Human Resources: Part One.
by Mark Brand.
see also:
Human Resources: Part Three.
Human Resources: Part Two.
forum: night.blind: Human Resources

a collaborative fiction.

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night.blind: 01.2.1: 14 November 2004: Mark Brand.

          You only really need to know two things about Dante Nagel.  Concepts.  General ideas.

          Lies, and insurance policies.

          Of these, the lies were just vanity and the insurance policies were more of an operating expense.

          Everything about Dante was a lie.  Not just the bogus cards in his wallet or the nameless numbered accounts that transferred imaginary electronic bread into and out of his life.  He was built, from the balls up, as a construct.  A self construct, mostly, and that's where the vanity came in.  It wasn't the sort of thing that leapt out at you, but if you could examine this man, as we are about to do, it would probably make you much less afraid of him.

          He was 46, but said he was 38.  He called himself Dante, but his real name was Herbert D. Nigel.  Nigel was too working class for him, and 'Herb' didn't exactly inspire fear or respect.  He told people he grew up on the north side of Chicago.  Maybe a little Northwestern, maybe a little DePaul...  But he had lived about eight blocks too far west, in Cabrini Green, and got a communications associates at Oakton. He had a Mediterranean name, but his mother was Turkish and his father was a regular old nigger.  He knew this because his mother used to shriek it at him from the other side of the ashy high-rise tenemant wall, if they weren't balling.

          As long as the subject has come up, Dante was a legendary womanizer.  But the truth was he rarely indulged in vice of any sort.  Deprivation breeded the purest form of useful aggression.  He just paid several well-placed mouths to utter... minor... factual inconsistencies from time to time.  Like the time Dante had reputedly hired the services of an entire Nevada brothel to service his current girlfriend, while he watched.  Or the time two women showed up at the ambulatory gastroenterology unit of University on Nevada Medical complaining of severe abdominal pains after having spent a night with him.  Together. 

          He liked to let people think great and expansive things about him, and made no effort to rectify, correct, or ceartainly not "keep real".  He had a reputation for being tough, irrisistable, and direct.  In reality, he had very little personal inertia.  He was a back-shooter, a poisoner, an alley sniper, a brass-knuckle wearer.  A weenie with a sharp sense of timing. 

          And, of course, insurance policies. 

          His first line of insurance policies were probably more than he would ever need.  He kept a small army of guys to have his back as needed.  Just regular guys, mostly.  Janitors, cabbies, cablemen.  All paid what amounted to hail-mary-save-me money.  Dante paid their car payments, their family medical bills, their rent, their bail, their divorce settlements.  They were happy to accept the money, but not so happy when called on to fuck up someone who had crossed Mr. Nagel. 

          Don't misunderstand, the heavy-browed clunkers of the first insurance policy were pipe-hitters and skull-breakers.  But that's not the sort of call anyone wants to answer on an otherwise quiet Thursday evening.

          Well, it wasn't exactly a call.  More like a page.  The guys who accepted those just-in-time rent payments inevitably began to hate their ominous little Motorola.  But very few dared ignore it.  This was largely due to the second insurance policy.

          His name was 867-055-9129.  As far as Dante could tell, 867-055-9129 had no accent, no vocal inflection, no identifying characteristics of any kind.  He was a man( Dante was fairly sure) and he was demonstrably effective. 

          Anyone who failed to promptly answer a call to action from Dante was fired.  And by fired, I mean Dante would get the man's trendy little Motorola in a plain manila envelope a few days later.  Sometimes cracked up or smelling like gasoline, but always in working condition.  Dante also carried a tiny GPS transmitter capsule with several chemical batteries implanted birth-control style in the soft fascia under his left arm.  A sharp bend of one of the batteries would activate the chemical current.  This he had fortunately never needed to use, but would summon 867-055-9129 with the utmost haste. 

          The only other thing Dante knew about 867-055-9129 was 125000.  That was the cost, in dollars, of one week's premium of this particular insurance policy.  It was a bargain, considering the peace of mind it bought.  Besides, it wasn’t really Dante's money anyway.  At least, not most of it.

          Once you knew these two things about Dante, it really wasn't surprising to find out he was one pisser of an HR guy.

night.blind: 01.2.2: 07 December 2004: Mark Brand.
          Dante frowned at a four-inch thick manila folder. 

          The Viewers were often too predictable for their own good.  They were an element unto themselves, as predictable and quantifiable in their decay as Uranium.  Well... Let's not use as grandiose an analogy as Uranium. 

          They were as predictable as... A can of off-label vegetable beef soup.  The velocity of their talents was weighed, and calculated.  Their very caloric value was measured in lives changed, disasters avoided, and the all-important Regime Stability Factor.  They were assigned a fairly stringent expiration date, and (if not completely used up long before then) were given a reasonable shelf life.

          When it comes to expired Viewers, the vegetable beef soup analogy is particularly apt.  Those allowed to simmer in their own talents long enough would eventually get the jump-and-jive.  They would flake out and start consulting runes as their foresight waned and became less predictable. 

          The Viewers discovered between ages four and ten, before their talents had time to get them in much other trouble, stood a reasonable chance of surviving puberty.  But there was no hard and fast science to explain why middle age almost invariably ruined the foresight. It was Dante's job not only to recognize the signs in the young recruits, but also to recognize the signs of imminent deconstruction in the veterans.

          Fortunately these signs were obvious, even to the casual observer.

          Irene Witty was discovered as a pretty young stripling of a girl hitchhiking along a nameless Pennsylvania state highway somewhere between Bachman Turner Overdrive and Whitesnake.  She had (in her 40 years of being Majestic-9) personally precipitated the deaths of several persons who would, at some point, have become security liabilities.  She was, at 19, the very angel of death.

          Now, at 60, she was more like an insane Mama Cass in an off-Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz.  Her features, once beautiful and terrible, were now bloated and saggy.  She had taken to wearing shapeless sweatsuits and any efforts at personal hygiene had ceased.  Her pod, once austere and modern, had degenerated into utter decorative madness.  She had stripped the kleen finish off of the sheet rock and taken it all the way down to the bare metal in places.  Dante grimaced at the thought of the climate-control hell this must play.  Some parts of her dwelling were space-age insulated, others were bare and raw against the subterranean cold. 

          She had built a chair (nearly a throne) out of what appeared to be a stack of dated copies of the Physician's Desk Reference, glued together with some unidentifiable black muck.  She sat passing the blade of a broken butter knife ($5.85 at Crate and Barrel, Dante had bought it for her himself) over a bowl of marbles in milk.  She had started to lose teeth lately, and Dante thought he knew why. 

          Behind he was indescribable horror.

          Irene had asked, in the misleading voice that she had used once upon a time, if Dante would buy her a kitten for her birthday.  It was the policy of his superiors that even in superblack environ containment, each Viewer was permitted a gift on their birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and Halloween. 

          Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Easter were food holidays.  Each viewer was given a 3 x 5 note card and allowed to write whatever it was that they would like for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that day.  Anything on earth that they wanted was permissible.  A bag of candy, a bottle of gin, an entire roasted turkey (popular because leftovers were also allowed), anything they could imagine and write on the lines. 

          For Christmas, Dante got to pick out gifts for each of them.  Typically he tried to pick things that would comfort or enable them, but often he would just ask them what they wanted.

          For their birthdays, however, the Viewers were allowed to ask for anything.  It was made clear to Dante by his immediate superior that this rule was inviolate.  He had bought all sorts of bizarre things for his viewers over the years.  Porn and musical instruments were favorites, as were furniture, art supplies, clothing...  Nobody ever asked for drugs or video games.  Or music either, actually.  They were allowed unlimited access to the US Library of Congress Music collection, as well as any downloadable recordings from the internet.  And last year, Irene had asked him for a kitten.

          Naturally, Dante had bought her not only the little furball itself, but also a litterbox and food and toys and flea collars and...  Well, you know... kitten accessories.  Dante had smuggled the soft, purring creature into the Grange (barn cat, he thought, giddily) under his coat.  Irene had squealed with pleasure at the sight of it.

          Now, in the doorway of her stinking den, Dante could see the partially-desiccated remains of the kitten, driven into the sheet-rock with 18g1-1/2 pink syringe needles.  The slim blue 22g5/8 needles that they used on themselves were far too small, but the 18's they used to load the syringes were nearly the thickness of finishing nails.  The thing had been first crucified, and then left to whimper and shiver itself to death in shock, and then (if the arterial spray of the floor was any indication), disemboweled while still alive 

          The room reeked of its weeks-dead rotting corpse.  It had taken the boys upstairs nearly a month to decide her fate.  Dante didn't blame them, she was a valuable resource, but still... A fucking kitten corpse can make a lot of hard decisions in a short amount of time.

          He pointed at her and two men dressed in shirts and ties looking like Wall Street rats entered the pod behind him.  The Stock Broker and the Lawyer, as Dante thought of them.  They each held silenced .22 pistols with subsonic ammo so as not to alarm the other Viewers a few pods over.  She had just raised her eyes to them when the Stock Broker raised his long black pointer and fired. 

          "Huhn!" she grunted.

          The bullet had made a tiny pinhole in the fatty rolls over her right ribcage.

          "Fucker!"  She shouted, with surprising vehemence, "That hurr.." 

          A sound like three pigeons taking off, two silenced pistols, nineteen .22 subsonic rounds.  Irene did a little shimmy in her PDR throne, as if she was at a Baptist revival and the spirit of the Lord Jesus had a hold of her.

          "Fuh... You fucking bastards," she hissed at them through bleeding teeth.  Her jawbone had been separated and partially ripped away by a bullet.  She was staring at him maniacally.  The two white collars were starting to reload.  Dante brushed them away and drew his own pistol, a World War II Colt .45.  He had won it on GunBay at considerable cost.  The bullets were nearly finger-size, and decidedly not subsonic.

          "Close the door," he said.

          Later, as he washed his hands in his office's small bathroom, he buzzed Susan to bring him Irene's file.  He would have some out-processing paperwork to do before he could go home and try to forget the sight of the crucified kitten.

          Susan was an outstanding secretary, who smiled sweetly despite her harelip.  He had thrown it in her a few times, but too much of that sort of thing wasn't good for the chain of command.  He took out a propane blowtorch and got the good blue flame pumping.  The three-volume manila file on Irene Witty, Viewer number 507, Codename Majestic-9, age 60, went first to the flames, then down the bathroom sink's garbage disposal.

night.blind: 01.2.3: 07 December 2004: Mark Brand.
          The upsetting kitten incident had given Dante a raging combo case of heartburn/shits for two days.  His attempts to quell it using the usual combination of mac and cheese with ginger ale had been ineffectual.  Not even iced tea or Tums had helped, and Dante thought few things on earth as reliable as good old Tums.  As he let out his fifth biley belch of the morning, he bitterly considered having the café whip him up a bacon and honey mustard sandwich with horseradish and jalapeno peppers for lunch.  If only to spite his complaining gastrointestinal tract.  The image of his guts literally dropping out of his asshole stopped him. 

