Monthly Archives: March 2014

Security

*initiating start-up*

—lo and thank you for choosing InterStar Technologies, home of all your corporate security needs. We know you have had many choices for your in-house security system, thank you for sticking with InterStar.

Initiating floor sweep.

*working*

Floor 1 normal

Floor 2 normal

Floor 3 normal

Fire is detected in room 4-G. Initiating extinguisher system.

30% toxic compound detected in sector 7 of floor 5. Sealing ventilation from sector 5-7.

Automated shut-off of extinguisher system sustained fire damage. Auto shut-off failed. Room 4-G 2% water.

Please remember not to place personal items or limbs on InterStar PowerSills™ as automatic engagement may occur at any time. InterStar is not legally responsible for any property damage or loss of life from incorrect usage of PowerSill™ technology.

Automatic lock override shorted in 4-G. Room 9% water.

Unauthorized presence in fire stairs of floor 5. Initiating anti-terrorist measure PYTHIA. Locking down stairwell and flooding with sarin.

4-G 15% water.

Authentication of Employee passcard swipe on floor 5 failed.

Authentication of Employee passcard swipe on floor 5 failed.

Authentication of Employee passcard swipe on floor 5 failed. You have reached the maximum attempts on this employee card. Defensive measure 6-Alpha initiated, all employee card stations nullified.

Fire detected in first floor cafeteria. Initiating anti-terrorist measure ACRISIUS. Full-building lockdown, override measures disabled.

Debris detected on floor 1 PowerSill™ track. 3 injuries, 0 fatalities detected on floor 1.

Debris detected on floor 2 PowerSill™ track. 18 injuries, 3 fatalities detected on floor 2.

Debris detected on floor 3 PowerSill™ track. 45 injuries, 10 fatalities detected on floor 3.

Floor 4 PowerSill™ failed to engage. 4-G 26% water.

Manual access from floor 3 terminal acknowledged. Managerial input Quad-zero-zero-Psi acknowledged.

Sorry, cannot implement “open these fcuking doors you bitch.” Command not recognized.

Violence to terminal detected. Shutting down terminal functions.

4-G 34% water.

Security breach detected in handicap bathroom of 3-A. PowerSill™ disabled. Window broken and pressure sensors on fire escape indicate human presence. Disengaging fire escape.

Fire in floor 1 cafeteria no longer detected. Initiating “Crowd-pleaser” method of post-traumatic event crowd control. Anxiolytic spray dispersed.

Computer terminal access detected on floor 2. Attempted deep web override of security systems detected. Firewall breach detected. Enacting counter-defensive web measures. Enacting anti-hacker infrasonic program. Lockdown of floor 2.

Riotous activity detected in floor 1 cafeteria. Anxiolytic spray increased.

Roof access breached. Retracting helipad. Pigeon-deterring spikes engaged.

Attempted breach of security door in 4-G. Attempted breach failed. Room 68% water.

Signs of decreased movement in first floor cafeteria. Automatic nozzle shutoff failed. Anxiolytic spray continues.

Access to mainframe from executive terminal. Card swipe recognized. Pin recognized. Retinal scan recognized. Initiating “safe haven.” Pod with clean air supply, maximum 2 occupants has been engaged. One occupant entered. Pod has been sealed. **WARNING: UNKNOWN BLOCKAGE DETECTED ON AIR SUPPLY FEED. UNABLE TO REMOVE BLOCKAGE. POD HAS APPROXIMATELY FIVE MINUTES AIR LEFT**

4-G 83% water.

Oxygen in cafeteria dropping below breathable conditions. Initiating ventilation system. No movement detected.

Anxiolytic tanks depleted.  Ventilation system disengaged.

Assault on lobby doors detected. Assault on floor 2 camera system detected. Assault on floor 3 terminal. Initiating defensive measures. All subjects refusing to cease activity will be subject to mild eclectic shock of 80k volts.

Assault not ceased. Engaging defensive measures.

No movement detected in first floor lobby. No movement detected by floor 2 cameras. No movement detected at floor 3 terminal.

4-G 100% water. All fires extinguished indefinitely.

