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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

You’re not with the Media are you? ‘Cos if you were, I’d have to kill you.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 48


Ugg Ingold holsters his clippers and switches on the miner’s light centered on his yellow helmet.  The beam startles the boy hiding in the corner of the weather platform.  The boy is up and crawling on hand-and-knees, fast, towards the fence hole before Ugg can even get a word to the boy’s ears.

Hold up, hold up, there, little guy.  The boy is already to the fence before he turns to check distance.  Ugg bobs on his short legs with his arms out.  Whoa, whoa, don’t be scared.  The boy slows and looks Ugg up and down.  Ugg can read the wheels: Am I really seeing this?  Ugg is accustomed to the reaction, particularly at night, in the dark.  He views himself through the escaping boy’s eyes.  Ugg is a dwarf, after all, with a light on the top of his head, a tool belt around his waist.   You don’t hafta go, Ugg says.

The boy stops crawling.

Ugg holds on the platform.  I won’t tell anyone you are here.  It’s private property, but I’m not so strict about it as the company.

The boy’s eyes scan the structure behind Ugg.  His face registers a collision of thoughts, up and to the sky, following the Doll weather pole 100 meters into the air.  Ugg appreciates the perspective.  He, too, turns and looks, though, to him, a weather poll is nothing particularly new, or even very special.  He thinks of himself as a seasoned professional, but he notes in the boy’s expression something Ugg remembers from years back, when the first weather pole was constructed in his neighborhood, the tallest thing for a square kilometer.

Haven’t you ever seen one of these up close?  Ugg gestures up and down.

What is it?

The boy’s voice is so soft Ugg can barely hear it.

Don’t you know?


It’s a Weather Pole.

The Doll System?

Right-o.  The Doll Weather System and…AND… Ugg goes backwards and spreads his body wide, grandly presenting the mechanism, until Ugg resembles a luminous white ‘X’ in his Doll worker’s white vest and uniform.  And, he repeats with intensity, this particular Weather Pole – at a height of 328 feet, carrying over eight million charges of power, 1 of 4000 such poles standing watch over City 32 – happens to be a Class A fog and mist generator, also containing inhibitors for snow and rain, maintained at an annual cost far exceeding what you or I would make in a lifetime.  AND! he concludes (louder this time,) it’s actually…broken!

Broken?  The boy deflates.

Yeah.  You’re not with the Media are you? ‘Cos if you were, I’d have to kill you.

The boy cocks his chin, knowing the joke, but prepared to fully give over to the possibility.

Ugg shuffles a few steps.  He reaches his knotted hand to his helmet and adjusts the beam of the lamp at the boy’s face.  The boy squints.  Heck of a shiner you got there, kiddo.

I got beat up.

Your Dad do that to you?

Pause.  Yeah.

I know where you comin’ from, kid.  My pap never liked me neither.  Too short for him, I suppose.  Ugg smiles.  Say, it’s against the rules, but you’re welcome to stick around, watch me try to get this baby back online.  Interested?

The boy hesitates, the nods once.

What’s your name?

Hec— Jose.

Hec Jose?

Just Jose.

All right.  I’m Ugg.

Ugg takes the pair of pliers from his belt and spins them by the handle – a trick that even in lowlight shows nimbleness.  The worker hostlers the pliers like a gunslinger and grins.  First, he begins, I need to get into that box behind you.

The boy turns his shoulder to the junction box.  Slowly, he stands and moves to the opposite corner of the work shack.  He stays close to the hole in the fence – just in case.

The dwarf moves forward, pops the latch, and shines his light at the box’s inner guts.  He huffs.  These things have been failin’ all over the city.  I’ve been working 20-hour shifts for 2 weeks now.  I get slaphappy when I don’t get much sleep.  Pardon me if a crack a few bad jokes.

Sparks pop from the box.

Or, Ugg says wryly, if I electrocute myself.

Ugg slams closed the tin door.

Time for the big guns, he announces with grand wave of the fingers.  Walking 10 meters away to the far end of the platform, he suddenly stops when he realizes the boy isn’t following him.

It’s all right, Jose.  You can watch.  None of this is Top Secret or anything.  You can learn all this in a correspondence course.  Doll keeps the best stuff to himself.  Maintenance is for losers like us.

It isn’t more than another 12 paces and he feels the kid on his boot-heels.

Ugg opens the gate in the fence.  Just outside of the platform’s perimeter a Q-glide is parked.  On the side panel of the driver’s door is an industrial sticker: DOLL INDUSTRIES, with the logo of a doll’s face.  Under that, a slogan: BETTER WEATHER.  TODAY.  Ugg pops the trunk of the glide and pulls out a heavy crate.  He struggles with it.  The boy goes to help, but Ugg shakes his head.  No help needed, kid, I do this everyday.