          Susan opened his office door quietly without knocking.  She flashed him a quick, sticky smile which faded again almost instantly.  She used to be a door-knocker, but after seeing her marred and exquisitely vulnerable face while they screwed enough times, Dante thought knocking was the very definition of moot.  She was meek and humble and brilliant and he loved her for it. 

          He had briefly considered marrying her, but there was some sort of nonmatrimony clause in his contract.  Besides, she was too valuable a worker to him.  If he made her his wife, there would be control issues...  Ultimately, he preferred her this way.  Sometimes, however he preferred her sprawled across his desk.  It was an arrangement which, at the very least, ensured engaging staff meetings.

          "Morning," he said amiably.

          "Good morning," she leafed through a paper-clipped stack of notes, "did you have a chance to talk to Mr. Glenrock?"

          "After lunch.  If I go now he'll…” (yapping hand gesture) “I'm hungry already."

          "Did you try pork tenderloin?"

          Raised eyebrows.

          "Evens things out a little."  It was all she would say of the grunting, multiple-flushing stink-hut his bathroom had been this week.


          "When you talk to Mr. Glenrock, see if you can get a name out of him.  If I get that, it shouldn't take more than a day or two."

          "All right."  Dante thought getting a single fact of any sort out of the old man was a feat indeed.  Arthur Glenrock was the very picture of verbosity.  His circumspect manner was legendary and endearing to the staff of the Grange.  Dante hated the old fucker. 

          "Anything further on Witty?" she asked.

          "No," said Dante.  He thought about it for a moment, "well... No."  Finality.

          Mercifully, Susan moved right along.  She shuffled a sheaf of pink WHILE YOU WERE OUT carbons.

          "Norris would like to talk to you when you get a minute."


          "Mmm... No.  Something about needing new 587's."

          New Balance model 587 athletic shoes.  Standard issue footwear of all Viewers.  Podiatrist approved.

          "Where the hell has he been walking?" Dante asked, "He's not pacing his pod at night is he?"  Warning bells.

          "HRTS would have picked it up.  No red flags on Mr. Norris since... well... ever."  Susan shrugged.

          "Send him a new pair.  Size 12 and a half.  And punch up the sweep time to every ninety minutes on him.  How do you wear out sneakers?"

          "No idea.  Third floor wants the quantity reports for the following; depo-epinephrine, atropine, lysergic diethylamide, tryamcinalone, depo-B12, doxycycline, propoxyphene, glucosamine, skelaxin, heparin... She rattled off a huge list of medications and supplements.  The Viewers were healthy for the most part, but sitting for long periods took its toll.  Hyperkyphotic posture was a norm, from slouching, as were arthritis and venous insufficiency in the lower extremities.  Various remedies were instantly available due to their ports.  Cortisone and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories for aching tendons and muscles, glucophage or insulin for diabetes, muscle relaxants, diuretics, antidiuretics, immunoboosters, immunosuppressants, antibiotics, painkillers, sleep agents, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds and good old depo-LSD.

          The original contingent of Grange Viewers (number: 15, survivor:1) had quickly discovered the cognition-enhancing properties of the diethylamide family.  Other drugs were tried, of course, but none worked as well as LSD.  Some successes were associated with naturally-occurring peyote and mescaline, but their hallucinogenic properties were less predictable than LSD-A or LSSD (the Grange derivatives) that could be synthesized to very reliable tolerances.  The reasonably safe Cannabanol family were also on hand, but their effect was debatable.  Amphetamines, methamphetamines, opiates, synthetic narcotics and the 21st century psychoreactives had little or no effect.  The cocktails that the viewers dosed themselves often contained several of these in ratios predetermined by Third Floor C.P. (Cognition Pharmacology). 

          Dante's eyes glazed over at the endless parade of chemical names.  Susan continued.

          "...noradrenaline, H-5981..."

          Some of the shit Third Floor C.P. sent down just had a number.  No name.  It could be sterile water or gopher guts for all Dante knew.  Maybe they had come up with something new, something to exponentially improve interneuron synapse transmission or boost myelination or...

          Susan had stopped reading and was looking at him.  He stared back at her as if to say: is that all?

          "Did you get those tickets?" he asked her, rapidly changing the subject to throw her off.

          "Which tickets?"  She looked puzzled.

          He mimic-ed an air guitar. 

          "Oh yeah," she said, sweetly "I have some interesting news about that."

          He looked at her expectantly.

          "David Navarro died eight years ago of congestive heart failure."

          "Fuck you," he said, incredulously.

          "It's true."


          "Mmm hmm."

         Eight?  He mouthed, silently.

          She nodded.

          "Fuck," Dante said, "All right well, here..."

          He brought out his key ring.

          "Check the stock for me and tell them we could probably use some more syringes.  Threes and fives.  A box of each.  I'll go talk with Art Glenrock."

          She grinned at him, stifled a giggle, pirouetted like a silly-headed ten-year-old on one heel, and walked away.  He could see her trying to cover up her infectious laugh.  He smiled.  It was sort of funny, after all.

          "Wish me luck," he called after her.

          "Goo... (giggle) good luck." She was almost to the door of her own office, and snorting laughter through her fingers.  Her eyes were tearing.

          "And get me some new fucking music to listen to!" he shouted across the hall, now laughing himself.

          "JANE SAYS!" she warbled from the other room in a marvelous Perry Farrell titter, "I'm through with Sergi-OOOOH!"

          Dante laughed, and ate a bagel.

night.blind: 01.2.4: 07 December 2004: Mark Brand.

          Majestic-2, or 'aught'-two as he sometimes referred to himself, was the oldest member of their present contingent of Viewers.  His birthday was August first.  No gift request put in yet.  He was mildly deaf, and thus spoke just a little too loudly for the relative size of the room.  The man was perhaps not as talented or sightful as some of the others (12 and 17 in particular), but his longevity was stunning.  He had been a Viewer under the supervision of the government for nearly fifty years.  For the last fifteen, Glenrock's primary directive had been to seek out potential new Viewers to replace the retired ones.  Dante occasionally got a creeping suspicion that the old seer had been consulted about his own placement at the Grange. 

          In any event, Glenrock was a special case that required careful handling.  Despite Dante's thorough search for a reason to brainhole the man, he always followed the rules and currently exhibited none of the expiration profile characteristics.  If it had been anyone else, Dante would have just fabricated an excuse.  Glenrock was a known.  And because he was quite well known about, there was no simple way to get rid of him.  The government frowned upon wasting expensive investments if they had not yet fallen to the level of kitten-disemboweling mania.

          Dante, who had never found much patience for codgers, curmudgeons, or doddering granddads, dreaded the experience of conversing with him.

          A great mahogany desk with a top the size of a storm door was immediately behind the door to Arthur Glenrock's pod.  Accompanying the enormous desk, which was considerably nicer than the one in Dante’s own office, was a large high-backed chair of some nondescript 1970’s origin.  In actuality, it was once a top-of-the-line executive captain’s chair that had belonged to the man who had invented embeddable insulin pellets for use in Type I diabetes.  Glenrock, a diabetic from birth, had somehow found out that the chair was to be auctioned from an estate and requested it specifically.  The desk and chair were subsequent birthday presents, respectively.

           Even in this, the man was hard on one’s patience.  Glenrock had positioned the desk directly behind the door so that someone who was entering quickly or thoughtlessly would collide with his desk.  In order to enter the musty old-man pod, you had to slide sideways through a door that only opened inward to about thirty degrees.  Dante seemed unable to remember this fact, and opened the door a little too quickly. 

           His shoulder slammed painfully against the cherry finished steel door, and it rebounded with an embarrassingly loud clang down the otherwise quiet hallway.  He heard a faked snort from the other room, as if Glenrock had been asleep and roused by the noise.  This was not the case.  Glenrock rarely slept past 6 a.m.  He just liked to take people off guard. 

          "This is a fire hazard, Arthur," Dante said, slipping through the half open door, "I think I've told you this before."

          "What's that?" Glenrock replied, feigning sleepy grogginess.

          "The door is a fire..." Dante's eyes closed for a moment too long to be a blink, "Never mind.  I need a name."

          Glenrock laboriously reached for his glasses.

          “A name, eh?  Well what’s in a name, Bill?”

          “Dante,” Dante said, sitting down in Glenrock’s storied chair.

          “Bill as in Shakespeare.”



          “Tamara who?” Dante leaned forward.

          “More Shakespeare, I’m afraid, Dante.  You’re really not that well read are you?  The Tamara reference I’ll give you, but you really should have picked up on the R and J.”

          Dante sat back against the fart-smelling chair and sighed.  This was going to take all day. 

          “Tamara was a warrior queen captured by Titus Andronicus and given over to a sort of semi-slavery.  She eventually became of some importance to the government of Rome and hatched a plan to get some payback.” 

          Dante’s brain had already started to tune the man out.

          “You should listen to this, you know.  It’s right up your alley.  So Tamara and her wild sons, jackals the both of them, and Aaron the Moor decide to murder or otherwise defile Titus’s whole family.”

          Dante thought he knew where this was going.

          “Well old Andronicus, he wasn’t as old or foolish as Tamara thought, and he managed to get back at her.  Killed her, in fact.  But first tricked her into eating her own sons in a pie.”

          “That’s nice, Art, but I really don’t have time for th…”

          “I’ve been looking in yer dammed crystal balls for you for almost fifty years!  Can’t you spare five minutes for a story which may have some bearing on the current situation?”

          “Right, right.  Sorry.  Continue,” Dante said.  He once more imagined doing some horrid thing to Glenrock.  It made him smile unconsciously.  The older man betrayed a moment of uncertainty.  At least Dante still possessed some amount of intimidation.  With the retirement of this babbling old idiot still postponed indefinitely by his superiors, intimidation was more or less his only recourse. 

          “So… anyway… the point of the story.  The point… “ Glenrock looked at him and shook his head absently.

          “Tamara and Andronicus,” Dante prompted.

          “Exactly!  Titus and Tamara.  The point is, Titus had the power of life and death over Tamara the whole time.  When he first encountered her, he could have just cut her throat and burned her ashes the way he did her eldest son’s…”

          Dante once again felt himself drifting off in the pointlessness of it all.

          “…he showed mercy and was repaid with the bitterest revenge.  In the end, sure, old Andronicus got back at her, but at such cost.  Such cost!”

          The old man took a deep breath and blew it out.

          “So I’m sure you can see the comparisons,” Glenrock said. 

          As it happened, Dante thought he did.  The man was concerned, on some dim level, that Dante might try to prematurely retire him.  As it happened, this was exactly the plan.  It made Dante feel slightly better about the whole meeting in that Glenrock was not completely confident that his relative usefulness and tenure would keep him safe.  Dante didn’t think brutal frankness would help anything. 

          "I wonder how relevant all of that Shakespeare stuff is these days."  Dante said, almost to himself.  "Revenge seems like such a melodramatic notion anymore.  Unaffordable, almost."

