The 616 Diaries: Entry 25 by Kevin Kauffmann
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October 30th, 2019

I’ve… been busy.

That’s not really much of a surprise. I have so much to do and… well, I don’t know how much time to do it, but I’m going to assume “not enough.” That’s what it feels like; like I’m running out of the only real resource I have. My body even feels like it’s shutting down cell by cell, as if my life’s being sapped out of me by some crazy, otherworldly destiny.

I’m gonna blame lack of sleep and too much coffee. That seems right.

I’ve been making headway on the prophecies, though, or at least I’ve been doing what I can to get a better understanding of the annotations and translations. Sometimes I just stare at the raw text of a passage—one where I’ve read those translations dozens of times—and it almost seems like it’s starting to make sense. Words in my head that I remember from my reading seem to float into the gaps, little phrases poke their head out and I feel like I remember what it said instinctually, but when I go back to check my “work” it’s just completely wrong. It’s like being really bad at cryptoquotes when you’re first trying them out.

I’ve never been good at those, really, so it’s not that big a surprise I suck at this, but it’s frustrating any way you look at it. With these dreams—the way that they yell and scream at me to acknowledge their existence—I really did think it would start to click. It feels like I’m almost there, but I’m not sure how much of that is wishful thinking, delusion, or both. All I know is that whenever I think I’ve made a breakthrough, I inevitably just set myself up for disappointment. It got to the point that I groaned and pulled at my hair and Baum of all people came to pat me on the shoulder. Fennsler I would have just shrugged it off—thought he was just doing his normal thing of trying to act like a normal person—but Baum is another story entirely. He doesn’t offer consolation or comfort as a general rule. If he treated me like he does Amin, I’m not sure how I’d react.

Oh, I guess I haven’t written about that yet. Amin isn’t doing so hot. That frustration I’ve been experiencing because I haven’t been able to magically intuit what ancient demonic prophecies say? Nothing compared to my partner’s suffering. Amin has pumped the translations, the raw text, the annotations, everything he could into his programs; he’s analyzed the language a thousand times while taking into account so many random variables like extinct cultural references. And you know what he’s been able to find?

Absolutely fucking nothing.

His programs find absolutely no correlation between the translations and the text, can’t line up anything—can’t help him out at all—and it’s actually gotten to the point where Amin’s given up entirely on trying to “hack” the prophecies. He told me during one really uncomfortable meal that he was working on a sort of code that might be able to help him out, but it’s been four days since we’ve talked about it and I haven’t seen him applying it to any of the translations. Well, during daylight hours, at least. I’m putting in about sixty hours myself, but that shrinking little man is there when I leave for the dorms and he’s still there when I get there the next morning.

Oh, yeah, I moved into the dorms. I’ll talk about that in a bit, because Amin is more important than that.

As I said, he’s putting in all these hours and it’s not to set up some sort of demonic cipher. He’s been reading the raw text. Actually trying to figure it out with just his eyes and an eager mind. Whenever I look over at his desk, he’s rocking back and forth, mouthing along with each ancient symbol, but I know it’s just placeholder syllables, I know he’s not saying the actual sounds. It looks and seems so desperate, but I think he’s trying to brute force his way into understanding what it all means. By pairing the symbols to the sounds, I think he might just be trying to find something to work with. When he’s wrong, he starts over, or at least that’s what it looks like to me. I’ve found myself looking over just in time for him to slap the desk and rub his face before tapping the screen and throwing himself back into the beginning of the passage.

I’m worried about him. I really am. I know he wants to know how to do this—he really wants to be able to translate this stuff—but it’s just beyond him. Whatever he’s done so far, it’s tapped out his abilities, and he’s just throwing himself at a wall again and again and he’s just leaving himself bloody. He twitches—the bags under his eyes are just straight-up visible now—and it’s obvious to me, Baum and Fennsler that he’s at a breaking point. We don’t say anything, we barely even look at each other, but it’s like this overbearing, ominous presence at this point.

And from what I remember of the last dream I mentioned, I’m actually pretty sure that he’s never going to be able to translate or understand the prophecies. I don’t think he’s connected to Amon like I am to Räum; it just isn’t there. For all his smarts—and he is ridiculously smart—this is just something he’s never going to be able to do. His electronic toys, his natural intelligence… none of that matters when he doesn’t have the mystical cipher that’s supposed to go along with these things. I could see why he would be so angry and frustrated about it, especially after a lifetime of being able to figure things out before anyone else.

