The Sky Was Full of Fish 44

“So, back to the hotel then?” said Matilda wryly.

“It’s a lovely pond,” I replied. “Might as well sit and enjoy it a bit before we go.”

“I suppose,” grumbled Gertrude.

We made our way down the sidewalk to the pond. When we had gotten closer, however, we saw that there was already someone sitting on the bench.

“Who’s that?” whispered Heather.

I shrugged. As we drew nearer, we were able to make out that it was an older gentleman with tousled grey hair wearing a mint-green sweatsuit and dilapidated sneakers. He was lounging on the bench with his legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed, and he leaned his head back against his interlaced fingers. He had his eyes closed, but despite his leisurely posture, his face bore a look of intense concentration. I almost felt guilty disturbing him. I cleared my throat.

The man’s eyes popped open, and he sat up straight, blinking around until his gaze settled on us. “Ah, you’ve arrived,” he said. He jumped to his feet and approached us quickly. Somewhat alarmed, the beloved quartet and I tensed up a bit, but he only offered his hand to shake. Somewhat hesitantly, I took it.

“Just wanted the opportunity to meet you in person,” the man said pleasantly. He turned to Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude, extending his hand. “And to meet all of you as well,” he said. The beloved quartet, as bewildered as I, shook the man’s hand with blank expressions.

The man stepped back away from us towards the sidewalk. “Well, unfortunately, I can’t stay and visit,” he said, “but it was nice meeting you. So long.” With that, he turned and began jogging down the sidewalk, leaving us to stand and stare after him.

When he had passed out of sight, we turned to one another, looking for answers where there were none. Finally, Gertrude shrugged. “Must’ve just been some weirdo,” she said. We turned back to the pond.

But the pond was gone, replaced by our house, looking as though it had never been missing. “Whoa,” said Heather. Then the beloved quartet started up the walk to investigate. I hung back a moment, looking in the direction the man had disappeared. I was beginning to have an idea of just who the man might have been, and it gave me pleasure.

“Andrew,” Matilda called from the porch, “there’s something here for you.”

I moved quickly down the walk and up the steps. Indeed, there was something there for me. It was a medium-sized box wrapped in colorful paper with ribbons and a bow. The beloved quartet stood around it, eyeing it apprehensively.

I picked up the present and tucked it under one arm. “Let’s go in,” I said, and we did. In the living room, I sat down on the couch and began tearing the paper away.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” said Matilda.

“I’m sure,” I replied. “Don’t worry, I think I know what it is.” I peeled away the wrapping to reveal an unlabeled corrugated cardboard box. I opened the box, and there it was: a gleaming stainless steel toaster, of a size and configuration that signified that it had come from the One True Toaster Factory.

“Classy,” said Heather. I was certain she was only commenting on the appliance’s smart appearance. Neither she nor any of the others knew the significance of the toaster or where it had come from.

“There’s a card here,” said Matilda, picking up a white square of cardboard from the floor. “It says, ‘To Andrew Millik and family with love.’ Signed by someone named Goldstan.”

“Goldstan,” I repeated thoughtfully.

“But what does it mean?” said Sara.

“What it means, my darlings,” I replied, “is that we’re having toast for dinner.”

The End

The Sky Was Full of Fish 43

“This is awful,” said Matilda. “After all we’ve gone through, to be treated like this…”

“What are you going to do?” asked Carver.

“Do?” I said. “I expect I’ll leave the Complex within the hour. But right at the moment, I’d love to get an account of what happened on floor 39 after I blacked out.”

“There’s really not much to tell,” said Roger Binks, rejoining us from across the room. “My card was licked, and I gated in. I took a few seconds to assess the situation, and then I dispatched Harold with a dismantler drone. When he was dead, his powers were nullified. While the others were disengaging themselves from fish cubes, I flipped the switch to turn off the fish in the sky. It was round about then that security showed up, whisked you to the infirmary, and herded us into a waiting room, where we stayed until you woke up some hours later. Everything else, you’ve been awake for.”

“And I assume the sky is indeed clear of fish?” I asked.

The others nodded.

“There’s one thing that leaves me wondering,” said Sara. Binks raised his eyebrows expectantly. “How were you able to use your powers in Harold’s dark sanctum? The rest of us had our powers nullified.”

Binks suddenly looked rather uncomfortable. “Well, I, uh…” he stammered.

