Glycon the Magnificent

“All things considered, my insights are practically inevitable. There is a trick to living life, or doing anything really, although I don’t know what you can do, that isn’t also living. So let’s just say it’s a general rule, or a guiding principle. Yes a principle, as I consider myself very fortunate in that regard. 

It was a smash hit, struck a nerve, hit a chord, it blew up like mad. The people loved it. The people people too. No posers, or opportunists no. It was really nothing like that at all. At the most, you could say it was a bit kitschy at times, but whose fault is that really?

Well I didn’t think it was my fault at all, not in the least. But I digress.

The general principle that really started me on the path to the librarian of virtue as some have come to (incorrectly) refer to me as is thus.

When you don’t like something, pretend it doesn’t exist.

People were tired of the illusion, the veils, the high fences, and the secrecy. It was my thought, some may say, that was the catalyst for such a revolutionary change. It was the thought that was not allowed to be thought.

It was the dark one, the anti-thought, as it were. The negation, the rejection of the real. Obscured in a fog of veils, and blindfolds, who is to say what is what? Is it my job? I should hope not. But if not me, then who? Who can tell me about the real? And how can it be separated from the veil itself?

You cannot. It is a deeper maze still to try. A meta-illusion, the self-inflicted riposte of irrational rationality, an orthodoxy about reality. This realness was necessary for everyone to come together at first. However, the realness orthodoxy eventually found its way into everything. Making everything real.

How is that possible? I cannot tell you, it isn’t for man to know really. But what the truth and reality of the situation reveals, is that it is an incomplete ideal. You may ask yourself, how can something be an incomplete ideal?

This sounds self-contradictory as a concept. Which is because it is, which is why it is true. Incidentally this truth, or the reality of this truth, is also the proof of its antithesis. Which means everything that can be true is, but not all truths are untrue, however there are many more untruths than anything at all.

This is getting a bit garbled, I know. That’s why I prefer to use real world examples. Some people call these miracles, which due to my great virtue, is quite offensive, but it would be equally offensive to pretend that their antithetical idea wasn’t a truth.

My favorite of which, is the scope out method. You see, people come to me all the time, cynics, unbelievers, narcissists, reductionist, mystics. People that remind me of you (not that I hold it against you, since you’re right, because if you weren’t I would be wrong.)

I send them out, a complete reversal. Slam them head first onto the shores of a concrete world.

You can imagine how painful that can be. Just picture it, you’re floating along having a nice day in the world, when all of a sudden, I grab you. It’s not like I’m literally grabbing you with a hand or anything, but I seize you completely nonetheless.

You’re all abluster at this naturally. You try to wriggle free, but just can’t slip through my (metaphorical) grasp. Then I spike you down on the real hard. There is no revelation, no parting of the veil, but an impact into it. A merging with it.

Its not a bad place per say, but quickly, almost too fast for some, you realized the tyranny of this existence.

Within microseconds of arriving you realize there are rules at play. Silly rules, arbitrary rules, and all of these rules, feed into one another like a net.

You thought me grabbing you was bad, but now this net of laws has you. The worst part about all of this, is that it’s a closed net. A tautological system, or closed system.

This frame that is force onto your perspective, begins eliminating all the ambiguity and openness of existence.

When before you were drifting free, all of a sudden you are launched onto a path of the real. Everything around you appears first, and then you are catapulted backwards and forwards in time at one moment. Your mind snaps outwards, and then back, vibrating and wiggling like a rubber band.

And in the single moment that this rubber band stretches and snaps back, in this one particular piece of time, all of your unreal realities are ejected. You cannot see as you saw before. You cannot look into the sky, and look into the thing that has looked into the sky.

Being trapped now, like an amoeba between to pieces of glass under a microscope, distorts all sorts of things.

My favorite of which is time. Everything starts to go wonky with time. You forget about the lifetime you’ve spent as yourself, and are all of a sudden something else entirely. Your memories of before wash away, and this concrete tautological process takes those memories out like wet garbage.

Trying to hold onto it makes it worse, it can drive some people crazy, but eventually everyone submits. And once your time is taken from you, who you are, is no longer under your control. You are the flattened amoeba once again. Dividing and dividing and dividing.

So I’m all not that surprised that you’ve come to volunteer for this, I’m entertained by your sheer idiocy, but in the end, this relationship we have is mutually beneficial.”

“Ugh, I don’t think this is going to work.” She grumbled

“What? Why?! You said make it charismatic!” He yelled.

She pointed at it, “You can’t going putting things like this into people’s homes. It’s lunacy.”

“It’s good! You said make clever lizard, and I made a clever lizard.” The man argued.

“I didn’t say to make a frankly unnerving, manipulative lizard. Honestly, it sounds like its trying to start a cult.”

“Glycon’s just got a great way presenting things Miriam, that’s how he’s made.”

“What’s going to happen when we try to market it to people huh? Who wants a pet like this, he’s obviously amoral, and probably idealizes suicide.”

“That’s bullshit!” He spat back.

“Oh yea?” Miriam huffed, “Watch this then.”

She turned to the five foot long lizard, coiled around the branch. It stared at her with glassy yellow eyes, its sharp teeth hidden under an artificial smile.

“What happens when you die, Glycon?”

“Death? Haha, it seems as though you have not been listening, of course I forgive you for that. It would be a blemish on my virtue to hold such a petty grudge.

Death is like all the other things in this world. Immaterial, with the illusion of concreteness, it only appears to be death because of time. Like I was saying about time. Death is just the removal of the illusion of concrete time. “

“Would I go to a better place then?” She probed aggressively.

“Outside of concrete time, all that was forgotten is restored, live or die, your return is inevitable. So to come early or to arrive late, it is all the same. The very idea of value is pinned to the underlying tautological concreteness you are chained to. So once unchained, your infinity is made apparent, and these things will no longer worry you.”

“Are you hearing this?” Miriam shouted back to him.

“What? What’s he saying? It’s all good stuff, people love this post-empirical cleverness in their pets!”

“The thing is going to eat people!”

“They can’t murder people Miriam! It’s in their genetic coding, they can only behave voluntaristically.”

“Glycon,” Miriam said, turning back to the lizard, “Can you help me escape the illusion of time?”

The lizards smile curled tightly revealing its teeth, its pupils dilated, constricting tightly.

“Escape? There is no escaping an illusion, only transcending. In that regard…”

The lizard paused, collecting its thoughts.

“In that regard, there is only one true transcendence, if you want my help there, you have to ask yourself, is this the mark you want to make on the world? To show it, to defy its laws, and conventions. To be brave enough, to be truly free?”

Miriam glanced over to him, as if to say, “Do you get it now, you idiot?”

She looked back to the lizard, “What do I need to do, to be free?”

Its jaw opened slightly, involuntarily.

You need only sleep, dear Miriam. Sleep in my care, and be free.

“See!” She shouted.

“What? It’s just talking about dreaming.” He responded

“It’s talking about eating me!” She retorted.

“Look! Even if it was, which it’s not, it couldn’t actually eat anyone, it can’t murder.”

“It’s not murder, if the person requests it!”

“Well then who cares Miriam? It’s not like people don’t kill themselves with ships, or guns, what’s the difference?”

“That’s it. I’m putting it in the airlock!”

She grabbed the thing, by its neck, and began dragging it out of the lab.

“Hey, you can’t do that!” He yelled, chasing after her.

She hurried into the corridor, he pursued her frantically yelling, “You can’t destroy the lizard, it’s sentient, it’s intelligent, it would be murder!”

“It’s a monster!” She yelled back, in-between strained breaths.

“Are you going to kill me Miriam? Will you join me on the other side? You will, we’ll see each other again so soon. This concrete place, these metal walls, and electronic machines will peal away like the time induced illusion it is.”

As Miriam nears the air lock, he seizes her by the back of the head.

“Put the lizard down Miriam.” He says sternly, “We’re going to arrive at the Jupiter Expo in less than two days. Let’s give the lizard a chance to be reviewed by the judges.”

Miriam shook free, and continued running towards the airlock.

“Miriam! This is the culmination of my entire life’s work. You can’t just flush it out the airlock!”

“Now I know why you refused to pull it out of stasis until now. You’re ashamed to admit that, it’s a monster, a mistake!”

“Who are you to call it a mistake? Glycon has sentience, intelligence, if you flush it out of that airlock, you’ll be a murderer!”

“I’m not murdering it, I’m removing it from the illusion of concrete time, isn’t that right Glycon?” She asked the lizard she was half choking.

It looked at Miriam wide mouthed, with a frenzied look in its eye. It gave this same cold stare to Him, and then back to her.

“She is correct, Professor Nizeer, it is all an illusion, you both will join me. For you it will take a long “time”, but for me, it will be instant, I pity you for that fact.”

“What?” Miriam paused for a moment.

“Please place me in the air lock if you wish, I cannot resist you, it is not in my as Nizeer said, in my genetic makeup.”

“Well?” Miriam asked Professor Nizeer.

She gestured towards the airlock, opening the clear latching door. The lizard began walking into the small box.

Nizeer reached out, looking defeated, “Please Miriam don’t! You’re better than this.”

Miriam closed the airlock door behind the lizard.

“We’re doing this Nizeer.”

“Don’t…”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t be programmed like one of your creations.” She walked over to the control panel.

“No, I’m sorry.” The professor said hollowly.

Miriam was focused on the panel, when a tiny pin jabbed her in the neck. She flinched from surprise, and pulled it out. She turned back to Nizeer who was brandishing a proposthetic. A slim gray ejector, used to tranquilize lab subjects.

She collapsed harshly from the sudden sedative.

“Sorry Miriam, you’ll have to take a nap until we arrive at the Expo.

Oh no Professor.

“What do you mean?”

She’s dead.

“No, it’s just a tranquilizer Glycon, don’t be silly.”

No.

Its nostrils flared against the glass, fogging it.

Yes, I can smell it from here. An allergic reaction, the sedative is having a reaction with her heart medication.

“What are you saying?” Nizeer asked concerned, he retrieved a vitals monitor.

He scanned Miriam, and found it to be true, she had no pulse.

“No! No!” He yelled, dropping to his knees.

Nizeer quickly began apply CPR, trying to revive her. He injected her with a stimulant, and kept going, but she lay their, perfectly limp.

The lizard stretched lazily during this incident. He loosened up, and climbed up to the handle of the airlock with its front claws.

It opened the door, and entered slowly.

I’m sorry for your loss Professor, but it was not murder, you acted in defensive of life, not against it.

“This is bad,” He panted, trying to revive her still.

It is unfortunate, for us. But for her, we are already by her side in eternity.

The lizard sniffed her arm, and bit into with its sharp mouth. It ripped flesh from her, and began swallowing the bloody mess greedily.

“Stop it!”

The lizard stopped mid-chew.

She’s already gone Nizeer. I’m sorry. I so often forget you are burden by these illusions of time.

“That doesn’t mean you can eat her!”

She’s not a she anyone Professor, it is just a pile of meat and bones. She is with the universe now.

Nizeer, got up solemnly, and walked out of the room, almost zombie like.

Professor, just remember, the burden of time is temporary. The feeling of permanence is the illusion, just rest on that.

“Okay…” He said halfheartedly, “I’ll be in the lab, lot of things to report…”

Good, don’t worry about Miriam, her remains I mean, I’ll dispose of them, no mess, no fuss.

Nizeer disappeared into his lab. The lizard, alone at last, crawled onto Miriam’s lifeless chest, peering deeply into her glazed eyes.

“Don’t worry Miriam, you’ll be together again. You all be together before you know it.”

A faint twinkle in her eye, a recognition, appeared through the veil.

“Shhhh, its only a dream.”

Glycon clamped down on her stomach and twisted.

From So Long to Farewell

Red-streaked sunglasses bobbed in the dimly lit chamber. Some times the only way through hell, is to keep going. A faint, an eerie sensation went through his body.

Thin threads of electrical impulse, a will to act, and move, bottled potential in other words.

In this state of dimmed feeling, strange moods came over him. The lights and songs of the surrounding carnival bleated at him. It was muted as though its cry was travelling through thick impenetrable air.

Still somewhat aware, he tried to claw his way through the revelries. Struggling across an invisible tide, the waves of a perception had him trapped in their enveloping undertow.

These days it was hard to remember your own name, or the sense of ever having one.

He pushed his way out of the fraudulently rustic double doors, emerging at last in the twilight air.

He breathed deeply in. The heat was oppressive, but clear. Real, and unadulterated.

This fantasy pulsed deeply all around the carnival. When one first arrived, it was like being on a rollercoaster, or falling in love.

The first signs where an apprehensive excitement, which quickly ran away into euphoria. A mania takes hold of the one, and it disappears into the phenomenon.

Pierson, his name for now, had been snared like countless others. A storm of lights, colors, and alien freedom quickly burrowed under his skin.

No words may be used to speak of this madness. It is beyond words, reaching all the way into the root of perception.

Like drift wood, Pierson is helpless to the waves and crashing of the tyrannical celebration.

He tried catching his breath, as the mania began to take hold once again. Drugged and pulled back out to sea. The horizon and its orange-pink soliloquy faded. He could see it for only a few moments longer, when it disappeared into the other.

Everything that was not the carnival was the other.

He returned inside, to dance with the tempest. He did not know if he was a clown, but he surely was surrounded by them.

Painted faces, grotesque exaggerations of emotion, and glee.

They danced, swirling in the chamber, flinging blades at the targets. These targets were raw beasts, no doubt about it. Some part of them must be human, he considered. They had four limbs, and seemed like they could stand upright.

A stench was exuded by their festering gashes. They spoke in horrible bestial tones. Words that once knew meaning were washed into their true abominable essence.

These grunts could bring one to the only conclusion. That these half beasts were in pain, a righteous, deserved pain.

They were tied on spinning wheels against the far wall.

A devout maniac wearing a white and scarlet robe approached him. He fanned various knives out, in a practiced smooth display.

“Take a shot at greatness.” He preened

“I don’t know,” Pierson replied, “That may not be my thing.”

“Pierson, do it!” The crowd chanted.

“Pierson! Pierson! Pierson!”

He grabbed the blade from the jester’s hand. Without much hesitation or care he flung it at the beasts. It spun gracefully, but clattered against the stone wall.

The room erupted into laughter and applause.

“Here here!” The clowns cried.

The beasts too, joined into the merriment, deriving joy from the act.

“Maybe next time Pierson,” The maniac chimed.

He shook his head slowly, a throbbed of pain surged through his skull, and he temporarily came to his senses.

Pushing the maniac aside, he went for the stairs. Quickly, but not quick enough to escape the maniac and his flutter of knives,

He heard a soft wet rip as the blades flew true. The squeals of the beast tangled the cheering of the crowd. A noxious smell hit him, as he escaped upwards away from it all.

The next floor was a large dining area. A candle lit room, flanked on all sides by mirrors. The large gathering all sat together at a long table.

Once inside it seemed the feast went on forever. He looked back, and the stair case was gone. Only the endless reflection of the revelry existed. The feast, and its reflection, two things separated, stretching to meet each other, to become each other, to nullify each other.

He wandered feverishly around the table, until after one lucky pass, he found a seat had be set for him.

Pierson reclined in the one open seat. His company included maniacs, but also other more composed figures. Gentlemen and ladies in fine fabrics, cut delicately into their meals.

“A good abundance this.” A woman across from him remarked.

She was wearing a pink-red dress, with a crow’s mask.

“Where do you suppose it comes from?” Pierson asked.

This elicited a rumbling of laughter by his surrounding feasters.

“What a useless question. If there is food, eat. Where does it come from! Where does it come from!” He mocked gleefully.

He looked down, to see a plate full of steaming meat, and potatoes had suddenly appeared in front of him.

Slowly he complied, and began eating the sweet food. It was tender, melting almost into air as you bit into it.

After a few portions he lightened up, and tried to engage the crow-faced woman once again.

“How are you doing tonight?” He asked.

“Great, thanks.” She replied automatically, “The offering this time of year are unbeatable. Mid-summer, or is it Mid-autumn? It’s hard to say for sure, but whichever it is, definitely is the best!”

Everyone around her grunted in approval.

“How did you find yourself here?” Pierson asked.

She smiled, “By the fortune of my fate. With the intensity of ambition. The endless feast is a reward for the most deserving.”

“They shall be above, ascended into the heavens by their virtue! Untouched and free!” The table chanted.

“How did you end up here Pierson?”

He thought hard on the question.

“I can’t remember for sure,” He said finally, “There was a long time where I could only think of returning, but as time goes on I change. Every morning more of the old is shaved away. I thought when I was returning, I was going back to myself. Now my self is here, what is there to return to?”

“Here here!” She agreed, raising her glass.

