A Terrible Thing

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The jailer steps out into the cold. She is well insulated but it is not long before rimefrost begins to creep along the emerald edges of her vision. She does not seem to mind.

She takes out a device of steel and silicone. Through thick gloves she punches in a single digit and waits.

She stares at the device with emotions that no one is present to identify. Her mouth moves under the many layers, forming a quiet mantra of foreign sounds to her. She knows they are meaningful but she does not remember why.

The device flickers with energy. Behind her glasses stands a figure that she knows is not really there. But it is present, and she must talk to it.

- Eight.

A number. A designation. Not a name, but it carries the same power. Eight is dressed in a well tailored suit but its face does not hold in her memory.

- Agent. Your name.

It is not a question.

- Ber. Na. Det. Bernadette.

Her mantra, now loud. Now real.

Bernadette nods. - It's done.

- Who was it this time?

- The spook. Became obsessed with scheduling. Broke when the generators failed.

- Your doing?

- Does it matter?

Eight chuckles. Bernadette remembers the temperature.

- I suppose not. And the rest?

- The librarian kept their name. The other one didn't fix the gears.

Eight's teeth shine through Bernadette's memory.

- A terrible thing, isn't it? You're not going soft on me, are you? The "other one?" I didn't think you were capable of such kindness.

- It got done either way. Machine's still running. I should be finished with all this by the time the transport gets here.

- As professional as always. The usual? A month off before the next three are selected?

Bernadette nods. - Anything else?

- Not at all. Excellent work, Doctor R.

Eight is simply gone. In many ways it was never really there.

Bernadette grunts. Eight loved rubbing it in that she couldn't remember her full name for a couple weeks. She turns around and trudges back through the frozen drifts and rimefrost air towards the compound.

At the edge of the world, the Machine roars back to life.


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