The boy follows Ugg back inside the fence and onto the platform.  At the base of the weather pole, Ugg sets down the crate.  He unfastens the 10 clasps and lifts the cover.  Reaching in, he plugs in wires and flips a switch.  Lights come on inside the crate and something starts to move from within.

You might want to stand back, Ugg suggests.

A shape grows from inside the crate, something with rectangle arms and connected to a 10-centimeter diameter white tube.

Ugg points.  This little guy will find the problem.

The black metal robot begins to crawl up the side of the weather pole, still connected to the crate by the white tubing, which expands like an endless accordion as it makes the ascent.  To Ugg, the helper looks more like a cubist’s version of a spider than a robot, but he’s used to the design.  Within a moment, the robot has disappeared up the weather pole and into the darkness overhead.  It is only visible when its parts catch the incremental flickers of red and green lights that pulse up the length of the pole.

I spend most of my time waiting on that damn robot to come back down, complains Ugg with a laugh.  But I can’t do a thing until I have the data.  I rarely can fix the thing myself.  Ugg turns to the boy.  Here, let me have a look at your eye.  The boy steps back.  Don’t worry.  I won’t hurt you.

Seemingly embarrassed, the boy agrees.  He holds his head while Ugg examines the bruises.  Ugg is nearly a foot shorter than the boy, who has to lean down.  Ugg adjusts his helmet so the light doesn’t blind.  Nasty, he assesses.  Does it sting?

Yeah, the boy answers softly.

I wish I had an icepack for you.  Ugg steps back.  The bastard.  1 day, you’ll hit him back.  Is he a big guy, your pap?

I guess.

Like I say – 1 day you’ll sock him good.

The boy’s eyes go up.

The robot is coming back down the pole.

Ugg moves his beam to the descent.

With a whirring of gears, the white tube retracts and the robot again comes to a rest inside its wooden crate.  Ugg pushes a button on the robot’s top.  A ticker prints from a slot on the robot’s side.  When the printing finishes, Ugg tears the strip from the slot and reads the output.

The boy moves closer.  What’s it say?

Failed Temperature Processor.  Always something different.  I wish I could find a pattern.  This kind of stuff is driving Central crazy.  Ugg balls up the printout with both hands and tosses it, basketball-style, over the fencing.  Good news is, Jose, is that I know how to fix it.

He gets to work.  Tools fly out of his Q-glide, his belt, his trunk, the robot crate and other smaller crates, and he doesn’t speak for 30 minutes.  The boy watches every turn of screw, every reconnect of electrics, every reprogramming of code, every motion or perplexed look the dwarf gives and, for Ugg, it is weird and wonderful to have an audience after years of being by himself.

Ugg steps back from the dim platform and gestures grandly for the kid’s benefit.

Is it fixed?


Incrementally, the lights along the pole turn from red to green.

See?  All better.

Ugg returns to the Q-glide.  He punches numbers into the keypad on the dash and reads the square display.

What are you doing now? the boy asks.

Telling Central that this one is fixed.

The display fades in and out with more text.



Bulletin, he snorts.  Three more poles are down.

The repairman lets loose with a long, frustrated groan.

It’s been like this for weeks, he says.  Failures all over the city.  Always something different.  Before all this, something fails and you go to the root of the problem.  Some stupid thing that’s busted.  You fix it and everything’s back online.  But not these days.  Different poles, different problems.  I’d say it’s vandalism, but it’s across the whole system.  No vandal could be everywhere at once.

A bunch of vandals could, remarks the boy.

True.  A little vicious army.  But cops have been watchin’ the polls, when they ain’t lookin’ for missing kids.  Wait a minute… Ugg scratches at his face, thoughtful.  He stares at the boy and squints an eye.  You ain’t a missing kid, are you?

The boy shakes his head.

Ugg holds, but then continues.  Okay.  Anyway, the cops haven’t seen squat.

Ugg unhooks the Eye Dial from beside the display and punches in a code.

I’m calling in.  What time is it, like 11?

I don’t have a watch.

You hungry?  Wanna get something to eat?  They’re gonna send me out, I know it.  You can tag along, if you’d like.  I’ll teach you everything I know about makin’ predictable weather.  The boy doesn’t answer.  Sorry, it’s okay, you don’t have to—

No, it’s—

I don’t want ya to get into trouble.  With your dad and all.

I’m not going home.  But I can’t pay for the food.

Oh!  That’s no problemo.  It’s on me, Jose.  It’s just good to have company.

Someone answers on the other end of the line.

Station 13, it buzzes.

Ingold.  Platform 369 repaired.  Just sent my notes.  I’m packin’ up.

Okay, crackles the speaker, head on over to Platform 1052.  We’ve got reports of snow.

Roger.  Ugg hangs up.  Told ya, Jose.  Another assignment.

I want to tell you something, says the boy.  My name’s not Jose.

Ugg thinks, nods.  I figured.


Okay.  Do you like scrambled eggs, kid?