November 6th, 2019
I… haven’t told Amin yet, and I don’t think it’s gonna happen.
I’ve wanted to—trust me, I have—but every single time I think I have a chance, the guy gets away from me. I figure it would be absolutely, insanely stupid to tell him while Baum and Fennsler are around, and that’s practically the only time I see him anymore. He’s almost never in the cafeteria—I would burst out laughing if I ever saw him at the gym—and he’s pretty much unresponsive if he’s in his room.
I know this because I already tried that.
His room isn’t that far away from mine—just a few minutes of walking—but his door is always closed and the few times I’ve went, there’s been thumping music resonating through the hallway I could feel before I was even a hundred feet away from his door. I’m not sure how his eardrums haven’t already shattered, but he seems to hear us just the same. Well, kinda. He’s still just staring off into space half the time.
One time I got up to his room and started banging on the door, trying to get his attention. Even tried to make sure that it wasn’t getting drowned out by the bass of his music, but I never heard him even come close to the door to see who was there. I heard him shuffling around in there, but even when I yelled and pounded and even kicked the door, Amin never opened up. When I asked him about it the next day, he just shrugged and said he hadn’t heard me.
Possible, but I don’t trust it.
I mean, c’mon, I don’t care how deaf you are, you can probably hear someone if they’re making that much noise just a few feet away from you. The only problem is that Amin is smart enough to make up a better excuse, but it only just goes to prove that I don’t know what’s going on with him. Maybe all this is affecting him so much that he doesn’t know how to lie or deceive anymore, which is a strange way to think about it. That I think something is wrong because he’s not a sly-underhanded villain trying to mislead us…
But I can’t shake the feeling that he knows he has a target on his back.
Ever since that one conversation, he’s been extremely skeptical of whatever I do, whatever I accomplish. It’s gone beyond jealousy at this point; it feels like he’s watching me just as much as Baum and Fennsler. And the thing is, if he just reached out, if he just listened, I might be able to help him. At the very least, I want to warn him about what’s coming—what Samir might be trying to do behind closed doors—but I never have a chance. Every time I think I have an opening, I feel Baum’s eyes on me. Whenever I try to follow Amin out the door, Fennsler is right behind me.
Worst of all, Samir himself came to visit today.
Before the other day, I would have been happy to see him. Hell, when he knocked on the door all smiles and warmth, part of me was tricked into smiling and feeling good about having a visitor. Then I remembered how he had been talking to Teresa, the gravity of his voice when he reminded her that they had responsibilities, and the smile dropped from my face.
Samir noticed. He’s really much brighter than I thought he was. When he saw the change in my expression, the man grabbed hold of the doorframe with a giant hand and tilted his head at me.
“Hey, Ray, how ya doing? Seemed like you were almost happy there for a second,” he said before pushing off the frame and walking forward with his hands in his pockets. When he got to my desk, he sat down and frowned slightly. “That change have anything to do with me?”
“Oh, well, uh…” I started, unable to keep the noises from coming out of my mouth. Doing what I could to recover, I let out a defeated sigh and stared back at my computer screen. “It’s nothing, Mr. Almasi. The prophecies are just wearing on me and it was nice to see a friendly face.”
“Does it count as friendly if you keep calling me by the last name?” Samir asked with a raised eyebrow before giving an easy smile. “Samir’s good enough for me.”
“Uh… yeah, okay,” I said, forcing a smile before looking back at the raw text on the screen.
Oh, I know I should have something about this earlier, but I’m starting to get… the gist of what I’m reading these days. This one was about the Crusades, or, well, that’s what they claimed in the annotations. Made me think about what it would be like to be the guy who wrote the annotations, to be able to find those connections, but all I saw in the text was a story about unwanted strays.
I would have liked to have continued my “decryption,” but it was hard to focus when a murderer was sitting on my desk and leaning over my screen.
“So what’s the problem, Ray?” Samir asked abruptly, flicking his eyes to me. It was so sudden that I gulped—my anxiety evident in my every motion—but eventually I bit my cheek to gain some focus, to force myself to respond.
