Fib changed into the tuxedo pants, slid on a white, cotton undershirt. He laced up the black leather shoes, they felt sturdy. The robotic Tiedt offered him a small handgun to tuck inside one of his black, argyle socks. After he was dressed, they departed from the car wash and rode through the night. Orange sunset dimmed the sky to a dark dome and Fib couldn’t keep his eyes off the play of lime green LED lights that cast an upward blink on the mannequin face. It was Tiedt’s face, the more he looked at it. Minus the large pores and coat of skin oil, the cake of pale dead skin cells bloated by sweat. It was a prettier Tiedt, a Tiedt without the chip on his shoulder, but the plastic looked odd, too smooth.
The robot’s voice was calm and told of the next agenda. They were on their way through the rolling hills of West Virginia, where heat lightning illuminated a cracked Earth, an almost primordial looking one. They would, by midnight, be at a helicopter pad. There Fib would get some sleep in a tent. He would wake up and eat vitamin-fortified cereal and be made to watch cartoons on the history of the people he’d be meeting, members of the Church of Neo Divine Kings, Order of the Molder, soldiers for the Glake Raun Society. Saturday morning cartoons were about to be ruined for him by the CIA.
Fib asked, “Why all of the bouncing me around from vehicle to vehicle?”
The robotic Tiedt, and the voice plugged deep in his ear, answered in unison. “To confuse you. To wrap you up in someone else. No actor has gone to such lengths to disorient and dissolve himself. And no other actor has and will be more convincing. Your life depends on it. And you shouldn’t know any better. You should be fully swept.”
The robotic Tiedt sounded like a nice therapist. The actual Tiedt braying arrogant advice into his ear, sounded like a teenage manager at a Dairy Queen, itching for that ever elusive respect from subordinates.
After they drove for some time, the robotic Tiedt’s microprocessors heated things up in the back seat and soon the outside view was blotted out by steam on the windows. It was making him sweat. He could smell himself; he was like a bad onion. Occasionally, the robotic Tiedt’s inner fans would kick on and it was like this thing was making the same obnoxious mouth noises a child would make. Then his ear piece would tick, then fade off. Tiedt was probably about to say something, then decided not to, and this was a type of nuisance that had always made Fib angry to the degree that he’d considered murdering those people that wouldn’t commit to speaking after opening their mouths. “Just fucking say it!” But Fib’s calls for boldness went unanswered.
They drove by a Tastee Freez and were hit by a large pickup truck peeling out from its parking lot. The truck clipped their rear end and swung the limo around. The robotic Tiedt went, “whoaaaaa” and sort of smiled as they spun. At this point Fib wanted to hurl everything that was raging in his system. His stomach felt like a tight and brittle piece of dried fruit. Fib could only dry heave, but it was mildly cathartic, so he laughed. And robotic Tiedt laughed, as a kind of echo, purely mechanical. The grinding motor of the pickup truck faded in the distance.
People started to come out of the Tastee Freez. Fat families stunned, but not slowed in their eating of ice cream cones.
The cashier, a young kid dressed in a white apron and hat came running out toward the limo, taking pictures on his cell phone. “Holy shit that thief just did a hit and run, too!” He shouted.
The chauffeur rolled down the partition window. He looked like he might be the van driver’s twin. The chauffeur turned back and said to Fib, “I’ve been trained to kill myself in scenarios like this, have you?”
“I’m not going to kill myself.”
“Choosy little shit!” the chauffeur screamed.
The cashier was tapping at the window. He seemed to be trying to save the day, help the innocent people that were banged around by the armed robber’s getaway truck, who cares about going after the small amount of cash he was forced to hand over at gunpoint. That cash was long gone.
Then the real Tiedt came on in his ear, sounded as if he’d woken from a nap. “Get out of there! Whatever you do, don’t be seen.”
The robotic Tiedt said, “I have to trail you and if you are seen, I’ve been trained to blow myself up and take you with me. Double whammy!” The chauffeur nodded his agreement.
“Fuck you!” said Fib to the robotic Tiedt, then again to the chauffeur.
“I’m a fast runner,” the robot told him.
The cashier kept tapping on the window, calling out, “You guys OK?” And the ice cream eaters wandered over, too.
The robotic Tiedt sprayed some kind of mist in Fib’s face and in an instant he felt a head rush. What he’d imagine crack to be like, and so he panicked as though he were on crack. His mind was spinning and the robotic Tiedt cackled.
“Get out of the damn limo and don’t be seen!” the real Tiedt’s voice pierced in his ear.
Fib opened the car door and the cashier whirled over from the other side toward Fib.
“You OK, man?”
The cashier was getting a little too close and tried pulling Fib around. Fib was trying to hide his face. When the cashier’s arm reached around his chest, Fib turned back and punched him in the face. The ice cream eaters stepped closer, ready to defend their favorite scoop server. Fib ran off into the woods on the other side of the road. The ice cream licking mob came after him, but the limo burst into flame and they stopped. Fib charged further into the woods. He couldn’t feel the branches snap into his face, possibly because of the mist.
“You going to abandon my twin?” Tiedt asked in his ear.
“Go fuck yourself. Take your face and shove it far into your own ass and try to fuck yourself while you take a fucking shit, you fucking shit head!”
Fib craned his neck back while still trying to run. He needed to gauge who was behind him. Tiedt pressed a button back at headquarters and some kind of a chirp noise pierced the inside of Fib’s ear and for a moment his neck throbbed. His legs gave out and he stumbled. The chirp stopped. He continued on and felt scratching against his body, snaps of elastic branches making the tips act as whips.
He saw a blur catch up to him. The mechanic double of Tiedt was now behind him, partly singed on the exterior. The mannequin face had bubbled into a burst of rough plastic scabs, a little blackened. The mouth had melted, and what was visible looked like teeth, but they were microchips. Platinum grills. The thing hissed as it released a buildup of heat, but its legs were still so springy. The thing was a survivor, as close as Tiedt would ever come to possessing endurance.
Fib ran faster as the robotic Tiedt flipped up and landed against his back. It had instigated a sort of static cling, it now stuck to his back and Fib felt the weight bring an instant ache and quickly drag him down to where he tumbled through wild ginseng and ferns. A few rolls until the robot pinched him down like it was part of a cage, a claw flexed down. Heat pressed against his side and neck made Fib feel like meat in the early stages of cooking. In Fib’s mind, the word ‘rape’ rose as a descriptor for this, but the robot and his inner ear both whispered, “Hide.”
The section above is an excerpt from “God’s Least Likely to Succeed” by Jeff Phillips, published in Zizobotchi Papers: volume 2, fall, 2017.
Zizobotchi Papers is a literary journal dedicated to the novella. Think double feature of long form fiction, with a paperback spine instead of a marquee. Purchase copies of volume 2 here, preview it below: