Good evening, Dear Reader. Many apologies for neglecting you here at the LoL these past couple of weeks; however, I have been busy writing ‘Lust Christmas’ for Underdog Anthology X: The Silence of the Elves…
*I agree, Clicky, that would be an excellent cover for the book…*
…Hopefully, it will be published later this week, but to get us in the mood, the Okie Devil, Cade Fon Apollyon, has kindly agreed to let me post his story ‘The Brush-Off’ from last year’s Christmas Underdog Anthology. I’ve split it into two and the second part will be posted tomorrow. So you’ll have to come back to find out what happens 😉
Enjoy, Dear Reader, enjoy…
Cade F.O.N Apollyon
“Emil…can you hear me?” asked a female voice.
“Doctor, he’s showing signs of going into cardiac arrest,” warned a second woman’s voice. “Pulse rate dropping.”
The lights were so bright that Emil wasn’t quite sure if he’d actually heard the voices, or just imagined them. Did someone just say something about cardiac arrest?, Emil wondered to himself. Surely they cannot be talking about me.
“Emil,” asked the first voice, “I need to know if you can hear me. Give me a sign of any kind.” Her tone was much calmer and kinder than that of the second woman.
Emil felt as though his eyes were moving although he could not make out any detail as to if his eyes were actually seeing anything or not. White…nothing but white, he thought to himself. He felt as though he was drifting in a milky-sea of white where everything was drifting away, yet he could perceive nothing that indicated movement of any kind. So tired.
“Emil, I’ll only have one or two more minutes before I have to go. Can you try to give me any kind of indication that you hear me?”
My lips…where are my lips? I have to find my lips. “I can hear you,” Emil croaked.
“That’s good Emil. I can’t hear you, but I know you’ve heard me. That’s very good Emil.”
“What in the hell are you doing here?!” boomed a man’s voice.
“Doctor, the patient is in cardiac arrest,” said the second woman.
“Who are you people. Where I am?” Emil interrupted.
“I came here because it appears to be time,” the first woman rebuked the man. “And Emil, you may call me Judy.”
Emil felt an acute astonishment. Judy? The first woman who spoke to me is named Judy? Who in this entire country is named Judy? “Judy, are you a nurse?” Emil asked sheepishly.
“Emil, I cannot hear you, but I assume that you can hear me. There’s going to be a lot of things going on that you will not understand right now, and they are going to be happening very rapidly. Just know that I am here for you, and…”
“I asked why you are here, Judy. Not what time it appears to be.” The man’s voice interrupted the woman calling herself Judy, although the tone was much softer now. It almost contained a hint of concern, and the way that he had accentuated the name ‘Judy’ almost sounded as if this man was also having trouble with the name. He doesn’t know her name either, Emil thought to himself.
“Don’t shock him!” a second man’s voice shouted. “He’s got to survive this! Give him one milligram of atropine and reduce the alpha waves to eight point three hertz on The Hat.”
“Administering one milligram of atropine and reducing alpha to eight point three on The Hat,” the second woman replied.
“Judy, did you hear any of that? They’ve got the brain and the heart doing battle with the Vagus nerve,” said the first man rather sarcastically.
“You know that I heard what they are doing, and you also know that I know what they are doing. I simply wanted to be here if Emil was ready to speak. Emil, my name is Judy, you can call the asshole with the booming voice, Mike.”
“Mike, eh? I like Mike,” said Mike.
Emil was beginning to think to himself that he was the only person on Earth with an actual name, let alone a name that made any sense.
“Doctor, heart rate climbing, and regular sinus rhythm returning,” said the second woman’s voice.
“I knew it. He’s somehow building up static again. Nurse Pimlico, will you check all the ground wires in The Hat for proper connection while I get a techie up here to check the wall connections?”
“Did you hear that Judy? He knew it. Emil, this is Mike again, you are surrounded by a bunch of smart people that know everything, and you’re gonna be just fine.”
Emil heard Judy giggle at Mike’s statement. “I’m sorry Emil, I’m not laughing at you or your…current predicament, we’ll call it. Mike has the bedside manner of a goat, but he occasionally manages to be funny.”
So I am in a hospital, Emil reasoned. The humor was both familiar and welcome, but a wave of panic suddenly swept over him. Just as the panic was beginning to reach an almost paralytic state, Emil felt a soothing warmth emanate from some unknown point within his own being which seemed to brush the panic away. At that same moment, several black dots suddenly appeared and penetrated the overwhelming white in Emil’s view. But the black dots soon disintegrated rapidly into nothingness, leaving only the white.
