Spooky Stuff
 

Long John Silver's Ghost Machine
By Gary L Morton

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Snow flurries swirled in the wind, dusting the neighborhood. Brian crossed the yard to the mailbox, spongy sod lightening his step. He frowned, the glare of the rising sun blinding him as he pulled out a letter. Shoving it in his pocket, he headed around back, thinking how unemployment could make the days ugly. He felt too depressed to read the letter. It would likely be another rejection of some sort. 

Slamming the back door, Brian thumped down to his workshop and brought his network up out of hibernation mode. While the machine booted he studied the assortment of parts on the worktable -- enough to put together a couple quick systems. He'd probably make a few hundred bucks out of the small sale. God he hated capitalism. Working for the government had been so much better. Unfortunately, there were disadvantages that came with being laid off from a civil service job. The first disadvantage being that private sector firms didn’t want a government software man. Bureaucrats had liked Brian's work, but private sector managers always frowned when he mentioned that his greatest achievement had been the development of new search software for The Department of Northern Purchasing. Search software in the sense that it searched for ways to spend money and lighten the burden of management decisions. Being all-inclusive, it found a target and then put together a report from templates that would justify the expenditure. It was also cost effective in that it eliminated the need for consultants and staff to produce the report.

One full year of unemployment; Janet and Becky, his daughters were grown up -- lucky thing. He still had Mary to worry about. She sure wouldn't like growing old in a seedy apartment house and that was likely where she'd end up now that he'd cashed in their retirement savings. He’d have to get something soon or it would be the mean streets instead of the suburban high life. His systems and software sales were really just an underground business that couldn't work in the long run. Brian had to work like a thief and most of the people he sold to were thieves. He couldn't post his address on the social networks he used or they'd simply break into his house and steal the goods. If the government caught up with him, he'd really be in trouble. His department had been next to a branch of the federal revenue agency, and he knew what happened to people caught running a home business without paying taxes. 

Desperation won out in the end and he paused to open the letter; if he had one chance in a million he didn't want to blow it. As a person, he was likable, and that was his chance. In interviews, he poured out the charm. Luckily, he had never developed the Attitude, that nasty disposition that belonged to many people in the civil service. Embossed silver flashed in his eyes and he snapped the page up, knowing it was one of the minister's letterheads. He read it quickly then bit his lip. The news was that the civil service union had gone on strike yesterday and the government was recalling him as a replacement worker -- a scab.

Damn -- scab, he thought. And he was just desperate enough to consider it. Still, it wouldn't work out. The union would get some kind of deal in the end and make sure the scabs were out. He decided to e-mail the union prez. If he informed first they might out someone who wouldn't picket and put his name on the return list. About 10 percent of the workers were fanatical union types, the rest would simply bet on a winner, many of them crossing lines to get a cheque. It meant he was sure to get back in when the union settled. 

A click of the mouse and his e-mail program came up. A new letter sat in his box so he checked it out. Two files were with it - a form and a movie file. He clicked the movie file and the minister's face appeared on the screen. Perfect silver hair, the wrinkles and hook in his chin ironed out . . . Brian grinned wryly, thinking that old John Silver was far too vain to do real appearances that might reveal him as less than perfect. “Good to see you again, Brian,” Mr. Silver said. “The bad news as you know is that OPSEFU is on strike, and the good news is that your status has now changed from that of replacement worker to full-time Systems Control Officer. You will report to work immediately at gate seven of the new building, which is really the old Department of Purchasing Warehouse at 78 Scarsdale Street. This assignment is top secret; you are not to inform the union. I repeat, you are not to inform the union.”

Suddenly the screen went blank and a form appeared with the message -- Click yes to accept or more info for further details. Brian clicked more info and another page popped up -- It has come to our attention that you are running a network and laptop sales business without reporting to the Canada Revenue Agency for tax purposes. Click yes to arrange an audit of your affairs or go back to accept your new position as Systems Control Officer. 

Brian clicked go back and a You-are-now-on-the-payroll message appeared, followed by a new movie clip of the minister. Standing on a platform, John Silver blasted into space toward a new government office building on an asteroid. Beethoven began to play and Brian hit the escape key only to find he couldn't escape. “Damn,” he muttered, “another one of those self-glorifying multimedia presentations you can't escape from.” Pushing his chair back, he tapped out a manual override script built into his operating system and the machine powered down and rebooted.