          Glenrock listened with intent to this last, and nodded with overproduced magnanimity.

          "Well, if nothing else, you're a frugal bunch.  Perhaps there's some hope for you." 

          This was a refrain Dante had heard before.  Glenrock was referring to Dante’s generation.  An ageist to the bones, was Arthur Glenrock.

          “Well, Art, I came to discuss one name in particular.”

          Glenrock nodded. 

          “I’m thinking it’s either Irene Witty or Jasper Daniels.”

          “Who is Jasper Daniels?” Dante asked, knowing the answer already.

          “Who indeed,” said Glenrock, “but more importantly, it’s not Irene Witty.”

          Dante had been through this conversation a number of times, and knew how it went.  He put on his best face of grave disclosure.

          “No.  I’m afraid Irene has been institutionalized.  She was having some issues.  Change of life probably, or maybe something even more serious.  She’s been taken somewhere that’s a little bit better suited to her.”

          Arthur nodded conspiratorially as Dante spoke. 

          “I saw the little cat on the wall,” Glenrock said, lowly, “Wasn’t right in the head, was she?”

          Dante sighed.

          “Crazy as a shithouse rat,” Dante replied.

          Glenrock burst out into laughter.

         “Frugal with your emotions, but still enamored with honesty!  Your generation’s for shit, I tell ya.  For shit!” 

          “I’m going to use your can for a second, then I want you to tell me about how your book is coming.”

          Glenrock looked at him warily.

          “Er.. Sure.  Yeah!  It’s over to the left.”

          Dante didn’t need to be told this.  The lavatory in every pod was over to the left.

          “I haven’t worked on it in a while, but it’s still bouncing around up here.” Glenrock pointed to his temple.

          “Back in a sec.”

          Dante excused himself to the pitiful pisser and took a long leak.  As he did so, he took out his cell phone and hit speed dial #2.  Susan picked up the phone on the first ring.


          “Jasper Daniels.”

          Click off.

          The name was all she needed.  Even if the potential candidate’s name was John Smith, it would still have taken only an afternoon to track him down.  Dante steeled himself for at least another forty minutes of Glenrock’s nonsense.  On second thought, he hit the speed dial again.

          “Yes?” Susan’s voice.

          “Call me again in exactly thirty minutes.  Wait five, then come and get me personally.”

          “Got it.”

          Dante flipped his phone shut, and considered the myriad ways in which to end Arthur Glenrock’s life.

night.blind: 01.2.5: 20 December 2004: Mark Brand.
          “Who the fuck is Wyclef Jean?” asked Dante.

           “Just try it, you might like it,”  Susan replied.

           “He’s not Canadian is he?”

           “Not that I know of.”

           “Come on, don’t you have anything with a decent bass line?”

           Susan looked at him, her eyes stonewalling his petulance.

           “All right, whatever.”

           The two of them had reunited two mornings later at the window-side table of Crackers.  Crackers, aside from being possibly the most inadvertently funny name ever borne by a Nebraska breakfast diner, was their daily haunt.  A sizzling flat top grill served up fried eggs, bacon, English muffins, all cooked in the same grease, for two bucks.  As far as Dante was concerned, it was the best overall consumer value in the continental United States.  Susan usually just had coffee, but once in a while she snagged a rasher of bacon when he wasn’t looking.  He suspected it was mild anemia, or possibly just a reluctance to fully accept the fact that greasy breakfast foods would always taste better than carrot sticks and lemon water. 

           The tables were a glossy shellacked maple polished almost to mirror sheen by repeated grease-ings and washings.  He loved how his heavy-bottomed glass slid over the surface as if it were lubricated.  He supposed in a sense, it was. 

           “Gone till November?”  She looked at him, expectantly.

           He made no motion.


           Still no motion.

           “Wish You Were Here?”

           At this, Dante brightened.

           “Pink Floyd!”

           Susan put her face between her hands and blew out a long sigh.

           “You’re hopeless.  I have some Yanni you might like…”

           At this, Dante stuck his tongue out at her.  Far from putting up with her teasing him about music, he almost welcomed it.  It was refreshing to think about something else than the cerebral maelstrom under the Grange shed.  Even thinking to hard for too long about how they thought was enough to give him a headache. 

          The Third Floor had figured out a few things about the general mechanisms of remote viewing, but most of the theory they went on was from the Cold War.  Before invading the U.S. in droves in the 1990’s with the firm intention to corner the housekeeper market, the Soviets had spent hilariously unthinkable amounts of time, manpower, and money researching the weapon potential of paranormal humans.  Much of it was such utter bullshit it was laughable, but there existed a fairly complete core of historical data that was sold to the United States in the late 1990’s for five Snicker’s bars and a used Dodge Omni. 

           This data core (more like a “box of notebooks” to be exact), was added to the U.S. program curriculum and that’s when the C.P. team really started taking strides.  The successes that the under-funded Superblack U.S. remote viewing program had scraped together up to that point stemmed mostly from lucky combinations of drugs and trial/error.  Once the Soviet data core was deciphered, however… 

           Well, the drugs got better fast.  The sensory integration technology was already available, it just needed to be set up.  The people who could see found other people who could see.  The dead weight was tossed over the side.  And a decade or two later, here they sat.  Beneath Hitch was a complex with more floor space than the Sears Tower.  Contained within, minds capable of bending time and distance.

           It was thought at first that the Viewers could look through the vibrating fabric of motion, from which they could pull the electrostatic energy that is conscious thought.  Then for a while there was a faction of C.P. that thought the pharmaceutical re-awakening of the typically dormant 97% of the brain allowed for a whole host of unrecognized cognitive sensory capabilities.  Then it was rumored to owe much to genetics.  Then for a while it was back to the electrostatic mechanisms.  The theory was there, especially after getting Grzigor Vlatuk’s box of notebooks, but even people who had spent lifetimes at physical computation were having a hard time wrapping their expensive heads around it.

           In comparison to the idea of experiencing firsthand the death of a lone Eskimo woman who lived four thousand years before Spanish conquest of the North American continent, getting your balls busted about contemporary pop music was actually light mental work.

           “Want some more eggs, sweetie?” the waitress asked.

           “Actually, yes.  Two more, more bacon, more O.J.”

           The food-hooker disappeared to retrieve them.

           “So, where is Mr. Daniels?”

           Susan smiled and reached into a leather binder (Christmas present, three years).  From it, she withdrew a sheet of paper.  This could only mean one thing.  Typical data workups of potential viewers were inevitably pages and pages of information.  Resumes, college transcripts, tax returns, criminal records, bank statements…  This was just one sheet of paper. 

           “A kid?” Dante asked, warily.

           “Mmm hmmm, and not just any kid.”

           Dante was unequal to the photo at the bottom of the page. 

           Instead of a school head-shot from school photo day, the picture was taken from the corner of an obviously cluttered house.  Instead of a person, it showed an offset image of a basinet. 

           “You’re shitting me,” Dante said.

           “I wouldn’t do that, you’re my favorite turd,” Susan replied reflexively.  The look in Dante’s eyes startled her.

           “What the fuck is Glenrock trying to pull now?  There’s no way he could know this early.  He’s just trying to play for position…”

           “It’s true.”

           Dante fixed a glare on her that spoke of murder if the explanation wasn’t forthcoming.

           “I went there, and the baby knew I was coming.”

           The look of murder faded to one of confounded disbelief.


           “I took that picture.  That was as close as he would let me get.  When I was getting ready to knock on the door, he started screaming his head off.  I walked away and came back and he did the same thing again.  I had to take the picture through the window.”

           Dante sat back against the cheap fake leather booth seat.  This would complicate things considerably.

           “Can we get him out?”

           “Not easily.  He’s six weeks old, meaning he’s still breastfeeding…”

           “Wet nurse,” Dante mumbled absently.

           “Not that,” Susan picked up on his train of thought. “getting him out of the house will be impossible without killing at least the mother and probably the entire rest of the family as well.  The media never rests when a baby or mother goes missing.  She’s a hick.  Practically next door.  Omaha western suburb, trailer park.  Tons of family.  You’ll have to do them all or it’ll be noticed.”

           “Can we switch the babies?” Dante asked, already knowing the answer.

           “After six weeks?  Not a chance.”

           “What about waiting a couple of years for it to grow up?  Grab him at school or something?” 

           Susan looked at him without replying.  This suggestion was as useless as trying to doppelgang a six week old infant.  Thin.  Too thin.  Dante’s supervisors were quite concerned with the whereabouts of their assets, and the margin for unpredictable error if left in the civilian population was far too high.  The Viewers were always obtained as quickly as possible after their initial recognition.  Procedure Inviolate. 

           “So it’s the whole family, then?”  Dante said, to his English muffin.


night.blind: 01.2.6: 10 January 2005: Mark Brand.
Name: Jasper Edward Daniels
Date of Birth: 9-29-20**
Social Security Number: 128-55-****
Home Address:  3150 W. Pearl
                          Elkhorn, NE 68022
Home Phone:  (402) 795-****
Domicile:  Prefabricated home. 
Sex: Male
Mother: Dora Elizabeth Daniels (same address)
Father:  Michael James Rupert.  Last known address: 22 Hopper
                                                                                 Elkhorn NE 68002 
Siblings: None.
Eye Color: Brown
Hair Color: Brown
Blood Type: A+
Allergies: None.
Medical history: Unremarkable for surgeries, infections or procedures.  Circumcised on 10-10-20**.


