Sometimes in life you wake up in the morning feeling revitalized. The optimism of your youth comes back, and you fly out of your sheets to meet the day like some coffee commercial. That hasn’t happened to me in awhile, I don’t drink much coffee. I snapped conscious with my face mashed on the metal plane of my desk. The first thing I thought was my desk has a slight slant to it, ever so slight. I could tell this, because drool had drained all the way down my shirt, and slacks, a journey which must have taken quite a time to complete.
Some days start off better than others. I slept here most days now, but occasionally I would go home to change, shave, and shower when it was required. The bed I had was luxurious. That’s what the pamphlets said anyway. My bed had no pressure points, and gave me an upstanding posture. It was too comfortable. Its softness trapped me in dreams too vivid for any sane person. I’d rather work until I dropped than spend a large portion of my life inside my own head. So that’s what I did typically, the harshness of my conditions would keep away the dreams. The aches of my body rooted me in reality.
I rubbed my eyes, and scanned the room for life. The lights were still off, so it must have been pretty early. No one would be here at this hour. No one really knew about my loitering around the office. We wore standardized business wear, no one would be able to tell if I ever changed clothes at all. We all had on the same baby blue dress shirts, with the same solid black obnoxiously normal ties, and identical black straight legged slacks. We were drones, but at least we were approachable looking drones. With the proper wariness of wrinkles and stains one could simply look like the hard worker that came early and left late.
Which is who I appeared to be, although it’s hard to gauge how much of it was an act. I pour myself into this, it’s mundane, but at least it’s distracting. I guess going by the bullet points I’m a model employee.
We were always discouraged from eating junk food, but legally they couldn’t take out the machine. They could just make it seem unappealing. They put a machine right next to it with healthier alternatives. Sandwiches, apples, granola, the fascists wanted us to live forever. If we lived forever we could work forever, they even made it so the lighting in the second machine was better, but I’m smart enough not to be tricked by cheap lighting gimmicks. Smart enough to want to die. They got awfully crotchety when you bought the junk food anyway, but all they could do is yell at you. I’ve been scolded too many times too often though. So I sneak it when no one is around like some shamed drug addict.
The break room was really dark. Eventually I fumbled my way to the machine, and shoved money into its mouth.
What was I doing wrong? I pushed A, then I pushed 2, but nothing is happening. I’ve worked here for a great part of my life, and this has never happened before. I tried again, yet the delicious zesty chips would not budge. Out of everything, this was the one thing I stilled enjoyed. It was my office affair, my grand drama!
I banged on the glass impotently and thought about sobbing.
“All machines are down friend.”
I turned to see my co-worker Boyar looking smug, that gravely bastard.
“How?” I asked, “We have the best wiring anywhere, you gravely bastard!”
“Temperature knocked out the grid I hear”
Boyar laughed, “You should stop sleeping at your desk, go look out the window”
I opened the blinds, but I could see nothing through the opaque frost.
“Oh god, what happened?” I muttered.
He grinned “Check yourself”, and handed me a kind of data sheet I had never seen before. I felt the heat drain from my face. This is impossible.
“This is impossible”, I said,
Boyar shrugged “I don’t question these things, besides I find it quite nostalgic.”
I grabbed my hat, “Yea yea you were in the cold war Boyar, no one cares, I gotta go.”
I rushed out of the building, the chill hit by surprise. Despite the fact that I rushed out because of the cold, I was still taken by surprise. It was cold, really cold. I hadn’t felt this since I got out of active.
Looking around the landscape had changed dramatically, all the lakes were completely iced over, the rails were stopped dead, and the intelligence offices looked like the hideout of corporate Santa. Everyone was wandering aimlessly through it all. The sad part is that most of these people have never seen snow before. The sadder part is that they are acting exactly like how I did when I first saw it.
However with the wonderment of frozen water being old for me, I had to find out what was happening. I decided to follow the rail to Administrative. They had a memo for everything, andI really needed a memo right about now. It didn’t take long until I began wishing for a road to walk on as well. Walking on iced rails in my oxfords was problematic at best, I must have looked like a joke. We all must look like a joke right now.
After the six minutes and eighteen falls, I sat down, on my metal nemesis. I looked to the right at the distant winterscape, and to the left at the intelligence icicle. This was taking much too long. The lakes, I thought, I can walk across the lakes instead.
The lakes were a marginal improvement, less falling, but I had never been good at stuff like this to begin with. Blizzards, hurricanes, and sandstorms weren’t my cup of tea. I didn’t have a sense of adventure, I was told. Born old and boring, lived old and boring. People wondered how I ever got into this business to begin with. It seemed cool I guess. Stupid.
