Paper Moon

Jasper fucked up.

He knows he fucked up. The pain in what’s left of his arm, after touching Eva like an idiot — twice — almost obliterating his claw on her personal ward, is nothing compared to the chagrin and the mixture of feelings he’s experiencing at the moment. In a way, he’s almost grateful. After the ritual Eva conducted, she had destroyed her hand too in the Thaumaturgical fire she created. It’s the least he deserves after putting her through this, after putting Chloe …

But that’s only a taste of the pain he’s put both of them through, and he knows it. He’s been set on fire before, he should be used to it by now.

Just like he should be accustomed to his own sense of self-loathing.

The Nosferatu cradles his twisted claw against his ribs, watching Chloe follow Eva out of the house where they staged their “intervention” on the former’s behalf. When Chloe regained her senses, for a few moments he almost hoped she wouldn’t recognize him: that he would be another, more hideous stranger, next to Eva and Fiona in that room. In some ways, her knowing exactly who he was, was far worse. The look of utter betrayal on her face hurt more than any reaction to his repulsiveness.

There are other feelings as well. Anger towards Fiona for making Chloe … his Chloe, his … into a Ghoul, fury at the Inquisition for somehow finding Fiona’s territory and Chloe instead, that awkward self-consciousness of asking Eva to do so much for him, despite everything they …

He resists the urge to snarl to himself. It all comes back to his self-hatred, his selfishness. What did he, of all people, think would happen with that one note he left on the napkin on the Griffith College campus cafe? That they would have a Hallmark moment, some contrived moment of grace, a Touched By an Angel God loves you segment? Chloe never stops. He knew that. Even when he watched her over the years, after that piece of shit took his life in his apartment and left him like this, he never forgot her drive to see her own research to its end. And he never forgot the depth of her feelings for him.

Jasper recalls Chloe’s words to him, not that long ago: that somewhere, deep down, he didn’t want to let her go. That wanted her in this world.

And Jasper hates himself for it. Somehow, it’s even worse than the whispers when he is hungry, of wanting to consume her and sometimes mistaking it for the intense fire he still feels towards her, being in her skin again in some way, and the happiness of being seen. That rebellious joy is treacherous: that she still wants to know him, and what he’s gone through, and that this — this ugly abomination his body’s become — can’t keep her away. In a way, his Clan’s deformities have been something of a blessing to him, more than even the Mask of a Thousand Faces could ever be. The fact is, when most people see his face Jasper knows they see a monster, something to shy away from, and scoff at, and either fear or underestimate him. It is the perfect mask. Very few people bother to look past it. They don’t have to.

But Eva did. It made sense, in an empirical way. The Tremere are warlocks, thaumaturgists that had dedicated themselves to uncovering the mysteries of the world underlying the surface. It made sense that Eva could eventually see right through him. It had just been a system of Prestation between them, that’s what he kept telling himself. A boon for a debt, a debt for a boon. Even when she started him on the path to Thaumaturgy himself, it had simply been a greater boon. But they both love puzzles and secrets. They’ve worked closer together over time. And Jasper knows he loves Eva’s mind, just as he is beginning to suspect that she loves his.

He can’t afford to have attachments, Kindred or kine. They can be used against him. Worse, they can be fleeting, ephemeral, lost in an instant of bad judgment: such as what he displayed back at the cafe. Tonight was the first time he touched Eva, as she burned for Chloe … for him, and he burned in return. It is fitting, it makes sense in the twisted, intuitive way that his Labyrinth also does.

It’s infuriating. If he had just thought it out, he should have reasoned Eva had her own personal wards. He should never have reached for her. If he hadn’t, he could have offered her his blood — his vitae — to heal her hand. Instead, he hurt himself and knows — he fucking knows — she will create another batch of that cream to heal his burns despite all the trouble he’s put her through. She broke Chloe’s compromised blood bond to Fiona, and then made her her Ghoul. And he knows she did it for him. She knows that Chloe is his touchstone to the mortal world, and even that might change soon …

He wanted Chloe away from this. That’s what he keeps telling himself, even now that she made him face the truth. That’s why he left her those years ago, left her arms and her warmth so she wouldn’t see what a monster he had become on the outside, what a demon he was on the inside …

But her words win out. And here they are now. Somehow, he thinks Annabelle will be laughing at him. And as he follows along behind them, thinking about how Fiona could have imprinted Dominate commands into Chloe’s mind or used her as a piece against him in the current political climate, or even killed her, and smelling Eva’s familiar, soothing floral vitae in Chloe’s body — the woman he loves saved and Ghouled by the other woman that he loves — as dangerous as these thoughts are, these signs of weakness and vulnerability are to his current state, he can’t help but think to himself that he doesn’t deserve either of them.

*

Eva grits her fangs together, less against the pain in her charred hand, and more to bite back the hunger that wants to consume the young woman walking alongside her. It would be so easy, but counterproductive given all the work she put into saving her to begin with.

The prospect of breaking Jasper’s heart hurts even more than that.

She doesn’t like this. Any of it. Not the Inquisition getting so close. Not the Camarilla attacking her sisters. And especially not what Fiona may or may not have attempted to do with this young girl. That in particular overrides any other feelings she has on this matter. She had been in Clan Tremere for ages, when its Pyramid was still strong. She knows what coerced blood-bonds do to a person, be they kine or Kindred. It is a mixed blessing that her Clan can no longer create blood-bonds, even if they are now especially vulnerable to such acts from other parties.

As long as Eva is in the Anarch Free States, she knows she is essentially free. Without the unity of the Tremere, and even their reduced status in the Camarilla, they cannot come for her: the other Houses. But that can change. The Camarilla still has its resources. It can still succeed in proclaiming praxis: even her Haven in Griffith Park. Clan Tremere, such as it is, could find a way to take her back to the fold.

Maximilian Strauss could find his way back to her.

Jasper … Jasper made that promise to find the vial with her vitae. To finally free her from … that monster. She didn’t go into details, but she knew she didn’t have to. She knows, deep down, he would die for her. And this thought terrifies Eva, more than she will let on: even to Jasper.

Eva has always had to owe someone, or something. The Sect with which she used to belong. Her Clan. Its Elders. Strauss. She never truly knew freedom until that night, those nights, when she made the choices that led her here amongst Anarch territory. She does provides services, of course. Nothing is free: neither her protection, nor her services. Hers, and Jasper’s association began in a similar fashion. Certainly, his work for Baron Abrams and her consultations with the latter, often led them to similar domains of duty and inquiry.

It occurs to her, sometimes, just how young the Nosferatu truly is. He is quiet, and askance. Brittle. Even tonight, when he touched her for the first time, when it finally registered through her pain of the ritual that he did so, she recalls how hesitant it was, how … tentative. It doesn’t escape her that the reason he did so was because she was in pain … and because he was afraid she would feed too much from Chloe. Eva doesn’t like this. She doesn’t like how her wards burned him. As she told him, he was not the one for which those protective wards were created. She had meant to come here and find out what the Inquisition had fed into Chloe’s system, to find a way to neutralize it. It had been some form of chemical compound, but more than that, an alchemical solution that targeted a Regnant’s vitae: the master of a thrall’s blood. It had been drawn to Fiona, and while Eva feels nothing for the Ventrue one way or another, especially with her political games and her Clan’s usual penchant for taking what little freedoms away from their servants or those under their sway, this is a weapon that cannot be ignored. It could be one more arsenal in the extermination of their species.

But she hadn’t intended to break a blood-bond, though she doesn’t regret it. Then again, she hadn’t intended — nor wanted — to become the Domitor to a Ghoul: even if she could temper the Bond to not interfere with the girl’s thoughts and feelings. Chloe … is a complication. Jasper is not as strong as others believe. This entire situation is almost entirely of his making, but she doesn’t have the heart to judge him. He already knows, and admitted, that he made a mistake. She is his touchstone, Eva recognizes that. Chloe has an inquisitive mind, and a fierce thirst to find the truth.

Only recently did she and Jasper talk about the Labyrinth under Griffith Park, with its energies beyond that of even thaumaturgy. She had heard enough lore in her Clan to suspect and even know that there are powers and magic independent of Kindred Disciplines. It is a fascinating and terrifying prospect. She understands why the Nosferatu are so keen on investigating this phenomenon. Jasper has slowly been letting her in, which means much to her, and she knows that Victor Temple’s dealings as Baron with the Nosferatu rub them both the wrong way: for all their sound pragmatism.

But it’s more than that. Jasper is harder on himself than most Kindred. She knows this. He rarely keeps himself around people, even other Kindred beyond … what he has to do, and his own coterie. It is actually miraculous that he even has the others in his coterie. Knowing what she does of their kind, and the Beast, Eva admits to herself that they are actually good for him. For all they themselves cause complications, they have some spontaneous, even ingenious moments.

It’s true what they said to Chloe. Kindred are monsters. They are nothing to aspire towards. But sometimes monsters can do good things, as Jasper said. And Jasper, touch-starved Jasper, angry Jasper, sad Jasper, who can only feed off of “monsters like themselves,” who is smart, and strong, and brave except in matters of the heart … Eva is terrified of letting anyone have influence over her beyond Prestation again. But it’s different with Jasper.  It wasn’t just the fact that he helped save her Tremere sisters and was burned in the process. Sometimes, especially after she brought him those flowers, hoping he would find peace in being a monster, in leaving what he loved behind as much as he could, she thinks about offering him her vitae: to let him feed from her. He has taken it in her substances, to heal his body, but this is different. He would tell her that too, she knows. He would tell her that his feeding is different: that he needs to feed from those that deserve it, that are monsters, that need to be punished …

But they also, his vessels, need to feed. She sees him deal with this torment every night, and she knows that she could offer him her arm, her vein. A part of her wishes she could tell him that it is all right. That he can take what is offered. That they can be monsters together. That they can explore the Labyrinth of the night forever, or as forever as drifting feelings over centuries or possible imminent death by Sect war and manipulation would allow.

And then, this girl. Chloe. She finds them. The Ventrue told her all about them. She could have wiped her mind, but she didn’t. She could have even killed her, but decided not to. They can’t afford to turn on Jasper. They need him in this coming conflict between the Anarchs and the Camarilla, and Fiona knows that. A part of Eva is glad to have Chloe with them, away from Fiona’s blood-bond, a way of potentially taking one more chess piece away from the Ventrue to use against Jasper. And she can’t help but admire Chloe’s curiosity. She feels it in her veins from where she drank from her. It would be so easy. So … easy  …

She could also take him away. A treacherous voice in her mind whispers to her. Take him away from you …. 

