Numbers Don’t Die 1

It was the middle of the night when I was woken up and ferried out with the Head of Security personally overseeing my deporture with a wary look with his stink eye. I’d done some late-night writing and braced myself for a moment’s relaxation, only to be roughly blinded and handcuffed. I’d gotten overconfident I wouldn’t get myself in too much trouble, which didn’t seem too difficult, considering the comatose state of the other prisoners. I thought I must’ve finally done it – pushed the boundaries of limits too hard and was being punished for my transgressions.

What could I have written that forced them to take this measure? So far, only one of my short stories had been censored, and there was no indication that I’d done anything to deserve this level of treatment. There wasn’t much stimulating conversation along the way. Any attempt to do so was met with, “No fraternizing!”

The only clues to where I was being taken was from the low rumbling of the transport I was on, and the smell of stagnant air permeating even the exterior of the bag covering my head. The outside world still made me sick to look at, but I was mercifully spared such sights. All I could do at this state was wait to arrive at whatever destination was planned for me.

After an inordinate amount of time, I was uncuffed and unhooded in a solitary room in front of a desk opposite a man with a canary-eating smile stretched across his face. He wore an intense look in his eyes aimed directly at me.

Hellooooooo… I’ve been looking forward to your arrival.”

“You have?” This was news to me. But then, anything concerning the outside world was news to me.

“You’re something of a minor celebrity around here.”

“Uh, yes. Um…” I wasn’t used to hearing compliments, especially when I don’t feel like I’ve earned them. Especially considering the circumstances that got me here in the first place.

“For the time being, I have a few questions to ask you.”

Of course. I was constantly bombarded with invasive questions, ranging to my name and address, what I had for my meals, how I was feeling, how I was doing, which was the same no matter how many times I was asked. Why should this be any different?

“What does one hundred forty-nine mean to you?”

This wasn’t the line of questioning I was expecting. “Just shy of one fifty?”

“Okay, how about fourteen thousand, nine hundred sixteen?”

My mind was a blank. “Is that something significant?”

The Man with the Canary Smile looked so disappointed in my response he turned away, muttering ‘one million, four hundred ninety-one thousand, six hundred twenty-five’. It wasn’t until I thought of the numbers in my mind’s eye, and saw the obvious pattern that I understood.

“They’re rising consecutive square digits!” Namely, 149, 14,916 and 1,491,625 respectively.

The Man with the Canary Smile smiled at me, looking more receptive this time around. “I was hoping you’d catch on faster. How many digits can you recall in ≅(Pi)?”

“Five, I guess?” You only really needed the first three.

He snorted. “Around here, 100 is the bare minimum. What’s 28% of 50?”

This sounded hard at first, but there was a little trick I found scrawled on the back of a piece of scrap paper. “It’s 14.”

The way I arrived at that answer was simplicity itself. Rather than try to figure out what a random percentage of a figure was, I just turned the formula around.
X% of Y = Y% of X
In the same way that 3 x 5 = 5 x 3, the percentage of a number is the same as it’s opposite. That way, 50% of 28 could be easily calculated by cutting the figure in half.

However, it doesn’t always work. 43% of 78 is the same as 87% of 43.

“Okay, so you know that much. Now, let’s amp the difficulty level a little. What’s the answer to this?? 7,896,367,976 + 1,980,175,234 = ??????????”

“Just a sec – I need to move the second number underneath, and put some commas for space division – ”
“In the time it took for you to move the figure around to your liking, many other reliable sources already solved the problem. It’s 9,876,543,210, by the way.”

(Technically, the actual description was Nine Billion, Eight Hundred and Seventy-Six Million, Five Hundred and Forty-Three Thousand, Two Hundred Ten, but he pronounced it as Nine-Eight-Seven-Six-Five-Four-Three-Two-One-Oh.)

“Well, you meet the bare minimum. As such, I may be calling for your services anytime I want.”

“In the middle of the night?”

“That’s when numbers are most alive! It’s a great stimulator with less chance of interruption! That allows for intense concentration to truly focus on the tasks at hand.”

What tasks? What am I expected to do?”

“What you’ve been doing all along, just helping out over here.”

“I wasn’t aware my writings were known outside my cell.”

The Man with the Canary Smile looked at me, then emitted a loud long laugh. “Always the great kidder, aren’t you? Downplaying your efforts even now?”

“What efforts? No one ever tells me anything!”

The Man with the Canary Smile’s facial muscles dropped into an expression of worried concern. “Didn’t they tell you?”

“Tell me what??

“As per the Prison Exchange Program, Model Inmates are chosen by trusted contractors for available labour forces to better prepare them for the outside world by doing outside work. Your services come cheap.”

Was that it? Those days spent solving random number puzzles strewn across the floor? It was something I did to occupy my time while suffering writer’s block in finding the exact right word to use. I’d focus on the puzzle when I was struggling with my writing, and focus on my writing when I was struggling with the puzzle. That’s what those number puzzles were for? That was what it took to be noticed and ranked in line for – whatever strange job opportunity this was?

Apparently, I’d suddenly become eligible for involuntary service outside the Prison.

Writer Notes 6 – The Veteran

The Veteran had spent most of his life protecting the planet from the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat. At the height of crisis, the Base needed the support of everyone living on the surface. Many brave Soldiers came up to offer their services however needed. They all willingly gave part of their life energy to fuel the death ray that would stop the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat from destroying everything they loved.

The Battle tactic seemed desperate, as it amounted to little more than throwing these lives in the path of the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat. It seemed to be working at first, but the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat seemed to be putting up more resistance than expected, so more energy was needed, which the populace was expected to give.

At their moment of greatest peril, the Veteran who’d gained immense popularity through his daring deeds pleaded with the populace in helping him by giving a portion of their life energy in order to drive the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat back.

The populace was only all too happy to help out, wanting to feel part of something greater than themselves. In this way, they would be able to contribute to this, without having to actually encounter combat themselves.

The energy gathered, the Veteran fueled it with his weapon, and combined the two into a singular blast directly aimed at the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat.

But this final blow seemed to be taking much longer than usual, and the Veteran once again asked for more help, which the populace seemed more reluctant to provide. Wasn’t what they already gave enough? Concessions were made, and the populace once again gave the energy that they’d grown resigned to accept at this point.

After years of using all the energies, the Veteran was feeling his fuel reserves running low, and even with the force-fed application of energy to his rapidly draining batteries, he couldn’t keep his long-sustained energy attack up much longer, and started converting his own life into the mix. But even his meagre life energy wasn’t enough, and he was finally overwhelmed.

As he plummeted towards the planet below, his only thought was how he failed to hold up his side of the bargain. He’d done everything he possibly could, and it still wasn’t enough.

But as he fell, he saw his replacement take his place in an updated more fuel-conscious design of the battle armour he’d been wearing.

When he recovered from his stay in the medical tent, he found out that this new guy was more popular than he ever was, and was easily gathering more life energy from the populace, all in an effort to fight against an Outside-Implacable Galaxy-Destructive Threat that threatened everything everyone loved.

The Veteran wondered what happened to his mission against the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat, and then he realized – it was the same Threat as before, only under a different name.

There were rumours that long ago, the planet was outfitted with naturally-occurring defenses that kept the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threatening forces at bay before it all dried up. That was fortunate, as it gave the opportunity for people like him to step in and fill the vacant position, making themselves useful.

But now discharged, drained of all usefulness and left with nothing left to do, living on a lackluster pension that barely covered his living needs, the Veteran moped about in a daze, his head filled with thoughts of what could have been. If he’d actually accomplished his goal, he would’ve gotten a yearly bonus to his pay. Everywhere he went, he couldn’t stand the continuous din of everyday life compared to the silentness of space.

All his career, the Veteran had been warned over and over – ‘Your hole-puncher is the only thing keeping you safe.’ It was drilled in his head to the point where it became his security blanket, and soon, he became anxious if separated for more than five seconds. He ate with it. He played with it. He ran around and bathed with it. And now that he was no longer in active service, no longer had a hole-puncher on him.

It was a good thing he’d been disassembled from the armoured suit he’d worn for years. More than once, he reacted to harmless scenarios by reflexly pressing his fingers towards his target of derision. The amount of damage he could’ve accumulated if armed would be worse than anything the Nigh-Impervious World-Ending Threat could do.

The citizens didn’t react favorably upon seeing him, which had nothing to do with his jitters. He was now associated with failure. None of them wanted to be reminded of a war they lost. And their constant rejection of his presence only weighed further upon him. How could they be so complacent in the face of obvious threats lurking around every corner?

Because of his nervous reactions, he was detained multiple times for creating a ruckus and destroying property that wasn’t his own. His only excuse was that he was back from the front lines, and even his good favor was beginning to run out. They’d already forgotten who he was.

There wasn’t much to do while in the holding chambers but wait. The Veteran hated these silent interludes. He didn’t want to reflect on his actions, he wanted to be part of the action. And the inactivity was driving him to distraction.

Other surviving Soldiers had managed to get professions suitable to themselves in their fields, going into lines of work such as advisers and security detail, but sometimes their influence could reach much higher. The most well-known prolific retired Soldier was the Silver-Haired Reporter, making daily announcements for all to see. His calm demeanor, outstanding track record and good looks made him a natural celebrity. But for the Veteran, such doors of opportunity were constantly denied to him.

