Ackley’s New Lease On Life 8: Recruitment

“Fine. I admit it. You are quite astute. I am the super genius Dr. Cruciere!”

The Doctor patted herself on the chest, and for extra authenticity she burst into laughter. Asmodeus began to bob her upper body left and right while signaling toward the doctor with her index fingers, as though they were all practicing a very stiff and strange choreography. Ackley silently beheld the spectacle, wondering if the other children had their rooms intruded upon by poorly socialized people on as regular a basis as she.

“So,” Ackley sat up on her bed, against the pillows and the backrest, “You’re the Doctor Cruciere they talk about on TV? Who fights with the Ladybird and attacks the city every so often? ”

“Do not believe any of that! That is character assassination.” Dr. Cruciere said. “Hmph! Ladybird. Pah! Ladybird is just an ignoramus who persecutes me for my political beliefs.”

“What are your political beliefs?” Ackley said.

Dr. Cruciere crossed her arms, and cocked a little grin. “I’m glad you asked. I desire to bring the entire world under a single technocratic government, fully planned according to my scientific principles, that can more efficiently create and distribute the needed resources to plan for a full mobilization of the Earth’s entire population in a war of extermination against an alien race that will invade in 2093. I came from the future to do this.”

Ackley smiled sweetly while surreptitiously reaching behind her bed, where her patient panic button was hidden against the bed’s frame. She had never required the panic button before, even against Agent Winchester and during the Rageditor siege and other such troubles. Her motto was to keep herself calm, betray no emotion, and try to outwit her often idiotic and incoherent opponents. Poorly trained Security brutes were probably just as likely to throw her out of a window as they were to remove Dr. Cruciere, but she had no other choice now. Never had Ackley faced a foe like Dr. Cruciere: the doctor was absolutely rambling insane. Ackley could not outsmart someone whose mind existed on entirely alternate dimensions than that which ordinary people inhabited. She had outwitted Fulton Handler, bombed Charles Fairway into biochemical ash, escape the wrath of the Department of Departments and gotten fast food in compensation, and declared war on Memes; but Dr. Cruciere was on a whole new level above these dangers.

In response to her cagey movements, Asmodeus lifted a pair of scissors.

“I disabled the room security while fluffing your pillows.” She said.

“You are the worst nurse! Even worse than my old Nurse!” Ackley shouted.

Asmodeus’ eyes drew wide open. She gasped with shock, and hugged herself, shaking. Though her expression only slightly changed, her whole body language indicated a deep regret and discomfort, for once betraying emotion. Ackley could almost see the good times that they shared flashing in those cold, dead-looking eyes of hers, and the sweat building on her clammy, ghost-white skin. Finally she had found an insult that cut deep.

“But that old Nurse treated you so poorly. She used you without care and betrayed the Nurse handbook so many times.” Asmodeus mumbled. “I can’t be worse– can I? I read the manual and passed the courses. The Doctor said I was a good nurse. I’m sorry, Doctor, I need a moment alone to consider this.”

Asmodeus stiffly turned around and stumbled away from them. Ackley almost felt regret, staring at the extent of the discomfiture she had wrought upon Asmodeus; but she hardened her heart. She crossed her arms over her chest and turned her cheek on Asmodeus, refusing her any ounce of pity.

Dr. Cruciere grew livid as she watched Asmodeus go, dragging herself into a corner of the room with her head against the wall, every so often giving it a swift bash on the concrete. “Asmodeus has been working so hard to become an exemplary nurse in order to pull off this scheme without suspicion. Even if she did ultimately conspire to sneak me in here, I feel like the weeks of wonderful service she gave you should be applauded!”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Asmodeus said feebly from the corner. She removed a handkerchief from one of the pockets of her nurse uniform, brushing it against her completely dry eyes to wipe her symbolic tears. There was only so much a humanoid construct made mostly of fungus could do when distraught.

Ackley buried her face in her hands with a deep sigh. When she recovered her composure, and her characteristic deadpan expression with it, she lay back in bed and tried to relax.

“So you came to kidnap me?” Ackley asked. “Why did you wait this long?”

Cruciere frowned, and avoided eye contact with the little girl. “We were waiting for Asmodeus’ first paycheck before bolting. On the probation period she only gets paid on a monthly basis.”

“Wow.” Ackley said. “That is embarrassingly petty.”

“Well, you know, in this economy you have to take money where you can get it.”

“But why did you come for me specifically? I don’t get it.” Ackley said.

“Oh ho!” Cruciere drew in close and rubbed Ackley’s chin. “It is because I am a fan of your work!”

Ackley felt a chill throughout her body. “You are what?”

Cruciere skirted the edge of the bed, and with a dramatic flourish drew Ackley’s attention to the renovated Fairway Building visible out the window. Once blown-out, its main office had now been converted into a child daycare for company workers, under the guidance of its new owner. What was her name? Ackley faintly recalled “Gilded” being the new owner’s surname, but all the hospitals and assets were still named after the late Mr. Fairway. Nonetheless, Cruciere stood in attention at the window, smiling at the building as though examining a work of art.

“You blew up that office with an improvised chemical weapon, thereby horrifically murdering some old rich man and opening up the budget for the extractor that would save your life!” Cruciere said, staring at the extractor with admiration. “You have so much initiative and drive! I can’t really stomach killing all that much – assorted maimings, maybe some lasting illness, but not killing. But you, my dear, you’re just what I need in my new world!”

Ackley tried to interject at several points in this speech to point out that she had intended to die after getting revenge on Mr. Fairway for cutting the budget down so much that she could only sit in a hospital and slowly wither away without care – she had never actually planned on surviving, and the attack was not intended to save her at all. Cruciere gushed so much that Ackley could not get a word in edgewise. In fact she almost believed herself to be a terrorist mastermind, listening to Cruciere: and not instead a small child who read hard books at 2, grew very sick at 4 and whose parents and the world began ignoring her at 6. A lot of things Ackley strove to forgot grew closer as Cruciere spoke.

Finally, Cruciere’s speech wound down. She drew in a deep breath, skipped up and down, and with her face turning red, asked, “Would you like to come live in my underground base?”

From the corner, Asmodeus quickly added, “We also have a mansion.”

Ackley made a loud noise as though she were deflating like a balloon.

“Could you please be quiet?” Ackley shouted, downcast. “Please?”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” Cruciere said. “I made this weird, didn’t I?”

“Look, I’m not sure what I want to do or what I should do, okay? I made this bucket list and it’s not even partway complete. It’s literally my only goal in life right now!  Everyone’s forgotten about me, and when they remember, it is all scandals or a preoccupation toward my value as a meme. I’m really sick, this hospital is all I’ve known for years. And now everyone and their pets is marching through the door, acting crazy at me!”

Ackley shouted, loud as she could, straining her vocal cords to their limits. Her throat felt like it would burst and she was almost on the verge of tears. Her skin was flush with more color than it had boasted in years. She hated this, all of this! She would have preferred lounging in bed, doing nothing and feeling no emotion, to this sideshow going on. Cruciere took a few tentative steps back, avoiding eye contact with the furious little girl.

“I just think you are very intelligent, and I admire you, and I would like to take you out of this awful place.” Cruciere continued, growing ever more skittish. “You ill deserve this treatment!”

Ackley paused suddenly. Her pigtails rose a little as if they were antennae.

“Say that again? About me. Say what you just said to describe me.”

“I think you are very gifted. You remind me of myself!” Cruciere said.

“I’m gifted?” Ackley asked. “I’m just another kid who can’t amount to anything.”

