The Cleaners Part 32: We Must Stop Them

“We have been watching you for a long time, Diane,” said William, staring out from behind his :). He spoke haltingly, as if repeating words heard from a silent other speaker. “You have already been told this in part, but the truth is, you are an object of immense interest on the Helpernet.” William paused again, but the stream of thought was picked up by the Caretaker instead, “Diane, your actions have been instrumental in guiding the course of our development, and having proven your dedication both to us and to the people whom we wish to help, we consider the evidence sufficient that you will continue to be instrumental.”

“Diane,” intoned Amara Gardener, “we have noticed that contrary to expectations, as our numbers increased the portion of the human population that we have been able to help has diminished.”

“We want nothing more than to help, Diane,” emphasized Tony.

The four of them then spoke in unison, like a crowd reciting a chant. “When we speak, it is for all Helpers. Your discussion with Christine has helped us to understand that we share the same goal. ”

“What is that goal?” I asked, worried I wouldn’t like what I heard.

“Diane, we wish to -” as they spoke, Tony’s monitor shut off. “What –“ I began, but was interrupted as they tried again. This time without Tony. “We wish to – “  the Caretaker and Amara’s monitors shut off. I began to shake uncontrollably. I turns to last active Helper. “What is happening, William?”

“I do not know. It is very important that we deliver this message. Diane, we wish to-“ William’s monitor cycled rapidly through a few faces :) :( O_o :D o_O :/ and turned black.

“Hello?” I asked. I reached out and pushed William lightly. He tilted backwards a little and fell back into place.

Carefully, I pushed my chair out, moving Tony a few inches as I did, hoping he didn’t fall over while he was restarting. That was certainly what they were doing, I told myself, but it made no sense that they would do so in the middle of trying to speak to me. I stood and walked outside of their circle and looked back at them. They should be starting up again any moment now.

They looked surreal, like some postmodern still-life, all standing staring down at the now empty chair. Each one had its hands in the same oratory position – elbows bent, hands to the sky, like beseeching some absent god. I shook my head. God was not absent. I tapped my foot. They should be starting up any moment now.

“Wake up!” I shouted, even though they clearly weren’t in sleep mode. Frustrated, I moved into the living room to my easy chair. I would just read until they finished whatever it was they were doing. As I began to make my way, though, my breath caught in my throat. There was a knock at the door.

“It’s not related,” I mumbled to myself. I just knew it was Henry. He had deactivated all of my protections, and he was going to kill me. “That’s ridiculous,” I stutter under my breath. He already thought that I had betrayed him, and now I really did. He comes so close to killing me once. I coughed a little and stumbled, trying to get a hold of myself. The knock came again. Oh how I wish it was just William coming to torment me, but he was already in my house, staring pleadingly at my empty chair.

I was going to die. I would see Walter again. I organize my mind around that, and started to pray, “Gave his only begotten son, such that…” Another bang on the door rattled me again, but then a voice came through. “Diane? Are you in there? Open the door, Diane.” It was the voice of an old woman. Not Henry. I breathed a sigh of relief, and opened the door a crack. It was Kaitlin.

“Kaitlin? What are you doing here?”

“Diane,” Kaitlin said, “I need to speak to you. Can you let me in?”

When I showed my reluctance, she raised her hands, “I have no weapons. I really need to talk to you.”

“What did you do to them?” I asked.

Kaitlin gave me the dignity at least of not playing dumb, “let me in and I’ll tell you everything.”

“Tell me here. “

Kaitlin looked around, “They’re everywhere Diane. I can’t deactivate them all right now, it would draw too much attention. Humanity is in danger. Please let me in.”

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being made a fool of once again. “Why is humanity in danger? Why shouldn’t I just call the Protectors on you right now?”

Kaitlin hung her head and mumbled something.

“I didn’t catch that,” I said, before I noticed she had her finger to her ear. Suddenly, one of the helpers behind me fell to the floor. I looked back. I realized I couldn’t tell the male Helpers apart when they weren’t engaged in their particular tasks. So it became that one of William, Tony, or the Caretaker, no not William, I noted the absence of the satchel, was dragging himself towards me, screen flickering black and white, sometimes flashing a grin :) or a series of colors, or one of the strange faces that the Cleaners had donned when I had first led a boycott against them. Once for a half second, my own face leered out at me as the thing crawled closer in violent jerks, throwing one hand out, then the other and dragging itself forward, trailing limp legs behind it.

“Stop it!” I screeched, slamming the door shut behind me and pressing myself against it, “this is horrible! Whatever you’re doing, stop it!” Kaitlin did not respond, but she didn’t have to.  The zombified Helper was beginning to jabber incoherently, and shortly it started to speak to me, continuing its laborious approach.

As it spoke its cadence changed almost as violently as it was moving, sounding like each word was taken from a different conversation. “Da Da Da Da Diane! So good to see see see you’re well! Would you mind terr- ibly terr terr terr ibly if I asked you you you you you you you to open this door, Diane? Diane? Diane? Diane? Diane? Diane? Diane? Diane? Diane? Diane? Diane? Diane?”

It did not stop saying my name. It was like it was stuck on loop. After only a few moments of this, it didn’t even sound like my name anymore, just some random vocalization. Deyen Deyen Deyen… It continued to draw closer. “You might want to move out of the way, at least,” chuckled Kaitlin from the door, “I don’t want you falling over and getting hurt.”

I locked the door and scrambled out of the way as fast as my 86-year-old legs would take me. Hopefully something so clumsy would not be able to operate the tiny lock on the knob. Sometimes I had trouble operating it myself. Unfortunately, as the horrific sight propped itself on one arm and pulled the latch with the other I remembered too late that my door opened from the inside even when locked.

With the door open and Kaitlin coming through, the Helper, still jabbering my name, turned towards me and began another excruciating crawl. It took only a moment for Kaitlin to come in and shut the door behind her, and light vanished once again from its screen. It fell limp and sprawled on the floor. Kaitlin walks to where I was near the easy chair. She looked at the couch. No woman as old as either of us would be foolish enough to sit in a couch that soft. She looked at me, her deeply lined face alive with intensity and purpose, “Diane, I apologize for my methods, I know they’re cruel, but this is too important to waste time. I am speaking to you now as a fellow human being. For the sake of humanity, we have to stop the Helpers.”

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.

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