The 616 Diaries: Entry 23 by Kevin Kauffmann
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October 20th, 2019

Uh, so, about not being able to sleep.  First, I was able to, which went against everything I had assumed.  Second, I had an extremely vivid dream about Hell that turned out to be in the book.

Well, sort of.  I’ll explain that in a bit.

Because first I have to talk about meeting Teresa Slagen.

When I got into the basement today, I was just expecting to keep reading some translations and figure out more about these revelations and prophecies that I sacrificed my life for.  Even looked like Baum and Fennsler were thinking the exact same thing, because as soon as Baum escorted me into the room, he sat down and started working on whatever was on his computer monitor. 

Fennsler was reading a magazine, a ridiculous pop culture rag talking about the British Royalty’s perfect little family that was so ridiculous I almost wanted to vomit on him, but that only left me to dwell on the dream from the night before as I read the next translation.  It looked—and was eventually—interesting, especially since it was about the Prometheus myth and how it relates to the Devil, but we had a knock on the door only about ten minutes after I sat down. 

Amin almost jumped out of his seat, which was the first time I actually noticed he was there; the bastard looked like a pile of dirty rags and I hadn’t even realized there was a person hiding under all of it.  However, I didn’t look at him for very long, because there was a very attractive woman with blonde hair tied up into an intentionally-loose bun standing at the door.

And I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d met her before.

“Ms. Slagen, wh—what are you doing here?” Fennsler asked as he threw his trashy magazine to the floor and took his feet off the desk, making me realize that this woman was very, very important.  Fennsler wasn’t the type to get flustered over just anyone.

“Impromptu inspection, boys.  Just wanted to see how the new hires were working out,” she replied as she leaned against the doorway and crossed her arms, her voice reminding me of dusk and mischief.  Almost immediately I realized that this was the woman who had spoken to me on the phone, but I didn’t have the courage to confront her or even ask the question.  I just stared at her until she looked back at me with golden irises, and I broke eye contact as soon as I felt that gaze.  It didn’t seem real, or maybe it seemed too real, but I couldn’t handle it for more than a second.

There was power in those eyes; power I couldn’t understand yet.

“They’re doing just fine, Teresa,” Baum said in a monotone voice, and his reply was enough for me to stop staring at the floor.  When I looked at my favorite agent, he seemed only slightly perturbed and—with the way he used her first name—I had to assume that they had known each other for a long time.  Still, when I looked at Baum’s hand, his knuckles were white from the way he gripped his desk.

“Yeah?  Any way I can talk to them?  See for myself?” she asked, and I could tell that absolutely nobody thought it a question.  She was too comfortable, too confident; she was giving a command under the pretense of a friendly conversation.  Fennsler was pouring buckets of sweat from everywhere and I could see his pitstains filling out in those frantic seconds, but Baum took command of the situation and cleared his throat.

“I don’t see why not.  Would you like us to leave?” he asked, but the woman gave a crooked smile and shook her head, letting her gaze fall on Amin, who noticeably shook once he realized she was looking at him.

“No, no, you guys don’t need to do anything.  If I could borrow them for a moment, we’ll just take a little stroll and I’ll have ‘em back to you before you start missing anyone,” she said, an easy smile on her face.  It only made me think of her as a predator.

“Sounds like a plan!  Amin, Ray, why don’t you follow Ms. Slagen,” Fennsler said, but the woman raised a hand and gave a quick shake of her head.

“Let’s go one at a time.  Amin, could you follow me?” she asked, and I could see my partner swallow down fear.  Still, the small man rose to his feet like a child who knows he’s about to get a scolding, already heading to the doorway to join her.

“Uh, sure,” Amin said, but he couldn’t raise his head long enough to make eye contact with her.  Once he was at the door, Ms. Slagen put a hand on his shoulder and gave a light laugh.

“Oh, sweetie, no need for that.  I don’t bite, I swear,” she said as she guided Amin out the door.  Once they were out of sight, I could hear her whisper to him.  “That was just a phase in college…”

It was a few seconds before I stopped staring at the doorway, but once I did, I could see that Fennsler and Baum were having an entire silent conversation just through gestures.