“I don’t believe that at all.” Cruciere said. “You are a genius!” She neared Ackley once more, and delivered upon her head an alien gesture – it was a pat, a soft stroke of Cruciere’s palm over Ackley’s hair. Ackley felt lightning coursing under her skin, jolts of eerie sensation. She was being patted on the head?

“I have barely gone to school. I’ve been sick in a hospital forever. I’m not a genius.” Ackley said, scarcely able to blurt it out under the stunning, relaxing feeling of a genuine pat on the head.

“Who cares about school? I’m not going to rate your intellect on an A to F scale.'” Cruciere cheerfully said. “The amount of technical know-how and practical intellect you possess cannot be taught in schools! Especially not Ameran ones! Making a bomb out of junk might not be the noblest thing, but it shows potential!”

From the corner, Asmodeus clapped. It was not very cheerful.

For the first time in a long time, Ackley felt a great warmth spreading its way through the numb recesses of her body. Even after Dr. Cruciere had retracted her uncharacteristically kind hands from her head, Ackley could feel them playing with her hair. She lay back in bed, her eyes open wide and her mouth hanging slightly open, as she considered everything that had happened. A grown-up had praised her. An adult had patted her on the head and genuinely told her she was smart! It had even sounded kind and sweet and real! She had come to her hospital room and paid a visit, an unorthodox visit, but a visit nonetheless, and she offered praise, for her intelligence no less.

“Asmodeus, I take it back,” Ackley said, “you are a very good nurse.”

Asmodeus clapped again. It was still not very cheerful. She turned her back to the corner and walked back to the center of the room with renewed determination. She dusted off her maid uniform, adjusted her cap, and stood straight as a bolt again. “Though I am mostly unable to express it, I am elated to hear this, Ackley. I will now attempt to smile in order to prove this.” Asmodeus’ face then remained completely unchanged.

“She is a work in progress.” Dr. Cruciere said, patting Asmodeus on the head.

Ackley’s New Lease On Life 7: Solipsism

While eagerly partaking of the academic essays in The Atrocities of the Ameran State, a book which could not even be found published in Amera but which Asmodeus owned a certified copy of, Ackley paused to watch her new, seemingly inhuman nurse as she hung a new schedule on the wall. Schedule papers contained a week’s worth of activities and appointments for the sick children, and helped bring order to their life in the hospital. Nurse always either forgot to put them up or did not fill any at all; Asmodeus was always prompt with them. Afterwards she gravitated toward the back table in the room, where she would ready Ackley’s doses for the week in a little blue box.

Ackley put down her book, turned slowly around, and slid herself to the edge of the bed. She wanted to read the schedule, but to do so she would have to stand up from her bed and walk.

Her feet touched the ground, and the chill of the cold, baby blue floor tiles traced its way up her legs and then across her spine. Long sleeping muscle and sinew resented the concept of feeling, and for a moment her whole body was wracked by a sharp prickling sensation. Her every movement seemed to flare up an intense stinging, like a mound’s worth of ants devouring her body. Slowly her flesh awakened and the phantom needles blunted against her skin. She nonetheless moved slowly, her lungs working hard, and dull pain settling in her lower back and across her knees.

Standing off her bed, Ackley moved slowly, shuffling her feet up to the wall. Her bedside liquid nitrogen extractor realized she was moving, and automatically began to extend the cords hooked into her lungs. Asmodeus was alerted, but Ackley silently waved her away, and focused on getting herself to the wall. One foot in front of the other, settling into a rhythm that kept her muscles from locking up or stopping, she crossed the few meters to the wall. She slumped on it, hands scratching the paint, desperate for a good grip. She caught her breath, and examined the schedule posted.

For a whole week, the schedule consisted of non-stop appointments with Dr. Ferguson.

Ackley looked it over again in disbelief, but this did nothing to alter its contents.

“Asmodeus, what is this?” She shouted, loud as her weak lungs could.

Asmodeus blinked. “It is the schedule for this week.”

“Why am I seeing Dr. Ferguson every hour of every day for a week?”

“You can ask her when she arrives in a few minutes.” Asmodeus replied.

“You mean ask him? Dr. Ferguson is a man.” Ackley said.

“It is entirely possible that he or she may or may not be one.” Asmodeus said.

“No, I’m fairly certain–”

The door slid open, and a tall, dark, elegant-looking woman entered. She had very long red hair, and she was tying it up a she went along, humming the hospital’s elevator music. When she entered the room she looked over the premises quickly and with a smug little grin on her face. Ackley had never seen the likes of her in all her very long time at the hospital. Ackley had to acquiesce that she looked more vivacious than the other doctors, to her credit. Her lab coat was clearly not hers, it was so overly large that she wore it almost like a cape over her turtleneck sweater, giving her the look of a pharmaceutical super heroine. Clipped to her flat skirt she had a variety of mysterious, sleek tools and devices. She had tied her hair in a ponytail with a very dishonest-looking pink ribbon. Her skin was a rich brown tone, and seemed all the more healthy and human after weeks of staring at the ghostly paleness of Asmodeus, and her own sickly gray-looking pallor.

“Who are you, and why do they keep letting people into my room?” Ackley said.

“I am Dr. Ferguson!” The woman declared, almost as if to herself.

“You are a liar.” Ackley said dryly. “I’ve seen Dr. Ferguson before, and you’re not him.”

Asmodeus interjected with feigned shock. “What is your basis for saying that?”

“She looks nothing like him. She is like a supermodel or something.” Ackley replied.

“Oh, you flatter me, I’m not that lovely.” Dr. Ferguson said. She hugged herself, reveling in the perfection of her own body. “I was just grown in a high quality vat with very good DNA.”

Ackley’s mind failed to comprehend what was said. All she could muster was a flat, “What.”

Asmodeus interjected again. “She is Dr. Ferguson. Drugs have affected your perception.”

Ackley scoffed. “My perception is entirely sound, Dr. Ferguson was my old doctor!”

Asmodeus nodded. “Drugs are affecting your perception right now.”

“No they aren’t, Asmodeus!” Ackley lashed out. “You’re trying to confuse me!”

“How can you say your judgment is sound? What is your basis for thinking anything is sound?” Dr. Ferguson said. With a flourish, she threw open the room curtains. “How can you say anything out there is structurally real? How do you define your own experiences with such clarity that you can definitely say that Dr. Ferguson has always been a big round man, and not a woman of impeccable breeding such as myself? How can anyone be certain of anything?”

“I’m scarcely thirteen years old!” Ackley said, her only defense at the time.

“Thirteen year olds! Hmph! Widely known for their solipsistic attitude. You will not even remember any of this when you are twenty-six. Memory is a fallible record. No use in a scientific substantiation of facts. You’ve no evidence as to whether I’m the real Dr. Ferguson, or some other Dr. Ferguson, or really Dr. Cruciere, or anything.”

“Did you just call yourself a different doctor name?” Ackley shouted.

“Can you say, with authority, that I have?” Dr. Cruciere said.

Ackley sighed deeply. “I can say with authority that I don’t care anymore.”

The Library and the Ladybird (V)

The Presidential Plaza in Newfork, before it had several of its statues dislodged from the earth by seismic shockwaves, had served as a monument to the grandness of Amera and its founders. George Newfork had stood guard over the plaza as he had stood guard over the cavalry brigades that proved instrumental to Amera’s freedom in the Freedom Wars– And then there were other statues too, but all of them had been turned to scattered debris and Ladybird honestly could not remember who they were or what they did. She knew George Newfork killed a bunch of folks who were bad and won freedoms and junk.

“I’m honestly having a hard time remembering, myself.” Dragonfly admitted.