“Doctor, we’ve just had a spike on beta waves.”
“That can’t be right Nurse Pimlico. He can’t have beta waves unless we feed them to him. Verify beta transducer is set to zero.”
“Yes, Doctor Jefferson. Can verify beta transducer setting zero with last logged input 24 September 2047.”
But I’m only fifteen years old. What could possibly be wrong with my heart? It suddenly occurred to Emil that whoever this first man “Mike” was, his sarcastic but bubbly temperament reminded him of his father. Wait a moment, did I just hear the nurse mention the year 2047? Mike’s hefty voice interrupted Emil’s thoughts.
“Judy, have you seen the white dots yet? There should be three of them.”
“The beta registered on the log and has been confirmed by the scrubbing algorithm. The burst of beta originated from within E.P. and not from The Hat,” said Nurse Pimlico.
EP? Emil thought intently to himself for a moment. This “EP” was suddenly the only thing that made sense, and it only took him a moment to work out the source of the familiarity…E.P., as in, Emil Pedersen? The nurse called me by my initials? Why is she using my initials and not my name?
“Okay Mike, I’ve got three white dots. Small, then broadening, and now fading to black with the smallest tinge of purple and grey.”
“Doctor, I’m showing another ping of beta waves and the scrubber algorithms immediately pegged them as internal. Would you like me to disable the beta probe at The Hat just to be sure?”
“Judy, Emil is going to start seeing black more often now, although I’m not sure as to exactly what kind of shapes that you can expect to see on your end. And Emil, I know that you can hear me, as well as you can hear Judy, the doctor and the nurse. Just be patient with us and know that we’re all working together to get you to where you need to be, okay?”
“Mike, I don’t know any of you and I don’t understand any of this,” Emil immediately responded. “I’m scared. Or at least, I feel like I should be scared, and I am scared, but I’m trying to understand. I’m trying to just listen.”
“Don’t disable beta. We may actually need to actuate beta at The Hat in order to lure his brain away from the idea that he can actually see.”
“Mike, more white. Three horizontal waves in rapid succession and a partial square with almost no duration at all.”
“Copy that Judy. I’m going to make a few quick adjustments to the gain on my end in order to see if I can give you a longer duration target.”
Emil suddenly became aware that he could hear someone tapping on something in a cadence that sounded like someone typing on a computer keyboard.
“Nurse Pimlico, I’ve just sent a request to Support and the Techie is two minutes away,” said Doctor Jefferson as he finished typing on and elevated computer touchscreen. “I’m going next door to check J.W. and see if we are getting bleedthough between units again. If the techie shows up before I return, have them immediately replace each ground at the wall in reverse order first, then remove and replace again forwards. Do you have that?”
“Yes Doctor Jefferson, disconnect and reconnect all ground wires, reverse order first, then again forwards.”
Doctor Jefferson gave a nod of approval, then spun smartly on his heels and disappeared out of the doorway.
“Mike, they’re still operating under the assumption that a re-grounding backwards is going to solve any polarity issues while The Hat is still hot.”
“Well, Judy, we’ll just have to work that much harder to get you a fix on Emil’s direct communication pathways before they do something really stupid.”
I’m beginning to wonder if I even need to be here for this, Emil wondered to himself. “How in the heh…heck…did I get into this mess?” Emil attempted to speak aloud, but caught himself before he said hell and not heck.
“Judy, you aren’t going to like this, but I think I just heard Emil attempting not to curse.”
“Mike…you can hear him?”
“Emil, this is your new pal Mike, can you hear me?”
“Yes Mike, I can hear you. Can you hear me?” Silence. “Mike, I can hear you. Can, you, hear, me?”
“Yes I can hear you now Emil. Judy, this is going to be another rough one.”
“You’ll do fine Mike.”
“Emil, this is Mike. Judy wanted to be the first to speak with you, but it looks like you are stuck with me for the time being. You can likely distinguish all the voices you are hearing at this time, but only me and you can speak directly at this time, OK?”
Knock knock. Emil was suddenly distracted from replying to Mike by the rapping sounds that came in quick succession on what sounded like a door, although Emil couldn’t tell exactly where the knocks came from.
“Tech?” asked Nurse Pimlico.
“Yes, I’m Archer. I was told this is a Level One response.”
“You are one minute early Tech Archer.”
“I was nearby when I got the call. Do you have instructions for me?”
“Tech Archer, please disconnect and reground all grounds at the wall in reverse order.”
