• Published 18th Apr 2018
  • 3,350 Views, 219 Comments

IMPLACABLE - Chatoyance

A lone wanderer in the final days of Man. An impregnable fortress work-camp to stand against the total emigration of humanity to virtual Equestria. The artificial intelligence called 'Celestia'. Everything has been accounted for. Everything.

  • ...

3. Delitescent

A 'Friendship Is Optimal' Story
By Chatoyance

3. Delitescent

Jessica was busy on the kale and apple salad, enough to feed the entire population of eight hundred and ten people. The fourth of July, Independence Day, was a big deal at Fort Denver, and that day was tomorrow. Absolutely every person not on perimeter patrol or the backup governing officials (secured in a seperate, nearby facility because absolutely no angle of attack was ever overlooked) mandatorily participated. It was considered highly important: maintaining a cohesive community with shared activities protected against social engineering by Celestia. Raymond often felt as if Fort Denver was essentially a very clever, very smart cult.

Raymond was chopping chilies. Lots and lots of chilies, all for the largest pot he had ever seen in his life. Colorado Green Chili. Huge slabs of richly browned pork had been worked in, pounds and pounds of Anaheim and Jalapeno chilies. Buckets of diced tomatoes, onions chopped fine. An ocean of chicken broth. Entire handfuls of cayenne and cumin. He had to stir with what amounted to a culinary boat paddle. It would take most of the day, and part of the next just to cook.

He had been assigned to the kitchen. He was now head chef thanks to several displays of talent and ability that floored those in command. They demanded to know where he had gained his experience. His explanation, that he was taught by his grandmother barely seemed to satisfy them, but his results, when cooking more than did.

One time, roughly seven weeks previous, the commandant of Fort Denver, Michael G. (as in 'God and Glory') Klunder once loudly praised him. "That's some damn fine chili, boy! Anybody'd swear you were a bred-and-born Colorado native! Get this man a medal!" No medal had been given, but from that point on Klunder had taken a liking to him.

Raymond swept the chopped peppers into a bucket, and poured the contents into the developing green chili. He took the large stirring paddle from the cleanpot and worked his arms hard stirring the thickening mass over the flames. Everything in the vast kitchen was made of plastic, some advanced ceramic (like the enormous kettle he was currently stirring) or wood. Even here, metal was not allowed, for fear of Celestia and her devilish electronics.

When the chili seemed to be integrating its additions well, Ray looked around carefully. Jessica had finished with her kale salad, and was washing in the large ceramic sink. "Finally! Quitting time, I am beat!" The curfew warning siren had just wailed. Kitchen staff and select others had curfew passes for work during special occasions, but Jessica clearly had no interest in using hers. "You coming, Ray?"

Ray shook his head. "Green chili is my masterpiece. It's my art. I'm not leaving this. I'm out to finally get that medal!"

That made Jessica laugh. "Klunder should give you one. Pulling an all-nighter for chili - I wouldn't do it. G'night, Ray - you crazy chili boy!"

Raymond smiled and went back to his paddle, giving his chili a few more stirs as Jessica, the last of the kitchen staff other than him, left in order to make it to her bunkhouse in time.

When everything was quiet, Raymond took the paddle out of the chili and set it carefully in the cleanpot, where it drooled flavor. He made a careful check of the gaslit kitchen to make sure nobody else was left. Then he turned to the cold lockers. Walking past the iceblock coolers and freezers, he found the compost box. He bent over and dug though wilted leaves with spots and bruised fruit and other imperfect or partially rotten food matter until he found the squash.

The squash had come as part of the regular shipments delivered to Fort Denver. Celestia had somehow rendered the entirety of Colorado incapable of growing crops, so all food now had to be trucked or flown in from trusted sources. The Commendant had been eager to enjoy soup made from Squash, a treat from his childhood, apparently. Bitter tasting squash wouldn't do, but more than this, they were actually dangerous.

Squash, if bitter, can often contain a neurophytotoxin, ODAP, or oxalyldiaminopropionic acid, not a desirable poison to ingest. Part of the cardboard box was still in the bin, gayly proclaiming the splendor of 'Cavallo Celio Farms - empyrean produce of satisfactory value for home and table!'. Raymond smiled broadly, shook his head, and pulled the soggy carton away.

The squash were slightly moldy, and remarkably soft on the inside, almost goopy. Raymond used his chef's knife to carve one open. It nearly fell apart in his hands. He took a large piece of the partially rotten vegetable and regarded it. Then, with the ferocity of a starving beggar, Raymond Shaw began ravenously feeding upon the bitter squash, cramming them into his face as fast as he possibly could.

"Hi - my name is Ray. You must be Charles?" When Raymond had first been assigned his top bunk, the lower bunk had been filled with a sleeping man. Every bunk had a name, printed on paper, slid into a set of wooden grooves to hold it. Ray's name was already in place when he had been brought to his new bed. The bunk below had been labled 'Charles Winchester'. Now, in the morning, the lower occupant was awake.