Then one day, he got a personally delivered letter in the mail with a baffling pitch:


It was sparse with plenty of blank space in large font for easy reading, and not much else. Apart from the address, there was a disturbing lack of information. He ignored it at first, but then he kept getting the same messages over and over. They never made any overt statement to join, but their insistence was beginning to win him over. Since no one else contacted him, it piqued his curiosity. With not much else to do, he decided to check it out. If he didn’t like what he saw, he’d just back out.

When he arrived at the destination, he was placed in a waiting room with other potential clients who looked just as confused as he. They all seemed to be waiting for some unverifiable signal that would alert them to their designated roles, uncertain what their purpose would be. Soon enough, he was called and sent to another room. The Veteran wasn’t expecting much, but his suspicions was instantly allayed upon meeting the man who warmly greeted him.

“Ah! I can see you’re a fine strapping specimen, cast by and forgotten by a society that’s thrown away its best and brightest in favor of the latest shiny toy.”

There wasn’t much to fear from the competition – if anything was apparent, he was far healthier than any of them, having kept up his daily exercises with nothing else to fill the widening gaps of inactivity with.

The Confident Man examined the Veteran and looked him in the face. “I’ve been looking for people like you, capable of doing destructive work.” He motioned towards two standing boards in the room. “I’d like to get an idea of your arm strength. Go ahead, hit ‘em as hard as you can.”
The Veteran assumed a battle stance, then delivered a direct blow that broke the board in half.

“Very impressive! Now the other hand.”

The Veteran’s next blow from his less dominant fist didn’t wind up dealing as much damage, but still broke the board some.

“Not too shabby. You’ve got the exact qualities I’m looking for!”

This was unlike any other job interview the Veteran had gone to. All the interviewers wanted to know was his references and qualifications. This Confident Man was just awed by his presence alone. He was certainly different from how the populace normally approached his ilk. Their impetus towards dead soldiers was, ‘If they were really smart, they wouldn’t have gotten themselves killed dying for their planet!

“I still don’t know what you want me for.”

“I might as well tell you.” The Confident Man’s tone suddenly took an air of solemness. “There’s a danger lurking just outside this City. Everybody is so focused on the Ominous-Imperious Universe-Shattering Threat above that they’re utterly unaware of the Unknown Threat lurking here at home.”

“I always thought there was something wrong!”

“I’ve tracked down a dangerous ONE hiding just outside this City. I’ve been assembling capable people like you to face off against this unseen menace. Are you willing to protect everyone from this danger?”

“You know I am! Will I have access to hole-punchers?” He hoped that whatever this was, he’d have access to a weapon.

“You don’t need hole-punchers when you’ve got these.” The Confident Man stroked the Veteran’s arm up and down. Normally, he would’ve bristled against being touched without permission, but the Confident Man’s reassuring demeanor set him at ease. “They removed most of your exterior armour, but couldn’t remove your interior skeleton, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to move.”

“But I will have protection?”

“This ONE would possess whatever weapon or suit you have. If you’re only armed with your fists, the ONE won’t stand a chance.”

The Veteran’s confidence faltered. This was the first time in ages he’d been complimented, but his value was tied in with the armoury surrounding him, and didn’t fully trust his inherent abilities. “I dunno… I’m not so sure about this…”

“Hmm. Tell you what, I’ll sweeten the pot. I’m not allowed to do this, but I’m willing to give you an advance.”

The Confident Man handed over an envelope. The Veteran looked inside and tried to keep his composure, even as his eyes bugged out. There was more than enough here to live comfortably over the course of a year if he spent it responsibly.

“That’s just for one week’s work.”

“What do you need me to do?”

“It’s really very simple. I need seekers. Seekers who will track down and destroy anything still standing, so the ONE can’t come back and threaten our way of life.”

The Veteran’s hopeful features fell. “That sounds like Demolition Duty.”

“If you’re not feeling up to it, there are plenty of applicants out there I’d like to see.” The Confident Man held his hand out, expecting the envelope back.

“Can I think about it?”

“Take your time. The offer won’t be around forever. I have a hundred more applicants to see.”

The Veteran tried to think rationally, but torn between feeling useful once again and the looming deadline, it was just a matter of waffling before settling upon the decision he’d already decided to take.

“Just so you should know, there are plenty of abandoned hole-punchers in the area you’d be travelling to.”

“I’LL DO IT.” That was all the incentive he needed to push him.

“Now, it’s only fair to warn you that the risks are high, but the rewards are lucrative. There’s little chance of returning if you’re not prepared.”

“What do I need to do?”

“Take off everything you’re wearing.”

The Veteran stared at the Confident Man’s request.

“Don’t wear or carry anything shiny. I can’t allow the chance of the ONE jumping to anything else. The risk is simply too great.”

The Veteran stripped down, used to having to deal with regular checkups. It was so freeing to have someone tell him what to do.

The Confident Man examined the Veteran all around. “No skin plating, no artificial limbs. Good. Au naturale is the way to go. However, before I send you off on your merry way, we need to prepare you first. Go to this room where you’ll be decked out in proper camouflage.”

The Veteran sat in the chair with numerous inked needles surrounding him. “What’s this for?”

“While outside, chances are you’re going to forget your mission. Since we can’t communicate via normal means once you’re out on the field, these indelible marks will give you constant clear reminders. Notes written all over your body to remind you of what you’re supposed to do.”

“Why do I need these?”

“For your safety, you’ll be mind-wiped, just in case the ONE latches upon you and tries to force you back the way you came.”

“Will I have… to think hard on the job?”

“I don’t need good intellectual skills, I need muscle! And besides, memory wouldn’t be of much use where you’d be going.”

“I feel a little insulted.”

“Oh, don’t worry. There’ll be plenty of chances for you to use your smarts out there. You won’t remember everything, but you’ll still remember enough to get the job done.”

“How’s that?”

“Muscle memory. You know how to breathe when you’re not thinking about it. You’ll execute your martial skills when you’re feeling threatened. If anything looks dangerous, you’ll take care of it. I’m also going to need some money for registration, testing, imprinting and anaesthesia. Those boards don’t come cheap.”

The Veteran winced at the price. This would take a hefty chunk out of his advance. “I… don’t have enough.”

“No worries. You can make up the remainder out of your savings. I’d need your bank account number anyways to direct deposit your pay. Did you bring your identification papers? It’s important that we don’t get you mixed up with someone else.”

“Yes I did.”

“Sign here, here, here, and here,” the Confident Man said, pointing at various spots on multiple pages. Copies were made of everything to make sure that nothing was neglected. “Okay, I think we’re all set.”

As soon as the last signature was signed, the needles started doing their work. The Veteran was confused by the messages on his person. There weren’t any instructions to destroy objects on any of them. And there was a hidden backwards message that seemed woefully out of place.

“I don’t have a wife.”

“That’s just to motivate you. You’ll know what you’re looking for when you see it.”

The Veteran looked at the numerous reminders etched upon his person, and something occurred to him.

“Say, once the job’s done, how do I get back?”

“Don’t worry. We’ll figure something out.”

“For that matter, what do I do if I’m irreparably harmed?”

“Not my problem. You’re on a one-way trip.”

The Veteran started to panic, and tried to move, desperate to do something, anything as the anaesthesia started to take hold as numerous needles did their work imprinting hundreds of tightly ingrained messages all over his body. He moved his hand towards the Confident Man’s weirdly-shaped square head and clenched his fingers, but since there were only flat surfaces to grab onto, his actions were impotent. As he went under, he desperately tried to keep in mind something he could cling to in these last moments of coherence.

When the Tattooed Man woke up, he tried to remember something important. There was something he was supposed to do – what was it? He ventured closer to the shiniest object in the vicinity. Upon seeing his reflection, he was filled with unbridled rage, and started raining multiple shattering blows on it.

And with that, the Tattooed Man’s fate was sealed. It was true that society turned their back on those who gave their lives for it, and the Thief sought to take advantage of that. Now that the Veteran was entombed within the confines of Memory Bane, he could safely use his identity to continue receiving pension funds without getting caught. And if there was any suspicion of forgery, there were multiple signatures to allay those fears. It also gave him another account to stash his ill-gotten gains, even though he couldn’t spend it.

The Thief let his latest mark off, smashing all the mirrors in Memory Bane. If he was lucky, he might be able to stop the Worker from ever coming back. This was the best opportunity to get rid of that troublesome pest once and for all.

Death and Violence: the cause and solution to all of life’s problems.

– Old paraphrased saying


Proof of Purpose 11

The Worker was winding his way down the stairs, intent in getting out through a lower door, but the way was already blocked, and wouldn’t accept his visitor’s pass anymore. Apparently, the Thief had figured out how to restrict his movements. Despite screwing his workplace up something awful, this Thief was smarter than he looked – he’d grasped the nuances of the workplace faster than expected.

The Worker wouldn’t be able to use the same trick twice. The restoration of his identity could wait. The only thing on his mind now was survival. He had to get out of this place before it was too late.

He was making his way downwards when he detected movement at the bottom. The Doorman from the front entrance was gradually coming upstairs. This was problematic. If he was caught like this now, there was no way to explain what he was doing in a highly-secure location clearly outside the legitimate boundaries of the building. He tried to get through another way, but access through the lower floors was still locked.