“Yes ma’am, nurse…” Tech Archer paused in his query because he could not see the nurse’s nametag clearly from his vantage point in the doorway. However, he could make out the insignia on her uniform. Level seventeen. Two grades above me. Be respectful, be mindful, and be cautious, Archer.
“Pimlico. Once all grounds have been reconnected, disconnect and reconnect again in forward sequence.”
“Reverse first, then forward…I’m on it,” Archer confirmed.
“Can you authenticate parity as you go?” Nurse Pimlico queried.
“Was parity check also requested by the acting doctor?”
“Not specifically, no. Doctor Jefferson is next door with the J.W. unit and will be back momentarily. He’s almost sure to request it when he returns. I just…”
“Nurse Pimlico, I recommend that you allow me to do what was requested, as requested, and we’ll proceed from there if that’s OK with you.”
“I knew it Judy, they are about to make things much worse than they need to actually be.”
“I knew it too Mike. But at least one of us somehow got to Emil before they botched things like with…”
“Like they botched things with me? I’m over that now Judy. I’ve moved on.”
“I’d like to believe that Mike, but I know you too well.”
“You don’t know me at all Judy, and you never will if you keep that up.”
“Posturing will get you nowhere with me…Michael. How about we focus on Emil and getting him where he needs to be so he doesn’t end up like you.”
“Or me…Mike. I don’t want Emil ending up like either of us.”
“Me either. You’ll be going white soon Jude. It could be a long time.”
“I know that Mike, but I’m as ready for it as I can be.”
“Emil, it’s Mike here. I appreciate the fact that you can hear us all, yet don’t know what any of us are talking about. But please know that we really are doing the best that we can to make any transition as quick and painless as possible. Does that sound okay with you? Emil? Emil can you still hear me?”
“Judy, I think we’ve temporarily lost Emil completely. You might want to brace yourself.”
“Mike, if only they’d listen to Nurse Pimlico. Just once.”
“I’ll be here for you if you get back Judy.”
“I know you will Mike. I know you will.”
~ ~ ~
Doctor Jefferson strode purposefully back into the room where the unit known as “E.P.” was laying on the gurney attached to a monstrosity of wires and tubes. He stopped suddenly in the middle of the room upon noticing the individual crouched by the opposite side wall near the floor facing away from him. “And you are?”
“Not to be addressed directly while I’m working on re-grounding The Hat, I’ll not ask you again.”
“Excellent. A stickler for protocol,” said Doctor Jefferson with a smile.
The man crouched on the ground did not appear to flinch at all, but responded coolly without missing a beat. “That goes equally for personal annotations or any other verbal utterances that reference me directly. Last warning to anyone currently in the room.”
Nurse Pimlico sensed the rapidly building tension and interjected. “Doctor, may I see you outside?”
Doctor Jefferson smirked as he gave the tech’s back a last look, spun on his heels, and then waved Nurse Pimlico out towards the hallway. As he fell in line behind her to exit the room, he felt a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that the protocols that he himself devised were being followed to the letter. In a crisis situation no less. Whoever this guy was, he had balls. He was ready to call security and have my citizenship stripped from me and jailed for life, simply for speaking to him. He never even turned to see who I was nor check my rank. Excellent. Most excellent. The video feeds of this real-world exchange would make for an excellent example to use in tech training. Excellent to pass along to the executive and legislative branches as well. Should show that The Protocols are working exactly as advertised. Doctor Jefferson made a mental note to put in a request to retrieve the security recordings for, he looked at his watch, 25 December 2065 at 16:16. Excellent.
As soon as they entered the hallway, Nurse Pimlico immediately spoke, “Doctor, the technician’s name is Archer. Junior Tech, Level Fifteen according to his insignia.”
“Did you ask him to check bias?”
“No. I asked if he would mind checking parity.”
“And did he agree?”
“No Doctor Jefferson, he refused, and he was stern but kind about it.”
“Nurse Pimlico, I realize that you are the one who devised the idea of the parity spot checks upon any and all maintenance to The Hat in a live environment. I also know that your suggestion was a technical one, and not something that you’d hoped to see worked in as a security measure for authenticating the validity of an employee’s presence in restricted areas and loyalty to The Protocols. However, these organisms that we use for harvesting data get more and more dodgy as they age. The less we do in a crisis situation, the better the outcome has proven to be.”
“I can appreciate that Doctor, and I also understand the necessity of protocol. We are attempting to standardize the flow of information, not invent ways to deviate from the standardization process.”
“Indeed we are not, Nurse Pimlico.”
