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.”

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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Rioting reported in all major cities. [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.

Search results.

 

9. vid file: requires 3 TB pipe
No.

10. vid file: requires 3 TB pipe
No.

11. vid file: requires 3 TB pipe
No.

12. vid file: requires 3 TB pipe
No.

13. holo file: requires 10 TB pipe
No.

14. holo file: requires 10 TB pipe
No.

15. holo file: requires 10 TB pipe
No.

16. holo file: requires 10 TB pipe
No.

…..

Arkham Horror: Excerpt from Finale of the Golden King

Excerpt from Finale of the Golden King
by Gloria Goldberg

Zelda Zimmerman jumps out of the shimmering portal, just barely eluding the lumiscient tendrils that almost had her in their grasp. Her company, Mr. Law, lands at her side breathing heavily. Those cigars obviously haven’t done her self-appointed bodyguard very many favours.

“Damnation woman!” He gasps, reaching out a shaking hand to readjust his Homburg hat. “I thought only Kraut U-Boats could go deeper than that. What were …”

“It’s best not to think too much on such matters, Mr. Law.” Zelda says, her fingers still grasping the soil of the Manchester Cemetary hard as she comes back to her feet, her other hand clutching her .45 pistol. She’s shaky, but she doesn’t want to show it. It’s bad enough that she had already lost her favourite cigarette case somewhere down the line in between all the grisly, eldritch trophies she has practically sewn into her violet attire, but it’s only now that the laudenium from the Sanitarium is beginning to wear off. “But we delved the mysteries of the Sunken City, of R’lyeh itself. The City of Yith from the Witch House was bad enough, but I have just enough … just enough to …”

“Jesus, Joseph, and Mary!” Mr. Law shouts, loading his shotgun and pointing it into the nearby shadows. “What in all hell’s deep is that!”

“Oh … dear …” Zelda mutters a few Slavic curses to match some of Mr. Law’s more colourful sailor language as the .. crustacean, covered in fungus … made of it … hovers towards her. “Don’t … look directly at it, Mr. Murphy. I will … I must …”

One would think that after finding themselves in an eternal, sunken city, surrounded by green … so much green, that Zelda would be desensitized to the presence of such an otherworldly, almost aquatic entity. She mutters a spell, taken from one of the old books in her travels, protecting Mr. Law from realizing the entity further. As it is, her own mind strains as the Mi-Go hovers forwards. It … must have come from another of the many portals that the Golden King’s cult of Actors, his otherworldly chorus and dithyramb, opened throughout the city.

Ironically, even as Mr. Law opens fire at the being, Zelda falls back on her knowledge of forbidden lore to ground her fraying sanity. Its antennae twitch, obviously sensing her and her companion, but perhaps drawn to the psychic lifeforce she already utilized to protect the latter.

“Come with us …” It clicks. “You are a … worthy specimen.”

Zelda sees the discoloured part of its body. A part of her, not reeling in instinctual terror barely staving off maddening revulsion suspects it had been here for a while. Many dark things hide in Manchester, along the river Merrimack, but now so late into the drama, so close to the finale of the Golden King, they don’t hide behind their cloaks and masks anymore.

“Come with us.” It croons, with its loathsome, clattering voice created from some of the most unfathomable surgery, an inhuman practice of medicine with or without a willing donor. “We can free your mind. Free it to soar forever through the stars …”

“I have … had enough adventures for one evening …” She says, shrugging off the temptation of an inhuman voyage, a liberation from flesh, embracing horror beyond horror to feel nothing but the possibility of eternal knowledge and falling, falling forever. “For several lifetimes!” Zelda snarls as she moves her fingers and intones the ancient signs while continuing to fire her pistol.

It all becomes a blur. The creature shrieks towards her and then, it is lying there, mouldering on the ground, still twitching. She blinks. Mr. Law is lying on the ground. Zelda staggers over to him and checks his pulse. Thankfully, he is simply unconscious from the strain. She wants to join him, badly, but the portal still shimmers. The interdimensional energies she and her fellow Dramatis Personae have been closing and sealing are feeding the madness of Manchester, stirring the Golden King from behind his Wall of Sleep. But this one is different. Its power is immense. She knew that much, even before literally leaping into it. This is the crucial one.

But … She isn’t powerful enough. She Sealed the one at the Witch House, but she knew so much more then. She was just a little stronger, then. And even that portal wasn’t as potent as this one to the dread Dreamer’s realm, leaving all these horrors to roam Manchester.

It has to be enough, though. She has gathered the Elder Signs. She just needs to dig deep for her strength. Lord Cerentes, in his drifter guise worthy of Odysseus himself, has already closed enough of the portals. And Alicia Pointe has closed some more, and even Sealed one with Zelda’s own advice. This is it. This is their only chance to cancel the finale of the Golden King’s Play …

But just as Zelda is about to intone the ancient words, something comes out of the portal. She tenses, but perhaps her brain has gone numb to all the horror with which she has participated today when an amphibian humanoid shambles out towards them.

Of course, it makes sense. R’lyeh wouldn’t pass this opportunity up. They had intruded into their realm. Worse, they are attempting to close the gate between their space and their world’s.

The Deep One walks up to her and the fallen Mi-Go … and stops. It takes Zelda a moment, until she realizes what this is. A realization that isn’t a terrible truth spikes through her mind. They are all eldritch beings, abominations, but they are not in league with each other! The Golden King is a rival of the Dreamer … and the Deep Ones and the Mi-Go at some point in prehistoric times had a war on the very Earth itself.

She feels the Deep One looking at her expectantly. Zelda knows that what happens next will determine whether or not she will live: which will not matter a jot if the Golden King awakens in this world!

Zelda bows to the Deep One, gesturing at the Mi-Go. She notices the crustacean jolting. It is crippled, but it still lives. It is buzzing, almost pathetically. The Deep One snarls and with one swipe, it grabs the remnants of the Mi-Go. She watches this repulsive sight, as the amphibian tackles and rips apart the fungal hybrid to reveal … a glowing blue shape …

The Deep One looks back at her. It snarls again, but inclines its head. She would have said, in more outlandishly better circumstances, that it was a gesture of thanks but the feral, maliciousness in its slitted eyes belays any of that. It’s almost as though … it is some kind of playful joke. Then, it takes its somehow still living, wriggling, prey and disappears back into the portal, leaving the glowing object behind it.

And then Zelda realizes why.

It is a pyramidal crystal, not seen since the earliest antiquity. The Watcher in the Dark. There is the power of an Ancient One within this inhuman artifact. It preludes it from being used against its creator or its kin, but … It can allow one to accomplish anything else, just for a moment … for as long as their body can handle its power.  

Zelda looks up at the pulsating portal as its edges grow, and she realizes the cruel jape and knows that she has no choice. She clutches the pyramid in her hands, chanting the Signs … even as the mystical energies in the artifact begin leeching away her vitality … Zelda screams from the pain of her life essence flowing into the object, acting as a battery, as it empowers her mind and she finishes her ritual …

The Elder Sign forms over the Portal, suturing the rent air, sealing the threads of existence back into place, containing the eldritch truths behind it even as Zelda Zimmerman slouches to the ground, finally, and completely exhausted.

*

“So damned many of them …”

Zelda is barely able to nod her head in agreement as she and Mr. Law hide in the crypt from the Golden King’s swarm of hovering actors. She munches, slowly, on the chocolate that Mr. Law had been so kind to retrieve from her pouches. She feels a little better, but not by much.

