Jakeob Aldon stared at the card that Felix Cori had given her. Or maybe she should start calling him "The Critic." She let out a sigh and stretched out across her bed, flipping the card between her fingers. The side that had held the number she was to previously call was now blank, and the opposite side held nothing but a question.
Are We Cool Yet?
It was an interesting question, at the very least. A group that was little more than a question suggested that the answer could never be "Yes." Because then what? What if the opposition suddenly was cool with you? What if the art, and by extension the artists, became cool? To some that may not matter as it would simply mean dropping what amounted to little more than a label, but from Aldon's limited experience the aussie anartists were all about labels.
The Critic critiqued. The Director directed. The Sculptor sighed and waited for the card to do something interesting.
After several more minutes, the card finally obliged. Upon turning it to the side that used to be blank, Aldon found a new phone number to call. She pawed for her phone and when the search came up empty she sat up.
In the corner of the room she spotted Copper, Boron, Iron, and Zinc gathered around her crappy old flip phone. They didn't seem to be eating it, which was good. In fact, they appeared to be trying to use it. Iron and Copper were holding a phone book open while Boron read from it, Zinc punching in the numbers. Aldon crouched down to see Boron reading from a listing for some company that bought and sold gold items.
Aldon pinched the phone and tugged it away from Zinc, who protested by waving its little arms around. Iron hopped up onto the phone book and hopped about pitifully.
"Sorry, guys, I need this. Besides, you need money to buy gold."
Now too occupied with dialing the number, Aldon missed Boron looking to the spot on Finnegan's desk where the roommates tended to leave their wallets.
Aldon waited while the dial tone droned on. After approximately four seconds the tone changed to a low pitched hum, which Aldon assumed was a memetic screening device or something. When the tone decided her mind probably hadn't collapsed in on itself, Felix picked up.
"…Hi." Out of the corner of her eye, Aldon caught Zinc trying to sneak up on the unsuspecting wallet sitting on the desk. She rolled her eyes and pocketed the wallet and gave the little golem a light bop on the head with her finger. All the while, Felix remained silent. "Felix?"
"Right, sorry, just waiting for this thing to triangulate you."
"What thing?" Aldon slid over to the window and looked to the sky. "You know you could have just friggin' asked where I live."
"I was busy! And nervous. And stuff. Look, it doesn't matter. This thing is almost done, and then I'll send The Janitor over to pick you up."
"That doesn't sound like much of an artist name."
"Well, no. She— it— is more of a… well, the cleaning crew. It's a long story. But don't worry, this triangle thing just finished so she— it— will be right over."
Knock. Knock. Knock.
"Shit, that was fast." She started for the door but a thought caught her midstep. "Did you know where I live this whole time and did this just for a cool setup?"
Felix just laughed. "I'll see you in a bit."
Aldon stared at the phone as it clicked and went back to the regular dial tone. "He so did."
After pocketing the phone Aldon went to the door. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure the golems weren't in an immediate line of sight, then she unlocked the door and cracked it open. She took a small breath and looked out.
Something looked back. Behind the lens of a gas mask, two tunnels bored into a skull that might not have actually been there. The resulting abyss drew Aldon in like a moth to a flame, despite the obvious dissimilarity due to an abyss being both dark and cold and a flame being… well, not those things. The being nodded in greeting but kept its gloved hands at its side.
A voice like a dying loudspeaker emanated from somewhere in its general vicinity. "Sculptor. I am called The Janitor."
"Sup," Aldon said with a smile. "Come in, before somebody notices you. You're… what, a demiurge? Full Urge? You're definitely something."
The Janitor cocked its head as it entered. "You are more relaxed than most I meet."
Aldon shut the door behind it. "I mean, don't get me wrong— you're still unnerving as fuck. Just, y'know, that doesn't mean I can't be polite. Besides, you're not the first god I've met."
"I am not a god."
Aldon shrugged. "Eh, whatever you are. So I'm guessing you have some teleporting thingamajig to get me to Felix, yeah?"
The Janitor slowly began to unbutton its trenchcoat. "I have a Way."
"Cool, cool. Well, uh, open 'er up and let's get going."
"Close your eyes. Cover your ears. I will guide you with my hand on one shoulder. When I release, you may open your eyes and ears."
Aldon shut her eyes but had to make the remark, "This is gonna be some traumatic jaunt through your personal Way, isn't it."