“Almost like these people don’t matter anymore except for their statues.” Ladybird said.

“Who are you talking to? And shut your blasphemous trap! They’re extremely important, even now. Be quiet and look at the stupid rock before I have you removed.”

Cassandra grumphed and harrumphed and tapped her shoes. She had agreed to allow Ladybird to more closely inspect the mysterious monument, with the caveat that her secret service detail was allowed to have their guns up and pointing at her the entire time, in case she did anything deemed a threat to national security. Such things included, but were not limited to, opening the stone doors into the monument, and backsassing Cassandra too much.

“Do you know who the other Founders were?” Ladybird asked, taking a polite tone. She had a placid smile on her face and gestured toward Cassandra in gentle fashion.

“Do I look like a teacher?” Cassandra asked. “We barely have jobs for teachers as it is without me taking some by giving you a lecture on history you should know. Look it up on Noodle!”

“Well, with the suit, the small skirt and heels, it’s kind of like a ‘cute professor’ costume–”

“SHUT UP AND STARE AT THE ROCK.”

Satisfied she’d snuck enough sass through, Ladybird continued to examine the monument. She floated gently near it, and flew past it, and looked it over from various angles. For an object that had apparently risen violently from the Earth, its surface was quite polished, showing very little in the way of decay or violence. Ladybird had initially thought of it as a mausoleum, and she felt this impression more strongly the more she looked.

After rising from the earthquake, the part of the mysterious monument visible over the earth had risen to about a story tall and it was about as long and wide as a couple of city buses. The structure had been rendered in a simple but still ornate style – it possessed a strong base with three concentric square steps on each side that led up to the thinner “body” of the building, accessed by two bare, white stone doors, and it was topped with a roof jutting out over the foundation like an inverted version of the original base. It felt ominous enough to be a tomb.

Ladybird landed again in front of the monument, and knelt forward for a moment. This simple movement triggered several clicks and cracks behind her. She turned to face the secret service detail and the president, and in an instant the agents became one huddled mass of guns cocked and shaking in place, with Cassandra in the middle of the armed procession baring her fangs at Ladybird. Ladybird waved them away with her hand.

“Back up a bit, I’m doing something.”

“Doing what?” Cassandra asked, hands on her hips. “I already told you, I know what it is, and you don’t have to. It’s none of your business, so do tell what you plan to do to it.”

“I’m gonna make a weird noise at it.” Ladybird replied, her exasperation beginning to show in her tone of voice. “You’ll feel it and get freaked out. So take a step back, for your health.”

Cassandra crossed her arms and stayed put, but the agents moved back as instructed.

Ladybird faced the monument again, and spread her arms out. She felt a tingling inside her head and closed her eyes. Her antennae shot straight up in the air, solid as a pair of iron bars. Her mind clouded up, and went dark, and she tried not think of anything and to tune out any distractions. Her sensations dulled, and she felt only her breathing and heartbeat. She timed them and thought of their relation to everything. Her mind’s eye found color again.

She pounded her foot, and she felt that. She even saw it.

In her mind it was a circle, a ripple going out, and it had color and meaning.

She breathed out and whispered, and it was all dull to her, but Cassandra and the agents heard a blaring noise coming from the Ladybir’ds body, a banshee-like screech that shook their clothes and kicked up dirt and seemed to travel right through their stomachs. A low rumbling stormed through them starting from their bellies and up into their ribcages, and the agents nearly fell over with surprise, and many doubled over standing.

Ladybird saw color in her mind, color and meaning, and a picture of everything.

Satisfied, she tapped the side of her head to alert Dragonfly on the radio.

“I just blasted the ground.” Ladybird said. “According to my radar there’s nothing under this thing. It just popped up right out of the ground, it didn’t even make a hole, the dirt’s perfectly compact under it.”

“That is just bizarre, but I trust your radar sense.” Dragonfly replied.

“What about your observations, you’ve been taking pictures right?”

“It’s difficult to tell its age without chemically analyzing the stone.” Dragonfly said. Ladybird’s left goggle lens flickered and then began to play back footage of what she saw while inspecting the monument. “The style is completely nondescript. Very little artistry went into it, so you can’t really compare it to many trends.”

“It’s small enough,” she continued, “that I don’t really know what you’d bury in it. It’s big enough for remains, but whose? You’d build a tomb to confine the remains – but make it plain, undecorated?”

“Yeah, I don’t really understand it either.” Ladybird said. “And then, there’s no mechanisms around it, nothing under it, and apparently nothing really even in it so what is this thing?”

Cassandra seemed to have had enough of being left out of the loop and marched right up to the Ladybird, stomping her feet childishly and audibly as she went. She pricked the Ladybird’s shoulder between three fingers, like a school teacher about to roughly scold a teenager. “LISTEN,” She shouted, and then shouted even louder into Ladybird’s ear, “And you too, whatever little nuisance hacker is handling her direction in there. All you two need to know is that this monument, that has nothing to do with anything, is going back into the dirt, permanently!”

Ladybird balled up her fists and grit her teeth, Cassandra’s voice bouncing painfully in her head, when Dragonfly pleaded, “Ladybird, please don’t hurt her, you’d be made the villain.”

Declawed, Ladybird grumbled and crossed her arms while Cassandra continued to berate her.

“The official response, which will be delivered on national, trustworthy media sources in the evening, when you’re back home watching TV, eating snacks and being happy like a good Ameran,” She pinched Ladybird even harder in the shoulder, until she almost winced from pain, “will be that an earthquake happened that miraculously resulted in little to no death, and that insurance paperwork will be done speedily. Is that ENOUGH for you?”

Ladybird nodded begrudgingly. Cassandra released Ladybird and then patted down her hair, dusted off the sides of her suit and straightened her elytra, all with a tender little smile.

“Good. See, no harm done. Now buzz off.” She said sweetly, pinching Ladybird’s cheek.

At that moment, several blocks away, a Cerberus APC roared to life. Its wheels screeched loud enough to catch everyone’s attention. Cassandra looked annoyed by the interruption and watched the vehicle as it pulled violently off the street, wheeled around to face them with its sloped, armored front, and then rushed up the road. The vehicle thundered over the plaza in a straight line toward the monument, and spun suddenly during its approach, swinging its right side around so that its door met Cassandra as it stopped. Modified into a tactical operations center by the addition of satellite receivers, wireless internet and radio equipment, the APC brought news with it – one of the crew inside stepped out in a hurry.

“Ma’am, there’s something big headed this way. We are requesting permission to intercept.”

Cassandra grit her teeth. She glared for Ladybird to stay put where she was, and she approached the vehicle and leaned into its interior from the door to peer at the equipment. Ladybird honored the agreement, raising her hands up so they could be seen, and thrusting her antennae up in the air to mimic them.

“What the Sacred Hell is it?”

“We don’t know ma’am.” The officer replied. “It’s completely unidentified and we only just now spotted it on radar. We have no visual confirmation, but we know it’s flying over Central.”

“How is it that we don’t have pictures of this thing already?”

The officer looked distraught by the question. He raised his hands as though he’d been accused of something, and waved them as though trying to fan the accusation away. “We don’t know, ma’am! We’ve pointed drone cameras and a satellite over it. Thing’s like, invisible; and it’s moving leisurely, but it’ll be here soon.”

Ladybird watched from afar the huddle forming at the door of the APC.  The secret service agents were still fixated on her with their submachine guns, but she had her antennae bent a little at the tips, picking up the conversation from afar with their sensitive, club-like ends. She knew exactly what all of this meant.

