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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Supernatural · #2285978
Sasquatch, aliens, ghosts, succubi, all water from the same well. Where's the wellspring?
1 – Mr. Green’s Apple

“I want you to imagine an apple.”

I wasn’t sure if I’d heard correctly. “I’m sorry, say that again?”

“I want you to picture, in your mind’s eye, as strongly as you can, an apple.”

“Uh, all right. Does it matter what kind?”

“No, just close your eyes for a minute and visualize an apple.”

I sat back in the café chair and tried to block out the noise of the coffee shop around us. I could see it there, but darkly. A detail of the texture of the skin or the withered remnants of the blossom at the bottom would flicker in and out of my mind, but I really succeeded only in holding the shape, a silhouette, as a lingering impression. I held it for a minute until I felt a little silly and opened my eyes again.

“Ok, tell me about the apple. What color was it?”

“Well, it was green, Granny Smith, not much else. Pretty normal apple.”

“Great, keep picturing it. No need to close your eyes again, just hold it in your mind. Can you make it spin?”

I thought about it, but the apple was static. “I can see whatever side I want, but no, I can’t make it rotate, if that’s what you mean.”

“That’s just fine.” The man tapped at his tablet, clearly taking notes. I could see a distorted reflection of his screen in his glasses, enough to tell he was looking at some kind of form, but not any details. “Now, I’d like you to picture a wheel. Any kind of wheel you like.”

The first thing that came to mind, for whatever reason, was an old fashioned wagon wheel. “All right…”

“Tell me about the wheel. What’s it made of? How large is it? Anything pop out at you in particular?”

“Well, it’s a wooden wheel, like you’d see on an old cart. It’s made of wood, probably uh, I dunno, two, two and half feet wide?” I continued to picture the wheel, trying to push away the dark fog and see it clearly. “It has 8 spokes, they’re ah.. lumpy? Spindly? Not sure what the word is.”

“This is great, anything else?”

“Hmm… oh, there’s a metal rim on it, like a tire.” By now I was starting to wonder if this was some kind of stress dream. I was feeling vaguely ridiculous, sitting in my suit and tie, thinking about apples and wheels with a rapidly-cooling latte in front of me in a busy coffee shop. I discreetly pinched myself under the table. Ouch, still real.

Mr. Green tapped a few more times on the screen. “Ok, last part of the assessment. Can you make the wheel roll?”
I suppressed an eyeroll, wondering where this was going. I closed my eyes again and pictured the wheel, which to my surprise, began to roll across an invisible landscape, bumping slightly over unseen obstacles.

“Yeah, it’s rolling now.”

“Great, now make it go the other way.”

I tried, but the wheel would only slow down in my mind, not reverse direction. I strained at it, but the best I could get was for it to stop. I opened my eyes again.

“Uh, I can get it to stop, sort of, but not reverse. I’m sorry, but can I ask what this is all about? I thought this was the interview for the data analyst position. I’m unfortunately not much of an artist, if that’s what you’re driving at here.”

Mr. Green chuckled and spun his tablet to face me. “Take a look at this chart.”

The chart was a series of five depictions of an apple, from a photo to cartoon, to a line drawing and then nothing, with numbers under each.

“You’re what we call a level 2,” he said, tapping the image preceding the photo. “You can imagine the apple in color and detail, but not quite with the level of resolution or ability to manipulate of a level 1. Level 5 can’t picture anything at all.”

“So, what does that mean? Is a 2 good?”

“It’s above average, for sure. When you read a book, it’s like a movie playing in your head?”

I tried to recall the last time I’d read something that wasn’t a textbook. “Um, sure, I suppose. Never really thought much about it.”

The man smiled. “Most people don’t, they assume everyone else’s mind works like theirs. Level 5’s are often shocked to find out higher levels regularly see things in their mind’s eye.”

“So, is it like an intelligence thing then?”

“Not intellectually, if that’s what you mean. It’s visuo-spatial intelligence. Plenty of smart people out there don’t have a high VQ. It’s like being good at drawing or music. No correlation, as far as we can tell, to raw intelligence.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Green, but what does this have to do with a job interview? If you look at my transcript, you’ll see I graduated with a BS in data analytics. If you’re looking for an artist or something, I-- ”

“Actually, your degree isn’t what caught our attention. Our …bureau, as part of our recruitment process, took a look at your social media posts and internet history.”