And, well, I think he knows that I’m ahead of him on this front. When he does take the time to look at me, I feel… envy from him. When I smile or something clicks, or when I read one of the passages that resonates with me, I invariably look around as if I’m looking for approval. Fennsler almost never catches it—he’s too busy reading celebrity gossip—Baum will nod at me every once in a while, but Amin? He’ll slowly turn and, just for an instant, glare at me. I can almost feel his gaze burn through me for that fraction of a second, but then he’ll smile and nod and give me wordless congratulations. I know it’s partially real—he does appreciate that I’m making headway—but I can see the truth behind it. He wishes he has what I apparently have, and he resents me for having it.

Which, I mean, it’s understandable. I don’t want him to resent me—as far as I’m concerned we’re in this together—but I can kinda feel his feelings going darker, feel the animosity squirming in the darkness of his soul. I know that’s melodramatic and angsty-teenager of me to say, but that’s just how it feels. I have this sense that we’ve diverged, and instead of the lovable sidekick character I’d want him to be after my meteoric rise to prominence, it feels more like he’d be the jealous rival.

I know, tropes upon tropes, but I can’t help how it feels, and I’m limited in my ability to express it. As connected as I am to Räum, I could never come close to his… eloquence, I guess. That seems too high-minded to say of him, but I’m only using it as a frame of reference. Compared to him, I’m just a monkey hammering away on a typewriter, and everybody seems to be betting on me showing off and producing the next Shakespeare play. Not Hamlet, as the theory goes, but a new one. And for all of my burgeoning confidence, I don’t know—and I sincerely think I don’t—have the ability.

But even then, I’m leaving Amin behind.

When I left Zodiac’s office today, I said my goodbyes like I’ve done for the last week. I logged off of my computer, stood up and tried to make small talk with the agents. Even then at 8PM, Baum and Fennsler were still just sitting at their desks, seemingly prepared to stay the night. I even asked them as much, as a joke.

“Well, as far as policy goes, we’re not allowed to leave you two unattended while the raw text or translations are being accessed,” Baum explained, turning to me with a weary look. There was no smile in his eyes as he breathed out and looked back at his computer monitor.

“That’s right. We have to babysit Amin when he decides to burn the midnight hours,” Fennsler added as he licked his finger so he could turn the page of his magazine. He didn’t even bother to look at me, and I decided that he was likewise unworthy of my attention.

I turned back to Amin, who was still murmuring under his breath as he stared at his screen, holding up his head by means of handfuls of hair. I saw the passage he was reading—a retelling of a scene from the Trojan War that “contained” clues about the 17th century—and walked around to the front of his desk. He didn’t seem to notice me while I was moving, and I could see his eyes furiously scanning every symbol of every line; a flurry of activity that I knew was futile.

“Amin, you okay?” I asked, but the small man didn’t stop looking at the words. I know I mentioned that he had been shrinking earlier, but it was really starting to get to me. I know he’s eating, I’ve seen him do it, but this process looks like it’s been literally consuming him. I can’t really point fingers since I’ve lost about fifteen pounds since I got here, somehow, but it just seems like he’s wasting away. I wish I could say that it was just physical, but his mental state has obviously been deteriorating. Looking back, I’m not sure he even heard me the first time.

“Amin,” I repeated, a little harsher than I’d like, but it was just so I could get his attention. He grunted at that, but I decided that wasn’t enough of a response, so I knocked on his desk and he instantly lifted his head to glare at me. I think the only reason I even got his attention was because it shook his screen.

“W—what, Ray?” he asked, annoyed, but that annoyance was barely noticeable. His voice was scratchy—abrasive, somehow—and I could tell that he just wasn’t used to speaking above a whisper anymore.

“You alright? I was just trying to say goodbye,” I said, and I could tell that he didn’t appreciate it. The way his eyes narrowed, he must have felt that this little interaction was nothing to him, beneath him, and he waved me off before turning back to his screen.

“Yeah, bye, then,” Amin said, but that wasn’t enough for me. I placed one hand on his desk to make it clear I wasn’t leaving yet.

“Dude, talk to me. What’s going on with you?” I asked, and I watched as Amin rolled his eyes and propped himself up on his left hand.

“Guh—nothing! There’s nothing wrong; I’m just tired,” he claimed, but I was already skeptical.

“Yeah? How much are you sleeping these days?” I asked, at which point he lifted his chin and sneered.

“All I need to, man. I’m just trying to get some work done and you’re not helping,” Amin said before looking back at his screen. I let him stew like that for a second—watched him stretch the skin around his eye as he pulled back with his hand—but I wasn’t just going to let it go.

