Their faces were blank

by Amandeep Jutla

She was born in the incubator, grown in the creche, and slid into the workforce the day she was eligible. Her whole life she’d been a part of the company, because everyone was, even the customers. Her job was to field their complaints, which were abundant. Just about every customer, it seemed, had at least one story about a future the company had taken away. By now she was numb to the horror. She heard the details but did not register them. She took them down verbatim, their mouth to her keyboard, no stops in between.

Sometimes she thought about quitting, though she knew better than to do it. A friend of hers had tried that once. He came back the next day with pinpoint pupils, a prominent limp, a crudely-stapled gash running up the nape of his neck.

“The goats,” he’d said, by way of explanation.

The bosses used to be human, but the goats had replaced them long ago. They’d come from somewhere beyond. The darkness between the stars, she’d been told. Whatever that meant. They stalked the corridors, hyperextended knees crunching with every step. Their faces were blank, smooth, and eyeless, yet somehow they saw everything. They were always watching.

Their whips, if that’s what they were, crackled and sparked, lancing out with abandon, burning holes through flesh.

They never spoke, but they made their will known, on some extrasensory wavelength. When she dreamed, when everyone dreamed, it was of production, efficiency, endless growth. When she worked, when everyone worked, it was in keeping with a plan too large for anyone but the goats to understand.

She lived where she worked, in the office complex that towered over the city, that grew taller by the day, as workers raised beams and stacked bricks. The city lay beneath them, shrouded in rolling fog and impossibly distant. She saw someone jump, once. The dwindling shape fell and then was gone. She could not see or hear the impact.

She’d watched people leave the division as they were promoted, and she’d trained the newcomers who came to take their place. On the day of her own promotion, a group of goats led her down the central stairwell, down to a place where the air was thick and heavy. They opened a door and led her into a hallway that, though it was dark, glowed with strange heat. She began to perspire. At the end of the hall was another door. They threw this open, pushed her in, and closed it behind her. They had brought her to the heart, where the pressure and heat were sickening and intense. It was a moment before she registered that what she was smelling was her own burning flesh.

The goats marched back upstairs, returned to their patrols, and to their charges. More were being born yet.