Storytime: Inheritance.

July 30th, 2010

The funeral was standard for a billionaire’s – gold-standard, in fact.  A large, mildly opulent room, a small, cramped coffin, his family gathered around the lawyer droning out the will trying very hard not to look predatory, and several million people watching through a couple of automated news cameras while reporters in studios dozens of miles away provided embarrassing trivia on the deceased.
Nigel’s feelings were torn.  On the one hand, he was trying very hard to listen for his name when it arrived.  On the other hand, his leg was itching fiercely against the starchy fabric of his tuxedo and it was taking all his composure to avoid scratching it to hell and back on national television.
“…And to my sister, Holly, I leave that cottage out in Alberta you always liked,” said the lawyer, shuffling papers with chilling precision.  “To her eldest offspring, my niece Florence, I leave the ranch in Montana because someone needs to take care of those horses –”
The lawyer stopped and waited patiently for ten seconds for Florence to finish her improvised victory dance, applauding dutifully as she re-seated herself.
“…And to her younger brother, my nephew Dick, I leave my majority shares in that newfangled technology company that makes those nice cybernetic assistants, whatever they’re called.  Edward, you know the one.  P.S: Don’t read this last bit aloud.”  He blinked with meticulous care, the faintest shadow of a disapproving frown passing over quickly.
“Oh.  P.P.S: Tell him to start going by his full name for goodness’s sake, people’s minds go straight to what’s expected nowadays and that nickname isn’t helping.”  Dick’s smile soured somewhat, but he managed to keep at least three teeth gleaming in the light for the cameras.
“And to my youngest nephew, Nigel” – and here Nigel leaned forwards in his seat ever-so-slightly, no more able to control it than the rise in his saliva production – “I give unto his care the whole sum and contents entire of my private tyrannosaurus paddock, as well as responsibility for its maintenance.”
And so it was that for the first time in his life Nigel said the word “fuck” on national television.  Or rather, screamed it.

“There has to be some mistake somewhere,” he told his sister afterwards at the bar.
Florence shrugged her shoulders and swallowed her martini in one go, combining both actions neatly.  “I shouldn’t think so,” she said.  “Remember how much you liked dinosaurs back in the day?”
“I was seven.”
“Yes, well, Uncle Phil was a busy man and didn’t see you again till you were seventeen.  Count yourself lucky he didn’t recall your interests from then, or you’d own some sort of recording studio right now.”
“Honestly?  I’d prefer it.  I don’t know anything about music, but it’s easy to find people who do.  Or at least, people who think they do.  But practically no one knows anything about tyrannosaurus breeding!  The care and raising of extinct animals isn’t exactly a large business circle, and everybody in it’s a rival.  It’ll be just me and a ten-ton reptile that’ll be pissed to the gills at where its handler’s got to.”
“Cheer up,” said Florence, examining the bottom of her glass with the sort of care normally found in master gem cutters.  “You get a month off from work to get used to the place, and he’ll have loads of instructions and notes for you.  No one’s asking you to just walk in and wing it.  Wouldn’t be healthy for either of you.”
“Charming of you to consider the tyrannosaurus’s well-being along with mine,” said Nigel.
“Well, of course.  What if that dreadful deodorant your people make gives it allergies when it swallows you whole?  Poor thing.”
Nigel scowled at her back and bought another drink.  Another three drinks, to be safe.  He didn’t think he could face going to bed sober.

