You have found a secret story that is not featured in the Feedback episodes. Good work! Read this if you have read Impulse (Episode 1) but have not yet read Reverb (Episode 2).
At midnight, seventeen-year-old Terry of Omega House lifted the padded shutter for her window and floated along the blue plastic roof, formed with spikes here and there to give it an ice-castle appearance. This was the winter mansion, and her personal favorite. In the winter months, Terry’s spurts of inner cold were at their worst. Perhaps it was why there were so many celebrations and holidays in the winter. Down in their DNA, humans loved to get close to each other as the temperatures dropped.
This was why she loved having a mansion with decorative icicles and pointed stalagmites of ice on the exterior design. She went her usual route, moving over the shadowed balcony roof like a feather blown by the wind, gripping fake ice cones to stay balanced and quiet.
Falling with perfect weight distribution, the 130-pound girl stepped down to the covered stones of the lawn. Fake snow blew over the place for atmosphere, but she knew where it never landed, and thus she left no footprints leaving or returning.
Terry’s estate was divided into quarters like a pie, each holding a seasonal mansion, and all surrounded by a perfectly circular road with one entrance point, gated and guarded. However, while the property within the street was circular, it was bordered by a square plaster barrier around the perimeter. It was twelve feet high and rounded at the ends, but each corner had just enough grip for an extendable hook to get traction. She had just such a tool with her, and the Bird had taught her how to use it.
The mission was simple: get to the animal show, find “something unusual,” and then report back.
“We don’t know much about what’s hidden in there,” the Bird had told her. “But something is. I need you to get in there and find it. That’s all. I just need you to be able to describe it when I visit you again.”
“So you won’t be there?”
When the Bird left in response to a question, that was a definite yes. For some reason, based on her experience running these stealth tasks, the Bird (and others of his kind, assuming there were) avoided animals with an almost religious determination.
With a jump, each foot landing on adjacent walls, and the hook fully extended to catch the other side, it became a rigid steel pole to guide oneself up the wall. She pulled her way up, reached the top with a view of the neighboring villas, also reserved for celebrities, and fell to the grass, unclicking the pole to let it retract with her fall.
Clarice waited a short walk away from the barrier, the lights of her parents’ car guiding her.
It was amazing how things lined up. Clarice had a mission as well, one that matched just barely with the Bird’s, and since the Bird could be guaranteed to not come there, Terry had her best friend along for one of her lonely nights out.
“How have the shoots been?” Clarice asked, making a somewhat sluggish highway transition. Though Terry felt uncomfortable when not in control, it always went this way. Clarice slipped out with her parents’ coupe since they forbid her from learning to drive. She could not take these moments from her.
Terry leaned back and let the technicolor billboards reawaken her eyes. “The photographer said ‘perfect’ nine times, which translates to good enough. How have your parents been?”
“My mother is convinced that the gardener urinates on our lawn, but is too shy to bring it up, even though she doesn’t like him using our bathroom. Says he tracks dirt in the house. My father has gone from bitterly going along with her every whim to ignoring her and staying out on the town with friends.”
“Well that’s good, right? At that stage, you have only one parent to deal with.” Terry wondered if that was too harsh. Talking about Clarice’s parents was like asking someone about their terminal illness and how quickly it would kill them.
“Yeah. Will probably last until just past the winter. My father gets really lazy when it gets hot, so he tends to stay in more. And he cooks, even though it heats up the house.”
Terry knew what Clarice meant by “cooks.” The smell of meat in the house at least gave the girl a reason to go out for walks.
“So, where is the place?” Terry asked. All high-class vehicles could drive autonomously when a destination was given, but for the sake of safety, drivers couldn’t get guided instructions from a TCS for themselves. It was either going it alone or logging in fully to the Total Connectivity network, and revealing that Clarice was driving her parents’ car at nearly 1:00 a.m.
Convenience, Terry thought. One of the system’s greatest weapons.
“I know where it is,” Clarice said, her voice almost a growl. “Middlewest Convention Center. I’ve walked past it and studied the different routes for weeks.”
Clarice parked a few blocks away to the northwest, in a lot that would not be convenient for someone trying to break into the convention center. Better to walk a bit more and be careful than to park somewhere the police would check on camera feeds later. They both came toward the back from separate paths, then donned their hoodies. Within a two-block radius, they had to keep their faces hidden.