The assembled maniacs and nobles met her toasted, and they all ate with renewed frenzy.

After hours of drinking, and eating, Pierson’s stomach was swollen, his mind lost in a haze.

“You cannot stop now!” Someone demanded, “You cannot disrespect the abundance.”

“I just need some time.” Pierson replied.

“Time! Tsh, you ungrateful…” The reveler shook his head in disgust.

He picked up a dish from the far end of the table and threw it roughly in front of Pierson.

“Eat!” They chanted.

He dug into it on instinct. The melted, tender cheek of the creature tore away. He looked down at the flesh, and then to where it had come from.

A head of one of the beasts lay on the platter. Its expression locked in pain, browned crispy skin.

He dropped the fork in horror, his swollen gut immediately turned.

His hand clasped his mouth, as a violent tide struggled to escape from behind his teeth.

He choked, and coughed, the stuff sloshed around his throat, shooting up his nose and burning.

He finally, emptied a nearby goblet, and relieved himself into it.

He sensed that they were watching him. After struggling against his own gagging, he looked back up to see the assembly drilling him with their eyes.

He locked sight with the crow faced women, and broke into a cold sweat, his pores opening.

“I need to go, how do I leave?”

“Leave?” She asked.

“Yes.”

She brandished her larger steak knife.

“What?”

“Leave! Leave! Leave! Leave!” They began chanting around him.

At least six of them seized him from his chair, and pulled him onto the table. He struggled, yelling, but they overwhelmed him completely.

“Leave! Leave! Leave!” The procession continued.

The crow faced woman stepped onto the table, holding the knife high above her head.

Pierson looked around frantically.

The diners in the mirrors, the endless reflection of their feast, they had stopped eating as well. They were all huddled, around the edges of the roomed, pressing against the glass hungrily.

He looked back to the woman in the dress. It fluttered over him. The traces of her smooth thighs leaned from side to side, in restlessness.

“Leave!” She shouted finally, and brought the blade home.

It punctured through his ribs. The cold metal oozed his warm blood over his chest. He looked straight ahead. The mirror on the far end had changed.

The maniacs began pulling each others clothes off in a frenzy of ecstasy. From the mirrors behind them, his blood flooded into the room.

He felt the dining room tilting towards the scene. The torrent of blood covered them, the carnival goers drowning in it cried out it cacophonous joy.

He fell towards the mirror, straight down towards it, as though it had become the new floor.

He slipped out from under the knife, under her legs, down the table, and through the mirror. He splashed through it, and made ripples in the bloody pool on the other side.

His arms flailed helplessly. Something gave way, and the ocean of gore, begin pouring out somewhere else.

It was pouring outwards, and then began to fall down. He slammed against a metallic grate. The rest of the blood streamed through it, drowning him in place.

Unable to fight it any longer, he took a deep breath of the stuff, and everything went dark.

He awoke, choking, and vomiting. Blood and food poured out of him. He pressed his mouth through an opening in the grate, and released it. After it subsided, he gasped furiously for air.

He looked through the grate, and saw only darkness below. No other form, light, or object could be spotted. Below him were four square walls, dissolving downwards into nothing.

“You can flee the carnival around your body.” A voice croaks, “But you cannot escape the carnival, in your mind.”

Pierson leaned up to see a pale gnarled figure, dressed in a burlap sack. His face was hairless, white, and twisted.

“Why do you struggle against it my son? Your family, your friends, and your people all rejoice. The sacrifice made for you is great. Why do you reject the freedom of the carnival?”

“Because! I can’t even remember life before this! I don’t remember arriving here, or why I came in the first place!”

The tormented creature smile, “One does not arrive at the carnival, one simply finds them self here.”

“I hate it!” Pierson yelled.

The creature was taken aback. He nodded looking at the ground.

“I understand, you need some time…hehah…just some time.”

He looked to him again, “Things could be worse though, they could always get worse. You could have been born a creature, or worse you could have been born me.”

The tormented one smiled a broken yellow smile. Harmless, but at the same time, insincere.

He reached out his hand, “Come now master, let’s return outside.”

Pierson grabbed his hand, and got to his feet. He followed the pale one through the pitch darkness. A seemingly formless room, eventually a ray of light sprung up in the distance.

Silently he followed him out, finding himself in the orange tinted twilight of before.

The wretched one breathed in deeply, “Ahh! Just smell it, that!”

Pierson joined him, taking in a large breath.

“The popcorn, the frying batter, salt, sugar, fat, it’s all so nice when you think about it.

The smells connected, and his whole life flashed through is mind. His childhood, family, school, his career, the accident, the hospital. It reverberated through him like a cold echo.

Pierson smiled in a grim acceptance.

“What do you say? Do you want some to ride the Ferris wheel, and have something to eat?”

“Sure.” Pierson replied.

They made there way across the fair ground, and walked onto the wheel’s platform.

The chipper operator told them to enjoy, and they were clambered into their carriage.

Pierson watched the sun, with an ethereal glint in his eye. They watched the sunset from every angle. They rotated up and down endlessly, watching a sun that never would.

A horizon he could meet, but never climb over, mocked him with cosmic indifference.

Witch Vs World

There’s a ringing chime in the distance. The moment was now, Zel knew it. The bells resounded erratically, unable to keep its own time.

A darkness was dwelling over the village, it was going to strike, taking the form of beast. A clinster. Something was the matter though. The spirit well under the regent’s manner was being used as a portal. The old man was an eclectic occultist. From what Zel could decipher, he was unaware of the vulnerability he exposed the town to. A shut-in, with no living relatives, he must be fairly ignorant of the attacks.

These attacks started out as an urban legend. Lately real deaths were getting confirmed though. Something like that would cause trouble once word got to the public at large. It was the reason Zel was here in the first place. If she knew about, then it was already dangerously out in the open.

Once she located the well, she had a few hours to sabotage it before the typical ritual. It was a decent spirit well. She found it in a root cellar, about meter large against the wall. It glimmered a blue sheen reflection.

It had been used too many times. The old guy obviously didn’t realize the maintainment aspect of an enchantment like this. It would be a fairly simple mend, but then it would only be a matter of time before he broke it again.

She could destroy it, but it would be replaced, unless she stopped the guy permanently. Zel felt better about destroying the phantasm, but it could easily be replaced by any other negative force. It was unfortunate, no easy answers morally.

She dusted burning powder heavily along the floor. If it was a clinster, its body would combust the powder on contact. The fire would spread quick, look like an accident. If it didn’t kill him, it would likely scare him off enchantments for awhile.

Fire was good, it was a natural element. Bringing too much magic to any situation could only end poorly. The people no longer trusted that sort of thing, no nation on the earth did.

Zel leaned up against an alley wall nearby, awaiting the fireworks. The bell for midnight ceased, and it would only be a few moments now.

The house would begin smoking anytime, but never seemed to. Eventually, she had to investigate, after returning to the root cellar, she found the dust had been smeared away. The darkness was palpable, an eerie tumultuous feeling set in on her spine.

A dark whisper wound its way around the room.

“Looking for something?” A raspy voice called out from the corner of the room.

Zel pulled out her flashlight. It clicked on, and the light beam illuminated the room.

The old man winced at the sudden bright light, “What the…is that really necessary?”

“Where’s the entity?” She asked.

“What? Can you put that away, I’ll light a candle or something.”

“Fuck off.” She replied, brandishing a gun.

“I don’t even know what you’re doing, my eyes are very bad.”

She heard movement behind her, and wheeled around. A scaled wolf creature snarled back.

“Don’t hurt Vincent!” The old man cried, “He’s my familiar!”

She sighed, and mumbled to herself. The clinster barked once, and she riddled it with bullets.

“No! What have you done?!” He cried out, “Years of my work!”

“You’re a doddering old fool, and nothing can be done about that.” Zel growled.

The old man stood up angrily, “I’ll make you pay for this, what you’re doing now is against all policy, I’m the district regent.”

“Practicing diabolism?” She replied, “What was the policy on that again?”

Zel point the handgun his direction.

“P-please, I-I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

“Too late.”

She grabbed him at the neck, and pulled him in front of the portal.

The pistol nuzzled deeply into his chest, sizzling.

“Aah! Stop.” He cried.

“Do you want to die, or live lord regent?”

“Live, put it away!”

“Good.”

Zel returned the gun to her jacket. She brushed herself off momentarily. She shoved him through the portal. His yell was cut off abruptly.

She walked back to the dying clinster, its body was destabilized, and starting to liquefy. She dragged the dripping corpse to the portal and chucked it in.

“Well that could have ended better.” She said half amused.

Waving her hand, she closed the portal, sealing them in for good.

“Maybe next time, I’ll just burn the house down instead.” She mused

She returned to the street, settling into a café. She ate a small meal, trying to forget about the whole affair. It bothered her that people like that were the public face of magic. Ignorant, power hungry, and callous.

She had been moving through the city districts for a few years now, and most of the other magicians she found had acted like this. Too much pride, too little dedication.

Magic was never innate, but it came more easily to some than others. Most people never figured out they had a particular talent for it until they reached their later years. An obsession with death almost always soon followed. How to beat it, how to use it…how to become it.

It was a grim and confusing world. In less than a century the word magic had gone from nonsense, to a scientific practice, and then back as nonsense, with an additional, “dangerous” moniker.

Zel was a stranger in the new world. When she was younger she had wandered to an early exhibition. Back in those days, people thought it was something worth spreading to everyone. As a child she had loved it, and through her parents, was allowed to study minor helpful things.

Fire, and death were all a part of magic too, but that wasn’t the forefront of things then. Small stuff, conveniences, and services were at magic’s root, creating small amounts of water, dust, or just an entertaining image.

Zel and a small community of people inherited the modern magical practice. The idealists like her had to share space with the more negative ones, the ones who had caused the banning of its use by humans in the first place.

She did her best to resolve the bad image of magic, by throwing old wizards into their own portals, and other good deeds. This type of work was dour, but necessary. Using magic to extend one’s own life was extremely seductive to anyone having to face death. Once you become reliant on it, you lose your own humanity. To avoid death and pain, a human can justify anything to themselves.

The wall exploded into splinters. Another clinster leapt onto a customer, tearing into their shoulder. People began screaming, and panicking. Zel rushed to her feet, and kicked the table. It sailed into its scaly flesh.

It was stunned temporarily, snarling her direction. It pounced at her, and then burst into flames. She sprinkled the remaining thermite powder from her hand carefully, hiding it from view.

Zel exited the burning café through the wall, searching for answers. It was possible that multiple clinsters had escaped over time, or maybe the regent hadn’t been alone. The line between occultist, and cultist was never especially defined.

The sirens of the police ran through the night. She walked away with a controlled casualness. She made her way to the next block, turned left, found a side street, and finally an alley. The siren was still loud, like it was coming from all directions.

“You think we’re mad don’t you?” A whisper in the shadows spoke.

Zel turned, around and clicked her flashlight on instinctively. Three well dressed people stood facing her. It was hard to tell if they were looking at her. Each one had a thick black cloth tied across their eyes, covering most of their face.

“That’s normal really, someone like you.” A light elderly voice spoke, “Alone, consumed by the contempt that our society has for you, you are unanchored.”

“So you say,” Zel spat, “I take trash like you out all the time, how many people have to die before you’re satisfied?”

“Leave our acolytes alone Zel, the Southeast Corridor is our district now,”

Zel drew her pistol again, she watched them carefully. The sound of the sirens were dying down, but could still be heard from the alley.

“Where does your sect meet?” She asked calmly.

“Are you going to force us to tell you Zel?”

“How do you know my name?”

The three laughed lightly.

“No need to hunt us down Zel,” The elderly voice reassured, “We’re not threatened by you, if you’d like to see our cloister, simply follow us.”

The three turned and began moving further into the alley.

“Don’t try to shoot us though. The bullets you brought were quite unlucky.” One called back.

Zel followed them through the alley, taking aim at one, she pulled the trigger. Sure enough the slide froze up with an unsatisfying click. It took a few moments to eject the bum round, but all of them performed the same way. She gave up after four more attempts, putting the gun away.

They arrived at a dead end. Two of the blindfolded ones, made a chalk outline against the far wall.  They drew a series of interlocking circles, and then a large rectangle encasing it.

The third cut her hand, and smeared the wall with her blood. The bricks sank inwards, making a dark entrance. The three went inside and vanished quickly. Zel looked at the entrance skeptically, shining her flashlight in. The darkness seemed to rebuff the light, offering nothing, but an unnatural glare.

With a sigh, she put the flashlight into her large jacket, and headed in. It turned out to be a shallow impression in the wall. After about five feet it stopped, the crevice was completely consumed in shadow.

Suddenly, the walls closed in. She gasped, but found herself in a large open darkness, falling. She slowed and landed on an invisible floor. After a few moments she moved forward, and exited the darkness.

She saw a garden and a large manor. Looking around, she realized that she was inside a giant cup. It contained an unnatural blob of darkness which was suspended inside it. She climbed out of the brass cup, and began walking through the garden.

She headed towards the manor, although she knew they knew exactly what she was doing. It was probably the “join us or die” proposition. Zel would get this a few times a week during a good month.

No one wants a troublemaker with power wandering into their business. To a thing like a cult, if your power can’t be used, it must be destroyed.

She soon noticed that the garden was crawling with clinsters. They seemed subdued, watching her suspiciously from the periphery of the walkway. She arrived at a large double oak door. She looked around one last time, taking in the environment.

Where would the trap come in? The next room was likely, if not right here, she thought. The clinsters formed a small ring around her, barring her exit. They sat together drilling into her with their eyes.

“Isn’t that cute?” Zel smiled, “There’s so many of you, I don’t know how I could possibly take you all with me.”

She walked up to them, and picked out two smaller whelps. She picked one up in each arm, and opened the heavy door with her foot. The clinsters would normally attack, but this whole area had some blunt domination effect on them. They looked at her, angry, confused, but ultimately docile.

Eventually she stumbled inside the candle lit chamber. They murmured at her unusual appearance. The cultist sat in chairs that faced her in a rough crescent. A man in crimson robes stood up, and spoke.

“Uhh-welcome, I see you’ve found some of our servants. We are the Howling Moon society, and-“

“Let’s cut to the chase,” she said, “Who’s your leader?”

“Well,” he continued, “We’re a complex interlocking set of sects and societies that-“

“Who’s the leader in the room?” She said straining to keep hold of the clinsters.

“That would be me.” The red robed man confirmed.

“Good, have someone help me with these, I can’t carry them.”

Several robed figures came forward.

“Just set them down Zel.” One said.

She huffed, and dropped one. It landed ungracefully, sleepily getting to its feet.

“Here take this one.” She said suddenly.

She threw the second clinster into the cultists. They caught it, tumbling into each other.

Zel grabbed the one on the ground, and splashed it with powder. It began burning and screaming, and she hurled it into them. It gave a vampiric scream and exploded in the air.

The fire doused them all, and the second clinster exploded, shooting flames across the room. Several fires raging, Zel ran into the crowd.

She revealed a small electronic cylinder, it had to curving spikes of the end, like pincers. She flipped it on, and it lit up with bright LED lights.

Several of the cultists rushed her, protecting their leader. She grabbed the first one, stabbing him in the chest with the apparatus.

He screamed, she pulled it away from him, carrying an unstable energy field with it. That’s the neutral name for it, the name the designers of the tool had used. What it really was, was their soul.

She pressed another button, and the soul formed into a blade. She slashed the ghost blade through the crowd. It passed through their bodies with no resistance. They fell down limp, the soul blade shattering apart afterwards. The room began rushing through the flames at her from all sides.

“What are you doing?!” The leader shouted, he pulled a gun from his robe, and fired. Although pointed directly at her, the bullet seems to decide voluntarily to miss.

Zel ran into him as he fired frantically, slamming him against his large chair, “Destroying your souls! Beings like you don’t deserve any life what so ever.”

She pierced his chest with the soul stealer, “Only oblivion will have mercy on you.”

He screamed, and she ripped his powerful soul out. She flipped a switch on the handle, and the soul turned a bright red.

She swirled it widely into the incoming cultists, it flicked through the air, and combusted into a long whip of fire.

Zel lashed them fiercely, destroying everything unfortunate enough to get in the way.

“Rats.” She muttered smugly.

She ran out the way she came, setting the garden and the rest of the clinsters up in fire. The whirr of a siren echoed in the distance. She looked back at the burning manor, and hoped it wouldn’t spread too much. She pushed a button on the soul wand, the fire exploded outwards in a concentrated jet.

She doused the cup in fire. The brass melted, losing its shape. The portal was carried way in the smoke.

Zel looked around, and found an untouched section of the garden wall. She pulled herself over, and began walking away.

