His father was an investment banker before the world ended. Somehow the Rapture, as his father had so often referred to it before it had happened, looked a little less rapturous as their estate crumbled away from the wave sliced end of the world into an ocean filled with fire while the man knelt on the cliff edge shaking his fists at a god made of money.
Somehow self-reliance and bootstrap philosophy tumbled headlong into the gaping maw of a brutal new reality as constant darkness conjured by the chilling specter of Mt. Aramis cast frostbite into every limb, maiming a man who was once taller and prouder than his own reflection.
Somehow that one hand that crushed a child to the ground could be filled with roiling hatred at watching one more meal dart away into the snowy underbrush after a bungled trap--one hand filled with blood, pumped through a heart so sad that he gave it up and leapt into the fearsome crushing waves where their house had once existed.
And John Dramery watched this. And John Dramery laughed later, at the majestic fish his father had been, washed ashore only to beg for the solace of water again. And John Dramery meditated on the concept of a clockmaker god, and the golden haired nightmare that swallowed his father in the deeper waters near the horizon, and his father's pocket watch, frozen but otherwise undamaged by the new world and its challenges.
He watched the second hand, counting the seconds that were not ticking away out loud, staring at it for hours before going to sleep each night. He stared at it for months, perhaps. He stared at it until he invented time. Dusty brown eyes under black hair and so young to have invented something that everyone had once carried on their wrists and in their coats. Scarcely a bed sheet to wrap around his emaciated body which bore the secret to counting days, counting years in a world with no weather patterns and no movement from the sun. Rotten teeth and dried tears adorning one who had become that clockmaker god made flesh.
"Father was a fool," John had stated with finality, his first hushed words to himself. Setting off for civilization, John bid his time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to steal Somatis and make it his own.
It was just past midnight when the remainder of the despairing and destitute had vacated from their tent communities underneath Somatis and moved elsewhere for a chance to stay safe. Simon was eyeing his bedroll, a spare brought in by Merrick, laid out on the vast floor of the underground concrete warehouse. Part of the deal in agreeing to cooperate with Sarah and Merrick was looking out for those less fortunate than himself.
Although it certainly seemed hazardous to make an outward showing of support for something that a nearly omnipresent force desired gone. Sarah had not specified what exactly it was that she believed Simon could do. Simon tried to rationalize her actions in his head. He was a lawyer--an amazingly good lawyer by his own concept, apparently twisted by whatever it was that tidied the streets and minds of Somatis and defied further scrutiny.
There were few peers on the surface to fill Simon's shoes in the courts. Simon started to get queasy considering this: If an unseen force wants me to propel judgments that uphold the law, then the law itself cannot support itself without the existence of that force. Whoever or whatever it is, the arbiter has a vested interest in my cases. Something I'm doing is important to it.
What happens when I change? Simon wondered. The warehouse suddenly felt inexplicably colder than the outside air.
Sarah and Merrick laid their bedrolls side-by-side. Simon had discerned that the kiss they had shared earlier was not a mere sign of affection. He thought Sarah was pretty in a rugged, daring way, but she had clubbed him in the back of the head not seven hours ago; that was more than enough to put aside any lonely thoughts that may have crept through his head on a better day. The pain and dizziness had subsided, though, and Merrick had been particularly hospitable, offering him bread and soup as a condolence for the interruption of… everything.
He was lonely, though. As usual, party of two, he thought. People pair up. He had never paired up before, though he was fairly young for his profession. In a solemn, subtle voice deep within his head, he started to wonder whether this arbiter could have actively prevented him from having relationships as well.
Sarah and Merrick were crawling into their bedrolls, shivering as exposed bits of skin touched the cold fabric. "When you are ready to sleep, Simon, would you mind switching the lantern off?" Sarah asked.
"Sure," Simon replied.
He stood, looking at the expanse of the room, wondering where all of those people could have gone. Even the existence of this chamber would have to have been known about. Why does the arbiter only choose certain parts of the city to observe? He wondered. He looked at the dim outlines of the paper buildings some twenty yards away, red buildings gone black to the darkness of their only lantern, mounted on a post between their beds.
Suddenly, the buildings were even darker. Most of the room plunged into pitch black before Simon's eyes adjusted. Under the lantern, garbed in a broad cloak, soaking up the light, stood the silhouette of a watcher. At first Simon thought, the arbiter! Then, calming himself, he realized that it was just Merrick with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders.
It was Merrick until it flicked a hand towards the ceiling. There was light. The room lit up just as it had hours ago, ceiling beams blindingly illuminating the floor. Impossible, Simon thought, having watched a young boy crawl along the iron grid that the lights were suspended from, plucking each one down until there were none left on. In fact, the boy had accidentally dropped one in the corner of the room, shattering it all over the floor. That one was reattached and also lit. The shards of glass that had been abandoned on the floor were gone.
And so was the arbiter. Merrick and Susan were standing up now, shrugging off their bedrolls and blankets as quickly as possible.
"What in the hell is happening?" Susan cried.
"He's here." Merrick solemnly whispered.
Simon blinked and an old man was standing less than a foot from him, staring directly into his eyes. The old man's brown eyes and slender frame punctuated a broad, almost warming smile. Something distinct and strange crept under the surface of these wrinkles, however, as if his skin couldn't decide how old it wanted to be, shifting faster than distinguishable.