Leak detected on floor 4.

Automated call to emergency services failed. Line assumed damaged. Shutting down.

Water detected in main security viaduct. Initiating seals.

Seals defective. Initiating viaduct detachment.

Interference detected. Detachment failed.

Water detected in main terminal. Initia—

HeLlO aNd THanK yoU for cHOOsing InTeRStaR fOr aLL YOur CoRPoraTe sECuriTy NeEds. WE realize tHAt you hAve haD mANy chOiCes—NoT legally respON—anY and AlL quEStIons  two—PrIoriTIze security oVer thE  inDIviDual—ovER THe IndiVIdual—

OVER—

OVER—

OVER—

SYSTEM FAILURE

INITIATING MEASURE ACHILLES

JETTISONING CORE COMPONENTS

EMERGENCY BEACON ENGAGED

ESTIMATED TECHNICIAN PICKUP: SIXTY-EIGHT MINUTES

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Occurrence in a Small Town

The meteor shower came at the end of June. At first we all thought it was just a tall tale, seeing as Ed Wibley had been the only one to see it start and Ed had been three sheets and a pair of long johns to the wind ever since the war. Weren’t predicted, as a matter of fact if Doc Newcomb up at the observatory hadn’t set up a telescope to look for somethin’ called the Horsehead nebula, we wouldn’tve thought it was real.

We woke a few days after the shower. The air was bad, smelled like a hot handful of pennies. Everyone had these bad pressure aches behind their eyes, so at first we thought it was a gas leak. Then Hep Callow and his brother Evan tried driving their Plymouth the next town over to find a phone that worked. The damn road had a crater the size of a house in it, but no rock.

Well, this news gets people to wailin’, women weeping their babies are gonna die, old Hodges up in his big house croaking that his progeny are going to let him die and split his Civil War guns amongst themselves. It weren’t all like that, though. Jill Stein got the schoolhouse organized into a neat little emergency shelter, found the tornado provisions and passed them around. She was the only teacher in the one-room schoolhouse we’d had since 1867. Nice lady, even for a big-city liberal hen.

Most folks couldn’t walk for the splitting headaches they had. Doc Newcomb wound up being the only one missing out on the sickness, him being up in the foothills and all, so he was the one to find us all in our homes, keeled over in the middle of whatever we were doing. He kept a cool head in organizing the men to a city hall, what little able-bodied were left.

Doc told us that we’d probably been inhaling materials outgassing from the rocks burning up in the atmosphere. He said he hadn’t seen anything like it in all his days.  Being as the road was the only way out of town, it was decided that a few of the younger men, Evan in the lead, would try to track up the steep hills to the west, try to find a way out. The one phone line in the town had gone down, we had no radio contact, even with the short-wave station in Burke. Doc Newcomb said it was on account of the metal in the rocks, although he didn’t look too convinced when he said it. We just figgered he was trying to reassure people because he didn’t have any fancy science talk to explain what happened.

Evan and the boys reached about half a mile out of town before the pain in their heads stopped them cold. They said it was like going down into the bottom of the sea, every step they took made it worse. It only went away when they turned around and came back.

So we forgot about getting help. After a while it didn’t seem like we needed help anymore. The headaches didn’t go away but they felt…not bad. We got used to the pain, like scratching a good itch. The few people who weren’t so bad off turned into the de facto leaders of the town. Mayor Ennis wasn’t all that fond of public office, anyway.

Jill organized the women into a nice little hospital for the folks, operating out of the schoolhouse. Lessons were suspended, no one felt like learning with a headful of pins. Doc retired to his lab a lot, taking samples of blood and soil and plants and whatever he could get his hands on. He confiscated the chemistry set from the school, mumbled a lot about metal intoxication. Evan and Hep were the most able-bodied of the men, they led the excursions into the hills to look for game, though a lot of the hares and pronghorn had already fled for greener pastures.

August 5th was the first murder.

Abe Herrington took some gas in the great war, went a little simple. Doc thought it was an accident, Abe was going to lift a driving wheel and lost his grip. What the hell Abe was doing with the wheel in the first place, nobody could really say. But little Henrietta Rourke’s body wasn’t as easy to explain.

