It was always these moments in the car that David hated so much. These last few moments. They drove around so much, him and Tim, getting what work they could get, hiding as often as they needed to, and it was hard for David to pinpoint exactly what part of this life he hated the most. There were so many shitty strip clubs, so many bedbug-ridden hotel rooms. David didn't give a shit about the helping people, not anymore, and he sure as hell didn't give a shit about Tim anymore. The only thing he lived for anymore was the beer. Same as Tim gave a shit about the meals. In a world with literal gods, the little pleasures were the only ones either of them could give a shit about.
"Okay, Dave, are we gonna do this, or what?"
Tim's voice jarred David back to reality. God dammit, how much I wish I could kill him, he thought. Or that anything could kill any of us.
"Yeah. Listen, Tim, I really don't wanna fucking do this, but I feel I need to," David started. "The same way I feel I need to do this every time."
Tim rolled his eyes. "Oh, for fuck's sake. Again with this shit? Worse than my fucking mom." He reached into what would appear to an outsider to be a jacket breast pocket and pulled out what would appear to an outsider to be a Marlboro Special Blend. "Every goddamn time. 'Tim, we made a deal with 'em.' 'Tim, they said no, let's get out of here.' 'Tim, stop cutting her.' Every goddamn time." Tim held his hand as though there were a lighter in it and flicked his thumb down; a flame emerged and lit the cigarette. "Don't even know why you fuckin' care. Never heard of a halfassed demigod before. If you're so fuckin'…so fuckin' noble, why do you even ask for payment?"
David could not possibly hate Tim more than at these moments, the Confrontation Moments which are specific experiences that serve as distinct subsets of the general experience of the Car Moments. "Yes, Tim, you're right. I am a filthy, disgusting hypocrite, and a nagging bitch, and why do I even bother running the fucking Outland with you, and why shouldn't I just take this piece of shit right up to the doorstep of 19 and let Clef and Bright turn me into dust or feed me to the lizard or stick me on a relativistic treadmill or whatever those psychos will dream up that will make humble hardworking sociopaths such as ourselves look like the rankest of amateurs."
David took a deep breath. "Now, with all of these particulars established, allow me to repeat myself. We are going to have a conversation with the Hochschild family today. This conversation is going to include a request on their part that we grant them a very particular variety of assistance, one which we are uniquely positioned to provide. This conversation will subsequently include each of us explaining the price which this assistance will cost the Hochschild family. I can accept the horrific ethical ramifications of this because of the vagarious nature of free market economics; the family may accept or reject our terms freely, and the choice of what happens is entirely theirs. You can accept them because you wouldn't know a horrific ethical ramification from a fucking Shiba Inu. But it would make me remarkably more comfortable if you would be so kind as to pretend that you do. Just for the next half-hour or so. And, if all goes well, you get a little bit more of the last creature comfort that means anything to you at all, as do I."
Tim had finished his cigarette. "Is that all?"
David sighed and reached for his seat belt. "I hope that's all I need."
Tim opened the car door. "Whatever."
The house was nice enough, David supposed; ranch-style, situated on a few acres of land, well-stocked fishing pond out front, sporadic landscaping throughout the property. Upper-middle class. Not as nice as some of the celestial mansions that you found occasionally near the area of Site 19, the ones the staff occasionally made for themselves or some of the civilians they were smiling on that day. But these houses, this property? It was real. It wasn't some capricious illusion made reality at the hands of a fake "doctor" who won the anomalous magic lottery one day. David could respect that. Tim, as usual, could give a shit less.
In one corner of the lot next to the road, David saw a very specific sort of hole. Just a few feet wide at most. But David could feel the tear in reality, its physical manifestation, went a lot deeper than that. The family had planted some cherry trees around it and called it a day.
David knocked on the back door and smoothed his hair back. Tim finished another illusory cigarette (he thought the smoking looked cool), standing parallel to the door a few feet behind David in what he thought was a classic tough-guy apathetic stance. An older woman came to the door. "Hello? Can I help you?"