“He’d been invited there before,” I said. “Hadn’t you, Binks?”

Binks sighed and nodded.

“What?” said Carver. “When?”

“It was Harold who hired me to kill Andrew,” said Binks.

“And the final piece of the puzzle clicks into place,” said Sara.

“How’d you figure it out?” Binks asked me.

“I didn’t, really,” I replied. “It was just another part of the gamble of using your card. I’m glad it paid off.”

“Aren’t we all,” said Matilda.

I lay back on the bed and savored the sensation of possessing an unworried mind. The fish were gone, and all was well. All, that is, if you left aside the life-and-death struggle for the fate of toast currently unfolding in another dimension. But you can’t spend your time worrying about things you can’t affect, and so I didn’t.

Carver pulled me out of my revery. “We should get going,” he said. “I don’t want to piss off Dimsho any more than he already is.”

“You’re right,” I said, throwing back the blanket and swinging my legs over the side of the bed. I looked down at the hospital gown I was wearing. “Has anyone seen my clothes?”

Carver waggled his fingers arcanely, there was a flash of electric blue, and I found myself fully dressed in my freshly laundered clothes.

“Thanks,” I said. “I don’t suppose you could pack up my desk, too?”

Carver pointed to the bed, and the large cardboard box that had appeared on it.

“Thanks again,” I said, stuffing the box into my right pinky finger, followed by the mysterious glowing orb. “Well,” I said, regarding the others, “I’m ready.”

“I want to stop at floor 16,” said Carver as the group of us walked to the door.

“Why? What’s there?” I asked.

“Isolation booths,” Carver replied.

When the two of us were safely in the booth, Carver took my hand and shook it warmly. “I wanted you to know that no matter what happens, you will always have allies in the League of Heroes. Aardvark mistletoe.”

“Arctic pesto makes avuncular cookies,” I said. “And thanks.”

Some time later, I, the beloved quartet, and Roger Binks were sitting in the coffee shop near the Complex sipping lattes. It was early evening.

“So, what are you going to do now?” asked Binks.

“I’m not sure yet,” I said, “but I suppose I’ll have to go independent. Or I could work for Mr. Bob.” We all had a chuckle at this.

“Well,” said Binks, “you dropped this down on floor 39.” He handed me his card. I raised an eyebrow. “It’s been cleaned,” Binks said with a smirk. I smiled and took the card. “Summon me if you have need, and I’ll be happy to assist you in any way I can,” said Binks. “And if you do decide to go independent, I could always use a partner.” He got up, crumpling his coffee cup. “Think about it,” he said with a wink.

“I will,” I said. “Thanks.”

Binks nodded. Then he was gone. We sat in silence for a while. Then Gertrude said, “Who winks at people? There’s something off about that guy.”

“Fortunately we don’t need to worry about that right now,” said Sara, not unkindly.

I turned to the beloved quartet and said, “What shall we do, my dears?”

“Let’s go home,” said Gail in one of her rare moments of unity.

We stepped out of the coffee shop under the lovely fish-free sky and made our way through the city to our small piece of habitat. As we turned the corner onto our street, our eyes were greeted by the sight of a lovely landscaped pond where our house should have been.

“Son of a bitch,” said Gertrude.

Click here for episode 44

The Sky Was Full of Fish 42

There was a moment of stunned silence. Then Carver said, “Sir, I protest this decision,” and the beloved quartet all tried to talk at once, which resulted in Gail standing helpless with her mouth agape. Roger Binks, meanwhile, began edging his way to a safer distance from Telzock Dimsho, who took no notice of him. Dimsho’s and my eyes were locked. A bureaucratically malevolent smile played at the corners of his mouth.

I held my hand up, and Carver and the others subsided. “Can I ask on what grounds I’m being fired?” I said.

Gertrude spoke up. “Yeah, and you’d better have a damn good–

“Gertrude,” I said calmly. My tone stopped her short, and I gave her the direst cautioning glance I could muster, praying that it would work. It did; Gertrude fell silent.

Dimsho observed all this with contemptuous amusement; then, he answered. “I suppose you have a right to know. You’re being terminated for flagrant disregard of Complex policies, including destruction of Complex walls and fixtures, entering restricted areas without a permit, and assisting in the infiltration of the Complex by outsiders, namely these,” he said, gesturing at the beloved quartet and Roger Binks, who was now on the other side of the room. “In light of your years of service, your friends will not be forcibly ejected, but will be permitted to leave with you under the escort of Carver, here. Which will happen within the hour.”

