Still not sure when the next episode of 108.3 will be coming out, sorry. I may have to split this episode into two parts, since I’m missing someone’s lines for the second section but have everything else I need. We’ll see.
Getting ever closer to the end of Peripheral Vision. Seems bizarre to me, in a way; I’ve been working on this story in some way or another since last New Year’s, and it’s weird to be coming to a close. I think after this chapter there might be two more, and possibly an epilogue of some sort. I’m kind of hoping to have it all wrapped up by the end of next week.
A group of people slowly made their way into the settlement. People came out of their shelters and watched, smiled, laughed, talked, or ran up to meet the procession. Bethany had turned to watch as did Caroline.
“Who are…?” Caroline started.
“Our saviors, you could say. You’ll see.”
A few people hurriedly set up some tables and things to sit on surrounding them. A few took seats.
The group walked closer and closer until they finally arrived at the center of the settlement. They all wore hoods, so Caroline had trouble seeing what they looked like until one of them, in the process of setting down a box he had been carrying, accidentally pushed back his hood.
Beneath it was a horribly mutated man – or Caroline assumed he was a man, it was nigh impossible to tell. His bone structure was warped into an almost irrecognizeable shape, tumors further distorted it, and one eye was far from where it should’ve been.
Others set down boxes onto the tables, and some of them pulled back their own hoods, revealing similarly twisted features. The people from the settlement seemed to not notice or care, greeted some of them with hugs or talking.
One of the mutated people, who seemed to be in some position of leadership, addressed everyone there.
“Food!” he or she proclaimed, “We have apples, bread, cheese, corn, eggs, and some chicken.” The person’s voice was muffled as though their mouth was full of cotton, drawled with a heavy lisp, and had a strange accent otherwise.
“That’s Paul,” Bethany said to Caroline. “He’s usually in charge of bringing us supplies.”
Caroline looked at Bethany with a confused expression, unsure of what to say. Bethany got up and took a seat at the table, where food was beginning to be passed around.
Caroline followed her and took a seat and some food when it came around her way. She didn’t even know what to ask at the moment, so she didn’t say anything. Soon that wasn’t even on her mind, as her hunger came back full force upon smelling the chicken.
One of the mutated people came over to Bethany and handed her a small pouch. “We could only get twelve pills,” she said through thick speech, “I’m sorry.”
“No problem,” Bethany responded with a look at Caroline. “I think we’ll have enough. By the way, this is Caroline. She’s… passing through, I guess.”
“Hi,” Caroline said and extended her arm to shake hands.
The woman took her hand and shook it with what Caroline assumed was a smile. “Nice to meet you,” she said. Her hand was coarse and lumpy, with patches of thick hairs covering it. She returned to where she had come from at another table.
“So, uh, what… are they?” Caroline said. “Sorry, that was a bad way to say it. I mean, what are they doing here?”
“They come by weekly and give us food and sometimes a few pills if they can get them.”
“Where do they come from, though?”
“There’s a man named Michael. I don’t know if you’ve heard his name. He’s relatively famous, I think, at least among people like us.”
“Who is he?”
“He’s a very rich hermit, I guess you could say.”
Caroline frowned. “Why doesn’t he join Introspect, then?”
“He refuses to. I’m not sure why, but he’s decided to use his money to help people like us. And people like them,” she said, gesturing towards the mutated people.
“That’s… oddly nice. For this world, anyway. I’ve never heard of someone like that; I don’t think I’ve even ever thought someone like that could exist.”
“Yes, he’s an abnormality, for sure. But life for us wouldn’t be possible if not for him. We have so much to thank him for.”
Caroline nodded. She returned to her food, and a minute later the young man from earlier returned and handed Caroline a glass of water. He looked to Bethany, who gave him a knowing smile, and he turned and reflected it back towards Caroline.
“He saw you give me the pills earlier and wanted to thank you,” Bethany explained. Caroline looked to the man in confusion, and Bethany continued. “He’s mute, you see.”
“Ah,” said Caroline. “Thank you very much,” she said to the man.
He nodded and walked away. Caroline took a bite of her apple, having finished the rest of her food.