I felt my face flush. “Wait, what? You looked at –“

Mr. Green chuckled. “No, don’t worry about that. Not interested in that part of your life. What we are interested in are the posts you made throughout the pandemic about current events.”

“So what,” I said, trying not to sound defensive, “is this a political thing?”

“No, no, not at all.” He opened a screenshot of an imageboard. “You remember making these posts mid-2020?”

I cringed a little bit. I’d gone down a bit of a rabbit hole during the beginning of the pandemic while my classes were canceled and we were all stuck indoors. I’d found an anonymous forum that hosted a lot of crazy theories about the pandemic, its source, the government’s actions, and what it was all leading to.

“Look, that was a weird time, I was in a funny headspace. I don’t really think like that anymore.”

“Well, that’s a bummer. Maybe you should! A lot of the predictions you made were uncannily accurate.”

I didn’t really know how to respond to that, so I stayed silent and let him continue.

“We need someone who can take in a lot of data and make intuitive predictions about future events. We’ve tried with algorithms, but they just can’t hold a candle to humans for our purposes.” He glanced around furtively. “It’s a little crowded in here, can we take a walk? Bring your coffee.”

We both stood and put our jackets on, Mr. Green putting his tablet into a leather satchel. We grabbed our coffees and walked outside into the cool of the Boston autumn. I struggled to keep pace with his long strides as he took off along the sidewalk.

“I work for a government contractor, Mr. Davis, that doesn’t officially exist. I can tell you this because what I’m about to say will sound so crazy that no one would ever take you seriously, should you tell them. Which you shouldn’t. Anyway, what we do is combat imaginary monsters. Demons of the mind. Have you ever heard of a tulpa?”

“Uh, no, can’t say that I have. Sounds like some kind of Indian hat.”

“You got the Indian part right. Tulpa is the Sanskrit word for what we Westerners might call a mental construct. A ghost, in a sense. When enough mental energy is focused on a single concept, it can actually take on a life of its own. Are you familiar with poltergeists?”

“I’ve seen the movie, I guess.”

“A poltergeist is a type of tulpa, typically generated by the angst of a pubescent girl. If their feelings aren’t properly expressed and are channeled into enough rage, they can manifest as a destructive force in the home.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, and was having serious thoughts about just taking off in the other direction as fast as I could. “So what are you saying here? You’re some kind of black-budget Ghostbusters?”

“You know, I haven’t heard it put like that, but in a nutshell, yes.”

“What was the apple thing about? And what do you need a data analyst for? Boring spirits back into the grave? A restless accountant haunting your office?”

By now we’d rounded the block and come upon a park. There was a large fountain visible through a lane of trees still hanging on to their autumn coloration. Mr. Green looked around, still furtive.

“Let’s go sit by the fountain. Running water tends to clear the air.”

I had no idea what that meant, but I followed him down the lane in silence. The park was weirdly quiet for a Monday morning, no dogs barking, no strollers strolling, just the odd passing jogger with headphones in. I looked down at my feet passing over the bricks and felt like I was still dreaming. I pinched myself again to be sure, checked my watch twice, tried to think what they did in that Christopher Nolan movie, but as far as I could tell, this was real. I looked at Mr. Green sidelong and tried to save his picture in my mind in case I needed to make a police report or something later.

He was aggressively, frustratingly non-descript. Somewhere between late 30s and early 50s, thinning light brown hair brushed back from a slightly receded hairline, average nose, brown eyes behind wire-framed glasses, clean shaven. He wore a dark navy suit with a black tie and shoes, a silver watch of some kind, no jewelry otherwise. Slightly above average height, but not notably so. The only thing I could say was out of the ordinary was he had a slight sunburn on the tops of his ears and cheeks. He could be one of a million similar middle-aged businessmen in the city right now. Completely interchangeable. Before I could ruminate any further on this, we arrived at the fountain.