The thinner girl waved and led the way to a sheet metal garage door, hopping up the concrete stairs to a loading dock. With her baggy cargo pants and hoodie, the same as Terry, the twirling vine tattoos along her whole body from the neck down were completely covered. She even had gloves for when she lifted a hand to press a code on the number pad.
The warped door slowly made its way up and along the ceiling. Clarice got under as quickly as she could, soon found a manual stop button, and had Terry crawl under as well, sliding it back down afterward. It was amazing, watching someone clumsily but assuredly trespassing. Watching someone who had to put effort into it, someone who had not been forced to master it since practically birth, was refreshing.
The place stunk like a department store. The back area was full of cardboard boxes, the sides bending out from their heavy loads. One box full of plastic pipe elbows and extensions was spilled in front of the only door. That was a good sign that the area wasn’t well watched, but then Clarice moved some of the white pieces with her foot to open the door, and Terry rolled her eyes.
They left the door open, once Terry was sure that no difference in wind pressure would slam it shut. They were in the back end of a three-story, pitch-dark space, a forest of little sounds. Rattling cage bars, skips of dry leaves and mulch, scratches against glass. Terry had to focus, but she would still be able to detect human footsteps just in case. There were no lights on, and turning on the power was an unnecessary risk. They took out some survivalist flashlights and walked together, cutting through the black between two towering rows of painted steel.
Clarice found the first one. To the right was a dog in a little cage, snapping its mouth open and tilting its neck. It had black fur that laid very short and flat. The light brown of its underside, going all the way up to the neck, exposed the vertical red gash of scar tissue at the throat. Terry steeled herself. Dogs have it easier. They weren’t farmed.
“Oh my goodness, look at him!” Clarice whispered, crouching down next to the creature and meeting her hand with its paw, with which it repeatedly swiped the grid of its tiny cage. “It’s barking! Hello wolfy! Helloo wolfy!” One of the paw’s nails sunk a bit. “Owie!”
“I’m going to look around a bit,” Terry said, stepping around her. “I can’t say more than that.”
“Okay, I know you have your job. I think this row is where the smaller animals are, so I’ll be here.”
“Great,” Terry said. “I should be back in a minute. I only have to find something, nothing else.”
“I can barely tear my eyes off this guy,” Clarice said. “I won’t be moving far.”
Walking alone, past dogs and other creatures in separate rigid habitats, Terry felt just as baffled by what entertained human beings, and what they considered acceptable, as she was when she posed for photos or saw scream fighting matches.
Many of the animals had crude scars from the larynx surgeries, to render them silent. The birds were the worst. She read a plaque next to a large cage simulating a forest, with chopped cardboard bushes. It described how few of them survived the surgery due to the complexity of working on a small animal. They did not react to her light, as they were deep in slumber. She only saw the still shadows behind covered cages.
For aisles and aisles she searched, past containers of all sizes. The smell of hay, and sawdust, and feces got stronger as she searched closer to the enormous foyer and admission booths. Then Terry saw something that Clarice likely knew was here. The larger animals were prime attractions.
The mare lay in its wooden enclosure, more or less a portable wooden shed, like what would sit in rows of a home-improvement store. Terry was careful enough not to wake it, and it lay in the straw like it had been shot and had fallen over. The underside of the neck hung like a poultry bird’s wattle, or a rubber pile of fake blood. Most farms couldn’t afford to silence all their beasts of burden in a clean veterinarian’s environment.
Probably didn’t use anesthetic. It fought and yanked, made it worse.
She kept the light pointed at the ground and continued looking. If anything, these animals deserved peaceful nights.
If I’m looking for something unusual, it is probably kept in a separate area. Then, by tracing the wall, she found a door that required a keycode. She went to find Clarice, and her confidence was warranted–it unlocked easily once she used the same code.
“Should I go in with you?” Clarice asked. She had a turtle’s glass habitat waiting by her foot. The brown-and-black patterned reptile was about the size of both her hands put side-by-side.
She nodded, her face concealed by the hoodie. “I’ll be here. I have my guy, so I’m ready.”
Terry went into the room, which smelled oddly clean compared to the rest of the place. it was the size of the supply garage through which they had entered the place, but this place had no small shelves. However, there was another door to the right, with clear, stern letters: AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY.
Even if the code at this door’s keypad was the same, which likely wasn’t the case, the Bird had been clear.