Carver spoke. “Sir, I–”

“Spare me,” snapped Telzock Dimsho. “You’re on thin ice, Carver. You might want to step lightly.” At this, Carver fell silent, giving me an apologetic sidelong glance.

“Now,” continued Dimsho, “if you’ll excuse me, I’m a busy man.” He turned on his heel and began walking towards the door.

A prickling pinpoint of fury began to form behind my forehead, and quickly spread. I had very nearly lost my life in service to the League, and suffered considerable agony. That they would play me as I had been played over the past few days was bad enough. That I was expected to take being fired lying down, without even being given a decent excuse, was utterly untenable. Telzock Dimsho had nearly reached the door when my temper snapped. “Why’d you do it, Dimsho?” I said quietly.

Something in the tone of my voice made Carver go white. The beloved quartet stared at me in alarm. Dimsho paused as if debating whether or not to ignore me. Then he slowly turned to face me. “How’s that again?” he said with a cold malice that was breathtaking.

I was not cowed. I spoke calmly and concisely, matching him for coldness. My hands were shaking. “Management knew all along what was going on with the fish. Why’d you let Harold use the Complex? Why’d you assign me to deal with the fish? Why’d you play me against Mr. Bob? And why are you firing me for these petty, jerk-off infractions? After everything I’ve done for you, why would you fuck me over like this?”

Telzock regarded me for some moments, during which you could have heard a pin drop. Carver, Matilda, Heather, Sara, Gertrude, and Binks stared at the two of us with open mouths.

Finally, Dimsho replied. “Again in light of your service to the League, I will answer your questions. First, the League’s position on toast is one of neutrality. Harold went through proper channels to establish his lab, and the League encourages extracurricular research projects and experiments. We were not particularly pleased about the fish, but we were not displeased enough to be bothered to deal with it ourselves. Therefore, we decided to send one of our consultants. We arranged for you to get the assignment, subsequently set you up to go against Mr. Bob, and are now firing you because we thought it would be fun.”

“Fun?” I repeated incredulously. My anger began to dissolve, replaced by bemusement.

“We think you’re a dick, Millik,” Telzock replied.

“What?” I said, still incredulous.

“Good day,” said Telzock, tipping his bowler hat and turning once more towards the door. “Out within the hour, Carver,” he called over his shoulder as he left the room.

Carver regarded me, shaken. “You’re crazy,” he said. “He could have erased you, me, all of us from past and present as easy as putting on his stupid hat.”

“I suppose so,” I said, Lying back down in the hospital bed. I was feeling a little weak after my loss of control. “But it did feel good to get a straight answer out of Management for once.”

Click here for episode 43

The Sky Was Full of Fish 41

Barbara continued speaking before anyone could say anything. “I am the official emissary of the God of Toast,” she said. “In point of fact, I am his daughter.” At this, there were murmurs of surprise and awe. “The fish in the sky, as I’m sure you’re aware, are anathema to the God of Toast,” Barbara went on. “His power began to dwindle the moment they appeared. The fish were brought about by your coworker Harold, whom we now know to be the Anti-Toast.”

“Used to be,” said Binks with a grim smile.

Barbara nodded an acknowledgement. “As you say. In any case, when the Anti-Toast made his move, you, Andrew, were chosen to be the Champion of Toast. You were summoned to the One True Toaster Factory and tested. You did well, but our efforts were thwarted by the power of the Anti-Toast. I was therefore dispatched to guide you on the path that was chosen for you.

“I like to think I was of some assistance, but as the situation with the God of Toast grew more dire, I became careless. Through unscrupulous means, I had learned the secret identity of the Anti-Toast. I tried to reveal this information to you, but was taken out of play (and rightly so) by the Deity Governance Committee before I could deliver the message.”

“So that’s what happened when you popped out of existence back at the hotel,” said Heather.

“Yes,” said Barbara. “I behaved imprudently, and was brought to task for it.”

“But what’s the Deity Governance Committee?” I asked.

“That is a topic for another time,” said Barbara. “For the nonce, it is my duty to offer, on behalf of both myself and the God of Toast, our supreme thanks for the service you have done for us, Andrew Millik.” She bowed to me.

