Jack Manganese


unfinished, 22-jun-2017

Docent Gimel-Gimel-73 was not prepared for what it found beside the New Machine. A human, or something very much like one, lay sprawled upon the floor. It's body was no longer one continuous piece, and the red fluid, which should have been inside, was pooling thickly on the floor. The docent suspected an injury, but it had little knowledge of medicine, even that of its own kind, whatever that might once have been. Assistance, however, was definitely required, so it rolled its mind into the back of its brain, back and back, and then even further back, passing through its own skull and out into the Center of the Library.

Discordant voices assailed the docent, and it had to shout to make itself heard. "New information. Level: Important."

There was sudden silence. Dozens of glowing geometric solids focused on the small red tetrahedron which was the docent. A brilliant white dodecahedron spoke, "Tell us."

"Location: Near the New Machine. Subject: Human in unusual state. Hypothesis: Injury."

"Show us."

Gimel-Gimel-73 stretched back into its own head until it just barely tapped its eyes. It grabbed an image, and carried it back.

"Good God!" "Holy — !" "Madre de — !" Several polyhedra became abruptly dim, then faded away.

The white dodecahedron was no longer quite so brilliant. "Docent," it said, "the word 'injury' may have been an understatement."

At last, Carlos had finished grinding and polishing all of the special tools. Of course the Machine didn't use standard screws. That would've been too much to hope for, but Carlos certainly didn't expect to need seven different, irregularly shaped drivers. He had spent days in the machine shop making each by hand, but with grainy photographs and hasty pressings as his only guides, he couldn't really be sure they'd work. He and Vassily would scout the site tomorrow. He'd have to check them then.

This job couldn't be over too soon for Carlos. Vassily loved all this magical crap, but Carlos would just as soon stick to the regular corporate jobs. If only the money weren't so good… God, those crawling things gave him the creeps.

Zebedee Danioch only barely retained his dodecahedral shape. His physical body squirmed with revulsion, but he had to maintain his presence at the Center.

"Once again," said an orange octahedron, "I propose that docents of non-human origin not be assigned to human areas."

"I continue to object to this proposal," replied a different voice. "It creates an unreasonable burden on the staffing schedule."

A cloud of twelve white cubes spoke in unison. "We, the Counting Kind, also object. Humans occupy less than 2.752% of the Library's area, yet they account for more than 31.54% of incidents. Proportionally, it is not—"

"Enough!" Zebedee shouted. "All issues are tabled until the current incident is dealt with. We need information."

"We, the Counting Kind, have estimated the volume of blood, and calculated a 99.77% probability that this scene contains more than one human."

"Yeah, no kidding." replied the orange octahedron. "The one and a half heads kind of gave that away."

"We, the Counting Kind, have also calculated a 99.99% probability that you can suck it."

Zebedee urged the group to stay focused.

"In that case, you should know, there is a 74.58% probability that one of the humans is still alive."

There it was, the Machine, a rectangular pedestal of wood and brass, with a framed writing slate propped up on top of it, just behind an antique spirit board.

Carlos shuddered. "What is this even supposed to be?" He touched the blank slate and laughed nervously. "There isn't even any chalk."

"Stop screwing around," snapped Vassily. "Five minutes left."

To Carlos's surprise, his custom tools fit almost perfectly. A little extra filing was all they needed. He tested the screws with a few experimental turns.

"What are you doing now?" asked Vassily. "We know that they fit."

"Need to know which way they turn."

"Clockwise to tighten. Counter-clockwise to loosen. Everyone knows this."

Carlos was pretty sure that "righty-tighty, lefty-loosey" didn't apply to eldritch contraptions, but he said nothing. Sure enough, some screws loosened one way and some the other. There were even a few that somehow had to be turned both ways. Carlos didn't try to understand it. He just wrote it down.

Vassily tapped his watch impatiently. "Two minutes before that mouthless horror comes back."

"Almost done," said Carlos. When they did this for real, they'd have less than ten minutes total to remove the panels, take the pictures, replace everything, and get to the exit. They'd have to be fast, and Carlos intended to be ready.

The Counting Kind noted that there were forty-seven patrons available to the Library who were likely (95% or higher) to have adequate knowledge of human physiology (+/-2%). Nineteen of these candidates were discarded for being academics with little practical surgical experience (P(x) <= 0.85). Another twenty-five were disqualified for possessing insufficient skill (P(s) <= 0.75) with any of the four likely procedures (per the literature; not calculated). This left only three (exact value).

It had difficulty with the final choice. Emotional responses could rarely be predicted by analysis alone (P(c) <= 0.54). Fortunately, the Counting Kind was not itself without feelings (+/-5%). Sixty-one empathic matrix convolutions later (MDS n=19), it had made a decision.

"Are you sure?" asked Zebedee.

"We, the Counting Kind, are 85.71% sure."

"She's home asleep by now. Don't we have someone in the Library? What about Ganaka?"

"Dr. Ganaka lacks the skill necessary for any of the Extraordinary Procedures. Best case: Procedure Combs-85, success rate 44.59%."

"What about Zachary?"

"Dr. Zachary lacks the required… intestinal fortitude."

"So it has to be Helen?

"We, the Counting Kind, are 85.7— Yes. Yes, it does."

Zebedee nodded. "I'll make the call."

Had anyone been paying attention to the Machine at that particular moment, they might have heard the faint tapping of chalk, and seen certain words appear on the slate. These words were unremarkable in themselves, although they were written backward and in a shaky hand. They read simply, "Vassily, you son of a bitch."

Dr. Helen Akeley was startled into consciousness by an insistent metallic buzz. It wasn't her pager. Not this time. She picked up a small brass rectangle. In the dim light she could just make out her own name on one side, and on the other, faintly glowing… She wasn't sure. Cuneiform? She shook the card until the writing dissolved, and reformed into somewhat more familiar letters: "Te necesitamos". She shook it again to be sure. "You are needed." This was going to be bad, really bad. The Library didn't call for outside help unless it was. Nevertheless, she had to go. Special access was never free.

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