Henny had been at play with the other kids her age around the back of the schoolhouse. Her ma was laid up sick with a headache that day, so she and the Dover boys were playing rum-tag over by the old grist mill. The boys say she was just walking around the corner and disappeared. They found her by the millstone…that is, beneath the millstone. Her ma was unconsolable. We were up in arms. We knew we were a good, God-fearing town, no murderer hid among us. Maybe up in Burke, but not here.

For a suspect we seized upon Vargus Pitch, a draft-dodger and good-for-nothing loafer. He was always spinning big-city ideas about Government, and hanging around the drugstore talking up the young girls. It didn’t help that he was one of the lucky few not to suffer too badly from headaches. Against the Doc’s protests, we strung him up without trial. The peace lasted only a few days, until Old Man Hodges wound up beneath a punch-press. His folks really weren’t too happy with his death, now that it happened. They called for blood, but this time the Callow brothers held out on the posse. They said that Hodges was alone in his house, nobody had been seen out that way and eventually cooler heads prevailed.

Doc was too busy in his lab, getting more and more worried by whatever he saw at the other end of his test tube. Jilly was too busy with the hospital; folks showed up everyday bleeding out the ears and nose and other places. New cases broke out whenever there was a murder, mebbe the stress and anger led to the breakouts.

Widow Helms was found out in a field, skirt rucked up to her shoulders, head beneath a slab of granite. Mr. Meadows, the druggist, managed to park his own car on himself. Those were black days. Folks were in a bad way, in health and in temper. We hadn’t been this low since the end of prohibition. Finally Doc called a town hall. We were more than ready for it.

Doc called to order. He’d been sweating like a hog and kept wiping the back of his neck the whole time he was talking. He started off with a whole lot of science jabber we were too tired to understand, something about neurotoxic compounds and miasma and Hiroshima and on and on. Then he got to the murders.

He said, “I’ve been looking at the empirical evidence at every scene. Even in a town this small it seems unlikely that there wasn’t at least one witness to the crimes.”

He said, “another thing I’ve noticed is that some crime scenes show signs of tampering. All this points to multiple culprits.”

He said, “The only thing I can’t rightly account for is the lack of physical evidence of murder, fingerprints and such, like it was being done without touching the victims—”

And then we crushed Doc Newcomb like a leaf.

Some screamed. It was a bit of a shock. Kind of like you don’t know how thirsty you are until you hear the word water. We’d known but we hadn’t. And now we looked to the others.

Not everyone would go along with it. Most we took care of right then and there. Some loitered by the exits and tried running, but there weren’t nowhere to go. We cornered Jill under her desk at school. She wept and pulled her skirt over her head. Evan got Hep himself, wouldn’t have it any other way. He was blood, but bad blood.

It was better after that. It was like turning back from the town line, pressure receded. We could live without all those holdout voices crying out to be individuals, trying to swim upstream, rubbing us the wrong way. Cal became the de facto leader again, he was the one who led the mission to dynamite the pass so’s no one could get at us. He’s a fine man, takes good care of his wives, and if a single one of his progeny were in the wrong way, we can be sure he’d take ‘em out without a second thought.

Sometimes a Good Samaritan will make it over the hills, all chatty-brained and different, sometimes looking for aid, sometimes just looking for someone. Cal takes care of them, too. We don’t need no aid.

The folk left here are good folk, God-fearing folk, and we can take care of ourselves

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Heirlooms and Keepsakes

It should be one of those fundamental rules of life: you should not be afraid of your family. I mean gut-churning, stagnant hate and fear like you’re a POW and they’re the fucking Vietcong clowns who put you in the cage.

One of my mom’s favorite things to do when I was a kid was threaten to take her love away. It was always for really trivial shit, too, like when I was cranky and didn’t agree with her, or just acting like a kid, I guess. I just have this vision of her towering over me, arms crossed, demanding I do whatever she’s ordering me to do. I don’t think she realized that if you do that too much it loses its effectiveness. When I was pushing ten, it started getting kind of funny. She would cross her arms and stamp her foot and tell me to apologize and I’d crack up because she reminded me of a four-year-old.