“My pleasure,” I said.

A glowing disk of light appeared beneath Barbara and lifted her from the bed. “Now, if you will excuse me, the fate of the God of Toast is again in the balance, and I am needed elsewhere.”

“What? But isn’t Harold dead?” asked Heather.

Barbara’s disk rotated until she faced Heather. “My child,” she said, “Harold was merely this plane’s incarnation of the Anti-Toast. When one Anti-Toast fails, another always appears somewhere else. I must go. Farewell, Andrew Millik and companions. It was an honor to work with you.” With that, Barbara shimmered and was gone.

There was a long silence as we pondered the implications of what Barbara had told us. The silence was broken by Gertrude. “Hey, who the hell are you?” she said.

The rest of us now noticed that an unassuming man in a brown suit and bowler hat had come among us by some means. He regarded Gertrude imperturbably.

“Easy, Gertrude,” said Carver. “That’s Telzock Dimsho.” To me, he mouthed, “Tier 1.”

So this was a member of the mythical League Management. He stepped forward and addressed me. “Andrew Millik,” he said, “it is my pleasure to inform you that your professional relationship with the League of Heroes has ended. Your employment is terminated, effective immediately.”

Click here for episode 42

The Sky Was Full of Fish 40

I woke up.

This, in and of itself, was significant. It meant that either my desperate plan had worked, or some other miracle had occurred to save me.

Of further significance was the fact that I didn’t seem to be in pain. This was a matter of no small relief. Neither my stomach, nor my privates, nor my wrist or jaw seemed to be in trouble. I didn’t move for a while, just to savor the sensation of not hurting. Eventually the novelty of this wore off, and I decided it was time for further investigation. I opened my eyes.

It was dark, but I could tell I was in some sort of bed. I wanted my mysterious glowing orb, and I tentatively felt for it. To my relief, my connection with my right pinky finger was at full strength. I called forth the orb, and it floated aloft with a soft glow. This was quite in contrast with how I had last seen it, and I was further relieved.

Moments after the mysterious glowing orb emerged, the room’s own lighting came up. I blinked in the brightness. I was lying in a bed in the Complex infirmary, a long, peach-colored room with two rows of beds going down the opposite walls. At either end of the room there were doorways, and the doorway I was closer to had a green light over it that started to flash as I sat up.

Two seconds later, the door burst open and the beloved quartet came barreling through with Heather in the lead. She pounced on me and gave me a big kiss. Pulling back, she beamed at me. “Hi honey,” she said.

“Hi,” I said. Then I said, “What happened?”

Matilda shouldered Heather aside and placed her hands on me. She concentrated for a few seconds, then said, “He’s healed completely. Thank god.”

“The League medics know their business,” said Carver. I turned to see him approaching the bed. He held out his hand and I shook it. “Good to see you in one piece,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “What happened?”

Just then, I noticed a man standing behind Carver. He looked different without his wimple, but I had no trouble recognizing him.

“Roger Binks,” I said, smiling. “Nice to see you. So I take it my plan worked?”

Roger smiled back. “If your plan was to lick my card so that I could gate in and save the day, then yes, it did.”

“I knew I licked something, but I couldn’t be certain it was your business card before I blacked out. Glad you could make it.” We shook hands.

“I also am glad,” said Barbara. We all turned to the neighboring bed to see her sitting there sedately.

“You’re alive,” said Heather happily.

“Evidently,” Barbara replied.

“This a pet of yours?” Carver asked me.

As one, the beloved quartet rolled their eyes at Carver. “Barbara isn’t a pet,” snapped Gertrude.

“She’s an enlightened child of the universe,” said Sara.

“Quite so,” said Barbara. Then she turned to face me directly. “Andrew,” she began, “do you remember when I told you that I would not always be so cryptic?”

“No,” I said.

Barbara blinked. “Oh.” Shrugging, she continued. “Well, a lot has happened since then. In any case, I did make that promise and the time has come. I am going to tell you the truth, and I am not going to leave anything out. It’s the least you deserve.”

Click here for episode 41

The Sky Was Full of Fish 39

I didn’t have the strength to turn my head and look to see who, if anyone, was emerging from the elevator. As it turned out, I didn’t need to. Almost instantly, prehensile ropes coiled around my arms, legs, and torso. The ropes were made of an unidentifiable substance that looked unsettlingly like fish scales. They were far too strong for me to fight them. In no time, I was trussed up in a spread eagle like a human sacrifice, facing back the way I had come. With the pain in my abdomen, being forced to stretch out was excruciating.

