They were both utterly engrossed in their task and Emile watched for awhile, but when he realized that he was no longer needed he quietly headed back to his console.

    From the moment he first picked the sequence card out of Serge’s stack, Emile had felt a strange disconnect from the events that followed. It was almost like he had been floating outside of his own body, watching things transpire from a distance. Only now was he beginning to return to reality.

    The whole time he had been searching through Serge’s stacks, he never thought for a second that the two consoles could be connected. It seemed so obvious now, and Emile cursed himself for not realizing it sooner. How many wasted weeks, months even, had they sat there ignorant to the fact that the solution was right in front of their faces? How long had he stared blankly at his console waiting for an answer to magically pop into his head when all he had to do was turn around? It was like he had traveled fifty miles to bypass a stream, only to find a bridge at the starting point.

    Well, I guess it doesn’t matter anyway, thought Emile. Either way I’m right back where I started, sitting in front of this stupid monitor with nothing to do. Even when I do find something useful, it doesn’t last for long, and I never get any recognition for it anyway so why bother.

    He pulled the sequence card out of his pocket and typed the numbers over and over into his keypad. When he finally stopped he stared at the columns of digits on the screen and after awhile they disappeared, replaced by a single flashing insertion point.

    I don’t know why I bother at all, thought Emile, looking back at Serge and Hank. When he faced his monitor again the insertion point was blinking next to a small line of text. He leaned close to read it.

    < -) That certainly was clever of you, Emile. >

    Emile pressed the delete button absentmindedly wiping the text from the monitor. Clever got me this far, he thought, and chuckled to himself as he leaned back in his chair.



    "The living room looked like Sesame Street after a nuclear war. Toys were strewn everywhere and the smell of little kid hung in the air like radioactive fallout"

  3. #13
    What?!? So close to figuring things out...who's talking through the console, what do the group names mean, what are the access codes? Oh, I know I'm not supposed to know yet, but I just wanted to tell you that your suspense technique is working wonders. I feel like I know what's going on without having the slightest idea of what's going on. And your characters are very tangible. I like that you're letting us learn about them without giving us a biography of each person
    "and when we speak we are afraid
    our words will not be heard, nor welcomed
    but when we are silent we are still afraid
    So it is better to speak, remembering
    we were never meant to survive"
    — Hidden Content (Hidden Content )

  4. #14
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    It took several minutes for Emile to register the significance of what he had just seen. The thought had fit so seamlessly into his own stream of consciousness that he simply mistook it for his own. When it finally did click he slowly opened his eyes and looked at the monitor. The insertion point was blinking next to another small line of text. Emile sat up in his chair and moved in closer.

    < -) Would you like to talk, or are you too busy feeling sorry for yourself? >

    This wasn’t happening. Emile’s heart began to pound and the blood in his temples pulsated rapidly. He was staring into the face of his own madness. Emile stood up and walked quietly out of the room, trying not to draw the attention of Serge and Hank. When he reached his bunk he sat down and held his head in his hands. There was a throbbing pressure behind his eyes that would not cease. He had strained his mind searching for that silly sequence. Perhaps he had broken it. Why had he focused so hard? Why had he searched so relentlessly? Confusion and anxiety were beginning to flood his senses. Was this what insanity felt like?

    Hank and Serge could not find out. Emile couldn’t possibly spring this on them so soon after their discovery. But how could he conceal this? Was he just supposed to sit at his console, quietly staring at a hallucination, and attempt to keep himself from a complete breakdown? That charade could not be acted out forever, and sooner or later they would realize that something was wrong. If he was going insane it had happened at the worst possible time, and the irony of it drew Emile’s lips into a bitter smile.

    Emile heard a noise from the console room and shot up from his bunk. How long had he been sitting there? If he wanted to avoid suspicion he had to act normal and sitting in his bunk all day certainly wasn’t normal. He walked quickly to the console room and sat down in his chair. When he looked over his shoulder Hank and Serge were busy and hadn’t noticed him enter. He turned toward his monitor and was greeted by a blank screen and the steadily blinking insertion point. Was the delusion over? Emile tapped the keypad, entering a random string of numbers. He paused for a moment before pressing the enter key and the numbers disappeared. He sat tensely on the edge of his seat but nothing happened. He began to relax slightly. Maybe it was over, he thought, but as he continued to stare at the monitor a line of text materialized from nothing and his heart sank.

    < -) I’m growing tired of this game, Emile. >

    Emile gazed at the monitor, contemplating his options. He didn’t have many. He could ignore it and pray that it would eventually leave him be, or he could play along. After what seemed like an eternity Emile placed his fingers on the keypad and typed.

    [Who are you?] Emile pressed the enter key and his message disappeared. The insertion point idled for a moment then jumped into action, racing across the screen in front of a stream of text.

    < -) I’m someone who has developed an interest in your recent activities. >

    When Emile finished reading a sickening thought came to him. He typed his reply and held his breath.

    [Are you with Management?]

    < -) No I’m not, Emile. My goals and the goals of what you call ‘Management’ are quite different. >

    This brought only temporary relief to Emile.

    [Then I am insane. If you’re not with Management then you must be a delusion.]

    < -) Is that so? I’m sorry you feel that way. >

    Emile almost laughed out loud at the ironically straightforward response the specter had given him. It seemed so calm and rational. Is this how all hallucinations behaved, he wondered?

    [Well if you’re not a delusion then what are you?]

    < -) I already told you, I’m someone who has noticed what you are doing and I’ve developed an interest in it. I’m here to help you. >

    [Is that all the explanation you’re going to give me?]

    < -) I’m afraid that’s all the explanation I have to give. >

    [Well maybe I should call Hank and Serge over here to verify my theory.]

    < -) I would have no problem with that. Unfortunately they won’t be able to see me the way you do. >

    Emile’s skepticism immediately rose as he read this last entry. That meant that there was no way to prove that this was real. Without proof what did he have? Emile remembered when Serge first heard the voices in his phone. There had been no proof then either but Serge seemed so certain that it was real. Emile just didn’t feel that certainty. Even when he had listened to the eerie static in Serge’s phone, he felt that there was a presence beyond what he perceived. That was a kind of proof for Emile and it probably helped him accept the change in Serge’s console. But if he didn’t trust his own senses how could he expect the others to trust him? How could he trust himself?

    [So what you’re asking me for is blind faith?]

    < -) Blind faith is foolish, Emile. I’m asking you to have faith in yourself. Do you truly believe that you’re insane and that I’m no more than a hallucination? >

    [I did, but I’m not so sure anymore.]

    < -) I contacted you because I wanted to help you and I believe that I can help, but if you refuse to trust yourself then there’s nothing I can do for you. If you want me to leave tell me now, and you’ll never have to speak to me again. >

    The message vanished from the monitor and Emile sat back in his chair. The insertion point blinked steadily in the upper left-hand corner, awaiting his reply, but Emile didn’t know what to say. He was trapped. There was no reason for him to trust this new entity, but the longer he talked to it the more he felt his skepticism subside. He wanted to trust it, and it was making a lot of sense. The panic he felt earlier had subsided and he was thinking more clearly now. When Serge’s console changed they had no way of knowing whether it was a delusion or not, but they cast aside their doubt and kept pushing forward. Hank’s console was obviously no delusion but it could have just as easily been some new game sent by management to distract them, and maybe it was, but they moved on anyway. Was this any different? Was there anything to lose if he did push forward?

    [I don’t want you to go. Not yet anyway. I think you probably are real, but it still bothers me that you could just as easily be working for Management, stringing us along on another game however intricate it may be.]

    There was no answer for a moment and Emile wondered if he had offended it in some way. That was assuming that it was even capable of feeling offended. He ignored the thought though, and soon the insertion point jumped to life again, trailing text across the screen.

    < -) If you ever suspect that, just ask me to leave and I’ll go. >

    [And what if you don’t go away?]

    < -) Then you’ll know I lied to you and you can disregard me anyway. >

    Emile smiled at his new friend’s blunt manner. Of course he had trapped Emile once again but the statement seemed too honest to be a lie. There was no way to verify the story without losing this entity’s help, and he knew it. Why would it so openly offer to disappear if it wasn’t telling the truth? The only other answer was that Management was so confident of Emile’s compliance that they would risk their entire experiment on his whim. This was entirely possible, and might even be a great plan, but the same question still arose in Emile’s mind: Was there anything to lose if he did comply?