Eventually I came to an eclectic set of igloos a few lakes down the way. Everyone was mixed, and frolicking. They were having what looked like street fight. I looked for someone important in the crowd. I spotted a man in a navy suit, he looked important enough, but the way he was kneeing the women next to him in the face provoked doubt.
“Hey” I said,
The man broke his grip in surprise, “Ha oh, hello there.”
“Are you from Admin?” I asked.
“Oh yea, I was, just got transferred to IT though, so um here I am.”
“So you don’t have any idea what’s going on either?”
“Nope , most of us here were on the rail when the grid went out, so we’re the least informed out of everyone really.”
I sighed, “Well thanks”
I started to walk away when I turned back on a whim
“What were you guys doing?” I asked
“Having a snowball fight” he replied.
“That,” I sighed, “…never mind”
I continued on, typical administration boy, in charge of everything, doesn’t know anything.
After an eternity, I made it to the sectional. The sectional was the mountain range that Administrative used to divide up everybody, Intelligence, Investigations, Active Deployment, and Administration. Aside from administration, intelligence was the nicest, and by far the easiest, hence my job.
The only way through the sectional was the rail, or to be more practical now, the rail tunnel. It was already a very long trip by train, on foot it would be torture. There was a crowd at the entrance. I had learned my lesson before, and walked past them without a word.
“Hey buddy”, a voice called from behind me.
I took a deep breath, “What?”
A hand tugged at my shoulder, “No way through there, friend.”
“What?” I repeated,
“Yea”, the chipper man said “The tunnel froze solid halfway behind the lead car. Only the ten of us here made it out.”
The man led me out of the tunnel and back to the group.
“So what do we do now?”
“Whatever we want I guess”, a fuller women pipped excitedly.
Everyone was much too glad about this. I looked around into the tundra around us. Cold and directionless, I realized that for the first time in my life, I felt actual helplessness. Not that fake helplessness like in philosophy books, I was actually helpless.
That’s why I had signed on, I remember now. Stupid.
No, I don’t want to be that.
I started away from the idiots.
The chipper young man yelled worriedly in my direction, “Hey friend don’t go, what’s wrong?”
I turned around slowly,
“I’m not your friend.” And then I spat in his face.
I can be dramatic sometimes. It’s a character flaw. I also cannot pry open deeply frozen doors, another character flaw. I can’t see many people who are better than me in that category. Maybe Boyar, that guy has arms like fat lambs. However, multiple people, who find it impolite to spit, can usually manage to pry open whatever they please.
So I lay in the fancy train car, alone, in the dark. Whatever the seats are made of in these things, are pretty resistant to frost, so at least it was comfortable. Small miracles I suppose. Not that my predicament mattered, I cared sure, but how much did that ever matter?
I could stay in here forever, or however much time we had left, it made no difference. We were all fucked, no matter the cheerful spin anyone put on it. Maybe I should have stayed on their better sides. They were tenser than the others. The bruises on my face implied as much. Perhaps, they knew more than I thought. Coming out of the tunnel they would know more than anyone else. Everything always has to be so obvious in hindsight.
I wish I knew what was going on. It’s not good whatever it is, but what is it? A coupe? An outside invasion? I knew other organizations like ours existed, but why they’d be interested in this shithole is beyond me.
Maybe I should have never left active. Everything was much simpler. It was a lot shittier, and I was always in the middle of it, but I never got locked in a train car. Also I never had to wear a suit. That’s probably just my lower class upbringing though, I bet most people find suits delightful. Active seems like such a brighter, less train-centric time now.
Intelligence was so different, spitting was considered taboo for one, and there was no comradery. Though violence seems on the rise, I think my tongue is bleeding, but something could just as well be bleeding on my tongue. The weather seems to have flipped their temperaments somehow. When I was freshly out, I had tried starting fights all the damn time, but I could only ever get Boyar to throw a punch at me.
I wish I could contact him somehow. He was old school, never stopped being a soldier that guy. His warmth was the only thing I could relate to in the whole building. He took me in on the first day, and we’ve amicably hated each other ever since. He was always talking about how good things used to be, it really made you feel less pathetic by comparison. Then he would throw you through a door, and you’d feel about equal.
You could tell every moment he spent in that office was a pained effort for him. He was a caged lion, always rattling everyone’s fences, but the higher ups decided they liked him where he was. So instead of a wild savannah he got a cubicle, a headset instead of a mane. His eyes eventually broke, and he could only see in the past.
He once told me he had son, I found that to be a curious fabrication. Such things were heavily micromanaged, even out in active. He would insist however, that he had a son. I asked him, if such a son did exist, what he did.
“Lumber” He said simply.
“Like a lumberjack?” I asked.
