Call Me

rating: +44+x


TMOtopBar.png

You're late Joyce.

12 minutes late.

A door was violently opened, and a delicate figure rushed out of it, sprinting through the hall until reaching a poorly illuminated room, and proceeded to enter.

The people on the other side of that room had been waiting for half an hour now, and their patience kept slowly draining. At least three people had left already.

After exchanging words with some other people in the room, the silhouette adjusted his suit, arranged his hair into a bun, and looked at his hands. They were cold and sweaty.

Joyce had held several successful conferences in the past, but for some reason, he kept getting nervous before talking.

"It's nothing, Joyce", he thought to himself. "You can do this. Just… think everything will be fine, and get in character." He took a deep breath and walked up to the podium.

'Greetings! Good morning everybody. I apologise for the wait, I'm sorry for making you sit there for half an hour, I'll make sure you get somehow compensated for that. No, "compensation" does not mean "a day off". Very funny.'

'Anyway. Hello. I'm Joyce - not Juice - Caldera, Site-14's Personnel Director, and I welcome you all to your first and hopefully last seminar regarding the Foundation's Telecommunications Monitoring Office. Or, as I like to call us, professional stalkers.'

'No, that wasn't a joke. We are "professional" stalkers, if you wish to see it that way. Or watchers, guardians, overseers; too many words for the same idea. But let's not rush to those issues yet, OK?'

'So, the Foundation's Telecommunications Monitoring Office, TMO for short. If you're here I assume you don't really know what this is about, except for my superiors over there that are attending this conference just to make sure I do it right.'

(…)

'No, I don't mean you don't know what will you be doing here; you were informed about that several times during your application process. I mean you don't know the story and importance of your job here. The Administration of this facility has noticed this problem recently, so this conference, along with other things, is a small effort to make you aware of the importance of the TMO in the "bigger scheme".'

(…)

'No, I am not referring to certain individuals in particular, nor to all the people attending here either. It's just… a rough generalization, nothing personal. However, I still think it's important to know the things we'll discuss today, even if you don't mind if your job is helpful or not and you only come here for the paycheck.'

'Oh, one last thing before we start. We'll be talking about… particularly unusual topics, maybe a little bit sensitive to some of you. I fully trust you'll treat this information with due seriousness and won't reveal classified data to anybody. We'll know if you do.'

(…)

'Of course, you can not know how will we know, but that's not something we should discuss now.'

'Now, if I may continue…'

'We've all had our first day in this organization. I have too, even if it may seem far away from today. But, have you ever wondered when the TMO's "first day" was? Sometimes it's hard to notice, or it may just be for me, that many of the things we are so used to haven't been here forever. The trees, the roads, the buildings, the stars, our planet, and even the universe itself; if you rewind back enough you'll realize that there was a span of time during which none of them existed. It's the same with the TMO.'

'So, back to our original question: Have you ever wondered when did the TMO come to be? I don't blame you if you haven't. I wouldn't ask myself that either, unless specified, to be honest. But now you're wondering, aren't you?'

'According to our registers, the Telecommunications Monitoring Office was formally founded in April 1969, along with this facility itself, by a man named Stanley Le, who at the time was the leader of the "initiative". He designated Dr. Nero Muñoz as our Facility Director, and he did a really good job managing the place until he left in 1977. Things started to kind of go downhill since then.'

'As for Researcher Le, he stayed on the lead a little bit longer, until 1980, when the facility and the TMO gained some importance offstage. Le thought a department this important required somebody more capable of carrying the weight, and that somebody was Morgan Phaserfield. She was a good leader and managed to keep the TMO afloat despite all the sudden changes and events that occurred during her time working as our Department Head.'

'She resigned not so long ago and a new person is in charge now. I can't say anything for sure, but I believe they will do a good job as well. All the people that have guided the TMO were well-prepared and are definitely qualified for managing these kinds of tasks, and we shouldn't expect less from our new director.'

'You know? I think it's somehow funny that the TMO has only changed leaders thrice, while our facility… well, that's another, not quite unrelated, story.'

An unhappy story.

Site-14's leadership had been… messy, to say the least. He remembered Jane, who was the Facility Director back when he was hired at Site-14; such a sweet and attentive gal, always seeking ways to help the people working at her facility.

She was killed two years later during an attack to the Site. The man that succeeded her place, Kevan Samuels, wasn't prepared to deal with such responsibility.