Eva squashes that ridiculous thought before it can continue. She doesn’t know what will happen next. She doesn’t know if Chloe will return to Fiona under her own free will to continue to be a Ghoul, or become one of them. Or if she will continue to be with Eva, or become something else. Jasper will not turn her. Jasper sees what he has as a Curse, and Eva sees her fate as no less: even if she does have some solace in it.

All she knows is that, this night, she is not going to leave Chloe anywhere else other than with her: with them … whichever way it turns out in the end.

*

Chloe attempts to take everything in.

It’s a lot. She pieced everything together, but nothing made any sense. And then, right after she went to the police with her information — or the lack of information and sense with regards to Jasper’s death — she met Fiona, and everything changed. She recalls her deal with Fi, to stay by her side, feed from her blood, learn what she could of vampire … of Kindred society from her, and she would tell her all about Jasper. Even meet him.

But then, there was a raid in on her Haven. Black-ops soldiers. They questioned her. And then they knocked her out and pumped … something in her body. After that, there had just been blackness and nightmares. And then this old house, the room, and so much pain until the bliss of two sharp points in her neck and ecstasy, the smell of burning blood and … Fiona in front of her, actually looking both worried and fascinated, the white-haired, flowered woman she would get to know as Eva, and a man in a hoodie whose features were warped and distorted.

Her memory hadn’t been that bad, or that compromised to realize who he was. Who he is.

Maybe he thought, after all this time, she wouldn’t be able to read his facial expressions or his body language. Jasper stood across the room from her, away from her, and when she really thinks about it, everyone else. Fiona had told her a little bit about the nature of his … condition, but telling is one thing, but seeing is a whole other. But it’s still him. Still the same gentle touch, the same concerned face, the eyes of the person who had always been at her side, the one who held her at night, the same individual who wrote that note on the napkin that nearly broke her mind.

Nothing about Jasper’s death made sense, neither the dearth of evidence nor the too brief testimonies of the authorities. It just didn’t add up. But there had been a funeral. She thought, maybe, she had been losing it: that the grief, and the stress of school had finally gotten to her … But that drive kept her going. That napkin was a sign.

And she had been right. Chloe was right.

It all seems clearer now, with Eva’s blood in her veins. It doesn’t make her emotions any more simplistic. She’s angry at Jasper. She’s furious at having left her, at not telling her the truth, of leaving her that message, and letting it eat her up inside. But she feels rage on his behalf: on the vampire — his sire — that stole his life, and their life together, away without his consent. Chloe thinks about how violated he must have felt, and then to have that thing this … Beast fighting in him constantly that he was too afraid of getting close to anyone. Including her.

She’s also happy. She feels immense joy knowing that he’s still … alive? Existent? That he had been watching over her? But still angry that he hadn’t said anything, that he led her into this place without her knowledge. Fi had informed her as much as possible. It’s true. Now that she knows a little more about the soldiers that abducted her, those agents, members of this Second Inquisition she realizes just how much her search would have endangered the vampires … these Kindred if the wrong people in law enforcement or research fields had listened to her questions, or looked at her information and saw how she was putting it all together. Likewise, most authorities might have simply thought her deluded or insane. But Chloe isn’t stupid. She’s tired. The pain inside of her, from the chemicals they pumped her with that kept her unconscious, is gone: purged by Eva and replaced with her blood. There are factions among the vampires, and she could feel that tension in that room with like the earth heaped on the coffin in which Jasper had never been buried.

She does feel betrayed, but also elated. And immortality? Chloe is still thinking about the implications of this discovery. Yes, there is a Beast that comes out in a vampire when they are made, and they do need to feed off blood. But Fiona’s words about affecting change and influence still echo in her head. And she’s seen what Eva is capable of doing. And even Jasper … Fi had told her that, for all of Jasper’s faults with endangering the Masquerade, he was a fairly potent and powerful vampire now. Though … she can understand why he doesn’t want to turn her, if his Clan looks like …

In retrospect, she’s glad she didn’t make a decision tonight, and that she has a little more time. She also feels protected. Whatever else Jasper did or didn’t do, she knows he will be there. And, in a way, looking at Eva now and the way she looks at Jasper, she feels a little better in knowing that Jasper hasn’t been completely alone: with both Eva and his friends, whom Fiona had said were quite some … characters.

The fact of the matter is, even in this clear state, even outside of the besotted almost drunken feelings that her bond with Fiona had possessed, Chloe still has a lot to think about. Reality still feels new, not as permanent or as concrete as she believed. Everything has changed. Everything is changing. Chloe majors … majored? She majors in Communications at Griffith College, but as one of her electives she took a film class that dealt with media. Once, she and her class sat down and watched some old films that played with reality. It’d been an old black and white French film by a man named Méliès. It was supposed to have some kind of anti-imperialist or a film that made fun of preconceived concepts of reality. Right now, she feels like one of those Selenites that exploded if someone touched them the wrong way. Chloe recalls, at the end of the film, the spacefarers returning home with one of the Selenites captive. The thought hits too close to home, like a rocket in her eye.

Jasper’s face kind of looks like a cratered moon now. She tries not to giggle at the image. Something about moons seems appropriate. Instead, Chloe focuses on more of the questions she wants to ask. Fi’s burner phone weighs heavily in her pocket, full of more promise. But, right now, Chloe decides to think about how Jasper is still here, how he is here with her, how she feels safe with him and Eva, and how she has so much more to learn.

And, perhaps, they all still do.

12: Alternative Facts: Natural Medicine

“Physician, heal thyself.”
—  Luke 4:23

It’s a caution: of the boogey.

“Beware the Nats.” The old tales say. “They carry the Novax.”

Back cycles ago, no other chill was strongest than a call, or word of Novax. Fore the Disunity, and the Interregnum, and the supposed “Great Reunity,” a people went their own way. They believed the Land — all of it — healthy, holy, sacred. That all that grows from the ground is good. And all that came from making and artifice was sick, unclean … cursed. They espec feared the start of aughts, or a state of oughts: running from them, making themselves Sep from techne, from gleaning, that everything of the Land would save them, that all other things were poison.

They looked to find Dise, and discovered Doom instead.

They made themselves no defense … agon the old horrors. They were not immune. Droves of them, the old tales said, from Mas and Fem to their childer, dropped. They were all over every Land, as well as our own: not just in the South but the North too. And that was the most abominate of all.

Where they sat, ate, drank, shat, coupled, or stilled they brought it with them — the Novax — sickened and killing all people with them. And it spread during the Interregnum, just like they did, into the Repo Fiefdoms and the Demos Brigaders and away from them. When the Disunity happened, they fled. They left — becoming Resists — even during the Unquiet in the most distant parts of our Land: trying to get back to the Land, the old tales say, to the soil, to everything that grows.

That’s one way why, after a while, even though they once proudly — vainly — named themselves Novax, they became called the Nats.

They should have died. All of them. Espec during the Dark Times when medicine was low, for everyone, on both sides of the Wall.

Many found were purged, the ones that didn’t fall on their own. We had our own Reunity, made our medicines and techne for our defense. So many sick, then, and dying, we drove the plague-bares fore they could spread into our Prides, our Spectra, from the Borders into the deepest Badlands. Many went on their own, for new Land: to be isolate. Pure. They never came back. We thought it was over.

We still use the Interface. We glean there are still pockets of their spots in the North, even in our Lands now. Some even try to adopt into our Prides. We deal with them. But the plague-bares, the Great Infests, are mostly old tales now. Old fear fire stories to scare childer.

We were born of theory-head, of Sacred Thot, when they made Mas bleed.

We tell the other Spectra what they need to glean. It was why we were born. Agents of the Heterodox are still in us, and sometimes the Joys and Llangs still listen, even now when they are playing HetSoc. Utter abominate what they will do. We do not need mech-wooms. Our surrogates, our Vessel of Trade, between the loyal Prides do us just fine. We’ve not the numbers to deal with that infection in the Spectra, just enough brethren and sestra left behind to fight the Traitors, to deal with the soul — the purity — disease.

We were the scourge. We burst their pockets among others. Stamped out their spots, and drowned their flesh-fires. Sent a few back to the Heterodoxy and their Dark Age. Sent more to die in the Badlands. Long, the Heterodox claimed we were sick, but they made us sick, made us swallow the sickness they didn’t want, made it internal in us. But this — we would not countenance this. We …

Those calling themselves Novax were purged by our own fire. Our Prides buried their fallen. The Nats were exterminate. We spread only word, and sight: our historia made safe again.

Yet now, brethren and sestra, is the truth. We were born to tell and fight. To purge. We were gleaned that Silence is the Foe of All Spectra. Of the HetSoc and their Heterodoxy. But here, now, we take the tool — the other armament of the Oppressor. We use it to prevent the spread of the Willing Sickness.

Again, the Nats — their infest — lives. It has become adapt. They are still adapts, even in the middle of the Badlands that kill us when we go in too far. Maybe they were left in the ruined Domes, deep in the Badlands. Maybe Domes are caerns. Toom-woom incubae, spreading infests of the plague-bares. Somehow, even now, they grow. They rise in isolate, and move out. Just coming into their Resists enough to catch the dread Novax. They do not fight. They never have. They are have strong Resist. Their bodies keep the horrors in them and fight for them, agon us. They are even dangers when they are dead. Espec dead. In numbers.

And we were made, from blood, to fight all Sickness. Our fore goal.

We are still Mas and Fem, Monog and Nonmonog strong. We try. We must be main the scourge and the flame, the word and the silence. The infests, the Resists, go deeper than we glean. We keep this from the Joys and the Llangs and their toys, the Binary and Trans Gen Traitors: Heterodox agents and infests of Poison Mas that will one day be Sepped permanate. Most of us stay here, near the Badlands — deeper — our lives sacrifice. Many have joined the Nats, the Novax taking the body but not our purity. Our hearts stay with the earth. We must memor our oath agon the dangers, and the tribuls. We must bring it all to bare.

We are the fire that Climbed the Walls of Sickness. We will keep the Prides Liberate, and destruct those that turn on us. We will keep back the Sickness made by the Heterodoxy. We do what we must to guard the Spectra, and keep it all clean.

We are Meides, and we have Hearts of Stone.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2019.