“So who was that?” I asked, and the two agents continued the gestures for a moment before turning back to me.  I had to assume that they were debating on telling me the truth.

“That, Ray, was Teresa Slagen.  Samir Almasi, who you’ve met, is in charge of this program,” Baum explained, sighing heavily before continuing.  “Teresa is in charge of him and a whole bunch of others within the company, effectively making her in charge of everyone in this building.”

“What Baum is saying is that while Samir is technically in charge, you can probably guess that he doesn’t much care or take an interest.  He’s here to be a face.  Ms. Slagen,” Fennsler added, pausing as he considered his words.  “She’s the mind behind Team Zodiac and pretty much everything else that’s hidden under the Catalytics brand.”

“Oh, so that’s why you two were so scared,” I said, not even thinking about how the agents might take it.  Fennsler was stunned, which wasn’t surprising, but Baum just shrugged and nodded.  I hadn’t even thought that Baum had been scared, but I guess that must have been his version.

“So… I have a weird question,” I began, almost swallowing it down and forgetting it once I felt them look at me, but I had to continue.  “Was she the one who talked to me on the phone before you guys came to see me?”

From the way they looked at each other, I knew I was right before they even answered.

“Let no one tell you that you’re not bright, Ray.  You can tell all that just from a voice?” Fennsler asked, nervously laughing and shaking his head, but I could tell that he wasn’t feeling light-hearted about it.

“I… it’s more like a feeling.  As soon as I saw her, I knew she wasn’t… I—I shouldn’t…”

“Normal?” Baum asked, and I turned back to see him giving me an intense look.  I had to turn away, but I answered with a defeated shrug.

“I feel like that I shouldn’t say that about my boss’ boss’ boss,” I said, confusing even myself with the repetition, but Baum actually laughed.

“It’s alright, Ray.  She’s unnerving for a lot of people,” he said, but I tilted my head and made a whine of protest.

“It’s not… unnerving.  In fact, she’s not really unnerving at all.  If I didn’t recognize her voice, or if I wasn’t used to all kinds of crazy revelations down here, I would have seen her as a welcome sight,” I said, drawing a literal guffaw from Fennsler.

“Yeah, Ms. Slagen is a real looker,” he said, causing me to remember the soft lines of her face, the easy smile, the way that just a few strands of hair fell from the bun on the back of her head and how a few golden locks framed her face.  I couldn’t say she wasn’t attractive, but I shook my head to rid myself of the memory.

“That’s—no.  I’m saying that just her presence was… pleasant.  Like she was someone who could make my day better just by being around.  Is that… that’s weird, isn’t it?” I asked and, again, Fennsler and Baum had one of their silent conversations.  It was enough that I cleared my throat to get their attention.

“It’s not the strangest thing I’ve heard,” Baum said, looking at the wall across from his desk.  “She puts some effort into making people feel more comfortable.  It might be that we just know better.”

“So you’re saying I’m ignorant, that’s it?” I asked, suddenly feeling defensive about it, but Baum looked at me out of the corner of his eye and took me off guard.

“Don’t take offense, Ray.  You know more than most, but there are entire worlds you have yet to discover.  There’s no shame in ignorance if you’re willing to overcome it,” he said, and I felt like a kid in middle school.  Enough that I shrank back in my seat and shoved my hands in my pockets before realizing that I did it.  When I looked back at my computer screen, I didn’t have the slightest urge to continue reading.

“Is this something I can overcome, Baum?” I asked, rereading the first few lines of the translation in spite of myself.  There was Prometheus, taking the fire from Olympus with the intent of spreading that power to mankind.  Without him, humanity never would have advanced out of the shadows, and at that moment I felt like one of those huddled masses hiding in the caves.

“I don’t know, Ray.  There are very few people who can enlighten themselves.  Usually there has to be someone there to show them the true nature of reality,” Baum said, and I couldn’t help but merge our conversation with the mythological scene playing out on my computer screen.  Even as I read the words, the images came bursting forth, and I felt like I was watching Prometheus escape from the heavens, enlightenment barely contained in his hands.

And as we continued talking, Prometheus the titan—with curly hair and Greek features—disappeared, replaced by the shining Lucifer from my dreams.