In an instant she rattled her wings and blew out a second radar pulse. She closed her eyes and waited for it to bounce back. Then she leaped to the sky, leaving behind a cadre of agents retching on the floor. Cassandra seized the radio from the APC commander and began to shout orders, but it was already too late, and the Ladybird had flown overhead, clearing the Plaza and following her instincts and natural radar to the rolling hills outside the plaza. Something massive was flying over the hilly, unoccupied park space between city and plaza, and heading right for the monument.

Ladybird picked up speed, her wings exuding green sparks and her lower back bursting with green flames and exhaust. She flew higher and faster, and at her flanks the E-35 jets weaved through the air struggling to maintain a formation around her. Finding themselves outflown by Ladybird’s natural ease they dispersed left and right away from her, and she watched them go with a triumphant grin; in the next instant she slammed into something terribly cold and hard, ricocheting off the object and careening back toward the park while the Eagle Troops scattered defensively.

Over the park the invisible object opened fire, ignoring the dazed Ladybird and targeting the Eagle Troops jets scattering away from it. Furious muzzle flashes across its hull marked its position in the sky, and the thing launched its attack while descending ponderously toward the monument. Ameran fighter jets rolled and banked sharply to avoid the raking fire from the autocannons. Bursts of gunfire lashed the sky and barely caught the trailing exhaust from the supersonic jets, each maneuvering such that the guns could not easily acquire the craft nor the formation as a whole.

The E-35s had felt out its attacks, tracked its position in the sky, and were ready to commence their own runs. Each craft broke off on its own from the object’s airspace, and once far enough they turned in tandem and sped toward it anew. While it fired erratically upon them the jets swooped down to threaten it from all sides, returning fire with their own cannons, landing heavy rounds unto the invisible surface near its own cannon mounts, where its invisibility had been betrayed by its muzzle flashes and shots. Encircled, the craft’s fire was even less effective than it had once been. Guided missiles burst from under the jet’s wings and shot toward the object, set to deliver the most punishing impacts.

Reacting to the missiles, several more compartments opened along the top of the mysterious craft. Loud booms issued from each as the missiles closed in. Mere meters away from the object every guided missile fell apart harmlessly and all at once, stricken by the anti-missile defenses. The jets scattered defensively once more–

All around the object the E-35s froze into place, their jet engines burning but unable to accelerate the craft to their defensive maneuvers. Autocannons quieted and the E-35s roared with power, trying to force themselves from their mysterious paralysis at mach speeds. In the center of the frozen formation the object began to stir. Each craft spun suddenly off course as though thrown like children’s toys across a play room, pilots ejecting from every craft as they crashed supersonically into the park hills, the roads and upon the ruins of nearby buildings. A broken jet was hurled just over the command APC, where President Ableman huddled, mouth agape at the unreal disaster speeding across her airspace. It exploded behind her contingent, so close that she could feel the heat sweeping out over the APC. She grit her teeth.

A voice sounded from the machine. “Let’s not do anything we might regret!”

A bright flash blinded the occupants of the park for a second; the object blurred and warped visibly as it threw off its cloak. Inch by inch gunmetal and black colors painted over a thick, saucer-like shape dozens of feet in diameter, from which nine segmented lengths flailed exuberantly, clicking large, gleaming pincer-like heads at their ends. When fully revealed the object showed no particular damage from the assaults upon it, and its five-bladed claws spread open and slowly relaxed, dangling toward the ground. From the bottom, hatches with sound systems opened.

“President Ableman, my name is Doctor Cruciere, and I have DEMANDS.”

Cassandra raised both of her palms to her face.

“By the Dead Mother, not YOU again.” She mumbled.

Around her, the soldiers stared with a mix of confusion and horror at the incredible machine floating before them, while at the same time mumbling “gurblegurb?” involuntarily aloud as their minds sought to understand the demonic forces mentioned in the President’s careless oaths. Cruciere, meanwhile, chuckled.

“Madam President, I’m sorry to say, but I believe you are a primitive moron who must by now realize your inferiority in comparison to me.” Cruciere said. “I have a simple demand, that will greatly improve the world. The Ameran Commercial Empire must immediately surrender fully to me, commit itself to the philosophy of Crucierian Technocracy, rename itself to Crucieristan in the carrying out of this surrender, and render unto me all of the Verdite resources that you have illegally collected from the ocean, all of which belongs to me. There can be no negotiation!”

“Suffice it to say, no, I, and Amera, cannot accept any of that.” Cassandra said.

Cruciere sighed audibly. “Well, that’s unfortunate. I don’t like killing people, but grievous injury is sometimes helpful for changing intractable positions. Asmodeus, crush her. Gently.”

“Hydra Head System launch.” Asmodeus replied, also over the speakers.

Across the machine’s body the segmented steel tethers contracted, twisted and lifted the pincers into the air like a crown around the machine’s body. Cassandra Ableman shrank back and shook in place, her hand over her mouth and her wings and tail extended, fully erect in shock. One by one the machine heads stretched out, tested their boundaries and then twisted back around to the ground before suddenly launching toward the President’s APC like snakes lunging to bite. The steel mass surged toward the President, the blades at the ends gnashing like hungry teeth.

Beneath the shrieking of metal across the air came a sound like a jet exhaust.

Ladybird launched suddenly forward and swept past the tethers. Sharp, glowing green mantid claws at the ends of her arms severed the flexible appendages with ease, cutting clean across the segments. Grinding metallic heads fell useless at the feet of President Ableman and the door to her APC, stopping about a foot away from completely crushing her in an indistinct pile of metal, turf and blood. Ladybird ground to a halt beneath Cruciere’s machine, her feet slicing two scars across the green as she slowed, green smoke trailing where her fiery exhaust had calmed.

“Thanks for bunching up your tentacles where I can cut them all.” Ladybird said.

Ackley’s New Lease On Life 6: Chemicals

Ackley hid under her bed sheets and attempted to wait out the Rageditors, who seemed to content to lounge around her hospital room with the Nurse’s tacit approval to photograph her if she ever decided to stick her head out. People came in and out, ignoring the nurse and the strange visitors while delivering to Ackley supplies that she had requested when the Rageditor’s siege on her hospital room began. Her bed expanded from under those few blankets, with ice bags and pillows and boxes. It had grown into a powerful fortification. Not once did she allow the Rageditors to see her – that was their objective and she would deny it. She heard a cacophony of clicking and throbbing around the room as various cell phones and tablets and netbook computers delivered constant reports to Ragedit about the status of their epic meme operation. Every so often a pale little arm would extend from under the sheets and reach out to the machine next to the bed, and then reach back into the blanket fort. But that was all the satisfaction she would give them. This was a battle, and she was making preparations for a meme war of terrible proportion.

The first casualty of the siege, however, was her Nurse’s dignity.

“Ackley, the truth is,” the Nurse sighed, perhaps regretful of her hand in all of this, “the truth is, I’m a memer myself. In fact, I made some of those videos to score Ragedit karma. I’m telling you because I want to be real with you! I might even lose my job. My screen name is McNurse420. I wanted to be famous for memery!”

“You have an excruciating taste in usernames.” Ackley replied.

“Why, thank you! You see, Ackley, ever since I was a young nurse, reading Ragedit while bored on the job, I’ve dreamed of being a memetic success! I’ve been haunting Ragedit, trying to be on the ground floor of the next viral video or photo trend. But I’m just a boring average Ameran nurse, not like you! You’re special!”

“Being emotionally and physically isolated from the world is interesting, to be sure.”

“Yes, it is!” The Nurse sounded ecstatic. “I’m glad you understand.”

“I was being sarcastic.” Ackley murmured.