Name: Dora Elizabeth Daniels
Date of Birth:
Social Security Number:
Home Address: 3150 W. Pearl
                         Elkhorn, NE 68022
Home Phone: (402) 795-****
Domicile: Prefabricated home.
Sex: Female
Mother: Nicole Ann Hanratty
Father: Henry Robert Daniels
Driver’s License:  Nebraska State Issued # B004-1212-D
Employer: Waldenbooks, Inc.
Position: Associate.
Salary:  $26,200 annual.
Medical Insurance: Humana HMO. 
                              Group #: H68398-A
                              1 Registered Dependent.
Status: Currently on Maternity leave, unpaid.
Federal Tax Status: Current.  No Penalties.
Nebraska State Tax Status: Current.  No Penalties.
Siblings: 1 sister, Mary Helen Douglas (Daniels)
Eye Color: Brown
Hair Color: Brown
Blood Type: A+
Allergies: Latex, Iodine.
Medical History: 
            Tonsillectomy, age 13.
            5th Metacarpal fracture, age 13.
            Pregnancy Termination, age 16.
            Full-term childbirth, age 24.
Highest level of education completed:
            Elkhorn High School
            711 Veterans Dr Box 439, Elkhorn, NE 68022


Name: Michael James Rupert
Date of Birth: 11-17-19**
Social Security Number:  335-40-****
Home Address: (Last known) 22 Hopper
                                              Elkhorn NE 68002
Home Phone: N/A
Domicile: Unknown
Sex: Male
Mother: Joy Rose McClara
Father: Omar Mohamet Rupert
Driver’s License:  License revoked since 20**, following repeated DWI.
Employer:  Unemployed
Position: N/A
Salary: N/A
Medical Insurance: Nebraska Public Aid / Medicaid.
Status: N/A
Federal Tax Status: No reported income for last Fiscal Year.
Nebraska Tax Status:  No reported income for last Fiscal Year.
Siblings: 2 Brothers, Edward Corwin and Omar Mohamet Jr.
Eye Color: Blue
Hair Color: Brown
Blood Type: AB
Allergies: None.
Medical History:
            Chronic Bronchitis, ages 3-15 (repeated hospitalization)
            Seizure, age 14 (no evident cause).
            Seizure, age 17 (no evident cause).
            Gonhorrea, age 22.
            Seizure, age 23 (no evident cause)
            Injuries from MVA, age 23. 
                        -Fractured sphenoid.
                        -Fractured Rt. Clavicle
                        -Laceration over right eye.
                        -Laceration mid-thigh, proximal sartorius.
Highest level of education completed.
            Elkhorn High School
            711 Veterans Dr Box 439, Elkhorn, NE 68022



Authentication:  1515836-B
Security Clearance:  SUPERBLACK, EYES ONLY.  CLR-H+
RE: Termination of contract, IRENE L. WITTY
Facility Designation: MAJESTIC 12
File Number: MAJ-12


Beginning approximately two years status post, Irene Witty began to exhibit marginal personality affect changes including, but not limited to paranoia, fugues, malaise, acute episodic dementia, schizophrenic social signifiers, and generalized sociopathy.  Due to these concerns, Irene Witty was released from the original contract # 7690-F/MAJ-12 in order to pursue clinical treatment for one or more of these disorders. Irene Witty underwent exit counseling and contract termination out-processing congruent with Section 107.4. 

For further correlating data on Irene Witty, consult the General Archives.

Dante Nagel, Dir. Hum. Res.

night.blind: 01.2.7: 10 January 2005: Mark Brand.
          Dante remembered the desk behind the door this time.  He keyed the pod with his card, and slid soundlessly through the door.  Glenrock, who hated being taken off guard, was apparently asleep on an overstuffed easy chair.  He may have been only shamming, or actually sleeping, but it made no difference.  Dante closed the distance in an instant just as the man’s eyes opened.  He tried to rise and Dante planted a hand hard in his chest.  A sharp shove drove him back to the chair with an ‘oof’, and Majestic-2 looked up at the Director of Human Resources with wild eyes.  Glenrock opened his mouth as if to protest.  Dante slapped him, open-handed, across the face. 

          “What the fuck is this, Art?” Dante’s mouth curled into a deadly grin of grinding teeth, “Is it suddenly O.K. to play pranks like this on me?”  He tossed the three sheets containing the workup of Jasper Daniels and his parents onto Glenrock’s lap.

          Glenrock reached for his glasses on the bedside table.  Dante saw the move coming and bashed away Glenrock’s hand.  The spectacles went flying off into the corner of the room with a metallic glass titter.

          “You know what I’m talking about you old fuck.  Did you think this was going to be funny?” 


          Dante slapped him again, this time harder.   Hard enough to draw blood from his lower eyelid. 

          “Shut the fuck up.”

          Glenrock shut.

          “You’re fucking with my job description,” Dante hissed, through clenched teeth.

          Glenrock opened his mouth and then shut it again, remembering the slap.

          “I don’t find this the least bit amusing, Art.  In fact, from my subjective point of view, it seems… well…”  Dante was so angry he lost his adjective in the middle of the sentence.  There was a raw red moment of sheepishness while he searched for it.

          “Vindictive?” Glenrock said, in a cautious, old-man, whisper.

          “…Vindictive,” Dante finished, less annoyed at Arthur than at himself.  “What the fuck am I supposed to do with a baby?”

          Glenrock looked up at him, obviously fearing another lashing.  He appeared to be crying blood, and wiped at it gingerly with a thick-knuckled finger.

          “Oh for fuck’s sake, you can talk now.”

          And for a wonder, Glenrock did.  Though this time with far more temerity than Dante had ever seen from him.

          “You’re the coach of this team, Mr. Nagel, I’m just the talent scout.  I see what I see.  I can’t see what isn’t there and I can’t ignore what is.”

          Dante took a deep breath, and eyeballed Glenrock for signs of sarcasm or double meaning.  There were none.

          “If this blows up in my face, I’m going to grind you into sausage,” Dante said.

          “Then let’s hope it doesn’t blow up at all,” Glenrock responded, sounding a bit less shaken. 

          “Have you got any more shitty little surprises for me?” Dante pressed.  His eyes stared through Glenrock’s bald head and tried to see the man’s brains, “If the father shows up or something at the last minute, Christ help you Art…” 

          Dante’s teeth ground in his set jaw, as if to further accentuate the previous threat.

          Glenrock shook his head slowly, not taking his eyes off of Dante’s face.  Dante broke the eye-lock and shifted his gaze to the memorabilia and historic junk that adorned Glenrock’s pod.  Majestic-02 made a not-very-majestic showing of himself by becoming visibly shaken by Dante’s maddened eyes on his treasure trove.  Dante notices this immediately and pounced.

          “I can burn it all, Art.  I can sterilize this pod like the world’s biggest bucket of bleach.  I’ll start with your fucking desk for kindling, then the chair to really get her going…”

          “No need,” Glenrock said, lowly. 

          “Fuck that,” Dante growled at him, seeing a bullying opportunity if ever there was one, “I’ve got some matches right here in my pocket.  Maybe I’ll take a shit on this painting first.”  Dante ripped a picture at random from the wall and made as if to wipe his ass with it.

          Glenrock’s eyes went wide and the old man surged to his feet.  Dante hit him one last time.  This time with a fist faster than a bullet and harder than a cinder block.  Glenrock crumpled.  Dante tossed the unshatten picture indifferently to the floor where the glass frame cracked.  He grabbed a double handful of Arthur’s shirt and hauled him up to within inches of his face.  The old man had turned an unhealthy gray color.

          “All.  Right.  Fucker,” Dante spat, one word at a time, “No.  More.  Bullshit.”

          What coughed its way into the chair by the bedroom door had to first crawl past the broken picture frame on the tile floor.

          Dante left.  It took a long time for the heat in his cheeks to recede.  Later he would wonder if his outburst was warranted, but for the moment all he could feel was the enormous pain in the ass that this whole situation was about to precipitate.

night.blind: 01.2.8: 11 January 2005: Mark Brand.
          “I’m sort of excited about this,” said Susan, “I’ve always wanted a boy.”

          Dante and Susan walked down the cavernous aisle of the Hitch Sam’s Club.  The Sam’s Club and adjacent WalMart (they always come in pairs) were not a part of Hitch Township, but were actually a special, commercially-zoned district of the hamlet of Borneo.  Lower taxes, cheaper land…. who knew?  Maybe they just didn’t want the name of Hitch hitched to their letterhead.  In any case, it was very much like every other Sam’s club.  Huge shopping carts, automatic doors, yellowing tile floors.  Parking lots larger than some middle eastern countries. 

          And aisles that made even big people feel small.  Bright blue and pink infant incarceration devices with names like “Pack’n’Play” were stacked to the rafters, still wrapped in shipping tape and sitting on pallets.  As if it somehow made the shopping experience bigger to retrieve your purchase from the shelf with a forklift.  Somehow, somewhere, an executive with a degree in environmental psychology decided that if you were going to sell wholesale goods in large lots, it would be appropriate to make the customer feel as though they had just stepped into the hidden world of bulk storage and transportation.  No tricky advertising here.  No boutique-style minimalism.  It was like buying things right out of the hull of a trans-Atlantic cargo ship.

          “What about one of these?”  Susan pointed to a structure which amounted to a padded cage with a foam rubber floor and soft screen sides.  It was apparently no longer fashionable to refer to them as playpens. 

          Dante nodded.  Faceless salespersons scurried into the hive-like wall and extracted their purchase.

          “Did you talk to Glenrock yet?”

          “Yesterday,” Dante replied, “It went about how you’d imagine.”

          Susan fished in an industrial-laundry sized hamper full of $0.99 knit baby caps.  Probably made for $0.04 each in Argentina by children who had worn them not long before.  She pulled out two.  One was a tuke, the other more a balaclava.  Just in case young Mr. Daniels decided to… eh… go skiing.

          She tossed them both into their rattling shopping cart.

          Dante reached into an aisle cap case to retrieve a cold soda.  Susan arched her eyebrows.

           “Uncle Dante needs some caffeine.”

          And the odyssey continued.

          Diapers.  Twenty to a box.  Ten boxes to a case.  Six week old babies need their diapers changed approximately eight times a day.  At this rate, two hundred diapers would last less than a month.  If Mr. Daniels turned out to be a particularly poop-y baby, it would be even less. 

          Two cases.  Huggies.

          Diaper rash cream, skin cream, buffered baby shampoo, buffered baby soap, eye drops, throat drops, Ibuprofen in droppers for teething, pacifiers (all the parenting magazines and resources referred to them insipidly as “nuk’s”), booties, glovies, a Baby-Bjorn (Susan couldn’t resist), and one of the gilded fiberboard basinets. 

           Dante’s SUV was packed completely and the enormous diaper cases had to be strapped to the top rack.  It was the first time anything had even been strapped to his roof with the factory-provided bungee cords.  The government-model Chevrolet Tahoe (black with silver trim) was festooned with smiling baby gear in every window and tied to the top.  Dante found this much visibility uncomfortable, but oddly camouflaging.  What secret government agent would be transporting $1500 worth of parenting equipment?

           “Where are we going to put him?” Susan asked, and then before Dante could reply, “Don’t even say Witty’s pod.”

           Dante looked at her.

           “Bad mojo,” she said lowly.

           “It’ll be all redone…”

           “She nailed a kitten to the wall.”

           “You don’t need to remind me.”

           “Maybe I do.  You’re not seriously going to put a baby in that room.”

           Dante considered this.  There was only one free pod.  He would have to find room for a wet nurse as it was.  He couldn’t exactly let Jasper stay in his quarters, and Susan lived off-base.  Suddenly, a solution occurred to him.

           “No.  Not a baby.”

           The timeless Susan Eyebrow Arch.

           “You’ll see.”

night.blind: 01.2.9: 11 January 2005: Mark Brand.
          “I don’t see why this is necessary, Dante,” Glenrock whined.  It was sweet music to Dante’s ears.

           “Come on, Art, quit breaking my balls.  Move it.”

           Three soldiers with high-level clearance were efficiently moving Glenrock’s furniture.  Dante had instructed them to carefully wrap everything so there was no damage, but Arthur was livid.  He was darting in and out of his pod like an agitated lapdog.  Inside, bark bark bark, outside, bitch bitch bitch, inside, snarl, outside, bark bitch snarl.