“And for me, Baum, is that someone alive or dead?” I asked, sinking further into my fantasy even as I tried to maintain a grip on the real world.  I didn’t know where the words were coming from, what they really meant, but the questions came all the same.  It felt almost like a trance, as part of me felt the cold of the MedCorps basement, could feel the stares from Baum and Fennsler, as another part of me imagined Lucifer as Prometheus, escaping from the cruel gods who fostered them and kept humanity in the dark.

And that was the first time I truly felt like I knew the author of these prophecies.  Some sleeping part of my mind connected with the one who had written these words, could feel the real meaning and intent flowing from the story into my head.  No longer was I reading a mythological tale, but a parable, almost satire, of what I knew had happened, what I now remembered from all those years ago.

Let me repeat that: All those years ago.  The fantasy had disappeared when I thought those words, because I no longer felt like these were stories and tales and things just made up by some insane monk who was trying to fabricate some alternate history about Hell.  I felt connected to this seer of the past, knowing what he knew, seeing the Prometheus myth as not just another story, but a way to explain to humanity just what the Devil had done for them.  Some secret meaning that was supposed to tell everyone what he had sacrificed, that the liver getting torn out of this titan was just a way to describe the agony Lucifer felt every day he was stuck in Hell, the suffering of the defeated champion of humanity.

Little did I know as I was “reliving” these moments that Baum and Fennsler were analyzing me, seeing how I breathed, shaking as I barely took in enough oxygen to keep myself from passing out.  Only after I finished out a paragraph—talking about how the vultures came after him the next day, cackling as they were wreathed in divine, heavenly light, as their forms shifted from birds to golden men and women with shining feathers—only after I looked up and had to steady myself against my desk did I even see that they were looking at me.

“And just where did you go, Ray?” Baum asked, and I could tell that he did not expect an answer.  I could tell just from the way his eyes smiled, the same way they always did, that he knew just where I had gone.  I was about to speak—to ask him a hundred questions about things he shouldn’t know the answer to—but then Amin burst into the room and ran to sit down at his desk.

It was enough to distract Baum and I from our heart-to-heart, for us to look at the doorway in time for Teresa Slagen to give a weary sigh at our shift in attention.

“And here I thought you boys would keep working while Amin and I had our little chat.  You’re just gossiping on company time?” Teresa asked, an amused look on her face.

“Not at all,” Baum replied for me, which was just as well since I didn’t have the strength to speak.  “Ray here was very deep in thought about the Prometheus translation.  I was just answering a few questions.”

“Oh, and what answers did you give him?” she replied, setting a hand against the doorway and running her finger along the edge.  Even though it was nothing it felt sensual, which made me feel all kinds of awkward.  Still, it was only a momentary distraction because I needed to see how Baum would respond to that.  When I turned to face him, he was not looking at Teresa Slagen.

He was looking at me, a wry smile on his face.

“I think just enough to keep him interested,” he said, earning a satisfied laugh from the woman at the doorway.

“Well, then.  I guess it’s time for me to become better acquainted with our new seer,” Teresa said, and I turned back to her to find her golden eyes settled squarely on me.  It was shocking to feel that gaze once more, and if this had been years ago and in the middle of a dive bar, I would have thought that she was hunting me for sport, ready to throw me away by the next morning.

It felt very much like a cat had decided I would be its new plaything.

“I guess that’s my cue,” I said, confidence appearing from god-knows-where.  I don’t know where the words came from, but I do know that I stood up and approached the woman, who, with all of her natural intimidation, was a good six or seven inches shorter than me.  She had to look up at me as I got closer, and suddenly I wasn’t scared.  I felt at ease—comforted by her sight—and there was an insane part of me that would have been perfectly fine with greeting her with a hug.

If I hadn’t thought I had been going insane beforehand, that would have clinched it.

“Guess it is, handsome, come on,” Teresa said offhandedly as she turned around, but she paused to lean backward and look at my handlers from beyond the corner of the doorframe.  “Oh, stop working Amin so hard.  Poor guy was nervous the whole time we were talking.”

“Will do, Teresa,” Baum replied, but I didn’t get to see him say it.  I was already following behind the woman as she walked down the hallway, faster than I thought she would. 