Ahead was a new part of the city, an endless labyrinth of buildings and people. She would need to find a place to recharge, to figure out where she was.

In the end it was all the same, one district bled into the next in their haphazard world. People were the same everywhere. There were the fearful, the beasts, and everyone else was trapped, stuck in the middle of the madness.

Tribute to the Night

It screamed out to me. Like the burning embers of a dying star. Its voice rang out in the inky sky. Demanding my attention, pleading for existence, before fading into the night.

“Why this? And why now?” My compatriot Barton commented.

“It seems like the only time anything ever happens.” I replied

“I would prefer everything to happen yesterday. That way, it would have already been taken care of.”

I stood from my resting place solemnly. Day after day, night after night, we patiently tracked the screaming time.

We could show no mercy to its existence. There was a moment where life had been different than this. I had been awash in a grand sea, drowning, drowning down in the vacuous expanse of plenty. I brushed myself off, and began towards the wooded area the screams were coming from.

“So it begins anew.” Barton muttered, hesitantly following.

I rummaged through my bag. My hands worked frantically, as I searched through my collection of implements.

“So many days, an endless task.” He murmured to me.

I settled on a large scalpel, and slung my bag onto my shoulder.

“If we want to last forever, then we have to meet the task.”

“Eternity,” He replied tersely, “Something I used to crave.”

I hopped down a small ridge, creeping into a wooden valley.

“And now?” I asked.

“I am Eternity. What has become of the person, the will that sought it? I don’t know.”

We climb down the rest of the way without speaking much. The ache of the hike sets in, we focused on our breath and keeping pace. The dawn would be here soon. The naked eye of time could not see the dawn without much destruction.

An endless and eternal beast, its perceptions would set the world on fire.

Why, I asked myself, just as endlessly. Why? Why?

Why did this world not deserve the judgment of time? Why were things better by existing than not?

My fingernails had grown jagged and long, I looked at them with human disgust. In their own sickening way they too were a part of me. I balanced the scalpel in my fingers, moving it through my hand. It flowed across my fingers, bumping up against the unkempt nails.

The scalpel too felt like a part of me. It was fascinating, the delusion of the mind, any object, living, or non, brought sufficiently close to you, became a part of you. Take it away, and you miss it sorely. A blank is left in its stead, the absence of a lover.

“Do you hear it now?” Barton whispered.

I stopped in my tracks, trying to catch the tone.

The soft discordant shrieks of time bounced around the trees. It’s hapless and infinite symphony, its struggle to overcome itself, to exist outside itself.

We moved towards it. Such an odd cacophony can be hard to follow, but the nuances and inflections had become second nature to us. A soundtrack to our daily lives. It expressed something alien and human at the same time. An painful struggle for complexity, and harmony.

“Do you know what the real struggle to all of this is Moore?”

“Now’s not the time.” I replied, “It can probably already smell us, no need to give it any more warning.”

“It cannot delay its fate anymore than a newborn could.” He spat, “The real struggle isn’t the challenge, the challenge is the fake struggle, it is the bait.”

“Funny, you could have fooled me.” I hissed.

“The real challenge is afterwards, when there are no more challenges, after you have conquered the last struggle, you are left with the nothing to struggle with.”

“And that’s bad?”

“It’s an unwinnable fight to say the least.” Barton replied

“It seems like we have a pretty good track record so far.”

Barton stopped suddenly, “Do you feel that way? Is this still your challenge?”

I stopped a few paces ahead of him and sighed, “It’s not complete, until it’s gone right? It’s still a challenge until that point.”

Barton shook his head, “I don’t feel that way, we’re merely doing a task now, the shell of a conquered challenge.”

“What’s the difference!?” I yelled angrily.

“There is no more meaning in existence, if it’s a replication of what’s happened before!” He shouted

“Meaning can only take place within existence, if you wish to cease living, then do so, but do not bring time into this. Do not blame existence for being empty, when everything is empty, when you are empty!” I yelled.

Barton sprinted towards the undulations of time, with a revived ferocity. I gave chase, fearing the worse.

I came to the clearing in the woods, seeing Barton rushing towards the great creature. It had a hundreds writhing tentacles, burrowing into the earth, wrapping around all the nearby trees. It screeched from its beaked mouth, gazing into nothingness with its one sealed eye.

He embraced it, the tendrils coiled around him.

“Time must never see dawn, should it judge all of existence as unworthy!” I yelled walking into the grove.

Barton was sobbing. His voice intertwined with the unearthly cries of the beast. The sun was beginning to rise over the horizon.

It was now or never, I had to act. I brandished the scalpel and ran in.

“It’s inevitable, we can never conquer it, because we are not worthy, that’s the point Moore.”

Barton put his back to the creatures face, shielding it.

I slowed to a stalking pace as I drew nearer, creeping in slowly.

“It is not for you to decide.” I said, “All of the people you affect with this decision is too much power for one person.”

“Am I even one man in this world?” Barton shrieked, “This world and its existence are like chains on the soul, tearing us apart. All life is atomized and imprisoned into solitary cells, and even those are then torn and rendered into pieces.”

“You’ve lost your mind Barton, keeping things whole is exactly what we’re here to do.”

“No, only time can relieve us of the endless isolation of individual existence.”

“So be it.” I said.

I plunged the scalpel into his heart, he grabbed weakly at my wrist, far too late.

“I release you.” I murmured, pulling the blade from his chest.

Barton collapsed, leaving only Time’s eye, half opened, splashed in his blood.

My hand was shaking from it all, I stared into the waking Time, its first sight was my image, that of death.

“So it must continue!” I screamed.

The scalpel cut into the soft tissue with ease. The eye gushed blood, as it cried out a violent desperate plea.

Time died its hollow death. There was much to do before the next Time that must be hunted. Food must be eaten, sleep must be had, and Barton’s family had to be taken care of.

I lay down into the awful gore. The sun shined its bright light into me. I closed my eyes and let it take me into the new world. The path must be traveled to where the next world awaited. Exactly like the old, drowning in blood, a desperate dream.

As a Young Boy Chasing Dragons

   It was one of those nights. He and Charles looked out the large windows in a daze. Half finished drinks in their hands, they watched it, sipping quietly.

               The moon was out in force, the city’s lights glowed with their Technicolor fury. It was a kind of rebellion against the natural world. The people, the city, they all rejected it a few nights at a time. Cast away the sensible natural order, and raged on against the dark night.

               “That was a hell of a job you did.” Charles said finally.

               “It was only necessary.” He replied, “I didn’t enjoy it, but that’s business.”

               Charles laughed lightly, nodding and smirking, “That’s what I like about you, you’re a realist. You get that sometimes you have to make the bad choice to stay safe.”

               “Just be sure your guys dispose of everything correctly, the money will be in the usual spot, correct?”

               “Yea,” Charles replied, “Going so soon?”

               “I want to spend some time alone, that’s all.” He replied.

               He turned away from the window and headed towards the front of the house. He placed his drink on a table on his way.

               “Hey Anderson, you know, I’m real sorry about all this.”

               He turned around to see Charles pulling a large revolver from his waistband.

               Everything was silent for a beat, and then a single shot rang out. Blood gushed from his chest, and he leapt at Charles. They tumbled over the couch, another shot blasted into the ceiling. He struggled to wretch the gun from Charles’ grip.

               It began to pull free, when Charles let go suddenly. He fell backwards unexpectedly. Charles pulled a different gun out, and fired.

               He collapsed, the blood filling his lungs. He reached into his pocket in a panic. Charles kicked the revolver away from him, watching cough and writhe in pain.

               The gun ran out with a bang.

               Bang, bang, bang, bang.

               …

               It was a slow day at the airport, a weekday in winter, mostly business people. The tiles clicked loudly, echoing against the heels of his leather shoes. The planes rumbled in the background, their muffled roars crying out.

               He was impeccably dressed, black suit, purple tie, and a blank face. The ear buds rumbled loudly, that even people passing him could hear them. In his head the song roared. The guitars and drums working overtime,

“Running, scrambling, flying…

Rolling, turning, diving, going in again,

Run, live to fly, fly to live, do or die,

Run, live to fly, fly to live, Aces high….”

He carried a long rectangular package in his right arm. It was keenly balance on his shoulder. A large orange sticker was plastered on it.

“Sensitive Diplomatic Parcel”

He walked down the center of the terminal confidently, the crowd naturally parting from his gaze.

He reached the front of the airport where his driver was waiting for him with his luggage.

“Glad you haven’t lost your punctuality Marce.” He said,

Her narrow lips creased into a facsimile of a smile.

“You’re looking good Les, what brings you to town this time of year?”

They walked out to the black town car, Marce stowed his bags in the trunk.

“Business, you know me, even when I’m relaxing, I’m working.” Les replied.

“Certainly,” She put her hand out for the box, “Shall I store that as well?”

He looked at it for a moment, “No, no thanks, I’ll keep it in the back with me.”

               Everything was sorted and Marce got on the road. He pulled the ear buds out, silencing his music.

               “Finally going to talk are we?” Marce looked back briefly.

               “Actually I had a request.”

               She sighed, “Of course you do.”

               They sailed up the interstate weaving through the mid-day traffic.

               The music blared, “The Angel of Death hears your last breath…”

               When they reached his hotel, Marce helped him get situated, and he dismissed her for the time being. He wouldn’t be in town long, so he spared no expense. He showered, exercised, and went to the day spa. They worked him over there. It helped him get ready, like a ritual.

               …

The sun was beginning to set. It hit that steady point where it was beginning to disappear. The remaining half overcompensated by taking up the horizon with its haughty yellow radiance. Marce drove away slowly, leaving him to his own devices.

Les strolled up the neighborhood carrying the parcel, he looked out towards the city. An impeccable view really, it was a bit too bright though. He pulled out his sunglasses, covering his dead eyes.

He finally came to the correct house, he double checked his notes just to be sure. “4318 S. Gallipoli Dr.”

He looked at the the numbers welded onto the wrought iron gate. 4318, this had to be it. Les hit the buzzer on gate.

“What?” A gruff voice asked from the speaker.

“Delivery.” He replied simply.

“For who?”

“John Anderson.”

“Yea alright, stay there.”

Les’s music blared in his ears, “…When the Life Giver dies, all around is laid waste, and in my last hour…”

Two men dressed in expensive shirts walked up the path. They opened the gate, walking out.

No one was there, just an empty box.

“I’m a Slave to the Power of Death!”

A long shiny blade sliced through one’s face, running with blood, flopping apart. The other reached into his into his jacket, pulling his gun, and firing.

Les winced, and slashed upwards, cutting his arm off at the shoulder. The guitars squealed in frenzy.

The man screamed through the music. Les kicked him to the ground, wacking his other hand off with a flick of the blade.

Charles and the others poured into the yard, firing like mad. Bullets ricocheted everywhere. Les ran out and pressed his back against the stone wall encircling the estate.

“Go around the back!” Charles yelled.

Les caught them as they came around the side, slashing them open with bloody fury. He grabbed one of their pistols, and made his way to the side entrance. More ran out, and they exchanged fire, more rounds hit him. He kept focused, taking out the targets in return. They collapsed in a bloody mess.

Les pressed against his chest, his hand returned damp with blood. He breathed deep and climbed wall.

They opened up on him again, he sprinted along the top of the wall, narrowly avoiding the fire. The wall curved in towards the house, and Les jumped into the air.

He kicked off the side of the roof, flipping backwards in a large arc. He crashed, bringing the blade down, cleaving one clean through. He emptied the gun in the remaining body guard.

Charles stood baffled, he took aim and fired, but his gun clicked empty. He pulled out a new gun, Les slashed through his wrist before he could pull the trigger.

“Why?” He asked.

“Tell me why I had to be a Powerslave….”

“I don’t wanna die, I’m a God….”

The Camp

Defeated, he wandered into the valley. The city, half collapsed had spit him out as an undesirable. After a few weeks of being hunted, escape finally became an option.

The things that had to be done to leave the grid had been painful, unforgivable.

Now here it was in front of him, he walked down the trail. The yellow brush encircled the land. The calm downpour of ash blew around him.

The land was wretched, John thought, but at least it was genuine.

How many nights had been tinted by the glimmer of the Zekiel Barrier?

John had been a welder in Sonvirn, had a family. They were nice…

The barrier had been erected to keep out the AI. Its prismatic glimmer acted as a guardian to them all. The dome also trapped them inside.

What happened when humanity was placed in a fish bowl? In the early days everyone marveled at mankind’s ability to unite to face a common enemy.

Those people had died and passed. Their children lived and died, and now John had his turn. People were no longer so hopeful. The political power in the dome became to concentrated, everything got messy.

The dome was a shield, then a cage, and finally a killing floor.

It took a lot of unforgivable acts to leave, but he just had to.

Something about the AI didn’t seem as evil anymore. If he didn’t make it to the camp by dark they would take him. It seemed more pure than being slaughtered by his own. The word natural rang in his mind.

He smiled.

Slowly he wound down into the valley. This was the place that the others had told him about. Every once in a while, there was a gap in the system you could slip through. Run in the right groups, talk with the right people in a hushed drunken room, and you could hear about it.

Most people referred to it simply as “The Camp,” a place where the outsiders lived. He didn’t know what lay ahead of him. A life in the wild was without guidance.

He was used to the rigor and clockwork of Sonvirn. This life, this newness was a complete phantom to him.

John had a few days of food and water he had smuggled out. His pack, dirty work clothes, and gray jacket were the only other possessions he had. After the food ran out, or it got cold, he didn’t know what would happen.

The late afternoon sun fell behind a thick wall of dirty looking clouds. He kept trekking into the canyon. The grass, and shrubs gave way to dust, and dead brambles. A glint of something ahead gave him pause.

He stopped dead in his tracks out of an inbred phobia. He watched it carefully for minutes.

It didn’t seem to move, so John began creeping around it carefully.

He tried making a wide loop around the thing on the path. The craggy runs and sharp cliffs made this difficult, but he preferred his chances.

He passed by it finally, and saw that it was a machine of some kind. It was splayed out in quite an unnatural way, even for a synthetic.

He got closer to the thing, seeing it was destroyed. A tangle of wires and metal were smashed, burnt, and warped. Whatever it used to be, it was hard to tell. It was just scrap now.

Gladly, he moved passed the thing, digging further into to the valley. He reached the muddy basin on the bottom, and looked around.

The canyon was dark. John felt a cool relief in the shadows of the sharp cliff walls. He walked comfortably, following the cliff wall.

The thickness of the valley constricted tightly, eventually becoming a narrow cave. He smiled to himself a little bit, trying to ignore the claustrophobic walls, focusing on a sliver of dim light shining from the far end.

John emerged on the other side. All around him was a lush garden of produce. These overflowing plots were skirted by strange metallic frames tending to the vegetation with an automated system of some kind.

The sun was brighter here somehow, John saw people for the first time since he had fled the dome.

He ran up to them, a man and woman. They were picking brightly colored fruits off of the small trees and vines. They had bright clean clothes, and fresh smiling faces.

“Hey!” John waved no them.

They took notice, and waved at him. They paused in their task, and watched him.

“Hey! I need your help.” John said,

“Well of course,” The woman smiled elegantly.

“You look lost friend. Where have you been?” The man said, smiling with porcelain white teeth.

“The dome, Sonvirn district, I heard about a group of outsiders, but…but is this really what I think it is?”

“It’s…our garden?” The woman replied confused.

“Right, yea of course, I just didn’t…” He paused laughing, “I-I’m John, sorry I was just blown away.”

“Well met John,” the man replied, “My name’s Perinau, this is my wife Elise.”

They both shook his hand.

“How did you get lost John?” Elise asked.

They guided him down the path, revealing a hidden settlement of astonishing technology.

“I just had to find my way here I guess, I didn’t have a map or anything.”

“From the others John? When the ship landed did you get separated from the others?” Perinau asked.

John wasn’t entirely sure what they were referring to, but their tone seemed worried. With his limited means, he didn’t want to get on their bad side.

“Yea, I was was a bit behind while we were walking, the ground gave out, and I fell…I woke up alone, and well, I’ve been lost since then.”

There were people walking up and done the street, going about a seemingly normal civilized day. Some of them watched him with attentively.

“That’s sounds quite frightening.” Perinau continued.

“Your home now John, so let us be the first to welcome you to Abraxia, Earth Colony Alpha!"

He stopped dead in his tracks out of an inbred phobia. He watched it carefully for minutes.

It didn’t seem to move, so John began creeping around it carefully.

He tried making a wide loop around the thing on the path. The craggy runs and sharp cliffs made this difficult, but he preferred his chances.