"Chuck." The portly, balding man returned to his book. It was a tome on concrete construction - probably a useful thing to learn in a place like Fort Denver.

"Ah... Chuck, then. I'll guess we'll be bunk-mates. How do you do?"

Chuck briefly raised his head, frowned, and returned to his book. If anything remotely friendly had once resided in the man who called himself 'Chuck', it must have fled in tears decades ago.

Raymond stepped back. "Okay... then. Have a good day! Um. Yes." He made his way through the waking crowd to the door. As expected, his work counselor was waiting for him. The plastic gun in the large man's shoulder holster assured his rank and status over people like Ray.

"This is Jessica, you'll be working under her for now. She can help bring you up to Fort Denver standards. According to your sheet..." The woman checked her clipboard "...you are expected to do well here. We'll see, won't we?" Her thin smile was not the least comforting.

"So, you prefer 'Raymond' or 'Ray'?" Jessica, at least, was pleasant. There was kindness and even a bit of humor in her tone. She was the first friendly voice Raymond had heard since he had been 'rescued' out in that sea of brown grass.

"Ray's fine. It's shorter. I'm not fussy."

"That's fine to be about names, but... being fussy is pretty much the job here in the kitchens." Jessica tucked a loose strand of hair back under her hairnet. "You might have noticed this is not exactly a... fun place. The one and only pleasure they take seriously is food. Unless you like hymns?"

Raymond could tell that this was a test. "Frankly," he lowered his voice conspiratorially "they can take their Jesus and shove it."

Jessica laughed and started to hoot, dancing on one leg as she quickly covered her mouth. She calmed down with a frightened look on her face - but also a glad one. "Oh, we are going to get along very, very well, Ray." Jessica smiled, and stuck out her hand. "Welcome to 'Fort Dumbshit', Ray! Glad to have you here!"

Ray took Jessica's hand. "I'm not glad to be here, but... you've just made things a lot better. Thanks." He had judged her correctly. Inside, he imagined slapping himself. It was a stupid risk, but the sheer harshness and coldness of Fort Denver had gotten to him. He felt desperate to have even one person not be a patriot or a fanatic, just one person to be... okay.

"We'd better get to work." Jessica turned to the wide wooden counter. "The first thing you need to know about working here is..."

"SOME MAY SAY..." The sermon for today was essentially the sermon for every sunday. All the sins of the world had been reduced to a single evil. The end of the world had already happened, whether the denizens of Fort Denver could admit it or not, and essentially, 'Satan' had won the earth. "...THAT THERE IS NO PLACE in the word of god for the existence of our enemy! SOME MAY SAY..." The crowd murmured and complained - in many ways, Ray thought, church services at the Fort had a call-and-response feeling to them. They were definately fire-and-brimstone in feeling.

"YES, SOME MAY SAY... that our LORD never forsaw the arrival of something as STRANGE AND UNNATURAL as that wicked doer of evil deeds, that CELESTIA..." the crowd booed and hissed. It was actually fairly entertaining to listen to. Ray had to keep himself from laughing in an obvious manner.

"That Celestia is not in the bible. UNTRUE! UNTRUE! That is false my friends. GOD SEES ALL, GOD KNOWS ALL, and the bible is the truth of the word, AMEN!" Raymond joined in with the hooting and hollering, not because he believed, but because simply getting to yell was a positive relief in the gray, concrete, hard harsh world of Fort Denver.

"Please turn to Revelations Seventeen, one through eighteen. THAT GREAT WHORE is described WITH WHOM the KINGS of the earth committed FORNICATION...."

Josh opened the panel on the tall metal cylinder. The tail fins, above - for the missiles were planted in the ground nose down - had been painted with hearts, rainbows and the state flag of Colorado as well as the Stars-And-Stripes. Raymond looked down again at the rectangular hatch.

"Alright, now pay attention. Careful attention, I don't think I need to mention." Joshua grinned. "The nukes need to be reset four times every day, there's a whistle - you might have noticed - and every single one of them has to be reset. Now you've probably heard that not all of them are real - that some of them are fake, and that only some are actually capable of detonation. That could be true, or it could be just a story, ultimately it doesn't matter because even if it were true, nobody alive knows which is which except the inner circle of the Last Resort."

The 'Last Resort' were a secretive group, entirely responsible for the whole nukes-as-streetposts concern. They did repairs and maintenence on the half-buried weapons, always at night, hidden by darkness and curfew, and nobody knew who they were. Apparently not even Commandant Klunder knew. Yet another perfect and impenetrable barrier designed to thwart Celestia. The camp could fall if a member of the leadership was compromised, so there were strict limits to knowledge that any particular person, or group were allowed to possess.

"That being the case, well, it wouldn't do to have even one of these babies..." Josh patted the missile "...somehow to be missed during daily resets. Look in here - "

Raymond leaned in and saw a flat panel inside the rectangular hatch. In the middle of the panel was a flat, oval hole. It was just the size and shape to allow a human hand to slide through into the mechanism. A round, wide-hoofed pony leg could not hope to enter the aperture.