Already she had thrown her thumbs in the pockets of her blazer, which I would not have expected from a woman who was in charge of this and so many operations, but from her it seemed completely natural.  When she turned her head back to look at me out of the corner of her eye, a sly smile on her face, her behavior just seemed appropriate.

“So Ray, how do you think you’re fitting in?” she asked, and I actually had to think of how to respond.  I was still feeling the aftereffects of my little trance, not sure of what it meant, or if it meant anything.  I decided that I needed to play ignorant, like it didn’t happen, but my mouth—my own body goddamnit—decided to betray me.

“Until now, I really didn’t feel like I fit in at all,” I said, cursing my tongue for the Brutus it was.  “When all this started, it was just me thinking that a number was following me, leading me to some great secret.”

“Wasn’t it, though?  You’re here, after all,” Teresa replied, laughing softly at her own joke before looking forward and decreasing her pace.  “And what’s so different about now?”

“I—it’s… you’re going to think I’m crazy,” I tried to excuse myself, looking away and massaging the side of my face.  I had distracted myself so thoroughly that I had walked into Teresa, who had stopped and turned to face me.  I was about to apologize when I felt her hand on the other side of my face, and I looked down to see her staring at me with those golden eyes and a warm smile.  This was the kind of woman a man could fall in love with in seconds, at first glimpse, and here she was comforting me.

“Oh, honey, we’re all crazy here,” Teresa said before stepping back and crossing her arms.  “Try me.”

“Well, while you were out talking with Amin, Baum and Fennsler and I were… well,” I started, but she cocked her head and seemed to understand immediately.

“Talking about me,” she said, and I looked at her with such surprise that she laughed and waved it off.  “Relax, I knew that was going to happen no matter what.  But that’s not what we were talking about, so let’s just skip past it.”

“I… alright,” I said before curling in my top lip and biting it in an attempt to regain my focus.  After breathing out, I looked away from the woman and had a staring contest with the tiling of the floor.  “After we were talking about you for a moment, I tried to start reading the Prometheus section and… well, things kinda changed.”

“How so?” she led me on with another question, and I couldn’t stop myself.

“Well, for one thing, it stopped being Prometheus.  He turned into, well, he turned into what… who I’ve been seeing in some of my dreams.”

“Your dreams?”

“Y—yeah.  Lately, well, since before I came here, I’ve been seeing what I’ve… what I assume has to be Hell, or at least how I imagine it now.  And front and center is this bald guy just… radiating with light, and I just have this feeling that it’s Lucifer.”

“You don’t say…” Teresa commented, and I looked at her to see that she was deep in thought, looking at the wall as if it was some sort of blank canvas.  After a moment of my not talking, she noticed that I was looking at her and smiled briefly before waving me on.

“Well, I do, but that’s just me,” I continued, falling back to the memories I had “regained” while I was talking to Baum and Fennsler.  “The thing is that this same Lucifer, the devil in my mind, he replaced Prometheus in the story, and the story changed to suit him.  It wasn’t Mount Olympus, it was Heaven, and it wasn’t buzzards and vultures tearing out his liver, it was Hell that was his eternal, daily punishment.”

“You saw that,” Teresa said, in a voice weaker than I had heard before, and I turned back and could see that she was affected.  Her eyes were moist, and I had no real way to interpret that.  As soon as it happened the moment was over, because as soon as she noticed my attention, the beginnings of those tears disappeared, and she was the same flirtatious, easy-going woman she had been just a minute ago.  “Would you be surprised if what you saw was somewhere in the prophecies?”

“I… no.  It would seem appropriate,” I replied, and Teresa smiled at my answer.

“It seems you’re catching on, Ray,” she said, but this time I put up my hand and stopped her from continuing.

“I think it’s more than that,” I said, breathing in deeply and mustering my resolve.  “That was crazy, I know, but that’s just my imagination getting away from me.  The weird thing… the weird thing is that I felt—I felt like they were my memories.  That I was feeling the emotions of someone who was… intimately connected with what happened in those stories.  Part of me… part of me really did feel like… like this was something I remembered.  Something I was there for.  Like… like part of me was responsible for writing what was happening in that scene.”