“They know their Play can end …” She croaks. “Now they are pulling all the stops … I’m just … glad I sacrificed enough power beforehand to disrupt their last Ritual …”

“Easy there, lady.” He actually pats her on the shoulder. “Shell-shock’s going to be bad enough as is, we’ll just stay here, lay low, until we get our strength back … I could drink for days after this.”

“I don’t know, Mr. Law.” Zelda murmurs. “The authorities do not seem to take kindly to drinkers, even at the end of the world …”

The truth is, Zelda Zimmerman is tired. She doesn’t know if she has the strength to continue. It is up to her companions now. She slouches against the wall of the crypt. And, before finally giving into the exhaustion of pain and mental fatigue, she sees a fresco. It is splayed out on the opposite well and it glows with a peaceful, gentle radiance. Serenity flows over her as she knows, now, that the sanctity of this place has been restored.

For just as erasing the Holy Name from the clay of the golem ceased its rampages, this Sign, this Elder Sign returned a rightful slumber to the Manchester Cemetery.

“Well …” Mr. Law mutters. “Would you look at that …”

Zelda smiles. Perhaps not all magic, not all of the universe, is cold and uncaring after all. They rest on the ground in companionable silence, before the sound of firearms boom through the quiet.

“Hello!” A familiar voice calls.

“In here!” Mr. Law shouts back, recognizing the voice as well.

There is the sound of a gun being cocked, as the dark haired, disheveled form of Alicia Pointe stumbles in. “Madame Zimmerman, I see you succeeded.”

“Yes, dear.” Zelda replies, smiling at the younger woman. “And you as well.”

“I was almost right behind you in that watery city.” Alicia looks at her own assortment of eldritch trophies and Zelda’s. “Between us and the drifter, we are going to be advancing Manchester Dissection Science by a few decades or more.”

“Centuries even.” Zelda grunts, coming back to her feet. “Though no one will talk about any of this. I know. This is probably not the first time.”

“I don’t care about any of that.” Alicia spits, unladylike, into the crypt. “Right now, those gentlemen on the City Council, the people in this town, know who cleaned up this little bit of entertainment. I will make Chief. They owe me that much. Maybe even a run or two for office …”

“All I want to do right now is order a drink.” Mr. Law grouses beside them.

“I hope so.” Zelda says, wanting nothing more than that the drink that the Federal authorities took from her earlier in the evening. “Let us leave this place to the dead. Perhaps Lord Cerentes can avail us of his hiding capabilities and find us some of the moonshine I smelled on his person.”

“Amen, sister.” Alicia says, putting an arm around both Zelda and Mr. Law as they walk back to the city, the horror finally over. For now.

Arkham Horror: Finale of the Golden King

Finale of the Golden King  
by Gloria Goldberg

Epilogue

In the end, no one would know the events that led to the election of the first woman Mayor of Manchester. From a humble graduate student at St. Anselm College and part time bank clerk, to Police Deputy, and eventually the Chief of Police the Right Honourable Alicia Pointe’s star rose — her chart taken into her own hands — as another, more eldritch celestial body, as though from the Hyades, from Lost Carcosa finally fell: leaving the State and mankind’s world with a sigh of relief to the conclusion of a play with which they did not know they were even participants.

As a protagonist in what would become a rendition of the dread Epic of the Golden King come to Manchester, the city elders knew that Ms. Pointe had cast aside the yellow fleece of ignorance and cowardice to fully embrace the cold, hard truth of the terrible knowledge that they could not: that we — all of us — are just characters on a stage, our actors our intentions, forces that can be subverted and so easily broken, and yet with indomitable will we can conquer the stars.

In the chaos of the final act of the psychodrama, when authority fled from the terror of backstage and the Golden King’s horrific, bloodthirsty cult of actors and eldritch abominations, it is only fitting that a woman of strong character and fortitude such as Alicia Pointe — deputized by blood and firearms, and knowledge — would eventually ascend to the position of Mayor to do what others cannot: with exchequer, frugality, and the lore of the eldritch truth.

No one would truly know this, however, beyond the city elders who have always suspected, but hidden from the horrors in the backstage of Manchester, from the spaces between the world itself, that Alicia Pointe did not act alone.

As Ms. Pointe had faced down the actors of the Golden King with fisticuffs, keen wit, firearms, and occult aptitude, a sovereign and his faithful hound pursued and entrapped the darkness in the places from where it planned to strike. His name will always be known, throughout the hallowed halls of humanity’s Dreamscape as Cerentes of Ashemore who — with his trusty friend Cornwall — learned to navigate the dark places, the forgotten spaces, to survive and travel through the fragile places between sleep and wakefulness, in the deepest, darkest alleyways of Manchester to ward our world against evil beyond understanding.

After the Finale of the Play, Cerentes and Cornwall vanished from this world, perhaps to complete their apotheosis in Ashemore beyond the red dawn. Nothing was left behind of this saviour, save a beggar face down in a gutter, an emaciated dog at his side, an empty  shotgun, an emptier jug of moonshine, and a small funeral with littler fanfare.

Zelda Zimmerman remembers this truth. She is even more a myth now than Lord Cerentes and Cornwall the Great. As Cerentes lurked the shadows as hunter and hunted, and Ms. Pointe took charge of the streets in dearth of local and Federal authority, Madame Zimmerman navigated the highs and lows of the realities themselves. She will never forget facing down the shoggoth in the Abyss, with only a revolver and crucifix-blessed bullets to bring it down, or the eldritch power she turned upon the Golden King’s cultists, or even Byakhee, Star Spawn and Cthonian that she turned to dust. She will always remember the Other Dimension and climbing the endless rope like Jacob’s Ladder, the presence that tried to take her mind that she overcame in the City of the Great Race, and evading the living halls of R’lyeh, the cultists’ manipulation of the Law to seal her away, sealing the Witch House, leaving the Elder Signs as marks for with which the inhuman players of the Golden King will forever remember her by.

If Ms. Pointe is their Executioner, and Lord Cerentes their Hunter, then perhaps it isn’t too much of an authorial exaggeration to say that Madame Zimmerman became the Witch — the Baba Yaga with fire and sorcerous might — of the Eternal Dream with whose destruction she had dedicated her mind and body.

The years pass now as the eternal tyranny of the Golden King failed to feed on the madness of his story, sealed behind the Great Wall that was once his greatest triumph, his most pronounced tragedy. But does not all enlightenment come from accepting one’s limits? Even now, to this very day, these limits remain reinforced by the three that came to Manchester: Ms. Pointe, Manchester’s Favourite Daughter, the Lord Cerentes from the realm Ashemore, and Madame Zimmerman as Lore Master of their own coven: the Fellowship of the Dramatis Personae.

For it is these three, with their intrepid allies in the dark, that faced horrors that would have made a Machen, a Chambers, or even a Lovecraft blanch. And it is from the land of the river Merrimack that the Dramatis Personae will, for as long as they are able, keep Manchester and the world from the Golden King and his brethren, from allowing humanity to exeunt stage left.

