Sunday, December 21, 2014

Episode 16a- Fortress Twig Continued

After Ember’s testing had been concluded, Marla had pricked her finger and taken a sample of her blood explaining it was just procedure. She then called a girl name, Jessica, to come get her.

As Ember walked with Jessica back to the area she had been in before, she thought she could hear whispering. It was so faint that she couldn’t make out the words. Beside her, Jessica, smiled and chatted with the few people they passed. Everyone seemed to brighten a little when Jessica showed them attention. It was easy to see why. Jessica was what Ember thought a real life Barbie doll would look like. She was tall and slim, with long pale blonde hair framing a sweet round face with perfect features. Ember instantly felt at ease with her. She felt genuine and Ember suspected that was a rare quality in this place. The only hint of something off was her eyes. Although they smiled when she did and there appeared to be a weariness in their depths.

They crossed near the entrance where Ember had been brought into the building and she saw Marla directing a dozen or so individuals into a small chamber between the inside of the building and the doors that would lead out. Ember looked back the way they had come, confused. Marla was just back there, she thought. How can she be here?

Everyone but Marla looked sad and anxious. Marla shut the door behind them as the last person entered and then turned the lock. She smiled at them and waved through the glass of the doors as a mist began to fill the vestibule. The people inside frantically tried to open the outer doors or come back through the doors Marla guarded to no avail. After a few moments, all the people vanished and Marla unlocked the inner door.

Ember had stopped and was staring at the scene, when Jessica tugged lightly on her arm, urging her to continue.

“You don’t want to stay there,” she said.

“What just happened to those people?”

“Those were the new hires from the outside. If they stay here for ninety days then they gain power and the Tri-powers can’t have that, so they are destroyed,” Jessica explained with a tear in her eye.

“Destroyed! What do you mean destroyed? Why don’t they just let them leave? And what power can they gain? What is this place?!” Ember exclaimed.

“SHHHH,” Jessica looked around to make sure no one had overheard.  She then quietly explained how large groups of people were lured in every few months and then over the course of eighty-nine days they were extinguished. There were a few who made it past that time because they possessed a quality that could be used or exploited. Then there was a handful who were close to the Tri-powers or held some secret they used as leverage to gain power.

“Most of us want to leave but are trapped here for one reason or another, so some of us try to make the best of it and look out for the others. Just try to keep to yourself, do the work you are given and you will be okay. I will try to steer you towards the few people you can trust. Unfortunately, most that will try to appear as friends will not be. If you are in doubt ask me or Crystal. Crystal will be the one training you and directly supervising your work. It will be okay.”

Ember walked beside Jessica silently as she tried to digest all that she had seen and heard so far in this place that seemed more like a prison with each passing moment. She could still hear the faint whispering in the background and looked around for the source. They had reached the main work room with all the pods of workers. Everyone appeared to be working silently at their desks. Jessica led Ember to the pod where Shamra and Anita were seated. Jessica walked over to the heavy set lady on the end and introduced her as Crystal.

“You can sit with me for now. Let me grab you a chair.” Crystal jumped up and brought a chair from a glass room nearby. “I’ll show you how our system works. Marla said your data skills are very high according to your test. That means you’ll do really well here.”  And hopefully you’ll survive longer than the others.

Ember blinked as she understood the whispering for the first time and realized that Crystal had not said the last part aloud. She could still hear the muffled sound of more whispers but couldn’t make out anything else.

“I’ll introduce you to the rest of our team before we get to work. We all have to work together and help each other so that we reach optimum productivity. That keeps us all safe. Jessica and I do everything we can to keep the team safe.” Crystal said with a warm smile.

Next to them, Anita snorted. Naïve little Crystal. You can’t protect anyone no matter how much you try. And new blood means even less work for me to pretend to do.

“Excuse me?”  When Anita frowned at her, it dawned on Ember that her lips had not moved. She realized she had heard Anita’s thoughts when she looked at her.

“Well, you’ve already met Anita and Shamra.” Crystal motioned to the two women on the left. Anita had turned her back to them and was playing with what looked like a cell phone. Shamra was typing while crying. “Don’t mind her, she cries all the time. She’s okay, it’s just her thing.”

She turned to the right, “This is Carla. She will help with any additional training. You have already met Tasha and that’s Bridget on the end.” Carla had her head down and was cursing at her computer. Tasha was busy polishing her fingernails a bright red, while Bridget appeared to be working happily. “You will be sitting behind Bridget once I show you the system.”

“Who are all the others?” Ember asked motioning to the room full of people.

“Those are the recruiters. It’s their job to bring in more people by selling our services.”

“What services do you sell?”

“Whatever a person needs. It’s their job to find out what a person needs and what they are willing to sacrifice for it. You don’t need to concern yourself with that. Knowing too much is frowned upon here. Everyone is expected to focus on their work and not what others are doing.” Unless you’re one of Greta’s pets at this pod. Crystal added, “Let me show you what you will be doing.”

They sat down at Crystal’s desk and she demonstrated the data system they used. Ember’s job would be to help input the information of possible lost souls the recruiters could exploit and to analyze how well they did their work. Crystal explained that it wasn’t their job to help the recruiters, but that she always tried to do what she could to look after them, as their goals were often unrealistic and those that didn’t meet their goals got ‘counselled’. She also explained that Ember would probably hear things from others but she should just stick to her work and not get involved in the drama others created.

“I’ve been here for a few years and I get a little freedom, because I do my work and make sure things on this floor run smoothly. Most people don’t last very long on our team and unfortunately the newest members don’t pull their weight, so we have to work harder to cover for them.” Crystal sighed tiredly as she said this.

As she walked Ember to her appointed desk, Carla announced she needed another cigarette and she left the area with Anita. From her new seat, she could hear Shamra crying and Tasha talking to someone on the phone, explaining how she was perfect and didn’t understand why no one would acknowledge that.

Bridget rolled over to her, said hi and started chatting.

Almost instantly, Greta materialized beside them. “Get back to work Bridget. I don’t know why they let such a useless worker in. If you don’t improve, I’ll be forced to send you upstairs. You know I don’t want to but they will make me.” She had an evil smile on her face that belied the look of innocence she tried to convey.

Ember concentrated on trying to hear her thoughts. She got nothing but the indecipherable whispering and thought maybe she had been wrong about hearing the others. She looked directly into Greta’s eyes, which were black and soulless. She thought she heard the a few syllables but then Greta scowled and there was a deafening silence.

“I’m watching you, Ember. You need me to be your friend. I control what happens on this floor.” With that warning, Greta walked back to her desk.

With a friend like that, who would need enemies! With that thought Ember sat down and started entering the piles of information stacked in her section.
Come back next week to find out what Ember will discover on the third floor and will she be able to find a way out of this dimension...

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