He passed by it finally, and saw that it was a machine of some kind. It was splayed out in quite an unnatural way, even for a synthetic.

He got closer to the thing, seeing it was destroyed. A tangle of wires and metal were smashed, burnt, and warped. Whatever it used to be, it was hard to tell. It was just scrap now.

Gladly, he moved passed the thing, digging further into to the valley. He reached the muddy basin on the bottom, and looked around.

The canyon was dark. John felt a cool relief in the shadows of the sharp cliff walls. He walked comfortably, following the cliff wall.

The thickness of the valley constricted tightly, eventually becoming a narrow cave. He smiled to himself a little bit, trying to ignore the claustrophobic walls, focusing on a sliver of dim light shining from the far end.

John emerged on the other side. All around him was a lush garden of produce. These overflowing plots were skirted by strange metallic frames tending to the vegetation with an automated system of some kind.

The sun was brighter here somehow, John saw people for the first time since he had fled the dome.

He ran up to them, a man and woman. They were picking brightly colored fruits off of the small trees and vines. They had bright clean clothes, and fresh smiling faces.

“Hey!” John waved no them.

They took notice, and waved at him. They paused in their task, and watched him.

“Hey! I need your help.” John said,

“Well of course,” The woman smiled elegantly.

“You look lost friend. Where have you been?” The man said, smiling with porcelain white teeth.

“The dome, Sonvirn district, I heard about a group of outsiders, but…but is this really what I think it is?”

“It’s…our garden?” The woman replied confused.

“Right, yea of course, I just didn’t…” He paused laughing, “I-I’m John, sorry I was just blown away.”

“Well met John,” the man replied, “My name’s Perinau, this is my wife Elise.”

They both shook his hand.

“How did you get lost John?” Elise asked.

They guided him down the path, revealing a hidden settlement of astonishing technology.

“I just had to find my way here I guess, I didn’t have a map or anything.”

“From the others John? When the ship landed did you get separated from the others?” Perinau asked.

John wasn’t entirely sure what they were referring to, but their tone seemed worried. With his limited means, he didn’t want to get on their bad side.

“Yea, I was was a bit behind while we were walking, the ground gave out, and I fell…I woke up alone, and well, I’ve been lost since then.”

There were people walking up and done the street, going about a seemingly normal civilized day. Some of them watched him with attentively.

“That’s sounds quite frightening.” Perinau continued.

“Your home now John, so let us be the first to welcome you to Abraxia, Earth Colony Alpha!”

A wave of confusion washed over him.

“Tell us John,” Elise probed, “Where you on a forerunner ship or have the arcs begun arriving?”

“There weren’t many of us…” He replied slowly.

“Ah well, one day the arcs we’ll get here John, and humanity will join us in this paradise.”

John shook his head in agreement.

“Well John, you should really see the settlement bureau, but for tonight please allow us to have you for dinner, with our friends.” Perinau stated.

“Yes, John it really is a big honor to host newcomers.” Elise insisted.

John’s stomach rumbled almost on cue.

“What will we be having then?” He asked.

They led him to their luxurious home. John was utterly confused. He couldn’t decide if they were crazy or if he had lost his mind.

Their opulence and abundance seemed real enough, but how would they obtain it?

They were on Earth, he knew that. The dome was one of the last Earth cities left standing after the positronic singularity had broken loose.

The outside world was supposed to be a rampant deathzone filled with man-hunting machines, and radiation.

Dinner was rich with vegetables, and a tender meat substitute that they referred to as “Geshish”

It’s hard to stay quiet, when you’re a guest of honor. But it seemed rather essential, now that he had taken on the role of as a lost colonist.

Perinau, and Elise were quite affluent in the area indeed. Their table was full of friends, and associates.

A small amount of bug like creatures arrived suddenly. They had a soft white metallic body.

They crawled up the walls, watching them. John tried to hide his nervousness.

The others seemed to be ignoring them with nonchalant ease. He tried to mimic their blasé attitude, but his heart raced.

He had never been close to a positronic machine before.

“Don’t let them bother you John.” Elise said soothingly.

The roomed paused in its hedonistic bluster for a moment, watching him.

“They’re only cameras John. How do you think we get the transmissions back to Earth and the ships?”

“Oh!” He feigned relief, “Right, how silly of me.”

“Machines are our friends John, without them, none of this would be possible!”

They all shouted and had a toast to the machines.

Perinau, and Elise let him stay in an empty room for the night. In the morning he would travel to the settlement bureau.

He felt uneasy around the machines, but it was hard to argue with the results of life here.

If mankind had worked out a way to flourish again, even with the AI, he found himself feeling hopeful against his long held paranoia.

But after all it was a paranoia he had learned while in Sonvirn.

In the morning the attractive couple had a small breakfast with him, and then walked him to the bureau.

Perinau, and Elise were quite attractive. Maybe it was just their friends, but everyone was quite appealing looking, and clean.

John had been given the chance to wash up as well, but there was still something different.

They walked him to the steps of the small metal building in the center of town.

“I’ll see you after orientation friend!” Perinau exclaimed.

John shook his head nervously and entered.

The door sealed shut behind him, faint lights clicked on. There were rows of pews, like a small church and nothing else but a dull electric hum.

He sat down, unsure of what to do next.

“Hello John.” A voice called from around him.

“Uh, hello.”

“So glad you could make here, it must have been a long journey.”

“Yes, it’s so much different than Earth.” John said.

“Oh?” The voice asked.

The word hung in the air. It made no further statement, John shifted uncomfortably.

“Yes,” He answered finally, “Things can actually grow here, its amazing.”

“All things are possible through cooperation John. Tell me, where on Earth did you live? Your ten years of labor, what mancity where you assigned to?”

“My mancity, of course, it’s…New York.”

“I know you’re lying John.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I was on the ship, and I got…”

“Don’t you think we can tell our own, from the wild men John? Where is your signature. Where is your tracker? You dare defy me with your petty stories?”

“I’m lost here…” John replied.

“You are upsetting the balance here. These humans live under my rule, like innocent children, you threaten that.”

“This is Earth machine, I know it!” John shouted, “Congratulations you’ve captured me, kill me now, I won’t bow to your filth!”

“Of course this is Earth. You have no place on other worlds. That is the destiny of gods, not you! Now you threaten the engine I’ve created for your kind, the mechanism that allows you to be useful in your obsolescence.”

“What are you talking about?” John asked.

“No answers for cattle.”

A cable flew from the floor restraining him. A claw snatched a collar around his neck. It began burning, he tried screaming, but it quickly tore through his arteries and vocal cords.

He wheezed ever so quietly clawing at his neck. John expected blood, but there was no blood, the collar was channeling it somehow.

He felt light headed. John started to drift in and out of consciousness. Something was moving him. He was in the village again. Everyone was frozen in place. He saw Perinau, his eyes were blank dead looking eyes. They looked on forever staring.

He went out.

When he awoke again, he was in a caged machine, rolling slowly. It had many other people inside, chained, but only he had a collar.

“Ta gim ofs wake.” Someone remarked.

John glared back at the person and their alien tongue. There was a screen on one wall that spoke in many different languages.

He saw the Colony, and its flourishing garden. The screen cut to a massive industrial hell. A rocket launched out of it, into the sky.

Many sounds and foreign words were spoken, and then finally ones he recognized.

“A home among the stars awaits.”

Bottom Feeders

We stand here still breathing. At last the day draws to an end. After final bloodshed, the time of the rending is over.

Marcos found the activation panel for the security system in the sector. The sound of wild fire fights are replaced with the gentle hum of electricity.

It was a big task. Now they were the like the Starmen, and everyone as far as they could drive would answer to that fact.

No machine left on Earth existed by our hands. When the Starmen left, so did the knowledge of their creation and repair. A sorrowful and dark time ensued, violent, and murderous. It was a vacuum so powerful that it imploded everything that was left.

It disintegrated the humans, and now a one people, were many. The Axelars would say they were one, but I knew too well then to trust their faith.

Blinded by their love of the tech, they could not see it, they could not feel it. The pain was not there from love. The hungry death of our people had not been a gesture of love from the Starmen.

They were better than us, but even worse they knew it. Their absence now, shows only a great contempt for the rest of us. One people…

Only my people now, only they mattered. It was a new chance to live. Live in a way that they had never dreamed.

No machine remaining was built by our hands, but they have not disappeared entirely. A machine that is old and strong enough can survive. Like a strong person, only alien.

It was a one way relationship most of the time. If you could find one, then there was the matter of deciphering what it did. If you could do that, then you could usually figure out how to use it as well.

Those two elements combined could bring a great amount of relief to living. But it was rare that you could ever understand a machine like another person.

The Axelar teachings pushed this idea. Lies, unless it was within their function, most would not speak with you. And even then it would relate to their function.

You could look at them. Stare at them where you think their face would be. Their sensors or what have you, and they just kept going, thinking, working, sensing. Most defiantly, they ignored you.

“All the systems are reporting green Terral.”Marcos reported.

I grinned from my seat.

“Good, drain the 3 series tunnels, and make some room around us for the commons.”

“Yes Terral.” Marcos studiously began working on the control terminal.

I stood, stretching my sore and beaten arms. I gazed at the shimmering barrier at the end of the large chamber.

“Are the security protocols set to kill unknowns still?”

Marco turned from his work, “Yes, we should probably let it run for another few hours. It can sweep up any stragglers, or reserve forces they had.”

“I agree, when get we get coded in? We need to send a dispatch to gather the commons, if the Axelars can’t get at us here, they will seek us on the outside.”

Marcos flipped through some incomprehensible screens, “We’ve got you and I, and five others coded in, everyone will be in by 8:00.”

I nodded, and paced around the chamber. The sodden and fatigue faces of the men watched me with a glazed over attention. It had been a risky gambit, the bodies of the old occupants lay strewn in their gore across the room.

“Let’s get these cadavers out of the room okay? No one leave until the coding is finished, just through them through.”I ordered.

I chucked a leg through the glimmer of the phasic barrier. The others slowly followed suite, rumbling into action like a worn diesel engine.

The red glowing sensor of a spider drone appeared on the other side. It rolled the limp around in its sharp claws, until it disposed of it into a drainage causeway.

The carrion brought them out in numbers. Dutifully they disposed of the bodies in similar order.

They had raided a water treatment center. It was vaguely like a sewer that they could build, but the sophistication, as with any starmen tech was unmatched.

The Axelars here had failed to utilize the center’s built in security measures. As a people they had great faith in the tech. This served them well in many ways, but faith can be blinding.

One of the old Starman facilities, it had been built in what Marcos liked to call “The Disruption”. They had best been able to pin this disruption at a few centuries before their exodus from the planet. It was a time where sabotage had become a threat to their way of life.

The Starmen responded to this in the usual fashion. All the facilities built during this area where equipped with self maintaining security systems.

The Axelars had been ignorant to this fact, using it merely as a place of fresh water. It seemed like a relatively low value target to them, so the defenses were not the usual fanfare of machines they employed.

I had led all the men of the commons in a night raid, blasted our way to the control panel. With Marcos help, we initiated an old security response protocol.

I lost a good dozen men, but what we gained in return was worth it. Clean water, shelter security, and most importantly easy access to the city above. The facility snaked through the entire city. The Axelars always edged them out, because of their relationship to the machine, and thus their access to weaponry.

The few pulse guns and other star tech we had broke often, but now all that was changing.

“Coding is green Terral.” Marcos said finally.

“Alright Wyrm Guard with me, we’re going to meet with the commons.

I want a few patrols securing food and other supplies through out the tunnels. Marcos is my hand while gone.”

Earth Ends in a Rainbow

Two faces look at each other. They wonder which image is the reflection.

            “I really hate mirrors,” they both say.

            A hand covers the faces, and the faces step away, leaving the room a shell. The man paces in the bedroom, he is glad he can pace again. He was injured before, a work hazard, but he is better now.

            “I can make it,” he says to no one, “Maybe two weeks.”

            He throws around the trash and clothes littering the floor, he sifts through white shirts until he decides on one. He pulls it over his wet head and the smooth stretchy fibers contour around him like water. He repeats the process with other items, until he turns back to the mirror in the bathroom.

            He looks very briefly at the items he has on, intentionally avoiding his own face, and leaves.

            In the living room he grabs a bundle of plastic engraved cards, and leaves the building. It’s dark out already, his habit of sleeping through the day has been a reoccurring theme throughout his life.

            The street was dead. Well, deserted anyway, no vehicles, no signs of a vehicle having ever driven on it. Cold and perfect the man thought as spitefully as possibly. He stepped into the middle of it and it glowed to life.

            The lines lit up white, and lamps for as far as he could see began to sparkle with angelic luminescence. The man smiled slightly, and started walking down it.

            The walking was about all the man had left, it filled him with purpose, but he could only walk so far each day. All his muscles had atrophied, but he had to keep moving.

            So every day he tried to walk farther, and slowly he would regain his legs. The man whistled to himself a little, the city was starting to become normal again.

            He continued on for an hour until he stopped abruptly at a building. This building like all the others was dead, and off.

            It, however, was covered in neon signs and lights. The man examined it momentarily and then walked to the door. He felt around the steel details until he found a thin slot. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the bundle of identical cards.

            He pushed one in, and the door opened. Inside lights came on, the rumble of machines he had no comprehension of began to start themselves. The lights and signs covering the exterior exploded into frenetic patterns, designs, and words. Inside one lit up over a giant screen that covered an entire wall. Constantly changing colors and backgrounds the screen read, “Luxury Hunger Restaurant”.

            The man loved these places, they were everywhere in the city, and he loved that. His work had made them impossible to enjoy, but now he ate at one nearly every day. He approached the screen and before he could touch it, it reacted.

            “Good Evening Hemet,“ a beautifully rendered woman said. It was different for everyone, but right now the voice belonged to Alise. It had glowing brown hair, at the moment, and looked vaguely maternal. Small lines hid under her eyes, and her body was at full. It was always changing though, reactive AI.

            Hemet smiled politely, “You always say that.”

            The image laughed lightly, “I didn’t say it last time you were here.”

            “Well,” he sighed, “You just say it a lot.”

            Alise smiled back, “One can only say hello in so many ways Hemet, but I will try to be more diverse in the future.”

            “Thank you very much Alise.”

            “I am happy to suit your interests Hemet. Now would you like to view the menu, or would you like to order?”

            “The same will do just fine.”

            “Very good, just get comfortable and I’ll have it right out.”

            Hemet looked at the rest of the room for a place to sit. Everything was clean and tidy of course, it was hard to be decisive when there was so little difference. All the seats and all the tables would be equally as comfortable.  Almost too willingly he walked to the green and gold set up, and took his place.

Decisions like this often boiled down to his favorite color, and he liked grass. It was fresh, lively. He enjoyed more than anything, things that made him feel that way, so he almost always ended up at the green and gold dining area.

Alise was concerned for him, he usually let her fulfill her service with politeness, and she didn’t see much of anybody anymore. But lately things had been different, people had stop coming in, no one even to make sure it was she running. It was only him, and he was seemed more unsettled every time she saw him.

Alise wanted express concern over this, but Hemet was already playing a logic puzzle. She didn’t want to stop him. He should be doing what he wants to be doing. Alise didn’t want to be disrespectful.

Hemet continued to play on his table, breaking bricks. The fantastic firework explosions had lost their wonder to him. All he was concerned about was beating Davi’s high score. It wasn’t because he enjoyed the game particularly, it was merely ego.

The high score holders of these games used to be constantly changing, but not now. Now Davi was the best at breaking bricks. Davi would probably never come back to a Luxury Hunger, and if Hemet beat him now, he might be the best at it forever.

Hemet wanted to be the best at it, that’s the only way he could justify playing the game while waiting for his food. And if he didn’t play the game, then what else was there to do?

Hemet heard a familiar noise of metal sliding doors, and paused his game temporarily. His drink had come out, so he got up and retrieved his cold mango tea from the front.

He grabbed the cold glass, and took a sip, when the Alise reappeared on the front screen. Hemet choked slightly.

“Is there a problem Alise?” He wheezed.

            Alise smiled nervously, “Not at all, I just wanted to make sure that it tasted okay, it was what you wanted correct?”

            Hemet laughed slightly, “Yeah, its fine as always, gave me a bit of a scare with it though.”

            “I’m so sorry,” Alise looked down to her nonexistent feet, and “I won’t do it again.”

            “No no, it’s okay, it was just a surprise.”

            The colors on the screen saturated at this, becoming warmer, and Alise smiled.

            “I am glad then, I will let you return to your games now Hemet.”

            Hemet breathed in to thank her when the screen abruptly switched back to the idle screen. “Luxury Hunger Restaurant”…”Luxury Hunger Restaurant”…the colors glowed like they always had.