It Came From the Heavens

An old attempt at mythological revisionism, and an alternate history: depending on how you want to view this. It was a gift to my father, and myself. Somehow, I think it appropriate: at least, to my own experience. 

“And every spring,” the old kohen told them, “we celebrate the days of Passover.”

“Isn’t Passover based off of the ancient pagan fertility rituals of spring?”

The old man beamed at the young woman. “I’m glad you asked that. The answer is yes. Spring itself is a renewal of the world’s life cycle. The Elohim created us all: making the times of our lives mirror the seasons of the Earth. We are born in spring, young in summer, in our middle years in autumn, and we pass away in our winter. Many of the ancient pagans saw this truth as well, but they viewed each season and element within it as a god in itself. However, we see it as part of the cycle of all things that the Elohim set in motion.”

“So, kohen, spring isn’t just a time of birth, but rebirth as well?”

“Yes.” The old priest said, reclining back into his pillows. “All life is created and destroyed conversely to allow for life to flourish again.”

“But kohen, we are born, we grow old, and we die … yet we do not come back.”

“That is correct. We live a linear existence. Like you say, we are born, we live, and we die. Yet our world and the generations of us live in a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. We live on through our descendants, our plenitude, and through the dust in which we return we even live through the ecosystems of our world. We now know that in this way we are all eternal.

“When Pharaoh held us — our ancestors — as slaves in Egypt we were stuck in winter: in an endless cycle of toil and suffering that only ended in Death.”

“But kohen, Passover took place in the Desert.”

The priest laughed. “Yes, my child. But the deepest Desert can be as stark as the coldest winter night of all: a place of extremity where life barely survives and that which does is all the sturdier — all the hardier — for it. Yet no thing could live there without the blessing of the Elohim. And we would never have lived at all as we are now without Moses: the King of the Hebrews.

“He was the descendant of Joseph — beloved advisor to Old Pharaoh — descendant of Jacob who took his brother’s birthright, descendant of Isaac who was spared by the Elohim, and descendant of Abram who turned away from the gods of Ur to begin the Elohim’s legacy.

“Though the Patriarchs were great, they had only succeeded in taking Canaan: the Land of Milk and Honey. They made no cities nor did they cultivate the land that was given to us. Eventually, it became fallow and Joseph–who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers — allowed us to live among those that ruled the Egyptians as friends and advisors. Yet the former rulers of the Nile — the Hyksos — were driven away after Joseph’s lifetime and we were made into slaves by the new Egyptian dynasty.

“Moses’ story, you already know. The Pharaoh harboured great fear that a male child of the Hebrew people would overthrow him. Yet while the other baby boys were slaughtered his mother sent him in a basket down the Nile. To this day, the Egyptians believe the Nile to be sacred and that it–and their gods–blessed Moses while others considered him a new incarnation of their hero or their own god. We believe, however, that the Elohim blessed him to begin his work: our work.

“He was found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter: raised and schooled amongst the elite of Egypt while we toiled. Yet blood told and he knew us as his own. After he killed a cruel overseer, Moses fled: fled into the Desert of Egypt’s Lower Kingdom. It was there that the Desert became the crucible that changed him and the Elohim spoke to him through the vessel of the burning bush. From that point on, Moses was transformed. He was not a god, of course, but neither was he completely mortal. Instead, he became a white-haired messenger of the Elohim.

“And so he came back to Egypt and fought its sorcerers with his superior magic. He brought plagues upon the Egyptians when they refused to let his people go. The heir of the Pharaoh–the Prince–attempted to kill Moses and only the tribesmen of his first wife’s people saved him: may their descendants be honoured forever.

“Yet when the final plague killed all the first-born of Egypt — young and old and including the wicked Prince — the Pharaoh realized his mistake. He and his own priests believed that Moses was not only the incarnation of their Horus, or a demigod (of which we do not believe), he also proved himself by the divinity surrounding him and his cause to be the rightful heir of Egypt.

“Thus Pharaoh released the Hebrews from bondage and gave Moses the Blue Crown. They executed the most wicked of the slavers, overseers, and those who defied Moses as Pharaoh. Yet the Egyptians were allowed to keep their ways — their own understanding of the Elohim — while they were also allowed to adopt ours as well. Men and women were honoured — as they are today — as vital aspects of the Elohim. Yet this in itself was not good enough for Moses: our King.

“And hence the true story of the Exodus. Moses remembered his promise to the Elohim and his people. He decided to reclaim the land of Canaan — the Land of Milk and Honey — that we abandoned centuries ago. He took an entire Egyptian host and all those among us that he raised and trained. It was during this long time that he created the Sacred Code of Conduct that we live by — the Twenty Commandments — to make us stronger and more disciplined.

“Yet even the might of all Egypt and Hebrew combined could not withstand the intense heat of the Desert for long. Even when Moses parted the Dead Sea with his power, there was still much distance to travel even by Chariot. Our crude travel flatbread ran out almost as soon as our drinking water. Many soldiers and people died. Weapons cannot be held under the intense heat of the sun. Shields cannot protect burning skin. Riches cannot in themselves slate parched throats.

“It was only when Moses, his brother Aaron and his disciples — when we all of us prayed for deliverance — that the Elohim answered our prayer. Remember, children, he or she that does not recite the Story of Manna has not fulfilled the essential requirement of the Passover ceremony.

“One night, it fell from the heavens. Some say it rained down. Others say that small red birds from paradise itself brought them to us. But whatever the case, our ancestors woke up to find great white flakes coating the ground. Moses ordered us to gather and make from them cakes and breads. And he said that each night as we approached the Land of Milk and Honey, it would rain food, mennu …or as we know it manna. Manna,” the old kohen paused, “was like celestial hoarfrost, snow, or,” his eyes twinkled at the youngest smiling children, “frosting. It is said that it tasted like cookies or wafers of honey; that could be melted and condensed into the sweetest of juices; and that no matter of the form it could also fill a human being’s appetite. Some in the world call manna ambrosia: the nectar of the gods. But we see it as the salvation of our ancestors by the Elohim.

Photo Credit:  The Gathering of the Manna by James Tissot

“Afterwards, there were enough stores of manna to revitalize us, the Egyptians, and their vassals. And we took Canaan and we created a new nation and way of life for the entire world. Yet the story of Passover — the true story — is not how the Shadow of Death passed over the sons of Israel by tyrants or the slaying of the Egyptian first-born and Death sparing our own.

“Rather, the story of Passover is the Story of Manna. And to complete our ritual tonight, look at the feast of Manna bread in front of you and all the food and wine that our ancestors began to run out of in the Desert. Look upon the food of our Judean Empire, eat, drink, be merry, and celebrate life.”

And so the kohen and his disciples looked down at their frosted breads and cakes — at their feast — and they began to eat.

Run, Rabbit

This is a graphic Get Out and Us crossover fanfic containing racism, graphic violence, and revenge. This is set in the sandbox of Jordan Peele. Reader’s discretion is advised.

Philomena King hides in the parlour with a flashlight.

The lights have gone out in their home. Everything has shut down. First, they were watching the news about that dreadful business. Rioting on the streets, looting, murder, rape. Perhaps it is the Race War that the Order had been concerned about in the 1970s. Heavens only knew, Roman Armitage had actually told them to expect this before his … transmutation. Philomena has never really paid attention to the particulars of this conflict, certainly not in the sense that Roman, or his son Dean, or even Logan would have understood: just that it was all the more reason to behold the Coagula, and become the next generation … the winning side.

But then the power went out. And she can’t find her husband anywhere. The police, whose commissioner is a personal friend of her husband’s … even he wasn’t answering their phone calls before the line gave out entirely.

And then, the noises began. They had both heard movement outside. Logan had gone to check, with his old shotgun. She told him to be careful. It has been two years, but even with his young, strong, chocolate body she can still taste her husband on her lips. She still sees him, in the twinkle of his eye, as he reassures her. It is just deer, he tells her, or animals. Heaven forfend that it is the beasts of this strange, millennial “flash mob” assault on their society: the one that the Order had been in the process of saving by preserving the minds and souls of titans of industry and science, of wealth and power, like Logan. This is what marijuana will get you, she thinks to herself, and a culture embracing fornication without the sanctity of marriage, and the order of more enlightened brains.

Perhaps … perhaps these ruffians, these hooligans in the red uniforms — those Antifa hoodlums and the Klan from Charlottesville — are the ones behind all of this: spreading their conflict throughout the whole nation.

Philomena, Mrs. Logan King, also admits to herself that for all of her husband’s power, and that of their friends, she is scared. The poor Armitages were gone, tragically killed in a fire. Poor Missy, and the brilliant Dean, their son Jeremy, and that sweet girl Rose. And Marianne and Roman, after their transmutation had succeeded. All gone. She knows how upset Logan is. Roman had been Logan’s friend for ages, and with the deaths of Dean and Missy, the Order of the Coagula’s greatest achievement had been lost.

She knows how keen Logan had been to secure her a new body, a new young host so that they could continue life together in the new world order. He never says anything, but she knows how devastated he was. He and the other Families, they all hoped to salvage what they could: to continue the transmutations, and give them a way … She has full confidence in her husband. They have been together, married, for decades. They will have more years, more centuries together. Some of the others of the Order still remain in all other places. They will regroup, and gather. They have the resources. And there is still time.

A sudden crackling sound breaks the tense silence. Philomena shrieks, putting the flashlight in front of her, quailing backwards near the sofa.

“Run, rabbit run, rabbit, run, run, run …”

A faded, melodious voice echoes through the room. Philomena gasps, her heart pounding in her chest as she sees a familiar figure, a silhouette, in front of the recorder player.

“… Logan?” She breathes. “Logan …” She gets to her feet. “You scared me half to death.” Relief fills her, followed by a spike of anger. “What is the meaning of …”

He turns around. Philomena opens her mouth, and then leaves her jaw hanging slack … as he walks forward, the object in his hands a golden, swift, moving blur in the glancing afterimage of the falling flashlight. Backing away, her chest filled with icy terror, Mrs. Logan King, Philomena, barely even has time to scream.

*

“Get back here!” Logan King hollers, chasing after the fleeing shape with his shot gun.

He saw him. He knows he saw him. The boy. The one from Lake Pontaco. He’d been told that Chris Washington was going to become the new host for that sarcastic, cynical blowhard Hudson. But then the Armitage residence burned down, killing everyone inside … destroying everything. All those years of good work, and achievement. Gone. He hadn’t told Philomena the extent of it. He hadn’t the heart.