“Doctor, I would like to remind you that my simulations have shown that times of acute trauma may sometimes be the source of the machine ghosts. That the ghosts may be a dormant bit of information that is in fact triggered by a sequence of events that is running in less-standard times than our own.”
“And that’s the key, Nurse Pimlico. We operate forward in time, and so must our data. The only way to identify and isolate any such anomalies in time, should they in fact exist, is to let them come to us. If we seek them out, who knows where we might wind up. Or better stated, when, we might wind up.”
“I understand Doctor.”
“I don’t think you do, Nurse Pimlico. But what’s say we change that. Are you aware of my wife and her grandfather-in-law’s work back in the early part of this century?”
“I am aware that such work exists, but I have no knowledge of the work itself. It is all classified.”
“You are not up for promotion review for another eighteen months if I am not mistaken.”
“That is correct, sir.”
“Oh now, don’t fall back onto your military training just yet, Nurse Pimlico. Doctor, please.”
“My apologies, Doctor Jefferson.”
“You are also three grades away from attaining the needed rank to potentially have access to such information. However, I think it time that you were introduced to some of the more…finite, complexities of what it is we do here.”
“Thank you Doctor. But I must remind you that deviation from the Protocol of Established Standards and Procedures will not only red-flag me for the remainder of my career, it could also red-flag you.”
“My faith in you grows by the minute, Nurse Pimlico.” Doctor Jefferson beamed. “Although there is one thing for you to keep in mind, should you continue your journey into the upper-echelons of the infrastructure which makes our society tick.”
“And what is that Doctor?”
Doctor Jefferson smiled, then leaned in somewhat towards Nurse Pimlico and lowered his voice. “A red flag is not always a bad thing to have next to your name.”
Nurse Pimlico blinked a stunned blink and felt as though she were blushing. Is he…testing me? Hitting on me? Both? Nurse Pimlico quickly gathered her senses so as to reestablish her composure. I’ve got to get out of this situation… and fast. Too dangerous. I just need an out.
“I am finished in here for any jocund and loquacious souls who wish to return,” Tech Archer called from inside the room.
Doctor Jefferson’s smile broadened as he slowly withdrew from the closer proximity to Nurse Pimlico’s personal space, but his eyes never left hers. “After you, Nurse.”
OK, so, he didn’t size me up with his eyes, so, he wasn’t hitting on me. He’s testing me. Get those thick thighs of yours to moving, Pimilco. Get your muscular ass back in that room double-quick, and get straight to the diagnostics on The Hat. “Thank you Doctor Jefferson.”
Nurse Pimlico strode into the room with all of the dignity and haste that she could muster under the sudden stresses of the moment, and noticed that Technician Archer was sitting in the lotus position on the floor near where the large bundle of grounding wires ran from The Hat into the wall.
“I figured that I would stay here in the event that parity suddenly needed to be checked, assuming that is Okay with all concerned,” the seated technician volunteered.
Nurse Pimlico was having difficulty interpreting the smile that now occupied Tech Archer’s face as being either friend or foe. “I’ve no issue with it if Doctor Jefferson has no objections.” Nurse Pimlico changed her focus in the direction of Doctor Jefferson to await a response.
“I’ve no objections Nurse Pimlico,” said Doctor Jefferson.
“But we do need to run a full diagnostic on The Hat. That could take upwards of an hour or more.”
“I’ve no objections to that either Nurse Pimlico. All I have is time on this fine day formerly known as Christmas, and Tech Archer is free to spend as much time as he would like sitting on the floor if he so desires.”
“I understand Doctor Jefferson. Estimated time to completion of diagnostics will be sixty-four minutes on my mark…mark! Diagnostics started and running, Doctor Jefferson.”
“Excellent Nurse Pimlico,” said Doctor Jefferson as he reached for one of the empty rolling chairs and pulled it to him. He released an audible sigh of relief upon occupying the chair, and turned his attentions to the technician who was sitting on the floor.“Junior Technician Archer, Level 15, if all goes well, you now have approximately sixty-three plus minutes for you to tell me about what you are working on for you next advancement thesis. Assuming, that you are you are submitting yourself for advancement review, that is.”
“I am indeed Doctor Jefferson, and I’ve already picked my topic.” Tech Archer’s somewhat cavalier but laid-back outward demeanor experienced a sudden radical shift to something somewhat more exuberant and excitable.
“Oh really Archer. Do tell.”
“Global H20 Dynamics.”