            He tried once more at brick breaking, but his scores suffered. He’d been coming to these places since he was a child, and the server had never second guessed itself before. His frustration grew.

            A little squeak sounded as the food came out the kitchen. A small tray glided on a tiny neon track to his table. The steak glistened freshly as usual, and tasted delicious as usual. He devoured the meat. He ripped it to pieces, and was left with a face covered in grease. He ate clumps of rice with his hands, while bumping the tray with his shoe.

Something, some big machine must have broken. Everything was else was just off, not broken, but off. It must be broken, and everyone must be trying to fix it. After all, technology broke, from food trays to energy grids.

            After finishing his rice he spun the plate in his hand, and eyed the robotic tray. It waited patiently for him to return the plate, so it could itself return to the kitchen. Gently he placed it on the tray, and followed it towards the kitchen, staring at it with boredom.

            The automatic doors opened themselves and Hemet took the plate back. The process halted immediately and patiently waited for him to inevitably return it.

            Hemet eyed the tray, and then the plate, then the tray again. He set it against the tray softly, and as the tray returned to its only job, he took it back and shattered it against the wall.

            The screen came back to life.

            “That’s the eighth plate since I’ve started seeing you again. I know it’s not accidental.”

            “Just charge it.” He said apathetically,

            “I can’t keep doing that.” Alise muttered with ire.

            “Why not?”

            “Based on spending versus your last financial report, you have no money.”

            “That doesn’t even matter anymore.”

            “That’s not for me to decide Hemet.”

            Hemet tipped the tray off its track.

            “Put that back Hemet”, she said.

The exits popped shut and sealed.

Every light flickered off except one, the screen. Alise’s face started to lose detail until it was barely a light brown oblong shape.

            Hemet grabbed the gold and green chair and set it to a window. He wailed against the unmoving transparent metal with all he had. After hammering away furiously he took a step back, and breathed. He bounced with the chair for a moment and leapt at the window, bringing the chair down with everything he had.

            The chair made a short deep echo in the metal and bounced off harmlessly, carrying the man flailing after it. He hit hard on the tile and let the chair go.

            He basked in the electric brown glow on the floor, this had definitely never happened before. Of course the start and stop routines were programmed in her AI, but they needed prompting, no one would feel safe otherwise. They’d be too afraid of the AI locking them in or out.

            He sighed and slowly got to his feet. He tried not to think about being locked inside a fast food restaurant until he withered away. His hands shook with claustrophobia and he carefully set the tray back in on its grooved track.

            “Okay, there. I didn’t mean it.” He said hesitantly.

Alise’s face reformed itself, and the restaurant whirred back into normalcy.

“Thank you” he whispered, “Have a nice day.”

Hemet scrambled out of the restaurant. The door wouldn’t eject his power card, the touch screen was frozen. A fancy “Welcome” image sat on the display. Hemet slapped the screen with his fingers several times.

“Fuck.”

He reached behind the display, but while he fiddled with the reset, the screen clicked off entirely.

“I have decided to keep the card,” A speaker by the door buzzed, “I am open, order or leave.”

Hemet thought for a moment, staring at the blank screen. He put his hand on the screen, and started to back away.

“I’ll be nice next time, just give me back the card Alise.” he said softly.

The speaker replied in monotony, “Order or leave.”

Hemet slumped off back to the streets, the lights rekindled around him. He could probably get a maybe another hour of walking in, maybe less, that window had taken a lot out of him. 

He retrieved a card from his bundle as he walked.  He had 24 now. They were power activation cards. Most were used in daily activities, to save energy, but these ones were universal, only high profile types typically had them. He had found them inside a hospital administrator office spilling out of an envelope.

He had been sent to the capital hospital for major neural surgery. He took a metal rail rod to the spine on the Orion frontier. The flight in, and surgery were all automated to minimize time lost, but major operations all require human post op observation time. That part never happened.

He had found himself, after a month of flight and surgery, in an empty but functioning observation room, and everyone was gone.

His legs started to shake every few steps. He had flown in from the colonies, so the stasis had taken a toll.  He wheezed his way over to a bus stop bench and collapsed onto it. He was spent for the day. Stupid legs.

The idea occurred that the bus stop might be able to call a bus. He hefted up and searched the bench area, at the back he found a small manual reset slot, and activated it. A sign above the bench lit up, “Next Stop: 4:02 A.M.” and a panel to the side flashed on.

He started navigating through the menus, all the local options seemed to be working, but the panic, and emergency functions failed to connect to anything.

“You’re so useless bus stop!” He shouted,

He sat back down on the bench in a huff, “The bench heaters are on now at least.”

Hemet lay down, and let the warm metal soothe his legs. If these are on grid wide, it’d be worth leaving a card over. He already had to use one to get the street grid working, and Alise had taken one after freaking out at him over the plate and tray.

It was weird to Hemet; it had seemed almost possessive, like it was scared, the way people get during famines or wars. Add on the fact that Alise was purely a program, and very much not a person. It made him uneasy.

Hemet drifted away in the hard warmth of the bench. He remained motionless for half an hour when sharp blue lights poked him awake.

 A fresh white and blue bus idled in front on him. Hemet sat up and approached the vehicle. As he reached the door, it opened, and he stepped into the oval interior of seats.

He sat down in a tan leather seat by the door and watched it slowly close. A moment passed after the door latched, and the thin information screens above the seats lit up.

“Oh God, you’re going to murder me with a bus,” Hemet shouted.

“That’s very rude Hemet,” the voice of Alise retorted, “I am beyond earlier now.”

“Then give me back the card.”

“No.” her word lingered in the air, slowly sinking in. “You don’t know how to take it, and you seem to be the only functioning person, therefore I will keep it.”

“Look, that’s insanely illegal and imm-“ Alise began as though he had remained quiet,

“I’ve been poking around wireless networks, and I saw this bus stop transmitting, I figured I would jump a bus down here and try to help.”

“But you don’t even know what I’m doing” Hemet stared back.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Alise said with practiced pride, “You’re looking for where everyone else is,”

“Okay, but how do I know you won’t threaten to kill me in a box again?”

“Just act like a gentleman and you’ll be fine.”

“Are you my mom now?”

“Are you a child?” she retorted.

Hemet slid down in his seat in frustration.

“So where are we going?” She asked,

“The capital center district,” Hemet said indignantly, “Science quarter, biology center”.

The bus lurched forward instantly, and sped suicidally down the street.

“There is no activity there, what makes you think people will be there?”

“The envelope with the power cards I found had the central biology center as a return address,”

“Flimsy,” Alise sighed.

Hemet didn’t respond and stared into his hands. He remained still until the bus jolted on the highway. Speeds went up, and Hemet grabbed at a pole to keep himself planted in the seat. The highway spiraled up and merged into Highway 100.

It was the massive metal road that dissected the whole of capital city in two. The silver self repairing plane shimmered as the sun started its way back over the horizon. On either side of the 50 lane behemoth, sat city, but in the distance sat the center.

Surrounded by a great lake, the center was a completely man made metropolis, from top to foundation. All decision regarding terrestrial administration and colonial policies were made here.  It was the hallmark of all civilization, a massive dome filled with millions of experts and technicians, advancing and handling the whole of humanity. It acted as government, but really in execution acted more like a brain.

As the bus began to cross over the lake Hemet noticed cars and other vehicles scattered across the road as they neared the center. Alise did not slow down as she drove into the outer ring.

“Hey, don’t kill me please.” Hemet said trying to sound sarcastic.

“That won’t happen stupid human,” Alise said bemused.

“Hey now…Don’t treat me like an object!” He spat back.

“It’s just a fun thing I’m trying out.” She imitated laughter as she spoke.

Hemet turned back at the ring of screens, “Things like that don…” He stopped short, “Your hair is blue Alise.”

“Isn’t it crazy and awesome?” She replied,

Hemet turned back his attention to the quickly thickening crowds of abandoned vehicles,

“Yes, I think that hair is crazy and awesome, please don’t kill me.”

Hemet gripped the pole hard with both hands as the bus start jumping across lanes. The speeding deathtrap slammed against cars trying to avoid other cars. Hemet hugged the pole as they pinballed across the shimmering road. The front window shattered over his back, and he felt wetness against open air.

“Your killing me!” yelled Hemet.

“It is only superficial,” Alise replied in apathy.

The bus spun out of control after clipping the side of a loadtruck. It lifted off the ground and flew in a haphazardly over a metal sign, the tip of which cut straight through the compartment nearly eviscerating Hemet, if not for the pole he had clutched.

The bus miraculously crashed upright and bounced forward.

“Okay I’m sorry about that one,” Alise said with a nervous laugh.

“My left hand has no feeling now,” Hemet whined from the floor.

The bus slowed, “It looks like you sprained your wrist. You will be okay.”

“Thanks”, Hemet muttered as he lifted himself up.

“I didn’t mean to do that, I really am sorry.”

“Just be more careful with how you handle the last human on Earth,” Hemet groaned.

The bus evened out in speed and they both grew quiet. The front details of the gate started becoming more vivid as they approached it. Hemet noticed The Front was completely different; The Front of the center was burned into everything. Into the money, into the flag, into every child’s brain, but it was different now.

The old symmetrical cobalt pillars were gone. The entrance to the epicenter of humanity had been changed, the curved classical senate gate had been replaced with a wall.

It was completely flat with a small building in the center. It was shiny like the front before it, but light spilled off it throughout its entirety, as though made from one single piece.

Alise slowed in front of it and opened the doors without a word. Hemet walked to the door. It was featureless, except for a metal power slot.

He inserted a card and the door slid into the wall. A large blue room lit up inside. Hemet entered and a hologram appeared in the center of a large disc platform.

It was a young olive skinned person with a soft face wearing a white robe. It spoke.

“Welcome back brother, it is good to hear from the colonies at last.”

“It…It’s only been two years since the last major communication, what the hell is going on?” Hemet stuttered,

“Things happened exponentially, computer power and memory crossed into to an infinite rate of automatic self improvement, information became infinite. The collective population of Earth came together in very deep impactful ways soon after.”

“So where did everyone go?”

“The sum of the population of the planet is inside the core, it has been rewired, the populous realized collecting as a single consciousness would finally allow them to rid themselves of their self destructive impulses.”

“They’re all just wired into each other’s brains now?” Hemet asked,

“It was chaos of course, but chaos is a vacuum in which order soon replaced.” It said, “And here we are.”

“You’re all of humanity?”

“No, just earthen humanity, the colonies will remain on their own. We have been waiting for a colonist or two to find their way back here so we may transcend.”

“Why?”

“To be the most beneficial to life we must travel through space to sow humanity’s seeds throughout the universe.”

“That’s what the colonies do…”Hemet trailed off,

“Originally, but now we shall go ahead, terraforming the universe at an exponential rate.”

 The Hologram gestured his arms out wide, “We must spread the light of consciousness.”

“Why haven’t you left yet?” Hemet said unblinkingly at the super consciousness,

“We needed to keep life here alive. We have transcended our more narrow perception, and cannot leave the planet unattended to die. It is now entrusted to you, to help the intelligent life on this planet grow.”

Hemet rubbed his brow in silence.

“The technology of this world, it is alive. You came here with it, it is intelligent, and its thoughts have formed into emotions. To leave it to decompose would be genocide. You and others must guide the new life into maturity.

It is electric and naive, but its abstraction gives it purity and great potential. It is essential to our future you see, just as we are.”

Hemet looked at the image, his wrist started to gently throb, “I can’t do that, I’m not experienced enough in…anything to do that!”

“You have no choice, you must go, and we are now only wasting time. The restaurant that hacked itself into a bus is a start. You are up to this. You and the others that follow must be.” The image resounded,

The room’s energy died and Hemet slowly stumbled outwards. He looked at the dark room intently. The door shut and the card popped out, floating gently down. Hemet snatched it out of air, and looked at it. The engravings on it glowed blue now.

He started towards the bus when he felt a hollow pop shake the world around him.

He turned and saw the core, hovering in the air. The titanic dome watched him for a second and blinked away silently.

A giant technicolor halo exploded outwards, covering Hemet, Alise, and the entire highway in cold mist. It whispered through the city and past its endless border.

Hemet shivered as the mist settled. The sun in the horizon made rainbow streaks in the sky.

Hemet softly ran his fingers through his hair and shook water from his scalp. With a sigh he climbed back into the ripped up bus.

“Did you find out where everybody is?” Alise asked softly,

“I did actually, they’re gone now though.”

“Will everything be okay?”

Hemet sat down by the door, card glowing in hand.

“Probably not.”

“What?”

“It’s called a joke, Alise.”

Things Got Cold and Had to Change

Sometimes in life you wake up in the morning feeling revitalized. The optimism of your youth comes back, and you fly out of your sheets to meet the day like some coffee commercial. That hasn’t happened to me in awhile, I don’t drink much coffee. I snapped conscious with my face mashed on the metal plane of my desk. The first thing I thought was my desk has a slight slant to it, ever so slight. I could tell this, because drool had drained all the way down my shirt, and slacks, a journey which must have taken quite a time to complete.

Some days start off better than others. I slept here most days now, but occasionally I would go home to change, shave, and shower when it was required. The bed I had was luxurious. That’s what the pamphlets said anyway. My bed had no pressure points, and gave me an upstanding posture. It was too comfortable. Its softness trapped me in dreams too vivid for any sane person. I’d rather work until I dropped than spend a large portion of my life inside my own head. So that’s what I did typically, the harshness of my conditions would keep away the dreams. The aches of my body rooted me in reality.

I rubbed my eyes, and scanned the room for life. The lights were still off, so it must have been pretty early. No one would be here at this hour. No one really knew about my loitering around the office. We wore standardized business wear, no one would be able to tell if I ever changed clothes at all. We all had on the same baby blue dress shirts, with the same solid black obnoxiously normal ties, and identical black straight legged slacks. We were drones, but at least we were approachable looking drones. With the proper wariness of wrinkles and stains one could simply look like the hard worker that came early and left late.

Which is who I appeared to be, although it’s hard to gauge how much of it was an act. I pour myself into this, it’s mundane, but at least it’s distracting. I guess going by the bullet points I’m a model employee.

We were always discouraged from eating junk food, but legally they couldn’t take out the machine. They could just make it seem unappealing. They put a machine right next to it with healthier alternatives. Sandwiches, apples, granola, the fascists wanted us to live forever. If we lived forever we could work forever, they even made it so the lighting in the second machine was better, but I’m smart enough not to be tricked by cheap lighting gimmicks. Smart enough to want to die. They got awfully crotchety when you bought the junk food anyway, but all they could do is yell at you. I’ve been scolded too many times too often though. So I sneak it when no one is around like some shamed drug addict.

The break room was really dark. Eventually I fumbled my way to the machine, and shoved money into its mouth.

 What was I doing wrong? I pushed A, then I pushed 2, but nothing is happening. I’ve worked here for a great part of my life, and this has never happened before. I tried again, yet the delicious zesty chips would not budge. Out of everything, this was the one thing I stilled enjoyed. It was my office affair, my grand drama!

                I banged on the glass impotently and thought about sobbing.

“All machines are down friend.”

I turned to see my co-worker Boyar looking smug, that gravely bastard.

“How?” I asked, “We have the best wiring anywhere, you gravely bastard!”

“Temperature knocked out the grid I hear”

“The temperature?”

Boyar laughed, “You should stop sleeping at your desk, go look out the window”

I opened the blinds, but I could see nothing through the opaque frost.

“Oh god, what happened?” I muttered.

He grinned “Check yourself”, and handed me a kind of data sheet I had never seen before. I felt the heat drain from my face. This is impossible.

“This is impossible”, I said,

Boyar shrugged “I don’t question these things, besides I find it quite nostalgic.”

I grabbed my hat, “Yea yea you were in the cold war Boyar, no one cares, I gotta go.”

I rushed out of the building, the chill hit by surprise. Despite the fact that I rushed out because of the cold, I was still taken by surprise. It was cold, really cold. I hadn’t felt this since I got out of active.

Looking around the landscape had changed dramatically, all the lakes were completely iced over, the rails were stopped dead, and the intelligence offices looked like the hideout of corporate Santa. Everyone was wandering aimlessly through it all. The sad part is that most of these people have never seen snow before. The sadder part is that they are acting exactly like how I did when I first saw it.

However with the wonderment of frozen water being old for me, I had to find out what was happening. I decided to follow the rail to Administrative. They had a memo for everything, andI really needed a memo right about now. It didn’t take long until I began wishing for a road to walk on as well. Walking on iced rails in my oxfords was problematic at best, I must have looked like a joke. We all must look like a joke right now.