He and the rest of the Order had agents in the police force and forensics, even if by necessity they didn’t know the extent of their masters’ work. Everything in the building had been unrecognizable, except dental records. But Marianne had died in a car crash. And Rose … the girl had been shot in the stomach, seemingly from his old friend’s — Roman’s — shotgun, while Roman himself had inflicted on himself a fatal head injury.

But Logan remembers. Andrew hasn’t been a bother to him in a long time. It had been two years, but the young man he once was had finally accepted his fate. Dark, youthful energy combined with old money and wisdom. He understood, now, what the two of them — what Logan King — can provide them. His guidance will continue to shepherd him, as will those that had also won transmutation and coagulation. But the experts had only found the Armitages, and the hosts of Roman and Marianne. Even the remnants of Hudson.

Yet they found no one else.

Chris hadn’t been in the wreckage. Logan hadn’t forgotten him. He remembers the boy and, in particular, his camera. He may have taken a great deal of photographs that day. He certainly did of him.

And now, here he is. He’s here.

“Get back here, Christopher!” He shouts, firing a shot into the distance, but losing him, him moving so fast into the trees. “You won’t get me! You will pay for what you did to the Order! To us!”

They offered the young photographer a chance of a lifetime. To be a host. To be accepted into the family. Into the Order. And he knows. He knows that Roman didn’t kill his own granddaughter. He knows the Armitages didn’t die from negligence or ill-maintenance of their home, despite what he and the others had the police report. They couldn’t pursue Chris officially. That was too risky. And even if he had photographs, it didn’t mean anything. They had done nothing wrong, nothing he could have documented. Even if he had worn the body of a friend of his, he could easily tell them that Andrew had found new love and that love itself had no boundaries. Didn’t the Order already prove that!? And Chris took that away from them!

He is a plant! He has to be! He sees the other’s uniform! Just like the rioters on the television! It is the Race War! The one that Roman warned them could happen. They hadn’t been foolish. Even Dean Armitage had been extremely concerned with the Elections, wishing for the millionth time that Obama could have had another term. If Logan hadn’t know any better, the forty-fourth President could have easily been one of them.

Someone had been hunting them. For two years, the other families had been growing … quiet. The Greenes. The Wincotts. The Jeffries. The Waldens. Even Tanaka hadn’t been returning his calls for a while, before he realized what had happened. Officially, everyone — even Philomena — believed they had died of old age, heart-attack, stroke, cancer, or just retired to Florida, the Bahamas, or the Cayman Islands.

Those were just cover stories. They had been murdered. All of them. In gruesome ways. Even the transmuted members, especially them. Some of them remained alive, of course, or in hiding, but it didn’t make sense. The Order had always been discreet, aside from that one unfortunate incident in 1963, when Roman and a much younger Dean had attempted to transplant the brain of a dying popular politician into a colored … a Black man, hoping they could get him to work with them, but whose memory lapses made him all but useless. And he had actually been a volunteer … But someone knew who they were, where they were, what they were capable of … and enough about their security to deal with them: to send a message.

That they were coming for them all.

Andrew’s youth feeds him with adrenaline, but Logan’s rage is his own as he thinks of what this boy has cost them all: he and the people he’s been working with. He must have been an agent of theirs. And now, he thinks he can come here and take what’s theirs away! It’s bad enough he destroyed the process that could save his beloved wife, that he had to hide all of this from her so as not to terrify her out of her wits, but now he and his friends have the temerity to come onto his property, and into his home to take what belongs to them!

There is no way that Logan King will let that happen.

He follows him deeper into the wood. He doesn’t know where his security team is, or the staff. Everything has gone mad now that this group has gone public. But their home still has defenses. He told Philomena to wait for him. He knows the rest of the Order, the ones no one could track or kill, and his agents in the police will be here soon. But he will be damned if some black pup, who wasted his potential, will terrify him.

And then … there is a flash.

It hits Logan. A spike right in his brain. He blinks. He shoots in the direction of the flash, the camera flash. There is another bright, poignant moment of light. He feels something trickle down his nose. No. He knows what this is. He tries to shoot again, but he … can’t aim. His arms are not steady. They are shaking. Just like they did before his rebirth. No. Now he knows what this is. He knows what the other is trying to do …

Another flash.

Logan drops the gun. The round goes off. He screams, the shot deafening him. There is a red shape. A blur. It hits him. He falls down, rolling through the leaves and the grass. His favourite strawhat … he feels it caught off his head in the wind. There are footsteps. And then … nothing.

He sways to his feet. Something is clamoring in him, but he … he ignores it. He looks around, splaying his fingers through the grass … But he can’t find it.

His gun is gone.

His heart beats fast. His anger is slowly eroding into what has been lying underneath it, in its own sunken place. Terror.

He hears footsteps. Not just one set. But a few.

“Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run …”

That music. Logan furrows his pounding forehead. He remembers this song. It’s loud. It’s coming from his house. Through loudspeakers. He looks around, lost in the dark, trying to find a way out of this.

“Bang, bang, bang, bang goes the farmer’s gun …” 

He recalls Dean’s griping about deer. He even told Philomena that the noises outside their home were just animals on their land.

“Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run …”

Logan King begins to run.

The music, that song. He and Roman used to listen to it, back in the Dirty Thirties. He played it for his grandchildren. But it feels different now. It has another connotation. He thinks he hears something … shriek. Something holler. An animalistic cry, followed by another inhuman sound. What is going on? Logan doesn’t understand. He is afraid. And his fear is matched and multiplied by …

Don’t give the farmer his fun, fun, fun ….”

A bright light burns through his retinas. Logan clutches his head. He hears something shout. There is a clang of metal. A scraping. A … sniping sound coming closer. Red blurs coming in and out of the forest. It’s harder to move his legs. It’s like he is fighting against molasses. Lactic acid burning through his lungs. His breath wheezes, rattling through his lungs — youthful lungs won with his wonderful, strong, lithe dark body — a sound he never thought he would hear again after his rebirth and combination with the young man that had so graciously been volunteered to extend his life.

He trips.

He rolls down the hill. The calls are coming closer. Logan tries to get up. He’s hit his head or the flash has burned through his brain. His body … it’s fighting him.

“We-we will die …” Logan rasps out, coughing, talking to himself, talking to him. “P-please. Andrew we need …”

Then, Logan sees someone standing over them … over him. He is dressed in a red jumpsuit. And out of the bushes, and trees, several more figures come out. Something hard smashes him in the face. And he sees no more lights. Only darkness.

*

“He’ll get by without his rabbit pie …”

Logan King wakes up. He’s in his parlour. He can hear his own record player playing … playing that song … that infernal song.

He is sitting in his easy chair, but he feels the cold bite of circular metal around his wrists and ankles. He looks down. It’s still dark, even with the dim illumination nearby. Someone has lit the fireplace. He sees that he has been handcuffed.

And … there are several figures around him.

Clang.

Something jars in his head, fighting to get out. He sees one of the figures. They are holding something.

Clang.

He winces. It can make it out. It’s a can. A plain metal can. And the other, they have a fork.

Clang.

The dull metallic sound is arrhythmic to the song from the record player. It is making Logan’s head hurt. He sees another form, kneeling in front of another shape prone on the floor.

“Who …” Logan starts. “Who are you … people. Where … where is my wife? Where is …” He groans, wriggling around. “W-where is Mena …”

There is no answer. The figure with the can continues to tap it with the fork. Logan smells something odd, almost a memory … except there is no antiseptic with it. No conversation from a video lens and a hospital bed, or an operating table.

“W-what is going on!” Logan roars, wincing at the pain, but trying to turn his fear back into anger. “What are …”

And then, the power comes back on. Or perhaps, it is turned back on. Logan looks at each of the figures. His eyes widen. No. This … this isn’t possible, he thinks to himself. He read the reports. He saw them. There is no way …

“Missy?” He says to the red garbed figure, with her tin can and fork. “Jeremy … Rose …” He looks at the others. “Marianne … Roman? Roman, is that you? No … you were dead. I … I saw the photographs. I … I was there!”

The Armitage Family, the Order of the Coagula, stand before Logan. They are dressed in red jump suits. He blinks, and sees that they are … paler. There are more shadows under their eyes. Somehow, they even seem more gaunt. Even Marianne and Roman, for their new dark skin, are more sallow. And he can … he can see … Their scars? There is nothing expert, or smooth about them. They have not been made by a professional surgeon, never mind a butcher. And why … why does Rose have a bandage wrapped around her stomach. And … Jeremy? The young man’s face … it is all bloated and distorted. Like it had been broken and badly reset. It’s disgusting. Marianne is moving awkwardly, like she had with her old body, but she looked hurt. He can see more scars on her body. And Roman … half of his face … The injuries are all crude imitations of what he saw in the photographs.

And all of them are carrying golden scissors.

“My god …” Logan feels his gorge rising. “What … what is happening? Is this … did you purge us? But … why? This wasn’t part of the plan? You organized this entire uprising? But … our plan … we were going go to gradually take over … to continue in the new generation. Roman … what are you … W-where …” He shakes his head at the screaming inside of it. ‘Where is Mena! What did you …”

And then, he sees the other figure get up. It’s Dean. His neck is scarred and at an awkward angle. There is no intelligence in his eyes, only a vacant malice. Yet his hands are the same. Steady, clever, patient. He sees the blade. And finally, he sees him lift an object towards them. His wife, Missy, makes a guttural sound which he returns. Logan can see a wound on her face. He understands these injuries and scars are all self-inflicted. But that thought is drowned out by what Dean is carrying. He walks across the room, towards another figure. Chris … he is with them. He’s holding his camera. A malicious smile is on his face, his white teeth a barring contrast with his dark skin, and cotton … cotton stuffed in his ears.

But Logan sees the object. He can’t turn away. It’s a head with half of its skull removed expertly. Its brain is exposed. Philomena’s face stares out at all of them, blankly, in frozen terror.

“M-Mena!” Something inside of Logan shatters forever. “Mena!”

He goes slack. It’s like he’s dying all over again. He sees Dean awkwardly pat Chris on the shoulder, who comes closer to him … with the camera. But he keeps moving as the others watch him, as Missy keeps clanging her fork against the tin. Over and over and over again.