Before she covered her ears she heard the rush of fabric, as if the Janitor was opening its trenchcoat in a deliberately dramatic fashion. It was too bad nobody could see it. Or hear whatever followed, now that Aldon had covered her ears.
The familiar sensation of being shoved through a hole in spacetime quickly enveloped Aldon. An overbearing sense of something she couldn't quite pin down pressed upon her from all directions. A large hand grasped her left shoulder and gave her a light push, and so she walked. The feeling never lessened, and was so alien that she couldn't even gather some semblance of resistance to it. So she walked, The Janitor's hand on her shoulder. Blind, deaf, and drowning in a sea of mystery.
Then her body collapsed into a singularity for a brief moment, and when she regained her senses there was no hand on her shoulder. She cracked an eye open and saw Felix staring at a blank wall even more blankly. Next to him, Cassandra Paulson was glaring at an unknown third anartist who was painting the wall beige. They were inside a large, mostly empty warehouse. Anartists could be seen everywhere, most either cleaning or painting, though a few could be seen carrying around benches.
Power crackled behind her. "I have brought The Sculptor. Is there anything else you need?"
Felix snapped out of his daze. "Allie! Hi! Janitor! No, I don't think so. We should be good for today."
The Janitor nodded and trudged away. Aldon watched it leave, half expecting it to disappear the moment she stopped looking. And then it was gone.
"You okay?" Felix poked her shoulder and she snapped to attention. "Janitor didn't shake you up too much?"
"Nah, he's a big sweetheart," Aldon said. "Or she. Or it. Whatever. Anyway, what's with the whole… warehouse thing? That just looks like normal paint."
"It is normal paint. It's part of the piece."
Aldon looked around. It wasn't all that large a warehouse, really. "The whole place is the piece?"
"Yeah. C'mon, I'll show you around."
Everyone seemed to work a little more earnestly when Felix was near, and worked near frantically whenever Paulson turned her gaze on them. Aldon watched a group of anartists almost drop the mosaic window they were lugging around just because their precious Critic was watching. With methodical effort they hefted the glass up to their peers standing on a pair of ladders, who then somehow affixed the window to the solid wall. Colored light immediately began to pour into the warehouse, bringing the image of a rectangular prism sitting on a table into sharp contrast with the dark warehouse wall.
"Neat," Aldon commented.
"Oh man, neat doesn't begin to cover it," Felix said. "You have no idea how ambitious this whole thing is! I really think I'm making something great here."
Aldon drew her mouth to the side but said nothing, and Felix was too enamored with his self-proclaimed handiwork to notice. Glances at Paulson only earned glares in return, so Aldon quickly gave that up. The odd thing, at least to Aldon, was that the anartists seemed to have taken an interest in her. She caught a fair few of them pointing at her when they thought she wasn't looking.
If this was what it was like to be a celebrity, Aldon would gladly remain in anonymity.
Yet the sheer number of them niggled at her. "So where are all these people from? This is way bigger than your group was before."
Felix grinned. "People flock when word gets out that The Critic is looking for disciples. Everybody wants to be cool." He gave her a look she definitely didn't like. "Whether they'll admit it or not."
Punching him would have been too easy. "Oh, don't you get started. You know why I'm here. After I get my new body I'm bugging the fuck out."
All Aldon saw was an authority figure who had earned his title by virtue of failing to say "Not it" fast enough. When she looked to the mosaics she saw nothing but a mimicry of former arts without understanding their purpose. Craftsmen and artisans capable of bending reality over backwards and making spacetime their bitch had gathered in such numbers that they needed a warehouse to fit them all. Yet all they strove for was the attention of a man who used to clip newspaper articles.
Surveying the scene around her was reminding her of something, though she couldn't quite place what. She watched groups pull in wooden benches and set them in rows. They all lined up and were facing in one direction, toward a podium with a large platform behind it. It seemed strangely vacant. Behind the poor, empty platform was an even larger mosiac of a man and a woman reaching upwards while the hand of what was likely God reached down.
"Oh." Aldon looked at the benches, now recognizing them to be pews. "Oh." The beige walls and cascading light seemed to finally click into place. "Oh." She stared at the platform that had a distinct lack of statue on it. "Oh."
"So, you figure it out?" Felix asked.
They wanted her to sculpt a god.