Crossing picket lines to get back to work wasn't something he planned on doing. He decided to check the union's web page to see if there was information on the location of today's pickets. As he hit the connect button a you-have-received-new-mail message appeared. He opened the box and found his letter from the government deleted and a new one from the union listed. It also had a movie file and when he clicked a fist graphic punched through the screen. Brian ducked back as the word STRIKE in 3D replaced the fist graphic.

BROTHER BRIAN, YOU ARE TO REPORT FOR PICKET DUTY. YOU WILL BE ON CITY WIDE ROTATION WITH THE MEAT INSPECTORS.

News Flash: Scabs have crossed the lines at Bay and College. All unemployed members are being called to the lines to prevent further breaches. 

This was definitely trouble. He couldn't travel on picket with the meat inspectors and return to work simultaneously. What to do? He stared into space, and then noticed the letter suddenly self-delete. “What's going on here?” he muttered. Switching to secure mail office, he hit the chat button. A blurry photo of a postal carrier trudging through snow appeared in the background. “I want some answers,” he typed. “Why are management and union people getting special access to read and delete stuff from my mailbox?”

“They aren't getting it from us,” was the reply. “We wouldn't give out the login.” 

“What if someone offered to pay for it?” 

“If they did we'd phone the police.” 

“You're certain no one can read my mail?” 

“Yes, that is except intelligence organizations like the FBI, the RCMP and so on. There are certain key words -- for example, let's say a couple key words are sex and child. If those words appear in a letter you post, then the contents of your mailbox will be copied and sent to the International Police and every intelligence organization in the world.”

“Yeah, well how about the key words strike or scab? You bunch of . . . .” 

Exiting the chat mode, Brian went to his scan page to see if any other items were missing. None were, but as he watched several invitations to business network chats suddenly disappeared. “Huh,” he muttered, and then he reached over and pulled the plug. 

He'd deal with it later. Right now, he had to go to work. His plan was to drive by the Department of Purchasing Warehouse and see if there were pickets there. Dashing up the stairs, he burst out into the light, ran around the hedge and then froze. The meat inspectors' strike convoy was parked out front. A large sign that said DIE SCAB! was stuck in the front lawn with a huge photo of his face pasted to the board. Two burly inspectors were carrying a side of beef down from the back of a freezer truck. SCAB was painted on the beef in red. When the meat was down another inspector walked up and this one had taped hands and wore a rubber gorilla mask. As his assistants held the beef, the gorilla inspector began to pound it with his taped hands. “SCAB, SCAB,” the other inspectors chanted. 

“Yikes, I've been caught,” Brian thought.

The inspector pulled off his mask and grinned widely as he walked over. It was Jim Donner, an old pal from the programming department. He clapped Brian on the shoulder. “Are you with us old buddy?” he said. 

“Sure,” Brian said. “But why are you dressed as a meat inspector and doing this stuff?” 

“I am a meat inspector now. Six months after the layoff from programming I managed to bump in.” 

“This is dangerous. We'll be arrested. We can't beat up scabs.”

“We won't beat anybody up. We’ll just scare the hell out of them. See how fast we did it. We had your photo on a board and got here as soon as we heard you were on the scab list.” 

“How exactly did you get hold of the list?” 

“We paid the mailman on the computer network for a copy of the latest government mailing list. Then we bought logins, you name it of everyone in the union. But don't worry old boy. We knew a good soldier like you wouldn't return to work so we came over to get you and find out the details.” 

“The details are that the minister, John Silver, notified me. He wants me to return to work in a new computer position at the Northern Purchasing Warehouse.” 

“Can't be. John Silver has been dead for three months. Donald Alder is the minister now. The Northern Purchasing Warehouse was closed long ago. That's that crazy haunted warehouse. No one wanted to work in there. It was in the news, remember?” 

  ”I didn't know Mr. Silver died. I guess government ministers aren't really newsmakers.” 

  ”Silver made news. You're forgetting that computer boondoggle of his, and the missing money.” 

  ”I was laid off before all the news came out. What was it about?”

“About! Old Long John Silver's treasure is what it's still about. He managed to get a billion dollars of government money allocated to upgrading some kind of super computer that never existed. It was never built. They were grilling him at the inquiry, trying to find out where he stashed the booty. He died of a heart attack before he could talk. Man, being called in by John Silver is like a dream. These are the days of Hatchet Hardin’s cuts. Imagine the big money contract we would've got negotiating with Long John Silver.” 