With Samuels, it all started to go wrong. Under his management, budgets plummeted and the site shrank, never to recover. Personnel dropped to the lowest levels since the Site began.

But Samuels finally left, right? One day he just quit and no one knew anything about him after that. And then? No one cared. They probably got his memories wiped out and released him. Joyce's heart shook a little. Deeply within himself, he knew Samuels wasn't a bad person. He was just unprepared: thrust into leadership by an awful event, he did all he could to keep the facility working. It just wasn't anywhere near enough.

Joyce remembered all the times he, as the new leader of the Psychology Division, would have Samuels visit his office, just to hear him cry for hours about how bad were things going. How the Foundation had reduced the budget again, how he felt like he was going to cause the dissolution of the TMO… and he couldn't do much for him. At least not on the long run. He could help Samuels feel better for a couple of weeks, but then something else would happen, and he'd feel worse than before.

Three years of that before he finally resigned. And what happened after that? Somebody had to take the post. And that somebody was… what was their name again? He couldn't remember. Their appearance was blurry too, as if it was behind a frosted glass window.

He didn't really remember anything from them. The only snippets of the past still floating in his mind were too distorted to pick up anything. Vague memories of a struggle, a locked door, the coldness of the floor, several staff members screaming at whoever the director was, and an unlabeled canister with white pills were the only things he could barely recognize. What was he trying to remember anyway?

If you can't remember it, it wasn't worth remembering, right?

How long had his mind been wandering? Joyce snapped back to reality and checked his audience; they looked uninterested. Got to win them back…

'I can see the boredom in your faces. That's OK, I expected this to happen, and that's why I started with the least interesting information first. Now that those things are clear, we shall move to the more interesting section of our story. Why was the TMO founded?'

'Well, to answer that we must analyze the era in which this happened: the late 60s. Telephones weren’t new, of course, but their popularity was rising every day at a quick pace. Previous monitoring efforts were distributed, done at need, ad hoc: we had nothing centralised, nothing comprehensive. We needed to have a group of people fully dedicated to it. And the technology was finally there. Really we have to thank Bell Labs for inventing the transistor in 1947. With it, the telephone exchanges, previously big things made of actual physical wires and switches, could eventually go digital.'

'You know what a wiretap is? It’s how you listen in on a telephone. Trouble is, you need to access the connection itself, physically: you have to get into the wiring, stick two crocodile clips on the bare copper, maybe. But with digital exchanges, we can run the software and listen in at the touch of a button, from miles away. Now the TMO has software in 90% of telephone exchanges in over a hundred countries globally.'

'But I believe I'm deviating too much from the topic. What I want you to remember is that the TMO was formally founded in 1969, for two core reasons: the telephone exchanges started going digital, making the tapping easier and the USA finally came up with a centralised emergency number, 911. They weren’t the first - the UK had its 999 number earlier - but now the USA finally had a way to easily flag emergency calls, and the TMO was going to listen to all of them.'

'And note that I emphasize the "formally" because there's something I haven't told you yet: The TMO already "existed" before 1969, although it wouldn't be recognized until some decades later. The earliest mention to something barely resembling what we are today goes back to December 1939, some months after the Second World War started.'

'Uh huh, our duties are older than this very facility. Of course, back then we weren't the Telecommunications Monitoring Office, we had a much simpler name: Eta-18. Yes, it was a codename, but it's the oldest register of our existence.'

'And what did we do back then? Pretty much the same thing we do now: listen to people talking in search of unusual content. But, there were a few little differences. First, we also monitored radio transmissions, mainly person-to-person and person-to-base radio contacts. Second, it was all done at need, and coordinated by sites regionally, with no centralization. Third, it all had to be done physically and specifically, in a targeted way, working on the bare wires.'

'Oh, and we were in the middle of a World War.'

'Things were a little bit different back then.'

(…)

'No, we did not intervene in the war.'

(…)

'We didn't have the equipment to do so. What could a call center do in a war? Most of the transmissions we received and analyzed were unrelated to the conflict. Besides, even if we didn't intervene in the war, we did help in it. How? Well, we just did our job: we kept paranormal concealed.'

We just did our job. And a little bit more than that.

He had seen some of the files. The perils of curiosity and high clearance.