A drawling male voice grumbled from a corner of the room. Ackley could see its rather large outline even through the blankets of her fort. “McNurse, are we ever gonna get to see epic deadpan girl? The upvotes await! You told us we could score easy meme cred but we’ve been waiting for hours now. And all I’ve got to show for it are pictures of a really intricate pillow fort. Only 50 upvotes! I could have had thousands by now.”

“Just give me a moment, BigPony27,” the Nurse nervously said.

Ackley heard the distinctive shuffling of the Nurse’s shoes, and saw a shadow lean in.

And thus, the battle was joined.

From under one of the blankets she retrieved her secret weapon, a very cold and thick metal jug with a nozzle affixed to the top. She filled a small plastic medicine bottle with some the liquid inside the metal jug. As the hand neared, Ackley sprang from ambush, briefly extending her own arm and throwing out the bottle in retaliation. Her projectile struck the nurse on the shoulder harmlessly and bounced off to the ground. The Nurse sighed and picked it up, underestimating Ackley and believing it to be a childish act of rage. In an instant the bottle burst in the Nurse’s hand with a loud pop, giving off an awful smell and a large cloud of foul gasses. The Nurse screamed – wringing her hand in the air to relieve the pain. The snap from the bursting bottle would have hurt, but Ackley hoped it had not done much more.

“What was that? Ackley I demand to know!” The Nurse screamed. “You hurt my hand!”

“A small liquid nitrogen bomb.” Ackley replied through the shouting.

“Where did you get that?” The Nurse shouted. “Where did you get the nitrogen Ackley!”

Ackley was honestly surprised by the reaction.

“Have you been paying no attention to me at all? My disease, nurse! I produce close to half a gallon of this stuff every day just sitting around here wondering why I’m not dead yet! How could you possibly have been taking care of me for months now and you don’t even know what my disease entails?”

The Nurse grumbled loudly and ignored Ackley’s protest entirely, for the first time her demeanor turning quite foul. She stomped her way to the other side of the bed, examining the liquid nitrogen extractor hooked up to Ackley’s chest. All of the extractor was designed to keep the strange, watered-down and biologically produced liquid nitrogen from Ackley’s body cool enough to avoid danger. Special tubes drew the liquid from Ackley’s body, and pumped it through to a special container. It was currently empty, and it had been consistently emptied for the past few days. Doctors would have assumed it was the Nurse who emptied it diligently, in accordance to the hazardous medical waste disposal guidelines, but it was clear from her inspection the Nurse had no idea what the extractor was or what it really did. She poked it, and her figure crouched near it, and followed the various cables extending from it with her fingers.

“So from this, then? This is where you get that dangerous liquid?”

Her words sent a chill down Ackley’s spine.

“Don’t touch my extractor.” Ackley warned.

From under the pillow fort, Ackley withdrew a bottle, this time a glass bottle, and quickly reacted, filling it from the jug and then corking it. She hastily donned a gas mask and then raised her hand out of the fort and rolled this new bomb off her bed as gently as she could – it landed without shattering and continued to roll blindly out to the back of the room, where the congress of Rageditors was convened. In a few moments its temperature was spiraling out of control. One of the Rageditors then screamed in agony as the liquid nitrogen inside the bottle quickly expanded in a terrible explosion, sending shards of glass flying, showering his party of meme masters with debris and covering them in a cloud of the rapidly expanding gases, odorless and yet unbreathable. From under Fort Ackley it was difficult to acquire visual confirmation, but the thundering boots and the cries for help seemed indicative of the enemy’s retreat. Behind them went the Nurse, crying for them to wait and return, for the memes would be epic, epic with a “le,” if only they gave her a chance.

This was the last time Ackley saw that particular Nurse.

Regardless, Ackley felt a disturbing amount of pleasure having driven back the forces of memery, and crossed a few of the more macabre items from her bucket list, such as “Win A War” and “Unleash Hell.” New nurses came and went with the days and nights, but they were not the Nurse, and they were not a new Nurse. They tore down her pillow fort, though amicably, and removed her Liquid Nitrogen paraphernalia. Despite this they were quite preferable to the Nurse. The new nurses came and went in their little white dresses and aprons and their little white caps, ostensibly some other patients’ nurses who were taking care of necessary tasks for Ackley. They did all the things Nurse used to do, helping her change clothes, bringing her food – and they scarcely made any insensitive small talk or forgot her condition.

Ackley thought she finally had time and space to contemplate the meaning of her life, and what she really wanted out of it, if she could have a future. But she came up blank. She was an incredibly intelligent person, but the concept of a future was still very difficult for her to grasp. In many ways she was a child, and she thought that perhaps children simply, intrinsically, could not comprehend the terrible vastness involved in their future, and the planning of it. Doctors had given her a very short timetable, and she had exceeded it several times. It was difficult to construct a position in such a limited universe – the four walls and the nurses and the extractor offered her little chance of development.

Blissful as it was, this period of quiet meditation was soon over, as Ackley received a new Nurse. At first it seemed like she was just another temporary visitor, but soon she began showing up at all hours of the day. This nurse was young, younger even than Nurse, and fairly blueish and pale, with red eyes, and her very pale hair tied into a ponytail. She had introduced herself in an alarming way, which led Ackley to believe she might be another memer trying to score points.

“I am Asmodeus. I’m not really human, so forgive my mistakes.”

Ackley frowned. She sat up and tried to raise her shoulders and to cross her arms to look tough.

“My name is Ackley Hermes. I’m the enemy of Memes. I will destroy all Memes and Memers.”

This provoked no reaction from the new Nurse. Asmodeus had a blank expression similar to her own, neither frowning, nor smiling, with her eyes not too wide open and not too closed shut, and her brows in a neutral position. Ackley’s declaration of unending war on Memes passed by Asmodeus with as little reaction as if someone had merely told her the date – and as such Ackley decided Asmodeus was not a memer. She was some kind of monster.

Over the course of the next few days, Ackley scrutinized everything Asmodeus did.

She went about her tasks mechanically. Nurse had often hummed or sang crude lyrics while working, but Asmodeus did nothing of the sort, taking to her work with an eerie quiet that suggested either intense focus, or the inhuman and off-hand expertise of a construct. Asmodeus did nothing but the exact things required at a particular moment. Her day was as though plotted out entirely in her mind, down to the microseconds worth of blinking her eyes.

Ackley felt unsettled, but she could not complain. Asmodeus was perfect. Nurse sometimes ate in the room, but Ackley was not even sure Asmodeus breathed, and she certainly never ate in her presence. Asmodeus wore her nurse uniform pristinely and carried herself with precision. Her every step was perfect, as she walked along the room tiles her feet would take the same position in each successive tile. As she picked up different medicine bottles in succession, she would hold all of them at the same, exact angle while pouring their contents for Ackley to drink.

Meal time with Nurse had always been a struggle – Nurse was clumsy and slow when she attempted to feed Ackley, and sometimes even ate some of the food herself while Ackley chewed. Asmodeus was exact, delivering spoonfuls of soup and forks of crisp vegetables, waiting just enough for Ackley to eat, and never missing an opportunity to offer her a drink to wash it down before the next spoon or fork. She did not complain and she did not falter. The food always arrived hot, she made sure of it; and she always managed to acquire the rare buttered cafeteria bread buns that Nurse always forgot, and then blamed on faster nurses and the long lines and the needs of other children.

Whenever Asmodeus helped her change robes Ackley thought she felt a clammy, dead touch, but this was so utterly brief as to be an illusion – that cold touch, in the span it took to register it, would become a warm and comforting embrace that a brief graze of flesh could not possibly have imparted. Yet the endorphins still rushed, as though Asmodeus had cast an enchanting spell over her by doing nothing but briefly brushing her nape with her fingers.