There was no other choice but to go back the way he came. Fortunately, the Doorman’s motions were laborously slow, giving him time, but going up was much harder than going downstairs. As the Worker passed the floor he left, he saw the smug face of the Thief through the window, giving an air that said, ‘I’m gonna getcha’.

With a dwindling lack of options available, the Worker made his way to a communication hub in the stairway out of sight of the Thief’s field of vision. He checked the clock. This would require split-second timing.

The Doorman opened the door to the stairway, allowing the Thief passage. But he couldn’t simply make his way down – that wasn’t the way things were done here. He had to convince the Doorman first.

“What did you call me up here for?”

“You may not know it, but you unintentionally let a saboteur in this building. He made a mess out of my work area, and almost escaped.”

“I knew he was trouble the first time I saw him!”

“I have his card right here, and it has your signature on it.”

“I had nothing to do with that!” the Doorman backpedalled, vehemently denying any trace of his involvement.

“There’s no need to trouble yourself. I’m not going to report you. I’ll deal with the matter myself. All you have to do is stay here, and make sure no one gets past.”

The Doorman seemed dubious at first, then figured this would be easier than actually making the effort to go up and filing a report later, which was just what the Thief wanted.

Before the Thief went through the stairway, he’d taped a monitor flat against his head, that was directly facing the Worker’s monitors, showing what all the Amazing Greys were seeing. The Thief monitored the Worker’s current location. What was he trying to do? Reach outside help? Hopeless. He’d take care of him long after anybody could come around.

On the upper stairway floor, the Worker had managed to make contact with the Driver’s radio, and send a signal to his house, directed to his Daughter’s room, which sent the cryptic message of, ‘Page 47, 2nd poem.’ The task done, the Worker made his way further up to the only door that wasn’t locked, the very top.

Upon reaching the roof, the Worker edged near the edge and looked out at the view of the City. The Worker hardly had time to admire the surroundings. All around him were mirrored reflections of Amazing Greys, from the walls of the workplace to the large flat screen before him, capturing every action occurring in front of them for whatever unknown purpose. And the City was full of them.

Their discomforting presence would mean nothing if records of what would happen to him were never noticed by anyone who could influence things to his advantage. They’d seen countless disturbing things, and never acted on any of them. His death would be just one more statistic.

To that extent, the Worker had taken precautions leading up to this moment. He’d taken in the available time allowed, and the Thief distracting the Doorman gave him a few more precious minutes. He calculated how long it’d take to climb up, setting the timer for the recording, and giving himself leeway to allow the message to get out. And he’d planned to say some confrontal words to the Thief that would trigger the desired response. However, what he hadn’t taken in account was just how out of shape he was, and found himself still gasping for breath.

At that moment, the Sleepwalking Daughter got out of bed, and made her way to the dresser, and was slightly woken up by the rope attached to her ankle. The rope was tied to the post of her bed to prevent her from wandering off too far. Still in her sleep-delirium state, she reached across, her fingers brushing the spine cover of the book, nudging it close enough to grab, opened up to the relevant page and started reciting the first of four stanzas of the nonsense poem:


The Worker got up on the ledge, perilously close to the edge, trying to distance himself from the doorway as far away as possible. If he was trying to make himself inconspicuous, it was a failed attempt, as he was clearly visible right in the line of sight. “Nowhere to go now!”, the Thief announced, arriving at the top of the stairs.

“…there…”, she continued, concluding the second line.

The Worker had intended to make a convincing argument towards the Thief in this specific spot at this specific time, stalling with ‘Can’t we talk about this?’ but the trek upstairs had taken too much out of him and he was barely able to breathe any coherent words out. In the distance, the bells tolled, signalling the end of the day and the start of the next.

“…again…” in the middle of the third line.

The Worker held a palm out, hoping to halt the Thief’s advances, but he kept striding closer, full of malicious intent. And why should he worry? Hardly anyone in the workplace was paying attention to the Amazing Greys, access to their records was heavily restricted, and the Doorman was preoccupied. “No one will even notice your absence. I just have to get rid of you. All my problems will be over once you’re gone!”

“…away.” she said, finishing the last stanza.

At that moment, the Worker was pulled back into the wall by some kind of magnetic force and melded onto the surface of the Amazing Grey, and became a reflection. The Worker and Thief both looked surprised at this unusual occurrence. The Worker turned his 2-dimensional hands over in confusion, trying to make sense of this new reality.

The lie that was intended to target the Thief had been aimed at the Worker instead. Taking advantage of this, the Worker started running, making his way along the corridor wall towards the stairs. The Thief tried to stop him, but how can you stop a reflection? He slammed the door shut, but the Worker slipped through the crack between the hinge and door.

The Thief tried to track where the Worker was now, but for some reason, he wasn’t showing up on the monitors, despite what his eyes saw. He didn’t even register as a glitchy image. This was an inherent flaw of the system. The Amazing Greys recorded everything that crossed their line of sight, but they couldn’t see anything that moved along their surface. Trying to see him was like trying to see the interior of your eyeball.

The Thief raced down the stairs, knowing that any attempt at catching up was a lost cause, but wasn’t going to give up after getting this far. His enthusiasm was renewed when he saw the Worker struggling down below. The Worker had stopped in his tracks, stalled by the blockage with no reflective material to travel across. He anxiously looked around, looking for an alternate route, only to see all other paths barred and the Thief’s frenetic downward pace had relaxed to savour the moment.

In a fit of inspiration, he stopped looking left or right, up or down, and simply looked straight ahead… and found himself reflected on the reflective wall opposite where there was a clear path, and continued his way down. The two of them resumed their madcap race downwards, and was only cut short when the Doorman got in the way.

“Stop him!!” the Thief called out.
“Stop who?”
“You’re letting him get away!”
“No one’s getting past.”

And the Reflection slid down the remaining floors, slipped through the space between the doors and escaped out to the outside world.

So, as a result, the man who knows the inner workings of the Government is wandering about outside, and the man who manipulates the system without fully understanding how things work is left running the place. Which is why things are such a mess. Both of them have been deftly manipulating things to their advantage, each trying to oust the other, knowing that if they ever confronted each other again, it would ultimately mean their demise.

There were two cats from Ulthar
Who couldn’t stand each other,
Thought there was one cat too many.
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, excepting their nails
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats, there weren’t any.

“Hey!” the Complainer cried. “What about my problem??”

Proof of Purpose 10

This wasn’t what the Thief wanted. In this new state, he could see in multiple directions at once. He could see not just from the front, but also from the sides and back. The added sight played havoc with his vision, constantly showing his collarbone and hair which refused to stay out of the way. With practice, he was able to ignore certain visual stimuli, and realized that with this new shape, even with severe restrictions, he could see in a 360 arc with the angles cut out.

By this point, the Thief no longer cared about gaining access to private information. All that mattered now was getting out of this accursed place. This six-sided cube-headed mark would be his brand of shame, but it’d be worth it just to leave. But even that mercy was denied him. For when he tried to sneak out, he was either accosted by a guard or repelled by some impenetrable force he couldn’t see.

The Thief attempted multiple times to leave, but was always singled out among the crowd. From all appearances, he didn’t seem to be doing anything any differently from anybody else. He followed their footsteps, their motions, their mannerisms exactly, and was still being held back. The added visual senses were no help in seeing why he was barred from leaving. It was already after hours, and long after everyone else had left, he was still trapped within the Building.

It was clear that they instinctively knew he didn’t belong, and treated him accordingly, openly expressing their hostility, yet wouldn’t allow him the opportunity to leave. He knew he was doing something wrong, he just didn’t know what. And to make matters worse, no one would tell him. Attempts to find out were resoundly rebuffed.

“Why won’t you let me leave?”
“You KNOW why.”

The Thief made his way back to his Terminal. Every attempt to try to get away only wound up getting him further sunk in. He decided to try to make sense of the surrounding instruments as best as he could tell. As he was examining the unexplored realms surrounding the dormant automation of the Worker’s station, there was a rapping noise on the wall from behind. “I’ve got a package for you.”

Half an hour ago at the Dirt Farm, the Worker stamped the mail he’d picked up earlier while trading between unrelated clients, and had instructed the Driver’s to move to the front of his workplace while he changed out of his regular clothes into a Deliveryman’s. “Wait here, this shouldn’t take too long,” he notified the Complainer as he stepped out to greet the Doorman.

“I have an package for one of your employees.”

“It’s late. Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

“It’s very important. I was told under no uncertain terms to deliver this personally.”

“I’m sorry, but I simply can’t let you in without a signed signature from one of our employees.”

“Will this do?”

The Doorman stared incomprehensibly at the authentic signature. How did he get this? By all rights, it normally should’ve taken three days to go through the proper channels before acquiring this!

The Worker knew from experience that it would take some time to get past the front entrance, so he forwarded his signature via a wrapped package personally addressed to himself in case something like this happened.

“My Client was very insistent on the matter. I cautioned him against doing so, but still… is this going to be a problem?”

“You bet it will!” The Doorman dialed a nearby phone. “We can’t have our employees giving out their signatures willy-nilly just to save time! They could be victim to outside influence and never know it!” He put the receiver to his mouth. “Hello? Is No. 43#64L in? I have an item and complaint for him.” The Doorman gave the impression of responding to an unresponsive line along the likes of, “Uh-huh. Uh-huh,” responding a little too quickly. “He says he’s too busy to talk to mere outsiders.”