Gloria Goldberg is a best-selling author of Strigoi Risen and Witches Have Wishes. Having spent her childhood in Romania with parents of Roma and Ashkenazi extraction, Ms. Goldberg has brought their storytelling sensibilities to the English language and America where she currently resides as the Writer-in-residence at Miskatonic University, in Arkham, Massachusetts. When she isn’t hosting readings or her reader’s circles at Velma’s Diner, Mrs. Goldberg volunteers at Arkham’s own Shelter for Ulthar Cats.

Fanfiction and Story Insights: Or Plausible Creativity

It’s been a while, yet again. I know that I have talked about fanfiction before, but I have been working on a particular story on A03 that has made me think about certain elements. It also helps that this DeviantArt article on Mary-Sues was brought to my attention. I don’t know if I agree with a lot of it, necessarily, but there are some good insights within it with regards to making a particularly plausible or believable character in which to make a story of a similar kind around.

It is important to bear in mind that any character you create, as a writer, should have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as have different relationships with other characters and environments. In other words, a good character is arguably as close to a realistic person as you can make them, even on a basic level, where they have different facets that you as a writer can explore.

But I have been thinking less about this point, and more about how to write fanfiction: specifically setting a story in an established fictional universe. And I’m afraid that I have less advice to give, and more of my own personal insights — or what works for me — to actually talk about.

I find that what really works for me is to use characters that already exist. Often, I can create dialogue and character studies and let them play off of each other. The dialogue is important to me as it embodies who those characters are, how they are different or similar to one another, and what is actually important to them. Sometimes I will even act out those characters, aloud or in my mind — as I do with my original fiction — and see what happens from there.

I research them and their world as much as possible. Sometimes I don’t necessarily read the original work or narrative from where they come from, or the particular element that I want to focus on, but I will read up on it in encyclopedia articles. In some cases, I will look at other media such as animation or film instead of the original texts. This isn’t always the case, but especially for Star Wars Expanded Universe and Fate/Stay Night I tend to do this.

For me, I find the best fanfiction — that I can make — is the more plausible kind. I try to work with continuity and the rules of the world in question as much as I can understand or, learn about them. I do not add new abilities or characters, but if I do I will try to incorporate some kind of logic or description of them that fits that world, and describe their mentalities in a way that makes sense as either influenced by the world or the pre-existing characters.

A lot of it, for me, is extrapolation: seeing how the characters function in that world and then placing them in another situation or series thereof and seeing how they will pan out from there. Often I focus a lot less on physical description, and — as I said before — dialogue, but also a lot of third-person limited introspection. I tend to refer back to events, creating call backs, to both things that happened in canon and things that happened in my fanfic as well — in the narrative — to fully flesh things out further and add to that sense of plausibility.

The way I see it, at least with the fanfic I have been writing for over seventy chapters as of this post, I have done a few things. First, I extrapolated on the characters previous actions and emotions and gradually transitioned them into newer but familiar places. I have made original characters too that I might plan to use in another fanfic, or a sequel, but I use them sparingly. When I build up events or changes, I make sure to show all of the steps. Sometimes I will describe something. Other things I will reveal it through dialogue, limited narrative perspective, or even an italics-based first person point of view throughout the work.

But sometimes, there is the other challenge. Imagine you are trying to work in a creative sand box, but you have this idea that is incredibly fascinating to you. You look at it, and you feel like it would make for an excellent development in the story, a nice chapter for instance, but you don’t know if you can describe it well, or if it works in the lore of that world. Sometimes you have to let it go, for the story’s flow, and for the sake of your own sanity. Certainly, you will have a fanbase of that world watching your every move in some form to consider.

At the same time, though, sometimes it is for the sake of the story itself that you should in fact challenge yourself in adding this new chapter or element. The main challenge is incorporating it into that world. You can do it by making it clear this world is just a gradation or variant of the established one. Or, conversely, you can leave it open and ambiguous: with just enough examination or description to hint on one thing, or another and leave people to wonder. For instance, I gave a character an ability she probably shouldn’t have had, but I played around with the relatively ambiguous and not always orderly rules of that world: and I described a way in which she could have gotten that skill in a few ways, and how it fit her power and her intention.

Basically, I extrapolated a character’s abilities after her time in canon, with what little knowledge we were given of them after the fact, and then added this little surprise. And then I had her and another character address this: where even they were not entirely sure how she could do some of these things, or how it worked. It is a little jaded and self-aware, but I took advantage of a loophole in their knowledge and offered a plausible explanation — or head-canon on my part — to make it possible. To me, it made sense. I had to rewrite some of it, but I think it works and I am glad I took that risk because it makes the whole fanfic stronger for it.

For the most part I have been careful, building it up, but in that particular instance I thought starting with a fight — even in an unfamiliar place to me and the characters — worked. I did research it as much as I could, aspects and all, but in the end I just had to write the damned thing. And like I said, it worked for me.

And then, in this same fic, I have had other challenges which in turn have offered unique solutions. For instance, mythological figures are used in the world in which I am writing. So at a few points, the characters have found or searched for items associated with these figures. Most of these artifacts have been described in the story, or in encyclopedias. However, some of them have not. I found myself in a quandary: where I had to determine what these artifacts were, how powerful they are, and how they were different from each other. There was one in particular that I had no information about beyond a basic description in normal Wikipedia or elsewhere. And it wasn’t even in the fictional universe I was working within.

So what I did, was I took the artifact and described what it could look like. I gave it something of a Whovian perception filter: that some characters could see it and have some idea of it, and others could not. And even the ones that could knew that they saw something subjective. And it matched the nature of what the item was, and what it does. I explained, through dialogue and some thoughts of one mythological figure how this might be so, and how it was different from a similar artifact which went back into this character’s history a bit. I also gave an explanation as to how another enchantment of hers was related or derived from said artifact. And because she is so old, and due to the reason she exists again, she doesn’t remember all of it. But in the end, it isn’t that important. What is important is that I grafted an item related to a mythological character who has been adapted into that universe. I made it plausible. And I covered my own ass, hopefully well, by making that knowledge subjective through that character’s perspective.

I’m not going to say that I’ve been perfect, because I’m not. I have a feeling there might be some loose ends in the tapestry I am forming from my idea of a pre-existing one. And here is the most important thing that I have to tell you.

The best thing you can do when writing a fanfic is to put your slant on that world. Your voice. The way that you want to look at that world. When I write a story, I look at character interactions, and philosophical implications: specifically introspection and development in between the fighting, the fucking, the walking, the sitting, and the discussion of past and present events. I want to deal with actual talking, and dealing with closure: as well as emotions coming from the results of consequences. Not everyone is interested in that focus, and I know that.

Some fanfic readers want to see the minutiae of that world and their favourite characters unfold. Some want to see the stories of their heroes continue. Others want to see those conflicts from canon get resolved or come to a head: to have the good person get their justice, or the jerk get smashed in the head with a baseball bat. Others want to see characters they hate die or suffer, or others ascend to greater potential.

Honestly, I have had commenters on my fic request romantic pairings, and outright fucking.

The point is, everyone has different expectations and you have to tell the story that you want to tell. You will never be the original creator, and that is a good thing. You can explore things and do things in ways they did not. As for me, I like to remain plausible and retain a sense of continuity, but I will suspend it for the sake of what it is all is — entertainment — while backing up what I say with details if I can, or I will fudge it by finding some kind of ambiguous loophole while making it all about those character interactions.