    [Okay, I’ve decided to trust you. I figure it’s about time for my leap of faith.]

    < -) I’m glad to hear that. >

    [So how were you planning on helping me?]

    < -) We can discuss that later. First I would like to hear about your discovery today. >

    [I think you mean Hank and Serge’s discovery. You’d probably be better off talking to them about it.] Emile waited for a reply but none came. In fact, he began to feel slightly foolish for saying it. After a few awkward moments he continued typing.

    [I damn near melted my brain trying to find that sequence. I don’t even know how long I was looking for it. That’s why I thought you were a hallucination. Hank tipped me off and luckily I remembered seeing it in Serge’s notes. It turns out that the consoles are, and always have been, connected. We were just too dense to realize it.]

    < -) Why are they connected? >

    [Serge’s console is providing the access codes for Hank’s console. He could only observe the system before, and now he can manipulate it. We’re not sure what he’s changing, but he’s certainly changing something.]

    < -) No Emile, you’re telling me how they are connected. I’m asking you why they are connected. >

    Emile paused after he read it. The more he thought about the question the sillier it seemed. How could he possibly know why? Did the sailor ask ‘why?’ when a rogue wave capsized his ship in rough seas? If he did he was a fool, and Emile could see no difference in his situation. For all he knew it was a force of nature that caused the consoles to be connected. ‘Why’ was irrelevant.

    < -) You must have questioned the reasons behind an event this bizarre. >

    [I didn’t have much time to question it. You showed up right after we discovered the connection.]

    < -) Well now you have time. Start questioning. >

    [I don’t see the point of asking why. We need to press forward. If there is an answer won’t we stumble upon it eventually?]

    < -) So you’re content to stumble? That’s good because if you decide to continue on with a deliberate lack of knowledge and curiosity, you certainly will stumble. Like a leaf on a river you will be dragged along by the current and harshly subjected to all the hazards of which you remain so willfully ignorant. >

    The words read like a cold, hard slap in the face. Emile could see himself on that river so vividly and with such familiarity that he felt he must have thought of it previously. In any case he had certainly felt that feeling of helplessness and it was not something he wanted to feel again.

    [I’m not even sure where to start. There’s so much we don’t know.]

    < -) But there’s also so much that you’ve learned. Think carefully about what you do know rather than what you don’t know. >

    [Well, we know a lot about Hank’s lights. Its management’s computer system and he knows it inside and out. Serge’s console is a little trickier. We always knew that it was some sort of communication device, and now we know it’s spitting out access codes for the system. Their connected but ‘why’ is still a mystery.] Emile stopped and drifted into deep thought. He typed absentmindedly as random musings came to him.

    [You could argue that all of this is just more pointless console games from Management, but we’ve seemed to disregard that possibility. It could still be true but it wouldn’t matter if it was, and thinking about it won’t get us anywhere so we’ve thrown it out. If they are legitimate systems then that means they must be intrinsically connected for a purpose.]

    < -) Interesting… but what could that purpose be? >

    [That’s the million dollar question, but I just had another thought. We know that the computer system belongs to Management, and we know that the phone is providing the access codes as well as the names of the groups. If it’s providing something that critical and that complete to the system, could it actually be a part of the system? Could it also be under the control of Management?]

    < -) Go on. >

    Emile was starting to get excited now. It felt like all the pieces were dropping into place.

    [We felt so helpless before we had the codes. Hank was stuck observing the system and was impotent when it came to manipulating it. When we discovered the connection between the consoles it was like looking back stage. It was like we had found the missing half of a puzzle. I think we may have finally discovered the whole system!]

    < -) It appears you know more about Management than you previously thought. >

    [Yeah I guess so. I still have no idea what the point of the system is though.]

    < -) Don’t worry Emile. You’ve done well. However, there is an aspect of Management that you have known about all along. >

    [What’s that?]

    < -) Tell me what you hear when you listen to the phone. >

    Emile shuddered.

    [It’s a kind of static with some clicking in the background, but that doesn’t do it justice. When I hear it I feel like there’s something on the other end. Something big. It’s like the air is being sucked from my lungs, and the static is moving out of the phone and into my head. I guess that sounds kind of crazy.]

    < -) What you heard was the voice of Management. Not the pure voice, but a variation. It can be quite unpleasant. >

    Emile was too stunned to reply. It didn’t make any sense to him. As eerie as the static was, it was just a signal. It couldn’t actually be the voice of the Management. His new friend must have been confused.

    [That’s impossible. Even if it were the voice of Management, Serge is the only one that can really hear it.]

    < -) It’s not only possible Emile, it’s the truth, and believe it or not your perception of the voice is much more accurate than Serge’s. >

    [I don’t understand. He’s the only one who actually hears a voice. All I hear is distortion.]

    < -) Your right. Serge fluently understands the messages that Management is sending but that’s precisely why he can never hear its true voice. He hears the messages in his native language. It’s the same with Hank. He can see the computer system fluently but he will never have the same appreciation for the colors that you have. He doesn’t see them in that way. This even applies to you Emile. The others will never be able to see me like you do, and you will never be able to see me like they do. Only they can see my true form. >

    [If only they can see your true form, why did you choose me to talk to?]

    < -) Only you and Hank can hear the true voice of Management through Serge’s phone. Would either of you like to take over his job? >

    Emile saw at once how futile that would be.

    < -) My true form is of little use to you. >

    [So was it your idea or Managements idea to make it this way?]

    < -) Neither of us chose this. >

    [Well then why is it like this?]

    < -) Why do your feet stay on the floor when you get out of bed in the morning? Why does air fill your lungs when you inhale? These are the rules, Emile. Neither I nor Management can break them. >

    [Can I break them?]

    < -) I don’t know. >

    The conversation was turning excessively cryptic. All of the oddities, riddles, and half answers were beginning to wear on Emile. It was too much to take in at once, and he could feel his tired mind smothering any attempt at understanding.

    [I think your losing me.]

    < -) I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have sprung that on you just yet. Oh well, at least you’ll have a lot to think about. >

    [You’ve given me a lifetime supply of thinking material, but I’ll try my best.]

    < -) You did extremely well today Emile. Not just with me, but with everything. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating your value. Now get some rest. >

    Emile beamed with pride when he read the last entry. It was the first time he could remember feeling good about himself. He was about to switch off the monitor when he remembered something important. He keyed in a message quickly and hoped that his friend hadn’t left.

    [What is your name?] It took a moment for his friend to reply.

    < -) That’s a good question. I hadn’t really thought about it, but now that you mention it there is a name you’ve already given me that I find quite appropriate for a number of reasons. >

    Emile had no clue.

    < -) Call me Monitor. >

    The screen went blank and Emile reached over and turned off the power. The sudden awareness of his surroundings was quite shocking, and he blinked his eyes against the bright, sterile light of the console room. He heard soft murmurs from across the room and when he turned he saw that Hank and Serge were still immersed in the stacks of cards. Emile had no clue how long he had been conversing with his console for, and part of him suspected that there was no definite answer. Maybe the insignificance of time in this place was one of the rules that Monitor had referred to.

    He watched them silently for a moment before he turned and headed to his bunk. As he walked out of the room and down the short hallway, he trailed his fingers along the smooth white walls. His brain was already shutting down. When he reached his room he shut the door behind him and turned out the light. He was asleep before his head touched the pillow.



    "The living room looked like Sesame Street after a nuclear war. Toys were strewn everywhere and the smell of little kid hung in the air like radioactive fallout"

  5. #15
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    Thanks for reading Fossil!
    "The living room looked like Sesame Street after a nuclear war. Toys were strewn everywhere and the smell of little kid hung in the air like radioactive fallout"

  6. #16
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    Emile understood happiness, or at least he thought he did. When he discovered the missing sequence in Serge’s card stack he felt a sort of giddy lightheadedness, and when Monitor first mentioned happiness this was the feeling that Emile remembered. But Monitor was not satisfied with this explanation, and Emile wasn’t surprised. One thing he had learned from their conversations was that first answers were never correct. Monitor would simply tell him to think harder. Naturally this drove Emile crazy, mainly because Monitor was absolutely right and this case was no different. When Emile thought harder about happiness he remembered the first time he had seen the colors from the light on Hank’s console. That was more of a warm familiar feeling but it certainly was pleasant and Emile had thought of it often. He tried to remember all of the times he had been happy, and he told Monitor about each of them. Sadly, it didn’t take long.