By the elevator stood a figure, presumably male, his face hidden in shadows. As I watched, he turned to face my companions at the doorway in the far wall. Carver stepped into the room with his arm cocked back as if he were going to throw a softball. His hand glowed electric blue, and he hurled a ball of mystical energy straight at the newcomer’s head.

The stranger barely moved. He simply flicked his hand at Carver as though he were shooing a fly. The blue ball disappeared, and in the same instant, Carver was encased in a cube of fish.

I looked to the beloved quartet, and my heart sank. There stood Gail, gawping with panicked uncertainty. Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude were getting in each others’ way.

The stranger laughed, a cold and cruel sound. “Worthless bitch,” he sneered. The voice was one I recognized. It was the same voice that had told me I wouldn’t remember the God of Toast. My blood ran cold to hear it again.

His taunting words seemed to help the beloved quartet to collect themselves, for a moment later, Heather stepped forward ferociously with her hands extended in front of her. “Eat this!” she shouted, and sent gouts of flame towards the stranger.

Unfortunately, the stranger simply waved his hand again, and the beloved quartet were treated to their own cube of fish.

All the while, I frantically attempted to contact the tools in my right pinky finger, but something was preventing me from connecting.

Almost lazily, the figure turned to face me, his face still hidden.

“Who are you?” I asked with what little authority I could muster. The stranger stepped into the light. “Harold?” I cried. For it was he. I realize I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised, but I was anyway.

Harold stepped closer. “It’s true that I am known in some circles as Harold,” he said. “But I prefer to think of myself in terms of my achievements.” He stopped directly in front of me, a few feet away. “You might call me the fish bringer. Or the guy who wrote, ‘Fuck you’ in the bathroom. But to call me by my true title, you would address me as the Anti-Toast.”

So saying, he hauled off and kicked me square in the crotch with significant force. Oh, it hurt. It added a new and special icing to the cake of agony that already nestled in my entrails. I screamed.

Once my scream had faded to a choking sob, Harold continued. “And you, oh Champion of Toast, have failed. Soon you will be dead, and the God of Toast will die soon after, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.” His calm and matter-of-fact tone made his words all the more horrible to hear.

He stepped nearer, putting his face close to mine. I couldn’t look at his eyes; they were too terrible. “I can feel you reaching out with your mind to your precious pinky finger,” he said tauntingly. “Sadly, your powers will not serve you here in my secret sanctum. But it does tie in to the matter of your death.

“You see, I’ve always hated you and your bullshit finger. What kind of super power is that, anyway? So I’ve decided,” he said, seizing my right arm and wrenching it free from the fish rope that held it, “that you shall die by your own precious digital repository.”

I looked at Harold with a blank expression. “What I mean,” he explained, “is that I’m going to smother you to death by shoving your right hand down your miserable throat.”

So saying, he forced my hand to my lips. I resisted as best I could, but he was far stronger than I. It hurt a lot when my wrist snapped. It hurt even worse when my jaw broke. Soon enough, my hand was in past my teeth, and I could feel things start to roll out of my pinky finger and into my mouth. Some, like the nanobots, went down my throat. The bulkier items were dislodged by our struggle and spilled out onto the floor.

Harold pressed on with terrible force. For my part, I was starting to lose hope completely. But suddenly, inspiration struck. I thought of one thing that might save me. Unfortunately, it required that I be able to contact my right pinky finger and its contents. I had to get past Harold’s blocks. I stopped struggling and concentrated with all my might. This was not easy, considering the fact that I had several broken bones and a stomach complaint, further compounded by the fact that I was being strangled by a lunatic.

Before too long, my brain felt like it was bleeding, and I was pretty sure my nose was, too. Harold noticed what I was doing and began taunting me. “Try all you want, Millik,” he said with a burst of derisive laughter. “You’ll never get–”

But at that moment, I was through! Harold knew it, too. I wish I had been in a position to enjoy the look of shock and surprise on his face.

The contact with my right pinky finger was tenuous at best, but it was contact nonetheless. I frantically sifted for the item I needed as Harold redoubled his efforts to suffocate me.