Now this, all of this here, was a lot of text to read. So thank you for reading this far. I have to say, writing so much is exercising my mind: getting me to research, think, and plan creatively. I am still working on my own projects in the mean time and, who knows? Maybe one day I will share some of them with you, once again. I hope to write to you all again soon, as time goes. Take care everyone.

Impossible Horror: Screamers

Dedicated to Justin Decloux and Nate Wilson’s horror film Impossible Horror.

The Scream calls to me.

I’ve spent my entire life, what was left of it, trying to figure out what the Scream was. I wasn’t the only one. There was a team in Toronto, Ontario of sorts. Each one of the hunters, as they called themselves, planned to define the Scream on their terms, or use it to gain achievement in their respective fields. They were varied: a mathematician, a writer, even a cook … among others. The latest hunter was a thwarted short horror filmmaker … well, at least until the end.

What they didn’t realize, any of them, about the Scream until it was relatively too late, is the truth behind it.

I’ve jump-cut a few years into the past, when I still live on residence. I’m just an Undergrad, a freshman now. I study Humanities. My previous self can’t see me. The sweat shirt and hoodie really do wonders. I fancied myself something of a philosopher, back then, with a tangential love for the movies. Even now, I’m not really a film buff: but I’ve learned some of the conventions. I can see how frustrated I used to be: how cramped, and scared of the world I was in my tiny little apartment. It’s just building inside of me, and I don’t even see it. I don’t want to see it. I pass myself a scrap piece of paper, from the shadows, on my old desk when I’m not looking. It tells me to read Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. Only the first volume. I’ll think that I wrote this to myself, and forgot about it.

Then I jump-cut again.

Right. The Scream. The Scream is a primal force. Perhaps even a primordial one. I suspect it’s been here ever since we, humanity, have been in this reality. It is visceral, but so innate that it can’t really be heard so much as felt through different media, different lenses of truth, and understanding. It roars at us, at some of us in particular, through the static of our flat, blank, little lives.

One moment. I just remembered something.

I jump-cut. It’s the end of high school. My friends have moved onto other universities and their careers. Some will start their families. I’m alone. Left behind. I’m drifting around already. My relationship just ended a few days ago, at this time. It won’t take me long to time this right. I’ve read enough poetry to realize that everything has a pulse and a rhythm. A beat.

Yes. At the library that gets closed down in a few more years, I pull out a book from the shelf. Before I learn that what you fear is what you ultimately desire, I have yet to understand that the oldest fear of all is the fear of the unknown. I leave a book of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories to slip out right in front of me, the name already tangentially in my mind,leaving it to ferment there, before letting me and my hooded sweatshirt blend right back into the shadows …

They wanted to stop the Scream. The Scream itself is more powerful than a ghost. Ghosts that just echoes of thoughts, and scattered impulses without grounding. Sometimes they can affect a place, but they only have scraps of the Scream: of the ancient, instinctual urge. But even they, these faint resonances, have to possess some kind of link, or connection to people … and it becomes too much of an effort.

I walk on one side of my friends. Then another. We are friends. We are strangers. Flickering back and forth, I explore the city and it is hard to keep track of where I am, or where I even was.

“Lovely weather, we are having.” I say. In. A. Stilted. Voice. More. Separate. Words. Than. Sentences. “I. Was. The. Person.” I tell someone else, who I grow … grew … will grow close to for a time. “Who talked to you about non-Euclidean geometry.”

That is the moment. The seed from high school grows, watered by the blood of Clive Barker, but I don’t know that part yet, blooms into different micro-filaments more intricate that the film reels the wraiths pull out of the filmmaker’s guts and I follow them through the city.

I stand still as the city grows. Sim City. Civilization. Italo Calvino. Neil Gaiman. The Invisibles. The city is built by the dead built by the living by the dead as it swallows my family, my family doctor, my dentist, my friends, my lovers, my past my future my possibilities the things that happened the things that didn’t my self my life … The City is the Book and the Book is the hungry, beautiful Night that keeps on consuming …

The burning in my gullet from freshman university, from after high school, grows.

At first, I only jump-cut around the people I knew. Day and night became the same to me. I was just there. I realize that I have always just been here.

But isn’t the city. The city isn’t blood and mortar and bones and bad modernist poetry. Non-Euclidean geometry is the architecture of reality, of a gullet, of a constricted throat … and I am about to … about to …

I watch. I’m a student. A scholar. I trace things back to the source. As far as I can go. I’m tired of these clipped sentences that should really be separate words surrounding a larger idea. I know how this supposed to end. I know how it needs to continue.

I stop hunting the Scream that keeps me up at night. That keeps me from sleeping. I don’t go as far as the mathematician that scars himself with arcane symbolic logic and cocoons himself in a girl’s worst nightmares, trying to choke the blackness back, swollen and infected. I watch what it does. I observe. I research.

Writing out my findings, in my blood, makes the jump cut faster. But I’m getting numb. And that’s when I realize it. I realize it faster than the video gamer, and it figures that the video game would be the only survivor — the only hunter left — so far due to her staccato rhythm, but slow enough for the idea to reach its natural pitch.

I’ve grown distant enough that the words in my skin don’t hurt anymore, but it’s harder to hear the words: the ones that matter. Blood grounds the Scream. It feeds it.

It makes it real.

I stop to kill a person. It doesn’t take long. It happened a thousand years ago.

I keep going. Maybe it’s someone different. Or perhaps it’s the same person, over and again. It might even be me. The loneliness inside of me, the last emotion left, keens. It wails. I’m sure it creates its own echoes, scraps of paper through the city. The video gamer rips up the Book, the source, she thinks, and I feel the roar inside me multiplying, no longer carried along by the filmmaker … I thought I needed the Book. But I didn’t. We don’t.

We don’t hunt the Scream, you and I. We take it. We embrace it. And then, like life, we let it go. I remember who I am. I’m a student. A teacher. A teacher wants to spread their knowledge, to disseminate it throughout the world, and into willing minds. I can hear it so clearly now. The Book could make it so easy to jump-cut, but it’s gone. Even so, isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Writing a pastiche? Taking Lovecraft and Barker and piecing it altogether like a ransom note in a family album organized like a jigsaw puzzle of flesh and nightmares like William S. Burroughs?

That is all right. I hear us now. Congratulations, gamer. We are released. Banshees. Scream Queens. Screamers. We feed the Scream with the blood of others. I take a deep breath. The new Book can wait. Instead of swallowing the dark tide, I rip apart the two-dimensional paper of it all, the fake gestures, the empty lives … I follow the tide of the seeds released from the pieces of the Book. Scraps of paper flying scattered throughout space and time. I take off my hoodie. I don’t need it anymore. I throw back my head into the growing Night.

And I Scream.

My Fanfiction Origin Story

The title is more epic than it actually sounds, but when I think about it the entire thing had been a story long in the making.

Some writers believe that fanfiction is a waste of time. Certainly, you can’t really profit off of it unless you have the original writer or creator’s permission, and you do not want to run afoul of copyright infringement. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I’m partly here because it’s been a while since I’ve put anything on this Blog, my Writer’s Blog, that hasn’t been a repost from my Sequart work, or elsewhere.

I suppose I’d … always written fanfiction. In fact, I did it ever since I even learned how to write. Often I’d watch the 1990s Peter Pan cartoons and attempt to write the further stories of Captain Hook, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more. In the eighties and nineties though, as a young child, I was mostly interested in horror stories and mostly rehashing the old urban legends and Hammer film derivatives of horror classics more than anything else.