“Visualization is a key component to tulpic formation,” he said with no preamble. “Level 4 and 5 people rarely if ever cause metaphysical disturbances. Not that there haven’t been cases in extreme circumstances, mind you, but the average 4-5 simply isn’t built for it. Most 5’s can’t even see or feel psychic disturbances, even if it’s manifesting right in front of them. At least half of the world falls in that range. At the other end of things, you have level 1s and 2s constantly stirring things up in the collective unconscious. New images, new loci of thought. Someone generates an idea with enough weight behind it and the whole world starts thinking about it, feeding it energy. That site you were posting on – major source of this kind of thing.”

“What, like memes?”


“You’re telling me that somewhere out there there’s a Pepe the frog poltergeist, like, putting up racist banners or something?”

“It’s not that clear cut, but sort of. Think of it like this. All of humanities thoughts, prayers, emotions, psychoses, everything mental, happens in a pond. The water swirls around these disturbances, little eddies and bubbles forming. When there’s enough mental activity around one idea or subject, the water heats up there, starts boiling, turns into steam. That cloud of steam then casts a shadow on the surface of the pond, creating effects underneath. You following so far?”

“I think so. This is the weirdest job interview I’ve ever had.”

“Oh, don’t worry, it’s not an interview at this point. Anyway, this is where the metaphor breaks down. Think of that pond as the collective unconscious of humanity. The type and intensity of that shadow depends on the nature of the disturbance. Broadly, good, happy feelings create clouds, entities, that make good, happy shadows, making the collective mindset of humanity pleasant. Negative entities – “

“Cause negative feelings, yeah. Makes sense.”

“Yep, you got it. So your ability to visualize or not was really the final check whether or not you’d be the right fit for this role. If you’d come in at a 5, you wouldn’t be able to work well with the team.”

“Ok, say I accept all that as given. I still don’t understand what role you have for my skills. What do you want with me?”

“Well, our last analyst got a little too involved with some succubi and wound up husked. We’ve been hunting for a replacement, but we can’t exactly put out a listing on Indeed, you know?”

“Uh-huh. Husked?”

“Yeah, they really went to town on him. Dumbass knew he was playing with fire. Anyway, Mr. Davis, what we need from you isn’t your prowess with Excel or number crunching. We need someone to predict outbreaks. We don’t have the luxury anymore of waiting around for fires to start and chasing them down, we need to be there when they start. Things are getting hotter around the world, surely you’ve felt this?”

“The pandemic has been tough on everybody, and, yeah, politics are getting contentious, and the situation in Ukraine… ok, point taken. So you’re saying all of this strife and turmoil has a supernatural cause?”

“Yes and no. It’s a self-reinforcing pattern. The more things heat up, the more disturbance there is on the other side, which makes it easier for things to further heat up here. Our job isn’t to figure out how to deal with that, thankfully, we leave that to churches and governments. We just put out the fires as they crop up.”

A young man was approaching the fountain in a complex motorized wheelchair. Mr. Green saw him and smiled. “Ah, here’s one of our firemen now.”

“Green,” the young man said, nodding. His head was the only part of his body that moved, I noticed. “This the new guy, then?”

“It is, if he wants to be. What do you think, Mr. Davis? Come work for a shadowy government agency, risk your sanity for God and Country, travel the world, peek behind the veil while you’re at it?”

“You haven’t told me what the pay’s like yet.”

He laughed. “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll never want for money again. And government benefits, plus pension. What do you say?”

He stuck out his hand and I found myself shaking it, like in a dream.

2. The Anomalous Metaphysics Bureau

A month or so later, I found myself walking up the approach to an unremarkable standalone office building. It was four fluted stories, clad in that agglomerated pebble finish popular in the 70s, built in a budget brutalist style. A stubby grey tower, incongruous for the neighborhood of houses converted to dental offices and hair salons. Tall evergreens closely crowded the building, lending it a sense of mystery and gravitas, like a massive mushroom pushing up from the forest floor. A small sign out front that said “American Medical Billing – Indianapolis Branch”.