The Foundation had, indeed, fought in 1944, and Eta-18's surveillance had been integral to a few operations. He even listened to a tape.

It had been a shock to discover that, even over sixty years of degradation and the poor signal quality of a 1940s wire recording, the sound of bones tearing through flesh was unmistakable.

That wasn’t a sound anyone should recognize, let alone be used to, but somebody had to if they wanted to contain and hide the paranormal from the public on a regular basis.

And, when the Foundation wasn't actively fighting, they were cruelly cold and neutral. They could have used several items to aid soldiers or even to stop the War, but they didn't. They allowed the deaths to continue rising while they kept searching for UFOs and ghosts on the battlefields.

Why did things have to be like this? Why didn't the Foundation accept it? Why was it better to convince everybody that they weren't related to war nor were prepared to help in any way than to recognize that they could have acted but didn't?

He tried to suppress the thoughts, but they were too vivid, and a sentence came out of his mouth almost involuntarily.

'We try to avoid politics as much as we can. I know how bad things can get when politics are involved in our duties.'

(…)

'Speaking of which, it's time to focus on their importance. Give me a second, please.'

(…)

'Now… I'd like you to pay attention to the projected pictures. See these marks? These are symbols made for ritual purposes; more specifically, a summoning ritual.'

(…)

'Hey, hey, seriousness, please. I know the idea may be funny to you, but remember all the things you have to listen to every day. Now imagine the people that have to deal with those same things. Now, if I may…'

'See these humanoid figures on the ground? These are the leftovers of whatever they tried to summon, probably demonic entities intended to be servants. Didn't turn out well, as you can see. And, see this little figure over here?'

(…)

'Yes, she's a kid that was in the place when the summoning ritual took place. I know it looks like the worst place for a child to be, but please, let me finish.'

'If you received a call complaining about satanic rituals in your neighbor's basement, would you believe it? Yeah, me neither. But our algorithm, ESAS, did pick it up, and after analyzing the call, we knew we had to act. It doesn't matter if nobody else believes it.'

'So, we sent a group of people specialized in these kinds of things to take care of the situation. Yes, we know people that know how to deal with rituals, demons, and such. They barely managed to kill the two… creatures before they could hurt somebody. The people who made the ritual, the girl's parents, weren't found in the scene, but were caught later.'

'All thanks to this brave girl, a caring neighbor, our advanced systems, and one person that believed. And I know this sounds… cheesy? But trust me, that's all it takes to save a life and avoid a disaster.'

(…)

'Oh, these black boxes? They're on her hands to cover… birthmarks. I, of course, can't describe them, but you'd instantly recognize them if you saw them somewhere else. Same on her face. It's to protect her identity; we want her to have a normal life after this.'

(…)

'No, no, don't worry, the girl is alright. She thankfully wasn't injured in any way during the ritual, although she has bad memories of that place. We are working on that. But, as for now, she's safe and sound, and recovering.'

But… was she?

As soon as Joyce said this, his legs trembled a bit. He knew he was lying. He knew what had actually happened that day, and he desperately wished that all the things he had just said were true.

The burnt and torn figures on the ground weren't summoned "demons" or "creatures", they were the kid's parents. And that wasn't a summoning ritual, it was an immortality ritual that went terribly wrong.

As far as he knew, the two people in the room were trying to achieve immortality through black magic, but at some point something didn't go as they expected, which resulted in a massive explosion that killed them instantly, only to resurrect in their now mutilated bodies. They'd die again a few minutes later due to internal organ malfunctions.

All of this happened in front of their daughter. Their daughter…

This was the most painful part of the lie. The blacked-out sections of the picture weren't there to cover birthmarks and protect her identity. They were added to censor the gruesome mutilations she had, product of the explosion. A big portion of her cheeks was rotten and torn, exposing the teeth and other surrounding tissues. The skin and muscles of her hands had been completely destroyed, leaving only bones behind.

Not only that, but she had also died during the accident; however, due to the nature of the ritual, she wasn't really "dead". She was literally a ghost possessing her own cadaver.

But the worst part was that all of this could have been avoided.

No, the TMO didn't receive a call complaining about ritual practices nearby. In fact, they received at least eight. And what did they do? They discarded every single one of them because "they weren't consistent" and "there wasn't enough proof".