“It’s just frustrating, trying to make the connections to the translations and annotations when I’m… well, maybe you don’t know this, but—”
“You’re starting to understand the raw text, right?” he asked, taking the words from my mouth, but he smiled and grabbed my shoulder affectionately. “Baum and Fennsler have been keeping me up to date, kid. Don’t let it bother you.”
“Well, yeah, I’m starting to get it, but it’s really just the general flow of the language. I guess I’m… missing the nuance of it all?” I theorized, drawing a nod from the giant on my desk. “Like, this passage is supposed to have told about the Crusades, but all I’m seeing is a story about a city with too many stray dogs and cats and how they start eating each other.”
“And you don’t think that has anything to do with the Crusades?” he asked, but I quickly shook my head.
“Well, I mean, I get where they’re going with it. You can draw the comparison any way you want—that all the extra sons of the nobility in Europe were just wasting their lives away until the Church told them to go to war—but it just seems like too big of a jump. Until I know where they’re getting these clues, how they arrive at these conclusions, I’m just not sure I’m going to be entirely… useful,” I half-explained, half-confessed. As much as I feared the guy, it was easy to talk to him.
“Nah, don’t think of it like that, Ray. It’s just a process. I mean, you and Amin have a really hard job here,” Samir said, waving over at my huddled mass of a partner before looking back at me. From the way his eye twitched—how he paused when he turned to Amin—I could tell he was silently judging the man. Maybe that was the beginning of it all, the precursor to that conversation I witnessed.
But I couldn’t do anything about it in the moment.
“It’s a burden, I know,” Samir continued, folding one hand over the other. “As many luxuries as we give you, it’s got to be mentally exhausting; especially the way you guys work. I know you’re putting in the hours, Ray, and I know Amin over there has been working around the clock some nights. I’m proud of you guys for even trying.”
“Well, thanks,” I surrendered, even feeling color rise to my cheeks, “but it doesn’t feel like I’ve been accomplishing that much. At this point, I just look at one of the paragraphs and get the general feeling of what it means. It’s not even like I’m translating any particular words. It’s like… I don’t know, it’s like I’m hearing the chord progression of a song?”
“Hah, that’s a way to think about it,” Samir said with a low chuckle, shaking his head. Eventually he breathed in and nodded at my screen, letting out the air in his lungs before continuing. “Keep plugging away at it, kid; you’ll be fine. A few more weeks, you’ll read this passage and see that detail about that litter of puppies. How they got drowned as a sort of mercy killing? You’ll see it and know why it relates to the nobility; you won’t even need to look at the annotations.”
“Litter of puppies?” I asked him, raising an eyebrow, but I knew exactly what I was doing. I knew exactly what detail he was talking about, but I wasn’t asking about the prophecies. I was asking just so I could see him react; see how he acted under pressure.
Because there was no way he should have known that.
“Yeah, the litter of puppies,” he said, pointing at the screen like it was nothing. “You’ll read that passage, it’ll click, and then you’ll think you’re an idiot for not realizing it sooner. Just think of how hard it is for people to understand English phrases and idioms when they’re just learning the language. This is practically Sanskrit to you guys, so don’t be so hard on yourself.”
“No, I get that,” I said, mustering confidence for no reason other than the fact that I knew Samir had no clue he had made a mistake. “I’m asking how you knew that there was a story about a litter of puppies on this page.”
“I—what?” Samir asked, and I saw the giant man shrink just a little bit as he tried to understand my question. It took him a full second to even realize that I had caught him doing anything, but Samir was too oblivious to know what he had done wrong. “We’re talking about the Crusades passage, right?”
“Yeah, I just want to know how you saw the page and read about that litter of puppies,” I said, the tone of my voice almost hostile, and I saw Samir hesitate for just an instant. I could feel the atmosphere change in the room, could tell that Baum and Fennsler were waiting to jump on any chance to intervene, but eventually Samir let out a belly laugh and rubbed the back of his neck once he had calmed down.