I entered through the front vestibule, tugging hard on the intentionally difficult door. The lobby of the building seemed designed to unsettle visitors. Painted an unnamable shade of beige, with cheaply flickering, too-bright LEDs in mismatched color tones mounted in the ceiling. A nasal buzz pervaded the room from an unidentifiable source. Behind a tall reception desk, sat Wanda, her mass of complex braids, forehead, and eyebrows all that could be seen over it. I heard the by-now familiar click of her long nails scrolling. She side-eyed me disinterestedly, the jarring noise of someone else’s social media feed blaring at full volume from her phone. Without looking up, she pushed a clipboard over the top of the counter.

“Sign in please.”

I had to fish the pen from an absurdly long piece of string tied to the top ring of the clipboard. I signed someone else’s name. It didn’t matter. Today I was Ralph Stevenborg, yesterday I was Piotr Radicchio, tomorrow I might be Peach Melba. I stepped into a seemingly sourceless puddle in the middle of the floor, making an audible splash.

“Hey, nice touch. Really like what you’re doing with the place.”

Wanda side-eyed me and smiled briefly, momentarily breaking character, but recovered quickly. “Mmm. Maintenance was supposed to get the wet floor sign out yesterday but they’re on strike now.”

“Good for them. See you, Wanda.”

I walked through the garishly plastic plants framing the entrance to the elevator lobby and hit the call button. Inside, there were buttons for many more floors than the building could accommodate. The running joke was that we’d bought the elevator secondhand. I punched in my ID code and the back wall slid aside, revealing a much less passively-hostile environment than the entryway would indicate. There was a large bullpen area holding a long conference table spread with computers, various sensors and scanning equipment, Ouija mats, a handful of crystals and orbs of varying sizes, and at least one large white rat, happily nibbling at a bagel someone had left overnight.

My office was at the back of the room, near the coffeepot. The door read "Nathan Davis - Analyst". Mundane, but I had a perhaps uniquely millennial appreciation for having not only an office, but my name on the door. Most of my collegiate peers had aspired to a nice cubicle away from the copier with a view of the window. Entering, I found everything as I’d left it, fake window set into the opposing wall displaying an impressive rendition of a foggy morning forest. I had a sneaking suspicion someone was having fun with it, as I would occasionally notice a flicker of movement out of the corner of my eye while I was working. A quick flash of mossy fur disappearing behind a tree was the most I’d been able to catch before it disappeared. On a whim, I pressed the little studs set into the frame and set it to the Hawaiian beach default scene instead.

“Maybe I’ll have one of those Kona pods today,” I mused to myself while taking off my coat and settling into the complex chair at my desk. Desk is maybe a misnomer – my workstation was more like the inside of a faceted dome, with displays covering the entire wall, wrapping around the corners of the wall and ceiling, filling my entire visual field while I worked. It might seem overkill to an outside observer, but as an analyst, my role is to collate data, mentally. I have a bad habit of keeping dozens, if not hundreds of tabs open on my browsers. This setup allowed me to view all of those tabs at once, in a sense. Like a digital version of the conspiracy theorist’s bulletin board with red string connecting images and ideas. Pure flow.

I sat and woke up the computer, placing my hand on the ornately mounted crystal ball that served as an authentication device. The official term for these was Palm Readers, but that was so on the nose it gave me a headache. Whatever other abilities I might have, appreciation for puns was not one of them. As the screens flickered to life, I pushed back and went out to get the cup of Kona I was thinking about. To my surprise, Melissa was in the bullpen area, digging through a stack of papers on the conference table, clearly frustrated and searching for something. Her office door was open, though the darkness behind it was impenetrable. Korean pop leaked out from her lair at a low volume.

“Morning, Fujo. Need help finding something?”

She looked up for a second, startled, and went back to digging. “Yeah, no, I lost a sketchbook and I was wondering if I left it out here during the meeting last week.”

“Oof, yeah, I’ll let you look for that. Wouldn’t want to see something by mistake.”

She looked up at me again and screwed up her face, sticking her tongue out childishly. “It wasn’t that bad, stop exaggerating. You act like you’re scarred for life.”

During my onboarding process, I’d found one of her sketchbooks in the common area and innocently flipped through it. I had been shocked to find it full of extremely graphic drawings of anime-styled men engaging in a fantastic variety of homosexual activities, including some I didn’t think were physically possible. This was the source of Melissa’s self-imposed nickname, Fujo. I consider myself a veteran internet user, but even I was blissfully unaware of the subcult of Fujoshis – Japanese for “rotten girl”, female fans of yaoi, gay male hentai.