“Do not go inside the place where you think it is. Just use a glow-ball to look past the wall. Don’t worry, you likely won’t alarm what’s in there.”
To her knowledge, only the Bird and Terry knew about glow-balls. He had introduced them to her to round out her potential at reconnaissance. To reveal them to others would cause her to be severely punished. From this distance, Clarice was unlikely to notice its green hue. She got as close as she could to the wall with the authorized personnel door, while away from the door she came in, took out the ball, and rubbed it to life. The algae glow exposed the bones in her hand and arm, her beating heart, so much all at once. Against the wall, she saw beyond it. The entire room seemed to only hold a cage, nearly the size of the room itself. Then she saw what was in it.
Terry knew what gorillas should look like. This was more like a vague sketching guide for a gorilla, but come to life. The enormous arms were like oblong teardrops of reddish material, something shiny and glossy but with many thin scratch lines, mainly closer to the hands and feet. Between the plates–so many for the hands and feet–was a white substance like chalk. The head was completely round, devoid of features.
If Terry had not known better, seeing the thing’s armor shine a white sun right back at her as it sluggishly dragged its knuckles, she would have screamed in the dark. She heard nothing, and it didn’t seem to notice the glow-ball light, even though it shone right on it. There was only two arm’s length between them, and for some reason it was not asleep.
All in all, the trip had succeeded. It was too tricky finding a place to dispose of the habitats, so Terry held each animal. With the turtle scrounging and sulking in Terry’s confident hands, all that was left was to drop it off in the nearest wild location: the land around the barricaded farming zones. Well before the guard post on the road, they could stop and let the little turtle go off into the woods. There was a fence cutting through to keep people from sneaking in (which Terry didn’t really understand). But more than enough space for many a creature to live out its life.
Each time was a brutal choice for Clarice, but she tried to pick small creatures that would do well on their own. The turtle had no throat scars, for it wasn’t a vocal species, and this time she wanted to release one of those.
“So, what are we up to now?” Terry said, as Clarice slowed down on the straight, black, lonely road surrounded by woods and cricket chirping. “Dog, fox, skunk, mice, robin, and now turtle?”
“Skunk was the hardest,” Clarice said. parking and getting out.
“Yeah, for me!” Terry said, holding up the turtle.
After trading, Terry held the flashlight so Clarice, now out of the hoodie and with her vine-covered arms exposed, hovered Turtleby (Clarice chose the names) carefully toward the steep ditch that went down to the forest. It wasn’t bashful. In fact, it swayed its limbs against the air like it was already thrilled to get away.
“So long, and thanks,” Clarice said, letting him down like one would set a plate of food at a classy eatery, front side and back side in separate gestures. With a deliberate kind of rustle, Turtleby marched through the dry grass and into the wet, endless river of the ditch. It seemed satisfied there, so Clarice didn’t push it. It was up to them to survive, after this part.
Terry hugged Clarice from the side.
“What was that for?”
“Why do you say thanks to the animals you help?” Terry quipped, still squeezing.
“This is the only time I feel happy, and like I’m a worthwhile person. So I thank them.”
“Well, there you go.”
Clarice dropped Terry off at 4:51 a.m. a suitable distance from her estate walls. Walking alone against the plaster, getting the extendable hook ready, she thought of the thing she saw. Was it a natural conclusion to the mindset that created animal silence surgeries? Or something else entirely? She didn’t want to know.
Nor did the Bird. He never asked for more details than what she saw, never explained them, and never asked her to do something like that again.
Now, three years later, Clarice was dead and revived, throat cut by the Bird but wounds sewn and life restored by someone she barely knew, who seemed to arrive as suddenly to that police massacre spot as she had. Now he had carried her to a car, and was driving her with Clarice. Her heart pumped so quickly the memories were all she could focus on. They sped through her, but faded to the background now, like her grieving process for Clarice.
The Bird had killed himself. Knowledge of his face was apparently too dangerous. Terry didn’t want any knowledge whatsoever. The shiny being she had spied on, the farms locked off with guards and fences, and the nature of the Birds themselves, for there were surely more, it was all worthless compared to the mystery of whether Clarice would be alright, yanked from that machine so early.
The only thing to do was focus on the present, for her sake. Idols, models, good girls, they didn’t speed off with strange boys from the scene of several violent murders. This was the start of something new.
But Eric needed to drive faster. Judging by his gigantic pupils, he was much farther down the hole of memory.