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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

He had already been yelled at four times this shift. Screamed at two more.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 49


Blinkers all over the place.  He’s got a raging headache and the red is playing tricks on him.  He hangs up with Repairman Ingold and covers his eyes with his long fingers.  Christ, he sighs and then looks up again at his failures.  1052, 75, 1929, 3266, 2500, 922, on and on and on.  He has 140 men in the field putting out fires in every quadrant of the grid.  Messages come in from Central every hour of unusual weather, red lights at the poles, tripped switches, or just plain bitchy citizens.  Twelve years with Doll Industries Weather Division and he has never seen such a string of bad luck.  The city is at the mercy of the fragile ecosystem.  System instability drives him to 80-hour weeks, and also to drink, and to headaches, fatigue, and anger.  More than the effect on his body, bad weather also hits 32’s economy, favored by businesses, shoppers, and tourists alike for being the only city in the union with a reliable climate.  And Gomzalez can feel the pressure.

He had already been yelled at four times this shift.  Screamed at two more (all by Mr. Quam, the highest ranking man on duty.)

I feel like I’m playing that old game whack a’ mole, he jokes to the controller next to him on the board, Cairo.

That’s the truth, Cairo laments as he swigs another big sip of coffee from his quart-sized mug.  Cairo’s got 12 lights of his own to deal with; he’s waiting on a field report.  Listen to this, Gom: Failed Regulator, Failed Timing Hitch, Failed Rotator Sensor – three problems on three different units since 10 o’clock.  Never the same thing twice.  We’ve got gremlins.  Cairo punches a button his board.  What was Ingold’s fail?

Temperature Processor.

Cairo shakes his head.

Gomzalez rises from his seat.  I have to take some pills.  My head’s killing me.  Watch my board, will ya?

The break room seems a long way off.  Every step plays with Gomzalez’s head, and his stomach; the nausea is seeping in like rain.

On the icebox, a magnet holds the latest flash edition.  The headline reads in bold font: 6 MORE.  Sub-headlines beneath read: ‘11 From AM Not Connected, Copycat’ and ‘Traffic Snarls, Exodus of Families Continues.’  Gomzalez searches for news about the weather.  He finds a buried article on page 23.  It contains speculation by some no-nothing writer, accompanied by rebuffing quotes from Doll senior leadership.  The only mention of the system’s inventor, Douglaz Doll, is in passing, noting the start year of the pilot test (As if we didn’t all know that already, sniffs Gomzalez.)

In his youth, the weather system’s science and promised improvements to the quality of life was all the flash editions could talk about.  Gomzalez is now in his early 50s, an engineer and tinkerer all his life – beginning on the repair squads and then transferring to dispatch to troubleshoot field questions – and it is intriguing to him to see the flash editions turn on their most favorite son, Douglaz Doll.  Gomzalez knows that talking about the weather system is as dull as talking about the weather itself.  Not really worth page one anymore, he supposes, even with the recent troubles.  But page 23!  Priorities have slipped, or Cocanaugher and his handlers are trying to keep the things hush-hush.  Or, more likely, the story of the missing children, now numbering 81 again with the day’s count, is more newsworthy.

Gomzalez is a confirmed bachelor.  Not even a girlfriend, not for a decade.  He is interested in the female of the species, in general, but he’s become stone in his ways, in the way he sets his table for dinner, in his choice of recurring meals (beans, rice, flautes, pizza, avocado salads) or his choice of entertainment (action movies, pornography, motorcycle maintenance.)  A woman would disrupt all that.  And, if he had a woman in his life, he’d surely catch holy hell for working so many hours since the system went haywire.  And children, forget about children.  They’d be strangers.

Distracted by his thoughts and the flash edition, he has forgotten to take his pills.  He yanks a paper cup from the water cooler, fills it to the brim, dips in his pocket and extracts three white tablets.  He pops them on his tongue, drinks, closes his eyes, feels dizzy, waits for some sort of medicated rush, then returns to his post, feeling no better than when he’d left it.

Any action?

Nope, replies Cairo with a shake of the head.

Gomzalez drops the earphones over his head and leans back.  Do you ever wonder what Doll thinks of all this?

Central you mean?

No.  Douglaz Doll.

Cairo shrugs.  What’s he supposed to think?

That his system’s turned into a piece of shit.  Look, I’ve got…what, light snow in 9-7 and, and…55 degrees and mild in 44-14 and…Jesus, probably a frickin’ rainbow somewhere.

You can’t have a rainbow at night.

Anything is possible.  It’s nearly the end of the century.  Pause.  So, Cairo, my friend…if you had to guess: what is Douglaz Doll thinking?

Probably that we’ll fix it.  If I had that beautiful building all to myself, I wouldn’t want to be bothered either.  I hear it has a swimming pool.  Gold lobby.  Nine bedrooms.  Sunrise platform.  Furnishings where I couldn’t afford a footstool.


No.  Another light turns red on Cairo’s board.  Shit.  He scans the lists.  I’ve got no crew to send.  It’s…3706, in 8-0.  Cairo leans back and points his hands at the board – fingers aligned and outstretched like a gun.  Bang.  Offline.

Let me see who I got… Maybe I can loan you somebody.

Gomzalez clicks through his display for the numbers of available repair glides.  Ingold was my last, he sighs.  Sorry, I just gave him an assignment.  I feel like I’m going to puke.  My head’s killing me.  I’ve got crew that hasn’t slept in days because I’m running them all over the city.

So…you can’t help me.

We’re both going to get fired.

The men look at each other, dead-faced.

Gomzalez takes a breath and rolls his eyes.  I think you should call Quam.

I’m not calling him again.


Gomzalez shrugs.  You wanted my advice.

Gomzalez goes back to staring at his own hopeless board.

Long pause.

Cairo taps his pencil.

Will you call him for me?