“Yeah, I know. I remember the Conservatives fuming about him in the legislature. Hatchet Hardin claimed Silver was the biggest spending government bureaucrat in the history of the world.” 

“Silver wasn't into cutbacks, that's for sure.” 

“We have to find out what's behind this. How about driving me over to Northern Purchasing so I can take a look around?” 

“Good idea. If they’re taking in scabs there we're going to send you in as an inside man and give you the word when we want something sabotaged.”

Brian popped in the passenger side of the freezer truck and the convoy moved off in the uncommonly mild March weather. They took a swing downtown, honking support at the pickets walking the Toronto Block then headed toward the suburbs and the Northern Purchasing Warehouse. Jim's driving was aggressive if slow. He simply cut off anyone in his way and muscled past drivers who wanted to honk and curse. 

Brian shook his fist at more than a few loudmouths, starting to feel tough like in the old union days. “Guess the public hates us in this strike,” he said. “You gotta hand it to the Hardin government. Only the devil could do a better job of exploiting the armchair hate and misery of the public.”

“You got it,” Jim said. “Hatchet Hardin and his rednecks exploited anger with their phony tax revolt. After that, he boosted himself in popularity by going hard on the growing army of people on welfare. Now it's the civil service. He appeals to the bad side of people. It's all just hate. They think they can dump us in the garbage like in a corporate merger, but this is society pal - people don't go away, they come back burdened with poverty and anger.” 

“Yeah, but there isn't any money. They gave it all to the bankers and the rich.  Now it's all debt.”

“You can't raise money by shutting everything down. Only workers create wealth and pay off debt.” 

The quiet air of the suburbs washed over the convoy and Brian spotted more pickets out front of a warehouse. “It's one of our inspection buildings,” Jim said. “I want to take a quick cruise around back.”

The freezer truck entered the alley. A couple of burly guys in denim and cowboy boots were smoking down by a vault-like loading dock. Jim hit the gas, barreling right for them. Their cigarettes fell from their mouths; they didn't have time to jump up on the dock so they took off down the alley. Once the dock was blocked, Jim braked, grabbed a baseball bat from the back seat and jumped out. The scabs stopped running and turned to confront him. These were healthy men like body builders, maybe from a professional strikebreaking outfit. But it didn't faze Jim -- red in the face and sixty pounds overweight, he jogged up to them. The first guy tried to stop him with a karate kick and got his leg broken by a swing of the bat, and then the second scab took one body blow before he turned and ran like hell. 

Jim stumbled back to the truck and jumped to the running board. He hung there on the door, needles of light in his pained eyes, a bitter expression on his meaty face. “Shit, it's my heart,” he said. “Get behind the wheel, back out of here. I'll hold on.” 

“Jeeze,” Brian said as he moved behind the wheel. “You can't do this stuff Jim. You're a civil servant not superman. You'll die before you're even arrested.” 

Jim wheezed, hanging weakly onto the rattling truck. “I don't care. I'll kill the bastards. There's 20 percent real unemployment out there. I'm no porker who just goes in for the slaughter. No scabs are going to take our jobs.” 

Stopping at the front, Brian helped Jim in the passenger door and the convoy was off again, rolling north past hateful suburban eyes toward the warehouse. They passed another strike scene, honking at pickets who were enjoying a hot lunch supplied by some organizers from the steel workers. The warehouse came into view as they crossed the bridge over the expressway. It was huge and its location between a large hydro station and shopping mall made it look much more important than it was -- like maybe the headquarters of a high tech corporation. Only a big-spending government bureaucrat like Long John Silver could afford to build such an expensive warehouse. 

Jim looked up, studying a monstrous metal gable. “Turn right by those factories. We'll walk over. If anybody's there we want to catch them by surprise.” 

The convoy wagon-trained in a paint factory back parking lot and the crew got out. They lit cigarettes; some small talk began, the burly men looking at home in the industrial background. A minute passed then Jim gave the signal and they assembled. “All right boys. Brian goes to the front to see if he can get in and we scout the outside of the building. Brian, you're to go in and register as a scab then take a smoke break so you can let us know the score. We'll decide where to go from there. It's supposed to be a haunted warehouse, whatever that means, so any scabs we catch are gonna get spooked.” 