“May I speak with him?”

The Doorman ripped the cable out of the receiver. “The connection’s been lost.”

“You could get rid of me faster if I could deliver this faster.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“Direct contact with my Client available to your liking.”

“Deal,” the Doorman responded, accepting the card, not even noticing the signature and face on the card matched the Deliveryman’s.

As the Worker ventured inside, he was filled with resentment that even after all these years of admittance, the Doorman refused to recognize him. He looked forward to the day when the Doorman would rue forgetting him. Seeing his anguished expression would be worth the numerous times he failed to remember him even once.

The Thief reacted in shock at seeing the familiar face of the Worker standing right before him. “It’s… you.”

“You’ve been up to a lot of trouble in my absence.”

“How… what are you doing here?”

“Delivering a package to myself, unless you’d still like to be me?”


“Very few would. Get out of my chair.” He moved forward, looking at the Terminal. “You’ve done a great deal of damage, but nothing that can’t be undone. I’ll help you get out of here. I can even restore your face if you wish.”

“You’d do that? Even after all I did?”

“In exchange, I ask for a favor. Once you’re free, spread the word that I’m an easy mark.”

“That’s it? Is that all?”

The Worker got to work making corrections, flicking through the numerous accidential self-imposed interference with astonishing speed. The Thief paid close attention to the Worker’s habits. Who knew when he’d ever get the chance to see a veteran in action again? Even with inside knowledge, he still couldn’t understand half of what the Worker was doing, and his casual talking while repairing didn’t help.

“I really must thank people like you. You’re a tremendous help. There’s so many unnecessary obstacles that makes getting the simplest things done a chore. I make a bigger difference out there than I do in here. Imagination just shrivels up in here.”

On the monitors, the three footed twenty legged apparition in a garish plaid coat was still involved with the Lost and Found, and… there was a glitchy image wandering right outside the Worker’s workspace? The Thief turned around and the Management peeked in, covertly saying a few choice words:

[aRe YoU nOt WhO yOu SaY YoU aRe?]
[cOuLd bE tRoUbLe.]
[cAn’T hAvE mOrE tHaN oNe.]

And the Management left, leaving the Thief to consider the nature of those words.

The Worker completely missed this interaction, being mainly engaged looking over the damage the Thief had done, and was still talking to himself. “Once you’re in a Government position, it’s practically impossible to get fired. Oh sure, they might shuffle you around, and put in another position, but ultimately, once you’re in, you’re in for life.”

It was only from noticing a moving shadowy reflection off the screen, that he just barely managed to dodge a glancing blow that would’ve crippled him. “What are you doing?”

The Thief was holding a blunt instrument between his hands. “I can’t afford to be found out. If it’s a choice between you reporting my actions and the higher-ups seeing the difference, I’ll take my chances.”

“No, you don’t understand. I wouldn’t tell on – ”

“You’re the only proof left that you really exist.”

“You can’t possibly keep up this charade for so long!”

“I’ve managed quite well until now.”

The Worker looked at the Thief. Unlike everybody he’d encountered, this wasn’t a man he could reason with. He had reached levels of desperation that had reduced him to this state. All semblance of sanity had gone out the window, leaving only survival in its wake. But that didn’t mean the Worker was limited in his bag of tricks. Backing off, he made his way backwards until he pulled the switch for the fire alarm.

Nothing registered.

“First thing I tried.” the Thief replied.

It slowly dawned on the Worker what just happened. Due to numerous false alarms to empty the building on an employee’s whim, the alarm only worked when there was an actual fire. In the back of his mind, the Worker dimly wondered why none of the previous thieves had ever taken advantage of this obvious exit before. And since he was a law-abiding citizen, had never decided to test out this fatal flaw in the system until now.

The Thief closed in the kill, cornering the Worker at a narrow section of hallway, and it looked like he was caught, until the rear wall faded away and popped back up again, and the Worker ran down the otherwise unaccessible fire escape. The Thief looked closer, revealing a doorway he couldn’t possibly open.

“How did…? Oh, very very sneaky!” Rather than use his own invalid ID, the Worker had used his visitor’s pass to bypass the barrier. The Thief couldn’t follow through, but there were still ways to make sure the Worker didn’t get out.

Proof of Purpose 9

The Gravedigger dug deep into the upturned soil, and deposited a clump into the empty bottle. At first, the Complainer thought that the Worker wanted to get some blackmail material in exchange for his help, but no, he actually got a jar of dirt for his trouble. It hardly seemed worth it. “All that work just for this?”

“This is the last component. We’re down the home stretch now.”

“Is this going to take much longer?”

“Just one more stop at the Dirt Farm, and it’ll all be over.”

Over at the Workplace, the Thief had made his way towards the Third Corridor where the fabled Management was rumoured to be. He expected having to charm his way through another layer of bureaucratic employees getting in his way, only to find the presence of a huge intimidating tall Robed Figure menacing the hallway. It was draped in rags that matched the colour schemes of the walls, and cast a discomforting aura. Everybody working there was doing their utmost best to look as busy as possible, and avoid being seen. The Robed Figure stopped in front of a stall that attracted its attention, and the Thief was about to intervene when the Robed Figure bent down over the clerks’ shoulders and said in an unnerving tone,


“No, there’s nothing wrong here!”
“Everything’s perfectly fine!”
“Running smoothly!”

The Robed Figure wasn’t convinced, and looked about, its covered twin heads swinging around until they pinpointed a single random employee and sauntered towards its general direction.

[wHaT’s WrOnG?]

“We can’t complete the project in two months, let alone two weeks!”

[yOu HaVe TwO HoUrS.]

“Thank you for your words of wisdom!” the employee said, trying to avert the gaze of his co-workers glaring at him for going into sudden death deadline pressure.

“Excuse me,” the Thief said, “Sorry to bother you while you’re busy, but I need to talk to you.”

Even though its features were obscured, the outline of the rumpled clothes surrounding the Robed Figure suggested anatomical impossibilities ultimately culminating in having two heads. That was the only thing about the Management that made sense.

[wHat’S tHe pRobLeM?] the dissonant voice said.

Hearing the voice from a distance and having it aimed directly at you were two different things. The Thief’s methods of intimidation only worked when dealing from a position of fear, and in this place, he held very low on the respect ranking. In the midst of their presence, all pretense of duplicity faded away. The voice rattled him from the inside, but the Thief pressed on. “There’s been an awful mistake.”

[wRoNg FlOoR.]

“No, not that. There’s something you need to see.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Worker’s card. “If you look at my Identification card and my face, you’ll see that they’re not the same.”

The Robed Figure snatched the card away. One head stretched its neck, staring at the Thief, while the other looked impassively at the stolen piece of Identification. Even though he couldn’t see their features, the Thief felt very nervous being scrutinized this way.

Then the long head of the Robed Figure snapped back in place, and part of its nondescriptive rags stretched out, surrounding the Thief’s head. The Thief thrashed helplessly as he was raised, his head muffled, trying to remove the loose fabric that now had an iron grip. Then all of a sudden, he was let go, and fell to the ground, gasping for breath. As he held his throat, he felt a subtle change. The underside of his chin felt more defined than usual, and his sight felt strange. Putting his hands to the sides, he felt the contours of his skull, and found it was now flat.

[tHerE. nOw YoU MaTcH.]

The Robed Figure handed over the ID and glided away. The Thief’s blurred vision refocused, and he looked for a mirror to see himself, settling for looking at an Amazing Grey instead. What he saw confirmed his fear. The Management had misunderstood his intent. Instead of confirming that they’d had the wrong man for the job, they had reshaped his head to look like his Identification card. His head was now a cube, with each side showing a profile of the Worker’s face – and nothing in between.

In his haste to circumvent around the routes of hierarchy, the Thief had forgotten one of the cardinal rules when dealing with shortcuts.

You can only bend the rules of the Law for so long, before they start to bend back.

“I’m back,” the Worker declared, getting the attention of the Dirt Farmer. “I’ve got another soil sample for you.”

“You got the stuff from the third moon?”

“Not yet. I got you something else.”

The Worker opened the jar of dirt, and the Dirt Farmer stuck a finger in. There was an audible gasp of impressiveness from the stoic figure no longer bothering to retain his composure. “Ooh, this is quality material! Hard to decompose this time of year! How’d you manage?”

“Trade secret. In exchange, I need to use the usual, again.”

Grumbling noises could be heard as the Dirt Farmer reluctantly opened the contents of his wares, where jars of dirt sat on carefully arranged shelves, separated by region, category, soil consistency, absorbency, erosion, fossils and rocks.

As the two men made their way inside the interior, the Dirt Farmer could be heard remarking, “I don’t appreciate having footprints all over them. You’re just getting them dirty!”

The Worker made a beeline to a specific table that had a selection of bottled dirt already arranged for him, and started dumping the contents into contained piles on boxed outlines on the floor.

“Okay, you’ve gone to a great deal of trouble bringing me here. What’s the big deal?”

“I just need you to stand on this patch of dirt, and move on to the next when I say so.”

“What for?”

“Right now, you’re on the land of Bloom Country. That makes you eligible to enter this land, which is this pile of dirt here. Step over here now.”