“Look, stop re-reading the Trojan War segment and just talk to me, okay?” I said as I sat down on the surface of the desk next to him, turning to look briefly so I knew I wouldn’t fall onto my ass. When I turned back, I saw him staring at me with a visual scream; shock, anger, disbelief and praise all rolled into one little expression.

“How… h—how did you know the scene?” he asked, and I didn’t even think about it.

“Dude, I could tell. It’s not like you’re the only one who can read a computer screen,” I said flippantly, but he was still looking at me like a freak when I finished the explanation. That confused me.

“Since when could you read the raw text?” he asked, and I instantly realized why he had been so stunned. Without even thinking I turned back to Baum and Fennsler, and neither of them were the passive observers they had been when I tried to leave. They were paying attention; they weren’t letting a single word or reaction slip past them.

Honestly? Right then? Didn’t feel safe.

“I… uh…” I started to make noises as I got up and walked around so that I could look at the screen again and see if I could make sense of the text. On one hand I was frightened because of that fear playing havoc in my gut, but frankly I was kinda excited. If this was finally my turning point and I could read the raw text, then I could really get started.

But when I looked at the screen again, it was just another collection of alien letters.

“Huh, since never, I guess,” I said as I leaned down and propped myself up with a free hand. I felt like… felt like I needed to try to play down what had just happened to me. When I first looked at that screen, I knew that it was the Trojan War segment. It wasn’t a guess or assumption, I read the words and knew what it was. When I looked again, it was back to normal, so… I don’t know. In any case, between how Amin reacted, how the agents had been watching, I felt like I needed to play dumb.

Which, if you haven’t guess by now, is one of my natural talents.

“Must have just seen something on the side of the screen or the heading before you clicked the page,” I hazarded the guess before standing back up and walking around the screen. I was trying to make it seem as real as possible, like I had made a mistake, but I’m not sure I convinced anyone. Definitely not Amin. The guy looked at me like I was trying to hide a second head.

“Hmph, yeah, maybe,” Amin said, but this time he didn’t look back at the screen. He was just watching.

“Must be it,” I agreed, trying to reinforce the point, and I crossed my arms as I kept the conversation going. “Anyway, shouldn’t you be getting back to your room? I know you’re putting in extra hours these days, but what about these two?” I asked, finishing it with a gesture back at the agents. “They have to go home, too.”

“They don’t care,” Amin said, but Fennsler cleared his throat and earned our attention, even if he was back to turning pages in his magazine.

“Not entirely true,” he said as he licked his finger again to turn yet another page. “As precious as you are, Amin, it is a chore.”

“As if you’re the one staying up,” Amin grumbled, and I could tell that he had meant to say it to himself. However, due to what I’m guessing is malnutrition and sleep deprivation, he spoke loud enough for everyone to hear.

Luckily, they took it as a joke.

“He has you there,” Baum added with a soft laugh before turning to me, of all people. “I tend to have the late-night duty.”

“How late does that go?” I asked, and Baum gave me a look I’ve grown accustomed to.

It usually means that I’m getting too curious.

“Late enough that it becomes early,” Baum said before looking over at his partner. “I send Amin back to his room so he can get some sleep, but Fennsler does tell me of mornings where Amin is still sitting outside the door, ready and eager to start his day.”

“Yes, indeed. You could learn something from his work ethic, Ray,” Fennsler said as he threw his magazine onto his desk and then stood up, collecting his coat from the back of his seat. I was watching him trying to force his fat into the coat when Baum said something low enough that only I could hear him.

“Yes, Ray. You could,” he said, but I knew he did not want me to turn and acknowledge it. I knew that at this point we were putting on a show of our own. I thought about what had been said, looking at Amin as Fennsler loudly gathered his things. My compatriot wouldn’t turn to me, was trying to look like he was burying himself in his work, but I could tell that his mind was on other things.

“Alright, well. Try to get some sleep, man. It’s not like we have a deadline or like the end of the world is right around the corner,” I said before slapping him lightly on the shoulder and trying to laugh off all of the awkwardness of the last few minutes, but all it did was force me to realize how futile it was.

“Yeah, dude, I’ll see what I can do. I just want to take another look at this passage; it’s important,” Amin said before looking up at me. “The whole Cassandra angle makes me think it has a clue in it.”

“Yeah, like what?” I asked, trying to seem genuinely interested. Actually, fuck that, I was interested, but it was just bad timing. However, what he said next got my full attention.

“Well, you know, she was a seer, herself,” Amin said before looking down and breathing out in resignation. That’s what it seemed like, at least, before he lifted his head and made eye contact. “Saw Troy’s destruction, saw the future and everything. Thought it might be important.”