My vision was going dim and flashbulbs were popping in my eyes. The last thing I remember before I blacked out was something smooth and flat sliding out of my right pinky finger and across the back of my tongue. Then there was nothing.

Click here for episode 40

The Sky Was Full of Fish 38

The six of us exchanged glances. Then I said, “Well, I guess I’d better go turn it off.”

“I don’t know,” said Heather, chewing her lip with uncertainty. “This screams ‘Trap’ to me.”

“Agreed,” said Sara.

My stomach was in a special agony just from looking at the machine across the room. “Do you see any other choice?” I asked through gritted teeth. “I’ve got to turn it off, and I have to do it alone.”

“What?” cried Matilda. “You can hardly stand up. At least let one of us go with you.”

I shook my head. “No,” I said firmly. “This is my task, and I must complete it alone.”

“He’s right,” said Carver. We looked at him questioningly. “I can feel it,” Carver explained. “It’s a mystical thing.”

Matilda threw up her hands. “Fine,” she said, her tone informing us that she found the situation far from fine. “At least let me try to help your stomach again.” With that, she put her hands on me. The pain lessened momentarily, but came back just as strong the moment she moved away. There was a tear in her eye as she looked at me. “Just be careful in there,” she said. “I have an awful feeling.”

“So do I,” said Sara. She took my hand gently in her own and gave it a squeeze. Then Heather stepped around Sara and threw her arms around me. “We love you,” she said in my ear.

“I love you,” I replied.

Heather stepped away, and Gertrude gave me a curt nod. “Be careful,” she said. I nodded.

I turned to Carver. We shook hands. My stomach pain had increased such that I was having trouble remaining upright, but I was determined to do so.

“We’ll be right here at the door,” said Carver. “If things start going wrong, we’ll be available to assist you. But we won’t unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Grobble yocker,” Carver replied.

Finally, I turned to the doorway. I popped my right pinky finger loose and stuck it in my pocket. Then, without further hesitation, I stepped into the room.

Refreshingly, nothing happened. I took another step and another; still nothing. Just as I was beginning to think it was going to be okay, a wave of pain broke upon my abdomen. I doubled over as a scream was wrenched from me.

I heard a mild disturbance in the doorway behind me, and surmised that Carver was holding back Matilda. “I’m alright,” I called to them. “Stay put.” Under my breath, I said, “Just another hurdle, that’s all.”

Before too long, I could walk again, and when the additional flare-ups came, I was prepared and therefore able to handle them better.

At some point I decided I wanted my mysterious glowing orb, so I called it forth. It rolled out of my pinky like a bowling ball and landed with a sickening clank at my feet. It was a dull leaden grey. “That’s nice,” I said, and stepped around it.

I continued on, and paid dearly for every step. I lost my sense of time. At some point, I emerged from my reverie of misery and noticed that I had drawn even with the elevator to my left. “Half way,” I said, and was cheered by this.

A few steps later, when the elevator had passed beyond my peripheral vision, I was hit with a blast of pain so intense that I simply had no choice but to scream again. I went down to my hands and knees and held the floor away from my face. It began to occur to me that I might die trying to cross this room.

Just then, the elevator chimed, and I heard the doors sliding open.

Click here for episode 39

The Sky Was Full of Fish 37

Three hours later, the elevator doors opened on floor 39. Carver, Matilda, Heather, Sara, Gertrude, and I stepped out. I won’t bore you with the details of how we ended up finding the right elevator, because it’s really not interesting. Well, there was one interesting point, when we slid down the laundry chute in the women’s locker room for four levels and landed in a vast pile of towels in the Complex’s secret laundry room. But other than that, it was an oppressive and fiendishly difficult puzzle that needs no recounting.

Floor 39 consisted of one large square room, perhaps 70 feet on a side. the elevator was in the center of one of the grimy, painted cinder block walls. The room was empty, save for a few low stacks of decrepit cardboard boxes here and there. The floor was dirty concrete, and very slightly damp. A faint musty smell permeated the air. The ceiling was low, with steel girders and hanging mercury vapor light fixtures that made me think of a parking garage.

Carver walked in a few steps and made a rotating survey of the room, stopping to face us. “I’ll be damned,” he said. “It actually does exist.”

I was suddenly bent double by a twinge in my stomach. The pain had grown steadily worse over the past three hours, and Matilda could do nothing to help. Gertrude moved beside me and gently but firmly helped me to remain upright. I leaned on her and panted until the twinge passed and I could once more stand on my own.

