poem18 Jun 2018 08:28 am

Guests was what we called the prisoners.
The term for us was contractors.
We saw ourselves as insouciant
sunbeams, a cult of gentlemen
rogues rendering extraordinary
service, wielding scientific methods.
Sometimes just our fists were
enough. UV lights glared around
the clock. Gook was the yellow
syrup they exuded under applied
stress, which resisted scouring
from interrogation-room floors
no matter what corrosive rinses
and surfactants were applied.
We had the cafeteria waitstaff
remove the reminiscent mustard
from the condiment lazy-susans,
and blunt the cutlery. We threw
breadballs and surfed on the sizzle
of duty-free liquor transported
all the way from the World.
We requested medical treatment
for our repetitive-motion trauma
and demanded personal rainbows
of numbing pharmaceuticals. Clearly,
flaws were already present. Organs
that might not have corresponded
to ours burst like eyeballs swollen
with glaucoma, or rupturing soufflés.
The fluid spewing out reminded us
of the slick inspirational harangues
a representative from HQ delivered
weekly, propped at the rec-room
podium while we fossilized
on folding metal chairs. Flowcharts
slid into view, titled Results
Are What Counts, as he prodded
the controls, promising bonuses.
He said advantage and incalculable,
and what sounded like goldrush.
His entourage gawked at the parade
as we herded guests to a narrow
stretch of shore where we kept them
behind electric nets between sessions.
Ponderous as glaciers, or cumulus
rising into windless air on a summer
evening, they looked like miniature
belugas or gigantic albino muskrats,
bellies billowing in the shallows
as they huddled together. Not mammals,
despite their warmth. Not like us.
The poignard spike of keratin jutting
from each orbital ridge was removed
surgically at intake processing—
the greeting ritual, we called it.
We gave them names: Marshmallow,
Cream Puff, Cool Whip, scarified them
with ID markings. They never made
noises in the audible-frequency range,
but we started wearing headphones
anyway. Dark lenses and heavy gloves
were already part of our uniforms.
Then one of the dishwashers let slip
what the first behavioral psychics
had discovered: our guests were only
hapless remnants of a dimensional-
cartography expedition come to grief
when their energy devices failed,
marooned in an unknown universe
with entirely different physical laws,
and imploring us for sanctuary.
Less-gullible advisors were quickly
sent to oversee us, stun batons poised.
Guests were stubborn, we were told, and
could withstand further vigor. We ran
into snags. Our glowering controllers
applied a sort of triage: those ruined
irreparably would serve as examples
to the others. Surely survivors would
bargain as they became desperate,
and reveal their arcane inheritance.
We underwent further motivational
conditioning; some of us were also
used as examples. When inchoate panic
set in, our replacements were already
in orbit above the facility. We knew then
that no one was going home. After
flooding the administration dome
with gas, we went down to the shore
for the last time. We shorted out
the netting, abandoned our gear
on the beach. Our guests let us ride them,
our final life-rafts, all the way out
beyond the continental shelf to where
the huge waves began, to a place
where we had always been friends.

illustration is  Sailing by Moonlight by Albert Pinkham Ryder

Trackback this Post | Feed on comments to this Post

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.