           From an objective point of view, Dante realized that this was a rather juvenile bit of vengeance on his part.  Not juvenile enough to keep him from relishing it, but maybe just a little juvenile.  Glenrock didn’t quite dare openly berate Dante, so he had focused his ire on the aides.

           “If there’s anything missing or broken I’m going to be very… do you hear me young man?... Very upset.  I have a close working relationship with your superiors and I do not think they would be happy to hear that my…”

           Dante barely heard.  He was already considering how the rest of the pod should be set up.  A baby was something new for the Grange.  Not only had there never been a Majestic class Viewer identified this young, but most of the Grange’s other inhabitants hadn’t lived in close proximity to a baby in years.  Decades, even.

           The entire pod would be stripped of its old-man-reeking surfaces and repainted in a nice eggshell blue with white borders.  Stereotypical?  Maybe.  But why not?  It was the only baby he would likely ever have.  Halogen lamps to replace the fluorescents.  Though the baby would be allowed frequent trips into the sunshine and fresh air, the basic security routines were dictated by protocol.  The infant would be spending nearly all of its life in this room.

           Susan was overseeing the room transformation and installation of Jasper down to even the most finite detail.  This was nice considering that Dante himself didn’t have to worry about it.  But not so nice because he sensed under Susan’s ostensible practicality a very real maternal undertone.  Becoming attached emotionally to a viewer was never a particularly wise decision. 

           “This belonged to a North African Princess!” Glenrock yapped at the disinterested guards.  They were toting a vanity and mirror set that Dante didn’t remember ever seeing in Arthur’s pod.  It looked like it belonged to a 12 year old girl.  As if Dante needed another reason to dislike the man. 

           At the end of the day, Glenrock was shut up in the new pod (redone with only the quickest of once-over paint jobs) and Dante could relax a bit.  It was more or less the only additional form of revenge Dante really dared visiting on the man.  Bruises would fade, cracked picture panes could be replaced, but the smell of dead kitten and the twisted energy of the madwoman who had lived there before would be around for a long time.

           When he returned, there was something very unexpected on his desk.

night.blind: 01.2.10: 12 January 2005: Mark Brand.

          “Where did you get these?”  Dante asked.

          “Intercepted a java field fill-out through the keywriter dongle I put on her phone line.” 

          Dante gave her a puzzled look..

          “I found an Earthlink bill in her garbage,” Susan said, offhand, “Anyway, I ran the fields through the HASHISH filter and got only about four matching websites.  I ran through the password retrieval protocols for each site using her email address and doing my best to answer the security questions.  I got a hit the first try, it was travelocity dot com.  They have a function that lets you print the boarding passes ahead of time.”

          On Dante’s desk sat two tickets from Eppley Field of Omaha, Nebraska to Syracuse Hancock airport in New York.  Price $312 each, coach, nonstop, round-trip, seats 14D and 14F (adjacent to each other because the plane was a newer Embraer 770, which has only AC and DF seats in two rows of two), departure July the third at 6:35 am, arrival at 11:56 am.  Time zone crossovers accounted for.  They were registered for priority boarding.  The tickets were issued under the names Dora and Jasper Daniels.

          Dante smiled for what felt like the first time in about a billion years.


          “I know… perfect,”  Susan finished, “They even pre-paid for their car rental.”

          She dropped a third paper on his desk.  It was the rental itinerary for a late model Dodge Neon.  Blue.  Car seat provided.

          “Outstanding.  Where can we take them?”

          “Well, first we have to find out where they’re going.  If we can get them to go through somewhere fairly rough, we can make it look like a carjack or just a random gunshot.  We can make the baby disappear easily enough from the leftovers, if we get enough time to toss the car a little.  We should try to just hit and grab if possible.”


          “Well, we could…”


          Judging by Susan’s body language, the answer was going to be unpleasant.

          “Do a body swap.”

          Dante considered this.

          “Let me think about it.  In the meantime, find out why the hell they’re going there in the first place.  Run the state and local computers for criminal records of Michael Rupert.”

          “Already did it.  Nothing.”

          “What the fuck is she going there for, then?  Does she have family there or friends?”

          “She has logged onto several sites with embedded VB script message boards, maybe I can find something there.  I’ll have to upload the entire dongle.  It’ll take a few hours.”

          “All right.  Order yourself some takeout and get on it.  I don’t mean to keep you here past knock-off, but…”

          Susan smiled.  It was ok, after all, but he owed her one.  Dante found this acceptable.

          “I’ll be back in a while.  Will you be here?”

          “I never leave.”  Dante cracked another smile that felt unfamiliar on his face.

          After Susan returned to his office, he perused the manifests of the day’s lock playlists.  Even after all these years the matrices of interconnected viewing made his head swim.  Subject, object, subjective observer, objective limited, past perfect, present perfect, past imperfect, future probable, future imperfect, future limited omniscient…  It was like reading the brainwaves of a frightened spider by analyzing the web weave patterns.  The manifests were sometimes images, sometimes text, sometimes strange characters which appeared to be a cross between Cyrillic letters and runes and once in a while were phonetic transcripts of strange guttural audio clips.

          The manifests were a sort of coded journal.  A rudder, as the old Portugese sailors used to call them.  A very secret, very vague series of sensory memories that was collected to allow the remotes to go back over a specific day’s work and relock the subjects if needed.  Sort of like making a map as you went along.

          Dante, of course, did not have clearance to the complex keys and neural compasses needed to decipher exactly what the patterns meant.  He studied them more as an academic pursuit than anything.  Once in a while a pattern emerged that was obvious, but not often.  Today there was nothing.  A photo of a corn broom downloaded directly from the optic nerve synapses of Majestic-16, a text block that said I have outwalked the furthest steady light, I am one acquainted with the night (a snippet of poem attributed to Robert Frost), and the first thirty seconds of a song entitled “Look Thru My Eyes” by a dead rapper from the late 20th century named DMX.  Whatever the hell that meant.

          He grew bored of staring at disjointed images and switched to the HRTS viewing dialogue screen.  He started punching in known camera ports and brought up the surveillance cameras from each remote’s pods.  There were hundreds between the 24 pods and adjacent hallways, but his favorites were 3-1-16 and 3-1-17 (camera three, section one, area designations sixteen and seventeen).  Camera three was almost always the living room cam, section one referred to the section of the Grange that encompassed the 24 pods, and the area designation was a special signifier that was specific to the section.  In the case of section one, the area designation referred to the camera’s respective pod owner, and thus Majestic call sign.

           Despite the odd sexual proclivities of Majestics 16 and 17, their body language interplay when they just sat around talking sometimes gave Dante clues to whatever happened to be important to command at the moment.  There was no audio feed.  They hadn’t found a way to microphone the pods adequately, and they had not been built with that in mind.  All Dante typically got was a long, occasionally interesting, silent movie.  This particular day, neither of them were in their living rooms.  That meant that either they were eating lunch, fucking, or roaming elsewhere.  He switched to the camera thumbnail browser.

          The angle browsing screen clipped off suddenly and was replaced by camera 12, section 2-13.  Section two of HRTS referred to the entrances and exits.  Area designations 1-7 were the Grange main building and grounds, 8-11 were various elevator and security checkpoints, and 13-15 were the surrounding landscape and neighbors.

          Camera 12 was a membrane transmitter that was embedded in the silage above the secondary entry point of the Grange.  It would look (to someone with 20/20 vision) like a gossamer-thin layer of spittle or condensation, and transmitted twenty-five images a minute from its 640 x 480 printable photo cell.  This particular camera had not fired off anything but the silo ceiling in over eighteen months.  It had limited range and only took photos if something changed from the previous pixel color and light values.

          Six, eight, ten, sixteen, thirty two, forty, eighty photos cropped up on his computer desktop, each in a separate window.  He scrolled through them.  As he did, an enormous eyeball slowly filled the screen.  In the reflection from the liquid surface of Milo White’s dark pupil, he could see the silo floor’s steel hatch.  It was supposed to be under a foot and a half of rotting silage.  The status light for camera 12, section 2-13 winked from green to red.  No signal.

          He picked up the phone and dialed 5576.

          “We have a problem.”

night.blind: 01.2.11: 17 January 2005: Mark Brand.
          Crackers was busy.  Waitresses in black slacks made out of cheap, pilly cotton fended their way through a room with hardly any empty chairs.  Their snow white aprons were invariably marked with one type of breakfast-food stain or another.  Their hair was tied back sharply because someone important had found a long black hair in their maple syrup yesterday.  They were “in the weeds,” “rocking,” and “working” their “asses off.”

          Dante’s empty plate inched away from his growling stomach, frightened.  He sipped at a not-very-clean glass of water with ice chips floating in it.

          Susan sat quietly on the other side of the table, displaying her signature patience.

          “Did you bring everything?” Dante asked, trying to get his attention away from the bacon and eggs which had been ordered twenty five minutes ago and still not arrived.

          “Yeah,” Susan answered, “Want to look at it right now?”

          “Might as well.”

          Out came the expensive leather folder.  This time it was so full it strained at the binding.  She took out security reports, building diagrams, bathroom and closet locations, shift changes, employee rosters, incident reports.

          “Picking them up at Hancock will be too hard, and Omaha is even worse.  The security and unpredictability of a space that size make tying them down to a snatch corridor effectively impossible.”

          Dante nodded, leafing through the pages.  This was just procedural, there was never any seriously-entertained notion of doing it at the airport anyway. 

          “We have the rental car ID from the database.  The actual plate number may change, but they rented a Dodge Neon, and that’s pretty much what we can expect.  They have reservations at a motor lodge in Rochester, New York later the same day of their arrival.  Whatever she’s going there for, it’s going to be in the Rochester area.”

          “We don’t know why she’s going?”  Dante asked.

          Susan shook her head.  She glanced up behind him.  He turned to greet their arriving food.  He felt saliva build behind his lower lip, threatening to become drool.

          The following half a minute was filled only with the sounds of crunching bacon, softly sipped coffee, and a busy breakfast diner.  After devouring nearly the entire meal, Dante wiped his mouth and they continued.

          “Is it the father?  Is she going to make some sort of reconciliation with him?”

          “As far as we can tell, Rupert is nowhere near Rochester,” Susan said.

          “Does she have any family in New York?” Dante asked.

          “None that we know of,”  Susan leafed through the folder some more,  “No phone bill numbers in Rochester except the motor lodge.  Employees of the motel said she was pleasant, but didn’t say why she was coming.  Same story with the airport and car rental agency.  No clues from either one.  Emails don’t really reveal anything, but it wouldn’t help if she was sending them from somewhere other than home.”

          “Where does she work?”

          “Waldenbooks.  She works the register on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Friday nights.”

          “Does they have a computer there?” 

          “They might.  I’ll have to dongle it, probably.”

          “If you could.”

          Susan nodded.

          “And of course there’s always the old fashioned mail.  Have you checked that?”

          Susan dipped into her folder and retrieved a short stack of letters bound by a rubber band.  Dante looked at them briefly.  All bills, circulars, one belated birthday card, and a ‘Have You Seen Me?’ missing children flyer.  He handed them back, and sighed.