The drive to the paddock was long and quiet, hours down dirt back roads and through fern forests, with morning light just soft enough that it almost but not quite avoided furthering Nigel’s pounding hangover.  He groaned and wished he had more elbow room to feel terrible in; between his clothing, his hygiene supplies (Big FootTM body products were excellent, both functional and in the process of becoming cutting-edge green-friendly, and damn what Florence said anyhow), his food, and his work-away-from-work supplies (much of which consisted of his hygiene supplies, plus a single PDA), his single-man car was feeling a little cramped.
The paddock compound itself was smaller and plainer than Nigel had expected: a compact bungalow and a low-lying storage shed the size of a small warehouse were the only buildings.  The real effort appeared to have gone into the extremely large and aggressively spiked metal fence that lay passively just beyond the buildings, festooned here and there with signs politely informing anyone who cared that it was really quite electrified.  Reading them was a bit of a stretch across the impressively deep concrete moat, but they were helpfully boldfaced and so easily enough understood even through the pounding veil of Nigel’s headache.
The door slid open with the first swipe of the card, depositing him into a neat, Spartan hallway with a tasteful two-metre painting of a yawning tyrannosaurus gaping at him from across the wall.  He could count every saliva droplet on every tooth.
“Creating a new profile for you, Nigel,” said a calming voice from the walls, presumably his uncle’s cybernetic assistant, a mixed blessing if he’d ever heard of one.  On the one hand, he wouldn’t be left to figure out how to feed a tyrannosaurus by himself with whatever scrawled and indecipherable personal notes his uncle had left.  On the other hand, he’d be relying on the word of something that could crash, enter an error state, get a virus, or simply wear out a part and shut down without warning.  Of course, this would probably happen right when he was in a position to really need help, like halfway down his ward’s gullet.
“Thank you, err….”
“Serial number LNF58731.  Jeremiah (deceased) has renamed this system “Wooster.”  Would you like to change this designation?”
“No, thank you.”  Nigel managed to tear his gaze away from the teeth.  They really were quite alarming.  “Listen, this is…it’s all…do you have some sort of beginner’s guide somewhere?  A daily checklist?  Any instructions whatsoever?”
“Jeremiah (deceased) was compiling material for a book.  The manuscript is incomplete, but accessible.  Would you like a hardcopy?”
“Please.”  Nigel walked into the kitchen – an airy, open space with nice big windows – and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of decaying foodstuffs in the fridge.  Perhaps his hastily-grabbed-from-the-supermarket supplies wouldn’t be necessary after all.  “Do the groceries get delivered, or…?”
“Weekly, yes.  Once per month, the cattle in the storeroom are restocked by truck.”
“Ah.”  The nice big windows faced directly onto the backyard, which consisted mostly of moat and fence.  Behind them, the forest managed to lurk and stare without possessing anything as gauche as eyes.  “Tell me… how many of them are there?”
“Clarify, please.”
“The tyrannosaurs.  How many of them are there?”
“At present, the paddock contains one adult female, name: ‘Brandy.’  There is sufficient space for up to three adults and over half a dozen juveniles within the paddock itself, although food supplies would become somewhat stretched –”
“Yes, I doubt we’ll have to worry about that,” muttered Nigel, pouring himself some truly-instant coffee.  “How large is it, anyways?” he asked, taking a sip.
“A little over one hundred square miles.  Slightly cramped if filled to capacity, but serviceable.  If you require emergency medical aid for your choking problem, please pound the table twice, if not, pound once.”
Nigel’s arm smacked the tabletop spastically once as he sputtered coffee out of his lungs.  “A hundred miles?” he gasped out, coffee mug waving hysterically.  “A hundred miles?  How am I supposed to keep track of that much ground?  What if part of the fence loses power?  What if a tree falls over and bridges the moat?  What if it gets sick?  What if –”
“The paddock is equipped with both security sensors and multiple backup safety systems, and can go off the grid for over six months without losing fence power.  Emergency services are duly aware of this compound’s presence and will be notified in the event of any serious dangers.  A medical specialist’s contact information is documented in this system and posted on the fridge with a magnet.”
“Alright then.  So, why do you need me?  I’m sure this whole place can run itself, right?  So why don’t I just run along and –”
“Jeremiah (deceased) believed very strongly in the personal touch, and as such it falls to you to keep Brandy habituated to humans, as well as perform biweekly feedings.”
“Right.  Right.  Feedings,” said Nigel hollowly.  The forest was starting to leer at him now.  “Well, I’ll get right on that then.  When’s she due?”
“The day before yesterday.  She will be quite hungry and possibly ill-tempered.”
“The feeding equipment is kept in the outer room of the meat shed.  This duty should be performed as soon as possible.”
“Right,” said Nigel, as he headed back through the front hall.  “Right!  Any other instructions?” he asked, hand on the front door.
“More will be provided on-site.  The feeding suit may require adjustment for your body size.”
“The what?”