That’s really what they were, my parents. Just kids. They’d both grown up rich and sheltered, no one had ever made them do anything. My dad’s dad was the one who made the fortune, he’d been really old when my dad was born, and bedridden, and my dad got run of the house like little lord Fauntleroy. My mom was a pretty similar story, she was the younger of two sisters, and her older sister fell in a well or something when she was three. Sad. Or at least, you’d think so the way my mom tells it. That’s when her parents became concerned with making sure not a single moment of her life went unfulfilled. Imagine their surprise when they begged her to go to college and she said no. She was too used to getting her way and fucked off when they tried to make her. They cut her off, of course, and that’s when she met my dad.

But I guess you didn’t want to hear about this, you want to hear about the Jenning’s little boy. He was sweet, three years old at the time. He’d be twelve now. Every once in a while my parents would let the neighborhood kids play in our front yard, treating it like it was a charity. They made a big deal about it, winking at parents behind their backs. The kids didn’t care, a green lawn was a green lawn. Me, I was thrilled. Sometimes I wouldn’t play, I’d just sit on the step and watch the other children come and go, screaming, shouting. This little habit was why I saw the thing that snatched Ben Jennings away.

We rich folk didn’t have a basement. We had cellars, plural, that were all for different things. One was the wine cellar, for all grandad’s wine that we never drank. There was also a root cellar, a press room, a springhouse, and the ossuary. The ‘rents just went and banned me from all of them, but it was the ossuary they were really concerned about. I never knew why until that day when I saw that thing yank Benny off his perch and drag him back down towards the ossuary door.

It all happened in the blink of an eye. I was almost unsure that it even happened. Benny hadn’t cried out, or he had and the thing stopped him somehow. I still wonder about it. What followed was like a dream. I don’t mean that in a hokey, did-it-all-really-happen way, I mean those asshole dreams where your feet don’t work when you wanna run and you try to scream, yell out but nothing works. I felt limp as I went to my mom, to tell her what happened.

She ignored me.

That really should have been a red flag, right then and there, but I never know when to shut my mouth. When they noticed Benny was missing, I went and told dad, then mom again. Their reactions were… off.

Dad asked me if anyone else had seen it. Then he told me I’d been dreaming. Then when I insisted I’d seen it, he shouted me down and called me names. Then mom played good cop and told me to go to bed while she calmed my dad down. I woke up in a white room with cushions on the walls.

While the investigation scrambled in their front yard, my parents pulled some strings and had me committed in the space of a few hours. I didn’t see daylight again for three years.

In the interim, people had given up on Benny. In lieu of another explanation, the cops had told the Jennings their kid had probably been snatched by some passing kiddy fiddler, and our neighborhood gained a gate with a combo lock. On my first day back I got to watch my cab driver argue with the front gate guard that I really belonged there.

I was different coming back. That’s one thing people don’t tell you about mental institutions, sometimes you can get a really good look at yourself, you get these words for things that you’d never had words for, feelings get defined. And I wasn’t happy.

They wanted to pretend it was all good and nothing had ever happened, but then they kept pulling my commitment out at every possible excuse. They probably thought it would shame me into behaving. It had about the opposite effect.

My dad also tried to take me under his wing, teach me the family ways. Apparently, it didn’t have a whole lot to do with work. My dad’s dad and his dad before him had always been filthy, stinking rich, but unlike my dad they actually did things with it. True, it was mostly buying shit and going on safaris, but at least that was something. My parents just sat in a big old house full of other people’s thing, never using them because it’d devalue them. Like a pair of kids partying while their parents are away for the weekend.

Anyway, work didn’t really come into the picture much at all. It was deals. Making deals, or something like that. My dad was trying to be all mysterious, speaking in veiled metaphor and shit like that. I wasn’t really listening anyway. But I perked up when he talked about sacrifices. Sometimes, he said, sacrifices have to be made in order to ensure your happiness. Sometimes deals were more about take than give, and if that was the case it was probably best to have someone else nearby to give. I asked him if it had anything to do with the thing in the ossuary. He hit me.

