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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

It... It... Quam’s voice is nearly desperate pleading. It’s has got to be sabotage.

City of Human Remains – Chapter 50


Quam is surrounded.  Six men, four women – every one of them the rank of Dispatch Chief.  Most wear their gear – orange hats, white vests, black trousers made of anti-shock material, the safety requirements for access to Central Weather Command.  Quam, however, breaks these rules.  He is dressed in a tan slacks and golf shirt, no necktie, with a long-tailed Derby coat.  He’s earned his right to stand out.

In front of Quam is a bank of Eye Dials labeled with the numbers of LWPs – Local Weather Precincts.  All the Dials are lit with incoming calls, but he answers none of them.  He gestures lightly to a 20-year-old East Indian woman, fresh-faced and unsure of her responsibilities, that she should take the chair.  She sits down, sacrificing herself on the grenade of complaints and inquiries from controller stations in every sector across City 32.

Today I retire, declares Quam softly.   A few catch his promise.  They laugh at him.  They don’t believe him, even when he turns from their questions and begins to leave the command room.  They continue to press for answers.  But he keeps walking out the door and into the corridor.

Once outside, he begins to breath.  Then a cabal of four chiefs tries to waylay him.  I’m old, he sloughs off.  I’ve been on the job 26 years, seven of them with Doll Weather.  I’ve earned the right to ignore you.  He leaves his people standing dumb, half-believing he won’t come back from the men’s washroom where he pisses for the first time in three hours.  It’s a long urination – the sum of too many cups of coffee and a long-delayed heed of the body.

As he zips his tan trousers, he notices a man beside him with a silly grin on his face.  Quam tries not to look at him.  He goes to the sink and cleans his hands like a surgeon.  I’ve had every controller on the line call me at least twice, engineers a dozen times, he says in the echo of the washroom.  I’ve yelled a lot.  But it’s gotten me nowhere.

The man peels himself from the tiled wall.  He’s a tall, all-American, apple-pie sort in a gray suit and tie with bold print.  He pushes in stall doors to confirm it’s only the two of them in the washroom.  You know what’s wrong…don’t you…Mr. Quam?

Quam wets his hands again and pats his hair down as flat as it will go to his round head.

No, he answers solemnly, I don’t.  Every day is something else.  Every day is…is a 100 new failures.  I do like you ask, I look for a pattern, I look to anything that will tell me the cause, and every day I get no peace from it.  It’s not life and death, you know?  There are no tornados or hurricanes or floods.  It’s just a damn inconvenience, isn’t it?  It’s just the weather, not like those kids, but—

Someone enters the washroom that Quam recognizes – a gopher for middle managers.

Walk with me, suggests the man in gray suit.

Quam is led down to quieter parts of Central Command – the empty snack room on the B floor, where 1/3 of the vending machines are broken, and the remainder need stocked.  The man gently presses Quam against a dispenser with the palm of his hand then releases, as if he’s setting a broom that may not stay where it has been placed.

It… It… Quam’s voice is nearly desperate pleading.  It’s has got to be sabotage.

Have you told anyone else?

No, Quam whispers back.  No, but they all suspect it.  They have for a week now.  By someone who knows the system.  Engineer…maybe…but…but could be anyone.  And, it’s never ever enough to break the system completely.  Only enough to make a point.

Can you get me any evidence?

Quam thinks.  He cups his chin with a hand.  Maybe, maybe, maybe…  I.  I have not slept for days.  Quam stutters, his left eye twitches – signs of high building fatigue.  I’m tired.  I can’t even guess at—

The man snaps his fingers in front of Quam’s face and redirects the system director’s attention back to the man’s eyes.  I repeat: Can you get me any evidence?

I don’t even know where to start.  Pause.  I have my logs.

The man waves.  No good.  We know there’s trouble.  If you haven’t found anything in the maintenance logs by now, you never will.  But we have to know if this is internal sabotage.

Quam looks up.  And what would the mayor do about it if I found something?  There are daggers in his inflection.  This stops the gray-suited man cold.  He takes a step back from Quam, turns away then turns back.  I don’t even like to be seen talking to you, whispers Quam.  Everyone knows who you work for, Mr. Silvers.

It’s my job to know what’s going on, explains the man.  I’m paid to be here.  Paid more than you.

Don’t patronize me.

The man comes very close to Quam’s face.  I could, you know…tell them that it’s YOU causing trouble.

Me?  I haven’t left my work since all this started.

Stability of the system is your charge, is it not?

I’m not the top man.

You’re not?  Silvers grins.

You may find it hard to believe, but I am not.  I report to Sidney Mizuro, so you can take it up with him.

I’d rather not.  Mizuro’s a little hard to reach for a scapegoat.  You might be just the right height for what I’m thinking.

Quam straightens his back.  If I’m responsible, then you have my resignation.  Bring me up on charges and it won’t stop your foul weather.  No systems director could keep the network running any better than I have.  You…rain, snow, hot, cold, up, down – 4,000 poles in this city, you… You.  You run it then, see what… YOU RUN IT!  THEN YOU SEE!

The man surrenders.  Whoa, whoa, Mr. Quam.  Don’t get out of sorts.

What, you accuse— Fuck you.  Quam stamps his foot.  His voice carries and he knows it.  Fuck you.  Fuck you.  I am not your spy, Mr. Silvers.  Don’t put this disaster on me.

Calm down.

Fuck you.

Just calm down.

Quam paces the break room, nervously manipulating his dry and chapped hands, rubbing one on top of the other, eyes shut tightly.  He settles his body and tries to concentrate.  Someone is playing with us, he says at last.  The outages, the failures…someone is playing a joke.  They know that we’re being pulled like octopuses to fix so much.  It’s an enormous waste of resources.

And while you’re running around the city, putting out fires, what do you think is happening?

Quam stops.  He looks at the man, dead on.  I don’t know, Mr. Silvers.  Pause.  Yes, Quam points, you go and tell your mayor that.