The feeding suit was the approximate mass and size of a small deep-sea submersible and about as overbuilt, with a thickly padded, ventilated, and air-conditioned interior and a rugged external hull that combined almost made Nigel feel secure before he started panicking again.
“You’re asking me to go out into the paddock, with food, and call for a fully-grown Tyrannosaurus rex.”
“You’re trying to kill me.”
“No.  The operation is perfectly safe if conducted appropriately.”
“Isn’t there a crane or something we can just drop the food in with?”
“Brandy requires personal interaction.”
“I could wave at her a little from across the fence.”
“Jeremiah (deceased) was quite clear on the subject.”
“Fine, I’ll…look, can you just call him Jeremiah?  It’s getting a little strange listening to you saying that every time he’s mentioned.”
“As you wish, Nigel.”
“Thank you.  Now, you’re telling me that Uncle Jeremiah – who back in his best of days was built like a pair of broomsticks held together with silly putty – would go out there twice a week with this suit?”
“Well, he died of lung cancer, so it must’ve worked.”
“Jeremiah sustained seven broken bones, four sprained shoulders, and several severe cuts in the process of using this suit, all of which were given immediate treatment and support by its medical routines.  Rest assured, it is safe.”
“Thanks, sort of.”
The storehouse’s paddock-side exit was a kind of demi-airlock, a precaution that Nigel appreciated even as it gave him crippling claustrophobia, hemmed in as he was with the suit and a heavy-duty trolley weighed down with a full set of cow carcasses.  The sound of the lock snapping into place behind him as he wheeled his way out of the cool dark and into the sunlight triggered ancient instincts in him, the urge to flee underneath a rock and hide until sundown.
The clearing was neither cool nor dark.  It was open, scoured dirt marked by claws too big to be real, and the sun glared at him in it as though he were a personal affront to its entire distinguished career.  He was in no mood to quibble with it, and cringed under both its disdain and the unseen weight of all ten tons of dinosaur that was waiting somewhere out there for him.
“The dinner call button,” said Wooster’s voice, rendered slightly more mechanical by the confines of the suit’s speakers, “is just to the right of your chin.”
After a few seconds, it added, “Depress it with your tongue.”
“Right.  Right.  Thanks.”
After a few struggling attempts, Nigel finally managed to extend enough tongue to lick his own nose for the first time in twelve years and flipped the switch, creating an explosive roar somewhere in front of his chest that nearly ruined his pants.
“Realistic,” he commented as his heart rate pit-a-patted back to normal.
“The call was recorded from Lord Billoughsby’s middle-aged male, Scimitar, some eight years ago.  It’s a general, friendly call to food that will usually produce the minimum of hostility.”
“Approximately 82% of the time.  Some of the subvocal tones in the last 1.3 seconds could be construed as challenging if the listening tyrannosaur is irate.”
“Such as by being left hungry for two days?”
“Quite likely.”
Nigel teeter-tottered from side to side with the hopeless goal of watching two hundred and seventy degrees of thickly treed forest simultaneously and constantly.  It was making his eyes water, and each trunk, branch and leaf was blurring in and out of focus as his pupils tried to snap onto everything in his field of view like a confused snapping turtle in a minnow school.  His imagination helpfully filled in the blanks, turning every twig into a claw, every branch into an arm, every spec of sunshine glinting from a tooth the size of a banana, and every knothole an eye, especially that one right there with the pupil glaring directly at him.