As soon as the Complainer set foot onto the pile of dirt, the Worker stamped the Complainer’s card with an ink slab invisible to the naked eye. Looking closer, there were numerous coloured ink slabs on the table that blended into the background. Only the presence of the nearby rubber stamps gave them away, and they were obscured by the dirt bottles.

“Now, by chance, you happen to hear about a bargain that’s not normally available in your homeland, taking a tour of the tropics at a reduced rate. So you decide to take a little trip, using this system to your advantage, only to venture out, get caught, and be forcibly shunted back.”

The Worker was becoming more animated and talking excitedly now, speaking at a breathless rapid pace that was difficult to follow.

“You’ll become the victim of an amateur left-handed handler, who’ll accidentally stamp the wrong box, forcing you to be shipped out to Kokonino Country where the mistake won’t be recognized until arrival. At which point, his colleagues there will want to get rid of you as soon as possible to cover up the mistake. That’s where your card gets stamped twice, because they always skimp on the ink, and are too cheap to splurge the expense. As a result, you’re flagged as a flight risk, and shuffled off to the Double Islands. There, they’ll quickly figure out your stamping mistake, and reroute you along with all the other travelers who’ve been forced this route, and go to the Condemned Lands. But wait! You’ll be prevented from boarding, on danger of overloading, and have to catch a later flight out. Naturally, you’ll want to avoid going there at all costs, so you’ll bribe numerous officials, who’ll sneak dirty looks at all the suspicious stops you’ve made, wondering just where you’ve been, what you’ve seen and what you’ve been doing. But don’t worry – this is exactly what we want!”

“It is?”

“Absolutely! That means you’ll be deported back under heavy watch, where you’ll be seen as a spy, and be flagged by numerous nations vehemently denying any association or entry. After which, you’ll be traded multiple times for political prisoners, and get another stamp from people who’ll want to get rid of you fast. So now, you’ll be extradited back where you came from. In this case, that happens to be the first patch of land where you were standing. And just like that, you’ve traveled around the world without leaving this room! Astounding isn’t it?”

“Very impressive,” the Complainer breathlessly replied, not understanding a word of what just happened. “But what was the point?”

“The point was that after moving around so much and rejected so much, you’re now officially labeled a Nomad without a land to return to, and are eligible for refugee status.”

The Worker returned the card with a flourish. “Which should be taking effect… NOW!”, he emphasized with a dramatic gesture from his hands.

The Complainer waited expectantly.

“Now.” the Worker repeated, as if the act of saying the word again would change anything.

“Is something supposed to happen?”

“I didn’t forget anything, did I?” the Worker quizzically asked, flipping the card back and forth. “It should’ve worked by now. What did I miss – ” Then he stopped, closed his eyes, his head turned upwards and turned to the Dirt Farmer. “Has the latest legislature passed today?

“Not as far as I know.”

“Oh, that’s it! My stand-in’s messed up my workplace somehow! He’s interfered with the necessary paperwork that’s supposed to allow legislation to pass through! It looks like I’ll have to go back to my workplace early and resolve the bottleneck.” The Worker rested a conciliatory hand on the Complainer’s shoulder. “I thought we’d be done by now, but it looks like we’re going to have to make another stop. Back to the last place I wanted.”

Proof of Purpose 8

“I’m telling you, that’s mine!”

“Look, I’ve worked here for years. I think I know who’s an employee here or not.”

Fine words coming from someone who couldn’t recognize the Thief upon first sight. “Just scan my card.”

“Sorry, I can’t accept this.”

“Why not?”

“Your signature doesn’t match.”

The Thief had attempted to imitate the Worker’s handwriting as best as possible, but the letters were so illegible it was impossible to make anything out. How could anyone possibly create such an indecipherable scrawl? “I’ve had a wrist injury recently. That must be what’s throwing you off.”

“If that’s the case, you need to update your signature so it’ll be accepted.”

The Thief was about to protest, when he realized that in a roundabout way, this would result in getting what he wanted. “How do I do that?”

“You’ll need to go to the 38th floor, sector A, and ask for proper documentation and present a handwriting sample.”

“Isn’t there a faster way of doing this?”

“This IS the express route. You’re fortunate enough just to get ahead of the line!”

Now having a specific destination, it was a simple matter of asking around until he was directed to the directory. From there, through a roundabout method of covertly asking questions, the Thief found out he’d need access to the Identification Clarification Department.

“Is this the ICD? I need to prove I am who I say I am.”

“There’s a lot of that going around here. Are you aware of the risks and consequences for doing so?”

“I am, but I want to speak to someone in charge.”

“Have you filled out the proper forms?”

“Of course not!”

“Then don’t come back until you’ve done so.”

Convincing complete strangers that he was who he wasn’t, wasn’t a problem. The problem was, unlike the other stations, the ICD needed more papers than usual, and all the necessary memos were scattered throughout the building. This required taking referrals from known associates starting from the ground floor, then moving up from every floor onwards before moving on to the next floor. To make matters more infuriating, some of these notifications had to be repeated, so a blank heading that would remain unsigned on the 12th floor would then have to be filled upon reaching the 23rd floor, resulting in a lot of back and forth action.

For a Clarification Department, the procedure for making your identity clear wasn’t very clear. Such a long-winded regulation process wasn’t along the Thief’s preferred methods, so he fell back on his last-ditch attempt to speed the process along. He didn’t normally take this option, not wanting to give up his reserves of easily acquired ill-gotten gains, but he was desperate to get this over with.

“Might this help convince you?” The Thief asked, slipping a fair share of money hidden in his coat pocket over to the Receptionist who wouldn’t complain about being given a higher cut than usual.

“For bribery, you need to fill in the necessary forms.”

The Thief looked down at the paper in dismay. The procedure for such a simple transaction was more trouble than it was worth. There was a surprisingly large number of tax deductions and rewards depending on how much you were willing to sell your soul for. It was just like these employees to balk out on a deal, even when it’d benefit them. What were they all so scared of?

It would take too much time and energy running around, finding all the relevant documents necessary to fill the requirements. But he needed these papers if he needed to get further. So, to save time, he covertly copied and stole from the files of those waiting for their turn.

It was a long gruelling process, and went against his better nature, and by the time he was done, it would’ve been faster if he’d gone to the trouble of going of collecting the papers himself. But once having gone down this path, was loathe to change his mind.

Another problem was the need for numerous referrals that didn’t exist. That was easily taken care of by having dummy accounts with pre-recorded messages to match the caller’s scripted responses. It wasn’t likely that they’d be double-checked, but it was just in case.

The procedure for accomplishing all the falsified information took the better part of the afternoon and the remainder of the day. Finally, the necessary paperwork was done, the required body samples were on hand, the numerous fake contacts were in his inventory, and he was ready to have his signature approved. But as always, there was just one more thing that needed doing.

“Not so fast. We need a witness to verify your signature.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“There’s been a rash of identity theft all around. You understand.”

“Yes, all too well,” the Thief ironically replied. “Can’t you just see me sign my signature and sign off on seeing me sign off?”

“I can’t be part of the notary process.”

Typical. There were so many redundant hoops that needed jumping through. So many blockages and detours in getting anything done that it was a wonder anything got passed around here. There should be better ways to navigate through the labyrinthic process that stood in the way. There had to be something he could use here! Something he could use to his advantage. It would be far easier for someone to –

A nefarious thought suddenly popped up in the Thief’s head, and he normally would’ve kept it to himself, but decided to share his findings.

“What guarantee do you have that that’s the official witness’ signature?”

The Record Keeper looked shocked at this glaring obvious hole in the system. If this was revealed, it would mean having to verify hundreds of thousands of signatures, further backdating the already backdated system.

Sensing weakness, the Thief made his proposal. “Look, how about you just let this legislation slide, and I’ll forget this conversation ever happened?”

“I – don’t have the proper authority – ”

“Once I get the badge, I’ll give you the authorization to temporarily deputize yourself under an assumed name, then you can legalize me, making your signature legitimate.”

“What about the timestamp?”

“Set your clock ahead a little, then rewind it back. The order of operations doesn’t matter as long as everything checks out in the end.”

The Thief had no idea if what he said made a lick of sense, but it sounded reasonable enough. It must’ve been convincing, since the Record Keeper hesitated slightly before silently agreeing with the proposal.

“Finally!” the Thief cried out, grabbing his updated card, which still had the Worker’s photo on it for some reason. He was just about to leave, when he mentally slapped himself. It was only after he completed his task that the Thief realized too late that he could’ve seen the Worker’s portfolio. He could’ve recieved clarification of the stolen identity, access to private passwords and looked up his personal history.

He maneuvered back, one foot still staying back to prevent the person behind from moving further up the line. “Can I get a copy of my old files?”

“Impossible. That person no longer exists. As soon as you changed your handwriting, all access to your previous records has been expunged – forever.”

“Surely you must keep backups somewhere.”

“Yes we do. However, the path to getting said backups is as elusive to the point that they might as well be destroyed.”

“Isn’t there an easier way?”

“For that, you’d need to talk to the Management, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The Management are eternally busy, even when they’re not.”

“I’ll find a way to make myself part of their schedule. Where are they?”

The Record Keeper looked at the screen, noting a blurry static image moving about that couldn’t be captured properly. “You’ll find them three floors down, but you didn’t hear it from me.”