For a normal office, sharing that kind of info about herself would probably lead to some fun meetings with HR, but here, it was a vital piece of understanding for the team. Melissa – Fujo – was what the AMB called a Zero. An off-the-scale visualizer who was able to generate and consciously control a tulpa. Hers, predictably, was a tall willowy man who looked like a K-Pop star. Looking at her straight on, I could see him as a washed out, hazy silhouette standing behind her. Weirdly when I looked at them through the mirror behind the Keurig machine, he appeared fully solid and corporeal. As I waited for the machine to drip Donut Shoppe coffee into my mug (we were out of Kona, unfortunately), I regarded her tulpa in the mirror.

He stood a few inches taller than me, waifishly thin, with dark hair in a stylishly uneven cut. His lips were full, high cheekbones supporting dark, mysterious looking eyes with an Asiatic cast that were larger than a real human’s could be. His skin was extremely pale, but flawless, and he wore a well-cut grey suit that looked like a uniform, and had a sword strapped rakishly across his back. The cigarette he was smoking never seemed to burn down and appeared conveniently as needed to punctuate his demeanor. Fujo referred to him as Oji, but as a figment of her (admittedly powerful) imagination, I’d never had cause to address him directly, as talking to someone else’s daydream while they were in the room seemed rude, to say the least.

Fujo herself was the inverse, in terms of appearance. Short, heavy, and hair dyed a pastel green that needed touching up, thick glasses obscured her ever-squinting eyes. She wore a large hoodie chronically – in that I’d never seen her wear something else. It went to just above her knees, and she was often barefoot in the office, a point of contention for some of the other occupants here. While I didn’t find her friendly, necessarily, we got on well enough as long as I stayed out of her way. She kept weird hours, but that was to be expected among Zeros. They were rarely buttoned-up, nine-to-five types.

As the Keurig spat out the last drops of my coffee, the door opened again and Zeke rolled in, wheelchair deftly navigating the debris on the floor. He had been present at my interview with Mr. Green, who I’d not seen since.

“Did the cleaners not come through last night? It’s a fucking mess in here. Move your ass, Fujo.”

“Hi to you too Zeke.” Fujo scooted in towards the table, Zeke passing right through the ghostly apparition behind her. I could see a similar fuzziness trailing behind him as well, its silhouette larger and less recognizable.

“Morning Zeke, you want a cup?” I gestured at him with my mug.

“Hey, Nate. Thanks but no, I’m all set. He gestured with his chin (the only thing he could gesture with) at a Monster set in cupholder on the shoulder of his chair, a long tube running out of it to the side of his mouth like a microphone headset.

“I dunno how you can drink that stuff. You know they give you kidney stones, right?”

He laughed and spun on the spot as if showing off an outfit. “Does a guy with a permanent catheter really need to worry about that?”

I smiled weakly and took a sip of my coffee to hide my discomfort. Zeke was gracious about his condition, but I was still in unknown waters, socially, dealing with a paraplegic. We able-bodied take a lot of body-related terms, metaphors, and topics for granted. I was getting used to the taste of my foot.

Zeke navigated the crowded aisle, bumping over or avoiding the various items and cables on the floor, and went into his office, opposite mine. “Ezekiel Monroe, Tulpic Operator” read the plaque on his door as it closed behind him. Leaving Fujo to her still-frantic digging, I retreated back into the relative calm of my office.

By now, my system had fully booted and was waiting impatiently for my attention with a long list of notifications. Global events, local happenings, trending social media hashtags, and celebrity scandals made up the majority of the info it automatically collated for me, and I took it in impassively. I tried not to focus too much on any of it, just let it run through the items while I mentally placed them into a larger map. I like to think of it, privately, as my Psychodynamic Map of the World, but that sounded so embarrassingly grandiose for what was, essentially, being Extremely Online.

My job was, as Mr. Green had promised, data analysis. I took the unending deluge of information humans put online and pumped it through some unknown part of my brain, like a neural liver, and tried to see where it was all pointing. Enough focus on something by the masses led to vortices forming in the collective unconscious, aetheric portals where the scary things that lurk in the dark parts of our mind could materialize. There was no method to my madness, just taking in information and making guesses. For whatever reason, my guesses just happened to be right more often than not.