If they had only listened- no, if he had listened to the calls, they would have investigated the place and could have prevented the kid's parents from carrying out all of these dangerous rituals. But he didn't. He had to wait until somebody reported an explosion and "zombies" in the place to see what the heck was going on.

Sure, the TMO had saved thousands of lives, but the TMO had also left other thousands of lives to die. Or to suffer, in this case.

Joyce was trying to ignore the truth, but he wasn't sure if he'd be able to do it this time. Not in front of so many people.

Why did he include this example anyway? Was he trying to torture himself? A part of Joyce was hoping someone would notice and call him on it; make him responsible for his failure, make him own it.

There was something in the corner of his mind that wouldn't leave him alone until he was finally forced to admit his error. But he couldn't allow it to control him. Specially not now. He had to endure. There'd be time for guilt later.

"Calm down, Joyce." He thought to himself. "Just try to… don't break down now. You have to keep it together, Joyce."

'S-so… my point here is… you have to be r-really careful when you listen to the calls… because… y-you never know what kind of situation you could prevent by just listening…'

'Yeah, that's it. No matter how weird the situation may seem, try to listen to the full audio log, and don't mark the calls as NEGATIVE unless you are absolutely sure that you are witnessing a mundane situation.'

That's what Joyce should have done.

Was that it? His only way to be at peace with himself was to make sure others would not commit his same errors? Try to make others save lives to compensate the one he condemned to suffering?

Whatever the reason was, he was feeling uncomfortable, and the thoughts crawling in his mind were attempting to find a way to his mouth. He couldn't allow that. He had to figure out how to avoid it, but, how?

After a quick look at his audience, he knew exactly what to say.

(…)

'Oh, I… I see the faces many of you are making right now. I was planning to… have some more examples, but I think you've understood my point already, so… these may not be necessary.'

(…)

'Well, those were the rest of this seminar, so… I guess we're done by now?'

'Uh, yeah, I think- Alright, please, may I have your attention?'

'I, and the administration of this facility, hope you have learned something more about your job, and you will take it more seriously. Any further questions you may still have can be addressed to your supervisor or me if the former is unavailable. I'll always be glad to help you!'

Joyce put a big smile on his face, and kept it as the attendants were leaving the room. As soon as they were all gone, he sighed and coughed several times, changing his smile to a tired expression.

'Hey, uhh, are you alright? You don't look quite good.' Said a voice next to him. It was Olivia Deaver, Site-14's Assistant Director. He didn't notice her coming closer.

'Oh! Yeah, I… I'm OK, just really tired and kinda dizzy right now.'

'Are you sure? You look distressed.'

'Huh, probably because I skipped breakfast this morning. I'll be alright, don't worry.

'I'm glad to hear that. If you, uh, need anything else you can always call me!'

Joyce gained his smile back to his face as Deaver patted his right shoulder and left the conference room, leaving him alone in deep silence.

"Call me"…

He really wanted to do it. To tell Deaver how wrong things were going. But he couldn't do it. There was something holding him back, forcing him to stay where he was. And that something… was Joyce himself.

"Call me"…

He had said this to several people in the same situation, and they always called him back. Why couldn't he do it now? Why was it so hard for him to dial a number he knew he had to call?

Too much for his head right now. If he was going to think about it, he did at least need to sit down. He silently exited the room from backstage and walked to his office, thinking of the conference and the things he had mentioned there.

Several names were resonating in his head on his way through the halls. Dani, Samuels, the "Eybbies" Platoon, Marina, Lawrence

All of them had one thing in common.

Time flew by, and when Joyce realized, he was in front of his office.

He slowly entered it and closed the door behind him.

It was over… or was it?

Those names and the memories tied to them were stuck in Joyce's mind, grasping every single inch they could to stay there and not leave. Why did this happen now? He had been perfectly OK for a while, how come these feelings came out again with such a little input?

The conference was planned to teach the personnel about the story of the initiative they were part of, but instead ended up reminding Joyce of all the terrible things that happened in these boring and silent offices. All the awful things he was forced to witness. All the horrible things he could not prevent; or he could have prevented, but chose not to.

Or was he just overreacting? He was supposed to be professional. He was supposed to be better than this. Most of his coworkers had seen the same things he had, or even more, and were doing just fine, weren't they?

Joyce closed his eyes and cried for hours. This wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't be the last one either.

He was definitely going to request amnestic therapy.

Again.

TMObottomBar.png
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License