Soon, however, she found she was not the only one paying close attention.

“Inquiry.”

Asmodeus often said this to broach a topic.

“Yes?” Ackley replied.

“I have now observed you for close to a week and analyzed various factors. I believe that you are missing a key component of your corporate hospital experience, which I as a true Nurse-Laborer unit working at this corporate hospital unit, and not as an infiltrator of any kind, must insure to you, customer and corporate medicine client, in order to uphold my appearance as a true Nurse-Laborer unit–”

Ackley sighed. “Yes, you are some kind of spy robot, I understand. Ask your question.”

“What do you do, for leisure?”

“I concentrate on not being in pain.” Ackley replied. “I’m on medications for pain, so it works. I also have a bucket list I fill out. I sometimes play video games. People donate video games to the Hospital a few times a year. But they’re often earmarked for kids besides me who need them more. Sometimes the Hospital doesn’t really have certain medicines, and nobody really donates that, so they give the children video games instead.”

“I see. Anything else?”

“For the last few months I have been constantly harassed by idiots.”

“Would you enjoy reading printed academic literature? I have a vast library at my storage unit.”

“Do you mean your home?” Ackley replied.

“My storage unit, yes.”

“I would be mildly interested in some foreign philosophy works.” Ackley said.

She had little hope that this would happen. After all, Nurse had promised several times to bring her child-safe, ideologically approved literature like Larry Merchant And The Chamber of Profits, but always failed to do so for one reason or another. Nonetheless she wrote a few titles and topics and left it up to Asmodeus, almost entirely forgetting the exchange, which she was sure would evaporate overnight. However, the next day Asmodeus deposited a copy of Revolutionary Ideals of the Poccnan Republics at her bedside before beginning her day’s work; once she had read this book, Asmodeus delivered an extra buttered bun and a copy of The Ultimate Downfall of Capital. Days later, at Ackley’s request, Asmodeus printed several SneakyLeaks pages and stapled them into a hand-made book of state secrets.

It was this final act that seemed to confirm all of Ackley’s suspicions.

“Are you a Communist robot?” Ackley asked. “Are you here so I can defect?”

“I’m more of a fungus.” Asmodeus replied, and ignored the latter question.

The Burden of the Post

Uttarakuru is the fantasy world in my head, and some of my writings. I’ve been meaning to write stories in it, and the book I’m working on will be set in it. I want to use this space to write a couple short pieces about it. I’m trying a different, a bit more ponderous style of writing. I don’t know whether it will seem different, but just so you know. As usual you are quite welcome to comment and let me know what you think. 

###

There was a bulletin board pinned to the building’s center column, and big, bold script written overhead, each character curling elegantly into the next. The board greeted every customer who walked through the door; the first thing they could see was a bright and cheerful, “What Is New At The Sleet Street Post Office?” There were several different papers and pictures tagged to the board, each with news and tips to make one’s post office journey more pleasant. The price of stamps had risen by 2 copper, and there was a pleading reminder for everyone to bring exact change. Photocard rates had gone down 1 copper, thanks to a good crop of Ash Herb this year. A glossy Photocard of Calis and Kamlee, sole employee and sole manager of the Sleet Street post office, smiled at the customers as a vibrant example of the premium quality pictures they could buy. Below them, wanted posters hung by Arbiters and the Gendarmerie mugged at the entryway and listed fresh, frightening crimes.

Calis Maharapatram stood from behind the counter, and searched everywhere for onlookers and busybodies. He looked outside to the frosty streets. He looked in the washroom. He looked around the front office. He was thankfully alone. Nobody was watching – except the spirits whom he would soon disappoint. Tail stiff and erect behind him, he rushed up to the column, silently prayed to the spirits of justice to forgive him, and took all of the wanted posters. He quickly moved them to a much less cheerful bulletin board in a corner of the boxy post office lobby. This was the official and unspoken location policy on wanted posters. “Nobody wants to see a bunch of crooks leering at ’em when they’re coming to the Post,” Post-Manager Kamlee had said, reverentially waving her hands as she invoked the name of the sacred Post, the great purveyor of stamps.

“Leave the posters there for a few hours, then jank them out when no one’s looking and put them on the other board. I don’t want them seen from the door. A wanted poster’s never caught a thief anyway.”

Calis did not agree with the Post Manager, but he was a Post Employee, and it was his job.

In the midst of his miscarriage of justice, he heard bells ringing as the front door swung open and struck them. “One moment please!” He called back, hurriedly pinning the papers. Passing by the counter he glanced at the customer in front of the column, reading the bulletin board with the new rates. He smiled suddenly. It would probably be a photocard – when they stopped to read the rates, it was always a photocard, and those were all kinds of fun.

The customer called back. “Take your time!”

She waved her hand over the side of the column.

Calis took his place behind the tall wooden counter. Having been given a bit of leeway, he feigned as though he had to search the shelves behind the counter for something; instead he crouched out of sight and touched up his pigments, quickly applying a bright red lip pen and a eye pen, and powder to smooth his skin further. He checked the pin holding his long hair against the back of his head. Once certain he was comely and Lilly-like, he stood up anew, fixing his tie and pressing down his warm red uniform skirt and jacket. Reds were the chosen color of the Post in the city of Oomash. Sleet Street, and all of Oomash for that matter, were constantly battered with snow, due to their position atop the Hetuku – bright, hot colors and a crisp appearance was just one thing the Post could do to make customers feel warm in the mountain weather.

His customer approached the counter. Had she wanted to deposit a letter, there was a tube with a small pump on the left-hand side of the room which would drop the letter in a basket in the back office. No, Calis thought, what she wanted was service. He smiled, and held his hands clasped together in front of him on the counter. Though he knew better than to assume things, she seemed a monied person – under her blue, shimmering drake-scale coat he could see silk and bright gold buttons and a bit of chain around her neck, perhaps a fine jeweled necklace, and when her coat split as she sought out her purse, he noticed very fine-looking long robes of a quality fabric, and a very colorful sash around her stomach.

The woman deposited a piece of paper on the counter.

“I would like to send this message to a person in Karst, in the Southland.”

Calis closed his eyes. He was still smiling. “Come again?”

“A telegram; you offer telegraph services, don’t you?”

“Why, yes, yes we do.” Calis said. His voice wavered slightly, and his fingers trembled. He ran through the calculations very quickly and subtly, all in the midst of flipping and arranging some of his stray hair over his dog-like ears. Casual fidgeting helped hide the math work. Distance, standard message codification fee, materials, average message length with optimal typography; in a moment he had the price. Yet his heart would not stop pounding, and he felt a bit of perspiration building. “The price is a bit prohibitive; regulations and all. It will be six silver, five copper.”

“I don’t mind the price. I need to send a message to my wife, it’s very urgent.”

“Alright. One moment please!”

Calis bowed his head and calmly retreated through a door beside the front desk. He closed it behind himself. The back office was quiet, save for the thump of an official seal being punched on letters, and the drip of a leaking pipe, unable to freeze shut due to the heat from the interior furnace. He walked past his desk, and stood in front of a larger and more desk. Though obscured by a mound of letters, the occupant was certainly active; periodically a letter, now punched with the official seal of the Oomash post, would fly out and strike the wall, then flutter down unto a large, wheeled basket of out-bound mail.

“Anything wrong?”

“I need help.” Calis said. He sighed deeply. “It’s a telegram. A customer wants a telegram.”