“Oh, God, Ray, you had me going there for a second. Did you think I was reading that?” he asked, slapping me on the back hard enough that I almost fell out of my chair. That wasn’t intentional, but I could tell that it was still a distraction. “Oh, man, no; I just know the translations and annotations by heart, practically.”
“You know the translations?” I asked, hiding most of my skepticism, but some of it filtered through anyway. Samir was still smiling when he let out a deep breath and patted his knee.
“Yeah, Ray, I read all of them before Baum and Fennsler were even attached to the project,” he explained, nodding at his subordinates before clasping his hands in front of him. “You may not know this, but Teresa Slagen expects people to carry their weight around here. If I was head of this project and didn’t know every detail, she’d have my head.”
“Uh huh,” I muttered, eliciting an eye-roll from the man sitting on my desk.
“Trust me, kid; I have no intention of ever disappointing that woman. She can be a monster sometimes,” he said, lost in thought. When Samir looked back up, he made a small gesture toward my monitor. “Practically memorized everything we have on the book just so she wouldn’t yell at me. Is that bit about the litter of puppies actually on the screen?”
“Yeah, it’s right there,” I said before pointing at the third paragraph, but I was looking at Samir.
“I… hmm,” he started, furrowing his brow as he looked at the symbols. Eventually he shook his head and rose to his feet, trying to seem exasperated, but I knew it was just an act. Still, he smiled and crossed his arms as he turned to Baum, who had been watching the entire time. “Man, I don’t know how they make heads or tails of this stuff. This kid’s going places, you know that?”
“Seems to be a natural,” Baum replied, his gaze flickering over to me for a moment. “Maybe in a week or two he might be able to start on his own decryption.”
“Yeah, you think so?” Samir asked, but he looked over at me as he said it. I could tell that he was judging me and I could tell that he wasn’t entirely satisfied. However, I knew something he didn’t. When I pointed out that bit about the litter of puppies earlier? I pointed at the wrong paragraph on purpose, just to see if he would notice.
“Yeah, I think so, too,” Samir agreed before turning back to my handler. “Might have to get him started on some Lucidity, though. Might push him over that hump.”
“I think that’s a little extreme,” Baum replied, and I agreed. I tried to hide my reaction as best I could, but it was difficult. The very concept of Lucidity was still new to me, I only knew it as a sort of… successor to Escape and Clarity, but I didn’t realize that these guys would have the connections to make them available to us seers.
Though “available” might not be the right word. I got the distinct impression that they weren’t going to ask.
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Teresa’s just breathing down my neck for results,” Samir said, but I could tell that he hadn’t abandoned the drug idea. As I watched and listened—trying to make it look like I was doing neither—I started to really worry about what was going to happen down here, happen to us. When I looked out of my periphery and saw Samir turning to look at Amin, a pit formed in my stomach and felt like it could consume me.
“Amin, you doin’ alright?” Samir asked as he stood next to Baum, glancing at the tall man when my partner didn’t respond. With a small frown, Samir walked forward until he was standing next to Amin, who had hidden himself almost entirely in his blanket.
“Yo, buddy,” Samir said as he tapped Amin on the shoulder, but he wasn’t prepared to have Amin to slap his hand away and throw off his blanket. Once he did, we were able to see Amin’s frantic motions, the way he twitched his head at the base of his neck, the saliva that had collected at the corner of his mouth.
“Don’t you touch me!” he shouted, almost screamed, but I could tell it was just his voice breaking on him. When Amin stood up and pointed a tiny finger at Samir, I knew that it was only a matter of time before my prophetic dream was a reality. Just the effort of standing and shouting was enough to get Amin to start heaving, to sway as he stood.
My friend was on his way out, with or without Samir’s help.
“Dude, it’s okay,” Samir said, putting out empty hands to show that he wasn’t hostile. “Amin, just breathe.”
“Don’t tell me what to do and don’t you dare touch me,” Amin said, backing away from the giant and bumping into one of the empty desks nearby. He almost fell over the thing, but eventually he used his right hand to brace himself against it. “I know what you are…”
“Know what I am? Amin, buddy, it’s me. It’s Samir. We’re all friends here,” he stated, trying to stay calm, but Amin shook his head and looked at the floor.