          “It may not matter why she’s going there, we just need to catch her when she’s out in the middle of nowhere.  Or preferably in some shitty neighborhood.  You said something about South Salmon Street?”

          “Salina.  South Salina Street radiates out from the city center.  The outer end of it is a nice residential area and the inner end is the downtown portion of Syracuse, but in between is about eight blocks of…” She pantomimed a gangster walk, a homeless man, a hooker.

          “That should work all right,” Dante said, “we can snipe her from a building or at a stoplight, then snatch the kid.  Maybe even make a mockup car-jacking.  So then what?  What happens after?  We just leave her?”

          “The difficulty with that is the records of the car seat, the priority boarding at the airport, and the second seat name.  There is a paper trail that puts Jasper with her in that car at the time of death.  We’ll have to do damage control during the search for him afterward.”

          “Burn the car?” Dante asked.

          Susan nodded. “And with another infant body in it.”

          Dante sat back and considered this, munching his last scrap of bacon.  Killing was something that Dante did only rarely and never in the outside world if he could help it.  And just for this reason: too many questions and details.  He twirled his finger, gesturing for Susan to continue.

          “We snatch Jasper, tie in a corpse that we bring with us with altered dentition, shoot it a few times, and then set the whole thing on fire.”

          Dante ran it over in his head a few times.

          “So we let the local police find what looks like the remains of Dora and Jasper Daniels burned up in their car.  It’s an out-of-town murder, no family in the immediate area to give the investigators a hard time.  Both bodies found shot and burned.  Maybe Dora’s purse stolen.  Maybe an empty bank bag or something on the passenger’s seat, burned to a crisp but still recognizable…”

          Susan sipped at her coffee.

          “Too perfect?”  He asked.

          “Yeah,” Susan replied, with a generous smile, “The bank bag thing is a little far fetched.  If we just kill her and leave everything it will seem more random.  More believable, probably.”

          Dante nodded.

          “What sort of on-site support will we get?”

          Susan furrowed her eyebrows in a non-optimistic way.

          “There are four sleeper Level M clearance assets living in central New York.  We can activate them with just a few phone calls through the usual intermediaries.  We could order a stay-out from the local police with our NSA contact, but that would alert everyone above retard-level intelligence that something was going on.  It will definitely come off better if there isn’t a whiff of anything until we come down on them.  By the time they sort it all out, they’ll realize that the resources aren’t worth it.  There were forty seven shootings and car-related violent crimes last quarter alone in that part of Syracuse.”

          “One more out-of-towner…” Dante said.

          “…One more hick from Nebraska.  Even in upstate New York, that’s out there.”  Susan finished.

          Dante scrutinized the check, paid for it with a government MasterCard under the name of William Hanratty, and helped Susan into her coat.

          They walked between the young farm men, the old farm men, the young coquettish local girls, the disapproving farmer’s wives.  One thing that Dante did love about Hitch was that everyone minded their own fucking business.  Susan chatted amiably once they were out of Cracker’s.

          “I got us tickets to Syracuse Hancock the week previous and rented a room in a little town called Parish outside the city.  I think a week will be enough time to get everything set up.  We need to give the assets in New York at least a week’s notice anyway so they can put together the equipment we’ll need.”

          “We still don’t know why she’s going there,” Dante reminded, “or how we’re going to get her to drive onto South Saliva Street.”

          “Salina,” Susan corrected, “I’m working on that.”

         Bloop Bloop.  The universal remote door unlocking sound.  Dante’s SUV.

          “One more thing,” Dante said.

          Susan turned to face him.

          “Where exactly do we get a dead six-week-old boy to swap for Jasper?”

          Susan stopped, stared at the ground, and spoke very lowly.

         Bloop Bloop.  Susan’s Honda.

          “The trunk of my car, in the blue Jansport backpack.”

night.blind: 01.2.12: 17 January 2005: Mark Brand.
          “Welcome to Octel Voice Messaging System, (gruff male voice) ‘Harry’ can’t come to the phone right now.  Please leave a message after the tone.” 


          “Hi Harry, this is Sue again calling from Niagra Mohawk.  We’ll be running a test on your line later today.  We’re committed to bringing you excellent service at an affordable price.  Please call me back at your earliest convenience.”


           “Hello, this message is for Leonard.  This is Susan Amice with AT&T Long Distance.  I’m calling to let you know about our new Friends with Benefits program.  It’s only ten cents a minute to talk to all of your friends and an amazing five cents a minute to other friends who have this plan.  You can call anywhere in the country!  Please call me back at your earliest convenience for the details.” 


           Kevin Arnum?  This is Officer Susan Vera from the New York State Police.  We’re calling to let you know about our new program drive to outfit all of our officers with bullet-proof vests and to benefit the children of police officers slain in the line of duty. If you can help us make a difference, call me back.  The safety of New York’s highway patrolmen depends on you!


           “I’m calling for Gene Ford, this is Susan Steele from the South Lewis High School Reunion Committee.  Can you believe it’s been ten whole years?  I’m just calling to let you know that we’re organizing a blockbuster of a reunion party and you’re invited!  We’re so excited that we can reunite with all of our friends from South Lewis High!  Please call to reserve your table as soon as possible.


           “This is Gene.”

          “Hello Gene.”

           “What can I do for you?”

           “Nothing you can’t handle.  We need a few things.”

           “What sorts of things?”

           “Oh, you know.  A little of this, a little of that.  The usual stuff.  Table for seven, settings for six.”

           “Anything you’d like as a special on the menu?”

           “Hmmm…  Not at the moment.  Can you change it at the last minute?”

           “If we have to, sure.  I’ll make a whole selection.  I’m sure you’ll find something you like.”

           “That’s why I always call you for my catering, Gene.”

           “When can we expect you?”

           “Next week sometime, I’ll call with exact times later.”

           “All right.”

           “So we’re all set then?”

           “Yes, ma’am”

           “I’ll be in touch.”


night.blind: 01.2.13: 17 January 2005: Mark Brand.

           “Have you considered talking to Arthur Glenrock a bit more?”

            “It’s like talking to a refrigerator,” Dante responded, “He just sits there and hums like a pissed off hornet.  In fact, I’m a little nervous he’ll try something else.”

            “Like what?” 

            “Go over my head, maybe.  Try to fuck up the grab.  I don’t know.  If I knew he hadn’t said anything to anyone yet, I’d just quarantine him for a week, but it’s not really warranted if I don’t know for sure.  And if he has already spilled it to someone else, it wouldn’t help anyway.”

            Susan stood behind his office chair and rubbed his shoulders with her slender, long fingers. 

            “I don’t know why he has to make it such a pissing contest.  Dog Number Two indignant after mistreatment by Dog Number One.”

            “He’s just a fucker.  I don’t know how else to describe it.”

            “What about the other remotes?”

            “I don’t think they could lock on Jasper.  I know it’s been done, but viewers locking on viewers usually doesn’t work.  Anyway, he’s pretty young to lock on.  Not much of a brain signal.  He has just about enough brainwave activity to recognize a boob and his mother’s voice.  Glenrock could probably do it.  Norris too, but…”

            “I was thinking maybe Dora.  We could find out why she’s going to Rochester.”

            “That’s not something I have the authority to order…” Dante mumbled, still considering the idea.  It made sense, but it was a gamble.  Stepping that far out of bounds tended to be hazardous in this particular workplace.

            “I’ll think about it.  I’m sure Glenrock knows, but he won’t tell.  Not ever, I don’t think.”

            Susan laced her fingers into his hair and luxuriously scratched his scalp.

            “Anything new?”

            Susan held her tongue on the roof of her mouth for a moment and stared at the ceiling, recalling silently.

            “Her JC Penney bill is 60 days late, Jasper eats approximately once every three hours, she gets her dry-cleaning done at Hilltops, god knows what the woman owns that requires dry-cleaning, she TiVo’d the last three episodes of Oprah, all reruns…”

            “Ok, ok, I get it,” said Dante, “Nothing new.”

            “Not really, no.”

            The silence between them was, for at long moment, unbroken.  The only sound was the pleasurable scrunch of her fingernails scratching his head. 

            In the closed environment of the Grange, Dante had nearly every advantage.  He controlled essentially every aspect of the viewers’ lives, their environment, and to some extent, their interaction.  He was good at his job because he dealt largely in the currency of predictability.  In the outside world however… It always seemed like things would get away from him.  There were an insurmountable number of variables, the sum total of which would somehow find a way to bind his hands and make him ineffective.

            Details.  Fucking details.  In the world above ground, there were forever small, but crucial, details to be forgotten until the moment of truth.  There was some sign, some clue that was to be fatefully overlooked.  The outside world was maddening that way, and endlessly frustrating.  He tried to stop concentrating so hard and focused on Susan’s fingernails in his hair.  He enjoyed this small service sometimes even more than sex with her.  And with the first deep breath, he had it.

            “Wait, how the hell does she afford TiVo?” Dante turned in his chair, suddenly serious, “How does she afford airplane tickets?”

            Susan looked unsure for a moment.  Her forehead furrowed.  Dante looked back, expectantly.  An uncomfortable moment.  He knew that feeling irritated with her was unwarranted, but he was irritated at both of them, just the same.  Neither had thought to look that far back along the money trail.  It should have been perfectly obvious.  How exactly would an unwed mother about ten minutes away from welfare be able to purchase $626 worth of airplane tickets?  It was inexcusably stupid to have overlooked this, and Dante was as much to blame as she was. 

            “I… I don’t know.”

           He turned around again to face his desk and she resumed scratching his head.

           “Find out,” he said.

night.blind: 01.2.14: 29 January 2005: Mark Brand.

RedBunny: You there?

Marlins224EZ: Yah.

RedBunny:  I got the tix.  I’m soooo excited.

Marlins224EZ: Cool, I can’t wait to see you. 

RedBunny: R u sure it’s ok to bring Jasper? 

Marlins224EZ: Yeah, totally.  What did the airline say about him? 

RedBunny: Nothing big.  I just have to get there a half hour earlier so I can pre-board.

Marlins224EZ: Oh good.  I don’t want it to be a pain in the ass. 

RedBunny:  Not at all.  He likes you.

Marlins224EZ: He’s never met me.

RedBunny: He knows how happy you make me tho. 

Marlins224EZ: ???

RedBunny: He can feel it.

Marlins224EZ: Oh.  Well, good.

RedBunny: Ah shit, he’s up.  Time for lunch.

Marlins224EZ: I’d like a little lunch too.

RedBunny: That’s for the baby you perv.

Marlins224EZ: Hey, I’m just a guy! ?

RedBunny: I’m so tired.  I can’t wait till he sleeps all the way through the night.

Marlins224EZ: I’ll rub your feet…

RedBunny: I’ll rub something of yours!

Marlins224EZ: Mmmm…  Something of yours…

RedBunny: Not for another four weeks, Dr.’s orders.

Marlins224EZ: Phooey.

RedBunny: Don’t worry, I’ll make it worth your while.

