June 22, 2008

In the Hands of Others (6 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

He observed the crystal chandelier over the main reception desk, the sweeping primary colours of the tessellated carpet motif, the fashionable Clothman receptionist sitting before a corridor that beckoned further into the warehouse, the pictures of tigers and eagles hanging from the walls, the subtle spotlighting giving the place a futuristic charm, and the wooden antique chairs lining the walls in uncomfortable contrast to the rest of the science fiction design.

Mr. Alpha found it appalling. How did Clothmen endure such opulence?

Mr. Omega approached the receptionist. She was somewhere in her fifties, white hair so short that her scalp seemed to be covered in frost, wearing chunky red designer glasses and a professional-looking olive green dress.

The receptionist Clothman said, smiling, ‘Hello, my name is Muriel, welcome to Scala Caeli. How can I help you, sir?’

‘Morning,’ said Mr. Omega. ‘Detective John Morrison, from the mainland. I’m here to see Dr. Kindle about the recent break-in.’

‘Ah, yes, the Garda said you’d be over,’ she replied, looking down at paperwork on her desk. She didn’t need the paperwork.

‘Please go down the corridor behind me, first door on the right. Dr. Kindle will be pleased to show you around and tell you all he knows.’

They headed down and knocked on the indicated door; a deep, male voice welcomed them in.

Beyond the door was an office more appropriate to Cloth work. A simple metal desk dressed with reports and documents, a single Halogen bulb in the ceiling without adornment, over-filled and rusted filing cabinets. Behind the desk sat Mr. Smoke, a bald dark-skinned man. He wore an expensive designer suit, which Mr. Alpha assumed was to convince their clients that they were speaking to Dr. Kindle, the CEO and head scientist of Scala Caeli, the biggest cryogenic service in Ireland.

He stood up to shake their hands, revealing his tall stature, and bid them take a seat each. They introduced themselves.

‘Mr. Alpha, Mr. Omega, I’m not sure if there’s much more you can do for us,’ he said. Mr. Alpha caught something mocking about his tone, subtle, but definitely present. ‘Morgana didn’t do any damage, thank The-God-To-Be. She broke in, turned up on the CCTV, and left. Nothing missing.’

Same pattern as the other two blue centres. Mr. Alpha wasn’t even sure why they were here. Someone higher up wanted the two Clothmen stupid enough to let Morgana escape do a whole lot of legwork.

The old man spoke up. ‘Don’t worry about it. We just have to see if there’s anything we can learn. No one is quite sure what game she’s into right now. Renegades are supposed to go hide somewhere; Morgana keeps on coming out to play.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1621

June 8, 2008

In the Hands of Others (5 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Fay grabbed Ariadne’s hair down to the floor and yelled, ‘We are Cloth! Belief is rock! Truth-’

And all was still.

The tugging on Ariadne’s roots relaxed, but too scared to look up, Ariadne continued to cower.

Fay knelt down to Ariadne and smiled. ‘Sorry, love. Old habits… they die very, very hard. I just can’t afford to lose you and this… it’s the only way I know how to teach someone to stay alive. Our training… you’d be sick if I told you.’

Ariadne shuddered and cried, unsure whether her so-called friend was about to lose it again. Fay crept around behind her and sat down with her legs encircling Ariadne, as if she were a child.

Fay said, ‘I don’t know what it is to be, real, y’know, a person. I never knew, right from the beginning. And after all this, can I be? Let’s be honest about this. Do I want to be?’

‘Why… why not?’

‘Look, you don’t know. Better you don’t, really. You can still have children. You have a beautiful little boy, Ariadne. I did see. But I see different to you. What I am trained to see is vulnerability; I got the instinct to meddle, damage, interfere. The Cloth knew that, it’s what they seek out. Rule breakers. It’s better to stay dead, really, to not feel and be okay with the whole expendable thing. When you start feeling, that’s when you go bad, and the fruit rots on the inside, but the skin still looks shiny and tasty…’

‘Okay.’ Ariadne was still shaking. She didn’t understand anything Fay was saying but wasn’t about to prod Fay back into another burst of insane rage.

‘Clothmen are golems fashioned from the darkest of hearts. Most have forgotten their designated purpose, but a few of the Saints still hope to trigger something wondrous. And they have, they have, Ariadne, but it will probably unmake us all. There is a book yet to be written, our final religious work. One of its lines will be: Know that we are terminal.

Fay slid a hand up Ariadne’s torso, and it came to rest on Ariadne’s left breast.

‘See, girl,’ Fay said. ‘I really am trying to re-learn. What… does this’ – the pressure from Fay’s hand on Ariadne’s breast increased slightly – ‘mean?’

Ariadne broke out of Fay’s grasp and moved around to face her, hunched over, tired. Fay was bemused at Ariadne’s reaction. Ariadne noticed something new: Fay was utterly exhausted with heavy bags dragging beneath the eyes.

Ariadne spoke seriously. ‘Fay, what is it you want from us?’

Fay smiled to herself and started looking all over the ceiling, as if following some imaginary fly on its trajectory. ‘I need you to repay me, girl.’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1728

June 1, 2008

In the Hands of Others (4 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

‘That’ll be five forty,’ said the paddy behind the counter, proffering a genial smile. The chalked menu behind him listed authentic Irish fare such as southern fried chicken in four sizes, Yorkshire pudding and rib steak kebab (with CURRY SAUCE in loud capitals). Contrasting aromas emanating from the kitchen copulated in the air, producing a hybrid child that only bore resemblance to one of its progenitors, the overpowering scent of curry.