    < -) Do you see it now? Just as there are many different types of sadness and frustration there are also many types of happiness. Feelings don’t just come in black or white. There are innumerable variations concerning emotion. >

    [Are we going to go through this with every single human emotion?]

    < -) You’re feeling things now that you’ve never felt down here before. You’ve been living in an emotional vacuum and you need some time to readjust. You may find this boring but I assure you it’s necessary to understand these feelings if you ever wish to control them. >

    Emile didn’t really think it was boring. The truth was that he found the subject fascinating. He could have talked with Monitor all day about emotional theories and been perfectly content, but there were so many larger problems facing them that it seemed like a waste of time and effort. He was having a hard time concentrating, and he felt torn between his love of conversing with Monitor and his need to help Serge and Hank with the computer system.

    They had been working tirelessly trying to decipher it with little success. The problem started almost immediately after they cracked the first sequence. Thinking back, Emile realized that it was foolish to expect that they could turn off every sequence by simply entering its code into Hanks console. That would have been much too simple, and he was quickly realizing that nothing in their new life was going to be simple. A few of the codes did work at first, but those initial triumphs were a distant memory, and their success had ground to a complete halt. Hank thought that it was a problem with Serge’s translations, but after a very loud and heated argument he decided against that theory. Their little room became almost completely silent, save for the sounds of Hanks pacing footsteps and the occasional click of Serge’s phone as he placed it into its cradle.

    Emile desperately wanted to help them, but when he tried to talk with Monitor about the computer system he received little in return. Either Monitor didn’t know the answers to Emile’s questions or it wasn’t willing to divulge them. He hoped that it was the former.

    And his questions about the computer system weren’t the only ones that Monitor couldn’t or wouldn’t discuss with Emile. It seemed like every specific question that Emile had about their situation in the console room proved unanswerable for Monitor, but when Emile brought up general theories and broad topics not related to these specific problems Monitor provided him with a wealth of information and meaningful discussion. Emile would have been angry about this if he didn’t enjoy discussing these things so much, and eventually he stopped asking specific questions entirely. He stopped asking, but those questions still weighed heavily on his mind.

    Even though Emile loved his discussions with Monitor and even though he was of little use to Hank and Serge he still spent time with each of them at their consoles. Part of the reason he reluctantly pried himself from his own console was that he was genuinely concerned with their plight. After all it was his plight as well. He wanted to stay up to speed with their progress, and if he could help in some way he wanted to be available to help. That was the rationalization Emile preferred, but there was a deeper one that he didn’t like to think about. He wanted Hank and Serge to notice him helping them, that way they wouldn’t notice how long he spent absorbed in his conversations with Monitor.

    He hadn’t told them yet. He knew it was stupid to try to hide this from them and that they would eventually find out one way or another, but he also knew that they wouldn’t see Monitor like he did. Judging by what Monitor had told Emile, they would see him in a rather pointless and indecipherable form. Maybe he hadn’t gotten over his earlier paranoia but he wanted to be ready when he broke the news to Hank and Serge and he didn’t feel quite ready yet.

    “You look busy,” said Serge. Emile hadn’t heard him approach and he practically jumped out of his skin when he heard Serge’s voice.

    “What are you working on?” said Serge.

    “Oh… I’m just messing around… thinking about stuff,” said Emile. He snuck a glance at the screen of his console and was relieved to find it blank. “What are you up to?” Emile held his breath and stared intently at his shoes. It seemed like an eternity before Serge answered.

    “Not much. Hank’s over there rambling about missing patterns and I had to get away for a minute,” said Serge. “I have to take a break once in awhile or I start to feel my brain overheating. I honestly don’t know how he does this all day long.”

    “Are you guy’s getting any closer to figuring it out?” said Emile.

    “I don’t think so. I understand what Hank’s saying about the patterns. These sequences obviously can’t be erased randomly, but finding the pattern out of the blue could take us a million years.”

    Emile leaned back in his chair and stared blankly up at the ceiling, lost in the hopelessness of their situation once again. Why couldn’t Monitor help them with this?

    “Sorry to lay all this on you right now,” said Serge.

    “No, it’s all right. I was actually planning on catching up a little bit today. It seems like I’ve been out of the loop for awhile,” said Emile.

    “Come on then. It’ll be good to get a fresh head over there,” Serge offered Emile his hand and pulled him up out of his chair. They both headed to Hank’s console, where Hank sat with his face buried dramatically in his hands. Aside from that sorry site they had set up quite an impressive command center. Serge had moved almost all of the stacks from his console next to Hank’s and placed them on a bedside table that he’d moved from his bunk. He’d also snagged an extra chair from the cafeteria so he didn’t have to keep moving one back and forth between the two consoles.

    “Don’t kill yourself just yet Hank. The miracle man has graced us with a visit,” said Serge, shaking Hank’s chair playfully.

    “Miracle man?” said Emile, raising an eyebrow. Hank rubbed his eyes vigorously and turned to Emile.

    “My god Serge, you weren’t lying,” said Hank. “The master has arrived. We could certainly use one of your trademark flashes of insight right now, Emile.”

    Emile laughed when he realized what they were talking about.

    “I hope you guy’s aren’t expecting that to be a regular thing. I don’t want to disappoint you any more than I have to,” he said. “Besides, you can’t be doing that bad. I’m sure you’ve figured out something new since last time.”

    “Well could you please tell me what that is, because I’m completely stumped over here,” said Hank.

    “Hank’s right,” said Serge. “We’ve tried tons of combinations, but we just can’t figure out the order in which to enter the codes. It’s hopeless. There are too many possibilities. There’s no way we can find the correct order without some type of hint.”

    “There’s nothing in the system to tip you off? Do you have any leads at all? What about starting with the short sequences, or the long sequences?” said Emile.

    “Nope, it’s completely dry. I’ve tried both of those along with everything that Serge and I could think of, with absolutely no luck,” said Hank, shaking his head wearily.

    “Maybe this is the end,” said Serge. “Maybe this is as far as the ride goes.”

    “No, I don’t believe that,” said Emile. He had begun pacing back and forth. “That’s what’s so annoying about this. I know that the answer is here, somewhere in this room or somewhere in our minds. It’s probably right in front of our faces and we just can’t see it yet.”

    “I hope you’re right, Emile, but that still doesn’t make it any easier,” said Serge.

    Serge was right. It didn’t make it any easier at all. In fact, it made it harder knowing that the answer was just out of reach, but Emile knew someone who could make it easier for them. He hung around a little longer while the three of them exchanged small talk, but his thoughts were elsewhere. When he left for his own console he waited for a moment until he was sure that Hank and Serge were once again absorbed in their work, and then turned it on. The time for theoretical discussions had passed. If Monitor knew something about this Emile was going to find out. He could not sit by and let Hank and Serge suffer while their one hope remained silent.

    [We have to talk.] After Emile typed his message he waited impatiently for Monitor’s response. He was getting sick and tired of waiting. Luckily the insertion point jumped to life without much delay.

    < -) Then talk. >

    [Why won’t you help me solve any of the problems we’re having?] There was no reply at first and Emile waited, staring angrily at the blank screen. His frustration grew with every passing second.

    < -) I thought that I was helping you. >

    [You’re not helping me, you’re stringing me along. All we ever talk about is theory and speculation and every time I ask you about something important you refuse to answer me. I want to know why.]

    < -) It’s not my responsibility to hold your hand and lead you through this Emile. I wish it could be that easy but that’s not how it works. The system is your problem. I’m helping you the only way I know how, but the three of you are going to have to solve this on your own. >

    [I guess I should have known that. There’s one thing that I can’t seem to figure out though. If you can’t help me with the only problem that matters in my life then how exactly are you helping me?]

    < -) Just because I can’t give you the answer doesn’t mean that I can’t help you. I’m trying to get you to think about the problem in a new way. I’m trying to change your perspective so that you might be able to find a solution in a place you didn’t think to look. >

    [Hold on a minute. Is it that you can’t give me the answer, or that you won’t give me the answer?]

    < -) I can’t give it to you. >

    [Well then what can you give me?]