After the six minutes and eighteen falls, I sat down, on my metal nemesis. I looked to the right at the distant winterscape, and to the left at the intelligence icicle. This was taking much too long. The lakes, I thought, I can walk across the lakes instead.

                                                                …

The lakes were a marginal improvement, less falling, but I had never been good at stuff like this to begin with. Blizzards, hurricanes, and sandstorms weren’t my cup of tea. I didn’t have a sense of adventure, I was told. Born old and boring, lived old and boring. People wondered how I ever got into this business to begin with. It seemed cool I guess. Stupid.

Eventually I came to an eclectic set of igloos a few lakes down the way. Everyone was mixed, and frolicking. They were having what looked like street fight. I looked for someone important in the crowd. I spotted a man in a navy suit, he looked important enough, but the way he was kneeing the women next to him in the face provoked doubt.

“Hey” I said,

The man broke his grip in surprise, “Ha oh, hello there.”

“Are you from Admin?” I asked.

“Oh yea, I was, just got transferred to IT though, so um here I am.”

“So you don’t have any idea what’s going on either?”

“Nope , most of us here were on the rail when the grid went out, so we’re the least informed out of everyone really.”

I sighed, “Well thanks”

“Anytime”

I started to walk away when I turned back on a whim

“What were you guys doing?” I asked

“Having a snowball fight” he replied.

“That,” I sighed, “…never mind”

I continued on, typical administration boy, in charge of everything, doesn’t know anything.

After an eternity, I made it to the sectional. The sectional was the mountain range that Administrative used to divide up everybody, Intelligence, Investigations, Active Deployment, and Administration. Aside from administration, intelligence was the nicest, and by far the easiest, hence my job.

The only way through the sectional was the rail, or to be more practical now, the rail tunnel. It was already a very long trip by train, on foot it would be torture. There was a crowd at the entrance. I had learned my lesson before, and walked past them without a word.

“Hey buddy”, a voice called from behind me.

I took a deep breath, “What?”

A hand tugged at my shoulder, “No way through there, friend.”

“What?” I repeated,

“Yea”, the chipper man said “The tunnel froze solid halfway behind the lead car. Only the ten of us here made it out.”

“Oh…”

The man led me out of the tunnel and back to the group.

“So what do we do now?”

“Whatever we want I guess”, a fuller women pipped excitedly.

Everyone was much too glad about this. I looked around into the tundra around us. Cold and directionless, I realized that for the first time in my life, I felt actual helplessness. Not that fake helplessness like in philosophy books, I was actually helpless.

Helpless.

That’s why I had signed on, I remember now. Stupid.

No, I don’t want to be that.

I started away from the idiots.

The chipper young man yelled worriedly in my direction, “Hey friend don’t go, what’s wrong?”

I turned around slowly,

“I’m not your friend.” And then I spat in his face.

               

                                                                                                …

 

                I can be dramatic sometimes. It’s a character flaw. I also cannot pry open deeply frozen doors, another character flaw. I can’t see many people who are better than me in that category. Maybe Boyar, that guy has arms like fat lambs. However, multiple people, who find it impolite to spit, can usually manage to pry open whatever they please.

                So I lay in the fancy train car, alone, in the dark. Whatever the seats are made of in these things, are pretty resistant to frost, so at least it was comfortable. Small miracles I suppose. Not that my predicament mattered, I cared sure, but how much did that ever matter?

                I could stay in here forever, or however much time we had left, it made no difference. We were all fucked, no matter the cheerful spin anyone put on it. Maybe I should have stayed on their better sides. They were tenser than the others. The bruises on my face implied as much. Perhaps, they knew more than I thought. Coming out of the tunnel they would know more than anyone else. Everything always has to be so obvious in hindsight.

                I wish I knew what was going on. It’s not good whatever it is, but what is it? A coupe? An outside invasion? I knew other organizations like ours existed, but why they’d be interested in this shithole is beyond me.

                Maybe I should have never left active. Everything was much simpler. It was a lot shittier, and I was always in the middle of it, but I never got locked in a train car. Also I never had to wear a suit. That’s probably just my lower class upbringing though, I bet most people find suits delightful. Active seems like such a brighter, less train-centric time now.

                Intelligence was so different, spitting was considered taboo for one, and there was no comradery. Though violence seems on the rise, I think my tongue is bleeding, but something could just as well be bleeding on my tongue.  The weather seems to have flipped their temperaments somehow. When I was freshly out, I had tried starting fights all the damn time, but I could only ever get Boyar to throw a punch at me.

                I wish I could contact him somehow. He was old school, never stopped being a soldier that guy. His warmth was the only thing I could relate to in the whole building. He took me in on the first day, and we’ve amicably hated each other ever since. He was always talking about how good things used to be, it really made you feel less pathetic by comparison. Then he would throw you through a door, and you’d feel about equal.

You could tell every moment he spent in that office was a pained effort for him. He was a caged lion, always rattling everyone’s fences, but the higher ups decided they liked him where he was. So instead of a wild savannah he got a cubicle, a headset instead of a mane. His eyes eventually broke, and he could only see in the past.

He once told me he had son, I found that to be a curious fabrication. Such things were heavily micromanaged, even out in active. He would insist however, that he had a son. I asked him, if such a son did exist, what he did.

“Lumber” He said simply.

“Like a lumberjack?” I asked.

“A little bit of everything”

                A little bit of everything. That sounded ambiguous enough to be criminal, but I didn’t think it prudent to say that out loud.

                “My son, he once killed eight men while on a horse” He said interrupting my thoughts.

                “Eight men?” I obligatorily responded.

“Yes..one..two..three..four..five…six….seven…..eight” he said swinging some phantom weapon

“That’s terrible”

He grinned “Quite terrible”

I curled up slightly on the train seat, crazy fucker.

                                                                …

Voices. Chipper man’s voice among them, I think. I pried my eyes open. I couldn’t move. I was too tired to know if I was too tired or frozen to move. There was some loud metallic scraping and then a dim light flooded in from the door. Yea, I was definitely too frozen. It must have gotten colder, because there was some amount of ice on everything now. Chipper man walked into the car carrying a burning staff, and a lump of something over his shoulder.

He turned and shouted outside “It’s a literal icebox in here guys”

He heaved his load on the floor beside me. It was a person, great. They’re using this place as a dumping ground.

“I wonder if spitty has kicked it yet”

I tried to look as dead eyed as possible. I worked as a soldier, then in a mind crushingly boring IT job, this was child’s play.

“Poor spitty”, He gazed over me smugly, “Maybe you shouldn’t spit on people spitty, its really rude, not to mention unsanitary.”

“Hurry up the fuck up in there, I’m freezing” a voiced called from outside.

“My apologies Robert, no need to get riled up”  

With a self righteous hmph he left the car. The doors clanged shut, and the cart returned to its original darkness.

After a few minutes there was rustling, and the lump rose. Small guy, he looked like a hobbit.

“ooh ih  ih a ohehe”

He jumped

“Oh someone’s still with us” He squeaked.

I had a really sarcastic smile planned in my head, but my lips continued to be unresponsive.

He moved around the car collecting things that I couldn’t clearly see. He piled it all near me, and then a spark blinded me. I squeezed my eyes shut until the white dulled into a redish orange. His features matched his stature. He stood next to the fire and stared at me with the prettiest smile I’ve ever seen. I would have smiled back, but my face hadn’t quite thawed out yet. It made me feel bad to not reciprocate something so beautiful.

Feeling started to return. Now the hard part would start as well. When your body gets really cold, and then heats up quickly it feels something akin to your tissue being set on fire. They trained us to handle this well enough, but you can never train away the pain. I winced as the pain intensified to agony, at least I could wince now.

“Oh that must not feel too good” the man boy cooed.

He stroked my hair as I slowly writhed in half frozen torment. Normally, I wouldn’t have liked that too much, but I was in too primal of state to have such inhibitions.

“It’ll be okay,” He continued, “It’ll pass, just try to accept it”.

The pain started to worsen further, and I started to scream and thrash. He cupped my head in his hands, and maneuvered himself so that my head was in his lap.

“Hey” He whispered, “Hey look at me, it’ll be okay.”

I gazed at his face again. That smile. It was the most sincere thing I had seen maybe ever, not that it had a lot of competition. I couldn’t keep focus on it very long though, it spun and multiplied until it purpled into nothing.

 

I came to in the same way I had gone. Laying like a child in some child’s lap. He had dozed off as well, I didn’t move to wake him. Very little point in that, he was nice enough to extend my life, it was only right to let him rest. The fire was going strong still oddly. The compartment was mostly thawed out, and a small layer of water lined the floor. The fire burned as dry as one could imagine however, the man whose lap I lay in can’t be normal, as if that was only now apparent.

At least I get to die somewhere else now, but before any of that I needed to get my hands on chipper man. If I’m going to die I want it to be beating the life out of my would be killer. I hoped a focused desperation would weigh out their numbers long enough for that. I looked around the car for things that could be used as tools or weapons, same difference really. Work in the field of hurting people long enough, and everything starts turning into a weapon, or an improvised combat “tool”. Such a sterile name, but I’ve never see an ICT that wasn’t two times more violent and brutal than anything they’d ever dare to issue us. Many metal bars, but metal bars are secured by metal bolts, and welds.  Water, that’s useless. Fire, not as useless, but hard to properly utilize. I could make some sort of crude fire weapon with my clothes, but that would be suicide with the cold.  My service knife would have helped a lot, but I left that in my desk.

 Pockets, let us try those: Key, marginal usefulness, readout, useless, and my empty flask. I am such a complete failure.

So the best plan so far is to throw paper at their face and punch them with a key. That wouldn’t be able to stop a mugging much less ten angry people. I guess even the worst plan is better than no plan at all.

I rose slowly trying not to wake my savior. This did not work.

“Where are you going?” he muttered tiredly.

“Stay here, if you want to live.” I retorted

“No, no you can’t go out there, they’ll kill you, you know”

Who the hell is this guy? Why does he care what I do? I guess catastrophes affect us all differently, but I’ve been through too many to get touchy feely now. I think he could tell that by my stare.

                “Well then take this.”

He reached into his pocket for something and threw it at my feet. It glinted in the firelight, and the shine excited me. I kneeled to pick it up. It was another house key. Fantastic, I’m set for life.

                “Fantastic, I’m set for life.”

                “I used everything else making the fire, I’m sorry.”

I sighed and shrugged at him.

                “I’ll see you wherever we go after we die Frodo”

He frowned at me. It had the same impact as his smile did. Like everything good had been a cheap scam. It was almost enough. Any other time maybe it would be, but this was death time. The end of my time, comfort was just an illusion now.

I palmed a key in each hand started to pry open the doors.

 

 

 

The tunnel was cold, really cold. There was a somewhat unnatural wind blowing through it that made it all so much worse. My entire being would shudder as the gusts passed through me. I used to have a few friends who were obsessed with wind. It was practically all they could gab on about. Nice people though, aside from their boring personalities. Probably the only ones I missed once I left, except right now. Right now I just wanted to hit them.

                A way down I could begin to make out the entrance. A tiny pinhole still, but it inspire hope it me yet, a crazy murderous hope. Hope was all one needed, aside from food, water and the like, but without hope what’s the point? Hopefully my hope would help me not die of hypothermia. Which could have not have started to affect me by now.

Though most of the nerve damage I had accrued over the years made it hard to tell how far along things were, I can only tell things like temperature in my spine. It just goes crazy when I’m real cold. I don’t shiver much, I’m not even sure if I can anymore, it’s more like twitching, though in low doses you couldn’t tell the difference. It was fairly obvious now however, my left hand was vibrating like a telegraph.

                The pinhole started to get bigger, but something wasn’t right. Once I started to get closer I realized the entrance was growing quicker than it should have been. I stop for a moment, and watch it continue to grow. Then of course I realized the obvious, it was a torchlight.

                This was good, great even. Now all that past hope talk wouldn’t be in an embarrassing amount of vain. I would get to stab it all over that bureaucratic freaks face.

                I pressed myself against the cold, but surprisingly ice free wall and waited. I took deep breaths in preparation. In, and out, slowly, I put both keys in one hand, and pulled the read out my pocket. They grew closer as I rolled it into a ball. As they neared I crouched low, into a compressed lunge position.

The torch light revealed me, but he didn’t notice me in time. I threw the paper ball at his head. It scared him as expected and he threw his arms wildly around his face. Then I lunged forward and kicked the inside of his knee out. He fell against the tunnel wall, he tried throwing his torch, but it was a wide breadth away. I pounced on him, helping him the rest of the way to the ground.

I slid a key forward into my knuckle and aimed towards where his eye should have been. A squish and a deep yell returned. I brought my palm up to hammer it in when he threw me. He fucking threw me straight up.  I slammed against the roof like a ten pound barbell, and came crashing down on top of him.

                He quickly rolled over on me, and began beating my head really hard against the floor. He somehow got a hold of the other key I had palmed and started beating my head with that. After he cut my face into ribbons he jammed the thing into my eye, and got up.

I tried getting to my feet, but he had beaten all equilibrium out of me. I stumbled up against the wall, and tried to get my stance. But he was back with the torch staff before I could recover. He whirled it and swept my feet out from under me. As I fell he brought the fire down into my face. Even with my dulled nerves this hurt quite a lot. My face was complete on fire of its accord soon, and I could feel something even worse. The key, the one crammed in my eye socket started to melt. The molten metal pooled over my socket like a gold orb. My adrenaline started to ebb, and then I could feel the death setting in. I screamed and made virtually the first noise since the conflict had started.

                The torch rescinded.

                “Zeke?! Zeke if that’s you, you better tell me right now!”

                “Agggh” I moaned.

Giant hands started to pat out the fire on my face. That voice was all too familiar. It was Boyar, hurray, my prayers had been answered. His hands got the fire out effectively, if painfully. He withdrew his hands covered in burnt face and gawked at me.

                “Zeke, what the hell are you doing this kind of thing for?!”,

                “I’m sorry guy” I mumbled,

                “Sorry, you’re the one who is sorry, you barely have a face”

                He was right I could feel it. It all stung pretty badly, some parts couldn’t even sting at all. They were just gone.

                “I’ll be fine, after I die Boyar”

                I started to fade back away into unconsciousness; this was becoming an unhealthy habit.

                “No you aren’t” He growled.

                He slapped me in the face, and my body did a small leap which somehow worked. I stopped fading for whatever reason, and crumbled up against a wall.

                “You are a mess of a person Zeke”

I smiled sarcastically “Yea, I know.”

Nailed it this time.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Trapped With the Nobodies

     Your kids want to wake you up, but you know they can’t, won’t and you won’t get up. The hotel room is barely a beige and red wall. You finally snap to and they’re over your bed in the hotel room. Your wife gets ready in the bathroom with a soft light on, not wanting to wake you yet. You bolt out the door with you dragging the kids behind you, your wife dragging behind you. They’re not moving but your dragging them behind you. You’re not touching them, dragging them behind you. You dive off the stair railing and fly only to fall. Straight down and Blackness. And you can hear your kids whispering over you.

      You hear your wife silence them, it’s so early, don’t wake your father.

Think vertically, the more you struggle the more they have you.

     Meeting in apartments.

     A lot of history here they say, your friends say. You walk through the magnificent lobby like a paradise of glass and marble but you see no angels. You have to meet with someone first they say, but you don’t know who. A girl bumps into you, and you lock eyes for a moment. Hers say something intelligent, but heartless, the kind of beauty you see when wrecked against rocks. She takes slightly too long to place a perfect amethyst in your palm, tiny purple dot on a large brush silver ring. You slip it into your pocket and never see it again, because they are potentially anything but almost never a pocket with that ring.

     You can’t control that sort of thing.

     The room you meet in is a marble living room with a great view and shitty bunk bed frame. They leave for a moment and you’re left with them. The them is six, but are all one, it’s ultimately all one broken painting. Illusionary. The man in the bright blue Hawaiian shirt asks if you fought before. You can say anything because the conversation only holds present importance. You lie about how you used to fight a lot. Then a skinny whisker patch in a wife beater throws a punch. You block it like it was choreographed. It was, all one broken painting. You dead eye him and he backs up, he says he’s just acting like a man. You say there’s no such thing. There’s no such thing. You walk away to leave, but the girl grabs your arm. You look at her, it’s the same girl. Different everything, but the face, but she’s also completely the same. You sit with her on a couch and she pets your hand as she talks passionately and you don’t listen. Words are just means to an end.

The only end is control.

                You try to destroy everything, but it knows.  The girl pulls you close and a man offers you beer. You politely refuse, and they exploit the opportunity to try to talk to you. It was a mistake, but they rushed too hard, and you realize in the overwhelming stimuli that you can just, make it stop. And that makes them worse. The girl bites your fingers, and everyone starts to yell until you manage to peel.