Brian crossed the road feeling torn between the two sides. The idea of a new job as Systems Control Officer was appealing while the idea of brawling with the meat boys' brigade wasn't. He was a little too old; union strike stuff suited younger men. Damn world changed so fast now that any organizations that tried to put down roots like unions got bulldozed by progress. Studying the building, he found that it didn't look haunted from the outside. It seemed quite new though it was at least ten years old. The front extension was a security setup with a built-in guard post. A shadow moved behind the Plexiglas then vanished as Brian hit the button. No one showed so he hit it a few more times. Another thirty-second wait then he heard John Silver's voice come over the intercom. “Is that you Brian?” 

“Yes, it's me. Reporting for work.” 

“Good. Come in and sit in the waiting room. We have a power drain situation so I'll be tied up for about twenty minutes.” 

The lock clicked open; Brian went in through the hall to the waiting room. The receptionist's window was empty and so was the desk. He looked around. Thick dust covered the chairs. Picking up a magazine, he knocked the dust off and found it to be an ancient copy of HOCKEY WEEK. A shadow moved in the receptionist's office then a door creaked. He went to the window and saw a patch of gray go out the door. Not a person or even a ghost, just a patch of gray. “Jeeze, maybe this joint is haunted,” he muttered, and then he felt his hair stand up and his skin crawl. His wrist touched the door handle and he got a sudden wicked shock. It wasn't purely fright, the place was screaming with static electricity. 

A loud hum filled his ears and it seemed to grow louder as he waited. Other than it, there were no other sounds. After a minute, Brian realized the hum was noise from transformers in the hydro station next door. What was Silver talking about, a power drain situation? How much power could a warehouse with filing servers be using? 

Tension knotted his muscles as he paced the room. It was like being a fish in a tank in the middle of unknown surroundings. He didn’t have the patience to wait so he opened the door and took a peak. The door didn't lead into the offices as he expected, but into a large section of the warehouse itself. And this section appeared to be older; Silver had built the new warehouse over and around a preserved historic structure. He stepped in, rather amazed as he looked about, remembering that he'd been instructed to enter at gate 7, wherever that was. Warehouses had been like this back before filing computers came into fashion. Unordered junk heaps where only a few employees could find anything. This one was a real mess . . . dust and hammock-big cobwebs everywhere. Smoky sunbeams from a high window shone on a mountain of IBM typewriters. They were the really old kind of government typewriters and heavy as tanks. Machines that should have been recycled decades ago, but instead they’d been collected and placed in the warehouse. If the mountain came down it would be deadly, but it didn't -- it just stood there like absurd junk art, spotlighted by the sun.

Passing the typewriters he came to another mountain . . . this one composed of old adding machine rolls, crushed envelope boxes, piles of spent erasers and other stationery supplies. It was heaped against the wall, the blanket of dust on it so thick it appeared to be crawling. At its side faint light shone in a dusty window. A shadow moved beside the sill so he walked up, picked up a piece of chock board cloth, shook it clean and wiped the pane. A meat inspector lurked at the side of the building, his aluminum baseball bat at ready. A shadow moved on the ground behind him like something was flying above him, then a dark form descended. 

It was no more than a shadow at first, but as sunlight glowed at its edges, it bled into form as something less than human. It became an alien with tiger fur, fangs and huge webbed feet. Brian gasped, the meat inspector swung around, automatically striking a blow with his baseball bat. It didn't faze the alien at all. Its mouth opened in a roar and a bright-red electrical charge bloodied the meat inspector as it threw him down. 

The inspector was on the ground like a slab of beef to be inspected. Still open-mouthed, Brian looked back to the alien and saw only disintegrating shadows. Suddenly he remembered where he'd seen the thing before. It was a boss bad guy from an old computer game called DoomCraft. Which meant it couldn't be real. He was either nuts from stress or hallucinating. 