Marlins224EZ: Sweet.  All right, I’ll let you go.

RedBunny: Bye. *kisses*.

Marlins224EZ: SIGNED OFF AT 23:33

night.blind: 01.2.15: 29 January 2005: Mark Brand.
Name: Adam Robert Aaronson
Date of Birth: 10-4-19**
Social Security Number:  020-83-****
Home Address: (Last known) 
                    2500 Plymouth Ave. S. Apt. 3B
                    Rochester, NY 14602
Home Phone: (585) 433-**** 
Domicile: Apartment
Sex: Male
Mother: Charlotte Bains Davenport
Father:  Robert James Aaronson
Driver’s License:  NY State Driver ID NY3-3294289
Employer:  Xerox
Position: Marketing 
Salary: $33,000/yr + bonuses.
Medical Insurance: Blue Cross / Blueshield of New York
                      ID# 3242082243, group #P89254
Status: Single, never married.
Federal Tax Status: Current, no penalties.
Nebraska Tax Status:  Current, no penalties.
Siblings: 1 brother, Lucas Aaronson
Eye Color: Brown
Hair Color: Black
Blood Type: B-
Allergies: Opiates.
Medical History:
Highest level of education completed.
                      State University of New York at Potsdam
                      Potsdam, NY 13617
night.blind: 01.2.16: 29 January 2005: Mark Brand.
           “She’s been chatting with this guy for weeks.  We have just a portion of it.  There’s no history as far as I can tell, they just met on some message board or another and started messaging back and forth.”

           “Did they ever call each other?”

           “No.  No phone records point to any 585 area code number, though there are a few 800s.  Maybe a calling card.”

           “So she’s got a six week old baby with some other man, and she’s… She’s not fucking him.”
 Susan looked at Dante patiently.

           “Six to eight weeks of no sex post-partum.  Standard medical advice.  But would she want to?  She’s taking care of a little guy that probably never sleeps more than two hours straight.  Sex is probably the last thing on her mind.”

           Dante crunched a tiny single serving pretzel with a glob of single serving processed snack cheese on the end.  The little red plastic stick scraped the cheese out of the miniature blister pack.  The Keebler elf on the packaging dangled upside down from the half-removed peel cover.  It was as thoughtful a pose as he could manage just now.

           “So what’s she going there for,” Dante asked, ‘if she’s gotta bring Jasper too?”

           “Probably wants to imprint the baby on the new man.  In a weird sort of surrogate way.  I would probably feel like that, too, if my kid’s father had run off.”

           “Why would he be so excited about it, though?  He obviously is interested in her.  What’s in it for him?”

           “I haven’t had a chance to see any pictures of Adam yet, but maybe he’s just some loser who can’t get a regular girlfriend or maybe he’s a sensitive gargoyle.”

           Dante snorted, considering the idea.

           “So he paid for the plane tickets, for a new mother of someone else’s kid, and knows ahead of time he’s not getting laid?  I don’t buy it.”

           “I’m not trying to sell it, it just is,” said Susan, “I can’t think of any other good reason.  I’m just guessing here.”

           Dante waited till Susan looked away for a moment, at another piece of paper in her binder, and he used the moment to furtively lick the last of the processed cheese spread out of the snack pack.  He tossed the pensive elf into the trash.

           “All right, well,” Dante reached for another package of the pretzels and stopped himself, “the important thing is that she travels where we want her to travel and when.  What have you got on that?”

           “The four sleepers were called and activated.  Callsign Leonard failed to return the messages.”  Susan placed a half-sized manila envelope on Dante’s desk with an object in it roughly the size of a pager.  It smelled faintly of gasoline.

           “The other three assets are at work as we speak.  Transportation and tactical gear are being provided on the spot.  We’re still working on a ruse to get her to drive up South Salina, but the rest is pretty clear.  We’ll have a reinforced, large-frame SUV with a covered rear storage compartment for Jasper.  Callsign Harry and I will take a position on top of one of the buildings to spot.  We’ll pull something big like a mail truck or a garbage packer out into the street to stop her, and you’ll walk up with one of the other assets and obtain the kiddo.  Once you’re clear, Harry and I will pop the gas tank with a special round and you head straight for the Thruway and back home without stopping.  There will be enough milk in the SUV for five feedings, which is pretty much all you’ll need as long as you haul ass.”

           “I’m feeding Jasper, I take it?”

           “Mmm Hmmm, and changing the diapers, too, hopefully,” she smiled.


           “We can cover up more or less anything that the locals find later.  Bullet holes and whatnot, but the trick is going to be making sure no one else sees anything.  Otherwise there could be trouble.”

           “This whole fucking deal is trouble,” Dante said, and he decided to grab a second snack pack after all. 

           “Did you find anything else out from Glenrock?”

           “No.  He’s sulking still.  Even the other remotes can feel it.  I just hope sulking’s all it is.”

           “He’s been under communication siphon for sixty-some hours,” shuffle of papers, “No unusual activity.”

           “Somehow that worries me even more.”

           She sighed at length.  Susan took off her black business glasses and turned down her collar a half inch.  She crawled into his lap. 

           “You worry too much, boss.”

           “Maybe you can help me with that.”

           “Maybe I can.”

night.blind: 01.2.17: 31 January 2005: Mark Brand.
          Susan sat on Dante’s bed, overlooking the packing.  Dante leafed through his relatively small closet like an autumn harvester picking apples.  A good tie here, his favorite shirt there, two pair of pants made of a heavy cotton weave.  A pullover.  Boots.  Dress shoes.  Socks.  Two belts.  Susan stuffed the Samsonite luggage as he pulled.  Hers had been stacked neatly in the corner for hours.  He envied her preparedness. 

          A gallon kitchen storage bag filled with shaving cream, razor, hair gel, spray deodorant.  He reached for the half empty box of condoms near the bed, but decided against it.  No need to pack something he wouldn’t use.  Not this time.

          “I got clearance to use Barnaby,” Susan said, as if mentioning something as simple as finding a second set of keys.  She was holding a small black device in her hand that looked like a cell phone.

          Dante stopped packing for a moment.


          It was a surprising indulgence on the part of the Grange’s overseers. 

          “Yeah, they just Blackberried me a minute ago.”

          “What made you think of asking for her?”

          “I asked for Norris, actually.  They gave me Margaret instead.”

          Dante grunted.  Margaret Barnaby was a sixteen year old remote that Dante had found at age eleven after Glenrock picked up on her using her fledgling talents to cheat on standardized scholastic benchmark tests.  Her legitimacy as a viewer was unquestioned, but she was far from the clearest windshield on the remote viewing highway. 

          “We’ll be patched into her pod on site.  We’re signed up for something like three hours of coverage.  Depending on who she locks on,” Susan said.

          Dante removed his service pistol from a small locker at the foot of his closet.  He replaced his beloved .45 in the small safe and locked it again.  His service pistol, chosen for functionality and reliability over the elegance and pure intimidation of the Colt, was a Sig Arms P220.  It was arguably the most reliable and accurate .45 caliber pistol ever made.  It could punch holes through the body of an automobile and was still small enough to hide in a coat pocket.  He put the P220, two magazines, and a box of ammunition into a lockable flight case.  He would register it under a fake NSA ID at the skycap.

          “Have you talked to her yet?”

          Susan had begun filing the edges of her toenails on his bed.  She was sitting cross-legged like an Indian. 

          “No.  I figured you’d want to.”

          Dante nodded.

          “I don’t want her flaking out on us this time.”

          “She won’t, I don’t think.  That was a long time ago.  She’s a little more grown up now.”

          “Did Rockland have anything to say about it?”

          “No.  I don’t know if Rockland was even here when that happened.”

          “It would be in my file, probably.”

          Susan didn’t reply.  He glanced briefly at the white triangle of panty peeking out from under the tent of her suit skirt. 

          “Well, I’ll talk to her.  Any word on delays?”

          “I have it on a reliable authority that our plane will be taking off on time.”

          “Have you ever flown United Airlines?”

          “No,” Susan admitted.

          “Hehe,” Dante giggled, “those fuckers are never on time.”

          She played with her toes and said nothing.  Abruptly changing the subject, she took out a map from her folder.

          “Stick this in your carry-on.  Don’t want you getting lost with Jasper in the trunk.”

          “Thanks.  So go over the itinerary with me one more time.”

          “We’re scheduled to meet Harry, Kevin, and Gene at noon tomorrow.  They’ll take us to the staging area.  We’ll go over the specifics of Jasper and Dora with them, do a walkthrough once maybe tomorrow night, and then on Monday… you know.” 

          Dante unbuttoned his shirt and hung it back up on the hanger after sniffing reflexively at the armpit.

          “You staying here tonight?”

          “I have a few things to tie up before we go,” she replied, staring at the duvet.

          “All right.  Maybe I’ll take a walk down to the pods and have a little chat with Margaret.”

          “Kay,” she took the cue, and stood up to leave, smoothing her skirt out.

          “See you tomorrow.”

          She smiled sweetly, and left.

night.blind: 01.2.18: 31 January 2005: Mark Brand.
            Dante flipped on the heater in his room before he left.  He always left it relatively cool when Susan visited because she disliked sweating during sex, but he loved sleeping in dry electric heat.  He pulled over an old hoodie sweatshirt and a pair of black martial arts pants with a drawstring in place of elastic or button.  He put his key lanyard over his head and padded down the hall in his bare feet. 

            The floors in the main hallway of his level were all carpeted with thin, institutional dormitory scrabble, but they were warm to the touch.  The floors themselves were thin, and the hot water pipes ran just underneath the surface.  Dante punched the code for the pod floors and the elevator took him soundlessly down into the earth.  As if to signify the depth to which their futures had been buried (but in reality to discourage bad odors or claustrophobia) the pod levels were always kept at a cool 65 degrees.  Cold enough, as Dante currently noticed, to make walking barefoot just the slightest bit uncomfortable.

            Majestic-21, Margaret Barnaby, age sixteen, lived at the furthest end of her hallway.  Dante knocked softly, as it was fairly late, but he heard her moving around immediately.  She didn’t open the door for a moment, and he was about to knock again.

            “Just a second, I’m not decent,” came from the other side of the door.

            “It’s all right, take your time,” Dante said, reflexively.


            The door opened a crack, and Margaret peeked her head around it.  Her hair was tousled as though she had been sleeping, and she was wearing her glasses and a large set of heavy cotton pajamas.  She was perhaps five foot one and just a hair over 200 pounds.  She had been a rather dumpy girl when Dante had found her, and her teenage years had not been kind to her.  Instead of a growth spurt and a curvaceous blossoming, puberty had bestowed on her a discouraging myopic look and awful complexion.  Her voice was the soft lisp of a girl who would never live to outgrow her own baby fat.  It had, rather, overgrown her.  Nonetheless, she was far easier to deal with than Glenrock.

            “Can I come in?”

            “Uhh, sure,” she looked unsure for a moment, “it’s a mess…”

            Dante waved her off with a hand.