“Who are you?” Bethany asked. “I mean, what are you… doing?”
Caroline gave a mirthless laugh. “I’m trying to stop Introspect.”
“Join the club.”
“I guess I should clarify. I just want to find the owner of Introspect and talk with him. Find out how he justifies doing this to the world, and so on.”
“I see. That seems kind of…”
“Impossible? Yeah. I honestly doubt it will happen. But I have nowhere to live, nowhere to work, no money, no friends, nothing. I guess that is just my thinly veiled excuse to keep living. Some inaccessible goal that I can try to work towards until either it happens or I die.”
Bethany nodded and turned back to her food. She frowned slightly, seeming to be thinking. A moment later she faced Caroline again.
“You know… You could probably talk with Michael about it, actually. I’m sure he could help in you in some way. Maybe if…”
A sudden idea struck Caroline. “You said he’s rich, right?”
“A lot. Enough to help probably a hundred or so people weekly, I’d guess.”
“Do you think…” Caroline paused. “What if I posed as someone trying to join Introspect? They’d have to get me there, somehow, right? I mean, how do people who are actually joining them get there, after all?”
“That might work. You’re thinking that Michael might be able to give you enough money that your guise would work?”
“Yeah. Maybe. I mean, I don’t know if he’d trust me. I could just be someone who was just trying to trick him into it.”
Bethany cocked her head to one side as she looked at Caroline. “I’m not sure. You seem like a very genuine person. I could send along a good word, in any case.”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“I owe it to you for what you’ve done.”
A smile crept onto Caroline’s face, the first real smile in as long as she could remember. She felt a surge of energy and determination, a sudden surety that this would work. “Thank you so much.”
After lunch was finished and the tables were cleaned and set away, the group of people who had brought it stayed around for about an hour, talking with the people of the settlement, playing games, and so on. At one point, Caroline saw Bethany go up to Paul and talk to him quietly. He looked over at Caroline at one point, nodded, and they finished talking. A few minutes later, they got ready to head out and Caroline nervously joined them. They all said their goodbyes, then began walking away from the junkyard village.
This was her one chance, Caroline was certain. She just had to hope that Michael would be understanding.
As luck would have it, about the same time Caroline had come upon her way of accessing Introspect’s headquarters, so had Gerome.
The past few days had been busy for Gerome. Filled with running from one place to another, talking with people, and contacting others over through various networks; working to find all information possible on Introspect that he could. He went through sources that the Anti-Introspect group generally tried to avoid; but that wasn’t a problem, since he didn’t concern himself with their rules any longer.
He was still officially part of the group, for sure, but he had decided that that wouldn’t limit him in how far he’d go.
The last few prisoners they had brought in from the information farms left as unrecognizable piles of flesh and blood.
Most people in the group didn’t speak to Gerome any more. Tanayoki tried, occasionally, to reconnect with him, talk some “sense” into him, but it always failed. Gerome was determined beyond mere determination; he felt a drive as though his life depended on it. Almost as if his body and soul would fall apart if he failed. And thus he must go on, must find Introspect’s headquarters and go there, must confront the man in charge, whoever that would be. And he would stop him.
He wrote down what he found, he connected the dots, talked with and “interviewed” more people, until he thought he had it. He thought he knew where Introspect was located. He couldn’t be sure until he went there, of course, but that wouldn’t hold him back from fully preparing before heading out.
He wanted to notify various leaders of the Anti-Introspect group where the headquarters were, but he wanted to confront the leader beforehand. He had no idea what would happen to the company once the others arrived.
So he prepared a time-released message, something that wouldn’t be sent out until he was already well on his way. He needed a good head start, that was all. Anything that happened after that wasn’t his concern.
I spun slowly with arms outstretched, the music taking over every part of my being. My eyes were closed, my ears hearing nothing but the flowing organ and choir. Even after the record had finished turning, the needle-holding arm returning to its dormant position, I continued, the last phantom notes thrumming through my body.
I had a sense that something would happen. I wasn’t sure what it was or when it would be, but I knew it was coming, that it was unavoidable.
But I reveled in that feeling.