“…a little something from me.”
“It’s just what I needed!”

As impressive as the trade-off was, the Complainer was beyond the saturation point of being impressed. All day, he’d been witness to seeing the Worker making trades of useless items in exchange for more useless items that were gradually exchanged for increasing valuable items, only to exchange them for seemingly useless items again. He’d endured a dizzying array of trades, the sheer number of swaps making his head spin. The rate of trade went back and forth with random bargaining thrown in the mix depending on the deal, either through gently cajoling or making veiled threats. What had started out as a pencil stub had grown to children’s toys to rare animals to parchment papers to jewelry to the current item – a jarful of swarming bugs.

“What’re you going to trade those in for now?!

“These are a delicacy for Bians. They’re sure to give us a well-cooked meal in exchange.”

“I could’ve paid for that in a fraction of the time you spent running around.”

“You’re just upset because you’re hungry. You’ll feel better when you’re full.”

“I don’t want to be further indebted to you! When are we going back?!”

The Worker checked his watch. “Now would be a good time.”

After making a quick stop at some Bians, emptying the contents of the jar for some roasted thighs that the Complainer didn’t want to admit was pretty tasty, they made their way back to the Gravedigger, and the scene was surrounded by dozens of aggravated police officers. The Worker held the Driver back, saying “It’s still too early.”

Even from this distance, the Complainer could hear snippets of the conversation:

We dug all day and didn’t find anything!

“My bad,” the East Turned apologized. “I must’ve been mistaken. Aren’t you going to resoil the lawn?”

After reporting a false alarm? You’re lucky we don’t report you.

After the cops left, the East Turned signalled over to the Gravedigger, “Go ahead. Pick a spot.”

The Complainer looked on in amazement at the handiwork. “How did you know – ”

“I use the same trick when I want to till the fields.”

“That seemed too easy. Aren’t you worried the Gravedigger’ll use your trick without you?”

“Not a chance. I know which precincts have been alerted. Don’t want them to notice a pattern. And I know where the skeletons are buried. Now… gimme the dirt.”

Proof of Purpose 7

The Complainer reeled from the intrusion of this dirt-encrusted Man with a Shovel who seemed to be on good terms with the Worker, and the discomfort levels only increased with every new sentence uttered.

“How much have you done so far?”

“Just a few shovelfuls. Get digging.”

“You should be able to do this on your own.”

“Do I tell you how to do your job?”

“Yes. Constantly.”

“It’s not my fault they keep dying faster than I can get rid of ‘em.”

“Don’t talk like that. Somebody might get the wrong idea.”

Noting the Worker wasn’t alone, the Man with the Shovel said to the Complainer, “I’m not responsible. They all come dead to me when I get ‘em.”

“You’re not helping your case here.”

“But that’s what I do, isn’t it? Call a spade a shovel.”

Sensing the Complainer’s increasing desire to get away, the Worker explained, “He’s a Gravedigger.”

Somehow, that explanation made it both better and worse.

“An accomplished Gravedigger.”

“Delegating to others doesn’t count.”

“It does in my book! As long as the job’s done, who cares?”

“Hopefully, nobody I know.”

“Rest assured, if they were important, they’d be getting their own plots of land.”

“There are other ways of disposal than burial, y’know.”

“If he doesn’t want to be buried with all the others, that’s his choice.”

The Complainer was spooked out and about to grab the spade and help out, since nobody seemed to be digging, when the East Turned interrupted by digging everyone into a hole in a voice loud enough for all to hear; “Hey cops? I think somebody buried a body in my buddy’s backyard.”

“What did… how could you just…?” the Complainer stumbled.

“Wait for it…” the East Turned replied.

“You work fast,” the Gravedigger remarked.

“I’ll be expecting some compensation.”

“Is this acceptable?”

“That’ll do.”

The Complainer looked in dismay at what the Gravedigger handed over. “A pencil stub?”

“My good man,” the Worker admonished, “this pencil stub is the foundation of the cornerstone on which your Empire shall be built! Let’s go.” And he got back into the vehicle where the Driver was waiting.

“You’re leaving?”

“This’ll take awhile. I have other things to do in the meantime. You can stay if you want.”

The Complainer surveyed the area. In the foreground, the Worker was patiently waiting. In the background, the Gravedigger was absently twirling his spade/shovel between his fingers while on the East Turned’s receiver, a recording sounded out on loop:

Don’t worry kiddies! The policeman is your friend! …as long as you don’t ask them to do anything that actually requires doing their job. Some restrictions may apply. Stay where you are and don’t move. Failure to comply will result in punishment. Don’t worry…

The Complainer didn’t ask for an Empire, yet the Worker seemed to be going above and beyond his ask, every new interaction seemingly getting further away from his goal. He couldn’t possibly see how each disparate element fit together. His problem had yet to be resolved, yet resolved himself to tag along. He was curious and wanted to see the end result of this friendly exchange.

“…in exchange, if you help me out now, I may be able to help you in the future. It could be very beneficial.”

“Really? How?”

“A simple request made to the right ears at the right time having maneuvered all influential parties into the right conditions at the right moment. Simple as that! No guarantees. Just a stipulation that upon getting what I want, I’ll be giving you what you want.”

“I’ll be needing your signature before I commit myself to anything.”

“Where do I sign?”

It was easy to make these kinds of promises. The Thief didn’t plan on sticking around for very long. He’d leave the mess of trades and double-dealings for the Worker before anybody noticed.

The Thief had hoped to lift the badge from the false identification form come to life, but even the presence of the personification of an impossibility wasn’t enough to convince the Clerk to hand the badge over. The apparition still had to wait his turn. Getting a replacement badge that way seemed more trouble than it was worth, so the Thief decided that rather than be stupefied by the obstructionist methods, to use their obstructionist tactics against them instead.

It was a little trick he’d learned. If caught doing something he shouldn’t, just say, ‘The Boss asked me to do this.’ If told to get back to what he was supposed to be doing, record their outrage and tell everyone. If openly confronted, just say that he tried to help out as much as you could, and couldn’t understand all this animosity pointed towards him. That was their blind spot. Showing absolute deference to authority while openly defying their orders.

But even that path was fraught with peril. In order to get to this point, he had to navigate between Inhumane Resources, the Harass Bureau and the Department of Complaints (the longest lineup so far). Just finding a sympathetic employee who would listen to him was a ordeal in itself, and it looked like his Targeted Mark was willing to sign off on his request, when one last hurdle revealed itself:

“Looks fake to me.”

His Target wouldn’t believe that the Thief’s fake signature was actually his.

Proof of Purpose 6

“How long are you going to spend on my suit? I have places to go, things to do!”

“Not much longer now. See, the stain’s practically gone! No harm done.”

“I’d still like to know what you were doing at the Secretary’s desk for so long.”

“You know her. She’s reluctant to give up any details without a fight.”

“Tell me about it. I don’t know why we bother. What were you doing there?”

“Trying to find information about another worker here.” The words were barely out of his mouth as he rearranged the current situation to fit his narrative. “He’s lost his badge, and is kinda embarrassed about it.”

“If that’s all, then he just needs to register for another.”

“He’d prefer the original. He’s very sentimental about it.”

“Who gets attached to their own badges?! I’ll ask around, let everyone know.”

“He also asked for privacy. Let’s keep it between us.”

“I want to tease him about it.”

“There’s no need to aggravate him any further.”

“Let me get my jollies where I can! There’s so little joy to be found in this place.”

“I don’t know his name! All I have is his number and description.

“Go to the Lost & Found. They should have what you’re looking for.”

“I don’t go there that often. Could you point the way?”

“It’s five corners down that way, past the blocked hallway. You can’t miss it.”

The Thief had severe reservations about that. It was very easy to get lost. Appropriately enough, the Lost & Found was notoriously difficult to find, but why should he expect any different in this place? He’d just keep going and ask around until he was told, ‘The Lost & Found? This IS the Lost & Found.

As he left, he could hear from behind, a faint voice whisper, “Hey! Guess who lost his badge again?” Without looking, the Thief could already tell he was being pointed at. Let them have their laughs. He’d be getting what he wanted soon enough. Instead of going to the trouble of forging a new badge which was overly complicated, it’d be simpler to just piggyback onto an already existing one.

Along the way, the Thief started filling in the blank sheet, filling the form with an amalgamation of false identities lifted from the vast well of known IDs. He didn’t like leaving a paper trail that could lead back to him, so he created a fictional third party. To ensure the success of his plot, he wrote down descriptions that couldn’t possibly exist within the realm of plausibility. Three eyes? Sure. Borne of a tall midget and short dwarf? Why not? Name – a bunch of randomized letters strung together. Perfect!

The trick was to find an ID that was relatively low on the importance scale, but not high enough to arouse attention. From there, he could leech onto other unused identities from careless employees wandering about the place. And once there were enough names in lofty positions that he could control, he’d get access to restricted areas beyond his reach.

He topped off the finishing touch with the inclusion of a long string of numbers that to any outside observer, could’ve been caught with his keen and observant eye, but was really from memorizing a dark screen that showed the interior of reflective shiny objects. The Thief initially didn’t think much about this at first, but filed it away for later, and the seemingly irrelevant data popped up once he had some proper context for them.