Brandy, Nigel had been told, was of moderate to large size for her age (just-fully-mature at eighteen years five months) and sex, approximately forty feet long from snout to tail-tip and around twelve and a half feet tall at her hips.  He understood those sizes abstractly, but it was only on seeing them in person – gradually, in the bits and pieces that allowed his brain the time needed to sum it all up and explain it to him – that he realized he was used to applying them to industrial equipment and public transportation vehicles.
Now that he’d seen Brandy, he was amazed she hadn’t been more obvious from the start – despite the rather pretty and shadily appropriate cross-hatching of dark greens and greys coating her sides, she was nowhere near stealthy – and her sheer bulk made any idea of her moving so much as an inch without making enough of a ruckus to knock over several saplings seemed ridiculous.  Had she been there since he’d entered the paddock, or was he really just that dense?  And then there was the smell, just now leaking its way into his face, something rotten and heavy, musk and torn meat.
“Nigel, you are talking aloud.  And your pulse rate is becoming dangerously high for someone of your age and physical fitness.  Please calm down.”
“Right!  Right.  Thank you!  Hadn’t noticed that!” Nigel chuckled, or at least he hoped it was a chuckle.  “Need to get some exercise, maybe eat a bit better – no, I don’t want to talk about eating right now.”
Brandy’s mouth opened slightly, allowing the faintest hints of light-glimmering-off-drool to reach Nigel.
“So, erm, how do we do this?”
“Move the trolley further, into the centre of the clearing.”
“Right, yes, thank you.”
Every step ahead was the most difficult of his life, even cringing behind the cow-heaped trolley and inside the suit’s confines.  He felt slow, fat, overstuffed, and weak, the sort of thing a cat would catch and play with before swatting to death.
“Now, release the catch and back away quickly.”
Nigel’s hand felt very exposed as it crept around the side of the cart towards the cart release into full view of Brandy and the world, which at the moment consisted mostly of Brandy.  He thought he felt his knuckles getting warmer from her attention.  His fingers closed around the catch on the third try – it seemed to have gotten smaller since he’d first engaged it inside the storage shed – and pulled.  As he did so, he carefully began to back up and immediately tripped over his own feet and fell over on his back.
Brandy took one, two, three, four graceful, unhurried strides forward, each of which covered a lot more ground than it should’ve, then reached down and bit him.  Four extremely confusing and crowded seconds happened which involved a lot more movement than he was comfortable with, and then Nigel was upside down against the door to the shed and slowly tipping upright again under his own weight.  Nasty, meaty noises and grumbling leaked in as his ears started to work again.
“That was not quick enough, Nigel,” said Wooster.
“No, no it wasn’t.  Is my arm broken?”
“Bruised heavily.  Your nose is slightly out of joint and bleeding badly.”
“Oh?”  Nigel tried to reach up and poke it, slammed his faceplate with the suit’s right arm, and realized that yes, that did hurt a whole lot.  “I guess so.   Does she need anything else?”
“No, I believe Brandy is content.  The cart can be retrieved next feeding; for now, you should leave before she finishes eating.”
Despite being obvious, that was the best thing Nigel had heard for days.