“Global, H20, Dynamics…my oh my you do think big young man. I’ve Nurse Pimlico chasing subatomic bitwise ghosts and other mysterious free-radicals, and Tech Archer considering the global dynamics of water and it’s components.” Doctor Jefferson leaned back in is chair and raised his arms in a somewhat mocking celebratory moment of zen. “The gods have favored me on this previously sacred day and blessed me with the company of giants.” He quickly dropped his hands and leaned forward in his seat towards Technician Archer’s position on the floor. “And I do not in any way, shape or form mean that in a contemptuous or demeaning way Technician Archer, to which Nurse Pimlico can attest, can you not Nurse Pimlico?”
“I can indeed inform Tech Archer that the levity displayed by Doctor Jefferson is not one of contempt nor mockery. Tell him your tale Archer, but I can tell you from experience, tell it as it needs be told.”
“She is correct Tech Archer. Tell it as it needs be told. You have my undivided until I say otherwise. Oh, and the captain has turned off the please remain seated on the floor sign. Feel free to get up and move about the cabin if so inclined Junior Technician Archer.”
~ ~ ~
The cabin’s fireplace crackled as Emil lay on the floor basking in it’s warmth; engaged in glorious battle on his new Nintendo Switch. He would have preferred a set of drums for Christmas, but he was more or less contented with the fact that his parents were unlikely to ever endorse his owning a drum set while he still lived at home. Emil understood. The apartment back home in Copenhagen was not the best of environments for a future rock star to live, and keeping the drums here in the sommerhus at Bornholm wasn’t practical. I’d practically never get to practice, Emil thought sarcastically to himself as his thumbs worked feverishly to keep his elven character alive. Lort! I died! thought Emil to himself as his on-screen character completed it’s pre-programmed death-throes then slumped into a heap amid the grassy lands of Hyrule.
“Søn, would you mind going outside and checking the roof to see what the snow looks like?” Emil’s father called from the kitchen area. He was putting away the day’s now clean and dried dishes. “It probably needs to be brushed off again before bed.”
“Sure Pop. I just died anyway,” replied Emil, pushing himself up from the floor with a grunt. “Do you want me to go ahead and setup the ladder?” He and his father had already been through this exercise three times over the past two days, and it was almost old-hat to Emil at this point.
“Only if it looks like the roof needs to be cleared Emil,” answered his father. “I don’t want us to be out in the cold if we don’t have to.”
Emil placed his Nintendo Switch on the small table next to the sofa where his mother was seated, and noticed that she was engaged in a battle of her own. She had opened and was sorting the contents of the new sewing kit she’d received as a gift during the previous night’s festivities, and it appeared to contain somewhere between ten and twenty billion individual strands of thread. Emil delayed his forward momentum towards the door, and watched for a moment as his mother wrestled with identifying and separating the various colored threads.
“Well, you still appear to be quite nimble and able-bodied for a dead man,” his mother said without looking up. “And if you are standing there wondering where your bathing suit is located, it’s most likely still in your suitcase dear.” His mother glanced up at him briefly with a smirk smeared across her shining face, before she returned her attention to the mass of threads in her hands. “Assuming you remembered to pack it for the trip, that is.”
“Mor, I think I forgot it,” Emil said in the best ‘fake-astonishment’ voice that he could muster.
“Well then, I guess you’ll probably just have to settle for the coat, hat and mittens hanging on the rack near the door.” His mother again looked up and smiled at Emil.
He returned the smile, said nothing, and went to assemble his gear for the trek outdoors.
“I’ll be a minute or two behind you, Emil,” called his father from the kitchen.
Emil sat down on the small bench near the door, and began to pull on his boots. He glanced over his shoulder out the window at the snow that was falling outside. Good grief! It’s never snowed like this in Denmark before. Not ever. 44 centimeters of snow was predicted for today, and that’s on top of what we’ve already gotten. The whitest of white Christmases in Dansk history, or so they are saying on the news. The Great Blizzard of 2018.
Emil finished lacing his boots, stood, then reached for his heavy coat that felt still somewhat damp. He then donned his hat and gloves, which were also still feeling slightly soggy and not yet dry, then reached for the handle on the door. “I’m going out and up,” Emil said as he gave the new Nintendo Switch resting on the small end-table a final glance.
“OK søn. I’ll be right behind you in a few,” replied his father.
His mother, who was otherwise engaged with the threads from her needlepoint kit said nothing.
Emil opened the door and walked outside into the cold darkness in front of him, then pulled the door tightly closed behind him and gave it a final push just to be sure. I don’t want to make the mistake of leaving the door slightly ajar again.
See you for the second part of ‘The Brush-Off’ tomorrow, Dear Reader, when all will be revealed. Have a Song ❤