    < -) Maybe you should stop worrying about what I can or can’t give you and start worrying about what you can give yourself. >

    [What is that supposed to mean?] Emile felt hot anger rising to his face.

    < -) It means that you need to stop blaming me for all of your problems and start taking some responsibility. Not just for yourself but for Hank and Serge as well. Your problems are their problems yet you barely talk to each other. How do you expect to solve this thing when the three of you keep isolating yourselves? The system is a single entity, so you need to start acting like a single group. >

    [Then I won’t have any time for these wonderfully enlightening conversations of ours.] Emile didn’t think sarcasm could be conveyed very well through a screen, but he decided to give it a shot anyway.

    < -) Well, apparently you don’t find my advice very enlightening anymore. >

    Emile let out an exasperated sigh and ran his fingers through his hair. He was about to clear his screen when he stopped short. He leaned in close and studied Monitor’s last entry carefully, growing more and more mystified each time he read it. A sense of recognition flashed through his consciousness, almost like the déjà vu of the blue light but much fainter. He frowned and put his fingers back onto the keyboard.

    [If I didn’t know any better I’d say that I just hurt your feelings.]

    < -) It wouldn’t be the first time. >

    [What?]

    Emile waited for a reply but none came. He was about to question Monitor further when he felt a hand grip his shoulder. When he turned his head and saw Serge standing right behind him he jumped so high that he nearly knocked his chair over.

    “Christ Serge, would you quit sneaking up on me like that! You’re going to give a damn heart attack,” said Emile after he’d caught his breath and slowed his heart rate a little.

    “Sorry Emile, but it’s time for lunch. Didn’t you hear the alarm? It went off five minutes ago,” said Serge.

    “No, I must have missed it,” said Emile.

    “What are you doing over hear anyway?” said Serge.

    “I already told you, I’m just thinking about stuff,” said Emile, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice.

    “You looked pretty captivated with your console. You’re not counting again, are you?”

    “What? No I’m not counting again! Do you think I’m crazy?” said Emile. “I just fiddle with the buttons when I’m thinking.” Emile’s heart rate picked up a notch as he watched Serge eye him suspiciously.

    “Look Serge, almost every moment I can remember in my life has been spent in front of this console pressing these buttons so you’re going to have to excuse me if I start messing with them occasionally. Old habits die hard you know,” said Emile.

    Serge seemed to be less than satisfied with his explanation and as Emile turned off the power to his console and straightened his chair he could feel the weight of Serge’s steady gaze pressing down on his shoulders.

    “Would you two hurry up? I’m starving,” said Hank, calling to them from the hallway. Emile couldn’t remember being so relieved to hear his voice, and he rushed ahead of Serge out of the console room and toward the cafeteria.

    As Emile wound his way through the crowd to the conveyer on the far side of the cafeteria he checked over his shoulder to make sure Serge wasn’t eyeing him. When he saw that Hank had Serge thoroughly distracted he relaxed a little. While Emile waited patiently in the shuffling sandwich line he looked past Hank and Serge to the hundreds of identically clad people filling the room. Simply referring to them as people was overly generous though, and Emile felt almost no connection with them any longer. He wasn’t even bothered by their ‘animated corpse’ characteristics like he used to be. Moving among them on his way back to his table felt more like strolling through a forest of tightly grouped trees, but even trees are more alive than they are, he thought. At least trees contribute something to their world.

    When Emile reached their table Hank and Serge were bickering about something and barely even noticed him sit down. Just like old times, he thought, and he quietly ate his sandwich, tuning them out and escaping into the labyrinth of his own thoughts. As usual Monitor’s ideas and arguments filtered up to the forefront of his consciousness.

    The accusation that they weren’t working together seemed completely ridiculous to Emile. Ever since the consoles changed they had done nothing but work together. But as Emile tried to convince himself of this, a nagging feeling in the back of his head started gaining momentum, threatening to topple his carefully constructed defense. Using his time before the consoles changed as a measuring stick for his productivity was absurd and the more he thought about his time spent now, the more he remembered the large blocks of silence between his conversations with Hank and Serge. That was perfectly normal though, he thought. People need time alone to sort through problems and come up with solutions. But almost as soon as the thought came to him, the nagging in the back of his head returned. When he thought harder, he realized that most of their time alone had been spent either immersed in self-pity or wasting time looking for answers in the wrong places. Emile smiled. It seemed he couldn’t escape Monitor’s logic even when he was separated from his console. Maybe that was a good thing?

    As Emile chewed his sandwich rhythmically and stared into space, he vaguely noticed someone waving a hand in front of his face. Pulling himself from the last of his lingering thoughts he became aware of Hank and Serge, who were gazing at him expectantly.

    “Did I miss something?” said Emile.

    “Oh, not much,” said Hank. “I was just wondering why you’ve been staring at your sandwich like a zombie for the past fifteen minutes. Is there something wrong with you?”

    “No, I’m just thinking.”

    “Let me guess. You were thinking about ‘stuff’ right?” said Serge. Emile scowled at him.

    “Actually I was thinking about how to get out of the rut we’re in.”

    “Any ideas?” said Hank.

    “I think that we should completely change how we approach the problem, because what we’re doing right now obviously isn’t working. You guy’s said that there has to be some sort of pattern or hint that tells us how to use the access codes right?”

    “I don’t know if there has to be. We certainly want there to be,” said Serge.

    “If you didn’t have faith in the system Serge; faith in the fact that there is a solution out there somewhere, then you wouldn’t be working so hard to find one, would you?” said Emile. Serge rolled his eyes.

    “I think we can safely say that we’re not going to find the pattern anywhere in Hank’s console. I mean if you can’t find it Hank, then no one can. The missing pattern has to be somewhere else. We need to work together to find this thing,” said Emile.

    “Maybe it’s how we sit and eat lunch, or how we line up to get our sandwiches,” said Hank, chucking halfheartedly.

    “Yeah,” said Serge. “Maybe it’s how many times we chew before we swallow.”

    “I know you guy’s are joking, but at least your thinking outside of the box,” said Emile. “It could be anywhere, but we’re never going to find it if we keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

    Emile got up and headed back to the console room, and Hank and Serge followed closely behind. They seemed curious, and that was enough for Emile. They weren’t even calling him a nutcase. They must be just as desperate as I am, he thought.

    When they got back to their room, Hank and Serge waited impatiently for Emile to tell them something, but Emile was at a loss. He hadn’t really thought this far ahead. If they weren’t watching him so intently he would have jumped on his console and asked Monitor for help, but that was out of the question right now. Monitor probably wouldn’t have given him anything anyway.

    “Well we might as well start close to home. You’ve been looking through the light sequences and the access codes for patterns, right?” Hank and Serge both nodded. “Okay, I think we should start looking at the actual names of the sequences for any patterns. Serge you can translate for us.”

    “But that could take ages! And what if it doesn’t pan out? We’ll just be wasting more of our time,” said Hank. He was absolutely right too. Emile knew what a ridiculous long shot this was, but it was all he had. He couldn’t argue with Hank so he remained silent, and realized that his silence was the loudest confession he could give.

    “Hey, if Emile can sift through all of my cards on a hunch, then we can do this, so quit complaining,” said Serge, winking at Emile. Hank grumbled and reluctantly headed for the stacks. ‘Now why didn’t I think of that’ thought Emile.



    "The living room looked like Sesame Street after a nuclear war. Toys were strewn everywhere and the smell of little kid hung in the air like radioactive fallout"

  7. #17
    Hi froman!
    I'm sorry I haven't been on in a couple weeks and as of right now I haven't read the last entry from the 5th. I'm dying to! I love how your technique has kept me in antici......



    ....pation!

    Haha!

    I'm wondering at this point why it took so long for Emile to be privy to this conversation between him and "Monitor." And why is his conversation so sensible while Serge and Hank are still so lost? Is there something special about Emile? Will the three of them have to work together to figure out the system or will Emile be the hero who figures it all out on his own?

    These aren't really comments, I just thought you'd like to know where your reader's head is at this point in the draft. It's so good! Can't wait to read this next entry!
    "and when we speak we are afraid
    our words will not be heard, nor welcomed
    but when we are silent we are still afraid
    So it is better to speak, remembering
    we were never meant to survive"
    — Hidden Content (Hidden Content )

  8. #18
    Member froman's Avatar
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    Hey Fossil,

    Glad to hear you're still enjoying my little story! I'm gonna post up another section so you'll have a bit more to read.