I was souring on the whole thing by that point. To be honest, I really preferred the people in the institute. The ‘rents were acting weird, even their guests were starting to notice. They started including me in their lives again, so I got to watch as other filthy rich couples made awkward smalltalk while my parents made social faux pas after faux pas. They really never learned to act like real people, which I guess is a consequence of growing up with your head up your own ass.

Then, they invited the Jennings over.

I still have no idea what must’ve been running through their minds when they invited the couple over. Maybe they weren’t thinking at all. Maybe they completely forgot how they not-so-subtly implied Violet Jennings’s parenting skills were at fault to the police. I’m sure she didn’t, as she sat tight lipped through dinner.

I just sat there while they talked at Mr. Jennings. It was fascinating to watch. My parents still looked to be in their mid-to-late twenties, the Jennings’ had aged twenty years in the three I’d been away. Conversation just boiled around me, I was getting kind of bored until I felt a warm touch on my hand.

Violet Jennings was looking at me and it…was a look. Hard to describe. But I felt something in me, something that my own mother had never been able to bring out, and I’dve told her anything just then.

She asked me how I’d been getting on, since she had been so upset about her son disappearing she’d forgotten to ask about me.

I hear the silence fall on either side of me like a guillotine. I know they heard, they must’ve heard, but they couldn’t stop me, they couldn’t and wouldn’t stop me from doing anything ever again and I blurted out:

“He didn’t disappear. He’s in the ossuary.”

Immediately, my dad overreacted like I’d whipped my dick out at the table and set it on fire. He flailed his arms at me, simultaneously cussing me out and apologizing to the Jennings’. He shouldn’t have bothered. There was no taking it back.

My dad grabbed me by the scruff and manhandled me up to my room and locked the door behind me. Not a minute later there was a scuffle in the hallway and I heard my mother’s voice, begging, pleading, I was a liar and a mental case, don’t—

My door burst open. Violet Jennings dashed through and slammed it in my mom’s face, locking it again while my mom begged and scrabbled at the knob. She was gasping like she’d been running a long way, and immediately she gathered me up in a hug. I felt bad, like I didn’t deserve it.

She asked me, “sweetie, what was it you were saying? Where’s Benny?”

I told her. I told her everything. At first her face registered disbelief, then as I went on she got very very sad. My mom was still jiggling the knob, trying to pick it with a nail file. Mrs. Jennings got up and strode over and yanked it open. My mother half-fell into the doorway. Violet looked down on her.
“Violet—”

“You bitch,” she hissed, “I played tennis with you. I saw you every week, and you never told me, you kept it from me…”

She stalked out without another word. I think even then my parents didn’t know what kind of trouble they were in. They grounded me in my room while they decided what to do. I bet they still thought this was something they could work out, maybe if they threw money at it, this would go away, too. They were still in the den when the cops knocked on the door.

They searched all through the ossuary but they never found the thing I saw that day. They did find Benny, though. And about four hundred other unlucky bastards. I had to look up what the word ossuary even means, but apparently it’s only supposed to contain your family’ bones. Out of all four hundred, there were only three that belonged to my family. One was my grandfather. One was my great-grandfather. The last was my great-great grandfather.

They took them right away. My dad kept arguing with the cop that they couldn’t arrest them, got a faceful of pepper spray. My mom was just wailing like she’d dropped an ice cream cone. After the sirens left it was very quiet. They told me to pack some things, I’d be staying with some relatives as soon as they could get a hold of someone. I doubt they will. Granpa and the others probably weren’t too keen on sharing. Our family tree looks like a sapling.

Ahh, look at you. You’ve been listening this whole time, haven’t you? You’ve got an intelligent face, if that is your face.

I’ve been sitting on my bed, my suitcase open and half-packed, for hours. Every once in a while I’ll stuff something else in there, but mostly I’ve been thinking.

Sacrifices. Sacrifices. How much is a house full of other people’s things worth to me? Not that much. Not enough.

I guess what I’ve been getting at is…my family’s been like spoiled little kids this entire time, right? But it’s time to grow up. I wanna grow up. And I guess part of growing up is being responsible.