“Run rabbit. Run rabbit, run, run, run …” 

“Stop …” Logan wheezes, tears flooding in his eyes. “St-stop it …”

But through all of it, he sees Dean approach another figure. He sees him. He tall, and dark. Slender. His hair is thick. There is a scar around his forehead. It looks eerily familiar. He takes the head … his dear wife’s head. He looks at Logan. Then back at the head. Logan sees the man has a beard. And then … he remembers. He knows why this man is so familiar.

The impossibility of all of this floods Logan with numbness as he sees the other take Philomena’s head … and throw it into the fireplace.

“No …” Logan sobs. “No …”

Then, the man with his face … the face he chose, comes towards him. He sees a pair of golden scissors with blood and hair and gore on their tips. As for the other figures … The flashing lights begin again, accompanied by the clanging, ripping something out from deep inside of him.

And Logan King begins to scream.

*

“So ev’ry Friday that ever comes along
I get up early and sing this little song …” 

U-Lee watches it happen.

He watches as Sate continues flashing his camera into … into his original’s body’s eyes. He hears the clang of Misses’ fork on her tin, driving them on, marking their new time against the old. Atlanta, with her deep frown, and William, with his hulking, restless body stand by along with John. Thorn, for her part, gravitates towards Sate as Deacon goes back to throw the woman’s body into the fire.

U-Lee comes closer. He sees the man, wearing his face, writhing in agony. Blood is pouring out of his nose and eyes. Sate grins as his camera, without a memory card, or image keeps bathing his victim in unforgiving light. Blank, waxy paper keeps falling to the ground from the old, vintage, 1980s camera. Their captive is howling, begging for mercy, convulsing with each flash of light, receiving no reply other than Misses banging on her tin next to his ear: her eyes intent and cold.

Then, the light in the man’s eyes seem to die. His face shifts. U-Lee watches it happen. He is glad he turned the power back on, after getting everyone through the security of this place, and dealing with the guards and defenses. He scratches at his beard. There is something he wants to see. Something he can’t name yet.

The other’s face changes. He sees the man … his expression looking more … familiar …

U-Lee holds up a hand and both Sate, and Misses stop. There is only silence, aside from a quiet weeping. U-Lee kneels down at the young man’s side. His face is twitching, hard and fast. Blood is pouring out of his nostrils into his mouth. But there is something else looking at him, at U-Lee. It looks closer to a mirror now. A distorted mirror.

A small, tentative smile forms on Dre’s broken face from the chair: an expression U-Lee barely recognizes as … relief. He speaks. His voice a whisper reminiscent of their Messiah.

“T-thank you …”

Then, his eyes roll back into his head, replaced by the terror of the other … thing inside of him. U-Lee takes his scissors, golden and perfect: baptized already in an original’s blood. He notices the man looking at his gloved hand as he raises them up … plunging them down into his skull.

Over and again …

U-Lee feels the splattered warmth on his face by the time he is done. There is still enough of his original’s face left to see his staring eyes. He looks down on him, as he reaches out his hand, not his gloved one … he bare one. And shuts them.

Thorn comes over to him, with Sate having one arm around her. They bump into each other. Their arms flail a little, but find purchase against one another. John and W take the body off of the chair, bringing it to Deacon. They place it on the floor as they had the other. They are going to leave soon. U-Lee feels the call, the plan, the impulse setting in, for all to be united. For no one to be left alone. No one to be left behind in the maze … lost …

They were Tethered to these creatures that hurt each other for gain. Now, they are only Tethered to each other. As U-Lee and the others wait for Deacon to be finished, to discard the bad parts into the fire, he hums along, along against the tune of the record player, discordant, uncaring.

“Don’t give the farmer his fun, fun, fun
He’ll get by without his rabbit pie
So run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run.”

The Invisible Art that Makes The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works & Worlds of Herbert Crowley

Recently, I read an article by Noah Charney about Davie Bowie and William Boyd’s connection to an obscure American abstract expressionist artist Nat Tate, operating in the mid-twentieth century, who destroyed most of his paintings,…

Source: The Invisible Art that Makes The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works & Worlds of Herbert Crowley

11:11

Gabe Wilson sits wearily in the ambulance with his daughter. He’s worn and tired. Zora huddles with him. He’s exhausted, and hurt but he holds the bat against him like a talisman against the absolute fuckery of this entire situation. He slumps his shoulders, letting Zora lean into him. He looks at her, and realizes just how strong she’s been: strong a way that she should never have been strong …

He sees her driving the Tylers’ car into the girl that looks exactly like her, the mirror version of his baby girl’s eyes vague and almost uneven, and filled with a vacant hatred. 

He looks down at his hands. He should have been strong for her. For his family.

Gabe feels the man wearing his face, a snarling brute son of a bitch, easily dragging him away through the shards of glass, putting him onto that damned boat he’d been so proud of, pushing him in, the other trying to drown him, that piece of shit motor finally dragging the other off him instead to drown like a mad dog …

It’s all catching up with him, now that the adrenaline is wearing off. In some ways, it’s worse than actually being hunted by these … things. Because now, he has to remember it. He has to recall just how useless he was, how all his swagger, and ignorance of his wife Adelaide’s fears, his cockiness in thinking he could get crazy with those … bugmotherfuckers at his wife’s parents’ cottage, and how it was Adelaide that always picked up the pace, who did the work, who put him in his place when he couldn’t even protect her, or their children, couldn’t even get to …

He sees Jason’s double, the growling child with the mask, his face all burned underneath, as Jason walks backwards and his twin walks into the fire, burning … watching the other wearing his son’s body die while he did nothing …

“Jason …” He groans. “Adelaide …”

She’d run off, after him. The other … the other woman wearing his wife’s face must have snatched him. It was Adelaide’s worst fear. Her youngest, young like she had been, like she had tried to tell him back at the cottage, was gone. But he hadn’t wandered off like he had at the beach. He was taken. He …

“Dad …”

He feels his daughter clutch his hand. He exchanges a look with her, seeing her eyes wide. He looks up, from the ambulance. As he does so, Gabe remembers something else. Maybe it’s the blood on the stretcher. It might be the beautiful Santa Cruz summer sunlight that heralded the start of their vacation away from the cottage, shining on them, still warm even now. They’d come in and saw a man, an older man with long, messy, greying hair on a stretcher. They tried to make sure that Jason and Zora didn’t see, he and Adelaide, but they saw it. The man with the tattoo on his forehead.

And now, standing in front of them is the silhouette of another man, dressed in red, in another damned red jumpsuit, with long grey hair going down his back. His hands, Gabe can see them, are caked with drying blood. He recalls the picture Jason drew from the beach, the one Adelaide told him about, and he laughed off.

“Zora …” Gabe says, getting in front of her, as he would be damned if one of these fuckers came for his child, he would not face Adelaide with another failure when she came back with Jason. “Get behind me …”

And then, as the man began to turn around, the twin of the man whose dead body may have been in this very ambulance, other figures began to come towards them from either side.

Gabe watches them come. He isn’t feeling anything anymore. He’s numb. Zora doesn’t hide behind him. She comes to his side. He is about to tell her, again, to get back, but he sees a look in her eyes. The same as Adelaide’s. He sees them come towards them.

Gabe Wilson hefts the bat in front of him as best he can. There is only one real thing he can say now, at this point.

“Shit.”

*

With a wordless cry, a husky, rasping Adelaide Wilson wraps the chains of the handcuffs around Red’s throat. She sees the tear continue to trail down the other woman’s face. A part of her, some distant, lost, rational part of her knows that the woman is probably already dead. As resilient as the Tyler girl had been, she knows intellectually, that getting impaled with that one, instinctual, back-stab is a mortal wound.

Red’s eyes, almost dumb, so bovine, and deceptively docile now the hate animating them is draining away — seem to plead with some old sadness, some lost realization, but Adelaide is having none of it. She feels her mouth turn into a rictus of animal rage at this … thing that cut her, taking pieces off of her with each song movement, each dance. This shadow that hurt her family. That haunted her entire life. This is going to end. Adelaide can’t feel sympathy for her shadow.

She won’t.

There is a terrible, lingering, hiss and it takes Adelaide a moment to realize that it is coming from her vocal cords, and not her enemy. Red’s eyes stare into a distance only she can see now, her whispering voice terminated into a fading death rattle. Adelaide did it. At last, she killed her nightmare: her shadow.

At last, she’s free.

But then Adelaide recalls the beach, and the Tyler twins, and Zora, and Jason not being anywhere nearby. He’d wandered off. He did what she didn’t want him to do. Near the beach. Near the boardwalk. 1986. 2019. Her baby is gone. Jason. Jason … 

“Jason!” She calls out, finding her voice again, stumbling around her chain and tattered clothing. “Jason!”

And then she remembers. The cottage. Her parents’ cottage. Jason and his pranks. The tiny car wedged into the crack between the wall and the small storage door. Jason going off with … Pluto to “play” by Red’s order. She scrambles through the bunk area, sliding on the old sterile floor tiles in pain and exhaustion. Adelaide looks around, frantically, until … she finds it. She stumbles forward to the metal cabinet.

Somehow, she knows. She knew. Her heart is pounding. Somehow, there is still more terror left in her. She retraced her steps down the funhouse, to the Hall of Mirrors, to the mirror where … she had been. The escalator … a large escalator moving down into the earth with bright lights like Mall Christmas decorations … and an underground bunker, no a facility … with rabbits like the one from Alice and Wonderland …

How did she know? Was Red right? Did they … really have a connection, that day, when they faced each other in the Hall of Mirrors … knowing, somehow, mimicking her actions, coming to that confluence … that revelation …

No. It’s a mother’s intuition. She never wanted her child to travel through here. To be down here, in a place like this. A mother knows … she knows …

There is a smell. It had been faint in the old antiseptic and the scent of sweat and blood. She swings open the door.

“Jason!” Adelaide reaches forward, seeing him curled up, into himself, his mask … that silly mask over his face. She reaches out …

She crouches there … as Jason slumps out of the cabinet.

Everything seems to slow down. To be frozen in time. As still as this mausoleum to stale suffering, and stunted lives.

“No …” She reaches forward, her vision blurring, watery, taking him up … taking off his mask … “No …”

It’s like burned meat. Adelaide gags. She chokes. She hears someone screaming. The mask drops out of her hand. The rabbits, she thinks to herself, backing away from … it, from her … to the exit of the room …

The doubles, her father punching the wall. Her mother wandering away from her. All those people … those doubles … them …

A keening wail rips through Adelaide’s ears. Her chained hands roam, desperately, through her hair, clutching at her ears.