“No friends here. No one is friends here. We’re all separate, part of something else,” he said before wiping his face and dragging his skin along his skull. “No one makes friends here. Everyone here is just here for themselves.”
“Amin, calm down,” Fennsler said from his desk, finally putting down his magazine and trying to stand up, but Amin wasn’t going to have that. Immediately he walked over to Fennsler’s desk and pointed at the fat man.
“You shut the fuck up, Fennsler! You’re not contributing anything! All you do is sit there and read gossip mags every day, so just keep sitting there. I—I… I…” Amin shouted, waving around his finger in erratic motions, but he stepped back once he lost his train of thought. I watched him squeeze his forehead and temple for a moment, but eventually he shook his head and seemed to regain control. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say.”
“Amin,” someone said, and it took me a second to realize it was me. Swallowing down my trepidation, I stood up and walked around my desk, inching closer to the little man staring at me with… well, it felt like fear. I put out my hands like Samir had earlier, even though I didn’t really think it would help.
“Ray, Ray, you don’t know what they’re doing here,” Amin said, rocking back and forth on his feet. Just from that, I knew he didn’t hate me, didn’t resent me in that moment. Right then, I was his only real ally.
And what a shitty ally I’ve been.
“They’re not doing anything, Amin, just… just calm down. You haven’t been sleeping. It’s all just fucked up right now,” I said, trying to think of any explanation or theory that might convince him. I kept approaching him, he stood still, but I felt like any wrong move, gesture, or even syllable would be enough for Amin to bolt like a scared rabbit. “It’s all just fucked up.”
“It is, Ray. It’s all just fucked up,” he agreed, nodding pathetically, and I watched as a tear forced its way out of his right eye and rolled down his emaciated cheek. When I was close enough, he spoke just above a whisper. “They know what we’re translating.”
“Of course they do. They already told us,” I said, matching his volume to try to make him seem more comfortable. Once I was within striking distance, he turned and glanced at the other three in the room. I almost jerked back because I was so surprised, but he grabbed the back of my neck and pulled me close enough to whisper, even going so far as to cup the back of my ear with his hand.
“They know where the prophecies lead, they know exactly what will happen if everything goes wrong,” he said, confusing me just enough that I didn’t react when he pulled back to look me in the eye. “And they’re trying to make it go wrong.”
“What?” I asked, but in that moment the lucid Amin I had been speaking to disappeared, and he fell back to one of the empty desks and braced himself with both hands.
“No, no, no, I don’t know,” he said, grinding the heel of his palm into his right eye, and I drifted back until I was leaning against a piece of furniture. I was too distracted to care what it was, I just watched Amin, tried to reconcile who he was now to who he had been.
Before, this had been Ravenseer, a man I trusted even though I had never seen him. Now, he was this withered little thing spouting insane ideas. But I have no room to judge people for insane ideas. I’ve seen too much to ever judge him for that.
I’ve… seen way too much.
“Amin, we can get you help if you need,” Samir said, trying to approach my frail partner, but Amin put out his hand and shook his head, avoiding eye contact. When he lifted his head, I could tell that he had already said his piece, had already surrendered.
“Not necessary. I’m… I’m sorry. I just haven’t been sleeping lately and—and… I’m just…I’m a little stir-crazy, that’s all,” he said, trembling slightly before he slapped his own shoulder, trying to force himself to stand still. “I’m a little… a little frustrated.”
“Amin, if you need a break, you just need to tell us,” Baum said, and I looked over to find him still sitting at his desk, his hands clasped together and propping up his chin. It didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest that one of his employees was losing his mind.
“I… I… it’s just that I haven’t been sleeping,” he repeated, and I could tell that it wasn’t intentional. When he breathed in, his teeth clattered like he was freezing, but I could tell it was simply just a muscle spasm. “The prophecies—my programs… just doesn’t… doesn’t seem like they’re going to work.”