Long ears the shape of falcon’s wings rose over the mound in alert. A pair of hands split the mound of letters down the middle, allowing Post Master Kamlee to peer out in shock. “A telegram, really?” She cried out, quickly buttoning up her post uniform over her undershirt, having unbuttoned it for comfort. She took one of her shiny postal service medals and pinned her short hair behind her head with it, trying to be as presentable as possible with as little effort as could be spared. “What kind of customer are we talking here; and are there really no other options for them?”

“Woman, and a Lilly maybe; young, I guess? Looks affluent. Message is for her wife.”

“Oh dear. She looks like she can pay the ridiculous rate then? And she’s motivated?”

Calis nodded. “She does and she is. She really wants to send this telegram.”

“Why doesn’t she send a letter?” Kamlee protested, stamping her fists on the desk and knocking some of the letters unto the floor. “What kind of reckless life does she lead that she can’t plan ahead for a simple and easy letter? I don’t want to judge, but I am judging! A telegraph, in this spirit-blessed year?”

“She assured me it was urgent and serious.” Calis said.

Calis and Kamlee slowly and with great dismay turned to the room corner, where the machine in question had lain for years now, unmoved, blissfully forgotten. It seemed now to brim with ominous new life. The telegraph machine was just small enough to fit through the door, with effort, and no smaller. Atop the beast was long and broad surface full of thick pearl keys and a long needle with a button to punch it down on the surface. This mechanism was used to type down messages containing the 90 accepted Standard Script characters that could be transmitted via the telegraph. It stood on four ancient brass legs with iron wheels and over time it had lost almost all of the gilded sheen and glossy pigment it had been given. Kamlee and Calis could hardly see their expressions reflected in its body anymore. Their brown skin seemed to disappear on it, and it was uncomfortably pitted, so they looked sickly in whatever glossy surfaces their faces could still reliably appear upon.

Inside the machine were a series of copper and gold sinews, carefully burnt in and blessed, and the various organs by which it consumed fuel and then transmitted its etchings to other stations. It was like a voice box, only infinitely more confusing. And it was now up to Calis and Kamlee to unravel the monstrosity, for six silver coins and five copper ones. Eyeing the beast and filled with dread at its coming awakening, the two clasped their hands and muttered quick prayers. May the spirits protect its iron soul; may they bless the post with the skill and strength to commandeer its esoteric powers.

Kamlee asked again, slowly drawling each word. “Are you sure you explained the rates?”

Calis nodded, his face grim. “Six silver, five copper. More than my salary for today’s work.”

Kamlee stood up her desk, and she marched to the telegraph machine, and kicked it.

Together, they seized upon the telegraph machine and pushed it out of its corner. They struggled to turn it, to curve it around obstacles, and to force it flush against the wall. It was a mammoth, a rattling beast, and they were never more aware that their limbs contained flesh, supple, vulnerable flesh, than when they attempted to wrest it from the back office. Pushed through the door at an angle, it could possibly even become lodged in the door frame and bar the way out – much of the struggle involved aligning the machine with the door in the precise way it would fit. Thrashing legs scraped against the floor; they ran with their shoulders set to the machine, just to move it inches toward a destination.

“Namaste! One moment please!” Kamlee called out to the post front.

“Take your time!” The customer said.

Once aligned with the door, the machine was forced out of it inch by inch. Calis and Kamlee set their shoulders against it, drew back, and shoved it, each charge pushing the machine just a bit further. Their customer hurried to one side as they barged through the door and rolled the machine out unto the floor of the front office, the polished floor giving them slightly better gains from each push and thrust. Calis felt a throb whenever he so much as moved his arm on the side he had been charging the machine, his shoulder a tight knot of pain. The two of them split up, as routine demanded.

Kamlee addressed the customer with a smiling face.

“Good afternoon, Mati–

She paused at the honorific, allowing the customer to fill in for her.

“Charee Lakhanpal.”

Kamlee bowed her head, and Charee bowed back. They held hands as part of the greeting. “We’ll get your message out in short order.” Kamlee gracefully led her to the counter, where she took a sheet of paper from a small box on a corner of the desk, and offered the woman her pen. “First, could you fill out this survey for us?”

Charee smiled. “Gladly.”

Behind them, Calis pulled the machine steadily across the room until it was closer to the wall. Using the slight distraction he had been given, he took practiced steps to prepare the machine for its task. He opened a sliding panel on the wall and attached a thick rubber-coated metal cable to brass contact points on one end of the machine. Inside the sliding panel was a small tin can. Its fluid, greenish-brown contents had frozen solid over time. Nonetheless, he scraped the crumbling brown chunks out of the can with the nib of his official postal service pen and into a fold-out reservoir on the back of the machine. He folded it back in, uttered a line of prayer, and peeked his head over the contraption to signal for Kamlee.

“Ah, we’re ready. And just in time too. Here is a survey prize for you, Charee das.”

Kamlee procured a small leaf of paper with four commemorative stamps affixed, celebrating the venerable Urus armored car and its hundred years of service in various roles, including postal delivery. Charee folded the paper into her dress robes, between her belly and her ornate sash. Her tail wagged a little with appreciation.

The Post Master walked Charee to the telegraph machine, and made a flourish of her hands as though to introduce a valuable member of the staff. Calis struggled not to laugh or make a gesture that would hint at the sheer insincerity behind their actions. Both of them hated this machine and hated using it but their contempt could never be allowed to spread to the customers desiring it. The Post was about Service, the almighty Post, and it had a reputation to maintain. Calis kept himself stoic as possible, offering a smile only if Charee’s eyes neared his way. While Kamlee explained some of how the machine would work, and took Charee’s message, Calis smacked his lips as though to even out the pigments he had applied on them, and made as though to sort out his hair, flipping some over his ears and running his fingers lightly through it.

Finally their customer stepped back from them, and Kamlee hovered over the machine and pulled on a lever. This produced a cough of pale yellow smoke from a different hatch on the side of the machine, and it began to rattle and generate heat. Its engine labored to burn and consume the frozen esochem Calis had fed into it.

“Calis, please punch down the message I’ll be dictating to you.”

Calis stood on the tips of his shoes and leaned over the machine. He was not tall enough to use the machine comfortably, and his face was soon dripping with sweat. On one hand he had a lever which would turn the thick, brutal-looking and menacing needle arm atop the telegraph machine, and slide it up and down across the keys, emblazoned with the characters available to spell out messages; his other hand he kept over a square button, which he could hit with his fist to trigger the arm descending unto a key, transmitting that character through the wire via its strange powers, across vast tracts of land, to a similar office which was equipped with a receiver machine that could print out the message.

“Dear Mati Upsala Ramayan, stop from beloved wife Mati Charee Lakhanpal line,” Kamlee began her dictation and Calis began to move the needle and punch down the characters, each time causing the machine to rattle more violently for an instant, and then a tiny spark to issue from the cable panel on the wall, “Sincerest apologies for my behavior, stop, I wish once again to live with you, line, living apart from you has been hellish, stop. My heart and flesh long for you like no other, stop. There can be nobody in my bed but you, line. I shall disavow the third party forever, please return to me, end.”

Calis’ face grew very red while typing the message. Not just from the heat wafting up from the beastly telegraph machine, but the fact that all of this resulted in a reconciliation letter regarding an affair!

But Charee and Kamlee seemed unmoved by the dictation, so Calis kept quiet and did his work, and tried not to nurse any theatrical fantasies about the letter and its origins. Once it was fully written, Kamlee pulled the lever again. A final spark of power blew from the back of the machine and traced the length of the cable into the wall, and then on its way down to the Southland. Kamlee nonchalantly wiped her own brow with a handkerchief, pocketed it, and bowed again to Charee. “Your message is now on its way. I hope it will touch your wife’s heart, as it touched ours.” She said graciously.