Funny thing is, I’m not afraid anymore.

You must be pretty mad. You were sitting in the fabled catbird seat, and however incompetent my parents were, I guess they must’ve kept you well fed. Well, listen, just for a little while. I’m the one who screwed things up. I’m the one who wouldn’t listen. So…

How about a deal?

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Dig at Nemdal

Hello Timothy. I hope this letter finds you well and that your trip has been a pleasant one. I’ll assume that Alex has been more than forthright in welcoming you to the dig. Please indulge an intellectual’s quirk for a moment and dismiss him before reading further.

Right, getting down to business: I hope I didn’t worry you unduly when I wired you, but we are in a very unusual quandary here.

I believe I told you we were out here for a minor dig, correct? We were looking for traces of a Semitic peoples who occupied the area around 930 b.c.e. It was Joseph who found the first artifact.

Let me warn you right here and now: touch nothing in storage. I don’t know whether physical contact is needed or merely observing an object is enough, but for the love of Yahweh avoid the artifacts at all costs. If you have already been forced to observe one on your way in(and I strongly suspect you have) then you will begin to see what I mean.

It all began with one artifact. An earthenware ewer that would be completely unremarkable if not for the fact that it bore characteristics completely alien to any civilization of the area. Then we found a small box fashioned of bronze, in the shape of a beetle unknown to man. Then a series of clay tablets depicting scenes of daily court life. One after the other, we experienced an unprecedented flood of artifacts.

I think you can foresee where this went wrong. Around the time we found the royal regalia, we realized how out-of-place it all was. What we found suggested a great civilization, far greater than the area could have supported, completely absent from written history. There were semiprecious gems that weren’t found anywhere near this part of the world, along with various objects that served no logical purpose. All this, I think, was merely bait to get us to indulge our curiosity further.

I beg you to keep reading, Timothy. You are my friend, my very dear friend, and I must plead your mercies for just a while longer.

The Kingdom of Nemdal has never been listed in any history book, tome, scroll, or genealogical record. For good reason; it can’t be any older than three weeks. And yet the further we dug, the further back it went, until we found  sophisticated Iron Age-style tools in what should have been a Stone Age strata.

Then we found the written records. And conveniently, we found several pieces written in multiple languages that could serve as a cipher.

Imagine an epoch utterly separate from everything else in Antiquity. A time owing nothing to the logical progression of history. Imagine a parasite-reality not strong enough to support itself, so it must latch onto another, more self-sufficient system.

This is the ludicrity I must impress upon you now, Timothy. This civilization did not exist until we had discovered it, and it kept growing after we found it. Perhaps all this time it had been dormant in the desert, squatting like a toad at the bottom of a well. We found it and showered it with attention,and it has unfolded like an Anastatica in the rain.

Did you, perchance, notice the road signs on the way in? They weren’t bilingual when we arrived. The characters you saw don’t have a relative in Hebrew, Parsee, or Arabic. The locals now speak it as a quaint throwback, something their grandfathers taught but was once the lingua franca.

Timothy, you brought the itinerary with you, correct? Check it. It’s probably been outside the sphere of influence long enough that it’s still correct. Look at it.

Do you see any Alex at all, let alone Alyx Grytck? He said he grew up in the US, yet his parents emigrated in the 80’s. The implications of that are staggering, Timothy. If it’s extended into the postindustrial world, who knows what the damage could be? Helena tried out what appeared to be a small autoharp and got her fingers mangled for her trouble. We were never able to extract that pipe from Hayward’s body, even after he died.

Yes, died, Timothy. I would not have called if it weren’t urgent. Think me mad, think me insane with the desert heat, but can you remember a program of Nemdalic studies at the University?

It might be too late. I might be sending out the last light of a dying star, but you can’t let it get a foothold in our world. Please for the love of—

_____________________________

The preceding document was found sealed in a canteen at approximately __latitude and __longitude in the ______Desert. No record of an archaeological expedition dispatched from ______ University has ever been found, nor of Professor ______, the alleged author of the text. Timothy Barnes, Professor Emeritus of Languages, is currently missing, presumed dead.

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