“A little bit of everything”
A little bit of everything. That sounded ambiguous enough to be criminal, but I didn’t think it prudent to say that out loud.
“My son, he once killed eight men while on a horse” He said interrupting my thoughts.
“Eight men?” I obligatorily responded.
“Yes..one..two..three..four..five…six….seven…..eight” he said swinging some phantom weapon
He grinned “Quite terrible”
I curled up slightly on the train seat, crazy fucker.
Voices. Chipper man’s voice among them, I think. I pried my eyes open. I couldn’t move. I was too tired to know if I was too tired or frozen to move. There was some loud metallic scraping and then a dim light flooded in from the door. Yea, I was definitely too frozen. It must have gotten colder, because there was some amount of ice on everything now. Chipper man walked into the car carrying a burning staff, and a lump of something over his shoulder.
He turned and shouted outside “It’s a literal icebox in here guys”
He heaved his load on the floor beside me. It was a person, great. They’re using this place as a dumping ground.
“I wonder if spitty has kicked it yet”
I tried to look as dead eyed as possible. I worked as a soldier, then in a mind crushingly boring IT job, this was child’s play.
“Poor spitty”, He gazed over me smugly, “Maybe you shouldn’t spit on people spitty, its really rude, not to mention unsanitary.”
“Hurry up the fuck up in there, I’m freezing” a voiced called from outside.
“My apologies Robert, no need to get riled up”
With a self righteous hmph he left the car. The doors clanged shut, and the cart returned to its original darkness.
After a few minutes there was rustling, and the lump rose. Small guy, he looked like a hobbit.
“ooh ih ih a ohehe”
“Oh someone’s still with us” He squeaked.
I had a really sarcastic smile planned in my head, but my lips continued to be unresponsive.
He moved around the car collecting things that I couldn’t clearly see. He piled it all near me, and then a spark blinded me. I squeezed my eyes shut until the white dulled into a redish orange. His features matched his stature. He stood next to the fire and stared at me with the prettiest smile I’ve ever seen. I would have smiled back, but my face hadn’t quite thawed out yet. It made me feel bad to not reciprocate something so beautiful.
Feeling started to return. Now the hard part would start as well. When your body gets really cold, and then heats up quickly it feels something akin to your tissue being set on fire. They trained us to handle this well enough, but you can never train away the pain. I winced as the pain intensified to agony, at least I could wince now.
“Oh that must not feel too good” the man boy cooed.
He stroked my hair as I slowly writhed in half frozen torment. Normally, I wouldn’t have liked that too much, but I was in too primal of state to have such inhibitions.
“It’ll be okay,” He continued, “It’ll pass, just try to accept it”.
The pain started to worsen further, and I started to scream and thrash. He cupped my head in his hands, and maneuvered himself so that my head was in his lap.
“Hey” He whispered, “Hey look at me, it’ll be okay.”
I gazed at his face again. That smile. It was the most sincere thing I had seen maybe ever, not that it had a lot of competition. I couldn’t keep focus on it very long though, it spun and multiplied until it purpled into nothing.
I came to in the same way I had gone. Laying like a child in some child’s lap. He had dozed off as well, I didn’t move to wake him. Very little point in that, he was nice enough to extend my life, it was only right to let him rest. The fire was going strong still oddly. The compartment was mostly thawed out, and a small layer of water lined the floor. The fire burned as dry as one could imagine however, the man whose lap I lay in can’t be normal, as if that was only now apparent.
At least I get to die somewhere else now, but before any of that I needed to get my hands on chipper man. If I’m going to die I want it to be beating the life out of my would be killer. I hoped a focused desperation would weigh out their numbers long enough for that. I looked around the car for things that could be used as tools or weapons, same difference really. Work in the field of hurting people long enough, and everything starts turning into a weapon, or an improvised combat “tool”. Such a sterile name, but I’ve never see an ICT that wasn’t two times more violent and brutal than anything they’d ever dare to issue us. Many metal bars, but metal bars are secured by metal bolts, and welds. Water, that’s useless. Fire, not as useless, but hard to properly utilize. I could make some sort of crude fire weapon with my clothes, but that would be suicide with the cold. My service knife would have helped a lot, but I left that in my desk.
Pockets, let us try those: Key, marginal usefulness, readout, useless, and my empty flask. I am such a complete failure.
So the best plan so far is to throw paper at their face and punch them with a key. That wouldn’t be able to stop a mugging much less ten angry people. I guess even the worst plan is better than no plan at all.
I rose slowly trying not to wake my savior. This did not work.
“Where are you going?” he muttered tiredly.
