Monday, November 23, 2009

A New Career In A New Town

This steep freeway that dives into downtown boasts a beautiful view - not just of the surrounding bay, or of the dense forest of skyscrapers jutting out along the northeast corner, but of the massive rupture which an old earthquake opened in the ground, long since filled with sea water and converted into a tourist attraction. The upper floors of a few sunken skyscrapers can still be seen poking out through the water, these have been reinforced and converted into restaurants and resorts, and are considered by many to be one of the finest, tackiest vacation locations in the world.

Parking hastily, I rush across the city's busy streets, late to meet my friends. I find all three and shake their hands in a hurry, making the necessary introductions between the husband and wife on one side and the female friend on the other. But the greetings are rushed, as the movie starts now and is still ten blocks away. We must make haste.

We pass by a narrow and rickety wooden pier, which snakes around to the other side of a massive Spruce Goose-like biplane, converted into an antique ferry from one side of the sinkhole to the other. The wife in our party stumbles upon an oversized stuffed duck left near the pier - looking out, we see a family boarding, their infant passenger dropping his toys over his mother's shoulder, while his family moves forward, oblivious. 

"Wait!" we cry as we run down the plank after them, scooping up a small purple cat and an enormous teddy bear floating in the water as we go. We run up the stairs to the vessel, and are finally able to catch the couple's attention in the craft's entryway. They thank us, their faces overripe with sweet smiles, and move on to the central seating area.

We turn to leave, but are shocked to see that the ship has already left the pier, next stop the city center's south end. We cry for the craft to stop but the pilot's chambers are too far off, and our requests go unheeded.

"Tickets?" says the receptionist at the entryway, whose checkered uniform confirms a "Flo the diner waitress" look already suggested by her homely face.

"What, tickets?" I respond angrily. "We don't want to be on this thing! We were just giving that kid his toys back!"

"I'm sorry, sir..." she rolls her eyes rudely, "but you can't board the vessel without paying the fare."

"We know that," adds the husband in our party. "So turn around and let us off!"

The waitress sighs. "We can't turn the boat around, sir. Please take a seat, I suppose we can have you pay when we reach the terminal at the other end."

"PAY!?!?!" I shout irately. "We're not paying you one cent! We don't owe you anything!"

Another passenger, apparently unaware of the situation's details, scoffs and rolls his eyes. "Jesus, relax guy. The fare is just two dollars."

"Two dollars we shouldn't have to pay!" the husband shouts at him.

"The price isn't the point!" I turn back to the receptionist. "We're going to miss our movie, and be stranded at the opposite end of the city, all because you started the ship too soon!"

Trying to treat us passively, she has moved on to a job more in line with her appearance, picking up used dishes left by the customers, covered in some unidentifiable brown pastelike fast food remnants. "Sir, this ship has specified departure and arrival times. If you had only read the..."

Enough of this. With a lunge I push the plates piled atop her hands onto her dress, the unnatural food staining it a less natural color. Immediately, I am struck with regret - not only have I escalated the situation irreversibly, but potentially embarrassed myself in front of my movie partners.

Turning around, I see that I have nothing to worry about, on the second point at least. My company has acted on my cue and is currently creating a chaotic ruckus - the wife has climbed atop a table and is kicking food left and right, while the girl hurls plates around the room like frisbees. The husband is engaged in another room diagonal to this one, presumably in an attempt to storm the cockpit. I consider trying to stop them, but realize such a move would go against my instincts. Grabbing a plate of my own, I join in the assault.

Suddenly a loud sound is heard - not quite an alarm, more electrical and sharp - and all on the ship fall to the ground, clutching their ears. A second later, I black out.


When I come to I am sitting in one of the plane's many booths, the other seats all empty except the one opposite me, where the baby from before sits on his mother's knees. He is speaking to me, his diction perfect despite his lack of teeth, the conversation a continuation on some unremembered topic.

"...and print media is declining right alongside the music industry, probably to a greater degree. Both are quicky being replaced by digital media - but the idea of an artist making a living solely off of his website is a little unrealistic. Movies and games are bound to go in a similar direction as digital exchanges take over - I'm sure you've heard the theory before, that the artists of the future will probably be working on their projects only in between their full-time, paying jobs."

"Well... what should I do then?" I ask in a daze.

"Oh, settle down on something more realistic, I think. I could easily set you up with a job here on this ship, you know - or one of our other vessels. Your friends have already agreed - accepted jobs under me to work off the cost of the damage they caused. But it shouldn't be looked at as a punishment, it's actually quite a nice gig. These vessels are large, not a bad place to start a family. You get to travel quite a bit - and keep in mind we're just a few weeks away from getting these things airborn again."

The baby makes a tempting offer, and he's so damned adorable that it's hard to ignore his suggestions. But somewhere inside me, my ghost is whispering that this ship is just a prison, one I've been lured onto to distract me from the things I need to do.

I stand up. "You make a tempting offer, Baby. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to turn it down."

The baby giggles, a trail of spit running down his chin. "Turn it down? I'm sorry, but that's not exactly possible."

"What do you mean?"

"The moment you set foot on this ship, you entered into my world. If you work here you work for me, and you don't leave here until I decide your work is done."

"Or what? What if I refuse?"

The giggles continue, as the baby and his silent mother slowly fade into invisibility. "Then you're on this ship alone. If you don't think that sounds bad, I'll give you a little taste of what it feels like. Someday I'll return - I'm certain that by that time, you will have made the correct decision."

As their espers finish fading I rise, and run through the halls of the empty structure, the geometry of its rooms seeming to change as my gait becomes more frantic. Looking out the window, I can see that the cityscape outside has faded as well, leaving me and this small maze of rooms isolated in the center of an endless, featureless sea.

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