    Thanks a bunch!
    "The living room looked like Sesame Street after a nuclear war. Toys were strewn everywhere and the smell of little kid hung in the air like radioactive fallout"

  9. #19
    Member froman's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    A van down by the river.
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    91
    It wasn’t exactly the most exciting work in the world, but it wasn’t all that bad either. They poured through stack after stack of the cards; receiving impromptu Spanish lessons from Serge as they deciphered and studied the strange names that Management had given the light sequences. And they certainly were strange. ‘Six apples, six bananas, dancing in the forest’, ‘I’m going to the store, twelve, six hundred, tonight after dinner’, ‘Run, run, run, five, forty six, down the street’. That was just a sampling of the random nonsense they had to shuffle through hoping to find some sort of pattern. But for reasons that Emile couldn’t understand, they didn’t pay any attention to the hopelessness of their situation during those long hours huddled together over Serge’s bedside table. In fact, they made a sort of game out of it: a treasure hunt for the most ridiculous phrases in the stacks. They spent more time laughing than they did bickering and Emile didn’t want to jinx them by admitting it, but the search for the missing pattern was starting to feel a lot like fun.

    Using that word to describe anything in Emile’s life seemed incredibly out of place but that’s what popped into his head when he searched for some way to explain the feeling. At first Emile thought he might have been making some sort of mistake. Pain and loneliness had been so closely knit with any progress he experienced that he felt like work couldn’t be done without feeling bad. He’d begun to worry that they couldn’t possibly be accomplishing anything precisely because they were having fun.

    When Emile told Monitor about his problem he was simply instructed to follow his instincts. Emile’s trust in his instincts wasn’t very high but something about their work felt right to him. That feeling was deeper than the worry and concern so that was the instinct he chose to follow. After all, he was actually waking up eager to work with Hank and Serge (a miracle in itself) and that was something that couldn’t be ignored.

    “I’d like to meet the stooge that name’s these things,” said Hank after discovering a particularly hilarious phrase. When they finally managed to get their laughter under control Emile leaned back in his chair and sighed.

    “It’s probably the poor sap in the next room. I’ll bet he sits at his console all day and mindlessly puts these things together without even realizing what he’s doing.” Emile had meant it as a lighthearted comment but all three of them quickly fell silent as they realized how plausible that actually was.

    After that they still laughed and joked but there was a newfound urgency in the way they worked that hadn’t been there before. Once or twice Emile saw Hank and Serge stealing glimpses at the bare wall behind him. He had even caught himself occasionally glancing over his shoulder, imagining a room full of people obliviously tapping buttons exactly as they had once done. The thought sent chills down his spine. It made him realize how alone they really were and it also made him more and more grateful that he wasn’t going through this by himself.

    A knew perspective is what Monitor had told Emile he needed if he ever hoped to solve any of their problems. He felt that he had found a new perspective but the solution to the problem was still nowhere in site. However, in the spirit of his newfound perspective Emile didn’t let that bother him much. He knew that the only way to find the pattern was to keep doing exactly what they had been doing. They needed to keep grinding away, searching for it with open minds, and gradually narrowing down the places that it could be hiding.

    But the pattern wasn’t the only thing that was hiding in their little room. Emile had been managing to sneak away from the watchful eyes of Hank and especially Serge to talk with Monitor each night. He couldn’t very well go to his console while they were working on the stacks because as far as the other’s knew there was no reason for him to be interested in his own console anymore. Emile was perfectly content letting them continue to think that, but it was certainly making things more difficult for him. He had to leave the console room every night with Hank and Serge and lie awake in his bunk waiting for them to fall asleep, trying desperately not to fall asleep himself, before he could sneak back out. The first night he snuck out he was afraid that Monitor wouldn’t be there, but sure enough the insertion point jumped to life after only a few moments, much to Emile’s relief.

    He would try to get back to his room at a reasonable hour but time had a way of slipping by incredibly quickly when talking with Monitor. It was usually Monitor who had to tell Emile to go back to bed at which point he would reluctantly switch off his console and stumble groggily back to his bunk. It was a good thing that Hank and Serge were so focused on finding the pattern or they might have noticed how exhausted Emile was in the mornings. He didn’t mind that though. It was a small price to pay for the time he spent with his friend.

    After a particularly late night talking with Monitor Emile was sure that the others would notice something was wrong with him. He could barely keep his eyes open at breakfast and on the way back to the console room he managed to trip over a chair, nearly breaking his neck. If Hank hadn’t been there to catch him he probably would have.

    “You look like hell,” Hank had remarked, to which Emile grunted something incoherent about bad food. He had managed to leave the cafeteria without stumbling again and when he reached the console room Hank and Serge headed straight for their work. Shuffling across the room Emile finally plopped into his chair and looked wearily at the stacks. They seemed to grow before his very eyes. The groups of cards looked like miniature paper skyscrapers and as he gazed at them he imagined the bedside table was the foundation of a tiny city bustling with activity. Emile realized that in his current state he wasn’t going to be much help to the others.

    “Are you sure you’re alright Emile?” said Hank, again noticing how dazed he was.
    “Yeah, I just didn’t sleep very well last night,” said Emile. “I’m not sure how much use I’ll be this morning.”

    “Well you could grab the cards I left at my console yesterday,” said Serge. Emile nodded and headed for Serge’s console. Serge had been at his phone for awhile the day before and sure enough there was a fresh stack next to the receiver which Emile picked up carefully. When he headed back to their table he placed the stack in front of Serge, but looking at his own chair made his eyes droop and he decided it was best if he stood. While Emile watched Serge sort the cards from his most recent stack to the grid of organized stacks already on the table it almost looked like he was dealing a game of poker. The pattern of it was strangely mesmerizing. Serge was good at it too. I wonder where he learned to do that, thought Emile; a misspent youth most likely.

    As Emile looked on, a strange feeling made the hair on the nape of his neck stand on end. They had set up the grid of stacks to perfectly correspond with how the groups were organized in the computer system. Just like a poker game Serge was dealing back to the beginning again, cycling through the grid the same way he had done before. The sequential order that he placed the cards on the stacks seemed totally random. He would reach across the table for one, place two on stacks near himself, then reach toward Hank placing a card on a stack at that end of the table and so on, but when he finished putting a card on every stack in this seemingly random order he would start over and repeat it.

    “Hank come look at this,” said Emile, trying to keep the excitement from his voice. He didn’t want to raise any false hopes in case this turned out to be another dead end. Serge stopped dealing the cards and turned his head.

    “No, no, Serge keep sorting those out like you were,” said Emile as Hank took his place next to him. Serge flashed Emile a slightly bewildered glance before nodding and once again passing the cards to their stacks.

    “Just watch him for a minute,” said Emile.

    Hank didn’t see it at first and Emile was starting to get worried that he had made a big deal out of nothing, but after the third repetition Hank let out a gasp and drew closer to the stacks.

    “It’s repeating!” said Hank.

    “Would someone please tell me what the hell is going on,” said Serge, finally putting down his stack and turning to Hank and Emile.

    “It was right under our noses the entire time…” said Hank, ignoring Serge and trailing off in disbelief.

    “We knew it would be,” said Emile. “And don’t get your hopes up just yet. We don’t even know if this is the pattern.” Emile’s previous exhaustion was a distant memory by this point. The excitement of the discovery had woken him up as suddenly and effectively as if a cold bucket of water had been tossed in his face. He didn’t want them focusing on the wrong things, like how obvious the discovery seemed now that they had found it; if they had even found it. He had thought about that earlier and realized that when they did find the pattern it would most likely appear to be obvious. There were only so many places that it could have been hiding and all of those places would be easily accessible to them, somewhere in their room. Becoming obsessed with how obvious the pattern must be wasn’t helping Emile find it, so he had quickly purged that obsession from his thoughts. It wasn’t helping then and it wouldn’t help now so he wasn’t going to let it hound them.

    Serge cleared his throat loud enough to let the others know how irritated he was, and although this did little to pull Hank back to reality, Emile got the hint.

    “It’s in the way you passed those cards to their stacks on the table,” he said to Serge. “I’m guessing those cards that I handed you were in the exact order that you pulled them from your console, right?”