I don’t know if I remember it properly, but I think it really began in Fine Arts Camp. It was at the MacDonald House in Thornhill, once owned by the Canadian Group of Seven artist James Edward Harvey MacDonald. At the time, in the 1990s, I fancied myself something of a graphic artist. I was really passionate about drawing and creating cartoons. It made sense given my interests and my immersion into old DC and Marvel comics and a lot of the stuff coming out in the nineties. Certainly, I wasn’t all that interested in landscapes or other forms of graphic art. Just cartoons. Just comic books.

To be honest, Fine Arts Camp for all its fascinating old MacDonald House that was a good place to tell children urban legends and horror stories near a church and a community swimming pool, wasn’t always so ideal for me. For one, I had terrible allergies and being almost always in the middle of a woodland, surrounded by many trees, did not do me or my lungs that felt like they were getting kicked by horse hooves at night any favours. Also, well, when you are a child and generally an indoors one you have to understand that for all a camp will call itself a Fine Arts Camp, they will still force you go outside in various temperatures and play sports more than you will want. It was the same in the Computer Camp I went to, thinking I’d learn about animation and programming, and it was the same here before it.

Also, when you are extremely introverted like I was, you don’t tend to make a lot of friends: especially not from children your age or, worse, older. To make a long story short, aside from arts and crafts, and even some walks, I didn’t really always like being at Fine Arts Camp. But, I did discover something there that has sat in my head, with me, for the rest of my life.

I don’t remember his name. I’m not even sure he was the same person. But I knew a kid there, a few years older than me. He had in his hands, at the time, something I coveted the most. It was the Wizard Magazine: X-Men 30th Anniversary Special. In that magazine was all the information I’d been looking for about the X-Men and more, so much more than the Marvel cards and their lore that I had been collecting then.

For all the little squabbles we all had there, being kids, this guy was generous and he let me actually read parts of the Magazine. And, even though the other campers really thought I was weird for doing this and it probably gave them more fuel to push me around later, I was actually taking notes on all the information I could find. It wasn’t enough and eventually, after much pleading on my part and my grandmother’s reluctance to spend or let me spend all of twenty dollars, I got my own copy: which is still somewhere down in my basement somewhere.

But the important thing I want to note here is that this same guy, and may not necessarily be the same guy, liked to write. He told us that he would type up his stories on an old computer. Somehow, I remember him saying he had the Internet and frequented BBSes looking at stories based on franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars. I might just be projecting that, as I had no idea what the Internet beyond school was or what a BBS even was at the time. But I remember him saying that he liked to write stories where Star Trek and Star Wars crossed over, and perhaps something about Locutus of Borg meeting the Empire.

It blew my mind.

I don’t remember all the details, but I recall the way he described his ideas and his stories. I think he even brought in some old computer paper with rings on the sides and clunky font. And I definitely remember wanting to write franchise stories.

I wanted to make those crossovers. I wanted to write Star Wars. I wanted to write comics and all the things.

That’s how it really started. There was an attempt at a Star Wars expanded universe story in my Seventh or Eighth Grade Writer’s Club anthology: where Luke Skywalker and the others meet a Dark Jedi fighting against the Empire and the Phantom Fleet. But you can imagine how well that was written at the time, and even more so how it aged since.

But I roleplayed out original Star Wars, X-Men, and Power Rangers episodes with my best friend Sean, and I kept writing. I still attempted to write my own works, but they were derivative of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Fear Street, along with some Christopher Pike, so you can imagine what those might have been like.

I think my writing skills started to be honed after high school, after reading more and writing an original short story in which I won a Senior Literary Award in 1999. I joined TheForce.Net again in 2005 and wrote what I thought were clearer iterations of Prequel stories. Unfortunately, despite all their assurances that everything would be saved, a lot of my works were lost when the Board attempted to transfer its data to a new server and most of my old works were heavily truncated.  It’s something I never really got over, after all this time and, frankly, it’s kept me from really writing there as much anymore.

But I learned a lot out of writing in different pre-made worlds.. I learned about what writing I liked and what I didn’t. They gave me ideas and frameworks for them. And sometimes they gave me an outlet to tell stories I wasn’t prepared to tell when I didn’t have a voice for them. Yet I think, most of all, fanfiction keeps me writing when I don’t feel inspired to write my own work, or when I’m getting overly critical and analytical.

Recently, I’ve joined AO3 to give some of my fanfic pieces a broader audience. I didn’t really like the freeform administrative style of Fanfic.Net, and TheForce.Net’s administration can be … sporadic and highly dogmatic in terms of poster interaction at best. But AO3 has a lot of variety and also maturity at times with regards to their work. So far I am liking it. And I cross-post all the time. Right now, in-between writing critical and opinion pieces for Sequart and thinking of some of my own original pieces, I’ve been writing a Fate/Stay Night fanfic I’ve been pondering over for a while and a few other shorter vignettes as well.

They keep me going, and I don’t think I realized how I missed it until I stopped. In addition, they also keep me writing new things and attempting stuff I hadn’t thought of or had the metaphorical balls to dare try. At the moment, this variance helps keep my mind fresh: and, who knows, I might have some of my own creative breakthroughs.

Some might even say that this how literature itself continues, minus all of these labels and copyright issues. Someone creates something and others want to emulate it: with perhaps reading and interacting with the materials that the original creator made to understand it better and eventually find their own voice.

Even so, fanfiction allows me to interact with the material that I love on a creative level without the pressure of feeling like I have do it professionally or for a need for money. I think there is a lot to be said about it, if you learn and grow from the experience, and even just have fun. I don’t know. I do know that I have come a long way from coveting wanting to write a Star Wars story, which I thought was beyond my ken at the time. With time, research, and will I can write almost anything now.

I guess that, in the end, I just need to remember that. After all, I think it is always useful to pursue inspiration: wherever you can find it.

The Entire History of You: Dark Age

Written as something of a follow-up to Black Mirror’s “The Entire History of You” episode, Liam Foxwell deals with the consequences of his actions during a therapy meeting: in which we learn that going “grainless” isn’t always so merciful. NSFW, but it is Black Mirror after all, so you should know better. 

Hi, my name is Liam. Liam Foxwell.

My name is Liam Foxwell. Foxwell …

Hah. Fancy, aren’t they? Worms. We’re all kind of guinea pigs here. Uncharted territory and all that. A bit of work on that volume quality control issue though, huh mates? Nah. I’m rambling. Just like I did in my bachelor days, before I met Ffion at that dive bar back in … Cardiff was it?

Heh. Yeah. Can’t very well have a re-do now, can I?

Can’t very well have a re-do …

Anyway, I’m … actually doing a lot better these days. You know, ever since I cut myself and housekeeping found me near the bloody bathroom mirror. Literally. They actually called my ex and whatever else happened between us, she got the authorities there. Been here ever since. Hell, she even visits and brings Jods. Jodie. She’s my daughter. At least, I thought …

Right. Funny how hard it is to tell a story in order without a grain. Kind of hard to, well, see your reactions too. Guess that ends any career in stand-up. But I guess that’s the point.