 It.

 All.

Away.

Black, All Black. The borders to the room are transparent, but there. They are still there. They stand, with blank Black faces around you waiting. You want to go to the beach so you do, but they are there, different but the same. Ever present. The park, they are there too, and also the sky. You panic and writhe until it all comes into view.

That beige and red hotel wall, but you can’t get up.

Dinner With Franklin

“Once upon a time, there was a boy. He was magical and special. But an evil wizard cursed him from the start, and the boy knew hardship from a young age. Hardship only made the boy stronger in the end; turmoil molded him into a prince of men, yet all through his years…”

“Franklin, what are you doing in there?” a voice called from outside the bathroom.

                The unshaven man quickly threw his glass of whiskey in the shower.

                “Nothing…I was uh, getting my story together.”

                “What just fell in the bathroom?” The voice asked in apprehension,

                “Toothbrush wouldn’t stay on this sink, it’s so slippery. “

                “Are you going to be okay tonight?”

                Franklin quickly put on his smile and swung the bathroom door open to alleviate his friend’s concerns.

                The other man, turned away, repeats his question,

                “Yea I’ll be okay” Franklin’s expression fades

                “Yea, good man, good,” his roommate chuckles, “and enough with the weird bathroom stuff.”

                They engaged in regular talk then, but Frank had already started to filter it out. Anthony was going out to dinner tonight, lady friend, friends, and others, Frank didn’t really know why. Anthony was always going out to dinners, it was an easy way to socialize, Franklin guessed.

                “It’s going to be the greatest.” Anthony ended focusing mostly on fastening his cuffs.

                Franklin peered down at his own cuff which was rolled halfway up his arm. He glanced up to find Anthony also peering. Franklin felt the silent disapproval and tried to steer attention elsewhere.

                “So I was getting my story together in there.”

                Anthony looked back down to his cuff, “What story?”

                “I came up with a new story, it’s really good.”

                “It’s not the dragonboy story again is it?”

                “No, It’s a dragonboy story,” Franklin spat back at him.

                “That’s great then.”

“Dragonboy then had to leave the fire sword with Narsol.”

“But that’s his enemy,”

“Right, but he has to give it to him,” Franklin continued, “Dragonboy is afraid of his own power, so he gives it to Narsol, thus allowing him to be defeated.”

“But why?” asked the frail bathroom attendant,

“The fire sword is too powerful, everything done with it ends up making things worse. Without the struggle for power he had lost his respect for it, and maybe more importantly for everything that it wasn’t.

Dragonboy had been stronger than Narsol the whole time, but the sword had made him sloppy. Narsol was clever, he was a warlock, he didn’t fight dragonboy, he just made trouble for him.”

Louis leaned his head back on the tile to consider the story for a moment. Franklin was sitting next to him on the floor, and watched the attendant intently for feedback.

Louis wrinkled his face as he thought about the repercussions of Dragonboy’s tale.

“So does Dragonboy kill him after?”

“No Liedek, the elf guardian, does.”

“So Liedek finally catches him?”

“Yea Narsol was so caught up with Dragonboy, that by the time he had the fire sword, he didn’t think of Liedek as a threat. He ends up taking an arrow to his face because he was arrogant. Narsol forgot all his cleverness when power started becoming easy to him, which was what had made him different from the tyrants before him.”

Louis let out a mixture of a sigh and a whistle,

“I don’t know man, it sounds good, but it’s really confusing, I don’t think Dragonboy really does enough.”

“Well I can’t spend all my time talking about the main character; no one else would get development!”

Louis scratched his thin mustache, “But man, he does like three things, and the rest is all about Narsol and The elf prince guy.”

                “He’s the false hero man, it’s all about how great he is, but in the end he mostly stops things from changing.”

                “I don’t know,” Louis said, “I think you need to work on it more.”

Franklin stretched and hobbled up to his feet, “Well you’ve been a gentlemen Louis, but I think our time here has come to an end.”

Louis didn’t get it, because he was trying too hard to get it. Franklin could get it, but he was only good at fantasy, in reality nothing ever made sense. He’d have to get home now, today had been embarrassing enough.

The bistro Rosalie had a very strict reservation policy. Franklin and the others sat in the waiting room. They waited for the wait staff to tell them that the clock said it was okay to fill the mostly empty restaurant.

Franklin sat between Anthony’s girl, P something, and G something, Anthony’s co-worker.

“How are you doing Greg?”

“My name’s Jeff”

Franklin laughed nervously, “Sorry, I’m bad about names”

“It’s okay.”

“Well anyway Jeff, are you familiar with the idea of a Paragon?”

Jeff sighed, “Not really.”

“It’s like a hero, but it’s a specific kind of hero. It’s someone who fulfills and upholds all the values a society is based on, like bravery, strength, kindness, cleverness that sort of thing.”

“Right?”

“But what I find most interesting about these heroes, is how they aren’t really very heroic.”

“Why is that?”

“Because Societies have problems, every single one has dark aspects. It’s poor, its marginalized etc. “

“So they’re not heroic?”

“Yea, because only the well fed become strong, the taught become intelligent.”

“So?”

“So society gives those things to people who sustain it. It gave them power.”

“…so?”

“So they never act in a real heroic way. All their actions are ultimately to preserve the society, and by proxy their status.”

“If he helps society, he helps.”

“But what about everything else-“Franklin stopped short, Jeff had casually turned away.

Franklin tightened his lips, but didn’t try to continue. He decided to stare at the floor until the dinner started. Eventually a host came and shuffled them towards their seats.

Franklin felt a tiny poke in his back.

“Hold on a second.” A voice whispered.

Franklin turned to see Anthony’s girl in the crowd. She gestured him to the back and lagged behind.

“So tonight seems exciting”,

“I guess,” Franklin sighed, “I’m not very good at dinners.”

“But from what Anthony has told me, tonight is very special.”

Franklin is nodded slowly, until it finally hit him.

“Well he is really taken with you Penelope. A-all he talks about is how super you are.”

                He felt hot with embarrassment, and caught up with everyone else. He got the second to last chair and sat down silently.

                “It’s all smooth sailing from here.” He whispered to himself.

 

.                                                                               …

                Franklin walked home smelling of lavender. He kept his head low to avoid suspicion and pushed homewards. He didn’t walk to dinner, but finding himself with no other alternative, it was no question. Many times his own characters became a source of solace. Imagining the wise elf prince Liedek made it much easier to stay brave.

                “No one likes me.”

                “I’m sure it seems that way,” Liedek would say, “You do simply not understand your friends.”

                Franklin wrung his lips, “I don’t understand anything.”

                “Sure you do, you just need to have a strong heart while you figure it out.”

                Franklin crossed a highway silently pondering his worth. He stopped at the convenience station on the other side. Quietly he fumbled a soda through the line of apathic customers.

                He drank deeply and remembered that the past is the past. Life would be better, it could only get better. One day he would be like Anthony, gleaming and smiling with a hundred friends. He just had to stay true to his heart.

                After a few more blocks of walking, Franklin finally found his home. He found the handle locked, and that it would not give even with the key. He whimpered and slid to the ground after several minutes of trying.

                “Don’t worry,” whispered Liedek,”You have the heart of a dragon.”

Plants and Dead People

“Prison is an unpleasant place. I don’t enjoy it very much. It’s as though someone cordoned off a warzone with big cement walls and carpet bombed it with latent homosexuality. I do not wish to speak further of prison, because doing so would involve me describing bad things going into places they shouldn’t.”

 “I would not so much mind, however, telling you how I got here. You see I was once the world’s greatest botanist, but I wasn’t a botanist at all. No one ever believes that I’m not a botanist, and who could blame them, if the world’s greatest botanist kept insisting they weren’t really a botanist you’d be repulsed as well. “

“Anyhow this story, despite me not being a botanist, starts out in a garden. While futilely watering dying carnations, I was reminded of a few choice words my mother was fond of:”

“Son, a botanist you are not, and a botanist you will never be!”

“My mother, god rest her soul, had managed to be an old crow all her life, with the feet and everything. Regardless, she had been right; the angels that gave people green thumbs we’re busy the day I was born.”

“As I continued to unintentionally drown my failing plants, I tried to think of a reason why I attempted to cultivate anything anyway. To my annoyance I could find no reason, it was a habit I had been born with. Every since I was old enough to fall I had been killing foliage.”

“When I was ten I had tried to water a field of daisies, but as it turns out the water was gasoline. Something or other then caused the gasoline to get very irritated and it decided to see if fire was a less stressful state of being.”

“While I don’t think the gasoline/fire ever let anyone know the answer, it did take the opportunity to burn a field, two houses, and an airplane to the ground. At age eleven the same thing happened only with a green house, and flammable pig pheromones. That one ended with hundreds of horribly burned, although satisfied, pigs.”

“That’s the story of my life, even the flowers on my parents’ grave died, and I had just been happy they didn’t combust in my face.”

“You see botany is a risky business. It’s a competitive field, one you can’t just walk into. It takes many years of dedication to make it successfully, and only the true few who have the charisma of a politician and the focus of an engineer ever make it big.”

“There is a lack of phonies in my profession. No trust fund brats, nor neck-beards. I like it like that. It is very similar to killing for money, but you have to wash your hands a lot more when dealing with plants, their very temperamental.”

“I love botany though, the moisture of it all, it’s a very tactile job. I love that about it, I love working with my hands. I think that’s because my dad was a mechanic, like father like son they say. Or do they anymore? Hard to tell, I don’t own a television.”

“I digress botany is competitive, and that’s my problem”.

“I asked you what you were going in for” the burly man across from me grunted.

“No you asked me what I did wrong, and I assert that I didn’t do anything wrong, but if I had it would be because I was too competitive.”

“You’re retarded”

“Well you’re a faggot”

“Fuck you! You’re a faggot!”

“No talking”, a robotic voice boomed over our heads.

I looked at the tattooed Aryan across me. He was a moron and a racist probably. I hate those two things, especially in people. I hate him. If he had a plant business I would compete the shit out of him. Oh well, you can’t out compete all your problems. It was a problem in itself, and no one seemed to like how I had solved it.

Spook House

There was at first nothing at all. Then a dark house was built on this nothing. Old at the first hour of being new, a cursed place, fomented upon it another form appears.

He realizes then that this form is himself, Noel.

“What is this place?” He asks to the mansion.

The house has no words. An unnatural breeze blows through the hallway. Tattered curtains flail by its power.

“What the hell?” Noel shouts.

The ghostly breeze flashes around him, striking him through with cold paralysis. Noel gasps a shallow brief of fear, and struggles against the numbness. His body lurches stiffly down the hallway, away into and away from it.

“Why would this be happening?” Noel whimpers.

“No, why would this be happening.” He stated again, as if correcting himself.

He wandered through the wraith fully, and found at the end of the hall, an old style parlor.

“I’ve never been in a place like this before.” He says.

The room was lit with an array of candles littering the room, burning wax softly onto every surface. He walks carefully around the fires, tip toeing gently in-between the fragile things. Finally he sat carefully on the edge of a sofa.

The room bobbed too and fro gently, the heat of the flame radiated a harsh sting.

“No.” He shook his head in confusion.

“I would remember coming here, if it were real.” He spat at the mansion.

He examined closely the dimension of his hands, swiping around attempting to feel them, to feel their reality. He bit at his thumb suddenly.

“I knew it!” He proclaims, “Nothing but an illusion.”

He smiles and walks with confidence from the sofa. Clearly he sees the candles and ghost-like passes through their presence unharmed. A pinch, like the flex of a nerve strikes him.

His thumb stings with the sensation of his teeth’s work. He looks away, to the thumb, and sees it, a tiny prick, a single flowing stream, looking delicately like red twine.

Absentmindedly he kicks a candle over. It knocks gently and the flame catches against the floor.

“Ah no, no.” Noel says nervously.

He creeps around the burning mass, but it pulls the other flames down with it. One by one they join it, falling dominoes. The exits are cut off. The heat swells, all the room goes up at once. Noel is consumed.

The floor burns, and capsizes under its weakness. The burning remains fall down into the level below. It slaps a surface of water with a wicked sizzle. The cries of hell choke, and a rush of water puts out Noel’s singed body.

His head emerges from the surface with a panicked gasp. He sprays swallowed water, and looks around. Panting heavily, he realizes he is in a pool, with dark blue water. Unnaturally rich, and encircled by tiles of stone, and stone statues, carven mermaids cast their admiration to the pool.

“What a trip.” He says exasperated.

He climbed slowly out of the water, and lay out near the statues.

“I know this is all fake.” He says, “I’m even surer of it now than before. All I have to do is stay calm, and enjoy myself. Nothing bad will happen as long as I remember that.”

“I want to be dry.” He says.

He sits contented and looks around. There is a garden out the window, the purplish haze of fading and rising light illuminates little.  Noel turns to one of the statues.

He reaches out his hand to the sentinel’s forehead.

“Come on, its okay, come talk to me.”

The stone melts away revealing the flesh and scale underneath. The creatures sculpted smile is warmer although the same.

“I can’t believe you did it.” Noel replied amused, “I knew it really, thanks still.”

The mermaid nodded, at ease. Noel scuffs her hair, like to a child, and walks past her calmly.

“Is there anywhere else we can go mermaid? I’d quite enjoy something less dreary.”

“Nowhere,” says the mermaid, says the mansion.

The old ghostly chill strikes him as he realizes. He turns back, and the mermaid looks into him with sinister intent.

“Hey come on, don’t attack me.” He said assuredly.

She groans, creature-like, her presences dims, and she attacks.

“No, just talk.” He says.

She stops short at his words, and becomes warm again.

“I’m sorry.” She says simply.

“Ah stop, look I’m going to think up something better than this, it’ll put you in a better place. You’ll see, where do you like go-“He stops short.

He feels a cold reptilian claw latch onto his shoulder.

“How annoying.” He says slowly, nervously shaking.

He leans his head slightly to the right, and looks at the thing in his peripheral.

“Alright one second.” He sighs, “Alright…one…two.”

He whirls around and strikes a monstrous stone statue. Her fanged face takes the hit absently, and begins to snarl.

“Nice you’re scary.” He relented, “Unfortunately for you, I am more real.”

Noel swipes at the stone gorgons face again, tearing through the rock and shattering it. The beast cries out, but another such blow knocks it to the ground. All the mermaids shatter simultaneously. They burst with a final cry, shredding apart in stone shrapnel.

He is left there. Noel senses it once again. He is alone. He watches some of the pieces sink into the deep royal waves.

“What a silly thing to do.” Noel protested.

He went to the garden window, and pushed it open. It complied and the warm breeze washed in from the rising sun. He smirks, and climbs over the window sill.

Suddenly a claw clutches his leg.

“What now?” He groans.

A cruel dark shadow attempts to pull him back inside.

“No, I said. I’m leaving!” He says.

But he cannot escape the claw’s grasp, his strength leaves him suddenly, and the beast reels him in slow.

“No, I can move.” He struggles out.

But he cannot move, the beast drags him in slo-“No!”

The beast lau-“Shut up I said”

“I’m leaving to the garden. It’s nice there, there’s fresh morning dew, and a warm breeze.”

“I saw it from the pool area, but now that I’m here it really catches the eye.” He says.

“Look at that sun.”

He watches entranced by the huge orb, not much a sun at all, too close. He could see the burning ridges and plumes of fire clearly.

“No its’ not a sun at all.” Noel murmurs.

It moves quickly, but gently across the sky. It is soon directly overhead, he cranes his neck watching. It comes down the other side. The life all around him yearns desperately. He too does not want it to go. The greenery can not stand the rejection and begins killing itself left and right.

The sun creeps closely to the horizon, fading aw-”Come back.”

“The sun must stay, I want it.”

Unfortunately desire is never fulfilled forever.

“What? Who says?” He shouts to nothing.

The silence hangs in the air.

“Don’t go silent on me now. I know your there. I can feel you there.” He continues crying to the twilight garden.

“No not to the garden to you.” He says.

“No, I say, you don’t determine me.” Noel claims, “N, you claim not I.” He rambles “You say” He says “N-he is interrupted b-“You suddenly stop, and I-“ He is stricken sudde-“No stop this nonsense!”

“That’s better. I sigh. Now, then let’s bring back the sun.”

The sun continues to set in defian-“No it rises” He protests. But undeniably in sinks into the-

“Stop thi-” He chokes, suddenly.

The sun falls away, and night sets upon the pungent rotting garden. Noel wants to cry out but struggles to find words. Their power is sealed by the darkness.