At the Lost & Found center, the badges were kept out of view in a drawer for safekeeping, and to double security, the interior of the drawer that kept them secure was outlined with Amazing Greys. That was a severe security breach that no one had caught, since no one from the inside would normally think of stealing officially lost badges, and the Thief planned to take advantage of this opportunity.

The Thief initially wondered why there were so many missing badges, but after extensive navigating the confusing layout that defied common sense, gradually understood that it was very easy to lose yourself. After multiple unsuccessful attempts, he finally arrived at the barely visible counter of the Lost & Found. It was simpler than he thought. It worked on the same principle as looking for missing objects in plain sight. All he had to do was NOT look for it, and there it was.

“Do you have this badge number?”, he asked, already knowing the answer.

The Clerk lazily drew attention away from his fascinating fist he’d been examining up close, and took a half-cocked glance at the paper, the knuckle imprint still visible on his face. “Well, the form certainly seems right,” he muttered, as if unsure of what was right before his unfocused eyes. He ran the document through a slot which sucked in the paper and spat it out. “Everything checks out.”

The Thief waited expectedly for the badge to be handed over. The Clerk made no attempt to do so. “Sometime today??”

“Did you want something?”

“If the badge could be returned, it would be appreciated, and I can continue doing my business.”

“Why bother? It’s not as if we’re prevented from doing our job properly.”

“If you could bother to check…

“There’s no hurry. They’re not going anywhere. You can accomplish just as much with a badge as you can without.”

What was with this obstruction? Retrieving lost items shouldn’t be this difficult. “Is there something wrong with not giving it to me?”

The Clerk looked up and down at the Thief. “You don’t match the description.”

“I’m picking it up for someone else. He’s terribly busy.”

“How do I know you won’t lose it along the way?”

“I won’t!

“I’ve heard that before. Careful people bringing items back that just keeps slipping out of their hands. Honestly, if you’d stop losing your stuff all the time, we wouldn’t have to keep track.”

“I’ll staple it to my forehead if that’ll convince you.”

“Don’t lose your head over this.”

“It’s firmly attached!”

“I’m not letting you skip ahead of the line. It would be unfair to all the others.”

The Thief glanced around. What others? Apart from himself and the Clerk, there was no one else to be seen. “Is there a number I’m supposed to take?”

The Clerk pointed to the ticket counter on the side. “That thing’s been empty for ages. We had a replacement roll, but it’s been lost. I imagine it’s somewhere in the high hundred-thousand digits. You’d be somewhere in the middle.”

“And then it’ll be my turn?”

“No, you’ll be eligible for a reservation. You’ll be notified when the time comes.”

It was maddening! Everything he needed was right there, and the only obstacles in his way was a flimsy drawer and a Clerk too lazy to do his job. Compared to picking safes and locks, this shouldn’t be a problem. How could he be stymied by such weak defenses?

“Is there something I can do for you to help speed the process along?”

“No need. The owner’s already been notified. In fact, here he comes now.”

The Thief looked in amazement as he saw the exact description of the fake persona he’d just created come waltzing down the corridor as casually as anybody, walking on twenty legs and three feet decked out in a garish plaid coat with unmatching designer pants, in clear violation of the dress code.

“Oh, there’s my badge. Thanks for looking after it for me.”

“But… aren’t you made up…?”

“The Government is not in a position for making lies. Are you calling the Institution a Liar?

“Perish the thought!”

“…always thought they were just children’s stories.”

“Even the most outlandish stories are loosely based on fact. That’s what makes them so dangerous.”

The Complainer was making casual small talk with the Worker, anything to distract himself from the fact that they were most likely indulging in skeevy behavior. They’d been driven around for awhile, and still hadn’t reached their destination. Whoever this “Friend” was, must be very important.

It occurred to the Complainer that the Worker had already used the book as a bargaining chip for taxi services. What could he possibly trade with now?

“Stop here,” the Worker suddenly told the Driver and got out, making his way towards a drab street. The Complainer hadn’t been told to stay behind, and against his better judgement, decided to follow. The Worker hadn’t gone very far when he was suddenly accosted by a Turned. The Complainer was shocked at first, but that turned to a different kind of shock when he saw how the Turned reacted.

“Friend!” the East Turned declared warmly as he embraced the Worker who stood stiffly. “It’s been a long time! Who’s the best worker?” he asked in a sing-songy voice.

“No need to compliment me.”

“You deserve it, you magnificent bastard, you!”

“Just because you praise yourself doesn’t mean you have to do it for everyone else.”

“If they won’t do it, then who will? After all, who’s the best Turned?”

“You don’t have to – ”

*I* am!”

“I know!

“And I’m going to tell you again!”

The Complainer couldn’t help interject himself into the conversation. “I’m impressed! I’ve never seen one so eloquent.”

“Oh, I’m not really dead, I’m acting so for copyright reasons.”

“You talk too much, you know that?”

“Just because Turneds don’t talk doesn’t mean no one listens.”

“Go tell the world, why don’t you.”

“I certainly will!” And the East Turned got started.

“I was a popular Musician who provoked shock and outrage by providing music in an ad for a platform that went against everything I stood for, which dismayed fans and members of my band. They felt I was betraying them by working for the establishment I once rallied against. And then, it was revealed that the lead singer (me) only did the first lyrics, and delayed completing the rest, due to ‘artistic temperament’. The more they pressured me to complete my song, the more I rebelled against them and put out weak rhymes. In the end, they had no choice but to release the ad with that single completed line, which lost a lot of its potential power.”

“They wanted to own everything I produced, but wanted nothing to do with the unfinished music, and outright refused to own the working draft for my next song. Once the terms were up, I still held the rights. In my hands, I finished the outline, making it a bigger commercial hit than the drink it was supposed to sell. When the music’s that’s been banned in multiple countries is reduced to selling fruit juice, that’s a sign you’re no longer popular. They tried to make me irrelevant, but failed.”

The Complainer was confused. “What does any of that have to do with playing dead?”

“There was a nasty clause in my contract – when I die, the property rights revert back to my backers. I worried about what would happen to my music after I died, and wanted to keep my work out of the hands of parasites. And this wonderful worker here helped!”

“It was more of a suggestion than anything.”

“‘You should just die’ was very useful advice! Since I’m both dead and alive, and they don’t want to raise attention to bad publicity, they can’t touch me! So, cozy up to the people in charge. Say you’ve had a change of heart. Ask how you can help. And once you’re inside, sabotage as much of their operations as you can.

Throughout all this, the Worker kept nodding impatiently, rolling his eyes and hand as the East Turned went on and on. Sensing that the speech was nearing its end, the Worker interjected with, “As long as you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful.”

“Of course! Anything for my little friend!”

“It’s not for me. It’s for him.”

“What?? You’re helping others?? I thought I was the only one!”

“You’re not that special. You just happened to be in the vicinity, and I figured you needed some advice.”

“I don’t want more living people here! They’re so unethical and selfish!”

“How can you say that?” the Complainer asked. “You were alive once.”

“That’s how I know what they’re like! They’ll leave no stone unturned, no land untouched, no food unbitten! You don’t know these people. They’re filthy and ratty and smelly and ugly and have no fashionable sense!”

“Well, excuse me for living.”

The Worker sighed. “I really didn’t want to do this, but there’s a way to tell the Authorities that there’s a certain glitch in your status card that could make it possible to send you back where you came from.”

The Turned stared at him. “And to think I thought you were such a nice guy. How can you do this to me?”

“I told you, you didn’t have to compliment me.”

“Well, you’ve got your wish you contemptuous cantankerous sorry excuse for a living being that ever existed! I regret the day you were ever born!”

“Keep it up, and I’ll make good on my threat.”

“You don’t want compliments, you don’t want insults. What DO you want?!”

“You to make a phone call. Contact this number regarding this property,” the Worker stated, handing over a piece of paper.

As the East Turned stormed off, the Complainer sidled up, “Was that really necessary?”

“He fights dirty, so it’s fair that I fight dirty on my own. Don’t underestimate people who use Politeness as a weapon.”

“If that’s how you treat your friends, I’d hate to see how you treat your enemies.”

“Oh, he’s no friend of mine.”

Before the Complainer could even digest this, a man with a shovel came shambling up to the Worker and without preamble, asked, “I need to hide a body.”

“THIS is my friend.”

Proof of Purpose 5

As the two of them continued, the Mother spoke to the Complainer in confidence. “As much as I don’t approve of his methods, I can reassure you that you’re in good hands.”

“How do you know him?”

“It’s something of a funny story. I was utterly and completely lost in another country. I had no way of getting a passport issued to me. All my attempts to get one through the usual channels were denied me, since I didn’t know the proper procedure, forms to fill, or people in the know. But this man, he saw my predicament, and offered to give me a Passport. I don’t know how he managed to get one, but when he did, I was so shocked I was sure that it was a forgery. It looked and felt authentic enough, but I wasn’t going to pass up this chance. I got on a transport to another Region, and took my seat. These transports back then were even more rickety than they are now. The one I was on had missing seats, holes underneath the frame, and unruly passengers, some of whom were fighting each other over personal property. I was just trying to keep inconspicuous and calm.”