“Yeah, could be,” I said, trying to seem excited even if it was flimsy, but before I could go further and try to seem even more interested, his eyes stopped me. It was a silent plea; an attempt at a deeper understanding. He was begging me to be quiet.

“Yep. Though it didn’t seem to help her, right? Knew the future, but even with all that she couldn’t change it. Couldn’t save anyone,” he said before breaking eye contact and biting his lip. “Knew it was coming, but she couldn’t even save herself.”

“Amin…” I muttered, but I stopped talking once I realized that he had bitten his lip hard enough that a small trickle of blood was coming from the corner of his mouth.

“Just figured that if this was a prophecy by a demon who’s knowing he’s going to die, he might leave a clue somewhere in the passage,” he said before he licked his lips and wiped away the blood in the process. When he looked back at me, he actually seemed to be in better spirits. “Must have sucked, right?”

“What, to know he was going to die?” I asked, trying to go for the right questions, and Amin nodded and rocked in his chair slightly.

“Yeah. Had to leave all his clues in coded prophecies. Must have been really inconvenient. Good thing we don’t have to do that these days, right?” Amin asked with an obviously fake smile, and I had to force myself not to turn to look at Baum and Fennsler. It would have been a betrayal.

“Yeah, good thing,” I agreed softly, but I didn’t really know what he was saying. In the end, I realized that this wasn’t the right place to ask him about it, so I knocked on his desk again and forced a smile before turning to leave.

“I’ll let you get to it, then. Have a good night, guys,” I said, only realizing as I was heading out the door that Fennsler had disappeared on me. I knew he had been getting up to leave, but I guess he had decided to make his exit as Amin and I made our “small talk.” I gave Baum a nod, which he returned, but I watched out of my periphery as the agent turned his gaze back on my poor comrade.

As I was walking down the hallway, I totally understood why Amin was afraid.

And now, sitting in my room, I’m not exactly sure what to do about it. Like I briefly mentioned and then totally avoided explaining earlier, I live in the on-site dormitories now, which is in the 9th subbasement of the facility. It was just easier than getting Baum to pick me up from the hotel every day, and I confess that Grand Rapids just really doesn’t interest me at all. The only thing that doesn’t bore me anymore is the prophecies, and to be just that much closer to them just made sense.

It still feels weird though, like this will never be “home.” The walls are off-white and the lighting is softer than the fluorescents of the hallways, but it feels more like a prison cell than a bedroom. I have a desk, a fantastic mattress that’s totally better than what Renee and I used to sleep on, they even gave me a TV and a computer and all these amenities.

Like, way too much.

When I first got in here, I filled out a form that asked what game systems I wanted, like it was just nothing. Overall kinda swanky and, although I haven’t tried it out, I’ve been told that they have room service. I have nothing to complain about as far as what they’re giving me.

But it really does just feel like a containment area. I never really feel comfortable sleeping here, and there’s just this… presence. This kind of foreboding atmosphere that makes me feel like I don’t belong, even though this is the first real time I’ve ever felt like I know what’s going on, or that I belong in this world at all, really. No matter how confused I get, or what kind of chaos goes on in my mind, this feels like the real thing.

But this room, man… Something about it just crawls under my skin. I’m going to have to assume that I’m under surveillance—that there’s cameras hidden somewhere in the walls—that they’re doing their damndest to look at what I’m writing on this jankity-ass laptop I brought from home; all of that makes sense to me and I just have to assume they’re doing it. They wouldn’t be so reckless as to not cover the bases like the NSA has been doing to the public for x amount of years. I don’t even really judge them for it, even if I don’t like the lack of privacy. I just justify it because I’m on their side, I guess.

I think I’m on their side, at least; maybe I’m only on their side as long as I’m useful to them. It would be cruel if that was the case, but I can’t help this gnawing feeling in my gut, this acidic burn that’s going on at the base of my brainstem. These guys are big, they have a lot of power, and I’m sure they don’t want any secrets getting out. I’m not sure what they’d do about it, but I don’t want to find out what happens when I’m not useful to them.

Though, really, I’m not scared for me. That’s not where I’m at right now. I’m more worried about Amin. When they first recruited me, they talked about seers, spies and enthusiasts. He’s not a seer—at least I don’t think so anymore—but I don’t think he’s a spy. I know I only really knew him as Ravenseer, but I don’t get the spy vibe from him. He’s just the kind of guy who wants to know more, so I guess that makes him an enthusiast.

It makes me wonder how the Order feels about enthusiasts.



Man, Amin's in trouble, Next entry goes up on November 5th! Remember, remember...