Taking the suit off took much more time than putting it on had.  Nigel’s shaking hands kept missing the buttons.
“Twice a week, you said?”
“Feeding occurs twice a week.”
“And… that often happens?”
“The attack likely was a result of your insecure and unsure body language labelling you as a newcomer, combined with hunger and your refusal to immediately leave the carcasses to her.  You may wish to practice further with the suit before the next feeding; she may be less gentle if further incidents occur.”
“Less gentle?”
“She merely bit and shoved you.  More violent encounters could involve multiple bites, repeated kicking, or holding you down with one leg while she attempts to rip off the feeding suit’s appendages.”
Nigel thought about asking how many times that had happened to Uncle Jeremiah, then decided that the answer would in no way, shape, or form do anything other than depress him.  He patched up and cleaned off his nose under close, painful supervision, hauled himself into the kitchen, ate a dinner that Wooster recommended whose contents he was unable to bring himself to care about, and went to bed.
And to think, eddied through his skull as the lights went out inside it, I could be at home doing eco-friendly underarm odour research right now…

The next morning started with him waking up and screaming very loudly.
“Are you all right, Nigel?”
“Yes!  Yes, sorry.  A bad dream.  Several of them.”
“The medicine cabinet contains several types of pills that include heavy sleeping as a primary or side effect.  Would you like a prescription?”
“I’ll be fine, I think.”  Nigel shook his head, which started his nose hurting again.  “So, what’s the order of the day, then?”
“Jeremiah’s records contain first-person footage of Brandy’s life since hatching, as well as his observations, notes, and assorted personal essays.  They can be accessed from any of the household terminals.”
“Among the primary security and monitoring devices is a chip implanted in Brandy’s skull next to her visual cortex.  Any sensory data passing through her is transmitted back to this system, where it is translated into video footage.”
Nigel thought about this for a moment.  “So, you’ve got footage of yesterday’s, err…”
“Feeding incident?  Yes.  Would you like to view it?”
“No, I think I’m fine.”
“If you would like a comparison, this system also contains records of every one of the fifty-three prior incidents including Jeremiah and Brandy.  Would you like to view –”
“I think I’m fine.  But I would like to read some of Jeremiah’s notes.”
“As you wish.”
The notes took up most of the next few days, in between examination of some of Brandy’s recordings.  Both were unexpectedly dull, with Jeremiah having a tendency to break up paragraphs of detailed accounts of behaviour with rambles about what he’d eaten for dinner or which of his executives annoyed him the most, and Brandy spending an astounding percentage of her time sleeping, lazing around, or ambling to some water and then sleeping.
“Conserving energy,” explained Wooster.
“What for?  There’s nothing to hunt in there, is there?”
“Occasionally Jeremiah would release several live deer or moose into the paddock as a sort of treat.  Other than that, no.  Even without the given examples, Brandy would be instinctively sparing of her reserves.”
Whatever her reasons, it was certainly unexciting.  Many, many times over the hours Nigel reminisced over how he’d found trips to the zoo excruciatingly boring as a child, although it was interesting to skip from year to year and watch the approximate height of the “camera” rocket upwards from waist-high to over ten feet off the ground.

When feeding time came again Nigel was prepared, if not resolute.  Backed up by watching and re-watching a hundred separate meals, he strode boldly into the clearing, shoving the fresh trolley in front of him.  With a flick of his hand he depressed the switch, turned on his heel, took five smart, purposeful strides towards the door, and screaming hysterically as he was hurled into the air from behind, impacting the door headfirst.
When Nigel woke up again the cart was as empty and bloodstained as its predecessor, and he was alone beyond Wooster’s voice helpfully informing him that he was just barely shy of a minor concussion, making dragging the old cart back in and stripping out of the feeding suit even more fun than the last time.  He thought some of his hair had gone grey.