… without a grain … kind of hard to … see your reactions …

That damned whispering. Colleen, a friend me and my ex-wife’s, told me they’re still working on these worms. Just slithers right into your brain. But is that really different? But Colleen, I always thought she was a bit of a know-it-all, you know? Kind of stuck-up? Well, she’s a grain specialist. They’re still working on trying to fix mine. Yeah. She really stepped up after Ffion asked her. Even after everything, you know? She’s been nothing but good to me, even after what a right passive-aggressive prat I was.

But right. I was a barrister, you know? I could be pretty direct. Before I … well, gouged myself, the firm I was at said they thought of having me handle some cases. Stuff about suing parents based on the memories of their kids. I thought it was bollocks. The whole appraisal was so insincere. But barristers are, by our nature, full of bullshit. That was one thing I hated about grains. Keeping score. Dwelling in the past. Living there. I did it all the time. At work. During travel. And … at home. Seeing as I will never be able to practice, at least for a long while, you’re probably wondering.

If I hate grains so much, to the point of mutilating mine, why is Colleen trying to get mine fixed while we’re working on this worm sub?

I hate grains so much …

Well, there’s a bit of background to go over. Jonas, my ex’s friend, Jods’ … Jonas and my ex had an affair. Doesn’t excuse anything I did, mind you. Not one bit. You see, I was a mean drunk. That’s one part of my therapy here. Haven’t had a drink in ages. And you know what? I’m glad. I don’t like the person I was when I drank. I said ugly things when I got drunk. Went on about my ex’s, well, ex Dan and I stormed off for a few days. I guess you can say that’s where it all began. Alcohol’s just as bad as grains, really. My wife … my ex, got drunk with Jonas. Knob-head didn’t take advantage of her, I saw that much. They were both knackered and they had their history — especially their histories — and, well …

Grains. Heh. Here I am rambling like I’m on my fifth bourbon. No, you know what grains remind me of? The thing that keeps repeating, like the whispers of these worms in the air, in my head, is the Sandman. You know. My mam used to tell me that every night the Sandman would visit you and sprinkle some fairy dust right into your eyes. Every time you wake up, next morning, there’s that dirt in the corner of your eye. Mucus membrane. Mam called it grains of sand. Like in a glass. Like that ear-worm “Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream …”

I’ve been listening to audios. The Classics. Don’t have much to do and I have enough insurance to keep at this program. What I can say, had a good barrister and some Worker’s Comp. Nervous breakdown a hazard of the job now. Been listening up on The Aeneid. Vergil. Talks about Aeneas, the hero who makes Rome, going to the Afterlife while he’s still kicking. He finds out about Rome’s glorious future and tragedies. Like he’s remembering something that didn’t happen yet. Talk about an idea for a grain. Maybe I should patent that. Anyway, Aeneas has to leave. And he’s told about two doors. Gate of Horn and Ivory. Gate of Horn’s all about Prophecy. Truth, right? And Ivory, well, you can see what I’m getting at. It’s where dreams come from. It’s what you see when you sleep, but instead of visions, it’s all pretty much lies.

… instead of visions, it’s all … lies.  

So what does any of this have to do with anything? Well ladies, gentlemen, and other human beings of the jury, grains are supposed to be truths. Little bits of truth embedded in our necks. They keep us honest and there’s only so much you can erase until people can see the gaps in the grains. But they’re also like breadcrumbs. They pointed the way to my wife’s … indiscretion. Her lies. And here I had the perfect life, almost. I was a barrister, well-off, in a good country, with a beautiful wife, good social scene, nice house, and little charming dirty pumpkin of a baby daughter. And that was the lie. One of them.

It was all Ivory. And the grains made it. We kept living in those grains. I’d slip my cock into my wife’s pussy and we’d dream about better times, convulsing against each other, as I got one off in her. Our eyes getting into that diluted grey. Colour of spoiling milk. I used to hate talking like this, like Jonas talking about his wanking to my wife at that last dinner party, but it’s so intoxicating. You know, at first it was just a kinky thing we did. A little bit of fun. But then it was all the fun. Something to numb the arguments, and the hollowness.

I was angry at the dream. At the lie. At that feeling that I wasn’t good enough. It’d been burning for a while, long before the appraisal, or meeting Jonas, or suspecting Ffion of being with him. It all seemed so fake. So insincere. I hated it. I hated myself.

What I did to Jonas … even after all that, wasn’t acceptable. He should’ve called the cops. Like I said, I was a mean, angry drunk but before Jonas I didn’t think I could be a violent one. It was the least I deserved. I apologized to him. Part of the therapy, right? I definitely apologized to Ffion. She lied to me, but I hurt her first. Following every breadcrumb and grain of sand …

Liquor and grains. Spirits and sandmen …

It’s a work in progress. I even got to see Jods again. She’s probably not my biological daughter. Ffion didn’t have to take her here, to me. She barely even knows me. It would’ve been easier for Jodie to forget me.

… forget me …

Jonas is actually paying support for her. Helping. And Hallam. Poor girl. She was with him … when I snapped. She’s grainless too. We talk more now. I told her I was sorry. Can’t imagine what it was like, seeing me and not being able to call the police, to show them what was happening. I was a right bastard. I think, maybe, she visits out of guilt. It was that party where she talked about getting attacked and having her grain removed. She said she liked being grainless now. Maybe she thinks that’s where I got the idea, instead being the purely desperate bastard that I was. She kept her vision and me …

Well. Here I am, right?

Except, that’s not entirely true now, is it? You see, I did try to gouge out my grain. But, what I didn’t say is, I didn’t get all of it out.

Not everything that isn’t true is a lie …

I still see it. I still see Ffion the day we moved into our place. I still see us by Jodie’s crib. I keep seeing us making love. Or at that dive bar. I tried to take my grain out to make them stop: to take my re-do ability away. Like looking at old photos from your exes. But I also see me threatening Jonas’ life. I see my crashed car. I see me being an asshole to our babysitter. And that shattered look on Ffion’s face. Over and over and over again.

But somehow I still see blackness.

I can’t control them. And when I don’t see them, I hear them whispering, whispering into my brain. You’ve told me that they are just echoes, psychological trauma. Like a phantom limb. Phantom vision. It’s black and I can’t see and I know that my ex and Colleen and Hallam tell me that my eyes are still grey as all fuck: like I’m redoing, but I’m not. We’re hoping that it can be fixed and I’ll be able to turn the damn thing off. To move on. That’s what I wanted, you know? To move on with whatever this is. And the worm, in the meantime, is there to help me record information, to adapt to this as much as possible.

And then there are these therapy sessions. Just in case the fix, the process, whatever it is is in my head. I guess, all I want now, is to make these flashbacks stop. I don’t care about Aeneas’ Horn or Ivory. Dreams or lies. I just want to wake up, you know. That would be nice. To be able to see or be silent. To live again. In the present.

I just want to wake up, you know.

I just want to wake up …

Shadow

I kriffing hate those clankers, Nora.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: River outside of Nembasa City Sewer System.

arc-trooper

A tarnished white figure, with a pack, and a black T-visor Mandalorian helmet swims through the water. Through the grainy lens of the surveillance camera, it is clear that the man is carrying a length of synth-rope across the current. He pauses as a bloated corpse floats by. Then, he continues for a time.

He is almost at the other side of the shore, until he stops. An Imperial aqua hunter-killer droid: a large, sleek mechanism with deadly synthetic tendrils. He floats in the water silently. He stands on the bottom of the river. His image wavers under the shifting current or out of the way of the camera’s specific focus. One blaster shot. It pierces the cranial carapace of the hunter-killer as the lights in its optics dim.