“Ray—”

“Not even that scene, but the subtext and everything that went along with it,” I steamrolled over the conversation, my fears and guesses and feelings just pouring out of me.  “And the strangest part was that it was lining up with what Baum and Fennsler and I were talking about.  About ignorance, about enlightenment, about needing someone to help or leading ourselves out of the darkness.  And it all just seemed… it all just seemed like it was heading toward some big point that I just don’t know yet.”

“Ray!” Teresa said in a stern tone, and it stopped me long enough that I had to look back at her.  Once I saw that the smile had disappeared, that she was looking at me with—I don’t why—concern, I had to stop.  I just stared at her as she approached me and set her hand on my shoulder, felt warmth and comfort flowing from her delicate fingers.

“You’re not crazy,” she said, laughing with the last word and slightly shaking her head.  “This is precisely the reason that you’re here.  This is the kind of thing we’re looking for from the seers, and I’m glad that you decided to share that with me.”

“What you’re looking for…” I repeated under my breath, unable to respond or think critically about what she was saying.

“Yes.  This is what all the seers go through, this kind of… remembering.  It’s like having the memories of a past life colliding with your present self.  It’s scary at first.  I know, I can see it just all over your face, but don’t feel like you’re going crazy,” Teresa said, and she moved her hand to my cheek again, and I couldn’t help but close my eyes and lean into it for a split-second.

“It feels like going crazy.  I don’t believe in this… I didn’t believe in this kind of stuff.  It’s all just so… just so,” I said, my skepticism forcing me to back away from her touch and practically chomp down on my bottom lip just so I could think.

“It’s intense, sweetie, I know,” Teresa said, crossing her arms and throwing her hip out to her right side.  “But I can tell that you can get through it.  The good ones, they always—well, the order has records that they get through these rocky parts.  You’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, somehow I doubt that,” I said, looking at my feet and feeling that weird sensation like they didn’t belong to me.  And here I am typing this and realizing that I hadn’t felt that sensation before, or at least I didn’t remember that feeling, but it seems so familiar now, like it was always part of me. 

This is the kind of crazy that I’m going.

“You will, Ray, I believe in you.  There’s not much I believe in anymore, so take that as a huge vote of confidence,” Teresa said as she walked past me, and I was confused enough that I just turned and stood where I was.

“Why?  Why do you believe in me?  And what about that phone conversation we had made you think that I was the real thing?” I asked, and I realized as soon as I said the words that I hadn’t even mentioned the phone call to Teresa.  I thought that I had made a huge mistake, but the woman slowly turned and looked at me with a knowing smile.

“So you could tell that was me?  Tell me, did you even need to ask Baum and Fennsler?” she asked, and I felt sheepish and out-of-place.

“I did, but… I felt like I knew even before I asked,” I admitted, and the woman laughed as she walked back toward me.

“Is my voice that recognizable?” she replied, and I looked back to her and found that I had more than enough courage to keep eye contact with her.  Those golden eyes did not seem to hold so much power over me anymore, some part of me felt like it was some sort of façade to weed out those who didn’t have the right to talk to her on an even playing field.

“Only a little bit.  Just from seeing you, I felt…” I paused, watching her react, felt her curious nature taking hold.

“Felt what?” she asked, easy as always, but I could tell that there was… trepidation?

“Like I had known you for a long time.  Like this was some sort of… reunion, I guess.  It felt like it was completely natural for me to know you just from sight alone, from your voice alone,” I said, and this time I got to see Teresa Slagen give a nervous laugh.  She broke eye contact, and part of me—that part of me that had only just woken up—knew that I was onto something.

“Maybe you are going crazy, Ray,” she said as she turned and walked back toward Team Zodiac’s office, which was only three or four doors down at this point.  As I followed after her, she turned her head so she could talk back at me.  “But it’s not necessarily a bad kind of crazy.  It’d be nice to have someone treat me like an old friend while I’m down here.”

“I guess it could have been a lucky guess.  Your voice is a little more recognizable than most,” I admitted to her, but there was a nagging sensation at the back of my mind, and that new part of me could tell that there was far more underneath the surface. 

“Yeah, could be something like that,” she said once she got to the far side of the doorway, turned and waited for me.