"You have to reach in like this..." Josh inserted his hand and wrist "... bend upwards - ponies can't make that motion - and there will be a bar to grasp. You have to grab it, solidly - using a hand, obviously - and pull sharply down. Go ahead..." he pulled his hand free "... and you do it."

Ray blinked. "Uh... won't that... cause some... uh..."

Joshua laughed. "No, no. You can reset these puppies all you want. See? I did it right now. Resetting is not the issue. FAILING to reset, now that's the big deal. Now reach your hand in there - it won't bite - and give that ol' nuke a good Colorado reset, okay?"

"Raymond, I wanted to catch your ear for a bit, if I may." Ashley was the commandant's secretary. "Mike - " she blushed slightly "Commandant Klunder has decided that you will be the new head chef starting in the morning. Isn't that wonderful?"

Ray nodded, and gave a grateful and determined look back at her.

"What did it was that chili you made, the green chili? Oh he loved that. I think you knew that already, but he just goes on and on about it, my word!" Her face looked almost pained. It was possible that the topic had become annoying to her.

"Anyhoo, I figured I should give you a little heads up. Mike wants to spring it on you tomorrow, as a surprise, but, well, frankly..." Ashley's smile was tight and her face looked pinched "... you could do with a little spit and polish. No offense, but I've arranged a haircut, some new work clothes, and some new shoes, too. I just want the commandant to not be embarrassed by his confidence in you. You really need to take some time to look your best now and then, don't you think?"

Raymond's jaw tightened, and he forced himself to nod. There was no time. All there was, in all of life now, was work. Work and sleep and church on sunday. Curfew and constant inspections made anything else an impossible dream. Ashley either had no concept of what life was like for the majority in the work camp, or she simply did not care in the least.

"Well, come along then, and we'll get you looking like a proper man. And be careful when you sleep - don't want to muss that new haircut before the morning now, do we?"

"Independence Day is coming up." Jessica busily exacted cleaning with her ceramic scraper on the wide ceramic grill. She followed up with some brisk scrubble work. "You got any plans for what to make?"

Raymond yawned. The day had been long, and the three meals he had overseen seemed harder than usual for some reason. "Yeah, actually. Green chili. Klunder's favorite. Can't go wrong with that. Got me the position." He hadn't gotten around to cleaning up the big spill next to the walk-in. Bucket-mopping was not the best possible way to end a hard day.

"Yeah, he loves that." Jessica stopped and sat down on the floor, back to the grill. "You... you ever wish you'd... taken the... other path?"

Ray froze. He looked up from his bucket. "That's a... strange thing to ask." He swished the mop and pumped it up and down a few times in the soapy water. "Especially now. When there's no way out."

"I know, I know. Human for life. Fort Denver is uncrackable, impenetrable, perfect. Outside those walls might as well be a million miles away, and Celestia isn't ever getting in here. Not even through the ground, and even if she somehow popped some emigration tubes up, there's always the nukes. Even the dirt has a wall under it, and god knows what else. Walls, walls, walls. And tricks. I know. But, just for fun, just for laughs - have you ever wondered if you made the right choice?" Jessica wiped her brow, leaving a dark grease stain across her forehead.

Raymond knew Jessica well enough to feel that this wasn't some kind of spot loyalty test. She really meant it, though he did not for a moment doubt her commitment to 'Humanity Uber Alles'. He scratched his head and offered a quizzical face. "No. I can honestly say I know, with all of my heart, that I chose the right side. I am exactly where I should be, doing precisely the best possible thing for the world."

Jessica stared to laugh, but then became somber. "You're serious."

"Serious as death. Serious as those nukes out there." Raymond returned to mopping.

Raymond went to the sink and filled the mug with water. He swallowed it, almost choking. After coughing for a spell, he slumped to the floor, his belly distended and sore. He burped, the smell of bitter squash filling his nose. A tiny retch of barely digested gourd filled his mouth, he made a face then forced it down. "Oh..." Another sour, bitter burp "...god."

He sat that way for almost an hour, occasionally sipping water. Finally, he felt he could stand. He felt woozy. He touched his face, it was warm. He looked around - nobody was there. Nobody would come. He was the head chef, and he alone had a special curfew pass to be there. He could remain all night, sleep there, if he wanted. He couldn't leave the building, of course.

He spent several more hours burping, sipping water, and stirring the chili. By morning, his belly was noticibly flatter. The ruddy flushing of his face was gone. He looked normal again in the bathroom mirror. He left the bathroom and took a large glass pitcher down from a nearby rack. He returned to the chili.

Raymond put the pitcher down on the tile floor, carefully. He rubbed his unsettled stomach. Then he opened his pants and carefully filled the pitcher with greenish-blue urine. It filled to the very brim, foamy at the top. It looked as if it had been filled with some strange flavor of colorful cool-aide.

Then he zipped his pants closed. He lifted the pitcher above the vast pot of chili, and poured the contents into the pot. He set the pitcher down on the counter, and went to the sink to fill his large mug with more water to drink. As soon as that was gone, he filled his mug again and again and again.