“Alright,” said Gertrude. “We’ve made it to floor 39. Where does your gadget say the fish generator is?”

I consulted the device, and pointed to the opposite wall. “That way,” I said.

Carver squinted in the direction I’d indicated. “I don’t see anything over there,” he said.

“We’ll have to investigate,” said Sara. So saying, she walked carefully towards the far wall. The rest of us followed. When we reached the wall, Carver turned to me.

“Well?” he said, not unkindly.

“It’s still about 35 feet ahead,” I said, surveying the surface of the wall. “There has to be a secret door or something.” I started moving my hands around on the wall, searching for a switch.

“Or it could be there’s another elevator that goes down to another room on this level,” Carver suggested.

“Let’s not contemplate that angle unless we have to,” I said, moving to another section of wall. Then, I felt Gertrude’s hand on my shoulder.

“Stand back,” she said.

When Gertrude tells me to stand back, I listen. I moved away from the wall, grabbing Carver by the arm and taking him with me.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Watch this,” I said, gesturing with my head to Gertrude. Watching Gertrude in action is similar to watching a combination wildcat and rhinoceros. With obvious zeal, she hurled herself against the wall and began tearing it apart.

Carver was taken aback. “She really shouldn’t be doing that,” he said to me.

“Are you going to stop her?”

Carver watched as Gertrude, with one hand, plucked a cinder block from the wall and tossed it 25 feet to shatter on the floor nearby. “No, I’m not,” he said. We took a few more steps back.

It was over quickly. When the dust had cleared, Gertrude stood before a generously sized doorway in the wall. The floor was littered with debris, and Gertrude herself was filthy with grit and perspiration, but she was obviously quite pleased. Carver and I approached when it seemed safe.

“Feel better?” I said.

Gertrude smiled one of her rare and wonderful smiles. “That felt so good,” she said.

As a group, the six of us moved to peer through the doorway that Gertrude had made. Through it, we could see another square room similar to the one we were in, though about half the size. In the side wall on our left, there was indeed another elevator. At the far wall, directly opposite our makeshift doorway, there was a large sheet metal cabinet. It was about the size and shape of a vending machine, and there was a huge switch on the front that looked for all the world like a gigantic light switch. Above and below the switch were large labels that read, “Fish On” and “Fish Off.” The switch was in the “on” position.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” said Gertrude.

Click here for episode 38

The Sky Was Full of Fish 36

I was treated to blank stares for a few moments. Then Heather said, “It’s a what?”

“It’s an atmospheric fish generation detector,” I repeated. “It pinpoints the nearest location of any device or machine that is currently causing fish to appear in the sky.”

“Good idea,” said Carver. “How does it work?”

I stood up. “You hit the ‘send’ button, and the location appears on the screen.” I flipped open the one-time cell phone and pressed the “send” button with my thumb. “Like so.” Everyone gathered around and peered at the device. After a brief time, Gertrude said, “I don’t see anything but some staticky dots and slashes.”

“Yes, well, I didn’t have time to create a user-friendly interface.” I explained. “But I can read it.” So saying, I examined the screen. Then I groaned.

“What is it?” asked Carver.

“The machine that’s generating the fish is on floor 39,” I said. It was Carver’s turn to groan.

Floor 39 is something of a legend at the Complex. Many claim that it’s simply a myth and doesn’t exist, but just as many others claim vehemently that it is real, and that they have seen it. None of these witnesses have ever been able to find their way back to floor 39 to prove its existence, however. Furthermore, no two witnesses have given the same description of the floor’s appearance.

The janitor is the only person believed to know for sure whether floor 39 is real. Unfortunately, the janitor doesn’t talk about it, and it is quite impossible to pin him down and question him on the matter. Or on any matter. Such are the qualities required of the Janitor of the Complex of the League of Heroes. And so the legend of floor 39 persists.

“We may as well pack it in,” said Carver. He was one of the unbelievers.

“No way,” I said firmly. “There’s too much at stake.” Personally, I was a floor 39 agnostic.

“How are you going to find something that doesn’t exist?” Carver demanded.

“If the detector says it’s there, floor 39 must exist,” I said. Carver shook his head but said nothing. “Let’s look at this sensibly,” I continued. “Our first asset is you. You know the most about the ways of the Complex. Your navigational capabilities are the talk of the department.”