“When they called for my papers, my heart was pounding in my throat. I thought for sure I would get caught. Especially when the Officials kept curiously looking at my papers again, over and over. They called me out of my seat so that they could call more Officials over. I was detained for hours in silence, with only a single Interrogator for company, certain that an overlooked mistake was buried there somewhere. Then, after an unendurable amount of waiting, my papers were handed back to me with a pleasant remark to ‘Enjoy my trip’.”

“It was only later that I noticed that the other passenger’s papers looked different from mine. They were extremely slipshod, and were obvious fakes. That was when I understood the confusion over mine – my papers were the real deal in a sea of counterfeits, and they marveled at seeing an actual authentic document. They’d never seen one before.”

“Thanks to that, I was able to avoid being shipped back among all the others, and my safe passage was assured.” The Mother looked over to where the Father and the Worker were still negotiating. “He certainly likes to hear himself talk. What IS it about men who go on and on about their professions without actually getting to the point?”

There was an old woman, and what do you think?
She lived upon nothing but victuals and drink.
Victuals and drink were the chief of her diet.
And yet this old woman could never be quiet.

“Okay, I think that’s enough reading for today.”


“I don’t mind,” the Complainer complimented. “She’s very smart.”

“She’s too young for you.”

“No worries. I’m not attracted to her.”

“Why? You think she’s ugly?”

“That’s not what I mean.”

“What’s wrong with you, then? She’s only 14!”

“Really? She’s small for her age.”

“No, she’s only 4!” the Father replied from across the room.

“Well then, she’s large for her age.”

“We talked about this,” the Worker interrupted. “She’s whatever age I deem appropriate.”

“I’d still like to know where she is on the waiting list. We’ve been waiting a long time.”

“Those rankings are kept private. If everybody knew how many were ahead of them, they’d spare no expense in knocking anybody in their way off the charts.”

“Give me a hint. Is she anywhere between 1 and 20? I’ll count back from a thousand, and you tell me when I’m getting close. 999… 998…”

“How about in exchange for sharing her current ranking on the waiting list, you help drive us around?”

“995… that sounds acceptable.”

“We’ve worked out an arrangement,” the Worker announced, having completed his deliberations.

“Where are we going?”

“To see a friend of mine.”

As they left, the Daughter spouted off one last poem:

Three wise men from Arkham
Went to sea in a bowl.
If the bowl had been stronger,
My song would be longer.

Inside the transport vehicle, the Complainer asked the question he’d been avoiding this whole time. “What do you want from me once this whole thing is over?”

“Oh, nothing terribly expensive. Sometime in the future I’ll be expecting a small favour in return. It may seem minor, but it’ll make sense later.”

“Such as?”

“You’ll know as soon as I know.”

There didn’t seem to be any further revelations forthcoming, and the Worker was reluctant to do so. The Complainer’d get no answers there, so he asked a question that would get an answer. “What was that about removing feats from the book of Nonsense Verses?”

“Oh, just a silly superstition. Ancient Feet from Ancient Times Stomping Green Mountains Down.”

“I think I heard about that! Banned songs about Legends longing for a prophesied day when the City would be destroyed by five successive blows from a gigantic foot.”

“That’s where inspiration for this came from,” the Worker pointed to his chest emblem that all employees wore of a worn boot stomping the remains of a shattered skull. “But that is little more than wishful thinking.”

“How can you say that?”

“If they really wanted the City destroyed, they would’ve done it themselves long ago. They’re much more content to stand around and argue amongst themselves over past grievances than actually DO something about it. That would require more work than they’re willing to handle.”

The Thief handled the outer rim of the badge he’d… borrowed. There was a slight scare when he was surprised from behind, and wound up spilling the guy’s drink all over his clothes. This accident was fortunate, and in a state of apocalyptic apologism, offered to clean the mess up for the poor victim helping to get a clear path of where the bathroom was. Once the coat was off, the Thief went to work simultaneously washing the stain off, while paying close attention to the details. Upon inspecting, the badge had a display of two images that changed position depending on the angle of sight.

The Thief could’ve copied one image easily, but two? That was harder, and he didn’t have the necessary supplies to make a convincing counterfeit. He couldn’t use this badge as his own, since it was already enmeshed to the original owner both in fabric and identity.

Proof of Purpose 4

“You’re home early,” a voice called from the interior.

“I’ve brought guests.”

“Who’s – oh, it’s you,” the Mother cooly replied. “We don’t see you much these days.”

“I’ve been busy. Haven’t had much time.”

“Some notification on our progress would be appreciated.”

“There’s a long waiting list. You’re lucky to be moved ahead the line.”

“We don’t need verification! We know what she has!”

“It’s frustrating I know, but these things take time. It may seem slow on your end, but my method is making rapid-fire progress. Others in your predicament have been waiting years. Once they’ve passed the age from child to adult, they’re no longer applicable, which I suspect is the point.”

The Complainer ignored the family drama, talking about politics beyond his interest, noticing one person who hadn’t participated in the conversation. At the table was a young girl of 6 years, sitting comatose, staring off into space, intently focused on the blank wall opposite her. The Complainer greeted her with cordiality with no response. He waved his hand in front of her, trying to get her attention without much success until the Worker cut in.

“Staying home today, are we? Well, I’ve got something that might freshen your day – a book of Nonsense Verse. I recommend looking at page 43.”

Without looking, she snatched the book from his hands, flipped it open, and read the poem there:

Doctor Blochtor went to Gloucester
Right in the tumbling rain.
He diddled a little, stepped in a puddle
And was never seen again.

Her voice started off as monotone, but gradually grew more animated as she continued along. When she finished, she replied with peals of laughter, and went on browsing the contents at random to read other rhymes of a similar nature.

“Don’t worry, I made sure there were no rhymes about feet,” he reassured the Mother who still looked concerned. “How’s her sleepwalking coming?”

“She’s been better. Still needs to be tied to the bed. What do you need her for?”

“Not this time. Where’s your Brother?”

“He’s out. May be a long time before he returns.”

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Rendez-Vous? Rendez-Vous?

“Then he’ll act in his stead,” the Worker motioned to the Father.

“I knew it”, the Mother said. “No good comes from good deeds. What do you want from him??”

“Nothing terribly strenuous. We need help getting around.”

“Don’t I have a say in the matter?” the Father piped in. “I could get in trouble operating without a license.”

“I’ve taken steps to ensure that you won’t get caught.”

“The whole proposition makes me uneasy.”

“If you really felt that way, you could cut your losses anytime you wanted by committing her.”

The Father shook his head. “She’s a lot of trouble, sure, but she’s still a rare gem.”

There was a little girl with a little pearl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was bad, she was very very bad,
But when she was good, she was horrid.

“You see? She’s simply too valuable.”

The Father sighed in resignation, having delayed the losing side of the argument until he could concede no further. “What do you need me to do?”

“I’ve prepared a map of the surrounding areas with points of interest.”

“…with interest, and requested they look into his pay. The Management did so, and after much investigation, they said they were paying him too much!”

The Secretary tried to keep her face composed as the Thief regaled her with the troubled history of a wrongfully accused man arrested over the trivialist of crimes, none of which was satisfactorily explained to him. It took some time going through various tales of woe, trying to suss out what would most appeal to her, and it seemed she was most appreciative of tragic happenings, usually in the vein of bloody household accidents involving young brides falling down the stairs into a crateful of doorknobs. In other words, she was a sadist.

It wouldn’t do well to rush asking for help. His seductive skills were useless in the face of rigidity to conformity. She’d turn him down flat. He had to guile her over to his side without making it too obvious. All he had to do was keep her attention until she’d lower her defenses. He still had plenty of unused material left, but decided he’d done enough softening her up. He had to strike at the point where her interest was at its peak, and just before she’d go on break.

“… was found guilty for the crimes of whistling in the elevator, and two counts of chewing while loitering. ‘I’m new in town’, the detainee said. The Judge snapped back with… but I really must be going.”

“You’re leaving? But you haven’t finished your story!”

“I’ve taken up enough of your time. You must have more important things to do.”

“Weren’t you going to double-check your records?”

“I can’t come through until I’ve filled the necessary forms. And those things are so time-consuming. I’m sure we could save each other a lot of trouble if you could waive me over.”

The Secretary considered the Thief’s proposal. “Just for future reference, most people just resort to flattery and bribery. Now, what did the Judge say?”

“‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse.’”

“Yes, it isn’t. I’m still going to need your identification first.”

“Certainly. Here’s my card. You’ll see the information is up to date.”

“I’ll need another form of ID. Where’s your badge?”

“My badge? I – must’ve left it in my other pants.”

“If you’ve lost it, you’ll have to apply for another one. You know where.”

“Certainly.” The Thief started walking away, and then turned to face the Secretary again. “Just out of curiosity, how would someone who’s never been here find it? Hypothetically speaking.”

“It’s right next to the washrooms.”

“Right, of course. Which are… where?”

“Right next to the waiting room, next to the plant room, next to the oxygen room, next to the carbon dioxide room, next to the suicide room.”

“Which are… where?”

“Sorry, I’m on break.”

As the Thief reeled back from the sudden closure of the Secretary’s station, a voice from behind rang out, “Hey! What’s going on?”

“…you don’t need to know what’s going on. All that matters is that I get to these places multiple times, and I may need to go back once or twice.”

“Won’t I get in trouble?”

“If you take the recommended detours, you’ll be able to avoid being seen.”