The House That Jack Built: Block 1 Draft, Part 2 (final!)

Continued from September 8th…to this day I have no idea where I was even going with this. Drunk writing produces incredible effects on prose, plot and character psychology….like hitting the whole thing with oil paints and a ring modulator. But it tends to sacrifice any crisp realness and immediacy to do so. A sort of King In Yellow feel, is what you get. Interestingly, that always goes mentally with Lost Themes by John Carpenter. Here’s the not even conclusion of Block 1. As you’ve probably guessed, I haven’t edited a single one of these lol.

May 25, 1996

Los Angeles, California

Holy cats. Do you mean…Alex’s eyes were wide.

PG-13…Cody was a goofy ball of dazzled teenage hormones. She was hoping he could at least meet her husband before he started taking parts of the tale she’d just told too seriously. But that was what information trickles were forshe was reeling him in, and not in the way he expected.

Shush, boy. I’ll tell you what I mean next time we hang out. Saturday, after school?Kitty smiled. She was going to make a good den mother. She hoped, anyways.

Alex was about to speak, but the computer interrupted. Voice synthesizers were so primitive even in 1996, butYou’ve got mail!rang clear as a bell.

Before she could stop him, Cody had leaped up and looked at the screen.AOL! Sweet!He continued, disappointed upon further investigation.Just a regular automated notification.

Oh?Kitty suddenly felt her chest tense.

Pellucidar science fiction magazine. It says to click this link to confirm renewal of your subscription.Cody found this an intriguing prospect, obviously, even if the mail itself was boring…but he was never going to read that magazine.

Out. Now. I’ll see you guys on Saturday but I have to attend to this…I’m so sorry. Grab a cookie for the road, will ya?

Huh?Cody looked like a deer whose only protection against headlights was floppy, unkempt red hair.

Bye.Kitty couldn’t risk leaving him an opening.

Come on, Cody…we’ll come back. You’re not as lame a guest as you are to live with, are you?Alex laughed. It was almost as if she had some kind of vague understanding…

She hoped not. The door clicked behind her, and she felt her mind shift…she could feel the Symmes Effect already…it was just psychosomatic. Tomorrow, it might be real. With a double left click (stupid clunky interface design…single had been the usual for her since 1975), she sealed her fate once again…

May 25, 1996

2200 Hours Mountain Time

Roswell, New Mexico

Jay Conley was lonely. He always did miss her, when he flew solo…but in a way he was grateful. Just him, the open road, the universe…and the memories of the boy within. The Moon hung low and bright and yellow over the New Mexico desert, as desolate empty skies gave way to a town dead set on convincing you there was something out there. There was nothing here, anyway…oh, sure. There might be out there, but Roswell, New Mexico was a gory mausoleum for the Jetsons dream, a sort of technological Heliopolis built with the consumer in mind on the grave of Robert Goddard. It was a joke.

Luckily, it was a joke he found rather funny. He would, if he had Kitty with him, stay in a nicer hotel…but the knight-errant could only make do with a Comfort Inn. Pulling the tan pickup (he was really on his own, though he was on business) up to the glass doors, he stepped inside. Couldn’t wait to sit down, put his feet up…think of her…

You need something?The woman stared at him down glasses, below gray tight buns…the anterior set, obviously. He was sure there was another.

Yeah. A room. You do have those, right?

Yes. Continental breakfast ends at ten….hope you like cereal. Can I get your name?

Jay Conley.

Room 109, then.

He signed the form, swiped his credit card, and took the key.Thank you, ma’am.At fifty, he was still a polite little kid around women like that…he had his reasons.

April 9, 1962

Project Mongoose Recruit Processing

Oro Grande, New Mexico

Who are you?Her eyes were piercing flame, almost alive in their own right…tearing the skin from his twelve-year-old frame before muscles could form…knowing…oh shit, she knew he touched himself, didn’t she?

Uh…I’m Jay Conley, Madam Director.How could her hair be that pretty and red? There was only one silver shock running through it…she was kinda sexy, if she wasn’t so…scary. Dragon Lady. He guessed that made him Terry, and if there was a conspicuous lack of pirates the rumors had it there was something more interesting at this boy’s home. The last one hadn’t known what the hell to do with him.

That’s not what I asked.Poor gangly sap. So innocent. Blind. Like a kitten who needed his eyes licked, before he saw things that weren’t there. Vampires had no reflection.But it’ll do.

Jay nodded.

