November 17th, 1996
Francis yawned. Another night spent in the office, surrounded by the Paperwork Himalayas.
Dammit Iceberg it is not that easy…
Perhaps half an hour earlier he had peeled his head off of his desktop planner and out from under a rather irritated Josie. The cat had taken a liking to him in the last month and a half, or at least his head was the most comfortable. He went through the motions of morning routine in a daze: five minutes under a frigid and unforgiving shower head, a quick brush of the teeth and look in the mirror. Tussled, dirty blonde hair and not nearly enough sleep.
Then again, nobody slept a lot anymore.
Try as he might (which was not trying very hard at all), Francis couldn’t shake the daze from his head: his brain felt like pudding in a cotton bowl. He knew he was dressed, but couldn’t recall actually doing it. He knew it was morning, but had no clue what time it was. He knew it was Sunday morning, and if he was here, then it wasn’t his weekend off. Shit. That meant that most of the staff was home: fewer than a hundred people in the entire place, most of them guards and maintenance. That meant that mooching off of someone who had gone to the grocery store and had more than old ramen in their cupboard was going to be far more difficult than it usually was. This left the only reasonable stand-in.
Francis wasn’t sure who had started the “game”. It wasn’t really a game, though. Challenge? It wasn’t particularly challenging. Thing people did? That worked. It was a thing that people did. The thing in question consisted of five steps
1) Go to break room.
2) Input “something suitable for humans” into the coffee machine (“random” and “your choice” had ended messily.)
3) Feed the vending machine 500 Yen (change available nearby.)
4) Eat breakfast. Generally.
5) Regret your decision. Usually.
Francis opened the door to the break room. Step one, complete.
The few other inhabitants of the break room were noted, if dimly: One woman, with a scar on her cheek and a sleeve tattoo, one man, with a pencil mustache and an M-16, and one teenage girl, with blonde hair and pink pajamas. All three were sitting on the overstuffed sofa (A buy from a local thrift store. Francis nearly got his foot crushed when he and Ben moved it in). The girl was watching TV, something about a cartoon dog-rabbit thing screaming at a rather dopey looking red cat. The adults looked bored. The woman was staring at some spot to the lower right of the TV, the man was sipping from a coffee mug. The girl was eating fluorescent blue Pop-Tarts.
“Sam. Tony. Iris.” Francis slowly nodded to each in turn as he shuffled over to the coffee machine. Whatever the response was fell on deaf, distracted ears. He punched “strong coffee” into the keypad. The machine dispensed its usual paper cup, followed by a steaming black sludge.
Yeah…that’s good. That’s good…
He took the cup and turned to the vending machine. Oh, you crafty Japanese. Of course you’d have something this bizarre around a back alley. Francis fished in his pocket, taking out the five hundred Yen he kept in the pocket of every pair of pants he owned (for emergencies).
The machine coughed out something that, on closer inspection, was a lumpy object wrapped in thin tin foil. The labeling was unreadable. Francis set down his coffee and tore open the foil, a Russian nesting doll made of molded beef jerky. Inner layers looked to be cheese, processed egg, chocolate, and a few tiny ones he couldn’t identify. He’d leave those out.
Francis shuffled out of the break room without another word. Fucking paper work. Dammit Berg it was not that easy.
There was a short silence.
Iris and her two guards looked at each other with a mix of confusion and barely-held laughter.
“So then. Gimp suit wedding dress. That’s a new one,” Iris said.
Francis walked down the hall, alternating between tearing off chunks of doll with his teeth and gingerly sipping the sludge. He could barely taste either.
Ugh…Why isn’t it working. It’s fucking bean slurry and I still feel like I have an iron spike driven through my skull.
A low hum echoed from down the hall, followed by a swish of wind, a glint of reflected light and blinding, unimaginable pain. Francis dropped to his hands and knees, screaming, though the word did not do the sound justice: this was something that tapped into the basest, most savage pain of man. What was that on the floor…a pool, a red pool…Blood. Blood everywhere. Red in his eyes, blinding red and black and pain.
Slowly, slowly…painfully…Francis raised a trembling hand to his face.
No…God no…oh God…oh God oh God oh God
His right cheek was wet. He could feel ragged skin and pulped bone and torn muscle under his fingers. His hand moved up, on its own now. Right by his eye socket, in his socket, he could feel cold metal: a long piece of cold metal, slick with blood, with a pointed tip about five inches from where his eye would have been. Should have been.
Francis screamed again. The faces in the wall laughed as the clocks melted and the floor fell away and the meat hooks dug into his flesh and hoisted him to the cockroaches on the ceiling and everything went out like a snuffed candle.
“Look, Connor, I realize the danger. Yes, he may end up killing us all. He just might save us too. He can twist reality with a thought, subconsciously, even. Self preservation kept him alive and he's already healed up. If he can learn to control it consciously… yes, I know the dangers involved. We’d be trying to put a god on a leash and employing him. Yes, I do think it’s worth it. Bear in mind, he is my student: I know him far better than you, Connor. Yes, I still trust him. No, I am not going to be sloppy: I will have him killed if he can’t be trained, trust me. We’ll keep him under sedation until we find a proper solution. Tell Dr. Elliot she’s inheriting his duties for the time being.”