4703 days after I was an idiot.
The chamber always feels cold. I wake up, fully armored in proud greens and blues, and hop out, long black gun in hand. A few other soldiers are milling about, standing at similarly colored holographic consoles looking through deployment options, trying to decide where best to go.
There is no best. I shoulder my rifle, its weight unfelt by my boosted body, and march--double time--to the closest flying transport. The ship is massive, as befits its enormous armor, engines and weapons. It too wears my colors, greens and blues, smeared across it as if by a finger-painting child with square fingers, at various spots, like the rear-loading ramp that falls open as I approach, the child has pushed down hard, leaving distinct square patterns before moving on. I hop on. 17 other unique people sit aboard, but I can't tell who. They are fully armored, identical in their gear, only differentiated by their choice in weapons.
As the transport takes off, I look for my fellow idiots. There's usually at least one other in the front lines. I spot him three down on the other side, fighting in his safety mesh. He hasn't been here long. This is clear because he somehow managed to override the gear defaults in deployment and had himself issued duel pistols, which he incessantly checks as we sit silent, stepped in the deep all-deafening thrum of the motor.
I key up an outside view, overlayed over my right eye. We're coming up on an island, one likely filled to the bring with the machines, coiled around every green-topped tree and under each bush. I think they like the verdant places. I look forward. Fire is pushing up from the island's surface in our direction. A meteor shower in reverse comes at us.
Around me, everyone is calm. I watch the incoming storm and wonder if they are and they think we'll get through it, or if they just don't care. I care. I push out the side door with a quick turn of the hand and a kick. The initial pull of the wind almost sucks me out right there. No one looks up. The HUD over my eye is now almost a solid mass of flaming orange destruction. No one moves.
I'm tempted to tell them to fucking do something. But I know they won't hear me. So I jump. Minutes later I can feel the impact buffet me down at an increasing speed as the hot shells tear a wing off the plane in an explosive jerk. I look as it veers to the right, falling directly towards an enormously tall tree. The plane is below me now, so I spread the armor's wings and glide. A few of the others, perhaps forced into attentiveness, attempt to bail out. But they're falling too fast and too low to the ground. None of them will make it.
Another minute later, the orange-licked transport completes its hard right turn into the tallest tree on the mountain. For a moment the artificial greens clash with nature's, then there is nothing but fire.
A brief updraft from the explosion pushes me higher as I search for another incoming transport above me or a group infiltrating below.
I glide for a long time, chucking altitude as I look for some other sign of humans, or what passes these days.
Above me, suddenly the staccato heart beat of a failing transport. I look up and see a whole group bail out the back as the green-blue whale of a ship seems to tilt backwards, returning to the ocean of the forest's canopy.
Moving my wingtips, I join formation as we glide, almost sideways in a tight curve. In front of us now, an enormous tentacled abomination of a machine, firing in the direction of the deployment center.
We take the aerial advantage while we have it and go for the slowest moving tentacles, ridged black plastic and metal. Our weapons bite easily enough and are able to cut a few off before we fall to the ground.
No one lands lightly.
We breach radio silence and group up, making for a vent large enough to use as an entrance, where we can really wreck havoc. I don't see the reaching limb until it is too late. If anyone else did, they gave no indication. By the time I hear it whistling through the air and turn my rifle upwards to aim, it's too late. A heavy black tentacles, wide as a truck, falls on us and then there is nothing.
5234 days after my foolish mistake.
For the first time since I was an idiot, I wake up in my clothes. There is a brief moment, which I had thought myself long over by now, when my heart leaps to think that it was all a dream. But the cold chamber is still all around me, the soft slurping noise that the circulator makes is still there, as it has been every time I've woken up since this began. But something is different. I push at the cold sea-green glass and experience a moment of panic as it sticks closed. But a harder push and it squeaks open.
I stumble out into briefly-too-bright light and struggle my eyes open.
I stand before a tribunal.
Wordlessly a general takes off his hat and scratches at his bald pate. He reaches out a hand and receives a small grey circular device from the general to his right. He returns his hat to it's absolutely straight position atop his head, salutes, and hands it over.
Though I stand agape, the discipline kicks in. I take the dimensional sift and return the salute.
The general to his left also salutes, then leans over and presses the big fuchsia-colored button on the top. I am pulled in every direction at once.
When I received the training as a potential sifter, about 200 days ago, they told me I wouldn't feel, think or dream as I'm filtered through the branes of the universe.
4 hours before I am a complete dunce.
I walk into work like it is any other day and tie on the orange apron and start walking the aisles. Bored. Looking for people who need help but hoping I don't find them.