Hands shaking, the hum vibrating like a death engine in his brain, he walked across the warehouse to a fire door. A stack of old desks creaked beside him as he pulled the cobwebs away. The lock appeared rusted shut, but he managed to force it and loosen the door. It suddenly opened wide, and the wind caught it and banged it against the wall. Knocked back by the gust, it took Brian a moment to recover. His vision cleared on a crazy scene. A man was on the ground a few yards away. One of the meat inspectors, and he was covered in blood and choking. A moment later a horrible horned monster stepped into view, snorted and began clawing the man to death. Emerald electricity shot from cloven feet, blood spurted up. Brian ran back inside the warehouse, ducked down a row of shelves and swung up into a giant bin of discarded pencils. Peering over the edge, he waited. The demon wasn't coming in after him. He remembered it as a duplicate of one of the dinosaur demons from the computer game DeathFlight. In that old game, the bad guys weren’t smart enough to track you.

He tried to think. The warehouse had been closed because of ghost stories and strange accidents, but there’d been no mention of ghost monsters from computer games; monsters that would kill you in real time. Then there was Long John Silver, another ghost as he’d died months ago. Hauntings were often apparitions. Maybe no one had died. Perhaps he’d seen prepared hallucinations designed to keep him inside. But keep him inside for what? There was nothing in here but junk.

Rising, he found himself covered with dust, and as he tried to brush it away, he slipped on the pencils and tumbled out of the bin, hitting the concrete floor hard. Groaning, he got to one knee. He heard the sound of shattering glass. It was up near the entrance. Someone or something was breaking in. Limping, he went up an aisle toward the sound. A cloud of dust rose near the wall then the wood splintered on a boarded window and the end of a crowbar came through. Rotted wood fell to the floor and a moment later Jim's head poked through the opening. 

Brian hurried up to him. “What are you doing? Do you want the monsters to find you?” 

“What monsters? There's nothing here. The back lot is empty and from what I've seen through the windows, the place is deserted. I want to look around. Maybe it's a setup. You come here to work as a scab and get jumped by a few guys.” 

“You get jumped by creatures. Have you seen your men?” 

“They're okay. They're scouting on the other side.” 

“They're not okay, they're dead. Climb in and I'll show you.”

“Maybe you better do that,” Jim said, pulling himself through. Only he never got through. Something seized him from behind and he started to scream. “Ahhhhh! . . . Brian, pull me in!” 

Brian moved fast, grabbing Jim's arm. He pulled hard, but something pulled back and Jim's screams got wild like it was the devil that had his ass. A hard yank pulled Jim partway in, but the movement also caused Brian to lose his grip. He staggered back and Jim bounced back to the sill, still screaming. A shadow flew in the corner of Brian's eye; something coming down from a heap. It hit Jim's head so hard his skull shattered and he collapsed as his brains oozed out. A slimy hand appeared on his shoulder and pulled him out the window, his limp arms bouncing. 

The deadly object was an IBM typewriter. Hearing soft laughter Brian looked up the heap and saw Long John Silver standing there. He had to be mad; his weight would cause the heap to tumble. Brian turned and fled, headed for the rear of the warehouse. 

He came to a wall and got through a heavy door to a newer portion of the warehouse. Shelves and supplies looked to be in order here. No one was about so he went to work blocking the door with some heavy crates. It came to him that Silver wasn't dead after all, but alive and insane. And he had an accomplice or two to help him with the killings. Maybe that was the story of the Northern Purchasing Warehouse. It’d been haunted all right, but by Long John Silver and his gang of bloodthirsty apparitions.

Looking around he spotted a filing computer. It was on with a saver running. Walking over he touched the mouse and a map of the warehouse came into view. He clicked on the current area and it zoomed in to a list and a close-up map. A restricted area was marked at the edge of the map so he clicked it and got a warning message - Danger, High Voltage, Do Not Enter. “This has to be the root of it,” he muttered. “Something high voltage and top secret is hidden here. Once I find out what it is I'll know what I'm up against.” 

Putting the map to memory, he walked through the maze of shelves to the door of the restricted area. It was at the end of a row stacked with huge snow tires for the government plows, and it wasn't marked, but blocked by an electric mini plow. Climbing on the plow, he hit the ignition and drove it out of the way. A large fire extinguisher sat behind it. Looking the extinguisher over he noticed an odd button and hit it. A moment later, a camouflaged door silently slid open. 

Peculiar lights pulsed in some unknown wavelength and shadows floated. A few seconds passed before his eyes focused. No one was at the door so he looked inside. The hairs on the back of his neck bristled. He felt a charge crawl on his skin. It reached his scalp and lifted some of his hair. He could see a number of workstations. Computers networked to a large server at the center. This server wasn't like anything on the market, but something brand-new with a strange set of ports and connections.