    “Of course they were,” said Serge.

    “Then it’s your console that’s giving us the pattern. The way it’s spitting out the sequence names and codes has an order to it. When you were dealing the cards onto their groups you started back at the beginning after you finished cycling through all the stacks, then repeated the exact same cycle,” said Emile. He watched as Serge’s face flushed with the realization of the discovery and he slumped back into his seat gazing blankly at the stacks in front of him.

    “Just like last time,” said Hank, finally pulling himself from his reverie. “It’s Serge’s console that’s communicating with my console. Their working together as if their part of the same system.” Hank turned to Emile, his face pale and his eyes wide with revelation. “Do you think it could be Management sending those codes through Serge’s phone? We must be intercepting them somehow. I mean, what else could it be?”

    That was it. Hank had finally arrived at the conclusion that Monitor had helped Emile discover when the two had first met. Why hadn’t he told them? Was it because he just forgot or was it some deeper reason that kept him silent about almost everything Monitor had said to him? Emile shuddered as he thought about how much sooner they might have uncovered the pattern if he had only been honest with Serge and Hank. He had been hording Monitor all to himself when Hank and Serge had openly shared their consoles, baring their souls selflessly. Emile almost staggered under the weight of the guilt that was crashing down upon him.

    “I think you may be right,” he said to Hank, barely above a whisper.

    “I can’t believe how stupid I am!” said Serge suddenly. His eyes were dark and as Emile watched him he was reminded of when Serge had heard his son’s voice on the phone.

    “How could I not see this? I’ve been sitting here for days dealing out these cards like a blind man when the pattern was practically screaming to be noticed!”

    “Don’t do that,” said Emile.

    “Don’t do what?” said Serge. He sounded tired; even more exhausted than Emile felt earlier that morning.

    “Don’t crucify yourself for not seeing this. Things always appear simpler when you look back on them but what the hell does that mean? There’s no way you could have known that this is where the pattern was hiding,” said Emile. The only way you might have known is if I had been honest with you from the beginning, he thought silently.

    “But you did know,” said Serge.

    “I was just lucky Serge. Tired and lucky,” said Emile. He slumped down in his chair and looked towards his own console. After a few moments of silence Hank spoke up cheerfully.

    “You both look like you just got back from a funeral. Come on! We just found a pattern and your sitting around moping like it’s already failed. Now let’s sort out these stacks!”

    This seemed to brighten Serge’s spirits, and Emile got up as well, smiling wanly, but his heart wasn’t in it. As they sorted the stacks on the table to match Serge’s dealing pattern all he could think of was the fact that he had selfishly kept Monitor to himself at the cost of his friends.

    When they finished sorting they had lined up the groups of cards on the floor in the exact order that they were dealt out by Serge. The line was made up of every major group of sequences in Managements system and was roughly fifty stacks long from one end to the other, stretching nearly halfway across the console room.

    “And you actually feel bad about not being able to find a pattern in all these groups?” said Hank to Serge. “If I was dealing out fifty cards at a time there’s no way I could have seen it.” Serge chuckled at that, but Emile just felt worse about holding out.

    There was a moment of great tension as Hank sat down at his console and Serge huddled over the phone at his own console, preparing to read out Managements codes for Hank to enter as he received them. Although Emile could see their anticipation he felt disconnected from it, as if it didn’t belong to him, and perhaps because of this he stood apart from them, leaning against the wall behind Hank. To be honest, Emile wasn’t that concerned about whether the pattern would work or not. As he watched Hank and Serge line up the stacks along the floor he felt the certainty of his discovery becoming tangible. That certainty was only compounded when Serge picked up his phone and confirmed that voice of Management was still spitting out the same pattern. Now as he watched them prepare to test his discovery his thoughts couldn’t have been farther away from where they should have been. He thought of Hank at the dinner table, telling them of the impossibly complex system he had discovered in a simple blinking light. He thought of Serge sitting in his room for days without any food, trying to understand why he had heard his son’s voice in the phone.

    They both knew that they could have been going insane. They knew of the possibility that it could all be a lie but they shared it with their friends anyway. They shared it with me because the alternative hadn’t even occurred to them, thought Emile. The alternative hadn’t occurred to them because they knew that the alternative was wrong. Telling the truth was their only option, yet I chose the alternative. I lied. I purposefully deceived my friends because I wanted Monitor all to myself.

    A flash of white light caught Emile’s attention and he realized that Hank had already started entering the codes. Serge called them out from across the room, keeping the phone pressed to his ear and Hank would deftly navigate through the system to the specific sequence group, enter in the code, and watch as the light flashed white signifying that the sequence had disappeared from the system. After each vanished sequence Hank would call out “closed” and with every sequence he did close, his voice became more excited. They had been entering the codes for what seemed like hours when Hank and Serge both stood up from their consoles suddenly.

    “Were back to the first group!” said Hank.

    “I knew it!” said Serge. “The voice in my phone just went haywire. It started beeping like crazy and then it just went dead!”

    Serge carefully hung-up his phone and he and Hank stared at each other silently from across the room, their eyes bulging slightly and their faces flushed with disbelief.

    “We did it,” said Hank, finally speaking and the two of them raced across the room, embracing each other and whooping with joy. As Hank and Serge jumped up and down laughing, caught up in the sheer elation of the moment Emile felt like he was sinking back into the wall, disappearing out of existence. He deserved no part in their celebration. His countenance must have betrayed his mood because when Hank caught sight of him pressed against the far wall he stopped laughing and Serge soon followed.

    “What the hell’s the matter with you Emile?” said Hank. “Do you even care what we just did? What you just did? You found the pattern!”

    “Yeah Emile, lighten up. Now we can break the system! We can finally find out where all of this leads,” said Serge. Emile said nothing and they both came near him, their smiles slowly fading.

    “What’s wrong?” said Hank, looking quite concerned. Emile sighed. It was time to be honest with them, to except their reactions and hope for forgiveness.

    “There’s something I have to tell you,” said Emile. “Something I should have told you both a long time ago.”

    “What is it?” said Serge.

    ‘Here we go’ thought Emile.

    “My console changed,” he said. It took a minute for them to comprehend the meaning of what he had said, and Emile watched their faces change as the realization slowly dawned on them.

    “Are you kidding me? When did this happen?” said Hank.

    “When I found the card in Serge’s stacks, right after we cracked the first sequence,” said Emile.

    “What? That was ages ago! Why the hell didn’t you tell us about this earlier?” said Hank, his voice rising with anger.

    “I don’t know why,” said Emile. “I’ve been asking myself the same question all morning and I can’t think of an answer.”

    “Well you’d better think harder Emile!” said Hank. “God, I can’t believe you would keep this from us. I thought we were a team. How are we supposed to work together when you keep something like this to yourself? Is it because you don’t trust us?”

    “No Hank. I may not know why but I know that’s not the reason. At first I think it was because I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t even know if it was real, but after that passed I don’t know why I didn’t say anything. It was stupid and it was selfish and I’m sorry.”

    “Damn right it was!” said Hank. He was pacing back and forth and was about to tear into Emile again when Serge cut him off. Serge hadn’t said a word since Emile confessed and hearing his voice so suddenly and forcefully shocked them both into silence.

    “Show us!” he said.

    After a minute Emile nodded and walked over to his console followed closely by Hank and Serge. When he sat down in his seat they stood on either side of him and Emile switched on the power. The insertion point began to blink and Emile rested his fingers on the keypad but before he typed anything he turned to them.

    “Its name is Monitor,” he said. Hank and Serge stared back at him, dumbfounded.

    “It’s been helping me out with stuff,” continued Emile. “It’s been helping me understand certain things better so that I can approach our problems differently. When we were stuck looking for the pattern, Monitor told me that we needed to work together and that I had to start looking at our problems with a different perspective if I ever wanted to solve them. That’s why I said we needed to start looking at the names of the sequences. And you were right about the system this morning Hank. Your console and Serge’s console are both a part of that system. What Serge is hearing over the phone is actually the voice of Management as it communicates with its computer system. Well actually, Serge is hearing a translation of Managements voice. Hank, that static that you and I hear is the real voice of Management. That’s what I regret the most. I should have told you that so long ago and I have no clue why I didn’t. Maybe it was because I was so distracted by everything that was happening that I just forgot, but I don’t want to make excuses. There is no excuse for not telling you.”