The display blossomed as I settled into the chair to lean back and take it all in. Scrolling articles and headlines, images, videos, tweets, Tumblr reblogs, trending Quora items, it all poured across my sensorium. News anchor’s voices came from either side of the binaural speakers mounted on the headrest of my chair. The system tracked my eye movement across the screens, enlarging and prioritizing the audio feed of whatever item caught my eye. This is how I spent most mornings now, swimming through an ocean of human data, filtering it like a stingray passing over a reef.

This usually left me in a deeply overstimulated state by midday, so by the time 1 rolled around, I was ready to leave for lunch. I stretched in my chair and got up, and looked over at the beach scene outside of the window. There were oddly shaped simian footprints in the sand. I sighed and walked out to the bullpen. Zeke and Fujo had both retreated to their lairs, which I was thankful for. I needed a little peace and quiet. I was thinking about walking to the sandwich shop a few blocks away and headed for the elevator door. Before I could reach it, however, it opened to reveal a face I hadn’t seen since Boston.

3 - Chapter Three

“Nathan! Good to see you! How are you settling in?” Mr. Green extended his hand and I shook it, without thinking about it.

“Same, Mr. Green. I’m doing well, IT got my desk all set up, I’ve met Zeke and Fujo, Dave and Erin from the technical staff, even got my own little fiefdom in the office fridge.” I hadn’t seen Mr. Green in the two months since our initial meeting, and I wasn’t sure what his role was, exactly. I had been beginning to think he was just an eccentric hiring manager.

“Have you had lunch yet today?” He stepped past me into the room, looking at the table but keeping his attention on me.
“Nope, I was just about to head out.”

“Perfect. Are Melissa and Ezekiel here? We have an excursion to mount. Ah, here it is.” Pushing a stack of papers over, he opened a small pelican case and examined the device inside, which looked like the fusion of a lobster and a pistol.

“I believe they’re in their offices, should I grab them?”

“No need.” He pulled an office phone out of the mess and pressed a button on the receiver. “Hey, showtime! Get out here.” I heard his voice come from all the phones around the room, muffled where it came from behind an office door.

Muttering, Fujo opened her door and stepped out. “Hey Mr. Green. Where’ve you been? Its been kind of boring lately.”

“Meeting of the Rainbow Coalition,” he said, cryptically. “Raven Rock doesn’t grant a lot of day passes.”

Zeke emerged from his office. “Hey boss, good to see you. We heading out?”

“Yep, you got it.” Mr. Green was now tapping at his tablet. He glanced up at me, appraisingly. “You’ll want to change. You too Melissa.”

“Yeah, yeah, fine.” She padded off to the locker rooms down the hallway.

“Is this inappropriate?” I looked down at my slacks and oxford, leather shoes still passably shined from a few weeks ago.

“For where we’re going, yeah. Here, follow me.”

I followed Mr. Green down the hallway and into the men’s locker room. This was the bathroom as well, so I was familiar, but hadn’t had cause to use the changing room part of it.

“Let’s see, one of these should be yours, yep, right here.” He pointed to a locker mid-bank, and sure enough, the little paper tag read N. Greer. I opened it to find a dry cleaning bag hanging from the rod and some heavy-duty boots inside.

“Let me know if you have any issues getting the kit on, there’s a lot of little fiddly bits.” He was already stripping off his shirt and I looked away, feeling a little shy about changing in front of my boss.

I took out the dry cleaning bag and pulled off the plastic to reveal a black jumpsuit on the hanger, with what looked like a large dog harness in another smaller bag. There was also a curiously patterned pair of socks and gloves. Still feeling awkward, I began to take my clothes off and transfer them to the hanger.

“Oh, hey I should tell you - ” I looked over to see Mr. Green in nothing but a pair of tighty whiteys and suppressed a grimace. I noticed he had a strange symbol tattooed over his heart and made a mental note to research it later. “These suits are great for most everything but taking a dump. So if you have to go, go now.” He walked across the room to a stall and closed it. I could see his bare feet and underwear around his ankles under the door, and I tried to get dressed as quickly as possible before he had a chance to really get going.