Stepping inside he studied an odd setup of power control panels then looked around . . . the lights and shadows making him jumpy. A quick check on a networked laptop told him that all of the computers were running on an unknown operating system -- not contemporary graphics, but screens of arcane symbols in a coded language. Spotting a power cable, he walked to it and followed it. Another huge machine was at the back -- not a computer but a chamber and platform. A backup generator hummed beside it and several high voltage cables ran to various components. Whatever it was, it used incredible amounts of power that was most likely taken from the hydro station next door. 

An open door led into a tunnel next to the generator. Possibly an exit. Deciding to forget about the mystery and escape, Brian walked over. The light was steady in the tunnel and it appeared empty. He was about to enter when he heard a crackle. Turning he saw a screen flashing at one of the workstations. A graphic slowly generated on the screen.

Energy crackled in the chamber and a distorted beam appeared on the platform. The image the smaller computer was rendering was also appearing on the platform, like a holo image. And the image was John Silver. 

Silver's smile was friendly, but it thoroughly spooked Brian. He turned and fled down the tunnel to a small door. A button opened it and he ran out, finding himself in a small rooftop guard post. The back parking lot was ten feet below but there was no way to get down. He felt sweat running on his back. Panicking, he starting kicking the Plexiglas as hard as he could, and on the fifth kick, it shattered. Swinging over and down he dropped to the empty lot and ran for the maple trees by the fence.

The blackened body of one of the meat inspectors lay in the mud. Brian leapt over it and ran into the maples. Looking back, he saw no one, but that didn't slow him. Spotting a narrow path, he dashed to it and ran to its end. It opened on another parking lot, this one belonging to a drive-in burger joint at the end of the shopping mall. He went inside, took a table at the back and sat there shaking. He wasn't worried about the strike anymore. Somehow he'd been recalled, but to another reality and not back to work. Could he really run from twisted stuff like this? 

Two teens, one a skinny black and the other a white kid with a sneering imp’s face were the only other patrons. They stared at him like tough guys and then out the window to see what he was running from. They saw nothing and decided to ignore him. “Likely think I'm nuts,” Brian thought. He’d left his cell phone at home but he was near the counter phone here and the best idea would be to call the police. Take action to shut the warehouse down before more people died. But what would he say? That John Silver, who is dead, is being regenerated by a super computer in a warehouse -- him and duplicates of monsters from old action games. They'd think it was a hoax, or else want him to return with them while they investigated. The result would be that the police would find the bodies and think he did the killings.

Alerted by a flash of light his attention went back to the teens. The flash turned out to be a reflection from a gun barrel. The black kid had the gun out and he handed it to the white kid -- an automatic. Brian was close enough to read the embossed Falcon 4 on the side. “Not more trouble,” he thought, and then he noticed something moving in the maples. It was the miniplough from the warehouse, shoveling dead leaves and litter as there was no snow. It looked like Long John Silver at the controls. The teens were distracted by it so Brian rose and prepared to dash out. 

The plough didn't stop; it emerged from the maples, crossed the lot and drove straight through the flimsy wall and windows. Glass shattered, the white kid opened fire and Brian ducked behind a table.

Blood flowered on Silver's perfect gray suit as the bullets hit. One slug hit him in the face, turning his nose and jaw into a smashed gore pancake. He fell off the plow and rolled under a table, then got to his feet. The kid prepared to let loose with another clip, but before he could, a DoomWorld beast spawned behind him and charged. The snorting creature connected and the effect was fireworks electrocution; the kid’s body blackened and collapsed. 

The beast faded into thin air. Brian looked to Silver; his bullet smashed face was stomach-turning hamburger. Knocking a table aside, Brian ran. He stumbled through the broken window with the black kid at his side and ran back into the maples. A minute later, he emerged in the warehouse parking lot and halted. It felt like his lungs were going to burst, and he was right back where he started. He glanced around and spotted a rifle-toting security guard heading toward him -- another of Silver's men. He tried to duck back but a female guard came around the side. Taking off over the lot, he ended up running in an open fire exit.