"Mrs. Hochschild? I'm David Eskobar. We spoke on the phone? This is my associate, Timothy Hyne. We're here about your daughter?"
Just for the briefest moment, the look of sheer relief and joy that came over the Hochschild matriarch made David flash back to when this job was enjoyable on its own merits. Back when it had all the genuine pleasure of helping people, combined with the little thrill of knowing he was helping to clean up the side effects that the Clefs and Kondrakis back at 19 didn't know they were leaving behind. Mrs. Hochschild stepped back and let David and Tim in.
Mr. Hochschild was unconscious in the living room, half-empty bottle of Bacardi Gold rising and falling along with his chest. The top was screwed back on it, presumably the handiwork of his wife. Presumably not the first time in the last few months. They walked past him to a bedroom near the back of the house. A bizarre, vaguely speech-like sound grew louder as they approached. David knew the basics of what he was about to see.
The girl was ten, maybe eleven years old. Bookish sort, judging from the glasses and the shelves on two walls. The third wall had — goddammit, of course it did — three Foundation posters on the wall. One a manga-artwork version of Kondraki riding the lizard, one a poster from Shenanigans '09, one from the TV show. Tim got the shit-taste look on his face and was about to say something; David gave him a look and Tim just crossed his eyes.
The girl was next to her bed. She turned and walked past the edge of the bed, turned toward the door, and took a step. She said "Mom, I told you, he's just a —" and disappeared. Right as the words began to come out of her mouth, she was gone. She was standing back by her bed, walking to the edge, turning toward the door, speaking, and disappearing.
"She's…" her mother said, "she's been like this for two months now." Mrs. Hochschild broke down in tears.
"It's to be expected, ma'am," David said. "Tim and I, this is a problem we run into pretty commonly. Temporal loop, small scale, affixed to her personally. If we had the exact date and time, I bet it would correlate with a major shift at one of the big Foundation sites."
"Oh, Sarah loved the Foundation stories so much!" Mrs. Hochschild said. "I mean, we all did, of course, we took her to see Senior Staff Shenanigans back a few years ago, we all had such a great time —"
"Oh, fucking enough, goddammit," Tim said. "Suck Strelnikov dick on your own time, when I don't have to hear it."
Mrs. Hochschild gasped. "I would deeply prefer it, sir, if you avoided that sort of filthy language in this household."
David slapped Tim on the chest. "Sorry, whatever," Tim said.
"This is very fixable," David said. "Tim and I, we're, uh, we're actually former employees of the Foundation. We're very familiar with these sorts of things. They happen when Senior Staff conduct large-scale reality shifts. Sort of a blowback, a recoil type of thing. The fabric of reality can only handle so much."
"But…that can't be right," Mrs. Hochschild said. "They're…they're all so smart! So wise! They have God locked in a cell, for goodness' sake! Why would they let this happen?"
"They ain't that bright," Tim snarled. "They…we lucked out, that's it."
"The Senior Staff do what they do for their own sake," David said. "You can't…you can't really feel it, exactly? But there's a, a sort of spell on you. On everyone. It makes you all love them, love what they do, see it as glamorous. It's called a memetic felicification agent, and they're broadcasting it from Site 19. As part of our service, we'll need to inoculate your family against it. It's part of getting your daughter free."
David had made that part up a few years earlier. The family's belief in the Senior Staff's pseudo-divinity had nothing to do with their ability to be wrecked by them. But one of the few things David and Tim could agree on was that anything that took those people down a peg was good for the world. And most of that rationale was bullshit too, just words from the old Foundation that helped to explain the inexplicable.
Stunned, Mrs. Hochschild tried to speak. "Are…are you sure about all this?"
"Quite sure, Mrs. Hochschild," David said. "It's for the best."