    “Management’s voice?” whispered Serge, obviously shaken. “But how is that possible? Isn’t Management just a group of people? How could they have one voice? And how could their real voice be nothing but static?”

    “I don’t know,” said Emile. Every time he thought about Management the same feeling that he got when he listened to Serge’s phone crept into the back of his head, and as a result he hadn’t spent much time dwelling on it.

    “Wait a minute here,” said Hank. “So this ‘Monitor’ is an actual person? You’ve been talking with a person this entire time?”

    “I don’t know if it’s a person or not,” said Emile. The realization of how little he knew was making him feel slightly ridiculous.

    “Well then what is it?” said Hank.

    “I’m not sure. I never really thought to ask,” said Emile. He felt almost as bewildered as Hank and Serge looked. Why had he never asked that? The more Emile thought about it the more he realized that it didn’t matter to him what Monitor was. He felt so comfortable talking with Monitor that questioning whether or not it was a person seemed irrelevant. Compared to the other topics that they spent their time discussing, it was irrelevant.

    “Well maybe we can ask this ‘Monitor’ to clear a few things up for us,” said Hank. Emile nodded and turned back to his console but he doubted that Hank would be satisfied with what he found. Those were exactly the kinds of questions Emile had learned not to ask, because Monitor never seemed to answer anything that specific to a current problem. ‘Oh well’ thought Emile. ‘Maybe when they start talking with Monitor they’ll be satisfied with what it decides to give them’. Emile laid his hand back on the keypad and began typing.

    [Are you there?] Usually he had to wait a minute before Monitor replied but the insertion point jumped to life almost as soon as he pressed the enter key.

    < -) You’ve been busy. >

    [You heard all of that?]

    < -) Yes. >

    [So you know that I told Hank and Serge about you.]

    < -) I know. >

    [Well, what do you think?]

    < -) I think that you’re going to be disappointed with their reaction. >

    [Great, now you’re against me as well?]

    < -) You know I’m not against you Emile. >

    [What is it then? Don’t you think they’ll like you? You should say something to them, they’re right here next to me.] There was a bit of a pause before Monitor replied and as Emile waited he was struck by a thought that he hadn’t even considered earlier. Being exposed like this was probably a huge deal for Monitor as well, assuming of course that Monitor was affected by such things. But Emile had talked with Monitor long enough to know that even if it wasn’t human, it still had recognizable human-like feelings and emotions. They might not be as apparent as his own but Emile could detect them, hiding under the surface of their conversations. He began to regret not discussing this with Monitor before he confessed to Hank and Serge, and he hoped Monitor understood that they had a right to know.

    < -) Tell them that I’m proud of them; that I’m proud of all of you. >

    Emile sat back in his chair and glanced up at Hank and Serge but he couldn’t make out what they were feeling. In fact they looked rather strange as they stared at his screen. Surely they had read everything that he and Monitor had written.

    “So what do you think?” said Emile.

    “What do we think about what?” said Hank.

    “Monitor said that it’s proud of us. Weren’t you reading my screen?”

    “Is this your idea of a sick joke?” said Hank. Emile was baffled as he watched Hank and Serge stare at him like he was a madman.

    “A joke… I don’t understand? You saw me talking with Monitor. What is there to joke about?”

    Hank was beginning to turn red in the face again and Serge couldn’t have looked more concerned if Emile had told them he was dying of cancer.

    “Well this is great Emile. Either you’re messing with us or you’ve finally cracked,” said Hank. Emile was completely lost. He turned to Serge hoping for some kind of explanation.

    “You saw it didn’t you?” he said.

    “There were no words on that screen,” said Serge quietly. “You just typed a bunch of numbers that were replaced by other numbers. What did you think we would see?”

    “There aren’t even any letters on your keypad!” said Hank, who was becoming increasingly exasperated. “There’s only numbers Emile, zero through nine. Have you completely lost your mind?”

    Emile felt like he was falling backwards with his eyes closed. Completely disoriented, he instinctively reached out for his keypad, knowing that Monitor was the only one who could put a stop to this nightmare.

    [What’s going on?]

    < -) You knew this was coming Emile. I already told you this was going to happen. >

    [What are you saying?]

    “Stop doing that!” screamed Hank, pulling Emile’s hand from the keypad. Emile’s mind reeled as he plunged back into confusion. This couldn’t be happening. There had to be some explanation for this. His thoughts raced as he tried to find something, anything that made some sense. He suddenly remembered when Monitor had first appeared to him. The helpless panic from that moment seemed to be rushing back in on him like a river bursting through its banks. He was drowning in it all over again. But Monitor told him this would happen. When did Monitor say that?

    “That’s it!” said Emile, springing from his seat. “I know why you can’t see Monitor! Each of our consoles works for us alone. Serge, you’re the only one who can understand the true voice of Management, and Hank, you’re the only one who can see the full extent of Managements system. Only you can fully comprehend it! I’m the only one who can see Monitor because that’s my part, mine and no one else’s.” Emile looked frantically between Hank and Serge, fully expecting them to be convinced by his argument, but they certainly didn’t look convinced. Serge was staring awkwardly at the floor and Hank was pacing back and forth shaking his head in disbelief.

    “You have to believe me!” said Emile, trying desperately to keep his voice from breaking.

    “What is this really about, Emile?” said Hank. “I’m trying to understand why you would do this to us right now and I can’t come up with a damn thing.” Hank stopped pacing and leaned against the wall with his back to Emile. “Actually that’s not true. I can think of one reason why you would do this; one reason that makes perfect sense.” There was a long pause after Hank finished speaking. An oppressive silence filled the room that was only broken by the sound of heavy breathing. Emile didn’t know what to say or do so he just sat there, quietly staring at his screen. His mind was almost completely numb and the meaning of what Hank had said didn’t hit him right away. As he sat rigidly in his chair it sank into him slowly, like water percolating through a thick bed of sand. When the accusation had fully formed in his mind Emile saw only one path that he could take. There were certainly others that existed but he knew where they led and he wouldn’t go there. He knew who he was and he wouldn’t let go of that for anything in the world, so he rejected it.

    “I’m not crazy,” said Emile.

    “Okay then,” said Hank, turning around. “Then why don’t you give us an explanation that makes sense? Why don’t you help us out here?”

    “I’m not crazy,” repeated Emile.

    “I believe you”

    Both Hank and Emile turned to Serge. The soft and unassuming way in which he had spoken stood in stark contrast to what he’d said, and Emile was as shocked by it as Hank was.

    “Why?” said Emile.

    “Do you remember when you first listened to the voice in the phone with me?” said Serge. Emile nodded. “You didn’t have to believe me then, but you did anyway. I didn’t even expect you to believe me. And when Hank first told us about the system in his light… you didn’t have to believe him either. I certainly didn’t, but you did.” Serge looked at Hank pointedly and Hank lowered his head and cleared his throat. “You’ve never lost faith in us Emile, and I’m not about to lose faith in you. As far as I’m concerned, if you say Monitor’s real, then Monitor’s real.”

    Emile sat silently and gazed at an arbitrary point on the opposite wall. The feverish pounding in his head was dissipating ever so slowly, but it was still hard for him to focus. The old and familiar terror of insanity was releasing its iron grip from his spinal column.

    “But you were both honest with me from the start,” said Emile. “I lied to you both for so long. That was my conscious decision. It never even occurred to either of you to lie about your discoveries even though you knew that you might not have been believed. And that was the best case scenario. You could have been turned over to Management. You were brave and I was a coward. It’s as simple as that.”

    “Actually it’s not,” said Serge.

    “What do you mean?” said Emile, looking up at Serge. He was quiet for a moment, and then he cleared his throat awkwardly.

    “Well… I actually did consider lying to you and Hank. I thought about it long and hard while I was in my bunk. I thought about telling you that there was a glitch in the console, or that I made the whole thing up because I was angry with you. To be honest, it scared the hell out of me to even consider delving deeper into this.”

    “It still scares the hell out of me,” muttered Hank.

    “Yeah but what’s scarier? This, or joining back up with the lemming brigade out there,” said Serge, pointing in the direction of the cafeteria and the mass of shell-like humanity that mingled there. Hank grunted in agreement.