A man stepped out of dim light. “Jim,” Brian said, his face brightening briefly. Then he saw blood and the gun. Jim looked dead, pale, and happy about it. And the gun was the Falcon 4 the teens were showing off at the burger joint. 

“We do things fast around here,” Jim said, “not like your usual civil servants. Now move, pal. It's time for your briefing on your new job.”

Stunned to silence, the gun jabbing his side, Brian moved with Jim. They went back to the computer room and into an office off to the side. John Silver was there at his desk, a tall rubber plant beside him. His eyes were bright and so was his face. Electrical energy moved in a pattern, covering and healing the area that’d been destroyed. 

“So, you’re in desperate need of work, Brian,” Mr. Silver said as Brian sat.

“Well, er uh, I've been recalled,” Brian said, clasping his hands together to stop the shaking. 

“It was tough out there, on the dole for a year, wasn't it?” 

“It was, but I had temporary work.” 

“We know about your little business. It's one of the reasons for the recall. You can do repairs on computer networks as well as software work. Is that correct?”

“Yes.” 

“Good, because there's been a reorg. A number of jobs have been combined. Your new position as Systems Control Officer involves maintaining the equipment here. Replacing boards, seeing that the system gets back up should there be a major power failure. You will also be developing a new release of your search software as the department will be looking to spend a lot of money.” 

“The job sounds wonderful,” Brian said nervously. “But there are some problems.” 

“Such as?” 

“Well. You aren't human for one thing, and Jim there is dead. Then there are the monsters spawning in to kill everyone.” 

“Ah, questions, questions, questions,” John Silver said, throwing up his hands. “You union boys always have to be in the know about everything. Okay, the monsters are only temporary, simple creations we generate to scare people off. Once we have enough staff back we won't need them.” 

“And what about the staff, do you plan on converting us to non humans?” 

“You’ve heard of downsizing, this is downloading. Unfortunately for you, Brian - we need you as you are.” 

“Why's that?”

“Well, Brian,” Silver said, looking up like he always did when one of his speeches was about to begin. “I'm supposed to be disgraced and dead; a fraud artist who swindled the public. But I'm not. The money was spent here on the computer network. It's the most advanced system in the world. This is a system that is being used to upgrade the civil service and the human race. It can scan a human body, store the information and recreate the person in a new energy form.” 

“You mean that's what you are?” 

“Yes, I've been recreated. But the hitch is that the system has to be up and powered or I don't exist.” 

“I see, you mean you need me because in a failure I can get the system back up.” 

“Exactly.” 

“Why would you trust me?” 

“You were carefully selected. You've always been a good civil servant, Brian. You’re a believer in the cause. Think about it. The government is selling everything off to the private sector. Our people will never make good money again. The dream is all but over and the wolf is at the door. But what if it could be different? Think of this -- a world-wide civil service that pays top wages and benefits. A new civil service run by me, John Silver, the biggest spending bureaucrat in the history of government. And I'll be using your search software to spend the money. It will be a perfect world controlled by computer generated government workers; a perfect racial mix with no greedy capitalists and no labour strife. Whatever the union wants, I'll pay it. Could you not be a part of it? Could you let this opportunity slip by?”

“But what you're asking is crazy. You want me to betray the human race to a super computer.” 

“Not betray. You're doing what has to be done. If it bothers you, we'll sweeten the pot. Starting this week you'll be getting merit pay of five thousand dollars a week.” 

“Five thousand a week. I'll take it. Wait, just a minute. How long is it going to take to create this new human race?” 

“A while. That's where our meat inspectors come in. They will bring the workers to us for scanning and upgrading and then dispose of the bodies. Once we have more offices with power hookups and a solid network the pace will pick up. You're destined to be a state hero, Brian. The world will never forget your contribution.” 

Maple buds were bursting to new foliage on the trees at the rear of the warehouse, and Brian walked over to the freezer truck thinking of springtime and the new world. Jim appeared, dragging a body to the conveyor. Brian watched it slide by. The eyes stared, a horrified expression embossed the face, but it was all for the good. And it was great to be back to work, great to be helping good old government incorporated take over the world. Humanity; it was getting to be a genuine ghost in the machine. But at least it was a machine where Brian was a working cog and not on the junk heap. He jumped up in the spring breeze, did an old dance step and smiled as he saluted the rising sun. Smiled and rubbed his eyes, because the strike was still on but the days of mean were over. 

---The End ---