“That’s fine, Amin. That’s fine,” Samir said, keeping his distance by standing across the aisle from the desk supporting Amin. One of his hands was in his pocket, but he used the other for empty gestures. “You can take a break if you want; we can give you sleeping pills or something like that. Hell, I can move you to a different department if you really want. Might just need some time away from the project.”
“I—uh… ummm… yeah, maybe,” Amin conceded, his voice disappearing as he spoke. I’ve never heard Amin acting so positively… timid, before. I don’t think it had anything to do with Samir, however. Or Baum or Fennsler or even me.
I think he just… already knew.
“If you want, you can just head back to your room. That sound good, buddy?” Samir asked, pointing at the door, and I watched as Amin followed his gaze and stared at the door. The way he breathed out—looked positively defeated—I knew that he wasn’t thinking about going back to his bedroom. I could tell that he was imagining a future where he left out the front door, left Grand Rapids, lived out the rest of his days.
But he didn’t leave. He just hung his head.
“Would you like to go to your room, Amin?” Baum asked, and I watched as Amin looked up, turned to me and… he didn’t say anything. It didn’t even look like he was trying to tell me something, trying to plead with me or beg or do anything. He just looked at me like he had a thousand things to say, but couldn’t start to explain any of them.
Then the moment was gone, he dropped his gaze to the floor and started walking to the exit.
“Yeah… yeah. I’m gonna go back to my room. Try to… try to get some rest,” he muttered, and he kept his head down for the twenty seconds it took him to leave the room and start shuffling down the hallway. I watched him leave, tried to find some other clues or hints that he would leave for me, but eventually he was gone and after a moment I couldn’t even hear his footsteps.
When I stopped staring at the doorframe, I found that Baum, Fennsler and Samir were all staring at me. I knew what they wanted, so I didn’t bother to wait for them to ask the question.
“He said… he said that he saw it all end in fire,” I said, staring into the middle distance in order to sell it. I figured it was something a crazy person would say, that it might be enough to convince them of the lie.
“That’s all he said?” Samir asked, his arms crossed as he looked down at me, and I realized that it wasn’t enough. That wasn’t enough to justify how Amin acted, how he spoke to me. I looked up at Samir and bit my lip, making and breaking eye contact with every moment. Above all else, I wanted to make it seem genuine when I “broke.”
“Well, no, not all,” I said, pausing for effect before turning to look at Amin’s discarded blanket on the floor. “I don’t know why, but he said that you and Ms. Slagen are demons.”
“Wait, what?” Samir asked, punctuating the question with a short laugh, and I felt like I was actually going to get away with it. I turned back from staring at Amin’s desk and made eye contact before sheepishly looking at my desk and rubbing the back of my neck.
“Yeah… he’s… he’s not doing so great. I think if he got away from this stuff for a bit that he’ll get better,” I proposed, even though I knew there was no way they would take my advice. Still, when I looked back at Samir, he was flustered and amused by my answer, which made me think that I had succeeded.
Though one look at Baum’s unwavering gaze made me doubt myself, I couldn’t falter when I was already doing so well.
“Yeesh, I didn’t realize the work was so hard on Amin,” Samir said before frowning and looking at Fennsler. “I mean, really? A demon? Haven’t heard anything that ridiculous since I lived out west. Just how hard are you guys working him?”
“We’re not; he volunteers to practically live here,” Fennsler excused himself as he leaned back in his chair and clasped his plump hands over his midsection. “Baum and I just sit here day after day chaperoning these two. He could have gone back to his room whenever he wanted.”
“Mhmm,” Samir looked at him skeptically, and suddenly I realized that my handlers were not especially powerful. They really were glorified babysitters: that’s how Samir looked at Fennsler, spoke to him. “You know, most of your job is to make sure they don’t end up like that. It might take a few weeks to get him back to normal.”
“Eh, he wasn’t making any progress anyway. Ray’s been our star performer, lately,” Fennsler said, punctuating it with a yawn, and I did not enjoy the spotlight being thrown on me because of it. When Samir looked back at me, I didn’t feel like I was a target, but I did not appreciate what it meant.