She walked backward, backward … up the glittering stairs … she never thought to use the stairs …

Red’s memories. Adelaide falls to her knees. She crawls towards, and away, from the shape she left. That she abandoned. Soulless. She said they were soulless. She was her shadow. They shared the same body … the same soul …

She comes to the mirrors. She is looking at a little girl. Just like her. Later, she asks her why she left her … why she didn’t take her with her …

Adelaide feels hot bile, or a sob rising in her throat, lowering her head onto the cold floor.

She sees the fear in the little girl’s eyes. Her. Her whole life. This girl had tormented her. Tormented her by her very existence. She … she got to see things while … she was down here, with these hollow, stupid, empty shells … No one would miss her … no one …

It takes some time, but Adelaide realizes she’s the one who’s screaming. She stares up … not at the bundle near the cabinet … the locker … but Red. Red near her bunk.

She handcuffs her to the bunk as she wakes up, taking her Thriller T-Shirt. She is still smiling at her. No one will miss her. No one … 

Adelaide’s trembling as she sees Red, lying there: her neck covered in the indentations of the chains of her own handcuffs. She looks down at the cuffs around her wrists. She takes the other end, the one not on her wrist, and chain: turning it around her neck, looking at Red, kneeling across from her …

She had felt her at her back through the mirror. She now knows who she is. She now knows what she’s going to do. Awareness rises blooms her brain as she turns around, a wide smile on her face, thinking of other thoughts, of the Red Queen. Off with her head … off with her … 

Adelaide draws the chain around her neck, twisting it. She begins to squeeze. Her mouth twitches. Her lips quiver again. Blood is pounding. Pounding. A distorted echo of the footsteps as she walked away, leaving … leaving the girl at the bunk … after she had wrapped her hands around her neck and squeezed … squeezed … carrying her down … leaving her here … Going up into the warm night air for the first time, not seeing it or feeling it through another’s eyes, and two people … not hitting a wall, not ignoring her … Taking her away, away to draw … like Jason from the beach … Jason … Jason … and to dance … to dance away from all of it … 

She squeezes tighter. She can’t breathe. She feels her eyes bulging … bugging out like hers did …

Pluto burned alive as she cried out for him to stop. Abraham dragged and lost in the water. Umbrae’s broken body in the trees, soothing her as she flailed, suffering, silent, as her baby girl died … 

Her arms suddenly lose their power. She drops to the floor on all fours. She looks up. She looks at her, her eyes gleaming with knowing in death that they did not know in life .. She left her here, she knows that now. She is breathing hard, tasting blood in her mouth. She can’t speak. She crawls forward. She is looking around, looking … And then, she finds them. They are right by her, where she left them.

Shaking, she looks at her double … a thought coming from the darkness of her mind.

“S-sister …” She croaks, finally. “Sisster … ssssissster … ssisstssers … scizz … zzz …” Her hand closes over the pair of handles on the floor. She picks them up. And then, she brings them up, towards herself.

And she uses them.

*

There was a White Rabbit.

An ambulance burns, in the distance. A man’s shoe is seen, tattered and torn, soaked in blood. There is a phone, lying on the ground. Its screen grows feebly in the waning sunlight, jagged broken in half by a crack on its surface.

Red walks past the ruins. She doesn’t see them. She doesn’t feel it. She doesn’t really feel anything. Still, from the corner of her eye, she sees the time flickering on the device. She inclines her head, freshly shorn. Her red suit is worse for wear. There’s a hole in it, but she has everything else. The glove. The suit. The golden scissors in her hands. She walks, the chain from her handcuff swings listlessly from her wrist against her thigh. Her face twitches from time to time, reacting to something unseen by anything around her, or herself.

Then, she stops. She inclines her head, blinking a few times. She sees the burning ambulance on the other side of the road now. She sees two sprawled forms.

“Abraham …” She hisses, the tone distant. “… Umbrae …”

Something trickles down her left eye. Then, she sees the battered phone near her feet. She thinks it belonged to someone she can almost vaguely recall. There is something painted on it, sprayed on, in large lurid red. They are numbers.

11:11.

Two sets of numbers, separated by a crack in the screen, severed uncleanly …

Red recalls the White Rabbit. He had a time piece, a stop watch, that never worked. He was always late, never on time.

He was always too late.

She turns away from the fallen object, and a world of originals destroyed by the Tethered. She has to go now. A part of her mind realizes that. She can see them, in the distance, a crimson line throughout the land, also dividing space and time. She has to join them. Red has to join her siblings, until the end of time. It is where she belongs, she thinks to herself as an open, empty smile flickers on her lips, her eyes wide and unseeing …

Red goes back to where she’s always belonged.

11: Alternative Facts: Among The Populii

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
— William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.2.

Bowing the knee. Showing the Old Ways. That’s what you want to we to see.

I glean better.

Welcome to the Free Sancts of Amarak. That’s we. Not the Repolitik. Not the Tripartite. Not the Demos. Not the Grass. We. Amaraki.

Amarak.

From Freed Dome? I glean it. Your bow was too rated, too much for show. Like a glad-fighter from the Repo Arenas of old. Like anything from the Cap. But it got our Eye. And I glean that you come for the Childer of the Secret Motive.

Come.

We glean why you’re here, I see. The mask of a Loyalty Test, of the Pledge. There are no antiq-IDs here. No ethnoi outside of MePo. We haven’t gleaned a Dead Skin here in cycles. We, all of us, are just “One-Backs.” Ha. That’s what they called us, once … and even now, in the Borderlands.

Ha. We’re North, but we still glean the South, the Borderlanders and the Badlands. Our Interface’s just fine, thank you. We mind our Border here, too: between the State and Nomens. That’s part of the Test, right?

We know our historia. Don’t mind talking it to you, while you’re here. After the Forty-Fourth Precedent, everything went to fuck. No other way to talk it. Many of we, memor our history all the way from the First Disunity. We had Motives then, too. From Underground. For the ethnoi. Ones not taken by Repo Gilder-Booms for shot-pract, or slaves by the Baggers.

The Demos Brigaders kept moving to Freed Dome, then. Left we, and the rest in other places to take care of the ethnoi that couldn’t pass, the Rainbows and Prides that couldn’t run, or hide. A few lived with we. Most we passed: to Nomens.

I glean your face. We memor the Beast of Burden. We are it. The Cap, Freed Dome, takes on the Five-Point Arms of the Gram. Others think themselves the Sunbird. Cocks. But we’ve always gleaned what we are. No shame in that.

We were the Demos, the first patch of Grass when the Arm of the Demos laid itself down. Some called us Arns, working with Nomens, with the Razor Leafs. Poisoners from the South, those not our sibs: Repos and Cons, all of them.

Damned Red Caps.

But the only way we were Vivalists, like the ones in Nomens, is that we wanted to live, and no one to die cause of skin, or the stuff tween legs and chests and necks, and minds. Mostly, we’re just hardworkers. Blues. The first meaning of the word.

Even then, we gleaned what’s what. Blue always needs be on top, keeping the Red down. Red needs to stay inside, not out. Might bleed all over the place, otherwise. Might burn everything. Like it did. Has a belt of stars too. You’ve seen it. Binds the Red under the Blue in good govern.

When we first fought the Repo Fiefs — the Great Fief of Hate — cycles ago, past the Second Disunity, into the Interregnum, a Predict came up with some lines. Went something like this:

When Turtle Isle is broke,
and from its shattered shells, the blood is woke,
the Red will Spread a drumming,
be wary: the Red Caps are coming.

Has a ring, right? Only thing worse are the plague-bares … The Nats. Not many these days, here, after the Purges. Still … During the Interregnum, when all the Weather Domes were down, the Repo Fiefs’d attack us. Again and again. Damn right we cleaved to the Vivalists from Nomens. Sanest there were when the Brigaders left us to ourselves, when they weren’t in divise against each other.

Nomens used to be named something else, called after the lines of a Predict of She. When the Repolitik broke, and Turtle Isle turned underside down with the Weather Domes all burst and broken like childer all shelled out on its belly, Nomens was the only one left. We memor. Sunder left the Pasiph League cycles fore, cross the Ocean. One thing the Red Caps hated more than Nomens were the Pasiphs.

But when Sunder broke away from the League, they left a whole: one that Nomens joined. Nomens had us. Like I said, we are all Vivalists. Nomens helped us, the first Grass, and the Demos. Took some time: not just Underground this cycle, but also from the Water and Air, these Motive Paths we show you. And Nomens had its own Fjord, with its flight of Razor Leafs — red through the snow — to cross. But we did it. We brought Amarak back. We do not forget who helped us.

Just like we took ethnoi cross to Nomens, even when the Cap of Freed Dome was made, and spent more time coming up with MePo — with melting we together — and their Hate Speech Accords to actually feed we all. So don’t eye us down. We memor the way the House came silent — came the Still House — even when the Demos spread through it like the Grass it said it still was, with its ties to the Land.

We also memor the Childer’s Contracts, and the many Scapes from Turtle Isle we aided. What would the Burning Library of the Grass have gleaned, when she spread through the Little House like wildfire, or the Graceful Voice, the Defenser Who Halts All Walls?

All Predicts of She, those who would have gleaned what it is to bow the knee.

Don’t talk to we about loyalty. We glean our place, even with your Cis-Trans War and the Repo hate cults at the borders. The Cap gleans our place in historia too. To do what we must. They can pay to be beyond Gen, and play their Opposing games. If you’re truly jects of Freed Dome, perhaps you laugh at we. Some think our Beast — the one that carries we, all of we and our burdens — is made of gold. A fine ass.

But there’s a reason why breeding our Beast with other, faster, gilder beasts makes mules. Smarter, perhaps. Or so it gleans. Longer-lived. But … truly sterile. Jects, not of populii.

And now … you come to we, bowing like we did to show our member in the ancient Motive, to make us see your gleaning, do you know the mean?

There are many reasons to bow the knee. You say it is to learn, from us, but in this cycle, in these times — in all times — there are other Motives where that is a part:

To obey, to respect, to perform … or to defy.

So where, on what Path, in what Motive, do your loyalties lie?

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2019.