“I sincerely hope so as well.” Charee said.

“May the spirits of love tie a red knot around you two, once again.” Calis said. His own voice was exhausted. His hair was somewhat disheveled, and he would likely need to redo his pigments.

Charee took her leave, complimenting Calis on how wonderful he looked with his lip stick and skirt. The two postal workers exchanged bows and hands with their customer, and Charee handed Kamlee a bank note from the Center Circle, the portion of the city inside the mountain that housed the apparatus of government. The note covered the cost of the message, when exchanged. The moment the door bells rang again, and the door swung shut, Kamlee and Calis collapsed against the machine. They promptly regretted it, as the fiend was still red hot, and burnt them through their uniforms.

“Spirits-cursed thing! I want it melted down!” Kamlee shouted, kicking it again. Her winged ears beat fast in her anger, and her feathery tail closed and folded open rapidly. “I want it shot!”

“Must we push it back in now?” Calis cried, brushing his hands hard against his back in a desperate attempt to cool the stinging pain running down the back of his neck and down his spine.

“We should roll it down the street! Roll it off the mountain!” Kamlee shouted.

But they could do no such thing. Sleet Street Post offered telegraph services, had offered them for close to a hundred years, and they would continue to do so for a hundred more. Realizing their situation, Calis and Kamlee cursed the machine more, resigned themselves, and when it cooled, prayed to the Spirits for strength. They would have to push it back inside the back office, to await the next customer who required a message sent miles and miles overland faster than a letter could arrive. Regardless of their reservations, it was this, which was truly the burden of the post.

Ackley’s New Lease On Life 5: Memes

Ackley had hoped for a few, perhaps final, weeks of peace after being acquitted of her terrorism charges by the Department of Departments. Instead she discovered that children’s hospitals had a domineering attitude toward the terminally ill patients housed within them, and especially so if they had been on television for a high profile investigation.

For a few days, Ackley had come close to stardom. During the investigation of Agent Winchester, various people realized her existence and had come to shine very bright uncomfortable lights on her and stick a hydra-like assortment of microphones and cables very close to her face, forcing her to button up her shirts all the way, redo her messy, long pigtails and keep herself seated upright, a titanic effort after years of slouching. There was a barrage of questions. A Hound News reporter asked her why she hated Amera, and she explained a few facts, such as the prison population as a form of neo-slavery, which were ignored. A GNN reporter wondered how sad and miserable her existence was, to which she responded with indifference. A tabloid reporter who climbed up the side of the hospital and broke through her window with a pair claws asked if Ackley’s disease was real, to which she replied that it was by screaming for help, and in this act, coughing some liquid nitrogen on his face.

“You’re a sensation Ackley!” The Nurse had gleefully told her. She had come in one day with a mischievous expression and passed her smartphone to Ackley, where she discovered various memetic Memetube videos featuring her likeness and sound bites, taken from the news. Many auto-tuned her voice and looped footage of her blank and diffident mannerisms while a plethora of flashing, colorful light filters endangered the epileptics in the audience.

“what the fuq name for a girl is Ackely,” Ackley said, reading the top comment on a video.

“Oh don’t fret, they don’t mean any harm by it.” The Nurse had said.

“Is this what it feels like, to be ‘trolled’.” Ackley asked.

“I suppose so. I have never been trolled. But I am young still, so there will be time.” The Nurse gazed admiringly into space, as though relishing the thought of being trolled, on the internet.

Ackley on the other hand felt very little in the way of stimuli, negative or positive, as she read the various Ragedit threads where she’d been lovingly rendered in Rage comics. It was difficult to feel things when her lungs, and a few other organs, might be freezing over soon. Or at least, that was her perspective on it. However, in her limited emotional range Ackley did manage to hold a bit of contempt for the memetic process, and tried her best to ignore it. Surely, she was not becoming a sensation. Just the source of a few laughs, for a few reprobates. She resolved to pursue her bucket list in peace.

However, over the next few weeks, The Nurse grew ever more motherly toward Ackley.

“Ackley, I fear that you may be growing antisocial.”

The Nurse hovered over Ackley’s bed with a look of most grievous concern.

“That is fine. I’m not altogether sure I like society.” Ackley replied.

“That is exactly what I feared. Our little shining star needs to cheer up.”

Ackley shuddered. “To whom do you refer by ‘our’, and to what do you refer to by ‘star’?”

“Well, the children’s hospital has received a lot of donations and attention from people concerned about you. I believe that it is my duty as your Nurse, and the hospital’s duty to the donors who love and cherish you, to insure you have a fulfilling life here. It would not do for Epic D– I mean, you, Ackley, to be miserable here.”

“What were you about to say there?” Ackley asked sharply.

“Nothing!” The Nurse waved her hands. “Are you sad, Ackley? You are always so blank and pale. I’ve never seen you frown, but I’ve also never seen you smile. You’re always so deadpan.”

“I don’t feel anything right now other than mild annoyance.”

“Do you think maybe some antidepressants would cheer you up?” The Nurse pulled out a tube from her pocket and shook it like a maraca in front of Ackley’s face, smiling pleasantly at the offered temptations. Inside the tube were bright, colored bubblegum orbs laced with children’s antidepressants. “They come in yummy flavors!”

“I have the best antidepressant already, Nurse. Your presence.” Ackley said.

The Nurse’s face turned very red, and she shied away from Ackley. “Oh, Ackley!”

Ackley produced her bucket list from under her pillow and marked off an item.

“That was sarcasm.” She then declared. But the Nurse was too lost in her own elation.

The world seemed to grow ever more interested in her. A Child Psychologist on staff came and asked her questions, such as whether she loved Amera and whether it was okay for this information to be divulged to the Department of Departments. Ackley attempted to explain the failure of austerity politics and the growth of privatization of services as a means to syphon wealth and benefits from lower-income persons to the rich, but the Psychologist told her she was silly and did not have a college degree, so she should not speak about such things. After his departure, a Child Biochemist wandered in the next day and examined the machine cycling the nitrogen out of her body. He drew a sample from its nitrogen pack, examined it, and tasted it, and collapsed, screaming and thrashing, bleeding from his nose, and prompting more staff to invade the room and rush the man to an adult hospital before his throat froze. A Child Calendar Photographer then appeared and took various images of Ackley for a fundraising calendar. Then Ackley hid permanently under her blankets.

“Ackley, you’re being unreasonable now.” The Nurse said.

“I’m not coming out.” Ackley said, covered in her blankets like a ghost. “I can’t even imagine who is next. A Child Economist from the staff will come debate me about my austerity comments? A Child Zoologist will burst from the aether and declare me a new species of homynid before eating some of my pocket lint and dying? I’m done with you all.”

“I apologize about the photographer.” The Nurse said. “I thought that was a little creepy.”

“Your capacity to undertake social analysis is simply monumental.”

“Why, thank you!”

Ackley grit her teeth and clenched her fists. “That, too, was sarcasm.”

“I have some visitors for you, however! They’re friends of mine from the website Ragedit!”

“Oh, please no.”

From inside her blanket and pillow armor, Ackley heard the tramping of boots, and the shifting of body mass into the cramped doorway, and clicking of smartphone cameras. She heard belabored breathing and strange, alien chuckling, barely contained.

“Is that her? Is that Le Epic Deadpan Girl?” They asked.

“Please don’t call her that.” The Nurse pleaded. “Call her Ackley Hermes.”

“I’m issuing a vote of no confidence in you, Nurse.” Ackley said, bundling herself tighter.