Your record tells me…well, let’s see.She tapped on a weird-looking typewriter attached to a color TV…it was the coolest thing. Fascinating like Pandora’s Box…no one in New Mexico’s rural areas had one of those, but he imagined if you could bet on running water and electricity you could get one of those puppies too.

She interrupted his reverie, flashing a grandmotherly smile.Jay Alan Conley of Springer. Wyoming birth certificate.

Um. It’s not what you think, ma’am.

Oh?She grinned, this time with mischief.Tell me what it is, then? Bank robbery? Murder? Mann Act violations? Narcotics possession? All of the above?

Oh gosh no. Nothing so…so patently awful as all that.

Well shucks. What brings you here, then?

She wasn’t that horrible, once you got to know her. This would be all right.Mercy Children’s Home in Cheyenne had no idea what to do with me. Don’t remember before that. Found my way across the border…got screwed by a tough customer of a judge.

We have many fine people who study here who have been given unfair charges…who got a bad rap, as it were. If we had any more misunderstood geniuses who never do anything bad, we’d have to open an amateur rocket society.The Director laughed, although it seemed she was more serious about…something…than she ought to be.So tell me…what abomination did you cause to achieve the desolation of Oro Grande?

I read too many books and don’t bother with adults who don’t know what a Plato is. I also um…had a few fireworks accidents. Creative engineering projects aren’t nearly as fun as I mean them to be, it seems. Other than that, I haven’t done anything and I’m not that crazy. I shouldn’t even be here.

The Director burst out laughing.Oh yes you should. This is the place where you begin to shine, little one. You are not sick, not a criminal. You are one of our future greatest students.

Are you…sure?No one had ever told him that before. Least of all such a mean old librarian.Come on…you’re a witch putting me under a spell.

Yes. But you’ll be better off. You never had a mother make you food before?

…not that I can remember.

Oh, Parsifal, you poor, clueless boy….She reached out a hand and put it on his shoulder.Get your things. I’ll get you a room.

Yes ma’am.Jay turned around and walked toward the waiting room, quite dazed and confused. What was this place?

The Director tapped her intercom.Kitty, come here please. I want you to show our newest student to the spare bedroom.

That good, huh?

Invited him to dinner. You’re gonna love him. I think operations may in fact be taking off.

May 26, 1996

Roswell, New Mexico

Dreams went on this way for several hours, reminding him of who he was. Who he’d been. How he’d come this far. Project Mongoose had taken a hit after Watergate, doubly so after Iran-Contra. Once Challenger exploded, USAF support for the more obscure stuff outside of the F-117 had dried up…the problem wasn’t topside politics per se, it was that every topside misstep led them one step closer to finding the secrets Teddy Roosevelt had buried at the dawn of the American Century. Mongoose had been essentially closed, reduced to a skeleton staff operating with an Apollo-size Symmes Field generator out of a Moholenot the venerable Oro Grande Base, but what amounted to a corner office in the earth’s crust. In this position, layoffs had been made…the best agents had taken the first voluntary retirement, with the understanding that callback could occur at any time.

He and Kitty had taken leave, of course. If you were doing that to your Hidden Elite, things were bad. They wanted no part of middle management becoming the custodians of the dream…not when they could manage it themselves. They had toured the world freelancing with what they could manage to distill into non-classified form of the Mongoose operational philosophy and files…engaging in hijinks behind the Berlin Wall, in China, the Middle East, and all kinds of adventures involving American occult cabals…there had been late-night feasts with holdouts in Concho, Arizona and pitched gun battles with apocalyptic magicians in Baltimore. Howard one day, Lovecraft the next…the fate of the world resting, thankfully, not in their hands alone.

Their love had grown more than it ever had as he became older…breathed more air outside of a Symmes Hole…ate proper food and worked without the aid of technological cheats and government agents to bail him out no matter what he did. He was grateful…but he suspected she missed it.

Then the Director had fallen sick with cancer. They thought it might have something to do with her Navy service in World War II, and possibly her smoking habit…but Jay was privately worried it was worse than that. Operation Teapot and massive industrial use of asbestos were just the tip of the Promethean iceberg…who’s to say prolonged exposure to early Symmes Fields hadn’t done a number on living tissue? But they had met at her funeral, he and Kitty and some of the people they’d known…hell, Pete even showed up on his motorcycle and almost got into a fight with her friend Bill from Berkeley. They’d had…some juggling to do, to figure out who she was and what she would have wanted from each of them. But in discussions with Pete and some of the core group of old-timers, they had decided one thing: she wanted them to revitalize Project Mongoose. Bill had, of course, not been party to this discussion.