I spot a whole wall of some sort of home improvement package. The front of the box is ugly as sin, some sort of device that claims to be for "heating and seating." It is somehow supposed to save money on your energy bill. It involves hooking a bunch of tubes to a single unit.
It's been sitting here for weeks without moving a single unit. I figure if I build a floor version, maybe we can make some sales. Hell, it will be more interesting then helping a middle-aged housewife find the perfect hammer. I go to find my supervisor.
5423 days after I was a total ass.
We stopped buying the progenitor units off the shelves when we discovered that the stores would only order more. Now my orders are to secretly burn them after hours. Only the last store had a camera I didn't notice and I had to dig deep into the funds supplied by command to change identities and escape the authorities.
This is now the eightieth home improvement store I've worked at since the first sift.
When you work at one, you don't really think about how many others exist. Now that's all I think about.
Apparently eighty is my unlucky number because when I walk in the door for my first day at work there's already some pimply-faced teen crawling over a shelf to assemble a "Power-saving furniture and home decoration set" made of black plastics and cold metals.
I rush at him and make an excuse that gets him away from the work. He looks dour and slopes off like I've ruined his day. I begin disassembly. I can't burn the parts here in daylight, but I can drop them into as many separate trash cans as I can manage while still looking sane.
I make it to the central device. An awkwardly shaped black plastic unit, about the size of a stand-up heater and twice as ugly. It is only then that I notice a secondary plug inserted into a power strip on the shelf.
Panic grips me.
I quickly pop open the back panel and reach inside. No one notices the squishy sound of organic computers as I pull out the parts. Heads turn when what I pull out is about the size and color of a human heart, pulsing slightly, and dripping in black oil. It's texture is that of a steak and this time people around me gasp. I mumble some excuses about pests in the machine and throw it in its own trash bag.
I pull the plug. The machine starts anyway. My careful work, taking it apart over the hours reverses in minutes as magnets engage and it pulls itself together.
A signal blares from my pocket as everyone begins to scream. My sifter, recently re-powered with two D batteries, has heard a machine signal.
A low tone sounds and I turn to look at the kid who put together the device. He is staring with surprise at a tentacle that has dived into his chest.
I am pulled everywhere at once, but the blackness is brief this time.
5424 days since my stupidity exceeded all bounds.
There is something both surprisingly soft, and surprisingly cold. I think I've made it back to the tube, but no, it is snow. I am in a Jeep and the Jeep is sideways.
I look up. I am also sideways and before me is the grandeur of a winter mountain. I see ski lifts. A pretty blonde girl, shorter than I but perhaps the same age, comes to a stop in front of the jeep; a brief hockey stop that throws up snow almost, but not quite, to my nose. She's wearing a white puffy coat with a fringe of white fur on the hood and white knit mittens that join her fingers into a solid curve. She reaches down and grabs my hand. I push, she pulls, and I get out of the sideways Jeep and stand up.
"Are you all right?"
I pull the sift from my pocket. Not enough power.
"I guess it got me to the nearest out-of-use power source," I mumble.
The girl gives me a strange look and pats my head with her hand. "Are you sure you're alright? Did you get hit in the head?"
I move to the hood and try to open it, but because it is sideways, it's difficult to pull open.
"Can you help me with this?" I motion the girl at the hood of the car.
"Aren't you supposed to wait until someone turns the car over?" She looks incredulous.
"No time. Please."
She comes over and takes one side of the hood. I take the other. We wrench at it hard and it finally pops up. I open up the bottom of the sift and sit it on the active terminal of the car battery, holding it there.
"What are you doing," she asks.
I shrug. A moment later the sift tones. I compose myself, but am then struck by a whim.
I turn to the girl and wrap her in a hug.
"Thank you, I'm sorry," I say.
Then I step back and disappear into a thousand pieces. My last thought is that I apologized to someone. Thank god.
1 minute after I end the world.
I am puzzled and a little frightened that the heating and whatever unit has suddenly started waving its tubes in the air, as if it was probing for something. Did I put it together wrong?
The guy who came in this morning asking for employment runs full speed out of aisle 15 and tackles me. He shoves a small round device into my hands and before he can do anything else, one of the tubes has grabbed him by the head and pulled him away. I hear a tone. Then nothingness tears me apart.
5425 days since I earned my recruitment.
The cylinder is unbelievably cold, colder than the snow. I am in a relaxed-duty uniform. I know I need to report.
When I step out of the generator, into blinding light, I am still shivering. There's a mechanic working on one of the other stations down a single row from me. I turn to him and grumble.
"Why can't they make these things any warmer?"
He turns to look at me blankly. His jacket is covered in pockets for tools, but in the top-right one a paper pamphlet sticks out, titled: 'Assembly instructions.'
Oh. He's like me.
He's an idiot too.