The jumpsuit went on easily enough, and it surprisingly fit me quite well. I wondered where the AMB had gotten my measurements, then remembered the chair I sat in every day probably gave a better set of measurements than any tailor. There were a number of metallic snaps and locks, which seemed overkill to me. The socks seemed to have some kind of hexagonal metal mesh woven into the material and they gripped my feet very closely.

The harness thing turned out to be some kind of military webbing. I had to step into the lower part of it like a rock climbing harness, then the rest went over my shoulders and connected around the ribs. There were a number of pockets and connection points, but nothing inside so far. I figured that was forthcoming and had no desire to talk to Mr. Green at the moment, who seemed pretty busy judging by the sounds.
I slipped on the boots, which were deceptively lightweight and supple for how butch they looked. I was surprised when I took a step to hear them clack loudly on the tile floor as I took a step, and I flipped my leg up to take a look at the sole.

“Hobnails,” Mr. Green said from the stall. “Whole kits designed to keep you grounded, electrically.” He grunted. I’ll be a minute, why don’t you go out and talk to Melissa and Ezekiel, they should be able to fill you in.”

“Ah, I was wondering. I’ll go track them down.“ I didn’t need further license to leave so I stuffed my clothes into the locker, closed it and left. I took a deep breath of fresh air in the hallway and headed to the kitchen instead of the bullpen. I was still hungry and I didn’t know how long Mr. Green would be. I found a pack of almonds and headed back towards my office, wanting to grab my phone and wallet from my jacket before we left.

When I entered the room, I was surprised to see Fujo standing close to Zeke, holding what looked like the hood to a miniature car.
“Why won’t this go in?” She turned it edge on, looking at the connectors.

“USB paradox,” Zeke said. “Never goes the right way on the first try.”

“What’s going on guys?” Neither Fujo or Zeke were particularly friendly people, and tended to interact like a freshly introduced pair of cats, keeping to their own areas, so I was surprised to see them in close quarters.

“Well, I can’t exactly put on one of those fancy jumpsuits, can I?” Zeke asked. “This is my version. Fairing that fits over my chair, keeps me grounded same as you.

Fujo grunted again. “Nate, can you figure this out? I’m at a loss and this guy’s not a lot of help.” She punched his knee, not unaffectionately.
“Hey, I’ve never done it before. How am I supposed to help?” Zeke grinned.

I walked over and Fujo handed me the metal piece before collapsing heavily into a nearby chair with a sigh. “I hope today is more fun than the last one. I do not want to see that many rats ever again.”

I turned the fairing over in my hands, comparing it to Zeke’s chair. There was a padded collar piece at one end which I assumed was the top. If I had it right, it would cover his whole body in the chair, leaving only his head exposed. Seemed claustrophobic to me, but Zeke didn’t have a lot of use for having his arms exposed, so who was I to judge. Magnetic catches lined the edges, and I noticed corresponding hardpoints on his chair.

“Ok, I think I see how this goes together. Ok, Zeke, just stay still…”

He gave me a withering look. “I’ll do my best.”

Blushing a little, I moved his sneakers back into the footrest area of his chair which had been blocking one of the connectors when Fujo had been working on it. With that out of the way, the fairing snapped into place easily, sealing his whole body into the chair. Zeke wiggled his head around within the padded collar.

“Ok, feels good, nothing pinching. Last thing, will you grab the helmet from my office? It’s hanging on the wall.”

“Sure, one sec.” I slipped behind him and entered his office, which stood in stark contrast to the rest of the workspace as it was absolutely clear of any mess. There was a large charging apparatus on one wall, and a large screen mounted on a mechanical arm that was currently tucked up against the ceiling. True to his word, there was a bulky helmet sitting on a bracket above the charging mechanism. I picked it up and was immediately glad I wouldn’t be wearing the heavy device on my head. I noticed multiple lenses and sensors studding it as I carried it back out to Zeke.

“Want me to put it on now?” I asked Zeke from behind his chair.

“Yeah, go for it.” He leaned his head forward a little and I slipped it on over his head. With it on, he looked like a sport bike cyborg, all black gloss and sharp edges.

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