“Mhmm, I bet Amin could tell, too,” I said just before entering the room, hoping that I seemed oblivious, but I had my ulterior motives.  When I saw her blanch just a little bit, I knew that Amin had not recognized her voice or, maybe, he had pretended to be ignorant.  For a woman who obviously liked to wear a mask, I had gotten it to slip for just that fraction of a second.

“You all done interrogating our seers, Ms. Slagen?” Fennsler asked from inside the room, and it forced Teresa to abandon her reaction or any further questions she had for me.  She readjusted the mask, and that flirty smile was on her face by the time I reached my desk. 

“I think that’s all they can handle for today.  It was certainly nice to see their… perspective on the project,” she said, and I knew before turning that she was looking directly at me.  I gave her a smile in return, knowing the subtext of that comment, but I viewed the woman with skepticism now. 

“We’ll get them reading the raw text soon, I’m sure,” Baum said, and I had to look at him just to see, just to know what he was getting at.

The bastard was looking right at me; he knew that something had changed in me.

“Looks like it.  Both these guys seem to have a lot of talent,” Teresa said before letting out a heavy sigh.  “But enough fun for me.  I have to oversee a developing project on Level 18 and then it’s back to Chicago for me.”

“You’re going back so soon, Ms. Slagen?” Fennsler asked, pretending to be concerned and hurt, but it fooled no one.  Teresa looked slightly defeated as she leaned against the doorframe, but she shrugged before looking off into the distance.

“Unfortunately the work never ends.  Don’t remember the last time I’ve slept more than a few hours,” she said, and when she turned to look at Amin, I couldn’t see any evidence of it.  The woman barely wore any makeup, and there were no wrinkles or bags under her eyes.  The only thing that made her look tired was her attitude, the way she carried herself.  It told of more than just late nights and days and weeks of travel.

“Amin, it was very nice to meet you.  I’m certain that it will start to make sense to you soon.  You seem like the type that has to set up an entire web before you catch any flies,” she said with a smile, earning a nervous nod from my counterpart.  Then she turned to me, and I could tell that the atmosphere had changed.  Just from that, I felt—I knew—that she had not believed the words that had just come out of her mouth.

“Ray, you might be going a little crazy, but from where I’m standing it seems like the good kind.  Don’t lose faith, or, well, maybe cultivate some for yourself,” Teresa said, smiling with every part of her body.  “You seem like the kind of guy who deserves to have a little more self-confidence.”

“Baum, Fennsler, always a pleasure,” she said before turning to nod at her subordinates.  Fennsler overreacted like always—standing up quickly to the point that his chair fell over—but he nodded anyway and tried to ignore it.  Baum remained sitting, but he gave a slow nod before giving a two-finger salute with his right hand.

“Have a nice flight, boss,” he said, earning a pleasant smile from the woman.

“And you have a nice day, gentlemen,” Teresa said before turning and heading out the door, toward the elevator.  It was a few seconds before her presence fully disappeared and I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.  When I turned back to the other men in the room, I could tell that they had all been doing much the same.

“So that was Teresa Slagen,” Amin muttered, and I could tell that he was visibly shaken by the entire ordeal.  “I don’t think a girl’s made me feel that way since I tried to ask out Joanna Sparks in the fifth grade.”

“Oh, you got butterflies in your stomach, Amin?” Fennsler tried to joke, but Amin slowly shook his head and his neck almost seemed to disappear into his shoulders.

“More like I feel like I just got disemboweled.  She’s pretty, but goddamn if she’s not terrifying,” he said, and I actually had to laugh at that.  It wasn’t too long before I realized I was the only one laughing, before I realized it wasn’t a joke, but Amin seemed to have taken it well.  I think he thought that it was a nervous laugh, more than anything.  However, he wasn’t the one who turned to look at me.  I could feel Baum’s gaze before I saw it, and I turned to see him looking at me like I was… I don’t know, like I was one of the cool kids.

“I guess it feels that way until you get to know her, huh?” he asked rhetorically, but I could tell that he was saying one thing to Amin, and another thing entirely to me.

It wasn’t so hard to figure out what he meant by it.

 

 

END OF ENTRY

 

 

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Finally got to meet Teresa. She's gonna be a big player, just you wait. Or don't! Tomorrow's entry is already online for you.