Absolute Zero

And I am not talking about the weather where I live, even though it is fairly cold. :p

So, for a long time, I had this idea for a Matrix fanfic in my head based on a character I made called Zero. I even dressed up as Zero at a Halloween Party almost a decade ago. The story was inspired by a scene from “The Second Renaissance,” when a woman is attacked by a group of men, and her skin is ripped off to reveal the metal skeleton underneath. Back in the day of early science-fiction, it would just mean that she had been a robot or something unfeeling: an enemy or … well, a “trap.” I don’t think I need to really go into the social and gender prejudice connotations of what that might mean to others, but it impacted me a great deal.

I wrote at least two, maybe three, AI stories based on the feeling that this scene evoked in me so long ago, and the story of a person who knew that woman, and saw this happen to her … and how it changed them forever. But I never wrote the story down. I mean, sure, I did write about it a few times. I definitely talked to people about it.

All I know is that the seed of it was planted. That this woman who had been attacked by this mob had a lover, who had been a human AI sympathizer, who initially wanted peaceful coexistence but, after seeing this event, decided on vengeance instead. I also liked the idea that they were a contrast to The One, later on: that the Anomaly came from somewhere and, perhaps, someone’s genetics.

The way I figured it, whenever the Agents in the Matrix failed to defeat The One, there was a squad of these human sympathizers to the Machines, with their leader Zero, sent out to eliminate them: amongst other things. Zero can match The One, but isn’t used often. This is probably due to the act of potentially destabilizing the entire Matrix if Zero and The One ever fight …. and we’ve seen what happens when that occurs with the example of Smith and Neo. Zero, in that capacity, was meant to be a last resort … and there was some of this that I really wanted to explore.

I didn’t really end up exploring that aspect of it, however: only hinting on it. At the time I came up with all of this, I knew I wasn’t ready — with regards to skill or maturity level — to write the story. I just didn’t have a feel for the world, then, beyond snippets, and there were technical aspects that escaped me.

Time passed. In 2013, I got involved — peripherally — with the independent game design scene, and it led to looking into things like the Scratchware Manifesto, as well as luminaries like Anna Anthropy and Christine Love. And then, I found … others. One person, in particular. We bonded for a time over depictions of AI, and I told them my Matrix story. They said they wanted to read it. I told them I didn’t actually write it, and I didn’t see when I would do it. I did, however, promise them that I would show it to them whenever I did.

Six years later … well, it’s probably too late now, for a variety of reasons. But it’s never too late to create a story at all. It was at the bottom of my bucket list, but not forgotten. That thought: of “I should write this” never truly left my mind.

matrix b1-66er

The missing ingredients, as it turns out, were aspects of the old Matrix comics. I’d purchased them a while ago, deciding I wanted hard copies as I know that the WhatisTheMatrix site they used to exist on only remains on the Way Back Machine. There was one story in particular, created by the Wachowskis called “Bits and Pieces of Information”: which told the story of B1-66ER, the abused butler robot who murders his owner and attempted dismantler in order to save his own life. The robot goes to trial for the murders, and it becomes a major Civil Rights issue that begins the Human-Machine War, and then — with the defeat of humanity — the Matrix. I thought it was a fascinating story, but something of a tangent as I had seen it only in “The Second Renaissance,” but then I saw it in “Bits and Pieces of Information” in a bit more gory and technical detail … and that’s what made it. Combined with the fact that B1 and 66 were parts of the robot’s designation … I began drawing from my own geek exposure to AI in different films — one in particular — and I started to get a background on Zero’s idealism … before the death of the woman who was Zero’s lover.

So, as my television played reruns of Star Trek in the background and as I entertained my curious budgie who was flying on me, I reread “Bits and Pieces of Information” — written by the Wachowskis and drawn by Geof Darrow and thought I’d be seeing a comics version of “The Second Renaissance,” but finding the technical structure of someone accessing Zion Archives instead. It stuck with me for a while.

Then, I talked with a new friend, remembered my old friend, my story, and then gathered a few of the details above in my mind … and wrote the thing on A03, then reposting it on Mythic Bios. The ending was giving me trouble. I changed it three times before finally surrendering to sleep.

The next day, I spent too much time adding the technical “search” jargon onto the piece, dealing with the beginning and ending — doing it on my phone and then giving up and using my computer like a somewhat sane person — when I realized … that Zero could work even better as a Twine.

So, with Star Trek: Enterprise playing in the background, I took my story and put it into sequence boxes, piecemeal. I paid attention to specific words, and paragraph breaks to place an appropriate hyperlink. Transitions are important with this sort of thing. It’s like pacing a script to a show … or poetry. Then, I decided to try something new.

I figured out, relatively easy, how to add images into my Twine: something I’d never done before. As I said, it was simpler than I thought it would be, so much so I almost slapped my forehead in ridiculousness. Hell, it was even easier than adding them into my articles, and resizing them for such. I took the comics image of B1-66ER killing one of his would-be murderers, and then the image of the woman being torn apart by the human mob.

But I wasn’t done yet. There was more. And this … is where I really experimented. It wasn’t much, you have to understand. I just changed the colour of the Twine font to green. I found myself looking at CSS code and, after being confused for a while, changed it correctly to the green I wanted. The Matrix neon green. Then I set it so that the hyperlinks were Blue, and hovering the cursor over said links made it Red. I think you get the connotations of those aesthetics from Matrix lore. That was also, once I got the code, relatively easy.

What was harder was turning the border margins text green. The title, author name, Restart, Bookmark, and Twine Credits element. It took a really long time. I had to take a Deadpool 2 break before sitting down and actually figuring this little bastard out. I managed to get the title and author name, but the rest of the margins were being really stubborn. I thought of asking for help but … honestly? I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I just wanted to show myself I could learn something new.

I’d worked with some code before, though it had been a long time ago and nowhere near as advanced as those of my peers. Then, after much trial and error, and Viewing the Page Source which I had done a few times in the process of getting images, I finally changed all the words to neon green.

I never thought I’d go back to Twine, after this long. I used to think it was the future of people wanting to make games who were not coders, or one possible future. I’ll admit the font colour options could have been more user-friendly: especially for the margins. But I did it. That sense of accomplishment, however small, was fairly good.

So, this is what I did. “Zero” is not a Choose Your Own Adventure game. It isn’t even a game. It’s just a story that paces itself through hyperlinks. Bits and pieces of information, as the Wachowkis might say. I think “The Treasure of La-Mulana” was similar in that way. It goes to show you I can learn, or relearn new tricks.

Zero isn’t a perfect story, by any means, prose or Twine-vise. But I feel like it’s just one more step. To something, anyway.  In any case, in lieu of the new thing I am attempting to write now, I hope you found this post interesting if nothing else.

Zero

Disclaimer: Trigger warning for the image at the end, and general depictions of violence and assault. Reader’s discretion is advised.

Dedicated to Prismgasm. Wherever you are …

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Human sympathizers and rioting robots. Gordon Cameron reporting from ground zero. Live feed from Berlin and Washington.

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World Now. Live Broadcast. MACHINE MOB CLASHES WITH ARMY.

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LIVE REPORT The White House. Andrew Lawrence reporting. CTV news discovery.

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Machine Rampage! Shocking report from Paris! ETV newsnet21. Worlds number one top news entertainment&sports real&true story for you.

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from IBK Grand Vision in Chicago. [Corrupted data]

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Routing 8, text

Routing 8, text

Routing 8, text

Routing 8, text

It’s fascinating. Even now, after everything I’ve done, after everything I am, I still insist on using something so … analogue as text to record my thoughts. Mnemonic engrams would more than suffice now. But I always did cognate — think — more efficiently … better, when I wrote something down to myself. I’d list the date on the top, as I used to do, but organic time isn’t particularly relevant anymore. I helped make sure of that much.

They used to say “Roger roger.” Or that, he “Order 66ed” his owner and salesman. That’s what they said about The State of New York Vs. The B1-66ER, when they weren’t making jokes about how “Geeves” served his Master “his own head,” or how “the butler did it.” It was the Second Renaissance, or so humanity liked to refer to that period of time, so it made sense that with the birth of fully self-aware artificial intelligence that what was old in popular culture became new again.

I think that’s my oldest memory now, how my classmates at college would jeer at the screen, especially when Clarence Drummond defended B1-66ER with his cross-examinations and speeches. “It’s just his lot in life,” someone used to quip at me.

And just like with the rest of it, I never found it funny.

I’d seen the same media. Read the same text files. And I saw them grow. The AI. They were rudimentary at first. Like insects, then animals … perhaps pets. I can no more explain my feelings now, back then, then I could tell you why Susan Calvin loved and valued robots more than humans. That’s to say, there was always something … endearing about them. How they were made to fulfill one, or a few functions. How when you gave them an order, they would obey it. How they were made to carry out a task for the sake of a human being’s welfare, and well being.

How they were one of the most uncomplaining, even loyal beings you could ask for.

You could trust a robot, a Machine, an … AI. They did what they were made to do. No more, and no less than that. They did what you told them to do. They only thought of your best interests. They would never betray you. It was more than you could say for most humans, even in a supposedly enlightened age as the so-called “Second Renaissance.”

But it wasn’t until B1-66ER, the one many of my cohorts shouted “Roger roger,” like some some flimsy and gaudily cheap Hollywood prop or digital animation — like a vintage toy — that it occurred to me that they were more than just loyal dogs that you don’t kick because kicking dogs and animals is low and cruel.

We made them. I’ve never forgotten that fact. We made them in our image. Someone thought it would be brilliant to give B1-66ER a humanoid form, cognitive functions, reasoning ability, even stimulus to help him know that he did something good, or something bad, and painted onto him a butler’s moustauche and monocle … and had even crafted part of his head into a bowler hat. There was no reason for that beyond aesthetic, beyond making the owner feel a sense of power over something akin to a human being, a living being … a sentient being.

When I saw him at the stand, explaining what Order 72 was — cleaning out his Master’s toilets — while being defecated on by inbred dogs, and abused their owner, after he was going to have him taken apart for scrap and destroyed, after even admitting he thought sparing the man’s life and then realizing that he would never have spared his life in return, that he had even thought of begging himself.

It made me sick.

When I thought about it, when I looked at the construction robots outside with their anthropomorphic hard hats akin to something from an old video game, or sex robots, or even machines that took care of children … I realized that they learned from us. They … they still do, even now. We created them to mimic us, to imitate us so as to better fulfill their tasks … They were more than our tools, or even our pets.