            “No biggie.  I know it’s late.  I don’t mean to bother you.”

            She warmed considerably, as fat young women are wont to do, at the show of deference to her feelings.

            “That’s all right, Mr. Nagel.  Just watch where you step.”

            Her pod was the fever dream of every spurned, winsome teenager ever to walk the face of the earth.

            Her living space was strewn from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with the earmarks of angst and longing.  Diaries, half-completed watercolor paintings, copies of National Geographic magazine cut and pasted into murals of unrealized vacations to exotic places she would never visit, a sensible music player with a small but treasured collection of music, a stuffed “husband” pillow with arms that was ostensibly a portable armchair, but was really meant to hug while you slept and maybe once in a while throw a guilty hump on.

            Strewn among this detritus was the remnants of several meals and contraband foodstuffs smuggled with undoubtedly severe temerity from who knows where.  She blushed a bit, following his eyes.

            “It was Matty’s dinner, he let me have some of his.  He didn’t eat it all…”

            “It’s all right Meg.”

            An even deeper blush.  She hadn’t been aware that the Director even knew her real name, let alone the nickname that the other viewers used for her.  She gave him a coke-bottle spectacle smile.  It was all she could think of to do.

            “I’m sorry to barge in on you this late, Meg, I just wanted to talk to you about working with Susan and I.”

            “Oh, that,” Margaret replied, obviously relieved that this had nothing to do with her own personal habits or life, “sure.”

            “Well, I want you to know I never held Baltimore against you.  I know it wasn’t your fault.  You were too young and not well enough trained to be put into that position.”

            Margaret’s eyes fell, rose to meet his, and fell again.  He didn’t want to drag this out any longer than absolutely necessary.  She began to speak.


            Dante touched her fleshy shoulder with what he hoped felt like tender understanding.

            “It’s all right.  No one can plan for everything, and it was as much my fault as it was anyone’s.  But we’ve got something important coming up on Monday and I just wanted to go over it with you for a while so we can be clear with each other and there won’t be any surprises.”

            A look of determination crossed her young face that made Dante feel marginally better about her being assigned to the mission.

            “If anything happens differently from the plan, I want you to have expected it.  So we’re going to go over it all a few different ways.”

            She had forgotten all about the pizza crusts and half eaten box of Little Debbies on the floor.  This was the first major operation she had been part of in years, and she wasn’t about to mess it up a second time for the Director.

            Four hours later, Dante left Margaret’s pod feeling much more confident of their chances of success.  Barnaby had seemed not only interested, but very receptive to his suggestions and the reasoning behind his plan.  Hopefully not all of it had been her sheer awe that she was about to be included in something meaningful for only the second time in her dreary career. 

            Dante remembered, as he was falling asleep, the events that shaped his less-than-glimmering opinion of her.

night.blind: 01.2.19: 01 February 2005: Mark Brand.
            “Clear, Mr. Davis.”

            But it wasn’t clear.

            The twelve-year-old Margaret Shelly Barnaby, recently confirmed as Majestic-21, was floating in her negative stimulus tank.  Too shy to be totally naked, as she had begun to suspect the other remotes of doing, she wore a one-piece bathing suit and goggles to keep water away from her closed eyes.  Her hair was long then, and it floated around her and tickled her shoulders as if there were seaweed in the tank with her.  It was hard to communicate.  She kept trying to open her mouth to talk and the nasal echo of her voice in the breathing apparatus continually threatened to break the lock.  Maybe it was something like this that had distracted her from the mission at hand.  Later she wouldn’t remember what it was.  She would just remember seeing Mr.Davis’s face crumple under the baseball bat. 

             Margaret struggled in her tank and whipped her head from side to side, trying to get the image of Mr. Davis’s face out of her head.  The man wielding the baseball bat looked like her father, a little.  He was wearing what looked like white department store boxer shorts with a crew neck t-shirt.  It was what a large man with children would sleep in.  She didn’t know who he was, but it became clear that he was unhappy Mr. Nagel and Mr. Davis were in his house.

            “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck,” Dante’s voice roared in her audio inputs, “Compromise!  Compromise!” 

            “Wheh!  Wheeeaaaahhh…”

            It took Margaret a moment to realize that this inarticulate sound was the whine of Mr. Davis’s vocal cords.  It was the only sound he could make with his crushed cheek and jaw.

            “Clear the channel, Peacock 2,” a rational voice from some distant coordinator.

            Dante had ducked into a bathroom door.  Around the corner, Margaret could hear a second baseball bat swing connect.  And a third.  And a fourth.

            “We have a compromise situation,” said Dante, to no one in particular.

            “Kill them all, Peacock 1,” said the coordinator.

            “M-21, where am I looking?”

            “I…” Margaret started, realizing a second later that he was talking to her.

            “Meg, what the fuck, help me out here.”

            She tried to do a fancy double lock on both Dante and the man who looked like her father.  It was too hard.  She got a weird cross-talk that was like looking through a kaleidoscope and hearing a bird song and car crash simultaneously.  She could see both of them in fragments.  The baseball bat man had retreated to the foot of a staircase at the end of the hall.


            “Stairs,” she croaked out, talking in the air mask and in her head at the same time.  It was evidently enough.

            The shooting started. 

           BANG!  Flash flash.  Flash flash.  The first gunshot had popped the audio link and the only sound she could hear was the high-pitched reverb of her own squealing screams in the rebreather.  Margaret thrashed her upper body backward in a too-slow, dreamlike retreat from the lock.  She was still thinking of herself as actually being in the lock.  When she screamed, it was not just in her head, or even in the suburban hallway with Dante and Frank Davis, but right there in pod 21 under two feet of negative stimulus suspension.  Bubbles blew out of her mask and made her eyelashes flutter. 

            A voice filtered down from the overhead speakers in her pod’s tank room.  It was faint, but clear enough to understand.

            “Majestic-21, maintain lock.”

            Flash.  Like a camera, but somehow hotter.

            She jammed her eyes shut against the water and forced herself to remain still.  It worked, a little.

            The murky, hellacious silence resolved into an image of Dante’s hand pushing into Mr. Davis’s throat.  That was where you pushed if you were trying to figure out if someone was alive or dead.  It was a diagnosis delayed by the arrival of a silently screaming woman in a floral nightie.  There was a moment when she was sure it was Florence Henderson from the Brady Bunch.  Mrs. Brady was carrying an enormous over-and-under shotgun.

            There was a big flash, and two more smaller ones.  A big one again, and then four small ones.  The images that were revealed in those instants of illumination were utterly horrid.  Meg would think later that it looked like Dante was stabbing her with an invisible knife.

            She felt something hard and rubbery between her legs and realized that it was her oxygen hose.  Trying to cartwheel backward away from the inescapable images, she had completely inverted herself in the tank and her legs had tangled in the hose.  To underscore this realization, the cool airflow from her respirator suddenly cut off.  A horrible blockage down the pipe had her choking in an instant.

            “Maintain lock, Majestic-21.”

            Margaret wanted to say, I’m trying, but her mouth gaped like a fish’s at the airless world her tank had become.  She sputtered out the carbon dioxide in her burning lungs and tried to climb her air hose back up to the top of the water.  It didn’t work.

night.blind: 01.2.20: 01 February 2005: Mark Brand.
            The whole incident had served ever after as a cautionary tale against using younger viewers for delicate tactical missions.  Margaret Barnaby had nearly died that evening.  She was pulled from the tank unbreathing, and resuscitated.  She had bent the older-style air hose double and kinked off her own air supply inadvertently.  If she had died that night, it might have been better if Dante hadn’t come home.  Dante’s superiors extended their indulgences in his performance only as far as he kept the real asset, their viewers, alive and out of harm’s way. 

            Frank Davis, Susan’s predecessor, had died in the hallway of a Baltimore townhouse.  He had been beaten to death by Edward Gibbons, an ex-minor leaguer with a vicious left-handed batting swing.  Edward and Sara Gibbons were the proud parents of a eight year old son named Lucas Gibbons, who was a heavily-anticipated remote viewer prospect. 

            Lucas was successfully extracted, but never fully recovered from the trauma of watching his parents murdered in their own home in the middle of the night.  He was a very talented, but sulky child.  Despite showing some interest in the form of a puppy-love crush, he was unable to win the lasting attention of one Margaret “Meg” Barnaby.  At age ten and a half, when he began to hit the first edges of puberty, his viewing abilities evaporated inexplicably.  He was treated quite well by the administration.  A battery of diagnostic tests were run by clinical pharmacology, as well as some more aggressive behavioral modification protocols.  Nothing seemed to snap the young boy out of it.

            After several tense meetings to decide the course of action, Dante took the boy for a ride into the country under the auspices of letting him go back to live with relatives because he was no longer needed to view for the Grange. 

            The outward pointlessness of this little drama is misleading.  Several precedents were set by this blundering exercise.  The first was to establish the primary objective of extracting a potential viewer, even in an obviously compromised snatch job.  Dante knew from that moment forward that even the lowest viewer was worth more to his superiors than himself or the lives of anyone who stood in the way.  The second important precedent was to make, whenever possible, tactical lock exercises at least a double-viewer event.  The resources that needed to be mobilized to cover up this mistake were greater than the admittedly scarce resource of an extra viewer.

            This left them with the uncomfortable and awkward task of dealing with Margaret.  She had talent and was willing to view for them without much coercion, but she just wasn’t much of a worker.  She had difficulty paying attention to details and often became confused or distracted.  In the end, Dante’s superiors decided to just give her second and third tier assignments and keep her out of the way of anything she could seriously screw up.  The embarrassment of the botched mission eventually blew over, and she became just another one of the crew at breakfast.  Squinty-eyed, a little bit bitchy, and hungry.  Not hungry for food.

            Lucas, on the other hand, was positively jubilant at the prospects of getting out of the Grange and going back to Baltimore.  He had received letters from his family through Susan, and they sounded like they genuinely wanted to see him again.  Lucas knew he would have some explaining to do about the two and a half year vacation in Nebraska, but he was visibly happier just at the mention of his discharge from the army.  Dante drove him onto the back forty acres of a large dairy farm and, as the boy gazed out the car window, shot him in the back of the head.

continue to Human Resources, Part Two.


copyright 2004-2005 Mark Brand.
Mark Brand is a massage therapist and medical assistant who lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago with his wife/editor Beth. He has been writing sci-fi and speculative sociological fiction for approximately thirteen years and was a co-founder of the literary website His stories have been featured on and in the science fiction anthology Alien Light. He has also published a number of pieces of non-science fiction including a young adult fantasy novel entitled The Prince and The Pitchman (POD published in 2002 through Booksurge), an essay in the 9/11 retrospective To Wound The Autumnal City, and an e-book by the now-defunct Flagstone Publishing entitled "Bunnygirl". His current projects include a portion of the collaborative effort Night.Blind entitled "Human Resources", as well as finishing his second young adult fantasy novel, the upcoming The Journey of the Tallish Ten.