Author: Becky Neher

Something enormous strode through the double doors of the dilapidated, rust-begrimed warehouse. Not quite whale, not quite elephant, not quite ogre, but nevertheless a creature hefty, fleshy, and odorous. Sporting purple and magenta beads glittering around a blubbery neck, swishing side to side with the dainty lumber of their wearer. Followed by an impressive halting of momentum just inside an entryway that only previously looked the opposite of cramped.

The elephant-like snout let fly a wet, windy, motor-igniting-right-at-your-ear snuffle, throttling everyone to attention.

This sun-eclipsing quadruped was my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, Mrs. Beleever, and she owned this warehouse.

Actually, she owned several warehouses, ours receiving products, materials, machines, scraps, sketches, blueprints, and junk other warehouses failed to utilize, but which looked to inexpert head honchos including Mrs. Beleever like still-promising stuff.

My own high-productivity output hailed from the Make-the-Future-Real room.

Specifically, I was a Gadget Sorter.

Which was pretty much what it sounded like.

After grouping doodads and doodad-parts into what according to my best albeit wild guesses were their ultimate purposes, matching them up with potentially (but possibly not at all) relevant diagrams and so forth, I packaged and delivered them to agents of PerfectSource or Always-a-Product, with whom Mrs. Beleever and her cohort had decades-long contracts, to be extended indefinitely into the foreseeable (and unforeseeable) future, made possible by something called Being Well-Connected.

Having cleared the room of all sound, the behemoth deposited her own. Earplants in us non-jumbo species modulated the subsonic rumble to an audible frequency.

“Wee underlings”–my whole body shook–“an announcement.” No shit. “Remember your lunch breaks must not exceed ten minutes. Your shifts start and end precisely on the hour. Sloppiness earns a pay dock. Time to tighten ship. Oh, and happy birthday to my dear wonderful husband and COO, Gorrup, wind beneath my feet. Dismissed.”

Mrs. Beleever then backed out of the overstuffed, floor-cracked, multiple codes-violating edifice, industrial lights rattling in their sockets, people braced against pillars.

Someone next to me grumbled that there were people with knowledge and experience with putting things together, folks who actually knew what they were doing, creating stuff that actually worked, and who could function in a productive and competent fashion, if only resources weren’t monopolized by these hulking extra-Earth interlopers, beings lacking all seriousness, all substance, really under-the-rug sweepers, and that if it weren’t for them human society would be a wonderful and amazing place for everyone.

I took down the last of my diet SuperSudz with a loud straw-sucking slurp that somewhat unfortunately bothered no one due to the lingering ringing in everyone’s ears.

I then went back to my thingamajig organizing.

To be honest, I don’t know what all this has to do with the rest of the story, which is about hovercraft and teleporting and neural uploads (the real kinds though, not the fake ones you normally read about).

The real story starts later that evening, back at my apartment. Where for days I’ve seen ants crawling on the floorboards. Not a line, not an army. Just one or two here or there. Solo explorers.

Back at Tolerable Lodgings ant headquarters, no reports on what these mini trailblazers find.