‘I’m sorry, don’t understand,’ said Mr. Alpha, cupping a hand over one ear. ‘Your accent, see, can’t make it out.’

‘Five forty. Five euros, forty cents.’ The paddy repeated, his smile withdrawn, glancing at the queue behind Mr. Alpha.

‘No, sorry, not getting it. Are you speaking in Garlic? Three forty? Is that it?’

‘No, no, no! I’m not speaking Gaelic.’ The paddy swallowed and spoke clinically: ‘Fi. Vuh. For. Tee.’

‘Jesus and his wife Nora, you don’t have to sound like that, do you think I’m a fucking imbecile? Here’s your bloody three forty.’

He planted a pick-n-mix collection of coins onto the counter and left the café with two steak and stout pies, not quite as steaming hot as they had appeared through the window. He handed one to Mr. Omega.

Mr. Omega said, ‘You really are an asshole just waiting to happen.’

‘It’s the small things in life, mate,’ Mr. Alpha replied, taking a bite out of the pie. It tasted fresher than he thought; perhaps they had used an oven and not a microwave after all. ‘Anyway, we’re told to keep expenses down. Doing my bit for asceticism.’

They wandered through the cobbled streets of Temple Bar, amongst the mid-morning crowds that convulsed from shop to shop on the trendy side of town, wading through a sea of cigarette butts. Why the fuck they hadn’t yet banned smoking here was beyond him.

They walked past the garish yellow façade of the Oliver St. John Gogarty bar, its ground level painted a glossy olive green in a concerted attempt to clash. Various European flags dressed the second floor windows, enhancing the sensory overload. Mr. Alpha waved his tie at the building and said ‘Dear Mr. Christ, that place is the same colour as these shitty things.’

He was depressed again. Any sort of shopping haven depressed him; it was like being drowned in consumerism, materialism. The Cloth was his home and it gave him the very minimum of what he needed, which was more than enough. A mobile hotline to Supply would have been welcome though.

‘Where are we due?’ Mr. Alpha said and took more bites from the pie.

Mr. Omega’s shades were misted up from his own pie and detached them, revealing a pair of square lenses that were also misted. ‘Just down this road here,’ he said. ‘We’re looking for a small company called Scala Caeli. They’re the local blue centre.’

‘Actually are they a real company or just a shop front?’ A gang of teenage girls passed them: denim skirts, loose tops, swinging handbags. One of them had swinging breasts. Mr. Alpha tensed up, beaming silent hatred towards them.

‘Groundstops nearly always provide a real service.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Think. The more we hide, the more effort we piss away on hiding instead of getting out there and working towards The-God-To-Be. So these places ain’t just shell companies, and won’t register on anyone’s radar looking for something shit out of the ordinary. Last thing we want is real police attention or, fucking forbid, a tax inspection. They provide a service and generate legal revenue meaning we don’t have to shift cash around too far. They also make grounders self-sufficient, a cheaper option all round than yanking euros out of the nearest school budget.’

They turned down a grimy alleyway that smelt of drunken urination and, oddly, oranges.

Mr. Alpha said, ‘I never wanted to be a grounder. Sounded fucking dull, stuck in a shop all day, doing the same thing day in and day out. At least we get to go places and play police.’ He carried on eating.

‘Grounders are important. They’re the local eyes and ears, they’re usually the ones that find us snags. Not everything is about running around town and shooting your gun off. It was obvious that you didn’t have the stomach to sit still and keep your mouth shut for more than ten bloody seconds.’ Mr. Omega chuckled to himself, lines creasing. ‘That’s why I picked you up. You showed the minutest promise for legwork. Shit, I should eat this.’ Mr. Omega attacked the pie with a voracity that suggested indigestion was waiting for him on the horizon.

Mr. Alpha finished his pie and threw aside the paper bag it came in. He scratched his nose, wondering if it was good time to ask about the ex-Mr. Alpha. And why he was ex.

‘Question?’ Mr. Omega shouted through pastry.

Mr. Alpha didn’t have the courage to mine that particular topic, not just yet. He shook his head.

They emerged from the alleyway into another wide road, gummed up with slow traffic, lined with warehouses. Mr. Alpha spotted the place quickly: about twenty metres to their left was a crimson warehouse, looking recently repainted and rust-free. Metallic letters with neon surround spelt out “Scala Caeli”.

‘Jesus H,’ said Mr. Alpha. ‘It stands out a bit. This is what we call a secret operation?’

Mr. Omega sighed. He finished his pie, scrunched up the bag and threw it towards a nearby cat which moved away at its own pace. ‘Remember, they have to run a proper business. If you wanted to have yourself put into cryogenic suspension, would you purchase the service with a company that stored you in a rusty old shed with spiders or one that had bright, shiny, modern-looking digs?’

‘It’s a good point,’ Mr. Alpha answered.

As they crossed the road, snaking through slow-moving cars, Mr. Omega said, ‘Of course it’s a damn good point. Kids today… where is the fucking respect for one’s elders?’

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1618