Carver utterly failed to look modest. “True,” he said.

“And I’m no slouch, either,” I continued. “There have even been times that I’ve given you the runaround. Remember that time when you had me on the Branson project?”

“I remember,” said Carver, a little testily.

“And Sara, here, knows what I know. With your permission, she can know what you know as well. With her mind, she can provide an extremely valuable perspective.” Sara blushed.

Carver shook his head. “I still don’t see how that’s going to help us find something that doesn’t exist.” I was about to raise another protest, but he held his hand up. “Nevertheless, I’m prepared to make the attempt.” I smiled. Carver clapped me on the shoulder. “Lead on, Andrew. We’re behind you.”

Click here for episode 37

The Sky Was Full of Fish 35

I reached the Complex without incident. Almost instantly upon entering, my stomach started hurting. I took it as a sign that I was on the right track. Making my way to my desk, I saw that not many people were still there. Considering how late it was, this was not surprising. I did bump into Harold on the way through the cubes. He had a jacket draped over one arm and a briefcase in his other hand. He seemed disconcerted to see me, but composed himself quickly and greeted me casually.

“Hey Andrew,” he said. “Putting in a little OT?”

“Well, you know how it goes,” I said.

“I hear you. So how’s the fish thing going?”

“It’s going,” I said noncommittally. “Progress is being made.”

Harold chuckled. “Sounds like something you’d say to Carver.” He leaned closer to me. “The department’s getting a little antsy, actually,” he said softly. “Nobody knows what’s going on with you and the fish, but there’s some ugly talk.”

“Oh,” I said.

Harold pulled back again and narrowed his eyes a little. Then he relaxed and chuckled again. “Okay, play it your way. You always did hold them close to the vest. See you later.”

“Alright, have a good one,” I said. With that, we parted.

When I got to my desk, I sat down and opened the file drawer, which was filled with tools, parts, and equipment of staggering variety. I pulled out the devices and components that I felt I would need and got to work.

When I am building a gadget, I enter into an alternative consciousness. It may sound corny, but it really is like that. I lose all track of time. My nanobots and I become one, and we thwart physics and causality seemingly at will. Of course, it’s not always easy. In the case of highly specialized devices like the one I was making now, the work can be quite complicated and draining.

My stomach pain made the already difficult task harder. By the time I had finished, I wasn’t able to sit up straight, so intense was the pain. But that did not diminish the sense of accomplishment and pride I always felt upon completing one of my projects.

As I came back to myself, I noticed Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude sitting in one of my guest chairs, waiting for me. This made me seriously displeased.

“You promised,” I said icily.

“Yes we did,” said Matilda. “But Sara had a bad feeling, which was difficult to disregard.”

“So we talked about it,” continued Sara, “and we decided that promise or no promise, we couldn’t sit by and let you walk into unknown peril with the fate of the God of Toast in the balance. So here we are.”

“And about the promise,” added Heather, “to make it up to you, when this is all over, we promise to do penance for our transgression.” She smiled a half smile. “That’s a promise we’ll keep.”

I can never stay angry at the beloved quartet for long. And they did have a point. I’d been on enough missions to know when it smelled like showdown, and it did now. “Alright,” I said, wincing at another twinge in my stomach. “Truth is, I’m glad you’re here. I’m in bad shape.”

“You are in pain,” said Matilda, concerned. “Let me.” She placed her hands on me. After a few seconds, I could move freely again, but the pain was far from gone.

Just then, there was a tap on my cubical wall. We turned to see Carver standing in the entrance.

“I thought you had a dinner engagement,” I said.

“Over and done with,” Carver replied. “Do you know what time it is?”

I didn’t. I checked the clock on my desk, which told me it was after midnight.

“I’m paged whenever there’s unexpected activity in the office,” Carver continued. “I surmised that it would be you, so I thought I’d come by and see if you needed any help.” He surveyed my desk, which was littered with tools and components. “Been doing what you do, I see.”

“Yes,” I said, holding up the device I had made. It was the size and shape of a flip-open cell phone. This was because I had housed the device in a cell phone shell. “This is going to answer the question once and for all.”

“What is it?” asked Heather.

“It’s an atmospheric fish generation detector,” I said, with no small pride.

Click here for episode 36