"Hello, Simon," said John Dramery, the man who had given Simon every privilege at the firm, leaving him to run it as a partner while he began residency as a Justiciar.
Simon almost shook his hand before feeling how sweaty his own palms were.
"Who are you, John Dramery?" Merrick demanded through grimly clenched teeth.
"I am god, Merrick Perlman. I run Somatis and therefore run the world. What are you, Merrick Perlman?" John tersely replied.
"I suppose I am a servant, if unwilling," Merrick said.
"I suppose you are an ant." John turned his head towards Merrick, outstretched one arm pointing a finger at Merrick's head.
Soundlessly, Merrick distorted. His facial skin became rapidly more defined, jawline jutting out and taut lines that had once only shown during a smile becoming apparent even as, in fear and possibly pain, Merrick reached up to try to grab his face as if to stop the alterations. His hands jerked away as his hair began to fall in clumps, his eyes growing thick pouches of skin underneath them and large pock marks forming on his neck as the lumps around his throat jumped out. At first, Merrick's eyes seemed to bulge, but eventually they stopped, sinking into Merrick's head. All of the skin on Merrick's face seemed like wet paper stuck to a skull. Yet, his head continued to shrink. Merrick slumped forward, collapsing on the ground after spinning half a step. He was alive, trying desperately to draw air through a dry and cracked mouth.
"You people amused me just enough to let you simply life for me. Thank you, Sarah Molloy, for gather the weak and stupefied in one place for my purposes."
"You can't have them!" she adamantly screamed while gazing at the varicose veined skull of her lover gasping on the floor. She lunged at John, but he merely waved a hand at her, freezing her in place.
"I can have them. I'm god. I'm just a little impatient about little details like chasing down all of the refuse," John stated with a snort. "Do you want to try to stop me, Simon?"
Simon just stared. He was also frozen in place. He did not know to what he was talking to, but he said, "Are you really John Dramery?"
"As much as you are an ant, I suppose. A useful ant. Allow me to deliberate on your functionality while I deal with a pest problem."
John gestured with both hands stretched out, fingers splaying outward like a fan towards the tent encampment that no longer occupied about half of the warehouse floor. Simon watched with horror as, slowly, hundreds of people wearing little more than rags walked backwards to their encampment as if dancing. Quivering in the air, Simon could tenuously feel a tug of pressure while watching the people shuffle in an unnatural jerking rhythm back to their origin roughly five hours before. Simon could even see the boy who had worked the rafters crawling backwards along the frame.
Dropping his hands to the floor, John sighed. "What an assortment of filth. When I made this city what it is, I swore that I would never allow such a contagion to spread itself. It seems that I've been remiss in my duties as Justiciar."
Raising just one hand towards the confused people who seemed to recall being pulled away from new hiding spots into the open once again, John Dramery clenched his hand into a fist. Simon felt pressure surge through his head, thumping his brain hard within his skull.
Simultaneously, the people changed. Tents and clothes withered into mere threads followed by dust. People tried to cover their exposed bodies as the clothes withered away, but they soon had enough body hair, popping out of armpits and chests like weeds, to completely cover sensitive areas. They were shrinking, as well, though their arms were becoming stronger and longer and thicker. Shrinking and shrieking. Their voices began to mingle as one cacophony of cries. Between Simon's sharp stabs of blinking pain, he could clearly discern their fate--John Dramery, the arbiter, had transformed all of them to monkeys or some other form of primate. The people-turned-creatures screamed at their transformation, running terrified in every direction.
"You monster. You absolute goddamned monster!" Sarah howled through her tears, spitting as far and fast as she could at John. He just turned to her, pointed to the spit droplets hanging in the air like drippy spider web, grabbed her by the hair and dragged her weeping face through them.
"See, Simon?" John laughed. "She can do nothing. She is no better than an ant." He kicked her to the floor, pointed at her abdomen, said "Bang!" and turned to look at Simon again. "See?"
Sarah screamed, clutching her stomach so strongly that Simon thought she would tear herself open.
"See? I reversed the process of maturation in her body, Simon! The rest of her is normal, but I took her stomach back to a time when it didn't exist, it hadn't been grown yet. In her gut, she no longer has a gut. I took it away!"
Sarah could not stop screaming. Her face was turning red and then purple with tears and saliva and open mouthed howling. Simon could see her stomach caving in--she had nothing to cling onto any more, scratching at the curve where her belly used to be.
"See? She won't die. No one ever dies. But she can't have it back either."
A whirlwind of thoughts zipped through Simon's head; before he knew how to respond to Sarah and Merrick's torments, he was standing back in his home office looking at the letters that Sarah had written him, only now John Dramery was at his shoulder, and John Dramery's nose was practically in his ear.
In a menacingly low whisper, John said, "You could have stopped me at any time, Simon. You could have stopped me, but you didn't because you are, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a true coward. Your terror left you cold and frozen while your new comrades fell to the floor around you. I need a coward to know what I am, Simon. Did you see? Did you see that I am god?"
Simon's shaking was so serious that he may well have nodded. He could not imagine ever opposing such a one sided force. The letter in his hand tumbled to the floor.
"I need a coward to take me to the next levels of this society. I need you, a peasant I groomed from the void for this sole purpose: domination. It's a lucky consolation that you now know exactly what it is that I am now. It was not an easy choice to keep you safe after your willful disobedience against everything we have built together. Do you plan on opposing me again?"
Simon could no longer blame his fear for this: he shook his head.