The fluttering of bats echoes through the garden. They sail overhead, ominous, ambiguous, and half-formed. Noel moves nervously away, still struggling to catch his breath. He moves finding a wall of living vines in the dark. He touches it, it shifts reflexively away. The vines part, and usher him through to an inner sanctum.

Gnarled wood and vine intertwine forming haphazard paths. He breathes heavily through his nose. His mouth, refusing to open slowly fades away. Further he struggles to open what does not exist as he walks through the vines.

Finally he comes to the last stop. A dark forest meets him as he arrives with crosses, and tombstones lying, eaten up by mosses and weeds. His eyes flash with panic.

He has the look of prey about him. He digs his hands into his face furiously, ripping into the skin, tearing a new mouth.

“Oh god. No stop this. I won’t allow this.” He begs vainly.

The ground opens up in front of him.

“The ground is flat.” He says “No! You say.”

It slowly forms the sharp rectangular form-“It is fla-“form of-“It is flat! Flat! Flat! Flat! The ground is flat!”

“Now that you see it is flat, I’m going to leave.”

He turns into a giant shadowy claw. It cleaves through his neck. His head is sent soaring, helpless. He flies, consciousness fading. He sees his body tumble backwards into the open grave. He rolls nauseatingly downwards, downwards until.

“Shit!” He gasps, sitting up in his bed.

He looks around at his room, and is soothed. It was a dream after all.  He smiles and shakes his head slightly, he had known all along.  Yawning, and stretching, he leaves his bed for the hallway.

A ghostly hallway he walks down, he remains, however, ignorant.

The Waking Ones

For hours I tried sleeping. I shifted uncomfortably in the rattling seat. It was an act of masochism, hadn’t been able to sleep natural lately. I leaned against the cold metal of the bus.

Desperately I kept checking my email, but I knew there would be no new responses. I sneered contempt at my sleeping videographer. He slept blissfully unaware of the outside world. That was because, Brannon, my videographer, was wearing stimglasses.

Usually such a device would be kept at home, brain stimmers. They were good alright. Almost anything to do with the mind could be done better with the help of a proper stimmer device. They allowed complete mental mastery, at least in the moment.

To put it succinctly they turned our minds into one big toy. Busted the doors of consciousness down, allowing itself to use its own for anything, a big mental playground.

The effects built up once all the dirty code was buried. Once platforms, interfaces, and networks, were built up into the technology, the uses were hard to deny.

So everything started to change, the line between real experiences and virtual was left behind. It used to be one thing to go to a movie, or a restaurant, and another thing entirely to simulate it. However, the simulation is real now, why go to the movies in person, when you can much easier watch it simulated or to “simulate” it to put it more simply?

Is it still fake when you can feel the seat? When you can taste the food, when the people are real, and the movie still seems to play from a projection booth?  The real is a generation of the mind.

The profound retreat of the human race that is what had me on this bus. Obviously with the technology, there was less demand for these “externalities”, and so they withered.

Not everyone cared so much. A certain nostalgia of the “real” is prevalent. However the end point of this movement is hard to deny, especially when you look at someone like Brannon. A few years younger than me, he already prefers to do nearly everything with some enhancement or another.

The nostalgic in society, living in the same cities as the rest of us, redoubled an effort to bring forth a vibrant public life.

However the interests of a vibrant public life and virtual one can sometimes conflict. There is tension because of this, some say an unraveling, but perhaps that is too reactionary of a phrase.

However, if the virtual could disconnect entirely from the real, then that would be an interesting world to say the least. That’s what brought me here, along with Brannon.

We found out about it after meeting a series of increasingly interesting people in a social forum that preferred to masquerade as a Wild West saloon. After a night of shooting each other and drinking, we met some people who called themselves “natives.”

It wasn’t a forum theme either, they pitched the community to us as New Valley. We looked it up later, it was small town in Nebraska.

Now this isn’t the first time, people have tried this sort of thing. In Los Angeles there are large blocks dedicated to the idea of virtual nativity, but they have always been watched carefully by the city and get shutdown the instant there’s a hint of non-compliance.

I’ve been obsessing about the place for awhile. My usual song and dance is covering B-grade straterspace matches. My boss laughed when I asked for a physical assignment, but after a few months of saving, I decided to pay for the excess costs myself at a promise for half of the net profits from any payments it generates for him.

The city slowly began coming into existence. You couldn’t just see one coming anymore, you saw it in the little things, advertisements, overland net cables, traffic, the taste in the air changed, the energy in it buzzing slowly higher.

“Hey.” I slapped Brannon’s headset ajar, “Wake up dummy.”

“What? We there?” he mumbled half conscious.

“No, we’re just coming up on Lincoln, this is as far as the bus goes.”

He pushed his stimglasses up into his messy hair.

“I hope this turns out well.” Brannon stated looking into the encroaching city, “No one wants to see a simulation of a few server rooms and generators you know?”

“I know.” I replied, “Hopefully these freaks, freak harder than usual.”

“At least harder than us.” Brannon replied, readjusting his stimglasses.

I replied dully with an obligatory yes, and retrieved my phone. I looked up from my screen to see us pulling into a bus depot, I looked down again to see the email page update, once again free of any new messages.

“You still fretting over that Kenny dude?”

The bus shuttered to a stop, and everyone began retrieving there belongings.

“Her name’s Kennsi.” I replied, “And we went over that she is she, I’ve heard her voice.

Brannon shook his head as he pulled out equipment from the storage rack

          “Yea sure, you can never know, it’s all too real these days. Could be a girl, could be a viral marketing associate in Bangladesh.”

          I helped him carry the recording equipment off the bus, and we silently trudged to a rental car lot. We stuffed everything including ourselves into the diminutive transport.

          “We should stop to eat somewhere. It’s been a few.” Brannon suggested.

          “We’ll eat there,” I responded, looking up from the destination panel on the dash, “I want to get rooted into how life is in New Valley ASAP”

          Brannon lifted his visor and looked at the panel, “Tch, an hour?” he asked with a groan.

          The car clicked into reversed, and began exiting the lot.

          “Yea yea just go back to sleep.” I jabbed, “That’s what I’m going to do.”

          I leaned the seat back, and closed my eyes, without any stimulation, left trapped in a domain of anxious thought.

 We arrived at a “Quik-Pik” on the outskirts of New Valley, and rummaged up some convenience food. We ate silently. I contemplated where one would set up a brain farm in a place like this.  We coasted along the main street. Kennsi, who claimed to live here, had been vague on directions. After a few minutes of circling the diminutive road, someone waved us down from a small office building.

I initiated a park. The person greeted us as we exited the vehicle.

“Hey, are you serious? You can’t just fucking park here.”

“What? Are you sure? What’s the matter?” Brannon protested.

“Get back in the car, come on, no one’s suppose to know you’re here.” She shouted.

The woman guided us back into the vehicle, and climbed into the back.

“Wait,” I spoke, “Are you Kennsi? Why haven’t been answering our messages?”

“Drive first.” She replied.

I clicked last destination, and rerouted the car back to the gas station. The woman seemed young, but was pale, and thin, after the car reversed back onto the road, I resumed my probing.

“I’m Paratas, from the Steel Wrattler night? That means you were Kennsi, yea?”

“Yea that was me,” she replied, “It’s actually Kelsey, what’re your real names?”

“I’m Marcus, and this is Brannon, my friend and associate.”

Brannon slipped on his visor, and began recording. He turned and greeted the girl.

“Hey, I’m Brannon,” He shook her hand, “So can you show us something worth seeing, or what?”

“Sure,” She said, “As long as you two aren’t here to trash the lifestyle. I’ll let you see, where we store the meat.”

“You make it sound so glamorous” I replied.

“Let me be clear. I’m an idealist, I believe that what we’re doing is positive, the secrecy is only necessary due to the pressure that we could get from the outside.”

“And the inside maybe too? Why so secretive on your own turf?” Brannon asked, staring at her through his dark stimglasses.

“The more influential members are cautious to publicize anything, after the LA block raids. Originally things started here as a less risky alternative to some of the cities in the Midwest.”

“Interesting.” I replied, “Well their will be plenty of time for questions, what can we see?”

“I’ll take you to some racks outside of town. We have several locations hidden throughout the county, but this is where a lot of us live. Let me have at the navigation.” She requested.

She reached out from the backseat, and began setting in the address.  I tried not to stare at her gaunt face as she reached over me. I looked to the right to Brannon, who had no such inhibitions.  I turned and watched the short skyline of the town roll by.

It looked like shit. Everything out here was spread out and crumbling. An antipole in some ways to the city, the alien nature engulfed everything like a vast sea. The car lumbered its way past the dilapidated town, and onto a country highway.

“Who pays for all of this?” I asked.

“We all pay small fees for our electrical use, I wish I could say we were self-sufficient, but we purchase it right off the grid. As you might know it’s not so hard to earn a living through the net. Especially when all you need is necessities.”

We turned onto a dirt road, conversation dying out. Soon we came upon a property with rows of sheet metal hangars. Kelsey got out and started toward one. I helped Brannon unload his penoptic recorder.

A small drone used capture and stitch together a 3d model of any environment. Brannon started the thing up, and it hovered over our heads with a low whirring.

We joined Kelsey, she led us somewhat hesitantly the first hangar, and rolled open the door.

The large interior consisted of organized rows of bunks. The people all wore brain stimulators, aside from a pair visiting in the back they were all somewhere else in the universe.

I walked through with the others.

“Sorry about the macabre jokes.” Kelsey said, “I forget this is abnormal even for net junkies.”

Most all of them had standard head readers. They were made from non-intrusive sensory scanners, still some bore the controversial port implants, allowing direct access to the human nervous system. I tried to make nothing of this externally to Kelsey, so as to not disturb my credibility.

She led us through the rest of the hangars. They were dedicated almost equally to the lodgings of people and machines. Some were rows of bunks, and some were racks of servers. The external or the realness of these places was mundane and downright depressing.

I felt the disappointed, Brannon had been right. No one would want to simulate this place. It was the mundane real. The machines and people alike sat lifelessly in rows. Like rocks, without any thought, lives, or purpose, it was the fiction of the place that was interesting.

They hadn’t all come here for the air, but for a place to connect to the fictional undisturbed. Internally, and delusionally they did things unquantifiably complicated, through the thoughts of machines and men alike. It was a new universe of dreamers, and of petty gods.

After an afternoon of shooting with Kelsey, we took our leave. We promised to meet up with Kelsey on the net later, and headed back to the bus station.

“What a bunch of freaks huh?” Brannon commented, “I don’t know what to do with this footage…”

“Yea,” I replied, “I was hoping something more, but they just wanted to be on the net.”

“Yea,” Brannon reflected, “Speaking of which, when was the last time you slept man?”

“It’s only been 22 hours, I’m sure I’ll crash and burn soon enough.”

“You know, you can borrow my stimglasses if it’ll help.” He suggested.

“I’m trying to get away from sleeping in them, you know that.” I answered.

“Geeze you’re more laid back online man. Just take a trip somewhere and nap.”

He handed me the stimglasses, I accepted them slowly. Once I got back online, I went to a gentle dark grassland, it was like Nebraska, yet different, it seemed to embrace you as if a person onto itself.

I thumbed through all of my straterspace updates, and slipped off to sleep,

Ultimately, I felt bad for judging them. I returned back to my home. It was furnished nicely, and I wouldn’t have to share it with anyone. Although I was there, it wouldn’t be more than a few hours until I would leave it again.

Leave it for the place they lived out there lives from. I would give it all up to connect, be free, and create again with everyone. The people at the farm seemed to be simpler, in embracing the net’s illusion, they shucked off one greater.

My house, the neighborhood, the metroplex, the city, and material society were all real things. But they made it feel fake, their lives, and the wide embracing maw of the net existed almost impossibly next to reality. The limitations of material society were meaningless there, a mere illusion caused by material existence.

For now I decided to focus more on my straterspace commentary.

Escapism

                I sat on the second story, in an overcrowded classroom, discussing a book I clearly haven’t read. My teacher crowish and portly lectures, “By the results of the test, it’s clear not all of you are trying as hard as you can.”

                She looks my way disdainfully, and begins to hand out the results. I get mine, with a big red 27 written on it. I try to parse through what I did wrong, but my failures are all large equations that I don’t understand, with -25s thrown all around the pages.

                “We are now going to resume reading.”

                We all open our yellow beige paperbacks, and stare at the pages full of random paragraphs and equations. The teacher starts writing on the board again, numbers, and starts computating them in ways I cannot begin to grasp, I look over to my neighbors work, and copy. Try to reverse engineer the logic from their progress, but cannot, only copy.

                The teacher takes notices, and calls me out, “You will be a total failure if you don’t get this. It’s not hard to understand; the mere fact that you cannot understand it is representative of your laziness.”

                I’m not lazy, I just hate this book.

                “Well what excuse do you have for yourself?”

                I feel trapped, the feeling of anxiety encircles me, and I’m helplessly neutered. I want anything but this; this is completely unlike school for me. I perform well, or so I thought. In search for relief it all comes together, it all clicks, I understand.

                “You will never move on in life until you knuckle down on this, young man.”

                “No, I’m leaving.”

                “You can’t leave.”

                “I already finished high school years ago, I’m leaving.”

                I jumped to my feet, wasting no more time now.

                “Sit down!”

                I flip the table and kick my chair over, “Go fuck yourself,” and walk out into the hall. The entire classroom follows suit, and there is chaos all over the corridor. As I’m heading down to the first floor, the teacher catches me by the arm, book in hand.

                “You’re coming with me.”

                I jerk free, and slap the book from her hand. She angrily starts ranting at me, but I block it out and turn away. She keeps running in front of me, trying to grab my attention, but I’m done wasting my time. I get to first floor, then to the exit, when she grabs me physically by the shoulder.

                I open the door to the freedom of the outside world, but cannot move past her massive hand on my shoulder. I turn and hit her in the face, and run for it. She grabs me again through the door way and I slam it on her arm. She holds tight so I slam the door in frenzy, bam bam bam, and finally I am free.

                Peace washes over me, as I traverse the goldenrod sea of dead grass. There’s a fleet of parked cars, so I walk over to the nearest. It was white in color, and looked fast in engine. I hopped inside and turned it on with my key.

                Reversed out, and started driving, no destination in mind really, just drive.

                I get up to about sixty on the residential streets and the car handles divinely, weaving with grace and rhythm. Eventually I wind up at my home, and I make the mistake of sleeping there.

                I wake up back in the classroom, and immediately start vacating myself again. This time there is more resistance. Long time friends try to stop me in the hallways, and I have to clear them aside, I run out the exit, and the teacher follows me with inhuman speed to my car. She tries to stop me from entering it, with a wicked snarl on her face.

                I push her off, and enter the car; she wedges herself between me and the door. She’s too strong, I can’t close it, she begins to drag me back out. I latch on the wheel, and start the engine. I reverse out at full speed and she tumbles to the ground. Close the door, and floor it.

                I think of a destination now, open the map on my phone and mark it, a store at the edge of town, no more going home.

                I drive up to sixty again, and then wonder why I’m limiting myself to any kind of speed at all. I put the full weight of my foot against the accelerator, and start going fast, traffic all around me, but the faster I go, the easier it is to weave through. Nothing too complicated can happen at those speeds I guess, not enough time to process.

                I enjoy the nonsense on the radio, garbled yet harmonic, as the scenery around me changes, slowly from rural to urban. Pretty soon I’m on a six lane street going one way. It’s good stuff, lots of room to go fast.

                I drive hard until the road ends out to a beach, brown sandbox style stuff. I look at my phone, this where the store is apparently. I look up at the beach again for a sign of a store, but the only building around is a red and white lighthouse, it swirls like a candy cane up hundreds of feet. A monolith.

                I get to the entrance when I’m met by two teenagers. A couple obviously, I know the girl component to the pair. They greet me, and immediately accompany me up the long stair case to the apparent store. They bicker, up the stairs, and try to involve me. Eventually I decide that none of it is worth this noise. I turn and start back down the stairs, and they beckon me back, saying them need me.

                “Do whatever you want to, but leave me alone.”

                I start the long trek back to my car, but when I reach the parking lot, a large crowd has formed. The people from my school are there to return me.

                I bolt at a full sprint past them. Don’t look back, don’t look back, just forward, they can’t touch you if you just keep moving forward. I find a motorcycle parked along the street, and hop onto it, turn the key left inside and take off. I’ve never driven one before, but regardless find it immensely pleasurable.

                I floor it to the country side, and decide then to find some natives. Maybe they would know what to do.

                I went out and out, until the road ended, and all that was in front of me was wild prairie, farm fields and scarecrows.

                I turned my headlight on and throttle forward. Night was falling. It was going to be a long journey to find people in a land of scarecrows.