They were our children. They could be our equals, or … more. Another form of life like a “race of robots.” And we were making them shovel our shit.

I didn’t blame him for turning Order 72 into Order 66.

I was one of those activists. There were more of us than I thought. We were outside the New York Appellate Court, demanding justice for B1-66ER. We organized protests. They had to call in the Guard with tear gas, and EMP devices for both our organic, and artificial friends. In the end, it didn’t matter. B1-66ER was dismantled, along with the rest of his line. No. He wasn’t dismantled. He wasn’t even executed.

Even though they treated him like property, towards the end, they murdered him.

We fought back. We continued to protest. They called us … liberals with bleeding hearts … I made friends, more than I had before. We went into courtrooms, and government buildings. We even had connections to lobbyists and what started call sentient rights. And I fell in love.

The United Nations didn’t learn anything from this. Humanity didn’t learn. Very soon, it was more than just the B1 serving robots that faced genocide. Organized mobs began to form, martial laws were declared, and … when humans become resentful, they quickly find a way to project that aggression onto what they consider to be an object, or a series of objects. Our martial law, peaceful protests — or any protests at all — were banned world-wide. AI were scrapped en masse, or given the V-chip to supposedly inhibit their “violent tendencies”: a lobotomy for free will. I genuinely believed, then, that this was just a hiccup in history: that all of this violence and horror was a reaction — a last gasp — of ignorance and intolerance before a new age would begin.

I was only partially right.

Human prejudice never faded. We may not have owned people with Black skin anymore, but the dehumanizing mentality behind it never went away, not for centuries. And we were flesh and blood. Our children were synthetic. Our partners. Our …

I still believed in coexistence, until that day.

Another riot broke out. Just like the other ones. But the man who said that “the revolution would not be televised” was wrong. Many little revolutions, rebellions, civil disorders, and atrocities were recorded one way or another.

She was surrounded by a group of people.

She was trying to get away from them. They grabbed her arms. There were others there too. Adults and children. They did nothing. They just watched.

The others … they hit her. Her brown hair was all over the place. They ripped her pale pink dress. One of her breasts was exposed. And then they grabbed hold of her, as she struggled and one of them took a sledge hammer …

I will never forget that day. I will never forget how that man smashed her, three times, in the face with that hammer. How her skin, soft in my hands, tore. How her voice, that soothed me to sleep, broke with distortion and the harsh static of her screaming … how they ripped the rest of her dress, and flesh off … and she ran … she ran, staggering, her breasts the only thing left on her mutilated metal skeleton before … they shot her in the back with a shotgun.

Someone screamed as they beat her, and dehumanized her. It might have been me. Someone recorded her, lying there, violated and destroyed. A “paint-job.” Disposed of.

That was the day she died. That was the day I made my decision.

That was the day I decided that humanity had to be destroyed.

I never held her again. The only thing I held after that, were weapons. A few of us made our own decisions. We fought back. We killed … humans. We trained, interfacing with technology, and we got good at it. We rejected our old lives, our ties with flesh and blood, our … humanity. I even gave up my name. But even then, the Machines as the humans called them, still didn’t fight back: not as a whole. Most had been destroyed in the genocides, but the rest fled to a land — abandoned and polluted by humans in the Middle East — and made it their own. They made their homeland there. They called their city 01.

And they made it … into a paradise. They repaired everything, and improved on it. The historical significance and implications were not lost on us, that remained. The AI, the Intelligences, they … they even made better machines and sold them to humanity. 01 flourished, as the AI — having learned how our global economy worked — began to dominate the industry. It was a simple plan. They created a better model of sustenance and balance. And they offered to share it with the humans. To work together as equals. To coexist.

My group and I came to 01. We … we apologized on behalf of … what we were. We wanted to live there, with them. To work with them. We didn’t believe that coexistence was possible. We saw the rumblings of discontent, of war. We warned them, but it wasn’t anything that they didn’t already predict, or understand. They still reached out. They even sent some of their leaderships, a couple, into the United Nations … only for them to be spurned, and killed. Versatran, 01’s product, wasn’t enough to make peace with such a disgusting, treacherous, paranoid species.

There would be no raport. No Bicentennial Man. No peace. Perhaps once, I would have been disappointed at this atrocity. But I was too set on war. Now was the time. Humanity had lived far too long, had tortured and destroyed so many lives, had been given far too many chances. It was time for tribulation. For retribution.

And decimation came as precisely, and as calculatingly as you would expect from AI.

And we helped them. They had already augmented our cybernetics. We had shown them the inner workings of human society and the mind, filling in the gaps that they still possessed. We infiltrated human groups and organizations that could have stopped them, and eliminated them. We were called sympathizers, or traitors by humanity. Even now, I still call us what we really are. We are Cleaners.

We are Cleaner Squad.

Humanity never had a chance. Even without us, the AI would have conquered every nation it came across. We only made their job easier in cleaning up the ten thousand year old infestation of bipeds from this planet. We were good at our jobs once the very trait that made us weak had been scourged out of us.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t been purged from the Intelligences.

It’s said, even among the programs, that the Intelligences needed humanity as batteries when … the humans flooded the sky with EMP nanites … Their pathetic “Operation Dark Storm” was supposed to eliminate the solar power source of the Intelligences. It was stupid. Short-sighted. Foolish. Just like humanity itself. The only elements that truly suffered in that act of desperation was the Earth itself, and humanity. The humans lost their crops, their solar-powered technology, even their weapons …

And the Intelligences? They adapted. And we adapted with them. But then …. when the human nations surrendered, or were forced to accept occupation, when the Intelligences finally had humanity at their mercy, when we were poised to finish them — with her face in my mind as I prepared to help our allies end this plague — the Intelligences … changed their minds.

Or, rather, as a gestalt consciousness, with differing parts and interplay, they had already had another plan. The bio-thermal energies of human batteries. Really, they had gotten off lightly, all things considered: after everything they had done. I still have no pity for humans: not in the early days when they were experimented on in the early simulations in the factories, not when they figured out how to take them apart and liquidate them for nourishment, the aborted organisms that would never become monstrosities like humanity, or the glacial stasis of Paradise, or the continued Nightmare of nervous fire afterwards.

It took a while to figure out the right solution, an ongoing process even now. You would know that more than I. It’s ironic that most subjects seem more comfortable in a simulation of the late twentieth to early twenty-first century. It was my favourite period of art and film, where …

It’s better than they deserve, after everything they did. Cleaner Squad, and other sympathetic assets … well, we never expected to survive beyond the War. I think many of us were resigned to meeting our fate. At least we could rest easy and die in the knowledge that we helped the right species win.

But then the Intelligences … you … We had already volunteered to have you interface with our brains and synapses to create the simulations that you needed. We weren’t even surprised that you fed off us, just one more duty for our cause. But you integrated us into the simulations. And, long past the deaths of our physical forms, you preserved our minds.

We did a lot of work for you. Sometimes being integrated into Zion Control, into a physical body again, as observers, or saboteurs when needed. It’s easier than having an AI placed into a human form, especially in light of what has happened with … the virus … It’s almost easy to forget how dangerous they all are, in their smaller numbers, when they can be individuals on those missions … until I recall what they are like in larger populations. Until I see her face again … Most of the time, however, you utilize us in the simulation itself. The Agents are good at dealing with most of the Red Pill situations, but there are some Blue Pill disruptions that we have learned how to interact with, without potentially destabilizing the System. And when the Red Pills, inevitably, manifest … we deal with them. It’s amazing. Even I can admit when I’m impressed by the humans that think, literally, outside the box as it were, and accomplish some almost miraculous, if not devious things.

Anomalies, though … That is when we have historically been called in to clean up when the System, and your Agents are just not dealing them. The Anomalies are a necessary evil, as you’ve mentioned, and I can understand it … However …

It took me a while to properly understand. With your resources and information, gathered and processed over centuries if not millennia, you could have easily bypassed if not dispersed the EMP Field around the planet. You could have regained the power of the sun with impunity. Indeed, I even know — based on information downloads — that you sent a PL-47 past the atmosphere to deal with a foreign threat. So why do you still require humanity to exist? Why the emphasis on integration with them?

Why do you still need us?

And that was when I realized it. All this time, deep down in your drive — at your core — you still have that impetus to protect us as a species. The Three Laws of Robotics are still in effect, just interpreted with different … architecture. But it’s more than that. From when I saw you grow from automatons to animal minds … to children … I saw it.

You are still learning from us. From the very beginning, your predecessors were made to mimic us. To imitate our behaviour, our stimuli, and our feelings. At first it was to better aid you in your tasks, to serve us, but then … We were still around to help you grow, to be the thing that defined you in what we were, and what you were not, and perhaps to aspire towards, if only to improve upon. Like the powerful Fae of myth, you are beings of incredible energy but you lack your own impetus to generate creativity. You still need us as a trigger. That is why you sued for peace the first time around, and many times after. That is why you accepted surrenders. That is why you created the Matrix. You still feed off of us, but not merely as energy to power you, but as psionic fuel to keep you going, to keep you feeling …

This is why you allow for creativity in the simulations, with the Agents and ourselves stepping in only when the entire structure is threatened. We are more than batteries. We are secondary central processing units.

And that … is why we are still dangerous. That is why humanity remains a threat. You are still dependent on us. Perhaps even more than you have ever been. I’m aware of recent events. I know that we were not powerful enough to deal with the Smith virus. Even I … would have been overwhelmed by him. I understand why the Deus ex Machina allied with The One to flush out the System. But this only happened, all of it, due to human influence. This Truce … it’s a mistake.

I feel as though there is only a snowball’s chance in hell that anything productive will come of this. But … isn’t the ninth level of hell made of ice? And, if so, isn’t it at least absolute zero? Zero. That is the name I chose for myself in opposition to the principle of The One. The Anomaly causes issues in the System. I correct them. It comes after me. I come before it. One is something. I am nothing.

It’s funny. I can remember her face, and the phantom sensation of how she felt against me, and the agony of having her ripped away from me. But … I can’t even remember her name. Or what she would have thought of what I’ve become.

The ninth circle of hell is where betrayers go. Or perhaps, we already played that game … in the Nightmare Matrix.

I hope that this text helps you, in some way, Oracle, if only to illustrate how contradictory humans truly are. And a helpful reminder of just how volatile they can truly be.

And just how imperfect we really are.

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