“Stay here, if you want to live.” I retorted
“No, no you can’t go out there, they’ll kill you, you know”
Who the hell is this guy? Why does he care what I do? I guess catastrophes affect us all differently, but I’ve been through too many to get touchy feely now. I think he could tell that by my stare.
“Well then take this.”
He reached into his pocket for something and threw it at my feet. It glinted in the firelight, and the shine excited me. I kneeled to pick it up. It was another house key. Fantastic, I’m set for life.
“Fantastic, I’m set for life.”
“I used everything else making the fire, I’m sorry.”
I sighed and shrugged at him.
“I’ll see you wherever we go after we die Frodo”
He frowned at me. It had the same impact as his smile did. Like everything good had been a cheap scam. It was almost enough. Any other time maybe it would be, but this was death time. The end of my time, comfort was just an illusion now.
I palmed a key in each hand started to pry open the doors.
The tunnel was cold, really cold. There was a somewhat unnatural wind blowing through it that made it all so much worse. My entire being would shudder as the gusts passed through me. I used to have a few friends who were obsessed with wind. It was practically all they could gab on about. Nice people though, aside from their boring personalities. Probably the only ones I missed once I left, except right now. Right now I just wanted to hit them.
A way down I could begin to make out the entrance. A tiny pinhole still, but it inspire hope it me yet, a crazy murderous hope. Hope was all one needed, aside from food, water and the like, but without hope what’s the point? Hopefully my hope would help me not die of hypothermia. Which could have not have started to affect me by now.
Though most of the nerve damage I had accrued over the years made it hard to tell how far along things were, I can only tell things like temperature in my spine. It just goes crazy when I’m real cold. I don’t shiver much, I’m not even sure if I can anymore, it’s more like twitching, though in low doses you couldn’t tell the difference. It was fairly obvious now however, my left hand was vibrating like a telegraph.
The pinhole started to get bigger, but something wasn’t right. Once I started to get closer I realized the entrance was growing quicker than it should have been. I stop for a moment, and watch it continue to grow. Then of course I realized the obvious, it was a torchlight.
This was good, great even. Now all that past hope talk wouldn’t be in an embarrassing amount of vain. I would get to stab it all over that bureaucratic freaks face.
I pressed myself against the cold, but surprisingly ice free wall and waited. I took deep breaths in preparation. In, and out, slowly, I put both keys in one hand, and pulled the read out my pocket. They grew closer as I rolled it into a ball. As they neared I crouched low, into a compressed lunge position.
The torch light revealed me, but he didn’t notice me in time. I threw the paper ball at his head. It scared him as expected and he threw his arms wildly around his face. Then I lunged forward and kicked the inside of his knee out. He fell against the tunnel wall, he tried throwing his torch, but it was a wide breadth away. I pounced on him, helping him the rest of the way to the ground.
I slid a key forward into my knuckle and aimed towards where his eye should have been. A squish and a deep yell returned. I brought my palm up to hammer it in when he threw me. He fucking threw me straight up. I slammed against the roof like a ten pound barbell, and came crashing down on top of him.
He quickly rolled over on me, and began beating my head really hard against the floor. He somehow got a hold of the other key I had palmed and started beating my head with that. After he cut my face into ribbons he jammed the thing into my eye, and got up.
I tried getting to my feet, but he had beaten all equilibrium out of me. I stumbled up against the wall, and tried to get my stance. But he was back with the torch staff before I could recover. He whirled it and swept my feet out from under me. As I fell he brought the fire down into my face. Even with my dulled nerves this hurt quite a lot. My face was complete on fire of its accord soon, and I could feel something even worse. The key, the one crammed in my eye socket started to melt. The molten metal pooled over my socket like a gold orb. My adrenaline started to ebb, and then I could feel the death setting in. I screamed and made virtually the first noise since the conflict had started.
The torch rescinded.
“Zeke?! Zeke if that’s you, you better tell me right now!”
“Agggh” I moaned.
Giant hands started to pat out the fire on my face. That voice was all too familiar. It was Boyar, hurray, my prayers had been answered. His hands got the fire out effectively, if painfully. He withdrew his hands covered in burnt face and gawked at me.
“Zeke, what the hell are you doing this kind of thing for?!”,
“I’m sorry guy” I mumbled,
“Sorry, you’re the one who is sorry, you barely have a face”
He was right I could feel it. It all stung pretty badly, some parts couldn’t even sting at all. They were just gone.
“I’ll be fine, after I die Boyar”
I started to fade back away into unconsciousness; this was becoming an unhealthy habit.
“No you aren’t” He growled.
He slapped me in the face, and my body did a small leap which somehow worked. I stopped fading for whatever reason, and crumbled up against a wall.
“You are a mess of a person Zeke”
I smiled sarcastically “Yea, I know.”
Nailed it this time.