I could tell that Samir now considered me the only seer.
“Seems to be well on his way,” Samir agreed before turning back to Baum. “I’m going to talk to Amin—really get to the root of this problem—but I think that you guys need to plan on him not coming back for a bit. Might reassign him to the 11th floor and ease him back in later on.”
“Seems to be the best course of action. Do you need me to relay the message to Teresa for you?” Baum asked, but the giant shook his head before placing a hand on Baum’s shoulder.
“If you want. I know she’s coming in a couple days and I can brief her then. Well,” he said, looking at the ceiling in thought. “Actually, yeah, tell her so that it’s not a surprise when she gets here. I don’t want to be the one responsible for ruining her mood.”
“See? That’s why she likes you so much, Samir. You just make sure to shift the blame onto us unlucky souls,” Fennsler said with a wide grin, but I watched as Samir slowly turned to glare at him. The fat man seemed to fold into himself, which I admittedly enjoyed, but eventually the moment was over and Samir turned back to Baum with a smile.
“Right, well, I better get going and start the transfer paperwork,” Samir said as he shook Baum’s shoulder, forcing him to sway like a willowy tree. After clapping him on the back, Samir lifted his gaze and gave me a warm smile. “Take care of yourself, Ray. Don’t want you burning out before we get some use out of you.”
“I—I…” I stammered, and it seemed like Samir knew it would confuse me, because he winked before talking over me.
“Relax, kid, I’m just joking. You go at your own pace and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. We don’t want you to hurt yourself,” he said, like he actually cared, and he turned to leave with a wave meant for all three of us.
“So long, guys. I’ll check on ya soon,” Samir said, but he was out the door before he even finished the statement, leaving me alone with Baum and Fennsler. Normally, I wouldn’t have cared. I can deal with Fennsler easy enough—I just have to ignore him—and usually Baum and I get along.
However, once Samir was gone—once it was just the ghost of Amin’s presence in the air—I felt very uncomfortable around them. Not only was I now the sole object of their attention, not only was I tasked with deciphering demonic prophecies—not only was I practically just a tool for these strangers—but now I did not feel safe and I had very good reasons to feel that way.
Once I was sitting at my desk and pretending to work, pretending to not notice Baum watching me out of the corner of his eye, it really started to sink in. Amin’s warning—even if it would not help him in the slightest—was making more and more sense, as more of the threads connected in my head. I had already begun to think that there was something more sinister beneath the surface, especially after that dream with Samir and Teresa, but I hadn’t considered that there might be apocalyptic consequences for the events in this book, for the events in my life.
I hadn’t considered that the people telling me to decipher these prophecies might want them to come true, whatever they are. When we started on this project, they claimed that they didn’t know what was written there, that we were the ones who were supposed to find out, but Amin said otherwise. I know I can’t entirely trust his judgment, but maybe he did find something.
Maybe they know what is supposed to happen, what they want to happen, but they just don’t know how to do it.
Which, of course, would mean that I’m possibly helping an evil organization end the world. Or rule it. I don’t know. It’s all theory and panic right now and I’m not thinking straight. I don’t even know if Amin found anything or if he’s just legitimately insane right now. I know he thinks he was warning me, but I don’t know if there was something there. Not like with me. I pretty much know at this point that Samir, or someone who works for him, is about to make sure that Amin’s little vacation is permanent.
What worries me—and what gives Amin’s theory a little more credit—was how Samir reacted when I pointed out the wrong paragraph in the Crusades passage. I pointed at the wrong one on purpose entirely to see if he knew I was pointing at the wrong one, and he did. There wasn’t any guessing, there wasn’t any grey area right then. Sure, he could have just been flustered and frowning at any part of it, but I could tell. He knew what it said, where it said it. Samir Almasi can read the raw text.
So what the fuck do they need me for?
I don’t know, but I’m not sure I’d be any safer if I did know.
END OF ENTRY
Shit, Samir's in on it, too? Next entry is up on the 9th.