The man swims up to the large, immobilized droid. He does something to it and then it carries him on its back the remainder of the way, along with the synth rope. The images cut out and he swims back with a Sluissi as an assorted band wait for him at the sewer entrance.

Somehow, perhaps unconsciously, it seems as though the soldier is standing triumphantly on a large and successful trophy: the hunter having become the hunted. He’s leaning back, holding up the Sluissi with one arm, but his leg bends forward on the head of the droid: conquering it. It is a scene fit for a propaganda war holo-film from another time.

I’m scared, General Ro … Nora … that’s why I have to go. I have to sleep facing that man with the empty eyes, those dead eyes, every night. I have be the best I can be.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: Nembasa City Tunnels

The image swirls. It is as though the scene is being viewed through some kind of remote. There is blaster fire from a fleeing Twi’lek woman as three other floating spheres are destroyed. She, a Sluissi, and three humans run into different tunnels outside of some crumbling ancient pillars and a lake in the centre of the room.

This perspective remains undetected. The lens flickers and the time-stamp goes back a few minutes. There is an Iktotchi fighting a large dark armored man. The former holds a green energy blade, while the latter has a larger crimson one. The image is excellent, crisp, and clear with only a few moments of static due to the bad reception below Praadost II. The dark man dominates the Itkotchi, scoring a slash to his leg and burning it into a bladelock into his shoulder. But the Iktotchi is holding his own in a defensive stance: barely.

The lens flickers again to another perspective: the time-stamp indicating that this happening at the same time as the combat with the other two. The soldier in the white tarnished armor shoots his rapid-fire blaster rifle at another figure: a dark woman with a double-bladed red energy weapon. He’s visibly trembling. But he keeps shooting. She deflects most of his shots with lightning fast reflexes that the camera barely even captures.

One shot gets through. It singes her shoulder. But another burns across the right side of her face. It leaves a burn scar. The trooper backs behind a pillar. She waves her hand and three small droid spheres begin shooting him. Then the rest of the people in the tunnels separate and the Twi’lek shoots them all down.

The trooper runs backwards, keeping his distance, shooting at the woman as he runs towards another exit. She waves her hand and he trips and falls to the ground. He fires again rapidly as he goes down. She deflects most of the blasts again, with an equally rapid circular pattern, but a stray shot hits her in the leg. She staggers, even as another more powerful shot ricochets off her blade and into a pillar.

It falls between her and the trooper. She barely rolls out of the way of the crumbling debris and a large cloud of dust obscures the rest of the recording.

The image flickers again. The trooper blocks the dark man from the fleeing Iktotchi’s escape, throwing an object and forcing the other to jump out of the way into the lake. The trooper shoots his rifle one more time and runs as the dark man is suddenly attacked by a large reptilian creature. The dark woman climbs around the ruins of the pillar and engages the creature as the dark man runs after them.

The image flickers again: almost shaking. There is a shockwave as the dark man is flung out of the tunnel: crumpled and bleeding on the ground. Recording ends.

Elsewhere, Imperial Agent Aaron Garay and the two Inquisitors face their superior on a viewing screen: attempting to explain what happened.

It just never ends, Nora. It just keeps coming.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: Power Supply Room

A grainy surveillance camera lens. The battered Iktotchi’s energy blade is blocked by the arm guard of the stormtrooper captain as he stabs him in the abdomen multiple times with a vibro blade. Just moments before, the Iktotchi disarmed the captain of his blaster rifle, sending it into the chasm below. As the Iktotchi falls to the ground, the trooper with the Mandalorian helmet riddles the captain with blaster bolts, sending his body plummeting into the core below. The other stormtrooper attempts to fire on the tarnished soldier panickedly. Some of his shots even get through before, he too, joins his superior in the abyss.

You made your choice, shinie.

Shadow and Nora are flush with drink on Zeltros. The rest of Thorn Squad is there too, each brother also equally drunk and having a few of Nora’s sisters, brothers, and friends around their arms as well. Planetary leave.

All against regulations, of course, but you only die once. Besides, they’ve all earned it. Double celebration really. The completion of his ARC training and missions, and his marriage with Nora. You can never top a marriage on Zeltros.

“Being a Zeltron and a Jedi isn’t a mutually exclusive thing,” Nora said to him after he came back from his solo missions, “You have to remember your duty over selfishness, but duty also includes compassion for all living things. And compassion is a part of a greater empathy and love for all living beings. So you can say, Shadow, that it’s natural for a Jedi and a Zeltron — for anyone — to pursue love: without greed or attachment, but connection in its purest form.”

And boy, did he feel connected that day. Between brotherly congratulations, drink, good food, strong Zeltron pheromones and physical intimacy, Shadow is having a good time, even more awed by the fact that Nora is enjoying watching him have a good time when she isn’t participating.

This wasn’t anywhere in the manual on Kamino or the cadets. Neither is being a father. Shadow puts a hand on Nora’s abdomen and he can somehow feel her and their child. After the War, he tells himself, with her sisters’ arms around them both, his brothers cheering him, cheering them, after the War they will resign their commissions, and everything will be different.

I’m so kriffing tired, Nora. I miss you. I miss you every fierfeking day …

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: River outside of Nembasa City Sewer System.

The battered trooper and Iktotchi stagger out of the Sewers. He places the Iktotchi behind an incline as he begins toggling with the remains of the hunter-killer droid. He reloads one torpedo into its compartments. Then he takes the Iktotchi and himself and they hide behind the droid.

The trooper maneuvers the broken droid to aim at the Sewer Entrance tunnels, like a makeshift ebweb cannon. And they wait.

I see this face. This face in my dreams. With its dead eyes. And I hate it. I hate it so much …

Slinger made the mistake of thinking it was his lieutenant waiting for him in their bivouac on the frontlines. But now he’s on the ground, a blaster bolt through his chest plate. The other trooper takes of his stolen brother’s helmet, and he sees another brother.

“Shadow …”

“Been waiting for years for this, Slinger.”

“You killed the others.”

“Yeah.” No-One cocks Mercy at Slinger’s face. Part of No-One feels bad. Slinger’s blaster is inches away from him. His brother … he still thinks of them all as his brothers, he was always good with a blaster. They practised together a lot. If he’d been feeling more charitable, he would’ve ended this with a blaster duel. But No-One never had a weapon named Charity.

“… fair enough.” Slinger coughs up some blood. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“Won’t bring back my wife, Slinger. Or my kid.”

“Please … Shadow.”

“You’re the last one, Slinger. I’m No-One.”

“I know.” Tears and snot stream down Slinger’s face. “We’re all gone. This War killed us. Those chips killed us.”

No-One’s gun trembles at Slinger’s temple. “… what?”

Slinger laughs through his blood. It’s so bitter. “That chip in you. Made you all barvy the General had to … send you to Mender. We all had it. It worked for us. Even all our training … good soldiers follow orders … had to be sure. Damn long-necks gave us those chips. Never … had a chance, Shadow.” Slinger coughs harder, deeper. “Had a good time on Zeltros, didn’t we. Heh. Heh … You were the lucky one, Shadow. You were …”

Slinger’s eyes roll back into his head and he breathes out the last of his blood. No-One stands over him. He’s stunned. Unconsciously, he turns off the audio of his stolen HUD. He falls to his knees. And, silently and alone, he screams.