And so the pattern was set for the rest of the month.  Nigel would watch the recordings, ape Jeremiah’s poise and calm as carefully as he could, bring out the meat, begin to leave, and Brandy would promptly stomp on, bite, or kick him, each time creating a fetching new injury or embellishing an older one.
“Most peculiar,” said Wooster on the second week, as Nigel was sent spinning end-over-end and into a tree.
Nigel would’ve said something, but on that occasion he’d bitten his tongue rather badly.
By month’s end he looked like he’d decided to take up boxing and chosen a brick wall as his first sparring partner and he was more than ready to go home.  The groceries automatically delivered each week were tediously plain stuff (and Wooster refused to alter the list, claiming “health concerns” at any of Nigel’s suggestions), the bed was as hard as a rock, all the books were extensive and dull treatises on the raising of extinct animals that could spend pages on the description of a single thighbone before mentioning what that actually meant for the animal’s behaviour, and to top it off he was almost out of company-supplied deodorant, the one thing that both masked the musky, stuffy odour of the house and kept the stench that Brandy left behind after feedings out of his nostrils.
And it so it was that for the ninth time that week Nigel hauled himself into the feeding suit, turned on the air conditioning, opened the ventilation shutters, trundled the trolley of cow carcasses out into the clearing (not even bothering to check for Brandy this time – she was always there, and if she wasn’t, she’d mysteriously appear without his noticing within two minutes), hit the catch, and turned to leave.
He was halfway through the door when he realized that nothing painful had happened to him, and the sheer force of the resulting double-take nearly did the job for him.
The traditional rending, ripping sounds of Brandy eating accompanied his slow and cautious pirouette, and indeed there she was, tearing a cow in half and swallowing it casually.  It was the first time he’d observed it closely in person, and he felt a little sick.  Confusion soon overtook it.
“Yes, Nigel?”
“Why am I not being smashed into the dirt, trampled, or bitten?”
“This system lacks sufficient data to determine this.”
“But… look!  She’s ignoring me!”
“That is a good thing, Nigel.”
“Yes, but why?”
“This system lacks sufficient –”
“Shut up!”
Brandy raised her head at that last outburst and began to growl, steadily and without warmth.  Nigel felt danger approaching his pants and retreated into the shed.  Sour sweat enveloped him as he crawled out of the suit, making him sneeze in disgust.  Not only the meat, not only Brandy, but now that he was out of deodorant, he was stinking like a pig too…
Nigel stopped in the midst of putting on his left sock and stood there for some thirty seconds, balanced quite unwittingly on one leg like a stork.
And then he said: “Are you SHITTING ME?”
“Yes, Nigel?”
“Wooster, are any of the ingredients listed in my work files things that would give Brandy the jeeblies?”
“Please clarify, Nigel.”
“Give her the creeps, the willies!  Run a burr up her ass, set her off, get her goat!  Was my deodorant pissing her off?!”
“I have examined your private files as requested and can confirm that three of the primary ingredients in your test batches are odours that Brandy would associate with plants, and exceptionally strong-smelling ones at that.”
Nigel realized he was biting his fist, and had some difficulty prising his teeth from his knuckles.  “Right!  Right!  Of course!  Perfectly obvious!”  He swallowed a maniacal laugh as it was birthed, realizing that such things weren’t healthy.  “Ahahahahahahasorry.  Tell me, did Uncle Jeremiah use synthesized deodorant?”
“He didn’t use any, Nigel.  He believed it to be unnatural.”
“Hah.  Hahahah.”  No, no, stifle that.  “He was right!  Most of them are!  Ours aren’t, but apparently that isn’t good enouahahahahahahahahaha.”  Damn, no wonder the house had that funny smell in it.  And my, that felt good.  Had he been holding that in all month?  “HahahahahahAHAHAHHAhahahahahaha!”
“Nigel, can you breathe properly?”
“I’m fine!  Right as rain!”  An ear-splitting roar leaked through the paddock exit, and he spun to laugh at it, throwing up obscene gestures.  “Hahahahaha!  Right as roar!  Just wait ‘till I tell the company about this!”
“Nigel, if you require mental help, there is a number I am instructed to –”
“No, no, I’m fine.  Just give me a few more minutes like this and a glass or three of whatever stuff Uncle kept for special occasions –”
“Tonic water.”
“-a crate or three of that then, and I’ll send a few emails to R&D and the marketing department.  We can use this!  Hah!  HAHAHAHA!”

Six months after Nigel’s business vacation, Big FootTM body products launched a new green-compliant brand of deodorant, using all-natural, eco-friendly ingredients.  They called it Rex.
Brandy was unexpectedly photogenic, as one of Nigel’s senior artists had commented.  As far as Nigel was concerned, she looked a whole lot better to him now.  Especially since he’d hired a caretaking team to look after the new company mascot.  He wasn’t an ungrateful man, but he thought it was better for both of them this way.



“Inheritance” copyright 2010, Jamie Proctor.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.