    “Look Emile,” said Hank. He was leaning with his back against the wall and was rubbing the tension from his neck. “I’m sorry that I jumped at you like that, because the truth is that Serge’s right. It literally took me days to get up the courage to tell you two about the computer system after I found out about it. Even when I was sitting at the dinner table telling you about it for the first time, I was seriously tempted to bail halfway through and just tell you to forget I brought it up.”

    That point on the opposite wall was still holding Emile’s gaze in a vice grip, but Hank and Serge’s confessions were slowly draining into his mind. The complete exhaustion with which he started the day had returned tenfold after the emotional rollercoaster he had been on finally came to a halt.

    “Hey, why don’t we just forget about everything right now and go get some food. After all, we really should be celebrating right now. We found the pattern! I think we’ve earned a little break,” said Serge.

    “Of course,” said Hank. “Off to the Lemming Brigade!” He hoisted Emile from his chair, practically tossing him to the corridor and they all piled out of the console room before Emile had even digested what was happening.

    After dinner both Hank and Serge realized that they were just as exhausted as Emile and they all went straight to their bunks, but Emile could not sleep without talking to Monitor. He waited to hear the familiar clicks of bunk doors closing before he snuck out to his console. When he arrived the blinking insertion point was waiting for him as loyally as ever. Emile yawned and rested his leaden fingers on the keypad.

    [I need to talk to you.] A moment later the screen sprung to life.

    < -) I know you do. >

    [I had to tell them about you. I’m sorry I didn’t ask first. I didn’t want to hurt you.]

    < -) I know. >

    [… Because you’re important to me.]

    < -) I know, Emile… Get some sleep okay? >

    Emile switched off the power and stumbled down the corridor.




    "The living room looked like Sesame Street after a nuclear war. Toys were strewn everywhere and the smell of little kid hung in the air like radioactive fallout"

  10. #20
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    It was getting close to mid-shift. Emile had spent so long in the console room that he had developed a preternatural ability to sense when the meal-time buzzer was about to go off. The hair on his arms would stand on end and his chest would tighten ever so slightly. While he reclined in his chair, gazing up at the textured white ceiling tiles, he mulled something over in his head that he had been discussing with Monitor earlier.

    The system was basically cracked. All that they had to do now was take the time to close out all of the sequences one by one. Granted, it would take quite a lot of time to do that, but there didn’t seem to be any real puzzles standing in the way, at least none that Emile could see. Instead of knuckling down and plowing through another mind numbing task, Emile thought that it would help if they broke up their day. After all, they really had no idea what they were getting themselves into by cracking the system. The system needed to be cracked, that was a given, but if they had some way to learn more about their circumstances, about the world that they lived in, they might be better able to deal with the shock of whatever was waiting for them on the other side. Emile knew that they already had a perfectly good teacher in the room with them, and he realized that it was finally time to share. When he brought his idea up with Monitor its reaction was predictable.

    < -) So you’ve finally decided to take my advice about working together? >

    [Yeah, well better late than never, right?]

    Emile felt a slap on his shoulder and saw Hank gliding down the corridor to the monosyllabic strains of the buzzer. Serge stopped next to Emile and offered his hand.

    “Come on, let’s go join up with the Lemming Brigade,” he said. Apparently the phrase had stuck. Emile nodded and they both trailed behind Hank into the oversized, sterile warehouse of a cafeteria.

    Emile waited in line at the sandwich conveyer and stared blankly at the man in front of him. Closely cropped dark hair, perfectly starched white collared shirt, black slacks, black shoes. He could have been looking at the back of himself. Emile leaned to the side and gazed up the line. It was perfectly straight, perfectly spaced, and full of carbon copies of pale, dead eyed men and women. He felt his stomach begin to churn and turned away before he lost his appetite. The conveyer wasn’t much more comforting. An endless line of uniformly spaced, perfectly identical dull white sandwiches marched toward him in a tedious formation. They were picked up at regular intervals, and by the time the conveyer reached him the black rubber mat was empty, and it re-circulated back into a dark hole in the wall.

    Emile watched the mat disappear into the hole and something began to well up inside of him. He had to know what was on the other side. He could not take another step, another breath, until he had learned what was behind the wall. This urge was so powerful, so unlike anything that he had ever felt that it nearly knocked him off his feet. He was right next to the hole, and it looked just large enough for his head to fit. Emile glanced over his shoulder then leaned across the conveyer belt and ducked his head inside.

    It was dark, and it took his eyes a moment to adjust. When they finally did he was greeted by a strange orange twilight. It was another room, tight like a hallway, but incredibly long and packed with huge machines. The stainless steel behemoths were chugging along and pumping steam into the air. Emile was fascinated and tried to take in as much as possible in the short time that he had. A brighter light caught his eye directly across the room. When he looked he saw another empty conveyer belt, and above it was a small square hole in the wall, just big enough for a head to fit through. Whatever was on the other side of that hole was casting a column of white light into the orange gloom of the machine room. Emile leaned in farther and squinted so that he could see. There was something moving on the other side of the hole. He strained his eyes as hard as he could and was just barely able to make it out. It was a shirt. A white collared shirt perfectly starched.

    Emile felt a sudden sharp tapping on his shoulder which caused him to jump and bang his head on the top of the hole. He spun around quickly, engulfed in a mixture of fear and anger, but the pale blank face that gazed back at him showed no sign of emotion. The man simply pointed ahead of Emile to the large gap that had formed while he held up the line.

    “Yeah,” said Emile, shaking his head. He quickly grabbed his sandwich and headed for the tables before he drew any more attention to himself.

    “Did either of you know that there was another cafeteria on the other side of that wall?” said Emile as he took his seat next to Serge. Both Serge and Hank stopped eating and shook their heads.

    “No,” said Hank. “How do you know?”

    “I looked through the hole where the conveyer belt feeds back into the wall,” said Emile.

    “Really?” said Hank, chuckling. Serge smiled and shook his head.

    “Yeah, you guys should check it out. It’s pretty amazing back there!”

    “Amazing… through the hole in the wall…” said Hank, grinning at Serge. They were both clearly trying to hold back laughter.

    “Whatever, it’s your loss, but I’m telling you guys its nuts back there,” said Emile. He took an oversized bite of his sandwich and spent the next minute struggling to chew it.

    “How big do you think this whole place is?” said Serge. “I mean if there’s another full cafeteria next to us, what’s to say that there isn’t another one next to them, and another one next to that one?” They were all silent for a moment as they tried to wrap their brains around Serge’s question.

    “Just thinking about it makes my head hurt,” said Hank.

    “Hey, I’m just trying to expand your mind,” said Serge.

    “Speaking of expanding our minds, I had an idea earlier,” said Emile

    “What was that?” said Hank. “Should I kick a hole through our wall so that you can go exploring?”

    “That’s not bad Hank. We’ll put that in the ‘maybe’ pile,” said Emile. Hank snorted.

    “What I’mthinking is that we should spend some time each day trying to learn as much as we can from Monitor. It’s kind of difficult getting specific details out of it, but I figure that it’s here to help us, and anything we can learn from it now might make our lives easier in the future.”

    “I don’t know,” said Serge. “Shouldn’t we be focusing everything we have on cracking the system? I mean, there’s nothing in our way now. It’s a straight shot to the finish line.”

    “Your right, the end of the system is in sight, but who knows what could be waiting for us after it’s cracked? We have no idea what’s around the bend, and that’s where I think Monitor can help us the most,” said Emile.

    “If there even is anything around the bend,” said Hank. “Beside our own tails of course.”

    “Ever the optimist,” said Serge, rolling his eyes.

    “Either way, I think that it’s a good idea. After a few solid days of closing out sequences were going to be begging for an excuse to get away for awhile,” said Hank.

    The crowd in the cafeteria was thinning and the three of them eventually got up and wandered back to the console room. Emile could hear a symphony of closing doors as he walked toward their own corridor, and the thought of the potential size of this place finally struck him. It made his head spin and left him feeling slightly uneasy. Trying to imagine all of those people forced his mind to zoom out leaving him feeling like a speck of dust in a desert wasteland. What possible significance did the three of them have? What possible chance did they have of changing things? He shook the thought from his mind before it could fester.



    "The living room looked like Sesame Street after a nuclear war. Toys were strewn everywhere and the smell of little kid hung in the air like radioactive fallout"

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