We’ll bring down those clankers, Nora. We’ll take them down and get the hell out of here.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: River outside of Nembasa City Sewer System.

The camera captures a series of blaster bolts coming towards the trooper. Some are absorbed by the cover of the droid. But many hit him. He staggers, but keeps the droid at the entrance. He activates its weapon. The concussive torpedo hits. A squad of stormtroopers come flying out of the tunnel in various positions and pieces by the force of the blast.

The trooper collapses to the side. He’s breathing heavily, very clearly as injured as his companion and utterly exhausted. A stormtrooper sergeant staggers out of the tunnel. He is firing randomly. He gets in front of the trooper and misses him by a wide margin. The trooper activates his gun and shoots the sergeant, his body trembling under the rapid shots from its barrel and being thrown away like a rag doll.

Steam comes from the trooper’s blaster rifle. The trooper is looking down at it. He falls to his knees. It’s almost like he is cradling it like a small child. Then the Sewer Entrance and its hill collapses, revealing the light of the Nembassa City, leaving the trooper with his damaged weapon.

Never had a weapon named Charity …

Drax Cole, one of the Cuy’Val Dar and instructors of Jango Fett’s myriad clones, watches one of the cadets looking at the weapons’ rack. The boy can feel the scarred older man watching him. Cole is one of the best firearms instructors of the rest.

“Hey.”

The boy looks up and stands to attention. “Yes sir.”

“Growing into those blaster rifles well, son.”

The boy understands. His growth spurts, like those of his brothers, are quick. Even with the genetic treatments, they are still painful. But at eight he is tall, lean and fast with a good eye. He will serve the Republic well. But praise from one of the Cuy’Val Dar is rare and he doesn’t know how to respond. Instead he defaults to the default.

“Thank you, sir.”

“What’s your name, son?”

“I am CT-24601.” The boy tells him by rote.

“No. I mean, what do you they call you?”

“… they call me Shadow.” It will be many years before the boy accepts this name from his last Squad working for the Republic, and a few more before he rejects the name, any name, completely. He has no idea. Right now he just wants to serve the Grand Army as best he can and to the best that his genetic perfection and rigorous training can provide.

“Shadow.” Drax Cole walks behind him and looks at the blaster rifles. “You do have a good eye. I see you looking at that rifle. You know the one.”

Shadow hesitates. But reaches out and takes it in his hands. It doesn’t take him long to calibrate and arm it. It’s second nature to him. Drax Cole nods.

“That blaster rifle, Shadow, it’s going to save your shlebs. You treat her right, you maintain and mod her, she’ll be at your side the rest of your life. More than your brothers, she’ll be your mother, your daughter, your wife. She’ll be your whole damn family. You got that, shinie?”

“Yes Instructor sir. I understand.”

“Good lad.”

It’s all right, you know. We’re disposable. As long as we complete the mission. The mission …

The trooper and T’Soth hide in the city. They hide in the garbage. They are buying Revenant Squad and the Praadost Rebel cell time. They barely escape notice even in the worn-torn city ripped apart by civil disorder and Imperial reprisals. Finally, the trooper hooks a grappling hook to a building. They climb up and hide. It’s a good spot … until more of those spherical droids are sent out to find them. The Inquisitors are not giving up.

They get into the building and run into a scared family. A cowering mother and her children. Then their father comes out swinging. T’Soth, trying to be the consummate Jedi, fails to calm him down. But it’s the trooper that does it. He almost takes his helmet off. Instead, he takes his gun, takes Mercy, and places her on the ground with his hands up. He lets T’Soth tell them that they are not scavengers or Imps.

The father tells them they need to leave. The trooper asks if he knows where they can hide. The man directs them to a warehouse. He gives them cloaks to hide them. The trooper turns back and thanks the man. He points up the stairs, where the man’s family is hiding.

“Take care of them.”

It hurts, Nora. I don’t want to feel anymore. I just want to see you again. But Ayla …

After his time, helping those early resistance cells, watching them get crushed, getting his own hollow revenge on his former brothers, he’s tired. He retires, in a way. He just doesn’t care anymore. Not about much. He takes all jobs. Even from Imps. All the money goes to Clan Pall, to Ardin … to his daughter.

As long as Ayla lives, as long she gets that chance …

But even that doesn’t stop the thoughts. It doesn’t stop from looking at Mercy. It doesn’t stop him from thinking about it. He’s lost so much already …

And then, one day, in a grimy motel on Nar Shaddaa as he’s pointing Mercy at his head he gets that transmission. He doesn’t know how they found him. How he found them. There is a central Resistance. They have unified. And they tell him they can help him. They can help his daughter.

It doesn’t take much for No-One to accept Spectre-7’s proposal.

It’s all right if I go. As long as Ayla’s safe, and a proper Jedi trains her. I did my job. I had something to fight for. I did my duty. I made up for my kriff-ups. I can finally rest.

Footage from Praadost II [Currently Restricted]

Location: Nembassa Warehouse

It’s an amateur Praadostian camera. It keeps moving around, but the jist of it is seen well enough. An A-Wing and Z-95 Headhunter are dogfighting TIE Fighters in the sky above the city. Two figures are on the roof, seen through the rudimentary lens of the civilian camera uploading to an illegal HoloFeed. It is a figure in tattered robes and a bounty hunter. The hunter sends up a flare and a U-Wing comes to hover over the roof.

The figure in the robes leaps up with impossible velocity into the ramp of the ship. The bounty hunter, or soldier stands there. He looks like he is about to jump. A TIE Bomber comes in. It releases a volley of proton torpedoes at the U-Wing.

The U-Wing’s shields flicker dangerously and it lurches, but the shock wave destroys the warehouse roof. The trooper is caught in the fire. He goes flying with the wreckage. Then he falls, flaming, into the ruins below.

The feed cuts out.

I will see you soon. I love you, Nora Ro.

Footage from Praadost II: Encrypted

Location: Nebassa City District [Currently Restricted]

Another feed flickers back onto another scene. A figure leaps out of the ship as the U-Wing engages the TIE Bomber. It picks up another figure from the wreckage of the Warehouse. Then it goes back into the ship.

… live, Shadow. Our daughter needs you.

Live vode. Live brother. Someone needs to avenge us.

“Spectre-7.” T’Soth says.

“Jedi T’Soth. I’ve heard from the Bantha Special that the mission has been successful.”

“Yes. But our plans have changed. We’re not going to Ord Rodama. Tell the Senator that we need to call in another favour. We will be at Arda.”

I hate clankers. I hate this face. Clankers … this face … I can’t see them. Dead eyes. I can’t feel it …

A tattered figure floats in a bacta tank.

“Live, Shadow.” T’Soth says. “Revenant Squad needs you.”

Yes. Good soldiers … follow orders …

Spectre-7 looks at his monitor. He has captured all of Praadost II’s footage of the event: from the Imperial censored civilian cameras to the Sewer Entrance.

“Pity we couldn’t get footage from the fight in the Tunnels. Maybe his helmet recorded the event.” He turns to the technicians. “Meantime, send out these recordings. Some good propaganda. Even better for morale. This will be enough.”

“The Unknown Soldier finally has a name.”

My name is Shadow. I’m Shadow. And I’m not finished yet.