"Let's get to those payment negotiations you mentioned, shall we?" Tim said.
"Oh, we have money," Mrs. Hochschild said. "That certainly won't be a problem. We'll pay anything to save our daughter."
Tim's mouth spread in a predator's grin. "That's what we're very much hoping."
"Ah…about payment," David said. "We don't actually accept cash. No real use for it for our types. There are only a few things that we can't make for ourselves. Certain…well, let's just say we need volunteers."
"Well, technically —" Tim began.
"We need volunteers to, erm, source our materials in an ethical fashion. A process that some of us —" David glared at Tim at that " — consider important."
"I…I'm very confused, I'm afraid. What is it exactly you want?"
"Well, I actually happen to be something of an amateur brewer," David said. "Beer fan. I try to find what I can, experiment with new stuff."
"We don't have anything like that around here," Mrs. Hochschild said. "We're a religious family. Senior Staff has told us that 343 frowns on the consumption of spirits."
Tim snickered. David said, "Oh, you don't have any actual alcohol I'm interested in. I'm more looking for ingredients. Do you have anything consecrated?"
Mrs. Hochschild took a step back. "Eh—excuse me?"
"Relics? Artifacts? Old Bibles, maybe? Any religion will do. They have a certain symbolic power that embeds itself in the beer. Very unique, very subtle. Can't be replicated with anything artificial. It has to be something that others have believed in, put faith in. You can taste it."
"You're…" Mrs. Hochschild took a step back. "You're insane! And you!" she said, pointing at Tim. "What…what horrible thing do you want?"
"Ah, yes," Tim said. "About that."
A few more sprinkles of oregano floated into the pot. "Mmmm," Tim said. "Do you even fucking smell that shit? This is beautiful, man. This is art. How's your thing?"
David took a sip of the wort. "Eh. Not bad." He took another sip. "Wish they'd had something other than just Christian shit. I mean, the Bible was at least, hm," he said, sniffing closely, "at least eighty years old. Just wish I could get something different."
"I feel that. You wanna go someplace overseas? Get some weird shit? Gypsies? Maybe some African shaman shit? I'm up for going global with this." He stirred the stew a bit more, brought the spoon up to his lips. "God damn, man. You sure you don't wanna try this?"
"I'm good, man," he said. "And listen, sorry about the thing before. I can't judge your shit too much, I guess. And at least you gave her the prosthesis this time."
"Aw shit," Tim said. "And the mama still kept bitching. I'm like, 'bitch, we're gonna save your daughter's shit, and you're getting almost all of her back, whaddya want?' and she's all crying and shit. And I was just like "fine, how about one of those metal blade things they give cripples that makes them all fast and shit', and she just nodded and kept crying or whatever, and that's consent, right?"
David shrugged. "Sounded good to me." He turned back and looked at his brewing equipment. "It'll take a couple of weeks to get this properly aged. That ought to take another half hour or so, hard as I'm dilating time around it." David gave it some thought. He looked at Tim.
A broad smile broke over Tim's face. "Aw, shit, man. I can hook you up." He ladled some of the stew into a bowl. "I put some Italian spices in it this time. It's all kinds of special." He slid the bowl over to where David was.
"Is there an occasion I don't know about?"
"Shit, dude. Who knows how many years ago today? Think back, man. This is Der Tag."
David took a sip of the broth and thought back. "Holy shit, this seriously is amazing. Um. February 11th. Lemme th —" David stopped. "Ohhhhh. The day all…all this happened. Bender's Day."
"You're the only one who doesn't think that's a cartoon reference, dude," Tim said, taking another bite of the stew. "Get some of that meat, dude. I think it'll make you smarter. She came off as pretty smart, except for the bullshit Clef fetish."
"Eh. All the kids have that nowadays. Anyway, as much shit as I gotta see out there," David said, "I dunno if I wanna be smarter." He shrugged, looked back at the bowl, and took a bite.
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