That was why he was in Roswell. Today, as the sun rose and he rolled out of bed, he would return to the Oro Grande site and see if it could be revitalized, by a private company if necessary. That was basically a shadow government…but it was a step he was willing to take. Did the suits in DC really think men like him were loyal to abstractions? Oh, they were. But not abstract shells of rotten eggs. If Superman thought it was cool, it was an abstraction worth having. DC, for all its virtual reality (they had, after all, invented the internet and also the public scandal), was still made of marble. Other than that, this Springer brat’s loyalty was to the Great Game.

Rummaging for a shirt was rather difficult, with his Nokia cellphone in the other hand. How did these things even work, dammit? Okay…dial numbers…remember LA area code…slide T-shirt on….hit send. Wait four rings for voicemail. Voicemail…almost a laugh. So primitive. He was spoiled.

Hey, this is Naomi Rand…I’m out of the office right now…everything’s okay, really. If you’re our usual caller, calm your tits and order pizza until I get back.That was…not her usual voicemail. Oddly reminiscent of various codes they’d used before, but something was missing…

An odd series of metallic tones played a melody in a minor key.Routing error 93. The number you have dialed does not exist. Please contact the Los Alamos Bell Telephone Support division for further assistance. If the number you were attempting to contact is not legally authorized by public information provided by the United States Office of Management and Budget, please be aware that law enforcement has been notified and we have already completed a call trace. Have a nice day and thank you for calling, Agent Oddball.

FUCK!He shouted at a dead receiver, audible to the entire motel.No, never mind. I don’t actually need housekeeping.

Quieter, now.I need backup…Jesus God…

Reactivation of some elements was a done deal, now. Error 93 was, like everything else in that message, a code. It meant the agent had been placed out of the public sphere of awareness…in short, memory holed…to enable a crisis. The crisis would determine their fitness for reactivation and reset their psychology to the last point of operational status, hopefully with all marbles relating to current civil identity intact.

Yeah. Close enough for government work, at any rate. And she’d slap him if he didn’t go to Oro Grande, even if it was February 1975 when he got there, and she was in the quarantine unit after returning from the Venus flyby…

May 26, 1996

Pasadena, California

The old abandoned house loomed around her, gigantic, like a dragon’s egg. It was its own Hollow Earth. Either that or the drugs were warping her mind. What else was new?

Orange Grove, yeah.A male voice in the other room, muffled. Machine-like. Shit. That meant…well, a lot of things. Where. Who. What was still a great big question mark.

I’ll see you soon.The Man the voice belonged to put the phone down…odd…it wasn’t a cell. Heavy plastic, slight ringing sound. That meant this old place had lines…

He was, in fact, wearing black. “Zip ties are reprocessing protocol these days?” Kitty gestured behind her with her nose, trying to play it cool.

Yeah. Procedure B.

Oh fuck. “That’s…interesting. Why don’t you figure you can count on compliance from the Director’s daughter?”

If I told you…

Shut up. You rookies always did think you were hot shit. It got worse after Reagan.

No, really. I would have to kill you.

So that’s how it’s going to be, then.

Enough.The agent was preparing a syringe. His gun was out on the table. Hoo boy…

Are we are where I think we are?

He smirked. The look of it was odd…as if his expression required Herculean effort proportionate to the painted-on, sculpted nature of his face…but it was made of flesh, the way the smirk was made of smug black humor. “Where’s that?”

The Parsonage.

It hasn’t been called that for decades, but sure.

She nodded. “What’s your game?”

Final programming.He spoke with a finality that government agents didn’t tend to use…there was no clinical diction, only the clip of hate. A period made of cauterizing flame.

You aren’t Mongoose.

Mongoose isn’t Mongoose.He grinned, revealing twin fangs nestled amid human teeth.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’s on his way here.

It’s a sewer. Your world is a sewer. Of course you fight me in it.

He sees it as a game. He always was a child. More than me, and we both know it.

You’re right. But that doesn’t matter. He won’t catch up to you. Not before you do.

Regression?

Of course. We want you to forget the one thing you learned that changed everything. Do you think you can do that for us?

She spit on him, then, eyes cast toward the coachhouse on the back lot the way she used to look at the Moon as a girl. “I’m not done either.”

You will be. Your time is over.The…thing grabbed her harshly, jamming the syringe into her neck and kissing her on the cheek.

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